Archive of May 1, 2012

After pro-life boycott, PepsiCo rejects fetal tissue research

Dallas, Texas, May 1, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Soft drink maker PepsiCo has said that it does not conduct or fund research that uses human embryonic or fetal tissue, causing a pro-life group to end its boycott of the company.

“We can assure you that PepsiCo does not conduct or fund research – including research performed by third parties – that utilizes any human tissue or cell lines derived from embryos or fetuses,” said Paul Boykas, PepsiCo’s Vice President for Global Public Policy.

Boykas made his remarks in an April 26 letter to Debi Vinnedge, executive director of the group Children of God for Life, who had been protesting PepsiCo's ties with a company that uses an aborted fetal cell line in creating product sweeteners.

In response to the letter, Vinnedge said her organization is “absolutely thrilled” with the company’s decision. She encouraged opponents of the research to thank PepsiCo and resume buying the company’s products.

“They have listened to their customers and have made both a wise and profound statement of corporate integrity that deserves the utmost respect, admiration and support of the public,” she said April 30.

Brad Mattes, Executive Director of the boycott partner Life Issues Institute, also praised the company’s action.

“We are grateful to PepsiCo and especially to all those who sent a loud and clear message to the management of this company. It’s incumbent upon us to closely monitor the situation to be sure that PepsiCo remains true to their word,” he said.

In August 2010 PepsiCo entered into a four-year, $30 million agreement with the San Diego-based company Senomyx to develop high-potency sweeteners for its beverages. Most of Senomyx’s patents involve the aborted fetal cell line HEK-293, which originated in human embryonic kidneys.

Children of God for Life launched a boycott of PepsiCo in May 2011 to pressure the company and other Senomyx partners to sever all ties with the research firm. Campbell Soup cut ties with Senomyx in 2011 soon after its connections to fetal cell research came to light.

Boykas' April 26 letter said that Senomyx does not use the HEK cells or any other tissues or cell lines from human embryos or fetuses for its research for PepsiCo.

Vinnedge said that it “makes financial sense” for Senomyx and its partners to stop using aborted fetal cell lines.

“Senomyx needs to stop using the aborted fetal cell lines entirely and we will continue to pressure them to do so,” she said.

Thirty-five pro-life organizations took part in the boycott. Children of God for Life said it heard from many self-described pro-choice women who were angered by Senomyx’s reported use of aborted fetal cell lines.

Vinnedge encouraged opponents of the research to show “appreciation and support” for PepsiCo. Besides Pepsi-Cola soft drinks, PepsiCo is the maker of Gatorade, Tropicana, Quaker Oats, and Frito Lay products.

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New book asks: Is US a 'nation of heretics?'

New York City, N.Y., May 1, 2012 (CNA) -

Are Americans actually trading in faith for a more secular outlook? Or is the country's religious center merely shifting – toward a array of sects, visionaries, charismatic leaders and unorthodox doctrines?

In his new book “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics” (Free Press, $26.00), New York Times author and Catholic convert Ross Douthat argues that churches, and society as a whole, are imperiled by belief systems that draw from the Christian Gospel while seriously distorting it.

“I use the term 'heresy' because the reality I'm trying to capture is a country, the United States, that is still more influenced by Christianity than by any other religious tradition, and that is certainly still in many ways as 'religious' as ever,” Douthat told CNA in an April 30 interview.

“I look at the United States and I don't think it makes sense to call us a secular country, or even a 'post-Christian' country. The controlling religious narrative of American life is still, in some sense, the Christian narrative.”

From the success of “The Da Vinci Code,” to the publicity over alleged “lost Gospels,” Americans are “still fascinated by Jesus,” Douthat said. “But at the same time, we are a culture where traditional Christianity is weaker than ever before, both Catholic and Protestant.”

A “nation of heretics” is Douthat's term for a country that is “somewhere in between” – having “drifted away from things that are essential to Christian faith,” while maintaining select portions of a Christian cultural inheritance.

Rather than denying God outright, the new “heresies” detailed in “Bad Religion” radically reinterpret his relationship to human beings. God becomes the guarantor of “health and wealth” promised by some televangelists – or the permissive inner voice of those who are “spiritual, not religious.”

In Douthat's “nation of heretics,” Jesus remains at the center of attention, but no longer as the divine-human redeemer described in the Nicene Creed. Instead, he may be a political icon of “American exceptionalism,” or a teacher of wisdom who takes his place alongside the founders of other religions.

Historically, America's lack of an established state religion has always made it a fertile ground for sectarians and fringe denominations. But Douthat says contemporary America faces problems not seen before.

“What's distinctive about our era,” he explained, “is the weakness of an institutional alternative to people just taking some Christian ideas and running with them in whatever direction they want.”

The first part of “Bad Religion” looks back to the post-World War II period in the United States, a time when Christian institutions had greater cultural clout and were more reliably orthodox. Figures like Billy Graham, Bishop Fulton Sheen, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Martin Luther King, Jr. made important contributions to American life from a Christian perspective. 

But factors like globalization and the 1960s sexual revolution shattered this religious and cultural consensus. Mainline Protestantism largely surrendered to the changing culture, while Catholics spent decades embroiled in battles over the Church's teaching authority.

Where mainstream religious institutions withdrew and weakened, heresies stepped in to fill the vacuum. The result is today's plethora of prosperity-preachers, political saviors, Jesus-revisionists, and New Age proponents of the “god within.”

In the tradition of writers like G.K. Chesterton, Douthat suggests that these heretical beliefs take particular aspects of Church teaching – like Jesus' mercy toward sinners, or God's presence in nature – and sever them from other doctrines that provide nuance and balance.

“The core of Christian faith has always emphasized the importance of mystery and paradox, and of being willing to say 'both/and' rather than 'either/or' – that God is three and one, that Jesus is God and man, and so on,” he explained.

“One of the characteristics of Christian heresy is that it basically tries to be a little more 'logical.' It says, 'Let's clean up this mystery a little bit.' Instead of saying Jesus is fully God and fully man, we'll say he was a 'man who was particularly favored by God.'”

Modern heresies, Douthat says, take the same reductive route. Where Christian orthodoxy accepts the legitimacy of patriotism in the service of the common good, heresy hints at a religious covenant between the Founding Fathers and God. Where the Church stresses God's providential care for believers, the “prosperity Gospel” invents a God who promises real estate gains in exchange for faith.

“The (heresies) I talk about are less likely to focus on the identity of Jesus himself or the nature of the Trinity,” Douthat noted, drawing a distinction with history's better-known religious errors. “They're more likely to focus on ideas about sex, money, and what God wants of us in this life.”

In a February 2012 lecture at the Archdiocese of Denver, Douthat drew on theology and sociology in a critical analysis of Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling memoir “Eat Pray Love.” Traditional Christians, he said, should not simply dismiss such books, but should seek to grasp the appeal and premises of the “heresies” they promote.

“I think it's very important to take 'pop spirituality' seriously,” he told CNA. “Whatever you think of it, I think it's the most important form of religious expression in the United States today, and has the most influence over how people think about God and their relationships with one another.”

“It's also worth taking seriously because there are powerful theological ideas at the root of even what seems like the shallowest and most glib treatment of religion – whether it's Joel Osteen or Oprah Winfrey.”

Such figures “aren't just sort of making vague appeals,” Douthat observed. “They are making, implicitly or explicitly, theological arguments – about who is God, and what does he want from us – that people find appealing.”

Douthat's fellow Catholics, and other historically-rooted Christians, will likely agree with the diagnoses of doctrinal error in “Bad Religion.” But the New York Times writer is not merely preaching to the choir.

He also wants to engage secular audiences, by arguing that Christian orthodoxy offers important benefits for culture and the common good. Likewise, Douthat maintains that heresy harms not only souls, but also families, communities, and society at large.

“If Christian anthropology is true – the Christian view of what human beings are, what we're here on earth for, what our relationships should be to one another – then a more robust and culturally-influential Christian faith will make people, in some sense, 'happier,'” he said.

This kind of happiness, he qualifies, is not personal self-gratification, but authentic and shared “human flourishing.” While Douthat upholds Christian orthodoxy as an end in itself, he also argues for its contribution to the “ordinary forms of human stability and well-being.”

“A flourishing society is a society that is recognizably successful – not just on a 'macro' level of achieving high growth rates, but in the sense of having robust institutions that people feel confident in, (or) having children growing up with a mother and a father,” he explained.

Douthat asserted that if “you go back to the Roman Empire, and the early spread of Christianity, part of the reason the early Christians were such an appealing group is because they did, I think, manifest this reality.”

“Christians were more likely to take care of each other than pagan Romans, were more likely to seem charitable and look out for one another when a plague struck the city, and so on. They were happier in their marriages; they weren't asking women to expose their infants (to death).”

“There are some definitions of human happiness and success that secular people and Christians can agree on,” Douthat said, summing up his appeal to skeptics and doubters.

While “Bad Religion” helps believers read the signs of the times, it is also meant to spark a new kind of conversation about Christianity's social role, and the problems posed by a “nation of heretics.”

“Even with the secular readers, I'm saying: 'Look, here are some of the social benefits associated with institutional Christianity that even secular people should be able to recognize. And here are trends that have been going on, concurrent with the decline of institutional Christianity, that even secular people should be worried about.”

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Georgetown University will not offer student contraception coverage

Washington D.C., May 1, 2012 (CNA) - The president of Georgetown University cited the importance of Catholic identity in his announcement that student health care plans will not be adjusted to include coverage of birth control.

However, he also indicated that the D.C.-based Jesuit university will continue its practice of offering such coverage to employees. 

In an April 26 email to the university community, President John J. DeGioia said that after “thoughtful and careful consideration,” the administration has decided to “continue our current practice for contraceptive coverage in our student health insurance for the coming year.”

DeGioia also said the university will not change its approach to contraceptive coverage for employees in 2013.

Georgetown’s current student health plan does not cover birth control for contraceptive purposes. But according to the National Women’s Law Center, employees of the university can choose between multiple plans, including some that include birth control coverage.

In February, a Georgetown University spokesperson confirmed to left-leaning blog ThinkProgress that employees have access to insurance plans that cover contraceptives. The school's media office, however, did not respond to CNA’s inquiries about this discrepancy.

DeGioia’s email came amid continuing controversy over the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, which will require colleges to offer health insurance plans that cover birth control, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.

The regulation, which is currently the subject of numerous lawsuits, allows for a one-year deferral period for employees and colleges that do not currently offer the coverage due to moral objections. 

Georgetown has been in the spotlight during the debate due to law student Sandra Fluke, who made national headlines in February, when she testified before a democratic House committee on why she thought religious institutions should be required to provide free contraceptive coverage to students.

In the weeks that followed, numerous students petitioned the university to change its student health plans to include access to contraception.

In an April 16 letter, more than 100 students and alumni had called on President DeGioia to clarify the Jesuit university’s position on the controversial issue.

The letter came in the wake of a campus event at which Fluke promoted free contraception access. Its signers objected to the fact that the event did not also include a speaker presenting the Church’s teaching on the subject, an omission that they said may lead students to draw inaccurate conclusions.

DeGioia did not reference this letter in his email but did explain that he wanted to clarify the university’s position on the subject and clear up misconceptions about its current coverage.

He explained that while the student plan “does not cover prescription contraceptives for birth control,” it does cover them “for health reasons unrelated to birth control, as determined by a physician.”

During her testimony, Fluke had complained of consequences suffered by women who were denied the contraception they needed for medical purposes.

DeGioia acknowledged that many people in the Georgetown community “have expressed different perspectives on this issue” and thanked them for showing respect in sharing their views.  
He also observed that while Georgetown – like most universities – requires students to have health insurance, it does not require them to purchase the school’s insurance plan. Students are free to purchase different health insurance plans from a third party if they choose to do so, he said.

Students who do decide to purchase the insurance plan offered by Georgetown should be aware that it “is consistent with our Catholic and Jesuit identity,” DeGioia said.

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Women's religious conference reform prompts Twitter duel

Denver, Colo., May 1, 2012 (CNA) - Reaction to the Vatican’s announced reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) took form on the social media site Twitter, where efforts to show support for religious sisters dueled with the group's critics.

Fr. James Martin, S.J., an editor for America magazine, launched a Twitter hashtag “#WhatSistersMeanToMe” to show appreciation for all religious sisters on the microblogging site where 140-character text messages and popular tags can spread with rapidity.

“Catholic sisters teach me what it means to persevere without the benefit of institutional power,” he tweeted April 19.

“Framing things in that way, I thought, meant that people could show their gratitude for sisters, and read other messages of support, without being in any way negative. No need to be anti-Vatican or anti-bishop or anti-anything. Just pro-sister,” he said in an April 26 Washington Post column reflecting on what came next.

His comments brought in many appreciative tweets from those affected by religious sisters’ work in education, health care and spiritual direction.

They also drew a response from Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, a blogging priest who believes some LCWR defenders are ignoring the problems in the women’s religious orders.

“The upcoming reform of the leadership of the LCWR is not about the Holy See or American bishops being mad at under-appreciated women who built and ran hospitals, schools, and orphanages,” he said April 24.

“The reform is not about their backing this or that political horse.”

“The reform is about the fact, the FACT, that many of the women religious in leadership positions over several decades embrace and still actively propagate a radical feminism to such a degree that they now promote, as part of their systems and power structures, unnatural acts between people of the same sex and the killing of babies within, and even mostly out of, the womb.”

Fr. Zuhlsdorf encouraged his readers to use the “#WhatSistersMeanToMe” Twitter hashtag to note problems in the women’s religious orders, such as sisters who advocate for abortion rights.

Fr. Martin said some critics of the LCWR were “vindictive, cruel, mocking” on Twitter and flooded the hashtag with “snotty comments about who were faithful sisters were and who were not.”

The spat follows the release of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s assessment of the women’s leadership conference, which has more than 1,500 member organizations representing 57,000 vowed religious.

The assessment found a doctrinal “crisis” within the organization. It called for a greater emphasis on the conference’s relationship with the U.S. bishops’ conference and on the need to provide “a sound doctrinal foundation in the faith of the Church.”

The Twitter initiative also prompted some to criticize the Catholic hierarchy.

Although Fr. Martin said he did not intend his effort to be “anti-Vatican or anti-bishop,” the Huffington Post’s report on his initiative depicted it as a response to the Vatican “cracking down” on the LCWR.

Commenters at the Huffington Post also took a dim view of Vatican action. While many voiced appreciation for religious sisters, many also responded to Fr. Martin’s initiative by criticizing the bishops as oppressive and anti-woman. One self-described Catholic commenter attacked Mother Teresa, claiming she was primarily motivated by “money and power.”

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Catholic company's lawsuit could stop mandate within three months

Denver, Colo., May 1, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A self-insured Catholic-owned business has filed a lawsuit that could potentially stop the Obama administration's contraception and abortion-causing drug mandate within the next three months.

On April 30, Hercules Industries – a Colorado-based manufacturer of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units – requested a court order to block implementation of the mandate. Hercules is seeking relief from the rule before its self-insurance plan renews later this year.

Alliance Defense Fund Legal Council Matt Bowman said the mandate, which also forces businesses to provide sterilization and contraception, “unconstitutionally coerces the leadership of Hercules Industries to violate their religious beliefs and consciences under the threat of heavy fines and penalties.”

“Every American should know that a government with the power to do this to anyone can do this – and worse – to everyone,” Bowman said in an April 30 statement, announcing the manufacturer's lawsuit against the administration.

“The government shouldn’t punish people of faith for making decisions in accordance with their faith,” commented Bowman. “That is simply not acceptable in America.”

Hercules is owned by William Newland, Paul Newland, James Newland, and Christine Ketterhagen, all of whom – along with Vice President Andrew Newland – identify as practicing Catholics.

The Alliance Defence Fund said their lawsuit, Newland v. Sebelius, came from their desire “to run the company … in a manner that reflects their sincerely held religious beliefs, including their belief that God requires respect for the sanctity of human life.”

Two private Christian schools, Geneva College and Louisiana College, have also joined with the Alliance Defense Fund in lawsuits against the contraception mandate.

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Cuban dissident released but could still face life in prison

Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, May 1, 2012 (CNA) - After 27 days in detainment, the national head of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, Jose Daniel Ferrer, could face life imprisonment if he does not obey the Communist government's order that he suspend dissident activities.

Speaking to foreign reporters, Ferrer said he was released from prison and allowed to go home to await trial. The Castro government has accused him of “instigating, organizing and financing actions that they consider to be crimes against public order,” he added. 

“If I suspend the activities of the group, they will call off the trial. Otherwise, they will accelerate the process and take me to prison,” Ferrer said.

“My response is that Jose Daniel Ferrer will continue fighting as he has up to now and with the same methods and with those we believe are valid for achieving freedom in Cuba, respect for human rights and the establishing of a true constitutional state,” he said.

Ferrer’s brother, Luis Enrique Ferrer Garcia, warned that he could be “taken a prison again at any moment for supposed crimes against public order.”

“According to threats from the state police, he would have to spend the rest of his days in prison,” he said.

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Argentinean 'miracle baby' continues to improve

Buenos Aires, Argentina, May 1, 2012 (CNA) -

Luz Milagros, the baby who was found alive after spending twelve hours in a morgue in Argentina, continues to improve and gain weight although she is still on a respirator.

According to an April 30 report by CNN, Luz now weighs two pounds and is no longer receiving inotropic drugs.

Although her condition is still serious, the progress she has made in recent days has given hope to her mother, Amalia Bouget, the rest of the family and the staff at Perrando Hospital in the province of Chaco.

According to the news agency, Luz's three siblings are “anxiously awaiting” her at home to accompany her on the final stage of her recovery.

Amalia Bouget gave birth prematurely to Luz at 26 weeks of pregnancy. After being declared stillborn by doctors, the baby spent 12 hours in the freezing cold temperatures of the morgue with no food or clothing, before she was found alive.

Bouget later returned to the morgue to take a picture of her daughter, who doctors said had no vital signs when she was born. 

“A woman came up to my husband who was waiting to go to the morgue to see her as well, and she told him, 'She is crying.' My husband thought she was talking about me, but it was my daughter who was crying,” Bouget said.

“I’m a believer. This was all a miracle of God,” she said.

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Blessed John Paul's beatification remembered one year later

Vatican City, May 1, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Blessed Pope John Paul II has been remembered one year after his beatification with a candlelight prayer vigil at the site where he hosted World Youth Day 2000 in Rome.

“What was the secret of John Paul II? I think I can say, the unity between faith and life. He lived for God and for man to bring to God, because he was happy,” said Cardinal Agostino Vallini, Vicar General of the Diocese of Rome at the vigil April 30.

Cardinal Vallini was addressing thousands of young people from the Diocese of Rome and beyond at Tor Vergata on the eastern outskirts of Rome. It was here that Pope John Paul II had told millions of young pilgrims to World Youth Day 2000 that “in saying ‘yes’ to Christ, you say ‘yes’ to all your noblest ideals.”

Last night the World Youth Day cross returned to Tor Vergata along with many of those who were in attendance 12 years. This time, however, they arrived with their husbands, wives and children to thank Blessed John Paul for his inspirational witness.

“Twelve years ago I was here, under this same Cross, on stage with the choir of the diocese of Rome,” said one female pilgrim to Vatican Radio.

“Today, after 12 years, I am here to thank him again, because I’m here with my family, my husband, my son who is called John Paul Emmanuel.”

“I am getting goose bumps just at the thought of being here,” said another veteran of World Youth Day 2000 who described that encounter with Pope John Paul as “a moment that changed my life, which matured my faith, which made me really see what the faith truly was and that the faith could be the center of my life.”

In his homily Cardinal Vallini recalled Pope John Paul II’s message of hope and urged the young and not-so-young people in attendance to continue to continue to be “generous” with God.

It was on May 1, 2011, that Pope Benedict XVI beatified his predecessor six years after Pope John Paul’s death. The beatification ceremony in Rome was attended by over 1.5 million pilgrims. Included in their number was Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, the French nun whose miraculous cure from Parkinson's Disease paved the way for the beatification.

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UK ordinariate thanks Pope Benedict for financial generosity

Vatican City, May 1, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - England's Catholic jurisdiction for former Anglicans has received a $250,000 donation from Pope Benedict XVI, prompting an expression of thanks from its top cleric.

“I am very grateful to the Holy Father for his generosity and support,” said Monsignor Keith Newton, head of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, in a May 1 statement.

The monsignor, himself a former Anglican bishop turned Catholic priest, said the Pope's gift was “a great help and encouragement as we continue to grow and develop our distinctive ecclesial life, whilst seeking to contribute to the wider work of evangelization in England and Wales.”

Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the Vatican's apostolic nuncio to Great Britain, helped the ordinariate obtain the Pope's financial support. He said Pope Benedict's gift was “a clear sign of his personal commitment to the work of Christian unity and the special place the ordinariate holds in his heart.”

The nuncio noted the need for further contributions, urging “all those who share our Holy Father’s vision to lend their spiritual and material support to the ordinariate, especially in these early days.”

Established in January 2011, the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was the first jurisdiction formed in response to Pope Benedict's apostolic constitution “Anglicanorum Coetibus.” The document gave Anglicans a means to become Catholic while retaining parts of their own tradition. 

During Easter 2012, the British ordinariate received over 250 former Anglicans into full communion with the Catholic Church. Two priests were ordained for the jurisdiction in April, and a group of deacons are scheduled to be ordained by Bishop Alan S. Hopes at Westminster Cathedral on May 26.

At present, the United Kingdom's Anglican ordinariate counts approximately 1,200 faithful and 60 clergy.

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