Archive of December 17, 2009

Pro-life group goes Christmas caroling at abortion clinics

Chicago, Ill., Dec 17, 2009 (CNA) - This Saturday, the Pro-Life Action League will hold its seventh annual “Empty Manger” Christmas Caroling Day, visiting four abortion clinics in Chicago and four in DuPage county.

At each facility, the carolers gather and sing around an empty manger, which symbolizes both the hope and anticipation of new life as well as the emptiness left behind when an abortion occurs. The league has had success in the past when mothers entering the clinic heard the singing and changed their minds about aborting their baby.

“One mother told our counselor that hearing 'Silent Night' made her think about how Mary said yes to God – and then she couldn't go through with the abortion,” said Eric Scheidler, communications director for the Pro-Life Action League.

One clinic, the All Women's Health Center in Chicago, has yet to be visited by any pro-life organizations. Schiedler expressed his hope that the caroling on Saturday will touch mothers entering the facility with the pro-life message.

Though the message is one of peace, the league has been met with opposition at past caroling events.

Joe Scheidler, President of the Pro Life League, told CNA on Wednesday that pro-abortion individuals have been known in recent years to stand within the caroling group, disrupt the singing and shout obscenities in an effort to drown them out. Scheidler told CNA that police have been contacted this year to protect the pro-life singers and maintain a separation.

“The Christmas story is a story of hope and joy brought into the world by a newborn baby,” said Eric Scheidler noted. “We want abortion bound mothers in Chicago and the western suburbs to know that their unborn babies are a gift, too.”

“We encourage more pro-lifers to join this national event,” urged Scheidler. “Simply print out our booklet and gather a few friends for carols at the abortion facilities in your area.”

To find out more about the Pro Life League's caroling, visit,

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Education and healthcare are useless without right to life, says abortion survivor

Nashville, Tenn., Dec 17, 2009 (CNA) - Melissa Ohden, the survivor a failed saline abortion at six months, admitted to CNA in an interview that she “was actually pro-choice” until she learned at age 15 that her mother had attempted to have her aborted.

“Back then, even though I knew that I could never have an abortion, I believed that other women should have the chance to make that choice for themselves,” said Ohden, “that is, until I found out about the abortion attempt.”

“Almost the instant that I found out, I knew in my heart that I was going to have to fight for the rights of both women, like my mother, and children for the rest of my life.”

In light of recent debates in Congress, Ohden told CNA how it intrigues her that “we often talk about the rights for healthcare, education, etc., but many people often don't seem to grasp, like I do as a survivor, that without the basic right to life, none of these other rights would matter or come into play.”

“I often remind people in my speeches that we were all one choice, one decision away from being aborted like all of the millions of children like me have been,” Ohden remarked.

Speaking on the role of Planned Parenthood in her life, Ohden told CNA that “I would first admit that I was fooled as a young adult, despite my own personal experience as a survivor, into thinking that Planned Parenthood was not about abortion, but about providing needed reproductive healthcare to women.”

“It wasn't until my mid-20's and had done my own research that I learned the true nature of Planned Parenthood.”

When asked what her response would be to those who view the organization as pro-woman, Ohden said, “How is Planned Parenthood pro-woman to me, as the survivor of a failed abortion?”

“How can ending the life of your own child be pro-woman? How can perpetuating the pain and suffering in women like my own biological mother be pro-woman?”

Ohden explained to CNA that the true pro-woman resources in our society are the ones that address the causes that lead women to have abortion, such as “lack of emotional support, lack of financial support, lack of knowledge about social service resources that can support them and their family, lack of knowledge about the options of adoption, my list could go on and on.”

“Planned Parenthood likes to say that they provide information and support such as this, but time and time again we are shown that this is not true.”

“Abortion is not a solution to the problems that women face,” stated Ohden. “It simply masks the problem and even perpetuates it.”

Reflecting on her mother's experience, Ohden said, “People have actually said to me 'don't you think your mother has had more trauma because you survived?' On the contrary, I would hope that knowing that her child lived, whereas millions of other women are not so lucky as her, has helped her in overcoming some of the pain that she has had to have experienced as a result of the choosing to abort me.”

“I have heard more than enough people who are pro-choice state that not having the right to choose disempowers women,” said Ohden. “I would challenge that. I would argue that ending the life of your child, your very own flesh and blood, is disempowering.”

“Supporting and encouraging women in finding their inner strength, in tapping into their faith, of doing the 'difficult thing' and working through and addressing whatever obstacles lie in their way of choosing life for their child – now that is true empowerment.”

“If we don't respect the most vulnerable of our population,” observed Ohden, “then it is no surprise that we see all of the crimes against humanity that we do each and every day.”

Ohden recently gave birth to a daughter named Olivia, and now tours the country speaking about the impact of abortion. Find out more at

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Pro-life Catholic pulls even with Gov. Charlie Crist in Florida’s Senate primary race

Tallahassee, Fla., Dec 17, 2009 (CNA) -  

A pro-life Catholic is now even in the polls with incumbent Gov. Charlie Crist in the Florida Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate.

A Rasmussen poll of likely GOP primary voters reports that Marco Rubio, a 38-year-old Cuban-American from Miami, is running even with Crist at 43 percent. In August, 53 percent said they supported Crist.

According to Rasmussen Reports, Crist angered many conservatives when he endorsed President Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package.

The Republican establishment has backed Crist, but former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, and former Bush adviser Karl Rove are among Rubio’s supporters.

Crist has supported a ban on partial-birth abortion. In January 2009 he vetoed a proposed $500,000 cut to crisis pregnancy centers. He initially described himself as pro-choice, but declared himself to be pro-life before running for governor in 2006. He also previously supported state funding for human embryonic stem cell research.

However, Crist later altered this position and recommended $20 million in funding for adult stem cell research. He approved embryonic stem cell research only on the cell lines approved under President George W. Bush’s restrictions.

Rubio describes himself on his campaign website as pro-life. He notes his past legislative proposals to require an ultrasound before an abortion and to ban the use of taxpayer dollars to “fund stem cell research.”

He also voices concerns on his site about Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s testimony regarding “the so-called constitutional right to privacy that resulted in the Roe v. Wade decision.”

Catholic political analyst Deal Hudson, writing at, has described Rubio as having a self-effacing manner and the “dash and charm of a young man.” He also called the candidate a “seasoned politician” with eight years in the Florida legislature, where he was Majority Leader and Speaker of the House.

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iPhone interactive guide for Vatican Museums released

Rome, Italy, Dec 17, 2009 (CNA) - An Italian travel guide company has produced an interactive guide for the Vatican Museums for the iPhone and the iPod touch.

The guide, titled “The Vatican Museums 1.0,” features interactive maps, two hours of audio guides and over 170 high quality images, a press release says. It is produced by ItalyGuides and is narrated by American voice actor and writer Greg Negoff.

ItalyGuides said the guide is the result of a collaborative effort between historians, copywriters and art professionals. It is “carefully designed to make learning active, compelling and immediate.”

The guide discusses the origin of the Vatican museums and the contents of the Gregorian Egyptian Museum and the Georgian Etruscan Museum, Raphael’s Rooms, the Sistine Chapel and other famous art locales.

Leonardo Calandra, co-founder of ItalyGuides, said the guide was the result of an online survey of ItalyGuides web site visitors. He explained that The Vatican Museums was “a perfect fit given our audience.”

ItalyGuides’ other audio guides have been downloaded over 250,000 times, he reported.

The Vatican Museums 1.0, which runs on an iPhone or an iPod Touch 3.0 or later, is available for $4.99 at the iTunes App Store in the Travel category. Audio guides are also available for any iPod or mp3 players at the iTunes Music Store and at

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Activists target California mayor for comments on sinfulness of homosexual acts

San Francisco, Calif., Dec 17, 2009 (CNA) - A California mayor’s comments saying that homosexuals are committing sin that will keep them out of heaven have caused uproar among activists. While the mayor also explained that he loves his close friends who are gay, some activists have called for him to resign and want the city to advance homosexual goals.

In a Nov. 16 interview with the New York Times, Mayor Osby Davis of Vallejo, California discussed issues of religion and politics in the Bay Area city of 120,000 people, the California Catholic Daily reports.

Discussion turned to the school board candidate Bishop Lou A. Bordisso, an openly homosexual prelate in the American Catholic Church, a church not in communion with Rome.

The mayor reported that Bordisso was “striking out at the faith-based community” and indicated that they should not be involved in the school.

Mayor Davis said that Christians have the right to ask a candidate whether he is going to attempt to bring a “gay and lesbian agenda” into the curriculum.

Asked by the New York Times whether there are some faith communities “where gay people are not welcome,” Davis replied that God loves “anyone who is gay and anyone who is not gay.”

“The sins that keep you out of heaven are not the just those sins of being gay, those are sins of lying, murdering, unforgiving, all kinds of sins… So when you look at someone who is gay, you see them as someone Christ died for and you look at them as if they are in fact committing sin and that sin will keep them out of heaven.”

In the mayor’s view, a Christian doesn’t hate the person but rather the sin they commit.

“And you continue to love the person, and you hope one day the person will see the error in their ways,” he continued.

No sin is greater than any other, he opined, saying he has “very close friends who are gay.”

“I don’t believe that their lifestyle is correct but that’s a decision that they have to make. I don’t stop loving them because they’re gay. They have to make a decision on their own. If I present something to them and they don’t want to receive it, okay that’s well and good. That’s not going to stop me from loving them.”

The pro-family organization Capitol Resource Institute (CRI) reported that the mayor's city, Vallejo, is divided in its reaction to the statement.

“Some have called for the removal of the mayor, the appointment of an openly gay individual to the Vallejo Human Relations Commission, and official recognition of an LGBT Pride month,” CRI said.

The group reported that many of the demands charge that the mayor’s statements violate church-state separation.

“And much of the criticism begins with the accusation that the religious community in general is motivated by hate,” the CRI added.

Kevin Snider, chief counsel to the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), said his organization is monitoring the situation.

Snider remarked that though it may be “unwise” for an elected official to discuss his religious beliefs with a New York Times reporter, it “certainly is not illegal.”

“It is troubling that so many believe that there is such a restriction on protected speech,” he added.

The PJI has expressed concerned about the “numerous attacks” on the Vallejo religious community in newspaper letters, e-mails and public forums at City Council meetings.

As many as 500 people took part in a protest at Vallejo City Hall on Dec. 2. Some supported the mayor while others opposed him.

The CRI said the uproar was a “teachable moment” for leaders of the Vallejo faith community.

Snider also saw hypocrisy in the reactions to Mayor Davis’ comments.

“Some are asking that Vallejo formally celebrate their views on sexuality while punishing the mayor for stating his views on sexuality. They seem to be saying, ‘we’re out of the closet, now Christians need to go into the closet,” he commented.

Mayor Davis and homosexual city council member Michael Wilson issued a joint statement rebuking the “rumors of hate” being circulated on the basis of the New York Times article. The statement professed their unity in efforts to build consensus and confront “hatred and division.”

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Benedict XVI officially accepts Irish bishop's resignation

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2009 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI has officially accepted the resignation of Bishop of Limerick Donal Murray.  Murray stepped down due to information made public in the Murphy Report on Nov. 26 that showed he failed to properly respond to allegations of sexual abuse.

Bishop Murray's name was mentioned several times in the Murphy report, which published the results of a study into allegations of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin from 1975 to 2004. Murray's lack of action in response to the possible cases of child sex abuse by clergy brought to his attention is described in this document as "inexcusable."

Murray came to Rome originally on Dec. 6 to meet with Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops, to discuss his handling of information relevant to the cases and to deliver his resignation, as Murray told members of St. John's Cathedral in an address this morning in Limerick.

Cardinal Re took the bishop's letter of resignation to the Pope, who had the final say in whether or not to accept the bishop's wishes to step down.

The Irish Times published the entirety of Bishop Murray's address to the faithful at St. John's upon the release of the Pope's decision.  In the address, he said that he had asked the Pope's permission to resign and be replaced because he believes his presence "will create difficulties for some of the survivors who must have first place in our thoughts and prayers." 

He also admitted that his resignation "cannot undo the pain that survivors of abuse have suffered in the past and continue to suffer each day."

"I humbly apologize once again to all who were abused as little children," he continued. "To all survivors, I repeat that my primary concern is to assist in every way that I can, on their journey towards finding closure and serenity."

He closed by saying, “Let my last words as Bishop of Limerick be those I spoke in St. Joseph's on 29th November last: 'We are people who believe that God’s mercy and God’s healing are without limit. We are meant to be bearers of that hope to one another and especially to people whose trust was betrayed when they were just little children and who endured the terror, helplessness and suffering inflicted by a frightening and dominant adult. They should always have a special place in our prayers.'"

Murray's resignation was accepted in accordance with Canon 401 § 2 of the Code of Canon Law which reads, "A diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office."

This is enacted when a bishop must resign before reaching the age limit of 75 years old.

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Rogue archbishop dismissed by Pope Benedict from clerical state

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2009 (CNA) - The Holy See announced on Thursday that the former Archbishop of Lusaka, Emmanuel Milingo, has been dismissed from the clerical state after persistently acting against Church teaching. Milingo had already been suspended and excommunicated latae sententiae for serious transgressions in the last eight years.

The Holy See reported that despite repeated efforts to return the African archbishop to "full communion with the Supreme Pontiff and the other members of the College of Bishops" his continued neglect for Church doctrine has merited him the "further penalty of dismissal from the clerical state."

The former archbishop has a history of disobeying Church law.

The first of what the Vatican called "this unhappy series of events" took place in 2001 when Milingo tried to marry Mrs. Maria Sung, at which time he was subject to a "medicinal" suspension. He was not deterred as he subsequently pushed for the abolition of the discipline of priestly celibacy by leading groups and giving interviews "in open disobedience to the repeated interventions of the Holy See," reads the Vatican press office's official statement regarding the case.

Then, on Sept. 24, 2006 in Washington, D.C., Milingo ordained four bishops without the required pontifical mandate. Two days later on Sept. 26, he was excommunicated "latae sententiae"—by the very commission of the offense —following the order of the Holy See.

"Sadly," says the Vatican's statemtent, "Archbishop Milingo has shown no sign of the desired repentance with a view to returning to to full communion" with the Catholic Church. "Rather he has persisted in the unlawful exercise of acts belonging to the episcopal office, committing new crimes against the unity of the Holy Church."

It was recently brought to light, read the statement, that Milingo has once again taken part in the ordination of another round of bishops without the permission of the Apostolic See.

Due to these new "grave crimes" the archbishop is now being penalized with dismissal from the clerical state.

According to Canon Law, due to the combination of penalties, Milingo will now incur the "loss the rights and duties attached to the clerical state, except for the obligation of celibacy; prohibition of the exercise of any ministry, except... in those cases involving the danger of death; loss of all offices and functions and of all delegated power, as well as prohibition of the use of clerical attire."

Therefore, continues the statement, "the participation of the faithful in any future celebrations organized by Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo is to be considered unlawful."

The Vatican communique explained that the dismissal of a bishop from the clerical state is quite exceptional but that it was necessary given the repeated offenses of ordaining new bishops. It also stated clearly that these new bishops were not to be considered valid, nor were any subsequent ordinations based on them. It also underscored the penalty of excommunication for any priests ordained without the pontifical mandate.

The Holy See concluded its statement by expressing the "profound sorrow" of the Church for the unapproved acts of the archbishop, and entrusted "to the power of prayer" the repentance of any other individuals involved in the condemned actions.

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Young people around the world send Christmas greetings to Pope Benedict XVI

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2009 (CNA) - The president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, explained this week that young people around the world can now send Christmas greetings to Pope Benedict XVI from the website

Speaking on Vatican Radio, the archbishop noted that in addition to being able to send the Holy Father a message, young people can also “send e-cards to their friends with a Christmas picture related to the life of the Holy Father.” “We want this Christmas atmosphere to be a more dynamic, beautiful, profound and ecclesial encounter between the youth and the Pope,” he said.

We have been surprised at how young people have welcomed this initiative,” Archbishop Celli added. “During the first 15 days since the site was launched, we had almost five million visits. This means that with this site we have found a language understandable for the youth of today.”

The archbishop also said that users have sent some 200,000 e-cards.


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Nuncio demands quick intervention following anti-Christian attacks in Iraq

Rome, Italy, Dec 17, 2009 (CNA) - Archbishop Francis Chullikat, the Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq and Jordan, has demanded the immediate intervention by Iraqi leaders to “guarantee the necessary safety of the Christian minority,” in the wake of the attacks on two churches in the city of Mosul.

Speaking to the SIR news agency, the nuncio said that the “upsurge in violence that has taken place at two churches attacked in Mosul, should be confronted by the country’s authorities.”  He added that the Iraqi officials have always said they “would intervene in these instances immediately in order to guarantee the safety of Christians, who as a minority, have the right to request protection.”

For this reason, he continued, “It is urgent that officials provide just and immediate guarantees and security to Christians so they can live in peace and safety in the country.  This is even more necessary as Christmas approaches, when churches are full with the faithful who wish to celebrate the solemnity with enthusiasm.”

After explaining that Christians are the “most exposed minority and the easiest to attack because they have no protection of any kind, as they have no militias or security structures,” the nuncio recalled that those who believe in Christ “respond to violence with hope and goodness.”

“We will remain faithful to this mission, with the awareness of being with the entire Church and the Pope,” he added.  “Iraqi officials and the faithful know well that the Pontiff is united in solidarity with the suffering of Iraq and its Christian minority.”

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Bishop Sgreccia presents Pope with 'Encyclopedia of Bioethics and Legal science'

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2009 (CNA) - The president emeritus of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Bishop Elio Sgreccia, presented Pope Benedict XVI with a copy of the first 12 volumes of the “Encyclopedia of Bioethics and Legal Science” after this week’s Wednesday General Audience.

Bishop Sgreccia was responsible for the sections regarding bioethics, while Antonio Tarantino, professor of the University of Lecce, was responsible for the portions dealing with legal science.

The bishop explained that “today bioethical issues are taken up in parliaments that make laws on life, death, the family and children. The encyclopedia is an instrument that brings together ethical, anthropological and legal arguments.”

At the conclusion of the Wednesday audience, Pope Benedict also greeted former basketball player and president of the Italian Federation of Basketball, Dino Meneghin, who gave the Pope a jersey of Italy’s national basketball team with his name, “Benedicto XVI,” printed on the back.

Before leaving the Paul VI Hall, L’Osservatore Romano reported, the Pope blessed a nativity scene given to him by the country of Mexico, while expressing his thanks for the gesture.

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Argentinean bishops urge peace and reconciliation

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec 17, 2009 (CNA) - This week the spokesman for the Argentinean Bishops’ Conference, Father Jorge Oesterheld, noted that the bishops are concerned about the increase in the country's criminal activity.

According to the AICA news agency, Fr. Oesterheld added that the Argentinean bishops desire “to work for reconciliation in the country, so all can live together in peace.”

He also underscored that the climate of insecurity is “without a doubt one of the great sorrows of Argentineans and of the Church.”

Father Oesterheld’s comments came as the executive committee of the bishops’ conference met to listen to reports from the bishops’ committees on Faith and Culture, Social Ministries, the Family and the Laity.

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Pope reflects on importance of religion for peace in the world

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2009 (CNA) -

On Thursday in the Vatican, the Holy Father met with and received the Letters of Credence from eight new ambassadors to the Holy See. During his dialogue with the diplomats, the Pope spoke on the importance of religion in culture, stressing that “religions lived according to their profound essence have been, and still are, a force for reconciliation and peace.”

“At this moment in history religions must, through open and sincere dialogue, seek the path of purification in order to conform ever more closely to their true vocation.”

The Holy Father continued to say that “peaceful coexistence of different religions in each nation is sometimes difficult. More than a political problem, this co-existence is a religious problem which lies within the bosom of each one of those traditions. Believers are called to ask God about His will concerning each human situation.”

“For people of faith or people of good will,” continued the Pontiff, “the resolution of human conflicts and the delicate coexistence of different religious expressions can be transformed into an opportunity for human coexistence within a social order full of goodness and wisdom, the origin and impulse of which lies in God. Such coexistence, respecting the nature of things and the inherent wisdom that comes from God, is called peace.”

Pope Benedict also spoke to the diplomats on the need for “environmental responsibility” since “the continual degradation of the environment constitutes a direct threat to man's survival and his development, and threatens peace among individuals and peoples.”

The Holy Father concluded his address by saying that “the peace we so long for will not come into being save by the joint action of individuals, who discover the true nature of God, and of leaders of civil and religious society who - respecting the dignity and faith of all people - know how to give religion its noble and authentic role in creating and perfecting the human person.”

“This overall reworking, at once temporal and spiritual, will enable a new beginning towards the peace that God wishes to be universal.”

The eight new ambassadors to the Holy See are Hans Klingenberg of Denmark; Francis K. Butagira of Uganda; Suleiman Mohamad Mustafa of Sudan; Elkanah Odembo of Kenya; Mukhtar B. Tileuberdi of Kazakhstan; Abdul Hannan of Bangladesh; Alpo Rusi of Finland, and Einars Semanis of Latvia.

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Senator Nelson rejects Casey's proposed abortion compromise

Washington D.C., Dec 17, 2009 (CNA) - As Senate Democrats attempt to reach a compromise with Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) on the health care bill, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) has sent him a proposal in an attempt to assuage his concerns that the current bill allows taxpayer funds to be used to pay for abortions. Sen. Nelson has responded that the proposal “isn't sufficient.”

In a statement released today, Nelson said that although the compromise from Sen. Casey “adds important new initiatives addressing teen pregnancy and tax credits to help with adoptions ... as it is, without modifications, the language concerning abortion is not sufficient.” These concerns were relayed to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the statement added.

Senator Nelson further explained that the compromise “does not yet ensure that a longstanding federal standard barring public funding of abortion would be maintained in the Senate health care bill the Senate has been debating this month.”

“This is not an issue where you can split the difference. That’s what makes it so challenging,” Nelson told KLIN radio.

Casey's proposed compromise language is an attempt to garner the needed votes in the Senate to pass the health care bill.

Sen. Nelson reiterated that he will not support a vote for cloture, which would end debate on the Senate health care bill, as long as “certain language” remains in it.

Besides encouraging adoption and supporting pregnant mothers, pro-life groups briefed on the proposal told the Associated Press that one provision would allow citizens to prevent their premiums from paying for abortion.

However, it is unclear what Casey's compromise says exactly. “It (the proposed compromise) does not address what the fight has been about,” Douglas Johnson, Legislative Director of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) told CNA.

Noting that Casey's office has not released the language of the proposed compromise to the NRLC or anyone else,  Johnson said, “Senator Casey is trying to wrap up a deal on language without actually showing actual bill language to us or to other interested citizen groups.”   

The obscure language is part of a “stealth-legislation project on behalf of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is writing a massive manager's amendment—an extensive rewrite to the entire health care bill—behind closed doors,” Johnson said.

“If Reid gets his way, the first time the public will see the abortion language –or any of the rest of the manager's amendment—will be when the new package is slapped down on the Senate clerk's desk along with a cloture petition, which means: take it or leave it,” Johnson charged.

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Unity, formation and gospel message essential, Pope tells Belarusian prelates

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2009 (CNA) -

In an audience with the bishops of Belarus today, the Pope reminded the bishops of the importance of bearing witness to the lasting message of the Gospel as they remind society that there is something beyond the “temptations of secularization, hedonism and relativism.”

The bishops, who were in Rome on their annual “ad limina” visits, met with the Pontiff before returning home. They were reminded not only an impending agreement between the Holy See and the country of Belarus, but also of the tasks that await them in their own dioceses.

The Pope began by reminding the bishops how important it is to constantly announce the eternal message of the Gospel with enthusiasm and to remind society that there is something beyond the “temptations of secularization, hedonism, and relativism, signs of which are the problems of the falling birth-rate, the fragility of families and the illusion of finding fortune outside the homeland.”

Speaking to the bishops in their role of as shepherds, Pope Benedict reminded them that as pastors they ought “to underline the power of the faith, a faith rooted in solid tradition, in order to contribute to preserving the deep-rooted Christian identity of the nation, while maintaining respectful dialogue with other cultures and religions.”

To accomplish this goal, the Pope mentioned a need for good formation programs, especially for seminarians. He asked the bishops to ensure that the seminarians “are given a solid and rigorous spiritual and theological formation, and receive due guidance as they undertake a serious and profound examination of the divine call. The current situation of our society requires a particularly attentive discernment.”

The Holy Father also noted that education, or formation in the faith, is also of vital significance. “Today we are living though a kind of 'emergency' in this delicate and vital sector, and it is necessary to increase our efforts in order to ensure that people, and above all the new generations, receive a valid formation,” he said.

The Pope also noted that the example of unity within the bishop's conference “apart from facilitating the announcement of the Gospel, will favor relations with the civil authorities and, in particular, ecumenical relations.”

The recent Catholic-Orthodox meeting in Cyprus was raised by the Holy Father, who encouraged the bishops to facilitate dialogue with, and welcome the contribution of the small Greek-Orthodox community in Belarus. Like the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches “are strongly committed to reflecting on how to respond to the challenges of our time, in order to transmit Christ's message faithfully,” the Pope observed.

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Catholics United group avoids taking stand on legal abortion

Washington D.C., Dec 17, 2009 (CNA) - Catholics United, responding to charges that it is a “fake Catholic group” for supporting the Senate health care bill despite its funding for abortion, was non-committal on abortion. Its head said Catholics United is “neither pro-abortion rights or anti-abortion rights” but instead “pro-common ground.”

Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United, had told the Christian Science Monitor that Catholics should be open to a version of the heath care bill that funds abortions.

“The wrong thing would be for anyone to be so firmly entrenched in their positions on federal funding of abortion that they’re not willing to come to the table and talk about a compromise,” he said.

Commentator Deal Hudson, a Catholic Republican, then criticized Catholics United for being one of the “fake Catholic groups” that are now backing a version of the national health care bill which funds abortion.

In a note to Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News & World Report’s blog “God and Country,” Korzen replied:

“Abortion is legal in the United States, and there's not much either Catholics United or Deal Hudson can do to change that. What we can do is find ways to unite Americans around common ground approaches to abortion, something Hudson and company have consistently opposed doing. Ensuring that pregnant women and children have insurance coverage should be a no-brainer for Catholics.

“In short, I wouldn't call us pro-abortion rights or anti-abortion rights. We're pro-common ground,” he equivocated.

As evidence, he cited Catholics United’s support for the House bill after the Stupak Amendment language was passed, charging that Hudson “just hates the idea of health care reform” and abortion provides “an all-too-convenient excuse.”

In a September statement, Catholics United joined its allies in charging that Catholic bishops critical of the bill “echo partisan talking points” and create an impression that the Catholic Church does not vigorously advocate health care reform.

In a Dec. 7 letter, several Catholic bishops leading key committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) wrote that if the Senate health care reform bill fails to include Hyde Amendment-type restrictions on abortion funding then the legislation should be opposed.

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Rutherford Institute takes case of boy given psych evaluation after drawing Jesus

Charlottesville, Va., Dec 17, 2009 (CNA) - The Rutherford Institute is taking on the case of a Massachusetts second grader who was forced by the local school district to undergo psychological evaluations for drawing a stick figure, crucified Jesus with his own name on a placard above the corpus.

“This is a case of overreaction by school officials,” said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute on Wednesday.

On Dec. 2, second grader Jalen Cromwell was taken to the principal's office at Lowell M. Maxham School in Taunton, Mass. where he was questioned about his drawing of Christ. According to his  family, the picture reflected the child's impressions of a recent family trip to the Christmas lighting at the Shrine of La Sallette.

According to a Dec. 16 letter written to the Taunton School District by John Whitehead, President of the Rutherford Institute, Jalen drew the picture at school during free time after a snack break. “Jalen placed the picture inside his desk but for some reason it was removed and inspected,” Whitehead recounted in his letter.

Jalen was then taken to Principal Rebecca Couet's office and questioned without the presence or notification of his parents. The letter claims that this questioning greatly disturbed Jalen and that only afterward was his father, Chester Johnson, contacted. When Johnson arrived, he was shown the picture and told that his son needed to leave and could not return until he had undergone psychological evaluation.

The next day, Melissa Cromwell, Jalen's mother, went to the school to discuss the matter further and was told by the principal that Jalen needed to be removed due to school policy.

“When Ms. Cromwell asked Principal Couet to point out the policy in the school's handbook, the principal was not able to do so and Ms. Cromwell still has received no satisfactory explanation as to why Jalen's removal was required,” stated Whitehead's letter. 

In response to these allegations, the Taunton School District released a press statement on Tuesday claiming that Jalen was not suspended, that the current drawing being circulated in the media is not the original drawing and that communication between Jalen's parents and the district are “positive and cooperative.”

“He wasn't technically suspended, but he was removed from school,” Whitehead told CNA on Thursday, “which means, he was in effect, suspended.” Whitehead explained to CNA that Jalen was told to leave on Wednesday Dec. 2 and could not return to class until the following Monday.

As evidenced by the numerous interviews they have recently given, “the parents are not cordial,” said Whitehead in response to the Taunton School District's Dec. 15  statement that Jalen's family and the school have  been “working together in a cooperative and positive manner.”

The school district claimed on Dec. 15 that “the drawing published in various media outlets is not the same drawing that was discovered by the teacher.” Two different drawings have been recently circulated in the media, both identical images of the crucifixion, with the exception of Jalen's name being written above the cross on a placard on one of the images. Some have speculated that Jalen's name was removed by the family before it was released into the media in order to protect the boy's identity.  

The Rutherford Institute could not confirm this to CNA, but has posted an image without Jalen's name on its website.

“If they (the school district) have another drawing, they have yet to produce it,” Whitehead told CNA on Thursday.

According to Whitehead, Jalen has informed his parents that he no longer trusts his teachers nor wants to continue attending Lowell M. Maxham School.  Jalen's parents are currently requesting that the school arrange for Jalen to be transferred to an out of district school and to compensate them for transportation costs.

Whitehead noted what he believes to be the severity of the situation in his letter to the Taunton School District, stating “the effective suspension of Jalen from school deprived him and his parents if their constitutional rights to due process and punished Jalen for engaging in protected speech.”

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Society's future depends on youth devoted to intellectual charity, Pope tells students

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2009 (CNA) - Thursday evening Pope Benedict XVI opened the doors of St. Peter's to the university students of Rome for solemn vespers. Between songs from the all-university choir and prayers to usher in the birth of Christ, the Holy Father delivered a message grounded in Wisdom for a future generation of workers trained in "intellectual charity."

Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem, "is the Wisdom of God," said Pope Benedict to the university students, professors, clergy and other lay faithful gathered together in the Vatican basilica on Thursday evening.

The Holy Father taught that the mystery of the presence of God on earth through the Nativity was an act of divine Wisdom, ultimately an act of Love, which opened the doors to our salvation. "Dear friends," he exclaimed, "a Christian professor or young Christian student carries within his or herself the passionate love for this Wisdom!"

"Everything that is acknowledged by human intelligence can be understood because, in some way or measure, it participates in the Wisdom of the Creator."

So, in his wisdom, God chose to reveal himself "not to doctors of the law, scribes or sages" but to "simple people," Joseph, Mary and the shepherds. "What does this mean?" asked the Pope, posing the question "... is studying worthless then?"

No, he responded, it's about "deepening our knowledge while maintaining a spirit of the 'little ones,' a humble and simple spirit... ."

Pope Benedict then invited the students to look to the Nativity to discover the real face of God, "the God that was not embarrassed to assume the human condition."

"Helping others to discover the true face of God," he continued, "is the first form of charity, which for you assumes the qualification of intellectual charity. ... I can't help but invite all universities to be places of formation for authentic workers in intellectual charity. On this largely depends the future of society, most of all in the elaboration of a new humanistic synthesis".

He concluded by encouraging "all off those in charge of academic institutions to proceed together, collaborating in the construction of communities in which all young people can form themselves to be mature people responsible for bringing about the 'civilization of love.'"

At the conclusion of the vespers prayers, a contingent of students from Australian universities gave an icon of Mary Seat of Wisdom to a group of African university students in a symbolic act of entrusting African university students to the Virgin Mary. The students of Rome have also made a special effort to developing a cooperative relationship African universities since the African Synod this past October.

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