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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Dec-2-2011

By Catholic News Service


HHS defends decision on funding trafficking victims program to Congress

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops program aiding victims of human trafficking was denied funding after its administrators declined to propose alternatives to a government requirement that female victims receive "the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care," a Department of Health and Human Services official told a congressional committee. Under grueling questioning from Republican members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Dec. 1, George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary of the Administration for Children and Families, said he made the final decision to award grants worth $4.7 million to three other agencies that agreed to provide access to services such as abortion, contraception and sterilization under the National Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Program. The committee hearing was called as House members investigated why the bishop's Migration and Refugee Services department was denied funding for its program despite receiving high scores during a review of its application for $2.5 million for another year of work and its positive track record of assisting nearly 2,800 trafficking victims and family members since 2006. Johnny Young, executive director of the bishops' Migration and Refugee Services, which contracted with the government to assist trafficking victims, told Catholic News Service that he explained to Sheldon the agency could work with alternatives "but we didn't offer any alternatives." "We just said we wouldn't do anything that would violate church teaching," Young said. Several Republican committee members charged during the three-hour hearing that the final decision to deny funding to MRS demonstrated an anti-Catholic bias within the administration of President Barack Obama. Committee members expressed concern that federal laws governing conscience rights in declining to offer abortion services were ignored by HHS officials in awarding the grants.

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Catholic campaign aims to bring Catholics back to church

ATLANTA (CNS) -- A new advertising campaign aims to bring Catholics back to church with ads airing on major television networks Dec. 16-Jan. 8. The campaign, sponsored by the Atlanta-based organization Catholics Come Home, aims to reach 250 million television viewers in more than 10,000 U.S. cities. Tom Peterson, the organization's founder, said the campaign's "inspiring messages" are an invitation to Catholic neighbors, relatives, and co-workers to come "to the largest family reunion in modern history." The ads -- airing in prime time on broadcast and cable channels -- focus on the richness and history of the Catholic Church and highlight Catholic traditions of prayer, education and help for the poor. "If you've been away, come home to your parish, and visit Catholicscomehome.org today" is part of the ad's message scheduled to air more than 400 times starting before Christmas and going through the feast of the Epiphany. Since they began their media campaigns in 2008, Catholics Come Home officials say Mass attendance has increased 10 percent in the markets where the ads have shown and 300,000 people have come back to the church. In its announcement, the organization highlighted the number of Catholics who do not attend Mass, citing a recent study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University that said only 33 percent of U.S. Catholics attend weekly Mass, or put another way, 42.7 million Catholics, or two-thirds, do not attend Sunday Mass.

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Maryland interfaith leaders pledge to defend traditional marriage

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Leaders of a newly formed pro-marriage coalition came out swinging against efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland, pledging in a Nov. 30 news conference to rally citizens across the state to defeat legislation that would alter the traditional definition of marriage. Gathered at First Apostolic Faith Church International in Baltimore, representatives of the interfaith, nonpartisan Maryland Marriage Alliance said they will not be intimidated by those who would call their position "bigoted." They warned that religious liberties could be threatened with the passage of same-sex marriage legislation. "Politicians in Annapolis with an eye toward appeasing out-of-state interest groups and future runs for potential higher office may think they are helping their career (by passing same-sex marriage)," said the Rev. Derek McCoy, executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, "but they are forgetting that all politics is local." Following a passionate debate on the floor of the House of Delegates, a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland died in the last legislative session after it was recommitted to the House Judiciary Committee March 11. Gov. Martin J. O'Malley, a Catholic, has promised to push for the passage of a similar bill in the 2012 legislative session, agreeing with same-sex marriage activists to sponsor the bill. McCoy said there is a groundswell of support for traditional marriage, asserting that his group already has representation of 250,000 people. The majority of Marylanders who support traditional marriage "will not lie down in the face of renewed efforts to redefine this institution to a genderless construct totally at odds with human history and religious teachings," he said.

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Changes in parishes coming for Detroit Archdiocese beginning 2012

DETROIT (CNS) -- Nine metro Detroit parishes will close over the next five years if Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron accepts the recommendations a mostly lay advisory board approved Nov. 30. Another 60 parishes would be merged down to 21 if the recommendations of Detroit's Archdiocesan Pastoral Council are accepted as presented. At a news conference Dec. 1, Archbishop Vigneron said he expects to announce a revised pastoral plan for the Archdiocese of Detroit by mid-February, after reviewing the recommendations and considering the input of other consultative bodies. Altogether, the changes would reduce to 222 -- down from 270 -- the number of parishes in the six counties of the archdiocese. While local media focused on the issue of church closings, Archbishop Vigneron emphasized that parish reorganization was only an aspect of a pastoral plan intended "to move the life of the church forward." It is necessary to reorganize the parishes so the archdiocese will be in a better "position to bring people back to the practice of the faith and also offer the graces of church membership to new people." A great deal of the voluminous material in the recommendations -- all of which may be viewed at www.aodonline.org -- concerns proposals for how parishes can cooperate to better serve the mission of the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, in the Archdiocese of Boston, a proposal is under consideration to organize parishes into small groups to share resources, which it says will allow parishes to focus on the work of evangelization. The plan, put forward by the Archdiocesan Planning Commission, was set to be unveiled at a gathering of all the priests in the archdiocese Dec. 5 and released to the public Dec. 6. However, details of the plan became public Dec. 1 after the media obtained documents describing the plan distributed in preparation for the priests' gathering.

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Vatican II treasure hunt: Committee seeks bishops' notes, diaries

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With a view toward the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, a pontifical committee has launched a worldwide treasure hunt. Many of the more than 2,800 cardinals and bishops who participated in all or part of the 1962-65 council kept diaries, or at least notes; some wrote articles for their diocesan newspapers and most -- in the days before emails and relatively cheap trans-Atlantic phone calls -- wrote letters home. The Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences is asking church archivists, and even the family members of deceased council fathers, to look through their papers to find reflections that can add a personal touch to the historical research already conducted on the official acts of the council. In planning a Vatican II anniversary conference, Norbertine Father Bernard Ardura, committee president, said he is well aware that the treasures unearthed can become the object of squabbles over whether they add to an authentic or fraudulent reading of the council. The committee is promoting "a balanced and scientifically grounded" historical study of the council, in line with the teaching of the pope and "devoid of any ideological inspiration," he wrote in his project proposal. Father Ardura said there are two extreme "currents" in reference to the council: "For some people it was a unique event that marked a rupture -- there's a 'before' and 'after' Vatican II; for others, it wasn't even a real council because it did not formulate dogma, and no excommunications were issued." He said: But for the committee, "it's important to work outside these currents and opinions and do work based on the documentation."

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Study abroad can't promote 'brain drain' from poor countries, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Attending a university abroad can enrich a student's life, but it should not promote the "brain drain" phenomenon that sees a country's best and brightest young people enticed to emigrate, Pope Benedict XVI said. Foreign students need "a healthy and balanced intellectual, cultural and spiritual preparation so they do not fall prey to the 'brain drain,' but form a socially and culturally relevant category in view of their return as future leaders in their country of origin," the pope told international students and those who minister to them. Three dozen foreign students and about 100 representatives of bishops' conferences and campus ministers participated in the Third World Congress on the Pastoral Care of International Students Nov. 30-Dec. 3. The congress was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers. Pope Benedict said universities are called to educate "a new generation capable of dialogue and discernment, committed to promoting respect and collaboration for peace and development." He said: "With their intellectual, cultural and spiritual formation, international students have the potential of becoming artisans and protagonists of a world with a more human face." To provide the students with the best preparation possible for making the world a better place, he said, the universities need to offer not only excellent professional preparation, but they also must help the students find a "response to the question about happiness, meaning and fullness that abides in the human heart."

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Christian theology has role to play in promoting peace, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Theology is not simply an academic discipline or a means of explaining the faith to believers, it also has a role in promoting peace and harmony, Pope Benedict XVI said. Catholic theology's attention to the links between faith and reason "is more necessary than ever today" because it demonstrates the compatibility of different sources of knowledge, avoiding "the violent results of a religiosity opposed to reason and of a reason opposed to religion," the pope said. Pope Benedict made his comments Dec. 2 during a meeting with members of the International Theological Commission, a group of theologians appointed by the pope to study themes of current interest and offer expert advice to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. During the commission's plenary meeting Nov. 28-Dec. 2, members continued work on three studies: the Catholic understanding of belief in one God, the relation of Catholic social teaching to Catholic doctrine and the status of Catholic theology today. Pope Benedict said Christian monotheism -- the belief in one God in the three persons of the Trinity -- teaches that God is a community of love to which people are invited in a way that makes it possible for brotherhood and harmony among the men and women God has created. Because "the ethnic and religious conflicts in the world make it more difficult for people to recognize the uniqueness of Christian thought about God and the humanism it inspires," he said, "Christian theology, together with the life of believers, must restore the felicitous and clear evidence of the Trinitarian revelation on our community."

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Criticism grows over governor's 'holiday tree' label for public display

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CNS) -- A 17-foot Colorado blue spruce is standing tall at the center of controversy in the Rhode Island Statehouse rotunda for what it is being -- or more importantly, not being -- called. Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee invited the public to attend a "Holiday Tree Lighting" ceremony Dec. 6 at the Statehouse, leaving many, including Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, to question the governor's choice of such secular terminology in referring to a symbol most commonly associated with the Christian celebration of Christmas. "Governor Chafee's decision to avoid the word Christmas at the Statehouse ceremony is most disheartening and divisive," said Bishop Tobin, in a statement released to the media the evening of Nov. 29. "It is sad that such a secular spirit has swept over our state. The governor's decision ignores long-held American traditions and is an affront to the faith of many citizens," the bishop said. "For the sake of peace and harmony in our state at this special time of the year, I respectfully encourage the governor to reconsider his decision to use the word Christmas in the state observance." Earlier that day, Chafee said in a statement that he is only following in the footsteps of how previous governors have termed the event. "Use of the term 'holiday tree' is a continuation of past practice, and does not represent a change of course on my part," the governor said.


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