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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Dec-7-2012

By Catholic News Service


Supreme Court to hear cases on same-sex marriage

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Supreme Court will take up in the spring two cases over the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. In orders issued Dec. 7, the court agreed to hear a case over California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage, and one out of New York over the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines a marriage as being between one man and one woman. The cases likely will be on the court's calendar for argument in March, with a ruling before the end of the term in late June. After weeks of court-watching when the petitions for review of more than half a dozen cases over the same-sex marriage were on the justices' list for consideration, the orders Dec. 7 suggested the justices worked at covering multiple bases in what they granted, noted court-watchers at the Supreme Court blog, SCOTUSblog. The orders focused on two issues: how marriage is defined and whether same-sex couples who are legally married are entitled to the same kind of spousal benefits as heterosexual spouses. Saying he prayed that the court would uphold the traditional definition of marriage, which the Catholic Church supports, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the court's decision to take the cases is a "significant moment for our nation."

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Church urges 'circle of protection' for poor in US budget debate

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic social teaching's concern for human life and dignity stood front and center as the role of the federal spending was debated by political leaders and assessed by the electorate in a presidential election year. Concepts rooted in church teaching -- subsidiarity, solidarity and the common good -- entered the public arena, offering Americans insight into principles that, church leaders repeatedly explained, must be considered when identifying spending priorities while the country struggled with a growing federal deficit and a sluggish economic recovery. Throughout the debate, the chairmen of two committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops renewed their call for a "circle of protection" around federally funded programs benefiting poor and vulnerable people. "Our ongoing concerns remain centered on the care for the poor and most vulnerable in society," Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, told Catholic News Service Dec. 6. "We cannot neglect them as we seek to stabilize our political economy. While it is certainly a good to be accomplished in terms of creating a more stable economy with a balanced budget, it would not be beneficial to have such efforts result in a wider gap between those who are rich and those who are poor. The common good requires that the people who are hurting the most will not be hurting even more as a result of efforts that are being taken to improve the economy," he said.

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Federal judge says New York Archdiocese's HHS lawsuit can move forward

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CNS) -- A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that a lawsuit challenging the federal contraceptive mandate filed by the Archdiocese of New York and two other Catholic entities can move forward. The defendants -- the U.S. departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury -- filed a request that the case be dismissed, claiming the mandate is not causing "imminent injury" and that the government plans changes to accommodate religious groups that object to the requirement on moral grounds. The HHS mandate requires employers -- including most religious employers -- to provide free coverage of contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs free in employee health insurance. A narrow exemption applies only to those religious institutions that seek to inculcate their religious values and primarily employ and serve people of their own faith. In his Dec. 5 decision, Judge Brian M. Cogan of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern district of New York, rejected the defendants' claim, saying the mandate "has caused and will continue to cause plaintiffs harm so long as it remains in place. The departments' possible decision to amend their policies does not abrogate plaintiffs' right to seek relief for their injuries," he said. "The First Amendment does not require citizens to accept assurances from the government that, if the government later determines it has made a misstep, it will take ameliorative action," Cogan said. "There is no 'Trust us changes are coming' clause in the Constitution."

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Sluggish US recovery, European austerity show difficult world economy

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A slow and consistently sluggish recovery in the United States since the mid-2009 end of what was termed the "Great Recession," coupled with double-digit unemployment amid unpopular austerity measures in some of the euro zone's weakest members, has come to characterize much of the state of the economy in 2012. But those aren't the only troubling signs across the globe. China, often seen as the United States' biggest economic rival, has seen its growth slow for seven consecutive quarters. The economy of India, the world's largest democracy, has been stagnating. And the United States' ongoing talks about averting a so-called "fiscal cliff" has people wondering which would be worse: going over the cliff or taking the steps needed to avoid it. While the slowly improving economy was credited with helping President Barack Obama win re-election, unemployment figures are still stubbornly high -- the November number, released Dec. 7, was 7.7 percent -- and other economic indicators show limited progress. The malaise of the U.S. economy spreads across all sectors. "The housing market is dysfunctional and it does nothing to help our most vulnerable," said Sean Wendlinder, a grants specialist for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, during last February's Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington. Catholic Charities USA affiliates repeated their declarations throughout the year that the volume of requests for help is sometimes more than they can handle, and onetime donors are now seeking aid themselves. In a Labor Day statement, the chairman of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development said: "Our country continues to struggle with a broken economy that is not producing enough decent jobs. Millions of Americans suffer from unemployment, underemployment or are living in poverty as their basic needs too often go unmet."

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If charitable deductions are in peril, will contributions be, too?

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The dates may not be printed on many people's wall calendars, but they mark a certain passage of time nonetheless: the "October surprise" every four years before a presidential election, "Black Friday" the day after Thanksgiving in November to mark the start of the holiday shopping season, and the "December dilemma," in which families figure out how much they can afford to give to charities to qualify for best possible tax deductions or tax credits. This December, the dilemma takes on an added dimension. As Congress and the White House scramble to find new sources of revenue to go with budget cuts to achieve deficit reductions and avert a so-called "fiscal cliff," one tempting source for creating revenue is a ceiling on tax deductions. Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, predicted that if tax deductions are capped, "there will be a definite decrease in the philanthropy that charities will see." Leaders of charitable organizations flew en masse to Washington Dec. 4-5 to lobby members of Congress and White House staffers to leave charitable contributions alone. "First of all, it's not just a tax incentive for millionaires," Father Snyder said. "The majority of the gifts that come to Catholic Charities organizations -- and I think last year we had almost $900 million in charitable giving -- they are $1,000, $2,000, $5,000 gifts. But those people do itemize," he added. "It's 30 percent of the public, but the number of millionaires is far less than that. It really is folks wanting to support the work of the nonprofit sector." Released this June, a report on giving in 2011 from the Giving USA Foundation and the Center on Philanthropy, its research partner, showed that close to $300 billion was given to charities. Individuals accounted for the "vast majority" of the charitable gifts, which has been the case, the foundation said, since it first began examining charitable donations in 1955.

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Berlin Archdiocese to restructure for administrative, spiritual reasons

OXFORD, England (CNS) -- Germany's Berlin Archdiocese has announced plans to merge its parishes into larger "pastoral areas" and pool its institutional resources in the face of falling church membership. "This isn't just an administrative reform -- it's also a spiritual one," said Stefan Forner, archdiocesan spokesman. "The era of a popular folk church is over, so we've had to reshape our structures. It's no longer normal for children to be baptized and for schools to provide religious classes. These changes have been under way for decades, and they've generally occurred a bit earlier in Berlin." The reorganization was unveiled by Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki in a Dec. 2 pastoral to 105 local parishes. In a Catholic News Service interview Dec. 6, Forner said the move had encountered "mixed reactions" but been necessitated by demographic changes in the Catholic population. "Although every German diocese faces similar problems, the consequences vary -- some have closed parishes, while others have kept them open," Forner said. "But Catholics must realize it's now up to them to find their own place -- to see what's happening around them and find ways of working with each other." Berlin was the capital of East Germany under communist rule, and the archdiocese includes parts of the eastern states of Brandenburg and Mecklenberg-Vorpommern, although 80 percent of its 396,000 registered Catholics live in the German capital.

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Catholic beliefs are not open to popular vote, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When the Catholic Church affirms the importance of how all the faithful understand matters of faith and morals, it is not saying Catholic beliefs are open to a popular vote, Pope Benedict XVI said. An authentic "sensus fidei," which literally means "sense of faith," can come only when Catholics actively participate in the life of the church and follow the teaching of the pope and bishops, he said Dec. 7 during a meeting with members of the International Theological Commission. The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes the Second Vatican Council's teaching that "the whole body of the faithful ... cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith ('sensus fidei') on the part of the whole people, when, 'from the bishops to the last of the faithful,' they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals." Pope Benedict praised the theological commission members for including a discussion of the "sensus fidei" in "Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria," a document they released in March and which affirms the primacy of bishops over theologians as interpreters of church teaching. "Today it is particularly important to clarify the criteria which make it possible to distinguish the authentic 'sensus fidelium' from its counterfeits," the pope said. "In reality, it is not some kind of ecclesial public opinion, and it is unthinkable to use it to contest the teaching of the magisterium because the 'sensus fidei' cannot develop authentically in a believer except to the extent in which he or she fully participates in the life of the church, and this requires a responsible adherence to the magisterium."

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Being 'neutral' toward religion hurts religious freedom, says cardinal

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Most modern democracies have ended up hurting religious freedom in their effort to be "neutral" toward their citizens' diverse beliefs, said Cardinal Angelo Scola. Under the guise of "objectivity" and respecting diversity, many governments are really upholding and giving legitimacy to a culture that is devoid of God and hostile to the church's legitimate place in the public square, he said. The cardinal-archbishop of Milan, a prominent theologian, made his comments Dec. 6 during a prayer service on the eve of the feast of St. Ambrose, a fourth-century doctor of the church and patron saint of the city. The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, published a large part of the speech. Religious freedom was born with the Edict of Milan, Cardinal Scola said. The edict, whose1,700th anniversary will be marked next year, was a proclamation of tolerance of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. The proclamation introduced, for the first time in history, the cardinal said, the ideas of "religious liberty and secularity of the state," which are "two critical aspects of the good organization of the political realm." St. Ambrose called on Christians to respect civil authority, which, in turn, had to safeguard the personal and social freedoms of its people so that both governments and citizens would be cooperating for the common good, he said. However, the separation of religion and state progressively has lost a healthy balance, the cardinal said, with many democracies questioning, if not outright eliminating, its core "anthropological framework" that recognized the religious dimension.

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Congo's bishops say pact with rebels must not 'sell out' nation's unity

KINSHASA, Congo (CNS) -- As negotiations between the Congolese government and rebels were to begin, the nation's bishops warned that any agreement should not "sell out the unity of the Congolese nation." Over the past year, the Congolese bishops have repeatedly drawn attention to a strategy of "balkanization" of the Congo, advocated by neighboring countries that want to divide it and interfere with its rich mineral resources. "This strategy has followed the same trajectory for dozens of years: questions of (national) identity, finance, rejection of national authority, illegal exploitation of natural resources, forced displacement of populations and use of violence, all with a view to breaking up" Congo, the bishops said in a statement issued at the end of a three-day meeting in Kinshasa. "It is deplorable that some of you, in privileging your own interests, make yourselves complicit with those who are trying to destroy our national unity," the bishops said to politicians. They reaffirmed the sovereignty of the country and the "permanence of its borders ... fixed during colonization and recognized by the international community" in 1960. They said the integrity of the territory "is non-negotiable." Representatives of the government and mostly ethnic M23 rebels, whom the United Nations says are backed by neighboring Rwanda, were scheduled to meet in Kampala, Uganda, Dec. 7. A government spokesman said talks with the rebels were only one part of a solution that needed a regional or international resolution. The statement called on Congolese to show patriotism and remain vigilant so that no one "can make use of your ethnic identity in order to cause opposition for ends which are not clear."

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Salvation must be proclaimed, faith explained, papal preacher says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church has great resources and experience in helping the baptized learn about and live their faith, but it also can learn something from other Christians about the initial step of bringing people to faith in Jesus, said the preacher of the papal household. "Our situation is becoming more and more similar to that of the Apostles," who preached God's love and salvation in Christ to people who had never heard of Jesus, said Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa. As preacher of the papal household, Father Cantalamessa began leading a series of weekly Advent reflections Dec. 7 for Pope Benedict XVI and top Vatican officials. The Friday morning sessions are held in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel of the Apostolic Palace. "The strength of several non-Catholic churches is their emphasis on the initial moment of coming to faith," telling people about Jesus and helping them recognize him as Lord and savior, Father Cantalamessa said. But faith is stunted if everything in a Christian's life "continues to revolve around that initial moment." The Catholic Church, he said, has done a better job at recognizing that professing faith in Jesus is "just the beginning, not the end, of the Christian life." Especially during the Year of Faith, the preacher said, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a valuable tool for helping people learn more about the faith they were baptized into and about the kind of life they are called to live as a result. The purpose of the catechism, he said, is "to give shape to the faith, to give it content and to show its ethical and practical demands."

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French bishops say vote to allow embryo research 'shocking'

PARIS (CNS) -- The French bishops described as "shocking" the French Senate's approval of a law permitting the use of human embryos for stem-cell research. "The human embryo has the right to be protected," and current French law urges "respect for the human person 'from the beginning of its life,'" said Archbishop Pierre D'Ornellas of Rennes in a statement issued on behalf of the bishops' conference. "The Senate has challenged this respect. This is shocking," the archbishop said in the statement, released Dec. 6. Archbishop D'Ornellas, who represented the church in the dialogue with government officials that led to the adoption in 2011 of a national bioethics law, said the Senate decision to disregard the lives of the embryos, who are destroyed in the research, is even more shocking when one considers the general move in science toward using adult stem cells instead of those from embryos. The archbishop also said the Senate violated the mandate in the 2011 law that requires widespread discussion and debate before a vote on any bill touching on bioethical matters.

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Caritas leader: Pope's letter gives bishop strong role in social action

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Since its release Dec. 1, Pope Benedict XVI's apostolic letter on the "service of charity" has provoked widespread speculation on how it might affect Catholic charitable agencies in their fundraising, hiring and selection of projects. The letter directs bishops to strengthen agencies' religious identity and ensure that their activities conform to church teaching, in order to prevent a Catholic charity from becoming "just another form of social service." According to the cardinal who leads the church's largest confederation of relief, development and social service agencies, the apostolic letter is also an important message to him and his brother bishops. By legally requiring bishops to oversee charitable works in their dioceses, the document "implicates the role of the bishop in social action," said Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, president of Caritas Internationalis. "Many, many times we have heard (bishops) saying, 'Oh, no, my task is evangelization,'" the cardinal said. "In some places they thought (charity) was only the work of laypeople." In truth, the cardinal said, such service is incumbent on "every single baptized person. No one is permitted to delegate to others what is a duty of faith. And the duty of faith is to put your faith in practice through charity. Evangelization is incomplete without human promotion," the cardinal said, citing Pope Paul VI's 1975 apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Nuntiandi." And he noted that the October 2012 Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization affirmed that the "diakonia (service) of faith passes through the diakonia of charity."

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Papal secretary named archbishop, prefect of papal household

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI has named his personal secretary, Msgr. Georg Ganswein, an archbishop and the new prefect of the papal household. The 56-year-old archbishop-designate began working with the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1996 in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. When the cardinal was elected Pope Benedict in 2005, Msgr. Ganswein, who was his personal secretary, moved with him into the papal apartments. As the new prefect of the papal household, a position that involves organizing papal audiences, he succeeds U.S. Cardinal James M. Harvey, who joined the College of Cardinals in late November and was named archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said Dec. 7 that Archbishop-designate Ganswein would continue, for the time being, also serving as the pope's personal secretary. Born July 30, 1956, in Waldshut, Germany, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1984 for the Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau. After earning a degree in canon law from the Catholic theologian institute at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, he worked in the Freiburg archdiocesan tribunal before joining the staff of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments at the Vatican in 1995. He transferred to the doctrinal congregation a year later.


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