Archive of April 11, 2013

Bishop says tighter gun laws will help build culture of life

Washington D.C., Apr 11, 2013 (CNA) - Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., has urged legislators to support laws that build “a culture of life” by placing more stringent guidelines around gun ownership and use.

“Sadly, gun violence is too common a reality,” Bishop Blaire, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, wrote to the U.S. senate on behalf of his group.

The “violence that occurs daily in our homes and communities,” the bishop added, “should lead us to answer the call of Pope Francis to 'change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace.'”

In his letter, the bishop referenced measures included in Senate bill S. 649, the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013, commending many of its requirements a “positive step in the right direction.”

Bishop Blaire hoped that the bill will provide Congress with “a foundation to continue to address the issue of gun violence in society.”

The bishop also said that these regulations could help support a culture of life “by promoting policies that reduce gun violence and save people’s lives in homes and communities throughout our nation.”

Among the provisions included in the bill are strictures against gun trafficking, including “effective and enforceable universal background checks for all gun purchases.”

He also asked Congress to limit “civilian access to high-capacity ammunition magazines” and to institute a ban on assault weapons.

In his letter, Bishop Blaire also referenced a 2000 pastoral statement by the U.S. Bishops on Crime and Criminal Justice.

“We support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and make them safer (especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children or anyone other than the owner), and we reiterate our call for sensible regulation of handguns,” Bishop Blaire wrote, quoting the document.

The bishop also asked the Senate to “resist amendments that would expand the use of minimum mandatory sentences as punishment for gun violations,” noting that increased incarceration rates can be partially attributed to “the pervasive use of minimum mandatory sentencing.”

“One-size-fits-all policies are counterproductive, inadequate and replace judges’ assessments with rigid formulations,” he added. “Punishment for its own sake is never justified.”

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Gonzaga University to review Knights of Columbus status

Spokane, Wash., Apr 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Gonzaga University president Thayne McCulloh will be reviewing the school's Student Life Office decision which denied a Knights of Columbus Council application to be recognized as a “student club.”

On March 7, the university's student life division denied the council's application for recognition as a “student organization,” according to an April 5 report by the Cardinal Newman Society. The Knights of Columbus is a Catholic charitable fraternal organization with 1.8 million members globally.

McCulloh stated April 6 that “Gonzaga honors and respects the purpose and good works of the Knights of Columbus, with which it has a long tradition and mutual collaboration at both local and state levels.”

He has chosen to review the decision of the Division of Student Life, and is expected to take 30-45 days doing so. The president will complete the review “as quickly as he can,” Gonzaga community relations director Mary Joan Hahn told CNA April 10.

The Knights of Columbus has a council at Gonzaga University but it is not recognized as a “student club,” the school has clarified, after reports surfaced that it denied the council its application as such.

“The Knights of Columbus College Council is on-campus and is supported by the University currently,” Hahn said.

“There are many ways for student groups to be present and active on campus,” she explained. “The initial decision pertained to recognition by the Student Life division under its current process.”

“They haven't been banned,” Hahn added.

Gonzaga said that “the Knights of Columbus College Council (#12583) is already present within the student body and receives support from the administration.”

“Gonzaga University’s core Catholic and Jesuit identity recognizes, encourages and supports many student organizations that advance faith-related issues,” the school said, citing Gonzaga Right to Life and Blessed John Paul II Fellowship.

Though the Council currently exists, it is not recognized as a “student club” or a “student organization.” The decision not to grant the Knights council recognition as a student group was based on the university's current “club recognition process.”

The Cardinal Newman Society posted excerpts from a letter from the vice president for student life at Gonzaga, Sue Weitz, saying that the Knights of Columbus could not be recognized as a “student organization” because the group is closed to women and to non-Catholics.

“These criteria are inconsistent with the policy and practice of student organization recognition at Gonzaga University, as well as the University’s commitment to non-discrimination based on certain characteristics, one of which is religion.”

Weitz cited Gonzaga's commitment to “non-discrimination and inclusivity” in her letter.

“To embrace the diversity and yet endorse a group based on faith exclusivity is a challenge that cannot be reconciled at this time. It is a decision about social justice, equity, and the desire of the University to create and maintain an environment in which none are excluded.”

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Scholar says European fight against porn shows depth of problem

Denver, Colo., Apr 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Recent public efforts to oppose pornography in two European countries reveal that porn is problem not only for religious reasons but universal human reasons, according to a professor.

“The hyper-sexualization of children, the constant exposure of children to these very sexual very damaging to their image of themselves and of what their potential future relationships are supposed to be like,” Dr. Susan Selner-Wright, a philosophy professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colo., told CNA.

Her remarks come as Iceland's legislative and executive branches are considering bans on internet pornography in the country out of concerns about the effects on children of having been exposed to violent sexual content.

In the U.K., the teachers' union Association of Teachers and Lecturers recently advised that students be warned of pornography's risks and its abnormal depictions of sexuality – a move Selner-Wright called “spot on.”

At its annual conference in March, the union said educators need more guidance about how to deal with today's sexualized youth culture.

“We are noticing a much more explicit vocabulary emerging and types of games amongst the very young that are quite sexually explicit,” Alison Sherratt told her fellow teachers at the conference, according to the BBC.

Speaker Helen Porter added that “it is crucial that youngsters develop an understanding of sex in the media and pornography, so that they can recognize the abnormal nature of these sexual expectations and appreciate the dangers of accepting the values portrayed by the sexualized media.”

Iceland has banned strip clubs and forbids the printing and distribution of pornography in the nation, but it has not yet dealt with pornography on the internet.

Efforts to ban access to it stem from concerns for the civil rights of women and children, particularly focusing on children's exposure to violence in pornography.

Selner-Wright explained to CNA that while humans “have a natural tendency toward relationship with each other,” a problem now is that “people have become so reductive, that they see all relationships in terms of sexual relationships.”

In the media, intense relationships are presented as sexual, and intimacy has been replaced by sexuality, the professor observed.

“In film and TV, we've really lost the category of a non-sexual but really important human relationship,” she reflected. But “the fact is, that most of our relationships are not meant to be sexual. It's really is a huge force for loneliness.”

“If you think the only category for me to have an intense relationship is a sexual one, then that means that almost all the relationships I could have, now have to be superficial.”

Selner-Wright agrees with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers that access to pornography is damaging youths' capacity for healthful relationship.

“If we buy into this idea that all intense relationships are sexual, then we'll start having sex early, often, and with a bunch of different people, and we'll ultimately lose our capacity to have a really meaningful and peculiarly sexual relationship.”

Icelandic officials are acknowledging that the protection of children from easily accessible internet pornography is not a task for parents alone. An adviser to the interior minister has said it is “a task for the whole society,” the Daily Mail reported.

Pornography, Selner-Wright said, “really is the objectification of whoever the images are's the reduction of those women to their sexuality, it's one-dimensional: the only important thing about the woman in the image is in what way is she sexually arousing.”

Speakers at the U.K.'s  Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference agreed that children are being de-sensitized to the objectification of women and of themselves. “They are routinely taking sexual photographs of themselves and sending them to others,” said teacher James Schlackman.

“It's radically disrespectful of the wholeness of whoever's image it is,” Selner-Wright added, “and even if the person whose image it is agrees to have themselves displayed this way...they are objectifying themselves, they're disrespecting themselves.”

Addressing pornography in terms of human rights, she said that human persons “have a right not to be reduced to their sexuality, and that's' a right you hold even in relation to yourself. It's an inalienable right.”

Iceland is concerned about pornography and strip clubs out of a concern for the rights of women and children, and is unique among European countries in pursuing a ban of pornography. Selner-Wright expressed hope that Icelandic legislators don't “lose their nerve” in their fight.

“There's a lot more to any human being than their sexual arousing-ness, and when they are reduced to that, that's a fundamental violation of their nature, which then is inevitably going to have a lot of repercussions.”

“We're reaping them: in broken relationships, in the explosion of single parent households, in this real disconnect between marriage and children. All of that is fruit of that misunderstanding of (human) nature,” she explained.

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Pope thanks foundation for fighting material, spiritual poverty

Vatican City, Apr 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis told members of The Papal Foundation that their contributions are helping combat “the many forms of material and spiritual poverty” present throughout the world.

“The needs of God’s people throughout the world are great, and your efforts to advance the Church’s mission are helping to fight the many forms of material and spiritual poverty present in our human family, and to contribute to the growth of fraternity and peace,” the Pope said April 11 in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall.

This year around 100 members of the Philadelphia-based foundation traveled to Rome during the week after Easter to present Pope Francis with their annual contribution.

They were able to present him with an $8.6 million donation, which he will be able to use during the coming year for his charitable activities.

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, president of the foundation, has been leading the pilgrimage to Rome, and he highlighted the connection between the Pope’s emphasis on the poor and the foundation.

“From the first day of his election, Pope Francis has reminded us of the Church’s fundamental responsibility to the poor and marginalized,” the cardinal said in an April 11 press release.

William Canny, the foundation’s Chief Operating Officer, pointed out that the annual pilgrimage is “always a deeply spiritual experience, but this year we were especially blessed to have a private audience with Pope Francis as he sets the course for his papacy.

“These are exciting, hope-filled days for the Church, and for a world in need,” Canny stated.

During today’s audience, Pope Francis recalled that over the last 25 years the foundation has “helped the Successor of Saint Peter by supporting a number of apostolates and charities especially close to his heart.”

The donations from the foundation have helped fund the formation of clergy and religious, provided shelter for the homeless, offered medical assistance and care for the poor and needy, and created educational and employment opportunities.

Father Patrick Okoye, a priest of the Diocese of Awka in Nigeria, is one recipient of a Papal Foundation scholarship, which has made it possible for him to study spirituality at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

In an April 10 interview with CNA he said that The Papal Foundation “has changed my life, brought a new geography, and I feel a more deep sense of commitment to the Church, and to give back what has been given to me generously.”

The foundation, Fr. Okoye reflected, has provided him with a “great community of love” where he has met many priests, nuns and other people who have been blessed to receive the financial help they needed.

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Adult stem cells helping teen with 'brittle bone disease' grow

Vatican City, Apr 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A girl whose bones used to break every two months was awarded for her courage in successfully battling her disease during a stem cell research conference at the Vatican.

“It feels amazing to win an award like this,” said Elizabeth Lobato, who was given the Pontifical Hero Award April 11 at the Second International Adult Stem Cell Conference in Vatican City.

“I heard I was the first to get this award from Rome and that’s awesome,” said the 14-year-old in an interview with CNA.

Elizabeth was diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta, commonly known as brittle bone disease, when she was just 10 months old. People affected by illness – which is caused by a genetic defect – often suffer from muscle weakness, hearing loss, loose joints, curved bones, scoliosis, brittle teeth and short stature.

But the teenager has grown over 13 inches since she began the adult stem cell treatment that involves her receiving bone marrow-derived stem cells from her father.

The teenager, still small for her age and currently in a wheelchair, is in Rome with her parents attending a conference promoting adult stem cell research.

The conference began April 11 at the Vatican’s New Synod Hall under the co-sponsorship of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the New York City-based Stem for Life Foundation.

The first gathering was held back in Nov. 2011, but as the group of physicians, philanthropists and patients assembled in the Vatican hall today, the sense of excitement was palpable.

“Since then it seems the entire world has awakened to a simple reality that adult stem cell therapies have the potential to usher in a new era of health and healing,” said Doctor Robin Smith, chairman and president of the Stem for Life Foundation.

“Adult stem cell therapies hold the promise to vanish countless diseases and dangerous medical conditions, to turn the tide of human suffering, to transform modern-day health care from one that focuses on managing symptoms to one that develops cures,” she said.

Smith added that in the past 17 months there have been thousands of news stories about “breakthrough treatments using adult stem cell research.”

“People have discovered that there already are replacement bladders, tracheas, and skin in a lab,” she explained.

“There are fortunate individuals who have received these precious replacements for organs by participating in clinical trials.”

Elizabeth’s mother called her “a fighter since the moment she was born.”

“I don’t know if I can find the right words to express seeing your child ill from birth and not being able to do the things children her age can do and should be able to do,” said Mary Lobato.

“Now she can spend the day with her friends without us being there, and she spent a week out of town without us. So it’s nice to see her progressing as it should be.”

Terry Lobato, Elizabeth’s father, also underscored that the family is against stem cell research performed using embryos.

“Our faith is very strong, my wife and I were both raised as Catholics and we both believe in God, so that’s why we would never go to embryonic,” he explained.

“As her parents we would do anything for her, we would give our life for our daughter, but we couldn’t ask that of anyone else,” he remarked.  

Reflecting on some of the sacrifices involved in caring for his daughter, Terry Lobato said he was “the fortunate one” to be able to give Elizabeth his stem cells, adding that “it is working and she is growing.”

Before finishing the interview, Elizabeth offered some advice to other children suffering with the same disease.

“I would tell them to just never give up, that there is always something, ” she said, with a smile on her face.

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Tens of thousands turn out for Peruvian pro-life march

Piura, Peru, Apr 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Nearly 30,000 people took part in a demonstration in the northern Peruvian city of Piura on April 6 to voice opposition to attempts to legalize abortion in the country.

At the conclusion of the march, Archbishop Jose Antonio Eguren of Piura thanked the thousands of faithful for attending and reiterated the Church’s commitment to proclaim “the sacred and inviolable character of each human life from conception to natural death.”

The right to life is a truth “written in human nature itself,” the archbishop said as he denounced attempts by the UN Human Rights Commission to legalize abortion in Peru in cases of rape and incest.

“At this time in which there is a danger of nuclear war between the two Koreas, in which there is hunger in Africa and other regions of the world, in which there are wars, worldwide terrorism and other very grave international problems, the UN is worried about the promotion of abortion in Peru,” he said.

Archbishop Eguren emphasized that the UN commission was “created to watch out for the most innocent and vulnerable,” which by its description should protect the unborn from abortion.

“The Church,” he added, “can never abandon the human person, especially the unborn child, who is the poorest of the poor and doesn’t even have a voice to defend itself.”

During the march, Archbishop Eguren blessed 300 pregnant women. He also prayed from women who wish to have a child but are unable to, as well as for those who have undergone an abortion, that they may experience the Lord’s mercy, healing and peace.

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Vatican official urges use of technology to proclaim Gospel

Santiago, Chile, Apr 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, encouraged Catholics to make bold use of new technologies in the work of evangelization.

During the second International Seminar on Communications in the Church taking place in Santiago, Chile, Archbishop Celli used statistics and graphics to show the evolution of the use of the social networks by different generations, underscoring their strong impact on young people.

In his address entitled, “Communications and the Second Vatican Council: Can a Council held 50 years ago still be current?” Archbishop Celli recalled that the last pontificates have highlighted the challenges raised by the new technologies.

“The new technologies are part of the Church's very mission. The last pontiffs help us to understand that the vocation of social communications in the Church means presenting the truth about man,” he said.

Archbishop Celli noted that Blessed John Paul II placed great importance on the use of the new technologies in evangelization, especially with his Apostolic Letter entitled, “Rapid Development.”

In addition, however, Benedict XVI emphasized that evangelization needs authentic Christian testimonies. “We cannot imagine that the proclamation, with the most current technologies, not include a profound personal testimony of faith in Our Lord,” he said.

“That is why people today like listening more to those who share their testimonies than to those who teach. And if they listen to those who teach it is because they share their testimonies.”

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Blind activist appeals to US over China's human rights abuses

Washington D.C., Apr 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Blind Chinese human rights activist and lawyer Chen Guangcheng criticized China for its human rights abuses and asked that the United States holds the foreign country responsible for its actions.

During an April 9 testimony before a U.S. House subcommittee, Chen told legislators that “we cannot continue to tolerate the Chinese Communist authorities continuing to go back on their words and deceiving the international community at will.”

Through a translator, the activist described the persecution he suffered at the hands of the Chinese government for litigating against its widespread human rights abuses.

Blinded by a serious illness when he was young, Chen is a self-educated human rights attorney who spoke out against China's one-child policy and the coerced abortions and sterilizations that are often used to enforce it. His work attracted the anger of Chinese authorities.

Chen spent more than four years in prison and was subsequently placed under house arrest in September 2010. Both he and his family were held without formal charges, endured violent assaults and were refused medical treatment.

In April 2012, Chen escaped from house arrest and fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. He has since moved to the United States.

Since Chen’s escape and immigration to the U.S., several of Chen’s family members have been imprisoned and held under house arrest under false charges and authorities have tried to manipulate his family into cooperating with the Chinese government under threats of harsher sentencing and continued imprisonment.

During his testimony, Chen asked that the U.S. government “formally obtain from the relevant departments of the administrative authorities – and publish – the written and oral diplomatic agreements between China and the United States with regard to this incident of mine, including my letter to Premier Wen Jiabao that I wrote while I was in the U.S. embassy.”  

He also asked “the U.S. government to solemnly demand that the Chinese Communist leaders do as they promised,” in prosecuting Chinese officials who violated their own laws in imprisoning him.

The activist also implored U.S. officials to hold China to its commitment to protect his family.

Rep. Chris Smith (R- N.J.) chair of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights spoke on Chen’s case and other Chinese human rights abuses.

Smith commended Chen for his “brilliant mind, indomitable spirit and unimaginable courage,” for his work to end forced abortion “deemed a crime against humanity at the Nuremberg Nazi War Crimes Tribunal,” and for his attempts to help many to see that the rule of just and compassionate law wasn’t just for the privileged few, but for everyone.”

“It took a blind man to really see the injustice of a population control program that makes most brothers and sisters illegal and to hear the desperate cries of Chinese women,” Smith said.

“It took a blind man, the great Chen Guangcheng, to open the eyes of a blind world to these human rights violations systematically inflicted on Chinese women.”   

Smith also introduced the work of “another brave extraordinary hero,” Gao Zhisheng, whose testimony was later given by his wife, Geng He.

“Mr. Gao is the quintessential example of a human rights defender,” Smith said, introducing Gao’s work against religious persecution in China. For his work, Gao was charged with “inciting subversion” and placed under house arrest.

Gao has also sent letters to the United States Congress calling “China’s birth control policy the largest genocide in the history of mankind,” and decrying other human rights abuses. For this, Gao has been detained and tortured for over 16 months.

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