Archive of June 14, 2013

Newly-professed sisters celebrated as 'sign of hope'

Brooklyn, N.Y., Jun 14, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - At a Brooklyn Mass where six Little Sisters of the Poor made their first vows, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan emphasized all the good that the order does for elderly poor around the world.

“Our six soon-to-be professed Little Sisters of the Poor, what a joy you are, what a gift you are, what an inspiration you are, what a sign of hope you are,” the archbishop of New York said June 1, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

“I unite with my brother priests who are here in such impressive number today, with your Sisters, with your families and friends, in thanking God that you, like Mary, said yes to the invitation of God to follow him as a consecrated woman religious.”

The Little Sisters of the poor take the three typical vows of religious, chastity, poverty and obedience, and add a special fourth vow of hospitality. Their charism is to care for the elderly poor. They operate homes throughout the world, 30 of them in the U.S.

The Mass took place at Saint Ann's Novitiate in Queens, in the Diocese of Brooklyn. Six women finished their novitiate with the order and took their first vows. Three are from the U.S., two are from Tonga, in the south Pacific, and one is from Ireland.

They are Sister Mairéad Regina, Sister Malia Cecilia, Sister Malia Makalita, Sister Mary Gerard of the Cross, Sister Sharon of the Sacred Heart, and Sister Elizabeth Mary.

“Since we're an international congregation, for them to experience that from the very beginning is really enriching,” Sister Mary Richard Morris, who is responsible for formation at St. Ann's, explained to CNA June 13.

The sisters made their profession after completing a two year novitiate and a nine month postulancy.

Sr. Morris explained that formation with the Little Sisters can begin “even before they enter,” as they encourage women to volunteer at or even live in their homes “to really get to know us.” As novices, the sisters learned about theology, scripture, music, and even French, “because they all to to France to prepare for their final vows.”

The novices also learn much about the constitutions of the Little Sisters, and everything is “interspersed with prayer and practical experience,” serving the elderly.

“Once a year they go out for six weeks to one of our home to really work with a Little Sister and to really experience community life, and try to put into practice what they've learned so far,” Sr. Morris added.

During his homily at the Mass, Cardinal Dolan thanked all the Little Sisters present for “the beautiful gift that you are to the Church. Thank you for keeping so strong, so durable, so alive, the charism and the spirit of St. Jeanne Jugan,” who founded the order in France in the early 1800s.

Focusing on the fact that the profession was occurring on the feast of the Sacred Heart, he said: “We have a God who has a heart, the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And that...dear soon to be first-professed Sisters, is your charism, to be the heartbeat of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. You do it well.”

“Any of us who have watched you in action, any of us who have seen how you care so tenderly and lovingly for our aged, for our poor, know that you do it well.”

Sr. Morris reported that the Little Sisters believe this was the first time that the Archbishop of New York has presided at one of their professions “since 1901,” when it was Archbishop Michael A. Corrigan.

“We try to invite different bishops every year, sometimes its our own ordinary, but we try to invite different bishops, from places where the novices are from or where we have homes, or someone who's interested in the congregation.”

She explained that the newly-professed sisters will probably have five more years of formation before they take their final vows.

The novice house in Queens will have a weekend of prayer, catechesis, and service for young women during World Youth Day next month. Those unable to make it to Rio will be able to follow World Youth Day's key moments by telecast, while spending time with the Little Sisters and their novices.

Cardinal Dolan presided at the profession because he has a personal connection with one of the newly-professed sisters: they are from the same home parish, in Baldwin, Missouri.

“We each went to Holy Infant Grade School,” Cardinal Dolan explained at the end of Mass. He said that when he was at the grade school, “a few years before you, Sr. Elizabeth of the things we did every morning is pray that one day there would be a priest and one day there would be a Sister from Holy Infant School and Holy Infant Parish.”

After Cardinal Dolan's ordination as a priest in 1976, he said, “now God, who always takes his time, but ultimately comes through, answered that second prayer that we’d have a Sister from that parish as well.”

Cardinal Dolan added that the occasion was a “special honor and joy” for him, because he's known the Little Sisters since he was a seminarian in Rome.

While studying in Rome, he had apostolic work at their house there, “and all the places I’ve been assigned as a priest – in my home archdiocese of St. Louis, and in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore and Milwaukee, and now here in NY – the Little Sisters of the Poor have been there. So they’ve had my admiration, my affection and my appreciation for a long time.”

“And I'm on the waiting list to be in one of your homes,” he added.

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Democrat-leaning group lashes out at CCHD grant scrutiny

Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2013 (CNA) - An influential Democrat-leaning communications strategy group has targeted critics of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, claiming it is “Catholic McCarthyism” to bar funds to groups allied with backers of abortion and “gay marriage.”

The report, “Be Not Afraid?”, by Faith in Public Life’s Catholic program director John Gehring, contends that increased scrutiny for recipients of the development grants endangers efforts to fight poverty and isolates the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, run by the U.S. bishops’ conference, gives millions of dollars in annual grants to anti-poverty organizations. The funds are collected in Catholic parishes each year the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

The campaign faced increasing scrutiny after researchers found that some grant recipients backed legalized abortion and same-sex “marriage.” In October 2010, the CCHD responded with a program of “review and renewal” to prioritize grants for Catholic groups and to screen other grant recipients more closely.

The new Faith in Public Life report describes the campaign’s critics as “conservative Catholic activists and their ideological allies on the political right” who want to undermine the U.S. bishops’ “most successful anti-poverty initiative.”

“Using guilt by association and other tactics from the McCarthy-era playbook, these activists are part of an increasingly aggressive movement of Catholic culture warriors who view themselves as fighting for a smaller, ‘purer’ church,” the report charges.

On its website, Faith in Public Life describes itself as a “strategy center for the faith community” intended to run strategic communications and “narrative-setting” campaigns. The organization says it can identify “moments of opportunity when a targeted event or campaign can effectively broaden or shift the values debate.”

The group has secured significant news coverage for the “Nuns on the Bus” campaign critical of Republican budget proposals. In addition, many media reports on the annual March for Life this January followed Faith in Public Life talking points which pressed pro-life leaders to take a position on gun control.

John Gehring, the author of Faith in Public Life’s CCHD report, also drove a behind-the-scenes media effort to undercut the U.S. bishops and the “Fortnight for Freedom” events of 2012. A leaked email revealed Gehring instructing media on how to ask  adversarial questions challenging the bishops’ religious freedom efforts.

Gehring also previously worked for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which was accused by both bishops and laity of neglecting the importance of issues such as abortion in the political sphere.

The new Faith and Public Life report defends organizations that lost campaign grants, sometimes downplaying the extent of their support for positions against Catholic teaching.

The report’s initial summary contends that the southwestern Colorado immigrant aid organization Compañeros lost a $30,000 yearly grant, about half its annual budget, “because of its association with a statewide immigrants’ right coalition that included a single gay and lesbian advocacy group.”

In fact, this coalition, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, participated in a 2010 gay pride parade in Denver, supported “transgender rights” and issued a statement saying it was “proud to actively support” a civil unions bill for same-sex couples. Coalition officials also criticized the Defense of Marriage Act.

The coalition praised the gay rights group One Colorado as “our sister coalition for LGBT justice.”

Favorable coverage for Compañeros in the New York Times and other venues resulted in many donors contributing to the group, including pro-gay rights philanthropic organizations.

Compañeros’ website itself has since praised the 2013 passage of the Colorado civil unions bill as a “victory achieved.” In a May 15 news posting, it criticized the Catholic campaign’s grant decision as being based in a “discriminating policy.”

Other former grantees profiled in the report include the Land Stewardship Project in Minnesota, which trains farmers, defends labor rights and advocates for sustainable agriculture, among other initiatives.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development withdrew a $48,000 grant to the organization in 2012 after learning that it was a member of two coalitions that supported “gay marriage.” The organization itself was headed by an executive director who, along with his wife, had made a personal donation to a gay rights group.

The Faith in Public Life report is not entirely critical. It quotes former CCHD employee Cris Doby, presently a program officer with the Charles Steward Mott Foundation, who acknowledges some moral concerns with grants to coalition members.

“Coalitions are tricky things and unless they are very well defined up front they tend to drift,” she said. “It’s with good reason the bishops are skittish. CCHD money is a gift to them from Catholics in the pews. I don’t know of any money that comes without strings attached.”

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Drone use prompts Catholic call for greater caution

Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholic leaders and academics have outlined the need for greater public discussion on the American policy of using drones to kill terrorists, saying it shouldn't be done “uncritically.”

“I think it needs to be worked through and thought about...and I do think that we're rushing into drone technological warfare very rapidly, and certainly without public debate,” said Dr. Christian Brugger, a professor of moral theology at Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colo.

“This seems to be centered on executive policies which need considerable debating,” he told CNA June 12, “so that the whole country can be involved in a way that it's not being involved right now.”

Drones are remotely piloted, unmanned aircraft used for observation of prospective targets and for missile attacks on those suspected of terrorism. The U.S. drone program was begun by the George W. Bush administration, and expanded by President Barack Obama's.

The program has proved to be controversial, since many non-combatants, including U.S. citizens, have been executed by drones. On May 23, attorney general Eric Holder acknowledged that since 2009, four American citizens have been killed in drone strikes.

Among them were Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old son of Anwar al-Awlaki, a member of al-Qaeda. Abdulrahman, who was born in Colorado, was killed by a drone in Yemen two weeks after his father had been himself killed in a drone attack.

Much of the discussion in Catholic circles of the use of drones focuses on just war theory, which governs the decision to go to war, as well as upright conduct of war. Just war theory's principles include the certain immanence of attack; whether the force used is proportional to the threat, and discriminates between combatants and civilians; right intention; and the likelihood of success in a military endeavor.

“The classical principles of just war theory don't seem to me, out of hand, to exclude the legitimacy of drones,” Brugger said. Just because they may legitimately be used, however, “doesn't mean they are unqualifiedly justifiable.”

Since U.S. drones have killed more than 800 Pakistani and nearly 100 Yemeni non-combatants, discussion of drone use has focused on right – or wrong – intention in the use of drones.

One way to have wrong intention and violate proportionality, according to Brugger, would be to intend the destruction of civilian population: “targeting non-combatants.” The demoralizing effect of civilian deaths is always a temptation for military commanders, he noted, “for the sake of the good (military) results that might come from that.”

In addition to non targeting non-combatants, those in charge of drone strikes must take care to avoid the death of innocent civilians. And yet, “foreseeability alone – seeing that civilians will die – that alone has never excluded the just war tradition from including as legitimate targets, military targets in which you foresee some civilians will be killed.”

Thus there is a delicate balance that must be struck in the decision to make a belligerent act, and “due solicitude for avoiding civilian deaths is always required.”

“You don't want to construe due care to avoid civilian deaths” to mean that “any foreseeing of civilian deaths renders the principle of right intention violated.”

The balance between achieving necessary military objectives and avoiding civilian deaths has no “simplistic formula,” Brugger emphasized. “This is where (you) would begin speaking about the virtues of prudential reasoning.”

There is “a way of prudentially proceeding based upon general principles,” Brugger explained, but there are no simple answers. Those making the decisions about drone strikes must be “formed by the virtue of justice” and of prudence, because “prudential reasoning becomes a safeguard from immoral choices.”

“The big question much unintentional damage is legitimate to tolerate, in pursuit of a justifiable aim?”

Brugger said that this important part of moral analysis “is one of the issues in which we don't spend much time as Catholics.” He noted that as a rule, Catholic moralists are “very caught up” in discussing intrinsic moral evils. “But there's a lot of immoral acts done that are not intrinsic evils...that's a big question in the field of moral analysis: how much harm is it licit to tolerate?”

With regard to this issue of unintended civilian deaths, Brugger suggested that “the same kinds of leeway we would give to historic armies” attacking military targets “and yet ending up with the collateral damage of innocent civilians” should be afforded to the use of drones.

While not automatically excluding drone warfare, Brugger expressed discomfort with it because the drone operators may be quite removed from the conditions of war. When the effects of an attack are thousands of miles away from the operator – as in the case of drones – it removes a “safeguard” on proportionality: “the temptation to go in excess of what is reasonable would be greater” because of the virtual nature of the weapon.

Bishop Robert E. Pates of Des Moines agreed that “our usage of this technology far outstrips the amount of reflection we've done on the subject.” In a June 4 column at The Washington Post, he asserted that “drones aren't the murky moral subject we pretend they are.”

Bishop Pates' objection to drones focused on the likelihood of success, saying, “it's easy to make the case that drones push us farther from peace” and actually contribute to extremism and anti-American sentiment.

A June 7 report by Al Jazeera explains that in one Yemeni village, Khashamir, drone strikes killed al-Qaeda militants as well as an imam who had delivered forceful sermons against extremism.

“The repercussions were devastating,” Al Jazeera reports. “The villagers marched the next day, chanting: 'Obama, why do you spill our blood?'”

Bishop Pates said the radicalization resulting from drone warfare “makes it difficult to justify targeted killings,” and that the fact they are conducted in countries with which we are not at war makes “the moral justification for drones even more remote.”

The bishop also drew attention to the psychological harm drones have on those who operate them remotely, noting that the Air Force says that nearly half of drone operators report high levels of stress.

“They observe their targets for days on end, becoming intimately familiar with their lives, before making the life-or-death decision. We should be more concerned with humanity, including people in countries very far away and with lives that seem different from our own.”

Doctor Terry Wright, a philosophy professor at St. John Vianney, told CNA/EWTN News that because the war on terrorism doesn't have a clear definition of success and termination, “just war theory...doesn't fit it very well.”

Wright's primary concern regarding the drone attacks has been the targeting of U.S. citizens. He noted that while those who represent an immediate threat can justly have their right to due process violated, “somebody who possibly could have a plot against the U.S. is not in that sort of immediate threat situation.”

“And if you're an American citizen, the Constitution seems to say you're entitled to due process before you're executed.”

Brugger agreed that due process concerns, while not a problem in just war theory, are legitimate, and that the consequences of targeted killing – whether or not it actually leads to a just outcome – is “certainly a legitimate source of moral analysis.”

Regarding Bishop Pates' concern for the high number of civilians killed by drones, Brugger returned to the point that “it's easy to violate the principles of upright intention when you're so far removed” from the effects of the attack.

“An irresponsible formulating of targets, without concern for non-combatants, which could be easier to do at a distance, would be a violation of right intention, because we need to exclude from our intention, civilians.”

Having said all this, Brugger emphasized that “the desire for a simple answer to drones is unrealistic. I don't think Catholics are going to find a yes or no answer to it, we'll just have to struggle with it more than that...drones are one of these frontiers of moral reasoning that we haven't given due time and depth to.”

“There are open questions,” he said, and it would be premature – “in excess of what we know” to assert out of hand that drones are justifiable or not, “in terms of just cause or proportionality or intentionality.”

The imperative “do justice,” Brugger noted, doesn't lead to conclusions in the abstract, but only in concrete situations. “That's what we're talking about right now.”

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Harley-Davidson enthusiasts roll into Rome

Vatican City, Jun 14, 2013 (CNA) - The low rumbling of hundreds of Harleys is overtaking the buzz of scooters and cars in the streets surrounding the Vatican, and on Sunday it will even be present in St. Peter’s Square.

The first Vatican-related Harley-Davidson event was with Pope Francis himself on Wednesday afternoon, following his weekly general audience. Accompanied by Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, the Pope received the unusual gift of a biker jacket and two of the famous motorcycles.

The City of Rome expects up to 35,000 Harley-Davidson aficionados to arrive for the 110th anniversary celebration of the iconic American street machines.

Although the celebrations will include a beach party in the nearby port town of Ostia and a music festival, there is also a spiritual aspect to some of the events.

This morning, for example, some bikers were able to participate in an 8:00 a.m. morning Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. Afterwards they gathered in the Pius XII Square, across the street from St. Peter's, and took in the sights.

On Saturday morning, the motorcycle enthusiasts will begin lining up for a massive parade from Ostia to downtown Rome.

The spiritual capstone of the anniversary celebration, which is the biggest in Europe, will be on Sunday, June 16, when Pope Francis blesses about 800 bikers and their rides in St. Peter’s Square.

The crowd in the square for the blessing will be decidedly eclectic, since the Pope will be celebrating a Mass for pro-life movements right before he prays the Angelus and blesses the crowd.

The agreement to have the hundreds of Harleys in the square was arranged under Pope Benedict, but Pope Francis will surely have no trouble mingling with the diverse crowd.

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Pope, Anglican archbishop: unity begins with common love of God

Vatican City, Jun 14, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and Pope Francis met for the first time and issued a joint call for unity, rooted in the love of God.

“I know that during Your Grace’s installation in Canterbury Cathedral you remembered in prayer the new Bishop of Rome. I am deeply grateful to you – and since we began our respective ministries within days of each other, I think we will always have a particular reason to support one another in prayer,” Pope Francis said June 14.

The meeting began with a private audience at 11:00 a.m. in the Papal Library, which was followed by their separate addresses and an exchange of gifts. The Pope and archbishop concluded their encounter with a moment of prayer in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel.

In his address to Archbishop Welby, Pope Francis offered him a warm welcome that recalled when Archbishop Michael Ramsey visited Paul VI in 1966, the first time an Anglican primate visited Rome.

Pope Francis then noted that the “history of relations between the Church of England and the Catholic Church is long and complex, and not without pain.”

But “recent decades” have been marked by “a journey of rapprochement and fraternity, and for this we give heartfelt thanks to God,” he said.

“These firm bonds of friendship,” he added, “have enabled us to remain on course even when difficulties have arisen in our theological dialogue that were greater than we could have foreseen at the start of our journey.”

Pope Francis offered particular thanks for “the sincere efforts” by the Church of England made to “understand the reasons that led my Predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, to provide a canonical structure able to respond to the wishes of those groups of Anglicans who have asked to be received collectively into the Catholic Church.”

“I am sure this will enable the spiritual, liturgical and pastoral traditions that form the Anglican patrimony to be better known and appreciated in the Catholic world,” he remarked.

The Holy Father also highlighted that the “search for unity among Christians is prompted not by practical considerations, but by the will of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who made us his brothers and sisters, children of the One Father.”

He pointed to several concrete areas of unity, including Anglicans and Catholics’ witness, to “God and the promotion of Christian values in a world that seems at times to call into question some of the foundations of society, such as respect for the sacredness of human life or the importance of the institution of the family built on marriage.”

Also on Pope Francis’ mind were efforts to achieve “greater social justice, to build an economic system that is at the service of man and promotes the common good,” giving a voice to the poor and working for peace between nations.

“In this regard, together with Archbishop Nichols, you have urged the authorities to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict such as would guarantee the security of the entire population, including the minorities, not least among whom are the ancient local Christian communities.

“As you yourself have observed,” the Pope said, “we Christians bring peace and grace as a treasure to be offered to the world, but these gifts can bear fruit only when Christians live and work together in harmony.”

He concluded his address by saying, let us “travel the path towards unity, fraternally united in charity and with Jesus Christ as our constant point of reference. In our worship of Jesus Christ we will find the foundation and raison d’être of our journey.”?
For his part, Archbishop Welby prayed, “the nearness of our two inaugurations may serve the reconciliation of the world and the Church.”

The Anglican archbishop also acknowledged the “journey is testing and we cannot be unaware that differences exist about how we bring the Christian faith to bear on the challenges thrown up by modern society.”

“But our ‘goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey,’” he said, quoting Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Spe Salvi.”

In Archbishop Welby’s view, the way forward “must reflect the self-giving love of Christ, our bearing of his Cross, and our dying to ourselves so as to live with Christ, which will show itself in hospitality and love for the poor. We must love those who seek to oppose us, and love above all those tossed aside—even whole nations—by the present crises around the world.”

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Be humble 'from head to toe,' Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Jun 14, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis said people must to admit their sins like Saint Paul and not just their good deeds during his daily morning Mass.

“We have to be humble, but with real humility, from head to toe,” said Pope Francis June 14.

“If we only pride ourselves on our service record and nothing more, we end up going wrong,” said Pope Francis.

He made his comments in his homily for morning Mass in the chapel of Saint Martha’s House. The head of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, concelebrated the Mass with the Pope, while staff and clergy from the congregation attended it.

“Not sinners with that kind of humility, which seems more a put-on face, no?” the Holy Father remarked. “Oh no, strong humility.”

He highlighted that “this is the model of humility for us priests, too.”

“We cannot proclaim Jesus Christ the Savior if we do not feel him present and at work deep down,” he added.

“Brothers, we have a treasure, that of Jesus Christ the Savior, the Cross of Jesus Christ, this treasure of which we pride ourselves, but we have it in a clay vessel,” said Pope Francis. “Let us vaunt our ‘handbook’ of our sins.”

The Pope underscored that Jesus is “a gift that we can only understand, only receive, in earthen vessels.”

He based his homily on the first reading for today, which was taken from 2 Corinthians 4.

The pontiff stated it is precisely from “the relationship between the grace and power of Jesus Christ and ourselves, poor sinners as we are, that the dialogue of salvation springs.”

“This dialogue, moreover, must avoid any self-justification and be between God and ourselves as we are,” he said.

The Pope stressed that St. Paul, author of the letter to the Corinthians, shows us his own weakness and sin, which is that he persecuted Christians.

“It always comes back to his memory of sin, he feels sinful but even then he does not say ‘I was a sinner, but now I am holy,’ no,” he said. ‘Even now, a thorn of Satan is in my flesh,’ the Pope said, quoting from St. Paul.

“He is a sinner who accepts Jesus Christ, who dialogues with Jesus Christ,” said Pope Francis.

According to him, “the key is humility” and believes that St. Paul proved this.

“He publicly acknowledges his track record of service, all he had done as an Apostle of Jesus, but he does not hide or gloss over his handbook of sins,” the Pope said.

He emphasized that the Samaritan woman also behaved similarly to St. Paul because she first admitted her sins before speaking of having met Jesus.

“I believe that this woman is in heaven,” he said.

“As Manzoni once said, I have never found that the Lord began a miracle without finishing it well, and this miracle that he began definitely ended well in heaven,” he said.

“The humility of the priest, the humility of a Christian is concrete, therefore, if a Christian fails to make this confession to himself and to the Church, then something is wrong,” he stated.

He stressed that “the first thing to fail will be our ability to understand the beauty of salvation that Jesus brings us.”

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Vatican expected SNAP case against Benedict XVI to fail

Rome, Italy, Jun 14, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican is not at all surprised the International Criminal Court rejected a request by an abuse victims’ advocacy group to investigate Benedict XVI for crimes against humanity.

“We have always thought that the Court would answer this way, given the unfounded accusation,” the Holy See’s press office director, Father Federico Lombardi, told CNA June 14.

The court rejected a request from the U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests to investigate Benedict XVI and certain cardinals for crimes against humanity, according to a May 31 letter from the court.

It stated there is “no basis” for the network’s claims that the abuse was perpetrated by the Vatican.

“There is not a basis at this time to proceed with further analysis,” the tribunal, based in The Hague, told the network’s lawyers in the letter.

“The matters described in your communication do not appear to fall within the jurisdiction of the court,” a court official told the Center for Constitutional Rights, the nonprofit legal group that represents the advocacy group.

The legal center submitted the application to the court in Sept. 2011, saying that cases of pedophilia by priests should have been investigated as crimes against humanity.

The lawyers for SNAP argued that Pope Benedict and top Vatican officials had put in place policies that allowed abuse to continue.

Jane Adolphe, an associate law professor at Ave Maria Law School, told CNA June 14 that it is “unlikely” a request to investigate the former Pope will ever succeed in the future.

“When the petition was first filed, the decision to reject the request for investigation was predicted by many commentators who discussed some of the same temporal and subject matter jurisdictional obstacles mentioned in the current decision,” said Adolphe, who is well-versed in Vatican affairs.

She believes that the request was filed with one of three motives: as a campaign to raise awareness about clerical sex abuse, as a smear campaign against the Church, or to help the legal center attract some publicity.

“There might be a bit of truth in all of the above,” Adolphe remarked.

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Worldwide protests push for human, religious rights in Iran

Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Grassroots activists gathered at the Iranian Embassies across the world on June 13 to protest human rights violations in Iran, particularly the imprisonment of American citizen, Pastor Saeed Abedini.

According to Tiffany Barrans of the American Center for Law and Justice, activists in Washington, D.C., “held up signs saying ‘release Pastor Saeed’ as they stood in quiet support of religious freedom for all.”

“Messages were drawn on the sidewalk with chalk, reminding passers-by that Pastor Saeed is ‘in prison for his faith’ and calling on Iran to release him,” Barrans said in an online post.

The peaceful protests, titled “Standing together for Human Rights in Iran,” occurred not only in the U.S., but throughout the world, in front of Iranian embassies, consulates and protectorates in countries including Hungary, Egypt, Sweden and Germany.

In the United States, which has cut formal ties with Iran, the protest occurred in front of the Pakistani Embassy, which has served as a meeting ground for the two governments in the past.

The protest was organized by Naghmeh Abedini, whose husband, Saeed, is a Christian pastor currently imprisoned in Iran.

Although he was born and raised as a Muslim in Iran, Pastor Abedini converted to Christianity in 2000 and drew the ire of the government for his work with underground churches in the country.

He eventually reached an agreement with the regime in which he could travel freely in the country so long as he did not work with the churches.

Instead, he turned his focus to non-religious orphanages. During a September 2012 trip to visit these orphanages, he was arrested and charged with threatening national security for his previous work with the churches.

While in prison, Abedini has reportedly faced harsh conditions, including severe beatings, a lack of medical care, restricted access to his family and solitary confinement.

However, he has refused to recant his Christian beliefs, instead asking for continued prayers.

The American Center for Law and Justice has been working to raise international awareness of Abedini’s imprisonment and says that it has gathered “over 600,000 signatures demanding Pastor Saeed’s release from individuals all across the globe.”

It has also sought for greater action on the part of the U.S. government, highlighting the fact that the imprisoned pastor has been a U.S. citizen for several years and lived with his wife and children in Idaho before the trip to Iran during which he was arrested.

The global protests took place a week before Iran’s elections. According to the American Center for Law and Justice, this international cry for a focus on human rights is hoping to send a “powerful message at a time when Iran is listening.”

“These events have been a tremendous success and take Pastor Saeed’s case directly to Iranian officials. Iran now knows the world is watching, demanding Saeed’s freedom and the end of human rights abuses,” noted Barrans.

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Catholic groups slam Pelosi's claim that abortion is 'sacred ground'

Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2013 (CNA) - Prominent Catholics and members of the pro-life movement denounced statements by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi that as a Catholic, she views the protection of late-term abortion as “sacred ground.”

Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor for the Catholic Association, called it “amazing” that the trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell “did not touch Nancy Pelosi's heart.”

“What we learned from the Gosnell trial and what we understand is going on inside other clinics is not only human rights abuse but it also puts women in harm’s way,” she said in a statement.

Gosnell was a Philadelphia late-term abortionist who was recently convicted of several counts of first-degree murder for the killing of infants who survived his abortion attempts, among other crimes and health violations.

During a June 13 press conference, Pelosi was questioned about the matter by a reporter who asked what the moral difference was between legal late-term abortions and the infanticides of babies of the same age committed by Gosnell.

The question came in reference Pelosi's opposition to a bill introduced in Congress to ban late-term abortions after 20 weeks gestation, unless doctors deemed the mother’s life or basic health were deemed to be at risk.

Pelosi did not answer the question, saying instead that the bill was an effort to ensure that “there will be no abortion in our country.”

She also framed the protection of late-term abortion as a matter of faith.

“As a practicing and respectful Catholic, this is sacred ground to me when we talk about this,” she said. “I don't think it should have anything to do with politics.”

Leading Catholic and pro-life leaders were quick to reject Pelosi’s statement.

“The only difference between the Gosnell ‘after-birth’ abortions and legal late-term abortions is the location of the baby at the time of death,” Ferguson said.

“And contrary to Pelosi's extreme claim that the Franks bill is ‘disrespectful’ to women, the majority of women are opposed to late-term abortions according to a recent Gallup poll.”

“Pelosi’s comments are deeply offensive,” said Thomas Peters of

He told CNA on June 14 that it “is an embarrassment to all Americans that the top Democrat in Congress is completely ignorant not only of what her personal faith teaches, but what the bill in question would actually ban or allow, and that she gives no supporting evidence according to any category of human knowledge of how she came to her abortion views.”

“To be a Catholic means to understand reality how the Church understands it, not according to your personal, private beliefs,” Peters said, criticizing Pelosi's claim that her pro-abortion stance comes from her Catholic faith.

“Americans deserves better in their public officials than someone who uses their faith as a screen against any actual knowledge of what they’re legislating on.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement that as “a mother and practicing Catholic, I have a modest proposal for Mrs. Pelosi: that she consider the Church's teaching which says each life is sacred and reject the idea that each abortion is.”

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Bipartisan warning issued over religious freedom threats in health care

Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Members of the Congressional Values Action Team of the House of Representatives gathered at a special order to voice their concerns over threats to religious freedom posed by the recent health care overhaul.

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) told Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) on June 14, that “religious freedom is our first freedom, as stated right there in the First Amendment.”

“This is not just freedom to worship as we hear it defined now in many ways. It is not just freedom to worship in our own homes, in our churches, synagogues, mosques, temples. It is freedom to practice and live out religious faith here in America.”

The congressman stressed that “this is not just a Catholic issue,” nor is it “just a Republican issue.”

“This is an issue for all Americans,” he said. “It's an American issue.”

The special order, “Conscience and Religious Freedom” organized by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R- Neb.), addressed threats to religious liberty posed by the Affordable Care Act, particularly the controversial HHS mandate, which requires employers – including religious charities, hospitals, and schools – to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and some early abortion drugs. 

Fortenberry explained that the opposition to this mandate “is not about politics. It’s not about partisanship. It’s about principle.”

“Americans who cannot in good conscience comply with this mandate will now be subject to ruinous fines if they do not obey – simply for exercising their First Amendment rights, exercising their religious freedom, exercising the deeper philosophical principle of the rights of conscience as rightly exercised by reasonable persons doing what they believe to be right, what they believe to be good, what they believe to be just.”

“We have lost our collective sense of respect for divergent views,” he warned, commenting on the shift in views leading to the mandate. “We have lost our sense that the government must protect that sacred right of conscience and not coerce her citizens into doing something that they fundamentally believe is unjust or wrong.”

He said that while “the HHS mandate is arguably a small component of the 2010 health care law, it does bring us face-to-face with a stark new reality here in Washington that we fervently hope will not become the new normal in America.”

Fortenberry noted that the mandate “is also a form of discrimination” and that it “primarily targets people in faith communities, the very people who have been the backstop of compassionate care for the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized in our society today.”

The congressman also voiced his concern over recent scandals that have unveiled the targeting of certain non-profit organizations by the IRS “because of their religious or philosophical or political leanings.” He noted that the “IRS is the very agency set to implement the new health care law” as it applies to religious organizations that object to the mandate.

“What kind of nation will we be when the IRS decides who gets to assemble, when the Department of Justice decides who reports the news, and when HHS decides what religious beliefs are worthy of First Amendment protection?” asked Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), also commenting on the recent public controversies.

He emphasized that religious freedom “means that the government does not get to tell you to violate your beliefs.”

“I'm not a Catholic. I'm not a Mennonite,” Pitts emphasized. “We don't share the same ideas about what is morally objectionable on everything, but I do not believe that my ideals should be forced on them.”

Lipinski – who is Catholic – reminded attendees that freedom “is what our country was founded on,” and that the U.S. Bishops will host a “Fortnight for Freedom to pray, educate, and act for religious freedom” from June 21 through July 4.

“We need to uphold that freedom, and the HHS mandate, amongst other efforts, other things that have been done by the Federal Government, unfortunately, in recent years has really run counter to freedom,” he said.

“Mr. Speaker, I want Americans to understand what this is about,” Lipinski said, explaining that at its core, the issue is “not about birth control or abortion.”

“It's about freedom,” he said. “It's about taking away Americans' freedom, requiring them to participate in activities that violate their conscience.”

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