Washington D.C., Jun 13, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Nearly 150 leaders and supporters of faith-based service organizations have spoken out against the Obama administration’s contraception mandate because it creates class distinctions for religious groups.
The mandate and its narrow exemption create a “two-class scheme” of religious organizations that “honors acts of worship while burdening those whose faith leads them to service in our common life,” they argued.
In a June 11 letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, the leaders voiced “grave concern” over the two-class concept of religious organizations that was “embedded in federal law” in February, when the mandate was finalized in its original form.
The letter was organized by the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, a D.C.-based coalition that works to protect the religious identity and work of faith-based organizations throughout America.
It was signed by aid organizations including World Relief and the U.S. branches of the Salvation Army and World Vision, Inc.
The National Association of Evangelicals, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and the North American Baptist Conference were also represented in the letter, as well as law organizations such as Liberty Counsel and the American Center for Law and Justice.
Representatives of several Catholic colleges also signed the letter, including the presidents of Aquinas College, DeSales University and Belmont Abbey College.
The letter criticized an insurance mandate issued by Sebelius that will require employers to offer health care plans that include coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
Although the mandate includes a religious exemption, it is extremely narrow. To qualify for it, nonprofit organizations must exist for the purpose of inculcating religious values and both serve and employ primarily members of their own faith.
Therefore, while many houses of worship fall under the protection of the exemption, most other religious organizations, including schools, hospitals and charitable agencies, do not.
The signers of the coalition’s letter note that they represent a variety of religious backgrounds, serve in different fields, and disagree about “the moral acceptability of the contraceptive drugs” and procedures included in the mandate.
They also hold differing views about the adequacy of the future “accommodation” promised by the administration for non-exempt groups.
However, they said, “we are united in opposition to the creation in federal law of two classes of religious organizations.”
Under the mandate, they explained, churches are deemed “sufficiently focused inwardly to merit an exemption and thus full protection from the mandate,” while faith-based service organizations, which have a more outward focus, are “given a lesser degree of protection.”
“And yet both worship-oriented and service-oriented religious organizations are authentically and equally religious organizations,” they said, arguing that the federal government lacks the authority to define for religious communities “what constitutes true religion and authentic ministry.”
The signatories acknowledged that the Obama administration has said that its narrow definition of “religious employer” is not intended to set a precedent in federal law.
“Yet these are only intentions,” they said, and the narrow exemption finalized with the mandate “can only make it more likely to be used in additional federal policies.”
They also warned that creating classes of religious groups “moves us further toward an unconstitutional, unhistorical, and unhealthy naked public square.”
For these reasons, the signers of the letter said, the only adequate solution is to “eliminate the two-class scheme of religious organization” that is currently present in the mandate.
They urged Sebelius to extend the exemption to all faith-based service groups in order to restore the government’s “full respect” for religious organizations as “authentic vehicles for religious service.”
Austin, Texas, Jun 13, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Children brought up by partners in same-sex relationships are encountering more difficulties in adulthood than their conventionally-raised counterparts, according to new findings published June 10.
“On 25 out of 40 different outcomes, there are statistically-significant differences between adult children who grew up with a mother who had a lesbian relationship and those who told us their biological mother and father were, and still are, married,” researcher Mark Regnerus told CNA on June 12.
Children of these same-sex households were found to have lower average income levels as adults, along with more physical and mental health problems and more instability in their romantic relationships. They also showed higher levels of unemployment, smoking, need for public assistance and involvement in crime.
“Household instability,” Regnerus said, was “a hallmark” of households whose parents engaged in same-sex relationships, whether those households were “led by a mother or father.”
Regnerus' findings, published in the July issue of Social Science Research, drew on data from the New Family Structures Study. That survey measured differences in 40 social and personal indicators, among 3,000 Americans ages 18 to 39 who were raised in eight different types of households.
The new findings challenge data cited in 2005 by the American Psychological Association, which claimed that “not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents.”
According to Regnerus, some of these influential studies have relied too heavily on small or non-representative population samples – focusing mainly on highly educated, white same-sex couples, in order to draw conclusions about same-sex parenting in general.
“Most conclusions about same-sex parenting have been drawn from small, convenience samples, not larger, random ones,” Regnerus said in a June 11 statement released by the University of Texas at Austin.
“The results of that approach have often led family scholars to conclude that there are no differences between children raised in same-sex households and those raised in other types of families. But those earlier studies have inadvertently masked real diversity among gay and lesbian parenting experiences in America.”
The researcher told CNA/EWTN News he approached the project with “no idea what the data would reveal.” Upon analysis, he said, “it's revealed far greater instability in the households of parents who've had same-sex relationships.”
In his June 10 announcement of the paper, Regnerus said his “most significant” finding “is arguably that children appear most apt to succeed well as adults when they spend their entire childhood with their married mother and father, and especially when the parents remain married to the present day.”
The sociologist said that his study has already “stirred up a hornet's nest” of “intense and frequent” criticism, which he called “disproportionate to the study's limitations.”
The paper has been attacked by the Family Equality Council, Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation.
Regnerus described it as “unfortunate” that his own study “is high-quality and being maligned.” He suggested his findings should simply be held to the standards of “normal science,” which “exhibits disagreements among researchers about how to measure this or that.”
Washington D.C., Jun 13, 2012 (CNA) - Nina Shea, a prominent Catholic advocate for global religious freedom, says the Washington Post presented her as a “religious bigot” by falsely crediting her with an inflammatory statement on Islam.
Shea, a Hudson Institute senior fellow and commissioner of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, told CNA June12 that the Post's religion writer Michelle Boorstein committed an “inexplicable journalistic lapse” with her use of a “fabricated” quotation.
While Boorstein noted some of Shea's objections in an “update” to her story (“Federal lawsuit charges religious freedom commission with discriminating against Muslims,” June 11), she has refused to make a correction or withdraw the story, after being notified of the errors of both fact and attribution.
The inflammatory words were misattributed to Shea in a story about Safiya Ghori-Ahmad, government relations director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Ghori-Ahmad is suing the U.S. religious freedom commission, saying she suffered religious discrimination while employed as an analyst.
In her June 11 Washington Post report, Boorstein said that Ghori-Ahmad's lawsuit quoted Shea as saying that “hiring a Muslim like Ms. Ghori-Ahmad to analyze religious freedom in Pakistan would be like ‘hiring an IRA activist to research the UK twenty years ago.’”
However, most of the quoted words – including the alleged warning about “hiring a Muslim like Ms. Ghori-Ahmad” – were never used by Shea, despite Boorstein's assertion that the suit “quotes Shea as writing” them.
In fact, an examination of the legal complaint shows that the entire phrase – “hiring a Muslim like Ms. Ghori-Ahmad to analyze religious freedom in Pakistan would be like” – is Ghori-Ahmad's own. The lawsuit does not attribute the phrase to Shea, as Boorstein's story suggests.
Shea is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which has been brought against the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom as an organization.
Currently, Shea is in contact with representatives of the Washington Post, and says the paper “should print a correction of the serious factual error” that it published to an international audience online.
Although Shea notified Boorstein of the error on Monday, the Washington Post religion writer did not acknowledge or correct the factual error and misquotation. Instead, in an evening update to the story, Boorstein offered a general paraphrase of Shea's objection to being “depicted as bigoted.”
Shea told CNA that by attributing the remark to her “the Washington Post blog has crossed a line.”
“This is a classic case of yellow journalism. The lawsuit does not quote me writing those words. Those were Ms. Ghori-Ahmad’s words in the complaint characterizing statements that she alleges I wrote.”
Boorstein's article did acknowledge, and quote, Shea's explanation of her actual grounds for opposing Ghori-Ahmad's hiring. The former analyst's writings, Shea said, “reflect … activism and bias, not scholarship, which would not serve us well on the research staff.”
Shea, whose 2011 book “Silenced” called attention to the persecution of various Muslim groups, said that her human rights work “has held up under scrutiny and has been taken seriously by the US State Department, Congress, think tanks, and a number of key Muslim figures.”
“It was in recognition of this role that the Ahmadiyya American Muslim Community honored me with its inaugural Humanitarian Award last July,” she noted, rejecting the Washington Post's implication that she is biased against members of the religion.
Shea also noted that Boorstein “never asked for a comment” from her on the story about Ghori-Ahmad's lawsuit, despite having “contacted me many times in the past.”
Vatican City, Jun 13, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI says that the life of St. Paul shows that God can work wonders through those who grow ever closer to him in prayer.
“As our union with the Lord grows and our prayer becomes more intense, we too come to focus on the essential and to understand that it is not the power of our own means that creates the Kingdom of God, but God who works miracles through our very weakness,” the Pope said during the June 13 general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.
Continuing his recent weekly exploration of the lessons taught by the prayer life of St. Paul, Pope Benedict turned to the apostle’s experience of contemplative prayer as recorded in his Second Letter to the Corinthians.
He noted that in “defending the legitimacy of his apostolate, Paul appeals above all to his profound closeness to the Lord in prayer, marked by moments of ecstasy, visions and revelations,” and yet, at the same time, he also “willingly boasts of his weakness, in order that the power of Christ might dwell in him.”
St. Paul uses this approach because he is eager for his readers to understand how “all the difficulties we meet in following Christ,” including “suffering, difficulty and persecution,” can be overcome “by opening ourselves trustingly to the action of the Lord,” the Pope said.
The example of his life and trials should remind all Christians that it is “at the moment we feel our own weakness that the power of God becomes manifest.”
Thus, “in a world in which we risk relying only on the power of human means,” St. Paul calls us to “rediscover and bear witness to the power of prayer, through which we grow day by day as our lives are conformed to that of Christ.”
Pope Benedict recalled that the Protestant theologian and 1952 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Albert Schweitzer described St. Paul as “a mystic and nothing more than a mystic,” since the Apostle was a man so “truly enamored of Christ and so united to him as to be able to say: Christ lives in me.”
The lesson for our own lives, suggested the Pope, is to follow his example and “remain constant and faithful in our relationship with God, especially in moments of aridity, difficulty and suffering.”
Only then will we be able to face difficulties as St. Paul did, “in the conviction that we can do all things through him who gives us strength.”
The Pope added that by giving more room to prayer “we will see our lives transformed and animated by the real power of God's love.”
He observed that this was the experience of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta who in her contemplation of Jesus “discovered the ultimate reason and incredible strength to recognize him in the poor and abandoned, despite her fragile figure.”
This is because, contrary to the suggestion of some, contemplation of Jesus Christ in prayer “does not distance us from reality” but “makes us ever more involved in human affairs” because the Lord draws us to himself in prayer, enabling us “to remain close to all our brothers and sisters in his love.”
New Haven, Conn., Jun 13, 2012 (CNA) - The Knights of Columbus Catholic fraternal organization broke records in 2011 with over $158 million in donations to charity and over 70 million volunteer hours worked, the organization’s worldwide annual survey says.
Supreme Knight Carl Anderson praised the achievement.
“At a time when many in our communities continue to experience economic hardship, the increasing charitable work of the Knights of Columbus is a testament to the power of love of neighbor and to the great things that can be done by those committed to the common good,” he said June 11.
Anderson presented the results to the Knights of Columbus board of directors and state leaders in their June 6-10 meeting at the organization’s international headquarters.
Charitable contributions in 2011 exceeded 2010 figures by over $3.4 million, while knights worked 3,716 more volunteer hours in 2011 than the previous year.
State and local affiliates of the organization donated $128.9 million, while the organization’s Supreme Council donated almost $29.2 million.
Large donations in 2011 included $7.5 million in support of priestly and religious vocations, $3.6 million for the Special Olympics, and $515,000 for the Knights of Columbus program Coats for Kids. The donations included continued support for a program with Project Medishare that provides prosthetic limbs to Haitian children who were injured during the January 2010 earthquake.
Knights of Columbus members also donated blood more than 418,000 times.
Over the past decade, the organization has donated $1.4 billion to charity and worked over 653 million volunteer hours in support of charitable initiatives.
Since parish priest Fr. Michael J. McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in New Haven, Conn. in 1882, the organization has grown into the world’s largest lay Catholic organization. It has over 1.8 million members in North and Central America, the Philippines, the Caribbean and Poland.
Vatican City, Jun 13, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican has announced that it wants to create a “.catholic” domain name as a way of validating official Catholic institutions online – just one day after rolling out a major shift in its communications strategy.
“Our idea is that those communities that make up the Church will be able to apply to have this ‘dot catholic’ web address as a way of authenticating their presence in the web space,” said Monsignor Paul Tighe, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, in an interview with Vatican Radio.
The online suffix would be granted by the Vatican to Catholic bodies across the world so that internet users “can be certain that it’s coming from a genuinely Catholic source,” he said.
The Vatican is just one of nearly 2,000 new applications to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the California-based organization that decides on new domain names.
The news comes only a day after the Vatican announced that the Holy See Press Office will start to publish media releases in English, Spanish and French from September 2012 onwards. At present, Vatican media releases are published principally in Italian, unless the original texts are in other languages.
The Vatican Press Office will also increase its staff, following the parallel decision to transfer workers across from the Vatican Information Service, which will close down at the end of July.
Commonly referred to as the “VIS,” the service has issued news updates at 3:00 p.m. every Vatican workday since 1991. It currently has about 60,000 subscribers. They will now receive the translated Press Office bulletin instead.
The Vatican’s Press Office also announced June 12 that “the extensive archive of more than 85,000 articles” in various languages that were created by the VIS … “will be conserved and integrated, with a simple and rapid search engine,” which will be accessible on the press office’s website.
Meanwhile, those VIS employees who are not transferred to the press office will be deployed “to reinforce the multilingual 'news.va' portal which was established a year ago by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications,” the statement said.
Launched by Pope Benedict XVI in June 2011, the news.va site brought together all the Vatican’s communication outlets into one online location for the first time.
That list includes Fides News Agency, the newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, the Holy See Press Office, the Vatican Information Service, Vatican Radio and the Vatican television service, CTV. However, each news source still maintains its own independent website.
Finally, Vatican Radio has also announced plans to reduce its short and medium wave transmissions to most of Europe and the Americas, starting July 1.
Founded in 1931, the station is increasingly using the newer technologies of satellite and the internet, as well as local rebroadcasting, to transmit its programs in 40 different languages around the world.
“After celebrating its 80th birthday last year, Vatican Radio is ready to open a new chapter in its history by committing its message of service to the Gospel and the Church to new communication technologies,” said the station’s Director General, Father Federico Lombardi.
Atlanta, Ga., Jun 13, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the Pope’s representative to the United States, urged the American bishops to view the difficulties facing the Church as an opportunity to unite in defense of the faith.
Current challenges to the faithful can be seen “providentially, as an invitation to the entire Church in the United States” to adopt “an attitude of deep communion with the local bishop, in filial obedience to the Successor of Peter,” the archbishop said at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
This is particularly true for the Church’s “consecrated religious” and “educational institutions,” he said.
The papal diplomat, who is officially known as the apostolic nuncio, addressed the conference on June 13, the first day of the bishops’ three-day spring general assembly in Atlanta, Ga.
“It goes without saying that the Catholic Church in the United States is living in a particularly challenging period of its history,” Archbishop Viganò observed, specifically pointing to religious freedom and conscience rights issues.
These areas are “close to the heart of the American people,” and involve “the indispensable role of the Bishop as Chief Shepherd in his diocese,” he said.
All of this is taking place “in the context of an election year,” which requires “even more delicate” interventions, he added.
Religious freedom matters have become a key concern for the Catholic community in recent months. Chief among the threats to the Church is an insurance mandate issued by the Obama administration that will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
Archbishop Viganò thanked all the bishops for their unified work to stand up for religious freedom, emphasizing that “the Church must speak with one voice” in addressing modern challenges.
“We all know that the fundamental tactic of the enemy is to show a Church divided,” he said.
Bishops from every diocese in the country have spoken out against the contraception mandate, and several dioceses have filed lawsuits against it.
In addition, the bishops have called for a “Fortnight for Freedom” to be held during the two weeks leading up to Independence Day. Events will be held at both a national and diocesan level, and Catholics are encouraged to engage in activities aimed at prayer, education and advocacy of public officials.
Archbishop Viganò called the Fortnight for Freedom a “praiseworthy initiative” that has his “full support” and assured his fellow bishops that he would “be participating in it locally in the Archdiocese of Washington.”
Looking at the practical challenges facing the American Church today, the archbishop pointed to Pope Benedict XVI’s recent ad limina addresses to various groups of bishops from the U.S. In it, the Pope reflected on the problems of growing secularism, religious freedom, a pastoral response to immigration, cultural misunderstandings of marriage and sexuality, unity and faith formation.
He recalled the words of the Holy Father in one of these ad limina addresses, which described the present moment as “a summons” for the bishops “to exercise the prophetic dimension” of their episcopal ministry by speaking out in defense of truth and offering words of hope.
The Pope’s words offer “clarity and wisdom” for the future, said Archbishop Viganò, and the bishops should look to them as “a road map” for promoting “the truth of the Gospel and the New Evangelization.”
Atlanta, Ga., Jun 13, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Speakers at the U.S. bishops’ meeting in Atlanta, Ga. emphasized the importance of continuing efforts to defend religious freedom through various cultural, legal and educational approaches.
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee, explained that the U.S. Church is faced with “not just one but a serious of extraordinary challenges” that will require “full and undivided efforts” to address.
The archbishop spoke June 13 as part of a two-hour discussion on domestic and international religious freedom at the spring general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, also spoke during the discussion, outlining numerous recent threats to religious liberty in the U.S.
Among the most prominent of these threats is a federal insurance mandate that will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if it violates their consciences.
Garvey also noted that the bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services was denied a grant to work with human trafficking victims last fall because it would not refer for abortion and contraception, despite being among the top-ranked groups in the field for the past five years.
Furthermore, he observed, in January, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected the narrow definition of religion and religious minster held by the Obama administration in Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC. Many saw the administration’s narrow view of religion as troubling.
In addition, Garvey said, Catholic Charities has been forced to leave the adoption business in several areas, due to their objections to placing children with same-sex couples.
He also voiced concern over the erosion of conscience protections for doctors and other health care professionals who object to performing, referring or suggesting abortion and similar procedures.
Garvey suggested that there is a cultural problem underlying these recent threats to religious liberty in America.
“There has been a decline in respect for religious liberty,” he observed, explaining that protections for religion are both narrower and weaker than they once were.
He noted that America was originally founded as a haven for those whose religious beliefs differed from the mainstream. Now, he lamented, it is treated “casually.”
He suggested that this transformation may be connected to the phenomenon - shown in recent studies on declining attendance of worship services - that Americans today are less religious than those in the past.
“Our society won’t care about religious freedom if it doesn’t care about God,” he said.
Garvey counseled that in response efforts must be made to restore a proper appreciation for religion, in order to bring about a natural respect for religious freedom as well.
Archbishop Lori highlighted three steps that have been taken by the bishops to defend religious liberty in recent months.
He pointed to a March 14 statement from the conference’s administrative committee, which was backed by the entire conference in a unanimous voice vote on June 13.
The statement, entitled “United for Religious Freedom,” reflects “the unity of the bishops” in response to the contraception mandate, he said.
A later document from the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, entitled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” discusses not only the mandate, but other threats from both ends of the political spectrum, as well as religious persecution abroad, the archbishop added.
He explained that this document “offers an overview” of the Church’s teaching on religious freedom “in light of the American experience.”
It also “affirms that it is not merely the right of Catholics that are at risk and warrant our concern, but of others as well,” he said, emphasizing that “the right of religious freedom belongs to all.”
In addition, Archbishop Lori said, the bishops have called for a “Fortnight for Freedom” to be held during the two-week period leading up to Independence Day. Catholics are encouraged to engage in activities aimed at prayer, education and advocacy of public officials during this time.
The fortnight includes national elements, he said, such as the nationwide ringing of church bells at specific times and Masses in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. However, most of the events will be held locally, at the diocesan level, and will invite the participation of the faithful.
The archbishop clarified that the fortnight is “not about parties, candidates or elections,” as some have suggested, nor is “intended as an occasion for civil disobedience.”
Rather, the event is strictly about the issue of religious freedom, and this is reflected in the materials that the bishops are producing for it, he said.
Archbishop Lori encouraged his fellow bishops to prepare for “a difficult road ahead.”
Defending religious freedom “won’t be easy” and may require some suffering, he said.
But the trials should not lead to discouragement, he insisted, because equipped with truth and love of Christ, “we will not fail.”