Naples, Fla., Jul 22, 2009 (CNA) - Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, the founder of Ignatius Press and a former student of Pope Benedict, has been fired from his position as theologian in residence at Ave Maria University. The action reportedly was taken because he criticized the administration’s handling of the school’s finances.
In a Monday letter, Fr. Fessio said that Dr. Jack Sites, Academic Vice President of Ave Maria University (AMU), had flown into San Francisco for an “amicable” Monday meeting with the priest to inform him that he was being dismissed.
Fr. Fessio said the dismissal stemmed from a November 2008 conversation Fr. Fessio had with Jack Donohue, who was then chairman of the board of AMU. According to Fr. Fessio, he told Donohue about the “urgency” of the university’s financial situation.
“I told him that there were policies being followed that were at the root of the problem, that the present administration was irrevocably wedded to those policies, and that without a change of administration the university was at great risk.”
In Fr. Fessio’s and Dr. Sites’ Monday meeting, Sites reportedly explained that Donohue had related the conversation to Tom Monaghan, a founder, major donor and present chancellor of AMU.
According to Fr. Fessio, it was decided by unknown persons “that the university could not have a faculty member making these criticisms of the administration and thus undermining the university.”
The priest had previously been fired from his position as university provost in March 2007, and was rehired in a less prominent position after protests from students and other Catholics. In his Monday letter, he said the circumstances of both firings were similarly due to “irreconcilable administrative differences.”
Expressing continued support for the university and a continued willingness to recommend the school to students and parents, Fr. Fessio wrote:
“I think it is an accurate summary to say that I am being dismissed as a faculty member because of a private conversation with the chairman of the board in which I made known my criticisms of the university administration; and because of allegations which have not been made known to me and to which I have not been given an opportunity to respond.”
“I will continue to think my dismissal is another mistake in a long series of unwise decisions,” his letter concluded.
The public relations firm representing AMU, Falls Communications, provided CNA with a statement from the university about Fr. Fessio’s firing.
“Ave Maria University (AMU) has announced that it has ended its formal relationship with Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J. and he will no longer serve as Theologian in Residence. The decision was made by the leadership of the university and supported by its Board of Trustees,” the statement said.
"While Fr. Fessio will not be continuing in any capacity at the university, AMU wishes to express its gratitude to him for the assistance that he rendered to the university.”
Adela Gonzales White, a spokeswoman with the Diocese of Venice, confirmed to CNA that Bishop Frank J. Dewane is a non-voting ex officio member of the AMU Board of Trustees and so was not involved in a vote concerning Fr. Fessio.
The bishop was only recently appointed to the board and has not yet participated in a trustees’ meeting.
Washington D.C., Jul 22, 2009 (CNA) - As national debate about a major Congressional health care bill continues, the U.S. bishops have called for “genuine” health care reform that protects human life and provides comprehensive health care access.
Bishop of Rockville Centre, New York William F. Murphy, writing a July 17 letter to Congress on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), commented:
“Genuine health care reform that protects the life and dignity of all is a moral imperative and a vital national obligation.”
Bishop Murphy, who is chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said that the U.S. bishops have advocated health care reform for decades.
He also outlined four criteria for health care reform, listing respect for human life and dignity, access for all, pluralism and equitable costs.
Concerning respect for human life, the bishop insisted that no health care reform plan should “compel us or others to pay for the destruction of human life, whether through government funding or mandatory coverage of abortion.”
“Any such action would be morally wrong,” he stated, noting that U.S. law already bars federal funding for most abortions.
Health care reform, he said, should not be a vehicle for abandoning a “consensus” that “respects freedom of conscience and honors our best American traditions.”
“Any legislation should reflect longstanding and widely supported current policies on abortion funding, mandates and conscience protections because they represent sound morality, wise policy and political reality.”
Discussing access to health care, Bishop Murphy remarked, “All people need and should have access to comprehensive, quality health care that they can afford, and it should not depend on their stage of life, where or whether they or their parents work, how much they earn, where they live, or where they were born.”
The bishop said the USCCB believes health care reform should be “truly universal” and “genuinely affordable.”
Noting that some families, including immigrants, will not be covered by health care reform, Bishop Murphy urged Congress to fund adequately clinics and hospitals that serve these populations.
He also advocated more cost-sharing protections and new coverage options for poorer families, limits or exemptions on premiums for those who are near poverty, and increases in eligibility levels.
Sacramento, Calif., Jul 22, 2009 (CNA) - Another California school district has voted to preserve a policy requiring students to have parental permission to leave campus for any reason. Changes to the policy would have allowed students to leave campus for any reason, including “confidential medical services” such as abortion.
The Fairfield-Suisun Board of Education on July 16 voted 5-2 to keep the policy, the California Catholic Daily says. It is the second time in four years the board has rejected a more permissive policy, which has been sought by Fairfield-Suisun Superintendent Jacki Cottingim.
Proponents of the change include the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. They maintain that the 1986 state Education Code requires the policy change, while their opponents say state law leaves the choice to local districts.
Karen England, executive director of Capitol Resource Institute, said in a statement that the board members understood that the law is clear about “confidential release.”
“They understand that local school boards are given the choice to include parents or exclude parents,” commented England, who testified in favor of the policy.
The Fairfield-Suisun School District covers Solano County, midway between Sacramento and San Francisco. It operates 31 schools for 23,000 students.
The Modesto City School Board has voted to remove the requirements for parental permission, while the Vista Board of Education in northern San Diego County requires parental consent for students who leave campus for “confidential medical services.”
Manila, Philippines, Jul 22, 2009 (CNA) - Suspended Catholic priest Eddie Panlilio, current governor of the central Philippines province of Pampanga, has decided to run for the country’s presidency in 2010 and to seek dispensation from his priestly obligations.
Speaking at a weekly forum organized by the Catholic Media Network in Manila, Panlilio said he intended to file his candidacy by the November 30 legal deadline.
He remarked that he was ready for “all the consequences, including dispensation from the priesthood,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer reports.
Panlilio was suspended from the priesthood when he sought and won the Pampanga governorship in 2007, defeating a close ally of Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
He said he would formally request dispensation from the Church sometime between August and November, adding that he would want to be reinstated into the priesthood if he loses.
"This priesthood that I love so much, I'm willing to give up for a greater love and that's love for the country," he said.
Archbishop Oscar Cruz, head of the Catholic bishops’ dispensation office, said Panlilio will be released from his priestly obligations the moment Pope Benedict XVI dispenses him.
The archbishop added that the suspended priest should have sought dispensation during his 2007 gubernatorial campaign. He expressed hope Panlilio should seek dispensation because it is “the right thing to do.”
“He will be sparing Catholic voters ... and priests from being divided,” Archbishop Cruz remarked.
According to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Panlilio said he felt “at peace” when he decided to offer himself as a presidential candidate.
“I’m doing this not for me, not for myself. I felt God wanted me to go on a higher service,” he said. “I have said time and again I have no political agenda. There have been groups telling me to run for the presidency and thought I would pray again. After a period of discernment, I said, yeah, God is calling me to run for the presidency.”
If elected, Panlilio said, he would focus on issues such as people’s livelihood, malnutrition, corruption, food sufficiency and insurgency.
Panlilio also had no plans to marry. If he wins the election, he suggested, one of his sisters can serve as the Philippines’ First Lady.
Vatican City, Jul 22, 2009 (CNA) - Clergy and Italian government officials will be gathering this evening in Rome for a symposium to discuss Pope Benedict's new social encyclical. The meeting will focus on how "Caritas in Veritate" is "an encyclical for understanding the future."
The gathering will be held at 6 p.m. this evening in the St. Pius X auditorium in Rome. In attendance will be Archbishop Rino Fisichella, rector of the Pontifical Lateran University and president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and Giulio Tremonti, Italian finance minister.
The meeting was put together by the Congregation of Sons of the Immaculate Conception and by the ELEA company.
Another meeting was held on Tuesday to examine the encyclical under the theme, "Beyond the ideology of crisis. Development, ethics and the market in 'Caritas in veritate'."
The congress was organized by the Magna Charta Foundation and took place in the Roman church of Santa Marta. Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi of Trieste, Italy, and Maurizio Sacconi, Italian minister for social affairs and employment were in attendance.
Madrid, Spain, Jul 22, 2009 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, visited the parish of St. Genevieve in the suburb of Majadahonda after seven homemade bombs were found last week attached to the air conditioning system. Fortunately, the bombs did not explode.
During his unexpected Sunday visit, the cardinal celebrated Mass and spoke with parishioners. He encouraged them in his homily to be “calm and at peace” and thanked police officers for their work in investigating the incident.
He also expressed his concern at the resurgence of such acts, “which have not taken place in Spain for decades.” He said it should come as no surprise that young people from broken homes end up being manipulated into committing these crimes.
The pastor of the parish of St. Genevieve, Father David Benintez, related the details of the incident to Efe news agency. On July 12, he recalled, “as I finished the 11:30 Mass, there was a strong odor of gasoline in the church. With the help of a parishioner we searched the premises and found some strange objects that looked like bottles wrapped in tape on the roof by the air conditioning.”
Father Benitez said it was time “to forget about what happened and continue ahead with our work, which has not been interrupted. The investigation will continue and will surely conclude successfully, and justice will be served.”
Montevideo, Uruguay, Jul 22, 2009 (CNA) - The John Paul II Institute of Bioethics of the Archdiocese of Montevideo has questioned a proposed bill by the Uruguayan Senate that “implicitly allows the destruction of human embryos to obtain stem cells, in violation of the first of all human rights: the right to life.”
Article 4 of the law would permit the use of embryonic stem cells for scientific purposes, which implies the destruction of newly conceived human embryos.
The institute said the use of embryonic stem cells or of cells derived from them “poses serious problems from the point of view of cooperation in evil and scandal.”
It called on lawmakers to modify the measure in order to prevent any inclusion in national law of this “grave attack against human dignity.”
Madrid, Spain, Jul 22, 2009 (CNA) - Bishop Demetrio Fernandez of Tarazona, Spain recalled this week the importance of the seminary for the formation of new priests, since only they “can guarantee the survival of the Catholic Church among us.”
“The Church cannot live without priests. For this reason, as I have repeated many times, a diocese without a seminary is a dead diocese. We must continuously pray to the Lord of the harvest that he will send workers to the harvest,” the bishop said in a recent letter about the upcoming ordination of a priest and two deacons.
The bishop said the prayer of the people of Tarazona that priests will never be lacking “is an expression of a need in the Church” and that it is false to say that people do not care about the things of God. “I can testify that everywhere the thirst for God is growing. And the priest exists to satiate that thirst,” he said.
For this reason, he said, “ordaining a new priest is one of the greatest satisfactions for a bishop” and of joy for the Church.
“When we receive the gift of a new priest in the times in which we live, the joy is immense. And we must give thanks to God, because each priest is a gift of his heart,” the bishop said.
Bishop Fernandez said the Year for Priests is an occasion “to thank God for the gift of his priests for the Church, a year to pray for priests and for new vocations to the ordained ministry. If priests aspire to sanctity, the entire diocese will follow suit.”
Washington D.C., Jul 22, 2009 (CNA) - Dr. Miguel Diaz, President Obama's nominee to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, spoke at his confirmation hearing this morning in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In his remarks, Diaz pledged to "embrace President Obama and Secretary Clinton's diplomatic vision of leading through active listening and learning from others to seek common ground."
Before delivering his remarks, Diaz was introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who described him as "a faithful Catholic...a gifted theologian...a respected scholar...a natural teacher...and a dedicated bridge-builder." According to the Minnesota Post, Klobuchar added, "He knows and loves America, and he knows and loves the Catholic Church."
After a second introduction by freshman Senator Al Franken, Diaz began his testimony by saying, "As a Cuban American, my identity has been shaped by two cultures. I strongly believe that this has made me more open to others." Drawing on this experience, he said he would use it to "build bridges between different communities on behalf of our country."
Diaz, who has worked in the academic world for years, also pointed out that his experience is "not limited to the realm of books... and the classroom."
Perhaps offering a clue as to what he plans to do as an ambassador, Diaz cited his academic and personal "commitment to public action and service," which he said has inspired him to play "a leading role in promoting cultural, racial, and religious diversity on American college campuses."
"At the College of Saint Benedict/St. John’s University, I have worked with religious leaders to [engage] local communities in exploring the role of religion in uniting people. If confirmed, my service to the United States as ambassador would be a natural extension of this work."
The nominee named his experience at "creating dialogues related to cultural diversity, immigration, poverty, and the role of religion in society" as areas of intersection for his possible ambassadorship.
"If confirmed," he stated, "I would embrace President Obama and Secretary Clinton's diplomatic vision of leading through active listening and learning from others to seek common ground in order to further the myriad mutual interests of the United States and the Holy See."
Following his statement, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) asked Diaz a single question about how he thought the July 10 meeting between President Obama and Pope Benedict XVI went.
The theologian responded that they discussed many areas of mutual interest and that the meeting "set up a great foundation for our work in years to come."
Diaz's confirmation still requires a vote by the full Foreign Relations Committee and then by the full Senate.
Washington D.C., Jul 22, 2009 (CNA) - As speculation persists about whether President Obama’s push for a health care bill has ramifications for abortion funding, the Population Research Institute is warning that the plan as “one of the clearest and most decisive attacks against the pro-life cause” since Roe v. Wade.
PRI claims the president’s favored bill, HR 3200, “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act,” would include abortion in the minimum benefits of every health care plan and would require every taxpayer and insurance holder to pay for every abortion.
His healthcare plan, in PRI’s view, would discriminate against practitioners who refuse to perform abortions, possibly leading to their unemployment.
However, such claims rest on whether abortion is defined as essential health care. Amendments explicitly forbidding abortion funding have been proposed and defeated, but the status of abortion is not explicitly defined.
In hearings on a Senate version of health care legislation, self-described pro-life Democrat Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. of Pennsylvania and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) expressed concern about an amendment offered by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).
According to CNSNews.com, Sen. Mikulski proposed “an obscurely worded, two-part amendment” mandating “preventive care and screenings” for pregnant women and women of childbearing age. The specific services would be determined later by the Health Resources and Services Administration, a federal agency.
The amendment also requires insurers to include in their networks “essential community providers” who serve “predominantly low-income, medically underserved individuals.”
Sen. Hatch asked whether “essential community providers” would include abortion providers.
According to Sen. Mikulski, the amendment would include “women’s health clinics that provide comprehensive services, and under the definition of a women’s health clinic it would include Planned Parenthood clinics.”
“It does not in any way expand a service. In other words, it doesn’t expand, nor mandate an abortion service,” she added.
To which Sen. Hatch responded: “No, but it would provide for them.”
“It would provide for any service deemed medically necessary or medically appropriate,” Sen. Mikulski replied.
Sen. Casey expressed his belief that the amendment was “too broad” and could be interpreted “down the road” to include “something like abortion.” He said he would vote against Mikulski’s amendment.
On Monday Sen. Hatch had proposed an amendment in the committee to prohibit any funding of abortion through federally funded health insurance programs except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.
His amendment was defeated, while Sen. Mikulski’s proposal passed.
Washington D.C., Jul 22, 2009 (CNA) - As debate continues about de facto federal funding for abortion in proposed health care legislation, U.S. Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN) has filed an amendment which would deny federal funding to Planned Parenthood through Title X Family Planning.
A backgrounder from Rep. Pence’s office says the amendment would withhold annual appropriations of Health and Human Services’ Family Planning funds from Planned Parenthood.
In Wednesday remarks on the floor of the House of Representatives, Rep. Pence said “The time has come to deny any and all federal funding to Planned Parenthood of America. The largest abortion provider in America should not also be the largest recipient of federal funds under Title X.”
Expressing confidence his proposed amendment will be “widely supported,” he asked the House Rules Committee to place it in the voting order.
Rep. Pence said that Planned Parenthood performed more than 305,000 abortions last year and received nearly $350 million of federal taxpayer money from 2007 to 2008.
He also cited state investigations into cases of Planned Parenthood staffers apparently encouraging underage girls to lie about their ages to avoid mandatory state reporting laws on statutory rape.
Title X money given to organizations that provide both abortions and family planning services, Pence pointed out, can be used to offset operational costs and free up money to “promote and provide abortions.”
“Again I say, the time has come to deny any and all federal funding to Planned Parenthood of America. The largest abortion provider in America should not also be the largest recipient of federal funds under Title X. It's time to pass the Pence Amendment to keep taxpayer money out of the hands of Planned Parenthood.”
Washington D.C., Jul 22, 2009 (CNA) - The pro-abortion group NARAL Pro-Choice America has announced its support for Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
NARAL president Nancy Keenan and NARAL Pro-Choice New York president Kelli Conlin issued a joint statement on Tuesday saying that President Barack Obama made a “sound choice” in nominating Sotomayor.
“From the beginning, we have said her nomination reflects the president's commitment to ensuring that justices have strong legal credentials and understand how the law affects everyday people's lives, including the need to keep politicians from interfering in our personal, private medical decisions.”
Keenan and Conlin noted that they had testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the fate of the pro-abortion Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade “hangs in the balance.” They added that they were “pleased” that Judge Sotomayor, in their view, expressed “stronger support for the established constitutional right to privacy” than either Chief Justice John Roberts or Justice Samuel Alito.
Those two previous Supreme Court nominees, they said, had “anti-choice” records before being nominated and confirmed.
According to the NARAL leaders, Judge Sotomayor had said several times in her confirmation hearing that the constitutional right to privacy includes “the right to choose.”
Keenan and Conlin explained that strong support for Sotomayor from their “pro-choice allies” contributed to their own decision to support her nomination, as did President Obama’s “consistent record” of support for Roe v. Wade and for placing likeminded individuals in “key posts.”
Soon after Sotomayor’s nomination was announced, the New York Times reported that some pro-abortion groups were “quietly expressing unease” about her reliability in upholding Roe v. Wade. At the time, Keenan released a statement saying NARAL was looking forward to learning more about Judge Sotomayor’s views on abortion.
The Denver Post reports that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has expressed confidence that Judge Sotomayor will be confirmed by a full Senate vote in time for the Supreme Court’s first meeting on September 9.