Archive of January 19, 2011

Man’s 3,700-mile run across America emphasizes importance of prayer

Oceanside, Calif., Jan 19, 2011 (CNA) - A Catholic man is running across America and praying the whole way. Despite the difficulties he has faced, he says he wants to use his talents to serve God and to help those he prays for.

Jeff Grabosky, 27, plans to begin his 3,700-mile run in Oceanside, California on Jan. 20 and end in Long Island’s Smith Point in New York City on May 26.

The primary mission of his run is to encourage prayer in America and across the world. He is taking prayer requests and praying a decade of the Rosary for each intention during his run.

Grabosky’s faith has helped him survive some “very difficult times,” he told CNA in a Jan. 17 interview. A week after his mother died from cancer in 2006, his wife told him that she was leaving him.

“I was left living out of my car for two months,” he said. “It took everything I had just to make it to the end of each day, as it felt the world around me was crashing down. The one consistent thing in my life was prayer as I constantly asked God for his help. As difficult as things were, I trusted that the Lord would help pull me through and that He had a plan.”

Grabosky’s “long road back” included setbacks like a collapsed lung and a week-long stay in intensive care. But his faith in God “only became stronger” because of what he experienced.

Now he wants to inspire others to pursue their dreams “even if this world thinks that it may be out of the ordinary or even impossible.”

The New Jersey native has been around runners since his childhood, when his mother would take him to the track on summer mornings. He ran cross country and track through middle school and high school, but he was not fast enough to run on the Division I team of University of Notre Dame, where he graduated from in 2005. He only ran intramural cross country and finished his first marathon as a senior in college.

He first had the idea to run across America after his second marathon finish in 2008.

“I thought a run across the country would be an awesome experience and an incredible challenge, but I put it on the back burner for some time because of what I had going on in my life.”

He said that the physical challenges of his task will be “extremely difficult” but the mental challenges will be even harder.

“I think it will be easy to become frustrated and to think negatively,” he added. “I will need to stay focused at all times.”

Loneliness is one problem he anticipates because he is running solo without a support team. He said he has planned in advance how much food and water to carry, appropriate clothes to wear, where to stay, and what route to follow.

Grabosky took inspiration from his mother, who used to pray the Rosary whenever she ran.

The prayer requests he is receiving have opened his eyes to how “everyone is struggling with something.” He saw no better way to help those in need than to encourage prayer and pray for their intentions.

“It’s interesting how God works. I started out thinking I would need to finish this run for myself, but now more than anything I need to finish it for all those I am praying for,” he said.

“I believe God can help us overcome and make it through anything if we only trust in Him. I tell people who are in tough stretches that this life is often difficult, but God has a plan for us and if we let Him in our hearts He can and will do amazing things with our lives. If you truly believe that, then it is hard to not smile and look at each day with an optimistic attitude.”

His transcontinental route passes through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. He will also swing through New Jersey and Washington, D.C.

Grabosky said people who want to support him should send in any prayer requests, which will help motivate him to finish. He also invited others to run or walk with him along his route.

He hopes to speak with as many people as possible along his way. He is scheduling talks with youth groups and welcomes any invitations.

The marathon runner is also asking for people to lend him a couch or a place to sleep the night.

“I know this is going to be an extremely difficult challenge and it would mean a lot to me to know people are keeping my health and safety on this run in their thoughts and prayers as well,” Grabosky said. “I have no doubt in mind there are going to some brutal days out there but I believe in the words of Philippians 4:13, that I can do all things in Christ who gives me strength.”

More information about Grabosky’s run is at his website

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EWTN announces plans to acquire National Catholic Register

Birmingham, Ala., Jan 19, 2011 (CNA) - Eternal Word Television Network, the world's largest religious media provider, announced on Jan. 19 that it would be acquiring the National Catholic Register from its current owners, the Legionaries of Christ.

“I believe the Register has a bright future and fits quite well under the EWTN umbrella,” EWTN's President and CEO Michael Warsaw told CNA, announcing the planned acquisition from the network's headquarters in Birmingham, Ala. “Our goal is not only to continue the Register's legacy, but also to build upon it and to give it a platform for growth and expansion.”

“In the short term, readers will likely see very few big changes,” he explained, while noting that “over time, we intend to continue the Register's digital transition plans and to integrate it more fully with EWTN's global presence on the internet.”

That presence has already expanded in recent years to include the network's collaboration with Catholic News Agency, and the recent creation of the Spanish-language service “EWTN Noticias.”

The Register's previous owners, the religious order the Legionaries of Christ, ran into financial difficulties at the paper during 2009 and 2010, alongside other troubles caused by the revelation that their founder, Fr. Marcel Maciel, lived a double life.

In the midst of these problems, EWTN sought to keep the long-running publication from disappearing.

“It was quite apparent to me that the loss of the National Catholic Register would be a sad development for the Church,” Warsaw said. “As an apostolate that is focused on using the media to evangelize, we immediately saw how the Register could fit into what we do, and become another extension of our mission.”

The network has signed a letter of intent to acquire the publication from the Legionaries of Christ. No cash will be exchanged under the terms of the agreement, which states that EWTN will take over the Register's operating expenses and subscription liabilities on Feb. 1.

EWTN will become the fourth owner of the Register, which was first published out of Denver, Colorado in 1905. The paper began publishing at the national level in 1927, reaching its peak circulation as a print journal during the 1950s. Patrick Frawley, a California-based investor, bought the paper in 1970 and moved operations to Los Angeles.

In 1995 the Legionaries took over the Register, moving it first to Connecticut, and more recently to New York. Although the Legionaries have remained optimistic about continued support for the publication from subscribers and donors, they reportedly lacked the resources to oversee necessary changes to the Register's business model.

Michael Warsaw said he was “very pleased and excited that the Register will now be part of the EWTN family.” He recalled his long-running discussions with EWTN's founder Mother Angelica, dating back to the early 1990s, as to how the network best could incorporate the Gospel message with world-class news coverage.

“It was Mother Angelica herself, who, many years ago, insisted that the words 'news service' should be placed on our letterhead alongside the words 'television,' 'radio,' and 'Internet,' to describe the core services EWTN provides.”

“I think the acquisition of the National Catholic Register is another step forward in executing that vision of Mother Angelica,” he said.

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Cardinal celebrates founding of Lima, defends authentic marriage

Lima, Peru, Jan 19, 2011 (CNA) - Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne of Lima, Peru recently defended marriage between one man and one woman and warned that other unions are contrary to the natural order.

In his homily at a Mass commemorating the 476th anniversary of the founding of Lima on Jan. 18, Cardinal Cipriani told those gathered that “marriage is a life-long union between one man and one woman, despite attempts by some to propose other things.”

Lima Mayor Susana Villaran was present at the Mass.

Although the cardinal did not mention any particular political party or leader during the Mass, vice presidential candidate Carlos Bruce recently told the Peruvian daily El Comercio that gay “marriage” “is a part of our political agenda.”  Cardinal Cipriani said such proposals “are not Catholic” because “they are not part of the natural order.”

It is essential that authentic marriage between a man and a woman be defended and promoted, he said, and it should not be used as a political bargaining chip to gauge support.

Cardinal Cipriani also noted that the anniversary of the founding of Lima should serve as an occasion to encourage values such as the comprehensive development of individuals, the common good and the family.

In Latin America homosexual unions are legal only in Mexico City and Argentina.

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John Paul II’s blood to serve as relic in Polish church

Krakow, Poland, Jan 19, 2011 (CNA) - A vial of blood drawn from Pope John Paul II will be installed as a relic in a Polish church soon after his beatification.

Piotr Sionko, the spokesman for the John Paul II Center, said the vial will be encased in crystal and built into the altar of a church in the city of Krakow, the Associated Press reports. The church, which is still under construction, will open sometime after the May 1 beatification.

The blood was drawn for medical tests shortly before the pontiff’s death on April 2, 2005. It is now in the possession of Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Archbishop of Krakow and former secretary of John Paul II.

Sionko said the cardinal proposed the idea of using the blood as a relic. "He is of the opinion that this is the most precious relic of John Paul II and should be the focal point of the church."
The church, in Krakow’s Lagiewniki district, is part of a center devoted to cultivating the memory and the teaching of the late Pope, a former Archbishop of Krakow.

As part of Catholic tradition, the veneration of relics is a practice that recognizes the God-given sanctity of a saint or blessed and anticipates his or her bodily resurrection.

John Paul II’s blood would not be the first relic of its kind. The blood of St. Januarius is kept in the cathedral of Naples and liquefies every year on his feast day.

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Human rights groups urge Obama to press Chinese president on abuses

Washington D.C., Jan 19, 2011 (CNA) - As the White House welcomes President Hu Jintao of China this week, critics are decrying China for its record of human rights abuses and urging the Obama administration to “vigorously” address the issues during the Chinese president's visit.

Protests, press conferences and even an arrest have taken place in the build up to Jintao's visit in Washington, D.C., which began on Jan 18.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) cited China's one-child policy, forced abortions and sterilizations, the arrest and torture of political dissidents and the current imprisonment of recent Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo as major human rights abuses committed against the Chinese people by the communist government.

In remarks to a press conference held in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 18,  Rep. Smith stated that President Hu “gave the world unmistakable proof of his government’s moral puniness and fear” when he wouldn’t let Liu Xiaobo – “a proponent of gradual democratic reform” – out of his prison cell to receive the prize at the ceremony in Oslo, Norway.

The Chinese president even had Liu’s wife and friends placed under house arrest for fear they would come to receive the prize for him, the congressman added.

Rep. Smith argued that as a Nobel Peace Prize winner, President Obama has a particular obligation “to call for Liu’s release publicly and vigorously” as well as condemn the torture and imprisonment of political prisoner Gao Zhisheng, who in recent years drew the attention of the international media to a massive forced abortion campaign in the country's Shandong province.

He also called on President Obama's support for others in the country who face discrimination, including “Falun Gong practitioners – also victims of the most brutal torture practices – for underground Christians, Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims, whose native lands Hu’s government treats like militarily occupied territory, for democracy advocates, labor organizers, North Korean refugees, for Internet users, subject to censorship and surveillance.”

Rep. Smith cited the struggles of Chinese women in particular, condemning the country's one-child policy as a “massive and cruel system.”

“The price for failing to conform to this system is staggering,” he said, adding that “out-of-plan”  children are denied education and health-care and that fines for bearing a child without a birth permit can be 10 times the average annual income of two parents.

Families that “can’t or won’t pay are jailed, or their homes smashed in, or their young child is killed. If the brave woman still refuses to submit, she may be held in a punishment cell, or, if she flees, her relatives may be held and, very often, beaten,” he said. “If the woman is by some miracle still able to resist this pressure, she may be physically dragged to the operating table and forced to undergo an abortion.”

“Her trauma is incomprehensible,” Rep. Smith underscored. “It is a trauma she shares, in some degree, with every woman in China, whose experience of intimacy and motherhood is colored by the atmosphere of fear created by the government, by government threats and determination to intrude itself, in deadly fashion, into the most private aspects of her life.”

Rep. Smith then criticized the Obama administration, arguing that over the last two years  it “has made nothing but weak, pro forma responses to human rights abuses, in China and around the world.”

“Our country can’t afford to continue doing this,” he said. “We need to challenge human rights abuses publicly and in language that shows we mean business – and we need to do this above all in China.”

The New Jersey congressman joins the list of human rights leaders in the U.S who've been unimpressed with the current administration's lack of effort in speaking out against abuses in China and other countries around the world.

Ellen Bork, director of Democracy and Human Rights for the organization Foreign Policy Initiative, wrote on Jan. 16 that the current administration continually “avoids confrontation and refuses to impose consequences for egregious Chinese behavior at home and abroad.”

“The president’s determination to avoid using the weight and prestige of his office to support democratic opponents of authoritarian regimes in China, Iran, Belarus, and elsewhere is quickly becoming a hallmark of his administration,” she said, adding that it's “a dispiriting trend.”

In protest of President Hu's visit, Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, demonstrated in front of the White House on Tuesday, leading to his arrest.

Rev. Mahoney had demonstrated on the sidewalk near a photo of Nobel Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, an empty chair signifying Liu's vacant seat at the recent Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway and a picture of a Christian woman who had been brutally beaten by the Chinese government.

"We are calling upon President Obama to publicly, passionately and boldly speak out against the human and religious rights abuses by the Chinese government against their own people when President Hu Jinato visits the White House this week,” he said.

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Marking week of prayer, Benedict XVI cites four 'pillars' for Christian unity

Vatican City, Jan 19, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Improving the unity of Christians today requires the same elements that united the first apostles in Jerusalem, Pope Benedict XVI said Jan. 19.

Pope Benedict met with pilgrims to Rome in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall for his weekly general audience. In observation of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Jan. 18-25), he based his message on "the gift of full communion."

Christians take part in the week of prayer for unity "to bear witness to the profound ties that unite them and to invoke the gift of full communion," said the Pope.

"They devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" is the theme of this year's prayer week for the unity of Christians. Pope Benedict said that this passage from the Acts of the Apostles offers a vision of four characteristics that defined the first Christian community in Jerusalem "as a place of unity and love."

In the teaching of the apostles, in fraternal communion, in the breaking of bread and in prayer are four "pillars" that continue to be the foundation of Christian life and build Church unity, he explained.

Every effort to increase unity must involve increased faithfulness to the teaching of the first Christians, the apostles, the Pope said. "Even today," he explained, "the community of believers recognizes the norms of its own faith in that reference to the teaching of the Apostles."

Fraternal communion was "the most tangible expression of unity between disciples and the Lord, especially for the outside world," he pointed out.

Although it has not been without difficulty, the history of relations between Christians of all types is one of "fraternity, of co-operation and of human and spiritual sharing," he said.

The Pope moved to the third characteristic, the "breaking of bread," calling it the "pinnacle" of man's union with God. As a way of unifying oneself with Christ's sacrifice, he said, "it also represents the completeness of the unity of Christ's disciples, full communion."

Christians' prayers take on a "penitential dimension" when one considers that at this moment it is impossible to share the Body of Christ with all Christians in the Eucharist, the Pope said.

He encouraged a "more generous commitment" to eventually bring Christians together in full communion, "breaking the Eucharistic bread and drinking from the same chalice."

The final "pillar," he said, is that of prayer. It means being open to the fraternity offered to Christians as the children of God, but also "it means being ready for forgiveness and reconciliation," he explained.

The Pope called for a "powerful witness" rooted in spirituality and supported by reason to be shared by all, as a message to those seeking clear points of reference in today's world.

He underscored the importance of a constant increase in mutual love and an effort to overcome the difficulties that remain for full communion.

"We must collaborate as much as possible, working together on outstanding questions and, above all, being aware that we need the Lord's help on this journey," concluded the Pope. "He must still help us a lot because without Him, alone, without 'abiding in Him', we can do nothing."

At the end of his general audience, the Pope met with members of the Italian association "Figli in paradiso: ali tra cielo e terra" (Children in paradise: wings between heaven and earth) which brings together members of families in which children have died.

"Do not let yourselves be overcome with desolation and despair," the Pope said. "Rather, transform your suffering into hope, as Mary did at the foot of the cross."

He also encouraged young people "to calculate risks and to act at all times with prudence and a sense of responsibility, especially when driving a motor vehicle, in order to protect your own lives and those of others.”

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Cardinal Nicora to head Vatican's new financial watchdog agency

Vatican City, Jan 19, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI has appointed the president and staff for a new independent department responsible for overseeing the financial activities of Vatican agencies. The move comes after an investigation by Italian bank authorities into money transfers by the Vatican bank.

Cardinal Attilio Nicora, currently president of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, will now also head the new "watchdog" agency called the Financial Information Authority, which the Pope established at the end of 2010.

Four members of the directing council will support Cardinal Nicora, who is charged with preventing money laundering, fraud and other possible abuses in Vatican agencies and their affiliates. He will also be responsible for maintaining relations with European Union financial oversight bodies.

The Jan. 19 action by Pope Benedict comes after an investigation this past September in which Italian authorities seized just over $30 million deposited by the Vatican's bank, known as the Institute for the Works of Religion, at the private Italian bank Credito Artigiano SpA.

Authorities said the Vatican's bank had not complied with Italian laws aimed at preventing money laundering by requiring the disclosure of information about account holders and beneficiaries.

The head of the Vatican bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, maintained in court that no money laundering or fraud had occurred and pointed to internal transfer orders as the source of the problem.

Cardinal Nicora will be joined in his efforts by an all-Italian staff of experts. Claudio Bianchi, Marcello Condemi, Giuseppe Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto, Cesare Testa, will form the council whose purpose is to carry out the administrative and monitoring work of the authority. If they see fit, they can also employ other individuals to carry out their task.

Their director will later be appointed by Cardinal Nicora himself.

The group of four includes law, accounting and economics professionals. Their first task will be to prepare the Vatican for April 1, when the Dec. 30 norms to guide financial activities will become effective.

The authority is unprecedented in that it has the power to oversee the activities of all Vatican departments and bodies that engage in any exchange of currency or goods. It is independent of the other existing Vatican financial and economic bodies, including the Institute for Religious Works.

Among the new norms the Holy See seeks to enact are measures to prevent and combat illegal activities in financial and commercial sectors. It also aims to put an anti-money laundering protocol in place that will bring the Vatican up to the European standard.

With the measures, they aim to ensure that no money passing through the Vatican will finance criminal activity or terrorism.

Investigations by the new authority that result in evidence of impropriety will be taken up in the Vatican's court system, in association with the Italian penal system for crimes deserving of prison time.

The newly-appointed president, Cardinal Nicora, has extensive experience with Vatican finances, having headed the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See since 2002. The APSA, as it is called, is responsible for administering property of the Holy See destined to finance the functions of the Roman Curia.

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Mexican actor pledges to build largest pro-life women's clinic in US

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 19, 2011 (CNA) - Mexican producer and actor Eduardo Verastegui has announced that his organization, Mantle of Guadalupe, is planning to build the largest pro-life women's clinic in the United States.

Verastegui's announcement came during the first-ever gala held by Mantle of Guadalupe and Catholic Charities of Los Angeles.

The gala took place Jan. 15 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills and brought together 300 noted guests, including Philip Rivers from the San Diego Chargers, Mexican actor Karyme Lozano, actor Sean Astin from “The Lord of the Rings,” violinist Roddy Chong and motivational speaker Nick Vujicic.

Vujicic also received an award for his courageous testimony in defense of human life.

During the gala, Verastegui, who is the founder of Mantle of Guadalupe, reiterated his commitment to defend life and announced that the organization’s new goal is the construction of “the largest women’s clinic in the United States.”

“I will not use my talents except to elevate my Christian, pro-life and Hispanic values,” Verastegui promised the guests.

At the conclusion of his remarks, the Mexican actor introduced several young Hispanic mothers and their babies who were saved thanks to the work of Mantle of Guadalupe.  They were greeted with a prolonged standing ovation. “These babies are the fruits of Mantle of Guadalupe, they are the result of your generosity.  If only just one of them were here, everything I have done in my life recently since filming 'Bella' would have been worth it,” he said.

Upon receiving his award, Vujicic, a young Australian – born without arms or legs – thanked God for the gift of life. “He can turn a kid without arms or legs into his own arms and legs,” Vujicic said during remarks peppered with loud applause from the guests.

Vujicic spoke about the unique and irreplaceable role of each human being regardless of his or her disabilities. He also announced the launch of the website, which features inspirational stories.

The gala raised funds for the pro-life medical center Mantle of Guadalupe recently opened in eastern Los Angeles. The clinic provides care for women in need and is located just a few miles from over 10 abortion clinics.

Care is provided free-of-charge, and includes pre-natal care, ultrasounds, natural family planning education and high-risk pregnancy care. 

More information can be found at:

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Letter from 1997 shows Vatican concern to ensure abuse verdicts, officials say

Dublin, Ireland, Jan 19, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - A newly released 1997 letter that some claim proves a Vatican-led cover up of clergy sex abuse in Ireland is being misrepresented, Vatican and Irish Church officials said.

The letter’s release Jan. 17 by Ireland’s RTE television seemed timed to embarrass the Vatican as a team Pope Benedict appointed began its official “apostolic visitation” to assess the state of the Irish Church and its progress in the wake of the clergy abuse scandal.

But Church officials said the letter proves the opposite of what lawyers for abuse victims have been claiming widely in the media.

The Jan. 31, 1997 letter was written to the Irish bishops by the Vatican's then-representative to Ireland, the late Archbishop Luciano Storero. In it, he expressed the Vatican’s concerns that legal requirements that bishops report priests accused of abuse to police might cause conflicts with Church law.

Contrary to news reports, the Vatican’s concern was not to shield priests from punishment. Rather the Vatican wanted to ensure that Irish Church officials followed Church law in reporting accused priests — in order to avoid having their decisions overturned on technicalities by Vatican officials.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, noted that despite allegations being made in the media, Archbishop Storeo never suggested that the bishops not cooperate with Irish authorities.

"The letter rightly emphasises the importance of always respecting canonical legislation, precisely in order to ensure that guilty parties do not have justified grounds for an appeal and thus producing a result contrary to the one desired," he said.

Archbishop Storero’s two-page letter was written in the highly technical language of Church law. He expressed concern that some requirements of the Irish policy “appeared contrary to canonical discipline.”

The archbishop did not spell out the possible contradictions with Church law, although his letter suggested that the Vatican was concerned about protecting accused priests' reputations and their rights to a fair trial.

One consequence of any breach with canon law would have been that accused priests might have grounds to appeal their case to the Vatican, and the Vatican might be forced to “invalidate the actions of the same bishops who are attempting to put a stop to these problems," he wrote.

“The results,” if that would be the case, “could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same diocesan authorities," according to Archbishop Storero.

Vatican and Irish Church officials stated that any fair reading of the letter indicates that the Church took seriously the abuse allegations and the attempt to prosecute them. Indeed, they said, the purpose of the letter was to ensure that the priest’s rights to a fair trial were respected and that the verdicts would hold up on appeal.

As the archbishop wrote, "in the sad case of accusations of sexual abuse by clerics, the procedures established by the Code of Canon Law must be meticulously followed under pain of invalidity of the acts involved if the priest so punished were to make hierarchical recourse against his Bishop."

The Vatican did not wish for procedural error to lead to cases in which a guilty priest was exonerated in a higher court.

At the time, the Vatican, as the ultimate authority in cases of clergy misconduct, was still trying to formulate guidelines for how to deal with accusations of child sexual abuse by priests. There were differences of opinion between the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The policy took shape eventually in 2001, when then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger ensured that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith assumed competency for allegations of sexual abuse and eliminated bishops' doubt of where to report possible cases.

Martin Long, the Irish bishops’ communications director, told CNA on Jan. 19 that the bishops “fully agree” with Father Lombardi’s interpretation of the 1997 letter.

He added that the existence of the letter "is not new news."

"Relevant extracts" of this letter were included in an official report to the Archdiocese of Dublin published by the Irish government in November 2009.

He said the Irish Church has been following the mandatory reporting requirements since 1996, with the Vatican’s support.

He pointed out that Pope Benedict XVI’s open letter to Irish Catholics last March urged the Church to continue implementing its current child protection plan and protocol throughout the Church.

"Central to these 'safeguarding children' guidelines was the policy of mandatory reporting of all abuse allegations," said Long.

He added, "The Vatican has stated on a number of occasions in recent years that a Catholic's obligation to the law of the Church does not in any way prevent him from fulfilling his obligation to report allegations of abuse to the civil authorities,” he said. "The Vatican has been absolutely clear on this point.”

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US bishops say health care law needs crucial changes in new Congress

Washington D.C., Jan 19, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - In a Jan. 18 letter to members of the 112th Congress, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops advised significant changes to the health care overhaul passed by the previous session of Congress.

One day after the conference released the letter to the public, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to repeal the law in question, the 2010 “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

Significantly, the USCCB has chosen neither to support, nor to oppose, Republican-led efforts to repeal the law. Instead, the bishops plan to “continue to devote our efforts to correcting serious moral problems in the current law, so health-care reform can truly be life-affirming for all.”

Although the overall repeal measure stands little chance of passing in the Senate after its approval by the House, it is seen as the prelude to a strategy that could result in changes to significant portions of the overhaul.

These changes could incorporate some of the suggestions that the bishops made in their recent letter that explained their critical but nuanced position on health care reform.

The letter's signatories were Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, and Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles – the chairmen of the committees on Pro-life Activities, Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Migration, respectively.

They reaffirmed the absolute importance of “basic health care for all,” which Catholic social teaching affirms as a basic right rather than an earned privilege. But they noted that “it has never been, and is not now, for the bishops to decide the best means” –whether completely public, private, or somewhere in between– “to realize this essential goal.”

The bishops' conference had strongly criticized the health care reform bill passed during the 2010 session of Congress for lacking provisions that would ensure taxpayer money did not fund abortion. Legal experts at the bishops' conference said that President Obama's executive order –purporting to block the act from funding abortion– would not be effective across the board, but only in certain limited cases.

The bishops have also consistently noted the law's failure to provide access to reliable health care for illegal immigrants living in the U.S., which they described as an injustice.

In the Jan. 18 letter, the bishops reiterated these objections, without going so far as to say that last year's health care reform bill should necessarily be repealed on this basis.

Instead, they urged passage of legislation along the lines of a bill proposed –but never voted upon–  during the last session, Rep. Joseph Pitts and Dan Lipinski's H.R. 5111. That bill would have amended the Affordable Care Act to prevent it explicitly from either providing abortion directly, or funding health care plans and community health centers that do so.

The bishops also praised the provisions of last year's proposed bill H.R. 6570, which was intended to ensure that the health care bill did not force individuals to provide or purchase coverage conflicting in any manner with their religious beliefs, or other principles of conscience.

Like the Pitts-Lipinski proposal, this move to amend the Affordable Care Act never went before Congress for a vote, meaning it would have to be reintroduced in some manner during the 112th Congress. The bishops indicated they would “strongly support” any new proposals to prohibit abortion funding and protect conscience rights under the health care bill.

“We will advocate for addressing the current problems in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” they resolved, “as well as others that may become apparent in the course of its implementation.”

The Catholic Health Association, a private trade association of hospitals which came out in favor of the Affordable Care Act over the bishops' objections in 2010, issued a statement of its own on the same day as the U.S. bishops.

That statement, which opposed any attempt to repeal the law, did not address what the bishops called “serious moral problems” with its proposals or omissions.

Instead, while acknowledging that “no one piece of legislation is perfect,” Catholic Health Association President Sr. Carol Keehan stated that “many of the (bill's) provisions … are essential and should remain in law,” as a means to the Church's goal of expanding access to health care.

Coming down on the other side of the repeal question, the National Right to Life Committee also wrote to Congress, earlier in the month.

The committee favored an outright reversal of the health care overhaul, rather than the specific changes that the U.S. bishops recommended, as a means of preventing the government from funding abortion within the category of health care.

In its analysis of the Affordable Care Act, the National Right to Life Committee drew attention to the same avenues for abortion funding that the bishops want to be closed off through subsequent legislation.

The committee also alleged that other parts of the act could result in government rationing of critical care and lead to the promotion of euthanasia. Consequently, the committee's directors held that “the law is so riddled with provisions that violate right-to-life principles that it cannot simply be patched” through the kind of surgical revisions suggested by the bishops.

The U.S. bishops, for their part, have given no indication that they see the promotion of euthanasia as a possible effect of the law. Richard Doerflinger, Associate Director for Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. bishops' conference, told CNA/EWTN News on Jan. 5 that critics of health care reform were unrealistically exaggerating the prospect of government “death panels.”

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