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Archive of March 15, 2012

Philly archdiocese ex-financial officer to face charges in $900,000 theft

Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 15, 2012 (CNA) -

The former chief financial officer of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has turned herself in to the Philadelphia district attorney to face several charges related to the theft of almost one million dollars from the archdiocese.

The archdiocese said it has worked closely with the D.A. during the investigation of the alleged crime.

Guzzardi, 42, allegedly stole the money from the archdiocese from 2005 until 2011 while in lower level positions. The Philadelphia district attorney’s office said she used 184 archdiocesan checks to pay her American Express bills. She also was found to have paid her personal Chase credit card with archdiocesan funds, using 146 checks for that account.

She was named chief financial officer on July 1, 2011. On July 13, the district attorney’s office alerted the archdiocese to accounting irregularities reported by a credit card company. She was placed on leave July 14 and fired on July 22 after the archdiocese’s preliminary forensic accounting investigation, the archdiocese said.

The thefts totaled over $900,000.

Guzzardi faces charges of theft, forgery, unlawful use of a computer and other crimes. She had worked with the archdiocese since 1989.

Insurance will cover most of the costs for the embezzled funds and some of the fees for the archdiocese’s internal investigation. The district attorney’s Cyber and Economic Crimes Unit has recovered $150,000 from Guzzardi, which will be returned to the archdiocese.

The money came from the archdiocese’s general fund, not its annual Catholic Charities appeal or its “Heritage of Faith – Vision of Hope” capital campaign.

“The theft had no effect on the work of the Blue Ribbon Commission or the decision to close or regionalize any school,” the archdiocese said March 13, referring to the commission that recently decided to close or merge dozens of Philadelphia Catholic schools.

In February Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia announced that internal financial controls will be strengthened in response to the theft.

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New poll shows Scotland opposed to 'gay marriage'

Glasgow, Scotland, Mar 15, 2012 (CNA) -

The majority of Scots do not support legal recognition of “gay marriage,” according to a recently conducted poll in the country.

“I hope that the Scottish Government will consider these findings very carefully and accept that objections to their proposals are not primarily religious but exist widely across society among people of all faiths and none,” a spokesman for the Scotland for Marriage campaign said March 14.

“There is clearly no support whatsoever for a society which creates in law a situation which deliberately deprives a child of a mother or a father.”

The Opinion Research Business' January 2012 survey asked 1,004 Scottish adults to agree or disagree with the statement, “Since gay and lesbian couples already have the same rights as married couples available to them under civil partnership, they should not be allowed to redefine marriage for everyone else.”

Fifty-three percent of respondents agreed, while 36 percent disagreed.

“There simply is not majority support for this very contentious and divisive issue,” the the Scotland for Marriage spokesman added.

“This is not a religious matter and assurances given to religious bodies will do nothing to comfort the majority, most of whom are not religious, who do not support same sex marriage.”

The findings showed that around 69 percent of respondents agreed that the ideal situation for a child is to be raised by a married mother and a father, while 29 percent disagreed.

Other poll questions concerned how defenders of traditional marriage are viewed.

About 71 percent of respondents disagreed that someone who defends traditional marriage is “discriminating against gays and lesbians.” Only 21 percent agreed.

Eighty-five percent agreed that it is possible to be tolerant of the rights of others and protective of traditional marriage at the same time, while only nine percent disagreed.

Respondents were almost evenly split over whether people feel intimidated into saying they support same-sex marriage because it is “politically correct.”

They were similarly divided on whether the debate to legalize “gay marriage” is a distraction from the recession and other political priorities, like independence for Scotland.

Supporters of the Scotland for Marriage campaign include both religious and non-religious groups: the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, the Evangelical Alliance, the Christian Institute, CARE for Scotland and the Family Education Trust, among others.

More information can be found on the Scotland for Marriage website at: http://scotlandformarriage.org.

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Bl. Kateri's canonization a sign of hope for Native American Catholics

Rome, Italy, Mar 15, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - South Dakota's Native American Catholics are looking toward Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha's canonization for hope amid social and economic troubles, according to Bishop Robert D. Gruss of Rapid City.

“I think this canonization of Blessed Kateri will be a great inspiration, and give them hope in their lives,” Bishop Gruss told CNA on March 9, during the last days of his “ad limina” visit to Rome with other bishops from his state as well as Minnesota and North Dakota.

“It's the first Native American woman to be canonized as a saint, so she will really be a symbol for them. And that's our hope: that in the midst of all of that, it will inspire them, and allow them to be drawn deeper into their own faith.”

Bishop Gruss and his fellow bishops met with Pope Benedict XVI and Vatican officials during the traditional trip to Rome, offering them an update on the state of their local churches over the past five years.

“When I spoke with the Holy Father, I shared with him the challenges that the Native American people on the reservations in western South Dakota have,” said Bishop Gruss, who became the Bishop of Rapid City in July 2011.

During their meeting, he asked the Pope to pray for the faithful living on the reservations.

“They're located in five of the poorest counties in the United States, with a lot of drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and crime. The suicide rate, especially among young people, is far above the national average.”

Bishop Gruss sees a “vibrant spirit” among those Native American Catholics who practice their faith. He noted that the Church allows them to incorporate parts of their own indigenous culture and spiritual heritage that are compatible with Catholic doctrine.

“What we try to do is bring the Gospel to them, on the reservation, and try to help them in any way that we can. I spoke with the Holy Father about programs that are being offered to help them with the challenges that they have – but still, the challenges remain.”

“They've been dealing with these challenges for many years. But with the canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, in October, they're very excited about that.”

In December 2011, Pope Benedict formally approved the canonization of the 17th-century Native American woman, who converted to Catholicism at age 18 and lived a remarkable life of prayer and penance before her death at age 24. The Pope will declare Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha a saint on Oct. 21.

Bishop Gruss said the future saint's faithful perseverance would be a model for Native American Catholics, and all believers.

“She began to embrace the Catholic faith, and it was a real hardship for her. Her parents and family rejected her, her tribe rejected her. So in the midst of her challenges and rejection, she stayed true to the faith and her love for Jesus Christ.”

“I think that, in and of itself, will bring the Lakota People of South Dakota hope.”

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Cardinal Ortega: Pope will leave spiritual mark on Cuba

Havana, Cuba, Mar 15, 2012 (CNA) - In a Cuban state-run television address, Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino of Havana said Pope Benedict's upcoming trip to the country will leave a lasting spiritual change among the people.

In his historic message on March 12, Cardinal Ortega prayed that “the presence of the Pope in Cuba will leave an immeasurable spiritual mark that cannot be reduced to statistics, but that will remain always in our hearts, in the spirit of the people.”

During his speech, Cardinal Ortega recounted his experience at the Feb. 18 consistory in Rome, when the Pope created 22 new cardinals.

At the conclusion of a meeting prior to the ceremony, “Benedict XVI looked up and saw me, and he called me over with a smile, so I was the first cardinal to greet the Pope that day.”

“With great affection he took my hand and said, 'See you in Havana,'” the cardinal said.

Those words “reveal all of the Pope’s desire, his sympathies, his excitement to visit us and to respond to our invitation and to come as a pilgrim to Cuba in this jubilee year,” he added.

Cardinal Ortega recalled that when Blessed John Paul II visited Cuba in 1998, he was accompanied by then Cardinal Ratzinger, who was very moved by the visit.

After his election as Pope, Cardinal Ortega learned that Benedict XVI has always kept “Cuba in his heart since the beginning of his pontificate as a place he wanted to visit.” He issued the Holy Father repeated invitations to visit the island, and ultimately, the cardinal recalled, President Raul Castro also invited the Pope to come.

The celebration of the 400th anniversary of the devotion to Our Lady of Charity in Cuba convinced the Holy Father the time was right for the visit, he explained.

Cardinal Ortega said he hopes the papal visit will “revive a sleeping faith, a faith that has been somewhat erased but is present in the hearts of the people. And the Pope thus feels that he is coming to confirm us in that faith, to reaffirm in us those Christian values that the faith has sown in our country.”

The Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth who “is coming to Cuba to care for that flock. That command is for him: Tend my sheep, feed my lambs. That is the command the Lord gave to Peter which he fulfills in his person.”

“Pope Benedict XVI is the Pope of the Truth” and he knows that “without truth there is no science.  Nobody can make a new scientific discovery without first getting to the truth of things. 

Nobody can reach a valid conclusion about an analysis of reality without first getting to the truth of things.  In other words, the human being must seek the truth, and the Pope has been a defender of this cause, of those who search for the truth,” Cardinal Ortega said.

He warned against the dangers of seeing truth as relative and against the “absolutism or truly totalitarian or tyrannical regime that results from someone claiming to posses the one and only truth.”

“That is not what the Pope proposes regarding truth. Neither of these two excesses is acceptable,” the cardinal said.

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Nicaraguan bishops reject proposal to legalize drugs

Managua, Nicaragua, Mar 15, 2012 (CNA) - The president of the Nicaraguan bishops' conference said he is against the legalization of drugs in Central America, stressing that “the consequences would be worse” than the current situation.

In an interview with local media on March 12, the Bishop Socrates Rene Sandigo responded to a proposal by the president of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina, to legalize drugs in the region. 

The measure is slated to be discussed with other leaders of Central American countries on March 24.

“The theory that this would reduce consumption is false. I think it would instead increase it and make it easier, and therefore we would be exposing people to something damaging to their health,” Bishop Sandigo said. 

Bishop Sandigo also disagreed with the participation of President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua in the meeting, arguing that economic interests were likely behind the proposal to legalize drugs.

“Since drugs are not taxed, government officials resent the fact that they cannot generate any tax revenue from this market in the same way that they can from other drugs that are legal,” the bishop said.

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Cardinal Wuerl stresses right to public faith in new book

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2012 (CNA) -

For Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C., the Church’s ongoing battle for religious freedom in America highlights the need for Catholics to bring their faith into  the public square.

In his latest book, the cardinal challenges lay Catholics to participate in the New Evangelization through their daily activities, a task  that he describes as particularly important in a democratic society like the U.S.

Cardinal Wuerl told CNA that the Obama administration’s contraception mandate illustrates an “erosion of religious liberty” that is “one of the most worrisome” challenges ever faced by our nation.

“Never before in the history of our country have we been told you can’t participate in the good works of the common good unless you violate your conscience,” he said.

He asserted that the Church’s ability to serve is being threatened by the HHS mandate, which would require employers to offer health insurance covering contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so is in violation of their firmly-held religious beliefs.

At the heart of the problem is the government’s attempt to “define what constitutes legitimate expressions of religious faith, Catholic ministry and Catholic ministers,” he said.

The cardinal warned that Catholics must not sit by while their freedom to express their faith is under attack. He encouraged Americans to “speak up” about the mandate and other important issues, explaining that when they do, the government hears them and often institutes change.

The connection between Catholic faith and public life is a central theme in the cardinal’s new book, “Seek First the Kingdom: Challenging the Culture by Living Our Catholic Faith” (Our Sunday Visitor, $19.95).

He writes in his book that all those who live in a democracy have a duty to participate in the political processes that elect public officials and develop public policy.

For Catholics, this means  bringing their principles and values into the public forum. The convictions of one’s faith should impact public policy views “because the same person who is a citizen is also, for the most part, a believer, a participant in the life of the Church,” he said.

Unfortunately, Cardinal Wuerl observed, religion’s contribution and place in society are largely dismissed today.

The often-cited principle of “separation of church and state” was not intended to remove religious values from political life, but rather to protect religious freedom in order “to ensure that the voice of religious conviction would always be felt in our society,” he said.

People forget that the Catholic Church has had a place serving the common good for centuries, since “before there was even a Democratic or Republican party,” he added.

Cardinal Wuerl explained that defending the Church’s fundamental freedoms is one of the ways  Catholics can respond to God’s call to manifest his kingdom in their lives as citizens. 

“It is precisely in the day-to-day activities, whether it involves our family, our profession, our work or our ministry, that the presence of the kingdom is realized,” he said.

With his latest book, the cardinal hopes to encourage the lay faithful “in their vocation to bring about the evangelization and sanctification of the temporal order.”

“The Catholic laity have a role in carrying out the work of the Church and responding to Jesus’ commissioning that we are all to be his witnesses,” he said.  

He pointed to Pope Benedict’s call for a New Evangelization and said this makes it an “appropriate time” to highlight the laity’s role in responding to Christ’s commission to witness to the world.

Participating in the New Evangelization, he explained, requires “a deepening of our own faith, a renewing of our confidence in the truth of our faith and then the outreach of sharing our faith.”

It also means responding to the “great need today to reach out to Catholics who have drifted away from the faith,” he said.

The cardinal called on Christians to resist the temptation to get lost in a world that is becoming “increasingly secular” and to “see in our daily actions the spiritual dimension that is intricately a part of them as we do our part to manifest God’s kingdom among us.”

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Texas bishops hear call to unity at St. Peter's tomb

Vatican City, Mar 15, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Bishops must strengthen their bonds of unity in order to evangelize the world, San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said in a March 15 homily at the tomb of Saint Peter.

“In this work towards New Evangelization, our unity is an imperative,” the archbishop told over 20 of his fellow bishops from Texas and surrounding regions.

On March 15, they began their “ad limina” visit to discuss the state of their local churches with Pope Benedict XVI and Vatican officials.

“In the supercharged environment in which we minister today, my brothers, let us not allow others to divide us – to set us against one another,” the Archbishop of San Antonio told his fellow participants in the pilgrimage to Rome.

“Here in the 'Eternal City,' let us renew our commitment to the bond of charity with one another, and with the entire college of bishops, under the headship of the successor of Peter, Pope Benedict.”

Archbishop Garcia-Siller said the task of evangelization – especially the “New Evangelization” of Western countries where Christian faith has been lost or weakened – would require “unity with the Lord himself, in the person of Peter. And also unity among us.”

This, he said, was Christ's own will and prayer for the Church: “'That they may be one, as you, Father, and I, are one, so that people will come to believe.'”

The celebration of Mass at St. Peter's tomb is a traditional part of the bishops' pilgrimage “to the threshold of the apostles,”and is done every five years. The bishops of Texas, as well as parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas, are the tenth U.S. group to make the trip in recent months.

In addition to their meetings with various Vatican departments from March 15-20, the bishops will celebrate Mass at historic locations – including the altar of Blessed John Paul II in St. Peter's Basilica.

In his homily at St. Peter's tomb – located underneath the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica – Archbishop Garcia-Siller noted Jesus' words in the day's Gospel reading: “Every kingdom divided against itself, will be laid waste.”

But Christ himself “has been victorious over the forces of evil. That, we fully believe.”

On March 14, Pope Benedict's Wednesday audience focused on the Virgin Mary's role in the Church, during her earthly life and beyond. Archbishop Garcia-Siller stressed the same theme in Thursday's homily, invoking the help of the “Mother of Apostles” to keep their successors united in brotherhood.

With Mary's help, the archbishop said, “many more will come to believe that Jesus is Lord” – and that “the truth he lived and proclaimed” is taught by his Church today.

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Pope prays for victims of Swiss bus crash

Vatican City, Mar 15, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI has voiced his prayers and condolences for the victims of a deadly bus accident in Switzerland that killed 28 people, including 22 schoolchildren.

“His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI associates himself in prayer with the suffering of the mourning families, entrusting the victims to the mercy of God and asking Him to welcome them into His light,” Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said in a telegram sent on the Pope’s behalf to Archbishop Andre-Mutien Leonard of Mechelen-Brussels in Belgium.

The tourist bus carrying 52 people hit a wall inside a tunnel after departing for home from a Swiss Alps ski vacation, the Associated Press reports. The Belgian children were on a school outing. In addition to the 22 children who died, 24 were hurt and some suffered serious injuries.

Pope Benedict also expressed his “profound sympathy” for the injured and their families as well as his “closeness” to rescue workers, praying that God will “give them help and consolation in their moment of trial.”

“As a token of comfort, the Holy Father confers a special apostolic blessing upon everyone affected by this drama,” the cardinal said.

Bishop Norbert Brunner of Sion, Switzerland assured victims and their families of their prayers.

“We ask the Lord to take care of the families and give them hope,” he said March 14. “We thank all the helpers and rescuers and the people who support the families in grief.”

The bishop celebrated a memorial Mass for the dead on March 15 at the Parish of Sainte-Croix in Sierre, the city where the accident occurred.

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First secular business files lawsuit over HHS mandate

St. Louis, Mo., Mar 15, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Missouri business owner has become the first employer of a for-profit, secular company to bring a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.

“Religious liberty is not limited to institutions,” said attorney Francis J. Manion, who says his client believes the administration is forcing him to violate his conscience under the new federal rule.

Manion told CNA on March 15 that the lawsuit is important for private business owners because it asserts that “they too have religious rights, and the government has to respect those rights under the Constitution.”

The most recent lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was filed March 15 in a federal district court in St. Louis.

Manion, who serves as senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, is representing Frank R. O'Brien and the company that he chairs, O'Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC.

The holding company, which is based in St. Louis, Missouri, operates numerous businesses that explore, mine and process refractory and ceramic raw materials. Its products go to more than 40 countries around the world. 

O’Brien says his right to religious freedom is being threatened by a federal mandate announced Jan. 20 that would require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and drugs that cause early abortions, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.

His company, which employs 87 people, now joins numerous religious organizations that have brought lawsuits against the mandate.

The most recent legal challenge asks the court to issue a permanent injunction to halt the implementation of the mandate for all those who have religious objections to it.

Manion said that the mandate would require business people such as O’Brien to abandon their religious beliefs in order to continue running their companies.

O’Brien says that his Catholic faith serves as a foundation for the operation of his business and his company’s website explains that its mission is “to make our labor a pleasing offering to the Lord while enriching our families and society.”

The business owner has instituted multiple programs to help his employees in purchasing homes, paying for their children’s college education and saving for retirement.

Manion explained that O’Brien is not trying to prevent his employees from accessing contraception, which is already widely available at low cost, but simply objects to paying for it against his beliefs.

He noted that the state of Missouri currently has a contraception mandate in place, but added that it exempts employers with religious objections. He called on the federal government to show the same respect for the religious convictions of its people.

A recent New York Times / CBS News poll shows that the majority of Americans support an exemption for all employers who have religious or moral objections to the mandate.

Manion fears the administration sees the current debate as a religious organization problem only.

The new lawsuit illustrates the large scope of those who would be affected by the mandate, he said, explaining that he has had numerous other individuals express similar concerns over the mandate to him.

Manion is confident that the outcome of the case will be positive. He pointed to a recent ruling by a federal judge that Washington pharmacists could not be forced to dispense the “morning-after pill” against their religious objections.

The case was decided in favor of a for-profit, secular pharmacist with similar arguments, he said, adding that he thinks the courts will continue to acknowledge the strength of such arguments.  

“We’re a pluralistic society,” Manion explained. “There are ways to accomplish things without trampling on people’s religious rights.”

“It’s just not the American way, and it never has been,” he said.

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Church's tax preparation help saved Americans $7 million in 2011

Alexandria, Va., Mar 15, 2012 (CNA) - Americans in need saved $7.4 million through the free tax preparation assistance offered by Catholic Charities during 2011, according to new figures released by the national organization.

Father Larry Snyder, Catholic Charities USA's president and CEO, said the figures showed the need for a “holistic approach to providing programs and services to those in need,” as Catholic Charities seeks to do through its financial literacy programs and tax preparation aid.

A “single point of access” to such services, Fr. Snyder indicated, could help a greater number of needy U.S. residents achieve financial security.

Figures obtained by Catholic Charities, through its January 2012 survey of member organizations, suggest that its financial services may be underutilized. Although the 44 surveyed agencies serve 3.5 million clients annually, fewer than 1 percent of them sought financial training or tax preparation help.

In its announcement of the survey results, Catholic Charities USA noted that a lack of awareness surrounding these financial services – offered by a majority of the surveyed affiliates – “continues to be a barrier in communities throughout the country.”

In other areas, however, demand for the Church's charitable assistance exceeds supply. All of the 44 agencies surveyed said they had to turn away individuals, or place them on a waiting list, during the last quarter of 2011, especially in cases involving financial emergencies or a need for utilities.

But even more basic needs, Catholic Charities said, are not always met – as in the case of three agencies forced to turn away 1,750 or more people who sought food between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2011.

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