Orissa, India, Apr 22, 2009 (CNA) - As India conducts its month-long national elections, a leading Indian bishop has accused Hindu nationalists of threatening Orissa state voters with violence and pursuing a “secret agenda” to flush Christians out of the region.
Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, speaking in an interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), claimed that leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have made death threats against people unwilling to vote for them. He said the BJP was determined to eliminate Christianity from Orissa state’s Kandhamal district, where the vast majority of the state’s churchgoers live.
Catholic priests in Orissa report that the BJP has warned Christians in Kandhamal district that if they voted for other candidates, the party would bully them into leaving the area, ACN says.
Nearly 30,000 people fled the district in 2007 and 2008 during anti-Christian attacks on nearly 300 villages in Kandhamal. Eighty people, including a Catholic priest, were killed. About 270 churches and chapels were desecrated while 6,000 homes were destroyed.
Archbishop Cheenath told ACN that people in relief camps in Kandhamal were generally able to vote. However, he said “several thousands” who fled the district during the violence were denied the vote because they were prevented from registering.
“The BJP party officials have threatened to attack the Christians and chase them away. The threats were very serious and there has been a great fear among the people,” the archbishop said, speaking from Bangalore.
“The problem for the people was made worse because the authorities in Orissa took no tangible steps to prevent such things from happening.”
“The secret agenda of the [BJP politicians] is to remove the Christians from Kandhamal,” Archbishop Cheenath said. “It was clear that this was what they wanted to do before the elections and if they win again there is no doubt that they will continue in that way.”
A Catholic priest in Kandhamal on election day reported that trees had been felled to block access to villages in order to prevent people from voting. The same tactic was used during the anti-Christian violence.
The priest said there was hardly any movement of the people.
“My colleagues and I were scared... I reached the polling booth of my village but after only two hours [of voting] the booth was literally empty. We were the first ones to cast our votes.”
The priest told ACN it was important to remember that thousands of people are still living outside the district and had not exercised their vote.
“Are these not citizens?” he asked.
The priest also alleged that four Hindus gang-raped a girl after learning that her uncle had refused to abandon his Christian faith.
In the run-up to the elections, BJP Kandhamal candidate Ashok Sahu was arrested for making an anti-Christian speech in the village of Raikia. He has since been released.
According to ACN, Sahu was closely linked to Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, the militant anti-Christian Hindu leader whose murder last August, allegedly by Maoists, sparked widespread violence against churchgoers.
Los Angeles, Calif., Apr 22, 2009 (CNA) - Having just released her latest undercover video showing Planned Parenthood clinics dodging mandatory sexual abuse reporting laws, investigator Lila Rose has decried the organization for its “abortion-first mentality” and its “institutionalized indifference” to statutory rape.
Rose, a 20-year-old UCLA student and president of Live Action Films, has produced five videos of clinics in Arizona, Indiana and Tennessee showing clinic staffers apparently violating state laws.
Live Action Films’ latest video shows a counselor at a Memphis, Tennessee Planned Parenthood clinic coaching Rose, posing as a 14-year-old girl, to lie to a judge so her supposed 31-year-old boyfriend would avoid punishment. The lie would have helped the girl obtain a waiver for an abortion without her parents’ knowledge.
The Planned Parenthood clinic becomes the sixth implicated in efforts to suppress evidence of statutory rape.
The video shows Rose entering Planned Parenthood's Memphis Health Center and telling a counselor she was 14 years old. Speaking to a clinic staffer, Rose claims to be pregnant by her 31-year-old “boyfriend” and says she needs a secret abortion so her parents will not discover her relationship.
According to Live Action, Tennessee code requires health professionals to report suspected cases of the sexual abuse of minors to law enforcement immediately.
Rose’s video, taken by hidden camera, shows a Planned Parenthood counselor saying to Rose, “Look, if we keep this conversation I'm gonna have to talk to my manager and yeah, [your boyfriend]'s gonna get in trouble.”
“I'm not gonna tell anybody, ok?" the counselor promises, adding "And please don't say that I told you this."
On the video, Rose tells the counselor she thinks her boyfriend will get in trouble if her parents find out. The counselor then advises Rose to lie about the man’s age when speaking to a judge to secure a bypass of Tennessee’s parental consent laws.
“Don't mention it. Just say you have a boyfriend 17 years old...whatever,” the counselor says.
The video is the fifth in Live Action’s “Mona Lisa Project” investigation into Planned Parenthood’s noncompliance with state laws mandating the reporting of the sexual abuse of minors. The investigations have also implicated clinics in Arizona and Indiana.
Describing the video in a press release, Rose said “The Planned Parenthood counselor hears about the abuse, says she should report it, decides to remain silent, then tells me to lie to the judge about a 31-year-old man.”
"This is the sixth clinic we have recorded that manipulates the law and covers up sexual abuse. Planned Parenthood's abortion-first mentality makes it operate as an advocate for terrible crimes against children.
“What more do authorities need to see before holding this organization accountable for its institutionalized indifference to statutory rape and sexual abuse of children?”
The latest video may be viewed at http://liveactionfilms.org
Washington D.C., Apr 22, 2009 (CNA) - Cardinal Justin Rigali has responded to new draft guidelines for human embryonic stem cell research, warning that they allow for the use of more than just “leftover” embryos. The draft rules also divorce biomedical research from its “necessary ethical foundation,” thus enabling some human beings to use and mistreat others for their own goals, he stated.
He also warned against growing efforts to fund with federal dollars the creation and destruction of human embryos for research through in vitro fertilization and cloning methods.
“Without unconditional respect for the life of each and every member of the human race, research involving human subjects does not represent true progress. It becomes another way for some human beings to use and mistreat others for their own goals,” said Cardinal Rigali, commenting in a Tuesday statement as Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
“Suffering patients and their families deserve better, through increased support for promising and ethically sound stem cell research and treatments that harm no one.”
The cardinal said that the draft guidelines reflect a policy approved but never implemented by the Clinton administration in 2000.
“However, the Clinton policy was limited to embryos that had been frozen, to ensure that parents had time to consider the decision to donate them for research; the new guidelines are broader in allowing destruction of newly created embryos that were never frozen, increasing the prospects for a rushed and biased consent process,” he said.
This runs counter to the claim that the research funding involves only embryos that would otherwise be discarded, Cardinal Rigali charged.
“For the first time, federal tax dollars will be used to encourage destruction of living embryonic human beings for stem cell research – including human beings who otherwise would have survived and been born,” he wrote.
He said it was “noteworthy” that the proposed guidelines do not allow federal funding for research using embryos specially created for research purposes through in vitro fertilization or cloning.
“We can hope that the NIH and Congress will continue to respect this ethical norm, and will realize that the alleged 'need' for violating it is more implausible than ever due to advances in reprogramming adult cells to act like embryonic stem cells.”
The cardinal warned that congressional supporters of human embryo-destroying research have already said that they will pursue “a more extreme policy.”
“The Catholic bishops of the United States will be writing to Congress and the Administration about the need to restore and maintain barriers against the mistreatment of human life in the name of science, and we urge other concerned citizens to do the same,” Cardinal Rigali’s statement concluded.
On April 17, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced the opening of a public comment period for draft guidelines concerning human embryonic stem cell research.
The guidelines will be published for review on April 24, 2009 and will be open for comment for 30 days following.
Mexico City, Mexico, Apr 22, 2009 (CNA) - In the Mass opening its 87th Plenary Assembly, the Bishops’ Conference of Mexico consecrated the nation to the Holy Spirit and prayed that the Spirit would help the country to “rebuild and strengthen the social fabric.”
Leading the more than 120 bishops gathered for the meeting, conference president Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes said, “The presence of evil in the history of humanity has always been repetitive and cyclical, enveloped in tragedy and drama, in struggle and ambition, over and over again the law of the survival of the fittest is imposed and the dignity of the human person is easily trampled underfoot.”
The archbishop called the meeting of the bishops “historic” and an effort to survive the violence which has overtaken the country. “The Bishops are convinced that the Catholic Church in Mexico must intensify her positive presence in society in order rebuild and strengthen the social fabric (…). We are aware that such a task is only possible through the gift of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
The Archdiocese of Mexico City reported that Archbishop Aguiar has set Pentecost Sunday, May 31, as the day on which each diocese in the country will consecrate its own particular Church to the Holy Spirit, as was done in 1925 amidst the difficulties and persecution of the Cristeros War.
Vatican City, Apr 22, 2009 (CNA) - Today the Holy See released a calendar of Pope Benedict’s liturgical celebrations and activities scheduled for the Month of May. The list includes ordinations, the Pope’s Holy Land visit and a trip to Montecassino, Italy.
According to the Vatican Press Office:
On the Fourth Sunday of Easter, on May 3, the Holy Father will participate in the priestly ordination of deacons from the Diocese of Rome at the Vatican Basilica.
Days later, on Friday May 8, the Pope will travel to the Holy Land. He will return on Friday, May 15.
Benedict XVI is scheduled to visit Montecassino, Italy for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord on May 24.
Finally, on the following week’s celebration of the Solemnity of Pentecost, the Pope will preside over 9:30 a.m. Mass at the Vatican Basilica.
Vatican City, Apr 22, 2009 (CNA) - The Pope's culture commission is joining the effort to help restore the artwork and statues damaged in the earthquakes that struck Italy’s Abruzzo region.
The April 6 earthquake struck the medieval city of L'Aquila and the villages and towns in the region. The Italian government has begun an assessment of the damaged sites, which foreign governments have offered to help restore.
Among the most famous are L'Aquila's 16th-century Spanish castle, the Rennaisance church Saint Bernard of Siena and the 13th-century basilica of Santa Maria of Collemaggio.
On Wednesday, the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church asked "all financial and cultural institutions, museums, public and private restoration workshops, and qualified restorers who have not already done so, to give written confirmation of their spontaneous willingness and readiness 'to adopt' a mobile work of art."
Italy's culture minister said that the restoration work will cost about $65 million.
Vatican City, Apr 22, 2009 (CNA) - Today at his general audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope focused his attention on the monk Ambrose Autpert. Drawing on the monk's teachings, the Pope pointed to greed as the root of the global economic crisis.
Continuing his series of teachings on the great writers of the Eastern and Western Churches in the middle ages, the Holy Father explained that Ambrose Autpert "is a little-known author of the eighth century.
Born to a high-ranking family in Provence, France, Autpert was tutor to the future emperor Charlemagne before traveling to Italy to enter a Benedictine monastery. He was ordained a priest in 761 and was elected abbot 16 years later. He died on January 30, 784.
As a monk and abbot, he observed “the lust for profit of the rich and powerful members of the society of his time,” and was moved to write especially to them. In his letter, he denounced, as did the Apostle Paul, “greed as the root of all evil," explained Pope Benedict, highlighting how, "in the light of the current world economic crisis, this still has great relevance. From this root, from greed, this crisis was born."
Autpert's teaching also has relevance the wealthy, who “have the duty to struggle against greed, against the desire to possess, to show off, against a false concept of freedom understood as being able to dispose of everything in accordance with one's own will. The rich must also discover the authentic path of truth, love and a just life," Benedict said.
The Pope went on to highlight Autpert’s “most important work,” his commentary on the Book of Revelation, which he called “the first in-depth commentary in the Latin world on the last book of Holy Scripture." In this work Autpert makes it clear that "the Church cannot be separated from Jesus Christ. He is the Mediator and the Church participates in such mediation because she is His Body."
Autpert also "looks to Mary as a model of the Church," recognizing that the Virgin has "a decisive role in the work of Redemption." Thus, "with good reason is he considered the first great Marian theologian of the West,” the Holy Father explained.
According to Pope Benedict, Ambrose Autpert's world was not unlike the turbulent world today.
"In Ambrose Autpert we see a person who lived in a time of great political manipulation of the Church, a time in which nationalism and tribalism disfigured her face. Yet amidst these difficulties, which we too also experience, he was able to discover the true face of the Church in Mary and the saints, and thus he understood what it means to be Catholic, to be Christian, to live from the Word of God, to enter into its profundity and so experience the mystery of the Mother of God. Let us listen to this message and ask the Lord to help us live the mystery of the Church, also in our own time," the Pope concluded.
Mexico City, Mexico, Apr 22, 2009 (CNA) - Various Mexican bishops have rejected an offer by officials to provide them with special protection against threats being made by drug traffickers, saying security officials should protect all citizens equally.
Bishop-elect Salvador Rangel of Huejuetla said the state governments of Guanajuato and Michoacan offered to provide security, but the offer was not accepted. He said the lives of priests have the same worth as any other citizen who is in danger. The bishop-elect’s comments came as reports surfaced that a priest in the town of Cuitzeo received death threats from drug lords.
Bishop Javier Navarro of Zamora said adequate security should be provided to all Mexicans. “If priests are persecuted for what they say from the pulpit, for preaching the Gospel, the harassment is welcome,” he said.
Archbishop Alberto Suarez Inda of Michoacan said both priests and citizens “should take precautions and be prudent in their actions.” He also said Mexicans should trust in public officials. “Unfortunately, they often do not have the capacity to resolve these problems, but we are human beings exposed to all these ups and downs,” the archbishop stated.
Other Mexican bishops said they have not been threatened by the drug lords.
Rome, Italy, Apr 22, 2009 (CNA) - A delegation from Jordan led by Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Maha Khatib, is visiting the Vatican this week, and according to the L’Osservatore Romano, Khatib said, “We have come to thank the Pope for the honor he has given us by visiting our land.”
At the conclusion of the Wednesday General Audience last week, Khatib said, “In the name of the kings, the government and all of the people, we want to assure you that Jordan is doing everything possible to offer you a dignified and warm welcome.”
“In Jordan Muslims are awaiting the Pope’s visit in the same way as Christians,” said Khatib, who spoke briefly with the Holy Father after the audience.
The minister and her companions are part of the organizing committee that will be welcoming Benedict XVI on May 8, when he arrives in Amman—the first stage of his visit to the Holy Land.
“Benedict XVI,” she said, “will be able to see with his own eyes a country in which the faithful of various religions coexist in peace: it is a true model for all the Middle East.”
Washington D.C., Apr 22, 2009 (CNA) - During a House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing on Wednesday, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) questioned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about whether the Obama administration is seeking to weaken or overturn pro-life laws and policies in other countries. Secretary Clinton responded to his questions, affirming that the U.S. government’s definition of reproductive health includes access to abortion.
Rep. Smith began his comments by criticizing Secretary Clinton’s reception of the Margaret Sanger Award from Planned Parenthood in Houston in March. Secretary Clinton said she was in “awe” of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger and claimed her “life and leadership” was “one of the most transformational in the entire history of the human race.”
Secretary Clinton also said that Sanger’s work was “not done.”
Rep. Smith said Sanger’s work was indeed “transformational,” but “not for the better if one happens to be poor, disenfranchised, weak, disabled, a person of color, an unborn child, or among the many so-called undesirables Sanger would exclude and exterminate from the human race.”
“Sanger’s prolific writings drip with contempt for those she considers to be unfit to live,” Rep. Smith said.
Noting that he had read many of Sanger’s articles and books, Rep. Smith characterized Sanger as an “unapologetic eugenicist and racist” who said “the most merciful thing a family does for one of its infant members is to kill it” and also characterized eugenics as the “most adequate and thorough avenue” to solve “racial, political and social problems.”
He quoted Sanger’s book “Pivot of Civilization” in which she decried charitable work as “not merely superficial and near-sighted” but also as concealing “a stupid cruelty” that leads to “the perpetuation of defectives, delinquents and dependents.”
Rep. Smith said it was “extraordinarily difficult” to understand how a Secretary of State could be in “awe” of Sanger, saying she had openly professed views “antithetical to protecting human rights.”
He also charged Planned Parenthood with killing over 305,000 children by abortion in the U.S. and “millions more” worldwide in 2007 alone.
Pressing Secretary Clinton about the policies of the Obama administration, he asked whether the administration seeks to “weaken or overturn” pro-life laws and policies in African and Latin American countries either “directly” or by funding non-governmental organizations such as Planned Parenthood, or through “multilateral organizations” such as the U.N., African Union, or the Organization of American States.
He also asked whether the United States’ definitions of the terms “reproductive health,” “reproductive services” or “reproductive rights” include abortion.
Responding to Rep. Smith, Secretary Clinton avoided commenting on Margaret Sanger or her reception of the Margaret Sanger Award.
She said she “deeply respected” Rep. Smith’s concerns and views, but said “we obviously have a profound disagreement.”
Saying she had visited hospitals in Brazil where “half the women” were greeting new babies and the other half were “fighting for their lives against botched abortions,” she remarked that she had also been in African countries where “12 and 13 year old girls are bearing children.”
She also claimed that the denial of “family planning” in Asian countries “consigns women to lives of oppression and hardship.”
“We happen to think that family planning is an important part of women’s health. And reproductive health includes access to abortion that I believe should be safe, legal, and rare,” Secretary Clinton continued, claiming she has spent “a lot of my time” trying to bring down the rate of abortions.
She argued that keeping women and men in “ignorance” and denying them access to “services” actually increases the rate of abortion.
“We are now an Administration that will protect the rights of women, including their rights to reproductive health care,” she said.
Commenting later on Wednesday about Clinton’s testimony, Rep. Smith said it shows the Obama Administration is plotting to conduct a foreign policy that spreads abortion all over the world at U.S. taxpayers’ expense.
“It is evident that Mrs. Clinton and President Obama want to force the tragedy of abortion upon women around the world especially and including in countries where democratically elected leaders want to continue to protect their unborn children,” Smith said.
“There are other ways in which both mother and baby are protected, cared for and helped— with food, nutrition, clean water and life-affirming healthcare,” he said. “Secretary Clinton’s inability to see this will mean more babies will die and more women will suffer the consequence of abortion as a result of U.S. foreign policy overseas.”
Corrientes, Argentina, Apr 22, 2009 (CNA) - Archbishop Andres Stanovnik of Corrientes, Argentina revealed details of his recent ad limina visit during a press conference in which he stressed the necessity of bishops having communion with the Pope. The archbishop also said that the Pope is the exact opposite of how the media portrays him.
At the press conference the archbishop also explained the importance of the ad limina visit. “The Church is a living organism whose head is Christ, who is the one who governs. He does so through Peter and the apostles, present in their successors: the Pope and the college of bishops. We bishops make no sense without communion with the Holy Father,” he said. Ad limina visits “express precisely that, our communion with the Pope.”
Benedict XVI, said Archbishop Stanovnik, “is very different from how he is portrayed by the media, who make him out to be an inflexible, rigid and conservative Pope, estranged from reality, insensible, dogmatic, and he is not like this. He is exactly the opposite. What is sad is that some sectors in the Church believe what the media says.”
“Benedict XVI is very gracious, from the very moment you meet him you feel there is no distance between you because he is a simple man and for this reason he makes everything simple,” the archbishop stated. “One feels welcomed, accepted and close. Moreover, he is a person who knows how to listen, because the questions he asks are about the things you are telling him.”
“The interior of this Christian that the Church has anointed as Bishop of Rome is one of openness, a man who listens. And therefore, a person who listens to others is a person who also listens to God; he is a man of profound prayer. It is a blessing to have a universal pastor like him,” the archbishop said.
Moscow, Russia, Apr 22, 2009 (CNA) - Following the beginning of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) in Geneva on Monday, the Russian Orthodox Church has asked the conference to introduce the idea of “Christianophobia” into international laws concerning discrimination.
"It is very important to the Russian Orthodox Church to raise the issue of introducing to the list of threats the notion of Christianophobia in addition to anti-Semitism and Islamophobia," Archpriest Georgy Ryabykh, deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, told Interfax-Religion.
At the conference’s opening ceremony, the archpriest said, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon mentioned anti-Semitism and Islamophobia but did not “say a single word about Christianophobia.”
Archpriest Gregory said there were many examples of “violations of Christians' rights, insults of their feelings [and] public distortion of the Christian teaching” which put “the notion of Christianophobia” into international circulation.