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Archive of March 8, 2011

Philadelphia cardinal places 21 priests on leave following abuse allegations

Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 8, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia has placed 21 priests in the archdiocese on administrative leave, following investigations into a grand jury report that there were credible abuse allegations against the clergy members.

“These have been difficult weeks” since the release of the report, Cardinal Rigali said in a March 8 statement. Difficult “most of all for victims of sexual abuse, but also for all Catholics and for everyone in our community.”

The grand jury report – issued on Feb. 10 – charged that there were 37 archdiocesan priests still in ministry who had credible allegations of abuse against them but were still in roles that brought them into contact with children.

The report also stated that Msgr. William Lynn, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s secretary of clergy under previous Philadelphia archbishop Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, endangered the welfare of children by allowing “dangerous” priests to remain in positions with access to children.

In his initial reaction to the report, Cardinal Rigali said on Feb. 10 that there were “no archdiocesan priests in ministry today who have an admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them.”

Within a week of the release of the grand jury report last month, the archdiocese hired Gina Maisto Smith, a former Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney who has prosecuted child sexual assault cases for nearly two decades. Smith, a partner at the law firm of Ballard Spahr, conducted an initial review of all 37 cases.

“Cardinal Rigali asked me to assist him in responding to the concerns raised in the grand jury report,” Smith said on March 8. “I was given the unlimited freedom to do a thorough review with full access to all files and documents.”

After Smith conducted her review, Cardinal Rigali announced on March 8 that 21 of the 37 priests referenced in the report have been placed on administrative leave.

The Philadelphia Archdiocese reported that of the 16 remaining priests who were not placed on leave, eight were cleared and did not warrant further investigation.

Of the remaining eight priests, four had previously been placed on leave in earlier weeks, two now serve in religious orders outside the archdiocese and two are incapacitated to serve and are no longer in active ministry.

Cardinal Rigali said that now that Smith's initial examination has concluded, “I have accepted her initial recommendations.”

The next step will involve Smith and a team of experts – including pediatricians, forensic psychiatrists, psychologists, and child advocacy workers –  investigating the cases more thoroughly.

Cardinal Rigali underscored that the move to put the 21 priests on administrative leave serves as an “interim” measure, and not a final determination or judgment. 

“I know that for many people their trust in the Church has been shaken,” he added. “I pray that the efforts of the archdiocese to address these cases of concern and to re-evaluate our way of handling allegations will help rebuild that trust in truth and justice.”

“As we strive to move forward today,” Cardinal Rigali said, “I wish to express again my sorrow for the sexual abuse of minors committed by any members of the Church, especially clergy. I am truly sorry for the harm done to the victims of sexual abuse, as well as to the members of our community who suffer as a result of this great evil and crime.”

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Abolishing death penalty in Illinois would help build culture of life, say US bishops

Springfield, Ill., Mar 8, 2011 (CNA) - The U.S. bishops are urging Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to sign an anti-death penalty law after weeks of indecision on the state leader's part, saying that the legislation would help build a “culture of life in our country.”

“Respect for life applies to all, even the perpetrators of terrible acts,” Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California wrote to Gov. Quinn on March 3. Bishop Stockton serves as chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development for the U.S. Bishops' Conference.

The landmark Senate Bill 3539 abolishing the death penalty passed through the Illinois legislature in January and now awaits Gov. Quinn’s approval.

At an event at the University of Illinois on Jan. 19, Gov. Quinn says he'd like feedback from the citizens of Illinois before he decides whether to sign the legislation. He added that he is currently going through a period of what he called “reflection and review” and has not indicated when he will make a decision. According to local news outlets, the governor has until March 18 to sign the bill into law before it takes effect without his signature.

“On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I join the Catholic bishops of Illinois and urge you to sign SB 3539,” Bishop Blaire said in a letter to Gov. Quinn.

The Stockton bishop added that the legislation would not only end the use of the death penalty in Illinois but also provide funds for training law enforcement personnel and providing services to families of murder victims.

Bishop Blaire also noted in his letter to the governor that Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, “called for the end to the use of the death penalty as a sign of greater respect for all human life.”

His letter also drew from the U.S. Bishops' Conference 2009 document “In A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death,” which says that even “when people deny the dignity of others, we must still recognize that their dignity is a gift from God and is not something that is earned or lost through their behavior.”

“The legislation before you would help to begin building a culture of life in our country,” he said.

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Catholic leaders join condemnation of Ivory Coast mosque burnings

Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Mar 8, 2011 (CNA) - Catholic bishops and other religious leaders have condemned the Feb. 25 destruction of two mosques in Ivory Coast, with a warning that the country's political struggle must not become a religious conflict.

Archbishop Ambrose Madtha, the Apostolic Nuncio of Ivory Coast, joined Bishop Salomon Lezoutie of Yopougon and other religious leaders in a visit to several mosques, seeking to show the Church's commitment to inter-religious peace in the embattled country.

Supporters of Laurent Gbagbo—who recently lost the presidential election—have reportedly burned down two mosques in Yopougon, a neighborhood in the city of Abidjan, as part of a campaign intended to terrorize supporters of his political rival Alassane Ouattara.

Gbagbo, a Catholic, has refused to give up the country's presidency despite losing to the Muslim candidate Ouattara in Ivory Coast's November 2010 election. The Catholic Church in Ivory Coast has insisted that the country's conflict is not religious in nature and should not lead to sectarian violence.

Leaders from the Forum of Religious Confessions of Ivory Coast likewise described the situation as “purely political,” and decried attempts to exploit religious tensions for a political purpose.

“For this reason,” they wrote, “we strongly condemn the attacks on various places of worship.”

“We want to remind people that places of worship are holy and sacred –  and, like embassies, are accorded the status of extraterritoriality. The churches, mosques and temples, then, are inviolable places.”

Fighting between the rival camps has already forced 200,000 Ivorians to flee from their homes. Many refugees have fled to houses of worship, including Catholic parishes as well as Muslim mosques, to escape from the fighting.

In their statement after the mosque burnings, members of the Forum of Religious Confessions of Ivory Coast committed themselves to playing a humanitarian role and avoiding partisan commitments.

“Every day,” they wrote, “we help people of all ages travel, fleeing the horrors of a situation that we know, in search of a hypothetical safer refuge.”

Gbagbo's “Young Patriots,” based in the country's south, continue to resist international attempts to reach a settlement with Ouattara. Supporters of the defeated incumbent consider themselves to be fighting a defensive war against U.N. peacekeeping forces who support Ouattara as the election winner.

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Pakistan’s Catholic bishops could propose Shahbaz Bhatti as a martyr

Lahore, Pakistan, Mar 8, 2011 (CNA) - The Catholic bishops of Pakistan will consider a proposal to ask the Vatican to declare assassinated Pakistani minister Shahbaz Bhatti a martyr.

“Bhatti is a man who gave his life for his crystalline faith in Jesus Christ,” Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan, who drafted the proposal, told Fides news agency. “It is up to us, the Bishops, to tell his story and experience to the Church in Rome, to call for official recognition of his martyrdom.”

The country’s bishops’ conference will consider the proposal during its general assembly in Multan from March 20 to 25.

A “martyr,” from the Greek word meaning “witness,” is someone who dies for the faith. A declaration of martyrdom would mean a miracle would not be required for Bhatti’s possible beatification, although to be canonized as a saint a miracle would be required.

Masked men murdered Bhatti, the minister for religious minorities, on the streets of Islamabad as he left his mother’s home for a cabinet meeting on March 2. He was a leading voice for religious freedom and peace and the only Christian in the Pakistani cabinet.

Al-Qaida and the Punjab-based Pakistani Taliban Movement claimed responsibility for Bhatti’s killing, according to the AP.

His murder was especially momentous coming after the Jan. 4 assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer. Both men were critics of Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which impose death sentences or life imprisonment for acts of disrespect for Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an.

In a video he recorded to be released upon his death, Bhatti stated: “I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of ‘cross,’ and I follow Him to the cross.”

“Pray for me and for my life,” Bhatti told Fides ahead of his murder. “I am a man who has burnt his bridges. I cannot and will not go back on this commitment. I will fight fanaticism and fight in defense of Christians to the death.”

At the slain minister’s March 4 funeral Mass, Archbishop Anthony Rufin of Islamabad said Bhatti was driven to address the “harsh reality” facing Christians in Pakistan.

“He always asked me to pray for him, because he was aware that the work in the world, without help from above, is incomplete and cannot bear fruit,” he recounted. “Even service in politics, without reference to the faith, remains empty and exposed to the Evil One.”

The archbishop told Fides that Bhatti was “a man who gave his life for the faith.”

“I am sure that the Church, in her own time, may proclaim him a martyr.”

Local Catholics observed March 4 as a day of fasting and prayer. They also held a public procession in Bhatti’s home diocese of Faisalabad.

Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore reacted to the minister’s death by saying it has robbed the country’s Catholics and minority groups of a “great leader” and has left them in a “precarious” situation.
 
The murder has shown that extremist religious parties are gaining the upper hand over a “very weak” government, he explained in an interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. The country’s 2.5 million Christians are now increasingly exposed to violence and intimidation by people with a mindset centered on “an extremist form of Islam.”

“The murder of Shahbaz Bhatti means that we have lost a great leader of our community who stood up for us and articulated the concerns and fears of our people. We do not have a leader now,” the archbishop said.

The slain minister was “a man of great integrity who had his opinions and stuck to them.” The archbishop doubted whether his successor would display the same courage and determination in the face of attacks on minorities’ rights.

“Our people are quite down. They are fearful of the future – more so than before,” Archbishop Saldanha reported. “People feel like second class citizens. We cannot speak out. We feel oppressed, repressed and depressed.”

Security has been increased for Christian buildings. Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore is under police guard with cameras, cement barriers, and sandbags. Perimeter walls have been raised by three feet.

The archbishop accused the government of failing to tackle fundamentalism. The religious parties have put much pressure on the government, which is weak and cannot stand against “the menace of extremism.”

Despite the threats, Archbishop Saldanha said Pakistan’s Catholics will endure.

“Our people are very resilient and determined. For centuries, they have been suffering. This is nothing new for them. They have always been under the thumb. We carry on with God’s grace.”

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New Egyptian prime minister meets with Christians after recent attack

Cairo, Egypt, Mar 8, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - After a Coptic Christian church was set on fire on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt’s new prime minister, Essam Sharaf, took the unprecedented step of meeting with local Christians protesting the attack.

The meeting – which comes at a time of intense political turmoil in the country – is reportedly the first time an Egyptian prime minister has acknowledged and met with demonstrators.

On March 4, witnesses say a Coptic church in the town of Soul, on the outskirts of Cairo, was set on fire by a mob after a skirmish between a Christian man and a Muslim woman. The mob allegedly prevented the local fire brigade from entering the village. The priest of the small parish, and three deacons have been reported missing.

“Some of the Muslim mobs in the area took the land … and put a sign that it’s now a mosque,” Michael Meunier, President of the U.S. Copts Association, told Vatican Radio on March 8.

Prime Minister Sharaf told the Coptic community that he would speak to the country's military council about taking back the land and rebuilding the church. However, no action has been taken at this point, largely due to the Prime Minister's need to negotiate with the military council.

“That’s a first time a seated prime minister has addressed any protesters in Egypt,” Meunier said. “He’s trying – the problem is he’s not fully authorized. It’s still the military council that holds all the cards.”

Meunier is currently in Egypt and has met with the prime minister on two occasions to discuss the issue.

About 90 percent of Egypt’s population is Muslim. Catholics make up a tiny minority of about 500,000, with the majority of the nation’s Christians being members of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The country was rocked by a wave of anti-Christian persecution at the start of the year, including the killing of 21 Coptic Orthodox worshipers by a Muslim extremist suicide bomber outside a church in Alexandria, Egypt.

The Catholic Near East Welfare Association reported that Egypt’s Copts and other Christians have been an endangered minority in the country, with Islamic radicals regularly attacking Christians and their property. Under former President Hosni Mubarak, employment and education discrimination against Christians was common and the government placed restrictions on the construction or repair of churches that did not apply to mosques.

Although Muslim-Christian relations have been rife with tension in Egypt throughout the decades, Church leaders have expressed cautious optimism about the unity between both religious groups during the recent political protests in the country.

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, the Vatican nuncio to Egypt, told CNA in a phone interview from Cairo on Feb. 1. that the demonstrations have been remarkably free from religious overtones and that there are many signs of Christians and Muslims working together.

“There isn't a religious distinction,” he said. “They are not dividing themselves into Christians and Muslims, they're just the Egyptian citizens.”

Archbishop Fitzgerald said that in the first days of unrest, Muslims and Christians spontaneously formed neighborhood committees to provide security when police forces abruptly fled the area.

Catholic Coptic Patriarch Cardinal Antonios Naguib, head of the country’s Catholic Church, agreed that the protests have brought out “really wonderful” displays of Christian-Muslim unity.

However, Patriarch Naguib told CNA in a Feb. 4 e-mail that much depends on the future leadership of Egypt as to whether or not Christians will continue to encounter religious persecution.

“If the State is a civil state, based on equality, citizenship and law, as many are asking for, it will be an historic success,” he said.

“If, on the other hand, it is transformed into a religious state, we will have lost all of the past acquisitions, and the entire population will suffer – Christians and Muslims.”

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Mexican priest to appeal charge from Federal Electoral Institute

Mexico City, Mexico, Mar 8, 2011 (CNA) - The spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico City, Father Valdemar Romero, announced March 6 that he will appeal a ruling against him by the Federal Electoral Institute.

The institute ruled that the priest was guilty of proselytism for criticizing the Democratic Revolutionary Party's efforts to legalize abortion and same-sex unions in Mexico City. 

Members of the party were key in getting the city’s Legislative Assembly to legalize abortion up to week 12 in 2007. The Democratic Revolutionary Party also secured the passage of a law allowing same-sex unions in December of 2009. The Supreme Court upheld the law in August of 2010 as “in accord with the Constitution,” extending the right of gay couples to adopt as well.

In both cases the Archdiocese of Mexico strongly rejected the measures as attacks on life and the family.

Fr. Valdemar spoke with CNA on March 7, explaining his accusers argue that in 2010, “on one occasion I said that Catholics cannot vote for a party like the (Democratic Revolutionary Party) since it has approved these laws that attack our values as Christians.”

“You can’t characterize one single statement as proselytism,” he continued. “I would have to be repeating it over and over again in different forums and with that intention, which I have not done,” the priest said.

He added that he and others in the archdiocese “have simply appealed to the consciences of Catholics not to vote for a party that destroys their values, as Pope Benedict has been saying for many years.”

The priest then accused the Democratic Revolutionary Party of wanting to “shackle” the Catholic Church and “silence her, as if they would make her disappear.”

“They don’t do so because it is not in their hands,” Fr. Valdemar said. 

“This is all because we have strongly criticized their legislative actions in the Federal District, where they have passed laws that affect the family and break the nucleus of society which is the family,” he continued. “Of course, they don’t like this and they are profoundly intolerant,” Fr. Valdemar added.
 
“I am not intimidated,” he continued, “but is this a persecution through the courts being carried out? It is. I have been the target of nine lawsuits by the left and its affiliate groups. What is this all about? It’s about persecution.”

“They want to silence us because they are very afraid that the Catholic faithful might respond to the Church’s questioning of their actions and deny them their vote. It is not possible to vote in conscience for parties that attack life, the family and fundamental values,” Fr. Valdemar stated.

“This isn’t something I made up, this is the teaching of the Pope, who has been saying over and over again that Catholics must conscientiously cast their votes and cannot support parties that are against the Gospel, against values, because a person who votes like this is committing an ethical offense against his own faith, his own morals, his own religion and one cannot do that.”

“You cannot be a good Catholic and at the same time vote for these parties that destroy the Catholic faith,” he added.

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Cord blood stem cells used to help cure girl of brain cancer in Spain

Seville, Spain, Mar 8, 2011 (CNA/Europa Press) -

A four-year-old girl has become the first patient in Spain to recover from brain cancer after being treated with stem cells from her own umbilical cord blood.

The announcement of the girl's recovery came March 7 from the company Crio-Cord, a stem cell bank in Spain.

Alba was born healthy in 2007, but at age two she was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. Her treatment consisted of extracting the majority of the tumor from her brain. She was then given chemotherapy to reduce and eventually eliminate the remainder of the tumor.

Alba's blood system was destroyed during the final round of chemo, thus requiring a transplant of cord blood stem cells.

The procedure was carried out in 2009 by Dr. Luis Madero of the Department of Oncology and Hematology at the Nino Jesus Hospital in Madrid.

Today, four year-old Alba is a healthy girl.

Periodic Reviews

Sixty days after the transplant, Alba was given new stem cells taken from her peripheral blood in order to accelerate the production of platelets. Fourteen months after the transplant, her blood system was completely restored, and she has since enjoyed a normal life.

Dr. Madero called her case unique in Spain. “The use of stem cells to regenerate the blood system is an extended treatment for this form of cancer,” he said. What makes her case unique, he added, “is that for the first time in our country, the stem cells came from a patient’s own umbilical cord, preserved from birth.”

“In recent years, transplants of cord blood stem cells have become increasingly common. In the case of siblings, these stem cells are the best therapeutic option that exists,” he said.

“Our best investment”

Alba’s father, Santiago, who is a computer engineer, and her mother, Teresa, a literature professor, agreed that keeping the blood from Alba’s umbilical cord was the “best investment” they ever made. 

Santiago said he had previously seen a report “on the treatment for Parkinson’s using stem cells … and was sympathetic to the idea of using stem cells to treat degenerative diseases.”
 
“Keeping the umbilical cord is a wager for the future, a life insurance policy that you don’t know if you will need but that could save a life,” Teresa added.

The head of Crio-Cord, Guillermo Munoz, also said he was pleased at the results of the therapy. He noted that the organization was “proud to have participated in Alba’s healing process.”

Cases like these confirm “that umbilical cord blood is an excellent source of stem cells. Being the youngest cells of their kind in the human body, they have great potential to cure,” Munoz explained.

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