Washington D.C., Sep 29, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce has launched an investigation into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its affiliates to determine whether the organization is violating regulations on taxpayer funding or failing to report criminal activity.
“The Committee has questions about the policies in place and actions undertaken by PPFA and its affiliates relating to its use of federal funding and its compliance with federal restrictions on the funding of abortion,” said Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, in a Sept. 15 letter to Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards.
The committee gave Planned Parenthood two weeks to provide documents pertaining to its billing practices, use of federal funds, and procedures regarding detecting and reporting criminal conduct including sex abuse and sex trafficking.
Among the documents requested were all internal audits conducted by Planned Parenthood and its affiliates from 1998 to 2010, as well as any audits by state agencies since 1991 that are not publicly available.
The letter requested details on the amount of money received by Planned Parenthood under different federal funding programs, as well as documentation of policies and procedures to ensure that federal money received by Planned Parenthood “is not being used to impermissibly subsidize abortion.”
The House committee also asked for information about the organization’s policies in place to prevent improper billing and overbilling.
Furthermore, it requested documentation of Planned Parenthood’s policies and procedures to ensure that criminal conduct, including sex trafficking and sexual abuse, are reported to the proper authorities.
Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) responded with a Sept. 27 letter that criticized the investigation and accused House Republicans of having “unfairly smeared” Planned Parenthood.
The letter questioned “whether Planned Parenthood is being singled out as part of a Republican vendetta.”
Planned Parenthood's business practices were placed in the spotlight after the pro-life group Live Action released undercover videos that showed several Planned Parenthood workers and managers appearing to assist child sex traffickers and cover up cases of sexual abuse of minors.
Reps. Waxman and DeGette said that they were “aware of no predicate that would justify” the request for documents.
They expressed their opposition to the investigation, which they said appeared “to be designed to harass and shut down an organization simply because Republicans disagree with the work that it does.”
Dr. Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, applauded the investigation.
“AUL welcomes the news that Congress is investigating the abortion mega-provider Planned Parenthood for financial improprieties and its poor handling of the public trust,” she said.
In July, Americans United for Life issued a report alleging that Planned Parenthood had been misusing Medicaid and Title X funds.
“The American taxpayer does not want to be in the business of abortion, and this investigation is an important first step toward ending public funding of the nation’s largest abortion provider,” Yoest said.
She also thanked Rep. Stearns for his willingness to “look more closely at Planned Parenthood and its affiliates for their fraudulent use of taxpayer dollars, as outlined in AUL’s report.”
Lila Rose, president of Live Action, said that the effort “to further investigate Planned Parenthood’s abusive and lawless activities is essential to protecting victims of abuse, our young girls, and our unborn brothers and sisters.”
“We applaud Congress’s first concrete steps to investigate Planned Parenthood, the biggest abortion business in the nation,” said Rose.
“Americans stand with Rep. Stearns’s step to hold Planned Parenthood accountable for their on-going abusive activity that endangers women, the victims of abuse and young girls.”
Birmingham, Ala., Sep 29, 2011 (CNA) - A federal judge approved key parts of a new Alabama law targeting illegal immigrants, but also temporarily blocked some measures. The blocked provisions include one that religious leaders said would affect their ministry and pastoral care to the undocumented.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn on Sept. 28 said the U.S. Constitution allowed Alabama’s new requirements to report the immigration status of juvenile students in public schools and requirements that police verify the immigration status of those they suspect to be in the country illegally.
She temporarily blocked measures which made it a crime for an illegal immigrant to solicit work and criminalized the transport or harboring of an illegal immigrant, the Associated Press reports. She also temporarily blocked a provision to allow discrimination lawsuits against companies that dismiss legal workers while hiring illegal immigrants and a provision to forbid business from taking tax deductions for wages paid to workers in the country illegally.
The measures will be blocked until the judge issues a final ruling.
Both supporters and critics say the Alabama law is the nation’s toughest.
The U.S. Department of Justice said the state law encroaches on the federal government’s duty to enforce basic immigration law. Other opponents argued that it violated basic rights to free speech and travel. Its provision on verifying the citizenship of public school students could decrease enrollment and increase immigrants’ fears, critics say.
Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile has joined several Protestant denominations in opposition to the law. They said it threatens the Catholic Church’s ministry to undocumented immigrants and makes it illegal for a Catholic priest to baptize undocumented immigrants, hear their confessions or preach the Gospel to them.
In an Aug. 1 letter to his diocese’s Catholics, Archbishop Rodi said the law makes it illegal to encourage undocumented immigrants to come to Mass or to give them a ride to Mass. He predicted its provisions would affect St. Vincent de Paul chapters and Catholic social services, criminalizing those who give a disabled person a ride to the doctor or give emergency food, clothing or financial assistance.
“This law,” the archbishop said, “attacks our very understanding of what it means to be a Christian.”
Speaking on behalf of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles backed Archbishop Rodi. He said the Catholic Church’s mandate is to provide for “the pastoral and social care of all God’s children.”
“Government should not infringe upon that duty, as America’s founding fathers made clear in the U.S. Constitution,” he said on Sept. 8.
Over the past decade, Alabama’s Hispanic population has grown by 145 percent.
Phoenix, Ariz., Sep 29, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The new General Instruction of the Roman Missal allows more freedom for bishops to determine norms for the distribution of communion under both forms within their diocese, said liturgist Fr. John Muir.
“The bottom line is that Communion under both kinds is allowed whenever the bishop thinks appropriate--be those instances few or many,” Fr. Muir told CNA on Sept. 28.
On Sept. 21, the Diocese of Phoenix announced that it plans to adopt the updated norms for communion, allowing the chalice to be offered to the faithful in three instances, or on other solemnities as determined by a parish priest.
The diocese issued a statement explaining that the new norms “will promote unity in the celebration of the Eucharist all around the world.”
While it acknowledged that communion under both forms has become common in some areas of America, the diocese also noted that “the vast majority of the parishes throughout the world have not had communion under both forms.”
For the last 25 years, the Church in the United States, the United Kingdom and Oceania have been granted special privileges to experiment with communion under both forms. As a result, the practice of receiving both forms has become common in certain regions.
However, these privileges expired when the Vatican did not renew them in 2005. The guidelines for liturgical practice around the world are currently established by the Third Edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which was released in June 2011.
Fr. Muir explained that the updated General Instruction gives bishops across the country the freedom to differ in the way that they establish norms within their dioceses.
He observed that the General Instruction states that “the diocesan bishop may lay down norms for the distribution of communion under both kinds for his own diocese.”
Previously, he explained, only the local Conference of Bishops could grant permission for the distribution of communion under both forms beyond the 14 instances listed in the General Instruction.
Now, he said, the General Instruction has reduced that number to three instances, and individual bishops “now have more freedom to clarify and extend those instances for both kinds than they previously enjoyed.”
According to the new guidelines, the bishop “is given the faculty to permit communion under both kinds whenever it may seem appropriate to the priest to whom a community has been entrusted as its own shepherd, provided that the faithful have been well instructed and that there is no danger of profanation of the Sacrament.”
“There seems to be significant room for how bishops go about the practical work of offering these concrete permissions and norms,” Fr. Muir explained.
“Perhaps some parishes will offer the chalice less frequently, perhaps some will offer it more.”
The Diocese of Phoenix is anticipating a decree from Bishop Olmsted clarifying the additional circumstances for communion under both kinds not listed in the General Instruction, he added.
Fr. Muir acknowledged that the practice of receiving communion under both species has become common in many parts of the United States.
“Explaining this change will require a lot of patience and charity,” he said.
He explained that some Catholics may “believe that reception from the chalice is necessary for true Holy Communion with our Eucharistic Lord,” while others “have simply grown accustomed to both species at every single Mass.”
In some instances, he observed, others “may have unfortunately burdened Communion under both kinds with ideological, political, or other agenda.”
But anyone who thinks that communion under both forms “was an attempt to share ‘power’ between clergy and lay faithful” is simply looking at the change through “the wrong lens,” he said.
“The central dogmatic point is that the faithful receive Christ whole and entire under only one species of Holy Communion,” he said, explaining that both the reception of communion under one species and under two species can be opportunities for understanding the Eucharist.
“One form reminds us of the one Christ received, whole and entire,” he said. “But reception of both species, at the proper times and circumstances, manifests the great reality received under one or both forms: Christ's body, blood, soul, and divinity, and all this in the context of a heavenly wedding feast.”
Fr. Muir also addressed the issue of parishes that violate liturgical norms.
“It is important to know exactly what both universal and diocesan norms are,” he said. Because bishops may determine norms for the distribution of Communion under both kinds in their diocese, the norms may differ among dioceses throughout the country.
“If however, there is a serious violation happening, the principal of subsidiarity is a practical help,” he said.
If a parishioner finds that his parish priest is consistently violating Church law, Fr. Muir said, he should speak privately to the priest. If the grievance is not addressed, he can then turn to the pastor, the dean, the diocesan office of worship, and finally to the local bishop.
In dealing with such violations, Fr. Muir emphasized the need to act “with charity and patience.”
“We must always act with great respect and love for both our sacred rites and for our sacred pastors,” he said.
Rome, Italy, Sep 29, 2011 (CNA) -
Jesus Colina, the founder and director of the news agency Zenit, has announced his resignation after a decision by the Legionaries of Christ to enhance the Legion identity of the agency.
Established 14 years ago as an independent agency seeking to report on “the world seen from Rome,” Zenit has established a strong presence on the Internet, with daily editions in seven languages.
Colina was appointed a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications by Pope Benedict XVI, and has received the Path to Peace Award from the Path to Peace Foundation, which works in close collaboration with the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations.
In an exclusive interview from Rome with Catholic News Agency, Colina explained the details behind his departure.
What are the reasons for your resignation?
The current chairman of the board at Zenit, Legionary priest Father Oscar Nader, requested I take this step based on the view that as a person linked to various Catholic communications initiatives, I do not offer the clear idea of the institutional identity of Zenit that the Legionaries of Christ wish to communicate from now on.
How do you explain this decision?
Well, in reality I think this decision is the culmination of a gradual mutual loss of trust which began several years ago. The manner in which the Legion of Christ hid the information about Fr. Marcial Maciel, which was discovered bit by bit by the press, caused a breakdown of trust in this institution on the part of the director of the news agency.
I understand the difficult situation in which the superiors of the Legionaries of Christ found themselves. Now in public statements they have said they already had proof of Fr. Maciel’s different lives for years before his death. Nevertheless, despite the statement issued by the Holy See in 2006, they continued to present him as a role model, even at his death and after his death.
The superiors invited me to a Mass celebrated at the chapel of the Legionaries’ Center for Higher Studies 30 days after his death. During the homily, before hundreds of religious, Fr. Maciel was presented as a role model. This is particularly grave, because it is one thing to avoid a scandal in revealing the crimes or the double (although you would have to say the triple or quadruple) life of Fr. Maciel, and quite another to continuing maintaining this myth of sanctity that the congregation had promoted during his life.
Moreover, since a number of years had passed since the Vatican statement was issued calling on Fr. Maciel to retire and to publicly acknowledge his lies and crimes, the impression was spread among the religious and those close to the Legionaries that the Pope had unjustly punished him. This to me is very grave, especially considering everything that this Pope has done for the congregation.
But, in reality since the Legionaries were the ones who asked you to resign, it seems that they also lost trust in you.
Yes, undoubtedly trust is a sentiment that goes in two directions, it cannot be one way. In the last two years, everything the congregation has experienced has created tension. Two years ago, the Zenit staff asked the board to establish a totally separate and transparent management in order to guarantee independence in response to any accusations. Zenit is an agency that depends on donations from its readership and ought to be able to explain where every dollar goes. Although the board promised to set up this kind of arrangement, in practice this has not been done. I am morally convinced that the money we have received from our readers goes directly to Zenit, but I cannot demonstrate this formally and administratively.
As one can understand, my continuous complaints about this situation led the superiors of the Legionaries to also lose trust in me. This trust was completely broken when I proposed allowing other Catholic entities to have a seat on the board of Zenit, in order to address these questions and provide for an editorial future and greater ecclesial representation. Not only was the proposal ignored, it led to my firing as well.
You knew Fr. Maciel well, you even published a book interview with him. Did you know anything about his private life?
Like the vast majority of people who knew him, including John Paul II, I could have never imagined that he was guilty of the crimes that have now been proven. During the meetings I had with him, I always believed I was standing before an authentic priest. This is the “enigma” of Fr. Maciel which Benedict XIV spoke about in his book. I never had any doubts about him until the Vatican published the statement calling on him to retire to a life of prayer and penance. The review of his biography and the amazing growth of the works he founded led me to believe that there had to be Christian authenticity at the origin. There were some details that sometimes surprised me, such as his interest in appearance, for example, but I ascribed that to his cultural origins. Like so many other people, I was also shocked to discover the deceit in someone who had been presented to us as a role model.
For 20 years you have worked as correspondent in Rome, and 14 years ago you began Zenit. What is your assessment?
The Maciel case and its understandably tragic consequences cannot blur the human, spiritual and professional adventure experienced by those lucky enough to spend their lives offering news coverage of the life of the Pope and the Holy See. As a journalist you see human weakness, but you also see a lot of holiness, an immense work of charity at the service of those most in need. I have been able to know John Paul II and now Benedict XVI: two people of surprising spiritual and intellectual stature.
All this depth and holiness cannot be clouded by Fr. Maciel’s lies. Honestly I know many priests and seminarians of the Legionaries of Christ and I consider them to be authentic Christians and, in a certain sense, martyrs of the situation they are confronting with so much love for Christ and the Church.
New York City, N.Y., Sep 29, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s number two State Department official, called Sept. 27 for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in remarks delivered in New York. He insisted that “if we want peace, courageous decisions have to be made.”
Archbishop Mamberti, whose official title is Secretary for Relations with States, encouraged “the realization of the right of Palestinians to have their own independent and sovereign state, and the right of Israelis to guarantee their security.” He also insisted that both states be “provided with internationally recognized borders.”
The archbishop addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York on Sept. 27. In his French-language address, he discussed Palestine’s Sept. 23 application to be recognized as a member state of the United Nations.
Archbishop Mamberti referenced Resolution 181 of the General Assembly, also known as the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine.
The resolution, which was adopted in 1947, recommended the creation of two states in the Palestine region.
“This fundamental document raises the legal basis for the existence of two states,” he said.
“One of the states has already been created, while the other has not been established yet, although nearly sixty-four years have passed.”
Archbishop Mamberti expressed hope “that the bodies of the United Nations will take a commitment to helping the effective implementation of the ultimate objective” of ensuring security, sovereignty and independence for both Palestinians and Israelis.
“The U.N. response will not constitute a complete solution and we will not achieve lasting peace without negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, avoiding actions or conditions that contradict the statements of goodwill,” the archbishop acknowledged.
“The Holy See, therefore, urges the parties to resume negotiations with determination and addresses an urgent appeal to the international community to increase its commitment and to stimulate its creativity and its initiative, so that we can arrive at a lasting peace, respecting the rights of Israelis and Palestinians.”
The Vatican has previously chosen not to comment on Palestine’s bid for statehood, although the idea was strongly supported by the former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.
The United States has voiced opposition to the measure, arguing that Palestinian statehood should be accomplished only with the cooperation of Israel. The United States is expected to veto a Palestinian resolution asking for recognition as a member state in the U.N. Security Council.
Israel has also opposed Palestinian statehood, arguing that a unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state by the United Nations would effectively “delegitimize” the statehood of Israel.
London, England, Sep 29, 2011 (CNA) - In what some are calling a landmark case, a British judge has refused to approve a request by the family of woman who is in a “minimally conscious state” to withdraw basic care.
The family of the 52-year-old woman, identified only as “M,” alleged that she was experiencing undue suffering and requested that food and water be withdrawn. However, Britain’s Official Solicitor and the health care workers responsible for her care opposed the request.
According to the BBC, Judge Baker, who heard legal arguments during a hearing in July, said the case was unique and raised "very important issues of principle." M had "some positive experiences," he said, and there was a "reasonable prospect" that those experiences could be extended.
Judge Baker said: "The factor which does carry substantial weight, in my judgment, is the preservation of life. Although not an absolute rule, the law regards the preservation of life as a fundamental principle."
Yogi Amin, a partner with the law firm representing “M” said, "This is a very important judgment. The law has been clarified and, going forward, in all such cases of patients who are in a minimally conscious state, the High Court does now have the power to decide whether it is in that patient's best interests for treatment to continue, or whether the patient should be allowed to die naturally, with dignity."
"All parties agree that M's family has demonstrated their love and devotion for her throughout this case, and that they brought this application to court in what they perceive to be her best interests," he added.
"They love her dearly and want only what is best for her, and it has been desperately difficult for them to make this application to court for treatment to be withdrawn.”
"They believe that M was clear that she would not have wanted to live in the condition that she is in," Amin said, according to the Press Association.
M became severely brain damaged eight-and-a-half years ago. She is unable to talk and was thought to be in a vegetative state, although tests have shown that she is in a minimally conscious state.
She is now receiving care in a home north of England.
Relatives wanted treatment to be withdrawn, saying she would not want to live "a life dependent on others."
But a lawyer appointed by the court to represent the woman opposed their application for nutrition to be withdrawn, saying she is "otherwise clinically stable" and that the 52-year-old's life was "not without positive elements."
In 1993 the House of Lords ruled that doctors need not keep someone alive if it was viewed that it was of no benefit to the patient. That case was crucial in determining that feeding tubes could be regarded as medical treatment.
Since 1993, a total of 43 patients in a persistent vegetative state have died after a judge ordered that treatment could be withdrawn.
Vatican City, Sep 29, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The new theme for the Catholic Church’s World Social Communications Day is “Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization,” a Vatican pontifical council has announced.
Silence is not simply “an antidote to the constant and unstoppable flow of information” characteristic of modern society. Rather, it is necessary for the integration of that information, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications said on Sept. 29.
The event’s focus on silence is needed in light of the “extraordinarily varied nature” of modern communications.
“Silence, precisely because it favors habits of discernment and reflection, can in fact be seen primarily as a means of welcoming the word,” the council said.
Silence and communication are complementary and can be key factors in “the new evangelization.”
World Communications Day is celebrated in most countries on the Sunday before Pentecost. In 2012, it will fall on May 20. The papal message for the event is traditionally published on Jan. 24, the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, patron of writers.
This year’s theme was “Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age.” Pope Benedict XVI’s 2011 message called for a Christian presence on social networking sites.
He said that new technologies are “giving birth to a new way learning and thinking, with unprecedented opportunities for establishing relationships and building fellowship.” While he warned about the dangers of creating a “parallel existence” and falsifying one’s online persona, he said the wise use of technologies can help satisfy “the desire for meaning, truth and unity.”
Front Royal, Va., Sep 29, 2011 (CNA) -
The committee responsible for federal guidelines that could soon mandate insurance coverage of contraception is being criticized for its misuse of science and its members' ties to abortion advocacy.
“There is ample evidence that the members of the Institute of Medicine committee did not, in fact, consider the findings objectively,” wrote Human Life International America Director Arland Nichols, in a report published Sept. 28. “Indeed, we find that the members were ideologically committed to their outcome, and that Recommendation 5.5 is a skewed representation of the relevant science.”
Human Life International has also published background information on members of the Institutes of Medicine committee, showing that five of its 15 members are present or former board members of organizations promoting access to abortion. Six others have provided significant financial support for political candidates who support legal abortion.
The Department of Health and Human Services' proposed rules, formulated in response to the 2010 Affordable Care Act and the Institute of Medicine's recommendations, were announced Aug. 1 and are open to comment until Sept. 30. They require nearly all new health plans, including those of most religious groups, to cover government-approved methods of contraception and surgical sterilization.
In his report published in the Public Discourse journal, Nichols called attention to the remarks of Dr. Anthony Lo Sasso, the only committee member who disagreed with the federally-commissioned report that led to the proposed contraception mandate. Lo Sasso has said that committee members used flawed standards of evidence that “allowed the committee to bring about what they wanted.”
“The committee process for evaluation of the evidence … was largely subject to the preferences of the committee’s composition,” Lo Sasso wrote in his official dissent. “The process tended to result in a mix of objective and subjective determinations filtered through a lens of advocacy.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius claims the guidelines were “developed after an exhaustive review of the scientific evidence. Lo Sasso, however, said the committee “failed to demonstrate” principles of “transparency and strict objectivity” in its evaluation and recommendations.
Nichols outlined several instances of alleged inaccuracy or omission in the Institute of Medicine's review process, beginning with three “open information-gathering sessions” where “nearly all of the invited speakers were known advocates of contraception and abortion on demand.”
At these sessions, he noted, “there was not one representative from the Catholic health care system, despite the fact that it constitutes the single largest provider of health care in our country.” Meanwhile, “representatives of the pro-life and pro-family organizations – who were forced to seek permission to speak – were relegated to the brief public comments portion at the end of the day.”
In his review of the Institute of Medicine's final report, Human Life International's American director found the same bias against information that could harm a pro-contraception agenda.
“In support of the report’s claim 'that greater use of contraception within the population produces lower unintended pregnancy and abortion rates nationally,' only two sources are cited—one of which is a non-peer-reviewed advocacy report,” said Nichols.
“One reason for this dearth of evidence is simple: Numerous studies show that greater access to oral contraception and emergency contraception does not, in fact, reduce unintended pregnancies or abortion.”
Findings to this effect, he noted, have been conducted at Duke University and Johns Hopkins, and published in the Journal of Health Economics, Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Nichols said that conclusions are in fact “far from unanimous regarding the effect of oral contraceptives on unintended pregnancy and abortion rates.”
Meanwhile, in regard to emergency contraception in particular, “the data are homogeneous … and point to a conclusion directly opposed to that of the Institute of Medicine committee.”
“While there are many 'professional and editorial opinions' that emergency contraception should be made readily available, and 'professional projections' that it could reduce unintended pregnancies, I have been unable find a single study indicating that it is actually effective in reducing unintended pregnancies or abortions in real population groups,” Nichols stated.
He also found that a critical portion of the committee's argument, regarding the allegedly “minimal” side effects of oral contraception, relied largely on “educational” material written at an eighth-grade level.
“The public was repeatedly assured, upon Sebelius’s passage of the mandates recommended by the IOM, that the report was an 'exhaustive review of the scientific evidence,'” Nichols recalled. “Yet one of the cruxes of the committee’s argument—and one which directly impacts the health of millions of American women—is sustained by educational pamphlets” along with “one other dated study.”
“Interestingly, the pamphlets themselves state that 'the average readability level of the series … is grade 6–8.' These promotional brochures do not cite even one study.”
The Institute of Medicine committee, Nichols said, ignored “peer-reviewed studies published in the most prestigious medical journals,” indicating that oral contraceptive users experience significantly higher rates of breast cancer, while possibly quadrupling their chances of suffering a stroke.
“We do not expect completely disinterested policymaking in our democracy,” Nichols observed. “What is surprising, however, is the audacity with which the committee circumvented professional research practices in order to arrive at the conclusions they held at the outset.”
“In fact, according to information available from the public record, these committee members have donated a total of $116,500 to pro-choice organizations and candidates. Public records show that not one of the fifteen committee members has financially supported a pro-life political candidate.”
Among the committee's members were a member of the Board of Directors of the NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation, and a former board member of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health.
Other members included the current chairwoman of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, and the former chair and vice chair of Planned Parenthood of Nebraska and Council Bluffs.
“Whatever one thinks of the relevant issues, one would be hard-pressed to argue that this Institute of Medicine committee is politically nonpartisan,” said Nichols.