|Pope Francis' message to Americans: be courageous, have solidarity
Vatican City, September 5 (CNA/EWTN News) .- In a virtual audience with Americans Pope Francis heard emotive testimonies, told youth to be courageous in the face of life’s hardships, and stressed the need for greater solidarity in world racked with many problems.
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VATICAN CITY, September 5 (CNA/EWTN News) .- In a virtual audience with Americans Pope Francis heard emotive testimonies, told youth to be courageous in the face of life’s hardships, and stressed the need for greater solidarity in world racked with many problems.
The videoconference was held Aug. 31, and was hosted by ABC News. It aired on ABC News’ “20/20” at 10:00 p.m. ET Sept. 4, and is available online in English and Spanish.
Members included students from the “Cristo Rey” Jesuit High School – a place for disadvantaged youth; a center for homeless in Los Angeles; and members of Sacred Heart parish in McAllen, Texas, which sits near the U.S.-Mexico border.
During the conference, Pope Francis listened to the stories of people from a variety of different backgrounds, including a bullied teen, a homeless youth and undocumented immigrants.
He even gave a special message to a single mother, telling her that she is “a brave woman” for bringing her two daughters into the world when she could have easily aborted them.
“You could have killed them in the womb, and you respected life, respected the life that you had inside of yours.”
The Pope extended his greeting to all Americans, saying that he is praying for them and looking forward to his visit the United States later this month.
Please read below for the full transcript of the Pope’s video conference with ABC News:
Journalist David Muir greeted the Pope and presented the different groups.
David Muir: Holy Father, as you can see everyone is very excited. Do you have a message for the people of the United States before your visit to our country?
Pope Francis: A big greeting. A big greeting to the Catholic community in the United States and to all citizens of the United States. This is my message, an affectionate greeting.
Connection to Chicago, with the Jesuit High School “Cristo Rey,” a school for the poor and marginalized.
Testimony of Valery Herrera, a senior at the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. She has struggled with vitiligo, an autoimmune disease that causes white blotches on the face and body, and had endured bullying through elementary and middle school. Music helped her grow in her faith and feel less alone and different. She is thinking of becoming the first in her family to go to University, and wants to study pharmacy.
Valery Herrera: What are your hopes for us, the youth? What do you hope we do and be?
Pope Francis: Valery. I would like to hear you singing, may I ask you to sing a song for me? I wait for that. Go on, go on...Be courageous (Valery sings “Junto a Ti Maria”). Thank you very much. It’s very kind of you.
My first response to your question is this: What I hope for from youth is for you all not to walk alone in life. This is the first step, I hope for many more things. That you dare to walk with love and tenderness for others. That you meet someone - you sang to the Virgin to take you into her arms, to take you by the hand to walk - that will accompany you to walk in life. Life is very difficult. It’s difficult to walk alone. You get lost. You get confused. You can find the wrong path or you can be walking around in circles, in a maze, or worst, you can stop because you get tired of walking in life. Always walk hand-in-hand with someone who loves you, someone who gives you tenderness – and you said this to Our Lady. To walk hand in hand with Jesus, to walk hand in hand with the Virgin, this gives security. It's the first thing I hope for the youth: that you be accompanied but with good companions, that is, that you walk in good company. In my country (Argentina), there’s a saying, 'it’s better to be alone than to be in bad company.' That’s true, but walk accompanied. Each youth has to look in life for someone that helps them along the way, it can be their father, mother, a relative, a friend, a grandfather or grandmother – grandparents give such good advice – a teacher, someone that helps you to face things in life. Walk accompanied, first.
Second: I hope the youth walk with courage. It just cost you to take the first step in this path that I asked you, that you sing a song. You were emotional, you didn't know how to do it, but you went courageously and made the first step, and sang very well. Continue singing, you sing very well. That is, the courage to take the first step, the courage to go forward. Do you know how sad it is to see a youth that is not brave? A sad youth, a youth with the face of grief, a youth without joy. Courage gives you joy, and joy gives you hope which is a gift from God, obviously. It's true that in the path of life there are many difficulties. Don't be afraid of difficulties! Be prudent, be careful but don't be afraid. You have the strength to overcome. Don't be scared. Don't stop. There's nothing worse than a young person who has retired before his or her time. I don't know at what age people retire in the United States, but can you imagine a young person who's 25 years old, who's retired? Terrible. Always move forward with courage and with hope. And God, if you ask him, will give you hope. This is my response Valery. And I thank you for the song.
Testimony of Alexandra Vázquez, who lost her father. (Didn't ask a question but the Pope made a comment)
Pope Francis: Thank you very much, Alexandra. Go on along the path. God bless you.
Connection to Los Angeles. People came together from different shelters that protect poor and homeless people in Los Angeles.
Testimony of Marcos, 19, a homeless youth who dreams of becoming a musician.
Marcos: I know why you are so important for me, but why is this trip to the United States so important for you?
Pope Francis: For me it's important to meet with you, the citizens of the United States, who have your history, your culture, your virtues, your joys, your sorrows, your problems like every people. I am at the service of all churches and all men and women of good will. For me something very important is proximity. For me it's difficult not to be closes to the people. Instead, when I get close to the people, as I am going to do with you all, I find it easier to understand them and help them on the path of life. It's because of this that this trip is so important, to make me close to your path and history.
Testimony of Alyssa Farfan, 11, and her mother Rosemary, a single mother. They lived in a homeless shelter, but have just been granted their first apartment. (Didn't ask a question but the Pope made a comment.)
Pope Francis: Thank you Rosemary, for your testimony. I want to tell you one thing. I know that it's not easy to be a single mother, I know that people can sometimes look at you badly, but I tell you one thing, you're a brave woman because you were able to bring two daughters into the world. You could have killed them in the womb, and you respected life, respected the life that you had inside of yours, and for this God is going to reward you, and is rewarding you. Don't be ashamed, go forward with your head held high: “I did not kill my daughters, I brought them into the world.” I congratulate you, I congratulate you, and may God bless you.
Connection with Texas in Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, on the border of Mexico.
Testimony of Ricardo Ortiz, 19, who emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico on a tourist visa when he was 4 years old. His father at times had difficulty finding work because he was undocumented. When Ricardo was around 17, his father had an accident and wasn’t able to work at all. For a time Ricardo had to take care of his family of 6, but then his father helped pay for his studies when Ricardo’s scholarship was revoked because he was not a U.S. citizen.
Ricardo Ortiz: With all the problems there are in the world: poverty, our educational system, immigration...what do you think is the solution to all of these problems?
Pope Francis: Obviously listening to your story I can say that life has made you a father early because from very young you had to maintain your family during your father's illness. But you knew how to do it because you had a father with the courage to start you on this path of work and struggle, and the courage after to help you study at the cost of sacrifices. In this life there are many injustices, and as a believer, as a Christian, the first who suffered...who condensed himself, was Jesus. Jesus was born on the street, born homeless, his mother didn't have a place to give birth to him. Always look to the figure of Jesus. You ask me how. Looking at the figure of Jesus we take another step. God sometimes speaks to us with words, as in history, with situations. And God at times, many times, speaks to us with his silence. When I see – what you ask me – to number of people who are starving, which doesn't need to grow, who don't have good health, that a child dies, who have no education, the number of people who don't have a house, the number of people who today, we are seeing them, migrate from their country seeking a better future and they die, so many die along the way, I look to Jesus on the Cross and discover the silence of God. The first silence of God is on the Cross of Jesus. The greatest injustice history and God was silent. That said, I'm going to be more concrete in the response on other levels, but don't forget that God speaks to us with words, with gestures and with silences. And what you ask me is only understood in the silence of God, and the silence of God is only understood by looking at the Cross.
What to do? The world has to be more aware that the exploitation of each other is not a path. All of us are created for social friendship. All of us have responsibility for everyone. No one can say: 'my responsibility reaches here.' We are all responsible for everyone, and to help ourselves in the way that each one can. Social friendship, this is what God created us for. But there is one very nasty word which also appears on the first page of the bible. God says it to the devil, the father of lies, to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman.” And the word enmity grew throughout history, and a little after this exchange, the first enmity between brothers: Cain killed Abel. The first injustice. From here on, wars, destructions. From here on, hatred. Speaking in soccer terms, I would say that the match is played between friendship in society and enmity in society. Each one has to make a choice in his or her heart, and we have to help that choice to be made in the heart. Escaping through addictions or violence doesn't help, only closeness and giving of myself what I can – like you gave everything you could when as a child you sustained your family. Don't forget this, social friendship against the answer of the world which is social enmity: “Fix yourself and may others fix themselves alone.” This is not the plan of God. This is what occurs to me to tell you, and also to express my admiration, life made you a father very young. Now when you are a real father and have your own children may you continue to educate them on the path that you learned from your father. Thank you.
Testimony of Wilma, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who wears an ankle bracelet. She wanted a better life for her son Ernesto, who was born with a congenital disease in his eyes and can't see. She asked for a blessing from the Holy Father and he gave it. After, the Pope asked for a nun who was seen on the screen and directed some words to her. This is Sister Norma.
Pope Francis: Sister, through you I want to thank all religious sisters of the United States. The work that the religious sisters have done and do in the United States is great. I congratulate you. Be courageous. Move forward, always on the front line. And I tell you one thing more – is ok for the Pope to say this? I don't know – I love you all very much!
Testimony of Wendy, 11, who has just arrived from El Salvador because of gang violence. The child, crying, recounted the dramatic days of the trip. She drew a picture for the Pope, and the Pope thanked her.
At the end of the video conference the Pope was given a crucifix made by the students of Chicago.
David Muir: Holy Father, do you have a final message?
Pope Francis: That I am very hopeful to meet you. That I am praying for you, for all the American people and I ask you please to pray for me. Thank you.
VATICAN CITY, September 4 (CNA/EWTN News) .- The Church's teaching and her pastoral ministry are not opposed, Pope Francis said in a video message on Thursday, even though this false dichotomy is frequently made.
“Not infrequently an opposition between theology and pastoral ministry emerges, as if they were two opposite, separate realities that had nothing to do with each other,” he said Sept. 3 to the International Theological Congress. “False opposition is generated between theology and pastoral ministry, between Christian reflection and Christian life.”
“We not infrequently identify doctrine with conservatism and antiquity; and on the contrary, we tend to think of pastoral ministry in terms of adaptation, reduction, accommodation, as if they had nothing to do with each other,” he lamented.
The Pope added that the Second Vatican Council was an effort “to overcome this divorce between theology and pastoral ministry, between faith and life.”
His words were sent to the theological congress, being held at the Buenos Aires' Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina this week, which is commemorating the centenary of its theology faculty. The focus of the gathering is the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of Vatican II.
Pope Francis noted the importance of the university's theology faculty for the local Church, saying that its centenary “celebrates life, history, the faith of the People of God journeying on earth and in search of 'understanding' and 'truth' from their own positions.”
“There exists no isolated particular Church that can be said to be the owner and sole interpreter of the reality and the work of the Spirit,” he added. “No community has a monopoly over interpretation or inculturation just as, on the other hand, there is no universal Church that turns away from, ignores or neglects the local situation.”
Francis noted that because the particular means of living out the Christian life vary from person to person and place to place, “one of the main tasks of the theologian is to discern and to reflect on what it means to be a Christian today, in the 'here and now'.”
The Pope identified two temptations that arise in trying to make that discernment.
One he identified as “condemning everything: … assuming 'everything was better in the past', seeking refuge in conservatism or fundamentalism.
He also warned against “consecrating everything, disavowing everything that does not have a 'new flavour', relativising all the wisdom accumulated in our rich ecclesial heritage.”
“The path to overcoming these temptations lies in reflection, discernment, and taking both the ecclesiastical tradition and current reality very seriously, placing them in dialogue with one another.”
Pope Francis referred to St. John XXIII’s opening speech for the Second Vatican Council, and said the Church’s task is to distinguish “the Church’s living message” from “the form of its transmission” and “the cultural elements in which it is codified at a given time.”
Theologians' discernment cannot, he cautioned, “lead to a betrayal of the content of the message. The lack of this theological exercise is detrimental to the mission we are invited to perform.”
“Doctrine is not a closed, private system deprived of dynamics able to raise questions and doubts. On the contrary, Christian doctrine has a face, a body, flesh: He is called Jesus Christ and it is his life that is offered from generation to generation to all men and in all places.”
Taking the Incarnation seriously, theologians cannot ignore “The questions our people pose, their anguish, their quarrels, their dreams, their struggles, their concerns,” he reflected.
The Bishop of Rome stated, “Our formulations of faith were born of dialogue, encounter, comparison and contact with different cultures, communities, and nations in situations calling for greater reflection on matters not previously clarified.”
He then added that it is suspicious when Christians “no longer admit the need” to be criticized by others. “People and their specific conflicts, their peripheries, are not optional, but rather necessary for a better understanding of faith. Therefore it is important to ask whom we are thinking of when we engage in theology.”
“Let us not forget that the Holy Spirit in a praying people is the subject of theology. A theology that is not born of this would offer something beautiful, but not real.”
Francis then outlined three characteristics of a theologian’s identity, noting that a theologian is first of all “a son of his people.”
As a person who knows their people’s language, history and tradition, a theologian is someone who learns to appreciate what they have received as a sign of God’s presence, and recognizes that the people into which they were born have “a theological sense that he cannot ignore.”
Secondly, the Pope said, “the theologian is a believer. The theologian is someone who has experience of Jesus Christ and has discovered he cannot live without him.”
Finally, theologians are prophets, he said, explaining that one of the greatest modern challenges “is not merely the ease with which it is possible to dispense with God – socially it has taken a step further. The current crisis pivots on the inability of people to believe in anything beyond themselves.”
This situation, he reflected, “creates a rift in personal and social identities” and “gives rise to a process of alienation, owing to a lack of past, and therefore of future. The theologian is thus a prophet, as he keeps alive an awareness of the past and the invitation that comes from the future. He is a able to denounce any alienating form as he intuits, reflecting on the river of Tradition he has received from the Church, the hope to which we are called.”
Francis concluded by saying the only true way of practicing theology is “on one's knees,” in prayer.
“It is not merely the pious act of prayer before, and then thinking of theology. It is a dynamic reality of thought and prayer. Practising theology on one's knees means encouraging thought when praying, and prayer when thinking.”
DENVER, COLO., September 5 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Mother Teresa visited Denver, Colo. twice in the 1980s. Both times, one of her biggest fans was tasked with picking her up from the airport.
Father Charles B. Woodrich, affectionately known in the community as Father Woody, figured out a way to be assigned to the task for her first visit in 1986.
Longtime friend and parishioner, Dr. Victoria McCabe, recalled him making the announcement at Mass: “My hero is coming, and I get to pick her up and I’m so excited!”
After he made the announcement, parishioners started offering all kinds of help – a policeman offered some of his squad as an accompanying guard, and the owner of a limosuine service offered a fancy ride to pick up the internationally-known Catholic sister. Father Woody, who only owned an old, beat-up Ford, enthusiastically accepted the offer.
But the limo wasn’t Mother Teresa’s style. As the founder of the Missionaries of Charity who went to great lengths to make sure her sisters lived with poverty and simplicity, she politely but firmly declined the ride for herself and the sister accompanying her.
“He was leading her toward the (limo) and she stopped. And she put her hand up and said, 'Oh Father, I cannot ride in a car like this. I am so sorry, but we cannot get in the car.'”
Baffled, Father Woody instead offered to ride in the police car with Mother and her sister, while the rest of the squad piled in the limo.
The next time she visited Denver, in 1989, Fr. Woody had learned his lesson.
“One thing I know is she doesn’t want to ride in a limousine,” he said at the time.
That time, he decided to drive the Holy Ghost Sandwich Truck to fetch Mother Teresa. A man after Mother’s heart, Father Woody worked tirelessly to help the poor in and around his parish, and would use the sandwich truck to deliver sack lunches to people who were hungry.
But on the way back from the airport, the truck got a flat tire.
“Who has a flat tire when you’re carrying a saint?” McCabe recalled him saying.
It was the time before cell phones, so Father and the sisters had to wait for help to come. As soon as they broke down, Mother Teresa hopped out of the car with her sister and asked everyone to join her in the rosary. When that finished, help had not yet arrived, and Fr. Woody was worried that Mother might be getting tired, or hungry.
“And Mother said, ‘Oh Father, don’t worry,’ and he said she fished around in her pocket of her sari and brought out this cheese, this big beautiful cheese wound in a cloth and passed it around. He said it was the best cheese ever,” McCabe said, laughing.
That incident, McCabe said, is a perfect snapshot of the surrender Mother Teresa had to the will of God in every moment of her life.
“Oh, the tire’s flat? Well it’s ok, help will come, and we will pray,” McCabe said.
During her visits, one thing that impressed Fr. Woody so much about Mother Teresa were her hands.
“She was very humble, extremely humble, very serious, and boy when you shook her hand you knew you were shaking a hand! That woman’s grip!” McCabe said. “I mean, little tiny lady, with the hands of a large person! It’s a worker’s hand.”
Fr. Woody was able to snap some close-up photos of Mother Teresa’s hands during her visit, who likely reluctantly obliged, as she didn’t like having her picture taken.
“He just said, ‘Look at those hands! Those are the hands of a worker! Then he would say, ‘Christ didn’t want any lazy people, and we have to follow her, we have to work.’”
And work he did.
In the spirit of Mother Teresa, Father Woody was renowned for his unquestioning generosity when helping people in need. In the record-settingly horrible Denver winter of 1982, Fr. Woody opened up the Church every night to let the homeless come inside to sleep.
“You’d hear the phone ring and you’d pick it up and hear: ‘Yeah, uh, Father Woody here, bring me some blankets and pillows,’ and then he’d hang up and call the next person,” McCabe said.
“And everybody just did it!” she said. “You’d get that call and you stop whatever you’re doing and do it.”
One time Fr. Woody called McCabe as she was taking exams, and asked for soup. When McCabe told him she was busy studying, Father’s reply was: “There are hungry people down here. Bring what you got.”
When Fr. Woody passed away very suddenly in 1991 at the age of 68, it was a painful shock to the Catholic community in Denver. Heartbroken, McCabe looked up where Mother Teresa was staying at the time, which was a hospital in California, and wrote out a 5-6 page letter to inform her of his passing.
“I got a letter back from her and she said, ‘I am so sorry to hear in Denver of the loss of the beloved Father Woody. But he’s with God now, he would not want you to be sorrowful.’”
“So she had about 4 handwritten sentences, but really what she said was stop blubbering and pick up the work. Do the work. It really got my attention because it was like: stop. There are people that need to be fed.”
Father Woody’s legacy lives on through a program called “Father Woody’s Service Projects” at Regis University in Denver, of which McCabe is the director. Among their projects are delivering meals to the poor and elderly, just as did Fr. Woody, and throwing Christmas parties for the poor every year.
The legacy of both Fr. Woody and Mother Teresa has been so lasting, McCabe said, because of their willingness to lead by example and practice what they preached, and because they were simple and practical in their mission.
McCabe said she will always remember that when a journalist asked Mother Teresa how she could ever solve a problem like homelessness, she replied: “Well, you just pick up the next one. No, you cannot pick up them all. You pick one up, you take them inside, you care, you wash, whether it’s a dying person or a child, and you go back out and pick up the next one.”
Father Woody had a similar philosophy, summarized by a quote that McCabe uses in a lot of her work at Regis University:
“Just open your door and help people. You don’t even have to have a meeting about it!”
ST. PAUL, MINN., September 4 (CNA) .- The Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul has removed two priests from ministry pending investigation of sex abuse allegations, while it has reinstated a separate priest on the grounds that an allegation against him was not substantiated.
The archdiocese’s investigation of Father Gerald Dvorak found the allegation that he sexually abused a minor in the 1970s to be unsubstantiated.
Law enforcement was notified of the allegation and authorized the archdiocese to conduct an investigation. Father Dvorak took a voluntary leave of absence pending the investigation’s outcome, and has now been reinstated as pastor of the Church of St. Peter in Richfield, Minn. Father Dvorak has been a priest for 37 years.
Archbishop Bernard Hebda, who is currently the archdiocese’s administrator, said the allegations against the priest were treated as credible, meaning “not manifestly false or frivolous” and were not a presumption of guilt.
Another priest of the archdiocese, Father Joseph Gallatin, was removed from ministry for alleged sex abuse of a minor in 1998. The allegation was previously considered by archdiocesan review boards in 1998, 2002 and 2014 but concluded there was not sufficient evidence. The archdiocese said Sept. 2 that additional information about the incident had been obtained from people involved.
The results of a new investigation were presented to the newly formed Ministerial Review Board, which said there is “sufficient evidence to support an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor,” the archbishop said.
The board recommended the case be referred to Rome for final adjudication according to canon law, and other archdiocesan officials agreed.
“I do not know how long it will take for Rome to resolve this matter, but I have confidence that they will proceed with fairness and justice for all parties involved,” Archbishop Hebda, said Sept. 2.
Father Gallatin is barred from celebrating Mass in the presence of laity, from hearing confessions, preaching, assisting at weddings or funerals or otherwise engaging in any priestly ministry. He is not allowed to wear a priest’s collar or to present himself as a priest publicly.
“Imposing these precautionary measures reflects the seriousness of the allegation, but should not be viewed as a presumption of guilt,” Archbishop Hebda said. “Rev. Gallatin has denied that he has sexually abused a minor and is accorded the presumption of innocence during this time.”
Another priest faces an allegation that he sexually abused a minor in the 1980s, the archbishop said Aug. 29. He announced an allegation against Father Robert Fitzpatrick.
The priest will not exercise priestly ministry and will be on a leave of absence from his roles as pastor at Corpus Christi parish and St. Rose of Lima parish and school in Roseville, Minn.
Archbishop Hebda, who is co-adjutor of the Newark, N.J. archdiocese, said the allegation has been reported to law enforcement.
In June, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche two weeks after the archdiocese was charged with mishandling sex abuse cases.
Prosecutors charged the archdiocese with six counts of failing to protect minors concerning the actions of the now-former priest Curtis Wehmeyer. Wehmeyer is now serving a five year prison sentence for sexually abusing two minors and possession of child pornography.
Archbishop Nienstedt said he resigned with “a clear conscience” and voiced support for his staff and the archdiocese’s child protection protocols. Bishop Piche said he resigned willingly and thought he was “getting in the way” of healing.
WASHINGTON D.C., September 4 (CNA/EWTN News) .- The Holy See on Tuesday expressed its “strong support” for the 2030 United Nations development agenda, but added it has “firm reservations” about some items in the agenda document.
“This Agenda is a clear sign that, in spite of differences in some areas, the international community has come together and affirmed its commitment to eradicate poverty in all its forms and dimensions and to ensure that all children, women and men throughout the world will have the conditions necessary to live in both freedom and dignity,” the Holy See’s delegation to the United Nations said in a Sept. 1 statement on the document.
They also have “firm reservations to certain items,” as stated in an accompanying Sept. 1 press release.
The United Nations’ new global development agenda sets broad, comprehensive goals for the next 15 years with the aims of fighting global poverty and hunger and human trafficking, and promoting sustainable energy, among other desired achievements. Funding for the goals is massive, estimated to require $5-7 trillion.
Titled “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” the agenda was first drafted in 2014 and the outcome document was finalized Aug. 2. That document will be adopted at the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Summit Sept. 25-27. Pope Francis will address the U.N. general assembly just before this summit begins.
Within these broad goals are specific targets to meet in order to achieve those goals. Progress toward these targets and goals will be measured by specific indicators which will be drafted after the agenda goes into effect in 2016.
“The Agenda rightly puts the centrality of the human person as the subject primarily responsible for development,” the Holy See stated, adding that they are “confident that the related pledge ‘no one will be left behind’ will serve as the perspective through which the entire Agenda will be read to protect the right to life of the person, from conception until natural death.”
However, the Holy See expressed “reservations” about two targets in particular, targets 3.7 and 5.6. Pro-life advocates have already warned that language in these targets could be interpreted to promote abortion access worldwide.
Target 3.7 states, “By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.”
Target 5.6 states, “Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences.”
Veteran U.N. watchdogs have already warned that language in these targets will be interpreted to include abortion access by wealthy donors, who will have the final word when the goals are implemented.
Language of “sexual and reproductive health” has been interpreted to include abortion access by many Western countries and U.N. agencies, one former U.N. diplomat who partook in many negotiations about sexual and reproductive health language told CNA in June.
Furthermore, donors from these countries and from the U.N. could then use the prospect of development funding to pressure poorer countries to liberalize their abortion laws, the former diplomat added.
Even though Target 5.6 does cite previous U.N. documents respecting national laws on abortion – the “Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action” – donors can still withhold development funding so as to pressure pro-life countries to change their abortion laws.
“To most of the world, especially the developing world, the U.S. is like a life-or-death situation for them,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) had told CNA in an August interview. “If they have refugees, they need refugee money. And to the developing world, the U.N. is almost like another government, if not a major government, for them.”
Western politicians have acknowledged that the language includes abortion access, such as the head of Canada’s permanent mission to the U.N., who in 2001 admitted that “services” for “reproductive health care” included abortion access. In 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Smith that the U.S. definition of “reproductive health” included abortion access.
Ultimately, the Holy See said it does not interpret this language to include abortion access, stating that it “does not consider abortion or access to abortion or abortifacients as a dimension of these terms.”
Rather, it interprets them “as applying to a holistic concept of health, which embrace, each in their own way, the person in the entirety of his or her personality, mind and body, and which foster the achievement of personal maturity in sexuality and in the mutual love and decision-making that characterize the conjugal-relationship between a man and a woman in accordance with moral norms.”
Marie Smith, who had served as a U.N. observer for the Holy See, has explained to CNA how controversial the development agenda has been.
Over 20 countries objected to the proposed agenda in 2014, she said, and when the outcome document was finalized on Aug. 2, there was still opposition to the language in question and “there still are broad differences” about it, she told CNA.
The Holy See also expressed its reservations about other items in the document.
Regarding contraception and other family planning terms, they reiterated their “well-known position concerning those family-planning methods which the Catholic Church considers morally acceptable and, on the other hand, family-planning services which do not respect the liberty of the spouses, human dignity and the human rights of those concerned.”
Regarding the term "gender", the Holy See stated that it “understands the term to be grounded in the biological sexual identity that is male or female.”
In reference to sexual education mentioned in the document, the Holy See re-affirmed “the ‘primary responsibility’ and the ‘prior rights’ of parents, including their right to religious freedom, when it comes to the education and upbringing of their children, as enshrined, inter alia, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
DENVER, COLO., September 4 (CNA/EWTN News) .- In an unusual move, five federal judges have said their court should have given greater attention to the Little Sisters of the Poor’s religious freedom lawsuit against an Obama administration mandate that requires them to violate their Catholic beliefs, or face heavy fines.
“When a law demands that a person do something the person considers sinful, and the penalty for refusal is a large financial penalty, then the law imposes a substantial burden on that person’s free exercise of religion,” five judges with the Denver-based Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals said in a Sept. 3 dissent.
The judges said their court’s earlier panel ruling against the sisters is “clearly and gravely wrong – on an issue that has little to do with contraception and a great deal to do with religious liberty.”
On July 14 a majority of the three-judge panel had ruled against the sisters. The sisters had filed a lawsuit challenging the mandate which requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization, and some drugs that can cause early abortions.
Employers who fail to comply with the mandate face crippling penalties. In the case of the Little Sisters, the fines could amount to around $2.5 million a year, or about 40 percent of the $6 million the Sisters receive each year in order to run their ministry.
The court panel said that the 2014 Supreme Court decision protecting Hobby Lobby and other objecting companies from the mandate did not apply in the Little Sisters' case. The panel said the 2014 decision was based on the lack of a religious accommodation for for-profit companies, and argued that the Little Sisters should take advantage of the religious accommodation the Obama administration had granted to non-profit employers.
The sisters have insisted the accommodation is insufficient, and they responded to the court panel’s decision with an appeal to the Supreme Court.
On its own initiative, the Tenth Circuit voted on whether the entire court of 12 judges should re-hear the case. The court on Sept. 3 still voted against a re-hearing, prompting the five judges to write their dissent.
Mark Renzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead counsel for the Little Sisters of the Poor, welcomed the action.
“These judges understand that courts and bureaucrats should not be telling nuns what the Catholic faith requires,” Renzi said Sept. 4. He said the five judges’ opinion offered “important support” for the Little Sisters’ appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Becket Fund characterized the five judges’ action as “almost unprecedented.”
The sisters are among several hundred plaintiffs who have challenged the federal contraception mandate, including several Catholic dioceses, Catholic Charities affiliates, universities, and the EWTN Global Catholic Network.
The Little Sisters of the Poor do not qualify for a full religious exemption to the mandate because they are not affiliated with a particular house of worship.
The federal government’s putative accommodation means that faith-based employers can sign paperwork to pass the burden of providing the objectionable coverage to insurers, who must then offer it directly to employees without cost.
The Little Sisters obtain their health coverage from Catholic organizations, Christian Brothers Services, and Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust. They have said the alleged accommodation still requires them and their Catholic partners to cooperate in providing drugs and procedures whose use Catholic teaching recognizes as sinful.
The five judges said the panel majority refused to acknowledge the religious sisters’ belief that it would be sinful to use the accommodation. Rather, the panel “reframes their belief.”
The dissenting judges objected: “it is not the job of the judiciary to tell people what their religious beliefs are.”
Other parties to the sisters’ lawsuit include the Christian Brothers benefits provider and the Baptist ministries GuideStone, Reaching Souls, and Truett-McConnell College.
Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial of the Little Sisters of the Poor, said the religious women “dedicate our lives to serving the neediest in society, with love and dignity.”
“We perform this loving ministry because of our faith and simply cannot choose between our care for the elderly poor and our faith, and we shouldn’t have to,” she said July 23. “We hope the Supreme Court will hear our case and ensure that people from diverse faiths can freely follow God’s calling in their lives.”
The Little Sisters of the Poor have cared for the elderly poor and dying around the world for 175 years.
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