Archive of August 9, 2013

'Mercy and love' at heart of Church's teaching on abortion

San Antonio, Texas, Aug 9, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A message of healing and compassion should always be at the center of the abortion debate and is the basis of Church teaching on the issue, according to the founder of a post-abortion apostolate.

“We always need to speak the healing message,” because “this question of God’s mercy and love, it really is the message of the Church,” Vicki Thorn, founder of Project Rachel, told CNA Aug 7.

Thorn's comments came the day after Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley delivered an address at the Knights of Columbus supreme convention in which he said Pope Francis “speaks of love and mercy to give people the context for the Church's teaching on abortion.”

Some news outlets cast those comments as saying that Pope Francis “prefers to talk love, not abortion,” as though the Archbishop of Boston had set up a dichotomy between the two.

But in his San Antonio address, Cardinal O'Malley united the love and mercy shown to women who have had abortions with the truth of abortion's intrinsic immorality. “Mercy without truth would be consolation without honesty,” he reflected.

He said that Thorn's apostolate, Project Rachel, is “just that kind of a combination of mercy and truth that the Church's pro-life efforts need to be about.”

Thorn indicated that Pope Francis refraining from often mentioning abortion does not mean he prefers talking about love to abortion – saying she is “not concerned” that the Pope has said little directly about abortion since his election as Bishop of Rome.

“We’d like him to say all things to all people right away, and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” she said, adding that many people think, “he’s coming in on his white horse and that he’s going to change everything tomorrow, but that isn’t feasible.”

She emphasized that it didn’t happen that way with either Blessed John Paul II or Benedict XVI, saying that instead it was “step by step.”

Thorn quoted Pope Francis while he was yet the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, saying, “if we want maintain a solid and enviable basis for human rights we absolutely must recognize that human life must always be defended from the very moment of conception.”

She went on to speak about how the Church’s teaching on abortion is a way of loving women, saying, “the Church loves the woman because we have spoken the truth of the aftermath of abortion from the beginning.”

Emphasizing the Church’s compassionate approach to the issue, she recalled that in the U.S. bishops' first pastoral plan for pro-life activities in 1975, they had called for “a ministry of healing for women.”

Although the topic of abortion was not widely spoken about at that time, Thorn said the bishops knew about the need for a healing apostolate because they “had heard confessions, and they had heard pain in a woman’s heart.”

“It’s a hard issue,” she said, and “it can take many years” before women who have had abortions are ready to process their experience, and that they will often seek to justify the act.

The thing to remember, Thorn said, is that “the woman who’s had an abortion is always a mother who has lost a child in a traumatic and un-natural fashion,” and that “the Church is there to walk with women and men” who are suffering from abortion's aftermath.

Reiterating the importance of compassion for women suffering the effects of an abortion, Thorn lamented that “sometimes people get so upset about abortion – they’re so angry – that they really believe that God shouldn’t be offering forgiveness.”

Sharing from her own experience, she said that “when women and men are healed, they always become pro-life, always,” stressing that men also need to go through a process of healing after an abortion.

“It’s one heart at a time. That’s how Jesus dealt with people when he was dealing with the wounded women in scripture: it was one at a time.”

To those who might complain that Pope Francis has not talked enough about abortion, Thorn responded that he “hasn’t been Pope long enough for us to know what he’s going to say,” but that “when the time is right, this is going to be spoken about.”

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Catholic radio host defends Islamic scholar's debate choice

Ypsilanti, Mich., Aug 9, 2013 (CNA) - Citing the need for public dialogue, Catholic radio host Al Kresta defended Islamic scholar Shadid Lewis’ invite to controversial critic Robert Spencer to a symposium and debate sponsored by Ave Maria Radio.

“It was Shadid Lewis of the Muslim Debate Initiative who called for a public debate with Spencer,” Kresta said Aug. 7, adding that he “was disappointed that Robert Spencer's participation was treated as a sign of ill will.”

Spencer, the author of the book “Religion of Peace,” is one of several speakers at an Aug. 10 symposium at Eastern Michigan University on the topic “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?”

A Catholic columnist, blogger and bestselling author, Spencer has led seminars for the U.S. Army, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and other government agencies.

He is scheduled to debate Shadid Lewis, a member of the Muslim Debate Initiative and a former president of a Hampton, Va., mosque.

The invitation drew criticism from those who charged that Spencer spreads anti-Islamic and bigoted rhetoric. However, Kresta - who is the president and CEO of Ave Maria Communications - defended the decision, saying that Lewis had called for it as an opportunity for engagement.

“Have we lost our confidence in honest confrontation?” Kresta asked. “Spencer’s positions are held by millions of Americans and if they are baseless, the competent Muslim apologists will demonstrate it.”

“To those who sit on the sidelines and criticize, I prefer my way of bringing people together to their way of not doing it.”

Lewis told the Detroit Free Press in a recent interview that Spencer “represents true bigotry.” He cited the actions of the U.K. government, which barred Spencer from the country on the ground that his presence would not be “conducive to the public good.”

“It’s a pretty big thing to be banned from a country,” Lewis said.

Spencer said Aug. 7 on his blog Jihad Watch the ban was the consequence of “smears and defamation.”

His blog argues that non-Muslims are facing “a concerted effort by Islamic jihadists, the motives and goals of whom are largely ignored by Western media, to destroy their societies and impose Islamic law upon them -- and to commit violence to that end even while their overall goal remains out of reach.”

Spencer says that violent jihad is “a constant of Islamic history and a central element of Islamic theology.”

Dawood Zwink, executive director of the Michigan Muslim Community Council, charged that Spencer’s presentations are “incendiary” and “not in keeping with American values of civil dialogue.”

“I think it’s sad to see that this group would try to stage this kind of confrontational encounter, when Catholic and Muslim leaders are engaged in an ongoing, cordial dialogue,” Zwink told the Detroit Free Press.

Spencer said his critics were off-base.

“It would be nice for someone to have the courage to say that there is nothing wrong with resisting jihad violence and Islamic supremacism, but that may be too much to hope for in today's politically correct age,” he wrote on his blog.

In January the Diocese of Worcester, Mass., withdrew an invitation to Spencer to speak at its annual Catholic Men’s Conference after Muslim groups raised concerns. In July the Diocese of Sacramento canceled a scheduled speech on church property.

Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing, Michigan is scheduled to celebrate Mass at the end of the symposium, drawing some criticism from local Muslim leaders.

Bishop Boyea’s office said in a statement that the bishop “neither endorses nor condemns any of the featured presenters” and hopes that the symposium can help spur “what Pope Francis last week called ‘mutual respect through education’ between Christianity and Islam.”

Ave Maria Radio’s announcement for the conference cites a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey which found that 19 percent of U.S. Muslims said that suicide bombing or other forms of violence in the name of Islam could be justified.

Kresta said that some critics of Spencer’s appearance seem not to have confidence in the ability to refute him.

“Otherwise wouldn't they want the opportunity to publicly expose his ‘hate-mongering’ and ‘Islamophobia’?” he asked. “It won't do in a principled pluralistic society to hive off into our ethnic or religious ghettos and accuse outsiders of hatred and bigotry when we haven't even confronted them publicly.”

“Those attending will better understand each side and will be less willing to hastily prejudge one side or the other. For heaven's sake, this is a public debate not a one-sided propaganda fest. We must get beyond cliches if we are to live together with irreconcilable differences.”

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Pope spending vacation season visiting, planning

Rome, Italy, Aug 9, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - This summer the Vatican is finding out what it’s like to have a Pope in residence during the hottest weeks of the year, which for Francis seems to include visiting workers and planning for the fall.

On Aug. 9, Pope Francis paid a surprise visit to the area of Vatican City known as the industrial area. For the small city-state that involves a power plant, carpentry shop, warehouse, metal working shop, and the offices of the newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, among other things.

He arrived shortly after 9:00 a.m., greeting each worker with “buongiorno” (good morning) and a smile, according to the Vatican’s semi-official paper.

Then he asked how the work is done, how the machines function, and how many people are working there, before moving on.

As he walked along the cobblestone street that leads through the area, the Pope waved to journalists from L’Osservatore Romano, who were leaning out of their office windows and applauding to welcome him.

On Tuesday afternoon, the 35th anniversary of the death of Paul VI, Pope Francis decided that he would go down into the crypt below St. Peter’s Basilica and pray silently in front of his predecessor’s tomb.

Up above on the main floor of the Vatican basilica, a few hours later, Bishop Francesco Beschi who is from Brescia, the hometown of Paul VI, began celebrating a Mass in remembrance of the former pontiff with a group of pilgrims from his diocese of Bergamo, Italy.

According to L’Osservatore Romano, those pilgrims really wanted to meet Pope Francis, and once he heard about it, he met them in front of St. Martha’s House, just after 6:00 p.m.

“Thank you so much for this visit. It is lovely and it gives me great pleasure,” he told the group, according to the Vatican paper.

These spontaneous visits by the Holy Father seem to be part of how he is filling his schedule during a time when previous Popes headed to the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo or enjoyed the cooler temperatures in the mountains.

But aside from that, a source who is close to a member of the Pontifical Household and asked for anonymity, told CNA Aug. 5 that Pope Francis wants to begin visiting the parishes of his diocese and that a schedule is in the works.

“Pope Francis wants to keep on going to the ‘peripheries’ of the town he is bishop of, and probably there will be a schedule of papal visits to the parishes by next fall,” the source said.

Pope John Paul II made his visits to Rome’s parishes one of the milestones of his pontificate. By the time his 26-year papacy ended, he was able to visit 301 out of the 333 parishes in the diocese.

Pope Benedict XVI also traveled to the parishes, visiting one during Advent and another during Lent time.

Pope Francis is also thinking about how to revamp the administration of the Catholic Church, a task that he was handed by the cardinals when they elected him this past March.

In particular, he is focusing on his Oct. 1-3 meeting with the group of eight cardinals from around the world that he selected to advise him on carrying out the reform.

A source who also requested anonymity and is close to a cardinal in the Congregation for Bishops told CNA July 28 that “Pope Francis is trying to create a breach in the Curia’s mentality.”

“Pope Francis does not trust anybody, and he keeps on personally making the phone calls he cares about,” the source said.

This behavior is justified by the fact that “many things were hidden from the Pope (Benedict XVI) by the middle ranks of the Roman Curia, and Pope Francis wants to have a clear understanding of what is going on,” the source explained.

While all these moves are taking place behind the scenes, it appears that the Pope will continue to make surprise visits and enjoy August in the Vatican, a time when many people escape the sweltering heat of the city and head to the sea for vacation.

Andrea Gagliarducci contributed to this article with reporting from Rome.

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Argentina Down Syndrome test could cause abortion increase

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Aug 9, 2013 (CNA) - The pro-life group ArgentinosAlerta has warned that a new test to detect Down Syndrome in unborn children after nine weeks of pregnancy could lead to an increase in abortions in the country.

While the test could help parents and doctors to be better prepared to care for a newborn child with a genetic defect, the organization warned that prenatal genetic testing “has regressed” to the point that it is usually used not to help the baby but to end his or her life.  

The test requires a small blood sample from the mother in order to reveal the baby’s sex and the presence of any genetic defects, including Down Syndrome.

ArgentinosAlerta recalled that the British Medical Journal published a study showing that in Great Britain between 1989 and 2008, more than 90 percent of babies who were diagnosed with Down Syndrome through pre-natal testing were aborted.

A similar study in the European Journal of Human Genetics found that more than 90 percent of unborn babies with Down Syndrome are aborted in France and Spain.

Doctor Gador Joya, spokeswoman for the Spanish organization Right to Life, told CNA on March 21 – World Down Syndrome Day – that Spain’s abortion policies have resulted in putting “persons with Down Syndrome in danger of extinction, as well as those who have spina bifida or other handicaps.”

In an article for the scientific magazine Linacre Quarterly, Spanish gynecologist Esteban Rodriguez wrote that “thousands of lives around the world would be saved if there were not a rush to diagnose Down Syndrome, if the diagnosis were postponed until the stage in which the protection of the lives of these children was guaranteed by law.”

“Scientific studies show that far from aiming to ‘protect the baby,’ prenatal tests are really aimed at detecting unwanted or undesirable human beings,” ArgentinosAlerta warned.

“This means we have a generation of doctors who, rather than seeking to cure or alleviate the patient, seek instead to destroy he before birth.”

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Australian Catholic leaders to receive Papal honors

Adelaide, Australia, Aug 9, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis has recently named three South Australian Catholics to the Order of St. Gregory the Great, the single highest honor the Pope can bestow on an individual.

“Their lives are exemplary models of Christian living, and all of them are well recognized in the community as people of the highest integrity, distinction and leadership,” stated Archbishop Philip E. Wilson of Adelaide, Australia.

The Archdiocese of Adelaide announced the awards in a recent press release. The recipients of the pontifical award had been recommended to the Holy Father by the archbishop.

Pope Gregory XVI established the Order of St. Gregory the Great in 1831 to honor a former Pope, St. Gregory the Great, who is regarded as an esteemed theologian of the sixth century.

The prestigious Papal awards are given to individuals who have served the Church and society and witnessed to their Catholic faith in a sustained and exemplary way.

Archbishop Wilson explained that the awarding of the ancient titles is “rare” and is particularly significant on this occasion because these are the first to be granted by Pope Francis.

The Holy Father named businessman Graham Spurling to be made a Knight of the pontifical order. Archbishop Wilson described Spurling as a leader in the manufacturing industry who has completely reformed and revitalized the financial structures of the archdiocese in his role as Chairman of the Diocesan Finance Council.

Married with five children and 15 grandchildren, he is an active member of his local Brighton parish.

Dr. Krista Maier, a general practitioner, was named as a Dame of the order. Maier is known locally for her work serving residents of the southern suburbs, particularly those in disadvantaged circumstances.

Archbishop Wilson described her as “a committed Catholic who lives out her faith in her role as a medical doctor,” as well as a person of “great charity and generosity,” reflected in her volunteer work in the community.

Also receiving the honor of Dame was Pauline Connelly, a social worker and counselor who serves as the assistant director of Centacare Catholic Family Services in the archdiocese.

Connelly was praised for her support for migrants, refugees and members of the Aboriginal community, in addition to her involvement in developing child protection policies and procedures, as well as cultural awareness training for counselors.

“Pauline Connelly is one of the most distinguished lay women in the Archdiocese of Adelaide,” Archbishop Wilson said.

Press office Jenny Brinkworth explained that “the archdiocese is delighted and exited with these nominations.”

She told CNA that Archbishop Wilson will present the awards, signed by Pope Francis, later in the year.

“The honors acknowledge these three individuals’ extraordinary Christian leadership,” emphasized the archbishop.

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Catholic blogger grateful for prayers following accident

Washington D.C., Aug 9, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A young Catholic blogger known for his defense of the faith in the public square is thankful for prayers and support as he begins the long process of recovery following a severe accident.

“Rehabilitation will not be easy and there are no answers for how much Thomas will be able to rehabilitate,” said Natalie Peters in a statement collaborated with Thomas, her husband.

However, she told CNA that she and Thomas “have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of prayers” and encouragement coming from family, friends and supporters in the weeks since his accident.

A leader in the Catholic community, Thomas Peters starting the award-winning blog “The American Papist” in 2006 before joining the group Catholic Vote in 2010. The 27-year-old became one of a few American bloggers invited to the Vatican’s first blogger meeting in Rome. Peters also works as communications director and blog manager for the National Organization for Marriage.

On July 16, Peters was injured in an accident while swimming in Maryland, fracturing his fifth cervical vertebra, which is located in the lower neck. He is in “critical but stable condition,” according to the recovery website set up by family and friends.

Because of the location of the damage, the injury has had an impact on Peters' sensation, strength and mobility, particularly in his fingers. While he has regained the use of his wrists, there “is no firm prognosis for his long term mobility,” the website said.

The accident also left water in Peters’ lungs, leaving them weak. As a result, he has been on a ventilator since the accident, although he is now sitting and breathing on his own for hours at a time in order to strengthen his diaphragm and chest muscles.

In addition, Peters has undergone a tracheotomy and had a head brace installed for stability. Surgery will be required to fix the fracture, though the doctors will not be able to operate until an infection that formed at his tracheotomy site heals.

Despite the trials and challenges posed by the injury, Natalie explained that they “are committed to staying hopeful.”

According to the recovery blog, Thomas “is calmer, happier, better when Natalie is around.” Natalie helps her husband in completing daily tasks, such as shaving and washing his hair, while he gradually recovers his ability to do certain tasks on his own, such as holding tubing and other objects.

In addition, the couple strives to stay in high spirits between physical therapy and appointments. Natalie reads and responds to emails and letters, Thomas tells jokes, and the pair watches some of their favorite television shows and movies.

They have also been joined in prayer by family and friends, including several priests. Thomas has received the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, and is able to pray and receive the other sacraments frequently while in the hospital.

Supporters have set up a spiritual bouquet website to collect prayers for Peter, along with a Facebook prayer page and a novena to Servant of God Luisa Piccarreta, a 19th century Italian laywoman who spent much of her life bedridden with infirmities.

The Peters family has expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support – especially prayers – that they have received in the weeks following the accident.

“We feel the power and grace of these prayers every day,” Natalie said.

Friends have also organized an Aug.14 benefit concert by musician Luke Spehar at the Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington, D.C., to help raise funds for Peters' medical bills and other needs.

“We're so thankful to Luke Spehar for performing, which will allow us the opportunity to gather as a community in support of the Peters family, who continue to be an inspiration to so many of us in the Washington area and around the country,” said Mitch Boersma, Chief Operating Officer of the Catholic Information Center. 

Natalie encouraged those who wish to follow her husband’s recovery to do so through the blog. She also called on supporters to “get involved in the causes that we care about,” noting that Thomas “cares about getting the word out” on these critical social issues.

“Most importantly,” she added, “please continue to pray for us!”

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