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Archive of September 21, 2012

Elderly woman who ruined fresco seeks church's tourist proceeds

Zaragoza, Spain, Sep 21, 2012 (CNA) - An 81-year-old woman whose failed restoration of a Spanish Catholic church’s 19th-century fresco became the laughingstock of the world now wants the church to pay her a portion of the funds it is collecting from tourists who want to see the ruined work of art.

Cecilia Gimenez attempted to restore Elijah Garcia Martinez’s peeling “Ecce Homo” fresco of Jesus Christ at Sanctuary of Mercy Church in Zaragoza, Spain. The result smeared the features of the image to such shapelessness that it was not recognizably human and was described as a werewolf or a monkey.

Pictures of the painting spread around the world and were republished in major media.

The church began charging admission after tourists began visiting the church. It has collected about $2,600 in the first four days of paid entry.

Gimenez has secured a lawyer to make her case, Sky News says.

She suffered from severe anxiety amid the global reaction to the painting. She is supporting a son with disabilities who himself is over age 60.

The church’s owner, the Sancti Spiritus Hospital Foundation, has asked a lawyer to defend them.

Before it was disfigured, the painting was not thought to be very valuable but locals held it in high regard.

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New study finds rise in religious restrictions worldwide

Washington D.C., Sep 21, 2012 (CNA) - Hostility towards religion has risen globally, both in the form of government restrictions and social attitudes, determined a new study by the Pew Research Center.

Released Sept. 20, a report from the center's Forum on Religion & Public Life warned that a “rising tide of restrictions on religion spread across the world between mid-2009 and mid-2010.”

The study found that 75 percent of the global population was living in a region in which religious restrictions were “high” or “very high,” up from 70 percent the prior year.

The report marks the third time the Pew Forum has recorded levels of religious limitations around the globe. It examines government restrictions and social hostilities towards religion in 197 countries and territories worldwide.

“Restrictions on religion rose in each of the five major regions of the world – including in the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa, the two regions where overall restrictions previously had been declining,” the report said.

It explained that these religious restrictions rose “not only in countries that began the year with high or very high restrictions or hostilities,” but also in many nations “that began with low or moderate restrictions or hostilities, such as Switzerland and the United States.”

Overall, from mid-2009 to mid-2010, the study found, restrictions increased in 66 percent of countries and decreased in 28 percent.

Sixty-three percent of countries had increases in government limitations on religion, while 25 percent had decreases, it said. During this same time period, 49 percent of countries experienced a rise in social hostilities, while 32 percent saw a decline.  

The study found that “certain types of social hostilities involving religion are more likely to be associated with higher government restrictions on religion.”

Both social hostilities and government restrictions were found to be highest in the Middle East and North Africa.

“As of mid-2010, government restrictions on religion were high or very high in most of the countries that experienced the political uprisings known as the Arab Spring in late 2010 and early 2011,” the report said.

“In Tunisia – where the uprisings began – government restrictions increased from the high category as of mid-2009 to the very high category as of mid-2010,” it explained.

Government restrictions also increased in Egypt and Yemen, where restrictions on religion had already been high, it noted.

In addition, the study determined that the median level of social hostilities against religion – carried out through sectarian violence, harassment over religious attire and other forms of intimidation and abuse – increased in every region except the Americas.

In the United States, both government restrictions and social hostilities increased for the first time in the four-year period studied.

Examples of this growing hostility included individuals being prevented from wearing certain types of religious attire and religious groups facing obstacles in acquiring zoning permits, as well as rising “religion-related workplace discrimination complaints.”

The report also found an increase in global harassment and intimidation of particular religious groups, taking the form of verbal and physical assaults, arrests and detentions, desecration of holy sites and religious-based discrimination in employment, education and housing.

Five of seven major religious groups in the study “experienced four-year highs in the number of countries in which they were harassed” by governments or social groups. Christians were reported to have faced such harassment in 111 countries, more than half of the total nations studied.

According to the Pew report, the increase in global restrictions on religion is not due to a single cause. Rather, it is “attributable to a variety of factors,” including religiously-motivated violence and “increased government interference with worship or other religious practices.”

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LA priest on leave for advocating 'gay marriage' (Corrected)

Los Angeles, Calif., Sep 21, 2012 (CNA) - Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles has placed Father Joseph Palacios on leave from ministry because of his promotion of same-sex “marriage.”

Tod Tamberg, director of media relations for the Los Angeles archdiocese, confirmed to CNA Sept. 20 that Fr. Palacios was put on inactive leave in June.

Because of the mutually agreed upon leave, he is unable to say Mass or distribute the sacraments, may not wear a Roman collar, and cannot in any way present himself as a priest in public.

Fr. Palacios is a founding member of Catholics for Equality, a group which advocates for same-sex “marriage” and other social benefits for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals.

He has identified himself as “a gay man and a celibate gay priest.”

According to the National Catholic Register, he will be on inactive leave as long as he remains politically active. In a Sept. 10 interview with the paper, he said he does not present himself as a priest when promoting same-sex “marriage.”

However, in a Feb. 2011 panel discussion called “Same Sex Marriage in the United States: Where We Are as a Nation,” hosted by the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, he appeared in a priestly collar and was introduced as “Father Joseph Palacios.”

During the event, he said that the Washington, D.C.-based Catholics for Equality are trying to portray support for same-sex “marriage” as a pro-life position, adding that “pro-life means pro-gay.”

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, has publicly stated that the organization is not legitimately Catholic and Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the military archdiocese has made the same judgment.

Fr. Palacios is a priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, but has identified himself as an ex-Jesuit to the Cardinal Newman Society and elsewhere. He was ordained for the archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1987. He then entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1992, but left the Society in October 2004 without having pronounced final vows, according to the California Province of the Society of Jesus.

“Apparently, he was transitioning into the Society of Jesus at that time,” Tamberg said.

“It appears that he did not profess final vows in the Jesuit Community and remained (a) priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” the archdiocesan spokesman added.

Fr. Palacios is not identifiable as a priest on the Catholic for Equality’s website. He is described only as “Dr.” He holds a Ph.D in sociology from University of California Berkeley and attended St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, Calif. He was ordained for the archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1987.

Corrected Sept. 25, 2012 at 3:14 p.m. MST. Changes "suspended" in lede and subsequent paragraphs to "placed on leave."

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Bishop Vann to head fastest growing US diocese

Washington D.C., Sep 21, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Bishop Kevin W. Vann of Fort Worth, Texas has been named the fourth bishop of Orange, Calif. by Pope Benedict XVI.

Bishop Vann will succeed Bishop Tod D. Brown, who offered his resignation to Pope Benedict earlier this year upon reaching the age limit of 75.

“I am truly blessed to be here with all of you now as the fourth bishop of the diocese,” Bishop Vann said at a Sept. 21 press conference in Orange, Calif.

He explained that it is “a time of transition in my own life,” because of his mother’s death earlier this summer and his appointment to a new diocese.

And while the Fort Worth and Orange dioceses “have many similarities,” Bishop Vann said that the “welcome, warmth and vibrant faith” he has seen “is a blessing and great encouragement to me.”

“I promise that as we grow together in this exciting and dynamic time for the Diocese of Orange, I will love you and do my best to serve you, with the Lord’s help. That is one thing I learned in Fort Worth, and what I will live here,” he stated.

The appointment and resignation were both announced Sept. 21 in Washington, D.C. by Archbishop Carlo M. Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Bishop Vann will shepherd the nation’s tenth largest and fastest growing diocese. He will be assisted in his governance of the diocese by Bishop Dominic M. Luong, who has been auxiliary in Orange since 2003.

The diocese’s total population is 3.2 million, of whom 41 percent, or 1.3 million, are Catholic.

Bishop Brown recently purchased the famous Crystal Cathedral from an evangelical church, and it will become the cathedral and chancery of Orange as Christ Cathedral.

Bishop Vann was introduced to the diocese at 11:30 local time this morning at the Marywood Pastoral Center.

Bishop Vann was born in Springfield, Ill. in 1951 and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Springfield in 1981.

He earned a doctorate in canon law from the Angelicum in 1985, and subsequently served as both a pastor and on the tribunal of the diocese. He was named coadjutor bishop of Fort Worth in 2005, and assumed the helm later that year.

Bishop Brown was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno in 1963 and has been Bishop of Orange for 14 years.

“Bishop Vann enjoys an enviable record of success and I am exceedingly pleased by his appointment as my episcopal successor,” Bishop Brown remarked, noting that “much work remains to be done” in the diocese.

“This work will require an administrator with proven skills and a spiritual leader with an abundance of faith. Bishop Kevin Vann has these attributes and much more,” he said.

Archbishop Vigano also made public that Pope Benedict accepted the resignation of Bishop Matthew H. Clark of the Rochester diocese, who also became 75 this year.

The Rochester diocese will be led by an apostolic administrator, Bishop Robert J. Cunnningham of Syracuse, until the Pope appoints a new bishop.

Updated at Sept. 21, 2012 at 1:50 p.m. MST. New version includes remarks from Bishops Vann and Brown throughout.

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Third installment of 'Jesus of Nazareth' due out in Italy at Christmas

Vatican City, Sep 21, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican Publishing House has signed an agreement allowing the publication of Pope Benedict's latest book on Jesus, which focuses on the the infancy of Christ.

Italian publisher Rizzoli signed an agreement Sept. 21 with the Vatican Publishing House and was given the mandate to sell the rights to publish the Pope's writings around the globe.

In Italy, the book focusing on the childhood of Christ is expected to be released at Christmas as a joint publication of the Vatican Publishing House and Rizzoli.

The official title has not yet been released to the public and work is continuing on translations into multiple other languages.

This book marks the third volume in Pope Benedict's “Jesus of Nazareth” series.

The first volume in the series, “Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration,” was published as a hardcover in English in 2007 by Doubleday and in paperback in 2008 by Ignatius Press.

In the introduction of his first book, published just after his election to the papacy, Benedict explained that it was in “no way an exercise of the magisterium,”  but rather an “expression of his personal search for the face of the Lord.”

In the work, the Pope explored the majority of Jesus' public ministry, including his baptism by John the Baptist, his Sermon on the Mount, the meaning of the parables, the calling of the 12 apostles, the confession of Peter and the Transfiguration.

In the second work in the series, “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week,” Pope Benedict looked at Christ's entrance into Jerusalem, his suffering and death, his resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven 40 days later.

“Only in the second volume do we encounter the decisive sayings and events of Jesus' life,” Pope Benedict said of his book. “I hope that I have been granted an insight into the figure of Our Lord that can be helpful to all readers who seek to encounter Jesus and believe in Him.”

Published in English by Ignatius Press in 2011, “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week,” made its way to the  New York Times Best Seller List shortly after being released.

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Charity reports increase in poverty, inequality in Spain

Madrid, Spain, Sep 21, 2012 (CNA) - Catholic charity Caritas' chapter in Spain has issued a new report showing that poverty, inequality and social injustice are on the rise in the European country.

The findings were presented on Sept. 20 in Madrid by the secretary general of Caritas, Sebastian Mora, and the coordinator of the study team, Francisco Lorenzo.

Caritas says that since the economic crisis began in Spain, the number of people who have received assistance from the agency has risen sharply from 370,251 people in 2007 to 1,015, 267 in 2011 – an increase of almost 174 percent.

The report says the main causes of the increase include growing unemployment, which “drastically” reduces the economic opportunities families have, and cutbacks in entitlement programs.

Between 2007 and 2011, Caritas has seen the biggest increase in requests for food assistance, followed by requests for clothing and house aid. In 2011 the agency spent over $42 million in aid for those in need.

Caritas Spain also provides aid to one-third of illegal immigrants in the country. Half of those who request for aid from the agency are immigrants, and “approximately 130,000 of them are in irregular situations.”

Considering that some studies estimate there are nearly 500,000 illegal immigrants in Spain, Caritas reports that it is providing aid to “one-third of the total.”

Mora said that since a new law went into effect on Sept. 1 denying health care to illegal immigrants, Caritas has seen “a greater presence of persons with this profile asking for health care assistance at parishes.”

He called it a “grave social injustice” that immigrants in Spain have to live in fear. The government did not weigh the measure appropriately,” Mora said, and this has caused “great uncertainty.”

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Pope tells French bishops defense of marriage is prophetic

Vatican City, Sep 21, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Against the backdrop of an effort to recognize “gay marriage” in France, Pope Benedict XVI told a group of French bishops that the truth about marriage and the family is vital to society and must be promoted in bold and creative ways.

He said marriage and the family “must be promoted and defended from every possible misrepresentation of their true nature, since whatever is injurious to them is in fact injurious to human coexistence as such.”

The family is the “foundation of social life” but it is “threatened in many places by a faulty conception of human nature,” the Pope said Sept. 21. The defense of the family and of human life promotes “values that allow the full development of the human person created in the image and likeness of God.” It is “not at all backward-looking but prophetic.”

His remarks came in his meeting with the first group of French bishops to make an ad limina visit in five years. Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux et Bazes, the president of the French bishops’ conference, led the group from western France.

The French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said his government will introduce a bill this coming October to recognize same-sex “marriages” and to allow same-sex couples to adopt children. His Socialist Party’s control of parliament means the bill’s passage is more likely.

President François Hollande promised to push the issue during his campaign. Many French religious authorities oppose redefining marriage, as does former President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Pope Benedict’s other remarks praised France’s “long spiritual and missionary tradition.”

“The challenges of a widely secularized society now call us courageously and optimistically to seek a bold and creative response, by presenting the permanent newness of the Gospel,” he told the bishops.

He encouraged each bishop to be a “good shepherd” toward the Catholic faithful and his priests. He noted the scarcity of “workers for the gospel” and urged good formation for seminarians and prayers for vocations.

Responses to any pastoral problems, he said, should not focus only on organizational matters that can become “self-referential.” Rather, evangelization must begin with “an encounter with the Lord in a dialogue established in prayer.”

He stressed the need to meet the expectations of younger generations who need “proper catechesis so that they might find their place within the community of believers.”

Pope Benedict also referenced St. Joan of Arc – one of France’s patrons – describing her as “a model of secular sanctity in the service of the common good.” He said that the link “between mystical experience and political mission” is “one of the most original features of her holiness.”

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Pakistan urged to end blasphemy law abuses

Washington D.C., Sep 21, 2012 (CNA) - An international hearing sponsored by the World Council of Churches called on Pakistan to end abuse of the nation's blasphemy law, which leads to major human rights violations for religious minorities.

A communiqué issued by the group on Sept. 19 called on the Pakistani government to “constitute a competent Inquiry Commission immediately to look into the tragic consequences of the blasphemy law and suggest a way out of this difficult and embarrassing situation.”

“Tinkering with procedural amendments” has failed to solve the problems surrounding “a law that is inherently susceptible to abuse,” it said.

At a three-day public hearing with participants from a variety of faith backgrounds, speakers examined the blasphemy law that is included in the Pakistan Penal Code.

That law, as amended in the 1980s, has been criticized for its vague wording and arbitrary enforcement, leading to mob violence as well as the death penalty for those found guilty of defaming the prophet Muhammad or the Quran.

The hearing, held Sept. 17-19 in Geneva, Switzerland, was organized by the World Council of Churches' Commission of the Churches on International Affairs.

Mohammad Tahseen, human rights activist and director of the South Asia Partnership in Pakistan, delivered the keynote address, arguing that continued abuse of the blasphemy law is incompatible with “the vision of Pakistan as a moderate and democratic country.”

He stressed the importance of the international community in supporting “the values of democracy and people’s struggles in Pakistan.”

Bishop Samuel Azariah, moderator of the Church of Pakistan, encouraged the government to consider repealing the controversial blasphemy law, which he said creates an atmosphere of fear for religious minorities.

“A majority of the cases have proved to be false, which has disturbed the fabric of trust in our society,” he said.

Pakistan’s blasphemy law made headlines in August when a young girl with Down Syndrome was arrested for allegedly burning pages from the Quran. Faced with international attention, the girl was released on bail, but had to be taken to a secret location amid fears for her safety.

On Sept. 21, declared by the Pakistani government to be “Love for the Prophet Day,” violent protests erupted throughout the country, continuing several days of protests over the American-made internet film, “Innocence of Muslims,” which ridicules the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

Although the government encouraged peaceful demonstrations, crowds of more than 10,000 clashed violently with police in cities throughout the country, calling for the film’s maker to be killed.

According to the Associated Press, the violence throughout the country left at least 17 dead and more than 100 injured.

Violent protests have broken out in more than a dozen other Muslim countries in recent days as well, with angry crowds protesting the movie as well as the U.S. government’s failure to ban it due to First Amendment free speech protections.

The Pakistani government has banned access to YouTube in the country to prevent the video from being seen, and Pakistani prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf called on the international community to enact legislation banning insults of Muhammad.

Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, argued that “it is high time that the international community should address this issue with urgency.”

“Reports from Pakistan reveal the fact that repression, intolerance, and fear have become the order of the day in many parts of the country,” he observed, warning that the misuse of the law is “used to target different minority communities” in the country.

The public hearing coincided with the 21st Session of the U.N. Human Rights Council and included a side event at that gathering. Speakers emphasized the importance of free speech and the critical role of religious leaders in preventing abuse of the laws.

“When the state and constitution make preference on the basis of religion, they end up violating the rights of their citizens,” said Peter Jacob, director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace for the Catholic Church in Pakistan.

“The discrimination we find in the constitution and state policies translates into extremism and general intolerance in the society,” he explained.

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