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Archive of February 6, 2013

World's bishops make progress in abuse response

Rome, Italy, Feb 6, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Father Robert Oliver, the Vatican's new person responsible for investigating cases of clerical sex abuse, says that over three-quarters of the world’s bishops conferences have developed guidelines for cases of alleged abuse.

At the same time, Fr. Oliver recalled that Pope Benedict XVI asked “all institutions, without exception...to comply with standards in the protection of children and young people.”

The project of requiring every bishops' conference to create guidelines for responding to abuse allegations began with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issuing a circular letter to the world’s 112 episcopal conferences in May 2011.

Although Fr. Oliver only began his job on Feb. 1, he delivered remarks to a Feb. 5 conference that was held at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, under the title “Toward Healing and Renewal.”

He reported that of the 112 conferences “more than three-quarters” have sent or are close to sending their responses to the doctrine office.

The highest response rates were from South America, North America, Oceania and Europe. The remaining conferences are working with the Vatican’s doctrine department to complete the process.

The circular letter called for attention to five areas in developing guidelines: assistance to victims of sexual abuse; child protection; the formation of future priests and religious; support for the priests accused of or found guilty of abuse; and collaboration with civil authorities.

Fr. Oliver also made some general observations about the drafts the doctrine congregation has already received.

He noted that the personal example of the Pope in meeting with sex abuse victims and listening to their pain with compassion “is having a great effect.”

In his previous post in the Boston archdiocese, Fr. Oliver said that he heard from victims about the harm inflicted on them, and he also heard about the sense of alienation and abandonment that priests felt in the wake of scandals.

In addition to the conferences' guidelines, the Gregorian-based Center for Child Protection is running an online training module to promote the prevention of the sexual abuse of minors.

Both Fr. Oliver and Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, who also presented at the conference, agreed that responding to sexual abuse and protecting children require a sustained and concerted effort on the part of the Church.

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Legal expert laments media confusion over mandate

Washington D.C., Feb 6, 2013 (CNA) - The Obama administration’s latest proposals to revise the federal contraception mandate have been significantly misunderstood and misrepresented, said a legal scholar.

Carrie Severino, chief counsel at the Judicial Crisis Network and a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, said the media confusion is “not surprising,” given that the administration released the 80-page document on a Friday afternoon, leaving just a few hours for journalists to scour it and write a report.  

“The explanation was far from clear,” she told CNA, and its complexity has left many people unsure of the proposal's exact details.

However, Severino also believes that “some of the confusion is purposely being perpetrated” by groups such as Catholics United, an organization that has criticized the U.S. bishops for their work to defend religious liberty.

On Feb. 1, the Obama administration announced its intent to modify a federal mandate that requires employers to offer health insurance covering contraception, sterilization and early abortion-inducing drugs. The mandate has been heavily controversial since it was first announced and is currently the subject of numerous lawsuits.

James Salt, executive director of Catholics United, hailed the Feb. 1 announcement as a “victory” for the Catholic Church and said that the Obama administration should be praised for “alleviating the Church’s concerns.”

Salt argued that “sensible Americans already know” that “religious identity is protected and cherished in this country,” while it is simply a “divisive right-wing myth that religious liberty is somehow attacked” through the mandate.

Catholics United, which describes itself as a “non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting the message of justice and the common good found at the heart of the Catholic Social Tradition,” has been surrounded in controversy numerous times in recent years over accusations of left-leaning political activism rather than a true representation of Catholic teachings.

The organization has been repeatedly criticized for failing to speak out against the Obama administration’s heavy support for taxpayer-funded abortion.

In 2008, Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League, charged that Catholics United was tied to left-wing billionaire George Soros. Catholics United has denied the connection.

The group also created a “Catholics for Sebelius” website to promote the Obama administration’s nomination of Kathleen Sebelius, whom Salt had previously worked for.

In addition to her adamant promotion of abortion while governor of Kansas, Sebelius has come under fire as Secretary of Health and Human Services for her key role in issuing the contraception mandate.

Catholics United refused to speak out against the mandate, even after its initial release, when Catholics across the political spectrum united in opposition to the regulation, calling it extreme and untenable.

“They’re not, obviously, speaking on behalf of the Catholic Church,” said Severino; however, their statement may mislead media outlets that are not familiar with the Church’s structure.

KMID, an ABC-affiliate in Midland, Texas, cited Catholics United in a news story claiming that “(t)he Catholic church is rejoicing” over the mandate revision.

In reality, no official Church body has given a formal response to the proposal. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said that it is analyzing the details of the new announcement before issuing a response.  

Initial actions from leaders including Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia and Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas indicated that the proposed revisions would not do enough to protect religious liberty.

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr., also applauded the announcement as a “victory” that the bishops should accept as “an elegant fix.”

“The church made a mistake in arguing its case on the grounds of ‘religious liberty,’” Dionne argued in a Feb. 1 opinion article. He contended that by doing so, “the bishops implied that the freedom not to pay for birth control rose to the same level as, say, the freedom to worship or to preach the faith.”

However, Severino responded, Dionne’s examples and the bishop’s complaints are simply “two aspects of religious freedom.”

Infringements on the ability to worship or preach may be more severe than the current restrictions, she said, but “either way, it’s still a violation of religious freedom.”

She explained that in the debates over the mandate, the government has attempted to “redefine the free exercise clause” to apply only in limited situations and not in business decisions.

But many religions – including Catholicism – teach that you cannot leave your faith at the door, she said. Instead, “you have to take it out into the world.”

Rather than an overhaul of the initial policy, Severino said, the document released by the Obama administration offers “basically nothing new.”

She observed that D.C. appeals court ruled on Dec. 18 that the Obama administration must give an update on the mandate revision process every 60 days. This new announcement is simply the next step in that process, offering more details on the administration’s last announcement from March 2012.  

In keeping with the previous notice last year, the mandate still splits religious employers into two categories – those that are completely exempt from the requirements and those that are not exempt but are instead granted an “accommodation.”

The full exemption still applies only to a small number of employers, Severino said. While the new announcement simplifies the requirements for this category, it does little to expand it.

The government has said that it will drop previous provisions requiring exempt entities to exist for the purpose of inculcating religious values and to serve and employee primarily members of their own faith.

It will instead rely upon a section of the Internal Revenue Code referring to “churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches, as well as to the exclusively religious activities of any religious order.”

This “would primarily include churches, other houses of worship, and their affiliated organizations,” the administration said.

Severino explained that this would cover soup kitchens and charities associated with a specific parish congregation or house of worship, but it would not extend to religious schools, hospitals or charities that are independently run.

The government even says in its document that it does not anticipate that the changes will “actually expand the number of people that are covered” in any significant way, she noted.

As for the “accommodation” offered to non-exempt religious groups, Severino said, it is “the same accounting gimmick” that drew criticism when it was put forward in the advance notice of proposed rulemaking last March.

Under the government’s proposal, employees of such religious groups would receive “no-cost contraceptive coverage through separate individual health insurance policies” from their insurance issuer.

This coverage would be free, the government said, because contraception leads to fewer childbirth costs and offers women “tremendous health benefits” that decrease their overall health care costs.

The idea that contraceptives can be offered free of cost was rejected by pharmacy directors in a national survey shortly after the accommodation was initially announced last year.

Furthermore, Severino observed, if contraception could really be offered for free and truly reduced other health costs due to the benefits it provided, insurance companies would already be offering such coverage without cost.

Because many religious groups believe they will still ultimately be paying for the contraceptive coverage through their premium payments, they find the accommodation unacceptable, she said, adding that “the president doesn’t get to be the theologian in chief” and decide what constitutes an acceptable level of material cooperation for religious groups.

In addition, she explained, the administration offers no relief at all to non-religious groups that object to the mandate, such as for-profit companies and non-profit pro-life groups that do not associate with a specific religion.

“It only addresses a very narrow group,” she said.

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Newark archdiocese stands by ministry of priest accused of sex abuse

Newark, N.J., Feb 6, 2013 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Newark affirmed its decision to allow a priest accused of abusing a minor to remain in ministry, stressing that they are complying with authorities and prohibiting any interaction alone with children.

“We have not received any complaints from the prosecutor's office...since Father has been back in ministry,” said Jim Goodness, the archdiocesan communications director.

“We're doing exactly what we're supposed to be doing,” he told CNA on Feb. 5.

On Nov. 21, the Catholic Advocate – the archdiocesan newspaper – announced that Father Michael Fugee had been appointed co-director of the office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests. He had been, and remains, director of the Office of the Propagation of the Faith. Both are positions at the Newark chancery.

On Feb. 3, the Star-Ledger ran a story about the appointment, calling it a “high-profile position.”

Goodness contested that characterization, saying, “it certainly is not a prestigious assignment...Father simply has to send out emails and notices to the priests in the diocese talking about this or that seminar or workshop if they want to take advantage of it, that's it.”

In 2001, Fr. Fugee was charged with criminal sexual contact and endangering a child's welfare.

The priest told police he had twice groped a teenage boy's crotch while they were wrestling in the presence of the boy's family members. One instance took place while he was on vacation with the boy's family in Virginia in 2000, he said, and the other was about a year prior to that.

During his 2003 trial, Fr. Fugee protested that his confession to the police was false and that he had lied. The jury convicted him of aggravated sexual contact.

Fr. Fugee appealed the decision, and in 2006, an appellate court reversed his conviction, saying that the trial court had given inadequate guidance to the jury. Goodness said that “there was no basis for those original verdicts.”

The priest was supposed to go on trial again, but he came to an agreement with the Bergen County Prosecutor and the Archdiocese of Newark's vicar general requiring him to undergo two years of “sex-offender specific counseling/therapy.”

That 2007 agreement allowed Fr. Fugee to remain in ministry so long as “he shall not have any unsupervised contact with or any duties that call for the supervision/ministry of any child or children under the age of 18...as long as he is a priest and/or employed/assigned within the Roman Catholic Church.”

In 2009, after Fr. Fugee completed his sex-offender counseling, the prosecutors dismissed the case against him.

“We have not received any complaints from the prosecutor's office, who gave us the original memorandum since Father has been back in ministry. He does not have unsupervised contact with children or youth, that's very clear,” Goodness said.

“This particular assignment, it’s within the office, so there’s really no exposure at that point,” he explained.

“(W)e are doing exactly what the authorities said we could do,” he stressed. “They made the suggestion that return to ministry could be on a certain basis, and we followed those through.”

He added that the diocese is “extremely puzzled” about the criticism and doesn’t know “what to do any further than what we are doing to comply.”

Goodness pointed out that the Newark archdiocese has cooperated with authorities and that this “isn't a situation in which we have tried to get anything by anybody or slip anything under the rug.”

He said the review board of the archdiocese had reviewed Fr. Fugee's case, and “agreed that Father could...return to ministry under those criteria.”

“Also, it's important to know that the entire case was forwarded to Rome,” he said. “Rome reviewed everything, and said everything was done appropriately, and they were comfortable with Father returning.”

Fr. Fugee, having completed his therapy, is “allowed to say Mass anywhere in the diocese,” Goodness continued.

“He's just not supposed to be in an unsupervised setting with children. But saying Mass on Sunday in a parish, there are a lot of adults around.”

“He's not doing religious education classes, he's not going to schools, he's not involved with...youth ministry or anything like that,” he explained. “But all the other things in a parish setting are entirely possible, because you're there as the entire community, so that there is always the presence of other people.”

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Reason and love are behind Creation, Pope proclaims

Vatican City, Feb 6, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Even with modern scientific advances, it is still right to speak of the beginning of life as “Creation” because the world’s origin is rational and motivated by love, Pope Benedict XVI said.

In today’s “age of science and technology,” the Pope asked, does it make sense to still speak of creation as Scripture does?

The Bible, he responded, “is not intended as a manual of the natural sciences; it wants to help us understand the authentic and profound truth of things. … So the Scripture tells us that the origin of the world, our origin is not irrational or out of necessity, but reason and love and freedom.”

The Feb. 6 general audience was held in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall with approximately 8,000 people in attendance. As part of his ongoing series of reflections on the Creed during the Year of Faith, the Pope focused his attention on its second phrase – God is the “Creator of heaven and earth.”

“God is manifested as Father in creation, as the origin of life, and, in creating shows His omnipotence” as a loving Father, he said.

These attributes, the Pope noted, can be seen in creation and also serve as a “call to faith for believers.”

The pontiff then spent time on the meaning of man and woman being the apex of creation.

The book of Genesis helps reveal God's plan for man, Pope Benedict stated. The first thing that it teaches is that “God formed man of the dust of the earth,” which means “that we are not God.”

It also tells us that humans come into being “because God breathes the breath of life into the body he molded from the earth. The human being is made in the image and likeness of God.

“And we all carry within us the breath of life from God and every human life - the Bible tells us - is under the special protection of God. This is the deepest reason for the inviolability of human dignity against any attempt to evaluate the person in accordance with utilitarian criteria or those of power,” the Pope insisted.

The final point the Pope focused on was the meaning of sin and the world being fallen.

Walking through the imagery of the fall of Adam and Eve, the Holy Father summarized the temptation “as building their own world in which to live,” and not accepting “the limitations of being a creature, the limits of good and evil, morality …”

In this case, “dependence on the creating love of God is seen as a burden to be freed of,” he explained.

Moving on to the meaning of original sin, Pope Benedict said that the story of creation teaches that “sin begets sin and the sins of history are interlinked.”

“Once the fundamental relationship (with God) is upset, the other poles of relationships are compromised or destroyed, sin ruins everything. Now, if the relational structure of humanity is troubled from the start, every man walks into a world marked by the disturbance of this relationship,” he said.

But Jesus Christ “takes the exact opposite path to that of Adam” and repairs the broken relationship with God and creation, the Pope proclaimed.

“Dear brothers and sisters,” Pope Benedict concluded, “to live by faith is to recognize the greatness of God and accept our smallness, our condition as creatures letting the Lord fill us with His love. Evil, with its load of pain and suffering, is a mystery that is illuminated by the light of faith, which gives us the certainty of being able to be freed from it, the certainty that it is good to be human.”

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UK bishops decry advancement of 'gay marriage' bill

London, England, Feb 6, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - After a bill allowing same-sex “marriage” passed in the U.K.'s House of Commons, local Catholic bishops have warned that the legislation will have profoundly negative effects on society.

“Marriage is rooted in the complementarity of man and woman. For these reasons the Church opposes the Government’s Bill to re-define marriage,” said Archbishop Peter D. Smith of Southwark Feb. 5.

“Despite claims by supporters of the Bill that the central issue is one of equality, the Bill actually seeks to re-define marriage and will have consequences for society at large.”

Late in the day Feb. 5, the lower house of the British Parliament voted in favor of the Marriage Bill, allowing marriage for same-sex couples. It passed by 400 to 175, and was backed by prime minister David Cameron.

The issue split the ruling Conservative Party: 127 voted in favor, 136 opposed the bill, and 35 abstained from voting on the bill. The other major British parties, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, were more uniformly in favor of the bill.

Archbishop Smith, who serves as vice president of the England and Wales bishops' conference, noted that “the Catholic Church continues to support marriage understood by society for centuries as the significant and unique lifelong commitment between a man and a woman for their mutual well-being and open to the procreation and education of children.”

He said the vote showed “the government has not thought through a number of profound problems in the Bill” and that concerns over the bill need to be “fully and carefully considered” as the bill continues through Parliament.

The bill has yet to be considered by the upper house, the House of Lords. It also faces a third vote in the House of Commons before it can become law. Stronger opposition is expected in the House of Lords.

Bishop Philip A. Egan of the Portsmouth diocese echoed his brother bishop, telling Vatican Radio that “I am very disappointed that Parliament wishes, in an Orwellian manner, to redefine the concept of marriage.”

“The proposed change will have catastrophic consequences for marriage as an institution, for family life in Britain, and for all human relationships, not least among our young.”

He said the bill might lead the Church to remove itself from civil marriage: “One possible consequence of this is that the Church will be forced to withdraw from the civil registration of marriages, as in some European countries, where couples fulfill the civil requirements in the Town Hall before heading to church for Matrimony.”

The legislation was debated for six hours ahead of the vote. Edward Leigh is a Conservative Member of Parliament, and a Catholic, who made a reasoned argument against the bill. He pointed out that marriage is not primarily about the wedded couple, but their resulting children.

“If marriage were solely about the relationship between two people, we would not bother to enshrine it in law, and nor would every culture, society and religion for thousands of years have invested it with so much importance. Marriage is about protecting the future,” he said.

“Marriage is not about 'me, me, me', nor about legally validating 'my rights' and 'my relationships'; it is about a secure environment for creating and raising children, based on lifelong commitment and exclusivity.”

The bill allows for churches to conduct weddings for same-sex couples, raising concerns over religious liberty. Less than a month ago, the UK government assured that “no religious organization could conduct a religious marriage ceremony on religious premises for same-sex couples.”

Steve Baker, a Conservative Member of Parliament and a Christian, wrote that he opposed the bill out of concerns for religious freedom and pluralism. He suggest the Marriage Bill is not a way to provide for “tolerance of diverse views.”

“I am not relaxed about muddled law, democratic consent or freedom of religion – whose protection is by no means certain – and I believe strongly that defining marriage is no business of the legislature.”

The Church of England, the U.K.'s established church, has opposed the bill. The Marriage Bill will not allow the Church of England to conduct marriages for same-sex couples, and its passage may lead to the church's disestablishment.

The Catholic Church and the Church of England have been joined in the opposition to the bill by British Muslims, Sikhs, and some Jews.

The Marriage Bill would only affect England and Wales. Scotland has a similar proposal, but there is none in Northern Ireland.

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Magic of Catholic film classic returns in new remake

Denver, Colo., Feb 6, 2013 (CNA) - The magic of one of the most popular Spanish Catholic films of the 20th century has been resurrected in a Mexican remake that is now available to the English-speaking public.

“Marcelino’s Miracle” is based on the successful classic film adaptation of the 1955 short story “Marcelino Pan y Vino” by Jose Maria Sanchez. The story tells the adventures of an orphaned boy who was abandoned as a baby by his mother at the doorstep of a Franciscan monastery.

The original Spanish film, directed by Ladislao Vajda, was a success at the Berlin and Cannes Film Festivals, where child actor Pablito Calvo was given special recognition for his role as Marcelino.

The story begins as a group of friars discover a newborn baby abandoned at the doorstep of their poor monastery, which has been devastated by war. Unable to seek out assistance because of the violence, they decide to raise him themselves.

As he grows, Marcelino entertains himself by pulling pranks on the friars, together with his best friend Enrique. Upon noticing his friend’s close bond with his mother, Marcelino begins to feel a deep longing to find his own.

An attack by the revolutionaries leaves the small village where the monastery is located in shambles, causing the death of Enrique’s mother. A frightened Marcelino hides in the only place where he was warned by the friars not to enter—the monastery attic.

A life-sized crucifix has been stored up in the attic where Marcelino takes refuge, but he is still too young to recognize it. Thinking that the man on the cross is hungry, he brings him bread and wine and shares with him his deep desire to meet his mother.

Although the remake is set in the Mexican Revolution, producer and screenwriter Mikel Garcia explains that the central plot of the story, the relationship between little Marcelino and Jesus, “is the same as the original version.”

“While in the 1955 version it was a Communist mayor who wanted to take the monastery away from the friars, in the new version it is a Mexican revolutionary,” Garcia explains.

The new remake with subtitles in English is now available on DVD at http://www.marcelinofilm.com

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European People’s Party demands Cuba respect basic freedoms

Havana, Cuba, Feb 6, 2013 (CNA) - A major European political party has approved a series of resolutions calling on Cuba to end violations of basic rights such as conscience and political expression.

The Christian Liberation Movement, a peaceful dissident group in Cuba, explained during its recent general assembly that the European People’s Party has issued a strong call to the Cuban regime to respect freedom of expression and association. 

The party also demanded the release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Cuba.

In addition, the oppression of peaceful protestors who seek democratic change in the country must come to an end, it said, and the Communist regime must respect the right of all Cubans to travel freely.

The party also paid homage to the founder of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya, and to dissident Harold Cepero, who were both killed in a traffic accident in Cuba last July. An independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding their deaths has yet to be carried out.

The European People’s Party further voiced concern about the situation facing refugees fleeing from the violence in Syria. It also adopted an emergency resolution in support of a United Nations’ call for an end to violence in Mali.

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