Caracas, Venezuela, Aug 24, 2009 (CNA) - The National Council of the Laity in Venezuela has rejected the recently passed reform of the country’s educational laws, not only because of the “illegitimate and illegal way in which this law has been imposed on us,” but also because it is an attack against Venezuelans' constitutional rights.
The Council’s statement denounced the country’s National Assembly for how it handled the measure and said the legislative body adopts a position that puts the State before society and identifies the interests of the State with the opinion of those who are in power at a given moment. The behavior of the lawmakers shows scorn and contempt for the families the State ought to be serving, they added.
“We reject, therefore, the illegitimate and illegal way in which this law has been imposed on us,” the Council said.
The new law on education prohibits state-run schools from offering religion classes of any kind. The law was passed while teachers and school administrators were on vacation.
After noting that education is a human right, which includes the right to religious education, the Venezuelan lay organization said the approved law “has a clear collectivist orientation that dissolves the person into a social entity to which he is subordinate, instead of serving as a sphere for his realization.”
The Council also said the new law attacks the academic freedom of universities, as well as the right of parents to have their children receive religious education according to their own beliefs.
“For this reason we reject his law, which does not comprehensively promote the human person in his dignity and freedom, nor adapt to the plural reality of today’s world, and which disrespects our Constitution and does not provide the kind of education Venezuela needs,” the Council stated.
It called on Venezuelans to become familiar with the new law and to become involved at the local and national levels to lessen its impact and work to overturn it.
Denver, Colo., Aug 24, 2009 (CNA) - "Common ground" is a phrase that President Obama and some of his supporters have been using to describe their efforts to work for health care reform. But Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver is taking them to task for abusing the Catholic concept, calling any labeling of the current reform proposals as common ground "a lie."
In his weekly column for the Denver Catholic Register—to be published online this afternoon—Archbishop Chaput tackles the health care debate by recalling an editorial in the British Catholic newspaper The Tablet that insisted the U.S. bishops must back Obama's reform effort.
The editorial also claims that America’s bishops "have so far concentrated on a specifically Catholic issue – making sure state-funded health care does not include abortion – rather than the more general principle of the common good."
This diatribe against the bishops raises some interesting observations, says Chaput.
"First, it proves once again that people don’t need to actually live in the United States to have unhelpful and badly informed opinions about our domestic issues. Second, some of the same pious voices that once criticized U.S. Catholics for supporting a previous president now sound very much like acolytes of a new president. Third, abortion is not, and has never been, a 'specifically Catholic issue,' and the editors know it. And fourth, the growing misuse of Catholic 'common ground' and 'common good' language in the current health-care debate can only stem from one of two sources: ignorance or cynicism."
"No system that allows or helps fund – no matter how subtly or indirectly -- the killing of unborn children, or discrimination against the elderly and persons with special needs, can bill itself as 'common ground,' Archbishop Chaput insists, adding that, "Doing so is a lie."
As lawmakers and President Obama push to have their health care reform bill passed by the fall, Chaput writes that they are disregarding the experiences of concerned parents in their haste.
The Denver archbishop relates an email that he received from a mother on the East Coast who has a daughter with Downs Syndrome. Three-year-old Magdalena has to see doctors on a regular basis and "‘consumes’ a lot of health care," her mother told the archbishop.
What worries Magdalena's parents the most is: "On paper, maybe these procedures and visits seem excessive. She is, after all, only 3 years old. We worry that more bureaucrats in the decision chain will increase the likelihood that someone, somewhere, will say, 'Is all of this really necessary? After all, what is the marginal benefit to society for treating this person?'"
The best way to make policy decisions, her parents say, is to make them "as close as possible to the people who will be affected by them."
But when it comes down to it, Magdalena's mom—who can't seem to forget the comment President Obama made about the Special Olympics—just doesn't "trust them to mold policy that accounts for my daughter in all of her humanity or puts 'value' on her life.
Last March, the president joked about his poor bowling score with Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show" saying that it's "like the Special Olympics or something."
Admitting that leaders occasionally make gaffes, Archbishop Chaput writes that "what’s most striking about the young mother’s email -- and I believe warranted -- is the parental distrust behind her words."
"In fact, I’ve heard from enough intelligent, worried parents of children with special needs here in Colorado to know that many feel the current health-care proposals pressed by Washington are troubling and untrustworthy," he adds.
Insisting that health care reform is vital, the Denver prelate urges "Congress and the White House want to genuinely serve the health-care needs of the American public."
Lawmakers need to "slow down and listen to people’s concerns more honestly -- and learn what the 'common good' really means," Chaput says.
Archbishop Chaput's full column can be read at: http://www.archden.org/index.cfm/ID/2440/Archbishop's-Column/.
Bogotá, Colombia, Aug 24, 2009 (CNA) - The president of the Bishops’ Conference of Colombia, Bishop Ruben Salazar, called on rebel groups in the country last week to respect the lives of priests and religious, who in many cases are the only sources of hope for victims of Colombia’s decades-long civil conflict.
Bishop Salazar noted that Colombia has an extremely high rate of bishops and priests killed as a result of the armed conflict, with two bishops, 67 priests, 8 religious and three seminarians being murdered since 1984.
According to Father Dario Echeverri, general secretary of the National Reconciliation Commission, the work of priests in the areas of conflict must be recognized because although they suffer like the rest of the civil population, they cannot rest because they are the only ray of hope for the community.
The Colombian daily El Tiempo quoted Father Echeverri as explaining that while “analysts watch the conflict from their desks, priests do understand what is happening with the Colombian war, because they also live and suffer through it.” For this reason, he called on the armed groups, such as the FARC, to respect the basic norms of the International Humanitarian Law with regards to the mission of priests.
Priests in Regions of Conflict
The newspaper also published the testimonies of two priests who minister in areas of conflict.
Father Jose Alexander Londono, who is pastor in the town of Bebedo, said, “Living in a place like this demands you fill yourself with spiritual strength in order to accompany and journey with these people who are suffering and are scared. You also experience that fear.” He said he has never been threatened or pressured and that poverty makes the issue of the armed conflict more intense.
For his part, Father Heyler Giraldo, associate pastor in Reinera Pesquera, said priests minister “to the displaced, to the victims of land mines.” “There are some places where there is no teacher or health care clinic, but there is a priest who not only prays but also leads community and social activity,” he said.
Vatican City, Aug 24, 2009 (CNA) - The Press Office of the Holy See today denied reports in the Italian press that Pope Benedict is poised to make changes to enhance the sacredness of the liturgy. The statement added that there are currently no institutional proposals to alter the rites being used to celebrate the Mass.
The Assistant Director of the Press Office, Father Ciro Benedettini, said that "so far there are no institutional proposals for amendment of the books currently in use."
Fr. Benedettini made the statement after the Vatican watcher Andrea Tornielli wrote that the bishops who comprise the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments had voted on March 12 to recommend a series of liturgical reforms to the Pope.
Tornielli wrote that the bishops of the Congregation voted almost unanimously to “restore greater sacredness to the rite, to recover the meaning of Eucharistic adoration, to restore Latin in the celebration and to revamp the introductory parts of the Missal to put an end to abuses, experimentation and inappropriate creativity.”
The bishops also reportedly voted to reaffirm that the norm for receiving Holy Communion is on the tongue and not the hand. However, noted Tornielli, some bishops’ conferences have received an indult from Rome to allow the reception of the Eucharist on the hand.
Washington D.C., Aug 24, 2009 (CNA) - A booklet from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on end-of-life issues asks its veterans to consider under what circumstances their life might not be “worth living.” One critic says the booklet is “guilt inducing” and sends a “hurry-up-and-die” message, while a U.S. Senator has called for hearings on its contents.
The booklet “Your Life, Your Choices” says it is intended to help plan for future medical decisions and for the preparation of a personalized living will.
The 52-page document includes a checklist asking “What makes my life worth living?” The reader is asked to rate scenarios on the checklist by quality of life.
Statements on the checklist ask the reader to consider his view of a life of severe pain, a life in which he can no longer contribute to his family’s well being, a life in which he cannot control bodily functions, and a life in which he cannot walk or leave the house.
Other statements have the reader consider whether being a “severe” emotional or financial burden on one’s family is a life worth living.
Categories for the statements on the checklist are “difficult, but acceptable,” “worth living, but just barely,” “not worth living,” and “can’t answer now.”
Beneath the checklist, the booklet asks the reader to consider whether a combination of “just barely” livable factors would make his life “not worth living.”
It also asks: “If you checked ‘not worth living,’ does this mean that you would rather die than be kept alive?”
The booklet itself does not explicitly raise the issue of drug- or physician-assisted suicide. However, it asks the reader to consider whether he believes artificial hydration and nutrition are morally obligatory. It also asks the reader to consider whether pain relief is acceptable if it hastens death.
Additionally, the booklet asks the reader to consider his desired treatment in cases where he has severe dementia, has a severe stroke, is permanently comatose, or is terminally ill.
For each situation, it asks whether or for how long the reader would like antibiotics, a feeding tube, dialysis, a mechanical ventilator, and comfort care.
Robert Pearlman, M.D., M.P.H., was listed as the document’s lead author. He is chief of ethics evaluation at the VA’s National Center for Ethics in Health Care.
Jim Towey, a former director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives under the George W. Bush administration, reported in an August 18 Wall Street Journal opinion piece that Pearlman advocated allowing physician-assisted suicide in 1996 before the U.S. Supreme Court in the decision Vacco v. Quill.
Towey, who is also president of St. Vincent’s College in Pennsylvania and a former volunteer in a Missionaries of Charity AIDS hospice, strongly criticized the VA booklet.
According to Towey, “Your Life, Your Choices” was first published in 1997 and was initially the VA’s preferred document for living wills. Under the George W. Bush administration, after the White House examined the document the VA removed it from use.
Towey characterized parts of the document as describing “guilt inducing” scenarios and promoting a “hurry-up-and-die” message. He also reported that a July 2009 VA document instructed its primary care physicians to raise the issue of advanced care with all VA patients and to refer them to “Your Life, Your Choices.”
In addition, Towey said that a VA expert panel which in 2007-2008 sought to update the “Your Life, Your Choices” booklet did not include any representatives of faith groups or disability rights groups. He said in the new version of the booklet the only organization listed as a resource on advance directives is Compassion and Choices, the suicide advocacy group formerly known as the Hemlock Society.
According to Fox News, on Sunday Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) said the document raises “a lot of questions.”
"I think consideration ought to be given right now to suspending it pending hearings,” Specter told Fox News Sunday.
Tammy Duckworth, an injured veteran who is the assistant secretary for the VA, said the document is under revision and its status was reported as such on the VA website. She told Fox News it has not been officially reinstated and described it as “simply a tool” for injured veterans.
CNA accessed a copy of “Your Life, Your Choices” on the website of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs this morning, but it was apparently removed from the site later on Monday.
The pamphlet “A Catholic Guide to End-of-Life Decisions,” produced by the National Catholic Bioethics Center, summarizes Catholic end-of-life ethics, saying:
“When death is imminent one may refuse forms of treatment that would only result in a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life. There is a presumption in favor of continuing to provide food and water to the patient, but there is a stage in the dying process when even these may no longer be obligatory because they provide no benefit. Normal care always remains morally obligatory, but refusal of additional treatment when death is imminent is not equivalent to suicide.”
Vatican City, Aug 24, 2009 (CNA) - The international controller for the Vatican’s Prefecture of Economic Affairs, Thomas Hong-Soon Han, said last week that Christians must go beyond the logic of “the greatest benefit at the lowest cost possible” and that the demands of justice and charity must not be sacrificed in economic activity, as the Pope has explained in his encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.”
In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, the Korean expert explained what a Christian perspective should be in the case of a building project, for example, noting that economic convenience must not be the sole factor in determining which company to contract. “The proposals of a given company need to be considered as well as the working conditions, the salary levels, in sum, how justice is concretely carried out in the organization.”
If a company engages in worker exploitation, the Church must reject this behavior because it would otherwise be indirectly complicit in the evil, Han said.
He went on to warn that it is easy to give in to the temptation to place a priority on achieving favorable conditions from an economic point of view, and that this is sometimes justified in the name of the demands of charity. “The alleviating of one sector—it is said—can mean greater availability for other social and humanitarian activities. But in any case what is forgotten is that ‘charity demands justice,’ as the Pope writes in 'Caritas in Veritate.'”
Current Economic Crisis
Referring to the current global economic crisis, Han said its origins stem from a “moral deficit.” “Capitalism does not work without an ethical foundation. Things fall apart when their foundation is not based on moral principles. On the dollar bill it says, ‘In God We Trust.’ For this reason if the market is based solely on selfish interest and not on ‘trusting in God’ it fails.”
While the Church does not condemn capitalism as such, he noted, she also asserts that the market economy must have at its center the human person and his dignity. “'Caritas in Veritate' is very clear about this,” he said.
After underscoring that ultimately individual persons are responsible for economic structures, Han called for “a formation of consciences in the gospel values. This is the principle task of the Church’s social teaching and this is pointed out in the new encyclical by Benedict XVI.”
Han stressed that the Church “is not an NGO or a charitable entity. The action of Christians is based on charity, but stems from the truth: Caritas in veritate. We cannot overlook the incarnation of a God who became man for love of men. This is perfect charity. The truth of our faith acquires more credibility if it bears witness to love.”
Lima, Peru, Aug 24, 2009 (CNA) - Father Nikolaus Schoch, OFM, who is the Assistant Promoter of Justice at the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature, said during a strip to Peru this week that amidst the challenges of today’s world, parishes must not be islands unto themselves, but rather must be integrated with the diocese and need involvement from the laity and the ecclesial movements.
The Archdiocese of Lima reported that Fr. Schoch said priests today are spread too thin with so many pastoral activities. Faced with the problems of society and contemporary culture, they feel driven to rethink their lifestyles and priorities in their ministries, while at the same time they are aware of the need for ongoing formation, Fr. Schoch observed.
Parishes—and even dioceses—while they have their own autonomy, “must not be islands unto themselves, especially amidst today’s communications and transportation channels.” “Parishes are living organisms of the one Body of Christ, the one Church, which welcomes and serves both members of the local community, as well as those who, for whatever reason, show up at a given moment in what often signifies the action of God’s grace in one’s conscience or life,” he said.
Pastors must not carry out their ministries isolated from one another, but rather in union with other priests and under the guidance of the Church’s leaders, Fr. Schoch underscored.
He called on priests to build a greater understanding among each other and to work together, especially older priests with younger ones. “Both are equally necessary for the Christian community and are appreciated by the bishops and the Pope,” he added.
Pastors are not obliged to personally carry out every single task in a parish, he pointed out, but rather, they should provide guidance for those who assist them so that all pastoral activity is accomplished in accord with sound doctrine and ecclesial discipline.
Priests must help the laity to discover and fulfill their specific vocation in communion with the other faithful.” “The apostolate of the laity is in large part carried out in the associations and movements that act in full ecclesial communion and in obedience to the directives of their pastors. These associations of the faithful must be promoted and sustained,” he said.
However, he warned, all forms of exclusion or isolation must be avoided in parish life, and parishes must be protected from becoming management organizations that forget the spiritual needs of their parishioners.