Archive of September 13, 2012

Catholic group reaches out amid hostility to religion

Roswell, Ga., Sep 13, 2012 (CNA) - The evangelization group Catholics Come Home says its “hopeful and faith-filled” messages can help combat rising hostility against U.S. Christians.

“It appears that the amount of hostility is increasing and the amount of anti-Christian sentiment is growing. At least, it’s getting more visibility,” the Georgia-based organization’s founder and president Tom Peterson told CNA Sept. 12.

“We praise God that Catholics Come Home has been a tool used by the Holy Spirit to put out good news, truth and hope for a world in desperate need of Christianity and of a savior in Jesus.”

The newly updated Survey of Religious Hostility in America, released in August 2012 by the Family Research Council and the Liberty Institute, found increasing animosity towards religion. It cited several incidents, such as a Manhattan hospital that forced a nurse to participate in a late-term abortion procedure despite her religious objections. It also noted other problems like public schools that prevent parents, teachers or students from speaking about their faith.

Petersen said Catholics should respond to such reports by remembering “Christ is our hope.”

“When we are persecuted as Christians, Christ in his Gospel teaches us to not seek revenge,” he said. “We need to commit to prayer. We need to pray for those who persecute us, and we need to reach out with love to spread messages like Catholics Come Home is doing to help a wounded world in great need of hope.”

Catholics Come Home ads have run in 33 dioceses over the last three years. The most recent campaign aired spots on all of the major television networks and cable in December and January, reaching 125 million viewers according to Nielsen ratings data.

“Christ commands us to spread the good news to the ends of the earth,” Peterson said. “We’re called to do that not only in our personal lives but also by using the modern media to spread the message of the new evangelization.”

Peterson said that the organization is developing three new ads. It plans to launch new campaigns in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, the first diocese outside the U.S. to have a Catholics Come Home campaign.

He said the campaign has seen results in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, where Archbishop Robert J. Carlson credits the campaign with helping 37,000 people return to the Church or become Catholic.

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Cardinal Dolan says religious freedom means leaving faith alone

Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2012 (CNA) - Religious freedom in the United States has historically been understood as allowing religion to “flourish unfettered from government intrusion,” said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York.

“Simply put, government has no business interfering in the internal life of the soul, conscience, or church,” said the cardinal, who serves at the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Cardinal Dolan delivered the John Carroll Society Lecture at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 10.

He voiced concern that “the promotion and protection of religious liberty is becoming caricatured as some narrow, hyper-defensive, far-right, self-serving cause.”

“Nothing can be more inaccurate,” he said. “Rather, freedom of religion has been the driving force of almost every enlightened, un-shackling, noble cause in American history.”

Cardinal Dolan attempted to “restore the luster” of religious freedom by outlining its role throughout American history.

The American Revolution itself was influenced by the Great Awakening and spurred on by ministers who encouraged participation in the fight for freedom, he observed.

Churches served as “an essential partner” in the American Revolution, and freedom of religion was praised in the new nation’s foundational documents, securing “a spot in the public square for the voices of those speaking from a faith-formed conscience,” he said.

In the fight against the slavery, abolitionist leaders were “mostly inspired by religious conviction,” he noted, listing prominent figures whose “devotion to the cause to end slavery flowed from a conscience formed by faith.”

“In a land where loyalty to conscience and freedom of religion were not guaranteed, emancipation would have come at a much tragically later date,” he said.

Women’s leading roles in the abolitionist movement are sometimes seen as contributing to the “advancement of women” in American society, he added, and religion also influenced the temperance movement and other reforms.

In addition, the cardinal continued, the Civil Rights Movement would “never have flourished” without “the unfettered preaching of the Gospel,” and “the leadership of Black southern preachers,” including Reverend Martin Luther King.

Cardinal Dolan pointed to Dr. King’s Letters from a Birmingham Jail as “perhaps one of the most cogent proof texts for religious freedom.”

Religion and religious liberty have also played key roles in more recent movements such as the pro-life cause and other initiatives favoring peace and urban reform, he added.

The cardinal observed that the Catholics who first came to America – often settling in Maryland, a colony that served as a “laboratory” of religious freedom – did not seek “any favored status for either their beloved Catholic faith or any other religion.”

“Nor did they want their faith, however normative in their own life, to have any institutional input in the colonial government,” he said. “Mainly, they just wanted to be left alone.”

He explained that today, as when the nation was founded, Catholics do not “want privileges from the state,” but simply want to be left alone in order to “practice their faith, and follow their properly formed consciences in the public square.”

It is this “guiding principle of religious freedom” that was enshrined in the nation’s constitution, he said.

Cardinal Dolan warned of the modern threat to religious freedom posed by secularists who will tolerate religion only as a “private hobby,” refusing to let it have “any voice in the public square.”

Also troubling, he said, is the “direct intrusion of the government into the very definition of a church’s minister, ministries, message, and meaning.”

As patriotic Americans and faithful Catholics, we must fight not only for our right to live out our faith in the privacy of our homes and churches, but also “the freedom to carry the convictions of a faith-formed conscience into our public lives,” he stressed.

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Vatican condemns killing of US Ambassador in Libya

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican voiced its “firmest possible condemnation” of the fatal attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans including the ambassador to the country.

“Nothing, in fact, can justify the activity of terrorist organizations and homicidal violence,” read the statement issued by Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. Sept. 13.

“Along with our sadness, mourning and prayers for the victims, we again express the hope that, despite this latest tragedy, the international community may discover the most favorable ways to continue its commitment in favor of peace in Libya and the entire Middle East.”

Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed Tuesday Sept. 11 in a fire started after the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was stormed by violent mobs.

The 52-year-old, who was a native of California, had been a career diplomat with the U.S. Foreign Service since 1991. United States officials are now investigating whether the attack was planned by militant jihadist groups.

The violence was sparked by the posting on YouTube of extracts of a low-budget U.S. film mocking the Prophet Mohammed, the 6-7th century founder of Islam.

Similar scenes of unrest have now been witnessed across North Africa and the Middle East, most notably in Yemen and Egypt. In the Yemeni capital of Sanaa Sept.13 demonstrators stormed the grounds of the US embassy and burned the American flag before being driven back by security forces.  Reports of protests are also emerging from Tunisia, Sudan and Morocco.

Fr. Lombardi’s comments come on the eve of Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Visit to the Middle East. The Pontiff is making a 3-day trip to Lebanon Sept.14 – 16 to sign his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in the region.

Yesterday at the conclusion of his weekly General Audience, the Pope called upon the Christians in the Middle East to help create peace in their often troubled countries.

“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,” said the Pope 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.”

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Tennessee Catholic groups sue over contraception mandate

Nashville, Tenn., Sep 13, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Diocese of Nashville and seven other Catholic entities in Tennessee filed suit Sept. 12 to block a government mandate requiring that they provide contraceptive coverage through employee insurance.

“It is particularly important for us to file this action at this time,” said Rick Musacchio, director of communications for the Nashville diocese, in a statement Wednesday.

The diocese was joined in the suit, filed in the Middle Tennessee district court, by Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Father Ryan High School, Pope John Paul II High School, Mary Queen of Angels, Villa Maria Manor, St. Mary Villa, and Aquinas College – all of which are independent institutions under Tennessee state law.

The Catholic groups are opposing the Department of Health and Human Services mandate, which is part of the the 2010 Affordable Health Care Act, and was finalized in February 2012. It requires that group insurance plans cover FDA-approved contraceptives and sterilization.

Mary Queen of Angels, St. Mary Villa, and Villa Maria Manor found last November that their insurance plan had included coverage for oral contraceptives.

When they immediately tried to remove this coverage from their plan, their carrier, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tenneessee, told them the coverage could not be removed because of the health care act.

Because they were not able to have the coverage removed, their plan was not eligible for what the department has called “temporary enforcement of safe harbor” from the mandate.

The five other institutions are due to face the same problem when their insurance plans come up for renewal within the next year.

The mandate went into effect Aug. 1, 2012, but for those eligible for the enforcement of safe harbor, it will not go into effect until Aug. 1, 2013.

Dozens of other suits by dioceses and businesses have been filed to block the mandate forcing employers to provide health insurance for services which violate their conscience. Hobby Lobby, which is owned by a Christian, also sued on Sept. 12.

“It is not about whether people have a right to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. Those services are and will continue to be freely available in the United States, and nothing prevents the Government itself from making them more widely available,” the Nashville groups' lawsuit reads.

“But the right to such services does not authorize the Government to force the Plaintiffs to violate their own consciences by making them provide, pay for, and/or facilitate those services to others, contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

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Our Sunday Visitor to publish local Philadelphia weekly

Philadelphia, Pa., Sep 13, 2012 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has partnered with the Catholic publisher Our Sunday Visitor to replace its shuttered newspaper with a special local edition of OSV Newsweekly.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said Sept. 13 that the archdiocese partnered with the publisher “to ensure an uninterrupted source of weekly Catholic content and perspective in the most cost-effective way possible.”

In June the archdiocese announced the shutdown of its 117-year-old newspaper The Catholic Standard and Times, which had become a monthly publication in 2011. The newspaper’s closure was one of the archdiocese’s many spending cuts in the face of a financial deficit as large as $17 million.

Under the new publishing partnership, former Catholic and Times subscribers will receive a Philadelphia edition of OSV Newsweekly with Archbishop Chaput’s column, local articles and news briefs. The distribution of the local edition will begin Sept. 16.

Archbishop Chaput said the archdiocese is “grateful” for Our Sunday Visitor’s willingness to collaborate “during this challenging time.”

Greg Erlandson, president and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor, said the 100-year-old company has “a long history” of partnering with dioceses.

“We are honored to assist Archbishop Chaput and the Church as a whole by continuing to provide Philadelphians with the Catholic news they have come to depend on through The Catholic Standard and Times,” he said.

Our Sunday Visitor will provide customer service and marketing support for the local edition.

The publisher said OSV Newsweekly is the largest national Catholic weekly in the U.S.

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Bishop causes more controversy for breakaway Catholic group

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sep 13, 2012 (CNA) - More internal strife has arisen in the breakaway Catholic Society of St. Pius X, after Bishop Richard Williamson made an unapproved visit to a large group in Brazil.

Fr. Christian Bouchacourt, the society’s district superior of South America, said the bishop’s visit was “a serious act against the virtue of obedience” that did not respect the society’s procedures.

His Sept. 6 letter, published on the society’s website, said the visit was “also an attack upon the most elementary demands of courtesy.”

He objected that the visit organizers did not secure his agreement as required by the society’s statutes.

At the end of August, Bishop Williamson gave the sacrament of Confirmation to nearly 100 lay Catholics in the town of Nova Friburgo in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro. He celebrated the sacrament at the invitation of the prior of the breakaway Benedictine Monastery of the Holy Cross, which has links to the society.

Fr. Bouchacourt said the bishop’s visit broke the “harmonious collaboration” between the Society of St. Pius X and the monastery. Many of the attendees had been “deceived” because they went to the ceremonies and conferences with the belief they had been organized by the society.

The Society of St. Pius X broke from Rome in 1988 when its founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre consecrated four bishops against the orders of Pope John Paul II. Archbishop Lefebvre founded the society in 1970 as a response to what he saw as errors in the Church after the Second Vatican Council.

Pope Benedict XVI has endeavored to reconcile the society with the Church. He lifted the excommunications of the society’s four living bishops in 2009. However, that act caused significant controversy because, unbeknownst to the Pope, Bishop Williamson had made statements that denied the magnitude of the Holocaust.

The Society of St. Pius X distanced itself from Bishop Williamson’s Holocaust views.

Efforts to help heal the rift with the Catholic Church include the Vatican’s offer of a personal prelature, a special church jurisdiction without geographical boundaries.

The society’s talks with the Vatican despite its objections to the interpretation and legacy of the Second Vatican Council appear to be a source of internal controversy.

Fr. Bouchacourt rejected the “indirect accusations” of Monastery of the Holy Cross prior Fr. Tomas de Aquino, a defender of Bishop Williamson. According to Fr. Bouchacourt, the prior suggested that the society “would agree with Modernism and cease fighting in defense of Catholic Tradition.”

The society district superior said that Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the Society of St. Pius X, agrees with the society’s position that the Mass instituted after the Second Vatican Council departs from Catholic doctrine.

The German-language Catholic website said that Bishop Williamson will be expelled from the society because of his unauthorized visit. He has also refused to stop publication of his weekly e-mail, despite the request of Bishop Fellay.

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Cardinal Wuerl calls religion the 'conscience' of democracy

Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Since America's founding, its people have understood the importance of religion as the conscience of the culture and necessary for a society to flourish, said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C.

From the earliest days of our country's history, religion has been understood as playing a “vital role” in public life and a clear “part of the very fabric of our nation,” he explained.

“We may have quibbled over expressions of faith. We may have even been hostile to one another's faith,” he said. “But we never argued that faith doesn't belong as the foundation for our understanding of how we relate to one another and our obligations to one another.”

Cardinal Wuerl delivered the keynote address at the Catholic Perspectives on Religious Liberty symposium at Georgetown University on Sept. 13.

The event was hosted by the Maryland Catholic Bishops Conference and the Religious Freedom Project of Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.

The cardinal explained that religious faith has always been "deeply embedded" in American culture.

While the work of religious schools, hospitals and social ministries are important, he said, these “tangible human services” are not the only contributions that religion offers to society.

“With religious faith comes a way of living, a set of standards for moral and civil behavior,” he explained, adding that these expectations are “woven into the very fabric of our societal life.”

“'You shall not kill' is not simply a legal convention of any particular political persuasion, but rather a moral imperative rooted in our human nature, proclaimed by our religious heritage and intrinsic to the identity of all of us as a people,” he said.

Cardinal Wuerl pointed to numerous examples of early political speeches, sermons and documents that acknowledge religion’s role in a successful democracy.

Importantly, he noted, those who heard and read these early statements were not shocked by them because "religion as a presupposition for the political prosperity of our infant republic was simply accepted.”

“The natural moral law was the primary lens through which Americans perceived the basis of their legal system,” he explained.

Therefore, religious liberty was viewed as a critical freedom, intimately connected to political liberty and leading to a fruitful discussion over policy decisions, he said.

Americans have long understood that religious liberty is an inherent part of being human, not a privilege granted by the state, he observed, while at the same time recognizing that the various faith traditions serve the interests of the state by teaching their respective followers to live peacefully and respectfully.

It is fair to say that in a democracy, both “Church and state are home of the same people,” he explained, because the laws come from the people, who are formed by the moral convictions of their respective faith traditions.

Today, however, this “essential quality” of faith is often pushed aside, Cardinal Wuerl warned.  

When religion is confined to the private sphere and traditional moral teaching is silenced in the public square, faith cannot play its vital role in the political process, he said.

This is dangerous for the culture, he cautioned, because America still needs religion to be “the conscience of society.”

Therefore, the cardinal said, the fight for religious freedom is not self-centered, but rather aimed at the common good of the nation.  

“Our religious beliefs stand, as they have from the very beginning, ready to serve our country, our culture, our society, shedding the light of God's wisdom into the heart of the great American experiment of religious pluralism and liberty,” he said.

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