Archive of May 14, 2013

Catholic groups say agriculture laws should aid poor, farmers

Washington D.C., May 14, 2013 (CNA) - Leaders of several prominent Catholic institutions asked members of Congress to provide for the hungry, protect the interests of farmers and promote environmental stewardship with the 2013 Farm Bill.
“In the face of continuing budgetary constraints, the 2013 Farm Bill is an opportunity to address our nation’s broken and outdated agricultural policies,” they said.

“This is a crucial time to build a more just framework that puts poor and hungry people first, serves small and moderate-sized family farms, promotes sustainable stewardship of the land and helps vulnerable farmers and rural communities both at home and in developing countries.”

In a May 9 letter sent to congressional agriculture committees, Catholic leaders urged the nation’s lawmakers to consider the needs of both farmers and the poor as they discuss proposed farming legislation.

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, signed the letter in their role as U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops committee chairmen. Bishop Blaire heads the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, while Bishop Pates leads the Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The letter was also signed by Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA; Dr. Carolyn Woo, president of Catholic Relief Services; and James Ennis, executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference.

The Farm Bill, passed approximately every five years, lays out the main agricultural policy for the United States. Current regulations are found in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, which runs through September 2013. New legislation will then replace that law.

The authors of the letter drew upon Catholic teaching, quoting a document from the U.S. Bishops which states that the “primary goals of agriculture policies should be providing food for all people and reducing poverty among farmers and farmworkers in this country and abroad.”

In order to achieve these goals, the writers identified five top priorities for the bill: support for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – formerly known as food stamps – to help the hungry; development of rural communities; continued funding for emergency aid and food security overseas; promotion of environmental conservation programs among farmers; and subsidies for famers “who truly need assistance” and engage in sustainable farming practices.

“We ask that you support a Farm Bill that provides for poor and hungry people both at home and abroad, offers effective support for those who grow our food, ensures fairness to family farmers and ranchers, and promotes stewardship of the land,” the signatories urged.

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Justice Ginsburg calls Roe a disappointing decision

Washington D.C., May 14, 2013 (CNA) - Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an abortion rights advocate, says that the court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 was overreaching and became too big a “target” for pro-life supporters.

“That was my concern, that the court had given opponents of access to abortion a target to aim at relentlessly,” Ginsburg said in a talk May 11 at the University of Chicago Law School.

“My criticism of Roe is that it seemed to stop momentum on the side of change.”

Ginsburg, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Clinton in 1993, has long been an outspoken supporter of legal abortion, and the comments made at the University of Chicago are the latest in a series of criticisms of Roe in recent years.

The event was a roughly 90-minute conversation, according to the Chicago Tribune, between Ginsburg and Edward H. Levi, a professor at the Law School, marking the 40th anniversary of the decision.

Ginsburg noted that in the 40 years since Roe v. Wade, pro-life advocates have successfully introduced restrictions on abortion access in many states, and that cases related to abortion now focus on “restrictions to access, not expanding the rights of women.”

The decision in Roe v. Wade concerned the constitutionality of a Texas law that prohibited abortion except if it was considered necessary to save the mother's life. The court's decision attempted to balance women's and doctors' right to privacy with state interests in protecting women's health and pre-born life.

Ginsburg said the decision “covered the waterfront” and finally rested more on physician's rights to privacy than on “women's rights.”

“It's about a doctor's freedom to practice his profession as he thinks best. It wasn't woman-centered. It was physician-centered,” she said.

Ginsburg would have preferred a narrower decision which struck down only the Texas law, rather than giving guidelines for abortion regulation by trimester, broadly legalizing the procedure. She considers that such “judicial restraint” would have allowed for a wider expansion of abortion access through legislative means.

“The court can put its stamp of approval on the side of change and let that change develop in the political process,” Ginsburg stated.

She indicated that she would prefer that the landmark ruling on abortion have been Struck v. Secretary of Defense. That case was decided was decided by an appellate court in 1972. It concerned an Air Force captain who became pregnant while serving in Vietnam.

The woman was faced with either leaving the military or having an abortion, but the case did not reach the Supreme Court because the Air Force changed its policy regarding pregnancy.

In that case, “the idea was: 'Government … stay out of this,'” Ginsburg said. “I wish that would have been the first case. The court would have better understood this is a question of a woman's choice.

Even were Roe overturned, in Ginsburg's view, it's effect is secure. “It's not going to matter that much. Take the worst-case scenario ... suppose the decision were overruled; you would have a number of states that would never go back to the way it was.”

The Supreme Court Justice's comments come amid a legacy of anti-abortion legislation that Roe has encouraged in the last 40 years. In 2013 alone, two state legislatures have passed expansive anti-abortion laws.

Last March, North Dakota passed three pro-life bills. The new laws include bans on abortions performed after a fetal heartbeat is detectable – currently around 12 weeks –  and bans on abortions that target the unborn child on the basis of sex or genetic abnormalities.

The same month, Arkansas legislators overrode a veto by the state governor, ensuring that in the state abortions will be banned after 12 weeks, also based on the detection of fetal heartbeat by ultrasound. A separate law in the state banned abortion after 20 weeks, the point at which the unborn can feel pain.

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Second Fortnight for Freedom to highlight marriage, mandate

Washington D.C., May 14, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. bishops' conference has announced a second Fortnight for Freedom, scheduled for the two weeks leading up to Independence Day, to raise awareness and support for the right to religious liberty.

“The need for prayer, education, and action in defense of religious liberty has never been greater,” said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore. “The Fortnight for Freedom exists to meet that need.”

The pastoral initiative will begin with a June 21 Mass celebrated by Archbishop Lori at the Baltimore basilica. It will conclude at noon on July 4 with a Mass at the Washington, D.C., basilica celebrated by Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl.

The first Fortnight for Freedom, held last year, included Masses, prayer rallies and other events aimed at prayer, education and action in order to promote and defend religious freedom.

Members of other religions joined in the fortnight, hosting events or ringing church bells in a sign of solidarity.

The two-week event is designed to “emphasize the need for conscience protection” and general religious liberty both at home and overseas. It will focus on a broad variety of recent threats to religious freedom, including those in the realms of immigration, humanitarian aid, adoption and health care.

Among the major religious liberty concerns in the U.S. is a federal mandate, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, that requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions.

While the mandate includes a religious exemption, it applies only to churches and their conventions, auxiliaries and religious orders.

Most non-profit religious organizations, including Catholic hospitals, schools and charitable agencies, do not qualify for the exemption. After a one-year reprieve, which ends this August, they will subject to a government “accommodation,” under which the objectionable products will be included free of charge in the health care plans they offer. Critics argue that the objecting religious employers will still end up paying for the coverage that they consider immoral through increased premiums.

Archbishop Lori noted in his May 13 statement that the 2013 fortnight “occurs just weeks before August 1, when the administration's mandate coercing us to violate our deeply-held beliefs will be enforced against most religious non-profits.”

He added that during this year’s fortnight, “the Supreme Court's decisions on the definition of marriage will likely be handed down as well.”

“Those decisions could have a profound impact on religious freedom for generations to come,” he said.

In March, the Supreme Court heard arguments in two gay marriage cases, Hollingsworth v. Perry and U.S. v. Windsor. One challenges California's Proposition 8, a state measure which recognizes marriage as existing solely between a man and a woman, and the other challenges the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Decisions in both cases are expected in late June.

In addition to the contraception mandate, the second fortnight will place a special emphasis on faith and marriage due to the Supreme Court rulings and their potential to impact religious freedom in a significant way, according to a statement from the bishops’ conference in December 2012.

A web page created by the bishops’ conference to offer resources for the pastoral strategy described the upcoming fortnight as “a visible, vibrant reminder of the God-given nature of religious liberty” as well as the right to live out one’s faith in the public square and the professional world.

Modern threats to the Church “call for increased awareness and formation, as well as spiritual stamina and fortitude among the faithful, so that we may all be effective and joyful witnesses of faith, hope and charity,” it explained.

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Satan 'always rips us off,' Pope warns

Vatican City, May 14, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Christians who buy into Satan’s temptation to live selfishly get swindled, while those who live life as a “gift” to others are immersed in love and the Church community, Pope Francis said.

“And, we must say, with Satan the payback is rotten. He always rips us off, always!” the Pope emphasized as he contrasted the kind of selfish living that the devil promotes with the generous way of living Jesus exemplified.

“When a Christian begins to isolate himself, he also insulates his consciousness from the sense of community, from a sense of the Church, and from the love that Jesus gives us,” he explained.

“Instead, the Christian who gives his life, what Jesus calls ‘lost,’ finds it and finds it in its fullness,” the Pope preached May 14 in his homily on John 15.

A group of employees from the Vatican Museums and some students of the Pontifical Portuguese College attended the 7:00 a.m. Mass in the chapel of St. Martha’s residence.

The Pope concelebrated the Mass with the Colombian Archbishop of Medellín, Ricardo Antonio Restrepo Tobón.

The Holy Father explained that wanting to live just for oneself is like Judas, who “in the end loses” his life.

“If we really want to follow Jesus, we must live life as a gift to give to others, not as a treasure to be preserved,” said Pope Francis.

The pontiff compared the path of Jesus to a path of love, while the way of Judas is one of selfishness.

“Jesus tells us today strong words, ‘no one has a stronger love than this, to lay down his life,’” he said.

“But today’s liturgy also shows us Judas, who had just the opposite attitude, and this is because he never understood the meaning of a gift,” he added.

Pope Francis noted that Judas was “off in his solitude” and that his “attitude of selfishness developed into the betrayal of Jesus.”

He explained that the person who loves you gives his life as a gift, but the selfish person “grows in this selfishness and becomes a traitor, but always alone.”

 “Those who give their life for love are never alone and are always in the community and in the family,” Pope Francis said.

“On the other hand, he who isolates his conscience in selfishness, loses it in the end,” he stated.

Judas, the Pope pointed out, was “an idolater, attached to money.”

“This idolatry led him to isolate himself from the community, this is the drama of isolated consciousness,” he said.

Pope Francis finished his homily by invoking the Holy Spirit, asking for “a heart able to love with humility and meekness.”

He asked that the Holy Spirit “free us always” from “the way of selfishness, which eventually ends badly.”

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Vatican announces its debut at Venice art festival

Vatican City, May 14, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican is participating for the first time in a famous international art exposition in Venice under the theme “Creation, Un-Creation and Re-Creation,” with the aim of promoting modern dialogue on faith.

The 55th edition of Venice’s Biannual Art Festival, known as the “Biennale di Venezia” in Italian, will take place June 1 to Nov. 24 and will bring together exhibits from 88 different countries.

The Vatican’s contribution will use the Book of Genesis as its narrative thread.

It is “a project that is not only extraordinarily innovative, but also responds to its own objectives, that is instituting and promoting occasions of dialogue within an ever broader and diversified context,” said Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

“The Pontifical Council for Culture holds contemporary art at the heart of its interests, for it is one of the most important cultural expressions of recent decades,” he added during a May 14 press conference at the Vatican.

The exhibit is being curated Vatican Museums director Antonio Paolucci, who described to the press how each of the themes in linked together.

“None of the three artistic works can be fully appreciated without recourse to the overall meaning of the three moments as presented in the Genesis,” he said.

“Each and every one of these moments is able to contain and comprehend the other two,” he added.

According to the director, the theme of creation “triggers a dialogue, awash with echoes and reverberations, between the vegetable and animal kingdom and the human dimension.”

“It leads, via memory to other personal narrations on the concept of origins within an interactive plane that is also a temporal intersection,” said Paolucci.

Studio Azurro has been entrusted with the theme of “creation” as well as the last theme, “re-creation.”

Josef Koudelka’s photographs have been chosen to represent “de-creation.”

Paolucci noted that the photographs show “the destruction brought about by war, the material and conceptual consumption of history through time and the two opposing poles of nature and industry are made to emerge.”

“The photographer’s images expose an abandoned, wounded world and at the same time are able to transform fragments of reality into works of art bordering on abstraction,” he commented.

The third theme, “re-creation”, was entrusted to the artist Lawrence Carroll, who Paolucci said is capable of giving life to “salvaged materials.”

The display will cost the private Foundation for the Heritage and Artistic Activities of the Church a total of 750,000 Euros ($970,000), and the costs will be covered entirely by donations.

Miss Micol Forti, who works for the Pontifical Council for Culture, explained the method the Vatican used to select which artists would develop the three sections.

“The theme was the real guide that has conducted our work of reflecting, discussing and then selecting and choosing,” said Forti.

“It was a work that was shared by a scientific committee that reflected thoroughly, based on the … theme’s vitality,” she added.

At the end of his remarks, Cardinal Ravasi alluded to how the Church has been increasing its support for artistic endeavors.

“Clearly, each of these aspects was only a starting point for the selected artists.

“A vital, rich, and elaborate dialogue has been established with them and is a sign of a renewed, modern patronage. To them, my most heartfelt thanks.”

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Pontificate of Pope Francis consecrated to Our Lady of Fatima

Lisbon, Portugal, May 14, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - At the Holy Father’s personal request, Cardinal Jose Polycarp, the Patriarch of Lisbon, consecrated the pontificate of Pope Francis to Our Lady of Fatima on her feast day.

Addressing Our Lady of Fatima during the ceremony, Cardinal Polycarp said, “Grant (Pope Francis) the gift of discernment to know how to identify the paths of renewal for the Church, grant him the courage to not falter in following the paths suggested by the Holy Spirit, protect him in the difficult hours of suffering, so that he may overcome, in charity, the trials that the renewal of the Church will bring him.”

In statements to CNA, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said, “As we know, an important celebration takes place on May 13 in Fatima during which it is normal that the pontificate be entrusted to Our Lady of Fatima.”

The consecration took place at the Portuguese shrine dedicated to Our Lady, with thousands of the faithful present.

Cardinal Polycarp recalled that Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI visited Fatima and expressed his desire that Pope Francis do so as well.

“From here, at this altar of the world, he will be able to bless humanity, to make the world of today feel that God loves all men and women of our time, that the Church loves them and that you, Mother of the Redeemer, lead them with tenderness on the paths of salvation,” the cardinal said.

The path of Church renewal leads to a “rediscovery of the relevance” of the Fatima message and of the need to “converse with God,” he explained.

“Contemporary humanity needs to feel loved by God and by the Church,” Cardinal Polycarp said. “If humanity feels loved, it will overcome the temptation to violence, materialism, estrangement from God, loss of direction, and it will be able to advance towards a new world in which love will prevail.”

During the Mass, Bishop Antonio Marto of Leiria-Fatima read a message from Pope Francis to the Apostolic Nunciature in Portugal.

“The Holy Father said he was pleased with the initiative and expressed deep acknowledgment for satisfying his desire united in prayer with all the pilgrims of Fatima, upon whom he whole-heartedly confers the apostolic blessing,” the message stated.

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Tango dancer dedicates performance at St. Peter's to Pope

Rome, Italy, May 14, 2013 (CNA) - A professional Argentine dancer, who recently travelled to Rome to see his fellow countryman, Pope Francis, hopes to one day perform for the Holy Father in person.

“It is truly a pleasure and an honor for Argentineans to have him as Pope,” Oscar Flores told CNA on May 8 after the Pope’s general audience. “He is a very charismatic person and he knows how to reach the people.”

The dancer was joined by a group of Latin Americans, including Mexicans, Peruvians, Argentineans and Colombians, who filled St. Peter’s with joyful songs dedicated to the Pontiff.

The group was led by Peruvian priest Father Luis Sandoval, who works with immigrants in the Italian Diocese of Benedetto de Tronto.

Flores delighted a group of the faithful with a performance of the traditional tango in St. Peter’s Square.

“I dedicate this dance to Francis,” he said, adding that “it would be an honor and a dream” to dance for the Holy Father in person someday. 

Flores began dancing 18 years ago in Argentina, where he teaches various dance styles. He is currently in Italy to attend several different festivals.

This week, Flores will perform in San Benedetto de Tronto, where one of the largest Latin American communities in Italy resides. He will later return to Buenos Aires to teach at a dance academy.

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Legion priest seeks to leave ministry to care for child

Washington D.C., May 14, 2013 (CNA) - Prominent U.S. priest Father Thomas Williams has asked Pope Francis to dispense him from his priestly obligations in order to care for the child he fathered and the child's mother.

Fr. Williams wrote Fr. John Connor, assistant for apostolate for the North American Territory of Regnum Christi, the lay branch of the Legion of Christ. He said that he had come to “the serene conviction that what God expects of me now is to devote myself to caring for my child and his mother.”

“By responsibly and lovingly accepting the consequences of my actions, I will continue to serve God and his Church. I know I should be with my son and try to be the kind of father he needs,” Fr. Williams said, according to a May 10 blog post by Fr. Connor.

The priest had served as a theology and ethics professor at the Legion of Christ’s Regina Apostolorum University in Rome. He authored many books and came to prominence as a faith and religion analyst for CBS News and a Vatican analyst for NBC News and Sky News. He served as theological adviser for Mel Gibson’s 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ.”

In May 2012 Fr. Williams admitted a relationship with a woman “a number of years ago” in which he fathered a child. He said he was “deeply sorry for this grave transgression.” The Legion of Christ asked Fr. Williams to leave public ministry for a year for prayer and penance to discern his future.

Legion of Christ leaders had learned of the priest’s situation in the mid-2000s. In May 2012, the Legion apologized for not acting more quickly in response.

In his blog post, Fr. Connor said Fr. Williams’ kind of decision is “not easy.”

“We all balance success and failure, joy and sorrow in our lives. None of us escapes sin and the need to ask forgiveness,” he said.

Fr. Connor voiced appreciation for Fr. Williams’ “friendship ... wisdom and counsel.”

Jim Fair, communications director of the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi, said both associations are “grateful for the many contributions” the priest made in his time with the congregation.

“We continue to accompany him with our prayers and fraternal support wishing him the best in the years ahead,” Fair said May 10.

Priests' requests to leave the priesthood are rarely approved.

However, Pope Francis in a book authored before he became Pope said that he encourages priests who have fathered a child to leave their ministry and take care of the child, even if they do not marry the woman.

“Because just as the child has a right to have a mother, the child also has the right to the face of a father,” he said in his 2010 book “On Heaven and Earth,” which was released in an English translation last month.

The Legion of Christ is presently under the oversight of Vatican officials in the aftermath of revelations in 2009 that its founder Fr. Marciel Maciel fathered a child out of wedlock and had sexually abused children.

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Abortionist Gosnell sentenced to life in prison

Philadelphia, Pa., May 14, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Following his conviction for the murder of three babies born alive, abortionist Kermit Gosnell was sentenced Tuesday to two life sentences without parole for two of those murder charges.

By agreeing not to appeal his conviction, Gosnell was able to avoid the death penalty for two of the convictions of first-degree murder.

Gosnell “agreed to wait all of his appellate rights in exchange for life in prison...instead of the death penalty,” the office of R. Seth Williams, Philadelphia's district attorney, said May 14.

He was “immediately sentenced.”

Tomorrow, May 15, Gosnell will be sentenced for the death of the third child and for involuntary manslaughter of a patient at his facility, a mother who died of drug overdose, as well as many lesser charges.

Nine of Gosnell's employees have faced state and federal charges for their actions at the clinic. Eight have plead guilty to various charges in the case – three of them to third-degree murder.

Former employee Stephen Massof in courtroom testimony in early April said that he saw about 100 babies born alive. He said clinic workers then “snipped” the back of their neck to ensure their “demise.”

Massof is in prison after having plead guilty to third-degree murder in the deaths of two newborns.

In a January 2011 Grand Jury report, Williams found that the Pennsylvania Department of Health had contact with Gosnell’s clinic in 1979, when it first approved it. The department did not conduct another site review until 1989, finding “numerous violations.” Two site reviews found more violations in 1992 and 1993, but failed to make corrections.

“With the change of administration from Governor Casey to Governor Ridge,” the report said, “officials concluded that inspections would be ‘putting a barrier up to women’ seeking abortions. Better to leave clinics to do as they pleased, even though, as Gosnell proved, that meant both women and babies would pay.”

Gosnell’s name became a rallying cry for pro-life advocates, who lamented a lack of major media coverage of his trial. Their efforts on social media helped draw attention to the case.

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Minn. redefines marriage despite religious freedom warnings

St. Paul, Minn., May 14, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The state of Minnesota has redefined marriage to include same-sex couples despite concerns over social wellbeing and religious liberty raised by Catholics and other faith leaders. 

A statement from the Minnesota Catholic Conference said that the bill’s passage, “though expected, is no less disappointing.”

“The full social and legal effects of marriage redefinition will begin to manifest themselves in the years ahead,” the conference cautioned.

“The Church, for its part, will continue to work to rebuild a healthy culture of marriage and family life, as well as defend the rights of Minnesotans to live out their faith in everyday life and speak the truth in love.”    

The Minnesota state Senate passed a measure to redefine marriage by a 37-30 vote on May 13, following a 75-59 vote of approval by the state House of Representatives last week.

Democratic Governor Mark Dayton signed the bill into law on May 14, making Minnesota the 12th state to change the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

In a previous statement on the legislation, the Minnesota Catholic Conference warned that it would “set in motion a transformation of Minnesota law that will focus on accommodating the desires of adults instead of protecting the best interest of children.”

The bill amounts to “an injustice that tears at the fabric of society,” the conference said, and it “poses a serious threat to the religious liberty and conscience rights of Minnesotans.”

While the new law includes some provisions to protect the conscience rights of clergy and religious organizations, the conference noted that it fails to “protect the people in the pew – individuals, non-religious non-profits, and small business owners who maintain the time-honored belief that marriage is a union of one man and one woman.”

Pointing to legal experts both for and against a redefinition of marriage, the Minnesota Catholic Conference asserted that this failure will result in numerous lawsuits and complaints in court.

Leaders of other faiths had also voiced their concerns over the bill. In an April letter to the state legislature, a group of pastors, rabbis, imams and other religious figures emphasized the stability that marriage offers families and societies.

Redefining marriage, they warned, “degrades the cultural understanding of marriage to an emotional bond between any two adults, and creates a profound interference with the exercise of religious freedom for people and institutions whose faith and doctrine recognize the spiritual foundation of marriage exclusively as a union between a man and a woman.”

The faith leaders also cautioned that “if marriage is redefined in civil law, religious individuals and other organizations – regardless of the foundational tenants of their faith – will be required to consider same-sex unions as the equivalent of marriage in their lives, ministries, and operations.”

“An imposition of this nature is a violation of conscience and of religious liberty,” they said.

During the debate that preceded the passage of the new law, Bishop Paul D. Sirba of Duluth stressed the need to continue in charitable defense of truth.

The bishop lamented that “this debate has often been used as an occasion to sow mistrust and doubt, as if followers of the God who is Love, and whose love for all people we proclaim each day as the Body of Christ, are acting instead out of some sort of ill will.”

In a statement published before the Senate vote, he said that he is “particularly mindful of our brothers and sisters who have same-sex attractions,” emphasizing that all the faithful must offer them “unconditional love and respect.” 

At the same time, he said, “(w)e unconditionally reaffirm our understanding of marriage.”

“For Catholic Christians, the call now is to be even stronger witnesses to the Good News about marriage, both when it is popular and when it is not.”

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