Fr. Peter West

Pilgrims seek victory over Russia’s culture of death

Fr. Peter West
By Fr. Peter West
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June 12, 2012 (Zenit.org) – As I write this, a small band of pro-life missionaries is driving through the vast desolate plains of Siberia, on a historic pilgrimage across Asia and Europe.

On June 14, the pilgrims left the port city of Vladivostok on the Pacific Coast of Russia with a replica of the famous icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa. The icon will be venerated by tens of thousands across eight time zones in Russia, and eventually will zigzag across Europe to Fatima, Portugal and, hopefully, will even come to the United States in the spring of 2013.

What would motivate a small band of believers to undertake this long and potentially dangerous journey in what is being called the “From Ocean to Ocean International Campaign in Defense of Life?” The pilgrimage of the icon, led by a coalition of Catholic and Orthodox leaders including Lech and Ewa Kowaleski of Human Life International (HLI) Poland, is intended both as a response to nearly a century of legalized abortion in Russia, and for victory over the culture of death throughout the world. The pilgrims believe that this victory for life will take place through the powerful intercession of Mary, the Mother of God.

Scripture and Church history are full of precedents for this extraordinary event. In the Book of Joshua, we read that the Jews carried the Ark of the Covenant into battle (cf. Joshua 3, 3-6). In the Mother of Christ, the Ark of the New Covenant, the Church has long carried on the Old Testament tradition of carrying the Ark into battle. Indeed, several Fathers of the Church, as the original scholars of the Old Testament, help us understand why Mary is known to the Church as the Ark of the New Covenant. Saint Ambrose, for example, wrote:

The Ark contained the Tablets of the Law; Mary contained in her womb the heir of the Testament. The Ark bore the Law; Mary bore the Gospel. The Ark made the voice of God heard; Mary gave us the very Word of God. The Ark shone forth with the purest gold; Mary shone forth both inwardly and outwardly with the splendor of her virginity. The gold which adorned the Ark came from the interior of the earth; the gold with which Mary shone forth came from the mines of Heaven. (Serm. xlii. 6, Int. Opp., S. Ambrosii)

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Throughout history, the faithful have called on the Blessed Virgin Mary in time of battle to win great victories against overwhelming odds.

In 1571, when the Bishop of Mexico heard that Europe was threatened with an invasion from the Turkish Navy, he sent a replica of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Pope Pius V. The Pope gave the image to Admiral Andrea Doria, who carried it into battle on one of the lead ships at Lepanto. On October 7, 1571, Christian forces defeated the much larger Turkish Navy and saved Europe from invasion.

In 1812, Russian forces carried the icon of “The Reigning Mother of God” into battle as they drove Napoleon and his invading army out of Russia. Just over a century later, on March 1, 1917, a pious Russian widow named Eudocia received a revelation from the Blessed Virgin Mary to look for the icon, which had been lost for many years. The next day, at the same time that Tsar Nicholas of Russia abdicated his throne, the icon was found, having been hidden in a basement in the village of Kolomenskoye, just outside Moscow. Many people began to venerate the icon and miraculous healings began to occur, even as the October Revolution was launched against the ruling Tsars of Russia. The Mother of God told her that if the icon was marched around the Kremlin seven times it would not fall. Tragically, her requests went unheeded. The Bolsheviks captured the Kremlin, marking the onset of Russia’s century of darkness.

The icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa has a fascinating history of its own. Tradition holds that St. Luke the Evangelist himself “wrote” the icon of what has now become known as “Our Lady of Czestochowa” on a cypress table made by Jesus Himself. The Icon was damaged by anti-Catholic, Hussite raiders in 1430 who slashed it and attempted to burn it, so much so that today she is referred to as the “Black Madonna.” In a sense, the icon is a symbol of Poland herself, scarred but persevering in faith.

Our Lady has interceded for the Polish people many times in her history. Just a relatively recent example, from May 1-7, 1979, many Poles held what became known as “The Siege of Jericho.” At the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa they prayed continuous rosaries for the intention that the Communist government would relax its restrictions on the visit of Pope John Paul II to his native land. On May 7, the Polish government unexpectedly relented and dropped the major obstacles that were preventing the Pope’s visit. Blessed Pope John Paul lit a fire with his bold proclamation of the Gospel “behind enemy lines.” The Pope’s visit set in motion the most remarkable peaceful revolution of the century, eventually bringing down Communism in the Soviet Union and all of Eastern Europe.

Russia again finds herself facing enormous difficulties today—difficulties of her own making. In 1920, Russia was the first country to legalize abortion for any reason. Josef Stalin again outlawed abortion in 1936, not because he respected human life, but he saw that it was weakening his nation and decimating the population of Russia along with war, the various purges and the starvation of millions. Abortion was legalized again after his death in 1954. The number of babies lost again skyrocketed, peaking in 1964 with 5.6 million abortions performed. Abortion remains the primary means of birth control in Russia, although the rate is falling (still at a very high rate of just under 40% of all pregnancies ending in abortion in 2010).

But now, Russia knows she has a problem. Her population continues to decline at an alarming rate. The total fertility rate of Russian women hit a historic low in 1999 of 1.16. By 2010, it had risen slightly to 1.59. Even President Vladmir Putin has encouraged Russian families to have more children by offering economic incentives, but these policies are having little effect.

Against this backdrop of demographic collapse, a faithful few are turning their eyes to the Mother of God. This is fitting since Blessed Pope John Paul’s monumental encyclical Evangelium Vitae, which he called “central to the whole Magisterium of my Pontificate,” and which closes with a prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary for victory over the culture of death.

Our Lady under her title of Our Lady of Czestochowa is venerated both in the East and the West. The icon arrived in Vladivostok on June 11 and was venerated in several churches, including the main Cathedral of St. Nicholas. Enthusiastic crowds have accompanied the Blessed Virgin asking for her prayers, and have also attended the pro-life conferences that are taking place as part of the pilgrimage.

A prayer before the icon was offered by Archpriest Aleksandr Talko, the head of the Department of Church Charities and Social Services. He said, “For all of the days of the stay of the Czestochowa icon in Vladivostok, there will be prayers before the miraculous icon requesting the Mother of God to strengthen family ties.”

The fact that Russian Orthodox leaders are working together with Roman Catholics to coordinate the historic pilgrimage through Europe and Asia is no small feat. We pray that our shared devotion to the Blessed Mother may be an occasion for the building of mutual respect, and for collaboration in other such efforts for the promotion of faith, life and the family in the future.

Please pray with us that God will bless the efforts of this tiny band of missionaries and that Our Blessed Mother will awaken the people in every place she visits, to be open to life and a respect marriage and family life.

Visit the website of the From Ocean to Ocean International Campaign for the Defense of Life for more information on the progress of this historic pilgrimage.

Father Peter West is vice president for missions for Human Life International, the world’s largest pro-life organization, which is coordinating the From Ocean to Ocean pilgrimage of the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa. This article was originally posted on Zenit.org and is reprinted with permission.

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Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

Gov report: 1,036 ObamaCare plans illegally fund abortions

Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin
By Dustin Siggins

Co-written by Ben Johnson

An internal government watchdog agency has found that – despite promises from President Obama and legal language in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – some 1,036 ObamaCare insurance plans are illegally paying for elective abortions.

The Affordable Care Act requires that insurance companies take up a separate, $1 surcharge to cover abortion. However, the majority of the issuers examined by GAO violate the payment structure, and use federal health care subsidies to cover elective abortions.

“Every ObamaCare taxpayer subsidized health insurance plan in New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island and Hawaii pays for abortion-on-demand,” said the office of Congressman Chris Smith, R-NJ, the co-chairman of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus.

On Monday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that out of 18 insurance issuers it sampled for the report, 15 "indicated that the benefit [of abortion] is not subject to any restrictions, limitations, or exclusions." The issuers provide "nearly one-quarter of [qualified health plans] covering non-excepted abortion services" in 28 states that do not restrict abortion coverage via health insurance plans more than the ACA.

The pro-life movement expressed outrage at the violation of the law.

Mary Harned, staff counsel for Americans United for Life (AUL), said that the ACA's language "is unambiguous – 'separate payments' are required. Yet insurance issuers are not collecting separate payments. In fact, the Obama administration is telling issuers that they do not need to collect two checks. When issuers seek guidance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), they are told that they can merely itemize the amount of a premium that will be used to pay for abortions."

The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) responded to the GAO's revelation by saying it will try to offer clearer explanations of the rules.

But Harned said the government is deliberately allowing states to skirt the law. "GAO uncovered evidence that at least one state department of insurance was unaware that issuers needed to file their plans for segregating the abortion premium from taxpayer funds with the state. At least two issuers indicated that they had not filed segregation plans, and at least one was not aware of any direction by the state to file such a plan.”

Americans should not have to finance abortion unwittingly through their insurance premiums, pro-life leaders said – a fact already codified into law.

“The American people should not be forced to purchase an Obamacare health care plan before they are able to find out what is in it,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. “Americans should not be forced to play a game of moral Russian roulette when they select a health care plan.”

Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser said that “ObamaCare breaks from the long tradition of the Hyde Amendment, which has prevented taxpayer funding of abortion with broad public support, and was not included in the law.”

She added that the disclosure proves that several vulnerable Democratic senators "voted for taxpayer funding of abortion in ObamaCare."

National Right to Life Committee Legislative Director Douglas Johnson agreed, “Those really responsible for this scandal are the lawmakers, such as Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Begich of Alaska, and Mark Udall of Colorado, who voted against the pro-life amendment that would have prevented this massive federal funding of abortion-covering plans, as well as those who voted to enact the bill after the amendment was rejected, such as Mark Pryor of Arkansas.”

Dannenfelser, Perkins, and others says that Congress should correct this situation by passing the "No Taxpayer Founding of Abortion Act," introduced by Congressman Smith.

In a series of statements, Republican House leaders condemned the government funding of abortion.

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House Speaker John Boehner said that the Obama administration “repeatedly denied congressional requests for its public release.”

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana said, "Many of us argued at the time ObamaCare passed that it would funnel taxpayer dollars to elective abortions, despite President Obama’s repeated broken promises to the contrary. This independent report validates our claims and proves that yet another ObamaCare promise has been broken.”

He called the news "the most recent in a string of ObamaCare broken promises to the American people."

The Obama administration has side-stepped the issue of which ObamaCare plans fund abortion since the passage of the ACA. Last October, and again in December, then-HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was grilled by pro-life Congressmen about whether Americans would be able to determine if their insurance plan funds abortion.

“I don’t know," Sebelius answered. "I know exactly the issue you’re talking about. I will check and make sure that is clearly identifiable.”

Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, said, “For a president who claims to pursue the most transparent administration, he continues to reject calls to shed light on what exactly is in plans on the health care exchange.”

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Lisa Bourne

Catholic Relief Services: We’re ‘proud’ that we don’t discuss faith

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

While some pro-life activists are criticizing Catholic Relief Services (CRS) after a high-ranking executive said last month that the agency is “proud” they do not discuss faith with the people they serve, CRS itself is defending the statement, saying it was misinterpreted. 

The controversy began when Bill O’Keefe, CRS’ vice-president for government relations and advocacy, told CNN’s Belief Blog, “We assist people of all backgrounds and religions and we do not attempt to engage in discussions of faith."

“We’re proud of that. We like to say that we assist everybody because we’re Catholic, we don’t assist people to become Catholic,” he added in the August 9 piece.

“We assist people of all backgrounds and religions and we do not attempt to engage in discussions of faith."

The statement drew criticism from Catholic pro-life and pro-family groups, who said the comments are another sign that the U.S. Bishops’ foreign relief agency has shed its Catholic identity and effectively operates as a secular NGO.

“How great is it that Catholic Relief Services is serving the poor and marginalized in dangerous areas of the world,” Father Shenan Boquet, president of Human Life International, told LifeSiteNews. “Yet how sad that CRS spokespeople again boast that they do not preach the Gospel love of Jesus Christ, as a matter of policy.”

“This is so radically out of line with what Pope Francis has repeatedly said,” Father Boquet added, “and is something that Pope Benedict warned against in both Deus Caritas est and Caritas in Veritate.”

“For CRS to be ‘proud’ of the fact that it doesn't evangelize may help it to get grants from the federal government," said Steven Mosher, president of Population Research Institute. "After all, such activities are specifically forbidden to federal grantees. But it is an abdication of their responsibility as Catholics - really everyone's responsibility as Catholics - to spread the Gospel."

Michael Hichborn, director of American Life League’s Defend the Faith project, agreed.

“The bottom line is that there can be no division between charity and the work of evangelism,” he said.  “But CRS just stated that it is ‘proudly’ doing just that.”

Hichborn told LifeSiteNews he believes the statement highlights the fact that for CRS social works supersede evangelization.  

But in reality, he argued, charitable works “are the loving tools by which we evangelize. Any act to divorce evangelization from works of charity neuters the Church and relegates charity to mere philanthropy. Catholic Relief Services, by their own admission, is content to feed bodies and starve souls."

CRS responds to criticisms

Paul Eagle, CRS’ communications director, suggested that O'Keefe's statement was misunderstood, telling LifeSiteNews that their work is a clear example of not proselytizing, but preaching the Gospel through works.

“We are indeed proud that we witness the Church’s mission and the call of the Gospel to care for those in need, regardless of who they are or what they believe, through the work that CRS does every day,” he said. “This is a central part of the Church’s evangelizing mission, but it does not include proselytizing or requiring that people become Catholic to receive our assistance.”

Eagle told LifeSiteNews that CRS follows St. Francis of Assisi, who has been reflected in the leadership of Pope Francis. He pointed to a famous quotation that is often attributed to St. Francis, which goes, "Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words."

“Our work is a clear example of not proselytizing, but preaching the Gospel through what we do,” Eagle said.

Eagle directed LifeSiteNews to a CRS web page which states that CRS “rejoices in” the encyclical Caritas in Veritate, and has grown in a deeper understanding of its mission through study and reflection on Benedict’s earlier encyclicals Deus Caritas Est and Spe Salvi

Eagle also pointed to the CRS initiative, “Impact Investing,” saying it contains a response to Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium.

Pro-life critics cite papal support

But Father Boquet said a policy banning discussions of faith or preaching the Gospel is clearly opposed to Catholic teaching on charity.

“This is a radical departure from how the Church has always understood her essential charitable and missionary work,” he said.

He quoted Pope Francis in his first homily as pope: “We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord,” the pope said.

Pope Francis has repeated this theme several times, most recently in June of this year, said Father Boquet. At that time, “he said that the Church cannot just be a ‘well organized NGO,’ or just some institution with people who are ‘fans’ of being Catholic.”

Boquet and the other pro-life critics pointed out that several recent popes have written at length on the need for evangelization to remain at the heart of its charitable work.

“This is a radical departure from how the Church has always understood her essential charitable and missionary work."

In Evangelii Nuntiandi Pope Paul VI wrote that generous Christians are often tempted to reduce the Church’s mission to the realm of the temporal, downgrading it to be man-centered. The Holy Father said in that document that this reduction to a focus on material well-being would mean the Church would lose her fundamental meaning.

Pope Benedict XVI echoed this teaching in Deus Caritas Est, stating, "The entire activity of the Church is an expression of a love that seeks the integral good of man: it seeks his evangelization through Word and Sacrament."

In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict cited Pope Paul VI, writing that Christian charity is “part and parcel of evangelization,” because, “Jesus Christ, who loves us, is concerned with the whole person.”

Many CRS employees not Catholic

Mosher also highlighted Pope Benedict’s motu proprio titled ‘On the Service of Charity,’ which he said “is quite clear in that the work of Catholic charities should be grounded in the Mass and the Sacraments, which implies evangelization.”

The CNN Belief Blog article also reported that CRS “doesn't even like” to be labeled missionary because of the word's association with evangelizing, stating:

Though Catholic Relief Services says it is motivated by the Gospel to embody Catholic social and moral teaching, it does not preach to the people it helps.

In fact, you don't even have to be Catholic to work for Catholic Relief Services. Among its 4,500 workers are many Muslims, Hindus and members of other religions, said Bill O’Keefe, the organization’s vice president of advocacy.

Eagle told LifeSiteNews CRS is proud as a Catholic agency that it works collaboratively with all people regardless of faith, which is especially important in communities where the majority of people are not Catholic.

He added that CRS takes steps to ensure Catholic identity in preparing employees for work with CRS, referencing a tutorial, "Protecting Life,” which was reviewed by the USCCB.

At the same time, experience has shown that what CRS cannot account for is the personal opinions of its non-Catholic employees, which, according to Mosher, inevitably affect the way they perform their jobs. A May 2014 LifeSiteNews article reported on public campaign records showing that since 1990 CRS employees have donated tens of thousands of dollars, 98.1 percent of their political donations, to elect pro-abortion politicians to office.

LifeSiteNews has also reported on the fact that numerous CRS employees in key policy positions have in previous jobs advocated for activities that violate Church teaching.

For example, Daphyne Williams, who has worked for CRS since 2008 and helped to develop a controversial policy whereby CRS would provide “complete and accurate” information on condoms, was hired after working at a series of pro-abortion organizations. One, which she listed on her LinkedIn page until LifeSiteNews reported on it in 2012, was called Pro-Choice Resources.

In another more dramatic case, a CRS employee was charged and convicted after deliberately ramming her car into a crowd of pro-life activists at the March for Life.

“As far as the claim that they somehow ‘evangelize’ by not preaching the Gospel, by not hiring Catholics … this simply makes no sense,” Mosher told LifeSiteNews.

“They say that ‘they help people because they're Catholic.’ But CRS employees, including very senior employees, are often - as the organization itself proudly admits - not Catholic at all,” said Mosher. “So it is hard to take this defense seriously.” 

Mosher said that statements indicating CRS is proud that is does not evangelize raise the question of whether CRS's donors are being defrauded by an organization that claims to be "Catholic," but distances itself from the Church in its actual programs and practices.

“If Catholic Relief Services is not going to hire practicing Catholics, work through the local Catholic Church around the world, and preferentially serve Catholic populations,” Mosher said, “then it has no business calling itself ‘Catholic.’ For it is not. It is just another humanitarian NGO which can make no special claim on Catholics.”

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Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

,

Protecting marriage isn’t enough – we must oppose gay ‘civil unions’ too

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent
By Jeanne Smits

Philippe Ariño, one of the original initiators of the French “Manif pour tous” rallies against the legalization of same-sex “marriage” in November 2012, is suggesting that opposition to the law and its probable developments needs to be coherent and complete if it hopes to be efficient. In a recent and widely-circulated article published on his blog, he writes that the objective must be to put an end to legalized “civil unions” as well.

Ariño, a non-practicing homosexual, left the “Manif pour tous” by March 2013, criticizing the movement’s figurehead, Frigide Barjot, for her stands on “homosexual love” and her insistence that civil unions were not only acceptable, but should benefit from a more favorable legal framework. Barjot herself was to be ousted from the organization for the same reason, but the “Manif pour tous” still takes care not to antagonize and avoids clear-cut condemnation of certain “homosexual rights” so as not to appear radical.

At the “Manif pour tous” summer university this weekend, leader Ludovine de La Rochère underscored the fact that the socialist government would certainly not reverse the same-sex “marriage” law, adding that it would be useless to demand its abrogation as long as Hollande and his government is in power.

"‘Marriage for all’ and [civil unions] form a whole, and the glue which holds them together is the belief in and the justification of homosexual identity and love."

Not so, argues Ariño. His warning in view of the group’s upcoming rally against “familyphobia,” gender ideology, surrogate motherhood, and artificial procreation for homosexuals on October 5 in Paris pleads for consistency. He gave permission to LifeSite to translate his text and publish its most significant passages.

“Why should we not limit ourselves to demanding the abrogation of the ‘same-sex marriage’ law – the few of us, that is, who are beginning to realize that we should demand it! – and why must we demand what is most necessary: the abrogation of the ‘PACS’?” he writes.

The PACS, or French “civil solidarity pact” is a civil union open to all, including homosexuals. It is slowly replacing normal marriage as it includes less obligations and can be dissolved unilaterally at any time through a bailiff’s letter.

Ariño calls it “totally illogical, unrealistic and useless, when opposing gender ideology, surrogate motherhood and even ‘marriage for all’ to do so without demanding the abrogation of the PACS, even if many will argue that “when asking too much you get nothing at all.”

“I would say on the contrary that it is because we did not make this minimal demand that we will find that everything will be imposed upon us one small step at a time! I’m telling them that it is they who are exaggerating and that they have not taken the full measure of the gravity of the PACS, and the 180° turn it is imposing on the whole world,” he answers.

Opposing civil unions mentally and in private is not enough, says Ariño, and remains a form of “cant”: “They have simply not understood the PACS and its symbolic impact; deep down they have justified it because they have found its ‘excrescence’ – same-sex ‘marriage’ – a ‘great deal worse’. ‘Marriage for all’ and PACS form a whole, and the glue which holds them together is the belief in and the justification of homosexual identity and love.”

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Ariño goes on to criticize the principle of public recognition of homosexual couples: “Civil union is the first-ever law in the world to have been based on people’s sexual orientation, it is the first homophobic law which reduces men and women to their so-called homosexual identity or practice, the first law to have established homosexuality as a society’s operating model. That is why it is extremely serious, perhaps even more serious than ‘marriage for all’, despite appearances and the invisibility of its ramifications (concerning parentage and marriage). It does no less harm than ‘marriage for all’ as its aim is symbolically identical: recognition/social justification of homosexual as a universal model of love, equal to any other.”

The “Manif pour tous” is often too “lukewarm,” he adds, more intent on defending a political standpoint than fully assuming its opposition to “marriage for all” in a non-partisan manner, and failing to understand the “symbolic and ideological relationship between civil union and ‘marriage for all,’”, or even the link between legalized same-sex “marriage” and surrogate motherhood.  For fear of being taxed with political extremism or homophobia, “these militants refuse visibly to appear as Catholics” and try to find “scapegoats” on their right or on their left. Ariño accuses them of fooling themselves into believing that politicians (like Nicolas Sarkozy) who are in favor of civil union will one day abrogate same-sex “marriage” or even oppose surrogate motherhood.

The figureheads of the “Manif pour tous,” whatever their “courage” and “goodwill,” and their “hopes of changing things gradually, from the inside,” do not understand the “gravity of civil unions,” thus abstaining from clear demands in the name of “realism, patience, political strategy, Hope, humility.” “It is better to make progress little by little than to ask for the impossible, they say – but who apart from them and their gay-friendly opponents is saying something is impossible?”

“Their method of ‘advancing step by step’ is not good in itself; besides, it is precisely the technique of our adversaries, showing that we are imitating them and losing sight of the realities of civil union, ‘marriage for all’ and homosexuality”, writes Ariño, accusing proponents of the method of a “lack of courage” and of “playing into their adversaries’ hands by artificially dissociating marriage from fertility, laws from those laws’ intentions, laws from their consequences.” “The PACS is but a piece of paper, a rubber check signed less than 15 years ago. But the majority of opponents to ‘marriage for all’ tremble like fledglings at the idea of being too radical – while it is precisely their lack of radicalism that doesn’t pay,” he concludes.

Philippe Ariño is a non-practising homosexual. As a Catholic, he advocates chastity, denouncing both homosexualist activism and the modern concept of “heterosexuality,” insofar as sexual union should only take place between a man and a woman in accordance with God’s plan for life-long marriage.

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