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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Apr-5-2013

By Catholic News Service


Religious join bishops in urging states to opt for Medicaid expansion

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Bishops and men and women religious are urging governors and state legislators in a handful of states to opt for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. The action comes in states where no final decision has been made on whether to expand Medicaid or let the federal government step in to set up federal exchanges to widen access to health care for the uninsured. Individual bishops or state Catholic conferences in Indiana, Kansas, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia have called for the expansion in some form, advocating that it is a morally just action to take for the uninsured and working poor. In Pennsylvania, 1,300 sisters, brothers and priests petitioned Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who is Catholic, to reverse his decision not to expand Medicaid. "What we believe, not only as Catholics but as women religious, we need to look out for those who are most marginalized," said Sister Donna Korba, director of the Office and Justice and Peace for her order, Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Scranton, Pa. "With something like health care, it seems almost logical that the federal government is offering an opportunity for those who are uninsured to become insured," a board member of Network, the Catholic social justice lobby, told Catholic News Service in explaining why she and Sister Mary Beth Hamm, who is a Sister of St. Joseph, and Mercy Sister Diane Guerin, both of Philadelphia, organized the petition drive.

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Traditional marriage 'important for the social good,' says archbishop

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Traditional marriage between one man and one woman is really about the good of children and families, and the "good of families" is about "the good of society," said the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. "That's in the natural order, that's the way marriage exists in nature, that's why marriage is important for the social good," said Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco. "Nature promotes a child having a father and a mother. There's no way a child could come into the world other than with a father and a mother," he added. The Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage "because we favor preserving the definition of marriage in the law as it exists naturally," he told Catholic News Service. "What we're really opposed to is marriage redefinition. Our opponents in the debate ... favor not expanding the right of marriage but redefining it to be something different from what it is to include the union of two people of the same sex," he said. "One could ask, 'Well why should it stop there, why can't it include other types of unions, such as multiple partners?'" Archbishop Cordileone spoke to CNS March 26 in Washington. That morning, he addressed the March for Marriage rally on the National Mall. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was a co-sponsor of the event.

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Pope's election puts new focus on Jesuits' role within the church

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- The election of Pope Francis, the first member of the Society of Jesus to rise to the papacy, "has been one long infomercial" for the order, said Jesuit Father Brian Paulson, rector of the Jesuit community at Loyola University Chicago. Not in a bad sense though. Members of the order hope that "the good example and holiness of Pope Francis will inspire young men to consider the Society of Jesus as a way to serve Christ and his church," Father Paulson said. Certainly, the election of Pope Francis will bring new attention to the order and the work its members carry out as missionaries around the world as well as in education and on behalf of social justice. Members of the order admitted that stereotypes abound about the society, but that critics often fail to consider the broad scale of work carried out by the world's largest order of religious men. "Anybody who thinks they can label the Jesuits are fooling themselves," said Jesuit Father Richard Salmi, president of Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala. "That's the joy of being a Jesuit, you don't have to be one little thing." Widely known as missionaries and social justice advocates who are highly educated and rigorous educators, Jesuits also serve as attorneys, researchers, astronomers and now pope. "The Jesuits were founded to be less cloistered, more out in the world," Jesuit Father Mark Lewis, superior of the order's New Orleans province, told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Nashville Diocese. "Our religious life is lived in the midst of activity."

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Allowing over-counter sale of contraceptives to all ages 'simply wrong'

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- An April 5 decision by a New York federal judge to lift age limits on purchases of over-the-counter emergency contraceptives should be "appealed and overturned," according to an official of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops. "No public health consideration justifies the unregulated distribution of such drugs to children," said Deirdre McQuade, spokeswoman for the USCCB's Secretariat for Pro Life Activities. "Many studies have shown that wider access to 'emergency contraception' among young people does not reduce pregnancy or abortion rates, but can contribute to higher rates of sexually transmitted disease," she said in a statement. The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman in Brooklyn, N.Y., said that within 30 days, the Food and Drug Administration must make emergency contraceptives available to women of all ages. Korman said the case wasn't about the potential misuse by 11-year-olds of the contraceptive called the morning-after pill or "Plan B." He said the number of girls that age likely to use the drugs was minuscule. Plan B, known generically as levonorgestrel, uses large doses of birth-control pills to prevent conception up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved over-the-counter sales of Plan B to women 18 and older; three years later, a court ruling made it available to women 17 and older without a prescription. Until Korman's ruling, anyone younger still needed a prescription. According to McQuade, "Plan B does not prevent or treat any disease, but makes young adolescent girls more available to sexual predators."

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Catholic educators focus on technology at annual convention in Houston

HOUSTON (CNS) -- More than 8,000 Catholic educators at the annual National Catholic Educational Association convention April 2-4 in Houston included catechists, teachers and administrators who teach preschoolers to high school students in cities and rural areas across the country and around the world. One thing the entire group seemed to have in common was the realization that technology is a major part -- or should be -- of their daily work. The convention included more than 60 workshops on technology and about 30 exhibits in the exhibition hall that promoted technology for classrooms and schools. This year, the participants for the first time also could make use of an app for smartphones to search for sessions, speakers and exhibitors or find their way around the George R. Brown Convention Center. "Technology is in the forefront for our members," said Karen Ristau, NCEA president. "Catholic educators are eager to bring the latest technological advances into our schools, parishes, colleges and seminaries. This convention provides a great resource for learning about new innovations from all these companies and networking with colleagues to hear what they're using as well."

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Obama reflects on 'blessed moments' he spent in Holy Land before Easter

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- President Barack Obama said his visit to the Holy Land just before Easter gave him "blessed moments" praying at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and walking where Jesus did, he said at a prayer breakfast at the White House April 5. "I had a chance to pray and reflect on Christ's birth, and his life, his sacrifice, his resurrection," Obama said in remarks at the annual breakfast he hosts for Christian religious leaders around Easter. "I thought about all the faithful pilgrims who for 2,000 years have done the same thing -- giving thanks for the fact that, as the book of Romans tells us, 'Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.' For Christians to walk where he walked and see what he saw are blessed moments," he said. Though he'd been to Jerusalem before, Obama told the gathering, this was his first visit to the church said to mark the spot where Jesus was born. He joked that observing how the Bethlehem church is managed by monks from three traditions -- Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic -- gave him "useful instruction, to see how managing different sections of the church and different clergy ... it feels familiar. Let's just put it that way." Obama was in the West Bank, Israel and Jordan March 19-23.

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Pope urges doctrinal office to act 'decisively' against sex abuse

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis reaffirmed the importance of responding decisively to the problem of the sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy and called on the Vatican office dealing with suspected cases to continue carrying out its mandate. During an April 5 meeting with Archbishop Gerhard L. Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the pope discussed the office's various responsibilities. However, he made a particular point of highlighting its work to counter clerical sexual abuse, telling Archbishop Muller he wanted the congregation to continue with the policies of retired Pope Benedict XVI wanted and "to act decisively concerning cases of sexual abuse," the Vatican said in a written statement released after the meeting. The pope, the statement said, asked the congregation to continue: "promoting measures that protect minors, above all; help for those who have suffered such violence in the past; necessary procedures against those found guilty; (and) the commitment of bishops' conferences in formulating and implementing the necessary directives in this is area that is so important for the church's witness and credibility." The pope also assured victims that they had a special place in his heart and prayers.

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In Argentina, some hope new pope brings Catholics back to churches

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (CNS) -- Rafaela Gonzalez spent the wee hours of March 19 watching the installation of the first Argentine pope on the big screens outside the city's cathedral. She spoke with admiration about Pope Francis, with disdain for the country's political picture and with concern for the church in a country with an overwhelmingly Catholic population, but a flock moving further from parishes, priests and church practices. "It's a very superficial Catholicism" in Argentina, said Gonzalez, a nurse and a member of the Schonstatt Sisters of Mary, a secular institute. "We have catechism classes, but it has not done a lot to deepen the faith." Her concerns and complaints cut to the reality of a country where the majority claims to be Catholic, pride for the pope is common and questions persist about the church's role during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. Many Argentines confirmed that Catholics participate in pilgrimages and celebrate their patron saints -- especially St. Cajetan and Our Lady of Lujan, the national patroness -- but do not attend Mass or get involved in parish life. Increasing numbers of Argentines profess no religious affiliation, and evangelical and other Christian confessions have gained ground. In Argentina, the world's eighth-largest country geographically, rural regions and the provinces are considered more Catholic than the capital. But even in the outlying areas, "there's been a decline in participation for Mass and patron saint holidays," said Gustavo Loza, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Cordoba, northwest of Buenos Aires.

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Pope expresses his closeness to victims of flooding in Buenos Aires

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Affirming his closeness to his "beloved Argentine people," Pope Francis offered his prayers for the victims of recent flooding in Buenos Aires and surrounding areas, and he urged government offices and private citizens to help those most in need. The pope, wanting to express his spiritual closeness "in a concrete way," also sent $50,000 to the Archdiocese of La Plata to assist victims of the flooding, according to Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig, the Vatican nuncio to Argentina. The majority of those who died in Argentina following torrential rains were in and around La Plata. The Argentine Catholic news agency, known by the acronym AICA, reported April 5 that the pope's donation was sent through the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which distributes papal charity and encourages Catholic charitable giving. Unusually heavy rains in early April caused flash floods and flooding that were blamed for causing more than 50 deaths in and around Buenos Aires -- where the pope had been archbishop -- and La Plata. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, wrote in a message to the new archbishop of Buenos Aires, Archbishop Mario Aurelio Poli, that Pope Francis was deeply saddened to hear of all the damaged caused by the flooding, was praying for the deceased and wanted everyone touched by the tragedy to know he was close to them.

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St. John Lateran: Symbol of church's coexistence with secular power

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Since his first public remarks on the night of his election March 13, Pope Francis has impressed many observers with a marked preference for describing himself not as the pope but as the bishop of Rome -- a role he was scheduled to assume in a special way April 7 by celebrating his first Mass in the city's cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateran. While emphasizing his diocesan identity -- which is essentially symbolic, since most of his ordinary episcopal responsibilities are fulfilled by papal vicar for Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini -- Pope Francis has not sought to downplay his role as pastor of the universal church. In various talks over his first weeks in office, the pope has repeatedly focused on what he deems some of the most urgent global challenges for the church and humanity today, including poverty, war, environmental pollution and moral relativism. Yet Pope Francis could have several other reasons for highlighting his role as a diocesan bishop. He may wish to signal that his pontificate will be marked by a highly pastoral agenda -- which, far from keeping him occupied with local affairs, might well lead him to travel widely as an evangelical missionary in the mold of Blessed John Paul II. By reminding his fellow bishops that he is one of them, the pope may also be underscoring his commitment to the principle of collegiality, i.e., shared governance of the church by all the world's bishops in communion with the pope.

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Pope names Washington, D.C., native archbishop in Lithuania

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has named Bishop Gintaras Grusas, a 51-year-old Washington, D.C., native, to be the new archbishop of Vilnius, Lithuania. The new archbishop, who has served as head of Lithuania's military ordinariate since 2010, succeeds 76-year-old Cardinal Audrys Backis. The Vatican announced April 5 that the pope had accepted Cardinal Backis' resignation and had appointed the former IBM technical consultant for marketing to succeed him. Shortly after Pope Benedict XVI named him a bishop in 2010, Archbishop Grusas told Catholic News Service, "I'm not sure if the marketing world took it from Jesus, but there are some basic principles that apply like: People buy from people they like. When you evangelize, you don't want to come around with a stick and beat it into people. It just doesn't work," he said. The new archbishop was born to Lithuanian immigrants and grew up in the Los Angeles area. His parents were separated by World War II and, after 16 years of being caught behind the Iron Curtain, his mother and 17-year-old sister were among just 200 families allowed to leave the Soviet Union to be reunited with family in the United States. His mom and sister joined his father in 1960, and he was born a year later.


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