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Archive of November 20, 2009

Benedict XVI given white helmet, prays for release of Colombian hostages

Vatican City, Nov 20, 2009 (CNA) - At the conclusion of this week’s General Audience, two representatives of a motorcycle caravan currently passing through Europe gave Pope Benedict XVI a white helmet as a symbol of their desire to see the hostages held by rebels in Colombia set free.

Colombian reporter Herbin Hoyos and Jenny Mendieta, whose father, General Luis Mendieta, has been held hostage by Colombia rebels for 11 years, made the symbolic gesture to the Holy Father. As they handed him the helmet, a group of Colombian pilgrims shouted, “Free the kidnapped!”

Upon receiving the helmet, Pope Benedict XVI said, “We are going to pray much for them.  We are going to pray for their release.”

The group of motorcyclists has traveled across Spain, France and Italy to call attention to the plight of hostages in Colombia.  They were accompanied at the Wednesday audience by two bishops and several former hostages.

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Thousands mourn death of Serbian Orthodox Patriarch

Belgrade, Serbia, Nov 20, 2009 (CNA) - The 95-year old Patriarch Pavle was laid to rest today in Belgrade, Serbia, after having led the Serbian  Orthodox Church through its revival after the fall of the iron curtain and the bloody conflicts in the Balkans during the 1990's.

The Serbian police reported that over 600,000 people attended the funeral service and procession today in Belgrade, said Domradio.de. The funeral was held in St. Sava’s Church in Belgrade, and the patriarch was buried in the Rakovica monastery in a Belgrade suburb seven miles away.

The Catholic Archbishop of Belgrade Stanislav Hocevar attended the funeral, as well as Cardinal Angelo Sodano who was appointed to be the Pope's representative at the funeral.  Also in attendance was the apostolic nuncio in Serbia Orlando Antonini as well as Father Milan Zust from the Secretariat of the Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, reported Radio Srbija.

The Pope also sent a telegram expressing his condolences to the Metropolitan of Montenegro, via his representative Cardinal Sodano. Though Pope Benedict's meeting last Saturday expressed hope for an increased dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Serbian Orthodox Church, Serbia remains one of the few European countries to never have received a Papal Visit, said the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Patriarch Pavle is famed for his defense of Kosovo, which is esteemed as the epicenter of Serbian culture and the Serbian Orthodox faith. When Orthodox churches and monasteries were under attack by the mostly-Muslim ethnic Albanians during the Balkan conflict, Pavle rallied international support. However, the Manila Bulletin reported that critics condone the fact that various Serbian bishops gave their blessing to Serbian troops who then went out and committed atrocities in Bosnia and Croatia during Pavle's patriarchy.

Nevertheless, the Patriarch is revered as a simple and humble man, and a “saint who walks” because of the work he did to bring the faith back to the forefront of Serbian society and religion back to the classroom after the fall of communism.   

Serbian president Boris Tadić said that Pavle's death was a “huge loss” for Serbia, because Pavle's was “one of those people who by their very existence bring together the entire nation.” The nation of Serbia has declared three days or mourning for the deceased patriarch.

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Cardinal Dziwisz says beatification of John Paul II 'is in the Pope’s hands'

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nov 20, 2009 (CNA) - During his visit to Argentina this week, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Pope John Paul II’s personal secretary, said the cause for beatification of the late Pontiff is dependent upon Pope Benedict XVI.

According to the AICA news agency, Cardinal Dziwisz said, “We Polish bishops do not want to interfere (in the cause). We do not want the Pope to rush, he should analyze it properly.”

During a press conference at the offices of the Apostolic Nunciature in Argentina, the cardinal remarked that people “recognize his legacy” and they show it by the continual processions to his tomb at the Vatican or by visiting Krakow in order “to learn about how he lived and what his culture was like.”

Asked whether John Paul II worked any miracles while alive, Cardinal Dziwisz said, “We couldn’t talk about that, it was forbidden,” however the cardinal revealed that since JPII's death, “there are many things that have been recorded and documented.”

According to the cardinal, the late Pope enjoyed “escaping from the Vatican,” especially to have time outdoors. “It was not diversion for him, he needed it.  At first he would talk with those who accompanied him but later he would just remain in silence, because he said it was his chance to have an encounter with the Creator,” the cardinal said.

He also shared that the Pope “did not use a computer, but wrote with a pencil.”  When he had to think about important things, he would do so in the mountains.  “At the beginning he would go skiing to everyone’s surprise. Nobody thought a Pope would stand in line like everyone else to wait his turn to ski.  Some greeted him with suspicion, others couldn’t believe it.”

“On day a child saw recognized him and said, ‘Holy Father’.  After that he had to be more careful,” the cardinal noted.

Cardinal Dziwisz also told the story of a worker in the Italian Alps who recognized the Pope and invited him to his house “for a glass of wine.”  “My wife is very devotional,” he told the Pontiff.  “She goes to church to find the Pope and here’s the Pope in my house!” the man joked.

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Cardinal Cordes encourages young people to embrace 'vocation' to politics

Madrid, Spain, Nov 20, 2009 (CNA) - The president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, called on young people this week to embrace the vocation to politics and work for the good of all persons, despite the risk it entails.

During the presentation of the 11th Congress on Catholics and Public Life, the cardinal said that a difference exists between seeing politics as a vocation and as a career.  “If I participate in politics according to the world, I cannot speak of vocation; something else needs to be added, there needs to be sensitivity for the good of man,” he said.

“The vocation to politics entails great risk,” the cardinal continued.  “As Max Weber said, it has demons that are stronger than those of ordinary life. But if nobody engages this risk, woe to us!”

According to the Spanish daily, “La Razon,” the cardinal also invited young people to “conquer the hearts of politicians, who are often fearful of being identified with a church group.”  He said they need to feel they are not alone in the struggle for the common good.

Cardinal Cordes also invited the youth to discern whether or not they have a vocation to politics, because “we need minds that are moved by the good of man and the will of God.”  “This dimension is so important that we need to pray that the young people of today understand it.  If you see a young person who has the capacity and the interest to embrace it, don’t stop him.  Encourage him and help him to meet other politicians who have a positive vision,” the cardinal said.

Later the cardinal referred to the March for Life that took place on October 17 in Madrid and said it was an example of a “political commitment to life and the family” that he hopes will spread to Germany and the rest of the continent, “so that Europe does not miss the time of her salvation.”

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Objectors to ELCA’s approval of homosexual clergy begin plans for new Lutheran denomination

Minneapolis, Minn., Nov 20, 2009 (CNA) - Following the decision of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to allow sexually active homosexual clergy, an objecting Lutheran group has begun to form a new church body for those Lutherans who want to “remain faithful to the Orthodox Christianity of the last 2,000 years.”

Lutheran CORE leaders on Wednesday said their working group would immediately begin drafting a constitution and taking other steps to form the new denomination. They hope to launch the denomination by next August.

Rev. Paull Spring, a retired Pennsylvania ELCA bishop and chairman of Lutheran CORE said many people in ELCA are “very unhappy” with the direction of the denomination.

At the ELCA annual convention in Minneapolis in August, delegates voted to allow sexually active homosexual pastors to serve if they are in “committed” relationships. The policy will take effect in April, the Associated Press reports.

At Lutheran CORE’s September convention, its members voted to spend a year to consider whether to form a new denomination. On Wednesday its leaders said heavy demand for an alternative for disenfranchised congregations and churchgoers encouraged them to move more quickly.

Lutheran CORE leaders reportedly believe there is deep opposition to the new policy among ordinary churchgoers but some may not be willing to depart the ELCA over it.

“Many of us have spent years now struggling to call the ELCA to remain faithful to the Orthodox Christianity of the last 2,000 years,” said Ryan Schwarz, who is leading the organizing effort. “While this is of course a wrenching decision, there is also a sense of hope in refocusing on our true mission, which is evangelizing the Lutheran faith."

Lutheran CORE leaders said they will continue to try to create a synod within the ELCA for congregations who are opposed to the new policy but do not want to leave the denomination.

John Brooks, spokesman at the ELCA’s Chicago-based headquarters, told the Associated Press that Lutheran CORE’s action was not unexpected. He said he hoped that Lutherans would choose to stay in the denomination which aspires to be “a place for all people despite any differences we might have on any issues."

He said the denomination had not seen significant departures yet but said it is too soon to judge the effects of the convention’s decision.

Brooks reported that five congregations have voted to leave the ELCA. Another 87 have taken a first vote to leave the denomination. Of these churches, 28 did not achieve the two-thirds vote necessary to leave.  After a two-thirds vote to leave the ELCA, a congregation must take a second, final vote in 90 days and again achieve a two-thirds vote.

There are 10,300 ELCA churches in the U.S. with about 4.7 million members, the Associated Press says.

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Christopher West presents ‘profoundly troubling’ idea of Christian freedom, Catholic writer says

Washington D.C., Nov 20, 2009 (CNA) - Adding another voice to the discussion over Christopher West’s presentation of the Theology of the Body, writer James Likoudis writes that West has ignored criticisms of his irreverent style and has advocated the “profoundly troubling” idea that Christian freedom rejects fears about the “dangers of sexuality.”

Controversy over West came to the forefront after his appearance on ABC’s “Nightline.” West remarked that the segment, which showed him saying he loved Hugh Hefner, took some of his remarks out of context.

West responded to his critics in an October essay, saying he has read some “thoughtful” critiques but others simply repeated rumors. He acknowledged that he failed to emphasize man’s struggle with a tendency to sin. However, he said the pivotal question for him was what the grace of redemption offers “with regard to our disordered sexual tendencies.”

Likoudis, past president of Catholics United for the Faith, discussed West’s response via e-mail with CNA.

He said the response was “quite disappointing” because West ignored criticisms of “his irreverent style of vulgar and offensive sexually explicit ‘street language’” in his discussions of human sexuality. He has also failed to repudiate his approval of certain unnatural sexual practices, Likoudis charged.

West continues to distort the teachings of Pope John Paul II on sexual concupiscence and the “freedom of the redeemed person,” he added before noting that West’s ideas of “sexual liberation from concupiscence,” in Likoudis’ view, remains “profoundly troubling.” West’s praise for a kind of freedom in which one is “devoid of fear and sin,” Likoudis warned, ignores the “dangers of sexuality.”

“He has muddied the waters of ‘Christian freedom’,” Likoudis told CNA, arguing that West forgets that “mature purity” has not freed the Christian from carnal desires that prevent “the complete victory of the soul over the body.”

In support of his criticism of West, Likoudis quoted theologian Jean Mouroux.

“Even when redeemed, we are all too aware that the body remains profoundly sensible to pleasure, and shamefully weak in the face of sexual seduction. However, there can occur the progressive repossession of the body by the soul sanctified by the Eucharist and this can lead to a progressive spiritualization of the body,” Mouroux wrote.

“It is important to stress that the married are not liberated automatically from surrendering to carnal desires. If they are in the state of sanctifying grace, they are in union with God and their marital intimacy blessed if conducted according to God's Law. Even for them, it must be said that the body is redeemed in hope alone, that is to say, it remains unsubmissive, a trial, a temptation, and under one of its aspects the wound of a rebellious concupiscence inflicted by original sin is always open,” continued Mouroux.

Mouroux said that the “full subjection of flesh to spirit” is a Christian ideal to be pursued without end, but it is “not a state that is normally realized.”

“Even redeemed, the body resists the spirit; it subjects it to grievous temptations, it brings suffering and death. All the misery the person encounters in this life still hangs around it even when the body becomes Christian,” the theologian added.

While the sacraments deliver the Christian from the flesh, it is “the height of spiritual realism” to realize that the body is redeemed only “in germ” and will come to fruition “only when time is no more and there is the glorious resurrection of the body.”

Likoudis, summarizing his own opinion, said that the “fatal flaw” in West’s version of the Theology of the Body is a “dangerous illusion” for presenting Christians as so liberated from “the domination of concupiscence” that “they need no longer to seriously fear the ‘dangers of sexuality’ and can thus enjoy themselves in sexual indulgence.”

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Unprecedented coalition of religious leaders call Americans to stand for sanctity of life, marriage, and religious freedom

Washington D.C., Nov 20, 2009 (CNA) -

An unprecedented coalition of prominent Christian clergy, ministry leaders, and scholars has crafted a 4,700-word declaration addressing the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty. The declaration issues “a clarion call” to Christians to adhere to their convictions and informs civil authorities that the signers will not “under any circumstance” abandon their Christian consciences.

The statement, called “the Manhattan Declaration,” has been signed by more than 125 Catholic, Evangelical Christian, and Orthodox leaders, and will be made fully public at a noon press conference in the National Press Club in Washington DC on Friday.

“We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence,” the statement says.

“We recognize the duty to comply with laws whether we happen to like them or not, unless the laws are gravely unjust or require those subject to them to do something unjust or otherwise immoral,” the signatories explain.

But they also made clear that “we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriage or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family.”

The Manhattan Declaration is the result of several months of dialogue among Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christian leaders culminating in a gathering of approximately 100 leaders in New York City on September 28, 2009.

Attendees considered an early draft of the “Manhattan Declaration, A Call of Christian Conscience,” but the document was entrusted  to a drafting committee that included Dr. Timothy George of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University, Dr. Robert P. George of Princeton University, and renowned Evangelical leader Charles Colson.

The signatories explained that they speak now because in order "to defend principles of justice and the common good that are now under assault."

"We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we will under no circumstances render to Caesar what is God’s."

The signatories of the Manhattan Declaration  explain that although public sentiment has moved in a pro-life direction, "pro-abortion ideology prevails in many places of power and influence."

"Our government promotes and funds scientific research in which the lives of tiny human beings in the early embryonic states of development are treated as disposable research material." 

They also contend that "public policies contribute to the weakening of the institution of marriage, including the discredited idea of unilateral divorce," while "influential individuals and organizations are seeking to redefine marriage to embrace same-sex partnerships and to recognize multiple-party sexual unions that are beyond same-sex marriage.”

Signatories of the declaration include Cardinal  Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia; Cardinal Adam Maida, Archbishop Emeritus of Detroit; Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Denver; Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York; Donald W. Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C.; John J. Myers, Archbishop of Newark;  John Nienstedt, Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis;  Joseph F. Naumann, Archbishop of Kansas City;  Joseph E. Kurtz,  Archbishop of Louisville; Thomas J. Olmsted,  Bishop of Phoenix; Michael J. Sheridan, Bishop of Colorado Springs; Salvatore Joseph Cordileone,  Bishop of Oakland;  Richard J. Malone,  Bishop of Portland; and David A. Zubik,  Bishop of Pittsburgh.

Other signatories include  Metropolitan  Jonah Paffhausen,  Primate of the Orthodox Church in America; Most Rev. Peter J. Akinola,  Primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria;  Jody Bottum, Editor of First Things;  Chuck Colson, Founder of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview; Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of the  Susan B. Anthony List; Dr. James Dobson,  Founder of  Focus on the Family;  Dr. William Donohue,  President of the Catholic League; Most Rev. Robert Wm. Duncan, Primate of the Anglican Church in North America; Fr. Joseph D. Fessio,  Founder and Editor of Ignatius Press;  Maggie Gallagher,  President of  Institute for Marriage and Public Policy; Dr. Robert P. George; Fr. Chad Hatfield, Archpriest of  St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary; Jerry Jenkins,  Chairman of the board of trustees for Moody Bible Institute; Jim Kushiner,  Editor of  Touchstone; Dr. Richard Land, President of  The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC;  Rev. William Owens,  Chairman of the Coalition of African-American Pastors;  Tony Perkins,  President of the Family Research Council; Michael Timmis,  Chairman of Prison Fellowship International; Juan Valdes, Chaplain of  Florida Christian School and George Weigel, Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

The full document will be available http://www.manhattandeclaration.org/  following the press conference.

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Benedict XVI meets with president of Suriname

Vatican City, Nov 20, 2009 (CNA) -

Today the Holy Father met with Dr. Ronald Venetiaan, president of Suriname.  The two heads of state discussed issues of concern in the South American country, with particular focus on the government's social policies.

According to the Vatican press office, the meeting also focused on  “the defense of the environment and on fields of collaboration between Church and State."

President Venetiaan then met with Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone as well as Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States.

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Obama EEOC nominee calls support for radical marriage manifesto a ‘mistake’

Washington D.C., Nov 20, 2009 (CNA) - Chai R. Feldblum, a nominee for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), has withdrawn her support for a radical manifesto that endorsed polygamous households and argued traditional marriage should not be privileged “above all others.” She said she did not agree with parts of the “overly broad” statement.

In September CNA reported that Feldblum, a Georgetown University Law Center Professor, was listed as a signatory to the July 26, 2006 manifesto “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision for All Our Families & Relationships.”

According to Politico’s Ben Smith, in an early November letter to the statement’s organizers Feldblum asked that her name be removed.

“I signed this document because it supports societal recognition of relationships between LGBT couples. But the statement was overly broad and there are parts of it with which I do not agree. Because the text of the statement does not reflect my views, I must ask you to remove my name,” she said.

Smith said that the Beyond Marriage manifesto came from a part of the homosexual movement which is “uncomfortable with what it views as the conservative impulse to bring same-sex couples into traditional relationships… as opposed to the more radical goal of disestablishing marriage as a pillar of society.”

The manifesto’s signatories said they proposed a “new vision” for governmental and private recognition of “diverse kinds” of partnerships, households and families. They said they hoped to move “beyond the narrow confines of marriage politics” in the U.S., arguing that marriage should not be “legally and economically privileged above all others.”

Describing various kinds of households as no less socially, economically, and spiritually worthy than other relationships, the Beyond Marriage manifesto listed “committed, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner.”

It said same-sex “marriage” should be “just one option on a menu of choices.” Naming as one of its principles freedom from a “narrow definition of our sexual lives and gender choices, identities, and expression,” it charged that the political Right enforces “narrow, heterosexist definitions of marriage.”
Feldblum’s initial approval of the document was a topic at her confirmation hearing at the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on Thursday.

Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, asked her why she had signed the document.

“In all those years I worked with you, I didn’t know you supported polygamy,” Harkin said jokingly, according to the blog of Legal Times.

Feldblum replied that she does not believe in polygamy and was sorry to have signed the document, an act she called a “mistake.”

The day before her hearing, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights charged that Feldblum’s disavowal of the Beyond Marriage manifesto was “a farce.”

“She is running scared: she knew what she was signing and waited until the eleventh hour to bolt. Only a fool would be fooled by this patently insincere move,” Donohue said in a Wednesday statement.

He described the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage document as “the most radical, irresponsible assault on marriage and the family ever written.”

Andy Blom, Executive Director of American Principles in Action, has charged that Feldblum would pursue an “extremist agenda” at the EEOC that would lead to the “targeted government harassment of religious institutions.”

Opponents of Feldblum’s nomination have also raised concerns about her stance on religious freedom. In 2006 she told writer Maggie Gallagher:

“There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win because that's the only way that the dignity of gay people can be affirmed in any realistic manner.”

As an EEOC commissioner, Feldblum would enforce federal laws against discrimination.

The EEOC recently ruled that Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic institution, violated anti-discrimination law by removing contraceptive coverage “because only females take oral prescription contraceptives.” The ruling, which the college is contesting, overturned a prior EEOC finding that the college’s action was not discriminatory.

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Bosnian Cardinal denies claims of Vatican commission for Medjugorje

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nov 20, 2009 (CNA) - Cardinal Vinko Puljic, Archbishop of Sarajevo and President of the Bishops’ Conference of Bosnia and Herzegovina denied press reports yesterday which claim that the Vatican is creating a commission to investigate the alleged apparitions of Medjugorje.

The cardinal, who is visiting Rome to attend the plenary session of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, of which he is a member, said that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is neither preparing a document nor establishing a special commission to study the Medjugorje apparitions.

Cardinal Puljic said that the official position of the bishops of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the one expressed by the then Bishops’ Conference of Yugoslavia in April 1991.

That statement not only expressed the episcopate’s support to then-Bishop Pavao Zanic of Mostar – where the town of Medjugorje is located - but explicitly said that, “based on previous research, it cannot be affirmed that these events concerning apparitions and revelations are of supernatural nature.”

“The doctrinal issue of the Medjugorje phenomenon is resolved, but its pastoral significance must still be taken into account,” the cardinal continued.

“The Medjugorje phenomenon is not only gathering faithful from Bosnia, but from all over the world, and in places where people gather to pray, God gives his blessing. Therefore, we should carefully examine all sides of this phenomenon,” he added.

Nevertheless, he reiterated, “for the moment, everything is under the jurisdiction of the local bishops.”

“Still, at any given moment, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith could establish an International Commission in order to study the case of Medjugorje,” the cardinal remarked.

Speaking at the 2004 assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Puljic complained that the reported apparitions of Medjugorje were “becoming a source of division in the Church.” In 2006, the cardinal was involved in setting up a commission concluding that the alleged Marian apparitions were not supernatural.

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Fourteenth Fort Hood victim forgotten

Washington D.C., Nov 20, 2009 (CNA) - Last week, Maj. Nadil Malik Hasan was indicted on 13 counts of murder for the shootings at Fort Hood which took place on Nov. 5. Missing from the list of victims is the three-month-old unborn child of Private Francheska Velez.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance of Christian attorneys, has sent a letter to the Office of Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Hood requesting that the murder of Velez's child be included in the case against Malik.

“It would cause a severe and negative impact on morale if Army women were made to believe that the Army valued their children less than they did adult victims of crime. We respectfully request that you enforce UCMJ Article 119a against the suspect," the ADF's letter stated.

Velez, who was three months pregnant, had just returned from Iraq, and was a month away from going home to Chicago on maternity leave.

Thanks to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 119a, also known as “Laci and Connor's Law,” which was signed into existence by President George W. Bush in 2004, anyone who inflicts violence upon a pregnant woman which leads to the death of the child, whether or not the perpetrator was aware the woman was pregnant, is criminally liable for the death of the child.

The law resulted from the disappearance, and subsequent death of Laci Peterson, of Modesto, Calif, who was seven months pregnant with her son Connor at the time. Laci's husband Scott was later convicted of first degree murder of his wife and second degree murder of his unborn son.

The State of Texas also passed a “Prenatal Protection Act” in 2003. They have also established a precedent as they charged a man who killed his pregnant girlfriend with a shotgun with capital murder, defined as causing the death of "more than one person... during the same criminal transaction."

Under the law, Maj. Nadil Malik Hasan can be held criminally liable for the death of Velez's child, referred to as “Baby Velez.” However, at this point in time, Army officials have only indicated that additional charges against Hasan are under consideration.

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Expert explains upcoming battle over pro-abortion Senate health care bill

Washington D.C., Nov 20, 2009 (CNA) - Catholic political analyst, Deal Hudson, said yesterday that pro-life forces will face an uphill battle over the health care bill expected to reach its peak of discussion in the Senate over the weekend.

Hudson, director of InsideCatholic.com, explained that the Senate Health Care Bill “contains federal funding for abortion, and many other unmentionables, e.g., so-called ‘end-of-life’ care.”

“In spite of Sen. Reid's explicit promise, the Stupak-Pitts Amendment was rejected,” Hudson wrote.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's bill would permit abortions in a government-run plan if it receives the approval of the Health and Human Services Secretary. Additionally, any woman receiving federal subsidies could buy a private health plan that covers abortion.

In contrast, the Stupak amendment approved by a majority in the House two weeks ago would prohibit a newly-created government-run option to cover abortions and would not allow people to use federal subsidies to buy private plans covering abortions.

Hudson explained to CNA that the bill can be prevented from going to the floor for debate if 41 senators oppose the cloture. He added that reaching this number is possible making Saturday a day that will be “very dramatic.”

On Saturday, the Senate will convene at 10:00 a.m. continuing the debate which leads up to the vote at 8:00 p.m. on the motion to proceed.

Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, one of three lawmakers being wooed by Senate Democratic leaders to back the health-care legislation, won the inclusion of an extra $100 million in federal aid for low-income citizens in her state on Thursday.

Despite the $100 million which has been seen as an anticipated payment for her vote, Robert Sawicki, press secretary for the senator said Landrieu hasn’t decided whether to vote for Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid’s motion to start debate on the legislation.

The National Right to Life said on Thursday that Reid's more than 2,000 page bill is "completely unacceptable" for pro-lifers.

Douglas Johnson, the NRL legislative director, criticized the notion that public money wouldn't end up being spent on abortion, noting that you can't segregate public and private funds when someone receives federal subsidies.

"The claim that a federal agency can pay for abortions with private money is a hoax," Johnson said. "All funds spent by a federal agency are federal funds."

"Provisions that don't include a ban on federal funding aren't acceptable to anti-abortion lawmakers," Rep. Bart Stupak said Thursday. Rep. Dale Kildee (D- Mich.) who supported Stupak's amendment, said the final bill needs the Stupak amendment to pass when it goes back to the House.

"It would be very difficult to pass the bill without it," he said.

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Mexican expert: Don’t believe false 'end of world' Mayan prophecies

Mexico City, Mexico, Nov 20, 2009 (CNA) - Renowned Mexican journalist Carlos Villa Roiz wrote an article this week urging Mexicans to learn their country's history and to reject the supposed end of the world prophecies that Hollywood scriptwriters attribute to the Mayans in the film “2012” that never existed.

In an article published by “Impacto El Diario,” Villa Roiz points out that the Mayans surfaced around 1500 B.C and existed until the end of the 17th century.  “They were astronomers, mathematicians, priests, warriors and wise men who developed two complex but precise calendars based on the “katun” (periods of 20 years).  One was the solar or civil calendar of 365 days and the other was the Tzolkin lunar calendar of 260.  They ran together because they both are divisible by five,” he explains.

Villa Roiz notes that “although there are different interpretations about the equivalencies between the Mayan dates and our calendar, the director of the movie took advantage of this in order to concoct that 2012 would be the end of an era, and his fantasy was embellished by the suicide of a Mayan community (that was already mixed-race) that fell into despair because the time of fulfillment of the Mayan ‘prophecies’ was approaching.”

According to Villa Roiz, “When it comes to novels and movies, scriptwriters can do what they want, they can dream up aliens, goblins, witches, whatever.  The result can be fun, deplorable or offensive, such as the case with the Dan Brown books. What is worrisome is that people buy into them and turn these fantasies into supposedly hidden dogmas.”

“Now well-into the 21st century, when many people shun the historic religions under the influence of materialism, relativism and scientific methodology, it is deplorable that this vacuum is filled by horoscopes, tarot card or tea leaf reading, and film,” he writes. 

“In Mexico,” he adds, “where embarrassingly people read maybe two books a year, it is sad that many believe all these lies,” and therefore he urges students to read Sylvanus G. Morely, one of the foremost experts on the Mayans.  “What the Bible says about the end of the world is merely that ‘no one knows the day nor the hour, but only the Father’,” Villa Roiz concludes.

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USCCB: Senate health care bill 'morally unacceptable'

Washington D.C., Nov 20, 2009 (CNA) - As the Senate prepares for the discussion of its health care reform bill this weekend, several bishops have sent the Senators a letter on behalf of the USCCB, calling the current version of the health care bill both “a huge disappointment” and “morally unacceptable.”

The letter, signed by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Chairman of the Committee on Pro-life Activities; Bishop William F. Murphy Diocese of Rockville Centre, Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and  Bishop John Wester, Chairman of the Committee on Migration strongly urges the Senate to incorporate “essential changes” to the Senate health care reform bill in order “to ensure that needed health care reform legislation truly protects the life, dignity, consciences and health of all.”

The letter notes that “the Catholic Bishops of the United States have long supported adequate and affordable health care for all.” This health care, however, “must protect human life and dignity, not threaten them, especially for the most voiceless and vulnerable.”

The bishops state simple moral criteria necessary for adequate health care reform. The bill must “keep in place current federal law on abortion funding and conscience protections on abortion; protect the access to health care that immigrants currently have and remove current barriers to access; and include strong provisions for adequate affordability and coverage standards.”

The letter urges the Senate to “include the House-passed provision that keeps in place the longstanding and widely supported federal policy against government funding of elective abortions or plans that include elective abortions.”

Noting that there was much confusion regarding the Stupak amendment and what it does, the letter explains that the amendment “does not change the current situation in our country: Abortion is legal and available, but no federal dollars can be used to pay for elective abortions or plans that include elective abortions.”

“This provision simply keeps in place existing policy and allows Congress to honor the President’s commitment that ‘no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions’,” it continues.

Essentially, “the amendment does not restrict abortion, or prevent people from buying insurance covering abortion with their own funds. It simply ensures that where federal funds are involved, people are not required to pay for other people’s abortions,” the bishops stress.

They also emphasize that “the pending Senate bill does not live up to President Obama’s commitment of barring the use of federal dollars for abortion and maintaining current conscience laws. The bill provides federal funding for plans that cover abortion, and creates an unprecedented mandatory “abortion surcharge” in such plans that will require pro-life purchasers to pay directly and explicitly for other people’s abortions.”

“The legislation requires each region of the insurance exchange to include at least one health plan with unlimited abortion, contrary to the policy of all other federal health programs,” the letter reads.

Additionally, the bishops stress that “critically important conscience protections on issues beyond abortion have yet to be included in the bill.” For one example, the bill doesn’t guarantee that religious institutions would still be able to give their own employees health insurance policies that are acceptable to the institutions morals and teachings.

The bishops also note that the bill would prevent undocumented immigrants from buying health insurance with their own money. “Without such access, many immigrant families would be unable to receive primary care and be compelled to rely on emergency room care.”

“These moral criteria and policy objectives are not marginal issues or special interest concerns. They are the questions at the heart of the health care debate,” the bishops charge.

“Whose lives and health are to be protected and whose are not? Will the federal government, for the first time in decades, require people to pay for other peoples’ abortions? Will immigrants be worse off as a result of health care reform? This legislation is about life and death, who can take their children to the doctor and who cannot, who can afford decent health care coverage and who are left to fend for themselves,” they conclude.

In a separate statement the USCCB explains that the Stupak amendment in no way breaks the "status quo" on abortion, as pro-abortion and feminists organizations have claimed.

The amendment, explains the document, "applies to this legislation the longstanding policy of the Hyde Amendment, which has governed other federal health programs for over three decades."

The document notes that "all other federal health programs are currently covered by provisions like the Stupak amendment" including  Medicaid,  Medicare "and other programs funded through the Department of Health and Human Services."  The amendment does not forbid abortion coverage in health plans that use only private funds and  women will not lose whatever private abortion coverage they have now.

It also highlights that "numerous polls show that most Americans oppose public funding of abortion. A September 2009 survey conducted by International Communications Research is of special interest: Strong majorities opposed 'measures that would require people to pay for abortion coverage with their federal taxes” (67% against to 19% in favor), as well as measures requiring them to pay for such coverage with their 'health insurance premiums'."

"In short, the Stupak amendment is a modest and reasonable measure. It reflects the Hyde amendment and all other existing federal abortion funding policies in the context of health care reform. Under this policy, anyone who actually wants abortion coverage can buy it with their own money; the government does not use taxpayer funds for abortions; and no one who opposes abortion is forced through their health premiums to pay for other people’s abortions. Congress should retain this amendment in any final health care reform legislation," the document concludes.
 

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CNN poll finds 61% of Americans oppose government-funded abortions

Washington D.C., Nov 20, 2009 (CNA) - CNN has published the results of a telephone-based poll regarding abortion, health care and health care reform conducted November 13-15. The results show promising pro-life trends and speak to the current debate in the Senate regarding abortion coverage in health care.

The poll, which surveyed 1,014 Americans showed a majority (61%) do not favor federally funded abortions, and 51% believe that a woman having an abortion should pay for it herself, regardless of whether or not she has health insurance.

CNN polling director Keating Holland commented, "Roughly one in five Americans who oppose the House health care bill do so because it is not liberal enough." "The abortion issue may be one reason why. But for most Americans, potential restrictions on abortion may not be a deal-breaker," he added.

The poll also revealed the slowly growing pro-life trend in America reporting that the majority of Americans do not support unrestricted abortions. Only 26% of those polled said that abortion should be legal in all circumstances. Fifty percent said that abortion should be legal in certain circumstances, but not all and 23% said abortion should never be legal.

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Archbishop of Canterbury says prospects for ecumenical dialogue still hopeful

Rome, Italy, Nov 20, 2009 (CNA) - Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on Thursday spoke about the state of ecumenical dialogue, saying expectations should not be adjusted “downwards.” Discussing the new Apostolic Constitution and the ordination of women, he asked whether the “impaired communion” within Anglicanism might be a model for progress on Christian unity.

 

His remarks came in an address to the Willebrands Symposium in Rome the day before his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.

 

Archbishop Williams, who is the head prelate of the Church of England, noted a “strong convergence” in Christians’ agreement about the nature of the Christian Church. In his view, the main question at present is whether issues that still divide Christians have the same weight.

 

“I also want to put a bit of a challenge to some trends across the board in current thinking, trends that might encourage us to adjust our expectations downwards in ecumenical dialogue, given the apparent lack of progress towards institutional or organizational unity,” he commented.

 

He reported that different understandings of authority and primacy are still issues in ecumenical discussion.

 

However, the archbishop suggested that issues of disagreement “less basic” than the agreement over “the Church’s central character,” should encourage a search for “practical convergence” in administrative responsibility and visible structures of governance. These efforts ought to allow “a significant mutual recognition of sacramental authenticity.”

 

“The recent announcement of an Apostolic Constitution making provision for former Anglicans shows some marks of the recognition that diversity of ethos does not in itself compromise the unity of the Catholic Church,” he said.

 

However, he noted that the Constitution does not seek to build any formal recognition of existing ministries. In his view, it was a pastoral response to the needs of some former Anglicans, rather than an advance in the understanding of the Christian Church sought by Anglican-Catholic dialogue.

 

“It remains to be seen whether the flexibility suggested in the Constitution might ever lead to something less like a 'chaplaincy' and more like a church gathered around a bishop.”

 

The Archbishop of Canterbury questioned whether Catholic arguments against the ordination of women stand at the same level as a theology more directly derived from Scripture and the Christian tradition. He also said Roman Catholics need to explain how “the prohibition against ordaining women” enhances “the life of communion” necessary for Christian unity.

 

Archbishop Williams asked whether it would be possible for a “Catholic and evangelical ministry” to remain intact even when there is a dispute about the ordination of women. He noted Anglicans have maintained “a degree of undoubtedly impaired communion” among themselves despite their different commitments towards the issue.

 

“Yet, in what is still formally acknowledged to be a time of discernment and reception, is it nonsense to think that holding on to a limited but real common life and mutual acknowledgement of integrity might be worth working for within the Anglican family? And if it can be managed within the Anglican family, is this a possible model for the wider ecumenical scene?”

 

Describing the “ecumenical glass” as half-full, he said the nature of “unfinished business” in ecumenical dialogue should be carefully examined.

 

“For many of us who are not Roman Catholics, the question we want to put, in a grateful and fraternal spirit, is whether this unfinished business is as fundamentally church-dividing as our Roman Catholic friends generally assume and maintain.”

 

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