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Archive of March 11, 2010

Anti-Catholic tract distribution was 'reprehensible,' Tenn. bishop says

Knoxville, Tenn., Mar 11, 2010 (CNA) - The recent distribution of Anti-Catholic tracts in a Tennessee town constituted “reprehensible acts of prejudice and hatred” by people who were ignorant of true Catholic teaching, the Bishop of Knoxville has said.

Copies of a Chick Publications tract titled “The Death Cookie” were being distributed in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. by members of Conner Heights Baptist Church. The 1988 cartoon tract claims that the Church was founded by the Devil and that Catholics worship a “wafer god.”

A student upset about the tract discussed it with Fr. Jay Flaherty on March 3, the Diocese of Knoxville said. The priest then contacted the diocesan chancellor, who in turn informed Bishop Richard F. Stika about the material.

After protests from the bishop and media coverage, the Baptist pastor Rev. Jonathan Hatcher ended the distribution. He had initially defended the action, but admitted to WBIR-TV that he is “obviously not schooled in the Catholic religion.” The pastor also reported that he teaches and preaches from the King James Version of the Bible.

Bishop Stika issued a March 5 statement about the tracts, saying he was “greatly saddened by the reprehensible acts of prejudice and hatred of a few souls who, out of ignorance of Catholic teachings, have promoted the distribution of anti-Catholic tracts.”

He said the materials contained “outright lies and blatant exaggerations.”

He reported that a Baptist pastor rationalized the distribution by saying he was trying to point out the primary difference his church has with Catholics: the belief that a person does not and cannot work his or her way to salvation.

Bishop Stika pointed out that this is a misunderstanding of Catholic teaching on justification, which he defined as the cleansing of a person’s sin and the communication by grace of the “righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” (Romans 3:22)

Quoting the King James Bible, Bishop Stika said Catholics take “very seriously” James 2:24, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”

“Perhaps some Christians misinterpret both Paul and James, thus concluding that their statements about faith and works contradict each other. This is simply not true,” the bishop explained. He said there are differences in emphasis but both apostles agree that faith and works are “essential to Christian life.”

The bishop cited Jesus’ description of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25, in which Jesus welcomes those who respond to the hungry, the lonely, and the sick through works of love. However, he also condemns to “eternal punishments” those who neglect such deeds.

Turning to the “reprehensible” Chick leaflet, the Knoxville bishop explained Catholic doctrine about the Holy Eucharist and Jesus’ literal presence, “body and blood, soul and divinity,” under “the appearances of bread and wine.” Addressing Christians who believe this is “unbiblical,” Bishop Stika referred them to the verses 1 Corinthians 10:16–17 and 11:23–29 and John 6:32–71.

Acknowledging that many Christian denominations do not share Catholic beliefs, he expressed gratitude that they “deeply respect” the Lord’s Supper and what it represents.

The bishop had opened his statement by expressing “deep respect and love” for Protestants and all other faiths. He closed his statement by praying that Christian pastors develop a “spirituality of ecumenism.”

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Shooter of pro-life activist does not feel bad about murders

Corunna, Mich., Mar 11, 2010 (CNA) - The man accused of shooting and killing a pro-life advocate and a local business man in Michigan took the stand in his trial on Tuesday, saying he does not feel bad about the murders but believes he deserves punishment. The pro-life activist’s sign upset his mother and nieces and should not have been shown to children, he said.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2009, 33-year-old Harlan Drake shot and killed James Pouillon, who was holding a sign protesting abortion outside Owosso High School. Later that day he killed businessman Mike Fuoss, who he claims was unkind to his mother.

The day before the shootings, Drake had had lunch with his mother who was upset by the graphic signs. She told him that Pouillon was protesting at the high school.

“Kind of under my breath, I said, 'I'll take care of that tomorrow,'” Drake said in court on Tuesday, NBC 24 reports.

"I did not believe that he should be showing the sign to children, especially at a high school where young girls of impressionable age would see that and either be disgusted or scared," he continued, saying that his nieces saw the signs and had nightmares.

Driving to the high school on the day of the shootings, Drake claimed his only thought was that they “didn’t have to see that sign again.”

Asked by his attorney why he hoped Pouillon would not be there, Drake said “so that I wouldn’t have to shoot him.”

Drake’s defense has argued that he is battling mental illnesses and was insane at the time of the shootings. The prosecution has argued that his thought processes show premeditation.

The accused shooter said he deserved to die for murdering two people, but that he does not feel bad about doing it, NBC 24 reports.

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Celebrities should not undermine morals by endorsing condoms, Philippines bishops say

Manila, Philippines, Mar 11, 2010 (CNA) - The Catholic bishops of the Philippines urged movie stars and artists not to endorse condoms, asking that they remain good examples who safeguard “the morality of the people.”

Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Iloilo, who is the former President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), told Radio Veritas that the Church disagrees with the use of artists to promote condoms.

“That is why we are appealing to them not to allow themselves to be used by the Department of Health because as artists, they have a public image that is emulated by people,” he said, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

“As public figures, they have an obligation to society to safeguard morality, especially that of the youth who admire them.”

The country’s Department of Health was reportedly planning to use celebrities to promote the use of condoms in an effort to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral recently reacted to the bishops’ criticism of her department’s free condom distribution campaign by blaming the Church for hindering the effort.

Philippines Health Department records say there are 629 confirmed cases of HIV/AIDS in the country, out of a population of about 93 million. Experts say many cases go unreported.

Echoing Archbishop Lagdameo, Bishop of Sorsogon Arturo Bates on Radio Veritas implored celebrities to use their conscience and not be convinced by the Department of Health to support condom use.

In strong language, he described Cabral as a “stubborn woman… leading the innocents to hell.”

The Catholic Church recognizes both extra-marital sexual relations and condom use within marriage as sinful.

While many groups promote condom use to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, some researchers say that reducing the number of sexual partners and encouraging fidelity within marriage are more effective means of HIV prevention. Condom promotion may even be counter-productive insofar as it encourages more sexual activity.

The CBCP has argued that condom ads should be banned on the grounds that they desensitize the consciences of youths and “weaken their moral fiber as future parents.”

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Study claiming Catholic co-eds likelier to ‘hook up’ draws criticism

Washington D.C., Mar 11, 2010 (CNA) - A study which claimed that Catholic college women are likelier to “hook up” than women with no religious affiliation has been criticized by researchers. Parts of the survey report were based on a sample size of only 39 Catholic college women, while the report wrongly saw a college's religious affiliation as more influential than parents.

The Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate’s (CARA) research blog Nineteen Sixty-four relayed the researchers’ criticisms in an article titled “Replicate Before You Speculate Too Much …”

CARA discussed the peer-reviewed Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion article “‘Hooking Up’ at College: Does Religion Make a Difference?”

The study reported that Catholic women at non-Catholic and Catholic colleges display about a 72 percent increase in the odds of “hooking up” compared to women with no religious affiliation. Its results found that women at Catholic colleges and universities are almost four times as likely to have participated in “hooking up” compared to counterparts at secular schools.

CARA noted that “important methodological issues” about the survey should be considered.

First, it is difficult to know what participants in the survey meant when they said they had a “hook up.”

The concept is “very widely defined” as an incident in which “girl and a guy get together for a physical encounter and don’t necessarily expect anything further.” The article’s authors themselves cautioned that the term may refer to a broad range of acts from kissing to sexual relations.

The survey itself was based on a national telephone survey conducted in 2001, though the article was published in 2009.

Only six percent of the 1,000 respondents attended a Catholic college or university. Only 39 Catholic women attending Catholic colleges were interviewed for the study, out of a population conservatively estimated at 85,000.

“The margin of sampling error for 39 interviews generalizing to a population of 85,000 is +/- 15.7 percentage points,” CARA reported. These respondents attended only 16 of the 240 existing Catholic colleges and universities, an institutional sampling error of plus or minus 23.7 percentage points.

“There are simply not enough interviews with women” to generalize, CARA said, cautioning about results based on small sample sizes or subgroups.

The study itself is “rather standard practice,” CARA added, saying replication with a larger sample size would advance understanding.

Turning to the study’s analysis of potential institutional causes, CARA said the regulation of alcohol was the only potentially related cause of concern.

“From these data it is apparent that broad cultural changes are occurring within the Catholic population regarding this issue and these are unlikely to have little to do with the influence of Catholic colleges,” CARA wrote. “More so, the changes are so significant, that Catholic colleges may be greatly challenged in attempting to address it.”

A 2006 CARA Catholic poll found that only 19 percent of adult Catholics disagreed “somewhat” or “strongly” with the statement that premarital sex between persons who are “committed to each other” can be morally acceptable. Another 26 percent “strongly” agreed with the statement, while another 26 percent “somewhat” agreed, totaling 52 percent of Catholic adults who rejected Catholic teaching against pre-marital sex.

Among those who attend Mass once a week or more, 19 percent agreed with the statement approving premarital sex.

CARA’s analysis found no negative or positive effect in responses connected with respondents’ enrollment in Catholic colleges. Changes among the Catholic population appear to be “much larger” than anything a Catholic college does or does not do.

“Young Catholics are often sent off to college from homes where the parents do not have attitudes regarding this issue that are consistent with Church teachings,” CARA noted.

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Michigan diocese investigates miracle attributed to former bishop

Marquette, Mich., Mar 11, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Diocese of Marquette is investigating an possible miracle attributed to Servant of God, Bishop Frederic Baraga. The official inquiry will move the cause for Bishop Baraga's canonization forward, which was opened for the prelate in 1952.

In press conference on Wednesday, the current Bishop of Marquette, Alexander K. Sample, announced the recent development, saying, “Since my first days as a seminarian studying for the priesthood, I have had great devotion to Bishop Baraga.”

“As his eleventh successor, I am thrilled at the prospect of a miracle that will advance his cause. With all the priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful of the diocese, I give thanks to God for his, holy, priestly, example,” he added.  

Father Ronald Browne, who has been appointed to lead the work of the canonical tribunal, explained the story behind the alleged miracle. “We have a case involving what was thought to be a tumor on a patient's liver that showed up on various tests, including a CT scan and an ultrasound. However, when exploratory surgery was done, there was no tumor to be found,” Fr. Browne said.

The Diocese of Marquette reported that while in the Upper Peninsula, the patient and the patient's family invoked the intercession of Bishop Baraga and placed his stole on the sick person's abdomen. Following the prayers, the patient said that the pain in the abdominal area went away.

The diocese explained that in order for the event to be considered as a miracle, it needs to be affirmed as something that science cannot explain and be attributable to the intercession of the candidate for sainthood.

Once the tribunal has investigated the event – the process is scheduled to begin on March 12 – two physicians must testify regarding the physical condition of the patient before and after the event. After the alleged miracle has been verified, documentation will be sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Vatican, who will then submit the cause to Pope Benedict XVI. The Holy Father will then determine whether or not Bishop Baraga will be beatified.

If the miracle is recognized as authentic, the diocese will need to verify one more miracle in order for the Michigan bishop to be declared a saint. 

Bishop Baraga was born in 1797 in Slovenia, and come to the United States as a missionary to the upper Great Lakes region in 1830. Ministering to the Odawa and Ojibwa Native American tribes, the bishop is said to have traveled throughout the 80,000 square mile territory by means of boat, canoe, horse, dog sled and even snowshoe. Often called the “Snowshoe Priest,” he was consecrated a bishop in 1853 and served until his death in 1868. Bishop Baraga is credited with writing a Ojibwa/English dictionary which is still in use today.

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Pope urges priests to offer Confession and educate faithful on sin

Vatican City, Mar 11, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Participants in this week’s course on the hearing Confessions met with the Holy Father in audience on Thursday morning. To the group of priests, Pope Benedict XVI underlined the importance of guiding their flocks "not to conform itself to this world" and the necessity of opening a “dialogue of salvation” with those who seek forgiveness.

Remembering the Cure of Ars, St. Jean Vianney, as having “exercised heroically and fertilely the ministry of reconciliation,” the Holy Father said that priests can learn “not only an inexhaustible trust in the Sacrament of Penance... but also the method of the ‘dialogue of salvation’ that must be carried out in it.”

The roots of this “heroicism and fecundity,” explained the Holy Father, are found “above all, in an intense personal penitential dimension.”

"Awareness of one's own limits and the need to turn to Divine Mercy in order to ask forgiveness, to convert the heart and to find support on the path of saintliness, are fundamentals in the life of priests. Only someone who has himself experienced greatness can convincingly announce and administer the Mercy of God," the Holy Father explained.

Living in a society "marked by the hedonistic and relativistic mentality, that tends to erase God from the horizon of life," does not lend to the development of "a clear framework of reference values does not help to discern good from evil and mature a just sense of sin," the Pope observed.

This, Benedict XVI noted, is not very different from the period in which St. Jean Vianney lived, marked as it was by "a mentality hostile to the faith, as expressed by certain forces that even sought to prevent the exercise of the priestly ministry."

"In these circumstances, the saintly 'Cure of Ars' made 'the church his home' in order to lead men and women to God," the Pope added, "and he appeared to his contemporaries to be an evident sign of God that he encouraged many penitents to come to his confessional".

Thus, the Holy Father urged, "it is necessary for priests to live their own response to vocation 'exaltedly,' because only someone who daily becomes a living and clear presence of the Lord can arouse a sense of sin in the faithful, give them courage and stimulate their desire for forgiveness from God."

There is a necessity for priests to return to the confessional, Benedict XVI emphasized, to ensure that the people "find mercy, counsel and comfort, feel loved and understood by God and experience the presence of the Divine Mercy, alongside the real Presence in the Eucharist."

The Holy Father also touched on the "crisis" of participation in the Sacrament of Penance. He said that this lack of repentance is "an appeal addressed first and foremost to priests and to their great responsibility to educate the people of God in the radical demands of the Gospel. In particular, it calls on them generously to dedicate themselves to hearing sacramental confessions, and courageously to guide their flock not to conform itself to this world, but to make choices that go against the tide, avoiding deals and compromises."

This is the task of the priest, Pope Benedict concluded, to open a "dialogue of salvation" with their penitents, as suggested by the "Cure of Ars." A dialogue that, "arising from the certainty of being loved by God, helps man to recognise his own sin and progressively to introduce himself into a stable process of conversion of heart, which leads to the radical rejection of evil and to a life lived in accordance with God's wishes."

Young priests have been taking part in a conference on Confession promoted by the Apostolic Penitentiary this week in the Vatican. The course is focused on "moral and canonical themes that involve the penitential ministry" and has touched on specific and delicate circumstances such as confession for divorcees and pedophiles.

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Diocese of Dallas receives two of its own as bishops

Dallas, Texas, Mar 11, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican announced on Thursday that Pope Benedict XVI has appointed two priests in the Diocese of Dallas as auxiliary bishops for the same diocese. In Washington D.C. this morning, papal nuncio Archbishop Pietro Sambi announced Fr. J. Douglas Deshotal and Monsignor Mark J. Seitz as the two who will help shepherd the burgeoning diocese. 

“The appointments are very significant in that they show that the Holy Father is keenly aware of the tremendous growth of the Catholic Church in Texas,” said Bishop Kevin Farrell on Thursday. “I am very grateful to our Holy Father for acknowledging the growth of our Catholic population here in Dallas and for appointing Bishop-elect Deshotel and Bishop-elect Seitz to help me in our ministry to the 1.2 million Catholics in the Diocese of Dallas.”

Bishop-elect Deshotel was born in Basile, Louisiana in 1952 and currently serves as the Vicar General for the Diocese of Dallas. After obtaining his Masters in Divinity degree, he was ordained a priest in 1978.

“I am deeply humbled and also honored that Pope Benedict has appointed me, along with Bishop -elect Seitz as auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese of Dallas,” he said on Thursday. “It is also a great blessing that the Holy Father recognizes how important this area of the state of Texas is, given the large number of Catholics and the cultural diversity of the Diocese of Dallas.”

“When Bishop Farrell informed me that I was chosen to be an auxiliary bishop he prefaced it by saying that he was about to turn my life upside down. He certainly spoke the truth,” Bishop-elect Mark Seitz commented.

“But God is the Lord of my life,” Msgr. Seitz added. “I have learned through the years that following Christ is an adventure filled with totally unexpected dips and turns. When you give your life to His service you better learn to enjoy the ride.”

Bishop-elect Seitz was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1954. Having lived in Dallas since 1972, he was ordained a priest in 1980 and went on the receive a Master's Degree in Liturgical Studies in Minnesota. He was named a Prelate of Honor by Pope John Paul II in 2004.

Msgr. Seitz was also recently in the news for donating one of his kidneys to an ailing parishioner.

Both of the bishops-elect concluded their statements by urging the diocesan community and the Church at large to pray for them as they begin their service as bishops.

They will be ordained as bishops on Tuesday, April 27 at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Dallas.

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Benedict XVI sends condolences for death of Egyptian Sheikh

Vatican City, Mar 11, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Pope remembered the Grand Imam and Sheikh of al-Azhar University, Dr. Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, after his death on Wednesday. Sheikh Tantawi was instrumental maintaining relations between the Catholic Church and the Muslim world and was the head of the highest Islamic religious authority in Egypt, the al-Azhar.

The Grand Imam and Sheikh died of a heart attack in the airport of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He was in Riyadh for an awards ceremony this week, according to Arab News.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Touran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, described him on Wednesday to Vatican Radio as "a man of peace (and) dialogue," adding that he was "very impressed by his profound humanity."

Sheikh Tantawi was known for his positions against Islamic extremists and terrorism, for denouncing female circumcision and approving laws that opened the door to women in top government positions. For these and other reasons, he was acclaimed by moderate Muslims and decried by fundamentalists, the Associated Press says.

On the Pope's behalf, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone conveyed condolences to the president of the Permanent Committee of al-Azhar for Dialogue among the Monotheistic Religions as well as the family of Sheikh Tantawi.

Cardinal Bertone expressed the "heartfelt and prayerful condolences" of the Pope, who "recalls the distinguished figure of this religious leader, who for long years was a valued partner in the dialogue between Muslims and Catholics."

The Vatican secretary of state conveyed his own grief at the death of the sheikh and he is grateful for the "impulse" the man gave to meetings between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Permanent Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue.

The last meeting of the two entities, at which the Sheikh was present, took place at the end of February.

According to Arab News, the Sheikh has already been buried in Medina, the burial place of  Muhammed.

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'Union of Mothers' formed in Spain to protect women and motherhood

Madrid, Spain, Mar 11, 2010 (CNA) - Dozens of Spanish women protested at the country's Ministry of Health on Monday, the International Day for Women, and announced the formation of a Union of Mothers” to stand up for the rights of stay-at-home moms.

“The reason we are creating what we call a ‘Union of Mothers,’ is that our feminist struggle has little by little taken an insufficient direction. We do not want to be treated like men, but rather being fully feminine, we wish to be treated equally with the same opportunities,” they said in a statement.

“Mothers are not protected,” they continued, noting that “Sometimes this is because we ourselves, blinded by the same pursuit of career as men, think that being a mother hinders our growth.”

The women said they intend to work for changes in society and in business to ensure that motherhood is recognized as a social good, deserving of assistance from the state and society.  They also called for a reduction in the tax on diapers, an extension on maternity leave benefits, day-care services at the office, and more flexible working hours.

“Now is the time for us women, who alone are capable of giving life to another being, to unite, and like our ancestors in the feminist movement did … tell the state, businesses and society that we are proud to be women, to be mothers, and to contribute to a new generation in history,” they said.

“Welcome to true feminism.  To the feminism of those who demand respect - not masculinity - of women and mothers, of those who work and are pregnant, of the women who do not want to give up anything because they know they can achieve it all, of those who speak of femininity and not of rights.”

Welcome to the feminism of mothers who, like Tolstoy said, are the ones who have the salvation of the world in our hands, who have a will for life and for love to a heroic degree,” the statement concluded.

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Father Lombardi responds to Pontifical Academy for Life member, refutes claims

Vatican City, Mar 11, 2010 (CNA) - Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi responded to an open letter this week sent to him by Christine de Vollmer, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life. His response, in which he called one of de Vollmer's claims against him “deceptive” and “calumnious,” was discussed in a new column by Vatican analyst Sandro Magister.

In an open letter sent earlier this month, de Vollmer asked Fr. Lombardi to issue a formal clarification on his recent comments regarding a Feb. 19 statement written by a group of members from the Pontifical Academy of Life (PAV). In recent remarks to the press, Fr. Lombardi interpreted the group's statement as an official request for the resignation of the academy's president, Archbishop Rino Fisichella. However, de Vollmer claimed in her March 7 letter to Fr. Lombardi that this was neither her nor the other signatories intent in writing the Feb. 19 statement. Rather, she claimed that the group wrote the statement in order to deny claims by Archbishop Fisichella that the group was free of disagreement and disunity.

Archbishop Fisichella sparked controversy last March when he wrote an article for the Vatican paper L'Osservatore Romano, appearing to defend doctors who performed an abortion on a nine-year-old rape victim pregnant with twins in Recife, Brazil.

De Vollmer's open letter also made reference to words reportedly said by the Vatican spokesman in support of the Recife situation while in Luanda, Angola in March 2009. Following an address at the time by Pope Benedict XVII in which the Pontiff denounced the idea of abortion being considered maternal health care, Fr. Lombardi allegedly stated in a press conference that “The Pope absolutely was not talking about therapeutic abortion, and did not say that this must always be rejected.”

In his response to de Vollmer, Father Lombardi explained her letter “contains – among other things – a reference to a press conference in Luanda that I consider to be biased, deceptive, false and calumnious regarding my person, and that in fact was not published by Sandro Magister, who did on the other hand reproduce the other parts of the letter.” He added, “Magister has since been better informed regarding these facts.”

The spokesman went on to clarify, “As reporters who were present in Luanda and understood what I was taking about could easily confirm, my brief comments surrounding the meeting between reporters and the two African bishops was intended to explain the specific African context to which the Pope referred, that is, the Maputo Protocol, which is explicitly cited in the written text of the Pope’s speech in Luanda.”

The Maputo Protocol was adopted by several African states in 2003 to secure rights for women on the continent, including the right to an abortion.

“To those, then, who asked for further explanations from me, I referred them to the traditional teaching of the Church on abortion. It is incredible that one year later, they continue to quote and highlight statements that I never wrote (and I believe I never said), based on word-of-mouth reports from untrustworthy second and third-hand sources,” Fr. Lombardi said.

Magister points out in his column that “in the letter from Christine de Marcellus Vollmer there was a section that ‘Settimo cielo’ (her blog) did not reproduce. And it did not reproduce it because is based on an incorrect quote.”

Magister explains that “the words here attributed to Father Lombardi were extracted from the March 23, 2009 edition of Chiesa News which was devoted to the double abortion of the girl in Recife and to the controversy that surrounded Benedict XVI’s trip to Cameroon and Angola. Those words were reprinted by news agencies and papers during those days.”

However, Magister explains that “It must be noted that after the publication of that edition of Chiesa News, it was clear that Father Lombardi had not spoken in equivocal terms about the ‘traditional teaching’ of the Church on abortion, and neither had he made that statement that continues to disturb pro-lifers: ‘The Pope has never said that therapeutic abortion should always be rejected.'”

Magister continues to note that “at that time, Father Lombardi wanted above all to explain to reporters that the reference made earlier by the Pope to the Maputo Protocol and the promotion of abortion as a ‘cure for maternal health’ had nothing to do with the case of the Brazilian girl and with so-called ‘therapeutic’ abortion.”

“In order to avoid any misunderstanding, as of now that quote that was revealed to be inaccurate will no longer appear in the March 23, 2009 edition of Chiesa News,” Magister says, adding that “if there is reason and basis for a ‘Fisichella case’ to exist, based on words that were written and never retracted, it is not so with a ‘Lombardi case,’ which has no basis whatsoever.”

 

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Man’s happiness and fulfillment depend on religious freedom, asserts Vatican official

Vatican City, Mar 11, 2010 (CNA) - The secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Archbishop Mario Toso, remarked this week that, “man’s happiness and complete fulfillment depend on religious freedom,” adding that religion's “public value” must be recognized.

During a speech on religious freedom at the Pontifical Lateran University, the archbishop stated, “It can be said that religious freedom is in reality what Jean Hersch defined as 'Le droit d'être un homme' (the right to be a man).”

After explaining that it is necessary “to be firm in the condemnation of any form of manipulation and abuse of religion, which translates into the use and abuse of the human person,” Archbishop Toso added: “At the same time we need to promote and protect religious freedom wherever it is threatened or denied, where human being are discriminated, persecuted or deprived of their essential goods or of life itself because of their religious convictions.”

“The public value of religion needs to be recognized, that is, its role in purifying and strengthening the civil ethos,” he underscored.

Archbishop Toso said, “The anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights offers us a great opportunity: that of understanding that the great religions … can offer an important contribution to the affirmation of the international social order founded upon human dignity and upon the idea that our fundamental rights and freedoms can be fully recognized.

“Authentic social and international order cannot exist without the contribution of the wisdom and experience, the values and principles that the great religions possess,” the archbishop said.  “The declaration states thus.  It is a legitimate aspiration, then, and a right of man, which according to Thomas Aquinas, ‘is the most noble thing that exists in the universe’.”

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Dutch Catholic leaders call for external investigation of sex abuse cases

Amsterdam, Netherlands, Mar 11, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Following meetings between leaders of religious orders in Holland and members of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference, the Dutch Church announced that it will seek an “external, broad and independent” inquiry into cases of possible sexual abuses in religious schools. They asked for forgiveness and assured that they will listen to victims.

The Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano (LOR) reported that, after a meeting on Tuesday near Utrecht, Dutch bishops and members of the Dutch religious conference released a statement that said they were “profoundly struck” by the news of abuses.

Calling the abuses a “painful discovery” and a “sin,” they affirmed that “every form of sexual abuse must be powerfully condemned.” The religious leaders also noted that these cases are “in contrast with the Gospel and with the dignity of the human being.”

The group of Catholic leaders also said they must "confess that in the last half of the last century the attentive care of children and young people by a certain number of priests and religious was lacking.”

The dates of the three verified cases range from 1950 to 1970, but around 200 more have been reported to the Catholic organization “Hulp en Recht,” which is working to assist victims in Holland.

The bishops and religous leaders relayed their “true sympathy with and respect” to the victims, “especially towards the smallest among us.”

They asked for forgiveness, asserting that their first priority is to give a voice to victims to get to the bottom of the situation. The group also urged victims to get in contact with directors of orders, congregations and dioceses.

According to LOR, Will van de Ven, the spokesman for the Dutch Religious Conference, said that “the inquiry will be brought about as soon as possible.”

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Pope to visit Evangelical Lutheran Community of Rome next Sunday

Vatican City, Mar 11, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - This coming Sunday afternoon the Holy Father will pay a visit to a Lutheran Church in Rome. The much anticipated appearance is the fruit of an invitation made in 2008 on the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's visit there.

The Evangelical Lutheran Community of Rome "is glad that Pope Benedict XVI, bishop of our city, accepted to participate in our worship," said the church's pastor, Rev. Jens-Martin Kruse on the community's website.

According to SIR News, the community said it "sees in the visit of the Bishop of Rome a sign of more mature and stronger ecumenical relations" which, it added, has become "standard practice" through the years.

"For Pope Benedict, ecumenism is a fundamental objective of his pontificate," the Lutheran community noted, saying that the Ponitff is aware that to approach unity, "concrete gestures" are needed to "grab the heart and shake consciences."

The Lutheran community also pointed out on its website that it is not the first time the Pope will visit the sanctuary. As a cardinal, the Holy Father went to the Lutheran Church of Rome in 1998 to debate on the theme "Personal perspectives: ecumenical experiences, positions and expectations" with the Lutheran Bishop of Berlin, Wolfgang Huber.

Pope John Paul II's visit in 1983 coincided with the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's birth and marked the first time since 1517 that a Pope preached in the Church.

For the evening service on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI will be joined by Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and Cardinal Vicar of Rome Agostino Vallini. Leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church from Italy and other European countries will also be in attendance.

The Holy Father will preach on John 12:20-26 during the visit, while Pastor Kruse will speak on the first chapter of the Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. The service will be celebrated in German.

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Homilies should not exceed eight minutes, advises Vatican prelate

Vatican City, Mar 11, 2010 (CNA) - In a new book consisting of reflections based on the 2008 Synod on the Word of God, the secretary for the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, writes that homilies should not last more than eight minutes.

In his book, “The Word of God,” the archbishop elaborates on methods priests can use in preparing their Sunday homilies.   His first suggestion – taken from Pope Benedict XVI himself – advises that clergy members begin preparing for their Sunday homilies nearly a week in advance.

Archbishop Eterovic explains that each week the Holy Father begins his Sunday homily preparations on the Monday before, so he “has sufficient time to understand the passages from the Sunday readings.  The readings become the object of profound meditation, in light of specific events, at personal and community levels.”

“Improvisations must be avoided,” the archbishop continues, “since the homily is too serious of a reality to be delivered to the faithful without adequate planning.”

The preparation for Sunday homilies, Archbishop Eterovic suggests, “can also take on the form of Lectio Divina.”  He adds that priests who use this method usually “see generally positive results.”

The archbishop then notes five steps for improving homilies:  “Determine the main theme of the homily, inspire interest in the faithful," and "do everything possible to transmit one’s own convictions by appealing to their hearts and intellects.

He also advises priests to help the faithful to memorize the theme of the homily … and prompt an active response in the faithful by suggesting concrete actions such as prayer, readings, activities in family, in the parish, at work or in society.”

It is “useful to remember that in general the homily should not be longer than eight minutes, the average time listeners can concentrate,” the archbishop says.  “The preacher can write the homily, but at the time of delivery he should use an outline, a special guide that will allow him to follow a logical line of thought while looking at the faithful.”

Archbishop Eterovic also explains that in order to keep up-to-date, the preacher should use the Bible and a newspaper in preparing homilies.

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Catholic bishops maintain celibacy not linked to pedophilia

Vienna, Austria, Mar 11, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - After media outlets misinterpreted an article by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn to say that he is questioning the Church's rule of priestly celibacy, several high ranking churchmen have spoken out in praise of celibacy as a gift. They also dismissed the idea that celibacy is connected to pedophilia.

Greeting participants and introducing the sessions for the international theological conference taking place at the Pontifical Lateran University of Rome on Thursday, Cardinal Claudio Hummes called the celibacy of priests "a gift of the Holy Spirit." Other cardinals have also weighed in on the role of celibacy in recent days.

"Priestly celibacy is a gift of the Holy Spirit that asks to be understood and lived with fullness of meaning and joy, in total rapport with the Lord," said Cardinal Hummes, the prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, according to ASCA news of Italy.

"This unique and privileged relationship with God makes the priest the true witness of a singular spiritual paternity ..." continued Cardinal Hummes.

He went on to say that "the Church, insofar as the mystical body of Christ, sees all faithful associated by the gift of being a priestly people, but at the same time we know that Christ chooses some (who) are priests that continue the mission for him."

The question of celibacy and its possible role in recent cases of sexual abuses against minors has been in European headlines over the last two months.

According to an ANSA report on Thursday, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, president of Caritas International, said, "I don't understand how there can be a link between celibacy and child sex abuse," and noted that the media frenzy only focused on abuse cases involving priests.

Bishop Gerhard Muller of Regensburg, Germany, who is now dealing with sex abuse cases in his diocese, said it was "nonsense" to associate pedophilia with celibacy.

The comments by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna which sparked speculation that he supported a reconsideration of the discipline of celibacy were made in an article he wrote for the diocesan magazine “Thema Kirche.”

In the article, Cardinal Schönborn called for an "unflinching examination" of possible reasons for pedophilia, and said that this includes the issues of training priests "as well as the question of what happened in the so-called sexual revolution.”

"It also includes the issue of priest celibacy and the issue of personality development. It requires a great deal of honesty, both on the part of the church and of society as a whole."

His comments were clarified by diocesan spokesman after headlines in international media touting his support for an end to celibacy were published. The spokesman said that Cardinal Schönborn was not questioning the Church's position on celibacy "in any way."

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