Archive of October 5, 2010

Pro-lifers decry University of Michigan's new embryonic stem cell line

Ann Arbor, Mich., Oct 5, 2010 (CNA) - After the University of Michigan announced the creation of a new embryonic stem cell line, pro-life critics decried the move as “dishonorable,” arguing that human lives were destroyed for “unproven research.”

On Oct. 3, the University of Michigan wrote in a press release that “after several attempts,” the school successfully created a new embryonic stem cell line known as UM4-6. The act was made possible by Michigan voters in November 2008 who approved a state amendment allowing scientists to use surplus embryos from fertility clinics. The university stated that work on UM4-6 began in May, was completed in late September and was conducted without federal funds.

“This historic achievement opens the door on a new era for U-M researchers, one that holds enormous promise for the treatment of many seriously debilitating and life-threatening diseases,” said University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman.

“This accomplishment will enable the University of Michigan to take its place among the world’s leaders in every aspect of stem cell research.”

In a statement on Oct. 4, however, Michigan Right to Life condemned the creation of the embryonic stem cell line, arguing that the university's press release states “several attempts” at success were made in the process, which means that  “several human beings were killed in order to obtain this stem cell line.”

“Based on previous attempts to create embryonic stem cell lines by other institutions such as the University of Wisconsin and the Jones Institute,” read the pro-life group's statement, “researchers likely killed between 4-10 human embryos.”

Right to Life of Michigan president Barbara Listing added to the commentary, saying that while “we knew University of Michigan researchers were planning on killing human embryos for their cells, we are saddened to know that human beings were sacrificed without their consent for this unproven research.”

“It is wrong to kill some human beings in the vague hope of treating others,” she underscored.

Listing noted that there “are many life-affirming alternatives to embryonic stem cell research” and that  “it is dishonorable that some researchers in Michigan feel they have to destroy human lives.”

“Embryos who do not have a voice are human enough for experimentation, but not human enough to be given a chance at life.”

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Pro-life group objects to Nobel honors for IVF co-inventor

London, England, Oct 5, 2010 (CNA) - A British pro-life group has objected to the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Medicine to a co-inventor of in vitro fertilization on the grounds that the technique is an abuse of scientific knowledge and has caused the abuse and deaths of embryonic human beings.

The Nobel Committee granted the $1.5 million honor to Robert Edwards, 85, a professor emeritus at the University of Cambridge. He developed the IVF technique with British gynecologist Patrick Steptoe.

"IVF had moved from vision to reality and a new era in medicine had begun," commented the Nobel Committee, according to AOL News. It said Edwards’ vision had brought “joy to infertile people all over the world.”

The IVF technique involves mixing human eggs and sperm to conceive an embryo and then placing the embryo in a woman’s womb. The technique drew ethical criticism both from those who worried children conceived in IVF would have abnormalities and from those who recognized the technique puts human embryos at risk of death and separates human reproduction from marital love.

Louise Brown, the first baby to be born after IVF conception, was born on July 25, 1978 and is now a mother herself. She called the prize “fantastic news.”

“We hold Bob in great affection and are delighted to send our personal congratulations," she told the Associated Press.

Nobel Committee member Christer Hoog said it is “amazing” Edwards was able to respond to criticism and has remained “persistent and unperturbed in fulfilling his scientific vision.”

The U.K.-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) was critical of the award to Edwards.

“IVF is possible because of one simple fact: human life begins at fertilization/conception. But IVF is an abuse of this knowledge. IVF puts human embryos at a vast disadvantage - they are subject to testing and discrimination, freezing and storage, disability and death. Countless human embryos have perished in the development and practice of IVF,” SPUC communications manager Anthony Ozimic commented on Monday.

“Since the birth of  the first IVF child over thirty years ago, well over two million embryos have been discarded, or frozen, or selectively aborted, or miscarried or used in destructive experiments.”

Though it opposes the IVF procedure, he said SPUC insists that IVF embryos and babies must be accorded the rights that “any human person deserves.”

Ozimic added that IVF does not treat fertility problems but rather bypasses them.

“IVF has made it possible to search out and destroy disabled embryonic children. Our society should not be applauding legal and scientific advancements in the targeting and killing of disabled human beings,” he continued. “Giving Professor Edwards a prize for promoting the abuse of human embryos by IVF is an affront to mankind, and especially to disabled people.”

He contended that the Billings Ovulation Method and Natural Procreative Technology (NaPro Technology) are ethical alternatives to IVF and do not put embryonic human beings at risk of harm or death.

About four million babies have been born after an IVF conception, AOL News reports. IVF leads to a birth for 20 to 30 percent of embryos conceived.

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Our Sunday Visitor president sees challenges and hopes for US Catholic press

Rome, Italy, Oct 5, 2010 (CNA) - The Catholic press in the United States faces the challenges of writing for a Catholic population with a weakening identity and a distrust of institutions, the president of Our Sunday Visitor publishing has noted. However, he sees causes for hope in new technologies and a new generation of writers and editors.

Speaking to a meeting of the Catholic Press Congress (CPC) in Rome on Monday, Gregory Erlandson of the Indiana-based publishing house Our Sunday Visitor drew on his 30 years of experience as a Catholic reporter and publisher.

“It has been a very challenging field really since the Second Vatican Council, but most certainly since the 1990s. In the United States, Mass attendance, attendance at Catholic schools, numbers of priestly vocations, marriages, baptisms and more have all drifted lower,” he commented, noting that surveys suggest Catholic practice is in decline.

“On the surface our Catholic media remains quite vital,” he said.

There are four major Catholic national weekly papers, 140 diocesan newspapers, and more than 100 magazines and major newsletters. There is a major Catholic television network in EWTN, more than 160 Catholic radio stations, and dozens of Catholic book publishers.

“But appearances can be deceiving,” he warned, noting the great financial stress on most publications. Those which are not owned by dioceses have generally seen a decline, as have diocesan newspapers which often benefit from mandatory purchases.

The Internet has had an impact on the Catholic press, with business models being “unclear or rapidly changing.” Changing demography is also a factor, with fewer young people being interested in Catholic news.

Erlandson listed three special problems for the Catholic press: a decline in knowledge about the faith; a growing distrust of institutions; and a resulting decline in Catholic identity.

“(W)e now have two generations of Catholics who have been significantly under-catechized in their own faith. A larger and larger share of our potential audience often does not understand Catholic vocabulary or Catholic concepts.”

He cited University of Notre Dame professor John Cavadini, who has said contemporary religious illiteracy is worse than partial blindness, something like “retinal detachment” that results in “the system in which the words (of Catholicism) made sense" failing.

Many publications are dependent on a shrinking older audience while many Catholics have a poor understanding of what the Church teaches and why.

Discussing the distrust of institutions, Erlandson said the sexual abuse crisis perhaps made this worse for the Church but that the lack of trust is part of broader cultural trends. There is a kind of “congregationalism” in the Church where Catholics feel less of a bond with the bishop or with national and international Catholic institutions even though they may like their priest and their parish.

The secular media shares this distrust and most Catholics get most of their news from this source.

“The result is both a latent suspicion of Church authorities and a lack of a felt need to know what the Church is saying about social or spiritual matters, two primary reasons to read the Catholic press,” he commented.

The decline of Catholic identity is shown in the greater likelihood of Catholics moving to Protestant or non-denominational churches. “They view all churches as more or less the same,” he said. The lack of knowledge of the faith has led in turn to an inability to distinguish what is truly unique about the faith. This also means that there is less of an impulse to seek out Catholic-identified books and publications.”

Turning to positive developments, Erlandson noted that the internet allows the Catholic press to reach a diverse audience in a cost-effective way. There is “significant and growing” Catholic use of the internet, with many websites and blogs.

“While usage of digital means of communications is constantly changing, more and more Catholics are accessible, at least in theory, through these means,” he said.

While it is “critically important” that Catholics receive sound information, the oversight of the Church does not work well for new media. Without accountability, Erlandson noted, there is a risk of “a Babel of voices claiming to be Catholic.”

Another positive aspect was Church leaders’ increasing awareness that most Catholics get their news about the Church from the secular media, an often unreliable source.

“My hope is that Church leaders are seeing that if they value their own media, and if they allow them to be transparent and honest, they will gain in credibility over the long haul. To do this well, however, will mean changing the media expectations of an institution that often sees its first responsibility to protect itself from bad news.”

Erlandson also saw the arrival of a new generation of Catholic editors, writers and publishers who understand their role in bolstering Catholic identity.

“This does not mean becoming mere propagandists, but it does mean becoming collaborators with the Church, recognizing that professional news coverage and solid features and special reports can genuinely help the adult faith formation of our Catholic audience,” he explained.

Cardinal Newman desired a laity who know their religion so well they can give an account of it, Erlandson said. So too must Catholic publishers need to shape an informed Catholic laity willing to engage the world and to value the Catholic press as a means of deepening their own understanding.

Hundreds of representatives from at least 85 countries are attending the four-day Catholic Press Conference, which is sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications (PCCS).

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Benedict XVI encourages evangelization in Amazon region

Rome, Italy, Oct 5, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Pope told bishops from Brazil on Monday that the call to mission is a fundamental element of the vocation of all the baptized. Focused on the "nucleus" of the Eucharist, he said, the duty of the Christian is to "propose" the Gospel message and ensure its accessibility to all.

On Monday, the Holy Father met with bishops representing two northern zones of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil. These particular bishops are responsible for great expanses of the Amazon basin and were concluding their periodic "ad limina" visit to the tombs of Peter and Paul.

Pope Benedict praised and encouraged them in their work to evangelize in the vast area, never "imposing" the Word, but always "proposing" it in "homage to the religious freedom of the people."

Citing the teaching of Pope Paul VI in this context, he told them that adhering to this "respectful way of proposing Christ and his Kingdom" is more than a right, it is a "duty" of evangelization. In addition, he said, it is the right of men to receive the Gospel's announcement of salvation.

Evangelization is a fundamental part of the Christian mission, the Holy Father reminded the bishops, adding that the call to mission is "not directed exclusively to a restricted group of members of the Church; rather, it is an imperative addressed to all the baptized, an essential element of their vocation."

While contemporary challenges might lead to a reductive view of the mission, he taught, it "cannot be limited to a mere search for new ways to make the Church more attractive and capable of overcoming the competition of other religious groups or relativist ideologies."

The Holy Father spoke on this theme also in answering journalists' questions on the flight to the U.K. on Sept. 16. He said then that a church seeking above all to be attractive is already on the "wrong path," because the Church works in service of "Another," and not herself. The Church, he said, seeks only "to make herself transparent for Jesus Christ."

Repeating the core of that message to the Brazilian bishops on Monday, he underscored that the Church is "at the service of Jesus Christ and exists to ensure the Good News is accessible to everyone.

She is "catholic," he added, "precisely because she invites all human beings to experience new life in Christ. Mission, then, is neither more nor less than the natural consequence of the very essence of the Church, a service of the ministry of unity which Christ wished to achieve in His crucified body."

Reminding them that the core of the mission is in the "nucleus" of the Body of Christ, he said that "to be truly effective, the continental mission must begin with the Eucharist and lead to the Eucharist."

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Faith is strengthened through action, teaches Peruvian archbishop

Lima, Peru, Oct 5, 2010 (CNA) - Archbishop Jose Antonio Eguren of Piura, Peru reminded the faithful participating in last week's pilgrimage for the feast of Our Lord of Ayabaca that faith is strengthened when it becomes action.

During the Mass before the pilgrimage, the archbishop explained that faith grows, matures and is strengthened when it is manifested in one's daily conduct.  "The problem is when the consequences of our faith do not take root, when we do not strive to live this faith each day in all of the concrete circumstances of life," he warned.

For this reason, the archbishop continued, "As we return from Ayabaca to our daily activities, we must live as authentic Christians, consistent with our status as children of God, sons and daughters of the church.

“The pilgrimage does not end in Ayabaca, it continues in our lives."

Archbishop Eguren said faith is a gift from God, "a supernatural grace that precedes and sustains every human effort to increase that faith and make it bear fruit." The archbishop invited the faithful to thank the Lord for this gift and to ask that the faith of all Christians be increased.

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Vatican health experts 'dismayed' by Nobel prize for IVF co-developer

Rome, Italy, Oct 5, 2010 (CNA) - The International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations has declared its disagreement with Prof. Robert Edwards being awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work in developing in vitro fertilization. The problems of infertility, the group said in an official statement, must be solved within an ethical framework which respects the dignity of the embryo as a human being.

A statement from the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC) from Oct. 4 was released by the Holy See's Press Office on Tuesday concerning the recent announcement that Cambridge University professor-emeritus Robert Edwards was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his part in developing human IVF.

"As Catholics we believe in the absolute dignity of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God," FIAMC declared in the statement signed by their president Dr. Jose Maria Simon Castellvi. "That dignity exists from the earliest moment of the conception of the new human being, and remains with them to their natural death.”

Noting the "enormous cost," that of undermining human dignity, with which IVF has "brought happiness" to couples who have conceived through this method, FIAMC decried the use of millions of embryos, thus human beings, created and discarded "as experimental animals destined for destruction." This use of human embryos, added the statement, "has led to a culture where they are regarded as commodities rather than the precious individuals which they are.”

"As Catholic doctors," we at FIAMC "recognize that pain that infertility brings to a couple, but equally," they said, "we believe that the research and treatment methods needed to solve the problems of infertility have to be conducted within an ethical framework which respects the special dignity of the human embryo, which is no different from that of a mature adult with a brilliant mind."

Concluding the statement protesting the Nobel Prize for Edwards, FIAMC observed that "the history of our salvation by Jesus Christ shows us that mankind suffers when it forgets or ignores the fact that God is our creator and we are his creatures.”

"We can only be fully human," the group said, "when we live in accordance with the will of God respecting the special dignity which is accorded to all human beings."

The award was also denounced by Archbishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who said on Monday that giving the Nobel Prize for Medicine to Robert Edwards encourages the “marketing” of human embryos and that the professor “opened the wrong door” with his research.

“Without Edwards there would not be a market for eggs, without Edwards there would not be freezers full of embryos waiting to be transferred to a uterus, or more likely waiting to be used in research or perhaps waiting to die abandoned and forgotten by all,” the archbishop commented to Vatican Radio.

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Cardinals say WYD Madrid plans to confront relativism

Vatican City, Oct 5, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The strength of World Youth Day 2011 will be its role in addressing the "great unrest" resulting from the confusion and a lack of reference points among youth today, said Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko in a Tuesday press conference. The Pope's theme for the international event aims to address the needs of young people while providing foundations in Christ.

Five delegates came together in the Holy See's Press Office on Tuesday to give an update on the preparations for World Youth Day (WYD) 2011. Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid Antonio Maria Rouco Varela and the president of the Pontifical Council for Laity, Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, were the prominent voices during the presentations.

The cardinals were asked by a journalist if WYD 2011 in Madrid might address a specific challenge, such as the "dictatorship of relativism" which Pope Benedict XVI often warns about. The Italian reporter pointed out that at previous World Youth Days, challenges have been issued such as the emphasis on evangelizing Asia at the Manila gathering in 1995 or that of bringing the Gospel to the ends of the earth, which stood out in Sydney in 2008.

Cardinal Rylko answered that it would be "just" for the celebration to confront relativism and the confusion in the lives of many young people created by it. Referring to the theme chosen by the Holy Father theme for the occasion, "Rooted and Built Up in Jesus Christ, Firm in the Faith," he said that images of a tree's roots and the "rock that is Christ" are "contrary to the confusion and uncertainty" found in contemporary culture.

"I think the strong point of this 'day' is to help people in general, but particularly to help young Europeans to overcome ... the lack of a clear reference, of firm points of real values that the young people of today feel," highlighted Cardinal Rylko.

This, he said, is "the guiding line" for the next World Youth Day. "Naturally," he added, "the answer is Christ."

Cardinal Rouco Varela agreed with his fellow cardinal, adding that of the themes since the last time the WYD was celebrated in Spain, this one is "the most Christological of all," posing the person and history of Christ as its central reference point. WYD 1988 was held in Santiago de Compostela, Spain under the theme, ""I am the Way, the Truth and the Life."

In his presentation earlier in the conference, he spoke of the importance of the environment surrounding WYD 2011, saying that it is a moment to address youth today who look for work and meaning, and ask for support from the Church "in an authentic, profound and real way."

He hoped that they might be able to "help the Holy Father and the Church in the entire world to make the Day's theme ... stick and truly make a place where young people are defended."

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Over two million participants possible for 2011 World Youth Day

Vatican City, Oct 5, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Preparations are being made with the possibility that more than two million young people might be in Madrid for World Youth Day next August. The week-long event will be divided between time for prayer and festivities.

During a press conference to present World Youth Day (WYD) 2011 at the Holy See's Press Office on Tuesday, Auxiliary Bishop of Madrid Cesar Franco Martinez provided statistics compiled by organizers to prepare for logistical matters during the celebration.

While it is still too early to tell how many people will be in attendance for the event, which will take place from Aug. 15-21, 2011, Bishop Franco said in his written remarks that "WYD 2011 promises to be one of the most numerous among those held in Europe." By way of comparison, the 2005 celebration of WYD in Cologne, Germany brought in 1.7 million people, while WYD 2000 in Rome saw 2.1 million attendees.

The average numbers for delegations from countries that have provided preliminary figures to WYD 2011 organizers, Bishop Franco wrote, are now 15 percent more than at these previous encounters.

According to the auxiliary bishop's numbers, 170,000 people have already signed up since registration opened in July and they are expecting a total of 600,000 to do so before it closes. Based on past experience for the gatherings, only 25 - 30 percent of participants ever register, the bishop explained, noting that the numbers are therefore still uncertain.

The number, however, does not determine the success of the event, he wrote, "but both are important factors to help the young people obtain spiritual benefits from WYD 2011."

The main objective of the event was defined by the bishop as "the relauching of pastoral activity with young people." Surveys show that only 10 percent of Catholics under 25 years old in the Spanish capital are now practicing.

During the press conference, Bishop Franco, vice director of communications for WYD 2011 Maria de Jaureguizar and Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela of Madrid described a mass mobilization of workers organizing a program filled with prayerful events and as well as more "Spanish," culturally-based events. Organizers hoped that these events would provide a festive environment for young people. They stressed that there would also be a certain "sobriety" to celebrations, considering the difficult current economic situation of the nation.

Commenting on the ongoing and important contribution of online efforts to promote WYD, which are being supported by 70 "community managers" in 18 languages, Mrs. Jaureguizar said that because of the constant traffic across social networks, "you might say that the WYD never sleeps."

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Pope chooses Middle East Synod members

Vatican City, Oct 5, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Holy See released the names of those chosen as members, experts and auditors in the Synod for the Middle East, which is set to start next week. The synod will involve two weeks of discussions on the history, reality and future of the Church and the faithful in the region.

Four cardinals lead the list of the 16 members that the Holy Father selected for the special assembly. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals; Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, major archbishop of Kyiv-Halyc, Ukraine; Cardinal Walter Kasper, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and Cardinal John Patrick Foley, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem; were all chosen.

Some of the other 12 people named represent eastern Catholic Churches, such as the Syro-malankars, Syro-malabars, Greek Catholics of the Byzantine Rite and the Ukranian Greek Catholic Church. Among them are also two apostolic nuncios to the Middle East and representatives from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Lists of the 70 men and women chosen to be either experts or auditors by Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, the synod's secretary general, for the assembly were also released by the Holy See on Tuesday.

The Holy Father will open the Oct. 10-24 synod at Mass on Sunday morning in St. Peter's Basilica.

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Truly secular state cannot persecute religious faithful, argues Mexican archdiocese

Mexico City, Mexico, Oct 5, 2010 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Mexico City is defending the right of Catholic clergy and members of the faith to voice their opinions about public issues, arguing that a true secular state does not persecute individuals who are guided by their religious principles.

“It is very serious when a public servant, no matter who he is, does not know how to interpret the meaning of Church-State separation and believes that citizens do not have the right to express their points of view, even though they may be motivated by their religious convictions,” stated the Archdiocese of Mexico City's news service in a recent editorial.

The news service noted that the separation of church and state established in the Mexican constitution refers to the autonomy of political structures from religious institutions, but only to the respect that the state affords the same consideration to religious groups. The only limitation on freedom of religion, the archdiocese explained, is the prohibition of the clergy to engage in political proselytism, hold public office or oppose the laws of the country. 

“In no place does it say that religious ministers or those who hold to a particular belief cannot express their convictions or live according to them,” the news service stated. “No Mexican citizen can be forbidden from speaking with freedom and expressing his points of view on issues that affect us all, as long as he does not commit a crime in doing so.”

The archdiocese then defended the right of members of the Church to speak out in issues such as the defense of life and the family, adding that pluralism must allow all citizens to express themselves and participate in the building of society.

Civil and political authorities are supposed to guarantee these rights and not oppose them, the news service said, noting that officials who believe they are defending the “secular” state by denying religious freedom and threatening, intimidating or repressing those who wish to fully practice it “are completely wrong.”

The archdiocesan news concluded that the secular nature of the Mexican state does not need protection from “pseudo-defenders,” whose demagoguery, they added,  ironically weakens the state instead of strengthening it.

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