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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS May-23-2012

By Catholic News Service


Poll finds most value religious freedom even when it conflicts with law

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CNS) -- Nearly three-quarters of Americans in a Knights of Columbus-Marist poll said freedom of religion should be protected in this country, even if it conflicts with other laws. The survey of 1,606 U.S. adults was conducted by telephone May 10-14, shortly before 43 dioceses and Catholic organizations filed suit in 12 federal courts against the Obama administration's mandate that contraceptives, some abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations must be provided free of charge in most health plans, even by employers that have religious objections. Results of the survey were released May 22, a day after the lawsuits were filed. In the poll, respondents were asked to choose which of two statements "comes closer to your view": "Freedom of religion should be protected even if it goes against government laws" or "Government laws should be observed without exception even if it restricts freedom of religion." Overall, 74 percent of the respondents agreed with the first statement and only 26 percent agreed with the second. Support for the first statement was highest among Republicans (86 percent) and those who described themselves as conservative or very conservative (84 percent), but even 60 percent of those who said they were liberal or very liberal said freedom of religion should be protected. Strong majorities also said health professionals and organizations should be permitted to opt out of participating in procedures they oppose for religious reasons. By a margin of 58 percent to 38 percent, poll respondents said these individuals and groups should be able to opt out of providing abortions; a smaller majority (51 percent to 46 percent) said they should be allowed to opt out of prescribing or dispensing birth control.

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Files documenting claims of abuse by California Franciscans made public

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- More than 8,500 pages of material detailing claims of sexual abuse by a group of Franciscan priests and brothers in California were made public May 23. The release of the documents was one unfinished item of business from a 2006 court settlement that awarded $28 million, the vast majority of it from the St. Barbara Province of the Franciscan Friars and Brothers, to settle abuse claims from 25 plaintiffs. The province, based in Oakland, used the proceeds from the sale of a closed seminary, where many of the incidents were alleged to have occurred, to help finance the settlement. The high school seminary closed in 1987. As part of the settlement, the Franciscans agreed to let a judge review for possible public dissemination internal church documents as well as depositions in the litigation, showing how the order handled sexual abuse allegations among its clerics. None of the six priests and three brothers cited in the documents are in active ministry. Some are dead. Others are living at Franciscan residences and restricted from leaving the grounds unaccompanied. In the archive are personnel, psychological, confidential and laicization files, as well as witness depositions. One priest wrote a "sexual autobiography" that was included with the release of the files. In some cases, plaintiffs filed applications to amend complaints against some of the priests and brothers. Attempts by Catholic News Service to reach the current Franciscan provincial, Franciscan Father John Hardin, for comment were unsuccessful. The province's website was silent on the release of the files. The clerics accused of abuse had fought their release since 2006. The case reached the California Supreme Court, which ruled against them. All of the documents are available for viewing at http://bishopaccountability.org/franciscans/.

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Dublin's city center 'Camino' takes pilgrims to seven historic churches

DUBLIN (CNS) -- A new city center "Camino," or pilgrim walk, has been launched in Dublin as part of the celebrations surrounding the International Eucharistic Congress set for June 10-17. The walk, involving prayerful visits to seven of Dublin's most historic Catholic and Anglican churches, is partly inspired by the famous pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain and partly inspired by the traditional Dublin devotion of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday. Unlike the pilgrimage across Spain to the burial place of St. James, which takes weeks to complete, the Dublin walk can be completed in about four hours. In typical Irish fashion, the Dublin pilgrimage has no set route; visitors can make their own path to the churches in any order desired. The pilgrim walk will operate June 2-16. Participants will be given a "Pilgrim Passport" that can be stamped at each church, which will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Mass will be celebrated at 5:45 p.m. daily at St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral, where people who have finished the walk can receive a certificate marking completion of the pilgrimage. Father Damian O'Reilly, administrator of the pro-cathedral and one of the pilgrimage's organizers said interest in the walk has been high and that 30,000 passports have been ordered. "There is great excitement in each of the parishes, where there will be volunteer pilgrimage ambassadors to greet the pilgrims and stamp their passports," he said." The volunteers see it as a way of showcasing both their churches and their parishes -- there is a great pride of place."

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Each human being is a miracle loved by God the father, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Addressing God as "Father" is an acknowledgement that God is the one who created, supports and guides humanity, Pope Benedict XVI said. "Maybe people today do not understand the beauty, greatness and deep consolation" that comes from recognizing God as father, "because the paternal figure is not sufficiently present today," the pope said May 23 during his weekly general audience. Addressing an estimated 20,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square, Pope Benedict continued a series of audience talks about prayer in the letters of St. Paul. Focusing on St. Paul's assertion that it is the Holy Spirit that enables people to pray and to address God as "Abba, Father," the pope said, "the absence of one's father or the lack of a father's presence in a child's life today is a big problem that always makes it difficult to understand fully what it means to say that God is our father." From the beginning of Christianity, believers adopted Jesus' form of addressing God as father, especially in the Lord's Prayer, the pope said. "Christianity is not a religion of fear, but of trust and love for the Father who loves us," he said. Pope Benedict acknowledged that "critics of religion have said that speaking of God as 'father' is simply a projection" of our own longings and desires, but the Gospel shows that the opposite is true, because "Christ shows us who the father is and what a true father is, so that we can understand and also learn what true fatherhood is."

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Italian bishops publish first clerical sex abuse norms

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Italian bishops' conference released its first ever set of guidelines for handling accusations of clerical sexual abuse, urging bishops to cooperate with civil authorities, but also making it clear that bishops in Italy have no legal obligation to report suspected cases to police. Bishop Mariano Crociata, general secretary of the bishops' conference, presented the guidelines to reporters May 22 and told them that 135 cases of clerical sexual abuse of minors had been reported between 2000 and 2012. The bishop did not give further details about the cases or how they were handled, other than to say that none of the priests involved will be allowed to return to normal pastoral work where they would have contact with children. The introduction to the Italian guidelines says that a bishop's first concern must be "the protection of minors, care for the victims of abuse and the formation of future priests and religious." A bishop informed of a case of abuse "always must be available to listen to the victim and the victim's family, assuring them that all care will be taken to treat the case with justice and making a commitment to offer spiritual and psychological support while respecting the freedom of the victim" to take the matter to the police.

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States must not force church health care providers to violate morality

GENEVA (CNS) -- The Vatican praised national efforts to provide universal and affordable health care access and coverage, noting that policies based on the principles of equity, human rights and social justice ensure the best care for the most people. Governments also should recognize and support the work of nongovernmental organizations, including the church, in their efforts to provide wider health care access "without obliging them to participate in activities they find morally abhorrent," said Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, head of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry. The archbishop made his comments to senior government health care officials attending the World Health Organization's annual World Health Assembly in Geneva. The May 21-26 meeting focused on a number of public health issues, including universal health coverage, mental disorders and the Millennium Development Goals. Archbishop Zimowski, who headed the Vatican delegation to the assembly, urged all 194 member states "to aim for affordable universal coverage and access for all citizens on the basis of equity and solidarity." He reiterated Pope Benedict XVI's call for "real distributive justice which, on the basis of objective needs, guarantees adequate care to all," while adding that health care should never "disregard the moral rules that must govern it."

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Catholics in Inner Mongolia seek extra prayers during difficult time

HOHHOT, China (CNS) -- Catholics in China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region have called on fellow believers to pray for them May 24, the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China, during what they say is their most difficult time in recent decades. The Asian church news agency UCA News reported that church sources told them the Catholic community in the region has faced a series of suppressive acts by authorities aimed at forcing clergy from the clandestine, or underground, Catholic community to join the government-sanctioned Catholic Patriotic Association. "It is very likely that the faithful have to quietly pass Pentecost this Sunday, one of the four major church feasts widely celebrated in China, as they did so at Easter," a source told UCA News. To avoid arrest, underground priests remain in hiding and cannot carry out normal pastoral work because they have refused to support the patriotic association, the source said. Father Joseph Gao Jiangping, an underground diocesan administrator, has been confined in isolation at a detention center in Hohhot since he was taken into custody Feb. 15. Church sources said the priest, in his 40s, is in poor physical condition because of torture and continuous interrogation. Local officials may continue his detention with charge, "worrying that his influence among local Catholics would be enlarged, or they would incur international criticism if he is sentenced," one source said. "On the other hand, if he is released, it would affect expansion of the official church community."

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Support for 'pagan babies' showed solidarity, missions leader says

NEW YORK (CNS) -- They were called "pagan babies," an appellation that would never be used today. When Oblate Father Andrew Small asked who remembered them at the inaugural World Mission Dinner in New York, a few hands went up, mostly belonging to people with gray hair. But Father Small, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, wasn't apologizing for the old "adoption" program in which children in Catholic schools would save their pennies. When they reached $5, they then "ransomed" a child overseas, got a certificate and the right to name the child being looked after by missionary sisters, brothers and priests abroad. The money collected in the United States went to help feed, clothe and educate them. "We can smile at it now at perhaps how silly it was," Father Small said. "But, in fact, the entire program was rooted in a sense of solidarity and charity in the broadest understanding of the word. No one was, in fact, adopted or bought. Despite its apparent condescending tone at times, it instilled a radical sense of urgency in children that we are responsible for one another." Those who would like to know what became of their "pagan babies" will get a chance to find out when Pontifical Mission Societies formally launches its Great Works Campaign in the coming months. The campaign will celebrate the legacy of love and support the program offered, and recall the babies with whom American children once connected through the Holy Childhood Association. An interactive website will feature video interviews with some of the former "pagan babies," now nuns, priests and catechists in their homelands. "Some became doctors and lawyers and schoolteachers and others became lay catechists, sisters and priests, operating clinics and schools, colleges and seminaries," Father Small explained, "and let me tell you something -- they need your help today as much as they needed it 30 and 40 years ago."

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Catholic Extension selects 12 finalists for annual Lumen Christi Award

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Catholic Extension selected 12 finalists for its 35th annual Lumen Christi ("Light of Christ") Award, which recognizes individuals, groups or ministries that seek to be like Christ in their mission dioceses. The finalists are: David Balch, Diocese of Monterey, Calif., a director of youth and youth adult ministry; Jesuit Father John Hatcher, Diocese of Rapid City, S.D., who ministers to the Lakota community; Father Peter Zalewski, Diocese of Pensacola, Fla., an Air Force Reserve chaplain and host of a regional Catholic TV program; Gloria Coronado, San Antonio Archdiocese, a Catholic radio network producer and host; Jaime Torres, Diocese of Little Rock, Ark., an associate director of Hispanic ministry and Catholic rap artist; Jesus Abrego, Diocese of Beaumont, Texas, a director of Hispanic ministry; Lourdes Garza, Diocese of Knoxville, Tenn., a director of Hispanic ministry; Mary Pat Jahner, Diocese of Fargo, N.D., co-founder of a maternity home; Richard Gallegos, Diocese of Boise, Idaho, a prison ministry volunteer leader; Room at the Inn, Diocese of Marquette, Mich., an interdenominational community shelter; Felician Sisters Mary Susanne Dziedzic, Mary Johnna Ciezobka, and Mary Jacqueline Benbenek, Diocese of Charleston, S.C., who work to improve community resources and safety; and Divine Providence Sister Marie Rose Messingschlager, Diocese of Duluth, Minn., a pastoral minister to American Indian communities. A panel of judges will consider several factors when selecting the Lumen Christi Award winner this fall. The public has until June 1 to vote for their favorite finalist through Catholic Extension's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CatholicExtension.


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