New York City, N.Y., Oct 1, 2009 (CNA) - Hollywood celebrities’ sympathetic treatment of convicted statutory rapist Roman Polanski is evidence of a double standard, Catholic League president Bill Donohue has said. He contrasts the reaction to the filmmaker’s arrest with the outrage over clerical sexual abuse.
In 1977 filmmaker Roman Polanski pled guilty to having sexual relations with a 13-year-old girl in a plea bargain, which dropped more serious charges including the drugging and raping of the girl. He skipped bail and fled to Europe in 1978.
He was recently arrested in Switzerland on his way to accept an award for Lifetime Achievement at the Zurich Film Festival. The United States had issued an international warrant for his arrest in 2005.
Writing in a Tuesday press release, Donohue reported that the Zurich Film Festival jury displayed red badges reading “Free Polanski” while stars such as actress Debra Winger and filmmaker Woody Allen defended him.
“Whoopi Goldberg showed off her usual brilliance when she declared that Polanski’s crime ‘wasn’t rape-rape.’ No, only priests are guilty of real rape,” Donohue charged.
The Catholic League’s president also criticized photographer Otto Weisser’s description of the crime as “a little mistake.” Such crimes are only presented as a big mistake when priests commit them, Donohue said, railing against the double standard.
He also noted that the length of time since the assault, cited by Polanski defenders, was not a help to priests who faced accusations of alleged sexual abuse decades before.
“The Catholic League has long suspected that, in many quarters, the outrage over priestly sexual abuse has had more to do with the status of the accused than the crime itself,” Donohue commented. “Now the evidence is indisputable: a child can be drugged, penetrated and sodomized—and the guilty can cut and run—and still maintain hero status. Provided he is a celebrity.”
Washington D.C., Oct 1, 2009 (CNA) - The Senate Finance Committee voted to restore $50 million a year in federal funding for abstinence-only education. One abstinence ed supporter said the action was a victory for “the hard work of grassroots” efforts.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) sponsored the measure, which passed over the objections of committee chairman Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.). All ten Republicans and two Democrats, Sens. Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, voted for the measure.
Hatch said abstinence education had been shown to work, while Baucus disagreed.
President Barack Obama in his 2010 budget has proposed to redirect money spent on abstinence-only education towards broader teen pregnancy-reduction programs.
By a 14-9 margin the committee also passed an alternative measure offered by Baucus. It would fund education on contraception, sexually transmitted diseases and other topics in addition to abstinence. According to the Associated Press, lawmakers must reconcile the two measures, which are part of a health care overhaul bill.
Valerie Huber, executive director of National Abstinence Education Association, praised the restoration of abstinence funding.
“It is encouraging that the hard work of grassroots constituencies from across the country have prevailed to ensure these common-sense programs will continue,” Huber commented in a Tuesday statement. "While the amendment still needs to pass a Senate floor vote, tonight's decision is a significant step in the right direction for the optimal health of America's youth.”
San Francisco, Calif., Oct 1, 2009 (CNA) - A new film about the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, based on the memoirs of visionary Sister Lucia and the accounts of thousands of eyewitnesses, will be holding pre-release screenings in at least seven major U.S. cities.
“The 13th Day” is the first major motion picture by directors Ian and Dominic Higgins. According to the film’s U.S. distributor Ignatius Press, their film tells the story of the Virgin Mary’s appearances to Lucia Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto.
Over a six month period in 1917, the Virgin Mary gave prophecies and warnings to children that included a harrowing vision of hell, the spread of communism and the attempted assassination of a Pope.
The film was shot on location in Portugal and in the United Kingdom. It has a cast of hundreds and three young Portuguese actors will play the roles of the young visionaries.
Anthony Ryan, Director of Marketing for Ignatius Press, described the film as an “antidote” for our times.
“It is a reminder that a thin veil exists between our world and the next. The Message of Fatima is a relevant wake-up call to a culture torn apart by abortion, war, and injustice. Every Catholic, perhaps every person, should see this film,” he said.
Screenings of “The 13th Day” are scheduled for October 13, the anniversary of the final apparition. They will be held in Atlanta, New York City, Denver, Chicago and Oakland. Other cities with screenings include Orlando, Florida and Austin and Fort Worth, Texas.
, Oct 1, 2009 (CNA) - Mexican movie star Eduardo Verástegui on Wednesday visited Gatesville Prison in Gatesville, Texas to tell prisoners how acting in the movie Bella inspired him to change his way of life and gave him a second chance.
The visit is part of a new program called Jose’s Second Chance, based on the lead character of Jose in the movie Bella. The character was given a second chance after a tragic accident resulted in his imprisonment.
“During my preparation for this role, I realized I was not the man that I had been raised to be and that I wanted to be,” Verástegui said before the visit.
The movie star explained that playing the role of Jose convinced him he could change his ways and “lead a life that I could be proud of” in both his public and private life.
“I've dedicated my acting career to only portraying men that are heroes--not like Batman or Superman--but real heroes,” he continued. “Men who are hard- working, men of faith, men who are faithful to their wives … men like my father, and to stop perpetuating stereotypes often associated with Latino actors.
“The next act of our lives has not been written. We can write those chapters by the decisions we make and I want to share this truth with those I will meet today," the famous Mexican actor said.
Verástegui appeared at the prison at the invitation of Christian prison ministry Discipleship Unlimited.
Jose’s Second Chance is a program launched by the Human Rights, Education and Relief Organization (HERO) in partnership with Manto de Guadalupe, a Los Angeles-based non-profit.
HERO founder Jason Jones, who also was a producer for Bella, joined Verástegui at the prison, where Bella was shown prior to their visit.
“We are grateful for the impact that Bella has made on people,” Jones commented in a press release before going to the prison. He claimed that the movie has saved many lives.
“We are excited to share it in this new setting where it can be a real instrument of healing,” he continued.
“At the core of all that HERO does is a recognition and respect for the intrinsic dignity of every human person. Sadly, that simple truth is often forgotten when it comes to those imprisoned--by the public and the inmates themselves.”
Jones said he and Verástegui hope their effort will help inspire inmates to “valiantly lay claim to their second chance.”
Vatican City, Oct 1, 2009 (CNA) - In less than two weeks, Pope Benedict will canonize five blesseds, including Fr. Damien de Veuster, a well-known Belgian missionary priest who cared for lepers in Hawaii.
The canonization ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. on Sunday, October 11 in St. Peter's Square.
The level of excitement in Hawaii has been quite high in the lead-up to Fr. Damian's canonization. Eleven lepers, who see the priest as their personal saint, and a group of Boy Scouts have made the voyage to the Vatican to be present for the ceremony at which the Church proclaims him a saint.
In order for a person to be declared a saint, they must undergo a rigorous process that usually lasts for years, if not decades.
In addition to Bl. Damian, Bl. Rafael Arnáiz Barón will also be canonized. He is unique because he died at the young age of 27, after slipping into a diabetic coma. He was a member of the Cistercian’s of the Strict Observance and is considered on the greatest mystics of the 20th century.
Also to be canonized are: Zygmunt Szczesny Felinski (1822-1895), Polish former archbishop of Warsaw and founder of the Congregation of Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary; Francesc Coll y Guitart (1812-1875), Spanish professed priest of the Order of Friars Preachers and founder of the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Mary of the Cross Jugan (nee Jeanne) (1792-1879), French virgin and foundress of the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Oct 1, 2009 (CNA) - Just shortly after attacks by Muslim extremists in the province of Punjab, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari met today with Pope Benedict XVI at the papal residence in Castel Gandalfo. The two leaders discussed the situation and ways to “overcome all forms of discrimination based on religious affiliation.”
President Zardari discussed the current state of affairs in Pakistan, giving particular attention to “the fight against terrorism and the commitment to create a society more tolerant and harmonious in all its aspects,” a statement from the Holy See press office said.
“Talk then turned to the positive role played by the Catholic Church in the social life of the country through her educational, healthcare and aid activities,” the statement added.
Muslim extremists have attacked Christians numerous times over the past few months. In early August, an enraged throng of Muslims attacked a Christian neighborhood in the city of Gojra, after hearing that someone allegedly desecrated the Koran. The attack involved six Christians being burned to death, the burning of 40 Christian homes and two churches.
On September 16, the mother of a 18-year-old Muslim girl framed her daughter's Christian boyfriend with desecrating the Koran, according to local priests. Upon learning of the supposed desecration, a mob of extremist Muslims burned two homes in the village of Jethki, threatened its inhabitants with death and set fire to the local Catholic church.
Local Catholic leaders have called for the repeal of the nation's Blasphemy Laws, which they say allow the militants to escape prosecution for their attacks.
At today's meeting with President Zardari, the two heads of state discussed the recent episodes of violence and “the elements that have favored such serious incidents,” giving emphasis to the “need to overcome all forms of discrimination based on religious affiliation, with the aim of promoting respect for the rights of all citizens," the Vatican said.
Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Oct 1, 2009 (CNA) -
As the Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux today, Pope Benedict XVI offered his reflections on what her life can teach the faithful. The French saint's “little way,” he said, is the “humble path of love, capable of enveloping and giving meaning and value to all human affairs."
The Holy Father made his comments on Thursday as he bid farewell to Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano—the diocese in which the papal summer residence is located—as well as the numerous personnel that made the Pontiff's two month stay possible.
After thanking everyone for their service, the Pope recalled the fact that today marks the Feast of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, a Carmelite nun of the convent of Lisieux.
"Her witness," he said, "shows that only the Word of God, accepted and understood in its concrete requirements, can become the source for renewed life.”
“To our society, often permeated by a rationalist culture and widespread materialism, St. Therese of Lisieux shows, as a response to the great questions of life, the 'little way' which looks to the essence of things. It is the humble path of love, capable of enveloping and giving meaning and value to all human affairs," Benedict XVI remarked.
Pope Benedict will depart to Vatican City on Saturday.
Hong Kong, China, Oct 1, 2009 (CNA) - The superior of the Missionaries of Charity, Sister Mary Prema, reaffirmed the order’s commitment of service “to the poorest of the poor” in the Asia, during a recent visit to Hong Kong.
The Fides news agency reported that Sister Mary visited Hong Kong September 16-21, where she met with Bishop John Tong and with members of the order who live and work there.
According to the diocesan bulletin Kong Ko Bao, Sister Mary spoke to the bishop about the work of the Missionaries of Charity and emphasized their commitment to Mother Teresa’s life-long desire to serve the poor in Asia.
Sister Mary Prema’s first visit to the Far East also took her to Macao, Cambodia, Thailand and Singapore, where the Missionaries of Charity also have communities. The order was founded by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta in 1950 in India. The home in Hong Kong was opened in 1983.
Rome, Italy, Oct 1, 2009 (CNA) - Caritas of Samoa has launched an intense relief effort to help those affected by the tsunami that hit the region on Tuesday and left more than 100 dead.
According to the SIR news agency, medical assistance is being provided at the Catholic Institute in Longoipulotu, the largest city on the island of Savai’i, which is one of the main islands that make up Samoa.
SIR also reported that the offices of Caritas in Samoa and Tonga were hit by the tsunami that was caused by the 8.0 magnitude earthquake. Caritas of Samoa is offering temporary shelters to those most affected.
Caritas of Italy has also offered to send aid and is maintaining constant contact with Caritas officials in Samoa.
In related news, more than 500 people were killed on Wednesday when a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck near the Indonesian port city of Padang. The initial quake was followed by a Thursday morning aftershock registering 6.6 on the Richter scale.
Ottawa, Canada, Oct 1, 2009 (CNA) - Bishop Raymond Lahey of the Diocese of Antigonish, Nova Scotia resigned and turned himself into police after being charged with possessing and importing child pornography. The accusations have particular significance because of his role in addressing sexual abuse accusations against his diocese’s priests.
Officers conducting a search at the Ottawa Airport found images “of concern” on Bishop Lahey’s laptop and seized it along with other media devices when the 69-year-old prelate reentered Canada on Sept. 15. When a forensic examination revealed child pornography, files were charged against the bishop and a warrant was issued for his arrest last Friday, the Globe and Mail reports.
The bishop turned himself in to Ottawa police on Thursday.
On Saturday, September 26, Archbishop of Halifax Anthony Mancini was named apostolic administrator of Antigonish, according to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).
The CCCB reported that Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of the accused bishop, who asked to leave office for “personal reasons.”
“I have already left the diocese to take some much-needed time for personal renewal. I simply ask for your prayers, as I assure you of my continued prayers for you all,” the bishop wrote in a letter to his diocese.
According to the Globe and Mail, Diocese of Antigonish spokesman Fr. Paul Abbass said there had been “a ton of speculation” about the reasons for the bishop’s resignation, with many believing it was due to stress or his health.
“We know the reason now and now we have to deal with that,” he remarked.
He described the former bishop as warm, respectful and “very pastoral.” In the priest’s view, Bishop Lahey was “absolutely committed” to resolving allegations of clerical sexual abuse, but the new charges were “pretty devastating” in light of the recent sexual abuse settlement.
In August the diocese reached a $15 million class-action settlement with known and alleged former child victims of sexual abuse by its priests dating back to 1950.
The Globe and Mail reports that Bishop Lahey, who was not implicated in the allegations, apologized to those abuse victims.
“Sexual abuse, indeed any abuse, is wrong. It is a crime and it is a serious sin in the eyes of God,” he had told a press conference. “I want to assure you that for some time our diocese, like others throughout Canada, have been taking steps to protect children and youth.”
A Wednesday press release from the Archdiocese of Halifax reported that Archbishop Mancini learned of the charges against Bishop Lahey through the news media.
“I am shocked and saddened by this devastating news. For the priests and people of Antigonish Diocese, this is a terrible moment,” the archbishop said.
Archbishop Mancini told CTV News that he assumed that Pope Benedict knew “the gravity of the matter” when he accepted the bishop’s resignation.
Bishop Lahey had been bishop of Antigonish since June 2003. Previously, he had been Bishop of St. George’s, Newfoundland and Labrador since July 1986.
According to the CCCB, the Diocese of Antigonish has a Catholic population of 129,730 in 118 parishes and missions. They are served by 114 diocesan priests, three religious priests, one permanent deacon and 272 religious sisters.
Washington D.C., Oct 1, 2009 (CNA) - Americans’ support for abortion has reached a new historic low, especially among Catholics, according to the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
The new poll, conducted from Aug. 11-27 among a total of 4,013 adults, reveals less support for abortion among most demographic and political groups. The survey also finds that the abortion debate has receded in importance among liberals, while opposition to abortion has grown more firm among conservatives.
According to a statement issued by Pew Research Center, “no single reason for the shift in opinions is apparent, but the pattern of changes suggests that the election of a pro-choice Democrat for president may be a contributing factor.”
“In Pew Research Center polls in 2007 and 2008, supporters of legal abortion clearly outnumbered opponents. Now Americans are evenly divided on the question, and there have been modest increases in the numbers who favor reducing abortions or making them harder to obtain,” the statement says.
However, the poll also indicates that the pro-lifers have a lot of work to do, since only 15 percent of respondents said abortion is a critical issue currently facing the country, down from 28 percent in 2006.
One of the largest declines in support for legal abortion has occurred among white, non-Hispanic Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly. Substantial change has also occurred among Democratic men (with support for legal abortion down nine points) but not among Democratic women.
According to the poll, four-in-ten Americans (41%) now say they favor making it more difficult to obtain an abortion, up six points from 35% in 2007. Similar movement is seen on the question of whether it would be good to reduce the number of abortions in this country; in 2005, 59% of respondents agreed it would be good to reduce abortions. Today 65% take this view, an increase of six points. Three-quarters (76%) continue to favor requiring minors to obtain the permission of a parent before having an abortion.
The Pew poll also find a polarization in the abortion debate: “many people on both sides of the issue say that the opposite point of view on abortion is not a "respectable" opinion for someone to hold. Nearly half of abortion opponents (47%), including 62% of those who say abortion should be illegal in all cases, say that a pro-choice view is not a respectable opinion for someone to hold. On the other side, 42% of abortion supporters (including 54% of those who want abortion to be legal in all cases) say the pro-life point of view is not respectable.”
Finally, roughly three-in-ten Americans think that President Barack Obama will handle the abortion issue correctly, while four-in-ten are unaware of his position on the issue. About two-in-ten worry that Obama will go too far in supporting abortion rights.
Kathmandu, Nepal, Oct 1, 2009 (CNA) - At least 23 people were killed in the eastern Nepal when the three-story bamboo structure in which they were sleeping collapsed. The building was sometimes used as a church, and police said several children were among the victims.
Police superintendent Rajendra Man Shrestha said the accident took place in the city of Dharan, some 124 miles east of Katmandu. Sixty-two people were left wounded by the collapse and taken to a local hospital.
Christians are less than one percent of the Nepalese population. The vast majority of the 27 million inhabitants of the country are Hindus.
Brasilia, Brazil, Oct 1, 2009 (CNA) - The National Conference of Catholic Bishops of Brazil has announced that the Church will celebrate the National Week for Life from October 1-7 to promote the defense of all human life from conception to natural death. At the conclusion of the week, on October 8, the Day of the Unborn will be celebrated.
The project is being coordinated by the bishops’ Committee on Human Life and the Family and the National Committee on Family Ministry.
The bishops are inviting all Catholics in Brazil and all people of good will to take part in activities such as prayer meetings, meetings for married and engaged couples, visits to nursing homes and maternity wards.
A statement from the Conference explained that the purpose of celebrating the Day of the Unborn on October 8 is to stress that human beings still in the womb have a right to life. “For this reason this human being has the right to be respected in his integrity and dignity just as does any other person,” the statement said.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Oct 1, 2009 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, has called for an ethical response to solve the problem of social debt, saying that, not only do terrorism, repression and murder violate human rights, but also extreme poverty and the “unjust economic structures that give rise to great inequalities.”
Social debt is “immoral, unjust and illegitimate,” the cardinal said, emphasizing that this is especially true when it occurs “in a nation that has the objective conditions for avoiding or correcting such harm.” “Unfortunately,” he noted, it seems that those same countries “opt for exacerbating inequalities even more.”
Argentineans have the duty “to work to change the structural causes and personal or corporate attitudes that give rise to this situation (of poverty), and through dialogue reach agreements that allow us to transform this painful reality we refer to when we speak about social debt,” the prelate said.
Cardinal Bergoglio said the challenge to eradicate poverty could not be truthfully met as long as the poor continue to be dependents of the State. The government and other organizations should instead work to create the social conditions that will promote and protect the rights of the poor and enable them to be the builders of their own future, he explained.
The problem of debt and social justice must be of concern to every sector of society, he added, including leaders in government, politics, finance, business, agriculture, industry, unions, the Church and other social organizations.