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Archive of September 12, 2012

Young actor says new movie will inspire religious freedom

Phoenix, Ariz., Sep 12, 2012 (CNA) - The new movie “Last Ounce of Courage” is a statement calling on people to “stand up for their rights and defend their religious freedom,” says a young Catholic actor with a large role in the film.

Hunter Gomez, a 21-year-old actor from Arizona, said the family film is about faith and urges Americans to not “be complacent anymore,” he told CNA Sept. 11.

Gomez plays the role of Christian Revere, grandson of the movie’s main character Bob Revere, who is played by Marshall Teague. Christian finds himself rebuked for bringing a Bible to school and sees Christmas being ignored or secularized in a town where it was once celebrated by locals.

“He comes home and he feels like his rights are being stepped on,” Gomez summarized. “He can’t put a cross wherever he wants or bring a Bible to school or read a Bible in public.”

Christian, whose father died in war, asks his grandfather, the town’s part-time mayor, what his father died for. The question prompts the Revere family to decide to stand for their beliefs and inspire their town.

Gomez said the movie is about supporting all faiths, not just Christianity. He said it has been “very well received” and is not a partisan film.

“It has no political agenda. It’s simply about standing up for your rights and becoming involved in political discussion.”

Gomez is presently a student at Arizona State University. His home parish is the Catholic Community of the Blessed Sacrament in Scottsdale, Ariz.

He said he feels free to speak about his faith in daily life. “But you have to be careful,” he said. “You can’t say certain things.”

He said there is a “misconception” that those who are vocal about their faith, especially Catholics, “can come across as a bigot or someone that is deemed by the public as crazy.”

“I think we should be able to live in a society where especially young people can be expressive and excited about their faith and say ‘I’m a Christian’ and not have to hide that.”

Gomez advised Americans to “directly confront” social pressures to conceal their faith through discussion and dialogue.

The “Last Ounce of Courage” movie runs special screenings on Sept. 11 and opens nationwide Sept. 14.

More information about the movie is available at the website www.alrcnewskitchen.com/looc.

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Former Komen executive reveals Planned Parenthood backlash in new book

Denver, Colo., Sep 12, 2012 (CNA) - In her new book, Karen Handel relays the story behind the “aggressive” and “partisan” attacks from Planned Parenthood following the breast cancer charity's announcement to cut grant funding.

Handel told CNA that when Komen for the Cure announced Feb. 1 that it had decided to restructure funds to Planned Parenthood, the charity “was trying to make a common sense business decision.”

However, what followed was what Komen's former Vice President of Public Policy called “a massive premeditated attack on a breast cancer organization” by Planned Parenthood.

In a Sept. 7 interview, Handel outlined her new book “Planned Bullyhood: The Truth about the Funding Battle with Susan G. Komen for the Cure,” which was released Sept. 11 from Howard Books.

When the announcement was made earlier this year, Planned Parenthood had received funds from the organization for breast-cancer education and screening, but not actual mammograms.

Komen decided that they needed to move away from “pass-through grants” or grants that would be used by one organization to pass along to another, such as was the case with Planned Parenthood in its outsourcing for mammograms. The charity also wanted to pull funding from any organization undergoing investigation, which included Planned Parenthood.

But on Feb. 3, founder and CEO of Komen for the Cure, Nancy Brinker, apologized to “the American public” for the original decision and said she did not want her charity “marred or affected by politics.”

Handel said that at the time, Planned Parenthood and its president Cecile Richards “tried to portray themselves as victims when, in reality, they were the big bullies in all of this.”

The outcry following the announcement to cut funding, which was $680 thousand last year and $580 thousand the year before, “was not about money” for Planned Parenthood, but about “making a point.”

“Making a point that organizations were going to do what (Planned Parenthood) said or they would pay,” Handel said. “And they exacted a high price from Komen.”

“What I find so despicable about it is that, while Planned Parenthood is trying to claim that they are all about women, they had no qualms about trying to destroy an organization that is truly about saving women,” Handel said.

Handel believes Komen should have “stayed the course” in their decision, which was “never about anything but the best interests of women.”

“In capitulating to the political outcry,” of Planned Parenthood, however, she said the decision “became about politics.”

Handel decided to step down from her position at Komen “out of fairness to the organization” when she realized that Planned Parenthood would “not rest until I wasn't there.”

“I knew that I had to leave,” she said. “And that decision was made the moment Komen capitulated.”

Although many media sources reported on the surge in donations to Planned Parenthood following Komen's announcement, most failed to mention the significant increase to the breast cancer charity in wake of their grant restructuring announcement.

“I can't really talk about the number because, as a (former) member of senior management, that is something I would consider proprietary to Komen,” Handel said, “but I can tell you their contributions did go up dramatically in those three days.”

Handel said she hopes her book will highlight the amount of tax dollars that fund the nation's largest  abortion provider, as well as the organization's political dealings.

“The average person,” Handel said, “does not know that it is nearly $1.5 million a day,” that goes to Planned Parenthood from “our tax dollars”.

Similarly, Handel said prior to her involvement with Komen, she “had absolutely no idea” how much time and money Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards has spent in “the political arena.”

Richards has been an avid supporter of President Obama and his Affordable Care Act which would require employers to purchase insurance that covers abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and birth control even if doing so violates their consciences.

In a Sept. 5 blog entry for The Huffington Post, Richards championed the president as having  “done more to advance women's health than any president in history,” which is “why we're fighting for him in this election.”

Handel said such a strong presence in politics is inappropriate for an organization that receives approximately $500 million a year in federal funding.

“I would submit that for an organization that is using government funding,” Handel said, “to be so blatantly involved in politics is something that we should all have real concerns about.”

Planned Parenthood has been the subject of a federal investigation headed by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) since last year. The investigation was launched after the pro-life group Americans United for Life issued a report indicating financial irregularities and involvement in assisting those involved in sex-trafficking and prostitution.

“Ultimately,” Handel said, “I hope (Komen) can come out of this stronger.”

Correction: Sept. 12, 2012, 11:33 MST, Article incorrectly listed annual amount of federal funding to Planned Parentood as $500 billion. The correct number is approximately $500 million.

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Franciscan University defends deviance course against critics

Steubenville, Ohio, Sep 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Franciscan University of Steubenville course description that lists homosexuality as deviant behavior has drawn critical attention from the only social work accreditation council in the U.S.

Franciscan University said its “Deviant Behavior” social work class – which takes its description from a standard public university textbook – is intended to “help students learn how to better serve and assist future clients.”

The course has drawn hostile media attention after members of an unofficial Facebook group of gay and lesbian alumni asked the school to change the course description.

Currently, the class description reads: “The behaviors that are primarily examined are murder, rape, robbery, prostitution, homosexuality, mental illness and drug use.”

Gregory Gronbacher, a 1990 graduate of Franciscan University who is a member of the group, told National Public Radio he thinks that the course description puts gay students “in the same category as murderers.”

He told NBC News he thinks the school’s administrators “mean well” but “live within a bubble.”

“If you live in that sort of intellectual isolation where gay people are hidden, it’s easy to wander down that path where gay people are rapists and murderers – that scary 'other,'” he said.

Gronbacher said he was a serious Catholic in college and went on to become a philosophy and theology professor. He said he left the Catholic Church in part because of its stance on homosexuality, NBC News says.

In response, the university’s Sept. 4 statement affirmed its adherence to Catholic teaching that homosexual persons are to be treated with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” and that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.”

Franciscan University’s social work program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, but the course description has prompted comment from Steven Holloway, director of the council’s office of accreditation.

“The fact that homosexuality was identified in the course description as a deviant behavior raises a flag,” he told National Public Radio. He said understanding “diversity and difference” is “critical for social workers to be effective in working with diverse populations.”

He also noted that the accreditation standards have a diversity requirement that includes sexual orientation.

The council’s 2008 accreditation standards say an accredited program must have a “commitment to diversity” including sexual orientation and “gender identity and expression” that is “reflected in its learning environment.” This includes “the demographic make-up of its faculty, staff and student body.”

The council is the only accreditation agency for social work education in the U.S.

The council’s Commission for Diversity and Social and Economic Justice includes a council on sexual orientation and gender identity. This commission council says on its website that it works for “the full participation of individuals who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or two-spirit in social work education.” It identifies and advocates changes in “any policies, procedures, or activities” that impede these persons’ “full and affirming participation.”
 
Franciscan University spokesman Tom Sofio told CNA Sept. 11 that the university has not had communication from the accreditation council.

The university’s Sept. 4 statement said the criticized course’s description is “little more than abbreviated chapter headings from the primary course textbook” that is used in over a dozen public universities.

The university said the textbook uses the term “deviant” in the sociological sense “simply meaning different from the norm.”

“We understand that some, not understanding the term or its context, might take offense at the description,” it continued. “Nevertheless, changing standard sociological definitions is beyond the scope of our work.”

The social work class treats other topics including crime, alcoholism and heterosexual deviance. The university said the course uses secular sources  with “timely research findings, current data, and solid sociological analysis.”

Franciscan University said it expects that faculty present “authentic Catholic teaching,” saying that this benefits its graduates and their future clients because they have considered both sides of an argument.

“(T)hey leave here better prepared to assist clients than their counterparts from schools that teach only one perspective,” the university said.

The university’s statement also addressed its graduates.

“Our prayers and our love go out to all our alumni,” it said. “All men and women, regardless of their sexual orientation, are deserving of respect, compassion, and love, and as a Catholic university we not only believe that, but also strive to live out that belief each day in our relations with students and alumni alike.”

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Our prayers are never wasted, Pope Benedict says

Vatican City, Sep 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI used his weekly General Audience to explain that there is no such thing as wasted prayer.

“We can be sure that there is no such thing as a superfluous or useless prayer. No prayer is lost,” said the Pope to over 8,000 pilgrims in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall Sept. 12.

“When faced with evil we often have the sensation that we can do nothing, but our prayers are in fact the first and most effective response we can give, they strengthen our daily commitment to goodness. The power of God makes our weakness strong.”

Pope Benedict was continuing his weekly exploration of prayer in the story of salvation with a particular focus on the second part of the Book of the Apocalypse, the concluding book of the Bible.

Within its passages, he explained, the Christian assembly is called “to undertake a profound interpretation of the history in which it lives” so that it may learn “to discern events with faith” a thus “collaborate in the advancement of the kingdom of God.”

Thus the assembly is invited to ascend into heaven “in order to see reality with the eyes of God.”  God’s plan for history and mankind, however, is contained in a scroll which is “hermetically sealed with seven seals and no one can read it.”

It ultimately requires “Christ, the Lamb, who immolated in the sacrifice of the cross but stands in sign of his resurrection” to “progressively open the seals so as to reveal the plan of God, the profound meaning of history.”

This episode, said the Pope, should remind us all “of the path we must follow to interpret the events of history and of our own lives.” Both as individuals and a community we should realize that in “raising our gaze to God’s heaven in an unbroken relationship with Christ” in prayer we can learn “to see things in a new way and to grasp their most authentic significance.”

While this “realistic examination of the present time in which they are living” can lead to the discovery of great evil and injustice in the world, the Church “is invited never to lose hope,” said Pope Benedict, as “the power of God has entered man's history, a power capable not only of counterbalancing evil, but also of overcoming it.”

“God became so close as to descend into the darkness of death and illuminate it with the splendor of divine life. He took the evil of the world upon himself to purify it with the fire of his love.”

This is why as Christians “we can never be pessimists,” concluded Pope Benedict, as prayer “educates us to see the signs of God, his presence and his action” or rather “it educates us to become lights of goodness, spreading hope and indicating that the victory is God’s.”

The Pope then addressed the enthusiastic gathering in several different languages before leading pilgrims in the singing of the Our Father in Latin and imparting his apostolic blessing.

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UK lawyers say Christians may have to choose between faith and job

Strasbourg, France, Sep 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Attorneys representing the United Kingdom said last week that Christians might have to forfeit their jobs if they wish to express their faith in the workplace.

“Employees are free to resign if they find their employment incompatible with their religious beliefs,” government lawyer James Eadie said.

“They can obtain alternative employment in which they can reflect their religion as they wish.”

His comments were made at a Sept. 4 hearing in Strasbourg before the European Court of Human Rights, involving four cases of British Christians who claim to have suffered faith-based discrimination at their places of employment.

The plaintiffs assert that existing U.K. law insufficiently protects their rights to freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination at work.

Two were kept from wearing crosses, Nadia Eweida, an employee of British Airways, and Shirley Chaplin, a long-time nurse.

The remaining two are Lilian Ladele, who lost her job with a London borough government for refusing to conduct civil partnerships, and Gary McFarlane, a therapist who was fired for saying he was unable to give sex therapy to homosexual couples.

According to the Daily Mail, Eadie claimed there is “a difference between the professional sphere where your religious beliefs conflict with other interests and the private sphere.”

“Everyone has the right to express their beliefs, including the right to display religious symbols, but not an absolute right or a right without limits,” he added.

“That does not mean that in their professional sphere anyone can manifest their religious belief in any way they choose.”

The lawyers maintained that because the wearing of a cross is a not a “scriptural requirement” of Christianity, employers are not obliged to allow it, also noting that the government believes same-sex couples have a right to equal access to public services.

However, leaders of both the Catholic Church and the Church of England have expressed concern that Christianity is unwelcome in the public sphere in Britain.

Prime Minister David Cameron had told the House of Commons in July that the right to wear crosses at work was “an absolutely vital freedom.”

Pope Benedict also spoke to the tensions in the case when he addressed Parliament during his papal visit to the country in 2010.

“There are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience,” the pontiff told lawmakers.

“These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square.”

All four plaintiffs brought their cases before the U.K. Employment Tribunal, which dismissed their claims. Their lawsuit before the court is based on the articles of the European Convention on Human Rights which concern freedom of religion and prohibition of discrimination.

The court's deliberations are held in private, and the ruling will likely be made in a few months, reported the Daily Mail.

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Colombian bishops make Assisi pilgrimage to pray for peace

Vatican City, Sep 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - In the wake of Pope Benedict's call for peace in Colombia, the country's bishops, who are in Rome for their ad limina visit, made a pilgrimage to the Church of St. Francis in Assisi to pray for reconciliation.

For 25 years, the Bishops' Conference of Colombia has been encouraging Colombians to pray for peace, in their desire to see the country’s decades-long civil conflict come to an end.  

On Monday, Benedict XVI expressed his own hopes the new peace talks announced by the Colombian government and the rebel group FARC, to be held Oct. 5 in Oslo, would be successful.

“May those who take part in that initiative be guided by a commitment to forgiveness and reconciliation, in the sincere search for the common good,” the Pope said.

In an interview with CNA, Archbishop Ricardo Tobon Restrepo of Medellin said the bishops praised the Colombian government for its willingness to begin a new dialogue with the FARC and pledged to do whatever they can to contribute to its success.

The bishops' pilgrimage to Assisi is a sign of their unity with the desire of the Colombian people and the efforts of the government to bring peace to the country, he said.

However, the entire nation of Colombia, “and not just the armed rebel groups, needs to learn how to live in peace.”

“I think that every human person has a seed of goodness in his or her heart, and we must understand that violence is not humane, that everyone loses in war, that mutual confrontation brings nothing but disasters, and we must come to an agreement in order to live in peace,” Archbishop Tobon said.

“We trust in God’s help so that all of the different endeavors for peace will have a positive outcome.”

Archbishop Jairo Jaramillo Monsalve of Barranquilla told CNA that the Colombian people “are flooded with violence and war and are tired of experiencing death and bloodshed.”

He noted that the FARC and those of other rebel groups have also grown weary of war and violence, “and I hope that all of us in good faith will seek out the path to peace for our country.”

Archbishop Jaramillo said the Colombian bishops look to St. Francis as an example of “a man of deep spirituality and captivating love of God, and especially a love for peace.”

St. Francis “always prayed to the Lord saying, 'Lord make me an instrument of your peace,'” the archbishop continued.

“Let us pray that the Lord will make all of us, each and every Colombian...and instrument of his peace,” he said.

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Pope Benedict urges Christians to be 'builders of peace' in Middle East

Vatican City, Sep 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Only 48-hours before his Apostolic Visit to Lebanon begins, Pope Benedict XVI has called upon the Christians of the Middle East to help create peace in the troubled region.

“I exhort all Christians of the Middle East, both those born there and the newly arrived, to be builders of peace and architects of reconciliation,” the Pope said at the conclusion of his General Audience at the Vatican Sept. 12.

“Let us pray to God that he may fortify the faith of Christians in Lebanon and the Middle East, and fill them with hope.”

The Pope is making the 3-day trip to the Mediterranean state Sept. 14 - 16 to sign his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in the Middle East.

He flies into a region, though, which is still a state of often violent flux following several years of anti-government uprisings known as the “Arab Spring.”

In Lebanon’s neighboring country of Syria tens of thousands of lives have been lost since an armed revolt against President Bashar al-Assad got underway in March 2011. The United Nations refugee agency estimates that nearly 250,000 Syrians have now fled to surrounding nations including Lebanon.

Meanwhile in the wider Arab world, both Egypt and Libya have witnessed anti-American riots in recent days leading to the killing of the United States Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, in the city of Benghazi Sept. 11. The violent protests were sparked by the posting on YouTube of extracts of a low-budget US film mocking the Prophet Mohammed, the founder of the Islamic religion.

“The history of the Middle East teaches us the important and sometimes primordial role played by the various Christian communities in inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue,” observed Pope Benedict.

“Let us ask God to give that region of the world its longed-for peace, and respect for legitimate differences.”

The Pope’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation is a response to the deliberations of the Synod of Bishops of the Middle East held at the Vatican in October 2010. The topic for discussion then was “The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness.”  

He thanked God for the presence of Christian in the Middle East, where they often face persecution, and called upon the entire Church “to show solidarity, that they may continue to bear witness to Christ in those blessed lands, seeking communion in unity.”

He also rejoiced that his apostolic trip will enable him to meet members of Lebanese society including other Christians, Muslims and Druze from the region.

“I thank the Lord for this rich variety, which will be able to continue only if people live in permanent peace and reconciliation.”

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Hobby Lobby sues government over contraception mandate

Washington D.C., Sep 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., announced that it is filing a lawsuit against the federal government over a mandate requiring it provide coverage of early-abortion drugs to employees.

“We have always operated our company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles, including integrity and service to others,” said Hobby Lobby founder and CEO David Green.

At a Sept. 12 press call announcing the lawsuit, Green explained that faith has been an “integral” part of the business from its humble beginning as a miniature picture frame company in 1972.

“Hobby Lobby has always been a tool for the Lord’s work,” he said.

Green said that he has “found a way to minister through Hobby Lobby.” He attributes his success with the company – which now has more than 500 stores and 22,500 employees nationwide – to God’s grace and said that he seeks to honor the Lord in everything he does.  
 
Part of this faith means caring for the company’s employees, Green explained. He noted that the company is closed on Sundays – sacrificing millions of dollars in profits – in order to allow employees to spend time with their families.

In addition, he said, the company’s minimum wage for full-time employees is 80 percent above the national minimum wage.
 
“We also believe in sharing our faith,” Green added, pointing to the time and money that the company contributes to fund ministries throughout the world, as well as the full-page ads that it purchases at Christmas and Easter in every major city where it is present.

“For me and my family, charity equals ministry, which equals the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said.
 
Green explained that his freedom to operate his business in accordance with his beliefs is now being threatened to by the federal contraception mandate, announced on Jan. 20, which requires employers to offer coverage of free contraception, sterilization and early abortion-inducing drugs.

While he does not object to preventive birth control, which is already covered by the health care plan he offers, Green gravely objects to offering the “morning after” and “week after” pills, which induce early abortions by causing the death of an already existing human embryo.

“We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate,” he said.

Filing a lawsuit in a federal district court in Oklahoma, the self-insured arts and crafts retailer is now the 88th plaintiff to file a lawsuit challenging the mandate. It is also the only non-Catholic-owned for-profit business to do so.

While a narrow religious exemption to the mandate has been carved out for a small percentage of religious organizations, no protection has been offered to non-religious businesses such as Hobby Lobby that are owned and operated by Christian individuals seeking to put their faith into practice.

For these “secular” businesses, the mandate goes into effect as soon as a new year of their insurance plan begins after Aug. 1, 2012.

For Hobby Lobby, the new health care plan year will begin Jan. 1, 2013, and if the company does not provide the mandated coverage, it will face fines of more than $1 million per day.

The company is seeking a temporary injunction to block the mandate from taking effect while its lawsuit works its way through the court system. A similar injunction was granted to a Colorado company in July.

Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Hobby Lobby in its lawsuit, said that the Green family strives to ensure that “the faith they teach their children at home is consistent with the choices they make at work.”

“In a profound way, their business is a ministry,” he said.

“Today, they’re asking the federal court to protect their right to run their business as they always have, in harmony with their Christian faith,” Duncan explained.

“The government cannot fine any American – including business owners like the Greens – for refusing to violate their faith,” he said.

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