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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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signs the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
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Indiana faces backlash as it becomes 20th state to protect religious liberty

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By Ben Johnson

INDIANAPOLIS, IN, March 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – On Thursday, Indiana became the 20th state to prevent the government from forcing people of faith to violate their religious beliefs in business or the public square.

Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 101) into law, saying the freedom of religion is a preeminent American value.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion, but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action,” Pence said.

Gov. Pence, a possible dark horse candidate for president in 2016, cited court cases brought by religious organizations and employers, including Catholic universities, against the HHS mandate. “One need look no further than the recent litigation concerning the Affordable Care Act. A private business and our own University of Notre Dame had to file lawsuits challenging provisions that required them to offer insurance coverage in violation of their religious views.”

The new law could also prevent Christian business owners from being compelled to bake a cake or take photographs of a same-sex "marriage" ceremony, if doing so violates their faith. In recent years, business owners have seen an increased level of prosecution for denying such services, despite their religious and moral beliefs.

The state's pro-life organization applauded Pence for his stance. "Indiana's pro-life community is grateful to Gov. Mike Pence for signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law,” said Indiana Right to Life's president and CEO Mike Fichter. “This bill will give pro-lifers a necessary legal recourse if they are pressured to support abortion against their deeply-held religious beliefs.”

“RFRA is an important bill to protect the religious freedom of Hoosiers who believe the right to life comes from God, not government,” he said.

The state RFRA is based on the federal bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The Supreme Court cited the federal law when it ruled that Hobby Lobby had the right to refuse to fund abortion-inducing drugs, if doing so violated its owners' sincerely held religious beliefs.

In signing the measure – similar to the one Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed – Pence and the state of Indiana have faced a torrent of venom from opponents of the bill, who claim it grants a “right to discriminate” and raises the spectre of segregation.

"They've basically said, as long as your religion tells you to, it's OK to discriminate against people," said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national homosexual pressure group.

The Disciples of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination based in the state capital, has said it will move its 2017 annual convention if the RFRA became state law. The NCAA warned the bill's adoption “might affect future events” in the Hoosier state.

Pence denied such concerns, saying, "This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way I would've vetoed it."

The bill's supporters say that, under the Obama administration, it is Christians who are most likely to suffer discrimination.

"Originally RFRA laws were intended to protect small religious groups from undue burdens on practicing their faith in public life,” said Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. “It was not imagined there would come a day when laws might seek to jail or financially destroy nuns, rabbis or Christian camp counselors who prefer to abstain from the next wave of sexual and gender experimentation. And there's always a next wave.”

The bill's supporters note that it does not end the government's right to coerce people of faith into violating their conscience in every situation. However, it requires that doing so has to serve a compelling government interest and the government must use the least restrictive means possible. “There will be times when a state or federal government can show it has a compelling reason for burdening religious expression – to ensure public safety, for instance,” said Sarah Torre, an expert at the Heritage Foundation. “But Religious Freedom Restoration Acts set a high bar for the government to meet in order to restrict religious freedom.”

Restricting the ability of government to interfere in people's private decisions, especially their religious decisions, is the very purpose of the Constitution, its supporters say.

"Religious freedom is the cornerstone of all liberty for all people,” Tooley said. “Deny or reduce it, and there are no ultimate limits on the state's power to coerce."

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Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting.
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Porn is transforming our men from protectors into predators. Fight back.

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By Jonathon van Maren

Since I’ve gotten involved in anti-pornography work, I’ve met countless men who struggle, fight, or have beaten pornography. Each person seems to deal with the guilt and shame that accompanies porn use in a different way—some deny that it’s “all that bad,” others pretend that they could “stop whenever they want,” many insist that “everyone is doing it,” and most, when pressed, admit to a deep sense of self-loathing.

One worry surfaces often in conversation: What do my past or current struggles with pornography say about me as a man? Can I ever move past this and have a meaningful and fulfilling relationship?

I want to address this question just briefly, since I’ve encountered it so many times.

First, however, I’ve written before how I at times dislike the language of “struggling” with pornography or pornography “addiction,” not because they aren’t accurate but because too often they are used as an excuse rather than an explanation. It is true, many do in fact “struggle” with what can legitimately be considered an addiction, but when this language is used to describe an interminable battle with no end (and I’ve met dozens of men for whom this is the case), then I prefer we use terminology like “fighting my porn habit.” A semantic debate, certainly, but one I think is important. We need to stop struggling with porn and start fighting it.

Secondly, pornography does do devastating things to one’s sense of masculinity. We know this. Pornography enslaves men by the millions, perverting their role as protector and defender of the more vulnerable and turning them into sexual cannibals, consuming those they see on-screen to satisfy their sexual appetites.

What often starts as mere curiosity or an accidental encounter can turn into something that invades the mind and twists even the most basic attractions. I’ve met porn users who can’t believe the types of things they want to watch. They haven’t simply been using porn. Porn has actively reshaped them into something they don’t recognize and don’t like. 

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Porn is this generation’s great assault on masculinity and the role of men in society. It is essential that we win this battle for the sake of society’s survival. Contrary to what the gender-bending and family-morphing progressive elites claim, good husbands and good fathers and good church leaders are necessary for a healthy society. But pornography is destroying marriages, creating distant and disconnected fathers, and, metaphoricaclly castrating men, hindering their ability and desire to make a positive difference in the society around us.

So, with this sobering set of facts in mind let’s return to the question: what do pornography struggles, past and present, say about a man?

The proper way to respond is with everything that is good about masculinity. We have to fight pornography as men have fought countless evils throughout the ages. We need to fight pornography to protect women, and wives, and children, and our society at large. This is how pornography threatens society, by castrating men, and turning them from protectors into predators. Rooting out the evil in our own lives allows us to better fulfill the role we are called to perform in the lives of others. Battling our own demons enables us to battle the wider cultural demons. Every day without porn is another bit of virtue built. Virtue is not something you’re born with. Virtues are habits that you build. And one day without porn is the first step towards the virtue of being porn-free.

Many men ask me if men who have had past porn addictions are cut out for being in a relationship or working in the pro-life movement or in other areas where we are called to protect and defend the weak and vulnerable. And the answer to that is an unequivocal yes. Our society needs men who know what it means to fight battles and win. Our society needs men who can say that they fought porn and they beat porn, because their families and their friends were too important to risk. Our society needs men who rose to the challenge that the evils of their generation threw at them, and became better men as the result. And our society needs men who can help their friends and their sons and those around them fight the plague of pornography and free themselves from it, too—and who can understand better and offer encouragement more relevant than someone who has fought and been freed themselves?

So the answer to men is yes. Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting. Lend them support and encouragement. We cannot change the fact that porn has left an enormous path of destruction in its wake. But we can change the fact that too many people aren’t fighting it. We can change our own involvement. And we can rise to the challenge and face this threat to masculinity with all that is good about masculinity.

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Red Alert!

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By John-Henry Westen

I don’t like having to do this, but we have always found it best to be totally upfront with our readers: our Spring fundraising campaign is now worrying us! 

You see, with just 6 days remaining, we have only raised 30% of our goal, with $125,000 still left to raise. That is a long ways to go yet.

We have no choice but to reach our minimum goal of $175,000 if we are going to be able to continue serving the 5+ million readers who rely on us every month for investigative and groundbreaking news reports on life, faith and family issues.

Every year, LifeSite readership continues to grow by leaps and bounds. This year, we are again experiencing record-breaking interest, with over 6 million people visiting our website last month alone!

This unprecedented growth in turn creates its own demand for increased staff and resources, as we struggle to serve these millions of new readers.

And especially keep this in mind. As many more people read LifeSite, our mission of bringing about cultural change gets boosted. Our ultimate goal has always been to educate and activate the public to take well-informed, needed actions.

Another upside to our huge growth in readers is that it should be that much easier to reach our goal. To put it simply: if each person who read this one email donated whatever they could (even just $10) we would easily surpass our goal! 

Today, I hope you will join the many heroes who keep this ship afloat, and enable us to proclaim the truth through our reporting to tens of millions of people every year!

Your donations to LifeSite cause major things to happen! We see that every day and it is very exciting. Please join with us in making a cultural impact with a donation of ANY AMOUNT right now. 

You can also donate by phone or mail. We would love to hear from you!

Thank you so much for your support. 

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