Madrid, Spain, Sep 25, 2009 (CNA) - In a statement issued Thursday, the Executive Committee of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference lamented a Congressional committee’s decision to debate and put to vote a censure of Pope Benedict XVI for his statements against AIDS during his trip to Africa.
The measure sponsored by left-wing lawmakers was eventually voted down.
The Spanish bishops’ said that with these kinds of actions “Parliament endangers the principle of religious freedom. In fact, the just distinction between the State and society, and, more concretely, between the State and the Church and between the public order and the moral order, demands that the institutions of the State abstain from intervening in the unconstrained development of religious institutions, and in our case, of the Catholic Church, as long as it is not proven that they are a threat to public order.”
“Trying to interfere in the moral leadership the Pope exercises in the Church through his ordinary magisterium by way of parliamentarian political censures seriously contradicts the principle of non-intervention and harms the right to religious freedom,” the bishops said in their statement.
“The Catholic Church, in laying out the moral doctrine that is derived from the Gospel, contributes to the formation of persons as true responsible subjects and as citizens capable of collaborating in achieving the common good,” the bishops continued.
The Spanish prelates also stressed that the Church's teachings are beliefs that “she cannot nor desires to impose on anyone. But she will not cease to speak out in freedom in accord with the mission she has received.”
Lastly, they expressed the “affection and most cordial adherence to the Pope of the bishops and all Spanish Catholics.”
Madrid, Spain, Sep 25, 2009 (CNA) - The Institute for Family Policy in Spain said this week that more than half of teen pregnancies in the country end in abortion and blamed the current law on abortion and the use of the morning-after pill for the problem.
The Institute reported that in 2007, 29,036 of the 604,665 abortions that year were performed on girls under the age of 20. Of the almost 30,000 teen pregnancies in Spain, 13,789 resulted in the mother giving birth, while 15,307 (53 %) ended in abortion.
According to the president of the Institute, Eduardo Hertfelder, while the percentage of abortions among teens in the European Union is 43 percent, in Spain it is 53 percent. “In addition, while in Europe there has been a slow increase over the last 10 years from 39 to 43 percent, the increase in Spain has been explosive, going from 39 to 53 percent,” Hertfelder noted.
“The administration must realize that it has to radically change obsolete policies that year after year are demonstrable failures,” he insisted.
“The ideological and sectarian blindness in the indiscriminate promotion of the morning-after pill among teens can no longer be maintained; nor can the new law on abortion as proposed by the government, which will provoke an increase in the number of teen abortions,” Hertfelder said.
London, England, Sep 25, 2009 (CNA) - Commenting on an English proposal that could decriminalize many forms of assisted suicide, the Archbishop of Cardiff has warned that weakening the law carries “great dangers.” The law must remain “clear and evident to all,” he said.
Keir Starmer, England’s director of public prosecutions, has said that those who helped adults end their lives were unlikely to be prosecuted if they were “wholly motivated by compassion” for someone who is severely disabled or terminally ill, the Associated Press reports.
Starmer was forced to publish detailed guidance for prosecutors after Debbie Purdy, a 46-year-old with multiple sclerosis, sued to force the government to reveal in what circumstances those who assist in suicides would face criminal charges.
Purdy feared the prosecution of her husband if he helped her go to a Swiss suicide clinic.
The guidelines outlined 29 factors to be considered in the decision to prosecute. According to the Associated Press, they say someone would be more likely to be prosecuted if the suicide victim is under 18 or if the person assisting them is a member of a group that lobbies for assisted suicide.
Prosecution would also be more likely for someone who helps more than one person commit suicide or if the suicide was “pressured or maliciously encouraged.”
Charges would be less likely when the person assisting a suicide is a spouse or partner or if the person’s actions may be characterized as “reluctant assistance in the face of a determined wish on the part of the victim to commit suicide.”
Archbishop of Cardiff Peter Smith responded to the top prosecutor’s comments in a September 23 statement.
“The law against assisted suicide gives expression to a profound moral intuition about the value of every human life,” the archbishop said. “It exists to protect vulnerable people, and any weakening of that legal protection would carry with it great dangers.”
He said that Starmer’s statements also provide “helpful reassurance” by emphasizing that assisted suicide is still a criminal offense that authorities have a duty to investigate and also by making clear that no one can expect a guarantee of immunity from prosecutions.
“I would not be seeking to argue that every criminal case should be prosecuted – there can indeed be a particular combination of circumstances which will justify in a specific case a decision not to prosecute in the public interest,” Archbishop Smith continued.
“But such decisions can only be made on a case by case basis, and what is imperative is that any general guidance does not obscure the bright line of the law, which must remain clear and evident to all,” he emphasized.
The archbishop added that the national bishops’ conference will be studying the draft guidance and prepare its response.
Vatican City, Sep 25, 2009 (CNA) - The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and Caritas International will host a day-long conference on October 14 concerning the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS and the improvement of access to testing and treatment for children living with HIV.
According to a schedule of the conference, panel discussion topics include good practices and “state of the art” testing and treatment for disease sufferers. One panel will also discuss how the Catholic Church, inter-governmental organizations, governments and other key players can strengthen their partnerships to help the young victims of HIV and TB and to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, will deliver words of welcome to the attendees. He will be joined by Dr. Miguel H. Diaz, U.S. Ambassador-Designate to the Holy See, and Lesley-Anne Knight, Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis.
Father David Glenday, MCCJ , Secretary General, Union of Superiors General, will also give a welcome.
Conference panelists include members of the World Health Organization’s HIV Department, researchers and pharmaceutical company representatives, and priests, religious and charity heads from around the world.
After the conference a two-day training will be held for caregivers and advocates on how to raise awareness and how to inspire effective action to protect the vulnerable.
Los Angeles, Calif., Sep 25, 2009 (CNA) - The Mission Doctors Association will recognize a New York physician as the Catholic Doctor of 2009 for his significant volunteer work.
The association will present its World of Difference Award to Michael A. Fitzgerald, M.D., at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ White Mass on October 18 at Holy Family Church in South Pasadena, California.
Dr. Fitzgerald, who is from Liverpool, New York, is being recognized for his commitment to his community, a Mission Doctors Association press release says.
He is a volunteer with the Poverello Clinic, a free clinic for the uninsured, and has served as a volunteer physician accompanying the sick and disabled on pilgrimage to Lourdes. He has also volunteered at a hospital in Haiti and has hosted Haitian physicians who come to the U.S. for specialized training.
The doctor was nominated for the award by Kathryn Ruscitto, Senior Vice President of St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center.
“In this fast paced world few of us can take daily time to be devoted to our faith and to live it out in our professional actions,” Ruscitto commented in reaction to news of his selection. “Dr. Michael Fitzgerald does both. He is a role model to many about responsibility to give back to our communities and the world!”
Dr. Fitzgerald has insisted that there were many others more deserving of the honor. He explained that he recognizes the face of Christ in his patients.
The awardee is a Knight of Malta and a graduate of New York Medical College who completed his residency at the Mayo Clinic in Internal Medicine / Gastroenterology. He and his wife have five children and are parishioners at St. Mary’s on the Lake in Skaneateles, New York.
The Word of Difference Award is the only national award for Catholic doctors, the Mission Doctors Association says.
Prague, Czech Republic, Sep 25, 2009 (CNA) - Just days ahead of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the Czech Republic, Vatican analyst John Allen is saying in an essay for the Prague Post that the papacy’s social and political influence is one of the most unique and far-reaching in the world today. From the fall of communism to Western-Muslim relations to the AIDS crisis, he says, the Pope is a key international player.
Describing the Catholic Church in “purely empirical, sociological terms,” Allen likens the Catholic Church to a “lone superpower” whose involvement is necessary to address almost any global crisis. The world’s approximately 1.2 billion Catholics are in every “nook and cranny” in the planet and are especially strong in Africa.
The Church’s structure and clear lines of authority make it the “most vertically integrated,” while the Holy See’s diplomatic corps has relations with 177 nations and has observer status with every major international organization, he notes.
“No global leader makes a trip to Italy without calling on the Pope, and usually that meeting draws far greater interest than a similar session with the Italian prime minister,” Allen writes, adding that the Pope is the most-quoted religious leader in the world.
Allen acknowledges that “centuries of secularization” have weakened the Church, especially in Europe where the numbers of priests and nuns have “plummeted” and less than 20 percent of Catholics attend Sunday Mass.
“[T]he church's political weight is so attenuated that it couldn't persuade the European Union to include so much as a generic reference to God in its draft constitutional document,” he points out.
However, Popes who know how to spend their remaining “social capital” can change history, Allen asserts.
To bolster his argument, the Vatican analyst notes Pope John Paul II’s role in ending communism and the joint Vatican-Islamic action in the 1990s which prevented a U.N. population conference in Cairo from recognizing a right to abortion in international law.
Allen also argues that Pope John Paul’s “staunch moral opposition” to the U.S.-led war in Iraq helped average Muslims distinguish between the foreign policy of the Bush administration and broader Western sentiment. In his view, this dampened anti-Christian backlash in Muslim states.
Pope Benedict XVI’s international influence was shown by the attention given to his remarks at Regensburg, which linked Mohammed and violence. Since then, he has made relations with Islam a “top interfaith priority” and there is “considerable evidence” this approach is working, Allen says.
The reaction to the Pope’s comments about condoms and AIDS was also proof of his influence, as was the reaction to his “stumble” in lifting the excommunications of four traditionalist Catholic bishops, including one Holocaust denier, without adequate explanation.
“In short, for good or ill, the Pope still matters,” Allen writes.
“To Catholics, of course, the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, so, even if he couldn't influence a single vote or draw the interest of a single journalist, he would still be a central presence in their faith,” Allen’s Prague Post essay concludes. “Yet the most ardently convinced atheist ought to realize that religion remains an enormously important motivating force in human affairs, and that the pope is the most important religious leader on the planet.”
Vatican City, Sep 25, 2009 (CNA) -
The Press Office of the Holy See announced Thursday that Pope Benedict XVI will make a pastoral trip to Portugal in 2010, in response to the invitation of the Episcopal Conference, including a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima her feast day, May 13.
The President of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Jorge Ferreira da Costa Ortiga of Braga, said, “We are joyful over the Holy Father's visit to Portugal. The love of the Portuguese Catholics for the Successor of Peter is a key element of our Catholic tradition and our fidelity to the Church."
The Portugese archbishop also said that the trip would provide an opportunity to deepen and express "the desire for communion with the universal pastor," and therefore he encouraged "all the Catholic communities to prepare for this trip by living in profound ecclesial communion."
"Our Lady, whom the Portuguese people love with special tenderness, is a kind Mother who invites us to delve deeper into Jesus Christ and the mystery of the Church," said the Archbishop of Braga.
Rome, Italy, Sep 25, 2009 (CNA) - Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who was the Vatican's official spokesman for 22 years, said in an interview that the Church currently has one of the brightest popes in history, and that one of the most unique aspects of Benedict XVI is his confidence in the rationality of individuals.
Navarro-Valls, who worked for almost two years with Benedict XVI, was interviewed by the Spanish daily El Mundo about his work at the Vatican and some aspects of the two Popes he served under.
Speaking about Benedict XVI, he said he considers him "the Pope with the largest and most brilliant personal bibliography in all of Church history. His conceptual wealth is fascinating. And I think people also outside the Catholic circles are aware of it. "
The former Vatican spokesman does not believe that the Holy Father is a cold person. "I would say the opposite. The manner in which he is moved—which is more frequent than believed—is to not react passionately in response to things,” he said.
He also found that the most unique aspect of his Pontificate is his "confidence in the rationality of people, in their ability to seek the truth," and the great obstacle he faces is, "as he himself said a few days before he was elected pope, the dictatorship of relativism."
Regarding his time with Pope John Paul II, which he has chronicled in some 600 pages of notes, Navarro-Valls said, "A year and a half ago, an American publisher offered me a $1.5 million to write that book. The problem is partly that in recent years I have accepted a number of professional commitments that have absorbed my time. I would have to set aside all of that and spend one and a half years locked in my room in order to write that book. For me it would be a moral imperative to write it, because John Paul was much loved but not entirely known,” he said.
According to Navarro-Valls, the late Pope’s “character and person were not sufficiently known.” For example, he noted, John Paul II “had a very great sense of humor. Even when we had to deal with tragic problems never lost his positive view.”
Regarding the cause of beatification of John Paul II, Navarro-Valls said that "from a strictly technical standpoint, it could be all set before the end of the year. The two steps that remain, technically speaking, are the decree on his virtues and the declaration of a miracle, several of which have been attributed to him, with one that is particularly clear. After that, everything depends on the Holy Father."
Rome, Italy, Sep 25, 2009 (CNA) - The President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, Archbishop Antonio Maria Veglia, said this week that while the Church has no hand in the formulation of government immigration policies, she can insist on "solidarity for those living in vulnerable situations, such as refugees and immigrants.”
In an interview with L'Osservatore Romano, the archbishop also recalled that immigrants and refugees have "a fundamental human right" to be cared for which must be respected regardless of “the specific problems related to their situation."
The Vatican prelate said that while the situation of refugees and immigrants does create real economic and legal difficulties that demand “wise policies,” there is a need to “objectively understand the phenomenon at the international level” in order to provide “guidance and management that take into account the various aspects involved.”
In addition to defending immigrants and refugees, the Archbishop Veglia continued, the Church will always side with the "elderly, disabled and terminally ill, expressing her opposition to attempts to go against the right to life."
"Certainly laws alone are not sufficient to support the growth of an integrated society in which its different components coexist peacefully and mutually prosper. All cultural and educational entities should be involved in a process that involves all areas of life," he said.
After commenting on the case of Europe, which has a "multi-ethnic, multi-faith, multicultural” society for the foreseeable future, the archbishop warned that "to deny the metamorphosis that is taking place at international level is not only absurd but also dangerous and irresponsible.” Denial of the change is problematic, he said, because the phenomenon has already led to structural changes and their “positive effects must be supported and negative effects reduced.”
For this reason, he continued, the young generations in particular, but also the population in general—whether native or immigrant—need to receive adequate formation in order be prepared to live together in peace and diversity.” Governments must be on the front lines in the effort, adopting appropriate measures to assist in the process.
Archbishop Veglia also mentioned that the Sixth World Congress for Migrant and Refugee Ministry will be held at the Vatican November 9-12, an event that takes place every five years and will focus on the phenomenon of immigration in the era of globalization this year.
Rome, Italy, Sep 25, 2009 (CNA) - On the eve of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the Czech Republic this weekend, the Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, said Catholics there have been preparing for the important event in faith, hope and love and that day by day the expectations for the visit have been growing.
In an article published by L’Osservatore Romano, the cardinal recalled the visit of John Paul II in 1990 after the fall of Communism, and said that the love for the Pope “has remained intact to this day in many of the faithful.”
He went on to explain that the Czech faithful have been preparing for Benedict XVI’s visit “based on three pillars of our faith: faith itself, hope and charity. Each one of us bishops has written pastoral letters that have been read at Sunday Masses. The main themes have also been the subject of reflection by priests in their daily homilies.”
In all of the dioceses, the cardinal continued, the faithful are joining in prayer that the visit will bring grace and abundant fruit to Czech society. In many places in society, relations with the Church are somewhat distant and negative, he said.
“The Pope’s visit takes on great significance for us. Ours is a small country and from an ecclesial point of view numerically it is not significant. Up to now the Pope has visited countries that in this respect are very significant. This is another reason to make his visit to our nation, to our small Church, a visit of great value. At his side, our small flock will discover itself and we will sense we are an integral part of the universal Church,” he said.
“We want to welcome the Pope as Christ himself, who said to the Apostles: ‘He who hears you hears me,’ and ‘He who welcomes him who sent me, welcomes me.’ The Pope comes with the strength of the word of Christ who said to Peter: ‘And you, confirm your brethren,’” Cardinal Vlk said.