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Archive of May 8, 2012

Controversies prompt call for resignation at Vatican's pro-life academy

Vatican City, May 8, 2012 (CNA) - Members of the Pontifical Academy for Life want its top officials to resign over a series of recent controversial decisions, including a conference described as the “worst day” in its history.

“I am not alone with my feeling of profound shock over the (Febuary 2012) public conference and some of the official PAV communications,” wrote Professor Josef Seifert, a member of the academy, in a May 4 letter to its president Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula.

The professor told the academy president that he “can understand those members – most of whom never before criticized the Pontifical Academy for Life and are very soft-spoken – who told me that the only choice that remains for the Directory Board … is to resign.”

In the wake of February's conference and subsequent events, Seifert expressed his “enormous concern” over the prospect of the academy “losing its full and pure commitment to the truth and its enthusiastic service to the unreduced magnificent Church teaching on human life in its whole splendor.”

Billed as a conference on ethical treatments for infertility, the pontifical academy's Feb. 24 assembly drew criticism from some participants who said it provided a platform for opponents of Church teaching. In Friday's letter, Seifert called it “the worst day in our history” at the Academy for Life.

In March, the academy canceled a planned conference on adult stem cells, which was due to feature speakers who also support embryonic research. Conference organizers went on to distance the academy from “some pro-life activists,” while giving varying explanations for the cancellation.

Natural family planning expert Mercedes Wilson, an academy member who presented at the February 2012 conference, joined Prof. Seifert in criticizing that event and the academy's recent direction.

Many academy members, she told CNA, “were shocked to hear that several of the invited presenters did not represent the teachings of the Catholic Church” at that gathering.

Wilson said she was one of “only two presenters who offered the audience natural solutions to the problems of infertility,” along with Pope Paul VI Institute founder Dr. Thomas Hilgers.

“As His Holiness Benedict XVI read his message to the participants of the assembly, it was obvious that he was not aware that the president and its governing council had invited presenters who are in complete disaccord with the teachings of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church,” Wilson recounted.

“There were presentations on in vitro fertilization, and other medical procedures that are forbidden by the teachings of the Church. This became a public scandal in an academy that was formed specifically to defend life and protect the teachings of Holy Mother Church.”

Wilson said the incident was also an insult to the Pope, “who assumed that the leaders of the Pontifical Academy for Life would be teaching and guarding the moral and spiritual interests of the Church.”

She told CNA that several academy members “approached the leadership of the Academy and expressed their shock and dismay” over the February conference. Non-member attendees were also “greatly disturbed that such speeches were being given within the Vatican walls.”

It was at this same gathering that the academy announced its April 2012 meeting on adult stem cells. Although that conference was later canceled, some members saw the entire incident – including the reasons given for the cancellation – as a betrayal of the pontifical academy's mission.

One letter, sent to a scheduled speaker by the academy's chancellor and officer for studies, stated that the conference was canceled for economic reasons – and not because of the “lobbying activity” of  “some pro-life activists” who “do not enjoy any credit” from the pontifical academy.

But a separate letter, signed only by the chancellor, said the meeting's indefinite postponement was due in part to the “threats coming from some persons” using “false and tendentious information” to raise “doubts or even fears” about the conference.

Organizers of the canceled April 2012 conference defended the choice of embryonic research supporters as speakers, saying they were also experts in adult stem cells and would not use the conference to promote views contrary to Catholic moral teaching.

But critics within the academy cited its founding statues, which allow work with “non-Catholic and non-Christian medical experts, so long as they recognize the essential moral foundation of science and medicine in the dignity of man and the inviolability of human life from conception to natural death.”

In his letter to Bishop Carrasco, Prof. Seifert stated his reasons for considering Feb. 24 as the lowest point in the pro-life academy's history.

He corroborated Wilson's account of the discussions about infertility that took place, saying they disregarded ethical norms of the natural law in favor of a supposedly “neutral” viewpoint. Five out of the seven papers delivered, he said, “stood in flat contradiction to Church teaching on morals.”

“The contraceptive pill was praised if taken for a while and introduced as a healthy means for restricting periods of fertility,” Seifert recalled. In vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, and related technologies “were presented as morally acceptable and as major achievements.”

These presentations, he said, were “propaganda for everything the Church condemns in this field,” and they had “no legitimate place in our academy.”

Seifert also accused the academy of dismissing pro-life objections to the canceled stem cell conference  as “useless controversies,” and responding with “cynical mockery” to those who raised concerns about the infertility conference.

“Instead of offering refunds to participants who had been gravely misled and wasted their money to attend a Planned Parenthood-like meeting under the auspices of the Pontifical Academy for Life, these unhappy participants were brutally told, if they did not like what they heard, not to return next year.”

This same attitude, he said, was evident in the tone of the letters that announced the cancellation of the April 2012 stem cell conference.

These factors, Seifert told Bishop Carrasco, made it understandable that some members of the academy should look for signs of repentance – including not only apologies, but possibly resignations as well.

The professor's remarks may soon spark a larger conversation about the academy's direction. In a post-script to the letter, he told Bishop Carrasco he was encouraging “all my fellow members in the academy to let you know to which extent they agree with the contents of this letter.”

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Anti-bullying advocate Dan Savage lobs attack at Pope

Chicago, Ill., May 8, 2012 (CNA) - Anti-bullying advocate Dan Savage, currently under fire for insulting Christian high school students, made an obscenity-laced attack against the Pope in a recent speech at an Illinois college.

As criticism mounts over Savage's recent anti-bullying campaign talks, Catholic League President Bill Donohue called on Elmhurst College officials to apologize for inviting the controversial speaker.

“They had to have known about Dan Savage’s history of offering obscene anti-Catholic rants when they asked him to speak at the campus chapel,” Donohue said May 2. “The president of Elmhurst College must have known – he was certainly there to welcome him.”

Savage, known for his graphic syndicated sex advice column, incited backlash over remarks made at an April 29 appearance in front of an audience of college students.

He said with sarcasm that Pope Benedict XVI's rejection of “gay marriage” is based on the idea that legal recognition of the unions will cause a homosexual act between Savage and movie star Brad Pitt.

Savage also suggested that the Pope is secretly gay and used obscene language to argue that the pontiff believes same-sex “marriage” will make people forget how babies are conceived and cause humanity go extinct.

The Sunday event, held in the United Church of Christ-affiliated college’s Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel, was a presentation based on Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign. Savage created the initiative in response to several teen suicides carried out by young people who were gay or perceived to be gay.

The original video launched many prominent imitators who made their own versions, including numerous celebrities, members of the Obama administration and President Barack Obama himself.

In his reaction to Savage's speech, Donohue questioned why Elmhurst College President S. Alan Ray had not apologized for the columnist's “vulgar attack on the Pope,” and queried whether Ray agrees with Savage.

The Catholic League sent Donohue’s statement to the Elmhurst College Board of Trustees, local government officials, and Catholic high school principals in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

“They should know how this college, which boasts of its commitment to diversity and tolerance, treats Catholics,” said Donohue.

Rev. Bob Ullman, a member of the Elmhurst College Board of Trustees and a minister in the United Church of Christ, sent a May 4 e-mail to the Catholic League characterizing Donohue’s comments as a “rant against Dan Savage and his inflammatory remarks.”

He said it was “inexcusable” for Donohue to attack the character of the college president and to criticize Elmhurst College for “allowing free and open conversation about very difficult issues facing gay and lesbian people.”

Rev. Ullman said his college and church are “willing to walk into the murky waters of human sexuality and Christian morality.”

Savage made news after his April 13 talk in Seattle at the “Journalism on the Edge” conference for high school students. He had been invited to be a keynote speaker and to talk about the power of social media and the bullying of homosexual youths.

During his talk, he attacked biblical condemnations of homosexual acts as “bulls--t.” When objecting students walked out, Savage referred to them as “pansya--ed.”

Critics of Savage have accused him of engaging in the same kind of bullying and intimidation he claims to oppose.

On April 29, the same day as his address at Elmhurst College, Savage apologized for insulting the students, but not for his obscene descriptions of the Bible. He has previously blamed Christian morality for causing teen suicide.

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Pro-life campaign reaches out to BET viewers

Austin, Texas, May 8, 2012 (CNA) - The "Call for Help" ad campaign on Black Entertainment Television is letting women in crisis pregnancy situations that there is help available and they are not alone.

Heroic Media CEO Brian Follett said the campaign was “a direct result of the support of individuals and families who believe that women deserve to learn about hopeful alternatives to abortion.”

Thanks to them, he said “people across the United States will see life-affirming messages daily on BET.”

Research by the the non-profit, pro-life ad agency has shown that commercials on the network “ are an effective means of reaching women with compassionate messages and connecting them with life-affirming pregnancy resources,” marketing director Marissa Gabrysch said in a May 7 announcement.

In the advertisement, targeted toward women facing abandonment or other consequences of an unplanned pregnancy, a woman tells viewers: “A baby is a life you created – a baby that will love you, and need you, in return.”

“So this pregnancy wasn't planned. It's going to be OK – really,” she says. “There are people that will help you, and services available … You don't have to do this alone.”

Heroic Media's commercial will air more than 60 times during May and June on BET, which reaches an estimated 5.5 million women between the ages of 18 and 34. The ad refers viewers to the “Option Line” service, which connects them with local pregnancy centers.

During 2011, Heroic Media's advertizing generated more than 146,000 referrals for resources and information about alternatives to abortion.

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US leaders called to address rise in global religious persecution

Washington D.C., May 8, 2012 (CNA) - Human rights advocates warned that the U.S. government is failing to recognize the religious nature of violent conflicts in countries around the world, calling for more stringent U.S. foreign policy.

Persecution of religious minorities cannot be ignored because “lives are in the balance,” said Carl Moeller, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, an organization that works to serve persecuted Christians worldwide.

Moeller spoke about religious oppression at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on May 3.

He was joined by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who warned of the “growing scourge” of religious-based oppression.

In many areas of the world, the situation is “actually getting worse rather than getting better,” Rabbi Adlerstein said, as limitations on religious freedom for minority groups have become a “political tool” for many regimes.

Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C., also spoke at the event, noting the important link between religious freedom and other important liberties such as freedom of speech.

The speakers said those who value freedom must make defense of religious liberty abroad an important priority in their foreign policy work.

Moeller pointed to a recent Pew Research study that found about 70 percent of the world’s population living in areas that lack religious freedom.

Oppression based on religion is the “horrible, murderous reality for millions of people around the world,” he said, adding that Christians are particularly targeted in many parts of the world, where they face “unimaginable hardship.”

The persecution is so extreme that it can even be considered “religiocide” in places such as Iraq, where Christian communities are being intentionally and systematically eliminated through both violence and fear, he said.

“This is not a small campaign,” he added, stressing that religious freedom is restricted not only in the Middle East but in many other regions of the globe as well.

In Nigeria, the situation is particularly dire, Moeller said. While the Southern part of the country has a vibrant community of Pentecostal Christians, the North is largely controlled by extreme Sharia law, he explained.

Persecution of Christians in the country is “driven by Islamic extremism,” especially the group Boko Haram, which is committed to completely eliminating all Christians from the country, he said. 

While Church bombings are on the rise, religious persecution affects not only the ability to worship, but also the ability to go about daily life, he said, offering the example of a business in Nigeria that had been bombed because its owners were Christians.

Bombings and murders are simply the “tip of the iceberg” for religious minorities who are subject to an “entire culture” of oppression and marginalization, he explained.

Given the serious nature of the situation, Moeller said that he was alarmed to hear Johnnie Carson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, say in a recent speech that religion is not driving extremist violence in Nigeria.

This assertion is contrary to what the facts clearly show, that such violence “is not random,” but is targeted and “intentional,” argued Moeller.

A failure to recognize the reality of religious persecution is a “major blind spot” in American foreign policy statements, he said.

Moeller called on President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney make religious freedom an important part of political discussions in the upcoming year.

“This is not a political football,” he said. “These are lives at stake.” 

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Swiss Guard seeking new recruits on Facebook

Rome, Italy, May 8, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Swiss Guard, a group of soldiers founded in the 14th century and charged with protecting the Pope, has opened an account on Facebook to seek out new recruits.

The new effort at recruitment is aimed at increasing the number of men who volunteer to serve in what's known as the “world’s smallest army.”

At the swearing-in of new recruits on Sunday, Colonel Daniel Rudlf Anrig, commander of the Swiss Guard, said, “As free men we provide a voluntary service to the Holy Church, to which less and less people from our homeland are committed.”

He told the new members that they must “faithfully, loyally and honorably serve the Supreme Pontiff,” and should understand that membership in the Swiss Guard is not an ordinary job and that they must have service-oriented mindset.

This year the number of new recruits dropped from 34 to 26. They include 16 Germans, five French and five Italians. The total number of Swiss Guard is usually around 110.

The solemn ceremony on May 6 commemorates the 147 soldiers of the Swiss Army who gave their lives heroically in defense of Pope Clement VII in 1527, during the sack of Rome by German mercenaries.

Members of the Pope’s army must be Swiss citizens, Catholics of upright moral standing, single and between the ages of 19 and 30.

The Swiss Guard’s Facebook page can be seen at: https://www.facebook.com/gsp1506

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Man recounts miraculous healing through St. Martin de Porres' intercession

Lima, Peru, May 8, 2012 (CNA) - The man who experienced a miraculous healing in 1956 through the intercession of St. Martin de Porres, shared details about the incident as Peru celebrates the 50th anniversary of the canonization of the Dominican saint.

In an interview from Spain with the Peruvian daily El Comercio, Antonio Cabrera Pérez-Camacho recalled that everything began with a childhood prank on August 25, 1956 while on vacation in the city of Garachico.

“I was a very mischievous boy and I was walking with another boy who had a bar of soap. I took it from him and threw it into a house that was under construction. He began to cry and said his father punish him. I said, 'Don’t worry, I’ll go find it.'”

As he was climbing the roof of the structure, a 60-pound cement block came loose. “I fell to the ground and the block fell on top of me. My left leg was crushed,” Antonio said.

After doctors examined him, they determined there was no blood following to his leg and that gangrene was beginning to set in. “They pulled off pieces of rotten flesh,” he recalled.

Despite undergoing days of treatment, his condition remained the same. On August 31, doctors said his leg would have to be amputated, as the boy was also beginning to show signs of hepatitis and blood poisoning. 

However, on Sept. 1 of that year “a relative of mine named Adolfo Luque arrived from Las Palmas. He told my mother Berta: 'There is nothing left to do here except pray. I am very devoted to Blessed Martin de Porres and I have a lot of faith in him. I want to give you this holy card because the only thing left to do is to pray.'”

“My mother, who was very religious, put the holy card on my leg and she prayed the entire night,” Antonio said. “The next day, when the doctors came to take me to surgery, they removed the bandages and were shocked to find my condition had radically changed.”

“There was circulation in my leg, and they said there was no need to amputate anything. And that’s what happened. A few days later I was sent him. The only long-term effect was the scar. Everything else was normal.”

On Sept. 2, Doctor Miguel Lopez confirmed that as he was preparing for the amputation, he discovered an improvement in Antonio’s condition that was unusual and inexplicable. By Sept. 7, Antonio was released from the hospital.

News of the miraculous cure reached the Dominicans, who decided to begin an investigation to determine if it would count as the second miracle needed for the canonization of then-Blessed Martin, who lived and worked among Peru's impoverished in the 16th century. The first miracle was the healing of an elderly woman in Paraguay in 1948.

“The ecclesial stage was very intense. The bishop (Domingo Perez Caceres) forbade us to speak of the matter under pain of excommunication. A tribunal was formed and emissaries arrived from Rome.  Because I was just a child, they asked me only a few questions, but they interviewed my parents for hours and hours. It seemed like a police interrogation,” Antonio recalled.

He noted that the testimony of Dr. Angel Capote, an avowed atheist, was key. “He said that from a medical point of view there was no explanation for what had happened. And Angel died an extraordinary Christian because what had happened led to his conversion.”

Six years later, on May 6, 1962, Pope John XXIII canonized Blessed Martin de Porres. Antonio was about to turn 12 and was invited to the ceremony. “Everything was so solemn. There were people from Africa, America, Asia, it was very ecumenical,” he said.

He recalled that John XXIII told him he had to be “an example for the rest of the world. With the miracle comes responsibility. You are still a child, but you will understand this as you grow older.”  “And as he said, now I understand,” Antonio told the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio May 6.

In 1963 he was invited for a meeting with the Peruvian government. “It was amazing. The television, the newspapers. I have very fond memories. Before dying I would like to go back to Peru once more.  When I was before the tomb of Martin, I prayed for health, peace and love,” he said.

Now, as a dental surgeon, Antonio said he has been “influenced by St. Martin, who was a healer and who pulled teeth out. Here he is the patron saint of barbers, who at that time were also surgeons,” he noted.

According to El Comercio, Father Vicente Cruz, who participated in the ecclesial investigation, said the tribunal “named two doctors to review the condition of Antonio’s leg. The testimony was typed out and then two copies were made by hand. The process was very rigorous (…) The testimony of the doctors was very important. They testified that this case surpassed existing medical knowledge.

The priest explained that once the diocesan phase ended the report was sent to Rome. “Antonio completely recovered. At 12 years of age he was playing soccer, and he was just as good with his right leg as with his left.”

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Catholic Middle East expert believes Arab Spring is 'no more'

Rome, Italy, May 8, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

One of the Catholic Church’s leading experts on the Middle East says the Arab Spring is “no more.”
 
“It was in the beginning a ‘springtime’ because really it was a free movement, (an) independent, unorganized movement for freedom,” Father Samir Khalil Samir told CNA.

But the movement slowly became “organized by other groups, especially by Islamic groups, in Egypt, also in Libya, in Bahrain, so that now the situation is no more a spring,” he said.

Fr. Samir is an Egyptian Jesuit who teaches at Rome’s Pontifical Oriental Institute, as well as in Beirut and Paris. Last year he cautiously welcomed the rise of the “Arab Spring,” a series of popular uprisings that dislodged several Middle Eastern dictators.

While some observers were hopeful that more democratic forms of government would take root in the wake of the protests, many countries instead saw Islamist movements rise to political prominence.

Fr. Samir said this has been particularly true in his homeland of Egypt, where the 30-year military dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year, and in other states such as Tunisia and Libya.

He described the situation in Libya since the fall of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011 as “not wonderful” due to “an Islamization after the secular system of Gaddafi.” He also believes that the present civil uprisings in Bahrain and Syria are being fueled by Islamist forces.

Fr. Samir said he still prays for “an open society for all people” in the Arab world but believes there are two road blocks – a lack of experience with democracy and a lack of education particularly for Arab women.

“We are aspiring to democracy but a problem is, if I take the case of Egypt for instance, which is not an exception, since 1952 and the Abdel Nasser revolution we don’t have a democracy,” he explained. Instead Egypt experienced having militant leaders – Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak – “so we don’t know what a democracy is and how to make it.”

He believes that democracy could develop in the region but that it may take another generation to achieve it.

The Egyptian Jesuit also thinks that education, especially for women, is a key factor in achieving a stable democratic society. He explained that it is Arab women who “build the family, not the fathers” and that females are also “those who are more for peace and not for war” which, he believes, gives them a greater affinity with minorities such as Christians.
 
“Unfortunately, some sentences of the Koran could support their suppression because it’s a document from the 7th century and there is no new reading of the Koran to reinterpret for today,” he said.

His advice to people in the West is to pray for the Arab world and to support education in the region through non-governmental organizations, which he says are traditionally less corrupt than Arab governments.

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Iowa diocese in talks with school over gay scholarship award

Davenport, Iowa, May 8, 2012 (CNA) - An Iowa Catholic school is being called to account for its role in a controversy involving a gay advocacy group's award, won by a student at a diocesan school with staff encouragement.

“The diocesan superintendent of schools is in contact with the school officials,” Diocese of Davenport Communications Director Deacon David Montgomery told CNA on May 8. He confirmed that Prince of Peace Catholic School staff had urged a student to pursue the Matthew Shepard Scholarship.

Offered by the Eychaner Foundation, the scholarship is awarded to “students who are out and proud and who have worked to improve circumstances for the LGBT Community.” This year, the $40,000 award became a point of controversy when it was won by Prince of Peace senior Keaton Fuller.

The incident cause the Davenport diocese to reaffirm its longstanding guest speaker policy on May 7. The policy says the Church “cannot allow any one or any organization which promotes a position that is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church to present at a diocesan institution.”

On this basis, the diocese refused to offer a platform to the foundation, whose support for redefining marriage is “contrary to Catholic teaching that defines marriage as the sacramental union between a man and a woman.”

The foundation, however, says the diocesan school previously agreed to let one of its representatives appear at Prince of Peace's award ceremony to give Fuller the award. Its certification form asks school officials to “verify … that the scholarship may be presented by a Foundation Representative.”

An administrator at Prince of Peace declined to answer questions about the situation, and directed inquiries to the diocese.

Deacon Montgomery subsequently told CNA that the school staff was aware of the scholarship's significance and purpose when they encouraged Fuller to apply. He also confirmed that a school staff member signed the form which the foundation understood as allowing its representatives to give the award.

In its May 7 statement, the Diocese of Davenport confirmed that Fuller would not receive the award from a representative of the foundation. Instead, he will be “presented the award by a member of the school staff at the awards assembly along with background information concerning the award.”

“We are glad that Keaton and his family chose to pursue his education at Prince of Peace Catholic High School,” the diocese noted. “We hope that Keaton will benefit from the generous award and wish him well in his academic pursuits.”

The diocese also affirmed its commitment to “tolerance and respectful behavior toward all people,” and said it supports the Eychaner Foundation's goal of ending bullying and harassment, while opposing its stance on redefining marriage.

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