Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

Opinion

Vatican offers friendly hand at international bloggers’ summit

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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ROME, May 4, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In the last decade, the mainstream media and the world’s political class have acknowledged the power of the “blogosphere” in the daily life of the political debate. This week, the Vatican admitted that while they may have been behind the curve on the blogs, they want to catch up.

As an independent blogger for seven years, I got one of the “golden tickets” inviting me to join 149 other bloggers to attend the first-ever meeting called by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Communications and for Culture, to address the blogging and “new media” phenomenon. They wanted this meeting, they said, to “open a dialogue” between the Church and the bloggers, who are often critical of Vatican actions.

It was perhaps a signal of how much catching up the Vatican has already done that the meeting was fully equipped not only with simultaneous translation for the five languages spoken, but with functioning wifi and electrical sockets for the laptops, iPads and Smartphones. The bloggers spent the meeting tweeting, posting and texting their readers, as well as sending comments and suggestions to each other within the room.

The atmosphere was friendly and cheery, with smiling bloggers, some of them obviously thrilled merely to have been invited, talking and mixing easily with Vatican officials, priests, housewives, journalists, and even one English Benedictine nun in full habit.

When the idea for a bloggers’ summit was announced in early April, the reaction of the Catholic blogosphere was cautious. Most welcomed it, but there was also much speculation on the motives and organizational abilities of the people who had committed so many public media blunders in recent years. The adversarial atmosphere between the official Church and the outside world has created a climate of suspicion and many bloggers were aware of the complaints within bishops’ conferences that the blogs need to be reigned in, controlled or regulated.

From their side of the table, Church officials are deeply wary of an interactive, lightening-speed media that seems to have no boundaries, rules or limitations. A major theme, put forward by Fr. Frederico Lombardi of the Vatican Press Office and American institutional blogger Elizabeth Scalia, continues to be the supposed “lack of charity” shown by bloggers who reveal the failings of Churchmen. 

It was clear, however, that these officials were aware of the problems and genuinely wanted to begin a new, less mutually suspicious relationship. And the bloggers responded eagerly to the extended hand.

Everyone understood that this meeting was only a preliminary step; this new relationship would not be forged in one five-hour meeting. But already two concrete suggestions have come out and they illustrate the sincerity on both sides.

Thomas Peters, the author of the blog “American Papist” and CatholicVote, asked why, since the bloggers who were present are invariably more friendly to the Church’s concerns, they cannot be given access to embargoed information from the Vatican Press Office. This information routinely goes out first to a secular media that is openly hostile to the Church. Peters pointed out that it has been the role of the bloggers, who overwhelmingly see themselves as champions of Catholic orthodoxy, to correct the misrepresentation of the Church’s teaching by sources like the New York Times. If bloggers had first crack at the news, he said, the Vatican would have a less hostile audience being first out of the news cycle gate.

James Bradley, a deacon and blogger who has recently been received into the Church through the Anglican Ordinariate and who runs the Ordinariate Portal, tweeted “Can’t bloggers just apply for [Press Office] accreditation?” Currently the rules for permanent press accreditation with the Sala Stampa require proof of Italian residency, a letter of recommendation from a recognized news service and ten published articles. These rules make it nearly impossible for an independent blogger, living outside Italy, to receive the Vatican’s press materials before they go out to mainstream media sources.

For their part, the Vatican officials suggested the creation of a voluntary organization of Catholic bloggers that could be called upon to respond to the accusations and misrepresentations made against the Church by the secular world. This body, they insisted, would exist not to regulate or control the members, but to form a cohesive response team defending the Church from outside attacks. 

Fr. Lucio Ruiz, who runs the internet service for the Holy See, said, “The Holy See has for some time excluded the idea that one might in some way put a ‘Catholic stamp of approval’ to sites and blogs that present themselves as Catholic ... We are not a sect.”

The officials recognized the role of the Catholic bloggers who have worked to defend the Church. Fr. Lombardi complimented the bloggers for their help, alluding to their role in clarifying Church teaching during the controversy over remarks made by Pope Benedict on condoms in the book, Light of the World. Lombardi thanked bloggers for offering quick clarification in the case.

For the bloggers present who focus on the Church, these interventions illustrated perhaps the most important message of the evening: that the institutional Church and the Catholic blogosphere are not, in fact, in an adversarial relationship. The Vatican said, in essence, let us figure out a way to work together because we are all on the same side.

The meeting’s organizer, Richard Rouse of the Pontifical Council for Culture, addressed the bloggers’ reservations in his opening remarks. The meeting, he said, was “not a simple publicity stunt.”

It was “not setting stage for drawing up an official moral code, although we will have some witness of efforts to disagree without being disagreeable…”

Rouse said he was glad that the meeting has already encouraged “ecclesial authorities around the world to engage with the blogging community (with all its issues of fear, familiarity, wisdom, courage, prudence, coping with being misinterpreted).”

Later, both Rouse and Fr. Ruiz made a point of speaking to me separately, both taking pains to assure me that at the Vatican level at least, there is no intention or desire to regulate or control bloggers’ content.

Overall, the Vatican blogger summit highlighted the fundamental difference between the secular world and the Church. In the secular world, there is a vast gulf between the rulers and the ruled, and it is only too easy, with the Church’s current manifold difficulties, to presume that the same gulf exists between the general laity and the mysterious “Vatican insiders” who give quotes in the press.

The presumption of an adversarial relationship is perhaps natural. The whole Catholic world is reeling from sex abuse scandals of the last few years, and for nearly 50 years, the crisis in the Church has continued with what many believe has been very little concrete action from Rome. For many of us who work to bring about reform in the Church, the mistrust of hierarchy and of the official Church has become almost habitual.

But in the last 24 hours, reports have appeared from some of those attending and one of the more common themes from bloggers has been a rather sheepish apology for their previous skepticism. The meeting has been universally acclaimed as a success, with barriers and suspicion dropping away and hopes raised of more to come.

After reading the many blogger reports and following the various live Twitter feeds coming from Rome, Fr. Tim Finnigan, the widely read first priestly blogger in the UK, commented on his blog The Hermeneutic of Continuity, “I was rather cynical about the meeting when I heard about it, so I am also very glad that it all seems to have gone so well.”

“This week has been quite a landmark for Catholic blogging, I think. Very positive all round.”


Read other bloggers on the meeting:

Fr. Tim Finnigan, at the Hermeneutic of Continuity

Anna Arco, at the Catholic Herald

Our Sunday Visitor

Elizabeth Scalia, the Anchoress and First Things magazine



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Pro-life group asks: Pray for abortionists who sell baby body parts

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February 11, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) - This Lent, a pro-life group would like you to pray for an abortionist - specifically, an abortionist who facilitates the sale of unborn babies' body parts.

The Pro-Life Action League is asking for people to pray for three people in particular throughout the 40 days of Lent. All three were caught on video by the Center for Medical Progress.

Dr. Deborah Nucatola appeared in the first video released last July, sipping red wine and stabbing her salad as she discussed the dismemberment of aborted children, including where to “crush” their bodies for a "less crunchy" technique.

The second is Dr. Mary Gatter, who appeared in the second undercover video, haggling over the prices Planned Parenthood expected to receive for the aborted children's organs and tissue. At one point, she joked that she wants the revenue to pay for “a Lamborghini.”

And the third is Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards, who was also caught in the first video praising Dr. Nucatola.

Despite the shocking evidence uncovered by CMP, Richards has insisted her organization did not receive any profit for what she dubs its "fetal tissue donation program." She apologized only for Dr. Nucatola's "tone." She has since said that Planned Parenthood will not receive any remuneration for babies' body parts.

"These three architects of Planned Parenthood’s baby parts scheme have devoted their lives to the destruction and exploitation of human life in the name of ‘choice,’" said Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League. "If we won’t pray for them, who will?”

He asked Christians to pray for these three abortion industry profiteers - and for Richards, who is a post-abortive woman - in order to fulfill Jesus Christ's commandment in the Bible, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (St. Matthew 5:44).

“In God’s eyes, what abortion has done to these three women may be worse than what they’ve done to unborn children, who now rest in our Lord’s loving arms," Scheidler said.

For most Catholics, Lent began yesterday on Ash Wednesday, and lasts 40 days.



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Texas AG faces ethics probe for defending conscience rights of natural marriage supporters

Lisa Bourne

AUSTIN, Texas, February 11, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – The attorney general of the state of Texas is facing an ethics investigation for having affirmed the constitutional religious freedom of state workers to decline to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if it goes against their religious beliefs.

Attorney General Ken Paxton took steps to address the issue of conscience protection in his state before and after last June's Supreme Court's Obergefell decision imposing same-sex "marriage" on all 50 states, first issuing a statement the day prior clarifying that Texas law recognizes the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman and recommending that state officials wait for direction from his office should the High Court move to redefine marriage.

Paxton then issued a statement two days after the ruling, his office allowing county clerks and their employees to retain religious freedoms that may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and said as well that justices of the peace and judges would similarly retain religious freedoms.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

A month later, a group of some 200 attorneys filed a complaint asserting that Paxton's position encouraged officials to violate the U.S. Constitution and break their oaths of office, according to ABC News.

The complaint was dismissed at first by the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel of the State Bar of Texas, but it was reinstated February 2 by a state Supreme Court-appointed appeals board, which contended that the complaint alleges a "possible violation" of professional conduct rules.

The appeals board decision to reinstate the case does not mean Paxton violated professional ethics, according to the ABC report, but does require him to respond to the complaint in conjunction with the investigation.

"The complaint has always lacked merit," said Paxton spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer, "and we are confident the legal process for resolving these complaints will bear that out."

Paxton was among several state officials across the U.S. who moved to ensure conscience protection in the immediate aftermath the Obergefell ruling, at times garnering the ire of homosexual activists.

Last July, South Dakota's attorney general granted permission to county clerks with conscientious objections to opt out of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as long as another clerk in the office would issue the license. 

Rowan County, KY clerk Kim Davis was jailed last fall for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because it violated her religious values.

In a highly contentious case, Davis had asked for a religious accommodation allowing her office to issue altered licenses to homosexuals without her name on them, which was eventually granted by Kentucky's Governor Matt Bevin. However, the ACLU sued, seeking to force Davis to issue the old forms with her full name on them. A federal judge rejected the suit earlier this week.

Last year, homosexual activists sent harassing messages, including threats of violence, to Oklahoma State Senator Joseph Silk and his family after the Republican legislator sponsored a bill that would have given the state's business owners the freedom to follow their religious convictions in regard to homosexual "marriage."

Paxton faces penalties varying between a reprimand and disbarment resulting from the ethics complaint. The Texas attorney general is also facing securities fraud charges.



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This pro-abortion billionaire may run for president

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NEW YORK, February 11, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) - He's an upwardly mobile, socially liberal billionaire whose political affiliation has changed numerous times over the years. He's teased numerous presidential campaigns in the past, but this time he's talking like he's serious. And no, he's not who you think he is.

Michael Bloomberg, who served three terms as mayor of New York City, has confirmed to media sources that he is considering running for president as an independent in 2016.

Bloomberg told told the Financial Times this week that he finds American political "discourse and discussion distressingly banal and an outrage and an insult to the voters," and that he's “looking at all the options."

The 73-year-old tycoon was a registered Democrat before switching parties to run in the less contested Republican primary in 2001. He became a registered independent in 2007.

As mayor, Bloomberg governed as a social liberal who strongly supported abortion and the LGBT political agenda.

In 2011, Bloomberg signed a controversial gag order directed at crisis pregnancy centers. A year later, he endorsed Barack Obama's re-election, saying that abortion-on-demand is part of "the world I want to leave my two daughters, and the values that are required to guide us there."

After leaving office, he received Planned Parenthood's Global Citizen Award at its annual gala on March 27, 2014.

That's the same year Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a $50 million undertaking to expand "reproductive health," including a major partnership with Planned Parenthood-Global to overturn pro-life laws in four nations: Nicaragua, Sengal, Uganda, and Burkina Faso.

Jeb Bush sat on the board of the philanthropy, which also strongly supports Common Core educational standards, at the time.

Mayor Bloomberg played a pivotal role redefining marriage in New York state, giving the four Republican state senators who voted for New York’s same-sex “marriage” bill the maximum campaign contribution allowed by law. One retired and a second lost his primary fight.

His strong emphasis on health regulations, such as attempting to ban soft drinks larger than 16 ounces, did little to enhance his popularity and were deftly parodied by Sarah Palin. (A state court struck down the proposed regulation.)

His $50 million gun control crusade dissipated after his cause failed in state after state.

The financial heft he could bring into the race, as well as his quirky politics, has tempted Bloomberg to enter presidential politics in the past. He considered a presidential run in 2008 and thought more strongly about a third party bid in 2012, after hosting the inaugural convention of the “No Labels” movement in New York City in 2010, but he backed off each time after not seeing a viable path to victory.

With an estimated fortune of $39 billion, he has said he would be willing to spend more than $1 billion on his campaign in 2016 - but he would only enter the race if the Republican Party nominates Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, and the Democratic Party nominates Bernie Sanders.

He called Jeb and Hillary Clinton "two quality” candidates and "the only two who know how to make the trains run." Jeb reciprocated last month, telling CNN that Bloomberg is "a good person, and he’s a patriot and wants the best for the country.”

At least one of his competitors is eager to see Mike run. "I hope he gets into the race," Donald Trump told Greta Van Susteren on Fox News Wednesday night. "I'd love to compete against him...I would love to see Michael in the race."

That is likely because polling shows Bloomberg would draw most of his support from the Democratic candidate. "Although he is characterized as the New York counterpunch to Trump, Mayor Mike Bloomberg is more the nemesis of Bernie than he is of Donald," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

Bernie Sanders would defeat both Trump and Cruz in a head-to-head match, according to Quinnipiac. But if Bloomberg entered the race, he would win 15 percent of the vote largely from Sanders, giving Trump a one-point victory in the popular vote (and narrowing Cruz's loss to one point).

However, he could throw a major wrench in the Democrats' electoral college total, according to columnist Pat Buchanan.

"Not only would Bloomberg lose the Big Apple, his statewide vote would come mostly from the Democratic nominee, giving Republicans the best opportunity to carry the Empire State since Ronald Reagan coasted to re-election in 1984," wrote Buchanan, who served as White House communications director during Reagan's second term.

“It’s not beyond imagining that he could get in and have an effect on the race,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, told The Hill.

Perhaps sensing this, numerous Democrats - including Senators Claire McCaskill and Jeanne Shaheen - have thrown cold water on a Bloomberg presidential run.

Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman, said this week that an independent Bloomberg candidacy "won't be necessary" - because the Democrats already represent social liberals.

"I really think when he takes a good hard look, he will conclude that the issues that are important to him...[have] a natural home among our Democratic candidates," she said. "And so, I think Michael Bloomberg's agenda is well cared-for and advanced among our Democratic candidates, and his candidacy, I think he will find, won't be necessary.""

His entrance into the race would be a true injection of "New York values" - making him the third or fourth New Yorker in the race - alongside fellow billionaire Trump from Queens, the Brooklyn-born Sanders, and onetime New York Senator Hillary Clinton.

Annie Linskey, a reporter for the Boston Globe who once worked for Bloomberg, told Fox News on Monday that there is "about a four" percent chance that Bloomberg will run.



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