Archive of February 19, 2009

N. Dakota becomes fifth state with proposed personhood from conception law

, Feb 19, 2009 (CNA) - By a margin of 51 to 41, the North Dakota House on Tuesday voted to approve a measure that establishes legal rights for humans from the moment of conception in an effort that may challenge Roe v. Wade.

The measure, similar to proposals in four other states, now moves to the North Dakota Senate for review.

According to Fox News, the measure declares that “any organism with the genome of homo sapiens” is a person protected by the rights granted by North Dakota’s constitution and other state laws.

Measure sponsor Rep. Dan Ruby, a Republican from Minot, said the legislation did not automatically ban abortion unlike previous bills he has introduced.

"This language is not as aggressive as the direct ban legislation that I've proposed in the past," Ruby said during the House’s floor debate on Tuesday. "This is very simply defining when life begins, and giving that life some protections under our Constitution — the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Opponents of the measure argue it will cost millions to defend in the courts.

The Colorado-based group Personhood USA reports that this year bills have been introduced into the legislatures of Maryland, Montana, South Carolina and Alabama affirming the personhood rights of pre-born humans from the moment of fertilization.

Oregon has begun a personhood amendment petition drive and Mississippi’s personhood amendment petition drive is expected to launch within weeks.

A 2008 Colorado ballot initiative defining personhood from the moment of conception won only 27 percent of the vote.

According to Personhood USA, these efforts aim to fill the “Blackmun Hole” in Roe v. Wade. Justice Blackmun wrote in the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that if it were established that the pre-born is a person, the argument for abortion collapses.

"Personhood USA is standing with strong support for all of these efforts. We are committed to working tirelessly to establish personhood in every State, because this is the only way to restore dignity to the humans most vulnerable among us," Cal Zastrow of Personhood USA remarked in a statement.

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Bishop Martino voices ‘absolute disapproval’ for university inviting gay activist

Scranton, Pa., Feb 19, 2009 (CNA) - Bishop Joseph F. Martino has issued a statement informing Catholics of his diocese that he has “absolute disapproval” of Misericordia University’s hosting of Keith Boykin, described as an activist for positions “disturbingly opposed” to Catholic moral teaching.

In the diocese’s statement, Bishop Martino warned that in this instance the university is “seriously failing” to maintain its Catholic identity. The statement noted that all three of Boykin’s books have been nominated for the Lambda Literary Award, which is given by a legal advocacy effort on behalf of homosexual causes.

The diocese also characterized Boykin as an “avid supporter” of same-sex marriage.

“By honoring this speaker through allowing his positions, so antithetical to Catholic Church teaching, to be broadcast on its campus, the University has rejected all four essential characteristics of a Catholic institution of higher learning,” the diocese said. “These are:  its Christian inspiration, its obligation to reflect on knowledge in light of the Catholic faith, its fidelity to Catholic Church teaching and its commitment to serve the people of God.”

The Diversity Institute at Misericordia University, which was founded by the Sisters of Mercy (not to be confused with the Sisters of Mercy of Alma), had invited Boykin to speak at its annual dinner and as part of Black History Month. The university defended the invitation in a Feb. 17 statement, saying Boykin was selected on the basis of his academic credentials, his role as an advisor to former President Clinton, his commentating appearances on MSNBC and CNBC and his ability to “provide a glimpse into the historical presidency of Barack Obama.”

According to the statement from the university, Boykin and Obama were classmates at Harvard University.

“Misericordia University is committed deeply to its Catholic mission. Inseparable from that mission is our identity as an academic institution where ideas and positions are explored critically and freely,” the school said, describing itself as an academic institution that welcomes “legitimate scholarly discussion” among its students, faculty, staff and guests from “diverse religious and cultural backgrounds.”

According to the Scranton Times Tribune, Boykin commented on the controversy, saying “People who have differing ideas have the right to come together on a college campus and discuss different issues.”

Speaking of Bishop Martino, Boykin remarked “He has his job to do, and I have my job to do.”

He said he did not have any thoughts on the bishop’s position, but also said he was glad Misericordia University gave him the opportunity to speak.

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Sixty-five percent of Americans say religion is important in their daily life

Princeton, N.J., Feb 19, 2009 (CNA) - A January 2009 Gallup poll on religiosity finds that the United States is generally a religious nation, though states of New England are the least religious and those in the South are the most religious.

Gallup asked some 355,334 respondents over the age of 18 the question: “Is religion an important part of your daily life?”

Overall, 65 percent of respondents answered in the affirmative. Mississippi respondents were the most likely to say religion is important, at 85 percent, while Vermont respondents were the lowest at 42 percent.

Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas were also listed as among the most religious states in the nation, while New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts were the least religious states.

Nevada and the Pacific Northwest states of Washington, Oregon, and Alaska also ranked low in religiosity, whereas the Dakotas and Utah ranked relatively high.

Gallup said it is difficult to answer why residents of some states are more likely than those of other states to report that religion is important in their lives.

“Differing religious traditions and denominations tend to dominate historically in specific states, and religious groups have significantly different patterns of religious intensity among their adherents,” Gallup said.

Differing racial and ethnic compositions are also associated with differing degrees of religiosity, while certain states could attract immigrants with specific types of religious intensity.

Gallup also suggested that differing “state cultures” could be a factor.

The survey claimed a sampling error for most states of plus or minus one percentage point, though the margin of error in less populated states was as high as plus or minus four percentage points.

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Pope encourages Great Continental Mission in Latin America

Vatican City, Feb 19, 2009 (CNA) -

"Enthusiastically embrace" the Continental Mission that the Church in South America has embarked on, Pope Benedict XVI urged a group of 150 members of the Pontifical Latin American College that he received in audience today.

The group of seminarians, priests and deacons are all attendees of the storied Pius Pontifical Latin American College in Rome, which was established in 1858 and has over 4,000 graduates.

The Pope described the members of the community as heirs "to a rich human and spiritual heritage," which is the fruit "of the sowing of Christ's message of redemption over history."

The Holy Father then recounted a spiritual history of the numerous countries the students represent. For more than five hundred years "courageous missionaries made Jesus, our Savior, known to people," he began. Thus, through Baptism, those people opened themselves to the life of grace which made them adopted children of God. Furthermore, they received the Holy Spirit which made their cultures fruitful, purifying them, developing the seeds that the incarnate Word had placed in them, and guiding them along the paths of the Gospel."

Encouraging his audience to put their time in Rome to good use for the sake of the people they will serve, Benedict XVI exhorted the students to diligent study and rigorous research. These practices "will create in you a spiritual life rooted in the Word of God and nourished by the incomparable richness of the Sacraments," he said.

Latin America and the Carribean have always maintained a fondness for the Pope, Benedict mentioned as he recalled the trip he took to Aparecida, Brazil in 2007.

"Through my presence there," he said, "I sought to encourage bishops as they reflected on a fundamental aspect of the revival of the faith of the pilgrim Church in those beloved lands: that of leading all the faithful to become 'disciples and missionaries in Jesus Christ, that in Him our peoples may have life'."

As he brought his words to a close, the Holy Father encouraged the members of Latin American College to enthusiastically embrace the spirit of the Great Continental Mission proclaimed at the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, which has already begun to show positive signs in the diocese where it has begun.

The Great Continental Mission is an initiative that aims to increase catechetical and pastoral programs aimed at forming and developing "evangelized and missionary-oriented Christian communities" throughout all of South America.

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Pope and Curia prepare for annual Lenten spiritual exercises

Vatican City, Feb 19, 2009 (CNA) - The Pope and Roman Curia are set to begin their annual spiritual exercises on March 1, the first Sunday of Lent.  This year, the retreat will be preached by Cardinal Francis Arinze and will focus on the theme, “The priest meets Jesus and follows Him.”


Although the annual retreat has taken place since 1929, it has only been since the pontificate of Paul VI that the exercises were conducted during the first week of Lent.


The retreat will be lead by Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and will begin at 6 p.m. on Sunday, March 1 with Eucharistic exposition, the celebration of Vespers, an introductory meditation, adoration and Eucharistic blessing. Over the following days the rhythm of the retreat will consist of praying the Liturgy of the Hours followed by periods of meditation: the celebration of Lauds and meditation at 9:00 a.m.; the celebration of Terce and meditation at 10:15 a.m.; meditation at 5 p.m.; and Vespers, adoration and a Eucharistic blessing at 5:45 p.m.


In keeping with tradition, the retreat will take place is the "Redemptoris Mater" Chapel of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace and will conclude on Saturday, March, 7 with the celebration of Lauds and a closing meditation.


During the retreat all papal audiences will be canceled, including the weekly general audience on Wednesday, March 4.

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Church in Taiwan launches evangelization mission with support of laity

Rome, Italy, Feb 19, 2009 (CNA) - As the 150th anniversary of the evangelization of the country is marked, the Church in Taiwan is encouraging the laity to be a “bridge Church” with the Chinese mainland, reach 15,000 baptisms in 2009 and bring back to the faith those who have fallen away.

L’Osservatore Romano reported that Father Francesco King, Vicar of the Diocese of Taipei, explained that the evangelization initiative is how the Church in that country is marking the occasion.

With Catholics comprising about 1.42% of Taiwan’s population or 300,000 people, Father King said the Taiwanese faithful are called to “make their contribution to purifying society, carrying out initiatives to raise awareness among the people.” The bishops of the country believe that society “needs the comfort” of the Church, according to Fr. King, who pointed out that in order to fulfill this mission, Catholics must “enter into today’s world.”

The vicar also explained that “the seven dioceses of Taiwan, the parishes, the associations, the Catholic schools, the hospitals and our faithful are organizing a series of initiatives and we are already beginning to see the results.”

The contribution of the laity is vital for the Church to carry out this mission in the country, Father King added.  The LOR explained that the faith was brought to Taiwan in 1859 by three Spanish priests who traveled there from the Philippines and five Chinese catechists who arrived at Kaohsiung.

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Kidnapped Catholic sisters freed in Kenya

Nairobi, Kenya, Feb 19, 2009 (CNA) - Two Italian Catholic sisters who were kidnapped nearly four months ago in northern Kenya were released by their captors today, the Foreign Ministry of Italy said.

Sister Caterina Giraudo, 67, and Sister Maria Teresa Oliviero, 61, are both members of the Contemplative Missionary Movement of Fr. Charles de Foucauld and had been working for the Somali refugee population in Kenya when they were kidnapped.

Shortly after their release in Somalia, they were taken to Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, where they told the Italian public television (RAI), that they are fine. "Today we have risen," said Sister Giraudo.

The Director of the Holy See’s press office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, relayed that the Pope expressed his "great joy" upon hearing about the sisters’ release. Pope Benedict had personally appealed for the release of the two sisters in late November.

"If on the one hand, we are delighted by the news of the release, on the other hand, we say it is the dramatic use of kidnapping," which is "an unacceptable form of violence," said the Jesuit priest.

The Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also welcomed the release of the sisters, saying he had "closely followed the issue."

"The two are well and are at our embassy in Nairobi," Berlusconi confirmed.

Sister Maria Teresa Olivero and Sister Caterina Giraudo were abducted at night by a group of armed men on November 9 in the small town of El Wak on the Somali border. The sisters had been providing medical and nutritional care to malnourished children, expectant mothers and the elderly.

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Gordon Brown meets with Benedict XVI, talks about economic crisis

Vatican City, Feb 19, 2009 (CNA) -

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was received by Pope Benedict this morning for a meeting in which the two discussed the world financial crisis, the importance of remembering the poor and the conflicts in the Middle East.

The 35-minute meeting between the two leaders covered a lot of ground as they conversed about the "economic crisis and the duty to pursue initiatives benefiting the less-developed countries, projects of human promotion, respect for the environment and sustainable development."

A press release from the Vatican said that "hope was expressed for a renewed commitment on the part of the international community in settling ongoing conflicts, particularly in the Middle East."

"Finally, several bilateral themes were brought up, of interest above all for the Catholic community in the United Kingdom," the Holy See said.

The Times Online reports that Gordon Brown also invited the Pope to visit the U.K., but that hours later Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said that no visit is being planned.

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Hindu fundamentalists threaten Catholic schools

Rome, Italy, Feb 19, 2009 (CNA) - Catholics in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh have expressed their grave concern over threats made against Christian schools by the Hindu fundamentalist group Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarti Parishad (Abvp).

According to L’Osservatore Romano, this group is “the youth branch of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the extremist party that holds a majority in the current government.”

LOR reports that one of the party’s representatives said, “The schools that engage in anti-national acts will be identified and denounced to the police and the government.” The group accuses Christian schools of not allowing students to sing the national song or the national anthem.

Father Cajetan D’Mello, president of the Indore Catholic Schools Association, said the charges are baseless as the “national hymn or song is sung with the children on a regular basis” in Christian schools.

The national song, which is different from the national anthem, “was composed in remembrance of the independence from Great Britain and contains implicit references to the religion and culture of Hindus. Father D’Mello noted that Christian schools ‘defend the national traditions of India’.”

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Spain saw 100,000 marriages end in first nine months of 2008

Madrid, Spain, Feb 19, 2009 (CNA) - The Institute for Family Policy in Spain warned that the 100,000 marriages that ended during the first nine months of 2008 revealed that the breakdown of the family continues to be the main problem in Spanish homes and that leaders have not made up their minds to do anything to resolve it.

According to data from the courts, during the third trimester of 2008 there were more than 24,000 divorces, nearly 1,800 separations and 47 declarations of nullity, which represent a small decrease of one percent with respect to 2007.

However, during the first nine months of last year, there were a total of 96,500 ruptures between divorces (more than 89,000), separations and nullities, means that one marriage fails every four minutes.

According to the data, during the first nine months Andalusia was the community with the greatest number of ruptured marriages (18,052), followed by Catalonia (17,489) and Madrid (13,197). 

The president of the Institute for Family Policy, Eduardo Hertfelder, criticized the indifference of the government towards a problem such as family stability.

Hertfelder recalled that guaranteeing the right to conjugal stability is a fundamental task of the government, above all in the case of marriages where conflict or a crisis threatens children.

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Archbishop Chaput responds to Pelosi-Pope meeting

Denver, Colo., Feb 19, 2009 (CNA) - Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver is in complete agreement with the message that Pope Benedict XVI delivered to Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday. The archbishop also went so far as to say that since she disagrees with the Church on the "black and white issue" of abortion, she should not present herself for Communion.

The comments by Archbishop Chaput were made following Nancy Pelosi’s meeting with Pope Benedict, at which the Pope reminded the Speaker of the House that all legislators, but especially Catholics, are bound to protect human life from conception to natural death.

FOX News’ Neil Cavuto invited Archbishop Chaput to give his reaction to the Pope-Pelosi meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

Cavuto began by pointing out the disparity between Pelosi’s statement about the meeting and the Pope’s.

"I got very different reads from both the Pope’s message of that meeting and the speaker’s, but the gist of the Pope’s is that, she has a duty to respect life, what did you make of that?" said Cavuto.

"Well it’s true," replied the archbishop. "Every Catholic, whether you’re famous or anonymous, whether you’re a public official or a private citizen, has a responsibility to be faithful to what the Church believes about human life, and we believe that human life is sacred and precious from the moment of conception. So that applies to the Speaker as well as it does to me and to you and to anyone who’s Catholic."

Referring to a previous interview regarding Pelosi’s comment that when life begins is not agreed upon by Catholic teaching, Cavuto asked, "isn’t it a fairly black and white issue?"

Chaput responded, "Well it’s not a fairly black and white issue, it’s a clearly black and white issue.

"The Church without a doubt believes that human life begins at the moment of conception," he said.

Cavuto also asked Archbishop Chaput if he would deny Holy Communion to Pelosi.

To which, the archbishop responded:

"Well, I’d like to talk to her if she’s coming to church in the Archdiocese of Denver and I’d say to her what I’d say to anyone, if you don’t accept what the Church teaches, you shouldn’t present yourself for Communion, because Communion means you’re in agreement with what the Church teaches, and, as I said to you earlier, that applies to all of us..."

Isn’t she boxed in by Catholic beliefs on the one hand and by a society that is pro-choice? Cavuto queried.

"Well I don’t think it’s a box to defend the truth and to stand up for what you know to be right, even if others in the community disagree with you, and being honest about our moral principles is a sign of maturity, is a sign of being a statesman.

"And I think that politicians are required to be both good Americans and good Catholics at the same time and to be convincing when they present the position of the community on basic human rights," the archbishop replied.

Referring to the issue of abortion, Archbishop Chaput said, "This is a human rights issue, from the point of view of the Church, and not a theological or religious perspective. Our religious perspective supports that, but that’s not the source of our belief about the sacredness of human life."

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Firefighters forced to participate in ‘gay pride’ parade win lawsuit

San Diego, Calif., Feb 19, 2009 (CNA) - A California jury found on Tuesday that four firefighters, who were ordered by their superiors to participate in the city’s “gay pride” parade were sexually harassed, and awarded them monetary damages from the city.


The case dates back to July 2007 when four San Diego firefighters were informed by their superiors that they would be participating in San Diego’s annual “Gay Pride” parade.  Though the four men protested, they were ordered to dress up in full uniform and ride on the fire engine along the parade route.


During the event, explains a statement from the Thomas More Law Center, the firefighters were subjected to “vile sexual taunts and gestures.” 


Some of the comments hurled at the firefighters along the parade route included: “you can put out my fire; you’re making me hot; give me mouth-to-mouth.” When the firefighters did not respond, some people in the crowd turned hostile and started yelling obscenities at them.


Other bystanders directed lewd acts at the firefighters, such as exposing their genitals, grabbing their crotch, and blowing kisses.


Shortly after the parade, the four firefighters filed a lawsuit against the City of San Diego.  The first trial ended in a hung jury.  However, the jurors of the retrial, which ended yesterday, found in favor of the four firefighters “on all nine questions in the verdict form,” reports the Thomas More Law Center.


The four men were awarded a combined total of $34,300 for emotional distress.  In addition, Fire Chief Tracy Jarman has stated that participation in future parades will be voluntary.


Charles S. LiMandri, West Coast Director of the Thomas More Law Center, reacted to the ruling, saying, “This is a victory for all people who are willing to stand up for what is right when it comes to defending our basic freedoms of speech and religion.  No one should be forced to be subjected to sexual harassment on the job – not even male heterosexual firefighters who are being harassed by homosexual men at a Gay Pride Parade.  All city officials should now think twice before ever making such a wrongheaded decision to violate their employees’ rights in such an improper manner again.”


Co-counsel in the case, Alliance Defense Fund Senior Counsel Joe Infranco added in a statement, “Many people may mistakenly think the ‘gay pride’ parade is merely a ‘fun’ event.  They never would have imagined the crude sexual harassment these firefighters were forced to endure.”


Deputy City Attorney Don Shanahan stated that the city will appeal the verdict.

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Argentinean cardinal calls for solid priestly formation to evangelize culture

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Feb 19, 2009 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, stressed the need this week to provide seminarians with a solid formation that will allow them to be pastors in contact with reality and evangelizers of the culture.

During the plenary meeting of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America in Rome, the cardinal spoke about the significance and importance of priestly academic formation. He also emphasized the need for it to be solid, especially in the case of those who are tasked with teaching doctrine.

“Perhaps in this point is where we find the crux of the problem with today’s formation: the contact with reality, as the evangelization of the culture and the enculturation of the gospel, requires solid discernment,” Cardinal Bergoglio said in an extensive speech in which he recalled that the mission of the priest is to communicate “the full life of Jesus Christ to our peoples.”

The cardinal went on to say, “Future pastors need to enter into contact with the heart of the cultures of the peoples they are going to serve, and not with the mere surface or with fragments of a reality mediated and modified by the positive sciences.”

Cardinal Bergoglio said a solid humanistic formation is needed to make pastors “appreciate more and more the wisdom of the peoples where it symbolically and mystically connects with the unity of nature and with the transcendent mystery of God, expressed by respect for the sacred and by devotion to what is holy and to the saints.”

The Argentinean cardinal said a solid formation of priests must instill in them a “spiritual discretion that is capable of testing everything and keeping only what is good,” in contrast with the temptation in today’s world to erase distinctions and fall into “all kinds of syncretism.”

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