Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, Feb 27, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The patronal feasts of parishes in a northeastern Thai diocese unite communities for Mass, prayer, processions – and friendly soccer matches.
At the conclusion of the solemn Mass of parish patron, each community in the Diocese of Nakhon Ratchasima partakes of a festive agape-lunch that ends in the joyous whistles of groups playing a game of futsal -- a variant of soccer played on a relatively small indoor court with five players on each team.
The parish matches involves separate teams of clergy and seminarians playing lay faithful as well as locals from other religious communities.
Cheerful supporters await their favorite clergy team, with Bishop Joseph Sirisut of Nakhon Ratchasima as its key player.
“Sport, or any exercise, is important for our health for having a sound and active mind, body, and soul,” Bishop Sirisut told CNA at a recent futsal match.
Fr. Alessandro Klahan, rector of St. Paul Minor Seminary in Nakhon Ratchasima, told CNA Feb. 20 that “sport has no religion, but can be a simple evangelizing tool for promoting Gospel values and morals.”
The rector emphasized sports’ role in constructing “bridges of friendship” between the ecclesiastical community and the laity, while fostering interreligious dialogue with other communities.
“How can this game can be an evangelizing tool?” Fr. Klahan asked.
“In general, such a festive occasion will be linked with a sumptuous lunch, drinking and enjoying yourself together with your family.”
In these parish gatherings, a large community participates in the Mass, and the choirs often attract hundreds of people from other religions to witness our sense of community, fraternal sharing, and at the end a game with fairness and teamwork, he said.
“Many spectators and school children are watching these matches, and the pitch echoes gestures of love, understanding, and clean encouraging words, with no place for the aggressiveness of hatred and anger.”
“We also have to be heralds of Gospel values, so that our non-verbal communication can be an non-verbal homily,” reflected Fr. Klahan.
The rector explained that seminary formation is “holistic and all-around,” and lamented that some of the younger generation are uninterested in physical activity, being attached solely to their studies and computers.
Playing games such as futsal serves as evangelization, he said, when “youth draw other youth, thus becoming young evangelizers.”
Sharing a love for sport fosters an encounter in which youth meet a good company of friends and they remain committed to social concerns in the pastoral apostolate of the Church, Fr. Klahan said.
“We have to reach out to our parishes: people love to see their priests and bishop, despite our age, trying our best to win, to shoot goals, and to entertain our people.”
A seminarian of the diocese told CNA that Bishop Sirisut “is a fantastic, keen, and smart player.”
“In the beginning we underestimated him.”
The “futsal apostolate” is an effective way for Catholics in Thailand to engage with their countrymen.
The Catholic population of Thailand is less than 1 percent – and in the Nakhon Ratchasima diocese, they constitute 0.1 percent of the population. Some 95 percent of Thais are Buddhist, and many of the remainder are Muslim, making interreligious relations an important facet of life for Catholics in the south-east Asian nation.
Vatican City, Feb 27, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Among the newly elevated cardinals is Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, who was in fact given a Pope Francis' own red biretta minutes after his election as Bishop of Rome.
Cardinal Baldisseri was born in 1940 in the Italian town of Barga, and in 1963 was ordained a priest, while still only 22 years of age, for the Archdiocese of Pisa.
He holds a license in dogmatic theology, a doctorate in canon law, and is a pianist who studied at the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music under the late Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci. From 1971 to 1973 he studied at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy to become a Vatican diplomat.
Cardinal Baldisseri, 73, served in numerous nunciatures, including those to Guatemala, El Salvador, Japan, Brazil, Paraguay, France, Zimbabwe, and Haiti.
In 1992 he was consecrated a bishop and appointed apostolic nuncio to Haiti, which had just experienced a coup. He subsequently served as apostolic nuncio to Paraguay, India, Nepal, and Brazil.
In Brazil, Cardinal Baldisseri achieved an agreement regulating the juridical status of the Church in the country, and which is now a model for every religion wishing to forge an agreement with the Brazilian state. In reaching the agreement, Cardinal Baldisseri had to coordinate with 11 different ministries of the Brazilian administration.
After the achievement of the agreement, Benedict XVI appointed him in 2012 secretary of the Congregation for Bishops, as well as secretary of the College of Cardinals.
During the 2013 conclave, Cardinal Baldisseri served as its secretary. Signaling his desire to elevate then-Archbishop Baldisseri to the college of cardinals, shortly after his election Pope Francis placed his own red biretta on the secretary's head.
Pope Francis then appointed him secretary general of the Synod of Bishops in September 2013, having suggested that he would like the synod to become a permanent advisory body.
That the reform of the synod is one of Pope Francis’ top priorities is shown by the fact that Baldisseri was second in the list of new cardinals, behind only Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, and immediately preceding the prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Gerhard Mueller.
He was among 19 cardinals elevated in the Feb. 22 consistory. He was appointed Cardinal-Deacon of Sant'Anselmo all'Aventino.
Austin, Texas, Feb 27, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The state of Texas is appealing a ruling from a federal judge that could impose “gay marriage” in the state, as supporters of Texas’ marriage amendment argue that the ruling violates the rights of the state and its citizens.
“We've seen a rash of these rulings in recent weeks, all making the same errors about binding Supreme Court precedents relevant to marriage and all issued by activist judges bound and determined to redefine marriage in defiance of thousands of years of human experience,” Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, said Feb. 26.
The statute does not prohibit private ceremonies, but recognizes marriage as a union of a man and a woman and bars the state or its political localities from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage.
Judge Orlando Garcia, a Clinton appointee based in San Antonio, claimed in his Feb. 26 ruling that the law has “no legitimate government purpose” and amounts to “state-imposed inequality.”
“Procreation is not and has never been a qualification for marriage” and “tradition, alone, cannot form a rational basis for a law,” he contended.
Garcia’s ruling is the latest in a string of court decisions against the definition of marriage as existing between a man and a woman, following the Supreme Court’s decision in June 2013 that the federal government would recognize acknowledge whatever unions are recognized as marriages in each individual state.
The Texas decision will not currently take effect, as Garcia granted a stay of his ruling while the state appeals the decision.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said Feb. 26 that the case will go to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
He added that the U.S. Supreme Court “has ruled over and over again that states have the authority to define and regulate marriage.”
“The Texas Constitution defines marriage as between one man and one woman. If the Fifth Circuit honors those precedents, then today's decision should be overturned and the Texas Constitution will be upheld,” he said.
Governor Rick Perry also reacted to the decision, saying that the “10th Amendment guarantees Texas voters the freedom to make these decisions,” and arguing that Judge Garcia’s decision “is yet another attempt to achieve via the courts what couldn’t be achieved at the ballot box.”
“It is not the role of the federal government to overturn the will of our citizens,” the governor added in his Feb. 26 statement.
Brown argued that the wave of rulings against marriage show “a shameful lack of integrity and an utter rebellion against the rule of law and the sovereign rights of the American people.” He urged Congress to pass a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman in order to return power “to the American people.”
“These egregious decisions by unelected judges throwing out the votes of millions of Americans have been shamefully encouraged, aided, and abetted by the lawless actions of President Obama and his administration,” he charged.
“The American people, and our leaders in Congress, need to step up and restore the powers of government to their proper balance.”
Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb 27, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A new diocese of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has been established in southern Ukraine, following a decision to divide the former Archiepiscopal Exarchate of Odesa-Krym in two.
On Feb. 13, Pope Francis confirmed the decisions of the synod of bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church regarding the Archiepiscopal Exarchate of Odesa-Krym.
The exarchate was split into the Archiepiscopal Exarchate of Odesa, and the Archiepiscopal Exarchate of Krym.
The new Odesa exarchate will have its seat in Odesa, while the Krym exarchate – serving Crimea -- will have its seat in Simferopol, the Holy See announced.
Bishop Vasyl Ivasiuk, the former bishop of the Odesa-Krym exarchate, has been transferred to the Eparchy of Kolomyia-Chernivtsi.
It has been confirmed that Fr. Mykhailo Bubniy, formerly a superior of the Redemptorist monastery in Ivano-Frankivsk, will be consecrated a bishop April 7, and installed as the first Exarch of Odesa April 12.
“As the bishop, I’m going to build structures, like a chancery and a tribunal, to help grow Odesa into an eparchy,” Fr. Bubniy told CNA in a recent interview. “An exarchate is the first step toward this.”
In the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, an eparchy is analogous to a diocese in the Latin rite, and an exarchate is analogous to an apostolic vicariate – a region not yet ready to support a full diocese.
Mykhailo Sheludko, former press secretary of Bishop Ivasiuk, explained to CNA that a “main reason for the reorganization is simply the distance.”
It is nearly 380 miles between the two eparchies -- a territory difficult to minister to with few priests. It is 12 hours by train from Odesa to Simferopol, and in 2012 the Odesa-Krym exarchate was served by 43 priests.
The restructuring is also reflective of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s massive growth since the fall of the Soviet Union 25 years ago, before which the Church operated entirely underground.
“In 1989 approximately 300 priests, most about 70 years old, emerged from the catacombs,” Bishop Boris Gudziak, Eparch of Paris and president of Ukrainian Catholic University, told CNA Feb. 26. “Today the Church has 3,000 priests and 800 seminarians. The division of the Odesa-Krym Exarchate is a natural response to such growth and another example of the strong dynamism of the UGCC.”
The reorganization is in the context of a longer, ongoing process to establish the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church as an Eastern Patriarchate, says Sheludko, a distinction already held by several Eastern Catholic Churches, which generally grants more autonomy for promulgating religious texts and related activities.
The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, told the Religious Information Service of Ukraine in 2011 that “improving our service to our eparchies and similarly to each of our believers” is an important step in building the patriarchate.
The division of the Odesa-Krym exarchate is likely to provide more localized care for Catholics in an area that faces a unique set of challenges.
While there are roughly 10,000 Ukrainian Greek Catholics in Odesa, the port city only has two places where Divine Liturgy is celebrated, according to Sheludko: one is a small, converted house church, and the other an ecumenical apartment chapel intended to serve sailors and navy personnel.
Though Bishop Ivasiuk had tried for years to secure land for the establishment of a new church in Odesa, his efforts were often thwarted. In 2010 the leadership of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church accused Odesa’s Russian Orthodox Metropolitan, Ahafanhel Savvin, of convincing the local city council to deny approval for the building of a parish church.
Sheludko says that unfortunately, such disputes between Orthodox and Greek Catholic authorities in the region are not uncommon.
The Moscow Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church “doesn’t want to give up churches in Odesa because it thinks that people gain a different kind of consciousness when they convert to Ukrainian Catholicism,” Sheludko reported.
Despite all this, Fr. Bubniy said, “I’m very optimistic about our ability to build better ecumenical relations with other groups in the area.”
“Our outgoing bishop gave us a good foundation -- both physical and spiritual -- upon which to continue this process.”
These developments in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church come among profound political transition in the nation.
Protests in the capital Kyiv began in November, when the government announced it would not sign a major economic partnership agreement with the European Union, in favor of a $15 billion bailout agreement with Russia. Tens of thousands of protesters filled the streets of Kyiv, at times occupying government buildings.
Protests continued through February, until more than 70 persons were killed – some of them by snipers – during protests at Maidan in Kyiv.
On Feb. 21, the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled Kyiv; the next day, the parliament voted to remove him from power. Oleksander Turchynov was appointed acting president Feb. 23 by parliament.
Turchyov has already announced his desire to strengthen ties with the European Union, and formed a government Feb. 27, with Arseniy Yatsenyuk appointed as prime minister. Elections have been scheduled for May 25.
Ukraine’s acting president has also warned against the dangers of separatism, a risk from the majority-Russian areas of eastern Ukraine – including Crimea.
Crimea is a southern peninsula of Ukraine where nearly 60 percent of the population are ethnic Russians. The territory was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954 under the Soviet Union.
Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians have clashed with ethnic Russians in Simferopol in recent days, with armed men raising a Russian flag over the Crimean parliament Thursday, unopposed.
The close ties between religious and national identity pose important challenges for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, both in Crimea and around Odesa.
While the majority of persons in the south of Ukraine identify as Orthodox, there is also a minority of Latin rite Catholics in the area.
Sheludko said the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church “can learn a lot from its Latin rite brothers here. The UGCC does not yet have a strong tradition of enculturation, like the Roman Church does.”
He said a system is still being developed for translating and adapting the Ukrainian liturgy into other languages and contexts.
In Crimea, where 97 percent of the population are reported to speak Russian and not Ukrainian, such adaptation practices are vital.
“If language will inhibit our ability to express the truth of love, we are ready to adapt the liturgy,” Fr. Bubniy told CNA, “like our Western brothers do.”
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Feb 27, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis sent a letter offering his continued condolences to the mother of one of the victims of a 2012 Argentina train crash that killed dozens of people and injured hundreds more.
According to the Argentina Catholic Information Agency (AICA), the letter was read during a recent ceremony at the station where the accident occurred, marking the anniversary of the tragedy.
The accident took place Feb. 22, 2012, when the brakes failed on a train arriving at a Buenos Aires train station, causing it to crash into the platform.
The eight-car train was carrying more than 1200 passengers. Fifty-two people died, and 702 were injured in the accident.
“That day grieved us all…victims of dismal negligence,” the Pope said in his letter. “I remember those 52 people. My heart is saddened and I weep for you.”
Paolo Menghini, the father of one of the victims, recalled that one week after the accident, he and his family were invited to meet with then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who is now Pope Francis.
“He encouraged us, he hugged each one of us and reached out to us regardless of whether we were practicing Catholics, and he gave us his support as pastor,” Menghini said.
The ceremony to commemorate the second anniversary of the tragedy began with the sounding of a siren at 8:32 a.m., the exact moment in which the train crashed into the platform at the station.
“Today we are all united,” said Father Diego Fares, who has provided spiritual counseling to the families. “It is a time of understanding and communion. If it had been us who died, our families and friends would be here.”
“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied,” he added.
“The story of the victims has become sacred,” Father Fares told those gathered for the memorial.
Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo Garcia presided at a Mass at the Cathedral of Buenos Aires in memory of those who died in the train crash. In his homily, he stressed that “the love we have for our loved ones is something that death cannot kill.”
At the conclusion of the Mass, the names of each of those who died in the accident were read aloud.
Rome, Italy, Feb 27, 2014 (CNA) -
Archbishop Louis Raphael I Sako, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon, has issued an urgent appeal to mark the beginning of Lent, calling for “prayer and fasting that Christians not leave Iraq.”
“Our Christian identity has had profound roots in the history and geography of Iraq for 2000 years,” Patriarch Sako said, according to the Fides news agency. “Our roots and our clear sources are found in our country, and if we leave, we would be separated from our roots.”
Christians in Iraq need to “persevere and wait,” and avoid listening “to those who instill fear” and to those who “in different ways invite or encourage Iraqi Christians to abandon their country,” he said.
“We are here because of God’s will and we are here with the help of his grace to build bridges and work with our Muslim brothers and sisters for the development of our country.”
In his message, Patriarch Sako also called for prayers for Syria, Lebanon and the entire region for an end to the unrest.
It is urgent that “the page be turned” in Iraq with the upcoming elections, he added, “so that the country can return to peace and security for the good of all citizens.”
Vatican City, Feb 27, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In his daily homily Pope Francis spoke of the harm done when Christians don't practice what they preach, noting that this incoherence leads others away from the Church and often brings scandal.
“When there is no Christian coherency, and you live with this incoherence, you're giving scandal. And the Christians that are not coherent are giving scandal,” the Pope said in his Feb. 27 Mass.
Speaking to those gathered in the chapel of the Vatican's St. Martha guesthouse, the pontiff began his reflections by drawing attention to a person to whom he administered the Sacrament of Confirmation during the Mass, observing that they had “manifested the desire to be a Christian.”
“To be Christian means to bear witness to Jesus Christ,” he said, adding that to a Christian person “thinks like a Christian, feels like a Christian and acts like a Christian. And this is coherency in the life of a Christian.”
However, the pontiff noted that “if one of these things is missing, he is not a Christian, there’s something wrong, there’s a certain incoherence,” and that Christians “who ordinarily, commonly live in incoherence, do so much harm.”
Recalling the first reading taken from the book of James, the Pope drew attention to words which the apostle spoke to the people who had boasted of being Christians, but took advantage of their employees.
“‘Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.’”
When we hear these words, there are some who might think “‘But a communist has said this!’” the Pope explained, emphasizing that “No, no, the Apostle James said it! It is the Word of the Lord. It’s incoherent.”
“And when there is no Christian coherency, and you live with this incoherence, you’re giving scandal.”
Referring to the words of Jesus in the Gospel, taken from Mark, in which he says that “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me,’ even one of these brothers, these sisters that have faith, ‘it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.’”
Inconsistent Christians do “so much harm. Scandal kills,” he continued, adding that “So many times we’ve heard ‘But Father, I believe in God, but not in the Church, because you Christians say one thing and do another.'”
This attitude of “‘I believe in God, but not in you,'” comes “because of inconsistency” the Pope repeated, explaining that “If you find yourself in front of – imagine! - in front of an atheist and he tells you he doesn’t believe in God, you can read him a whole library, where it says that God exists and even proving that God exists, and he will not have faith.”
“But if in the presence of this atheist you bear coherent witness of Christian life, something will begin to work in his heart,” the pontiff observed, and “it will be your witness that he will bring this restlessness on which the Holy Spirit works.”
“It’s a grace that we all, the whole Church must ask for,” the Pope noted, explaining that prayer is necessary in order to live a coherent life, and that when we fail at this, we should ask for forgiveness.
“We are all sinners, all of us, but we all have the ability to ask for forgiveness,” the pontiff went on to say, highlighting that God “never gets tired of forgiving!”
“Have the humility to ask for forgiveness,” he concluded, “Go forward in life with Christian coherence, with the witness of one who believes in Jesus Christ, who knows that he is a sinner, but who has the courage to ask for forgiveness when he makes mistakes” and who is “afraid of giving scandal.”
Pattaya, Thailand, Feb 27, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
This month’s introduction of Sunday Masses celebrated in Korean at a parish in the Thai city of Pattaya has united both emigrants and tourists from South Korea.
“This regular Korean language Mass unites, strengthens, and revitalizes faith life in the parish,” Fr. Giovanni Lee Sung-hyun, chaplain at St. Nikolaus parish in Pattaya, about 80 miles southeast of Bangkok, told CNA Feb. 24.
He added that the other sacraments are also offered in Korean, in response to a growing influx of Korean emigrant workers, as well as tourists, to the port city.
“Understanding and interiorizing the Word of God is very important,” Fr. Lee commented, adding that the Thai language is a major impediment for Koreans’ participation in the liturgy, which hinders their spiritual growth.
Celebration of Mass in Korean makes for “a participatory church, and also connects to the nostalgia of Korean liturgy,” added Fr. Lee.
St. Nikolaus has also established a volunteer center and a women’s league; Fr. Lee said, “we affirm our responsibility and role in the mission of the Church, and march forward for a new evangelization and interreligious dialogue.”
The community of Catholics from Korea is also active in Bangkok, where there are some 200 members.
The need of the Church in Thailand to provide for immigrant communities is likely to increase in the future, as the nation prepares to implement the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. The economic community will produce a free-trade region in east and Southeast Asia, allowing more flexible migration of laborers.
The Church in Thailand has to prepare for “new pastoral challenges and interreligious dialogue,” Msgr. Andrew Vissanu Thanya Anan, deputy secretary-general for the Thai bishops’ conference, told CNA.
Thailand is also home to a community of Catholics from Vietnam, and hosts a large number of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group from neighboring Burma.
Vatican City, Feb 27, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Vatican made public the schedule of Pope Francis' liturgical celebrations for March and April, including the list of Lenten and Easter activities over which he will preside.
Beginning the Lenten season on March 5, Ash Wednesday, the Pope will hold a “statio” and penitential procession 4:30 p.m. in the Basilica of Sant'Anselmo, and at 5 p.m. he will bless and distribute the ashes at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome.
For the First Sunday of Lent, taking place on March 9, the Roman Curia will begin their spiritual exercises, which will conclude on Friday, March 14.
On March 16, the Second Sunday of Lent, Pope Francis will make a pastoral visit to the Roman parish Santa Maria dell'Orazione, and will celebrate a penitential liturgy the next Friday, March 28, at 5 p.m. in St. Peter's Basilica.
The following Sunday, April 6, the Pope will make another pastoral visit to a Roman parish at 4 p.m.
In honor of Palm Sunday and the Passion of our Lord on April 13, Pope Francis will hold a blessing of the palms and a procession at 9:30 a.m. in St. Peter's Square. Following these events, he will celebrate Mass inside of the Papal Chapel.
On Holy Thursday the pontiff will celebrate a Chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at 9:30 a.m., and on Good Friday, taking place on April 18, he will celebrate the Lord's Passion at 5 p.m. in St. Peter's Basilica, and will pray the Stations of the Cross at 9:15 p.m. at the Colosseum.
For Holy Thursday, the Vatican made a made a special note that although the Pope will preside over the “in Coena Domini” Mass in the afternoon, he will – like last year as well as in previous years in Buenos Aires – select a “situation of a special nature from a pastoral point of view, which will be communicated when appropriate.”
As such, there will be no celebration in St. Peter's Basilica that evening, nor will there be the possibility for a large number of faithful to attend, as the Papal Household will not be distributing tickets for this event.
Saturday, April 19 the Pope will preside over the Easter Vigil at 8:30 p.m. in St. Peter's Basilica, and on Easter Sunday he will hold a public Mass in St. Peter's Square at 10:15 a.m., after which he will give the “Urbi et Orbi,” which is a special blessing given “to the city and to the world,” from the Basilica's central balcony.
For the Second Sunday of Easter, or Divine Mercy Sunday, taking place on April 27, Pope Francis will preside over a public Mass in St. Peter's Square at 10 a.m., during which he will canonize both Bl. John Paul II and John XXIII.
Announced by the Vatican last September, the canonization of both pontiff's was approved after the verification of the second miracle needed in the case of Bl. John Paul II last summer.
However, in the case of John XXIII, Pope Francis has decided to canonize him despite the fact that only one miracle has been formally approved by the Vatican, instead of the usual two. Although the decision to waive the second miracle is unusual, it is within the authority of the Pope to do so.
When the decision to canonize the pontiff was announced last summer, Vatican press office director Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J. explained that since there was already one approved miracle allowing Pope John XXIII to be beatified, the canonization will still be valid, even without a second miracle.
Bl. John XXII is most known for his encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” and for his calling of the Second Vatican Council, the 50th anniversary of which is currently being celebrated during the Year of Faith.
Bl. John Paul II is perhaps one of the most well-known pontiffs in recent history, and is most remembered for his charismatic nature, his love of youth and his world travels, along with his role in the fall of communism in Europe during his 27-year papacy.
The cherished Polish Pope died in 2005, marking his 2011 beatification as one of the quickest in recent Church history, and is the first Pope to be beatified by his immediate successor.
Phoenix, Ariz., Feb 27, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Arizona Catholic Conference has lamented the veto of Arizona religious freedom bill S.B. 1062, noting the “extremely intense, if not misleading rhetoric” surrounding the bill.
“Religious liberty is an important concept upon which our country was founded,” the conference said Feb. 27. “Unfortunately, however, threats to religious liberty have become very real in courts across the country and are seemingly on the rise all around the world.”
The conference said it is “strongly in support of religious liberty” and “most grateful” to those willing to defend it.
At the same time, it stressed that supporting religious liberty “is consistent with our support for the human dignity of all people and does not diminish our opposition to all forms of unjust discrimination.”
The two-page Arizona bill would have clarified that religious freedom protections belong to individuals, associations, corporations, and other business organizations. It would have allowed individuals to use claims of burdens on their religious exercise as a defense in judicial actions not brought by the government, Politico reports.
The bill had passed both the Arizona House of Representatives and the Senate. However, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill on Feb. 26. She said it “does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona.”
In a Feb. 21 statement, the Arizona Catholic Conference had said the bill would provide an “important update” to Arizona’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and ensure better protections. It had encouraged Arizonans to ask Gov. Brewer to “continue her support of religious liberty” by signing the bill into law.
The bill drew heavy opposition from activist groups that depicted it as “anti-gay.” In recent months, religious freedom advocates have raised concerns that individuals and businesses could face legal penalties for acting on their religious objections to cooperating in or recognizing same-sex relationships.
However, supporters noted that the bill did not mention gay individuals or same-sex ceremonies, nor did it offer businesses license to discriminate for religious reasons. Rather, it would have clarified ambiguities regarding who is covered by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Three Republican state senators who had initially voted for the bill later withdrew their support. Former Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain supported a governor’s veto, as did Arizona U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake and Newt Gingrich.
Calls to veto the bill also came from major businesses such as Apple, AT&T and American Airlines, Politico reports. The National Football League said it was “following the issue,” prompting some claims that the 2015 Super Bowl could be moved from Arizona if the bill passed.
Gov. Brewer in her veto message said she had not heard of an Arizona example of a business owner’s religious freedom being violated. She said the bill is “broadly worded” and “could result in unintended and negative consequences.”
She told the legislation’s supporters that she understands that “long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before” and that society is “undergoing many dramatic changes.”
However, she said the bill “has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve” and could “divide Arizona.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, criticized Brewer’s veto.
“This measure should have been a political no-brainer and only went down because people either chose to ignore the plain language of the bill or refused to read it altogether,” he said Feb. 26. He said the bill “bars government discrimination against religious exercise.” By vetoing the bill, he said, “Gov. Brewer is saying she supports government discrimination against people’s religious freedoms.”
According to Perkins, the intent of the bill was to state that “individuals do not have to trade their religious freedom for entrance into public commerce.”
He said the proposed law would have protected Christian wedding vendors who cannot affirm a same-sex “marriage” in good conscience as well as businesses like Hobby Lobby opposed to being required to provide insurance coverage for abortion-causing drugs in their health plans.
“Unfortunately, at a moment of testing, Gov. Jan Brewer yielded to the cultural bullies and their frenzy-driven opposition instead of consulting the facts,” he said.