Bishops: mandate violates conscience rights, a Q&A

How important is the right of conscience in American tradition?

It has always been of paramount importance: “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority” (Thomas Jefferson, 1809).

In the past, has the federal government respected conscientious objections to procedures such as sterilization that may violate religious beliefs or moral convictions?

Yes. For example, a law in effect since 1973 says that no individual is required to take part in “any part of a health service program or research activity funded in whole or in part under a program administered by the Secretary of Health and Human Services” if it is “contrary to his religious beliefs or moral convictions” (42 USC 300a-7 (d)). Even the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which requires most of its health plans to cover contraception, exempts religiously affiliated plans and protects the conscience rights of health professionals in the other plans. Currently no federal law requires anyone to purchase, sell, sponsor, or be covered by a private health plan that violates his or her conscience.

How has the Department of Health and Human Services departed from this policy?

By issuing a mandate for coverage of sterilization and contraceptives (including long-lasting injections and implants, and “morning-after pills” that may cause an early abortion) in virtually all private health plans. In August 2011 HHS included these procedures in a list of “preventive services for women” to be required in health plans issued on or after August 1, 2012. On January 20, 2012, HHS reaffirmed its mandate while deferring enforcement against some religious employers until August 2013.

Is it appropriate to require coverage of these as “preventive services”?

No. The other services on HHS’s list seek to prevent serious disease–breast cancer, lung cancer, AIDS. Pregnancy is not a disease. The Institute of Medicine committee that compiled the “preventive services” list for HHS said in its report that unintended pregnancy is “a condition for which safe and effective prevention and treatment” need to be more widely available–setting the stage for mandated coverage of abortion as the “treatment” when prevention fails. Note that women who suffer from infertility, which really is an illness, were ignored in this mandate.

Didn’t HHS include a religious exemption?

Yes, an incredibly narrow “religious employer” exemption that fails to protect many, perhaps most, religious employers. To be eligible an organization must meet four strict criteria, including the requirement that it both hire and serve primarily people of its own faith. Catholic schools and hospitals would have to eject their non-Catholic employees, students and patients, or purchase health coverage that violates their moral and religious teaching. Jesus and his apostles would not have been “religious enough” for the exemption, since they healed and served people of different faiths. The exemption provides no protection at all to sponsors and providers of health plans for the general public, to pro-life people who own businesses, or to individuals with a moral or religious objection to these procedures.

Isn’t this an aspect of the Administration’s drive for broader access to health care for all?

Whether or not it was intended that way, it has the opposite effect. People will not be free to keep the coverage they have now that respects their convictions. Organizations with many employees will have to violate their consciences or stop offering health benefits altogether. And resources needed to provide basic health care to the uninsured will be used instead to facilitate IUDs and Depo-Provera for those who already had ample coverage. This is a diversion away from universal health care.

But won’t this provide “free birth control” for American women?

That claim is false for two reasons. First, the coverage will be mandatory, not a matter of free choice for any woman. Second, insurance companies will not be able to charge a co-pay or deductible for the coverage, so they will simply add the cost to the standard premium everyone has to pay–and among those being required to pay will be people who oppose it on conscience grounds. That is no victory for freedom.

By objecting to this coverage, is the Catholic Church discriminating against women?

Not at all. The Church’s teaching against early abortion is based on respect for all human life, male and female. Its teaching against contraception and sterilization is based on respect for the power to help generate a new human life, a power held by both men and women–so health plans in accord with Catholic teaching do not cover male or female sterilization. It is the HHS mandate that shows disregard for women, by forcing them to purchase this coverage whether they want it or not.

Do religious employers violate the consciences of women who want birth control, by refusing to cover it in their employee health plans?

No, they simply decline to provide active support for procedures that violate their own consciences. If an employee disagrees, he or she can simply purchase that coverage or those procedures elsewhere.

What solution to this dispute would be acceptable?

Ideally, HHS can leave the law the way it has always been, so those who provide, sponsor and purchase health coverage can make their own decisions about whether to include these procedures without the federal government imposing one answer on everyone. If HHS refuses, it will be especially urgent for Congress to pass the “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act” (HR 1179/S. 1467), to prevent health care reform act from being used to violate insurers’ and purchasers’ moral and religious beliefs.

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At the Movies

‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’ (Warner Bros.)

Devastated by the sudden loss of his devoted father (Tom Hanks), a victim of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, an introverted grade schooler (Thomas Horn) sets out to identify the purpose of a mysterious key he discovers among his dad’s belongings. His quest gains him the friendship of the traumatized German immigrant (Max von Sydow) who lodges with his grandmother and ultimately brings him closer to his seemingly grief-paralyzed mom (Sandra Bullock). Director Stephen Daldry’s grim drama, adapted from the best-selling novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, focuses on community, shared suffering and familial solidarity as it upholds positive, humanistic values. But the main character’s eccentricities–he may or may not have a mild form of autism–and the diffuse nature of his search, which brings him into contact with a whole series of strangers, makes it difficult for viewers to establish a sense of connection with his plight, and renders his story, for the most part, more emotionally trying than cathartic. Mature themes, some disturbing images, a transvestite character, a couple of crude terms, occasional vulgar wordplay. The CNS classification is A-III–adults. The MPAA rating is PG-13–parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

‘The Grey’ (Open Road)

Survival story set in the Alaskan wilderness has an oil-rig worker (Liam Neeson) struggling to lead six other victims of a plane crash in their battle against marauding wolves. As directed and co-written by Joe Carnahan, the chases, killings and feats of courage are brisk but routine while the script (written in collaboration with Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, and based on Jeffers’ short story “Ghost Walker”) includes attempts at profundity and spiritual reflection that are wildly uneven. Given the meager rewards of trekking through it, even most adults would be well advised to decline this grueling cinematic journey altogether. Troubling themes–including suicide and one character’s blasphemous expression of despair–frequent gory animal attacks, at least one use of profanity, pervasive rough, crude and crass language. The CNS classification is L–limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The MPAA rating is R–restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

‘The Iron Lady’ (Weinstein)

Touching dramatization of the life of Margaret Thatcher (a glorious Meryl Streep), Britain’s first female prime minister, and arguably its most important post-World War II politician. Shuttling between the present day, with Thatcher suffering from dementia and short-term memory loss, and flashbacks recounting significant passages in the handbag-wielding ex-leader’s life–including her romance with future husband Denis (Jim Broadbent)–director Phylidda Lloyd’s film is sympathetic yet fair, Despite a few historical inaccuracies and moments of overemotional fluff, her portrait is both intimate and educational. Viewers of faith will appreciate its explicitly pro-family celebration of Thatcher’s successful marriage as well as its implicitly pro-life vindication of her dignity (and enduring perceptiveness) despite mental frailty. Two scenes of terrorist attacks, documentary footage of real-life violence, a glimpse of upper female nudity, a few instances of crass British slang. The CNS classification is A-III–adults. The MPAA rating is PG-13–parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

‘Underworld: Awakening’ (Screen Gems)

In this fourth installment of the horror-fantasy series, Kate Beckinsale squeezes into the black vinyl tights again as Selene, avenging warrior of the Vampire clan. She battles werewolves called Lycans as well as predatory human scientists, and learns she has a daughter (India Eisley). Co-directors Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein serve up a familiar and somewhat dreary formula of neck-bitings, stabbings, martial-arts kicks and more gunfire than Custer’s last stand. Stylized gun, knife and martial-arts violence, brief, shadowy upper female nudity. The CNS rating is A-III–adults. The MPAA rating is R–restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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Mercy tops nation’s integrated health care networks

Two Mercy health systems are again ranked in the top 10 of the Integrated Medical Systems (IMS) Healthcare Networks, as reported in Modern Healthcare, a leading national health care magazine. St. John’s Health System in Springfield, MO, is ranked No. 1 for the third time, and St. John’s Mercy Health Care, now named Mercy East Communities, in St. Louis is No. 9.

IMS Health, the leading provider of information, services and technology for the health care sector, evaluates nearly 600 integrated delivery networks and ranks them according to the ability to operate as a unified health organization. The survey was previously performed by SDI, a market research firm acquired by IMS in late 2011. For patients, integration ultimately means better care. Hospitals, physicians, and medical facilities work together, sharing quality standards, information, expertise, and technology that are difficult to provide alone.

“We’ve moved from a No. 62 ranking in 1999 to No. 1 for three of the last five years because our integrated model of care allows us to connect all the dots for our caregivers and our patients,” said Jon Swope, president and CEO of St. John’s Health System in Springfield, soon to be called Mercy Springfield Communities. “A strong partnership between our physicians and hospitals, and a comprehensive electronic health record (EHR) that ties it all together, enables us to provide our patients with a highly coordinated health care experience. Our participation in the CMS Physicians Group Project has demonstrated that integration of care improves patient outcomes, with high patient satisfaction and lower costs.”

A network of more than 500 physicians in the Springfield area and some 450 physicians in the St. Louis area, along with Mercy’s EHR, has been key to integration. Mercy is among only six percent of hospitals nationwide with an integrated EHR sophisticated enough to access and share medical records among multiple Mercy facilities in a four-state area across all outpatient and inpatient points of care. Serving more than 3 million people each year, connectivity is critical.

Although a federally-mandated electronic conversion of patient health records was instituted in 2009, Mercy was ahead of the curve, beginning the transition in 2005 with a $450 million investment. Such forward thinking has resulted in national attention, including Mercy being recently named Health Care’s “Most Wired” by the American Hospital Association, an honor recognizing hospitals for adoption, implementation, and use of information technology.

Mercy’s EHR and successful integration of services paid off last May when Mercy’s hospital in Joplin was destroyed by an EF5 tornado. Within a week, Mercy was able to pull together its resources and have a 60-bed temporary facility up and running. Gartner, Inc., the world’s leading information technology research and advisory company, pointed to Mercy’s quick recovery in Joplin as one of the reasons Mercy is the No. 2 ranked health care supply chain in the world.

Mercy will bless the site of its new Mercy Hospital Joplin on Sun., Jan. 29.

“The current model of American health care is not sustainable,” said Lynn Britton, president and CEO of Mercy. “An integrated model is the best way to deliver care. True integration takes dedication, work, trust and a lot of energy by all parties. Delivering health care is complex, but we know that integration is the best model for meeting the needs of patients today and improving the health of the communities we serve.”

About Mercy

Mercy is the eighth largest Catholic health care system in the US and serves more than 3 million people annually. Mercy includes 31 hospitals, more than 200 outpatient facilities, 38,000 co-workers, and 1,500 integrated physicians in AR, KS, MO, and OK. Mercy also has outreach ministries in LA, MS and TX. For more about Mercy, visit

St. John’s Health System is comprised of St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, an 866-bed referral center; five regional hospitals in Lebanon, Aurora, Cassville, Mountain View, and Berryville, AR; St. John’s Clinic, a 500-plus physician clinic with 70 locations throughout the region; and St. John’s Health Plans, the largest managed care provider in the region.

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At the movies

‘The Artist’ (Weinstein)

A modern-made silent film proves to be a breath of fresh air without uttering a word. A dashing star of the silent screen (Jean Dujardin) plays every role with panache: the handsome lover, the swashbuckling hero, the athletic comedian with a sidekick Jack Russell terrier. But Hollywood is changing, and the arrival of the “talkies” presages his decline. Meanwhile, an adoring fan (Berenice Bejo) gets her big break in show business and becomes destined for stardom. Their paths intersect in a film that is at turns zany and hilarious, sad and affecting, uplifting and inspiring. One obscene hand gesture, two scenes of attempted suicide. The CNS classification is A-III–adults. The MPAA rating is PG-13–parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

‘Haywire’ (Relativity)

Fairly suspenseful but frequently brutal espionage thriller about a lethal operative (played by mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano) who becomes a fugitive after being betrayed during an assignment. Trying his hand at yet another cinematic genre, director Steven Soderbergh deploys a novice lead actress and a clutch of seasoned supporting players (including Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, and Antonio Banderas) with his usual stylistic aplomb, although the result is neither substantive nor original. Moreover, the protagonist’s merciless reaction to her situation is morally culpable, even after allowing for the life-and-death nature of international spying and covert military operations. Much fierce hand-to-hand violence and gunplay, brief gore, an implied nonmarital encounter, at least one use of profanity and of rough language, some crude terms, an obscene gesture. The CNS classification is L–limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The MPAA rating is R–restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

‘Red Tails’ (Fox)

Flag-waving hokum about the all-black 332nd Fighting Group of the Army Air Forces during World War II. What director Anthony Hemingway obviously intended as an enthusiastic fact-based homage to greatest generation patriotism instead comes off as shallow and cliched storytelling about a famed group of Tuskegee Airmen (including Terrence Howard, Tristan Wildes, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Marcus T. Paulk). Extensive aerial combat violence, an instance of implied premarital sex, fleeting crude and crass language. The CNS classification is A-III–adults. The MPAA rating is PG-13–parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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Women’s religious orders work to ward off sex trafficking at Super Bowl

Washington–Picking up from efforts to stem sex trafficking at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, 11 women’s religious orders from Indiana and Michigan are working to stop sex trafficking at this year’s Super Bowl. The orders are members of the Coalition for Corporate Responsibility for Indiana and Michigan, established in the early 1990s. The coalition is a member of the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, which spearheaded the anti-sex trafficking efforts two years ago in South Africa. The nuns aren’t always the biggest football fans, but they’ve picked up some of the terminology. When ICCR’s human trafficking working group mentioned during its meeting last June that Super Bowl XLVI would be held in Indianapolis, “we picked up the ball and ran with it,” said Sr. Ann Oestreich, an Immaculate Heart of Mary sister who ministers as justice coordinator for the Sisters of the Holy Cross in South Bend., Ind., and is the two-state coalition’s justice co-chair. “In CCRIM, we had done a process in terms of picking one issue that was important to all of our members. Prior to the Super Bowl, the issue of human trafficking came up,” Sr. Ann told Catholic News Service during a Jan. 12 telephone interview from South Bend. “It’s such a broad issue. How do we get at it as investors, as socially responsible investors? So we decided to take a look at the hospitality industry and purchasing stock in their companies so we could get into a conversation with the hotels.” Coalition representatives contacted the federal Department of Health and Human Services for assistance. “We asked for printed copies of brochures on their Web site, and HHS was kind enough, when they heard what we were doing, to provide 2,000 printed copies of those brochures.” ©CNS

Outline of basic Mormon beliefs and practices

Washington–More than 14 million people belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has its headquarters in Salt Lake City. Members are referred to as Mormons. About 5 million live in the US, making the faith group the fourth largest in the country. The church was established April 6, 1830, by Joseph Smith, who is considered a prophet. According to information on the church’s Web site,, Mormons describe themselves as a restoration of Christianity. The site notes that the church is not Protestant, evangelical, Catholic or Orthodox but espouses values of morality, civility and family similar to those of most other Christian faiths. According to a recent Pew Forum poll, six in 10 Mormons think Americans are uninformed about their religious beliefs. The study showed that a number of tenets central to the teachings of the Mormon faith are not shared by other Christian traditions including beliefs that: God the Father and Jesus Christ are separate, physical beings; the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets; families can be bound together for all eternity in temple ceremonies; the church’s Web site addresses possible misconceptions about the faith and its practices in the “frequently asked questions” section. ©CNS

Rev. King’s message of action and service lives on, say speakers

Gary, IN–Two priests and one mayor recalled the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in two words: action and service. Speaking Jan. 8 at Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary, the three recounted the slain civil rights leader’s belief in equality and nonviolence, challenging their audience to continue that legacy. “Martin Luther King once said, ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” said Fr. Jon Plavcan, rector of the cathedral for the Diocese of Gary. “He believed each individual possessed the power to lift himself or herself up no matter what his or her circumstances were in life. He was a person about service in the world and helping others as well.” Karen Freeman-Wilson, the newly installed mayor of Gary, asked the assembly: “What is going to cause you to move into action?” The first female mayor in Gary’s 106-year history, Freeman-Wilson inherits a city racked with urban problems: high crime and poverty rates, low graduation rates, and buildings and neighborhoods in need of repair. This situation, the new mayor said, evokes many sentiments–shame, fatigue, anger, and righteous indignation–the same feelings that led others to fight slavery for equal rights. “Righteous indignation caused Dr. King and others to move from sentiment … to the action of the civil rights movement,” said the Harvard-educated Freeman-Wilson. People can sit idly by and abdicate their responsibility, the mayor said, or they can be part of the solution. As followers of Christ, Freeman-Wilson said, it is not just about sharing Christ’s heart or sentiment, “but his action.” She added, “God’s hands are our hands.” ©CNS

Roberts’ history lesson: ‘Ministerial exception’ dates to Magna Carta

Washington–The religious freedom history lesson that Chief Justice John Roberts gives in writing the Supreme Court’s Jan. 11 unanimous ruling affirming a “ministerial exception” to federal employment laws goes back to the Magna Carta, the English law created in 1215. The decision in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC held that fired teacher Cheryl Perich could not sue under federal disability discrimination laws, because the Michigan Lutheran school where she worked considered her a “called” minister. In getting to the ruling, Roberts described the judicial and legislative path to the recognition of a ministerial exception, beginning with one of the three provisions of the Magna Carta that remains on the books today: a grant of freedom to the Church of England: “We have granted to God, and by this our present charter have confirmed, for us and our heirs forever, that the Church of England shall be free, and shall have all her whole rights and liberties inviolable,” says the Magna Carta. “We have granted also, and given to all the freemen of our realm, for us and our heirs forever, these liberties underwritten, to have and to hold to them and their heirs, of us and our heirs forever.” Roberts drew a line through the history of colonial America’s efforts to establish–or to pointedly not establish–state religions. In colonial Virginia, for instance, the governor had the power to induct ministers presented to him by church vestries. ©CNS

Allowing same-sex marriage ‘not in the public interest,’ say bishops

Seattle–Legislation introduced by lawmakers in Washington state that would redefine marriage to allow same-sex marriage “is not in the public interest,” said the bishops of the state’s three Catholic dioceses. “Marriage in faith and societal traditions is acknowledged as the foundation of civilization. It has long been recognized that the stability of society depends on the stability of family life in which a man and a woman conceive and nurture new life,” the bishops said in a statement released Jan. 13. “In this way, civil recognition of marriage has sought to bestow on countless generations of children the incomparable benefit of a loving mother and father committed to one another in a lifelong union,” they said. The current state law says that “marriage is a civil contract between a male and a female,” the bishops noted. “This same law also prohibits marriage to close-blood relations, a clear indication that the definition of marriage is related to bringing children into the world and the continuation of the human race.” The bishops called on all citizens of Washington to support the current legal definition of marriage and contact their state senator and representatives to urge them to “defend the current legal definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.” At the same time, the bishops asked everyone to join them in praying “for married couples and families and to do everything possible to support them.” The statement was signed by: Abp. J. Peter Sartain and Auxiliary Bp. Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle; Bp. Blase J. Cupich of Spokane; and Bp. Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima. It was released by the Washington State Catholic Conference in Seattle, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops. ©CNS

‘Ad limina’ visit is occasion to reaffirm bond with pope, cardinal says

Vatican City–Bishops make their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican to report on how well they have cared for their faithful, but also to give thanks to God for their bonds with the pope, the successor of the Apostle Peter, said Card. Donald W. Wuerl of Washington. Presiding at Mass Jan. 16 at the tomb of St. Peter, the cardinal led his fellow bishops in singing the creed in Latin and thanking God for the gift of apostolic faith that lives through the ministry of the pope. “Our celebration is a visible sign of the communion of faith spread throughout the whole world and how it is anchored here in Rome, where Peter lives now, bearing the name Benedict XVI,” the cardinal said. The bishops from District of Columbia, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, the US Archdiocese for Military Services and from the Virgin Islands began their Jan. 16-21 “ad limina” visits with the Mass. The visits formally are called “ad limina apostolorum,” which means “to the thresholds of the apostles” Peter and Paul, who were martyred in Rome. Bishops are charged with tending “the flock of God” entrusted to their pastoral care, Card. Wuerl said, and “we are here, in fact, to render an accounting of that sacred stewardship entrusted to us.” Card. Wuerl and Abp. Timothy P. Broglio of the military archdiocese, along with their auxiliary bishops, and Bp. Herbert A. Bevard of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, had their audiences with Pope Benedict a few hours after the Mass. ©CNS

Pope prays for migrants, refugees seeking a better life

Vatican City–The millions of refugees and migrants in the world are not numbers but people in search of a better life for themselves and their families, Pope Benedict XVI said. “They are men and women, young and old, who are looking for a place they can live in peace,” the pope said Jan. 15, which the Vatican marked as the World Day for Migrants and Refugees. The pope welcomed migrants living in Rome to his recitation of the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square and told the thousands of people gathered for the midday prayer that migrants and refugees are not only recipients of the church’s outreach, but also can be agents of evangelization in their new communities. In his main Angelus address, Pope Benedict spoke about the day’s Scripture readings at Mass and how Samuel in the Hebrew Bible and Simon and Andrew, James and John in the New Testament recognized the Lord’s call with the help of a wise guide. “I would like to underline the decisive role of a spiritual guide in the faith journey and, in particular, in responding to the vocation of special consecration in the service of God and his people,” the pope said. “The call to follow Jesus more closely, to give up forming one’s own family in order to dedicate oneself to the larger family of the church, normally passes through the witness and suggestion of a ‘big brother,’ usually a priest,” he said. ©CNS

Rockford abortion clinic, open since 1973, closes its doors

Rockford, IL–A Rockford abortion clinic that opened in 1973 has closed its doors for good. The Northern Illinois Women’s Center, which was closed by the state Sept. 30 because of conditions that the state said violated public health and safety standards, announced Jan. 13 that it would not reopen. “Please say a prayer of thanksgiving for all those souls saved by this latest news,” said a note on the Web site of the Diocese of Rockford, which had no direct role in the clinic closure. The Illinois Department of Public Health had said the clinic could reopen Jan. 4 if its leaders paid a $9,750 fine and agreed to the immediate revocation of its license if further violations were found. Instead the clinic chose the state’s second option–payment of a $1,000 fine, relinquishing of its operating license and closure. Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, called the decision “a great victory for public health and women’s safety” and said the Rockford clinic had been “one of the most infamous in the country. The entire state should thank the pro-life community for calling attention to the deplorable conditions at this abortion facility and demanding that authorities step in and enforce the law,” he added. But Scheidler said many other abortion facilities in the state have not been inspected for years. “It’s not enough for officials to step up and enforce the weak laws we already have,” he said. “It’s time for the General Assembly to close the loopholes that keep public health officials from ensuring other abortuaries aren’t similarly violating the law.” ©CNS

Christian divisions, including on morality, weaken witness, pope says

Vatican City–Divisions among Christians, including on moral issues, weakens their credibility and their ability to respond to the spiritual yearning of many men and women today, Pope Benedict XVI said. While “there is more that unites us than divides us” on the basic tenets of faith–belief in Christ, the son of God and savior of humanity–“divisions remain and regard many practical and ethical questions, giving rise to confusion and mistrust, weakening our ability to transmit the saving word of Christ,” Pope Benedict said Jan. 18 at his weekly general audience. With about 8,000 pilgrims and visitors gathered in the Vatican audience hall, Pope Benedict spoke about the importance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan. 18-25. The lack of a united voice and united witness poses a huge obstacle to the new evangelization, “which would be more fruitful if all Christians proclaimed together the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and gave a common response to the spiritual thirst of our age,” the pope said. During his audience talk, Pope Benedict did not mention specific practical or moral issues dividing Christians today, but he has defined as obstacles to unity practices such as the ordination of women and different approaches to moral issues such as homosexuality. The Second Vatican Council placed the search for Christian unity “at the center of the life and work of the church,” the pope said, and it did so because it was Christ’s desire for his followers and because, practically speaking, it is essential for the full credibility of Christians. “The lack of unity among Christians impedes a more effective proclamation of Christ because it puts our credibility in danger,” the pope said. “How can we give a convincing witness if we are divided?” ©CNS

Abp. Broglio speaks with pope about spiritual care of US military

Vatican City–The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a tremendous toll on members of the military and their families, said Abp. Timothy P. Broglio of the US Archdiocese for the Military Services, but military service also has strengthened the faith of many Catholics and even been a source of vocations. “We will continue to see the effects of this war–Iraq and Afghanistan–on family life for many decades to come,” the archbishop told Catholic News Service Jan. 18. The archbishop, who was making his first “ad limina” visit to the Vatican to report on the status of his archdiocese, met with Pope Benedict XVI Jan. 17 and said the pope asked him very specific questions about pastoral services to members of the military. He said his meeting with the pope was “a very, very significant moment in which the Holy Father really dedicated himself completely to the reality of the Archdiocese for Military Services; he asked specifically about the situation in the war zones (and) he asked how we take care of such a vast area,” said Abp. Broglio, whose priests and faithful are stationed around the globe. Serving in the military and, especially the experience of “being in a war zone or being on a ship, is a moment that a Catholic asks significant questions and looks for responses,” he said. If there is access to a Catholic chaplain or well-trained lay leader nearby, “it can be a moment of tremendous growth. In other circumstances, it can be a moment of frustration, particularly if you’re in a small f.o.b. (forward operating base), you might not have much contact with a priest.” For the families as well, “the role of the faith community at the time of deployment is very, very important because families have paid a tremendous price for these wars,” being separated from spouses and parents, having to take on more responsibility at home and then, upon their return, dealing with the struggles they may have readjusting. “Almost anyone who has been deployed comes back certainly afflicted to some degree, to a lesser or a greater degree, by post-traumatic syndrome. If the individual is able to deal with this and reintegrate himself into his family life, then it doesn’t become a disorder, but if it persists,” both the returning military member and his or her family will need counseling and spiritual support, he said. ©CNS

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Authors aim to move Christians to help end world poverty

Fast Living: How the Church Will End Extreme Poverty by Scott C. Todd. Compassion International (Colorado Springs, CO, 2011). 203 pp., $12.99.

Catholic Social Learning: Educating the Faith That Does Justice by Roger Bergman. Fordham University Press (New York, 2011). 203 pp., $24.

Reviewed by Graham Yearley

The Occupy Wall Street movement has reassured many that the fervor for social reform, so prevalent in the baby boom generation, has not died in American young people today. While that movement’s goals are confusing to some, there is no mistaking what Scott Todd, the author of Fast Living, is seeking to change; his goal is nothing less than ending extreme poverty worldwide. Extreme poverty is defined as having less than $1 a day to meet the basic needs of shelter and food.

Todd contends that governments cannot accomplish this task because political conflicts stand in their way. Only Christian churches can end extreme poverty because it is demanded of them. The love of neighbor and the love of God are one and the same. Armed with money (at least in the Western world) and the will and determination found in the Christ’s preferential love of the poor, the church can bring about this change, but not without changing its believers first.

If it is obvious that Christians would want to end extreme poverty, why haven’t we? Todd argues it is because we do not believe we can, based on a serious misunderstanding of Jesus’ words in John 12:8: “The poor are always with us.”

Many biblical scholars maintain that Jesus was addressing Judas and Judas’ mistaken priorities when he objects to the pouring out of expensive oils on Jesus’ feet. Judas argues that the oils could be sold to benefit the poor. When Jesus admonishes Judas, it is because he is asking Judas to value his presence while he is with his apostles, not making a blanket statement about accepting poverty as inevitable.

Todd recommends taking up the ancient practice of fasting as a starting place to serve the poor by experiencing what they experience. Abstaining from food voluntarily is not the same as being forced to go hungry, but if enough Christians fast it could create, in Todd’s opinion, an outpouring of love and service because we will know something of how they feel.

Roger Bergman, a professor at Creighton University and the author of Catholic Social Learning, has a less ambitious goal than Todd, but both authors seek the same end: to move Christians to greater service to the poor. Bergman’s book focuses on assisting teachers of social justice at Catholic universities to inspire students to engage in a faith that produces justice.

Some of Bergman’s students travel to the Dominican Republic and live in the homes of the people they serve. After the initial shock of shifting from First World comfort to Third World discomfort, students often experience feelings of deep shame. While Bergman acknowledges that certain forms of shame are unhealthy, this form of shame is a kind of self-indictment for living in a culture that wastes resources, ignores global poverty and fosters self-centeredness. Students often discover that the programs they have set up are neither helpful nor wanted. Eventually, they come to understand the poor are best equipped to judge what kind of assistance is helpful.

Catholic Social Learning is not a book for the general reader; it is a scholarly work, when Bergman makes assertions there is plenty of evidence to support his arguments. Todd is more like a brilliant preacher rousing his congregants to social action. Unfortunately, too many Christians in the First World enjoy the excitement of hearing the Gospel preached in fresh and challenging ways in church, only to return home to a large, nap-producing Sunday dinner.

Yearley received his certificate of advanced study in theology at the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore.

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Video Review

‘Abduction’ (2011)

Humdrum romantic adventure in which a party-loving Pittsburgh teen (Taylor Lautner) and the neighbor he’d like to make his girlfriend (Lily Collins) get caught up in international intrigue after the lad discovers that the couple who raised him (Jason Isaacs and Maria Bello) are not his real parents. In what is presumably intended as a date movie for the high school set, the newfound lovebirds take time out from dodging CIA agents (led by Alfred Molina) and evading a Serbian assassin (Michael Nyqvist) to kiss, cuddle and coo. On the plus side, director John Singleton’s far-fetched expedition mostly eschews gore–though there are some bone-crunching martial arts encounters–while the central couple successfully resists the temptation to turn their unexpected journey into a premature honeymoon. Possibly acceptable for mature adolescents. Considerable, but largely bloodless, violence, brief nongraphic sensuality, at least one use of profanity and of rough language, about a dozen crude or crass terms. The CNS classification is A-III–adults. The MPAA rating is PG-13–parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

‘Courageous’ (2011)

After the tragic death of his young daughter, a devoutly Christian police officer (Alex Kendrick) convinces a group of his friends (Ken Bevel, Ben Davies, Kevin Downes and Robert Amaya) to join him in subscribing to a Bible-based resolution designed to make them better, more dedicated fathers. But a variety of circumstances, including a couple of illustrative moral quandaries, quickly put each dad’s resolve to the test. Though occasionally heavy-handed, Kendrick, who also directed and co-wrote, crafts an uplifting message movie about the dire consequences of paternal neglect and the scriptural principles of sound parenting. Some gun violence and mature themes, including drug trafficking. Spanish titles option. The CNS classification is A-II–adults and adolescents. The MPAA rating is PG-13–parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)

‘Dead Poets Society’ (Blu-ray Edition; 1989)

A teacher (Robin Williams) returns in 1959 to the tony New England prep school for boys from which he had graduated, determined to turn his students on to poetry and into freethinkers, but his unorthodox methods inspire the impressionable youths to take personal risks not always in their best interests. Director Peter Weir’s thought-provoking period drama raises more questions than it answers in exploring such issues as peer pressure, child rights, values clarification, teen suicide and the price of nonconformity. Mild locker room language and an unsettling, unresolved teen suicide. The CNS classification is A-III–adults. The MPAA rating is PG–parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)

‘The Ides of March’ (2011)

Savvy but raw political drama about an up-and-coming press spokesman (Ryan Gosling) whose fling with an intern (Evan Rachel Wood) during a crucial Democratic presidential primary leads him to discover that the campaign manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman) for whom he works and the candidate (George Clooney) in whom he deeply believes are not all they seem. With a sharp script and a powerful cast, Clooney, who also directed and co-wrote, turns in a slick adaptation of Beau Willimon’s play, “Farragut North.” While fundamentally moral in most respects, however, this study in the corrupting effects of power is studded with mature subject matter and machismo-driven vulgarities, making it inappropriate fare for all but the gamest adults. Brief semigraphic nonmarital–and possibly underage–sexual activity, abortion and adultery themes, a suicide, an instance of blasphemy, about a half-dozen uses of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The CNS classification is L–limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The MPAA rating is R–restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)

‘Project X’ (Blu-ray Edition; 1987)

Unpleasant military monkey business is challenged by altruistic recruit with a social conscience (Matthew Broderick) in this story about lovable chimps used for flight simulation testing. His attempt to help them escape nearly causes a nuclear disaster. Director Jonathan Kaplan’s lightweight tale of youthful idealism vs. duty is shareable family entertainment, though there is a touch of rough language. The CNS classification is A-II–adults and adolescents. The MPAA rating is PG–parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (Anchor Bay Entertainment)

‘Traffic’ (Blu-ray Edition; 2000)

Powerful thriller that intersects four stories concerning the international drug trade including that of a recently appointed anti-drug czar (Michael Douglas) dealing with his addicted teenage daughter (Erika Christensen) and a Mexican border policeman (Benicio Del Toro) confronted with the temptations of money and power. Director Steven Soderbergh’s stunning visual virtuosity and the stellar ensemble performances create a stark picture of greed, corruption and social decay where for every triumph, there is parallel setback and the battle begins again. Intermittent drug use, some violence, a few sexual encounters, brief nudity, some profanity and constant rough language. The CNS classification is L–limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The MPAA rating is R–restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (Criterion Collection)

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