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Archive of March 17, 2011

Government’s refusal to defend marriage undermines democracy, Calif. bishop warns

Oakland, Calif., Mar 17, 2011 (CNA) - The failure of the Obama administration to support the Defense of Marriage Act and similar actions in California and the District of Columbia violates the constitution and takes the issue “away from the people,” Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of Oakland, Calif. warned in his newspaper column.

President Barack Obama’s order that the Department of Justice not defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was “an egregious violation” of the federal government’s separation of powers because it is not the role of the executive branch to decide which laws are unconstitutional.

The act in question defines marriage for federal purposes and preserves the right of U.S. states not to recognize same-sex “marriages” contracted in other states. It had passed by an “overwhelmingly majority,” Bishop Cordileone said in the March 7 issue of The Catholic Voice.

He criticized the claim that the act should not be defended because it discriminates against a sexual minority and is unconstitutional.

“The affirmation of marriage does not discriminate against anyone and casts no judgments on how people work out their intimate relationships, but rather affirms the most fundamental good in any healthy society,” said the bishop, who heads the U.S. bishops’ Committee for the  Defense of Marriage.

The Oakland bishop further charged that the U.S. Department of Justice had submitted an “apparently deliberately weak defense” of the legislation which will make it likely to be overturned. The defense omitted the one compelling factor which has convinced every court: the connection between marriage and the good of children, he said.

This failure was similar to California officials’ refusal to defend Proposition 8, the successful 2008 ballot measure which affirmed marriage as a union of a man and a woman. Then-Attorney General Jerry Brown, who is now the state’s governor, refused to defend the law on the grounds he is personally opposed to it.

Bishop Cordileone called this “an explicit denial of his public duty.” He noted the irony that legislators have said they could not impose their personal views on issues like abortion but “we now have the chief law enforcer in the state doing exactly that.”

“(T)hese and so many other moves by our public officials should give cause for concern about the fate of democracy in our country,” he said.

“The fact of the matter is, wherever ‘gay marriage’ has become the law of the land, it has happened in a way that avoids the democratic process, and sometimes even goes directly against it,” he wrote. “On the other hand, whenever the people have had the chance to vote on marriage, they have consistently affirmed it.”

These successes came despite advocates of traditional marriage being outspent and facing “strong” media bias, he explained.

Bishop Cordileone also took issue with reporters who have depicted these election decisions as votes on “gay marriage,” even though such unions have never been put on the ballot. They also downplay the unanimous successes of these votes: when the traditional definition of marriage has been on the ballot it has won “every time” in all 31 states, he said.

Legislative action to recognize same-sex “marriage” has also failed to show concern for democratic rule, the bishop contended. In Washington, D.C. the City Council approved recognition of these unions and obstructed efforts for a popular vote on marriage “every step of the way” in a city with a very large black population.

In the bishop’s view, it was ironic that “a small group of political elites” claimed to expand rights by denying the right to vote to the masses of black citizens.

These trends show that the present cultural conflict puts “the future prospects of our democracy at stake,” Bishop Cordileone concluded.

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Divorce law in Mexico City will destroy the family, experts warn

Mexico City, Mexico, Mar 17, 2011 (CNA) - The Supreme Court of Mexico's decision to uphold a “fast track divorce” law promotes the destruction of the family, various family experts are warning.

On March 8 the Supreme Court declared the reforms carried out in October 2008 by the Mexico City Legislative Assembly to be constitutional. The legislation allows one spouse to request and obtain a divorce without the agreement of the other.

The law requires that petitioners have been married at least for one year, that one of the spouses wishes to divorce and that his or her most recent address be in Mexico City.

Speaking with the news service of the Archdiocese of Mexico, Patricia Becerra, an expert on the theology of marriage, said the approval of the norm will result in “the trivialization of marriage and an aberration, because it violates two significant juridical principles.”

“The first is that no contract can grant one party the power to dissolve without the consent of the other,” Becerra said. “The second is that no one can use one’s bad faith to his or her own benefit.” The new law grants a divorce even though one of the parties is willing to forgive and fight to save the marriage, leaving the matter to the decision of one person in a contract that is the will of two, she said.

“Before, at least the judge took pains to say to couples that the government did not want them to divorce, but now in Mexico City that intention has changed and it seems that the government wants families to separate.”

Becerra argued that judges and lawyers are the ones who benefit most from the new law, because now divorces in Mexico City will become “quick and less burdensome.”

“There are many ways to strive for reconciliation between spouses and achieve forgiveness before resorting to separation,” she added.

In a statement published on March 14, the news service of the Archdiocese of Mexico City said, “Uniting together in the hope of having a life-long union is the initial dream of every couple that decides to marry. However, in many cases, that dream is obscured by the difficulties of daily life, by common failings such as the lack of communication, the inability to forgive and selfishness.”

Alberto and Marilu Villasenor, directors of Marriage Encounter in the archdiocese, said, “In our view, the first mistake is the lack of preparation before marriage, and that is the root of most of the problems that lead couples to divorce.”

Other problems “include the lack of communication, not knowing how to forgive, the lack of commitment and of love of God,” they said.

“Add to this the ease with which couples can get divorced in Mexico City after this new ‘fast-track’ law was passed, by which that dream of ‘till death do us part’ is broken,” the couple said.

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Malaysian government to release 35,000 Bibles seized over 'Allah' dispute

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Mar 17, 2011 (CNA) - Government officials in Malaysia agreed to release 35,000 Bibles that were seized in the country as it continues a heated dispute over non-Muslims being allowed to use the word “Allah” for God.

The decision on March 15  by the Muslim-majority government is being considered a significant move to quell frustration among Malaysian Christians, as a court case continues on whether non-Muslims have the constitutional right to use the word.

The Herald, Malaysia's sole Catholic publication, was prosecuted last year by the Malaysian Home Ministry and threatened with the loss of its printing license for its use of “Allah” in describing the Christian God in its Malay-language section.

The Herald argued that use of the term follows a centuries-old tradition within the Arabic language that pre-dates Islam, while the Home Ministry claimed that its usage outside the Muslim context was an affront to Muslims. Islam is both the state religion and the largest faith in the country.

According to Vatican Radio, on March 16 another government minister attempted to reimpose a block on 5,000 of the Bibles in the Malaysian city of Port Klang.

“In Selangor – where Port Klang is – there is a state enactment that prohibits the use of the word ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims,”  editor of The Herald Fr. Lawrence Andrew told Vatican Radio.

The enactment, however, “goes against the federal constitution,” he underscored.

Fr. Andrew also said there is an internal security act that allows for use of the Bible by Christians as long as they have been stamped with the words “For Christians Only.”

“So legally we Christians can have the Bible, but they are now putting restrictions because of the fear that this will confuse Muslims,” he said.

Last June the Malaysian High Court suspended a ruling that would have allowed The Herald to use the word “Allah” in a non-Muslim context. The decision came after an appeal was made by prosecutors trying to overturn the ruling.

Although the court had initially approval of the paper's usage of the word in January, hundreds of Muslim youth protested, and The Herald's website was hacked several times.

Extremist groups in Malaysia also attacked and profaned places of worship of several religions to provoke a reaction, the Rome-based Fides news agency reported. Vandals targeted 11 churches, a Sikh temple, a mosque and two Muslim prayer rooms in January 2010.

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Former UK government minister picked for religious freedom post

London, England, Mar 17, 2011 (CNA) - Ann Widdecombe, a prominent British politician and Catholic convert, has been named a “special envoy on religious freedom” for the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need.

She discussed the importance of her new advisory post in a March 17 statement, saying she had “become increasingly alarmed by reports of violence and acts of intimidation against Christians,” particularly in a number of countries where Christianity is illegal or severely restricted.

Ms. Widdecombe, who represented the Conservative Party as a Member of Parliament from 1987 to 2007, highlighted the inconsistency between Britain's extensive efforts to protect minority groups and opinions at home, and its willingness to overlook the treatment of Christian minorities abroad.

“We in this country are rightly concerned to protect the rights of minorities over here,” she said. “We cannot therefore turn a blind eye to the plight of minorities in other parts of the world.”

“In many cases,” she noted “those suffering most are Christians.”

Aid to the Church in Need's new global report “Persecuted and Forgotten?” indicates that up to 75 percent of religious persecution in the world is directed against Christians in regions such as Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Widdecombe's criticism of U.K. inaction on global religious freedom echoed the comments of Cardinal Keith O'Brien of Edinburgh, who recently described persecution of Christians as “perhaps the biggest human rights scandal of our generation.”

On March 15, the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland accused British Foreign Secretary William Hague of adopting an “anti-Christian foreign policy,” by doubling aid to Pakistan without demanding a guarantee of religious minorities' rights from the Islamic state.

Like Cardinal O'Brien, M. Widdecombe is intent on bringing the issue before the public.

“It is time to put our heads above the parapet and speak up in the name of Christians suffering for their faith,” she said. “I am delighted to support the work of Aid to the Church in Need, which is doing excellent work to help persecuted Christians.”

Ms. Widdecombe, a former government minister of the Conservative party, is also a published novelist and television personality. She converted from Anglicanism to the Catholic Church during the 1990s, over a range of issues including the ordination of women in the Church of England.

Her new role as special envoy for religious freedom will involve meeting regularly with staff from Aid to the Church in Need, along with possible travels to survey places where persecution is occurring around the world.

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As Ireland endures hard times, Catholics advised to look to St. Patrick

Dublin, Ireland, Mar 17, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Amid economic uncertainty and the continued response to the clergy abuse crisis, the bishops of Ireland have urged Catholics to remember St. Patrick’s plight.

They wished everyone “a joyful and peaceful Saint Patrick’s Day,” noting the Solemnity of St. Patrick’s special place for Irish people at home and abroad.

St. Patrick, a fifth-century missionary bishop instrumental in the conversion of Ireland, was called to bring God to a people far from his homeland, the Irish bishops said on March 16. They called him “a pioneer in an inhospitable climate.”

They quoted The Confession of St. Patrick, which reads: “May it never befall me to be separated by my God from his people whom he has won in this most remote land. I pray God that he gives me perseverance, and that he will deign that I should be a faithful witness for his sake right up to the time of my passing.”

“The plight of Patrick, himself a migrant, has been faced by many Irish people who have struggled to live and integrate into new cultures,” the bishops said. “Let us remain in our prayers those who are suffering at this time.”

St. Patrick’s Day, a holy day of obligation in Ireland, comes at a time of troubles.

After years of economic boom, Ireland is once again suffering significant unemployment at a rate of 14.7 percent, according to the latest reports. A banking crisis triggered by reckless lending has caused the Irish government to turn to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund because debt markets have refused to lend it more money.

Last month Catholic officials including Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston ended their fact-finding mission investigating the Irish Church’s response to sexual abuse by priests. On Feb. 21 he and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin celebrated a “liturgy of lament and repentance” at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Dublin.

“The Church of Jesus Christ in this Archdiocese of Dublin has been wounded by the sins of abusers and by the response to you for which we all share responsibility,” Archbishop Martin said during the service.

The “tragic evil of sexual abuse of minors” has caused “profound distress,” resulting in addictions, damaged relationships, the suffering of families and even suicide, Cardinal O’Malley said. “But today, through the saving power of the cross, we come together to share in each other’s sorrows as well as our collective hope for the future.”

Archbishop Martin has recently been quoted as saying that the Church in Ireland is “on the brink of collapse,” but he denied those remarks in his March 15 reflections on the state of the Church in Ireland.

“The Church in Dublin may not be as numerically strong as it was, but it is far from being on the brink of collapse. The Church is robust,” he said at the Mater Dei Institute of Education and the Dublin City University Institute of Ethics.

Priests are ministering with “enthusiasm” while lay people are doing their part, he said.

“We have parishes which were never so vibrant at any other time in their history. All of this should not be forgotten,” the Dublin archbishop stated.

While he noted the failures of the Church and the need for criticism and reform, he also warned of the potential problems of “inculturation” and adaptation to cultural changes in society.

“(T)he paradoxical thing is that the farther the Church goes in adapting to the culture of the times, the greater the danger is that it will no longer be able to confront the culture of the time,” he said. “It will only be able to speak the language of the culture of the day and not the radical newness of the message of the Gospel which transcends all cultures. Where this happens, then the life of the Church becomes a sort of civil religion, politically correct, but without the cutting edge of the Gospel.”

The Church must reject both the “fundamentalism” of pretending to have all the answers to the questions of the day and the “conformism” of adopting “politically correct positions.”

“The Church must always have the internal freedom to take positions that are culturally unpopular,” Archbishop Martin insisted.

He advocated “mature relationships” between Church and State to help social stability and bring out the best from both.

“The Church must live in such a way that it reflects the radical newness of the Gospel,” he reiterated.

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Jesuit superior general announces revision of order's General Curia

Rome, Italy, Mar 17, 2011 (CNA) - The Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Spanish priest Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, recently sent a letter to Jesuits worldwide, announcing a revision to the order's General Curia.

In his letter, Fr. Nicolas explained that the decision was made after he received “a series of guidelines” from delegates who attended the Jesuits’ 35th General Congregation, held in 2008.

The changes will focus mainly on the “restructuring the secretariats based at the (Jesuit) Curia,” he wrote. He also announced the addition of three principle secretaries “whose concerns and responsibilities will respond to important dimensions of our mission that should be present in all apostolic sectors.” The superior general added that this includes, “the service of faith, the promotion of justice, and collaboration with others.”

In addition, a secretary will be added “for secondary and basic education, higher education and the intellectual apostolate.”

Fr. Nicolas likewise announced the formation of “a small commission within the general council to discuss, discern, and propose matters related to our common mission,” comprised of the three core secretaries, two general councilors and the father general.

“In order to help me regularly reflect on and understand more deeply different realities concerning our mission, I have formed a group based here in Rome that I have called the "Gregorian Reflection Group" (because we meet in the Gregorian University),” Fr. Nicolas also revealed. 

The six members of the group are professors in different fields from the university: Frs. Giovanni Cucci, José Funes, Michael Paul Gallagher, Daniel McDonald, Theoneste Nkeramihigo, and Hans Zollner.

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