Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

Radical feminist nuns’ group ‘stunned’ by Vatican criticisms, reform plan

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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VATICAN CITY, April 19, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The announcement yesterday by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that one of the most notoriously liberal radical feminist organizations in the American Catholic Church is to be the subject of a major reform effort has been met with surprise from the group and condemnation from some of its members. 

An initial statement from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) leadership says they are “stunned” by the critical comments made by the CDF in their doctrinal assessment. The CDF had specifically criticized the organization for its refusal to accept Catholic teaching on abortion, human sexuality and women’s ordination.

“Because the leadership of LCWR has the custom of meeting annually with the staff of CDF in Rome and because the conference follows canonically-approved statutes, we were taken by surprise,” the LCWR said in a statement. The leadership will meet in the next month to consider a comprehensive response.

Individual members, however, have been prompt in condemning the Vatican’s interest. Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a lobbying group of U.S. Catholic nuns cited as problematic in the CDF’s report, told the Washington Post, “It’s painfully obvious that the leadership of the church is not used to having educated women form thoughtful opinions and engage in dialogue.”

Benedictine sister Joan Chittister, a prolific author and the unofficial spokesman of the extreme feminist left among Catholic women religious, told the National Catholic Reporter, “When you set out to reform a people, a group, who have done nothing wrong, you have to have an intention, a motivation that is not only not morally based, but actually immoral.”

Chittister called the CDF’s proposals an attempt “to control people for one thing and one thing only – and that is for thinking, for being willing to discuss the issues of the age.”

“If we stop thinking, if we stop demanding the divine right to think, and to see that as a Catholic gift, then we are betraying the church no matter what the powers of the church see as an inconvenient truth in their own times.”

In an interview with LifeSiteNews.com in 2010, Chittister had said that while she is personally “against” abortion, “I would never condemn a woman who finds herself in the position where she believes that, or her doctor believes that, abortion is the only answer for her at that moment.”  She also criticized the Catholic Church as being based “on a patriarchal system” and described her admitted divergence from Catholic teaching as a “position of query, of theological and scriptural commitment and search.”

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While the LCWR leadership and supporters say they are surprised, others have noted that reform of the religious life has been a prominent feature of Pope Benedict’s papacy. Among his earliest acts as pope was the launching of a reforming investigation into the wealthy and influential Legion of Christ, founded by the now-disgraced, late Marcial Maciel, after years of accusations of misconduct.

One Vatican source told LifeSiteNews.com that while some may consider this action against LCWR typical of an “ultra-conservative” pope acting to suppress the liberal factions, “It should be remembered that Benedict’s first target was the Legionaries and Maciel, then the darlings of the conservative end of the Church.”

LCWR was founded in 1956 and approved by the Vatican as an umbrella organization representing sisters and nuns in the U.S. Its 1500 members are members of congregations representing over 80 percent of the 59,000 Catholic women religious in the United States. Since the 1960s, however, the LCWR has become the de facto representative of the far left in the U.S. Catholic Church, with its membership dedicated to, in the words of the CDF, “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith,” and “policies of corporate dissent,” from Catholic teaching.

CDF prefect Cardinal Levada said he had received many letters from women religious in the U.S. complaining about Catholic teaching. “The terms of the letters,” he wrote, “suggest that these sisters collectively take a position not in agreement with the Church’s teaching on human sexuality.

“It is a serious matter when these Leadership Teams are not providing effective leadership and example to their communities, but place themselves outside the Church’s teaching.”

The document from the CDF outlines the Vatican’s plan to spend the next five years reforming the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain has been appointed to oversee the reform of the organization, which will involve revising its statutes, creating new programs, reviewing and offering guidance on liturgy and reviewing LCWR’s affiliations with other organizations, citing specifically NETWORK and the Resource Center for Religious Institutes.

The announcement comes at a delicate time in the relations between the US Catholic Church and LCWR, with the latter endorsing the Obama administration’s health care plans and former leading a fight against the administration’s plans to impose birth control coverage on Catholic institutions and fund abortion in the health reform law. This conflict of interest seems to be in the mind of the CDF, which has an American, William Levada, as cardinal prefect. The document noted, “occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose.”

The CDF said that the sisters represented by the LCWR, 80 percent of the remaining female Catholic religious in the US, are “in crisis.” They have moved away from the fundamental purpose of their existence as Catholic religious and are suffering from “a diminution of the fundamental Christological center and focus of religious consecration,” it said.

“While there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States,” the document said.

If the LCWR leadership says it is “stunned” by the outcome of the CDF’s investigation, the reaction is possibly the result of statements previously coming from the Vatican itself. Following several negative reactions from LCWR sisters after the investigation was announced, the recently appointed Secretary of the Congregation for Religious, Archbishop Joseph Tobin, said that he anticipated no censure from Rome as a result.

“I can say that I would be very surprised if anybody would purport to give any punitive or overly prescriptive norms as a result of this visitation,” he said. “If the visitors, in dialogue with the sisters, have identified some specific issues that need to be dealt with, okay. But forcing people into habits or something like that? That’s not what this is about.”

Tobin also said that strong actions against American women’s religious orders “would be really disrespectful of what women religious in America have accomplished,” and that the “depth of anger and hurt that exists among the sisters ... can’t be ignored.”

Archbishop Tobin had previously told journalists that the animosity between the US religious orders and the Vatican is the Vatican’s fault. The real problem, he said, was the presence of “unscrupulous canonical advisers” in the Vatican.

Two years after Archbishop Tobin reassured LCWR, Mother Clare Millea, the sister appointed in 2008 by the Vatican to coordinate the Apostolic Visitation of all the U.S. active religious orders, issued a statement saying, “Although there are concerns in religious life that warrant support and attention, the enduring reality is one of fidelity, joy, and hope.”

She told Catholic journalist Ann Carey in January this year, “The dialogue promoted by the apostolic visitation is just a beginning of new vitality in religious life. I am confident that much more will unfold with the passing of time and that the Holy Spirit will continue to work in and through women religious to strengthen unity within the Church and further the saving mission of Christ.”

“As I learned of and observed firsthand the perseverance of the religious in the United States in their vocations, in their ministries and in their faith … I have been both inspired and humbled,” she added.

The situation of the Catholic sisterhoods in the U.S. has been in flux since the closing of the Second Vatican Council in 1965 ushered in a maelstrom of change. This change, while frequently lauded as “prophetic” by the LCWR sisters themselves, has seen the near-total collapse of the Catholic religious life, and after 40 years, the closure or effective secularization of hundreds, if not thousands, of schools, nursing homes, hospitals, colleges and other Catholic charitable institutions, including convents.

In the intervening decades, while new vocations became more rare, the religious orders turned their attention largely to political interests, with the sisters themselves focusing on an array of left-liberal and secular causes. Meanwhile, the average median age of women in LCWR institutes is now 74, and many of the LCWR-represented congregations are no longer accepting applicants, choosing instead to merge with other orders or shut down their operations entirely.

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A Planned Parenthood facility in Denver, Colorado
Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

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Colorado judge tosses suit alleging Planned Parenthood used state funds to pay for abortions

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By Dustin Siggins

Alliance Defending Freedom "will likely appeal" a Monday court decision dismissing their suit alleging Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains illegally used state funds to pay for abortions, an ADF lawyer told LifeSiteNews.

The ADF lawsuit claims that $1.4 million went from state government agencies to a Planned Parenthood abortion affiliate through Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

Denver County District Court Judge Andrew McCallin dismissed the case on the basis that ADF could not prove the funds paid for abortions. But ADF maintains that funding an abortion facility is indirectly paying for abortions, which violates state law.

ADF senior counsel Michael Norton -- whose wife, former Colorado Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton, filed the lawsuit – told LifeSiteNews that "no one is above the law, including Colorado politicians who are violating our state’s constitution by continuing to fund Planned Parenthood’s abortion business with state taxpayer dollars."

"The State of Colorado even acknowledges that about $1.4 million of state taxpayer dollars flowed from Colorado government agencies through Planned Parenthood to its abortion affiliate. The Denver court seems to have agreed with that fact and yet granted motions to dismiss based on a technicality," said Norton.

According to Colorado law, "no public funds shall be used by the State of Colorado, its agencies or political subdivisions to pay or otherwise reimburse, either directly or indirectly, any person, agency or facility for the performance of any induced abortion." There is a stipulation that allows for "the General Assembly, by specific bill, [to] authorize and appropriate funds to be used for those medical services necessary to prevent the death of either a pregnant woman or her unborn child under circumstances where every reasonable effort is made to preserve the life of each."

According to court documents, the Colorado law was affirmed by state voters in 1984, with an appeal attempt rejected two years later. In 2001, an outside legal firm hired by Jane Norton -- who was lieutenant governor at the time -- found that Planned Parenthood was "subsidizing rent" and otherwise providing financial assistance to Planned Parenthood Services Corporation, an abortion affiliate. After the report came out, and Planned Parenthood refused to disassociate itself from the abortion affiliate, the state government stopped funding Planned Parenthood.

Since 2009, however, that has changed, which is why the lawsuit is filed against Planned Parenthood, and multiple government officials, including Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

According to ADF legal counsel Natalie Decker, the fact that Planned Parenthood sent funds to the abortion affiliate should have convinced McCallin of the merits of the case. "The State of Colorado and the Denver court acknowledged that about $1.4 million of state taxpayer dollars, in addition to millions of 'federal' tax dollars, flowed from Colorado government agencies through Planned Parenthood to its abortion affiliate," said Decker.

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"Without even having the facts of the case developed, the Denver court seems to have granted motions to dismiss filed by the State of Colorado and Planned Parenthood on grounds the term 'indirectly' could not mean what Ms. Norton and Governor Owens said it meant in 2002 when they defunded Planned Parenthood."

"That, of course, is the plain meaning of Colo. Const., Art. V, § 50 which was implemented by the citizens of Colorado, and the reason for Ms. Norton’s lawsuit."

Decker told LifeSiteNews that "Colorado law is very clear," and that the state law "prohibits Colorado tax dollars from being used to directly or indirectly pay for induced abortions."

She says her client "has been denied the opportunity to fully develop the facts of the case and demonstrate exactly what the Colorado tax dollars have been used for." Similarly, says Decker, it is not known "exactly what those funds were used for. At this time, there is simply no way to conclude that tax dollars have not been used to directly pay for abortions or abortion inducing drugs and devices."

"What we do know is that millions of Colorado tax dollars have flowed through Planned Parenthood to its abortion affiliate, which leads to the inescapable conclusion that those tax dollars are being used to indirectly pay for abortions."

A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains did not return multiple requests for comment about the lawsuit.

The dismissal comes as Planned Parenthood fights an investigation by the state's Republican attorney general over a video by Live Action, as well as a lawsuit by a mother whose 13-year old daughter had an abortion in 2012 that she alleges was covered up by Planned Parenthood. The girl, who was being abused by her stepfather, was abused for months after the abortion.

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Fledgling high-tech pro-life group marks 2,000 babies saved: 2-3 saved per day

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Online for Life, the Dallas-based pro-life marketing agency, saved its two-thousandth unborn baby earlier this year and is well on its way to saving its three thousandth by 2015.

“We are getting better all the time at what we do,” says founder Brian Fisher. “It used to be one baby saved every four to six weeks and now its two or three a day.”

But the most significant save? “It was the very first one,” he says, recalling the phone call from a crisis centre a month after OFL’s 2012 startup.  “And for me personally it was just a massive turning point … because [of] all the work and the money and testing and the volunteers and everything that led up to that moment. All the frustration of that was washed away in an instant because a child had been rescued that was about to be killed.”

Though increasing market savvy has led Online for Life to expand offline, the core of the non-profit, donor-financed operation remains SEO -- search engine optimization -- targeting young women who have just discovered they are pregnant and gone onto the Web to find the nearest abortion clinic.

Instead, they find the nearest crisis pregnancy center at the top of their results page. Since OFL went online it has linked with a network of 41 such centers, including two of its own it started this year, in a positive feedback loop that reinforces effective messaging first at the level of the Web, then at the first telephone call between the clinic and the pregnant woman, and finally at the first face-to-face meeting.

“Testing is crucial,” says Fisher. “We test everything we do.” Early on, Online for Life insisted the clinics it served have an ultrasound machine, because the prevailing wisdom in the prolife movement was that “once they saw their baby on ultrasound, they would drop the idea of having an abortion.” While the organization still insists on the ultrasound, its own testing and feedback from the CPCs indicates that three quarters of the women they see already have children. “They’ve already seen their own children on ultrasound and are still planning to abort.” So ultrasound images have lost their punch.

OFL has had to move offline to reach a significant minority who have neither computers, tablets, or cell phones.  Traditional electronic media spots as well as bus ads and billboards carry the message to them.

As well, says Fisher, “unwanted pregnancy used to be a high-school age problem; now that’s gone down in numbers and the average age of women seeking abortion has gone up to 24.” By that age, he says, they are “thoroughly conditioned by the abortion culture. Even before they got pregnant, they have already decided they would have an abortion if they did get pregnant.”

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What they need—and fast, in the first two minutes of the first phone call—is sympathy, support, and a complete absence of judgement. Online for Life is always gathering information from its network on what responses are most effective—and this can vary city to city. The organization offers training to clinic volunteers and staff that stresses a thorough knowledge of the services on tap. “Any major city has all sorts of services—housing, education, health—available,” says Fisher.

The problem that OFL was designed to address was the crisis pregnancy centers’ market penetration. Three percent of women with unwanted pregnancies were reaching out to the CPCs, and seven per cent of those who did reach out were having their babies. “So about 2.1 children were being saved for every 1,000 unwanted pregnancies,” says Fisher. “That’s not nearly enough.”

So Fisher and two fellow volunteers dreamed of applying online marketing techniques to the problem in 2009. Three years later Fisher was ready to leave his executive position at an online marketing agency to go full-time with the life-saving agency. Now they have 63 employees, most of them devoted to optimizing the penetration in each of the markets served by their participating crisis centers.

The results speak for themselves. Where OFL has applied its techniques, especially with its own clinics, as many as 15-18 percent of the targeted population of women seeking abortions get directed to nearby crisis pregnancy centers. “It depends on the centres’ budgets and on how many volunteers they have to be on the phones through the day and night,” he says. “But we are going to push it higher. We hope to save our 2,500th child by the end of the year.”

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Shock: UK mom abandons disabled daughter, keeps healthy son after twin surrogacy

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By Pete Baklinski

A UK woman who is the biological mother of twins born from a surrogate mom, has allegedly abandoned one of the children because she was born with a severe muscular condition, while taking the girl's healthy sibling home with her.

The surrogate mother, also from the UK — referred to as "Jenny" to protect her identity — revealed to The Sun the phone conversation that took place between herself and the biological mother over the fate of the disabled girl.

“I remember her saying to me, “She’d be a f****** dribbling cabbage! Who would want to adopt her? No one would want to adopt a disabled child,’” she said.

Jenny, who has children of her own, said she decided to become a surrogate to “help a mother who couldn’t have children.” She agreed to have two embryos implanted in her womb and to give birth for £12,000 ($20,000 USD).

With just six weeks to the due date, doctors told Jenny she needed an emergency caesarean to save the babies. It was not until a few weeks after the premature births that the twin girl was diagnosed with congenital myotonic dystrophy.

When Jenny phoned the biological mother to tell her of the girl’s condition, the mother rejected the girl.

Jenny has decided along with her partner to raise the girl. They have called her Amy.

“I was stunned when I heard her reject Amy,” Jenny said. “She had basically told me that she didn’t want a disabled child.”

Jenny said she felt “very angry” towards the girl’s biological parents. "I hate them for what they did.”

The twins are now legally separated. A Children and Family Court has awarded the healthy boy to the biological mother and the disabled girl to her surrogate.

The story comes about two weeks after an Australian couple allegedly abandoned their surrogate son in Thailand after he was born with Down syndrome, while taking the healthy twin girl back with them to Australia.

Rickard Newman, director of Family Life, Pro-Life & Child and Youth Protection in the Diocese of Lake Charles, called the Australian story a “tragedy” that “results from a marketplace that buys and sells children.”

“Third-party reproduction is a prism for violations against humanity. IVF and the sperm trade launched a wicked industry that now includes abortion, eugenics, human trafficking, and deliberate family fragmentation,” he said. 

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