Manila, Philippines, Jan 3, 2013 (CNA) -
Philippines Catholics have strongly criticized President Benigno Aquino III for signing a controversial “reproductive health” bill, vowing to oust supporters of the legislation in the country's 2013 elections.
“We will exhaust all legal remedies to fight this unjust, unethical and anti-poor and anti-life law,” said Dr. Ricardo Boncan, a spokesman for the Catholic Vote Philippines alliance.
He said the president's decision to sign the bill in secret Dec. 21 was “highly dishonorable and unprincipled,” citing the president's prior statement indicating he would not sign it before Christmas.
“This, to us, has been the hallmark of his presidency, deception and dictatorial,” Boncan said, according to the Philippines Inquirer.
The legislation requires government-sanctioned sex education for adults, middle school and high school students, as well as a population control program that includes fully subsidized contraceptives under government health insurance. It requires health care workers to refer for the drugs even if they have religious and moral objections.
Opponents of the bill warned that it would contribute to a breakdown of the family, strengthen a contraceptive mentality and advance sexual immorality. They also voiced concerns over the health risks posed by artificial birth control and the potential of some contraceptives to cause early abortions.
On Dec. 17 the Philippines House of Representatives approved the legislation by a vote of 133-79 with seven abstentions, while the Senate passed it by a 13-8 vote with two abstentions.
The debate over the bill included accusations of corruption, bribery and threats to obtain the necessary votes.
Juan Carlo Argo, a young pro-life advocate opposed to the bill who observed some of the legislative proceedings, told CBCP News the bill’s passage was “a bitter experience.”
“But the fight ain’t over. I can still help save lives in my own little way,” he said.
Amy Lee, another bill opponent, said she felt a mixture of sadness and “great determination” to fight the bill and evangelize the teachings of Jesus Christ.
“I am just unable to be a more obvious presence in the fight but I support a stronger Catholic presence in politics,” she told CBCP News.
Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, also expressed resolve to continue opposition to the law, the Philippines Inquirer says.
The fact that President Aquino signed the bill in secret without media attention shows that the law “is not meritorious at all,” he said.
“The fight against the Culture of Death goes on. We can only lament that this was their gift to the Lord and to the Filipino people during Christmas season.”
Before the president signed the bill, Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas of Lingayen Dagupan characterized it as a “moral time bomb.” He called for efforts to strengthen families and marriages and to educate young people “so that they can stand strong against the threats to their moral fiber.”
Catholic bishops’ conference officials have said they would support Catholic lawyers’ efforts to challenge the law before the Philippines Supreme Court.
Newtown, Conn., Jan 3, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Disturbing trends of violence in society should prompt both policy examinations and cultural changes, said committee leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“It is time for our nation to renew a culture of life in our society,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City and Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
The prelates, who lead the U.S. bishops' committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Communications; and Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, respectively, released a Dec. 21 statement responding to a recent mass shooting.
They urged a re-consideration of national firearm policies, mental health treatment availability and violence in the entertainment industry, as well as broader efforts to restore the value that society places on human life.
On Dec. 14, a gunman identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza opened fire on teachers and students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He killed 27 people – including his mother and 20 elementary school students – before taking his own life.
Offering a message of comfort and peace, the bishops extended their prayerful solidarity to all those affected by the “horrific evil.”
“No words can capture your suffering,” they acknowledged. “We look to Christ, his words and deeds, and ultimately to his Cross and Resurrection. It is in Jesus that we place our hope.”
To counter such violent acts, America’s elected leaders should consider reasonable limits on firearms that do not infringe upon people’s rights, the bishops said. While they acknowledged that “the intent to protect one's loved ones is an honorable one,” they added that “guns are too easily accessible.”
The bishops reiterated the call made in their 2000 statement, “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice,” for legislation aimed at protecting society “from the violence associated with easy access to deadly weapons including assault weapons.”
The voiced their support for the “sensible regulations of handguns,” such as “measures that control the sale and use of firearms” and efforts to prevent their unauthorized use.
The bishops also encouraged an evaluation of the impact that violent movies and video games have on the culture.
Entertainers should recognize that when their products glorify violence, they also “prey on the insecurities and immaturity of our young people,” they said.
“Such portrayals of violence have desensitized all of us,” they added, stressing that society must acknowledge the “emotional, psychological and spiritual effects” that these entertainment products have on people.
In addition, the bishops highlighted the need to address society’s treatment of those with mental illnesses. Recognizing the “pervasive role of addiction and mental illness in crime,” they encouraged reflection on social fears and prejudices toward those with special mental health needs.
Emphasizing the importance of sensitivity and support, they also urged the removal of “burdensome healthcare policies” that prevent those in need from receiving help.
“There is no shame in seeking help for oneself or others,” they said, “the only shame is in refusing to provide care and support.”
The bishops called on Catholics and “all people of goodwill to help bring about a culture of life and peace.”
“The events in Newtown call us to turn to our Lord in prayer and to witness more profoundly Christ's perfect love, mercy and compassion,” they stressed. “We must confront violence with love.”
Chicago, Ill., Jan 3, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal Francis George and the six auxiliary bishops of Chicago have warned that a proposal to recognize “gay marriage” in Illinois is against the common good and will force Illinoisans to “pretend to accept something that is contrary to the common sense of the human race.”
“Civil laws that establish ‘same-sex marriage’ create a legal fiction. The state has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible,” the bishops said in a Jan. 1 letter.
Cardinal George has sent the letter to every priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago, asking that the letter be distributed in parish bulletins this weekend.
Illinois State Sen. Heather Steans and State Rep. Greg Harris, both Chicago Democrats, have said they will introduce the legislation before the Jan. 9 end of the legislative session.
The bill, called “The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act,” would change the definition of marriage under Illinois law from “between a man and a woman” to “between two persons.”
Cardinal George, in a Jan. 6 column for the Catholic New World, said the mention of religious freedom in the proposed bill is “ironic if not disingenuous.”
“Those who know that marriage is a union between a man and a woman for the sake of family will carry a social opprobrium that will make them unwelcome on most university faculties and on the editorial boards of major newspapers,” the cardinal said. “They will be excluded from the entertainment industry.
Their children and grandchildren will be taught in the government schools that their parents are unenlightened, the equivalent of misguided racists.”
“Laws teach; they express accepted social values and most people go along with societal trends, even when majority opinion espouses immoral causes,” Cardinal George noted.
The Chicago bishops’ letter denied that “gay marriage” is truly marriage. They said it is “physically impossible” for two men or two women to consummate a marriage “even when they share a deep friendship or love.”
Cardinal George pointed out that the lack of consummation is grounds for annulment under civil law.
The bishops explained in their letter that this lack of consummation does not mean that nature is unfair or that God is cruel. Rather, it means that marriage is “what nature tells us” and that the state “cannot change natural marriage.”
The Chicago bishops also underscored the complementary nature of the sexes and the way marriage creates “not only a place of love for two adults but also a home for loving and raising their children.”
Countering claims that the Catholic Church is “anti-gay,” the bishops said that the Church “welcomes everyone” and gives them “the spiritual means necessary to convert to God’s ways and maintain friendship with Christ.” They pointed to the Chicago archdiocese’s work through Courage groups and its ministry AGLO.
“People live out their sexual identity in different ways, but the Church offers the means to live chastely in all circumstances, as the love of God both obliges and makes possible,” the cardinal said.
The bishops also made a point of saying the Church condemns all violence and hatred towards those with a homosexual orientation.
Looking at the “long term consequences” of redefining marriage, the bishops said that the law will regard those who distinguish between a “genuine marital union” and same-sex unions as “discriminatory” and “the equivalent of bigots.”
“When the ways of nature and nature’s God conflict with civil law, society is in danger. It is to that danger that we direct your attention,” they stated.
Illinois’ recognition of non-marital unions has already had consequences for Catholics and others in the state.
In 2010 the Illinois legislature passed a law recognizing same-sex and opposite-sex civil unions, which was sponsored by Rep. Harris. Although the legislation claimed to protect religious freedom, state officials used the law to end foster care and adoption placement service contracts with Catholic Charities throughout the state because the agencies would not place children with unmarried or homosexual couples.
The Catholic agencies had helped serve children for decades. The state contracts totaled over $30 million annually and helped care for about 2,000 foster children.
State officials said the agencies’ policy of placing children only with married couples was discriminatory.
The Chicago bishops’ letter encouraged Illinois residents to visit the Illinois Catholic Conference website at www.ilcatholic.org to learn more about the effort to redefine marriage.
Caracas, Venezuela, Jan 3, 2013 (CNA) -
A Venezuelan cardinal has called on locals to remain calm despite the uncertainty surrounding the health of President Hugo Chavez, who is hospitalized in Cuba after undergoing surgery for cancer.
According to the Spanish newspaper ABC, Chavez is in an induced coma and could be disconnected from artificial life support “at any moment.”
The newspaper reported that Chavez’s cancer has spread to his entire body and that his vital signs are being kept stable by the life support.
“Plans had been made to disconnect him soon from the artificial assistance that is prolonging the life of the Venezuelan president,” ABC reported.
Venezuela’s Vice President, Nicolas Maduro, called the rumors about Chavez’s health “lies,” although he acknowledged that Chavez is facing “a difficult situation” despite having “slightly improved at times.”
In his message for the end of 2012, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, archbishop of Caracas, said that as Catholics, “Our faith demands that we also promote a more fraternal society, and this obligation is greater for those in positions of authority.”
“In this context, amidst the uncertainty surrounding the health of President Hugo Chavez, it is essential we all uphold and defend the constitutional norms that govern the procedures for an eventual temporary or absolute absence of the president,” he said.
“We cannot accept other actions that would lead to instability in the country and would violate the rights of Venezuelans,” the cardinal added.
The period of transition should be marked by peace and respect for the constitutional rights of all, free of any actions that would cause unrest or anxiety or that would exclude those considered to be political adversaries, he said.
Dallas, Texas, Jan 3, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Newman Student Housing Fund is working to establish faith-based dormitories on two college campuses, housing students starting the fall semester of 2013.
“What makes them work is the community,” Matt Zerrusen, president of Newman Student Housing Fund, told CNA Jan. 2.
“We're just putting people together in a dorm who are faith-based, and want to keep their faith through college,” he added, and “we're just putting them in an environment to succeed.”
Florida Institute of Technology and Texas A&M University – Kingsville, both secular universities, will offer student housing coupled with campus ministry for Catholics next academic year.
Groundbreaking for the dorms occurred in October at Kingsville, and in December in Melbourne, the site of Florida Institute of Technology.
Zerrusen said the intention of the dormitories is to provide a faith-based community, without requiring dramatic sacrifices of students – “you don't have to memorize the Catechism to live here … but we'll surround you with positive Catholic influences.”
He plans to expand the model to other universities, and is already in discussion with a few campus ministry programs.
Father Douglas Bailey, SDS, is the chaplain at Florida Institute of Technology, and said he has dreamed of a Catholic residence hall throughout the 30 years of his ministry at the university.
He told CNA that he contacted Zerrusen with his vision for campus ministry, and that “we want to make it into an intentional Christian community.”
“My idea was to use the Notre Dame model, where you have a chapel in the dorm, and a rector or someone there responsible for the Christian life.”
He says the residence hall at Florida Institute of Technology will be open to all students, not just Catholics. “My hope is that it would be a tool for evangelization for the rest of the campus.”
“My guess is that people who are not Catholic and who would live there are people committed to their Christianity, and would want to live with similar-minded people. My intention would be not to proselytize them, but to incorporate them into the Christian community there,” said Fr. Bailey.
The residence halls at both campuses are meant to have all the standard amenities of dorm life, as well as a Catholic chapel for celebration of Mass and reservation of the Blessed Sacrament.
Zerrusen echoed Fr. Bailey's vision that the dorms are to be places welcoming of the Catholic faith, but at the same time balancing this with freedom for students, and not forcing anything upon them.
“We're not forcing anyone to go to church or even forcing them to talk about their faith … we are simply presenting a positive environment where students have the opportunity to make decisions based in sound Christian principle .”
The dorms are meant to have a stricter alcohol policy and visiting hours than other dorms, with dorm rooms separated for the sexes and “obviously” a strict overnight guest policy.
The inspiration for the Housing Fund's work is St. John's Catholic Newman Center, at the University of Illinois.
“St. John's is the model we're going after, and we're just trying to give students a place on campus where if they want to express their faith and live a Catholic life, they have an opportunity to do so,” Zerrusen said.
Until now, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been the only secular university with a Catholic housing program.
Mike Hatfield is advancement director at the campus' Newman Center, and told CNA that it has had a chapel and Catholic residence hall on the campus for 85 years.
He said the Newman Center has a chapel and dorm physically connected, all in the middle of the university campus, and has been recently expanded to house 586 students. It has priests and religious on staff, and has 13 different ministry programs.
These programs range from retreats and mission trips, to the Knights of Columbus, a food pantry, and missionaries from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.
The Texas A&M site is planned to accommodate 287 students, with a 300 seat chapel, and the Florida Institute of Technology's residence hall will house 140 students and in the future will host a chapel to be shared with a nearby Catholic high school.
Atlanta, Ga., Jan 3, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI has named Atlanta priest Monsignor David P. Talley, a convert to Catholicism, as the newest auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said Jan. 3 that he announced the appointment “with great joy.”
“The Holy Father has selected a wonderful member of this zealous local presbyterate for the episcopacy and I know that he will bring all of his many gifts and talents to this new office,” he said in a statement.
The archbishop called the appointment “a generous expression of the esteem that the Holy Father has for this local Church and an obvious recognition of and an invitation for our continued growth and development as a vibrant community of Catholic Faith.”
Bishop-designate Talley will be ordained a bishop at Atlanta’s Christ the King Cathedral on April 2, the first Tuesday after Easter.
He was born in Columbus, Georgia on September 11, 1950 and raised as a Southern Baptist. At the age of 24, Bishop-designate Talley converted to Catholicism.
He studied at Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in Indiana and was ordained a priest for the Atlanta archdiocese in 1989. He has a licentiate and doctorate in canon law from the Gregorian Pontifical University in Rome.
The bishop-designate has been pastor of St. Brigid Church in Johns Creek, Georgia since 2011. He has served as pastor or parochial vicar at four other Georgia churches. He has also been the archdiocese’s vocations director, chancellor and judicial vicar of the metropolitan tribunal.
Pope John Paul II named him a prelate of honor in 2001.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta has 857,000 Catholics out of a population of nearly seven million. It has 228 priests. Bishop Luis R. Zarama is the archdiocese’s other auxiliary bishop.
Pope Benedict also named a new Canadian bishop on Jan. 3.
Monsignor Stephen Jensen, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, will succeed Bishop Gerald Wiesner as head of the Diocese of Prince George in British Columbia.
Washington D.C., Jan 3, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The battle over religious freedom is intensifying as the controversial federal contraception mandate goes into effect for many for-profit employers at the start of the New Year.
“We shouldn’t have to give up our First Amendment rights to make a living,” said Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor for The Catholic Association, which seeks to bring a faithful Catholic voice to the public square.
Ferguson told CNA on Jan. 3 that employers who did not win a court order blocking the mandate are now “placed in a horrible position, choosing between their livelihood and their faith.”
On Jan. 1, 2013, new employee health insurance plans began for many companies throughout the U.S., causing the new federal contraception mandate to go into effect for them. The controversial mandate requires coverage of contraception – including drugs that may cause early abortions – and sterilization.
While the mandate includes a narrow exemption for some religious employers and a one-year delay with the promise of a revision for others, for-profit companies have not been offered any accommodation for religious liberty. The government maintains that the right to religious freedom does not extend to owners of secular businesses.
The mandate has prompted dozens of lawsuits from both for-profit and non-profit organizations asking for temporary injunctions to block the enforcement of the mandate while they argue their cases in court.
On Dec. 30, U.S. District Judge Lawrence P. Zatkoff granted an injunction to Tom Monaghan, the founder and former owner of Domino's Pizza who now owns the property management company for a Michigan office park.
The judge acknowledged that the mandate would place a “substantial burden” on Monaghan’s ability to freely exercise his Catholic religion and could cause him to suffer “irreparable harm.”
“It is in the best interest of the public that Monaghan not be compelled to act in conflict with his religious beliefs,” the judge ruled in granting the injunction shortly before the end of the year.
Other employers scored last-minute victories as well, including a Mennonite-owned wood manufacturing company in Pennsylvania and a dairy farming corporation in Missouri.
So far, 10 for-profit employers have received injunctions from the mandate, while three have been denied them. Those employers that were not granted injunctions can still argue their cases in court, but they may be subject to fines for violating the mandate during this process.
Grote Industries, an Indiana-based vehicle lighting manufacturer, is one of the companies that was denied its request for an injunction. However, attorney Matt Bowman said that the legal team representing the company “has asked the judge to reconsider her recent decision.”
He explained to CNA that the appeals court in the judge’s circuit “granted an injunction to another business the day after she denied Grote Industries’ request.”
Hobby Lobby, the family-owned arts and crafts retailer, was also denied an injunction by both a district and appeals court. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor turned down the company’s emergency injunction appeal on Dec. 26, removing hope of immediate relief from the high court.
However, Kyle Duncan, an attorney representing Hobby Lobby in its case, said that the company plans to continue providing health insurance to its employees without paying for the drugs that it finds morally objectionable.
To continue following their Christian beliefs, the company’s owners now risk fines of $1.3 million per day.
Ferguson said that the commitment shown by Hobby Lobby and its owners is “incredibly admirable.”
The company is “a true American success story,” started in a garage in Oklahoma, she explained, and Congress “ought to be paying attention” when a government regulation threatens the existence of such a business.
Still, Ferguson remains “cautiously optimistic” as the lawsuits continue to move forward, observing that it is “encouraging that we’re winning in most of the court cases.”
Prayer and efforts to educate others about the mandate are critical, she emphasized, urging the faithful to be active in their parishes, contact their congressional representatives and write letters to the editor to raise awareness and support for religious freedom.
The unprecedented encroachment posed the mandate could lead to a further erosion of fundamental freedoms unless people are willing to stand up now, Ferguson explained.
“Catholics should be gravely concerned about this,” she said.