Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A federal judge sparked criticism after he ruled unconstitutional the government's accommodation of pro-life beliefs in an anti-human trafficking contract with the U.S. bishops.
“The bishops are disappointed and probably will appeal. This is another assault on the free exercise clause of the First Amendment,” Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. bishops' conference, told CNA March 27.
The bishops' contract proposal for a major five-year grant was approved in 2006 under the Trafficking Victims Prevention Act. The proposal contained language ensuring that its victim services are not used to “refer or fund activities that would be contrary to our moral convictions and religious beliefs.”
It stated that subcontractors could not provide or refer for abortion services or contraceptive materials for its clients.
On March 23 U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns said that the government violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment “insofar as they delegated authority to a religious organization to impose religiously based restrictions on the expenditure of taxpayer funds, and thereby impliedly endorsed the religious beliefs of the USCCB and the Catholic Church.”
The District of Massachusetts judge said the case is not about government forcing a religious institution to act contrary to its fundamental beliefs, but about “the limits of the government’s ability to delegate to a religious institution the right to use taxpayer money to impose its beliefs on others (who may or may not share them).”
The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Massachusetts had challenged the funding, which totaled $19 million and served over 2,700 trafficking victims.
Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, praised the decision.
“The court is right to insist that organizations receiving government funding cannot use their religion as an excuse to discriminate and withhold crucial services from victims of human trafficking,” she said March 24.
The bishops' grant ended on Oct. 10, 2011 amid controversy over the Obama administration’s decision not to renew the contract. In November of 2011, The Washington Post reported that political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services decided against the grant despite staffers’ recommendation that it continue based on an independent review board’s high scores for the USCCB.
George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary for the Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families, said in December of 2011 that the administration decided that the grants would go to the groups that would offer referrals for “family planning services” and “the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care.”
But Steven Wagner, former director of the HHS department that administered funds for human trafficking programs, told CNA in a Dec. 1 interview that the funding initiative was created with the understanding that abortion and contraception were “totally inappropriate” to provide to those seeking aid.
Wagner, who from 2003 to 2006 helped design the assistance program for trafficking victims, said that none of the original grant applicants sought to provide referrals for contraception or abortion.
He warned that the administration was placing trafficking victims at “tremendous risk” by placing them in the hands of less-qualified organizations.
Abortion and contraception are not among the needs of trafficking victims that the federal program should seek to address, he added.
Sex traffickers often benefit from abortion because it allows their victims to be “back on the market” sooner. There are also problems with abortion clinics facilitating trafficking by providing abortions but failing to report suspected trafficking to authorities, Wagner said.
Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2012 (CNA) - The U.S. Catholic bishops' conference asked the Supreme Court to uphold a lower court's judgment against Arizona's controversial immigration law, in an amicus brief filed on March 26.
Joined by two Protestant denominations, the bishops' conference declared its “strong interest in ensuring that courts adhere to two important goals of federal immigration law – the promotion of family unity and the protection of human dignity.”
According to the conference, “the provisions of SB 1070 at issue in this case would hinder these critical federal objectives by replacing them with the single goal of reducing the number of undocumented immigrants in Arizona at all costs.”
On April 25, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Arizona v. United States, pitting the state against the federal government over its 2010 immigration law.
Portions of the law were struck down by a lower court in April 2011 – including the requirement for police to check suspects' immigration status, and a provision forcing immigrants to carry proof of legal residency. A section forbidding illegal immigrants from seeking work publicly was also blocked.
While Arizona officials maintain that the measures reflect existing federal law, the federal government itself regards Arizona's law as an infringement on its own authority over immigration.
In their brief, the U.S. bishops' conference encouraged the nation's highest court to uphold the Ninth Circuit decision against portions of the law.
If the law is upheld, they warned, it could give rise to a “patchwork” of laws in different states – with a chilling effect upon the charitable work of the Church.
Different states, the brief observed, could give different interpretations to a prohibition on “harboring” illegal immigrants. Church leaders have argued that some interpretations of these laws could prohibit many forms of charitable aid to illegal immigrants.
The bishops' brief also noted that the Church's faith “requires it to offer charity – ranging from soup kitchens to homeless shelters – to all in need, whether they are present in this country legally or not.”
“Yet S.B. 1070 and related state immigration laws have provisions that could either criminalize this charity, criminalize those who provide or even permit it, or require the institutions that provide it to engage in costly – if not impossible – monitoring of the individuals they serve,” the brief argued.
“This in itself, as well as the proliferation of fifty different laws of this kind, would unnecessarily intrude on the Church’s religious liberty.”
Atlanta, Ga., Mar 28, 2012 (CNA) - Several pro-life leaders urged prayer and justice in the wake of the Florida shooting of 17-year-old high school student Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch patrolman.
“Our hearts go out to the family of Trayvon, his young life cut so short,” said Day Gardner, founder of the National Black Prolife Union.
“As we pray for other lives lost, including those in the womb, it is important for us to remember that every life is sacred, from conception and fertilization until natural death. There was nothing natural about the killing of Trayvon, and we are saddened.”
Dr. Alveda King, niece of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said she is praying for Martin’s family.
“Senseless killing from the womb to the tomb must cease. Trayvon is yet another example of the slaying of an endangered species: America's youth,” King said in a March 27 statement from the Atlanta-based group King for America.
The Feb. 26 shooting in Sanford, Florida has become the center of a major controversy.
Martin was visiting his father’s fiancée in a gated community. That night, he was reportedly returning to her home from a convenience store after buying Skittles and an Arizona iced tea.
Martin’s girlfriend has said that she was on the phone with him that evening and he was worried he was being followed. She said a man asked Martin what he was doing in the neighborhood before she heard an apparent conflict on the other end and lost the connection.
The 28-year-old Zimmerman said that he was patrolling the neighborhood when he saw Martin and called police to report a suspicious person. He and Martin then allegedly exchanged words. Zimmerman claims that Martin punched him in the nose, sending him to the ground and that the teen began beating him and slamming his head into the sidewalk.
When they arrived to the scene, police found Martin dead from a gunshot wound. Zimmerman had a swollen nose, a swollen lip and bloody lacerations to the back of his head, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Although Zimmerman claims that the shooting was in self-defense, many civil rights leaders have objected to the lack of criminal charges against him, raising concerns that the patrolman racially profiled Martin. They said the shooting was not properly investigated and voiced concerns about Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law which advocates self-defense.
Some pro-life leaders echoed their concerns.
“Trayvon Martin's death is senseless, and we are deeply grieved that a young man's future has been aborted and hidden under a cloak of Florida's ‘Stand Your Ground’ law,” Alveda King said.
The leaders called for non-violent peaceful conflict resolution in the search for justice for Martin.
“The future of our community resides with our youth. We cannot allow our children to be victimized by stereotyping and fear,” said Pastor Stephen Broden of Fairpark Baptist Church in Houston, Texas.
“However, we must allow the legal system to investigate the facts of this tragic situation and at the same time allow that same system to exact justice appropriate to the evidence.”
Havana, Cuba, Mar 28, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Cuba has made progress towards full religious freedom and the government should continue these advances to strengthen society and to allow the Catholic Church to pursue her mission, Pope Benedict XVI said at a huge public Mass in Havana, Cuba.
“It must be said with joy that in Cuba steps have been taken to enable the Church to carry out her essential mission of expressing her faith openly and publicly,” the Pope said in his homily on March 28.
“Nonetheless, this must continue forwards, and I wish to encourage the country’s government authorities to strengthen what has already been achieved and advance along this path of genuine service to the true good of Cuban society as a whole.”
Religious freedom shows “the unity of the human person, who is at once a citizen and a believer,” he explained. This freedom legitimizes believers’ contributions to building up society.
“Strengthening religious freedom consolidates social bonds, nourishes the hope of a better world, creates favorable conditions for peace and harmonious development, while at the same time establishing solid foundations for securing the rights of future generations.”
An estimated 700,000 people attended the Mass at Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, where large black silhouettes of the Cuban revolutionary leaders Fidel Castro and Che Guevara decorate the buildings.
“I feel great joy in being here with you today to celebrate Holy Mass during this Jubilee Year devoted to Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre,” the Pope said, referring to Cuba’s patron saint.
The Pope’s March 28 homily came on the third and final day of his visit to Cuba, where tensions between the Catholic Church and the communist government have eased in recent decades.
He emphasized that the Church’s support for religious freedom is not a claim of any special privilege. Rather, it is an act of faithfulness to Jesus.
“The Church lives to make others sharers in the one thing she possesses, which is none other than Christ, our hope of glory,” he said. Where Christ is present, mankind “becomes more human” and finds consistency.
Pope Benedict expressed hope that the Church in Cuba can resume work in education, following the example of 19th-century educator and Servant of God Fr. Félix Varela.
“Father Varela offers us a path to a true social transformation: to form virtuous men and women in order to forge a worthy and free nation,” he said. “Cuba and the world need change, but this will occur only if each one is in a position to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sowing reconciliation and fraternity.”
The Pope also reflected on the nature of faith and freedom, using the Scripture readings at Mass.
“Dear friends, do not hesitate to follow Jesus Christ,” he exhorted. “In him we find the truth about God and about mankind. He helps us to overcome our selfishness, to rise above our ambitions and to conquer all that oppresses us. The one who does evil, who sins, becomes a slave of sin and will never attain freedom.”
The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar’s persecution of three young believers in God, recounted in the Book of Daniel, showed that they experienced the strength to glorify and praise God “in the conviction that the Lord of the universe and of history would not abandon them to death and annihilation.”
“Truly, God never abandons his children, he never forgets them. He is above us and is able to save us by his power. At the same time, he is near to his people, and through his son Jesus Christ he has wished to make his dwelling place among us in,” the Pope said.
Jesus’ own revelation of himself as the son of God the Father and the Savior provokes “resistance and disquiet.” Though he accuses his hearers of seeking to kill him, he exhorts them to believe in order to know “the truth which redeems and dignifies.”
Pope Benedict criticized both the skepticism and relativism of Pontius Pilate and the “irrationality and fanaticism” of those who wrongly interpret the search for truth and become closed up and try to impose truth on others.
The first attitude changes hearts and makes them “cold, wavering, distant from others.” Those who have this attitude, like Pilate, “wash their hands and let the water of history drain away without taking a stand.”
As for fanaticism, he noted, “anyone who acts irrationally cannot become a disciple of Jesus.”
“Faith and reason are necessary and complementary in the pursuit of truth,” he declared, saying that the Christian faith promotes “not irrationality but rather the yearning for truth.”
Pope Benedict closed his homily by invoking the blessing of the Virgin Mary.
“Let us walk in the light of Christ who alone can destroy the darkness of error,” he said. “And let us beg him that, with the courage and strength of the saints, we may be able, without fear or rancor but freely, generously and consistently, to respond to God.”
Rome, Italy, Mar 28, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A delegation of Catholic clerics has been blocked from entering Vietnam to investigate the possible beatification of Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan.
“This is very disappointing news but it proves again how very difficult is to deal with communist authorities as they are so untruthful in their dealings,” Vietnamese-born Bishop Dominic Luong of Orange County said to CNA on March 28.
A delegation from Rome was planning to visit Vietnam from March 23 to April 9 to hear testimonies from people who knew Cardinal Van Thuan, who died in 2002. The group also wanted to speak to two women – a nun and a lay woman – who claim they were miraculously cured through his heavenly intercession.
On March 28 the Vatican Press Office confirmed for CNA that the group’s tourist visas were revoked by the Vietnamese authorities. They stressed, however, that the delegation was not traveling in any official capacity for the Vatican and that the group did not use the Holy See’s diplomatic channels in planning their visit.
While the press office would not confirm the identities of the group’s members, it also denied media speculation that Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, was part of the delegation.
Cardinal Van Thuan was named the Archbishop of Saigon just seven days before the fall of South Vietnam to the communist North in 1975. He was then imprisoned for 13 years, nine of which were spent in solitary confinement. He was released in 1998, only to be placed under house arrest until 1991, when he was forced to leave his homeland.
He spent his exile in Rome where Pope John Paul II appointed him President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 1998. He was elevated to the Sacred College of Cardinals in 2001. He died a year later after a long battle with cancer.
At the opening of Cardinal Van Thuan’s cause for beatification in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI praised “the shining witness of faith which this heroic Pastor bequeathed to us.”
Father Peter Nguyen Huu Giai, a priest in the Vietnamese Diocese of Hue, told UCA News that he and several others had been ready to give evidence to the delegation early next week.
“I have prepared documents in English and French to present the delegation, but it is regretted that I could not meet them,” he said March 26.
Fr. Nguyen said he believed the refusal to grant visas is a result of the Vietnamese government’s sensitivity surrounding any possible beatification.
“I look forward with optimism about the Cardinal’s beatification process because the Holy See has the right to beatify him (regardless of) the government.”
Due to an editing error, story originally described the delegation as coming from the Diocese of Rome. The delegation, in fact, was only comprised of clergy from the Rome area. Corrected March 29, 2012 at 9:01 a.m. MST.
Havana, Cuba, Mar 28, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - As he concluded his historic trip to Cuba, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged the people of the island nation to “look again to the faith of your elders” and to “draw from that faith the strength to build a better future.”
By allowing the “most noble values” of the Cuban soul to blossom, the country can create “the basis for building a society of broad vision, renewed and reconciled,” he said as he prepared to leave for Rome.
During a March 28 farewell ceremony at José Martí International Airport, the Pope urged the nation to “trust in the Lord’s promises” and be open to the Gospel “so as to authentically renew your personal and social life.”
Looking to the future, the Holy Father noted the need to “reject immovable positions and unilateral viewpoints which tend to make understanding more difficult and efforts at cooperation ineffective.”
In a reference to the political situation in Cuba, the Pope said respect for basic freedoms is “essential in order to respond adequately to the fundamental demands” of human dignity and to “build up a society in which all are indispensable actors in the future of their life, their family and their country.”
He also alluded to the continued embargo against Cuba, saying that “restrictive economic measures, imposed from outside the country, unfairly burden its people” and worsen problems of material need.
The Pope’s farewell comments echoed themes that he highlighted during much of his March 26-28 trip to Cuba.
Throughout his visit, he repeatedly emphasized the need for a renewal of faith, in order to bring about peaceful change in society.
He also stressed the importance of freedom – particularly religious freedom – in allowing the Church to help build up society.
In a March 27 meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro, the Pope presented humanitarian requests and discussed the continued plight of Cuban dissidents, especially those in prison.
He also asked Castro to declare Good Friday a national holiday due to its importance in the Catholic calendar.
As his pilgrimage came to an end, the Holy Father promised to “continue praying fervently” that Cuba may progress in its journey of “authentic development” in Christ.
He urged the nation to hold tight to Christ, explaining that “wherever he is present, discouragement yields to hope, goodness dispels uncertainties and a powerful force opens up the horizon to beneficial and unexpected possibilities.”
Pope Benedict finished his farewell by entrusting the Cuban people to Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, asking her to continue to “sustain them in the midst of their trials and to obtain from Almighty God the grace that they most desire.”
Havana, Cuba, Mar 28, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The words of hope delivered by Pope Benedict XVI to the people of Cuba at a March 28 Mass are inspiring Latin Americans from countries across the region.
Nadia Martínez de Pimentel told CNA that the Mass was an “overwhelming experience.”
Originally from the Dominican Republic, she said that she was deeply touched to see the “resilience of the people of Cuba” and the faith they have exhibited despite numerous challenges.
“I think that just to be part of it is a very humbling experience,” she said.
Officials predicted a turnout of more than half a million people at the Papal Mass in Revolutionary Square in Havana, Cuba on March 28, which came on the final day of the Pope's visit to the country.
During his homily, Pope Benedict applauded steps that have been taken in Cuba “to enable the Church to carry out her essential mission of expressing her faith openly and publicly.”
He urged the nation to “continue forwards” and encouraged the government to “strengthen what has already been achieved.”
The Pope told the people of Cuba that the “path to a true social transformation” requires the formation of “virtuous men and women” who can help to “forge a worthy and free nation.”
“Cuba and the world need change, but this will occur only if each one is in a position to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sowing reconciliation and fraternity,” he explained.
The Pope’s message made an impression not only on Cubans, but on members of other Latin American nations as well.
Pilgrims from countries including Puerto Rico, Mexico and the Dominican Republic flocked to Cuba to participate in the papal events that took place March 26-28.
Diana, age 20, said that she came to Havana from Mexico because she wanted to “hear the message of faith” that the pontiff was bringing to Cuba.
Although the Pope just concluded a visit to her home country of Mexico, she followed him to Cuba in order to immerse herself even further in his words to Latin America.
Diana called it “amazing” that she was able to see and listen to the “representative of God on earth.”
“You get to know another country through this experience,” she observed, adding that she believes her participation in the papal events “will bring me closer to Christ.”
For pilgrim Ramon Tallaj, the Pope’s message “is clear.”
Tallaj, a Latino who lives in the United States, explained that “the Holy Father came to tell the people about hope.”
Even in the most oppressing circumstances, people need not lose hope if they can turn to their faith, he said, because ultimately “that is what matters.”
Tallaj believes that apart from politics, faith and religion are “important for the human being.” Although religion can be a force for social change, he added, any movement must begin with a profound renewal of faith.
Ultimately, Tallaj thinks Pope's visit will have a long-lasting effect in bringing about true change for the people of Cuba. “Now it is confirmed,” he said. “This truly is a revolution square.”