Under construction

When the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Death Penalty announced its launch Sunday in Harrisburg, Pa., the Web site that is to be one of its primary contributions to the debate over capital punishment was not quite ready. But the section of the Web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that deals with the death penalty was recently redesigned, so organizers of the network are directing supporters to that site, until its own site comes online. Stay tuned, they say.

SOA Watch defendants sent to prison

The annual protest outside the gates of Fort Benning in Georgia has been going on since 1990. (CNS/Catholic Explorer)

The annual protest outside the gates of Fort Benning in Georgia has been going on since 1990. (CNS/Catholic Explorer)

A federal judge this morning found six people guilty of trespassing for entering the Fort Benning Army Base in Columbus, Ga., during the annual School of the Americas Watch vigil and demonstration Nov. 23.

The six are:

— The Rev. Luis Barrious, 56, chairman of the Department of Latin American and Latina/o Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and an associate pastor at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in New York.

–Theresa Cusimano, 40, director of Colorado Campus Compact at Regis University in Denver.

— Kristien Holm, 21, a student at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

–Ursuline Sister Diane Pinchot, 63, professor of art at Ursuline College in Cleveland; she also teaches ceramics to homeless women.

— Al Simmons, 64, a preschool teacher in Richmond, Va.

— Louis Wolf, 68, staff member of Rock Creek Free Press newspaper in Bethesda, Md.

Judge G. Mallon Faircloth had sentenced everyone but Cusimano and Wolf as of mid-afternoon. The others received two-month sentences in federal prison. Rev. Barrios and Holm also were fined $250.

The trial has become an annual ritual in the west Georgia city. It also has been a way for School of Americas Watch, founded by Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois, to focus attention on the institute’s training methods, which activists believe include practices that can be used to violate human rights.

U.S. Army officials deny the charge, saying the school, known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation since 2001,  promotes democracy and preserves freedom while serving to professionalize the military in neighboring countries.

The school has been the focus of an annual protest/vigil by a largely Catholic movement since the 1989 killings of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter at the University of Central America in San Salvador.

UPDATE: Late this afternoon Cusimano was sentenced to two months in prison and fined $500 while Wolf was sentenced to six months of house arrest and a $1,000 fine.

Parishes help unemployed members

What are parishes doing to help their newly unemployed members in a recession? Our Sunday Visitor has a roundup of several examples of parish activity, from a “Job Transition Network” that operates at one Minnesota parish to a New York parish that has been running a “Employment Assistance and Resource Network” since 1989.

Pro-life messages get more visible

Angelina Esteban, a parishioner at the National Shrine of the Little Flower Church in Royal Oaks, Mich., holds a sign during the March for Life rally on the National Mall Jan. 22 in Washington. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Angelina Esteban, a parishioner at the National Shrine of the Little Flower Church in Royal Oaks, Mich., holds a sign during the March for Life rally on the National Mall Jan. 22 in Washington. (CNS/Bob Roller)

People across the country marked the 36th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion with speeches, prayers, rallies and marches. Others took their message to the all-popular medium of advertisement. Newspapers in Washington ran an advertisement urging people to support programs to help pregnant women and new mothers. Project Rachel, a program which provides post-abortion counseling, ran an advertisement on Washington’s Metro subway trains.

And in Chicago, a 30-second television ad ran not on the Jan. 22 anniversary but on Inauguration Day, tying a not so subtle pro-life message to the new president. The ad, sponsored by the group Catholicvote.org, displays an ultrasound of a baby and text which refers to a child who will be abandoned by his father and raised by a single mother but will become the first African-American president. Then it shows an image of President Obama along with the words: “Life: Imagine the Potential.”

FDA OKs human trials for therapies with embryonic stem cells

This morning the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first human clinical trials using embryonic stem cells. The trials will be conducted by the Geron Corp. on humans suffering from paraplegia. The stem cells are those approved for use by President George W. Bush in 2001.

CNS will have a report on this next week. In the meantime, CNN has a story on the FDA announcement and an interview with company executives about the trials.

Catholic church leaders have spoken extensively about the ethics of using embryonic stem cells. Most recently Cardinal Francis E. George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote Jan. 19 to President Barack Obama discussing this and other health-related issues. Read the letter here.

In December, the Vatican issued a 32-page document, “Dignitatis Personae” (“The Dignity of a Person”) in which it warned of of the ethical dilemmas posed by new developments in stem cell research. Read the CNS story here.

Origins subscribers can see the entire Vatican document and related texts by logging into their subscriptions.

Vatican-US relations in the age of Obama

Though only days into President Barack Obama’s administration, Italian columnist and author Massimo Franco speculated about what relations might look like between the Vatican and Obama as well as the U.S. Catholic Church and Obama.

CNS Rome Bureau Chief John Thavis offered his analysis in this week’s Vatican Letter, writing that the Vatican will highlight the similarities between the church and the Obama agenda, such as diplomacy and social justice, while “downplaying difference on moral questions like abortion.”

Franco agreed, saying “we are going to see a honeymoon period” which will become more clear as time goes on.

In honor of the 25th anniversary of U.S.-Vatican relations, he spoke last night in Washington about his book, “Parallel Empires: The Vatican and the United States — Two Centuries of Alliance and Conflict.”

Franco said the Vatican, in its diplomatic role, must highlight similarities because, well, that’s what diplomats do.

And the U.S. bishops, he said, probably for the time being will be silent on such controversial issues as abortion and embryonic stem-cell research for fear of ostracizing Catholics who voted for Obama. It’s important to keep the flock together.

But as time goes on, the U.S. bishops might take a more vocal role, leaving the diplomatic niceties to the Vatican.

What about Joe Biden, the first Catholic vice president?  Well, said Franco, the U.S. bishops and the Vatican actually prefer a non-Catholic with an agenda more in line with the church than a pro-choice Catholic in such a public role.

Reversal of Mexico City policy off the table for anniversary of Roe v. Wade

UPDATE: Obama signature reversing Mexico City policy brings quick condemnation.

SECOND UPDATE: Cardinal Rigali calls decision “very disappointing.

Despite some expectations that President Barack Obama would issue an executive order reversing the Mexico City policy on Jan. 22, it apparently isn’t going to happen, at least not today, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

The policy prohibits recipients of U.S. foreign aid from promoting or providing abortions. It was established by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, reversed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and reestablished under President George W. Bush in 2001. Clinton and Bush each took their actions on Jan. 22.

A reversal of the policy is almost certainly going to be ordered, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. But in contacts with some Catholic leaders, representatives of the administration signaled that Obama is trying to be at least sensitive to timing, by declining to announce such a change while abortion protesters were marching in Washington and elsewhere.

Some Catholic leaders who have been in touch with Obama’s staff this week encouraged the administration to pair any such orders — which they see as a rollback of progress against abortion — with an announcement about new efforts to aid pregnant women, or otherwise help reduce demand for abortion.

Late in the day Obama issued a statement reaffirming his commitment to “protecting a woman’s right to choose.” He added that “while this is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion and support women and families in the choices they make. To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information and preventative services.”

The statement concluded by saying “we must also recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights and opportunities as our sons” including access to education, fulfilling careers, to be treated fairly and paid equally “and to have no limits on their dreams.”