30 marzo 2009

The Tyranny of Liberalism

James Kalb on the Ideology's Totalitarian Impulses

By Annamarie Adkins

NEW YORK, MARCH 27, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Liberals -- on both the Right and Left -- may posit that they favor freedom, reason and the well-being of ordinary people. But some critics believe that liberalism itself erodes the very institutions -- family, religion, local associations -- necessary to restrain its excesses.

One such liberal skeptic is attorney and writer James Kalb, who recently wrote a book entitled, "The Tyranny of Liberalism: Understanding and Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality by Command" (ISI).

Kalb explained to ZENIT why he believes liberalism inevitably evolves into a form of soft totalitarianism, or a “dictatorship of relativism,” and why the Church is well positioned to be its preeminent foe.

Q: What is liberalism?

Kalb: We're so much in the middle of it that it's difficult to see it as a whole. You can look at it, though, as an expression of modern skepticism.

Skeptical doubts have led to a demand for knowledge based on impersonal observation and devoted to practical goals. Applied to the physical world, that demand has given us modern natural science.

Applied to life in society, it has led to a technological understanding of human affairs. If we limit ourselves to impersonal observations, we don't observe the good; we observe preferences and how to satisfy them. The result is a belief that the point of life is satisfying preferences.

On that view, the basic social issue is whose preferences get satisfied.

Liberalism answers that question by saying that all preferences are equal, so they all have an equal claim to satisfaction. Maximum equal satisfaction therefore becomes the rational ordering principle for life in society -- give everyone what he wants, as much and as equally as possible. In other words, give everybody maximum equal freedom.

Q: How can an ideology of freedom become tyrannical?

Kalb: Equal freedom is an open-ended standard that makes unlimited demands when taken seriously.

For example, it views non-liberal standards as oppressive, because they limit equal freedom. Liberal government wants to protect us from oppression, so it tries to eradicate those standards from more and more areas of life.

The attempt puts liberal government at odds with natural human tendencies. If the way someone acts seems odd to me, and I look at him strangely, that helps construct the social world he's forced to live in. He will find that oppressive. Li! beral government can't accept that, so it eventually feels compelled to supervise all my attitudes about how people live and how I express them.

The end result is a comprehensive system of control over all human relations run by an expert elite responsible only to itself. That, of course, is tyranny.

Q: You argue that liberalism, especially its "advanced" form, corrupts and suppresses the traditional aspects of life that defined and kept Western society together for centuries such as religion, marriage, family and local community. How does it do that?

Kalb: Equal freedom isn't the highest standard in those areas of life. They have to do with love and loyalty toward something outside ourselves that defines who we are. That love and loyalty involve particular connections to particular people and their ways of life.

Such things cannot be the same for everyone. They create divisions and inequalities. They tell people they can't have things they want.

So equal freedom tells us traditional institutions have to be done away with as material factors in people's lives. They have to be debunked and their effects suppressed.

At bottom, liberalism says people have to be neutered to fit into a managed system of equal freedom. They have to be encouraged to devote themselves to satisfactions that don't interfere with the satisfactions of others.

In the end, the only permissible goals are career, consumption and various private pursuits and indulgences.

That doesn't leave much room for religion or for family or communal values. The only permissible public value is liberalism itself.

Q: How does mass media advance the cause of liberalism?

Kalb: The relationship is almost mechanical. It's one of the great strengths of liberalism.

Television and the Internet give us a world chopped up into interchangeable fragments.

To make that world comprehensible to journalists and viewers it has to be put in order in a simple way that can be understood quickly without regard to particularities.

That's impossible if complex distinctions and local habits are allowed to matter.

For that reason the mass media naturally favor a top-down managerial approach to social life with a bias toward sameness and equality -- in other words, something very much like contemporary liberalism.

To put it differently, the mass media prefer things to be discussed publicly and decided centrally based on a simple principle like equality. If that's done they can understand what's going on and what it all means.

Also, they themselves will serve an important function because they provide the forum for discussion and the information for decision. That situation naturally seems appropriate to them.

Q: What about the distinction between Anglo-American liberalism and continental liberalism, and their different models of secularism? Is it inaccurate to lump everything together under the heading of "liberalism"?

Kalb: The fundamental principle is the same, so the distinction can't be relied on.

In the English-speaking world the social order was traditionally less illiberal than on the continent.

King and state were less absolute, the Church had less independent authority, standing armies were out of favor, the aristocracy was less a separate caste, and the general outlook was more commercial and utilitarian.

Classical liberalism could be moderate and still get what it wanted.

Liberalism is progressive, though, so its demands keep growing. It eventually rejects all traditional ways as illiberal and becomes more and more radical.

For that reason state imposition of liberal norms has become at least as aggressive in Britain and Canada as on the continent.

The United States is still somewhat of an exception, but even among us aggressive forms of liberalism are gaining ground. They captured the academy, the elite bar and the media years ago, and they're steadily gaining ground among the people.

The international dizziness about President Obama and the violent reaction to the narrow victory of Proposition 8 concerning same-sex marriage in California show the direction things are going.

Q: Does rejecting "liberalism" mean rejecting freedom of conscience, political equality, free markets and other supposed benefits of "liberalism"?

Kalb: No. A society can still have those things to the extent they make sense. They just need to be subordinated, at least in principle, to a larger order defined by considerations like the good life.

The Church has noted, for example, that free markets are an excellent thing in many ways. They just aren't the highest thing. The same principle applies to other liberal ideals.

Q: Both Popes Pius IX and Leo XIII condemned liberalism, but it seems the Church has embraced it since the Second Vatican Council in its defense of democracy and human rights. The tone of Church social teaching has also focused more on influencing liberal institutions, and less on shaping individuals, families, and local communities. How does one account for this shift in the Church's attitude?

Kalb: The Church apparently decided modernity was here to stay. Liberal modernity looked better than fascist modernity or Bolshevik modernity.

It claimed to be a modest and tolerant approach to government that let culture and civil society develop in their own way. So the Church decided to accept and work within it.

Also, the development of the mass media and consumer society, and the growth of state education and industrial social organization generally, meant Catholics were more and more drawn into liberal ways of thinking. Hostility to liberalism became difficult to maintain within the Church.

The problem, though, is that liberal modernity is extremely critical and therefore intolerant. In order to cooperate with it you have to do things its way.

The recent, virulent attacks on Pope Benedict for many different reasons by the liberal elite illustrate that phenomenon perfectly.

For that reason, if there's going to be joint social action today, it inevitably focuses on extending liberal institutions rather than promoting local and traditional institutions like the family, which are intrinsically non-liberal. Many people in the Church have come to accept that.

Q: You argue that religion can be the unifying force that offers resistance to advanced liberalism, and that the Catholic Church is the spiritual organization most suited to that task. Why do you think so?

Kalb: To resist advanced liberalism you have to propose a definite social outlook based on goods beyond equal freedom and satisfaction.

A conception of transcendent goods won't stand up without a definite conception of the transcendent, which requires religion. And a religious view won't stand up in public life unless there's a definite way to resolve disputes about what it is.

You need the Pope.

Catholics have the Pope, and they also have other advantages like an emphasis on reason and natural law. As a Catholic, I'd add that they have the advantage of truth.

26 marzo 2009

Notre Dame Student Groups Lead Graduation Protest

Campus Divided Over Catholic Character Question

SOUTH BEND, Indiana, MARCH 25, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A coalition of student organizations at the University of Notre Dame are joining forces to protest President Barack Obama's invitation to speak at their graduation ceremony.

A statement released today by the coalition reported the "deepest opposition" of the students to the announcement made Friday by Notre Dame's president that the U.S. president will give this year's commencement speech and will receive an honorary law degree at the university's graduation.

Senior Emily Toates of Notre Dame Right to Life affirmed: "This is not a partisan issue; rather, it's an issue of respect for human life, and our Catholic character.

"We want to emphasize that we are not attacking the office of the president, but taking issue with his moral stances. I think the statement makes it clear that the student body of Notre Dame is not unequivocally in favor of this decision."

The statement noted the objection to President Obama's "hostility to the Catholic Church's teachings on the sanctity of human life at its earliest stages."

It added, "His recent dedication of federal funds to overseas abortions and to embryonic stem cell research will directly result in the deaths of thousands of innocent human beings."

The students stated, "We cannot sit by idly while the university honors someone who believes that an entire class of human beings is undeserving of the most basic of all legal rights, the right to live."

Citing the U.S. bishops' conference, they noted that Catholic institutions should not give "awards, honors or platforms" to those "who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles."

Law and justice

The statement, signed by several law school student groups, noted the "great irony" that the university is awarding President Obama an honorary law degree.

It explained: "The Notre Dame law school states that its mission is 'to facilitate greater understanding of and commitment to the relationship between law and social justice.' The social justice issue of our day is the deliberate, legal attack on the most vulnerable members of society, the unborn.

"To award a Notre Dame law degree to a lawyer and politician who has used the law to deny equality to the unborn diminishes the value of the degree itself."

Moral dilemna

The students asserted that the university's president, Father John Jenkins, "has placed some of his students in a moral dilemma as to whether they should attend their own graduation."

"Many pro-life seniors," they continue, "along with their families, are conflicted about whether to participate in the commencement ceremony."

The student groups affirmed, "In response to the university's decision, we pledge ourselves to acts of witness that will be characterized by respect, prayerfulness, outspoken fidelity to the Church, and true concern for the good of our university."

The groups committed to host academic and religious events in order to engage the university community.

The coalition is comprised of students from Notre Dame Right to Life, The Irish Rover Student Newspaper, Notre Dame College Republicans, The University of Notre Dame Anscombe Society, Notre Dame Identity Project, Militia of the Immaculata, Children of Mary, Orestes Brownson Council, Notre Dame Law School Right to Life, Notre Dame Law St Thomas More Society, and The Federalist Society at Notre Dame Law School.

--- --- ---

On the Net:

Full text: http://www.ndresponse.com/press.html

This will either get no press on the U.S. national news, or the groups will be portrayed as fundamentalist crazies who oppose "progress" etc. If this protest does not change anything (which is what I expect), I think Pope Benedict XVI should strip Notre Dame of its claim to being a Catholic school.

25 marzo 2009

Stem Cells for Dummies

Explained by Senior Fellow at Culture of Life Foundation

By E. Christian Brugger

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 24, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Given the new Presidential order allowing federal funds for research using human embryonic stem cells, it might be helpful for readers to become more familiar with the terminology used in any discussion of controversies surrounding embryonic stem cell research.

What is a Stem Cell?

A stem cell, whether of the adult or embryonic type, is an undifferentiated cell (i.e., a cell that has not yet specialized into a particular cell type, e.g., liver cell, pancreatic cell, or cardiac cell) with two unique capacities: the first, for rapid and prolonged self-multiplication into daughter cells identical with itself; and the second, for development and differentiation into specific types of cells such as liver and cardiac cells.

What is a Stem Cell’s Potency?

A stem cell’s “potency” refers to its capacity for differentiation, that is, for developing into particular kinds of human cells, e.g. liver, kidney, blood, etc. Different types of stem cells have different scopes to their potency: e.g., totipotent, pluripotent, multipotent or unipotent. A totipotent cell is capable of differentiating into every tissue in the human body, including extra-embryonic support tissues necessary for human gestation (e.g., placenta, umbilical cord, amniotic sac); a single-celled embryo, also called a zygote, possesses the capacity of totipotency; also, the individual cells of an embryo’s body, called blastomeres, in the first few days of the embryo’s life are totipotent; if a blastomere splits off from the embryo’s body, it has the capacity for complete human development, which is how we get identical twins. A pluripotent cell is capable of differentiating into almost all the tissues of the human body, but not the extra-embryonic support tissues; embryonic stem cells are pluripotent. Stem cells can also be multipotent (capable of differentiating into the cells of a cell group type, e.g., blood cells) and unipotent (unable to differentiate into any other cell type than itself).

What are the Differences between Embryonic and Adult Stem Cells?

Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are undifferentiated, self-renewing, pluripotent cells. They are harvested from the bodies of embryos at approximately day five of human development. At day five the embryo’s body takes the shape of a hollow sphere (the embryo at this time is called a “blastocyst”). The blastocyst has an outer cell layer and an inner cell mass (picture a basketball with a small group of marbles clumped together on the inside). The cells of the inner cell mass will eventually differentiate into the varied tissues of the person’s body; and the outer cell layer will develop into the placenta and other support tissues. But it is important to understand that at this point, both the outer cell layer and inner cell mass constitute the embryo’s body. The inner cell mass can be understood to be the embryo’s internal organs. These cells are what we call embryonic stem cells and have the capacity of pluripotency; they are coveted by ESC researchers precisely because of their pluripotency. Just as harvesting all the internal organs of an adult would kill the adult, harvesting the stem cells of an embryo kills the embryo.

Adult stem cells (ASCs) also have the capacities of self-proliferation and differentiation, but are not derived from the bodies of embryos. They are ‘adult’ not because they’re found only in adults, but because the tissue in which they’re found is differentiated tissue (as opposed to the undifferentiated tissue of an embryo’s body). Thus ASCs can be found in newborn tissue. In fact, some of the most clinically valuable ASCs are found in umbilical cord blood. Although some ASCs have been found with the capacity of pluripotency, most are only capable of differentiating into the tissue type or related group type of the tissue in which they’re found.

Ethical controversy surrounding stem cell research

Every reasonable person agrees that the clinical end being sought in stem cell research is praiseworthy -- namely, finding clinical solutions for remediating serious illnesses. Controversy surrounds the means by which that end is pursued. The familiar ethical question raised by ESC research is this: Is it justifiable to kill human embryos in order to explore potentially healing remedies for other persons? Those who judge human embryos to be human beings, albeit at an early stage of development, think it’s wrong. Those who believe embryos are “pre-human” entities, developmental precursors to whole human beings, think it sometimes can be justified.[1]

ASC research avoids this ethical problem by avoiding research on embryos altogether. The ethical questions surrounding ASC research then are similar to those involved with all research on human subjects: Do the benefits promised by the research outweigh the burdens imposed by it for the human subjects of the research? Is fully informed consent being secured? Is truthfulness in reporting of data being maintained? Are unwarranted promises of benefit being eschewed? And so on. If the answer to these is yes, then one may proceed with confidence that the research is legitimate. In fact, the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic bishops have consistently supported research on stem cells that does not exploit or destroy human embryos[2]. This support is reaffirmed in the new Vatican document on bioethical questions, Dignitas Personae[3].

Don’t current findings demonstrate that ESC research is clinically unnecessary?

This is a very important question and should be asked often of scientists and public officials. Let me elaborate it: since ASCs have already proven remarkably effective in treating serious diseases, including formerly untreatable diseases[4], and since ESC research, despite billions of dollars spent, has produced nothing but failures on the clinical front, and even human tragedies[5], and since the desire to develop clinically useful patient-specific pluripotent stem cells is being rapidly and efficiently fulfilled by the new and remarkable Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs)[6], why aren’t embryonic stem cells obsolete in the minds of scientists? Why does the scientific community insist on greater liberties for embryo-destructive experimentation when both moral reasoning and cutting edge science point in another direction? Why this lust for the embryo?[7]

I don’t have a satisfactory answer to this. Some researchers obviously believe that embryonic stem cells, despite current evidence, promise benefits that ASCs and iPSCs do not. I’m also told that many of the best researchers are turning away from ESCs because of the mounting problems they pose, and turning towards research with iPSCs. If this is the case, then the questions posed above need to be put frankly to our politicians, because some still seem to think that the future of stem cell research lies with ESCs.

In the shadow of President Obama’s executive order overturning the Bush stem cell policy, the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) stated on the House floor that the U.S. House will take up a bill in early April to overturn the 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment prohibiting federal funding from research involving the creation or destruction of human embryos [8]. With all we now know, why is Congress bent on spending taxpayer money for embryo destructive experimentation? Isn’t that scientifically retrogressive and economically wasteful, not to mention morally unjust to the embryos killed as a result of the decision and to taxpayers who object to public funds being used for such research when alternatives are available?


Some might be wondering what distinguishes the “Bush stem cell policy” (Aug. 2001) from the restrictions imposed by the Dickey-Wicker amendment (1996). Dickey-Wicker was passed before ESC research was launched in 1998 by the first successful isolation of ESCs by James A. Thomson’s lab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It simply restricted funding on research that created or destroyed human embryos. After 1998, pressure was exerted on the Clinton administration to free up funds for this new ‘promising’ type of research. But Dickey-Wicker stood in the way. Thus, to sidestep the restrictions Clinton, as he was leaving office (2000), approved federal guidelines permitting the NIH to fund research on stem cells derived from ‘spare’ embryos slated for destruction at fertility clinics. Do you see the slight of hand? By the time stem cells are derived, the killing is over. If private funds paid for the killing, then the federal government would fund the subsequent research. Clinton’s lawyers argued that his guidelines conformed to Dickey-Wicker, and legalistically construed, they did. At once, the NIH began accepting grant proposals from scientists bent on embryo destructive research. Aware of the loophole, newly elected President George W. Bush passed an executive order permitting federal funds for ESC research only on certain pre-approved stem cell lines created by that date. Since stem cells can self-proliferate indefinitely, these sixty lines, he thought, would provide subject matter for years of viable research. But under the new policy, funding would be prohibited from all stem cell lines derived after August 2001. NIH grant proposals thereafter were carefully reviewed to ensure that federal funds would not be used to facilitate harm to human embryos. Obama’s recent presidential order overturned the Bush restrictions. Dickey-Wicker however still stands. But for how long?


[1] I critiqued several of the most prominent theoretical arguments against the personhood of human embryos in my June 2008 CLF Brief entitled “Arguments for and Against the Personhood of the Embryo”, so I do not intend to engage that question here.

[2] See Pontifical Academy for Life, Declaration on the Production and the Scientific and Therapeutic Use of Human Embryonic Stem Cells (August 25, 2000); Catholic Online, “American Bishops Reaffirm Church Support for Adult Stem-Cell Research,” www.catholic.org, June 26, 2006, www.catholic.org/national/national_story.php?id=20275.

[3] See Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Dignitas Personae (On Certain Bioethical Questions) (2008), nos. 24, 31, 32.

[4] For an enlightening updated summary of clinical successes using ASCs prepared by the Family Research Council, see

[5] Recall the recent tragic story of the 9 year old Israeli boy, who received embryonic stem cell injections in Russia for a lethal brain disease, and contracted as a result tumors on his brain and spinal cord; see CBS News report, “Study: Stem Cell Injections Caused Tumors: Israeli Researchers Say Fetal Stem Cells Led To Benign Tumors For Boy With Rare Genetic Disease,” Feb. 17, 2009; available at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/02/17/health/main4808339.shtml?source=RSSattr=Health_4808339

[6] Induced pluripotent stem cells are differentiated cells such as a skin cell that are “reprogrammed” back to a state of pluripotency. They were first reported in research with human cells in November 2007. I describe their advent and initial promise in my CLF Brief from January 2008, “A Moral Tsunami”. Since then dozens of studies have been carried out (and published) perfecting the initiate technique. For example, researchers at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., recently converted skin cells from patients with Parkinson’s disease into the type of neuron destroyed by the disease. Although the technique needs perfecting, it promises to provide a therapy one day that replaces the damaged neural tissue of Parkinson’s sufferers with healthy tissue derived from the patient’s own body, and therefore with no risk of immune rejection. See the NY Times on line report, “Converting Cells Shows Promise for Parkinson’s”, March 6, 2009, available at www.nytimes.com/2009/03/06/health/06parkinsons.html

[7] See Bernadine Healy’s piece in US News and World Report on line, “Why Embryonic Stem Cells Are Obsolete” March 04, 2009, available at http://health.usnews.com/blogs/heart-to-heart/2009/3/4/why-embryonic-stem-cells-are-obsolete.html

[8] The exchange between Hoyer and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on March 12, 2009 can be read in the Congressional Record, House, page H3376, March 12, 2009.

* * *

E. Christian Brugger is a Senior Fellow of Ethics at the Culture of Life Foundation and is an associate professor of moral theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado. He received his D.Phil. from Oxford in 2000.

[Article originally published by Zenit, with permission of the Culture of Life Foundation (http://culture-of-life.org)]

24 marzo 2009

Holy See On Religious Discrimination and Dialogue

"Recognize the Important Role Religions Can Play Within Society"

GENEVA, Switzerland, MARCH 23, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See's permanent observer at the U.N. offices in Geneva, gave March 16 before the ordinary session of the Human Rights Council.

* * *

Mr. President,

In her latest Report, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief informed the Human Rights Council that she "regularly receives reports of violation of the rights of members of religious minorities and vulnerable groups to carry out their religious activities". In many parts of the world, religious minorities, including Christian minorities, still face daily discrimination and prejudices. The Holy See expresses its concern on the increasing situations of religious intolerance and calls upon States to take all the necessary measures -- educational, legal and judicial -- intended to guarantee the respect of the right to freedom of religion and to protect religious minorities from discrimination.

At its first ever meeting on "intolerance and discrimination against Christians," the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) emphasized that the denial of the rights of Christian communities is not only an issue where they form a minority, but that discrimination and intolerance may also exist where Christians are a majority in society. It seems to my delegation that a number of States, that previously were committed to a balanced and healthy relationship between Church and State, are now increasingly siding with a new secularist policy that aims at reducing the role of religion in public life. In this regard, the Holy See calls upon these States to be inclusive and to recognize the important role religions can play within society. Religions, in fact, contribute to the promotion of moral and social values, which go beyond an individualistic concept of society and development, seeking the common good as well as the protection and the respect of human dignity.

Mr. President,

Last autumn the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) organized an experts' seminar on articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as a contribution to a clarifying debate on some possible areas of complementary standards.

Though the question concerning limitations to the Right to Freedom of Expression with a view to respecting the religious feelings of persons is a legitimate one -- many States have those limitations in their laws, including Western States -- the Holy See does not think that another international instrument is the right answer. My Delegation is of the opinion that the implementation of the universal principle of freedom of religion is the best protection; that each State should look into its own national legislation and should consider how it can encourage a frank but respectful discussion between members of the same religion, between representatives of different religions and persons who have no religious belief. One should, however, at all times keep in mind that the right to religious freedom is intrinsically related to the right to freedom of expression. Where followers of religions have no right to express their opinion freely, the freedom of religion is not guaranteed. Where persons are not allowed to engage in a honest discussion on the merits and/or flaws of a religion, the right to the truth is denied and the right to choose or change his/her religion or belief is seriously hampered.

Thank you Mr. President

20 marzo 2009

Media Reports on Condoms Seen as Superficial

President of Catholic Medical Federation Offers Clarification

BARCELONA, Spain, MARCH 19, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The president of the World Federation of the Catholic Medical Associations is asserting that the media got it wrong when reporting on Benedict XVI's latest statement about condoms.

Dr. José María Simón Castellví observed that many recent newspaper articles are portraying the Church as saying that, if a person is to have relations with a prostitute, he must not use a condom.

He noted the superficiality with which some media sources have reported Benedict XVI's press conference Tuesday on the plane en route to Cameroon, when the Pope said that condoms are not the solution for AIDS.

"The Church defends faithfulness, abstinence and monogamy as the best weapons," the president told ZENIT.

However, he said, the media and even some political representatives have accused the Church of promoting AIDS in Africa. Obviously, the Church is not saying that one can have all sorts of promiscuous sexual relations, as long as one does not use a condom, he clarified.

Love without barriers

The doctor explained that, to understand what the Church says about condoms, it is necessary to understand what love is. He noted that the Pope himself explained this to journalists, although that passage of his conversation was censured by most of the media.

Simón added: "A condom is a barrier, but a barrier with limits that many times is crossed. It can be counterproductive, especially in the case of young people, from the point of view of viral transmission.

"We, Catholic doctors, are in favor of scientific knowledge. We do not say things only because of ideological obligations.

"In the same way that we say that adultery in one's thoughts does not transmit a virus but is something evil, we must say that condoms have their dangers, limited barriers."

He illustrated the Church's position by recalling a historical case that was reported by the media.

In 1993 in Yaoundé, Cameroon, he said, the 7th International AIDS Meeting was held with expert doctors and health agents. It was a meeting that brought together some 300 participants. At the end, a questionnaire was handed out asking the participants if, during the three days of the meeting, they had sexual relations outside of a stable relationship.

Of those questioned, 28% answered yes, and of these, one third said that they had not taken any "precaution" to avoid contamination, the doctor reported.

He asked, "If this happens among people who are 'aware,' what must be the case among ordinary people?"

19 marzo 2009

Prelate Denounces Lack of Mercy in Brazil Abortion

Calls For Closeness of Church to Rape Victim

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 18, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The Pontifical Academy for Life president is lamenting the recently aborted Brazilian twins of a nine-year-old girl, and is calling the consequent excommunication of those who cooperated in it "precipitous."

In an article published Sunday in L'Osservatore Romano, Archishop Rino Fisichella spoke about the case of a young Brazilian girl who was repeatedly raped by her stepfather, and was expecting twins. In early March, an abortion was performed on the girl, who is just over 52 inches tall and weighs 79 pounds.

The case drew even more controversy when Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho of Olinda and Recife excommunicated the mother and all the members of the medical team, generating criticisms against the Church in Brazil.

Archbishop Fisichella lamented the precipitous condemnation in such a morally delicate case. Referring to the excommunication "latae sententiae" [automatically incurred at the moment of the act], he said that "such urgency and publicity was not necessary."

What is most needed at this time, he explained, "is the sign of a testimony of closeness with the one suffering, an act of mercy that, even while firmly maintaining the principle, is able to look beyond the juridical sphere."

It is true that the girl "carried within her innocent lives like her own, though the fruit of violence, and they have been done away with; however, this is not enough to pass a judgment that weighs as a condemnation," he added.

Mercy over justice

The archbishop lamented the image given by the Church in this case, as "before giving thought to excommunication, it was necessary and urgent to safeguard the innocent life of this girl, and return her to a level of humanity of which we, men of the Church, should be expert heralds and teachers."

In this case, he said, the girl "should in the first place have been defended, embraced, caressed with tenderness to make her feel that we are all with her."

He stated that Archbishop Sobrinho's "hasty" reaction has caused resentment and has undermined the credibility of the Church's teaching, "which in the eyes of many seems insensitive, incomprehensible and lacking in mercy."

Archbishop Fisichella emphasized that the condemnation of abortion as an intrinsic evil is one of the moral principles which the Church cannot overlook even if she wished to. However, he pointed out that the present case "was very delicate," and that "to treat it expeditiously does not do justice" either to the fragile person of the girl or to all those involved in the case.

The prelate also noted that, unfortunately, a case like this "would have passed unnoticed, as so many similar ones, if it was not for the uproar of the reactions caused by the bishop's intervention."

He affirmed, "Violence to a woman, already grave in itself, assumes an even more blameworthy dimension when the one suffering is a girl, with the additional burden of poverty and the social degradation in which she lives."

"There are no adequate words to condemn incidents such as this one," added the prelate.

Medical dilemma

Archbishop Fisichella acknowledged that in this case it is hard to make specific judgments while doing justice to truth, given that the doctors were faced with a very grave moral dilemma.

In regard to the girl, he stated, "because of her very young age and her precarious health conditions, her life was in serious danger by the pregnancy under way." He continued: "How should one act in such cases? It is an arduous decision for the doctors and for the moral law itself."

The prelate said, "Scenes such as this, though with a different casuistry, are repeated daily in resuscitation rooms, and the doctor's conscience is alone at the moment of deciding what is the best thing to do."

For any doctor, unless he is insensitive, "a choice such as this of saving a life knowing that he puts another in serious danger, is not easily lived," he added.

The archbishop noted, "In any case, no one comes to a decision of this sort with ease; it is unjust and offensive just to think of it."

Grave crime

In the same vein, Archbishop Geraldo Lyrio Rocha of Mariana, president of the Brazilian bishops' conference, publicly lamented last week that "the most repugnant aspect of this case was diluted, given the controversy over the excommunication."

However, as a March 6 statement from the conference pointed out, the real problem is "the increase of cases of abuse of minors in the country," a topic "on which the national conscience must be awakened."

The prelate also clarified that the penalty of excommunication "is not synonymous with condemnation to hell, but is a disciplinary act of the Church," which attempts "to call the attention of consciences to an intrinsically grave act, of whose gravity at times there is no clear perception."

He also pointed out that Archbishop Sobrinho himself "has not excommunicated anyone," given that, according to the law of the Church, excommunication is automatic when an abortion is carried out.

Moreover, he clarified that "to incur an excommunication, the person must be conscious of the gravity of the act and have the freedom to practice it," which in this case excludes the minor and no doubt also her mother, "who acted under pressure."

Cardinal George Meets with President Obama

Prelate Gives Public Message About Freedom of Conscience

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 18, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The president of the U.S. bishops' conference met with President Barack Obama on Tuesday for a private, half-hour dialogue.

The bishops' conference issued a statement reporting the meeting at the White House in which "Cardinal [Francis] George and President Obama discussed the Catholic Church in the United States and its relation to the new administration."

It noted that at the conclusion of the conversation, "Cardinal George expressed his gratitude for the meeting and his hopes that it will foster fruitful dialogue for the sake of the common good."

The White House also issued a press release stating that the pre! sident and the cardinal "discussed a wide range of issues, including important opportunities for the government and the Catholic Church to continue their long-standing partnership to tackle some of the nation's most pressing challenges."

It added, "The president thanked Cardinal George for his leadership and for the contributions of the Catholic Church in America and around the world."

Cardinal's message

Although the discussion between the prelate and the president was private, it took place the day after Cardinal George issued a public message through the Internet urging Catholics to appeal to the Obama administration to retain regulations governing conscience protection for health care workers.

A communiqué from the bishops' conference reported the release of a video on their Web site, as well as on Youtube, in which Cardinal George responds to the government's threat to revoke the regulations that keep healthcare workers from being forced to provide services that violate their consciences.

Cardinal George explained in his message: "On […] Feb. 27, the Obama administration placed on a federal Web site the news that it intends to remove a conscience protection rule for the Department of Health and Human Services.

"That rule is one part of the range of legal protections for health care workers -- for doctors, nurses and others -- who have objections in conscience to being involved in abortion and other killing procedures that are against how they live their faith in God."

He expressed "deep concern" that this action "on the government’s part would be the first step in moving our country from democracy to despotism."

Religious freedom

He asserted that "respect for personal conscience and freedom of religion as such ensures our basic freedom from government oppression," and "no government should come between an individual person and God."

The cardinal pointed out that citizens are allowed to claim conscientious objection to war or having to administer the death penalty. Why then, he asked, "shouldn’t our government and our legal system permit conscientious objection to a morally bad action, the killing of babies in their mother’s womb?"

He added, "People understand what really happens in an abortion and in related procedures -- a living member of the human family is killed -- that’s what it’s all about -- and no one should be forced by the government to act as though he or she were blind to this reality."

Cardinal George concluded by exhorting the people to inform the government "that you want conscience protections to remain strongly in place," especially for people "who provide the health care services so necessary for a good society."

On the Net:

Cardinal George's message: http://www.usccb.org/conscienceprotection

Benedict XVI Makes Appeal for Solidarity With Africa

Highlights Work of Church in Fighting AIDS

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE, MARCH 18, 2009 (Zenit.org).- In the midst of the financial crisis, which might put a stop to programs for Africa's development, Benedict XVI says he hopes to promote the Church's social doctrine during his trip to the continent, in particular solidarity.

The Pope said this in a press conference with journalists Tuesday while flying to Cameroon for his 11th international apostolic journey, and his first to the African continent. During the next days he will also visit Angola.

In particular, he addressed the impact of the economic crisis on poor countries and the importance of ethics for the world economic order, an argument he will develop in the next encyclical.

"We were about to publish it," he explained, "when this crisis was unleashed and we took the text up again to respond more adequately, in the ambit of our competence, in the ambit of the social doctrine of the Church, but with reference to the real elements of the present crisis.

"Hence I hope that the encyclical will also be an element, a force to overcome the present difficult situation."

Benedict XVI said the cause of the recession is above all of an ethical nature: "We all know that an essential element of the crisis is, in fact, a lack of ethics in economic structures."

For this reason, during his trip to Cameroon and Angola the Pontiff will speak of God and of the great values of Christian life, thus offering a contribution to the analysis and understanding of the economic crisis.

Benedict XVI said he would appeal to the international community to be in solidarity with Africa, especially Catholics: "The Church is catholic, that is, universal, open to all cultures, to all continents.

"It is present in all political systems and so solidarity is a fundamentally internal principle for Catholicism.

"Naturally, I would like to appeal first of all to Catholic solidarity itself, extending it however also to the solidarity of all those who see their responsibility in the human society of today."


In Africa there are new governments and a new willingness to fight corruption, which is one of the great problems that must be defeated, he added.

The Bishop of Rome expressed his satisfaction at being able finally to visit this continent, a project he has hoped to realize since the beginning of his pontificate: "I love Africa, I have so many African friends from the time I was a professor up to today; I love the joy of the faith, the joyful faith that is found in Africa."

The Holy Father acknowledged that in Africa, as in other places, the Church is not a "perfect society." For this reason he will promote an "interior purification" of the Church, which is not a purification of the structures, but of the heart and the conscience, as structures are the result of what the heart is.


The Pope also spoke about AIDS and the Christian perspective on love and sexuality, as well as the effective commitment of so many Catholic institutions in favor of the sick.

"I would say that this problem of AIDS can't be overcome only with publicity slogans," he said. "If there is not the soul, if the Africans are not helped, the scourge can't be resolved with the distribution of condoms: on the contrary, there is a risk of increasing the problem.

"The solution can only be found in a double commitment: first, a humanization of sexuality, that is, a spiritual and human renewal that brings with it a new way of behaving with one another; and second, a true friendship, also and above all for those who suffer, the willingness -- even with sacrifice and self-denial -- to be with the suffering. And these are the factors that help and that lead to visible progress.


Asked about the image of a Pontiff who is "alone," isolated, published by the media recently following the controversies over the case of Bishop Richard Williamson and the lifting of the excommunication of three other prelates, followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Benedict XVI answered smiling: "To tell the truth, I must say that this myth of my loneliness makes me feel like smiling: In no way do I feel alone. Every day I receive, on the list of visits, my closest collaborators, starting with the secretary of state."

"I am really surrounded by friends in a wonderful collaboration with bishops, with collaborators, with laymen and I am grateful for this."

The Holy Father also spoke about religious sects, a widespread phenomenon in Africa, pointing out that the Christian proclamation is serene, as it proposes a God who is close to the human being and creates a great network of solidarity.

In fact, he said, traditional religions are opening themselves to the Gospel, as they are beginning to see that the God of Catholics is not a distant God.

The Pope confirmed his confidence in interreligious dialogue. Referring to relations with Muslims, he said that mutual respect is growing in the common ethical responsibility.

From Pope Benedict's press conference:

Visseyrias: Holiness, among the many evils that scour! ge Africa, there is also and in particular that of the spread of AIDS. The position of the Catholic Church on the way to fight against this is often regarded as unrealistic and ineffective. Will you address this topic during the trip? Very Holy Father, would it be possible for you to answer this question in French?

Benedict XVI: I would say the contrary. I think that the most efficient reality, the most present at the front of the struggle against AIDS, is precisely the Catholic Church, with her movements, with her various organizations. I am thinking of the Sant'Egidio Community that does so much, visibly and also invisibly, for the struggle against AIDS, of the Camilliani, of all the sisters who are at the disposition of the sick.

I would say that this problem of AIDS can't be overcome only with publicity slogans. If there is not the soul, if the Africans are not helped, the scourge can't be resolved with the distribution of condoms: on the contrary, there is a risk of increasing the problem. The solution can only be found in a double commitment: first, a humanization of sexuality, that is, a spiritual and human renewal that brings with it a new way of behaving with one another; and second, a true friendship, also and above all for those who suffer, the willingness -- even with sacrifice and self-denial -- to be with the suffering. And these are the factors that help and that lead to visible progress.

Because of this, I would say that this, our double effort to renew man interiorly, to give spiritual and human strength for correct behavior with regard to one's body and that of another, and this capacity to suffer with those who suffer, to remain present in situations of trial. It seems to me that this is the correct answer, and the Church does this and thus offers a very great and important contribution. We thank all those who do this.

18 marzo 2009

Pope Cannot Exchange Vatican Treasure for Food

Cardinal Explains Complications of Facebook Proposal

By Jesús Colina

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 16, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The proposal of a member of the social networking Web site Facebook suggesting that the Vatican should exchange its treasures for food in Africa is an impossibility due to international law, says Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes.

The president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum said this Friday to ZENIT at a press conference Friday in which he commented on the online petition titled "Exchange the Vatican’s Treasures for Food for Africa. Do You Want to Sign a Petition?"

The cardinal noted that, apart from the ideological aspect of the proposal, the Pope cannot consider it because he is prevented from doing so by international law.

This Pontifical council is responsible for the direction and coordination among the charitable organizations and activities promoted by the Catholic Church.

Alberto Juesas Escudero of Spain launched the initiative, which now has more than 40,000 supporters. Escudero claims "it is a shameful to see the Vatican’s riches and then watch the news."

He explained that what motivated him to issue this invitation was that he believes the Vatican "does not admit its errors. [...] It does not preach by example. Jesus was born in a cave and lived in poverty."

The youth concluded: "The Vatican is a disgrace! The Catholic religion is a disgrace!"

In answer to ZENIT’s questions, Cardinal Cordes explained that he has heard similar proposals for the past 40 years, and that before it was even much more frequent.

When John Paul II called him to Rome to work in the Curia, he observed that "the climate against the Vatican was very strong."

He explained, "I had looked into [the status of the Vatican’s holdings] and found out that the Church cannot do what it wants with the works of art that are in the Vatican."


In reality, he said, the Church "has the duty to conserve the works of art in the name of the Italian state." He affirmed, "It cannot sell them."

The prelate recalled an incident in the 1970s when a benefactor made a donation to renovate the Collegio Teutonico inside the Vatican, and the residence director wanted to give this person a small statue -- of a meager value compared to the others in the Vatican Museums -- as a gesture of gratitude.

The German benefactor had a lot of problems with the Italian state, as he was accused of taking goods that Italy was charged with safeguarding.

"In every country there are a lot of measures for the defense of works of art, because the state has a duty to maintain them," Cardinal Cordes added, noting that the Holy See treasures are also part of Italian cultural history.

The Cor Unum president underlined the work of the Catholic Church in health services and education in various regions in Africa.

"When they come to meet the Pope, the African presidents recognize this," he said.

Without the Church, he affirmed, a huge part of those afflicted with AIDS would be abandoned, because the Church, with its network of hospitals, is the organization that cares for the largest number of people affected by the virus.

The cardinal noted that the Pope's upcoming March 17-23 visit to Cameroon and Angola is drawing the attention of the global media to Africa, and making the world more aware of the needs of that continent. He expressed the hope that the Papal trip will promote concrete acts of solidarity and respect.

10 marzo 2009

Cardinal Denounces Obama's Stem Cell Ban Reversal

Calls It a Victory of Politics Over Science

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 9, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The U.S. bishops' conference pro-life committee chairman is denouncing President Barack Obama's executive order that will allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Cardinal Justin Rigali issued a response to the U.S. president's order today that will allow federal tax dollars to be used to fund scientists in the destruction of live human embryos to develop stem cells for research.

The cardinal said: "President Obama's new executive order on embryonic stem cell research is a sad victory of politics over science and ethics.

"This action is morally wrong because it encourages the destruction of innocent human life, treating vulnerable human beings as mere products to be harvested.

"It also disregards the values of millions of American taxpayers who oppose research that requires taking human life. Finally, it ignores the fact that ethically sound means for advancing stem cell science and medical treatments are readily available and in need of increased support."

The cardinal also cited a letter written Jan. 16 by Cardinal Francis George, president of the bishops' conference, to Obama, urging him not to allow funding for this research. Cardinal George stated three reasons why this research is "especially pointless at this time."

"First," he wrote, "basic research in the capabilities of embryonic stem cells can be and is being pursued using the currently eligible cell lines as well as the hundreds of lines produced with nonfederal funds since 2001."

He continued: "Second, recent startling advances in reprogramming adult cells into embryonic-like stem cells -- hailed by the journal 'Science' as the scientific breakthrough of the year -- are said by many scientists to be making embryonic stem cells irrelevant to medical progress.

"Third, adult and cord blood stem cells are now known to have great versatility, and are increasingly being used to reverse serious illnesses and even help rebuild damaged organs.

"To divert scarce funds away from these promising avenues for research and treatment toward the avenue that is most morally controversial as well as most medically speculative would be a sad victory of politics over science."

President Obama's action reverses the ban on federal funding for this type of research enacted by former president George W. Bush, who limited the use of taxpayer money to the 21 stem cell lines already developed before his order.

Cardinal George stated, "If the government wants to invest in hope for cures and promote ethically sound science, it should use our tax monies for research that everyone, at every stage of human development, can live with."

My distaste for President Barack "the Empty Suit" Obama grows greater every day. I'd write more but I don't want to start cursing on my own blog.

Anti-Christian: a "Socially Acceptable Prejudice"

Wow... how did this one get past U.N. Security?!?!

International Security Group Affirms Discrimination Exists

VIENNA, Austria, MARCH 9, 2009 (Zenit.org).- One does not have to live in Africa or Asia to be the victim of anti-Christian discrimination; according to an intergovernmental security group, there are plenty of victims in Europe and America.
This was the conclusion from a meeting sponsored by the U.N. ad hoc Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, an international group that has 56 member states spread across Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia and North America.

The meeting last Wednesday brought together experts and representatives of states in the intergovernmental organization, reported a press release from the group at the event's conclusion.

Janez Lenarcic, former Slovenian ambassador to the OSCE and now the director of the office for democratic institutions and human rights, which organized the event, reported, "What came out clearly from this meeting is that intolerance and discrimination against Christians is manifested in various forms across the OSCE area."

He continued, "While denial of rights may be an important issue where Christians form a minority, exclusion and marginalization may also be experienced by Christians where they comprise a majority in society."

Mario Mauro, vice president of the European Parliament and representative of the Chairmanship on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination, stated in a press release following the event, "I believe that this meeting has succeeded in raising visibility and highlighting the relevance of the phenomenon of intolerance and discrimination against Christians."


The meeting centered on various aspects of intolerance and discrimination against and among Christians, including "violent attacks against persons, property and places of worship, as well as restrictions to the right to freedom of religion or belief," the press release reported.

It also addressed the "inaccurate portrayals of Christian identity and values in the media and political discourse, leading to misunderstandings and prejudice."

The meeting called for interreligious dialogue, recognizing that the challenges faced by Christians are shared by members of other faiths. It also requested "improved collection of data on hate crimes against Christians, the adoption of freedom of religion laws in line with international commitments and assistance to states and civil society in raising awareness of relevant standards."

One expert participant, Gudrun Kugler, noted, "The reasons given for intolerance and discrimination against Christians in Europe were, amongst others, radical secularization, extreme forms of political correctness as well as aspects of anti-discrimination laws."

Kugler, assistant to the general secretary of the Christian nongovernmental organization network "Europe for Christ!," asserted, "The prejudice against Christians seems to be the last socially acceptable prejudice in Europe."

The network, which sponsors the "Christianophobia" Web site, released a statement approving the "quality and depth" of the OSCE meeting. Kugler added: "On our Web site [...] we publish cases in which prejudices have spilled over into acts of intolerance. That the OSCE looks at the phenomenon is a first step towards tolerance for all people, also practicing Christians."

She concluded: "It is important to encourage the media to spread a message of understanding and respect towards Christians instead of prejudices. Further, Christians must not suffer exclusion from public life and the right of conscientious objection should be ensured for Christians in all countries."

--- --- ---

On the Net:

Christianophobia: www.christianophobia.eu

Europe for Christ!: www.europe4christ.net

09 marzo 2009

Theology's Visual Side

Artist Explains How Icons Lead to Prayer

By Claudia Soberón Bullé Goyri

ROME, MARCH 5, 2009 (Zenit.org).- To learn the art of icons is to learn the art of prayer that leads to communion with God, according to an iconographer and teacher who just finished imparting a specialized course in Rome.

Fabio Nones, doctor in theology and director of a center of iconography in Trent, Italy, concluded last Saturday an advanced course for a select group of artists in an ecumenical center near the Vatican.

Nones explained to ZENIT that there is a great difference between an artist, in the ordinary sense of the word, and a painter of icons.

"The artist who creates a work of ark looks to communicate his sentiments, his vision of the world," he explained. "Meanwhile, the painter of icons is called an iconographer and this is a vocation that looks to express through the colors not so much what he feels, his sentiments, but the faith of the Church, of the Christian community he carries inside."

Icons invite to prayer, Nones continued, and "prayer is communion with God; is it not necessarily only to recite formulas but rather to live in communion with his presence and thus certainly in painting an icon, I pray to have a very strong communion with God."

The artist contended that icons are not just for experts but an invitation for everyone, because "art is very impoverished at the spiritual level and people seek the sacred more than religious art, as an instrument to communion with God, to arrive to God."

The icon in one such "very strong" instrument, Nones said, "fascinating from this point of view."

A vocation

The artist affirmed that anyone can approach the techniques of iconography, at least at an introductory level. "Later, clearly, along the way little by little, there are those who understand that they are being called to become true iconographers; many others don't continue."

"Through the painting of icons, one comes to discover the basis of the faith and, then, though it doesn't serve from an artistic point of view, it will serve from a spiritual point of view," he explained. And, he noted, icons do not serve just those who create them, but also those who contemplate them.

"This is very beautiful," he said, "because in Christianity it is God who goes to meet man, it is God who becomes incarnate and assumes a face, and because of this we can paint him. It is not us who invent a face for God, but rather we reproduce it, we make use of it from a possibility that God himself gives us, in having taken on a face."

"That is," Nones continued, "God comes out to meet us and the icon expresses that: God finds us. He contemplates us more than we contemplate him, and of course afterward these gazes interlock."

Going beyond

The teacher went on to explain that icons don't seek to reproduce nature in itself, but rather follow a logic of colors and elements that enable the observer to go beyond what is evident.

For example, the background of an icon is gold, he said, "because it expresses the glory of God. The background can be clear gold or even red to express that the icon is outside of time; there is not scenery or an optical illusion of distance, it is atemporal."

"And the background shows that the icon tries to offer a look at the divine world, at the world perceptible from on high," Nones continued. "It does not reproduce earthly forms; it doesn't seek to copy nature as it is, but seeks to see it transfigured in the light of God."

Permalink: http://www.zenit.org/article-25281?l=english