Archive of April 30, 2014

Google called on to be neutral in pregnancy center ad policy

Mountain View, Calif., Apr 30, 2014 (CNA) - Google is being asked to maintain neutrality and fairness in implementing its advertising policy after an abortion advocacy group convinced it to remove a number of ads from pro-life pregnancy centers.

“This represents the next round of NARAL’s attacks on the work of grassroots organizations offering life-affirming alternatives to abortion,” said Joe Young, vice president of operations and strategic initiatives for Heroic Media, which works to connect pregnant women with support and resources.

On April 28, a Washington Post article stated that Google was removing some ads for pro-life crisis pregnancy centers after abortion advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America complained that the ads were deceptive.

NARAL said that some of the ads used misleading language suggesting that they perform abortions, when they actually offer counseling and resources that encourage and promote life.

According to an article in The Hill, “NARAL logged a series of complaints with Google” and “spent the last month urging the company to take action.”

Google policy does not allow advertisements that are “misleading, inaccurate and deceitful.” It requires ads to be “factually supportable,” the article stated.

NARAL claims that advertisements from pro-life crisis pregnancy centers appeared 79 percent of the time when the phrase “abortion clinic” was searched on Google.

In an email to supporters, NARAL president Illyse Hogue said the organization had gotten Google to remove “the majority of these ads,” labeling them as “deceptive.”

According to The Hill, a Google spokesperson said that the company “constantly reviewing ads to ensure they comply with our AdWords policies, which include strict guidelines related to ad relevance, clarity, and accuracy.”

“If we find violations, we'll take the appropriate actions – including account disablings and blacklists – as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said.

CNA contacted a Google representative, who said that he was “not able to comment on AdWords policies,” but “would defer to the spokesperson's quote from the article (in The Hill), implying that no policy changes have been made, they're simply abiding by existing AdWords policy.”

NARAL is now organizing a letter thanking Google for the move, which it hailed as “a significant victory.”

However, several major pro-life groups say that their ads already meet Google’s standards for honesty. They urged the internet search giant to implement its policy fairly and without bias.

Heartbeat International, an organization that works with a network of crisis pregnancy ministries and runs the Option Line call center, noted that “Google's advertising policy has always prohibited ‘misleading, inaccurate and deceitful ads.’”

In an April 29 statement, the group said that these regulations align with “the Commitment of Care and Competence (CCC), the ethical guidelines promulgated by Heartbeat International and every other national pregnancy center organization.”

The Commitment of Care and Competence states, “All of our advertising and communication are truthful and honest and accurately describe the services we offer.”

“When an organization with the clout of NARAL sets its sights on a grassroots movement like ours, and tries to strip a tool like Google out of our hands, we know we're onto something good,” Heartbeat International said.

“The fact the majority of Americans now hold a pro-life stance that is, I'm sure, troubling to an abortion industry leader like NARAL, so we can expect these attacks to continue.”

“Heartbeat International is well-versed in using Google AdWords effectively with honesty and integrity, and we are thankful for every life saved because of our Option Line's reach through Google,” the organization continued.

“This is the most recent of a long line of ongoing attacks by NARAL on our pregnancy help centers designed to intimidate, discredit and close down the very centers that provide real alternatives and choices to women when they most need confidential and loving help and support.”

Young echoed these thoughts, observing in an April 29 statement that “Google empowers individuals worldwide with information to make all sorts of decisions.”

“In the same way, Heroic Media’s advertising empowers women by helping provide honest, medically accurate information about abortion as well as support services available to them.”

“Because abortion providers have a financial interest in a woman choosing abortion, they often do not fully explain the risks and alternatives to abortion,” Young said. “Heroic Media connects women with hopeful and healthy alternatives in their community.”

“We encourage Google to remain neutral in their stance on this issue by applying the same standards to crisis pregnancy centers’ advertising as every other industry or organization, including abortion providers.”

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Interreligious Thai leaders pray for peace during crisis

Bangkok, Thailand, Apr 30, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholics and representatives of four other religious traditions in Thailand have prayed in union with another for peace, in light of tensions and political unrest that have threatened the nation's progress.

“Prayer has power and plays an important role in the life of the person; every religion acknowledges this fact and believes it with deep conviction in their hearts,” Archbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij of Bangkok told CNA April 18.

The Thai bishops' conference met with leaders from the nation's Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh communities, unanimously urging dialogue and prayer for  a sustainable peace.

Archbishop Kriengsak said the religious leaders had heard “the silent voice of the voiceless,” and that all believe that “prayer can work miracles.”

Fr. Anucha Chaiyadej, secretary of social communications for the Thai bishops, told CNA that “five religions have joined their hands together … to find a solution of peace through prayer, because deep in the roots of their heart they believe the existence of God.”

“The Church clearly stands with prayer, penitence, and almsgiving; and only in prayer  can we achieve that which is impossible in terms of human capacity,” he added.

Archbishop Kriengsak said the religious leaders, “worried by the present turmoil,” have converged in “seeking divine help, urging every believer to offer special prayers in their house of worship according to their belief.”

Catholics in Thailand devoted the prayer and penance of Good Friday for the nation's intentions, with Archbishop Kriengsak leading more than 1,000 in the solemn liturgy at Assumption Cathedral in Bangkok, teaching that “Christ died on the cross for the salvation of mankind and to give eternal bliss of life to mankind.”

“Christ gave his live, he redeemed mankind, and he gave us an exemplary model by which to love and serve one another.”

Archbishop Kriengsak exhorted the country’s leaders to “resolve paths of dialogue” and to lead Thailand's developmental projects with “equitable justice, free of corruption, and with non-violence for the common good.”

The southeast Asian nation has been crippled under a political crisis paralyzing economic growth since November.

Since then, more than 24 have been reported dead, and hundreds injured in clashes between "yellow shirt" opposition forces, led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a deputy prime minister in Abhisit Vejjajiva's Democrat Party administration, and "red shirts" who support Thailand's current prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, of the Pheu Thai Party, and her brother, Thaksin.

An election was called by Yingluck in February, but it was obstructed by protestors. The election was declared null by the Thai Constitutional Court as a result of disruptions by protestors.

Archbishop Kriengsak has appealed to Thai political leaders, urging them that the only way through the turmoil is by communication and dialogue.

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Argentine nun heads to Syria after Pope's call to peripheries

Gaza City, Apr 30, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A religious sister from Argentina, who has been serving for four years in the Gaza Strip, is preparing to go to the Syrian city of Aleppo, in response to Pope Francis’ call to aid those who are “forgotten.”

At his first General Audience after being elected, Pope Francis on March 27, 2013, called on Catholics to learn “to come out of ourselves … in order to go to meet others, to go toward the outskirts of existence, to be the first to take a step toward our brothers and our sisters, especially those who are the most distant, those who are forgotten, those who are most in need of understanding, comfort and help.”

Sister Maria Nazareth took these words to heart.

“I'm going to Aleppo in the north of Syria,” she told Aid to the Church in Need April 28.

The war-torn country, which has seen an estimated 150,000 killed and more than 9 million fleeing their homes in the last three years, is certainly home to those forgotten, and in need of understanding, comfort and help.

The BBC’s Ian Pannell, who is the first Western broadcaster in Aleppo this year, wrote April 28 that Syrians “feel shunned by what they see as the indifference of the outside world. They are defenceless in the face of incessant attacks, caught between two sides determined to fight to the bitter end and with little hope of either respite or relief.”

Sr. Maria, an Argentine native, has chosen to go to Aleppo to help her two fellow sisters of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, who assist Bishop George Abou Khazen, the city’s apostolic vicar; she will also work in a student hostel for Christian girls.

“I asked my superiors whether I can go to Syria; they didn't ask me. That's the usual way with us … you are not sent by your superiors, but you yourself must ask for permission to undertake a difficult mission.”

Aleppo has been subjected to “barrel bombs” by the Syrian regime in recent months. The simple bombs are tossed from the side of helicopters, falling indiscriminately on civilians and rebel fighters alike.

According to the Violations Documentation Center, an opposition monitoring group, nearly 700 civilians have been killed by barrel bombs and warplanes in Aleppo province since Feb. 22.

The city is currently divided among districts controlled by the Syrian regime, the Free Syrian Army, and by Kurds, and fighting has escalated in the city in recent weeks.

“I trust in God and the Virgin Mary,” Sr. Maria said. “As members of a religious order we enjoy her special protection. In addition I am being accompanied by the prayers of so many people in my order. Our priests and sisters pray in particular for the Middle East. We sense this.”

In 2013, several aid workers and Christians were kidnapped in the vicinity of Aleppo. That October, seven volunteers with the Red Cross and Red Crescent were abducted. In April, two Orthodox bishops were kidnapped, and their driver killed.

A priest from Aleppo told CNA in June 2013 that he was returning to the city “because it is his duty,” and was going to take a helicopter because travel by car is too dangerous for Christians.

“I know that there are dangers,” said Sr. Maria. “Something can happen. Even the journey to Aleppo is not without hazard. You need 12 hours for the not-so-long road from Damascus to Aleppo on account of the large number of checkpoints.”

The road from Damascus to Aleppo is a mere 230 miles.

“Something can befall you anywhere,” Sr. Maria reflected.

The religious sister is traveling to Aleppo from another difficult mission: Gaza City, the largest city in the portion of Palestine located west of Israel. Home to 1.7 million people, it has been ruled since 2007 by the Islamist movement Hamas.

Since Hamas came to power there, Israel has conducted an economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, restricting the flow of persons and goods in an effort to limit rocket attacks on Israel launched from the territory. Israel also conducts air raids against militants in the Gaza Strip; according to Palestinian medics a Jan. 16 airstrike injured five Gazans, four of whom were children.

“I find it very difficult to leave this place,” reflected Sr. Maria. “I've had a wonderful time there. I have developed a great affection for the people of Gaza. From the very beginning they have accepted me like a member of the family. It hasn't been easy there, as you can imagine.”

“Christians experience a variety of difficulties in their everyday lives. But their faith has always been an example to me. This thought will now accompany me to Syria.”

The country where Sr. Maria is going now is in the midst of a civil war which began in March 2011 when demonstrations sprang up nationwide protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president and leader of the country's Ba'ath Party.

Assad is going ahead with upcoming national elections which are scheduled for June 3. According to Sana, the Syrian news agency, there are 11 candidates for president.

It is the first time in decades that multiple candidates have stood for Syrian president; the Assad family came to power in 1971.

There are now some 2.7 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey; and an additional 6.5 million Syrian people are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.

The civil war is being fought among the Syrian regime and a number of rebel groups. The rebels include moderates, such as the Free Syrian Army; Islamists such as al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant; and Kurdish separatists.

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Pope creates cardinal commission to address Peruvian university

Lima, Peru, Apr 30, 2014 (CNA) - The Apostolic Nunciature in Peru announced that Pope Francis has created a Commission of Cardinals to find a solution to the case of the former Pontifical Catholic University of Peru.

“In the absence of the Apostolic Nuncio, it is my duty to inform you that the Holy Father has established a Commission of Cardinals whose mission will be to find a definitive consensual solution – within the framework of the Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae – to the question of the former Pontifical Catholic University of Peru,” the administrator of the nunciature, Father Jose Antonio Teixeira Alves, wrote to Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani of Lima.

The commission will consist of Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, who is president of the Council of Bishops' Conferences of Europe and will serve as coordinator, along with Cardinal Gerald Cyprien Lacroix of Quebec, and Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Santiago.

Cardinal Erdo was in Lima in 2011 on an apostolic visit to investigate the case of the former pontifical university. Vatican officials told CNA he will make another visit to Peru this summer.

The Commission of Cardinals could mark the last chance for the Peruvian university to fall into line with the requirements the Holy See put in place years ago.

The Vatican has asked the university to write new statutes that would align with Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which offers norms governing Catholic colleges. University administrators have repeatedly refused to do so, claiming that they were limited by Peruvian law.

In August 2012, a decree authorized by Pope Benedict XVI stripped the university of the titles “Catholic” and “pontifical,” while reinforcing that Canon Law still applied to the university.

The election of the university's new rector will take place July 4 of this year. The current vice rector, Pepi Patron, is a leading contender to assume the post. She has defended the institution’s position against the Vatican.

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Holy Spirit's gift of understanding enlightens minds, Pope says

Vatican City, Apr 30, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis explained that the Holy Spirit’s gift of understanding allows Christians to obtain “intimacy with God” and helps them understand things “as God understands them.”

“When the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts and enlightens our minds, he makes us grow day by day in the understanding of what the Lord has said and accomplished,” the Pope said at the Wednesday General Audience April 30.

“One can read the Gospel and understand something, but if we read the Gospel with this gift of the Holy Spirit, we can understand the depths of God’s words.”

The Pope said Christians must pray together: “Give us, Lord, the gift of understanding.”

Catholic theology traditionally recognizes seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. Pope Francis began a catechesis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit in his April 9 Wednesday audience, when he discussed wisdom.

On April 30, he explained that the Holy Spirit’s gift of understanding differs from human understanding, the “intellectual prowess” that varies from person to person.

“What a beautiful gift the Lord has given us. It is the gift with which the Holy Spirit introduces us into intimacy with God and makes us sharers in the plan of love which he has for us,” he said.

The Pope noted that Jesus told his disciples he would send the Holy Spirit to help them understand everything he had taught them.

This kind of understanding is a “grace” which “awakens in a Christian the ability to go beyond the outward appearance of reality and to probe the depths of the thoughts of God and his plan of salvation.”

This gift does not mean that a Christian can “comprehend all things” and have “full knowledge of the designs of God,” Pope Francis clarified. Rather, it helps the Christian to “read inwardly” and “understand things as God understands them.”

While human understanding and prudence are good, Jesus Christ desired to send the Holy Spirit so that everyone might understand “with the mind of God,” he explained.

Pope Francis said the Gospel story of the disciples who encountered the risen Jesus Christ on the road to Emmaus shows the “depth and power” of the Holy Spirit’s gift of understanding.

Believing Jesus to be dead, the disciples’ eyes were “veiled with sadness and despair” and could not recognize him.

“When, however, the Lord explains the Scriptures to them so that they might understand that he had to suffer and die in order then to rise again, their minds are opened and hope is rekindled in their hearts,” the Pope said.

He said the Holy Spirit “opens our minds” and “opens us to understand better the things of God, human things, situations, all things.”

Pope Francis encouraged Christians to pray for the gift to understand things as God understands them and to understand “above all, the Word of God in the Gospel.”

The Pope then greeted English-speaking pilgrims at the audience, invoking upon them and their families “the joy and peace of the Risen Lord.”

He also voiced his special thoughts for young people, the sick, and newlyweds, encouraging them to look to the example of St. Catherine of Siena whose feast day was Tuesday.

“Dear young people, may you learn from her to live with an upright conscience of one who does not give in to human compromise,” he said. “Dear sick, may you be inspired by her example of strength in moments of greater suffering. And may you, dear newlyweds, imitate the firmness of faith of those who trust in God.”


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Botched execution shows death penalty's brutality, bishop says

Oklahoma City, Okla., Apr 30, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Commenting on the April 29 bungled execution of a death row inmate at the state penitentiary, Oklahoma City’s archbishop has called for a reconsideration of capital punishment.

“We certainly need to administer justice with due consideration for the victims of crime, but we must find a way of doing so that does not contribute to the culture of death, which threatens to completely erode our sense of the innate dignity of the human person and of the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death,” Archbishop Paul Coakley said April 30.

Inmate Clayton Lockett was administered a sedative at 6:23 p.m., according to the BBC. Ten minutes later, he was said to be unconscious and was given lethal injection, but soon began to writhe and breathe heavily.

Cary Aspinwall, a journalist with the Tulsa World, was covering the execution, and tweeted that at 6:37, “Lockett was not unconscious and said something is wrong,” and that two minutes later, he was lifting his head and that officials “closed curtain and stopped it.”

It was announced that Lockett did not die until 7:06, of a massive heart attack.

Robert Patton, Oklahoma’s corrections director, stated that Lockett’s vein failed during the execution, preventing the lethal drugs from working as they were intended.

“The execution of Clayton Lockett really highlights the brutality of the death penalty,” Archbishop Coakley reflected. “And I hope it leads us to consider whether we should adopt a moratorium on the death penalty or even abolish it altogether.”

“How we treat criminals says a lot about us as a society.”

“Once we recover our understanding that life is a gift from our Creator, wholly unearned and wholly unmerited by any of us, we will begin to recognize that there are and ought to be very strict limits to the legitimate use of the death penalty,” the archbishop continued.

“It should never be used, for example, to exact vengeance, nor should it be allowed simply as a deterrent. In general, there are others ways to administer just punishment without resorting to lethal measures.”

Lockett had been convicted of shooting 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman in 1999, and watching as two accomplices buried her alive.

Following the failed execution, Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin issued a 14-day stay on the execution of death row inmate Charles Warner, who had been scheduled for lethal injection following that of Lockett.

Warner’s attorney, Madeline Cohen, commented that “after weeks of Oklahoma refusing to disclose basic information about the drugs for tonight's lethal injection procedures, tonight, Clayton Lockett was tortured to death. Until much more is known about tonight's failed experiment of an execution, no execution can be permitted in Oklahoma.”

Several states have moved away from capital punishment in recent years. Colorado’s Governor John Hickenlooper granted a “temporary reprieve” from execution to inmate Nathan Dunlap in May 2013, saying, “Colorado's system of capital punishment is imperfect and inherently inequitable. Such a level of punishment really does demand perfection.”

And in February, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington announced a moratorium on the death penalty, noting that “there is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system” and that there are “too many flaws in this system today.”

In total, 18 U.S. states have abolished capital punishment.

Archbishop Coakley’s statement concluded urging prayer “for peace for all those affected by or involved in last night’s execution in any way – including Lockett himself, his family, prison officials and others who witnessed the event.”

“My compassion and prayers go out especially to the family of Stephanie Neiman.”

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FOCUS grateful for injunction against contraception mandate

Denver, Colo., Apr 30, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) has welcomed a federal court’s injunction against the HHS mandate that the student missionary organization says threatens the freedom of religious ministries.

“Affirming the freedom of FOCUS to operate as a Christian ministry is the only constitutionally correct solution to this government-created problem,” John Zimmer, vice president of training and formation for the organization, said April 29. “The court was absolutely right to block enforcement of the HHS mandate against FOCUS, and we are grateful for this decision.”

The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado issued a preliminary injunction against the mandate on April 23. The court order said that there was no “timely filed” response in opposition to the FOCUS request for an injunction.

The Department of Health and Human Services mandate requires most U.S. employers to provide insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some drugs that can cause abortions. Many Catholic organizations do not qualify for the narrow exemption from the mandate, despite their religious and moral objections to providing the coverage.

Zimmer told CNA that the mandate “ignores freedom” and forces institutions to provide employees with “life-destroying drugs” or “be punished with crippling fines.”

“No individual, business, or ministry should be forced to make that decision,” he said. “If the government can fine religious ministries like FOCUS out of existence because they want to uphold their faith, there is no limit to what other freedoms it can take away.”

“One of the blessings we have as Americans is the right to act in accordance with our faith in God,” Zimmer continued. “The Constitution protects religious freedom and forbids government from forcing anyone to act against their deeply-held convictions.”

The Colorado-based Catholic organization is represented by the religious freedom legal group Alliance Defending Freedom.

“In America, we don’t try to separate what people do from what they believe,” said Michael Norton, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, April 23. “Faith-based organizations should be free to operate according to the faith they espouse and live out on a daily basis.”

FOCUS has 400 employees, including missionary teams working at more than 80 national college campuses in Catholic outreach and evangelization. FOCUS staff members take a voluntary oath of fidelity to Catholic teaching, which rejects use of abortifacient drugs, contraception and sterilization.

The FOCUS lawsuit is one of more than 90 that have been filed against the HHS mandate, representing over 300 plaintiffs across the U.S.

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