Sunday, February 8, 2009

Catholics: Bury FOCA or pay consequences

Catholics: Bury FOCA or pay consequences

February 8, 2009

It sounds almost unthinkable: Roman Catholic hospitals like Provena Saint Joseph in Elgin and St. Alexius in Hoffman Estates closing down their obstetrics units completely. Yet that's what Roman Catholic leaders threaten to do if the long-discussed Freedom of Choice Act is passed into law and if -- even Catholic officials admit, a big if -- courts rule that its provisions prevent a hospital OB unit or an obstetrician from refusing to allow abortions.

But that's all much ado about nothing, backers of the FOCA respond. For one thing, they point out, no FOCA bill has even been introduced into the current Congress after previous efforts to pass the law in 2004 and 2007 died in committee.

Susan Emery, of Prospect Heights, gives her 10-month-old daughter, Anna, a drink while participating in an abortion protest at Route 25 and 68 in 2001. Citizens for a Pro-Life Society conducted its annual Face the Truth Pro-Life Tour by distributing literature to motorists and passersby.

For another thing, backers say, the law probably would not require any hospital that felt morally opposed to abortions to start allowing them now.

Partly to keep events from coming to such a crisis, Catholic congregations all over the United States are engaging over the past three weeks in a lobbying campaign, trying to persuade Congress not to pass FOCA. The proposed law would codify a woman's right to choose an abortion.
Would they close?
Would the church's Rockford Diocese, which includes Kane County, or even the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, have the power to shut down local obstetrics units if the most-feared ramifications of FOCA became reality?

The answer seems to be, "Under the letter of the law, no. But in practice, yes."

"Bishop Thomas Paprocki (the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago) said that if this bill passes, it could mean discontinuing all obstetrics services at Catholic hospitals," Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge, the "respect life director" for the Rockford Diocese, said.

"We can't violate our conscience" by allowing abortions in a Catholic hospital, Bainbridge said. "Our teaching is very clear."

Neither Provena Saint Joseph nor St. Alexius is directly owned or operated by the mother church. The Elgin hospital is part of the six-hospital Provena Health System and is controlled by three orders of Catholic nuns. The Hoffman Estates hospital is operated by an order of monks, the Alexian Brothers.

Bainbridge said it is possible these orders could decide to keep operating a hospital even if it were forced legally to allow abortions -- or to allow other women's reproductive services now banned in Catholic hospitals, such as tubal ligations to render a woman sterile.

"But I would be shocked if that happened," she said. "Our teaching on these issues is very clear."

Asked for an opinion, Provena's leaders said they agree with a statement made by the nationwide Catholic Health Association that states: "We expect that, even if this bad legislation were to pass, we would not be forced to participate (in abortions), and we would fight for that. But even with strong conscience protection in the legislation, we still oppose the bill."

"We will protect Catholic health care in this country without compromising our position on abortion ... As people of faith, the first thing we are called to do is to redouble our efforts to be sure pregnant women do not see abortion as their only option."

Those who back FOCA say the fuss is unwarranted.

Even if FOCA is passed, "unless they're seeing some kind of language that pro-choice groups aren't seeing, I fail to understand what they're so concerned about," Pam Sutherland, legislative director of Planned Parenthood for Illinois, said. "The only thing this act would do is to codify into law the Roe vs. Wade decision. And under that, Catholic hospitals and doctors have never been required to perform an abortion."
Filling the gap
If the Catholic OB units would close, would secular hospitals be able to fill the gap?

In Elgin, the answer is likely "yes."

"That's speculating on a scenario that's not the case yet," Sherman Hospital spokesman Josh McColough said. But Provena Saint Joseph spokeswoman Heather Gates said virtually all of the 12 obstetricians who can deliver babies at Provena also are on the staff at Sherman. The obstetrics departments at both Sherman and Provena are rated as Level II-Plus facilities. And the relative scale of the two operations -- Sherman already delivers about four times as many babies as Provena -- suggest that adding Provena's 25 percent to Sherman's would not create a massive overload.

St. Alexius delivers about the same number of babies per year as Sherman, so whether it could pass all that business on to Sherman is less clear. However, because of St. Alexius's location, patients would probably shift to other suburban hospitals as well as to Sherman.

At Delnor Hospital in Geneva, spokeswoman Deb Danner said none of Delnor's doctors are also on the staff at either Provena Saint Joseph or Sherman. But "when I asked the head of the department whether we could absorb more delivery patients, she said, 'Bring 'em on,'" Danner said.

Friday, February 6, 2009

US Bishop Protests Taxes-for-Abortions

US Bishop Protests Taxes-for-Abortions

Urges Congress to Maintain Current Pro-life Laws

WASHINGTON, D.C., FEB. 6, 2009 ( The United States has some "modest, common-sense" policies supported by pro-lifers and abortion advocates, and a U.S. bishops' official is urging Congress to protect them.

This appeal came in a Feb. 5 letter written by Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the bishops' Committee for Pro-life Activities.

He noted that one of Congress' first orders of business this session is examining appropriations bills to keep federal programs funded, and in this process, the bishop warned against removing anti-abortion clauses.

Noting the widespread lack of support for the Freedom of Choice Act, he cautioned: "While an extreme proposal like FOCA would overturn hundreds of pro-life laws at once, we are equally concerned that such laws may be overturned one at a time during Congress' appropriations process."

"Lawmakers who disagree about the legal status of abortion have long agreed that Americans should not be forced by government to support or participate in abortion against their will," the cardinal added. "Efforts to coerce consciences in this way violate any possible definition of 'pro-choice,' and undermine our nation’s long tradition of respect for conscience and religious freedom."

Making sense

Cardinal Rigali went on to list several amendments to protect, legislation with aims ranging from keeping American tax dollars from funding abortions to protecting the rights of conscience for healthcare officials.

"These and similar laws have been in effect for many years, no matter which party controlled Congress or the White House, because they are modest, common-sense policies that are widely supported even among people who disagree on the legal status of abortion," the cardinal affirmed. "In a society that often seems torn between the values of 'choice' and 'life,' it is easy to agree that we should honor the consciences of pregnant women and healthcare professionals who want to choose life.

"In a society that wants to reduce abortions, it makes no sense for government to force its citizens to fund and promote abortion."

Scientists find embryo stem cell alternative

Scientists find embryo stem cell alternative

Posted Tue Feb 3, 2009 8:33am AEDT

Scientists in Melbourne have created stem cells lines they say could help them to investigate diseases without destroying human embryos.

The human induced pluripotent stem cells are an Australian first.

Researchers at the Monash Institute of Medical Research say the breakthrough means Australian scientists can reduce their reliance on cells imported from America and Japan.

The pluripotent stem cells are harvested from adult cells, and can be reprogrammed to respond like embryos during testing.

Researchers now intend to use the method to study Type 1 diabetes.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Adoption rates plummet: report

A baby holds a finger of an adult

Adoption rates down: Most babies adopted in Australia now come from overseas countries ( Jeremy Brown)

There has been a dramatic decline in the number of adoptions in Australia over the past few decades, according to a new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Adoptions have fallen from an annual peak of nearly 10,000 in the early 1970s to fewer than 600 in recent years.

In the 2007-08 financial year there were just 440 adoptions.

The report says the decline is due to a fall in the number of Australian children available for adoption.

The majority of children who are now adopted come from overseas, with China, South Korea and the Philippines being the most popular countries.

Report author Nicole Hunter says nearly all local and overseas adoptions were of children aged under five.

"What we've seen is inter-country adoption, which is where children are adopted from overseas, has emerged as the most common type of adoption in Australia," she said.

"In the 2007-08 financial year we found that 61 per cent of all children adopted in Australia were born overseas, and this is a substantial increase from 6 per cent 25 years ago."

Most 'known' adoptions, usually by step-parents or carers, were of children older than 10.

More than three quarters of local adoption agreements last year allowed for some form of contact with the biological parents.

Ms Hunter says a number of factors have lead to the lower numbers of Australian children available for adoption.

"There's been a range of broader social trends such as medical social and legislative factors that have contributed to the trend of decreasing numbers of Australian children being adopted," she said.

"Things like more effective birth control and the emergence of family planning centres and sex education classes."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Vatican: Bishop's Holocaust statements 'strongly rejected' by pope

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican said a traditionalist bishop who has minimized the full extent of the Holocaust must disavow his positions before he will be accepted into full communion with the church.

A Vatican statement Feb. 4 said Pope Benedict XVI did not know about the controversial statements by British-born Bishop Richard Williamson when he lifted the excommunication of him and three other traditionalist bishops ordained illicitly in 1988.

"The positions of Bishop Williamson on the Holocaust are absolutely unacceptable and are strongly rejected by the Holy Father," the statement said.

In order to function as a bishop, Bishop Williamson must distance himself from his previous statements in "an absolutely unequivocal and public manner," the Vatican said.

In a statement meant to deflect the increasing public outcry over the papal decree lifting the excommunication, the Vatican said the decree did not change the juridical status of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, which still has no canonical recognition in the Catholic Church.

The society was founded by French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who also incurred automatic excommunication when he ordained the four bishops against papal orders. The society has not accepted the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council and its concepts of religious freedom and ecumenism.

The statement from the Secretariat of State said the society would have to recognize the teachings of Vatican II and of post-conciliar popes to be in full communion.

It said the four bishops at present do not have a canonical function in the church and "do not licitly exercise a ministry in the church."

The Vatican has emphasized that even after the removal of the excommunications remaining problems need to be resolved before full communion can be established with the society's leadership and members.

The Secretariat of State statement -- like a statement the previous day from the Vatican press spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi -- reiterated the German-born pope's remarks at his Jan. 28 audience, in which he recalled the suffering of Jews during World War II and said the Holocaust should stand as a "warning to everyone against forgetting, denying or minimizing" evil.

Father Lombardi said the pope's words at the general audience were "unequivocal."

The spokesman said the pope had spoken about the horror of the Holocaust in his 2005 visit to a German synagogue and in his 2006 visit to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. He said the papal statement at the Jan. 28 audience "could not have been clearer, and from the context it is apparent that it referred to the positions of Bishop Williamson and to all similar positions."

"On the same occasion, the pope also clearly expressed the reason for removing the excommunication, which has nothing to do with legitimizing positions denying the Holocaust -- positions which were clearly condemned by the pope," the spokesman said.

Father Lombardi's statement was released by the Vatican press office late the same day that German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the pope and the Vatican needed to make clear there could be no denial of the Holocaust.

At a news conference in Berlin Feb. 3, Merkel said she normally did not comment on church matters "but we are talking about fundamental questions."

"This is not just a matter, in my opinion, for the Christian, Catholic and Jewish communities in Germany, but the pope and the Vatican should clarify unambiguously that there can be no denial" of the Holocaust, she said.

On Jan. 21, the same day the pope lifted the excommunication, a Swedish television station aired a November interview with Bishop Williamson in which he repeated his position that the Holocaust had been exaggerated.

The papal decree lifting the excommunication was made public Jan. 24 and Jewish groups -- especially in Germany, the U.S. and Israel --expressed shock that the Vatican would lift the excommunication against Bishop Williamson even after his comments had been televised.

German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who coordinates the Vatican's dialogue with the Jews, said the controversy was fueled in part by a lack of communication within the Vatican and by "management errors in the Curia."

Cardinal Kasper said he has been following the unfolding controversy "with great concern."

He said the pope "wanted to open the discussion because he wanted unity inside and outside" the church. But the cardinal said he "would have also liked to see more communication in advance."


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Holocaust-Denying Bishop Silenced

Bishop Fellay Apologizes on Behalf of Pius X Society

MENZINGEN, Switzerland, JAN. 27, 2009 ( Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior-general of the Society of St. Pius X, publicly apologized for statements regarding the Holocaust made by one of the society's bishops, and reported that the prelate has been forbidden to speak further on the issue.
Bishop Richard Williamson, in an interview taped in November, but aired last Wednesday on Swedish television, claimed that historical evidence denies the gassing of Jews in Nazi concentration camps.

Days later Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of Bishop Williamson, along with Bishop Fellay and two others, who were ordained bishops by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988 without papal permission. The act was to be a step toward healing the division between the society and the Vatican that resulted from the ordinations.

"It is evident that a Catholic bishop cannot speak with ecclesial authority if it is not a question of faith and morals," said Bishop Fellay. "Our fraternity does not claim any authority over other questions."

"With great sadness we acknowledge the extent to which the violation of this mandate has damaged our mission," he continued. "The statements of Bishop Williamson do not reflect in any way the position of our society."

Bishop Fellay said that until further notice Bishop Williamson has been prohibited from speaking on these matters.

The superior-general asked "for the forgiveness of the Supreme Pontiff, and of all people of good will, for the dramatic consequences of this act," which said were "not acceptable."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Vatican Voice calls foul on Obama

A senior Vatican official on Saturday attacked US President Barack Obama for "arrogance" for overturning a ban on state funding for family-planning groups that carry out or facilitate abortions overseas.

It is "the arrogance of someone who believes they are right, in signing a decree which will open the door to abortion and thus to the destruction of human life," Archbishop Rino Fisichella was quoted as saying by the Corriere della Sera daily.

Fisichella is president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, one of a number of so-called pontifical academies which are formed by or under the direction of the Holy See.

"What is important is to know how to listen... without locking oneself into ideological visions with the arrogance of a person who, having the power, thinks they can decide on life and death," he added.

Obama signed the executive order cancelling the eight-year-old restrictions on Friday, the third full day of his presidency.

The so-called "global gag rule" cut off US funding to overseas family planning clinics which provide any abortion services whatsoever, from the operation itself to counselling, referrals or post-abortion services.

"If this is one of the first acts of President Obama, with all due respect, it seems to me that the path towards disappointment will have been very short," Fisichella said.

"I do not believe that those who voted for him took into consideration ethical themes, which were astutely left aside during the election debate. The majority of the American population does not take the same position as the president and his team," he added.

The order won Obama praise from Democratic lawmakers, family planning and women's rights groups but drew angry condemnation from pro-life organisations and Republicans.

More than 250 health and human rights organisations from around the world sent Obama a letter, thanking him for ending a policy "which has contributed to the deaths and injuries of countless women and girls."