Archive of May 19, 2012

Young order invigorates Colo. parish

Denver, Colo., May 19, 2012 (CNA) - St. Mary’s Parish in Littleton, Colo. played a key role last weekend in an international event—the 25th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a religious order established a quarter-century ago by five young men in a small Spanish town.

“This is an example of the fruits of the new evangelization—a young, new movement in the Church which has sprung out of the call of Blessed John Paul II,” said Bishop James Conley, archdiocesan apostolic administrator, who spoke during the festivities May 12.

The reception, which followed a thanksgiving Mass, drew in many of the parish’s several thousand families, who were treated to an impromptu serenade by their pastor, Father Alvaro Montero, and his pastoral team. Accompanied by accordion and guitar, the “band” included parochial vicars, all members of the order, Father Javier Nieva and Father Leopoldo Vives; Father Armando Marsal, who is in residence at the parish; and theology student, Brother Juan Espino. The entertainment also included the Disciples’ visiting superior general from Spain, Father Jose Noriega, who is also one of the order’s five founders.

St. Mary’s is one of only two parishes in the world led by the Disciples—the other parish is in Madrid, Spain. Yet the parishes represent an explosive growth of the order. Today, the order has 30 members, 19 of them priests, six of them stationed in Colorado. Its university professors are based in Madrid and Rome. The order’s mission is to provide family and youth ministry, strong Catholic education from elementary school to the university level, and to help each individual and family develop a personal friendship with Jesus, using the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola as the foundation.

“This is something God put in our hearts,” Father Noriega said. “We were poor people in the beginning, without resources but a strong friendship with Christ and each other. So for something to grow this big, the way seemed impossible.  We wanted to be fruitful, to share with others what we received from Christ, although it was not clear how when or where. But God always surprises us.”

One of the biggest surprises is how the Spanish order found its way to a suburban parish in Colorado. That was the work of former Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., who was alert to authentic new movements in the Church and keen on bringing them to Denver, Bishop Conley said.  In this case, it meant placing one of the archdiocese’s largest parishes into the care of a pastor who had been a priest for only about two years.

Father Montero had met the order in 1992, when he was in college in Madrid. He was struck by the Disciples’ youth and friendship—first their friendship with Christ, and then with each other.

“And that’s how the mystery of a vocation unfolds,” Father Montero said.

Years later, in 2007, came the invitation from Archbishop Chaput.

“Archbishop Chaput did run a risk with us, but this is the way God works—he works with creativity and trust,” said Father Montero. “I told Archbishop Chaput, ‘You realize I have been a priest a little over two years and you are giving me faculties to run a big parish?’ He said, ‘You’ll make mistakes, but don’t worry—you’ll correct them!’”

The result has been an invigorated and involved parish.

“I knew they were special as soon as we got here,” said Mary Jo Rakowski, who joined St. Mary Church in 2007, virtually the same time as the Disciples arrived. Immediately she and her husband, Paul, enrolled their children, Aidan, now 8, and Keelee, 7, in the parish school.

“The Disciples really are disciples—true friends of Jesus,” Rakowski said. “They have this very clear desire for each person in the community to grow in holiness, and they make you desire it, too. They preach the truth with enthusiasm. My children love all of them. They are highly intelligent and educated, but still approachable, and that is really a gift.”

Since the Disciples arrived, the parish has experienced a lively growth in volunteering and programs. In the Encounters with Christ program, schoolchildren are awakened to friendship with Jesus using the methods of St. Ignatius. Friends of the Disciples has grown to 700 members who help support the priests with their “time, talent and treasure,” including a lively newsletter.  A new exchange program welcomes Spanish students to the parish for summer visits, and will send St. Mary’s youth to Spain.

The Disciples also issue constant invitations to young people to consider a religious vocation. The results are already paying off: the parish has produced three religious sisters and one potential seminarian. Now Father Montero has a new marketing pitch: Who wants to become the first American-born Disciple?

His call-out has already reached the ears of Cameron Schimmoller, 14.

“I’m thinking about it,” Schimmoller said, with a grin. “I think that would be pretty cool.”

Posted with permission from Denver Catholic Register, official paper for the Archdiocese of Denver, Colo.

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‘Exorcist’ author prepares canon lawsuit against Georgetown

Washington D.C., May 19, 2012 (CNA) - The author of the best-selling book and award-winning screenplay “The Exorcist” has announced that he is leading an effort to file a canon lawsuit against Georgetown University for failures to live up to the demands of the school’s Catholic identity. 

William P. Blatty, who graduated from Georgetown in 1950, told CNA on May 18 that he believes there is a need for disciplinary action against the university.

“As I recall it, the Lord knocked over a few tables,” he said.   

Blatty, who has been honored by Georgetown with the John Carroll Medal for alumni achievement, will lead other alumni, students and members of the university community in the newly-formed Father King Society to Make Georgetown Honest, Catholic, and Better.

The society is named for the late Jesuit Fr. Thomas M. King, a former theology professor at Georgetown who was rumored to be the inspiration for the priestly character in “The Exorcist.”

Its website encourages members of the Georgetown community to join the canon lawsuit and share their grievances against the university with Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C. and Pope Benedict XVI.

It also asks them to withhold their donations from the school for one year.

Blatty believes that Georgetown has given scandal to the faithful on numerous occasions and has refused to comply with “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” the document issued by Pope John Paul II in 1990 to outline the functions of Catholic universities.

He explained that the Father King Society’s canon lawyers and scholars are finalizing the brief for the Church law case. It will then go to the Archdiocese of Washington, and then to the Vatican if necessary.

Blatty noted that “Georgetown is merely the leader of a pack” of schools that are failing to live up to their Catholic identity. He hopes that his actions will encourage others to follow suit.

“Georgetown was the first Catholic college in America, and we hope that it will now be the first again,” he said, urging Georgetown to pave the way for other Catholic colleges that are similarly in need of renewal. 

In an open letter explaining his decision, Blatty said that he is grateful for his Georgetown education but is grieved to see “that Georgetown University today almost seems to take pride in insulting the Church and offending the faithful.”

He said that he is now seeking remedies up to the point that “Georgetown’s right to call itself Catholic and Jesuit be revoked or suspended for a time.”

“Of course, what we truly seek is for Georgetown to have the vision and courage to be Catholic,” he added, “but clearly the slow pastoral approach has not worked.”

The canon lawsuit was announced on May 18, the same day that Georgetown welcomed U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to speak at an awards ceremony during its commencement weekend.

The invitation drew heavy criticism, not only due to Sebelius’ long record of advocating abortion, but also because she was the architect behind the controversial contraception mandate  that has been denounced by Catholic bishops across the nation for the threat that it poses to religious liberty.

The federal mandate will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
The Father King Society said that their legal action was being planned before the Sebelius controversy erupted. Its website lists numerous instances of what it considers to be scandal and violations of “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” by the university in recent months.

In pursuing the Church lawsuit, Blatty and the Fr. King Society will be working closely with the Cardinal Newman Society, an organization that monitors and promotes Catholic identity in American higher education.

Although the process could take months, Blatty believes Catholic education is worth the fight. 

“The Catholic Church has been the single greatest civilizing influence in all of human history,” he said. “It gave birth to the very notion of a university.”

“A Catholic education is valuable because it uniquely combines the truth of science with the truth of revelation,” Blatty remarked. “It is like fighting for freedom and for our faith at once.”

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Rise in surrogate pregnancies raises ethical concerns

Washington D.C., May 19, 2012 (CNA) - An increase in the practice of surrogate pregnancy is leading to health risks, ethical concerns and a problematic understanding of the family, warns the founder of a bioethics organization.

Because people are “uninformed about the reality” of surrogate pregnancy, they have “uncritically accepted it as good technology,” said Jennifer Lahl, president of the California-based Center for Bioethics and Culture Network.

However, the practice of gestational surrogacy leads to a variety of ethical issues, as well as growing “confusion” about the purpose of a woman’s body and the meaning of family and parents, she said.

In a surrogate pregnancy, a woman is paid to have a previously created embryo implanted in her womb. After carrying the baby for nine months, she gives birth and returns the baby to the parents.

Lahl told CNA on May 18 that such pregnancies are “becoming more socially acceptable” and mainstream, as wealthy couples are increasingly using them to have children.

In addition to older women struggling with fertility, surrogate pregnancies are often used by homosexual couples who want a child, she said. 

Lahl is the executive producer, director and writer of the documentaries “Eggsploitation,” which reveals the struggles of women who have donated their eggs, and “Anonymous Father’s Day,” which explores the issues faced by children of sperm donors.

She noted that surrogacy veers toward being an exploitative industry, which targets “lower-income women needing to make money.”

While many of these women live in third world countries, women in the United States are also choosing to become surrogate mothers, Lahl said.

This is particularly true of military wives, who are often young and living on a modest income, with their husband deployed for long periods of time, she explained. Surrogate motherhood appeals to these women because it allows them to make money while staying at home with their own children.

But while modern culture often applauds such procedures for helping infertile couples, surrogate pregnancies pose a variety of ethical problems.

Among those are the significant health risks for surrogate mothers, including problems associated with the fertility drugs that are taken as part of the procedure. Lahl remembers a pointed experience speaking to one surrogate mother who developed cervical cancer and was forced to undergo a hysterectomy at a young age.

It's also “not uncommon,” she said, to see gestational surrogates carry twins, which is considered a higher-risk pregnancy.

On a biological level, there is also the possibility of bonding between a mother and the child in her womb, which poses questions on the “long term implications” for both the women and the children they carry.

She also voiced concern about the effect on the woman’s husband, as well as her other children, who watch their mother go through a pregnancy without understanding why the baby is given away after birth.

Children who think concretely may start to wonder when their mother will give them away too, she said. Lahl believes it is problematic to “turn baby-making into a contractual agreement,” as if one were buying a house.

“We really are buying and selling children,” she said, observing the need for contracts to regulate the transaction.

She explained that legal problems can arise in such transactions, as unexpected complications occur or a surrogate mother develops regrets about giving the baby away.

Even more troubling to Lahl is her view that increasing rates of surrogate pregnancy  are “absolutely” changing the way that people think about family.

In a world where it is possible for a child to have one woman donate his genetic material, another woman give birth to him and a third woman raise him, ideas of family and parenthood quickly fall into “confusion.”

Same-sex couples add to the complications, as do intentionally-single mothers, who conceive from donated sperm, she said.

While the culture may accept these alternate understandings of “family” as progressive and tolerant, it does not address the needs of the children, Lahl added.

A former pediatric nurse, she explained that even in cases of adoption, children can feel a great longing to know more about their family tree. Surrogate pregnancies intentionally create a child who lacks a connection to the woman in whose womb he grew and developed, and sometimes to his biological parents as well.

Lahl ultimately sees the process as exploitative, arguing that it involves the use of body parts for money and treats life as a commodity. What needs to be acknowledged, she stressed, is that the child in question “ is another human being.”

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