Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

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Catholics and journalists call for heads to roll at L’Osservatore Romano

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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ROME, November 23, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - For perhaps the first time, mainstream journalists are joining with conservative Catholics in criticizing the editors of the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano for having created this weekend’s media maelstrom over Pope Benedict’s comments on condom use for AIDS prevention. The pope’s brief comments were a small section of a new interview book, released in Rome today, by German journalist Peter Seewald

Catholic commentators and mainstream journalists alike are denouncing L’Osservatore Romano for what they identify as its “betrayal” of the Pope and of accepted standards of journalistic ethics.

Christine Vollmer, a founding member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life and president of the Latin-America Alliance for the Family, told LifeSiteNews.com that the action by L’Osservatore Romano to leak the comments prior to the launch date was a betrayal of Pope Benedict, and called for its editor-in-chief, Gian Maria Vian, to be sacked.

“The big mistake,” she said, “for which Vian would be fired from any normal employ, is that, knowing there were those phrases in the book, they had no explanations ready.” This failure to prepare adequately for the media onslaught that was certain to follow, Vollmer said, is “utterly inexcusable.”

“So much so, that normal incompetence is not credible. It would seem that, as with the Fisichella article, the editorial line is to incite doubt on moral matters.” Vollmer was referring to the uproar that ensued last year when the paper published, and refused rebuttal on, the notorious article by Archbishop Rino Fisichella on the abortion of twins of a nine year-old rape victim.

“They obviously feel that it stimulates interest in the publication and that seems to be the idea. If the paper were to publish articles that shed doubt on the Assumption of Our Lady, what would happen?  But they have no compunction to shed doubt on moral matters,” Vollmer said.

U.S. Catholic journalist and author Philip Lawler wrote that “today millions of people around the world believe that the Pontiff has changed Church teaching, has opened the question of contraception for debate, and has justified condom use in some circumstances. How did that happen?”

Lawler pinpoints the Vatican paper as the cause, saying, “Yet again, Pope Benedict has been badly served by his public-relations staff. In this case, the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano bears most of the blame for a truly disastrous gaffe.”

The Vatican had meticulously prepared for the launch of German journalist Peter Seewald’s new book-length interview with the pope. A press conference was scheduled for this morning and selected experts around the world had been vetted and prepared to give knowledgeable comment to media.

But on Saturday, all those plans came to naught when the pope’s paper, three days in advance of the official launch, broke the Vatican’s own embargo and published a selected excerpt - from the short section dealing with the Pope’s comments on condom use in Africa last March. Many are saying the “gaffe” was deliberately calculated to create the current global media feeding frenzy.

Headlines exploded into cyberspace through the weekend claiming that Pope Benedict XVI has “changed” Catholic teaching, either on the use of condoms in AIDS prevention or more generally on contraception. Although today news stories are appearing with more nuanced and contextualized claims, the media continues to report that the pope has opened the door for debate on the use of condoms in AIDS prevention. International organizations such as the World Health Organization, which have long promoted condom use for AIDS prevention, are congratulating Benedict on his “new” stand.

A prominent theme among Vatican-watchers in the last few years has been the role played by the Vatican communications offices in the string of media outbursts over the pope’s various comments, speeches and acts such as the lifting of the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying British traditionalist bishop. Some are now asking if the Vatican can be trusted competently to follow the accepted rules of journalistic ethics.

At the press conference this morning, officials declined to answer a pointed question from Frank Rocca, Vatican correspondent for Religion News Service and a mainstream journalist with the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Time and the Boston Globe. Rocca asked whether L’Osservatore Romano’s publication of the excerpts on Saturday “without informing the Sala Stampa [Holy See Press Office]” was an indication for the need for “better coordination” by the Vatican’s communications office.

Italian journalists have been especially blunt, with Paolo Rodari of Il Foglio, calling this weekend’s affair a “debacle.”

Veteran Italian journalist, Vatican expert and author of the 1987 interview book, The Ratzinger Report, Vittorio Messori, said that L’Osservatore Romano had “not even met the minimum requirements of prudence” in its decision to publish just the one small section on condoms that would ensure the media uproar that followed.

“Yet another failure of communication leads us to note once again that the Pope is not helped at all by those in the Vatican who should help.”

Lawler said that the action by L’Osservatore Romano has completely undermined the Vatican’s own plans to promote the book.

After this weekend’s consistory in which the Church welcomed 24 new cardinals, Lawler said, “the launch of Light of the World should have been another joyful occasion.”

“With appropriate planning, the publisher was poised to introduce the Pope’s book with a major publicity campaign. Now that publicity-which might have offered an accurate and favorable portrayal of the Pope’s book-will be nearly lost in the deluge of misinformation currently sweeping across the world.”

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received millions in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus

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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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