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Archive of January 31, 2012

Lighthouse Pregnancy Center offers 'true choice' to women in need

Denver, Colo., Jan 31, 2012 (CNA) - Lighthouse Pregnancy Center hosted a dinner and auction on Jan. 26 to help raise the funds needed to open its doors as the first Catholic crisis pregnancy center in Denver, Colo.

“Lighthouse brings together the community to provide education, outreach and services that will encourage and uphold the dignity of women,” said board chairman, Laura Salvato.

Recently, Lighthouse secured property across the street from Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains’ new $6.3 million headquarters. The construction, which is still being completed, heavily relies on volunteer efforts and donations.

“By building and operating a crisis pregnancy center on this site, Lighthouse can offer a true choice to women who seek its services,” Salvato added.

Pro-life actor and film producer Eduardo Verastegui was the keynote speaker at the inaugural fundraiser.

Verastegui recently opened a pro-life medical center for women, Guadalupe Medical Center, in Los Angeles. He referred to it as “an oasis of life” in a “desert of death” because of its location in the midst of 10 abortion clinics.

“I am just so excited to hear that you are doing the same thing,” he told donors, “I think (this is) the best way to really win this culture and turn this into a culture of life.”

Executive director, Rosalinda Lozano, spoke and shared her vision for the center to provide “hope and help for these women who need to know that they are strong and intelligent.”

“If they get into a bad situation, they do not have to have the choice of an abortion,” Lozana said.

The fundraiser featured a live auction including a ski trip in the Rockies, dinner with Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop James D. Conley of Denver, and a private showing of Verastegui's newest film “Little Boy” in the home of the winning bidder.

“We need to think big and … raise just enough for what we need to keep saving many, many, many babies,” Verastegui said when the bidding began to slow.

Donors responded and raised about $140,000 for the center.

Verastegui showed his latest short film “Crescendo” which tells the story of a mother struggling with the choice of whether or not to abort her child. The film will be available online this spring.

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Obama administration's commitment to religious freedom questioned

Washington D.C., Jan 31, 2012 (CNA) - Dr. Thomas Farr believes that the Obama administration’s verbal commitment to protecting religious freedom around the globe is not being backed up with sufficient action.

“The administration has invested far more energy and resources in the international advancement of LGBT rights than it has the advancement of religious freedom,” said Farr, who served as the original director of the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom.

Farr told CNA on Jan. 27 that the current administration is not doing enough to support “one of the most important foreign policy initiatives undertaken by the United States.”

The topic of religious freedom was recently addressed in the video series “Conversations with America,” which features top State Department officials holding online discussions with leaders of non-governmental organizations and citizens from around the country. 

Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, participated in a Jan. 23 session on the role of religion in foreign policy with Dr. Chris Seiple, president of the Institute for Global Engagement.

In her role as ambassador, Johnson Cook advises both the president and secretary of state on issues related to the promotion of international religious liberty, using both diplomacy and public outreach.

During the dialogue, the ambassador said that freedom of religion is “the right for people to believe or not to believe.”

“We are fortunate here in the United States to have it,” she said, adding that “we’ve been practicing it as a nation as long as we’ve been in existence.”

Johnson Cook said that “no country is being ignored” and that important work is being done in “building relationships” with officials in China and other countries where concerns of religious freedom have been raised.

“It is a priority of this administration,” she stated.

However, in Farr’s view, the Obama administration has fallen short of its promise to promote religious liberty.

He says that while steps are being taken “in the right direction,” they are “not nearly enough.”

Farr pointed out that President Obama allowed the ambassador position to remain vacant for more than two years before appointing Johnson Cook. And once she started her job, he said, she was buried “deep in the bureaucracy without authority or resources.”

Farr argued that Ambassador Johnson Cook would be more effective in her position if she were elevated to the same level as other officials who work directly under the secretary of state. In addition, he said, she must be given “the resources to succeed.”

Other efforts must also be made, he added, such as the implementation of mandatory religious freedom training for diplomats.

Farr explained that lack of religious freedom is “a major cause of democratic instability,” as well as “a powerful stimulus to religion-related terrorism.”

These factors make promoting religious freedom “solidly in the interests of the American people,” he said.

During the Jan. 23 dialogue, the importance of global religious liberty was also emphasized by Seiple. He called religious freedom the foundational “first freedom,” and argued that “religious freedom is not about tolerance.”

“Tolerance isn’t good enough,” he said. “We have to have mutual respect.”

Seiple also observed the importance of domestic religious freedom.

“It’s got to start at home,” he said. “If it doesn’t start here, don’t you dare go abroad.”

Religious freedom within the United States has recently been called into question.

In the past week, Catholics have joined with leaders of religious organizations across the country to decry the finalized “preventative services” mandate announced Jan. 20 by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

The organizations argue that the mandate violates their freedom of religion by forcing them to purchase health insurance plans that cover sterilization, contraception and abortion-casing drugs against the teachings of their religion.

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Employee steals $1 million from Archdiocese of New York

New York City, N.Y., Jan 31, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - An Archdiocese of New York employee allegedly stole about $1 million from the archdiocese’s Department of Education Finance Office in a “sophisticated fraud” over several years’ time.

Anita Collins, an employee of the archdiocese since 2003, was fired on Dec. 6, 2011 when the alleged fraud was discovered.

The archdiocese and outside auditors discovered the theft after new oversight controls and safeguards were implemented in 2011, archdiocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling said Jan. 30.

The theft was initially believed to be at least $350,000, but an investigation from the Manhattan District Attorney determined the new estimate.

“The Archdiocese will continue to cooperate fully with the District Attorney’s office in its investigation, and is grateful to the District Attorney for the sensitive yet thorough way that the investigation has been conducted,” Zwilling said.

Collins, 67, allegedly billed the archdiocese for non-existent services and moved the money into accounts she controlled, the New York Times reports. She kept the checks under $2,500, as the low amount did not require approval from a supervisor.

She issued over 450 checks to herself over a seven-year period, an official with the Manhattan district attorney’s office told the Times.

The official, chief of investigations Adam Kaufmann, said most of the money was spent on mortgage payments and “a lifestyle that was not extravagant but was far beyond her lawful means.”

Zwilling said the scheme diverted money for helping students receive a Catholic education.

Collins has a previous conviction of grand larceny. In June 1999 she was arrested on charges that she stole at least $46,000 from a Manhattan temporary employment agency where she worked as a payroll manager. She was sentenced to five years’ probation and ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution.

She pled guilty to a misdemeanor after a January 1986 arrest in the Bronx on multiple counts of criminal forgery and grand larceny.

Collins’ past convictions went unnoticed because she was hired before the archdiocese began regular criminal background checks on all its employees, Zwilling told the New York Times. The archdiocese now conducts these background checks.

Zwilling’s Jan. 30 statement said the archdiocese seeks to be “good stewards” of the money entrusted to it and is “continually working to improve our financial controls in order to prevent such occurrences from happening.”

The archdiocese notified the Archdiocesan Finance Council at the time the theft was discovered.

“Sadly, there will always be individuals who seek to exploit and circumvent whatever system is established, but we will remain vigilant in our oversight,” Zwilling said.

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Abortion law reform must be more than 'cosmetic,' says Spanish bishop

San Sebastian, Spain, Jan 31, 2012 (CNA/Europa Press) -

Bishop Jose Ignacio Munilla of San Sebastian, Spain said he is hopeful that the reforms of the country’s abortion law will not be “merely cosmetic” but will “take into serious consideration” the 1985 ruling of the country’s Constitutional Court that “recognizes the right to life.”

According to Europa Press, in an interview with Radio Euskadi on Jan. 30, Bishop Munilla said the scope of the proposed reforms is not yet known, but that the abortion law passed by the previous administration “is incompatible with current Spanish law as it enshrines abortion as a personal right.”

“We have the duty to fight for the day in which abortion will be a nightmare of the past, like the slavery of those from Africa,” the bishop said.  He noted that women, and not just the unborn, are also the victims of abortion.  “We are seeing more and more women who have had abortions come to us for psychological help, because abortion is always a tragedy,” he said.

In the same interview, Bishop Munilla commented on the decline in the number of Church weddings in Spain, blaming the drop on the high rates of divorce and remarriage outside of the Church.  “This has a great impact on the statistics,” he said.

He also encouraged parents to keep their children in religious education classes and said attempts to expel religion from the public school “can only be understood as crisis of identity.”

“It seems like we are embarrassed of our roots,” he said, adding that it is “impossible” to understand Spanish culture apart from its “religious roots.”

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Mexican city will not charge for seating along papal route

Mexico City, Mexico, Jan 31, 2012 (CNA) -

The mayor of the Mexican city of Leon has announced that the city will not charge people for special seating along the papal motorcade route when Pope Benedict XVI visits the country in March.

After Mayor Ricardo Sheffeld initially said that the city of Leon planned to charge people to sit in the large grandstands that would line the city streets during the papal motorcade, Archbishop Jose Guadalupe Martin Rabago stepped in, calling it a bad idea.

“It would be better not to set up grandstands so that the people who line the streets to see the Pope pass by can do so without having to pay. That was the idea and I think that is what we all wanted, and I think it should be respected,” Archbishop Martin Rabago said Jan. 28.

The apostolic nuncio to Mexico, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, called it “absurd to try to profit from people coming together to see the Holy Father as he motorcades through Leon.”

The mayor issued a press release on Jan. 30 reversing the city’s plans and announcing that there would be no charge to see the Pope.

Archbishop Martin Rabago said workers are preparing for the 750,000 people expected to attend the Pope’s outdoor Mass on March 25.  “The number of tickets that will be distributed has almost been determined, but there are still some adjustments to be made.”

“The platforms for the Mass are still being built, and the engineers and architects still have to make exact measurements in order to determine how many tickets we can provide,” the archbishop explained.

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New Patriarch of Venice approaches job with trepidation and trust

Vatican City, Jan 31, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Bishop Francesco Moraglia was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to the important post of Patriarch of Venice on Jan. 31. Despite the enormity of the job, he trusts God will help him succeed.
 
Bishop Moraglia, 59, told Vatican Radio that when the Pope asked him to move to Venice his “mood at the time was one of trepidation.”

But that quickly changed after he “went to the chapel and talked to the Lord in the tabernacle, saying, ‘In the end you are there, and so I trust in you.’”

During the 20th century, three former Patriarchs of Venice have gone on to occupy the papacy – Pope Pius X, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul I.

The new patriarch hails from Genoa, Italy and was ordained to the priesthood in 1977. Since being ordained he has taught dogmatic theology at various Catholic institutions in northwestern Italy. He has also served as an assistant pastor in a Genoese parish. He was ordained as Bishop of La Spezia-Sarzana-Brugnato in 2008.
 
The veteran Italian religious commentator Sandro Magister describes Bishop Moraglia as “without a shadow of a doubt a ‘Ratzingerian’ in both theology and liturgy.” He also calls him a “man of culture,” who is also keen to advocate the plight of the most vulnerable in society including, at present, those families facing economic difficulties.

Bishop Moraglia said the unemployment data in Italy alone makes him “shudder” because “we are talking about a 30 per cent of young people between 14 and 25 who have no work.” That, in turn, creates serious insecurity for young people as they contemplate the future, he said.
 
Bishop Moraglia sees his role as primarily to “love his people” and to “make people understand that there is this feeling of love, of nearness: standing in their midst.” After that, he said, a bishop must speak and give directions to his people while never losing sight of the fact that he is one of them.
 
During his four years as head of the La Spezia diocese, Bishop Moraglia has presided over a rise in seminary numbers and championed devotional practices like perpetual Eucharistic adoration.

He is now looking forward to shepherding the Archdiocese of Venice during the Year of Faith which begins October 2012.

His “deepest hope” is to be “in the midst of the people,” whom he seeks to serve. He said he does not want to be their “master of the faith” but rather a “collaborator in the joy of these people.”

The Patriarchate of Venice includes the Archdiocese of Venice along with nine suffragan dioceses. The patriarch’s cathedral is St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

Bishop Moraglia succeeds Cardinal Angelo Scola who became Archbishop of Milan last year after nine years as Venice’s patriarch.

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Bishop Lori: Catholics faced with choice between Jesus' mandate or Obama's

Washington D.C., Jan 31, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. Catholic bishops’ chairman for religious liberty says the Obama administration’s contraception mandate tramples “the mandate of Jesus Christ” by requiring Catholic employers to choose between violating their consciences and denying services to non-Catholics.

Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., who chairs the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, denounced the mandate in a Jan. 27 guest article in the Washington Post.

Bishop Lori warned of the “horrific” and “alarming” consequences that would come from forcing Catholic organizations to limit their services to members of their own faith in order to protect their religious liberty.

“In short, the administration is dictating that Catholic institutions and individual employers violate what America has always considered inviolable - their religious liberty and freedom of conscience,” he said.

On Jan. 20, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a finalized “preventative services” mandate requiring virtually all employers to purchase health insurance plans that cover sterilization and contraception, including drugs that cause early abortions.

Although a religious exemption to the mandate exists, religious organizations must restrict their services to primarily members of their own faith in order to qualify for it.

Therefore, Catholic hospitals, schools and social services agencies would not be exempt from the mandate, even though complying with it violates Catholic teaching. 

In his guest article, Bishop Lori explained that by their nature, Catholic institutions follow their founder, Jesus Christ, by serving people “based on need, not creed.”

He noted that Catholic school educators were honored for their contributions to America at a Jan. 25 White House ceremony. In part, he said, these educators were able to make a difference because their schools are open to students of all faiths or no faith at all. 

Catholic schools in the United States teach more than 300,000 non-Catholic students, he said, including up to 90 percent of students in inner-city Catholic schools and over 40 percent of students in Catholic colleges and universities around the country.

The bishop also pointed out that Catholic hospitals serve one out of six people who seek hospital care annually.

“Not all of them are Catholic, and being a Catholic has never been a requirement to receive healing care,” he said.

Bishop Lori also pointed out that Catholic Charities served the needs of more than 10 million people in America last year without distinguishing between Catholics and non-Catholics.

In order to continue their ministry without violating the tenets of their faith, these Catholic organizations and other across the country may be forced “not to feed or clothe, heal or educate practically anyone of another faith or creed,” he said.   

To force this decision would be detrimental to the common good and particularly to the poor and needy of society, he warned.

Bishop Lori finished by saying that forcing Catholic organizations to choose between following Obama’s mandate and Jesus’ mandate “strikes at the very heart of the right to religious liberty on which our country was founded.”

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Sen. Rubio introduces bill to overturn contraception mandate

Washington D.C., Jan 31, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has introduced a bill to repeal regulations issued by the Obama administration that many faith-based organizations say would force them to buy health insurance plans that violate their consciences.

“The Obama Administration’s obsession with forcing mandates on the American people has now reached a new low by violating the conscience rights and religious liberties of our people,”  Rubio said in a Jan. 31 statement.

Rubio also criticized the administration for “forcing religious entities to abandon their beliefs.”

He described his bill, titled “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012,” as “a common sense bill that simply says the government can’t force religious organizations to abandon the fundamental tenets of their faith because the government says so.”

On Jan. 20, the Department of Health and Human Services finalized a “preventative services” mandate that would require employers to purchase health insurance plans that cover sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-causing drugs.

The mandate includes a religious exemption, but it only applies to organizations that exist for the purpose of inculcating religious values and limit their service and employment primarily to members of their own faith.

The limited scope of the exemption means that most religiously-affiliated ministries and groups will not qualify for it.

Rubio introduced his bill on Jan. 31 “to provide religious conscience protections for individuals and organizations.”

The legislation observes that the mandate’s “absurdly narrow exemption,” which is “unprecedented in Federal law,” will exclude thousands of “charities, hospitals, schools or soup kitchens that hire or serve individuals who do not share their religious tenets.”

It points out that “religious freedom and liberty of conscience are inalienable rights protected by the Declaration of Independence and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Rubio’s bill also notes that the Department of Health and Human Services refused to broaden the religious exemption to the mandate “despite receiving thousands of comments protesting” against its narrow scope.

If the bill became law, it will prevent any regulations issued under the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act from requiring “any individual or entity” to provide coverage or information on contraception or sterilization if that individual or entity is opposed to doing so “on the basis of religious belief.”

It also prohibits the imposition of a fine, penalty or other punishment on individuals or entities that make a religiously-based decision not to purchase such coverage.

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After energizing Vatican visit, Southern bishops ready to evangelize

Vatican City, Jan 31, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The bishops of several southern U.S. states say they are returning home from their “ad limina” visit to Rome refreshed and ready to evangelize.

“I think we just felt so energized by being present with the Holy Father,” Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile, Ala. told CNA on Jan. 27.
 
“He is such a gracious man, a great man, a welcoming man. And I just feel very affirmed in my role as a bishop and now look forward to returning to Alabama so I can share that with the people of God.”
 
Archbishop Rodi and 21 of his fellow bishops have been in Rome since Jan. 22 for discussions with Pope Benedict and Vatican officials on the health of the Church in their dioceses. The group comes from the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. They are the fifth delegation of U.S. bishops to visit to Rome in recent months, and on Feb. 1 they will return home.

“The Holy Father is obviously very concerned by evangelization in our world that is becoming increasingly secular and at the same time so hungry for the Word of God,” said Archbishop Rodi, who was part of a group that met Pope Benedict on Jan. 27.

“He made it so beautifully clear,” recalled Archbishop Rodi, “that the foundation of evangelization must be the calling of people into a personal relationship with Christ – those were his words, a personal relationship with Christ.”
 
He said the Pope told them that he knows their “flocks are small but they are important,” and that he wants them to be welcoming all those who seek to enter the Catholic Church.

Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Ala. said the meeting with Pope Benedict gave him inspiration for the forthcoming Year of Faith, which begins Oct. 2012.

“I mentioned to him that he has already written encyclicals on hope and on charity and that we look forward to his next one on faith so that trilogy shall be complete,” he said.

Bishop Baker explained how his diocese is already “cranking up in different ways,” ahead of the Year of Faith. The diocese’s preparations include the creation of a new “catechetical institute” to help certify those who teach the Catholic faith in schools and elsewhere.
 
Pope Benedict was also eager to hear from Bishop Baker about the Eternal Word Television Network, the global Catholic broadcaster based in the Diocese of Birmingham.

He said the Pope was particularly interested in the “efforts towards the new evangelization that are going on through EWTN.”

Pope Benedict also asked Bishop Baker to encourage the station in its “continued collaboration with the Holy Father, the Vatican and bishops across the United States.”

Bishop Baker explained to Pope Benedict how “the flavor of Catholicism in the South is drastically changed” because of the increased numbers of Latinos migrating to the area in recent years.

He related to the Pope how the local Church has stood in solidarity with the immigrant population, particularly over proposed new immigration laws in Alabama which he feels need to be “softened in terms of religious freedom.”

They also discussed the challenge that changing demographics present to the Church’s mission to evangelize.
 
“It calls us bishops into responding ourselves by learning Spanish and about the cultures of Latin America. And then having our priests and seminarians learn the Spanish language, too,” said Bishop Baker.

The challenge is “not just to learn the language but embrace the peoples and the cultures,” he explained.

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