Augusta, Maine, Mar 17, 2009 (CNA) - Citing the state’s homosexual civil union legislation as precedent, several Maine legislators and homosexual activists are advocating a bill that would instate same-sex “marriage.”
If passed, a bill sponsored by state Sen. Dennis Damon, D-Trenton, will allow marriage licenses to be issued to “any two persons… regardless of the sex of such person.”
State Sen. Peter Bowman, a co-sponsor of the bill, argued that establishing homosexual “marriage” is “the only fair thing to do,” SeacoastOnline.com reports. Arguing that homosexuality is “hard-wired,” he said “our society quite frankly needs to acknowledge that and then structure our institutions and traditions to be consistent and to be fair.”
Betsy Smith of the homosexual advocacy group Equality Maine said that marriage is a “worldwide, recognized, honored institution.”
“If you say, 'we're married,' there's a certain respect and dignity that comes with that. Gay people want the same social recognition for their unions that straight people do. The word means something. The word means a lot."
Smith said the successful 2005 effort to establish civil unions was part of Equality Maine’s buildup to the marriage bill.
"We weren't going to win marriage before we won that," she said, according to SeacoastOnline.com.
On Election Day, Equality Maine volunteers at polling places asked people to sign a postcard if they approved of same-sex “marriage.” The group expected 10,000 postcards, but according to Smith they received 33,000.
“Based on that kind of support, we said now is the time," she said.
Opponents of the bill include the Maine Family Policy Council, the Maine Jeremiah Project, Concerned Women for America of Maine, and the Catholic Diocese of Portland, SeacoastOnline.com says.
Mark Mutty, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Portland, told SeacoastOnline.com that there are “numerous secular reasons” for why the proposal is “a bad idea."
"When we (the diocese) speak in the public square, we speak of the common good and the good of society. Marriage is at the root of our civilization. It comes before religions in many respects. It's deep within the human psyche. Same-sex marriage will have tremendous impact on traditional marriage in the long run.”
"It's important that even though we may individually approach this from a faith perspective, we talk about the implications of this from a purely human perspective," Mutty remarked.
He then noted Catholic belief that marriage is “between a man and a woman, and sexual activity is only in a sanctified marriage for the purpose of procreating. To say this applies to same-sex couples defies logic.”
An amendment will likely be added to the bill that will allow the Legislature to put the matter up for referendum in November. Same-sex “marriage” opponents say they have a good chance of defeating the measure in a statewide vote, while backers said they too were preparing for such a move.
Rockville Centre, N.Y., Mar 17, 2009 (CNA) - Writing on behalf of the U.S. bishops, Bishop of Rockville Centre William F. Murphy has appealed to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, urging him to sign H.B. 285, the New Mexico legislation which would repeal the death penalty.
Bishop Murphy is the Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
“On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I join the Catholic bishops of New Mexico and urge you to sign HB 285, ending the use of the death penalty in New Mexico,” his March 16 letter begins.
“Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, have called for the end to the use of the death penalty as a sign of greater respect for all human life,” Bishop Murphy continued.
He quoted the U.S. bishops’ document “A Culture of Life and the Death Penalty,” in which the bishops wrote:
“Even when people deny the dignity of others, we must still recognize that their dignity is a gift from God and is not something that is earned or lost through their behavior. Respect for life applies to all, even the perpetrators of terrible acts. Punishment should be consistent with the demands of justice and with respect for human life and dignity.”
“The legislation before you would help to begin building a culture of life in our country,” Bishop Murphy added, saying he hopes and prays that the governor will take this “essential step” by signing the bill and making New Mexico “a leader in turning away from the death penalty with all its moral problems and issues of fairness and justice.”
Armagh, Ireland, Mar 17, 2009 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Armagh Cardinal Sean Brady has issued a St. Patrick’s Day message wishing a “happy and faith-filled” St. Patrick’s Day to celebrants. Noting the importance of the saint’s Christian faith, he expressed hopes that Irish people will rediscover the “joy and love” of faith.
Cardinal Brady also lamented the return of violence to Northern Ireland.
“It is my very great pleasure on this our National Feastday to wish Irish people everywhere a very happy and faith-filled St. Patrick’s Day,” he wrote on Tuesday. “All over the world today, Irish men and women, and those who claim Irish descent, will gather to celebrate their identity and their heritage.”
Saying the feast unites Irish people all over the world, he commented that Patrick has become a symbol both of Irish history and of Irish heritage.
“But simply to reduce Patrick to a symbol of that kind, worthy as it may be, without any reference to his own Christian faith distorts the truth and in no way does justice to the real stature of the man,” Cardinal Brady said, warning celebrants not to lose the “real focus” amid the “music, parades and merriment.”
“We join together today not just to celebrate Irish culture and identity, but also to remember the man who described himself as an ambassador for God and who prayed that it might never happen that he, Patrick, should lose the people which God had won for himself at the end of the earth. Today we honor a man who nurtured and spread Christianity throughout our native land – setting down a strong foundation by building on the solid rock of steadfast faith.”
“My hope, on this St. Patrick’s Day, is that more and more Irish people, who have lost their connection with faith, will rediscover it and rediscover what St. Patrick called ‘the joy and love of faith’.”
St. Patrick founded the Archdiocese of Armagh around 445 A.D.
Cardinal Brady, his successor, also commented on the recent killings of two British soldiers and a policeman in Northern Ireland.
Saying he is “very much aware” that violence has returned to Northern Ireland, Cardinal Brady said the “awful and tragic events” of last week could show the need to work “unceasingly” for peace in Ireland.
“I would urge all citizens to redouble efforts to build a peaceful society. Violence is not the answer. The perpetrators of violence are seeking to destroy the peace we are building,” he continued, calling for support for peacemaking politicians.
The cardinal then adopted as his own the prayer from St. Patrick’s Breastplate:
“Christ be in all hearts thinking about me
“Christ be on all tongues telling of me
“Christ be the vision in eyes that see me
“In ears that hear me
“Christ ever be.”
Rome, Italy, Mar 17, 2009 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI began his first papal trip to Africa today, departing from Rome to bring the Gospel to a continent racked with violence and corruption but also one which he sees as burgeoning with hope. On the plane, the Holy Father also addressed the continent’s battle with AIDS and noted that condom distribution “aggravates” the problem.
The Pope’s March 17-23 trip will bring to the fore the Church’s efforts to assist Africans in finding solutions to problems that have dogged international and internal efforts to lift its people out of poverty and beyond corruption.
As is traditional on papal trips, Pope Benedict fielded a series of questions this morning from reporters flying aboard his Alitalia flight to Cameroon. According to The Telegraph, Pope Benedict highlighted the Church’s efforts to fight the spread of AIDS through promoting abstinence and fidelity within marriage.
In fact, said the Pope, AIDS is “a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems."
An increasing number of African countries have adopted the Church’s stance on using condoms in the fight against AIDS and have seen a dramatic decrease in the rate of new infections. Doctors as well as church officials argue that distributing condoms does not change behavior, but in fact, encourages the kind of sexual behaviors that increase the spread of AIDS. The regimen adopted in some of the countries, dubbed the ABC approach, urges Abstain, Be faithful and Condoms as a last resort.
Upon arriving in Cameroon’s capital city Yaoundé at 10 a.m. local time, the Holy Father will be greeted by Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, the current archbishop of Yaounde, Simon-Victor Tonye Bakot and the archbishop emeritus of Douala, Cardinal Christian Wiyghan Tumi.
The Holy Father will later present to the bishops of Africa the working document of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, which will be held in October 2009 at the Vatican.
The Pope will conclude his African visit with a three-day trip to Angola, a country that he described as facing the task of rebuilding itself in justice after its long internal war.
A more detailed schedule of the Pope’s trip can be read at http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=14887
Rome, Italy, Mar 17, 2009 (CNA) - The Apostolic Nuncio de Cameroon, Archbishop Eliseo Ariotti, said this week Catholics in that country “are impatiently awaiting this historic visit by the Holy Father,” who began his trip to today and end it on March 23. The archbishop added that he hopes the visit will renew “the evangelical spirit” needed to bring about solid development and fight against poverty.
“Ever since his pastoral visit to Africa was announced, the joy of expectation has been present in Cameroon and Angola. In Cameroon this can be seen in the heart of the Catholic community and even outside it. It is a shared joy, full of hope, which gives flavor to the daily lives of all.”
The Catholics of Cameroon, Archbishop Ariotti said in an article published by the L’Osservatore Romano, “who have the honor and grace of welcoming Pope Benedict XVI in his first visit to African soil, show an exceptional spirit because it is the third time in last 30 years that they are welcoming the Vicar of Christ, the Pastor of the universal Church.”
After explaining that the country is facing challenges at many levels, such as corruption, the archbishop explained that Cameroon “offers a unique platform for addressing all of Africa and for inviting the continent to enter a phase of renewal, democratization and progress, but above all of new evangelization.”
“The Catholics of the country are aware of the fact that the Holy Father is coming to proclaim the uniqueness of the Christian life so that it may become a means of salvation for the entire African continent and a testimony for true human solidarity. Only thus will the second assembly of the special Synod of Bishops for Africa be a source of hope for the Church in Cameroon and for all of Africa,” the Nuncio said.
Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2009 (CNA) - Cardinal Francis George has issued a video message asking Catholics to tell the Obama Administration to retain a conscience protection rule for pro-life health care workers. Its preservation is vital to keep the government from “moving our country from democracy to despotism,” he said.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulation, implemented in the final months of the George W. Bush presidency, made explicit the existing legal protections for medical workers and institutions who object to cooperating in abortions.
On Feb. 27, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced that it was reviewing a proposal to lift or modify the HHS rule.
Cardinal George, who is Archbishop of Chicago and President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), addressed the proposed change in a two and a half-minute video. Giving an overview of the issue, he said the rule is “one part of the range of legal protections" for health care workers who object to being involved in “abortion and other killing procedures” that contradict their faith.
He connected the HHS rule to respect for religious liberty and the freedom of personal conscience, both of which ensure “our basic freedom from government oppression.”
Speaking on behalf of the U.S. bishops “as Catholic bishops and American citizens,” the cardinal expressed deep concern that removing the rule would be “the first step in moving our country from democracy to despotism.”
“No government should come between an individual person and God—that's what America is supposed to be about,” he commented. “This is the true common ground for us as Americans.”
This being the case, the cardinal said, it is necessary to have legal protection for freedom of conscience and of religion, including “freedom for religious health care institutions to be true to themselves.”
He noted that conscientious objection is already recognized for war protesters and for doctors who do not wish to be involved in administering the death penalty.
“Why shouldn't our government and our legal system permit conscientious objection to a morally bad action, the killing of babies in their mother's womb?” Cardinal George asked. “People understand what really happens in an abortion and in related procedures—a living member of the human family is killed—that's what it's all about—and no one should be forced by the government to act as though he or she were blind to this reality.”
“I ask you please to let the government know that you want conscience protections to remain strongly in place. In particular, let the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington know that you stand for the protection of conscience, especially now for those who provide the health care services so necessary for a good society,” he concluded, giving his thanks and his blessing.
The U.S. bishops’ conscience protection site provides additional information and resources as well as a link for concerned Catholics and others to express their views to the HHS. The site reports the submission deadline for comments is April 9.
Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2009 (CNA) - Unless the media improves its basic understanding of Catholic beliefs and practices, it risks marginalizing the Church and replacing its voice in society with politics, a set of beliefs “with the same vestments, but less conscience,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput told a gathering of prominent journalists on Tuesday at the Pew Forum.
Though the Archbishop of Denver had been invited to Washington, D.C. to address the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life about the political obligations of Catholics, he began his remarks with a discussion of media coverage of the Catholic Church.
His audience consisted of several prominent journalists including Sally Quinn, Moderator of the Washington Post's “On Faith” section; Time Contributing Editor Amy Sullivan; Washington Post Politics Columnist E.J. Dionne; New York Times Washington Correspondent David Kirkpatrick; and Tony Spence, Editor-In-Chief of Catholic News Service.
“Public understanding of the Catholic role in our political process depends, in large part, on how the mainstream media frame Church-related issues,” the archbishop began.
Noting Mother Teresa’s joke that she’d rather bathe a leper than meet the press, Archbishop Chaput said many people in the Church, especially active Catholics, might feel similarly wary of the media.
“Now it turns out that I don’t feel the same way,” he told the journalists. “In my experience, dealing with the press has usually been rather enjoyable. I’ve worked with some very good journalists. I don’t think we should ever fear the truth. And I tend to like challenging questions.”
However, he said some reporters and editors have been “uniquely frustrating” because “too often they really don’t know their subject; or they dislike the influence of religion; or they have unresolved authority issues; or they resent Catholic teachings on sex; or they’d rather be covering the White House, but this is the only beat they could get.”
“I don’t expect journalists who track the Church to agree with everything she teaches. But I do think reporters should have a working knowledge of her traditions and teachings,” he commented, advocating that editors have a “basic Catholic vocabulary” to understand Catholic topics and motivations.
As an example of journalistic neglect, he said that in twenty years as a bishop, no reporter had asked him why he so often refers to the Church as “she” and “her” instead of “it.”
“I find that extremely odd, because those pronouns go straight to the heart of Catholic theology, life and identity.”
Saying that the news media “serve a vital role in American life,” he asserted that democracy depends on “the free flow of truthful and comprehensive information between the government and the governed. Public debate has little meaning when people don’t have accurate, unbiased information.”
Archbishop Chaput also declared that journalism is “a vocation, not just a job,” equal to law or medicine in dignity because of the profession’s importance to society.
“Journalists have a duty to serve the truth and the common good, not just the crowd, not just the shareholders they work for, and not just their own personal convictions,” he said.
Good reporting has “social and moral gravity,” the archbishop observed. “And thankfully, many journalists are experts in their fields. But that expertise doesn’t seem to extend to religion coverage.”
Archbishop Chaput singled out by name several journalists, praising the work of Vatican expert John Allen and Associated Press writer Eric Gorski for their “outstanding work.” He also mentioned Terry Mattingly and his colleagues at GetReligion.org before praising Vatican expert Sandro Magister and Alejandro Bermudez for offering “excellent and well informed international reporting on religious affairs.”
Yet in the opinion of many Catholics, the archbishop explained, these good journalists seem to be the exceptions.
“No serious media organization would assign a reporter to cover Wall Street if that reporter lacked a background in economics, fiscal and monetary policy, and these days, at least some expertise in Keynesian theory. But reporters who don’t know their subject and haven’t done their homework seem common in the world of religion reporting,” he commented.
Turning to the themes of his 2008 book Render Unto Caesar, Archbishop Chaput reiterated that Catholics “serve Caesar best when we serve God first” by living their faith at home, at work, in public life and in the voting booth.
In his interactions with reporters about his book, the archbishop found that many hadn’t “really read it,” many lacked “even a basic understanding of Catholic identity” necessary for a “useful disagreement” and many weren’t interested in “learning what they didn’t know.”
“At the same time, some did unfortunately know what they planned to write before they walked into my office for the interview,” he commented, explaining that a bishop’s approach to politics differs from the media’s.
“Where the media see a Catholic politician, Catholic bishops see a soul. For a bishop, the question of Catholics in American public life is only secondarily about electoral politics. Really it’s a question of eschatology,” he said, explaining “eschatology” as the “last things” of heaven and hell, salvation and judgment, and the eternal consequences of present actions.
“Sometimes in reading the news, I get the impression that access to Holy Communion in the Church is like having bar privileges at the Elks’ Club,” Archbishop Chaput commented.
He explained that honest believers have never wanted to and have never been allowed to approach the Eucharist in “a state of grave sin or scandal,” as doing so commits “a kind of blasphemy against God” does violence against personal integrity and the faith of others.
Warning against the imposition of the language of “civil rights” upon Catholic practice, he said that no one has a “right” to the Eucharist and “the vanity or hurt feelings of an individual Catholic governor or senator or even a vice president do not take priority over the faith of the believing community.”
Noting that the media have no obligation to believe Catholic teaching, he said they are “certainly” obliged to “understand, respect and accurately recount” how the Church understands herself and how and why she teaches.
“Most of you came here today because you already do try to take the Catholic Church and religious issues seriously, and you do try to write with depth, integrity and a sense of context,” he stated. “I thank you for that.”
“Now please tell your friends in the newsroom to do the same,” he concluded, warning that the marginalization of religion leads politics to take its place “with the same vestments, but less conscience.”
“We need the Church to remind us of the witness of history: that human beings remain fallible; that civil power unconstrained by a reverence for God -- or at least a healthy respect for the possibility of God -- sooner or later attacks the humanity it claims to serve; and that we're all of us subject to the same excuse-making and self-delusion in our personal lives, in our public actions -- and even in the corridors of national leadership.”
Havana, Cuba, Mar 17, 2009 (CNA) - The president of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya, has sent a message to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, calling on the body not to be accomplices of the Communist government “with its silence and its scandalous refusal to demand” respect for human rights in Cuba.
In an extensive message to the commission, Paya said even the General Assembly and many other institutions “harm the people of Cuba” by their silence in the face of little or no progress in the area of human rights on the island.
For this reason, he called on the Commission to ask the government of Raul Castro to publish within the country “the Universal Declaration and the instruments of Human Rights that it has recently signed and that it make a commitment to the people to fulfill them.”
With the recent declaration in mind, he denounced the Cuban government’s continual actions against human rights, such the March 2002 arrest of more than fifty people for disagreeing with the government and demanding that human rights be respected on the island nation.
Paya also noted that the Department of Religious Affairs has put pressure on Church leaders and that government control extends to every block, every school, every university and place of employment “and in all areas of society.”
Paya also raised the U.S. embargo of Cuba and called for it to be lifted. Immediately and unconditionally canceling the embargo is “just and necessary…because it is the people of Cuba who are suffering from its effects and it does not constitute a factor for positive change,” he said.
Yaounde, Cameroon, Mar 17, 2009 (CNA) - With President Paul Biya’s words of welcome echoing in his ears, Pope Benedict XVI delivered his first papal speech on African soil today. Saying that he comes “as a pastor,” the Pope used his first speech to speak to all of Africa about how the Gospel offers hope to “a situation of great hardship and injustice.”
A diverse audience including government representatives, lay Catholics and leaders of other religions listened as Pope Benedict XVI said in French,“I come among you as a pastor, I come to confirm my brothers and sisters in the faith. This was the role that Christ entrusted to Peter at the Last Supper, and it is the role of Peter’s successors.”
Recalling that Africa’s Christian history began with the Africans who heard Peter’s preaching at Pentecost and extends all the way to today, he remarked how fitting it is that "Peter’s successor should come to Africa, to celebrate with you the life-giving faith in Christ that sustains and nourishes so many of the sons and daughters of this great continent!”
Benedict XVI then summoned all the Bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful of Africa to take this “moment of grace” as an opportunity to “rededicate themselves to the mission of the Church to bring hope to the hearts of the people of Africa, and indeed to people throughout the world.”
“Even amid the greatest suffering, the Christian message always brings hope,” he encouraged, as he turned to the problems facing Africa.
In the face of these sufferings, the Pope held up St. Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese girl who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, as a “shining example of the transformation that an encounter with the living God can bring to a situation of great hardship and injustice.”
The Holy Father stressed that “in the face of suffering or violence, poverty or hunger, corruption or abuse of power, a Christian can never remain silent,” but must proclaim the Gospel “loud and clear.”
“Here in Africa, as in so many parts of the world, countless men and women long to hear a word of hope and comfort. Regional conflicts leave thousands homeless or destitute, orphaned or widowed. In a continent which, in times past, saw so many of its people cruelly uprooted and traded overseas to work as slaves, today human trafficking, especially of defenseless women and children, has become a new form of slavery. At a time of global food shortages, financial turmoil, and disturbing patterns of climate change, Africa suffers disproportionately: more and more of her people are falling prey to hunger, poverty, and disease. They cry out for reconciliation, justice and peace, and that is what the Church offers them. Not new forms of economic or political oppression, but the glorious freedom of the children of God. Not the imposition of cultural models that ignore the rights of the unborn, but the pure healing water of the Gospel of life. Not bitter interethnic or interreligious rivalry, but the righteousness, peace and joy of God’s kingdom, so aptly described by Pope Paul VI as the civilization of love.”
In addition to the proclamation of the Gospel, the Pope lauded the Church’s efforts to “carry forward her mission of healing and reconciliation” through free care for AIDS patients and education.
Pope Benedict then highlighted Cameroon as “a land of hope for many in Central Africa” because it has embraced thousands of refugees from war-torn countries, has a government that “speaks out in defense of the rights of the unborn,” has “shown the world that patient diplomacy can indeed bear fruit” in negotiations with Nigeria and is a land of youth.
The Holy Father closed his first speech by praying that the Church in Cameroon and throughout Africa “will continue to grow in holiness, in the service of reconciliation, justice and peace.”
To read the full text of Pope Benedict’s speech please visit: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/document.php?n=806
Madrid, Spain, Mar 17, 2009 (CNA) - Bishop Demetrio Fernandez of Tarazona in Spain said this week a new law on abortion being debated in the national Congress “is a disastrous and incredible step that lacks protection for the unborn” and is based on a misunderstood concept of freedom that says a mother can kill her innocent child.
In a recent letter, the bishop raised his voice “to denounce this violent and silent massacre that will affect thousands of millions of persons,” and to say that even though the law seeks to convert it into a right, “abortion continues to be a crime and can never be a right for anyone.”
“And we have such a great need for numerous new citizens born from the heart of our homeland!” he said of the plummeting birth rate in Spain.
Bishop Fernandez recalled that it is the duty of the State to protect the lives of the unborn and that “to open a path to these killings is to move towards totalitarianism, whose devastating consequences are unpredictable.”
“Politicians have an enormous responsibility especially in this area. I appeal to their conscience. No politician, of the right or the left, can consider himself to be Christian if he supports this unjust and criminal law,” he warned.
The bishop praised the “different initiatives in support of life that are emerging and will emerge even more in our society.” However, he said it was embarrassing that public money would be used for abortion instead of being used to help pregnant women. “This is really a conspiracy against life, in a mixture of lies, injustice, and complicity in the crime,” he said.
He called on the faithful to pray on March 25, the Day of the Unborn Child and the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord.
“The Church proclaims life not death,” he stated. “The Church has always defended the innocent. One cannot be a disciple of Christ and at the same time support this silent killing.”