Friday, June 19, 2009 2:27 AM
Catholic College Leaders Lobby Bishops to Withdraw 2004 Policy Banning Pro-Abortion Speakers
June 17, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - In the wake of the Notre Dame commencement scandal, Catholic college leaders representing some of the worst violators of the U.S. bishops’ 2004 ban on honoring public opponents of fundamental Catholic teachings are lobbying the bishops to withdraw their policy.
Yesterday the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU), which represents more than 200 Catholic institutions, released its summer 2009 newsletter, including a report on the ACCU’s board of directors meeting last week. The ACCU directors concluded “that it would be desirable for the [U.S. bishops] to withdraw” their 2004 policy, according to the newsletter.
The policy in question is found in the U.S. bishops’ 2004 statement “Catholics in Political Life,” which reads in part:
“The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”
The bishops gather today in San Antonio, Texas, for their biannual meeting.
“Why is it so hard for Catholic college leaders to understand that a Catholic institution does great harm when it honors or gives speaking platforms to those who work against core Catholic values?” said Patrick J. Reilly, president of The Cardinal Newman Society.
“The more than 367,000 people who signed The Cardinal Newman Society’s online petition and the scores of American bishops who publicly criticized Notre Dame’s honor for pro-abortion President Barack Obama clearly recognize that such actions by Catholic colleges are scandalous.”
The ACCU leadership suggests moreover “that juridical expressions of bishops’ or universities’ responsibilities should be kept to a minimum” in order to maintain a good relationship between the bishops and educators.
Reilly surmised that, in other words, Catholic colleges and universities would prefer that there are no clear rules to govern their conduct. He also pointed out that the statement implies that the educators believe that the bishops, and not college leaders, are responsible for tensions arising from scandalous activities on Catholic campuses.
“Catholic colleges and universities would like all of the privileges of being Catholic, but none of the responsibilities of being high-profile witnesses for the fullness of the Catholic faith,” Reilly said.
Allowing for the possibility that the bishops might not agree to simply eliminate the 2004 ban, but might instead draft a new policy concerning Catholic honors and platforms, the ACCU’s directors proposed that the policy “should acknowledge more clearly the differing roles of campus authorities and bishops.” Reilly said that this phrase appears to be an attempt to get bishops to refrain from commenting on internal decisions at lay-controlled Catholic institutions.
In May, ACCU President Richard Yanikoski told the South Bend Tribune that he saw a “degree of ambiguity” in the bishops’ 2004 policy. He claimed that the Church’s canon lawyers disagree whether the policy applies to speakers or honorees who are not Catholic, regardless of whether those individuals oppose Catholic teaching. Several bishops strongly rejected that same argument when it was made by Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C., to defend his decision to honor President Obama.
In April, the leaders of the nation’s 28 Jesuit colleges and universities were put on record by Rev. Charles Currie, S.J., president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, as supporting Notre Dame’s honor of President Obama. Father Currie also indicated to the National Catholic Reporter that lobbying of the bishops had already begun: “[We] have been talking to individual bishops to see if we can’t lower the volume and lessen the heat of the discussion.”
“It is sadly all too clear that the many secularized Catholic colleges and universities are more concerned with doing away with the rules than ending the scandals,” concluded Reilly.
“Lobbying the bishops to back off a perfectly reasonable policy would be a shameful action by the Catholic higher education establishment, and hardly an appropriate response to Notre Dame’s betrayal of the nation’s bishops and the university’s own Catholic mission.
“The lesson of the Notre Dame scandal is clear: even our leading Catholic universities have lost their way, and they need precisely the sort of clear direction from the bishops that the 2004 policy on Catholic honors and platforms represents.
“Only those who find nothing wrong with honoring pro-abortion leaders, hosting productions of the vile The Vagina Monologues, employing dissident theologians and snubbing the bishops would find it helpful to weaken or withdraw guidelines meant to safeguard the souls of Catholic college and university students.”
Friday, June 19, 2009 6:34 PM
Taking the bishops' temperature on Obama-Notre Dame
National Catholic Reporter
June 19, 2009
I spent much of this week in San Antonio for the spring meeting of the U.S. bishops, where the press gallery was the loneliest corner of the room. Largely because the bishops opted not to put the flap over Notre Dame and President Barack Obama on their public agenda, many media organizations, including every major secular news outlet in the country, took a pass.
In reality, the fact that the Notre Dame-Obama controversy wasn't floated in public merely meant that it was talked about everywhere else.
Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco said on Wednesday that it came up "at breakfast, over coffee and in the hallways," and several bishops reported that the topic surfaced during their private regional meetings Wednesday morning. Bishops also reported that it came up in Thursday afternoon's closed-door executive session, in the form of a discussion of the conference's 2004 policy statement on engaging figures in political life. (That statement stipulated that Catholic institutions should not honor politicians who hold views contrary to church teaching, a provision that many bishops felt Notre Dame violated.) The session was led by Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Center, chair of the bishops' committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, which is responsible for the document.
I tried to take the bishops' temperature on the Notre Dame controversy, and I came away with four basic impressions about where things stand, and where they might go from here.
The bishops (surprise!) don't all think alike
One question left hanging in the air from the controversy has been what to make of all the bishops who didn't speak out. To be sure, the number of bishops who came out against the university was extraordinary. The web site Lifesitenews.com came up with a total of 83, far in excess of the number of bishops who normally take up other hot-button issues, such as communion bans for pro-choice politicians.
Still, there are a total of 425 bishops in the United States, including 258 who are active as diocesan bishops or auxiliaries. So, how should one interpret the silence of the more than 300 prelates who held their tongues?
One thing my time in San Antonio made clear is that at least some of those 300-plus bishops were not entirely on the side of the critics.
"I'm sure the enemies of the church were delighted to see the bishops attacking the country's premier Catholic university, but I wasn't delighted," one bishop told me. He said he was "appalled" by the criticism from some of his brother bishops.
Another prelate pulled me aside to ask why Obama's Catholic critics didn't give him credit for pledging at Notre Dame to respect a "conscience clause," meaning legal protection for health care workers who object to providing abortion services. Yet another bishop said he's concerned that the approach of some of his colleagues vis-à-vis Obama risks becoming "too negative, too narrow, and too partisan."
I have no way of knowing to what extent such views represent a larger body of opinion among the bishops, but I can at least confirm they exist.
Of course, this isn't exactly a shocker. In a group of more than 400 headstrong leaders, there's likely to be more than one view on most matters. Yet it never fails to confound some people that there are different currents within the conference, perhaps because it makes it more difficult to engage in lazy generalizations about what "the bishops" think.
Sources said that when the bishops got into executive session, some argued that matters such as the Notre Dame affair should be left in the hands of the local bishop, without a scrum of prelates from other parts of the country piling on. Others complained that when some bishops speak up on an issue and others don't, it allows activist groups to cast various bishops as either heroes or villains. Still others suggested that the conference needs to consider questions of enforcement when Catholic institutions don't heed directions from the bishops.
When I asked Curry the day before  if he felt the bishops were likely to reach a decision in the executive session, he laughed.
"It would be wonderful if we could have a decision that everyone would agree on," he said, "but I doubt very much that everybody is going to come to a consensus at the moment."
Why didn't the moderates speak out?
An obvious question begged by the foregoing is why bishops one might describe as "moderate" on the Notre Dame/Obama controversy weren't willing to speak publicly.
To some extent, the answer is that it always works this way. On virtually every issue in the church, it's easier to find sharply defined voices on either side than in the middle. Moderates believe in collegiality, so they're hesitant to be seen as criticizing brother bishops. Further, the whole point of being a moderate is to see oneself as a mediator of conflict, not a party to it. When self-described moderates see a fight brewing, their instinct is to not to take sides, but to explain why both have a point.
In the case of the Notre Dame controversy, I suspect two other factors were also in play.
First, Notre Dame didn't just invite Obama to give a speech, but they also awarded him an honorary doctorate. Many bishops saw that as out of step with their 2004 statement, "Catholics in Political Life," which included the language cited above about withholding honors from politicians whose views conflict with church teaching. (The extent to which its provisions apply to Obama has been debated, since he's not Catholic. Most bishops presume, however, that when it's a question of a moral truth, the principle applies to non-Catholics as well.)
Some bishops said privately that had it not been for the honorary doctorate, they wouldn't have objected to seeing Obama speak at Notre Dame; after all, they say, he's the President of the United States, and the church is obligated to deal with him. In the abstract, some might have been inclined to see the invitation favorably even with the honorary doctorate, but they felt duty-bound to respect a collegially enacted policy of the conference.
Second, many bishops regard it as a matter of principle that any response to a local dispute, even one with national implications, ought to come from the local bishop, who in this case was Bishop John D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Once D'Arcy had expressed his opposition to the Obama event, many bishops would have felt uncomfortable taking a different position, whatever their private views.
During their executive session on Thursday afternoon, there was discussion about issuing a statement of support for D'Arcy, who also made a presentation to the body.
Compounding this point was the impression that D'Arcy, now 76 and on the brink of retirement, was not adequately consulted by Notre Dame. Since D'Arcy is a widely respected figure, not to mention someone perceived to have gone to great lengths over the years to defend the university, this impression was another reason why some bishops might have hesitated to say anything that could be perceived as unsupportive of him.
One cardinal laughingly put the impact of it all on D'Arcy this way: "That was one hell of a retirement present!"
A paradox for the center-left
Using political categories to evaluate the church is always sloppy, but at a rough-and-ready level, sometimes it can help make sense of things. Applying that framework to American Catholicism, one might say that the "center-left" in the States has long favored a strong bishops' conference, often accusing the Vatican and/or conservative American bishops of undercutting the authority of the conference.
During the 1980s, hard-hitting documents from the U.S. conference on the economy and on nuclear war were celebrated by progressive-minded Catholics. Still today, center-left Catholics generally expect strong leadership from the conference on their core concerns, including immigration reform, the death penalty, and opposition to conflicts such as the U.S.-led war in Iraq. If it's not forthcoming in a given case, center-left Catholics often rue the "decline" of the conference.
Yet there's a growing tendency today among moderate-to-progressive Catholics to argue for allowing certain matters to be resolved by individual bishop, rather than seeking a binding national policy. That was the position taken by the center-left during debate over implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, John Paul's document on Catholic higher education, and it's the same position increasingly taken in liturgical disputes. Famously, the commission led by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick regarding communion bans for pro-choice politicians ended up recommending that the decision be left to the local bishop, an outcome hailed by many on the center-left and blasted by many on the center-right.
On the direct question raised by the Notre Dame controversy -- whether the bishops need a stronger policy governing speakers at Catholic universities -- the dynamics seem likely to play out the same way, with moderate-to-progressives arguing for local flexibility, and conservatives clamoring for a tough national stance.
Obviously, a partial explanation for all this is easy to spot: As the conference has become less likely to adopt positions congenial to the center-left, those Catholics have become less eager for bold leadership from the conference.
So here's the paradox. On the one hand, the center-left can't hold onto an expectation of strong national leadership only on the issues it likes, which may imply gradually declining expectations of the conference. As enthusiasm for the conference in that camp diminishes, however, so too may commitment to it, suggesting that the historical tendency of center-left bishops to win elections and to hold key positions in the USCCB may abate -- which could clear the way for the center-right to adopt precisely the strong positions that at least some on the center-left might fear.
The $64,000 question for the center-left camp is whether those bishops can figure out a way to argue for local flexibility, while at the same time maintaining a strong investment in the conference. To say the least, it will be interesting to see how that paradox is resolved.
From bishop-as-ruler to bishop-as-teacher
Despite the popular mythology that Catholicism is rigidly centralized, the Notre Dame/Obama affair offered a classic reminder of the limits of episcopal power. In this case, the combined force of 83 bishops -- including the bishop of the local diocese, the president of the national bishops' conference, and five cardinals -- wasn't even enough to compel a Catholic university to find another commencement speaker.
Like many Catholic universities in America, Notre Dame is sponsored by a religious order and governed by an independent board of directors (consistent with the famous 1967 Land O'Lakes statement), which means that bishops have few direct ways to impose their will. Further, the decade-long battle over Ex Corde illustrated that casting the relationship principally in terms of power is usually a losing proposition, regardless of the eventual outcome.
Going forward, some bishops may want to cast about for new ways of forcing places like Notre Dame to toe the line. One wonders, however, if that's the right lesson to draw. The way the Obama controversy played out could plausibly support another conclusion: In the absence of power, to fall back on persuasion. (Whether the bishops were actually persuasive is, for purposes of the theory, beside the point.)
I ran this hypothesis past Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York on Thursday, who was among the 83 bishops who criticized Notre Dame for the Obama invitation. In broad strokes, he seemed to agree.
"As far as authority and power go, it may look like a defeat. But in terms of a recovery of episcopal voice and muscle, it may have succeeded," Dolan said.
"I always look at things as a church historian," Dolan said. "Twenty-five years from now, when somebody's doing a master's thesis on all of this, it could be a chapter where the bishops came together and said, 'This is a moment when we need to exercise some teaching authority.' "
"We kitchen-tabled an issue," Dolan continued. "In normal Catholic homes throughout the country, people are talking about this. Granted, there might not be unanimity, but there's recognition that the bishops have something to say, they need to say it, and they ought to say it."
In truth, not every Catholic home in America may concur that those 83 bishops needed to say what they did. The discussion in Thursday's executive session would seem to suggest that even some bishops aren't inclined to look at the Notre Dame affair as a shining moment in the recent exercise of the teaching office.
Yet Dolan's reply nonetheless points to a possible paradigm shift: Circumstances may be compelling bishops to become more comfortable exercising their authority in the academy through the bully pulpit, through public teaching (and even, to some extent, through public "shaming"), rather than edicts.
If the model of bishop-as-teacher is indeed gaining strength, it's a potentially fascinating transition -- ironically, one for which many leaders in Catholic higher education have long clamored. Some may not like what the bishops had to say, but having said it may help the bishops to be less inclined to engage in battles over power, and more willing to embrace the art of argument.
Over the long run, who knows where that might lead?
Sunday, June 21, 2009 6:16 AM
Pro-Faith, Pro-Life Broadway Play, Irena’s Vow, Receives Critical Acclaim
In Support of Life offers to donate 15% of each ticket to a pro-life organization
By Alex Bush
NEW YORK, NY, June 18, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Irena’s Vow, a Broadway play with a strong pro-faith and pro-life message, has received acclaim from critics across New York.
The play has been called “engrossing and enlivening,” “gripping,” and “heart-stopping” by critics, while the Star Ledger said that “There’s no denying the emotional power of this miraculous story!"
One prominent local figure who has proved to be one of the biggest fans of the production is the newly installed Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who has praised the show in the highest terms.
“This is the best sermon I’ve heard in a long time,” he said.
“All I can say is hallelujah.”
“To think that there was a play that vividly expressed something that I felt for a long time; namely, that religion, spirituality, faith, brings forth what is most noble and uplifting in the human project.
"So often we see the tragedy of the abuse of religion today. Here, to have a play, that brings forth the reality of religion and faith, prayer, trust bringing forth reconciliation, forgiveness, solidarity, life, love, hope ... to see a play do that, I thought, I need to hear that, and I think the world needs to hear that. I was not disappointed."
The play centers on the true story of a Catholic Polish woman in World War II who hides a group of Jews in the basement of a German general’s house, for whom she was acting as a housekeeper. When one of the Jews gets pregnant, a decision has to be made.
But on top of the solid message of the play, In Support of Life is offering to donate 15% of each ticket purchased through them to a pro-life organization. The donation does not increase the cost of the ticket and a pro-life group is given a donation.
Here is a link to the play's website: irenasvow.com
It got very good reviews from everybody, not just the archbishop. Excerpts of the reviews are on the website.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009 1:58 AM
The God choice
Armed with new technology, scientists are peering into the brain to better understand human spirituality. What if, they say, God isn’t some figment of our imagination? Instead, perhaps brain chemistry simply reflects an encounter with the divine.
By Barbara Bradley Hagerty
June 22, 2009
A few years ago, I witnessed two great British scientists in a showdown. Nine other journalists and I were on a Templeton fellowship at Cambridge University, and on this particular morning, the guest speaker was John Barrow. Almost as an aside to his talk, the Cambridge mathematician asserted that the astonishing precision of the universe was evidence for "divine action." At that, Richard Dawkins, the Oxford biologist and famous atheist, nearly leapt from his seat.
"But why would you want to look for evidence of divine action?" demanded Dawkins.
"For the same reason someone might not want to," Barrow responded with a little smile.
In that instant, I thought, there it is. God is a choice. You can look at the evidence and see life unfolding as a wholly material process, or you can see the hand of God.
For the past century, science has largely discarded "God" as a delusion and proclaimed that all our "spiritual" moments, events, thoughts, even free will, can be explained through material means.
But a revolution is occurring in science. It is called neurotheology, and it is sparked by researchers from universities such as Pennsylvania, Virginia and UCLA. Armed with technology Freud never dreamed of, these scientists are peering into the brain to understand spiritual experience. Perhaps, they say, God is not a figment of our brain chemistry; perhaps the brain chemistry reflects an encounter with the divine.
An awakening, of sorts
This dichotomy — Is He or isn't He? — nicely locates in Jeff Schimmel's brain. Jeff is a writer in Hollywood. He was raised Jewish but never believed in God, nor did he have any interest in spirituality — until a few years ago, when he had a benign tumor removed from his left temporal lobe. The surgery was a snap. But soon after that, unknown to him, he began to suffer miniseizures. He started hearing conversations and having visions. He remembers lying in bed, looking up at the ceiling and seeing a swirl of colors that gradually settled into a shape. Suddenly, it dawned on him that it was the Virgin Mary.
"Why would the Virgin Mary appear to me, a Jewish guy?" he told me. "She could do much better."
Jeff also became fascinated with spirituality. Eventually, he became a devout Buddhist. He wondered whether his new outlook could have anything to do with his brain. On the next visit to his neurologist, he asked to see his most recent MRI. His temporal lobe had become smaller, a different shape, covered with scar tissue. Those changes had sparked electrical firings in his brain. Jeff's doctor told him he had developed temporal lobe epilepsy. His newfound faith and love for his fellow man came from his brain.
Nonetheless, I wondered: Are transcendent experiences — not only Schimmel's, but also those of mystics down the ages — merely a physiological event? Or does the brain activity reflect an encounter with another dimension?
How you come down on this issue depends on whether you think of the brain as a CD player or a radio. Most people who believe that everything is explainable through material processes think that the brain is like a CD player. The content — the song, or in our analogy, God — is all playing in a closed system. If you take a hammer to the machine, the song does not play; if you surgically remove parts of the temporal lobe, "God" disappears. In this view, there is no "God" outside the brain trying to communicate; all spiritual experience is inside the brain.
But suppose the brain is not a CD player. Suppose it is a radio. In this analogy, everyone possesses the neural equipment to receive the radio program in varying degrees. Some have the volume turned low (Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens appear to have hit the mute button). Other people hear their favorite programs every now and again, as do most of us who have brief transcendent moments. In this model, the "sender" is separate from the receiver. The content of the transmission does not originate in the brain, any more than Rush Limbaugh or the hosts of All Things Considered are sitting in your radio. If you destroy the radio, you cannot hear your favorite program. But the program is still transmitting. In this model, God's communications never stop —even when the brain is altered, or stops functioning.
The Pam Reynolds case
This brings us to the puzzling case of Pam Reynolds — and one of the fiercest debates in science today: the nature of consciousness. In 1991, Reynolds was found to have an aneurism on her brain stem. Faced with a ticking time bomb, she opted for an experimental operation called a "cardiac standstill." The surgeons put her under anesthesia, taped her eyes shut and put molded speakers in her ears that emitted loud clicks, about as loud as a jet plane taking off. When her brain no longer responded to those clicks, the surgeons lowered her body temperature to 60 degrees and drained the blood out of her head, like draining oil from the engine of a car. The aneurism sac collapsed for lack of blood. The surgeons drilled into her skull, snipped the aneurism and sewed it up, and then reintroduced the blood into her body.
Finally, they raised her body temperature and brought her back to consciousness.
When Reynolds awakened, she had a story to tell. She said she floated upward and watched part of the operation. She could describe what the operating theater looked like and how many surgeons there were. She could describe the unusual-looking bone saw that cut open her head, as well as the drill bits and blade container. She heard conversations, including one in which a female surgeon observed that Reynolds' left femoral vein was too small for a tube, to which the chief neurosurgeon responded, "Try the right side."
Records from the surgery confirmed all these details. Reynolds' neurosurgeon says he is flummoxed by the episode: "From a scientific perspective," he told me, "I have absolutely no explanation about how it could have happened."
Her story raises the question: Was Reynolds' consciousness operating separately from her brain?
Reynolds' experience — and that of many others — is prompting researchers at institutions such as the University of Montreal and the University of Virginia to investigate the astonishing proposition that a person might have a consciousness — or (gasp) a soul — that can operate when the brain is off-line.
In the end, we could learn that we are nothing more than nerve cells and molecules. But it is too early for believers to raise the white flag. It is just as plausible —indeed, more elegant — to believe that our brain activity reflects an unseen reality. Perhaps our brains are reflecting an encounter with the divine — unseen, surely, but still real.
Science can't referee that question. Either way, whether you are Richard Dawkins or doctor and spiritual guru Deepak Chopra, what you believe is a matter of faith. Given the choice, I opt for God.
Barbara Bradley Hagerty, the religion correspondent for NPR, is the author of Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009 7:46 PM
Obama issues White House invitation to gays and lesbians
Posted by jowilliams
June 23, 2009 06:47 PM
WASHINGTON -- President Obama, perhaps offering an olive branch to a disgruntled constituency, has invited several activists to the White House next week for the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, an event that gave birth to the gay rights movement.
The invitation comes a week after Obama extended benefits to same-sex couples who work for the federal government, a move some advocates said was an important step towards full equality for gays and lesbians. But a growing number of activists have complained that Obama, who ran for president on a gay-friendly agenda, has again fallen short, delivering symbolism rather than the sweeping reforms they had expected.
The New York Times reported that the White House initially would not confirm the event, but later a spokesman said the reception had been long planned as “a chance for the White House to recognize the accomplishments of LGBT Americans" during Pride month.
"I don't know what's going to happen when I get there" to the White House, said Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Boston-based Family Equality Council, who said she received a phone invitation from the White House. "That will be the measure. Symbolism is good, but not good enough."
In June 1969, patrons of the Stonewall Inn in New York's Greenwich Village fought back against heavy-handed police tactics used in raids on gay and lesbian establishments. Historians say the conflict, and the large protests that followed, led directly to the modern gay rights movement.
Chrisler said she and many others in the gay community are disappointed that Obama hasn't acted more quickly and boldly on behalf of gay and lesbian issues "which he articulated so beautifully during the campaign. Having said that, this is a president who has opened the doors and offered a seat at the table" to gays and lesbians.
Acknowleging that Obama took office amidst a global economic crisis, two overseas wars and a healthcare system badly in need of reform, Chrisler said the president has "very real constraints" to moving strongly on the gay rights agenda. Still, "there will always be excuses in delaying action," she added. "We've waited a long time -- under President Bush, under President Clinton -- for a lot of things that still haven't come to fruition."
Last week, when he granted benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees, Obama acknowledged that it was "only one step" for gays and lesbians, with many more to go. He also said he wants to repeal the "discriminatory" Defense of Marriage Act, declaring that he will "work with Congress to overturn it."
But the pledge was cold comfort to disappointed gays and lesbians, Chrisler said. She and others are frustrated by Obama's reluctance to override the "don't ask, don't tell" law banning openly gay service members, and for not backing gay marriage, which several states have approved.
"The community is rightly and justifiably frustrated and angry," she said. Going to the White House, she said, can help Obama "understand that it's real people, real families" behind the agenda and she plans to urge him to speak out "just like he has done on race, just like he's done on [abortion], just like he's done in the Muslim world."
With gays and lesbians, she added, "he has an opportunity."
Wednesday, June 24, 2009 7:54 PM
Wednesday, June 24, 2009 7:59 PM
Archbishop Niederauer to be Mocked by Homosexuals for His Support of Marriage
By Deacon Keith Fournier
Archbishop will be dishonored during the 39th San Francisco Pride Celebration and Parade.
SAN FRANCISCO (Catholic Online) – Readers of Catholic Online are familiar with the group which calls itself the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.” They claim international membership. (For example, see our related story concerning their activities in Biarritz, France and the courage shown by Bishop Marc Aillet.) However, one of their most active chapters is located in San Francisco, California. They summarize their mission as “Defining San Francisco Values Since 1979” on their outlandish San Francisco web site. In an editorial in 2007 entitled “Scandal in San Francisco”, I wrote an account of their sacrilegious activities during Holy Mass on October 7, 2007 at the Most Holy Redeemer Parish in San Francisco, California. They hate the Catholic Church because she stands for the truth concerning the dignity of human sexuality and authentic marriage among many other things.
One of their members, a bearded man who dresses in outlandish make up and women’s clothing and goes by the name of Sister Dana Van Iquity, writes for the San Francisco Bay Times. These folks think that their profane, sacrilegious mocking of all things related to the Catholic Church is funny. In a column dated June 18, 2009 and entitled “Second Pink Brick to Go to Runner Up Archbishop George Niederauer” Sister Dana Van Iquity confirmed the bad news which has also been reported in the “California Catholic Daily.” Archbishop George Niederauer will be dishonored during the 39th San Francisco Pride Celebration and Parade on June 27 and June 28th with a second “Pink Brick award.” This “award” is given to the person or organization which the committee of homosexual activists deems to have caused the most harm to the “LGBT community” (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender). This will be the second effort of the homosexual activists to dishonor the San Francisco Archbishop through public ridicule. They have bestowed such a “pink brick” on him in the past.
“California Catholic Daily”, in a June 19, 2009 column entitled “Poisonous tenor" and subtitled "San Francisco ‘gay pride’ group votes to dishonor archbishop at behest of Most Holy Redeemer parishioner” reports something which is even more troubling. Much of the impetus behind this egregious action of dishonoring the Archbishop actually came from Matt Dorsey, a member of the Parish Council of the Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church. The report can be found on their website at www.calcatholic.com/:
“Poisonous Tenor: San Francisco ‘gay pride’ group votes to dishonor archbishop at behest of Most Holy Redeemer parishioner"
“At the urging of a member of Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee has voted to dishonor Archbishop George Niederauer with a “Pink Brick” award for causing “significant harm to the LGBT community.” The decision was spurred by Matt Dorsey, a member of the Parish Council at San Francisco's ‘gay friendly’ Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church. In an opinion piece written for the homosexual-oriented newspaper Bay Area Reporter, Dorsey objected to the original decision by the Pride Celebration Committee to award the Pink Brick to dethroned Miss California, Carrie Prejean. Dorsey said “we need not have looked beyond our own city limits: San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer” in a column published under the headline “Niederauer deserves Pink Brick.”
“The Pride Celebration Committee announced on June 15 that its members had reconsidered their decision and decided to award a second Pink Brick to the archbishop. “The Pink Brick is given each year to a person or institution that has caused significant harm to the LGBT community,” said the Bay Area Reporter. Archbishop Niederauer was singled out for his support last year of Proposition 8, the successful initiative constitutional amendment adopted by voters restricting marriage to between one man and one woman and later upheld by the California Supreme Court. "We hope that with this “Pink Brick, we can educate the community about Archbishop Niederauer's work to deny LGBT couples equal protection under the law,” Mikayla Connell, president of the Pride Celebration Committee told the Reporter. “Archbishop Niederauer's support of Proposition 8, which is not representative of all faith communities or even of all Catholics, has only served to harm LGBT families, many of whom are Catholic themselves."
“Connell’s comments echoed sentiments expressed by Dorsey in his column urging the Pride Committee to single out the archbishop. “Having served for 11 years as the Catholic bishop of Salt Lake City prior to coming to San Francisco, Niederauer leveraged his close ties to national Mormon leaders last June when he wrote to officials of the Church of Latter-day Saints, urging them to play an active role in the fight to pass Prop 8,” wrote Dorsey. “And play an active role they did: by most estimates, Mormons accounted for more than half of the $40 million spent in support of the anti-gay amendment. Dorsey also attacked the Archdiocese of San Francisco for “the poisonous tenor” of campaign materials provided under the auspices of the archdiocese in support of Proposition 8. “Clearly, no one expected Archbishop Niederauer to break with the Vatican on the issue of marriage equality,” wrote Dorsey. “But few were prepared for the spiritual leader of 400,000 Bay Area Catholics to offer the imprimatur of our church to such dishonest, divisive and deliberately hurtful rhetoric.”
“According to the web site of Most Holy Redeemer Church, Dorsey is a member of the nine-person Parish Pastoral Council, charged with “responding to the needs of parishioners by proposing pastoral initiatives, policies, and programs, or themes in cooperation with the Pastor, pastoral staff and relevant archdiocesan resources and ministries.” The council also meets twice a year with the Parish Finance Committee “to review the financial condition of the parish and consult regarding the annual budget. According to a biography posted on the Most Holy Redeemer web site, Dorsey has been a parishioner since 2004. His past activities have included organizing the parish’s contingent to annual ‘gay pride’ parades, and arranging a parish presence at the annual Castro Street Fair. Dorsey is employed as communications director for San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera".
“Most Holy Redeemer, located in the city’s Castro District, has repeatedly made news over the years for its homosexual-friendly activities: it is the parish where Archbishop Niederauer gave Communion to two transvestites dressed as nuns in 2007 (the archbishop later apologized), the parish where the same group of transvestite “nuns” – the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence – once held bingo games to raise money until they were kicked out on orders of the chancery in 2006, and the parish that regularly sends a contingent to San Francisco “gay pride” parade until ordered by the archdiocese to stop participating in the event. According Jesuit Fr. Donal Godfrey, currently director of university ministry at the University of San Francisco, the parish is where the so-called “rainbow flag,” the banner of the homosexual-rights movement, was invented. “In early January, vandals spray-painted swastikas and the message “Niederauer, Ratzinger – where is the love” on the front walls of Most Holy Redeemer. Fr. Steve Meriwether, the pastor at Most Holy Redeemer, told KCBS news at the time that his parishioners “actually share the vandals' sentiment against Prop 8.”
We urge our readers to pray for the Archbishop, that he would continue to have the courage to proclaim the truth about marriage in the face of such mockery. Also, we ask you to pray for those who perpetrate this continued hatred directed toward the Catholic Church, especially the deluded members of the "Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence" and their collaborators. Finally, we urge our readers to contact Fr. Steve Meriwether, the Pastor of Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, 100 Diamond Street, San Francisco, CA 94114, to express any concerns you may have over this entire matter and, in particular, the actions taken by a member of the Parish Council of Most Holy Redeemer.
And in France....
French Bishop takes on Mayor over 'Gay Pride'
By Deacon Keith Fournier
It is yet another official offense aimed at the Catholic Church.
BIARRITZ, France (Catholic Online) - Biarritz is a very small region in the south of France. However, they have now made international news as the sponsors of a "Gay Pride" event attended by, among others, the notoriously anti-Catholic "Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence."
We extend our appreciation to the excellent weblog "Rorate Caeli" for the correspondence between the Most Reverend Marc Aillet, in whose Diocese the event took place, and the Mayor, Mr. Didier Borotra. Rorate Caeli can be found at rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/
Bishop Aillet was appointed to his position by His Holiness Pope Benedict and is one more example of the importance of episcopal leadership in the growing climate of hostility toward the Catholic Church and rejection of truth:
Letter from Bishop Marc Aillet:
Having recently learned through families living in Biarritz of the forthcoming "Gay Pride" affair, I would just like to express my profound incredulity. It is yet another official offence aimed at the Catholic Church to believe the announced presence of the "Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence” virulently displaying their anti-Christianity.
I cannot even imagine how Muslims and Jews would react if the symbols of their religious traditions were used in this way ...
The disruptive protests made by groups who are for the most part outsiders in the city of Biarritz do not represent, by far, the deep conviction that homosexual persons feel. One need only read some of their particular testimonies to understand how these are suffering.
Besides the fact that young people, particularly children, did not need to see these protests so aggressively displayed, such sexual license exposed on city streets can only have a negative effect on social morality and the common sense of the majority of our citizens.
I wanted to share with you these few simple thoughts. You have, Mr. Mayor, the assurance of my prayers and my sentiments dedicated to Christ and his Church.
Response from Mayor Didier Borotra
I cannot hide the fact that I was ashamed to read your letter of June 18. It is obvious that you are not familiar with the laws of the Republic. That is unfortunate.
As a politician I do not meddle in the affairs of the Church and I advise you to do the same concerning the affairs of City Hall. As for other things, we do not share the same concept of freedom, including that of speech and public demonstration.
It is, nonetheless, a basic right in all democratic countries. Please accept, Monsignor, the assurance of my highest consideration.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009 10:08 PM
It's getting worse by the month, it seems.
Friday, June 26, 2009 6:15 AM
One thing we aren't behind on here....
Louisiana passes conscience protection law for health care workers
Baton Rouge, La., Jun 25, 2009 / 01:55 pm (CNA).- On Wednesday afternoon, the Louisiana Healthcare Workers Conscience Act, HB-517, passed the Senate by a vote of 31-2 and the House by a margin of 88-12. The decision is being celebrated by local pro-lifers as a means to help those in the medical profession “excel” without being forced to act “against their conscience.”
The Act states that “no person shall be required to participate in any health care service that violates his conscience to the extent that patient access to health care is not compromised.”
Although pro-abortion politicians had worked to weaken the bill, amending it so that it only applied to public employees, Senator Amedee led successful efforts to remove that amendment, making the bill valid for both public and private health care professionals.
Benjamin Clapper, executive director of the Louisiana Right to Life Federation, said that the passage of the bill is a victory for health care workers across the state.
“The passage of our Louisiana's Health Care Rights of Conscience Act gives Louisiana's health care professionals, both present and future, the ability to excel in their profession without concerns that they will be coerced into providing some service that is against their conscience,” Clapper told CNA.
“Even though this legislation was under sustained attack from Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, Louisiana understood that conscience rights should be protected, especially when the Obama Administration is moving to rescind federal protections on conscience.”
The bill now goes to Governor Bobby Jindal, who has a strong pro-life record and has promised to sign it into law.
Saturday, June 27, 2009 5:45 PM
This is a very interesting and hopeful (for once) article about the condition of marriage in the U.S.
Marriage Stands Up for Itself
By BENEDICT CAREY and TARA PARKER-POPE
The New York Times
June 28, 2009
THEY’RE done. Toast. The governor needs his head checked. His wife needs to launch his clothes from the bedroom window. Time for those two to get in line behind that “Jon & Kate Plus 8” couple and call this charade off.
The speculation over the future of the marriage of Mark Sanford, the South Carolina governor, after his recently disclosed affair is likely to die off well before the family’s pain. So, too, will the unsolicited lectures — about his hypocrisy, about her obligations, about the dire state of marriage in general.
Yet if recent research is any guide, the marriage itself has a chance to outlast all of it, the public leer and the private sting, by many years.
Despite strong social riptides working against it — the liberalization of divorce laws, the vanishing stigma of divorce, the continual online temptations of social sites like MySpace or Facebook — the marriage bond is far stronger in 21st-century America than many may assume. Infidelity is one of the most common reasons cited by people who divorce. But surveys find the majority of people who discover a cheating spouse remain married to that person for years afterward. Many millions more shrug off, or work through, strong suspicions or evidence of infidelity. And recent trends in marriage suggest that the institution itself has become more resilient in recent years, not less so.
“Every marriage has many, many more dimensions to it than faithfulness,” said Betsey Stevenson, an assistant professor of business and public policy at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania who studies marriage and divorce trends. “We don’t see the other sacrifices or other betrayals of promises. I wonder if faithfulness really is a litmus test in marriages, or if it just becomes a litmus test in the media because that’s the one betrayal we hear about in these celebrity relationships.”
Historically, the institution of marriage has not succumbed to infidelity so much as coexisted with it, like a body does with the flu virus: weakening at times, yet developing some immunity from long exposure. Anthropologists have found patterns of infidelity in diverse communities around the world, just as historians and novelists have. Many men and women, and most visibly men, have long been “publicly monogamous and hidden their affairs,” as the anthropologist and writer Helen Fisher of Rutgers University has said.
Temptation stalks even close marriages, as researchers have had no trouble documenting it. In one survey, psychologists at the University of Vermont asked 349 men and women in committed relationships about sexual fantasies. Fully 98 percent of the men and 80 percent of the women reported having imagined a sexual encounter with someone other than their partner at least once in the previous two months. The longer couples were together, the more likely both partners were to report such fantasies.
In another study, psychologists at the University of Washington and the University of North Carolina reported that married men and women who called their relationship with their spouse “pretty happy” were twice as likely to cheat as those who said their relationship was “very happy.” But perhaps the strongest risk factor for infidelity, researchers have found, exists not inside the marriage but outside: opportunity.
“People tend to assume that bad people have affairs, and good people don’t, or that affairs only happen in bad marriages,” said Peggy Vaughan, a San Diego-based researcher who runs the Web site dearpeggy.com, and author of a forthcoming book on infidelity and marriage, “To Have and to Hold.” “These assumptions are just not based in reality.”
In any given year, about 10 percent of married people say they have had sex outside their marriage. These numbers say nothing about whether the affairs were discovered; but researchers have surveyed couples in which they were. In one survey, among 1,084 people whose spouses had affairs, Ms. Vaughan found that 76 percent of both men and women were still married and living with that spouse years later. Similar surveys have found rates of about two-thirds and higher.
Such surveys say little about the private hurt and struggle that couples live with in the months and years after a discovered betrayal. A good deal of these couples limp along, laboring to repair the severed trust — and the dynamic between the couple changes forever, as millions can attest.
But the investment in a marriage lasting more than a few years usually includes more than fidelity. Spouses share history and goals, children and strong bonds to friends and community. And there is some reason to believe that in recent years, such deeply integrated marriages have become more prevalent.
For instance, one of the most commonly cited statistics about marriage is that half of marriages end in divorce. But that number reflects the expected lifetime divorce rate of people married in the 1970s.
The story is different for more-recently married couples. A comparison of 10-year divorce rates among college-educated men married in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s shows that divorce is becoming less common, said Dr. Stevenson, the Wharton researcher. Among men who married in the 1970s, for example, about 23 percent had divorced by the 10th year of marriage. Among similar men married in the 1980s, about 20 percent had divorced by the 10th year. Men married in the 1990s are doing even better — with a 10-year divorce rate of 16 percent.
Divorce rates among those with only a high school education are higher, but even among this group, divorce is becoming less common. Among male high school graduates married in the 1970s and 1980s, about 25 percent had divorced by the 10th year. But among high school graduates married in 1990, the 10-year divorce rate is 19 percent.
The reason for these shifts, some experts say, is that many couples today are delaying marriage. And age matters. People who marry after age 25 are less likely to divorce than those who marry earlier, studies find. Men and women born in the 1930s who married in the 1950s have the highest marriage rate of any generation — about 96 percent married. But among more recent generations, the number has dropped to about 90 percent. The data suggest that the weakest relationships, which years ago might have resulted in a marriage followed by a divorce, are now ending before the couple ever heads to the altar.
In short, marriages appear to be stronger from the beginning. “We have more selection pressure for stronger relationships,” Dr. Stevenson said. “That’s part of why the divorce rate has declined. Some of the weaker relationships are washing out before marriage.”
Some of the same social changes that have unsettled traditional 1950s-era marriages have seemingly deepened them in the 1990s and 2000s. Today women are contributing more financially to relationships than earlier generations, and men are contributing more to the domestic duties. Compared with earlier generations, men and women today are more likely to marry someone like themselves, with a similar educational background, experts say. The relationship is less about dividing economic and domestic duties and more about shared interests and mutual happiness.
“It might be that those types of matches, people who are more kindred spirits, are more able to weather a small storm,” Dr. Stevenson said. “You just have so much in common, you have so much invested together. A blip is just that, a blip, and it becomes easier to get over.”
The culture itself has also become more clear-eyed about the costs of divorce, despite and because of its frequency. Most social scientists today, no matter their political persuasion, agree that divorce, while sometimes necessary, financially drains families and is often tough on children. Many therapists now counsel couples coping with infidelity not to act rashly, to work on reconciliation for at least six months — divorce, almost always, is for good.
“It used to be that marriage therapists were trained to be neutral about marriage, to try to find what made the individuals happy,” said Diane Sollee, founder of smartmarriages.com, a clearinghouse for information, and the former director of professional education for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. “Now, more therapists consider themselves, first and foremost, a representative for the marriage.”
And it’s worth nothing that most couples who have been publicly humiliated — the Clintons, the Spitzers, the Edwardses — have so far stayed together.
In a statement last week, Jenny Sanford, Governor Sanford’s wife, said that she had recently asked her husband to leave the house after discovering the affair. She also said that she still believes their relationship can be repaired.
Thursday, July 02, 2009 2:07 AM
Okay, maybe I'm being a cynic but why would a President who is having problems getting support from a significant part of a large religious group invite to the White House as honored guests members of that religious group's press corps, journalists who are often overlooked, ignored, and viewed as second-class citizens? Could it be perhaps to overwhelm them with his star power and seduce them with lots of personal attention and flattery? I guess we'll find out as soon as all the followup stories are published, especially those dealing with Obama's upcoming visit with Benedict.
President Obama Meets With Catholic Press Tomorrow
POSTED BY TIM DRAKE
National Catholic Register
Wednesday, July 01, 2009 3:39 PM
Tomorrow morning at 10:45 Eastern time the president is hosting a roundtable at the White House for members of the Catholic press.
The National Catholic Register’s publisher, Father Owen Kearns, will be among eight religion reporters and editors in attendance at that gathering.
The purpose of the gathering, according to Chris Hensman, press secretary with the National Security Council, is a “preview of the president’s upcoming visit with Pope Benedict XVI.” The president is meeting with the Pope on July 10.
Father Kearns just received the invitation to the meeting yesterday via e-mail. At this point, there isn’t a complete list of the media who will be in attendance, but our understanding is that it’s strictly Catholic print media, not radio or television.
According to Father Kearns, the meeting is unprecedented. He has not previously met a sitting U.S. president, nor has he been previously invited by the president to a White House gathering for members of the Catholic press.
When Father Kearns asked the purpose of the roundtable, he was told, “It’s for the president to inform us, to listen to concerns, and to answer questions.”
The meeting is not a press conference.
“It sounds like what we would call a listening session,” said Father Kearns.
We’ll have an update about the meeting on the blog tomorrow.
Thursday, July 02, 2009 7:36 PM
This is one of those situations that makes you want to throw things.
Rogue priest asks clergy to push Knights from parishes, exploit insurance policies
Fresno, Calif., Jul 2, 2009 / 06:43 am (CNA).- Citing the organization’s support for traditional marriage, a suspended Catholic priest who has turned to homosexual activism has called for Catholic pastors to block Knights of Columbus groups from their parishes and to borrow against the order’s insurance policies to fund homosexual groups.
He said he advocated such action in part because the fraternal charitable organization helped support California’s Proposition 8, which restored legal marriage’s definition to being between a man and a woman.
Fr. Geoffrey Farrow, former pastor of the St. Paul Newman Center at California State University at Fresno, was removed as pastor in October 2008 for defying church teaching on homosexuality and for condemning Catholic support for Proposition 8, the California Catholic Daily reports.
Writing in a June 4 post on his personal blog, Fr. Farrow wrote:
“Many priests have e-mailed me and expressed their rage and anger over the hypocrisy of the Catholic hierarchy in supporting anti-marriage equality legislation… One of the organizations, which the bishops have effectively employed to do their dirty work, has been the Knights of Columbus.”
He discussed what priests can do to fight “the anti-gay agenda of the bishops and the K of C.”
“Borrow the full amount against your Knights of Columbus life insurance policy immediately,” he advised. “Take the check and invest the funds with an LGBT friendly fund. Do not pay back the loan.”
According to the Knights of Columbus’ web site, for more than 120 years the order has sold insurance to help protect families against “financial ruin.”
Patrick Korten, Knights of Columbus Vice-President of Communications, told CNA in a Wednesday e-mail that those who hold a “whole life policy” with the order may indeed borrow against it.
“As with any loan, one is charged interest on the amount borrowed. Taking a full loan against a policy and not paying it back simply diminishes its value to the policyholder and could cause the policy to lapse.
“That, in turn, defeats the very purpose of having the policy in the first place: protection against financial adversity,” he explained.
Fr. Farrow’s blog post also asked priests not to allow Knights of Columbus groups to publish announcements in parish bulletins and not to allow their events to be held on church property. Fr. Farrow suggested programs be created as a pretext to push out the order’s meetings.
“Pastors may grant or withhold permission for organizations to use church facilities for their meetings,” he wrote. “Most parishes have very tight facility scheduling. Create a program and tell the K of C they need to meet elsewhere.”
According to the California Catholic Daily, Fr. Farrow is the scheduled homilist for the “Eucharistic Celebration” at the 2009 Dignity USA Convention held this July in San Francisco. The event’s keynote speaker is a parishioner of Most Holy Redeemer Church, a San Francisco parish that often dissents from Church teaching on sexual ethics.
Dignity USA, itself criticized as a dissenting Catholic group, on its website says it works for the “reform of its [the Catholic Church’s] teachings and practices regarding human sexuality.” It claims more than 35 chapters across the United States.
Korten’s Wednesday e-mail to CNA also commented upon Fr. Farrow’s actions.
“We adhere to the clear teaching of the Church on marriage, whereas Fr. Farrow has chosen to publicly defy that teaching,” he said.
Korten added that the priest appeared to be “seriously at odds with the bishops” in the U.S. and around the world in his description of the Knights of Columbus’ pro-marriage activities as the bishops’ “dirty work.”
“We proudly stand with Pope Benedict XVI and the bishops and priests who are in communion with him, and stand with him on marriage,” Korten told CNA. “Not only is that not ‘dirty work,’ it is, in fact, the work of Christ and his Church. We have been supporting the Pope and our bishops for 127 years. We have no intention of changing that.”
Asked whether there were any legal issues with Fr. Farrow’s recommendations, Korten replied:
“For better or worse, giving people bad advice is not a crime.”
However, Fr. Farrow is “encouraging other priests to turn their backs on the largest and most effective lay Catholic organization that is dedicated to supporting them in their work of evangelization and pastoral care. He is attempting to undermine the tremendous work that the Knights do for charity and for the church in thousands of parishes around the nation and the world.
“I doubt that many priests would even consider following his advice,” Korten remarked.
The Knights of Columbus has 1.7 million members in more than 13,000 councils worldwide.
Thursday, July 02, 2009 7:57 PM
For those who want to be even more depressed, here is a link to Carl Olson's story, "A couple of thoughts about Obama's 'Hey, You're Gay, Hurray!' Day" (at Ignatius Insight) about Obama's reception at the White House for gays, lesbians, and transexuals and his speech reiterating his support for them and future action on their behalf. I didn't have the heart to post the whole thing.
Thursday, July 02, 2009 9:41 PM
A first report on Obama's meeting today with religion writers from mostly Catholic publications.
Obama cites influence of Cardinal Bernardin, prepares to meet pope
By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service
July 2, 2009
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- President Barack Obama told a round table of religion writers July 2 that he continues to be profoundly influenced by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, whom he came to know when he was a community organizer in a project partially funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
Obama said his encounters with the cardinal continue to influence him, particularly his "seamless garment" approach to a multitude of social justice issues. He also told the group of eight reporters to expect a conscience clause protection for health care workers currently under review by the administration that will be no less protective than what existed previously.
In addition to Catholic News Service, the round table included reporters and editors from other Catholic publications: National Catholic Reporter, America magazine, Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, Commonweal magazine and Vatican Radio. The religion writer from The Washington Post also participated.
It was held in anticipation of Obama's audience with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican July 10. The 45-minute session touched on his expectations for that meeting as well as aspects of foreign policy, the public criticism directed at him by some Catholic bishops and others in the church, and the Obamas' own search for a church home in Washington.
Obama said in some ways he sees his first meeting with the pope as the same as any contact with a head of state, "but obviously this is more than just that. The Catholic Church has such a profound influence worldwide and in our country, and the Holy Father is a thought leader and opinion leader on so many wide-ranging issues. His religious influence is one that extends beyond the Catholic Church."
He said he considers it a great honor to be meeting with the pope and that he hopes the session will lead to further cooperation between the Vatican and the United States in addressing Middle East peace, worldwide poverty, climate change, immigration and a whole host of other issues.
Several of the questions addressed the sometimes contentious relations between the Obama administration and some U.S. bishops, notably surrounding the president's commencement address at the University of Notre Dame in May. The university's decision to invite Obama and present him with an honorary degree led to a wave of protests at the university and a flurry of criticism by more than 70 bishops who said his support for legal abortion made him an inappropriate choice by the university.
Statements by the U.S. bishops also have chastised Obama for administrative actions such as the reversal of the Mexico City policy, which had prohibited the use of federal family planning funds by organizations that provide abortions or counsel women to have abortions.
But Obama said he's not going to be deterred from continuing to work with the U.S. Catholic hierarchy, in part "because I'm president of all Americans, not just Americans who happen to agree with me."
"The American bishops have profound influence in their communities, in the church and beyond," Obama said. "What I would say is that although there have been criticisms leveled at me from some of the bishops, there have been a number of bishops who have been extremely generous and supportive even if they don't agree with me on every issue."
He said part of why he wants to establish a good working relationship with the bishops is because he has fond memories of working with Cardinal Bernardin when Obama was a community organizer, working with Catholic parishes on the South Side of Chicago.
"And so I know the potential that the bishops have to speak out forcefully on issues of social justice," Obama said.
And from the National Catholic Register...
President Promises Robust Conscience Protection
POSTED BY TIM DRAKE
Thursday, July 02, 2009 12:02 PM
President Barack Obama holds a round table briefing July 2 in the Roosevelt Room with Catholic press, including Register publisher Father Owen Kearns (left foreground).
In a 41-minute meeting in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, eight members of the Catholic Press met with President Obama this morning.
In addition to Father Owen Kearns, editor in chief and publisher of the Register, those attending were representatives from America, Avvenire/Vatican Radio, Catholic News Service, Catholic Digest, Commonweal, National Catholic Reporter and The Washington Post.
Obama began with brief remarks and then gave each representative the opportunity to ask one question.
In his remarks, the president said that he had a wonderful conversation with Pope Benedict XVI right after his election. He said that he sees his visit with the Holy See in some ways like any other government in that there will be areas of agreement and disagreement. He also said that he sees the Holy See as more than a government because of the Church’s influence on this country and the world. He said that it would be a great honor to meet the Pope and was looking forward to talking about the Middle East, climate change and immigration.
“The most noteworthy thing during the meeting was his dispelling of what you might call the expectation of the worst regarding conscience clauses,” said Father Kearns. “He said that the confusion regarding the issue was due to the timing of everything rather than what he was going to do. His administration saw the previous administration’s 11th-hour change as problematic, and so they undid that. He said that in Illinois he was a supporter of a robust conscience clause, something he reiterated in his Notre Dame speech. He added that the government has received hundreds of thousands of public comments, and he promised that there would be a robust conscience-clause protection in place, and that it would not be weaker than President Bush’s 11th-hour change. Still, he added, it won’t please everybody.”
In addition, Father Kearns noted the president’s analysis of the divide in Catholicism.
“The president said he had fond memories of Cardinal Bernardin and that when he started his neighborhood project, they were funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development,” he said. “After the first question, from the National Catholic Reporter‘s Joe Feuerherd, the president jokingly asked, ‘Was there really [a controversy at Notre Dame]?’”
“The president spoke about how during Cardinal Bernardin’s time the U.S. bishops spoke about the nuclear freeze, the sanctuary movement, immigration and the poor, but that later a decided change took place,” added Father Kearns. “He said that the responses to his administration mirror the tensions in the Church overall, but that Cardinal Bernardin was pro-life and never hesitated to make his views known, but he had a consistent ‘seamless garment’ approach that emphasized the other issues, as well. The president said that that part of the Catholic tradition continues to inspire him. Those issues, he said, seemed to have gotten buried by the abortion debate.”
In attendance with Obama and Father Kearns were: Joseph DuBois of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Initiatives, Denis McDonough of the National Security Council, Joseph Feuerherd of the Reporter, Patricia Zapor of CNS, Father Drew Christiansen of America, Jacqueline Salmon of the Post, Dan Connors of Catholic Digest, Paul Baumann of Commonweal Magazine and Elena Molinari of Avvenire/Vatican Radio.
Friday, July 03, 2009 1:32 AM
Part 2 of the meeting with Obama
Obama: Impasse on abortion legality inevitable, but reduction possible
By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service
July 2, 2009
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- There will always be solid differences of belief over whether abortion should be legal, but that doesn't mean common ground isn't possible on how to reduce abortion, President Barack Obama told a round table of religion reporters July 2.
In a session timed in advance of Obama's scheduled July 10 meeting at the Vatican with Pope Benedict XVI, the president reiterated that while he continues to seek common ground on reducing the number of abortions, he recognizes that there will always be firm differences between people who believe abortion should be legal and those who do not.
The round table touched on a wide range of domestic and international policy issues.
He told the eight reporters, most of whom were from the Catholic press, that he sees "an irreducible difference ... on the abortion issue. ... The best we can do is suggest that people of good will can be on either side, but you can't wish those differences away."
He said he has never "been under the illusion that ... we were going to simply talk all our differences away on these issues."
A task force he has formed to seek common ground on reducing abortion is still developing recommendations, the president said.
But he expects agreement on significant areas, such as "on the idea of helping young people make smart choices so that they are not engaging in casual sexual activity that can lead to unwanted pregnancies, on the importance of adoption as an option, an alternative to abortion, on caring for pregnant women so that it is easier for them to support children."
It will be more difficult to find common ground on other areas, he added.
"I personally think that combining good sexual ... and/or moral education needs to be combined with contraception in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies," he said.
"I recognize that contradicts Catholic Church doctrine, so I would not expect someone who feels very strongly about this issue as a matter of religious faith to be able to agree with me on that, but that's my personal view," he said. "We may not be able to arrive at perfectly compatible language on that front."
The Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception is immoral and that abortion is the killing of innocent human life. Representatives of many churches, including Catholics, are among those who have been participating in the administration's common ground efforts.
On the other hand, Obama said, "I would be surprised if those who believe abortion should be legal would object to language that says we should try to reduce the circumstances in which women feel compelled to obtain an abortion.
"If they took that position, I would disagree with them," he continued. "I don't know any circumstance in which abortion is a happy circumstance or decision, and to the extent that we can help women avoid being confronted with a circumstance in which that's even a consideration, I think that's a good thing. But again, that's my view."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has urged Obama to oppose any expansion of access to abortion, whether through loosening of legal restrictions or measures such as legislation passed by Congress that would allow the District of Columbia to resume paying for abortions for poor women using local tax funds.
When Obama reversed the Mexico City policy, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called it "very disappointing." The policy had prohibited the use of federal family planning funds by organizations that provide abortions or counsel women to have abortions
"An administration that wants to reduce abortions should not divert U.S. funds to groups that promote abortions," cardinal he said.
In a speech to a convention of Louisiana priests in April, Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the bishops' conference, reported on his private meeting with Obama in March, criticizing the president's position on abortion.
The cardinal said he told the president, "You've given us nothing but the wrong signals on this issue. So, we'll see, but I'm not as hopeful now as I was when he was first elected."
Obama meeting, Part 3
Obamas miss having a church, but worry about causing disruptions
By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After a painful controversy about the sometimes bombastic comments made by the former pastor at their longtime church in Chicago, President Barack Obama said he and his wife, Michelle, were treading carefully in choosing a worship community in Washington.
Obama told a round table of religion reporters at the White House July 2 that his family has felt particularly comfortable with the small church community that meets weekly at the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland, but that they have not settled on even whether to become affiliated with a particular church in Washington.
The Obamas were longtime members of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ. Last year, Trinity's longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, came to national attention as excerpts of some of his sermons spread like wildfire on the Internet.
Internet clips included video footage of Wright espousing the idea that HIV was created by the government as a form of genocide against blacks and that the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States were the price the country paid for its actions against other countries.
Obama told the reporters that the experience was "deeply disturbing to us, and it was disappointing to us personally." He said he and his wife became "very sensitive to the fact that the church we attend can end up being interpreted as speaking for us at all times."
He also said they're very conscious that when the Obamas attend any church, every member of the congregation that day has to submit to a Secret Service security screening.
"Unfortunately, I am now very disruptive wherever I go," he said.
Obama said he misses being a part of a church community, and that he thinks in this second half of the year he and his wife will decide how to approach churchgoing in Washington. "We may choose, rather than to join just one church, to rotate and attend a number of different churches."
"Obviously that takes away somewhat from the church experience of being part of a community and participating in the life of the church," he said. "But as I said, we are resigned now to the fact that we change the atmospherics wherever we go, and it may be more sensible for us to get in and out on any given Sunday and not try to create blockades around places where we attend."
In the meantime, Obama said Joshua DuBois, head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and a former associate pastor at a Massachusetts Pentecostal church, provides him with a daily devotional, delivered to his personal BlackBerry electronic organizer.
Obama said DuBois started the service during a rough spot during the presidential campaign.
"And it was just such a wonderful practice that we've continued it ever since," he said. "So every morning I get something to reflect on, which I very much appreciate."
Friday, July 03, 2009 6:52 PM
Michael Sean Winters is usually falling all over himself with praise for Obama so this temperate article with some criticism of the President's views is a bit surprising but welcome. It is good to see that he can take a more objective view of Obama than he has been.
Obama Gets a B for His Mtg with RC Press
AUTHOR: MICHAEL SEAN WINTERS
POSTED AT: 2009-07-03 08:28:07.0
I love listening to the President address issues like health care reform or fixing the economy. He is lucid in ways few of our presidents have been and virtually no other contemporary politician is. He seems to accurately assess not only the issues involved but the values that underlay the issues. President Obama epitomizes reasonableness and decency, and his speeches breathe with liberal values mixed with common sense. When I turn on the television and see him walking to a lectern, I do not anticipate, as I did these past eight years, the potential for a verbal train wreck.
A few years ago, I was having lunch with a bishop. His state had just elected a new governor who, like the President, attended Ivy League schools both for undergrad and graduate schools. The bishop and the governor had just had their first meeting. "He’s not very smart," the bishop said. Of course, the governor was very smart, a man, like the President trained in the law and successful at the varied, complicated tasks, all of which demand effectiveness, involved in seeking high office. But, he was not smart the way the bishop wanted him to be smart. He understood the ins-and-outs of the law but could not give a philosophic defense of the place of the law in a civilized society, or wrestle with a difficult question like – what to do when the law is unjust? He knew policy but he did not know philosophic anthropology. He advocated an array of policies to help the people of his state but he could not discourse clearly on what it means to be a human being, what rights inhere in the human person, what demands upon the state result from an adequate appraisal of human dignity.
President Obama had a sit-down yesterday with religious editors, including our own Father Drew, in anticipation of his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI next week. There was no verbal train wreck, according to the participants. But, when he discusses anything that touches on theology, he sounds very much like the liberal Protestant he is. He is, of course, entitled to his beliefs, but he should be more judicious in how he applies his own principles to his speaking about the Catholic Church. For example, after citing the influence of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin on his own career and thinking, the President said, "And so I know the potential that the bishops have to speak out forcefully on issues of social justice. ...There are going to continue to be areas where we have profound agreements and there are going to be some areas where we disagree. That’s healthy." I am not sure that all disagreements are healthy. Certainly, democracy without debate is unhealthy. But, I do not think it is "healthy" that the President disagrees with the Church on abortion. I think he – and all Americans who support abortion – are wrong and that what would be "healthy" is for them to recognize that they are wrong. Most politicians, and all successful ones, want their interlocutor to see that they are in agreement or close to it. But, here, the President skates very close to the kind of relativism that is Pope Benedict’s biggest worry. Nor is abortion an issue where we can simply "agree to disagree." I do not see that the President grasps how or why the issue is foundational to our social justice tradition he is so quick to applaud.
The President promised a "robust" conscience clause and I do think that he has generally gotten a bum rap on the issue. In its closing days, the Bush administration enacted a rule that was designed to throw sand in the face of the incoming administration. If the rule was as important as Obama’s critics insist it is, why did it take Bush seven years, eleven months and twenty-some days to approve it? That said, President Obama betrayed a bit of myopia about his own administration when discussing the conscience clause: "I think there have been some who keep on anticipating the worst from us, and it’s not based on anything I’ve said or done, but is rather just a perception somehow that we have some hard-line agenda that we’re seeking to push," the President told the reporters. The thing he has done is appoint people with a history of pushing a hard-line pro-abortion agenda to positions of authority within his administration: His Faith-Based Office reports to Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes who was formerly a board member at EMILY’s list, one of the nation’s most forceful pro-abortion advocacy groups. So, the concerns about his agenda did not just materialize out of thin air, even if they are exploited by Republicans for partisan advantage. We are watching to see precisely how issues like the conscience clause play out. We are waiting to see whether the President will support the Pregnant Women Support Act. I don't think most people would count me among the President’s usual critics, but that does not mean I always sleep well when I think of such issues and how they might play out. And, I hope that his conservative critics will give President Obama credit for taking the issue seriously. He has been keen to carve out room for pro-life Democrats, more so than most of his fellow Democrats and he deserves credit for that too.
The President’s comments yesterday were better than his speech at Notre Dame. And, meeting with religion editors before going to the Vatican was a good idea. Certainly better than scheduling a meeting for Cardinal McCarrick at the White House at 3 p.m. on Good Friday, an event that has become shorthand in the religious community for the occasional clumsiness of Obama’s White House staff when it comes to Catholic sensibilities. I give the President’s performance yesterday a B. Let’s hope the visit next week is an A. But, stay away from the theology Mr. President. It is, as you once said, above your pay grade.
Saturday, July 04, 2009 8:06 PM
Oh my gosh, could it be my guess on July 2 above was right? John Allen is saying the same thing.
Obama charm offensive ahead of pope meeting seems to be working
By John L Allen Jr
The National Catholic Reporter
Created Jul 04, 2009
If the White House strategy behind arranging a session for President Barack Obama with religious journalists on the eve of his visit to Pope Benedict XVI was to set a positive tone for that meeting, early returns in Rome suggest it’s working to perfection.
That session last Thursday, in which Joe Feuerherd of the National Catholic Reporter took part, has received extensive and largely positive coverage in the Italian press, including the official outlets of both the Italian bishops and the Vatican – both of which generally reflect important currents in official Vatican thinking.
Obama is set to meet Pope Benedict XVI in the afternoon of Friday, July 10, just after the conclusion of a G8 summit in Italy and just head of the president's visit to Ghana.
In Saturday’s Corriere della Sera, Dino Boff, editor of L’Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops, praised Obama’s “great honesty” and “great intelligence,” saying it was clear that Obama “is not playing the game of trying to divide the Holy See from the American bishops.”
Boff is a widely respected figure in Vatican circles, and his point about appearances of a split between the Vatican and the U.S. bishops is one that has been of growing concern both in Rome and in Catholic circles in America. If Obama was indeed successful in blunting that perception, it could prove important in shaping whatever public statement the Vatican makes after the July 10 session.
“Obama tends to emphasize the points of contact” between his positions and the church, Boff said, “and circumscribes those areas where there isn’t contact, though without ever denying them. When there isn’t agreement, he’s careful to speak in the least annoying fashion for the church.”
Boff noted that while Obama’s respectful style doesn’t resolve all matters of substance, “style is very important for being able to reach agreement.”
In its own Saturday edition, L’Avvenire carried a front-page essay by editorialist Andrea Lavazza arguing that Obama has demonstrated “an attitude of listening and dialogue that deserves not to be under-estimated.”
Like Boff, Lavazza was particularly struck by the respectful stance Obama took vis-à-vis the American bishops.
“In a country that has established a sharp separation between church and state, and in which Catholics were for a very long time a politically ostracized minority … that’s a position that can’t be taken for granted,” Lavazza wrote, adding that it can’t be taken for granted “even in Italy, given the recurrent accusations of interference directed at the church.”
Noting that Obama has expressed a desire to work with the Vatican on the Middle East, anti-poverty efforts, climate change and immigration, Lavazza called those issues “the great challenges of our epoch.”
Lavazza also noted approvingly that Obama has said his concern for the vulnerable comes in part from his experience of Catholic sensibilities, that Obama attends Sunday services, and that he receives a small devotional reflection every morning via e-mail.
L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, carried a small piece about the Obama interview on Saturday, leading off with his words of appreciation for the pope’s leadership role. L’Osservatore emphasized Obama’s insistence that he will always respectfully consider whatever criticisms the American bishops advance.
On abortion, L’Osservatore emphasized Obama’s pledges to help young people avoid unwanted pregnancies, to promote adoption, and to protect the right of health care workers to conscientious objection so they’re not compelled to provide abortion services.
The Vatican paper also touched upon Obama’s repeated pledges to help impoverished nations, a theme that should be much in the air when he meets Pope Benedict. The G8 summit which opens on Wednesday will consider global anti-poverty efforts, which are also expected to figure prominently in the pontiff’s new encyclical letter on the economy, Caritas in Veritate, to be released on Tuesday, July 7.
I must say you rate an A-plus, Benefan, for dutifully posting the droolings of the rah-rah-Obamaniacs in the Catholic liberal press, even if you saw through this ploy by Obama from the start!
Let me just make two comments on John Allen's account. But first, 'full disclosure' that I tend to be hypercritical now about anything he writes, because I believe he has decided to adopt his magazine's ultra-liberal bias hook, line and sinker.
My comments to not have to do with his opinions, to which he has every right, no matter how revolting I find them of late, but with two simple and glaring factual errors.
One is that he has always persisted in referring to the Italian bishops' newspaper as L'Avvenire, when any page of the newspaper shows it is simply called Avvenire, without the article. (L'Avvenire means the future', whereas 'avvenire' by itself simply means 'what's happening'].
And two, he calls the editor Dino Boff all throughout - the name is Boffo, and no relation to Leonardo Boff! And his name is much more prominent than most editors because almost daily, he comes out with a signed editorial.
How veteran Vaticanista Mr. Allen can make such elemEntary mistakes mystifies me.....
And no, I won't say a word about Obama, except to say I subscribe with all my heart to every syllable that people like David Goldman/Spengler, the Anchoress, Carl Olson and Father Z write about him - except perhaps I would also pile on Glenn Beck's common-sense and highly-informed insights. Read about Chicago socialist Saul Alinsky whose school of 'community organizers' as an 'overt cover' to subvert the American system launched Obama on his political career.....
P.S. BTW, what help to impoverished nations can Obama give - when he has already impoverished the United States itself to disgracfeul, unheard-of levels in just six months!
Monday, July 06, 2009 12:02 AM
LIVING IN A DE-CHRISTIANIZED SOCIETY
Britain’s Leaders Warn of the Loss of Common Values
By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, JULY 5, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The decline of Christianity and moral values in general is reaching new lows in Britain. While the number of faithful has been decreasing for some time now, warnings about the situation are starting to come from all quarters.
Britain is no longer a Christian nation, affirmed Anglican bishop, Paul Richardson, in an article published Jun. 27 in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.
The Anglican prelate was also critical of his fellow bishops for not understanding just how serious the change is in contemporary culture, and for their lack of action in dealing with this serious crisis of faith.
Only around 1% of Anglicans attend Sunday services on average, according to Richardson. "At this rate it is hard to see the church surviving for more than 30 years though few of its leaders are prepared to face that possibility," he warned.
He also noted that out of every 1,000 live births in England and Wales in the period 2006-07 only 128 were baptized as Anglicans. This compares to 609 per thousand in 1900.
Just the day before, in the Times newspaper, Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, deplored the lack of a shared moral code in Britain.
Reflecting on the current financial crisis and the recent revelations of scandals over Parliamentarians' expenses, he commented that these and other problems have resulted in a loss of trust in society.
There is an underlying problem, however, that is much more serious, he said: the loss of the traditional sense of morality.
We are very moral in some things, such as world poverty and global warming, the rabbi contended, but these are remote and global. Sacks declared that when it comes to matters closer to our own lives we have lost our sense of right and wrong regarding our personal behavior.
"Instead, there are choices. The market facilitates those choices. The state handles the consequences, picking up the pieces when they go wrong," the Jewish leader observed.
It's no use just treating the symptoms with more laws and surveillance systems. "Without a shared moral code there can be no free society," Sacks argued.
While opinion polls have limitations, a couple recent surveys provided confirmation of the warnings by religious leaders. A study carried out by Penguin books, albeit in conjunction with a promotion of a recent book on the topic, said that nearly two-thirds of teenagers do not believe in God.
According to the Jun. 22 report in the Telegraph newspaper the study of 1,000 teens showed that 59% thought religion has a negative influence on the world.
The survey also revealed that half of those questioned have never prayed and 16% have never been to church.
A week later the Independent newspaper published the results of a survey about Bible knowledge. The Jun. 29 article reported that many are ignorant of the stories and the people who are fundamental to the history of Christianity.
According to preliminary results of the National Biblical Literacy Survey, carried out by St. John's College Durham, as few as 10% of people understood the main characters in the Bible and their relevance.
About 60% were unaware of the story of the Good Samaritan and figures such as Abraham and Joseph were also foreign to many.
According to the Independent's article, Anglican priest David Wilkinson from St John's, said the consequences of such ignorance go well beyond just being unaware of the Bible.
Knowledge of these stories and persons in the Bible is essential in order to understand our history and culture, and not least art, music and literature, so much of which is bound up with religious themes, he observed.
This is an ignorance that the well-known proponent of atheism, Richard Dawkins, is trying to promote. A Jun. 28 article published in the Guardian newspaper reported that he is organizing an atheist summer camp this year in England.
Camp Quest UK, will be "free of religious dogma," the article added. Apparently the five-day camp, subsidized by a grant from the Richard Dawkins Foundation, is fully booked.
The recent warnings from religious leaders followed on the heels of similar expressions of concern. On April 5, Anglican bishop Michael Nazir-Ali published an article in the Telegraph newspaper on the occasion of his resignation as bishop of Rochester.
In his nearly 15 years there he said: "I have watched the nation drift further and further away from its Christian moorings."
This has led, he continued, to a loosening of the ties of law, customs and values, and also to a loss of identity and cohesiveness. Similar to Rabbi Sacks, he commented that society needs a "social capital of common values and the recognition of certain virtues which contribute to personal and social flourishing."
"Our ideas about the sacredness of the human person at every stage of life, of equality and natural rights and, therefore, of freedom, have demonstrably arisen from the tradition rooted in the Bible," he added.
Bishop Nazir-Ali observed that the Anglican church is growing rapidly in places such as Africa. Perhaps they have a lot to teach the Western churches, he concluded.
Selling its soul
The new Catholic leader of England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols addressed the same topic shortly before becoming the archbishop of Westminster.
In an article published by the Telegraph newspaper on Mar. 29 he affirmed that Britain has sold its soul by pursuing a purely secular reason over religion.
As a result, faith is now confined to a purely private pursuit and values are drawn from secular and material sources.
Not only do Britain's politicians live in a purely secular and material world, but they also do not allow for a mature consideration of the key role of religious belief in society, he contended.
The affirmations by Archbishop Nichols were published in a recent book of essays titled "The Nation That Forgot God."
In common with the other religious leaders Archbishop Nichols also pointed out the lack of social cohesion that results when there are no shared moral principles and values. The secular, liberal view of the human person is mistaken and simply won't work, he argued.
His predecessor, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, was of similar views. In a report last Dec. 6 by the Telegraph newspaper he commented that Britain has become an "unfriendly" place for religious people to live in.
His comments also came from a contribution to a book of essays, "Faith in the Nation."
The rise of secularism has resulted in a society hostile to Christianity, and in general, religious belief is looked upon as "a private eccentricity."
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor also noted that atheism is now more aggressive and that there is now a vocal minority who argue that religion has no place in modern society.
Statistical evidence backs up his concerns. The number of marriages being celebrated in Catholic churches in England and Wales has fallen by a quarter over the last decade, the Telegraph reported, Jan. 8.
In the year 2000 there were 13,029 Catholic marriages, compared to 9,950 last year. Only one in three marriages in England and Wales are now in the form of a religious ceremony, according to the Telegraph.
Evidence abounds of the severe decline in religion in Britain, and the repeated declarations by church leaders point to a growing awareness of the urgency of the situation. What is more elusive is identifying how to turn the trend around.
Monday, July 06, 2009 5:01 PM
Religion's place in the public square
July 07, 2009
Kevin Rudd's audience with the Pope should be welcomed
THE peculiar hostility among sections of the media, and on blogsites, over Kevin Rudd's audience with Pope Benedict XVI this week reflects a narrow world view. As he prepares to meet the Pope, who has recently signed his third encyclical, Charity in Truth about globalisation, the Prime Minister's long-standing interest in religion is in tune with a wider rebalancing of public debate, in which faith and its principles seem set to play a larger role after taking a backseat in recent decades.
The notion that secularism and modernism signalled the demise of religion in the public square has permeated European philosophy for two centuries. It escalated across most of the western world in the second half of the 20th century after the upheavals of the 1960s and remains popular with left-liberal urban elites, especially baby boomers. Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan captured the mindset when she wrote: "My generation, faced as it grew with a choice between religious belief and existential despair, chose marijuana. Now we are in our Cabernet stage."
Just nine years after The Economist ran the Almighty's obituary, two of its most senior staff, editor-in-chief John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, have published God is Back: How the Global Rise of Faith is Changing the World. In a recent extract in The Weekend Australian, they argued that European notions of modernism and faith being mutually exclusive are increasingly isolated. Religion is assuming a fresh importance in many places, from the Middle East and the US to Africa and South America.
Secularism and the separation of church and state have been positive, consistent features of Australian life since 1788. Religion has also served the nation well, especially in education and health services, and continues to do so. Whatever the different interpretations, the ideals of personal responsibility, a good work ethic, and treating others as as we would like to be treated ourselves, are inherent to most religions. They make solid values on which to bring up children and build communities and a nation. In recent decades, some individuals, including churchgoers, have tried to complement or replace scriptural values with various forms of environmentalism, earth-worship and the Gaia Hypothesis. History will judge how fleeting and limited such notions prove to be.
Religious faiths, as American philosopher Francis Fukuyama recognised in The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order have a role in creating moral rules that bind a society together. The disruptions from the 1960s to the 1990s, manifest in rising crime, declining interpersonal trust and the breakdown of the family and society, Fukuyama contended in 1999, are likely to precipitate a reconstruction of the social order. In this, he predicted, religion would take on a bigger role than it has for a couple of generations.
In Australia, with our strong tradition of choice and religious freedom, politicians, like Mr Rudd and Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull, a convert to Catholicism, are as free to be as interested in religion as others are to be disinterested.
On Sunday, Nine Network political commentator Laurie Oakes took umbrage at the prospect of the Prime Minister "dabbling" in the matter of Mary MacKillop being elevated to the ranks of Catholic saints. Mr Rudd will be at the Vatican not as a religious emissary but as a secular leader, interested in recognition for an Australian whose contribution to educating the poor was outstanding. It is appropriate for the Prime Minister, whether a Christian or not, to raise such a matter.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009 6:37 AM
Irish hold large rally to keep their nation ‘abortion-free’
Dublin, Ireland, Jul 6, 2009 / 08:03 pm (CNA).- On Saturday thousands of Irish pro-life advocates attended a Rally for Life in Dublin’s city center urging that Ireland be kept "abortion-free."
The Irish pro-life group Youth Defence reported to CNA that the All-Ireland Rally was organized by pro-life groups in both North and South such as Youth Defence, the Life Institute, and Precious Life. Preserving Ireland’s abortion-free status was the theme for the day’s activities.
Speakers at the Rally at Ireland’s Parliament Buildings included Niamh Uí Bhriain of the Life Institute who told the gathered crowd "We will not falter and we will not fail, not while our children’s lives depend on it. We will stand together, work together, and pray together and we will keep Ireland abortion-free.
The Cajun Rock band L’Angelus also performed at the beginning of the Rally for Life and at the Celebrate Life event that evening.
] Norma McCorvey, the American plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court pro-abortion decision Roe v. Wade, told the Celebrate Life event that she was now seeking to overturn her case that made abortion legal across the United States.
Dr. Eoghan de Faoite described the Rally for Life, reporting that there were face-painting and balloons for children, music and banners on display and "a really enthusiastic crowd."
"It was superb to see just how many people came out to support the right-to-life and to Keep Ireland Abortion-free," he added.
Other threats to the pro-life cause have been growing in Ireland.
"We’re dealing with an attempt by the Department of Health in the north to introduce abortion on broad grounds by attempting to introduce new so-called abortion guidelines," said Bernie Smyth of the organization Precious Life, who organized buses to the Rally in Dublin.
Dr. De Faoite said there is a push for embryo research at University College Cork and an abortion case is being sponsored by the Irish Family Planning Association before the European Court of Justice.
"The majority of people in this country are pro-life," he remarked. "But we need to make sure our voices are heard, since together we are the voice for the voiceless."
FYI: The band L'Angelus is a family group from Lafayette, Louisiana, 45 minutes down the interstate from here. Ignatius Press is now selling their CD. Here is a link to the page describing it with samples of their songs.
Friday, July 10, 2009 1:56 AM
DOMA challengers trying to judicially export homosexual 'marriage,' critic charges
Boston, Mass., Jul 9, 2009 / 05:57 pm (CNA).- The state of Massachusetts is challenging the constitutionality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), claiming that the federal law which defines marriage as a union of a man and a woman violates states’ rights and is unjustly discriminatory. One pro-marriage advocate said the move was an attempt to “judicially export” homosexual “marriage.”
DOMA was enacted in part to help protect other states from being required by the full faith and credit cause of the U.S. Constitution to legalize same-sex “marriage” if one state were to do so.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who filed the anti-DOMA suit in U.S. District Court in Boston, charged that the law interferes with the state’s right to define the marital status of residents. The suit also argues the law forces the state to discriminate against same-sex “married” couples on certain health benefits and burial rights or risk losing federal funding, the Boston Globe reports.
“Congress overstepped its authority, undermined states’ efforts to recognize marriages between same-sex couples, and codified an animus towards gay and lesbian people,” the suit says.
More than 16,000 same-sex couples have reportedly “married” in Massachusetts since a state Supreme Court decision which ordered the unions be recognized as legal marriages went into effect in 2004. The suit argued that the practice strengthens “the security and stability of families” in important ways.
Some speculated that Coakley’s action was a preparation for a bid for higher office, possibly for the Massachusetts governorship or for the seat of ailing U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said that President Obama supports “legislative repeal” of DOMA because “it prevents LGBT couples from being granted equal rights and benefits.”
“We will review this case,” Miller’s two-sentence statement said, according to the Boston Globe.
The federal government has told Massachusetts that it cannot provide federal funding for MassHealth benefits given to same-sex “spouses.” Further, the state will lose Veterans Affairs funding if it buries the same-sex “spouse” of a veteran in a cemetery, as the state does for regular spouses of veterans.
Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, responded to the suit by asking the Justice Department to fulfill its “constitutional duties” and to continue its defense of DOMA against “such frivolous lawsuits.”
Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said his organization believed the suit will have “no credibility” in the federal courts, pointing out they have already ruled that DOMA is constitutional.
According to the Boston Globe, Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, noted that the Attorney General used a traditionally conservative argument about states’ rights to challenge the federal law.
CNA spoke about the lawsuit in a Thursday phone interview with Edward F. Saunders, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.
Making clear that Attorney General Coakley is challenging federal, not state law, Saunders emphasized that the bishops of Massachusetts have “always” held that marriage is “a lifelong union of one man and one woman.”
He said he believed the bishops would question the purpose of the lawsuit, adding that in his view it appears to be “another attempt to weaken traditional marriage.”
Saunders said Catholics should be willing to speak out about the nature of marriage and ask “Where are things going here?”
“They need to remind society of what the institution of marriage is. Actions such as this are attacks on that tradition and institution,” he said.
Saunders explained to CNA that after the initial Massachusetts court decision a constitutional amendment had been proposed to restore the definition of marriage. It required the affirmative votes of two consecutive sessions of the legislators sitting in a constitutional convention. Massachusetts legislators approved the proposal in the first session but did not vote on it in the second.
“They denied their citizens right to vote on the definition,” he said. While this was technically not illegal, Saunders said legislators denied citizens their right to vote on the issue.
C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League, issued a statement on the group’s website which characterized the suit as an effort to “judicially export homosexual marriage to the rest of the country.” He called it “another flagrant attempt by a minority to use the courts to impose its will on the American majority.”
Coakley’s invocation of states’ rights was a “cynical” move, in his view.
“One cannot help but note the shameless hypocrisy of a state government which had refused to allow its own citizens -- the people of Massachusetts -- to vote on the definition of marriage, now claiming that an act of Congress is intruding on its sovereign right of self-government,” Doyle said.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009 9:29 PM
Vatican newspaper praises values in new Harry Potter film
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
July 14, 2009
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican newspaper gave the new Harry Potter movie four stars for promoting "friendship, altruism, loyalty and self-giving."
As "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" was set to open worldwide July 15, L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, once again downplayed concerns that the film and book series by J.K. Rowling promote magic and witchcraft.
"Certainly, Rowling's vision lacks a reference to transcendence, to a providential design in which people live their personal histories and history itself takes shape," the paper said in its July 14 edition.
But, it said, the new film and the books make clear "the line of demarcation between one who does good and one who does evil, and it is not difficult for the reader or the viewer to identify with the first."
"This is particularly true in the latest film," the review said. "They know that doing good is the right thing to do. And they also understand that sometimes this involves hard work and sacrifice."
The magic in Harry Potter is similar to the magic found "in classic fairy tales," it said.
When the book is finished or the film credits roll, what is remembered are "the values of friendship, altruism, loyalty and self-giving" rather than the magic tricks, the newspaper said.
L'Osservatore said the film "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the sixth Harry Potter film, is the best adaptation so far.
"As the characters -- now adolescents on the threshold of adulthood -- have grown, the tone of the story has as well and the film benefits," it said.
The Vatican newspaper said the fact that the teen stars are starting to experience a bit of romance, "with the right balance, makes them more credible" because "they are called to face the same problems as their 'Muggle' peers." In the Harry Potter series "Muggles" are people not endowed with magical powers.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009 5:50 PM
The Catholic Behind President Obama
POSTED BY TIM DRAKE
National Catholic Register
Wednesday, July 15, 2009 6:18 AM
According to U.S. News and World Report, the most important Roman Catholic figure in President Obama’s administration is someone whom few Catholics would recognize.
Mark Linton, the director of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is the White House’s top Catholic liaison. He not only prepared the president for his first meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, but also helped the president reach out to American Catholics prior to the visit.
A former employee of Catholic Relief Services, Linton worked as a legislative assistant in Obama’s Senate office before heading up Catholic outreach for Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008.
“Mark has access all the way up the chain of command at the White House and has delivered a great level of access,” a Catholic social justice activist who requested anonymity told U.S. News.
In advance of the meeting between Obama and the Pope, Linton’s duties ranged from mapping out Benedict’s thinking on key issues for Obama to determining the gift that the president presented to the Pope. Linton enlisted Catholic theologians and Church experts from around the country to help with the job.
“I wanted them to understand the nature of the Pope’s thought, especially because Obama has written on hope and so has Benedict,” says Vincent Miller, a University of Dayton theologian debriefed by Linton. “One area we talked a lot about is Benedict’s concern with truth, which translates ... to something that is similar to Obama’s interest in a reconceived politics that face issues deeply, in long, detailed speeches.”
Many of Linton’s phone calls to American Catholic leaders last week focused on how the president could use the encyclical Pope Benedict released last Tuesday, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), revolving largely around the global economic crisis, to launch a discussion of common goals.
Other theologians whom Linton talked to stressed the need to be prepared for the Pope to bring up areas of disagreement with Obama on social issues like abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. “I’m very confident that the White House was prepared to talk about that,” said Stephen Schneck, director of The Catholic University of America’s Life Cycle Institute, who spoke with Linton last week.
Schneck said the White House was prepared to promote what it has called a “common ground” approach to reduce the need for abortion without restricting abortion rights.
Linton has also been key to earlier White House decisions affecting Catholics, including the recent appointment of Miguel Diaz as ambassador to the Vatican. The nomination was a surprise because Diaz is a Catholic theologian who is largely unknown in the political world. His conservative record on abortion avoided inciting the kind of opposition that would have accompanied the appointment of a pro-abortion-rights Catholic Democrat.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009 9:51 PM
Episcopal Church leaders vote to allow ordination of homosexual bishops
Presiding Episcopal Bishop Kathleen Jefferts Schori
Anaheim, Calif., Jul 15, 2009 / 01:44 pm (CNA).- Turmoil in the Anglican Communion appears set to increase following Episcopal Church leaders’ approval of a resolution to ordain homosexual bishops. The new decision dismisses an earlier call by Anglican leaders to maintain a moratorium on the practice.
The vote on the resolution took place at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in Anaheim, California on Tuesday.
The resolution itself said “God has called and may call such individuals (gay or lesbians), to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church.” It said Episcopalians included “same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God.”
The convention’s House of Deputies passed the resolution with 72 percent of the vote. It reportedly also passed the House of Bishops by a wide margin.
Three years ago, the convention passed a resolution which urged dioceses to “exercise restraint” in consecrating practicing homosexuals as bishops and also placed a moratorium on the practice.
Nancy Davidge, a spokeswoman for the Episcopal Church, said the latest resolution does not address the issue of same-sex “marriage,” Reuters reports.
According to the Episcopal News Service, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the highest-ranking clergyman in the Church of England, commented on the resolution before its final approval.
“I regret the fact that the will to observe a moratorium is not the will of such a significant part of the church in North America,” he said during a question-and-answer session following his Monday address to the Church of England’s General Synod.
Questions about theology, the authority of Scripture, sexual ethics, the ordination of women and homosexuals and other issues have split the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the 80 million-member Anglican Communion.
Ian Douglas, one of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies, told Reuters that the resolution confirmed the church’s “commitment to nondiscrimination.” He also said there is “no desire” within the Episcopal Church to “leave the Anglican fold.”
However, many Anglican Churches of other countries have broken communion with the two million-member Episcopal Church.
Others are breaking from the Episcopal Church itself. Last month, former Episcopalians formed the Anglican Church in North America, which now claims 100,000 members.
Jeff Walton, the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Director of Anglican Action, commented on the resolution. He said it shows that the Episcopal Church “wants to remain at the table, but only on its own terms.”
"In the Anglican Communion, 22 out of 37 other provinces are already in a state of either impaired or broken communion with the Episcopal Church. This move by the Episcopal Church will further widen their effective separation from the bulk of worldwide Anglicans.
"The Episcopal Church understands that by abandoning scriptural authority it is cutting itself off from the Anglican Communion. As an autonomous church, it has that choice, now it must live with the consequences," Walton said.
Monday, July 20, 2009 6:23 AM
KILLING THOSE DEEMED UNWORTHY OF LIFE
Eugenic Mentality Shows Little Signs of Dying Out
By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, JULY 19, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The idea that some people are genetically inferior, and need to be eliminated or prevented from reproducing, is a mentality that still persists, despite the battering it took after the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime.
In a revealing interview published July 12 in the New York Times Magazine Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court of the United States was asked about abortion, among other topics.
Referring to the Supreme Court decision that opened the doors to abortion, Roe v. Wade and subsequent decisions about abortion funding, Ginsburg commented: "Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of."
This amazing statement was not elaborated on, and there was no explanation of which groups might fall into the sectors "we don't want to have too many of."
In an opinion article published July 14 by the Los Angeles Times, Jonah Goldberg admitted that the text could be interpreted as a mere description of the mentality behind the decisions, and so we are not certain if Ginsburg endorses this approach.
Nevertheless, he continued, it certainly is true that the push for abortion owed a lot to a desire to eliminate those seen as unfit. It's well known, he said, that the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, "was a racist eugenicist of the first order."
Just last month the sad history of forced sterilizations was commemorated in North Carolina.
An aluminum sign was unveiled in Raleigh as a memorial to the thousands of people who were sterilized from 1933 to 1973 because they were considered mentally disabled or genetically inferior, reported the Associated Press, June 22.
According to the article, North Carolina's program targeted the poor and people living in prisons and state institutions, among others. Some were simply victims of rape. The state Eugenics Commission still continued until 1977, after which the mentally ill were placed under the court system.
Sterilization programs are not only a matter of historical interest. On June 22, the Guardian newspaper reported that women in Africa with HIV are being coerced into being sterilized.
Apparently, they are told that the procedure is a routine treatment for AIDS. The International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS is preparing a court case against the Namibian government on behalf of a group HIV-positive women in Namibia who were sterilized against their will.
The Guardian also reported that campaigners say there is coerced sterilization in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and South Africa.
The eugenics mentality is very widespread, albeit in a subtler form, when it comes to those who are handicapped or suffer from genetic defects. Often these people are simply eliminated before they have a chance to be born.
Scientific developments promise to intensify the threat to these handicapped. On July 1, the London-based Times newspaper reported that researchers are developing a universal genetic test for embryos that will be able to screen for almost any inherited disease.
Trials will begin shortly and Professor Alan Handyside, of the Bridge Clinic in London, explained to the Times that the test will be capable of identifying any of the 15,000 known genetic disorders. Currently only 2% of genetic defects can be picked up by embryo screening.
The article commented that this technique, known as karyomapping, will deepen the controversy over "designer babies." It appears that the test could also be used to select an embryo with a particular eye color, or with genes that affect height.
Nevertheless, checking for the many genes that control the diverse facets of development would be difficult to carry out in practice as hundreds of embryos would be needed to guarantee the desired profile.
It's already common practice to eliminate embryos or fetuses that suffer from Down Syndrome. Dominic Lawson criticized this tendency in an opinion article published by the British newspaper, the Independent, last Nov. 25.
Lawson, who has a child of his own with Down Syndrome, noted, however, some signs of change. He quoted Carol Boys, the chief executive of the Down Syndrome Association, who said that about 40% of mothers who test positive for Down Syndrome are not refusing to terminate the pregnancy.
In part, Boys explained, this is linked to the fact that women are tending to have children later in life. This means they are more conscious that they may not be able to have any other children. As well, these women have an established career of their own, that gives them more confidence in standing up to the pressures from doctors to have an abortion.
According to Lawson, doctors in general have "a visceral bias in favor of eugenic termination."
"This is not based on a realistic and up-to-date assessment of the possibilities open to those with Down Syndrome, still less of the happiness which such people can and do bring to families, and even communities as a whole," Lawson added.
The cause of such an attitude is based on the fact that people with Down Syndrome are going to be more costly for the health system, he accused.
New genetic tests are looming for Down Syndrome too, an article in the online section of the American Spectator announced on June 8. Sequenom, a company that makes genetic analysis products, has developed a new genetic test for Down syndrome.
The test, called SEQureDX, is supposed to be safer and more accurate than any previous prenatal genetic test.
"Though the new tests are safer for both mother and child, they will create a profoundly unsafe environment for babies who test positive for genetic abnormalities," the article stated.
At least three other companies are developing similar genetic tests and hope to have them on the market by the end of the year, the article noted.
The promise of more accurate tests points to a fact not often given prominence, namely that sometimes perfectly healthy babies are aborted due to errors in genetic testing.
According to a May 16 article from the Guardian newspaper, Dr. Anne Mackie, the head of screening programs for the U.K.'s National Health Service, estimated 146 healthy babies a year in England who do not have any abnormality are lost as a result of inaccurate test results.
According to Mackie, 70% of hospitals in England still use tests that are more likely to give a "false positive," that is, assessing women wrongly as at high risk.
On Feb. 21, Benedict XVI spoke to participants in a conference sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life on the theme "New Frontiers of Genetics and the Danger of Eugenics."
Every human being, the Pontiff affirmed, "is far more than a unique combination of genetic information that is transmitted by his or her parents."
We must beware of the risks involved in eugenics, the Holy Father warned. He observed that today there are "disturbing manifestations of this odious practice" that are appearing.
There is, he explained, "a tendency to give priority to functional ability, efficiency, perfection, and physical beauty, to the detriment of life's other dimensions which are deemed unworthy."
"The respect that is due to every human being, even bearing a developmental defect or a genetic disease that might manifest itself during life, is thus weakened while children whose life is considered not worth living are penalized from the moment of conception," the Pope commented.
Benedict XVI urged that any form of discrimination be rejected as an attack on the whole of humanity. A call to action that should awaken consciences around the world.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009 6:49 PM
Liberal academic Edward Green: the Pope is right about Aids and condoms
di Rodolfo Casadei
July 21, 2009
According to Harvard professor Edward Green, Benedict XVI tells the truth about fighting the plague of the millennium in Africa: fidelity and abstinence promotion are better weapons than preservatives.
During his latest visit to Africa pope Benedict XVI told the journalists: “Condom distribution is not the solution to Aids, on the contrary they worsen it”. An editorial comment of The Lancet retorted that the Pope's comment was “outrageous and wildly inaccurate”. Based on your experience about the issue, is the Pope right or wrong?
As I have said in the Washington Post and elsewhere, the Pope is basically right – about Africa. It will be easiest if we confine our discussion to Africa, because that’s where the Pope was en route to and that is the place he was talking about. There’s no evidence at all that condoms have worked as a public health intervention intended to reduce HIV infections, at the “level of population.” This is a bit difficult to understand. It may well make sense for an individual to use condoms every time, or as often as possible, and he may well decrease his chances of catching HIV. But we are talking about programs, large efforts that either work or fail at the level of countries, or, as we say in public health, level of population. Major articles published in Science, The Lancet, British Medical Journal, and even Studies in Family Planning have reported this finding since 2004. I first wrote about putting emphasis on fidelity instead off condoms, in the book AIDS in Africa, in 1988.
Condoms fail because people do not use them consistently, because they are not used once people get to know someone, and because they provide a false sense of security, allowing people to take greater risks then they would take if condoms were not used at all. They also divert resources from interventions that work better, such as promoting faithfulness.
In your books and articles you emphasize that the ABC approach in Africa works. At first sight it doesn't sound possible, since Abstinence, Partners sexual fidelity and Condom are three very different things. What's the right dosing of the three?
Abstinence and fidelity are different from condom use. They avoid the risk of infection altogether (assuming mutual fidelity). This approach is also known as risk avoidance. Condom use introduces risk; it not a form of risk avoidance, but rather risk reduction. Consistent condom use is only 80-85% protective when practiced consistently, although under real-life conditions, such as those most of us live in, condom use is much less protective. We actually knew condoms were not very effective for HIV prevention, from our experience with family planning, before the advent of AIDS.
Part of the genius of Uganda’s original ABC program is that it addressed the immediate or “proximate” causes of HIV infection, namely avoiding the risk of infection, reducing the risk of infection, or decreasing the efficiency of infection. It separates these basics from all the other things that might or might not be involved (such as poverty, gender inequality, human rights, stigma, etc).
What are the most important things about Aids and Africa that the outside world, and especially journalists, seem not to understand?
That we cannot have complete Sexual Freedom and effective prevention at the same time; that Africa is different from the rest of the world (because condoms do work quite well in some types of epidemics); and that sexual behavior must change in basic ways for HIV infection rates to decline (except that there is an epidemic curve effect, that will temporarily make infection rates go down for a period, after those at highest risk of infection have died off faster than new cohorts enter the sexually active years).
Why, in your opinion, did international organizations and governments react so harshly to the Pope's words? Do they really believe that condoms are tool N.1 for Aids prevention, or are they influenced by some vested interests they have, and that we suspect but can't see?
They reacted as they did for a number of reasons, starting with the deep-rooted belief that condoms work much better than they actually do. We cannot really blame journalists for being ignorant of the evidence, especially when leading experts keep saying that condoms are the number one weapon we have against AIDS. And yes, people including scientists are influenced by vested interests (most American money for AIDS prevention goes through family planning or reproductive health organizations.) A factor usually overlooked is the ideology of sexual liberation. Those of us who work in AIDS don’t realize how much the values and ideology of sexual freedom and liberation influence our thinking. It helps explain why until very recently, faith-based organizations were largely excluded from AIDS prevention even though FBOs run many of the hospitals, clinics and schools in Africa. It also explains the strong emotional reactions we see when the AIDS establishment is challenged.
Which is the best “best practise” you have encountered in Africa? And which is the worst official intervention you have witnessed?
I use the Uganda ABC program as a model that the rest of us should follow. This model can be seen especially in the period 1986 until the early 1990s, by which time outside donors and funders began to change Uganda’s program to the point that it now resembles any other program in Africa. The ABC program used to emphasize partner fidelity above all else. It promoted abstinence primarily for young people not yet sexually active. It was very cautious and low-key about promoting condoms. Since the mid-1990s, the distinctive features of this program have been lost and condoms along with testing and drugs have become by far the most important feature. In recent years, HIV prevalence has started to go up again.
As for the worst program, one does not need to look very far. All programs are heavily condom based, and condoms are only clearly effective in some types of epidemics. Even in these countries, such as Thailand and Cambodia, it is not clear how much condoms contribute and how much more fundamental types of behavior change (such as not going to prostitutes, not having extramarital sex) contribute. The other elements we see in all programs include testing and counseling, treating STDs, and things such as human rights and income generation. None of these interventions have been shown to work, and some, such as testing, have shown to probably not work in Africa.
In order to avoid Aids, is it more practical and feasible to teach Africans a “consistent use” of condom or primary sexual behavior change?
Primary behavior change. We can teach consistent condom use, but we know by now that very few people will practice it.
Today, late June 2009, do Third World countries exist which have succeeded in reducing HIV prevalence? How did they get that outcome?
We see prevalence decline in 8 or 9 countries in Africa today. In every case, we first see a decline in the proportion of men and women who report more than one sex partner in the previous year. But it is hard to attribute this behavior change to national programs. Most national programs don’t even deal with sexual behavior beyond condom adoption. I think we see this more or less spontaneous behavior change because people have started to see what works and what does not. It is also possible that religious organizations have helped change behavior, in spite of national programs that miss the mark.
In your book you have written: “Whatever the failure rate of condoms in contraception, it should be higher in HiV prevention” (p. 97). This sends shivers down the spine. How high is failure rate of condoms in contraception?
It is about 75-80%. The two rates are probably comparable. I was referring in my book more to the fact that pregnancy can only occur during certain days of a woman’s cycle, whereas HIV infection can occur at any time.
Some statistics show that African countries where condoms are more easily available, are the same countries where Aids incidence is higher. Does this mean that condom distribution worsened the situation, as the Pope said?
It is hard to answer this. We do have studies that show how inconsistent condom use – which is also typical condom use – is worse than no condom use. And there is a prospective study in Uganda showing that intense condom promotion leads to riskier sexual behavior, along with suggestive evidence that this occurs elsewhere
What do your peers and colleagues in Harvard think about your stands? Did anybody boycott you? Did you lose friends and career chances?
I don’t have much support. Our program is in fact leaving Harvard.
Your HIV Prevention Research Project at Harvard is ending and it will not be renewed. Is it because of your politically incorrect ideas? What are you doing now?
I would rather not answer this question. You might ask someone at Harvard what they think. I am writing two books about AIDS. One is called AIDS and Ideology. I still have foundation support and I still have about 6 more months at Harvard.
Are you Catholic, or a Christian, or any kind of a religionist?
I believe in the God of my own understanding but belong to no church or religious group.
Thursday, July 23, 2009 3:34 PM
Public money must support life, not fund death, Vatican official says
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
July 22, 2009
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Especially at a time of financial crisis, when life-giving initiatives are hurting for money, it appears strange for a government to expand public funding for abortion, said the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the academy's head, said Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical, "Caritas in Veritate" ("Charity in Truth"), tried to explain to people how welcoming, defending and protecting human life at every stage is an essential part of promoting real development for individuals and communities.
The archbishop was interviewed July 22 by Vatican Radio before speaking at a conference in Rome dedicated to the encyclical, which was released July 7.
In the encyclical, he said, Pope Benedict looks at development not simply as "a process that must be undertaken to liberate man from hunger, poverty, sickness or illiteracy, but he enlarges the horizon, saying that true and authentic development requires progress for the whole person, even at a time of crisis like ours."
Archbishop Fisichella said people should not be surprised the pope talks about abortion, euthanasia or embryonic stem-cell research in an encyclical examining the economy.
"We should not forget that around these areas there are huge investments, both private and public," he said.
"For example, it seems that in the United States there could be a further increase in public funding for abortion," he said, apparently referring to a provision in President Barack Obama's 2010 budget that would permit taxpayer funding of abortions in the District of Columbia.
At a time of economic crisis, he asked, shouldn't resources be used "to promote life in every area and not to increase a culture of death?"
Asked about Pope Benedict's meeting July 10 with Obama, Archbishop Fisichella said he believed the two had an opportunity to discuss very important themes, including those related to protecting human life and freedom.
"At this time, especially in the United States," he said, there is a debate over the obligation to respect the freedom of conscience of medical personnel who oppose abortion. Their right not to participate in the procedure often is "suspended or impeded," he said.
According to a Vatican statement, the right of conscientious objection was one of the themes the pope and Obama discussed during their meeting.
Before traveling to Rome, Obama told a group of religion writers that he expects an ongoing review of conscience clause regulations will result in a continuation of protections that have long existed.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009 5:50 AM
Upcoming movie to portray heroic nun who rescued kidnapped students from Lord’s Resistance Army
Hollywood, Calif., Jul 28, 2009 / 03:57 am (CNA).- An upcoming movie will portray the real life story of Ugandan schoolgirls kidnapped from their Catholic school in 1996 by the notoriously cruel Lord’s Resistance Army and the largely successful rescue attempt of their teacher, a heroic religious sister.
The independent feature "Girl Soldier" is a fictionalized story based upon the 2007 book "Stolen Angels" by the Ottawa author Kathy Cook. The film will star actress Uma Thurman as Sister Caroline, who was born in Italy as Rachele Fassera.
In 1996 armed rebels from the Lord’s Resistance Army kidnapped 139 young girls from St. Mary's College in Aboke to turn them into soldiers and sex slaves. According to the Ottawa Herald, Sr. Caroline tracked down the rebels to their camp and fought for their release. She succeeded in rescuing 109 of them.
The sister then made it her mission to rescue captured youths in Africa with the assistance of their parents, the government, the U.N. and the Pope.
The violence of the Lord’s Resistance Army continues to the present day. In the weeks after Christmas 2008, LRA troops massacred 900 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They sacked and destroyed entire villages and killed entire families.
LRA leaders are wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
The movie "Girl Soldier" will begin shooting early next year in South Africa with a budget of under $20 million. According to Variety, it is being produced by Caspian Pictures, which was founded by Brian Bullock and Will Raee in order to make socially conscious, commercially viable films with mass appeal.
The film will be directed by Raee, who has worked as a producer on the television shows CSI and Criss Angel: Mindfreak.
Raee told the Ottawa Citizen that Thurman was "very upset" by the story of the crimes against the young women.
"She got very emotional and she grabbed me by the wrist and said, 'Will, this is a film that has to be made. You have all my support and my resources and I really want to help you to do this.' She was very passionate about it."
He said Thurman was touched by the story of Sister Caroline.
"Uma is a mother and I've never seen a more loving parent than her. She loves children, and for her to just imagine what these kids go through is really horrifying."
Thurman has spoken out about exploited children, saying in a published report "It's beyond me that in this day and age, the exploitation of child soldiers goes virtually unnoticed and unchecked by western media."
According to the Ottawa Citizen, Raee intends to recruit some real child soldiers to give a realistic tone to the movie. Pre-production and filming are expected to take up to five months.
Tuesday, August 04, 2009 1:20 AM
College football star Tim Tebow says he is ‘saving himself for marriage’
Hoover, Ala., Aug 2, 2009 / 06:32 pm (CNA).- Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow brought chastity and college sports together at a press conference last week at U.S. college football’s SEC Media Days when one reporter asked him if he was “saving himself for marriage.”
The question, asked by FanHouse.com reporter Clay Travis, prompted laughter from Tebow and other media members in the audience before the University of Florida athlete replied:
“Yes I am.”
Smiling and noting the reporters’ reactions, he added: “I think y'all were stunned by that… first time ever! Wow…”
“I was prepared for that question, I don’t think y'all were,” he added, laughing with the rest of the room.
In other remarks at the conference, he discussed how the story of his birth and his mother’s resistance of doctors’ pressure to abort has affected others.
Tebow’s parents were Christian missionaries in the Philippines. His mother had contracted a life-threatening infection while pregnant with him, but she refused medical advice to abort the unborn Tim Tebow.
At the press conference, the football star said he believes the publicity his mother’s story has received has helped other women decide not to abort their children, LifeSiteNews.com reports.
“There have been a lot of people that have been encouraged not to have an abortion because they heard the story of my mom, or they have been encouraged because they have heard me give my faith on TV or in a report or something,” he stated.
Saying that there has been a “backlash,” he said he will “deal with it if I have to.”
“It's not a big deal to me because of the kids and people that have been encouraged by the stories we have tried to tell and by the life that I've tried to live,” he remarked.
Tebow was the first homeschooled athlete to win the Heisman Trophy.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009 6:23 PM
The Christian World of Agatha Christie
Aug 4, 2009
In 1971, a group of British notables, both Catholic and non-Catholic, petitioned for the retention of the Tridentine Rite in England and Wales. As the story goes, Pope Paul VI read the petition and, arriving at the name of Agatha Christie, shrugged and agreed to the request. Such are the mysterious workings of providence, as manifested in the field of cultural history. The ‘Agatha Christie Indult’ may be the only occasion of a detective novelist influencing Vatican policy, although, given the popularity of the genre, it may not. When Patriarch of Venice, Pope John Paul I addressed G.K. Chesterton as one of his illustrissimi, primarily as the creator of Father Brown, the sacred response to Sherlock Holmes.
The British journalist Johann Hari, who adapted Christie’s The Secret Adversary for the stage, wrote a perceptive article praising her intelligence and skill. Hari identified Christie as a Burkean conservative, jealous of the ‘little platoons’ and suspicious of political idealists; being on the far-left, Hari naturally dismisses these views as irrevocably antediluvian. That is a different debate, but the extraordinary aspect of Hari’s piece—the dog that didn’t bark, if you will—is his steadfast ignorance of God. Being a militant atheist, Hari finds himself in the same position as Marxist scholars; because he doesn’t believe in God, he must find another explanation for the misguided fools who do. Hari deals with this by leaving a large gap in his essay. Marxist scholarship on the subject, with its desperate contortions to avoid identifying the obvious, offers the reader hours of amusement.
The plain fact is that detective fiction is a distinctively moral genre; indeed, a distinctively theological genre. Questions of guilt and justice are inherent within even the most implausible and incredible whodunit. The world of Agatha Christie was a Christian world. The assumptions, morality, and society are Christian.
Christie was baptised into the Church of England, although her peripatetic mother dabbled in other religions, including Catholicism, and introduced Agatha to the possibilities of occult spirituality, a theme that recurs in her stories outside the classic detective genre. Nonetheless, it was her mother’s copy of the Imitation of Christ that Christie kept by her bedside, an inspiration she passed onto her detective Jane Marple, a character A.N. Wilson called “a more impressive creation than those old women such as Mrs. Moore in the novels of E.M. Forster, who are somehow meant to carry quasi-mythic weight and hidden wisdom.”
Inscribed on the flyleaf of the Imitation was a quotation from Romans, beginning “who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” At Christie’s memorial service in 1976, her publisher William Collins shared this as “a reflection of the gentle Christian spirit that resided within her.” “Agatha,” Sir William concluded, “knew what true religion meant.”
The hyperbole was understandable in the circumstances, albeit a little whimsical: a desire to preserve Latin in the Roman Church is not necessarily indicative of true religion. In fact, Agatha Christie—like her great contemporary Dorothy Sayers—remained within the Church of England, although she never took communion as a divorcee. (Her second husband, Max Mallowan, was a Catholic who was also forbidden from taking the sacrament).
Christie biographer Gillian Gill observes that, although “religion is a subject rarely discussed in Christie’s mystery novels,” it “provides the framework for all her writing.” The pseudonymous novels of Mary Westmacott express Christie’s mature spirituality. Absent in the Spring places a middle-class Englishwoman in the desert, in which “fear came upon her again—the fear of the vast empty spaces where man is alone except for God.” The Rose and the Yew Tree, as the title indicates, was an attempt to explore Eliot’s obliteration of Time within the bounds of conventional melodrama. The Burden, as Gill argues, illustrates Christie’s belief that “God and man may communicate directly at certain rare moments, and that certain people are chosen by God to speak his word.”
The very structure of a detective novel does not allow for the same degree of theological speculation, a limitation that eventually caused Sayers to abandon the genre. In her autobiography, Christie admitted that in her early works the detective story was “very much a story with a moral; in fact it was the old Everyman Morality Tale, the hunting down of Evil and the triumph of Good.” The belief that the genre remained at this monochrome morality is still prevalent, but Christie soon outpaced herself with meditations on justice in And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express.
In 1953, Christie received a letter of appreciation from a Ruth Thomas of Newport, which suggested that “the detective of fiction fills a shrine left vacant by a lost faith.” As her career progressed, the hieratic function of Christie’s detectives became steadily more apparent. The sleuth, as bringer of truth and dispenser of justice, is always to some extent an agent of God, and Poirot was given to addressing le bon Dieu with a degree of familiarity. Occasionally he was more serious, as in Cards on the Table, in which he notes that a man “imbued with the idea that he knows who ought to be allowed to live and who ought not” is “halfway to becoming the most dangerous killer there is—the arrogant criminal who kills not for profit—but for an idea. He has usurped the functions of le bon Dieu.” The murderer in One, Two, Buckle my Shoe is such a man; conventional, conservative and respectable, but also possessed with the Pride of Lucifer. It was for similar reasons that Christie was very suspicious of political Utopians.
Christie’s belief that life was sacred and not to be taken lightly was also articulated in her explicit proscription of suicide. In Towards Zero, the failed suicide insists that “I’ve got a right to do what I like with my own life.” His (Christian) nurse insists otherwise: “God may need you.” Not for any obviously heroic reason, but “it may be just by being somewhere—not doing anything—just by being in a certain place at a certain time—oh, I can’t say what I mean, but you might just—just walk along a street some day and just by doing that accomplish something terribly important—perhaps even without knowing what it was.”
From a theological perspective, the detective genre is inclined towards a Catholic interpretation in contrast to the more Protestant thriller; the former deals with the community, the latter the individual protagonist. The community has been shattered in the whodunit, usually by the primal sin of murder, and the overriding question is one of innocence and guilt. Where leftish and non-religious commentators stumble is their belief that the genre seeks to restore innocence lost; that, with the identification of the culprit, she can be expelled, punished and the innocent return to Eden.
The radical flaw at the heart of this interpretation is the failure to see that the whodunit is premised on the doctrine of Original Sin. Everybody is guilty of something; it may offer hope that the problem has a solution, but evil will not be expunged as a result. It is one problem with one solution; it is a small victory in a much larger, indeed an eternal, war. The detective novel is the world’s most Augustinian genre and not, in consequence, especially reassuring. This has been understood by P.D. James, whose detective novels operate within the same cosmology of limited, human justice achieving temporary victories within the schema of a larger, universal justice only made comprehensible by reference to a divine Absolute.
A detective novel not only can be, but usually is, written without any overt reference to God or theology. This was not Christie’s way. Such references appear throughout her work, without being overstated or didactic. The independent existence of Evil is frequently asserted. The proverb “take what you want, and pay for it, says God” recurs often. In The Moving Finger, Jerry Barton asserts that “there’s too much tendency to attribute to God the evils that man does of his own free will . . . God doesn’t really need to punish us, Miss Barton. We’re so very busy punishing ourselves.” The highbrow Sayers would applaud such an explication of Sin in operation: God permits it in the sense that he permits free will, and therefore permits the choice of Sin. Writing of the final Miss Marple novel, Nemesis, A.N. Wilson commented that Christie was “quite overt about the extent to which she is writing a redemption myth. Miss Marple is named Nemesis . . . charged with bringing justice, with scriptural words, ‘Let justice roll down like waters, / And righteousness like an everlasting stream.’”
Christie’s autobiography had not been published at the time of her Memorial Service, so it is uncertain whether William Collins knew of the following passage, in which Christie recounted the sudden interruption of a math lesson by her teacher:
“All of you,” she said, “every one of you—will pass through a time when you will face despair. If you never face despair, you will never have faced, or become, a Christian, or known a Christian life. To be a Christian you must face and accept the life that Christ faced and lived; you must enjoy things as he enjoyed things; be as happy as he was at the marriage at Cana, know the peace and happiness that it means to be at harmony with God and with God’s will. But you must also know, as he did, what it means to be alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, to feel that all your friends have forsaken you, that those you love and trust have turned away from you, and that God Himself has forsaken you. Hold on then to the belief that that is not the end. If you love, you will suffer, and if you do not love, you do not know the meaning of a Christian life. . . . years later [those words] were to come back to me and give me hope at a time when despair had me in its grip.”
Perhaps Christie did know the meaning of true religion after all.
Nick Baldock recently graduated with a PhD in History from Yale University.