Nashville, Tenn., Feb 21, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Over 2,500 religious leaders have signed a letter to President Obama calling for the reversal of the HHS-mandated insurance coverage of contraception because it “essentially ignores the conscience rights of many Catholic and Protestant Americans.”
“Our country was founded on certain freedoms, the first of which is the freedom of religion. The ability of a religious person to follow their conscience without fearing government intervention has long been a protected right for Americans.
“It is unfathomable to picture a country that would deny religious freedoms,” the letter says.
It said that due to the “narrow” religious exemption, the “vast majority” of religious organizations will be forced to choose either to violate their consciences or to drop health coverage for employees.
The letter was released at a Feb. 20 press conference at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention and Exposition in Nashville. The Family Research Council led the letter signature effort.
Those who announced the letter included Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; and Bishop Harry Jackson, the senior pastor of the Beltsville, Maryland-based Hope Christian Church.
The letter underscored that the Obama administration’s rule means that millions of Americans will incur the costs for the mandated products and procedures.
“Forcing religious entities to do the same, despite objections of good conscience, is a severe blow to our religious liberty,” the signers said.
The Jan. 20 mandate also requires all religious organizations to refer people for the objectionable drugs or procedures.
In reaction, the letter quoted Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, which says “"to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.”
The letter calls for the reversal of the mandate and the protection of the conscience rights of those who have “biblically-based opposition” to funding or providing contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs.
Washington D.C., Feb 21, 2012 (CNA) -
In response to the claim that most women do not oppose the Obama administration's contraception mandate, journalist Kathryn Jean Lopez published a long list of notable women who object to the new rule.
“This administration is changing what it means to be American in this mandate,” Lopez told CNA on Feb. 20. “As the media enables the transformation, it really is every citizen's responsibility to turn down the noise and look at the facts.”
At a Feb. 16 Congressional hearing on religious freedom, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) asked, “Where are the women?”
Maloney and several other Democratic members of Congress left the room in protest before the second panel of the hearing, which featured the testimony of two women – Allison Garrett, senior vice president at Oklahoma Christian University, and Dr. Laura Champion, medical director of Calvin College.
Multiple mainstream news outlets have reported that the event as an “all-male hearing,” despite the presence of the two female witnesses during the second half.
Lopez, who serves as editor-at-large of National Review Online, said that Americans should be alarmed by “the rewriting of facts before our eyes.”
“Instead of making their case, the Obama administration has been flooding the media zone with misinformation, and many have simply parroted it,” she said. “It's shameless, really.”
In an answer to the repeated allegation that men are the only ones objecting to the mandate, Lopez compiled a list of more than 60 prominent women who have strongly opposed the new requirement.
Among those included on on the list are Harvard Law School professor and former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon; superior general of Sisters of Life, Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, SV; president of Aquinas College in Tennessee, Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith, O.P.; and executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Kristina Arriaga.
The women, who are notable for their work as college presidents, academics, diplomats, journalists and leaders of religious organizations, have signed the “Unacceptable” protest letter that has been circulating among the nation's leaders over the last week.
The Obama administration has come under fire for the recently-announced mandate, which will require virtually all employers to purchase health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and drugs that induce abortions at no cost to employees.
Faced with a storm of protest, the administration announced an “accommodation” for religious freedom on Feb. 10. Rather than directly purchasing the coverage they object to, religious employers under the new policy would be forced to buy health care plans from insurance companies that would be required to offer these products free of charge.
But many critics have been quick to suggest that insurance companies will factor the “free” contraceptives into the pricing of health care plans, and so employers will ultimately be billed for the coverage, thus forcing them to violate their consciences.
Damascus, Syria, Feb 21, 2012 (CNA) - Catholic leaders have called for negotiations to prevent a civil war in Syria, where the conflict between government supporters and opponents is being compared to last year's fight for control of Libya.
“Everybody is suffering in Syria because there is violence coming from every side,” Maronite Archbishop Paul N. El-Sayeh of Antioch told the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need in remarks released Feb. 20.
“It is a desperate situation,” the Beirut-based Lebanese archbishop said of the violence taking place across the border in Syria. “I wish everyone would sit down and negotiate. Problems cannot be solved by violence.”
Archbishop El-Sayeh's hope for peace in Syria is shared by Pope Benedict XVI, who renewed his appeal for Syrians “to put an end to violence and bloodshed” in a recent Angelus address. The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land has also voiced its concern for the country in recent days.
But there were few signs of any lasting peace on Feb. 20, as the Syrian military advanced on regime opponents in the city of Homs. The mobilization comes one week before a scheduled vote on a new constitution that could give more freedom to rivals of President Bashar al-Assad.
Sources told the Associated Press that Homs' Baba Amr distinct has been nicknamed “Syria's Misrata,” a reference to the Libyan city that became a central battleground during that country's 2011 civil war.
At least 5,400 Syrians have died since the movement against President al-Assad began in March 2011, according to U.N. figures released in January 2012. The regime's crackdown against protesters failed to break their resistance, and international observers are now warning of a civil war.
In his Feb. 12 Sunday Angelus message, Pope Benedict XVI said he was “following with great concern the dramatic and growing incidents of violence in Syria,” while praying for the dead, the wounded, and “all those who suffer the consequences of an increasingly worrying conflict.”
On that occasion, the Pope invited “everyone – and above all the political authorities in Syria – to favor dialogue, reconciliation and a commitment to peace.” He said it was “urgent to respond to the legitimate aspirations” of Syrians, as well as concerns of the international community.
Pope Benedict's message was followed on Feb. 16 by an appeal from Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, on behalf of the Church in Syria.
“In these months of great tension, when Syria is being torn apart by internal clashes, and where the conflict seems to be assuming more and more the form of a civil war, the Franciscans … are committed to supporting the local Christian population,” wrote the superior of the Franciscans in the Middle East.
The custos noted that Franciscan monasteries' medical facilities have become places of refuge for all Syrians, “regardless of whether they are Alawite, Sunni, Christian, rebels or government-supporters.”
During Libya's 2011 civil war, Franciscans played an important role in maintaining the life of the local Church. As he appealed for material support from the faithful around the world, Fr. Pizzaballa indicated that St. Francis' order was committed to Syria with the same spirit of solidarity.
“To be with the people, to accept and assist those in need, regardless of race, religion and nationality; to guarantee, through its confident presence, religious services to the faithful because they understand the importance of remaining in one’s own country – this remains the sense of the Franciscan mission.”
Vatican City, Feb 21, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Vatican has given the Pontifical University of Peru until Easter 2012 to comply with the Church’s requirements for Catholic colleges, marking the first time the Holy See has set a deadline for a university to reform.
“Given the evident importance of safeguarding the Catholic identity of the university, the Cardinal Secretary of State requested that the competent academic authorities present the statutes for approval by Easter Sunday, April 8,” a Feb. 21 communiqué issued by the Holy See Press Office says.
The statement followed a meeting in Rome this morning between the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and Marcial Rubio, the rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru.
Their discussions were largely based upon an investigation of the university carried out Dec. 5 -11, 2011 by Cardinal Peter Erdo of Budapest. He traveled to Peru, where he found the Lima-based institution to be at odds with the Catholic Church in several significant areas of policy.
University officials have been refusing to comply with the Church’s guidelines for Catholic universities, which were laid out the papal document “Ex Corde Ecclesiae.” The apostolic constitution was promulgated in 1990 by Pope John Paul II to clarify what is expected of an authentically Catholic university.
The university has also defied a ruling by the Peruvian civil courts to give the Archdiocese of Lima a seat on its board of directors.
While today’s communiqué says Cardinal Bertone praised the “assiduous and generous commitment shown by various members of the university in the formation of students,” it also makes clear that he called for changes to be made.
The Secretary of State told Rubio that the Vatican want the statutes of the university to be “regularized as soon as possible, adapting them to the Apostolic Constitution ‘Ex Corde Ecclesiae.’”
Cardinal Bertone stated that this is being done “for the good of the Pontifical University of Peru itself and of the Church in Peru.”
If the university chooses not to comply with today’s Vatican recommendations, it could be stripped of its status as a pontifical university. Furthermore, the original donor who provided the land for the university stipulated that if the pontifical university is closed, the property would pass to the Archdiocese of Lima.
Cardinal Bertone said he hopes that “the academic community would accept these indications” outlined today so that the university “may increasingly dedicate itself to its mission of offering young people a solid formation, rooted in faithfulness to the Magisterium.” He told Rubio that this would guarantee “the great contribution the university is called to make to the country.”
The Pontifical University of Peru was founded in 1917 and was awarded its pontifical status by Pope Pius XII in 1942. It currently has over 16,000 undergraduate students and is regarded as one of the top universities in Peru.
Its alumni include President Ollanta Humala of Peru, as well as his immediate predecessor, Alan García, and the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar.
In 1986 the university gave an honorary doctorate to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.
Ave Maria, Fla., Feb 21, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Ave Maria University has filed a lawsuit seeking relief from the federal rule forcing it to fund contraception, sterilization, and abortion-causing drugs in employee health care plans.
“It is a sad day when an American citizen or organization has no choice but to sue its own government in order to exercise religious liberty rights guaranteed by our nation’s Constitution,” said Ave Maria President Jim Towey, speaking to reporters on a Feb. 21 conference call.
“As an American Catholic, I am in disbelief that I have to choose between being a good Catholic and a good citizen,” said Towey, who previously served as legal counsel to Mother Teresa and led the White House's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives from 2002 to 2006.
“I will not, and the university will not, accept this false choice. The federal government has no right to coerce the university into funding contraceptive services that include abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization, in the health plan we offer our employees.”
On Feb. 21, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed the suit on behalf of Ave Maria in U.S. District Court, against Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
It is the Becket Fund's fourth lawsuit against the HHS contraception mandate, joining similar challenges by Belmont Abbey College, Colorado Christian University, and the Eternal Word Television Network.
On Feb. 10, President Obama announced a set of planned changes to the HHS rule governing religious employers' coverage of “preventive services.”
Originally, the mandate forced employers to offer contraception and sterilization explicitly in their health plans. The promised revision shifted the burden to insurance companies, requiring them to cover the same services without a co-pay in their contracts with religious employers.
Towey described the move as a “sleight of hand maneuver” that “fooled no one.”
“Ave Maria University pays 95 percent of the cost of the health plan we offer our employees,” he explained. “Under the federal mandate Ave Maria University would be paying for these drugs if we complied with the law. So we will not.”
“We are prepared to discontinue our health plan and pay the $2,000 per employee, per year fine rather than comply with an unjust, immoral mandate in violation of our rights of conscience.”
Becket Fund Senior Counsel Kyle Duncan noted that the promised change to the mandate had not actually been confirmed as law.
The original version of the law, Duncan told reporters, “actually became final without change” on Feb. 10.
The administration's “talk of a compromise and accommodation” is only “a promise, in the future … to maybe engage in some additional rule-making.”
Towey, who has criticized the Obama White House's approach to religious groups in the past, said it was “apparent that this administration does not want to strike a balance between its zeal to implement a new social policy, and the rights of religiously-affiliated organizations like Ave Maria.”
He made it clear that the issue at hand was not about women's access to contraception, but about the morality of forcing Catholic institutions to make insurance contracts under which it will be provided despite their objections.
“Allowing a U.S. president of any political party or religious affiliation to force conformance to his or her religious or secular orthodoxy through executive action, is a perilous precedent,” the university president said.
“I hope all of my colleagues in academia, including Catholic higher education, awaken to this danger.”
Bogotá, Colombia, Feb 21, 2012 (CNA) - Prominent abortion advocate Monica Roa, who helped legalize abortion in Colombia in 2006, posted a picture of herself on Facebook where she mocks the Catholic Church by dressing up as a bishop.
“This is more than just something humorous or a joke in bad taste, it’s actually disrespectful,” said Bishop Juan Vicente Cordoba, secretary general for the Colombian bishops' conference.
“It’s one thing to have different principles or ideas; it’s another to mock those in positions of authority or institutions, whether they are part of the Church or not,” he told CNA on Feb. 20.
Roa, who directs the Women’s Link International group which supports legal abortion, recently posted a picture taken last Halloween where she is wearing a miter and a purple chasuble.
She asked her followers to share their comments and to help her name her “costume,” with all of the replies directing insults against the Vatican and the Pope.
Local Catholics denounced the photo “not in a spirit of conflict, but because it was necessary to make a statement of disagreement with what she did. The Church must not be mocked in this way,” Bishop Cordoba said.
In her ongoing efforts to continue the legalization of abortion in Colombia, Roa is now targeting the country's Attorney General, Alejandro Ordonez Maldonado, for his public stance in support of life beginning at conception and traditional marriage.
Roa and other abortion advocacy groups in Colombia have launched a campaign against Ordonez's bid for reelection that includes a series of personal attacks.
Ordonez told the Colombian daily El Pais that the attacks against him demonstrate a kind of “Christophobia, which is manifested by attempts to drudge up moral failings.”
The attorney general noted that he is being criticized by a minority which ignores the beliefs of five million Colombians who voiced their opposition to abortion in August of 2011 by signing a petition calling for a constitutional amendment to protect the unborn.
Havana, Cuba, Feb 21, 2012 (CNA) - The Christian Life Movement in Cuba launched a new Facebook page called “Waiting for Benedict XVI” to promote the pontiff's upcoming visit and defend the right of all Cubans to welcome him.
“We have created the group so that those in power in Cuba or those aspiring to power who have access to the internet know that we are defending the right of our Pastor to visit us and to bring to the suffering Cuban people the message of freedom, peace and reconciliation,” Christian Life Movement spokesman Regis Iglesias Ramirez told CNA on Feb. 17.
Ramirez, a former prisoner of conscience living in Spain since 2010, said the silence surrounding the Pope’s March 25-28 visit on the part of the state-run media and even the local Church is “striking.”
“Only loud and extremist voices against the visit from inside and outside the island are being heard. This is sad and dangerous,” he said.
“Many are silencing this message even within our own Church, but since we too are the Church we raise our voices for our Church, for our brothers and sisters and for our nation.”
Ramirez noted that most Cubans do not have access to the internet, and therefore they hope the comments on the new Facebook group will be seen by all those trying to stop Pope Benedict XVI's message from reaching the Cuban people.
“We want our message to reach all those who are intolerant, who are filled with hatred and detest the faith and detest us for defending the faith,” he said.
“By defending these principles we are defending the true sense of the Cuban Catholic and non-Catholic people, that needs and wants to listen to His Holiness, that needs and wants Benedict XVI, the pastor, to be with them,” Ramirez stated.
“We do not see this very important event as something political. For us it is a pastoral trip and we defend the right of our Pastor to visit us. We defend our right,” he added.
Ramirez said the Christian Life Movement is a political, social, yet “not a confessional movement,” that began in the parishes of Havana. “We are inspired by Christian humanism, the Social Doctrine of the Church and the liberating message of the Gospel.”.
The Facebook group “Waiting for Benedict XVI” can be found at http://www.facebook.com/groups/320339154667819/
Rome, Italy, Feb 21, 2012 (CNA) -
You don’t have to be named O’Brien to become a cardinal, but it seems to help. Just after Cardinal Edwin O’Brien became a member of the College of Cardinals on Feb. 18, he was welcomed by a man with the same last name, Cardinal Keith O’Brien from Scotland.
“O’Briens are descendents of the High King of Ireland, Brian Boru, and I’m sure Edwin, like me, can trace his ancestry directly back to him.
“So it is only fitting that the two of us should be Princes of the Church at this present time,” laughed the Scottish Cardinal O’Brien.
The American Cardinal O’Brien was also amused that their family name is currently the only one to appear twice in the 213-member list of the Church’s Sacred College of Cardinals.
“I know there have been a lot of O’Brien bishops, but I doubt there have ever been two Cardinal O’Briens. It’s a great distinction, and I thought of that pretty soon after I was appointed,” the American cardinal told CNA.
The two men met at the Rome headquarters of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.
Cardinal Edwin O’Brien was appointed their Pro-Grand Master by Pope Benedict in Aug. 2011. The order supports the Church in the Holy Land, particularly the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, through prayer and good works.
Coincidentally, Cardinal Keith O’Brien is also a member of the order.
He explained to CNA that their next Scottish investiture is later this year and will include a pilgrimage to the historic island of Iona, the launching pad from which St. Columba re-evangelized much of Europe in the 6th century.
“Given Americans’ love of history and heritage, I do hope that Cardinal O’Brien, or ‘Cardinal Edwin’ as we will call him to distinguish between us, will be able to join us for that.”
Cardinal Edwin O’Brien said he didn’t know much about his Scottish counterpart, although he had read enough to know “he is a very strong leader” among the bishops of the British Isles in “speaking up for the Church.”
In return, the Scottish cardinal said he also knew “a little” of his fellow cardinal’s work in Baltimore, and was “delighted” to have him as a fellow member of the Sacred College where both, being under the age of 80, are eligible to vote for the next Pope.
“I just hope that when there’s a conclave for a new Pope that they get the initials right and don’t mix us up in any way at all, if we are ever considered to be in the running,” joked Cardinal Keith O’Brien.
Houston, Texas, Feb 21, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI named Houston native Msgr. George A. Sheltz on Feb. 21 as the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston’s next auxiliary bishop.
“I am deeply humbled and honored that Pope Benedict XVI has named me an auxiliary bishop today,” Bishop-designate Sheltz said. “This Archdiocese has been my home my entire life and it is a joy and privilege to pledge my continued service to the wonderful people of Galveston-Houston who have been my brothers and sisters in faith these many years.”
“I also pledge my fidelity and communion with the Holy Father. I am deeply grateful for his expression of confidence in me,” he said in a Feb. 21 statement from the archdiocese.
The 65-year-old bishop-designate is presently the diocese’s vicar general, chancellor and moderator of the curia. He was born in Houston in 1946. He attended St. Mary’s Seminary of St. Thomas University and was ordained a priest for the diocese in 1971.
His father, Deacon George Sheltz, Sr., was in the first class of permanent deacons ordained for the Diocese of Galveston-Houston. The bishop-designate’s late brother, Fr. Anton Sheltz, was ordained for the diocese in 1976. His uncle, Msgr. Anton Frank, was the first native Houstonian to be ordained for the diocese in 1933.
Bishop-designate Sheltz “represents the long history of local priests who have given their lives in selfless service to the Lord,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “I look forward to working with him as my chief collaborator in this growing, diverse archdiocese.”
The future bishop has served at Houston’s Assumption Parish, Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral, St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Christ the Redeemer Parish, Prince of Peace Parish. He was pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in The Woodlands, Texas in 1999 and became Secretariat Director for Clergy Formation and Chaplaincy Services in 2007.
He will be ordained in late April at downtown Houston’s Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. He will become Titular Bishop of Irina.
The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is the largest in Texas and the 12th largest in the U.S. It has a Catholic population of over 1.1 million out of 5.8 million people. There are 427 priests, 357 permanent deacons, and 687 vowed religious in the archdiocese.
Manassas, Va., Feb 21, 2012 (CNA) -
The Cardinal Newman Society evaluated a list of twenty prominent Catholic colleges offering contraceptive coverage and found that most do so because of a state mandate or medical reasons but not for birth control purposes.
In a Feb. 17 blog post, Cardinal Newman Society writer Matthew Archbold called it “simply disingenuous” to use current contraceptive coverage by Catholic colleges to defend a controversial rule issued by the Obama administration.
The new federal mandate will soon require virtually all employers to offer health insurance plans that include coverage of contraception, sterilization and drugs that induce abortions, even if the employer has religious or moral objections to such coverage.
At a Feb. 16 Congressional hearing on religious liberty, The Catholic University of America president John Garvey argued that the mandate would require Catholic colleges across the country to violate their consciences.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) attempted to counter Garvey’s statement by submitting a list of Catholic colleges that currently provide contraceptive coverage.
However, Archbold pointed out, many of these approximately two dozen schools cover contraception for their employees for health reasons but not for purposes of birth control. Many others are required by state law to provide contraceptive coverage.
Archbold offered an analysis of the list submitted by Cummings, which Cardinal Newman Society determined to have originated from the National Women’s Law Center, which advocates abortion.
Many schools on the list, including the University of Notre Dame, Franciscan University of Steubenville, University of Dallas and King’s College, provide coverage for contraceptives but not for the purposes of birth control, said Archbold.
Numerous others, including Loyola University of Chicago, Santa Clara University and Marquette University, are mandated by state law to cover contraceptives, he added.
Only a handful of schools on the list, including Georgetown University, Loyola University of New Orleans and Dayton University in Ohio, cover contraception for non-medical use without being required by law to do so, he observed.
Archbold decried the idea that “the actions of Georgetown and a few others” should be allowed to “act as a mandate to every other Catholic institution in the country.”
“Georgetown should not be allowed to become the federally appointed new magisterium of the Catholic Church,” he said.
Archbold emphasized the importance of fighting mandates at both the federal and state levels.
He also stressed the need to strengthen the identity of Catholic colleges in America while addressing the actions of those that have fallen out of line with Church teaching.