Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

New intern at Vatican Radio is an author, actor and media student… with Down syndrome

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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(Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that he was the first intern ever to have been hired by the service.  In fact, Vatican Radio has a long history of providing professional internship and training to young and aspiring journalism professionals. We regret the error.)

VATICAN CITY, January 23, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – He’s a new intern employed by Vatican Radio, the author of a book about living with disabilities, an actor and a student in media studies with professional experience in television news and documentary production: it’s hard to imagine why anyone would question Michael Gannon’s worth as a human being. But every year, thousands of children like him are killed simply because they are diagnosed in utero with the same genetic anomaly that he has: a third copy of the 21st chromosome, the cause of Down syndrome.

Michael, 34, from Dublin, and his mother May Gannon, recently met with LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) at the offices of Vatican Radio, where he was completing a two-week internship offered by the multi-lingual broadcaster.

Michael Gannon, who serves as an “ambassador” for Down Syndrome Ireland, describes himself as an activist with a strong interest in media, working to counter the prejudices held by many against those with Down’s and other intellectual disabilities.

“I focus on me, and not on my disability. That’s the reason I did this book, and the reason why I’m here,” he said.

He said he has a message for all those who justify abortion because of Down’s: “Stop looking at Down syndrome and see the person for who they are, what they are, what they do in their lives. I also want to get a message out to the parents, to see their children’s abilities, to reach their potential.”  

A ‘fantastic’ internship at the Vatican

The opportunity to work at the Vatican came about from a meeting two years ago when Michael and his mother attended an event in Rome as part of the EU-funded program “My Opinion; My Vote,” run in part by AIPD (Associazione Italiana Persone Down). There they met the English language chief of Vatican Radio, Sean Patrick Lovett, who works with AIPD and was giving a talk.

Michael confronted Lovett, asking him whether Vatican Radio had ever employed a person with Down’s as an intern. Lovett replied that Vatican Radio had never employed someone with Down syndrome and offered him the job. 

Lovett told LifeSiteNews, "Vatican Radio has always put great value on fostering positive professional relationships with young journalists. We consider internships a precious investment both for ourselves and for the young people involved. They offer youthful energy, fresh insights, and constantly challenge us to think about what we are doing and how we are doing it - especially with regard to social media."  

He added: "Michael Gannon is the first person with Down Syndrome to be offered an internship at Vatican Radio - not because we have any policy of exclusion, but simply because he was the first person with Down Syndrome to request it. His presence and his contribution provided an extraordinarily positive experience which left us all enriched."

Michael said that in his first week he was “a little nervous.” 

“When I started, my head was gone blank,” he told LSN. “I didn’t expect it would be going so quick. Then I settled in. They gave me a lot of tours around the departments.” 

He said that it didn’t take long before he had got to know the staff and the ropes.   “They were very welcoming. They only see me, not my disability.” 

After leaving high school, Michael started at college at National University of Ireland, Maynooth, in the Inclusive Learning Initiative program, with four other students with intellectual disabilities. His primary area of interest has been media and he has built an impressive CV, including acting, and writing and publishing his autobiography, titled “Straight up; no sugar.”

“I’m in my final, third year now, in television production,” he said. He said he has never experienced any negative reactions from either the faculty or fellow students at Maynooth. He also said that his parents, brother and sister had all attended university and obtained degrees and diplomas, and neither he nor his family saw any reason why he should not follow suit. 

Michael described his experience working at Vatican Radio as “fantastic.” During his time in Rome, he has done technical work in audio production, as well as researched and helped write news stories produced by the English Language Section.

Fight the stigma by employing people with Down's: Mrs. Gannon

Michael has worked closely with Downs Syndrome Ireland, which helped get him national attention and appearances on television and radio programs. During one news talk show, Michael talked about being an ambassador for Downs Syndrome Ireland, and this appearance helped launch him into professional internships. 

Mrs. Gannon, a devout Catholic, told LSN, “I think the Holy Spirit is definitely around where Michael is, because there was a producer watching the program that morning. She was impressed by him. He did say [on the radio program] that he wanted to work in television and she contacted him, gave him an interview and that’s how he got the job on Four Live” - a television morning news program with Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE. 

LSN asked whether he would prefer to work behind the camera, making media, or in front of the camera, as an advocate. “Now that is one hell of a question,” he said. “I don’t know. I could choose either of them. I think television.” But he said that he is not worried about which direction his professional life is going to take.

“There are very few role models,” Mrs. Gannon said. “Here in Rome, I’ve walked around the city now for two weeks and I haven’t met a person with Down’s syndrome in employment. I’m sure there must be some there, but personally I haven’t come across them. Not in shops, not in restaurants. I know there are some employed, but they are so few and far between.” 

She called for pro-life people to “lead by example and employ people with Down’s syndrome, not to use them as advocates, but to have them in their workplaces, just doing ordinary, everyday work.” 

That way, she said, “people absorb the idea that it’s OK to have Down’s syndrome. You can live a very good life.”

‘Reach for the stars!’ 

Mrs. Gannon said that when Michael was born in 1980, “his path was laid out very clearly for him”. “I was told that he would go to a special preschool when he was two and a half. Then he would go to a special school until he was eighteen. And from there he would go into a workshop.” 

Little consideration was given to the possibility that Michael might develop his own ideas. “That’s not my life,” he says. “I had loads of ambitions.”

“And it’s really important to facilitate them,” adds his mother. “We could say, ‘Oh, he’s never going to write a book. What a pipe dream.’” Instead, she said, people with children with Down’s should be encouraged to work towards whatever possibilities exist: “Reach for the stars”. 

Mrs. Gannon admitted that Michael’s accomplishments have been assisted by “some very lucky breaks,” including forward-looking teachers. When he was born, she said, “we went the traditional route” at first. But a pre-school teacher who implemented Montessori methods, and then a primary school principal who was willing to help Michael go as far as he could, helped him find his potential. 

At the “special school” for children with Down’s, she says, “they didn’t believe in teaching reading or writing. So, I decided that the one thing I wanted him to be able to do is read and write. I felt it was a very basic requirement. So I decided Michael would go mainstream.”   

Michael himself described his primary and high school experience as “fantastic fun,” particularly the arts programs. “After about five years in that school, I decided to go the acting route.” 

Mrs. Gannon said that she and her husband, also called Michael, agreed that the Holy Spirit was watching over Michael. “Every time we needed something for Michael, it came on-stream. The principal of the primary school he went to was a lady who embraced taking him in.”

She recalls the principal asking: “‘Well, is he in a wheelchair? Does he take medication?’ The answer was no. ‘Well, we’ll surely find something for him here.’ And they embraced him.”

Asked whether the family had ever experienced any conflicts or difficulties with officialdom in getting a proper education for Michael, they both answered, “No. No conflicts at all.” 

“Even when he was born, the doctor said to me, ‘Well, you never know what this child is going to do’.” 

She added that the employees in the special school had told her that Michael would “always be in the ‘moderate’ range of intellectual disability. But what does that mean?”

Michael’s next plans are to “keep writing books,” to keep acting and carry on with media and television work, to “finish up my college” and earn his diploma. He is eager to get back to work as a project leader in a documentary the college is making about the Inclusive Learning Initiative that helped him and four fellow students enter the college, with a production deadline of the last week in September. 

“If there’s anything with media, I’m your man. I’m right there,” he said with a smile. 

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Pope tells Girl Scouts to oppose ‘ideologies’ against God’s design for marriage

Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus
By Thaddeus Baklinski

ROME, June 30, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Pope Francis told Girl Scout and Girl Guide leaders from across the globe last week that it is essential they promote respect for marriage and family according to God’s design.

The pope’s remarks came as both the international organization, World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, and Girl Scouts USA face criticism over support for abortion, homosexuality, transgenderism, and contraception.

"It is very important today that a woman be adequately appreciated, and that she be able to take up fully the place that corresponds to her, be it in the Church, be it in society,” Pope Francis said in his address on the morning of June 26, prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision imposing same-sex “marriage” on the country.

In the face of ideologies that seek to destroy the truths about marriage and family, he said, the formation of girls through Guiding "is absolutely determinant for the future."

"We are in a world in which the most contrary ideologies are spreading to the nature and design of God on the family and on marriage. Therefore, it is a question of educating girls not only to the beauty and grandeur of their vocation of women, in a just and differentiated relation between man and woman, but also to assume important responsibilities in the Church and in society," Pope Francis said.

The pope spoke during a private audience at the world meeting of the International Conference of Catholic Guides (ICCG), which took place in Rome from June 25-30.

Stressing that among educational movements Guiding has played a pivotal role in the faith formation of young women, the pope said, "Education is, in fact, the indispensable means to enable girls to become active and responsible women, proud and happy of their faith in Christ lived in every day life. Thus they will participate in the building of a world permeated by the Gospel."

“To Live the Joy of the Gospel as a Guide” was the theme for the ICCG meeting in Rome, with the stated purpose of reaffirming and strengthening the organization's 50-year-old history within the Catholic Church.

Among the participants at the ICCG meeting in Rome were Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA) CEO Anna Maria Chávez and National President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan.

In a statement, Chavez maintained that faith is “at the heart of Girl Scouts, and is woven into everything the organization does to inspire girls to take action to make the world a better place.”

However, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has cautioned that some aspects of the Girl Scouts pedagogy go against Catholic teaching and doctrine.

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A report by the USCCB focused on three issues:

  1. GSUSA's relationship with groups like Planned Parenthood and international affiliate World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGS);
  2. GSUSA's views on issues related "to human sexuality, contraception, and abortion";
  3. and various materials and resources GSUSA has that have "inappropriate content."

With regard to WAGGGS, the report notes that while this group claims it does not formally back abortion and "reproductive rights," language on its website leaves no doubt that such support exists, as well as support for contraceptive use.

Numerous pro-life and pro-family groups have organized boycotts of Girl Guide cookies in protest of the organization's embrace of feminist politics and activism.

The pope's address to the ICCG meeting, translated into English by Zenit, is available on the Zenit website here.

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St. Peter Damian
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St. Peter Damian (1049): what Church MUST do in response to rampant homosexuality among clergy

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By Steve Jalsevac

June 29, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The rise of the power and influence of homosexual priests, bishops and cardinals, as well as influential laity, has been a major factor in the growing chaos within Catholicism over the past 60 years. This disorder within the Catholic Church has had a negative impact on the entire world because of the resulting decline in the positive influences that Catholicism has had on civilization for many centuries.

To think that what is happening now is new, however, betrays an ignorance of history. In 1049, when St. Peter Damian wrote his treatise, Book of Gomorrah (Liber Gomorrhianus), to Pope Leo IX, homosexuality and sexual perversion in general were far more openly rampant within the clergy than today.  This horrendous state of affairs is what the Saint addressed in his appeal to the Pope for urgently needed reforms.

We often hear from sleepy, comfortable, cowardly, timid or cultural Catholics, and especially from clergy who are directly implicated in homosexuality, that we should never criticize priests, bishops and especially the Pope. Supposedly, that is a greater sin than that of the heretics and sexual perverts facilitating great personal suffering and sending souls to Hell without anyone doing what is necessary to either convert or stop them.

St. Peter Damian was not so foolish as to listen to such nonsense denying God His justice at a time when the Church appeared to be in its death throes. He understood the grave duty to be blunt about the dangers and sinfulness, to not minimize the catastrophe that would come if strong actions were not quickly taken and to demand corrective actions. And yet, he also emphasized that all of this must be done with charity and Christian hope for the persons involved in the moral corruption. Their conversion was above all hoped and prayed for, rather than their condemnation for eternity.

An Italian translated version of the Book of Gomorrah has recently been published. An English version carefully translated by one of our LifeSite journalists will also soon become available.

On Feb. 11 of this year the Rorate Caeli website published excerpts from the introduction by Professor Roberto de Mattei to the Italian version.

Following are some paragraphs from that introduction that I hope will jar awake some of the faithful, especially considering what is going on now in the United States as a result of the mad Supreme Court decision and the moral chaos around the Synod on the Family regarding Church sexual teachings.
 

Excerpts from the Introduction:

St. Peter Damien (1007-1072) Abbot of the Fonte Avellana Monastery and subsequently Cardinal/Bishop of Ostia, was one of the most outstanding figures of Catholic reform in the XI century. His Liber Gomorrhianus, appeared around 1049, in an age when corruption was widely spread, even in the highest ranks of the ecclesiastical world.

In this writing, addressed to Pope Leo IX, Peter Damien condemns the perverted habits of his time in a language that knows no false mercy or compromises. He is convinced that of all the sins, the gravest is sodomy, a term which includes all the acts against nature and which want to satisfy sexual pleasure by separating it from procreation. “If this absolutely ignominious and abominable vice is not immediately stopped with an iron fist – he writes – the sword of Divine wrath will fall upon us, bringing ruin to many.”

There have been times in (the Church’s) history when sanctity pervades Her and others when the defection of Her members cause Her to collapse into darkness, appearing almost as if the Divinity has abandoned Her.

Peter Damien’s voice resounds today, as it did yesterday, with encouragement and comfort for those, like him, who have fought, suffered, cried and hoped, throughout the course of history.

He did not moderate his language, but kept it fiery to show his indignation. He was fearless in voicing an uncompromising hatred for sin and it was precisely this hatred that rendered his love burning for the Truth and the Good.

Today, at the beginning of the third millennium of Christ’s birth, priests, bishops and Episcopal conferences are arguing for married priests; they are placing in doubt the indissolubility of the marriage bond between man and woman and at the same time, accepting the introduction of laws for homosexual pseudo-marriage. Sodomy is not being thought of as a sin that cries to God for vengeance but is diffused in seminaries, colleges, ecclesiastical universities and even inside the Sacred Walls of the Vatican itself.

Liber Gomorrhianus reminds us that there is something worse than moral vice practiced and theorized. It is the silence that should speak, the abstention that should intervene, the bond of complicity that is established among the wicked and of those, who with the pretext of avoiding scandal are silent, and, by being silent, consent.  

Graver still, is the acceptance of homosexuality by churchmen, thought of as a “positive” tension towards the good, worthy of pastoral care and juridical protection and not as an abominable sin. In the summary Relatio post disceptationem of the first week’s work in the Synod of Bishops in October 2014, a paragraph affirmed that: “homosexual persons have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community”, with an invitation to the Bishops “…are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing them a fraternal space in our communities?”

This scandalous statement was removed from the final report, but some bishops and cardinals, inside and outside the Synod Hall, insisted on the appeal to look for the positive aspects of a union against nature, going as far as hoping for “a way to describe the rights of people living in same-sex unions.”

St. Peter Damian as a simple monk, and with greater reason as a cardinal, did not hesitate in accusing even the Popes of that time for their scandalous omissions. Will the reading of the book Liber Gomorrhianus instill the spirit of St. Peter Damien in the hearts of some prelates or laypeople, by shaking them out of their torpor and force them to speak and act?

Even if abysmally far from the holiness and prophetic spirit of St. Peter Damien, let us make his indignation against evil, ours, and with the words that conclude his treatise we turn to the Vicar of Christ, His Holiness, Pope Francis, presently reigning, so that he may intervene and bring an end to these doctrinal and moral scandals: “May the Almighty Lord assist us, Most Reverend Father, so that during the time of Your Apostolate, all of the monstrosity of this vice be destroyed and the state of the Church, presently supine, may wholly rise up again in all its vigour.”

The book can be found in Italian here. 

(Note: the name of the saint is spelled Damian in English and Damien in Italian and French. In Fr. Mattei's quotes is it spelled Damien)

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Phil Lawler

So now is it ‘hate speech’ to deplore the Obergefell decision?

Phil Lawler
By Phil Lawler

June 30, 2015 (CatholicCulture.org) - The ink was barely dry on last week’s Supreme Court ruling when Father James Martin, SJ, began scolding Catholics who were, from his decorous perspective, too strident in denouncing the decision.

"No issue brings out so much hatred from so many Catholics as homosexuality," Father Martin told his Facebook followers. He repeated the same message several times throughout the day, warning commenters that they must not indulge in “homophobia” and suggesting that someone who questioned whether we were all expected to sing “Kumbaya” was illustrating his point. So is sarcasm now prima facie evidence of hatred?

In my own surfing through the internet, reading scores of posts on the Obergefell decision, I can honestly say that I did not see a single message, a single comment, that struck me as hate-filled. Perhaps Father Martin’s email traffic is qualitatively different from mine. Or perhaps—far more likely, I’m afraid—he sees “hatred” where I see only vehement disagreement.

Is it possible to be angry about the Obergefell decision, to consider it a travesty of justice and a betrayal of the Constitution, without being viewed as a hater? Wait; let’s turn that question upside-down. Is it possible to see all serious disagreement with the decision as hate-speech, without celebrating the outcome of the Obergefell case?

I ask the latter question, you see, because if Father Martin was upset by the Supreme Court ruling, his dismay did not show through on his Twitter feed. He recommended three columns reacting to the decision: one by a fellow Jesuit, recounting how his grandmother could not marry her lesbian partner; another by the gay New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, celebrating the decision; the third by the gay activist/blogger Andrew Sullivan, also celebrating.

The recommendation for Andrew Sullivan’s piece was particularly striking because of the title: “It Is Accomplished”—an explicit reference to the words of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Father Martin, who was horrified by so much of what he read on Friday afternoon, let that blasphemous headline pass without comment. His demand for the use of temperate language, and for avoiding comments that others would find offensive, was applied to only one side of the post-Obergefell debate.

And that’s likely to be the party line for politically-correct Catholics in the wake of this momentous decision. We are allowed to disagree with the Supreme Court, politely, but not too forcefully. Any strident denunciation of the ruling or its logic might be interpreted as hate-speech, which of course is unacceptable. As the secular left clamps down on religious expression—and we’ve already been served notice that the crackdown is coming-- the Catholic left will worry aloud that, yes, some strong public expressions of religious beliefs are distasteful.

The influence of this approach, with its keen anxiety to avoid provocation, has already been evident in the statements released by some American bishops in response to the ruling. Archbishop Gregory says that he disagrees with the Court, but if you don’t know why he disagrees before you read his statement, you’re not likely to be any better informed when you’re finished. Cardinal Wuerl reminds us that we must hate the sin but love the sinner; he neglects to mention what the sin is. And Archbishop Cupich gives no indication at all that he disagrees with the Supreme Court ruling.

We have a long uphill struggle facing us as we seek to restore a proper understanding of marriage, to revive appreciation for the natural law, and to undo this wretched judicial decision. We cannot expect success if we go into the battle unarmed. If we begin the debate by saying that we must not offend our adversaries—even after our adversaries have declared our most fundamental beliefs to be offensive—we are doomed to failure.

We already know how the battle will unfold, because the campaign to crush resistance to same-sex marriage is already underway. The militant left will choose vulnerable targets—a pizza-parlor here, a baker there—and vilify them as “haters.” People who have been trained to see “hatred” in any firm disagreement will nod in solemn approval as the alleged offenses are harshly punished. And so juggernaut will keep rolling, gaining momentum, until it reaches us.

There is an alternative. We can speak the truth. Yes, certainly we should avoid making unduly provocative statements. But since we are trying to provoke reactions, we cannot pull all our punches.

More to the point, if we’re going into battle—and we are—we need to know who’s on our side, and who’s working against us.

This article was originally published on CatholicCulture.org and is re-published with permission.

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