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Archive of March 26, 2009

South African cardinal asks politicians to stop using churches

Pretoria, South Africa, Mar 26, 2009 (CNA) - As South Africa’s April 22 elections approach, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, Archbishop of Durban and spokesman for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, has issued a letter calling on political leaders to stop using church services as election platforms and to stop seeking “endorsement” from churches.

His March 25 statement insists that the Catholic Church in South Africa does not endorse any specific political party.

“It is not the role of any church to do so,” he explained. “As the Catholic Church, we rely on the fundamental principle that democracy allows individuals the right to make their own informed choice according to their conscience. This informed choice must be free from any coercion from church, political party or other interest group, and guided by the moral principles by which we distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil, truth and falsehood.”

Encouraging Catholics who are registered to vote to do so, Cardinal Napier appealed for prayers:

“Let us all intensify our prayers for a peaceful, just and transparent election process that respects the rights and choices of all South Africans.”

Recent South African events have brought attention to churches’ involvement in the country’s politics.

According to The Citizen, Rhema Bible Church recently upset some members of its congregation after it invited ANC president Jacob Zuma to address the congregation during a Sunday morning service.

In response, United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa wrote a letter to the church requesting he also be allowed to address the congregation.

The South African Council of Churches is also probing complaints against some of its North West members who have pledged support for Zuma in upcoming elections.

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Play about life of St. John Vianney to tour U.S. in 2009

Seattle, Wash., Mar 26, 2009 (CNA) -

A production of a play on the life of St. John Vianney will begin its U.S. tour this August, traveling to parishes, theaters, seminaries, universities and Catholic schools to help mark the Year of the Priesthood declared by Pope Benedict XVI.

The play "Vianney" is produced by Leonardo Defilippis, director and star of the film Thérèse. It tells the story of St. John Vianney, who lived from 1786 to 1859. The play will discuss the life of the saint, also known as the Curé of Ars, from his childhood during the French Revolution through his forty years as parish priest in the small village of Ars, France.

Pilgrims from across the globe flocked to the priest for confession and for his preaching. Ars itself changed from a lax community to a thriving Christian center.

Ordinary witnesses reported that the Virgin Mary regularly appeared at the rectory to converse with the saint, while the devil reportedly tried to harass him. Miracles of multiplying bread for the hungry, healing and prophecy also followed the saint.

Pope Benedict declared June 2009 through June 2010 as the Year of the Priesthood, dedicated to St. John Vianney.

Defilippis said in a press release that the focus on the saint is "right on target."

"The Curé of Ars is the saint who will inspire all of us, especially young people, with a deeper understanding of the heroic life of the priest," he added, predicting a "tremendous surge" in vocations because youth are seeking a "radical choice" to make a difference in the world.

"John Vianney points the way through his dramatic life of self-sacrifice and his struggle with evil," he said.

Defilippis remarked that "Vianney" is a good introduction to the life and vision of the saint because the live production "comes right into the local community, right into the parish itself" where it "speaks to individuals in much the same way that John Vianney did."

"It wasn’t through the media that he converted so many souls. It was in parish life, and with the example of his life and his incredible insight in the confessional. That’s what I want to bring to audiences– an intimate encounter with this powerful, yet humble priest, an encounter that will stay with them and draw them into a deeper commitment to prayer, repentance and holiness."

Father John Cihak, pastor, seminary professor and St. John Vianney scholar, said the saint is "pivotal" in "bringing about a renewal of holiness among priests and laity alike."

"We need a drama to help create this spiritual renewal. Writing books and articles about the Curé of Ars is good, but nothing gets a saint into the minds and hearts of people today better than drama and film," he added.

Bishop Ronald Gainer of Lexington, Kentucky said the play has the potential of doing "great good" in encouraging vocations to the priesthood and in encouraging "God’s call to each individual soul."

A feature film will reportedly follow the live production tour, pending funding and greater awareness of the effort.

The Battle Ground, Washington-based Saint Luke Productions is scheduling performances of "Vianney" for the 2009-2010 seasons. The production group provides the elements of professional theater such as lights, sets, costumes and an original musical score.

The website for "Vianney" is located at http://www.vianneydrama.com/

 

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Pregnancy centers, not abortion clinics, best solution to financial crisis, pro-life leaders say

Washington D.C., Mar 26, 2009 (CNA) -

Responding to reports that more financially troubled women are seeking abortions, pro-life leaders have criticized the "pseudo-compassion" which presents abortion as an answer to personal economic turmoil. Emphasizing that abortion signals that women’s needs are not being met, they called for more help for pregnant mothers, pregnancy centers and fathers.

Recent press coverage has reported that women may be seeking abortions because of the economic crisis, while affected men may be seeking more vasectomies.

According to Planned Parenthood of Illinois CEO Steve Trombley, the state’s abortion clinics performed a record number of abortions in January. Trombley, speaking to the Associated Press, declined to give exact numbers but claimed many abortion-seeking women were motivated by economic worries.

Stephani Poggi of the National Network of Abortion Funds, which helps poor women pay for abortions, claimed calls to the network’s national help line have nearly quadrupled from their rate a year ago.

Brooke Holycross, 25, of Port Orange, Florida was offered financial assistance for an abortion but changed her mind after seeing a sonogram of her 15-week-old unborn child. She already has three daughters and her common-law husband was laid off.

"We're in a spot where we're scared," she told the Associated Press. "Babies are expensive... I'm just praying to God I did the right thing."

On Tuesday several pro-life leaders discussed how to reduce the number of abortions in a meeting with Josh Dubois, former evangelical pastor and current executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Attending the meeting were representatives from Care Net, a U.S. network of 1,160 pregnancy centers which help women find alternatives to abortion. Kristen Hansen, spokeswoman for Care Net, told CNSNews.com that nine out of ten women who go to the pregnancy centers decide to carry their pregnancy to term.

She reported that the network’s centers altogether have 30,000 volunteers and help provide pregnancy tests, baby clothes, maternity clothes, diapers and tests for diseases. They show women how to obtain health care and also teach paternity classes, childbirth classes and classes on saving money.

Concerned Women for America (CWA) President Wendy Wright also attended the meeting.

"So far, I think this administration has really only been hearing from groups like Planned Parenthood, which profits from a higher number of abortions," Wright said before the meeting. "So, of course, the kinds of policies and programs they’re going to promote would be ones that would not reduce the number of abortions. They just don’t have an incentive for reducing abortion."

Speaking to CNA on Wednesday, Wright said the meeting with DuBois was "very cordial." She said the main aim of the meeting was "to meet one another and to find out a bit more about the goals of his office and to provide information that he may not have heard otherwise."

One topic of discussion concerned the lack of evidence for the claim that federal funding of family planning reduces the number of or need for abortions.

She reported that that Care Net’s presentation featured "real life stories" of how the organization has helped mothers and fathers who are facing unexpected pregnancies.

Noting that the mandates of the Faith-Based Office include reducing the need for abortion and promoting fatherhood, Wright told CNA, "Pregnancy resource centers are doing a terrific job at both."

Speaking of Dubois, she told CNA "it didn’t seem like he or his staff were aware of the wonderful things pregnancy resource centers were doing."

"There are three times more pregnancy resource centers than there are abortion clinics but most people are not aware of them," she claimed, expressing hope that the meeting with the Obama administration officials will bring attention to the pregnancy centers.

"We need to make sure that people in our communities are aware of them, and make sure pregnancy centers have the resources they need to help clients.

The Associated Press had reported that Mid and South Michigan Planned Parenthood CEO Lori Lameriland saw a "receptivity" among legislators to hear the group’s prevention policies.

"Folks who wouldn't have opened the doors to a Planned Parenthood representative are now willing to talk to us," Lameriland had said.

Wright warned of other proposals from Planned Parenthood, telling CNA the organization "is kind of on a rampage to introduce legislation that would restrict or penalize pregnancy centers. People need to be aware of this tactic and ready to defend pregnancy centers against these kinds of bills."

In the past, Wright reported, the state of Oregon had proposed a "terrible bill" that among other restrictions would have set up a toll-free phone number for people to call with anonymous complaints against pregnancy centers.

"The bill was written by Planned Parenthood," she charged. "Planned Parenthood is actively trying to eliminate their competition. They’re not interested in reducing the number of abortions. They’re not shy about trying to eliminate alternatives for women."

Serrin Foster, President of Feminists for Life of America (FFLA), said the economy has caused "desperation" among some pregnant women, driven to abortion by their lack of financial resources and emotional support.

The lack of a job or the loss of health care can significantly affect a family, she explained, saying that it is "incumbent" upon the pro-life community to "connect" women with resources that can meet their needs.

Serrin said it is "truly disturbing" that the reports discussing economically imperiled women seeking an abortion present abortion advocates and providers who talk about "how the women needed abortions."

"They’re undermining women’s rights and they’re undermining women’s needs," she charged, saying abortion advocates should instead help women "address the primary problems" driving them.

"They’re not doing that," she charged. "To say to a woman who can’t pay her energy bill or her housing bill, ‘We’re going to give you an empty womb,’ that’s unacceptable."

An upcoming issue of FFLA’s magazine American Feminist will feature a piece titled "Raising kids cheap," Foster said. It will help explain options that "won’t cost a fortune" to help the mother and father envision having their child.

It also aims to help people see that "you don’t need to have everything perfect and planned in order to have a child," she told CNA. The piece will teach "creativity" in feeding a family, discuss how to deal with energy bills, and how to secure help from those who can provide it.

"Our vision of wealth and what women are capable of has been radically changing over the past 36 years since abortion was legalized," Serrin explained, saying that the number of necessities has been "inflated" as have expectations of a "perfect life."

CNA also asked Wright and Foster how journalists, politicians and others could be made aware of the work that pregnancy centers do.

"It’d be terrific if local officials and politicians did a tour of their local pregnancy center. That could bring attention to their work," Wright suggested.

Foster said people could e-mail their friends and family in an ongoing way to inform others of resources and support.

She also added that they should respond to economic difficulties with personal stories about "how they made it" through difficult economic times.

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Jerusalem Patriarchate publishes prayer for papal trip to Holy Land

Rome, Italy, Mar 26, 2009 (CNA) - The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has published a prayer of preparation for Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Jerusalem May 8-15, during which he will visit Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem and Jordan.

According to the L’Osservatore Romano, the prayer implores the Lord for “a time of renewal and particular grace” for this region afflicted by conflict. The prayer will be translated into seven languages: Italian, Arabic, Hebrew, English, French, Polish and Portuguese.

The text of the prayer is:

“Lord Jesus, history has always had in the Successor of Peter a guide and a pastor who has shown the way to fulfilling the will of the God the Father. We entrust to you these months of preparation for the visit of our Pope Benedict. Give us your Holy Spirit that we might know how to prepare ourselves in prayer so that this visit may be a time of renewal and particular grace for the Holy Land.”

In order to collaborate with the works of the Custody of the Holy Land and with Christians who live there, visit www.catholicnewsagency.com/holyland

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Details of Pope’s Holy Land visit published

Vatican City, Mar 26, 2009 (CNA) - Having just completed the papal trip to Africa, preparations are under way for Pope Benedict XVI’s first trip to the Holy Land in a little more than a month. On Thursday morning the Vatican released details of the Pope’s May 8-15 trip.

Pope Benedict will leave from Rome at 9:30 a.m. on May 8 and land at the Queen Alia airport in Amman, Jordan at 2:30 p.m. The first day of the trip will consist of a 3:30 p.m. visit to the city's Queen of Peace Center, followed by a courtesy visit to the Jordanian monarchs at the al-Husseinye royal palace.

The second day of the Jordanian leg of the trip will involve a visit to the Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo, and the blessing of the cornerstone for the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's Madaba University in the morning.

The Pope will then visit a Jordanian museum and the Mosque of al-Hussein bin Talal in Amman. This will be followed by a meeting with Muslim religious leaders, the diplomatic corps and rectors of Jordanian universities. On Saturday evening, the Holy Father will preside at the celebration of Vespers with priests, religious, seminarians and ecclesial movements in the Greek-Melkite cathedral of St. George in Amman.

The final day of Benedict XVI’s visit to Jordan will be Sunday, May 10. In the morning, the Holy Father will celebrate Mass and pray the Regina Coeli at the international stadium in Amman. That afternoon he is scheduled to visit Bethany Beyond the Jordan, site of the Lord's Baptism, where he will bless the cornerstones of the Latin and Greek-Melkite churches.

After celebrating Mass at the apostolic nunciature in Amman, the Pope will depart for Tel Aviv, arriving just before 11:00 a.m. at the Ben Gurion airport. A welcome ceremony will be held at the airport.

Monday afternoon will see a courtesy visit to the president of Israel at the presidential palace in Jerusalem, a stop at the Yad Vashem Memorial outside of the Holocaust museum and a meeting with organizations for inter-religious dialogue.

On Tuesday, May 12, he will visit the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount in Jerusalem and meet the Grand Mufti. He will also visit the Western Wall and meet with the two Chief Rabbis of Israel at the Hechal Shlomo Centre. At midday he is scheduled to pray the Regina Coeli with the bishops of the Holy Land in the Cenacle of Jerusalem and to make a brief visit to the co-cathedral of the Latins. That afternoon he will celebrate Mass in the Valley of Josaphat.

The third day of the Pope’s trip will see him deliver an address on the square in front of the presidential palace in Bethlehem at 9:00 a.m. and then celebrate Mass in Manger Square at 10 a.m. At 12.30 p.m. he will lunch with the bishops of the Holy Land, the Franciscan community and the papal entourage at the Casa Nova monastery in Bethlehem.

That afternoon, following a private visit at 3.30 p.m. to the Grotto of the Nativity, Benedict XVI will travel to the Caritas Baby Hospital and, shortly thereafter, to the Aida Refugee Camp, where he will deliver an address. At 6 p.m. he will make a courtesy visit to the president of the Palestine National Authority in the presidential palace of Bethlehem, after which a departure ceremony will be held in the square in front of the palace.

At 10 a.m. on Thursday the Pope will celebrate Mass on the Mount of Precipice in Nazareth. At 3:50 p.m. he will meet the Israeli prime minister in the city's Franciscan convent, and at 4:30 p.m. greet religious leaders of Galilee in the auditorium of the Basilica of the Annunciation, where he will pronounce an address. Later he will travel to the Grotto of the Annunciation where at 5:30 p.m. he will preside at Vespers with bishops, priests, religious, ecclesial movements and pastoral workers.

On Friday, the Pope will say an early private Mass in the chapel of the apostolic delegation to Jerusalem, then attend an ecumenical meeting at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. After this he will visit the Holy Sepulchre and the Armenian patriarchal church of St. James in Jerusalem.

Following the departure ceremony at Ben Gurion international airport in Tel Aviv, the papal plane is due to take off at 2 p.m. bound for Rome where it is expected to land at Ciampino airport at 4:50 p.m. Roman time.

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Australia hardest country to find vocations in, says Cardinal Pell

Lima, Peru, Mar 26, 2009 (CNA) - During a visit to Peru this week, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney told a group of consecrated women that in Australia it’s very difficult to find vocations to the consecrated life. The Australian cardinal also said that he would like to see new Catholic communities, such as the Marian Community  of Reconciliation, change the direction of the country.

 

The cardinal made his comments during a Mass celebrating the 18th anniversary of the Marian Community of Reconciliation, an association of the Sodalit Family, made up of consecrated women (called Fraternas) and founded in 1991 in Peru by Peruvian consecrated layman Mr. Luis Fernando Figari.  The Comunity is present today in the Americas, Europe and Australia.

“One of the missionaries of Mother Teresa of Calcutta told me once that Australia was the hardest country in the world to find vocations in. For several decades many religious congregations in Australia have not received a single new vocation,” the cardinal said.

“I hope and pray that the strictly lay vocation of the Fraternas to work in the world at the service of God and the Church provides an opening and leads to a necessary change in the direction of my country.  I ask all of you, gathered here tonight, to pray for the Church in Australia, that we may be open to discerning ever more the will of God and fulfilling it with greater fidelity,” he added.

The cardinal thanked God and the leaders of the Marian Community of Reconciliation for their presence in Sydney.

Cardinal Pell went on to explain that “Sydney has a peaceful and quite prosperous secular culture. It has a Christian majority of approximately 60% of the population.  Although Catholics constitute the largest religious denomination, Australia is not a Catholic country. ”

Cardinal Pell also reflected on yesterday’s Feast of the Annunciation and pointed out that “the enemies of the Church see in the Annunciation an emblematic sign of the wrong understanding of submission to the will of God, especially on the part of women. Such submission is considered a subhuman act and hostile to the necessary and adult goal of human autonomy.  To affirm that the greatness of Mary comes from her submission to the only true God is portrayed as a provocation,” he said.

The cardinal explained that for these people, the Annunciation “is a confirmation of all that is wrong with Christianity, because they do not recognize that true freedom can only be found in the truth.  For many men and women of today, this is a difficult teaching to accept and therefore, it is often rejected. The free acceptance of the will of God is the fullest way to exercise freedom.”

“The gift of our own freedom leads us to be conscious of the effort we should make to cooperate with the divine Will. Certainly none of us has deserved the mission that God has entrusted to us through Baptism. He is the one who has called us to serve him, whether in marriage or in the consecrated life, whether in the priesthood, in leadership as committed laity, in the religious life or as a bishop. Each one of us should thank God for our particular vocation, being aware that the ways of the Lord are mysterious; sometimes difficult and even hard to accept at the beginning,” he said.

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African AIDS experts voice support for Pope on condoms

Kampala, Uganda, Mar 26, 2009 (CNA) -

More than a week after the media attacked Pope Benedict XVI for his comments on condoms and AIDS, CNA is still hearing from experts around the world who support Benedict’s evaluation of the African AIDS epidemic. Dr. Filippo Ciantia, a Ugandan specialist in tropical medicine, along with eight other experts says that his experience resonates with the Pope’s statement.

 

The outcry against the Pope began after he presented the Church’s approach to combating AIDS. The international media zeroed in on a line from Pope Benedict about condoms increasing the problem.

The vast majority of the Pope’s words were dedicated to explaining how the best response to AIDS is to promote a spiritual and human renewal of people’s understanding of sexuality and to be willing to live true sacrificial friendships with those who suffer from AIDS.


On Thursday, CNA received a letter from Dr. Filippo Ciantia, a representative of the Association of Volunteers in International Service and a former USAID policy advisor on HIV/AIDS, along with 8 other Ugandan social and health workers in support of the Pope.

 

The introduction of the letter follows:

 

We would like to contribute to the heated debate on the statements of the Holy Father on the AIDS scourge at the press conference granted to journalists during the papal flight en route to Yaoundé, Cameroon.

 

We are social and health workers committed to [fighting] AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic in Uganda. Our experience indicates that what the Pope said is realistic, reasonable and scientifically sound.

 

With our letter we would like to enrich the debate with scientific and sound data.

 

We thank you for the kind attention,

 

Sam Orach

Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau

Kampala, Uganda

 

George William Pariyo  

Makerere University School of Public Health

Kampala, Uganda

 

Rose Busingye

Meeting Point International

Kampala, Uganda         

 

Ronald Kamara

Uganda Catholic Secretariat

Kampala, Uganda

 

Filippo Ciantia

Association of Volunteers in International Service

Kampala, Uganda

 

Lawrence Ojom

St Joseph’s Hospital

Kitgum, Uganda

 

Thomas Odong

Association of Volunteers in International Service

Kitgum, Uganda

 

Joseph Lokong

Adaktar Uganda Martyrs University

Faculty of Health Sciences

Nkozi, Uganda

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Mexican bishop defends Magisterium of the Pope in fight against AIDS

Mexico City, Mexico, Mar 26, 2009 (CNA) - Bishop Rodrigo Aguilar Martinez of Tehuacan is defending the Magisterium of Pope Benedict XVI in the fight against AIDS. During his trip to Africa, the Pope said that strategies to fight the disease should not be based on condoms, but rather on a more human understanding of sexuality and on the sacrificial and brotherly care for those who have the disease.

Commenting on Pope Benedict’s statements about condom use and AIDS during his flight to Africa, Bishop Aguilar said, “The Pope responded to a tendentious question with clarity and forcefulness according to the doctrine of the Church and the verifiable facts especially in Africa.”

However, the bishop noted, “the reactions to the words of the Pope were very aggressive,” even though the only thing the Holy Father did was to “criticize those who—governments, institutions or persons—hold that the solution to the scourge of HIV-AIDS is based especially on the condom. If a person is infected with AIDS and seeks to have sexual relations, or if the person is healthy but is going to have sexual relations with an infected person, he or she should know that the condom does not protect 100%.”

Campaigns “that are based only on the promotion of the use of condoms,” the bishop explained, “have yielded few results in terms of preventing new AIDS infections. On the other hand, the campaigns that defend the value and effectiveness of sexual abstinence and conjugal fidelity have yielded significant fruits: For example in Uganda, where the number of infected persons has dropped from 12-15% of the population in 1991 to 4-5% in 2003.”

Bishop Aguilar expressed his “gratitude to God for the courageous Magisterium of Pope Benedict XVI.”  “Because of his testimony, may we ourselves be faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ. We should not fear to suffer persecution for the sake of Christ and the proclamation, the celebration and the service of his Gospel, which is the full Gospel of Life.”

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Bishop of Phoenix accuses Notre Dame president of disobeying U.S. bishops

Phoenix, Ariz., Mar 26, 2009 (CNA) -

The outcry over the invitation of President Obama to deliver the Notre Dame’s commencement address and receive an honorary law degree has now drawn Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix into the fray. In a strongly worded email to Fr. John Jenkins obtained by CNA, Bishop Olmsted accuses the university’s president of committing "a public act of disobedience to the Bishops of the United States."

"I am saddened and heavy of heart about your decision to invite President Obama to speak at Notre Dame University and even to receive an honorary degree," began Bishop Olmsted.

But the prelate went further, charging that Fr. John Jenkins, the university’s president, has committed "a public act of disobedience to the Bishops of the United States" by inviting Obama to the May 17 Commencement.

The grounds for the bishop’s charge are found in a 2004 statement from the U.S. bishops which calls on the Catholic community and Catholic institutions not to "honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."

The Bishop of Phoenix also said that Fr. Jenkins could not have invited President Obama out of ignorance. "No one could not know of the public stands and actions of the president on key issues opposed to the most vulnerable human beings," he said in his email.

After quoting Pope John Paul II to say that all other human rights are meaningless if the right to life is not respected, Bishop Olmsted said he hoped that Fr. Jenkins would realize he has made an error.

"I pray that you come to see the grave mistake of your decision, and the way that it undercuts the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel of Life in our day."

The University of Notre Dame and Fr. Jenkins have also come under fire from Bishop John D’Arcy, in whose diocese they are located.

Bishop D’Arcy said on Tuesday that he will not be attending the commencement ceremony and suggested that Notre Dame "has chosen prestige over truth."

An online petition calling for Fr. Jenkins to cancel the invitation to President Obama had reached over 170,000 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

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Archbishop Burke regrets Randall Terry’s ‘misuse’ of interview

Vatican City, Mar 26, 2009 (CNA) - This Thursday, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura at the Vatican, issued a statement expressing his regret for the way that Randall Terry misused an interview with him for a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington D.C.

“Recently,” the statement reads, “Mr. Randall Terry and some of his associates visited me in Rome and asked to videotape an interview with me to share with pro-life workers for the purpose of their encouragement. The interview was conducted on March 2, 2009.”

“Sadly, Mr. Terry has used the videotape for another purpose which I find most objectionable,” Archbishop Burke says.

“First, Mr. Terry issued a media advisory which gave the impression that I would be physically present at the press conference during which he played the videotape, when, in fact, I was in Rome.”

“Second, I was never informed that the videotape would become part of a press conference.”

“Third, I gave the interview as a Bishop from the United States to encourage those engaged in the respect life apostolate, not as the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.”

“Fourth, I was never informed that the videotape would be used as part of a campaign of severe criticism of certain fellow bishops regarding the application of Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law.”

“If I had known what the true purpose of the interview was, I would never have agreed to participate in it.”

“I am deeply sorry for the confusion and hurt which the wrong use of the videotape has caused to anyone, particularly, to my brother bishops,” the statement concludes.

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ND student groups reject Obama invitation, launch Red Letter campaign

South Bend, Ind., Mar 26, 2009 (CNA) - Notre Dame’s invitation to President Barack Obama is "in opposition to what lies at the foundation of this University," says ND Response, a consortium of 11 different student groups.

According to a statement released by the group yesterday, its members received word of the commencement speech invitation to President Obama with "deepest opposition."

ND Response, which includes groups as diverse as Notre Dame Law’s St Thomas More Society and Notre Dame’s Right to Life group, claimed opposition based upon "President Obama’s hostility to the Catholic Church’s teachings on the sanctity of human life at its earliest stages" further saying that Obama’s early pro-abortion decisions will "directly result in the deaths of thousands of innocent human beings."

ND Response spokesman, Chris Labadie, a senior majoring in theology, told CNA on Thursday that the group was inundated with emails and calls over the weekend seeking some type of response. Instead of answering requests individually, the leaders of the 11 groups came together to create a unified response.

This morning, former America Magazine Editor Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J. launched an op-ed in the Washington Post supporting Notre Dame’s decision and rebuffing groups like ND Response saying, "Controversy over commencement speakers at Catholic universities pops up every spring along with the tulips."

Reese’s argument was presented in five bullet points:

  • In his personal life, Obama has never acted in defiance of the fundamental moral principle that abortion is wrong.
  • Publicly, Obama has never spoken out against the fundamental moral principle that abortion is wrong.
  • He supports legal restrictions on third trimester abortions with a health-of-the-mother exemption.
  • Although he does not believe that other abortions can be made illegal, he supports programs to reduce the number of abortions.
  • Notre Dame is not honoring Obama because of his views on abortion but because he is President of the United States, as has been made clear by the Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame's president.

Replying to critics like Reese, ND Response acknowledged that "some of President Obama’s policies and programs may have an effect" on reducing abortions, but that other policies have a "direct effect" on destroying life.

Both Reese and Jenkins claim Obama can be honored because he is the President and not because of his stance on abortion, but ND Response offered a pointed rebuke:

"University President, Fr. John Jenkins C.S.C. has indicated in his statements that this honor is being given to President Obama because of his leadership role. By honoring the President with a Doctor of Laws degree honoris causa, Fr. Jenkins is honoring his work with the law. We feel this means we would honor the policies that President Obama has advocated for as a lawyer and Senator as well as put into action as President. If his policies are inconsistent with the core values and tenets of a Catholic institution then we feel this is an inappropriate use of the honoris causa degree."

At the conclusion of his article, Reese recited the rationale frequently invoked for inviting speakers who dissent from Church teachings to give a speech. "If Catholic universities are afraid to have people on campus who challenge our views, then we are not training students to listen and think critically. We are admitting that our arguments are not convincing," Reese wrote.

ND Response disagrees with Reese, saying that a "commencement address is not the correct arena for an intellectual debate" since students "will not be able to engage the President in an intellectual setting."

The consortium of student groups is planning to express their opposition by launching a Red Letter campaign, in which empty letters representing a child who was murdered through abortion are given to President Obama on commencement day. ND Response has formally asked Jenkins to deliver the empty Red Letters to Obama, but no response from the University had been received as of Thursday afternoon.

Chris Labadie told CNA that the groups’ message to the university and President Obama is: "We recognize the great honor it is that the President of the United States is coming to our university. But we must stand firm in our convictions as Catholics, there is a substantial amount of students and faculty who strongly support the Catholic mission and identity of the University, who believe in it and who believe that it is still worth fighting for. ND Response is working with many internal groups in order to present a unified front; at the same time we are open to collaboration or cooperation with concerned external groups."

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Most Americans still oppose most abortions, Catholic commentator responds

New York City, N.Y., Mar 26, 2009 (CNA) - Countering pessimism about the prospects for overturning Roe v. Wade, Catholic political writer Mark Stricherz has argued that there is still reason to work for the changes in American law because most Americans in fact disapprove of most abortions.

Stricherz, the author of the book Why the Democrats are Blue, made his case in a March 25 entry titled “Why Overturning Roe Would Save Lives and Be Popular” on the blog of the Jesuit-run America magazine.

Addressing arguments that overturning the pro-abortion rights Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade would be both ineffective and unpopular, he said there was little evidence that most states would preserve the permissive status quo in their abortion laws.

Reporting the results of a 2005 study from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, Stricherz said about three-quarters of women seeking an abortion said they did so because having a baby would “dramatically” change their life or because they couldn’t afford the child. About half of the surveyed women cited relationship problems or a desire to avoid single motherhood as main factors driving them to seek an abortion.

“Overall, more than 90 percent of the 1.2 and 1.3 million abortions performed annually are for these economic, familial, and social reasons,” he wrote.

However, a Gallup poll reported that 61 percent of U.S. respondents opposed permitting abortion for those suffering financial stress. No fewer than 65 percent of respondents opposed abortion in cases where the mother and father did not want another child, did not want to marry, or did not want the pregnancy to interfere with the mother’s career.

“The vast majority of the public disapproves of the vast majority of abortions that are performed. They oppose abortion in these so-called ‘easy’ cases,” Stricherz explained. He added that Americans support legal abortion in “hard” cases such as rape, incest, fetal deformity or endangered maternal health, but these circumstances are present in less than 10 percent of all abortions.

He granted that when poll respondents are asked if Roe should be overturned, only a minority said it should. However, he claimed this was because the American public is “ignorant” about the permissiveness of American abortion law. Many poll responses also depend on phrasing. Only “a bare majority” support allowing abortion at any time in the first trimester, he wrote at the America magazine blog.

While granting that translating public disapproval of abortion into law “will not be easy” for extreme cases, Stricherz said: “virtually any post-Roe regime in the states would extend more legal protections to embryos and fetuses than the current one.”

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Luxury hotel manager fired after making vulgar Ash Wednesday remarks

New York City, N.Y., Mar 26, 2009 (CNA) - The manager of the luxurious New York Palace Hotel was fired after obscenely ordering a Catholic employee to clean the ashes from his forehead on Ash Wednesday.

According to the New York Daily News, on Feb. 25 the hotel’s managing director Niklaus Leuenberger told bell captain Mike Murray “Wipe that f-----g s--t off your face,” referring to the ashes Murray had received at an Ash Wednesday service.

The 893-room five-star hotel is 55 stories tall and is on Madison Avenue across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The hotel leases its land from the Catholic Church.

Hotel spokeswoman Teresa Delaney told the Daily News that Leuenberger’s employment was terminated as of Monday. He had worked at the hotel since May 2007.

Christopher Cowdray, head of the London-based Dorchester Collection which owns the hotel, flew to New York City to personally end Leuenberger’s employment.

“We take the well-being of our employees extremely seriously and that is why our CEO, Mr. Cowdray, went to New York in person to deal with this matter,” the company said.

Bell captain Murray said the general manager wanted the ashes off, “and he knows he was wrong.” He told the Daily News that he had never been approached on a religious issue before. Murray, who had worked at the hotel for 25 years, also said he had no plans to sue.

Nigel Badminton, who was previously the resident manager at the Dorchester in London, is now the acting general manager at the New York Palace.

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United Church of Christ committee recommends condom distribution at churches

Washington D.C., Mar 26, 2009 (CNA) - The HIV and AIDS Network of the United Church of Christ (UCC) is advocating that condoms should be distributed at places of worship and faith-based educational settings.

The network called for condom distribution in its March 19 statement issued at a presentation to the UCC Wider Church Ministries Board, the Institute on Religion and Democracy reports.

UCC executive Michael Shuenemeyer argued: “The practice of safer sex is a matter of life and death. People of faith make condoms available because we have chosen life so that we and our children may live.”

The UCC denomination is descended from Puritan and Congregationalist traditions.

Presently the UCC has about 1.2 million members, down from 2.1 million in 1967. In the most recent year for which data is available, the denomination reportedly lost six percent of its membership according to its 2009 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.

Alan Wisdom, Institute for Religion and Democracy Vice President for Research and Programs, commented on the network’s justification, saying “One wonders where the children will come from if UCC members are religiously using their church-dispensed condoms.”

He argued that condoms “can easily be obtained at any corner drugstore. One would hope that a church would be offering some moral guidance not available at the drugstore.”

Remarking that the UCC was “quick to criticize Pope Benedict” for voicing doubts about condoms as the solution to HIV/AIDS, Wisdom suggested the denomination should consider why Catholics oppose artificial contraception: “because it turns sex into an activity in which persons instrumentalize one another's bodies for pleasure, thus promoting the kind of promiscuity that accelerates the spread of HIV/AIDS.”

“Parents concerned about schools distributing condoms might assume that the church would have their backs, reinforcing the traditional Christian ethic reserving sex for marriage,” he continued. “In the case of the UCC, that assumption would be wrong. Now, apparently, parents need to think twice before dropping their kids off for Sunday school.”

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