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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS May-14-2010

By Catholic News Service


USCCB launches new website to promote vocations

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington has launched a new website to promote vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. The site, www.ForYourVocation.org, is meant to help people who are discerning a possible vocation and educate Catholics about the need to encourage others to consider a vocation. The site includes discernment resources for men and women, ideas for promoting a vocation culture within the home, and a range of tools for educators, youth leaders and vocation directors, including prayers, videos, best practices, lesson plans and vocation-awareness programs. It also includes videos of priests and religious men and women talking about their vocations and testimonies from family members. The site has links to a Facebook fan page and a YouTube vocation channel. A Spanish-language site will be available in the fall at www.PorTuVocacion.org.

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Catholic scholars say those who thwart labor unions commit mortal sin

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A group of Catholic scholars contends that management efforts to break labor unions are a grave breech of the church's social doctrine and tantamount to committing mortal sin. A statement from Weymouth, Mass.-based Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice, released May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, offers a detailed argument that actions to thwart union organizing campaigns, stifle contract talks, unilaterally roll back wages and benefits, and break existing labor agreements are a "grave violation of Catholic social doctrine on labor unions. This violation of Catholic doctrine constitutes material grounds for mortal sin because it stands in grave violation of both the letter and spirit of Catholic social doctrine," said the document, titled "Union Busting Is a Mortal Sin." In laying out their argument, the scholars said efforts to deny workers the right to organize violate the First, Fifth and Seventh commandments regarding idolatry, scandal and theft, respectively. Joseph Fahey, professor of religious studies at Manhattan College in New York City and chairman of the scholars group, told Catholic News Service May 14 that the statement analyzes the criteria for mortal sin much like a priest would during the sacrament of reconciliation. "We said, 'What commandments does (breaking a union) violate? What specific matters of Catholic teaching does it go against? Is it a grave matter? If it is, is there an objective case for mortal sin?" Fahey explained.

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US economic picture improving, but employment outlook remains bleak

WASHNGTON (CNS) -- The economic picture in the United States looks stronger, but the jobs outlook remains bleak. More jobs have been created than have been shed for five of the past six months, but the unemployment rate has stayed stubbornly high. In April, for example, more than 200,000 new jobs were created, but the unemployment rate also rose, from 9.7 percent to 9.9 percent, because there were more Americans looking for work. There is talk in some circles that the United States might experience a "jobless recovery" once the economy pulls out of its doldrums. Others would contend that if there are no jobs to be had, it's not really a recovery. Congress has four approaches before it as to how to deal with the situation. The U.S. bishops have been advocating two of them. One of the bishops' points is unemployment insurance. Currently, a contentious Congress has been extending unemployment benefits on a month-by-month basis. The bishops want benefits extended through the end of the year. Even so, those benefits reach only about 40 percent of those who are eligible for them, according to Thomas Shellabarger, a policy adviser for the U.S. bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development. The bishops' other policy priority is tax credits. Under existing law, the tax credits that are most likely to help the poor are slated to expire at year's end.

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Vermont diocese to sell headquarters, camp to settle abuse lawsuits

BURLINGTON, Vt. (CNS) -- The Diocese of Burlington has settled 26 lawsuits involving clergy sex abuse for nearly $18 million and put its administration building and a former Catholic summer camp on the real estate market to help cover the cost. Bishop Salvatore R. Matano of Burlington, whose diocese covers the entire state, announced the settlements in a May 13 letter to Vermont Catholics. "I once again apologize most sincerely for the pain the victims have suffered," he said. "I ask that you join me in praying always for these wounded and hurt brothers and sisters. It is my constant hope that one day we will be united in the faith." In addition to the 26 cases settled for $17.65 million, the diocese also settled three cases that had been appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court. Juries had awarded $15 million to the victims in those cases, but the settlement amounts -- kept confidential at the request of the plaintiffs -- were "much more modest than the jury awards," the bishop said. The diocese's unrestricted reserves "have been depleted to satisfy the financial costs of these settlements," he said.

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In Portugal, pope calls for new style of evangelization

PORTO, Portugal (CNS) -- On a four-day visit to Portugal, Pope Benedict XVI turned the church's attention to Fatima and offered a new perspective on the continuing relevance of Mary's appearances and messages there. But the larger purpose of his May 11-14 trip, a point enunciated at each of his three stops, was to prod Catholics to adopt a more forceful and direct way of evangelizing in a largely secularized society. In talk after talk, the pope spoke about how to be a missionary in the modern world, challenging Portugal's Catholic majority -- and its bishops -- to stop acquiescing in a kind of silent surrender as the faith is marginalized and even ridiculed. In the northern city of Porto May 14, in the final big event of the trip, the pope told 200,000 people at a Mass that their duty as followers of Christ was to announce his Gospel in every sector of society. "We need to overcome the temptation to limit ourselves to what we already have, or think we have, that is safely our own: that would be a slow death for the church as a presence in the world," he said. Pope Benedict has sometimes been presumed to accept the idea of a smaller but more militant church, supposedly to strengthen the church's identity. But he made it clear in Portugal that "pruning back" is not his strategic goal.

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The Inquisition and Index: Vatican records shed light on dark legend

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Roman Inquisition and the Index of Forbidden Books obviously do not represent the brightest chapters in Catholic history, but newly published documents from Vatican archives should help scholars distinguish between the truth and the dark legends. Hundreds of documents detailing the church's investigations of individuals and of written works during the Roman Inquisition have been published -- most of them for the first time -- in a new series released by the Vatican. Reproducing records from the Inquisition's activities -- records held in the formerly secret archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- the series hopes to shed light on how the Roman Inquisition really worked and to dispel age-old biases. A lack of access to the archives, which were opened to the public only in 1998, meant some scholars and historians made "sweeping generalizations without sufficient foundation" about the church's aims during the Inquisition, a former papal theologian wrote in the volume's preface. Cardinal Georges Cottier, theologian of the papal household under Pope John Paul II, wrote that by focusing only on cases in which the church acted extremely harshly -- such as the condemnation of Galileo Galilei and the burning at the stake of Giordano Bruno, some historians concluded the church was engaged in a vicious war against science. It is "misleading to see the activity ... as a struggle against science undertaken in the name of faith" when the Roman Inquisition actually was concerned more with preventing Protestant ideas from spreading, he wrote.

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In Portugal, pope's spirits buoyed by enthusiastic welcome

PORTO, Portugal (CNS) -- At his last stop in Portugal, Pope Benedict XVI received the kind of welcome that has buoyed his spirits throughout the four-day visit. Residents of the northern city of Porto -- about 150,000 of them -- turned out to cheer, wave, sing and pray May 14 as the pope arrived to celebrate Mass in a central city square. The 83-year-old pope, who has looked a bit beleaguered at the Vatican recently, wore a broad smile as he waved to a multitude that stretched several city blocks. People crowded the balconies and windows of office buildings, which were decorated with three-story-tall flower garlands. Down at street level, the enthusiasm was palpable. Young people wore pope T-shirts, families held homemade posters and everyone seemed to have flags that read: "Bem-vindo Papa Bento" (Welcome Pope Benedict). Many stood for hours in a light rain to attend the papal liturgy. Secularism might have made inroads in Portuguese society, but that didn't dampen the excitement and happiness at hosting the German pope. In Lisbon and Porto, he was given the keys to the city and, more importantly, seemed to have the sympathy of his listeners. "We love the pope, who he is and what he represents," said Elisabete Borges, a 30-year-old Catholic who stood behind a security barrier near the papal altar in Porto.

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Media 'panic' over pedophilia mars prevention, says Jesuit journal

ROME (CNS) -- A lack of expert opinion in media coverage of the clerical sex abuse scandal has led to a climate of "moral panic," which does nothing to help people understand the tragedy of abuse or keep children safe, said an influential Jesuit journal. By presenting existing problems as being brand new and not providing accurate statistics, media outlets have helped create a sense of alarmism, and the resulting "moral panic doesn't help anybody," said La Civilta Cattolica. The media "distort people's awareness of the problem and compromise the effectiveness of measures meant to solve it," the journal said. The May 15 article, released to journalists May 14, was a follow-up to a May 1 article examining the social and psychological characteristics of sex offenders. The Rome-based biweekly magazine is reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State before publication. The article, titled "Fighting the Culture of Pedophilia," was written by Jesuit Fathers Giovanni Cucci, a professor of ethics, and Hans Zollner, a licensed psychologist and psychotherapist. The authors lamented what they called "a strange silence" in the media regarding expert commentary on the crisis in newspaper articles, talk shows and television programs.

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Helping immigrant families helps everyone, Vatican officials say

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Nations serve their own interests as well as the good of migrants when they adopt family-friendly immigration policies, said the Vatican offices that work with families and migrants. Allowing immigrants to bring family members with them obviously increases a newcomer's happiness, but it also gives them the built-in support system needed to integrate responsibly into their new homeland, the offices said. Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and Archbishop Antonio Maria Veglio, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, issued a statement May 14 in anticipation of the U.N. celebration of the International Day of Families. The United Nations chose "The Impact of Migration on Families around the World" as the theme for the May 15 observance. Families play an essential role in promoting "peace and social cohesion, educational development and general well-being, economic growth and social integration," the Vatican officials said. Families transmit values, help people preserve their cultural identity and are important influences in preventing crime and delinquency, they said.

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Quarters are tight for Haitian earthquake survivors, but they are safe

ST. MARC, Haiti -- It's becoming a little less crowded for Riclaine Lescailles and her seven children in the rambling house where they have been staying for several weeks since fleeing the devastation and confusion in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince days after the Jan. 12 earthquake. Seventeen families -- totaling nearly 100 people -- still lived in the large dwelling at 118 Pivert in St. Marc, 50 miles north of the capital at the end of April. When Lescailles and her children moved into the dwelling in March, there were 160 people crammed into the rooms. As difficult as the situation is, Lescailles knows life would be far worse if she had stayed in Port-au-Prince. Large sections of the capital remain under rubble. More than 1 million people still are homeless. Life in the tent camps is unhealthy and dangerous. The building that Lescailles and her children now call home is a mile north of St. Marc Cathedral, where Father Alcide Vercelat secures donations to pass on to hundreds of displaced residents. Deacon Rodrigue Mortel, director of the Missions Office for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, is a major benefactor of his hometown cathedral, and, by extension, earthquake refugees such as Lescailles. Father Vercelat opened his wallet and distributed 25 gourdes (about 60 cents) to adults. It was their family per diem. "What I hope to do," Father Vercelat wrote in an e-mail, "is to give a little money to each family so that they can get organized and find some economic fulfillment. Because right now, fewer and fewer people think about Haiti."

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March for Life marks growing momentum in Canadian pro-life movement

OTTAWA (CNS) -- With an estimated 12,500 people gathered on Parliament Hill, Canada's largest ever March for Life May 13 gave a boost to what observers consider to be growing momentum within the country's pro-life movement. The crowd celebrated the recent defeat in the Canadian Parliament of legislation that would have legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide. Those gathered also were pleased by a recent parliament vote to exclude abortion in a Canadian-led maternal and child health initiative among the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations. "These are two tangible, visible steps that we are moving toward a culture of life in Canada," Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, told the crowd. He cited studies that show 64 percent of women were pressured into having abortions and 83 percent regretted having one. "There are no winners in abortion, there are only dead children and wounded men and women," he said. But the legal vacuum that provides no protection for the unborn child up until birth led to a call for justice and courage from Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec. "We support this stance of the government not to finance abortion in countries of the Third World," Cardinal Ouellet said. "But we would like some more courage, to do something more in Canada on behalf of the unborn."

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Citing lack of evidence, prosecutors end investigation of Bishop Mixa

AUGSBURG, Germany (CNS) -- Citing a lack of evidence, prosecutors said they ended an investigation into alleged sexual abuse by a German bishop whose resignation was accepted by the Vatican May 8. The investigation of Bishop Walter Mixa, who admitted hitting children but denied sexually abusing them, ended May 14, according to the Deutsche Press-Agentur news agency. "Suspicion of a crime of sexual abuse could not be established," said state attorney Helmut Walter of Ingolstadt in Bavaria. A day before the Vatican accepted Bishop Mixa's resignation, the Augsburg Diocese confirmed media reports that it had informed the state attorney about accusations relating to sexual abuse by the prelate during his time as bishop of Eichstaat from 1996 to 2005. According to those reports, the incidents involved a boy. Bishop Mixa's lawyer denied the abuse accusations and said the bishop had cooperated with prosecutors. On April 21, Bishop Mixa submitted his resignation after accusations that he hit children during his time as priest in charge of a children's home near Augsburg. He originally denied the charges, then admitted that he may have "boxed the ears" of children.

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Marquette University rescinds offer to hire Seattle candidate as dean

MILWAUKEE (CNS) -- Jesuit-run Marquette University in Milwaukee closed its search for a dean to head the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences May 6 after rescinding its offer to a Seattle professor who is openly gay. The candidate, Jodi O'Brien, is the chairwoman and professor of the department of anthropology, sociology and social work at Seattle University, which also is a Jesuit institution. Some Marquette faculty and students were upset by the decision, suggesting the university made it because of O'Brien's sexual orientation and because school officials questioned some of her published works and their relationship to the Catholic Church's mission. Jesuit Father Robert A. Wild, president of Marquette, was not available for an interview. However, a May 6 letter to university colleagues signed by him and John J. Pauly, provost, stated that the search was closed "without identifying an acceptable candidate for permanent appointment." The letter indicated the offer to O'Brien was rescinded because after further review of "cumulative published records of the candidates, particularly as they relate to Catholic mission and identity, subsequent discussion raised issues that had not been fully addressed earlier."


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