Archive of December 16, 2010

Dissident urges European Union to not be deceived by Cuban government

Havana, Cuba, Dec 16, 2010 (CNA) - Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas is cautioning the European Union to not be fooled by the country's Communist government.

Cuba denied Farinas a visa to travel to France last week, preventing him from receiving the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Conscience.

Farinas expressed his hope that the EU would not be fooled by the deception of “a cruel and savage Communist regime,” as he spoke in a recently recorded message.

Cuba is at a crucial historical moment, he said, and the world must be attentive to the continual protests expressing the frustration people feel over the government’s excessive power. “God forbid an unnecessary civil war take place among Cubans because of the refusal to accept that the socialism of the State has failed as a political model,” he said, adding that the country must peacefully transition to democracy.

Farinas concluded his speech by reaffirming his faith in God and his decision, together with his fellow dissidents, to banish from his heart “all bitterness towards my political adversaries.” 

“Lord willing Cuba will soon achieve reconciliation between all and be blessed with democracy,” he added.

Continuing harassment in Cuba

Even as the EU symbolically presented Farinas with his award, the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement in Cuba, Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, was speaking out against the harassment and abuse of prisoner of conscience Jose Daniel Ferrer by the Communist government.

Paya said Ferrer is imprisoned at the Aguadores Penitentiary and is kept in solitary confinement without water.

“I denounce this cowardly abuse and provocation that is simply a stunt being carried out by the Government in order to create the conditions for justifying his unjust imprisonment,” he concluded.

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Japan's bishops want Neocatechumenal Way to leave for five years

Vatican City, Dec 16, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Citing years of “trouble,” Japan’s Catholic bishops have asked the Neocatechumenal Way to cease activities in the country for the next five years.

Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki told CNA on Dec. 15 that the bishops’ proposal, made directly to the Way’s founder, Kiko Arguello, has so far not been accepted.

Archbishop Takami was reached by phone at his home in Nagasaki. Four other Japanese bishops took part in a Dec. 13 closed door meeting in Rome with Pope Benedict XVI.

The Pope had called the meeting in order to discuss the bishops’ proposal. Archbishop Takami indicated that the Pope was not comfortable with the plan. Neither the Vatican nor officials of the Neocatechumenal Way have made any public comment on the meeting or the proposal.

The charismatic Catholic group was founded in Spain in the 1960s and is dedicated to the ongoing religious formation of adult Catholics. It has been operating in Japan for more than 30 years. But in recent years, relations between Way leaders and the country’s bishops have hit rough waters.

Archbishop Peter Takeo Okada of Tokyo first spoke to the Pope in December 2007. He described the Way's presence in Japan’s small Catholic community as "a serious problem."

The "powerful sect-like activity of Way members is divisive and confrontational," and has caused "sharp, painful division and strife within the Church," he told the Pope.

Further talks between the bishops and the Pope led to closing of the Way's seminary in Takamatsu in March 2009.

Following the seminary’s closing, seminarians were sent to the Way’s Rome seminary, Redemptoris Mater. Bishop Takaaki Hirayama, retired bishop of Oita, Japan became its rector.

Father Angel Luis Romero, vice rector at Rome's Redemptoris Mater, told CNA that neither he nor Bishop Hirayama thought it prudent to make any statement for the moment. They expect an official statement to be issued by the Way in the near future.

Father Romero said that 21 men are enrolled in the Japanese seminary program; two have been ordained since the facility was moved. Both new priests, an Italian and a Japanese are now working in Rome.

In conjunction with the seminary’s closing, the Vatican also appointed a vicar to cooperate with the bishops in determining the administration of the Way’s continued presence in Japan. At the time, the Vatican expressed "confidence" that the seminary would, in the future, "continue to contribute to the evangelization of Japan in ways deemed most appropriate to this objective."

But Archbishop Takami said the problems are difficult to resolve. The Way, he said, "has made a lot of trouble in the Takamatsu Diocese in many areas."

He said that following his own experiences with one Way priest and hearing of similar problems from other bishops, he had decided not to permit their ministry in his archdiocese.

Way priests' divided obedience — to both to local bishops and to their superiors in Tokyo — makes for great difficulties, he explained.

“They say they want to be obedient to the bishop in whose diocese we work, but they don't do it, not completely, anyway, not sufficiently or in the proper way," he said.

Problems are related not only to authority but also to the way the Mass is celebrated.

While Way priests use the vernacular Japanese in the Mass, songs and chants used in the celebrations are not. "They use everything they have according to the spirituality of Kiko, which is very, very different from our culture and our mentality," Archbishop Takami said.

In addition, he said, Way members promote their celebrations as superior to the “imperfect” way the Mass is celebrated by ordinary diocesan priests. This also creates division within parishes.

There is also the question of finances. The Way keeps its finances apart from those of the parish, which makes reporting to the government difficult and makes parishes weaker.

Frustrated Japanese bishops are still searching to establish guidelines for the Way's presence in Japan, Archbishop Takami said.

He did not know what exactly was said in the meeting between the Pope and his brother bishops. He did say that "all bishops of Japan surely are very interested in this meeting.”

Archbishop Takami emphasized that the bishops were united in wishing to obey the Pope's decisions on the future of the Way in Japan. 

He explained the proposal that the bishops had made to Way cofounder, Kiko Arguello.

The Way would cease operations for five years and use that time "to reflect on their activities in Japan,” he explained.
"At the end, after the five years," said Archbishop Takami, "we will be ready to discuss things with them. We don't want them to leave and never come back. No, no. We want them to work in a way that we would like, for that they will have to learn the Japanese language and particularly Japanese culture."

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Bolivian bishops unmoved by decision to revoke diplomatic passports

La Paz, Bolivia, Dec 16, 2010 (CNA) - Church leaders in Bolivia are responding to the government's decision to revoke the diplomatic passports of the country's bishops.

The vicar general of the Archdiocese of Santa Cruz, Fr. Robert Herman Flock responded to the decision, saying the bishops are not concerned with the new policy.

Fr. Herman said the diplomatic passports were “privileges (the bishops) enjoyed in the past,” but added that they are no longer necessary.

In the future, he continued, if Cardinal Julio Terrazas of Santa Cruz “travels to other countries, he will travel with his Bolivian passport and his Vatican City passport.”

Father Herman said the Bolivian government's decision is “consistent with the changes to the Constitution and with the viewpoint of a secular state.  If we think about it, the cardinal does not represent the government of Bolivia.”

However, he noted that while the Church does not officially represent the government, she does represent “Catholic and Christian Bolivians, who evidently make up the majority of the population.”

The deputy secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of Bolivia, Bishop Eugenio Scarpellini, denied that the revoking of the passports would affect “our pastoral work and our commitment of evangelization to our parishes and communities.”

The Bolivian government recently issued the decree revoking the bishops' passports as part of a “policy of austerity” to “prevent the misuse of this kind of documentation,” according to government minister Sacha Llorenti.

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Venezuelan archbishop denies information in WikiLeaks report

CNA STAFF, Dec 16, 2010 (CNA) - The vice president of the Venezuelan bishops' conference has characterized the information in a recently released WikiLeaks cable as “a science fiction movie script.”

The report released Dec. 13 accused Archbishop Baltazar Porras of seeking help from the United States to contain the “regional aspirations” of Venezuelan President Chavez.

WikiLeaks published an excerpt of a 2005 cable from the U.S. embassy in Caracas, Venezuela according to which Archbishop Porras allegedly requested that the U.S. government make known its criticism of Hugo Chavez. The archbishop purportedly warned that the Venezuelan president was intending to dismantle democratic civil society, organized employment, the business sector and the Church.

Archbishop Porras explained to CNA that the WikiLeaks cable which was reprinted by the Venezuelan News Agency read like “a science-fiction movie script that has absolutely no basis.”

He said allegations that he offered the U.S. access to the infrastructure of the Church are not in keeping with “the actions of the Church” or with his actions as then-president of the Venezuelan bishops' conference.  “None of these things took place,” he said.

Archbishop Porras expressed regret that the Venezuelan News Agency decided to re-print the allegations along with negative comments about the bishops. The government-run media has been engaged in an “orchestrated” campaign against numerous Church leaders in the country, he said, including Cardinal Jorge Urosa of Caracas and Archbishop Roberto Luckert of Coro.

Such actions are intended to merely undermine the credibility of the Church among Venezuelans, he added. Church leaders in the country only seek “to serve and to simply be a voice crying out in the wilderness to make the commandment to love God and neighbor a reality,” the archbishop concluded.

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Pope gives Oklahoma City archdiocese a new leader

Oklahoma City, Okla., Dec 16, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Bishop Paul S. Coakley of Salina, Kansas will become the new Archbishop of Oklahoma City, the Vatican announced today.

Pope Benedict XVI appointed the new archbishop on Dec. 16, after accepting Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran's retirement at the age of 76.

Bishop Coakley, 55, has lived in the Midwest for much of his life, although he briefly considered a vocation to traditional Benedictine monasticism in France before becoming a priest for the Diocese of Wichita in 1983. After 21 years as a diocesan priest, he received his episcopal consecration and became the Bishop of Salina in 2004.

As head of the Diocese of Salina, Bishop Coakley has strongly criticized Catholic politicians who support the legality of abortion –which he has publicly compared to genocide– as well as voters who support such candidates without a “proportionately grave moral reason” for doing so.

In November 2010, Bishop Coakley addressed a significant pastoral letter to the lay faithful, clergy, and consecrated men and women of his diocese, entitled “Put Out into the Deep: Living Our Call to Holiness.” In that letter, he offered a vision for helping the diocese meet its practical needs through effective stewardship, without losing sight of the Church's supernatural mission of salvation.

It will fall to Bishop Coakley's successor in Salina to implement these plans, however, as he takes on a larger commitment as the Metropolitan Archbishop of Oklahoma City.

Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran will step down as head of the archdiocese after 18 years in his current position, and 32 total years as a bishop.

The retiring archbishop received criticism for a case in which he allowed a priest to remain in ministry after he was accused of sexually abusing boys in the 1990s. The priest was arrested in 1999 after committing further abuse.

However, many in the archdiocese will remember the retiring bishop for what his official biography described as “his positive outlook, his devotion to the Eucharist and his prayerful life,” all of which were said to have “set the tone and example for the flock” in Oklahoma City.

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Catholic dentist reflects on 18 years of serving poor in LA

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 16, 2010 (CNA) - Dr. Rich Meehan asks, "Did you want to see it?" about the molar he's just extracted. His voice is matter-of-fact husky but at the same time compassionate over the Supremes' golden oldie coming from a radio.

"Um hum," says Tabia Salimu.

Meehan chuckles.

Now the 47-year-old woman is laughing, too. "It's the only tooth I've got, yeah." She shows him the sports section of the Los Angeles Times with a story about her 17-year-old son Yohance, a defensive end at Crenshaw High school with a 3.8 grade-point average, and says he has his sights set on going to the Air Force Academy.

"You're not proud or anything?" quips the dentist. "How many at home?"

"I've got three at home now. We're at the shelter. They hate when I call it home."

"I'll wrap the tooth up." And Meehan, 76, glances down at the foam ball his patient is squeezing. "Boy, you getting ready to strangle somebody?"

This breaks her up again. "Pain management tool."

"Now a couple things." He explains how she can't rinse her mouth out or brush her teeth on that side today because there are deep holes where the tooth's roots were, which need to form a "nice blood clot." Also, he says, she should eat and drink on the other side. Then he gives her some pressure bandages and tells how to put one back where her molar was and to bite down to help stop the bleeding.

"I've been eating on this side for about two weeks now because the pain has been so bad."

"So wait till this heals up," he says, adding, "Well, that's about it. Thanks for being so patient. I know you had a long wait."

"Well worth it!" she exclaims with a thumbs up, stepping down from the ancient dental chair patched with tape.

Bare-bones practice

The dentist from the South Bay has been driving down to the Los Angeles Catholic Worker's dental clinic at Sixth and Gladys once a week for 18 straight years. He started while he still had a thriving practice in Torrance and just continued after he retired 12 years ago. It's a bare-bones operation tucked back of "The Hippie Kitchen" soup kitchen and St. Francis Peace Garden with picnic tables among tall palms and leafy shade trees. The clinic is on the bottom floor of a nondescript cinder-block two-story with a multi-color mosaic of four big daisies on the front.

Meehan usually sees at least eight patients from 9 a.m. until about two o'clock in the afternoon every Friday. "We either do extractions, cleanings or fillings – and that's it," he reports. "We don't do anything real heroic. If it's a difficult extraction, like an impacted wisdom tooth, I refer them to County-USC Medical Center. They have some really good oral surgeon residents there. For dentures, they go to the Union Rescue Mission."

Most of his patients are locals. They're either homeless or live in nearby SRO (Single Room Occupancy) cheap hotels. But some come from far away, like Tabia Salimu, who took two buses and the Red Line train, a three-hour trip, to get here from a family shelter in North Hollywood, where she's been living for almost two years. The need for dental care is so great on Skid Row that his patients are picked days before by a lottery.

"With extractions, I proceed slowly so that we can get it nice and loose," the former USC dental school faculty member points out. "I mean, I try not to be aggressive. I want to be as gentle as I can, but yet you still have to get the tooth out. But she was a great patient, very cooperative. And most of them are."

The woman says the dentist's ongoing chatter and outgoing manner made the procedure tolerable. "He was excellent, excellent," declares Salimu. "His talking was wonderful 'cause it was such a distraction. Just what I needed. God bless him. I had been in excruciating pain. So I feel relieved that it's out.

"But I've been coming to The Hippie Kitchen for years," she notes "That's why I can't believe I didn't know about him. And I'm just so saddened to learn that when he leaves the clinic might close down. Dang! That's a shame 'cause it's much needed. That's sad."

Treating people like people

The folks who work with Meehan on Fridays feel the same way. Theo Kayser, a member of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker community, has acted as Meehan's makeshift "dental assistant," handing him instruments when he's working on a patient and sterilizing them after. The 20-year-old from St. Louis was a patient himself today, having had a cavity filled and his teeth cleaned.

"I think the work that he's done for us here is just a blessing, you know, and just a really generous thing," Kayser says. "He shows an interest in a patient. He'll ask them where they're staying: Do you have an apartment or a room? Are you from L.A.? He's really sincere. He just treats the people like people.

"Just the fact that he comes down here at all is really like the biggest thing. So we're really going to miss him, and I don't know what we're going to do without him. They've tried to get other dentists and it's never worked out. If God want us to have another dentist, he'll send us one. But I'm sure he won't be like Rich."

Ann Boden, a volunteer from Sylmar, often works the reception counter at the dental clinic on Fridays, handing out aspirin, anti-acids, vitamins and feminine products. She points out that all members of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker are patients of Meehan, so they're losing their dentist, too.

"Oh, he's wonderful. The patients love him," she says. "And he's filling a real need. For many of the people who come here, it's the only dental work they get. Sometimes we have 18 patients vying for eight spots. He could probably work fulltime here and still have patients waiting for him."

Jesse Lewis, 61, is starting his 11th year as a member of the local Catholic Worker community. "Well, it breaks my heart for real that he's leaving," he says, after a recent shift at the clinic. "We'll miss him. It's going to hurt until we get another dentist, but then it'll still be hurting because he's not Rich. Most of the people that Rich's worked on over and over, they love him. So, basically, he's just going to be missed by everybody really strongly."

'I love coming down here'

"It's been a good run – 18 years," Rich Meehan says, sitting outside at the nearby Catch 22 Seafood Restaurant after one of his final busy Fridays at the dental clinic. "I love coming down here. I like being associated with the poor. I mean, not to be overly spiritual, but if you read the Bible the Lord talked about the poor all the time. And I'm not really poor, but I want to help the poor. I feel close to them and identify with them. And it's very fulfilling working with them and helping them in the way that I can."

The retired dentist, who had his own practice for three decades, feels at peace with his decision. He and Pat have been married 48 years, raising four daughters and two sons to be caring, altruistic adults who live out their Catholic faith. But Pat's Alzheimer's Disease is progressing now, making her less stable on her feet. Recently she fell. And even though his wife has caregivers during the day and evening, it got him thinking, "What if she falls again and I'm 30 miles away?"

The St. John Fisher parishioner knows he'll miss practicing every week on Skid Row. Early on he fell in love with the Catholic Workers. "They espouse everything that I believe in as far as their social justice basis of Dorothy Day's movement," he says. "One of the things I really stress with my children is borrowed from (Catholic Worker cofounder) Peter Maurin's often quoted phrase: 'We must live more simply, so other people can simply live.'

"And we need to help those who are less fortunate than we are," he adds. "Every once in awhile I'll say to the kids, 'Have you gone through your closets lately? Because those clothes that you aren't wearing don't belong to you. They belong to the poor.' I just think serving the poor is a calling."

Meehan does this in other ways besides fixing indigent strangers' teeth. He serves on the board of St. Lawrence of Brindisi School in Watts and belongs to the Friends of St. Lawrence, a group that raises money for the inner-city school. He also supports another parochial school in Watts, San Miguel. At both places, the Meehans sponsor scholarships for low-income students to go on to Catholic high schools. But by working part time at a dentist's office closer to home, he also plans to take on more charity cases referred to him in the South Bay.

The grandfather of 17, with two more on the way, says he was "primed" to work with the poor by the examples of Mother Teresa, who he met while being the Missionary Brothers of Charity's dentist in Los Angeles, by Father Greg Boyle and his work with gang members, by actor-activist Martin Sheen and, especially, by longtime close friend Father Peter Banks, the former pastor of St. Lawrence of Brindisi Parish. Catholic Workers Jeff Dietrich and Catherine Morris have also been major life influences.

"People say, 'It's great that you're down there working on Skid Row,' and I say, 'Yeah, but I'm only there one day a week,'" he points out. "It's the Catholic Workers who are there all the time and have been for over 30 years. Those are the people that I admire and inspire me by their words and actions."

Looking back on 18 years of plying his dental trade on Skid Row, he says there's no doubt the pleasures have greatly outnumbered the frustrations.

"It's like anything that you volunteer for – there are days when you get disillusioned and you're just tired and barely make it home in time," Meehan explains. "Or there are stresses when you have difficult patients who are hypersensitive and difficult to work with. But you made a commitment, so you come down because you said you would.

"But the joys were far bigger," he stresses, "not even close. But now I need to focus on my wife."

Printed with permission from the Tidings Online, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

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Ancient Christian monastery site in Persian Gulf opened to public

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Dec 16, 2010 (CNA) - The remains of an ancient Nestorian Christian monastery and church on Sri Bani Yas Island in the United Arab Emirates have been opened for public viewing, providing an important glimpse into the pre-Islamic history of the region.

The site was unearthed in the early 1990s and is believed to be the only permanent settlement ever established on the island, which is 160 miles southwest of Abu Dhabi.
A multi-building compound on the eastern side of the island, the site is the only known pre-Islamic Christian site in the United Arab Emirates. According to Archaeology Daily, the complex includes monks’ cells, kitchens and animal pens surrounding a courtyard dominated by a church. At least eight houses have been unearthed.

The monastery is believed to have been an important destination for pilgrims traveling along a trade route to India.

"Twenty years ago, we had no idea that Christians came this far south and east" in the Persian Gulf region, commented Dr. Joseph Elders, the archaeological director of the excavation project. “This shows that Christianity had penetrated far further than we thought before ... We don't have many monasteries from this period."

Pilgrims could pray or leave gifts in a separate visitors’ room within the monastery complex itself. The church was built around the grave of the one body found at the site. Researchers said the body might have belonged to the saint who founded the monastery.

Peter Hellyer, the excavation's project manager, said the site was “fascinating and really important.”

"It explains a lot more about the heritage of this country. Most people wouldn't know that history, that there was Christianity here before Islam," he added.

Christianity spread throughout the Persian Gulf between 50 and 350 A.D. The inhabitants of the settlement were probably part of the Nestorian Church, also known as the Church of the East. Nestorianism denied Mary the title of “Theotokos” or “Mother of God” and was considered heretical by the orthodox Christian Church because of related beliefs about the nature of the person of Jesus Christ.

The community at Sir Bani Yas Island was made up of a mixture of people from along the Gulf and local residents who spoke Syriac and Arabic. Artifacts at the site suggest the monks had ties to the regions of modern-day Iraq, India and Bahrain.

The settlement appears to have been peacefully abandoned in about 750. The spread of Islamic influence probably diminished the monks’ ability to find new recruits, Archaeology Daily suggested.

Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan, the chairman of the UAE’s Tourism Development and Investment Company, said they were “delighted” to open the ancient site to the public.

"We are proud of our heritage and are therefore focused on creating a multi-experience tourism destination where guests are able to enjoy a variety of activities, while protecting and preserving the history and culture of our country, as well as the natural environment of the island."

Dr. Elders, who is also chief archaeologist for the Church of England, noted that the settlement continued to operate even after the spread of Islam.

"That the monastery continued for at least a century after the arrival of Islam shows that tolerance of the Muslims quite close to their heartland," he said. "We know that there are stories of everyone living in harmony."

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In new message, Pope focuses on religious liberty for Christians

Vatican City, Dec 16, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Religious liberty — and the growing struggles of Christians and Church institutions worldwide — has emerged this year as one of Pope Benedict XVI’s most pressing concerns.

It’s a key agenda item in the Pope’s recent meetings with ambassadors and world leaders. And it has become a high-profile priority for Vatican diplomats. Just last month, in an address to a summit of European leaders, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone warned that Christians have become “the most discriminated and persecuted religious group” in the world.

The Pope echoes this language in a new document released at the Vatican Dec. 16. 

“At present, Christians are the religious group that suffers most from persecution on account of its faith,” Pope Benedict writes in a message to mark to the annual World Day of Peace, which is celebrated Jan. 1.

“Many Christians experience daily affronts and often live in fear because of their pursuit of truth, their faith in Jesus Christ and their heartfelt plea for respect for religious freedom. This situation is unacceptable, since it represents an insult to God and to human dignity; furthermore, it is a threat to security and peace, and an obstacle to the achievement of authentic and integral human development.”

The new document is the Pope’s most thorough explanation to date of the importance of religious freedom as a basic human right and a building block for peace in the world. It also includes some of his most pointed criticisms of governments and extremists groups that deny this right.

“Sadly,” the Pope said, “the year now ending has again been marked by persecution, discrimination, terrible acts of violence and religious intolerance.”

His message begins with a reference to the plight of Christians in what he called “the beloved country of Iraq.”

He calls the Oct. 31 murder of dozens of Iraqis while celebrating Mass at Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad “reprehensible.”

Religious liberty, the Pope says, is “rooted in the very dignity of the human person. ” God, he said, created the human person to seek a truth that is “transcendent.” As such, governments or social groups can never deny people the freedom to seek the truth and to express and live by the truths they discover.

Religious freedom, the Pope insists, is more than the freedom to hold beliefs and to pray privately. Religious freedom also includes the individuals’ freedom to express their beliefs publicly and to establish institutions that reflect their beliefs.

Today, believers face persecution from atheist regimes on the one hand, and regimes run by religious extremists on the other.

The Pope condemned violence in the name of religion — and also the cowardice of governments that do not protect religious minorities from such violence.

“Fanaticism, fundamentalism and practices contrary to human dignity can never be justified, even less so in the name of religion,” the Pope said. “The profession of a religion cannot be exploited or imposed by force.”

Governments that tolerate “religious or antireligious fanaticism” fail their responsibilities to “protect and promote justice and the rights of all,” he said.

If religious freedom is not guaranteed, the Pope added, society risks “falling under the sway of idols” and “forms of political and ideological totalitarianism which emphasize public power while demeaning and restricting freedom of conscience, thought and religion as potential competitors.”

The Pope reserves some his most direct criticism for the way religious faith is increasingly mistreated and marginalized in the secularized nations of Europe and the West. There, “we see more subtle and sophisticated forms of prejudice and hostility towards believers and religious symbols,” he said.

He expresses hope that Western societies will end their “hostility and prejudice against Christians because they are resolved to orient their lives in a way consistent with the values and principles expressed in the Gospel.”

“It should be clear that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike,” the Pope stated.
Both reject a “legitimate pluralism” of viewpoints in society and both are based on “a reductive and partial vision of the human person,” that denies people’s religious needs.

“A society that would violently impose or, on the contrary, reject religion is not only unjust to individuals and to God, but also to itself,” the Pope said.

Societies that deny the “public role of religion … create a society which is unjust, inasmuch as it fails to take account of the true nature of the human person,” the Pope emphasized.

Instead, Pope Benedict urged societies to recognize the “undeniable” contributions that religious believers and institutions make. 

“Numerous charitable and cultural institutions testify to the constructive role played by believers in the life of society,” he said. “More important still is religion’s ethical contribution in the political sphere. Religion should not be marginalized or prohibited, but seen as making an effective contribution to the promotion of the common good.”

The Pope ends his message with a personal appeal to all “Christian communities suffering from persecution, discrimination, violence and intolerance, particularly in Asia, in Africa, in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land, a place chosen and blessed by God.”

He exhorts them to “not lose heart” and to forgive those who persecute them.

“We ourselves lay down the condition and the extent of the mercy we ask for when we say: ‘And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us,’” the Pope urges. “Violence is not overcome by violence. May our cries of pain always be accompanied by faith, by hope and by the witness of our love of God.”

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Arizona hospital that performed abortion may lose Catholic status

Phoenix, Ariz., Dec 16, 2010 (CNA) - According to a recent letter that became public on Dec. 15, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix may revoke the Catholic affiliation of an Arizona hospital that performed an abortion in November 2009.

The letter is addressed from Bishop Olmsted to Lloyd Dean, president of the San Francisco-based non-profit corporation Catholic Healthcare West, which operates St. Joseph's Hospital in the Diocese of Phoenix. It concerns a rift that has emerged between the bishop and the health care corporation, after staff at St. Joseph's chose to abort the child of a woman some advisers said could not safely give birth.

That incident led to the excommunication of a religious sister, Margaret McBride, who had advised doctors to perform the abortion. Defenders of her decision said that the abortion was permissible under the principle of “double effect,” because the primary intention was to ensure the health of a physically frail woman.

However, Bishop Olmsted's judgment –which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops later endorsed– was that the proposed “treatment” consisted primarily of a direct and intentional abortion, making it ethically impermissible under any circumstances. Catholic Healthcare West, however, has not admitted any wrongdoing in the highly publicized case.

In his Nov. 22 letter to the president of Catholic Healthcare West, Bishop Olmsted acknowledged that the company had continued to defend its decision, by referring to the work of certain moral theologians who had reached a “range of conclusions” different from his own and that of the U.S. bishops' conference.

“In effect,” the bishop wrote to the company president, “you would have me believe that we will merely have to agree to disagree.”

“But this resolution is unacceptable,” he continued, “because it disregards my authority and responsibility to interpret the moral law and to teach the Catholic faith as a Successor of the Apostles.”

The specific disagreement between Bishop Olmsted and Catholic Healthcare West concerns the “Ethical and Religious Directives” of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (“ERDs,” in the terminology of the bishop's letter) which lay out guidelines for medical care in accordance with the norms of Catholic moral theology.

Those guidelines draw an important distinction between a non-abortive medical procedure that must be performed in order to save a pregnant woman's life –even if it has the secondary effect of causing an unborn child's death– and a direct, intentional abortion.

While the first procedure may be permissible under certain circumstances, the second is never allowed. Catholic Healthcare West has maintained that the November 2009 abortion case was not a clear-cut violation of the directives, but rather “a very complex matter, on which the best minds disagree.”

“According to Catholic teaching, there cannot be a 'tie' in this debate,” Bishop Olmsted responded. “It is my duty as the chief shepherd in the diocese to interpret whether the actions at St. Joseph's and other hospitals meet the criteria of fulfilling the parameters of the moral law as seen in the ERDs … I have determined after review of the facts and circumstances that an abortion did occur at St. Joseph's.”

He went on to criticize Catholic Healthcare West for insisting that the case was morally undecidable. “Your actions imply that you have no intention to acknowledge that what happened at St. Joseph's hospital was morally wrong according to the ERDs,” he wrote. “This would imply that you will not change your mode of operation in assessing future cases in which similar circumstances are present.”

“Because of this, I must now act,” he said, “not only to assure that no further such violations of the ERDs occur, but also to repair the grave scandal to the Christian faithful that has resulted from the procedure that took place at St. Joseph's and the subsequent public response of CHW (Catholic Healthcare West).”

The bishop proposed an agreement whereby St. Joseph's Hospital could retain its Catholic identity and affiliation. His proposal would require Catholic Healthcare West to acknowledge that a direct and intentional abortion had taken place at St. Joseph's, and commit itself to avoiding any such action in the future.

Additionally, he demanded that Catholic Healthcare West undergo a review and certification process in accordance with the Diocese of Phoenix's own standards, and provide St. Joseph's staff with “ongoing formation” on the Ethical and Religious Directives under the authority of the diocesan medical ethics board or the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

“Only if all these items are agreed to, will I postpone any action against CHW and St. Joseph's Hospital,” the bishop stated, specifying that he would take canonical action if the company did not commit itself to compliance before Dec. 17.

These actions would include the removal of the Eucharist from chapels and tabernacles at the hospital, revocation of priests' permission to celebrate Mass there, and a public advisory that St. Joseph's is no longer a “Catholic” hospital. “This is a decision that will be immensely difficult for me,” Bishop Olmsted acknowledged, “but one that I can and must make.”

While Bishop Olmsted did not intend the letter to be public, a diocesan spokesman did confirm its authenticity in an e-mail to CNA on Dec. 15. The scanned version of the letter that became available online bore a stamp reading: “Received Nov. 29 2010, Office of Lloyd H. Dean.”

In a brief official notice, the diocese stated that “the letter to Mr. Lloyd Dean that was made public today is considered to be private and confidential,” while all parties continue “working together … to find the best way to provide authentic Catholic health care in accordance with the Church's teaching.”

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