Archive of February 6, 2014

Rice bowl app aims to engage Catholics in Lent, fight hunger

Baltimore, Md., Feb 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholic Relief Services’ annual Rice Bowl Program has added a new mobile app and a social media-based photo challenge to help Catholics observe Lent and to boost participation in efforts to fight hunger.

Eric Clayton, a rice bowl program officer with Catholic Relief Services, told CNA that the app will “give people a new way to experience Lent in a more immediate sense and in a more interactive sense.”

“It’s really going to expand the horizon of who will use the rice bowl program,” he added.

For nearly four decades, Catholic Relief Services’ rice bowl program has encouraged Catholics to fast, pray and give alms during Lent, collecting donations in cardboard bowls to be distributed to various charitable initiatives.

For the first time this year, participants can use a mobile app to track and enhance their Lenten commitment to prayer, fasting and charitable giving.

“I think this is really going to help new people to latch on to the program,” Clayton said, adding that the app and social media program will also help longtime rice bowl participants “go deeper.”

The mobile app, released Feb. 5 on iOS and Android operating systems, allows users to track the alms they deposit in their rice bowls and donate the money to Catholic Relief Services at any time. It also includes a prayerful reflection for each day of Lent and meatless recipes for Fridays.

Catholic Relief Services has also created a Lenten Photo Challenge to allow the public to share how they participate in the rice bowl program. The challenge asks participants to post rice bowl-related photos – which might include prayer, fasting or charity – on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag “#VivaLent.”

The participant who posts the best photo will be awarded a fair trade Easter basket.

Clayton said the social media campaign asks people to consider how they use the rice bowl.

“We’re asking people to send in images of themselves with their rice bowl or using rice bowl materials in creative ways, maybe at the center of your family table or at the center of your prayer group meeting,” he explained.

Last year, Catholic Relief Services distributed more than 4 million rice bowls to over 13,000 schools, parishes, diocesan offices and colleges – more organizations than McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S., Clayton noted.

Seventy-five percent of the alms collected through the program support worldwide relief initiatives. These include agriculture projects to improve harvests, sanitation projects to provide communities with clean water, and microfinance projects to help small businesses. Supported global initiatives also include education projects and mother and child health projects that provide health and nutrition services.

The remaining 25 percent of the money raised goes to support hunger and poverty relief efforts within the contributor’s local diocese.

Clayton said the new app will “really makes the Lenten sacrifices immediate.”

“It’s going to hold you accountable in a tangible sense,” he explained. A person who gives up purchasing their morning coffee for Lent may record cost of the coffee in the app, as may a family that gives up an expensive meal.

Also included in the app is a collection of stories from people who have overcome hunger and poverty with aid from Catholic Relief Services, helping participants to understand how their contributions can touch lives.

Clayton said the rice bowl program helps U.S. families and communities “to live simply and to be in solidarity” with the people from different countries learn about.

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Catholic 'Mass mobs' boost attendance at Buffalo parishes

Buffalo, N.Y., Feb 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Buffalo-area Catholics have created a new twist on the “flash mob”: a “Mass mob” inspiring dozens to attend a Mass at older parishes to spread “awareness and appreciation” of the communities.

The Buffalo Mass Mob helps participants “support and experience some of Buffalo’s wonderful churches in need of a boost,” the project said on its website. The churches are selected through an on-line vote, and the event is then publicized through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Buffalo resident Christopher Byrd, 46, has helped organized two Mass mobs: a November event at St. Adalbert Basilica and a Jan. 12 event at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

“I call these churches faith enhancers. You can’t help but walk in and feel closer to a higher power,” he told the Associated Press.

A flash mob is an event in which people who gather in a particular location, which has been organized via social media; the groups often give a seemingly spontaneous musical performance for onlookers.

Buffalo’s “Mass mob” was inspired by the practice, and seeks to highlight “historic and heritage” parishes in the city.

The Jan. 12 Mass mob at Our Lady of Perpetual Help drew about 300 people to the old church, where about 50 usually attend.

Fr. Donald Lutz, the parish’s pastor, said the Mass mob is “wonderful.”

“It just shows that we are not just one parish, that it’s the whole family of the diocese. We take care of each other,” he told the Associated Press, adding that the events can help a parish “pay a few more bills.”

Elizabeth Barrett, an 88-year-old lifelong parishioner of Our Lady of Perpetual Help who lives one block from the church, said the crowd reminded her of her childhood.

“You had to get here very early when I was young, it was so crowded. And now there are just a handful. It’s hard to accept, but you have to.”

The church has stained-glass windows from Austria and an ornate marble altar.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help received advanced notice about the Mass mob, and a reception was held after Mass at a nearby community center.

Byrd told the Buffalo News that he hopes the Mass Mob will inspire people to return a few times a year. The mob “gives the church a little one-day boost, attendance-wise and in the collection basket.”

The Diocese of Buffalo has closed almost 100 churches due to declines in attendance, financial support, and the numbers of priests. Buffalo’s population grew consistently into the 1950s, peaking at more than 580,000.

Re-routing of both railway and shipping lines, as well as the exit of heavy industry, drew people away from the city, and the population has now fallen to under 300,000 – smaller than it was in 1900.

Church closures resulting from the changing population trends are a motivation for the grassroots effort to raise awareness of historical parishes.

“It is Buffalo Mass Mob’s hope to help create more awareness and appreciation for sacred sites in Western New York through the simple act of experiencing them in their intended purpose and encourage people to attend Mass more at Buffalo’s historic churches,” the organization’s website says.

Danielle Huber, one of the Mass mob organizers, said, “we need to be proactive to save these buildings.”

The Buffalo Mass Mob’s next event is scheduled for March 23, though the parish to be assisted has not yet been determined. The group will profile five potential churches in coming days, with Buffalo residents voting on the parish to be “mobbed” beginning Feb. 10.

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UN versus Holy See on human sexuality, gender theory

Vatican City, Feb 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - More than an indictment of the Church’s handling of child sex abuse, the report of the U.N. child rights committee on the Holy See seems meant to pressure the Church to change its teaching on human sexuality.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child issues periodic reports on the implementation of the organization's Convention on the Rights of the Child in signatory countries. On Wednesday it made available its Jan. 31 reports on the Republic of the Congo, Yemen, the Holy See, Portugal, Russia, and Germany.

All six states were given recommendations from the panel of 18 “independent experts who are persons of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights.”

The Holy See signed the convention in 1990, as well as two optional protocols on children's involvement in armed conflicts and child trafficking, prostitution, and pornography.

The report followed a Jan. 16 hearing before the committee from the Holy See, documenting its implementation of the convention.

After a state submits its written report to the committee, the committee may submit questions in writing to the state, which also answers them in written form. Among the questions for the Holy See was one about child sex abuse.

The Holy See gave an articulated answer, explaining the differences between the Holy See, the Vatican City State, and the Catholic Church, and discussing canon law and civil law.

The Holy See's responses stressed that the Vatican encouraged each bishops’ conference to establish guidelines to address cases of abuse on the basis of local civil law as well as the commitment of all Popes, from Bl. John Paul II on, to fighting sex abuse.

The topic of sex abuse by clergy was a welcome opportunity for both the committee and the media to attack the Church, yet it is only one of the observations made in the report, which is filled with a secular notion of rights which is divorced from human sexuality and nature.

They wrote, for example, that “the Committee regrets that the Holy See continues to place emphasis on the promotion of complementarity and equality in dignity,” which they claimed “are often used to justify discriminatory legislation and policies.”

The committee asked “the Holy See to review its position on abortion …  identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services can be permitted.”

It also took issue with not giving adolescents “access to contraception” and to “reproductive health and information,” saying the Holy See should “assess … its position” regarding adolescents' access to contraception.

The committee also urged the Holy See to “remove gender stereotypes from Catholic school textbooks … which may limit the development of the talents and abilities of boys and girls and undermine their educational and life opportunities.”

“Corporal punishment” was another area of concern for the committee, with its report claiming that “ritual beating(s) of children, has been and remains widespread” in Catholic institutions.

The U.N.'s emphasis on secular ideologies on gender and sexuality is also demonstrated by the committee's “concern about the Holy See's past statements and declarations on homosexuality which contribute to the social stigmatization of and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adolescents and children raised by same sex couples.”

No concrete references to such statements and declarations are included, though the report noted “as positive” the “progressive statement” made by Pope Francis in July 2013.

In addition, the committee recommended that the Holy See “support efforts at international level for the decriminalization of homosexuality.”

An associated report, on the involvement of children in armed conflicts, noted that the Holy See has not military body or armed forces, yet also stated that “the Committee is however concerned that the recruitment of children under 18 has not been criminalized by the Holy See.”

As a whole, the release seems meant to push the Church to modify its moral teachings, accepting popular, relativistic ideologies of sexuality and gender.

Yet the Church has always denounced the risks of such a dictatorship of relativism.

Benedict XVI addressed the U.N. in 2008, reminding the organization that “the rights recognized and expounded” by the group “apply to everyone by virtue of the common origin of the person, who remains the high-point of God’s creative design for the world and for history. They are based on the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations.”

“Removing human rights from this context,” he emphasized, “would mean restricting their range and yielding to a relativistic conception, according to which the meaning and interpretation of rights could vary and their universality would be denied in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks.”

He also encouraged the U.N. not to “reinterpret the foundation” of its human rights outlook through “mov(ing) away from the protection of human dignity toward the satisfaction of simple interests, often particular interests.

“When presented purely in terms of legality, rights risk becoming weak propositions divorced from the ethical and rational dimension which is their foundation and their goal.”

And in his last Christmas address to the Roman Curia, given Dec. 21, 2012, Benedict XVI stated that today the very idea of human nature is in crisis, and that this crisis is based on gender “as a new philosophy of sexuality.”

“The very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question,” noting that sexual complementarity, and one's sex as a given, “is what is now disputed.”

He added that in the relativist ideology of gender, “man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question,” which also calls into question the nature of the family.

“Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him.”

“Now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain.”

Benedict said that “the defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.”

Defending man is the Church’s mission, and integral humanism is the Holy See’s international agenda – the basis of the Holy See's dialogue with states, societies, and religions.

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Women's rights activist among 'Top 10' of Vatican magazine

Vatican City, Feb 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Reggie Littlejohn, known for her work opposing forced abortion and gendercide in China, has been named as one of “Inside the Vatican’s” “Top 10 People of 2013” for her heroic efforts in helping women.

“This honor came as a complete shock to me.  I did not even know that I was being considered for this,” Littlejohn told CNA in a Feb. 5 interview, adding that “It’s a bit overwhelming to have my photo on the front cover with two Popes, surrounded by the other ‘Top Ten’ people from all over the world, all of whom seem far more heroic than I!”

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.

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.

Alongside her nomination for “Inside the Vatican,” a monthly magazine relating to topics within the Roman Curia, Littlejohn is also slated to receive the “Cardinal John J. O’Connor Pro-Life Award” from Legatus on Feb. 7, which is a membership organization for top-ranking Catholic business leaders.

Responding to the organization’s declaration of her “extraordinary witness and heroic actions in defense of the unborn,” Littlejohn emphasized that “the true heroes are the women in China who are running to escape a forced abortion, or who are refusing to abort their babies just because they are girls.”

“It is on behalf of these heroic women that I will accept this award,” she stated, repeating that they are the “true heroes in this battle against coercive population control in China.”

On behalf of her organization, Littlejohn expressed that “we are very grateful to ‘Inside the Vatican’ for raising the visibility of the work of ‘Women’s Rights Without Frontiers’ in China.”

“It can feel like such a lonely battle, and every new report of a forced abortion or sterilization can be discouraging,” she continued, adding that “this accolade has given us some much-needed encouragement to keep going.”

Highlighting the fact that many people believe China’s “brutal” one-child policy is coming to an end, Littlejohn affirmed that “this is untrue,” explaining that the policy has merely been “adjusted to allow couples have a second child if either parent is an only child.”

Despite this adjustment, Littlejohn emphasized that “even these couples will still need a Birth Permit for each child,” and that “without this government-issued Permit, the pregnancy is illegal and the mother is at high risk of forced abortion.”

The high amount of “speculation that the sex-selective abortion and abandonment of baby girls will decrease” due to the law’s adjustment is “unwarranted,” Littlejohn noted, observing that “gendercide” is actually “increasing” in both China and India.

“Until we have reliable statistics demonstrating that the gender ratios are equalizing, any declaration that gendercide is subsiding is premature.”

“In the meantime,” she said, “we need to continue the battle to save baby girls for being targeted for termination.”

In order to do this, Littlejohn revealed that her organization has “an underground network of fieldworkers” in China, who, when they learn of a woman that is planning to abort or abandon her child because it is a girl, go to the mother an council her to keep her daughter.

Noting that her organization offers the mothers “support for a year,” Littlejohn explained that “we have about a 95% success rate,” and that “women will keep their daughters with our help and support.”

“When I look at the faces of the girls we are saving in China – I can’t even describe how I feel.  It’s what gets me up in the morning!”

In addition to the work she does through her organization, Littlejohn and her husband have also taken into their home the two daughters of dissident Zhang Lin, a pro-democracy activist imprisoned last year for protesting the Chinese government's actions in detaining his 10-year-old daughter, Anni, and denying her the right to go to school, and are “raising them as a part” of their “family.”

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Legionaries of Christ elect new leaders, issue apology

Rome, Italy, Feb 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Legionaries of Christ revealed the names of their new general council on Feb. 6, also issuing a formal apology to those hurt by the immoral actions of their founder.

The announcement of the new superiors comes in wake of the Legionaries’ first General Chapter meeting, which began on Jan. 9, and was mandated by Benedict XVI in wake of the revelation of the double-life led by the congregation’s founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, who is since deceased.

In a Feb. 6 press release, the Legionaries revealed the election of Fr. Eduardo Robles Gil as their new General Director, and Fr. Juan José Arrieta, as Vicar General.

“Since my ordination, I have served in different parts of the world and in different types of ministry: schools, family ministry, administration or as a superior of a Legionary community,” Fr. Eduardo recalled in the press release, “Now, I will have to get used to Rome.”

Fr. Eduardo was elected by the Chapter on Jan. 20, and his new role was personally confirmed by Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, O.F.M., secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, on Feb. 6.

In addition to publishing the names of their new superiors, the Legionaries also published their conclusive stance on their founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, and on the path of renewal the Legion of Christ has been traveling.

In the press release detailing their official statements, Fr. Eduardo noted that the General Chapter which has just concluded “marks both an ending and a new beginning.”

“This is what many of the chapter fathers feel and that’s how we have expressed it in the chapter hall,” he said, adding that in order for it to “truly be a new beginning, it is necessary to put the challenges of the past in their place.”

“We can’t erase the past,” the director noted, emphasizing that “we have to learn the lessons, mourn what occurred, trust in God’s mercy and, like St. Paul, run forward in pursuit of the goal of reaching Christ.”

Regarding the actions of founder Marcial Maciel, Fr. Eduardo stated that when “we ponder the magnitude of the evil and scandal caused, we realize that we are under the merciful gaze of God who, with his providence, continues to guide our steps.”

The new director expressed his hope that God will “have mercy” on Fr. Maciel, who passed away in 2008, and expressed his “deep sorrow” at the founder’s acts of abuse, sexually explicit behavior, his “arbitrary use of authority,” and addiction to drugs.

Voicing their “firm condemnation” of the founder’s behavior, Fr. Eduardo expressed the congregation’s grief that “many victims and other affected persons have waited so long in vain for an apology and an act of reconciliation on the part of Fr. Maciel.”

“Today, we would like to issue that apology as we express our solidarity with these persons.”

Highlighting that Fr. Maciel is no longer a “model” for the congregation, nor are his writings “a guide for the spiritual life,” the new director observed that “a religious congregation and its essential features do not have their origin in the person of the founder.”

“They are a gift of God that the Church accepts and approves and that afterwards live in the institute and in its members,” he stated.

In their formal apology to the victims of Fr. Maciel’s actions, the Legionaries acknowledged “with sadness the initial incapability of believing the testimonies of the persons who had been victims of Fr. Maciel, the long institutional silence and, later on, the hesitations and errors of judgment when setting out to inform the members of the congregation and others.”

“We apologize for these shortcomings, which have increased the suffering and confusion of many,” Fr. Eduardo stated on behalf of the congregation, also expressing his “sadness” that the “brothers, religious and priests” who have left are no longer with them.

“We would like to apologize and reiterate our desire to reconcile with all those who in one way or another were hurt by the sad events of these years and our shortcomings.”

The press release also included the financial findings of the commission that was assigned to investigate the Legionaries, and which found that there were no traces of “embezzlements of money or other irregularities in the fiscal actions that were reviewed.”

In consideration of “all these issues,” Fr. Eduardo underlined that the congregation’s journey to an “authentic and profound renewal,” which is confirmed by Pope Francis, “has advanced, but has not yet ended.”

“The events of these years will mark the identity and the life of our Congregation,” he said, adding that “when seen in light of Providence, we can accept, confront and transform them into a stepping stone towards a new stage in our history.”

Fr. Eduardo was born in Mexico City in 1952, and after receiving a degree in industrial engineering, he became a consecrated member of Regnum Christi in 1975. He made his perpetual profession in 1981, and was ordained a Priest in 1983.

In 2011, Fr. Eduardo was appointed Card. Velasio De Paolis to be a member of the Outreach Commission for the Legionaries, and he has been the territorial director of Mexico since Aug. 1, 2013.

Among the other six new council members for the Legionaries are Fr. Juan José Arrieta, LC. as Vicar General, and Frs. Sylvester Heereman, LC., Jesús Villagrasa, LC., Juan Sabadell, LC., as General Councilors.

Others include Fr. José Gerardo Cárdenas, LC., as General Administrator, and Fr. Clemens Gutberlet, LC., as General Procurator.

Praying to Our Lady of Sorrows, who was “a witness of the redemptive power of Crist that conquers evil and sin,” Fr. Eduardo stated that “to her, our Mother, we entrust our future with great confidence.”   

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Pope urges faithful to pray for the grace of dying in hope

Vatican City, Feb 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his daily homily, Pope Francis reflected on the moment of our death, remarking on the beauty of dying in unity with the Church and inviting the faithful to reflect on what legacy they will leave behind.

“Trusting God begins now, in the small things in life, but also in great problems: always trusting the Lord! And so one makes this habit of trusting in the Lord and hope grows. To die at home, to die in hope,” the Pope said in his Feb. 6 daily Mass.

Using the scene of David's death in the first reading, taken from the First Book of Samuel, Pope Francis highlighted how the king spent his life in the service of his people, and that when he dies, he does so “within his people.”

Although David calls himself a “sinner,” the pontiff noted that “he never left the People of God,” saying that he was a “sinner yes,” but a “traitor no!”

The Pope emphasized that “this is a grace: to remain until the end in the People of God. To have the grace to die within the Church, precisely within the People of God.”

Touching on three points, the Pope said that the first is “for us to ask for the grace to die at home. To die at home, in the Church,” adding that “this is a grace! This cannot be purchased!”

Dying “at home, in the Church” is a gift that we should ask for, the pontiff observed, saying that “all of us are!” are sinners, “But traitors no! Corrupt no!”

Picturing the Church as a mother, the Pope emphasized that although we are “many times dirty,” the Church “cleans us: she is mother!”

Recalling how David dies in a “quiet, peaceful, serene” way with the certainty of going “on the other side with his fathers,” the pontiff noted that a second grace we receive is to die in hope, knowing that “on the other side” our home and our family continues, and that we are not alone.

“And this is” also “a grace that we should request” he continued, “because in the last moments of life” we know that it’s a struggle, “and the spirit of evil wants the loot.”

Calling to mind how Saint Therese of Liseaux experienced a voice in the final moments of her life telling her “don't be foolish waiting in the dark. You expect only the darkness of nothing!” the Pope noted that “the voice of the devil, of the demon…did not want her to trust God.”

Observing that to “die in hope and to die relying on God” is a grace we should ask for, the pontiff emphasized that “trusting God begins now, in the small things in life, but also in great problems.”

Turning his thoughts to David’s heritage of “40 years of government,” and of a people “consolidated” and “strong,” the Pope recalled a proverb which states that every man should leave behind a child, plant a tree, and write a book, saying that “this is the best heritage!”

He then asked those present, “What legacy have I left to those who come after me? A legacy of life? Have I done so much good that people want me as a father or mother? Have I planted a tree? Have I given my life, wisdom? Have I written a book?”

“This is the legacy,” said the Pope, “and our testimony as Christians left to the others,” highlighting also that some of us, “the Saints” who “have lived the Gospel with such force,” leave a “great legacy” behind.

Concluding his reflections, the pontiff repeated that “the three things that come to my heart from reading this passage on the death of David” are “to ask for the grace to die at home, in the Church; to ask for the grace to die in hope, with hope; to ask for the grace of leaving a beautiful legacy, a human legacy, a legacy made with the testimony of our Christian life.”

Invoking the intercession of the kind, the pontiff prayed that “Saint David grant us all these three graces!”

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United Nations' report on Vatican sparks backlash in US

Washington D.C., Feb 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - U.S. Catholic leaders criticized a United Nations committee report for trying to impose secular moral views and failing to acknowledge advancements made by the Church in the area of child protection.

Austen Ivereigh, founder of Catholic Voices, an organization of lay faithful who defend the Church's teaching in the public sphere, called the report “ignorant and misguided.”

He said that it “betrays an extraordinary misunderstanding of the nature of the Church and the Holy See” while seeking to “impose an ideology of gender and sexuality in violation of the U.N.’s own commitment to religious freedom.”

In a blog post analysis on Catholic Voices’ website, Ivereigh responded to a report issued Feb. 5 by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, which claimed that the Vatican “systematically” adopted policies allowing priests to rape and molest children.

The report also criticized the Catholic Church's teachings on contraception, abortion and same-sex “marriage,” suggesting that the Church change its canon law to support these “rights.”

Ivereigh said that the U.N. committee failed to recognize the child protection programs and practices developed by the Church in response to problems with sex abuse.

He said the report ignored the Church's current “guidelines and best practices which are routinely recommended by governments to other institutions to emulate.”

Furthermore, the report confuses canon law with civil law, ignoring the Church’s local dimension and mischaracterizing the Church “as a kind of NGO,” Ivereigh said.

He added that the U.N. committee is trying to impose its secular view of sexuality on the Church by saying that it must change its views on life and marriage.

While the Holy See is still studying the 16-page document in order to give a complete response, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, issued an initial response to Vatican Radio, saying that the U.N.'s criticisms are “not up to date.”

“It is very difficult, I think, to find other institutions or even other states that have done so much specifically for the protection of children,” said Tomasi, adding that the Church's social teachings also make sure that “that children be protected before and after birth.”

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R.-Fla.), himself a Catholic, said the U.N. report “has overreached in its efforts to discredit the Catholic Church’s core teachings.”

While the report serves as a legitimate reminder of the essential obligation to protect children, he said, it also seeks “to make political statements about Catholic doctrine on abortion, contraception, and marriage.”

“In doing so, the U.N. – with the seemingly limitless worldwide injustices it could be condemning or investigating – trampled on the religious-freedom principles outlined in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Noting that the U.N.’s human rights commission includes “serial abusers and murderers of men, women, and children as members,” and pointing to the organization’s inability to halt terrorism, human rights abuses and atrocities in countries such as North Korea, Iran and Syria, Rubio argued that the United Nations “is in very real danger of becoming obsolete in the 21st century.”

Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that while the United Nations committee “is correct to voice concern over sexual abuse,” its claims would have more credibility “if it also worked to protect the most basic right of a child: the right to live.”

She explained that the “Catholic Church has certainly done more than any other international organization to face the problem” of sexual abuse, pointing to the robust programs the Church has enacted to protect children, prevent abuse and seek justice.

She also highlighted changes in practice instituted by Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis to “strengthen the church’s handling of sexual abuse,” prosecute offenders, and develop policies for preventing abuse in dioceses worldwide.

Sr. Walsh charged that the report’s arguments are “weakened by including objections to Catholic teaching on such issues as gay marriage, abortion and contraception.”

Asking the Church to change its doctrine is an infringement on religious freedom and “the Church’s right to determine its own teachings,” she said.

“Defense of religious freedom is no small matter in a world where people, including children, get murdered for simply going to church,” she continued, pointing to more than 80 Christians – including children – who were killed at a church in Pakistan in September 2013.

“When the U.N. committee strays into the culture wars to promote abortion, contraceptives and gay marriage, it undermines its noble cause and trades concern for children to concern for organizations with other agendas,” Sr. Walsh said.

“What a lost opportunity.”

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Pope's Harley, leather jacket auctioned for over $350,000

Rome, Italy, Feb 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Feb. 6, Pope Francis’ autographed Harley Davidson motorcycle and leather jacket were auctioned in France, bringing in more than $350,000 for a local charity in Rome.

Presented to the Pope last June when Rome hosted the 110th anniversary celebration of the iconic American motorcycle, the Harley Davidson autographed by the pontiff was auctioned off at 210,000 euros – $284,000 – plus fees, which is nearly 15 times its normal retail price, the Wall Street Journal reports.

According to the newspaper, the buyer of the bike bid over the phone and asked to remain anonymous; however Bonhams, the auction house, revealed that there was a good chance the bike would stay in Europe.

Following the sale of the motorcycle, a leather jacket, also signed by Pope Francis, sold for more than 50,000 euros – roughly $70,000.

When the Pope announced last fall that he would be auctioning the Harley Davidson set, he also revealed that all proceeds will be given to fund the renovation of Caritas’ Don Luigi di Liegro Hostel and Soup Kitchen at Rome’s Termini train and metro station.

The two projects have operated since 1987 to help relieve the suffering of close to 1,000 people every day, Caritas Rome reports.

Speaking with the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 6, Bonhams's head of collector motorbikes, Ben Walker, explained that the premium of the Pope’s Harley “is even higher than for, say, a Steve McQueen bike,” referring to the 1960s-70s actor and motorcycle collector.

In the past, Pope Francis has encouraged both clergy and religious to be humble in choosing their method of transportation, telling a group of seminarians and religious novices in July that he feels hurt whenever he sees a priest or a sister with a nice new car.

“And, if you like that beautiful car, think about how many children are dying of hunger,” he said, encouraging them to choose a simpler mode of transportation.

As a cardinal in Argentina, Pope Francis was well-known for taking public transportation.

In September, the Pope accepted a used Renault 4 with 186,000 miles on its odometer as the gift of an Italian priest.

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South Korea's cardinal-designate: a descendent of martyrs

Seoul, South Korea, Feb 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, who will be given the red hat of a cardinal Feb. 22, is himself descended from Koreans who shed their blood as martyrs for the faith in the 19th century.

The red of the biretta given to cardinals symbolizes their own willingness to be martyred for the faith – though St. John Fisher, executed by Henry VIII for refusing to follow him into the Anglican schism, is the only cardinal to have been in fact called to martyrdom.

Archbishop Yeom was born in 1943 in Anseong to a devout Catholic family; he is a great-great grandson of Peter Yeom Seok-tae and his wife Kim Maria. The two were martyred for their Catholic faith in 1850. The Korean Joseon state persecuted Catholics during the 19th century during a period of nationalism, regarding the Church as a form of foreign invasion.

The Yeoms have kept their religious belief despite persecution for generations, leading Soo-jung, among the family’s fifth generation of Catholics, to enter the priesthood. His younger brothers, Soo-wan and Soo-eui, have also become priests.

Archbishop Yeom entered seminary at the age of 15, and was ordained a priest of the Seoul archdiocese in 1973.

He later earned a masters of education in counseling psychology from Korea University, and then studied at the East Asian Pastoral Institute.

As a priest, Archbishop Yeom served as a pastor, and as rector of the seminaries in Seoul. When appointed general secretary in the Seoul chancery, he accepted on the condition that he be allowed to continue working in parishes, as well.

He was consecrated an auxiliary bishop of the Seoul archdiocese in 2002, and while auxiliary he served as vicar general of the archdiocese. He was appointed archbishop in 2012.

Archbishop Yeom held his installation Mass June 25, the 62nd anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, a decision symbolizing his dedication to reconciliation between North and South Korea.

As Archbishop of Seoul, he is head of the largest local Church in the Koreas, and the officeholder is traditionally also apostolic administrator of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

The Pyongyang diocese has been vacant since the death of its last ordinary, Bishop Francis Hong Yong-ho, who was imprisoned by the North Korean government in 1949, and was later disappeared.

Archbishop Yeom is among the “media pioneers” of the Church in South Korea: in 1990 he encouraged the Peace Broadcasting Corporation, which operate Catholic television and radio.

He also supports the Babo Nanum Foundation, a charitable foundation; a memorial to the thousands of Korean martyrs under the Joseon state; and the Raphael Clinic, which offers free medical services for immigrants.

Archbishop Yeom is also known for his strong defense of respect for life, in a country with a large number of research centers which use human embryos in experimentation.

His episcopal motto is “Amen, Veni, Domine Jesus,” taken from the Book of Revelation, and his coat of arms is composed of a crucifix symbolizing the Korean martyrs, and a dove atop two stars symbolizing the hope for peace between the Koreas.

It was announced Jan. 12 that Archbishop Yeom would be among the 19 men made cardinals in the consistory to be held later this month. He is the third Korean cardinal, following the two preceding archbishops of Seoul.

The day after the announcement was made, a celebratory ceremony was held at Seoul’s Myeondong Cathedral, where he said, “I will make efforts to realize Pope Francis' vision of a Church toiling for the poor and those on the margins of society and to make it a Church serving the community,” according to the Yonhap News Agency.

“I think the Pope appointed me to the post to make me effectively carry out the mission of the Church. I respect efforts made by late Cardinal Kim and Cardinal Cheong, and will add mine to them, though they may be little.”

His appointment as cardinal was welcomed by many Koreans, though only 11 percent of the country is Catholic.

Namgung Seong, head of Won Buddhism in the country, said the appointment is “a happy occasion for the country's entire religious circle.”

The head of Korea’s largest Buddhist group, the Jogye Order, also congratulated Archbishop Yeom, adding that “religion is for pursuing the common good of happiness and peace, and reducing humankind's conflict and pain, as well as befriending those who are marginalized and in difficulties.”

“This path would be what all religious figures, including Buddhism and Roman Catholicism, must pursue.”

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LA editorial wrong on birth control, Catholic women charge

Los Angeles, Calif., Feb 6, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Women medical experts, theologians and writers joined voices in rejecting a Los Angeles Times editorial by a prominent birth control advocate who criticized Catholic morality and claimed that nuns should take birth control for their health.

Marie Hilliard, director of bioethics and public policy at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, says hormonal contraceptives pose “substantial threats” to all women, including myocardial infarction, cerebral-vascular accidents, deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.

If the pill is so beneficial, she asked, “why are not all of us being prescribed them by our physicians, regardless of one's sexual behavior?”

“It is because there are documented risks by the National Cancer Institute that call for a prudential use of such hormones,” she told CNA Jan. 5.

Florida-based medical doctor Rebecca Peck also rejected the proposal, saying that Catholic physicians, patients and religious sisters “should not be told to prescribe or use the Pill under the guise of 'preventative care' or 'good' medicine.”

“It simply is not true.”

In a Jan. 30 commentary in the Los Angeles Times, Malcom Potts contended that Catholic teaching on the immorality of contraception is based on “misunderstandings and theological errors.”

He said that the use of the contraceptive pill has health benefits including a reduced risk of ovarian and uterine cancer and poses “no change” in breast cancer risk.

Potts, an obstetrician, reproductive scientist and professor of public health at the University of California-Berkeley, is also an abortion rights advocate who was the International Planned Parenthood Federation's first director of health.

He suggested that Pope Francis should “reverse” Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical on contraception, “Humanae Vitae.” Commenting on the Little Sisters of the Poor’s resistance to government mandates to provide contraceptives in their health care plan, he said the nuns would reduce their cancer risk by taking contraceptives.

Hilliard countered Potts by citing the National Cancer Institute, the U.S. government’s main agency for cancer research. The institute said that the risks of endometrial and ovarian cancer appear to be reduced by oral contraceptives, but the risks of breast, cervical and liver cancer appear to be increased. Breast cancer risk was highest for women who started using oral contraception as teenagers.

Peck, who practices medicine in Ormond Beach and serves as assistant clinical professor at Florida State University’s Daytona Beach Regional Campus, said Potts was right to note the reduction in endometrial and ovarian cancers.

However, this is “only a half-truth.” These cancers are “relatively rare,” she explained, with a 1 in 39 lifetime risk for endometrial cancer and a 1 in 72 lifetime risk of ovarian cancer.

In contrast, breast cancer is the “most common female cancer” with a lifetime risk of 1 in 8.

Proposals to give the birth control pill to religious sisters, who already face a somewhat higher breast cancer risk due to childlessness, would “substantially” increase their breast cancer risk.

While the contraceptive drug can provide relief of symptoms for women with endometriosis, acne and dysmenorrhea, Peck said, all women should receive “informed consent about the many harms of the pill” and about alternative treatments which don’t increase risks of cancer or cardiovascular disease.

Potts' L.A. Times essay questioned whether the use of the pill was unnatural, arguing that women have many more menstrual cycles than they did in the past. Women who endure “the hormonal turmoil of hundreds of menstrual cycles” face a health risk, he claimed.

Hilliard, a registered nurse with a master's degree in maternal-child health, objected to Potts' depiction of modern women's hormonal cycles as unnatural.

She called it “interesting” how “Mr. Potts views the beauty of the female reproductive cycle as: placing women in a position of 'enduring the hormonal turmoil of hundreds of menstrual cycles,' as if our feminine nature is violative of us a women, when it is when that nature is exploited, mutilated, and abused that women are violated.”

Theologian Angela Franks, who authored the 2013 book “Contraception and Catholicism: What the Church Teaches and Why,” said that Paul VI's encyclical correctly recognized that sex is “by its nature oriented to creating new life.”

She said the contraceptive pill is “morally problematic” because its use is “treating pregnancy like a disease and the healthy, fertile female body like a sick patient.”

Janet Smith, a moral theology professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, also criticized Potts, saying that the “deleterious effects of contraceptives on the culture look worse and worse the more one knows.”

In addition to cancer risks, women who use contraceptives face an increased risk of depression and weight gain, reduced sex drive, and an increased likelihood of choosing incompatible mates. Out-of-wedlock births are also very high despite increased use of contraceptives, Smith added, while the majority of abortions are a result of “failed relationships or relationships made possible by contraception.”

Smith noted that several women have died as a result of some newer forms of contraception, citing a January 2014 article in Vanity Fair about Erika Langhart. The 24-year-old woman died suddenly on Thanksgiving Day, 2011 of a massive double pulmonary embolism attributed to an occasional side effect of the NuvaRing contraceptive.

Potts' essay also cited the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control, which had initially advised Paul VI to declare the contraceptive pill morally acceptable.

Franks explained that Vatican commissions are “purely advisory committees” and Popes are “free to accept or reject such advice.”

In the case of the Pontifical Birth Control Commission, she said, commission members “created the false picture of themselves as a secondary Magisterium.”

Hilliard said that Paul VI issued “Humanae Vitae” after reviewing both the majority and minority reports of the commission and that the majority opinion offered the Pope “incredibly flawed reasoning.”    

The commission’s majority believed that it is natural to man “to use his skill in order to put under human control what is given by physical nature.” According to Hilliard, this is in fact espousing the “chemical mutilation of a normal healthy function of women.”

Smith also defended Paul VI's teaching, noting that “Anybody who has been paying attention to what is going on in studies of the effect of contraceptives on women and on society would be grateful that Paul VI rejected the findings of his special commission.”

Catholic writer Simcha Fisher – author of 2013's “The Sinner's Guide to NFP” – said that Paul VI’s encyclical was prophetic in predicting that widespread contraceptive use would result in greater marital infidelity, male indifference and exploitation of women, and government-imposed contraception as a way of “controlling” people.

“All of these things have come true,” she said.

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