War of words evolves over health care workers’ conscience rights

New U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regulations that would guarantee the conscience rights of health care workers when it comes to their role in certain medical procedures, namely abortion and sterilization, have gained broad support from religious groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

However, a brewing war of words over the rules has developed between HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt and two professional associations representing doctors, nurses and other health care workers.

Writing in his blog Aug. 21, Leavitt repeated his claim that the rules were necessary, in part, to head off an effort by the associations to require a doctor to perform abortions in order to be considered competent. Leavitt has made the claim throughout 2008, much to the dismay of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynegologists, a professional association, and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which certifies physicians.

Since March ACOG has been sending a letter to members who have raised questions about any such requirement to clarify the organization’s stance.

The letter, signed by Dr. Hal Lawrence, ACOG’s vice president, practice activities, maintains that the association’s Ethics Committee “affirms the importance of a physician’s conscience in shaping ethical and professional conduct.” He cites similar opinions from the American Medical Association Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics and the World Health Organization.

In a sharply worded letter to Leavitt Aug. 22, Dr. Norman Gant, ABOG’s executive director, characterized the secretary’s comments as “grossly untrue and unfair.”

Gant asked Leavitt to produce “even one” instance of discrimination based on a decision of conscience of which he accuses the the board. He reminded Leavitt that the board’s requirements for certification/recertification comply with federal law. He also urged Leavitt to conduct hearings on the regulations to allow ABOG to publicly clarify its role in the certification of physicians.

To date, the rules have been published in the Federal Register, giving anyone a chance to comment on them until Sept. 20.

It’s likely that we haven’t heard the last in this debate.

Bishops say Pelosi misrepresents church teaching on abortion

The following was released tonight by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

WASHINGTON–Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, have issued the following statement:

In the course of a “Meet the Press” interview on abortion and other public issues on August 24, 2008, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against abortion.

In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.” (No. 2271)

In the Middle Ages, uninformed and inadequate theories about embryology led some theologians to speculate that specifically human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy. While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development.

These mistaken biological theories became obsolete over 150 years ago when scientists discovered that a new human individual comes into being from the union of sperm and egg at fertilization. In keeping with this modern understanding, the Church teaches that from the time of conception (fertilization), each member of the human species must be given the full respect due to a human person, beginning with respect for the fundamental right to life.

We’ll have a story in the morning for our client editors and on our home page, catholicnews.com.

UPDATE: Bishops say Pelosi misrepresented abortion teaching in TV interview

From 1908 to 2008: Denver gets its second convention in 100 years

(Editor’s Note: Julie Asher, CNS national editor, is perhaps the only journalist in Denver NOT covering this week’s convention. She’s a Denver native whose vacation at home this year coincides with convention week.)

DENVER — No one could argue that technology is not almost as much front and center at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver as the delegates, the Democratic Party leaders — local, state and national — and, of course, the the Democrats’ presumptive nominee, Sen. Barack Obama.

The Denver Post reported that for more than a year, tech workers have been preparing the Pepsi Center convention site. There are hundreds of cameras and lights on the convention floor and there are high-speed Internet connections, high-definition video streams, and phone and data lines galore. Workers installed whatever was needed beyond the technology already in place for the two teams that call the Pepsi Center home — the Denver Nuggets basketball team and the Colorado Avalanche hockey team.

But 100 years ago, the site for the Dems’ national convention was cutting edge in its own way — the Denver Municipal Auditorium had just been built. And the party’s nominee that year — William Jennings Bryan — used the technology of the day to keep up with the convention happenings through the telegraph and telephone; he delivered his acceptance speech with a telegraphed message from his home in Lincoln, Neb.

Today the convention officially gets under way, but various demonstrations have not yet heated up, though various protest groups are already forming in downtown Denver — ranging from Code Pink to Re-Create ’68 to the Raelian Movement. Wonder what groups the Dems heard from in 1908?

The pursuit of perfection

When Angel Macias pitched a perfect game in the 1957 Little League World Series championship game, it was the first time such a feat had taken place at Little League’s Williamsport, Pa., headquarters.

It became a noteworthy climax for the Monterrey, Mexico, team that won the World Series. It also became the focus of the book “The Perfect Game,” written by W. William Winokur, and the subject of this CNS story.

Winokur has already been on the promotional circuit for the book, and the tour took him to Williamsport Aug. 17.

“One of the final 16 teams (in the tournament) was a team from Mexico, so I got invited down to their dugout for a pep talk before their game against Italy,” he recalls. “I tell the kids this incredible story about their predecessors from Monterrey 40 years ago … and all they overcame to get to Williamsport. And I said, `I don’t want to pressure you, but in the final game, this kid, Angel Macias, pitched a perfect game.’

“And this one boy, Jesus Aceda, said, `Senor, I’m the pitcher, and if we have a perfect game, will you write about us, too?’ And I said, `Sure, why not?'”

Two hours later, Winokur was in a meeting when someone came into the meeting looking for him. The message: “That kid, Jesus, he pitched a perfect game.”

“It’s like only the fourth perfect game in all of Williamsport (Little League) history,” Winokur said.

Aceda’s Matamoros team beat Venezuela in an international championship semifinal game Aug. 20, so Winokur said he was returning to Williamsport from a vacation at Fire Island, N.Y., “to be their good luck charm.” he said. Matamoros prevailed against the Japanese entry from Tokyo, 5-4, in the Aug. 23 game to become Little League international champions. In the Little League World Series the following day, however, they lost to the Waipahu, Hawaii team, representing the U.S. West, 12-3.

No word if Winokur’s shopping a book deal for the Matamoros boys just yet.

Biden on Obama ticket: a Catholic with mixed record on church issues

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware attend an AFL-CIO forum in Chicago Aug. 7. Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, has chosen Biden as his vice presidential running mate. (CNS/Reuters)

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware attend an AFL-CIO forum in Chicago Aug. 7. Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, has chosen Biden as his vice presidential running mate. (CNS/Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, announced Aug. 23 as Sen. Barack Obama’s choice as his running mate for the White House, puts on the Democratic ticket a Catholic who supports legal abortion but on other issues has been an ally for the church’s public policy interests.

Biden, 65, has come in for his share of conflicts with some in the church over his legislative support for keeping abortion legal. The National Right to Life Committee gives him a rating of 0 for his positions on select issues, including federal abortion funding and stem cell research as well as some relating to lobbying by groups like the National Right to Life Committee.

But he’s no darling of the “pro-choice” view, either, earning a score of 36 percent from NARAL Pro-Choice America for his votes on their select issues. Obama has a score of 100 percent from NARAL.

Biden has also talked frankly about the importance of his faith in his life, maintains close ties with his Catholic high school and isn’t hesitant to show off elements of his Catholic education in the Senate.

Biden was born in Scranton, Pa., to Joseph Biden and Catherine Finnegan Biden, both of Irish-Catholic background. When young Joe was 10, the family moved to Delaware, where his father was a car salesman.

He attended Archmere Academy, a Catholic prep school in Claymont, Del., but only after his mother told him he couldn’t go into the seminary, as he wanted, until after he had some experience dating girls, his mother told a reporter in 2007.

He has maintained ties with Archmere, which sought to name a new student center building for him in 2006. The plan was scrapped after Wilmington Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli opposed it, citing Biden’s votes on abortion.

The bishop cited a 2004 statement by the U.S. bishops about Catholics in political life, that says Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”

In a 2007 interview with the Christian Science Monitor, when he was a candidate for president himself, Biden said he grew up in the church at a time of great changes both in structure and in attitudes after the Second Vatican Council.

“I was raised at a time when the Catholic Church was fertile with new ideas and open discussion about some of the basic social teaching of the Catholic Church,” Biden told the Monitor. “Questioning was not criticized; it was encouraged.”

The newspaper quoted Biden’s recollection of a question to his ninth-grade theology class.

“How many of you questioned the doctrine of transubstantiation?” the teacher asked, referring to the teaching that the bread and wine change into the body and blood of Christ during Mass. No hands were raised. Finally, Biden raised his. “Well, we have one bright man, at least,” the teacher said.

Biden told the newspaper that the teacher didn’t say criticizing the church was good. “He led me to see that if you cannot defend your faith to reason, then you have a problem,” it quoted him as saying.

During the 1991 confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Biden, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was the one who engaged Thomas in sometimes lengthy discussions about natural law and its application to civil law. The church’s teachings about issues such as the right to life of all human beings are based natural law, the philosophy that individuals have certain basic human rights that are based on universal moral principles or on “a higher law” which is not limited by the letter of the law.

On issues including immigration, minimum wage, providing health care for all children and reinstating the assault weapons ban, his positions have been close to those of the church’s lobbying efforts. Biden voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq in 2002, but later became a critic of the war.

Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United, a nonpartisan organization that promotes the church’s social justice message in the political arena, called Biden’s selection a positive development.

He said Biden’s commitment to his Catholicism “has inspired his advocacy on issues such as genocide, universal health care, education, worker’s rights and violence against women.”

Korzen’s statement said he’s optimistic that Biden might “help move our nation beyond the divisive, acrimonious and unproductive debate” that has come to surround the issue of abortion. He noted that Biden has said he accepts the church’s teaching that human life begins at conception and said Biden has a hisotry of seeking practical ways of addressing abortion in ways that a broad spectrum of people can support.

Alexia Kelley, director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, said Biden’s “Catholic and working class roots have been a source of solidarity for him with hard-working American families who are suffering the most from the current economic crisis.”

Phil Lawler, editor of the Catholic World News Web site, said on a blog post the morning of the announcement that an Obama-Biden ticket might be helpful to the pro-life movement. “Any public discussion of (whether life begins at conception) can only help the pro-life cause, because the scientific facts are hard to deny,” Lawler wrote.

He said Biden’s choice also ensures a fresh debate on whether Catholic politicians who support legal abortion should be denied Communion. “On that issue, too, the discussion can only be helpful,” Lawler wrote, because of the “powerful witness” of bishops who would refuse the Eucharist to such politicians.

Be true to your school

While there are legitimate concerns these days about dwindling Catholic school enrollments and rising tuition costs, there’s one small Catholic school in Arkansas that manages to make it work. The Arkansas Catholic, newspaper of the statewide Diocese of Little Rock, reported on Sacred Heart Parish’s K-12 school in Morrilton. What can other Catholic schools apply from this example?

If you can have ‘Theology on Tap’…

The opportunity to grow in and deepen one’s faith can materialize just about anywhere. Taverns have of late been a hotspot with Theology on Tap. And now that it’s state and county fair season, why not Theology on a Stick?

It’s no longer just conjecture. A takeoff on popular food offerings, Theology on a Stick is going to actually happen in Minnesota, according to this dispatch from The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

And the food for the soul will likely be more nourishing than the deep-fried Twinkies and Oreos that have been all the rage in fair food in recent years.