Oakland, Calif., Jun 3, 2011 (CNA) - Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of Oakland has encouraged Catholics to attend the Napa Institute’s first annual conference to respond to the growth of “practical atheism” and a secularism that is “antagonistic towards religion.”
“The conference will be a great occasion to grow both intellectually and spiritually,” the bishop said in a June 1 message.
The conference is organized on the theme “Equipping Catholics in the ‘Next America.’” The theme is taken from a speech by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, who said that in coming decades “Catholics will likely find it harder, not easier, to influence the course of American culture, or even to live their faith authentically.”
Bishop Cordileone said Chaput’s remark is a “prophetic call.”
Practical atheism and secularism are “steadily eroding the moral landscape of our country, with consequential detrimental effects on its economic, political and social well-being.”
The bishop explained that the Napa Institute was founded to help Catholics face and engage these challenges.
The conference will take place July 28-31 in the Napa Valley at the Meritage Resort and Spa.
Bishop Cordileone said that the first day of the conference will focus on Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Caritas In Veritate,” which discusses the ways in which charity directed by truth can be expressed in politics and economics. Speakers will focus on how the encyclical helps resolve questions about immigration.
Speakers on this topic include Archbishop Jose Gomez, Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop Alex J. Brunett and scripture scholar Dr. Tim Gray.
The conference’s second day will focus on why faith makes sense. Writers Bill McGurn, George Weigel and Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., will provide evidence for the reasonableness of faith.
On the third day, Bishop Jaime Soto, Mother Assumpta Long, O.P., Tim Gray and McGurn will discuss “The Cost of Discipleship.”
Daily Mass will be offered at the event and confession will be available for all attendees.
On Sunday July 31, Bishop Cordileone will celebrate the Solemn Pontifical Mass in the Extraordinary Form and also preach the homily.
More information about the conference is available at the Napa Institute website, http://www.napa-institute.org.
Rockford, Ill., Jun 3, 2011 (CNA) - The Diocese of Rockford says Illinois' new civil union law has forced Catholic Charities to end an adoption partnership once ranked as the second-best in the state.
“This action is solely the result of the passage of the 'Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act,'” explained diocesan general counsel Ellen B. Lynch, in a June 1 editorial co-authored with diocesan spokeswoman Penny Wiegert.
Their essay, published by the Rockford Register Star, explained how the new law put an end to Catholic Charities' state-funded adoption work.
The civil unions act, which took effect on June 1, does not allow child welfare agencies to restrict their adoption and foster care work to married heterosexual couples, even in cases where these agencies partner with religious groups.
“The state of Illinois has stated its intention to require agencies with which it contracts, to accept unmarried cohabitating couples for state-funded adoption and foster-care licenses once the civil unions law takes effect,” they explained.
In keeping with Church teaching on marriage and the family, Catholic Charities opposes adoption and fostering by unmarried heterosexual couples as well as same-sex partners.
“Being a party to a contract with the state of Illinois would require Catholic Charities to accept couples other than a married man and woman as adoptive and foster parents,” Lynch and Wiegert noted. “This would violate the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
That is why Catholic Charities “discontinued its current contracts with the state of Illinois,” and why it “cannot enter into contracts” with the state to provide such services in the future.
The change in state law will force Catholic Charities to lay off 42 caseworkers and 24 other employees, who have been overseeing 350 foster care and adoption cases. All of Catholic Charities' non-state funded services, including private adoptions, will continue after the transition.
Catholic Charities had previously sought a compromise which would have allowed its caseworkers to refer homosexual partners and unmarried heterosexual couples to other adoption agencies, while continuing their state-funded work in cases that did not violate Catholic principles.
But Lynch and Wiegert noted in their editorial that this kind of compromise still “would not have resolved the question of whether the civil unions law applies to religious entities providing state-funded services.”
“Nor would such an offer have prevented an aggrieved couple from filing suit against Catholic Charities when referred to another agency,” they pointed out.
In the end, they said, “Catholic Charities decided not to accept any state money, and to not enter into a contract with the state, because Catholic Charities will not compromise its moral teachings.”
It was ironic, they noted, for a Church ministry to be forced to discontinue its adoption partnership, for refusing to compromise the same faith that had brought the partnership into being.
The “very values for which we are being condemned,” they said, are those principles of faith by which “we are compelled to serve children and all those in need.”
“It is also because of these values,” they stated, “that we seek to put the interests of all those we serve above the whims of secular popularity.”
Illinois' other five dioceses are still weighing their options, to determine whether the same law will force them to sever government ties in the areas of adoption and foster care.
Other local laws establishing civil unions and homosexual “marriage” have forced Church agencies to restrict or discontinue adoption and foster care work in Boston and the District of Columbia. The Catholic Church in the United Kingdom no longer participates in adoption or foster care due to requirements in that country's same-sex “civil partnership” law.
Vatican City, Jun 3, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden met with Pope Benedict XVI in an unannounced visit to the Vatican, June 3. Both sides have been tight-lipped as to what was discussed.
“I have no comment. It was a totally private meeting and there will no communiqué,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., told CNA on June 3.
In fact the meeting wasn’t even listed on the Pope’s daily public schedule. One of the few give-aways was the heavy security surrounding the Port Sant’ Anna entrance to the Vatican all morning. Journalists covering the Pope’s meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas also spotted Biden’s car at the Vatican.
Vice President Biden is in Rome to mark the 150th anniversary of the country’s unification. Although he is a Catholic, Biden has had a troubled relationship with the Church because of his stance on certain issues, such as abortion.
In fact, after gaining the vice presidential nomination in 2008 he was criticized by his own bishop, the late Bishop Michael Saltarelli of Wilmington, for his stance on abortion. Biden was subsequently barred from speaking at events in Catholic schools in the diocese.
Biden has repeatedly stated at the he believes life begins at conception but that he would not want to impose his personal beliefs on others. This was countered by Bishop Saltarelli in 2004 when he replied;
“No one today would accept this statement from any public servant: ‘I am personally opposed to human slavery and racism but will not impose my personal conviction in the legislative arena.’ Likewise, none of us should accept this statement from any public servant: ‘I am personally opposed to abortion but will not impose my personal conviction in the legislative arena.’”
Biden isn’t the first senior Democrat who supports legalized abortion and is Catholic to meet Pope Benedict XVI.
In 2009 then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also visited the Pope at the Vatican. Afterwards she claimed, “I had the opportunity to praise the Church's leadership in fighting poverty, hunger, and global warming, as well as the Holy Father's dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel.”
This version of events, though, was somewhat contradicted by a Vatican statement issued only hours later:
“His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church's consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in co-operation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.”
Vice President Biden also had meeting in Rome today with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on the issue of the Middle East.
Meanwhile, the Pope also held separate discussions on the same issue with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.
Rome, Italy, Jun 3, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The three names on the short list for Archbishop of Milan were revealed in the Italian press June 3.
The trio of Italian clerics are Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice, Bishop Francesco Lambasi of Rimini, and Monsignor Aldo Giordano, the Vatican’s representative to the Council of Europe.
The details were published in the Italian paper La Stampa by journalist Andrea Tornielli, who is based in both Milan and Rome. He claims the final decision will be made on Thursday, June 9. The present incumbent, Archbishop Dionigi Tettamanzi, is 77 years-old and due for retirement.
The Metropolitan Archdiocese of Milan is the most populous in Italy and one of the most influential in the Catholic Church. In the 20th century, two holders of the office have gone onto the papacy – Pope Pius XI and Pope Paul VI. Being a metropolitan see, it also has jurisdiction over nine other dioceses in the north of Italy.
Tornielli claims that over the past few months the papal nuncio to Italy, Archbishop Giuseppe Bertello, has been consulting with bishops, priests and lay people in Milan and the surrounding areas in an attempt to add more names to the list. Possible additions have included Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the Apostolic Nuncio in Venezuela. Tornielli thinks, however, that only three names will go forward for final selection.
Cardinal Angelo Scola is being seen as a favorite for the post. He’s currently the Patriarch of Venice and has been since 2002. Before that he was rector of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. During this time he worked closely with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The post of Archbishop of Milan was traditionally a personal appointment made by the Pope himself. This time, though, the usual Vatican procedures are being used. This involves collaboration between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for Bishops.
The Archdiocese of Milan was founded by Saint Barnabus in the 1st century and was led by Saint Ambrose in the 4th century. The distinctive Ambrosian rite of Mass is still celebrated throughout the archdiocese. Tornielli says to expect a final announcement on the new Archbishop of Milan by the end of June.
Vatican City, Jun 3, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI expressed the urgent need to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a June 3 audience at the Vatican.
“A central issue of the cordial conversations was the troubled situation in the Holy Land. Particular stress was laid on the urgent need to find a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one capable of ensuring respect for the rights of all and, therefore, the attainment of the Palestinian people’s legitimate aspirations for an independent State,” reported the Vatican press office.
The leaders also discussed the aspiration for both Israel and Palestine to enjoy security and be at peace with neighboring countries, as well as within internationally recognized borders. “In this framework, with the support of the international community and in a spirit of cooperation and openness to reconciliation, the Holy Land will come to know peace.”
“Reference was also made in the meetings to the situation of the Christian communities in the Palestinian Territories and the Middle East in general, and mention was made of their irreplaceable contribution to the building up of society,” the Vatican added.
On May 19 President Obama called on the two sides to agree to negotiations that would begin with the borders that existed before the Six Day War in 1967, along with land swaps. But the plan was flatly rejected by visiting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu during a heated meeting at the White House.
This coming September, Palestinian leaders plan to ask the United Nations to recognize their statehood. That move will be sure to put the spotlight on the tensions between Israel and Palestine and is a prospect that the Obama administration is seeking to avoid.
Vatican City, Jun 3, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - All day in St. Peter’s Basilica pilgrims have been filing past the flower-covered tomb of Blessed Pope John XXIII, who died on this day in 1963.
“I’m just thankful to be here,” says great-grandmother Georgette Sweat from Stuart, Fla. “He was one of my favorite Popes. He was so very warm and caring and charismatic – and he showed it.”
Pope John XXIII was born Angelo Roncalli in 1881 into a humble farming family in the northern Italian region of Bergamo. He rose through the diplomatic ranks of the Church before becoming Patriarch of Venice in 1953.
To the surprise of many, himself included, he was elected to the papacy upon the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958. When he arrived in Rome for the consistory to elect the new Pope, he came with a return train ticket for Venice.
In spite of his papacy only lasting four years, it was momentous. Most notably, he convoked the Second Vatican Council in 1962.
His personal warmth and good humor captured the affection of many and gained him the moniker “Good Pope John.” Meanwhile, his habit of sneaking out of the Vatican in the dead of night to go for a stroll around Rome also gained him the nickname “Johnny Walker,” a play upon the famous Scotch whiskey. In 2000 he was declared “blessed”--the step just prior to being officially declared a saint-- by Pope John Paul II.
So why is he still so popular nearly 50 years after his death?
“He has remained in the heart of Catholicism as the Pope of goodness, the Pope who was the image of goodness,” Cardinal Angelo Comastri told CNA as pilgrims continued to flood in to St. Peters to visit the tomb. Cardinal Comastri is the senior cleric, or archpriest, currently in charge of the basilica.
“I think it depends on the fact that he was elected Pope at the age of 77-years-old. And at 77 he said that we need to feel young, we need to rejuvenate the Church. He said we need to ‘aggiornare’ to ‘update.’”
Cardinal Comastri quickly added that Pope John never intended to change the Church in order to suit the world.
“It was to rediscover the freshness of the beginnings, the interest in the origins, the interest in the Gospel, the enthusiasm and the freshness of the Apostles. For an old man of 77 years to have this courage is undoubtedly astonishing and fascinating.”
He also thinks that the way Pope John XXIII bore his final illness – an 8 month battle with stomach cancer - inspired many around the world.
“Pope John XXIII, during his sickness, showed his faith, kindness and fatherhood for the world. He said at the time, ‘my bed is like an altar and an altar needs a victim. I offer myself to the Lord and I do it voluntarily.’”
Pope John offered much of that suffering for the unity of Christians, said Cardinal Comastri.
“Because he really lived the drama of the division which was against the prayer to Jesus, against the desire of Jesus. And Pope John XXIII, even though he was dying, prayed to Jesus that the day of reconciliation of all Christians would be ‘anticipato’ or moved forward.”
When he died on June 3, 1963 the world mourned.
“And while he was dying something similar took place to what happened when Pope John Paul II died. The world appeared to be reconciled around the bed of the Pope, the bed of the dying Pope,” the cardinal recalled.
“Jews, Buddhists, even jail inmates all communicated their sentiments to the Secretary of State because Pope John XXIII was felt to be the father of the world, the father of humanity, the father who had helped men to feel more like brothers.”
Madrid, Spain, Jun 3, 2011 (CNA) - Several college students in Spain recently responded to 25 controversial questions about the Catholic Church. The group used the responses to create a series of videos to prepare young people for World Youth Day 2011.
The series of videos titled, “WYD Young Answers,” consists of one-minute clips in which the young people explain that condoms “are not the only means for stopping the spread of AIDS.”
One student notes that by promoting the use of condoms against AIDS, “people end up with a false sense of security.
“(T)hey are encouraged to have sexual relations using a condom, and more people are exposed to AIDS.”
The young people also speak out against the use of condoms by married couples, saying it signifies “zero commitment.” One young woman notes that the Church promotes “responsible parenthood” and that there are no unhealthy side effects to the “natural methods that involve abstaining during a few days.”
They also defend abstinence before marriage by pointing out that the Church, “more than prohibiting pre-marital sex, is instead promoting an alternative way of life.”
The college students also take up the issue of homosexuality, stressing that “the Church says first of all that nobody should suffer discrimination.”
“It’s not that the Church is against homosexuals, but rather against the homosexual act because it is not open to life.”
In another video the students applaud the Catholic Church’s consistency on issues related to human life and the family, despite “the pressure,” including euthanasia and the defense of palliative care.
They also confront the clerical sexual abuse scandal head on and argue that the Church is made up of “imperfect” human beings.
One student notes that it is “very shocking” when a priest commits abuse “because of his duty to mankind” but that it is “equally shocking” when abuse is committed by parents.
The young people touch on a number of other issues, including the ordination of women, celibacy, the riches of the Church and the costs of World Youth Day.
The videos can be viewed at: www.arguments.es/proyectos/jmj
Washington D.C., Jun 3, 2011 (CNA) - Religious freedom experts are saying the White House’s decision to fill the ambassador for religious freedom post, after a vacancy of nearly two and a half years, shows the issue is low on the priority list for the Obama administration.
“The administration does not seem to understand the central importance of religious freedom – to both American values, and American interests,” international human rights lawyer Nina Shea told CNA on June 2.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted the swearing-in of pastor Suzan Johnson Cook as the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, a position created by Congress in 1998.
Although President Obama had nominated Cook in 2010, her nomination encountered difficulties and expired in Congress. She was renominated in February 2011.
Thomas Farr – a former diplomat who heads the Religious Freedom project at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs – agreed with Shea that the current administration has shown a lack of vigilance for global religious freedom.
“From its founding, the United States has understood religious freedom as 'the first freedom,' that is, at the heart of human dignity and necessary to the health of American democracy,” Farr told CNA in a June 2 interview.
“As Christian and other minorities suffer a crisis of persecution in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is vital that the United States stand with them.”
Shea, who directs the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C., explained that the U.S. ambassador for religious freedom acts as “chief advocate for those around the world persecuted for religious reasons.”
“No one is specifically tasked with looking at geo-political issues from the exclusive perspective of religious freedom interests, except for this ambassador.”
Shea noted that the position was created by Congress over a decade ago, “precisely because such concerns were slipping through the cracks in the forging of American foreign policy.”
Yet in 2011, the “question of religious freedom has never been more salient,” she said.
The human rights advocate cited the examples of China,Vietnam and North Korea, which she says continue to suppress religious believers on the basis of communist party ideology.
Eritrea and Burma are also “long-time repressors of various religions in order to consolidate the dictatorship’s rule,” she said.
In the Muslim world, there is also “an alarming trend to rule by Islamist totalitarianism,” Shea said, noting that Iran and Saudi Arabia are spreading this type of “repressive rule” to other countries.
As a nation, “we seem to be witnessing the destruction of religious diversity in formerly pluralistic Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan and elsewhere,” she said.
Shea also pointed to Algeria and Morocco as places attacks and acts of persecution are carried out against Christians, adding that Turkey’s non-Muslim population is getting smaller every year, “primarily due to a morass of state regulation that strangles Christians, Jews and other minorities.”
Despite the persecution religious minorities experience in these countries, however, the Obama administration has remained largely silent on the issue.
Shea highlighted President Obama's speech to the Middle East last month, where he outlined concrete steps on American support for the region’s economy.
“By contrast, no specific steps were mentioned to promote religious freedom – based on the events since January, the lack of which for the Christian Copts of Egypt can be expected to result in instability and human misery for years to come,” she said.
In Farr’s view, the “vigorous promotion” of international religious freedom benefits not only the interests and values of the U.S., but those of other developing countries as well.
“We must convince Middle Eastern religious actors, societies, and governments that religious freedom is necessary if they are to achieve what they wish,” he said.
“In the cases of Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, they seek stable, lasting democracy.”
“Both history and modern scholarship make it clear that they cannot succeed unless they embrace, in law and culture, the institutions and habits of religious liberty.”
“That is what our policy should be advancing,” he underscored.
Farr, who also served as the first head of the U.S. State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom, said that Ambassador Cook “lacks experience in diplomacy and religious freedom.”
However, she is an “intelligent and highly motivated woman,” he added, “she can learn.”
Cook is currently the pastor of Bronx Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in New York City and founder of the Worldwide Wisdom Center. She also served as an advisor on President Clinton’s Domestic Policy Council and as Chaplain to the New York Police Department.
“I wish her the best at the State Department,” Farr said.
Shea likewise expressed her best wishes to Cook as she begins her appointment as ambassador.
Rome, Italy, Jun 3, 2011 (CNA) - The Bishops’ Conference of Spain has warned of the dangers of sexually charged ads and the promotion of the sex industry.
The internet, they said in a May 25 message, cannot be a place devoid of any ethical or moral considerations with regards to human communication, nor can it throw aside “the most basic norms of decency in personal and social relationships, based on the dignity of the person and the common good.”
The same could be said of certain sections of newspapers, such as the classified ads, the bishops continued.
They support efforts to rid the press of advertising for the sex industry, “which not only constitutes an attack on the dignity of the person, especially women, but also diminishes the dignity of those who promote or allow it based on a misunderstanding of freedom of expression and of the market,” the bishops added.
“Just because one can sell or buy something doesn’t mean one should.”
Spain’s Ministry of Health, Policies and Equality is exploring ways to regulate such advertising in the media. The Spanish Congress is set to debate the proposal in July.
The message was intended to mark the 45th World Day of Social Communications, taking place on June 5.
Pope Benedict XVI chose as the theme for the World Day of Social Communications this year, “Truth, proclamation and authenticity in the digital age.”
Detroit, Mich., Jun 3, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholics have responded to the June 3 death of assisted suicide activist Dr. Jack Kevorkian with prayers for him and his victims, affirming the Christian belief in the sanctity of life.
“Left out in much of the commentary on the death of Jack Kevorkian is the sobering and deadly legacy he leaves behind,” Ned McGrath, director of communications at the Archdiocese of Detroit, said in a June 3 statement.
McGrath added, “May God have mercy on his soul and on the scores of confused, conflicted, and, at times, clinically depressed victims he killed.”
Kevorkian, a retired pathologist based in Michigan, said he helped about 130 people kill themselves from 1990 to 1998. He became known as “Dr. Death” even before he began his advocacy and practice of assisted suicide.
He died about 2:30 a.m. Friday at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. where he had been hospitalized with kidney and heart problems.
Kevorkian attorney Mayer Morganroth said he apparently died of a pulmonary thrombosis when a blood clot in his leg broke free and lodged in his heart, the Detroit Free Press reports.
“It was peaceful. He didn’t feel a thing,” Morganroth said.
Neal Nicol of Waterford, a friend of Kevorkian who assisted in all but four assisted suicides, said he hopes Kevorkian is remembered “for his work, his courage and his willingness” to help the people who came to him.
The doctor’s assisted suicide advocacy prompted several legislative battles and court cases. He also drew strong opposition from the Catholic Church and other pro-life advocates.
“The Catholic Church holds all human life sacred,” McGrath commented. “It is both ironic and tragic that Kevorkian himself was afforded a dignified, natural death in a hospital, something he denied to those who came to him in desperation, only to be poisoned and have their bodies left in places such as vans and motel rooms.”
Kevorkian served eight years in prison after a 1999 conviction for the second-degree murder of 52-year-old Thomas Youk, who had Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was previously charged with murder four times but was acquitted three times and a fourth case ended in a mistrial.
He had videotaped himself injecting Youk and had it broadcast on “60 Minutes.” He was released in 2005 and discharged from parole in 2009.
Kevorkian attracted media attention for his confrontational style and even had a cable television movie made about him, starring the actor Al Pacino.
Morganroth said there were no plans for a memorial.