Washington D.C., May 15, 2012 (CNA) -
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, encouraged new college graduates to follow in Jesus’ footsteps by living out “the Law of the Gift.”
Carried out through “selfless, sacrificial love and service” for others, this way of living can be seen in the lives of the saints and should be “part of the DNA of any Catholic school,” he explained.
Cardinal Dolan delivered the May 12 commencement address at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
He recalled the words of Pope Benedict XVI, meeting just days earlier with bishops from the United States, about the urgent need for American Catholic colleges to renew their identity and fidelity to Christ.
Catholic universities should be “both Catholic and American,” based in truth, goodness and beauty, the cardinal said.
Their mission must be rooted in both truth and love, he added, striving to educate students in “the Law of the Gift.”
In describing the Law of the Gift, he quoted Blessed Pope John Paul II, who said, “For we are at our best, we are most fully alive and human, when we give away freely and sacrificially our very selves in love for another.”
True education, he said, imparts knowledge of this law and “the importance of faith to sustain it.”
Cardinal Dolan explained that religion promotes “a culture built on the Law of the Gift.”
Allowing for the free flourishing of religion is therefore “an essential ingredient in American wisdom and the genius of the American republic,” he said.
Even critics of religion acknowledge that faith and the Church make “a particularly pointed contribution” to society through their dedication to following and fostering the Law of the Gift, he added.
The contribution of religion to society has been a heavily discussed topic in recent months, as a federal mandate issued by the Obama administration threatens to shut down many religious schools, hospitals and charitable agencies or have them compromise their religious beliefs.
Cardinal Dolan has led efforts to defend religious freedom against the mandate, which will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.
In his address, he called on the class of 2012 to vigorously defend religious freedom “as part of both our American and creedal legacy.”
Cardinal Dolan then touched on how children usually first learn about the Law of the Gift in their family.
In a reference to attempts to redefine marriage and family, he noted that the law “is most poetically exemplified in the lifelong, life-giving, faithful, intimate union of a man and woman in marriage, which then leads to the procreation of new life.”
This union is so critical to the order of the common good, that “its very definition is ingrained into our interior dictionary,” he said.
Cardinal Dolan challenged the new graduates to live out the Law of the Gift in a world that “prefers getting to giving” and “considers every drive, desire or urge as a right.”
University president John Garvey also spoke at the commencement ceremony, discussing the virtue of patience, which he described as “persistence in knocking on God’s door.”
Patience is “not the disposition to wait for what you want,” but rather “the disposition to await God’s grace,” he explained.
Garvey encouraged the graduates to imitate St. Monica’s patient years of praying for the conversion of her son, Augustine, who later became a great saint in the Church.
“Patience is the ground that virtue grows in,” he said.
The university awarded approximately 1,500 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees during the May 12 ceremony.
Lynchburg, Va., May 15, 2012 (CNA) - Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said that the morals and values held by a culture are important because of the role they play in a nation’s ultimate success or failure.
“Culture matters,” said Romney, who delivered the May 12 commencement address at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., the largest Christian university in the world.
He referenced the work of Harvard historian David Landes, who studied why some civilizations rise and others fail to do so.
“Culture makes all the difference,” Romney said. “Not natural resources, not geography, but what people believe and value.”
“Central to America’s rise to global leadership is our Judeo-Christian tradition, with its vision of the goodness and possibilities of every life,” he stated.
Romney explained that the American culture supports personal responsibility and the dignity of work, as well as service, education and the foundational role of the family.
He pointed to a Brookings Institution study brought to his attention by former competitor Rick Santorum, which found that individuals who graduate from high school, get a full-time job and wait to have children until marriage have only a two percent chance of living in poverty.
If those elements are absent, however, 76 percent will be poor.
This shows that a culture’s values determine the future of the nation, and they must be strengthened, Romney said.
In the same vein, the presidential contender also discussed the importance of defending marriage, reiterating his belief that marriage “is a relationship between one man and one woman.”
The position puts him squarely at odds with President Barack Obama, who recently announced his unprecedented support for redefining marriage to include homosexual couples.
Romney emphasized the importance of family in his own life, saying that he has “never once regretted missing a business opportunity so that I could be with my children and grandchildren.”
He also commented on the importance of protecting religious liberty, the “first freedom in our Constitution.”
“It strikes me as odd that the free exercise of religious faith is sometimes treated as a problem, something America is stuck with instead of blessed with,” he said.
He observed that from its very beginning America has “trusted in God, not man,” and added that “there is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action.”
Freedom of conscience has become a key issue in the election year, as the Obama administration has come under fire for issuing a 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.
The mandate has elicited criticism from religious leaders and communities across the country, giving religion a prominent voice in the debates surrounding the election.
Romney’s Mormon religion has also been a topic of discussion throughout the primary season.
In his Liberty University address, the former Massachusetts governor touched on common ground between Mormonism and other faiths, such as Evangelical Christianity.
Despite “differences in creed and theology,” members of different faiths can “meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview,” he explained.
“The call to service is one of the fundamental elements of our national character,” he said. “It has motivated every great movement of conscience that this hopeful, fair-minded country of ours has ever seen.”
Romney warned the graduates gathered before him that living out their values will often lead to “the censure of the world” rather than “public admiration.”
“Christianity is not the faith of the complacent, the comfortable or of the timid,” he said.
However, he added, it is worth the spiritual effort to keep our focus on “something far greater than ourselves.”
“Moral certainty, clear standards, and a commitment to spiritual ideals will set you apart in a world that searches for meaning,” he explained.
Liberty University graduated its largest class in history this year, with 14,012 graduates.
Washington D.C., May 15, 2012 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Washington’s newspaper has said that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ appearance as a featured speaker at a Georgetown University awards ceremony is a sign that the prestigious Jesuit school is not standing with the Catholic bishops in defense of religious freedom.
“One can only wonder how the selection of Secretary Sebelius for such a prominent role as a featured speaker can be reconciled with the stated Catholic mission and identity of Georgetown University,” The Catholic Standard editorialized May 10. “Secretary Sebelius' vision on what constitutes faith-based institutions presents the most direct challenge to religious freedom in recent history.”
In light of the struggle of many Catholics, the U.S. bishops and others to “preserve freedom of religion,” choosing Sebelius for special recognition “can only be seen as a statement of where the university stands – certainly not with the Catholic bishops,” the editorial says.
The Department of Health and Human Services has issued a new rule mandating that employers provide insurance coverage for sterilization, contraception and abortion-causing drugs. Its narrow religious exemption would not cover most Catholic institutions like health systems, charitable organizations and colleges and universities.
Non-compliance is punished by heavy fines.
The Obama administration has proposed a compromise, but many Catholic leaders have said it is insufficient to preserve the freedoms of those who object to providing such procedures and drugs.
The Catholic Standard described Sebelius as the “architect” of the HHS mandate’s “radical challenge” to freedom of religion.
Sebelius will address a May 18 awards ceremony for Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute. The event is part of the university’s commencement weekend activities.
“Georgetown University's response to the commencement speaker decision is disappointing, but not surprising,” the archdiocesan paper said. “When the vision guiding university choices does not clearly reflect the light of the Gospel and authentic Catholic teaching, there are, of course, disappointing results.”
The editorial noted that Pope Benedict XVI recently stressed the need for Catholic higher education in the U.S. to commit to “building a society ever more solidly grounded in an authentic humanism inspired by the Gospel and faithful to the highest values of America's civic and cultural heritage.”
The Catholic Standard lamented that Georgetown has undergone secularization, blaming this on the fact that its leadership and faculty “find their inspiration in sources other than the Gospel and Catholic teaching.”
Ottawa, Canada, May 15, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Freedom of religion and conscience are in danger of disappearing from Canadian society, the country's bishops warned on May 14.
“In the past decade in Canada there have been several situations that raise the question whether our right to freedom of conscience and religion is everywhere respected,” the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops observed in Monday's pastoral letter.
“At times,” the bishops observed, “believers are being legally compelled to exercise their profession without reference to their religious or moral convictions, and even in opposition to them.” They pointed to the dangers of “radical secularism” and an “aggressive” relativism that opposes all claims of truth.
The Canadian bishops also highlighted the anti-religious nature of some “anti-discrimination” laws, as well as the tendency of advocacy groups to use provincial Human Rights Tribunals to promote a radical agenda and block believers from speaking and acting freely.
These “acrimonious procedures,” they said, “would be better replaced by a civilized and respectful debate” that offers “a voice in the public forum to religious believers.”
“If that voice is suppressed in any way, believers should view this as a restriction on their right to freedom of religion, one which should be forcefully challenged,” the bishops stated.
Billed as a “pressing appeal” to people of all religions and outlooks, the Canadian bishops' “Pastoral Letter on Freedom of Conscience and Religion” cites the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which numbers “freedom of conscience and religion” among the fundamental Canadian liberties.
However, the bishops' message also makes it clear that religious freedom is not a right given by the government. Rather, it is a human right that the state “acknowledges and respects” but “does not grant.”
The Canadian bishops cited the Second Vatican Council's document on religious liberty, “Dignitatis Humanae,” which declared that a person should not be “forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.”
As they called attention to national and global threats to this right, the bishops also offered four points for reflection and action. In an introduction to the letter, conference president Archbishop Richard W. Smith of Edmonton summed up its advice to Catholics and “everyone of good will.”
The archbishop explained that Catholics, non-Catholics, and even non-believers have a shared interest in “the right of religion to be active in the public square.” Both groups should also seek “healthy Church-State relations” that distinguish between the two without pushing the Church out of public life.
Canadians were also urged to form their consciences “according to objective truth” – rather than personal preference or the will of the majority – and to safeguard the right of conscientious objection, especially in areas “linked to the dignity of human life and the family.”
In some Canadian provinces, the bishops warned, these rights have already been compromised or lost.
“For example, some colleges of physicians require that members who refuse to perform abortions refer patients to another physician willing to do so,” they noted.
“Elsewhere pharmacists are being threatened by being forced to have to fill prescriptions for contraceptives or the 'morning after' pill; and marriage commissioners in British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Saskatchewan must now perform same-sex marriages or resign.”
Under these circumstances, they said, Christians have both a right and a duty to stand against laws that violate the moral order.
The bishops also affirmed parents' right “to educate their children in their religious convictions and to choose the schools which provide that formation.” The state, meanwhile, “has the obligation to protect this right … and to create a suitable environment where it can be enjoyed.”
In the course of upholding their principles, believers may also be forced to suffer for them. The Canadian bishops cited the example of Saint Thomas More, an English patron saint of Catholics in political life, who chose martyrdom when asked to put his country above his faith.
Believers who defy an unjust state decree, they warned, “must be prepared to suffer the consequences that result from fidelity to Christ.” If they are not given an accommodation or reprieve, they should receive “the effective solidarity and prayerful support of their religious communities.”
“The Church’s vitality has often been nourished by persecution,” the bishops noted. “Our era is no exception.”
Ottawa, Canada, May 15, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Canada's 15th annual National March for Life has broken attendance records by a dramatic margin, due in part to rising youth participation in the country's pro-life movement.
“It's been growing every year by thousands. Last year we had 15,000, and this year we had 19,500,” Campaign Life Coalition National Coordinator Mary Ellen Douglas told CNA on May 14.
“It is a significant increase,” she said, noting that the pro-life movement was “constantly growing” in Canada. The May 10 march to Parliament Hill was part of a three-day event in Ottawa, which also included a candlelight vigil, prayer services and Masses, banquets and a youth conference.
Local marches also took place in at least four other provinces, protesting the 1969 legislative act that made abortion legal in Canada as well as the 1988 decision that left the country with no abortion restrictions.
“Over 60 percent of the people who attended the march were under 30,” Douglas said. “It was alive with young people, with lots of enthusiasm, and with other people who are long-term veterans.”
In addition to the remarks delivered by pro-life and religious leaders, 17 members of Parliament also addressed the crowd. Population Research Institute President Steve Mosher, a prominent opponent of China's one-child policy, gave an address at the Rose Dinner on Thursday evening.
On that same evening, an 800-strong crowd attended the youth banquet with an address by Reformed Presbyterian minister Reverend Patrick J. Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition. A day-long youth conference followed on Friday.
“It's getting the attention of the media, who are shocked by the numbers,” Douglas observed. “Even though they try to diminish them all the time, they notice. They know that we're there in force.”
Douglas, a 40-year veteran of the movement, said the timing of this year's march was “providential,” coinciding with a motion in Parliament by Conservative MP Steven Woodworth.
“This motion is calling on Parliament to bring together science and the law – because the law of Canada says you're not a human being until you're fully emerged from the womb.”
Woodworth's motion calls for a science-based examination of the legal question of life's beginning. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper is said to oppose the motion, in keeping with his past statements that the abortion question should not be reopened in Canada.
Douglas noted that life's beginning at conception “cannot be decided by a committee. It's a scientific fact … and it can't be deviated from by a committee who decides that it might be better to have a law protecting babies after 20 weeks, or after 12 weeks.”
“If it ever gets to the committee, that will be our next battle: to ensure that all unborn children are protected, from the time of conception.”
At a press conference kicking off the March on May 9, Campaign Life Coalition Youth Coordinator Alissa Golob declared: “Whether you like it or not, the abortion debate is on.”
The group's national coordinator agrees, and says she is hopeful for the next generation of activists and their determination to shape attitudes and public policy.
“I think there's a sense of the terrible injustice going on here,” Douglas observed. “In general, we may see more bills going forward – as more MPs find the courage to stand up, in different ways, until we have all the unborn children protected.”
“We hope next year the numbers will keep increasing, until we have so many people on Parliament Hill that they have to respond. And we'll be there as long as we have to be.”
Valencia, Spain, May 15, 2012 (CNA) - A top Vatican official called the Virgin Mary the “greatest source of hope” during the economic crisis now facing Spain and most of the countries of Europe.
Cardinal Antonio Canizares, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, made his remarks during the traditional “Missa d’Infants” (Children’s Mass) in Valencia.
The outdoor Mass at Virgin Mary Square is the largest celebration in honor of the Blessed Mother under the patronage of “Our Lady of Abandoned Children.” Dozens of children’s choirs participate in the Mass each year.
During his homily, the cardinal said devotion to Mary is especially important “during the difficult times of our life, amidst the great difficulties we are experiencing” and as society faces a “critical hour” in history.
He went on to say that at the root of the massive crisis facing the country, and the real problem facing mankind, “is the breakdown of humanity, the lack of a true vision of man, who is inseparable from God.”
Citing the words of Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Canizares stressed that when God disappears, “man is unable to achieve greatness.”
“He loses his dignity and becomes the mere product of blind evolution, to be used and abused.” Only in God and with God, who loves man unconditionally, “as we feel in Mary, will the change that the earth needs come to pass,” he said.
The cardinal’s homily was met with a standing ovation by the thousands of people gathered for the Mass.
At the conclusion of the Mass, Archbishop Carlos Osoro of Valencia thanked the cardinal for his words and asked him to convey to Pope Benedict XVI “our sincere affection and communion and the prayer of all the Christians of the pilgrim Church of Valencia.”
Rome, Italy, May 15, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Father Thomas Williams, one of the most high-profile American members of the Legion of Christ, is leaving public ministry after admitting he fathered a child.
“A number of years ago I had a relationship with a woman and fathered her child. I am deeply sorry for this grave transgression and have tried to make amends,” Fr. Williams said in a May 15 statement.
“My superiors and I have decided it would be best for me to take a year without active public ministry to reflect on the wrong I have done and my commitments as a priest. I am truly sorry to everyone who is hurt by this revelation, and I ask for your prayers as I seek guidance on how to make up for my errors.”
He also apologized to members of the Legion and the Church, “since this scandalous news will damage them as well, at the worst possible moment.”
The identities of the mother and child have not been revealed.
Fr. Williams also said that he is with his family in Michigan and is being treated for a form of cancer.
Fr. Williams was ordained a priest with the Legion of Christ priest in 1994. Now based in Rome, he is a professor of theology and ethics at the Legion’s Regina Apostolorum University. He is also a prolific Catholic author.
But Fr. Williams earned most of his renown for his work in broadcast television. In recent years he has served as a faith and religion analyst for CBS News, as well as a Vatican analyst for NBC News and Sky News. He was also the theological advisor for Mel Gibson’s 2004 film, “The Passion of the Christ.”
Today’s news is yet another blow to the morale of the Legion of Christ. The movement is currently being overhauled by senior Vatican officials, following revelations that its late founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, had lived a double life that included affairs with women and fathering children.
Meanwhile, the Vatican announced last week that it is also investigating seven allegations of sexual abuse made against Legion members, with all but one of the cases being “from decades ago.”
In a May 15 letter to all Legion members, Father Luis Garza, Territorial Director for North America, said that Fr. Williams’ announcement “will be shocking news to you,” especially “in the wake of all that we have been through as a Movement in the past several years.” He added that he would not be surprised if members were “disappointed, angry or feel your trust shaken once again.”
“Father Williams has enriched the faith of so many through his teaching, public speaking and writing, and has been a spiritual guide for many in the Movement,” he stated.
“That is what makes this failing such a painful reminder that we are all frail humans, in desperate need of God’s mercy.”
Fr. Garza concluded by asking for prayers for all who have been affected by Fr. Williams’ actions and also for himself “during his time of prayer, penance and renewal of his priestly ministry.”
Denver, Colo., May 15, 2012 (CNA) - Though a Colorado House committee voted to kill a civil unions bill Monday night, the measure’s opponents have called for continued vigilance until the end of the legislature’s special session.
“The special session is not over, so we have to be vigilant and court our legislators to defend marriage,” Colorado Catholic Conference executive director Jennifer Kraska told CNA May 15.
She said the bill is still technically alive and cautioned that much can happen while the special session remains underway.
Kraska’s concerns were echoed by Carrie Gordon Earll, spokeswoman for the Focus on the Family policy organization Citizenlink, another bill opponent.
“As long as the legislature is in special session, defenders of marriage need to stay vigilant on this,” she said. “Procedural maneuvers and parliamentary tests to bring this bill up will no doubt be tried by supporters of civil unions.”
Earll encouraged voters to continue to communicate with legislators and “tell them it’s not too late to voice their support for marriage.”
The House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted against the bill by a 5-4 vote along party lines. If the bill had gone to the Republican-majority House floor, enough Republicans could have joined Democratic bill supporters for civil unions to pass into law.
The bill would grant the legal benefits, protections and responsibilities of spouses to any two unrelated people who contract a union. Though the bill is being promoted as a gay rights measure, opposite-sex couples who are not closely related can also contract a union.
The 2010 U.S. Census reported that households with same-sex partners make up between 0.6 and 0.8 percent of all households in Colorado.
Opponents of the civil unions bill gathered outside the state capitol building at noon on May 15 for a non-partisan rally sponsored by the Colorado Catholic Conference, Colorado Family Action and Citizenlink.
“When we heard there was going to be a special session to include civil unions, we wanted to have the opportunity for people to come to the capital to encourage their legislators to defend and protect marriage,” Citizenlink spokeswoman Earll told CNA before the May 15 rally.
“The civil unions bill is a vehicle by which gay activists who support same-sex marriage can file suit in federal court against Colorado’s marriage amendment, which was passed by 56 percent of voters in 2006.”
Although Colorado voters have affirmed the legal definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman, Earll said that in the last six years there has been an “incremental legal strategy” to undermine that decision.
Same-sex unions or similar laws that recognize these relationships are taken to courts which rule that same-sex couples already have marriage rights and therefore “same-sex marriage” must be recognized.
“In California we saw a federal judge in 2010 strike down California’s marriage amendment, very similar to Colorado’s, and usher in same-sex marriage,” Earll said. “We don’t want to see that happen here.”
While some contend that civil unions will not affect anyone else, Earll disagreed.
Once these unions are legally recognized they are used in combination with non-discrimination law to “try to silence and coerce photographers and caterers and churches who own private property into having to participate in same-sex ceremonies,” she said.
“Those people are not protected in this bill, and we are very concerned about religious freedom being protected,” Earll stated.
The rally included several pastors and attendees from throughout the state. Some legislators are expected to greet the rally.
Earll said the rally organizers intend “to pray for God to move on the hearts of people to protect his design for sexuality and for family, and that is through the marriage of one man and one woman.”
She voiced some concern that the House committee vote may suppress turnout.
During the House’s regular session, the civil unions bill unexpectedly passed out of the House Judiciary Committee. Republicans filibustered the bill on May 8, leading House Speaker Frank McNulty to announce an impasse.
The civil unions bill and more than 30 other proposals died in committee.
On May 9, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper called for a special session to pass the civil unions bill and other proposed legislation. He characterized civil unions as a “civil rights issue.”
While Speaker McNulty has faced criticism for the controversy surrounding the end of the House’s regular session, he charged that the governor and his allies caused gridlock by “pushing a last-minute, divisive attack on our traditional views on marriage for short term political gain.”
“They can’t defend their record of failed policies, so they have chosen instead to push and promote same-sex marriage. And that’s unfortunate. Because the hardworking families of this state don’t have the time, the inclination or the patience to pay for these election year political stunts,” he said in a statement.
Vatican City, May 15, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - An Italian fashion company has settled a legal conflict with the Vatican, which arose in 2011 after an ad campaign that featured digitally manipulated images of the Pope kissing a Muslim cleric.
In the wake of the legal challenge to its ads, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the Benetton Group now recognizes “that the Pope's image must be respected.”
A recent declaration by the fashion company, acknowledged by the Holy See Press Office on May 15, reaffirmed its “regret for having offended His Holiness Benedict XVI and believers” with its “UNHATE” advertisements, which portrayed kisses between religious and political leaders.
One of these doctored images, featuring Pope Benedict and Egyptian imam Ahmed el Tayyeb, was displayed in print and other media – including a large banner near the Vatican – in November 2011. It was withdrawn from publications after an initial apology by Benetton the same month.
Tuesday's announcement from the Holy See marks the resolution of the legal conflict that continued after the withdrawal, as the Vatican sought to prevent further distribution of the image and ensure Benetton's respect for the Pope's reputation in the future.
In its communique, the Benetton Group assured the Vatican that “all photographic images of the Holy Father have been retracted from commercial distribution.”
The company also promised not to use the Pope's image without permission, and to invest resources in stopping any “further use of the image by third parties on internet sites and in other places.”
While the Vatican did not seek any financial compensation for damages, Fr. Lombardi noted that a form of “moral compensation” was requested. The Benetton Group has made an “an act of generosity, (which is) effective even if limited, toward one of the Church's charitable activities.”