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Archive of February 17, 2009

Young mother tells the story behind baby born alive and left to die at Florida clinic

Miami, Fla., Feb 17, 2009 (CNA) - In an exclusive interview with Florida Catholic, Sycloria Williams, the 18-year-old mother of the baby left to die after a botched abortion in a Miami clinic, told the real story behind the ordeal that recently attracted national headlines.

In an interview with journalist and photographer Daniel Soñé, Sycloria now 21, revealed that she has filed a civil lawsuit accusing the staff of A GYN of Hialeah, Florida of delivering her child alive and killing the newborn girl by stuffing her into a biohazard bag.

Originally, aborting the baby was not part of the plan; "we were reluctant at first, but as time passed it became more and more of an option," Williams said.

Williams first went to Miramar Woman Center Inc. where she was told that the procedure would cost $1,200 – $400 more than expected, because a sonogram had determined that the pregnancy was 23 weeks along, requiring a more complicated late-term abortion.

She later met Dr. Pierre Jean-Jacque Renelique on July 19, 2006. "He said that it was a two-day procedure, to take my medicines, and come back the next day. He just said it like one, two, three," she told Florida Catholic.

After their meeting, according to Williams, Renelique inserted laminaria sticks, thin rods of dried kelp that absorb moisture and slowly dilate the cervix. He also gave her a prescription for Cytotec, a brand of the drug misoprostol, to induce labor.

Shortly after leaving, Williams said she received a call from Natali Vergara, the daughter of clinic owner, Belkis Gonzalez, telling her to go to their clinic in Hialeah named "A GYN," instead of the North Miami one to complete the procedure.

On the way to the clinic the next morning, her boyfriend at the time, Shane, "didn’t want to go through with it," Williams recalled.

Wanting to "put it all behind," Sycloria arrived at the Hialeah clinic, where she received another dose of Cytotec to induce labor. She waited in her car with Shane, until the drug started to work.

Back in the clinic, Williams felt more and more sick as her labor intensified.

According to Florida Catholic, "Williams recalls grabbing the armrests of her chair and elevating herself to a squatting position, heels at the edges of her seat. The receptionist and staff kept telling her to sit down and close her legs, but she couldn’t comply. She delivered her baby, Shanice, onto the recliner almost immediately after squatting. First amniotic fluid spilled out, then the baby dropped onto the cushion."

"When I saw that happen, I jumped off the chair and turned away, facing the wall," Williams said.

Sycloria said she stood against the wall, glancing in horror at her newborn baby. "She wasn’t moving much. Twitching, gasping for air. She wasn’t crying though, just hissing. Hissing sounds only."

"I thought it would be a blob thing, but bigger, not a baby," she said. "She looked like a Water Baby. Like those dolls you fill up with water. She was really little, like this," she said, holding her hands about 12 inches apart.

According to Williams, Gonzalez, the clinic’s owner, who has no health care licensing, came into the waiting room, cut the umbilical cord, and scooped Shanice’s body into a red biohazard bag, sealed it and tossed it into a trash can.

She recalls begging God for help and trying to listen to the staff. They only gave her Motrin for her pain because Renelique had not yet arrived. "Everyone was panicking," Williams said.

According to the lawsuit, the doctor arrived about 60 minutes after Williams delivered Shanice. No one called an ambulance. The lawsuit also states that Renelique gave Williams a shot to put her to sleep: "She awoke after the procedure and was sent home still in complete shock."

She said while Shane was driving her home, she told him, "I don’t think that baby was dead." Answering almost as if he did not hear correctly, Shane asked, "What do you mean? Are you sure?"

The next day, Hialeah homicide detectives, tipped off by an anonymous caller, arrived at Sycloria’s residence to question her. Then, on July 22, 2006, they executed a search warrant at the clinic, but didn’t find the baby’s decomposing body until six days later, in a cardboard box in a closet at A GYN.

Sycloria told the Florida Catholic that she still recalls the most startling part: Her 23-week-old pregnancy looked like an actual baby. "They never said anything to me that would make me think it was a baby. They never said anything like ‘baby,’ ‘fetus.’ Nothing. They only said things like ‘termination’ and ‘pregnancy’ and ‘termination of pregnancy’," "They cheated me because they didn’t tell me everything and the doctor wasn’t there."

She then said she and other post-abortive women need love, support and family. She also has changed her mind about abortion. "No one should lose their life if you get pregnant," she said. "If I got pregnant again I would have the baby."

Her advice to women in unplanned or crisis pregnancies: "I would tell them not to do it. I’ll say whatever to make them have second thoughts so they don’t do it... There is help out there."

After it was confirmed that the baby was born alive, Williams finally buried her daughter, Shanice Denise Osbourne, last November in the children’s section of Our Lady Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Fort Lauderdale. Her small white casket was escorted by the honor guard of Hialeah police officers and Knights of Columbus. Father Dominic O’Dwyer, pastor of St. Malachy Parish in Tamarac, conducted the graveside service.

The Archdiocese of Miami donated the plot.

"When you see a small white casket like that, you can’t help but be struck by the reality of what happened to her," said Thomas L. Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, which is representing Shanice’s mother, Sycloria Shante Williams, in a lawsuit against the abortion clinic.

The Florida Catholic article makes clear that the case of Shanice Denise Osbourne has unveiled a vast network of abortion-related medical malpractice: two co-workers at the Hialeah center were arrested for the unlicensed practice of medicine, two doctors who performed abortions at that clinic were found to be unlicensed and the Florida Department of Health filed an order of "emergency restriction" against Dr. Pierre Jean-Jacque Renelique and later revoked his medical license.

Read the full Florida Catholic story here: http://www.thefloridacatholic.org/mia/2009_mia/2009_miaarticles/20090205_mia_shanice.php

 

 

 

 

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Bioethicist: Obama funding of embryo destruction would be discrimination

Washington D.C., Feb 17, 2009 (CNA) - White House adviser David Axelrod announced on "Fox News Sunday" that President Barack Obama is about to announce his next anti-life decision:  erasing every limitation  President George W. Bush placed on federal funding for embryonic stem cell  research  (ESCR).

Under the previous administration, federal money for ESCR was limited to those stem cell lines that were created before Aug. 9, 2001, while no federal dollars could be used on research with cell lines from embryos destroyed from that point forward.

Obama "right now is considering an executive order lifting the federal ban on funding" for ESCR, Axelrod told Fox News.

Even though President Obama’s election was hailed by people everywhere as a victory against discrimination, Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk Education Director for the National Catholic Bioethics Center observes that if Obama funds research on embryos, he'll be subjecting them to discrimination.

“The smart plan for our country's future would be to encourage the myriad of available alternatives, rather than funding the most unethical type of research that relies on a form of discrimination against an entire class of humans - embryonic humans - being singled out for targeted destruction at the hands of researchers,” he told CNA.

According to a 2006 poll commissioned by "Research America," an organization dedicated to promoting ESCR among the U.S. public, with an emphasis on dismissing religious objection to the practice, claims that 58% of Americans favor the use of embryonic stem cells in medical research; with only 34% "strongly" supporting it and another 24% “somewhat" in favor.  Twenty nine percent are opposed to ESCR, and 13% say that they don’t know what it is. 

The same poll showed that of those opposed to ESCR, 57% say they have religious objections to it, while 39% say they object to the research on grounds other than religion.

Ryan T. Anderson, assistant director of the Program on Bioethics and Human Dignity at the Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, N.J., explained to First Things that because of the technical challenges and scientific hurdles ESCR therapies face, "there are no human embryonic stem-cell therapies even in clinical trial, let alone ready for therapy, and there have been no major treatment models in animals, either."

"Adult stem cells, however, have already been successful in treating more than seventy different diseases in actual human beings," he added.

Fr. Pacholczyk agreed, pointing out that, “a number of powerful alternatives already exist to achieve similar research goals or desired clinical outcomes. Stem cells, even the pluripotent variety, can be obtained from multiple sources besides embryos. A major breakthrough in November of 2007 showed that pluripotent stem cells can be derived from human skin cells, by "reprogramming" them with special genes. Pluripotent stem cells can also be derived from adult testicles (so-called germ cells) and from spontaneously miscarried fetuses. Finally, significant clinical breakthroughs are occurring almost weekly using adult (multipotent) stem cells. This morning [Monday], for example, a biotech company reported significant progress in treating Parkinson's disease using a patient's own adult stem cells.”

Anderson also reminded readers that "the main objection to current methods of embryonic stern-cell research is that they involve the destruction of living human embryos, that is, human beings at the embryonic stage in their lives. This is a principled objection to the direct and intentional killing of human beings."

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Scholars face off over effects of welfare benefits on abortion rate

CNA STAFF, Feb 17, 2009 (CNA) - Debate continues over the Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good study of abortion data and the alleged effect of social programs on the abortion rate.

In August 2008 the group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG) had published research claiming that social welfare programs reduced the abortion rate.

It was later found that the research used faulty abortion data.

The author of the research, political science professor Joseph Wright of Penn State University, issued a revised report and has recently defended his research’s merits against Michael J. New, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama.

New argued that the new report shows social policies have “no more than a marginal effect on the incidence of abortion” and argued the research downplayed the effect of abortion restrictions.

Wright replied by insisting he found “consistent, robust results” showing that welfare spending reduces the abortion rate even with the abortion data being corrected.

Responding to New’s Feb. 9 criticism that his findings are not consistent across time, Wright wrote that variations in his data finds different effects at different times because one assistance program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, had “real variations” between states in the 1990s, while the Aid for Dependent Children program was a national program during the 1980s.

He defended findings that the abortion rate is little affected by laws placing minor restrictions on abortion such as parental consent laws, informed consent laws, restrictions on Medicaid funding for abortions, and the outlawing of partial birth abortion.

“None of these are robustly correlated with fewer abortions,” Wright said.

He argued that New uses a statistical technique that does not account for the “dynamic nature” of the data. Wright said the CACG study uses an estimation technique allowing for short- and long-term effect on the abortion rate.

“In the model that New uses, the effects of the explanatory variable are assumed to occur only in the current year. This difference is important because some factors that affect the abortion rate may do so over the long term, Wright argued.

Wright also said that New weights the data by population in a way that can be problematic. He asked New to report results with both weighted and unweighted data.

According to Wright, New’s analysis leaves out U.S. states that only collect abortion data from hospitals. Wright said his results also are robust enough to account for these states and others which New claims may have biased data.

He also countered New’s claim that numerous peer-reviewed studies show that state-level restrictions reduce abortion, claiming “there is little consensus on this issue… Claims suggesting that the peer-review research has settled the debate on the effectiveness of abortion restrictions are misleading.”

Prof. New responded to Wright in a Feb. 13 post on the web site MoralAccountability.com.

Praising Wright for admitting that an error had been made in his previous report, New said: “Many researchers are not forthright about mistakes and Wright and his original co-author should be commended for their honesty.”

New then argued that CACG is fundamentally asking readers and supporters to take a “leap of faith.” Describing as “interesting” their findings about 1990s welfare spending, he encouraged further research about the effect of policy on the incidence of abortion.

He repeated his earlier criticism that inconsistency of Wright’s results across time should raise doubts about his findings’ reliability.

“More importantly, I have been unable to identify any peer reviewed research which supports the idea that more generous welfare benefits significantly reduce the incidence of abortion,” he wrote.

“Contrary to Wright’s statement, there actually is a substantial body of peer reviewed research which documents the effectiveness of pro-life laws. In particular, public funding restrictions reduce overall abortion rates and parental involvement laws reduce the incidence of abortion among minors.”

He argued the studies cited by Prof. Wright “do little to undermine this substantial body of research which indicates that pro-life laws are effective.”

Claiming that Wright has not been willing to acknowledge that parental involvement laws only directly affect minors, New argued that analyzing their effects on the overall abortion rate is not methodologically sound.

New closed his criticism by calling on CACG to publicly oppose both the revocation of the Mexico City Policy and the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). He argued that doing so shows seriousness about supporting policies that will promote “a culture of life.”

CNA contacted Prof. Wright for further comment and received response by e-mail on Monday.

To Prof. New’s claim that there is no peer-reviewed research supporting a link between more generous welfare benefits and a significant reduction in the incidence of abortion, Wright replied that the answer depends in part upon the data used and referred to his response to New for further information.

Saying that there is definitely research to suggest that restrictive laws reduce the abortion rate, Wright added:

“I never suggested that this research doesn't exist, only that the answer depends on the data used and the time period covered. In the first round of research, in fact, we found that restrictions on Medicaid funding for abortion decreased the abortion rate.”

He said he could make no comment on New’s contention that it is not methodologically sound to analyze parental involvement laws, which directly affect only minors, on the overall abortion rate.

“I haven't analyzed teenage abortion data,” Wright told CNA. “New is raising this issue to get reporters to write on these laws rather than the main findings of my research which suggest that the abortion rate is responsive to socioeconomic factors as well.

“The abortion rate, my research suggests, is responsive to male employment, economic assistance and poverty in the 1990s when the United States saw a dramatic decline in the abortion rate.”

Wright noted he has responded at length to New in his comment posted at the CACG’s website and reported that he posted a 30-page working paper online for public scrutiny when he updated the study in November.

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Summer seminar on Christian moral life now accepting high school students

Princeton, N.J., Feb 17, 2009 (CNA) - The Witherspoon Institute is inviting rising high school juniors and seniors to apply to its Moral Life and the Classical Tradition Seminar, to be taught this June at Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary by several distinguished professors.

“This is an excellent one week seminar especially helpful to those bright young men and women that aspire to attend top-tier universities because it enables them to get a firm grasp of the important intellectual arguments to both live the Christian life and strive for intellectual excellence, and how to navigate the secular elite environments,” Witherspoon Institute President Luis Tellez said in an e-mail to CNA.

The classical component of the seminar is a course on the Republic of Plato. After carefully studying the entirety of Plato’s classic text before arriving at the seminar, students will participate in discussions led by Dr. Michael Sugrue of Ave Maria University.

Lectures on the rational foundations of Christian moral thought compose the seminar’s second component. Topics include the relationship of faith and reason, Christian sexual and marital principles, and bioethics.

Instruction and extracurricular activities will be segregated by sex.

Dr. Seana Sugrue of Ave Maria University will conduct the lectures for the young women students while Dr. Paul Macdonald of Bucknell University will deliver lectures for the young men.

One student wrote about his experience of the seminar, saying the teaching of the Socratic Method and other philosophies of Socrates “has truly opened my eyes.”

“I am thinking about things I never even considered before, and for the first time in far too long I feel wholly intellectually stimulated.”

The seminar will take place from June 21 to June 27.  The application process includes an application form, high school transcripts, a recommendation from a high school teacher, and a 500 word essay on whether virtue can be taught, all by April 15. Participants must also pay a fee of $200.

Other seminars will also take place under the sponsorship of the Witherspoon Institute this Summer.

An August seminar on natural law theory and St. Thomas Aquinas will be held for undergraduates and graduates.  

Graduate seminars include a June event titled “The Marital Divide: Race, Ethnicity, Class, and the Retreat from Marriage” and an August event on the Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe.

A seminar for law students and legal professionals on the moral foundations of law will also take place in August.

More information on the Moral Life and the Classical Tradition Seminar and other seminars may be found at the Witherspoon Institute’s web site at http://www.winst.org/ethics_and_university/seminars.php

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Pope Benedict sends condolences to South Korea as it mourns Cardinal Kim

Rome, Italy, Feb 17, 2009 (CNA) - Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou Hwan, South Korea’s first cardinal, passed away on Monday at the age of 86 after many years devoted to the Church in Seoul and the introduction of democracy. Pope Benedict has sent a telegram to Catholics in Seoul offering his condolences and prayers.

The late cardinal was known for his efforts to build up the Church in South Korea by reaching out to the youth, the working class and the educated. His advocacy for democracy was based on the Catholic faith and its understanding of God-given human rights.

According to his biography on his personal website, "He expressed his deep interest and grave concern for the repressed and the underprivileged and did not hesitate to speak out on the oppressive political situation."

Many South Koreans, including non-Catholics respected Cardinal Kim as the country's spiritual leader.

Cardinal Kim was hospitalized with frail health in October last year and fell into brief comas several times, Yonhap News reports.

Cardinal Kim was made the cardinal of Seoul by Pope Paul VI in 1968 at the age of 46, making him the youngest member of the College of Cardinals at that time.

He was archbishop of Seoul from 1968 until 1998 and also in charge of the diocese of Pyongyang in North Korea from 1975 until 1998, though he was never able to travel to the country due to the peninsula's division and constraints on worship there, the Associated Press says.

Upon learning of Cardinal Kim’s passing, Pop Benedict XVI sent a telegram in English to his successor Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jinsuk.

"Deeply saddened to learn of the death of Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, I offer heartfelt condolences to you and to all the people of Korea," the Pope wrote.

Pope Benedict also highlighted his gratitude for "Cardinal Kim's long years of devoted service to the Catholic community in Seoul and his many years of faithful assistance … as a member of the College of Cardinals."

"I join you in praying that God our merciful Father will grant him the reward of his labours and welcome his noble soul into the joy and peace of the heavenly kingdom. To Cardinal Kim's relatives and all assembled for the solemn Mass of Christian burial I cordially impart my apostolic blessing as a pledge of consolation and strength in the Lord."

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Catholic Church to explore benefits and dangers of genetics

Vatican City, Feb 17, 2009 (CNA) - Recognizing that the field of genetics contains both signs of promise and peril, the Vatican is hosting a congress this Friday and Saturday to examine the burgeoning field. "The aim of this congress is to verify whether, in the field genetic experimentation, there are aspects that tend towards - or effectively implement - eugenic practices," said Archbishop Rino Fisichella.

The February 20-21 congress is entitled, "New frontiers of genetics and the dangers of eugenics," and is being promoted by the Pontifical Academy for Life. The gathering is being held as academy’s twenty- fifth general assembly and will take place in the Vatican's New Synod Hall.

Organizers held a press conference at the Vatican’s press office today to discuss the purpose of the event. Participating in today's presentation were Archbishop Rino Fisichella and Msgr. Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, respectively president and chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and Bruno Dallapiccola, professor of genetic medicine at Rome's "La Sapienza" University.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, explained that the congress will bring together scientists from "a number of universities" to examine genetics from numerous angles: from "the strictly biomedical to the legal; from the philosophical and theological to the sociological."

"Thanks to the great work undertaken over the last ten years, above all that of Francis Collins on the Human Genome Project, it is possible to map thousands of genes and thus achieve an understanding of various types of disease; this often offers a real possibility of overcoming heredity ailments," the archbishop said.

"The aim of this congress," the president of the Academy for Life explained, "is to verify whether, in the field genetic experimentation, there are aspects that tend towards - or effectively implement - eugenic practices." Such practices "find expression in various scientific, biological, medical, social and political projects, all of them more or less interrelated. These projects require an ethical judgment, especially when it is sought to suggest that eugenic practices are being undertaken in the name of a 'normality' of life to offer to individuals."

Archbishop Fisichella also pointed out that some people have adopted a "reductive" mentality that "tends to consider that some people are less valuable than others, either because of the conditions in which they live, such as poverty or lack of education, or because of their physical state, for example the disabled, the mentally ill, people in a 'vegetative state', or the elderly who suffer serious disease."

"Not always do the requirements of medical science meet with the approval philosophers or theologians," said the archbishop. "If, on the one hand, certain people frequently succumb to the temptation to consider the body in purely material terms, on the other, a concern to ensure the fundamental unity of each individual ... is something that must not be marginalized or overlooked."

"Of course research aimed at alleviating individual suffering must increase and develop," he concluded, "yet at the same time we are called to ensure the increase and development of an ethical conscience, without which all achievements would remain limited and incomplete."

 

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Chilean spouse hopes for 'miracle' for wife in fourteen year-long coma

Santiago, Chile, Feb 17, 2009 (CNA) - Carlos Abarca visits his wife Erika Sotelo three times a day. She has been in a coma for the last fourteen years, after suffering complications during surgery at a hospital in Santiago. This devoted husband tells how his day-to-day life is with his wife and how in these difficult circumstances, his affection for her “is stronger than ever” and that he always “hopes for a miracle.”

This dramatic and moving case, in contrast with that of Eluana Englaro, who was killed in Italy after her father requested that her feeding tubes be removed, was made know by the Chilean daily El Mercurio.

Carlos doesn’t bring flowers to Erika although she loves them. “In her state it could be dangerous,” he explains. For this reason he prefers to bring her nightgowns, the only type of clothing his wife has been able to use since March 3, 1995, when she fell into a coma during a hysterectomy in Santiago.

Retired from the police force, Carlos visits Erika three times a day and maintains the hope that he will see her wake up: “With her being alive, there is always the hope that at any moment a miracle will happen,” he said.

He said his hopes grow when he sees Erika do “little things” like yawn or stretch out a hand.  He also said she notices when he comes in even if she is in a deep sleep.  “She is waiting for me, she does things to make me come over to her. She opens her eyes, I don’t know if she sees or not,” but he is sure that she is listening.  “When you talk to her, she pays attention and she moves.”

For this reason he always talks to her and tells her about the day. “Sometimes when I talk into her ear she cries, and so I think even more that she is listening,” Carlos said.  “Of course the doctors always say something else, but I think that’s so they don’t get your hopes up, but I know her better than anyone.”

Carlos says that Erika “sometimes cries a lot. I don’t know if something’s bothering her or if she is remembering something.” Therefore he prefers to avoid saying things that make her sad.  “When you tell her you are leaving she cries and begins to whimper like a baby,” he said.

There are days when his wife smiles, he added.  “When I caress her she smiles, when I touch my face to hers, maybe it’s because of my mustache, it seems to get her attention and she smiles,” Carlos said.  Sometimes he kisses her as well. “Of course, she’s my wife,” he said.

In addition to talking to her and caressing her, when he visits her sometimes he puts perfume, make-up and lotion on her and does her hair with his mother-in-law. “We take advantage of the long stays, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.  So we have time to do all this, which is special too,” he said.

“The affection I have for her is different,” Carlos added.  “She is like a baby, so my affection is different, but it is stronger than ever.  I want to protect her, care for her, I want her to be okay and to have everything she needs,” he said.

Carlos said he has no intention of devoting his life to anything other than caring for Erika. He intends to love her “until God has the last word. If she has to leave me tomorrow, my conscience will be at peace,” he said.

“Many people say to me, ‘You are used to this now,’ but no, everyday is different and you can’t get used to it. I’m not ready for her to leave me yet either,” Carlos said.

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Indian priests call for peace and aid for Sri Lanka

Rome, Italy, Feb 17, 2009 (CNA) - The Association of Diocesan Priests in India has issued a call for peace and solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka who are suffering from the war between government forces and Tamil rebels.

The priests have urged India to intervene to save the lives of civilians who are caught up in the conflict.  In a statement issued at the end of their gathering, the priests expressed their “anguish over the fear that is felt by the innocent population.”

The association of priests also reiterated the need for India to provide humanitarian assistance, especially in the combat zones. According to L’Osservatore Romano, the conflict in Sri Lanka “is at a crucial moment: the forces of the government are closing in on the rebels, seeking to conquer the last piece of land that is being held by the guerrillas.”

The conflict has left hundreds wounded and caused a wave of refugees, the Vatican newspaper reported. Father Christopher Jayakumar, who coordinates the humanitarian activities of the Diocese of Jaffna, has denounced the severe shortage of health care workers and adequate resources for surgery to care for the wounded. He said in many cities the bodies of dozens of people have yet to be buried.

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Bucks County police officer remembered at Mass

Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 17, 2009 (CNA) - For the sixth time in the past year-and-a-half, Philadelphia’s Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul was packed with rank upon rank of blue-clad law officers and other mourners for the funeral of a police officer who died in the line of duty.

 

In this case it was Officer Christopher Jones, a 10-year veteran of the Middletown Police in Bucks County. Jones, who was posthumously raised to the rank of detective, died Jan. 29 at St. Mary Hospital just hours after he was struck by a vehicle on Route 1 while walking back to his vehicle after a routine traffic stop.

 

Jones, 37, a member of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, is survived by his wife, Suzanne, and their children, Christopher, 16; Julianne, 13; and Brendan, 12.

 

Cardinal Justin Rigali, who was the celebrant and homilist of the February 5 Mass, spoke of “the splendid legacy of Officer Jones as an upright Christian, a member of the Catholic Church, a devoted husband, a loving father, a dedicated servant to the community as an officer of the Middletown Township Police Department.”

 

Quoting from Father William Dooner, pastor of Our Lady of Grace and concelebrant of the Mass, the Cardinal said, “the fulfillment of Christopher Jones’ many faceted role is indeed summarized as the goodness of ‘a very, very good man’ — the goodness that Officer Jones received as a blessing from God and developed and nurtured throughout his life.”

 

After Mass, the long line of police vehicles escorted the remains of Officer Jones and his family and friends to Resurrection Cemetery, Bensalem, where he was interred.

 

The afternoon and evening before an estimated 2,000 people braved the bitter cold to line up for the fallen officer’s viewing. Previously his remains had been driven through Middletown in a horse-drawn hearse.

 

“The turn-out wasn’t just because he was a policeman, he was respected as a person,” said Father Dooner. “He was innately good and it flowed out of him naturally. He was a very pleasant man who brightened everybody’s day with a smile.”

 

Jones, whose wife and children are Catholic, became Catholic himself several years ago, Father Dooner said. “He lived out his call to serve Jesus Christ as a police officer.”

 

Chris Conaway, an administrative assistant at Our Lady of Grace and a neighbor to the Jones family, remembers his squad car would be outside the school, and she would wave. “I would kid him about how he looked about 12 years old,” she recalls. Conaway also taught CCD to Julianne and remembers how she would sometimes worry about her father’s safety.

 

When Conaway, whose own husband died Jan. 5, heard the news of the tragic accident, she went to the Jones house to console Suzanne. “She wound up consoling me,” she said. “They are just wonderful people.”

 

Immediately after her husband’s death, Suzanne Jones released his organs for donation. Donors were found for both of his kidneys; one was successfully implanted into a former U.S. Navy buddy.

 

The Bucks County Fraternal Order of Police has established a memorial trust fund in his memory. Donations may be sent to the Philadelphia Police and Fire Credit Union, 852 E. Street Road, Warminster, PA 18974.

 

Printed with permission from The Catholic Standard & Times, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

 

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Population reduction does not alleviate poverty, Argentinean archbishop warns

La Plata, Argentina, Feb 17, 2009 (CNA) - Archbishop Hector Aguer of La Plata in Argentina, said this week it is deceitful to claim that in order to combat poverty population levels must be decreased, since as Pope Benedict XVI has said, the data proves that “population is a treasure and not a factor in poverty.”

During his radio program Keys to a Better World, the archbishop recalled a portion of the Pope’s message for the World Day of Peace, in which the Holy Father said that “in 1981, approximately 40% of the world’s population was under the threshold of absolute poverty, while today that percentage has been substantially reduced by half and numerous populaces that have been characterized by a notable demographic increase have climbed out of poverty.”

“In other words,” the archbishop said, “it is not necessary to reduce the population in order to have an entire people to progress economically, but rather the contrary.  The history of nations shows that the height of great civilizations has coincided with the highest birth rates.”

Archbishop Aguer explained that in his message, the Pope pointed out that often “it is proposed that poverty be combated by campaigns to reduce the birth rate,” demonizing demographic growth and fostering the erroneous idea that “if less children are born riches will be better distributed.”

“Without a doubt there is a need for a policy on population but this shouldn’t consist of reducing births but rather of better placement of the population, and therefore of proposing a rational plan of development that creates sources of employment, that sets points of development in different areas of the country towards which the populace can naturally direct itself, and in addition, this: that we occupy our territory,” the archbishop stated.

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Austrian bishops tend to controversies unsettling their flock

Vienna, Austria, Feb 17, 2009 (CNA) - The diocesan bishops of Austria have published a pastoral letter responding to the two controversies roiling the local Church over the past several weeks: the scandal surrounding Bishop Richard Williamson and the appointment of Fr. Gerhard Maria Wagner as an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Linz.

The first issue address by the 10 Catholic bishops of Austria is the situation concerning the rehabilitation of four bishops from the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX).

Bishop Richard Williamson, one of four bishops leading the SSPX, made comments diminishing the extent of the Holocaust prior to having his excommunication lifted by the Pope at the end of January.

In their pastoral letter, the Austrian bishops call on the SSPX to send a “clear signal” that it will seek reconciliation and unconditionally accept the Second Vatican Council.

Summing up the local Church’s reaction to the recent events, the 10 bishops, led by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, wrote that recent events have caused “worry and anger inside and outside the Church.”

“We owe to the people a word of clarification, but also want to express the hope that as with every crisis there are opportunities,” they said, exhorting readers to focus on Christ.

The bishops said that Pope Benedict XVI “has unequivocally stated that the Lefebvrist Bishop Richard Williamson has disqualified himself by the denial of the Shoah and that he must clearly take back in public his untenable denial of mass murder of the Jewish people.”

Members of the SSPX are sometimes called “Lefebvrists” after their group’s founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

Characterizing Pope Benedict’s lifting of the excommunications as “a hand outstretched to those who are separated from the Church,” they noted that the SSPX bishops cannot automatically hold office in the Church.

“Rather, the Lefebvrist community must give a clear signal on their part that they take this outstretched hand, and actually seek reconciliation. The prerequisite is of course, the unconditional acceptance of the Second Vatican Council. “

Echoing other commentators who blame poor communications for the controversy, the Austrian bishops added:

“We hope that the inadequate communication processes in the Vatican will also be successfully improved so that the worldwide service of the Pope does not suffer damage.”

The bishops also addressed Fr. Gerhard Maria Wagner’s request that his appointment as auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Linz be rescinded. They said the appointment had caused “significant tension” in the diocese.

Fr. Wagner’s selection provoked his detractors to highlight his comments about Hurricane Katrina being God’s punishment on New Orleans for its sins.  However, some analysts believe that the opposition to Fr. Wagner was due to his orthodox liturgical and doctrinal stances.

“It is not just about differences of opinion in terms of structures and methods, but ultimately the question of sacramental identity of the Catholic Church,” the bishops wrote. “This especially concerns the ordination for priests and deacons in relation to the general priesthood of all the baptized.”

They emphasized that the local church’s conversation with the Universal Church should be undertaken “on the basis of the Second Vatican Council.”

They also gave more background about the controversy over Fr. Wagner’s initial appointment.

“The theme of episcopal appointments is therefore important because since the mid-eighties in Austria it has been associated with a number of problems,” they said. “For many, the controversy over episcopal appointments led to the painful conflict, and they have triggered splits in the church. It is precisely in this area sensitivity is most appropriate.”

The bishops reaffirmed their support for bishop selection procedures “if this procedure is really followed.”

Before the Pope makes any final decision on an episcopal appointment, “reliable and thoroughly tested basic information must be provided on which he can rely.”

Noting that a number of bishops will be appointed in Austria in upcoming years, the Austrian bishops wrote that the faithful are “legitimately concerned” that the candidate search and selection be “carefully undertaken and with pastoral sensitivity.”

“This can ensure that bishops are appointed who are not ‘against’ but ‘for’ a local church. We bishops will make every possible effort to support the forthcoming episcopal appointments in the sense of monitoring these procedures in close cooperation with the relevant Vatican offices.”

“Trusting in God's help, we will overcome the crisis of recent weeks,” the bishops’ pastoral letter affirmed. Saying mistakes should be learned from, the bishops exhorted drawing near to the center of faith by beholding Christ, “who does not desert his church and whose word and deeds must be a measure of our words and our deeds.”

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Vatican spokesman says Pope has made ‘courageous decision’ to visit Holy Land

Rome, Italy, Feb 17, 2009 (CNA) - In recent comments about the upcoming visit to the Holy Land by Pope Benedict XVI, the director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, said the Holy Father has made “a courageous decision” to make the trip in spite of the tensions in region.

Father Lombardi told Vatican Radio that the announcement is “great news.”

“Going to Jerusalem is the desire of all Israelis and all Christians. The ancient Israelis went up singing. Jesus resolutely went there to fulfill the will of the Father until the end.  We go there as pilgrims to the holiest places, the places of encounter between God and men that have marked the history of our salvation.”

“The Pope also has this desire,” Father Lombardi said.  “Although he has not been there before, he feels the need to be present as the head of a community of believers who can spiritually go on pilgrimage with him and through him to the places of the roots of their faith. This was the case for example with Paul VI, who began in the Holy Land the series of international trips of the Popes, followed later by John Paul II, thus sending unforgettable signs of reconciliation, hope and peace.”

“Now it is Benedict’s turn. His was a courageous decision, when there is much uncertainty about the political situation and internal division in various areas. There are continual tensions in a region with conflicts and where there recently was a war that devastated the Gaza Strip and deeply wounded the people,” Father Lombardi stated.

Faced with “shadows or indifference that appear to obscure the hard-earned dialogue between the Jewish world and the Catholic Church,” Father Lombardi said, “it necessary to go [to the Holy Land]. Perhaps for these reasons it is urgent that he go.”

The Vatican spokesman said the trip would serve as an opportunity to pray for the most important aspects of the “confrontation between hatred and love: where reconciliation seems humanly impossible, in order to recall that the name and vocation of Jerusalem is that of being ‘the city of peace,’ of encounter between the nations in the name of a God of salvation, of peace and of love for all.”

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Professor calls student ‘fascist bastard,’ stops speech in favor of traditional marriage

Los Angeles, Calif., Feb 17, 2009 (CNA) - A lawsuit has been filed against officials of the Los Angeles Community College District after a professor allegedly censored and threatened to expel a student for his speech about marriage and his Christian faith in a public speaking class.

For his public speaking class under Los Angeles Community College (LACC) Professor John Matteson, Jonathan Lopez spoke on Nov. 24, 2008 about his Christianity. His speech included reading the dictionary definition of marriage and reciting two Bible verses.

Prof. Matteson interrupted Lopez mid-speech, allegedly calling him a “fascist bastard.” He told the other students they could leave if they were offended. When no one left, he dismissed the class.

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which is filing the lawsuit on Lopez’s behalf, made available the evaluation sheet Prof. Matteson gave Lopez. Though giving several high marks, the professor wrote “ask God what your grade is” and “proselytism is inappropriate in public school.”

The ADF alleges school officials did not respond to Lopez’s complaints about censorship and ridicule.

One week after Lopez’s speech, after seeing Lopez talk to the college’s dean of academic affairs, Matteson allegedly told Lopez that he would make sure he would be expelled from school.

Matteson reportedly continued to target Lopez’s faith for public ridicule throughout the semester.

"Christian students shouldn't be penalized or discriminated against for speaking about their beliefs," ADF Senior Counsel David French said in a statement. "Public institutions of higher learning cannot selectively censor Christian speech.  This student was speaking well within the confines of his professor's assignment when he was censored and ultimately threatened with expulsion."

Allison Jones, Dean of Academic Affairs at LACC, in a Dec. 4 letter to ADF Litigation Staff Counsel David J. Hacker said she had met with Lopez and heard his complaints. 

“I also asked him to provide supporting documentation from students whom he indicated supported his accounting of the classroom incident with Mr. Matteson. He indicated he would. Instead, he chose to involve your organization.”

Jones said she had assured Lopez she would immediately start the “progressive discipline process,” adding that she had already done so. She wrote that she had again requested written statements.

“He provided me with the first statement but chose to use you to provide the additional complaint.”

“I view this classroom incident to be extremely serious in nature and will be able to expedite the process,” Jones wrote. “However, since this is a personnel matter, I cannot violate Mr. Matteson’s privacy. Suffice it to say, action is being taken, but specific details may not be shared with Mr. Lopez or you.”

Jones insisted that Lopez’s concerns were “in no way ignored.”

She then cited two students’ statements she had received which had also been signed by several classmates.

“Contrary to Mr. Lopez’ assumptions, these classmates were deeply offended by his speech,” Jones wrote.

One student said “His speech was not of the informative style that our assignment called for, but rather a preachy, persuasive speech that was completely inappropriate and deeply offensive. I respect his right to freedom of speech, but I also do not believe that our classroom is the proper platform for him to spout his hateful propaganda.”

A second student said “I don’t know what kind of actions can be taken in this situation, but I expect that this student should have to pay some price for preaching hate in the classroom.”

“Regardless of the other students’ reactions to Mr. Lopez’ speech,” Jones wrote in her letter, “Mr. Matteson will still be disciplined. First Amendment rights will not be violated as is evidenced by the fact that even though many of the students were offended by Mr. Lopez’ speech, no action will be taken against any of them for expressing their opinions.”

CNA spoke by phone on Tuesday with David Hacker, litigation staff counsel at the ADF.

He said the ADF is still filing suit because “this is really about protecting Jonathan Lopez’ right to free speech on campus and really the free speech rights of all students at the college. It’s a prime example where Christians simply cannot be targeted for punishment for expressing their views on campus.”

Though the universities are supposed to be the “marketplace of ideas,” Hacker charged “they have really become islands of intolerance.”

He explained many universities and schools, like LACC have hate speech codes which “declare open season on views that don’t fit their leftist orthodoxy.”

Countering Lopez’s fellow students cited by Jones, Hacker said the complaint itself backs up Lopez’s account, especially its lines “ask God what your grade is” and “proselytizing is not allowed in public schools.”

“Here is a classic and blatant form of viewpoint discrimination and, really, retaliation against Mr. Lopez,” Hacker told CNA.

“Mr. Lopez made a sworn statement saying that the professor shut him down midway through the speech and told other students they could leave if they were offended by this. Nobody left, and then the professor dismissed the class.”

He also argued that it is irrelevant what other students might have felt was offensive.

“That’s the whole problem with LACC’s speech code. It allows students and administrators to selectively censor anyone’s speech. We’re seeing this happen time again. It’s really an unconstitutional epidemic where speech codes are used to shut down Christian speech.”

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Nebraska bishops use input from laity to tackle immigration reform

Omaha, Neb., Feb 17, 2009 (CNA) - With the input gathered from listening sessions which included both lay citizens and immigrants, the Catholic Bishops of Nebraska have released a statement on the difficulties and the potential generated by immigration to the state.

The statement, titled “Immigration: A Call to Be Patient, Hospitable and Active for Reform,” discusses the “profound challenges” of the issue and notes the opportunities immigration provides for spiritual enrichment, charity, hospitality, and a “strengthening of faith in God’s divine plan for all humanity.”

The bishops noted that a major workplace enforcement raid in Grand Island, Nebraska, and policy debates on the state and local levels had made immigration a topic of frequent discussion. The state’s percentage rate of immigrant population growth is also ranked among the top ten out of all U.S. states.

The bishops also described the input process they used in compiling the letter, explaining how they had sponsored information and dialogue sessions in eight locations around the state.

Participants received information about Catholic teaching relating to immigration and information about common concepts in media and public policy coverage of immigration.

“The overriding value of these sessions was the opportunity for participants to express and share their views, concerns and hopes regarding immigration in Nebraska and the nation,” the bishops wrote.

“We are grateful to the more than 100 persons who participated in these sessions and also to the 100 or so others who contributed written comments.  The sincere and respectful sharing of viewpoints and experiences, as well as openness to the Church’s social teaching, proved to be an effective means for addressing such complex, challenging issues.”

Responses expressed a “broad spectrum” of views, the bishops reported. Some respondents focused on the rule of law and endorsed the deportation of illegal residents. Others said that their foremost concern was that first-generation immigrants in the U.S. should have access to the same rights, benefits and privileges available to citizens.

“We might say that the former invited an enforcement-only, punishment-oriented label, while the latter invited an open-border or amnesty label,” the bishops wrote. “Neither view, in our estimation, is economically, politically, legally or socially realistic. Neither view can be fully sustained in a legitimate policy debate.  Neither view is fully consistent with the social teaching of the Church.”

The “substantial majority” of participants in the input process expressed views somewhere between both extremes, acknowledging both the need to respect the rule of law and national security and the need to recognize the extenuating circumstances of immigrants.

“They disclosed their struggles of mind and heart with issues of illegal immigration in light of their Catholic faith. They cited the importance of charity, understanding and patience.  They expressed profound concern for the vulnerability of children of unauthorized immigrants.”

According to the bishops, many participants expressed an awareness that current U.S. immigration policies are “unreasonable and ineffective” and show a “serious disconnect” from the “economic and demographic realities that underlie immigration.”

The current “policies tend to exploit immigrant labor, undermine human dignity and damage family relationships,” the bishops said. “The human consequences are profound. The system itself is criticized for inadequate numbers of both work and family-reunification visas, large-scale backlogs in most visa categories, frustrating delays and too much bureaucratic ‘red tape.’”

The failure of immigration reform, the prelates remarked, contributes to “negative attitudes and increasing frustration” on the part of U.S. citizens, which can boil over into “undue anger, dehumanizing rhetoric and uncivil conduct.”

The bishops said the “listening process” ensured that the voices of immigrants were heard, by means of small-group meetings at five different areas where the local parish has a significant immigrant attendance.

“The purpose of this outreach was to gain a better understanding of the human aspects of migration, the lives and experiences of immigrant families,” the bishops wrote, adding that many participants were obviously unauthorized immigrants.

The immigrants named economic survival and family security as the most frequent reasons why they left their homeland.

“For many in these circumstances, the risks associated with circumventing the immigration system are outweighed by desperation and hope.”

Language differences cause problems in obtaining basic necessities, and first-generation immigrants worry about the undue influence of media and other social forces.

“Within their own families they face struggles to reasonably preserve their ethnic, cultural and religious identities,” the bishops explained.

“The immigrants spoke candidly of their intense feelings of uncertainty and angst, the constant fear they have of being discovered and deported, and the particular concern they have as to what would happen to their children in such circumstances,” the bishops related. “Their days are filled with these fears and anxieties as they work jobs of difficult labor; their nights are typically restless. Crisis is common, as pastors consistently attest.”

“In our view, this is duress that should not be burdening the lives of human beings made in the image and likeness of God,” the bishops’ letter concluded. “As believers in the message of Jesus Christ, we Catholics need to realize the positive effect that respect, understanding, charity, patience and hospitality can have for these, our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ.”

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