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Archive of June 28, 2012

Catholic Voices equips laity to speak up in public debate

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Amid misrepresentations in the media and public square, a newly-formed U.S. lay Catholic group is working to communicate the Church's message in a way that is clear, positive and captivating.

“I think the role of the laity is to be engaged and knowledgeable and to show others the joyful, life-affirming nature of what the Church teaches,” said Kim Daniels, coordinator of Catholic Voices USA.

Daniels told CNA on June 26 that the organization seeks to offer “a new apologetics for the New Evangelization.”

She described Catholic Voices USA as a group of lay faithful who have come together to help the Church “make its case” in the public square.

The lay Catholics who comprise the organization “know and love the Church” and are able to speak about its teachings from their direct experience, she said.

In May, Catholic Voices held its first U.S. training session for lay Catholics, mobilizing them to “make the Catholic case” in debates, interviews and other public settings.

Catholic Voices USA is based on the British model that was started by Jack Valero and Austen Ivereigh to carry out a similar mission in the U.K.

Daniels, who has a background as a religious liberty attorney, said that while the American group is still in its infancy, it has already “had a great deal of success.”

Members from the initial training class have published op-eds in secular newspapers, made television appearances and participated as speakers in local religious freedom events.

Such involvement is crucial now, during the “hour of the laity,” Daniels said. “We have been called by the Church to step forward.”

People often learn about Church teaching through the media, and misunderstandings continue to exist, she noted. Therefore, “we need to be engaged” and present the “positive case for Church teaching.”

Daniels emphasized the laity’s role in showing the joyful reality of Church teaching rather than the caricature that is often used to depict it.

This is carried out through one-on-one discussions in parishes, neighborhoods and families, as well as participation in public debate and discourse, she observed, adding that “obviously, prayer is central to any of these efforts.”

“My experience is that people are eminently encouraged when they see Catholics confident in their faith engage in the public square,” said Kathryn Lopez, editor-at-large of National Review Online, who is also a coordinator of Catholic Voices USA.

“The Catholic Church has a remarkable story to tell, that speaks to our deepest desires and makes life make sense,” she stressed. “If we can tell that story better, lives will be transformed.”

She explained that the Catholic Voices model seeks to help the lay faithful fulfill this mission.

“We encourage one another. We share our experience and talents. We educate. We love one another,” she said. “This is our call as Christians, to be open to, study, love, and share the Good News.”

Lopez added that she has been “humbled” when people have approached her and told her that something she covered, mentioned or even linked to online has had “a transformative effect on their lives.”

She explained that it was not so much her own words or actions as the fact that she “was an instrument in a lifesaving process.”

The authentic witness of a Catholic life is important partly because “you never know who is looking,” she observed. Similarly, when you have “access to a public platform,” you may never know who is consuming the material you produce.

“Media can be a powerful evangelization tool,” she said, “even when it's not explicitly Catholic.”

Lopez acknowledged that it can sometimes be tempting to become confused or discouraged by lack of feedback or negative responses.

“But that's all going to be fine if you know your real Editor is the one who gives you the words, too, as He brings peace to your heart,” she said.

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Father of forcibly aborted Chinese baby reported missing

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The father of a Chinese baby that was forcibly aborted has reportedly disappeared, while his wife is being held in the hospital and intimidated by the local government, family members say.

“It appears that the government’s previous apology and the suspension of three officials may have been insincere,” warned Reggie Littlejohn, founder of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, an international organization that works to oppose Chinese forced abortion, gendercide and sex slavery.

Feng Jianmei, a seven-month pregnant Chinese woman, gained international attention in early June when she was taken to a hospital and forced to undergo an abortion for violating the nation’s strict one-child policy.

Now her husband, Deng Liyuan, may be in danger.

According to Fox News, Deng’s sister, Deng Jicai, believes that the government is lashing out at the family in anger at her brother’s contact with reporters.

She explained that last week, her brother tried to travel to Beijing in order to meet with journalists and civil lawyers there. However, he was stopped by a large crowd and several men in cars, who proceeded to beat him, she said.

Deng has now been missing for several days, she added.

Although she said that she got a brief call from him on June 26 saying that he was safe and telling her not to worry, she said that he would not reveal his location and the family is "still worried.”

She also said that 23-year-old Feng, the mother of the aborted baby, is under constant surveillance and is not being permitted to leave the hospital.
 
Furthermore, she reported, a group of local townspeople, led by the local government authorities, have conducted a protest outside the hospital, where they raised a banner calling the family “traitors” and demanding that they be “severely” beaten and expelled from the town.

The incident began several weeks ago when Feng and Deng were unable to pay the 40,000 yuan fine – equivalent to about $6,300 – for having an “illegal” pregnancy. Because the couple already had one daughter, they were not authorized to have an additional child.

Chinese family planning officials reportedly surrounded the couple’s house on June 2 and forced Feng to go to the hospital for an abortion.

Graphic photos of Feng lying next to her aborted fetus in a hospital bed began to spread online, generating international attention and protest.

In response, Chinese authorities said that they had apologized to Feng, suspended the individuals involved and would be conducting a disciplinary investigation.

However, Litteljohn told CNA she believes that these steps might have been “mere propaganda aimed at creating the illusion that the Chinese Communist Party adheres to the rule of law.”

She said that she has heard the reports of Deng being beaten and disappearing, of the protests being organized against the family and of guards patrolling Feng’s hospital room and holding her there “against her will.”

Littlejohn said that these reports remind her of the surveillance surrounding blind pro-life activist Chen Guangcheng, whom she recently helped in his efforts to escape house arrest and come to the U.S. with his immediate family.

“In many areas, Family Planning Officials are lawless thugs, accountable to no one,” she warned.

“The forced abortion of a seven month pregnant woman is illegal under Chinese law, and yet it still happens as local officials struggle to meet family planning quotas,” she explained.

The Chinese Communist Party “relies on forced abortion to keep the Chinese people down through terror,” Littlejohn said, adding that she believes “the Family Planning Police function as domestic terrorists.”

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Supreme Court upholds health care law, individual mandate

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, drawing cries of disappointment and concern from pro-life and religious freedom advocates nationwide.

Christen Varley, executive director of Conscience Cause, a nonpartisan advocacy organization that works to secure and defend religious freedom, said that she was “extremely disappointed” with the decision.

“The first line of the First Amendment in our Constitution guarantees all Americans the right to religious freedom, as our forefathers intended,” Varley said. “Now, we have opened the door to a government that sees no limit to the amount of freedoms it can take away.”

In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled on June 28 that the law is constitutional, including an individual mandate that requires virtually all individuals to purchase health insurance plans.

The justices said that while this mandate does not fall within the powers afforded by the commerce clause, the penalty that people must pay if they refuse to buy insurance can be understood instead as a kind of tax that Congress is authorized to impose under its taxing power.

The decision means that the fight over a separate and highly controversial federal contraception mandate will continue. The mandate would have automatically perished if the law had been struck down.  

Issued by the Department of Health and Human Services under authority granted by the Affordable Care Act, the mandate will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and early abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.

The mandate has drawn widespread criticism from individuals and organizations representing a variety of religious and political backgrounds. Lawsuits challenging the regulation have been filed by more than 50 plaintiffs across the country.

Bishops from every diocese in the U.S. have spoken out against the mandate, warning that it poses a severe threat to the religious liberty of those who object to it.

Varley said that the mandate “represents an egregious affront to religious liberty” and vowed that Conscience Cause would continue working with people of all faiths to petition Congress “to overrule this devastating policy, which undermines our religious freedom.”  

Critics have also spoken out against a provision under the 2010 law regulating involuntary funding of insurance plans that cover elective abortions.

This will take place through a monthly surcharge for all people enrolled in plans covering abortion.

Regulations issued under the Affordable Care Act require that the surcharge be at least one dollar per month, but they do not dictate any maximum rate, and nothing prohibits insurance companies from charging substantially more to pay for abortions.

This provision lacks a religious or moral exemption, and it forbids insurers from telling enrollees how much of their money is going to fund other people’s abortions, making it difficult for them to withhold that portion of their premium.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which works to elect and mobilize pro-life women, said that the Affordable Care Act was “fundamentally flawed” from the very beginning “because it makes American taxpayers complicit in the deaths of countless unborn children.”

“Over the last four years, President Obama has revealed his loyalty to the abortion industry,” Dannenfelser said.

“As the presidential race heats up, the Susan B. Anthony List will continue to remind American voters where the President’s allegiance truly lies,” she vowed. “We will not stop fighting until every U.S. taxpayer is freed from under-writing the abortion business.”

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Archbishop urges honesty among Argentina's leaders

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jun 28, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Hector Aguer of La Plata, Argentina warned that society is gravely harmed when those in positions of authority engage in lying.

“St. Thomas Aquinas taught that people could not live together without mutual trust and without living in the truth,” Archbishop Aguer said in his program Keys to a Better World.  

“In other words, lying, when done on a massive scale and when done by somebody in a position of great responsibility, causes harm to our life together and is disastrous for all of society,” he explained.

“I think of cases involving people, for example, priests, politicians, especially those in government, journalists or manages or owners of media outlets, who have more responsibility towards those around them, because they cause great harm,” the archbishop said.

Truth is a value that should not be betrayed, and according to Christian morality, lying “is evil by its very nature.”  

“Jesus says the devil is a liar and the father of lies,” he said.

Archbishop Aguer also argued that there are no such things as white lies. While lying is not always a mortal sin, he noted, white lies do not exist because whenever we lie “we are skirting the need to convey the truth.”

“It is true that a lie does not always have the same degree of gravity and sinfulness,” he continued.  

“Some lies are grave and others are less serious, it depends on the nature of the truth that is in question, the truth that is being betrayed by lies, and it also depends on the harm that comes from telling a lie,” the archbishop explained.

“We are always responsible for the lies we tell and we have the obligation to repair the harm our lies cause.  Why do I bring this up? Because I think that in Argentinean society there is a strong tendency to bend the truth,” he said.

Archbishop Aguer said such a tendency would be difficult to reverse if it becomes a cultural habit. “I think we need to begin by upholding the truth and telling the truth in our everyday relationships.  

We don’t have to lie just because we think it is a white lie, because when we do that we are tricking the person with whom we are talking. It is in those small things every day that we strengthen the beautiful Christian virtue of truthfulness,” he said.

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Court ruling allows religious freedom lawsuits to proceed with hope

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the 2010 health care law, a leading religious freedom law firm has new confidence in the future of its lawsuits against the federal contraception mandate.

Hannah Smith, senior counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, explained that the arguments against the law that were recently rejected by the court are “separate and distinct legal challenges” from those being brought against the contraception mandate.

In a June 28 press call shortly after the Supreme Court announced its ruling, Smith said that in this case, the court was not asked to review the religious liberty issues surrounding the contraception mandate.

Rather, its decision dealt solely with the overarching law itself, particularly a requirement that virtually everyone must buy health insurance and a provision dealing with the expansion of Medicaid.

The high court upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act by a vote of 5-4, but did not rule on the contraception mandate, a separate requirement issued by the Department of Health and Human Services under the authority of the act.

This controversial mandate will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and early abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences. Failure to comply will result in crippling fines.

The mandate has been criticized by members of various religions and political affiliations, including bishops from every diocese of the U.S., who warned that it could force Catholic hospitals, schools and charitable agencies to close down.

More than 50 plaintiffs – including nonprofit organizations, Catholic dioceses, religious universities and private business owners – have filed lawsuits against the mandate, arguing that it violates the religious liberty of individuals and organizations that object to its requirements.

If the court had struck down the health care law, the mandate would have disappeared by default. Since it did not, Smith explained, the legal battles will move forward, untouched.

However, she said, two statements in the June 28 decision hint at what the court’s future ruling on the contraception mandate could be.

She pointed to the majority opinion, penned by Chief Justice John Roberts, which states, “Even if the taxing power enables Congress to impose a tax on not obtaining health insurance, any tax must still comply with other requirements in the Constitution.”

The opinion of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, was even more explicit, she said.

Ginsberg wrote, “A mandate to purchase a particular product would be unconstitutional if, for example, the edict impermissibly abridged the freedom of speech, interfered with the free exercise of religion, or infringed on a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause.”

The direct mention of religious freedom as a reason to find such a mandate unconstitutional is a hopeful sign in the battle over the contraception requirement, Smith said.

She explained that these two statements are “essential” in suggesting that the court may strike down the contraception mandate if asked to rule on it, a positive indication for defenders of religious freedom.

Mark Rienzi, law professor at The Catholic University of America and senior counsel at the Becket Fund, added that it is “commonplace” for courts to find a regulation unconstitutional even when the law under which it was issued is constitutionally acceptable.

The Becket Fund, a non-profit law firm that works to protect religious freedom for all people, has paved the way in challenging the mandate, representing four different clients in filing lawsuits against it.

In a statement shortly after the ruling, Smith explained that the Becket Fund’s lawsuits will continue making their way through the court system.

“Never in history has there been a mandate forcing individuals to violate their deeply held religious beliefs or pay a severe fine, a fine which could force many homeless shelters, charities, and religious institutions to shut their doors,” she said.

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US bishops urge Congress to 'fix' problems in health care law

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has renewed its call for Congress to correct problems within the 2010 health care law, now that the legislation has been upheld by the nation’s highest court.

The conference said that it did not join in “efforts to repeal the law in its entirety” after it was passed in 2010 and added that “we do not do so today.”

However, it argued, the Affordable Care Act contains “fundamental flaws” that were not addressed by the Supreme Court’s decision. Further legislation is necessary to fix the law’s problems with abortion funding, conscience protection and treatment of immigrants, the group said.

On June 28, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including an individual mandate that requires virtually all people to buy health insurance. The court ruled by a vote of 5-4 that this mandate does not fall within the acceptable range of Congressional power under the commerce clause, but it can stand instead as a valid tax on those who refuse to buy insurance.

In its statement shortly after the decision was announced, the bishops’ conference noted that for almost 100 years, the Catholic bishops have been advocating “for comprehensive health care reform to ensure access to life-affirming health care for all, especially the poorest and the most vulnerable.”

The group explained that while it did not participate in the case before the Supreme Court and “took no position on the specific questions presented to the Court,” it had opposed the final passage of the Affordable Care Act for several reasons.

First, it said, the law contradicts “longstanding federal policy” by allowing “federal funds to pay for elective abortions and for plans that cover such abortions.”

Pro-life advocates have objected to the “abortion surcharge” that is required for all people enrolled in plans covering elective abortions. This surcharge must be at least one dollar per month, but can be significantly higher than this, as there is no maximum rate.

Furthermore, the bishops’ conference said, the law fails to “provide essential conscience protection, both within and beyond the abortion context.”

It pointed to the “preventive services” mandate issued under the Affordable Care Act. That mandate, announced by the Department of Health and Human Services, will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and early abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.

Bishops from every diocese in the U.S. have joined those of various religious political and religious backgrounds in speaking out against the mandate, warning that it poses a severe threat to religious liberty and could force Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable organizations to shut their doors rather than compromise their beliefs.

More than 50 plaintiffs from across the country – including numerous Catholic dioceses – are currently challenging the mandate. Those lawsuits were not within the range of questions considered by the court on June 28, so they are not affected by the court’s ruling and will continue moving forward in the judiciary system.

In addition, the bishops’ conference warned, the Affordable Care Act is unfair to immigrant workers and their families, leaving them “worse off by not allowing them to purchase health coverage in the new exchanges created under the law, even if they use their own money.”

This contradicts the law’s stated purpose of offering access of basic health care to all people, especially the most needy, the group said.
 
“The decision of the Supreme Court neither diminishes the moral imperative to ensure decent health care for all, nor eliminates the need to correct the fundamental flaws described above,” it emphasized.

Stressing both of these moral obligations, the bishops’ conference urged “Congress to pass, and the Administration to sign, legislation to fix those flaws” that remain in the law.

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