Indianapolis, Ind., May 11, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed into law a bill that cuts Planned Parenthood state funding and adds other restrictions on abortion.
“It’s a great victory,” said Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference. “This is an achievement we’ve been working towards for a number of years.”
He thought the law offers “a very good chance” to reduce the number of abortions in Indiana.
“That’s probably the most important aspect,” he said.
The law ends all state-directed funding for businesses that do abortions except for hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers, USA Today reports. It cuts $2 million of the $3 million the Indiana Planned Parenthood organization receives annually in government funds.
The law also makes Indiana the first state to prohibit the use of Medicaid at Planned Parenthood.
“It’s good that our tax dollars don’t have to support an agency that performs abortions,” Tebbe told CNA on May 11.
He credited the “persistence” of pro-life groups and the pro-life community over past years which allowed them to take advantage of the opportunity to pass the legislation.
Daniels was supportive of the legislation “from the beginning,” Tebbe reported.
“There wasn’t a need for him to play a leadership role because there were so many other people involved for a long period of time.”
Daniels, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2012, attracted attention and some criticism because he called for a “truce” on social issues like abortion and marriage in favor of focusing on fiscal and economic issues.
Though Tebbe said he had no inside information, he thought the remark was “more a tactical matter than substantive” and was intended to address divisions within Daniels’ party.
The new Indiana law has its critics.
The state’s Family and Social Services Administration has voiced concern that the funding restrictions could violate Medicaid policy and endanger $4 million in federal money for family planning.
Planned Parenthood of Indiana President Betty Cockrum said the provision threatened basic health care for Indiana women and will lead to undetected cancers, untreated sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies.
Gov. Daniels said his administration confirmed that all non-abortion services will remain “readily available” in all 92 counties of Indiana. He has also ordered the Family and Social Services Administration to ensure that Medicaid recipients receive “prompt notice” of nearby care options.
Any clinic affected by the law can resume receiving taxpayer dollars immediately by “ceasing or separating its operations that perform abortions,” the governor said.
Planned Parenthood of Indiana and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana sought a temporary restraining order against the bill. A federal judge refused to grant an emergency hold on May 11, but will take more time to consider whether the law should stand, the Indianapolis Star reports.
Indiana Right to Life characterized the new law’s provisions as “the most sweeping pro-life initiatives” in the state since the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.
“This legislation places Indiana on the vanguard of efforts to protect the unborn, to deny public funds to businesses that profit from abortion, and to ensure that women considering abortion have full and factual information about such issues as fetal development and alternatives to abortion,” said the group’s president and CEO Mike Fichter.
Many of these provisions have been on Indiana pro-lifers’ “to-do list,” Tebbe explained.
The new law opts Indiana out of abortion coverage in any state health insurance exchanges required under the 2010 federal health care law.
While the state previously restricted abortion based on the ambiguous standard of “viability,” the law now restricts abortions after 20 weeks into a pregnancy.
The law requires doctors who perform abortions to provide full information about abortion to women considering the procedure. These doctors must also maintain local hospital admitting privileges in order to streamline emergency access for any women injured during an abortion.
These features will provide more information to women considering abortion, Tebbe said, “and with that we think they are more likely to make the better choice.”
Washington D.C., May 11, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. bishops responded to President Obama's recent speech on immigration, noting the lack of government action so far in reforming the system.
“The president and Congress can no longer wait to address this important issue,” said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, who heads the U.S. bishop conference's Committee on Migration.
“In the absence of comprehensive reform, many states and localities are taking the responsibility of enforcing immigration law into their own hands,” he added in a May 10 statement.
“This has led to abuses and injustices for many U.S. families and immigrant communities.”
President Obama discussed plans for immigration reform to a crowd gathered in the Texas-Mexico border town of El Paso on Tuesday. The remarks were part of a one day trip to Texas which included Democratic fundraisers in Austin.
The president called for legislation to provide a move toward citizenship for the approximately 11 million illegal immigrants who are already in the U.S. He also claimed his administration has done more than any other to increase border protection, with more agents on the ground and more fencing.
However, President Obama cited difficulty reaching policy agreement among lawmakers, saying that some Congressional Republicans will only consider measures that strengthen borders. Certain Republican leaders have recently called immigration proposals “amnesty” for lawbreakers, USA Today reported.
Archbishop Gomez underscored in his statement that reform is long overdue and requires bipartisan cooperation, not bickering.
“Congress and the President have a responsibility to come together to enact reform that corrects this humanitarian problem, respects the dignity and hard work of our immigrant brothers and sisters, and reflects America’s proud history as a hospitable society and a welcoming culture,” he said.
Archbishop Gomez said that comprehensive reform needs to include a path for currently undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship. He called for an end to federal enforcement policies that are harmful to families.
“Our current policies are breaking up families in the name of enforcing our laws,” he said. “That should not be.”
“We should be reuniting and strengthening families – not separating wives from husbands and children from their parents,” the archbishop noted.
The U.S. bishops' conference has long advocated for comprehensive immigration reform including border protection yet also granting undocumented workers the chance to earn permanent residency and eventual citizenship.
Colorado Springs, Colo., May 11, 2011 (CNA) - Approximately 1,500 men heard a call to profound conversion at the May 7 Rocky Mountain Catholic Men's Conference. The World Arena in Colorado Springs hosted the event, which featured Father Benedict Groeschel, Fr. Larry Richards, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, and Patrick Madrid.
Stages of the spiritual life
Fr. Benedict Groeschel, from the Franciscan Friars of the renewal, discussed spiritual growth. The 78-year-old priest spoke with contemplative wisdom and dry wit, as he explained its basic pattern: first, turning from sin, then trusting in God, and finally living in his presence.
“Don't say that you trust God completely – only a saint does that,” the Franciscan priest said. “We all trust a bit, and send some requests: 'Please, can we pay off our mortgage!'”
But this piecemeal trust in God must grow up. “There comes a point of spiritual maturity – when a person puts everything, in trust, in God,” he explained. “Mature faith accepts the mysteries of God.
Fr. Groeschel remembered the religious sisters he knew as a child, who showed him the spiritual life's goal: “to live in the presence of God,” finding peace and strength in any situation.
One of those sisters cared for an elderly woman whose appearance frightened the future priest when he was an eight-year-old boy. But the sister was perfectly at peace.
“How come 'the witch' didn't bother Sister Teresa?” he recalled wondering, as he knelt in prayer.
As he was praying for an answer to his question, an surprising inspiration hit the young boy – a thought that would lead him to discover the sister's source of peace for himself.
“Something said: 'Be a priest.'” Fr. Groeschel placed his own trust in God, and has now followed that call for 50 years.
A wake-up call for 'spiritual wimps'
Fr. Larry Richards, who heads the Reason For Our Hope Foundation and published “Be A Man!: Becoming the Man God Created You to Be” in 2009, followed Fr. Groeschel.
In a talk intended to help men prepare for confession, Fr. Richards discussed their spiritual responsibilities and common failings.
“Men have become spiritual wimps,” he said. “We sit there and we say stuff like, 'Oh, women are more spiritual.' Gentlemen, that's garbage! Muslim men are willing to pray publicly in front of everybody!”
“God's always speaking to you,” he asserted. “What's the problem? You're not listening!” He ridiculed the notion that men should “try” to make time for daily prayer, joking that no one would “try” to eat or go to work every day.
Fr. Richards went on to discuss the fundamentals of confession.
“Some of you have never made a good confession, because you've been afraid,” he said. The deliberate omission of serious sins, he explained, results in an invalid confession. He compared sin to cancer, and
said confession – like chemotherapy – must “get rid of it all.”
Fr. Richards drove home his points about sin's seriousness, but emphasized that the love of God should be the main reason to repent.
“If the only reason you follow Jesus is so you don't go to hell, who do you love? Yourself.” he observed.
“You want to go to heaven, so that you can be with the one you love more than anybody.”
Sin's social reality
The hour-long lines for confession during lunch indicated that Fr. Richards struck a nerve. Afterward, Fr. Mitch Pacwa took the stage to give a more analytical reflection on the subject of sin, drawing on history and Biblical scholarship.
Fr. Pacwa, a Jesuit priest and host of EWTN Live, observed that ancient cultures had a sense of sin's universality and seriousness.
But today, this acknowledgment of original sin becomes an excuse for doing wrong. Meanwhile, in the Church, “there's very poor catechesis on sin.”
Fr. Pacwa told a story from the life of Bl. John Paul II to illustrate the point. A group of bishops, he recalled, had gone to meet with the Pope as all bishops must every five years.
“One of the bishops, from out east, was at the luncheon that they always have with the Pope – telling him, 'Holy Father, you have to realize that many of our young people in America do not even know that having sex before marriage is the sin of fornication! They don't even know that it's a mortal sin!'”
“And the Pope said back: 'For the young people who do not know, this is not their fault. But for the bishop who does not tell them this is sin – this is his fault!”
Fr. Pacwa told the men that they, too, had a responsibility to call sin by its proper name, first in their personal lives and then in the world.
“We are going to be a great help to our society, by the way we call people to repentance and forgiveness,” he promised.
Putting away 'childish things'
This message of outreach continued in a presentation by the lay apologist Patrick Madrid. The former vice president of Catholic Answers and current publisher of Envoy magazine took St. Paul's discussion of “putting away childish things” as his theme for addressing the men's conference.
“We are all Catholic men, called by the Lord,” he reflected. “To be soldiers, to be fathers and husbands. Boys can't accomplish those missions. Men have to do that.”
He described how his own faith matured through different stages. As a five-year-old child, he assumed every family was Catholic. During adolescence, he was peppered with questions by an anti-Catholic girlfriend's father. As a musician in local rock bands, he watched his generation succumb to a reckless lifestyle.
Madrid said these experiences made him grow in appreciation and knowledge of his faith, so that he could transmit it to others. He told the story of encountering a woman who said she “hated the Catholic Church,” which she had left after having an abortion as a teenager.
“I'm sitting there wondering, what in the world can I possibly say to this lady?” he explained. “The only thing I could think of to say was, 'You need to go to confession.'” The woman replied that it was unthinkable.
“I said, 'Well, just know that the door is open if you ever want to go' … I didn't know what else to do.”
“Six or seven weeks later, I got an email from her,” Madrid continued. “She said: 'Dear Patrick, you were right, I needed to go to confession.'”
“She came back to the Catholic Church,” Madrid concluded. “All I really needed to do was keep my mouth closed. And when the moment came, God would provide the words that needed to be said.”
The 'privileged place' of the Eucharist
After a day of talks that focused heavily on confession and repentance, Colorado Springs Bishop Michael J. Sheridan celebrated the closing Mass. He offered a homily on the Eucharist as the center of Christian life.
“What we are doing now, what you do every Sunday – this is the heart of what it means to be a Catholic,” he explained.
“This is the privileged place where we recognize Jesus, in the breaking of the bread,” he taught. “Never, ever miss Sunday Mass.”
Lima, Peru, May 11, 2011 (CNA) - The website for the Mexican bishops' conference was knocked offline after a cyber attack was launched against it.
Paola Rios, director of digital communications for the conference, told CNA that hackers “damaged the database.” She explained that the website had been backed up on a regular basis that and “all of the information was retrieved, but functionality has not been restored.”
She said the website had been the target of cyber attacks in the weeks prior to May 5.
“Any website can be a target,” Rios added. “The technician who works with us said the attacks have come from all over, from different countries.”
“I think it is random. We are a website increasing our ranking on the web and we produce articles on a daily basis,” she said when asked about a motive for the attack.
Rios said they expect to have the site back online by next week. “We can’t be unable to communicate, the bishops need to get their messages out,” she added, noting that the Mexican bishops will hold their next plenary assembly in three weeks.
Rios said a new design for the site was set to be unveiled the first or second week of June, but that since the site was knocked offline, the department accelerated its plans to implement it sooner.
Mexico City, Mexico, May 11, 2011 (CNA) - A Catholic publication in Mexico is calling for legislation to protect the religious freedom of Mexicans.
Desde la Fe, a Catholic weekly, said that legal framework is needed to protect Mexicans from attacks like the one that took place in Mexico City on April 24. On Easter, a group interrupted Mass at the city's cathedral and destroyed a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The actions were condemned by the Archdiocese of Mexico City and by leaders of numerous Christian denominations in Mexico.
The cathedral has been the target of numerous attacks in recent months.
The newspaper said in an editorial that the “sacrilegious and despicable incidents” must not go unpunished nor be used as pretext to argue that “differences in religious beliefs are creating tensions or that attacks in a place of worship are protected by free speech.”
“What the faithful and Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera suffered at the Metropolitan Cathedral is only a small sign of the lack of a legal framework that at a minimum should guarantee the freedom of worship of any religious faith in our country,” the editorial stated.
It then noted that the reason for the more than 20 attacks at the cathedral have been due to the “lack of a legal framework for ensuring respect for religious freedom and the lack of political will to guarantee the right of religious freedom for all Mexicans.”
“Religious freedom in our country is not the search to bring back old, undesirable privileges—even for churches themselves, as we acknowledge that a positive lay state is what is best for all—but rather for the essential freedoms that foster cooperation in the building of a more unified and just society with common objectives.
“For as the churches mentioned in their statement, the peace and tranquility that millions of Mexicans deserve depends in large measure on this,” the editorial stated.
Rome, Italy, May 11, 2011 (CNA) - An Italian priest was posthumously awarded with a top honor for protecting a Jewish family from Nazi persecution in World War II.
Father Martino Michelone, who died in 1979, was declared “Righteous Among Nations” by Jewish leaders on May 8 for hiding four members of a family for nearly two years.
Fr. Machelone sheltered a young boy named Luciano Segre – as well as Segre's father, mother and aunt – between 1943 and 1945 in the town of Moransengo in northwest Italy.
The “Righteous Among the Nations” recognition honors those who helped save Jews during the Holocaust.
According to Canadian paper The Edmonton Journal, the priest once went into hiding himself during the war to escape a patrol on the move.
Israel's ambassador to Italy Ghideon Meir gave the medal for the award to Fr. Michelone's surviving relatives at a ceremony Sunday in Moransengo.
Luciano Segre, who was a child at the time of the war, went on to become a leading financier. Fr. Michelone often hid Segre's identity by having him dress as an altar boy and accompany him to bless people's homes.
Vatican City, May 11, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Religion is intrinsic to man, Pope Benedict XVI noted at his weekly General Audience on May 11.
“The human being is religious by nature. The image of the Creator is engraved on human beings, who feel the need to find a light to answer the questions regarding the profound meaning of reality.”
It is “an answer that we cannot find in ourselves, in progress, or in empirical science,” the Pope told pilgrims.
Hence, he continued, we find a sense of disappointment and futility among today’s radical secularists.
“Looking at recent history, the predictions of those who, from the age of Enlightenment, foretold the disappearance of religions and exalted absolute reason, separated from faith, have failed.”
This was the second in the Pope’s new series of Wednesday audiences focusing on prayer. For the past two years he had been examining the lives of the saints. That series concluded prior to Lent.
The Pope explained the source of man’s religious instincts. “(H)umanity bears within it a thirst for the infinite, a yearning for eternity, a search for beauty, a desire for love, a need for light and truth, which impel us toward the Absolute. We carry within us the desire for God. In some way, we know that we can turn to God, that we can pray to Him.
“Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians of history, defined prayer as ‘the expression of humanity’s desire for God’.”
Hence the impulse to pray. “In prayer, human beings experience themselves as creatures in need of help, incapable of attaining the fulfillment of their existence or their hopes alone. In the experience of prayer we orient our very souls to that Mystery from which we look for the fulfillment of our deepest desires and help to overcome the poverty of our lives.
“In looking to the Other, in directing ourselves ‘beyond’, is found the essence of prayer, the experience of a reality that goes beyond the apparent and the contingent,” the pontiff added.
And despite living in an age that seems to be “marked by an apparent eclipse of God” the Pope observed there are also clear “signs of a renewed religious sense.” He concluded by urging those present to learn how to pray more often.
“We must learn to spend more time in front of God, before the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ; we must learn to recognize in silence, within our very selves, his voice that calls us and leads us to the depth of our existence, to the fount of life and the source of salvation, so that we might overcome the limit of our lives and open ourselves to the measure of God, the relationship with He who is Infinite Love.”
Toowoomba, Australia, May 11, 2011 (CNA) - Norm and Mavis Power moved to Toowoomba back in 1959, not long after getting married. The attractions of the Queensland city were obvious for a young couple hoping for a family – good schools, a pleasant climate and so many green spaces and parks it’s known across Australia as “the Garden City.” But that wasn’t all.
“Most importantly, we wanted our children to be brought up in the Catholic faith,” explains Mavis.
“At that time there was a monastery right in the middle of the town run by the Blessed Sacrament Fathers. It was a real center of prayer and activity. In fact, all the city’s Catholic churches were full. The life of the Church was so vibrant. Now, though, the monastery is closed and those same churches are empty. It’s so, so sad.”
Catholic life in Toowoomba changed – and changed radically – back in 1993. That was the year the city got a new bishop. Father William Martin Morris was a 49-year-old parish priest from the nearby Diocese of Brisbane. Styling himself as “Bishop Bill,” his innovations were very radical, very visible and instantly applied.
Out went clerical dress. Instead the bishop wore a shirt and tie emblazoned with the diocesan crest. Each priest was issued one as well.
Out went individual confessions. In came collective penance services in which participants are granted “general absolution.” Under Church law, general absolution is to be used in extreme circumstances. Under “Bishop Bill” the rare exception became the ordinary rule.
Out went the traditional model of governance by a Catholic bishop. In came a form of administration by committee — including committees appointing priests. In fact, Bishop Morris’ tenure began with a service held in a local retreat center. There he asked the priests of the diocese to sign his letter of appointment from Rome “to indicate their acceptance” of him as their bishop.
Out went the traditional understanding of the priesthood. Many parishes started to be run by nuns and lay people, with priests only administering some sacraments some of the time.
And out went a traditional understanding of the authority of the Church.
So when the Vatican asked Bishop Morris to end the practice of general absolution, he responded by carrying out a survey of parishioners on the issue before responding to Rome.
For many ordinary Catholics like the Norm and Mavis Power, life became pretty tough and very upsetting.
“The bishop would tell people what they wanted to hear, not what the Catholic Church teaches,” says Mavis, a mother of five who went on to work with disabled people later in life. Norm, a retired telecom engineer, agrees.
“Instead of individual confession people would be told to come up in a line, write their sins on a piece of paper and put it in a jar. Plus, an inappropriate form of lay participation was promoted everywhere. So on a Sunday if a priest was away for the weekend they would no longer get a neighboring priest but would, instead, ask lay people to lead the service and give out Communion on the grounds that they’d ‘want to keep the community together.’”
For the likes of the Power family this isn’t just a matter of arcane rules or abstract dogma. For them, the teachings and practice of the Catholic Church provide the wellspring for a good and happy life and – for that matter – a better world too. So to withhold or subvert those teachings is viewed as both cruel and abusive.
“It’s been pretty difficult. Really upsetting actually,” says Mavis, “and whenever we wrote to the bishop about any of these things we were always told it was us who were in the wrong.”
In November 2006, though, everything changed. Suddenly unhappiness with Bishop Morris went global. No longer did he just have to placate the Power family of Toowoomba. He now had to explain himself to the powers-that-be in Rome. The reason? A pastoral letter written to his entire diocese.
In it Bishop Morris promoted the idea of ordaining women and married men as well as allowing Anglicans, Lutherans and other religions to preside at Mass.
Again, all this flew in the face of Catholic teaching and tradition. This marked the beginning of the end for Bishop Morris.
In December 2006 the Vatican asked him to visit Rome as soon as possible in order to discuss his views. Bishop Morris told them he couldn’t possibly make the journey for, at least, five months. Clearly surprised by this answer, the Vatican wrote again, only a month later, with a similar request.
Again, Bishop Morris said “no.”
“The whole thing was incredible. The flight from Brisbane to Rome takes about 12 hours and there's at least one flight a day,” a senior Australian cleric told CNA. “Yet here’s this bishop telling the Vatican that he can’t make that trip at all for nearly half a year! That reaction was little short of scandalous. Any bishop worth his salt would hasten to Rome as quickly as possible. To be honest, I think Bishop Morris was hoping that if he strung things out for long enough Rome would just forget all about it. That was never going to happen.”
Rather than wait, the Vatican sent in the well-respected American Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., of Denver to review the happenings in Toowoomba. He visited the diocese in April 2007, speaking to all sides involved. In September Bishop Morris was asked to resign.
According to the senior Australian cleric, who asked that his name be withheld, the process again moved very slowly.
“It took Bishop Morris, wait for it, four months to say ‘no.’ He was then, again, asked to resign in February 2008. This time he took a grand total of 10 months to, again, finally, reply ‘no.’”
Bishop Morris even managed to secure a meeting with the Pope. This took place in June 2009. The message from the pontiff to him was the same – resign. The reply from the bishop, this time five months later, was also the same – no.
The endgame, however, came earlier this year. In a compromise move, Rome told Bishop Morris that he could retire rather than resign. Bishop Morris agreed. Both sides then set a date of May 2 for the announcement. Bishop Morris then made it public on April 27, five days early. The news quickly divided Australia.
“The temple police get their man,” opined journalist Michael McKenna in The Australian newspaper. “The Catholic Church’s worst enemy resides in the Vatican,” claimed columnist Barney Zwartz in The Age newspaper.
Meanwhile, Bishop Morris has repeatedly taken to the television and radio airwaves claiming he was “denied natural justice due to a lack of process” by the Vatican. He also claims that his meeting with the Pope was, “like the Inquisition. He was immovable. There was no dialogue.”
Others, however, see things differently.
“The reality is that if Bishop Morris of Toowoomba had been working for a commercial organization covered by the Trades Practices Act,” wrote columnist Kate Edwards on the ABC News website, “he would surely have been liable for prosecution on the grounds of false and misleading advertising. He represented himself as teaching the Catholic faith – but was not in fact doing so!”
“Morris’s removal sends a clear message to bishops, in Australia and around the world. The Holy See’s patience is not, as it long seemed, limitless,” wrote journalist Christopher Pearson, again in The Australian. “The more realistic, liberal bishops are going to have to kiss goodbye to any lingering fantasies they clung to in the 90s of ordaining nuns, or at least keep it to themselves.”
The row in the secular press reflects a similar division within the Catholic community. In fact, Vatican officials have been so worried by the dominance of unorthodox belief and practice in large parts of Catholic Australia that in 1998 they summoned the country’s bishops to a meeting.
The result was a “Statement of Conclusions” which offered a blunt critique of where the church in Australia was falling short in terms of Catholic orthodoxy. The stakes are high.
“The next few years will be crucial for the future of Catholicism in Australia with many big, important dioceses falling vacant – Brisbane, Hobart, Perth. The whole hue of the episcopal conference could be made over in the next two years. That gives added significance to the fall-out from events in Toowoomba,” says another senior Australian priest who spoke to CNA.
Meanwhile back in Toowoomba, the job of rebuilding begins.
The Diocese of Toowoomba spans more than 188,000 square miles and has a Catholic population of roughly 66,000 served by 35 parishes.
Bishop Brian Finnegan of Brisbane has now been appointed as administrator of the diocese until a new bishop can be found. Whoever gets the job will have their work cut out for them, sources tell CNA.
“I don’t think there’s been one priestly vocation in all the years Bishop Morris was in charge. Perhaps one – and he was a late vocation. And there are no young people. Take a look at their website – their ‘Ministry for Young People’ has no staff because they have no young people. It’s all old folk in dwindling number. Most of their priests are over 65 and their youngest priest is in his late 40s!”
That situation compares miserably to other Australian dioceses where a revival in Catholic orthodoxy had led, in recent years, to a revival in vocations and parish life.
As for the Powers, they’ve now got 13 grandchildren to help bring-up in the Catholic faith. They say they’ll keep praying for a good new bishop – and for their previous bishop too.