Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Aug 31, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The annual gathering of Pope Benedict’s former students has begun at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo and is examining the ecumenical dialogue the Catholic Church has with Lutherans and Anglicans.
“The fact that the Holy Father has chosen this theme for the meeting this year is a sign that the ecumenical question is of primary importance for him,” said participant Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna in an Aug. 30 interview with Vatican Radio.
“I think this is already a first essential concept, within the context of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, it is a strong sign that the Holy Father insists on the importance of these meetings between separated Christians.”
The “Ratzinger Schülerkreis,” or Ratzinger Student Circle, has taken place every summer since 1977 and draws together those who defended their doctoral theses with the present Pope during his years teaching theology at various universities in Germany.
Last year, for the first time ever, the numbers also included those who have written their doctrinal theses on texts by Joseph Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI. With the addition of those students, the number of those participating in the 3 days of closed-door seminars increased to approximately 40.
“It is an academic circle, and this means that what counts are the arguments,” said Cardinal Schönborn. “Of course there is the question of friendships that have been built up after so many years, we have met for over 30 years, every year, and now we are almost at the point of retirement!”
A key component of the annual get together is, of course, the involvement of Pope Benedict himself. Cardinal Schönborn said the Pope’s disposition throughout is not merely academic but also “paternal” and “fraternal” towards his former students.
“What strikes us is how the Holy Father always knows his pupils, he always asks about their family, children, and when there is suffering in a family he knows about it, he cares deeply,” the Austrian cardinal said.
The basis for much of the group’s studies this week will be Cardinal Walter Kasper’s 2009 book “Harvesting the Fruits,” which explores Catholic relations with Anglicanism and Lutheranism.
The discussion on Lutheranism will be led by the German Lutheran Bishop-Emeritus Ulrich Wilckens, while the Swiss Catholic Bishop Charles Morerod of Geneva, Lausanne and Fribourg will lead the discussion on Anglicanism.
“With the Holy Father, we expect a dialogue in truth and charity: in the truth that does not conceal the drama of division among Christians in Europe and, as a consequence, all over the world, but also the great issue of what is the reform of the Church, a theme of utmost importance to the Holy Father,” Cardinal Schönborn remarked.
Pope Benedict’s 26-year academic career involved him teaching at universities in Bonn, Munster, Tubingen and Regensburg. He was appointed as Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977.
Tampa, Fla., Aug 31, 2012 (CNA) - Jim Nicholson, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, thinks that the Catholic vote remains an important force in modern politics and that more Catholics than in the past will vote for Romney and the Republican Party in the upcoming election.
“The Catholic vote is very relevant,” Nicholson told CNA on Aug. 29, “because there is a large number of Catholics” in the United States. The country currently has 55.6 million voting age Catholics and in swing states they make up 19 percent of the electorate, according to Georgetown's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.
Nicholson, who has also served as U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Chairman of the Republican National Committee, explained that the U.S. has one of the largest Catholic populations in the world.
But, he qualified, the “Catholic vote is not a monolith.” And while “Catholics are traditionally Democrat,” Nicholson says that is changing.
He observed that Church leaders are strongly “imploring the people to look at the values espoused by the candidates for office and see how they align with Catholic values.”
“And in the case of the president, they don’t align at all,” he said. “There’s a mal-alignment.”
Nicholson predicted that there will be “a lot more Catholics voting for Governor Romney this election than you’ve seen vote Republican recently.”
In recent months, Church leaders in the U.S. have clashed sharply with the Obama administration over a federal mandate that requires employers to offer health insurance covering contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
Bishops from every diocese in the U.S. have spoken out against the mandate and the threat it poses to religious freedom. Dozens of colleges, hospitals and private businesses have brought lawsuits against the administration challenging the mandate.
Nicholson said that he was “heartened” by the political and religious diversity of those who have objected to the mandate and by “the intensity of the resistance of the Catholic bishops,” who have “really locked arms together in unanimity in their opposition to this.”
“And so have the leaders of many other religious institutions,” he added, pointing to Muslim, Jewish and Protestant groups and individuals who have joined with Catholics in protesting the mandate. This unity indicates the importance of the issue, he said.
“It’s all about the freedom of religion, the freedom of conscience, which is the first freedom in the Bill of Rights,” he noted.
Nicholson believes that the battle over the mandate “is far from over.”
“It’s a very egregious, unprecedented invasion of the freedom of the American people under our constitution,” he said.
“It’s not about birth control. It’s not about contraceptives,” he added. “It’s about freedom. It’s about a principle.”
No matter what the outcome of the election is, Nicholson believes that religious liberty will continue to be an important issue for the U.S. Church in the coming years.
Church leaders will be vigilant in watching for possible threats to religious freedom, realizing that this fundamental liberty cannot be taken for granted, he said.
“Some things you wouldn’t think imaginable a few years ago are now happening,” he explained, pointing to the recent Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC Supreme Court case, in which the Obama administration tried to impose upon a church's right to determine its own ministers.
“And the Supreme Court knocked that down, 9-0, which was encouraging,” he said. “But now we have these mandates that have come right on the heels of that.”
Nicholson said that he was “proud” of the Republican Party's recent decision to adopt a plank on religious liberty into its official 2012 platform. He explained that the move is an “affirmation of the importance of religious freedom.”
“That shouldn’t even be controversial, but that’s where we are,” he said. “And that’s why it’s so important that people dig in their heels and start taking this stuff seriously.”
Austin, Texas, Aug 31, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - An official inquiry at the University of Texas at Austin has rejected charges of scientific misconduct which a homosexual activist leveled against sociology professor Mark Regnerus after he published a study that found negative life outcomes among children of parents who had had same-sex relationships.
Robert A. Peterson, the university’s research integrity officer, said he “carefully reviewed” all available data, materials and information and discussed the process with other inquiry panel members.
“I have concluded that Professor Regnerus did not commit scientific misconduct,” he said in an Aug. 24 memorandum to university officials.
Regnerus’ research drew on data from the New Family Structures Study which examined life outcomes of 3,000 Americans age 18 to 39.
He found that households led by parents of either sex who engaged in same-sex relationships also showed greater household instability.
There were “statistically significant” differences in 25 of 40 life outcomes between adult children who grew up with married, opposite-sex parents and those who grew up with a mother who had a same-sex relationship.
Children from same-sex female households showed more physical and mental health problems, more instability in romantic relationships, and lower average income as adults. They also showed higher levels of unemployment, smoking, need for public assistance and involvement in crime.
Activist and blogger Scott Rose had charged Regnerus with ethical violations in a June 21 letter to University of Texas President Bill Powers. University officials interviewed Rose about his charges.
Peterson’s review found no justification for the charges.
“None of the allegations of scientific misconduct put forth by Mr. Rose were substantiated either by physical data, written materials, or by information provided during the interviews,” he said. “Several of the allegations were expressly beyond the purview of the inquiry.
He said that Rose believed Regnerus’ research to be “seriously flawed” and Rose “inferred that there must be scientific misconduct.”
“However, there is no evidence to support that inference,” Peterson said.
He added that any problems in Regnerus’ research and analysis should be left to academic debates and future research.
David Hacker, senior counsel with the religious liberty group Alliance Defending Freedom, praised the inquiry’s outcome.
“America’s universities should always serve as truth-seeking, free marketplaces of ideas,” he said Aug. 29. “Disagreeing with a study’s conclusions is not grounds for allegations of scientific misconduct; therefore, we are not surprised that those accusations were found to be baseless.”
The inquiry involved significant time and effort. All data on Regnerus’ computers, including e-mail and documents, were sequestered. The inquiry officials obtained his grant applications and correspondence. The university created a panel of senior faculty members to advise the inquiry process and the university retained an experienced independent consultant to monitor the inquiry.
Inquiry officials interviewed both Regnerus and Rose. The interviews were recorded and transcribed by a court reporter, Peterson’s memo said.
University provost and vice president Steven W. Leslie said in an Aug. 28 memo that he accepted Peterson’s conclusion that there was no evidence of misconduct.
“Consequently, this matter is closed,” Leslie said.
Regnerus’ initial report on his findings drew swift reaction from homosexual advocates critical of his findings. The Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation criticized the researcher’s report.
A group of 18 social scientists signed a statement in support of Regnerus in June. They said his research is “not without limitations” but they thought much of the criticism of him was “unwarranted.”
In a June 12 interview with EWTN News, Regnerus said he began his project with “no idea what the data would reveal.”
In his June announcement of the paper, the professor 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.”
San José, Costa Rica, Aug 31, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The bishops of Costa Rica have sharply criticized a sex-education curriculum recently approved by the government for promoting a “hedonistic” and ideological view of sexuality.
In an Aug. 27 statement, the bishops said the material's “insistence” on neutralizing gender and pushing “sexual diversity” is “so repetitive that...it's more about propaganda than education.”
They also noted that the proposed sex-ed program – slated to go into effect in the country in 2013 – lacks a comprehensive approach by ignoring the spiritual dimension of students, most of whom say they are Catholics.
The bishops charged that the curriculum's supposed “fair solution” of allowing parents to decide whether or not to allow their children to attend is insufficient, noting that if “the program in itself is biased and morally and dangerous, it is so for all.”
In contrast, the “Christian vision of sexuality could not be more positive,” the bishops stated.
“It is a gift from God our Creator, and the human person, when using it correctly, is called to be like God, inasmuch as sexuality is meant by God to be a ‘language of love’ above all, and a means of producing life as well.
“Love cannot be separated from life. Every person is called to fullness through self-donation in love,” they noted.
The bishops urged officials to reconsider the proposed program and implement changes that will ensure students receive a truly comprehensive and healthy sexual education.
Mexico City, Mexico, Aug 31, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Cardinal Norberto Rivera of Mexico City launched the upcoming pastoral school year by urging teachers and ministry leaders to humbly evangelize in every place where God has called them to be.
“This Word of God takes us on the path of humility,” Cardinal Rivera said at an Aug. 29 Mass at the local Basilica of Guadalupe.
During his homily, the cardinal noted that pastors and teachers should not make themselves “the focal point,” but rather be “recognized as the ones Christ has chosen, despite our shortcomings and weaknesses, to lead his Church.”
The Pastoral School was created 37 years ago in the Archdiocese of Mexico and is now present in 58 dioceses in the country. Its work is to train Catholic adults to be evangelizers in their families, parishes and all areas of daily life.
Vatican City, Aug 31, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican is refusing to confirm or deny reports that it has once again been subject to a cyber attack by hostile hackers.
“No comment,” said a two-word Aug. 31 statement from the Vatican Press Office in response to an inquiry from CNA.
According to an Aug 29 report from FOX Business, the Vatican discovered this week that it had been victim to “a sophisticated and targeted cyber attack.”
The internet security firm Radware issued a threat alert on Aug. 28, stating that a new Trojan malware – short for “malicious software” – was being used for the first time against one of its customers.
A confidential source told Fox Business that the victim of the attack was the Vatican and claimed that “the tool was quite sophisticated, apparently focused and, until now, stealthy.”
Radware’s incident report describes the malware as a “newly found Trojan” that “monitors keystrokes on the victim’s computer, collects user passwords, credit card numbers and other sensitive information.” Once collected, the malware then “sends all the stolen data out of the organization to the attackers’ remote servers” using secured connections.
Earlier this year the Vatican was subject to a cyber attack by the loose-knit group of hackers known as Anonymous. Those responsible claimed they were acting against “the doctrines, liturgies and absurd and outdated precepts” of the Catholic Church. The attack, however, was repelled.
Radware, which is headquartered in Tel Aviv, Israel, says they were also called in to assist the Vatican on that occasion.
Westchester, N.Y., Aug 31, 2012 (CNA) - Father Benedict Groeschel and the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal have apologized for his comments that appeared to blame sex abuse victims for their abuse while excusing their abusers, with his religious order calling the remarks “completely out of character.”
“I did not intend to blame the victim,” Fr. Groeschel said in an apology posted on the National Catholic Register website. “A priest (or anyone else) who abuses a minor is always wrong and is always responsible.”
“My mind and my way of expressing myself are not as clear as they used to be. I have spent my life trying to help others the best that I could. I deeply regret any harm I have caused to anyone.”
Fr. Groeschel, who has hosted television shows on EWTN and has authored numerous books, discussed sexual abuse in part of a National Catholic Register interview published Aug. 27. He said that when people think of sexual abusers they have a picture in their minds of “a psychopath.”
“But that's not the case,” he said. “Suppose you have a man having a nervous breakdown, and a youngster comes after him. A lot of the cases, the youngster -- 14, 16, 18 -- is the seducer.”
“It's not so hard to see — a kid looking for a father and didn't have his own — and they won't be planning to get into heavy-duty sex, but almost romantic, embracing, kissing, perhaps sleeping, but not having intercourse or anything like that,” he said.
Fr. Groeschel said he was inclined to think that abusers on their first offense should not go to jail “because their intention was not committing a crime.”
The Westchester, New York-based Catholic priest has a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University and has taught seminars at the Institute for Psychological Sciences, a Virginia-based Catholic graduate school. He is the founder of the 25-year-old religious order the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.
The Archdiocese of New York on Aug. 30 said it “completely disassociates itself” from Fr. Groeschel’s comments, calling them “simply wrong.”
“Although he is not a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, what Father Groeschel said cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged. The sexual abuse of a minor is a crime, and whoever commits that crime deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The archdiocese said it is “terribly wrong” and “extremely painful” to victims to assert that an abuse victim is responsible for the harm they received.
“To all those who are hurting because of sexual abuse or because of these comments, please know that you have our profound sympathy and our prayers,” the archdiocese said.
The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal apologized for Fr. Groeschel’s “inappropriate and untrue” comments.
“A child is never responsible for abuse. Any abuser of a child is always responsible, especially a priest. Sexual abuse of a minor is a terrible crime and should always be treated as such.”
The Friars said the priest “never intended to excuse abuse or implicate the victims.” The order noted that Fr. Groeschel is in “declining health” and unable to care for himself, citing the 2004 accident in which a car struck him and left him comatose for a month.
“Although these factors do not excuse his comments, they help us understand how such a compassionate man could have said something so wrong, so insensitive, and so out of character.”
The friars promised prayers for those hurt by Fr. Groeschel’s comments, especially sexual abuse victims.
Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said it is “scurrilous” to label Fr. Groeschel a defender of sexual abuse. He pointed to other comments in the interview where the priest said that sexually abusive priests “have to leave.”
The Catholic League head noted the priest’s “impressive record” in counseling “some of the most mentally and socially challenged people in our society” and in screening men for the priesthood.
However, Donohue said Fr. Groeschel’s car accident has “definitely taken a toll on him.”
“I’ve read his books, listened to his tapes—on sexual abuse—and have come to know a great priest,” Donohue said Aug. 30. “To condemn him for one part of one interview is wholly unjust.”
The National Catholic Register pulled the interview from its website. Editor-in-Chief Jeanette De Melo apologized for publishing his comments “without clarification or challenge.”
“Given Father Benedict's stellar history over many years, we released his interview without our usual screening and oversight,” she said.
“Child sexual abuse is never excusable.”
Vatican City, Aug 31, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The world’s fastest man, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, has been invited to address a Vatican conference on religious liberty.
“We look for a most fundamental common ground among different religions,” conference organizer Giovanna Abbiati told CNA Aug. 31. “Most of all we’d like to focus on the absolute value of religious freedom as a human right.”
The TEDx Via della Conciliazione conference will be held in Rome on April 19, 2013, and will focus on the theme “Religious freedom today.” It is being coordinated under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for Culture’s “Courtyard of the Gentiles” outreach, which aims to create a “dialogue between believers and non-believers.”
Those already confirmed as participants are drawn from the worlds of sport, music, culture and academia, including Vlade Divac, the former NBA basketball player; Gloria Estefan, the Cuban-born American pop singer; and the Japanese architect Etsuro Sotoo.
It is the invitation of Bolt, however, that has made the headlines. The 26-year-old recently won three gold medals at the London Olympics. As a Catholic, Bolt is known for making the Sign of the Cross before racing competitively. He also bears the middle name Saint Leo.
Among the other sporting personalities invited to participate is the Ivory Coast soccer star Didier Drogba. However, the NFL quarterback and Evangelical Christian Tim Tebow has already informed organizers that he will not be able to attend.
“I am thrilled to hear art and beauty placed side by side with physical excellence,” said art historian and fellow participant Elizabeth Lev told CNA.
“The Greeks knew athletic prowess was a gift from the heavens, and needed to be cultivated and appreciated as such. Artistic talent, also God-given, was used in the ancient world to produce the stunning sculptures we admire today in the Vatican Museums, from the discus thrower to the heroic amazons,” said Lev, who also works at the Vatican Museums.
She said she is “very much looking forward” to “promoting a modern conversation about art, faith and athletic achievement” in the same way that the early Christian community “extolled those same qualities in their saints and spirituality.”
The TED – Technology, Entertainment and Design – initiative was founded in California in 1984 to disseminate “ideas worth sharing.” It allows speakers 18 minutes to state their case in whatever way they choose. Due to modern technology, many of the presentations have become online hits.
The addition of “x” to the event’s name means that it is being self-organized at the local level and is not being coordinated by TED.
“By hosting a TEDx in Vatican State we want to spread the message of peace, and (highlight) that religious freedom constitutes a very important dimension of a culture of peace,” said organizer Abbiati.
The website for the event can be found at http://www.tedxviadellaconciliazione.com.
Tampa, Fla., Aug 31, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that America’s backbone of family, community and faith will be reinforced by initiatives to boost the economy and ease unemployment.
“My promise is to help you and your family,” the former Massachusetts governor said as he formally accepted his party’s nomination for president.
Romney’s Aug. 30 address concluded the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. His speech dealt largely with the poor economy and high national rates of unemployment, while also touching on the importance of families and local communities, as well as his Mormon faith.
Americans are not better off now than they were when President Obama took office, Romney argued, pointing to high levels of poverty and unemployment as an indication that the president’s policies have been unsuccessful.
He criticized Obama for turning to government as the solution to the nation’s problems, such as the current job crisis, saying that “the bedrock of what makes America” is not found in government but in families, local communities and faith.
“The strength and power and goodness of America has always been based on the strength and power and goodness of our communities, our families, our faiths,” he said.
Romney's speech was preceded by comments from several individuals who knew him during his time as an unpaid lay pastor for his Mormon church. They recalled how he donated up to 20 hours of his time per week to help out with volunteer projects and aid those in the community struggling with unemployment, illness and family problems.
One couple described how Romney regularly visited their 14-year-old son in the hospital after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. Romney cheered the boy up by buying him fireworks and ultimately helped him write his will, touching his life so profoundly that the boy requested that he deliver the eulogy at his funeral.
Reflecting on his own life, Romney recounted how his church community greeted him when he moved to a new city and how he later found joy in welcoming and helping out other members who were in need.
He also stressed the importance of family as he described the love that he experienced from his parents growing up and the love that he now shares with his wife and five sons.
“All the laws and legislation in the world will never heal this world like the loving hearts and arms of mothers and fathers,” he said.
Romney also touched on religious liberty – which has become a key issue in the presidential campaign – by saying that the freedom of religion helps make up “the essence of the American experience.”
“As president, I will protect the sanctity of life. I will honor the institution of marriage. And I will guarantee America's first liberty: the freedom of religion,” he said.
The GOP candidate also defended his business success -- explaining that it had given him valuable experience -- and touted his support for women on his staff as governor and in business.
He said that he would begin his presidency with “a jobs tour” and vowed that he would not raise taxes on the middle class. He also called for president’s health care overhaul, the Affordable Care Act, to be repealed and replaced.
Focusing on the national problem of unemployment, Romney presented a five-point plan to create 12 million new jobs.
The Romney plan involves energy independence by 2020, greater school choice to give children the skills they need for available jobs, building and enforcing new trade agreements, cutting the deficit and moving towards a balance budget, and promoting job growth through small businesses by reducing taxes on them and modernizing regulations.
Romney capped off his speech by highlighting the American potential for achievement and pledging to work with all his “energy and soul” to restore America as a nation and build “a better future.”
Milan, Italy, Aug 31, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the Archbishop Emeritus of Milan, Italy, died today at the age of 85 after a long battle with Parkinson's Disease.
Known for his expertise in Biblical studies, Cardinal Martini was being treated at a Jesuit-run clinic in the city of Gallarte, near Milan. He died at 3:45 p.m. local time, after his condition took a turn for the worse yesterday evening.
Dr. Gianni Pezzoli, a specialist in neurology who led the team of doctors treating the cardinal, said he recently began experiencing difficulties with digestion but that Cardinal Martini remained alert until the end and refused any extraordinary treatments.
The current Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Angelo Scola, urged the residents of his archdiocese to pray for the late cardinal.
Cardinal Martini was born on Feb. 15, 1927, in Turin and entered the Jesuit Order in 1944. He was ordained a priest in 1952 in Chieri and was named Archbishop of Milan in 1979.
He served as archbishop for 20 years, promoting biblical studies and dialogue with renowned intellectuals in the city. On Feb. 2, 1983, he was made a cardinal by Blessed Pope John Paul II.
Cardinal Martini held a doctorate in Theology and Sacred Scripture and served as rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute and the Gregorian Pontifical University.
He wrote various books on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, such as “The Ignatian Exercises in Light of the Gospel of St. John,” “The Spiritual Itinerary of the Twelve in the Gospel of St. Marcos,” and “The Ignatian Exercises in Light of the Gospel of St. Matthew,” among others.
In October of 1999, he was given an honorary doctorate by the Russian Academy of Sciences. In 2000 he was given the Prince of Asturias Award for the Social Sciences. He also received the Europe Award in 2000 and had been a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences since November of 2000.
The late cardinal was a member various curial offices, including the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and the Congregation for Catholic Education.
He was also a member of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Commission for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church.
After reaching the age of 75 in 2002, he retired as Archbishop of Milan and moved to Jerusalem to devote himself to the study of Sacred Scripture and to continue writing about the Bible. In recent years he maintained contact with the faithful through a question and answer column in the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera.