Washington D.C., Apr 5, 2011 (CNA) - In what's being lauded as a major victory for parental choice in education, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Arizona residents have a right to claim tax credit for donations to non-profit groups that provide scholarships to religious schools.
“Parents should be able to choose what’s best for their own children,” attorney David Cortman of the Alliance Defense Fund said. “This ruling empowers parents to do just that.”
On April 4, the high court ruled 5 – 4 to dismiss a lawsuit backed by the American Civil Liberties Union against an Arizona program that sought to promote school choice.
The case had pitted the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization against a group of citizens charging that a 1997 government tax credit program amounted to a state establishment of religion. The program allowed taxpayers to donate money toward a variety of private scholarship foundations, rather than paying the same amount to the government through taxes.
The Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization is one of more than 50 non-profit groups that gives donations in the form of scholarships to more than 27,000 students attending hundreds of private schools throughout the state.
The Christian legal group Alliance Defense Fund, which helped defend the tuition organization, argued that the Arizona program involves individual, private choices and funding, not government action or money. The group also argued that the program saves the state money and relieves some of the burden on overcrowded public schools.
The Supreme Court sided with the non-profit and dismissed the suit on Monday, ruling that the American Civil Liberties Union's clients did not have any legal standing to sue over someone else’s private donations.
The Alliance Defense Fund said that the decision creates a national precedent that will prevent similar legal action in the future.
“Parents should decide what schools their children attend and where their money goes,” said Cortman, who serves as Senior Counsel for the defense fund.
He said that the American Civil Liberties Union “failed in its attempt to eliminate school choice for hundreds of thousands of students nationwide and also failed to demonstrate that it had any constitutional basis for its clients to file suit in the first place.”
In a strong gesture of support for the Christian tuition organization last November, acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Kaytal said that opponents of the tax credit had no case. “Not a cent” of taxpayers' money was even indirectly funding religious schools, the solicitor general observed. “Not a fraction of a cent … As you track the taxpayers' dollars, it doesn't actually fund any religious program.”
Thus, the Obama-appointed solicitor general said, challengers of the Arizona law could not bring a complaint as taxpayers, nor could they claim an establishment of religion.
Saltillo, Mexico, Apr 5, 2011 (CNA) - Catholic family groups in the Mexican Diocese of Saltillo are urging Bishop Raul Vera Lopez to withdraw his support for a group that they say undermines Church teaching on homosexuality.
“A pastoral commitment to homosexual persons is necessary and welcomed, but not at the expense of the family and a solid pastoral plan for marriage and family, which is unfortunately being neglected in the diocese,” said Natalia Niño, president of Familias Mundi, which is based in the diocese in northeastern Mexico.
Niño criticized the diocese’s support for the San Elredo Community, which she said “publicly promotes an openly homosexual lifestyle, gay ‘marriage’ and gay adoptions.”
Bishop Vera Lopez continues to defend the diocese’s relationship with San Elredo, which is a part of the diocese’s pastoral council.
The bishop declined to speak with CNA for this story. But in an audio interview posted on the diocese’s website, he blamed the criticism on “homophobia” from “conservative groups that call themselves Catholic.”
Criticism has been mounting since the diocese sponsored an event organized by San Elredo. The so-called “sexual, family and religious diversity forum,” held March 25-27, was aimed at “eradicating what some sectors of the Church believe about homosexuality” — especially the belief “that homosexual acts are contrary to God.”
The event included presentations of excerpts from the books, “Mom, Dad, I’m Gay,” “Two Mommies,” “Virtual Activism,” and a play, “Crime for Love Doesn’t Pay, But It Feels Good.”
Bishop Vera Lopez, in the audio interview on his website, called the criticism of the event “agenda-driven.”
“Jesus Christ welcomed sinners and cast out the Pharisees, which shows that excluding others is not Christian,” he said. “We want to erase homophobia from peoples’ hearts.”
But Familias Mundi leader Niño denied allegations of “homophobia.”
“Our criticism has nothing to do with individual persons, their dignity and their rights. This is about doctrines that are opposed to the Church’s teachings and that have grave negative effects in our society,” she told CNA.
Niño said her group speaks for many who are “greatly uncomfortable” with Bishop Vera’s approach to pastoral ministry for homosexuals.
“Not all of them are willing to speak publicly,” she said.
CNA contacted two pro-life and pro-family organizations in Saltillo who also expressed deep concern about San Elredo’s ministry to homosexuals. But both organizations declined to be interviewed.
Father Robert Coogan, the American priest who founded San Elredo, said that the group’s work is not contrary to the teachings of the Church.
He said the Church’s teachings on homosexuality are correct, but that to work with people with same-sex attraction, “you need to go beyond the Catechism.”
“People want the San Elredo community to tell homosexuals that homosexual acts are always a grave sin … But if someone is sick and goes to the doctor, and the doctor gives him a list of things he cannot eat, the poor guy will say, ‘I am going to die of hunger.’ And so, a negative teaching is not a teaching. We don’t need to tell people with this orientation what they should not do,” he said.
San Elredo’s coordinator, Noe Ruiz Malacara, said the bishop supports the group because of its “humanistic outlook” and its defense of the “human rights” of homosexuals against discrimination.
The aim of the recent diversity forum, he said, was “not to attack the family, but to show that homosexual families are the same as heterosexual ones.”
In his interview on the diocesan website, Bishop Vera Lopez also stressed the need to defend homosexual rights.
He affirmed his support for state recognition of civil unions among homosexuals. At the same time, the bishop said this does not mean he supports homosexual marriage, because marriage “is only between a man and a woman.”
Fr. Coogan, who worked as a publicist and a volunteer at rehabilitation centers in New York before being ordained a priest in Saltillo, said that God makes men and women to be homosexual.
“What God creates is a blessing for the world. Homosexuals are a blessing for the world. The world could not exist without homosexuals, it could not exist. God in his wisdom created diversity,” he told CNA.
San Elredo believes homosexuality is “a permanent orientation,” he added.
“It begins at a very young age and is permanent, like being right-handed or left-handed. It is something innate in people,” he said.
He raised questions about the Church’s teachings that homosexual acts are sinful and that persons with a homosexual orientation must live chaste lives.
“Moral culpability, in the oldest tradition of the Church, is affected by the freedom of the person … if there is no freedom, there is no culpability. The child who fires a gun is not guilty. And so if there are people who are subject to the wrath of society, how much freedom do they have? If they are afraid to tell their parents about their orientation, how much freedom do they have in their lives?”
He added: “How can a person with same-sex attraction have a fulfilling life? And the only answer the Catechism gives is to tell them to be celibate, and that is not enough.”
Niño disputed the idea that Church teaching should be set aside or modified as a part of a pastoral approach to homosexual persons.
“We have never opposed a pastoral approach to people with same sex attraction, on the contrary, we strongly support it,” she said. “But it has to be a pastoral approach based on the doctrine of the Church. It must be able to provide persons with same sex attractions the psychological support, the spiritual guidance and an integration into the Church and society based on the truth about the human person.”
Rome, Italy, Apr 5, 2011 (CNA) - A member of John Paul II's office of Liturgical Celebrations recently reflected on the late Pontiff's death.
Msgr. Konrad Krajewski explained that Cardinal Stanislao Dziwisz, who was Pope Wojtyla’s personal secretary for 40 years, broke the silence at the time of the Pope’s death.
“We were kneeling around John Paul II’s bed. … The soft light of the lamp illuminated the wall, but you could see him well. Later the archbishop rose. He turned the lights on the room and interrupted the silence of John Paul II’s death,” Msgr. Krajewski said in an April 2 L’Osservatore Romano article.
John Paul II died on April 2, 2005.
“In a moving but surprisingly firm voice, with his typical mountain accent, dragging out certain syllables, he began to sing: ‘We praise you, God. We proclaim you, Lord.’ It seemed like a voice from heaven. We all looked with wonder at Don Stanislao. And the light followed the hymn and the verses continued: ‘Oh eternal Father, all the earth adores you…’ And gave assurance to each of us,” Msgr. Krajewski said.
“Thus we found ourselves before a totally distinct reality, we thought. John Paul II has died. That means now he lives forever,” he said.
Despite their sadness, Msgr. Krajewski continued, they continued to sing. “With each word our voices became stronger and more confident. The hymn proclaimed: ‘Victor over death, you have opened the Kingdom of Heaven to those who believe.’ Thus, singing the Te Deum, we glorified God, who was visible and recognizable in the person of the Pope.”
“This is also the experience of all who encountered him during his pontificate. Whoever came into contact with John Paul II encountered Jesus, whom the Pope showed with his entire being.”
“One immediately noticed that he was a person overflowing with God.”
During the last years of his life, Msgr. Krajewski said, “by just looking at him you could see the presence of God.”
“It was enough to make you go to confession, not only because of your sins, but for not being holy like him.”
On April 2, 2005, when he left the papal apartment at the apostolic palace, Msgr. Krajewski said he saw “a multitude of people walking silently in devotion. The world had closed down, got on its knees and cried.”
“There were those who cried only because a beloved person was gone, and later they went back to their homes like they came. And there also those who united the tears on the outside with those on the inside and realized that they were not right before the Lord. Those were blessed tears: they were the beginning of the miracle of conversion,” Msgr. Krajewski said.
He noted that even today, many of those who work at St. Peter’s and at the various Vatican offices spend a moment of prayer before John Paul II’s tomb. They touch the tombstone with a reverent kiss. “This happens every day,” he said.
“If I had to say what the most important thing is in the life of priest and in each of our lives, looking at him I would say: to not obscure God with ourselves, but rather, to show him and make ourselves a visible sign of his presence. Nobody has seen God, but John Paul II made him visible through his life,” Msgr. Krajewski said.
Vatican City, Apr 5, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Perhaps the grandest beatification ceremony ever celebrated – the May 1 beatification of Pope John Paul II – will be divided into stages to maintain a solemn spirit across three days of prayerful preparation, celebration and thanksgiving.
Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the Pope's vicar for the Diocese of Rome, called the long beatification weekend a "spiritual journey" at an April 5 press conference held to present the details of the much awaited event.
The actual ceremony is set for the morning of May 1, sandwiched between an evening prayer vigil and a thanksgiving Mass the following day.
As pilgrims arrive to the Eternal City by bus, ferry, and even "charter trains" on April 30, they are invited to join together at the Circus Maximus – a great field in the center of Rome once used for chariot races – for a prayer vigil. The vigil will be both "universal and very Roman," said Cardinal Vallini as he described the major elements of the gathering.
It is to be divided in two parts. The first is a celebration of the memory of the late pontiff. A choir and orchestra will provide the music as the image of Our Lady of Rome, Maria Salus Populi Romani, is processed into the venue.
Three people who were deeply affected by Pope John Paul II will be present to give their testimonies. His spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, his personal secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, and the religious sister miraculously healed of Parkinson's disease through his intercession, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, will all speak of the Pope's effect on their lives.
A second moment will be the prayer of the luminous mysteries of the Rosary. The Circus Maximus will be connected by video to five Marian shrines around the world and each of the five decades of the Rosary will be dedicated to an intention held dear by Pope John Paul II.
Those taking part in the live video feed include: the sanctuary of Divine Mercy at the Lagniewniki Shrine in Krakow, Poland; the Kawekamo Shrine in Bugando, Tanzania; Our Lady of Lebanon Shrine in Harissa, Lebanon; the Basilica of Holy Mary of Guadalupe in Mexico City; and the Fatima Shrine in Portugal. The prayer intentions will be for the youth, the family, evangelization, hope and peace for nations and the Church.
Pope Benedict himself will join by video for a final prayer and to impart the apostolic blessing on the faithful.
Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the Vatican spokesman, said that parishes and Catholic communities everywhere are invited to take part in simultaneous prayer initiatives.
Though the prayer vigil is scheduled to finish at 10:30 p.m., the prayerful preparation and "spiritual journey" will continue through the night. A total of eight parishes will be open through the night to provide places for worship and confession as the faithful make the pilgrimage across the historic city center to St. Peter's Square for the morning beatification ceremony.
Many of the faithful are expected to spend the night under the stars as they await the start of the beatification celebration. The Opera Romana Pelligrinaggi—the agency charged with coordinating the events—will have drinks and snacks available at refreshment stands to keep pilgrims sustained as they wait for the square to open in the early hours of the morning.
A Twitter account has also been set up through the Vatican's Pope2You website, whereby pilgrims can "tweet" about the experience as it unfolds and those interested around the world can follow along.
At 9:00 a.m., the throng of pilgrims will join together in an hour of prayer, beginning with the Divine Mercy Chaplet and finishing with an invocation of mercy over the whole world.
The beatification ceremony and Mass will then be presided over by the Pope, with cardinals concelebrating. When the Pope pronounces John Paul II a "blessed" and thus one step closer to official sainthood, an enormous image of the Pope will be unveiled in the square.
For the enormous turnout - estimated at around 400,000 - there will be 14 "maxi-screens" set up in the square and down the street leading out of it so the faithful can follow along.
There will be 500 priests distributing communion to the faithful in St. Peter's Square and the outer Pius XII Square. Another 300 will be available to offer the Eucharist to those pilgrims who are expected to fill the street leading up to St. Peter's.
Churches around Rome will also offer communion during the beatification Mass for those who seek it.
A half hour after the Mass and following a visit from Pope Benedict and the cardinals to render him homage, John Paul II's coffin will be available for veneration within St. Peter's Basilica. The coffin, however, will not be opened.
It will remain in its place until the last person who wishes to see it has done so. Fr. Lombardi said that this could even mean that visits extend into May 2.
On May 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone will preside over the final moment of the beatification celebrations. He will preside over an open-air thanksgiving Mass in St. Peter's Square to wrap up the three-day spiritual journey.
One of the priests joining Cardinal Vallini and Fr. Lombardi at the April 5 press conference, Fr. Cesar Atuire of Opera Romana Pelligrinaggi, used the famous Italian words of John Paul II to invite all comers. For pilgrims who might come if not for perceived difficulties with accommodations or other services, he said, "Non abbiate paura!" (Do not fear!)
Costs are being kept down by an "ethics card" signed as a contract between organizers and local businesses to keep them honest.
"There is space for everyone and the organization we are putting in place will be able to serve all comers," concluded Fr. Atuire.
Pilgrims, he said, can aid in the preparation process by registering online at www.beatusjpii.org.
Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Apr 5, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - While cease-fire negotiations are underway in the Ivory Coast, Vatican charity Caritas Internationalis condemned violence in the country that killed 1,000 civilians over the span of three days.
Caritas called for a “proper investigation” into who is responsible for the massacre that left hundreds dead and missing in the city of Duekoué during clashes from March 27 through March 29.
The Ivory Coast was facing the prospect 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.
As of April 5, however, Gbagbo is reported to have surrendered and called for cease-fire negotiations.
“The war is finished now. It is the end of the war. There is now negotiation,” Gbagbo's foreign minister, Alcide Djedje told NPR.
Although Djedje would not comment on whether Gbagbo is still insisting he is the legitimate president, the ceasefire will halt violence in the country that has already claimed hundreds of lives and forced over 1 million people from their homes.
Accusations have flown over who is to blame over the recent killings in Duekoué, with the United Nations claiming that certain members within Ouattara's militia committed “extra-judicial executions” of more than 330 people in the town.
However, Ouattara's government accused the U.N. on April 2 of allowing its peacekeepers to abandon civilians there to mercenaries fighting on behalf Gbagbo.
Bishop Gaspard Béby Gnéba of Man, told the Vatican-based Fides news agency that in addition to the deaths, local buildings–including Church facilities such as parishes, schools and health clinics–have been looted and destroyed.
Conflict had also moved to the economic capital of Abidjan, as Ouattara–backed by U.N. forces– launched an aggressive effort to seize control of local towns.
“The situation is calm in the sense that the shootings have reduced, but it is a disquieting calm, not at all reassuring. It is very tense,” Archbishop Jean-Pierre Kutwa of Abidjan told Fides.
Archbishop Kutwa expressed shock over the level of assault conducted by forces aligned with Ouattara.
“The people are barricaded in their homes. In some districts they have no water, electricity or food … It is an indescribable tragedy.”
Santiago, Chile, Apr 5, 2011 (CNA) - Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago, Chile reiterated the Church's commitment to eradicating sexual abuse.
The archbishop promised to do “everything in his power to establish the truth and carry out justice.”
“The pain, confusion and distress a community experiences is understandable when people consecrated to Jesus Christ … commit grave faults that leave victims scandalized and disappointed,” the archbishop said in a message issued April 2.
“Violence against the smallest and most vulnerable among us can never be justified or protected,” Archbishop Ezzati continued. He added that the Church must “root out this evil from society, while assuming an active role in preventing child abuse in all ministries and catholic schools.”
Catholics in Santiago “can be sure that their pastor will do everything in his power to establish the truth and carry out justice in lawsuits involving members of the consecrate life.”
Earlier this year, popular Chilean priest Fr. Fernando Karadima was found guilty of sexual abuse by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He was ordered to retire to life of prayer and penance.
“We must not fear the truth that will set us free,” the archbishop continued. “To shine the light on it may be painful, but it brings us hope of better days in a purified Church.”
Archbishop Ezzati also called for an “open dialogue in an atmosphere of respect, faith and fraternity, so Catholics can become more aware of their rights and duties.” He added that parish and youth ministry child protection policies should be reviewed.
He urged prayers for priests, emphasizing that this “time of pruning is teaching us.”
“The night may be long, but soon the light will come, the true light that illuminates all men and who is Christ the Lord.”
Vatican City, Apr 5, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - New charges from Poland’s former communist ruler that Islamic extremists plotted the 1981 assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II are baseless and unbelievable, according to the late Pope’s biographer.
There is “no evidence” to connect Mehmet Ali Agca, the Pope’s would-be assassin, to Islamic groups and Agca had “no Muslim education and was not pious,” George Weigel told CNA in an e-mail April 5.
Weigel said the charges of an Islamic connection were “promoted by Soviet-bloc intelligence at the time of the assassination attempt in order to muddy the waters and, likely, cover the trail.”
Poland’s last communist leader, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, now 87, revived these allegations in a recent interview with the Italian magazine, “Jesus.” He said radical Muslims were the “most logical” origin of Agca’s attack on the Pope May 13, 1981 in Rome.
“There were certainly different countries and different forces that would have liked the Pope to be eliminated, but that didn't mean they gave the order to Ali Agca to kill him,” he told the magazine.
“Besides the Kremlin, there was already then a radical Islam that hated the pontiff and saw in him the head of the crusades.”
Jaruzelski cited the fact that Agca was a Turk and a Muslim and noted the he had earlier threatened to kill the Pope during the Pope’s November 1979 visit to Turkey.
“Behind it were there fundamentalists at work?” Jaruzelski asked. “We don't know. Regardless, looking back, the Islamic 'track' would seem the most logical.”
Weigel, author of two biographical works on the Pope, “Witness to Hope,” and last year’s “The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II – The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy,” dismissed Jaruzelski’s remarks.
“I would no more regard General Jaruzelski as a plausible authority in this matter than I would regard him as a plausible witness in any other matter having to do with his interactions with John Paul II,” he said.
“That a magazine took Jaruzelski seriously tells you more about the current state of Italian journalism, I fear, than it does about what happened on May 13, 1981.”
Weigel suggested that the Polish general was trying to deflect historical attention away from his own repressive regime. Jaruzelski imposed martial law on Poland just six months after the assassination attempt.
Although Agca's motivations have never been made clear, some have linked him to a Turkish terrorist organization, the “Grey Wolves,” that may have been paid by Bulgarian operatives to assassinate the Pope. Weigel said there is evidence to connect Agca to “Soviet-bloc intelligence services.”
Agca shot the Pope repeatedly, wounding him in the arm and hand. Two shots hit him in the stomach, passing through his intestine.
The Pope later noted that the date of the shooting was also the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. He credited his survival to her intercession. He later donated one of the bullets that hit him to the shrine in Fatima, Portugal so it could be placed in the crown of the Madonna.
In a 2008 book, “A Life with Karol,” the Pope's personal secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, said that Pope John Paul believed Soviet leaders had ordered the attack because of his anti-communist influence in his native Poland.
The cardinal said that “all roads, however disparate they are, lead to the KGB.”
Sacramento, Calif., Apr 5, 2011 (CNA) - The halt to state budget talks in California is “tremendously disappointing” and “particularly devastating for the poor and vulnerable,” the state’s Catholic bishops have said.
“The job of elected officials in Sacramento isn’t to carry out partisan agendas, but to pursue the Common Good,” the bishops’ conference commented in an April 1 statement. “We fervently pray that both sides return to the bargaining table as soon as possible and make the compromises necessary to meet our moral responsibility to California’s most vulnerable citizens and put the state back on a solid financial footing,” they said.
The state presently faces a $26.6 billion deficit and problems meeting future pensions for public workers.
Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown failed to secure four Republican votes needed to place a tax-extension plan before voters in a June special election.
Talks between the governor and Republican lawmakers are on hold indefinitely. Gov. Brown blamed Republicans for the negotiation’s failure, saying their demands for changes would “materially undermine any semblance of a balanced budget.”
State Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton said hard feelings had poisoned negotiations.
“I was yelled at more than I was talked to, and mostly by Mrs. Brown, not even Governor Brown,” he told Reuters.
California’s Catholic bishops offered their continued prayers for a successful resolution to the budget impasse. They also promised the commitment of their ministries to the poor.
Their statement concluded with a call for all Californians to protect and support those most in need of help.