Archive of July 19, 2012

Google faces criticism over global push for gay advocacy

Krakow, Poland, Jul 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Google's push for the legal recognition of same-sex relationships in countries like Poland has drawn the ire of critics, who suggest the company should address basic human rights violations elsewhere.

“I am afraid that Google can’t distinguish between discrimination, tolerance and promotion,” Fr. Maciej Zieba, the director of Krakow’s Tertio Millennio Institute, told CNA July 17.

“In my opinion, it would be much better if Google with the same zeal will concentrate on violations of human rights in many countries of Asia and Africa where elementary human rights are violated.”

On July 7 in London, Google executive Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe told the Global LGBT Workplace Summit that Google’s Legalize Love Campaign will develop initiatives around the world as part of “a very ambitious piece of work.”

“We want our employees who are gay or lesbian or transgender to have the same experience outside the office as they do in the office,” he said.

The campaign will focus on countries like Poland, which does not recognize homosexual couples, and Singapore, which criminalizes homosexual acts.

A July 8 cache of the company’s diversity home page reads “Google believes that LGBT rights are human rights. We are partnering with organizations around the world to decriminalize homosexuality and eliminate homophobia.”

The internet giant, however, has since modified how it is presenting the campaign. The company's Warsaw office recently hosted politician and homosexual activist Krystian Legierski for “an office-wide talk and discussion lunch on the importance of civil partnership laws.”

The page now has language that echoes Palmer-Edgecumbe’s statement.

Fr. Zieba was struck by Google’s initial use of the language of belief. The promotion of belief, he said, will be “a kind of ‘missionary’ work.”

“But this form of missionary work in the twenty-first century looks anachronistic and to run it from abroad is a symptom of bad taste,” he added.

The priest cited discrimination against women, religious persecution, lack of freedom of speech and persecution of political opposition in other countries as more important causes.

He also rejected the contention that Polish Catholics are bigoted.

“Catholics ought to be against any form of intolerance or discrimination and overwhelming majority of Polish society share this view,” he said, citing “representatives of sexual minorities” in the national parliament and in media.

Polish-American Catholic commentator George Weigel also criticized Google’s campaign, saying it means “nothing good” for the defense of marriage and public morality.

“I don't see why it's any of Google's business how Poland defines marriage, which is defined by nature, not by Internet providers (or governments, for that matter),” he told CNA/EWTN News in a July 14 e-mail.

He said gay activism in Poland has been “the same as elsewhere,” meaning “a tiny minority has successfully sold the false notion that homosexuality is the equivalent of race for purposes of civil rights and human rights law.”

Weigel said that Catholics in Poland and the U.S. should write companies that support homosexual political agendas and express “their opposition to this propaganda.”

The Google initiative cites the company’s work in “Pride celebrations” in U.S. cities and Sao Paolo, Tel Aviv and Warsaw. Its partners include the Human Rights Campaign, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association, and Stonewall.

Guest speakers at the Google Legalize Love Conference included Peter Tatchell, a U.K. activist with a history of anti-Catholic and anti-Christian action. In April 1998 he and other activists disrupted the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Easter Sermon. 

In 2004, he and other activists, using abusive language towards churchgoers and clergy, blocked the entrance to Westminster Cathedral and prevented Catholics from entering Palm Sunday Mass.

He has opposed religious freedom protections for religious agencies, including Christian adoption agencies that wanted to place children only with married couples. The lack of these protections caused the closure of many Catholic adoption agencies in England.

Tatchell also threatened to make a citizen’s arrest of Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the United Kingdom in 2010.

A Google statement said that the campaign aims to “promote safer conditions for gay and lesbian people inside and outside the office in countries with anti-gay laws on the books,” CNN reports.

CNA sought comment from Google but did not receive a response by deadline.

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Evangelical college joins Catholic University in mandate lawsuit

Washington D.C., Jul 19, 2012 (CNA) - A leading evangelical college in Illinois has joined The Catholic University of America in filing a lawsuit in D.C. District Court against the contraception mandate issued under the health care law.

“I think the fact that evangelicals and Catholics are coming together on this issue ought to be a sign to all Americans that something really significant in terms of religious liberty is at stake,” said Dr. Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College.

Ryken explained at a July 18 press call that the college – a Christian liberal arts institution with approximately 2,400 undergraduate students and 600 graduate students – allows its faith to penetrate all aspects of campus life, from hiring decisions to theology to its “community covenant.”

The college opposes both drugs and procedures that cause abortion, he said, and “we should not be coerced to provide these services.”

The lawsuit marks the most recent legal action taken against a federal mandate that will soon require employers and colleges to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and early abortion-causing drugs free of charge.

Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Wheaton College in the case, said that the new suit shows the threat posed by the mandate to people who hold a wide variety of religious beliefs.

He stressed that while most houses of worship are exempt from the mandate, religious institutions such as schools and charitable agencies do not qualify for an exemption because they hire and serve those of other faiths.

Furthermore, he said, the administration’s proposed “accommodation” was never actually put into law and fails to adequately protect religious institutions from involvement in the objectionable coverage.

According to the Becket Fund, Wheaton College’s action marks the first time that a Catholic and evangelical institution have come together in a partnership to oppose the same regulation in court.

John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, also spoke at the press call, saying that he welcomed Wheaton College and was happy to stand in solidarity with his evangelical brothers.

The fact that Protestant colleges are joining in the lawsuits against the mandate shows that the issue is not merely a Catholic one, Garvey said.

Nor is it an issue of contraception, he added, since evangelicals do not morally object to artificial contraception.

Rather, Garvey explained, it is a matter of religious freedom, which properly belongs to people of all faiths.   

Nearly 60 plaintiffs have filed a total of more than 20 lawsuits against the mandate. While a Nebraska judge dismissed one of these lawsuits on July 17, Duncan said that this was the result of a mere technicality and did not affect Wheaton’s legal action at all.

Other plaintiffs in ongoing lawsuits include numerous colleges, dioceses, Catholic Charities agencies and private business owners throughout the country, along with religious media network EWTN and Catholic publishing group Our Sunday Visitor.

In a statement announcing the new lawsuit, Ryken said that “distinctively Christian institutions” such as Wheaton College “are faced with a clear and present threat to our religious liberty.”

“Our first president, the abolitionist Jonathan Blanchard, believed it was imperative to act in defense of freedom,” he said. “In bringing this suit, we act in defense of freedom again.”

Garvey agreed, explaining that “Wheaton’s lawsuit is another sign of how troubling many people of faith find the government’s efforts to chip away at our first freedom.”

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Syrian archbishop laments continued violence

Damascus, Syria, Jul 19, 2012 (CNA) - Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus spoke out against the violent conflict between government and rebel forces in Syria, drawing particular attention to the plight of refugees.

“In this period of mindless violence, our voices are drowned by the long ordeal of the country and by a complexity that is blocking any diplomatic solution.

The country is sinking in sorrow and gratuitous violence and there is still no end in sight, we have been in a protracted conflict for more than sixteen months,” he told Fides news agency.

The archbishop’s comments came before a July 18 bomb attack at a high-level crisis meeting that killed three government leaders, including President Bashar Assad’s brother-in-law and the defense minister.

Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha was the most senior Christian government official in Syria. Syria’s Christians, who make up 10 percent of the population, tend to support the government.

Rebels tend to draw support from the majority Sunni Muslim population.

The rebels claimed responsibility for the bombing. Riad al-Assad, a commander of the various rebel forces, said he hoped that the president would be the next to die, the Associated Press reports.

Archbishop Nassar focused on the non-combatant victims of the ongoing conflict.

“On the streets of Damascus you see people fleeing, there are refugees who, desperate, cross the city in search of a refuge,” he said. “The lack of charity structures, the embargo and the limited resources available do not help to face this emergency and contribute to fuelling anxiety.”

He condemned the “terrible phenomenon” of kidnapping people for ransom, saying unemployment and insecurity have encouraged the practice.

Victims are often abducted from school and work, he said.

“One should see the panic and anxiety of families struggling to collect from relatives, neighbors, friends and parishes a sum of money sufficient to save a kidnapped son, brother or father,” he continued. “This horrible practice paralyzes social life.”

He noted a weakening of faith, with children no longer attending catechism classes and adults no longer taking part in pastoral activities.

“Many Christian families, terrified, think only about how to leave the country.”

He said that people “suffer, hope, escape, pray” and remember the Martyrs of Damascus, three brothers martyred in a Turkish persecution in 1860. They were commemorated on July 10.

The United Nations Security Council was scheduled to vote on a new Syria resolution on Wednesday but delayed it until Thursday to try to secure an agreement on measures to end the violence, the Associated Press says.

Russia, a close ally of Syria,  is strongly opposed to sanctions and any mention of the use of force to end the conflict.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has accused the West of inciting Syria’s opposition, which is widely perceived to be too disorganized to take over.

The Obama administration is pushing for a change of government in the country and has put new financial sanctions on the government.

The Syrian government’s supporters include Iran and Hezbollah and Palestinian militant groups. Some factions of the Syrian rebels include al-Qaida-linked militant Islamic groups who have conducted what Aid to the Church in Need called “ongoing ethnic cleansing” of Christians in cities like Homs.

On July 14 Franciscan Fr. Romualdo Fernandez, Director of the Ecumenical Centre of Tabbaleh, told Fides that if foreign powers continue to arm and finance the warring parties “the war will continue and victims will increase.”

The armed revolt against President Assad began in March 2011. It has claimed over 10,000 lives.

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Our Sunday Visitor becomes English distributor for Vatican newspaper

Huntington, Ind., Jul 19, 2012 (CNA) - The world's largest English-language Catholic publisher, Our Sunday Visitor, has reached an exclusive deal to distribute a translated edition of the official Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.

Greg Erlandson, Our Sunday Visitor's president and publisher, said the partnership “works well for both entities,” allowing the Indiana-based publishing house “to expand on our mission to serve the Church in a very direct way and assist the Vatican in its mission at the same time.”

The Vatican will be able “to take full advantage of our leadership position as one of the largest publishing and distribution houses in the United States,” Erlandson noted in a July 16 announcement.

Our Sunday Visitor will start its distribution of L'Osservatore Romano in August. Under the agreement, the publisher will also provide customer service and marketing support for the Vatican newspaper.

Published 50 times a year, L'Osservatore Romano is known for its coverage of papal events and speeches and other developments in the Church, with special sections devoted to the Pope's foreign travels. It also publishes commentary on culture and current events.

Founded in 1912 by Father (later Archbishop) John Francis Noll, Our Sunday Visitor publishes a range of periodicals including OSV Newsweekly. Its catalogue of over 1,700 Catholic books, pamphlets, and textbooks includes several titles by Pope Benedict XVI.

During 2012, Our Sunday Visitor is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Erlandson said the arrangement with the Vatican newspaper was in keeping with Archbishop Noll's mission, helping people “to see what is real and important in this life, and how it will connect them to the next.”

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Pius X Society keeps Vatican guessing on reunification offer

Vatican City, Jul 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Society of St. Pius X have published their declaration or “road map” for normalizing their status with the Catholic Church, without making clear if they accept or reject the Vatican’s current offer of re-unification.

“While it has been made public, the declaration remains primarily an internal document for study and discussion among the members of the Society,” a July 19 Vatican statement says.

“The Holy See has taken note of this declaration, but awaits the forthcoming official communication of the Priestly Society as their dialogue with the Pontifical Commission ‘Ecclesia Dei’ continues.”

The declaration was sent to the Vatican after being drafted by the society’s General Chapter July 9-14. The gathering in Switzerland brought together the 40 most senior figures in the organization to discuss the Vatican’s present suggestion for healing the breakaway traditionalist group’s 24-year rift with Rome.

The current offer would give the society the status of a personal prelature within the Catholic Church in return for it agreeing to certain doctrinal matters including, it is presumed, the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

The declaration said the general chapter was “marked by frank exchanges of views and by a very fruitful common work” that helped “to overcome the difficulties which the Society has encountered in recent times” and assisted it in recovering a “profound unity.”

In a hint towards re-unification, the society’s statement notes that “paramount duty” of the group is to “profess the Catholic Faith in all its purity and integrity,” and that this is “the service which it intends to offer to the Church.”

It also states that the general chapter “determined and approved the necessary conditions for an eventual canonical normalization” without making explicit what these conditions are.

“We have decided that, in that case, an extraordinary Chapter with deliberative vote will be convened beforehand,” the declaration adds.

The document re-affirms the society’s faith in the Catholic Church “founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ, outside of which there is no salvation” and in the “supreme power of government” within the Church that belongs to the Pope, “Vicar of Christ on earth.”

It is scathing, however, towards “all the novelties” of the Second Vatican Council “which remain tainted with errors, and also in regard to the reforms issued from it.”

And in a further provocative comment, the society says it waits for the day “when an open and serious debate will be possible which may allow the return to Tradition of the ecclesiastical authorities.”

The Society of St. Pius X was founded in 1970 by the Frenchman Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in response to errors he believed had crept into the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council.

The society has had a strained relationship with the Church since its founder ordained four bishops against the will of Pope John Paul II in 1988.

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Marian celebration draws hundreds of thousands to Argentina

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jul 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Some 300,000 people participated in the 112th anniversary of the Pontifical Coronation of Our Lady of Itati, the patroness of the province of Corrientes in Argentina.

A Mass in honor of the Our Lady if Itati was celebrated on July 16 by Archbishop Andres Stanovnik of Corrientes.

During his homily, Archbishop Stanovnik underscored Mary’s virtue in serving others, and stressed the importance of following her example, especially in family life.

“The evangelist notes that Mary went with haste, which reflects her interior disposition towards service,” the archbishop said. “The Church aspires to promote citizens who are more responsible in their obligations and more conscious of their rights.”

The devotion to Our Lady of Itati has its origins in the account of Spanish Jesuit missionary and a group of locals who converted to the Catholic faith, who were saved from an attack by another tribe after they prayed the rosary.

According to the story, a passage was opened through Yaguari River and the people of Itati were saved due to the intercession of the Blessed Mother.

On July 16, 1900, at the doors of the Shrine of the Most Holy Cross of the Miracles in Corrientes, Our Lady of Itati was crowned by Bishop Rosendo de la Lastra y Gordillo, on behalf of Pope Leo XIII, before all the bishops of Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, and a multitude of the faithful.

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Hearing outlines forced marriages, conversions in Egypt

Washington D.C., Jul 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A recent hearing in the nation's capital drew attention to the growing accounts of Coptic women in Egypt being kidnapped and forced to marry and convert to Islam against their will.  

Nearly a year and half since the country's revolution, Egypt remains in the “fires of transition,” where “order seems to hang by a thread,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J), chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

On July 18, the commission – also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission – held a hearing on increasing accounts of abduction, forced conversion and coerced marriage among young Coptic women in Egypt.

Witnesses warned that the violent actions, as well as the government’s failure to acknowledge and address them, could have grave consequences on the future of democracy and human rights in the country.

The urged the U.S. and the entire international community to stand up on behalf of the Coptic women who are victims of these crimes.

Michele Clark, adjunct professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, testified at the hearing, presenting the findings of a new report that she co-authored on the subject.

While exact numbers are difficult to pinpoint, attorneys interviewed for the report said that disappearance and abductions cases have been increasing in recent months, with one attorney referring to nearly 1,000 women petitioning in recent years to have their Christian identities restored.

As the number of abdications seems to be rising, it appears that fewer young women are returning to their families, the attorneys added. While there is speculation that they may be trafficked overseas, this possibility has not yet been confirmed.

The individuals interviewed also said that the disappearances are the result of “organized and systematic planning.” They often involve attempts to befriend victims, or else use force and fraud.

Abductors target vulnerable young Coptic women, members of a religious minority who come from “closed, insular communities,” Clark said. They physically separate these women from their families and proceed to abuse, threaten and brainwash them.

Clark called for local police in Egypt to investigate and report all disappearance claims and for the national government to keep a registry documenting disappearances.

Furthermore, she said, children of parents who convert should retain their birth religion until age 18, which is the legal age of consent in Egypt.

She asked the Coptic Church to maintain a registry documenting disappearances, abductions, forced marriages and conversions among Coptic women, as well as to educate its members about these threats.

Clark recommended that a legal defense fund be established to help Coptic families in need of an attorney. She also called on international organizations to acknowledge the significance of the problem and stop referring to the disappearances as mere “allegations.”

Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, who chairs the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, also testified at the hearing, discussing the commission’s ongoing concerns about the state of religious freedom within the country.

For years, religious freedom conditions in Egypt “have been extremely problematic,” she said, explaining that the nation’s transitional government “continues to engage in and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”   
Despite some “hopeful developments” in recent months, “Copts and other religious minorities aren’t being sufficiently protected,” she warned.

In the last year alone, sectarian violence has left some 100 people dead, she observed.

On behalf of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Lantos Swett recommend that the U.S. government “take strong action in support of religious freedom” by working to urge Egypt to include “robust” constitutional protections for religious freedom, to remove discriminatory decrees and to prosecute crimes against religious minorities.

“Copts must be protected - along with every other member of Egyptian society - from attacks on their right to order their lives and practice their beliefs in dignity and peace,” she said.

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