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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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 more than $400 million 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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