Remembering murdered Jesuit confrere, pope appeals for peace in Syria

UPDATE: Full story on the pope’s remarks and more.

VATICAN CITY — Here is our translation of Pope Francis’ remarks today about the murder of Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt and the continuing war in Syria:

Monday in Homs, Syria, Father Frans van der Lugt, my 75-year-old Dutch Jesuit confrere, was assassinated. He arrived in Syria about 50 years ago and always did his best for everyone with graciousness and love, and so was loved and held in esteem by Christians and Muslims.

Father Frans van der Lugt (CNS/Reuters)

Father Frans van der Lugt (CNS/Reuters)

His brutal murder filled me with with deep sadness and made me think again of all the people who suffer and are dying in that martyred country, already too long a victim of a bloody conflict that continues to sow death and destruction. I also remember the numerous people who have been kidnapped — Christians and Muslims, Syrians and people from other countries, among whom there are bishops and priests. We ask the Lord to grant that they may quickly return to their loved ones and families and communities.

From my heart, I ask you all to join my prayer for peace in Syria and in the region, and I launch a heartfelt appeal to Syrian leaders and to the international community: Silence the weapons! Put an end to the violence! No more war! No more destruction! May there be respect for humanitarian law, care for the people who need humanitarian assistance and may the desired peace be reached through dialogue and reconciliation.”

Vatican panel’s document on role of theologians, bishops available here

In the new issue of Origins, the CNS documentary service, the International Theological Commission, an advisory body to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says theologians and bishops have distinct but complementary roles in teaching the Catholic faith (click here for the CNS story), but theologians ultimately must defer to the pope and bishops regarding the authentic interpretation of the faith. Titled “Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria,” the 20,000-word text looks at developments in Catholic theology since Vatican Council II and offers criteria for recognizing theology that is authentically Catholic.

You can download this edition of Origins here (.pdf). It also includes the text of Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan’s March 2 letter to U.S. bishops saying the White House has failed to consider the U.S. bishops’ concerns on the contraceptive mandate for health insurance plans.

To purchase copies of the regular print version of this edition of Origins (Vol. 41, No. 40), call (202) 541-3290.

Vatican lawyer on plaintiffs’ decision to abandon 2010 Murphy sex abuse lawsuit

UPDATESex abuse lawsuit against Vatican withdrawn

ROME — Jeffrey S. Lena, an American attorney for the Holy See, announced today that the plaintiffs in a 2010 federal lawsuit against the Vatican regarding Father Lawrence Murphy, who sexually abused students at a Milwaukee Catholic school for the deaf, have notified the court that they have decided to abandon the suit. Below is Lena’s statement:

Statement of Jeffrey S. Lena Regarding John Doe 16 v. Holy See, et al.

(Case No. 2:10-cv-00346 RTR, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin)

On February 10, 2012, Jeffrey R. Anderson, Esq. of the law office of Jeff Anderson and Associates, working together with columnist Marci Hamilton, Esq., filed a voluntary notice of dismissal in the case of John Doe 16 v. Holy See.

The Notice of Voluntary Dismissal — which was filed by the Plaintiff’s lawyers to avoid their duty to submit to the Court a court-ordered response to the Holy See’s Motion to Dismiss — requested that the “Court take notice of this dismissal and remove this matter from its docket.”

With these ignominious words, the John Doe 16 case died silently on a Friday afternoon in what attorney Jeff Anderson has himself called “the crucible of the courtroom.”

Things were different at the beginning of this case. On April 22, 2010, counsel for Plaintiff orchestrated a press event replete with props and other trappings designed to induce a media feeding frenzy. During the frenzy, Plaintiff’s counsel dramatically announced that they held information demonstrating a “world-wide conspiracy” related to sexual abuse that was directed by the Holy See. That outworn and discredited claim was in fact the centerpiece of a planned sequence of media events that took a very serious matter — the sexual abuse of a child — and turned it into a tool to assert fallacious allegations of Holy See responsibility and liability for John Doe 16’s abuse. Continue reading

Second statement by bishops on HHS mandate calls for its total rescission

In a new statement tonight on President Obama’s noontime announcement of a new plan for mandatory contraceptive coverage in health insurance plans, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the “only complete solution” to the religious liberty implications of the insurance mandate “is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.”

Titled “Bishops Renew Call To Legislative Action On Religious Liberty,” the 700-word statement expanded on an earlier statement the same day saying the Obama announcement might be “a first step in the right direction” but that the conference still had concerns and reserved “judgment on the details until we have them.”

Tonight’s statement is a much more detailed analysis of the new plan. It notes that what it calls “the lack of clear protection” for religious employers and insurers “is unacceptable and must be corrected.” It also pledged to continue “efforts to correct this problem through the other two branches of government.”

Here is the full text of tonight’s statement:

The Catholic bishops have long supported access to life-affirming healthcare for all, and the conscience rights of everyone involved in the complex process of providing that healthcare. That is why we raised two serious objections to the “preventive services” regulation issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in August 2011.

First, we objected to the rule forcing private health plans — nationwide, by the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen—to cover sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion. All the other mandated “preventive services” prevent disease, and pregnancy is not a disease. Moreover, forcing plans to cover abortifacients violates existing federal conscience laws. Therefore, we called for the rescission of the mandate altogether.

Second, we explained that the mandate would impose a burden of unprecedented reach and severity on the consciences of those who consider such “services” immoral: insurers forced to write policies including this coverage; employers and schools forced to sponsor and subsidize the coverage; and individual employees and students forced to pay premiums for the coverage. We therefore urged HHS, if it insisted on keeping the mandate, to provide a conscience exemption for all of these stakeholders—not just the extremely small subset of “religious employers” that HHS proposed to exempt initially.

Today, the President has done two things.

First, he has decided to retain HHS’s nationwide mandate of insurance coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacients. This is both unsupported in the law and remains a grave moral concern. We cannot fail to reiterate this, even as so many would focus exclusively on the question of religious liberty. Continue reading

Bishops respond to Obama announcement on contraceptive mandate

UPDATE: Full news release.

SECOND UPDATESecond statement by bishops on HHS mandate calls for its total rescission

The following statement was just issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sees initial opportunities in preserving the principle of religious freedom after President Obama’s announcement today. But the Conference continues to express concerns. “While there may be an openness to respond to some of our concerns, we reserve judgment on the details until we have them,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

‘The past three weeks have witnessed a remarkable unity of Americans from all religions or none at all worried about the erosion of religious freedom and governmental intrusion into issues of faith and morals,” he said.

‘Today’s decision to revise how individuals obtain services that are morally objectionable to religious entities and people of faith is a first step in the right direction,” Cardinal-designate Dolan said. “We hope to work with the Administration to guarantee that Americans’ consciences and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations.”

Bishops criticize court ruling on same-sex marriage

Both the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the California Catholic Conference issued statements this afternoon criticizing the federal appeals court ruling  striking down the California ban on same-sex marriage.

The USCCB news release:

WASHINGTON—Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, joins the bishops of California in denouncing the February 7 decision of a federal court rejecting the constitutionality of Proposition 8, a voter-approved  initiative in California that recognizes marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

“Today’s court ruling is a grave injustice, ignoring the reality that marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” Cardinal-designate Dolan said. “The Constitution of the United States most assuredly does not forbid the protection of the perennial meaning of marriage, one of the cornerstones of society. The people of California deserve better. Our nation deserves better. Marriage deserves better.”

The decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the August 4, 2010 decision of a federal district judge who had ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional.

“Our society does not operate in an amoral or value-less vacuum,” said Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. “To flourish, it must be infused with moral direction that is grounded in the truth. Of course, the true meaning of marriage, like the gift of human life, is ultimately not subject to a vote or court ruling. But in California, as in every other state where marriage has been put to a vote, the people justly upheld the truth of marriage. How tragic for California, for the nation, and especially for children, that this correctly-informed judgment has now been set aside.”

The California Catholic Conference statement:

We are disappointed by the ruling today by a panel of the Ninth Circuit that would invalidate the action taken by the people of California affirming that marriage unites a woman and a man and any children from their union. However, given the issues involved and the nature of the legal process, it’s always been clear that this case would very likely be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Marriage between one man and one woman has been—and always will be—the most basic building block of the family and of our society.

In the end, through sound legal reasoning, we believe the court will see this as well and uphold the will of the voters as expressed in Proposition 8. We continue to pray for that positive outcome.

Text of Cardinal Levada address opening Rome symposium on abuse

By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service

ROME — Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave the opening address Monday at “Toward Healing and Renewal,” a weeklong symposium in Rome aimed at improving efforts to stop clerical sexual abuse and better protect children and vulnerable adults. Here is the text of Cardinal Levada’s address:

“Toward Healing and Renewal” is the title given to this Symposium for Catholic Bishops and Religious Superiors on the Sexual Abuse of Minors.  For leaders in the Church for whom this Symposium has been planned, the question is both delicate and urgent.  Just two years ago, in his reflections on the “Year for Priests” at the annual Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia, Pope Benedict XVI spoke in direct and lengthy terms about priests who “twist the sacrament [of Holy Orders] into its antithesis, and under the mantle of the sacred profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime.”  I chose this phrase to begin my remarks this evening because I think it important not to lose sight of the gravity of these crimes as we deal with the multiple aspects the Church’s response.

As I begin my presentation, I want to offer a word of gratitude to the Pontifical Gregorian University for this initiative.  Even those of us who have been dealing with this issue for decades recognize that we are still learning, and need to help each other find the best ways to help victims, protect children, and form the priests of today and tomorrow to be aware of this scourge and to eliminate it from the priesthood.  I hope that this Symposium will make a significant contribution toward these goals.  I thank in particular Fr. Francois-Xavier Dumortier, S.J., the Rector of the University, and Fr. Hans Zollner, S.J., and his team for organizing these days together. Continue reading

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