Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 25, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles urged lay Catholics to defend the faith after the Department of Health and Human Services refused to reverse a contraception mandate set to take effect in Aug. 2013.
“In this case, the government is imposing a narrow, radically individualistic idea of religion,” Archbishop Gomez said in a column published this week in his archdiocesan newspaper, the Tidings.
On Jan. 20, Department of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that the administration would not expand a religious exemption for employers who object to its “preventative services” mandate.
The policy, originally introduced in an Aug. 2011 interim rule, requires health insurance plans to cover contraception – including drugs that cause abortion – and sterilization free of charge.
To qualify for a religious exemption under the policy, religious organizations must employ and serve primarily members of their own faith and must exist for the purpose of teaching religious values.
Many religious organizations objected to the rule, however, saying that they would not qualify because they provide education, health care and other services to people of all religions. But the Obama administration dismissed their requests, saying that the religious exemption would not be expanded.
“As many have noted,” Archbishop Gomez said, the exemption for religious groups is so narrow that “much of what Jesus Christ did would not qualify as a 'religious' ministry.”
Everything the Church does, including healthcare, education and ministry to the poor, is “religious,” he emphasized. “All of our ministries and institutions are motivated by our love for God and our mission to spread the Gospel.”
“We don't do these things,” he added, “because we are social workers or philanthropists. We do them because we are disciples.”
Archbishop Gomez said that what he finds most disturbing about the recent announcement is the government's attempt to redefine Catholic charities, hospitals and colleges as non-religious institutions.
The administration is “presuming to have to competence and authority” to define what “religious faith is and how believers should express their faith commitments,” he warned.
“These are powers our government has never before assumed itself to have.”
He called on all Catholics, especially the laity, to “step up to their responsibilities for the Church's mission” and “to be leaders in helping to shape the values and moral foundations of America's future.”
The archbishop also noted the “prophetic advice” that Pope Benedict gave in his Jan. 19 address to U.S. bishops.
The Pope told the bishops of “the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity” that has the “courage to counter a reductive secularism” which is determining “the future of American society.”
Archbishop Gomez encouraged Catholics to pray for the nation's leaders and entrusted his intentions to Mary Immaculate, Patroness of America.
Olympia, Wash., Jan 25, 2012 (CNA) - A Washington state bill that would recognize same-sex “marriage” poses a “grave challenge” to the common good, Archbishop of Seattle J. Peter Sartain warned.
The principles of marriage are “built into human life itself,” he told the state Senate’s Government Operations, Tribal Relations & Elections Committee on Jan. 23.
Washington state's Senate may have enough votes to soon pass legislation recognizing “gay marriage,” the Associated Press reported. The bill is also believed to have enough support in the House and Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Catholic Democrat, has said she will sign it into law.
In his remarks, however, Archbishop Sartain said that because “only the union of a man and woman can generate new life,” no “other human relationship is its equivalent.”
The attempt to redefine marriage, then, “ignores the origin, purpose and value of marriage to individuals, families, and society,” he underscored.
Changing the definition of marriage would also mean there would be “no special laws to support and recognize the irreplaceable contribution that these married couples make to society and to the common good by bringing to life the next generation.”
“Marriage makes a contribution to the common good of society unlike any other relationship, through the procreation, rearing and education of children,” he said. “I urge you to uphold the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
Six other U.S. states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex unions as marriages.
The legislation, S.B. 6239, may require religious organization to provide accommodations, facilities, and services for the solemnization or celebration of same-sex “marriages,” if the organizations offer marriage services to the public for a fee.
The provision could have a financial impact upon churches which rent out facilities for marriages but have religious and moral objections to same-sex unions.
In a statement earlier this month, the Catholic bishops of Washington state said that the proposed legislation would add to “the forces already undermining family life today.”
London, England, Jan 25, 2012 (CNA) - Catholic and Coptic Orthodox leaders in England are encouraging unity between the two churches as society grows increasingly hostile to religion.
“We're facing serious threats of increased secularism and marginalization of religion in general and Christianity in particular,” said Coptic Orthodox Bishop Angaelos.
“As members of first-century churches we really need to both live and introduce people to the wealth, meaning and value of what it means to witness and live our Christianity today,” he stressed.
On Jan. 23, Bishop Angaelos and the Catholic Archbishop of Southwark Kevin McDonald met in London to release the book, “Joint Statements between the Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Churches.”
Both leaders are co-chairmen of the Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum, whose members compiled the statements in an effort to increase awareness on Catholic and Oriental Orthodox similarities, rather than differences.
The book includes remarks by Pope Benedict XVI as well as leaders from the Syrian, Coptic and Armenian Orthodox Churches.
Its release comes during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which runs from Jan. 18-25, and is being observed by over 300 churches and Christian communities around the world.
“It's very easy to become theoretical about theology and forget that we are talking about our faith in the incarnate Word, in salvation, and in the presence of God,” Bishop Angaelos remarked at the event.
“We forget to speak in communion of what we can have in common.”
Bishop Angaelos gave the example of the time he sent a letter of support to the Catholic Church when it refused to facilitate adoptions for same-sex couples in the U.K., as both churches hold the same views against it.
“When you're in a dialogue, it's not about compromise, its about reaching deeply into the biblical routes in such a way that convergence can be developed,” Archbishop McDonald said. “The purpose of publishing this book is precisely to engage people in this process at a local, grass-root level.”
“We're not talking about agreed statements from theologians that have yet to be ratified,” he said. “We're talking about agreed statements to which the Catholic Church is already committed.”
Bishop Angaelos observed that these “differences will be resolved because Christ makes one promise about one flock and one shepherd and we will be unified one day.”
He noted upcoming global events in the U.K., such as the 2012 summer Olympics and Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee of 60 years on the throne, as times when the churches should speak with “a very clear Christian voice.”
If “our faithful don't see us working together, it's pointless to preach about love, forgiveness and acceptance from the pulpits,” Bishop Angaelos said.
He also hopes to hold shared prayer gatherings between the two churches in the future and to involve more locals.
Rome, Italy, Jan 25, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Israeli-built wall between Jerusalem and the West Bank is deterring staff and students from attending Bethlehem Catholic University, officials from the school say.
“We lose students but we also lose faculty who have been teaching at the University and who come from Jerusalem but don´t want to go through that humiliation every day,” Brother Jack Curran, the university’s Vice President for Development, told CNA on Jan. 18 during a two-day visit to Rome.
“The young people are very resilient and are willing to put up with a lot but it does concern us for the future,” he said.
The barrier is a 26 foot wall erected by Israel to separate itself from the Palestinian-controlled West Bank. Israel says the wall protects them from Palestinian terrorism. Opponents of the wall say it breaks international law and illegally annexes parts of Palestinian territory.
Bethlehem Catholic University sits close to the wall on the Palestinian side, but many of its students come from East Jerusalem, which lies on the Israeli side.
“There are students, now about 20 percent of students, who go through the checkpoints of the wall every day, twice a day, coming and going,” explained Br. Curran, an American from upstate New York, who has been in Bethlehem for nine years.
“Bethlehem is the only Catholic university in the Holy Land, so any Christian or Catholic students in Jerusalem who want to go to a Catholic university have to do that,” he explained.
Br. Curran said that many of the students find the routine of checkpoints and searches “wearing and tearing on their spirits.”
“They tell us the hardest part is not going through the wall but the thoughts about what happens when you’re on your way to the wall: ‘Will I be strip searched or taken off the bus and forced to sit in the sun for an hour or two, or will it be that I’m waved through?’”
Bethlehem Catholic University was founded in 1973 as a joint venture between the Vatican and the De La Salle Christian Brothers. Initially the school only had 112 students enrolled, but this year it has over 3,000 attending classes.
Br. Curran finds his students are remarkably resilient in the face of adversity.
“Amazingly, their spirits are still very positive and upbeat and they come every day,” he said. “They have a choice to come or not. But they do come and we’re grateful that they do.”
Br. Curran is more concerned about losing staff members who find the extra difficulties created by teaching in Bethlehem simply “too much for their spirits to bear.”
He offered the example of Palestinian academics who are not allowed to fly out of Tel Aviv Airport in Israel to attend international conferences but, instead, have to travel to Amman, Jordan. The trip to Amman involves an overnight stay on both the outgoing and return journey.
“It practically doubles the expense of any travel that has to happen, and so when a faculty member has to think about going to a conference they have to think about the extra burden,” he explained.
“Meanwhile, the staff who live in Jerusalem have to go through that wall twice a day. And after a few years of doing that many decide to look for a job elsewhere, regrettably so.”
Br. Curran said Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in 2009 was extremely helpful to the university because he said “tough things” to the leaders in Israel and Palestine.
In his meetings with Vatican officials in recent days, Br. Curran has been urging the Holy See to continue speaking out, because “their words do have an impact.”
“We look forward to the rest of the international community to be likewise critical of the injustices wherever they occur, whether they are on the Israeli side or the Palestinian side,” he stated.
“In many ways, it seems to me that it boils down to issues of human rights – justice – and then when these are addressed, we will see peace and prosperity being possible.”
Rome, Italy, Jan 25, 2012 (CNA) - Father Ricardo Reyes Castillo, a member of the Neocatechumenal Way, said Pope Benedict XVI’s approval of the movement’s non-liturgical celebrations “has changed absolutely nothing.”
The Panamanian priest told CNA on Jan. 23 that the papal approval of the celebrations contained in the Neocatechumenal Catechetical Directory means “simply that the Church has confirmed that the rites used in the different stages of formation in the Neocatechumenal Way are in accord with the tradition of the Church.”
“This is just another step in the process through which the Church lovingly follows the faithful who belong to this experience of faith,” he added.
The Pontifical Council for the Laity approved the ceremonies outlined in the Catechetical Directory of the Neocatechumenal Way, specifying that this approval applied to those celebrations “which are not, by their nature, already regulated by the liturgical books of the Church.”
Fr. Reyes said the members of the movement “are grateful because they feel guided and protected under the wings of the Church, which has always shown herself to be a mother.”
On Jan. 20, Pope Benedict XVI met with more than 7,000 members of the Neocatechumenal Way and thanked them for their valuable service to the Church. He encouraged them to proclaim Christ and reminded them of the public nature of the Eucharist, saying their communities should be integrated into the local parishes where they are present.
Vatican City, Jan 25, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Jesus’ “priestly prayer” at the Last Supper for Christian unity should inspire Catholics to pray and work for it, Pope Benedict XVI said on Jan. 25.
“His priestly prayer can thus be seen as instituting the Church, the community of the disciples who, through faith in him, are made one and share in his saving mission,” the Pope said at his weekly general audience.
He also urged Catholics to pray “for the gift of the visible unity of all Christ’s followers, so that the world may believe in the Son and in the Father who sent him.”
The Pope addressed his remarks to thousands of pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on today’s Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the day that brings the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity to a close.
The “priestly prayer” of Christ is recalled most vividly in Chapter 17 of the Gospel of St. John. In order to understand “its immense richness,” said Pope Benedict, it must be seen “against the backdrop of the Jewish feast of expiation, Yom Kippur.”
During Yom Kippur, he explained, the Jewish High Priest sought “atonement first for himself, then for the order of priests and finally for the community as a whole.”
In an identical fashion, “Jesus, as priest and victim, prays that the Father will glorify him in this, the hour of his sacrifice of reconciliation.” Jesus also “asks the Father to consecrate his disciples, setting them apart and sending them forth to continue his mission in the world.”
The Pope then broke down the prayer into its three main parts.
Benedict XVI first touched on Jesus’ prayer that he would be glorified, when he said “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you.”
The Pope pointed out that this prayer is “more than a request.” It is “a declaration of willingness to enter freely and generously into the Father's plan, which is accomplished through death and resurrection.”
As the new High Priest, the glory Jesus seeks for himself “is to be fully obedient to the Father, an obedience which leads Him to fulfill His filial status.”
The second prayer Jesus prays to his Father is for his disciples, who “do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth.”
“To sanctify means to transfer something – a person or thing – to God,” explained Pope Benedict. This involves two complementary aspects of “segregation” or being “set apart” from the world, and then “being sent out” to evangelize the world.
For the disciples of Christ, this meant continuing “Jesus’ mission,” he said.
Finally, Jesus prays for future generations of Christians, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.” In this “Jesus prays for the Church in all times, he also prays for us,” said the Pope.
“The main element in Jesus’ priestly prayer for his disciples,” he taught, “is his request for the future unity of those who will believe in him.”
Christian unity is “not a worldly achievement” and “derives exclusively from divine unity and comes down to us from the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit,” the Pope said.
Today was the latest installment in the Pope’s weekly catechesis on prayer. He concluded today’s gathering by leading those present in singing the Our Father in Latin, before imparting his apostolic blessing.
Washington D.C., Jan 25, 2012 (CNA) -
Witnesses at a Jan. 24 House subcommittee hearing on human rights abuses in Vietnam urged the U.S. government to intervene on behalf of those who are oppressed in other countries.
Former U.S. congressman Anh “Joseph” Cao testified that the repression of minorities in Vietnam is growing worse.
The country “has no intention of keeping the promise that it made to the U.S. congress in 2006” to improve its human rights record, he said.
Cao was one of the witnesses at the Tuesday afternoon hearing, which focused on the suppression of ethnic and religious minorities in Vietnam, as well as human trafficking that involves both labor and sexual abuse.
The former congressman described how Vietnamese authorities exert pressure on religious groups to make them submit to government control. Those who do not “are often harassed, arrested, imprisoned, or put under house arrest.”
Cao recounted for those present how the land and facilities of Thai Ha Catholic parish in Hanoi were seized by the government.
He also testified that Catholic priests and the leaders of other minority religious groups are threatened and sometimes subject to violence.
“Faced with these atrocities, the Obama administration’s approach is to stand by and watch,” Cao charged.
Human trafficking victim Phuong-Anh Vu, another witness, described her experience as both a Catholic and a Hmong, a minority ethnic group in Vietnam.
She related how she was deceived into participating in a labor export program, in which she was taken to Jordan and forced to work long hours in poor conditions for one dollar per day.
Vu said that she and her companions were physically abused by both security guards and local police, with the knowledge and support of a delegation from the Vietnamese government.
Several other witnesses called on the U.S. government to address the human rights violations in Vietnam, noting that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has urged the State Department to add the country to its list of “countries of particular concern.”
This status indicates that a nation’s government has “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom” and opens the door to economic sanctions or other U.S. penalties.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the House of Representative’s foreign affairs subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, encouraged the U.S. to act swiftly to “exert pressure on the government to cease these abuses.”
Last year the congressman introduced the Vietnam Human Rights Act, a bill that would prohibit an increase in non-humanitarian assistance to Vietnam unless the country meets certain requirements in respecting human rights, including religious freedom and the rights of minorities.
He called on the U.S. government to adopt his legislation and take other measures to end the Vietnamese violation of a “broad array of human rights.”
Toledo, Spain, Jan 25, 2012 (CNA/Europa Press) -
Archbishop Braulio Rodriguez of Toledo, Spain recently spoke of the impact a crisis can have on humanity.
“The crisis can and should be an incentive to reflect on human existence and the importance of its ethical dimension,” the archbishop said during a Jan. 23 Mass honoring St. Ildefonso, the patron of Toledo.
Orthodox Archbishop Policarpo Stravropoulos of Spain and Portugal also attended the Mass.
“When we recite the prayer for peace, we confidently pray that those who are suffering hunger, tribulation or illness, those who are going through difficulties or are burdened with debt or sadness, be liberated by the generous mercy of the Lord,” said Archbishop Rodriguez. He added that the prayer for peace is beautiful for the “complex” times in which we live because we can be “gripped by fear.”
“Christians cannot fall into this fear. Yes, the present moment is characterized unfortunately by a deep uneasiness and by various crises in economic, political and social life,” and that this is affecting not only families but also companies in the most economically advanced countries.
“It also affects the developing countries as well,” he added.
“We should not be discouraged—the Holy Father said in his discourse to diplomats on Jan. 9—but rather begin our journey again with determination, with new forms of commitment. The crisis can and should be an incentive to reflect on human existence and on the importance of its ethical dimension,” the archbishop said.
“St. Ildelfonso must intercede for us before Jesus Christ so that we can trust in the help of our faith and in the possibilities that are always opening before us, if we are open to the Gospel and to its liberating force, if we proclaim Christ and his Gospel to those who do not know it and if we deepen in the grace of our Christian initiation,” he explained.
“Perhaps we have thought or still think that only the things around us can save us and give us happiness. Is that so? Isn’t there more, brothers and sisters? We know we need temporal things but without forgetting those that are eternal,” the archbishop said.
“We wish the economy was better, but is this not a chance to open our hearts in ways that do not draw us away from God and from love of neighbor, from the common good, justice and the healthy and good things that life has to offer?” he asked.
Washington D.C., Jan 25, 2012 (CNA) - A Democratic-leaning Catholic group’s favorable reaction to the Obama administration’s new contraception mandate is being criticized for neglecting the threat to religious freedom and wrongly claiming that contraception lowers the abortion rate.
“This is a real attack on the religious freedom of millions of Americans. People who care about the future of our country should not stand idly by,” said Eric Rassbach, national litigation director of the D.C.-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
James Salt, executive director of Catholics United, responded to the HHS ruling on Jan. 20.
“Although we recognize the authority of Catholic teaching on the issue of contraception, we also acknowledge that there is a silver lining in today's ruling,” Salt said. “Increased access to contraceptive services will dramatically reduce the abortion rate in America. Reducing abortion should be a goal recognized by both sides of this highly polarized debate.
“Furthermore, we look forward to working with the administration in finding a win-win solution that will both meet the medical needs of women while protecting the religious liberty of Catholic institutions.”
Rassbach, whose organization represents two universities challenging the mandate, questioned Salt’s depiction of the conflict.
“The problem is that for our clients, paying for abortion drugs or contraception or sterilization is an absolute evil. The comment seems to take a utilitarian approach of the ‘greater good’ that is anathema to our clients' religious beliefs. It is not a ‘win’ if our clients are being forced to help end lives.”
The Department of Health and Human Services’ new rule requires that all employers who do not meet a narrow religious exemption provide insurance coverage for sterilization and contraceptives, including a drug that can cause abortions. The rule could cause Catholic health systems, universities, and other organizations to pay for procedures and drugs whose use they consider sinful.
Rassbach challenged contemporary arguments that there is a balance between religious liberty and other rights.
“Unfortunately it's not even a balance. Wherever push comes to shove, ‘reproductive rights’ always trump religious liberty, which is supposed to be protected by the First Amendment,” he told CNA on Jan. 24.
Jennifer Roback Morse, president of the San Diego-based Ruth Institute, said there is “absolutely no evidence” that increased contraception access lowers the abortion rate.
Catholics United’s claim, she said, assumes “a very naïve, unsophisticated, superficial model of human behavior that doesn’t take account of any longer-term social consequences of introducing something as radical as the idea that you can separate sex from childbearing,” Morse told CNA on Jan. 24.
“Because contraception reduces a person’s probability of getting pregnant, people presume that increased access to contraception will reduce problem pregnancies. But that turns out not to be true.
“What happens with contraception, and a contraceptive culture, is that people engage in more sexual acts than they otherwise would. If you have something that has a low probability, if you do it enough times, sooner or later the low probability event will happen.”
Morse cited the investigations of Nobel Prize-winning economist George A. Akerlof, who found that the widespread use of contraception and abortion significantly changes the relationship between men and women.
“The pressure on women to be sexually active, just to have a date or compete in the marriage market, just goes through the roof.”
While sexually active unmarried women once could rely on an implicit promise of marriage if they became pregnant, that is no longer the case.
“So you end up with more abortion, more out-of-wedlock childbearing,” Morse said.
Morse also challenged the claim that contraception is medical care. Oral contraception, she said, is “a very powerful pill given to people who are perfectly healthy to stop a perfectly normal healthy process from taking place.”
Oral contraceptives also have medical side effects, she said, and do not prevent STDs.
She criticized the “attempt to sever the link between sex, childbearing and marriage,” recalling that its backers promoted the effort on the basis of choice, freedom, and allowing people to do what they want.
“But this contraceptive mandate proves that that whole premise is false. And it always was false. They have never really been about making people free. They are always really been about creating an alternate moral universe where sex, marriage and childbearing are disconnected.
“They have never been willing to actively, positively affirm and defend what they are doing. They hide behind ‘choice.’”
The mandate, Morse said, is “a demand for conformity.”