Chicago, Ill., May 9, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Legatus, a national organization of leading Catholic business CEOs and professional leaders, has filed a federal lawsuit against the HHS mandate that requires insurance coverage for contraception and sterilization.
“This is a case about religious freedom,” the lawsuit’s 42-page complaint began. It charges that the mandate “forces employers and individuals to violate their religious beliefs because it requires employers and individuals to pay for insurance from insurance issuers which fund and directly provide for drugs, devices, and services” that they believe are sinful.
The lawsuit specifically cites Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” which condemned contraception, abortion and abortifacients as a grave sin.
The Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center filed the lawsuit on Legatus’ behalf in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The Michigan-based Weingartz Supply Company and its president, Legatus member Daniel Weingartz, have joined the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs are seeking a court ruling to permanently block the implementation of the Department of Health and Human Services requirement that employers and individuals obtain insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including abortion-causing drugs.
The suit challenges the mandate on the grounds of the First Amendment’s establishment clause and its protections for free speech and free exercise of religion. It also charges that the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
Richard Thompson, the Thomas More Law Center’s president and chief counsel, said he believes “every American regardless of religious beliefs has a stake in the successful outcome of this lawsuit.”
“Whether you are a Catholic or Protestant or have no religion at all, the free exercise of religion and right of conscience is our most fundamental human right and must be vigorously defended on behalf of all Americans. Or else our constitution becomes nothing more than a piece of paper with nice sounding words,” he said.
Legatus has over 4,000 members, including businesspersons and their spouses from over 2,100 Catholic-run companies. It has 73 chapters in 31 U.S. states and three international chapters. The name for the group comes from the Latin word for “ambassador” since it asks its members to be “ambassadors for Christ” in their business and personal lives.
Tom Monaghan, the former owner of Domino’s Pizza, founded Legatus in 1987.
Washington D.C., May 9, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Polling analysts believe that the vote of Catholics in the U.S. remains important and could play a crucial role in the upcoming presidential election.
Research associate Dr. Mark M. Gray told CNA on May 7 that Catholics remain “an important subgroup” in the U.S. electorate.
Gray, who works as director of Catholic polls for Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, believes it is likely that the Catholic vote will be even more important in this election year than it has been in the past.
Historically, the “Catholic vote” has been considered important because the candidate who receives the majority of the votes cast by Catholics generally wins the election, he explained.
A Gallup survey conducted in April 2012 found Catholic registered voters split between presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Both candidates received 46 percent of the Catholic vote, with 8 percent responding as “other” or “undecided.”
These numbers were nearly identical to the results among total registered voters, who favored Obama over Romney by a 46-45 percent vote during the same time period.
Dr. Frank Newport, Gallup's Editor in Chief, agreed that Catholics have the potential to shape the upcoming presidential election.
Catholics make up a “huge group of voters” in the United States, he told CNA.
Newport observed that the Catholic vote so far in 2012 appears to follow the 2008 pattern of aligning closely with the national average, although differences in race and Church attendance account for a “significant difference” in voting patterns.
But while they tend to vote “very much like the national average,” Catholics are “certainly” still important to the election and will be taken into account by campaign strategists, he said.
“They’re a swing group,” he explained. “The Catholics are of interest because taken as a whole, they could go either way.”
Gray explained that overall, Catholics fit in the middle of evangelical Protestants, who tend to vote for Republican candidates, and individuals with no religious affiliation, who tend to vote for Democratic candidates.
Catholics tend to fall in between, he explained, so whichever way they lean in a given election tends to be a good indication of where the election is headed.
Gray said that the biggest difference in this election is that “the Church is one of the bigger issues” this year.
The Catholic Church has played a prominent role in recent political discussions, particularly in the face of the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, which will require employers to offer health insurance that covers contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.
Bishops from every diocese in the U.S. have spoken out against the mandate and the devastating threat it poses to freedom of conscience for Catholics and members of other faiths.
Such concerns about religious liberty have led to a “heightened level” of discussion and activity within the Catholic community, said Gray. As a result, the U.S. is seeing a “higher profile” for “all things Catholic” than it has in previous years.
People are talking about Church issues as they discuss politics in the election year, and the faithful “are hearing more” from Church leaders, he added.
In addition to normal statements issued by Catholic leaders before an election, he explained, there is also a significant focus on the importance of voting for religious freedom.
The Church’s role in the religious liberty debate could have a significant impact as the nation chooses its next president, he said.
Newport agreed that Catholics should not be overlooked as prominent actors in the 2012 election. He explained that a tight election ultimately comes down to movement in small segments of the electorate that are not already locked in to either candidate.
“Any group in that context can make a difference,” he said.
With Catholics making up nearly one-fourth of U.S. voters today, he observed, they could “be a critical group” in determining the outcome of the election in November.
Washington D.C., May 9, 2012 (CNA) - More than 15,000 people have signed an open letter protesting Georgetown University’s decision to invite U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to speak at an award ceremony during its commencement weekend.
“Our courageous bishops have been vigilant against this threat and they deserve, at a minimum, the respect and support of prominent institutions that claim to be in communion with the Church,” said CatholicVote.org president Brian Burch, who organized the letter.
In a May 8 e-mail to CNA, Burch explained that Georgetown’s decision to invite Sebelius is surprising because her defense of the Obama administration’s contraception mandate “threatens the very freedom of institutions like Georgetown University.”
Hospitals, universities and other institutions threatened by the mandate “represent what it means to be Catholic,” Burch said. “They're inseparable from who we are as a Church.”
The open letter warns of the danger of Catholic institutions honoring people who “demonstrate a hostility and clear opposition to the freedoms” for which the bishops have been fighting, and asks the Jesuit university to reconsider the invitation.
The letter, which was launched on May 7, had gained more than 15,500 signatures by May 8.
It was addressed to Georgetown president John J. DeGioia and the school’s Public Policy Institute dean Edward Montgomery, as well as Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C. and Archbishop-designate William E. Lori of Baltimore.
Citing the “present conflict” between the Church and the Obama administration, the signatories voiced “distress” over the decision to welcome Sebelius as a speaker at Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute award ceremony on May 18.
This conflict raises “issues of fundamental concern” that are “wholly different from those issues that permit Catholics in good conscience to prudentially disagree as to how to best resolve them,” they said.
Georgetown has drawn heavy criticism since announcing on May 4 that it had invited Sebelius to speak on commencement weekend.
The criticism largely stems from the fact that Sebelius recently issued a controversial federal mandate that will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.
Catholic bishops from every diocese in the U.S. have spoken out against the mandate and the threat that it poses to religious freedom. They have warned that the rule could force Catholic hospitals, schools and charitable agencies to end their work.
A Georgetown spokesperson responded to the criticism by saying that that university does not have “one main commencement speaker” because each of its undergraduate and professional schools holds an individual graduation ceremony.
Sebelius is not speaking at a commencement ceremony, but at an awards ceremony, the spokesperson said.
Sebelius was originally listed on the Georgetown website under the heading, “Speakers at Other Commencement Ceremonies.” As opposition grew, this heading was changed to “Speakers at Other Ceremonies.”
The signatories warned that Georgetown’s decision “will only inflame this conflict, invite justified protests, cause great harm and detract from the necessary dialogue required to resolve the issues surrounding this mandate.”
In addition, they said, it is “fundamentally an act of disunity” that represents “an insult” to the work of the bishops and other faithful Americans seeking to prayerfully resolve the conflict with the administration, and it should therefore be reconsidered.
Burch told CNA that faced with an assault on our “most fundamental freedom,” the unity of the Church is critical now “more than ever.”
“Instead, Georgetown has invited discord and disunity by inviting the very person who could shut down their school with an avalanche of fines,” he said.
"Even on a most basic self-interested level, one wonders why Georgetown would invite the fox into the henhouse."
Santa Cruz, Calif., May 9, 2012 (CNA) -
The parishioners of Holy Cross Church and the Diocese of Monterey, Calif. are “shocked and saddened” after a Sunday vandalism spree damaged irreplaceable items like a baptismal font that the famous missionary Bl. Junipero Serra brought to the area in 1791.
“The Diocese of Monterey is deeply saddened by the apparent hate crime committed against Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz last weekend,” diocese spokesman Deacon Warren Hoy told CNA May 8.
Damage affected the church, the attached Mission Santa Cruz Museum and the parish’s ministry and outreach building Siena House.
A custodian found the damage early May 6. Police arrived at the church before 7 a.m.
The garden’s baptismal font was so badly damaged and spray painted that the diocese is not sure whether it can be repaired.
The windows were broken with rocks, while the doors and walls were spray painted with “multiple anti-church slogans and symbols,” the Santa Cruz Police Department report on the incident said.
Besides the damage to the baptismal font, other statues were broken or spray painted.
Statues of Junipero Serra and the Virgin Mary had paint poured on them.
The police report describes the crime as felony vandalism.
The graffiti included words like “we all have heathen blood” and a cross encircled by a “no” symbol. One phrase said “This Ohlone land,” an apparent reference to the Ohlone native American tribe.
The vandal or vandals even climbed on the roof to spray paint the church’s bell tower.
Parishioners and parish staff have scrubbed off most of the graffiti, but it is still visible. The damaged statues will require professional restoration.
Deacon Hoy said the attack shocked the area’s Catholics.
“Holy Cross Church is an active member of the Santa Cruz community, with numerous social justice ministries helping people throughout the city, and we can’t understand what would have provoked such a vicious attack,” he said.
The diocese is working with police to identify the vandal or vandals.
“We pray that God will ease their obvious pain and lead them to repent of this terrible crime,” Deacon Hoy said.
“We will continue to work to build up God’s Kingdom here on Earth, and to serve him by serving his people. Mindless acts of vandalism won’t deter us from our mission.”
Vatican City, May 9, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI says he has been sustained during his seven years as pontiff by the prayers of people around the world.
“From the first moment of my election as the Successor of St. Peter, I have always felt supported by the prayers of you all, by the prayer of the Church, especially by your prayers at moments of greatest difficulty, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he told pilgrims in St. Peters Square during his May 9 general audience.
“Unanimous and constant prayer is a precious instrument in overcoming all of the trials that may arise in the path of life, because it is our being deeply united with God that allows us to also be deeply united to others,” the Pope said, before thanking everyone again.
Pope Benedict’s prepared remarks for the day focused on the prayer life of the early Church, continuing a series of teachings he has been giving. This morning, along with approximately 10,000 pilgrims, he examined the episode in the life of his predecessor, St. Peter, who was released from imprisonment by an angel on the eve of his trial in Jerusalem.
“The strength of the unceasing prayer of the Church rises to God and the Lord hears and carries out an unthinkable and unhoped for deliverance, sending his angel,” he said.
The liberation of Peter has overtones of both the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt and the Resurrection of Christ, the Pope noted. It also highlights “a pressing invitation” to follow Christ, since “only by coming out of yourself in order to start walking with the Lord and doing his will, will you experience true freedom.”
Pope Benedict also noted that even though Peter was in “such a critical and dangerous situation,” the Acts of the Apostles informs us that he was asleep and had to be woken by the angel.
“This attitude may seem odd, but it denotes trust and confidence, he trusts in God, he knows he is surrounded by the solidarity and support of his followers and abandons himself totally into the hands of Lord,” the Pope said.
“This is how our prayer must be: assiduous, united with others, an expression of complete trust in God who knows us in our most intimate selves and looks after us.”
Pope Benedict concluded by saying that the story of the liberation of Peter “tells us that the Church, each of us, goes through the night of trial, but it is the unceasing vigilance of prayer that sustains us.”
For this reason, he taught, every believer should cultivate a “constant and trusting” prayer in the Lord who “frees us from our chains and guides us. ... He gives us serenity of heart to face the difficulties of life, even rejection, opposition and persecution.”
Vatican City, May 9, 2012 (CNA) - The prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, said the lives of the saints are one of the most effective ways to transmit faith to the world.
Cardinal Piacenza made his comments during the homily for the opening Mass of the International Congress on Catechesis entitled, “Christian Initiation and the New Evangelization.”
During the May 8 event, he said the task of catechesis is “to overcome religious illiteracy” and “to teach what God has spoken to us,” yet without becoming “paralyzed by endless methodological questions.”
“The methodological questions, dear friends, are fully overcome by the saints who, with their simplicity and their lives, are the most effective living catechesis that God himself offers to his people,” the cardinal said.
He also referred to the Year of Faith Pope Benedict XVI has announced for October of this year, in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The task of catechesis requires the free cooperation of believers, encouraged by the grace of God, to promote the task of the new evangelization, Cardinal Piacenza continued.
“We must acknowledge that the moral life, both intra and extra ecclesia, has been terribly weakened by insufficient catechesis, by a formation incapable, perhaps, of providing reasons for the demands of the Gospel and of showing how in the concrete existential experience they are extraordinarily humanizing,” he said.
Vatican City, May 9, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A young English woman who was forced into a life of prostitution by a human trafficker lauded the Vatican for addressing the issue by hosting a recent conference.
“For me this is really important, this is a real first step to really shape how things can go moving forward especially for the Catholic community so this is an incredible day,” 29-year-old Sophie Hayes told CNA on May 8.
“The Catholic Church has a huge role to play as there are 1.8 billion Catholics across the world,” Hayes added, “which is really pivotal to make sure that with all of their networks and all of their support we can really make this a hostile place for traffickers but also really support the victims of trafficking.”
The United Nations defines human trafficking as “an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them.” They also estimate it to be the second most lucrative criminal enterprise globally after the illegal arms trade.
“In spite of the engagement of the international community and the efforts of part of civil society this very sad phenomenon continues to victimize millions,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in his introductory remarks at Tuesday's conference.
“It is one of the worst forms of human exploitation; it is no less than a contemporary form of slavery.”
The conference was co-organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and the Bishops Conference of England and Wales.
It brought together church leaders, law enforcement officers, diplomats and those who work with trafficking victims.
They also heard from Sophie who, 5 years ago, was lured into prostitution in Italy by an Albanian man she thought was a friend. Six months later she managed to escape back to England where she now runs a charity that highlight the issue and supports victims.
“I think from what we’ve heard today it’s one of the fastest growing crimes globally so it’s extremely common, this is not a story that is unusual or an isolated case,” she said.
The conference also heard from Bishop Patrick Lynch of Southwark in England who stressed the need to educate people of the dangers posed by traffickers so that everybody knows “the false hopes and the false promises are really what they are – just false.”
Cardinal Turkson linked the issue of human trafficking to the forthcoming Year of Faith which, he hoped, would “find new ways of changing hearts and minds to make them more receptive to issues of human dignity and respect for the human person.”
Rome, Italy, May 9, 2012 (CNA) -
Margherita Coletta, whose husband Giuseppe – a brigade general of the Italian police – was murdered in an Iraqi suicide attack in 2003, continues to pray that his killers will receive God's mercy.
“True justice will come from God,” Margherita told Italian daily Avvenire on May 8.
In an interview with the paper, she recalled the tragic date of Nov. 12, 2003, when a suicide attack on the Italian base in Nassiriyah left 19 soldiers and nine civilians dead. Seven accomplices were arrested shortly afterward.
Margherita, a mother of a nine-year girl, emphasized that said she does not want vengeance, because “when someone commits these kinds of actions, we are all victims.”
Those “who died succumbing to the violence of others and those who committed the crime, as sooner or later the executioner will pay; he will carry the burden of guilt his entire life.”
“The innocent victim returns to God’s house,” she added. “The one who remains in this life has to render an account for what he has done, and therefore, he will be worse off…at least until he encounters God’s mercy.”
Margherita said that for this reason, she has always prayed for her husband's murderers.
“I would like to know who they are, if they are children, parents or spouses. It’s one thing to know there were seven, but that is only a number,” she reflected.
“It’s another to look them in the eyes and by looking at them they can understand that there is hope, that the abyss of the evil committed should not destroy them and lead them to despair. Because redemption can come even to the worst of criminals.”
The widow said that on a human level she would probably feel rage if she met with the killers as it would bring back memories of his burned body.
“But with the help of Christ I am sure that I would see them as brothers and I would trust in the acceptance of Christ who sees everyone as his sons and daughters,” she said.
She noted that her nine-year-old daughter is happy and does not “hold any resentment that could someday turn her into a negative person. She only feels gratitude for her father.”
Washington D.C., May 9, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - President Barack Obama has become the first U.S. president to publicly support “gay marriage,” breaking silence on the issue and pointing to his Christian faith as a motivation for his position.
“I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama said in a May 9 interview with ABC News' Robin Roberts.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney responded by reaffirming his own commitment to defending marriage. According to the Associated Press, Romney said on May 9 that he believes marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman and has held this view “since running for office.”
In supporting a redefinition of marriage, Obama said on Wednesday that his wife, Michelle, “feels the same way that I do” and cited the couple's religious beliefs, saying, “we are both practicing Christians.”
The president acknowledged that “obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others.”
However, he said, “when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.”
He also pointed to discussions with gay individuals in “incredibly committed monogamous relationships” as a factor influencing his decision to support a redefinition of marriage.
The announcement marked a key shift in the president’s public stance on the controversial issue.
While Obama has said that he opposes efforts to discriminate against gay individuals, he had previously stopped short of endorsing “gay marriage,” instead saying in 2010 that his views on the subject were “evolving.”
However, his other actions as president had been praised by gay advocacy groups.
In Feb. 2011, his administration announced that it would no longer uphold the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for federal purposes.
Obama also signed a law repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military.
The president’s stance on the issue became a heated topic of discussion when U.S. Vice President Joe Biden suggested that he is “absolutely comfortable” with the idea of “gay marriage” in an interview with NBC's David Gregory, which aired on May 6.
Asked about the comments on May 7, White House press secretary Jay Carney insisted that Biden’s views were “completely consistent” with Obama’s, but would not say whether the president supported “gay marriage.”
Amid growing pressure to clarify his own position, Obama voiced his support for a redefinition of marriage on May 9. However, he said that his comments reflect his personal position and he supports the idea of states deciding the issue individually.
While the move drew support from gay advocacy groups, it could divide some of Obama’s key supporters, such as African-American voters, in the upcoming election.
According to a Pew Research Center survey in April 2012, only 39 percent of African Americans are in favor of redefining marriage to include gay couples.
In addition, Obama’s endorsement of “gay marriage” comes just one day after voters in North Carolina – a key swing state in 2008 – overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment banning a redefinition of marriage.
Marriage advocates believe the president is alienating himself from the views of Americans.
“Politically, we welcome this,” said Maggie Gallagher, co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage. “We think it’s a huge mistake.”
Pointing to the North Carolina vote in defense of marriage, she said that the president “is choosing the money over the voters.”
“We now have clear choice between Romney and Obama, and we look forward to demonstrating in November that it’s a bad idea for a national candidate to support gay marriage,” Gallagher said. “Marriage is a winning issue for the GOP.”