Archive of January 31, 2013

Catholic thinkers debate government's role in helping poor

Boulder, Colo., Jan 31, 2013 (CNA) - In a recent debate, two Catholic commentators disagreed over how large a role government should play in exercising society's responsibility to assist the impoverished.

Father Robert Sirico, a priest of the Grand Rapids diocese and co-founder of the Acton Institute, a conservative think tank, said government should be kept small. He also stated that free markets – capitalist economies free from government interventions – will be strong enough to naturally care for the poor.

The Jan. 28 debate between Fr. Sirico and Michael Sean Winters, a writer with the National Catholic Reporter, occurred on the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

It was hosted by The Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought, an arm of the university's parish which aims to “promote the Catholic intellectual tradition.”

During his remarks, Winters countered that a “robust social welfare program,” run by a government representing “our collective moral action,” is needed to correct the dangers posed by the unregulated competition of a free market.

Ahead of the debate, however, Fr. Sirico told CNA that “proper moral formation” can help the free market to adequately care for the poor.

“That people act in ways where they have a sense of common decency, and are allowed to see the full effects of their decisions. That will tutor people on how what they do affects others. Moreover...we shouldn't have the kind of interventions of government, and charities, that empower immorality, that subsidize vice.”

He added that modern welfare systems, and “even some of our Catholic charities...reduce the human person to a mere material object.”

By focusing solely on material needs and neglecting love, solidarity, and the call to a moral life, Fr. Sirico believes that charitable acts can actually harm society and the poor.

The priest said during the debate that with the “overarching ethical orientation” a capitalist economy needs, it can provide for the needs of the poor. No solution, he said, will “get around the necessity of morally transforming society.”

He maintained that the free market is “morally neutral” and that the human actors in the market must bring good morals to it.

In his comments, Winters countered Fr. Sirico's argument by saying that free markets actually do carry a value system with them.

“The market does demand a certain value structure,” he stated. He pointed out that if one business owner pays his employees a living wage “because it's the Christian thing to do” and his competitor does not, “the market is not going to reward you for your generosity.”

Winters said that “the point is, we have an economic system that creates disincentives to act in a Christian manner – it is not morally neutral,” as Fr. Sirico had said.

Pope Pius XI's 1931 encyclical “Quadragesimo anno” offered criticisms of both capitalist and communist economies, and spoke strongly against unregulated capitalism. The pontiff suggested that “unlimited freedom of struggle among competitors” rewards those “who give least heed to their conscience.”

Fr. Sirico said that “my approach doesn't fall under the condemnation of Pius XI” because “I am arguing against that kind of idea.” He said that he is not defending laissez-faire capitalism.

For all their disagreements, the debaters were able to find common ground. Both uphold the right to private property and want Christianity to inform people's decision-making.

Winters just believes this will be done better through government intervention in the economy, and Fr. Sirico would leave it up to individual choice.

In interviews before the debate, Fr. Sirico and Winters were both dismissive of distributism as an alternative to capitalism. Developed in large part by the English Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton, distributism upholds the right to private property but seeks to spread the ownership of capital more widely, through promotion of small and employee-owned businesses.

While he believes distributism “is one of the legitimate approaches to an economy,” Fr. Sirico also thinks there are problems with it, calling it more of a “moral, aesthetic critique of forms of crass capitalism” than “an economic system.”

And Winters expressed having “a hard time seeing how we get from here, to any of the distributivist proposals I'm familiar with.”

That afternoon, Winters said he looked forward to the evening's debate because “it's really vital that Catholics engage each other...because there are tensions on both sides of the political ledger that are quite willing to divide the Church to achieve political ambitions.”

“All of us, we have to discover again how to have internal conversations, because the Church cannot be divided.”

He said he was thankful for the “incredibly vibrant campus ministry” at the University of Colorado for organizing the debate and providing an atmosphere of charitable disagreement.

“What is absolute, what is non-negotiable, and intrinsic, is the obligation to help the poor,” Winters stated during the debate.

“But there is room for disagreement about how we can achieve that. And that discussion has to be conducted with charity so we can learn from each other.”

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Changes in abortion language, laws seen as pro-life progress

Washington D.C., Jan 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Amid changing abortion rhetoric and significant legislative advances, a group of legal experts in the nation’s capital said that they are confident in the future of the pro-life movement.

“In this epic struggle,” said Dr. Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, “my money’s on the baby.”

Hosting a Jan. 24 symposium in Washington, D.C., Yoest and other speakers discussed changes in rhetoric surrounding the abortion debate, as well as growing legislative efforts in the 40 years since the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision established a “right” to abortion nationwide.

Much of the discussion focused on changes to tactics used by abortion advocates over the years.

Yoest explained that while pro-life advocates have been consistent in delivering a message of “defending life,” the abortion movement has changed the way it framed its arguments numerous times.
In the 1970s, she said, abortion advocates relied upon the “right to privacy” and emphasized that banning the procedure would lead to an increase in “back-alley abortions” and dangerous illegal procedures.

Today, however, abortion is seen as “reproductive freedom” and the “irreducible minimum of feminine empowerment,” she continued. The procedure is now supported as necessary for “equality and opportunity for all women,” and some have even tried to rebrand it as a means by which women can feel connected to one another.
In a further push to make abortion appear “morally neutral” and universal, the idea of “choice” is now being abandoned as well, Yoest said, pointing out that if abortion is necessary for women’s empowerment, it is logical to have every American pay for it, leaving behind any “choice” in the participation.

“What they could not win through choice they intend to impose through coercion,” she commented.

These rhetorical changes have also affected the debates around fetal personhood, said Laura Garcia, professor of philosophy at Boston College. From the 1970s through the 1990s, she observed, a large portion of the abortion debate centered upon whether or not a fetus was a person.

Now, because of advances in prenatal imaging, Garcia explained, “no one really denies” that a fetus is a human person. Widespread use of 3D sonogram pictures has helped establish the humanity of the unborn, particularly among young people, she said.

As a response, abortion is now promoted as an unfortunate but necessary reality, the panel speakers noted, adding that the word is increasingly being abandoned altogether in favor of the term “reproductive rights.”

While the message of the pro-life cause has remained unchanged, symposium participants continued, the legal strategy has evolved over the past 40 years.

Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, observed that while “Roe constitutionalized abortion, it did not legalize it.” Therefore, he said, a reversal of Roe v. Wade would not ban abortion within the United States, but would allow each state to determine its own policy on the issue.

Therefore, state-level efforts are a critical part of the pro-life movement, Yoest explained. In recent years, Americans United for Life has worked to craft and promote state laws to limit abortion and defend life across the nation.

At the moment, Yoest noted, there is a “tremendous supply of legislation in pipeline” at the state level. Such efforts have included bans on government and insurance funding for abortion, ultrasound requirements, abortion clinic regulations and informed consent laws.

“We have a very definite strategy that is gaining ground and gaining momentum,” Yoest said.

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Church of the Nativity gets large Vatican donation

Jerusalem, Israel, Jan 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican has promised to donate $135,490 U.S. dollars (100,000 Euros) to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem during a recent visit by Church officials to the Holy Land.  

The Vatican delegation, which included Undersecretary for Relations with States Bishop Ettore Balestrero, made the pledge to repair the world's oldest church after meeting with the Palestinian Authority's Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, according to Ma'an news outlet.

The talks on the 1,700 year-old church also included Palestinian Authority adviser on Christian Affairs, Ziad Bandak. It was built in 399 over a cave, is believed to be the true birthplace of Jesus, and was rebuilt after a fire in the sixth century. Over two million people visit the Church of the Nativity every year.

Officials from the Holy See were in the region for a series of negotiations on economic matters concerning the Church in Israel. As a part of those meetings they met with Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon in Jerusalem.

According to Vatican Radio, Israel and the Holy See's meeting on Jan. 29 was "serious and constructive" regarding the Church's fiscal issues.

The Bilateral Permanent Working Commission issued a joint statement saying it "took note of the fact that significant progress has been made and calls for a rapid conclusion of the agreement."

Discussions included negotiations on article 10, paragraph 2 of the Basic Agreement signed between the Holy See and Israel in 1993.

The Holy See and Israel, which have been in ongoing negotiations for 14 years, agreed to meet again for a plenary meeting in June.

The Fundamental Agreement, a series of negotiations launched on Dec. 30, 1993, is aimed at defining the rights of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.

After the latest series of talks, the Holy See and Israel could be on the verge of reaching a legal and financial agreement.

This means the Church in Israel would be exempt from taxes on religious property, as it was before the State of Israel was created in 1948.

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Canon lawyer: Bishop has warned National Catholic Reporter

Washington D.C., Jan 31, 2013 (CNA) - A canon lawyer at the Catholic University of America says that a recent column by Bishop Robert Finn serves as a strong urging to the National Catholic Reporter to re-establish its fidelity to the Church.

“What he's doing here,” Dr. Kurt Martens said, “is he's giving them a warning, saying 'Be careful, because...I've looked into the NCR's positions against authentic Church teaching on a number of issues.'”

“He has, as a diocesan bishop, not only the right, but the duty or obligation to oversee what is happening in his diocese,” Martens told CNA in a Jan. 30 interview, and “to make sure that the name 'Catholic' is not used in vain.”

Bishop Finn shepherds the Diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph, where the National Catholic Reporter is headquartered.

In a Jan. 25 column for his diocesan paper, “The Catholic Key,” Bishop Finn wrote that “in light of the number of recent expressions of concern, I have a responsibility as the local bishop to instruct the Faithful about the problematic nature of this media source which bears the name 'Catholic.'”

In his column, the bishop did not take issue with the paper's reporting, but with its editorial stances.

“In the last months I have been deluged with emails and other correspondence from Catholics concerned about the editorial stances of the Reporter: officially condemning Church teaching on the ordination of women, insistent undermining of Church teaching on artificial contraception and sexual morality in general, lionizing dissident theologies while rejecting established Magisterial teaching, and a litany of other issues.”

Martens, who works as an associate professor of canon law at the D.C. university, said that the gravity of the National Catholic Reporter's editorial stance of supporting the ordination of women is significant – and that the issue goes so far as to address Church unity and the Sacraments.

“Bishop Finn is...exercising vigilance over the use of the title 'Catholic' in his diocese. And if there is a need, he intervenes by first warning, and ultimately taking away that title 'Catholic.'”

In his column, the bishop noted that in 1968, his predecessor Bishop Charles Helmsing condemned the publication “and asking the publishers to remove the name 'Catholic' from their title – to no avail.”

Martens said, “it is correct that the title 'Catholic' can only be used with permission, explicit or implicit, of competent ecclesiastical authority” – who in the National Catholic Reporter's case, is Bishop Finn.

“His authority as local bishop is that he has indeed that right and obligation to verify that every organization that calls itself Catholic, is indeed Catholic.” He said this is important so that the faithful are not “misled” by writings in disagreement with Church teaching.

Martens said that the bishop's warning also serves as an invitation to a “substantive and respectful discussion” for the Reporter's representatives.

He also speculated that Bishop Finn's final step could be to remove the publication's permission to use the name “Catholic,” which is “perfectly within his rights.”

If the National Catholic Reporter is not open to dialogue with Bishop Finn, Martens said that the bishop “might have no other option but to take away their use the title 'Catholic.'”

In doing so, Bishop Finn would be exercising his responsibility of governing his diocese.

Martens observed that the bishop “has not only the right to do so, but he has the obligation. If there is indeed a problem with the editorials, as is the case here, and you see that someone uses the term 'Catholic,' yet is constantly undermining the Magisterium of the Church, then a bishop cannot just sit back and relax and enjoy a drink.”

“He has to intervene. It's not only a right to intervene, but an obligation also. The combination of the two is important. What Bishop Finn does here, is what he has to do as a bishop.”

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Pope gives new cardinals their Curia positions

Vatican City, Jan 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The newest cardinals in the Church received their secondary assignments today from Pope Benedict XVI, indicating how he best thinks they can contribute to his ministry.

The new posts for the men, who were elevated to the rank of cardinal on Nov. 24, 2012 were announced in a Jan. 31 Vatican communiqué.

During the ceremony in which the Pope made them cardinals, he told them, “from now on, you will be even more closely and intimately linked to the See of Peter … .”

And this will particularly be the case, he said, in the work they do for the departments of the Roman Curia, the administrative offices that assist him in his ministry.

Each cardinal will continue to fulfill their normal duties in their respective places, but these roles will allow them to directly involved in helping the Pope.

Perhaps the cardinal whose profile was raised the most by today’s assignments was the Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai. He was named a member of the Congregation of Oriental Churches, the Church’s highest appeals court – the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura – the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

Cardinal James Michael Harvey, an American, received appointments to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, the organization that oversees the Vatican’s properties and financial investments.

The Nigerian cardinal, John O. Onaiyekan of Abuja, was appointed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and to the presidential committee of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, who leads the Syro-Malankar Catholic Archdiocese of Trivandrum, India, was named to the Congregation for Oriental Churches and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Filipino Cardinal Lius  Antonio Tagle of Manila was made a member of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples.

The final appointment the Pope made was to name Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota, Colombia as part of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

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Doctor says Colombian coverage of abortion drug harms women

Bogotá, Colombia, Jan 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - An official leading the Colombian bishops’ pro-life efforts expressed regret over a recent decision to continue covering a drug used to induce early abortions in the nation’s health care plan.

On Jan. 23, the Colombian press reported on the decision by government officials to continue providing coverage for the drug, Misoprostol. Leaders of the Catholic Church and other religious bodies have criticized the decision.

Dr. Danelia Cardona Lozada, director of the Colombian Bishops’ Department for the Promotion and Defense of Life, voiced disappointment over the move, arguing that it is part of efforts by the World Health Organization and other groups to promote abortion in Colombia.

According to a statement on the Colombian bishops’ website, Lozada warned that with this measure, “the institutions that legislate and should be seeking the common good in our country ‘are failing women.’”

The response of the Church and other pro-life institutions to this abortion culture must be a continued promotion of the right to life, she said, as well as compassionate care for one’s neighbor, in this case, pregnant women.

The drug Misoprostol, “in addition to causing psychiatric disorders such as post-traumatic stress, also has biological and physical consequences such as hemorrhaging and infections,” said Lozada.

“The termination of a pregnancy at a later gestational age can cause a high risk for rupture of the uterus and other serious complications,” she added.

Senator Claudia Wilches also criticized the government’s decision as irresponsible, warning that it is a further step towards the full legalization of abortion. 

“This is what some groups want,” she said, “but my concern is whether this is what Colombians want.”

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Pro-lifers urge new Secretary of State to support human rights

Washington D.C., Jan 31, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - As Senator John Kerry is confirmed as Secretary of State for Obama's second administration, pro-life groups have encouraged the official to protect human rights, especially for the unborn.

“International diplomacy with a central focus on the dignity of the human person will bear tremendous fruit in building a more loving, healthier and more stable world,” Jeanne Monahan, president of March for Life, told CNA Jan. 31.

“The March for Life Education and Defense Fund deeply hopes that the new Secretary of State will work to combat the human rights abuse of today, abortion – both in the U.S. and internationally.”

Kerry was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Legislators voted 94-3 to confirm the nomination on Jan. 29. The three no votes came from three Republicans – Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, and both of Texas' senators.

Kerry was the Democratic candidate for president in 2004, and his abortion advocacy views have drawn ire from many in the Catholic sphere.

Critics have been quick to point out, however, that during his presidential campaign he said that “life begins at conception,” while also supporting legislation to promote abortion rights.

“John an outspoken champion of abortion and homosexual marriage,” Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, told CNA.

“There is little doubt that this unfaithful Catholic will continue the policies of Hillary Clinton and push the developing world, under threats of losing development aid, into accepting abortion on demand and homosexual marriage. I have little doubt that traditional peoples around the globe are cringing today at this choice of the Obama administration for Secretary of State.”

The state department is responsible for America's foreign relations. Under Clinton, the department promoted abortion access overseas as part of “reproductive health.”

“We are concerned Sec. Kerry will seek to impose his extreme anti-life views in America's name. In addition, there are serious questions about his commitment to religious freedom, having been part of an effort to gut the vital USCIRF as a senator,” Ashley McGuire of The Catholic Association said Jan. 31 to CNA.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom is a commission of the federal government which supports religious freedom throughout the world.

The issue of religious freedom was raised during Kerry's confirmation hearings this week. Senator Marco Rubio questioned him about the case of Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor and an American citizen who was recently sentenced to eight years in an Iranian prison for his work with Christian churches in the nation.

Kerry indicated that he, and the federal government, condemn Iran's violations of religious freedom and are calling for Abedini's release.

“Sen. Kerry, who has now been confirmed and will take the oath of office soon, has the opportunity to lead a worldwide effort needed to free Pastor's our hope that the strong statements he put on paper during his confirmation process will be transformed into full engagement when he takes office,” Jordan Sekulow, director of the American Center for Law and Justice said.

The Center also indicated that they “fully intend to hold him to this commitment upon his confirmation. Senator Kerry has an ideal opportunity to begin his tenure at the State Department by reaffirming American commitments to religious freedom.”

Kerry has served as a senator for Massachusetts, and his resignation will be effective Feb. 1. The state governor has appointed William Cowan to take his senate seat until elections can be held this summer.

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LA archbishop relieves Cardinal Mahony of duties, asks prayers for abuse victims

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 31, 2013 (CNA) - Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez has relieved retired Cardinal Roger Mahony of his remaining duties after the release of personnel files of priests accused of sexual abuse decades ago.

“We need to acknowledge that terrible failure today. We need to pray for everyone who has ever been hurt by members of the Church,” the archbishop said in a Jan. 31 statement.

"And we need to continue to support the long and painful process of healing their wounds and restoring the trust that was broken.”

Archbishop Gomez noted that “effective immediately, I have informed Cardinal Mahony” – who served the archdiocese from 1985 to 2011 – “that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties.”

The statement additionally announced that Bishop Thomas Curry of Santa Barbara has stepped down.

“Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry has also publicly apologized for his decisions while serving as Vicar for Clergy. I have accepted his request to be relieved of his responsibility as the Regional Bishop of Santa Barbara.”

“To every victim of child sexual abuse by a member of our Church: I want to help you in your healing. I am profoundly sorry for these sins against you,” the archbishop said.

“We will continue, as we have for many years now, to immediately report every credible allegation of abuse to law enforcement authorities and to remove those credibly accused from ministry.”

On Jan. 21, the Los Angeles Times published a story saying that 25 years ago, in the late 1980s, archdiocesan officials tried to hide sex abuse cases from police. The paper's story is based on personnel files dating from 1986 and 1987 which were filed as evidence in pending litigation involving two former priests.

Much of what the L.A. Times discussed were memos between Cardinal Mahony, and then-Monsignor Curry, who was vicar of clergy at the time. Msgr. Curry was consecrated a bishop in 1994, and since that time had served as one of the auxiliary bishops of the Los Angeles archdiocese.

In his statement Thursday, Archbishop Gomez confirmed the release of files of priests who sexually abused children while they were serving in the Los Angeles archdiocese.

Most of the documents have already been made public as part of the “Report to the People of God” created by the archdiocese in 2004. The documents include psychiatric records, investigative reports, letters of complaint, and private correspondence, many of which are now 20 years old.

“These files document abuses that happened decades ago. But that does not make them less serious,” Archbishop Gomez said.

“The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil,” he added, “there is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed.”

“Reading these files, reflecting on the wounds that were caused, has been the saddest experience I’ve had since becoming your Archbishop in 2011,” he wrote.

Archbishop Gomez also announced that in the weeks ahead, “I will address all of these matters in greater detail. Today is a time for prayer and reflection and deep compassion for the victims of child sexual abuse.”

The 2013 public release of the files of clergy who were subject of the 2007 global settlement, “concludes a sad and shameful chapter in the history of our Local Church,” Archbishop Gomez explained upon the release of the personnel files.

The archdiocese is releasing 124 files with names. Of this number, 82 files have information on allegations of childhood sexual abuse and 42 files have no information on allegations of childhood sexual abuse. However, “proffers” –  which are summaries of personnel files that were determined by the Court to be complete and accurate – have been provided in those instances.

There are approximately 12,000 pages in the files being released, in compliance with the court orders. According to the archdiocese, “media reports that there were 30,000 or more pages were inaccurate.”

The archdiocese has made the clergy files publicly available on its web site, and noted that “sad and shameful as the past history of sexual abuse is, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles can point to more than a decade of modern child protection efforts that are among the most effective in the nation at preventing abuse and dealing with allegations of abuse.”

Each one of the 287 parishes and schools has a Safeguard the Children Committee, and all adults who supervise children are required to undergo VIRTUS abuse prevention training, and must submit to background checks and screening.

Catholic school students and children in religious education programs also undergo age-appropriate abuse prevention instruction.

Priests, deacons, school faculty and administrators, and other staff members in parishes and schools are mandated reporters, and regularly receive training in how to report suspicions of child abuse or endangerment to civil authorities.

Additionally, the Archdiocese continues to reach out to victims of abuse and their families through our Office of Victims Assistance Ministry.  

In his Facebook page, Archbishop Gomez wrote late on Thursday: “Friends, today is a time for prayer and reflection and deep compassion for the victims of child sexual abuse. I entrust all of us and our children and families to the tender care and protection of our Blessed Mother Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of the Angels.”

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