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Archive of February 24, 2012

New nuncio conveys Pope's love for Irish Catholics

Dublin, Ireland, Feb 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI understands the struggles of the Irish Church and holds it in special esteem, new apostolic nuncio Archbishop Charles J. Brown said as he celebrated Mass in Dublin on Feb. 19.

“I have worked for many years very closely with the Holy Father and I can tell you from my personal experience that he has always had, and he continues to have, a great love for the people of Ireland and a high regard for the Catholic Church in Ireland,” the Pope's representative said at his formal welcome.

Archbishop Brown, who worked in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with then-Cardinal Ratzinger, said the Pope “knows as well that these recent years have been difficult for Catholic believers in Ireland.” 

The nuncio spoke from his experience, saying the Pope was “scandalized and dismayed as he learned about the tragedy of abuse perpetrated by some members of the clergy and of religious congregations. He felt deeply the wounds of those who had been harmed and who so often had not been listened to.”

“From the beginning,” the archbishop recalled, “Pope Benedict was resolute and determined to put into place changes which would give the Church the ability to deal more effectively with those who abuse trust, as well as to provide the necessary assistance to those who had been victimized.” 

“Pope Benedict has been relentless and consistent on this front, and I assure you that he will continue to be.”

Civil and ecumenical representatives, as well as clergy, religious, and members of lay Catholic groups all attended the nuncio's Mass at St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral. It was the archbishop's first liturgy since his Feb. 16 meeting with President Michael D. Higgins, who received his papal letter of appointment.

Dublin's Archbishop Diarmuid Martin introduced the New York-born nuncio at Monday's ceremony. He stressed the papal representative's mission “to foster deeper communion in the life of the Church, and to foster communion, harmony and peace in the human family that is so often fragmented.”

Archbishop Brown's late 2011 appointment came at the end of a difficult year for Irish Catholics, as sex abuse investigations prompted public attacks from Prime Minister Enda Kenny. On Nov. 3, the Irish government closed its embassy at the Vatican, purportedly for financial reasons.

The nuncio, who was appointed Nov. 26 and ordained on Epiphany of 2012, spoke about his own Irish Catholic heritage in the homily at his welcome Mass on Sunday.

“I am the descendant of men and women of Ireland, who emigrated from this island, possessing little more than the treasure of their Catholic faith, which they, through the generations, have passed on to me,” he declared. “Were it not for the faith of Ireland, I would not be a Catholic today.”

The words of his homily, inspired by Jesus' healing of a paralyzed man, indicated his sensitivity to the Irish Church's recent trials.

“The Church herself is wounded by the sins of her members,” he observed.

“And just as sin produces a kind of spiritual paralysis in the individual, a radical lack of the spiritual energy which is grace, so too there can be a kind of spiritual paralysis in sections of the Church, where that energy seems to have disappeared, enthusiasm is dissipated, liturgical life grows cold.”

To heal the Church, he said, “we need to do exactly what an individual does – come again into the presence of the Lord, of Christ himself, so that he can heal and restore us to life.”

“His presence is experienced in many ways, but most powerfully in his word and in his sacraments – above all, in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.”

Dublin will host the Church's 50th International Eucharistic Congress from June 10-17, 2012. Archbishop Brown said it was a “great joy” to begin his work during the run-up to the congress, which aims to renew faith in Jesus' Eucharistic presence as “the absolute center of Catholic life.”

“Something new is indeed happening,” the nuncio reflected. “I am convinced that the Lord is preparing something beautiful for his Church.”

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Catholic CEO calls mandate compromise 'divide and conquer' strategy

Mishawaka, Ind., Feb 24, 2012 (CNA) -

A group of women religious' approval of the contraception mandate compromise plays into President Obama's “transparent tactic” of dividing the Church, says a Catholic healthcare CEO. 

Kevin Leahy, president and CEO of the Indiana-based Franciscan Alliance, told the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) that it has done “irreversible” damage to the Catholic Church over its support for the compromise.

In a Feb. 14 statement to Sr. Annmarie Sanders, IHM – the group's director of communications – Leahy said the conference cannot sincerely believe that the administration “offered an acceptable compromise to religious groups.”

“Undoubtedly, the president's news conference was cleverly staged to divide and conquer,” Leahy said, adding that the group “has taken his bait and is now trying to convince others that his ruse contains a thread of legitimate compromise – it does not.”

The Department of Health and Human Services ruled on Jan. 20 that all new employer-provided health care plans must include FDA-approved sterilizations and contraception, including some abortifacient drugs. The rule’s narrow religious exemption did not cover most Catholic health systems, charities and universities.

On Feb. 10, President Obama announced a plan to compel insurance companies, and not the institutions themselves, to cover the procedures and drugs. However, many critics have called the move an accounting trick that does not address the issue.

A same-day response from the women's religious conference said it was “grateful” that President Obama listened to concerns about providing healthcare coverage “in a way that respects and honors the conscience rights of religious institutions.”

“We believe the resolution the president made is a fair and helpful way for us to move forward,” the conference said.

The group, which is an association of 1,500 leaders from congregations of women religious in the U.S., claims to represent more than 90 percent of the 59,000 women religious in America.

In his remarks, Leahy asked whether the conference had considered the position of Catholic institutions with self-insured health plans, like the Franciscan Alliance.

His network runs 14 hospitals in Indiana and Illinois and provides care for more than 2.9 million outpatient visits and more than 100,000 inpatients every year.

“Before going public with a letter of support for Obama's mandate, what did the leadership of LCWR think would happen to these plans and companies if the president's mandate prevails?” he asked.

“Once marginalized as a social force, the Catholic Church's position as a moral and social conscience for the country will quickly be diminished. Is this the intent of your membership?”

Leahy charged that conference's leadership “certainly is not naive enough to believe that, if successful, President Obama will limit his intrusion into the protections afforded religion under the First Amendment to just the issue of coercing religious groups to fund services that violate their core values.”

The healthcare CEO urged the women's religious group to reflect on the impact of its political support for what he called the Obama administration's attempt to “usurp the authority of religious leaders.”

Sr. Jane Marie Klein, OSF, Chairperson of the Board of the Franciscan Alliance, provided Leahy’s e-mail to the LCWR and his statement to CNA on Feb. 23.

She noted that her fellow sisters are united in prayer “that this attack on our nation's greatest freedom, the freedom of religion, will soon be appropriately resolved.”

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HHS mandate's purpose is sexual liberation, feminist supporter says

Denver, Colo., Feb 24, 2012 (CNA) - Advocates of President Obama's contraception mandate should admit that its main purpose is sexual liberation and not “women's health,” according to a feminist author who supports the mandate.

“The phrase 'women’s health' in the birth control dispute is the latest nimble euphemism,” author and blogger Pamela Haag wrote in a Feb. 17 essay published on the “Marriage 3.0” blog.

Access to contraception, she said, “isn’t really about my 'health.' It’s not principally about the management of ovarian cysts or the regulation of periods.”

“Birth control isn’t about my health unless by 'health' you mean, my capacity to get it on, to have a happy, joyous sex life that involves an actual male partner,” wrote Haag, criticizing White House supporters for discussing contraceptives mainly as “preventive services” for women's health.

“The point of birth control is to have sex that’s recreational and non-procreative,” wrote Haag approvingly. “It’s to permit women to exercise their desires without the 'sword of Damocles' of unwanted pregnancy hanging gloomily over their heads.”

Haag, a supporter of “reproductive rights” and “women's sexual liberty,” is the author of three books, most recently 2011's “Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses, and Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting the Rules.”

A graduate of Swarthmore College with a Ph.D. from Yale University, Haag has contributed to a variety of publications and media outlets including Ms. magazine, the Huffington Post, National Public Radio, and the Antioch Review.

In her Feb. 17 essay, entitled “Birth Control Isn’t Really About 'Women’s Health.' It’s About . . . ,” she accused “mainstream liberal voices in Congress” of publicly ignoring the real purpose of mandatory contraception coverage.

“Barbara Boxer frames the birth control issue 'a la mode' as about 'defending women’s health,'” she noted. “EMILY’s List refers to the 'war on women’s health.'”

“I understand why they’ve done this, in terms of narrow political expediency. We’ve been on the defensive about reproductive rights and women's sexual liberty for decades. We’ve used a euphemism of 'choice' for years.”

Haag said these mainstream political voices “tiptoe around the heterosexual woman’s unsightly libido, and end up with a strangely euphemistic rhetoric, a defense of birth control that seems to involve no sex, desire, sperm, or men.”

The author went on to indicate her support for consequence-free, government-enabled sexual liberation and promiscuity.

“When deeply-settled rights are most in danger, it’s not the time to euphemize, or retreat from assertions of sexual liberty and self-governance. It’s time to gun it instead,” she declared.

“So here’s the subject I advocate for, because no one dares to speak her name: It’s the 20-something unmarried heterosexual woman who wants to have sex, has sex, enjoys a good sex life with her boyfriend, and, in that sex life, uses birth control. Or, she accidentally gets pregnant.”

“I advocate for the slut who sleeps with lots of men, as well as the woman who sleeps with only one, ever. Promiscuously heterosexual, and happy about it? I’ve got your back.”

Haag's view may find little public support among “mainstream” backers of the president's contraception mandate.

The policy, which forces religious institutions to provide services they oppose, has been consistently defended on “women's health” grounds. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius referred to the concept 10 times during a Feb. 10 PBS NewsHour interview about the mandate.

There are surprising points of convergence, however, between Haag's perspective and that of the U.S. bishops – who have consistently argued that contraception is not health care, because fertility and pregnancy are not diseases.

In a July 2011 letter voicing early opposition to the contraception mandate, the bishops' pro-life chairmain Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo argued against its imposition – on the same grounds that Haag used to “gun it” in favor of “sexual liberty.”

“Pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition to be suppressed by any means technically possible,” the cardinal wrote in the letter.

In that same letter, the bishops' pro-life chairman also voiced suspicion about the real motives for the Institute of Medicine's decision to recommend mandatory contraception and sterilization coverage in all health plans.

“I can only conclude that there is an ideology at work in these recommendations that goes beyond any objective assessment of the health needs of women and children,” he said in the July 19 statement.

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Human rights advocates condemn arrest of Cuban dissident

Havana, Cuba, Feb 24, 2012 (CNA) -

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation has condemned the detention of dissident leader Jose Daniel Ferrer in Havana on Feb. 22.

“Facts like these demonstrate in a blatant way that the totalitarian regime that rules in Cuba is not willing to take even the smallest of steps towards improving the deplorable state of civil and political rights for the vast majority of the Cuban population,” the commission said.

Ferrer, who is the coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, was part of the “Group of 75” dissidents rounded up by the government in the so-called Black Spring of 2003. 

He was sentenced to 25 years in prison but released in 2011 through the intercession of the Church. He stayed in Cuba instead of accepting exile with other former political prisoners in Spain.

His current whereabouts, however, are unknown.

In its statement, the commission said that in recent months, Ferrer led an “extraordinary mobilization of the opposition” in the province of Santiago that has been met “with waves of political repression” by the Raul Castro regime.

The commission said Ferrer was “hunted down” by the government after it learned he was going to travel from Santiago to Havana this week.

According to Oswaldo Paya, the coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement, Ferrer’s detention is not an isolated incident. 

“There has been a lot of repression in the province of Santiago. There have been detentions of members of our movement and members of the Women in White, who courageously proclaim what the Cuban people want: change, peace reconciliation,” Paya said.

Paya recounted to CNA the case of Yosvany Melchor, who was condemned to twelve years in prison “merely because his mother, a poor and simple yet courageous woman, refused to collaborate with State police as a member of our movement.”

“That is repression. Intolerance continues and we continue paving the way to peace, but the way to peace in Cuba must be through the law and freedom. We say this without any class hatred, without hatred of any kind, but rather with much love, with Christian love which is the definitive source of true freedom,” he said.

Paya demanded that the Communist regime “allow the people to have a voice through free elections, freedom of association, freedom of the press and the media, in an environment in which the people of Cuba can decide and write their own national plan. 

The repression in Santiago is an attempt to silence the voice of the people who want change, which the government continues to deny them.”

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Venezuelan cardinal prays for health of President Hugo Chavez

Caracas, Venezuela, Feb 24, 2012 (CNA) - Cardinal Jorge Urosa of Caracas prayed for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who announced he needs to undergo further treatment in his fight against cancer.

During his homily on Ash Wednesday on Feb. 22 at the Cathedral of Caracas, Cardinal Urosa prayed “in a special way for the physical health of the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.”

The Venezuelan leader will travel to Cuba for surgery to have a potentially cancerous tumor removed.

Cardinal Urosa underscored the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation during the Mass and encouraged the faithful to fight sins associated with the flesh, reported local journalist Ramon Antonio Perez.

“We must learn to control our carnal passions and make great sacrifices in order to bear witness to Christ before the world, and to offer our lives for souls as future priests,” the cardinal said.

He also reminded the faithful of the obligation to observe the norms on fasting and abstinence during the season of Lent.

“Lord willing our prayer will be more fervent, and this year the Church encourages us to read the Word of God.  But we should also attend Mass, which is the commemoration of the glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” he added.

Cardinal Ursa also highlighted the practice of charity, recalling Christ’s command to “Love your neighbor as yourself. Lent should be a time to help the poor and needy in our society, as a task of each Christian.”

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Pope’s Twitter followers jump 400 percent in a day

Vatican City, Feb 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

The number of people following Pope Benedict XVI on Twitter has increased 400 percent over the last 24 hours.

On Feb. 23 his account had 2,500 subscribers, but today that figure is at more than 12,500 and is rising.

“It is quite incredible,” said Monsignor Paul Tighe, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, to CNA on Feb. 24.

“And not just the numbers who are now following the Pope’s Tweets but also the number who are then re-Tweeting his message to others. It’s great.”
 
The dramatic upsurge in interest in the Pope’s Twitter presence coincided with the beginning of Lent on Feb. 22.

On that day, Vatican officials began Tweeting part of the Pope’s Lenten message, an innovation they will continue every day until Easter.

Twitter is an online social networking site that enables users to send and read text-based posts of up to 140 characters. Anyone can sign up to follow the Pope, whose messages are tweeted in English, Italian, Spanish, German and French, via @Pope2YouVatican. Soon they will also be available in Portuguese.

“It’s an important initiative for evangelization and evangelization through communication,” Fr. Paolo Padrini, the coordinator of Pope2You, told CNA.
 
“The initiative puts the Pope in contact with the people of God and in particular with young people, because Pope2You was created mainly for young people.”

Wednesday’s message told followers; “Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works.” Today’s Tweet explained how Lent is “a time to renew our journey of faith, both as individuals and as a community, with the help of the word of God and the sacraments.”

Msgr. Tighe says his boss at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, got it right when he said Twitter is like “a small mustard seed that once scattered grows into bushes where birds can rest.”
 
The Lenten Twitter campaign is the latest attempt by the Vatican to make the most of social communications.

In June 2011, the social communications council also unveiled an online news service, www.news.va, which Pope Benedict launched with a Tweet. The site now has over 10,000 people using it every day.

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White House, State Dept. call for condemned Iranian pastor’s release

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The White House and U.S. Department of State are condemning reports that the Iranian government has issued an execution order for Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani because he refuses to reject his Christian faith.

“This action is yet another shocking breach of Iran’s international obligations, its own constitution, and stated religious values,” said a Feb. 23 statement from the White House press secretary’s office.

The White House condemned “in the strongest possible terms” reports that a death sentence was issued for the pastor, expressed “solidarity” with Nadarkhani, and observed that the ability to practice one’s faith “without fear of persecution” is “a fundamental and universal human right.” 

Through its actions towards the condemned pastor, the Iranian government is demonstrating a “total disregard for religious freedom” and “continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens,” it said.

The White House called for “people of conscience and governments around the world” to demand that Iran release Nadarkhani immediately and show a respect for basic human rights.

On the same day, the U.S. State Department voiced deep concern over the reports, noting a recent “increase in repression of freedom of expression” in Iran, where government persecution of religion is “common” and many religious groups “face harsh treatment.”

“We stand with religious and political leaders from around the world” to condemn Nadarkhani’s conviction and call for his release, the State Department said.

Nadarkhani has been in jail since he was arrested for apostasy in 2009. His arrest came after he complained to local authorities about his son being forced to read the Quran at school.

The pastor argued that he had never been a Muslim during his adult life.

Although an appeals court agreed with his assertion, it also ruled that he had left the faith of his ancestors and must therefore recant or face execution for apostasy.

Despite the death threats, Nadarkhani has stood firm and refused to renounce his faith.

Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, said the statements from the White House and State Department confirm the reports he has received from contacts in Iran. Those sources told Sekulow that the government has issued an execution order for Nadarkhani that might be carried out at any time.

“We greatly appreciate the White House’s and State Department's efforts,” Sekulow said.

He added that it “is absolutely critical that we continue to place international pressure on Iran” for Nadarkhani’s “immediate and unconditional release.”

The American Center for Law and Justice has been closely monitoring Nadarkhani’s situation for months, and has asked people to pray for the pastor and spread the word about his plight, especially through social media outlets.

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Former Anglicans make thanksgiving pilgrimage to Rome

Rome, Italy, Feb 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Over 100 former Anglicans from the British Isles concluded a pilgrimage to Rome Feb. 24 in thanksgiving for the creation of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

“It has been quite poignant because almost all of the people who are with me were not Catholics until Easter last year,” Monsignor Keith Newton, the head of the U.K. ordinariate told CNA on Feb. 24.

The ordinariate was established last year by Pope Benedict XVI to give Anglicans the possibility of entering into communion with the Catholic Church while still preserving their “distinctive Anglican patrimony.”
 
“Now they have come to the center of Catholicism, they’ve come to the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul to pray and to give thanks, and I think they’ve been genuinely moved by this, really,” Msgr. Newton said of his fellow pilgrims.

The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham already has 57 priests and over 1,000 members throughout England, Wales and Scotland. This Easter it will receive another 200 lay people and 20 priests into the Church.

“‘Wonderful’ is not a strong enough word to express what we all feel at being together here,” said Father Len Black, the homilist at a Feb. 24 morning Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. Fr. Black was a Scottish Episcopalian minister for 30 years.

“I am certain that, like me, this week you have all experienced the feeling of coming home,” he told the congregation in the basilica’s Chapel of St. Joseph.

“Nowhere can we truly experience this other than being here, so close to the place where the apostle Peter gave his life for the faith and where his successors have guarded the faith for generations.”

On Wednesday the group was personally welcomed by Pope Benedict XVI during his weekly audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall. In return the pilgrims stood and sang the hymn “Praise to the Holiest,” which was composed by Blessed John Henry Newman. The 19th century Anglican cleric turned Catholic cardinal is the ordinariate’s patron.

“I think our musical heritage is as strong part of our patrimony,” said 28-year-old Michael Vian Clark to CNA after today’s Mass. He became Catholic in 2007 and is now the Director of Music at Buckfast Abbey in Devon, England. His highlight of the week was attending Mass at the basilica of San Giorgio in Velabro, which was Cardinal Newman’s titular church in Rome.
 
“It was very, very moving for us to celebrate Mass there with some of the texts Blessed John Henry might have known, but also, importantly, to use two of his hymns as the offertory and post communion, which was really moving and touching in that particular place.”

He said that even though Bl. John Henry Newman “would not have thought that would ever be possible … here we are and it happened.”
 
With little money and no church buildings being given to them by the Bishops of England & Wales, it seems to have been a difficult but happy first year for the U.K. ordinariate.

“We’ve had to live by faith and, in the end, God has provided,” said Msgr. Newton.

“None of us are hungry, none of us have nowhere to live. God will provide, and I think we’ve just got to trust him.”

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