Archive of August 27, 2013

Thai bishops stress Catholic identity, top academics in schools

Pattaya, Thailand, Aug 27, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Catholic Bishops Conference of Thailand is calling for renewed effort to boost Catholic education in the country, striving to reach international standards while fostering faith education.

A three-day seminar organized by the Commission of the Catholic Education Council of Thailand was held recently in Pattaya to discuss standards for Catholic schools in evangelizing and educating.

“This annual meeting of all Catholic educators is of prime importance,” said Fr. Francis Xavier Deja Arpornrat, executive secretary general of the Thai bishops’ conference.

He told CNA that Catholics schools aim at the “holistic development” of the human person, and it is for this reason that “parents place their trust” in the education that their children receive at the schools.

It is important for the nation’s Catholic schools to “maintain” their identity while they “upgrade” teaching methods to ensure high educational standards in the modern world, the priest explained.

“We need to renew our methods and reform our system to the changing times,” while preserving a strong Catholic identity, he stressed.

Archbishop Louis Chamnien Shantisukniran of Thare and Nonseng, president of the Thai bishops’ conference, delivered an address at the symposium stressing the duty of the Catholic Church to help its institutions to express their Catholic identity.

He underscored the goal of the Thai bishops’ Pastoral Plan for 2010-2015 to make educational institutions the focal point “for proclamation of the Good News,” leading to the development of virtues and ethical formation in schools. 

The archbishop urged the educators to be “living witness” of Jesus among the students.

Archbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovinthavanij of Bangkok, vice president of the bishops’ conference, framed his reflections in the light of the New Evangelization. 

“The Catholic Church in Thailand is in the midst of our brothers and sisters of other faiths,” he noted.

“The Church is essentially the sign and instrument of announcing the Kingdom of God,” he said, “and all the disciples of Christ are called to announce and share the Good News to both those who have not yet heard and those who are not yet in the same sheepfold.”

The appropriate way to bring about mutual understanding in society is through inter-religious dialogue, which plays an important role in the New Evangelization, he said.

The Pastoral Plan outline by the bishops emphasizes educators’ roles in fostering Gospel values, morality and virtues, helping students to integrate faith, culture and life.

It highlights the need for education in media and technology, ecology and the environment, peace and justice, and sexuality and human rights.

Over 400 Catholic educators from across Thailand’s 10 dioceses participated in the symposium. There are some 300 Catholic schools in the country, educating more than half a million students.

Bishop John Bosco Panya Kritcharoen of Ratchaburi and Bishop Silvio Siriphong Charatsri of Chantaburi also shared their insights under the backdrop of New Evangelization and the current need for educators to play a multi-dimensional role.

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New York City talks to share Catholic perspectives on art, beauty

New York City, N.Y., Aug 27, 2013 (CNA) - A series of talks on art and beauty aims to bring a Catholic understanding of the arts into the heart of New York City's Greenwich Village.

The Catholic Center at New York University is hosting the Saturday lecture series “The Art of the Beautiful” with the aim of exploring the “nature and purpose” of art and beauty and “their place in the social order.”

It aims to reach professional artists in all disciplines, students and patrons of the arts, and all those interested in culture and art, the Catholic Artists’ Society of New York City said on its website.

The series' sponsors include the Catholic Artists Society and the Washington, D.C.-based Thomistic Institute at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception, a Dominican institution.

The lecture series begins Sept. 14 and runs through February. Lectures begin at 7:30 p.m. A reception and sung compline prayer will follow each event. The speakers include both academics and artists.

Gregory Wolfe, the editor of Image Journal, will deliver the first September lecture on the topic “Art: For Whose Sake?”

The editor of Magnificat magazine, Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P., will speak on Oct. 12 on “The Responsibility of the Artist.”

David Clayton, an artist-in-residence at New Hampshire’s Thomas More College, will speak Nov. 16 on the topic “Forming the Artist, ” and philosophy professor at New York’s St. John’s University – Alice Ramos – will deliver a Dec. 14 lecture on “Beauty and the Real.”

Anthony Esolen, an English professor at Providence College in Rhode Island, will speak Jan. 25 on “Love and Artistic Genesis,” and Fordham University philosophy professor Fr. Joseph Koterski, S.J., will speak Feb. 15 on “Virtue and the Artistic Imagination.”

All lectures are free and open to the public. The Catholic Center at New York University is located at 238 Thomson Street in New York. Its website is

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Court: Christian photographers cannot refuse gay ceremonies

Albuquerque, N.M., Aug 27, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled that a small Christian-owned photography business does not have the right to decline on religious grounds to shoot a same-sex commitment ceremony.

Scholar Ryan T. Anderson, writing in National Review Online, said the Aug. 22 decision “highlights the increasing concern many have that anti-discrimination laws and the pressure for same-sex marriage will run roughshod over the rights of conscience and religious liberty.”

“If marriage is redefined, then believing what virtually every human society once believed about marriage — that it is the union of a man and a woman ordered to procreation and family life — would be seen increasingly as an irrational prejudice that ought to be driven to the margins of culture. The consequences for religious believers are becoming apparent.”

New Mexico’s highest court ruled Aug. 22 that state anti-discrimination laws require Elane Photography to “serve same-sex couples on the same basis that it serves opposite-sex couples.”

Elane Photography, co-owned by Elaine Huguenin and her husband Jon, declined in 2006 to photograph a two-woman “commitment ceremony” in Taos, New Mexico.

Elaine declined, saying that her and her husband’s Christian beliefs conflicted with the message communicated by the ceremony. The same-sex couple found another photographer for their ceremony.

One of the women, Vanessa Willock, filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission charging that the business violated state law barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In 2008, the commission awarded Willock over $6,600 in attorney’s fees.

The business appealed, and was represented by the Washington, D.C.-based group Alliance Defending Freedom.

Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said they will likely appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We believe that the First Amendment protects the right of people not to communicate messages that they disagree with,” Lorence told Reuters.

The photographers argued that they did not discriminate against gay individuals and would be willing to photograph some other event – such as a birthday party – for a gay person. It was the commitment ceremony itself that violated their religious beliefs, they said.

New Mexico does not recognize same-sex “marriages” or civil unions.

Judge Richard C. Bosson acknowledged in a concurrence to the decision that the Huguenins are “compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives,” saying this is a “sobering” result.”

Bosson said the Huguenins have to “channel their conduct, not their beliefs so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different.” She said this compromise is “part of the glue that holds us together as a nation” and part of “that sense of respect that we owe others.”

This is “the price of citizenship,” he said.

Lorence was critical of the decision. “The price of citizenship does not mean giving up your constitutional rights. It is shocking to think that an artist or any American can be forced by the government to promote messages that they do not agree with,” he told Fox News Aug. 23.

“In a free society, people of different beliefs have to learn how to get along. There were plenty of photographers available, willing to photograph this same-sex ceremony. The Huguenins just need to be excused,” he added.

A July survey from Rasmussen Reports found that 85 percent of Americans believe that a Christian wedding photographer with deeply held religious beliefs against same-sex marriage should have the right to decline to work a same-sex “wedding” ceremony. Only eight percent said the photographer should be required to work the ceremony.

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Benedict XVI's personal secretary debunks 'mystical experience'

Vatican City, Aug 27, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The retired pontiff's personal secretary said that the recent and widely circulated news story claiming that Benedict XVI stepped down after having a “mystical experience” is false.

“It was invented from the alpha to the omega,”Archbishop Georg Gänswein said Aug. 25.

“There is nothing true in this article,” he added in an interview with journalist Alessandra Buzzetti on Italian television channel Tg5.

Rome-based Catholic news outlet “Zenit” had reported last week that Benedict XVI resigned after having a mystical experience in which God told him to do so.

The agency said that the former Pope told a visitor to Mater Ecclesiae, the monastery in the Vatican where he currently resides, that God “did not speak to him in a vision but in a mystical experience.”

Tg5 interviewed the Archbishop Gänswein on Aug. 25 in the town of Castel Gandolfo, where the papal summer residence is located.

Benedict XVI and his personal secretary had traveled there from the Vatican to celebrate the town's feast of Our Lady of the Lake the day prior, which included an evening Mass presided by the retired pontiff.

“The Pope Emeritus is very well and he was here to visit the palace because there was a small concert and to take a beautiful walk in the gardens and have dinner there,” the archbishop said.

On Feb. 11 of this year, Benedict XVI announced his resignation which went into effect on Feb. 28. He then stayed in Castel Gandolfo during the cardinals' election of a new Pope.

After Pope Francis was chosen, the former pontiff moved back to the Vatican to live in a monastery with Archbishop Gänswein, who is also prefect of the papal household.

The archbishop reflected that annually for the last eight years, he and Benedict XVI along with others from the Vatican came to Castel Gandolfo for “a few weeks” – an “experience,” he said, “that we now miss.”

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Notre Dame to welcome, help fund undocumented students

South Bend, Ind., Aug 27, 2013 (CNA) - Citing the U.S. bishops’ support for immigration reform, the University of Notre Dame has announced that it will now accept qualified undocumented students who apply for undergraduate admission.

“In many ways, Notre Dame is itself a university of immigrants,” university spokesman Dennis Brown told CNA Aug. 26.

“While the legal circumstances are certainly different, we have a long and proud history of educating the marginalized and least among us. This is a central component of Church teaching and our mission as a Catholic university.”

Brown acknowledged that the status of immigrants is “a contentious issue” in the U.S. and many will not agree with the new policy.

“But, by considering the views of the bishops and our counterparts in Catholic higher education, while also using the new federal policy as a guide, we believe that this is the right thing to do,” he said.

Previously the university required a student visa from non-citizen applicants.

It is unclear how many applicants will be affected by the change. The university does not have data about undocumented students turned away under the previous policy. It also has no estimates of how many declined to apply because of the previous policy, Brown said.

The policy change came after a small group of Notre Dame faculty and administrators conducted an examination of other Catholic universities’ policies, the views of the U.S. bishops, federal policy, and the history of the university.

The U.S. bishops’ conference has strongly supported immigration reform and the Dream Act, which would allow eligible undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors to seek legal status. Brown noted that the bishops have supported the legislation to ensure that these children “are not punished for their parents’ actions.”

The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, whose members include Notre Dame, has asked its members to enroll and help undocumented young people. It cited Catholic social teaching as one reason for the request.

Brown stressed that the University of Notre Dame is not the first Catholic university to adopt such a policy, which is already in place at numerous other colleges.

The University of Notre Dame also said that it is “committed to meeting the full demonstrated financial need for all admitted students.”

Over half of Notre Dame students receive scholarship aid from the university, with an average award of more than $30,000.

“Since most of our aid packages also include a federal Pell Grant and federal work study, both of which would be unavailable to an undocumented student, the university would make up the difference,” Brown said. This difference comes to about $8,200 annually.

The university will only consider applicants who meet the requirements of the new federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. That policy, enacted last year by the Department of Homeland Security, grants a stay of deportation to undocumented U.S. residents brought into the country as children before the age of 16. They must have continuously resided in the U.S. since June 2007 and must not have been convicted of a felony.

Don Bishop, Notre Dame’s associate vice president for undergraduate enrollment, said on Aug. 22 that the policy change “will strengthen our incoming class and give deserving young people the chance for a Notre Dame education.”

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Military involvement in Syria could spark world war, bishop warns

Aleppo, Syria, Aug 27, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The bishop of Aleppo, Syria, has cautioned that foreign military action in the country could spark a global war, making the “tragic situation” much worse.

“The only road to peace is dialogue,” said Bishop Antoine Audo on Aug. 27. “War will not take us anywhere.”

“People live in anguish, not knowing what awaits them, and this has been happening during the two years of conflict,” he told Missionary International Service News Agency.

The bishop of Aleppo, one of the cities worst affected by the turmoil, is also the president of Caritas Syria.

He spoke amid escalating international discussions of how to respond to reported chemical weapons attacks in the country.

On Aug. 26, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said it was “undeniable” that chemical weapons had been used in an attack on civilians outside of Damascus five days earlier.

“I have seen thousands of civilian victims of the violence,” Bishop Audo said. “We are in need of someone that brings us hope for peace, not a new charge of hatred.”

He stressed that “if there is will, dialogue is always possible, even in the darkest situations.”

“Even in Syria there are alternatives to war,” he said.

In a separate interview with Vatican Radio, Bishop Audo warned, “If there were a military intervention, in my opinion this means world war.” 

He echoed Pope Francis’ call for “true dialogue between the different parties of the conflict in order to find a solution.”

The “clear” and “direct” words of Pope Francis “give confidence to all of us who are now here, especially in Aleppo, in a very difficult situation,” Bishop Audo said. “The Holy Father’s message is very appreciated by a large part of the population.”

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Forty-five WYD participants seek refugee status in Brazil

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug 27, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Citing religious oppression in their home countries, 45 young people who took part in World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, have asked the country for refugee status.

The young pilgrims from Pakistan, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo said that they suffer “persecution” and “threats” in their countries for professing the Catholic faith.

The pilgrims had joined more than three million young people from around the world who journeyed to Rio last month to celebrate World Youth Day through catechesis, fellowship, sacraments and prayer with Pope Francis.

According to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro has received 40 requests to mediate in petitions for refugee status, with five other requests made to the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo.

The requests will now go before Brazil’s National Committee for Refugees.

Currently the young people are being given “assistance, lodging and meals” by Catholic volunteers and municipal authorities.

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Joseph Bottum claims fidelity to Church stance on marriage

Hot Springs, S.D., Aug 27, 2013 (CNA) - Author Joseph Bottum says that while parts of his controversial article on Catholic responses to “gay marriage” may have been unclear, he did not intend to suggest a divergence from Church teaching.

“I'm not dissenting from Church doctrine here, in any way,” said Bottum, who wrote the essay “The Things We Share” in Commonweal last Friday.

Rather, he told CNA Aug. 26, “I am taking exception to some prudential judgment about the way in which we try and evangelize the world.”

In the more than 9,000 word essay, subtitled “A Catholic's Case for Same-Sex Marriage,” Bottum suggested that federal and state recognition of same-sex “marriage” is already so far advanced that Catholics would do well to not expend energy fighting it in judicial and legal spheres, but rather to evangelize and share the Christian world-view in other ways.

Bottum's essay was popularized by an interview which appeared in the New York Times by Mark Oppenheimer headlined “A Conservative Catholic now backs same-sex marriage.”

This characterization was the first introduction to the article for many, both on the political right and left.

“Much as I was grateful for the publicity” of the Times article, he said, “I think one of the problems with that was our conservative Catholic friends read the New York Times essay first, and then read the Commonweal piece, and it's effect was, 'Catholic deserter comes to our side.'”

“They look at it through the lens of 'Catholic deserter', and the first blog posts about it really blocked me into a position.”

Similarly, he said, that the left's first reaction, “based on the New York Times profile” was “'hooray, hooray, we've got a defector'; and then they actually read the essay, and now they're all out after me.”

Since his essay itself conveys a different tone than did Oppenheimer's article, Bottum said, “I didn't expect the immediate knee-jerk reaction of a sizable chunk of the conservative world to be angry at me.”

While continuing to view homosexual acts as “manifestly not in accord with divine law,” in alignment with Church teaching, Bottum said it is “right to make the distinction over what evils we allow without rebellion.”

“Just as there's no rebellion in Nevada among Catholics over the counties that have legalized prostitution, I think we've probably reached a point where the Catholic teaching here has no purchase on the larger culture, and we're going to get same-sex marriage – it's already mostly here.”

While wanting to make clear that “there's no doubt” he accepts that marriage as being between two persons of the opposite sex, Bottum said merely wanted to write the piece about his thinking having come to the position that, in the U.S., “the Church just needs to get out of the civil marriage business, because the culture is just too bizarre to hear” her teaching about marriage.

“In the short-run anyway,” Bottom said, Catholics should tolerate the civil recognition of same-sex unions. “I also think we need to re-evangelize the culture, but, in the short run … I think we have to accept that the facts on the ground is, it's here, and it's going to be here for some time.”

“I was always very careful to, any time I said something affirming of same-sex marriage, I was very careful to put in the word 'civil', 'state recognition of', some kind of qualifying phrase like that.”

“I did kind of assume that it would be taken as writ that I'm an orthodox Catholic,” Bottom reflected, though adding, “maybe I should have just said it, to pre-empt some old friends from reading the piece as though I was saying, this is sacramental marriage as much as anything else.”

The essay is “very long,” Bottom admitted, explaining that it is written in a literary style he's been exploring lately, calling it “a style of personal essay that takes two steps forward and one step back, that circles around and circles around, that's more impressionistic than it is argumentative.”

“I open for instance with that description of a lost friendship … and immediately afterwards I say, personal anecdote isn’t argument, and then I say, we're all Americans, America's got this, we should probably just accept this insofar as we're Americans,” he said, reflecting on his writing style.

“And then immediately after, I say that of course the bishops shouldn't be persuaded to take the (popular) cultural position out of some feel-good call for consensus. And the whole essay kind of proceeds by this back and forth method.”

He cited the style of Michel de Montaigne, a French essayist of the 16th century renaissance, as an inspiration for the admittedly “complicated” and “impressionistic” voice of his personal essay.

“I set myself up to be misinterpreted, in a way, just by making the conscious literary decision to write an essay in an essayistic style, and it didn't occur to me at the time that it would be quite so open to misinterpretation,” Bottum shared.

Saying that he is “not entirely free from blame” for the essay's subtitle, since he discussed it with the editors and consented to it, Bottum said that instead of being a Catholic advocate for same-sex “marriage,” “the case that I am making, is a case for Catholics who work in these sorts of fields to recognize that same-sex marriage is something the culture has, and is going to get completely,” though “in the civil sense only.”

“I certainly didn't intend to undermine the bishops, by making anything more than a prudential argument about their fight over same-sex marriage,” Bottum said.

Moreover, he pointed out, “I explicitly said in the piece that they should not be persuaded by purely cultural reasons.”

Bottom said there are two passages that he should have phrased differently, because “they're getting misinterpreted consistently” – one section on the judicial cases made in favor of marriage, and another on natural law.

His intention, he clarified, in speaking about the lack of a “coherent” legal argument in defense of marriage was not “an indictment of all the work of our lawyer friends” who have been defending marriage in court, but was only a recognition that “given the jurisprudence” and the prevailing understanding of the Constitution, “this wasn't a coherent argument” for the Supreme Court.

And in clarifying his comments on natural law, Bottum said that “of course” natural law is true without what he calls “enchantment.” His intention was to say that natural law “is not persuasive without enchantment.”

In the essay, Bottum did go so far as to suggest that given culture's crisis of confusion around marriage and sexuality, the civil recognition of same-sex “marriage” could possibly “prove a small advance” in terms of “chastity” and “love.”

Even while acknowledging that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered, Bottum said that “I think I do” hold that, because “we have such a rotten marriage culture right now … an exclusive relationship between two homosexual people, recognized in law, might actually be some small improvement, because the marriage culture is actually below that right now.”

“This cannot be a sacramental marriage,” Bottum emphasized. Same-sex marriage is “based on a failure to recognize the enchanted, created reality of the body. But in the culture as it actually is, this might be an improvement.”

“I do say, 'I don't know',” he added. “These are all predictions of the future, but it's a future that's coming, very very shortly.”

Bottum admitted that “the big missing piece” in his essay is “direct engagement” with the thought in the Church – including that voiced in a 2003 document by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – which seems to counter his position of prudential acceptance of civilly-recognized same-sex “marriage.”

“What I did gesture at, to try and do some of that work,” according to Bottum, was a work of Paul J. Griffiths which he said “explicitly and very respectfully addresses that teaching.”

Bottum summed up his essay, saying that “we cannot cease to teach the imperfections” of same-sex unions, “while promoting and showing the perfections … of sacramental marriage in the Church,” but that “we can do those without necessarily entering the direct political fray.”

Towards the end of the essay, Bottum discussed what he calls “enchantment,” a focus on metaphysics and the createdness of the world, and offered this focus as a better use of time and resources as the Church tries to evangelize the culture around her.

“The messages we want to send are about how this world is filled with the glory of God, and because I believe in the unity of truth, I believe that that will evangelize people into moral truths.”

“I know it's odd, and I might be mistaken, but I am thinking my way through the idea that what we start with is a kind of metaphysical proposition, not a moral proposition.”

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