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Archive of May 4, 2012

New York bishops back minimum wage boost

Albany, N.Y., May 4, 2012 (CNA) - The Catholic bishops of New York State have called for a “modest increase” in the state’s minimum wage, saying it will help struggling adults that a poor economy has forced into low-paying jobs.

“We don’t pretend to be economists, but we are pastors, and we do oversee the largest nongovernmental network of health, education and charitable ministries in the state,” they said May 3.

“What we can tell you from first-hand experience is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the working poor of our state to make ends meet.”

The New York minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat from Manhattan, is proposing to raise the minimum wage to $8.50.

The Republican-controlled State Senate opposes the proposal on the grounds it would hurt the state’s business climate and the employment prospects for poor New Yorkers.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has not officially endorsed the proposed hike.

The bishops said the wage increase is “a matter of fairness and justice.”

They noted that a full-time worker paid the minimum wage will bring in $15,080 per year, about $4,000 less than the 2012 federal poverty guidelines for a family of three.

“Our sustained recession and painfully slow recovery have left many of these workers – often people of color and frequently the newest immigrants to our shores who therefore have the fewest support systems – on the brink of homelessness, with not enough in their paychecks to pay for the most basic of necessities, like food, medicine or clothing for their children.”

They noted the argument that minimum wage jobs go “solely” to high school students just entering the workforce, but replied that the statewide unemployment rate of 8.5 percent is pushing older adults into these jobs.

“Workers who previously never would have considered such low-paying jobs are now taking them out of desperation.”

The bishops said they don’t question the motivations of legislators who oppose the minimum wage increase. Rather, they hope and pray for bipartisan action to “address the grave problems facing the lowest wage earners in our state.”

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Violence breaks out at Occupy's second attempt on SF Church building

San Francisco, Calif., May 4, 2012 (CNA) - Bricks and other projectiles were thrown at police and bystanders during the Occupy San Francisco movement's second attempt to take over property owned by the Catholic Church on May 1.

“One of the protesters threw bricks, and some metal objects – like metal bars – down on the crowd gathered there, at the police and others. I think he was aiming at the police,” said George Wesolek, director of communications for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

“He missed a policeman, who ducked, and it hit one of the Occupy protesters who fell to the ground, was injured, and was bleeding,” Wesolek told CNA on May 3.

Police arrested the suspect, who is expected to be charged with felony aggravated assault. Another man, who threw pipes from a rooftop adjacent to the Church property, remains at large according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Tuesday's violence took place during the celebration of International Workers' Day, or “May Day.” As Wesolek explained, a group of agitators associated with the “Occupy SF” movement spent the labor holiday breaking into a Church-owned building they had previously attempted to seize on April 1.

During the previous incident, Occupy SF participants caused extensive damage to a building that the Church had set aside for charitable purposes. Formerly used for high school classes, the property was intended to be leased to tenants as a revenue source to provide low-income children with scholarships.

The April and May incidents were both defended by activists who said the property should be turned into an impromptu homeless shelter. In both cases, police cleared the property and arrested the intruders on the following day.

Wesolek said Tuesday's attempt to seize the property was “very similar” to the April occupation, “except I think this was more of a spontaneous kind of thing.”

“They were roaming the streets, and according to some of the protesters, just decided spontaneously to break in. They cut the fence that we had put up around the property, and jimmied some of the doors, broke some of the windows, and got into the building.”

“Last time it seemed very planned. This time it did not seem that way, (but) more a part of the general mayhem of the May 1 event.”

Wesolek said incidents like the initial break-in, as well as Tuesday's attempted re-occupation and the resulting violence, were exposing serious problems within the loose international movement that began with the 2011 “Occupy Wall Street” protests.

“I'm presuming that there are some people within the movement who are not anarchists, who are not prone to violence, but who want some kind of social change,” the archdiocesan spokesman said.

But in San Francisco, he said, “they are not the dominant ones at all, and they certainly didn't show themselves at all during these last couple of days.”

He said the movement appeared to lack focus, and seemed to be “controlled by a violent anarchist element. I think people are aware of that now, and they're quickly losing credibility.”

On the evening before the May Day celebrations, Wesolek said Occupiers marched through the Mission district, “where they attacked the Mission police station, rampaged on the streets, and (were) vandalizing cars. “

“Both of these incidents are against people who are definitely not in the 'One Percent,'” Wesolek said, referring to Occupy's claim that it represents 99 percent of the population. “The Mission district is very poor. Those are small businesspeople whose businesses are being attacked and destroyed.”

He also noted that the Church in San Francisco “provides about one third of all the social services to the poor,” both through direct assistance and projects like the scholarships that would have been provided by means of the now-vandalized property.

Leasing the building now, Wesolek said, would be “very difficult.”

“There probably is about $25,000 to $30,000 worth of damage in there,” he said, estimating the damage from Occupy's two break-ins. “To bring it up to the level it would need to be to lease out to some group, would take even more than that.”

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Survey suggests churches need to 'catch up' with unaffiliated Catholics

Chicago, Ill., May 4, 2012 (CNA) - A census of religious adherence in the U.S. that reported a five percent decline in the U.S. Catholic population associated with a specific parish suggests that some dioceses need to “catch up” with Catholics new to their areas.

“Our data indicate there are fewer than 60 million Americans associated with a specific Catholic church,” said Clifford Grammich, a research associate with the Religious Congregation & Membership Study 2010.

Other research found that there are “more than 75 million Americans who identify themselves as Catholic. In other words, there may be more than 15 million Americans who identify themselves as Catholic but who are not associated with a specific church,” Grammich told CNA May 3.

The study aims to provide the most complete data on U.S. religious affiliation and attendance. The data for 236 religious groups were published by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. The census study was released May 1 at a press conference during the annual meeting of the Associated Church Press in Chicago.

The Cincinnati-based Glenmary Research Center is responsible for the collection of the Catholic data for Latin and Eastern Rite parishes throughout the U.S.

In 2010, the census found 58.9 million Catholics affiliated with 20,589 congregations. Since 2000, the Catholic Church showed a loss of 1,202 congregations and 3.1 million adherents, a decrease of five percent. About 19.1 percent of the U.S. population is affiliated with a specific Catholic parish.

The religious census asked each Catholic diocese to provide the number of registered households, registered individuals, infant baptisms, deaths, and weekly Mass attendance.

While the census’ numbers come close to official Catholic figures in most dioceses, many dioceses report that a number of Catholics live in the diocese but are not affiliated with a specific parish or mission.

Grammich said some dioceses, especially those with rapid population growth, may need to “catch up” with new Catholics.

There may be 15 million self-identified Catholic Americans not affiliated with a specific church, he said. If these Catholics were a denomination, their numbers would comprise the third largest religious body in the U.S. after the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptists, who have 20 million adherents.

“Why those persons may identify as Catholic but not with a specific church could be an important question for the Catholic Church in the United States,” he told CNA.

Some of the changes in the Catholic population surveyed since 2000 may be a result of what Grammich called “accounting changes” and differences in methodology. The new Catholic data is focused more on the church-level than in the past. This makes the Catholic religious census data more comparable to that from other religious bodies, but less comparable to Catholic data reported in the past.

These questions aside, the results show a clear decline in some regions.

More than 30 U.S. dioceses, especially those of the Northeast, are witnessing more funerals than infant baptisms. This is causing a natural decrease in the Catholic population.

The Northeast, long a Catholic bastion, still has the highest Catholic population with 18.3 million adherents. However, the U.S. Catholic population has shifted to urban areas of the West and the South.

The Catholic Church showed gains in 11 states, including Georgia, Nevada and Oregon.

“As in decades past, the total population has grown more in the South and West than in the Northeast and Midwest. So total population growth alone means there will be more Catholics (and persons of other faiths) in the South and West,” Grammich said. “Also, to the extent there has been migration from the Northeast and Midwest to other regions, particularly to the South, there has been movement from more Catholic regions to less Catholic ones, which would boost the Catholic population there.”

Los Angeles County, with 3.5 million Catholic adherents, is the United States’ most populous Catholic county. Massachusetts has passed Rhode Island as the most Catholic state, with 44.9 percent of the population being Catholic.

Grammich found it striking that the Catholic numbers have shifted but the number of Catholic churches has not. This means the average number of Catholics per church has increased to more than 4,000 throughout the West, with nearly 8,000 Catholics per church in California.

About 25 percent of U.S. adults, more than 75 million people, identify as Catholic. However, only about two-thirds of these say they attend religious services more than once a year.

More information about the religious census, including county-level data on religious adherence, is accessible through the website of the Glenmary Research Center at http://www.glenmary.org/rcms2010.

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Pope Benedict cautions against increasing social inequality

Vatican City, May 4, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI used a speech to foreign diplomats May 4 to warn governments against exacerbating inequalities of wealth during the current economic crisis.

“When poverty coexists with the very rich, a perception of unfairness is born that can become a source of rebellion,” said the Pope.

“It is therefore appropriate that States ensure that the social laws do not increase inequalities and enable people to live decently.”

The comments were made in an address to five new ambassadors to the Holy See who were presenting their diplomatic credentials to the Vatican.

Speaking in French, the Pope noted that the present global economic crisis has brought “more and more families to an increasingly precarious situation.” Previously the “creation and multiplication of needs” had led many people to believe “in the possibility of unlimited enjoyment and consumption.”

Now, however, those hopes have been dashed and “feelings of frustration” have emerged with “loneliness due to exclusion” on the increase.

At the heart of all future economic policy, he said, has to be the good of the human person as “man is more precious for what he is than for what he has,” said the Pope quoting from the Second Vatican Council’s “Gaudium et spes” document.

Achieving this goal requires helping people in need to become “actors in their own society” and “enabling them to take charge of their own future.”   

“Development for which every nation aspires each should concern the integral person, not economic growth alone,” said the Pope.

Drawing upon Catholic social teaching’s belief in subsidiarity, Pope Benedict highlighted economic experiments “such as microcredit, and initiatives to create equitable partnerships” which show that it is possible “to harmonize economic goals with social needs, democratic governance and respect for nature.”

Pope Benedict then turned to another form of poverty which he described as “the loss of reference to spiritual values, to God.”

“This vacuum makes discernment between good and evil as well as the overcoming of personal interests for the common good, more difficult,” he said, adding that “it makes it easier to adhere to ideals currently in fashion and avoid the necessary effort of reflection and criticism.”

The victims of this loss are very often the young, he observed, who “in search of an ideal, turn to artificial paradises which destroy them” such as “addiction, consumerism and materialism” which “do not fill the heart of man made for infinity.”

“For the greatest poverty is the lack of love,” he said, “In distress, compassion and selfless listening are a great comfort. Even without great material resources, it is possible to be happy.”

Pope Benedict concluded by suggesting that this societal renaissance would be assisted by an education system that is “awakened to the spiritual dimension” and also by the promotion of each nation’s cultural and religious heritage given that in “familiarizing oneself with history, each individual is brought to discover the roots of his or her own existence.”

This will help each person to “forge a strong interior personality which enables him to witness to good and accomplish good even if it comes at a cost.”

The new ambassadors to the Holy See, who will not be resident in Rome, represent the governments of Ethiopia, Malaysia, Ireland, Fiji and Armenia.

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Pope moved by young mother with terminal cancer

Vatican City, May 4, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Chiara, a young mother from Rome suffering from terminal cancer, deeply touched Pope Benedict with her story of opting to protect her third child by forgoing treatment.

The 28-year-old greeted the Pope at the conclusion of this week’s Wednesday General Audience on May 2, together with her 33-year-old husband Enrico.

The couple lost their two previous children –  Maria, who suffered from anencephaly and lived only 30 minutes outside the womb, and David, who died hours after birth as he was born without legs or healthy internal organs.

In the case of their two deceased children, the couple refused abortion despite learning of their severe illnesses through pre-natal screening.

According to the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano, the couple greeted Benedict XVI and “were all smiles as they calmly told him the story of their young Christian family, their complete trust in providence and that they take the Gospel seriously, as they saw it lived out by John Paul II.”

“Visibly moved, the Pope affectionately touched them,” the paper reported.

Chiara was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with their third child Francesco. She decided to forgo treatment to protect him from the dangerous side-effects of chemotherapy and instead opted to begin treatment after giving birth.

“It was too late,” L'Osservatore Romano said. The cancer “exploded with such violence that there is little hope.”

“When I am no longer here, I will look after Maria and David,” Chiara has told her husband. “You remain here and care for Francesco.”

Both say they have looked to John Paul II for inspiration in dealing with the cancer. 

“He was their Pope during childhood and adolescence,” the Vatican daily wrote. “Following his example, they explained, they consecrate themselves daily to Maria, with the spirituality of Totus Tuus, and they pray the Rosary each Thursday with other families.”

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Perúvians troubled by decapitated religious statues

Lima, Peru, May 4, 2012 (CNA) - Catholics in northeastern Perú are concerned by a group of vandals who recently destroyed three major statues at a local parish. 

The attacks were carried out on statues of the Child Jesus, the Virgin Mary and St. Francis of Assisi outside Holy Spirit Parish in the city of Iquitos, located in the rainforest province of Loreto.

According to the news program Primera Edicion, the vandals knocked down the railings of the grotto where the statues were displayed and cut off their heads and arms. They placed a skull on the statues of Jesus and St. Francis in place of their heads.

It was the first time such an incident has occurred in Iquitos, sparking great concern among local residents. Federal agents have been an investigation into the incident to track down those responsible.

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Philadelphia archdiocese decides fate of 8 priests placed on leave

Philadelphia, Pa., May 4, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has announced a resolution in the cases of eight priests placed on leave after a grand jury report last year, removing five of them from ministry permanently.

“The decisions announced today reflect our commitment to protect children, assist victims, restore the integrity of the priesthood and provide evidence to the broader community that it can have confidence in these outcomes,” Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput told reporters at a May 4 press conference. 

A total of 26 priests were suspended from ministry by Archbishop Chaput's predecessor, Cardinal Justin  F. Rigali, in response to allegations of sex abuse or inappropriate behavior in a 2011 grand jury report.

On Friday, Archbishop Chaput announced that three of these priests had been “found suitable for ministry,” after a review by an archdiocesan board that was reformed in response to the grand jury findings.

“Five priests will not return to ministry although they retain the right to appeal this decision to the Holy See,” Archbishop Chaput stated. The case of a ninth priest, who has died, “cannot be concluded.”

In his remarks to reporters, the archbishop stressed his commitment to the review process begun by his predecessor. He also noted that the archdiocese is cooperating fully with law enforcement, and referring all cases to the local district attorney.

A separate team of child protection experts, including veteran abuse prosecutor Gina Maisto, also offered guidance to the archdiocese in examining the cases. Members of the two groups included doctors, police officers, experienced prosecutors, and victims' advocates.

“In every decision,” the archbishop recounted, “I relied on the counsel of more than 20 experts in two separate bodies.”

“I reviewed each case personally and made the final decision regarding every one of them.”

As he announced the first eight outcomes of the review process, Archbishop Chaput also explained the status of the other pending cases.

“When Cardinal Rigali began this process more than a year ago, he pledged to do an exhaustive review of all these cases,” the cardinal's successor recalled.

“The task of investigating past allegations of sexual misconduct is complex and time-consuming. It cannot be hurried or abbreviated without violating the whole purpose of the review.”

Of the 26 total cases, six are still in the hands of law enforcement and cannot yet be investigated by the Church. In two further cases, the archdiocese is still conducting its review after receiving clearance from police.

This leaves nine further cases in addition to the nine outcomes announced on May 4. Internal investigations have been completed in these cases, and Archbishop Chaput said the results “will be announced very soon” after a review by the archdiocesan board and the archbishop's final decision.

During the past year, the archbishop said, Church officials have “taken many steps … to reform and improve the way the archdiocese lives up to its duty to protect children.”

These steps include the creation of a dedicated investigative office, headed by a former Philadelphia deputy district attorney, to ensure legal compliance and children's safety. A separate office has also been established for the care of victims, headed by an former official of the district attorney's office.

At the parish level, Victim Services Consultant Mary Achilles will be leading an initiative entitled “Honesty, Healing, and Hope in Christ,” which seeks to support victims and others affected by abuse while building safe environments for the future.

As he pledged to protect the faithful and learn from the past, Archbishop Chaput acknowledged many Catholics' anger and loss of trust over the scandal of abuse by clergy.

“When a child is harmed,” he reflected, “the Church has failed.”

“I pray – and I do believe – that the lessons of the last year have made our Church humbler, wiser, and a more vigilant guardian of our people’s safety,” the archbishop said. “That is our commitment today, tomorrow, and permanently.”

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Catholic summer courses to be offered at Oxford

Merrimack, N.H., May 4, 2012 (CNA) - This summer, J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton enthusiasts will have the opportunity to study the lives and works of the influential British authors on the grounds of Oxford University.

The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H. – through its Center for Faith and Culture at Oxford – will give students the chance to explore the land, as well as the ideas, that shaped the Catholic Revival in England.

The course, which will take place August 7 – 21, will will examine the vocation of the writer as a witness to Christ in a hostile environment and the intellectual and cultural impact of the Reformation.

Students will spend two weeks studying the works of G.K. Chesterton, Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hilaire Belloc and J.R.R. Tolkien to examine the question of Catholic identity against the historical backdrop of the Reformation while engaging in discussions and seminar-style lectures from a variety of instructors.

Intellectuals such as Fr. Ian Ker, biographer of  Bl. John Henry Newman's, Lady Clare Asquith, author and an expert on the theory of Shakespeare as a Catholic, Stratford and Leonie Caldecott, directors of the Center, and a number of Oxford graduate students will deliver lectures as part of the course.

Guided tours of Thomas More's cell in the Tower of London, the Globe Theater, the pub where writers of the Inklings met, Mells Manor – the family home of lecturer Lady Clare Asquith –  will allow students to explore the landscape and landmarks that helped shape these authors.

For more information, please visit www.secondspring.co.uk

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Iranian pastor's Muslim attorney faces nine-year sentence

Washington D.C., May 4, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Muslim attorney in Iran who has been representing a pastor condemned to death for his Christian faith has reportedly been sentenced to nine years in jail and is expected to begin his term soon.

Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told The Guardian that he has “been convicted of acting against the national security, spreading propaganda against the regime and keeping banned books at home.”
 
He believes that he will soon be summoned to serve the jail sentence.

Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, told CNA on May 4 that the news raises serious concerns about the plight of Yousef Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor whom Dadkhah has been representing.

Nadarkhani has been in jail since 2009, when he was arrested after complaining to local authorities about his son being forced to read the Koran at school. He has been sentenced to death for apostasy.

An appeals court accepted the pastor’s assertion that he had never been a Muslim during his adult life. However, it also ruled that because he had left the faith of his ancestors, he must recant or die.

Yet despite threats of execution, Nadarkhani has refused to renounce his beliefs. If Dadkhah is imprisoned, Sekulow said, “Nadarkhani would no longer have a legal advocate.”

Furthermore, he warned, “there is a real likelihood that no other attorney would take his case because of a fear of imprisonment or disbarment.”

“This may be the regime attempting to take out the attorney to effectively remove a right of appeal,” he said.

Sekulow believes that Iran is cracking down on attorneys who advocate human rights within the country.

In recent years, Dadkhah has represented numerous imprisoned Iranian human rights activists, including 12 Christians in an Easter Sunday trial in the same provincial court that sentenced Nadarkhani to death.

In addition to the nine-year jail sentence, he has also been banned by the government from practicing law or teaching for ten years.

In a May 3 statement, Sekulow said the development is "very troubling" and "only reinforces the fact that Iran has no regard for basic human rights.”

He warned that while Nadarkhani was confirmed alive as of May 2, he will be left “at greater risk” of execution if the Iranian government proceeds to imprison Dadkhah.

Sekulow stressed that international attention and pressure are “key in these situations.”

The American Center for Law and Justice has launched a social media effort to raise awareness about Nadarkhani’s plight through Twitter. The campaign now reaches more than 2 million Twitter accounts each day, including more than 400,000 in Portuguese.

The U.S. State Department, White House and numerous members of Congress have called for Nadarkhani to be freed.

However, if Dadkhah is to avoid prison and Nadarkhani is to be released, countries with influence in Iran – such as Brazil, Russia and Turkey – must get involved, said Sekulow. 

These key international players “must persuade Iran that its actions contravene international law,” he said.

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