Patrick Craine

Shock, gratitude, prayer: pro-life and Catholic leaders react to a Pope’s surprise resignation

Patrick Craine
Patrick Craine
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ROME, Feb. 11, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – As Catholics and people of good will across the globe grapple with Pope Benedict XVI’s shocking announcement Monday morning that he will resign the papacy at 8 pm on Feb. 28th, Catholic and pro-life leaders are offering gratitude for his eight years at the helm of the Barque of Peter.

The media frenzy over the first papal resignation in six hundred years has brought a flurry of response from Church commentators. LifeSiteNews has spoken with numerous leaders at the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life as well as top pro-life activists in Europe and North America who urged prayers for Pope Benedict and the whole Church during this near-unprecedented transition period.

In his statement on the Pope’s move, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York called it “an important moment in our lives as citizens of the world,” and noted Benedict’s tireless defense of human life.

“Pope Benedict often cited the significance of eternal truths and he warned of a dictatorship of relativism,” said Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Some values, such as human life, stand out above all others, he taught again and again. It is a message for eternity.”

Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life and a corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said his organization is taking the surprising news in a “positive light,” calling it “an expression of [the Pope’s] concern and love for the Church.”

“He wants the Church to have a Pope who can fulfill his role with the strength and vigor that the office requires,” he explained.

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Mercedes Wilson, founder of Family of the Americas and an ordinary member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, agreed the news came as a “big shock" but also expressed a certain disappointment.

"I think it’s better to leave it to God’s will, to keep at the helm of the Church as long as possible until God takes you,” she said. “But, you know, who am I to judge? I don’t know what the doctors may have told him. He has been a good Pope, faithful to the teachings of the Church. So we have to pray that that was the right decision.”

“Let’s hope that who ever is to replace him will be a strong leader that will defend the family and the gift of life as the most precious gift,” she added. “All of Europe and all of the West is suffering from lack of children. Let’s hope that more emphasis can be given to this fact.”

John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life’s governing council, said his organization has “always felt a special affinity with Pope Benedict XVI,” noting that he had twice spoken at their workshops for bishops while he served as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

“When I first the heard the news from Europe, before sunrise here in the United States, I was stunned,” said Haas in a statement sent to LifeSiteNews. “But after the reality settled in, I could not help but smile and think to myself, ‘How admirable is his commitment to duty’!”

Haas said Pope Benedict deserves special praise for his contribution to Church teaching on bioethics in the instruction Donum Vitae, which was released by the CDF in 1987 while he served as prefect.

“The Church’s moral principles articulated in that document remain unassailable as the surest guide available in our day to address the complex and difficult moral issues arising from advances in micro-biology and ‘reproductive technologies’,” said Haas. “The magisterial, bioethical Dignitas Personae of 2008 builds on that foundational document but certainly does not surpass it.”

LifeSiteNews also spoke with pro-life leaders from the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Ireland.

Jim Hughes, national president of Canada’s Campaign Life Coalition, said the Pope would be “sorely missed.” “He just seemed to be in the middle of his plan of action. It’ll be a major task now to find someone to fill those shoes,” he said.

John Smeaton, director of the U.K.’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, thanked the Pope for his “defence of the unchanging teaching on the purpose of human sexuality,” noting especially his emphasis on the connection between the protection of human life and the defense of marriage and family.

“Pope Benedict’s statements were wake-up calls to the whole pro-life movement to campaign against same-sex marriage and similar threats to the life-giving meaning of sexuality,” said Smeaton.

Niamh Uí Bhriain of Ireland’s Life Institute said that Benedict XVI has been a source of huge inspiration to the pro-life movement worldwide and noted that the Pontiff had recently been outspoken in his opposition to proposals by the Irish government to legalise abortion. 

"Pope Benedict was clear and unequivocal in his defence of Life, saying that abortion was a 'crime against society', that it ' kills the child and destroys the woman'. He urged all of us to become active in pro-life work, noting that 'God speaks to each of us, inviting us to defend human life at all times'. In that way, the Pope was a great encouragement and leader to people of all faiths and none within the movement." 

"I join many others in praying that Benedict's successor is blessed with the courage to continue giving vocal support for the protection of human life from conception and without exception," she said.

Father Shenan J. Boquet, president of Human Life International, said his organization joins the rest of the universal Church in praying for the Pope.

"The suddenness of His Holiness' announcement is cause for concern for his health, as it seems to have caught almost everyone by surprise,” he said. ”Though our concern is more than matched by our gratitude for Pope Benedict's many wonderful gifts to the Church as Holy Father, bishop and priest. His three wonderful encyclicals, his many apostolic letters and addresses have all helped to guide the Church through a difficult period."

“His unflinching defense of Church teaching and the most fundamental rights of every human person have inspired our missionaries around the world,” Fr. Boquet added. "So in prayer and gratitude we lift up our Holy Father and the Church he has served, asking the Holy Spirit to guide the cardinals of the Church in their task of choosing Pope Benedict's successor."

Speaking on NBC News Monday morning, George Weigel, the famed biographer of Bl. John Paul II, suggested that the Pope’s move should be called an “abdication” rather than a resignation. “A resignation is something that someone hands to someone else,” he explained. “Popes have no one to resign to, so this is an abdication.”

“It is obviously unprecedented, but I think we’ve all had the sense, both from the realities of a world where people live much longer than before and from the pope’s words, that this was a real possibility," he added.

Deal Hudson, president of Pennsylvania Catholics Network, urged the Cardinals who will elect Benedict’s successor to choose a man who will carry on the Pope’s legacy of reform.

He said the Pope’s resignation “ends an era of reform and restoration in the Church that began in November 1978 with the election of John Paul II.”

“That Benedict XVI allowed retired Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles, a powerful broker of the liberalization following Vatican II, to be stripped of all his archdiocesan duties is symbolic of the changes brought about in the last 35 years under John Paul II and Benedict XVI,” said Hudson. “The cardinals at the upcoming conclave will be faced with the choice of whether to continue the direction marked out by the last two pontiffs.”

Michael D. O’Brien, the famed Catholic author and painter, said the move is “understandable,” but “will be a colossal loss for the Church.”

“May all Catholics pray fervently for the coming Conclave, that the Holy Spirit will grant us another Man of Truth who embodies caritas and veritas with courage,” he told LifeSiteNews.

The Pope’s announcement has also sparked reaction from faith leaders outside the Catholic Church.

The U.K.’s Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said he was “honoured” to welcome the Pope to Britain in 2010 on behalf of non-Christian faiths and to visit him at the Vatican in 2011.

“I saw him to be a man of gentleness, of quiet and of calm, a deeply thoughtful and compassionate individual who carried with him an aura of grace and wisdom,” he said. “I wish him good health, blessings and best wishes for the future.”

On Facebook, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the Pope “has offered a brave and intelligent defense of truth against a relativist tide, and he has been a stalwart friend of life.”

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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.

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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
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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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