Archive of April 27, 2012

Irish bishop reaffirms seal of confession amid legal controversy

Dublin, Ireland, Apr 27, 2012 (CNA) - Dublin's Auxiliary Bishop Raymond W. Field says priests must maintain the confidentiality of the confessional, which may be threatened by a proposed law requiring mandatory reporting of abuse.

“The seal of the confessional is inviolable as far as I am concerned, and that's the end of the matter,” Bishop Field said in comments reported by the Irish Independent newspaper on April 26.

Remarks made the previous day by Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter suggested that priests could be bound by requirements of the sex abuse reporting bill. Due to be introduced in the legislature later this year, the bill threatens up to ten years in jail for those who fail to report sex crimes.

“I would expect that if there was someone going to confession who was a serial sex abuser, I don't know how anyone could live with their conscience if they didn't refer that to the gardai (police),” said Shatter. He noted that existing laws already require reporting of other crimes without exempting priests.

Church law, however, declares that it is “absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent …  in any manner and for any reason.” A priest who directly violates the seal is automatically excommunicated and can only be readmitted to the Church by a direct act of the Vatican.

In the wake of Shatter's remarks, it remains unclear whether or not his draft legislation would directly conflict with the seal of confession.

The Department of Justice indicated in a Wednesday night statement that priests' right to secrecy could be maintained in civil cases. But it added that the “extent to which the privilege can be relied on in a criminal case is unclear.”

Meanwhile, the Association of Catholic Priests – a group known for questioning Church teaching – appears to be standing with the Irish Catholic hierarchy in this case, again any threat to the confessional seal.

“I certainly wouldn't be willing to break the seal of confession for anyone – Alan Shatter particularly,” said Father Sean McDonagh, a founding member of the association.

The priest also observed that an obligation to break the seal was “something that cannot be enforced” in practice, due to the anonymity of most confessions.

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Rep. Ryan says budget uses Catholic principles to aid poor

Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2012 (CNA) - Amid criticism that he is ignoring the needs of the poor, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) defended his proposed budget's approach to relieving poverty as “consistent with how I understand my Catholic faith.”

Delivering an April 26 lecture at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Ryan discussed how his faith influenced the 2013 fiscal year budget proposal that he authored.

He said that his budget incorporates “the twin virtues of solidarity and subsidiarity – virtues that, when taken together, revitalize civil society instead of displacing it.”

The Congressman argued that poverty is best addressed by an approach that does not rely entirely upon the federal government but instead makes use of other social groups and associations as well.

He cautioned that “if you have too much government, you displace those civil mediating institutions which we call civil society – those charities, those churches, those civic groups, those ways we interact with each other in our communities.”

The budget plan was passed by the House of Representatives but has not been considered by the Democrat-controlled Senate.

However, it has been strongly criticized by those who believe that it does not provide enough money for social welfare programs.

In a letter sent shortly before Ryan’s appearance on campus, almost 90 of the over 2000 total members of the Georgetown faculty and administration chided the Congressman for his “continuing misuse of Catholic teaching.”

They accused him of promoting “a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few.”

“In short, your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” the signatories charged.

They argued that Ryan is misusing the principle of subsidiarity as “a free pass to dismantle government programs and abandon the poor to their own devices.”

Ryan has responded to similar charges in recent weeks, explaining that building a strong economy is the best way to help the poor and clarifying that he favors lowering taxes for everyone rather than just the wealthy.

In his April 26 talk, he also said that his suggestions for reforming welfare are not based on a desire to abandon the poor, but rather to fix a broken system that is “failing the very citizens who need help the most.”

“As we end welfare for those who don’t need it, we strengthen welfare programs for those who do,” he explained.

Ryan said that he does his best to adhere to Catholic social doctrine in his role as a public office holder.

He explained that “there can be differences among faithful Catholics” on how to best apply Catholic principles to the problems facing the nation.

Today, the “defining challenge” facing America is “the exploding federal debt,” he said. How to best address this problem “is a question for prudential judgment, about which people of good will can differ.”

The impact of budget decisions on the poor and vulnerable was the subject of a recent series of letters from Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, who heads the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice committee, to members of Congress. The bishop voiced concerns about certain elements of the proposed budget and urged consideration of its impact on the most needy.

Ryan acknowledged a pressing need to consider the poor, who “would be hurt the first and the worst” by a debt crisis. However, he added, “I do not believe that the preferential option for the poor means a preferential option for big government.”

He explained that heavy reliance on the federal government to provide for the poor is ineffective and actually ends up hurting those whom it aims to help.

For example, he said, the “government-centered approach to the war on poverty” has resulted in the highest poverty rates in a generation, with one in six Americans currently living in poverty.  
The Congressman argued that the federal government is not the only way for people to work together to aid those in need.

Instead, he said, there is a need to “empower state and local governments, communities, and individuals – those closest to the problem.”

These other charitable and civic groups play an important role in aiding the needy in society, he said.

Ryan noted that his budget tries to implement the “twin pillars” of solidarity and subsidiarity, two important principles of Catholic social teaching.

He described solidarity as “the virtue that does not divide society into classes and groups but builds up the common good of all.”

Subsidiarity can be put into practice by relying upon “government and institutions closest to the people,” he added, explaining that this ensures real “human interaction.”

Rather than a distant federal bureaucrat providing aid, “it’s a human being that knows you, that knows your problems, that looks you in the eyes and sees the suffering that you’re experiencing,” he said.

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HHS hire of Planned Parenthood spokesman reflects close relationship

Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2012 (CNA) - Pro-life leaders see the Obama administration’s recent decision to hire a Planned Parenthood media specialist as an intentional move to make its abortion policies appealing to the American people.

“I’m not surprised at all,” said Dr. Janice Crouse, senior fellow at the Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute.

Crouse told CNA on April 25 that the Obama administration is following its well-established pattern of offering positions of strong influence to abortion supporters.

“It’s going to be disastrous,” she said. “Here you’ve got someone with a definite agenda.”

On April 20, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that it was hiring Tait Sye, former media director of Planned Parenthood, as its deputy assistant secretary for public affairs.

The Department of Health and Human Services has been under fire in recent months for issuing a controversial mandate that will require employers to offer health plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences. 

Sye defended the mandate amid widespread protest, calling contraception “basic health care” and saying, “It should not be left up to a boss's personal beliefs whether his employees should be allowed birth control coverage.”

According to Reuters, he also chided groups such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who opposed the 2010 health care reform law over concerns that it would provide funding for abortion. Sye accusing these groups of “launching misleading attacks,” despite the fact that the law does provide for the collection of mandatory insurance premiums to fund abortions.

Crouse believes the decision to hire someone with experience in the abortion industry was intentional.

“This is someone who is very skilled at shaping public opinion,” she said.

Moving into an election year, it is important for the president to have people in public relations who can make his abortion policies “palatable to the public,” she explained.

Crouse said that Americans should find it “unconscionable” that the administration would put its abortion ideology before the well-being of women.

With this decision, she said, it is pushing the sexual revolution forward and encouraging promiscuity, which research clearly shows to have negative results.

“In the long run, it’s going to hurt women,” she warned.

Controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood has grown in recent months. The organization is currently the subject of a Congressional investigation due to allegations of fraud and illegal failure to report cases of sexual abuse. Such allegations have also led several states to initiate efforts to defund the organization.

But in spite of this controversy, Dr. Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, believes that “the ties between the abortion industry and this administration grew stronger with this appointment.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, agreed, saying that Planned Parenthood and the Department of Health and Human Services “have practically become synonymous.”

“We’ve seen repeatedly that as soon as a state defunds Planned Parenthood, HHS steps in and threatens to take funding away from vulnerable populations,” she added.

Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, noted that “Americans should be horrified” by the close relationship between the Obama administration and Planned Parenthood.

He told CNA that he's disappointed to see the administration partner with Planned Parenthood in health care issues rather than with the Catholic Church, which has a rich legacy of the caring for the sick and needy.

The decision is particularly troubling, he added, because “Planned Parenthood is a lightning rod of controversy.” The allegations surrounding the organization should prohibit its top employees from holding positions of government authority, he said.

However, Scheidler explained, the administration realizes that people are not happy with its policies, such as the contraception mandate.

Planned Parenthood has a great track record with public relations and maintaining a “positive public image,” he observed, so hiring someone like Sye is a huge step to “sell the American people” on the administration’s proposed health care policies.

“It makes perfect sense,” he said.

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Prison mates promote cause of heroic Korean War priest

Wichita, Kan., Apr 27, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The head of the cause for the beatification of an American priest who died in a Communist prison during the Korean War says the chaplain's fellow inmates are the real promoters of his sainthood.

Father John Hotze told CNA on April 18 that there is great support for the cause of Korean War chaplain Father Emil Kapaun “especially among the men who were in prison with him.” 

“They have been promoting his cause of holiness and that he be awarded the Medal of Honor since they left prison in 1953.”

Fr. Kapaun’s prison mates are now all in their 80s. 

In November of 1950, Fr. Kapaun met up with soldiers besieged by Korean troops at the Battle of Unsan. The Army chaplain chose to stay with the wounded and was imprisoned at a concentration camp near Pyoktong, North Korea, where he was tortured.

For six months he ministered to other prisoners, often giving others his own food rations, and was subjected to forced labor. He celebrated baptisms, heard confessions, offered the Mass and administered last rites. The priest eventually developed a blood clot in his leg and fell ill with dysentery and pneumonia.

According to the testimony of his prison mates, he died in prison on May 23, 1951 and was buried in a common grave near the Yalu River.

Fr. Hotze, a priest from the Diocese of Wichita, Kan., says he's been personally enriched by researching the story of Fr. Kapaun who is today considered a Servant of God.

“I learned about his life, what he did and everything he went through. We have stories told by his prison mates and how he cared for their wounds.”

Since July 1, 2011, the cause has been in the hands of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.  “Our diocesis has turned in the investigation, all the documents, and all this information is now in their hands,” he said.

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Registration for WYD Rio 2013 to open in July

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Apr 27, 2012 (CNA) - Organizers for World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, said that registration will be open starting this July and that young people who wish to attend must register exclusively through the official website.

“Rio awaits you with open arms,” organizers said. “Come and participate in this great event and show the strength of young people around the world.”

Members of the WYD Local Organizing Committee said online registration would be the sole means for signing up to participate in the event scheduled for July 23-28 next summer, which Pope Benedict XVI is expected to attend.

“The registration page is the entryway into WYD Rio 2013. All pilgrims who come to the event must first register, and from there WYD welcomes them all,” said director of registration Sister Shaiane Machado.

She also said group registrations should be for a maximum of 50 young people. Groups larger than 50 should be divided up, Sr. Machado added, noting that the process will be explained in detail on the section of the site created for group registrations.

For more information, visit the official WYD website at:

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Cuban dissident ceases hunger strike

Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, Apr 27, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Jose Daniel Ferrer, the currently imprisoned head of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, called off his hunger strike on April 26 while a group of activists continue to pray for his release.

Ferrer’s wife, Belkis Cantillo, said the dissident declared a hunger strike on April 23 to protest the conditions under which he was detained on April 2, included repression of free speech. 

During visits, “we were only allowed to talk about family issues and nothing political,” Cantillo said.

But “today they allowed me to see him and we talked about everything, about political issues he wanted to know about, family matters, and he ate the food we brought him and said he would suspend his hunger strike, as the food (he gets in prison) had gotten better.”

She said her husband “is very thin” and that he will be put on trial for “public disorder.”

Ferrer’s prolonged detention – because of his activism in Santiago – has inspired solidarity from dissidents on the island and abroad, who are demanding that the Communist government release him immediately.

For their part, members of the Patriotic Union are organizing activities across Cuba for the release of Ferrer, including prayer groups and Bible studies. On its YouTube channel, the Union posted a video of some of its members gathered together to pray for the Cuban dissident.

Ferrer was part of the group of 75 dissidents arrested in 2003 during the so-called Black Spring.  He was condemned to 25 years in prison but released in May of 2010 thanks to talks between the Church and the government.

He was re-arrested in February of this year because of his political activities in Santiago in a new crackdown on dissidents by President Raul Castro.

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Sebelius says she sought religious 'balance,' but ignored key precedents

Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius says she was unaware of legal precedents confirming religious freedom, even as she sought a “balance” between believers' rights and the contraception mandate.

“I'm not a lawyer, and I don't pretend to understand the nuances of the constitutional balancing tests,” Sebelius told Representative Trey Gowdy (R–SC) during an April 26 hearing.

In her responses to subsequent questions, the secretary admitted she was unaware of Supreme Court cases stretching back several decades, in which religious believers' rights against government intrusion were upheld by the court.

Gowdy had asked Sebelius to explain the legal basis for what the secretary called an “appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.”

“There are only three 'balancing' tests that I am aware of, when it comes to matters of constitutional significance,” Gowdy told Sebelius. The HHS secretary was questioned about the contraception rule during a House Education and Workforce Committee hearing on her department's 2013 budget.

Gowdy cited the “rational basis” test – which involves the legitimacy of a state's interest in legislation – as well as the criteria of “intermediate scrutiny” and “strict scrutiny,” which judges apply in order to gauge a law's relevance to fundamental state concerns.

When Sebelius responded that she did not understand the “nuances” of these tests, she was pressed by Gowdy to explain why she regarded the contraception mandate as constitutionally valid. The rule has been criticized for requiring religious groups to cooperate in providing sterilization and abortifacients.

“This mandate is going to wind up in the Supreme Court,” the South Carolina representative declared.

“We can talk about the politics all we want to. I want to talk about the law,” he told Sebelius. “I want to talk about balancing religious liberty with whatever else you think it's appropriate to balance it with – because you used the word 'balance.'”

“Which of those three tests is the appropriate test to use when considering religious liberty?”

“I am not going to wade into constitutional law,” Sebelius responded. “We are implementing the (health care reform) law that was passed by the Congress, signed by the president, which directed our department to develop a package of preventive health services for women.”

Sebelius said she agreed with the statement that government could not “force certain religious beliefs on its citizens.” When asked why this could not happen, she cited “the separation of church and state,” a phrase not found in the U.S. Constitution.

“It's the Constitution,” Gowdy replied, citing the First Amendment which guarantees the “free exercise of religion.”

Sebelius also agreed with Gowdy's statement that government could not “decide which religious beliefs are acceptable and not acceptable.” This, she acknowledged, is “part of our Constitution.”

“So, before this rule was promulgated,” Gowdy continued, referring to the federal contraception mandate, “did you read any of the Supreme Court cases on religious liberty?”

“I did not,” Sebelius responded.

The representative proceeded to ask the Health and Human Services secretary whether she was familiar with the outcomes of several cases pitting state interests against religious believers' claims under the First Amendment.

Sebelius agreed with Gowdy that the state had a “compelling interest in having an educated citizenry.” 

“So when a state said, 'You have to send your children to school until a certain age,' and a religious group objected because they did not want to send their children to school until that certain age, do you know who won?” he asked. “It went to the Supreme Court.”

The 1970s case, Wisconsin v. Yoder, is considered a landmark in U.S. jurisprudence. Sebelius said she did not know its outcome. “The religious group won,” Gowdy informed her.

“I think the state has a compelling interest in banning animal sacrifice,” he continued. “When a state banned the practice of animal sacrifice and a religious group objected, it went to the Supreme Court. Do you know who won that?”

“I do not, sir,” Sebelius responded. She was again informed that the religious group prevailed, in the 1993 case of Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah.

“When a religious group objected to having a certain license tag on their cars, it went to the Supreme Court,” Gowdy said, in an apparent reference to the 1976 case of Wooley v. Maynard. “Do you know who won?”

Sebelius said she was unaware of this outcome as well. “The religious group won,” Gowdy told her.

The congressman also noted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's recent 9-0 loss in the Supreme Court. The commission accused a Lutheran church and school of retaliatory firing, but lost the case when all nine justices upheld the school's right to choose employees on religious grounds.

“So when you say you 'balanced' things,” Gowdy said, “can you see why I might be seeking a constitutional balancing, instead of any other kind?”

“I do,” Sebelius said, “and I defer to our lawyers to give me good advice on the Constitution. I do not pretend to be a constitutional lawyer.”

“Is there a legal memo that you relied on?” Gowdy asked. “At least when Attorney General Holder made his recess appointments, there was a legal memo that he relied on. Is there one that you can share with us?”

“Attorney General Holder clearly runs the Justice Department and lives in a world of legal memos,” Sebelius responded, saying she “relied on discussions.”

South Carolina is involved in two pending lawsuits bearing on the Obama administration's health care reform law and the accompanying contraception mandate.

The first, against the Affordable Care Act as a whole, was heard by the Supreme Court in March. Its outcome is likely to determine the progress of a second lawsuit, brought by seven states and a number of Catholic ministries and individuals, specifically challenging the contraception mandate.

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