Archive of March 31, 2011

Interreligious commission encourages Buddhists to 'seek truth'

Vatican City, Mar 31, 2011 (CNA) - The President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue highlighted the importance of pursuing truth in a March 31 message greeting the world's Buddhists, who will soon be celebrating the holiday informally known as “Buddha's birthday.”

“In the pursuit of authentic peace, a commitment to seek truth is a necessary condition,” wrote Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran. “All persons have a natural duty to seek truth, to follow it and freely to live their lives in accordance with it.” He cited the Second Vatican Council's declaration “Dignitatis Humanae,” which states that all people have this duty “especially in what concerns God and His Church.”

In anticipation of the Buddhist holiday of Vesakh, also known as Hanamatsuri, the cardinal reminded Buddhists of the Church's positive attitude toward inter-religious dialogue and cooperation. He recalled the words of Pope Benedict XVI, who described such activities as “an important means of cooperating with all religious communities for the common good,” while acknowledging important differences.

“Such dialogue is also a powerful stimulus to respect for the fundamental human rights of freedom of conscience and freedom of worship,” Cardinal Tauran noted.

“Wherever religious freedom is effectively acknowledged, the dignity of the human person is respected at its root,” he continued. “By the sincere search for what is true and good, moral conscience and civil institutions are strengthened, and justice and peace are firmly established.”

The cardinal also observed that inter-religious dialogue can provide a public witness to the importance of religious convictions in an increasingly secularized world.

“In today’s world, marked by forms of secularism and fundamentalism that are often inimical to true freedom and spiritual values, interreligious dialogue can be the alternative choice by which we find the 'golden way' to live in peace and work together for the good of all.”

“Dear Buddhist friends,” he wrote, “we pray that your celebration of Vesakh will be a source of spiritual enrichment and an occasion to take up anew the quest of truth and goodness, to show compassion to all who suffer, and to strive to live together in harmony.”

Vesakh, which different countries and Buddhist traditions celebrate on a range of dates between April and June, commemorates the life, death, and teachings of the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama. Celebrations often involve visiting temples and monasteries, abstaining from meat, and releasing captive animals as a gesture of compassion.

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Patriarch sees Egypt faced with a choice: Democracy or Islamism

Rome, Italy, Mar 31, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - "We don't have an intermediate choice" between Islamism and democracy, says Cardinal Patriarch Antonios Naguib about the future of Egypt.

For the head of Catholics in Egypt and the Pope's right-hand man on the ground, Egypt is destined to be either a nation where freedom, equal rights and democracy prevail, or a Muslim state in which these values are intrinsically compromised.

The head of Coptic Catholics in Egypt spoke openly to CNA about the high stakes transition that comes on the heels of the Tahrir Square protests that forced Hosni Mubarak to resign his 30-year presidency.

Cardinal Naguib was relaxed as he took a coffee break from his second day of meetings with fellow bishops to hammer out the concluding documents for last October's Vatican synod for the Middle East.

He now calls that two-week long meeting about the present and future of Christianity in the Middle East a "prophetic vision and voice," in light of the widespread uprisings in Middle Eastern and North African nations.

The synod called the people of the Middle East to strive for the shared values, said the cardinal.

One recurring theme of the synod discussions was the fundamental importance of a healthy space between religion and government to allow for the protection of religious and personal freedoms.

A referendum passed by the large majority of Egyptians on March 19 shows there is a hesitation in the nation to separate government actions from a religious foundation.

Nearly 78 percent of the population voted in favor of an partial amendment of the constitution which concentrates on modifying the powers of the president. Those who oppose it say it does little to bring about the civil and social change demanded by the February and March protests in Cairo.

Cardinal Naguib said the referendum result shows the deep influence of Islamists in society.

"Unfortunately, it was presented in a religious light," he said. "Instead of speaking about political and social choice, religious vision and choice was spoken of - which for me and for many falsified the orientation of this movement for change."

Before the vote, an "Islamist current" presented the referendum in the streets and the mosques as a choice for or against Islam - a vote for or against an afterlife in paradise, said the cardinal.

Put in such a way, "the overwhelming choice was for religion and paradise - which is very normal," he observed.

"This approach confused the orientation and direction of the process” and twists the original scope of the movement that brought about the change, he said. The Coptic cardinal explained that he sees the fusion of the religious and political realms as "a mistaken vision."

In a recent speech to the German parliament, the cardinal said that from the moment it became clear that the protests would be successful "we have seen figures and forces, completely absent at the beginning, appear and even dominate the scene."

"The most visible of these are the Muslim Brothers who seem to wish to confiscate the revolution."

The original objective of the movement, he told CNA, was "democracy, a civil state, equality, a state and an order based on equal rights and responsibilities for all, on the real participation of all, the exchange of government and authority. All of the components of a modern civil state."

Twenty-two percent of voters asked for this through a complete overhaul of the constitution. They included Muslims and politicians who harshly criticized an unwillingness to bring about greater change.

The fact that more than 40 percent of the voting population turned out for the vote was also very significant. This "massive participation" - by Egyptian standards - was unprecedented and could have never happened under the previous regime, said the cardinal.

Still, those who hope for a democratic state are looking to the future with what he described as "a bit of apprehension."

The Islamist influence witnessed before the referendum vote "causes a little fear for those who don't want the process to be guided by a religious vision, pressure, and authority ... And, this is the fear for the future which is also repeated for the successive phases.

The cardinal is putting a lot of weight on these "future phases" in which he hopes a definitive change of the constitution will be carried out.

After parliamentary elections in September, a commission will be formed to address the scope of the modifications. From this step will come the guidelines for the new president.

"These are the three stages, three moments that are definitive for the future," Cardinal Naguib said.

The elections, he concluded, will have an effect on the entire Middle East, which looks to Egypt as a model.

"If there is pressure on choices by religion that come in to dominate the other civil and political aspects, certainly we will be heading into a religious state," he said.

“For this, I've always said, ‘How will the future Middle East be? One of the two. Either democratic, civil and modern, or Islamic.’”

"We don't have an intermediate choice."

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US bishops warn of radical secularism in Senate testimony

Washington D.C., Mar 31, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. bishops told a Senate subcommittee on March 29 that Catholics face growing threats to their religious liberty because of a “radical secular perspective” that seeks to eliminate moral judgments from public life.

“Religious communities, including our own Catholic community, have suffered from and still experience religious bigotry, bias and prejudice,” said Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired Archbishop of Washington, D.C. He testified on behalf of the U.S. bishops at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing prompted by concerns about America Muslims' civil rights.

Cardinal McCarrick said that most instances of religious intolerance in modern Western countries are not motivated by sectarian tension between different faiths. Today, he observed, religious intolerance more often originates from “a radical secular perspective that insists that no moral principle or religious belief should ever challenge individual decisions.”

The cardinal acknowledged some U.S. Muslims' concerns about prejudice and suspicion, heightened by a March 2010 House of Representatives hearing on “radical Islam.” He recalled that Catholics' own history “as an immigrant people and a religious minority” was “filled with stories of persecution, suspicion fear, and intolerance.”

Cardinal McCarrick explained that the Catholic Church upholds the civil liberty of all religious believers who live in accordance with society's common good and the natural law. “It is the duty of the Church,” he said, “to urge all people of good will to avoid all forms of religious bigotry, bias and hateful words that injure the dignity of persons.”

But the cardinal pointed out that “offenses against the religious liberty of Catholics” are “not merely a thing of the past.”

“Indeed,” he said, “it continues to be important to raise the issue today.”

“Acts of bias and discrimination towards Catholics and our beliefs are often expressed very publicly,” Cardinal McCarrick noted. “For example, we are charged with discrimination or called 'bigots' when we advocate for the traditional understanding of marriage between one man and one woman, which many religious and non religious traditions have supported throughout human history.”

“We advocate for an authentic vision of marriage not to offend or to treat people unjustly, but to offer a positive and healthy model of the human family, which has served as the foundation of society throughout the ages.”

“The identity and integrity of our Catholic social institutions, or indeed those of other religious traditions, are also being threatened,” he continued.

Cardinal McCarrick warned that when “the state narrowly defines in legislation which religious institutions are 'religious enough' to enjoy religious freedom protections, or when the state imposes restrictions on how religious institutions and individuals are able to serve those in need, the ability to exercise religious freedom in an effective and authentic manner is greatly undermined.”

“There are well known contemporary examples,” he reminded lawmakers, “where the state would force religious groups and individuals to choose between following their religious beliefs and practices and following the dictates of law.”

“Where is the respect for religious freedom in compelling a religious entity to act in ways which contradict its most basic moral principles?” he asked.

Cardinal McCarrick said that it was especially important for the United States to show the Muslim world an example of healthy religious pluralism, rather than giving in to an aggressively secularized vision of social life.

“As predominantly Muslim societies wrestle with how to treat religious minorities, let them look to our nation,” he said, “where we work to ensure that their Muslim sisters and brothers are treated with dignity and their religious identity and beliefs are treated with respect.”

“Let them see a people blessed with hard won religious freedom, living out our commitment to the rights of all by demonstrating full respect for the identity, integrity and freedom of all religions and their institutions.”

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Presidential divorce in Guatemala mocks the family, charges expert

Lima, Peru, Mar 31, 2011 (CNA) - A family expert in Guatemala is accusing the country's president and his wife of making “a mockery of the family.” The couple recently announced their divorce so the first lady can run for presidency.

Marisol Gonzalez de Parellada spoke with CNA on March 29 and called the couple's actions “disrespectful and a mockery of the most important institution: the family, the nucleus and foundation of our society.”

Gonzalez de Parellada is the vice president of Guatemala's Federation for the Defense of Life and the Family.

First Lady Sandra Torres launched her presidential bid on March 8. Within a few days, President Alvaro Colom announced they would be divorcing, as the Guatemalan Constitution does not allow close relatives of the sitting vice president or president to run for the same office.

The couple has been married eight years.

“This is an insult to the intelligence of the entire nation that needs great leaders and exemplary people with strong virtues and values in order to move the country forward,” Gonzalez de Parellada continued.

“In this case, the evil of divorce is being used to manipulate an entire country,” she added.

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Catholic charity mobilizes for Ivory Coast refugees as crisis escalates

Baltimore, Md., Mar 31, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Baltimore, Maryland. - Catholic Relief Service is working to provide immediate aid to over 100,000 refugees who've fled the Ivory Coast amid rising political turmoil in the country.

“The two main needs are shelter and food,” Brian Gleeson, the relief agency's West Africa representative, told CNA March 30.

The Ivory Coast is on the brink of civil war, with outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo recruiting thousands of young people to fight on his behalf against domestic and international backers of his rival, president-elect Alassane Ouattara.

Gleeson said that since the presidential election in the country last November, violence has already claimed hundreds of lives and forced over 1 million people from their homes.

With offices in neighboring Liberia, where most refugees have fled, Catholic Relief Services is in the process of constructing 1,000 shelters in eight villages, which will provide housing for 5,000 people.

The agency reported that most of the refugees have arrived in the border towns of Nimba County, where there are few housing options. The displaced often find themselves in overcrowded homes of host families, sleep outdoors exposed to the elements and lack basic needs such as cooking utensils or showers.

The relief organization is also working to provide immediate food aid to refugees and plans to help Liberian host communities and refugee families prepare land to grow rice.

The country's deteriorating situation is of such concern to Pope Benedict XVI that he sent a top African official from the Vatican to plead for peace.

During his general audience on March 30, the Pope said that the Ivory Coast has been “traumatized by painful internal conflicts and grave social and political tensions.”

On the Pope's behalf, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, traveled to the country and will urge political leaders to end the violence.

Gleeson observed that “the hope was that this presidential election would end what has been a 10 year conflict.”

However, he added, rather than resolve a decade of tension, the current situation has devolved into “a stalemate, where the internationally recognized winner of the election has not been able to occupy office.”

The situation has “been simmering since November and I think what you're seeing now is just a growing frustration at the refusal of either side to budge,” Gleeson said.

“Elements on both sides are willing to take up arms, having given up hope of dialogue resolving this situation.”

Gleeson said that despite great support for president-elect Alassane Ouattara among neighboring countries as well as international diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis, there has been “literally no movement.”

“The general analysis is that this is on a slope downward and unless there's a change of heart on the part of Gbagbo this is not going in a good direction.”

A U.N. resolution calling for tighter sanctions against Gbagbo was drafted in Paris last week and the International Crisis Group – a global non-profit that works for conflict resolution  –  has urged U.N. military intervention.

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Vatican decree reconciles woman who sought priestly ordination

San Diego, Calif., Mar 31, 2011 (CNA) - A former advocate of women's ordination, who later renounced her attempt to be ordained as a deacon and declared her adherence to Church teaching, announced on March 25 that she has been fully reconciled with the Church following a decree from the Vatican.

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has lifted any canonical sanctions that I incurred by attempting ordination as a deacon,” wrote Dr. Norma Jean Coon, in an online update to an earlier letter in which she acknowledged that her actions had resulted in excommunication.

Dr. Coon said the bishop of her diocese, Bishop Robert H. Brom of San Diego, had written to inform her of the Vatican congregation's decision that she “may now return to the full practice of our Catholic faith.” Under new rules established in July 2010, attempts to ordain women now fall under the jurisdiction of the doctrinal office, along with other offenses against the priesthood and sacraments.

“I have been very touched at the remarkable support of my actions and the prayers offered in my behalf during this trying time,” said Coon. “I wish to thank all those who have prayed for me and for my family.”

On July 22, 2007, Coon participated in an attempted ordination to the diaconate. The event was led by Patricia Fresen, a former Dominican sister from South Africa who claims to have been consecrated as a bishop.

The Catholic Church holds that Fresen – who has been excommunicated – is not a bishop, and that her attempts to ordain other women or men have no sacramental validity.

In her earlier letter renouncing her “alleged ordination” to the diaconate, Coon said she acknowledged “the authority of the Holy Father on these issues of ordination,” including the judgment that Pope John Paul II confirmed in his encyclical “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.”

In that encyclical, the Pope declared that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women,” and stated that this judgment was to be “definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

Coon had previously sought to become a priest through a program offered by Fresen's group. But she reconsidered soon after participating in one of the organization's liturgies. “I withdrew from the program within two weeks of the ceremony,” she recounted, “because I realized I had made a mistake in studying for the priesthood.”

Although the attempt to ordain women has no sacramental effect, it is a serious offense from the perspective of moral theology and canon law.

The Church regards a simulated ordination, and any subsequent action in which a non-ordained person acts as a member of the clergy, as a form of sacrilege.

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Bishop Sheridan calls on Congress to defund abortion providers

Colorado Springs, Colo., Mar 31, 2011 (CNA) - Congress should pass the Pence Amendment to defund organizations which offer abortion services, Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs will say today.

The amendment would “undoubtedly ‘protect life’ by putting an end to the millions of taxpayer dollars being given to organizations whose mission it is to offer family planning by means of ending the lives of the unborn,” he wrote in his March 31 column for the Colorado Catholic Herald, provided ahead of publication to CNA.

“The challenge before Congress in the coming week and ahead is to work together to achieve consistency with U.S. policies when it comes to the sanctity of life.”

Bishop Sheridan explained that the federal government is presently being funded by a series of continuing resolutions. Over the next two weeks congressmen will consider another resolution to keep the government funded until Sept. 30.

While an amendment from Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) to bar abortion provider funding from the full-year bill has passed the House with bipartisan support, that bill faces opposition from the Senate and President Obama. The recent resolutions maintain the status quo and Planned Parenthood funding has remained intact.

One of every four abortions in the U.S. is performed at a Planned Parenthood clinic, the bishop said. The organization performed 332,000 abortions in 2009 while making only 977 adoption referrals.

The organization’s latest report said it received more than $363 million in taxpayer funds and was the largest recipient under the Title X program established in 1970.

“The Pence Amendment would place the same restrictions on domestic appropriations that the Hyde Amendment has placed on foreign appropriations since it was passed in 1976,” Bishop Sheridan wrote. “In short, no organization offering abortion services would be eligible to receive federal tax dollars.”

The amendment would defund 102 other organizations in addition to Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood has portrayed itself as primarily concerned with cervical cancer, breast cancer and related women’s health issues, Bishop Sheridan said.

“We know that not to be true,” he said, noting that 2009 statistics show that a woman entering a Planned Parenthood clinic is 42 times more likely to have an abortion than to be referred for adoption or receive prenatal care.

The Pence Amendment, he explained, does not cut any funding for women’s health services.

“It would simply block those funds already in the bill from subsidizing America's largest abortion provider,” the bishop wrote.

“Women’s health will in no way be put at risk if Planned Parenthood loses its federal funding. On the contrary, a considerable danger to the lives of the unborn will be removed, and American citizens, most of whom oppose abortion, will no longer be subsidizing a profound moral evil.”

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