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Archive of November 5, 2012

Colombian bishop says gay 'wedding' by priest is fraud

Bogotá, Colombia, Nov 5, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A bishop in Colombia said the recent gay “wedding” officiated by a priest not incardinated in his diocese was fraudulent, as same-sex “marriage” is not recognized by the Catholic Church.

In remarks to the Colombian bishops' news service, Bishop Jose Alejandro Castano Arbelaez of Cartago said Father Alberto Piedrahita – who was ordained in Canada  – cannot lawfully exercise the priesthood in Colombia.  

The sacraments administered by him “are illicit, and in some cases invalid,” the bishop said.

He added that Fr. Piedrahita has caused “great scandal” in the local community by celebrating Mass in inappropriate places, including bars, fields and even on tombs.

Catholics, the bishop noted, “must not only say what we believe, but we must also single out those who in the name of the Catholic Church are fraudulently usurping a right and are seeking to profit financially or increase their personal image.”

He called Fr. Piedrahita “a swindler who is officiating at religious ceremonies in fraudulent way,” and that the priest is “trying to usurp a right of the Church.”

Bishop Castano said such cases create “confusion, because many parishioners turn to these kinds of priests, and so word spreads that they do good, that they celebrate with devotion.”  

“For this reason we need to help them understand the norms of the Church in order to stop what is not only abuse, but also fraud and usurpation,” the bishop said.

In a statement issued by the diocese, Bishop Castano urged the faithful to refrain from receiving the sacraments from Fr. Piedrahita and that those who have been married by him so should call the diocesan curia “as soon as possible” to inquire about their validity.

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Benedict XVI sends encouragement to new Coptic Orthodox head

Vatican City, Nov 5, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI congratulated the new leader of the Middle East’s largest Christian Church as Christian minorities throughout the region face uncertain futures after the Arab Spring.

“I am confident that … you will be a genuine spiritual father for your people … and an effective partner with all your fellow citizens in building the new Egypt in peace and harmony,” the Pope said in his message to Bishop Tawadros, who was elected 118th pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Elected Nov. 4, Bishop Tawadros succeeds Pope Shenouda III, who died in March after leading his flock for over four decades and pursuing an agenda of Christian unity. He will be officially elevated as Pope Tawadros II on Nov. 18.

Pope Benedict ended his message by describing the current times as “challenging” and urging Egyptian Christians to unify in love and fellowship.

“Everybody wanted a leader who could unite Egypt’s Christians in these very difficult times,” Michael Meunier, president of the U.S. Association of Copts, told Vatican Radio Nov. 4.

Egypt’s Christians, mostly Copts, make up 10 percent of Egypt’s 83 million-strong population, while the remaining 90 percent is Muslim.

They are uncertain how life will be under the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled government. Under the regime of Hosni Mubarak, Christians suffered terrorist attacks and subtler forms of discrimination. No arrests have yet been made, for example, in the bombing of a New Year’s Eve 2011 liturgy in Alexandria that killed 21 Coptic worshipers.

Meunier, one of the lay Copts involved in selecting his Church’s new leader, believes that building bridges with moderate Muslims is necessary if Egyptian Christians are to have a livable future.

“It is important to have a pope who believes in dialogue with Muslims because it’s the only way to help promote democracy, religious freedom, human rights, and respect for all these values that we hope for,” he said.

And he believes Bishop Tawadros, whom he voted for, is the man to do it. The new spiritual leader was elected in Cairo’s St. Mark’s Cathedral in a unique and solemn ceremony meant to ensure the selection of Coptic popes is in God’s hands.

The names of the final contenders are written on pieces of paper and put in identical crystal balls sealed with wax and placed in a glass chalice on the altar. Then a blindfolded altar boy selects a ball.

Tawadros was one of three finalists chosen by a council of some 2,400 clergymen and lay Coptic leaders in October.

Known as a deeply holy man, Bishop Tawadros, 60, discovered his vocation late in life. He ran an Egyptian pharmaceutical firm before joining a desert monastery in 1986 and being ordained in 1989.

Until his official papal elevation on Nov. 18, Bishop Tawadros will spend his time in solitary prayer.

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Ecuador to celebrate beatification of religious missionary

Quito, Ecuador, Nov 5, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholics in Ecuador are preparing to mark the upcoming beatification of Sister Maria Troncatti, an Italian missionary who helped evangelize the country in the early 20th century.

On Nov. 24 in the city of Macas, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, Cardinal Angelo Amato, will preside at the beatification of Sister Maria, who was a member of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.

The Salesian superiors of Latin America, as well as other members of the order, will also attend the ceremony.

Sister Maria Troncatti spent many years of her life ministering to the natives in the eastern region of Ecuador. The cities of Macas, Mendez and Sucua were all evangelized by the Salesian order since the time of their founding.

The sister was born in Brescia, Italy, in 1883. During World War I she worked as a nurse for the Red Cross in a military hospital. In 1922 she left her country for Ecuador, never to return, to work with the Shuar tribe in the Amazon forest.

On the eve of her 85th birthday, she wrote a letter to her nieces and nephews back in her native country.

“You tell me that you are always hoping to see me return to Italy. At my age it is impossible and not the fault of my Superiors. They have told me many times that they would let me come to see my family if I wanted to.”

“I never accepted,” she wrote, “first because my place is here, but also because, when the day to leave arrived, the detachment from my parents, Superiors, country, language, from everything cost me dearly. When I boarded the boat, I said goodbye forever. We will see each other once again in Heaven.”

Sister Maria Troncatti died in an accident in the city of Sucua on Aug. 25, 1969, when the plane carrying her to Quito crashed. She was declared Venerable on Nov. 8, 2008.

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Vatican computer technician goes on trial over press leaks

Vatican City, Nov 5, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Despite his lawyer’s appeal to drop the case on the opening morning of hearings, a Vatican judge ruled that the trial for the second man accused in the so-called Vatileaks scandal will continue.

Claudio Sciarpelletti, the Vatican Secretariat of State’s computer programmer, is accused of aiding and abetting the Pope’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele, in stealing documents from Benedict XVI.

Senior Vatican communications officer Greg Burke said the charge is "more like an obstruction charge" related to his contradictory testimony during an investigation last May.

Sciarpelletti’s trial began Nov. 5 and is expected to be shorter than Gabriele’s week-long series of court appearances.

Gabriele was convicted in October of stealing the Pope’s private documents and leaking them to a journalist who wrote a best-selling book based on them. The book presented Vatican conspiracies, infighting, and corruption, such as the awarding of crony contracts that cost the Holy See millions of dollars. Gabriele is currently serving an 18-month sentence in a Vatican jail cell.

Gabriele did not receive any compensation for passing along the material, and said he was motivated by his love for the Pope, whom he believed was being manipulated.

Sciarpelletti, 48, was arrested for a short time in May after his lawyer said an anonymous tip led to the search of his desk. An envelope was found addressed to Gabriele containing copies of documents that had been leaked to the Italian media.

The computer technician is being represented by Gianluca Benedetti, who argued in court this morning that his client was in an “emotional state” when he gave confused and contradictory testimony to investigators, leading to the charges leveled against him.

Sciarpelletti was only briefly arrested, and news of his arrest was not even known until the indictment against Gabriele came down in August. Before that, the Vatican said there were no others involved in the Gabriele affair. Since the indictment against the butler was made public, it has maintained that Sciarpelletti’s role was “marginal.”

The prosecution’s case rests in part on allegations from an anonymous source that Gabriele and Sciarpelletti were in frequent contact, which could suggest cooperation in leaking Vatican documents.

At this morning's court appearance, the technician's lawyer argued that Gabriele did not even trust his client to upgrade his obsolete work computer.

Interest in the trial is centered on which witnesses called to testify will actually take the bench, as well as the contents of the envelope found in the former programmer’s desk.

Media access to the trial is limited, with no TV or audio recordings of the trial being allowed.

Witnesses were prepared to testify today, but the more substantive proceedings that will impact the outcome of the trial will begin on Nov. 10.

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Lawyers say Poland shocked over abortion fine

Warsaw, Poland, Nov 5, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Local attorneys say the European Court of Human Right's decision to fine Poland for not helping a girl obtain an abortion four years ago has unsettled many in the country.

“I think it's very sad that it's gotten to this point,” Gabriel Olearnik, a lawyer in Warsaw, told CNA.

“This story encourages Poland to be more inclined now to changing the law because of Europe's lack of sympathy,” he said.

On Oct. 30, the European Court of Human Rights fined Poland $80,000 U.S. dollars for denying an abortion to a girl who was allegedly raped as a 14-year-old in 2008.

Hospitals in the girl's home town Lublin and in Warsaw did not allow her to have an abortion. But the teenager, known only as “P,” eventually had the abortion in Gdansk after the Ministry of Health intervened.

“It's difficult to say if she was raped,” said Olearnik. “We lump different things as rape: there can be statutory rape, non-consensual rape, etc. The problem with rape is that it's very difficult to prove because you are trying to prove the consent, not the act.”

The Strasbourg court, which rules over 47 European countries, labeled the refusal of the abortion to the girl as “inhumane and degrading,” and said she had not received objective medical counseling.

Local attorney Karina Walinowicz called the European court's verdict “completely out of order and conflicting with Polish law.”

“I'm really worried this could dangerously impact future cases,” she told CNA.
 
Poland’s current law allows for abortion in three cases: rape, if the mother’s health is at grave risk, or if the fetus suffers from a disease or malformation.

According to statistics, Poland veers towards a pro-life stance, and the tendency is growing, with 76 percent of Poles aged 15 to 24 favoring a total ban on it.

One of Poland's biggest opinion poll agencies, CBOS, reported that those who viewed abortion as acceptable went down dramatically from 65 percent in 1993 to 9 percent in 2011. And another Polish market research agency, Grupa IQS, stated that 65 percent of Poles viewed abortion as unacceptable in 2011.  
 
There are now 47 locations in Poland where mothers can bring their babies and leave them anonymously in a safe place to be found and cared for.

Olearnik, who also serves coordinator for Catholic Voices Polska, added that incest and rape are issues that garner a lot of media attention, despite their rare occurrences.

“We're talking about this as if it's a huge proportion of abortion cases and it's actually not. It's a very small percentage, maybe not even one percent. There is a much bigger issue which isn't being dealt with, which is the push for abortion,” he added.

Olearnik said the U.S.'s “language of right'” with regard to abortion is being exported, without consideration of whether or not it's actually applicable to the country's situation.

“Write good laws that can be applied to the vast majority of cases, and that deal with the small percentage of cases in the best possible way,” said Olearnik.

“Don't write laws which deal only with exceptional circumstances.”

“Abortion doesn't erase the rape,” said Olearnik. “I encourage people to pull the maximum good to look after the girl and the unborn child. You need to be compassionate, but you need to protect both.”  

Poland and Ireland are currently the only two countries in the European Union, which have not implemented the EU's abortion laws.

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One day before election, Catholic vote remains good indicator

Washington D.C., Nov 5, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - With polls still disagreeing on which presidential candidate holds the lead just one day before the election, political analysts believe Catholics will continue to be an influential indicator of what the general electorate will decide. 

“The Catholic vote, like any number of votes, does have the potential to make an impact,” said Gregory Smith, a senior researcher who specializes in Catholic politics at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.

While they do not vote as a unified group, Catholics are significant in elections because of their large numbers, making up approximately one in four U.S. voters, he said.

Final polling numbers show a neck-and-neck competition between President Barack Obama and Republican contender Mitt Romney. Both Catholic voters and the general electorate are closely divided in their support of the candidates as the final days of the campaign come to a close.

On Nov. 4, just two days before the election, Pew released its final pre-election survey, showing Obama with a three-point lead over Romney among likely voters. Among Catholics, however, Romney held a two-point lead over the president.

Despite this discrepancy, Smith told CNA Nov. 5 that Catholics still resemble the general electorate more closely than most other religious groups, such as Jews and Evangelical Protestants. Both Catholics and Americans as a whole are very closely divided, he explained.

In such a close election, “small changes on the margins” can have “important consequences,” he added, noting that Catholics are one of several groups who could be influential in determining the outcome of the election.

With trends among religious voters remaining relatively similar to those in recent years, Smith said it is difficult to pinpoint what effect the contraception mandate and religious freedom issues are having on the Catholic vote this year.

Catholics – along with other Americans – have indicated that jobs and the economy are the issues they see as most important in this election, he explained.

At the same time, Smith added, most Catholics who have heard of the mandate say that they agree with the bishops’ concerns, “so there is that sentiment out there.”

In a recent Pew survey, about one-third of Catholics said that they had heard members of the clergy speaking about religious freedom issues, a slightly higher number than members of other religions.

The survey found that about 60 percent of Catholics have heard from the clergy about abortion and about 80 percent have heard about hunger and poverty, he noted, adding that there is not enough data to determine how each of these factors influenced the vote of the faithful.

Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, said that as a group, Catholics “tend to go slightly for the Democratic candidate,” a trend that is tied to the Church’s increasing Hispanic population.

Newport said that Gallup’s latest numbers show Romney leading 49-48 among the general electorate, with likely Catholic voters favoring Obama by a margin of 52-45.

While it is not yet clear what the Catholic turnout in the election will be, Newport said there is a good possibility that Hispanic Catholics will follow the general Hispanic trend of producing a lower turnout than the general population, while non-Hispanic Catholics will likely vote at about the same rates as the general electorate.

Newport believes that the changing composition of the Church means that overall the Catholic turnout will likely be below average.

Mary Gray, a researcher at Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, thinks the various polls in recent weeks do not lead to a clear conclusion, making the Catholic vote “too close to call.”

He explained in an Oct. 26 blog post for the research center that this election is so close, it may be impossible to tell with certainty who won the Catholic vote. This happened in both 1988 and 2004, he said, because polls disagreed on which candidate prevailed among Catholics.

Gray has worked throughout the past months to aggregate data from various polls that include a religious breakdown, in order to observe trends in the Catholic vote.

In the final days before the election, he observed that “President Obama has an edge among registered voters but loses this advantage among likely voters.”

Like other analysts, Gray believes the turnout among different Catholic subgroups will determine who wins the vote of this group.

Surveys have indicated that Hispanics and young voters will once again have a lower turnout than the average electorate, he said, while Catholic subgroups that tend to lean Republican are more likely to vote, which “may give Gov. Romney an edge in the end.”

Gray predicted that although the results of the general election and the Catholic vote remain to close to call, “the Catholic vote will likely maintain its bellwether status and follow the popular vote closely.”

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Americas saint's feast a time for prayer, evangelization

Vatican City, Nov 5, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Vatican official called Nov. 5 “an occasion of prayer” and renewed evangelization efforts, as the day marks the feast of Saint Emeric, a patron saint of the Americas.

“It's a time to thank our Lord for the great blessings he has bestowed not just on the United States but upon all the Americas, and to pray for the future – for the re-evangelization of our own United states, of North America and certainly South America,” said Monsignor Richard Soseman, a member of the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy.

In a Nov. 5 interview with CNA, Msgr. Soseman explained that America gets its name from Amerigo Vespucci, a 15th century Italian mapmaker.

Vespucci was in turn named after St. Emeric, as Amerigo is the Italian form of Emeric. “Today then, in that sense, is the name day of all the Americas,” Msgr. Soseman observed.

“When Vespucci drew the maps of the New World, he saw this continent without a name, so he put his own name on it, 'Ameriga.'”

During his remarks, the priest's thoughts turned to the United States elections which will take place Nov. 6.

“My heart is filled with pride that our country has had peaceful elections since the beginning, and I expect the same for tomorrow...that we can be an example for others, that even if you disagree, you can go in to vote your conscience, and eventually there will be in a month or two a peaceful transfer of power.”

“When I study things from other parts of the world, we see terrible strife, battles at election time, and we don't have that in the United States, so I'm pleased about that.”

St. Emeric was a prince of Hungary who died in 1031. He was the son of Saint Stephen of Hungary. His tomb was the site of several healings and conversions. He was canonized in 1083 along with his father and also his teacher, Bishop Gerard Sagredo.

As St. Emeric is listed in the Roman Martyrology for Nov. 5, priests are free to celebrate a Mass in his honor at their will.

In addition to serving the Congregation of Clergy, Msgr. Soseman is a priest of the Diocese of Peoria. In January, he will have served in Rome for five years. He oversaw the collection of documents for the cause of Venerable Fulton Sheen, and assists the Sheen Foundation at coordinator of international outreach.

The monsignor also teaches the extraordinary form at the North American College in Rome, and teaches the epistles of St. Paul at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts' Rome semester program.

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