Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

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Vatican to survey laity on sex, family issues in lead-up to synod on family

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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ROME, November 4, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – What do the laity of the Catholic Church think about the teachings on artificial contraception, abortion, the restriction of marriage to one man and one woman, sex outside of marriage and divorce? These and other issues are at the centre of a questionnaire sent out on Friday by the Vatican to survey not only bishops and theologians but also ordinary lay people. 

The survey asks whether the Catholic teachings on marriage and the family “are widely known” and “what formation” is given to Catholics, and “to what extent” they are “actually known, accepted, rejected and/or criticised in areas outside the Church”.

The questionnaire is part of the build-up to an extraordinary session of the Synod of Bishops set for October 2014 to discuss issues surrounding the family. A letter from Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, was sent with the questionnaire to all the bishops of the world asking for the material to be distributed “as widely as possible” to ensure input from “local sources,” including parishes, to help Vatican officials develop the agenda for the meeting on “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelisation.”

The preparatory document sent out with the questionnaire said that Pope Francis and the Synod of Bishops are concerned with issues “unheard of until a few years ago,” such as the “widespread practice of cohabitation, which does not lead to marriage and sometimes even precludes the very idea of it,” and “same-sex unions between persons who are, not infrequently, permitted to adopt children” and “a culture of non-commitment.”

Also to be addressed will be “forms of feminism hostile to the Church,” “relativist pluralism in the conception of marriage” the influence on marriage of the popular media, and “underlying trends of thought” that have led to legislative changes that “devalue the idea of permanence and faithfulness in marriage.” 

Other issues to be discussed will be the “single-parent family,” polygamy, the caste system, the practice of “purchasing” a woman with a dowry, “surrogate motherhood” and “new interpretations of what is considered a human right.” The document notes that even within the Church, “faith in the sacramentality of marriage and the healing power of the Sacrament of Penance [confession] show signs of weakness or total abandonment”.

If the Vatican is surveying general acceptance of Catholic teaching among Catholics, much of the work has been done for them by polling organisations that have shown a steady plummet in nearly all indicators since the 1960s. Most recently, a Pew Research poll published in June showed that in the US, 71 percent of Catholics believe homosexuality should be “accepted by society”.

The pollsters noted that “opinions among Catholics have changed substantially,” with only 34 percent saying that homosexual behavior is sinful, a precipitous drop since 2003 when it was just under half. Thirty-seven percent of self-declared Catholics said there is “no conflict” between homosexuality and their religious beliefs.

Among those Catholics who attend church services weekly or more often, the number who believe homosexual behaviour is sinful rose only to 67 per cent, down from 73 percent ten years ago.

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Author and researcher Sherry Weddell, in her recent book, “Forming Intentional Disciples: the Path to Knowing and Following Jesus,” also polled U.S. parishes to find out the level of adherence to Catholic teaching in the pews. She asked “hundreds of diocesan and parish leaders from sixty dioceses throughout the English-speaking world this question: ‘What percentage of your parishioners, would you estimate, are intentional disciples?’ To our astonishment, we have received the same answer over and over: ‘Five per cent.’”

Further, Weddell said she canvassed Catholics who were described as “active” and “heavily involved” in parish life, and who attended Mass frequently, and discovered that only about 60 percent believe in a “personal God”.

Her research showed that only 30 percent of Americans who were raised Catholic are still practicing and at least 10 percent of all adults in America are “ex-Catholics”. With regards to marriage, the available statistics are equally grim, with a 60 percent drop in marriages celebrated in churches between 1972 and 2010.

Statistics such as these can be found across the western world. In the UK, the number of people in England who registered as “Christian” in 2001 was 71.7 per cent. By 2011, that had dropped to 59.4 percent. Recently compiled statistics showed that over the last century, the number of Catholic marriages rose from 13,201 in 1913 to a peak of 47,417 in 1968 before falling to a low point of just 9,932 in 2008.  

Weekly Mass attendance in England and Wales overall has plunged almost without pause in the last 20 years. The number of Catholics was rising steadily until 1993, when it leveled off and began to fall.

Among the laity already excited by the Vatican’s questionnaire are a number of prominent homosexualist activists and other public dissenters from Catholic moral teaching, some of whom have already responded. The American homosexualist group New Ways Ministry, issued a statement calling the questionnaire “a great chance to hear the voice of the Spirit working in the church”.

New Ways Ministry, censured by the Vatican and declared officially non-Catholic by Chicago’s archbishop Cardinal Francis George, said, “The Vatican under Pope Francis seems to be offering an outstretched hand to the people of the church, but even more so, the Vatican is encouraging the bishops to be listeners to the voice of the people.”

Despite the official censure of then-Cardinal Ratzinger and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, New Ways Ministry has enjoyed strong support from a number of bishops both in the US and abroad. Among the American bishops who have spoken at their meetings have been Detroit Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and Bishop Matthew Clark of the Diocese of Rochester. In March last year, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia, was a plenary speaker and retreat presenter for a Symposium on Catholicism & Homosexuality organised by New Ways.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director New Ways Ministry said, “Catholics who support justice and equality for LGBT people and who have encouraged the Church to hold a dialogue on all matters sexual and relational have prayed for this opportunity for a long time. It’s time to seize this opportunity to let leaders know how faith has informed us to work for LGBT inclusion.”

In Britain, Terrence Weldon, a homosexualist activist, an organiser of London’s infamous “gay Masses” and the author of the “Queering the Church” blog, commented in response to the questionnaire that there is little unity on issues related to the family, even among the Church’s bishops and high-ranking prelates.

Weldon named Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, the current archbishop of Vienna and the late Jesuit cardinal Carlo Maria Martini as the lead champion of a new direction for the moral teaching of the Church. Weldon said that Schonborn and Martini “have highlighted an important shift in Catholic thinking on homoerotic and other sexual ethics.”

“Outside the isolation of the Vatican, there has been an important shift of emphasis from an exclusive concern with genital acts, to consideration of the quality of the relationships – and recognition of their value,” Weldon wrote.

Cardinal Martini – whom Pope Francis himself recently called “prophetic,” a “man of discernment and peace” and “a father for the whole Church” – died in 2012, but is still regarded as a leading voice for the “progressivist” wing of the Catholic Church. Over a decades long career, Martini had opposed the Church on homosexuality, artificial contraception, female ordination, the use of condoms to prevent AIDS transmission, physician assisted suicide and embryonic research.

In a posthumous interview published by Corriere della Sera, Martini said that with the churches, convents and seminaries emptying, “The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the Pope and the bishops. The pedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation.”

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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

Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin
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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Courtesy of Online for Life
Steve Weatherbe

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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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