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 January 19, 2009   •   VOL. 47, NO. 2   •   Oakland, CA
News in Brief

Vandalism in S.F.
Graffiti stenciled onto the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s Pastoral Center walls was discovered on Jan. 5. The message was apparently related to Proposition 8, the California voter initiative that overturned the state Supreme Court ruling declaring that all couples should have the right to marry regardless of sexual orientation. Additional graffiti were found at Holy Redeemer Church, also in San Francisco.

Landslide victims
A priest offers prayers inside a cemetery in San Cristobal Verapaz, Guatemala, Jan. 5 for victims of a landslide. At least 34 coffee workers were killed by the landslide as they walked along a road near the small indigenous town in northern Guatemala.

Children displaced in Congo
Congolese children wait for treatment at an International Medical Corps clinic inside a displacement camp near Goma, Congo, Jan. 11. An estimated one million civilians have been displaced by fighting between government and rebel troops in the region.

Father Richard Neuhaus mourned by many
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Political, Catholic and pro-life leaders expressed their grief over the Jan. 8 death of Father Richard John Neuhaus, an outspoken opponent of abortion and an adviser to President George W. Bush on bioethical issues.

“Father Neuhaus was an inspirational leader, admired theologian and accomplished author who devoted his life to the service of the Almighty and to the betterment of our world,” Bush said in a Jan. 8 statement. “He was also a dear friend, and I have treasured his wise counsel and guidance.”

Father Neuhaus, 72, was hospitalized in New York the day after Christmas with a systemic infection, according to information posted on the Web site of First Things, an ecumenical journal he founded in 1990 which was published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life. A former Lutheran minister who became a Catholic priest in 1991, the prolific author was diagnosed with cancer in late November.

Pakistan diocese demands end to military actions

FAISALABAD, Pakistan (CNS) — Catholic leaders in eastern Pakistan have demanded an end to American military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq and to the Israeli attack on Gaza. “The Church strongly condemns the unjust and merciless attacks by the imperialist Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Israel’s increasingly cruel and tyrannical aggression on Palestine,” Father Aftab James Paul said at a press conference Jan. 5.

Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad and two other priests accompanied him as he read a statement. Father Paul is director of the Faisalabad Diocese’s Commission for Interfaith Dialogue.

Catholics targeted in $17 million Ponzi scheme

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Catholics were targeted by an 82-year-old Buffalo, N.Y., businessman accused of running a Ponzi scheme involving at least $17 million generated from investors who responded to ads in diocesan newspapers, federal prosecutors allege.

Richard S. Piccoli of suburban Williamsville, N.Y., was charged with mail fraud in connection with an investment plan offered through his company, Gen-See Capital Corp. An arraignment was scheduled in federal court Jan. 13.

Piccoli faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

Charity buys bleach to help fight cholera

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) — A South African Catholic charity is raising money to buy household bleach to sterilize drinking water in neighboring Zimbabwe, where a cholera epidemic has killed more than 1,600 people.

Zimbabwe’s Catholic Development Commission and other local nongovernmental organizations will distribute the bleach, with instructions on how to use it, to more than 1,000 towns and villages affected by the highly infectious bacterial disease contracted by ingesting contaminated food or water.

Cholera, which causes severe diarrhea and dehydration, has spread to all of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces. The World Health Organization said Dec. 31 that Zimbabwe had more than 30,000 reported cases of cholera and the infection rate shows no signs of slowing.

Archdiocese denies favors for Vicente Fox

MEXICO CITY (CNS) — The Archdiocese of Leon has denied that former Mexican President Vicente Fox was given preferential treatment over the annulment of his first marriage. The archdiocese reported in early January that it was told Dec. 22 that Fox was free to remarry in a Catholic ceremony because the Tribunal of the Roman Rota at the Vatican had granted his petition that his first marriage be annulled.

“The process was followed normally,” Archbishop Jose Martin Rabago of Leon told reporters Jan. 4. “Talk that dispensations are only granted to the rich and only in exceptional forms . . . that’s a lack of knowledge of what happens in ecclesiastical tribunals.”

The archbishop, whose archdiocese includes the Fox family ranch, added that the entire process took roughly nine years and the process cost the former president less than $350.

Fox married his former campaign spokeswoman, Marta Sahagun de Fox, in a civil ceremony in 2001 and the couple have stated that they wish to be married in a religious ceremony.

Police help to end parish occupations

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) — The Archdiocese of New Orleans, with help from the New Orleans police, ended a 10-week occupation of two closed churches with the arrest of two people. Police gained entry into Our Lady of Good Counsel Church to ask parishioners to leave or face arrest Jan. 6. Two people were arrested and another, a cancer patient, was escorted home. About 12 blocks away at St. Henry Church, police charged one parishioner with criminal trespassing.

New Orleans Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes made the decision Jan. 5 to request police intervention when it became apparent that the people occupying the closed churches would not leave after being asked to do so by archdiocesan officials.

Amendment to protect gay couples opposed

HONG KONG (CNS) — Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong and some Christian legislators have objected to a proposed amendment that would extend a law on domestic violence to cover same-sex cohabitants. A Jan. 5 statement from the cardinal said extending the law to same-sex couples would “definitely lead to a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the concepts of marriage and family, thereby undermining the foundation of our society.”

Even though the Church fully agrees that everyone, irrespective of background, must be protected from any form of violence, “distorted concepts of marriage and family will bring about other serious consequences,” he said. He added that he is obliged to appeal to the government to make “the common good of our society the basis of its legislation on marriage and family.”

Later this year, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council is scheduled to convene a public hearing on the bill, which would amend the 1986 Domestic Violence Ordinance.

Reminder to Obama of Guantanamo pledge

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Closure of the military prison at the U.S. Army base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be getting renewed attention during a 100-day campaign designed to hold President-elect Barack Obama to his campaign pledge to close the compound.

On Jan. 11, the seventh anniversary of its opening, organizers of the 100 Days Campaign began a series of events including public witness, street theater, processions, lectures, prayer and fasting to call attention to Obama’s promise that he would close the controversial prison. A Department of Defense spokesman said 250 detainees remain behind bars there.

Campaign organizer Frida Berrigan said she is concerned that closing the prison may be overlooked as the new administration addresses pressing issues such as the economy, home foreclosures, rising unemployment and the war in Iraq.

Survey: Most support abortion restrictions

WASHINGTON (CNS) — A new online survey conducted for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops finds a majority of participants support at least some restrictions on abortion. The survey, conducted online Dec. 10-12, asked 2,341 people about the circumstances under which they would favor or oppose legal abortion and about what kind of regulations of abortion they would support or oppose.

Among its findings were that 78 percent favor requiring abortions be performed only by licensed physicians and that 72 percent favor requiring women seeking abortions be told of the potential physical and psychological risks and about alternatives such as adoption.

It found 11 percent think abortion should be illegal in all circumstances and 38 percent said it should be legal only under limited circumstances, such as in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother. Forty-two percent said abortion should be legal for any reason.

The USCCB said that Harris Interactive, which fielded the study, weighted the data using a propensity scoring system to be representative of the total U.S. population on the basis of region, age within gender, education, household income, race/ethnicity and propensity to be on the Internet. Harris said no estimates of sampling error could be calculated.

Birth-control pill linked to male infertility

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The birth-control pill is causing “devastating” environmental damage and plays a role in rising male infertility rates, said the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

“We have sufficient evidence to argue that one of the considerable factors contributing to male infertility in the West — with its ever decreasing numbers of spermatozoa in men — is environmental pollution caused by the byproducts of the pill” released in human waste, said Pedro Jose Maria Simon Castellvi, president of the Vatican-based World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations.

Some European studies have blamed increased male infertility and poor reproductive health on environmental causes, especially estrogen-like chemicals found in pesticides, plastic food containers, shampoos, cosmetics and other products.


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