Waco, Texas, Sep 14, 2011 (CNA) -
A scholar of religious history says New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg did a disservice to the public by excluding prayer at the recent 9/11 commemoration – with Muslims, in particular, losing a chance to stand against terrorism.
“To me, if you have a Muslim imam there, praying about this as a terrible, evil thing that happened, and saying God is opposed to this, that is not something that would be offensive,” said Baylor University Professor Thomas Kidd.
“Much to the contrary, I think it would have been very helpful to the public perception of what Muslims are about.”
Kidd told CNA on Sept. 13 that “multi-faith” participation in the memorial would have been “good for Muslims, and good for American civil society,” as a chance to “lift up what I still believe are the mainstream Muslims who do not approve of 9/11 nor terrorism in general.”
He said those benefits would have been “worth the risk of having a few people protest” the presence of a religion that remains controversial in connection to Sept. 11.
In place of the public prayers envisioned by Kidd and others, the event marking the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks featured moments of silence and remembrances of the dead.
Kidd, whose recent book “God of Liberty” (Basic Books, $26.95) chronicles the role of religion in the American founding, said that a prayer-free 9/11 memorial would have been unimaginable to the country's Founding Fathers.
“The Founders would have taken for granted – even someone like Jefferson, Deist though he was – that you mark occasions of national importance with religion and prayer,” he observed.
In fact, Kidd noted, the letter in which Jefferson coined the phrase “separation of Church and State” was written in circumstances that shed light on the First Amendment's real meaning.
“The same weekend that he sent the 'Wall of Separation' letter, in 1802, to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut,” he recalled, “Jefferson also attended a church service in the House of Representatives' chambers, with a Baptist preacher giving the sermon.”
America's original leaders “lived in a world where public religion is as natural as can be, and they never intended the Establishment Clause” – which prevents Congress from setting up a national church – “to somehow ban public expressions of religion.”
“I think the Founders would, in fact, endorse the idea that commemorating a national tragedy would, of course, include expressions of faith.”
While rejecting secularism, Kidd sympathizes with those who worry that public displays of faith can become overly broad, diminishing the differences that separate faiths. The prayers offered at such events often stick to the common ground between religions, avoiding important differences.
But he maintains that this concession to pluralism is better than a public square completely stripped of faith.
“Should we not have a prayer service after this event, even though it has to be multi-faith? I think that's a pretty sectarian, insulated kind of view. We play our most important role in the Church, but we also have a role to play in American civil society as Christians.”
“We shouldn't forget about that, nor should we accept this rigidly secular model of American public life.”
Kidd also said that some notable believers, who are accepted even by the secular world as “saints,” could get away with discussing doctrines such as the Incarnation or the Trinity, in circumstances where the ordinary faithful might not.
“Mother Theresa did do it, at times – to some controversy. But at the same time, she could sort of do whatever she wanted!”
Ultimately, Kidd said Christians should recognize both the importance and the limits of public, non-sectarian religious ceremonies.
And these forms of religious expression, while significant in their own right, should never be considered more important than the worship that takes place within churches.
“All Christians should have a certain check within them – to realize that if New York City, or the U.S., is looking to exclude faith from the public sphere, there's a certain core of our Christian identity that this in no way touches.”
“I think it's historically inappropriate, and speaks to someone like Mayor Bloomberg having a tin ear to the role of religion in American society. But for me, as a Christian, there's a fundamental level at which this doesn't mess anything up, for me or my faith – because my faith is, at its root, a church-oriented faith rather than a nation-oriented faith. It transcends national boundaries and American history.”
“If America, as a nation, turns against that legacy, it doesn't mean I can't live as a Christian. But I think it's a bad idea, in a civil sense, for the nation to become hostile to the role of religion.”
Washington D.C., Sep 14, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - A new report shows that Saudi Arabia, home to 15 of the 19 terrorist hijackers of 9/11, continues to promote a violent form of Islam through its school system and textbooks 10 years after the attacks.
“The Saudi government has given over its textbooks to the clerical Wahhabi extremists that it partners with to maintain control of the country,” said Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, in a Sept. 13 interview with CNA.
As a consequence, the texts continue to teach students that “the Jews and the Christians are enemies” of Muslims, and that “the struggle of this (Muslim) nation with the Jews and Christians … will continue as long as God wills.”
While describing Jews as “apes” and Christians as “swine,” the middle-school and high-school books command death for apostates from Islam, while encouraging violence against non-Muslims who refuse to make a “covenant” or come “under protection” of the Muslims.
“In the general usage, Jihad is divided into the following categories: … Wrestling with the unbelievers by calling them (to Islam) and fighting them,” teaches the 12th-grade text “Hadith and Islamic Culture,” used in the 2010-2011 school year by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Education.
In a report released on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Shea notes that “some Saudis themselves have acknowledged the problem posed by the nation’s curriculum.”
“Nevertheless, the encouragement of violence and extremism remains an integral part of Saudi Arabia’s national textbooks, particularly those on religion. Five million Saudi students are exposed to them in Saudi classrooms each year.”
“Moreover, as the controlling authority of the two holiest shrines of Islam, Saudi Arabia is able to disseminate its religious materials among the millions of Muslims making the hajj each year. Hence, these teachings can have a wide and deep influence,” the report noted.
Shea said that the Saudi government's uneasy truce with extremist elements – which she compared to a “protection racket” – dates back to 1979, when an “Al Qaeda prototype” attempted to seize Mecca's Grand Mosque and overthrow the country's monarchy.
The event “very much shook up the Saudi monarchy,” particularly since it came during the same year as the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
“All of those things made the Saudi monarchy very insecure,” Shea explained. “They ended up in a grand bargain with the clerics, to maintain peace in the kingdom and stop the threats against their own rule.”
“They gave them the Islamic affairs ministry, to export their creed around the world – and they gave them the education ministry, to indoctrinate Saudis themselves.”
After the 9/11 attacks, “we all learned that in fact Saudis were being radicalized, and attacking us and others.” Shea said that U.S. diplomats “made a few complaints, but there was no sustained diplomacy – not on the par that's needed to see this change.”
The religious freedom director compared this weak U.S. effort to the substantial progress made on the subject of terrorist funding, “to the point where the Saudi religious establishment issued a fatwa in 2010, saying that financing terror was a sin. That's an amazing breakthrough. It took a long time to get that.”
“But there's no hope in sight for reform of the Saudi textbooks, because there isn't that kind of pressure from the United States.” Shea thinks that's because “the U.S. just doesn't want to get involved in the ideological contest.”
More specifically, she believes that both Republican and Democratic administrations have been reluctant to quarrel with Saudi officials over what's seen as an exclusively religious matter.
“I think that the diplomats, frankly, are very uncomfortable talking about religion. They don't know how to analyze it, and they are really blind to it … There is a reluctance, by diplomats, to talk about religion. (As though) somehow they're 'criticizing Islam' if they say that.”
“I think that they're afraid to anger the Saudis. But they're not afraid (when) insisting that terrorist financing stop. They've made some success there. They need to see this in the same light.”
Diplomatic pressure would succeed if applied, Shea says, because of the oil-rich kingdom's sensitivity to criticism and its need to maintain a good relationship with the U.S.
“The Saudis do care about their reputation. And seeing the United States as the guarantor of their own security (against regional rivals) … they don't defend this education. When it's raised, they either say that it's been cleaned up or it will be cleaned up.”
“They don't defend it at all – and that's what makes me feel that if we keep the spotlight on it, and keep pressure on, they will eventually have to do something about it.”
But since there is not an incentive, the pace of progress in reforming the textbooks since 9/11 has been “glacial.”
In the meantime, the Saudi clerics' Wahhabist interpretation of Islam continues to spread throughout the Muslim world.
“Indonesia which was traditionally noted as a very moderate, open society, has become more radicalized,” she noted, describing the progress of the ideology in the world's largest Muslim country.
“It's not just confined to Saudi Arabia. They're posted online, these textbooks, and also shipped around the world to Muslim communities by the Saudis – free of charge, using their vast oil wealth. And it's radicalizing societies.”
Denver, Colo., Sep 14, 2011 (CNA) -
Though a new Colorado law mandates contraceptive coverage in its student health plan, Denver’s Regis University has reaffirmed that it will not provide or refer for contraceptives.
“We are exploring with our lawyers and other Catholic entities what options if any may be available in light of the new law,” the Jesuit university said Sept. 9.
“As a matter of principle, the Regis health clinic does not prescribe nor provide medicines or devices for contraceptive purposes, nor make referrals for such purposes. This will not change.”
The Aug. 24 meeting of the president’s cabinet considered the university’s response to the new coverage for contraceptives through its students’ insurance provider Aetna. The university learned about the coverage change only two weeks before the meeting.
Regis University’s website initially reported that the school would make referrals for contraception.
“The Student Health Center will not be providing contraceptives, but will now refer students to other places where they can receive them,” the website’s account of the meeting said.
But that report was called “inaccurate” by Rhonda P. Sheya, Regis University director of internal and external relations.
In 2010 the Colorado legislature passed H.B. 1021, which mandates maternity care and contraceptive coverage in all small-group and individual health insurance plans. Required coverage includes IUDs and “morning-after” pills, which can cause abortions.
Jennifer Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, told CNA that the conference had opposed the bill because of the contraception mandate.
The bill, which applies to private insurance plans, “gravely impedes notions of religious liberty,” she said. She noted the law also affects Catholic business owners and others who don’t want to provide contraceptive coverage. The legislation does not have a religious exemption clause.
The many supporters of the legislation included Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America.
“There were times throughout the legislative process in which aspects of Catholic teaching and belief were mocked or mischaracterized,” Kraska said.
In a Sept. 1 phone call, she explained that Democratic State Sen. Joyce Foster, the bill sponsor, made a Senate Floor speech which cited information she had received from Catholics for Choice about Catholic support for contraception.
Foster “was touting this as the Catholic position on the issue,” Kraska said.
Catholic teaching recognizes contraceptive use and sexual relations between unmarried men and women as sinful. The Catholic bishops have said several times that the Washington, D.C.-based Catholics for Choice is not a Catholic organization and does not speak for the Catholic Church.
Kraska said there is always a possibility that the state legislation can be overturned or amended.
“We, along with many legislators, attempted to get a religious exemption. Unfortunately that did not happen.”
A new regulation from the Department of Health and Human Services could mandate contraceptive coverage in insurance plans nationwide.
Catholic leaders such as Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston have criticized a proposed religious exemption as so narrow that it would exclude most Catholic social service agencies and health care providers. Other legal experts have said Catholic colleges and universities would not be exempt from the mandate.
The report on the Regis cabinet board meeting said it is “not clear” that the university’s employee plan will qualify for the federal exemption.
Vatican City, Sep 14, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI said Sept. 14 that Christians should continue to call upon God even in times of trial, when he may seem distant.
“The shadow of the Cross gives way to the bright hope of the Resurrection,” the Pope told pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for his weekly audience.
“We too, when we call upon him in times of trial, must place our trust in the God who brings salvation, who conquers death with the gift of eternal life.”
The Pope drew his observations from Psalm 22, which he described as “a heartfelt prayer of lamentation from one who feels abandoned by God.”
The writer of the psalm is “surrounded by enemies who are persecuting him,” and so he “cries out by day and by night for help, and yet God seems to remain silent.”
“My God , my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” is the cry of the psalmist to the Almighty.
Pope Benedict explained how the writer is despairing of the Lord rescuing him even though “the people of Israel called trustingly upon the Lord in times of trial, and he answered their prayer,” and in his own life “the Lord cared for him personally in his earlier life, as a child in his mother’s womb, as an infant in his mother’s arms.”
“Despite such adverse circumstances, though,” observed the Pope, “the psalmist’s faith and trust in the Lord remains.” So much so that he “ends on a note of confidence, as God’s name is praised before all the nations.”
The Pope said this is also the attitude all Christians should learn to have in times of near despair.
The best example of this trust in God the Father, said the Pope, is Jesus Christ himself, who also utters the words of Psalm 22 as he hangs on the cross of Calvary.
“He too seems to have been abandoned to a cruel fate,” noted the Pope, “while his enemies mock him, attacking him like ravenous and roaring lions, dividing his clothing among them as if he were already dead.”
Yet in his passion on Good Friday “in obedience the Father, the Lord Jesus, through abandonment and death, comes to give life and give it to all believers.”
Thus, by praying the “heartfelt and touching” Psalm 22, the individual Christian is brought to the foot of the Cross of Christ “to live out his passion and share the fruitful joy of the resurrection.”
Pope Benedict concluded the audience by imparting his apostolic blessing, before returning by helicopter to his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, 15 miles south of Rome.
Vatican City, Sep 14, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The breakaway traditionalist group, the Society of St. Pius X, could be offered the status of a personal prelature within the Catholic Church if it agrees to some core Church teachings outlined at a Sept. 14 meeting in Rome.
During the two-hour meeting, the Superior General of the Society, Bishop Bernard Fellay, was presented with a statement of principles or “doctrinal preamble” by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Leveda.
The document outlines points of doctrine that the Vatican needed clarified before finally healing the decades-long rift between the two sides. One Vatican insider told CNA that the overall offer made to the Society during the meeting was “very generous indeed.”
The Holy See has not given the Society a deadline to sign the agreement, but Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., said he expects a decision “within a few months.”
He also said that if all goes well, the likely status of the Society of St. Pius X would be a personal prelature—a Church jurisdiction without geographical boundaries designed to carry out particular pastoral initiatives. At present, the only personal prelature in the Church is Opus Dei.
Fr. Lombardi refused to give details as to the exact issues outlined in the doctrinal preamble. But he did explain that while some Church teachings require absolute assent others are still open to debate and discussion.
This could give the Society room to continue debating the legacy of the Second Vatican Council but from within the Catholic Church. The Society tends see some aspects of the Council as breaking with Church tradition on matters related to religious freedom and liturgical practice.
“This preamble enunciates some of the doctrinal principles and criteria for the interpretation of Catholic doctrine necessary to guarantee fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church and sentire cum Ecclesia (thinking with the mind of the Church),” said a Sept. 14 communiqué issued by the Vatican.
“While at the same time leaving the theological study and explanation of particular expressions and formulations present in the texts of the Second Vatican Council and of the Magisterium that followed it open to legitimate discussion.”
The Society of St. Pius X has had a strained relationship with the Vatican since its founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebrve, consecrated four bishops against the orders of Pope John Paul II in 1988. Archbishop Lefebrve founded the Society in 1970 as a response to what he described as errors that had crept into the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council.
In 2009, Pope Benedict remitted the excommunications of the Society’s bishops and set talks in motion aimed at restoring “full communion.” The Pope said at the time that to achieve full communion the members of the Society would have to show “true recognition of the Magisterium and the authority of the Pope and of the Second Vatican Council.” Today’s talks are the culmination of that process.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sep 14, 2011 (CNA) - Archbishop Hector Aguer of La Plata, Argentina recently spoke out against the legalization of in vitro fertilization in the country saying it would bring catastrophic consequences for human dignity.
During his Sept. 10 program of Keys to a Better World, the archbishop said he understands the desire of couples unable to conceive who resort to IVF. “But we need to remember that a child is not the product of our desire, he is not an object of desire,” but rather a gift that has to do with the mutual donation of the spouses.
“These artificial techniques end up replacing the natural environment in which a human person should be conceived,” he warned.
Archbishop Aguer also noted the eugenic nature of IVF. “Today everyone knows of the existence of sperm banks which … evaluate the product based on the genetic possibilities it contains,” he said.
“These things pose a very serious problem that we could call genetic discrimination. We should think about the social and legal consequences of all this. It seems to me that these projects (for legalizing in vitro fertilization) ought to include some clarification about these fundamental concepts,” the archbishop said.
He went on to note that the selection of embryos and the freezing of those considered viable entail the deaths of those that are discarded.
“How will it be determined when an embryo is viable? Will the law establish this? Does this mean we have given life to a human person and later we discard it?
“And why are we discarding this person? Are we discarding it because perhaps according to the genetic analysis … we know that it will have some kind of disability?” Archbishop Aguer asked.
He also warned that the anonymous donation of gametes would result in a distorted view of sonship, as it would no longer have anything to do with the biological,” even though “we know that knowledge of one’s biological identity is very important.”
The proposal to legalize the practice would also prevent doctors, nurses and health care workers from defending values such as the right to life, because it would not allow for the option of conscientious objection.
Archbishop Aguer said the laudable work to help parents unable to conceive a child on their own “must not be carried out at the cost of an order in which the dignity of the human person is at play.”
“Embryos must not be treated as if they were things or mere biological objects. I think lawmakers must keep these fundamental truths in mind because when the sources of life are manipulated, we are opening ourselves to the possibility of causing all kinds of catastrophes,” he said.
Washington D.C., Sep 14, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholic bishops and lay people gathered Sept. 14 in Washington, D.C. to remember the life of Archbishop Pietro Sambi, a man who was described as having Christ's cross "engraved upon his heart."
The memorial Mass for Pope Benedict XVI's representative to the U.S. was held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was the principal celebrant of the Mass. He was joined by six cardinals and more than 60 bishops from across the country, in addition to several dozen priests.
The noon Mass, which was open to the public, was also attended by several diplomats and the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden.
In his homily, Archbishop Dolan noted that the Mass was being held on the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross.
He said that Archbishop Sambi “knew the mystery of the cross” through his service to the Church.
“The cross of Christ, triumphant over Satan, sin and death, was engraved upon his heart,” the New York archbishop said.
Speaking on behalf of his fellow American bishops, Archbishop Dolan said that he will never forget the nuncio’s “warm, personable manner” and the “tender way in which he unfailingly responded to our own needs.”
He recalled Archbishop Sambi’s many years of service to the Holy See, in countries including Cuba, Jerusalem, Algeria, Nicaragua and Israel.
In 2005, Archbishop Sambi was appointed as the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States by Pope Benedict. As nuncio, he served as the Holy Father’s personal representative to the U.S. He died on July 27 in Baltimore, at age 73, after complications from a lung surgery.
Archbishop Dolan concluded his homily by thanking God for his gift of Archbishop Sambi to proclaim the triumph of the risen Lord.
“We trust, by his mercy, Pietro Sambi now shares in that triumph forever,” he said.
“He was a wonderful bridge,” Archbishop Dolan told CNA after the Mass. “He liked to bring people together. He liked to be a source of unity.”
“We are going to miss him.”