Archive of March 19, 2011

WikiLeaks cable: US government considered grants for Mexican pro-abortion groups

Washington D.C., Mar 19, 2011 (CNA) - A leaked State Department cable shows the U.S. government has considered granting money to pro-abortion groups in Mexico. Critics warned that the grants would fund “radical” organizations seeking to change Mexican society and legalize abortion under the guise of combating violence against women.

The document is evidence of a “quiet yet seismic shift” in U.S. foreign aid priorities, said Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute vice president Terrence McKeegan. Large segments of foreign aid are being given to “activist groups whose main activity is to advocate for radical social changes in national laws,” he charged.

U.S. funding would strengthen organizations that are “far outside the mainstream of Mexican and Latin American society in general,” said Joseph Meaney, director of international coordination at Human Life International, on March 18. “It is clearly aimed at changing their culture in a more liberal direction through outside funding.”

A Feb. 22, 2010 cable from the U.S. Embassy to Mexico, published by WikiLeaks, lists four grant applications for the small grants initiative of the U.S. Secretary of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.

The embassy’s first preference, a proposal from Sociedad Mexicana Pro Derechos de la Mujer (Semillas), would fund a project to diminish gender violence in the states of Chiapas and Guanajuato. However, the cable reports that one of the three main program themes of the organization is “sexual and reproductive rights” issues such as sexual education for young people, the “right to decide” and “sexual diversity.”

McKeegan told CNA on March 18 that Semillas is headed by “a radical feminist” credited with bringing about the abortion liberalization law in Mexico City. He questioned how a group which claims that the “violence of abortion” solves women’s problems can be taken seriously as opposing violence against women.

The U.S. embassy’s third-preferred grant applicant was the Women’s Center for Human Rights (Centro de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres), also known as CEDEHM. Its proposed program would promote awareness of the rights of female victims of violence and advocate for more effective responses to victims in the state of Chihuahua.

The program would produce an animated five-minute video and brochure for rape victims. The materials would instruct victims about measures to take after being raped, such as medical and legal alternatives for abuse reporting.

The materials would also instruct victims about having “access to safe and legal abortions.”

The fourth-ranked grant applicant, I(dh)eas – Strategic Human Rights Litigation  (Litigio Estrategico en Derechos Humanos), also focused on violence against women. However, the background information on the organization noted that it is working on a Ford Foundation-funded film about “sexual and reproductive rights” and “legal interruption of pregnancy.”

CNA contacted the Office of Global Women’s Issues to determine whether any of the grants were approved but did not receive a reply by publication time.

Meaney charged that feminist organizations frequently use the issue of violence against women to obscure their programs of birth control and abortion. There are many “wonderful and non-ideological organizations” which help abused women, Meaney said, but they are often local and not as organized as “the radical groups which aggressively seek out funding.”

Further, many post-abortive women claim that feminist organizations like Planned Parenthood pushed them into having abortions which “they now deeply regret.”

He cited a study by Dr. David Reardon which found the “vast majority” of pregnant rape and incest victims did not want abortions but were emotionally manipulated into having them. One hundred percent of pregnant victims who gave birth said they made the right choice, while a large majority of those who aborted said they regretted their decision.

McKeegan defended the innocence of the unborn child, saying he or she is entitled to “the same protections as everyone else.”

“It is revolting that women’s groups continue to propose adding a second tragedy of killing the unborn child to the tragedy of the rape,” he commented.

The leaked cable outlining the grants is more clear and transparent than most government requests, Meaney noted.

“This is probably because it was not intended for publication and public consumption,” he said.

U.S. funding for these groups could create a “powerful lobby” to change foreign countries’ laws and to make “substantial” cultural changes.

Mexico has “strict laws” forbidding most abortions outside the Mexico City Federal District, and groups such as Semillas hope to “reverse protection of the right to life of preborn children.” Such groups have also made “significant” attempts to promote same-sex “marriage” and a greater acceptance of homosexuality, he reported.

Under Republican administrations since 1984, the U.S. government has held to the Mexico City Policy which bars taxpayer funding for organizations which promote or perform abortion overseas. President Obama lifted the policy in January 2009.

But Meaney thought the grants in the WikiLeaks cable would “probably not have been made illegal” by the previous policy, which applies only to funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and not other branches of the State Department.

“This actually shows how restrained this policy was,” he said.

For his part, McKeegan thought the grants would have been forbidden.

“This is precisely why pro-abortion groups demanded that President Obama rescind the Mexico City Policy, so that their own organizations could once again receive U.S. funding,” he explained.

One grant proposal in the cable shows U.S. involvement to advance feminist goals in Mexico’s political process. It came from the Consortium for Parliamentary Dialogue and Equality (Consorcio para el Dialogo Parlamentario y la Equidad), which organizes alliances related not only to women’s political and social rights, but also their “sexual and reproductive rights.”

The proposal, listed as the U.S. embassy’s second preference, aimed to fund the consortium to “promote the arrival and permanence of women in elected positions” by encouraging compliance with mandatory gender quotas for Mexican political parties’ lists of candidates.

Meaney said U.S. support for gender quotas could affect Mexican politics, even though there are many conservative women who run for office and win.

“They could benefit from these quotas, but typically only those who are quite liberal get foreign support,” he commented. “Socially radical political parties tend to promote women as candidates more than conservative parties do.”

McKeegan was more forceful in his criticism, charging that the quotas empowered “radical feminists” who “can’t win a fair election on their own.”

“These gender quotas fly in the face of the reality that women simply don’t run for office at nearly the same rate as men do, partly because many of them have chosen to be mothers and homemakers for their vocation instead of having a full-time professional career,” he said. “As long as the feminists keep denying this reality, they will do more disservice to the women they claim to represent.”

The U.S. House of Representatives authorized the creation of the Office of Global Women’s Issues in June 2009. At the time, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) voiced concerns that the office would be used to advance abortion. This would worsen Latinos’ and Africans’ perceptions that Americans are “cultural imperialists,” he warned.

Smith had proposed an amendment to bar the office from promoting or providing abortions, but it was defeated.

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Catholic man imprisoned under Pakistan blasphemy law might have been murdered

Lahore, Pakistan, Mar 19, 2011 (CNA) - A Catholic man who died in a Pakistani prison while serving a life sentence for blasphemy might have been murdered by extremists, his supporters said.

While doctors said Qamar David, 55, died of a heart attack, the Catholic bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace suggested he might have “fallen prey to an active hate campaign going on in the country on this issue” at the hands of “extremist groups.”

Church leaders and human rights groups have called for an independent investigation of his death.

David, a wealthy businessman, was found dead on March 15. Both he and his lawyer received threats of violence regularly throughout the course of his time in prison and at nearly every court hearing in his case, a representative of Christian Solidarity Worldwide told Vatican Radio.

Fr. Mario Rodriguez, the national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, said that the death “shocked us.” The Catholic Church is calling for “clarity” and an official report of the facts.

“We have contacted the prison authorities and spoken with the detainee who shared David's cell. He told us that David was fine but he was very afraid. Given that he was accused of blasphemy, he was often badly beaten. The story of a heart attack is unconvincing,” he told Fides news agency.

Haroon Barkat Masih, director of the human rights and minority advocacy Masihi Foundation, said he was convinced David died because of beatings carried out by staff and other inmates.

“The police and the hospital board want to cover up the true cause of death,” he said.

David was arrested in 2006 for possessing a phone that was used to send derogatory messages insulting the prophet Muhammad. A Muslim who was also accused in the case was acquitted for lack of evidence. David, a Catholic man, was given life imprisonment and fined $1,183 in 2010 under the blasphemy laws, according to UCA News.

His lawyer, Pervez Chaudry, maintains that the allegations were spurious and triggered by a business rivalry, UCA News reports. He blamed the conviction on pressure from local religious clerics and their supporters.

Auxiliary Bishop Sebastian Shah of Lahore presided over the March 17 funeral at St. Joseph Church in Lahore, David’s native city. Fr. Andrew Nisari, the diocese’s vicar general, asked the congregation of more than 200 to be undeterred in their faith.

David’s death was “another historic chapter” in the struggle against the “fatal logic” of blasphemy laws, the priest said in his address. Persecution and discrimination, especially in employment, has frustrated Christian youth, he added.

The controversy over Pakistan’s blasphemy law has contributed to the assassinations of Punjab governor Salman Taseer and Pakistan religious minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, both opponents of the law.

At present, Christian mother Asia Bibi is imprisoned and faces a death sentence. She told Fides news agency in a recent interview that she worries every moment may be her last.

“Each time the door of my cell is opened, my heart beats a thousand miles an hour. I am in the hands of God. I do not know what will happen to me. In prison anyone can be judge and killer,” she said.

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Arkansas Catholics have new buildings thanks to leadership of Nigerian priest

Little Rock, Ark., Mar 19, 2011 (CNA) - In only six years with the Diocese of Little Rock, Father John Obinna Agbakwuo has not only spread the word of God in his parishes, he’s helped build them.

Father Agbakwuo, who left the state Feb. 28 to visit family in his native Nigeria and then teach in Austria, has overseen the construction of new parishes for St. James Church in Searcy and St. Albert Church in Heber Springs and a parish hall for St. Richard Church in Bald Knob.

You come into a place and see what is needed and the needs of the community,” Father Agbakwuo said. “It is actually the people doing the work. You motivate them, you encourage them.”

First assignment

Father Agbakwuo, 47, came to the United States in 2005 as associate pastor at Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock. While there, he said he was involved in the hospital ministry, visiting area hospitals and nursing homes to administer the sacrament of the anointing of the sick or holy Communion.

Working with this ministry fueled a desire to explore clinical pastoral education, where he’d learn how the ministry approaches “counseling and how they apply it.”

“Anytime I get inquisitive, I try to explore into it,” Father Agbakwuo said. “I became inquisitive and wanted to explore what was going on in the ministry.”

Though then-diocesan administrator Msgr. J. Gaston Hebert approved of him joining the program, God had other plans.


In 2007, Father Agbakwuo’s friend, Father Vincent “Udo” Ogbuji, pastor at St. James Church, was injured in a car wreck, leaving him unable to be the pastor.

At the time, the church was constructing Father Ogbuji’s vision of a larger parish, which broke ground in 2006. The previous parish had only 200 seats.

Msgr. Hebert then asked Father Agbakwuo to become administrator of St. James Church, St. Albert Church and St. Richard Church.

“As a priest you know you’ve submitted yourself to the Church and you go to where the Church needs you,” Father Agbakwuo said. “Your interests are secondary to the needs of the Church.”

Though he said coming into the middle of building a new parish is “not easy,” he helped the church move forward, adding a few of his own suggestions.

Originally, Father Agbakwuo said the ceiling was to be made out of synthetic material to save money.

However, he asked the church’s development committee if money wasn’t an issue, what type of ceiling they’d like to have.

“All of them voted for the wooden ceiling if we had the money and I said, ‘OK we’re going to do it,’” Father Agbakwuo said.

In March 2008, St. James had a new church with 400 seats and a wooden ceiling.

“They are incredible,” he said. “You have really dedicated people here.”

Building up church

Instead of sitting back after completing the new St. James Parish, Father Agbakwuo accepted the request from his other parish community that same year: a larger parish for St. Albert.

Construction began eight months later to create a church capable of seating 500 people, rather than the previous 225.

The dedication Mass took place on Dec. 19, 2009, with more than 300 people, including Bishop Anthony B. Taylor.

“It is a modern church and has many features,” he said. “I’m happy the people are happy with the church … and proud of their church.”

During construction of St. Albert, his other congregation at St. Richard called on him to help build a new parish hall.

Father Agbakwuo said he celebrates Mass for the roughly 40-member congregation at St. Richard every Saturday. However, no social activities could ever be held because it lacked a parish hall.

“Because it’s a small community, the next step was to get the people committed, not just financially,” he said. “We did everything and it was great.”

The building was completed in early 2010.

Joe Giezeman, who is St. James parish council chairman and chairman of the development committee, said the way Father Agbakwuo took on several building projects is an example of his commitment.

“That’s a handful for anybody,” Giezeman said. “He did a great job leading us forward. He did a very nice job in delegating the work.”

Intellectual, emotional

Father Agbakwuo was ordained in 1991 in Nigeria and worked as a parish priest before traveling to the University of Salzburg to earn his journalism diploma in 1994. He continued his studies in Austria and earned his doctorate in dogmatic theology in 1998. From 1993-1998 he worked part-time as an assistant parish priest at St. Martin Parish in the archdiocese.

After graduation in 1998, he returned to Nigeria and served as the editor of the archdiocesan newspaper, lectured at the local seminary and worked as a pastor.

Despite the progress and fond friends Father Agbakwuo has made in Arkansas, he said he’s excited to return to Austria to teach religion at the University of Salzburg.

“With work in the parish, you do use your intellectual ability, but it is more the emotional aspect of it,” Father Agbakwuo said. “The way you are challenged when you lecture in the university is different. It challenges me intellectually.”

Father Agbakwuo said he’ll always carry with him the lessons he’s learned as a priest while in the state.

“(I’ve learned) never to lose your sense of purpose. You get challenges, you get distractions, you encounter different situations,” he said. “It is very easy to lose sight of the goal.”

Father John Obinna Agbakwuo

- Born in 1963

- Ordained in 1991 in the Archdiocese of Owerri, Nigeria

- Educated at the University of Salzburg, Austria. Diploma in journalism and mass communication, 1994. Doctorate in dogmatic theology, 1998

- Editor of archdiocesan newspaper and director of communications in Nigeria, 2000-2004

- Lectured in Nigerian seminary 2002-2005

- Diocese of Little Rock, 2005-2011

- Returning to Austria to teach religion at the University of Salzburg, 2011

Printed with permission from Arkansas Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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Pope's Lenten preacher designs spiritual exercises to prepare for JP II beatification

Vatican City, Mar 19, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

The preacher of this year’s spiritual exercises in the Vatican designed this week’s meditations on the theme of the universal call to holiness to anticipate the May 1 beatification of Pope John Paul II.

Fr. Francois-Marie Lethel, a Carmelite priest, professor and theologian, led the series of meditations at the Pope’s private chapel, Redemptoris Mater.

He had to think of the exercise for the Pope and the Roman Curia as “spiritual preparation” for the beatification, the priest told CNA on March 12. He chose the theme “The Light of Christ in the Heart of the Church - John Paul II and the Theology of the Saints” to guide the March 13-19 exercises.

He was inspired by the approaching official recognition of the John Paul II’s holiness and also by the late pontiff’s role in beatifying and canonizing more people than all the Popes before him.

This flurry of official recognition took place not to exaggerate numbers but to show “the deepest fidelity to the Second Vatican Council,” said Fr. Lethel. “The heart of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council is the universal vocation to sanctity,” he explained.

Fr. Lethel thought that John Paul II's “formidable Christocentric and Marian spirituality” and his record of raising new saints and blesseds to the altars was backed up by his strong example of sanctity, which was evident in his personal testimony.

John Paul II was tied closely to the theology of the saints, said the Carmelite priest, because he presented them as examples of Christian life and also as theologians. Even the smallest of them such as St. Therese of Lisieux “make the truth of the faith shine,” said Fr. Lethel.

The influence of the saints has also been strong in Fr. Lethel’s own faith. He was born in Paris in 1948 into a devout Protestant family. It was his mother’s discovery of the Catholic faith, especially through her devotion to the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary, that led to her conversion and his siblings’ subsequent baptisms as Catholics. His father also became Catholic.

Fr. Lethel learned to love the Bible and the doctrine of Carmelite saints that he saw in his mother’s example. He attributes his vocation to the Carmelite order to the teachings of Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux and John of the Cross -- all “Doctors of the Church” – who influenced his mother's spirituality.

The theology of these saints and others buoyed him through the crisis of spirituality during the late 1960s in France.

“I found in the saints and only in the saints all the light, holy teachers of faith and love,” he told CNA.

When he learned from the Vatican that he would be leading the meditations for the Pope and the Roman Curia, he prayed and celebrated Mass.

In his latest spiritual exercises, he spoke of the “ring of saints” who influenced the late Pope’s spirituality. He cited the examples of St. Therese and other towering figures of holiness such as Sts. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, Joan of Arc, Catherine of Siena and Sts. Joseph, Thomas Aquinas and Anselm.

He also tied in two modern examples of holiness: Venerable Concepcion Cabrera de Armida, a Mexican wife and mother, and Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, an Italian teenager who exhibited extraordinary faith in a life shortened by cancer.

All these figures of holiness “extend a hand” to John Paul II in this “ring of saints” guided principally by the Virgin Mary and by St. Joseph her husband, said Fr. Lethel. Each of the figures represent the universal call to sainthood.

“I think of these spiritual exercises on figures of sanctity: a holy Pope, a girl who died at 18 years old, a mother of a family, St. Joan of Arc and Catherine of Siena who were lay women consecrated in virginity, and I think also of the Gospel of the good thief.

“The good thief, one could say, is the only saint canonized by Jesus. (He was) the saint of the final hour."

Above all, Fr. Lethel sought to transmit a “message of love” in the exercises. He pointed especially to the example of St. Therese of Lisieux, “the saint of mercy and hope” that he advocated for elevation to the status of Doctor of the Church.

The message of the talks, said Fr. Lethel, is that “up to the last moment, it is still possible to give a complete ‘yes’ to the mercy of Jesus and become saints.”

He thought the principal fruit of the exercise is to return participants to “this marvelous call to holiness for all people on the occasion of the beatification of John Paul II. This is the most beautiful meaning of life and the desire of every human being to love in the Trinity and to love with all of our hearts.”

As for the beatification, it will be an “immense joy” for Pope Benedict, the Church and the world, he said.

“Cardinal Ratzinger was the closest person to Pope John Paul II as a collaborator but also as a friend. So, I think that we are preparing for this event with much joy.”

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