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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State Rep who compared Planned Parenthood with ISIS moves to bar dismemberment abortions

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By Ben Johnson
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State Representative Isaac Latterell, R-Sioux Falls

PIERRE, SD, February 23, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The state representative who said that Planned Parenthood beheads human beings just like ISIS is calling for the state Senate to ban all forms of dismemberment abortion.

“Planned Parenthood is worse than ISIS,” said State Representative Isaac Latterell, R-Sioux Falls said when introducing H.B. 1230, the Preborn Infant Beheading Ban of 2015. The bill would make it a felony for an abortionist to behead an unborn child as part of an abortion procedure within the state limits.

“There are certain revolting methods of execution, such as beheading, that no state would ever permit, even against murderers who use this method on their victims,” Rep. Latterell said.

The House Health and Human Services Committee passed the bill last week by a 11-2 vote.

But not everyone was happy with the bill and the publicity it drew. (The same committee had killed a dismemberment and decapitation abortion ban last year.)

State Rep. Burt Tulson, R-Lake Norden, amended the beheading law to simply read, “The State of South Dakota recognizes the sanctity of human life.”

The full House passed the amended form of his bill by 65-3 on Thursday, February 19.

Rep. Latterell is now asking the state Senate to revise the bill again – to go beyond beheading and bar all forms of dismemberment of the unborn.

“I knew beheading was an abhorrent technique reserved for the likes of ISIS terrorists, but I did not fully appreciate how much pain the fetal dismemberment that takes place during dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortions causes the baby,” Latterell told LifeSiteNews. “I am confident when the Senate committee is finished with its hearing, Planned Parenthood's lies will be exposed. I look forward to banning dismemberment abortion once and for all.”

“Dismemberment abortion kills a baby by tearing her apart limb from limb,” said Daniel Woodard, a Columbus School of Law student who testified for the bill.

Click "like" if you are PRO-LIFE!

Introducing such a bill would put South Dakota in the mainstream of the national pro-life movement. The National Right to Life Committee has made banning dismemberment abortions a national focus. The same day that the South Dakota House passed Latterell's bill, the Kansas state Senate passed the Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act.

Other states, including Oklahoma and Missouri, have introduced legislation to end the most common form of second-trimester abortion, as well.

The amended H.B. 1230 had its first reading in the state Senate on Friday.

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Detaching ‘pastoral practice’ from Catholic doctrine is a ‘dangerous schizophrenic pathology’: Vatican cardinal

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By Hilary White

ROME, February 23, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Another highly placed Vatican Cardinal has corrected the “progressivist” proposal to offer Holy Communion to Catholics who have been divorced and remarried or who are in other “irregular” sexual unions. The highly respected Cardinal Robert Sarah, recently appointed to the office overseeing the Church’s liturgical practices, says that attempting to detach Catholic teaching from “pastoral practice” is a form of “heresy.”

“The idea that would consist in placing the Magisterium in a nice box by detaching it from pastoral practice – which could evolve according to the circumstances, fads, and passions – is a form of heresy, a dangerous schizophrenic pathology,” Cardinal Sarah said.

“The African Church will strongly oppose any rebellion against the teaching of Jesus and the Magisterium,” he added.

The Guinean cardinal is the prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments, but until recently was serving as the head of Cor Unum, the office overseeing the Church’s charitable activities. In his former job, given by Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Sarah was spearheading efforts at reforming the umbrella organization, Caritas Internationalis, as it brought its policies into line with Catholic moral teaching, particularly on contraception and abortion.

The cardinal made the remarks in a book of interviews to be published this week by the French language press, Fayard. Titled “Dieu ou rien” (God or Nothing), the book is described as “frank personal thoughts” on the cardinal’s life, including on “the ideological neo-colonialism in Africa exercised by the decadent West.”

On the various crises of the African continent, he said, “I want to strongly condemn a desire to impose false values ​​using political and financial arguments.” 

He said that in some African countries, “ministries dedicated to gender theory” have been created in order to legitimize the ideology. “These policies are all the more hideous inasmuch as the majority of the African population is defenseless, thanks to the fanatical Western ideologues,” Cardinal Sarah said. 

In the book the cardinal also addresses euthanasia, calling it “the most acute marker of a society without God,” and “subhuman.” But he adds that he has seen an “awakening of consciences,” particularly among younger people in North America who want to overcome “the culture of death.” 

“God was not asleep, he is really with those who defend life!”

Since the “suggestion” on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, made at last year’s consistory, and pushed hard at the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in October, by the German Walter Cardinal Kasper and his followers, the Catholic Church is increasingly being shown to be deeply divided at the highest levels and on some of the Church’s most fundamental and definitive issues. While it was frequently commented that the African bishops were on the whole strongly opposed to the Kasper Proposal, the West’s view of the “African Church” as a conservative monolith has been refuted. At least one African bishop has indicated that he outright supports Kasper’s proposal, repeating much of the rhetoric of the Kasper supporters in and out of the Vatican.

Gabriel Palmer Buckle, the archbishop of Accra in Ghana, and one of the bishops chosen to attend the next Synod in October, is quoted by long-time American Vaticanist John Allen saying that he is ready “to vote yes” on allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics receive Communion.

John Allen wrote that the Ghanian archbishop “supports allowing local bishops to make those decisions on a case-by-case basis, and also believes that’s the result Pope Francis wants from the October summit.”

“When a person comes to me, I think I should be able to sit with him or her, or with the family, to find out what the situation is and to give solutions to individual cases without making a sweeping statement,” Palmer-Buckle said.

“It’s not a matter of issuing a new law,” he said. “As for the doctrine [on marriage], I don’t think the Church will change. It’s a question of how we help individuals.”

He added also that the “case-by-case” approach is favored by Pope Francis. “The truth of the matter is that the Holy Father is pushing towards that, when he talks about collegiality,” he said.

The archbishop echoed the phrases and jargon – such as the invocation of “gradualism” and “accompaniment” – used by both the Vatican and Kasper’s supporters during and immediately following the 2014 Synod.

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“The Holy Father has made it clear that the Church’s doctrine [that marriage is always indissoluble] remains the perfection point, the point of arrival, but we are all wounded,” Palmer-Buckle said. “That’s why Christ came, for the sick, the wounded, the needy.”

“If we look at our own pastoral challenges, there must be room to listen and to see how we can pastorally accompany whoever wants to belong more and more to Christ.”

He also reiterated Kasper’s own statement that the proposal is not intended to change Church teaching: “It’s not a matter of issuing a new law…As for the doctrine [on marriage], I don’t think the Church will change. It’s a question of how we help individuals.”

Others have strongly refuted this thesis, including high-level cardinals, who have said that a change in the practice would simply make the doctrine irrelevant to most Catholics.

With the next session of the Synod still eight months in the future, the sides in the argument are rapidly forming. A few days ago, US Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, joined the growing chorus of opposition, saying, “Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral and we cannot carry out something else and call it pastoral, if it doesn’t embody the truth.”

“Certain doctrines are embodied in certain practices and even if you don’t change the doctrine in writing, in a written document, if you change the practice you have changed what the previous practice embodied.”

In January, another Vatican curial official, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, gave a lecture in Germany strongly refuting the underlying theory of the Kasper Proposal. With Cardinal Sarah, Piacenza explained that it is incoherent to suggest that the Church’s “pastoral practice” could possibly be placed in opposition to her doctrine.

Speaking to a group of priests and seminarians, Cardinal Piacenza said, “When in Christianity mercy and truth are presented as antagonistic, or at least as contradictory, it is always the result of a partial perception.”

“It is hardly conceivable that there could be such a strong emphasis on mercy to the detriment of truth. Or, its opposite, a strong emphasis on truth to the detriment of mercy.”

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Eric Metaxas

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What Uncle Sam giveth, he can taketh away: Our rights are from God, not government

Eric Metaxas
By Eric Metaxas

February 23, 2015 (BreakPoint.org) -- During a recent appearance on CNN, Roy Moore, the chief judge of Alabama’s Supreme Court, debated the issue of same-sex marriage with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, the son of the late New York governor Mario Cuomo and the brother of New York’s current governor, Andrew Cuomo.

During the discussion, Moore said that “Our rights, contained in the Bill of Rights, do not come from the Constitution. They come from God. That’s clearly stated in the Declaration of Independence.” Cuomo then responded “Our rights do not come from God, your honor, and you know that. They come from man.”

Cuomo added that the idea of God-given rights is “your faith [and] my faith, but that’s not our country. Our laws come from collective agreement and compromise.”

I can’t help but wonder which country Cuomo is referring to. After all, the Declaration of Independence, by way of justifying the enormous steps the Founding Fathers were about to take, states “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men . . .”

These words, which previous generations of American school children were made to memorize, set forth an order that is 180 degrees from that suggested by Cuomo: first comes the Creator, who then endows his creatures with “certain unalienable rights,” and then the creatures form governments to “secure those rights.”

In essence, Cuomo is resorting to a kind of legal positivism, that is, the idea that “law is a matter of what has been posited,” something “ordered, decided, practiced, [or] tolerated,” and is not based on any deeper truth.

But that approach has serious flaws—as our own history bears out. In the run-up to the Civil War, for example, defenders of slavery appealed to the text of the Constitution, which permitted slavery without mentioning it by name. Opponents of slavery, or at least those against its spread into the territories, such as Lincoln, appealed to the Declaration of Independence and its ideas about God-given rights.

Sticking to man-given rights and appealing to “collective agreement and compromise” as Cuomo insists upon doing, would not have ended slavery.

However, if our nation’s leaders agree with Cuomo that the rights we possess are those the government has deined to give us, that would go a long way to explaining the erosion of religious liberty we are witnessing in the U. S. After all, the same government that can create a right to abortion and same-sex marriage can also take away the rights of freedom of religion and freedom of association. This may yield the results folks like Cuomo want, but it undermines the very foundation of human rights that we all claim to hold dear.

And that is really what’s at stake. Years ago on this program, Chuck Colson said that human rights are “based on our most fundamental beliefs about humans being created in the image of God.” Our “rights are not conferred by government, and so they cannot be denied by government.” It was this belief that led Chuck to draft the Manhattan Declaration in defense of human life, marriage, and religious freedom.

More than half a million Americans have signed the Manhattan Declaration. So if you have not, or if you haven’t even read this vitally important defense of our rights and freedom, please come to BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary, and I’ll link you to it.

Chris Cuomo was right about one thing: God-given rights are what our faith teaches. If that’s no longer true about “our country,” Heaven help us all.

Reprinted with permission from Break Point. 

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