Austin, Texas, Oct 12, 2011 (CNA) -
The Catholic Diocese of Austin and three pregnancy resource centers have filed a lawsuit against the City of Austin charging that its ordinance unconstitutionally requires the centers to post signs stating that they do not provide abortions and birth control.
“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin, Catholic Charities of Central Texas and the Gabriel Project of Austin provide women in crisis pregnancy with life affirming options,” said Bishop Joseph Vasquez of Austin. “The ordinance enacted by the City of Austin impedes our ability to perform this ministry effectively and it is unjust. We turn now to the courts to protect our constitutional rights.”
The Plano, Texas-based Liberty Institute filed the lawsuit on behalf of the diocese, Catholic Charities of Central Texas, the Austin Pregnancy Resource Center and the South Austin Pregnancy Resource Center.
“The decision by the Austin City Council to compel false and misleading speech is a clear violation of the pregnancy centers’ constitutional rights and is a despicable ploy to deter women and families from using these charitable centers,” said Jonathan Saenz, director of legislative affairs at the institute.
Saenz charged that the city government is forcing a “national pro-abortion agenda” on its citizens at the expense of women and unborn children who “greatly benefit” from the clinics’ free pregnancy-related centers.
A government ordinance, the first of its kind in Texas, requires pregnancy centers to post the signs. Two of the centers involved in the lawsuits refer married clients to primary physicians for birth control, while the third provides information about natural family planning and abstinence.
The Liberty Institute noted that natural family planning and abstinence are recognized forms of birth control.
The organization noted that there is no requirement forcing abortion facilities to post signs or provide disclaimers stating what services they do not provide.
The Liberty Institute said that the ordinance is the result of “deliberate and targeted discrimination” by the city and by the pro-abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Former Texas Supreme Court justice Raul A. Gonzalez said the attempt is “nothing more than an attempt to limit the options offered to women in pregnancy situations.”
“Rather than allow women to actually have a choice and consider all of their options, NARAL and the City of Austin have chosen to bully these non-profit pregnancy resource centers who provide valuable services to women. Less competition means more money, and the abortion industry is all about the money,” Gonzalez said.
The Liberty Institute said that NARAL Pro-Choice America pushed the ordinance as part of a national strategy designed to restrict pregnancy centers’ outreach to women in need.
In a May 10, 2011 YouTube video, Angela Hooton, interim director of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, discussed the movement to create regulations for pregnancy centers.
She said the goal is to address crisis pregnancy centers “one urban area at a time.”
The video “Exposing Crisis Pregnancy Centers One City at a Time” reports that in 2008 abortion advocates launched the Urban Initiative to advance such laws. Its network has reportedly grown to over 300 participants including elected officials, public health leaders and advocates working in over 30 cities.
NARAL’s New York branch says the legislation is needed to ensure that women do not receive false information about abortion and to ensure their privacy is protected.
Ordinances similar to Austin’s passed in Baltimore, in Maryland’s Montgomery County and in New York City, but were halted by federal judges for First Amendment violations.
Harrisburg, Pa., Oct 12, 2011 (CNA) -
The Catholic bishops of Pennsylvania are applauding Gov. Tom Corbett for approving school vouchers within the state and increasing the local Educational Improvement Tax Credit program.
“School choice is the right choice for Pennsylvania,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia said in reaction to the news.
“It will give families the freedom to educate their children as they see fit, and it offers real alternatives for underprivileged families who seek to give their children a chance to succeed.”
On Oct. 11, Corbett announced his new tuition voucher program which will help low-income students who rank academically in the bottom 5 percent of public schools transfer to the school of their choice.
Additionally, students from households with incomes at or under 130 percent of the federal poverty level would be allowed to take the individual state subsidy their district receives for them and apply it to another public or private school.
The plan will also enable the state to grant charters to charter schools, a power that was reserved for local school districts.
“I recognize that there are many good schools in Pennsylvania,” Corbett said during his announcement at the Lincoln Charter School in York, Pa.
“But there are also failing schools, and we have to recognize this,” Corbett said. “We can not run from that.”
Although Gov. Corbett's plan is already being criticized by the Pennsylvania State Education Association—the state's largest teacher's union that has long opposed voucher programs—Archbishop Chaput called the decision “a clarion call to the people of Pennsylvania.”
“As citizens, we face a pivotal opportunity to improve the lives and enrich the minds of our children,” he underscored.
Some Catholic schools in the U.S. have seen a spike in enrollment this year as the school choice movement gains traction. As of August 2011, 18 states as well as the District of Columbia have enacted policies that support school vouchers.
Sr. Dale McDonald, director of Public Policy and Educational Research at the National Catholic Educational Association, told EWTN News on Aug. 30 that voucher programs have “gained momentum” due to parental as well as political support.
The Pennsylvania bishops called for legislative action in their state in an Oct. 4 statement last week, arguing that school choice “is not a public versus non-public school issue; it is a family and child issue.”
They also outlined the financial benefits of voucher programs for the local government.
“With fewer students in public school, some of the financial pressure will be lessened on state and local budgets,” they said, noting that the state's 500 Catholic schools are “the largest provider of non-public education in the Commonwealth.”
“These schools educate both Catholics and non-Catholics in an academically excellent and nurturing environment,” the bishops added. “This essential service not only helps to create new generations of productive and engaged citizens, but also by saves over $4 billion tax dollars annually.”
Washington D.C., Oct 12, 2011 (CNA) - An Egyptian political scientist says the latest violence against Coptic Christians shows a harsh reality behind the “Arab Spring,” including a lack of control over rogue elements in Egypt's army.
“We've had a number of attacks against Christians in the past couple of months, and the problem has intensified. There's been a dramatic increase in violence against Christians in the central land of the 'Arab Spring,'” said Samuel Tadros, an Egyptian Copt and research fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.
“I would hope that such an event as what happened on Sunday would serve as a wake-up call to people here,” Tadros told CNA.
An Oct. 9 march on Cairo to protest church burnings turned into a riot pitting largely unarmed Christians against both the army and Muslim mobs, leaving at least 24 people dead – including at least 17 Christians – and 272 injured. Father Rafic Greiche, a spokesman for Eastern Catholics in Egypt, said on Monday that the army used “vagabonds” and “street fighters” against a “peaceful demonstration.”
Tadros said the outbreak of religiously-charged violence, the worst in Egypt since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak, was an “unfortunate moment” that should serve as a “turning moment – not in terms of the violence that could follow, but in terms of how the Western media, and the West in general, sees the problem and realizes the existence of a problem.”
Sunday's violence, he said, stemmed largely from elements within the army that oppose the country's historic Christian presence along with anything that seems “Western.”
Egypt's interim military government officially runs the country at present, since Mubarak's departure. But the nation's strongest institution seems unable, or unwilling, to control rogue elements within.
Tadros says he doubts the “dominant narrative” emerging from many Egyptians about Sunday's violence, which assumes that the army as a whole either “ordered, or was ordered, to kill” protesters.
Rather, he believes the responsibility lies with particular individuals and groups within the military.
It is not a thought he finds comforting.
“I think the more likely scenario – and I hate to put it this way, but perhaps the more frightening scenario – is that the army actually lost control of its own soldiers during the attacks.”
“The more likely thing that happened was that there was an order to disperse, the army took the position that there would not be any demonstrators in front of the TV headquarters, and the soldiers were given that order.”
“However, we have to remember, when we talk about the Egyptian army, that this is not a professional army – 90 percent, if not all, of the soldiers are conscripts,” Tadros explained. “They serve one year of their 'national duty' in the army, after which they return to their normal lives again.”
“So these are regular Egyptians, that have suffered from the same hatred and prejudices that exist in society.”
A series of events both before and after Sunday's protests have led Tadros to believe that the killing of demonstrators – who were reportedly shot at random and run down with military vehicles – was the work of radical individuals and subgroups within the army.
He recalled a telling scene that took place at a smaller Coptic protest four days before the clashes in Cairo. In that instance, too, protesters were “dispersed and beaten by the army, the soldiers and the officers.” But a video from the event shows a struggle of different attitudes within its ranks.
“We see, in one of the videos, after the initial beating of a protester, that the army officers – no human rights lovers, of course – are satisfied that the guy is beaten (enough), and try and stop it.”
The footage shows how one officer “order the soldiers to stop. They don't.”
“He tries to stop the guy on the left. He stops him, but the soldier on the right continues to beat the protester. He turns to him, only to have the one on the left return to beating. Every new soldier arriving on the scene beats the protester.”
“The officer – for two minutes, as we see in the video – is doing his best to stop it. Again, he doesn't like the guy, but he doesn't want a dead body. And he even slaps one of his soldiers. Yet the beating continues.”
Tadros pointed to a second piece of footage, which emerged after the violence on Oct. 9, as evidence for his belief that rogue soldiers took their orders to disperse the crowd as a license to kill.
“The second video that we have, that's equally disturbing, is from after the attack on Sunday. The army soldiers are being put on their buses to return to their barracks. And we have one of the soldiers emerging from a window of the bus.”
“He shouts at the Muslim onlookers surrounding the bus, 'I shot him in the chest'” – an apparent reference to the shooting of a Christian protester. “He screams, 'I shot him in the chest.'”
“The Muslim onlookers are clapping and praising him. One of them shouts, 'By God, you are a man!'”
Incidents of this kind lead Tadros to believe that top army officials told soldiers “to disperse (the protesters) – using force, definitely.” But “no one on the top level … could possibly imagine that the scene would be like this.”
Both Egyptian officials and Western diplomats, he said, must now reckon with the presence of criminal violence in the institution charged with ensuring the rule of law.
“If I were the Egyptian army's leaders at the moment, I would be really scared and really worried about what happened – not just the international ramifications, and internally, but because of this prospect: if the soldiers don't follow orders anymore, how do you deal with that?”
Tadros doesn't think a scenario like the one that happened on Sunday is “likely to happen in other instances” besides those involving a religious minority. Given orders to stop brutalizing a “regular demonstration,” as opposed to a gathering of Coptic Christians, he thinks soldiers “would stop.”
“But I think it has much more to do with the nature of the people they were beating – that is, that they were Christians,” he observed.
“Imagine that those soldiers had not been serving their one year in the army,” Tadros speculated. “Back in their villages, is it possible to imagine that they would have been part of the same crowds in Egyptian villages, that sometimes go and attack Christian homes and burn churches? Is that possible?”
“I would say, yes. They are very much a part of the Egyptian society.”
But Tadros says many U.S. government officials respect the Egyptian army for showing restraint during the protests that brought down Mubarak, and might be too caught up in the idea of the “Arab Spring” to take a closer look.
The simple narrative of a liberating Egyptian revolution is “very appealing to different groups,” he pointed out.
“You would find both neoconservatives and liberals – people across the American spectrum – who found in the Arab Spring something appealing, and for their different reasons, (something) to support.”
“There is a general assumption in the West, that if a country is on the road to a democratic government, then naturally religious freedom will be there,” Tadros observed. “Unfortunately, reality is very different.”
“Even if a democratic Egypt ends up holding regular, free, and fair elections, it might actually not be good for religious freedom.”
In fact, Tadros noted, it might “create the exact opposite situation.”
Vatican City, Oct 12, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI expressed his sorrow over violent clashes in Cairo that left many Egyptian Christians dead and hundreds wounded.
“I am deeply saddened by the violence that was committed in Cairo on Sunday,” the Pope said at the Oct. 12 general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
“I join in the sorrow of the families of the victims and the entire Egyptian people, torn by attempts to undermine the peaceful coexistence between its communities, which is rather essential to preserve, especially in this time of transition,” he said.
The violence erupted on Sunday during a peaceful demonstration being held by Egyptian Coptic Christians and other members of civil society. They wanted to highlight recent attacks by Islamist extremists on a church in the southern city of Aswan and the reluctance of government forces to protect Christian interests.
But Sunday’s gathering turned violent when the army reacted to attacks from still unidentified thugs. Troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets on demonstrators and drove their military vehicles haphazardly through the crowd, crushing some of those protesting. In total, 24 people were killed – including at least 17 Christians – with 272 being injured.
The Pope urged the faithful to pray that Egyptian society can “enjoy a real peace based on justice, respect for freedom and the dignity of every citizen.”
The governance of Egypt has been in flux since the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorship in February 2011. Democratic elections are planned to begin on Nov. 28, but in the interim the country is being governed by the military.
The Pope said that the Egyptian authorities – civil and religious – should try to build a new society that “respects the human rights of everyone, and particularly minorities, to the benefit of national unity.” It is estimated that about 10 percent of Egyptians are Christian.
Vatican City, Oct 12, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI reminded Christians today to thank God for the good things in life, instead of only bringing problems to him.
“Dear brothers and sisters, in our prayers we should look at how often, in the events of our lives, the Lord has protected us, guided us, helped us,” the Pope said at the Oct. 12 general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
He encouraged Christians to “be more attentive to the good things that the Lord gives us. We are always attentive to the problems, difficulties and almost do not want to see that there are good things come from the Lord.”
In his latest discourse on prayer, Pope Benedict was dwelt on Psalm 126. It charts the joy of the Jewish people returning from their exile in Babylon in the 6th century B.C. Even today, the psalm is sung in an upbeat, joyous manner at Jewish religious occasions.
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed,” reads the psalm’s first line as it depicts a people whose “mouths were filled with laughter” and “tongues with songs of joy.”
The psalm “celebrates the great things which the Lord has done for His people, and which He continues to do for all believers,” said Pope Benedict.
The importance of this gratitude to God, he added, is that it creates hearts “full of joy” and memories “of the good that also helps us in the dark hours.”
Such good memories are required by the Jewish people in the psalm, the Pope observed, as they returned to find to a promised land now “impoverished, devastated.” “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy,” is how the psalmist expresses his hope.
“This imagery of the seed which silently grows to maturity reminds us that God’s salvation is at once a gift already received and the object of our hope, a promise whose fulfilment remains in the future,” the Pope.
And he noted how Jesus later uses the same imagery to “express the passage from death to life, from darkness to light, which must take place in the lives of all who put their faith in him and share in his paschal mystery.”
“This psalm teaches us that, in our prayer, we must always remain hopeful and firm in our faith in God,” even when our life is “marked often by suffering, uncertainty, moments of crisis,” said the Pope, echoing a theme of his teachings from the last several weeks.
This hope and faith is fulfilled in Jesus, with whom “our exile ends, and every tear is dried.” It is in the “great discovery of Jesus Christ” that “we learn that even in dark nights, not to forget that the light exists, that God is already in the midst of our life and that we can sow with great confidence.”
Pope Benedict finished his discourse by saying: “As we pray this Psalm, may we echo the song of the Virgin Mary by rejoicing in the great things which the Almighty has done for us, and by awaiting in hope the fulfilment of God’s promises.”
He then led pilgrims in the singing of the Our Father in Latin before imparting his apostolic blessing.
Washington D.C., Oct 12, 2011 (CNA) - The U.S. bishops’ new introductory note to their statement on Catholics’ voting responsibilities helps clarify distortions and affirms the importance of pro-life, marriage and religious freedom issues, two leaders with the group Catholic Advocate said.
“For too many decades, pro-abortion Catholic politicians and their supporters have been allowed to treat all the issues of our social teaching as if they had the same value,” Catholic Advocate president Deal W. Hudson and vice president Matt Smith said on Oct. 11.
The note was a “welcome” clarification for those who have worked in the political process on behalf of the unborn, marriage and families. Its language was not meant to be overlooked by those who want to promote “Obama and other pro-abortion politicians” to Catholic voters, they suggested.
They said the introductory note pays “particular attention” to religious liberty at a time of conflicts over the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate for contraceptive coverage in insurance plans.
“We at Catholic Advocate think religious liberty will become one of the major social issues of the 2012 campaign, rivaling both abortion and gay marriage,” said Hudson and Smith, who noted that the U.S. bishops have formed a new committee on the issue.
The bishops’ new introductory note clarifies the 2007 document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” It warns against “misguided appeals to ‘conscience’ to ignore fundamental moral claims, to reduce Catholic moral concerns to one or two matters, or to justify choices simply to advance partisan, ideological or personal interests.”
The note criticizes the misuse of the document to present “an incomplete or distorted view of the demands of faith in politics.”
Hudson and Smith said that many bishops are aware of the “confusion and consternation” caused by the abuse of the document.
“Dozens of individual bishops issued statements to clarify the document and defend it against the spin being put on it by abortion advocates,” they said.
They stressed the bishops’ comments about Catholics’ “clear obligation to oppose intrinsic evils which can never be justified.”
The introductory note begins by citing the “continuing destruction of unborn children through abortion and other threats to the lives and dignity of others who are vulnerable, sick or unwanted.” It also cites religious liberty conscience violations for those in health care, education, and social services, as well as efforts to redefine marriage.
Hudson and Smith found it “puzzling” for Catholic supporters of President Obama’s re-election to celebrate the note’s language.
“This guidance provides just what was needed, so as the bishops urge us, ‘We can act together to promote and protect human life and dignity, marriage and family, justice and peace in service to the common good’,” they concluded.
Rome, Italy, Oct 12, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., dismissed what he called “ridiculous” claims circulating online that the German bishops disrespected Pope Benedict during his recent visit to the country.
Fr. Lombardi said that a YouTube video showing the Pope and German president Christian Wulff has been misconstrued by bloggers and other members of the media.
Some have claimed that as the Pope moved down the line and extended his hand to introduce the members of his entourage, he was ignored by a number of German bishops.
But Fr. Lombardi told CNA that “the interpretation given to that video that the German bishops were disrespectful to the Pope is absolutely unfounded.”
In fact, he added, the video “obviously shows the moment in which the Pope was introducing his entourage—not the German bishops—to the German president at his residency.”
“The Pope was gesturing with his hand to each member of the entourage, who greeted the President,” Fr. Lombardi said. “The Pope does not expect the members of his entourage, who travel with him, to extend their hands to him on that occasion.”
He explained that Vatican officials shown in the video such as Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, Archbishop Giovanni Becciu, Archbishop Jean-Claude Perriset, Bishop Josef Clemens—who was a long-time personal secretary to the Pope when he was Cardinal Ratzinger—and the pontifical masters of ceremony “don’t shake the Pope’s hand and they certainly have no intention of offending him.”
He went on to note that “among the few who did shake the Pope’s hand, although it was not necessary, were Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, and Archbishop
Rainer Woelki of Berlin, the only two German bishops seen in the video and who were included in the Pope’s entourage when he arrived in Berlin and who did not travel on the plane with the Pope.”
“I have nothing else to add,” Fr. Lombardi said. “An interpretation of the video that accuses the German bishops of disrespecting the Pope is too senseless to warrant further comment.”
The video can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygeG5WFzkV8
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Oct 12, 2011 (CNA) - Archbishop Hector Aguer of La Plata is urging Argentineans to study the positions of political candidates on issues such as IVF and euthanasia before voting in the general election on Oct. 23.
“These issues are not indifferent, but rather so crucial that in some sense the future layout of Argentinean society depends on them,” the archbishop said during his television program Keys to a Better World. “And for us Christians, they are non-negotiable.”
Archbishop Aguer warned the country's citizens of current proposals to legalize abortion, euthanasia, artificial procreation and sex change operations.
In the case of abortion, he said, supporters of the procedure want to expand the two exceptions permitted under the law which currently allow abortion only in all cases of rape and endangerment to the life of the mother. The archbishop said that abortion supporters aim to broaden the exception to “not only her physical but also her psychological and social health as well.”
“Lawmakers are also threatening to pass a measure called gender identity. It would be more accurate to call it sex change,” he added. “This is one of the extreme aspects of gender ideology which has permeated the social sciences, it is insinuated in educational material and dominates many legislative analyses.”
Archbishop Aguer called the measure an “attack against the natural order” which includes “a prejudice against the biological dimension of sexuality.”
“It replaces the concept of sex with that of gender and turns this fact of personal identity into an option that one chooses at will,” he said.
“There ought to be broad and extensive debates about all these issues. It is a shame that these issues are not discussed in the campaign, because we have to elect our lawmakers, and how do we know who to elect? How do we know what they think about these fundamental issues?” he asked.
The archbishop stressed the need for citizens to learn each candidate’s positions, saying, “if lawmakers are the representative of the people, then the people need to know who these lawmakers really are, what they think, what laws they are going to propose. Otherwise they will hardly be representatives.”
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Oct 12, 2011 (CNA) - On the same day that Brazilian Catholics honor their patroness, Our Lady of Aparecida, the country is celebrating Oct. 12, 2011 as the 80th anniversary of Rio’s famous “Christ the Redeemer” statue.
“The monument is an icon of Rio de Janeiro,” said Rio's Archbishop Orani João Tempesta.
He said the statue “represents the Brazilian citizen: as a person who follows Jesus Christ, and welcomes others, as the monument does with its open arms.”
Rio de Janeiro's inhabitants are not the only ones celebrating the statue's 80th year. Believers throughout Brazil feel blessed by the presence of the Redeemer atop Mount Corcovado.
The monument is 130 feet tall, and spans 98 feet from one of Christ's outstretched hands to the other. It weighs 635 tons and stands at the highest point in the Tijuca Forest National Park, overlooking the city.
Brazil's Catholic population – the largest of any country in the world – funded its construction with donations from parishes across the country. Numbered among the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World,” the monument officially became a sanctuary for Catholic worship on Oct. 12, 2006.
Now, thousands of pilgrims attend Mass, Eucharistic adoration, Marian devotions, and other Catholic ceremonies at a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Aparecida at the feet of the monument.
As Rio residents celebrate the statue's anniversary, they are also looking forward to 2013, when the city will host World Youth Day.
“Celebrating the 80th anniversary of 'Christ the Redeemer,' as we start the preparations for World Youth Day, is a great gift and a major grace,” said Archbishop Tempesta.
“The young people announce Christ in the World Youth Days, and here, in Rio de Janeiro, they will be able to encounter the one whom they announce – for his image is the landmark of our city.”