St. Louis, Mo., Oct 2, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A federal district court in Missouri has dismissed a Catholic businessman’s lawsuit that contends that the HHS mandate violates his religious freedom, but his lawyers say the decision is so flawed that it takes a position more extreme than the Obama administration and will not stand on appeal.
“Obviously we’re disappointed in this judge’s decision, but this is just the end of round one. No one expected that this case would end at the district court level, no matter who won,” Francis J. Manion, senior counsel with the American Center for Law and Justice, told CNA Oct. 1.
Manion said the businessman’s lawyers are “very optimistic” about success on appeal because “the basis of the court’s ruling is so remarkably flawed from a legal and logical statement that we don’t think the Court of Appeals will uphold it.”
“We’ve already filed our notice of appeal today,” he said.
The lawsuit was filed March 15 on behalf of Frank R. O’Brien and his 87-employee company O’Brien Industrial Holdings in St. Louis, Mo. He said his right to religious freedom is threatened by a federal Department of Health and Human Services mandate that requires most employers of 50 employees or more to offer health insurance plans that offer no co-pay coverage for sterilization and contraception, including drugs that can cause abortions.
District Judge Carol E. Jackson’s Sept. 28 decision rejected the idea that requiring “indirect financial support of a practice” constitutes “a substantial burden on a plaintiff’s religious exercise.”
The court said the Obama administration's rules “do not demand that plaintiffs alter their behavior in a way that will directly and inevitably prevent plaintiffs from acting in accordance with their religious beliefs.”
The plaintiffs are “free to exercise their religion, by not using contraceptives and by discouraging employees from using contraceptives,” the judge said.
The decision said the mandate “might” require the plaintiffs to subsidize activities they find objectionable “after a series of independent decisions” by health care providers and plan beneficiaries.
Manion rejected the court’s reasoning.
“The fact that the court held that being forced by the government to pay for something that violates your deep religious beliefs is not a burden on religious liberty is an extraordinary finding,” he said.
“It’s so extraordinary, in fact, that it’s a position the government itself doesn’t take,” he added.
Manion noted that the HHS mandate itself grants a religious employer exemption. The government’s recognition that the mandate infringes upon religious liberty is one reason such an exemption was created.
“That’s why the president and (Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen) Sebelius have been talking for months about their efforts to ‘balance’ religious liberty with the right of access to contraception, as they see it,” Manion said.
“The court’s position is something that the government itself has probably wished the court had not done,” he asserted. “To win a case on such a flawed basis is not a good thing for a lawyer, even if you’re the government’s lawyer. I think they’re probably regretting that that’s the basis of this decision here.”
The Becket Fund, a religious liberty legal group, says that over 30 federal lawsuits representing over 80 individual and institutional plaintiffs are presently challenging the HHS mandate.
Irondale, Ala., Oct 2, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Bishop-designate James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb. began a novena to the Virgin Mary for religious freedom in the U.S. on Saturday by stressing the “heavenly and angelic battle” against sin, not against Americans’ fellow citizens.
“As we pray together for religious liberty, let us recall a simple fact,” he said in his Sept. 29 homily at Our Lady of the Angels Chapel in Irondale, Ala. “The role of religion in America will be respected when religion is lived with enthusiastic and infectious vitality. When we proclaim Jesus Christ with joy, in authentic freedom, the world will listen.”
The defense of religious liberty is not merely a political or cultural battle, he said. He urged Catholics to “get serious about the spiritual dimension of the Christian life” and begin with “hidden things” like prayer, fasting and sacrifice.
Bishop Conley said that “offering up a small sacrifice in the quietude of our hearts may do more to build up the Kingdom than all of the world’s preaching and teaching combined.”
The Sept. 29 - Oct. 7 Novena is organized by the EWTN Global Catholic Network to pray for the United States ahead of the November elections. The elections come at a time when the Catholic Church is at loggerheads with the Obama administration over a federal mandate that requires many employers, including many Catholic institutions, to provide employees with free insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including abortion causing drugs.
Bishop Conley also addressed the spiritual sphere of reality, in particular, the realm of angels and demons.
He said Catholics’ enemies are not their fellow citizens who threaten religious liberty or “slaughter” the unborn or “seek to destroy the Catholic Church,” because there is hope for them in redemption in Jesus Christ.
“Our enemies are the demons who entrap them. And who seek to entrap us,” the bishop said. “Our enemy is sin, and the father of sin, the evil one.”
He reflected that Sept. 29 is the Feast of the Archangels. Angels, he said, are “real creatures” who do “real work” in building up the Kingdom of God. They are a “blueprint” for efforts to defend religious liberty because they represent the primacy of the spiritual life and each serve as a “healer, herald and defender.”
“Our vocation is to join the angels in their spiritual battle against evil. Our call is to share in their work,” he said.
“Let us call upon the intercession of the mighty archangels, and let us imitate their work -- lived out in the freedom of choosing what is good,” Bishop Conley said.
On each day of the novena, a leading Catholic bishop will celebrate Mass at Our Lady of the Angels Chapel in Irondale, Ala. at 8 a.m. Eastern Time.
Besides Bishop Conley, bishops participating in the novena include Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City; Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile, Ala.; Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia; and Bishop Robert J. Baker of Birmingham, Ala.
The novena website is www.religiousliberties.org/novena.
Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 2, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Students at Loyola Law School have drawn criticism over writing a legal brief in support of Costa Rica legalizing in-vitro fertilization, a practice condemned by the Church.
The L.A.-based Catholic school issued a statement on its decision to submit the brief, saying it is “committed to the academic freedom of faculty members and students to participate in the study of different perspectives.”
But Dr. Anthony Lilles, professor of spiritual theology at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, Colo., countered that a Catholic understanding of academic freedom means that it should be guided by truth as revealed in scripture and tradition, and as taught by the Magisterium of the Church.
“Academic freedom means the freedom to pursue the truth, wherever it might take you,” he said in an interview with CNA Oct. 1.
News of the legal brief was first broken by the Cardinal Newman Society.
Loyola Law School is a branch of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, which describes itself as a “Catholic institution.”
The legal brief, submitted Sept. 3, concerns a case before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, in which Costa Rican couples wishing to use in-vitro fertilization are suing the country for prohibiting the practice. The brief is called an “amicus curiae,” or “friend of the court.”
The document was prepared by students in the International Human Rights Clinic, and supervised by Professor Cesare Romano.
Loyola Law School is not representing either side in the case, and by releasing the brief “merely seeks to advise the court on a matter that relates to the litigation,” the school's statement reported.
The brief is written solely on legal grounds and does not address the moral implications of IVF, which almost invariably results in the destruction of human embryos.
Students at the Catholic law school encouraged the court to “steer clear of the debate about when life begins and what the legal status of human embryos is.”
Rather than deciding the case based on the rights of embryos, the brief indicated that the the decision should be grounded in “the rights of infertile women and men.”
Although the brief said that the issue of when life begins “remains better left to the will of States and their practice,” it overlooked Costa Rica's move to not to legalize in-vitro when a bill permitting the practice failed in its legislature.
In 1987, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released “Donum vitae,” an instruction on the dignity of human procreation. In-vitro fertilization was found to be “morally illicit” because it “establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person.”
“Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children,” the congregation said.
Loyola Law School's statement explaining the brief said that their vision of academic freedom is “in harmony with the Law School’s institutional Catholic identity and Ignatian heritage.”
Dr. Lilles responded, however, that “Catholic universities need to be instruments of the truth.” He concluded by saying that “hopefully the faculty there will continue to work with those students so they can make better moral judgments.”
Calls to Professor Romano and the student authors of the brief were not responded to in time for publication.
Vatican City, Oct 2, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Despite his confession to Vatican police, papal butler Paolo Gabriele has said he is innocent of stealing Pope Benedict XVI’s private correspondence but he feels “guilty of having betrayed the trust of the Holy Father.”
“I declare myself innocent concerning the charge of aggravated theft,” he said at the Oct. 2 hearing at the Vatican City courthouse behind St. Peter’s Basilica.
Gabriele, a 46-year-old Italian father of three, worked in the Papal Household under both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. He was one of very few individuals who had daily access to the Pope and said he loved him “as a son would.”
In May, Vatican prosecutors charged him with the aggravated theft of documents, including private papal correspondence. His arrest followed several months of “Vatileaks” in which the Italian media reported on numerous sensitive internal Vatican papers.
Eighty-two crates of documents and other material were removed from Gabriele’s apartment and the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo during the police investigation.
Gabriele said at the trial that he photocopied papal documents but he said he did so during the workday on a workplace photocopier in plain view of others. He said he used the copier in the office he shared with Pope Benedict’s two private secretaries.
Msgr. Georg Ganswein, Pope Benedict’s personal secretary, testified that he began to suspect Gabriele of leaking the documents when he realized that three documents that appeared in journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi’s book on the Vatican could only have come from his office.
The monsignor said he did not notice any missing documents. When he examined the documents from Gabriele’s apartment, he found photocopies and original documents dating to 2006.
Cristina Cernetti, a consecrated laywoman who works in the papal apartment, said Tuesday she knew Gabriele had leaked the documents because she could exclude any other member of the papal household.
Prosecutors said Gabriele in June confessed to leaking the documents to Nuzzi because he wanted to expose the “evil and corruption” in the Church. He knew taking the documents was wrong but he felt inspired by God to “bring the Church back on the right track.” The butler told Judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre Oct. 2 that he stood by his confession.
Gabriele said that he wanted to find someone to whom he could “vent” about the situation that had become “insupportable for many in the Vatican.” He said the Pope was not being informed about important issues, like possible improper behavior in Vatican business dealings.
The leaks seem to be targeted to discredit Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, who has been the object of criticisms for alleged shortcomings in leading the administration of the Holy See.
Gabriele is also accused of stealing several gifts to the Pope police say they recovered in his apartment: a gold nugget, a 100,000-euro check, and a rare 16th-century copy of “The Aeneid.”
Gabriele’s attorney Cristiana Arru told the court her client faced poor conditions in the first 15 to 20 days after his May 23 arrest. The cell was so narrow he could not stretch his arms and the lights were kept on 24 hours a day. He said his eyesight was damaged and prison officials did not provide him with a pillow.
Judge Dalla Torre, president of the three-judge panel overseeing the case, ordered Vatican prosecutor Nicola Picardi to investigate the charge.
Vatican police said the prisoner had received appropriate food, free time, socializing, spiritual assistance and health care. They said they kept on the lights for security reasons and to prevent the accused man from harming himself. They added that they provided him with a mask to block out the light.
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said Gabriele’s first cell was in line with international standards and he was later moved to a bigger cell.
The Vatican court typically deals with around 30 cases a year but these normally concern minor crimes like stolen bags or other crimes that target tourists.
Gabriele faces up to four years in an Italian prison if he is convicted. His trial will continue through at least two more sessions.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Oct 2, 2012 (CNA) -
Pro-life leaders in Argentina are encouraging the governor of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri, to veto a law legalizing abortion in the province which was passed on Sept. 28.
In an Oct. 1 statement, Ines Franck of the local Committee on Bioethics urged Macri to exercise his “constitutional prerogative, this time in defense of the lives of the unborn.”
Macri has said he would oppose the law because it allows minors under the age of 14 who were raped to obtain an abortion without parental consent and at any time throughout the pregnancy.
“Not only would he thus be fulfilling an unavoidable duty of justice,” Franck said, “but also he would be respecting the ethical and moral convictions of the majority who those who voted for him in the capital city.
The Buenos Aires law was passed last Friday by a vote of 30-29.
Vatican City, Oct 2, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI will release a message in January 2013 that will examine the promise of social networks like Facebook and Twitter as “new spaces of evangelization” and “portals of truth and faith.”
The Pontifical Council of Social Communications announced on Sept. 29 that the Pope chose social networks as the theme of the Catholic Church’s next World Communications Day.
The pontifical council noted the need to be “attentive to the emergence and enormous popularity of the social networks, which privilege dialogical and interactive forms of communication and relationships.”
The council asked whether technology can help men and women “meet Christ in faith” at a time when technology has become “part of the fabric of connectivity of human experiences.”
The Pope’s message comes after a decade-long boom in internet social media. Facebook, currently one of the largest social networking sites, claims 800 million active users.
Although World Communications Day is observed on the Sunday before Pentecost, which in 2013 will fall on May 12, the Pope typically publishes his message for the observance on the Jan. 24 Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers.
The social communications council said the “digital environment” poses “one of the most important challenges facing the task of evangelization today.”
It stressed the necessity of learning how to present the Gospel “as the answer to that basic human yearning for meaning and faith.”
This approach requires “a new way of thinking” that not only considers how to use the internet as a means of evangelization, but considers how to evangelize “in a context where the lives of people find expression also in the digital arena.”
Bringing evangelization to social networks, the council said, will “serve to create a more dynamic and humane digital world.”
The Second Vatican Council’s 1963 decree “Inter Mirifica” called for the establishment of World Communications Day. The decree said the observance is intended to help teach the Catholic faithful how to “spread and defend the truth and foster Christian influence in human society.”
Jerusalem, Israel, Oct 2, 2012 (CNA) - Vandals sprayed graffiti insulting to Jesus on the walls of a Franciscan convent on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, echoing a similar attack last month and drawing renewed condemnation from Catholic leaders.
The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, a group of the region’s leading Catholic bishops, voiced “full fraternal support and prayer” for the Franciscans and the Christian community in the Holy Land, following the latest attack.
The Hebrew-language graffiti was discovered early on Oct. 2 on the Convent of St. Francis, adjacent to the Cenacle complex, which is traditionally regarded as the location of the Last Supper.
The graffiti derided Jesus and used the phrase “price tag,” a term Israeli extremists use for revenge attacks on Palestinians and Arabs, Agence France Presse reports.
The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land posted photos of the vandalism on its website, under the title “Once again ...”
Israeli President Shimon Peres denounced the vandalism, saying it goes against “the morals and values of Judaism” and does “great harm” to the state of Israel. He added that it is “forbidden” to harm religious holy sites.
The Catholic ordinaries’ assembly voiced its “grave concern” about the education program in “some schools where contempt and intolerance are taught.”
“More than anything, the assembly again asks that radical changes be made in the educational system, otherwise the same causes will produce the same effects over and over,” they said.
The bishops are hopeful that the perpetrators will be caught and brought to court.
Police are investigating the incident, which resembles another recent act of vandalism.
On the morning of Sept. 4, vandals set fire to the door of the Trappists’ Latroun Monastery and spray painted the walls with blasphemous phrases in Hebrew.
The act drew condemnation from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and Israeli and Palestinian political leaders. Dozens of prominent rabbis from Israel and Europe also condemned the attack and expressed condolences to the monastery.