Vatican City, Apr 10, 2012 (CNA) -
Officials at the Pontifical Academy for Life are offering two different and contrasting explanations for canceling a controversial summit that would have included embryonic stem cell researchers.
In one letter, which was sent to a scheduled speaker, the academy's chancellor and officer for studies state that the conference was canceled for economic reasons – and not because of the “lobbying activity” of “some pro-life activists” who “do not enjoy any credit” from the pontifical academy.
But in a separate letter to some academy members, Chancellor Father Renzo Pegoraro said the meeting's indefinite postponement was due in part to the “threats coming from some persons” using “false and tendentious information” to raise “doubts or even fears” about the conference.
One member of the academy, who has seen both letters and because of the sensitivity of the situation requested anonymity, stated that the “attempt to explain the cancellation of the Congress as required for purely economic reasons is an obvious lie.”
The Third Conference on Responsible Stem Cell Research was due to take place at the Vatican from April 25-28. It was to feature contributions from several researchers whose work with embryonic stem cells involves techniques condemned by the Church.
Organizers at the pontifical academy said these researchers would be sharing their expertise in non-embryonic areas of research – such as adult stem cells – and would not promote views contrary to Catholic teaching. In late March, however, the conference was canceled without a public explanation.
In two subsequent letters, both dated April 4, the academy's chancellor appeared to offer conflicting accounts of the cancellation.
“Unfortunately we were obliged to take the grave and painful decision to call it off because we have not been able to get a sufficient number of sponsors,” chancellor Fr. Pegoraro and Officer for Studies Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau wrote in a letter to speakers for the conference.
“The still limited number of registrations to the congress, at one month from it, kept the returns well below what was expected, which did not guarantee that we could reach the necessary balance in the congress budget,” the chancellor and officer wrote.
“Most probably you heard about the growing opposition from the congress that came from some pro-life activists,” they noted in their letter. “These persons do not enjoy any credit from the Pontifical Academy for Life, as well as from the other organisms of the Holy See.”
“There has been therefore no decisive link between their lobbying activity against the Stem Cell Rome 2012 Congress and the decision to call it off.”
But a letter sent to some members of the academy, signed only by the chancellor and not by Msgr. Suaudeau, explained the decision differently.
“One of the reasons – but not the decisive one – of the postponing of the meeting to a date that remains to be chosen, were the threats coming from some persons who, with false and tendentious information, were able to rise (sic) interrogatives, doubts or even fears in influential persons worthy of respect.”
“As in the two previous occasions, the theme of this third congress was the clinical application of the research of somatic adult and umbilical stem cells,” Fr. Pegoraro explained in the letter to academy members.
The meeting, he said, aimed to “give support to the scientific progress in that field” – putting aside what he called “useless controversies about human embryonic stem cells,” a topic the conference would not have dealt with directly.
Fr. Pegoraro followed up this explanation to academy members by noting that the indefinite postponement of the meeting “became also necessary because of the lack of funding.”
Meanwhile, at least three members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who had declared their opposition to the embryonic researchers' participation in the congress, told CNA they have not received either of the April 4 letters explaining its cancellation.
The Pontifical Academy for Life's own statutes permit collaboration with “non-Catholic and non-Christian medical experts, so long as they recognize the essential moral foundation of science and medicine in the dignity of man and the inviolability of human life from conception to natural death.”
In comments provided to CNA, one member of the academy noted that the choice of speakers for the canceled conference was “obviously contrary to the statutes,” and “attracted opposition not merely from pro-life leaders who are not members,” but also “from a significant number of members of the Pontifical Academy for Life including some on the governing council.”
According to this source, some academy members' “objections to unsuitable speakers were simply rejected by the president,” Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula.
The member, who asked not to be identified, criticized certain officers of the academy for “seeking to deceive the public about the reasons for the cancellation of the stem cell congress, when evidence for the real reasons can be so readily provided to the public.”
According to this source, an earlier e-mail from one of the organizing officials gives “the real reasons for cancellation” – namely, that the academy was “ordered by a higher authority to replace the unsuitable speakers,” but decided the order was “not feasible” and instead chose to cancel the event.
The source within the academy also took issue with the perceived criticism of pro-life activists in the letter sent to the conference’s speakers, in which it was said that activists opposing the congress “do not enjoy any credit from the Pontifical Academy for Life, as well as from the other organisms of the Holy See.”
“Apart from any other considerations that observation seems to me disgraceful,” the academy source remarked. “What does the Pontifical Academy of Life stand for if has no respect for pro-life activists?”
Washington D.C., Apr 10, 2012 (CNA) - Architecture students at The Catholic University of America are seeing their design efforts come to life through a project to build a modern-day hermitage in the middle of Washington, D.C.
William Jelen, director of the collaborative project, called the experience “one of the best teaching tools there is,” explaining that he had no idea what a modern-day hermitage would be like.
He said that the design emphasized “the relationship of the sacred with the profane” and was intended to show that “each moment in our lives can be an opportunity for sacred appreciation and meditation.”
Current and former students at the School of Architecture and Planning gathered March 29 at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America to watch their design take on physical form.
Amid the busy backdrop of northeast D.C., the students witnessed the construction of a building that will one day allow for quiet prayer and contemplation.
When it is completed, the 350-square-foot structure will provide a silent and solitary space where a single person can reside for either long or short periods of time.
The hermitage will contain a sleeping area and restroom, as well as a kitchenette, deck and garden.
The design, which won the 2010 Unbuilt Award from the American Institute of Architects in D.C., will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It will also be environmentally sustainable, making use of a ground source heat pump, natural ventilation and floorboards of recycled lumber.
The hermitage is scheduled to be finished in July, and three more will be built at a later date.
Alec Higinbotham, who graduated from The Catholic University of America’s architecture and planning school in 2010, returned to see the construction of the building that he helped design.
He explained that while it was one thing to see the digital model of the hermitage, “it’s another thing to see it brought to life.”
Fourteen students were involved in designing the structure. Fifteen more have worked to design furniture and help facilitate the construction of the building.
The project was initially planned after the Franciscan Friars requested the help of the architecture students to design the hermitage in 2009.
Students from The Catholic University of America also helped the friars last year with installing solar panels in the monastery’s gardens in order to power its greenhouse.
Randall Ott, dean of the Architecture and Planning School, expressed gratitude to the monastery “for giving our students the chance for this experience.”
He said that while the students know “how to draw and design,” the hermitage project gives them a greater depth of experience by allowing them to watch the building come into being.
Denver, Colo., Apr 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Thousands of new Catholics were baptized and thousands more Christians were received into full communion with the Catholic Church at the Easter vigil last weekend.
Jeanette DeMelo, communications director for the Archdiocese of Denver, reflected on the vigil Mass’ beginnings in darkness and the symbolism of its transformation into full light.
“Christ our light comes and breaks through the darkness that we experience in suffering and in death and in sin,” she told CNA April 9. “I think that also happens for each of those people who are coming into full communion with the Church. There is that experience of the light of Christ.”
Young and old, single and married, immigrants and native-born Americans, all came together as the newest members of the Church for the feast of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
One of those received into the Church is Houston resident Randall Wilson, a meteorologist who was born and raised a Baptist. He first experienced the Catholic Mass while on a date and felt drawn back for more, according to the U.S. bishops’ conference.
“The richness and fullness of the Catholic Church isn't found anywhere else. Looking back, I see how much was missing,” he said ahead of Easter. “I’m not even 100 percent Catholic yet, but I can't imagine my life without the holy sacraments, without praying the holy rosary, without confessions and without the holy Eucharist.”
Those who were not already Christian received the sacrament of Baptism, while those converting from other Christian traditions made a profession of faith with the newly baptized. They all participated in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, which is a process for conversion and study of the Catholic faith.
About 22 people from a variety of backgrounds, mostly unbaptized catechumens, entered the Catholic Church at downtown Denver’s Holy Ghost Church.
“Our sanctuary was completely filled. It was great also for our pastor, with his first time celebrating the Easter Vigil,” parochial vicar Fr. Michael Warren, OMV, told CNA April 9.
One man had come from a “very difficult family background” and underwent many “spiritual struggles,” the priest reported.
He had doubts about his ability to finish the RCIA program and doubts about his ability to be loved by God.
“There were lots of times he was tempted to drop out of the program, but he persevered,” Fr. Warren said. “He was probably the happiest of the whole lot, because he had known such a great trial. He was so happy when the moment finally came to be able to enter the Church.”
At St. Agnes Parish in St. Paul, Minnesota, a family of nine children was baptized on Saturday.
After their mother died, they went to live with their uncle. He enrolled them in the parish school, where they had powerful experiences at Mass and took religious classes that encouraged them to ask their school’s pastor for baptism.
Felichia Laws, a 30-year-old Texas resident, told the bishops’ conference that her new daughter’s baptism helped encourage her to join the Catholic Church.
“During my daughter’s baptism, my body was overcome by so much joy and fulfillment that it is very hard to put into words,” said Laws, who began the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults just before her daughter received baptism.
“I realized then that though I had started the process for her, I also wanted the same baptism for me.”
Teenaged brothers Alex and Chris Barbosa were baptized at St. John Catholic Church in Monroe County, Michigan.
Chris, 13, told the Monroe News his reason for baptism was “hope.”
Sixteen-year-old Alex said he wanted “to form a better relationship with God.”
“It was destined to be,” he said.
The numbers of new Catholics run into the tens of thousands.
In the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, nearly 2,400 joined the Catholic Church. Groups of over 1,000 people joined the Church in the Archdioceses of Denver, New York, San Francisco, San Antonio, and Washington.
The Diocese of Orange set a record number for new Catholics, with 921 newly baptized and 668 already baptized Christians entering the Church.
Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Washington have welcomed over 1,000 people into the Church at Easter for each of the past nine years.
According to the 2011 Official Catholic Directory, over 43,300 adults were baptized as Catholics last year, while 72,800 people were received into full communion with the Church.
Piura, Peru, Apr 10, 2012 (CNA) - Mexican actor and pro-life advocate Eduardo Verastegui played the role of Jesus in a Good Friday Way of the Cross in the northern Peruvian province of Piura.
Prodded by residents of the town of San Jacinto to take part in the depiction of the Passion, Verastegui accepted to play the role of Jesus. He was in the region with 40 volunteer missionaries from the United States.
The Mexican actor persuaded a few of his companions to join in the presentation, including Mexican singer Alexander Acha, the son of famous singer Emmanuel. Acha played a Roman soldier.
On Holy Thursday a day prior, Verastegui gave a talk addressing life issues at the Church of the Most Blessed Sacrament in the city of Piura.
During his visit to Peru he was also accompanied by Disney actors David Henrie and Gregg Sulkin of the series, “The Wizards of Waverly Place.”
The trip was sponsored by the Catholic mission organization “Manto de Guadalupe,” which Verastegui founded for charitable purposes and to promote pro-life advocacy.
Manto de Guadalupe is also collaborating in the construction of 18 homes for the poor in the region of Piura, and it is producing a documentary to promote missionary work among young people.
Miami, Fla., Apr 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Servant of God Fr. Felix Varela, a 19th-century educator and slavery abolitionist who advocated for Cuban independence, has been declared “venerable” by Pope Benedict XVI in recognition of his heroic virtues.
“He was an exemplary priest, jealous for the salvation of the souls, motivated profoundly by his life of prayer, and by a fervent love of God and fellow men,” said a March 14 decree from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
The congregation praised his “remarkable personality” and his “Christian and priestly virtues.” It unanimously recommended papal approval for the declaration.
The priest’s travels took him from Cuba to Spanish-held Florida in the early 1800s. He spent three years in Spain and lived in New York for 30 years before returning to Florida, where he died in 1853.
The decision to declare Fr. Varela “venerable” drew praise from the lands where he ministered.
On Easter Sunday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York announced the Pope’s approval of the declaration.
“The Archdiocese of New York rejoices at the news that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has declared Father Felix Varela Venerable, the first and a significant step on the road to possible eventual beatitude and canonization,” the archdiocese said April 8.
In Florida, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami noted the Pope’s description of Fr. Varela as a “shining example” of the contributions a person of faith can make.
“Varela in his own words reminds us that ‘there is no authentic fatherland without virtue’,” the archbishop said April 9.
Fr. Varela was dedicated to his faith from an early age.
“I want to be a soldier of Christ. My purpose is not to kill men, but to save souls,” he said at the age of four, according to the declaration from the Vatican congregation.
Fr. Varela, the son of a Spanish Army captain, was born in Havana on Nov. 28, 1788. In 1794 he traveled to St. Augustine, Florida. Despite the prospect of a promising military career, he entered Havana’s College Seminary of St. Charles and St. Ambrose and was ordained on December 1811.
He taught philosophy and law at the seminary. During his tenure at the seminary, he wrote a popular philosophy textbook and became prominent in education and economic development. In 1821 he was elected to represent the Cuban people in the Spanish Parliament, where he introduced proposals in favor of the abolition of slavery and in favor of self-rule for the Spanish colonies in the Americas.
The proposals ran afoul of King Fernando VII. He imposed the death penalty on political and military leaders opposed to absolute monarchy, including the priest.
Fr. Varela fled to the United States, where he became a pastor and later vicar general of the newly created Diocese of New York. He built new churches, asylums and schools and launched social programs. He also worked with immigrants, particularly those from Ireland.
He continued his intellectual work in defense of Catholic doctrine, the abolition of slavery and the independence of Cuba. He spent the last years of his life in Florida, where he died in St. Augustine on Feb. 18, 1853.
The priest’s remains now rest at the Great Hall (Aula Magna) of the University of Havana.
Fr. Varela won praise from Pope Benedict during the recent papal visit to Cuba.
The Pope’s homily for the March 28 Mass at Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución called Fr. Varela an “illustrious son of Havana” who was “the first one who taught his people to think.”
“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.
Oswaldo Paya, the Cuban-born global director of the Christian Liberation Movement, anticipated the declaration in a March 2012 interview with CNA about the priest.
Fr. Varela is very popular among Cubans, he said.
“They see him as one of the shapers and founders of our national identity, as the man who spoke to us about national independence and against slavery.”
Lima, Peru, Apr 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Pontifical Catholic University of Peru says it refuses to comply with a Vatican deadline to reform its statutes until an unrelated legal dispute with the Archdiocese of Lima has been resolved.
As “of today there is no agreement on a comprehensive solution to the problems that exist,” the university announced on its website April 9.
The university rector notified the Apostolic Nunciature in Peru on Monday that it would not convene an assembly to approve the reforms which were demanded by the Vatican as a condition for maintaining its status as a Catholic and Pontifical institution.
The Vatican had given the school until April 8 – later extending the deadline to April 13 upon the university's request – to comply, which marked the first time the Holy See has set such a deadline for a school to reform.
University officials have been refusing to accept 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.
An investigation of the university was carried out Dec. 5 -11, 2011 by Cardinal Peter Erdo of Budapest, who found the Lima-based institution to be at odds with the Catholic Church in several significant areas of policy.
In an unrelated dispute, the school has pitted itself against the Archdiocese of Lima involving the wishes of Jose de la Riva-Aguero, a Catholic patron who donated the land where the university was built.
Riva-Aguero had stipulated in his will that the land would belong to the university as long as a representative of the Church was allowed a seat on its board of directors. The university had defied a ruling by the Peruvian civil courts to give the Archdiocese of Lima a seat on its board of directors.
In their April 9 statement, officials blamed the Archbishop of Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, for the failure to reach an agreement before the deadline. Officials said a “comprehensive solution” involving the administration of the university’s assets could not be reached, despite the issue having no relation to the Vatican reforms.
On April 4, the university suspended the meeting of the assembly scheduled for April 13, alleging that an “impasse” had surfaced regarding the administration of the inheritance left by Riva-Aguero. The assembly would be convened, they noted, “when there is a corresponding agreement” with the Church.
Peruvian newspaper El Comercio recently published an interview with Cardinal Cipriani which took place during Holy Week, where he lamented that the “rector wanted to link the issue of the Riva-Aguero estate with the situation of the university’s Catholic identity and statutes.”
“This was not requested by Rome, those are not the statutes,” he emphasized. “That is a negotiation.”
Washington D.C., Apr 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Law enforcement found only seven credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors against Catholic clergy in the U.S. in 2010 and 2011, though more abuse victims from past decades have come forward, according to the latest report on child protection in the Catholic Church.
In response to the findings, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged continued attention to abuse prevention.
“While the report supports the conclusion of both studies done by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice – that the majority of allegations are way in the past – the Church must continue to be vigilant,” he said in the report’s preface.
“The Church must do all she can never to let abuse happen again. And we must all continue to work with full resolve toward the healing and reconciliation of the victims/survivors.”
The 2011 report on the implementation of the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was authored for the National Review Board and for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops by the bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection.
It found 21 allegations against Catholic clergy concerning abuse of a child under 18 in 2010 or 2011. Seven allegations were considered credible, three were determined to be false, while five were determined to be “boundary violations.” Three allegations are still under investigation, while the credibility of three other allegations could not be determined.
There are over 38,000 diocesan and religious Catholic priests and over 15,000 deacons in the reporting dioceses and eparchies.
The report adds that 683 new abuse allegations come from adults who say they were abused by diocesan or religious clergy when they were minors. About 68 percent of new allegations concerned incidents from 1960 to 1984, with the most allegations concerning the years 1975 to 1979.
About 64 percent of the 406 diocesan priests and deacons identified as alleged offenders in 2011 had already been the subject of prior allegations. Seventy-five percent of the alleged abusers are deceased, removed from ministry, laicized or missing.
The report’s examination of diocesan clergy abuse victims found that 82 percent were male. About half of the alleged abuse began when the victim was aged 10 to 14. Among religious institutions, 94 percent of the victims were male.
Several suggestions for improvement came from Al J. Notzon, III, the chairman of the National Review Board overseeing the audit. In a March letter to Cardinal Dolan, he emphasized the importance of participation in safe environment training and of “good recordkeeping regarding background checks.”
Over 1.8 million volunteers in Catholic parishes and schools have undergone child protection training, as have 249,000 other church employees. Over 4.8 million Catholic children have undergone abuse protection training.
The report noted that abuse has severe spiritual and emotional costs for its victims and that the financial costs for the Catholic Church have been severe.
The dioceses and eparchies that responded to the survey and reported abuse allegation-related costs paid over $107.8 million in 2011. Total costs to dioceses and religious orders combined decreased from $150 in 2010 million to $144 million in 2011.
These figures include legal settlements, therapy for victims, support for offenders and attorneys’ fees. Since 2004, the reporting dioceses and eparchies have paid $2.1 billion in abuse-related costs.
The Dioceses of Baker, Oregon and Lincoln, Nebraska, as well as six Eastern Catholic eparchies, have refused to participate in the audits and are not compliant with the bishops’ charter.