Archive of March 21, 2012

Report on Europe finds 'numerous' anti-Christian actions, crimes

Vienna, Austria, Mar 21, 2012 (CNA) - A new report says that 85 percent of hate crimes committed in Europe during 2011were aimed at Christians.

The report, from the Austria-based Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe, summarized incidents ranging from vandalism and insults to the suppression of religious symbols, desecrations, “hate crimes” and religiously motivated violence.

Dr. Gudrun Kugler, director of the observatory, said studies suggest that 85 percent of hate crimes in Europe are directed against Christians.

“It is high time for the public debate to respond to this reality!” Kugler said.

In Scotland, 95 percent of religiously motivated violence targets Christians. In France, 84 percent of vandalism is directed against Christian places of worship.

The observatory has also monitored professional restrictions on Christians. A restrictive definition of freedom of conscience means that professions such as magistrates, doctors, nurses, midwives and pharmacists are “slowly closing for Christians.”

Teachers and parents “get into trouble” when they disagree with state-defined sexual ethics, the report said.

One survey in the U.K. indicates popular perception agrees. Seventy-four percent of poll respondents said that there is more negative discrimination against Christians than people of other faiths.

The observatory intends to monitor both the social marginalization of Christians and the denial of their equal rights.

Catholic Bishop András Veres of Szombathely, Hungary, reacted to the report March 19.

“The bishops in Europe are particularly conscious of these manifestations of religious discrimination and intolerance which actually confirm how some values and fundamental rights proper to Europe, such as freedom of religion and the legal recognition of our Churches, are far from being an established reality in some nations of the continent,” said the bishop, who follows the observatory’s activities under a mandate from the Council of the Episcopal Conferences of Europe.

He characterized the report as an invitation for all Christians who have experienced discrimination or intolerance because of their religious beliefs to “step out from anonymity and be courageous.”

The observatory’s report said that the anti-Christian actions are technically “a form of persecution,” but it advised against labeling them as that in Europe to prevent confusion with anti-Christian crimes in other countries.

The report also lamented stereotypes and prejudices in public discussion about religion, such as the instantaneous and incorrect labeling of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik as a fundamentalist Christian.

The observatory also noted positive developments.

“We were pleased to note that many who have focused exclusively on third world countries that demonstrated outright persecution, are beginning to notice that the marginalization and restriction of rights and freedoms of Christians in Europe are also of concern and deserves our attention,” Kugler said in the report’s introduction.

Among the highlights for 2011 were a resolution in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that encouraged public debate on anti-Christian issues and a reassessment of legislation with the potential for negative effects on Christians.

Another was the European Court of Human Rights to overturn a court decision against crucifixes in state school classrooms in Italy.

In January 2012, the Spanish government stopped a compulsory education class which drew objections from 55,000 parents, including many Christians.

The observatory stressed the religious freedom rights of both individuals and religious communities. Religion is a “valuable asset” for society that encourages healthy life and contributions to the common good, it said.

Bishop Veres encouraged religious believers to live their faith.

 “(B)elieving in God must not be perceived as a fault or sign of weakness,” he said. “Living and witnessing to one’s own religious creed in respect for the freedom and sensitivity of others can only be beneficial for everyone, believers or non-believers, Christians or non-Christians.”

The bishops of Europe support those whose rights are not respected. Religious freedom is a “valuable good” that continues as a “pillar of peace on our continent,” the bishop said.

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Abortion funding still required under health care law

Washington D.C., Mar 21, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A federal regulation requiring Americans to fund elective abortions under the health care reform law has yet to change and continues to spark outrage from pro-life advocates across the country.

Richard Doerflinger, secretariat of pro-life activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA on March 19 that the regulation presents “nothing new” but merely repeats what the health care law said from the beginning.

“If people are surprised, that is because they believed false and misleading accounts of the Act two years ago, instead of the accurate descriptions by the bishops’ conference and other groups,” Doerflinger said.  

He explained that the funding of abortion was among the bishops’ reasons for opposing the final law, despite their “longstanding support for health care reform.”

On March 12, the Department of Health and Human Services filed a final rule on the implementation of the state exchanges created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Included in the regulation is a provision regulating involuntary funding of insurance plans that cover elective abortions.

During debates over the health care overhaul, President Barack Obama promised that federal money would not be used to fund abortion under the legislation. Under pressure from legislators who threatened to vote against the bill, he signed a March 2010 executive order repeating this promise.

However, critics say that the administration has now implemented an accounting gimmick in order to provide funding for abortion in the form of a mandatory insurance premium rather than a tax payment.

Doerflinger said that although many private health plans currently cover abortion, there will be several significant changes under the new law.

First, he said, plans that choose to cover abortion will now receive federal tax subsidies, forcing all taxpayers to contribute to them.

This new policy is contrary to that put in place by the Hyde amendment, as well as every other major federal program that prohibited tax money from subsidizing abortions, he noted.

In addition, Doerflinger explained, many Americans will be “forced to pay directly for other people’s abortions as well.”

This will take place through a monthly surcharge for people enrolled in plans that cover abortion. According to federal regulations, this surcharge will be at least one dollar per month; however, there is no maximum rate, and nothing prohibits insurance companies from charging substantially more to pay for abortions.

Of particular concern, noted Doerflinger, is the fact that insurers will not be allowed to let people simply decline coverage of abortion and refuse to pay that part of the premium, even on the ground of religious or moral objections.

He added that the federal government prohibits insurers from giving enrollees a “specific warning about the fact that they are buying abortion coverage.” 

It also forbids insurers from telling enrollees how much of their money is going towards other people’s abortions, thereby making it very difficult or even impossible to withhold this portion of the premium.

According to the federal regulation, notice of the abortion surcharge does not need to be mentioned in a plan’s advertising and must be disclosed “only as part of the summary of benefits and coverage explanation, at the time of enrollment.”

Although states may choose to “opt out” of covering abortion in their health care plans – and 15 states have already done so –  they may still be required to pay for such coverage through the “multi-state plans” that are to be created under the health care law.

Details for these plans, which will be administered by the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management, have not yet been released.

However, concerns have been raised that if some of these plans are permitted to cover abortion, they can do so even in states within their multi-state region that have banned such coverage in their state exchanges.

“Pro-life Americans shouldn’t be forced to have their premiums used to pay for other people’s abortions,” said Mary Harned, staff counsel with Americans United for Life.

She explained to CNA that allowing insurance plans that cover abortions to be subsidized by the government is a “departure from existing laws” that is “really no different than directly paying for the abortions.”

She added that the lack of a conscientious exemption from the surcharge means that “there’s no real choice in this matter for the enrollee.”

Harned said that many people must use the insurance plan offered by their employers, so switching to a plan that does not cover abortion is not an option for them.

Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the congressional pro-life caucus, added that burying the abortion surcharge in the summary of benefits will mean that many Americans “could easily miss the fine print” while looking for insurance options.

“Once enrolled, even pro-life Americans will be forced to pay for other people’s abortions,” he warned in a March 15 statement.

Smith called the regulation “a mere bookkeeping exercise” that still requires Americans to be “complicit in abortion” against their will.

He emphasized that the current age of ultrasound imaging has allowed for a revolution in the true health care services that can be provided to children in the womb.  

“Abortion isn’t health care,” he said.

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Religious freedom rallies planned in over 120 locations

Chicago, Ill., Mar 21, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

On March 23, more than 120 cities and towns across the U.S. will hear a demand to stop the Obama administration's contraception mandate and restore the freedom of religious institutions and believers.

“The buzz is incredible,” said Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, who is organizing the Nationwide Rally for Religious Freedom along with Citizens for a Pro-Life Society.

“I'm getting phone calls from people all over the country.”

When CNA last spoke with Scheidler, on Feb. 29, protests were being planned in around 50 cities. Since then, the administration has refused to withdraw or change its contraception insurance mandate – and the scope of the national protest movement has more than doubled.

“New cities and towns are still coming on to the rally every single day,” Scheidler said on March 20. “We went into the weekend with 110, we came out of the weekend with over 120.”

“The number of blog posts, and stories, and chatter on Facebook is another sign,” he noted. Based on these indications in both new and traditional media, he expects “a huge turnout across the country,” possibly reaching into the tens-of-thousands.

The March 23 protests, taking place at historic sites and government buildings, are scheduled for the Friday before the Church's Feast of the Annunciation. That date also happens to be the anniversary of Patrick Henry's 1775 “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech.

Scheidler says the protests are part of a movement that will not stop until it secures the free exercise of faith.

“At no point has the Obama administration ever taken seriously the conscience concerns, the moral objections, or the religious objections, of the American people to this mandate,” he observed.

“Until they allow all employers to opt out of providing contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs – which are not 'preventive care' for anything, because pregnancy is not a disease – we will continue to fight this mandate.”

The debate over the contraception rule has intensified in recent weeks, despite the White House's attempt to quell controversy in February by promising a set of accommodations that would involve different methods of payment and billing.

These changes were rejected by the U.S. Catholic bishops and others, who called for an end to the rule requiring institutions to provide contraception, sterilization, and abortion-causing drugs through their health plans.

Health and Human Services' most recent announcement suggested some alternate payment plans that religious institutions' insurance providers might use to cover contraception without a co-pay. But the same announcement made clear that the mandate's narrow exemption clause would not be revised.

Some supporters of the mandate have accused opponents of waging a “war on women.” President Obama has presented the argument as a debate over access to contraception, a charge Scheidler considers both a falsehood and a ruse.

“It is insulting to the intelligence of women, and men, that they continue to use this outrageous rhetoric – and create these entirely fictional 'crises.'”

“There's no contraception (access) 'crisis' in this country. And nobody – nobody! – is suggesting that contraceptives be banned.”

Opponents of the mandate, he said, are only demanding the right to opt out either of paying for contraception and abortion-causing drugs, or making contracts under which they would be provided.

Regarding the assertion of a “war on women,” Scheidler dismissed the charge as bogus – suggesting that the very idea was part of a “war going on against women's intelligence.”

“Anyone can see how much of the pro-life and pro-family movement is led by women,” he noted.

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Rule applying mandate to student health plans draws criticism

Washington D.C., Mar 21, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Representatives of Catholic colleges voiced disappointment in a new federal rule finalizing the requirement to include student health plans in a controversial new contraception mandate.

Patrick J. Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, said the mandate will undermine the efforts of every Catholic family that “chooses a Catholic college to ensure an appropriate Christian environment for their daughter.”

Reilly told CNA on March 19 that the requirement violates religious freedom and will be helping to “supply promiscuous college students.”
Under the mandate, he explained, a college freshman girl will be able to arrange for a free “tubal ligation or an IUD or the abortion-causing drug Ella, covered without copay by the insurance plan offered by her Catholic institution.”

On March 16, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule on student health plans under the health care reform law. The regulation will require colleges to treat student health plans like employee plans, making them subject to the administration’s contraception mandate.

The controversial mandate has come under fire in recent months because it will require employers to offer health care plans that include coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.

Catholic colleges and universities do not qualify for the narrow religious exemption to the mandate. Rather, they will likely fall under a second set of guidelines that the Obama administration describes as its “accommodation” for religious freedom.

The implementation of that accommodation has not yet been finalized and is currently the subject of a 90-day public comment period.

However, initial statements by the administration have suggested that religious organizations will be required to contract with an insurance provider – or third party administrator, in the case of self-insured organizations – that will offer the coverage that the organizations find objectionable.

“This doesn’t surprise me,” said Mike Hernon, vice president for advancement at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

He explained that the administration had expressed its intention of including student health plans in the mandate from the very beginning, and the final rule has simply “made it crystal clear” that the administration intends to go through with its plan.

“This is a violation of our First Amendment freedoms,” Hernon said, explaining that university chooses not to cover products and procedures that are contrary to Church teaching in its voluntary health plan for students.

Students choose to attend Franciscan University of Steubenville “because they want to be part of a culture that support life and the mission of the Church,” he said, adding that the mandate “flies in the face of that.”

Hernon explained that in order to live out its mission as a Catholic institution, everything from hiring decisions to the formation of the curriculum at the university is “completely intertwined with the Catholic faith.”

The mandate attempts to force the university to separate its teaching in the classroom from its action in the health insurance plans that it provides, he said.

Larry Morris, general counsel for The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., agreed.

He explained that the required inclusion of student health plans is “no less offensive” than the original requirement to offer the objectionable coverage to employees.

The regulation uses the “same compulsion” to turn the university into an “instrument of the government” in carrying out actions that are contrary to Catholic teaching, he said.

Several colleges have filed lawsuits against the administration arguing that the mandate violates their constitutionally-protected right to religious freedom. 

In addition, numerous religious groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have voiced support for legislation to protect the conscience rights of both religious organizations and faithful individuals throughout the country.  

The Cardinal Newman Society has stated that “the fullest protection of religious liberty for Americans is possible only by rescinding the federal mandate.” 

It has called on Catholic colleges across the country to “clearly and publicly oppose this mandate and the Obama administration’s inadequate religious exemption” until the religious liberty of both individuals and institutions is secure.

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Cuban bishop dismisses claims of violence against Church protestors

Havana, Cuba, Mar 21, 2012 (CNA) -

Despite local media reports, Bishop Emilio Aranguren of Holguin, Cuba has denied that any violence was used against a group of protesters who occupied the Cathedral of St. Isidore last week.

On March 13, some 17 dissidents protested in the cathedral, while 20 others occupied the Church of St. Jerome in the city of Las Tunas, which is also in the Diocese of Holguin.

The state-run media in Cuba alleged that Bishop Aranguren used violence to force them out of the cathedral and that he even slapped one protestor as he was attempting to make a call on his cell phone.

“There were some words exchanged because the young man who was in the first pew in front of me took out his cell phone, and I told him to put it away because cell phones are not allowed in the church, either for phone calls or for taking pictures,” the bishop said.

He said that during the exchange, the man “told me I was not a pastor, and I raised my voice and energetically made a gesture to convey that he was offending me.”

“Various members of the group told him to be quiet. I did not slap him at any time, nor did I make any gesture that caused him to drop his cell phone,” the bishop said.

Within the last week, other protestors had occupied Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Charity in Havana and the Cathedral of Pinar del Rio in an apparent effort to demand an audience with Pope Benedict during his March 25-29 visit to the country.

Spokesman for the Archdiocese of Havana, Orlando Marquez, called the incidents an “organized strategy by various groups in different regions of the country” aimed at “creating difficult situations” as the Pope's visit approaches.

Although local Church authorities have a history of support and empathy for other groups of political dissidents in the country, Marquez called the recent protests “illegitimate” and “irresponsible.”

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Mexican cardinal says 'civilization of love' is possible

Mexico City, Mexico, Mar 21, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - As Pope Benedict's March 23-25 trip to Mexico nears, Cardinal Norberto Rivera of Mexico City invited locals to open their hearts to Christ in order to change society for the better.

“The civilization of love is possible, not because of our intelligence or because of some fantasy, but because love has already been poured into our hearts and we need to discover it, experience it and above all bear witness to it inside the Church and in our world,” the cardinal said after celebrating Mass on March 18.

As the country struggles in the throes of increasing violence and drug trafficking, the cardinal told members of the faith that it is “up to us to open the doors and windows so that the true sun of justice, who is Christ Jesus, can enter our world, enter into us and renew the face of the earth and give us a new heart.”

Pope Benedict's highly anticipated visit to the country begins on March 23, when he will arrive in the city of Leon and be officially greeted by President Felipe Calderon, Archbishop José Martín of Leon and representatives of the Mexican bishops' conference.

On March 24 the pontiff will have an official meeting with President Calderon and his delegation at the Conde Rul House, the seat of the Guanajuato state government where Leon is located. He will then greet and bless children and the faithful who are gathered in La Paz square.

On Sunday, March 25, Pope Benedict will celebrate Mass at the municipality of Silao’s Bicentennial Park, at the foot of Cubilete Hill. He will later celebrate vespers at Leon’s cathedral and deliver a message to the bishops of Mexico and other representatives of the bishops’ conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Pope welcomes news of rapid Church growth in Texas

Vatican City, Mar 21, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI is “glad to hear” from U.S. bishops on a recent visit to the Vatican that the Catholic Church is rapidly expanding in Texas.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, told CNA that what caught the Pope's attention the most is that “we are the region in the United States where the Catholic population is growing and growing intensely.”

Cardinal DiNardo and 21 other bishops from Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma have just completed six days in Rome on what is known as an Ad Limina Apostolorum visit. That involves making pilgrimage to the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul as well as meeting the various Vatican departments to discuss the health of the Church in each diocese.

“This has been a very fine visit,” Cardinal DiNardo said, “and we’ve had beautiful celebrations at the tomb of the apostles.” He said that “offering Christ’s sacrifice” at the tombs renewed the bishops “sensibilities” towards their “commitment to the apostolic faith” and brought about “a grand communion of all the bishops together.”

The delegation met with Pope Benedict XVI in three groups over two days. Cardinal DiNardo, who also serves as head of the U.S. bishops' pro-life committee, explained the changing demographics of the Catholic Church in their region to the Pope.

He noted that 25 years ago, Houston had a Catholic population of around 12 percent – a that figure has since doubled.

The ethnic diversity of that new Catholic community is now such that Mass can often be offered in 18 different languages across the diocese each Sunday. The main influx has come from other parts of the U.S. such as the Midwest or north-east and also from other parts of the Americas.

“Houston also has the largest Vietnamese population outside Orange County in California,” explained Cardinal DiNardo.

The city has 135,000 Vietnamese of which about 30,000 are Catholic. That figure is rising, said the Cardinal, as many Vietnamese are now converting from Buddhism to Catholicism.

He described the trend as “very interesting” and ascribed it to the intensity with which Vietnamese Catholics practice their faith.

Cardinal DiNardo said the “huge influx” of people from all over the world and from elsewhere in the U.S. has produced “a grand enrichment and a very positive flavor to Catholicism.” Added to a “Texan informality” and the result has been a faith which “people find very welcoming.”

This has been “extremely helpful,” he said, in making people feel “attached” to the Church so that “we can then deepen more in terms of formation and catechesis.”

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