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Archive of July 9, 2011

Catholic leaders urge Congress to reduce spending wisely

Washington D.C., Jul 9, 2011 (CNA) -

Governmental budget cuts should not interfere with aid to the world’s poorest people, the U.S. bishops and Catholic Relief Services said in a letter to the House of Representatives.

“The United States has a moral imperative to maintain its commitment to assist the poorest people in the poorest places on earth as they face the global impacts of the economic downturn, climate change, and food crisis,” said Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, in a July 5 letter co-authored with Catholic Relief Services President Ken Hackett.

On July 6, the House Appropriations Committee released its proposed 2012 budget for the legislative branch of the U.S. government. The committee chairman said he wants Congress to set an example of reducing government spending, to help bring the nation's budget under control.
 
“Congress has asked every agency in the federal government to rein in spending and do more with less, and we should do the same,” said House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.).
 
But the U.S. bishops, motivated by Catholic social teachings including solidarity and the preferential option for the poor, remain concerned about the effects of the spending cuts at home and abroad – particularly in the area of humanitarian foreign aid.
 
Hackett and Bishop Hubbard urged the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs to be “fiscally responsible in morally appropriate ways” when working with Congress.

They asked that the House allocate funds in a balanced manner, and give appropriate priority to those most in need.
 
“The subcommittee must cut with great care, eliminating only those expenses unrelated to basic human needs and development,” said Hacket and Bishop Hubbard.

They expressed concern about the proposed repetition of last year's Foreign Affairs budget cut, noting that “life-saving programs” lost 8.4 percent of their funding from 2010 to 2011. They said further cuts “would be disproportionate and life-threatening to the world’s poorest people.”
 
Other critical programs said to be at stake in the budget reductions include medical and emergency care programs, agricultural assistance, and civilian protection. The bishops and Catholic Relief Services have identified these programs as “critical,” “poverty-focused,” and in need of “robust funding.”
 
However, the authors of the letter acknowledged room for cuts to the programs, saying Congress should “subject poverty-focused services to careful scrutiny so as to eliminate waste and duplication.”
 
The U.S. bishops and Catholic Relief Services said they were “ready to work with leaders of both parties for a budget that reduces future deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people at home and abroad, advances the common good, and promotes human life and dignity.”

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Fr. Corapi responds to some of his order's charges

Corpus Christi, Texas, Jul 9, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

On July 7, Fr. John Corapi denied he is guilty of some of the charges leveled against him by his religious order. However, his response did not address some of the serious complaints and instead focused on mostly financial and legal concerns.  

Fr. Corapi explained Thursday that he “resigned” from the priesthood last month amid the allegations “because the process used by the Church is grossly unjust, and, hence, immoral.”

“I resigned because I had no chance from the beginning of a fair and just hearing,” he said.  

A July 5 statement from the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity said that while Fr. Corapi was involved in public ministry he had “sexual relations and years of cohabitation with a woman known to him, when the relationship began, as a prostitute.”

The order’s investigative team also found that he “repeatedly abused alcohol and drugs,” “recently engaged in ‘sexting’ activity with one or more women in Montana,” and holds legal title “to over $1 million in real estate, numerous luxury vehicles, motorcycles, an ATV, a boat dock, and several motor boats.”

Fr. Corapi defended his accumulation of real estate and other luxuries as acceptable because of an arrangement with the founder of the Society, Fr. James Flanagan. When the Society was first launched, Fr. Flanagan had a policy of encouraging each ministry of the order to be self-supporting.

“I have never relied on the Society for shelter, clothing, transportation, medical care, or legal counsel and instead, using my history of success in business, set up my mission as any savvy business man would, meanwhile continuing to support the Society and many other Catholic Charities,” Fr. Corapi said.

The Society also highlighted in its July 5 statement that a fact-finding team created by the order “acquired information from Fr. Corapi’s emails, various witnesses and public sources,” in response to a signed letter from a woman who is well known to him

The letter allegedly details Fr. Corapi's sexual activity with adult “women.” However, Fr. Corapi's July 7 response does not address the accusation of being involved with multiple women and simply states, “I have never had any promiscuous or even inappropriate relations with her. Never.”

As the order sought to carry out its investigation into the allegations against Fr. Corapi in recent months, it said its fact-finding team was hindered by a civil lawsuit the priest had filed and by  non-disclosure agreements he had negotiated with his accuser and other witnesses.

The civil lawsuit argued that his principal accuser had committed slander and breach of contract.

Fr. Corapi has refused to dismiss the lawsuit and the team discovered many other contracts that prevented “key witnesses” from speaking.

“I never paid anybody off to remain silent,” Fr. Corapi said in his most recent statement. “On two occasions there were standard severance agreements executed with former employees and independent contractors.”

“These agreements contained very common non-disclosure provisions. Any attorney who would not include such provisions in such agreements would rightly be guilty of negligent and actionable conduct.”

As part of the July 5 update on the investigation of the charges against Fr. Corapi, the superior of the Society, Fr. Gerry Shehan, ordered him under his vow of obedience to “return home to the society’s regional office and take up residence there,” and to “dismiss the lawsuit he has filed against his accuser.”

But Fr. Corapi indicated in his reply that he would not obey the order. “If I were to commit to the suggestion of the Society, then I would essentially crawl under a rock and wait to die,” he said. “However, I can not deny this desire to share aspects of Truth and Hope with all those willing to hear.” 

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Bishop Aquila urges sacrament of confirmation before First Eucharist

Mundelein, Ill., Jul 9, 2011 (CNA) - Bishop Samuel J. Aquila of Fargo in a recent lecture examined the sacrament of confirmation and explained his reasons for believing children should receive it before First Eucharist.

“One can speak of the many effects of confirmation and the impact it makes upon one’s life, but it is always important to remember that the divine person of the Holy Spirit is received in confirmation,” he said in July 6 remarks at the Liturgical Institute at Mundelein Seminary. “We need the gifts of the Holy Spirit, every day, every hour, every minute and every second to live a life that gives glory to the Father as Jesus glorified the Father.”

The bishop explained that he had initially favored the view that confirmation was a “sacrament of maturity” that should be reserved to high school students only. However, his view changed after further studies, work with the sacraments of initiation and experience with young children who were confirmed when they entered the Church.

Placing confirmation after First Communion “only muddied the primacy of the Eucharist as the completion of initiation into the Church and the life-long nourishment of the relationship established with the Trinity and the Church in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation,” the Fargo bishop said.

In an August 2002 pastoral letter, Bishop Aquila instructed that after children receive the sacrament of reconciliation in second grade, they should receive confirmation and First Eucharist in the third grade during the same Mass.

The bishop’s July 6 remarks surveyed the history the sacrament. Originally, confirmation was part of a “continuous rite of initiation” leading up to the reception of the Holy Eucharist. This is still the practice in the Eastern Catholic Churches.

After the fifth century, Bishop Aquila said, it became difficult in the West for a bishop to travel to all parishes to baptize and confirm all at once and so the administration of the sacraments became separated.

The custom of receiving First Communion as a second grader and later receiving confirmation in middle or high school is “a recent practice of the Church” and the Second Vatican council had called for a revision of the rite of confirmation.

Turning to the present administration of the sacrament, Bishop Aquila questioned whether the common placement of confirmation in late adolescence treats it as “a reward, or worse, as something earned or deserved for attendance and work in a parish catechetical program.”

“Should the fear of not receiving a sacrament ever be used as a means to keep a young person involved in the life of the Church? Should the gift and strengthening of the Holy Spirit be denied young persons in their most formative years?” he asked.

Bishop Aquila also wondered whether the special attention and length of preparation given to confirmation makes many perceive it to be more important than baptism and the Eucharist.

The view that confirmation is a way for young people to make a personal commitment to their faith “distorts” the sacrament, he said.

“Confirmation is not marked by a choice to believe or not believe in the Catholic faith. Rather as disciples we are chosen by God to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit, to be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit generously bestowed by God, and we are called to cooperate with that grace,” he explained.

Confirmation confers a gift of the Holy Spirit that is ordered to “the life of worship,” the bishop said while summarizing Catholic thought. It helps the person achieve a “more perfect integration” into the Body of Christ. This helps us understand how confirmation is ordered to the Eucharist.

In this light, it appears “odd” to have someone participate in the Eucharistic life of the Church if he or she has not received “the seal of the Holy Spirit which perfects the personal bond with the community.”

While some have said that maturity is necessary for the sacrament, the bishop said that children can be mature spiritually.

“If they are mature enough to receive the Eucharist, the crown of the sacraments, are they not mature enough to receive a sacrament that is ordered to it?” he asked.

“I have found the third graders to be most receptive to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and their childlike trust and wonder is beautiful to behold. Many times their ability to see the truth and have complete trust in God is strikingly better than our own. It allows for a deeper receptivity of the graces of the sacrament.”

By contrast, too many young adults have regressed spiritually into a state of indifference or despondence towards God.

He suggested that restoring the order of the sacraments of initiation will aid the local community in forming effective catechesis which acknowledges growth in faith as a life-long process.

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Vatican spokesman recalls John Paul II’s message to South Sudanese

Vatican City, Jul 9, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - On the day the Republic of South Sudan becomes the world’s newest country, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., recalled Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to the troubled nation nearly 18 years ago.

“It was February 10, 1993, and John Paul II was at the end of an intense and extraordinary day in Khartoum,” Fr. Lombardi said in his weekly editorial as General Manager of Vatican Radio July 9.

“With his usual and extraordinary courage, he addressed the dramatic themes of justice and freedom in the presence of the governing authorities and was greeted with incredible enthusiasm by an immense crowd of Sudanese Catholics, for the most part displaced people from the south, fleeing from the violence of a civil war without end.”

The civil war that gripped Sudan was fought over two decades between a Muslim Arab-dominated north and a mainly Christian and animist south. It was a conflict that cost over two million lives, mainly civilians. Fr. Lombardi’s editorial quoted the words Pope John Paul II spoke that night in Sudan’s capital city of Khartoum in 1993.

“The immense suffering of millions of innocent victims impels me to voice my solidarity with the weak and defenseless,” said Pope John Paul, “who cry out to God for help, for justice, for respect for their God–given dignity as human beings, for their basic human rights, for the freedom to believe and practice their faith without fear or discrimination. I earnestly hope that my voice will reach you, Brothers and Sisters of the South.”

South Sudan’s independence is the end result of a 2005 peace agreement that began a partitioning of Sudan into two states. The split was finally ratified earlier this year in a referendum that saw over 98 percent of southern Sudanese vote for secession.

Attendees at today’s independence celebrations in South Sudan’s capital of Juba include dignitaries from around the globe, including a papal delegation sent by Pope Benedict XVI. The head of that delegation is Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, Kenya.

Fr. Lombardi sees today’s events as a fulfillment of a hope expressed by Pope John Paul II in February 1993 when he prayed that “the Sudanese, with the freedom to choose, will succeed in finding a constitutional formula which will make it possible to overcome contradictions and struggles, with proper respect paid to the specific characteristics of each community.”

Fr. Lombardi concludes his editorial by expressing hope that the people of South Sudan can “build a future of freedom and peace” despite being “one of the poorest countries in the world” which faces “very difficult problems for its internal unity.”

“The mysterious and extraordinary vitality of the people of Sudan – which exploded that night in Khartoum before John Paul II – has not yet been exhausted, but in order to flourish, it is in need of concrete and strong international and ecclesial solidarity. We cannot let them down.”

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Date set for illicit bishop ordination in China

Beijing, China, Jul 9, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Another Chinese episcopal ordination without the approval of Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to take place within the next week, further straining relations between the Holy See and China’s government.

Fr. Joseph Huang Binzhuang is to be ordained as bishop of Shantou diocese in the southern province of Guangdong on Thursday July 14, the Asian Catholic news agency UCA News reported July 8.

Chinese authorities are reportedly pressuring the four other Catholic bishops in Guangdong to attend the ceremony.

The news comes only days after the Vatican warned Catholic churchmen that they could face excommunication for their participation in another illicit episcopal ordination in the Diocese of Leshan last month.

“Our bishop has expressed to the officials he is unwilling to go as the ordination is not approved by the Vatican and the consecrating bishops of the Leshan ordination are facing severe punishment,” one local source told UCA News.

“The officials told our bishop not to worry as the government will back him and he is not alone because several other bishops will also participate,” he said.

Meanwhile, in the northeast Diocese of Liaoning, priests have voted to block their Bishop, Paul Pei Junmin, from attending the Shantou bishop’s ordination.

China’s communist regime continues to try to control all aspects of Chinese life, including the Catholic Church. The Chinese government created and continues to run the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which does not acknowledge the authority of the Pope.

In contrast, Canon 1382 of the Catholic Church's Code of Canon Law states that both a bishop who consecrates a person as Bishop “without a pontifical mandate,” and the one who is consecrated, “incur a latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.”

To make matters worse for the Vatican, Shantou diocese already has a Vatican-appointed leader in the person of Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian. The Chinese authorities, though, only recognize him as a priest. The 81-year-old’s ministry has become restricted because he was injured in a car crash. He is also under surveillance by the authorities.

Bishop Zhuang has phoned and written to Fr. Huang to persuade him not to take part in next week’s illicit ordination but Fr. Huang has so far refused to meet him.

The bishop will “never submit to pressure but continue to preserve the Church’s principles and remain in communion with the Pope,” UCA News’ source said.

Fr. Joseph Huang was ordained to the priesthood in 1991 and has served as parish priest of St. Joseph’s Cathedral. On May 11 he won a diocesan “election” for the post of bishop. The process involved 70 representatives, including 20 priests, and was monitored by government officials. Chinese authorities have placed under surveillance some of those who refused to participate.

After several years of an apparent thaw in relations between the Holy See and China, recent events suggest that Beijing and Rome are still at loggerheads. Officials of the state-run Patriotic Catholic Association announced June 23 that they are now looking to ordain as many as 40 new bishops without Vatican approval.

If next week’s ordination goes ahead it will be the third illicit ordination in nine months, including one in Chendge diocese in November last year and one in Leshan last month.

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Messaging monk brings joy through Facebook

Anchorage, Alaska, Jul 9, 2011 (CNA) - With his long monk’s robe and well-worn sandals, Brother John Mary Ignatius doesn’t look like the mastermind behind a popular and rapidly growing Facebook page — one which has engaged more than 3,500 youth from across Europe and North America with witty videos, insightful comments and uncommonly authentic dialogue.

But the outgoing religious brother, who recently swung through Anchorage to speak during the Alaska Catholic Youth Conference, is part of an up-and-coming crop of Catholic evangelists who are figuring out how to navigate the ever-changing landscape of social networks.

Facebook etiquette

Brother Ignatius spends most of his life at a priory in Belgium as a religious brother with the Community of St. John. Each week, however, he finds time to dive into the world of Facebook.

But unlike the Facebook presence of many organizations that are geared towards evangelism, Brother Ignatius’ page is truer to the original intent of the Facebook founders.

He doesn’t use the world’s most popular social network to merely make religious announcements and proclamations to the masses — a Facebook offense which popular Catholic blogger Matthew Warner recently described as “walking into somebody’s living room and then preaching to them the whole time. It’s kinda rude and most of all, it doesn’t work.”

Rather, Brother Ignatius utilizes Facebook the way most others do. He posts videos and photos, makes observations about everyday happenings and “messages” his “friends.”

That said, Brother Ignatius isn’t online to merely connect with people through endless random and all-too-often shallow interactions.

Beyond images

“My hope is to bring people some sense of joy and hope,” he told the Catholic Anchor last month. “In the end, my ultimate goal is to bring people to Jesus Christ — to have them be curious enough to find what animates me and what makes me put things like this on a Facebook page.”

“Beyond the photos and videos are the messages,” he explained. “The goal is to  create dialogue and to message back in forth in a profound way and then to go beyond that. I often encourage people to go beyond the computer and pick up a phone and talk.”

Authentic 'messages'

So how does a monk go from uploading videos about polar bears or hiking in the mountains to engaging young people in matters of faith and the deeper meaning of life?

The key, he said, is authenticity — a point about social networks which Pope Benedict XVI raised in his message for the June 5 World Day of Communications.

“Believers who bear witness to their most profound convictions greatly help prevent the Web from becoming an instrument which depersonalizes people, attempts to manipulate them emotionally or allows those who are powerful to monopolize the opinions of others,” the pontiff wrote.

“On the contrary, believers encourage everyone to keep alive the eternal human questions which testify to our desire for transcendence and our longing for authentic forms of life, truly worthy of being lived,” he said.

This is what Brother Ignatius aims for.

Most of his Facebook friends are people he has encountered on the thousands of youth events and retreats he has either led or helped with in Europe and North America.

“They already know I’m a Christian, a Catholic,” Brother Ignatius explained. “But I also have a number of friends who are staunchly agnostic, and yet they are open to somebody who will give them a level of communication and dialogue that is open, authentic and searching for the truth.”

Dangers and opportunities

Pope Benedict XVI described social networks as “unprecedented opportunities,” which can address “the desire for meaning, truth and unity which remain the most profound aspirations of each human being.”

But there are dangers — like being less present to the people physically around us and becoming distracted in a world “other than the one in which we live,” the pope said.

Virtual contact, the Holy Father explained, “must not take the place of direct human contact” or turn into one-sided interactions and “self indulgence.”

These are all warnings that Brother Ignatius takes to heart.

“I got into Facebook for ministry,” the outdoorsman monk said. “I’m not a computer person, and I don’t like spending a lot of time on the computer. It is not pleasant for me.”

He added: “What is pleasant is when real contact happens and there is a real question asked where you can commit yourself to a dialogue that bears fruit.”

On occasion, Brother Ignatius might spend an hour hammering out an online conversation with a young person.

But he also encourages Facebook friends to not waste time online, and he’s willing to call people to account.

“If I see something unhealthy, such as the quantity of messages, or the content being superficial or depressive, I can address quickly and directly the problem and I do,” he said.

Another challenge is to ensure that online interactions aren’t one-sided monologues or arguments.

“When I send a message, I make sure there is an answer and a dialogue so it’s not just me stating my opinion and that’s it,” Brother Ignatius said.

At times, he challenges Facebook comments that he believes are wrong theologically and morally or harmful.

“If I see a photo or something that is a little inappropriate, I can address that,” he said. “They know I’m not a policeman, but I can address that and say, “Come on man, don’t put yourself out like that.”

And the online community often lends its support when he makes constructive comments.

“I think most people who interact with me on Facebook, realize that there is somebody there who is real, who is not going to lie or run them around,” Brother Ignatius said. “They know I’m going to say what I really think but that I will respect their position without sending them cowering.”

Reason for hope

Brother Ignatius said he experiences great hope amid his many interactions with young people, both online and in retreat settings.

Despite the fact that a growing number of teens are abandoning their religious upbringing — especially in Europe — Brother Ignatius finds that even hyper-secularized teens respond to the truth.

“They react to truth and they are not afraid to admit in front of everybody, that, ‘Yeah, what Brother just said makes sense,’” he said. “That for me is the hope. There is tons of hope.”

Printed with permission from the Catholic Anchor, newspaper for the Diocese of Anchorage, Alaska.

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