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Archive of April 12, 2012

Bishops urge rejection of laws that attack religious freedom

Washington D.C., Apr 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

The U.S. bishops have issued a statement alerting American Catholics that they are obligated to disobey unjust laws that infringe upon their fundamental liberties by forcing them to violate the core of their beliefs.

“To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other,” they said in an April 12 statement entitled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.”

The U.S. bishops’ ad hoc committee for religious liberty, led by Archbishop-designate William E. Lori, warned that religious freedom is threatened by an array of laws, ranging from the Obama administration’s recent contraception mandate to a series of state laws that prohibit Christian charity to undocumented immigrants.

They issued an “urgent summons” to U.S. Catholics, especially the laity, and called for a two-week national campaign of prayer, fasting and public action for religious freedom in America.

Both the teachings of the Catholic faith and foundational principles of the U.S. Constitution agree that the allegiances of Catholic Americans, although distinct, should be complementary rather than contradictory, they said.   

Threats to Religious Liberty

In their April 12 statement, the bishops warned of numerous concrete threats to religious liberty in America today. 

Bishops from every diocese in the U.S. have spoken out against the unprecedented new mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that will force employers to facilitate and fund health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their firmly-held religious beliefs.

In addition, several state laws prohibit “harboring” undocumented immigrants through acts of Christian charity and pastoral care. The Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist bishops of Alabama filed suit against a law that would prohibit priests from baptizing or preaching to undocumented immigrants, prevent them from hearing their confessions, and make it illegal to assist, allow or encourage them to attend Mass, Bible studies, religious counseling or even Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

The bishops also pointed to a 2009 attempt by a committee of the Connecticut legislature to change the structure of Catholic parishes to a congregational model, prefiguring the federal government’s more recent push to redefine “religious minister” and “religious employer,” an effort that was unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court in January 2012. 

They also observed that Catholic Charities has lost its contract or license to provide adoption and foster care services in numerous areas because they would not place children in the care of same-sex couples or cohabiting couples of the opposite sex.  

In New York City, the bishops pointed to a rule that banned churches from renting public schools for weekend worship services, even though non-religious groups could rent them for other uses.

A final violation that the bishops highlighted was the Obama administration’s decision to disqualify the Church’s Migration and Refugee Services program from a government contract to aid human trafficking victims. The move came after the federal government changed its contract specifications to require applicants to provide or refer for contraception and abortion, which violate Church teaching.

More Than Freedom of Worship

The bishops emphasized that religious freedom is more than merely the freedom to worship, but includes the ability to “make our contribution to the common good of all Americans.”

They warned that all citizens will suffer if the work of religious Americans in education, health care, aid to the poor and other social services is stifled.

This is “not a Catholic issue” but “an American issue,” they insisted. 

Religious citizens are not asking for “special privileges and benefits,” they observed, but merely for their God-given religious freedom to contribute to the common good to be respected.

The bishops then explained the distinction between conscientious objection – which allows relief from a just law for reasons of conscience – and an unjust law, which is not a true law, and cannot be obeyed.

Americans cannot seek a mere “accommodation” from unjust laws, but “must have the courage not to obey them,” they said.

Acknowledging “the much graver plight” of Christians around the world, they also warned that if “religious liberty is eroded here at home, American defense of religious liberty abroad is less credible.” 

“Urgent need” for renewed energy

In response to the situation, the bishops called for the special observance of a “fortnight for freedom” from June 21 to July 4, calling on their fellow bishops and other religious institutions and leaders to arrange local events to emphasize the importance of religious liberty.

They noted that during this two-week period leading up to Independence Day, the Church’s liturgical calendar celebrates “a series of great martyrs” who were oppressed by political powers.

They also encouraged clergy to use this year’s Nov. 25 Solemnity of Christ the King, a feast that originated in “resistance to totalitarian incursions against religious liberty,” to preach boldly about religious freedom.

Acknowledging that “the work of politics is properly that of committed and courageous lay Catholics,” the bishops urged the active involvement of the laity in defending Americans’ religious liberty.

The bishops also made a specific appeal to writers, artists, producers, publishers, filmmakers and bloggers to “use their skills and talents in defense of our first freedom.”

They recalled the words of Pope Benedict XVI, who stressed “the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity” to defend the participation of faithful individuals in the American public square.

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Pro-life campaign saves over 800 babies during Lenten outreach

Fredericksburg, Va., Apr 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

The 40 Days for Life spring campaign of pro-life advocacy, prayer and community outreach ended on April 1 after saving hundreds of babies from abortion.

“This was the largest number of ‘saves’ that we’ve ever had in the 40 Days for Life campaign,” director Shawn Carney told CNA April 11.

With local reports still being compiled, the pro-life group says that participants convinced the mothers of 804 babies not to have abortions.

“We’re giving God the glory for that,” Carney said.

“We saw five abortion clinic workers have conversions and leave their jobs. We are still working with a number of abortion workers who are also considering leaving their jobs,” he added. “We saw two abortion facilities close their doors forever.”

The 40 Days for Life campaign, which began in fall of 2007, gathers volunteers to pray, fast, perform pro-life outreach and hold peaceful vigils outside of abortion clinics. This spring witnessed events in 258 cities.

Carney said the events are having cumulative effects.

“A lot of these abortion facilities are having their fourth, fifth, sixth 40 Days for Life campaign in front of them. It’s wearing on the community, it’s certainly wearing on the consciences of those who work in the industry,” he said.

He noted the example of Sue Thayer, a former director of the Storm Lake, Iowa Planned Parenthood who had a “conversion” and left the industry after 17 years in 2008. She decided to lead the 40 Days for Life campaign in front of her former clinic, which closed on March 1.

Carney said the clinic closed for lack of business, though Planned Parenthood has portrayed the closure as a consolidation move.

The 40 Days for Life director noted advances in England, which had four campaigns this Lent. Auxiliary Bishop Alan Hopes of Westminster led the closing prayer vigil in England’s capital, which attracted a counter-protest.

“They don’t really have anything like that over there,” Carney said of the overseas pro-life action. “It’s had a huge impact. It’s gotten wonderful secular media coverage.”

He said the campaign is looking to organize a more permanent presence outside abortion clinics.

“These campaigns are really having an impact when they happen multiple times.”

The group’s website is http://www.40daysforlife.com.

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Pakistan among most dangerous countries for women, priest says

Islamabad, Pakistan, Apr 12, 2012 (CNA) - A priest of the Camillian order in Pakistan has spoken out against the abuse of women in the country, including the growing number of “honor killings.”

According to Father Mushtaq Anjum, M.I., Pakistan “is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women, who often have no voice.”

“The country needs very strong measures which can cover all kinds of violence committed against women,” the priest told Fides news agency in a recent interview. “The rule of law should be there for them in order to protect them.”

The latest findings from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan show a continued rise in the killing of women by their husbands or male relatives.

During 2011 at least 943 Pakistani women were murdered for supposedly bringing disgrace on their families. In some cases the women were raped as a form of punishment before being killed.

Honor killings have significantly increased every year in Pakistan since at least 2008, when 574 women were murdered for this motive. The number rose to 647 in 2009, and again to 791 the following year.

In 2011 and 2012, Pakistan's parliament passed laws aimed at stopping abuses of women such as disfigurement with acid, forced marriage, and prevention of inheritance within families.

But widespread domestic violence is still tolerated, regarded as a private matter within the family and not as a crime. Violence against women also goes unpunished in many cases where it is committed by a male relative.

Many women, Fr. Anjum noted, can relate to the ordeal of Mukhtar Mai, who was raped by multiple perpetrators in 2002 in retaliation for the behavior of her brother.

While many Pakistani rape victims commit suicide, Mai instead spoke out on behalf of victims. In 2011, however, 5 of her 6 alleged rapists were acquitted by the country's Supreme Court.

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Author sees sexual revolution at root of women’s discontent

Washington D.C., Apr 12, 2012 (CNA) - Modern women are less happy because of fundamental problems caused by the culture’s casual attitude toward sex, according to author Mary Eberstadt.

The sexual revolution “has changed the world that we live in,” said Eberstadt, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a consulting editor to the journal, “Policy Review.”

Eberstadt told CNA in an April 10 interview that America is only just beginning to realize the profound and fundamental effects of the sexual revolution, which she believes did not actually make women happy but “left many of them worse off than they were before.”

“(T)here’s a lot of evidence from both popular culture and social science” indicating that women are less happy than they used to be, she said.

Among the complaints of the modern woman are a heavy workload and difficulty finding a committed man. 

These problems were caused, at least in part, by the sexual revolution, which “put a lot more people in the sexual marketplace,” leading to increased competition and more “pressure on human relationships,” Eberstadt said.

She added that widespread birth control led to greater sexual experimentation and dissatisfaction, as people found themselves constantly looking for more and more sexual pleasure, separated from the reproductive nature of sex.

In her new book, “Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution,” Eberstadt explores how a culture of contraception has led to widespread discontent.

Contraception has taken center stage in the national political debate in recent months, after the Obama administration announced a new federal mandate that will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their conscience.

Eberstadt said that the controversy surrounding the mandate hinges on a question of religious freedom, but also reflects the ongoing fallout of the sexual revolution, which she described as a “seismic event” underlying the entire dispute.

Seeing the broader context of the debate over the mandate is key to correctly understanding its implications, she said.  

The sexual revolution is affecting the whole world “in all kinds of ways that nobody foresaw when all of this got started,” Eberstadt explained, offering the example of the European economic crisis that was caused by a shortage of children being born.

Eberstadt said that she was inspired to write her latest book when she read Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae” for the first time.

She described his writing as “astonishing” and “prophetic.”

The Pope’s encyclical predicted that the sexual revolution would lead to trouble between the sexes, difficulty committing in relationships, and government use of birth control against its own people, all of which have come true in recent decades.

“I don’t think there’s a document that has been mocked and reviled more by the modern world,” Eberstadt said, adding that the encyclical’s insightful analysis of human nature and accurate predictions about future also make it an “intellectual cornerstone of modern times.”

“It’s a great paradox,” she noted.

The warnings presented by Pope Paul VI are important not only for Catholics, but for those of all faiths, as well as nonbelievers, explained Eberstadt.

Women, like men, “tend to absorb the messages of their time,” the author said, noting that the culture tells women that they are free, and they see that they have more economic earning power when they are not having children.

But they may not stop to wonder whether greater economic potential is really the source of human happiness, she said. 

With her new book, Eberstadt is hoping to reach people who have not given much thought to the sexual revolution or considered the facts.

She explained that she uses “perfectly secular evidence,” drawn from both social science and popular culture to convey information to a world that desperately needs it.

“Secular evidence proves what ‘Humanae Vitae’ was saying all along,” she said. “The experiment of the sexual revolution has run amuck.”

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Chilean diocese to investigate alleged sex abuse of former seminarian

Santiago, Chile, Apr 12, 2012 (CNA) - The Diocese of Valparaiso in Chile says it is determined to establish the facts surrounding accusations of sexual abuse that a former seminarian, now a protestant minister, has leveled against two bishops and five priests.

“We want to know the truth, and both the accuser and the accused are free to speak out responsibly and to be listened to with respect,” read an April 10 statement signed by Vicar General Msgr. Leopoldo Nunez Huerta and posted on the Chilean bishops' conference website.

During a television interview on April 3, the accuser, Mauricio Andres Pulgar Lazo, alleged he was the victim of sexual and psychological abuse while in the seminary at age 13. 

In addition to naming several priests in his accusations, he also alleged abuse by Bishop Gonzalo Duarte of Valparaiso and Bishop emeritus Javier Prado of the Diocese of Rancagua.
 
“I am not an enemy of the Catholic Church. The enemy is in those who don’t want to keep their promises. The only thing I am asking of these people is that they overcome their fear of speaking out, they know that silence doesn’t solve anything,” Pulgar Lazo said.
 
The Diocese of Valparaiso said it has consulted with civil and ecclesial attorneys and has named a special investigator to look into the allegations.
 
The statement said the investigation into the allegations against the two bishops will be handled by the Holy See through the Apostolic Nunciature in Chile.
 
Msgr. Nunez Huerta said the Diocese is responding to the accusations in accord with the guidelines established by the Bishops’ Conference of Chile for handling cases of sexual abuse. The results of the ecclesial investigation will be made public once the process is complete, he said.
 
The statement emphasized that both the bishops and the priests involved in the allegations “have maintained their innocence regarding the charges against them and they have expressed their intention to fully cooperation with the canonical investigation that is underway.”

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Leader of 40 Days for Life criticizes abortion prayer effort

Fredericksburg, Va., Apr 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A California clergy group linked to Planned Parenthood has organized a 40-day prayer campaign for abortion rights, drawing criticism from Shawn Carney, head of the successful 40 Days for Life campaign.

“They’re using prayer basically to pray for more abortions and pray that women will have abortions,” said Carney, who charged that the effort ignores the reality of abortion and the real needs of women.

The group's prayers “avoid the actual issue at hand: every single abortion ends the life of an innocent human being, made in the image and likeness of God,” he told CNA on April 11.

“We have to pray for things that are good. We have to pray for things that are going to give life, not take it away.”

The Humboldt County Clergy for Choice, a committee of Six Rivers Planned Parenthood in Eureka, Calif., organized a “40 Days of Prayer & Contemplation” event from March 18 to April 27 to support “women and reproductive justice.”

The event uses a “40 Days of Prayer” series from the Missouri-based pro-abortion rights group Faith Aloud. The pamphlet includes prayers for abortion providers and for medical students who want to perform abortions. It prays for an end to violence against women and against abortion providers.

It also prays for politicians who support “a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions.”

The pamphlet stresses the “dignity and autonomy of women” and prays that women who have had abortions may “stand tall and refuse shame.”

The first day of prayer says “we pray for women for whom pregnancy is not good news, that they know they have choices.” The Day 36 prayer reads “Today we pray for the families we’ve chosen. May they know the blessing of choice.”
 
“Today we give thanks and celebrate that abortion is still safe and legal,” the Day 40 entry says.

Carney said he thinks the pamphlet is inspired by the 40 Days for Life campaign, which recently ended its organized springtime effort of pro-life outreach. Participants reportedly helped save 804 babies and witnessed the conversion of several abortion clinic workers.

“Imitation is always the best form of flattery,” Carney said. “We’ve seen Planned Parenthood at different spots across the country try to mock the 40 Days for Life campaign in many ways. Usually they call it 40 Days of Harassment or 40 Days of Bigotry.”

He also saw the pamphlet as a reminder of the humanity of those who support and perform abortions.

“The abortion industry is full of people who have minds and hearts and souls,” Carney said. “That’s why we’ve seen 69 abortion workers have conversions and leave their jobs.”

He characterized the prayers as an effort to “rationalize abortion” that speaks in “vague terms.”

In Carney’s view, abortion opponents “look at the truth and the reality” of the procedures.

“There are a lot of sincere people who at one point supported abortion, for whatever reason, and are now in the pro-life movement,” he noted. “The pro-life movement is made up of people who used to support abortion, of women who have had abortions, of doctors and nurses who worked in the abortion industry.”

While opponents of the pro-life movement have characterized its participants as against choice, Carney contended that pro-life advocates like 40 Days for Life participants give women options they would not otherwise have.

“Without people out praying in front of these (abortion) facilities, there is no choice,” he said. “There really is no choice unless you have somebody who, despite the heat or cold or rain, is willing to go out and offer a last-minute helping hand.”

Nearly 6,000 women have chosen life for their babies with the help of the pro-life campaign.

“So many of them have told us they woke up that morning praying that God would send them a sign as they were going into the abortion facility,” Carney said.

Pro-life advocates “have been that sign.”

Carney also rejected the pamphlet’s insinuation that pro-life advocates shame women.

“The people out on the front lines are the last hope for the baby, but they’re also the first line of mercy.  There isn’t a follow-up appointment when you have an abortion. The abortion industry shames women themselves when they sell them an abortion and then they’re done with them.

“If you struggle emotionally, spiritually, physically, oftentimes after an abortion, they’re just not there to help.”

He stressed the desire of 40 Days for Life to help women.

“The pro-life movement isn’t there to shame anyone, it’s quite the opposite. The loneliest spot in our nation is where a woman walks from the abortion clinic to her car. It’s a basic obligation to be out there with her in her loneliness and offer help and offer support.”

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Alumni urge Pontifical University of Peru to not cut ties with Church

Lima, Peru, Apr 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - An alumni group from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru urged the school to not cease discussions with the Church after it failed to meet a Vatican reform deadline.

In a statement released on April 11, the Riva Aguero University Association called on the rector of university to “maintain dialogue with church authorities” and warned that “the objectives” for which the school was founded “are at stake.”

The statement came after the university announced it would not convene a university assembly to reform its statutes – a move requested by the Vatican as a condition for keeping its title 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 an April 9 statement, university officials blamed the Archbishop of Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, for the failure to reach an agreement before the deadline.

But the Riva Aguero University Association – which includes students, teachers and alumni among its members – said it was a “grave mistake” for university officials to link the issue of modifying the it's statues with the separate lawsuit with the Archdiocese of Lima.
 
While it acknowledged the willingness on the part of university officials to find a comprehensive solution, the association voiced regret that “recent statements by some members of the university assembly and the student body have not contributed to the creation of the kind of tranquil climate that is needed for dialogue.”

“Personal attacks should be set aside and steps should be taken towards calm conversations proper to a college environment,” it said.

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