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Archive of March 3, 2009

St. Pius X Society leader says Bishop Williamson should ‘stay quiet’

Berlin, Germany, Mar 3, 2009 (CNA) - Society of St. Pius X head Bishop Bernard Fellay has said Bishop Richard Williamson’s apology for his Holocaust remarks is an “important step” but added that Bishop Williamson should probably stay quiet and stay “in a corner somewhere” or face being kicked out of the Society.

In a 2008 interview with a Swedish television crew, Bishop Williamson had said no more than 300,000 Jews died in the Holocaust and denied that there were gas chambers at the concentration camps.

His remarks prompted media uproar in January after Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications on the four bishops of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), a breakaway traditionalist group.

Last Thursday, Bishop Williamson issued a statement expressing regret for making the remarks and apologizing for the reaction and “scandal” they had caused.

However, he did not explicitly retract his opinions.

Speaking to the German weekly Der Spiegel, Bishop Fellay said the apology was honest.

"It is a first request for forgiveness and an important step in the right direction,” he said. Adding that Bishop Williamson had damaged the SSPX, Bishop Fellay distanced himself from the bishop.

If Bishop Williamson denies the Holocaust again, Bishop Fellay warned, he will be excluded from the SSPX.

“It is probably better if he stays quiet and stays in a corner somewhere,” Bishop Fellay said, according to Reuters. He said he believed it unlikely that the Vatican would excommunicate Bishop Williamson a second time.

On Friday, Vatican spokesman Fr. Frederico Lombardi said Bishop Williamson’s statement fell short of demands that he must “distance himself in an absolute, unequivocal and public manner from his positions regarding the Shoah.”

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City funding for Mark Twain church prompts lawsuit threat

Reno, Nev., Mar 3, 2009 (CNA) - Carson City, Nevada’s decision to fund sidewalks, landscaping and roof repairs for a church that Mark Twain helped build has prompted protests and the threat of a lawsuit from a group that advocates strict separation of church and state.

Last month, Carson City supervisors voted to give the city’s First Presbyterian Church $78,800 for the sidewalks, landscaping and roof repairs, the Associated Press reports. In 2006, the city gave the church $67,700 to help with design costs for a new church building adjacent to the old one.

City and church officials say the money addresses additional costs resulting from an agreement that the congregation would not raze the original church but instead build a new one.

The Washington, D.C.-based group Americans United for Separation of Church and State protested the decision. If the supervisors do not rescind their votes, the group will consider a lawsuit, Americans United attorney Alex Luchenitser said.

"It seems to be a very clear constitutional violation," he told the Associated Press. "The First Amendment mandates separation of church and state. Public funds can't be used to support religious activity directly or indirectly."

City officials said the money is designed to save the historic brick church, not support religious activity.

Luchenitser said Americans United was “quite confident” it would prevail, based on other legal precedents.

The group will reportedly give the city a chance to respond to its Thursday letter and then consider its options if the city does not change its decision.

The church’s pastor, Bruce Kochsmeier, said that the city’s money is “minimal compensation” for the church having to revise its plans. He argued the money benefits all residents.

"Doesn't the door swing both ways? Wasn't it a violation when we weren't allowed to tear down our building?" Kochsmeier asked. "Wasn't that right of religious expression being squelched?"

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Michigan Catholic Conference praises new stem cell method

Lansing, Mich., Mar 3, 2009 (CNA) - The Michigan Catholic Conference on Monday welcomed reports that stem cell researchers have discovered another method to advance science without intentionally destroying human embryos. Praising research that avoids “ethical and moral landmines,” the Conference called on state legislators to support legislation promoting it.

On Monday, the science journal Nature reported that specialized human cells have been transformed into a state similar to that of embryonic stem cells without using viruses.

Embryonic stem cells are totipotent, capable of generating all of the body’s specialized cells. Researchers have speculated that embryonic stem cell research could develop significant medical advances, but the research relies on the destruction of human embryos and human cloning.

Alternative methods for generating stem cells are being developed.

Kyoto University researcher Shinya Yamanaka and his colleagues have reprogrammed mouse skin cells into an embryonic-like state by infecting them with a virus containing four genetic factors. The modified cells are known as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.

However, Nature reports, viruses integrate unpredictably into the cells’ genome.

A new iPS production method that does not use viruses has been developed by stem cell researchers led by Andreas Nagy of the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, and Keisuke Kaji, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh.

The researchers inserted genes encoding Yamanaka’s genetic factors into a piece of DNA called a cassette. The cassette contained a “jumping gene” known as piggyBAC, discovered by a University of Notre Dame scientist.

The researchers showed the cassette could be inserted into mouse DNA and human skin cells and could reprogram the cells to enter an embryonic-like state.

The new method used an enzyme called transposase to remove the cassette from the mouse cells.

However, some scientists say the technique is not a major advance over methods which use viruses until the cassette can be removed from human cells.

According to Nature, Nagy is confident he will be able to apply the technique to human cells.

Commenting on the development in a Monday statement, Michigan Catholic Conference Vice President for Public Policy Paul Long said the Conference welcomes “yet another scientific advancement that allows researchers to pursue ethical and proven stem cell research” without destroying human embryos.

“It is the hope of the Conference that state lawmakers will pursue legislation that enables non-embryo destructive stem cell research to flourish in Michigan, such as measures introduced last year that promote Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Research.”

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat and self-professed Catholic, has been criticized for supporting research that kills human embryos.

In October 2008, Bishop of Lansing Earl Boyea rebuked the governor’s endorsement of a ballot measure intended to overturn restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.

“While the Catholic Church strongly supports legitimate forms of stem cell research and all other proper forms of scientific inquiry, the Church also teaches that is it is always immoral to destroy a human embryo,” he said.

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New statistics on Angola and Cameroon published ahead of Pope’s trip

Vatican City, Mar 3, 2009 (CNA) - In just two week’s time, Pope Benedict will be making his first trip as Pope to Africa. With preparations for the March 17-23 trip gearing up, the Church has published statistics on Catholic involvement in Angola and Cameroon.

The Holy Father is visiting Cameroon to participate in the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, while his trip to Angola will involve a meeting with civil authorities, the bishops of the region and the faithful.

The newly released information on the Catholic Church in the two countries comes from the Central Statistical Office of the Church and was updated December 31, 2007.

Pope Benedict is due to first land on African soil in Cameroon’s capital city Yaounde. Situated on the western coast of Africa, the Republic of Cameroon, has a population of 18,160,000 of whom 4,842,000 (26.7 percent) are Catholic.

There are 24 ecclesiastical circumscriptions, 816 parishes and 3,630 pastoral centers of other kinds. Currently, there are 31 bishops, 1,847 priests, 2,478 religious, 28 lay members of secular institutes and 18,722 catechists. Minor seminarians number 2,249 and major seminarians 1,361.

Catholic schooling is also prevalent in the country with 410,964 students attending 1,530 institutes of Catholic education, which range from kindergarten to the university level. Other institutions belonging to the Church or run by priests or religious in Cameroon include 28 hospitals, 235 clinics, 11 homes for the elderly or disabled, 15 orphanages and nurseries, 40 family counseling centers and other pro-life centers, 23 centers for education and social rehabilitation, and 32 institutions of other kinds.

The second country that Pope Benedict will visit is the Republic of Angola, which has the city of Luanda as its capital. The Pope will arrive in Luanda just before 1:00 p.m. on Friday, March 20.

Angola, located due south of Cameroon on Africa’s west coast, has a population of 15,473,000 of whom 8,600,000 (55.6 percent) are Catholic.

There are 18 ecclesiastical circumscriptions, 307 parishes and 2,976 pastoral centers of other kinds. Currently, there are 27 bishops, 794 priests, 2,276 religious, 5 lay members of secular institutes and 30,934 catechists. Minor seminarians number 1,031 and major seminarians 1,236.

A total of 226,798 students attend 481 centers of Catholic education, which covers the educational spectrum from kindergarten to the university level. Other institutions belonging to the Church or run by priests or religious in Cameroon include 23 hospitals, 269 clinics, 16 homes for the elderly or disabled, 45 orphanages and nurseries, 37 family counseling centers and other pro-life centers, 28 centers for education and social rehabilitation, and 41 institutions of other kinds.

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Malaysian authorities bow to Muslim pressure over ‘Allah’ in Catholic weekly

Rome, Italy, Mar 3, 2009 (CNA) - Malaysia’s Ministry of the Interior has flip-flopped on granting permission to a Catholic newspaper to use the word "Allah" in reference to God in its publications. Although news reports indicated that the publication would be allowed to use "Allah," government officials are denying that permission was ever given.

The national Bernama news agency is reporting that Home Affairs Minister Syed Hamid Albar has retracted a Feb. 16 decree allowing Christian publications to use the word as long as they specified the material was not for Muslims.

The government bowed to threats from Islamic groups, who harshly criticized the government for granting permission and warned that even conditional use of "Allah" would stoke Muslim fury.

At the center of the controversy is the Catholic weekly, The Herald, the country’s only Catholic publication. Several months ago, the Home Affairs Ministry revoked the weekly’s publication license for using the term, which the Ministry had said was only permitted for Muslim use.

Father Lawrence Andrew, the director of the Herald, told the Associated Press that, "Unfortunately the apparent relief that we imagined we were able to enjoy has been short-lived."

According to Fr. Andrew, "in the local Malaysian language, there is no other term besides Allah to refer to God."

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New Catholic website protests Gov. Sebelius’ Cabinet nomination

Washington D.C., Mar 3, 2009 (CNA) - Catholic opponents of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ nomination to become Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have launched a new website which decries her “extremist support for abortion” and solicits petition signatures protesting her nomination.

The site www.catholicsagainstsebelius.org characterizes Gov. Sebelius, a Democrat and self-described Catholic, as “an avid supporter of the most radical abortion politics.”

It notes her legislative and gubernatorial efforts to promote and defend unrestricted abortion access, criticizing her vetoes for abortion clinic safety regulations and laws requiring informed consent.

Also reported at the site are Sebelius’ connections to late-term abortionist Dr. George Tiller, who is facing criminal charges for allegedly performing illegal late-term abortions. The governor hosted a party for Tiller at the governor’s mansion after he purchased the event as part of a fundraiser.

The site highlights Archbishop of Kansas City Joseph Naumann’s rebuke of Gov. Sebelius. In 2008 the archbishop said the governor should refrain from receiving Communion until she makes a worthy confession and publicly retracts her support for abortion rights.

The website also features a petition asking Congress to reject the nomination of the “anti-life” Kathleen Sebelius.

The Washington, D.C.-based group Catholic Advocate sponsors the web site. The group, whose executive director is Deal Hudson, says its mission is to report on the policies and voting records of Catholic politicians at every level of government.

“Catholic Advocate defends the social and moral teaching of the Catholic Church in regard to the defense of unborn life, the terminally ill, and marriage between man and woman,” the group says, deeming these to be “non-negotiable teachings of the Catholic faith” that cannot be ignored for political or prudential considerations.

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Jesus gives meaning to the life of priests, Cardinal Arinze preaches

Rome, Italy, Mar 3, 2009 (CNA) - “It is Jesus who gives meaning to the life of the priest. Without Him, the priesthood is not understood, it makes no sense,” Cardinal Francis Arinze said this week as he led the members of the Roman Curia and Pope Benedict in their annual spiritual exercises at the Vatican.

The cardinal recalled that when Jesus is not present in the life of the priest, “I would say his vocation becomes a farce. In whose name does he celebrate, preach or act?”

“The priest is Christ’s ambassador. Therefore if all Christians need to follow Jesus, much more so does the priest. His testimony is before the eyes of all, especially before those who do not believe,” he reminded the retreatants.

In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Arinze explained why he chose the theme, “The priest meets Jesus and follows Him,” for the Lenten reflections. “I thought that in the encounter and following of Jesus we can see the synthesis of all of Christianity.  On the one hand, there is Jesus who calls us. On the other, we find ourselves with our response: we encounter Him, we follow Him and this becomes a way of life.”

“This is what happened with the first apostles: Jesus sees them and He tells them to follow Him. This following includes listening, His teaching, the miracles and prayer. We can say the Apostles spent three years in Major Seminary and the rector was the Son of God.”

Speaking later about what it means to him to be able to lead the Lenten reflections for Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Arinze said, “I wasn’t expecting it, and therefore it is a task I assume very seriously. I said to myself: the Pope could find a good theologian, how did he pick me? But later I thought, ‘he’s the one who can, so this is the will of God. Why should I not have the simplicity to share the little that I have?’ And with this spirit I welcomed the invitation.”

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Modified health code would legalize abortion in cases of rape in Mexico

Mexico City, Mexico, Mar 3, 2009 (CNA) - The media in Mexico reported this week that the country’s Secretariat of Health has caved to pressure from anti-life feminist groups and has changed norms to require health care facilities throughout Mexico to administer “emergency contraception” and even provide abortion for women in cases of rape.

In July of last year, the Secretariat modified Mexican Official Norm 046, which deals with domestic violence, sexual assault and violence against women, to say that health institutions “shall” provide the morning-after pill. Then in January of 2009, the secretariat changed the wording from “shall” to “may.”

Giving in to fierce protests from feminist and anti-life organizations, the Secretariat has changed the language back to how it was originally written, which in practice legalized abortion in cases of rape.

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L’Osservatore Romano recalls Pius XII’s silent work for peace

Rome, Italy, Mar 3, 2009 (CNA) - In an article commemorating the 70th anniversary of the election of Pope Pius XII to the See of Peter, the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano recalled his great work during World War II, and his “repeated, untiring words of peace, silently working to save as many lives as humanly possible.”

This “work of peace” of Pius XII that saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jews “was recognized at first but later forgotten and even obscured by orchestrated controversies that are historically unfounded,” the newspaper stated in an editorial about Pope Pacelli. Pius XII, the article reminds, was elected on March 2, 1939, after three votes in less than 24 hours.

“In an international situation that was quickly heading towards an abyss opened a pontificate that would reveal itself to be one of the most important of the 20th century.  The new Pope, characterized by profound religiosity and recognized even by his most severe critics (…) was most likely the most educated and brilliant exponent of a pontifical diplomacy….”

His closest collaborators at the Secretary of State were the two extraordinary men “Giovanni Battista Montini (years later Paul VI) and Domenico Tardini, whom the Pope named to key posts.”

The editorial penned by Giovanni Maria Vian, the director of LOR, went on to note that having served St. Pius X and Pius XI, Pope Pacelli acquired unique and firsthand experience “about the Church and about international affairs.” The Pope put this experience to work for the sake of the Church, a service that grew until the end of his papacy.

After underscoring his “attention to modernity” and how Paul VI referred to him years later as the “friend of our time,” Vian explained that Pius XII’s mixture “of rigorous theological, juridical and spiritual preparation, … his international openness, … and his attention to modernity allowed Pacelli—in continuity with Pius XI and the Popes that preceded him—to help Catholicism, once the frightening tragedy of the war had been overcome, to confront the transition into a new era.”

For the Church of Rome, this was marked by “the election of John XXIII and later above all by Vatican II.”
                                                        
Seventy years after the election of Pius XII, the editorial concludes, “it seems necessary to return to a long and balanced consensus on his actions during the war and on the importance of his pontificate, doing justice first to history, even before to a great Pope.”

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Chinese Catholics ‘terrified’ of losing freedoms, professor says

Tuscaloosa, Ala., Mar 3, 2009 (CNA) - A University of Alabama professor who recently studied in China for several months reports that Catholics in the country are enjoying freedoms but are anxious about government monitoring and “terrified” their liberties may be swiftly taken away.

Dr. Anthony E. Clark, assistant professor of history at The University of Alabama, returned to the United States in December 2008 after studying the history of Christianity in China. He particularly focused on the stories of Catholic martyrs and the destruction of Christian churches during the Boxer Rebellion, which lasted from 1898 to 1900.

Though the nation’s Christians are engaged in “enormous restoration work” and enjoy “enormous freedom,” Prof. Clark said, “at the same time, you’ll see an arrest of an underground bishop, or a couple gets a warning from the party police about a visit they had with a foreigner.”

“So the old powers are still there, and you don’t know when they will re-emerge. Chinese Christians are enjoying a freedom that causes an equal amount of anxiety. They’re terrified. They live in terror for the freedom that they have.”

Prof. Clark recounted how a couple who helped him and his wife during their travels was visited by the party police. Police reportedly approached the couple’s church and told them “they knew everything that they did with the two foreigners” and that they were being watched.

“They were terrified. So the claws are still out,” he said.

While books about the history of Christianity in China and Catholic materials are available in churches and bookstores, internet access to information on Pope Benedict XVI is often cut off and photos of him are rare.

“Before the communist revolution, Christianity was a tiny little minority, and it’s still a minority, but it’s the fastest growing religion in China today,” Prof. Clark said.

“Catholics were three-fourths of Chinese Christians, and Protestants one-fourth before the revolution; today it’s the opposite. Protestants are three-fourths of the Christians in China and Catholics are one-fourth. The Protestant house churches are exploding. There are so many. It’s the fastest-growing religion in China.”

Prof. Clark, who is Catholic, met with priests, nuns and laity in several provinces.

Almost all Christian churches in China were wiped out during the Cultural Revolution. A new openness emerged in the early 1980s under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping.

During the years of suppression from the 1950s to the early 1980s, some priests served as dairy farmers or held regular jobs and carried out their priestly duties at night, Prof. Clark explained.

“They kept in closed communities. One bishop said to me, in the 1960s and ’70s you didn’t even know who a Catholic was. They led private lives. You couldn’t see one from the next. Then when the churches reopened in the ’80s, suddenly you knew, wow, my neighbor is a Catholic.”

Attempting to cut Catholics off from the rest of the Catholic Church, the Chinese government formed the Patriotic Catholic Association, whose bishops were appointed by the Communist Party.

Underground bishops in communion with the Pope ministered clandestinely.

However, the two groups have begun to merge as more Patriotic Catholic Association bishops pledge communion with Rome.

“It used to be all patriotic bishops were disconnected with the Vatican,” Clark said. “At this moment, about 98 to 99 percent are what we’d call openly in communion with Rome, which means that there are probably only two or three bishops left in China who are not in open communion with the Vatican. The new complicated situation is that the so-called underground bishops literally live with or share the same building with the so-called patriotic bishops.”

Prof. Clark has blogged about his experiences at the Ignatius Insight web site and is currently finishing a book about Catholic martyrs in China.

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HLI president slams Catholics United support for Sebelius nomination

Front Royal, Va., Mar 3, 2009 (CNA) - Joining other pro-life leaders, Fr. Thomas Euteneuer is speaking out against a group of Catholic scholars and leaders who are supporting President Obama’s choice of Kathleen Sebelius for HHS Secretary.

Citing Sebelius’ vetoes of restrictions on late-term abortions and her relationship with the abortionist George Tiller as "troubling," the president of Human Life International says that "faithful Catholics everywhere are scandalized both by Sebelius's repeated and disingenuous invocation of her faith as justifying her pro-abortion record."

Fr. Euteneuer is also taking aim at a statement from 26 Catholic intellectuals and leaders supporting Sebelius’ selection that was published by Catholics United on March 1. The endorsement, comments Fr. Euteneuer, from "supposedly prominent 'Catholics' …shows extreme ignorance of Church teaching on abortion."

"There's another prominent Catholic they may have heard of, and his name is Pope Benedict XVI," says Fr. Euteneuer. "And he has clearly taught that endorsing, and even worse, signing into law, legislation that directly results in the destruction of innocent human life, as Governor Sebelius has done, is a formal cooperation with evil, and therefore itself a grave evil."

"One wonders what the word 'integrity' means to these self-proclaimed 'faithful Catholics'." "In the same document that they elevate their identity as 'faithful Catholics' as the reason for their endorsement of this anti-life choice, they accuse others of 'politicizing' the Catholic faith in opposition to the choice."

Explaining that Catholics United coordinated the release of the statement in support of Sebelius, the HLI president warns that the group twists the U.S. bishops’ document, Faithful Citizenship, for their own purposes.

"The American bishops should know that a group which uses the bishops' reasoning to justify their existence is endorsing a radically anti-life candidate for a key position in the battle to defend human life," says Fr. Euteneuer.

"We implore our bishops to rebuke this group, making clear that their teaching is not to be misused to forward the anti-life agenda."

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