Washington D.C., Feb 10, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The House of Representatives has begun debate on proposals targeting funding of abortion in the federal budget.
The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act would create a “long overdue” permanent ban on abortion funding, Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities testified at a crowded Feb. 8 hearing.
Other abortion-related proposals prepared for this Congress include the Protect Life Act and the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act.
The Protect Life Act would prevent the 2010 health care law from subsidizing abortion or health care plans that cover abortion. The Title X Abortion Provider bill aims to de-fund Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider.
Doerflinger told the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution on Feb. 8 that there has been “strong” popular and congressional agreement that the federal government should not use tax dollars to support or promote elective abortion. However, this agreement has been implemented in a “piecemeal” and “sometimes sadly inadequate” way.
The occasional discovery of gaps or loopholes in abortion funding restrictions shows the need for a general ban. A general ban would also make unnecessary the need to reapprove annual legislative provisions, he said.
An overarching ban would also remove the abortion debate from other legislation. Had the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act been in place, Doerflinger contended, a major obstacle to last year’s health care legislation would have been removed.
He also praised the legislation’s conscience protections for individuals and institutions which refuse to perform abortions. These provisions, which are similar to those in the proposed Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, would defend against “overt efforts” by the ACLU and other to suppress or eliminate health care guided by Catholic principles.
Cathy Ruse, a Senior Fellow for Legal Studies at the Family Research Council, told the hearing that 67 percent of Americans oppose federal funding for abortion or abortion coverage.
“For over three decades Americans have come together in what may be the only truly bi-partisan agreement possible: That whatever our differences on the underlying question of legality, we agree that the federal government should not subsidize abortions with taxpayer dollars,” Ruse stated.
Kellie Fiedorek, national coordinator of the Americans United for Life initiative Advocates for Life, on Feb. 9 said the hearing was “packed” and required overflow seating. The mood of the hearing was “truly exciting,” in her view, and showed that Americans are ready to “settle” the issue of abortion funding rather than renew anti-funding riders each year.
While some opponents of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act have charged that it distracts from economic issues, Fiedorek thought the proposal would appeal to fiscal concerns.
“People are concerned about the economy. They are concerned about jobs, and they want to cut spending.
“The majority of Americans do not want their tax dollars to support abortion. Their tax dollars should be spent on things other than abortion,” she told CNA.
While members of the U.S. House are now predominately opposed to abortion, the pro-life legislation faces obstacles in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Fiedorek said the key to passage in the Senate is whether its leaders will allow an up-or-down vote.
The House is expecting a vote on the bill by the end of February or early March. There is discussion in the Senate to introduce corresponding legislation in upcoming months.
Senate Democrats such as Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) worry Republicans will be able to force a vote on abortion-related bills by attaching them as riders to must-pass legislation, the congressional newspaper The Hill reports.
“We’re going to fight this with everything we have,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) commented.
Opposition to the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act was also present at the Feb. 8 hearing.
Sara Rosenbaum, a chair of George Washington University’s Department of Health Policy, testified that the bill “dramatically expands” the Hyde Amendment’s conception of public funding and could exclude “certain types of medically necessary procedures” from coverage as well as treatment for post-abortion complications.
She voiced concerns that the legislation does not allow time for the IRS to develop compliance procedures, which could cause employers temporarily to halt health benefits for fear of non-compliance. Insurance and health benefits providers could simply exclude coverage of all abortions rather than risk violating the law and losing their tax-favored treatment.
Doerflinger anticipated Rosenbaum’s point in his testimony, saying:
“As the Supreme Court noted approvingly three decades ago, the purpose of a federal funding ban is to use the government’s funding power to encourage childbirth over abortion. Abortion coverage, and therefore abortion, may become more rare, a result favored by all but the most committed advocates for abortion.”
New York City, N.Y., Feb 10, 2011 (CNA) - After the release of a new round of videotapes in which Planned Parenthood employees agree to cover up a sex trafficking ring, the abortion provider announced on Feb. 8 that it would be retraining its employees across the nation, in order to bring them into compliance with U.S. law.
“We want to be crystal clear for those millions of people who come to us and trust us,” said Planned Parenthood's national spokesman Stuart Schear, announcing the retraining initiative. “We will never put a minor at risk.”
The organization has recently struggled to defend its reputation, after the California-based pro-life activist group Live Action began to release a new series of undercover videos on Feb. 1. In the videos, actors posing as a pimp and a prostitute seek and receive information from Planned Parenthood employees, about how to acquire abortions and other services for a group of underage immigrant girls.
In the latest footage, filmed in a New York clinic and released Feb. 8, an employee tells the purported pimp that he should pose as the legal guardian of his prostitutes in order to procure abortions for them.
“We see people as young as 13,” the clinic employee tells him. “Everything is totally confidential.”
On the day of the New York tape's release, Planned Parenthood said it would be administering what has been described as a “refresher” course – reminding employees of their obligations, under the laws of individual U.S. states, to report crimes such as statutory rape and human trafficking.
That same day, however, Planned Parenthood New York President Joan Malin told the New York Times that New York state law does not require them to report all criminal activity, but only cases in which they suspect “child abuse or neglect.” Malin claimed that her clinic employees were already accustomed to reporting such cases.
Planned Parenthood also said it would be changing its internal policies, and automatically firing any employee shown to have assisted in criminal activity.
Prior to the new changes, the organization employed retraining or suspension as a disciplinary measure in such cases – even though U.S. law states that an individual who assists in a federal crime can be punished in the same manner as the person committing it.
Five days before the new policy was announced, the executive director of Planned Parenthood in Pennsylvania claimed that the organization already had a “zero-tolerance policy for this kind of behavior.”
That assertion came in response to Live Action's first video release from the undercover project. In the tape released on Feb. 1, a New Jersey employee is seen giving advice on how to avoid mandatory reporting regulations which could endanger a sex-trafficking enterprise. The tape prompted New Jersey's attorney general Paula Dow to begin an investigation into possible illegal activity by Planned Parenthood.
The abortion provider initially attempted to present the New Jersey incident as an isolated and unusual occurrence. Phyllis Kinsler, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Central New Jersey, said she was “profoundly shocked” to see an employee “behaving in a repugnant manner that is inconsistent with our standards of care.” The employee was fired.
Subsequent video releases, however, called into question Kinsler's assertions about Planned Parenthood's “standards of care.” A series of videos filmed in Virginia showed employees again telling the undercover pro-lifers how to secure abortions and other services for the girls, while avoiding mandatory reporting regulations that could endanger the criminal enterprise.
Media Matters for America, which held a joint press conference with Planned Parenthood on Feb. 3 to discuss fallout from the tapes. described one of the undercover videos from a Virginia clinic as “seven minutes of nothing.”
However, the state's Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli described the same clip as “very disturbing.” His office has said it is looking into allegations that Planned Parenthood may be routinely violating state law.
Kingston, Canada, Feb 10, 2011 (CNA) - On behalf of his country's Catholic bishops, Canadian Archbishop Brendan M. O'Brien of Kingston has asked his government to intervene on behalf of Musa Sayed, a Christian convert in Afghanistan who may soon be executed for the “crime” of renouncing Islam.
On Feb. 9, the archbishop – who is also the human rights chairman for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops – wrote to Canada's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Cannon, about Sayed's plight. He called attention to the Afghan Christian's “urgent case,” citing reports that he is to be executed within days on charges of apostasy.
Sayed converted to Christianity sometime between 2002 and 2003. An amputee and physical therapist, he has worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross for 15 years and specializes in fitting children with prosthetic limbs.
If executed, he would leave behind a wife and six young children, who have reportedly fled Afghanistan already due to fears for their safety.
Archbishop O'Brien urged his government “to express its condemnation of this religious persecution, and to intervene with the Government of Afghanistan for mercy and clemency for Mr. Sayed.”
From his prison cell in Kabul. Sayed himself has written an open letter – addressed to U.S. President Barack Obama and other international leaders – detailing the beatings and acts of sexual abuse he has suffered.
“The authority and prisoners in jail did many bad behaviors with me, about my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” he wrote. “For example, they did sexual things with me, beat me by wood, by hands, by legs, put some things on my head, mocked me.”
“Please pray and immediately help with me and rescue me from this jail,” the letter concluded. “Otherwise they will kill me.”
Jamal Khan, the chief of staff at Afghanistan's Ministry of Justice, has maintained that Sayed's Christian conversion is clearly a capital crime under the country's Islamic legal code.
“The sentence for a convert is death and there is no exception,” Khan has stated, maintaining that defectors from Islam “must be sentenced to death to serve as a lesson for others.”
Some Christian groups are taking a different lesson from Sayed's sentence, however, as they begin to wonder what nine years of war in Afghanistan have accomplished.
“A coalition of nations has spent many billions to help Afghanistan come out from under a religious dictatorship and into some semblance of modernity,” said Jeff King, an activist who heads the Washington-based International Christian Concern.
“This case, if taken on its own, would point to a grand waste of time, money, and blood,” King observed.
Vatican City, Feb 10, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican’s 2010 meeting for the Middle East has been misunderstood by many in the region as calling for a “new crusade” against Islam.
As officials gathered in Rome recently to assess last October’s special Synod for Bishops, a veteran Vatican adviser on Christian-Muslim dialogue told CNA that many Muslims saw the Synod as “a new project against Islam.”
“Many people, many Muslims, who have no idea of Christianity at all are interpreting it ... as a new crusade,” Father Samir Khalil Samir, SJ, of the Pontifical Oriental Institute said in a late January interview.
Church leaders from the region and Vatican officials met Jan. 20-21 to assess reactions to the Synod, and to suggest themes for the document that Pope Benedict XVI is writing in response to the Synod, known as a “post-synodal apostolic exhortation.”
On Feb. 8, the Vatican issued a statement that concluded: the “socio-political situation in the various countries of the Middle East remains tense.”
Fr. Samir said that the Synod was widely interpreted in political, not religious terms. “When Muslims meet,” he said, “usually they meet on a political level.” As a result, many saw the bishops as meeting to discuss “how to attack Islam.”
“Fifty-seven Muslim countries meet yearly, usually invited by Saudi Arabia and they discuss as nations how to defend Islam,” he said. “In their mentality, the West is still seen as Christian nations. It is still Christianity against Islam – properly because they don’t make a difference between religion and state.”
In its statement, the Vatican reported that the Synod’s final message had been sent to “political figures” throughout the region. It also reported that an international congress had been held in Syria on the state of Muslim-Christian relations in Arab countries. In addition, a meeting of Christians and Jews has been held in Jerusalem to “promote more objective information about the synodal assembly.”
The Vatican insisted in its statement that “respect for Christian communities” is necessary “to eradicate any hotbeds of anti-Christian sentiment in the Middle East, to halt the emigration of Christians from that region, which is their native land, and to favor the common good.”
The Vatican’s press office said the meeting was held to prepare the council members for direct collaboration in the Pope’s eventual preparation of a final document, called an apostolic exhortation. The Pope will set forth his teaching to guide the future of the Church on pastoral and practical questions proposed at the conclusion of the Synod.
The next meeting of the Special Council for the Middle East of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, under the leadership of the Synod’s secretary general, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, will be held Mar. 30-31.
Madrid, Spain, Feb 10, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - World Youth Day 2011 organizers have published Pope Benedict XVI’s complete schedule of activities for the multi-day event, which will take place Aug. 18-21 in Madrid, Spain.
World Youth Day Madrid will kick off with a welcoming ceremony for the Pope in Cibeles Square. He will also visit the San Jose Institute Foundation, operated by the Brothers of St. John of God. The organization has provided care for the mentally and physically disabled since 1899.
On Aug. 19, Benedict XVI will meet with young university professors in the city's basilica. Carla Diez de Rivera, director of the Department of Culture for World Youth Day, said, “This meeting demonstrates the Pope’s predilection for universities and the world of culture.”
The Pope’s other activities will include a vigil with young people on Aug. 20 and a closing Mass on Aug. 21 at the Cuatro Vientos Airfield. The airfield is where John Paul II met with thousands of young people during his last trip to Spain.
Below is Benedict XVI's complete schedule for World Youth Day 2011:
Thursday, Aug. 18:
12:00 p.m. Arrival of Pope Benedict at Barajas Airport in Madrid and welcoming ceremony
12:40 p.m. Motorcade through Madrid, arrival at nunciature
7:00 p.m. At Independence Square, Benedict XVI will walk under the Alcala Gate with young people from five continents. Afterward he will travel to Cibeles Square for a welcoming ceremony with the youth.
Friday, Aug. 19
11:30 a.m. Pope Benedict XVI will meet with young religious women at the Royal Patio at El Escorial Monastery. He will then meet with young university professors at the basilica.
7:30 p.m. Way of the Cross at Cibeles Square.
Saturday, Aug. 20
10:00 a.m. Mass with seminarians at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Almudena
7:40 p.m. Visit to the San Jose Institute Foundation for the disabled, operated by the Order of St. John of God.
8:30 p.m. Vigil with young people at the Cuatro Vientos Airfield
Sunday, Aug. 21
9:00 a.m. Arrival at Cuatro Vientos Airfield and popemobile ride through crowd
9:30 a.m. Closing Mass for World Youth Day
5:30 p.m. Meeting with event volunteers
6:30 p.m. Departure ceremony at Barajas Airport
San José, Costa Rica, Feb 10, 2011 (CNA) - The president of the Latin American Bishops’ Council, Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis, is calling for renewed vocational and missionary zeal among the baptized.
The cardinal made his comments during the final address of the second Latin American Continental Congress on Vocations, which took place Jan. 31-Feb. 5 in Cartago, Costa Rica.
Cardinal Damasceno, who is also Archbishop of Aparecida, Brazil, said, “Let us renew our vocational and missionary zeal, and in his Word, let us cast our nets so that the miracle of an abundance of vocations will continue to repeat itself.”
He said the bishops' congress aimed to strengthen “the vocational culture so that the baptized would assume their call to be missionary disciples of Christ in the current circumstances of Latin America and the Caribbean.”
The cardinal also announced that participants in the congress will issue a final document that will address “the future of vocations in Latin American and Caribbean Church.”
Vatican City, Feb 10, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The vitality of the Church depends on individual Catholics fostering vocations in their homes and parishes, the Pope says in his annual message for the May 15 World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
“It is essential that every local Church become more sensitive and attentive to the pastoral care of vocations,” the Pope writes in his new statement issued by the Vatican on Feb. 10.
He speaks of the role of the Church in helping children and young people to grow in a real friendship with Jesus, to increase their familiarity with the Scriptures, to understand the truth of his message and to be generous in creating relationships with others.
The theme of this year’s prayer for vocations day is “Proposing Vocations in the Local Church.” The Pope says this “means having the courage, through an attentive and suitable concern for vocations, to point out this challenging way of following Christ which, because it is so rich in meaning, is capable of engaging the whole of one’s life.”
Answering Jesus' call of “Follow me!” is “no less challenging” today than it was for the disciples 2,000 years ago, says the Pope.
“It means learning to keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, growing close to him, listening to his word and encountering him in the sacraments” and “learning to conform our will to his.”
The Church is called to protect and love the gift of God's call to people to share in his mission and serve as ordained ministers and consecrated religious, he says.
“Particularly in these times, when the voice of the Lord seems to be drowned out by 'other voices' and his invitation to follow him by the gift of one’s own life may seem too difficult, every Christian community, every member of the Church, needs to consciously feel responsible for promoting vocations.”
According to a report from the U.S. bishops, there are currently 5,131 men enrolled in the U.S. seminaries. The number is up from 4,973 in 2009.
The Pope urges the faithful to take every opportunity to develop vocations. “Every moment” in Church community life from catechesis to prayer and pilgrimages can be “a precious opportunity for awakening in the people of God ... a sense of belonging to the Church and of responsibility for answering the call to priesthood and to religious life by a free and informed decision,” he says.
“The ability to foster vocations,” Pope Benedict concludes, “is a hallmark of the vitality of a local Church.”
Rome, Italy, Feb 10, 2011 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI's new representative to Vietnam is looking forward to strengthening ties between the Vatican and the local Catholic Church. A Vatican official said that his appointment “bodes well” for the future of the Church's sometimes difficult relationship with the Vietnamese government.
On Jan. 13, Pope Benedict appointed Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli as his non-resident representative to Vietnam.
On the same day, Archbishop Girelli established contact with the Vietnamese Church and pledged his “availability both in service and collaboration for the well-being of the Church.”
“I ardently hope to strengthen the bonds of fraternal understanding and mutual assistance between this Pontifical Representation and your archdiocese,” Archbishop Girelli said in his letter to Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh City.
The archbishop said he hopes to be “an instrument of fellowship between local priests, Religious and lay people and among the people in Vietnam.”
The Vatican hopes that his presence will improve the Church's status in Vietnam, where the Church faces strict government limits on its participation in public life.
The communist government’s restrictions on the Church earned Vietnam a special mention in a Jan. 25 Human Rights Watch report for its “intensifying repression” of religious minorities.
“Vietnam's crackdown on religion is systematic, severe, and getting worse by the day,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Catholics, Protestants, Mennonites and Buddhists were all listed as targets of the communist regime.
The Pope announced the creation of the non-resident representative position to Vietnam during his Jan. 10 “state of the world” address to Vatican diplomats. He said his new envoy would specifically be “at the service of religious freedom.”
In the Vatican, the archbishop's nomination is seen as a further step towards establishing diplomatic relations with the Vietnamese government.
Vietnam is one of the few nations in the world with a large Catholic population where the Vatican does not enjoy a concrete working relationship.
A Vatican official who works closely with the Vietnamese Church and requested anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the situation told CNA that in recent years relations with the government have “changed quite a bit for the better.”
Archbishop Girelli's appointment “will definitely help the Church in Vietnam,” he said. The presence of the new envoy, he added, “should go a long way in further improving the situation.”
The official concluded that Archbishop Girelli's intermediary function between the Holy See and the Vietnamese government “can only bode well for the future and definitely is good for the Catholics of Vietnam.”
In the last month, Archbishop Girelli has transitioned into his position as the Pope’s top diplomat in Singapore and the apostolic delegate in Malaysia and Brunei. He had been the lead diplomatic representative to Indonesia since 2006.