Springfield, Ill., Jan 11, 2012 (CNA) - Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Springfield, Ill. has announced a major reorganization in response to the state’s termination of its foster care and adoption contracts. The agency intends to strengthen its Catholic identity and become more self-reliant in funding its services.
“It is imperative that Catholic Charities is not eliminated from the public consciousness as a result of this unfortunate conflict with the state,” said Steven Roach, the agency’s executive director.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services ended the contracts because the Catholic agencies would not place children in homes of unmarried couples, including homosexual couples and those in civil unions.
The contracts provided the Springfield agency with about half of its revenue, or $5 million per year, the Illinois State Journal-Register reports.
Catholic Charities agencies have served thousands of children and families in Illinois since 1921. Collectively, they handled about 20 percent of the adoption and foster care cases in Illinois.
“We are forever grateful for the compassion and sacrifice of our foster care staff and parents who have dedicated their lives to helping abused children,” Roach commented.
He said the diocese’s Catholic Charities will continue to work with the Department of Children and Family Services and designated receiving agencies to “minimize any potential disruptions” for those served by its foster care programs.
The reorganization intends to maintain all seven regional offices across the diocese and to continue Catholic Charities’ commitment to the communities it has served for decades, the agency said Jan. 9.
The “significant financial impact” of the contracts’ termination means that some services will be scaled back. Roach said the agency intends to restore all programs to their current capacity by increasing community support in the future.
Catholic Charities’ diversification of services is “a real strength,” he added.
“Catholic Charities serves thousands of children and their families through the many programs we offer. While our overall budget will be reduced, the impact on the lives of the many people we serve remains substantial.”
Catholic Charities of Springfield has provided services throughout the 28-county diocese since 1925.
Its services include counseling, food pantries, Meals on Wheels, elderly guardianship, family services, financial and crisis assistance, health clinics, and resale stores.
“These programs serve thousands of people every year and allow us to fulfill our faith-directed mission of helping the poor and suffering in our midst,” Roach said.
The Springfield agency and other Illinois Catholic agencies had challenged the contract termination in court but lost in both state circuit and appellate courts.
Attorneys argued that the requirement to place children with unmarried couples and with those in civil unions violated the agencies’ religious principles. They also said religious agencies had been guaranteed exemptions under other state laws and during the legislature’s debate over the civil unions bill, which passed in 2010.
Ibadan, Nigeria, Jan 11, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholic bishops in Nigeria have criticized President Goodluck Jonathan's decision to stop oil subsidies, a choice that has doubled gas and food costs in the already unstable nation.
“As things stand, we consider it immoral to remove the petroleum subsidy while we run a government of such dysfunctional dimension and cost,” the bishops of the Ibadan province declared after the government stopped public support for oil as of Jan. 1.
They said it was “immoral to impose removal of the petroleum subsidy on economically weakened Nigerians while political office holders continue to live in embarrassing opulence.”
Over 10,000 people protested in the city of Lagos on Jan. 9, according to the Associated Press. Labor unions called a strike in response to President Jonathan's move, which he says will save the country $8 billion a year and allow for development of infrastructure and other public needs.
But the bishops, including Ibadan Archbishop Felix A. Job and Bishop Emmanuel A. Badejo of Oyo, voiced skepticism in light of past promises that have not come to fruition, as well as the government's “many policy somersaults and failure to provide security for life and property.”
These conditions, they said, “have created an unfriendly business environment which the mere removal of subsidy cannot reverse.”
“It may not be fair to blame the Jonathan government alone for all the woes of Nigeria,” the bishops stated. “But this government must take full responsibility for the insensitive timing and execution of this policy on fuel subsidy.”
The move has come during a volatile time for Nigeria, including church attacks during the Christmas season that killed at least 40 people, for which the Islamist group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility.
Meanwhile, an ethnic land dispute in the country's southeast left 50 people dead on New Year's Eve, and five deaths were reported after an attack on a mosque and school in the southwest. Abuja's Archbishop John O. Onaiyekan has told Catholics and other Christians not to retaliate against violence.
On Jan. 8, President Jonathan said Nigeria's current situation was “worse than the civil war” that took place over the secession of Biafra from 1967 to 1970 and led to one million deaths.
The president said today's problems were “more complicated,” involving Islamist influence over security forces in a state largely divided between northern Muslims and southern Christians. A Boko Haram spokesman said on Jan. 1 that the group was giving Christians three days to leave the north.
Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Jos agreed with the president's warning against religious sectarianism, in his Jan. 9 comments to Fides news agency.
“The Biafra war had ethnic and political roots; the Boko Haram attacks imply ethnic, social, political, religious and even criminal dimensions,” explained the archbishop. “For this reason, the current situation is more dangerous than the time of the Biafra war.”
The Archbishop of Jos said that both Christians and Muslims are fearful and considering migration. He called on the government to “act decisively to stop the violence and rebuild a climate of mutual trust and safety for every Nigerian who lives in every part of the country.”
Denver, Colo., Jan 11, 2012 (CNA) - A Colorado proposal to recognize same-sex civil unions is a “dangerous and unjust” effort to redefine marriage warns Bishop James D. Conley, the apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Denver.
“We do not know the long-term consequences of creating a parallel for marriage, distinct from its ancient and natural meaning. But we do know they will be severe,” Bishop Conley said in his Jan. 11 column for the Denver Catholic Register.
He said that a renewed legislative push for civil unions in the state threatens to erode the “unique status” of marriage as between one man and one woman.
This upcoming weekend, the Colorado Catholic Conference will ask Catholics to sign postcards to legislators in opposition to the move.
Bishop Conley urged people to participate in the campaign because “it allows each of us to speak the truth – to ask the government to respect the plan for marriage God has given us.”
“Doing so protects children, protects marriage and, ultimately, protects the common good of all of us.”
He warned that recognizing civil unions for same-sex couples would allow them to adopt children and infringe on religious liberties for many groups. Some also view civil unions as “a stepping stone” to endorsing polygamous relationships.
“Redefining marriage means that government will try to redefine truth,” he said.
He then cited Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of Oakland, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ conference subcommittee on marriage.
Bishop Cordileone recently said that civil unions can “in no way” be considered a permissible compromise or an advance for the common good.
“(I)nstead, they directly violate principles of justice and accelerate the push to redefine marriage itself.”
Marriage is “among the oldest human institutions,” Bishop Conley emphasized, saying that “the communion of husband and wife is a unique reality that has no true parallel.”
The Denver bishop observed that throughout history, political thinkers have believed that protecting families is at the heart of government’s responsibility.
He said that laws which protect marriage ensure that families can provide children “the right to two parents, a mother and a father, who can love them and care for them.”
Marriage laws also require men to treat women with dignity, he noted, adding that the “exclusive and permanent bond” of a married man and woman cannot be redesigned by “legal dictate.”
Bishop Conley pointed to Church teaching that Catholics must treat individuals with same-sex attraction with “dignity and love.” Those who have homosexual inclinations are not evil, though the inclination is a “tragic distortion of the great gift of sexuality God has given us.”
The essentials problem with civil union laws, he explained, is that they “endorse and sanction that distortion by suggesting that homosexual relationships are equivalent to marriage.”
The Catholic bishops of Colorado have also stressed that opposition to civil unions is not voiced out of desire to deny fundamental civil rights and is not a condemnation of homosexual people.
“We affirm what our Church teaches – namely, that we must treat our homosexual sisters and brothers with dignity and love, as we would all God’s children,” they said in a joint statement.
In 2006, Colorado voters defeated a same-sex civil unions ballot measure by 52 to 47 percent.
Last year the Democrat-controlled Colorado Senate passed a civil unions bill for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples by a vote of 23-12. The bill died in a committee of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where the Republicans have a one-vote majority.
The bill is planned to be reintroduced in the new legislature.
In recent decades, the state has become a hub for homosexual advocacy movements. Its wealthy backers include multi-millionaire Coloradan Tim Gill, who is pursuing a strategy of targeting opponents of gay political causes at the local level to eliminate future leaders opposed to his efforts.
In April 2011, Gill’s lawyer Ted Trimpa told Denver’s Fox 31 News that Gill could spend as much as $2 million in 2012 state political contests to shift the state House to Democrat control.
A group of Republicans called Coloradans for Freedom has also joined the push for civil unions.
Vatican City, Jan 11, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI continued his series of reflections on prayer at his Jan. 11 general audience by explaining why the Eucharist stands at “the apex” of all Christian prayers.
“By participating in the Eucharist we have an extraordinary experience of the prayer which Jesus made, and continues to make for us all,” he said to the 7,000 pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.
Jesus offers us this prayer, he taught, so that “the evil we encounter in our lives may not triumph, and that the transforming power of Christ’s death and resurrection may act within each of us.”
The Pope’s reflections today were part of his ongoing set of discourses on prayer. He devoted his Jan. 11 words to explaining the deep significance of the Last Supper in salvation history, with “its overtones of the Passover and the commemoration of Israel’s liberation.”
This connection is why the prayer of Jesus “echoes the Hebrew berakah, which includes both thanksgiving and the gift of a blessing.” Christ’s act of “breaking the bread and offering the cup on the night before he died” thereby becomes “the sign of his redemptive self-oblation in obedience to the Father’s will,” the Pope said.
In doing so, Pope Benedict taught, Jesus revealed himself as “the true paschal lamb” which brings the ancient worship of the Jewish people to fulfillment.
It was also Christ’s wish that the supper be “something special, different from other gatherings,” and so he “gave something completely new: Himself,” in anticipation of his cross and resurrection.
“He offered in advance the life that would shortly be taken from him, thus transforming his violent death into a free act of the giving of self, for others and to others. The violence he suffered became an active, free and redemptive sacrifice.”
The Pope said that in contemplating the words and gestures of Jesus “we can clearly see that it was in his intimate and constant relationship with the Father that he accomplished the gesture of leaving to his followers, and to all of us, the sacrament of love.”
He also gave support to his disciples, knowing the difficulty they had “in understanding that the way of God had to pass through the Paschal mystery of death and resurrection, which was anticipated in the offer of bread and wine.”
Pope Benedict noted that even today the Eucharist is “the food of pilgrims” as well as “a source of strength” for those who are “tired, weary and disoriented.”
He concluded his reflection by praying that the Eucharist “always remain the apex of all our prayers,” especially through proper preparation for it, including receiving the Sacrament of Penance.
Among the more noticeable guests at this morning’s general audience was a live Cuban crocodile brought to the Vatican by the staff of Rome’s zoo, the “Bioparco,” which is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary.
The Cuban crocodile is an endangered species and can only be found in a small part of Cuba. Today’s specimen will be returned to the country in March which, by coincidence, is also when Pope Benedict visits the Caribbean island.
Valencia, Spain, Jan 11, 2012 (CNA/Europa Press) - A Spain-based publisher released a graphic novel on the life of Blessed Jacob Gapp, a priest from Austria who was killed by the Nazis in Valencia during World War II.
“I Will Not Give In: The Life of Santiago Gapp,” was issued by SM Press in December of 2011 and illustrated by Valencian artist Pacosales.
The book features drawings and illustrations of the life of Blessed Gapp and is based on a biography written by Spanish priest Father Jose Maria Salaverri.
The Austrian martyr was born in Wattens in 1897 and after fighting in World War I in the country's armed forces, he joined the Marianists order and became a priest.
His fiery sermons against Hitler, who annexed Austria in 1936, made him a local hero and inspired resistance to the Nazis. He was forced to flee from the Gestapo in 1939 and eventually went to Valencia in 1941, where he took up residence at the Marianist home at Our Lady of the Pillar School. There he worked as a teacher and chaplain.
A few months later in May of 1942, two young Germans pretending to be Jews fleeing Nazi persecution came to the school and asked the priest for help.
They became very good friends to the point that the two young men asked him to instruct them in the Catholic faith in order to receive baptism, the archdiocese of Valencia reported.
Days before the baptisms were set to take place, Fr. Gapp was invited by his two friends to travel to the city of San Sebastian to meet some of their acquaintances. During the trip, they fooled him into passing through the town of Hendaya, a city just on the other side of the border with France, which was occupied by the Germans.
There he was arrested by the Gestapo and taken to Paris and then Berlin. He was subjected to intense interrogations for months and finally beheaded on Aug. 13, 1943.
Fr. Gapp was beatified by Pope John Paul II on Nov. 24, 1996.
Lima, Peru, Jan 11, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal Robert Sarah, the head of the Vatican charity Cor Unum, promised to aid relief efforts by the Archdiocese of Lima in Manchay, one of the poorest suburbs of the Peruvian capital.
“I have listened to your pastor and I can say that the Lord is present in Manchay with his love and blessing,” Cardinal Sarah said during his visit to the country on Jan. 9.
“I want to thank you for everything that I have seen, and I can say in the name of the Pope that I wish to participate in your pastoral work,” he added, while making his commitment to ensure aid to the suburb.
Cardinal Sarah noted that if Pope Benedict were present, “he would have made the same promise to participate in the pastoral work of this place.”
“I bless you and I promise I will pray for each one of your families and for each of you. May God grant you health and peace.”
After observing the pastoral work in the region first-hand, Cardinal Sarah later encouraged the residents of Manchay to instill the love of God in their children. He also described the task Pope Benedict has entrusted to him at the Cor Unum to reach out to those who are suffering.
Cardinal Sarah said he traveled to Peru to visit the holy places associated with life of St. Rose of Lima, whom he has been devoted to since he was a young boy.
“I am here to get to know Peru, but above all to venerate a saint I learned about when I was young, St. Rose of Lima,” he said.
The cardinal added that his home parish in Guinea, Africa – which is named after the saint – will celebrate its 100th anniversary in February.
He said that “in order to spiritually prepare myself and my people, I wanted to come on pilgrimage to the various places where St. Rose of Lima lived.”
Vatican City, Jan 11, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Vatican Museums broke attendance records in 2011 with just over 5 million people entering its doors.
“It is, in a particular way, objectively amazing,” wrote Antonio Paolucci, Director of the Vatican Museums, in L’Osservatore Romano newspaper on Jan. 10.
By way of comparison, Paolucci said that Florence’s Uffizi Gallery is Italy’s “most famous and most popular” museum but it is only able to accommodate 1.5 million people in a year.
The visitor numbers for the Vatican Museums put it in the same bracket with British Museum in London, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Prado in Madrid. Meanwhile, the Louvre in Paris remains the continent’s most visited museum with 8.5 million guests every year.
While he is delighted by the popularity of the Vatican Museums, Paolucci also stressed that “it is wrong to measure the importance of a public art collection based on the number of visitors,” particularly in Italy where art and history are found “equally in the squares and streets in towns and rural villages.”
At the same time, Paolucci said that the Vatican Museums now fall into small category of no more than 10 museums worldwide that can be regarded as “great museums” and thus are an “irresistible” attraction for tourists to Rome.
He attributed the record attendance to the Museums’ reputation and the “prestige” of being part of the Holy See. In 2010, the museums reported having almost 4.7 million people roam its halls and galleries.
Pope Julius II founded the museums in the early 16th century. They are now home to some of the most renowned classical sculptures and Renaissance art in the world.
Among the most popular exhibits for visitors are the four “Raphael Rooms,” painted by the Italian Renaissance artist and his workshop, and the Sistine Chapel created by Michelangelo.
Paolucci said that the record number of visitors also creates an increased challenge with noise levels, as well as the need to continually improve visitor services such as cafeterias, restrooms, bookshops, tour guides and access for the disabled.
“In short, we are aware that to enter the ‘club of the five million’ means that the great museums of the world face problems until now recently unknown, and we will experiment with new solutions.”
Washington D.C., Jan 11, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Jan. 11 to uphold the “ministerial exception” that allows religious organizations to hire and fire ministers without interference from the government.
The decision marks a “big rejection of this administration’s treatment of religious liberty,” said Mark Rienzi, an attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which helped represent Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church in the case.
Rienzi told CNA on Jan. 11 that the Hosanna-Tabor case is “easily the most important religious freedom case in the last 20 years.”
In Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, teacher Cheryl Perich claimed that she was illegally fired by Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School of Redford, Mich.
After being diagnosed with narcolepsy, Perich tried to return from disability leave but was told that a substitute had already been hired for the year. When she threatened to file a legal complaint, she was terminated from her position.
Perich claimed that she was fired illegally out of retaliation for threatening to take legal action. But Hosanna-Tabor said that Perich was dismissed on religious grounds because she acted against the church’s commitment to internal dispute resolution.
Perich argued that her firing violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, and filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sued Hosanna-Tabor.
In its defense, Hosanna-Tabor invoked the “ministerial exception,” a principle drawn from the religion clauses of the First Amendment. It allows religious groups to make employment decisions free of government intervention.
The Supreme Court sided with Hosanna-Tabor in its Jan. 11 ruling, observing that requiring a church to keep an unwanted minister “interferes with the internal governance of the church” by preventing it from selecting “those who will personify its beliefs.”
The decision was centered around the designation of Perich as a “minister,” a finding that was rejected by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in an earlier ruling.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the “ministerial exception is not limited to the head of a religious congregation” but applied to Perich’s position as well.
In making its decision, the court noted that the Hosanna-Tabor employed both “lay teachers” and “called teachers.” Perich was employed as a “called teacher,” meaning she was regarded as having been called to the position by God.
In addition, the court observed that Perich was “commissioned as a minister” and that she taught religion classes in addition to secular subjects. She also led students in regular prayer and devotional exercises.
Rienzi said the ruling could have far-reaching consequences.
He said that the Obama administration has consistently held a “stingy view” of what qualifies as religion under the law.
This view is exemplified in the very narrow religious exemption permitted by the Health and Human Services mandate requiring health insurance providers to cover contraception, he said.
By unanimously upholding the rights of religious groups, the court has struck a “very big blow” to the administration’s narrow definition of religion, which it described as “extreme,” “remarkable” and “untenable,” Rienzi said.
He explained that the decision could have “ripple effects” as courts continue to examine the contraception mandate and other decisions by the Obama administration dealing with the freedom of religious organizations.
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Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ ad hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, hailed the court’s decision as “a victory for religious liberty and the U.S. Constitution.”
“Freedom of Religion is America’s First Freedom and the Court has spoken unanimously in favor of it,” he said. “The Founding Fathers would be proud.”
Bishop Lori said that the ruling “makes resoundingly clear the historical and constitutional importance of keeping internal church affairs off limits to the government.”
He observed that the ability of churches to choose their ministers is important because “whoever chooses the minister chooses the message.”
“It is a great day for the First Amendment,” he said.
Washington D.C., Jan 11, 2012 (CNA) - Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman finished third in the New Hampshire primary amid unanswered questions on his commitment to defending life and marriage.
He vowed to stay in the race despite failing to win the majority of the votes in the Jan. 10 primary, declaring that third place is “a ticket to ride.”
Mitt Romney took first in New Hampshire, earning nearly 40 percent of the vote. Ron Paul placed second with almost 23 percent, and Huntsman trailed a distant third, with about 17 percent of the vote.
Huntsman avoided speaking about abortion and gay unions in his Jan. 10 speech, choosing to focus instead on the need to address American debt, institute Congressional term limits and bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan.
The GOP hopeful said that Americans “no longer trust their elected officials” and promised to fix the “trust deficit” if elected president.
Huntsman served as governor of Utah from 2005 to 2009, when he resigned to accept an appointment as ambassador to China.
He campaigned heavily in New Hampshire, holding at least 170 public events in the state, far outstripping the other candidates.
Political analysts had suggested that he might surprise viewers with a high turnout, much as Rick Santorum did in Iowa, coming within eight votes of front-runner Mitt Romney.
However, with 95 percent of precincts reporting, Huntsman had accumulated fewer than half the votes earned by Romney.
Many of Huntsman’s view are less well-known than those of the other candidates. The former Utah governor has declined to participate in several debates and forums that his competitors attended. He also skipped the Iowa caucus to campaign in New Hampshire.
Ambiguities on issues of life and marriage have also surrounded Huntsman’s campaign.
Pro-life advocates have applauded his pro-life record, noting that he is a father of seven, including two adopted daughters from overseas.
As governor of Utah, Huntsman signed pro-life bills prohibiting second-trimester abortions, requiring abortionists to inform women about fetal ability to feel pain and creating a legal defense fund to defend a ban on abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
He has said that he supports a right-to-life amendment to the U.S. Constitution and warned that America must not trade human life for economic advancement.
However, he has also expressed support for embryonic stem cell research in some cases, a position that has led to questions about his commitment to protecting all human life.
The former ambassador’s views on marriage have also been called into question. In 2004, he supported a Utah constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
However, he has also voiced support for civil unions, a move that some suggested may have been politically connected to his role as ambassador to China.
Huntsman has largely avoided the subject of marriage throughout his campaign.
After his third place finish in New Hampshire, the Republican candidate will now turn his attention toward South Carolina, where he is trailing in the polls with just days remaining before the state’s primary.