Washington D.C., Feb 9, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Despite rumors of a compromise on the government's controversial contraception mandate, the White House has not offered any concessions to the U.S. bishops’ conference and has not contacted them about possible negotiations.
Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn. told CNA in a Feb. 8 statement that “no one from the Administration has approached the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops for discussions on this matter of a possible ‘compromise.’”
Bishop Lori, who chairs the bishops’ committee for religious liberty, maintained that “the only acceptable solution to the HHS mandate is for the Administration to rescind completely the mandate to cover abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception.”
He stressed that no organization or employer should “be compelled to pay for, provide for, or to refer others in any way to ‘services’ which violate their consciences.”
Rumors of a possible compromise surfaced after David Axelrod, a senior adviser for President Obama’s re-election campaign, mentioned during a Feb. 7 MSNBC interview a need to find “a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventive care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions.”
On Jan. 20, the Obama administration announced a new mandate that will require virtually all employers to purchase health insurance plans that include coverage of contraception, sterilization and drugs that cause abortions.
The announcement prompted a strong outcry from religious schools, hospitals and charitable organizations, as well as Catholic individuals running secular businesses, who say that the requirement would force them to violate their religious beliefs.
However, despite the storm of protest, the Obama administration has refused to broaden the exemption to the mandate.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said at a Feb. 8 press briefing that Obama remains committed “to ensuring that women have access to contraception without paying any extra costs no matter where they work.”
He added that the administration is holding “further discussions” with those that have voiced concerns about the mandate, to discuss ways to “implement this policy” in a manner that will “allay or resolve some of those concerns.”
When he was questioned about the administration’s decision not to reach out to the bishops during these ongoing “conversations,” Carney responded, “Certain individuals may say they haven't had a call, but others have been engaged in this conversation and will be engaged.”
Bishop Lori emphasized the importance of finding a solution that respects the conscience rights of both religious organizations and private individuals.
“Narrow solutions often end up entangling church and state in needless disputes, which result in government coercion of conscience,” he said.
“Religious liberty has been granted to churches and to individuals not by the State but by the hand of God,” Bishop Lori pointed out. “It is the first of our freedoms in the Bill of Rights and at the heart of all the other freedoms.”
Bishop Lori called on the Obama administration “to rescind those parts of the mandate that violate the religious freedom of our religious institutions, and the consciences of millions of Americans.”
Bogotá, Colombia, Feb 9, 2012 (CNA) - Archbishop Ruben Salazar of Bogota, head of the Colombian bishops' conference, insisted that the local rebel group FARC put an end to the decades-long civil conflict in the country.
“Let them lay down their weapons” and “stop with the excuses,” the archbishop told reporters on Feb. 6.
In a statement issued on Feb. 7, the FARC attempted to justify its latest attack which left seven people dead on Feb. 2 by saying its members are “defenders” of the people. It blamed the killings on Colombian soldiers who it claims “use the people as their shields” and therefore “forced” the rebel group to strike back.
Archbishop Salazar voiced confidence in his remarks to the press on the measures being taken by President Juan Manuel Santos, who met with the bishops this week during their plenary assembly.
“We need to believe in President Santos and that the FARC could at some point take steps towards peace,” he said.
On the rebel group's latest statement, Bishop Juan Vicente Cordoba, secretary of the Bishops’ Conference, said Colombians should not accept another drop of blood to fall upon the country.
Bishop Cordoba said both the FARC and the Colombian army should review their military objectives to keep from harming the civilian population which opposes the violence.
Rome, Italy, Feb 9, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican’s sex crimes prosecutor says the Church should fight against a culture of silence as it combats the “sad phenomenon” of sexual abuse in society.
“The teaching of Blessed John Paul II that truth is at the basis of justice explains why a deadly culture of silence or 'omertà' is in itself wrong and unjust,” said Monsignor Charles J. Scicluna, Promoter of Justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on Feb 8.
“Omertà” is a term that describes the code of silence practiced by members of the Mafia.
The 52-year-old Maltese cleric was addressing the “Towards Healing and Renewal” symposium being hosted the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome from Feb 6-9. The gathering has brought together over 140 representatives from bishops' conferences and 30 religious orders worldwide.
All such groups have until May 2012 to submit new guidelines for preventing abuse to the Vatican for approval although many already have such guidelines in place.
He explained to delegates how the best guide on the Church’s “moral and legal duty” to seek the truth when allegations are made can found in a 1994 address given by Blessed Pope John Paul II to the Vatican’s highest appeal court, the Roman Rota. On that occasion the late Pope outlined five principles that should inform the actions of those investigating allegations of abuse.
The first was that “justice is at times called truth,” which means that a culture of silence has to be rejected. Msgr. Scicluna said this principle requires the facts to be established “with a spirit of fairness” to both the alleged victim and the accused as guided by the Church’s canon law.
“Other enemies of the truth are the deliberate denial of known facts and the misplaced concern that the good name of the institution should somehow enjoy absolute priority to the detriment of legitimate disclosure of crime,” he explained.
Pope John Paul’s second principle was that justice based on truth “evokes a response from the individual’s conscience.”
“The acknowledgment and recognition of the full truth of the matter in all its sorrowful effects and consequences,” explained Mgsr. Scicluna, “is at the source of true healing for both victim and perpetrator.”
While experts in psychology could explain how and why perpetrators develop “coping mechanisms” such as denial, there is “no substitute” for “the liberating effect on a cleric’s conscience” which comes from the “full, humble, honest and contrite acknowledgment of his sin, his crime, his responsibility for the harm he has caused to the victims, to the Church, to society.”
Similarly, there is a “radical need” for victims to be “heard attentively, to be understood and believed, to be treated with dignity as he or she plods on the tiresome journey of recovery and healing,” he said.
Pope John Paul II’s third maxim was that “truth generates confidence in the rule of law, whereas disrespect for the truth generates distrust and suspicion.”
He praised the late Pope for promulgating the 2001 Motu Proprio “Sacramentorum sanctitatis” which updated and strengthened the Church’s laws for dealing with allegations and incidents of abuse.
He explained how the document had raised clerical abuse to the level of a “delicta graviora” or “grave crime” in Church law and, in doing so, took the issue to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. These rules have since been revised and strengthened by Pope Benedict XVI, he said.
“The law is clear,” said Mgsr. Scicluna, but “the faithful need to be convinced that ecclesial society is living under the governance of law.”
It is “not good enough,” he said, for the promotion of “peace and order in the community” that the law is simply clear but also that “people need to know that the law is being applied.”
The fourth principle proposed by Pope John Paul in his 1994 address was the duty of the Church “towards the common good.” In alleged cases of abuse, said Msgr. Scicluna, the Church would include the safety of children as a “paramount concern” which is essential to any understanding of “the common good.”
He told delegates that this included a “duty to cooperate with state authorities.”
“Sexual abuse of minors is not just a canonical delict or a breach of a Code of Conduct internal to an institution, whether it be religious or other. It is also a crime prosecuted by civil law,” he said.
The fifth and final principle of Pope John Paul II was that respect for the Church’s guidelines should not be distorted by “pastoral” concerns.
Mgsr. Scicluna recalled how in 1994 Pope John Paul had warned of “the temptation to lighten the heavy demands of observing the law in the name of a mistaken idea of compassion and mercy.”
The 2011 investigation into lapses of child safety in the Irish Diocese of Cloyne found that the former Vicar General of the diocese had not upheld the Irish Church’s 1996 guidelines on mandatory reporting as, he felt, they compromised his “Christian duty of pastoral care.”
Mgsr. Scicluna again quoted Pope John Paul’s advice from 1994 that “if the rights of others are at stake, mercy cannot be shown or received without addressing the obligations that correspond to these rights.”
He concluded his address to the symposium by stating his belief that “the honest quest for truth and justice is the best response we can provide for the sad phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors by clerics.”
Washington D.C., Feb 9, 2012 (CNA) - A recent national poll found that 50 percent of Americans oppose the Obama administration's mandate forcing religious groups to cover contraception in health insurance plans.
The Feb. 8 Rasmussen Reports telephone poll showed that only 39 percent of Americans think the government should require Catholic institutions to pay for “birth control measures” even if Catholics are morally opposed to it. Ten percent of those who responded said they were undecided.
The analysis also indicated that 65 percent of Catholic voters oppose the mandate, along with 62 percent of Evangelical Christians and 50 percent of other Protestant denominations.
Over one third of people practicing other faiths oppose the Health and Human Services mandate.
The poll comes amid a storm of criticism over secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius' Jan. 20 announcement that virtually all employers will soon be required to purchase health insurance plans that cover contraceptives – including abortion-inducing drugs – and sterilization.
It also follows a Feb. 7 Public Religion Research Institute analysis which claimed that only 52 percent of voting Catholics oppose the mandate.
Catholic League president Bill Donohue called the Public Religion Research Institute poll “flawed” because the questions failed to mention that the government would place sanctions on non-compliant organizations and that the mandate includes the coverage of abortifacients, not just contraception.
“In short,” Donohue said, “the question was dishonest...wait until Catholics find out what's really at stake.”
Donohue criticized the Obama administration's mandate and said that it is “just an opening for mandating abortion in every healthcare plan.”
The Rasmussen poll indicated that 77 percent of those polled believe individuals should have the right to choose between different types of health insurance plans, while only nine percent disapproved of an individual's ability to choose.
The same poll indicated that the majority of Americans, 54 percent, believe the cost of health insurance will increase if insurance companies are required to cover all government-approved contraceptives. Only 21 percent believe there would be no change in cost.
Irondale, Ala., Feb 9, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Catholic media network EWTN sued the federal government Feb. 9, challenging the Obama administration's rule requiring many religious ministries to subsidize contraception and sterilization in their health plans.
“We had no other option but to take this to the courts,” EWTN President and CEO Michael Warsaw said in an announcement about the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday. “There is no question that this mandate violates our First Amendment rights.”
“Under the HHS mandate, EWTN is being forced by the government to make a choice,” Warsaw explained. “Either we provide employees coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs and violate our conscience or offer our employees and their families no health insurance coverage at all. Neither of those choices is acceptable.”
Senior attorneys at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed the suit on behalf of the media network, against the Department of Health and Human Services, department secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and other government agencies involved with the federal contraception mandate.
Finalized Jan. 20, 2012 as part of federal health care reform, the mandate forces all employers – except those that primarily hire and serve members of one religious faith and exist for the sake of promoting religious values – to buy insurance coverage that will offer sterilization and contraception without a co-pay.
Because EWTN serves not only Catholics but the public at large, the network would not qualify for the religious exemption offered by Secretary Sebelius.
At least one of the mandate's required drugs, the emergency contraceptive “Ella,” has the potential to cause an early-stage abortion.
The U.S. Catholic bishops have denounced the rule that “forces religious employers and schools to sponsor and subsidize coverage that violates their beliefs, and forces religious employees and students to purchase coverage that violates their beliefs.”
In his announcement of the lawsuit, Warsaw said the federal contraception mandate was “particularly hard on Catholics, because Catholic organizations, such as hospitals, schools, social service agencies, media outlets and others, serve people regardless of their religious beliefs.”
But he made it clear that the federal rule should concern people of all beliefs.
“We are taking this action to defend not only ourselves but also to protect other institutions – Catholic and non-Catholic, religious and secular – from having this mandate imposed upon them.”
Along with the public opposition from over 160 U.S. Catholic bishops, the rule has also drawn opposition from the Eastern Orthodox churches as well as Protestant and Orthodox Jewish leaders.
Meanwhile, Secretary Sebelius has given non-exempt religious institutions an extra year to comply with the “preventive services” mandate. During this time, however, these religious employers must refer their staff to providers of the same drugs and devices.
Warsaw pointed out that this alternative, proposed as a temporary accommodation, also trampled EWTN's conscience rights.
“The government is forcing EWTN, first, to inform its employees about how to get contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs, a concept known as forced speech.”
“To make the matter worse, the government then will force EWTN to use its donors’ funds to pay for these same morally objectionable procedures or to pay for the huge fines it will levy against us if we fail to provide health care insurance.”
If the administration's rule remains in place, the media network could eventually face fines of over $600,000 annually for refusing to underwrite policies contradicting its beliefs.
“This is a moment when EWTN, as a Catholic organization, has to step up and say that enough is enough,” the network's president and CEO declared.
Health and Human Services' rule is also facing legal challenges from Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic institution, and from the interdenominational Colorado Christian University.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing all three ministries in their lawsuits. Lawyers from the fund recently won a 9-0 victory against the federal government in a Supreme Court case regarding the self-governance of a Lutheran church and school.
EWTN is providing further information about the mandate and its lawsuit at www.ewtn.com/hhsmandate.
Vatican City, Feb 9, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A bishop’s love for Jesus Christ and the Church can overcome all his fears, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said at St. Peter's tomb on Feb. 9.
Cardinal George is visiting the Vatican along with the bishops of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, who began their “ad limina” visit today.
“In the responsorial psalm we asked the Lord to protect us, to take away our fears, which means that the psalmist and the apostles were afraid at times – as are we. There is reason to be afraid. But, nonetheless, stronger than fear is faith, and stronger than both is love,” he said.
Cardinal George was the main celebrant and homilist at the early morning Mass in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica. He told his brother bishops to take heart from today’s psalm, which proclaims, “I sought the Lord and he heard me and he delivered me from all my fears.”
He also reflected upon the martyrdom of St. James the Greater and the imprisonment of St. Peter.
“We bring our local churches to this most sacred spot, we bring our knowledge of a faith that is born of love and that is perfected by our love for our people and for Christ himself and his apostles,” said Cardinal George.
“And so we take from the tomb of Peter the mission that was given to him, and his successors, even as we prepare this morning to meet his successor, Pope Benedict XVI.”
Over the next nine days, the bishops will meet with the Pope and various Vatican departments to discuss the health of the Church in their respective dioceses and across the United States. The "ad limina" visit takes place every five years and also involves the bishops making a pilgrimage to the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul.
The issue of religious freedom is likely to be near the top of the agenda throughout, due to the Jan. 20 announcement by the Obama administration that it will force nearly all religious and secular institutions to pay for sterilization, contraception and abortifacients as part of their health insurance coverage.
Prior to the rule being finalized, Pope Benedict described it in January as a “grave threat” to religious liberty in the United States.
In their prayers of intercession this morning, the bishops prayed for “all Americans during the election year,” that God may “inspire voters to choose leaders who respect the freedom of their people to worship the one true God.”
Cardinal George also recalled a comment by Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York who, at the last gathering of U.S. bishops, highlighted how “the conversion of St. Paul taught the early Christians that Jesus and his Church are one.”
“We cannot separate Jesus from the Church,” said Cardinal George. “When that is done and the Church is lost, inevitably Jesus is lost. And when Jesus is lost, God is forgotten.”
After a post-Mass breakfast at the Pontifical North American College, the bishops of Indiana and Illinois had an audience with Pope Benedict XVI. Meanwhile, the bishops of Wisconsin met with officials at the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.
Bilboa, Spain, Feb 9, 2012 (CNA) - Catholic bishops in the Spanish dioceses of Bilbao, San Sebastian and Vitoria criticized the public television station EITB for pulling an ad that promoted religion classes in public schools.
Church leaders called the move “a violation of fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and religious freedom” after the station said the the public service announcement was “incompatible” with their advertising policies.
In a statement sent to CNA on Feb. 7, the bishops said the two ads (one in Spanish and the other in Basque) were sent to the station, which were slightly edited and then aired two days later.
They were soon pulled off the air, however, and despite complaints from the bishops, the station has reaffirmed its decision.
The bishops said the ad removal reflected “a secular outlook that sees religion as something to be excluded from social life” which is “unsuitable for a public institution at the service of all.”
The ads featured two mothers discussing the importance of religious education for their children and encouraged parents to sign their children up for religious classes.
Religious instruction in public schools in Spain is optional, and parents must sign their children up in order for them to attend.
Rome, Italy, Feb 9, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - An international symposium addressing clerical sex abuse concluded on Feb. 9 with the announcement of a new internet-based Center for Child Protection.
“If the Church is now once again taking on its task of being a sign and sacrament of God's love, and putting the protection and promotion of the life of children at the very center of its interests then such actions and work are a decisive contribution towards evangelization,” said Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich at the launch press conference in Rome.
The global “e-learning center” provides online training for professionals involved in responding to the sexual abuse of minors.
It's being coordinated by the Ulm University in Germany, the Archdiocese of Munich and Rome’s Gregorian University, hosts of the “Towards Healing and Renewal” conference that took place Feb. 6-9.
The effort has an initial budget of $1.6 million dollars to cover its first three years from 2012 to 2014. The training package is delivered in modules, takes a total of 30 hours to complete and is available in four languages – English, Spanish, Italian and German.
“As a clinician who has some experience in medical education, I know that these e-learning tools are very strong tools if you really want to spread out knowledge,” Professor Jörg Fegert of Ulm University’s Department for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy told CNA.
He explained how the German society felt stung into action following a high profile clerical abuse scandal in 2010. Cardinal Marx today recalled it as “the worst and most bitter year” of his life.
In the following months the federal government in Germany set up a dedicated telephone call centre staffed by psycho-therapists to survey the extent of sexual abuse across the country.
“People were free to phone and tell their story,” explained Professor Fegert, “and they were asked to give advice to the government what we should do in Germany to make a better environment for children.”
The findings suggested that 57 percent of abuse took place within families and 27 percent in institutional settings such as churches, schools or sports clubs. Of those institutions, 38 percent were Catholic, 12 percent Protestant and 49 percent secular.
Those behind the new “Center for Child Protection” hope it can be used way beyond the confines of the Catholic Church.
“The internet gives us the possibility to reach people all over the world,” said Professor Fegert. He hopes to provide both “top down” advice online while enabling a “bottom up” development in different countries “where people can adapt the programs to their own cultural environments.”
Today’s announcement concluded a four-day symposium that has brought together over 140 bishops’ conferences and religious orders in Rome to discuss the issue of clerical abuse. All such Catholic groups have until May 2012 to submit guidelines for dealing with allegations and instances of abuse to the Vatican for approval. Many, however, already have such guidelines in place.
“Without doubt, the debate over the sexual abuse of children and adolescents has greatly damaged the Church,” concluded Cardinal Marx.
“But if we try to understand these events also on a spiritual level, then they can be a major impetus towards conversion and renewal, and so towards rebuilding credibility, step by step.”
The Center for Child Protection can be found at www.elearning-childprotection.com.
Washington D.C., Feb 9, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
President Barack Obama’s decision to require religious employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception and sterilization is an “unconscionable” violation of religious freedom, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) says.
“President Obama is using the coercive power of the state to force people of faith and people of conscience to violate a fundamental conviction or suffer severe penalty,” Rep. Smith said Feb. 9.
“By coercing all health insurers including faith-based institutions to pay for all means of preventive programs including subsidizing abortifacients like Ella and Plan B, President Obama demonstrates a reckless disregard for conscience rights,” he stated.
“Everyone must comply regardless of moral convictions or religious tenets simply because Obama says so.”
The Department of Health and Human Services mandate will require many Catholic health care providers, educational institutions and charities to provide employees with no-co-pay insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception.
The narrow religious exemption for the mandate is narrow and does not cover many religious institutions.
The Catholic media network EWTN has filed lawsuit against the rule. Network president and CEO Michael Warsaw said the rule forces EWTN to use donations to pay for objectionable coverage and to tell employees how to obtain the drugs or procedures.
Failure to provide the mandated insurance policies means the network could face fines of over $600,000 annually. The HHS department will assess a fine of $2,000 per employee on an annual basis.
Rep. Smith charged that President Obama’s attitude on conscience fits “a dangerous emerging pattern.”
He cited the withdrawal of a federal grant to a U.S. bishops’ conference program that helps victims of human trafficking because the conference would not refer for abortions.
“If Obama’s attack on conscience rights isn’t reversed, faith-based employers will be discriminated against and fined, and employees who today benefit from health insurance plans provided by their faith-based employer will be dumped into government health exchanges,” he said.
The congressman said that Republican House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has made religious freedom protection a “high priority.” Boehner announced on Feb. 8 that fellow congressman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) was preparing legislation to repeal the mandate.
While there have been rumors of a compromise on the mandate, Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport,Conn. told CNA in a Feb. 8 statement that no one from the Obama administration has approached theU.S. bishops’ conference for discussion.
Bishop Lori, chair of the bishops’ committee for religious liberty, said “the only acceptable solution” is for the administration to rescind “completely” the mandate to cover abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception.