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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Apr-5-2012

By Catholic News Service


Federal appeals panel hears arguments on Defense of Marriage Act

BOSTON (CNS) -- A federal appeals court heard arguments April 4 in two cases related not to the legality of same-sex marriage but to the tax, health and pension benefits of marriage. The cases, which are expected to eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court, have drawn national attention from Catholic and other religious leaders, who say the Defense of Marriage Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 "reflects the united judgment of Congress and the president on a matter of basic public policy." Judge Joseph L. Tauro of the U.S. District Court in Boston ruled in 2010 that the law forces Massachusetts to discriminate against same-sex couples who are legally married under state law in order to receive federal funds and unconstitutionally violates the rights of those couples. The Defense of Marriage Act says the federal government defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman and that no state must recognize a same-sex marriage from another state. In February 2011, President Barack Obama instructed the Department of Justice to stop defending the law in pending court cases. Cardinal (then-Archbishop) Timothy M. Dolan of New York said at the time that the marriage law was not "unjust discrimination" but rather legislation that "merely affirms and protects the time-tested and unalterable meaning of marriage. The suggestion that this definition amounts to 'discrimination' is grossly false and represents an affront to millions of citizens in this country," he added. In arguments before a three-judge panel of 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, former U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement -- hired by the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group to defend the law in court -- said the proper constitutional test by which to judge the Defense of Marriage Act was whether there was a "rational basis" for Congress to pass it.

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Connecticut Senate votes to abolish state's death penalty

HARTFORD, Conn. (CNS) -- The Connecticut Senate voted to repeal the death penalty, positioning the state to become the fifth in five years to ban the practice. The bill, which replaces the death penalty with life in prison without parole, now heads to the House of Representatives, where observers expected it to pass. Gov. Dannel Malloy has said he would sign the legislation when it reaches his desk. No date for the House vote had been set as of April 5. The 20-16 vote was welcomed by the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference, which represents the state's Catholic bishops on public policy issues. "The Catholic conference of Connecticut is thrilled with the passage of the repeal of the death penalty," executive director Michael C. Culhane told Catholic News Service hours after passage. Culhane said Archbishop Henry J. Mansell of Hartford and Archbishop William E. Lori, the bishop of Bridgeport newly appointed to head the Baltimore Archdiocese, had contacted legislators seeking the bill's passage. The conference also had mounted a campaign through its website and in messages in parish bulletins asking parishioners to contact their elected representatives and ask them to support the bill. Culhane said the final four-vote margin was not assured until the vote was taken in the early hours of April 5. The effort to ban capital punishment is the third undertaken in the Legislature in recent years. A 2009 bill passed by the both chambers but was vetoed by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell. In 2011, a bill banning the practice was passed by a joint House and Senate Judiciary Committee, but died in the Senate.

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Ballot question on homosexual, transgender rights defeated in Anchorage

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CNS) -- Anchorage residents rejected a ballot initiative April 3 that sought to add "sexual orientation" and "transgender identity" to the list of protected legal classes in the city code. With nearly 98 percent of votes counted, the measure was failing 58 percent to 42 percent. More than 54,000 residents voted on the April 3 ballot -- far more than city officials had expected. In fact, some precincts ran out of ballots and had to be restocked less than an hour before the polls closed. Before the vote, religious liberty advocates had expressed concern that Anchorage-area churches, faith-based organizations and business owners would be forced to violate deeply held religious beliefs regarding the issue of homosexuality if a ballot initiative passed. Anchorage Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz was among the prominent religious leaders who urged residents to vote against the ballot measure. Following the election, he issued a public statement affirming the dignity of each person. "The people of the Anchorage Municipality have spoken, and Proposition 5 appears to have been defeated," he said. "Although I did not support Proposition 5, I fervently oppose unjust discrimination against any person or group. I pray that Anchorage will strive to be an ever more tolerant city for all our citizens," he added. "The basis for our social interaction must remain a deeply held respect for the dignity of each human person -- a dignity that comes not from the state but from our Creator. I reiterate what I stated in my pastoral letter, the Catholic Catechism No. 2358 states that people with homosexual tendencies 'must be accepted with respect and compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.'" The initiative had been proposed by an Anchorage coalition of homosexual rights advocates, with the backing of several national gay rights organizations. According to state records, the group raised about $350,000 in support of the initiative -- three times more money than opponents raised.

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Young Catholic residents are the new face of natural family planning

ST. LOUIS (CNS) -- It was a month before she had to decide her specialty in medical school, and Brooke Jemelka found herself at a crossroads. She had been concentrating on pediatrics during her studies at Texas A&M University, but by the end of her third year, she was starting to question what she wanted to do with her life. Then she delivered her first baby, "and my whole life changed," said Jemelka, a native of Yoakum, Texas. As a Catholic, she was involved in pro-life activities, including sidewalk counseling, pro-life rallies and more. It was later that she realized that was preparing the way for a future in obstetrics and gynecology. "I felt like there was no way I could not be doing God's work," she said in an interview with the St. Louis Review, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Today, Jemelka is one of six -- yes, six -- resident physicians in the OB/GYN Residency Program at Mercy Hospital in St. Louis who plan to specialize in natural family planning, or NFP, in their future practices. As part of their training, the residents currently are caring for uninsured and underinsured women who come to Mercy's JFK Clinic. Each of them has a different story of how they became involved in medicine, but all of them agree that God put them in the place where they're at now for a reason. While doctors in St. Louis and around the nation who specialize in natural methods of fertility care are still considered the minority, all of these residents have encountered many women who want to know the truth about their fertility through the use of NFP.

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Judge rules bishop must stand trial for not reporting suspected abuse

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CNS) -- A Missouri judge declined to dismiss misdemeanor charges of failing to report suspected child sexual abuse against Bishop Robert W. Finn and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, which he heads. The ruling by Circuit Court Judge John M. Torrence paves the way for Bishop Finn and the diocese to stand trial, set for September. Both the bishop and the diocese have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Torrence denied motions by attorneys for the bishop, who had argued during a hearing March 27 that the charges should be dismissed because they were unconstitutionally vague and that Bishop Finn was not the diocese's designated official responsible for reporting sexual abuse to authorities. "The court finds that the evidence in this case is sufficient to allow a jury to conclude that Bishop Finn was a designated reporter as defined by Missouri law," Torrence wrote. He also ruled that "this court finds and concludes that persons of ordinary intelligence have no difficulty understanding the meaning of 'immediately report.'" Diocesan spokeswoman Rebecca Summers referred inquiries to the attorneys in the case. Attorneys Gerald Handley and J.R. Hobbs, representing Bishop Finn, and Jean Paul Bradshaw II, representing the diocese, did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Torrence also denied a defense motion to have the bishop and the diocese tried separately, explaining that there was no reason to have two trials in a case involving most of the same facts.

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At Holy Thursday Mass, pope criticizes dissent from church teachings

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- During a Mass in which priests renew their promises of fidelity to Christ, Pope Benedict XVI firmly criticized dissent from church teachings and disobedience of God's will as illegitimate pathways toward reform and renewal. Surrounded by more than 1,600 priests, bishops and cardinals, the pope cautioned against calls for women's ordination, saying such campaigns seemed more "a desperate push" to fulfill one's own preferences rather than a sincere attempt to conform one's life more closely to Christ. During the April 5 chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, which focuses on Holy Thursday as the day Jesus shared his priesthood with the apostles, the pope said he wanted to use the occasion to ask all priests, including himself, to meditate upon what their consecration really means. "Are you resolved to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to him," which entails a renunciation of oneself and "of the much-vaunted self-fulfillment," the pope asked. Being Christ-like means not to be served but to serve, not taking but giving, he said. If that is the nature of the priesthood, then what should be the response of priests when faced with "the often dramatic situation of the church today," the pope asked. Without specifying the country, Pope Benedict said a group of priests from a European nation have issued a call for disobedience of church teaching, specifically regarding the question of women's ordination. Last year the president of the Austrian bishops' conference, Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, condemned a "Call to Disobedience," signed by 250 of Austria's 4,200 Catholic priests. The document urged Catholics to begin a campaign in support of women priests and "priestless eucharistic liturgies," as well as for Communion to be given to non-Catholics and remarried divorcees.

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Occupy activists arrested inside church-owned building in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- About 75 Occupy San Francisco activists were arrested and cited for misdemeanor trespassing April 2 when police officers removed them from a building owned by the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The building, blocks from City Hall, had been used for music classes by Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory high school as recently as 2010, although the activists believed it had been vacant for several years. The building sustained considerable damage while activists occupied it, Sgt. Michael Andraychak, San Francisco Police Department spokesman, told the Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper. Spray-painted graffiti was found around the building, including the message "Kill cops," he said. Police had to demolish some doors to reach trespassers and arrest them, he added. Those arrested were cited and given court dates, Andraychak said. The archdiocese issued a statement prior to the arrests saying it had purchased two buildings, including the occupied property, for the school to use. "Some of the buildings have been used for music and art classes until as recently as 18 months ago. These classes have been relocated to the newly built theater arts center directly adjacent to the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption," the statement said.


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