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Archive of September 17, 2013

Bishops praise CRS for Catholic identity training, screening

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2013 (CNA) - Following criticism of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops have reaffirmed their support for the agency, applauding its “very strong training program” and “careful” vetting process for partnerships with other groups.

“Through CRS, the Catholic Church in the United States helps the poorest of the poor around the world in response to the call of the Gospel, based on the teachings of the Church and following the example of our Holy Father. Its service around the world makes us all proud,” the administrative committee of the U.S. bishops’ conference said Sept. 11.

The relief agency works in 91 countries and has nearly 5,000 staff, many of whom are local workers who are not Catholic.

The U.S. bishops noted that the agency trains all staff about Catholic teaching. In 2012 Catholic Relief Services implemented an agency-wide tutorial, “Protecting Life,” which informs staff about Catholic teaching on “the sanctity of life, contraception and abortion.” The training explains agency requirements that staff “uphold this teaching in their work,” the bishops said.

They also observed that the relief agency employs a vetting process to ensure that it does not violate Church teaching when cooperating with other groups or governments. Such partnerships are undertaken in order to accomplish joint goals, such as helping to provide food and clean water, disaster aid, education, anti-malaria campaigns and other poverty assistance initiatives. 

“As CRS’ work necessitates collaboration with a broad network of partners in complex environments with a regularly changing focus, this system is constantly reviewed and updated,” the bishops said. “The agency welcomes questions and concerns offered in a spirit of Christian charity. If any weaknesses or problems are found assessment and action are undertaken to correct the problem.”

The U.S. bishops have said that Catholic Relief Services “fully and faithfully adheres to Church teaching” and those concerned about criticisms of the agency should seek clarification before believing them.

The bishops lamented recent allegations that the agency does not adhere to Church teaching, saying there have been “thorough investigations into the concerns.”

The statement comes after the Virginia-based Population Research Institute claimed that the relief agency was cooperating in a contraceptive distribution program in Madagascar, in violation of Catholic teaching.

The institute on July 26 charged that Catholic Relief Services was acting “in concert with some of the world’s biggest population control / family planning organizations” and said it distributed contraceptives and drugs that can cause early abortions. The institute cited its interviews with local bishops, clergy, and relief workers, conducted in late 2012.

The U.S. bishops reacted to the initial report by contacting Madagascar bishops.

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana of Toamasina said that there had been some confusion in his archdiocese about the work of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops reported in early August. He confirmed that the agency has been acting according to Catholic teaching.

Archbishop Odon Razanakolona of Antananarivo told the U.S. bishops he was sure the relief agency follows Catholic teaching, describing the agency as a good partner.

Catholic Relief Services communications officials said that some reports about the relief agency confused the actions of its staffers with those of non-staff community health workers, who are chosen locally and are part of the Madagascar government’s health care system.

The Population Research Institute has stood by its claims, releasing its full report on Sept. 4, including transcripts of its 2012 interviews with Madagascar bishops and almost 40 other individuals. 

Steven Mosher, the institute’s president, said Sept. 4 the organization conducted its investigation at the behest of several major CRS donors. In August, Mosher characterized the bishops’ response to the institute’s claims as “blanket denials.”

At the conclusion of the institute’s full report, Mosher and co-author Anne Roback Morse charged that Catholic Relief Services avoids “the appearance of favoring the Catholic Church in any way.” They said that the agency has a policy of not preferentially hiring Catholics and that this is because such a policy is required by its “principal donor,” the U.S. Agency for International Aid and Development.

They also criticized the relief agency for its policy of serving the poor throughout the world “on the basis of need not creed” rather than seeking to preferentially serve Catholics.

Mosher and Morse said that an “authentic Catholic charity” would “hire faithful Catholics” and while not turning away others in need, would “seek above all to serve its fellow Catholics.”

The U.S. bishops, however, praised the international work of Catholic Relief Services and stressed that the group’s present and past policy is “never to distribute or promote artificial contraceptives or abortifacients or to promote abortion.”

“We want to make it clear that those making these public critiques, albeit, we hope, in good faith, do not speak for the Catholic Church and we advise the Catholic faithful to exercise caution and consult the CRS website for clarification before endorsing or giving credence to the groups’ critiques,” the bishops said.

They urged continued support for the relief agency, saying it is committed to “defend human dignity and the sacredness of every human life from the moment of conception until natural death, and at every moment in between.”

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Catholic Charities prepares aid for Colo. flood victims

Denver, Colo., Sep 17, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholic relief agencies in Colorado are assembling to provide long-term assistance for victims of the massive floods that have struck the state’s Front Range in the past week.

“It’s just been devastating,” said Geoff Bennett, vice president of shelter and community outreach for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver.

“It’s sad to see people losing their homes and in some cases people losing their lives. They’ve been in our prayers and we’re trying to figure out how to best assist.”

Bennett told CNA Sept. 16 that the agency is reaching out to parishes in affected areas “just to assess what the need is and how we can provide assistance.”

Many parishes are hosting community meetings about the disaster, caused by several days of record-setting rainfall in the normally dry climate, which triggered flash floods and a sustained increase in water levels.

“It sounds like they’re all just now trying to figure out what is going on,” he said, adding that Catholic Charities can serve as a resource for parishioners’ long-term needs.

Information about the extent of the disaster is still incomplete. At least seven people have died in the floods, and more than 1,200 people were still unaccounted for on Sept. 16, with power and phone service down in several areas.

More than 11,000 people have been evacuated, according to local reports, and nearly 18,000 structures have been damaged, some 1,500 of them destroyed.

The damage is widespread, affecting 15 counties along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains and into the eastern plains. Among the most heavily affected are Boulder and Larimer counties in the north part of the state and El Paso county in the south. Some rural and mountain residents have been cut off from roads and communications networks.

President Barack Obama has declared the Colorado floods a major disaster and has authorized federal funds to help flood victims. Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has called for prayers for all those affected.

Glenn Good, regional director of Catholic Charities of Larimer County, said that the agency had to evacuate its homeless shelter in Fort Collins on Friday. It is assessing the facility, which “appears to be okay.” The agency is also attempting to locate any displaced clients.

The immediate emergency response is primarily handled by the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army, while Catholic Charities assists in long-term recovery.

“For the most part people are in shelters or staying with families or in motels,” Good said. “We’re in the process of trying to figure out these people’s needs and how we are going to help them move on.”

The agency is still helping hundreds of victims of the massive wildfires which struck Colorado in 2012, work anticipated to continue into next summer.

That disaster prompted the Catholic Charities affiliate and other agencies to form a long-term recovery group that will now be repurposed to help flood victims.

Good said that the recovery process for flood victims will be similar to the effort after the fires: with the help of Catholic Charities USA, the local agency will raise funds to help survivors. The agency has already established a process for survivors to meet with case workers to evaluate their needs and to set a plan for recovery.

However, insurance could pose a major problem for flood victims.

“Unfortunately, what I am hearing here in northern Colorado related to the flood, is that a lot of people did not have any flood insurance,” Good said. “So that’s going to be a great concern, obviously, if we are going to have a lot of people who are essentially uninsured for flood damage.”

Despite the challenges that flood victims are facing, Good said community support appears strong.

“There were a lot of people who wanted to help. All of our agencies have been inundated with people who want to not only volunteer their time, but also donate funds to help with the effort,” he noted.
 
“A lot of people are in need, but fortunately there are some people willing to give.”

Bennett explained that some aid could include gift cards for food and clothing.

The agency has applied for some emergency grants and is receiving donations, he explained. It has also partnered with government and private agencies “to work together and help as many people as we can.”

“Everyone is in our prayers. We know how difficult this can be,” Bennett said.

Donations to flood victim relief may be made through the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver website at http://www.ccdenver.org.

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Church is like a widow seeking her husband, Pope says

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Church militant is similar to a widow and progresses through history searching for her divine spouse Jesus Christ, Pope Francis preached in his homily for daily Mass Sept. 17.

The widow of Naim in Scripture is “an icon of the Church, because the Church is in a certain sense a widow,” the Holy Father said at the chapel of the Vatican's Domus Sanctae Marthae, reflecting on the day's Gospel.

“The Bridegroom is gone and she walks in history, hoping to find him, to meet with him. And she will be his true bride. In the meantime she - the Church - is alone! The Lord is invisible. She has a certain dimension of widowhood.”

Christ's encounter with the widow of Naim shows that he has “the capacity to suffer with us, to be close to our sufferings and make them his own,” the Pope said, and the Lord “had great compassion” on her.

“The Lord has a special love for widows, he cares for them.”

The Church is like a widow, Pope Francis said, and is “courageous” in defending her children, “like the widow who went to the corrupt judge to (press her rights) and eventually won.”

“Our mother Church is courageous! She has the courage of a woman who knows that her children are her own, and must defend them and bring them to an encounter with her Spouse.”

“She is a Church that, when she is faithful, knows how to cry. When the Church does not cry, something is not right. She weeps for her children, and prays,” he said.

Pope Francis added that the Church continues through history “rearing her children,” and “gives them strength and accompanies them until the final farewell in order to leave them in the hands of her Spouse, who at the end will come to encounter her.”

He said that he sees the Church in the widow of Naim, weeping for her dead son, and that Christ says to the Church: “Do not cry. I am with you, I will accompany you, I will wait for you there, at the wedding feast, the final marriage, that of the Lamb. Stop (your tears), this son of yours was dead, now lives.”

As Christ told the widow's son to arise, so he tells us to get up “when we are dead because of sin and we are going to ask for pardon.” And when he grants us pardon, the Pope noted, “he returns us to our mother.”

Reconciliation with the Lord is not a matter of only the priest and the penitent, he explained, but it is completed only when Christ returns us to our mother, the Church, because “there is no path of life, there is no pardon, there is no reconciliation outside of mother Church.”

Pope Francis concluded by saying that the day’s Gospel inspires him “to ask the Lord for the grace to be always confident of this 'Mom' who defends us, who teaches us, who helps us grow and to speak the dialect” of orthodoxy and catechism.

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Vatican analyst: Pope distanced himself from liberation theology

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - During a meeting on Monday with priests from the Diocese of Rome, Pope Francis reportedly suggested that he does not support the version of liberation theology represented by Peruvian priest Father Gustavo Gutierrez.

In a post for his Italian-language blog Settimo Cielo, Vatican analyst Sandro Magister said the Holy Father distanced himself from Archbishop Gerhard Muller – the current prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who supports Fr. Gutierrez's views – in a “brief but eloquent” observation made during a question-and-answer session with the priests.

Magister said the meeting was “behind closed doors” and described Pope Francis’ comment on liberation theology as “serious and sharp,” although it went largely unnoticed by the media, including the Vatican press office.

“In the formulation of one of the five questions posed to the Pope, a priest asking about the centrality of the poor in pastoral ministry made a direct reference to liberation theology and Archbishop Gerhard Muller’s stance in support of this theology,” Magister recounted.

But “upon hearing the name of the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Francis didn’t let the priest finish his question and said, ‘That is what Muller thinks, that is what he thinks’,” Magister explained.

The Pope’s statement is significant in light of the audience he granted last Thursday to Fr. Gutierrez, who is considered one of the fathers of liberation theology. The unscheduled meeting took place at the insistence of Archbishop Muller.

Liberation theology is a controversial school of thought that developed in Latin America in the 1950s. It has been criticized as a Marxist interpretation of the gospel, focusing on freedom from material poverty and injustice rather than giving primacy to spiritual freedom.

Several of Fr. Gutierrez’s writings have attracted controversy, including the claim, “Only a radical break with the present state of things, a profound transformation of the property system, the access to power by the exploited class, a social revolution that breaks up that dependence, will allow a different society, a Socialist society to come to pass.”

“Authentic liberation will be the work of the oppressed themselves, in them the Lord saves history,” he wrote, also saying that the “Church must be converted to the world, in which Christ and the Spirit are present and active, and must allow itself to be inhabited and evangelized by it.”

One of Pope Francis' former teachers, Argentinean Jesuit priest Fr. Juan Carlos Scannone, has said that the Holy Father never supported a Marxist-based liberation theology.

In an extensive interview in the recent book “Francis Our Brother Our Friend” (Ignatius Press, 2013), Fr. Scannone explained that he has studied liberation theology extensively, and that “there are different currents” within it.

“In the Argentinean Liberation Theology, social Marxist analysis is not used, but rather a historical-cultural analysis, not based on class warfare as a determining principle for the interpretation of society and history,” he said, adding that he believes Pope Francis’ pastoral work and attitude toward the poor can be “understood in this context.”

In comments about the Pope’s recent meeting with Fr. Gutierrez, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani of Lima said on Sept. 14 that the Peruvian priest still holds positions that need to be rectified.

“The Church does not accept Marxist class warfare,” Cardinal Cipriani said on his weekly radio program. “During the last conversation I had with Gutierrez, before he left Lima…I told him that in his youth he took stances that he should correct now that he is older.”

“If we look carefully at Ratzinger’s instruction,” the cardinal continued, referencing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1984 document “Liberatis Nuntius,” “we can see very clearly that the writings of Gutierrez still need to be corrected.”

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European bishops warned of growing restrictions on religion

Strasbourg, France, Sep 17, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - During their first meeting in Strasbourg, France, held Sept. 12-14, the legal advisors to the European Bishops’ Conference warned of an increase in legal restrictions against religious freedom.

More than 30 delegates representing 22 bishops’ conferences in Europe attended the meeting.

Discussions during the gathering focused on conscientious objection, freedom of expression and freedom to receive religions education. The experts noted that religion is taking on “greater public relevance in the lives and consciences of European citizens.”

However, they also pointed to a “considerable increase” in legal restrictions in member countries of the council. These restrictions are registered in the Observatory on Discrimination and Intolerance against Christians in Europe and in lawsuits that are coming before the European Human Rights Court.

The experts encouraged the council to always be “a promoter of the protection of religious freedom.” The Church has always shown herself willing to dialogue and collaborate in the defense of human rights through her specific contribution, they said.

They also reflected on the foundations of human rights, which, they noted, are based on the dignity of the person, and therefore each person has the responsibility to defend them.

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Despite remaining challenges, DC Catholic schools improved

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A new report on Catholic education in the Washington archdiocese shows significant gains, particularly in funding, in recent years, though local Catholic schools still face challenges.

“In a particular way, significant strides have been made in recent years financially to support Catholic schools; but there is still much work to be done on the part of all of us,” stated Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, in the report.

“Catholic education – and our support of it – is not merely an option. It is an essential element of the New Evangelization,” he emphasized.

The report follows on a five-year initiative for improving Catholic education in the archdiocese which began in 2008. While some significant challenges remain at the end of the initiative, the report says, the Archdiocese will continue to find ways of improving Catholic education.

The initiative to improve Catholic education in the archdiocese began following meetings with catechists and educators during 2006 and 2007, and review of data regarding Catholic education.

Subsequently, Cardinal Wuerl released a  2008 pastoral letter, “Catholic Education: Looking to the Future with Confidence,” outlining goals formulated following the meetings and reviews.

These goals included an updated religious curriculum; improved formation for catechists; discussion with homeschoolers; stronger Catholic identity; academic excellence; and better affordability and accessibility.

The archdiocesan report, released this month, stated that it has made “significant progress” towards reaching those goals since 2008.

To help meet these goals, in 2009 the Washington archdiocese set in place new policies for school, curriculum and operations planning. In addition, new plans were created for comprehensive accreditation, raising academic standards, and steps were made towards increasing tuition assistance for families in need of aid.

Since the plan was put in place, 13 elementary schools in the archdiocese have received the Blue Ribbon Award, an accolade from the Department of Education given to private schools recognized for excellence in education.

Furthermore, the archdiocese increased its financial aid for students in need from $800,000 for the 2007-2008 academic year to $5.5 million in aid for the 2013-2014 year.

The report also noted improvements in catechesis programs, and the use of new online adult formation programs by more than 2,000 people.

The report noted, however, that the Archdiocese of Washington still has several challenges facing Catholic education. Schools in the region are facing declining enrollment, and the parishes that support them often have their own financial problems.

Additionally, even with the improvements the archdiocese has made in providing financial aid, it is not enough to meet the needs of those enrolled in its Catholic schools – especially the needs of poor students and access for middle-income families.

On top of that, the funding for the archdiocese's Opportunity Scholarship Program will expire in 2016,  leaving uncertain the future for the more than 800 students who use these scholarships.

The Archdiocese of Washington maintains it will continue to increase tuition assistance for Catholic schools and students, while investigating ways to make Catholic education more affordable overall.

The report also promoted the pursuit of  government partnerships, publicly funded scholarship programs, tax credits, and vouchers to help support students and their families who are in need of financial assistance.

The report also outlined the Archdiocese of Washington's plan to hold retreats for new catechists, and augmented support for adult faith formation.

Cardinal Wuerl stated in the report that a “robust system of Catholic education programs is something from which we all benefit."  

Catholic education benefits not only its recipients "but the whole Church" and "the wider community" as well, he said, “because the richness of Catholic teaching engages the secular culture in such a way that the light of the wisdom of God is brought to bear on the issues of the day."

"Catholic education is a blessing – a blessing so sorely needed by our society today.”

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