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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Jan-16-2009

By Catholic News Service


Bishop says ACLU suit over USCCB trafficking grants without merit

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- An American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over human trafficking grants allocated to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is without merit, according to the chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration. Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City said in a Jan. 15 statement that he hoped the U.S. Justice Department would "mount a vigorous defense" against the lawsuit, which charges that HHS is violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment "by permitting USCCB to impose a religiously based restriction on the use of taxpayer funds." The "religiously based restriction" it cited was that the USCCB requires its subcontractors providing the direct services to trafficking victims to not use the funds for contraceptives or abortion or contraception referrals. Bishop Wester said the lawsuit threatened both "the weakest in our society" and religious liberty. The suit, ACLU of Massachusetts v. Leavitt, was filed Jan. 12 in the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts, based in Boston. It asks for a permanent injunction requiring HHS to ensure that funds under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act are disbursed "without the imposition of religiously based restrictions."

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No time to waste: SCHIP vote just one step on road to health reform

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As the reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program zooms through Congress at nearly unprecedented speed, health reform advocates aren't taking the time to pat themselves on the back. "There's a tremendous amount to be enthusiastic about in the SCHIP reauthorization," said Alan Weil, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy and former executive director of the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, at a Jan. 15 forum in Washington on "Health Care Reform and Children: The Prognosis for Change in 2009." "But SCHIP is not a comprehensive health agenda and was not meant to be," Weil added. "Much work remains to be done." The reauthorization bill that passed the House by a 289-139 vote Jan. 14 would expand the joint federal-state program to include about 4 million more children, including some 240,000 children of legal immigrants. It would be funded by increasing the federal tax on cigarettes by 61 cents to a dollar per pack. The Senate Finance Committee approved a similar version of the legislation late Jan. 15, and President-elect Barack Obama has said he hopes to sign the reauthorization bill as one of his first acts as president.

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Christian leaders urge focus on poor in Obama stimulus package

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Nine Christian leaders said the transition team of President-elect Barack Obama listened attentively to their urging that the needs of the poor be included in a planned economic stimulus package once Obama assumes the presidency. They said they were challenged by a transition-team official to have the members of their respective denominations demand help for the poor in the stimulus package. "We hope and believe overcoming poverty, which diminishes the lives and dignity of so many of our children, is a central and urgent priority for common and persistent action for all of us," said Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. He spoke during a Jan. 15 press conference sponsored by Christian Churches Together following the transition-team meeting.

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Once controversial, U.S.-Vatican relations mark silver anniversary

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican and the United States quietly celebrated a silver anniversary in mid-January, marking 25 years of formal diplomatic relations. The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See observed the event with a symposium and a dinner, where about 50 guests raised their glasses in a toast to a milestone that today seems inevitable, but once seemed unthinkable. The U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Mary Ann Glendon, who was to leave her post six days later to return to a teaching job at Harvard, drew appreciative laughter at the dinner when she read from an 1865 letter that described Rome as the perfect listening post. At that time, the secretary of the U.S. legation to the Papal States wrote to his superiors in Washington and asked for a bigger budget so he could give "small but frequent entertainments" to other diplomats and the monsignors heading Vatican departments. "European diplomacy is carried on by dinners and parties -- you gather information this way to be obtained in no other manner," he wrote. A glance around the embassy's banquet tables found clerical and diplomatic guests nodding in assent.

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Pope encourages Iran's Catholics to persevere patiently

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI encouraged Iran's tiny Catholic communities to be patient and persistent as they try to improve relations with the government and ensure a continued Christian presence in the Islamic republic. He also called on the "vast and beautiful country" to contribute to "the common good and peace among nations," particularly in the Middle East. Iran's four Armenian, Chaldean and Latin-rite Catholic bishops met the pope Jan. 16 at the end of their "ad limina" visits to report on the status of their dioceses. Pope Benedict said that in order to overcome some of the concrete difficulties Iranian Catholics face, including providing enough priests to minister to the country's scattered Catholic communities, "the establishment of a bilateral commission with your government is being considered." Such a commission, he said, also could be a channel "to develop relations and mutual understanding between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Catholic Church."

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Church leaders reaffirm traditional family at meeting in Mexico

MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- Participants at the Sixth World Meeting of Families made impassioned defenses of the traditional family while rejecting allegations from protesters and local leftist politicians that the Catholic Church has been preaching exclusion. Speakers on the first day of the Jan. 14-18 meeting, which organizers say is being attended by more than 8,000 participants from more than 90 countries, emphasized the traditional definition of family -- father, mother and children -- while discarding suggestions that the institution be expanded to include homosexual couples. The meeting was organized by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family. "The church -- we teach respect for marriage between a man and a woman because that is the foundation of the family," Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City said during his opening remarks Jan. 14.

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Israeli offensive in Gaza: It is a proportionate response?

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- For many people abroad, the photos of bleeding and dead children, of wounded Palestinians lying in crowded hospital wards and people sifting through the rubble of their homes say all that needs to be said about the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip. The key word in discussions is "proportionality." Is Israel using disproportionate force to eliminate Hamas gunmen who have been lobbing missiles into southern Israel for eight years? Since 2001, some 1,000 Israelis have been injured in the attacks and almost 30 -- including several children -- have been killed. Father Jamal Khader, dean of the faculty of arts and chairman of the religious studies department at Bethlehem University, said while he was angry at what Hamas was doing it did not justify Israeli military actions in Gaza or the high number of civilian casualties. Some 1,100 Palestinians -- including nearly 350 children -- have been killed since the war began Dec. 27, according to U.N. and Gaza health officials. In that same time period, 13 Israelis have been killed, four by Hamas rocket fire.

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Lithuanian archbishop denounces economic riots in capital

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- The head of the Lithuanian Catholic bishops' conference condemned riots that erupted during a protest against government economic policies. "We must protect our state and not ruin it. Living in democracy means protecting one's rights by legitimate means ... but that must be done peacefully and legally, without resorting to violence," said Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius of Kaunas, president of the bishops' conference, in a statement Jan. 16. Earlier that day, some 6,000 people gathered at the parliament building in Vilnius, answering the call of trade unions to protest the new center-right coalition's plan to raise taxes in an effort to combat a recession and decrease the budget deficit. But the event quickly turned into riots, which led police and special forces to use tear gas and rubber bullets to prevent the crowd from ruining the building and causing further damage. Two days earlier, a similar scenario unfolded in Riga, the capital of Latvia.

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Actor Patrick McGoohan, 80, dies; was TV's 'Secret Agent,' 'Prisoner'

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- Irish actor Patrick McGoohan, best known to television audiences for his title roles in the 1960s' CBS drama series "Secret Agent" and "The Prisoner," died Jan. 13 in Los Angeles. He was 80 years old. Funeral arrangements for the actor were not announced. McGoohan, a Catholic, introduced himself as "Drake. John Drake" in the style of James Bond for the series "Secret Agent." But that's where the comparison ended. While the Bond character was -- and remains -- quite the womanizer, McGoohan said his faith made him resist having his Drake character fall into the same lifestyle as Bond. The series debuted in England under the name "Danger Man." It was picked up for U.S. viewers with a new title, which was buttressed by the theme song, "Secret Agent Man," a version of which became a top pop hit for singer Johnny Rivers.

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Former Virginia pastor to serve time in state prison for embezzlement

LOUISA, Va. (CNS) -- Father Rodney L. Rodis, a suspended priest of the Diocese of Richmond, was sentenced Jan. 14 to 13 years in state prison for embezzling funds from two parishes he served as pastor. He will serve the sentence, handed down by Judge Timothy K. Sanner of the Louisa County Circuit Court, after he completes a 63-month term in federal prison. He received the federal sentence in February 2008 for pleading guilty to the embezzlement scheme; he was charged with several counts of money laundering and mail fraud. At that time the former pastor also was ordered to pay $591,484 in restitution. According to a report by The Associated Press, many of his former parishioners were not happy with the federal sentence and wanted him prosecuted by the state. In October 2008 a Louisa court jury convicted the former pastor on 10 counts of embezzlement. At the Jan. 14 sentencing hearing, Sanner sentenced him to a maximum term of 200 years, then suspended all but 13 years.


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