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Archive of February 5, 2013

Catholics, Reformed Christian groups acknowledge baptisms

Washington D.C., Feb 5, 2013 (CNA) - Representatives of the U.S. bishops' conference and four Reformed Christian denominations have publicly affirmed that they recognize each other's baptisms as valid.

“We are overjoyed at this historic recognition of one another's baptism and are committed to move forward in a new round exploring a common vision of the church,” said Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden of Baltimore.

The bishop, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, praised the cooperative efforts that resulted in the Jan. 29 signing of the Common Agreement on the Mutual Recognition of Baptism.

The statement was signed by members of the bishops’ committee and four Protestant denominations – the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the Presbyterian Church-USA, the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ.

The signing took place at a prayer service at St. Mary Cathedral in Austin, Texas, during the opening of the annual meeting of Christian Churches Together, an ecumenical association of more than 40 Christian groups.  

A copy of the agreement was given to each member of Christian Churches Together, in the hopes that they would be encouraged to consider whether they would also join in recognizing the baptisms of the other denominations.

The baptismal agreement came out of the seventh round of the Catholic-Reformed Dialogue in the U.S.

That portion of the dialogue, which ran from 2003-2010, found that the five groups agreed on a formula for baptism, which must “include flowing water and be performed in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” according to a statement by the bishops’ conference.

The U.S. bishops voted in November 2010 to approve the agreement, and members of the Catholic-Reformed Dialogue ratified the document privately in 2011.

The bishops’ conference referred to the Jan. 29 signing as “a ceremonial representation of the growing unity between Christians and the progress of the ecumenical movement.”

This is the first such baptismal agreement that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has approved.

Father John Crossin, executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the U.S. bishops’ conference, hopes that the Common Agreement will bridge efforts for future ecumenical work.  

“There has already been a strong response from (Christian Churches Together) members who have said this represents healing,” said Fr. Crossin, who is an Oblate of Saint Francis De Sales.

“In the past, there has been much confusion, and even pain, over the failure to reach an understanding on this question,” he continued. “Our hope is that this would be a model for similar agreements.”

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HHS mandate changes protect only 'a few more ministries'

Washington D.C., Feb 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Legal analysts warned that the government’s new proposals on the HHS mandate do little to expand religious freedom protections for employers that object to it.

“This unilateral redefinition of religious freedom undermines the sanctity of religious freedom for all people,” said legal expert Brian Walsh, “even those who are not affected and have no objection to these products and services.”

Walsh, the executive director of the American Religious Freedom program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, spoke with CNA on Feb. 4 about the latest development regarding the federal contraception mandate.

“The idea that the administration can unilaterally make these decisions should be concerning for all people of faith,” he said.

On Feb. 1, the Obama administration announced its intent to modify the federal contraception mandate, which requires employers to offer health insurance coverage of contraception – including some drugs that can cause early abortions – and sterilization.

Religious organizations and businesses owners who have conscientious objections to these requirements have contested the requirement. More than 40 lawsuits are currently challenging the mandate on the grounds of religious freedom.

The Obama administration said that it would simplify the terms under which an objecting employer may qualify for a religious exemption, dropping requirements that such groups exist to inculcate religious beliefs and both hire and serve primarily members of their own faiths.

Religious groups do not qualify for the exemption are instead offered an “accommodation” under which their employees will be offered a parallel health insurance plan that covers the objectionable products and procedures.

The government argues that this contraception coverage can be offered for free because it decreases childbirths and provides women with health benefits that lower their overall health care costs.

However, the administration’s announcement has drawn criticism for failing to address the religious liberty concerns surrounding the mandate.

The Alliance Defending Freedom – which is handling several religious freedom lawsuits challenging the regulation – explained that the “new exemption is simpler than before but continues to cover only a sliver of religious organizations.”

This is because the exemption still relies upon a section of tax code that categorizes churches, their conventions, auxiliaries and religious orders, the group explained in a Feb. 1 blog post.

“Still not covered by the new exemption” the blog post explained, “are virtually all non-church religious nonprofit organizations,” including aid organizations, hospitals, schools, independent food pantries and religious publishers.

Walsh agreed what while “a few more ministries” are now exempt, “the mandate itself is just as objectionable and offensive as it was when it was issued a year ago.”

For those groups that fall under the accommodation, he said, the government has proposed “nothing more than an accounting gimmick,” which many religious employers still consider morally unacceptable. 

He also observed that non-religious employers that object to providing the contraceptive coverage are offered no relief under the mandate.

“I think what’s most deeply disturbing,” Walsh said of the revision, “is that after a year of internal deliberation, the administration still believes that it has the power, on its own, to redefine American religious freedom and restrict protections of those freedoms in a way the federal government has never before considered.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R- N.J.), who co-chairs the bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus in the House, also spoke out against the announcement.

“The so-called new policy is the discredited old policy, dressed up to look like something else,” he said in a Feb. 1 statement.

“The mandate remains a serious violation of religious freedom,” he said. “Only the most naïve or gullible would accept this as a change in policy.”

Smith explained that the proposed changes are “neither an ‘accommodation’ nor a compromise,” as they offer “no relief for small businesses run by people of faith.”

In addition, he said, the new proposal offers no real option for charities, hospitals or schools that wish to provide insurance that “does not violate their moral or religious beliefs.”

Organizations that cannot in good conscience accept the terms of the “accommodation” could face “ruinous fines,” Smith observed, and if these organizations are forced to shut down, it would harm the most vulnerable members of society, whom they serve.

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Peruvian cardinal calls for action to protect life

Lima, Peru, Feb 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Peruvian cardinal is asking the faithful to participate in the March for Life in Lima on March 23 to show their unwavering support for the dignity of all human life.

“The time has come to demonstrate with action and on the streets,” said Cardinal Juan Luis Ciprian of Lima.

The lives of the unborn are “in danger from very powerful forces that have a lot of money,” he warned.

Those pushing for abortion have lost their way, since they are working “to campaign for the elimination of unprotected lives,” he continued.

In announcing the march, Cardinal Cipriani underscored the importance of diversity among participants, highlighting the laity, politicians, journalists, artists, parents and young people.

“The Archdiocese of Lima gives all of its support so that we may demonstrate in a public and open way the love for life, the love for that God who has given us life,” he added.

“What we really want is to affectionately and tenderly protect your life and mine because once we were protected by our own mothers,” he explained, adding that “the height of cynicism is to say that these abortion campaigns are for the protection of women.”

Those who stand for life are on the side of rationality, the cardinal said, while those who support abortion are choosing the irrational.

“Abortion is murder,” he stressed, and society must not allow such “serious destruction.”

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Archbishop hopes St. Peter art show will spark longing for God

Vatican City, Feb 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A unique art exhibition aimed at giving “voice to the nostalgia for God” found in modern culture will open at Castel Sant’Angelo tomorrow as part of the Year of Faith.

The exhibit will bring together works from nine countries and will allow visitors to both contemplate beauty and “have an important meeting with the image of Peter,” Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization told CNA on Feb. 5.

That encounter with St. Peter, he added, will give viewers a chance to grow in faith.

The exhibition, called “The Path of Peter,” was introduced by Archbishop Fisichella at the Holy See press office on Feb. 5. It features pieces that range from the 4th and 5th centuries all the way until the 20th century.

“First of all, it's good to explain the 'why' of this exhibit,” Archbishop Fisichella said, underscoring that the aim of the show is to reinforce the desire for God that is present in everyone’s heart.

The new evangelization council decided to organize the exhibit because “Peter is the image of humanity that seeks and that finds and that, after having found, follows,” the archbishop said.

“Looking upon the work of art, believers and non-believers have different reactions, but beauty expresses a call to one and all to listen to the message that can be perceived in the silence of contemplation,” he observed.

The Path of Peter exhibition will last from Feb. 6 until May 1 and is taking place at Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome.

The president of the new evangelization council also offered some insights into the contemporary cultural situation.

He believes that the current moment is “strongly characterized by contradictory movements ... On the one hand it seems that there is a general feeling of fatigue and indifference that even affects our faith” and assumes faith is no longer relevant.

“On the other hand,” he noted, “there is the excessive enthusiasm for scientific progress and new lifestyles as if these were the solutions to today's serious problems.”
 
The conclusion that is frequently presented in response to these desires is to say that “it is good to limit faith's sphere to the private, denying its social or cultural effect.”

And yet, Archbishop Fisichella said that the desire for transcendent beauty remains strong, a fact that can be seen in the constant demand for the beauty of nature and works of art.

Looking ahead to the rest of Pope Benedict's Year of Faith – which lasts until Nov. 24 – Archbishop Fisichella said his council is planning several events in Rome that will “testify that faith is not just something private, but on the contrary, is something that is lived together with the community, and also as a public sign for the world.”

Launched on Oct. 11 of 2012, the Pope's Year of Faith marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and has been heralded as an opportunity for Catholics to renew their faith in order to share it more fully with those around them.

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Colombian priest killed in continuing trend of violence

Bogotá, Colombia, Feb 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A cardinal in Colombia is mourning the recent murder of a local priest, which brings the clergy death toll in the country to 83 since 1984.

“Every murder is offensive, but the murder of a man who has dedicated his life to Christ and to the service of others causes special concern,” said Cardinal Ruben Salazar of Bogota, reacting to the murder.

Father Luis Alfredo Suarez Salazar was killed on Feb. 2 by two unknown assailants in the northern Colombian city of Ocana. The 50-year-old priest was visiting the city on vacation before planning to return to his home Diocese of Villavicencio.

According to police reports, Fr. Suarez was killed while helping his sister load items into her van. The two assailants fled on a motorcycle.

The driver of the van, Hernan Torres Ramos, was also wounded in the attack and is recovering in a local hospital.

Fr. Suarez’s family said that he had not been the target of any threats and was known in the community for his humanitarianism and solidarity with those in need. According to media reports, he was anxious to return to Villavicencio to continue his ministry.

Cardinal Salazar warned that the problem of violence against clergy is a common one in Colombia.

“There are many threatened priests in all regions of the country, especially where there is armed conflict,” he said.

According to data from the Colombian bishops, more than 80 priests have been killed in the last three decades, along with five religious sisters, three religious brothers, three seminarians, one bishop and one archbishop. 

In the same period of time, 17 bishops and 52 priests have received death threats.

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State legislation blocking abortion insurance coverage grows

Washington D.C., Feb 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A recent report indicates that numerous states are passing restrictions on insurance coverage of abortion under the health care reform law.

Mary Harned, staff counsel at Americans United for Life, said that state-level pro-life laws passed in recent legislative sessions have “been a great victory for the unborn and women across the country.”

“The fact that these types of laws are successful,” Harned told CNA on Feb. 5, “shows that many Americans do not want public funds paying for abortions, and they also do not want their own insurance premiums paying for abortion.”

Harned responded to a new report by the Guttmacher Institute, an organization committed to “reproductive health” and formerly connected to Planned Parenthood.

The report analyzes state laws as the date approaches for the Affordable Care Act to go into effect. The law, which provides for state health care exchanges in which individuals and small businesses can find insurance plans, also gives states express authority to limit abortion coverage. 

According to Guttmacher, 20 states have passed legislation to restrict abortion coverage in insurance plans offered through the health care exchanges.

Some states require abortion coverage to be purchased separately so as to avoid using taxpayer money to fund abortions. Others prohibit abortion coverage in the exchange health plans except in the cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

Eight states have laws “restricting insurance coverage of abortion” altogether in private plans, including those in the exchanges. 

In addition, 18 states limit “abortion coverage in insurance plans for public employees,” and 13 states have more than one kind of restriction.

Harned said that the institute’s assessment of insurance coverage laws is “pretty accurate” and matches the study carried out by Americans United for Life.

“Polls show that the vast majority of Americans oppose the public funding for abortion,” she noted.

Public discussion of the Affordable Care Act “drew a lot of people’s attention to the fact that many insurance plans do cover abortions,” she added, and many states are now “very interested” in modifying such insurance coverage.

Harned said “an increase in interest” among the general American population has also been a driving force behind measures to restrict both public and private insurance funding of abortion procedures.

Citizens have come to the conclusion that they “do not want their tax dollars paying for their public employees to have abortions,” she explained, and in many states “they don’t want their premiums covering abortions for other people” either.

Americans United for Life has worked to provide legal counsel and model legislation for states wishing to enact pro-life laws.

Several states, including Alabama, Nebraska, South Carolina and Virginia, have relied upon the pro-life organization’s language in enacting laws restricting insurance coverage of abortion in the exchanges, Harned said.

“Our conclusion is that this is a great victory for the unborn, and for their mothers and for taxpayers,” she explained, adding that “we expect more states to follow.”

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