Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Susan G. Komen Foundation Halts Grants to Planned Parenthood

Published January 31, 2012
Associated Press
The nation's leading breast-cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is halting its partnerships with Planned Parenthood affiliates — creating a bitter rift, linked to the abortion debate, between two iconic organizations that have assisted millions of women.

The change will mean a cutoff of hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants, mainly for breast exams.

Planned Parenthood says the move results from Komen bowing to pressure from anti-abortion activists. Komen says the key reason is that Planned Parenthood is under investigation in Congress — a probe launched by a conservative Republican who was urged to act by anti-abortion groups.

The rupture, which has not been publicly announced as it unfolded, is wrenching for some of those who've learned about it and admire both organizations.

"We're kind of reeling," said Patrick Hurd, who is CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Virginia — recipient of a 2010 grant from Komen — and whose wife, Betsi, is a veteran of several Komen fundraising races and is currently battling breast cancer.

"It sounds almost trite, going through this with Betsi, but cancer doesn't care if you're pro-choice, anti-choice, progressive, conservative," Hurd said. "Victims of cancer could care less about people's politics."

Planned Parenthood said the Komen grants totaled roughly $680,000 last year and $580,000 the year before, going to at least 19 of its affiliates for breast-cancer screening and other breast-health services.

Komen spokeswoman Leslie Aun said the cutoff results from the charity's newly adopted criteria barring grants to organizations that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. According to Komen, this applies to Planned Parenthood because it's the focus of an inquiry launched by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., seeking to determine whether public money was improperly spent on abortions.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, has depicted Stearns' probe as politically motivated and said she was dismayed that it had contributed to Komen's decision to halt the grants to PPFA affiliates.

"It's hard to understand how an organization with whom we share a mission of saving women's lives could have bowed to this kind of bullying," Richards told The Associated Press. "It's really hurtful."

Planned Parenthood has been a perennial target of protests, boycotts and funding cutoffs because of its role as the largest provider of abortions in the United States. Its nearly 800 health centers nationwide provide an array of other services, including birth control, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and cancer screening.

According to Planned Parenthood, its centers performed more than 4 million breast exams over the past five years, including nearly 170,000 as a result of Komen grants.

Komen, founded in 1982, has invested more than $1.9 billion since then in breast-cancer research, health services and advocacy. Its Race for the Cure fundraising events have become a global phenomenon.

For all its mainstream popularity, however, Komen has been a target of anti-abortion groups since it began its partnerships with Planned Parenthood in 2005.

Life Decisions International includes Komen on its "boycott list" of companies and organizations that support or collaborate with Planned Parenthood. In December, Lifeway Christian Resources, the publishing division of the Southern Baptist Convention announced a recall of pink Bibles it had sold because some of the money generated for Komen was being routed to Planned Parenthood.

Aun, the Komen spokeswoman, said such pressure tactics were not the reason for the funding cutoff and cited Stearns' House investigation as a key factor.

That investigation, which has no set timetable, was launched in September when Stearns asked Planned Parenthood for more than a decade's worth of documents.

Stearns, in a statement emailed to the AP on Monday, said he is still working with Planned Parenthood on getting the requested documents. He said he is looking into possible violations of state and local reporting requirements, as well as allegations of financial abuse, and would consider holding a hearing depending on what he learns.

Many of the allegations were outlined in a report presented to Stearns last year by Americans United for Life, a national anti-abortion group, which urged him to investigate.

Democrats and Planned Parenthood supporters have assailed the probe as an unwarranted political ploy.

Komen, while not publicly announcing its decision to halt the grants, has conveyed the news to its 100-plus U.S. affiliates. Richards said she was informed via a phone call from Komen's president, Elizabeth Thompson, in December.

"It was incredibly surprising," Richards said. "It wasn't even a conversation — it was an announcement."

Richards subsequently sent a letter to Komen's top leaders — CEO Nancy Brinker and board chairman Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr. — requesting a meeting with the board and asserting that Komen had misrepresented Planned Parenthood's funding-eligibility status in some states.

According to Planned Parenthood, the Komen leaders replied to Richards with a brief letter ignoring the request for a meeting, defending the new grant criteria, and adding, "We understand the disappointment of any organization that is affected by these policy and strategy updates."

Aun, in a telephone interview, said Komen was not accusing Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing.

"We want to maintain a positive relationship with them," she said. "We're not making any judgment."

Richards said Planned Parenthood is intent on raising funds quickly to replace the lost grants so that women in need do not go without breast-screening services. Already, the family foundation of Dallas oilman/philanthropist Lee Fikes and his wife, Amy, has donated $250,000 for this purpose, Planned Parenthood said.

The Komen decision was perplexing to Dottie Lamm, a Denver newspaper columnist and breast cancer survivor. She has done fundraising for Planned Parenthood, participated in several Races for the Cure, and serves on an honorary advisory council for the local Komen affiliate.

"It really makes me sad," said Lamm, wife of former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm. "I kind of suspect there's a political agenda that got to Komen ... I hope it can be worked out."

Stephanie Kight, a vice president with Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties, said her affiliate in Southern California received a Komen grant for 2011 and was able to obtain an additional grant of $120,000 for 2012 by signing the deal with its local Komen counterpart just before Komen's new criteria took effect. Under the criteria, no further grants will be allowed unless the pending House inquiry is resolved in Planned Parenthood's favor.

Kight said her conversations with local Komen leaders indicated there was a shared sense of frustration over the national Komen decision.

"One of the things these organizations share is the trust of women across the United States," Kight said. "That's what we're concerned about — not losing the trust of these women, who turn to both of us at their most difficult moments."

Sen. Mark Rubio Submits Religious Liberty Bill

Senator Marco Rubio introduced legislation today to repeal the Obama administration’s mandate requiring healthcare plans to cover abortifacients, contraception and sterilization.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments as follows:

The Catholic community will be delighted to learn of the courage shown by Sen. Marco Rubio in seeking to combat the Obama administration’s unprecedented assault on religious liberty. If the administration were to get its way, Catholic non-profit institutions would be forced to carry healthcare services that the Church deems immoral. What’s at stake is the First Amendment right to religious liberty, and nothing goes to the heart of this civil liberty more than conscience rights.

The Catholic League appreciates the incredible support we are receiving from people of all faiths, as well as from some agnostics and atheists. We pledge to them that we will support our bishops in pursuing every legitimate remedy to this outrageous threat to religious liberty. Sen. Rubio has properly titled his bill the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012.”

Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" for January 31, 2012

Talking about the "things that matter most" on Jan. 31

4:00 – 6:00: Direct to My Desk
Today is your chance to set the agenda. We spend two hours taking your questions and comments on the things that matter most to you. The number is 877-573-7825, so be ready to call.

Archbishop Vigneron: HHS Mandate Tramples Religious Freedom

Sharia Court in India Orders Expulsion of Christians

by ANTO AKKARA 01/30/201
National Catholic Register

The sharia court in Muslim-majority Kashmir has no constitutional or legal authority. But its recent verdict ordering the expulsion of five Christians from the troubled Indian side of Kashmir has sent alarm bells ringing among Christians in India.

Apart from ordering the expulsion of the Christians, the court also directed the government of Jammu and Kashmir to take over the management of the Christian missionary schools besides monitoring their activities.

Those ordered to be expelled include Father Jim Borst of the Dutch Mill Hill Missionaries, who has been based in Kashmir since 1963.

“This is much more than conversion. It is humiliating and certainly threatening for us,” Bishop Peter Celestine Elampassery of Jammu-Srinagar told the Register Jan. 27, reacting to the verdict.

Srinagar is the capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, which is nestled in the Himalayas.

On Jan. 19, the court ordered the expulsion of Father Borst, along with two Protestant pastors and their wives, accusing them of “luring the (Kashmir) valley Muslims to Christianity.”

The verdict focused more on Pastor Chander Mani Khanna of the Protestant All Saints Church at Srinagar and pronounced him guilty of conversion. The pastor of the Church of North India had been arrested in November by state police on the dubious charge of “fomenting communal trouble” after Muslim groups pressed charges against him. Though the civil court released him on bail, the sharia court went ahead with its own trial.

“Khanna and his associates have been found guilty of spreading communal disaffection and were involved in immoral activities. They are ordered to be expelled from the state,” deputy grand mufti of Jammu and Kashmir, Nasir-ul-Islam, said Jan.19 while reading the verdict of the sharia court.

Father Borst, a well-known retreat preacher, runs the Good Shepherd School at Pulwama. The school had been partially burnt during widespread protests against the desecration of the Quran in the United States during the 9/11 anniversary in 2010.

Whisper Campaign
Church leaders, Christians groups and Kashmiri Christians all have expressed alarm over the sharia court pronouncement and the subsequent Christian bashing in the local media, despite the Kashmir Valley having fewer than 400 Christians among 4 million Muslims.

“Kashmir Zealots Push Christians Into Valley of Fear” read the headline in The Times of India, the nation’s largest English daily, on Jan. 23.

The report said that even Juan Marcos Troia, an Argentinian football coach developing soccer in Kashmir and training local youth, is now facing the heat. State football association officials have questioned him about the funding for his clubs. While a whisper campaign is on against the “Christian” coach by Islamic fundamentalists, his house has already been vandalized.

“This is not a good development,” Bishop Elampassery said while on a visit to the Muslim heartland of Srinagar. “In the 1970s, they targeted Sikhs, and from 1980 they went after the Hindus. It looks like now they want to target us.”

In the entire Kashmir Valley, there are only about half a dozen churches, half a dozen Christian schools and a couple of Christian hospitals.

“What is going on there right now is the plan to scare away the remaining Christians from Kashmir. They want to make it an exclusive Muslim area,” asserted Predhuman Joseph Dhar, a Kashmiri Catholic from a Hindu background.

Dhar, a journalist, teacher and scholar who has translated the Bible into Kashmiri, recalled that he fled Kashmir with his family in January 1990 after mosques across the Kashmir Valley began using their loudspeakers to order Hindus to leave the Muslim-majority region.

Subsequently, more than 400,000 Hindus in Kashmir fled the region to the Hindu-majority Jammu and other parts of India. Though he had been a Catholic since 1984, when his entire family of six embraced the Christian faith, Dhar too fled Kashmir.

“Right now there are only less than 100 Christians of Kashmiri origin in the valley. Others are migrant Christians,” pointed out Dhar.

“Still, concocted reports are appearing in the Kashmir media targeting us,” said Dhar. The latest in this series, he said, is the story of the Jan. 22 arrest of four “recent converts” as they were going to collect wages from the church.

“This is an absolutely concocted story and explains the hidden agenda behind the ongoing anti-Christians propaganda,” pointed out Dhar.

‘Don’t Overreact’
The Times of India reported that an article titled “Apostasy Unveiled” appeared in Kashmir’s leading English daily a day after the sharia court verdict, giving a lurid account purportedly of the alleged conversion of a Muslim youth, enticed with money, liquor and a young girl.

“We (the Christians) are not bound by the pronouncements of the sharia court,” said John Dayal, a Catholic and general secretary of the All India Christian Council.

“Even the conversion charge against the pastor is baseless,” said Dayal, who had visited Kashmir with an ecumenical fact-finding team and met Pastor Khanna in the wake of the conversion controversy.

As for the sharia court demanding government control of half a dozen Christian schools in the Kashmir Valley, Dayal said that the demand is “irrational,” as the overwhelming majority of the students and even teachers in the Christian schools in Kashmir are Muslims.

However, Dayal pointed out that the ongoing propaganda against Christians “does not reflect the will of the Muslim majority.” It is the outcome of competing Islamic groups trying to cash in on anything that would enhance their Islamic nationalist campaign “in a turbulent situation.”

The Muslim-majority Indian side of Kashmir is riddled with a vocal and bloody campaign for secession from the Indian union, which has claimed more than 30,000 lives since 1990, and a merger with Muslim-majority Pakistan, which controls part of Kashmir.

Meanwhile, Hmar Tlomte Sangliana, vice chairman of the autonomous National Commission for Minorities, told the Register that “Christians should not overreact to the developments.”

“Leaders of both communities should sit together and sort out the misunderstanding,” said Sangliana, a former member of the national parliament and a Presbyterian.

However, Christian groups like Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum are not prepared to ignore the danger in Kashmir.

In a white paper on the Kashmir situation, the Catholic Secular Forum pointed out that between 1989 and 1992, the majority of Hindus and Christians of Hindu origin in Kashmir had been “forced out of their homes by the Islamist terrorists. Men were murdered, women were raped, property was destroyed, and threats were issued.”

“The situation in Kashmir is serious. We are shocked by the silence of the state and central (federal) governments on this,” Joseph Dias, Catholic Secular Forum general secretary, told the Register.

“Christians in the Kashmir Valley face persecution from a hostile neighbor, local Islamic communalists (fundamentalists), fundamentalist courts, extremists/terrorists … state government which has decided it cannot act,” lamented the Catholic group leader, reminding the federal government “to look at the situation more seriously.”

What Has Happened to Fr. John Corapi?

By ,
About.com Guide - Catholicism

For several months in mid-2011, the biggest and most divisive story on the Catholic side of the World Wide Web involved the strange case of Fr. John Corapi, a charismatic preacher who announced on Ash Wednesday 2011 that he had been accused of sexual impropriety and drug abuse. Ordered by his superiors in the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) to remain silent while the charges were investigated, Father Corapi complied for a few months before bringing the investigation to a halt by announcing that he intended to leave the priesthood.

But, Father Corapi promised, he would not be "silenced." Unable to continue to speak and teach as a Catholic priest, Father Corapi announced a new persona: Under the guise of the "Black Sheep Dog," he would continue to speak on many of the topics he had previously discussed, but with more of a political emphasis. He hinted broadly at plans surrounding the 2012 presidential election.

Yet here we are in 2012, and the primary season is well under way. Of the remaining four Republican candidates, two (Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum) are Catholics, and Barack Obama's administration has just launched a frontal attack on Catholic religious freedom in the United States, under the guise of advancing "healthcare reform." This would seem the perfect time for the Black Sheep Dog to charge into the fray.

But Father Corapi is nowhere in sight.

Readers have been asking for a few months if I knew of any developments in the strange case of Fr. John Corapi, and the truth is, I'm as clueless as they are. After an initial flurry of activity, updates to Father Corapi's new website, theblacksheepdog.us, became few and far between, and sometime around the first of the year (as Patrick Madrid, I believe, was the first to notice) all of the content was removed from the site. In its place, a single white page remains, with just three lines of text:

Inquiries regarding TheBlackSheepDog.US can be made to:
450 Corporate Dr. Suite 107
Kalispell, MT 59901

Father Corapi's/The Black Sheep Dog's official accounts on Twitter and on Facebook have disappeared as well. And here we are, over three weeks after Patrick noted that Father Corapi had "vanishe[d] off the radar screen," and there's still no word to be found anywhere about what has happened.

My initial thought on reading Patrick's post was that perhaps Father Corapi had finally decided to submit in obedience to the direct orders of his superiors in SOLT, and had returned to live with them in community while they completed the investigation that had been abruptly cut short. I still hope that my initial thought was true. But I'm beginning to have doubts, since it seems to me that, because of the unfortunately public nature of the Father Corapi controversy, SOLT would be bound, if for no other reason than by the dictates of charity, to release at least a brief statement acknowledging Father Corapi's return. The fact that they haven't leads me to believe that something else is going on, and it's hard to imagine that something else being something good.

Of course, time will tell (though I am surprised that it hasn't told already). Father Corapi was too prominent of a figure, and last year's scandal was too widely discussed, for him to disappear like Amelia Earhart. But whatever has happened, I'll make one prediction right now: We have seen the end of the Black Sheep Dog.

Let us hope and pray that we haven't seen the end of Fr. John Corapi as well.

Florida: GOP voters think economy, how to beat Obama

(Miami Herald) Election Day has arrived in South Florida, and Republican voters are headed to the polls with two issues weighing heavily on their minds: the economy, and who has the greatest chance to defeat Barack Obama in the November presidential elections.

Candidates Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are on the Republican primary ballot, though the election in Florida is expected to be a two-man race between Romney and Gingrich, with Romney ahead due to a weeks-long push for absentee and early votes.

At the Belen Jesuit campus in West Miami-Dade, a Republican stronghold with about three times more registered Republicans than Democrats, Roger Cardenas, 41, voted for Romney.

“I don’t know if he can do everything he says he’ll do but he’s the only guy who can run against Obama,” said Cardenas, an electrician who came to South Florida from Cuba.

Rene Viera, a 64-year-old Westchester Realtor, said he voted for Gingrich because of the economy.

“The economy will be the hot topic,” he said. “The second issue will be, where is this country headed? The Obama administration wants to take us down the path to socialism and I think people will want off that bus.”

At Miami Fire Station No. 7, Lesmus Ruiz was the first to show up. The 71-year-old Republican salesman said he voted for Gingrich “because he’s the only one that can debate this president right now.”

A Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald/Tampa Bay Times poll released Saturday night shows that Romney has an edge both in the Florida primary and against Obama. The poll showed Romney held an 11 percentage point lead over Gingrich in the primary, and would beat Obama by a 48 - 44 percent spread in a theoretical general-election matchup, though the lead was inside the error-margin.

A substantial Romney edge in early and absentee voters also does not bode well for Gingrich.

At least 632,000 Republicans have already cast ballots, and Gingrich could have been losing by as many as 60,000 votes before the polls even opened Tuesday, according to an analysis of early-voter surveys and the averages of all the major statewide polls applied to the pool of already cast ballots.

“I think Gingrich could be losing more to Mitt Romney — like 75,000ish,” said Randy Nielsen, a top Florida political consultant for the Republican Party of Florida who’s not affiliated with any presidential candidate.

“This election isn’t going to be pretty for Newt Gingrich,” Nielsen said. “He didn’t have a program to get early and absentee votes, and Gingrich is losing to Mitt Romney in every region except for North Florida. But he’s not winning there enough to make up the difference.”

The actual number of early ballots won by the candidates won’t become known until after Election Day.

And Gingrich could be doing much better if his campaign somehow managed to get voters to flock to early-voting precincts and cast absentee ballots in numbers that well exceed the average estimates of nearly 30 scientific surveys that have a 4 percent error margin. Factor that in, and Gingrich could trail Romney by about 42,000 votes.

Legal expert: conscience protection, state laws key for pro-life movement

(EWTN) Advancing the pro-life cause in the U.S. could hinge upon efforts to defend conscience rights over the course of the next year, according to a legal expert.

Expanding conscience protection will be a “big issue in the year coming up,” predicted William L. Saunders, Jr., the senior vice president of legal affairs at Americans United for Life.
Saunders made his remarks at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 19.  He devoted his talk to analyzing the future of the pro-life movement, which he described as “the ultimate human rights issue.”

Conscience Rights

Attacks on rights of conscience pose “a huge threat” for religious groups and “could even possibly lead to the eclipse of Catholic institutions,” he said.

He explained that one key issue in the next year will be the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which he described as “problematic from a pro-life perspective” because it is not subject to the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal tax dollars from funding abortion.

Under the legislation, the Department of Health and Human Services has issued a mandate requiring most religious employers to purchase health insurance plans covering contraception – including abortion-causing drugs – and sterilization, even if doing so is against their beliefs.

The announcement of the mandate has raised an outcry from religious leaders, who maintain that it constitutes the government determining what people can believe.


In addition to a heightened emphasis on conscience issues “at the state level, the national level and the international level,” Saunders expects “increasing studies about the effects of abortion on women’s health” in the next year.

Science is continually showing the detrimental results of abortion on a woman’s physical and psychological condition, he said, and studies illustrating this “essential information” could be critical in advancing the pro-life cause.

In addition, Saunders predicts more research that will show states with more restrictive abortion laws have declining maternal mortality rates. These studies will be important in refuting the argument that abortion must be legal or women will die.

He explained that Ireland, which has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, “has the lowest maternal mortality in Europe,” and Chile, which has the most restrictive abortion laws in South America “has the lowest maternal mortality” in the region. 

State Legislation

Saunders also predicted “very strong efforts” on both the state and national level “to limit Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from receiving government funds.”
Such efforts are already well underway in the wake of investigations about reports of Planned Parenthood possibly violating laws involving finances and the reporting of statutory rape and sex trafficking. 

Saunders sees potential for many other positive steps at the state level, where “a lot of creativity” and pro-life gains in the last election have created a cause for hope.

Among the possibilities for pro-life legislation is increased regulation of abortion clinics to meet the same standards as other medical facilities and informed consent laws.
“A lot of states are involved in trying to pass ultrasound laws,” he said, noting that some have already succeeded.

Informed consent legislation may prove to be “extremely important” because the Supreme Court has indicated that it would likely uphold such laws, he added.

International Law

Saunders also addressed the importance of fighting the false notion of a “right to abortion under international law.” If Roe v. Wade is overturned, he said, abortion-supporting lawyers will argue that because abortion is recognized as a right in international law, the U.S. is obligated to recognize it domestically.

He stressed that in reality, there is no internationally recognized right to abortion. However, if U.S. courts are convinced by this false but dangerous claim, they could force abortion upon an unwilling nation.

Saunders encouraged Catholics to work to support life in their presence at events like the annual March for Life. He especially urged renewed efforts to defend rights of conscience, which he said will be crucial in the upcoming year.
 “Conscience is under attack everywhere,” he said.

Egypt army fires general to boost image

(Reuters) - Egypt's military leader has sacked the general responsible for media affairs to bolster an image tarnished by killings of protesters and accusations that the men in uniform are undermining Egypt's democratic revolution.

The change is the first in the military council since the generals took power from President Hosni Mubarak during a popular uprising last February.

Although it defused a violent confrontation by ushering Mubarak out, the military has also tried to crush subsequent protests by force, killing dozens. It has only grudgingly agreed to hand over to a civilian president by June, and tried to protect its privileges and avoid civilian oversight.

Major General Ismail Etman, 60, was "exempted from service and replaced by Major General Ahmed Abu El-Dahab, the director of the artillery division," a defense ministry source said. The decision was announced later by state media.

Since the 1973 war against Israel, Egypt's army was seen as a respected institution set above the fray. But its direct involvement in politics has exposed it to closer scrutiny.

The generals are not trusted by many young pro-democracy campaigners, who suspect they want to curtail civilian power by exploiting the fragile security situation.

Dozens died when the army tried to suppress protests on the streets of Cairo in November and December and video of soldiers mistreating injured demonstrators sparked widespread anger. The army said troops were also killed.

It has blamed the violence on "invisible hands" determined to sow chaos among Egyptians and undermine the achievements of the uprising against Mubarak.


A source close to the military council said it was concerned about its deteriorating public image.

"The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces concluded that the army's image in the media has suffered over the past year under Etman's leadership," said the source.

"The decision is intended to bring in new leadership to improve the armed forces' performance," and was decreed by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who heads the council, the source added.

Etman led the army department which handled a wide range of issues ranging from media relations to dealing with the concerns of military officers.

Little is known about Etman's successor, Abu El-Dahab, and it remains to be seen whether the change will alter the army's public affairs policy.

Tantawi has tried to improve the military's public image, calling on Egyptians to unite with the army and ordering the formation of a committee of generals to ensure positive media coverage, Egyptian media reported last week.

While no longer a member of the 20-member military council, Etman will however remain one of Tantawi's many advisers, positions given to officers closely tied to the army leadership, the source at the defense ministry said.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Irish bishop faces 'hate speech' complaint for homily

(Catholic Culture) An Irish bishop has been charged with inciting hatred in a homily, in the first clear use of “hate crime” laws to suppress the preaching of the Gospel.

Bishop Philip Boyce of Raphoe faces a complaint submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions by an avowed humanist. John Colgan, who is also a parliamentary candidate of the Fine Gael party, charged the Bishop Boyce inflamed “hatred of dissidents, outsiders, secularists” during a homily delivered last August.

In that homily, the bishop said that the Catholic Church is under attack from “a secular and godless culture.” Bishop Boyce also said that “the distinguishing mark of Christian believers is the fact they have a future.”

Colgan charges that these remarks “exemplify the chronic antipathy towards secularists, humanists etc, which has manifested itself in the ostracizing of otherwise perfectly good Irish citizens.” He charges that the bishop’s message violated the terms of the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, enacted in 1989. Police say that they have forwarded the complaint to prosecutors.

Half a century after Vatican II, a year of faith and debate

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Fifty years ago this October, Blessed John XXIII and more than 2,500 bishops and heads of religious orders from around the world gathered in St. Peter's Basilica for the opening session of the Second Vatican Council.

Over the following three years, Vatican II would issue 16 major "pronouncements" on such fundamental questions as the authority of the church's hierarchy, the interpretation of Scripture, and the proper roles of clergy and laity. Those documents, and the deliberations that produced them, have transformed how the Catholic Church understands and presents itself within the context of modern secular culture and society.

Because Vatican II was one of the monumental events in modern religious history, its golden anniversary will naturally be the occasion for numerous commemorative events, including liturgical celebrations, publications and academic conferences.

At a Vatican II exhibition at Rome's Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, which opened in late January and will run until November 2013, the displays include original handwritten pages from Pope John's speech at the council's opening session, and a Vatican passport issued at the time to a young Polish bishop named Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II.

Yet Vatican II is not merely of historical interest; it is very much a living issue in the church today.

Scholars still debate to what extent the council's achievements, in such areas as interfaith dialogue and liturgical reform, were organic developments in the church's history or radical breaks with the past. And clergy and laity alike differ over how expansively to apply the council's pronouncements, whether sticking closely to the letter of the documents or following a more broadly construed "spirit of Vatican II."

Pope Benedict XVI has rejected what he calls the "hermeneutics of discontinuity and rupture" in the present-day understanding of the council and has called instead for interpreting Vatican II as an instance of "renewal in continuity" with the church's 2,000 years of tradition. Exploring and promoting that idea will be a major goal of the Year of Faith that begins this Oct. 11, exactly half a century to the day since Vatican II opened.

A relatively small but highly vocal number of Catholics reject the council altogether, charging among other things that subsequent changes to worship have undermined the solemnity of the Mass and that a growing openness to other religions conflicts with the need to proclaim salvation through Jesus Christ alone. The most prominent such group, the Society of St. Pius X, effectively broke with Rome in 1988, when its founder, the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, ordained four bishops without approval from the pope.

Pope Benedict has made reconciliation with the traditionalist society a priority of his pontificate. He lifted restrictions on the traditional Latin Mass, now called the extraordinary form, in 2007. Less than two years later, he removed the excommunications of the four illicitly ordained bishops. And last fall, the Vatican held out the possibility of making the group a personal prelature if a full reconciliation is reached. A prelature is somewhat like a global diocese, a status currently held only by Opus Dei.

As a condition of reconciliation, though, the Vatican has asked the society to give its assent to a summary of certain non-negotiable doctrines. These have not been made public, but they presumably include the major teachings of Vatican II.

Though the ongoing dialogue between the Vatican and the society remains confidential, both sides have recently published documents that give insights into their respective positions.

In early December, L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, published an article by Msgr. Fernando Ocariz, the second-highest official of Opus Dei and a participant in talks with the Society of St. Pius X.

In the article, Msgr. Ocariz insisted that all the teachings of Vatican II require nothing less than "religious submission of intellect and will," and that even the council's apparent innovations in doctrine are properly understood as in continuity with tradition. But he also emphasized that "there remains legitimate room for theological freedom" in interpreting them.

Later the same month, Father Jean-Michel Gleize, a theologian who has represented the society in discussions with the Vatican, published a response to Msgr. Ocariz's article. Perhaps the most striking part of Father Gleize's argument was his rejection of the hermeneutic of continuity as overly "subjective" and neglectful of the "unity of the truth" necessary in church teaching. That would seem to suggest an endorsement of the hermeneutic of rupture usually associated with the council's most progressive champions.

Reading such an exchange, it's not easy to believe that the Year of Faith will end with anything like a Catholic consensus on the meaning of Vatican II. But as someone well known to think in terms of centuries, Pope Benedict will surely be neither surprised nor discouraged by the continuing debate.

Assad troops fight back against Syria rebels

(Reuters) - Street battles raged at the gates of the Syrian capital on Monday as President Bashar al-Assad's troops sought to consolidate their grip on suburbs that rebel fighters had seized only a few miles from the centre of government power.

Fighting subsided by nightfall as members of the anti-Assad Free Syrian Army (FSA) pulled out to the edges of the capital's suburbs, activists said by telephone, adding they believed 19 civilians and six FSA members had been killed.

A diplomatic battle loomed in the United Nations, where the Arab League - backed by the United States, Britain and France - wants the Security Council to act on an Arab peace plan that would call for Assad to leave power.

Russia, a veto-wielding Security Council member and one of Syria's few allies, said Assad's government had agreed to talks in Moscow to end the crisis, but a major opposition body rejected any dialogue with him, demanding he step down.

The White House said countries needed to accept that Assad's rule was doomed, and stop shielding him in the Security Council.

"It is important that the Security Council take action," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "We believe that the Security Council should not permit the Assad regime to assault the Syrian people while it rejects the Arab League's proposal for a political solution."

"As governments make decisions about where they stand on this issue and what further steps need to be taken with regards to the brutality of the Assad regime, it is important to calculate into your considerations the fact that he will go," Carney said. "The regime has lost control of the country and will eventually fall."

A draft of the U.N. Security Council resolution, obtained by Reuters, calls for a "political transition" in Syria, and says the Security Council could adopt unspecified "further measures" if Syria does not comply with its terms.

Passing it would require convincing Russia and China to abstain rather than veto the draft, as they did previous drafts. So far Moscow has shown little sign of being persuaded.

"The current Western draft is only a step away from the October version and can by no means be supported by us," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told Interfax. "This document is not balanced ... and above all leaves the door open for intervention in Syrian (internal) affairs."

He said earlier on Monday that Moscow wanted to hear directly from observers sent by the Arab League before voting.

Yet despite Moscow's objections, some Western diplomats say they hope that Russia and China can be persuaded not to block the draft. An abstention by Russia and China last March paved the way for the Security Council to authorize force against Muammar Gaddafi's military in Libya, after the Arab League made clear it wanted action.

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby is to seek support on Tuesday for the Arab peace plan from the Security Council. He will be joined by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, whose country heads the League's committee charged with seeking a solution to the Syrian crisis.


Ten months into the uprising, fighting has entered a new phase in recent weeks, with government forces losing control of parts of the country, including a town on the Lebanon border where rebels are ensconced.

Yet Assad's forces appear to have decisively beaten back an attempt by the opposition to march on the outskirts of Damascus.

Activists and residents said Syrian troops now had control of Hamouriyeh, one of several districts where they have used armored vehicles and artillery to push back rebels who came as close as 8 km (5 miles) to Damascus.

An activist said the Free Syrian Army (FSA) - a force of military defectors with links to Syria's divided opposition - mounted scattered attacks on government troops who advanced through the district of Saqba, held by rebels just days ago.

"Street fighting has been raging since dawn," he said, adding tanks were moving through a central avenue of the neighborhood. "The sound of gunfire is everywhere."

Rebels are risking heavier clashes and speaking of creating "liberated" territories to force diplomatic action. In the past three weeks they have taken Zabadani - a town of 40,000 in mountainous near the border with Lebanon.

"God willing, we will liberate more territory, because the international community has only offered delayed action and empty threats," said a lieutenant colonel who had defected to the FSA but declined to be named.


Russia's Foreign Ministry said Syria agreed to Russian-brokered negotiations over the crisis, but senior members of the council that claims to speak for a fragmented Syria opposition said there was no point in talking to Assad, who must quit.

"We rejected the Russian proposal because they wanted us to talk with the regime while it continues the killings, the torture, the imprisonment," Walid al-Bunni, foreign affairs chief for the Syrian National Council, told Reuters.

Activists say more than 100 people have died in three days of fighting in Damascus suburbs.

The escalating bloodshed prompted the Arab League to suspend the work of its monitors on Saturday. Arab foreign ministers, who have urged Assad to step down and make way for a government of national unity, are due to discuss the crisis on February 5.

Syria's state news agency said six soldiers died in an attack near Deraa in the south and "terrorists" blew up a gas pipeline. Pipelines have often been targeted in the uprising.

The state news agency SANA has reported funerals of more than 70 members of the security forces members since Friday.

Residents of Deraa - where anti-Assad unrest first flared - said firefights between army defectors and government troops killed at least 20 people, most of them government forces.

In Homs, the central Syrian city that has seen heavy attacks by Assad's forces and sectarian reprisal killings, residents said government troops backed with armor fought rebels near its marketplace.

Syria limits access for journalists and the details of events could not be immediately verified.

After mass demonstrations against him erupted last spring, Assad launched a military crackdown. Growing numbers of army deserters and gunmen have joined the protesters in a country of 23 million people at the heart of the Middle East.

The insurgency has crept closer to the capital. The suburbs, a string of mainly conservative Sunni Muslim towns known as al-Ghouta, are home to the bulk of the 3 million population of Damascus and its outlying districts.

State television read out a statement from the Interior Ministry calling the events there a sweep against terrorists.

The Damascus suburbs have seen large demonstrations demanding the removal of Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has dominated the mostly Sunni Muslim country for the last five decades.

The rebel force said on Monday medicine and blood were running low in field hospitals, some set up in mosques, and that advancing government forces were carrying out mass arrests.

Iran, Syria's regional ally and once unconditional supporter of Assad's crackdown, said Assad must be spared foreign interference to enact promised constitutional reforms.

The United Nations said in December more than 5,000 people had been killed in the protests and crackdown. Syria says more than 2,000 security force members have been killed by militants.

Same-sex marriage issue facing lawmakers, voters in several states

WASHINGTON (NCR Online) — The same-sex marriage issue will be facing lawmakers and voters in several states this year.

Democratic-controlled legislatures in Washington state, Maryland and New Jersey are considering legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage, while Maine voters will vote on a same-sex marriage referendum in November.

Voters in North Carolina and Minnesota will consider constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman. In New Hampshire, the Republican-controlled legislature is gearing up to vote on a bill that could reverse that state's same-sex marriage law.

Maryland Gov. Martin J. O'Malley, a Catholic, is sponsoring legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. If it passes Maryland will be the seventh state, plus the District of Columbia, to allow same-sex marriages.
Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's bishops, said same-sex marriage is being pushed by a small group of advocates.
"If we dismantle the connection between marriage and mothers and fathers of children, we risk losing sight of the tremendous importance of keeping the nuclear family intact," she told The Catholic Review, newspaper of the Baltimore Archdiocese.

Treating marriage differently from other relationships is not discrimination, Russell added, noting that there are already laws on the books that provide benefits for those in same-sex relationships.
Last July, after a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland was effectively dead by the close of the legislative session, O'Malley vowed to introduce the bill in the 2012 legislative session.

Two days before the governor's announcement, then-Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien of Baltimore privately wrote to him asking that he not promote the redefinition of marriage. O'Malley told the archbishop he was "sworn to uphold the law without partiality or prejudice." The archbishop's letter and O'Malley's response were later released to the media.

The archbishop, now cardinal-designate, is currently apostolic administrator of the Baltimore Archdiocese; last August he was appointed pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order (Knights) of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, based in Rome.

He told The Catholic Review he thought it was "arrogant" to dismiss traditional marriage, and that some Maryland delegates view traditional marriage as "old-fashioned."
"Because they have friends who might be gay," he said, "they think it's all right to question this whole thing and to vote for an overturn (of the definition of marriage)."

Should Maryland lawmakers vote to legalize same-sex marriage, opponents have promised to take the issue to voters through a referendum.

In New Jersey, leaders in the Democratic-controlled legislature have made a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in that state a top priority. However, Gov. Chris Christie has vowed to veto such a bill if it passes, saying he wants the issue to be placed on the ballot.

The state's Catholic bishops said in a Jan. 20 statement that traditional marriage "has its roots in natural law."
"As citizens, we must protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman," they said. "Same sex unions may represent a new and a different type of institution -- but it is not marriage and should not be treated as marriage."

The bishops said the state's Civil Union Act, signed into law in December 2006, "already provides practical rights, benefits and protections for persons who choose to establish nonmarital unions."

At a town hall meeting, Christie said the issue of "whether or not to redefine hundreds of years of societal and religious traditions, should not be decided by 121 people in the statehouse in Trenton. ... The institution of marriage is too serious to be treated like a political football."

On a 4-3 vote, a Washington state Senate committee Jan. 26 passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage and sent it to the full Senate. Gov. Christine Gregoire, who also is Catholic, has pledged to sign this bill into law.
In a Jan. 23 testimony before a Senate committee, Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain urged lawmakers to oppose the measure.

He said the bill has "elicited strong emotions on both sides" and hoped the voice of Catholic bishops in the state "contributes significantly to the discussion of a matter that has serious long-range implications for our state and society at large."

Archbishop Sartain said bishops oppose the bill "based on the grave challenge this legislation poses to the common good. By attempting to redefine marriage, it ignores the origin, purpose and value of marriage to individuals, families and society."

He noted that "not everyone holds our faith and beliefs, but the universal principles that form the basis for our position are readily discernible by all people. They transcend any particular society, government, or religious community; in fact, they are built into human life itself."

In Colorado, proposals to legalize same-sex civil unions are expected to be put forth in the new legislative session.

The Colorado Catholic Conference, in a statement posted on its website, said that the "major flaw with civil union legislation is that in its language and practical effect it creates an alternative, parallel structure to marriage using explicitly spousal language."

The statement also noted the state's constitution defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. "It does little good to protect marriage in our state constitution, on the one hand, and legally recognize other unions, such as civil unions, that compete with it for equality. Civil unions are essentially marriage under another name and all implications of these types of unions have not been fully discerned or discussed."
"To be clear, in opposing civil unions we have no desire to deny anyone his or her fundamental civil rights," the statement said, adding that "nearly every benefit being sought by" civil union legislation "or any legislation that seeks to redefine marriage ... is already legally available to Coloradans."

Indianapolis Catholic Church to Evangelize Super Bowl Villiage

Indianapolis’ St. John the Evangelist Church is located in the heart of the Super Bowl Village, and the historic Catholic church intends to open its doors to everyone.

“I think it’s a gift that our city is hosting the Super Bowl and that we can be in the heart of it with our Catholic presence,” parish administrator Fr. Rick Nagel told EWTN News on Jan. 27.

The church is three blocks from Lucas Oil Stadium, the site of the Feb. 5 NFL championship game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots.

The Super Bowl Village features four 800-foot zip-lines, the longest temporary lines yet built.

Those zip-lines end right outside St. John the Evangelist, where the church has posted a sign that reads: “If you think the zip-line was a thrill, come on in to meet Jesus.”

The church has incorporated the hugely popular sports event into its “Open Wide the Doors” outreach program, which was set up to minister to visitors to the area.

“We’re opening our doors to evangelize, particularly in a city that’s hosting a major world event,” Fr. Nagel explained.

During these events, the parish offers more Masses, increases confession availability, and adds Eucharistic adoration hours.

“The New Evangelization really calls us as Catholics to sometimes reach out and bring what we believe to the street. That’s our hope: that we can share this amazing Gospel message that we know to be true and right with others,” Fr. Nagel said.

Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have used the exhortation “Open wide the doors to Christ,” which inspired the parish program’s name.

Fr. Nagel said that the phrase encourages Christians to open the doors of their churches and to “open wide the doors of our hearts to receive Christ, who has the words of eternal life.”

The 175-year-old parish has trained about 70 volunteers to give tours of the 140-year-old church building.

The tour “evangelists” also incorporate catechesis into their tours and explain why Catholics believe what they do, what sacred art represents, and what the function is of different parts of the Church.

“We’re going to have a little bit of fun,” the priest added. “We’ve got a life-sized cutout of Pope Benedict and it looks very real.”

Visitors can have their picture taken with the cutout.

The parish also hopes to set up some stands where those who have questions about the Catholic faith can ask them.

“We’d love to have them go to Mass,” Fr. Nagel remarked.

“If they need to be reconciled to God, or want to know more about the Church and the sacredness of our Church. They can ask questions about who we are and why we do what we do.”

At least one former Super Bowl champion will also visit the parish.

St. John the Evangelist traditionally has a First Friday event for young adults where they can hear a talk about their faith and break into small groups for discussion over dinner.

The First Friday before the Super Bowl, the guest speaker will be Chris Godfrey, the former NFL Giants guard who played on the team that won Super Bowl XXI in 1987.

“He now spends his life evangelizing and bringing the Gospel to the country. He’ll be giving a reflection on the call to holiness and how to answer God’s call in our lives,” Fr. Nagel said. “We’re hoping to pack the house that night. It’ll be a wonderful night of adoring our savior Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.”

Priests will hold confessions and there will be praise and worship music.

“In the heart of this secular event will be a very sacred night.”

Fr. Nagel said that he is looking forward to having visitors at the parish.

“I think it’s great that we’re going to be able to host a lot of folks from the East Coast. There are a lot of Catholics coming from the East Coast. We’ve already received a lot of phone calls from folks asking about Mass times.”

The church’s outreach effort began in fall of 2011 when crowds of young people were at the Future Farmers of America gathering at the convention center across the street from the church.

Despite the large crowds, no passersby went into the church until Fr. Nagel opened its main doors.

The church has since held outreach efforts for the Big Ten Conference college football championship game and the National Catholic Youth Conference.

“In the future, we are prepared to do this for any major event in the city,” the priest said.

Cartoon of the Day - Vigorous debate

Iraqi Christians in worse position since US intervention, says US military archbishop

U.S. Military Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio says the collapse of Iraq’s Christian population is among the legacies of America's invasion in 2003.

“Yes, you can say in a certain sense that the invasion of Iraq did provoke this tremendous diminution of the Christian population in that country. And what the future holds, that still remains to be seen,” the archbishop for the armed forces told CNA during his visit to Rome on Jan. 16.

His comments come only a month after the final pull-out of U.S. troops from Iraq, where they remained following the invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. Aid agencies estimate that over the course of eight years, the Catholic population of Iraq fell from over 800,000, to less than 150,000 now

Archbishop Broglio believes Catholicism suffered after the invasion because of a perceived closeness to its previous ruler. He said Saddam Hussein tended “to trust Catholics, and gave them positions of responsibility.” One prominent Iraqi Catholic was Hussein’s Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz.

And even if Catholics “weren’t particularly part of the regime, they became identified with the regime,” Archbishop Broglio said.

“Before, they were a minority that was protected, but now they are a minority that is not protected.”

As President Barack Obama withdrew the last U.S. troops from Iraq on Dec. 15, he said they were leaving behind a “sovereign, stable and self-reliant,” country.

But there are signs that Iraqi Christians' plight has worsened since then.

“At a time of increased political instability, we continue to receive disturbing reports,” said John Pontifex of Aid to the Church in Need on Jan. 20.

He said an attack took place earlier in the month against security personnel outside the residence of Kirkuk's Archbishop Louis Sako.

Archbishop Sako, who was indoors at the time, told Aid to the Church in Need that the situation is less stable now that U.S. troops are gone, with much of the turmoil stemming from the power struggle between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

Pontifex says there is a “ticking bomb regarding Christianity in Iraq.”

“Few Christians, no matter how deep their roots are in the local society, feel able to withstand the pressure to leave.”

Fear of an attack forced Archbishop Sako to cancel the Chaldean Catholics' midnight Christmas celebration last month. Services were moved to the daytime, and Christians were warned not to display decorations outside their homes.

Nevertheless, it appears that many of the Catholics who fled Iraq would return if safety improved.

Monsignor John Kozar, president of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, recently spoke of the “strong determination” some Iraqi Catholics have to go back home. He recently visited Jordan, where many Christians from Iraq now reside.

“I think they have a yearning to return to the homeland, and that homeland for them means practicing their Chaldean-rite Christianity,” the monsignor said. “That has become very, very important to them.”

HHS Mandate on Catholics This Week -- Next Week...

Bishop accused of incitement to hatred in homily

A homily delivered at Knock shrine by the Bishop of Raphoe, Philip Boyce, is being investigated by the Director of Public Prosecutions following a formal complaint by a leading humanist who claims the sermon was an incitement to hatred.

The gardai have confirmed to former Fine Gael election candidate John Colgan that they have prepared and forwarded a file to the DPP after he made allegations that the address by Dr Boyce was in breach of the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, 1989.

The homily, entitled: "To Trust in God" was delivered to worshippers during a novena at the Marian shrine in Co Mayo last August and subsequently reported in the media, including The Irish Times, under the headline: "'Godless culture' attacking church, says bishop."

Mr Colgan, a retired chartered engineer and economist from Leixlip, Co Kildare, referred in his formal complaint to two key passages in Dr Boyce's homily which he believes broke the law.

One of the passages referred to the Catholic Church in Ireland being "attacked from outside by the arrows of a secular and godless culture".

A second passage, which was included in the complaint, stated: "For the distinguishing mark of Christian believers is the fact they have a future; it is not that they know all the details that await them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness."

Mr Colgan, who was a leader in the 'Campaign to Separate Church and State' in the late 1990s, said in his complaint: "I believe statements of this kind are an incitement to hatred of dissidents, outsiders, secularists, within the meaning of the [Incitement to Hatred] Act, who are perfectly good citizens within the meaning of the civil law. The statements exemplify the chronic antipathy towards secularists, humanists etc, which has manifested itself in the ostracising of otherwise perfectly good Irish citizens, who do not share the aims of the Vatican's Irish Mission Church."

To back up his complaint, Mr Colgan referred to two statistical surveys carried out two decades apart by the Jesuit sociologist and academic Fr Michael MacGreil, entitled: 'Prejudice and Tolerance in Ireland' and 'Prejudice in Ireland Revisited' which Mr Colgan claims showed "marked prejudice by Roman Catholics and other Christian denominations against agnostics and atheists" (humanist was not an option offered to respondents in either survey).

In his complaint, Mr Colgan said he attributed this prejudice to "hostile propaganda disseminated in school and chapel in the main by or for the institutional churches, for there is no rational or temporal reason". In a statement to the Sunday Independent, Martin Long of the Catholic Communications office said: "Bishop Boyce's homily 'To Trust in God' is available for anyone to read at catholicbishops.ie.

"I advise any person to read it and judge it for themselves. It is clearly a reasonable, balanced, honest -- and indeed self-critical from a church perspective -- analysis of the value of the Catholic faith. Bishop Boyce is a good and holy man and much loved by those who know him."

After the homily was delivered late last summer, Mr Colgan wrote personally to the cleric seeking a corrective statement.

Dr Boyce responded saying that in his homily he did "not wish to disparage in any way the sincere efforts of those with no religious beliefs, atheists, humanists etc.

"I have too much respect for each human person, since I believe all are created in the image of God. At Knock I wished to encourage and confirm the hope of believers, even in the present challenging times, since trust in God was the theme I was given."

Pope meets with curial leaders: to discuss internal conflicts and leaks?

Pope Benedict XVI held a special meeting on January 28 with heads of the offices of the Roman Curia. The Vatican did not disclose the reason for the meeting, but informed sources suggested that the main topic was the controversy inside the Vatican over charges of corruption and cronyism in business dealings.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary of State, has come under fire since the revelations that Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano had campaigned vigorously for changes in the Vatican’s business practices, and argued that he should be allowed to continue that campaign, rather than being assigned to his current post as apostolic nuncio in the United States.

Leading Vatican journalist Andrea Tornielli reports that the Vatican investigated Archbishop Vigano’s complaints and determined that they were unfounded. However, Tornielli notes, it is odd that a prelate who made unfounded accusations would receive a sensitive diplomatic assignment. There has been considerable tension within the Roman Curia over both the archbishop’s complaints and the response by the Secretariat of State.

At the January 28 meeting, one source said, a key question was the public airing of a confidential letter from Archbishop Vigano to Pope Benedict XVI. Top Vatican officials are clearly rattled by the leak, and disconcerted by the negative public impact. The Vatican has often been charged with maladroit handling of public-relations issues during this pontificate, but has rarely been hurt by leaks of confidential information.

Pope Benedict has held meetings with the leaders of the Roman Curia on several occasions, to discuss major developments and plan a coordinated response to problems. In February 2006 he summoned the curial officials to discuss his plans to lift excommunications of the leaders of the Society of St. Pius X; in November 2006, to speak about the excommunicated Archbishop Milingo and his crusade against clerical celibacy; in November 2010, to reveal his plan to establish a new Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization.

Again, the Vatican does not announce the reasons for such meetings with dicastery heads, and the above list of topics relies on unconfirmed reports. On at least one occasion, in April 2006, the Pope held a meeting with his curial aides, and Vatican-watchers never learned the reason.

Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" for January 30, 2012

Talking about the "things that matter most" on Jan. 30

4:00 – To Hunt, to Shoot, to Entertain: Clericalism and the Catholic Laity
Why hasn't the Catholic Church been more successful up to now in realizing the Second Vatican Council's call for the evangelization of secular culture? The most important reason, as well as the least recognized, may be clericalism: the attitude, widely shared by Catholic laypeople as well as many priests, that clerics make up the active, elite corps in the Church, and laypeople are the passive mass; that clerics alone have intrinsic responsibility for the Church's mission while the apostalate of laypeople comes to them (if they come at all) only by delegation on the part of the clergy. Russell Shaw shares a prescription for authentic ecclesial renewal based on new, healthier lay-clergy relations in light of the teaching of Vatican II, Pope John Paul II, and other voices of the Magisterium.

5:00 – Bishop Richard Malone: “Obama Tramples on Religious Freedom”
Bishop Richard Malone, spiritual head of Maine’s Roman Catholics, said last week that President Obama’s decision to implement a contraceptive mandate on all of the nation’s health care plans is a “blatant and capricious affront to conscience rights and religious liberty. Beyond this particular mandate is the larger issue of the President’s complete disregard for religious freedom, as guaranteed by the First Amendment.” Bishop Malone joins us.

5:20 – Muslim Family Found Guilty in Canadian Honor Killings
A Canadian jury yesterday convicted three members of a family of Afghan immigrants of the "honor killings” of four female relatives whose bodies were found in an Ontario canal. Mohammed Shafia, 58; his wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 42; and their son, Hamed, 21, were found guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of Shafia's three teenage daughters and his first wife in his polygamous marriage. Sunday's verdicts followed a three-month trial, in which jurors heard wiretaps of Shafia referring to his daughters as "whores" and ranting about their behavior. Robert Spencer analyzes the case.

5:40 – Kresta Commentary

Friday, January 27, 2012

"To Hell With You"

HHS Edict Will Force Catholics to Violate Conscience

By Bishop David A. Zubik

It is really hard to believe that it happened. It comes like a slap in the face. The Obama administration has just told the Catholics of the United States, “To Hell with you!” There is no other way to put it.

In early August, the Department for Health and Human Services in the Obama administration released guidelines as part of the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The guidelines mandated that by Summer 2012 all individual and group health insurance plans, including self-insured plans, cover all FDA-approved contraception, sterilization procedures and pharmaceuticals that even result in abortion.

A million things are wrong with this: equating pregnancy with disease; mandating that every employer pay for contraception procedures including alleged contraceptives that are actually abortion-inducing drugs; forcing American citizens to chose between violating their consciences or providing health care services; mandating such coverage on every individual woman without allowing her to even choose not to have it; forcing every person to pay for that coverage no matter the dictates of their conscience.

Let’s be blunt. This whole process of mandating these guidelines undermines the democratic process itself. In this instance, the mandate declares pregnancy a disease, forces a culture of contraception and abortion on society, all while completely bypassing the legislative process.

This is government by fiat that attacks the rights of everyone – not only Catholics; not only people of all religion. At no other time in memory or history has there been such a governmental intrusion on freedom not only with regard to religion, but even across-the-board with all citizens. It forces every employer to subsidize an ideology or pay a penalty while searching for alternatives to health care coverage. It undermines the whole concept and hope for health care reform by inextricably linking it to the zealotry of pro-abortion bureaucrats.

For our Church this mandate would apply in virtually every instance where the Catholic Church serves as an employer. The mandate would require the Catholic Church as an employer to violate its fundamental beliefs concerning human life and human dignity by forcing Catholic entities to provide contraceptive, sterilization coverage and even pharmaceuticals that result in abortion.

There was a so-called “religious exemption” to the mandate, but it was so narrowly drawn that, as critics charged, Jesus Christ and his Apostles would not fit the exemption. The so-called exemption would only apply to the vast array of Catholic institutions where the following applied:

•Only Catholics are employed;

•The primary purpose of the institution or service provided is the direct instruction in Catholic belief;

•The only persons served by the institution are those that share Catholic religious tenets. (Try to fit this in with our local Catholic Charities that serve 80,000 every year without discrimination according to faith. It would be impossible!)

Practically speaking under the proposed mandate there would be no “religious exemption” for Catholic hospitals universities, colleges, nursing homes and numerous Catholic social service agencies such as Catholic Charities. It could easily be determined that the “religious exemption” would not apply as well to Catholic high schools, elementary schools and Catholic parishes since many employ non-Catholics and serve both students and, through social outreach, many who do not share Catholic religious beliefs. Such a narrow “religious exemption” is simply unprecedented in federal law.

Last September I asked you to protest those guidelines to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services, and contact your political leadership in the federal government. I asked that you request that this flawed mandate be withdrawn because of its unprecedented interference in the religious liberty and freedom of conscience of the Catholic community, and our basic democratic process.

You did. And you were joined by Catholics throughout the country (and many others as well) who raised their voices against the mandate, raised their voices against a meaningless religious exemption.

On January 20, 2012, the Obama administration answered you and me. The response was very simple: “To Hell with You.”

Kathleen Sebelius announced that the mandate would not be withdrawn and the religious exemption would not be expanded. Instead, she stated that nonprofit groups – which include the Catholic Church – will get a year “to adapt to this new rule.” She simply dismissed Catholic concerns as standing in the way of allegedly respecting the health concerns and choices of women.

Could Catholics be insulted any more, suggesting that we have no concern for women’s health issues? The Catholic Church and the Catholic people have erected health care facilities that are recognized worldwide for their compassionate care for everyone regardless of their creed, their economic circumstances and, most certainly, their gender. In so many parts of the globe – the United States included – the Church is health care.

Kathleen Sebelius and through her, the Obama administration, have said “To Hell with You” to the Catholic faithful of the United States.

•To Hell with your religious beliefs,
•To Hell with your religious liberty,
•To Hell with your freedom of conscience.

We’ll give you a year, they are saying, and then you have to knuckle under. As Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops responded, “in effect, the president is saying that we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.”

As I wrote to you last September, with this mandate the democratic process is being ignored while we are being ordered to ignore our religious beliefs. And we are being told not only to violate our beliefs, but to pay directly for that violation; to subsidize the imposition of a contraceptive and abortion culture on every person in the United States.

It is time to go back to work. They have given us a year to adapt to this rule. We can’t! We simply cannot!