London, England, Apr 8, 2010 (CNA) - The British parliament dropped clauses in an education bill that would have made it mandatory for Catholic schools to provide, among other things, “non-judgmental” information about abortion and contraception to students as part of a new sex education initiative.
The Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) initiative would have also have been required for children as young as five and would have forbidden parents from removing their children from sex education classes once they turned fifteen.
SRE was a part of the Personal Social Health and Economic (PSHE) measure, which will be dropped when the House of Lords passes the larger Children, Schools and Family Bill on April 8, according to numerous news reports.
The Telegraph reported on Wednesday that Conservatives within the House of Lords called the removal of PSHE from the larger bill a victory for common sense. If the bill had passed, conservatives said teachers in England would have been “swamped” with red tape.
Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, who heavily backed the PSHE legislation, expressed his disappointment in a letter to Michael Gove on April 7. Gove serves as the Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and in that capacity develops Conservative legislative proposals.
“This is a very significant set back,” Balls wrote, “which will deny many young people proper and balanced sex and relationships education.”
John Smeaton, director for the U.K.-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) countered Ball's sentiment and blogged on Wednesday that the removal of SRE and PSHE regulations was a “huge pro-life victory.”
Opposition to the sex-ed legislation by Catholics throughout the England was made evident by a letter published in the Sunday Telegraph on March 28 which was signed by 640 concerned citizens, including several Catholic bishops and 300 clergy from various denominations denouncing the bill. Smeaton reprinted the letter, which was initiated by Norman Wells of the Family Education Trust, on his SPUC blog.
SRE and PSHE regulations had surprisingly garnered the support of the local Catholic Education Service (CES) who reportedly lobbied extensively to get the legislation passed.
When CES was contacted by CNA for a response to concerns that Catholic schools would be required to present opposing beliefs on abortion and homosexuality, staffers referred to an amendment to the SRE bill that said religious schools would be allowed to teach the material within a Catholic ethos.
But Smeaton read the support he garnered against the bills in a different light. “The massive support the letter has received from leading Catholics is yet further proof of just how out of touch the Catholic Education Service (CES) is with the concerns of the Catholics community in England and Wales,” he remarked.
Wheeling, W.V., Apr 8, 2010 (CNA) - On Tuesday Bishop Michael J. Bransfield presided at a Mass for the victims of the West Virginia coal mine explosion. He said the disaster was a “stark reminder” of the dangers of mining.
An explosion Monday at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia killed at least 25 people and critically injured two workers. Four more were missing. Toxic methane gas still required days to be vented, dimming hopes for finding any survivors.
Bishop Bransfield said the news of the disaster was “shocking,” according to a statement from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
“Our hearts go out to the victims and their families, and all of us in West Virginia are in shock,” he added. “For the hard working people of this state, this is unfortunately another in a long history of mining tragedies here at home and a stark reminder of the dangers those in mining face each day.”
“Our faith is in Jesus Christ, whose resurrection we just celebrated this weekend. May our faith in the Risen Lord support the families and communities affected by this tragedy. May our God watch over and comfort them."
The Mass took place at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Whitesville. The administrator of the parish, Fr. Soosai Arokiadass, concelebrated Mass with the bishop.
Dawsonville, Ga., Apr 8, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Southern Catholic College, a Legionaries of Christ institution, has announced that due to a lack of funds it will close on April 15, a month before the end of the spring semester.
Fr. Shawn Aaron, LC, sent an April 7 e-mail to all faculty, staff, and students about the abrupt closure. He reported that on March 31 college chaplain Fr. Brian Higgins visited a benefactor to seek help to ensure the financial viability of the college.
“I am extremely grateful to him for his effort –as I am grateful to the benefactor for even considering our petition for support,” Fr. Aaron wrote in his e-mail. “Unfortunately, it was not to be. This has proven to be the last in a series of efforts to procure financing that would allow us to at least complete the semester on May 13.”
“I deeply regret that I must inform you that, as of Thursday, April 15, Southern Catholic will close its doors for the semester,” he continued, apologizing that he could not deliver the message in person.
He announced a general assembly for faculty, staff and students on Monday, April 12 to field questions and to provide detailed information about transcripts, grades, graduation, insurance, unemployment, and other information.
He also informed students that the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative (NPEC) has confirmed that they will receive full credit for the entire semester. Students may stay on campus from April 11-15 to say goodbye to fellow students, collect their belongings, and collect relevant information from college offices.
“Words cannot express how profoundly sorrowful I am at this situation,” Fr. Aaron’s e-mail concluded. “Yet I also know that Our Lord has proven himself stronger than death and therefore stronger than our pain, weaknesses and circumstances. We must continually turn to him for strength.”
Southern Catholic College was founded in 2000. As of 2009 it had more than 200 students from 25 states on its Dawsonville, Georgia campus an hour’s drive north of Atlanta.
Last year the college and the Legionaries of Christ agreed to make the school a Legion institution.
Washington D.C., Apr 8, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. birthrate fell from 2007 to 2008 and is now below replacement rate. One population expert, noting that children are the “only future a country has,” warns that a scarcity of children condemns a country to stagnation, bankruptcy and eventually death.
The U.S. National Vital Statistics Report for April 2010 shows that the U.S. birthrate fell two percent from 2007 to 2008. It is a drop below the replacement fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman to a rate of 2.08.
In 2008 there were 41.5 births per 1,000 teens aged 15 to 19, also a two percent drop. The report also indicates that more U.S. children are being born out of wedlock than ever before.
According to the Washington Post, an October survey by the Pew Research Center said that 14 percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 and eight percent of those aged 35 to 44 said they postponed having a child because of the recession.
CNA discussed the report in a Wednesday e-mail interview with Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute (PRI).
Asked whether the drop in births could be attributed to the economic downturn, he replied:
“Children are an expression of hope in the future. With the downturn in housing prices, and the upswing in the unemployment rate, it is not surprising that many couples decided to defer having children until the economic downturn had corrected itself. We will, I predict, see a bigger drop in the birthrate in 2009, when the unemployment rate closed in on 10 percent, 9.3 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
He said birth rates have fallen in Europe and other developed countries, “for the same reason.”
CNA asked whether an increase in the abortion rate could have been a factor in the falling birth rate.
Mosher said “anecdotal evidence” suggests Americans are “increasingly aborting babies who were unfortunate enough to be conceived during this economic recession.”
He reported that more men and women are having themselves sterilized and contraceptive use is also up.
Asked about the broader consequences for a country below a replacement birth rate, Mosher commented:
“Look at present-day Greece, which is going over a demographic cliff because of a scarcity of children. Too few young people are entering the work force to replace retiring workers, entitlement spending is increasing at the same time that tax revenues are leveling off, and the government is technically bankrupt.
“Children are the only future a country has, and countries that fail to provide for the future in the most fundamental way--by providing the future generation--are condemned to stagnation, bankruptcy, and death.”
Rome, Italy, Apr 8, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Holy Shroud was transferred from Turin during World War II to keep it out of reach of Adolph Hitler, according to a Benedictine priest in a southern Italian abbey. Monks in Avellino, Italy stored the relic until 1946 "officially to protect it from bombs, in reality to hide it from the Fuhrer, who was obsessed with it," the monk said.
Sensing the dangers posed by German officials' interest in the Shroud during a visit from Hitler to Italy in 1938, the following year the Vatican and the royal Savoy family decided to move the unique and revered cloth bearing the likeness of Christ to a locale offering more safety than the Cathedral of Turin.
Father Andrea Davide Cardin, rector of the library of the Benedictine abbey of Montevergine, told Italy's Diva e Donna magazine that the "unusual and insistent questions" from the Nazi hierarchy put the Church and the royal family "on alert."
King Umberto II of Savoy, whose family had owned and protected the Shroud since the 15th century, thought that the Vatican was the only place it might be safe, while Pope Pius XII was inclined to send it to Montecassino for hiding, related Fr. Cardin. In the end, the decision was made to store it with the Benedictines in the town of Avellino, more than 500 miles from Turin in the southern region of Campania.
The decision was fortuitous as the monastery at Montecassino was later destroyed by Allied bombing meant to dislodge a Nazi stronghold there.
Fr. Cardin described the great secrecy with which the operation was carried out in Sept. 1939. The Shroud was secretly transported from Turin by way of Rome, to be placed below an altar in the abbey under the cover of night.
The secret was kept throughout the war despite a search of the premises carried out by German soldiers in 1943 following a bombing of Avellino. The relic was protected, said Fr. Cardin, as, upon hearing of the coming of the soldiers, the monks retired to pray at the altar. "An officer," he explained, "seeing them in prayer, gave the order not to disturb (them) and that was how the sacred relic went undiscovered."
Hitler apparently sought the linen for its "sacred power."
The Shroud will be exposed to the public from this Saturday until May 23 at the Cathedral of Turin, to which it was returned in 1946. Among the more than one million visitors that will see the ancient linen during the next month is Pope Benedict XVI. He will visit the northern Italian city and the Shroud on May 2.
Rome, Italy, Apr 8, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Italy's Gioventu Cristiana (Christian Youth) association is organizing a national demonstration in major cities across the country "to say 'enough' to the intolerance against Benedict XVI." The group is making use of social networks to spread the word and provide a voice.
Young people from every corner of Italy are being called to stage "sit-ins" in support of the Pope in the nation's biggest city squares, including those of Rome, Milan, Turin, Venice and Naples.
Planned for Sunday, April 18, the demonstration aims to make a display of the "closeness" of youth to the Holy Father.
"Although we're not an ecclesial movement but a simple association," said national director Pietro Serra, "we find it opportune to make our voice of youth and, moreso, (our voice) as lay faithful heard.
"For this, coinciding with the fifth anniversary of the (Pope's) election to the pontifical throne, we have decided to promote a series of initiatives on a national scale so that 'enough' might be said once and for all to the rampant 'Popaphobia,'" added Serra.
Two days after sending out thousands of emails inviting participation, developing a new branch of their website for the cause and launching an invitation on Facebook, the sit-in effort is quickly nearing 1,000 planned participants.
Bogotá, Colombia, Apr 8, 2010 (CNA) - The Bishops of Colombia are urging citizens to vote in the country's upcoming presidential elections. In a letter to Catholics in the country, the prelates asked that when casting their votes, the faithful take into account both respect for the human person and the search for the common good.
As the presidential elections draw near, the bishops exhorted “our brothers and sisters in the faith and all people of good will to continue supporting the democratic process that is founded upon respect for the human person and for each and every one of his rights, on the untiring search for the common good, and on social responsibility for the poor and marginalized.”
After pointing out that the pluralism of democracy should always be oriented toward the common good, the bishops stressed that “a democracy without differences cannot exist, but everyone should maintain respect for their opponents—who are not their enemies—and in the recognition of their differences, they should seek the most appropriate path for building up the nation.”
They urged Colombians to cast their votes after a careful analysis of each candidate and their ethics, agenda, and proposals. “As we cast our votes, we must always seek in conscience the election of those who will guarantee the building up of our country in solidarity and peace.”
“The celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - the Son of God made one of us to save us - in this Easter season invites us to leave behind the old political vices and seek together the road towards authentic democracy,” the bishops concluded.
Santiago, Chile, Apr 8, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Wednesday, the president of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, extended an official invitation to Pope Benedict XVI to visit the South American country. According to Chilean media, the papal trip would occur in 2012.
In a meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone on Wednesday, the Chilean president formally invited Pope Benedict to the country, which has been rebuilding since it was rattled by an 8.8 earthquake in February.
“We have invited the Holy Father through the Vatican Secretary of State - when God wills and he can - to visit our country,” the president said.
He then thanked Cardinal Bertone for the Pope’s concern over Chile’s reconstruction, which the two discussed, especially the need to make the country “spiritually stronger,” reinforcing Christian values. For his part, Cardinal Bertone said, “I told the president that the Holy Father is pleased by the courageous acts of unity that all sectors of Chilean society have made in order to overcome the grave consequences of the earthquake.”
He also praised officials for their response to the disaster and reiterated the Church’s willingness to help communities materially and spiritually through the Caritas network.
After thanking the government for its concern for the numerous churches that were damaged by the quake, Cardinal Bertone noted that one of the missions of his visit was to bring a statue of Our Lady of Carmel, which the Pope blessed and sent as a gift to the country.
He also expressed confidence that the generosity of the Chilean people would make it possible the country to rebuild. The upcoming bicentennial “will undoubtedly be an opportunity to emphasize the fundamental values of the country and its people, that which is most identifies Chileans, what Cardinal Raul Silva Henriquez called, ‘the soul of Chile’,” Cardinal Bertone said.
Madrid, Spain, Apr 8, 2010 (CNA) - The Spanish organization, Professionals for Ethics (PFE), warned this week that the State Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals and Bisexuals in the country is distributing a guide to high school teachers on how to teach respect for sexual diversity during Catholic religion classes.
“We are dealing here with a far-reaching cultural project aimed at overthrowing our values and even the beliefs of citizens regardless of means,” warned Jaime Urcelay, president of PFE.
The guide “mixes biblical texts, quotes from the teachings of the Catholic Church, along with current-day issues,” and proposes that students be taught about various kinds of families: “adoptive, extended, heterosexual, homosexual, single parent,” among others.
The guide also teaches students to appreciate sexual diversity and encourages teachers not to “presuppose the heterosexuality of their students or their families,” PFE warned.
Vatican City, Apr 8, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - "It's paradoxal - and for informed people ridiculous - to attribute to Cardinal Ratzinger the reponsibility of covering-up or concealing of any kind," Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said today. His remarks were in response to an article in the German weekly Stern on the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Fr. Marcial Maciel.
"All informed people know that it was the merit of Cardinal Ratzinger that promoted the canonical investigation of the accusations referring to Marcial Maciel" until they were able to reach a level of certainty as to his culpability, continued Fr. Lombardi.
In this week's edition, released on Thursday, the German magazine accuses then-Cardinal Ratzinger of having played a role in blocking the investigation into the Legion founder.
Fr. Lombardi refuted this claim, stating that "The conclusion, with the imposition of retirement from every public activity, taking into account age and health conditions and the publication of this by the Press Office in a communique, are also deserving of the line of coherent rigor by Cardinal Ratzinger, [who has] in the meantime become Pope."
Madrid, Spain, Apr 8, 2010 (CNA) - A flight attendant recently sent back a signed photo of the King of Spain after he signed the country's new law lifting several restrictions on abortion.
In a letter accompanying the picture, the flight attendant, Maria Belen Lopez, explained that it was “with great sorrow and disappointment” that she return the photograph to King Juan Carlos because “a picture of the supposedly Catholic monarch” who supports Spain's new law on abortion, “can no longer reside in my home.”
Belen Lopez served the Spanish king and queen on their first flight to Rome.
“Today, I feel a moral obligation to return this picture that I have treasured with great affection and pride” and has always “occupied a prominent place in my home,” Belen Lopez said. She remarked that she always considered the monarchy to be “an important source of balance and reconciliation” for Spain.
Belen Lopez continued to say that while “somebody could rightfully point out to me that our Constitution obliges you to sign any law passed by the House of Representatives, nevertheless, in the same way that you have so aptly found shortcuts to get around the Constitution on certain occasions in the not-to-distant past, so also now could you have employed that brilliant skill to avoid this murderous law that offends the sensibilities and the dignity of so many Spaniards.”
She recalled that the new law on abortion abandons women, undermines the authority of the parents of pregnant underage girls, frees men from all responsibility and “pits one half of Spain against the other.”
More than 60,000 people singed a petition urging the King not sign the bill into law, however he put his signature to the new measure at the beginning of March.
The law will take effect in July.
Washington D.C., Apr 8, 2010 (CNA) - Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, responded to Maureen Dowd's latest column attacking the Church, calling the the New York Times writer's piece more sarcastic than substantial and offering her own opinions on the state of the Church amidst the sex abuse scandal.
On Tuesday in the New York Times, Dowd, who calls herself “a Catholic woman who makes a living being adversarial,” hurled numerous complaints against the Catholic Church, criticizing how she feels women are treated. Dowd first targeted celibacy, calling it “outdated,” she then denounced what she believes to be corruption among Church leaders, and asserted that “the church is dying from a thousand cuts.”
Lopez, who is also Catholic, responded on April 7 in the National Review Online, saying that although “there are many things to say both about her column and what's going on in the media and in the Church,” what “sticks out from Ms. Dowd’s column today is this closing line: 'How can we maintain that faith when our leaders are unworthy of it?'”
“If the pope himself were possessed, if every priest and religious were evildoers, there would still be Christ and there would still be the fact – which, if you’re Catholic, you believe to be true, or so claiming to be Catholic suggests – that He died for your sins,” wrote Lopez. “If the pope were corrupt, I’d like to think I’d still have faith. It’s not the human leaders with free will who are at the heart of the faith – and the Church – but the Eucharist, literally.”
“Mercifully,” she added, “evil has not overtaken the pope or the Church. And the Catholic Church is not dying. There have been crimes. There are sins. But much of what is being reported on does not always live up to its billing. And the solutions pundits present are not all that they think they are.”
Responding to Dowd's castigation of priestly celibacy, Lopez countered, “For one thing, celibacy is not the problem. It’s easy to see why people who live in a culture that has made a religion of sex – believing it is the road to love and fulfillment rather than the expression of it – would insist that a man surrendering it, as well as his whole will, to Divine service, is simply impossible.”
“In truth, the problems that have led to all kinds of 'filth' – to use the former Cardinal Ratzinger’s term of disgust for crimes and sins that he was made aware of while a cardinal at the Vatican and did not tolerate – and breakdown in so many American and other seminaries and dioceses stem from issues of integrity and fidelity, not the existence of celibacy.”
On Dowd's complaint that women are mistreated in the Church, Lopez said, “I don’t blame Maureen Dowd for her misunderstanding of the Catholic Church’s love for her in all her femininity – if by 'the Catholic Church' one means what she teaches in her doctrines and papal encyclicals and in the very architecture of St. Peter’s in Rome.”
“Maureen Dowd attended the same Catholic university that I did,” the editor noted, “which, at the time she attended, was mixed up in a fog of dissent that took away from its ability to teach its students what exactly is at the heart of the Church and what we truly believe as Catholics.”
Ultimately, “All of these crimes, sins, and confusions are fruits of Catholics not being Catholic,” Lopez stressed.
Lopez also maintained that “Fidelity is the key to renewal, integrity, faith, hope, and love.”
“And while being the father of fraternal correction, crackdown, and cleanup, Pope Benedict XVI, in word and deed, is teaching and modeling what exactly being Catholic means to a few generations who haven’t been clear on it,” Lopez concluded. “He is an example of a leader who is living up to his office, while calling others to account. If there were easy, across-the-board solutions that would do away with sin, I’m sure he’d be all for it. The truth is that there aren’t. The answer to preventing moral breakdown – whether we’re talking about the Catholic Church or a marriage – is fidelity.”