Archive of March 10, 2009

Cardinal calls for model of development must serve the person not money

Madrid, Spain, Mar 10, 2009 (CNA) - The Apostolic Administrator of Valencia, Cardinal Agustin Garcia-Gasco, called on Catholic centers and people in positions of leadership to come up with a model of development that is at the service of the dignity of the person rather than money, because the crisis of ethical values was the origin of the current economic crisis.

In a recent letter, the cardinal pointed out that the economy cannot remain “on the margins of the creation of networks of authentic trust and genuine solidarity,” and that “the current situation shows us how easy it is to go from a crisis of economic values to an economic crisis.”

“Destroying the ethics of human behavior, basing it exclusively on legality—which ends up being empty legalism—brings some of the sad consequences that we are experiencing,” the cardinal explained.

Cardinal Garcia-Gasco criticized putting the interests of a few over the common good, as in the long run everyone is affected by the economy.  “When economic figures stray from the concrete reality of persons, sooner or later they will abruptly fall to the ground,” he said.

The cardinal also referred to the international Women’s Day, which was marked on Sunday, noting that in Spain many women unfairly suffer in their personal lives from having to balance work with family. 

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Catholics United denies group formed to cover for pro-abortion pols

Washington D.C., Mar 10, 2009 (CNA) - Fr. Bernard Healey, the editor of the Rhode Island Catholic, has written an editorial accusing the group Catholics United of being formed to “give cover to pro-abortion policymakers.”Chris Korzen, Executive Director of Catholics United, has contended that this is a misrepresentation of the organization.

Writing in a March 5 editorial for the Rhode Island Catholic, Fr. Bernard Healey criticized President Barack Obama for overturning the Mexico City Policy, moving to rescind conscience protection rules for health care workers and nominating the pro-abortion “rights” Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to become Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“The Kansas governor is a Catholic and well known for her ties to the notorious late-term abortionist Dr. George Tiller,” Fr. Healey wrote. “As Governor of Kansas she vetoed legislation that would have stopped late-term abortions and impeded the investigation of Dr. Tiller’s horrific practice of late term abortion. If confirmed by the Senate as the HHS Secretary, Gov. Sebelius would have the authority to issue regulations that would undermine pro-life policies and eliminate conscience protections for Catholic and other pro-life medical professionals.”

The priest also noted that the governor has been rebuked by Archbishop of Kansas City Joseph Naumann, who asked her to refrain from Communion until she disavows her support for abortion.

Fr. Healey then criticized Catholics United, a group which on its website describes itself as “a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting the message of justice and the common good found at the heart of the Catholic Social Tradition.”

“Not surprisingly,” the priest charged, Gov. Sebelius has the support of the “radical abortion lobby” and also Catholics United. He quoted the group’s claim that Gov. Sebelius “has made clear that she agrees with church teaching that abortion is wrong and has lived and acted according to that belief. As governor, she has worked to reduce the number of abortions by supporting expanded prenatal care and adoption incentives, expanding health services for Kansas families, and providing a variety of support services for families.”

“Catholics United is not an official Catholic group but rather a group of liberal Catholics formed to provide cover for pro-abortion policymakers such as President Obama under the guise of promoting “social justice and the common good.”

In a statement to CNA, Catholics United executive director Chris Korzen said Fr. Healey’s charge about the group was “an inaccurate statement.”

“Fr. Healey has agreed to publish a letter from me correcting the statement, which is absolutely not true,” he said.

Recently, Catholics United has been attacked in the Catholic blogosphere as a front group for Democratic initiatives and candidates.

In October 2008, Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput described Catholics United as a “Democratic-friendly” group. The group has done a “disservice to the Church” and has also “confused the natural priorities of Catholic social teaching, undermined the progress pro-lifers have made, and provided an excuse for some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue instead of fighting within their parties and at the ballot box to protect the unborn.”

Catholics United responded by voicing concern that the archbishop’s comments will have a “chilling effect” on dialogue about Catholic values in public life. They characterized his criticism as “personal attacks on lay Catholics acting in good faith to promote Catholic values in the public square.”

 According to the Catholics United web site, the group’s Director of Organizing James Salt “oversaw the Kansas Democratic Party's faith outreach efforts, including messaging work for Governor Sebelius and development of faith-based messaging resources.”

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Study reports ‘stunning’ U.S. Catholic population shift alongside growing secularization

Hartford, Conn., Mar 10, 2009 (CNA) - A new study on American religion finds that Catholicism is facing a “stunning” decline in the northeast United States as the population center of U.S. Catholics shifts towards the southwest. Secularism continues to grow in all regions, while mainline Protestant denominations face the most significant population decline.

The study, titled the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), was conducted by the Program on Public Values at Trinity College.

According to the ARIS report, Catholic numbers and percentages rose in many states in the South and West mainly due to immigration.

“Catholics increased their share in California and Texas to about one-third of the adult population and in Florida to over one-fourth. In terms of numbers they gained about 8 million adherents in these three states in the past two decades,” the report says.

In the Northeast, Catholic adherents fell from 46 percent to 36 percent of the adult population.

“New England had a net loss of one million Catholics. Big losses in both the number of Catholic adherents and their proportion occurred also in Massachusetts, and in Rhode Island, the nation’s most heavily Catholic state where the proportion of Catholics dropped from 62 percent to 46 percent. New York state lost 800,000 Catholics and they dropped from 44% to 37% of the adult population.”

“The decline of Catholicism in the Northeast is nothing short of stunning,” said Barry Kosmin, a principal investigator for ARIS.

The ARIS study estimates that self-identified Catholics in 2008 numbered about 57.2 million, 25.1 percent of the population. This contrasts to about 50.9 million who made up 24.5 percent of the population in 2001, and 46 million who made up 26.2 percent of the population in 1990.

The percentage of Christians in the U.S. declined from 86.2 percent in the 1990s to 76 percent. ARIS attributes 90 percent of the decline to the non-Catholic segment of the Christian population. The mainline Protestant segment, which includes Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians/Anglicans, and the United Church of Christ, particularly declined. They constitute just 12.9 percent of the population, down from 18.7 percent in 1990 and 17.2 percent in 2001.

Baptists, the largest non-Catholic Christian tradition in the U.S., grew by two million but declined as a percentage of the population.

Among self-described Christians, the number of persons who identified only as “Christian,” “Evangelical/Born Again” or “non-denominational Christian” grew the most. In 1990 they numbered less than 200,000 people, five percent of the U.S. population in 1990, to over 8 million, 11.8 percent of the U.S. population, in 2008.

Mark Silk, director of the Public Values Program, in a statement said the split between mainline and evangelical Christians is “collapsing.”

“A generic form of evangelicalism is emerging as the normative form of non-Catholic Christianity in the United States,” he said.

The percentage of Americans claiming no religion jumped from 8.2 percent in 1990 to 14.2 percent in 2001. Their numbers have increased to 15 percent, with Northern New England now the least religious section of the country.

“The ‘Nones’ are the only group to have grown in every state of the Union,” said study investigator Ariela Keysar.

The study reports that only 69.5 percent of Americans say there is “definitely a personal God.” About 12.1 percent professed belief in a “higher power” but not a personal God. Only 2.3 percent of respondents denied the existence of God, while about ten percent professed uncertainty or said there was no way to know if God exists.

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Cardinal O’Malley: joint health care venture in Mass. will not violate Catholic ethics

Boston, Mass., Mar 10, 2009 (CNA) - A proposed joint insurance venture between a Massachusetts Catholic health care network and a nonreligious health organization is being criticized for potentially covering abortions and other “confidential family planning services.” However, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley said he has been assured that the venture will not violate Catholic ethics.

The Caritas Christi Health Care network, which is affiliated with the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, is considering a partnership with Centene Corp. to enter into the state’s subsidized health program, Commonwealth Care.

The Boston Globe reports that under the proposal contracts with healthcare providers would be negotiated by Centene, not the archdiocese. Caritas hospitals will make up only six of the 39 hospitals and 66 health centers providing service under the plan.

Caritas hospitals will not provide abortion services, saying in as statement that it will follow Catholic moral teaching and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ ethical guidelines “at all times and in all cases.”

On March 12 state legislators are scheduled to vote whether to accept the Caritas-Centene bid.

The state’s Connector Authority oversees the subsidized insurance program and was reviewing the Caritas-Centene proposal. On Feb. 26 a Connector Authority member raised the abortion issue, saying she was concerned that low-income women might not receive full services under the Caritas venture because Caritas will not provide abortions.

On the same day, Caritas and Centene Corp. released a one-note statement that said the joint venture “will contract with providers, both in and out of the Caritas network, to ensure access to all services required by the authority, including confidential family planning services.”

C. J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, told the Boston Globe the proposal appears to be “an appalling betrayal of Catholic principles and a grave scandal.”

Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, told the Boston Globe she had heard from so many members that the group would address the issue at its executive committee.

“It looks to me as though . . . an entity has to give up certain of its basic principles, and that just doesn't hang right,” she said.

Responding to the criticisms in a March 3 statement, Caritas Spokeswoman Teresa Prego released a statement saying the application for the state program is “a complex public policy process.”

Caritas will investigate “all aspects of the proposed relationship” in order to “insure [sic] that Caritas Christi's participation will be in accord with Catholic teaching.”

Caritas characterized its participation in the proposal as a “minority investment,” while state regulators have presented its bid with Centene as a “joint venture.” Caritas says the venture will be called Commonwealth Family Health Plan and has filed for licensing by the state Department of Insurance.

On March 5, Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley released a statement on the proposal, saying that Catholic teaching on protecting human life from conception until natural death is “clear and without ambiguity.”

Referring to the concerns involved in the proposal involving Caritas Christi Health Care and the Commonwealth Care program, he said:

“I understand and support the desire of Caritas Christi to serve as a health care system collaborating with this program. If it can happen without compromising the Catholic identity of the system it would benefit both civil society and especially the poor in our community.”

Noting his own episcopal responsibility to ensure that Caritas adheres to Catholic ethics, he said:

“I want to confirm for the Catholic community and the wider interested public that Caritas Christi Health Care has assured me that it will not be engaged in any procedures nor draw any benefits from any relationship which violate the Church’s moral teaching as found in the Ethical and Religious Directives. Caritas Christi has been consistently faithful to these standards in the past and will continue to do so in the future.”

“These are principles of Catholic teaching on which we cannot yield,” his statement continued. “Our healthcare ministry is rooted in protecting the most vulnerable among us, including the unborn.”

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Connecticut bill on Catholic Church nearly identical to Voice of the Faithful strategy

Hartford, Conn., Mar 10, 2009 (CNA) - Catholics around the country are upset over a new bill in the Connecticut Senate that, in the words of the Archbishop of Hartford, "forces a radical reorganization of the legal, financial, and administrative structure of our parishes." The bill, which bears resemblance to Voice of the Faithful’s Strategic Plan, is being supported by Dr. Paul Lakeland, who believes that in this case it’s appropriate to use state legislation to force the Church’s hand.


Dr. Paul Lakeland, Fairfield University Chair of Catholic Studies, Voice of the Faithful member, former Jesuit Priest, and author of several books including “The Liberation of the Laity: In Search of an Accountable Church,” recently discussed his support for Connecticut’s controversial Bill No. 1098 with CNA. Dr. Lakeland is also scheduled to testify before the Connecticut General Assembly on behalf of the bill.


The premise of the bill is remarkably similar to the 2009-2010 Voice of the Faithful Strategic Plan. “The VOTF,” as Dr. Lakeland explains, “grew up in response to the sex abuse scandals here. One of the things that became rapidly apparent, among both liberals and conservatives, was the sense that the bishops hadn’t done a very good job of handling this.”


Explaining his connection to the bill Dr. Lakeland said, “I’m connected to [the bill] to this degree: I’ve been working pretty closely with Tom Gallagher, who’s a Greenwich businessman, who has been behind the push to get the state government to do something about this. Even though, I don’t think, even he was involved in putting the legislation together.”


Upon further investigation, Tom Gallagher seems to be more than just a Greenwich businessman, and to have more than just a passive role in lobbying legislators for the change. In a Voice of the Faithful article titled, “The Money Trail: Financial Management and Mismanagement in the Diocese of Bridgeport,” Joseph O’Callaghan quotes ‘Attorney’ Tom Gallagher multiple times. The article spells out the following principles for reform:


“[...] The same principles should be applied to diocesan property. The diocesan corporation should include elected representatives from each of the eighty-seven parishes, who in turn would elect two directors from each of the five vicariates.


The bishop, one of the three vicars general, and the chancellor should be ex officio members, but elected representatives of the laity should comprise the majority of the diocesan corporation, its directors, and its officers.


Implementation of this proposal will necessitate changes in both canon and civil law.”


“Attorney Tom Gallagher has already initiated discussion with state legislators about changing the law regulating parish and diocesan corporations. Members of VOTF should lend their support to this effort.”


O’Callaghan’s VOTF article offers a blueprint that is nearly identical to the bill now being considered by the Connecticut Senate, and could explain why Sen. McDonald told the Hartford Courant that the idea came from parishioners in Darien and Greenwich, where Gallagher is a church member.


Dr. Lakeland also acknowledged his own membership with Voice of the Faithful, by saying “It’s funny, I work with them, but being a member is a very vague thing. I suppose most people would consider me a member, I don’t pay any dues…I think most people would consider me a member, yes.”


Membership in Voice of the Faithful grew rapidly, immediately after sexual abuse allegations in the Northeast, but after new child protection policies were implemented around the country, membership began to plateau.


When asked about the anti-hierarchal nature of Voice of the Faithful, Dr. Lakeland explained, “There’s a spectrum of opinions. You will certainly find people in the VOTF that are deeply anti-clerical and ‘the sooner that we have women bishops the better’ and you find many people that are far more moderate than that…To find out who speaks for Voice of the Faithful, you’ll have to go the website to answer that question.”


Voice of the Faithfull’s website admits in an online video, “In the past, we’ve had trouble defining who we were; we’ve had a branding issue which has hurt our fundraising ability” In response, their leadership has clearly spelled out a new strategic approach, which broadens its previous focus on protecting children, to embrace an agenda aimed at reducing the power of the hierarchy, eliminating a celibate priesthood and introducing female priests.


Critics, including Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, charge that this new bill is a direct attack on the Church and that it is “a thinly-veiled attempt to silence the Catholic Church on the important issues of the day, such as same-sex marriage.”

"If this bill were to be enacted,” warned Bishop Lori, “your bishop, would have virtually, virtually no real relationship with the 87 parishes…they could go off independently, some of them could break off from the Church if they wished, and go their own way as has happened, for example, with the Episcopal Church. And the pastors would be figureheads, simply working for a board of trustees," he said last Friday.


The proposed legislation, S.B. 1098, aims to reorganize the internal structure of the Church, removing the bishop as the head of the board of the parishes in his diocese and requiring the pastor to report finances to a board composed of laity, instead of the bishop. Under the bill, the bishop is also relegated to being an "ex officio" member of the board, without voting rights.


Dr. Lakeland believes, in this specific case, that it’s appropriate to use local and state legislation to “put the subject out there for discussion,” and further explained that the Voice of the Faithful developed out of “frustration with the Institutional Church.”


Claiming that he was not responsible for drafting the bill, Dr. Lakeland echoed comments made by Sen. Andrew McDonald, who introduced the bill. “This bill doesn’t have anything to do with Catholic faith. It’s got to do with organization of the parish community…I would certainly be deeply opposed to any efforts of the legislature to throw off legislation on the Catholic faith.”


Describing the two Congressmen that wrote the bill, Andrew McDonald and Michael Lawlor, Dr. Lakeland strangely claimed, “I don’t think they support the bill, I think they just wrote the bill. If they didn’t write it, then I don’t know who [in the legislature] would.”


Supporters of Senate Bill 1098 argue that the proposed legislation is only about transparency and openness of financial matters. Yet, Anthony Picarello, General Counsel of the U.S. Conference of Bishops described the bill as “blatantly unconstitutional” and that it “targets the Catholic Church explicitly and exclusively, and attempts to use the civil law to alter Church governance.”


When questioned about how the bill would sever a bishop’s ties to each parish and strip him of his voting rights, Dr. Lakeland conceded, “The legislation as it stands is a little extreme. I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets here, I don’t think most people, even those in favor of it imagine it becoming law in its present form.”


Asked if there would be implications for the entire U.S. Catholic Church, he confidently responded, “Oh, I think it would, and I think if passed in Connecticut, the pressure to pass it in many of the other states in the union would be enormous.”


In the wake of the bill’s introduction last Thursday, negative responses from Catholics and bishops around the country have been heard.


But Dr. Lakeland responded by defending the bill, saying, “I think legislation that moves in this direction frees the bishop and the pastor from a whole lot of stress producing tasks and managerial responsibility…and I think it will be good for them. If I were a bishop, I’d welcome it!”


At the root of the issue, he explained, is that “Bishops don’t see or get, for whatever reason that grownup adults, active, committed laypeople, provide pretty much all the financial resources to their Church and have no say in how that money is spent.”


Both Voice of the Faithful and Dr. Lakeland also agree that if this legislation had already been in place, the Catholic Church would have avoided much of the financial fallout from the sexual abuse scandals, containing the financial responsibility to individual parishes.


Concluding his support for the bill he said, “I see absolutely no chance whatsoever of the Institutional Church making a change in this direction without pressure from somewhere outside the Church. There’s not even the most remote likelihood that the Church would adjust in this direction itself. I think this is a way of putting pressure on them to make changes and bringing the issue into a more prominent setting.”

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Austria-Vatican agreement signed

Vienna, Austria, Mar 10, 2009 (CNA) - Last Thursday in Vienna, Austria, Archbishop Edmond Farhat, apostolic nuncio to Austria, and Michael Spindelegger, Austrian federal minister for European and International Affairs, signed the sixth additional agreement of the Convention Regulating Patrimonial Relations between the Vatican and Austria.


Representing the Church was Msgr. Christoph Kuhn, nunciature counselor in Austria and by Walter Hagel, legal advisor to the Austrian Bishop's Conference.


Those in attendance from Austria were Ambassador Melitta Schubert, head of protocol for the ministry; Ambassador Nikolaus Marschik, the minister's chief of cabinet; Ambassador Helmut Tichy, vice director of the office for questions of international law; Minister-Counselor Georg Stillfried, head of department; Minister-Counselor Karin Proidl, counselor on the minister's cabinet, and Harald Stranzl, vice head of the minister's press and information office.

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Rep. Smith: President Obama chose politics over science with embryo order

Washington D.C., Mar 10, 2009 (CNA) - Just after President Obama announced his executive order lifting restrictions on embryonic stem cell research on Monday, Congressmen Chris Smith (R-NJ) held a press conference suggesting that Obama’s decision was politically based rather than by studying the latest scientific breakthroughs.


Rep. Smith began his Monday statement by noting that during a time of impressive breakthroughs in adult stem cell research, the President is forcing “taxpayers to subsidize the unethical over the ethical, the unworkable over what works, and hype and hyperbole over hope.”


“Human embryo destroying stem cell research is not only unethical, unworkable, and unreliable, it is now demonstrably unnecessary.” 


The congressman explained that by his executive order, Obama is cheapening human life.   “Assertions that leftover embryos are better off dead so that their stem cells can be derived is dehumanizing and cheapens human life. There is no such thing as leftover human life.  Ask the snowflake children— cryogenically frozen embryos who were adopted—their lives are precious and priceless.”


Several snowflake children were present during the congressman’s speech.


After noting the many “noncontroversial” breakthroughs in adult stem cell research, such as using umbilical cord blood stem cells and induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSC), Smith suggested that Obama based his decision to end the embryonic stem cell restrictions strictly on politics.


“Mr. Obama is way behind the times. Making Americans pay for embryo-destroying stem cell research is not change we can believe in. Far from it. It is politics! A decade ago, the false hope of embryo destroying research made it difficult to oppose. That is no longer the case.”


If so, the congressman asked, “Why persist in the dehumanizing of nascent human life when better alternatives exist, alternatives that work on both ethics grounds and efficacy grounds. Non-embryonic stem cell research is the present and it is the future of regenerative medicine, and the only responsible way forward.”


Rep. Smith went on to list several non-embryonic stem cell breakthroughs that were reported by mainstream media including articles from Reuters, the New York Times and the Associated Press.


“For example, on November 21, 2007 Reuters reported, and I quote, ‘Two separate teams of researchers announced on Tuesday they had transformed ordinary skin cells into batches of cells that look and act like embryonic stem cells, but without using cloning technology and without making embryos.’”


Rep. Smith also referred to a New York Times article from the same day: “Two teams of scientists reported yesterday that they had turned human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without having to make or destroy an embryo—a feat that could quell the ethical debate troubling the field.”


The Associated Press said, “Scientists have created the equivalent of embryonic stem cells from ordinary skin cells, a breakthrough that could someday produce new treatments for diseases without the explosive moral questions of embryo cloning.”


The congressmen also mentioned other publications such as the Detroit Free Press, the Washington Post, and Medical News Today, which have lauded the scientific progress made  using non-embryonic stem cells. 


Citing the latest news on the iPS front, from the scientific journal, Nature, Rep. Smith recalled “that they had successfully reprogrammed ordinary skin cells into induced pluripotent skin cells without the use of viruses to transmit the reprogramming genes to the cell.”  By “using a ‘piggyback’ system, as they called it, the scientists were able to insert DNA where they could alter the genetic make-up of the regular cell before being harmlessly removed.”


“According to many scientists,” Smith explained, “the removal of potentially cancer-causing viruses means this breakthrough increases the likelihood that iPS cells will be safe for clinical use in human patients. The lead scientist from Canada, Andras Nagy, was quoted in the Washington Post saying, ‘It's a leap forward in the safe application of these cells. We expect this to have a massive impact on this field’.”


Smith noted that this new breakthrough, “suggests the momentum has decisively and irrevocably swung to noncontroversial stem cell research like iPS cells and away from embryo-destroying research.”  He then quoted the other lead scientist in the discovery who said that the breakthrough, “is a step towards the practical use of reprogrammed cells in medicine, perhaps even eliminating the need for human embryos as a source of stem cells.’”


“Despite all of this new and extraordinary progress in the iPS and adult stem cell research arena,” Smith said as he brought his address to a close, “the Obama administration and the House and Senate Democratic leadership remain obsessed with killing human embryos for experimentation at taxpayer expense.”

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Vatican visits of women religious welcomed by most but not by all

Hamden, Conn., Mar 10, 2009 (CNA) - With a review of American seminaries recently completed, the Vatican is undertaking a series of visits to “look into the quality of life” of the women’s religious communities in the U.S. However, one sister sees the Visitations as “investigations” and is encouraging her fellow religious to engage in “non-violent” resistance.

Initially Sr. Sandra M. Schneiders’ reaction to the January 30, 2009 announcement was limited to those she emailed, but soon her words found their way onto the internet and were published with her permission by the National Catholic Reporter.

“We just went through a similar investigation of seminaries, equally aggressive and dishonest,” began Sr. Sandra’s email to a few of her colleagues.

“I do not put any credence at all in the claim that this is friendly, transparent, aimed to be helpful, etc. It is a hostile move and the conclusions are already in. It is meant to be intimidating. But I think if we believe in what we are doing (and I definitely do) we just have to be peacefully about our business, which is announcing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, fostering the Reign of God in this world,” Sr. Sandra wrote.

Sr. Eva-Maria Ackerman, a Franciscan Martyr of St. George religious who is helping conduct the Apostolic Visitations, told CNA that Mother Clare Millea is receiving quite a different reception. Mother Clare has been entrusted by the Vatican with carrying out the approximately 400 visits.

“Mother Clare has been impressed with the number of requests that have been made already and she has received a great deal of good feedback about the approach she is taking in this first phase of soliciting voluntary input.”

Sr. Eva-Maria also countered Sr. Sandra’s assertion that the Visitations are operating with foregone conclusions.

“Mother Clare is open to the Spirit’s guidance through this whole process and is focusing on each phase of the Visitation as it is scheduled. She has not drawn any conclusions but rather is desirous of hearing about the reality of each Congregation as it will be expressed by the Superiors General in the first phase,” she said. 

Speaking at a press conference to announce the launch of the Visitations this past January, Sr. Eva-Maria explained the three step process.

“First, Mother Clare will solicit voluntary input from the superiors general through inviting them to make personal contacts with her in Rome or in the United States. During the second stage, the major superiors in the United States will be asked for information such as statistics, activities and community practices.”

She continued, “selected on-site visits will be made during the third stage. During this time, the sisters will have an opportunity to share with the visitation teams their joys and hopes, challenges and concerns about their lives as women religious in the Church today. The final stage will be the compilation and delivery of a comprehensive and confidential review by Mother Clare to Cardinal Rodé.”

When the Vatican undertook its 2005-2006 apostolic visits to U.S. seminaries, the visitors—groups led by a bishop but also including laity—used a working document or Instrumentum Laboris to evaluate the places they visited. 

Sr. Eva-Maria explained the current status of the visitations to CNA, saying, “the writing of the Instrumentum Laboris is in process and we are currently involved in phase one of the Visitation which is the individual meetings of Superiors General with Mother Clare.”

“The visitation team is focusing on the quality of life of the religious institute itself,” she added.

When CNA asked Sr. Eva-Maria if the team would be looking at the number of vocations to each community, she replied, “While religious vocations are a concern for Mother Clare and all religious congregations, it will not be a primary focus of the visits. Of course, all are encouraged to continue to pray for an increase in vocations to religious life!”

Although Mother Clare reports that she has received “a great deal of good feedback about the approach she is taking in this first phase,” Sr. Sandra is encouraging resistance to the visits.

“We cannot, of course, keep them from investigating,” Sr. Sandra wrote in her email. “But we can receive them, politely and kindly, for what they are, uninvited guests who should be received in the parlor, not given the run of the house. When people ask questions they shouldn't ask, the questions should be answered accordingly.”

“…This is not mutual and it is not a dialogue,” she continued.

“The investigators are not coming to understand -- believe me, we found that out in the seminary investigation. So let's be honest but reserved, supply no ammunition that can be aimed at us, be non-violent even in the face of violence, but not be naive. Non-violent resistance is what finally works as we've found out in so many arenas,” Sr. Sandra said.

Mother Clare sees things differently though. As Sr. Eva-Maria explained to CNA, “With the mandate given to her by the Holy See as Apostolic Visitator, she has much confidence that she will be met with respect and openness.”

Sr. Eva-Maria also underscored the support that the Visitations are receiving from other members of the Church via its Apostolic Visitations Prayer Support page on Facebook. The group has grown to almost 350 members, since being launched in February.

One sister commented on the Facebook page that Mother Clare should be “assured of the enthusiasm, prayers and support of all the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. You will find no unhappy Sisters here. God's strength and Holy Wisdom be your constant blessing.”

Sister Anne Lythgoe, also writes of her own experience as a religious. “As a Dominican for 34 years I have been deeply blessed by my vocation and have had a happy and productive life. You will find many Christ-centered, prayerful, generous and holy women all over the US. There is much to esteem among the religious of the US who have truly embraced the call of Vatican II to renew and refresh religious life. So much wonderful service as been done in the name of Our Lord and for the Church.”

Mother Clare is currently hoping to finish scheduling meetings with the various Superiors General by March 15, and will begin her on-site visits in Los Angeles on June 2.

For the latest on the Apostolic Visitations, please visit

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Priest stabbed during Mass in Colombia is out of danger

Bogotá, Colombia, Mar 10, 2009 (CNA) - Radio Caracol reported this week that Father Alirio Ramirez was stabbed by an unknown assailant while celebrating Mass on Sunday at the Basilica of St. Rose of Cabal in the Colombian state of Risaralda. Doctors said the priest is now out of danger and is recovering satisfactorily.

The 54 year-old priest was attacked “when his aggressor approached from the back of the church, and when he tried to flee he was stopped by a few nuns and parishioners.”

Police chief David Guzman said an investigation was launched after learning that the priest had been the target of death threats by drug traffickers in the region.

Police Chief Hoover Penilla in Risaralda said Father Ramirez’s quick reaction saved his life, “even though he was stabbed four times, none of the wounds were life-threatening.”

Bishop Tulio Duque Gutierrez of Pereira condemned the attack and said it was even more unfortunate that it took place during the “holy season of Lent.”

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Bishops repudiate abuse of girl who underwent abortion in Brazil

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 10, 2009 (CNA) - The leadership of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil has strongly condemned the abuse suffered by a 9 year-old girl who was raped by her stepfather, became pregnant with twins and was submitted to an abortion several days ago.

The bishops expressed their bewilderment at what had happened to the girl.  “We vehemently repudiate this insane act and we defend [the need for] a rigorous investigation into the facts, and we call for those responsible to be duly punished in accord with justice,” they said in a statement.

The bishops expressed regret that the case was not isolated. “We are concerned about the growing number of attacks on the lives of children who are victims of sexual abuse. In this context, the Church is united with her and with all the children who are victims of this type of brutality and their families,” the bishops said.

They also recalled that “in fidelity to the Gospel,” the Church “always speaks out in support of life and unequivocally condemns all acts of violence that offend human dignity.”

The bishops in the northeastern region of Brazil, where the girl lives, said the defense of life is “a principle that guides the practice of the Church in Brazil,” as was the case “during the military regime of 1964, when the Church spoke out in defense of life and the dignity of persons, the defense of the human rights of the political refugees that were persecuted and tortured.”

According to the bishops, an awareness of human rights “leaves no room for any kind of violence, especially against children and women. In this concrete case, we reject the rape and sexual abuse suffered by the girl.”

However, they noted, “what is protected by law does not always coincide with what is in accord with ethical principles and moral values. For us, the Lord’s commandment, Thou shalt not kill, will always take priority.”

Given the complexity of the case, we regret that it has not been faced with the serenity, tranquility and time that the situation demanded. In addition, we are not in agreement with the final result of eliminating the lives of defenseless human beings.” “It falls to us to externalize our beliefs publicly in defense of life, which is always a gift from God.”

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Connecticut bill regulating Catholic Church pulled

Hartford, Conn., Mar 10, 2009 (CNA) - Following a deluge of phone calls and emails, the bill introduced in the Connecticut Senate to reorganize the financial and pastoral structure of the Catholic Church has been pulled and tabled for the rest of the legislative session.

Meanwhile, Sen. Andrew MacDonald and Rep. Michael Lawlor, the sponsors of the bill, have sent it to the state Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal, to determine if it passes constitutional muster. The two lawmakers also canceled a hearing on the bill set to take place tomorrow at noon.

Despite the bill being pulled, the Diocese of Bridgeport is telling its members that the bill is still a possibility and that they are planning on proceeding with plans to rally against the proposed legislation.

"Furthermore," says a statement from the diocese, "we are deeply concerned about statements made by elected officials suggesting that Connecticut's existing religious corporation statutes, including those applicable to the Roman Catholic Church, are unconstitutional and should be amended.  These statements are misinformed." 

After pulling S.B. 1098, Sen. McDonald and Rep. Lawlor issued a statement saying that they believe Connecticut’s statutes treat some religions differently than others and that "many of our existing corporate laws dealing with particular religious groups appear to us to be unconstitutional under the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

"If that is correct," the legislators reason, "any changes to that law would likely also be unconstitutional."

But the Diocese of Bridgeport disagreed arguing that "Connecticut's religious corporation statutes have been upheld by Connecticut courts for over a century precisely because they do not entangle the State in religious governance. Rather, they defer to the rules and governance structure adopted by each religious denomination, and thereby respect the religious freedoms of each denomination, as required by the First Amendment and our state Constitution."

"No court has ever found Connecticut’s religious corporation statutes to be unconstitutional, and there is no reason for the legislature to tamper with them," the diocese states. 

The diocese also addresses the origins of Bill 1098, asserting that it "was based on a falsehood perpetuated by a few disgruntled individuals that the Roman Catholic Church has no financial controls in place. In actuality, the Diocese has in place one of the most accountable and transparent systems in the United States, including a whistle-blower that minimizes the risk of fraud."

McDonald and Lawlor say that they plan to convene a meeting of legal scholars and religious leaders to study the issue further. They also say that "we think it would be most beneficial if the proponents who requested these changes and church officials meet together privately to see if they can come to a resolution on their own."

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Serve your country best by serving God first, Archbishop Chaput tells USAF cadets

Colorado Springs, Colo., Mar 10, 2009 (CNA) - Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput addressed Catholic cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs on Monday, telling them the military profession is “honorable” and urging them to become virtuous leaders who serve their country best by serving God first.

The archbishop discussed war, the nature of obedience, and the need to recognize that people matter more than things.

Referring to Homer, W.B. Yeats and Robert E. Lee’s comments on war, Archbishop Chaput acknowledged that war is “tragic,” “brutish,” and a sin “against our brothers, against god and against our own human dignity. The archbishop noted that despite its “hideousness” war also demands noble traits such as skill, discipline and self-sacrifice.

He said war began with “our turning away from God in Genesis,” causing a “permanent dilemma” where Christians must pray and work earnestly for peace despite knowing that wars will take place.

“Peace is not simply the absence of war. Peace is the presence of justice,” he explained. “The irony of human affairs is that sometimes evil is so pressing and so destructive that the innocent can’t be defended except through the cost of blood and lives.”

Virtuous military leaders are “vital” in defending a free people, the archbishop said, because securing peace and conducting war are “morally loaded enterprises.”

“This is also why the military profession is not simply necessary or useful, but honorable,” he told the Air Force cadets. “It’s why your vocation as future military officers matters. It’s why your lives matter – to serve God by serving other people in the vocation He calls you to.”

Referring to his past time as a Capuchin Franciscan, Archbishop Chaput said religious orders can only achieve their mission by practicing obedience, humility, discipline and self-mastery.

“When the members lose those qualities, the community begins to unravel,” he explained. “Leadership in religious life is very explicitly a form of service, not power – and the best leaders never forget what they learned about leadership by first subjecting themselves to the leadership of others.”

Granting the “very different purposes” of the Air Force and the Capuchins, he noted that both depend on “proper obedience to authority, the habit of self-mastery and a commitment to a mission larger than the selfishness of their individual members.”

The cadets’ training, he said, teaches them maturity through being obedient and being tested.

“Too much of our country no longer believes that obedience has any role in helping people become mature and free; or that self-sacrifice is the only path to self-mastery. And I think we’re weaker because of it,” he remarked.

The archbishop then turned to the relationship between God and government.

“We serve Caesar best when we serve God first,” he asserted, explaining that serving God means deepening our Catholic faith and acting on it.

Failing to do so steals from the “moral discourse” that makes democracy work and is a form of cowardice.

Noting the vital distinction between “proper obedience to authority” and “obedience to proper authority,” he noted Christians’ “serious obligations” to obey secular authority because “all authority ultimately derives from God and is accountable to Him.”

“In the military that duty is especially urgent because if some people don’t obey, other people can die,” the archbishop added.

However, no secular authority can override Catholics’ conscience on the sanctity of innocent life, he insisted.

“Genocide is always gravely wrong. Deliberately targeting civilians in combat is always gravely wrong.  Abortion, infanticide and euthanasia are always gravely wrong. There are no exceptions, because all of these evil actions intentionally attack the innocent. No authority can legitimately demand our cooperation in intrinsically evil acts -- and authority loses its legitimacy when it tries to do so.”

Proper obedience must be lived with humility and unselfishness but also “with brains and a conscience,” conscience being fully developed self-mastery and not “a feeling or an opinion or a personal preference.”

“It’s the voice of God in our hearts,” he said, revealed in Scripture, in prayer and in the teaching of the God-given Catholic faith.

“Obedience to the law is never an excuse for supporting or colluding in grave evil,” he said, saying that Catholics are not robots but moral agents whose decisions will be judged by God.

Noting that the cadets rank among the top ten percent of America’s young leaders, he said their talents have big implications for other Americans, because “we’re all going to suffer if you choose to be naïve, selfish or dumb.”

A free democracy depends on leaders and citizens who know how to think and have morally formed and critical minds, he added.

“In practice, much of our popular culture now operates like a narcotic,” Archbishop Chaput remarked. “It dumbs down our news and politics, bleaches out our beliefs, and reshapes our opinions.

“This has unhappy consequences. Real democracy requires a vigorous, intelligent, shared public commitment to the common good. It dies in a culture addicted to the pursuit of individual appetites and insecurities. And I believe it’s reasonable to ask whether the latter is what we’re becoming.”

As an example of decline, he referred to the media’s arbitrary depictions of presidential popularity polls.

“If we lose the ability to reason clearly, based on accurate information, then we lose the ability to be free.  As citizens, that means we need to subject the press in our country to the same hard scrutiny and high standards of accountability to which they hold everyone else,” he continued.

“People, not things matter,” the archbishop said, noting that the “true moral monster” Mao Zedong was nonetheless right when he wrote that “it is people, not things that are decisive.”

“Our political structures as a free people are the product of great moral and intellectual sophistication,” he explained to the cadets, saying that customary American pragmatism should not obscure this fact.

He recounted how a friend was shaped by his Marine father’s death in Vietnam. This friend said that his father’s sacrifice had been valuable, saying his father “died serving people he believed in… the Vietnamese people he wanted to help.”

“And that witness of service has shaped the life of my friend and his brother ever since,” the archbishop told the cadets.

“A life lived honorably always bears fruit in the souls of the people who follow us,” Archbishop Chaput concluded. “So live honorably, serve unselfishly, think clearly and love your Catholic faith. We love our nation best when we offer it the best we have -- the witness of our convictions. We serve our country best when we serve God first.”

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Obama grants abortion advocates’ wish, creates ambassador for women's 'issues'

Washington D.C., Mar 10, 2009 (CNA) - After receiving a letter from several abortion “rights” organizations, President Obama has created a position to address women’s concerns around the globe.  On Friday the White House announced that he would nominate Melanne Verveer, an abortion supporter, to fill the new position of Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.


The January 23 letter, signed by the ACLU, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Feminist Majority, the International Planned Parenthood Federation and several others, praised Obama for repealing the Mexico City Policy.


The letter also requested that he work to “ensure that officials from your Administration act as a strong voice for women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in the United Nations and other international arenas and do all in their power to translate international agreements into actions that improve women’s lives.”


On Friday, a statement from the White House announced the creation of the new position and lauded the President’s “unprecedented” decision which reflects the elevated importance of global women’s issues to the President and his entire Administration.”


The statement also noted that the Ambassador-at-Large for Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer is the co-founder, chair and co-CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international organization that invests in emerging female leaders.  Prior to founding Vital Voices, Verveer served as Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady in the Clinton Administration and was chief assistant to then First Lady Hillary Clinton in her international activities.


Additionally, Verveer took the lead in establishing the President’s Interagency Council on Women, which serves as a model for governments to address issues of concern to women. spoke with Marie Smith, director of the Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues who noted that combined with the President’s order to rescind the Mexico City Policy, the latest appointment “adds to the evidence that both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are pursuing a global abortion agenda" making “no attempt at common ground."


She also added that Obama's new nominee will promote abortion at a time when women need assistance such as economic support and education.


"It is tragic that the United States will pursue a path of imposing an extremist view of abortion that 60% of the world's countries reject, while at the same time, women globally are in need of life-affirming measures to improve their and their families' lives,” Smith said.

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Argentinean archbishop calls for promotion of women without ideological distortions

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Mar 10, 2009 (CNA) - Archbishop Andres Stanovnik of Corrientes sent special greetings to the women of Argentina to mark International Women’s Day on Sunday and called for the promotion of their dignity without ideological distortions.

Speaking at the Basilica of Our Lady of Itati, the archbishop expressed gratitude to God for the creation of women and praised “all of the progress that has been made to reflect in man and woman that loving design of the Creator.”

“Nevertheless, there is still much to be done.  Machismo, which we hear so much about today, the perverse tendency to physically and morally harm women, the ideological distortions that are proposed as solutions, the lack of appreciation and the aggression that a great number of women continue to endure, have the same origin as all violence that is carried against another: a heart that is sick with pride and selfishness, estranged from God and closed to dialogue and to the encounter with another,” the archbishop stated.

Likewise, he explained, “the vocation and mission to build community originates in God who has created them.  If we lose this essential vision of unity and mutual collaboration that man and woman possess, we are left as just two isolated individuals without meaning.”

“Man and woman can more clearly recognize their own identity the more they remain close to each other, linked together and faithful, and the more they live out the essential openness to reciprocity and complementarity.  Only if they are together can they prepare themselves to be missionaries of love and of life. The encounter with the living Jesus Christ and their insertion into the Church will make them even more fulfilled and happy,” the archbishop said.

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