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Archive of November 8, 2011

Clarence Thomas says religious display rulings are in 'shambles'

Washington D.C., Nov 8, 2011 (CNA) - Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas denounced his colleagues’ decision not to hear a case that would have allowed them to establish a clear standard for judging religious displays on government property. 

“Today the Court rejects an opportunity to provide clarity to an Establishment Clause jurisprudence in shambles,” Thomas said in an Oct. 31 dissent.

He explained that the Supreme Court’s disjointed “jurisprudence has confounded the lower courts and rendered the constitutionality of displays of religious imagery on government property anyone’s guess.”

Thomas’ dissenting opinion responded to the court’s decision to reject consideration of a case involving 12-foot-high white crosses. The crosses were placed by the Utah Highway Patrol Association near areas where officers had been killed in the line of duty.

American Atheists, Inc. sued Utah officials, claiming that the 13 crosses violated the establishment clause because they bore the symbol of the Utah Highway Patrol and many of them were located on state property.

In August, a Tenth Circuit court ruled that the crosses were unconstitutional.

The Utah Highway Patrol Association appealed to the Supreme Court, but in an Oct. 31 decision, the court declined to hear the case.

In his dissent, Thomas criticized the Supreme Court’s failure to implement “a clear, workable standard” for establishment clause cases. He explained that the lack of a clear standard has resulted in arbitrary decisions and “wildly divergent outcomes.”

The Utah case, he added, was the latest in a long line of decisions regarding religious displays that have had varying results.

In April 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that a seven-foot cross erected by the Veterans of Foreign Wars would be allowed to remain on the property.

In Jan. 2011, a three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 29-foot Mount Soledad Memorial Cross in a San Diego public park violated the establishment clause. Supporters of the cross are appealing to the Supreme Court.

“Since the inception of the endorsement test, we have learned that a creche displayed on government property violates the Establishment Clause, except when it doesn't,” Thomas said.

“Likewise, a menorah displayed on government property violates the Establishment Clause, except when it doesn't.”

“A display of the Ten Commandments on government property also violates the Establishment Clause, except when it doesn't,” he added.

“Finally, a cross displayed on government property violates the Establishment Clause, as the Tenth Circuit held here, except when it doesn't.”

Thomas criticized the court for causing confusion by using different tests to evaluate cases rather than establishing a clear standard.

He said that because the Supreme Court’s precedents in establishment clause cases “remain impenetrable,” the rulings of lower courts also “remain incapable of coherent explanation.”

Thomas called on his fellow justices to clarify the confusion surrounding religious display cases in recent years.

“We should not now abdicate our responsibility to clean up our mess,” he said.

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Bishop Conley sees ‘atheocracy’ as major threat to pro-life cause

Dallas, Texas, Nov 8, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Increasing hostility to religion and growing restrictions on religious expression are “the biggest challenge the pro-life movement faces,” Bishop James D. Conley told a benefit for a Dallas pro-life group.

“If we think it’s been hard over these past four decades, I think the biggest challenges we face lie ahead of us,” the apostolic administrator of the Denver archdiocese said Nov. 5.

“America today is becoming what I would call an atheocracy — a society that is actively hostile to religious faith and religious believers. And I might add — the faith that our society is most hostile toward is Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular.”

The bishop’s comments came in his address to the annual benefit dinner for St. Joseph’s Helpers and the White Rose Women’s Center in Dallas, Texas.

Secularism, Bishop Conley said, is not simple neutrality towards religious beliefs. American elites are not neutral towards religion, but are “deliberately engaged in a process that aims to remove all traces of religious faith from our public life!”

This creates “publicly enforced religious indifferentism” in which Americans participating in civic life must first agree to think and act as if they have no religious convictions or motivations at all.

This “atheocracy” has no ultimate truths or inviolable ethical principles for its guidance.

“Hence, it has no foundation upon which to establish justice, secure true freedom, or to constrain tyrants,” Bishop Conley said, citing John Paul II’s warning that a democracy without values easily turns into “open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.”

“God, not government, is the only sure guarantee of human rights and the blessings of our liberty. We need to live as if we believe that,” the bishop said. “Only a people who believes these truths to be sacred and self-evident can build a society worthy of men and women created by God.”

The 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion nationwide is an example of how “atheocracy” works by “the violence of the strong against the weak,” he added.

“Without God, there is no basis for morality and no necessary protections for man. The strong decide what is right or wrong — even who lives and who dies.”

The bishop denounced abortion, embryonic experimentation and euthanasia. He also strongly criticized the federal government’s plan to force employers to provide health insurance plans with sterilization and contraceptive coverage, including coverage for abortion-causing drugs.

The push to recognize homosexual unions is another danger, he said, because “our atheocratic government now deems itself competent to rewrite ‘the laws of Nature’s God’ — the God-given definitions of marriage and the family.”

In response to these trends, he said Americans need to restore “our sense of government based on theism and natural law.” They need to recognize “radical secularization” and remind others that “the America we have become is not the America our founders had in mind.”

Faithful citizens should rediscover “the basic religious and Christian values” in the Declaration of Independence, he suggested.
 
The Declaration recognizes the inalienable right to life, but that right is rooted in a broader framework of assumptions about what rights are and where they come from. Despite some “profound moral blind spots” of the American Founders, “the Declaration’s expressed belief in the divine origin of the human person is everywhere presumed in the Constitution.”

“And throughout American history, this belief has served as a goad to our national conscience,” he noted.
“The pro-life movement has always been a force for moral renewal in America,” Bishop Conley said. “Like the abolitionist movement before us, the pro-life cause has always called our country back to its beginnings — as a nation under God. Our country needs our witness now more than ever. The way forward begins with us.”

The bishop praised the White Rose Women’s Center and St. Joseph’s Helpers as “a beacon of hope for Dallas and for our country.”

“I salute you for everything you are doing, at so many levels, to defend the sanctity and dignity of human life.”

The women’s center, founded in 1985, is Dallas’ oldest Catholic crisis pregnancy center. It serves 3,000 women annually at two locations near abortion facilities.

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Colombian girl who was kidnapped to meet Pope

Bogotá, Colombia, Nov 8, 2011 (CNA) - A 10 year-old girl who was kidnapped and eventually freed in Colombia will travel to the Vatican to meet Pope Benedict on Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“The Holy Father followed closely the kidnapping of Nohra Valentina and prayed for her release,” Colombia’s ambassador to the Holy See, Cesar Mauricio Velasquez, said on Nov. 7.

“Now he is pleased to learn of her visit to the Holy See.”

A reporter from the Colombian daily El Tiempo traveled to the town of Fortul to deliver the news personally to Valentina—the daughter of the town’s mayor who was kidnapped for 19 days in late September and freed on Oct. 17.

Velasquez also said the Pope sent a message calling for the release of all the kidnapped in Colombia and urging that children not be involved in the country’s ongoing civil conflict.

Valentina and her family will attend the Mass Pope Benedict will celebrate on Dec. 12 in St. Peter’s Basilica to commemorate the independence bicentennials of various Latin American countries, including Colombia.

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Church gives hope to women who have had abortions, says cardinal

Mexico City, Mexico, Nov 8, 2011 (CNA) - Cardinal Norberto Carrera of Mexico City said that the Church offers healing and mercy to women who have been harmed by abortion.

In an interview published on Nov. 6 in the Archdiocese of Mexico City newspaper, “Desde la Fe,” Cardinal Carrera discussed at length the Church's stance on abortion.

On whether or not the Church condemns women who undergo the procedure, Cardinal Rivera insisted that the Church instead has “a message of reconciliation and mercy” for them. 

“The Church, like the good mother she is, knows that abortion gravely harms women. For this reason she offers them, above all forgiveness, the ointment that cures the wounds caused by abortion,” he said.

“But she also offers them accompaniment so that they can forgive themselves and overcome the well-known symptoms of the trauma of abortion, which some call post-abortion stress syndrome and which those who promote abortion try to cover up,” the cardinal added.

When abortion is freely and consciously chosen, knowing that it carries with it the penalty of excommunication, he clarified, “a woman who aborts and those who cooperate in the abortion are automatically excommunicated, that is, without the need for an ecclesial authority to issue a decree.”

The Church does not suggest that women who undergo abortions be imprisoned, he explained, but rather that the law discourage abortion as something that is a gravely unjust action. He also denounced feminist groups that seek to turn abortion into a “human right” and manipulate public opinion by falsely claiming that it would lead to a decrease in maternal mortality rates.

Recognition of the right to life should be the first right guaranteed in the laws of a just society, the cardinal stressed. “As a consequence, abortion, like any other homicide, should be clearly identified as a crime that upsets the common good of society, with its corresponding penalties.”

Cardinal Rivera noted that those who profit from the morning-after abortion pill or drugs such as RU-486 are also participating in the same evil.

“In any case, we believe generally speaking that those who support the committing of a crime bear responsibility and should in some way be sanctioned. And those who profit from abortion should be punished,” he said.

Cardinal Rivera also outlined the work done by the Church to help pregnant women who are in difficult situations. “Some even offer them hospitality and medical care during pregnancy, as well as help from experts, including psychologists, sociologists and social workers,” he said.

“Some offer legal advice on giving their children up for adoption when they are unable to raise them themselves. Likewise, many of the faithful and many parishes have established support networks for single mothers, and this kind of aid should continue,” the cardinal added.

He also noted that the Church promotes sexual education that based on love and the moral values and virtues that play an important role in the “harmonious development of the person, with unquestionable benefits for society.”

The cardinal spoke out against those who “seek to justify abortion as part of a strategy against violence and delinquency, arguments that frankly are out of step and are of no benefit even to their own cause. Violence cannot be combated with violence.”

Cardinal Rivera then addressed men who abandon pregnant women, telling them that the Church “reminds you of the responsibility you have before God, yourselves and the women with whom you have procreated, whether willfully or as the result of an irresponsible act, and before society as well.”

“Men who do not fully assume their responsibility in the procreation of a child commit a grave injustice and are responsible for a sin,” he underscored. “They degrade themselves, as it is an act of great cowardice. Society should demand through the law that they answer for their actions.”

Contrary to what abortion proponents claim, he said, “the choice to procreate is not only a matter for the woman; reality sets in. Procreation is a shared matter, the responsibility is shared.”

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Archbishop Dolan bars same-sex ‘marriages’ from Catholic facilities

New York City, N.Y., Nov 8, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Clergy and church employees may not participate in the solemnization of a civil same-sex marriage, nor may the property and facilities of the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of New York be used for such events, Archbishop Timothy Dolan said in a recent decree.

“Jesus Christ affirmed the privileged place of marriage in human and Christian society by raising this union to the dignity of a Sacrament when entered into by two baptized persons, the archbishop said in an Oct. 18 decree. “Consequently, the Church has the authority and the serious obligation to affirm the authentic teaching on marriage and to preserve and foster the supremely sacred value of the married state.”

A New York state law recognizing same-sex “marriages” took effect on July 24.

The archbishop stated that no member of the clergy incardinated or assisting in his archdiocese, or any person acting as an employee of the Church, may participate in “the civil solemnization or celebration of a same-sex marriage.”

This includes providing “services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges for such events.”

The ecclesiastical solemnization or celebration of same-sex marriages is “expressly forbidden by canon law,” he added.

Under the decree, no Catholic facility or property, such as parishes, missions, chapels, meeting halls, or any place dedicated, consecrated or used for Catholic worship may be used for the solemnization or consecration of same-sex marriages. No Catholic educational, health or charitable institutions or benevolent orders may be used for such purposes.

The decree also bars items dedicated, consecrated or used for the celebration of Catholic liturgy from being used in such ceremonies. The items include sacred vessels, vestments, and liturgical books.

Archbishop Dolan said that the marital union between one man and one woman was “universally accepted by civil law as a constitutive element of human society, which is vital to the human family and to the continuation of (the) human race.”

The New York legislature’s new law is “irreconcilable with the nature and the definition of marriage as established by Divine law,” the archbishop said.

“The intimate partnership of life and love that constitutes the married state was established by God and endowed by Him with its own proper nature and laws,” he wrote. “According to Divine law, the nature of marriage is defined as a covenant between one man and one woman by which they establish a partnership of the whole life, which is ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children.”

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Proposal made at Vatican for US adult stem cell commission

Vatican City, Nov 8, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

At the Vatican today, former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson urged President Obama to establish a commission to support adult stem cell research.

“I want President Obama to bring all this adult stem cell research together,” Thompson told CNA in Rome on Nov. 7.
 
Thompson says he wants a body created within the National Institutes of Health that will “be able to use the resources that we have in America to really put regenerative medicine into the forefront of therapies creating new breakthroughs in disease control.” 

Thompson is in Rome for a three-day conference jointly organized by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture and the U.S.-based Stem for Life Foundation which promotes adult stem cell research.  He will be joined by over 350 other policy makers, medical experts, educators and religious leaders.

Thompson who is a former governor of Wisconsin and planning to run for the U.S. Senate, outlined how a presidential commission could work.
 
The commission would bring together “private sector business leaders,” who would then “evaluate all of the federal efforts to date surrounding regenerative medicine,” he said. That group would also make “specific recommendations to our president on how we can better coordinate these efforts and unite them with the best of private enterprise.” He noted, however, that “to date, nothing has been done,” by the Obama administration.

Thompson’s idea was well-received by the rest of the launch panel, including Dr. Robin Smith, the president of The Stem for Life Foundation. She told CNA that she found the concept “really interesting.”

“I think it is very important to get Congress and different political leaders like President Obama to understand adult stem cells,” so that “we can unite to get a more impactful outcome, decreasing needless human suffering by getting these therapies into clinics,” she said.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells. From them, all the body’s 200-plus types of tissue ultimately grow. Their incredible versatility means they have the potential to provide replacement tissue to treat numerous disorders. 

The Catholic Church approves of stem cell research but disapproves of those cells being culled from the destruction of an embryo or fetus. “Adult” stem cells are taken from the patient’s existing stem cells or from the placenta or umbilical cord at birth.

Dr. Smith explained that the use of adult stem cells avoids “the ethical dilemma posed by the use of embryonic stem cells,” because adult stem cell research and therapy “allows us to advance scientific knowledge while protecting every stage of existence.”

She also explained that there are now over 3,500 adult stem cell clinical trials already creating “therapeutic benefits for things like diabetes, lupus, MS and blindness just to name a few.” 

The three-day conference, which begins tomorrow, is entitled “Adult Stem Cells: Science and the Future of Man and Culture.”

“This conference is going to dispel a lot of the old myths and bring in a lot of education , a lot of new scientists and new reports are going to be discussed that is going to help the world discuss adult stem cells in a new and better light,” said Thompson.

“It’s at incredibly exciting time to bring together different nations, different political leaders, different religious leaders to help us take adult stem cell therapy to the public,” said Dr. Smith.

She believes that the conference will educate society, advance people’s understanding of the potential the research has to change culture, change lives and decrease human suffering.

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