Vatican City, Sep 25, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - At an Oct. 11 audience with the Pope, European Parliament president Martin Schulz is expected to formally invite Pope Francis to address the legislative body of the European Union.
The news of Schulz’ visit is still not official, but it has been confirmed by a European Union source who spoke to CNA Sept. 24 under condition of anonymity.
The source maintained that Schulz' audience is already scheduled, though “due to unforeseen circumstances these kind of things can change quite late,” and this is probably a reason why the audience has not yet been made official.
Schulz had already extended an informal verbal invitation to the Pope to visit the European Parliament at his inaugural Mass as Bishop of Rome on March 19.
Both of Schulz' predecessors – Hans-Gert Pöttering of Germany and Jerzy Buzek of Poland – invited Benedict XVI to address the European Parliament, but he never took up the invitation. The only previous occasion when a Pope addressed the institution was Blessed John Paul II in 1988.
Although Schulz received an education at an institution of the Holy Ghost Fathers, the 57-year-old European leader claims to be a non-believer and has thus far not attended European Union meetings with religious leaders. Such meetings have been attended faithfully by both José Manuel Durao Barroso, president of the European Commission, and Herman van Rompuy, president of the European Council.
According to the anonymous source, the program of the audience has Schulz visiting a Sant’Egidio project shortly after his meeting with the Pope.
In the early afternoon, Schulz is also due to participate in a public debate on poverty and humanitarian issues at the Gregorian University.
The press office of Gregorian University told CNA Sept. 24 that “the conference has not yet been confirmed,” but did not deny that they have been approached.
The debate is understood to have been organized by Caritas International, with Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa and president of the organization, to be on the podium alongside Schulz.
Rome, Italy, Sep 25, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In wake of the 33rd anniversary of China's one-child policy, a women's rights activist has raised concern about those who believe the policy has ended, warning of the dangers it still poses.
“The one child policy is definitely still happening. Any report that states that China is abandoning the one-child policy is false,” Reggie Littlejohn said in a Sept. 22 interview with CNA.
Littlejohn is the founder and president of “Women’s Rights Without Frontiers,” an international coalition aimed at exposing forced abortion, gendercide, and sexual slavery in China.
Wednesday marks the anniversary of the country's one-child policy, which was instituted during the Mao era in China in 1979 as a means of population control. The measure restricts most Chinese families to one child each, and uses a quota reward system for the Family Planning Officials who carry out the birth control policies.
“The one-child policy causes more violence towards women and girls than any other official policy on earth, than any other official policy in the history of the world,” Littlejohn said, adding that the Chinese communist party has boasted about having “prevented four hundred million lives” through the policy.
“Women are forced to abort babies up to the ninth month of pregnancy, and sometimes these forced abortions are so violent that the women themselves die along with their full-term babies.”
In addition to her advocacy for China's women, Littlejohn also led the international effort to free Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, who arrived in the United States in May, 2013.
Known as an international expert on the country's one-child policy, she has testified at the U.S. Congress as well as the European, British and Irish Parliaments, and has briefed the White House, the U.S. Department of State, and the Vatican on the issues of women's rights in China. Most recently, she addressed a maternal health care conference in Rome, where she was able to meet Pope Francis.
Littlejohn rejected media perceptions in the West that the one-child policy is waning, countering that “when the Chinese communist party tweaks the policy, makes a minor adjustment to it, for some reason that fact gets reported as 'China is abandoning the one-child policy,' which is not true.”
According to her, coercion involved in the one-child policy is being used to keep the communist party in power.
“The core of the policy, the centerpiece of the policy, is not how many children the government allows a woman to have, it’s the coercion with which they enforce the limit,” she said.
Littlejohn added that even if a couple is granted a second child, they would still need to have a birth permit – if they do not get one, the mother is still subject to a forced abortion until the end of her term.
Outside of forced abortion, the one-child policy has opened the door to other human rights issues, such as human trafficking and gendercide, Littlejohn said.
“The fact that the Chinese government imposes this coercive low birth limit, combine that with the preference for boys and what you end up with is sex-selective abortion, or gendercide.”
“Right now there are thirty-seven million more men living in China than women,” she said, “and that’s driving human trafficking and sexual slavery, not only within China but the surrounding countries.”
Littlejohn said that the coercion used to enforce the one-child policy serves the double purpose to also keep the communist party in place in China, stating that when the policy was initiated, the birth rate was about 5.9, whereas now it “more like 1.7, which is well below 2.1.”
“China’s population problem is not that they have too many people, it’s that they have too few young people. So I believe that it has transformed into a policy of social control that’s a way for the Chinese government to demonstrate its power.”
She also listed China’s system of informants, who are specifically assigned to watch women and report anyone whose abdomens “look bigger than they should,” and the money that the government makes in profit from the “exorbitant” fines they charge to families with more than one child, among the reasons she believes that the policy is being used to keep the current party in place.
When the informants catch a woman, Littlejohn said, China’s Family Planning Police come “in the middle of the night, grabbing women out of their beds, strapping them down to tables and forcing them to abort babies they want up to the ninth month of pregnancy.”
“That is a form of violence against women, its official government rape in my opinion, and it’s a way of terrorizing the entire population.”
Littlejohn emphasized the need to raise awareness about the one-child policy, pointing to the resources on her group's website as a place to start. The video, “Stop Forced Abortion: China’s War Against Women,” gives a short, but good introduction that can easily be shared on social media to help spread information, she said.
She also suggested her organization's “Save a Girl” campaign, which offers a monthly stipend for a year to mothers who are considering aborting their babies, simply because they are girls, as a way to give assistance.
After being offered the stipend, in “ninety-five percent of the cases, women choose to keep their daughters,” Littlejohn noted.
“Whenever I feel sort of frustrated about the enormity of ending forced-abortion in China,” she said, “I’ve got this binder of all these beautiful faces of these baby girls that we’re saving.”
“We’re ending gendercide, we’re ending forced abortion one baby at a time.”
Melbourne, Australia, Sep 25, 2013 (CNA) - Pope Francis has ordered the excommunication of a Catholic priest in Australia who illicitly said Mass, taught that women should be ordained priests and advocated for “gay marriage.”
An Archdiocese of Melbourne spokesman said the Pope had ordered the excommunication of Father Greg Reynolds, who has also been dismissed from the clerical state, the Australian Associated Press reports.
Australian newspaper The Age reported that Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne said the excommunication was due to the priest’s public celebration of Mass without faculties to do so, and his preaching contrary to the teachings of the Church.
The letter announcing the penalty, written in Latin, was dated May 31.
Excommunication is a canonical penalty intended to warn and correct those who commit grave offenses against the Church. Priests who are excommunicated may not receive or celebrate the sacraments.
Reynolds said he expected to be dismissed from the clerical state, but not excommunicated. He said he was told that Archbishop Hart did not apply for dismissal from the clerical state, but that someone else contacted the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Reynolds had resigned as a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Melbourne in 2011. He founded a group called “Inclusive Catholics” the following year, and has indicated he will continue his work with the group.
In August 2012, a visitor to the group’s woman-led religious service reportedly fed “consecrated bread” to his dog. Media reports at the time were unclear whether the bread was in fact the Holy Eucharist, as the priest’s involvement in the service was minimal. However, the reports led Archbishop Hart to say such a sacrilege of the Blessed Sacrament would be an “abomination.”
The Catholic Church requires priests to have faculties, or the approval of Church authorities, to licitly celebrate Mass. Catholic teaching is that women cannot be ordained priests for ecclesial reasons, because Christ did not grant the Church authority to do so.
Several individuals who have participated in the simulated “ordination” of women have been excommunicated.
Vatican City, Sep 25, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Today during his general audience, Pope Francis drew attention to the rich diversity within the universal Church, saying that such differences are in fact a sign of unity.
“Dear Brothers and Sisters: in the Creed, we confess that the Church is 'one.' When we consider the rich diversity of languages, cultures and peoples present in the Church throughout the world, we realize that this unity is a God-given gift,” the Pope told pilgrims in St. Peter's Square on Sept. 25 .
“In effect, the Church is one and it is in that same unity, even though it is dispersed throughout the world and there are many diversities.”
Pope Francis highlighted his recent trip to Rio de Janeiro for the gathering of youth during World Youth Day as a place where he experienced the paradigm of unity and diversity in the Church.
During the global event, the Pope recalled, there were “so many faces, so many languages, so many places of provenance, but just one Church.”
“Like a big family, united like brothers in one same faith and hope, in charity and in the sacraments, in the apostolic ministry instituted by Christ.”
Pope Francis then challenged the crowds, asking them “Do we live like that or are we closed up in ourselves or in our own group? Do we worry about others, even if they are far? Do we pray for them, especially for persecuted Christians?”
The Pope noted that there are times when tension and conflict arise, wounding the Church’s unity – but “it is we that provoke it” through our “chit-chat” and gossip.
A Christian, he said, should not speak badly about others, adding that it is good “that he first bites his tongue and then talks.”
“That is why we always need to encourage communion in all of the fields of life,” he said, so that we may “grow in the unity that God gives us, and also to promote the ecumenical journey.”
The pontiff also emphasized the importance of working within the Church to be models of faith, saying “The world needs our witness to God’s plan for the unity, reconciliation and peace of the whole human family.”
“Let us ask the Lord to enable us, and Christians everywhere, to work to overcome our tensions and divisions,” he said, “to strive, as Saint Paul bids us, to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and to cherish the harmony which the same Spirit creates from the richness of our diversity.”
Pope Francis then expressed that this unity is not achieved through our own human efforts, but rather through the “work of the true artist, the Holy Spirit,” saying to those present that we must ask for the gift of unity “through perseverance in prayer.”
Philadelphia, Pa., Sep 25, 2013 (CNA) - Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia said the Holy Father’s recent lengthy interview calls attention to the modern world as a “missionary field” that needs witnesses to Christ’s saving power.
“Among the many vital things the Pope reminds us of in his interview is the new and drastically different condition of the modern world that God seeks to save,” the archbishop said in a Sept. 25 column.
What Catholics need to realize is that the world we live is “morally fractured,” the archbishop explained, meaning that many people “no longer have that common vocabulary” that would allow for a fruitful discussion about issues such as abortion and sexuality.
“The modern heart can only be won back by a radical witness of Christian discipleship – a renewed kind of shared community life obedient to God’s Commandments, but also on fire with the Beatitudes lived more personally and joyfully by all of us,” he said.
When the Pope’s 12,000-word interview published in English last week, Archbishop Chaput said he was unable to read it immediately due to travel, but he was greeted by an inbox full of emails – ranging from concerned to gloating to grateful – when he returned to Philadelphia.
While some people “grasped at the interview like a lifeline – or a vindication,” the majority of emails were from concerned Catholics who “felt confused by the media headlines suggesting that the Church had somehow changed her teaching on a variety of moral issues.”
Archbishop Chaput rejected the idea that Pope Francis was somehow turning away from Catholic teaching and said that his flock’s response can be a “useful lesson” for Catholics.
“The Holy Father asks none of us to abandon the task of bringing the world to Jesus Christ. Our witness matters. Every unborn child saved, every marriage strengthened, every immigrant helped, every poor person served, matters,” he said.
He said that when a priest in his archdiocese asked the congregation at Sunday Mass how many had “heard about” the Pope’s interview, nearly everyone raised their hands. However, when the priest asked how many had “actually read” the interview only five people raised their hands.
Rather than “taking the mass media coverage of the Catholic Church at face value,” Archbishop Chaput wrote, Catholics need to “actually read the Holy Father’s interview for ourselves, and pray over it, and then read it again, especially in light of the Year of Faith.”
If the Church is, as the Holy Father said in his interview, “a field hospital,” then the goal of evangelization should be “to create a space of beauty and mercy; to accompany those who suffer; to understand the nature of their lives; to care for and heal even those who reject us,” the archbishop said.
Nothing we do, he added, will be fruitful “unless we give ourselves to the whole Gospel with our whole heart.”
Denver, Colo., Sep 25, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Little Sisters of the Poor have filed the first class-action lawsuit against the federal contraception mandate, saying that it would require them to violate the teachings of their Catholic faith.
“Like all of the Little Sisters, I have vowed to God and the Roman Catholic Church that I will treat all life as valuable, and I have dedicated my life to that work,” Mother Loraine Marie Clare Maguire, superior of the congregation’s Baltimore province, said Sept. 24.
“We cannot violate our vows by participating in the government’s program to provide access to abortion inducing drugs.”
The Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged in Denver and the Little Sisters of the Poor Baltimore, Inc., both non-profit corporations, are plaintiffs in the suit, as well as “all others similarly situated.”
The sisters, who operate 30 homes for needy elderly persons in the U.S., could face millions of dollars in IRS fines if they do not comply with government mandates requiring employee health coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some drugs that can cause early abortions.
Employers that fail to provide the required coverage face fines of $100 per employee per day. The sisters’ lawsuit is the latest of more than 70 legal challenges that have been filed against the mandate on behalf of more than 200 plaintiffs nationwide.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed the class-action suit in federal District Court in Denver on behalf of the sisters and their health benefits provider, Christian Brothers Services and Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust.
The legal group said the IRS fines begin Jan. 1 unless the sisters hire an outside company to provide the objectionable coverage.
While the mandate has an exemption for religious employers, the Little Sisters of the Poor do not meet the narrow criteria to qualify for it because although they are a Catholic institution, they are not affiliated with a specific house of worship.
“The Sisters should obviously be exempted as ‘religious employers,’ but the government has refused to expand its definition,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund.
“These women just want to take care of the elderly poor without being forced to violate the faith that animates their work. The money they collect should be used to care for the poor like it always has – and not to pay the IRS.”
The Becket Fund says this is the first class-action suit concerning the mandate and will represent hundreds of Catholic non-profit ministries with similar beliefs. The lawsuit is also the first to represent benefits providers who cannot comply with the mandate in good conscience.
The lawsuit cites the anomaly of the government’s refusal to grant an exemption to Catholic groups, despite other non-religious exemptions granted to thousands of other plans affected by the 2010 health care legislation.
Members of the affected class face a “stark choice” and “must either abandon their Catholic beliefs” or be “punished by the government with an array of fines and penalties unless and until they comply,” the suit contends.
“The threat of such penalties imposes a substantial burden on the class members’ religious exercise,” it states, arguing that the mandate violates the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.