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Politics

Obama reveals task force to reduce abortions

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President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that he had formed a White House task force to work with pro-life and pro-choice groups to develop policies aimed at reducing the number of abortions in America.

He also sent a clear signal to his abortion critics that the Freedom of Choice Act, which would lift abortion restrictions and to which he offered support as a candidate for the presidency, is not a high legislative priority.

Pro-life groups, including many Catholic groups, have been critical of the Obama administration during its first 100 days for being insensitive to their causes.

The presidential task force remark marked the first time the Democratic president, who, during the campaign leading up to his election, had said he would work to reduce abortions, let it be known that such a group had been formed.

“I would like to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies that result in women feeling compelled to get an abortion, or at least considering getting an abortion,” the president said in a nationally televised press conference inside the White House, “particularly if we can reduce the number of teen pregnancies, which has started to spike up again.”

Mary Ann Glendon turns down Notre Dame medal

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WASHINGTON
Citing concerns about plans to honor President Barack Obama despite his views on "fundamental principles of justice" that are contrary to Catholic teaching, former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon has turned down the prestigious Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame.

In an April 27 letter to Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame's president, Glendon said she will not participate in May 17 commencement exercises during which the award was to have been presented.

The letter, posted on the blog of the magazine First Things, does not mention specific justice principles, but Glendon was critical of Notre Dame's decision to give Obama an honorary degree.

Obama supports legal abortion and his administration recently proposed new regulations that would allow the use of federal funds for embryonic stem-cell research. Both are in direct conflict with fundamental church teaching.

The Laetare Medal is presented annually to an American Catholic layperson for outstanding service to the Catholic Church and society.

Ave Maria U uses Notre Dame flap for financial gain

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Amid the uproar that has followed the University of Notre Dame’s invitation to President Barack Obama, mostly from conservative quarters in the church, opportunities even beyond point scoring have emerged.

Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida, for example, saw a possibility for financial gain. The university, founded in 2003 and pledging its fidelity to “magisterial teachings,” sent out a mailing attempting to lure Notre Dame alumni to send in contributions and make it their “new alma mater.”

Citing a U.S. bishops’ 2004 statement, “Catholics in Political Life,” the Ave Maria development office’s letter, while not specifically using the Notre Dame name, announces that a “A prominent pro-abortion U.S. politician will be honored by a Catholic University soon.”

The letter states that the invitation to Obama is a “contradiction” of the document on Catholics in political life. It reads: “Urgent! This Scandal Must be Stopped!” It then goes on to suggest a Ave Maria University donation.

Politics overshadow Day of Prayer events

WASHINGTON -- Every year between 2001 and 2008, former President Bush's calendar was cleared on the first Thursday in May to mark the National Day of Prayer in the White House East Room with prominent evangelicals.

Now the Obama White House is facing questions of inside-the-Beltway etiquette: Should Obama maintain the open door to conservative critics like James and Shirley Dobson, and if so, should they accept?

Catholic groups among those squaring off on union bill

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Catholic activists supporting the Employee Free Choice Act -- the labor movement’s top legislative priority in Congress -- say the bill is rooted in church social teaching inspired by papal encyclicals dating back more than a century. The measure is needed, say supporters, to counteract management efforts to stymie employee organizing efforts and to boost worker wages and benefits.

But those who oppose key components of the bill, including some major Catholic institutions, argue that the legislation would encourage labor organizers to bully potential members into union membership by denying workers secret-ballot elections.

Obama's faith-based council still finding its footing

WASHINGTON

Advisers tapped to help guide the White House's revamped faith-based office say their role is still evolving as the initiative tries to find its footing in the young Obama administration.

Initial members of the council, who were named in February, opened a two-day meeting with White House officials April 6. An additional nine members, who will round out the 25-member council, were also announced April 6.

Scholars to press Obama on religious freedom

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WASHINGTON
A group of scholars has urged U.S. religious communities to persuade President Barack Obama that the promotion of international religious freedom in his diplomatic policies is vital to national security.

During a panel discussion on the effectiveness of the U.S. international religious freedom policy at Georgetown University April 15, the scholars agreed the U.S. State Department has underused the International Religious Freedom Act in the decade since it was passed. They also said diplomatic efforts would flourish if U.S. diplomats reached out to foreign religious leaders more often.

"There is this erroneous notion that it's unconstitutional if we are talking to religious leaders around the world," said Thomas F. Farr, a former U.S. diplomat and visiting associate professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown.

For decades, the State Department has operated on the philosophy that religion must be kept out of U.S. diplomatic policy, Farr told about 100 students, faculty members and visitors at Georgetown's Riggs Library.

President Obama's Catholic problem

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President Obama has a Catholic problem. The vituperative attacks on him over his decision to deliver the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame are evidence of a deeper disquiet because they have not been restricted to the radical pro-life fringe. Nine American bishops have publicly voiced their opposition to his going to Notre Dame. This kerfuffle was largely avoidable but the White House has seemed tone deaf to Catholic concerns since January 20.

Three days after the Inauguration, President Obama revoked the Mexico City policy that prevented government funding of overseas family planning groups if they provide information on procuring an abortion. This was expected but, the White House did not send out emissaries to argue that the change was mostly about family planning services, and that it is precisely the absence of such services that has resulted in the high abortion rates in many developing countries, including Catholic countries.

Jesuit educators back Obama Notre Dame invitation

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The president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities said he has privately expressed support for the University of Notre Dame in its decision to invite President Barack Obama as commencement speaker and hopes the controversy that has erupted over the invitation leads to substantive talks among college presidents and bishops.

“I think that the bishops have the responsibility to protect the faith of their folks, and so I think this is the kind of thing that really has to be talked out in a conversation between bishops and university presidents. We have to raise the level of the dialogue beyond condemnations,” said Jesuit Fr. Charles Currie in an April 13 phone interview.

He said he and the presidents of the association’s 28 member institutions have privately expressed support to Holy Cross Fr. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, who recently has come under attack from right to life groups and some bishops who perceive the invitation as an endorsement of Obama’s pro-choice views on abortion and his support of stem cell research.

Iowa bishops oppose gay marrige decision

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DAVENPORT, Iowa

Iowa's Catholic bishops vigorously disagreed with the Iowa Supreme Court's unanimous decision April 3 that strikes down state law defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

"This decision rejects the wisdom of thousands of years of human history. It implements a novel understanding of marriage, which will grievously harm families and children," the bishops said in a statement prepared by the Iowa Catholic Conference.

The bishops vowed to continue to protect and promote marriage as a union between a man and a woman and asked Catholics and other citizens of Iowa to call for a constitutional amendment on marriage.

With the high court's ruling, Iowa becomes the third state in the nation to recognize marriages for gay and lesbian couples, after Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Last May, California's Supreme Court overturned its statute barring same-sex marriage, but a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman was approved by voters in November. That state's Supreme Court is to issue a decision on a constitutional challenge to the ballot initiative.

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