Trenton, N.J., Feb 22, 2012 (CNA) - The New Jersey Catholic Conference lauded Gov. Chris Christie's veto of a bill recognizing “gay marriage” in the state, but observed that better marriage formation for local Catholics is still needed.
“The governor had always indicated that that would be his action. So we are appreciative. We support his position,” state conference executive director Patrick Brannigan told CNA on Feb. 21.
On Feb. 17 Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the measure, saying “an issue of this magnitude and importance, which requires a constitutional amendment, should be left to the people of New Jersey to decide.”
The Republican governor encouraged the legislature to seek New Jersey citizens' input and allow them to vote on “a question that represents a profoundly significant societal change.”
The New Jersey Assembly passed the legislation by a vote of 42 to 33 and the local Senate passed the bill 24-16. While legislators can override the veto with a two-thirds majority vote in both bodies, such a vote is believed to be unlikely.
“There are clearly not enough votes to override his video,” Brannigan said. “Everyone realizes that as long as Chris Christie is governor of the state of New Jersey that there’s not a chance that a bill passed by the legislature will be signed into law. So there’s a hiatus of two, maybe six years before that.”
He added that New Jersey’s Catholic dioceses will continue to work in marriage preparation and support for troubled families.
“Marriage is a sacrament for Catholic where we come together and work together to become one,” he said. “We’re just going to continue to teach the Church’s teaching on marriage and hopefully that will resonate throughout our diocese and throughout our state.”
In particular, marriage preparation “is so important, especially in our society, which is a secularized society that looks towards individuals,” he said. “In marriage, you have to look toward your spouse and your children, the family. That is counter-cultural today.”
Brannigan noted that the bishops' statements on the bill all referenced the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which he said indicates that “there should be no discrimination against people, that everyone is a child of God, that everyone is made in the image and likeness of God, and that everyone deserves respect and dignity.”
This is important to say, he said, because opponents of same-sex marriage are sometimes accused of bigotry.
“One of the supporters of same-sex marriage in the state assembly said that if you don’t support same-sex marriage you're a bigot and you’re discriminating. That’s not true,” Brannigan said.
“Same-sex unions are not the same as marriage between a man and a woman,” he stressed, adding that it is not discriminatory to define something that is different as being different.
Though society aims to encourage and help single-parent families, “for government to say that you do not need a father, or do not need a mother, is far different.”
While it is possible for New Jersey legislature to call a ballot referendum on the issue, the Democratic leadership of the State Senate and the State Assembly will not likely propose it.
Brannigan said he believes this is because it will fail if put to a vote.
“I believe firmly that if the bill is on the ballot it will be defeated. We will maintain marriage as a union of a man and a woman.”
Brannigan explained that the New Jersey Catholic Conference has never called for a referendum issue.
“What the bishops have been saying is that government does not have the right to define marriage or to redefine marriage. Marriage, from the beginning of time, is a natural institution which flows from natural law that precedes government and precedes law,” ha said.
“If we’re saying that government can’t redefine it, why would we say that you can put it up for the vote and let the general public redefine it?”
The executive director also countered same-sex marriage advocates who say New Jersey's civil union act – which allows legal benefits for same-sex couples – is broken. He said that in five years there have been only 13 complaints related to the act. Ten of these complaints came in the act's first year.
While advocates claim that there are problems for same-sex couples at hospitals, Brannigan says the New Jersey Department of Health has not received any complaints and same-sex marriage advocates do not make charges against any specific hospitals.
“The suggestion that hospitals are discriminating … doesn’t hold water in New Jersey. The strongest argument that people are putting forward for same-sex marriage has no substance to it.”
Madison, N.J., Feb 22, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A new survey reveals that pharmacy directors across the country do not believe that a mandate requiring insurance companies to offer free contraceptives will cut costs as the Obama administration has predicted.
“It was interesting that no one thought the mandate would offset costs by preventing unintended pregnancies,” said Rhonda Greenapple, CEO of the firm that conducted the survey. “This is in direct opposition to the rationale for mandating these services.”
The survey, announced Feb. 17, was administered by Reimbursement Intelligence, a market research firm specializing in reimbursement issues for medical and pharmaceutical companies.
Fifteen pharmacy directors, “representing tens of millions of pharmacy-covered lives,” were asked about what impact they think the Obama administration’s new contraception mandate will have on their plans.
The mandate will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and some drugs can induce early abortions.
Amid strong criticism that the regulation violates the religious freedom of employers that object to such coverage, President Barack Obama announced an “accommodation” on Feb. 10.
Under the revised policy, religious employers will not directly purchase the coverage but will instead be forced to purchase insurance plans from companies that are required to provide the coverage for free.
A White House fact sheet argued that requiring contraceptive coverage “saves money by keeping women healthy and preventing spending on other health services,” such as those associated with unintended pregnancies.
However, none of the firms surveyed believe that the new policy will lead to a net savings.
About 40 percent of survey participants think that the mandate will increase their costs through higher pharmacy expenditures.
Approximately seven percent believe it will increase pharmacy costs but decrease medical costs.
About 20 percent predict that their costs will not change because contraception is already embedded into their premiums, while about one-third of the participants are still unsure what effect the mandate will have.
Although survey participants were divided about the exact impact of the mandate, none believe that it will “lead to net cost savings by preventing unintended pregnancies among members.”
The survey’s findings reinforce concerns that insurance companies will transfer the cost of the controversial coverage to their clients.
One survey participant said that mandates create a “need to raise prices, change cost structures, and pass along additional costs to our customers.”
The U.S. Catholic bishops and numerous other religious groups have maintained President Obama’s Feb. 10 revisions to the mandate only appear to shift payment to insurance companies, but in reality the employer still pays at least part of the premium.
They have called for legislation to reverse the mandate and protect religious freedom.
Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 22, 2012 (CNA) - Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has accepted the final recommendations for elementary school closures in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia but has granted appeals from 18 of the schools.
As a result of the recommendations, 10 schools will close outright, while 49 schools will form 23 regional schools.
Decisions for the four archdiocesan high schools recommended for closure will be delayed for another week, the archdiocese announced Feb. 17. Potential donors have emerged who are working to keep them open.
“I recognize how anxious all of those affected by this decision are to hear the final outcome,” Archbishop Chaput said.
“I want to see this resolved too but this decision is too important to be made without considering absolutely every fact and all serious, substantive proposals even if they don't fit the time frame originally set. We owe it to our teachers, administrators, students and school families.”
Under the original plan, 20,000 students and 1,500 students would have been affected. Now, only about 13,000 students and 1,100 teachers will be affected, schools superintendent Mary Rochford told the Catholic Standard & Times.
There are presently 156 elementary or regional Catholic schools in the archdiocese and 17 Catholic high schools.
The Blue Ribbon Commission had recommended the closures and mergers. Members of the commission and archdiocesan administrators began hearing appeals on Jan. 12.
The archbishop said that only “hard facts” could change the recommendations because the commission is intended to create a “strategic plan” to stabilize and reinvigorate Catholic education in the archdiocese.
Some recommendations were altered for various reasons. Some schools will remain parish schools because they have demonstrated long-term stability. Other schools will form regional schools, though some will do so in a location better suited for their needs.
Other plans have been announced to structure and fund up to 14 mission schools to ensure their long-term viability. These schools would be operated independently from the archdiocese while providing a Catholic education.
“This entire process is just a beginning to reinvigorating Catholic education,” the Archbishop Chaput said Feb. 17.
He said greater school choice through opportunity scholarships and a “greatly expanded” tax credit program would be “a game changer for our schools in the future.”
Archbishop Chaput canceled his trip to the consistory for new cardinals in Rome because of the school closures and other issues in the archdiocese.
The archdiocesan website lists the affected schools by clicking here.
New York City, N.Y., Feb 22, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The president of the world's largest religious media network has explained his reasons for suing the U.S. government, in a Feb. 21 New York Times editorial about the federal contraception mandate.
“Our donors send us money to spread Catholic teachings, not to subvert them,” wrote Michael Warsaw, president and CEO of the Eternal Word Television Network, in his essay “Contraception, Against Conscience.”
The Obama administration's mandate, finalized on Feb. 10, “makes it impossible for us to live up to that core mission, giving us the choice of either compromising our beliefs or being crushed by fines.”
“That ultimatum is unfair, unconstitutional and repugnant – which is why we have no choice but to fight it in court.”
On Feb. 9, EWTN sued Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, challenging her department's rule requiring many religious institutions to offer contraception and sterilization in their health plans.
That rule was made final on Feb. 10, although the administration also said it would modify the mandate in response to the outcry from organizations like the media network. The planned revision would still require religious employers' insurance providers to offer the controversial services without a co-pay.
In his editorial, Warsaw acknowledged the attempt at “accommodation,” but explained that it “would do nothing to solve the problem.”
“First, EWTN self-insures, so we are the insurer” – being forced to cover the drugs and devices directly, rather than through an outside contract.
“Second, even if we had an outside insurer, we would still be in the untenable position of facilitating access to drugs that go against our beliefs.”
These drugs, he noted, “include emergency contraceptives like Plan B and Ella that can destroy human embryos,” causing an early abortion.
“And if we refused to comply with the directive, we could be hit with annual fines starting at around $600,000.”
While he stressed the mandate's endangerment of religious freedom, Warsaw noted that the rule also threatens “the financial viability of any organization that disagrees with the administration’s politics.”
Such groups “could be forced to stop offering health insurance and be saddled with fines … They’ll lose employees who can’t afford to work for employers who offer no health insurance. They’ll lose donors who are scared off by the penalties.”
“The end result: organizations that agree with the administration or are willing to compromise their beliefs will thrive. Organizations that don’t will shrink or die.”
Supporters of the contraception mandate have accused EWTN, and other religious employers, of trying to impose their beliefs on employees who may not share them.
But Warsaw explained that the network is doing no such thing. “Our 350 employees, many of whom are not Catholic, freely choose to work here and can purchase and use contraception if they want to.”
The network, he said, is “simply choosing not to participate in the use of these drugs.”
“Instead, it is the government – which does not accept EWTN’s religious choice and can punish that choice by imposing fines – that is coercing us. But under the Constitution and federal religious liberties law, we cannot be forced to give up our beliefs as the price of participation in the public square.”
On this basis, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has filed suit on the network's behalf, “seeking to overturn this illegal mandate.”
Havana, Cuba, Feb 22, 2012 (CNA) - A leading Cuban archbishop intervened to prevent 14 members of the Women in White protest group from being assaulted by Cuban police agents.
Archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez told CNA on Feb. 21 that the police had been waiting for the women, who were on their way to the Basilica of Our Lady of Charity in El Cobre.
“The women have been going to the Basilica of El Cobre to pray like any other believer who goes to church to pray, but they told me that have been receiving threats, that there have been reprisals against them and that they were being harassed,” said Archbishop Garcia, who serves as president of the Cuban bishops' conference.
Cuban dissident Prudencio Villalon, who accompanied the women to the Basilica, said they declared a hunger strike on the steps of the church on Sunday after Mass, in response to the threats they received from a large contingent of state police in the area surrounding the church.
Tipped off about the incident by a priest from the basilica, Archbishop Dionisio Garcia arrived with two vehicles to evacuate the women to safety.
“Authorities should be aware of the matter,” archbishop Garica said. “Although the protest is essential political in nature, the Church supported them.”
According to local newspaper El Nuevo Herald, the incidents occurred during a weekend in which police detained some 30 members and sympathizers of the Women in White in Santiago, Chile.
Madrid, Spain, Feb 22, 2012 (CNA/Europa Press) - Around 400 civic groups in Spain are joining together to support a pro-life demonstration set for March 24 in downtown Madrid.
Alicia Latorre, director of the Spanish Federation of Pro-life Associations, said many organizations have been working hard for years in Spain to defend human life “in a thousand different ways.”
“Each day there are more and more fronts being opened, and each day we are more convinced that this cause is worth it, as evil is only overcome with the effort and unity of all,” she told Europa Press on Feb. 21.
The organization “Si a la Vida” (“Yes to Life”) has called for the massive demonstration to take place to commemorate the International Day of the Unborn Child, which is celebrated on March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation.
Rallies will be taking place across Spain, Latorre added, “so that everyone will have a place nearby where they can go.”
The main event will take place at the Puerta del Sol in downtown Madrid and will be led by popular Spanish actor and television host Miguel Angel Tobias.
Latorre said pro-life organizations in Spain are committed to continue battling to ensure that “the right to life and the dignity of man in every stage of life is recognized and ensured not only in the law but also in society itself.”
On the new administration in Spain and its announcement that the country’s law on abortion would be reformed, Latorre said she was “pleased” at “any step in the right direction.” However, she pointed out, the “message is going to change depending on which political party is in power.”
“Our laws must completely ensure the right to life, and this is still not the case,” she continued. For this reason, Spaniards must demand laws that guarantee human life “from its beginning to its natural end, in any circumstances.”
Miguel Angel Tobias said the gathering will be an “non-confessional and non-political event” open to everyone to celebrate life as something “sacred.” He said numerous celebrities and athletes would be participating in the demonstration, including pop star Nan Daconte, who is seven months pregnant.
“Si a la Vida” organizers say they hope to make the event an annual occurrence to demand respect for human life and the right to life as the first of all human rights.
Vatican City, Feb 22, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
As he observed Ash Wednesday, Pope Benedict XVI urged Christians to live the 40 days of Lent with faith and patience, aware that God will bring light, truth and joy into the darkness.
“In these 40 days that will lead us to Easter may we find new courage to accept with patience and with faith situations of difficulty, of affliction and trial, knowing that from the darkness the Lord will make a new day dawn,” the Pope said Feb. 22, the first day of Lent.
“And if we are faithful to Jesus and follow him on the way of the Cross, the bright world of God, the world of light, truth and joy will be gifted to us once more.”
The Pope delivered his comments at his weekly general audience, which was held in the Vatican’s Pop Paul VI Hall and was attended by over 7,500 pilgrims.
He explained that in the early Church it was only those preparing to be baptized who would observe the 40 days of Lenten preparation. Subsequently, however, all Christians were invited “to experience this journey of spiritual renewal, to conform themselves and their lives to that of Christ,” including those who had fallen away from the Church.
The Pope said that the “participation of the whole community” emphasizes that “redemption is not available to only a few, but to all, through the death and resurrection of Christ.”
“The time leading up to Easter is a time of ‘metanoia,’ a time of change and penance, a time which identifies our human lives and our entire history as a process of conversion, which begins to move now in order to meet the Lord at the end of time,” he said.
Pope Benedict noted that the Church calls the 40 days leading up to Easter “Quadragesima.” And it does so with a “clear reference to Sacred Scripture,” where the number 40 often symbolically used to express “a time of expectation, purification, and return to the Lord,” he taught.
The Pope said that the “Christian liturgy of Lent” is meant to spur a “journey of spiritual renewal” and time more focused on learning how to imitate Jesus, who showed Christians “how to overcome temptation with the Word of God.”
The Pope asked those at today’s audience to note how God sustained his people, even in the wilderness. After their exodus from Egypt, for example, God preceded the Jewish people “in a cloud or a pillar of fire, ensured their daily nourishment showering manna upon them, and bringing forth water from rock.” It was in many ways a “time of the special election of God” or, added the Pope, “the time of first love,” of a people for their God.
But time spent in the desert can also be “the time of the greatest temptations and dangers,” Pope Benedict observed, pointing out that this happened to Jesus but “without any compromise with sin.” Jesus always sought “moments of solitude to pray to his Father” but it is in those moments he was most assailed by “temptation and the seduction of devil.” It was there, for example, that he was offered “another messianic way, far from God’s plan.”
Just as this dynamic is found in the Old and New Testaments, the Pope said, it can also be found in the “condition of the pilgrim Church” as it makes its way through “the “wilderness’ of the world and history.”
This wilderness is made up of “the aridity and poverty of words, life and values, of secularism” and the “culture of materialism which encloses people within a worldly horizon and detaches them from any reference to the transcendent,” he said.
It is in such an atmosphere that “the sky above us is dark, because it is veiled with clouds of selfishness, misunderstanding and deceit.”
At the same time, “the wilderness can become a period of grace” for the Church, because “we have the certainty that even from the hardest rock God can cause the living water to gush forth, water which quenches thirst and restores strength.”
Pope Benedict finished by saying that this hope in God’s power should sustain the Church and each Christian during the following 40 days.
Rome, Italy, Feb 22, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Like millions of Catholics around the world, Pope Benedict XVI received ashes on Ash Wednesday. He said that they become a “sacred symbol” of austerity which reflects both the “curse” of sin and the promise of the resurrection in a fallen world.
The Ash Wednesday words from Scripture -- “dust you are and unto dust you shall return” – are “an invitation to penance, humility and an awareness of our mortal state,” the Pope said.
“We are not to despair, but to welcome in this mortal state of ours the unthinkable nearness of God who opens the way to Resurrection, to paradise regained, beyond death … The same spirit that resurrected Jesus from the dead can transform our hearts from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh,” he said in his homily at the fifth-century Basilica of Santa Sabina, where he too received ashes.
Lent is thus a journey towards the “Easter of Resurrection.”
The Pope spoke after leading the Ash Wednesday evening procession on Rome’s Aventine Hill, a tradition revived by Pope John Paul II in 1979.
The papal homily included a short reflection on the meaning of ashes in Scripture and in Christian thought.
While the ashes are not a sacramental sign, they are linked with “prayer and the sanctification of the Christian people,” he said.
In Genesis, God created man out of dust from the soil and breathed a “breath of life” into him. The Ash Wednesday ashes therefore recall the creation of mankind.
Being human means uniting matter with the “Divine breath.” However, the symbol of dust takes on a negative connotation because of sin.
“Before the fall the soil is totally good,” the Pope said. But after the fall dust produces “only thorns and brambles.” Rather than recalling the “creative hand of God” that is open to life, dust becomes “a sign of death.”
Pope Benedict said that this change shows that the Earth itself participates in man’s destiny. The cursing of the soil helps man recognize his limitations and his own human nature.
This curse comes from sin, not from God, he explained. Even within this punishment, there is “a good intention that comes from God.”
When God says in Genesis “dust you are and unto dust you shall return,” he intends not only a just punishment, but also an announcement of the path to salvation, the Pope preached.
This salvation “will pass through the Earth, through that same dust, that same flesh which will be assumed by the Word Incarnate.”
Washington D.C., Feb 22, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Iranian authorities may have issued an execution order for a pastor jailed for refusing to renounce his Christian faith.
“The news out of Iran is not encouraging,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice.
The D.C.-based human rights organization said that it has received information from its contacts in Iran that execution orders for Yousef Nadarkhani may have been issued.
A spokesman for the organization told CNA that Nadarkhani was still alive as of Feb. 21.
However, the situation is “dire,” the group said, and there is a need for prayer and increased efforts to focus international attention and pressure on Iran.
Sekulow said that the Iranian regime might have “decided to move forward by issuing an execution order” while international attention “is focused elsewhere.”
He explained that pressure from around the globe is essential because Iran's top officials still have the power to reject the order.
Nadarkhani has been in jail since 2009, when he was arrested after complaining to local authorities about his son being forced to read the Quran at school.
Despite threats of execution for apostasy, the Christian pastor has refused to renounce his faith.
An appeals court agreed with Nadarkhani’s assertion that he had never been a Muslim during his adult life. However, it also decided that because he had left the faith of his ancestors, he must recant or die.
Amid growing international pressure, Iranian officials then asked the nation’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, for an “opinion” on the case.
The court had promised to issue a decision by December if the Supreme Leader did not reply. However, no ruling has been issued, and Nadarkhani has remained in jail.
A statement by the American Center for Law and Justice said that it is unclear whether Nadarkhani would have a right to appeal the execution order.
Although all publicly held executions must be approved by the head of Iran’s Judiciary Chief, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, most executions in Iran are carried out secretly rather than in public, it explained.
The statement also observed a “disturbing increase” in the number of executions carried out by the Iranian regime in recent weeks.
Sekulow and his colleagues have been following Nadarkhani’s situation for several months, raising awareness for the pastor’s plight through efforts including a Twitter campaign and online petition, which has received more than 35,000 signatures.
On Feb. 17, Congressman Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) introduced a resolution condemning the Iranian government and calling for the release of Nadarkhani.
Efforts are now intensifying to raise support for that resolution and other awareness initiatives that may save the condemned pastor’s life.