Archive of April 10, 2010

Sisters of Mercy bring insights into addiction to seminary students and faculty

Vancouver, Canada, Apr 10, 2010 (CNA) - “Sex” is the number one search topic on the internet, according to U.S. psychiatrist Sister Marysia Weber, a Religious Sister of Mercy. The Seminary of Christ the King at Westminster Abbey in Mission is among the religious institutions in North America turning to Sister Weber and Sister Esther Mary Nickel, to help students and faculty understand how the explosion of Internet pornography, the sexual abuse of minors, and homosexual activity affect seminarians and priestly and religious vocations, said Abbot John Braganza, OSB.

“Our concern is the good formation of healthy and mature religious vocations,” the abbot told The B.C. Catholic. “The Church must be in tune with the signs of the times. We are all struggling to deal with this phenomenon of the Internet in a reasonably healthy and spiritual fashion and how to integrate this gift (and the Internet is a gift) in a balanced way into our lives as people faithful to the Gospel.”

In January, he said, the sisters spoke to the seminarians, the faculty, and the monastic community.

“It was providential and timely, because on-line pornography is a pandemic addiction with 80 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women involved at some point, fuelled, the sisters explained, by the Internet’s omnipresence, affordability, and anonymity.”

Sister Weber, an American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology-certified physician, is widely published on the psychological impact of pornography and other addictions. She has completed her residency and a fellowship in consultation-liaison psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic and practises in her religious institute’s multidisciplinary medical clinic, Sacred Heart Mercy Health Care Centre, where she assesses and treats seminary candidates, priests, and religious.

In 1992 she spoke to the U.S. Catholic bishops on pedophilia and addictions, and in 2002 to the Curia at the Vatican on the sexual abuse of minors by clergy in North America.

Her views on the impact of the issues on seminarians, priests, and religious was followed by Sister Nickel’s talk on maintaining a healthy and thriving liturgical and sacramental life.

In a 2008 article entitled Pornography, Electronic Media, and Priestly Formation published in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Sister Weber warned of the “profound impact” of widely and instantly available pornography and its detrimental effect on the Church in North America.

Personal interviews, she said, have taught her that Internet pornography and “inordinate use of electronic media” are common among priests and religious, and therefore issues crucial to the Church’s holistic functioning.

“Pornographic images are imbedded into the memory, affect brain function, and never completely leave the memory where they are stored. Researchers describe the effect as addictive, as mind-altering as cocaine! As a psychiatrist I see the ruined lives and shattered vocations.”

Internet Addiction Disorder, she said, is slated to be added to the next edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatry, the official manual of recognized psychiatric disorders.

“Because pornography is addictive, once ingrained into the psyche it can thrive for years,” said Sister Weber. “Boys from 12-17 are large consumers, and for that reason, targets. Ninety per cent of these teenagers routinely view online pornography while doing their homework.” As bad as Internet pornography is for users, for victims it’s even worse.

“The industry,” said Sister Weber, “feeds on the vulnerable, poor, abused and marginalized. Exploiting the weak, especially children, is gravely sinful. Whether need, confusion, or alienation leads people to become objects, their choice to do so certainly cannot be seen as free. Producers and distributors of pornography leave a wide path of broken and devalued men and women in their wake. This destruction of the innocent is an unspeakable act of violence.”

Rape has been shown to be proportionately higher in U.S. states with higher porn sales and lower in states with lower sales, said Sister Weber, which should propel educators, especially those involved in religious formation, to prioritize the understanding of its addictive nature.

“Addictions are often accompanied by feelings of restlessness, depression, loneliness, and low self-worth. Pornography can be an easy fix because it can mask distressing thoughts. It may seem a pleasure-seeking behaviour, but it really stems from a need to suppress or avoid emotional pain.

“Addiction is an escape from reality, from something that is either too full of sadness such as an abusive relationship, or too devoid of joy, like an emotionally empty life. Users become desensitized to on-line sex and heightened sexual intensity is needed to achieve the desired level of arousal.

“Computer-enabled fantasies are highly reinforcing. The association of the Internet with sexual arousal can be so potent that going on the Internet for any reason triggers it. The habit develops into a compulsion.”

At this stage, said Sister Weber, users don’t even care they are jeopardizing careers or relationships.

“This online fantasy life produces an altered state of consciousness associated with tension reduction and relieved feelings of guilt, anxiety, and depression. Compulsive Internet pornographic behaviour is driven largely by tension and agitation, much like an alcoholic is driven to drink at a moment of excessive stress. The downward spiral only ends, often, when the activity is discovered.”

Like everyone else, said Sister Weber, clergy can be addicted to pornography to avoid life’s complications and responsibilities.

“The addiction experience feels overwhelming and stronger than the will power necessary to stop,” she said.

In a pastoral letter entitled Blessed are the Pure in Heart, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City – St. Joseph, Missouri, wrote, “Pornography violates truth. It leads people into a world of unreality, a world of fantasy that isolates them from other people and the commitment and respect which should govern our relationships.”

Since 2004, Bishop Finn has involved his diocese in a comprehensive anti-porn educational strategy including founding groups where men can foster the chaste development of themselves and their families. It’s important to have a support system, he said, “for people struggling with this temptation which, in some cases, is a serious addiction.” The groups are also there to be a help to the pastor “because we want each pastor to have a go-to person.”

Educational programs are crucial, said Sister Weber, to helping priests and religious avoid spiritual dissipation and vocational distress and to fortify them to live chastely.

Both Bishop Finn and Bishop Paul Loverde, of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, have offered ways to empower people, including clergy, to embrace health and a chaste lifestyle. This includes frequently participating in the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and reconciliation and committing to daily prayer and exercising virtue, said Sister Weber.

“We also must recognize the impact of worldly thinking, especially attitudes about sexuality. We must study examples of holy and virtuous men and women, pray, and receive the sacraments frequently.”

Teaching human communication skills builds fraternity, Sister Weber added, and human formation programs should be available even before a candidate enters a seminary.

“Studies show that most religious and priestly vocations encounter crises within the first five years, and 10 to 15 per cent of priests leave ministry before their fifth anniversary. New priests need mature priests willing to mentor and accompany them through the times of doubt and distress so they can continue an effective, healthy ministry. Make sure the spiritual formation of priests is ongoing,” said Sister Weber.

Electronic media addiction, she pointed out, is a threat to the spiritual life because it limits the amount of time for the reflection and prayer needed to strengthen it.

“Think of the hours spent talking on cell phones, listening to and answering voice mail, responding to pagers, Blackberries, and palm pilots, and plugged into iPods. The need to respond to all these messages can ratchet up our anxiety response, saturate the senses, and make us want to back away from the things of the spiritual life.

“Spiritually speaking, this is called sloth, which simply is a sluggishness of the mind that neglects to begin a good action. The person who suffers from sloth may no longer even strive to live a life of virtue.”

In his message for the upcoming 44th World Communications Day, May 16, Pope Benedict XVI said new forms of communications can act as a stimulus to encounter and dialogue.

In The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word he warned that priests “should be less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart, their closeness to Christ which enlivens their pastoral outreach, but also gives ‘soul’ to the fabric of communications that makes up the ‘Web.’”

The surest safeguard against sin and temptation, said Sister Weber, is always a deep and abiding relationship with God rooted in love.

“The Pope emphasized maintaining a depth in our prayer and supplications so that we keep a clear focus. The challenge rests with bishops and seminary educators who have the responsibility to share the information, model the behaviour, and call priests and seminarians to accountability in their spiritual lives and ministry.”

Sister Nickel is a professor of Sacred Liturgy and Sacramental Theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. She holds a Doctorate in Sacred Liturgy from the Pontifical Institute at Saint Anselm’s in Rome, where her ministry centred on teaching a deep appreciation for the liturgical life of the Church. She also has a Doctorate in Agronomy from the University of Minnesota.

The best remedy for succumbing to sin, including to addictive behaviours, regardless of how they have presented, said Sister Nickel, is to sincerely ask for forgiveness.

“God’s forgiveness of our sins and the graces that come with it can better help us deal with the stresses of life. Just as apologizing to a loved one can be the way to mend a relationship, the sacrament of penance shows Christ you intend to correct your relationship with Him.

“It is a supernatural exchange of friendship and coming to know the forgiveness of Christ. The examination of conscience before confession is a way of saying, ‘These are the things (sins) that separate me from God and the people I love most.’”

We all need to be in the habit of acknowledging that our lives are out of order, said Sister Nickel, and that we want to make sure they stay in order. “Tell those in Christian ministry that the sacrament is one of love and mercy, not of fear and punishment.”

The sisters were invited by Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, to speak at clerical study days and to administrators and teachers from the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese.

Michel Gloanec of the CISVA office told The B.C. Catholic, “Having been a high school teacher and having five teenagers at home, I was reminded how pornography seriously impacts our youth. Many of us don’t realize the magnitude of the threat to our families.

“This was one of the most eye-opening talks I have ever attended, and it’s tremendously impressive to see religious sisters take it on. At home I sat down with my children to talk about this issue, and I recommend that all families do the same. The sisters are truly experts, and I am amazed at the statistics they have at their fingertips.”

He said he hopes the sisters can speak at an archdiocesan educators’ conference in the future.

Printed with permission from The B.C. Catholic, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Vancouver, Canada.

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ACP: Schools should not affirm students' perceived sexual orientation

Gainesville, Fla., Apr 10, 2010 (CNA) -

In a recent letter sent to school superintendents throughout the country, the American College of Pediatricians (ACP) cautioned that it is “not a school’s role to 'affirm' a student’s perceived personal sexual orientation.” The ACP also said that “rigorous studies” show that children and adolescents who initially experience gender confusion or same sex attraction no longer do so by the age of 25.

On March 31, ACP president Dr. Tom Benton wrote to schools across the U.S., saying that he and his staff are “increasingly concerned” that “many cases and efforts to help students who exhibit same sex attractions and/or gender confusion are based on incomplete or inaccurate information.”

“Adolescence is a time of upheaval and impermanence,” Benton wrote. “Adolescents experience confusion about many things, including sexual orientation and gender identity, and they are particularly vulnerable to environmental influences.”

“Rigorous studies demonstrate that most adolescents who initially experience same-sex attraction, or are sexually confused, no longer experience such attractions by age 25,” he added. In one study, Benton said as many as 26% of 12-year-olds reported being unsure of their sexual orientation but only 2-3% of adults actually identify themselves as homosexual. “Therefore, the majority of sexually-questioning youth ultimately adopt a heterosexual identity,” Benton deduced.

“Even children with Gender Identity Disorder (when a child desires to be the opposite sex) will typically lose this desire by puberty, if the behavior is not reinforced,” he told the school superintendents.

Benton wrote that researchers “also maintain that when parents or others allow or encourage a child to behave and be treated as the opposite sex, the confusion is reinforced and the child is conditioned for a life of unnecessary pain and suffering. Even when motivated by noble intentions, schools can ironically play a detrimental role if they reinforce this disorder.”

Furthermore, “in dealing with adolescents experiencing same-sex attraction,” Benton advised, “it is essential to understand there is no scientific evidence that an individual is born 'gay' or 'transgender.' Instead, the best available research points to multiple factors - primarily social and familial – that predispose children and adolescents to homosexual attraction and/or gender confusion. It is also critical to understand that these conditions can respond well to therapy.”

Benton cited a recently released “landmark” survey by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) which compiled analysis of 125 years of scientific studies and clinical experience dealing with homosexuality.

According to Benton, the NARTH report, titled “What Research Shows,” makes three significant observations. The first is that “individuals with unwanted same sex attraction often can be successfully treated,” and the second is that “there is no undue risk to patients from embarking on such therapy.” The third observation, wrote the ACP president, is that “as a group, homosexual experience significantly higher levels of mental and physical health problems compared to heterosexuals.”

“Among adolescents who claim a 'gay' identity,” Benton noted, “the health risks include higher rates of sexually transmitted infections, alcoholism, substance abuse, anxiety, depression and suicide. Encouragingly, the longer students delay self-labeling as 'gay,' the less likely they are to experience these health risks. In fact, for each year an adolescent delays, the risk of suicide alone decreases by 20%.”

“In light of these facts,” he warned, “it is clear that when well-intentioned but misinformed school personnel encourage students to 'comeout as gay' and be 'affirmed,' there is a serious risk of erroneously labeling students (who may merely be experiencing transient sexual confusion and/or engaging in sexual experimentation).”

“Premature labeling may then lead some adolescents into harmful homosexual behaviors that they otherwise would not pursue.”

Drawing his letter to a close, the ACP president said, it “is the school’s legitimate role to provide a safe environment for respectful self-expression for all students.” However, it “is not the school’s role to diagnose and attempt to treat any student’s medical condition, and certainly not a school’s role to 'affirm' a student’s perceived personal sexual orientation,” he added. “It is critical to the health of your students that you and your staff rely on accurate information regarding sexual orientation and gender confusion issues.”

Welcoming the facts cited in the letter, Christine de Vollmer, president of Alliance for the Family, said on Friday that it “is wonderful to have this made absolutely clear, and so much well-meaning but ill-placed ‘acceptance’ put into proper perspective.”

De Vollmer serves as leader of ALAFA (Alianza Latino Americano para la Familia), which has created a 12-year curriculum for students called Alive to the World to provide “clear guidelines for understanding and accompanying children and adolescents through the various psychological stages to maturity.”

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Concerns about iPhone porn among reasons for closed platform, Steve Jobs says

Los Angeles, Calif., Apr 10, 2010 (CNA) - Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs has cited concerns about pornography on Apple iPhones as one reason the company disallows “unsigned” third-party software, unlike Google and its Android mobile operating system.

Speaking at a Q & A session Thursday following a preview of iPhone Operating System 4.0, Jobs was asked if Apple has any intention of allowing “unsigned” applications to run on the iPhone.

According to Apple Insider, all third-party software must be approved by Apple for sale on the iTunes App Store.

Jobs responded to the question by noting that there is a “porn store” for competitor Google’s Android system.

"You can download it, your kids can download it," he said, according to Apple Insider. "That's a place we don't want to go, so we're not going to."

The iTunes Store reportedly still sells applications for Playboy Magazine and other risqué established publications.

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Pope offers condolences, prayers for Polish people after plane crash

Vatican City, Apr 10, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Holy Father expressed his sorrow over the death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and those accompanying him on a flight to Russia on Saturday morning. Pope Benedict remembered all of those who died and implored "a special blessing to the people of Poland from God omnipotent."

According to CNN, President Kaczynski, his wife, top members of the Polish government, army and several Church authorities were on the plane that went down just seconds from landing at the airport of Smolensk, Russia. The aircraft apparently clipped some trees with a wing as it made its way through heavy fog. Reports vary on the number of people on the plane, but counts run from 89 to 132 people, none of whom survived.

The delegation was headed to the small village of Katyn, a few kilometers from Smolensk, in a landmark visit to observe the 70th anniversary of the execution of more than 20,000 Polish officers during World War II.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his telegram to the acting President of the Polish Parliament, Bronislaw Komorowski, that it was with "profound sorrow" that he learned of the deaths of those who were on their way to Katyn.

He remembered the president, the exiled ex-president of the Republic Ryszard Kaczorowski, Army chaplain and Bishop Tadeusz Plozki, Orthodox Archbishop Miron Chodakowski and Evangelical military pastor Adam Pilsch by name.

He entrusted all of the victims of the crash "to the goodness of merciful God" and prayed, "May He take them into his glory."

To the families of the dead and to all Poles he sent his "sincere condolences" and assured his them of spiritual closeness.

"In this difficult moment," he closed, "I implore for all the people of Poland a special blessing of God omnipotent."

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Middle East synod document to be published during papal visit to Cyprus

Vatican City, Apr 10, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) -

The Holy See has released the details of Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Journey to Cyprus for June. During Benedict XVI's official visit to the Mediterranean island, he will present the working document for the upcoming Special Synod for the Middle East.

The Holy Father's visit to the eastern Mediterranean island from June 4-6 will mark his third international visit of the year, following Apostolic Journeys to Malta next week and Portugal in May. He will also make a day trip to the north of Italy to venerate the Shroud of Turin on May 2.

Pope Benedict will arrive from Rome at the International Airport of Paphos just after lunch on Friday, June 4, from where he will make his way to the Agia Kiriaki Chrysopolitissa Church of Paphos for an ecumenical celebration.

Saturday morning's schedule includes a number of visits with different groups in the capital city of Nicosia, including the president and other civil and diplomatic figures, members of the Catholic community of Cyprus and the Orthodox Archbishop of Cyprus S.B. Chrysostomos II.

That evening, Pope Benedict will celebrate Mass with priests, religious, deacons, catechists and members of Cypriot ecclesial movements in the Latin parish of the Holy Cross.

The final day of his visit to the island nation will see the Holy Father presiding over Mass at the Elefteria Sports Palace, on the occasion of the publication of the Instrumentum Laboris (working document) for the Special Synod for the Middle East.

The document will establish the guidelines for the upcoming October 10-24 synod at the Vatican. The theme of the summit is: "The Catholic Church in the Middle East. Communion and Witness. Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul."

After the Eucharistic celebration on Sunday, the Pope will join S.B. Chysostomos II, patriarchs and bishops from the Synod's Special Council, and members of the papal delegation for lunch at the Apostolic Nunciature in Nicosia.

Pope Benedict XVI's final stop before leaving the country that afternoon will be Nicosia's Maronite Cathedral of Cyprus.

The Holy Father will also be visiting Spain and the United Kingdom later in 2010.

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Ideology trumping information in media coverage of abuse, Italian editor charges

Rome, Italy, Apr 10, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Catholic Church is "not a modern republic" pointed out Giuliano Ferrara, director of the political Italian daily Il Foglio, in an editorial on Friday. He argued that the conflict in the media today between offering information and promoting a secular ideology—with ideology winning out—is behind the coverage of the sex abuse sandals.

Commenting on the "steady drip" of accusations against the Pope that continue to question his disciplinary response to sexual abuse of minors by priests, the director of Italy's Il Foglio newspaper wrote Friday that it must be noted that the Catholic Church is not a "modern republic, founded on statute law, on penal action, (or) on the control or repression of criminal offenses."

"The Church occupies itself with sin, that is a more complex thing than the crime, that doesn't lend itself to being classified in the same way, that has an aspect of individual judgment, case by case, different from equal, homologous, standard procedures of law," he explained.

"Its inhabitants are souls, not citizens," Ferrara wrote, suggesting that the Church also couldn't be considered an "open society."

Delving into the difference between civil and Church law, the Il Foglio director explained that the Church exercises canonical rules, providing "mechanisms of surveillance" which operate in (the area of ) the profound, dig into the conscience, (and) refer to a human and divine area," he wrote.

But, he added, and especially in regard to priests, canon law "manages a sacramental ministry that necessarily transcends the ordinary rules with which cases of crimes are dealt with in civil courts, whose authority the Church recognizes. If this datum is not understood and recognized, with a tolerant and secular spirit, the accusations against the Church become ideological intolerance," he warned.

The Pope has no problem, declared Ferrara, in "serenely" recognizing his responsibility, and that of Church governing authorities in the last half-century, for providing "cautious and merciful treatment ... of the complex psychopathologies linked to homophilic and pedophilic sexuality" of some members of the clergy.

At the same time, though, "Benedict XVI needs to be acknowledged as having instructed a new sensibility around this difficult, critical theme, and of having done as much as was possible to exercise ... a very rigorous pastoral, but also canonical and moral, responsibility."

Concluding his piece, Ferrara cited a Thursday op-ed published in the Jerusalem Post by the former New York mayor, Ed Koch, a practicing Jew.

Koch, wrote Ferrara, had written that it can be seen by the manner in which the international media has gone about addressing the matter of pedophilic priests that they are more interested in punishing the Church for its positions on matters that secular society considers "a threat to its own ideological identity" than in informing the people of the facts.

Il Foglio's director agreed, stating, "I couldn't have said it better."

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WCC: New nuclear weapons treaty cuts bring hope

Rome, Italy, Apr 10, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The signing of the nuclear reduction treaty between the U.S. and Russia is "news that the World Council of Churches has awaited for a long time," according to the secretary general of the international ecumenical organization. While he praised this "modest" step, he prayed that governments will "have the courage and the will to follow-up this important development."

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which was signed by President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, President Dmitry Medvedev, yesterday in Prague, includes measures that will reduce the "deployed strategic warhead limit" by 30 percent from previously established levels.

Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, secretary general of the World Council of Churches (WCC), celebrated the decision on Thursday, calling it "a sign of the leadership needed for establishing a sustainable and just peace in the world."

Reflecting on the establishment of what he deemed as only "modest cuts" from the "two most heavily armed nations in the world," Rev. Tveit said that the most promising result of the treaty is the two nations' agreement to increase their openness regarding their respective nuclear arsenals.

"If the world’s most powerful states practice new levels of nuclear transparency and verification, as we hope they will," he stated, "they will be able to bring new leadership and hope to bear on a range of nuclear arms problems."

The reverend expressed his own hope that the resulting "new confidence" could bring about further, deeper cuts in the future.

He added that now more than ever, on the verge of next month's U.N. meeting to review the "the most important disarmament agreement of all," the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, "signs of new openness are especially welcome."

Rev. Tveit concluded his statement, saying "We pray for governments to have the courage and the will to follow-up this important development."

The WCC, a fellowship of nearly 350 Christian Churches, has been vocal in its support of disarmament measures, releasing a statement last September which called current times "a season of hope" in the ever more realistic possibility of a nuclear weapon-free world.

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