Hollywood, Calif., Feb 14, 2012 (CNA) -
Rapper Nicki Minaj drew ridicule from viewers of the 2012 Grammy Awards on Feb. 12, with a performance that parodied the Catholic rites of confession and exorcism.
“No Lady Gaga performance at the 2012 Grammys? Bummer. But wanna-be controversial rapper Nicki Minaj was happy to do her best Gaga imitation,” the Hollywood Reporter wrote of the spectacle, which featured dancing monks and altar servers and ended with Minaj levitating in the presence of a “bishop.”
In a Feb. 13 statement, Catholic League President Bill Donohue wondered, “Is Nicki Minaj possessed?”
Donohue, however, was not the only one perplexed by the appearance of Minaj's altar ego “Roman Zolanski” – who began the number by singing a Broadway tune in a mock-confessional, and later had her frenetic rapping interrupted by a hymn-singing choir.
Reactions on the social media network Twitter, as reported by the Washington Post, included: “Can't go to sleep, I'm scared Nicki Minaj is going to come in my room,” and “Dear Nicki Minaj, you make me grateful for fast forward on DVR.”
One Twitter user quipped that the blind soul singer Stevie Wonder was “the luckiest man in the crowd at the Nicki Minaj performance.”
Donohue, however, was not amused by the garish and sexualized use of Catholic imagery.
“All of it was approved by the Recording Academy, which puts on the Grammys,” he noted. “Whether Minaj is possessed is surely an open question, but what is not in doubt is the irresponsibility of the Recording Academy.”
“Never would they allow an artist to insult Judaism or Islam.”
The Catholic League president has previously criticized similar decades-old stunts by Madonna, as well as Lady Gaga's 2010 revival of religious motifs in her “Alejandro” video.
In his reaction to the 2012 Grammys, Donohue said it was “bad enough that Catholics have to fight for their rights vis-à-vis a hostile administration in Washington without also having to fend off attacks in the entertainment industry.”
“The net effect, however, will only embolden Catholics, as well as their friends in other faith communities,” he predicted.
Minaj had arrived at the awards ceremony in a red cowl, alongside an older man dressed as a Catholic bishop. Described by some media reports as a “Pope look-alike,” he figured in her act's pyrotechnically-enhanced finale along with the mock altar servers, choir, and various backup dancers.
The rapper, whose work incorporates a variety of flamboyant fictional personas, was nominated for “Best New Artist” but lost out to folk-rock band Bon Iver.
Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, Feb 14, 2012 (CNA) -
A church in the Ukraine that Soviet authorities once seized for use as a “monument of communism” will once again be a place for Christian worship after renovations remove a neo-classical façade erected to disguise its nature.
“The church does not look like a place of worship. It wears a mask, as it were. It is in disguise. We want to take away this mask,” Fr. Grzegorz Romanowicz, the Franciscan Capuchin provincial in the Ukraine, told the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
“Until now, many people do not even recognize the building as a church from the outside.”
St. Joseph’s Church in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine is now in Catholic hands after a 20-year-long ownership dispute. Franciscan Capuchins now have pastoral care of the church, and the last stages of restoration are underway.
Since 1949 the church was used as a library, a boxing hall and offices. Soviet authorities erected the façade in 1949 to hide the building’s origin as a church. That façade is set to be removed later in February.
Fr. Romanowicz said the church was originally seized to serve as a “monument of communism.” Since the confiscation, the façade has acted like “a gag on the Church” that forces it into silence.
“Now the Church seeks to win back its identity.”
The Catholic Church moved to reclaim the property after the government promised in 1988 to return all religious property which had been confiscated. The building’s then-owner, Dugsburry Inc., contested a ruling that the Catholic Church was the property’s rightful owner.
The dispute even turned violent when security guards physically attacked believers, including elderly women, who were peacefully demonstrating for the property’s return.
The ongoing disagreement led to neglect of the building. Its roof was removed, exposing 130-year-old frescos to the elements. A 2006 arson also caused major damage. The property was legally recognized as church-owned in 2009, but other bureaucratic problems kept repairs from being made.
Aid to the Church in Need has given grants of about $185,000 to the church restoration project. It believes the building is important to pastoral work in the area.
Dnipropetrovsk is the third largest city in the Ukraine. It is within the Catholic Diocese of Kharkiv and Zaporizhia. The diocese serves about 60,000 Catholics, about three percent of the local population.
Washington D.C., Feb 14, 2012 (CNA) - Catholic Charities USA issued a new statement voicing uncertainty over the Obama administration's “accommodation” for religious freedom within its contraception mandate.
A second press release from the charitable organization comes as several Democratic politicians used the group's original statement on Feb. 10 to defend President Obama's new rule as a compromise that satisfies Catholics and respects religious freedom.
In an initial statement released shortly after the new policy was announced on Feb. 10, Catholic Charities USA said that it was “deeply appreciative that the Administration has recognized the importance” of allowing religious organizations to remain faithful to their deeply held beliefs.
The organization said that the “compromise” would allow it to continue its work of serving the needs of more than 10 million people across the country each year.
Under the new “accommodation,” religious employers will not be forced to directly purchase contraceptive coverage in their employees' health care plans. Instead, they will be required to buy plans from insurance companies that offer them without cost.
But numerous individuals, organizations and members of Congress have voiced objections to the new policy. They argue that insurance companies will raise their prices to account for the “free” contraceptives, and so employers will still be indirectly paying for the products that find morally objectionable.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) touted the “support” of Catholic Charities as a justification for the new policy in a Feb. 11 Huffington Post article, as did White House chief of staff Jack Lew on Fox News Sunday.
On Feb. 11, however, Catholic Charities issued a revised statement that takes a more hesitant approach to the new rule.
The organization said that it welcomes the Obama administration’s “attempt to meet the concerns of the religious community” and that it is looking forward to “reviewing the final language” of the new policy.
Catholic Charities said that it is “hopeful” that the new policy will be “a step in the right direction” and reaffirmed its commitment to “continuing our work to ensure that our religious institutions will continue to be granted the freedom to remain faithful to our beliefs.”
The charitable group joins the U.S. bishops and numerous other religious organizations that have been doubtful that the new policy is adequate to safeguard religious freedom and rights of conscience.
Many have noted that the details of the new rule remain unclear and have suggested that legislation is still necessary to protect religious liberty.
Washington D.C., Feb 14, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Over 200 college presidents, academics, religious leaders and journalists have signed a letter that denounces President Obama’s “accommodation” to the contraception mandate for failing to “remove the assault on religious liberty.”
“It is an insult to the intelligence of Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other people of faith and conscience to imagine that they will accept an assault on their religious liberty if only it is covered up by a cheap accounting trick,” the letter states.
Its signatories include Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Dr. Paige Patterson, Catholic University of America president John Garvey, Rabbi David Novak of the University of Toronto, and 206 other professors, scholars, journalists and religious leaders.
The list of signers includes a substantial number of representatives from the University of Notre Dame, but not the university’s president, Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C.
Titled “Unacceptable,” the letter was released Feb. 14 on the website of the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom, in response to President Obama’s Feb. 10 change to the contraception mandate. The Obama administration’s regulation will now require all insurance companies to cover contraception, sterilization and some abortion-causing drugs, without charge.
Although President Obama’s revision was panned as a “compromise,” the signers of the letter rejected that description because the new rule “still coerces religious institutions and individuals to purchase insurance policies that include the very same services” they objected to before.
“It is no answer to respond that the religious employers are not ‘paying’ for this aspect of the insurance coverage. For one thing, it is unrealistic to suggest that insurance companies will not pass the costs of these additional services on to the purchasers,” the letter states.
It is a morally weak argument, the signers say, to assert that it is different for the insurance company to explain to an employee that she is "entitled to the embryo-destroying 'five day after pill,'" than for the religious employer to do so.
"It does not matter who explains the terms of the policy purchased by the religiously affiliated or observant employer. What matters is what services the policy covers."
The letter closes by observing that since the new policy contains the same narrow religious exemption as the first version of the mandate, the Obama administration “has effectively admitted that the new policy … amounts to a grave infringement on religious liberty.”
Lima, Peru, Feb 14, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The rector of the Pontifical University in Peru has been called to the Vatican to discuss the results of a recent apostolic visit to the school in the wake of its refusal to update its statutes according to Church directives.
The Apostolic Nunciature in Peru announced on Feb. 13 that Marcial Rubo will meet with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone on Feb. 21.
The two are slated to discuss the conclusions of the visit that was carried out in December of 2011 by Cardinal Peter Erdo of Ezstergom-Budapest, president of the Council of European Bishops.
In 2010, the Constitutional Court of Peru acknowledged the right of the Archdiocese of Lima to have a seat on the university’s board of directors, but university administrators did not follow the order.
On Sept. 23, 2011, the university assembly led by Rubio voted to refuse to comply with the Vatican directive to modify its statutes in accord with the Church’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae. The decision put the university’s status as a pontifical and Catholic institution in jeopardy.
Administration officials were also ordered to acknowledge the Archdiocese of Lima’s right to elect the university rector from among three candidates proposed by the university assembly.
On Sept. 21, the Archdiocese of Lima announced the Holy See would appoint an apostolic visitor to investigate the dispute. Cardinal Erdo arrived in Lima in December and met with university officials, the Archbishop of Lima and others involved in the case.
After the visitation concluded, some administrators said the Vatican’s directive was “non-binding” for the university.
San José, Costa Rica, Feb 14, 2012 (CNA) - At the conclusion of their annual meeting, the bishops of Costa Rica urged the country to reject the legalization of abortion and in vitro fertilization and adopt laws that protect life.
In a statement issued Feb. 10, the bishops criticized numerous proposals for abortion, in vitro fertilization, and same-sex unions, saying they “do not address the real needs of our nation and take no account of the dignity of the human person, the nature of the family and the values of Costa Rican society.”
The bishops also recognized the role of schools in helping to educate children but warned that when it comes to the issue of sexual education, “under no circumstance can parents be forced to allow their children to receive sexual education that is reduced to graphic sexual information stripped of moral values and that uses a language and methodology that does not respect the natural modesty of children or the authority of their parents.”
They also expressed support for the work of religious education teachers, who ensure that “students receive instruction in doctrine and Catholic practice” and help to pass on “the perennial values of our culture.”
“We call on the media, the social networks and those who shape public opinion to put aside their economic, political and ideological interests and use these instruments responsibly and in a spirit of service to the common good to promote the authentic values that foster Costa Rican society,” the bishops said.
The Church leaders announced that the 4th National Eucharistic Congress would take place next year in the Diocese of Cartago, coinciding with the centenary of the first congress held in 1913.
They also joined in prayer for the success of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Mexico and Cuba March 23-28, “that it may be a time of spiritual renewal for these sister nation and for the Church in Latin America.”
Washington D.C., Feb 14, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Most U.S. Catholic voters disapprove of President Barack Obama's job performance and support Mitt Romney, according to a February 2012 survey by the polling firm Rasmussen Reports.
Its national telephone survey, conducted Feb. 6-12 amid controversy over the federal contraception mandate, found that 59 percent of likely Catholic voters at least “somewhat disapprove” of the Obama presidency.
While 54 percent of Catholics voted for Obama in the 2008 election, only 35 percent of likely Catholic voters in Rasmussen's latest poll said they were currently backing him in the 2012 race. Support for Mitt Romney among likely Catholic voters currently stands at 52 percent.
In total, Rasmussen found, Catholics who “strongly disapprove” of the president comprised 44 percent of the faith's likely voters. They outnumbered, by more than two-to-one, those Catholics who say they “strongly approve” of the current presidency.
Catholic disapproval with the presidency, as of February 2012, is nearly 10 percent higher than in the general population. Among all likely voters, Rasmussen found that 49 percent disapproved, and 50 percent approved, of President Obama.
Strong support for Obama among Catholics, as of Feb. 12, was proportionately lower than in the general population. While 26 percent of all likely voters “strongly approve” of his job performance, only 19 percent of Catholics say the same.
Passionate disapproval, on the other hand, was proportionately higher among likely Catholic voters. Only 38 percent of all voters said they “strongly disapproved,” 6 percent lower than the figure of 44 percent among Catholics.
Nine months before the nation's next presidential election, Catholic voters' overall dissatisfaction with President Obama has reached nearly the same levels found among Evangelical Christians.
Among Evangelicals, 61 percent of likely voters were at least “somewhat dissatisfied” with the president. Other Protestants disapproved by a narrower margin, 52 percent.
Across-the-board disapproval with President Obama now prevails among adherents of all faiths who regularly attend worship services. Those who attend services weekly or near-weekly disapproved at a rate of 59 percent, compared to 41 percent in the same group who approved.
Nearly the opposite trend appeared among those who “rarely or never” attend religious services. In this group, 63 percent approved of the Obama presidency compared to 36 percent who did not.
On Feb. 6-7, shortly before the president announced a controversial revision of his contraception mandate, 65 percent of likely Catholic voters told Rasmussen they disapproved of the administration's bid to force religious employers to cover contraceptives and sterilization in their health plans.
Both versions of the contraception mandate have been rejected by the U.S. Catholic bishops' conference as infringements on religious freedom.
Rome, Italy, Feb 14, 2012 (CNA) -
Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong says the Vatican’s recent policy in dealing with China has failed and that the Church must now take a tougher stance.
“On certain points we cannot compromise – on the nature of the Church which is established by Jesus Christ,” he told CNA Feb. 10, while visiting Rome.
“So, after a well-intentioned attempt to go the other way, and now we see the failure of going that way. I think it is time we come back to the direction given by the Holy Father.”
China has an estimated eight to twelve million Catholics, with about half of those people worshiping in government-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Founded in 1957, it does not acknowledge the authority of the Pope.
Pope Benedict XVI set out his policy on China in 2007 in an open letter to Chinese Catholics. He criticized the limits placed by the Chinese government on the Church’s activities, including the right to appoint bishops.
“It cannot be denied that grave limitations remain that touch the heart of the faith and that, to a certain degree, suffocate pastoral activity,” wrote the Pope.
Despite the strongly worded tone of the letter, Cardinal Zen says that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples has instead pursued a policy of “compromise” with the Chinese government.
“After much – I would say excessive – acquiescence by the Holy See, the Chinese government has shown no willingness to respect the essential nature of the Catholic Church, as it is peacefully accepted all over the civilized world,” said Cardinal Zen in an article published in Asia News Feb. 8.
He highlighted that there have been five ordinations without the approval of the Vatican since November 2010. “The Chinese government has thus shown that it has no intention of changing its religious policies,” the cardinal said.
“Faced with such acts of defiance, which have betrayed its sincere desire for dialogue, the Holy See’s only option is to return to its clear stance.”
Cardinal Zen said the Vatican previously took a tough stance with China until the Indian archbishop, Cardinal Ivan Dias, took over at the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in 2006. He retired from the post last year after reaching the age of 75.
Cardinal Dias had previously spent many years at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State where he was responsible for relations with then-Communist Eastern Europe during the Cold War.
Cardinal Zen said these years gave Cardinal Dias the “experience of having worked with the Cardinal Casaroli,” who was the Vatican’s Secretary of State from 1979 to 1990.
“Unfortunately this, which could have been his strong point, instead turned out to be a limitation, since he believed that the ‘Ostpolitik’ of the famous Cardinal (Casaroli) had worked miracles in communist countries of Eastern Europe, while it is known that at least Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Wyszynski were not of the same opinion.”
“Ostpolitik” was a diplomatic approach that sought compromise rather than confrontation with the communist Soviet Bloc.
Cardinal Zen believes a similar “strategy of compromise” is now being applied to relations with China, where “resistance to the excessive power of an absolutist government” by the Church is dismissed as “futile.”
But the results have been disastrous, he asserted, saying that “the underground community that once flourished so well, now runs the risk of dying of frustration and discouragement,” due being “neglected and considered inconvenient by the Holy See.”
Meanwhile, this “overly accommodating” policy has “not obtained the desired reciprocation from the Government.”
Therefore, “procrastination” is “no longer an option,” wrote Cardinal Zen, who believes that a “win-win situation” based on compromise is no longer possible, even if that means the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association goes fully into “schism.”
“I think it is time we really faced the main question of what is the Catholic Church?” he said to CNA. “If they’d like to have an independent, national Church let them have one, but let it not be called Catholic.”
Cardinal Zen also criticized the decision by the Italy-based lay movement, the Saint Egidio Community, to invite the Bishop of Nanchang to a conference in Germany last year, despite the fact that the bishop had recently participated in an illicit ordination.
“Inviting bishops who have compromised themselves in acts which are objectively destructive to the unity of the Church to meetings abroad seems very inconvenient.”
Washington D.C., Feb 14, 2012 (CNA) - A series of events across the country during National Marriage Week from Feb. 7-14 seek to strengthen marriage in the United States and promote its benefits.
“Marriage pays,” said Sheila Weber, executive director of National Marriage Week USA, in a video about the event posted online.
Weber pointed to research indicating that marriage contributes to greater wealth and financial stability, as well as greater personal happiness and better health.
“Children raised by both parents perform vastly better in school,” she added. “They have far less trouble with the law, less teen pregnancy and less addiction.”
According to National Marriage Week USA's website, the initiative is a “collaborative effort” by many diverse groups to “strengthen individual marriages, reduce the divorce rate, and build a stronger marriage culture, which in turn helps curtail poverty and benefits children.”
Each year, it works to publicize the benefits of marriage for individuals, children and society, as well as to promote classes, conferences and events that provide marriage resources.
Weber explained that a drastic decline in marriage has created a severe need for efforts to promote healthy marriages. Today, she said, only 57 percent of adults in America are married, down from 79 percent in 1970.
She added that 40 percent of all children in the U.S. are now born outside of marriage, and taxpayers spend more than $100 billion each year on divorce and unwed childbirth.
The annual event to strengthen and encourage marriage began in the United Kingdom in 1996 and was brought to the United States in 2002.
It is part of an international initiative, in which 16 major countries around the world are participating by working to strengthen marriages within their borders.
Among the week's highlighted activities in the U.S. was a webcast event encouraging couples to take the “Date Night Challenge” by going on three dates in three weeks.
The week featured local initiatives in cities around the country, hosted by various organizations that recognize the importance of marriage for a healthy society.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops participated in National Marriage Week by conducting a contest to submit marriage tips and hosting a “Virtual Marriage Retreat” on Facebook with prayers, reflections and questions for married couples.
The bishops’ conference provides resources for both engaged and married couples at www.foryourmarriage.org, a website that offers information on a wide variety of topics, including conflict resolution, finances, communication and parenting.
Members of the United States Congress also applauded the efforts of National Marriage Week on Feb. 7 and acknowledged marriage's significance in society.
Vatican City, Feb 14, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - In the face of leaks of various Vatican documents, Holy See officials must not become caught up in controversy and confusion but should stay committed to reform and “authentic transparency” in government, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said on Monday afternoon.
“Both sides bear responsibility: firstly the suppliers of documents of this kind, but also those who undertake to use them for purposes that certainly have nothing to do with pure love of truth,” he said in a Feb. 13 statement. “We must, therefore, stand firm, not allowing ourselves to be swallowed up by the vortex of confusion, which is what ill-intentioned people want, and remaining capable of using our reason.”
Fr. Lombardi said the documents in question differ in nature and importance and are from various times for varying situations. Some of the documents concern improved economic management of the Vatican, others concern current judicial and legislative questions. On these, the spokesman said, there is normally a contrast of opinion.
But other “delirious and incomprehensible reports” have surfaced “about plots against the Pope's life,” he said.
One leaked memo concerned a cardinal’s complaint about another cardinal who reputedly spoke of a possible assassination attempt against the Pope within 12 months and speculated upon his successor.
Last month, an Italian television show broadcast private letters to Pope Benedict XVI and Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former deputy governor of Vatican City, who is currently the apostolic nuncio to the U.S. The archbishop contended that other Vatican officials have conducted a smear campaign against him because of his changes to purchasing procedures.
Other leaks center on the Vatican’s financial institution, the Institute of Works of Religion, which is also trying to reform and comply with international norms.
“The American administration was affected by Wikileaks, now the Vatican too has its disclosures, its leaked documents, which tend to create confusion and bewilderment, and to throw a bad light on the Vatican, the governance of the Church and, more broadly, on the Church herself,” Fr. Lombardi said.
All together, he continued, the leaked documents are “disloyally” passed on to help to “create confusion.”
The spokesman suggested that the emergence of more powerful attacks is a sign that an important turning point is at stake. He suggested that the leaks tend to discredit attempts at the reform of Vatican institutions, but contended that this is a reason the reforms should continue “with determination, not allowing ourselves to be cowed.”
“If many people insist on attacking us, the issue is obviously important. Whoever thinks he is discouraging the Pope and his collaborators in their commitment is mistaken.”
While commentators have suggested the leaks are evidence of internal conflict about control of Vatican positions and possibly even attempts to set the stage for a successor to Pope Benedict, Fr. Lombardi said such interpretations depend on the “moral coarseness of those who provoke them.”
“I would invite everyone to note that all the pontiffs elected during the last hundred years have been people of exalted and unquestioned spiritual merit. Cardinals have naturally sought, and still seek, to elect someone who deserves the respect of the people of God, someone who can serve humankind in our time with great moral and spiritual authority.”
“Not for nothing do we also believe in, and speak of, the assistance of the Holy Spirit.”