Lilongwe, Malawi, Oct 14, 2011 (CNA) - An arsonist may have started a fire that destroyed the offices of the Malawi Catholic bishops’ conference.
The Oct. 9 fire completely destroyed bishops’ offices and priests’ living quarters in the capital of Lilongwe. It began in a priest’s apartment and spread to the offices.
A source in Malawi provided reports to Aid to the Church in Need which said that the fire was part of an ongoing firebombing campaign against government critics.
However, Fr. George Buleya, secretary general of the Malawi bishops’ conference, said he was unable to confirm the reports but he said arson could not be ruled out.
The fire at the bishops’ offices follows the early September firebombing of the offices of the Institute for Policy Interaction. The institute’s head, Rafik Hajat, is one of the most outspoken critics of Malawi president Bingu wa Mutharika.
Arson attacks have hit the homes of other government critics, including opposition politician Salim Bagus and human rights activist Macdonald Sembereka.
The Catholic Church has criticized the government numerous times in the past year.
Bishop Joseph Mukasa Zuza of the northern Malawi Diocese of Mzuzu, the head of the Malawi bishop’s conference delivered a speech at the Aug. 16 National Day of Prayers in the presence of the country’s president. The bishop accused the government of silencing civil society, the media and the faith community, which he said have a role to play in safeguarding democracy and the rule of law.
While the bishop intended the speech to be a general criticism of the way the country is led, the president took it as a personal affront and began using every opportunity to make verbal attacks on the churches.
“There is a campaign of defamation against the bishop, with very heavy accusations towards him and his ministry,” Montfort missionary Fr. Piergiorgio Gamba told Fides news agency in September.
In July, Bishop Zuza condemned violence by youths from the country’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
In 2010 the bishops’ conference published a pastoral letter which accused the government of “not serving the welfare of the people.”
Fr. Buleya said that since then, “the Church’s radius of action has become more restricted.”
There are also reports that government agents infiltrated the Malawi bishops’ last plenary meeting to spy on the Church. Fr. Buleya said he could not definitively confirm or rule out the reports, but the Church is “of interest to the secret services.”
He also could not rule out the possibility that the telephone conversations of church representatives are being tapped.
Nearly 80 percent of Malawi’s 15 million people are Christian, including 4.6 million Catholics. Thirteen percent of the population is Muslim, with the rest belonging to traditional African religions.
San Francisco, Calif., Oct 14, 2011 (CNA) - The magazines Catholic World Report and Homiletic & Pastoral Review will be published exclusively online starting in January 2012, Ignatius Press has announced.
“For several years now, Ignatius Press has been subsidizing these two magazines, and the loss has been in the $200,000-range each year. We have continued to subsidize them because we believed--and still believe--they have provided an important service to the Church,” the magazines’ publisher Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., said in an announcement.
“However, it doesn't take any prophetic gifts to see what is happening to print magazines. The rapid growth of electronic sources of news and opinion has led to the demise of many magazines, and this is clearly a trend that is going to continue.”
The Catholic World Report website is now available online to print subscribers. In January it will include “new features and greater accessibility” for all readers, Fr. Fessio said.
The Homiletic & Pastoral Review website will be “greatly expanded” as well.
Fr. Fessio cited concerns about the future decade’s economic situation.
“We think it is prudent to keep Ignatius Press in a financially sound condition so that we can continue to serve the Church through our trade books, catechetical resources, and films,” he said.
Ignatius Press will offer a pro-rated refund to those with issues remaining on their print subscriptions. Fr. Fessio said Ignatius Press would be “extremely grateful” if subscribers would consider this amount as a tax-deductible gift.
Denver, Colo., Oct 14, 2011 (CNA) - The Vatican's adult stem cell venture with a U.S. biopharmecutical firm continues to gain momentum since the partnership between the two was announced in June.
The move shows how “the Catholic Church is not against science, that we support ethically acceptable research, and that we want to foster this knowledge and spread it globally,” Father Tomaz Trafny of the Vatican’s Council for Culture told CNA on Oct. 12.
“We also want people to understand that in joining forces, we can really bring benefit to humanity,” he said, noting that the endeavor “is the first time we've entered into so deep a collaboration with an outside company.”
On June 16, the Vatican announced before the global media in Rome that it was partnering with NeoStem, a public firm pioneering new medical research with adult stem cells.
Stem cells are the body’s master cells from which all of the body’s 200-plus types of tissue ultimately grow. Their versatility allows for potential in providing replacement tissue to treat countless illnesses and disorders.
The Catholic Church approves of stem cell research but disapproves of those cells being drawn from human embryos—a process that involves their destruction.
Fr. Trafny explained that the new venture is creating a hub for scientists, academics, policy makers and Church leaders to discuss moral and ethical advancements in bio-medicine.
“All of these groups very often work and act separately and in isolation and bringing them together to create a network of collaboration and hotspots for exchanging their opinions, experiences, and knowledge,” he said.
Dr. Robin Smith, CEO of NeoStem, added that the adult stem cell research field is growing rapidly—from around 500 clinical trials in the U.S. five years ago to over 4,000 today.
“Over the last five years we've seen an incredible emergence of research and clinical trials and data showing that our natural body's repair mechanisms can be used and harnessed,” Smith told CNA in an Oct. 12 interview.
For example, she said, if a patient has an acute heart attack, it means that certain cells aren't able to release enough into the body's circulating system to repair the heart muscle.
“But if you can take these cells and repair them properly and inject them back in, what kind of impact can they have to regenerate the tissue?”
Smith said that NeoStem began five years ago as collection and storage business or “bio-insurance” firm—“you and I as adults having our stem cells collected today and stored for the future in case they are needed for things like leukemia or lymphoma,” she explained.
The company has since expanded to manufacturing cell therapies as well as a generic pharmaceutical endeavor that generates revenue. This combination has made NeoStem a “leader” in the field “as technology continues to advance and other applications emerge using cell therapy for treating diseases,” Smith said.
“The more people understand the benefits of adult stem cells—the real research, the data, where this can go with regenerative medicine with immunological diseases,” she said, “the more interested people will be in using adult stem cells.”
Smith noted that over 70 diseases are currently being treated with adult stem cells, versus embryonic stem cells, which have no current therapies despite the continual media coverage they garner.
On Oct. 5, researchers made headlines after cloning human embryos with an extra set of chromosomes for potential stem cell harvesting. Catholic scientists and bio-ethicists decried the experiment, saying it did little to advance a medical breakthrough and violated human life.
“Controversy makes news, so there's a lot of noise about it,” Smith said, “but I think if you really look at the numbers of funded studies and the advancements, it's not in embryonic stem cells it's in adult stem cells.”
Fr. Trafny agreed, noting that “sensational topics receive more visibility from media” and suggesting that part of the problem may be “a question that we should address to journalists.”
To some extent, media hype “is good in that people discuss the issue,” he said. “It means that there is sensitivity among people and they are questioning if it is right or wrong.”
Ultimately, however, embryonic stem cell research “is unacceptable from a moral point of view and from the perspective of Catholic teaching,” Fr. Trafny underscored.
“This is why we are very much in support of adult stem cell research and of course we want to look at cultural implications and consequences this kind of research and advancement in life science will bring to society.”
Both Fr. Trafny and Smith said that next step for the venture is a major conference at the Vatican that will be held Nov. 9-11 and will touch on the topic of the cultural consequences of regenerative medicine.
“Hopefully this conference will be the beginning of much more education so people can get excited about the future of adult stem cells and realize that they can be supportive of their faith and science,” Fr. Trafny said.
Smith added that NeoStem has been “so lucky to have the support and collaboration of the Catholic Church and their following to help educate people.”
“We can get behind improving human suffering and advance not only longevity of life but the health that people have—their ability to be viable in society, to recover from diseases,” she said, “which they have as their body's own natural repair mechanisms.”
Washington D.C., Oct 14, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The leaders of 20 national Catholic organizations are objecting to the Department of Health and Human Services’ recent “preventive services” mandate with an ad placed in two D.C.-area newspapers. They insist that the requirements would harm both Catholic institutions and society as a whole.
“As written, the rule will force Catholic organizations that play a vital role in providing health care and other needed services either to violate their conscience or severely curtail those services,” said the statement, which appeared as an Oct. 11 ad in Politico and The Hill.
“This would harm both religious freedom and access to health care.”
The statement was signed by Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as the leaders of several prominent Catholic universities, health care associations, lay associations and agencies that serve refugees and the poor. Such organizations could be affected by the mandate as it is currently written.
The “preventive services” mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been repeatedly challenged by Catholic leaders as a violation of religious liberty and freedom of conscience.
The mandate would require “almost all private health plans to cover sterilization procedures and contraceptive drugs, including drugs that may cause an early abortion,” the statement noted.
Although a religious exemption to the mandate currently exists, critics have argued that it is too narrow and would exclude most Catholic hospitals, schools and other organizations.
To qualify for the religious exemption, a Catholic organization would have to meet a strict set of criteria, which include hiring and serving primarily Catholics. Many Catholic institutions are open to serving all individuals, regardless of their faith.
“The HHS mandate puts many faith-based organizations and individuals in an untenable position,” the joint statement said. “But it also harms society as a whole by undermining a long American tradition of respect for religious liberty and freedom of conscience.”
“In a pluralistic society, our health care system should respect the religious and ethical convictions of all. We ask Congress, the Administration, and our fellow Americans to acknowledge this truth and work with us to reform the law accordingly.”
The full list of groups protesting the HHS mandate and the ad itself can be seen by clicking here. The coalition includes Catholic universities, medical organizations, charitable groups and lay men and women's societies.
Washington D.C., Oct 14, 2011 (CNA) - Catholic League president Bill Donohoe praised Texas Gov. Rick Perry for distancing himself from Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress and his controversial remarks on Catholicism and other religions.
“Perry and I spoke candidly about the Jeffress incident, and about religion, in general,” Donohue said in an Oct. 14 statement. “He spoke sincerely: nothing that Jeffress said about Catholicism represents his views.”
Jeffress' comments first made the news after the Value Voters Summit on Oct. 7 in Washington, D.C., where several members of the U.S. House of Representatives spoke about the importance of defending life, marriage and religious freedom.
Jeffress, pastor of the The First Baptist Church of Dallas, introduced Gov. Perry at the summit and spoke derisively about the Mormon faith of candidate Mitt Romney, calling it a “cult.” Two days later, he said that Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are “false religions.”
Adding to the controversy, Rev. Jeffress was quoted last year as saying that the Roman Catholic Church was the outgrowth of a “corruption” which he called “Babylonian mystery.”
“Much of what you see in the Catholic Church today doesn’t come from God’s word,” he said. “It comes from that cult-like pagan religion. Isn’t that the genius of Satan?”
Donohue reacted strongly to the news on Oct. 12, calling Rev. Jeffress “a poster boy for hatred, not Christianity.” He then said that although he didn't blame Gov. Perry for Jeffress' comments, the Texas governor should nevertheless “make an explicit statement renouncing any ties he has to Jeffress.”
“Any man of the cloth who entertains the despicable views Jeffress does about Catholicism, as well as many other religions, should be shunned by candidates for the presidency,” he underscored.
Donohue explained on Oct. 14 that Catholic activist Deal Hudson, “who has a history of forging good relationships between Catholics and evangelicals,” intervened and arranged for the phone call Thursday night.
“I very much appreciate Gov. Perry’s interest in getting this issue behind him in a responsible manner,” Donohue said. “He succeeded. Case closed.”
Vatican City, Oct 14, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
During a meeting today with Italy’s provincial regulators, Pope Benedict XVI held up the 4th-century governor-turned-bishop, St. Ambrose of Milan, as a model of a just administrator.
“This holy Bishop and Doctor of the Church, animated by so great a love and respect for state institutions as for those ecclesial, is an extraordinary example of rectitude, especially his loyalty to the law and firmness against injustice and oppression,” Pope Benedict said in his Oct. 14 address to the 110 prefects of Italy.
The Pope held the special audience with at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican to mark the 150th anniversary of Italian unification.
Prefects are representatives of the country’s central government within lower-level regional and municipal governments. Their primary function is as regulators, but they also enforce the law when public safety is at risk.
“Always be ready to deal with questions submitted to you with a great sense of duty and prudence,” the Pope told them, “never failing in your duty to the truth and the courage to defend the highest goods.”
Thinking about such matters, he said, naturally led him to think about “the shining figure of St. Ambrose, your heavenly patron, who was suddenly called to the episcopate, having to abandon a brilliant career as a senior civil servant.”
St. Ambrose was a promising young lawyer who quickly rose through the administrative ranks of the 4th-century Roman Empire. By his early 30s he was appointed Consular Prefect of the region of Liguria and Emilia in northern Italy, with his headquarters in Milan. His reputation for fairness was so great that he was acclaimed Bishop of Milan by the city’s population. Not being trained in theology – or even baptized – St. Ambrose initially fled but the demand for him was so strong that he quickly relented. Within a week St. Ambrose was baptized, ordained and duly consecrated bishop of Milan.
The Pope reminded the prefects that St. Ambrose used to say “the establishment of the civil power comes from God as well, so that he who exercises it is, he also is a minister of God.”
From this, said Pope Benedict, we can say that “the exercise of civil authority is so important as to have an almost ‘sacred’ character.” This means that “it must be exercised with great dignity and a lively sense of responsibility.”
This is especially true of a prefect, said the Pope, noting that they have a key role in upholding “social cohesion and civil rights,” especially of the most vulnerable in society.
The Pope finished his remarks by encouraging all those present to follow the example of St. Ambrose, “so that your work may always serve justice, peace, freedom and the common good.” If they do this, God will support their efforts, “rewarding them with abundant fruits to spread the civilisation of love.”
Bogotá, Colombia, Oct 14, 2011 (CNA) - Despite millions of Colombians supporting the measure, a Senate committee in Colombia axed a proposal that aimed to protect unborn babies from abortion through a constitutional amendment.
The Colombian Senate’s First Committee voted 9-7 against the measure, with a decisive vote coming from Senator Karime Motta, who originally endorsed the legislation but later changed her mind.
Bishop Juan Vicente Cordoba, secretary general of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference, said that the Church would continue to fight for “respect for all human life from conception to natural death.”
“Abortion is a grave offense against the Creator, an attack against the most basic of all human rights,” Bishop Cordoba said. “It is obvious that the will of people was not reflected in the final outcome of the debate.”
He encouraged Colombians “not to become dismayed in this struggle” and said that “more than ever, we must reaffirm our commitment to the defense of life and the authentic dignity of the Colombian woman.”
Hundreds of pro-life activists held protests outside the Congressional building as the Senate committee considered the measure, which received the support of some five million Colombians.
The leader of the Conservative Party, Jose Dario Salazar, said that he would continue to defend life despite the measure’s defeat and that the party would seek a referendum to allow the Colombian people to vote on the proposal.
In 2006, the Constitutional Court of Colombia legalized abortion in cases of rape, life of the mother or fetal deformation. The proposed amendment would have abolished these exceptions and granted protection to life at every stage.
Attorney General Alejandro Ordonez called the Senate vote was a “heavy blow.”
“If unborn human life is not respected, what can we expect from people in a society that is every more engulfed in an individualistic and hedonistic mentality?” he asked.
“The worst thing that can happen to the legal system is to confer on it the right to death under the pretext of protecting life.”
London, England, Oct 14, 2011 (CNA) - The Catholic Church in the United Kingdom is giving a mixed reaction to plans to reform the centuries old law that prevents the British monarch from being Catholic or marrying a Catholic.
“The Act of Settlement amounts to iniquitous anti-Catholic discrimination,” said Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops of Scotland.
The U.K. Prime Minister, David Cameron, revealed this week that he has written to the 15 other Commonwealth states where Queen Elizabeth is head of state with a view to reforming the Act of Settlement, which has been in force since 1701.
“This rule is a historical anomaly - it does not, for example, bar those who marry spouses of other faiths - and we do not think it can continue to be justified,” wrote Cameron.
However, the proposal does not include lifting the ban on Catholics ascending to the throne. The reason offered for this is that, upon coronation, the British monarch automatically becomes the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
“While a partial repeal is welcome, the continuing ban on a Catholic becoming head of state remains state-sponsored sectarianism,” Kearney told CNA Oct. 14.
Prime Minister Cameron is due to discuss his proposal with fellow Commonwealth leaders when they meet at a summit in Perth, Australia, later this month. Already the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, has said he will support the reform.
The Act of Settlement was originally passed to prevent the descendants of the Catholic King James II from ascending the throne. He was deposed in the 1688 “Glorious Revolution” by supporters of the Protestant William and Mary. Mary was the eldest Protestant daughter of James II and was married to William of Orange, who later became William III.
In recent years, the Act has affected several members of the British royal family.
In 2001, Lord Nicholas Windsor, the youngest son of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, permanently forfeited his right to the royal succession by converting to Catholicism.
In 2008, Autumn Kelly, the Canadian fiancée of the Queen’s grandson Peter Philips, renounced her Catholicism in favor of Anglicanism, thus preserving her husband’s slim chances of becoming king. He is currently 11th in line to the throne.
The U.K. Prime Minister’s other proposals for reforming the monarchy include ending the current preference given to male heirs over their older sisters.
“We espouse gender equality in all other aspects of life and it is an anomaly that in the rules relating to the highest public office we continue to enshrine male superiority,” wrote Cameron.
Amarillo, Texas, Oct 14, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Diocese of Amarillo confirmed to CNA that despite an invitation from Bishop Patrick J. Zurek, Fr. Frank Pavone did not meet with him on Oct. 13 and has instead asked for mediation.
“I advised Father Frank not to have this private meeting until the process of mediation is underway,” Father David Deibel, canon lawyer for Fr. Pavone and Priests for Life, said in an Oct. 14 statement.
“All of us want this entire process to be carried out in private rather than through the media.”
On Oct. 6, Bishop Zurek had invited Fr. Pavone to come to his office and explained that his actions in the situation are tied to his pastoral concern for the national director of Priests for Life.
His invitation to meet privately with Fr. Pavone was the latest move after he called the priest back to the Amarillo diocese from his pro-life ministry in New York state.
The Amarillo Globe-News reported, however, that by 5 p.m. Thursday—diocesan office closing time—Fr. Pavone had failed to arrive.
“I would welcome a meeting with Father Pavone, face to face, a meeting as his bishop,” Bishop Zurek told the Globe-News. “I am still waiting for a favorable response to that.”
On the afternoon of Oct. 14, Fr. Pavone tweeted a link to a statement from Fr. Deibel, who said he advised Fr. Pavone to not meet with Bishop Zurek because the bishop has allegedly not responded to requests for mediation.
“The details and history of the present situation are such that moving forward to a resolution is no longer simply a matter of getting together and talking,” Fr. Deibel said.
“Several Church officials have made it clear that they believe mediation is necessary, and that they are willing to undertake a role as mediators,” he added. “Unfortunately, Bishop Zurek has not responded to or even acknowledged any of these requests.”
Fr. Deibel also accused Bishop Zurek of asking to meet one-on-one with Fr. Pavone and telling the priest to not write or speak of the meeting publicly.
“Then, the next day, before Father Frank even had an opportunity to respond, the bishop announced the meeting on the front page of the website of the Amarillo diocese,” Fr. Deibel said.
A response to the statement by Fr. Deibel from the diocese has not yet been issued.
The situation involving Fr. Pavone and his ministry with Priests for Life first became public when Bishop Zurek's issued a strongly-worded letter to his fellow bishops on Sept. 9. The bishop said in the letter that he had suspended Fr. Pavone from public ministry outside the diocese, beginning Sept. 13.
He cited “deep concerns regarding his stewardship of the finances of the Priests for Life (PFL) organization.”
After the bishop’s suspension became public, Fr. Pavone produced professional audits of Priests for Life for the years 2005-2010, which he said were sent to the diocese every year. While the organization did well in previous years, Priests for Life ran a $1.4 million deficit in 2010.
Meanwhile, Fr. Pavone is appealing his suspension from active ministry outside the diocese to the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy and is denying charges that he disobeyed the bishop and failed to have Priests for Life audited.
Bishop Zurek clarified in an Oct. 6 statement that ultimately, he wants “what is best for all organizations that support and promote those teachings that come from the heart of the Catholic Church on the dignity and gift of human life.”