Alexandria, Va., Jan 5, 2010 (CNA) -
In a case showing some ramifications of the legal recognition of same-sex unions, a Virginia woman has disobeyed a Vermont court order to turn over sole custody of her biological daughter to her former lesbian partner.
Lisa Miller conceived and gave birth to her daughter Isabella through artificial insemination in 2002 while living in a same-sex civil union with Janet Jenkins in Vermont. Miller left Jenkins and homosexual practice a year later and converted to an evangelical form of Christianity, the New York Times reports.
Jenkins brought a legal action seeking custody of Isabella in a Vermont court, claiming that the Vermont homosexual civil union law guarantees her parental rights.
Judge William D. Cohen of the Vermont Family Court granted significant visitation rights to Jenkins when he dissolved their union. He awarded custody to Jenkins on Nov. 20, 2009 after finding Miller in contempt of court for denying access to Isabella.
Miller has claimed that Isabella has shown signs of “violent reactions” to previous court-ordered visitations with Jenkins. She alleges that Isabella has complained that Jenkins forced her to bathe naked together.
"I do not feel safe leaving my daughter with her, and I believe I have a God-given and constitutional right to raise my child as I see fit," Miller has told Newsweek. "There is a homosexual agenda at work here, and Isabella is a pawn in their game.”
Supporters of Jenkins include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the homosexual activist group Lambda Legal Defense Fund.
The legal advocacy group Liberty Council, which represents Miller, claims that for the last five years, Jenkins “has neither attempted to phone nor write Isabella. She has never sent Isabella a card of any kind for any occasion.”
Moreover, the Liberty Council said in a December 2009 statement, Jenkins “has refused to attend Isabella’s Christmas plays, because she does not want to be around a Christian environment. She has also said that it is not in Isabella’s best interest to be raised in a Christian home.”
Miller’s attorney, Liberty Council founder Mathew Staver, has argued that Virginia law holds same-sex unions and any right created by such unions are void and unenforceable in the state.
“The legislature and the people have spoken clearly and with one voice on this issue. The future of Isabella is literally being weighed in a balance between two states,” he said, according to the Christian Post.
Other commentators were critical of Judge Cohen.
Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, said he showed “little understanding of the case or sensitivity to children.”
“He claimed the change in parental custody, which includes moving to a new home, school, and state to live with a virtual stranger, would cause some disruption for Isabella but would not be out of the norm for a child,” she commented.
In a Monday e-mail to CNA, Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, made general comments about the case.
"I have sympathy for the pre-eminent claims of natural parents versus legal parents, when the natural mother is a fit parent (which nobody has denied in this case). But we have to be a nation ruled by laws, even when those laws may be unjust.
“Let this act as a warning call: Don't enter civil unions with people if you do not want to give them legal rights over your children. And do not give much faith in the ‘best interest of the child’ standard to protect your child. If the best interest of the child conflicts with fashionable legal norms, courts will not care what is in your child's best interest.
“It cannot be in Lisa's daughter's interest to be forcibly moved to Vermont away from the only mother she has ever known. This case is a tragedy all around. I cannot endorse what Lisa Miller has done, but I understand it, and pity both women and most of all this child. I wish Lisa's partner had the wisdom of Solomon, but I cannot blame her either," Gallagher told CNA.
CNA STAFF, Jan 5, 2010 (CNA) - A new Catholic social networking website named Zoogle is claiming that a “new era” in mass communications gives the Church an opportunity to bypass a “media blackout” as older media outlets and first generation websites lose influence to social networks like MySpace and Facebook.
“The newspaper giants of yesteryear who shaped public opinion in every area of life are now dinosaurs in demise,” Zoogle said in a press release. “It is precisely in this flux of disruptive technologies and dynastic destruction that we locate the Church's greatest opportunity in post-modern times.”
Zoogle.com says it aims to help Catholics socialize and evangelize, giving the Church a platform in the easily accessible medium of the internet. The website aims to link the “global physical network of the Church” with a virtual social network monitored by cardinals and bishops.
“Zoogle offers the Church the opportunity to be at the forefront of the next generation of mass communications media while sharing her message of salvation and the means of sanctification with hundreds of millions of people on a 24/7 basis,” the press release says.
The website also explains that it will help parishes, Catholic organizations and charities gain exposure and earn more revenue.
Zoogle reports that it has the support of Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez and other Catholic bishops.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Jan 5, 2010 (CNA) - Following the Malaysian High Court’s approval of a Catholic newspaper’s use of the word “Allah” for God, hundreds of Muslim youth have protested and the newspaper’s website has been hacked several times.
The Herald, the country’s only Catholic publication, has been threatened with the loss of its printing license for using “Allah” to name the Christian God in its Malay-language section.
The newspaper argued that its usage follows centuries of tradition, while the Malaysian government argued the usage by Christians would confuse Muslims.
On Dec. 31 Judge Lau Bee Lan ruled in the Herald’s favor.
On Jan. 2 the Herald’s website was hacked twice and was found to be hacked once again by CNA staff on the morning of Jan. 4.
Fr. Lawrence Andrew, the editor of the Herald, told the Malaysian Insider that technicians have confirmed the cyber attacks took place and the website was operating normally.
He declined to comment in detail, saying he did not want to add to the tension on a “very sensitive” issue.
In Penang, about 250 members of the group Umno Youth conducted street protests in front of the High Court building to protest the decision.
The Malaysian Insider says that protesters shouted “seditious” obscenities in their protests.
Opponents of the ruling are also using social networking sites like Facebook to rally support and to call for the ruling’s reversal.
Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has said the Home Ministry will appeal the ruling.
Sydney, Australia, Jan 5, 2010 (CNA) - Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell has blessed a “SuperCat” harbor ferry named for Blessed Mary MacKillop in one of the first events to celebrate her impending canonization.
At the late December ceremony at Circular Quay were the Premier of New South Wales Kristina Keneally and members of the Sisters of St. Joseph, including Congregational Leader Sr. Anne Derwin, the Archdiocese of Sydney reports.
Bl. Mary MacKillop founded the Sisters of St. Joseph and was dedicated to religious education in the Australian outback. After her canonization, which is believed to be likely in Fall 2010, she will be Australia’s first canonized saint.
At the ceremony, Cardinal Pell sprinkled the ferry with holy water.
"Bless this ferry named after Blessed Mary MacKillop, bless those who will use it for work and pleasure," the cardinal said. "The Lord calmed the seas of Galilee and brought his disciples to safety and we commend those who use this ferry to his care.”
The blessed ferry has been part of Sydney Ferries’ fleet since 2000. Keneally said a special ceremony to bless the vessel was a way to commemorate and celebrate Mary MacKillop’s life.
"Mary MacKillop was a pioneer of aged care as well as caring for single mothers and worked tirelessly to improve access to education for rural communities across the country,” she continued.
The premier added she was looking forward to returning to Circular Quay to rename the ferry the St. Mary MacKillop. She promised her government would work closely with the Church and the community on future celebrations of MacKillop’s canonization in Sydney and throughout New South Wales over the next 12 months.
Cucuta, Colombia, Jan 5, 2010 (CNA) - The Bishops’ Conference of Colombia has denounced the kidnapping and murder of the Governor of the State of Caqueta, Luis Francisco Cuellar. The governor was taken from his home on December 21 by members of the FARC rebel group and was found dead two days later.
In a statement released several days ago and signed by Bishop Jaime Prieto Amaya of Cucuta, the bishops condemned “this act of violence which, because of its transcendence and its implications for families, communities and society, has become a crime against humanity.”
After expressing their condolences to the governor’s family and friends, the bishops reiterated that “everything against life, from kidnapping to murder, everything that violates the integrity of the human person, every act of violence no matter where it originates, deserves our strongest rejection.”
“As representatives of the Catholic Church, we always act with autonomy and the logic of the Gospel,” the bishops continued. “We are neither delegates nor representatives of the government or of illegally armed groups.”
The bishops also expressed their commitment to working with the commission given the task of securing the release of all hostages being held by FARC.
Vatican City, Jan 5, 2010 (CNA) - Changes have been made at St. Peter's Basilica after a security breach on Christmas Eve that left the Pope on the floor and a cardinal hospitalized. A meeting was held between heads of security and the Vatican Secretary of State in the days following the incident and at least one visible measure has been taken to prevent similar disturbances in the future.
According to Andrea Tornielli of Il Giornale, the obvious modification is a widening of the aisle in which the Pontiff, concelebrants and accompanying servers process to the altar. Barriers that before separated Pope Benedict from attendees by a couple of steps have been moved farther outwards to expand the procession space.
While the number of guards will remain the same, reported Tornielli, the extra yard or so on each side will create more space for them to maneuver, thus reducing the risk of an event similar to that of Midnight Mass on Dec. 24 in which a mentally unstable woman was able to reach the Pope as she was being blocked by Vatican security chief Domenico Giani.
In the rush to protect the Pope, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray was bumped to the ground by security staff at which time he suffered a broken femur.
With the new layout, such outcomes will be less likely.
The Pope will still be free to approach those present at basilica celebrations for blessings and greetings, but now he will cover a little extra distance in the name of safety.
Thus far, no official description has been made by the Vatican of any other changes to security procedures within the Vatican and there is no word of how many fewer seats will be available for liturgical celebrations due to the expansion of the central aisle.
Vatican City, Jan 5, 2010 (CNA) - The Prefecture of the Pontifical House released statistics today detailing the estimated numbers of faithful able to attend public events with the Pope in 2009. Estimates reach well over two million people just at the Papal residences.
Between events at the sites of Pope Benedict XVI's living quarters at the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo, he was seen by nearly 2,250,000 million people in the year 2009, the Holy See's Prefecture of the Pontifical House reported on Tuesday.
The final numbers were reached by combining the monthly attendance estimates for general and special audiences with the Pontiff, liturgical celebrations and the Sunday Angelus.
Benedict XVI was seen by almost exactly half of the total at the Sunday Angelus. The weekly event involves the Holy Father appearing in the window of the Vatican Palace to recite the Angelus prayer to Mary and greet the crowds that gather in St. Peter's Square.
The busiest months for the Pope were January and December, when he was visited by 180,000 people, while the "slowest" months were April and September, when there were "only" 8,000 privileged to be in his company.
The statistics did not take into acount the Holy Father's five pastoral visits within Italy, his stops at local Roman parishes or the three trips he made abroad. On March 24 alone, it was estimated that there were one million people in attendance for Pope Benedict's celebration of a Mass in Angola, Africa.
Rome, Italy, Jan 5, 2010 (CNA) - The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, renewed his call for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians during the Mass for the World Day of Peace on January 1.
According to the SIR news agency, Archbishop Twal said peace between the peoples of the Holy Land should be promoted as “a new way of living together as brothers and sisters, in trust rather than in fear, in kindness rather than in criticism, in love rather than in hatred - as peace begins inside each one of us.”
Referring later to the present-day situation in the Holy Land and to the synod for the Middle East to be held in October of this year, the archbishop said, “The Church in Jerusalem will have a predominant role. Jerusalem is the key to the Middle East and war or peace depends on it.”
Asunción, Paraguay, Jan 5, 2010 (CNA) - Archbishop Pastor Cuquejo of Asuncion in Paraguay called on the faithful to build peace by protecting creation and understanding nature as a “gift” which makes the “survival of man” possible.
In his message for the new year, Archbishop Cuquejo warned that allowing the devastation and abuse of the environment to continue will lead to dire consequences for humanity, such as “the loss of peace.”
The archbishop explained that protecting the environment enables man to enjoy “the appropriate, if not optimum, conditions for developing his existence in this world.”
“The struggle against the pollution of water and air, and against the rampant deforestation of our country, should be an on-going commitment of all citizens,” he said.
The archbishop added that there must be no compromise with those who are “destroying creation and thus the dignity of each person.” The protection of the environment, he continued, “has to do with love of neighbor and the promotion of peace; it has to do with the love of God,” who is the Creator.
Archbishop Cuquejo also urged that young people be taught to understand that “they are now the builders of the future for all who will live here.”
“The good which they desire today must guide them in their preparations for those who will come after,” he added. “Education about the religious meaning of life and about natural resources is part of the comprehensive education we should all enjoy and support,” the archbishop concluded.
Seville, Spain, Jan 5, 2010 (CNA) - In his first pastoral letter during the Holy Year of St. James, Archbishop Juan Jose Asenjo of Seville, Spain urged priests to be examples of holiness and closeness to the Lord, as well as to overcome mediocrity and to teach authentic Catholic doctrine in communion with the Church.
In his extensive letter, the archbishop noted that while the materialism and utilitarianism of today’s world has made it difficult to live the Gospel, the main issue the Church must face is internal.
“Many of the problems we complain about so often are present in us priests,” he said. “If we were holier, more zealous, better examples, more apostolic, mystical and better witnesses, with a strong experience of God, the Christian life would flourish more in our people, who need the close companionship of holy priests,” the archbishop added.
He went on to warn that becoming lukewarm is the “most dangerous situation a Christian can fall into. It is worse for priests because the lukewarm person is unaware of his situation or of the dangers that threaten him. Consequently, he does not feel the need to be converted.” The archbishop then urged priests to rid themselves of any lukewarmness “which renders our ministry fruitless.”
In order to do so, he said, priests should make use of frequent confession, the Eucharist and the Rosary.
Referring to orthodox teachings, the prelate remarked that “We cannot forget about communion with the Church. The Word of God is not ours, just as our doctrine is not ours - they belong to the Church.”
“The People of God have the right to hear the complete Word from the lips of their priests...They also have the right to receive genuine doctrine from us, without reducing it, in close communion with the Magisterium of the Pope and the bishops.”
“It is not right to pick and choose” according to the fads of the day, he continued, nor is it right to twist the teachings of Vatican II to our own liking or to conform to ideologies that are outside the living tradition of the Church. “We do not preach ourselves, but rather the sacrosanct ever-enduring Word of Jesus Christ, of which the Church is depository and interpreter.”
Vatican City, Jan 5, 2010 (CNA) - Despite the negative reactions from some members of the Jewish community following his recent declaration of Pope Pius XII as Venerable, Pope Benedict XVI will pay a visit to the synagogue of Rome. The visit has been confirmed by the Jewish community of Rome for January 17.
The visit will take place at the Tempio Maggiore synagogue in Rome as part of a series of encounters between Jews and Catholics aimed at developing and reinforcing the relationship between members of the two faiths.
Riccardo Di Segni, Cheif Rabbi of Rome, said it will be an "event fundamental for dialogue."
President of all Italian Jewish communities, Renzo Gattegna, called it a "welcome and significant visit" and expressed his "wish and hope that the future holds always greater comprehension, friendship and fraternity for our communities."
Questions about the visit taking place surfaced when members of the Jewish community protested Pope Benedict's Dec. 19 declaration recognizing the "heroic virtue" of Pope Pius XII, a move that advances his process of beatification.
The issue has not lost momentum among Jews in the Italian capital, but it appears that it will not be an obstacle to the papal visit this month.
The date of the encounter is particularly significant to Roman Jews as it coincides with the commemoration of Mo'ed di Piombo (Leaden Mo'ed), the day in 1793 that a fortuitous storm put out fires started by anti-Semites in the Jewish ghetto of Rome. Celebrations continue to have great meaning for the community as a remembrance of their will to survive persecution and anti-Semitism.
Stamford, Conn., Jan 5, 2010 (CNA) - Underground Catholic Bishop Leon Yao Liang died on Dec. 30, 2009 at the age of 87. An advocacy group for Chinese Catholics says authorities have tightly controlled news of his death and also reports that three underground priests have gone missing.
Bishop Yao, the auxiliary bishop of Xiwanzi in Hebei Province, was born in 1923 and ordained a priest in 1946, the Cardinal Kung Foundation reports. He served as an assistant pastor at various churches but was restricted to the region of Xiwanzi by the Communist regime in the early 1950s.
At the time he earned his livelihood from vegetable farming and from selling firewood.
He was forced to enter a labor camp in 1956 and in 1958 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for being in communion with the Pope and the universal Catholic Church.
He was released in 1984 after 28 years in labor camps and prison.
Bishop Yao was ordained to the episcopacy on Feb. 19, 2002 under a mandate from the Vatican.
The Cardinal Kung Foundation says it has not learned of the bishops’ funeral arrangements because news of his death “appears to have been tightly controlled by the Chinese authority.”
The Foundation also reports that three underground Catholic priests from Xuanhua in Hebei Province disappeared in June 2009. Fathers Zhang Cunhui, 46, Zhang Zhanglin, 46, and Liu, 32, are believed by local Catholics to have been kidnapped by government agents and detained at an unknown location.
The underground bishop of Xuanhua, Bishop Zhao Kexun, is under a government arrest warrant and is in hiding.
Other priests in China are under intense pressure to join the country’s Catholic Patriotic Association, a government-sponsored religious organization independent from the Vatican.
Pope Benedict XVI has made unity within the Catholic Church in China a key priority of his papacy.
Washington D.C., Jan 5, 2010 (CNA) - A new national telephone survey reports that a majority of American voters favor a ban on abortion coverage in federally subsidized health insurance plans, with 39 percent saying they strongly favor it.
About 53 percent of American voters surveyed by Rasmussen Reports said that they support the ban. Another 40 percent said they were opposed, with 26 percent saying they were strongly opposed.
A slight majority of those who strongly support the proposed health care plan were opposed to the provision on abortion funding, while 65 percent of those who strongly oppose the overall plan favor the provision.
Thirteen percent of respondents said they wanted mandatory coverage of abortion.
Overall, about 39 percent of Americans surveyed by Rasmussen support the health care legislation.
The Rasmussen Reports survey, whose results were released on Jan. 3, focused on abortion in federally subsidized insurance plans.
Opposition to direct government funding of abortion is reportedly stronger. A Dec. 22 Quinnipiac University survey said that 72 percent of Americans oppose public funding of abortion in health care legislation.
Washington D.C., Jan 5, 2010 (CNA) - President Obama recently appointed a “transgendered” man as a Senior Technical Adviser to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Amanda Simpson, a former test pilot for Raytheon who now identifies himself as female, will serve in the Bureau of Industry and Security. Critics of the appointment argue that it is "political correctness run amok."
Simpson, a board member of Out & Equal and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), said on Dec. 31 that he is “truly honored to have received this appointment” and expressed a desire “that this appointment opens future opportunities for many others.”
“What's unfortunate,” said Matt Barber, Director of Cultural Affairs for the Liberty Counsel, is that Simpson “has a history of radical transgender activism.” Barber explained to CNA that the issue is not simply having a transgendered person in a prestigious position of authority in the government, but the apparent agenda that this individual has.
“He may very well be qualified for this position but it appears that he was not picked (merely) for his qualifications, he was picked because of his wardrobe,” Barber commented to CNA. “That is not diversity or tolerance. It's political correctness run amok.”
Speaking to ABC News, Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, countered, "This is a real serious technical policy position and the job matches her resume. Her being transgender had nothing to do with getting that job."
However, Barber continued to express his concern regarding the future ramifications of Simpson's appointment, arguing that it is part of a larger movement within the current administration.“With hate crimes legislation and ENDA (Employment Non Discrimination Act) and other radical GLBT pieces of legislation that are being pushed by the Obama Administration,” Barber told CNA, those who disagree with the GLBT perspective “literally can and will face criminal or civil penalty.”
Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth voiced similar concern on the Focus on the Family Action website on Jan. 4. “Is there going to be a transgender quota now in the Obama Administration? How far does this politics of gay and transgender activism go? Clearly this is an administration that is pandering to the gay lobby,” he said.
Barber added that in his opinion “there is no doubt” that Simpson's appointment “is an effort to normalize” transgender issues and “desensitize” American society.
Lahore, Pakistan, Jan 5, 2010 (CNA) - Following a year in which Christians in Pakistan were attacked by extremist Muslims, the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, Archbishop Lawrence Suldana of Lahore praised the increased security provided by the police for Christians celebrating Christmas. Although attendance was down, those who made it to church were “strong in faith,” he said.
Archbishop Saldana said that many of Pakistan’s three million Christians were frightened of attacks by suicide bombers. Much of this fear was propagated by unsubstantiated rumors that were disseminated via text message. “We told people to stop texting messages of this kind. It was obvious that this was spreading a sense of panic,” he told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Suldana also said that attendance at Mass was down by as much as 40 percent in certain areas.
This year's Christmas season saw Pakistan on “red alert” because the Shiite Islamic holy day of Ashura fell close to Christmas.
However, the archbishop praised the nation’s security forces for their response to the threats. Police used metal detectors and other security devices to screen the faithful before they entered the church. “A sophisticated security apparatus” was utilized in various churches in Rawalpindi, which is near the country’s capital of Islambad, said Archbishop Saldana. Across the country, churchgoers were also protected by both uniformed and plain-clothed police.
The police also advised that many after-Mass activities such as fairs and get-togethers be scaled back or canceled. To this end, many Christmas celebrations in hotels and schools were affected.
“The police protection was really very good. It wasn’t just the size of the security presence; it was the fact that there were a higher number of police commanders than usual. The whole operation was well resourced,” Archbishop Suldana told ACN.
“Morale here has been very low,” he added. “For many people, the security apparatus meant that going to Mass was very cumbersome. “There were big queues of people getting into church, all standing in single-file. Many people were very worried for their safety.”
Nevertheless, the faithful who made it to Mass were determined to celebrate the feast of the Lord’s birth. “There was a wonderful atmosphere in the churches. People were determined to celebrate and they participated with great enthusiasm,” the archbishop said.