Rome, Italy, Oct 28, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - After the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace made headlines this week by issuing a document advocating the creation of a global financial body, one expert in Vatican documents downplayed its authority and said that it is only meant to spur reflection.
“I’d say if it calls itself ‘a note,’” Father Robert Christian, O.P., told CNA Oct. 26, “it is simply a meant to prompt the consciences of people as they ponder issues that seem to be of importance to the Universal Church.”
“So you’d say this is not something that is meant to bind consciences but is meant to stimulate consciences to reflection.”
Fr. Christian is Vice Dean of Theology at the Dominican Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome, also known as the Angelicum. He is a long-standing expert in interpreting “Vatican documents,” not all of which, he said, carry the same weight.
“There is a ranking of papal and Vatican documents that you can figure out if you look at the index of the ‘Acta Apostolicae Sedis,’ as it lists the documents in a rank from the most important to the least important.”
The “Acta Apostolicae Sedis” (Acts of the Apostolic See) is an annual publication dating back over 150 years. It contains the main public documents of the Pope and the Roman Curia. Fr. Christian describes it as “the Vatican’s own ranking of the relative solemnity of different teachings,” and he kindly took CNA down to the vast library vaults of the Angelicum University to explain his point.
“So we’re looking at the 1950 volume,” he said, opening the thick red volume and reading down the page. It “shows the dogmatic definition of the Assumption of Mary at the very top – that’s what’s known as a ‘Bulla Dogmatica’ – then the Encyclical ‘Humanae Generis’ and then onto lower level documents such as apostolic constitutions and so on.”
Fr. Christian explained that there is a “a hierarchy of documents,” and also a hierarchy of bodies within the Roman Curia. Inside of the Curia, “congregations” are more significant than “pontifical councils,” which means that “in terms of pastoral authority the Secretariat of State is top and in terms of doctrinal authority the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is top.”
Another factor, he said, to take into consideration when assessing the significance of a “Vatican document” is whether it has been “reviewed by the Holy Father himself,” and also the number of Vatican departments involved in its creation.
He lamented that “unfortunately, the Church herself hasn’t actually explained that hierarchy very well.” Thus, he believes, it can be confusing for Catholics to understand what significance to give to different publications emanating from bodies within the Vatican.
As for this week’s document from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Fr. Christian has only read some of it but his initial analysis is that while it is appropriate for Vatican departments to speak out as part of the Church’s “social mission” they also have to be wary of straying beyond the limits of their competence.
“Is it the Church’s place to decry systems that seem to infringe on the dignity of peoples or to applaud those areas which seem to promote human dignity? Yes,” he said firmly.
“But is it the Church’s role to hypothesis concrete solutions to these things? Normally we would say ‘no.’ That’s what makes me a little nervous about a document which it seems may be promoting something rather more concrete than usual.”
He explained that such hands-on, practical decisions are termed “contingent realities” and held up Pope John Paul II’s social encyclical “Centesimus Annus” as a good example of how the Church usually approaches such matters.
In the 1991 document, he said, Pope John Paul “decried the excesses” of both state socialism and unbridled capitalism so that “we could see the correctness of the principle.”
But “the Pope didn’t hazard an idea of what concrete steps should be made because that’s really what politics is supposed to do. They are supposed to work on the basis of principles towards the concrete installation of structures and procedures that will help people.”
So while the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace is trying to give “an expression of the application of real principles grounded in revelation to the world situation, such as the economic situation,” they are merely “asking for people to take this very seriously but there is no corresponding penalty for saying ‘no’.”
Certainly at the press conference to launch the document the Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., stressed that the publication was “not an expression of papal magisterium,” and that it would be wrong to attach the words “Pope Benedict says,” to any subsequent reporting of it. However, he did add that the document was an “authoritative note of a Vatican agency.”
Fr. Christian thinks that to avoid any confusion in the future it might be better not to publish such discussion papers through official Vatican channels.
One possibility he suggested would be for the Vatican to officially collaborate with the the social science faculties at places like the Angelicum or Gregorian Universities in Rome. Another, he said, would be to host officially sanctioned academic symposia in the presence of several cardinals.
In reality, he explained, the Vatican already uses a range of outside institutions and publications for the development of new ideas. The Jesuit journal “La Civilta Cattolica,” for example, is vetted by the Vatican Secretariat of State and so already has “a semi-official status,” he said.
Similarly, Fr. Christian’s own Angelicum University has been used in the past by the Vatican as an interlocutor with Muslim universities in the Arab world. This, he believes, actually gives the Vatican greater freedom than it would have if it used the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, which “can always carry all sorts of political overtones and misunderstanding.”
Washington D.C., Oct 28, 2011 (CNA) - The Catholic Medical Association is reacting with skepticism to a government panel recommendation that all boys be vaccinated again the sexually-transmitted Human Papillomavirus (HPV).
“It's really debatable whether this is a good use of public money, and whether it's really a good strategy for reducing cancer rates or HPV infection rates,” said John Brehany, Executive Director and Ethicist at the Catholic Medical Association. Brehany was responding to the Oct. 25 announcement of the decision by the Center for Disease Control's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
“I'm very suspicious of this recommendation. They claim to have looked at the numbers, and to have some valid public policy goals, but I think it's quite debatable – and almost certainly not a good idea, from a cost-benefit perspective.”
Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, called the recommendation “another milestone in the nation's battle against cancer” in a press conference on Tuesday.
The CDC will likely adopt the recommendation, for boys ages 9 and up to receive the Gardasil vaccine, after its own review within the next 12 months.
“The greatest impact can be had when the vaccine is given at ages 11 or 12 where there is a better immune response compared with older ages,” said Schuchat. “The vaccine is most effective when it is given before there is exposure to the virus which occurs through sexual contact.”
Schuchat said the suggestion partly aims to keep men from giving HPV to women, who can suffer various female cancers as a result. But it could also help prevent certain types of cancer more often associated with HPV transmission between men.
The Catholic Medical Association does not oppose the Gardasil vaccine, which it says is “safe, effective, and … can be ethically acceptable” in certain circumstances with informed parental consent.
But Behany thinks that society would be wasting scarce resources by treating HPV in men as a public health priority.
“It's true that if more boys are immunized, probably fewer girls will contract HPV,” he said. “There's some truth to that.”
But as Schuchat admitted in Tuesday's press conference, the panel made its recommendation in part because of the “pretty poor uptake in girls,” who frequently choose not to receive Gardasil or fail to complete the series of three shots at a cost of $130 each.
“Girls were the target audience – and the audience for which the best public policy case could be made,” Brehany argued on Thursday. “Why would you dive in with boys, before you had really addressed how you're going to do this effectively with girls?”
He noted that a 2009 study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that giving boys the HPV vaccine would not be cost-effective in terms of its impact on the general population.
That study, he said, found that “including boys raised the cost, to much more than is usually though to be acceptable for the health benefit.”
The medical ethicist said that doctors “could debate the best way to prevent HPV infection among women,” a question that is both morally and technically complex.
“But to recommend routine HPV immunization among boys, that's much less debatable,” Brehany said.
“They'll say, 'Well, it will do some good.' Yes, you'll do some good, but you''ll spend a ton of money that probably should be spent on other things.”
“And you may send some bad messages, too: 'Hey, kids, you got this immunization. You're safe.' You can introduce even more problems there.”
If Brehany questions whether the plan to vaccinate boys will help ensure females' safety, he has no doubt that it represents a poor use of resources when it comes to men's own health.
“Routine immunization of boys, with a three-dose regimen at $130 dollars a dose, to help prevent certain cancers mostly associated with male-to-male sexual contact, is an imprudent and bad public policy decision,” he stated.
And with health care costs and public debt both on the rise, the head of the Catholic Medical Association believes public officials must weigh their decisions carefully.
“Individuals have limited funds, and so do governments. When you force them, or induce them, to spend money on things for which the benefit is low, they are not going to be spending money on some other things.”
“States are going broke paying for Medicaid, for example. They are proposing to cut, or severely limit, the days of hospitalization per year that Medicaid patients are eligible for.”
“Let's say someone were to make it a state policy, that Gardasil were mandated for children,” Brehany speculated. “They'll pay Merck $100 a dose, and they're not going to have money for other things.”
“When people are saying, 'You don't get to go in the hospital,' or 'You get only so many days of dialysis,' then you'll have to look at all the other things we're spending money on – like Gardasil for boys. What do you really get for it?”
Washington D.C., Oct 28, 2011 (CNA) - The U.S. bishops' social justice arm has cut funding to a New York-based AIDS charity after the group was discovered to have lied about its adherence to Catholic teaching.
The Campaign for Catholic and Human Development announced that it had dissociated with the NYC Aids Housing Network after allegations surfaced that the group distributes condoms.
“Just to clarify, when CCHD funded the group, the group was totally in line with CCHD criteria and guidelines,” the U.S. bishops' conference said in an Oct. 19 post on Facebook.
“It is the more recent reports that they distribute condoms that would make them ineligible for the future funding. The group did not reapply for funding once their grant ended.”
The conference issued several statements in response to questions posed on its Facebook page by readers concerned about the Catholic campaign's funding practices.
Attempts by CNA to obtain additional reaction from Catholic Campaign officials did not receive a response.
Michael Hichborn of the Reform CCHD Now Coalition, pointed CNA to the activist group's extensive 2010-2011 report on CCHD funding, which added the NYC Aids Housing Network to its list of offenders last month.
The news comes withing a year of the campaign's launch of a “review and renewal” program in October of 2010, which acknowledged mistakes and pledged to uphold “Catholic principles” in all future decisions.
Bishop Roger Morin, then-chairman of the CCHD subcommittee, said on Oct. 26, 2010 that steps were being taken to ensure Catholic morality would be upheld in the fight against poverty.
Bishop Morin stressed the importance of the campaign, which he said complements other forms of poverty relief and Catholic action. But he acknowledged that some of its funding choices and associations were made in error, and had caused some Catholics—including some bishops—to question its work.
Despite the reform coalition's criticism, however, the U.S. bishops' conference maintains that it acted swiftly and effectively in this latest situation.
“We take any allegation that Catholic funds are being misused, very seriously,” the conference said.
“As for NYC Aids Housing Network, during the time it was funded by CCHD, the organization went through the same rigorous vetting process that included the support of the bishop.”
“If at any point the the dioceses or CCHD had found evidence that the organization was in any way involved with condom distribution, the grant would have been immediately canceled,” the statement added.
“There was no evidence of this. NYC Aids Housing's CCHD grant expired in June of 2011. In the future, NYC Aids Housing Network would not be eligible for CCHD funding.”
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Oct 28, 2011 (CNA) - A judge in the Argentinean city of Santa Rosa has fined a local parish priest for ringing the church bells and creating “bothersome noise.”
Judge Alicia Corral said that the ringing of the church bell three times a day for eight minutes was generating complaints from neighbors. She added that if the priest continues to ring the bells each day, they would be confiscated.
Speaking to reporters, the pastor of the parish said the sanctions are the result of “the maliciousness, ignorance and battle being waged against the Church” by “a group of local officials.”
He said neighbors have gathered more than 1,000 signatures demanding that officials “leave the church alone.
“And if need be we can get 30 or 40 thousand signatures,” he said.
Church officials have appealed the ruling.
Perth, Australia, Oct 28, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The centuries-old law barring the British monarch from marrying a Catholic has been scrapped but not the rule forbidding them from being a Catholic.
“Let me be clear, the monarch must be in communion with the Church of England because he or she is the head of that Church,” said British Prime Minister, David Cameron, as he announced the change Oct. 28.
“But it is simply wrong they should be denied the chance to marry a Catholic if they wish to do so. After all, they are already quite free to marry someone of any other faith.”
The decision was made at a summit of the 16 countries that still retain the British monarch as head of state. The gathering took place in the western Australian city of Perth.
The bar on the monarchy marrying a Catholic or personally being one has been British law since the passing of the “Act of Settlement” in 1701.
“I welcome the statement from the Prime Minster indicating that his Government together with all of the Commonwealth Heads of Government intend to reform the Act of Settlement,” said Cardinal Keith P. O’Brien of St. Andrews & Edinburgh, Scotland.
The cardinal previously labeled the Act as “discriminatory and offensive,” which led him to say today that he is “pleased to note that the process of change, which I hope will lead to repeal of the Act, has started.”
He was backed in that call by Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond who also welcomed the lifting of the marriage ban but said it was “deeply disappointing” that Catholics were still unable to ascend to the throne.
“It surely would have been possible to find a mechanism which would have protected the status of the Church of England without keeping in place an unjustifiable barrier on the grounds of religion, in terms of the monarchy,” he said.
However, the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said he would not go as far as calling for the Act of Settlement to be entirely repealed.
“I welcome the decision of Her Majesty’s Government to give heirs to the throne the freedom to marry a Catholic without being removed from the line of succession,” said Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England.
He described the move as eliminating “a point of unjust discrimination” against Catholics.
“At the same time,” added Archbishop Nichols, “I fully recognise the importance of the position of the Established Church in protecting and fostering the role of faith in our society today.”
Later, in an interview with the BBC News, he explained that “while the Church of England is the Established Church” it is “not unreasonable to expect the head of the Church of England should be an Anglican.”
The 18th-century Act of Settlement was aimed at preventing the descendants of the Catholic King James II from ascending to 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.
The question being asked by some today is what religion the children of an Anglican-Catholic royal wedding would be raised in? The Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law (Canon 1125) only permits a mixed marriage where the Catholic party makes “a sincere promise to do all in his or her power in order that all the children be baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church.”
Archbishop Nichols said such a scenario “would be a very difficult situation indeed,” but stressed that he did not “think we should try to pre-judge” it because “it’s not even a practical possibility at the moment, it’s a theoretical possibility.”
He told BBC News that the Catholic Church’s practice of “sitting down with Catholics who are marrying outside of the Catholic community and trying to see how the marriage will develop,” was “actually quite subtle” and “quite advanced.”
He explained that if and when the hypothetical case ever arose, the Church would talk to the Catholic party “about the duty and expectation of the Catholic to give their best endeavours within the unity and harmony of the marriage to bring up their children Catholic.”
But Archbishop Nichols added that having that discussion “does not guarantee that the children every mixed marriage are brought up Catholic.”
He explained that no guarantees can be given because the non-Catholic party “is not required to give any explicit undertaking about what they will do,” while the Catholic party is only expected to do “their best.”
Vatican City, Oct 28, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI met this morning with delegates who participated in yesterday’s Assisi gathering and said that the meeting showed how genuine the desire for peace and the good of others is.
“In a certain sense, this gathering is representative of the billions of men and women throughout our world who are actively engaged in promoting justice and peace,” said the Pope.
He told them the day had also been “a sign of the friendship and fraternity which has flourished” because of the work of those engaged in dialogue. He expressed hope that such friendships would “continue to grow.”
Pope Benedict praised the foresight of Pope John Paul II in calling the first Assisi meeting in 1986 and said that the gatherings are a “vivid expression of the fact that every day, throughout our world, people of different religious traditions live and work together in harmony.”
“It is surely significant,” he continued, that so many people are committed to working for the good of the human family.
“As we go our separate ways,” the Pope said as he bade them farewell, “let us draw strength from this experience and, wherever we may be, let us continue refreshed on the journey that leads to truth, the pilgrimage that leads to peace. I thank all of you from my heart!”
Rome, Italy, Oct 28, 2011 (CNA) -
It has to be one of the more unusual legacies of the World Day for Peace in Assisi but the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See is now the proud owner of a little white dove called Chiara, or rather, his 7-year-old son Miguel is.
“We’ve been to Assisi a number of times and on one of those trips the Franciscan friars promised my son he could have a dove but, at that point, they were not quite ready to give it away,” Ambassador Miguel Diaz explained to CNA on Oct. 28.
Yesterday, though, the doves were finally ready and gainfully employed during the day’s ceremonies, which involved speeches by Pope Benedict and other religious leaders and an opportunity for everyone to re-commit to global peace.
“So one of the friars asked us, my wife Marian and I, if we wanted to bring a dove home.” They both said yes and quickly named the bird – which they believe to be female – Chiara in honor of St. Clare of Assisi, the great spiritual companion of St. Francis.
“So our 7-year-old is, of course, very, very happy,” said the ambassador, explaining that Chiara spent her first night in the Diaz household sleeping in Miguel, Jr.’s bedroom.
As it happens, the Diaz family – Miguel, Marian and their four children – recently received a new dog, a collie puppy named Cappuccino. Chiara, though, will very much belong to young Miguel.
“So he now has a little dove to take care of,” said his dad, “and it is a symbol of peace and as symbol of caregiving that will provide a little child with a responsibility for one of God’s creatures.”
Ambassador Diaz said that the day in Assisi had been “wonderful.” His delegation included the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Suzan Johnson Cook. Joining them were over 300 delegates from 50 countries around the world.
“Whenever we think of the name of St. Francis of Assisi, at least for me, we think of peace, justice and interfaith dialogue,” he said, “and these are three very important things that we know we need today.”
Madrid, Spain, Oct 28, 2011 (CNA/Europa Press) - Administrators of Caritas Spain have approved a donation of $280,000 to assist victims of recent flooding in Central America.
The floods, caused by heavy rains, have affected 1.2 million people, resulting in hundreds of deaths and injuries in Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica.
Caritas reported that the flooding has also destroyed numerous bridges and roadways. In addition, it has caused massive losses in the agricultural industry, which is the economic engine for numerous communities in the region.
The aid from Caritas Spain will center on meeting the basic needs of those affected and rebuilding homes and buildings that were destroyed.
Caritas offices in various countries of Central America have begun mobilizing employees and volunteers to form rapid-response teams to bring resources to the areas most in need.
Caritas Spain has also dispatched expert engineer Mario Fanjul to evaluate the damage and identify the most urgent needs in order to develop medium and long term responses to assist in the reconstruction.
Washington D.C., Oct 28, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A formal legal complaint filed against Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. is being strongly denounced by both Catholics and Muslims, who deny that Muslim students are being discriminated against by the university’s display of Catholic imagery and symbolism.
“I regret very much that our Muslim students have been used as pawns in a manufactured controversy,” said John Garvey, president of Catholic University.
Garvey said in an Oct. 28 statement that the charges were “completely without foundation.”
The complaint against the university was filed by legal activist Professor John Banzhaf, known in recent years for his multiple “fat lawsuits” against fast food restaurants, including McDonald’s and KFC.
A law professor at George Washington University’s Law School, Banzhaf teaches a unique “Legal Activism” course that has been dubbed “suing for credit.”
Students in the course “become public interest lawyers by bringing their own legal actions.”
Banzhaf and his students have become well-known for their “hundreds of innovative public interest legal actions.”
The 60-page formal legal complaint filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights by Banzhaf claims that the university was illegally denying equal access to facilities and services for Muslim students on the basis of their religion.
The complaint charged that “usually, or at least frequently, these Muslim students at CUA find that they must perform their prayers surrounded by symbols of Catholicism.”
The presence of a crucifix, image of Jesus or picture of the Pope is something “which many Muslim students find inappropriate and not especially conducive to praying according to their very different religious beliefs,” the complaint says.
The complaint also says that some Muslim students must pray in the “school’s chapels and at the cathedral that looms over the entire campus - the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception,” which is “hardly a place where students of a very different religion are likely to feel very comfortable.”
Banzhaf observed that the university’s Columbus School of Law has a Jewish student association and argued that the university is discriminating against Muslim students because it does not sponsor a formal Muslim association or provide a separate center for Muslim activities.
He also raised a separate issue in his filing with the Human Rights council, arguing that the introduction of single-sex dormitories on campus “constitutes discrimination on the basis of sex against female students.”
This charge reiterates a previous legal complaint that Banzhaf filed against the university several months ago for moving to single-sex dormitories for freshman students. That complaint is currently pending before the Office of Human Rights.
“Banzhaf has created the perception that it is our Muslim students themselves who are offended by the symbols of Catholicism on our campus, and that they object to the absence of worship space set aside specifically for them,” university president John Garvey said.
“The fact is that no Muslim student at Catholic University has registered a complaint with the University about the exercise of their religion on campus.”
Garvey also noted that an Oct. 28 Washington Post article revealed that Banzhaf himself had not received any complaints from Muslim students at Catholic University but had instead based his complaint on a Washington Post article from Dec. 2010.
“Contrary to the impression Mr. Banzhaf would like to create, the December 2010 Post article spoke in overwhelmingly positive terms about the experience of Muslim students at Catholic University, and explained why they are attracted to us,” said Garvey.
“A considerable part of the attraction stems from the fact that our community, because of its own outward expressions of Catholic faith, makes them feel comfortable living their faith among us.”
“The evidence bears this out,” he said. “Since 2007 our Muslim enrollment has more than doubled, from 56 to 122.”
Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called the crucifix complaint “a non-issue.”
“Muslims pray all the time in various locations,” Hooper told CNA. “A Muslim can pray anywhere, practically, from a bus station to a classroom to a cubicle at work.”
Hooper acknowledged that distracting images are present in many locations, but said that they should not prevent Muslims from focusing on their prayers.
“These kinds of things occur every day,” he said.
“Particularly at a Catholic institution, you would assume that there would be Catholic symbols in locations throughout the university.”
Hooper does believe that Muslim students at Catholic University should be permitted to have an organization on campus if other religious groups are allowed to. But he believes that the issue can be dealt with through dialogue rather than legal action.
“American Muslims have very good relations with the Catholic community,” he noted.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, also defended Catholic University.
“There is no requirement in the Constitution that can compel a Catholic university, or any institution for that matter with a faith-based connection, to change its doctrines, its practices or its procedures and beliefs to accommodate a student of another faith,” Sekulow told Sean Hannity in an Oct. 27 Fox News interview.
In his Oct. 28 statement, Garvey reassured Muslim students that they are “welcome” at Catholic University.
“Our Catholic teaching instructs us to embrace our fellow human beings of all faith traditions,” he said.
“They enrich us with their presence and help to promote inter-religious and inter-cultural understanding.”