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Panel talks keeping the faith amid political spin

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Catholic News Service

NEW YORK — Catholic voters who seek objective facts, study issues carefully and consider the teachings of the church are well-equipped to weather the storms of negativity and partisan sniping associated with the upcoming elections, according to panelists at an Oct. 18 conference on “Keeping the Faith in a Season of Spin.”

Speakers at the program at Jesuit-run Fordham University offered observations on the role of faith and principles for both candidates and voters.

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Faith groups seek to end domestic violence

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In desperation, women suffering from domestic violence often turn to faith communities for help.

These communities can offer vital support and connect women with services they need such as legal assistance and temporary housing. But the ability to do this well is not necessarily a given. Every leader of every faith community across the country will not automatically have the right response or the necessary information on hand to best help victims of domestic violence.

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D.A. rejects accusation against Pa. bishop

October 20th, 2011 Posted in National News Tags: , ,

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By Chuck Moody

Catholic News Service

PITTSBURGH — Beaver County District Attorney Anthony Berosh said he found no basis “in law or fact” to sustain allegations made by a former student that Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik sexually assaulted him while he was vice principal of Quigley Catholic High School in Baden in the 1980s.

Berosh held a news conference Oct. 5, a few hours after Bishop Zubik at a news conference of his own denied the accusation made on a website that he had sexually assaulted the student.

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Father Pavone seeks mediation with Texas bishop

October 20th, 2011 Posted in National News Tags: , , ,

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By Dennis Sadowski

Catholic News Service

Saying that communication has broken down between Bishop Patrick J. Zurek of Amarillo, Texas, and himself, pro-life activist Father Frank Pavone is seeking mediation to resolve differences stemming from questions over the financial operations of Priests for Life.

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Nuns throw aid to poor along U.S. border fence

October 19th, 2011 Posted in National News Tags:

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By Joseph J. Kolb

Catholic News Service

SUNLAND PARK, N.M. — The compact car lifted a trail of dust as it traveled slowly along the 18-foot-tall chain-link fence, attracting the attention of the U.S. Border Patrol agent sitting in his green and white SUV.

When the vehicle stopped and two women got out, he was concerned contraband might be tossed over the fence into the United States to the waiting vehicle. Instead, the women began throwing items into Mexico.

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House passes Protect Life Act

October 18th, 2011 Posted in National News

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By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House Oct. 13 passed the Protect Life Act, which applies long-standing federal policies on abortion funding and conscience rights to the health reform law.

The measure passed with a bipartisan vote of 251 to 172. Its chief sponsors were Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., chairman of the Health Subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., who co-chairs the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus. The bill also had 144 co-sponsors.

“The health care law made it clear that the current way we prevent taxpayer funding of abortion through annual riders is dangerously fragile,” Lipinski said in January when the measure was introduced. “We must take action to prevent federal funding for abortion under the health care law and throughout the government, without exception.” Read more »

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Ruling expected on Mass. church protest

October 18th, 2011 Posted in National News

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By Father Bill Pomerleau

Catholic News Service

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — A Superior Court judge took under advisement a request by the Diocese of Springfield to evict protesters from a former Catholic church in Holyoke, but hinted that he had enough information to make a ruling soon.

“I have read all the materials submitted to me, including the reports by experts,” said Judge C. Jeffrey Kinder, who asked few questions during an hour-long hearing in a courtroom full of spectators.

“I do find that the danger is not so great that I need to rule now,” said Judge Kinder, who is considering whether to grant the diocese a preliminary injunction against a group of parishioners who have been occupying the church since its closure June 30. Read more »

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Missouri bishop plans ‘vigorous defense’

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Bishop Robert W. Finn and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, which he heads, entered pleas of not guilty to misdemeanor charges of failure to report child abuse.

The charges, brought by Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker in relation to the diocese’s handling of the case of Father Shawn Ratigan, were acknowledged in an Oct. 14 statement on the diocesan website.

“Bishop Finn denies any criminal wrongdoing and has cooperated at all stages with law enforcement, the grand jury, the prosecutor’s office” and the independent commission appointed by the diocese to study the matter, said Gerald Handley, the bishop’s attorney. “We will continue our efforts to resolve this matter.”

Bishop Finn said in a statement after diocesan attorneys entered the pleas in court that he “will meet these announcements with a steady resolve and a vigorous defense.”

The charge against Bishop Finn carries a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and one year in jail. The diocese faces a fine of up to $5,000.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, had no comment on the indictment. The diocese had no further comment.

Father Ratigan was arrested in May on state charges of possessing child pornography. In August, federal prosecutors charged him with producing child pornography. The priest, a former pastor, also is facing accusations made against him in two separate lawsuits filed this summer.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and Bishop Finn also have been named in the civil suits, which accuse both of failing to keep Father Ratigan away from children apparently after learning disturbing images were found on the priest’s computer and being warned of the priest’s inappropriate behavior around children.

In early September, an independent report commissioned by the diocese to examine its policies and procedures on assessing child sexual abuse allegations found “shortcomings, inaction and confusing procedures.”

The report also said that “diocesan leaders failed to follow their own policies and procedures for responding to reports” relating to abuse claims.

After the priest’s arrest, Bishop Finn pledged to cooperate with law enforcement authorities and Baker credited him for that during a news conference announcing the indictments. The grand jury handed down the indictments Oct. 6, but they were not made public because Bishop Finn was traveling outside of the country and did not return until late on Oct. 13, Baker said.

Bishop Finn testified before the grand jury Sept. 16. Afterward, he told reporters, “We’re doing the best we can to cooperate with law enforcement.”

Several other diocesan leaders, including diocesan spokeswoman Rebecca Summers, also testified before the grand jury, the Kansas City Star daily newspaper reported.

In the diocesan statement, Bishop Finn said that once the situation with Father Ratigan arose, the diocese began to “address the issues that led to this crisis.” He pointed to steps to reinforce and expand diocesan procedures regarding the reporting of child sex abuse. He also appointed an ombudsman charged with having “the responsibility and authority to receive and investigate reports of suspicious, inappropriate behavior or sexual misconduct by clergy, employees or program volunteers.”

A separate vicar for clergy, Father Jerome Powers, also was appointed. The role previously had been part of the vicar general’s responsibilities.

Bishop Finn also asked for prayers for himself and the diocese as well as for the “unity of our priests, our people, the parishes, and the Catholic institutions.”

“With deep faith, we will weather this storm and never cease to fulfill our mission, even in moments of adversity,” he said.

Suspicions about Father Ratigan first arose in mid-December 2010, when a laptop belonging to the priest, then pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, was turned in to diocesan officials; a computer technician found disturbing photos on the hard drive. The photos included pictures of female children at parish events, including one of a naked female child who was not identifiable.

In May, a search of his family’s home turned up a disk and hard drive with 18 different images of child pornography, Father Ratigan was charged with three counts of possession of child pornography in Clay County, followed later by the federal charges.

In a message read in parishes at Masses in early June, Bishop Finn expressed regret for the way the diocese handled information it received about Father Ratigan’s activities.

“As bishop, I take full responsibility for these failures and sincerely apologize to you for them. Clearly, we have to do more. Please know that we have — and will continue to cooperate with all local authorities regarding these matters,” he said.

Contributing to this report was John Thavis in Rome. The full statement from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is available at www.diocese-kcsj.org/news/viewNews.php?nid=168.

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Bishops’ agency denied grant for trafficking victims

October 17th, 2011 Posted in National News

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Since 2006, the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services has helped more than 2,700 victims of human trafficking obtain food, clothing and access to medical care.

That service has come to a halt because the agency recently learned it did not receive a new grant award for this work from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. MRS’ prior contract for the trafficking program ended Oct. 10.

Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Catholic News Service Oct. 11 that she hoped the Catholic Church’s “position against abortion, sterilization and artificial contraception has not entered into this decision” by the HHS refugee office to reject MRS’ application for a new grant, “especially since this administration has said it stands fully behind freedom of conscience.”

She noted that the MRS’s anti-trafficking program “ran quite well without these services” and said it would be “tragic if abortion politics harmed the men, women and children already at risk because of the crime and scandal of human trafficking.”

MRS officials had no immediate comment.

Jesse Moore, spokesman for Health and Human Services, simply told CNS in an Oct. 12 email that the “grantees were awarded funding through a competitive grant process to provide comprehensive case management services for human trafficking victims through the National Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Program.”

He added that the “competitive grant process is used across the government and allows federal agencies to consider a broad range of potential applicants and select those that can deliver services most effectively and efficiently.”

In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for not making the U.S. Catholic bishops’ agency include referrals for abortion, sterilization and artificial contraception in its anti-trafficking program. That case is still pending.

Sister Mary Ann said in an email to CNS that MRS officials are concerned about their clients and hope they will “not suffer from a clumsy transition to new agencies or from limited or lack of services.”

MRS worked with numerous agencies in its anti-trafficking program across the United States. About one-third of these subcontractors were Catholic agencies; others included Lutheran Family Services, Jewish Family Services and anti-domestic violence groups.

Three groups were awarded federal grants for anti-trafficking programs. The groups are Tapestri, based in Atlanta, Heartland Human Care Services in Chicago and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants based in Washington. The groups were awarded a $5 million grant for the first year with the possibility of adding two additional years.

The U.S. bishops spoke of the relationship between MRS and HHS when they formed an Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty in late September to specifically address actions at various levels of government that pose dangers to the free exercise of religion.

In announcing the new committee, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB, called into question the HHS requirement that MRS provide the “full range of reproductive service” — including abortion and contraception — to trafficking victims in its cooperative agreements and government contracts.

Archbishop Dolan also reiterated the U.S. bishops’ concern about HHS regulations that would mandate the coverage of contraception and sterilization in all private health insurance plans while failing to adequately exempt insurers and individuals that have religious or moral objections to the mandate.

Meanwhile, Catholic Charities agencies are listed as recipients of grants announced in early October for organizations that help support poor and vulnerable families and especially focus on responsible fatherhood. The grants are distributed by HHS’ Administration for Children and Families.

The church’s role in ending human trafficking cannot be overlooked, according to Miguel H. Diaz, the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

In a conference in May at the Vatican on building public-private partnerships in the battle against modern-day slavery, he said the only way to end this global human rights violation is for governments to enlist the help of religious leaders, businesses, consumers and other private entities.

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Keeping Sunday sacred

October 13th, 2011 Posted in National News

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Catholic News Service

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cardinal Francis Arinze told attendees at the Diocese of Charlotte’s eucharistic congress that “religion is not an option.”

“It is not an accessory footnote. It is the duty of the human creature in front of God the creator,” he said.

Cardinal Arinze spoke about the importance of Sunday Mass and the observance of Sunday as the Lord’s day in an increasingly secularized world.

“Sunday is the Lord’s day, the day of Christ, the day of the church and also God’s gift to us humans,” said the Nigerian cardinal, retired prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments and a leading Vatican scholar on liturgy, Africa and Islam.

“The eucharistic celebration is central to Sunday. It is important to see Sunday as source, summit and center of Catholic life,” he said.

The seventh annual congress, hosted by Charlotte Bishop Peter J. Jugis, attracted a record crowd of more than 11,000 Catholics from around the Carolinas to the Charlotte Convention Center Sept. 23-24. Raleigh Bishop Michael F. Burbidge also spoke during the two-day event, one of the few eucharistic congresses in the U.S. held annually and one of only two held in the Southeast each year.

The congress included a eucharistic procession through downtown Charlotte; Mass and confession; eucharistic adoration at the convention center and at historic St. Peter Catholic Church in downtown Charlotte; and educational programs in both English and Spanish for children and adults.

Speaking to a crowd of more than 2,500 at the convention center Sept. 23, Cardinal Arinze emphasized why Christians should keep Sunday holy despite the challenges and distractions they face.

“All time, all history belongs to God. Every instant should be spent in adoring and praising him and rejoicing in his presence. Nevertheless, it remains true that God has singled out a day in the week when humanity should pay special attention to him. So as the Book of Genesis tells us, ‘So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it,’” he said.

“The Third Commandment is very clear: ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.’ The day of the Lord is therefore not just a day of rest for man. … It is primarily a day in which … man manifests his gratitude to God the creator by adoration, praise, thanksgiving and by admiration of the wonders provided by God.

“And the church does this especially by the eucharistic celebration,” which is “’the fount and apex of the whole Christian life,’” he said, quoting “Lumen Gentium.”

Gathering for Mass gives Catholics a powerful sense of being a community of faith, worship and solidarity, he explained, and this “sense of catholicity” that comes from knowing Catholics the world over are gathering for the same celebration “is very reassuring.”

There are obstacles to honoring the day of the Lord, though, he said. In the more industrialized nations, he blamed “the weekend mentality” for infringing on the observance.

“The tendency is to see” both Saturday and Sunday, he said, as “a period in which normal work activities are suspended, so one can “make space for several engagements for which there was not enough time during the week,” he explained.

Many view Sunday as a free day for sports and recreation — football games, picnics, visits to friends, or grocery shopping, Cardinal Arinze said.

“Such social and cultural activities are good in themselves. … Unfortunately, when Sunday loses its fundamental meaning and becomes merely part of a ‘weekend,’ it can happen that people stay locked within a horizon so limited that they can no longer see ‘the heavens.’”

“Many modern societies are affected by the virus of secularism,” he said. “People live as if God did not exist and as if man were the center around which everything else should rotate. Such people are trying to turn ‘the day of the Lord’ into ‘the day of man.’”

This “drags the human heart away from God and religion and from a sense of God’s transcendence” and “progressively obscures or elbows out long-established Christian values,” Cardinal Arinze added.

In a bilingual homily at the closing Mass of the congress Sept. 24, Bishop Jugis told participants that in a world sadly in need of love, there is one place Catholics know it can be found: at the altar in the Eucharist.

“Is it really the center of our life, around which everything revolves? Does the Eucharist give life to everything we do, day in, day out?” he asked.

Bishop Jugis said people should be eager to receive Christ in the Eucharist, to receive him into their lives and to express their love for him in all that they do.

“Are we eager to know our Christian faith? Are we eager to go to Sunday Mass?” he asked. The early Christians were, and we should model our lives on theirs, he said.

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