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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Nov-11-2011

By Catholic News Service

U.S.

Ten bishops, 10 consultants named to new religious freedom committee

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., has named 10 bishop-members and 10 consultants to join him on the recently established Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. Bishop Lori, appointed Sept. 30 to head the committee by Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was to report on the committee's work during the Nov. 14-16 USCCB fall general assembly in Baltimore. In announcing formation of the committee, Archbishop Dolan said its members will work with a variety of national organizations, ecumenical and interreligious partners, charities and scholars to "form a united and forceful front in defense of religious freedom in our nation." The archbishop said in a statement: "Never before have we faced this kind of challenge in our ability to engage in the public square as people of faith and as a service provider. If we do not act now, the consequence will be grave." New members of the ad hoc committee are Bishop John O. Barres of Allentown, Pa.; Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia; Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas; Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta; Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis; Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix; Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill.; Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile, Ala.; Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle; and Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington.

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Study finds more optimism, less depression among weekly churchgoers

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Past studies have shown that those who attend religious services at least weekly tend to live longer and healthier lives. Now, new research indicates that frequent churchgoers also face those additional years with more optimism and greater social support than other people. A study involving more than 92,000 postmenopausal women showed that those who reported weekly attendance at religious services were 56 percent more likely to be above the median in terms of their optimism level. They also were significantly less likely to be depressed or to be characterized by cynical hostility. Titled "Psychological and Social Characteristics Associated with Religiosity in Women's Health Initiative Participants," the study was published in Journal of Religion and Health Nov. 11. The research was conducted by a team led by Eliezer Schnall, clinical associate professor of psychology at Yeshiva University in New York. In a telephone interview with Catholic News Service Nov. 10, Schnall said the study was a natural follow-up to his earlier research showing that those who attended weekly religious services had a lower mortality rate over the eight-year period studied than those who attended less frequently or not at all. The new study was "one of the first to look at" whether there were negative factors or social strains associated with frequent church attendance, particularly among such a large sample group, Schnall said. He compared such factors to the negative side effects that can sometimes accompany the use of beneficial medications. The research team postulated that "maybe there could be some social strains having to do with religious identification or networks or associations," he said. "For example, it could be a support system but discourage associating with others not of the belief system, or be a source of strife in marriages or fodder for disagreement" with other relatives or friends, he added.

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Catholic college sues federal government over contraception mandate

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CNS) -- Belmont Abbey College is suing the federal government over a new regulation that requires employer health insurance plans to provide free coverage of contraceptives and sterilization, even if it may be contrary to their religious beliefs. The civil lawsuit was filed Nov. 10 in U.S. District Court in Washington by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based nonprofit, public-interest law firm that is representing the Catholic liberal arts college in Belmont. In its lawsuit, Belmont Abbey College argues that the contraception regulation forces it to violate its religious beliefs or pay a severe fine. Named in the suit are the federal departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury and their respective heads: Secretaries Kathleen Sebelius, Hilda Solis and Timothy Geithner. "A monk at Belmont Abbey may preach on Sunday that pre-marital sex, contraception and abortions are immoral, but on Monday, the government would force the same monk to pay for students to receive the very drugs and procedures he denounces," said Hannah Smith, senior legal counsel at the Becket Fund, in a statement issued Nov. 10. The new contraception mandate is part of implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, which sets up new preventative health care coverage specifically for women at no cost. That coverage includes services such as mammograms, prenatal care and cervical cancer screenings. But it also mandates free contraception, sterilizations and drugs (such as ella and "Plan B") considered by the church to be abortifacients -- all of which are contrary to Catholic teaching. The mandate is what the federal government terms an "interim final rule," which has "the full force and effect of law." A 60-day comment period followed Sebelius' Aug. 1 announcement of the mandate and proposed exemption. That period ended Sept. 30. After such a comment period, a federal agency could issue a revised final rule "or confirm the interim rule as final."

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Catholics object to Vanderbilt applying policy to religious groups

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- A proposal by Vanderbilt University to apply its nondiscrimination policy to the leadership of student religious organizations "will restrict freedom and diversity in student life by jeopardizing authentic religious expression," Father John Sims Baker, the Catholic chaplain at Vanderbilt, wrote in a letter to the school's chancellor. Nashville Bishop David R. Choby also wrote Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos asking that the university "not apply Vanderbilt's laudatory nondiscrimination policy in this unfortunate manner." The Christian Legal Society sent a letter to Mark Dalton, the chair of the Vanderbilt's board of trust, making the same point. The letter also was signed by Anthony R. Picarello, general counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Vanderbilt's board was meeting Nov. 10-12 and the student members of the Vanderbilt Catholic Community launched a nine-day rosary novena leading up to the meeting to bring the issue to the board's attention, said Grace Burnworth, president of Vanderbilt Catholic, as the group is better known. "We're here to offer up our concerns to the Blessed Mother and ask her to take them to Our Lord for us so she can word them perfectly for us," Burnworth said. The dispute began after a Vanderbilt student complained to university officials that he was dismissed from a Christian fraternity because of his sexual orientation. "As a result of the case, we reviewed the constitutions of all of the approximately 380 registered student groups on campus," Beth Fortune, vice chancellor for public affairs at Vanderbilt, said in a written response to several questions from the Tennessee Register, Nashville's diocesan newspaper. "Since that review, all but four groups, all religious, have come into compliance with the policy."

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GOP senators seek information on how trafficking grants were awarded

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A group of Republican senators have asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for detailed information to justify the denial of a one-year grant to the U.S. Catholic bishops' Migration and Refugee Services to aid foreign-born human trafficking victims. In a Nov. 9 letter to Sebelius, 27 senators asked for various records such as copies of all grant applications, the scores assigned to each application, and documents and communication including telephone and email records dating back one year related to the development of grant guidelines. In setting a Nov. 18 deadline for a response, they also requested an explanation of the review process that led to the grant awards. The senators' letter follows a similar request Oct. 13 from Johnny Young, MRS executive director, to George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary of the Administration for Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services through which the grants are administered. Young told Catholic News Service Nov. 11 that his request came days after a meeting he and three MRS staff members attended with Sheldon and two HHS attorneys to discuss why the bishops' program was denied funding despite a successful five-and-a-half-year track record of serving trafficking victims under an earlier contract. Because of a federal holiday Nov. 11, Health and Human Services officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the senators' letter. But department spokesman Jesse Moore told CNS Nov 11, "We take all congressional inquiries seriously and we'll respond appropriately." He could not say whether HHS officials would meet the senators' deadline.

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Many Americans OK with religion in politics as long as it's their own

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The old adage that people should refrain from talking about religion and politics in public has long been thrown out the window. But questions about the direction that this conversation is going remain unanswered. Voters are trying to figure out how much religion they want in a candidate and are also concerned about the potential impact this religion could have if the candidate is elected. Two-thirds of Americans think it is important for a presidential candidate to have strong religious beliefs and one in five would prefer if these beliefs were similar to their own, according to a survey released Nov. 8. The American Values Survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, found American voters have differing degrees of comfort picturing government leaders of a variety of faith traditions. Their degree of discomfort with an evangelical Christian president, for example, is 28 percent. This level of discomfort jumps to 64 percent for a Mormon leader and 67 percent for a Muslim president. Although the Constitution forbids a specific religious test for office, a candidate's religious beliefs seem to go through a variety of hurdles each election season. "Voters have been considering religious convictions and professions from the very beginning of the nation," said John Vile, professor of political science and dean of the University Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University, who noted that during the 1800 election there were allegations that Thomas Jefferson was an atheist. And Catholics specifically remember the anti-Catholic rhetoric in presidential elections, from the 1928 campaign of Al Smith through John F. Kennedy's 1960 race and the 2004 campaign of Sen. John Kerry. This year's presidential campaign is no exception to the trend with some people focusing on the Mormon faith of Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. The other front-runners are Protestant, Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran, Baptist and Catholic.

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Senate committee passes bill to repeal Defense of Marriage Act

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Nov. 10 to repeal a federal law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. But according to a number of lawmakers, it does not appear the legislation would have enough votes to pass the full Senate or the House if it makes it that far. The committee, which began debate on the measure Nov. 3, voted 10-8 along party lines to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. The U.S. bishops had urged the committee not to repeal the legislation, calling it important for human rights and the common good. "DOMA advances the common good in a manner consistent with the human dignity of all persons," Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of Oakland, Calif., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, wrote in a Nov. 2 letter to committee members. DOMA defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman and gives states the authority to reject same-sex marriages that may have been legally recognized in other states. Called the Respect for Marriage Act, the legislation would end what its supporters consider illegal discrimination against legally married same-sex couples. However, advocates for traditional marriage said the Senate bill, S. 598, and an identical House bill, H.R. 1116, would open the door to redefining marriage and would eventually force states where same-sex marriage is illegal to recognize such unions. The House Judiciary Committee has not yet taken up consideration of the bill.

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New York, Brooklyn, Rockville Centre announce joint formation program

HUNTINGTON, N.Y. (CNS) -- The New York Archdiocese and two dioceses will join forces in a single program of priestly formation that is described by the partners as an expression of episcopal collegiality and a model for diocesan cooperation. New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and Rockville Centre Bishop William F. Murphy signed a joint agreement Nov. 10 to create the St. Charles Borromeo Inter-Diocesan Partnership in Spiritual and Theological Formation for Clergy, Religious and Laity. The signing concluded an evening news conference convened at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington on Long Island. Beginning in September 2012, St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers in the Archdiocese of New York, will be home to the graduate-level priest formation program for seminarians from the three collaborating dioceses. The agreement effectively merges two major seminaries currently operating in Yonkers and Huntington. The new graduate program also will serve candidates from other dioceses and religious orders in the United States and overseas. "We realized that by combining our resources and bringing together the best of our respective institutions, we would be able to provide the best seminary formation that we possibly could," Archbishop Dolan said. "It's what our future priests deserve, and it's what our people deserve." Archbishop Dolan estimated there would be 100 seminarians at St. Joseph's in the fall term. There are now approximately 90 men studying at St. Joseph's and Immaculate Conception. Most are preparing for service in the three dioceses, but St. Joseph's also trains candidates for the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and Immaculate Conception has students from the dioceses of Rochester and Syracuse, N.Y., and Scranton, Pa. Both locations host men who will be ordained for dioceses in their native countries. The new partnership also merges two graduate religion programs for the laity and establishes an institute for ongoing spiritual and pastoral formation for priests and permanent deacons. It envisions a preaching institute, formation workshops for international priests, special workshops for new priests and distance-learning opportunities.

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WORLD

Christian volunteers are signs of God's love, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Through volunteer work, Christians become signs of God's love in the world, Pope Benedict XVI said. Especially at a time of serious economic crisis, moral uncertainty and social tension, Christian volunteers show "that goodness exists and that it is growing in our midst," the pope said Nov. 11 in a speech to participants at a Vatican meeting on Catholic volunteer activity in Europe. The two-day meeting, sponsored by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which promotes and coordinates Catholic charity, was held in conjunction with the European Year of Volunteering. It brought together about 160 bishops and representatives of charitable organizations from 25 countries. The pope thanked the European volunteers and "the millions of Catholic volunteers who contribute, regularly and generously, to the church's charitable mission throughout the world." As he wrote in his first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est" ("God Is Love"), the pope said Catholic charitable activity isn't simply philanthropy, it's a reflection of Christian faith and the obligation to love others as Christ loved. "His grace perfects, strengthens and elevates" the basic human vocation to love others and "enables us to serve others without reward, satisfaction or any recompense," the pope said. At the same time, through volunteering "we also become visible instruments of his love in a world that still profoundly yearns for that love amid the poverty, loneliness, marginalization and ignorance that we see all around us," he said.

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Fainting from hunger: Nairobi has food, but people lack money to buy it

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- Normally, Sunday Mass at Holy Trinity Parish in the Kariobangi slum is an energetic celebration that runs for several hours. But when the pastor, Comboni Father Paulino Mondo, noticed that parishioners were starting to faint before Mass ended, he realized it wasn't exuberance that was making them weak. It was hunger. Now, Sunday Masses last no longer than an hour and 15 minutes, Father Mondo told American reporters visiting the slum in October. And the usual socializing after Mass in the shaded churchyard has all but evaporated, as people quickly head home to conserve their energy. "Within Kariobangi, dozens of people are dying every day" of hunger, said Father Mondo. The priest said the situation is not only little known outside Kenya, but is a hidden problem right in Nairobi, where food is available, but tens of thousands of people lack money to pay for it. "People have lost their state jobs because they talked about it," he said. One recent Sunday, somebody abandoned two toddlers at the church, presumably because they were unable to feed them, said Father Mondo. They were being cared for by a parish health worker while inquiries were made about the parents. Spiraling food prices, low wages and high unemployment have put basic commodities out of reach of many, many people. Since March, the price of sugar has jumped from about $6 a kilo to $12, Father Mondo said. And though prices are lower in supermarkets in Nairobi, there are only small mom-and-pop shops in Kariobangi.

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Tackling urban poverty becoming a new focus of aid work

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- Although the U.S.-based Catholic Relief Services has traditionally worked with food-supply-related problems in rural areas, in the last few years it has begun trying to address urban poverty, too. Megan McGlinchy, the Nairobi-based markets and urban food security adviser for CRS in East Africa, said the sheer number of people affected in an urban area helped lead to the change. "If you have 15 percent of a rural population suffering from malnutrition, that's a lot of people. In an urban area, if you have 15 percent, that is astronomical," she said. "You could have just 2, 3 or 4 percent and that would still have more kids affected in an urban setting than a rural one. Globally, more than half the world's population lives in urban areas," McGlinchy said. CRS has begun sponsoring things like urban programs that swaps weapons for pushcarts, enabling people to make a small living providing transportation for goods. It also provides food vouchers, similar to the U.S. food stamps program. McGlinchy said what programs are offered depends upon the local circumstances. For example, in Latin America, numerous projects target urban youths, helping them avoid involvement in gangs and providing job training, she said. Future directions for tackling urban poverty might include promoting gardening, McGlinchy said, though most densely populated cities do not have much available land for gardens. There's been some experimentation by other nongovernmental organizations with something called a "garden in a sack," where a bag of soil is used to start a container garden, she said.

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PEOPLE

Austrian bishops reject call for laypeople to celebrate Mass

VIENNA (CNS) -- Austria's Catholic bishops have rejected a call by dissident church members for laypeople to begin celebrating Mass in parishes with no priests. The bishops said that some demands connected to "this call for disobedience at the initiative of priests and laity are simply unsustainable" and breach "the central truth of our Catholic faith." A statement issued at the end of the Nov. 7-10 meeting said: "As bishops, we are all naturally concerned about our church's real and serious problems --Austrian dioceses are facing up to the situation and taking opportunities to innovate." On Nov. 5, the Austrian branch of the We Are Church movement said laypeople should start making up for clergy shortages by consecrating and distributing Holy Communion, as well as preaching and presiding at Mass. The bishops said they had discussed "heavy demands for change" at their Nov. 7-10 plenary meeting. However, they said, "the summons to disobedience has not only left many Catholics shaking their heads, but also triggered alarm and sadness." The bishops said: "Disobedience is a word of struggle which nothing can hold back. Whoever openly and willingly takes over the duty of celebrating the sacred liturgy in the church harms the community and himself and shows a reckless attitude." We Are Church was formed in 1995 following the resignation of Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer of Vienna amid sexual abuse allegations. It is linked to similar groups in other countries, including Germany, Ireland and the United States.

END


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