South Bend, Ind., May 7, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - An Indiana prosecutor has dropped charges against almost all of the “ND88” pro-life demonstrators arrested for protesting President Barack Obama’s 2009 commencement appearance at the University of Notre Dame.
St. Joseph County prosecutor Michael Dvorak dropped the criminal trespass charges as part of an agreement between the Chicago-based Thomas More Society and the university.
“This is a big step forward and a victory for the pro-life cause,” said Tom Brejcha, Thomas More Society president and chief counsel.
Though the long controversy had generated bitter feelings, each side emphasized the need to reconcile.
Notre Dame president Fr. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. said he was “sincerely pleased” that the charges have been dismissed.
“From the start, everyone involved in this difficult matter has been in complete accord on the sanctity of human life, and we all remain committed to continuing our work to support life from conception to natural death,” he said.
Brejcha voiced appreciation for the steps Notre Dame has taken to mark the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision on abortion. He noted Fr. Jenkins’ participation in the March for Life in Washington, D.C. in 2010 and 2011.
“Those who share pro-life convictions may differ on tactics and approaches, but they best serve their sacred cause when they work together to secure the common good for all human beings, born and unborn alike, rather than carrying on as courtroom antagonists,” Brejcha said.
The Thomas More Society said both parties remain in “profound disagreement” over the commencement but they have decided to “put their differences behind them” and affirm their agreement on pro-life issues.
Both parties have pledged “not to rehash the events of the past” but to recognize each other’s pro-life efforts and to work together to maximize their impact on the “contentious” debate over abortion.
At the time of the protests, opponents of President Obama’s commencement speech and honorary degree cited his support for abortion and the Catholic bishops’ instructions against honoring political leaders who support abortion.
Many were arrested on campus at the time of the commencement. The 94 arrestees included Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry and Obama’s Illinois U.S. Senate race opponent Alan Keyes.
Demonstrators engaged in prayer and held pro-life signs. Their defenders said Notre Dame engaged in discriminatory treatment by allowing demonstrators supportive of Obama on campus. They also said that participants in past unauthorized protests, including pro-homosexual rights and anti-ROTC demonstrations, were not treated as harshly.
The Sycamore Trust, a Notre Dame alumni group dedicated to supporting the university’s Catholic identity, said it would have been “far better” had the university dropped the case two years ago.
“There is no way now for the University to erase the damage these prosecutions have caused to its pro-life standing through the drumbeat of criticism from pro-life forces,” it said May 5.
The organization noted that the dropping of charges took place in the context of an agreement not to sue for damages. However, it still praised the move as “a very welcome development.”
Toowoomba, Australia, May 7, 2011 (CNA) - Australian Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba, removed from his post earlier this week by Pope Benedict XVI, is not going quietly into early retirement as agreed.
And he does not appear to be respecting the usual protocols of confidentiality and discretion that Church leaders normally adhere to in cases of Church discipline.
Instead, in a series of interviews this week, the ousted bishop has leaked what he claims is private correspondence from Pope Benedict XVI and compared the Vatican’s investigation of him to the 16th-century Spanish Inquisition.
He and his supporters charge that the Vatican’s inquiry, technically known as an “apostolic visitation,” was carried out unfairly and denied him his rights to “natural justice.”
However, Church lawyers this week said that Bishop Morris either misunderstands how the apostolic visitation process works or is deliberately spreading misinformation. They also suggested that the Pope’s unusual removal of the bishop suggests “grave” troubles in Toowoomba.
In addition, new controversy has arisen over the 2006 pastoral letter that may have triggered the Vatican investigation.
Bishop Morris, 67, has been the head of the diocese in southeastern Australia near Brisbane, since 1993. He was removed from office on May 2.
The investigation that led to his ouster began in 2007, just months after Bishop Morris published a pastoral letter in which he said he was considering ordaining women and permitting Protestant clergy to celebrate the Eucharist as a way to address a priest shortage in the diocese.
There is no longer any reference to the Advent 2006 pastoral on Toowoomba’s official diocesan website.
But a copy of the letter, dated Nov. 17, 2006, was published this week on the website of Australia’s ABC News, which has also published a series of favorable interviews with Bishop Morris.
In his letter, Bishop Morris says that the Church “may well need to be much more open towards other options” for celebrating the Eucharist — including “recognizing Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church orders” and ordaining women and married men “chosen and endorsed by their local parish community.”
There is some question however, whether this newly published copy of Bishop Morris’s letter is complete.
The website AD2000 had previously carried excerpts from Bishop Morris’s Advent 2006 letter. In addition, the letter is quoted favorably in a 2008 book by Paul Collins, “Believers: Does Australian Catholicism Have a Future” (University of New South Wales Press).
But a key section quoted in these earlier excerpts does not appear in the version of the pastoral letter published this week by ABC News.
In these earlier excerpts, Bishop Morris pledges to “continue to reflect carefully” on the options he has proposed. In the version published this week by ABC News, this passage appears to have been excised.
In his original letter as quoted by AD2000, he wrote:
“While we continue to reflect carefully on these options, we remain committed to actively promoting vocations to the current celibate male priesthood and open to inviting priests from overseas.”
In the newly published version, this passage reads:
“We remain committed to actively promoting vocations to the current celibate male priesthood and open to inviting priests from overseas.”
In a letter announcing his departure that was read in all parishes May 1, Bishop Morris complained that his pastoral letter had been “deliberately misinterpreted.”
Bishop Morris this week also leaked to ABC News what he said was a private letter sent to him by Pope Benedict XVI. In it, Pope Benedict reminded Bishop Morris "that Pope John Paul II had said irrevocably and infallibly that women cannot be ordained."
The accuracy of this quote or the existence of the letter could not be verified independently by CNA.
For most of the week, Bishop Morris and his supporters continued to wage a public campaign against the Vatican investigation.
In accounts published in the Australian press, they say the apostolic visitor was American Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., of Denver, who they say was appointed by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
They say Archbishop Chaput came to Toowoomba in April 2007 and interviewed Bishop Morris along with a sampling of both his both supporters and critics. They say he delivered his report to the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops on May 3, 2007.
Archbishop Chaput has declined to comment on what, if any role, he played in the investigation.
Nor has the Vatican released any details about the investigation beyond an unusually terse announcement issued May 2 through the Vatican Information Service: “The Holy Father removed Bishop William M. Morris from the pastoral care of the diocese of Toowoomba, Australia.”
Bishop Morris continues to complain that he was never given a copy of the apostolic visitator’s report.
But Father Jesus Miñanbres Fernandez, who serves on the canon law faculty at Pontifical University of the Holy Cross said this is not unusual in apostolic visitations.
In cases involving the conduct of bishops, Fr. Fernandez told CNA, the visitator would make a report to the Vatican. That report would be “secret,” to be read only by the Pope and the Vatican congregation that ordered the investigation.
Fr. Fernandez stressed that he is not familiar with all the details in the case of Bishop Morris. But he indicated that Church law provides that the information in the report be kept confidential.
“It could be harmful to release all the information,” he said. “The investigation probably includes names of other bishops in Australia.”
“Its probably not convenient that he knows all of the details. There have been different conversations with people that are protected.”
Fr. Fernandez said that it is “not very common that the Pope dismisses a bishop.”
He said that ordinarily the Pope would try first to ask the bishop to resign, “to realize that there is a lack of mutual confidence with the Pope or the college of bishops.”
Bishop Morris, he said, would have been given “a decree, an administrative act, in which the causes would have been expressed — even if they didn't make him happy,” he said.
“The causes would have been present in the causes of dismissal,” Fr. Fernandez added.
“He is a bishop and will remain so. I don't know what the procedure might be in his case. These things are often negotiated with the person. I don't know what will have been asked of him. If this act is signed by the Pope, it cannot be overturned. If it’s just from a Congregation, it can be. If it’s that grave that it was signed by the Pope, no. The actions of the Pope are definitive.”
Fr. Fernandez said that the case for dismissing Bishop Morris must have been “serious” to warrant such a high profile removal from office.
“There are bishops that say things that are contrary to the Church, and the Vatican tries to help them through the process to realize the error; they try to correct the action, correct the teaching. To have reached dismissal, there must be a grave reason,” he said.
Anchorage, Alaska, May 7, 2011 (CNA) - This Easter the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska welcomed 83 converts into the Catholic Church.
Some of these men and women hail from backgrounds that were hostile to the teachings of Catholicism.
As they tell it, Nicholas Myhre, Jason Yonk and Vanessa never pursued Catholicism. Rather, they were stunned at how their quests for spiritual truth led them to the very church about which they’d been warned.
Myhre’s mother, an agnostic Lakota Sioux, rejected organized religion and taught him that the Catholic Church forcibly indoctrinated the Natives in early America.
Yonk was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which teaches that the true message of Christ was lost by the Catholic Church but restored in a vision to Joseph Smith in the early 1800s and recorded in the Book of Mormon.
Vanessa, who asked that her last name not be used, due to tensions caused by her conversion, grew up in a family of devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, where she was taught that the harlot described in the Book of Revelations represents the Catholic Church.
Questioning the faith
Myhre became acquainted with Catholicism when his father, a recent convert himself, was undergoing cancer treatments and asked Myhre to bring him to church. The first Mass felt awkward, he said.
“I didn’t have hostile feelings toward the church; I just didn’t like being there,” Myhre recalled.
The second visit, though, he was overcome by an epiphany as he watched his father participating in the Mass.
“I just felt that I was in the right place at that moment for a reason, and I needed to know more about what my dad was doing,” he said.
His job working construction around Alaska allowed him some time to read books on apologetics and early Church history.
“I was always looking for God: thinking and searching and reading and praying,” he said.
Myhre pushed himself to scrutinize and fully grasp any teachings that challenged him, including purgatory and the veneration of Mary. Other beliefs, though, seemed obvious.
“The presence of Christ in the Eucharist is really what drew me to the faith,” he said. “To make that leap, for me what really cemented it was tradition … That really helped me understand the Catholic Church and where it gets its authority.”
Myhre entered the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), the means by which one enters the Catholic Church. He began attending Mass with his children and his wife, an inactive Baptist, and enrolled his 5-year-old daughter in Our Lady of the Valley Catholic School. At Easter, he joined his wife and youngest daughter in entering into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Quest for salvation
Fellow catechumen Jason Yonk launched his search for spiritual truth after reading an alarming book, “23 Minutes in Hell,” which is the author’s account of his near-death experience that went south.
“It honestly scared me,” Yonk said. “I’ve always believed in hell.”
At his mom’s suggestion, he started his quest for salvation by studying the Book of Mormon but wasn’t satisfied with its answers.
“I still felt very confused and lost,” he said.
During long Coast Guard deployments, he studied the Bible and traced Christianity back to its roots in the Catholic Church.
He startled himself when he announced to his wife, a cradle Catholic from a devout family, that he wanted to become Catholic.
“She was as dumbfounded as I was,” he said. “Before this I had a problem with saying I was one religion or another, but it was sudden. It just felt right.”
He and his wife, who was never confirmed, took RCIA together at St. Mary Church in Kodiak. With no other RCIA candidates for most of the year, he enjoyed grilling his teacher, Father Eric Wiseman, with questions during classes.
Yonk is now considering the diaconate after retirement.
A catechumen at St. Patrick Church in Anchorage, Vanessa experienced scathing criticism of the Catholic Church as part of her religious instruction growing up a Jehovah’s Witness. Yet she always felt intrigued by Catholicism, even dreaming as a young girl of becoming a nun.
“I’ve been a Catholic at heart for years,” she said. Observing adult Jehovah’s Witnesses going door-to-door, “I remember Catholics being the people who would say ‘No, thank you; we’re Catholic.’ They were all set.”
Vanessa eventually left the Jehovah’s Witnesses in her 20s and devoted a decade to soul-searching. She read many books, attended friends’ churches and prayed. She also lost and rebuilt a delicate relationship with her parents, who by Jehovah’s Witness creed were supposed to cut themselves off from her for leaving their church.
“I went through a period of knowing that what I was taught (about the Catholic Church) was wrong, yet not being able to free myself from the way I felt,” she said. For instance, “reading the Bible and knowing, just knowing clearly that God is three persons in one — I don’t know how you could dispute that — but still hoping that I would find something to prove otherwise because that’s what I’d always been told to believe.”
Her conversion journey and zeal for Catholicism renewed the faith of her Catholic husband. Her daughter, age 3, was baptized last year, and Vanessa eagerly followed suit this Easter.
“It feels like coming home,” she said. “It feels like correcting a mistake.”
'Faith is a gift'
Myhre is similarly excited.
“Cradle Catholics tell me that what I’ve learned and what I’m experiencing is a gift,” he said. “They took everything for granted because they never had to question it or figure it out for themselves.”
He added, “Like we learned in RCIA, ‘Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit,’ only some must strive harder to accept it.”
Printed with permission from CatholicAnchor.org, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Anchorage.
Venice, Italy, May 7, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI will take to the water in a gondola this weekend as part of a two-day visit to Venice. It is his first papal visit to the historic Italian city famously built upon a series of canals.
The highlight of his 27-hour-visit will come tomorrow when Benedict celebrates Mass before an estimated congregation of 300,000. He’ll then travel the waterways on the same gondola used by Pope John Paul II in 1985 during the last papal visit to Venice.
The boat will take him to the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health. There he’ll meet representatives from the worlds of business, politics and culture at the official opening of a new cultural center founded by Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice.
The Pope’s pastoral visit began on May 7 with a visit to the nearby town of Aquileia where he was met by enthusiastic crowds.
Tradition holds that St Mark the Evangelist used Venice as a first-century base for his mission to preach the gospel to surrounding nations. He is now the city’s patron. In honor of the saint, Pope Benedict will this evening visit the city’s St Mark’s basilica where he will address bishops from Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany as well as northeast Italy.
This weekend’s visit is the third by a pope to Venice in the past 40 years. As well as the 1985 visit of John Paul II, Pope Paul VI also made a pilgrimage to the city in 1972.