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Archive of March 18, 2011

European court says crucifixes can remain in Italian schools (Updated)

Strasbourg, France, Mar 18, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Updated on March 18, 2011 at 4:26 p.m. MST.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Italian public schools can continue to display crucifixes in classrooms, providing a final resolution to a case that had sparked concern about aggressive secularism on the continent.

The new ruling overturns an earlier judgment by a lower chamber of the same court, which declared in 2009 that the crosses violated students' human rights and represented a form of religious discrimination.

Seventeen judges of the Grand Chamber gave the 15-2 ruling on March 18, holding that there had been “no violation of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (right to education) to the European Convention on Human Rights.” The protocol requires that state schools “shall respect the right of parents to ensure … education and teaching in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions.”

In 2009, a lower chamber ruled that the crucifixes violated that protocol, as well as another provision guaranteeing “freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.” The court's new ruling also dismissed the challenge based on that statute.

The decision, which cannot be appealed within the European system, concludes a five-year legal battle that began in 2006. An Italian mother of two non-Catholic students had complained to the court that the crucifix displays were a form of involuntary religious indoctrination.

In a summary of the Grand Chamber's March 18 ruling, Court Registrar Erik Fribergh explained that the judges had found “nothing to suggest that the authorities were intolerant of pupils who believed in other religions, were non-believers or who held non-religious philosophical convictions.”

The registrar noted that the mother who brought the complaint on behalf of her children, had never cited any actual instances of religious indoctrination.

“The applicants had not asserted that the presence of the crucifix in classrooms had encouraged the development of teaching practices with a proselytising tendency,” Fribergh stated. Nor had she claimed that either of her children “had ever experienced a tendentious reference to the crucifix by a teacher.”

European Christians, however, may be surprised by at least one aspect of the judgment – in which the judges observed that the crucifixes may have little effect upon students.

“While the crucifix was above all a religious symbol,” wrote the registrar, “there was no evidence before the Court that the display of such a symbol on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils.”

But the Bishops' Conference of the European Community, in their joint response, stressed that the cross was not about to lose its significance for Europeans.

“The crucifix symbolizes the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” they wrote, giving their approval of the ruling. “Christians from all denominations therefore see in the cross the symbol of God’s comprehensive love for all mankind.”

“To believers from other religions and even to non-believers, the cross can be valued as a symbol for non-violence and resistance to retaliation,” the noted. “Its public display reminds all human beings of the respect for human dignity, a principle from which all fundamental rights are derived.”

The president of the European bishops' conference, Cardinal Peter Erdo, hailed the definitive ruling as “a sign of common sense, wisdom and freedom.”

“Today a page of history has been written,” he announced. “New hope has been given not just to Christians, but to all European citizens, believers and secularists, who were deeply offended by the ruling of November 3, 2009.”

“To consider the presence of the crucifix in a public space to be against human rights, would be to deny the very idea of Europe,” he observed.

“Without the crucifix, the Europe we know today would not exist.”

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Pope's speech will conclude first session of Catholic-atheist dialogue

Vatican City, Mar 18, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Representatives of the Pontifical Council for Culture have confirmed that they will begin the Church's official dialogue with atheists and agnostics in Paris on March 24 and 25. The session will conclude with a broadcast address by Pope Benedict XVI.

The “Courtyard of the Gentiles” will hold its first meeting at the Paris headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on March 24. The organization's director general Irina Bokova will preside, along with diplomatic and cultural representatives.

On March 25, talks will take place at the Sorbonne University as well as the Institut de France and the College des Bernardins, before moving to the forecourt of the Cathedral of Notre Dame for an open-air event for the public. Large screens will be set up for a broadcast in which Pope Benedict XVI will speak to attendees about the importance of the “Courtyard of the Gentiles.”

The president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, explained the nature and purpose of the initiative to reporters on March 18.

Also participating in the press conference were France's ambassador to the Holy See, Stanislas de Laboulaye, and Fr. Jean-Marie Laurent Mazas – who will serve as executive director of the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” in its outreach to non-believers.

“At the request of Benedict XVI,” Cardinal Ravasi stated, “the Church has decided to embark on a new stage of dialogue, exchange, and joint activity among believers and non-believers.”

The cardinal also explained the biblical reference that gave the initiative its name. The original “Courtyard of the Gentiles” was “the vast area near the Temple of Jerusalem, reserved for debates between Jews and non-Jews.”

Cardinal Ravasi said the initiative was meant to communicate a central conviction of Pope Benedict – that faith and human reason are not conflicting opposites, but complimentary parts of individual and social life.

“The aim,” Cardinal Ravasi said, “is to help to ensure that the great questions about human existence, especially the spiritual questions, are borne in mind and discussed in our societies, using our common reason.”

While “believers and non-believers stand on different ground,” he said, “they must not close themselves (off) in a sacral or secular isolationism, ignoring one another or, worse still, launching taunts or accusations as do fundamentalists on one side and the other.”

“Of course, differences must not be skimmed over, contradictory ideas must not be dismissed, or discordances ignored,” said the cardinal. “But thoughts and words, deeds and decisions can be confronted, and even come together.”

Cardinal Ravasi has expressed interest in holding events that bring together Catholics and non-believers for discussion in countries around the world, including Sweden and Albania as well as Asian countries and the United States.

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NYC mayor signs bill placing demands on pregnancy centers

New York City, N.Y., Mar 18, 2011 (CNA) -

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has signed a bill that places new demands on crisis pregnancy centers, despite two recent federal rulings that called its constitutionality into question.

Mayor Bloomberg said on March 16 that he was signing “Introduction 0-371A” into law with a “clear conscience,” and that those who objected to the law were free to challenge it in court. At least one organization, Expectant Mother Care, is already working with the American Center for Law and Justice to file suit in federal court on March 20, disputing the law.

“The Mayor himself admitted the law may be unconstitutional,” observed attorney Tiffany Barrans of the American Center for Law and Justice.

She said it was “a shame” that Mayor Bloomberg had “chosen to subject the taxpayers of New York to a lawsuit, rather than postpone the signing to determine if the legislation is actually legal and constitutional.”

The measure requires crisis pregnancy counseling centers to make a series of 10 different disclosures in English and Spanish, in their advertizing, literature and interactions with clients. The centers will be required to indicate whether they provide abortion and contraception or makes referrals for those services, and whether or not there is a licensed medical provider on site.

On March 15, a federal judge struck down portions of a similar ordinance in Montgomery County, Maryland. Judge Deborah Chasanow issued a temporary injunction preventing the county from enforcing rules that required crisis pregnancy centers to post a number of disclosures.

“In several cases spanning almost 70 years, the Supreme Court has found violations of the First Amendment where private individuals are forced to propound government-dictated messages,” Judge Chasanow noted.

Quoting a 1994 case regarding television broadcasting, she wrote that such cases “reflect a concern that, in compelling speech, 'the government seeks not to advance a legitimate regulatory goal, but to suppress unpopular ideas or information, or manipulate the public debate through coercion rather than persuasion.'”

On Jan. 28, 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Garbis threw out a similar Baltimore city ordinance that required what he described as “compelled speech” on the part of pregnancy centers. 

“Whether a provider of pregnancy-related services is 'pro-life' or 'pro-choice,' it is for the provider—not the government—to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control methods,” he wrote. “The Government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, require a 'pro-life' pregnancy-related service center to post a sign.”

New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, who spoke out against New York City's new law as it neared passage in the City Council, told CNA in a March 12 interview that the City Council's actions revealed the true attitude of many abortion advocates who say they want the procedure to be “safe, legal, and rare.”

“Our city council began to intrude into the beautiful services provided by our crisis pregnancy centers,” Archbishop Dolan pointed out.

“If they were really sincere in saying, 'We want to make abortion rare,' they would have said: 'We'll leave those alone,'” he reasoned. “But they won't.”

Dr. Alveda King, a pro-life advocate who is the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said that abortion providers would not appreciate being forced to make disclosures similar to those being asked of crisis pregnancy centers.

“We help women, and we help babies,” she told CNA. “Why don't the abortion clinics put up signs, saying 'We kill babies, we often hurt mothers, and our clinics are unregulated and often not up to good standards'? Why don't they put up those signs?”

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Japanese Church officials survey damage, plan response to quake

Sendai, Japan, Mar 18, 2011 (CNA) - Officials of the Catholic relief agency Caritas Japan have met with clergy of the Diocese of Sendai to discuss plans for relief and rehabilitation work in an area devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

The northeastern Japanese area of Sendai, near the earthquake's epicenter, is only beginning to reestablish communication with the rest of the country. On March 16, Caritas Japan president Bishop Tarcisius Isao Kikuchi joined the agency's executive director Fr. Paul Daisuke Narui, and other clergy in meetings at the Sendai chancery office, to discuss Caritas' ongoing response to the crisis.

Fr. Narui described the extensive damage to the Sendai area in an online report for the Catholic relief agency Caritas.

“There are long walls of wrecked cars and destroyed houses,” he said. “Towns and villages have been flattened and destroyed, and life has been stopped in its tracks.”

Many residents of other areas with damaged nuclear facilities have been evacuated to Sendai City, where most buildings remained standing despite the earthquake and waves. Caritas officials are working with Japanese parishes in neighboring dioceses, to provide for the displaced residents' needs.

“In some shelters,” Fr. Narui reported, “evacuees share just one blanket among three people.”

After surveying the damage, Caritas representatives and local clergy discussed the use of donations that have been coming in from around the world, and made plans to establish a task force to support the victims.

A new emergency support center has begun receiving supplies and volunteers, and is slated to operate for at least six months. Individual parishes are also opening their doors to take in individuals and families made homeless by the catastrophic events.

“As the aftershocks keep coming and the snow continues to fall,” Fr. Narui stated, “we will do our best to make sure this solidarity helps as many people as possible.”

The earthquake and tsunami, along with the resulting nuclear crisis north of Tokyo, have hit Japan's large elderly population especially hard. Many older residents of northeastern Japan were unable to flee from the tsunami and are unlikely to be found alive, while others have been forced to stop necessary medical treatment during the evacuation process. Nearly a quarter of Japan's population is over 65.

Meanwhile international observers have continued to express concern over the possible effects of the earthquake on several of Japan's nuclear plants.

Yukia Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on March 17 that “the situation continues to be very serious” at the Fukushima Daiichi facility. The U.S. has begun evacuating its citizens from parts of Japan to nearby Taiwan, as Japanese engineers struggle to cool down the plant's overheating fuel rods.

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Relevant Radio expands news program with award-winning journalist

Green Bay, Wis., Mar 18, 2011 (CNA) - The Catholic media initiative Relevant Radio recently announced the expansion of its news commentary program, featuring Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist Sheila Liaugminas.

The radio show “A Closer Look” will move from a short-form segment to a one hour interview program on weekdays from 5-6 p.m. CST and will premier April 4. Liaugminas is slated to discuss the Catholic perspective on current events with scholars, clergy, media specialists, elected officials and field experts.

“At the center of every story, about every topic and issue is the human person,” Liaugminas, said in a March 9 announcement. “I'm eager to engage the debate of the day with great guests from these fields of discipline in the news, and draw the focus back to the dignity of the human person at the center of it all.”

With experience in both secular and religious journalism, Liaugminas’ writing and broadcasting has touched on the spheres of faith, culture, politics and the media. She has reported for Time magazine and has written for the Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business, the National Review Online, the National Catholic Register, Crisis Magazine, Adoremus Bulletin and Voices. Sheila also covers news and analysis on InForumBlog.

“More and more in my daily news gathering and media coverage, and through prayerful discernment, I've become more keenly aware of that moral and ethical dimension of the news and news media, and social communications in our time,” Liaguminas said.

“In a cultural climate of confusion and scorn, I'm eager to engage the issues of the day with clarity and charity.”

Relevant Radio is listener-supported lay apostolate headquartered in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The network, which provides 24-hour programming seven days a week, is recognized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a national media outlet and has 12 stations and 21 affiliates in 12 states with a potential listening audience of 25 million.

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Family group launches petition to nullify same-sex 'marriage' in Argentina

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Mar 18, 2011 (CNA) - The Federal Network of Families in Argentina recently launched a petition calling on legislators to nullify the country's law on same-sex “marriage.”

The group hopes to collect 500,000 signatures.

Juan Pablo Berarducci, the national coordinator of the signature drive, told CNA on March 16 that if the measure is passed, gay “marriage” will be outlawed in the entire country.

Same-sex “marriage” was legalized in Argentina in July 2010.

Laws legalizing gay “marriage” at the local and provincial levels would thus be in conflict with Argentinean family policy, which is rooted in article 14 of the country’s constitution, Berarducci explained.

Abortion

The measure would also grant legal protection to pregnant women and to the unborn by affirming that from the moment of conception, “the unborn child has the inalienable right to life as the first human right.” The measure would ensure that the unborn “are not left to the mercy of anyone.”

“The guarantee of this right in its maximum extension is a primordial obligation of the government at all levels and in all situations that could arise,” the measure states.

The petition process

Berarducci said the Network of Families is seeking to gather 500,000 signatures by July 2011, before the candidates for president and vice president outline their policy platforms. He also plans to gather the support before the list of candidates running for the Argentinean House and Senate is finalized.

This strategy would force candidates to take a position on the measure and would give voters a better idea of how they intend to govern, he explained.

Once lawmakers receive the petition, they will have 12 months maximum to address it. “This is the most important effect, as the signatures of voters obligates them to act and provides lawmakers with a mandate saying, we want this law,” Berarducci said.

He added that the petition is already gaining the support of a number of lawmakers at all levels of government.

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Priest urges Cubans to have hope

Havana, Cuba, Mar 18, 2011 (CNA) - Fr. Jose Conrado Rodriguez Alegre, pastor of the Church of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus in Santiago, Cuba, stated in a March 14 interview that the problems in the country must be resolved peacefully.

The priest added that he has two parishes: One in Cuba, “and another large one, which is the community in exile.”

“I feel that God wants me to stay by the side of people, and my place is here in Cuba,” the priest told CafeFuerte.com, a website operated out of Miami. However, he also acknowledged that he is committed to the Cubans in exile in the United States, where he spends his vacation time.

“I think one of the things the Church will have to do now is build bridges and help those in exile feel they are part of the Church.” In addition, he continued, these these “bonds” must be “profoundly renewed, especially between Cuban Catholics in exile and the Catholic Church.”

Fr. Rodriguez Alegre said he plans to remain in Cuba to care for his 85-year-old mother, “who stayed in Cuba for me.” He added that there are “thousands of ecclesiastic, patriotic and ethical reasons that obligate me to stay by the side of my people when my people are suffering.

“I am not going to abandon them. The shepherd does not abandon his sheep,” he said.

He encouraged a peaceful solution to the country’s problems saying, “I don’t think anyone with common sense, anyone who is remotely cordial, could want a violent outcome for Cuba. In every way it would be a failure of the spirit and of the heart of the nation.”

“But at the same time,” the priest continued, “there are many ways to kill and to die, to unrestrictedly prolong a situation that results in the death of the human spirit, the death of values in the human being. This also is a terrible war.”

“I am a man who believes in God and I know God never puts his children in a situation without a solution. There is a solution, but we must use every means we have to find it,” he said.

Fr. Rodrigez Alegre said the family members of political prisoners, play an important role in their release. He noted that the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the hunger strike by Guillermo Farinas had an enormous impact worldwide.

“The situation became such that the government was really in a corner and the solution was to begin these negotiations which were sparked by Cardinal Jaime Ortega’s letter to Raul Castro telling him, ‘We need to resolve this. This is a very serious problem and we need to find a solution’.”

Although he doesn't think the deportation of political prisoners is the best solution, Fr. Rodriguez Alegre underscored the inhumane conditions of Cuban prisons and the “true Calvary” that their family members had to endure.

“In Cuba we need to close the prisoner factory,” he said.

He went on to report that his parishioners primary concerns are dealing with hunger and despair. Since young people can’t see any solution, they decide to leave Cuba, and thus the country is becoming “an island of old people.” The birth rate is low and Cuba needs young people and children, he stressed.

The government needs to seriously realize that there are other ways of governing, there are other ways of exercising power that are much better for leaders and that are beneficial to everyone, Fr. Rodriguez Alegre stated.

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