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from Tales from the Trail:

Has abortion role been overblown in U.S. healthcare debate?

A new poll by the Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life suggests that concern about federal funding for abortion is very low on the list of factors driving opposition to President Barack Obama's effort to overhaul America's healthcare system.

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The results of the poll, released on Thursday, show that just 3 percent of healthcare opponents cited abortion funding as their main reason for opposing congressional healthcare proposals.

The biggest reasons, cited by 27 percent of respondents to an open-ended question about their opposition, were that the overhaul would be too expensive and lead to higher deficits and taxes. Another 27 percent said they did not want government involvement in healthcare.

The nationwide poll of more than 1,000 Americans was conducted from Nov. 12 to 15.

The poll's publication comes as the U.S. Senate prepares to begin debate on its version of a healthcare bill that does not include language approved earlier this month by the House that would strengthen the existing prohibition on using federal funds for abortion.

Sarkozy explains French laïcité to visiting Catholic bishops

bishops-elyseeFrench President Nicolas Sarkozy took time out from a busy schedule on Friday to welcome 18 Catholic cardinals, archbishops and bishops from across Europe into the Elysée Palace for a short talk about laïcité. The prelates were in Paris for an annual session of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE), a Swiss-based body that brings together all those bishops’ conferences. Among the topics at the three-day conference are relations between church and state in Europe, so it was natural that they’d take the opportunity to learn more about France’s trademark secular system. (Photo: Zagreb Archbishop Josip Bozanic (L), Esztergom-Budapest Cardinal Péter Erdö (C) and Bordeaux Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard arrive to meet President Sarkozy, 2 Oct 2009/Charles Platiau)

Cardinal Péter Erdö of Esztergom-Budapest, current CCEE president, came out full of praise for the president’s presentation. It was “maqnifique”, he told waiting journalists in French. “We’re very pleased to hear the president’s point of view”, which he described as “a constructive way of interpreting laïcité”. Erdö recalled that France’s legal separation of church and state, imposed forcibly in 1905, had led to “great conflicts” in the past. “But today, I think it is one form of constructive collaboration and mutual respect” in Europe. He added that the bishops gave Sarkozy a copy of Pope Benedict’s encyclical “Caritas in veritate” (Charity in Truth) signed by the pontiff himself.

Outside of France, laïcité is sometimes seen as a hostile system the Catholic Church must be instinctively allergic to. It can give rise to some hostility, especially from officials who are actually what has to be called laïcité fundamentalists. And it can complicate life not only for the Catholic Church but all religious groups there. But in fact, most religious groups here have learned to live with the system and defend it to visiting foreigners who expect to hear them groaning about it.

Anti-abortion rights activists target “personhood” amendments

When Americans go to the polls for the congressional elections in 2010, in some places they may also be asked to vote on state ”personhood” amendments that would effectively define life as starting at fertilization or the “start of biological development.”

A proposal like this was rejected by voters in Colorado in November but anti-abortion rights activists hope to get similar ballot measures together in at least a dozen states for 2010.

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This could have broader political implications as initiatives in the past on so-called hot button social issues such as gay marriage have brought conservative Christians — an influential voting block in the out-of-power Republican Party — to the polls.

Catholic editor who rapped Berlusconi resigns, but Church may have last laugh

giornaleIn the latest — but most likely not final — round in an incredible case of Italian journalistic pugilism, the editor of a Catholic newspaper sparring publicly for a week with the daily owned by the family of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has resigned.  Dino Boffo’s resignation as head of Avvenire, the daily of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, ended an Italian telenovela that had riveted the media for seven consecutive days and even saw indirect involvement by Pope Benedict. (Photo: Il Giornale fronts charges against Boffo, 3 Sept 2009/Stefano Rellandini)

In his three-and-a half page letter of resignation (here in Italian), which he said was irrevocable, Boffo  said the tussle with the editor Vittorio Feltri of the Milan daily Il Giornale had made his life unbearable. For his good, that of his family and that of the Church, he could not longer stay “at the centre of a storm of gigantic proportions that has invaded newspapers, television, radio, the internet and shows no signs of ending.”

Boffo said his only mistake was not taking his initial judicial problem seriously enough. As noted in my blog post here last Tuesday, Il Giornale editor Vittorio Feltri wrote last week that Boffo accepted a plea bargain in 2002 over a case in which a woman accused him of harassment. Il Giornale claimed that Boffo was having a homosexual relationship with her husband. It said Boffo should not have written editorials criticising Berlusconi’s sexual escapades when he was not exactly an an innocent altar boy himself.

Catholic comments on Ted Kennedy, pro and con

Much of the Roman Catholic commentary on the passing this week of U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy — who was a practicing Catholic — has applauded his record on civil rights, immigration reform and economic justice but deplored his support for abortion rights. Kennedy died on Tuesday at the age of 77.

(PHOTO: A photo of Senator Edward M. Kennedy sits at the entrance to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. REUTERS/Adam Hunger)

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The Catholic News Agency for example ran a report saying “Ted Kennedy leaves mixed Catholic legacy,” noting clerical discomfort with his support for the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that granted U.S. women a constitutional right to an abortion and related issues.

from Global News Journal:

How do you solve a political crisis? Hondurans try prayer

By Mica Rosenberg

TEGUCIGALPA - A month after a coup that has plunged Honduras into its worst political crisis in decades, the country's de facto rulers declared Tuesday an official Day of Prayer for peace.  

State television has been playing announcements for days with the slogan "Let us all pray for our Honduras."

Facing international condemnation of a June 28 coup that has led to a freeze on multinational lending and threats of wider sanctions, Honduras, one of the poorest countries in Latin America, needs all the help it can get.

Author of new Galileo book says old trial has current relevance

earthmovessThe current struggles between religion and science in areas such as evolution and “intelligent design” are thrown into sharp relief in a new book on the great Italian astronomer Galileo and his trial by the Roman Inquisition.

Author Dan Hofstadter says the Galileo affair was “the great religion-science clash of 1633 that in some form has persisted into our time.”

Indirectly verifying Hofstadter’s thesis, a Vatican official — Monsignor Sergio Pagano, head of the Vatican’s secret archives — said earlier this month that the Roman Catholic Church should not fear scientific progress and possibly repeat the mistake it made when it condemned Galileo.

Honduran Catholic hierarchy opposes Zelaya and Chavez

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, 12 April 2005/Alessandro Bianchi Honduras’ powerful Roman Catholic Church has backed the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya, surrendering a chance to be an impartial mediator in order to counter the influence of Venezuela’s leftist president, Hugo Chavez.

Leaders of the Catholic Church, the most respected institution in the country, have backed the ouster and thrown their weight behind the interim government installed by the Honduran Congress.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, often mentioned as a possible future pope, has justified Zelaya’s ouster while opposing his expulsion from the country. “He doesn’t have any authority, moral or legal,” Rodriguez told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

Prominent cardinal backs coup and rule of law in Honduras

ormMen touted as a possible next pope of the Roman Catholic Church rarely get involved in public debates over a coup d’etat or wars of words with heads of state. But that’s what Tegucigalpa Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga has done recently in the the political crisis in his country, Honduras. Before the overthrown President Manuel Zelaya made his failed attempt to return home, Rodriguez issued a statement in a televised address declaring his ouster legal and warning Zelaya could spur “a bloodbath” if he came back to Honduras. (Photo: Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, 16 April 2005/Kimimasa Mayama)

The July 3 televised statement, signed by the 11 bishops of Honduras, exhorted Hondurans to seek a peaceful solution to the political crisis and rejected international criticism of Zelaya’s ouster even as it condemned the manner he was kicked out of the country.

Rodriguez, one of the Latin America’s most prominent Catholic leaders, was frequently mentioned as a possible next pontiff in 2005 when he and his fellow cardinals gathered to elect a successor to Pope John Paul. There was much talk at the time that a cardinal from the developing world, where the majority of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics live, took over at the Vatican. When the conclave opted for Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the German was called “the last European pope.” The Latin Americans could win the next conclave if they could only rally behind one candidate, the Italian media speculated. Rodriguez, then a young 62, was often mentioned as the man with the best chances.

Pope urges bold world economic reform before G8 summit

popePope Benedict issued an ambitious call to reform the way the world works on Tuesday shortly before its most powerful leaders meet at the G8 summit in Italy. His latest encyclical, entitled “Charity in Truth,” presents a long list of steps he thinks are needed to overcome the financial crisis and shift economic activity from the profit motive to a goal of solidarity of all people.

Following are some of his proposals. The italics are from the original text. Do you think they are realistic food for thought or idealistic notions with no hope of being put into practice?

    “There is urgent need of a true world political authority. .. to manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration… such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights.” The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly – not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred…” “Financiers must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity, so as not to abuse the sophisticated instruments which can serve to betray the interests of savers. Right intention, transparency, and the search for positive results are mutually compatible and must never be detached from one another.” “Without doubt, one of the greatest risks for businesses is that they are almost exclusively answerable to their investors, thereby limiting their social value… there is nevertheless a growing conviction that business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference… What should be avoided is a speculative use of financial resources that yields to the temptation of seeking only short-term profit, without regard for the long-term sustainability of the enterprise, its benefit to the real economy and attention to the advancement, in suitable and appropriate ways, of further economic initiatives in countries in need of development.” “One possible approach to development aid would be to apply effectively what is known as fiscal subsidiarity, allowing citizens to decide how to allocate a portion of the taxes they pay to the State.”
(Photo: Pope Bendict, 1 July 2009/Tony Gentile)

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