Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

There is something strange going on in the Vatican

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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ROME, October 3, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – I don’t know if I’m the only one to have noticed, but there seems to be something strange going on in the Vatican. No, I’m not talking about all that, at least not directly. I’m talking about the strange, long, almost awkward and, dare I say it, embarrassed silence, that has reigned from the Vatican’s press office on all of Pope Francis’s extraordinary statements and actions since his election.

I’m not going to go into all the details of the comments made by Pope Francis in the press – starting with his blockbusting plane interview on the way home from Brazil – which I’m sure most readers know well enough by now.

We have all seen the fallout. Homosexualist activists thanking Francis for “softening the Church’s policy on homosexuality”; the National Abortion Rights Action League thanking Pope Francis for… no one seems quite sure what; and even an atheist US talk show host declaring Francis an atheist.

Through all this, although the full Italian texts of the two interviews have been posted to the website of Vatican Radio, there has been nothing in the way of official clarifications, corrections, or even thunderous denials from the Sala Stampa.

In the nearly ten years I’ve been covering Vatican and Catholic-related news, through three papacies now, I don’t remember a time when the uproar caused by things a pope is saying and doing has reached so deeply into the minds of orthodox believers. These are the people who adhere to and defend all the teaching of the Catholic religion as a coherent and indivisible whole, and who have always relied on clarity and vigorous defence of the faith from Rome.

Catholic believers have understood their task well over the last few decades of this war of ideas; to patiently and articulately correct the claims made by the secular progressivists in the media. We have been able to do this because, thanks to the clarifying of doctrine and strengthening of the Church over the last two papacies, we have been confident about the ground we stood on.

But in recent months, around the world, with either dismay and anxiety, or with triumphant whoops, this pope’s statements – first to the Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica and now to the Italian atheist celebrity Eugenio Scalfari – have been interpreted as nearly a declaration that the Church will change to suit the tastes of the “progressivists,” liberals and secularists. And for weeks, there was nothing; no clarification, no corrections or denials at all from inside the Vatican’s walls. The Catholic world outside was starting to wonder just what is going on in there. 

Nothing, that is, until last Thursday, when, after a Sala Stampa (Holy See Press Office) press conference about the first meeting of Pope Francis’ new council of cardinals, Fr. Federico Lombardi stammered out a few words in response to a deluge of reporters’ questions.

Despite the fact that they certainly must have known what was coming, we had nothing but the Holy See’s press officer and the de facto papal spokesman metaphorically dropping his gaze and shuffling his feet. The pope, Fr. Lombardi said, was speaking in a “conversational” or “colloquial” manner, and his statements were not “a magisterial document”…

Not only was there no comment or clarifications in the prepared remarks at that press conference, Fr. Lombardi had nothing prepared for what he must have known would be the main point of interest for journalists. He seemed, simply, to be caught off guard.

Now Scalfari himself has admitted this weekend that he neither recorded nor took notes during the conversation, and that the “interview” that was published had been reconstructed from memory. However, Scalfari and Lombardi have both insisted that Pope Francis was shown the final text and approved it, although it is not “clear how closely the Pope read it”.

This revelation was followed on the weekend by a letter produced by Fr. Thomas Rosica, signing not as a Vatican spokesman but as head of Salt and Light Catholic Television Network, who summed up a few of the revelations about the Scalfari interview that had come to light elsewhere.

The interview, Fr. Rosica said, was “after-the-fact reconstruction” and so “run[s] the risk of either missing some key details or conflating various moments or events recounted during the oral interview”.

Fr. Rosica affirmed again, however, that the Scalfari interview was “trustworthy overall” but admitted, “Nevertheless, some minor, unprecise details have caused a stir among you.” Among the possible “‘conflation’ of facts, details and sequence of events” on the night of his election, were questions about “a so-called ‘mystical experience’ of Pope Francis on the night of his election to the Papacy.”

But that was it. We are left to ourselves to try to understand all the rest of Pope Francis’s remarks and actions that have astonished, confused and alarmed Catholics around the world for the last six months. Writing for the National Catholic Register, Rome correspondent Edward Pentin summed up the dissatisfaction of many observers, commenting, “[T]he picture emerging is of a Pope who does whatever he wants with little or no consultation with his closest aides.” The pope, one inside source said, is “viewed as being ‘totally unpredictable,’ preferring to do things arbitrarily and on his own”.

But many of us Vatican-watchers are also left wondering what is going on inside the Press Office. The brevity and off-the-cuff, essentially reactive character of their very few responses to date do indicate one thing that they were probably not intended to convey. That is, it seems the usual paths of communication within the Vatican, and their “control over the message” have broken down.

One local Rome reporter told me, “I think they must be embarrassed that the interview went ahead as it did. I asked Fr. Lombardi if anyone else sat in on the interview. No reply. It raises an ominous question: if there is this much confusion and bewilderment out here, is it possible that the same confusion reigns in there?

Meanwhile, the “clarifications” from Fr.’s Lombardi and Rosica leave unanswered the numerous questions about Pope Francis’s statements.

Hundreds of articles and editorials, and easily thousands of blog posts have asked, Did Pope Francis really mean that there has been too much emphasis on abortion, the nature of the family, marriage and sexuality? Who "reprimanded" Francis for not talking about these issues? Are youth unemployment and the loneliness of elderly people really the most urgent issues facing the Church? Does that mean that the killing of 50 million unborn children a year around the world, the growing threat of legalised euthanasia, the global population control movement… really should take a back seat to our economic or even emotional troubles?

Is the pope, the Vicar of Christ, saying that focusing on these issues in the public sphere is a distraction from the true aims of the Church of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

What does he mean by the Church being caught up in “small rules”? What did he mean when he said that “God is not a Catholic”? Or that “Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good”?

There can be no doubt that this is all having a profound effect on faithful Catholics out there. Ordinary Catholics are asking hard questions, and expressing their grave concerns. Typical of such comments was one that I found most poignant on the ‘blog of Fr. Dwight Longenecker, one of Pope Francis’ strongest supporters:

 “I find this interview very hard. I have accepted that this is the Holy Father's personal view, and that it is not infallible, but this interview is challenging my prior notion of what devotion to the Papacy meant because previously I would not have selected what the Popes said but assiduously read things like this. I can't get past the cognitive dissonance.”

There seems little point in debating over what it’s all about. The possibilities have been explored as far as we can take it from out here. As LSN managing editor Steve Jalsevac said the other day, we’ve seen all we need to see of speculation about “what the pope really meant…” or “what the pope could not possibly have meant…”. As he said, all of this might be cathartic for some, but ultimately only Pope Francis can clarify what he really meant. And he isn’t.

Last week he was in Assisi and in that highly public forum with the press corps following and waiting, there has not been any hint that he is aware of the enormous uproar among the faithful that has resulted from his words.

For fifty years, Catholics have relied upon a system in which every word spoken or written by a pope, or for that matter by any office of the Vatican, has been carefully examined and vetted through the appropriate Vatican dicasteries for conformity to Catholic teaching. It has been this system, almost as much as the personal commitment of the last two popes to the defence of the sanctity of human life, that has given Catholics the confidence, the solid doctrinal ground they needed to fight the good fight. 

That collaborative process of vetting and doctrinal precision, of caution, care and commitment to the internal theological and doctrinal coherence, has produced some of the most important documents to the life and family issues of the last century. These statements, taken together, could be seen as a kind of constitution of the international pro-life movement: Humanae vitae, 1968, on artificial contraception; Donum vitae, 1987, and Dignitas Personae, 2008, on artificial procreation and new reproductive technologies; Evangelium vitae, 1995, on abortion and euthanasia; the Charter of the Rights of the Family 1983.

But the evidence is mounting that that system has broken down or simply been rendered moot. If Pope Francis is now just calling up journalists himself (if that story is to be believed) and bypassing the process by which papal statements were vetted, clarified and perfected, then what can we expect next?

We also know that the same system that kept ambiguity or confusion from causing problems among the faithful, also restrained those members of the hierarchy who were inclined, for whatever reason, to back away from the Church’s teachings. It will not have failed to cross the minds of a certain kind of prelate and priest that there now appears to be no one minding the store and that some things may now be said and done with less fear of corrective action.


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Although it is widely believed that people with Down syndrome are doomed to a life of suffering, in one large survey 99% of respondents with Down syndrome described themselves as "happy." Shutterstock
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‘Sick and twisted’: Down’s advocates, pro-life leaders slam Richard Dawkins’ abortion remarks

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By Dustin Siggins

Advocates on behalf of individuals with Down syndrome, as well as pro-life leaders, are slamming famed atheist Richard Dawkins’ statements made on Twitter earlier today that parents have a moral responsibility to abort babies diagnosed in utero with Down’s.

During a shocking Twitter rant, Dawkins responded to questioners saying that it was "civilised" to abort Down Syndrome babies, and that it would be "immoral" to choose not to abort babies diagnosed with the condition.

He said that his goal is to "reduce suffering wherever you can," indicating that unborn children cannot suffer, and that unborn children don't "have human feelings."

In addition to being scientifically challenged - unborn children can feel both pain and emotions - Dawkins' comments drew criticism for his callousness towards children with disabilities.  

"A true civilization – a civilization of love – does not engage in such cold and ultimately suicidal calculus"

"It's sick and twisted for anyone to advocate for the killing of children with disabilities," Live Action President Lila Rose told LifeSiteNews. "Dawkins's ignorant comments serve only to further stigmatize people with Down syndrome.

"While many people with Down syndrome, their families, and advocacy groups are fighting discrimination on a daily basis, Dawkins calls for their murder before they are even born," she said. "Those with Down syndrome are human beings, with innate human dignity, and they, along with the whole human family, deserve our respect and protection."

Carol Boys, chief executive of the Down's Syndrome Association, told MailOnline that, contrary to Dawkins’ assertion, "People with Down’s syndrome can and do live full and rewarding lives, they also make a valuable contribution to our society."

A spokesperson for the UK disabilities charity Scope lamented that during the "difficult and confusing time" when parents find out they are expecting a child with disabilities, they often experience "negative attitudes."

"What parents really need at this time is sensitive and thorough advice and information," the spokesperson said.

Charlotte Lozier Institute president Chuck Donovan agreed with Rose’s assessment. "Advocates of abortion for those 'weaker' than others, or of less physical or intellectual dexterity, should remember that each of us is 'lesser' in some or most respects," he said.

According to Donovan, "we deliver a death sentence on all of humanity by such cruel logic."

"A true civilization – a civilization of love – does not engage in such cold and ultimately suicidal calculus" he said.

One family who has a child with Down syndrome said Dawkins was far from the mark when he suggested that aborting babies with Down syndrome is a good way to eliminate suffering.

Jan Lucas, whose son Kevin has Down syndrome, said that far from suffering, Kevin has brought enormous joy to the family, and "is so loving. He just has a million hugs."

She described how Kevin was asked to be an honorary deacon at the church they attend in New Jersey, "because he is so encouraging to everyone. At church, he asks people how their families are, says he'll pray for them, and follows up to let them know that he has been praying for them."

It's not just strangers for whom Kevin prays. "My husband and I were separated for a time, and Kevin kept asking people to pray for his dad," said Jan. "They didn't believe that Kevin's prayers would be answered. Kevin didn't lose hope, and asking people, and our marriage now is better than ever before. We attribute it to Kevin's prayers, and how he drew on the prayers of everyone."

"I don't know what we'd do without him," said Jan.

Speaking with LifeSiteNews, Kevin said that his favorite things to do are "spending time with my family, and keeping God in prayer." He said that he "always knows God," which helps him to "always keep praying for my friends."

"I love my church," said Kevin.

Although it is widely believed that people with Down syndrome are doomed to a life of suffering, in one large survey , 99% of respondents with Down syndrome described themselves as "happy." At the same time, 99% percent of parents said they loved their child with Down syndrome, and 97 percent said they were proud of them.

Only 4 percent of parents who responded said they regretted having their child.

Despite this, it is estimated that in many Western countries the abortion rate of children diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome is 90%, or even higher. The development of new and more accurate tests for the condition has raised concerns among Down syndrome advocates that that number could rise even higher. 

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President George Bush takes the ice bucket challenge in a video released this week.
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What’s wrong with the viral ‘ice bucket challenge’? A lot, say pro-life leaders

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By Dustin Siggins

Pro-life leaders in the U.S. are warning about ethical problems with the viral "Ice Bucket Challenge" that has raised over $15 million for research into Lou Gehrig’s Disease since late July, making its way to the top of American politics, and the entertainment and business worlds in the process.

In recent days, former president George W. Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, TV hosts Oprah Winfrey and Jimmy Fallon, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates have all had ice-cold water dumped on their heads in support of the effort.

They have been joined by many thousands of everyday Americans eager to do their part to raise funds to find a cure for the fatal neurodegenerative disease.

However, pro-life leaders from Patheos blogger Father Michael Duffy to the American Life League (ALL) are all pointing out that the ALS Association, which is behind the wildly popular fundraising effort, funds and otherwise supports embryonic stem cell research.

Instead, they are urging that pro-life people who want to participate in the ice bucket challenge send their donations to other charities that don't have similar ethical issues.

Embryonic stem cell research requires the destruction of an unborn child. This is unlike adult and umbilical cord stem cell research, which are considered ethical.

A spokesperson from the ALS Association admitted to American Life League in an e-mail that while the organization "primarily funds adult stem cell research," they are "funding one study using embryonic stem cells (ESC)..."

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"It is noble to combat a deadly disease," Live Action president Lila Rose said in a statement provided to LifeSiteNews, but added that "it's such a shame that the ALS Association...chooses to support research that thrives from experimenting on and killing tiny, innocent human beings."

"Embryonic stem cell research, which requires the destruction of pre-born people, is inherently unethical and a violation of fundamental human rights, and even materialists must admit that promises of its benefits have failed to deliver," continued Rose. "There is no good reason to condone this practice; in fact, all it does is taint the ALS Association, whom I'd otherwise be happy to support."

In the email to American Life League, ALS Assocation Spokesperson Carrie Munk defended the organization, saying that the embryonic stem cell research is being funded by an outside donor, and "the stem cell line was established many years ago."

She added that "under very strict guidelines, The Association may fund embryonic stem cell research in the future," and that currently "donors may stipulate that their funds not be invested in this study or any stem cell project."

At least one Catholic archdiocese has spoken up about the problematic relationship between ALS Assocation and unethical research.

"We appreciate the compassion that has caused so many people to engage in the ice bucket challenge," said a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. "But it's a well established moral principle that a good end is not enough. The means to that ends must be morally licit."

Both Fr. Duffy and the archdiocese have recommended money be sent to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City, Iowa. It is an organization that exclusively researches with adult stem cells. 

One D.C.-area Catholic, Robert Vega, wrote on Facebook that "in light of the absolute dignity of human life and necessity to defend it...I have taken down my Ice Bucket video, untagged myself from my nomination video, and encourage anyone to whom I may have spread the Challenge to do the same."

Embryonic stem cell research, which was a major controversy throughout the presidency of George W. Bush, has quietly, although decidedly, become less popular after many of the exalted promises of its proponents failed to materialize. As LifeSiteNews reported, in 2012 California and Maryland funded a fraction of the embryonic stem cell research projects that they did in 2007. Likewise, Maryland funded nearly twice as many stem cell research projects in 2012 as it had in the prior year -- but only one of the grants was done for an embryonic research project.

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Catholic couple fined $13,000 for refusing to host same-sex ‘wedding’ at their farm

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By Kirsten Anderson
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Robert and Cynthia Gifford

The New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR) has ruled that the Roman Catholic owners of an Albany-area farm violated the civil rights of a lesbian couple when they declined to host the couple’s same-sex “marriage” ceremony in 2012.

Robert and Cynthia Gifford, who own and operate Liberty Ridge Farm in Schaghticoke, were ordered by DHR Judge Migdalia Pares and Commissioner Helen Diane Foster to pay $10,000 in fines to the state and an additional $3,000 in damages to the lesbian couple, Jennie McCarthy and Melissa Erwin for “mental pain and suffering.” 

Additionally, the Giffords must provide sensitivity training to their staff, and prominently display a poster highlighting state anti-discrimination laws.

The Giffords’ attorney, Jim Trainor, told LifeSiteNews that the two-year-legal drama and resulting fines all stemmed from a single brief phone call in 2012 that caught his clients off guard.

“The entire interaction between the Complainants and the Giffords transpired during a two to three minute telephone conversation which, unknown to Mrs. Gifford, was being tape recorded,” Trainor said.

“After communicating the fact that they chose not to hold same-sex marriage ceremonies at the farm because to do so would violate the Giffords’ sincerely held beliefs (that God intended marriage to be between a man a woman only), Mrs. Gifford invited the couple to visit the farm to discuss handling their wedding reception, which the couple refused.” 

The Giffords draw a line, Trainor explained, between a ceremony that solemnizes a homosexual relationship and a reception that celebrates the union after the fact.  To participate in the former, they argue, would be a violation of their own religious beliefs, especially because marriage ceremonies on the farm typically take place in and around the couple’s home, where they live full-time and are raising their two children. 

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But the Giffords are willing to serve gay couples in other ways – for example, they allowed another lesbian couple to throw a birthday party for their adopted child on the farm.

Trainor said he believes the decision by DHR goes too far in that it seeks to regulate what the Giffords can or cannot do in their own private home, even though state law only requires “places of public accommodation” to adhere to anti-discrimination laws.

“They consider the farm their home,” Trainor said. “They live there, they work there, they raise their kids there.”

Trainor also said that the Judge and Commissioner should have taken into account the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby ruling, which came down weeks before the DHR notified the Giffords of their decision.

“We're disappointed that neither the Administrative Law Judge nor the Commissioner considered the Gifford's Constitutional (1st Amendment) rights, including the right not to be compelled to participate in a ‘marriage’ ceremony which violates their own religious beliefs,” Trainor said. 

Trainor said he and the Giffords are evaluating their options for further legal action.

The Giffords could simply ask the DHR to reconsider their decision, but Trainor said he doubts that approach would be successful. In order to formally appeal the ruling the couple would have to go to the New York State Supreme Court. 

But there is another option: The Giffords could file a fresh lawsuit in either state or federal court challenging the constitutionality of the DHR ruling.

While religious liberty has been a hot topic in federal court lately, Trainor said New York’s state constitution “actually offers a lot” of protection when it comes to religious freedom. “Many people view it as more expansive than the U.S. Constitution in terms of religious freedoms.”

However, Trainor emphasized that the Giffords have not yet decided which avenue, if any, they are planning to take in terms of pursuing further legal action.

In the meantime, the Giffords will continue hosting wedding ceremonies and receptions at the farm, Trainor said. However, they are considering hiring a dedicated employee to handle the ceremonies in order to avoid having to directly participate in any future same-sex “weddings.”

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