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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Oct-12-2011

By Catholic News Service


US bishops' agency denied federal grant to help trafficking victims

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Since 2006, the U.S. Catholic bishops' Migration and Refugee Services has helped more than 2,700 victims of human trafficking obtain food, clothing and access to medical care. That service has come to a halt because the agency recently learned it did not receive a new grant award for this work from the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement. MRS' prior contract for the trafficking program ended Oct. 10. Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Catholic News Service Oct. 11 that she hoped the Catholic Church's "position against abortion, sterilization and artificial contraception has not entered into this decision" by the HHS refugee office to reject MRS' application for a new grant, "especially since this administration has said it stands fully behind freedom of conscience." She noted that the MRS's anti-trafficking program "ran quite well without these services" and said it would be "tragic if abortion politics harmed the men, women and children already at risk because of the crime and scandal of human trafficking." MRS officials had no immediate comment, and HHS officials contacted by Catholic News Service did not respond to a request for comment. In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for not making the U.S. Catholic bishops' agency include referrals for abortion, sterilization and artificial contraception in its anti-trafficking program. That case is still pending. Sister Mary Ann said in an email to CNS that MRS officials are concerned about their clients and hope they will "not suffer from a clumsy transition to new agencies or from limited or lack of services." MRS worked with numerous agencies in its anti-trafficking program across the United States. About one-third of these subcontractors were Catholic agencies; others included Lutheran Family Services, Jewish Family Services and anti-domestic violence groups. Three groups were awarded federal grants for anti-trafficking programs. The groups are Tapestri, based in Atlanta, Heartland Human Care Services in Chicago and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants based in Washington. The groups were awarded a $5 million grant for the first year with the possibility of adding two additional years.

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Response to bishops' document gives glimpse of coming political season

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- It didn't take long for the "spin" to start after the U.S. bishops reissued their 2007 document, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," with a new introductory note signed by the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the chairmen of nine USCCB committees. The reissuance without changes to the body of the text "will not please some conservatives," wrote John Gehring, senior writer and outreach coordinator for Faith in Public Life, adding that "it's good to see the bishops affirm that Catholics should not be single-issue voters." But Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, emphasized a line from the introductory note, praising the "especially helpful comment" that the document "does not offer a quantitative listing of issues for equal consideration. To that we say, 'Amen!" he added. "Not all issues are equal; at the core of every issue is the right to life." Stephen F. Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, said the introductory note "reaffirms the 2007 insistence that Catholics are morally obliged in political life to attend not only to the most important issue of abortion but also to those of family, poverty, social justice, environment and peace." But Deal W. Hudson and Matt Smith, president and vice president, respectively, of Catholic Advocate, found in the introductory note a criticism of "those Catholics whose 'social justice' orientation narrows their issues to those of poverty and war, thus ignoring the settled issues of life, marriage, religious liberty and euthanasia."

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Archbishop, chaplains' group object to memo on same-sex weddings

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services and a group representing hundreds of other Christian military chaplains have objected to a Pentagon memo allowing military chaplains to participate in or officiate at same-sex marriages on or off military installations. The memo was issued by Undersecretary of Defense Clifford L. Stanley Sept. 30. It followed the Sept. 20 repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that banned gays from serving openly in the armed forces. Stanley's memo said: "A military chaplain may participate in or officiate (at) any private ceremony, whether on or off a military installation, provided that the ceremony is not prohibited by applicable state and local law." It also said that "a chaplain is not required to participate in or officiate (at) a private ceremony if doing so would be in variance with the tenets of his or her religion." Archbishop Broglio has questioned how the military could allow chaplains in the U.S. armed forces to be involved in same-sex marriage ceremonies when the federal Defense of Marriage Act prohibits such unions. "The Pentagon's new policy, as outlined in these two memos, appears to ignore the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was signed into law 15 years ago and remains in effect," Archbishop Broglio said in a statement emailed to Catholic News Service Oct. 12. "How can Undersecretary Stanley say, on the one hand, that chaplains may take part in any private ceremony as long as it is 'not prohibited by applicable state and local law,' and on the other, say nothing of the federal law?" he asked.

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Pope, at audience, condemns attack on Christians in Egypt

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Condemning an attack on unarmed Christians in Egypt, Pope Benedict XVI said that during the country's transition to democracy, all of its citizens and institutions must work to guarantee the rights of minorities. At the end of his weekly general audience Oct. 12, Pope Benedict said he was "profoundly saddened" by the deaths Oct. 9 of at least 26 people, mostly Christians, after peaceful protesters were attacked by gangs, and then a speeding military vehicle ran into them and officers fired on the crowd. Hundreds of people were injured. The pope said Egypt, which has been transitioning to democracy since the February ousting of President Hosni Mubarak, has been "lacerated by attempts to undermine peaceful coexistence among its communities." Safeguarding harmony and cooperation is essential for a future of true democracy, he said. The pope asked Catholics to pray that Egypt would "enjoy true peace based on justice and respect for the freedom and dignity of every citizen. In addition, I support the efforts of Egyptian civil and religious authorities in favor of a society in which the human rights of all -- especially minorities -- are respected to the benefit of national unity," the pope said. Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population; 90 percent of its 82 million inhabitants are Muslim.

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Survivors' groups leave talks with church over sex abuse concerns

LONDON (CNS) -- Two sex abuse survivors' groups have withdrawn from "exploratory talks" with the Catholic Church in England and Wales on ways to improve the pastoral response to victims of clerical sex abuse. Representatives of Ministry and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors and the Lantern Project said Oct. 11 that they would no longer participate in negotiations with the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service, which oversees the protection of children and vulnerable adults in the Catholic Church in England and Wales, because the church was continuing to "deny justice" to victims. "I can see no merit in continuing to deliberate with the Catholic Church ... while at the same time I am having to support victims who are being crushed by the Catholic Church in the courts," Graham Wilmer, founder of the Lantern Project, said in a letter to colleagues. "I personally can no longer stomach the idea of being an active part of the illusion of goodness and understanding the church is trying to create, so I am withdrawing from this particular endeavor," he said. Ministry and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors announced its decision at an Oct. 11 meeting between survivors' representatives and the advisory group in London. In a press statement, MACSAS said it had withdrawn because of "the manner in which the talks have been conducted, the lack of any coherent purpose, aims or objectives, the manipulation of these talks in the media by the Catholic Church, and the failure of the Catholic Church to acknowledge the duty owed to the many thousands of victims of abuse perpetrated within the Catholic Church and its religious institutions in England and Wales."

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At 83, Honduran priest returns to help his country face its past

SANTA ROSA DE COPAN, Honduras (CNS) -- An 83-year-old Honduran priest has returned from exile to help the Central American nation face its past. A member of an alternative truth commission established by human rights groups, Father Fausto Milla fled Honduras July 8 after a series of threats and other acts of intimidation against him and his assistant. For the more than two months he lived in neighboring Nicaragua, Father Milla said, he missed his homeland. The priest suffers from chronic back problems and started using a cane while in Nicaragua. He returned home Sept. 18 and said that, within four days, he quit using the cane and began walking normally. He had wanted to keep his return quiet, hoping to continue his work without attracting attention, but it's hard to keep his presence a secret. "Even the dogs on the street recognize me and greet me," said Father Milla, who lives in Santa Rosa de Copan, a regional capital in the northwest. He helps celebrate Mass at a local parish and runs a store that sells natural herbs for healing. Father Milla is no stranger to controversy. In 1980, scores of Salvadoran refugees were massacred at the Sumpul River along the Salvadoran-Honduran border in a combined operation of the two countries' militaries. Father Milla's parish was nearby, and he widely condemned the massacre and participated in an international tribunal to investigate the crime. In response, he was threatened repeatedly and finally kidnapped in 1981. Following an international outcry, he was released after five days. Later that year, he was forced into exile for four years, allowed to return to his parish only after lengthy negotiations between the Honduran military and his bishop.


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