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NEWS BRIEFS Oct-30-2008

By Catholic News Service


Diocese condemns effigy of Obama on University of Kentucky campus

LEXINGTON, Ky. (CNS) -- Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of Lexington Oct. 30 joined with local community leaders in condemning the act of hanging in effigy the Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, which occurred on the University of Kentucky campus Oct. 29. "The reprehensible and cowardly action of the responsible individual or individuals went beyond the civilized limits of political speech or civil discourse to an offensive display of contempt for Sen. Obama as a candidate but more importantly as a human being," said the bishop. "No level of political or personal disagreement justifies such a lack of respect for another person's God-given human dignity," he said. The Courier-Journal daily newspaper reported that university police and Lexington police were investigating the incident. It said a professor riding his bike to campus spotted the effigy, sent an e-mail to the university's president, Lee Todd, and called police, who removed it. The paper quoted Todd as saying he was "personally offended and deeply embarrassed by this disgusting episode." He apologized to Obama and his family on behalf of the university.

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Fordham gives ethics prize to Breyer despite calls to rescind award

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Jesuit-run Fordham University's law school presented U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer with a prestigious ethics prize Oct. 29, despite a protest held outside the event and a call by a national Catholic organization to rescind the honor in light of the judge's support for legal abortion. University officials proceeded with the private award ceremony after Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York publicly opposed the university's selection of Breyer as its 2008 recipient of the Fordham-Stein Ethics Prize. A petition with more than 2,500 signatures from students, alumni and others stating the action was disrespectful to church teaching opposing abortion was delivered to university officials Oct. 29. Cardinal Egan "has spoken to the leadership of Fordham University about this matter," New York archdiocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling said in a prepared statement. "As a result of these discussions, the cardinal is confident that a mistake of this sort will not happen again."

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Bishop Morin establishes task force to review CCHD funding of ACORN

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A task force has been convened to review how funds from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development have been used by local affiliates of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, commonly known as ACORN. Auxiliary Bishop Roger P. Morin of New Orleans, who chairs the U.S. bishops' CCHD subcommittee, said in a mid-October letter to his fellow bishops that the task force is part of a multipronged effort designed to ensure that church funds are being spent according to the guidelines of the bishops' domestic poverty-fighting program. Bishop Morin's decision to form and lead the task force follows an earlier decision to suspend $1.13 million in grants to 40 local ACORN affiliates for the funding cycle beginning July 1, 2008. The grants had been approved by Bishop Morin's subcommittee and by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at its June meeting. The suspension came soon after CCHD officials learned that ACORN disclosed June 2 that Dale Rathke, the brother of ACORN founder Wade Rathke, had embezzled nearly $1 million from the organization and its affiliates in 1999 and 2000.

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CRS evacuates workers from eastern Congo amid increased conflict

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Although two Catholic Relief Services workers in eastern Congo have been evacuated to neighboring Rwanda amid the escalating conflict, they are planning to return to another part of the country as soon as possible to help with relief efforts, said a CRS official. "This was not a formal evacuation," said Paul Miller, Africa policy adviser for CRS, the U.S. bishops' aid and development agency. He said the two workers, who were evacuated Oct. 30, happened to be in the violence-torn region after working on a nearby water-assessment project. CRS officials decided Oct. 29 that the workers should leave the area when the "situation became quite tense," said Miller, referring to incidents of government soldiers shooting civilians that night in Goma. The next morning, the workers walked across the border into Rwanda, where they were picked up by a CRS vehicle. Eastern Congo's proximity to Rwanda and the region's mineral wealth have contributed to the ongoing violence in the region. The 1994 ethnic genocide of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda spilled over into Congo, and since then Rwandan rebels and Tutsi militants have been fighting the Congolese army, despite a cease-fire signed in January.

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Refugee admissions increase, but still far below pre-9/11 numbers

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The number of refugees admitted to the United States in the fiscal year ending in September increased substantially over the previous two years, though it still falls far short of resettlements before the 2001 terrorist attacks brought changes to admissions requirements. Of the more than 60,000 refugees admitted between October 2007 and September 2008, nearly 30 percent -- 17,283 people -- were resettled through Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In 2007, the U.S. admitted just 48,281 refugees, compared with 94,222 who arrived in the 2000 fiscal year, before post-9/11 security concerns changed the vetting system for refugees. Since then, the annual admissions number has dipped as low as 39,201 in 2003. By comparison, MRS on its own processed tens of thousands of refugees each year in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1980 alone, MRS handled the entry of 132,000 of the 207,000 admitted nationwide. Most of them came from Vietnam.

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YouTube messages in English, Spanish offer church's view on marriage

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As U.S. voters from coast to coast prepared to decide ballot questions related to same-sex marriage Nov. 4, the U.S. bishops took their campaign to keep the traditional definition of marriage as the union of a man and woman to a popular video-sharing Web site, YouTube. A version of the video in English, online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lh_81zsW6U8, features Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' recently created Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage. Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of San Antonio, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, presents the same message in Spanish online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwCAXQhqd-Q. Both videos also can viewed on the USCCB Web site at www.usccb.org/bishops/marriagedefense.shtml. The videos were posted online just before Election Day, when voters in California, Arizona and Florida were to face ballot questions that would define marriage as between one woman and one man. Connecticut bishops also have asked Catholics in their state to support a constitutional convention proposal on the ballot, so that a recent state decision permitting same-sex marriage there could be reconsidered.

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Vatican recommends some use of psychological testing in seminaries

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A Vatican document said seminary candidates should undergo psychological evaluations whenever there is a suspicion of personality disturbances or serious doubts about their ability to live a celibate life. In assessing the capacity for celibacy, it said, the church needs to evaluate a seminarian's sexual orientation, and make sure that uncertain sexual identity or "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" are not present. The document, released at the Vatican Oct. 30, was prepared by the Congregation for Catholic Education and approved by Pope Benedict XVI. Titled "Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood," it said the use of psychological consultation and testing was appropriate in "exceptional cases that present particular difficulties" in seminary admission and formation. It said psychological evaluation could never be imposed on seminarians or seminary candidates. But it emphasized that church authorities have the right to turn away candidates if they are not convinced of their suitability.

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Asian, African women go to Lebanon for jobs, but many end up slaves

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNS) -- Indrani Ekanyaka never intended to spend the third decade of her life in virtual slavery, doing housecleaning, cooking and laundry in a land far from home. The slender, soft-spoken 29-year-old Sri Lankan woman came to Beirut 10 years ago at the urging of an older sister, who had been working as a maid but wanted to return home. Ekanyaka landed a job in a private home, where she said she was paid about $100 a month to do household tasks and child care, working from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. Her employers took her passport, supposedly for safekeeping. Ekanyaka said she planned to stay for a few months to save money, then go home and marry her boyfriend. But the family would not let her leave the house. After a year, they stopped paying her, telling her they would pay her wages in a lump sum when she returned home. She was not allowed to use the telephone, and when her family called, no one told her. "I was a prisoner in the house," she said. Sister Lila Fernando, a Good Shepherd sister from Sri Lanka, has heard the story from Sri Lankan, Filipina, Nepalese and Ethiopian women. The details vary but the theme is the same, she said.

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Pope, Jewish leaders discuss duty of dialogue, access to archives

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Dialogue among those who believe in God is a "sacred duty" for all those committed to building a better world, Pope Benedict XVI told members of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations. The pope met Oct. 30 with 23 members of the committee, who represent the main branches of Judaism and the world's largest Jewish organizations. The members of the committee said they came to the Vatican to discuss "issues of mutual concern and interest," including opening the Vatican archives relating to Pope Pius XII, as well as to finalize plans for the 20th meeting of the official International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee. That meeting will be held in Budapest, Hungary, Nov. 9-13 and will focus on "The Role of Religion in Secular Society" and "Christian-Jewish Relations in Eastern Europe."

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Pope: Canada must correct understanding of freedom to promote life

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A correct understanding of freedom is needed to revive a true culture of life in Canada that respects human dignity, Pope Benedict XVI said. "Catholicism represents an essential cornerstone in the framework of Canadian society," he said in an Oct. 30 audience with Canada's new ambassador to the Vatican, Anne Leahy, who presented her credentials. However, there have been many deep and "alarming" changes in Canada; one now can wonder whether a "regression in the concept of what it is to be human" is under way, he said. A false interpretation of freedom, for example, that it is "an intangible right of the individual," had led to individuals deciding for themselves what constitutes life, death and marriage, he said. In Canada, abortion at any stage of pregnancy and same-sex marriages are legal, and common-law relationships are on the same legal footing as marriage. Legislative measures to legalize euthanasia also have been proposed. The pope said reviving a culture of life in Canada would require a "redefinition of the meaning of exercising freedom" because recently the concept of freedom often has "been invoked to justify certain excesses."

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Vatican newspaper: Biblical illiteracy can lead to easy manipulation

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A lack of biblical literacy can make people, even Catholics, more susceptible to believing the distortions and falsifications in biblical texts published by the Brooklyn-based Watch Tower Society, said an article in the Vatican newspaper. While secularism "poses serious problems also for the preaching of Jehovah's Witnesses," the article said, the religious illiteracy that comes with secularism also can create fertile terrain for creating new converts. L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, published an article called "Jehovah's Witnesses: Just Incredible!" in its Oct. 29 weekly edition in English. The article, written by author Valerio Polidori, first appeared in the paper's daily Italian edition July 25. "Poor knowledge of the sacred texts favors the spread of garish and awkward manipulations" of the Bible, it said. It said the Watch Tower Society's "The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures" contains text that has been manipulated by translators making "completely arbitrary additions or subtractions."

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Hidden from world, migrants detained in Lebanon wait for deportation

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNS) -- On a Saturday morning in early October, Sister Lily George was at work one story underground, amid a small group of migrant laborers who had been arrested for lacking visas. Asked what her work entailed, the Franciscan Missionary of Mary from India said simply, "I sit with them." In the sunlight above ground, cars whiz across the overpass that spans the underground parking garage that has been converted into a detention center. The migrants are out of sight here, just as they were when they worked as live-in maids or on construction sites. Catholic Church workers are trying to change that, campaigning to raise awareness about migrant workers' rights and providing legal aid, humanitarian assistance and counseling to those in the detention center. The effort is supported by Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' relief and development agency. The facility, once a parking garage for about 300 cars, now houses up to 700 men and women in 13 holding cells in a kind of limbo. The dream of working abroad and sending money home has died, but there is no telling how long they will have to wait before they are deported to their homelands.

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Russian church official welcomes quick response to Jesuits' murders

OXFORD, England (CNS) -- An official of the Russian Catholic bishops' conference has welcomed the quick official reactions to the murder of two Jesuit priests in Moscow and insisted that Catholic clergy will not be deterred from working in the country. "We've received condolences from representatives of Russia's state president and parliament and strong reactions from press and TV, as well as from other religious communities who were shocked by this dreadful crime," said Father Igor Kovalevsky, conference secretary-general. As investigations were under way into the murders of Fathers Otto Messmer and Victor Betancourt, whose bodies were found late Oct. 28 in their Moscow apartment, Father Kovalevsky told Catholic News Service, "It's clear the authorities are fully engaged in inquiries and determined to apprehend the perpetrators immediately and do everything in their power to ensure appropriate punishments." He said the conference had not received "news of any previous threats or possible motives for the killings."


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