CHARDON, Ohio (CNS) --- The Catholic community "shares the grief of the families and friends of the five victims" of a school shooting Feb. 27 in Chardon, said Bishop Richard G. Lennon of Cleveland. "We continue to struggle in disbelief with the horrifying nature of the incident and we look to God to bring us peace and comfort," he said in a statement. Five students were shot when a teenager opened fire in the cafeteria at Chardon High School in the Cleveland suburbs. Student Daniel Parmertor, 16, died instantly. A second student, Russell King Jr., 17, was declared brain dead at 1 a.m. Feb. 28, but an Associated Press story said it was unclear if the teen remained on life support. Later that morning, MetroHealth Medical Center reported that a third student, Demetrius Hewlin, 16, who was in critical condition, had died. The two remaining students wounded by the gunman were being treated at Hillcrest Hospital, but their names were not released. "We ask for everyone's prayers in order to bring healing to the families of the victims, to the Chardon community, and to the family of the young man who is reported to be responsible for this terrible tragedy," said Bishop Lennon. Police said a 17-year-old male suspected of being the shooter was chased from the school and a short time later arrested about a half a mile away. Authorities would not release his name because he is a juvenile. According to news reports, he was to appear in court the afternoon of Feb. 28, but there was no word on the charges he faced. The family of the suspect identified him as T.J. Lane in a statement released through a lawyer on a Cleveland television station later that evening. The Lane family said that they were devastated by news of the shooting and extended "heartfelt and sincere condolences" to the victims and their families. The lawyer described the youth as "extremely remorseful."
Ruling ordering removal of school's prayer banner won't be appealed
CRANSTON, R.I. (CNS) --- A local school committee voted it won't appeal a federal court ruling that called for the permanent removal of a Cranston public high school's prayer banner in place for almost 50 years. After hearing three hours of passionate testimony Feb. 16, the Cranston School Committee voted 5-2 to not appeal because most members believed that the cost of additional legal expenses would hurt the school department budget. The banner became the center of debate last April when the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit contending that it was a religious symbol displayed in a public school that violated the First Amendment rights of Jessica Ahlquist, a self-avowed atheist, who is now a junior at Cranston High School West. More than 700 people attended the committee meeting, many of them wearing signs bearing the directive "Appeal," while others carried placards supporting their position. Before the meeting began, many supporters of the prayer banner sang "God Bless America," while during the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, a large number in the audience shouted "Under God." Joseph V. Cavanagh, a First Amendment attorney and member of the legal team which represented the city of Cranston in the ACLU suit, told those gathered that he'd received hundreds of calls about the case, mostly in support of keeping the banner on the wall of the auditorium where it has hung since 1963 when it was presented as a gift from that year's graduating class. "This is not about prayer in public schools," Cavanagh emphasized, adding that a 1963 Supreme Court decision stipulates that prayers cannot be recited in public schools. Cavanagh said that while he believes that the Cranston banner is a "display," U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux, who ordered the banner's removal, interpreted the issue differently, calling it a "prayer" because it begins with the words "Our heavenly Father" and ends with "Amen."
Pope to join Catholic families for international celebration in Milan
VATICAN CITY (CNS) --- The Archdiocese of Milan, which will host the World Meeting of Families 2012, announced Pope Benedict XVI would spend three days in the northern Italian city in June, celebrating the event's closing Mass, but also attending a concert at the world famous La Scala theater. The world meeting, to be held May 30-June 3, includes family activities as well as workshops and speeches for theologians and people involved in the pastoral care of families. The theme of the meeting, co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family, is: "The Family: Work and Celebration." Pope Benedict will arrive in Milan the afternoon of June 1 and address the city's residents in the main square. Afterward, he will go to La Scala for a concert; organizers did not say what the program would be. The pope will pray with priests and religious June 2, meet with city government officials and then preside over the evening of testimony and celebration that traditionally is part of the World Meeting of Families. He will celebrate the closing Mass June 3, then meet with the event's organizers and volunteers before returning to the Vatican.
Vatican says relations with Vietnam continue to improve
VATICAN CITY (CNS) --- The government of Vietnam has agreed to allow the pope's special envoy to have greater freedom to visit Catholics in the communist country, the Vatican spokesman said. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, said Vatican-Vietnamese relations continue to take "gradual steps forward," including an agreement reached in late February "to facilitate the work" of Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the pope's non-resident envoy to the Vietnam, by making it easier for him to visit Catholic leaders and communities. The archbishop, who was appointed in January 2011, took part in meetings Feb. 27-28 of a joint Vatican-Vietnamese working group, established to work toward fully normalizing relations. For years, top Vatican diplomats made annual trips to Vietnam to work out details of the church's life and freedom to function in the country. The trips included a discussion of every potential bishop's appointment with government officials. The Vatican always insisted that needing government permission to name a bishop was not the usual Vatican procedure, but that it could be tolerated temporarily as Vatican-Vietnamese relations improved. The Vatican delegation visiting Hanoi Feb. 27-28 was led by Msgr. Ettore Balestrero, the Vatican undersecretary for relations with states.
Online petition asks pope to help free Maryland man jailed in Cuba
WASHINGTON (CNS) --- A U.S. Jewish group is gathering signatures in an online petition asking Pope Benedict XVI to intercede with Cuban officials during his March 26-28 visit there to free a Maryland Jewish man jailed since December 2009. Alan Gross, 62, was convicted last year of crimes against the state and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He had been working as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, serving on a democracy-building project financed by the agency. The petition, sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, is addressed to Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, requesting that he raise "a matter of utmost importance with His Holiness." The petition said Gross was jailed for "his efforts to help the Cuban Jewish community improve its access to the Internet. Prior to his arrest, Alan's life was dedicated to improving the lives of others, particularly those less fortunate. He worked in more than 50 countries --- including Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and Haiti --- and never had any legal trouble in any of the countries he worked in or visited, until now." It added, "We most humbly request that whatever efforts necessary be made so that Pope Benedict XVI can obtain Alan's release from prison on humanitarian grounds during his upcoming visit to Cuba." The Jewish Community Relations Council, in a Feb. 23 statement, said: "Alan and his supporters have fervently rejected all accusations that he did, or intended to, do anything to harm the Cuban government."
Profit cannot be primary motive in treating infertility, pope says
VATICAN CITY (CNS) --- An almost exclusive reliance on technology and a focus on financial profit seem to dominate the field of medical responses to infertility, Pope Benedict XVI said. However, what couples need and deserve, he said, is "a correct diagnostic evaluation and a therapy that corrects the causes of infertility." Pope Benedict spoke Feb. 25 to members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which had just held a daylong workshop at the Vatican on diagnosing and treating infertility. The pope said he wanted "to encourage the intellectual honesty of your work, an expression of a science that maintains a correct spirit of seeking the truth to serve the authentic human good and that avoids the risk of being merely functional." At the conference, physicians and researchers said modern medicine's almost automatic recommendation that couples having trouble conceiving try in vitro fertilization is a response that does not seek the cause of infertility, but addresses only the symptom and does so in a way that violates church teaching. With in vitro fertilization, a woman's eggs are removed, united with sperm in a laboratory, and then implanted in the womb of the mother or a surrogate. The procedure is costly, and the Catholic Church teaches IVF is immoral because fertilization does not take place through the sexual union of a husband and wife. The church also condemns the common IVF practice of destroying or freezing fertilized embryos that are not implanted. "In effect, scientism and the logic of profit today seem to dominate the field of infertility and human procreation, reaching a point where it also limits many other areas of research," Pope Benedict said.
Preparing for synod, bishops look at role of family in evangelization
VATICAN CITY (CNS) --- Making final preparations for the world Synod of Bishops on new evangelization, a committee of cardinals and bishops discussed how difficult it is today to transmit the faith to others. "There was talk about the 'current fruitlessness of evangelization,' including because of the presence of certain influences from modern culture that make the transmission of the faith particularly difficult," said a Vatican press release issued Feb. 27. The ordinary council of the general secretariat of the Synod of Bishops met at the Vatican Feb. 16 to discuss a draft of the working document for the synod, which will be held at the Vatican Oct. 7-28. The theme of the gathering will be: "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith." In a discussion about challenges to faith and to handing on the faith, the council members focused particularly on the role of the family, the statement said. Within the family, it said, young people "learn both the content and the practice of the Christian faith. The irreplaceable work of the family is continued in the catechesis offered by church institutions and, especially, through the liturgy with the sacraments and the homily."
Maryland leaders pledge to put same-sex marriage issue on fall ballot
BALTIMORE (CNS) --- The Maryland Catholic Conference's executive director, vowing to work with others to bring the measure to a referendum, said the people of the state "will be outraged" at how quickly the bill to legalize same-sex marriage made it through the Legislature to final passage. The state Senate approved it 25-22 the evening of Feb. 23 after deliberating just 48 hours. The House of Delegates had already approved the bill Feb. 17, and Gov. Martin J. O'Malley, the bill's sponsor, has pledged to sign it quickly into law. "I expect that the people of Maryland will be outraged at the manner in which this legislation has been rammed through the Legislature, and they will be all the more inspired to do everything necessary to ensure the opportunity to vote in support of traditional marriage," said Mary Ellen Russell of the Catholic conference. The conference is the public policy arm of the bishops serving Maryland Catholics from the Washington and Baltimore archdioceses and the Diocese of Wilmington, Del. Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, apostolic administrator of the Baltimore Archdiocese, said that "by daring to redefine this sacred union between one man and one woman," Maryland's politicians "unconscionably have chosen political expediency over the good of society --- the fundamental charge of their office." Calling it "radical legislation, he said the lawmakers' action "poses a grave threat to the future stability of the nuclear family and the society it anchors." The Archdiocese of Washington said the measure was "regrettably" passed through "expedited hearings" and despite the fact that "Catholics and individuals across Maryland encouraged the lawmakers to protect the long-standing and proper definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman."
Former Anglicans celebrate Mass in St. Peter's, give thanks to pope
VATICAN CITY (CNS) --- For perhaps the first time ever, Anglican hymns, chants and prayers reverberated off the marble walls of St. Peter's Basilica as some members of the world's first ordinariate for former Anglicans celebrated their coming into the Catholic Church. "Wonderful is not a strong enough word to express how we feel to be here," where the apostle Peter gave his life "and where his successors guarded the faith for generations," said Father Len Black in his homily. Mass at the basilica and the pilgrimage to Rome generated "a feeling of coming home," said the Catholic priest who served as an Episcopalian pastor in the Scottish Highlands for 31 years. The group of about 94 pilgrims, including a dozen priests, was led by Msgr. Keith Newton, head of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, which was established in January 2011 for former Anglicans in England and Wales. After celebrating morning Mass Feb. 24 in a side chapel, the group moved to the center of the basilica and stood in front of the "Confessio" --- a lower chapel honoring St. Peter's confession of faith that led to his martyrdom --- and recited the General Thanksgiving, a traditional Anglican prayer. "That was very moving, thanking God for all we received this year and for the pilgrimage," he told Catholic News Service.
Bishop says he didn't 'fire' priest but had to correct bad Mass wording
BELLEVILLE, Ill. (CNS) --- Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville said he did not "fire" a priest from his pastorate for using his own wording in some parts of the Mass but was obligated to correct the situation as shepherd of the diocese. The bishop accepted the resignation of Father William Rowe, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Mount Carmel for the past 17 years, after several meetings with the 72-year-old priest over the last five years failed to resolve the bishop's concerns about how Father Rowe celebrated the Mass, especially after the implementation of the new Roman Missal in late November. In a letter dated Feb. 14 and written while Bishop Braxton was in Rome for his periodic "ad limina" visit to report on the status of the diocese, the bishop said he had "only asked (Father Rowe) to do what the church asks me and every priest to do." He wrote: "I regret very much that Father Rowe could not find in his heart the docility needed to put the clear mandate of the church above his personal likes and dislikes with regard to his vocation as an ordained minister of the church's public worship in communion with the whole church." Bishop Braxton said he had consulted with Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, about the matter, and neither the cardinal nor members of his staff were aware "of another instance in the entire English-speaking, Catholic world in which a priest has resigned from his pastorate rather than accepting the new translation of the Roman Missal."