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

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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Today’s chuckle: Rubio, Fiorina and Carson pardon a Thanksgiving turkey

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By Steve Jalsevac

A little bit of humour now and then is a good thing.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American readers.

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Lianne Laurence


BREAKING: Europe’s top human rights court slaps down German ban on pro-life leafletting

Lianne Laurence
By Lianne Laurence

STRASBOURG, France, November 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that a German regional court violated a pro-life activist’s freedom of expression when it barred him from leafleting in front of an abortion center.

It further ruled the German court’s order that Klaus Gunter Annen not list the names of two abortion doctors on his website likewise violated the 64-year-old pro-life advocate’s right to freedom of expression.

The court’s November 26 decision is “a real moral victory,” says Gregor Puppinck, director of the Strasbourg-based European Center for Law and Justice, which intervened in Annen’s case. “It really upholds the freedom of speech for pro-life activists in Europe.”

Annen, a father of two from Weinam, a mid-sized city in the Rhine-Neckar triangle, has appealed to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights at least two times before, Puppinck told LifeSiteNews.

“This is the first time he made it,” he said, noting that this time around, Annen had support from the ECLJ and Alliance Defense Fund and the German Pro-life Federation (BVL). “I think he got more support, better arguments and so I think this helped.”

The court also ordered the German government to pay Annen costs of 13,696.87 EUR, or 14,530 USD.

Annen started distributing pamphlets outside a German abortion center ten years ago, ECLJ stated in a press release.

His leaflets contained the names and addresses of the two abortionists at the center, declared they were doing “unlawful abortions,” and stated in smaller print that, “the abortions were allowed by the German legislators and were not subject to criminal liability.”

Annen’s leaflets also stated that, “The murder of human beings in Auschwitz was unlawful, but the morally degraded NS State allowed the murder of innocent people and did not make it subject to criminal liability.” They referred to Annen’s website, www.babycaust.de, which listed a number of abortionists, including the two at the site he was leafleting.

In 2007, a German regional court barred Annen from pamphleteering in the vicinity of the abortion center, and ordered him to drop the name of the two abortion doctors from his website.

But the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that the German courts had "failed to strike a fair balance between [Annen’s] right to freedom of expression and the doctor’s personality rights.”

The Court stated that, “there can be no doubt as to the acute sensitivity of the moral and ethical issues raised by the question of abortion or as to the importance of the public interest at stake.”

That means, stated ECLJ, that “freedom of expression in regard to abortion shall enjoy a full protection.”

ECLJ stated that the court noted Annen’s leaflets “made clear that the abortions performed in the clinic were not subject to criminal liability. Therefore, the statement that ‘unlawful abortions’ were being performed in the clinic was correct from a legal point of view.”

As for the Holocaust reference, the court stated that, “the applicant did not – at least not explicitly – equate abortion with the Holocaust.”  Rather, the reference was “a way of creating awareness of the more general fact that law might diverge from morality.”

The November 26 decision “is a quite good level of protection of freedom of speech for pro-life people,” observed Puppinck.

First, the European Court of Human Rights has permitted leafleting “in the direct proximate vicinity of the clinic, so there is no issue of zoning,” he told LifeSiteNews. “And second, the leaflets were mentioning the names of the doctors, and moreover, were mentioning the issue of the Holocaust, which made them quite strong leaflets.”

“And the court protected that.”

Annen has persevered in his pro-life awareness campaign through the years despite the restraints on his freedom.

“He did continue, and he did adapt,” Puppinck told LifeSiteNews. “He kept his freedom of speech as much as he could, but he continued to be sanctioned by the German authorities, and each time he went to the court of human rights. And this time, he won.”

ECLJ’s statement notes that “any party” has three months to appeal the November 26 decision.

However, as it stands, the European Court of Human Rights’s ruling affects “all the national courts,” noted Puppinck, and these will now “have to protect freedom of speech, recognize the freedom of speech for pro-lifers.”

“In the past, the courts have not always been very supportive of the freedom of speech of pro-life,” he said, so the ruling is “significant.”

As for Annen’s pro-life ministry, Pubbinck added: “He can continue to go and do, and I’m sure that he does, because he always did.”  

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Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

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‘Soft racism’: German Bishops’ website attributes African Catholics’ strong faith to simplemindedness

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By Pete Baklinski

GERMANY, November 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) --  The only reason the Catholic Church is growing in Africa is because the people have a “rather low level” of education and accept “simple answers to difficult questions” involving marriage and sexuality, posited an article on the official website of the German Bishops' Conference posted yesterday. The article targeted particularly Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, the Vatican's prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and ardent defender of Catholic tradition.

First Things blogger Leroy Huizenga, who translated a portion of the article, criticized the article's view as “soft racism.”

In his article, titled “The Romantic, Poor Church,” Katholisch.de editor Björn Odendahl writes: 

So also in Africa. Of course the Church is growing there. It grows because the people are socially dependent and often have nothing else but their faith. It grows because the educational situation there is on average at a rather low level and the people accept simple answers to difficult questions (of faith) [sic]. Answers like those that Cardinal Sarah of Guinea provides. And even the growing number of priests is a result not only of missionary power but also a result of the fact that the priesthood is one of the few possibilities for social security on the dark continent.

Huizenga said that such an article has no place on a bishops’ conference website. 

“We all know that the German Bishops' Conference is one of the most progressive in the world. But it nevertheless beggars belief that such a statement would appear on the Conference's official website, with its lazy slander of African Christians and priests as poor and uneducated (Odendahl might as well have added ‘easy to command’) and its gratuitous swipe at Cardinal Sarah,” he wrote. 

“Natürlich progressives could never be guilty of such a sin and crime, but these words sure do suggest soft racism, the racism of elite white Western paternalism,” he added. 

African prelates have gained a solid reputation for being strong defenders of Catholic sexual morality because of their unwavering orthodox input into the recently concluded Synod on the Family in Rome. 

At one point during the Synod, Cardinal Robert Sarah urged Catholic leaders to recognize as the greatest modern enemies of the family what he called the twin “demonic” “apocalyptic beasts” of “the idolatry of Western freedom” and “Islamic fundamentalism.”

STORY: Cardinal Danneels warns African bishops to avoid ‘triumphalism’

“What Nazi-Fascism and Communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion ideologies and Islamic fanaticism are today,” he said during his speech at the Synod last month. 

But African prelates’ adherence to orthodoxy has earned them enemies, especially from the camp of Western prelates bent on forming the Catholic Church in their own image and likeness, not according to Scripture, tradition, and the teaching magisterium of the Church. 

During last year’s Synod, German Cardinal Walter Kasper went as far as stating that the voice of African Catholics in the area of Church teaching on homosexuality should simply be dismissed.

African cardinals “should not tell us too much what we have to do,” he said in an October 2014 interview with ZENIT, adding that African countries are "very different, especially about gays.” 

Earlier this month Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, instead of praising Africa for its vibrant and flourishing Catholicism, said that African prelates will one day have to look to Europe to get what he called “useful tips” on how to deal with “secularization” and “individualism.” 

The statement was criticized by one pro-family advocate as “patronizing of the worst kind” in light of the facts that numerous European churches are practically empty, vocations to the priesthood and religious life are stagnant, and the Catholic faith in Europe, especially in Belgium, is overall in decline.

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