Archive of February 29, 2012

Mass. senator backs exemption to HHS mandate in radio ads

Boston, Mass., Feb 29, 2012 (CNA) -

U.S. Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.) has launched a radio ad that stresses his support for a conscience exemption to the HHS mandate and argues that the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy would have supported the exemption.

The ad campaign began across Massachusetts Feb. 23.

“Religious freedom has always been one of our most precious rights. It's what brought the Pilgrims to our shores hundreds of years ago - so they could freely practice their faith,” Sen. Brown says in the ad. “That's why I'm concerned about a new federal mandate forcing religious organizations to offer insurance coverage for practices that go against the teachings of their church.”

Brown said the requirement contradicts American values of religious tolerance.

“Like Ted Kennedy before me, I support a conscience exemption in health care for Catholics and other people of faith. I believe it’s possible to provide people with access to the health care they want, while at the same time protecting the rights of Americans to follow their religious beliefs.”

Brown characterized the exemption as “a matter of fundamental fairness” that should be provided to all Americans of every party and faith.

The ad did not mention specific legislation. However, Brown has backed the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011, sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

Brown’s staff has pointed to the example of unsuccessful 1997 health insurance legislation drafted by Sen. Kennedy. The bill said that health insurance issuers may inform enrollees of coverage limitations based on the “religious or moral convictions” of the issuer.

But a former Kennedy staffer challenged that interpretation, telling the Massachusetts newspaper The Republican that the bill did not mandate any benefits and was not meant to endorse such exemptions.
Brown has also cited 1995 legislation sponsored by Kennedy which included a provision preventing a doctor or hospital from being forced to perform a procedure in violation of their personal beliefs.

The senator says his evidence includes a letter from Kennedy to the Pope.

In a 2009 letter to Pope Benedict XVI, Sen. Kennedy said, “I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health care field and will continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone.”

Sen. Kennedy’s son, former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, has asked that the ad be pulled. He said that his father agreed that health care providers like doctors and hospitals should be allowed a conscience exemption for performing any service. But his father would have opposed the Blunt amendment, he said.

Brown said Feb. 27 he would not be pressured into pulling the ad, the Associated Press reports.

The Republican’s chief Democratic rival, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren, has also called for Brown to take down the ad.

Warren said the amendment would create a hole in health care coverage and could result in women being denied “preventive health care” for any reason. An ad from her campaign contends the amendment could threaten women’s access to contraception and basic health services such as mammograms and maternity care.

Brown said Warren’s concerns are “red herrings.”

The Department of Health and Human Services mandate, finalized on Jan. 20, would require all employers to provide insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including abortion-causing drugs, as part of “preventive care.”

Catholic leaders and many others have opposed the mandate on the grounds that it violates religious liberty by forcing religious institutions and employers to pay for procedures and drugs whose use they consider sinful.

Though the Obama administration proposed a reputed compromise on Feb. 10, opponents charge that the move is an “accounting trick” that does not address the basic objections.

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Msgr. Ratzinger's new book recalls growing up with Pope Benedict XVI

Denver, Colo., Feb 29, 2012 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI's brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, is due to publish a memoir reflecting on his relationship of eight decades with the current successor of St. Peter.

“My Brother the Pope,” published by the Pope's official English-language publisher Ignatius Press, will be released worldwide on March 1. It features Msgr. Ratzinger's recollections of life with his brother Joseph, recorded for posterity in a collaboration with the journalist and historian Michael Hesemann.

Msgr. Ratzinger and his younger brother were born in 1924 and 1927, respectively. The Pope has described his older brother as a formative influence, saying in August 2008 that “from the beginning of my life, my brother has always been for me not only a companion, but a trustworthy guide.”

“For me he has been a point of orientation and of reference with the clarity and determination of his decisions,” the Pope said on that occasion, while granting his brother honorary citizenship for the papal residence Castel Gandolfo. “He has always shown me the path to take, even in difficult situations.”

The two brothers were ordained as priests on the same day in 1951. Georg Ratzinger combined his priestly calling with his musical talents, and spent three decades directing the renowned “Regensburger Domspatzen” boys' choir.

Joseph Ratzinger, meanwhile, pursued a career as a professor and theologian. This path would take him to the head of the Church's highest doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which he led as cardinal prefect prior to his 2005 election as Pope.

In an exclusive advance excerpt provided to CNA, Msgr. Ratzinger recalls how the future Pope lived during his time as a young assistant pastor.

“He actually felt very much at ease in pastoral work,” he writes in chapter 7. “Above all, religious instruction suited him; he had the gift of presenting even the most difficult subjects so that they could be understood by the simpler children and yet still interested the more demanding students.”

“It gave him great joy. Even though during his first year he already had to take on nineteen sessions a week, he always went gladly into the schools as a religion teacher.”

“Every morning he sat for an hour in the confessional, on Saturdays for four hours. Several times a week he rode his bicycle across Munich to funerals, and he celebrated baptisms and weddings. In addition, he was in charge of the youth program in the parish.”

It was difficult, Msgr. Ratzinger says, for his brother to give up this assignment and devote himself to academic work as a seminary professor in Freising.

But this academic career “did not change him at all as a person … I would have noticed it immediately if he had become different in some way.”

“Our parents thought at first that once he was a professor he would be a bit pompous and talk down to people, but he was never like that; he always remained natural,” the Pope's brother writes.

In the same excerpt, Msgr. Ratzinger offers a classic picture of Bavarian Catholic life at mid-century, reminiscing about the day in 1953 when his brother received his doctorate in theology.

“At that time I was an assistant pastor at Saint Ludwig’s in Munich … and of course I was present when the whole process was concluded with a celebration.”

“The university employees, in uniform and each holding a staff, led off, and the rector and the deans were all wearing their robes. The young doctor had to give a lecture and defend his thesis, which he had composed in Latin, and all this took place in the auditorium of the university.”

“Our parents and our sister had come, too, and were rather impressed by the festive occasion. Afterward, being a young assistant pastor, I invited them to my lodgings in the rectory, and there was bratwurst and rolls and beer, and it all tasted wonderful to us.”

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National Catholic Register announces new editor-in-chief

Irondale, Ala., Feb 29, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Jeanette De Melo, communications director for the Archdiocese of Denver, has been appointed as editor-in-chief of the National Catholic Register.

“Jeanette's background in Church communications and media relations will provide a unique perspective to the Register,” said publisher Michael Warsaw, who serves as president and CEO of EWTN. 

In a Feb. 28 announcement, Warsaw said De Melo will continue efforts to “strengthen” the paper's mission of providing breaking news coverage and news analysis “at the intersection of faith and culture,” both online and in print. 

De Melo noted the “legacy of excellent journalism” that the news agency has upheld ever since it originated from the Denver Catholic Register in 1920.

She added that she is grateful for “this little connection” but even more so for all the people who make the National Catholic Register “the newspaper of record for the Catholic Church in America.”

Warsaw said De Melo's experience, combined with the Register's “great team,” will “further strengthen our capabilities to offer our readers the most complete coverage of any Catholic newspaper.”

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia – who worked alongside De Melo during his time as archbishop of Denver – said that her “deep love for the Church” and “outstanding professional skills” made her the best candidate to handle "this vital kind of leadership.”

At the Archdiocese of Denver, De Melo served as the spokeswoman, communications director and the general manager of the Denver Catholic Register, El Pueblo Católico and the archdiocesan website.

Prior to her work in Denver, De Melo served as the associate communications director for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, where she co-produced a weekly archdiocesan television program.

De Melo's academic background includes a bachelor's degree in humanities and Catholic culture from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio and a licentiate degree in Church communications from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, Italy.

She is a member of the Catholic Press Association and was recently invited to join the association's education committee. She is also a founding board member of ENDOW, a national Catholic women's educational organization.

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Diverse panel testifies against contraception mandate

Washington D.C., Feb 29, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A diverse panel of professional men and women testified against the Obama administration's contraception mandate, calling the rule an attack on religious freedom.

“As a Muslim-American woman and an academic, I have spent my career fighting for women's and minority's rights,” said Asma Uddin, an attorney at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

She added that “the fact that I must be here today to explain why our constitutional rights exist is extremely offensive to me personally.”

Uddin spoke at a Feb. 28 hearing before the full House Judiciary Committee which discussed the administration's controversial contraception mandate.

The federal rule – announced on Jan. 20 by U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius – will soon require employers to purchase health care plans that include coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

Faced with a storm of protest, President Barack Obama promised the inclusion of an “accommodation” for religious freedom. He said on Feb. 10 that instead of directly purchasing the controversial coverage, employers will be forced to buy health care plans from insurance companies that will be required to offer the coverage for free.

Uddin, however, called this accommodation “merely a smokescreen.” She said it is likely that insurance companies will “simply spread the costs” to employers through increased premiums.

She also noted that the “accommodation” does not address self-insured religious organizations, as well as for-profit businesses and individuals with religious objections to the mandate.

Uddin was involved in the recent Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC case in which the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the Obama administration’s narrow view of religion. 

The Becket Fund has now filed lawsuits contesting the mandate on behalf of EWTN, Belmont Abbey College, Ave Maria University and Colorado Christian University.

Uddin acknowledged that “there are many important health concerns affecting women today” and said that her goal was not to “dispute any of these claims or women’s access to them.”

She said that her clients “do not seek to prevent women from accessing these abortion drugs, but they do object to having to provide them against their conscience.”

“Women, too, seek the freedom to live in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs,” she said. “Religious freedom is a right enjoyed by everyone, and it is just as much in women’s interest to
protect that right as it is in men’s.”

Jeanne Monahan, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, said the mandate shows a “profound discrimination against people of faith.”

“While diseases or complications related to pregnancy should be treated, pregnancy itself is not a disease or illness,” she said.

Monahan also observed that Obama’s promised “accommodation” was never written into the regulation, which was finalized in its original form.

Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee, criticized the mandate for its “absurd and surreal consequences.”

He said that Obama’s “accommodation” is merely a “legally unenforceable promise” to change the way the mandate is applied to those who object to it, without granting them an actual exemption.

Under the mentality behind the mandate, he said, “choice” has come to mean “force.”

The choice to use contraception is firmly established in the law and is not being threatened, he said. Rather, the question at hand is whether government can force religious individuals and institutions to provide coverage in violation of their religious beliefs.

The bishop also observed an inconsistency in the Health and Human Services Department’s behavior.

While the department has insisted that all employers across the country must provide contraception, it has decided to allow individual states to decide which “essential health benefits” – such as prescription drugs, emergency services and hospitalization – must be covered under new health care law.

Bishop Lori said that the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act that has been introduced in Congress would “help bring the world aright again” by explicitly protecting those who sponsor, purchase or provide health plans, allowing them to follow their religious and moral beliefs under the new mandates put in place as part of the health care reform act.

He noted that this act would not expand conscience protections beyond their present limits, but would instead retain the freedoms that have long been in place.

The U.S. bishops have joined with numerous other academic institutions and religious groups in calling for legislative efforts to repeal the contraception mandate.

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Dissident says Catholic faith drives his fight for Cuba's freedom

Havana, Cuba, Feb 29, 2012 (CNA) - Cuban dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer said his commitment to fight for freedom in the country is inspired by the Gospels and the Catholic Church.

“I have always believed we should be in the place God wanted us to be and that we should contribute as committed Christians,” said Ferrer, who serves as coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba.

The activist was recently detained by state police for political dissent in eastern Cuba and was released on Feb. 28.

“What I see in the Gospels is that we cannot remain indifferent to the land where we live, to the nation where we were born, that we should do everything possible so that freedom and the fundamental rights of the person are respected,” he told CNA.

Ferrer was among the 75 dissidents jailed by the Castro government in what's known as the Black Spring of 2003. 

He was condemned to 25 years in prison and was released in 2011 thanks to the Church’s intervention.  However, he refused to be expatriated to Spain and now leads the Patriotic Union of Cuba, which seeks a peaceful transition to democracy for the country.

Ferrer explained that his political ideas “are in large measure based on the Gospels and the Social Doctrine of the Church,” and that he fully shares John Paul II’s vision – outlined in his encyclical Centesimus Annus – on the need for nations to be governed by democratic systems and by the authentic rule of law.

He criticized the Communist regime of the Castro brothers for violating the rights and freedoms of Cubans, as well as those who do nothing to change the country and “stand on the sidelines” waiting for others to make sacrifices.

“I think that is a somewhat non-committal, if not almost cowardly attitude,” he said. “Every lay Catholic, every Christian should make a commitment to ensure a legal framework exists in every nation that allows all people to defend their ideas, not only religious ones, not only their faith in God, but also their political and cultural ideas, in every area, in the freest way possible.”

Cubans ought to have the freedom to choose from more than just the one Communist party that exists in the country, Ferrer added, noting that Communism goes against Christianity in its tendency towards totalitarianism. 

“This is the reason or my desire and my commitment for change in Cuba,” he said.

On the state of Cuba after John Paul II’s visit in 1998, Ferrer said that although few things have changed, any positive advancements are due to the “sacrifice of heroic men and women, with courage and faith like that of the early Christians.”

“The rights and fundamental freedoms of Cubans continue to be violated,” he said. “There have been very few social, economic and cultural rights, if any.”

He said John Paul II was very clear and precise in his messages to Cuba, which Cubans have yet to fully embrace. “We cannot ask the Pope to do our job for us,” he said.

Ferrer's remarks to CNA come just weeks before Pope Benedict's heavily anticipated trip to the country  from March 25-28.

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Scottish midwives lose case about objecting to abortion

Glasgow, Scotland, Feb 29, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Two Catholic midwives from Scotland have lost their legal battle to avoid taking part in abortion procedures on grounds of “conscientious objection.”

“I view this judgment with deep concern,” said Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow. “I wish to put on record my admiration for the courage of the midwives who have, at very great cost to themselves, fought to uphold the right to follow one’s conscience.”

Mary Doogan and Connie Wood were previously told by the state-run National Health Service in Glasgow that they had to supervise and support fellow midwives who perform abortions. As senior staff, they were also expected to be on standby to help in abortion procedures in certain medical situations.
On Feb. 29 Scotland’s highest civil court ruled that the women’s religious liberties were not being infringed because “the nature of their duties does not in fact require them to provide treatment to terminate pregnancies directly.”

The Court of Session judgment also said that the women knew abortions were part of the job description when they accepted their posts as labor ward coordinators.
Doogan said they were “very disappointed” by the verdict and that it would have “very grave consequences for anyone of conscience who wishes to choose midwifery as a career.”

The midwives had maintained that their right to opt-out of providing abortions for reasons of conscience was upheld by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Section 4(1) of the U.K.’s 1967 Abortion Act.
The two midwives previously told the Court of Session that “they hold a religious belief that all human life is sacred from the moment of conception and that termination of pregnancy is a grave offense against human life.”
But the National Health Service in Glasgow rejected their appeals, claiming that their rights are being respected because the midwives are not compelled to administer abortion-inducing drugs. The Court of Session today agreed with that argument.

The court ruled today that the 1967 Abortion Act allowed only qualified conscientious objection, and that the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights in relation to freedom of conscience and religion were not absolute.
Both Doogan and Wood have worked for over 20 years at Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital and have always made clear their conscientious objection to abortion.
In 2007, however, the National Health Service in Glasgow decided to send more women undergoing late-term abortions to labor wards, instead of admitting them to gynecological departments. This change in policy led to the current dispute between the health service and the midwives.
Doogan, who comes from Glasgow, has been absent from work because of poor health since 2010, as a result of the ongoing situation. Meanwhile, Wood has been transferred to other duties.

Lawyers for the two women say they will study the verdict before deciding whether or not to appeal.

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College students, professors call on university to obey Vatican

Lima, Peru, Feb 29, 2012 (CNA) - A group of professors, students and alumni of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru are urging the school to obey the Vatican and update its statutes in accord with Church teaching.

Members from the Riva Aguero University Association – named after the principal benefactor of the university –  called on school officials to “fully comply with the petition made by the Holy See, as the university would not exist were it not for the effort of the Catholic Church.”

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.
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 association said in a Feb. 27 statement provided to CNA that the Church “has the right to create educational institutions in harmony with the principles of the faith and her Magisterium.”

Members noted that the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru has been identified “since its founding in 1917” as a Catholic institution dedicated to the “teaching of the doctrine of the Church, under the protection of the Holy See.”

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New exhibit reveals Vatican Secret Archive documents to public

Rome, Italy, Feb 29, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

For the first time in history, the Vatican is making public over 100 historical documents from its Secret Archives.
“They are revealed as a cultural context, as a fascinating appeal to the memory of our past, the past of the Church, of empires, kingdoms, duchies and republics,” said Cardinal Raffaele Farina, Archivist and Librarian of the Holy Roman Church.
The “Lux in Arcana” exhibit at Rome’s Capitoline Museum was created to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Vatican's Secret Archives and includes notable items such as the 1521 decree from Pope Leo X excommunicating German monk Martin Luther.

The display also features a 1530 petition asking Pope Clement VIII to annul Henry VIII of England’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and an 1887 letter from a North American Indian chief – written on a strip of bark – addressing Pope Leo XIII as the “Grand Master of Prayers.”

Cardinal Farina sees the Secret Archive documents as “an incentive to raise the standard of knowledge beyond the empty stereotype to which, if I am not mistaken, much of the current so-called ‘culture of the masses’ unfortunately leads.”

The Vatican archive has 52 miles of shelves that hold 35,000 documents, some of which date back to the 8th century. Usually only professional scholars are given access to the collection, which is one of the greatest and oldest institutional archives in the world.

The exhibition is a joint venture between the Vatican and, among others, the city authorities in Rome. It was inaugurated on the morning of Feb. 29 with a private visit by Cardinal Farina, the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the head of the Vatican’s council for culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, and various other dignitaries from Church and state, including Mayor Gianni Alemanno of Rome.
Although most of the documents are written in Latin, other languages are also on display.

A 1603 letter written by Pope Clement VIII to a religious community in Cuzco, Peru is written in the indigenous Peruvian language of Quechua.
Also featured is a handwritten letter in French from Mary Queen of Scots to Pope Sixtus V, penned just weeks before she was beheaded by Queen Elizabeth of England. In it she describes at length her sufferings, professes her Catholic faith, and commends her soul to God.
There are even diplomatic letters written in the Vatican’s own encrypted code. They were used to prevent secret messages between the Holy See and its diplomats from being intercepted by hostile powers. The oldest of these “ciphered” texts in the Vatican Archives dates back to the first half of the 14th century.
The Secret Archives were created in 1612 by Pope Paul V. It remained closed until 1881 when Pope Leo XIII opened them to academics. Around 1,500 researchers now visit the archive every year.

The “Lux in Arcana” exhibition at Rome’s Capitoline Museum runs until Sept. 9, 2012.

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