Archive of November 25, 2009

Scientist says to be 'very careful' when interpreting writing on Shroud of Turin

Rome, Italy, Nov 25, 2009 (CNA) - A researcher in the Vatican secret archives claims to have interpreted a death certificate supposedly imprinted on the Shroud of Turin.  However,  a leading scientist and researcher on the Shroud cautions against reading too much into the images.

Dr. Barbara Frale, a researcher in the Vatican secret archive, claims that she has reconstructed the death certificate of a man named “Jesus the Nazarene or Jesus of Nazareth” from fragments of Greek, Hebrew, and Latin words she sees imprinted on the Shroud of Turin, reports the U.K. Times Online. The letters Frale claims to be interpreting were first found in a 1978 examination of the Shroud. Other letters have allegedly been found since then. 

Dr. Frale told “La Repubblica” that Jewish burial practices at the time of the Roman occupation of Jerusalem mandated that a body buried after execution of a death sentence had be in a common grave and could only be returned to the family after a year had passed. Therefore, a death certificate was glued to the burial shroud, usually on the cloth near the face, so that the body could be easily identified. 

Frale's reconstruction of the death certificate reads, “In the year 16 of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius Jesus the Nazarene, taken down in the early evening after having been condemned to death by a Roman judge because he was found guilty by a Hebrew authority, is hereby sent for burial with the obligation of being consigned to his family only after one full year." Dr. Frale noted that many of the letters were missing from the Shroud, and that Jesus, for example, was referred to as "(I)esou(s) Nnazarennos." 

Dr. John P. Jackson, director of the Turin Shroud Center of Colorado, told CNA, “you have to be very careful when interpreting these things.” He cited the example of an image on the Shroud thought to have been the rope which led Jesus to Calvary which, under scientific investigation, turned out to be nothing more than a watermark. 

“I'm not trying to demean someone else's work that I'm not familiar with,” Jackson said. He did, however, point out that “there is a long history of people finding things on the Shroud which are tied into subjectivity.” 

The Shroud of Turin is a linen cloth used as a burial shroud which bears the distinct image of a crucified man bearing wounds matching the Gospel accounts of the Passion of Christ. Scholars concur that the Shroud cannot be a work of art, and traces of blood, as well as the pollen of plants found only in the Middle East, have been found nestled within the fibers of the cloth.

The object of much scientific study, the authenticity of the Shroud as the burial cloth of Jesus Christ has neither been confirmed nor denied by the Church.

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Stats on religion and scientists 'nothing new' says Catholic biochemist

Pittsburgh, Pa., Nov 25, 2009 (CNA) - Responding to an LA Times article published Tuesday regarding the lack of religious scientists in America, Dr. Michael J. Behe told CNA that the statistics were “nothing new.”

According to the LA Times article, only 51 percent of scientists in America believe in a higher power compared to 95 percent of American adults. Additionally, close to half of American scientists claim no religious affiliation while only 17 percent of American adults have no religious affiliation.

“About a hundred years ago a similar survey was taken,” said Dr. Behe, professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Despite all of the changes and scientific advances in the last century, the old survey, says Dr. Behe, “showed roughly the same percentages.”

When asked for the explanation behind the apparent lack of religious scientists, Dr. Behe told CNA that there are a variety of factors.

“Some scientists want to explain all of reality and if God exists, then there are limitations to their work and they can't explain everything,” said Dr. Behe, who added that others “go into science because they feel an antagonism towards religion and they want to explain things in another way.”

Dr. Behe also discussed the concept of social pressure in the scientific community.  If one is raised in a religious household and enters a community where religion is “shunned or looked down upon,” scientists tend to acclimate to the environment. Calling lack of belief among scientists a “professional disease,” the professor gave the example of lawyers becoming alcoholics. “Some lawyers become alcoholics and some scientists become atheists,” he explained, saying it can be “a side effect of the work they do.”

Dr. Behe warned against the idea that these statistics somehow prove that increased scientific knowledge diminishes the need for religion or the belief in God. “If there was scientific evidence against it, then number of scientists who believe in God would be close to zero.”

Rather, Dr. Behe continued,“there are plenty of scientific reasons to think that the elegant machinery that has been discovered in life could not have arisen by some chance process.”

What scientists have discovered about the universe in recent decades is that “the universe is very finely tuned to support life,” Dr. Behe told CNA.

“If a person looks at the scientific evidence objectively,” said Dr. Behe, “the past half century or so it's become much stronger pointing towards the conclusion that something outside of our universe is needed to explain what we find in our universe.”

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Missionary Orthodox priest laid to rest after being murdered by masked gunman

Moscow, Russia, Nov 25, 2009 (CNA) - An Orthodox priest who was murdered in church by a masked gunman was laid to rest in Moscow on Monday. He was known for his missionary work in converting Muslims and members of religious sects and had received many death threats.

Investigators are examining religious hatred as the main motive for the killing of Fr. Daniil Sysoyev, who was murdered in his church on Thursday evening.

The gunman had entered St. Thomas Church in southern Moscow and asked for Fr. Sysoyev. When the priest identified himself, the gunman shot and killed him.

About 30 police and other security officers were at the burial service at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in southwest Moscow and at the burial at Kunsevo cemetery, RIA Novosti reports.

The 34-year-old priest is survived by his wife and three children.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill attended the service and urged others to carry on Fr. Sysoyev’s work.

"Being unable to offer any wise arguments against a priest's words in their mind and heart, and going against God's word, they cover him with libel and even raise their hand at him," he said.

While the murdered priest had been powerful in speech, the Patriarch commented, his death could be his “strongest word.”

The Patriarch on Friday warned against a rush to accuse individuals or groups of the murder.

“Any murder is a grave sin. But the murder of a priest in a church is also a challenge to the law of God,” the Patriarch had said. “This sin will not be left unrevenged by God."

Alexander Veretennikov, the head of the Zaporozhye Cossacks' mission in Moscow, was at the service for Fr. Sysoyev.

He has proposed organizing with Ukrainian Cossacks a guard for churches in Russia and the Ukraine to prevent other attacks.

All religious groups in Russia condemned the murder and have demanded better security for the clergy, RIA Novosti says.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev on Monday said the murder of the priest was an “extremely severe crime.” On Friday, Russian State Duma lawmakers asked for more information on the groups involved in order to consider measures to restrict foreign religious organizations’ activities in Russia.

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Bishop Tobin’s response to Rep. Kennedy ‘eminently reasonable,’ non-Catholic political expert says

Washington D.C., Nov 25, 2009 (CNA) - A non-Catholic political expert says Bishop Thomas Tobin’s request that U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy refrain from receiving Holy Communion is “eminently reasonable” and an “appropriate” encouragement of the Congressman to examine his commitment to his faith.

Rep. Kennedy, a Rhode Island Democrat and son of the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, was criticized by Bishop Tobin of Providence for his attacks on the Catholic bishops’ opposition to abortion funding in health care legislation. Recently, Kennedy revealed that Bishop Tobin had asked him to refrain from receiving communion because of his public contradiction of Catholic teaching.

Peter Roff, a senior fellow at the Institute for Liberty and a former senior political writer for United Press International, wrote at that Americans look to “our institutions of faith” to define moral issues like abortion. Though not a Catholic, he said he understands the hierarchical nature of the Church and the role doctrine plays within it.

Speaking with “the greatest respect,” he said that the Catholic Church is not a place where “free thinking” about doctrinal issues is encouraged.

“There is such thing as absolute truth and not all things are relative or left to the discretion of the believer,” Roff continued. If Rep. Kennedy wishes to consider himself Catholic, he should “show appropriate deference to church teachings” about life beginning at conception and about abortion being a sin.

“By asking Kennedy to act of his own volition, rather than threaten to deny him the sacraments or ordering those subservient to him in the church to refuse to offer them, Bishop Tobin is encouraging the Congressman to consider his commitment to his faith -- something one should argue is the appropriate role for a member of the clergy,” Roff commented.

He said the issue is being “spun” as a case of a church trying to impose its will on politicians who represent a “cross-section of the world’s religions.”

While some critics of Bishop Tobin invoke Thomas Jefferson’s phrase about the “wall of separation between Church and State,” Roff said this line appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution. Jefferson was out of the country when the Constitution was written and the phrase is his own opinion as president in an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists in Connecticut.

Nowhere does Jefferson suggest that the church should be “prohibited from enforcing its own disciplines within its own walls among its own members, even where matters of public policy are concerned.”

The purpose of the First Amendment, in Roff’s view, was to “protect the faithful from coercion by the state,” not to protect the state from “interference from the church.”

However, he said, it is hard to see how Bishop Tobin’s request is interference.

“If Congressman Kennedy wishes his church to consider him a Catholic in good standing, then he best pay attention to its concerns and act accordingly,” Roff’s essay at concluded.

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Bishop Wenski says health care legislation must remain ‘abortion neutral’ to avoid destructive ‘hijacking’

Orlando, Fla., Nov 25, 2009 (CNA) - The U.S. Senate must ensure that health care legislation remains “abortion neutral” by adding a Stupak Amendment to the proposed bill, Bishop of Orlando, Florida Thomas G. Wenski has said. Health care reform is too important to be “hijacked” by “destructive agendas” like government-mandated abortion.

Bishop Wenski, writing in a Nov. 20 column for the Orlando Sentinel, said that Catholic bishops have supported health care for years. “Access to health care is a human right,” he said.

The bishops also recognize the “sad reality” that abortion is legal and offered as optional coverage by insurers, he wrote.

“However, we insist that health-care-reform legislation under consideration does not become a vehicle for government-required payments for abortion or abortion mandates.”

Reporting that the bishops were “heartened” when President Barack Obama said that no federal dollars would be used to fund abortions, the bishop said the legislation did not meet this pledge until the U.S. House passed the Stupak Amendment on Nov. 7.

“This amendment assures that Americans are not forced to pay for the destruction of unborn children as part of needed health-care reform,” he continued. The prelate reported that 67 percent of U.S. adults oppose requiring people to pay for abortion coverage and 56 percent oppose doing so through insurance premiums.

Bishop Wenski said that it is “critical” that the Senate adopt the Stupak Amendment language so that no one is required to pay for or participate in abortion.

He also advocated the continuation of the Church Amendment, which protects objecting health care providers from being forced to provide abortions and sterilizations. The bishop praised the the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program for its exemption of religiously affiliated plans from a federal mandate to provide contraceptive coverage.

Other “essential moral priorities” for the health care reform are conscience protections, more affordable and accessible health coverage, and protecting immigrants’ health care coverage.

“Even American families of modest means under current provisions in the Senate version would be required to spend more money than they could afford for health-care coverage,” he added.

Though the bishops have long supported health care reform, Bishop Wenski concluded his essay, “no new legislation would be better than bad legislation.”

“Any final bill that does not maintain the well-established policy against federal funding of abortion would demand our vigorous opposition. We still advocate for genuine health-care reform — a bill that protects the life and dignity, the consciences and health of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.”

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Violent Muslim mobs attack Coptic Christians in Egypt

Cairo, Egypt, Nov 25, 2009 (CNA) - For several days massive mobs of Muslims have been attacking Coptic Christians in the Egyptian town of Farshoot 300 miles south of Cairo. The mobs’ looting, vandalism and arson have caused at least $1 million in damage as Copts hide indoors for fear of their lives.

Many Copts have been attacked and injured, the Coptic American Friendship Association (CAFA) says. Coptic priest Rev. Benjamin Noshi suffered a fractured skull in the attacks and is now hospitalized.

Nearly 3,000 Muslims have been damaging and looting at least 50 Christian-owned shops, including jewelry stores and pharmacies. Most Coptic businesses in Farshoot have been looted or burned and many families have been thrown out of their homes by other Muslim residents.

The attacks were sparked by a claim that a 20-year-old Christian man, who is in custody, had a relationship with a 12-year-old Muslim girl.

Coptic Bishop Kirollos of Farshoot said that the attacks were planned ahead of time. He suggested that the principal of an Islamic institute in the town motivated his students to attack Christians. The bishop also criticized the security forces, who reportedly disappeared without making any arrests despite victims’ demands that they end the attacks.

“It has become clear that the organized violence is spreading out to more villages only to target the Christian lives and businesses while the police continue to watch,” CAFA reports. “The last 90 days witnessed at least seven similar attacks on Christian villages, where at least five Copts were killed, many Coptic girls and women were abducted and forced to embrace Islam with the assistance of the Egyptian authorities.”

CAFA appealed to American and international human rights organizations to demand that the Egyptian government take immediate action to protect Christian lives and properties.

According to CAFA, there are about 18 million Copts in the Middle East.

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Over 120,000 Catholics attend opening of Vietnam’s Holy Jubilee Year

Hanoi, Vietnam, Nov 25, 2009 (CNA) - An estimated 120,000 Catholics participated in the opening ceremony of Vietnam’s Holy Jubilee year marking the 350th anniversary of Catholic vicariates in the country. However, the celebrations were marred by news of the resignation of the Archbishop of Hanoi, which some believe to be a result of government pressure.

On Monday evening four cardinals, 30 Vietnamese bishops from all 26 dioceses and 1200 priests gathered with an estimated 120,000 lay faithful from northern dioceses to participate in the ceremony. Fr. J.B. An Dang told CNA that the priests included dozens of foreign clerics from Europe and the United States.

Festivities took place at So Kien, about 43 miles south of Hanoi, where the Church in Vietnam first was able to build a large and durable complex of buildings. The celebrations marked the 350th anniversary of the first apostolic vicariates in Vietnam and the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in Vietnam.

The ceremony began at 5:30 pm with a one-hour procession of martyr’s relics. Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Nhon, President of the bishops’ conference of Vietnam, presided over the procession.

The gathered faithful were reminded that between the years 1625 and 1886 fifty-three edicts of persecution of Christians were signed by the Trinh Lords, the Nguyen Lords and the dynasty of the Kings of Nguyen. Each persecution was worse than the one before.

Those gathered for the Jubilee celebration expressed their gratitude for the estimated 130,000 Christians who died in these persecutions. Of these martyrs, 117 were beatified on four separate occasions. Their numbers included 96 Vietnamese, 11 Spanish Dominicans and 10 French members of the Paris Foreign Missions Society.

Pope Leo XIII beatified 64 of these martyrs on May 27, 1900. Pope St. Pius X beatified eight on May 20, 1906 and 20 on May 2, 1909. Pope Pius XII beatified 25 on April 29, 1951.

All 117 were canonized on June 19, 1988 by Pope John Paul II under the strong protest of Vietnam’s communist government, Fr. An Dang reports. Another young Vietnamese martyr, Andre Phú Yên, was beatified by John Paul II in March of 2000.

Following the grand opening of the Jubilee ceremonies Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man, President of the Holy Jubilee Committee, delivered his official declaration.

After the opening Mass, the festival’s inaugural night began with a sea of candle lights to welcome a procession of 118 Sisters of St. Paul from Hanoi and also a much loved performance group from the Diocese of Bui Chu. The performers included 400 trumpeters and drummers.

The opening ceremony was the second largest recent Catholic gathering in North Vietnam. The largest gathering was a Mass at Xa Doai on August 15, when more than 500,000 Catholics protested against the assaults on priests in Tam Toa.

The So Kien ceremony was widely reported and interpreted by state media as “an equivocal evidence” for the religious freedom policy of the Vietnam government, Fr. An Dang reported.

“The joy on the opening day of the Holy Jubilee in Vietnam, however, was marred by the news that Archbishop of Hanoi had submitted his resignation to the Pope,” he added.

On November 14 Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet told his priests at their annual archdiocesan retreat that that he had submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI because of deteriorating health. The archbishop, aged 57, is one of the youngest bishops in Vietnam.

Fr. An Dang explained to CNA that while the prelate ran a tight, exhausting schedule in his large archdiocese, many Vietnamese Catholics suspect that he is resigning due to pressure from the Vietnamese government.

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Pope challenges pilgrims to use Holy Trinity as model in relationships

Vatican City, Nov 25, 2009 (CNA) -

Continuing the theme of Christian culture in the Middle Ages in his weekly catecheses,  Pope Benedict chose Hugh and Richard of Saint Victor's Monastery in Paris as the subjects of today's address at his general audience.  These 12th century theologians "remind us that theology is grounded in the contemplation born of faith and the pursuit of understanding, and brings with it the immense joy of experiencing the eternal love of the Blessed Trinity."

Hugh of Saint Victor is known for his treatise, “On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith,” which was an influential document in defining the nature of a sacrament.  He reached considerable status in his time, to the point of being called "a second St. Augustine."  Hugh was known for inculcating the desire in his disciples to constantly seek the truth.  

In his famous treatise, he emphasized the institution of sacraments by Christ and the communication of grace through the sacraments.  Also proposed in the document was the value of sacraments as outward signs. 

Among Hugh's students at the monastery was  Richard, a disciple who would later become the prior of Saint Victor.  In Richard's teachings there was an emphasis on the allegorical sense of Scripture and on the continuous observance of virtue, both of which were promoted in his instruction as fundamental to achieving human maturity and contemplative wisdom.  

Richard's treatise “On the Trinity” studied the mystery of the triune God by analyzing love, whereby the mutual giving and receiving between two persons finds its perfection in the creation of a third.

Pope Benedict XVI said the authors such as these two move us to the contemplation of heavenly realities and the admiration of the Holy Trinity as a perfect model of communion.  

"How much the world would change if in families, parishes and any type of community, if relationships had as a model the three divine Persons, that not only live with the others, but for them and in them!" the Holy Father exclaimed.

In closing, the Pontiff extended a welcome to pilgrims from all nations, including those on pilgrimage from Japan to celebrate the first anniversary of the beatification of Blessed Peter Kibe and Companions.

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Rhode Island governor calls Kennedy's remarks 'outrageous'

Waren, N.H., Nov 25, 2009 (CNA) - On a local radio show Wednesday morning, Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri commented on the recent publicity of Rep. Patrick Kennedy and Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, saying that Kennedy made “outrageous statements about the Catholic church.”

Rep. Kennedy was confronted by Bishop Tobin for his attacks on the Catholic bishops' opposition to abortion funding in health care legislation.  Kennedy then revealed that Bishop Tobin had asked him to refrain from receiving communion because of his public, pro-choice stance.

In addition to calling Rep. Kennedy's remarks “outrageous,” Gov. Carcieri, a Republican, told WPRO-AM  that they were also uncalled for.

According to his government website, Gov. Carcieri is a self-professed “family man” with four children and 14 grandchildren. A Catholic, Gov. Carcieri was elected as Rhode Island's 57th governor in January of 2003.

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Pro-life Uruguayans urge fellow voters to elect president who will defend life

Montevideo, Uruguay, Nov 25, 2009 (CNA) - Thousands of Uruguayans participated in a massive pro-life march on Monday urging voters to elect a candidate for president on November 29 who will defend life and reject abortion.

Organizers said the march was intended to manifest opposition to attempts to legalize abortion in Uruguay and to mount a clear defense of the right to life from conception to natural death.

Carrying banners and signs urging voters to vote pro-life, protestors urged their fellow Uruguayans to show solidarity with pregnant women who are in need of assistance and to voice support for a new law in Parliament that would help them.

Pro-life leader Carlos Iafigliola said the choice was clear for those who value and appreciate the fundamental right to life, and he praised President Tabare Vazquez for his consistency and courage in defending the right to life.

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Bishop denounces euphemisms of abortionists and feminists covering up support for abortion

Mexico City, Mexico, Nov 25, 2009 (CNA) - Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Abelardo Alvarado of Mexico City has denounced abortionists and feminists for the use of euphemisms to cover up their support for legalized abortion in Mexico.

The bishop denounced the play-on-words used by “abortionists in general, especially feminists.”

“They don’t speak of abortion but rather the ‘voluntary termination of an unwanted pregnancy,’ and everybody swears they are not in favor of abortion itself. But they do not recognize the value and dignity of human life as a principle value. They all worry about defending the pregnant woman and nobody worries about defending the human being who is going to be born,” he remarked.

Regarding the reasons these groups use to justify the legalization of abortion, Bishop Alvarado noted that they try to present it as “the most convenient” option for women.

“It is easy to go from supporting legalization to claiming that it is a woman’s right,” he said.

“To say a woman has a right over her own body is true to a certain extent,” the bishop said. “But in the case of abortion, the woman is making a choice about a being that, as has already been said, is not her, it is another being, although temporarily inside of her.”

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Archbishop Wuerl: Proposed D.C. 'marriage' law does more than redefine marriage

Washington D.C., Nov 25, 2009 (CNA) - In an interview with Dr. John Haas of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C. stated that the proposed same-sex “marriage” law in D.C. doesn't only redefine marriage, it lacks the conscience protections necessary to allow the social services of the Church to continue partnering with the civil government.

On Dec. 1, D.C. council members are scheduled to vote on a bill which would legalize same-sex “marriage” in D.C. and require Catholic Charities and other religious institutions to “recognize and promote” it as Archbishop Wuerl has previously stated.

The prelate told Haas that the Church has two reservations about the proposed law.

First is the definition of marriage itself. “Marriage has been defined across human history, across cultures, nations, and time, in a very specific way,” Wuerl said.

Secondly, Wuerl noted that the new law would “prohibit us from carrying out our social service ministry if we did not subscribe to this new definition.” If, on December 1, the D.C. city council votes in favor of the law as it is now, the partnership between Catholic Charities and the civil government will be over, and not simply out of spite.

The archbishop noted that Catholic Charities will continue to operate, but only “with our resources.” However, the “long history of partnership with the civil government” will be over.

Ultimately, the position of the archdiocese is that “ if you are going to enforce this law, you have to provide freedom of conscience,” declared the archbishop.

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Buenos Aires governor should appeal ruling on homosexual 'marriage,' Cardinal Bergoglio says

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nov 25, 2009 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, said this week that the governor of Buenos Aires should have appealed a ruling by a judge allowing homosexual “marriage.” In not doing so, said the cardinal, the governor has failed “gravely in his duty as governor and custodian of the law.”

The cardinal's comments came in response to the inaction by Buenos Aires Governor Mauricio Macri, who did not appeal a ruling that declared two articles of the Civil Code of Argentina unconstitutional.  The articles would have established that marriage must be celebrated between one man and one woman.

The Archdiocese of Buenos Aires issued a statement following a private meeting between Macri, and Cardinal Bergoglio.

The statement said that during the meeting, “Cardinal Bergoglio reiterated that in not appealing the ruling on marriage between persons of the same sex, he gravely failed in his duty as governor and custodian of the law.”

“The Constitution and national Codes cannot be modified by a lower court judge (as in this case).  In such a case the Executive has the duty to take measures to ensure the legality of the ruling, which is not the case here, and thus there is an obligation to appeal,” the archdiocesan statement explained.

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Baltimore City Council passes law that would burden pro-life pregnancy centers

Baltimore, Md., Nov 25, 2009 (CNA) - The Baltimore City Council on Monday night approved regulations that would require pregnancy centers to post notices that they do not offer abortions or birth-control referrals. Critics said the legislation is part of a national strategy that aims to discredit the centers and drags the non-political charities into the political arena.

The regulation is thought to be the first of its kind in the U.S., the Los Angeles Times reports. Opponents have charged that it singles out pregnancy resource centers because of their pro-life mission. The centers provide counseling, clothing and food for expectant mothers.

Jeff Meister, Director of Administration and Legislation at Maryland Right to Life, told CNA in a Wednesday interview that his organization was “disappointed” about the message the legislation sends.

“We’re upset about the fact that for the first time in the entire United States an elected body chose to vote, in essence, to condemn pregnancy centers, and to send the message that they lie to and deceive women.

“There is no evidence proving that point, and all evidence is to the contrary."

“Numerous other states and elected bodies have rejected this legislation. But the Baltimore City Council chose to enact it without a lot of evidence backing their claims.”

The bill would affect four pregnancy centers in the city by requiring counseling centers to post signs in English or Spanish saying that they do not “provide or make referrals for abortion or birth-control services.”

If inspectors find no such announcement visible, the center would have 10 days to post a notice or face a $150 fine, the Los Angeles Times says.

Another critic of the proposed law was Carol A. Clews, executive director of the pro-life Center for Pregnancy Concerns, which has operated in Baltimore for 30 years.

"The passage of this piece of legislation may serve as serious encouragement to those who would like to see our organizations saddled with more laws and restrictions,” she said, adding that the crisis pregnancy centers are “very upfront” about what services they do and do not provide.

She reported that most clients have already decided to give birth to their babies but need help with utility bills, job referrals, maternity clothes or prenatal vitamins.

According to the Los Angeles Times, City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the law’s sponsor, characterized the vote as a victory for women’s well-being.

"It's a step toward making sure that women have the information they need to make the right decision for their health and their future," she said.

Rawlings-Blake cited an investigation by an advocacy group which claimed that women have been misled at pregnancy centers.

Planned Parenthood of Maryland also backed the law.

The bill passed the council by a 12-3 vote on Monday and must be approved by Mayor Sheila Dixon. Though an abortion supporter, she has not stated her position on the legislation.

In a Nov. 12 interview with CNA, Mary Sullivan, Communications Director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, reported that the pro-abortion group NARAL sent interns into Baltimore pregnancy centers to gather information used in hearings for the bill.

Sullivan questioned the reliability of that information.

“The only reliable sources are the actual women served by these centers. All of these women say they received excellent, competent care,” she added, saying backers of the proposal were unable to find a real client who claimed to have been misled.

Mary Ellen Russell, Executive Director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, told CNA in a Wednesday phone conversation that the Conference is “very concerned” about the precedent the legislation is setting.

“We defeated similar legislation at the state level two years ago. We’ll continue to do everything in our power to forestall other jurisdictions in our state from following the example of targeting pro-life charities that support women.”

Maryland Right to Life’s Jeff Meister told CNA on Wednesday that the proposed legislation is part of a national strategy, pointing to similar legislation introduced in the Maryland General Assembly, in other states and in the U.S. Congress.

There the proposals were “soundly rejected,” he reported. This prompted pro-abortion lobbying groups to go to local jurisdictions “where they have more support.”

“There is a national strategy to target pro-life pregnancy centers and that strategy alters as they meet challenges,” he charged.

Meister noted the main proponents of the bill, like NARAL and Planned Parenthood, and opponents like Maryland Right to Life are all lobbying organizations.

“We’re used to dealing with the politics of abortion,” he explained.

“Now pro-life pregnancy centers, they’re simply charities,” Meister continued. “It’s really unfortunate that charities, with the great work that they’re doing serving women and families, have to go to a legislative body that they’re probably not familiar with and then spend time out of their own day simply to defend their own integrity.

“It’s unfortunate that charities have to be dragged into the political arena.”

The Baltimore Sun reported that the Catholic Archdiocese of Maryland gives $100,000 a year to pregnancy centers and gives the Center for Pregnancy Concerns free use of space at two churches.

Archbishop of Baltimore Edwin F. O’Brien has said the archdiocese is prepared “legally to address” the proposed regulations.

"This is clearly a first step, and they're using Baltimore as a steppingstone, trying to manipulate our legislature into doing something that no other assembly has done in the United States," he told the Baltimore Times. "It's unheard of, and, I think, irresponsible."

"When Planned Parenthood puts out in their literature on their doorstep that they do not provide baby formula and care for pregnant women to find homes for the babies, when they're asked to do that, we can come to some kind of compromise on what this city is expecting of us,” he said.

Maryland’s Montgomery County Council is also considering legislation that would require pro-life centers to post disclaimers or face fines. The proposed law, which Meister said was “much tougher” than the Baltimore proposal, will be a topic of a Dec. 1 hearing.

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