San Diego, Calif., Jan 13, 2011 (CNA) - In response to a federal court’s ruling that the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross is unconstitutional, U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) has introduced legislation he says will ensure that military monuments which include religious symbols are explicitly protected under federal law.
A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declared the war memorial in a San Diego public park to be unconstitutional. Its Jan. 4 ruling said the 29-foot cross, dedicated in 1954 to honor veterans of the Korean War, was unconstitutional because it conveys the message of “state-endorsed religion.”
The panel did not order the cross’ removal but returned the case to a lower court, where litigation is expected to continue. A number of litigants, with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union, have sued to have the cross removed.
Rep. Hunter charged that the ruling was a “disservice” to those who have served in the armed forces and was an example of “judicial activism” which threatens the preservation of American war memorials.
“Mt. Soledad is a symbol of military service and tradition,” he said in a Jan. 12 statement. “Ensuring it remains intact is not only important to the San Diego community, but the millions of other Americans who have served in America’s armed forces and defended freedom in the face of immense danger and personal risk.”
“In cases where religious elements are present, the fact that these monuments stand as symbols of military service and sacrifice does not change,” he continued.
Legislation co-sponsor Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) said the Mt. Soledad memorial was special to him because the plaques of his father, brothers and stepfather are among the stories of military service commemorated there.
He said the legislation would ensure that Americans are allowed to “recognize the religious backgrounds” of service members in the memorials built to honor them.
Vatican City, Jan 13, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - When he travels to the United States next month, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson is aware that he may have to make some adjustments in the way he talks about the Church’s social teaching.
As president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the Ghanaian cardinal, 62, is charged with making the Church’s social teaching more widely known and practiced around the world.
He will be in Washington to deliver the plenary address of the 2011 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, Feb. 13-16. The gathering, on the theme of “Protecting Human Life and Dignity: Promoting a Just Economy,” is sponsored by 19 Catholic organizations, including the U.S. Catholic bishops.
In a recent interview with CNA, Cardinal Turkson said he has learned from past experience that the Church’s justice and peace terminology often needs clarification for an American Catholic audience. Key terms used by the Vatican — such as “social justice” and “gift” — are not always understood the way the Vatican intends, he said.
"We found out that some of the vocabulary which is just taken for granted and used freely may not always have the same sense or may have had some nuances which sometimes are missed because of the way the terms are used in the American political context,” Cardinal Turkson said in a Jan. 12 interview at the council’s offices in Rome.
Pope Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Turkson to his post in Oct. 2009, just months after the Pope released his blueprint for the Church’s social teaching, “Caritas in Veritate” (Charity in Truth). The council has since made promotion of the Pope’s vision a top priority.
The encyclical outlines Pope Benedict’s plan for "integral human development" in economics, society and politics through the principles of charity and truth.
Cardinal Turkson said the Vatican is pleased by response to the document. But he said reaction from some sections of the audience in the United States was unexpected.
The council has been surprised to find that common terms were misunderstood or misinterpreted. He emphasized that the misunderstanding was not a general or widespread problem among American Catholics. But, he said, "in certain circles ... there is a difficulty."
For instance, the Pope's teaching on themes of "social justice" have been mistakenly connected to "socialism" and "communism." As a result, he indicated, the Pope is mistakenly seen as promoting socialist or big-government solutions to social problems.
The council has also learned that words like "social" and "solidarity" may have been dismissed by American readers for their perceived connection with communist regimes such as the Soviet Union, he said.
Cardinal Turkson explained that in the Church’s thinking, social justice involves citizens’ obligations and responsibilities to ensure fairness and opportunity in their communities and societies.
While this may include the adoption of specific government policies and programs, the emphasis in Catholic social teaching is on the obligations that flow from citizens' relationships in societies.
"Respecting, understanding and fulfilling those demands constitute our justice," he said. "It would be useful if we just observed our sense of justice as our ability to fulfill the demands of the relationships in which we stand."
This is in contrast to socialism, he explained, which is an ideology in which private property and private interests are totally placed in the service of government policies.
What the Pope proposes in “Caritas in Veritate,” said Cardinal Turkson, is "achieving the common good without sacrificing personal, private interests, aspirations and desires."
Cardinal Turkson said the Council was also surprised that the Pope’s concept of the “gift,” was perceived in some circles as encouraging government welfare handouts.
In "Caritas in Veritate," Pope Benedict described the concept of “gift” as a way to understand God’s love for men and women in his gift of life and his gift of Jesus.
"Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity," the Pope wrote. "That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion."
Gift, Cardinal Turkson explained, is "a very basic, deep theological expression of God's relation or the motivation for whatever God does in the world, and it's not quite the same as a handout."
"If we ever need to talk about this in a society where the sense of gift is that of a handout ... it doesn't quite express the sense of gift in this regard," he added.
While it is too late to add any explanations to the encyclical, the Council might tailor its language differently in future documents.
"We just realized that probably in the future, when ... this dicastery takes up the task of diffusing, presenting and talking about this it might be necessary to provide a footnote in which some of these expressions can be given an awareness of the different senses of expressions in different cultures and settings,” he said. We thought something like that would be useful and helpful to the readers."
Cardinal Turkson urged American Catholics and government and economic leaders to give a conscientious reading of "Caritas in Veritate."
The encyclical, he said, invites us "to go back or to remind about the centrality of the human person, his well being, his common good within everything that we do.”
Another important message, Cardinal Turkson said, is that “we must not sacrifice the good of the human person for anything that we aspire after or want to do with technology, business, economics or whatever."
The key to an authentically human vision of development is to consider the full ethical character of the individual in all decisions, he said.
"In details," he concluded, "it may be for food security and shelter for all persons, but at the end of the day we are looking at whether things that we are doing in the world as government, as a Church and all of that help advance the good of the individual person."
Jerusalem, Israel, Jan 13, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - A special delegation of bishops from Western nations has pledged action for the most pressing need in the Holy Land: peace.
Bishops from the U.S., Canada and all over Europe and the Holy Land convened in Jerusalem Jan. 10-13 as part of an annual meeting known as the “Holy Land Coordination.” In its 11th gathering, the group explored ways of bringing attention to the struggles and hopes of the area and make strides towards peace in the region.
Bishop-delegates come together with local Church leaders to show the solidarity of the world to the Christians in the area.
The 2011 encounter was convened with the special purpose of engaging all Christians in the area, to "build bridges" in the search for peace.
The four-day meeting concluded with the release of the final statement called "A Pledge of Prayer, A Call for Pilgrimage and a Commitment to a Just Peace."
In it, the bishops underscored the importance of Christian communities surviving in the region, and that the world take responsibility for establishing a lasting peace there.
The communique reads like a mission statement, with the bishops' pledges to the local community and appeals to civil and religious leaders and all citizens.
The bishops pledged their commitment to pray for "just peace" and the protection of the lives, dignity, rights and religious freedom of all people in the Middle East. They expressed solidarity with all who "desperately" seek peace and greater justice in a grave situation mired by "fear and mistrust, even hate and destruction."
They urged Holy See-Israel negotiations to quickly reach an agreement to allow freer movement of Catholic priests and religious in the area. They are aware, they said, of the "strain" placed on people in Gaza by measures implemented for "security" purposes.
The Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad told the gathering during the meetings that "for the first time" there are more Palestinians coming into its borders than leaving.
He and the government have been investing in civil works projects to make Palestine more livable, he told them on Jan. 11. Fayyad said, "we need a vibrant Christian presence in Palestine. Otherwise what is the Holy Land without Christians?"
Even with numbers in the black, the bishops expressed their concern over the "too many cases" where people's dignity is not upheld. They stated their "commitment to stand with agents of justice and peacemakers here in the Holy Land" and to seek others to join them.
Lasting peace through the two-state solution in the area - security and recognition for Israel and independence for Palestine - is needed, they said.
"We will work for a future where the lives, dignity and rights of both Palestinians and Israelis are protected and respected," declared the bishops.
They insisted that all religious leaders, including themselves, must be more courageous and responsible in their positions of leadership.
The civil leaders of the countries that make up the Holy Land "need to summon the will and find the ways to take courageous steps for justice and peace" and leaders of other world nations have "inescapable responsibilities" to bring it about.
"We pray that the Lord may indeed give strength to his people and bless his people, all his people, with peace, especially in the land we all call holy," they stated.
Using the words of Christ himself, the bishops urged people to "Come and see," making pilgrimages to Holy Land sites.
In the joint statement, they encouraged people to continue visiting both for their own benefit and for that of the local Christian community. As the disciples were changed by going, they said, "our time in the Holy Land has changed us as well."
The names of nine bishops from places like England, Albania, Iceland and Canada were on the document. Not physically present for its release was the U.S. representative, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, who left early because of the Jan. 8 shootings in Tucson.
In an interview with Vatican Radio on Jan. 13, Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney of Birmingham, England said he was "very happy" with how the meetings went this year."
"We've learned an awful lot about the relationship of the local church to various institutions within society, which has been very useful," he said.
The "most pressing need" for people there at the moment is for peace, he said. Following the meetings, Bishop Kenney thinks that all of the bishops have "a renewed sense" that more contact with governments and Israeli ambassadors in their respective countries is necessary.
He also said that publicity is important, "to make people aware of the situation here and that crying need for peace so that ordinary people can live their lives."
San José, Costa Rica, Jan 13, 2011 (CNA) - Bishop Jose Francisco Ulloa of Cartago, Costa Rica is calling on priests to encourage lay Catholics to take on a greater role in spreading the faith.
In a Jan. 3 letter to the clergy members in his diocese, the bishop recalled that during his time as a parish pastor he encountered “an army of committed lay people with an enormous desire for formation and missionary commitment.”
Bishop Ulloa then expressed gratitude for the ordination of five new priests in 2010. He stressed that each parish should have “a ministry promoting vocations.
“My dream is that no parish be without seminarians,” he said.
Bishop Ulloa also thanked Pope Benedict XVI for approving the Marian Jubilee Year to mark the 375th anniversary of the devotion to Our Lady of the Angels, patroness of Costa Rica. One of the many activities planned for the Jubilee Year – which ends Aug. 2, 2011 – is a Marian Congress scheduled to take place in July.
The Continental Vocations Congress will also be held in the Diocese of Cartago Jan. 31 – Feb. 5. Some 400 people, including cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and laity are expected to attend.
College Station, Texas, Jan 13, 2011 (CNA) - Despite legal challenges and personal attacks from Planned Parenthood, Abby Johnson has published a new memoir explaining why she left the abortion industry to join the ranks of the pro-life movement. Going even further, she's also rejected contraception, and decided to enter the Catholic Church.
Johnson's new book, “UnPlanned,” hit stores on Jan. 11, 2011, one day after the Texas-based activist addressed more than 20,000 listeners in an online broadcast. The Catholic publisher Ignatius Press has released a special edition of the book, with extra material including a foreword by Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests For Life.
In the webcast, Johnson explained how she became involved in the abortion industry, despite her strongly Christian upbringing. She found Planned Parenthood's booth at a job fair, she said, and embraced the group's rhetoric about reducing the rate of abortion while making it available as an matter of “personal choice.”
But through her experiences at Planned Parenthood, first as a volunteer and eventually as a clinic director, Johnson came to see the organization quite differently. As a business, Johnson said, Planned Parenthood was primarily focused on providing its most profitable service –abortion– as often as possible.
Prior to the birth of her own first child, Johnson also had two abortions herself– something she had not discussed openly until the Jan. 10 webcast, although her former friend and Planned Parenthood colleague Laura Kaminczak had disclosed it to a reporter in January 2010 without her permission.
As Johnson secretly bore this grief, she also became disillusioned with pressure to meet rising monthly abortion quotas at her clinic. Neither of these factors, however, drove her to reject Planned Parenthood's core ideology about abortion “rights.”
What finally did, was the experience of seeing an unborn child die before her eyes on an ultrasound monitor. Due to a personnel shortage, she was called in to assist in an ultrasound-guided abortion for the first time in September 2009. She was initially disconcerted to note how much the unborn child, after 13 weeks, looked like the image she had seen of her own living daughter while pregnant with her.
The next few minutes changed Johnson's life irrevocably, as she watched the baby –whom she had believed to be incapable of feeling anything– squirming and twisting to avoid the tube into which it would be vacuumed.
“For the briefest moment,” she writes in her memoir, “the baby looked as if it were being wrung like a dishcloth, twirled and squeezed. And then it crumpled and began disappearing into the cannula before my eyes.”
“The last thing I saw was the tiny, perfectly formed backbone sucked into the tube, and then it was gone.”
Although Planned Parenthood has denied that this abortion ever took place, their assertion conflicts with other comments from Laura Kaminczak, who said she spoke with Johnson shortly after it occurred.
Shocked by what she had seen, Johnson still initially continued her work running the clinic and promoting its work. Just a few weeks later, however, she was in the nearby office of the Coalition For Life, telling its director Shawn Carney –with whom she was well-acquainted, from his years of opposition to Planned Parenthood– that she could no longer continue helping women have abortions.
In an interview with CNA on Jan. 11, Johnson said she joined the pro-life movement to help women understand the truth about abortion, not to become a public figure. She explained that it was Planned Parenthood, not the Coalition For Life, that turned her departure into a public battle.
The organization preemptively sought a court order that would have prevented Johnson from discussing her past work. Because of the legal battle that ensued, she was not previously able to speak about many aspects of Planned Parenthood's business model and its treatment of women. Much of the information in “UnPlanned” is reaching the public only because Planned Parenthood's lawsuit failed.
Johnson said that although she wanted to spare her family the strain of attention and controversy, Planned Parenthood's efforts to silence her ultimately fueled her resolve to come forward. She stated that her critics –some of whom have attempted to question the sincerity of her new-found pro-life convictions– don't realize that she never wanted the publicity and personal exposure of her new role.
“Planned Parenthood released this to the media” in late 2009, she said. “Planned Parenthood made this a news story. This is something that they did.”
“This is not what I planned for my life. But God set this up for me– and it would be the wrong thing, to turn away from something that He has planned for my life.”
Johnson and her husband have grown in their faith during the past year, and are now preparing to enter the Catholic Church in the near future. She said that one of the final obstacles, in the course of her Catholic conversion, had been the Church's teaching on the immorality of all artificial methods of birth control.
Planned Parenthood's mentality toward contraception, as she explained, stuck with her for a period of time even after she rejected abortion. Even as she became interested in the Catholic Church, she clung to the notion that artificial birth control was an advance for women and society. But she kept an open mind, studying Pope John Paul II's “Theology of the Body” and other sources of Church teaching.
Abby Johnson's final decision to reject contraception, like her change of mind on abortion, occurred suddenly, and because of something she saw.
This time, however, the sight that changed her mind was not a child's death within the clinic walls, but quite the opposite. An experience in a Catholic church, she said, finally made her understand the fullness of the Church's teaching on sexuality.
This time, the vision of a child was not shocking, but profoundly life-affirming.
“One day, we were sitting in Mass … I was sitting behind this woman, who I don't know, and this little infant.” Gazing at that child, she finally understood the Church's insistence on marriages remaining open to new life.
“It was just clear to me, like a switch had gone off, that we had to stop contracepting.”
Washington D.C., Jan 13, 2011 (CNA) - On the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti's capital, three committee chairmen at the U.S. bishops' conference have outlined concrete steps to help the troubled island nation's recovery efforts.
The three bishops –Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami– made their proposals as they marked the first anniversary of the earthquake that killed 250,00 Haitians and left much of Port-au-Prince in ruins.
A million residents of Port-au-Prince remain homeless, with many still living in emergency tent housing. Catholic Relief Services told CNA on Jan. 11 that the recovery was proceeding slowly due to a lack of infrastructure in the dangerously overcrowded city, which is still filled with rubble from collapsed buildings.
Bishop Hubbard, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, acknowledged the slow pace of progress in Haiti. He noted that recovery was “particularly challenging” for a country that has long faced “grinding poverty and its effects” in addition to the natural disaster and a subsequent ongoing cholera epidemic.
Foreign aid, he said, needed to target Haiti's long-term needs and help the country to develop its own capacities. To this end, he urged the U.S. Congress to reintroduce legislation similar to last year's “Haiti Empowerment, Assistance, and Rebuilding (HEAR) Act.”
A bill of this kind, he said, “would provide a framework to guide long-term, comprehensive assistance to Haiti.” Although an estimated 3,000 non-governmental organizations are currently working to help Haiti, some critics have noted their lack of coordination with one another, and their focus on immediate relief rather than sustained redevelopment.
Archbishop Gomez, head of the bishops' committee on migration, detailed several policies by which he said the United States could help Haitians. He urged the U.S. government to speed up the process for allowing the 55,000 Haitians it had approved for traveling to the U.S. to be reunited with their families who are already there.
He also asked the government to consider reassigning Haitian immigrants who arrived after the earthquake with the “Temporary Protected Status” that would prevent them from being forced to leave. Many Haitians depend upon money sent back to the country by their relatives abroad.
Archbishop Gomez also urged the Obama administration to reconsider its plans to start deporting criminals from Haiti back to their native country rather than keeping them incarcerated in the U.S. He warned that such deportations could “further de-stabilize” Haiti and its capital city, where gang violence has become epidemic and jail facilities in some places no longer exist.
The chairman of the U.S. bishops' Haiti Advisory Group, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, gave advice to Haiti's own government as well as its international partners, urging them to recognize and facilitate the Catholic Church's central role in the recovery efforts.
“The Church remains the one functioning network in Haiti that is able to get things done,” he observed. “The Haitian government and the international community ignore the Church to the detriment of the overall goal of helping Haitians help themselves.”
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, also wrote to his Haitian counterpart –Archbishop Louis Kebreau of Cap Hatien, president of the Bishops' Conference of Haiti– to express his condolences and support to the Haitian Church on the anniversary of the earthquake.
Archbishop Dolan prayed that God's “unfailing presence” would strengthen the “bonds of communion and solidarity that have bound us together in the wake of this tragedy,” allowing Haitians and others “to work towards a new Haiti where peace and justice and the love of God shall reign.”
The U.S. bishops are also inviting Catholics to pray a special novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe for the people of Haiti. The novena starts on the evening of the anniversary, January 12, and culminates with the celebration of Mass the weekend of January 22-23.
The novena can be found online at: http://www.usccb.org/haiti/one-year-later.shtml
Mexico City, Mexico, Jan 13, 2011 (CNA) - Auxiliary Bishop Enrique Sanchez Martinez of Durango, Mexico is asking Catholics in his country to be hospitable to immigrants and refugees who enter Mexico through its southern border.
He asked Catholics to welcome the immigrants, just as “we ask ... our family members, friends and fellow Mexicans” to be treated in the United States.
In a letter to mark the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which will be celebrated Jan. 16, Bishop Sanchez said the Church recognizes the right of people to move from one country to another, as well as the right of countries to regulate immigration. He added that the Church calls on immigrants to “assimilate into the countries where they settle and to respect laws and the national identity.”
Bishop Sanchez, whose diocese is located in central Mexico, said immigration is a social phenomenon accentuated by globalization and requires firm and decisive international cooperation. No country alone can “confront the current problems of immigration,” he added.
In the case of Mexico, he said, the immigration crisis has worsened in recent months due to massive deportations and murders on the U.S. border, and exploitation, corruption and crime on the southern border with Guatemala.
He stressed that the plight of refugees and other persons forced to leave their countries not be forgotten, “because they are a relevant part of the immigration phenomenon.” Respect for their rights, as well as the just concerns over security and assimilation, should be part of stable and harmonious society, the bishop said.
Welcoming refugees and providing them hospitality is gesture that human solidarity requires of all, he added.