London, England, Jul 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A critic of the London Family Planning Summit says that the international gathering does not address the true needs of pregnant women in developing countries, lacks safeguards against coercive campaigns, and includes some countries and organizations that want to promote abortion access.
Wendy Wright, interim director of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, attended the summit as a credentialed reporter. The July 11 summit sought to raise $4.3 billion for family planning in Africa and southeast Asia. Wright reported that the summit met its goal of $2 billion from developing countries and exceeded its goal from donor countries, which pledged $4.6 billion.
Wright warned that statements at the summit indicate these commitments could strengthen the push for abortion.
“Both France and Sweden said that they believe that reproductive and sexual health includes abortion,” she told CNA July 11.
“Many of the other countries are trying to be careful, particularly the U.S., in not mentioning abortion because it’s really controversial. But France said that we won’t avoid the difficult discussions. And that means access to safe abortion services.”
She said she wondered whether the African countries at the summit were aware that abortion is part of the agenda of “at least some donor countries.”
Summit attendees included African heads of state and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a video for the event, whose sponsors include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The summit’s NGO partners include abortion providers like the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International.
Wright said countries’ representatives at the summit sounded “almost scripted” in their commitments to increase access to family planning, increase money spent on family planning, and provide information.
Although the summit’s stated goals include the reduction of maternal and child mortality, Wright pointed out that contraception “does nothing to help pregnant women or newborn children.”
She said that maternal mortality can be addressed through funding skilled birth attendants, emergency obstetric care, antibiotics and other basic medical care. It can also be reduced by building better roads to clinics and by providing cell phones for emergency use.
“These women do need help. The problem is that the solution that the Gates Foundation is offering is not the one that’s going to help women.”
While summit backers also say the effort will reduce the abortion rate, Wright was skeptical. She said there is “no evidence” that providing family planning will reduce abortion. Eastern Europe, she noted, has “very high” rates of contraception access and a “very high” abortion rate.
The summit will help fund efforts to overcome barriers to access to family planning, which Wright said includes requirements for parental involvement and religious beliefs. This caused concern for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute in part because such barriers are also obstacles for abortion access.
Wright also questioned whether the summit overlooked the issue of accountability.
“There didn’t seem to be concern that accountability ought to include ensuring that there’s not coercion,” she told CNA. “Those of us who know the dark history of population control are very concerned about this Gates summit.”
Wright said the summit’s partner organizations like the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Marie Stopes International and the Population Council were involved in the population control movement, which has had a history of coercion with the poor and uneducated.
One main organizer of the summit, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, funded a reproductive health program in India that had the goal of making childbirth safer for women and expanding access to family planning. That program now faces charges that it coerced patients.
However, U.K. officials showed a “very lax attitude” about the charge, Wright said.
Associates of the program allegedly sterilized uneducated rural men and women who may not have known what they had agreed to. Participants used soiled sterilization tools and performed sterilizations on pregnant women, causing miscarriages.
Some summit speakers implied that family planning can distract from real problems or cause problems of its own.
Wright said that Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni said that his country is still trying to provide electricity for its residents, but pledged $5 million to the family planning effort.
“He almost seemed to be expressing exasperation that the wealthy countries have their latest hobby horse and the developing countries have to follow along, even as they are trying to develop their own countries,” Wright said.
The South Korea representative noted that the country began family planning programs in the 1960s but “overdid it’ and now faces an underpopulation problem.
The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute said that the International Planned Parenthood Federation organized the NGOs at the summit and excluded any groups critical of the initiative.
Wright herself said abortion advocates at the event recognized her and had a security guard check her credentials on suspicion she had sneaked into the event.
Austin Ruse, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute president criticized that attention.
“This event is highly controlled,” he charged. “They want a message coming out of the conference of complete unanimity. The only way to get that is to keep others out.”
The family planning summit could prompt further clashes between summit organizers, their sympathizers in governments and the Catholic Church, which recognizes birth control use as sinful.
Melinda Gates, a self-identified Catholic who helped organize the summit, has said she rejects Catholic teaching on birth control and is advocating birth control as a matter of “social justice."
Washington D.C., Jul 12, 2012 (CNA) - Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) has called for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear, charging that he has marginalized human rights and religious freedom concerns.
“Sadly, his sidelining of serious human rights issues in Vietnam is symptomatic of this administration's overall approach to human rights and religious freedom,” the congressman said in a July 9 letter to President Barack Obama. “Time and again these issues are put on the back-burner -- to the detriment of freedom-loving people the world over.”
Rep. Wolf said that U.S. embassies should be “islands of freedom – especially in repressive countries like Vietnam,” but he criticized the U.S. embassy in Vietnam for appearing to not play this role.
Rep. Wolf, who co-chairs the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, cited embassy inaction in the case of Vietnamese-American democracy activist and U.S. citizen Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan, who was imprisoned after he was detained upon arrival at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City this past April.
The embassy did not initiate contact with Quan’s wife until Rep. Wolf asked. The congressman said there seemed to be “little urgency to securing his release.”
He said that Ambassador Shear also failed to invite many of the most prominent democracy and human rights activists in Vietnam to the U.S. embassy’s July 4 celebration, despite Rep. Wolf’s urging that he open the embassy to Buddhist monks and nuns, Catholic priests, Protestant pastors and bloggers and democracy activists.
Rep. Wolf said that the ambassador should be replaced by a Vietnamese-American who would not be “tempted to maintain smooth bilateral relations at all costs.”
In recent years Catholics have sought the return of confiscated Church property, but the dispute with the Vietnamese government has sometimes turned violent.
The government has also previously arrested Fr. Nguyen Van Ly, a religious freedom advocate, on charges of spreading anti-communist propaganda.
Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Jul 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI believes that music can help bring different nations and creeds together – as shown by the renowned West-Eastern Divan Orchestra that performed for him to mark St. Benedict’s Day July 11.
“You can imagine how pleased I am to welcome an orchestra like this, that was born from the conviction that, indeed, the experience that music brings people together, beyond every division,” he said, following the July 11 concert in the courtyard of his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.
Music, he observed, “is harmony in differences, as happens every time you begin a concert with the ‘ritual’ of tuning.”
Pope Benedict was joined by Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano in welcoming the youth orchestra under the baton of Daniel Barenboim. The Argentinian-born Jewish conductor co-founded the musical collective in 1999 as a way of uniting young Israeli and Arab musicians from across the Middle East.
The Pope marveled at how “from the multiplicity of sounds from different instruments can emerge a symphony,” and yet, in the “great symphony of peace between peoples, that is never completely accomplished.”
This struggle for human harmony, he noted, had been symbolically played out in the two pieces performed by the orchestra for the gala occasion – Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, known as the Pastoral Symphony, and his more strident Symphony No. 5.
“These two very famous symphonies express two aspects of life: tragedy and peace, the struggle of man against adverse fate and the soothing immersion into the pastoral environment,” Pope Benedict said.
He explained how Beethoven had actually composed the works almost simultaneously, with both being performed together for the first time at a “memorable concert” in Vienna on December 22, 1808.
“The message I want to draw today is this,” said the Pope, drawing to a conclusion.
“We must commit ourselves to achieve peace, leaving aside violence and arms, engaging with personal and communal conversion, with dialogue, with the patience search for possible agreements.”
Following the concert, Daniel Barenboim personally introduced many of the members of his orchestra to Pope Benedict before the pontiff retired for dinner with the Italian president and other guests.
Bangalore, India, Jul 12, 2012 (CNA) -
A human rights group in India says Christianity has brought slow but lasting change to the country's Dalits or “untouchables,” especially for the community's women who are often victims of prostitution and human trafficking.
“The Dalits are told that they are less than animals and we tell them they are not,” non-profit director Jeevaline Kumar told CNA, “because they are made in the likeness of God.”
Kumar – who heads up Operation Mobilisation's Anti-Human Trafficking Project in Bangalore, Karnataka – explained that the simple message that every person created in God's image has transformed the lives of India's Dalits.
“They are crying out for a change now that they know they can live differently,” she said.
At roughly 250 million people, Dalits make up close to one quarter of the country's 1.2 billion member population but, according to the caste system, are seen as inherently impure and worthless.
“It is not normal in our world for how these people are treated,” Kumar said.
Although caste discrimination, not the caste system itself, was technically outlawed in 1950 after India won its independence from Great Britain, law enforcement is still lacking.
Dalit women bear the brunt of caste discrimination, Kumar added, since women are looked upon even more unfavorably in Indian culture as they will need to be married off at the expense of their parents.
“The women are the Dalits of the Dalits,” Kumar said, explaining that many of them are forced into lives of prostitution, cleaning human waste or being aborted as soon as their gender is learned.
Prostitution, either in a brothel or as a temple “devadasi,” is among one of the greatest risks that threaten Dalit girls and women.
Even though the caste system teaches that they are impure, Kumar said that “when it comes to sex, no one thinks of them as untouchable.”
Three million people in India are forced into lives of sex-trafficking, 1.2 million of whom are children and 250,000 of whom are enslaved for “ritualized temple prostitution,”According to the Dalit Freedom Network.
“A little help can change the lives of these girls,” she said.
Her organization, which is just “one of many that works towards the same goal,” is striving to promote the message that “there is value in every human being” by responding to “Jesus' mandate” to “love thy neighbor.”
Her work with the Tarika Institute, a school that trains women who have rescued from prostitution in tailoring, spoken English and computer skills, has been especially inspiring, she said.
“I have known God like never before after I got involved in acts of justice,” she said. “It really brings meaning and fulfillment in anyone's life.”
Recently, Kumar helped organize a graduation ceremony for 106 women who completed courses with the Tarika Institute.
“Many of them have come and tell me, 'We have never been treated like this, we were treated like rubbish before and you honored us on stage,'” she said.
Most of the women Kumar has worked with never had a “proper childhood” due to caste discrimination, but the message of the Gospel “gives them so much dignity and worth,” she said, “they just feel they are regaining their childhood.”
Vatican City, Jul 12, 2012 (CNA) -
At the recent International Catholic Film Festival's award ceremony in Rome, the head of the Vatican's council for culture said movies can aid the task of evangelizing modern society.
At the July 5 awards events at the Vatican Museum’s Octagon Patio, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, noted that films are especially important for telling the world about Catholicism.
Catholics “have a great tradition behind us that represents the Christian faith and the themes and symbols of the biblical narratives,” he told CNA. “And also because they are one of the new means of communication.”
“In one sense, a movie can seem like a biblical passage, which is made up of images and narration,” the cardinal said, adding that films capture in images what Scripture captures in symbols and narration.
“For this reason, there is a kind of solidarity between these means of communication which are distinct, with the written word on the one hand, and the image on the other.”
During the event, the film organization selected actor Andy Garcia to receive its “Silver Fish” award for his portrayal of General Enrique Gorostieta in the film “For Greater Glory.”
The award for best director was given to Spanish director Inmaculada Hoces for her film “Una Cancion.” Antonio Cuadri, another Spanish director, was given the Capax Dei Foundation Award for his film, “Hay mucha gente buena.”
The Best Picture award went to the French film “Churchmen,” directed by Rodolphe Tissot. Best Short Film went to the Israeli film, “On the Road to Tel Aviv,” and Best Documentary went to the film, “Seeking the Seven Keys of Antonio Gaudi,” by Italian director Massimiliano Manservigi.
Last, the Lifetime Achievement award was given to French actor and director Robert Hossein.
Organizers of the International Catholic Film Festival plan to hold events on evangelization through film in Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, and other cities in 2013.
Vatican City, Jul 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The special Commission of Cardinals established by Pope Benedict XVI to investigate the leak of confidential Vatican documents is on the verge of presenting its discoveries.
“It is expected the committee will meet with the Pope next week to present him with the results of their investigation,” said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, adding that “the Pope will then be able to draw his own conclusions.”
The three person committee has been looking into the so-called “Vatileaks” scandal since April when it was tasked by Pope Benedict with undertaking “an authoritative investigation” to “throw light on these episodes.”
The investigating team is led by 82-year-old Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, the former president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. He is being assisted by the 88-year-old Slovakian Cardinal Jozef Tomko and the 81-year-old Italian Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi, the Archbishop Emeritus of Palermo, Sicily.
Since January, the internal governance of the Vatican has been rocked by the continual flow of confidential documents to the media, including letters personally addressed to Pope Benedict.
The only person arrested so far as part of the Vatican police investigation is the Pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele. The 46-year-old Italian was charged on May 26 with the “aggravated theft” of confidential Vatican documents found in his apartment.
Fr. Lombardi confirmed July 12 that Gabriele will likely be detained in the Vatican’s jail “for about another 10 days” while “the information gathering phase” of his case is concluded.
It was presumed that he would be released this week, after 50 days of detention, the maximum permitted under Vatican law. However, Fr. Lombardi explained that an extension of up to another 50 days can be granted.
The Vatican spokesman said Gabriele would “remain in custody for more days despite the 50 day period already being passed” as some things “still need to be sorted out.”
He added that the butler is presently “serene and finds comfort in prayer, and has no psychological or health problems.”
Any potential trial for Gabriele will not take place before this coming October.
Lima, Peru, Jul 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The heroic life of Magdalena Truel Larrabure, a young Catholic woman died at the hands of Nazis during World War II, is the focus of a documentary by film director Luis Enrique Cam.
Born in 1904, Truel grew up in Lima and moved to France, where she eventually joined the country's resistance. She helped to falsify documents in order to save Jews from the concentration camps and to enable soldiers from allied forces to infiltrate the Nazis.
In 1944, Truel was captured and sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany, where she succumbed to a death march near the front lines of the war.
During the final days of her life, she carried a Bible with her that she received from her family. On May 3, 1945, only four days after her death, Germany surrendered to the Allies.
The documentary also features the testimonies of Gonzalo Rosello Truel, a relative of Magdalena Truel; Hugo Coya, a journalist who uncovered the story of Magdalena; and Gustavo Gorriti, a Peruvian reporter of Jewish descent who asked the country of Peru to recognize Magdalena as a “national hero.”
Since May of 2012 the documentary has been presented in various schools and universities in Peru, but the official presentation will take place at the Peruvian Congress on July 17.
On July 14, the documentary will be made available on YouTube, and Peruvian television plans to air it on July 27-29, when the country celebrates its independence.