Archive of September 17, 2009

Catholic Charities responding to ‘alarming’ increase in poverty

Alexandria, Va., Sep 17, 2009 (CNA) - Catholic Charities USA and its member agencies have released its 2008 Annual Survey, reporting an “alarming” rate of increase in poverty in the United States.

The number of clients served in 2008 by Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) increased by 10.2 percent, from about 8 million to 8.5 million, the charity reports. This substantially reversed the reduction in poverty trends reported in previous Annual Surveys from the organization.

"The 2008 increase moved at an alarming rate, and it doesn't even include the first nine months of this year," said Rev. Larry Snyder, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA.  "Our agencies are being confronted head on by more need and less resources -- an unacceptable scenario.”

He said that observations indicate that the 2009 numbers of people in poverty “will only grow.”

CCUSA agencies reported providing employment services to 67,597 persons, an increase of about 35 percent from the 50,080 clients reported in 2007. A CCUSA press release called this the “most troubling” sign and attributed the change to the impact of the declining economy on unemployment.

The agency reported significant growth in individuals receiving public assistance and family incomes below the poverty line. Its financial literacy programs enrolled 58,589 clients, an increase of 47,000. A reported 33 agencies helped 53,858 clients access the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Over 330,000 clients received disaster services through CCUSA. Though it is a 21 percent decrease from 2007, it marks a 60 percent increase over 2004-2005 levels.

CCUSA has pledged to help reduce poverty by 50 percent by 2020, but says that the current trends are “deplorable” and an obstacle to that goal.

"More people are turning to us in our local agencies and operations than ever before and while our resources are strained beyond compare, we nevertheless are there for them," Fr. Snyder added.  "We give special thanks and gratitude to the generosity of our donors who even in these most difficult times find a way to contribute. We most humbly ask for your continued support, which is needed more than ever."

CCUSA’s Annual Survey reported the 2008 income of its agencies and affiliates as $3.9 billion, 67 percent of which was government revenue.

There are more than 1,700 local Catholic Charities agencies and institutions in the U.S. They serve 8.5 million people per year without regard to their religious, social or economic backgrounds.

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Cardinal Pell to participate in Festival of Dangerous Ideas

Sydney, Australia, Sep 17, 2009 (CNA) - Cardinal George Pell will provide a counter to the atheist debater Christopher Hitchens at the first Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney this October 3 and 4.

Cardinal Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, will deliver an address titled “Without God We Are Nothing” on the evening of Sunday October 4. According to the Archdiocese of Sydney, his address will draw on his own faith and scholarship and on scientific figures such as physicist Stephen Hawking.

He will reportedly describe secularism as a “minority sport” and a temporary phenomenon, arguing that it only survives in the Western world by attacking Christianity or living off Christianity’s “moral capital.”

“Science alone cannot provide answers either to the existence of God or to atheist options," the cardinal said. He borrows ideas from the English philosopher and former atheist Anthony Flew, who questions how a universe of “mindless matter” can produce “beings with intrinsic ends, self-replication capabilities and ‘coded chemistry’.”

The Festival of Dangerous Ideas will be held at the Sydney Opera House. It is an initiative of the St. James Ethics Centre in partnership with the Special Broadcasting Service, the Foxtel television company and the Sydney Morning Herald.

Christopher Hitchens will speak the day before Cardinal Pell. He will claim that by believing in God people deceive themselves and attempt to deceive others.

Feminist academic Germaine Greer will explain her belief that freedom is the most dangerous idea of all. Another speaker, Oxford neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield, will argue that online networking may be rewiring children’s brains and eliminating human traits like empathy and compassion.

Other speakers at the festival will include academic Carmen Lawrence, aboriginal activist Gary Foley, and Sydney Muslim spokesman Keysar Trad.

"Bombs, guns and bullets may be dangerous. But closed or complacent minds make them lethal,” said Dr. Simon Longstaff, Executive Director of St. James Ethics Centre. He said many topics and speakers will trigger unease and even anger but will also help define our own identity and positions.

The “dangerous ideas” presented at the festival will also include discussions on polygamy and Islam, a panel debate on the theme “Why Democracy is Not for Everyone,” and a discussion of Australian stereotypes and cultural identity.

More information about the Festival of Dangerous Ideas is available through the Sydney Opera House.

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Vatican II reforms at the center of SSPX talks

Paris, France, Sep 17, 2009 (CNA) - Cardinal Christoph Schonborn has said that the breakaway Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) must assent to the non-negotiable reforms of the Second Vatican Council concerning religious freedom and interreligious relations with other Christians, with Jews and with other non-Christians.

Speaking with the German daily Passauer Neue Presse, the cardinal reported that negotiations between a Vatican commission and the SSPX will begin “in the next few days.”

However, a later report from Zenit said the talks will begin in the third week of October.

Speaking to Passauer Neue Presse, the cardinal said that Rome will not “let the Lefebvrists off easy for everything.”

Cardinal Schonborn, who is Archbishop of Vienna, referred to the group by the name of their founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who broke communion with Rome in 1988 when he illicitly ordained four bishops. The breakaway group disputes some of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

"The SSPX will be told very clearly what is not negotiable for the Holy See," the cardinal said. "This includes such fundamental conclusions of the Second Vatican Council as its positions on Judaism, other non-Christian religions, other Christian churches and on religious freedom as a basic human right."

In an attempt to reconcile with the SSPX, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication on the four bishops. One of the prelates, British-born Bishop Richard Williamson, became the center of controversy when it was revealed he made remarks minimizing Jewish suffering in the Holocaust.

Zenit reports that the Vatican negotiators include three theologians: Swiss Dominican Fr. Charles Morerod, German Jesuit Josef Becker and the vicar general of Opus Dei Fr. Ocariz Brana.

SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay has hinted at minimal changes in the society’s interpretation of the Council, but other prelates have maintained the group’s rejection of the Council.

In June the SSPX disregarded Vatican warnings and ordained 21 new priests.

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Priests cannot be replaced by the laity, Pope Benedict explains

Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Sep 17, 2009 (CNA) -

In an audience this morning with bishops visiting from Brazil, Pope Benedict XVI advised them on how to respond to the lack of priests, emphasizing that the shortage cannot be solved by having lay people substitute for the clergy.

The Holy Father began his address to the Brazilian prelates by pointing out the difference between the identity of priests and the laity. While the lay faithful share in the "common priesthood," they are not ordained ministers of Christ and His Church. "Hence," the Pope cautioned, "it is important to avoid the secularization of clergy and the 'clericalization' of the laity."

Fulfilling the lay vocation, he explained, involves working to "give expression in real life - also through political commitment - to the Christian view of anthropology and the social doctrine of the Church."

On the other hand, "priests must distance themselves from politics in order to favor the unity and communion of all the faithful, thus becoming a point of reference for everyone," Benedict said.

When dioceses are faced with a lack of priests, the Pope emphasized that they should not resort to "a more active and abundant participation of the laity" since it could take away from their own calling.

"The truth is that the greater the faithful's awareness of their own responsibilities within the Church, the clearer becomes the specific identity and inimitable role of the priest as pastor of the entire community, witness to the authenticity of the faith, and dispenser of the mysteries of salvation in the name of Christ the Head," Benedict XVI stated.

"The function of the clergy is essential and irreplaceable in announcing the Word and celebrating the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist," he insisted, saying that for this reason it is "vital to ask the Lord to send workers for His harvest; and it is necessary that priests express joy in their faithfulness to their identity."

Looking to the future, the Pope made it clear that "the shortage of priests must not come to be considered as a normal or typical state of affairs."

He exhorted the bishops resolve the crisis by combining efforts to "encourage new priestly vocations and find the pastors your dioceses need, helping one another so that all of you have better-trained and more numerous priests to support the life of faith and the apostolic mission."

As the Church celebrates the Year for Priests and the 150th anniversary of the death of the "Cure of Ars," Pope Benedict pointed to the French priest as a model for priests, "especially in living a life of celibacy as a requirement for the total giving of self." This total gift of self is "expressed through that pastoral charity which Vatican Council II presents as the unifying center of a priest's being and actions," he reminded.

The Holy Father ended his address on a positive note, assuring the prelates that "many signs of hope" exist for the future of particular Churches. This future, he said is one that "God is preparing through the dedication and the faithfulness with which you exercise your episcopal ministry."

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Foundation wants Pius XII to be declared 'Righteous Among the Nations'

Rome, Italy, Sep 17, 2009 (CNA) - The Pave The Way Foundation informed Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday that it has launched an initiative to bestow on Pope Pius XII the title “Righteous Among the Nations”—the highest honor awarded by Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial on behalf of the State of Israel and the Jewish people to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
According to L’Osservatore Romano, the announcement was made by Gary Krupp, the founder and president of the foundation dedicated to promoting peace in the world through inter-religious dialogue, at the conclusion of the Wednesday General Audience in the Paul VI Hall.

Krupp also gave the Holy Father a 255-page book on Pius XII that includes copies of some three thousand original documents that were uncovered after extensive investigations.
Krupp explained that the gift was “a gesture of gratitude for the initiatives of Benedict XVI in support of Jewish-Catholic dialogue.”

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Archbishop of New York calls on U.N. to defend human dignity

New York City, N.Y., Sep 17, 2009 (CNA) - Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York said this week that as the United Nations convenes its General Assembly, it would be wise to confront the challenges before it by adopting a “tongue common to all of us that has at its center the human person the heart of all institutions, laws and works of society."
Archbishop Dolan made his comments on September 14 during a prayer service at the Church of the Holy Family, which was organized to mark the opening of the 64th session of the U.N. General Assembly.  The Vatican’s Permanent Observer at the U.N., Archbishop Celestino Migliore, as well as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, were present at the event.
Drawing upon the biblical passage about the Tower of Babel, Archbishop Dolan underscored that the international community would be better served if it used as an official language "a voice, a tongue common to all of us.”
This language, he explained, is one that “does not demand the use of a dictionary or grammar." This tongue speaks of help and hope, mercy and tenderness, of fatigue over war, of longing for simple decency and dignity."
"This language wonders at times if anyone else can hear it, but at least God can, and it trusts that when all is said and done, many others can, too," he added.

“This language,” Archbishop Dolan said, can be seen in “tears, smiles, sighs and sobs” and is as old as Babel and as new as Pentecost, “when all understood God's word of salvation and mercy in a common language."

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Belief in aliens not necessarily against the faith, Vatican official says

Rome, Italy, Sep 17, 2009 (CNA) - Father Jose Gabriel Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory, said this week there is no opposition between belief in the existence of aliens and at the same time belief in God. This position, he reminded, was held by Father Angelo Secchi, the 18th century Jesuit astronomer and director of the Observatory of the Roman College—today the Pontifical Gregorian University.

In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, Father Funes explained that Father Secchi was the first scientist to classify the “stars according to their spectrum” and that the existence of aliens “could not be excluded a priori.”

Father Funes said establishing contact with aliens is “very difficult” because of the “almost insurmountable obstacle of distances in the universe,” even with today’s technology.

He went on to note that the neither Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or academic officials at other institutions has made any statements on the issue, adding that “as a scientist I am always willing to update my ideas in response to the latest research. For example, regarding the issue of space and time in the universe, I believe it is finite, while others believe it is infinite.”

“There are interesting theories about this,” he continued, “such as the so-called ‘multiverse,’ but they continue to be merely speculative: the problem is in how to prove them.”

Father Funes said astronomy is an element that can contribute to dialogue between peoples, as it can help to understand that “all the people of the earth are under the same sky and gaze upon the same heavens.”

“It is obvious that today you cannot do research without collaboration. One country on its own cannot build a huge telescope: it is necessary to work with other people, and with other religions and cultures as well. Thus astronomy can be at the service of dialogue,” the Argentinean priest said.

He went on to stress that an astronomer must always have “his feet planted firmly on the ground and that “scientific research demands a culture of effort and work. In this way it can be useful for young people as well.”

Father Funes said it is widely believed today that “in order to be a scientist one must necessarily be atheist. This is not true,” he corrected.

“The Pope said it well during the Mass of the Epiphany when he pointed out that ‘many scientists—following in Galileo's footsteps renounce neither reason nor faith; instead they develop both in their reciprocal fruitfulness.’”

“I chose to be an astronomer because I believe that in the universe it is possible to encounter God. And I continue to be one with the same conviction,” he said.

Father Funes also announced that in order to mark the International Year of Astronomy, an expo on telescopes will take place October 15 at the Vatican Museums. In addition, the Pontifical Academy for Sciences will host a November 6-11 Congress on Astrobiology that will look at the search for life in the universe.

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Hispanic bishops visit congressmen, link health care and immigration reform

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2009 (CNA) - A delegation of six Hispanic Catholic bishops has met with U.S. legislators to discuss topics including health care reform and immigration issues. The bishops noted that immigration and health care overlap because the failures of immigration policy will affect the health care system.

Archbishop of San Antonio José Gomez and Bishop of Sacramento Jaime Soto told a press conference on Thursday that they were “very happy” with their dialogue with the Latino congressmen and congresswomen.

The two prelates were part of the episcopal delegation which included Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, New Mexico; Bishop James Tamayo of Laredo, Texas; Bishop Carlos Sevilla of Yakima, WA; and Auxiliary Bishop Edgar Da Cunha of Newark, New Jersey.

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) spokeswoman Sr. Mary Ann Walsh explained at a Thursday press conference that the delegation met with legislative leaders of both parties.

“We are concerned about some of the needs of the Hispanic people in the U.S., especially in four areas,” Archbishop Gomez told the press conference. He named health care reform, immigration reform, poverty and housing and education as issues of concern.

The archbishop said that the bishops were “encouraged” by President Obama’s statement that no taxpayer funds would be used for abortions and the president’s professed support for a conscience clause for pro-life individuals and institutions.

“We will support a bill that includes those ideas from the president,” he explained, saying health care must help people “from conception until natural death” and must include immigrants.

Responding to a question about other bishops’ comments on subsidiarity, Bishop Soto said that whether health care reform takes the shape of a public system, a private system or a combination is “a matter for policy people to struggle with.”

The bishops’ task was to ensure Catholic “principles and values” are respected in health care reform. “We’re approaching it as teachers, as pastors.”

He reported that the bishops were working to ensure there is no federal support for abortion and to ensure the character of Catholic institutions is respected in law.

Archbishop Gomez reported that all but one of the meetings with lawmakers were brief. In addition to the four main issues of concern, Bishop Soto reported, some comments pertained to human rights in Cuba and forced abortions there.
Discussing immigrant participation in proposed health care plans, Bishop Soto said that any reasonable health care reform “has to include the immigrant community.

“It has to provide, at minimum, some kind of safety net for the undocumented.”

Leaving out that segment of society would affect both their health care and impact the health of society in general, he remarked.

“Immigrants are human persons too. One way or the other, they’re going to need health care.”

A major concern for the bishops was that a “significant portion” of undocumented immigrants pay for their own health care, but there has been some discussion of not even allowing them to do that.

According to Bishop Soto, the bishops find that proposal “foolish and short-sighted” and an example of “runaway anti-immigrant rhetoric” rather than a “commonsense approach” to health care.

Turning to the topic of immigration reform, Archbishop Gomez said people in Congress would like to enact it “right away.”

Bishop Soto said that politicians generally can only focus on one major issue at a time, but he reported the bishops were encouraged by the “sincere interest” legislators have shown on the issue.

“Unless we have this comprehensive immigration reform, we will be dealing with the consequences of the failures of the immigration system not only in health care but in other areas as well.”

The USCCB released a summary of the issues the Hispanic bishops delegation discussed with legislators.

The bishops endorsed “truly universal” health care reform that respects the dignity of all and supports all legal immigrants. They expressed opposition to any ban that would prevent legal immigrants from participation for five years and advocated that any legislation include pregnant women and children regardless of their legal status.

On immigration, the bishops endorsed legalization through a program that provides an opportunity for “earned” permanent residency and a new worker program that includes a living wage. They expressed support for “family-based” immigration reform and for the restoration of due process protections for illegals.

Concerning poverty and housing, the bishops expressed support for a national housing policy to preserve and produce quality housing for low income families, the elderly and other vulnerable people. They criticized “abusive” lending practices and advocated the funding of the National Housing Trust Fund.

The Hispanic bishops encouraged federal programs that include Catholic students and teachers in federal education programs and expressed support for the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. They also sought the reauthorization of the D.C. Scholarship program which helps low income students in the District of Columbia attend private schools. The bishops also endorsed the funding of students at community colleges, which many Hispanic youth attend.

In his closing comments to the press conference, Archbishop Gomez said the meeting was a “special  opportunity” for the Hispanic bishops to reaffirm Catholic social teaching with elected officials and to recognize the contribution of Hispanic communities all over the U.S.

“It is a special moment for Hispanics in the life of our country,” he said.

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Survey: 48 percent of Americans want ban on abortion funding in health care bill

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2009 (CNA) - The latest poll from the independent pollster Rasmussen shows that 48 percent of Americans want a ban on coverage for abortion in any government-funded health care plan, while only 13 percent believe that it should be covered.

The issue of taxpayer funding for abortion has been raised by numerous politicians and pro-life groups who insist that history shows a clear precedent that unless the legislation specifically prohibits paying for abortions, it will end up being funded.

During the consideration of H.R. 3200, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the Capps Amendment, which allows abortion to be covered under the public plan and subsidizes private plans that cover abortion.

The plan, introduced yesterday by Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.), is also coming under fire from National Right to Life for containing “an array of pro-abortion mandates and federal subsidies for elective abortion.”

Rasmussen Reports published a national telephone survey today that shows that 48 percent of Americans believe any government-subsidized health care plan should be prohibited from covering abortion procedures. The poll also found that 13 percent believe such plans should be required to cover abortions, and 32 percent favor a more neutral approach with no requirements in either direction.

Even among those who support the passage of the current legislation, 22 percent want a prohibition banning abortion coverage and 22 percent want a mandate requiring such coverage. The remaining supporters (47%) prefer the neutral approach, and nine percent are unsure.

The abortion factor seems to be a strong indicator of opposition to the health reform bill, with 72 percent favoring a prohibition against coverage of abortions.

Rasmussen Reports also indicated that a sizable minority (48%) of Independents want to see a ban on taxpayer funding of abortion in any new health plan.

On a more general level, 52 percent of Americans still think it is too easy to get an abortion in the U.S. and 58 percent say abortion is morally wrong most of the time.

The nationwide phone survey involved 1,000 likely voters was conducted September 14-15. The Rasmussen report carries a 95% level of confidence.

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Following Obama controversy, Notre Dame president announces pro-life initiatives

South Bend, Ind., Sep 17, 2009 (CNA) - Months after President Barack Obama’s controversial commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame, university president Fr. John I. Jenkins, CSC, has announced several campus pro-life initiatives. He also said he will attend the March for Life in Washington D.C.

Writing in a Thursday e-mail to Notre Dame faculty, students and others associated with the school, Fr. Jenkins said that he has formed the Task force on Supporting the Choice for Life to consider and recommend ways in which the university can support the sanctity of life. The task force will be co-chaired by Professor Margaret Brinig, the associate dean for Notre Dame’s Law School, and Professor John Cavadini, the chair of the Theology department.

“Possibilities the Task Force has begun to discuss include fostering serious and specific discussion about a reasonable conscience clause; the most effective ways to support pregnant women, especially the most vulnerable; and the best policies for facilitating adoptions,” he said, reporting that the task force may also recommend ways to support present pro-life work.

President Jenkins said he plans to participate in the January 22 March for Life in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion decision Roe v. Wade.

“I invite other members of the Notre Dame Family to join me and I hope we can gather for a Mass for Life at that event,” he wrote, adding that further details will be announced as the date nears.

Fr. Jenkins also encouraged support for the Women’s Care Center, which he described as the nation’s largest Catholic-based pregnancy resource center on whose foundation board he serves. The president of Notre Dame said the center has had proven success in offering “professional, non-judgmental concern” to women with “unintended pregnancies” and in helping them through their pregnancy and supporting them after birth.

Thomas Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, told that the email from Fr. Jenkins was a welcome change.

"Every statement or signal we had received from Notre Dame officials since last May had been hostile at worst and at best seemingly indifferent toward those in the pro-life movement who felt that the university had turned away from the pro-life movement or, worse, rebuked it," commented Brejcha, a 1965 graduate of Notre Dame.

“It remains to be seen whether Father Jenkins is prepared to follow up this announcement with another decisive, positive and concrete step in the right direction -- calling a halt to the ongoing prosecution of those arrested last May,” he added.

Eighty-eight pro-life protesters, including Norma McCorvey, who was “Jane Roe” in Roe v. Wade, were arrested for trespassing on the Notre Dame campus the day of President Obama’s commencement speech. Some pro-life leaders have appealed to the university to drop the charges, but Fr. Jenkins has not replied to the pleas.

Patrick J. Reilly, President of the Cardinal Newman Society, the organization that gathered more than 300,000 signatures opposing Jenkins’ invitation to President Obama, responded to the announcement of new pro-life initiatives by saying that further steps “to atone for (Notre Dame’s) shocking betrayal of the U.S. bishops and the Catholic Church last spring” are needed.

Reilly proposed that Fr. Jenkins should first “acknowledge the scandal of publicly honoring a staunchly pro-abortion public official as commencement speaker and recipient of an honorary degree, and apologize to the U.S. bishops, the 2009 Notre Dame graduates, and all faithful Catholics.”

On the matter of the close to 100 pro-lifers who were arrested at Notre Dame, Reilly said Fr. Jenkins should “drop criminal charges against those who, through peaceful and civil disobedience, protested last May’s commencement ceremony” and “develop firm policies to prevent such scandal in the future.”

Finally, Reilly took issue with the fact that the recently created Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life was not mentioned by Fr. Jenkins announcement of new pro-life efforts.

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