Chicago, Ill., Oct 24, 2012 (CNA) - A new declaration signed by business and cultural leaders in Chicago voiced support for the U.S. Constitution’s religious freedom protections and emphasized the importance of education and engagement on this fundamental right in the face of current threats.
"In recognizing the unique and indispensable role of religion in our society and in the development of people, we affirm the positive good that religion plays in resisting vice and degradation, and in building virtue and a more noble humanity," the signatories of The Chicago Declaration stated.
Noting that religious freedom is “the indispensable means of ensuring the hopeful vitality of our people and Constitutional Republic,” they warned that “to lose it is to lose the heart of the nation and the Republic itself.”
The declaration grew out of the Reclaiming Religious Liberty Leadership Summit, which took place at Halas Hall in the Chicago area on Oct. 14.
The summit brought together more than 100 city leaders, including business owners, lawyers, media personalities, legislators and clergy members.
Participants of various religious and political backgrounds discussed current threats to religious freedom and signed the declaration to affirm their support for the Constitution at a time when the religious liberty, “at the very heart of our nation, is under attack.”
Prominent signatories included Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Chicago Bears senior director of special projects Patrick McCaskey, along with radio host Dan Proft, Jewish rabbi Philip Lefkowitz and Muslim attorney Asma Uddin.
The declaration acknowledged the need to educate people about the importance of religious freedom and the prominent formative role that it has played throughout American history.
It stressed the importance of engaging Americans through dialogue on the value and meaning of religious liberty and its foundation as a universal right, as well as why it is still relevant today.
The signers said they agree with America’s founders and generations of citizens who understood that religious freedom is an inherent right and a gift from God, who created human nature.
"We declare that the Religious Freedom established in our nation is for all people, all religions, and all faiths," they added, pointing to the openness to all religions that is rooted in natural law and included in the American founding.
"To steward the nation and future generations into a tomorrow of stable and sustained human flourishing, we must honor this heritage personally and publicly," they said.
The signatories warned that throughout the past century, America's "exceptional heritage has been progressively obscured, distorted and undermined, so that today it is increasingly absent in the national culture."
"Our Religious Freedom is under attack and the grave consequences of its increasing diminishment are already evident," they said, expressing opposition to the "movements and ideologies that have attacked our freedoms," particularly the federal contraceptive mandate, which attacks "the very core of our First Amendment rights."
The controversial mandate has been criticized for threatening religious freedom throughout the U.S. It requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.
The declaration signers called for the repeal of the mandate and pledged to act to "inform and educate those around us" about the importance of conscience rights.
Aware of the urgent threats to religious liberty in America, they called "for all people to take strategic actions to reclaim our destiny as a nation to be a shining example of Religious Freedom."
"In this way, we will be fulfilling our duty to God and thus respecting all those whom He has created," they said.
Organizers of the religious freedom summit are calling for concerned Americans to join their efforts by signing The Chicago Declaration at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/the-chicago-declaration/ and by engaging those around them in informative discussions on religious liberty.
Annapolis, Md., Oct 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A university employee who was placed on administration leave said that she has been humiliated and intimidated for her belief that Maryland voters should determine whether to implement a “gay marriage” law in the state.
“I am dismayed that Gallaudet University is still a university of intolerance, a university that manages by intimidation, a university that allows bullying among faculty, staff and students,” Dr. Angela McCaskill said at an Oct. 16 press conference in Annapolis, Md.
“I am pro-democracy,” she stated, explaining that she believes it is important “that we as the citizens of Maryland have an opportunity to vote.”
McCaskill, a deaf African American, spoke in sign language with the help of an interpreter to explain how she had been removed from her position as Chief Diversity Officer at Gallaudet University, an institution that serves the deaf and hard of hearing.
In March, a law to redefine marriage in the state of Maryland passed, but it was delayed from taking effect until January 2013, allowing time for its opponents to put it before voters in a November referendum.
McCaskill was one of 200,000 Maryland residents who signed a petition to put the measure before the people. Now, she believes that she is facing intimidation and punishment from her employer for exercising her rights.
At the press conference, McCaskill said that she had been approached by Martina Bienvenu, a Gallaudet University faculty member in the American Sign Language and Deaf Studies department.
Bienvenu asked her if she had signed the petition, and she replied that she had.
“In this very moment, she determined that this signature meant I was anti-gay,” McCaskill said, explaining that Bienvenu and her partner wrote a letter to the president of the university asking that she be punished.
On Oct. 10, university president T. Alan Hurwitz announced that McCaskill was being placed on paid administrative leave. He said that he would announce an interim Chief Diversity Officer and would “determine the appropriate next steps.”
Upon hearing the news, McCaskill said she “couldn’t believe it.”
“I was shocked, hurt, insulted. I was humiliated,” she explained. “Not only for myself, but for the students of Gallaudet University. They deserve better.”
“I offered to have a campus-wide dialogue on this very sensitive issue,” McCaskill said.
“I believe in civil discourse. I thought it was important that as a citizen of the state of Maryland, that I could exercise my right to participate in the political process.
“I thought that this would have been an incredible opportunity to teach our campus,” she explained. “Unfortunately, that opportunity was lost.”
She said that the university has “allowed misinformation to be circulated throughout the campus community,” adding that her reputation and 24 years of service to the university have been tarnished.
The decision to place McCaskill on leave was harshly criticized by groups including the Family Research Council and the Maryland Marriage Alliance as an intolerant attempt to intimidate someone for participating in the democratic process.
Critics of the move also noted that signing the petition was not necessarily voicing opposition to “gay marriage,” but rather support for the matter to be decided by a vote of the people.
A petition to reinstate McCaskill has drawn more than 23,000 participants.
Hurwitz has released two additional statements defending his decision to place McCaskill on leave as “prudent,” and expressing a desire to “work with” her in order “to enable her to return to the community.”
He said that the administration is conducting “very productive meetings” with faculty and staff leadership, as well as student organizations representing gay students and students of color.
McCaskill asked for prayers and called on the university to allow her to resume her position.
“Many people know me and know that I have nothing but love for people,” she said. “People ask me why I’m such a cheerful person, and I often tell them, ‘Because there is God in me.’”
“I have pushed for equality, social justice for not just one group of people, but for all people,” she added.
San Diego, Calif., Oct 24, 2012 (CNA) - The Confraternity of Catholic Clergy has released a non-partisan voting guide for Catholics in the form of a free mobile device app.
“With Election Day soon approaching, it is imperative that the lay faithful take their right to vote seriously,” Fr. John Trigilio, Jr., president of the San Diego-based fraternity, said Oct. 4.
“This Voting Guide is totally non-partisan. It neither favors nor disavows any political party or candidate. What it does is present gospel values and moral principles of the natural moral law to enable the Catholic voter to evaluate any candidate, issue or pending legislation.”
The Catholic Voting Guide app, developed by the Indiana company Little i Apps, is available at no cost for iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows smart phones and tablets.
The guide specifically focuses on six issues: right to life, religious liberty, sanctity of marriage, private property, access to necessary goods and war.
“The right to life and religious liberty are the two most sacred inalienable rights human beings possess from their Creator and no state or federal government can take it away,” Fr. Trigilio said. “Voters must take into consideration politicians’ positions on life and liberty and not just presume their own personal stand is sufficient.”
The app includes a reflection on Catholic duties in the voting booth. It draws on the 2011 U.S. bishops’ conference letter “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” and a 2004 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith written by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger before his election as Pope Benedict XVI.
A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who supports intrinsic evils if the voter intends to support those acts, the app says. Likewise, a conscientious voter may vote for candidates less likely to advance morally flawed positions or to advance other societal goods only when all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil.
Fr. Trigilio said the confraternity hopes that Catholics will use the app for every election and will use it to keep current on pending legislation which “could impact our most cherished values.”
The Confraternity of Catholic Clergy has over 500 U.S. priests and deacons as members, with fellow confraternities in Australia and the U.K.
Vatican City, Oct 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - At today's general audience, Pope Benedict XVI announced he will appoint six new cardinals, including an American, at a consistory that will be held Nov. 24.
“I invite everyone to pray for the newly elected, asking the maternal intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that they will always love with courage and dedication to Christ and his Church,” the Holy Father said in a St. Peter’s Square, which was teeming with pilgrims and visitors, many who came to Rome for Sunday’s canonization of seven new saints.
The cardinals-elect are: Archbishop James M. Harvey, Prefect of the Papal Household; Bechara Boutros Raï, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch in Lebanon; Major Archbishop Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal of India, head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church; Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria; Archbishop Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogotá, Colombia; and Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila in the Philippines.
“The cardinals have the task of helping the Successor of Peter in carrying out his ministry of confirming the brethren in the faith, and that is the principle and foundation of unity and communion of the Church,” the Pope noted.
The lone American is Archbishop Harvey of the titular see of Memphis, who was named Prefect of the Papal Household by Blessed John Paul II in 1998. Pope Benedict XVI said he plans to appoint the Milwaukee native, 63, Archpriest of the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
In his role as head of the Pope’s household, he has what is considered one of the most important positions in the Vatican because he handles requests for meetings with the Pope and arranges his appearances.
This will be Pope Benedict’s fifth consistory. After Nov. 24 he will have created 90 cardinals during his pontificate. That will bring the College of Cardinals up to 211. The 120 who are under 80 years of age will be eligible to vote in a conclave.
In a geographical breakdown of current cardinal-electors, Europe has 62, North America 14, South America 21, Africa and Asia both 11, and Oceania 3.
Corrected at 11:54 a.m. MST. Due to a reporting error, Archbishop Harvey's age was listed as 49 and it was said that he will remain the head of the Papal Household.
Menzingen, Switzerland, Oct 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Society of St. Pius X has expelled Bishop Richard Williamson, saying he has distanced himself from the traditionalist Catholic group’s leadership and he has refused “to show due respect and obedience to his lawful superiors.”
The Switzerland-based society said Oct. 24 that the “painful” decision was necessary because of “concern for the common good” and for the good government of the society.
The society’s Superior General Bishop Bernard Fellay and his council declared the bishop to be excluded on Oct. 4. Bishop Williamson, in response to a final deadline for him to declare his obedience to the society, published an open letter asking the superior general to resign.
The Society of St. Pius X broke from Rome in 1988 when its founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre consecrated four bishops, including Bishop Williamson, against the orders of Pope John Paul II. The ordinations resulted in the excommunication of all five bishops. Archbishop Lefebvre founded the society in 1970 as a response to what he saw as errors in the Church after the Second Vatican Council.
The society only celebrates the Tridentine Latin Mass.
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 diminished the magnitude of the Holocaust.
The bishop told Swedish public television that only as many as 300,000 Jews died in the Holocaust, when the accepted figure is about six million.
Bishop Williamson caused internal strife in August when he made an unauthorized visit to a Brazilian breakaway Benedictine monastery and celebrated the sacrament of Confirmation there for nearly 100 lay Catholics.
A Society of St. Pius X district superior protested that the visit was an act of disobedience that disrespected the society’s procedures.
The society’s ongoing talks with the Vatican on possible reunification are also a source of internal controversy.
Montevideo, Uruguay, Oct 24, 2012 (CNA) - The Uruguayan bishops’ conference has explained recent statements regarding Catholic lawmakers who voted to legalize abortion in the country, saying they are not excommunicated if they voted in favor of abortion.
“Excommunication applies to Catholics who have acted directly in carrying out an abortion, which does not include those who vote for a law that allows it,” Bishop Heriberto Bodeant, secretary general of the conference said.
In an Oct. 23 interview with Radio Carve, he clarified that excommunication would apply only to those who have performed an abortion and not those who voted to legalize the procedure in Uruguay.
“Automatic excommunication is for those who collaborate in the execution of an abortion in a direct way, and direct means committing that specific act,” the Bishops Conference explained on their website.
The conference said the need for clarification arose following Bishop Bodeant’s Oct. 19 comments when he was asked about excommunication in general and not about the excommunication of specific lawmakers who voted to legalize abortion.
According to the statement on the Uruguayan bishops’ website, “There was confusion after a television interview that took place the day after the Senate approved a measure that legalizes abortion, in which the bishop was asked about the question of excommunication in general terms and not specifically related to lawmakers.”
“At no time during the interview did the bishop say that lawmakers were excommunicated, but rather he responded to a generic question about excommunication in cases of abortion based on Canon Law (Canon 1398), which states, ‘A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication,’” the statement said.
As a result, “it was an erroneous inference of the bishop’s words that led to the statement that ‘the Church excommunicated those who voted to legalize abortion,’ which was immediately reproduced by various national and international media outlets,” the conference statement said.
Vatican City, Oct 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI said at his Oct. 24 general audience that the world’s “spiritual desert” must be transformed into “fertile soil” by Christians who live their faith to its fullest.
“Faith is an agreement by which our minds and our hearts say their ‘yes’ to God, confessing that Jesus is Lord,” he said to a St. Peter’s Square packed with visitors, including large delegations of pilgrims who came to Rome for the canonization of seven new saints on Sunday, Oct. 21.
“And this ‘yes’ transforms life, opens the way towards fullness of meaning, thus making it new, full of joy and of reliable hope,” the Pope added.
The address was the second consecutive installment of the Pope’s series of teachings on faith, marking the Year of Faith he inaugurated on Oct. 11.
He asked a series of “unrelenting” questions about the nature of faith and the meaning of life before exploring them in depth.
“What is faith? Does faith still make sense in a world where science and technology have opened new horizons that were, until recently, unthinkable? What does it mean to believe today?”
The Pope also asked questioned the meaning of life and posited whether “there is a future for man.”
“Where should we direct the choices of our freedom for a successful and happy life? What awaits us beyond the threshold of death?”
He said these questions must be asked more than ever in a world in which “a sort of spiritual desert” is encroaching—a world where many people “believe only what we can see and touch” with their hands.
On the other hand, he observed, the number of people who feel disoriented is growing and, “in seeking to go beyond a purely horizontal reality, they are willing to believe anything and its direct opposite.”
Pope Benedict proclaimed that for these times, Christians need “a renewed faith education, which includes a certain awareness of its truth and the events of salvation, but that mainly arises from a real encounter with God in Jesus Christ, from loving Him, trusting him, so that our entire life is involved.”
Contrary to the tendency of science to create a non-spiritual outlook on life, he stressed that man does not live on actual bread alone: “We need not only material bread, we need love, meaning and hope, a sure foundation, a solid ground to help us live with an authentic sense even in moments of crisis, darkness, difficulties and daily problems.
“Faith gives us just that. It is a confident trust in a ‘you,’ that is God, who gives me a different but no less solid certainty, than that which comes from exact calculation or science,” Benedict XVI stated.
That spiritual bread is provided by Christ, the sure source of faith, hope and love.
The Pope also emphasized that faith is rooted in something concrete and historical – the example of Jesus, who “revealed His love without measure for man, for each one of us: on the Cross, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God made man, shows us in the most luminous way how far this love can go, even to the point of giving himself up in total sacrifice.”
Another aspect of faith that he reflected on was the child-like trust that it requires.
“Having faith, then, is encountering this ‘you,’ God, who sustains me and grants me the promise of an indestructible love that not only aspires to eternity, but gifts it; it is entrusting myself to God with the attitude of a child, who knows that all his difficulties, all his troubles are safe in the ‘you’ of the mother.”
John Evans of Melbourne, Australia, was impressed by the prayerful atmosphere in St. Peter’s Square, despite the large crowd of pilgrims waving banners and the noise of the loud speaker system.
“Despite all of the noise going on outside, the Church remained really focused,” said Evans, visiting Rome for the first time with his wife Annie. “I was sitting there listening to the Gospel of Mark, and for all this going on, the majority of people seemed to be listening to the word of God.”
In his address, the Pope commented on “the harsh words of the Risen Jesus who says: ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.’”
“I invite you to reflect on this,” he encouraged the crowd. With “confidence in the action of the Holy Spirit, we must always … preach the Gospel” and give “a courageous witness of faith.”
Pope Benedict suggested Catholics recommit themselves to their baptismal promises as a way of preparing to share the faith.
“The basis of our journey of faith is baptism, the sacrament which gifts us the Holy Spirit, making us children of God in Christ, and marks our entry into the community of faith, the Church,” he said toward the end of his address.
Providence, R.I., Oct 24, 2012 (CNA) - Four news organizations are seeking the release of sealed court documents from a lawsuit contesting the will of a Rhode Island woman who gave $60 million to the Legion of Christ.
Jim Fair, Communications Director with the Legion of Christ, said the donor was “a beloved member of our spiritual family” and the religious congregation was “respectful and diligent in carrying out her wishes.”
He told CNA Oct. 24 that it is “appropriate” for the documents to stay sealed “to ensure that potential jurors are not influenced and that the Legion’s constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury is protected.”
On Oct. 24 the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Providence Journal and the National Catholic Reporter submitted a legal filing that argued the public has a right to access the documents concerning a legal challenge to the will of Gabrielle Mee.
Mee, a member of the Legion of Christ’s lay movement Regnum Christi, left $60 million to the congregation.
Mee’s niece, Mary Lou Dauray, challenged the will in court. She said her aunt, who died in 2008, had been defrauded by the order into leaving her fortune to it.
Since Mee’s death, the Legion of Christ has been through major turmoil following revelations that its founder Fr. Marciel Maciel had sexually abused seminarians and fathered children by at least two women.
Fr. Maciel had given financial advice to Mee, while another priest helped her with estate planning.
Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein threw out Dauray’s challenge in September on the grounds she lacked standing to sue. However, he said the transfer of money from “a steadfastly spiritual elderly woman to her trusted but clandestinely dubious religious leaders” raises “a red flag.”
Dauray’s attorney Bernard Jackvony, a former Rhode Island lieutenant governor, plans to appeal the ruling.
He told the AP that the case documents contain information about the Legion that is not known to the public. He favors their unsealing.
However, Fair defended the Legion. “We believe our actions with regard to Mrs. Mee and her estate were appropriate and honorable and are confident we will prevail in any legal actions in this regard,” he said.
Mee became a consecrated laywoman for Regnum Christi in 1991. Fair said she was a benefactor of the Legion of Christ and apostolates like Mater Ecclesiae, Inc. because “that way she could fulfill the wishes of her late husband and her own to help the Roman Catholic Church.”