Thursday, May 31, 2007
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Pope restores Muslim office
By Philip Pullella
Mon May 28, 2:34 PM ET
In a surprising about-face, Pope Benedict has decided to restore power and prestige to the Vatican department that oversees dialogue with Islam a year after he controversially downgraded it.
The department's return to its former status occurred as Catholic-Muslim dialogue is still suffering the negative effects of Benedict's Regensburg speech last September in which he appeared to equate Islam with violence.
Catholic and Muslim officials on Monday hailed the decision as a positive step that could help improve relations.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said in Italy's La Stampa newspaper at the weekend that the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue would again become "a separate department."
Benedict downgraded the office in March 2006 by putting it under joint presidency with the Vatican's culture ministry and removing its president, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, a Briton.
"This would be a very positive thing for Muslims," said a senior Muslim official active in inter-faith dialogue who asked not to be named. He said Muslims had seen the council's downgrading as a sign Benedict was not very interested in Islam.
"I think it's a great idea," said Father Tom Reese, senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center and a world-renowned Vatican expert.
In France, home to Europe's largest Muslim minority, the priest in charge of relations with Islam said the change would help him in discussions and debates with Muslims.
"This is a sign, to Muslims and people of other faiths, that the policies of Pope John Paul will continue," Father Christophe Roucou said, noting Muslims respected the late Polish-born pontiff for his pioneering openness towards other faiths.
Vatican sources said Bertone's comments meant the department would soon get its own head again.
In his speech last September in Regensburg, Germany, the Pope quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor as saying Islam had only brought evil to the world and that it was spread by the sword, which was unreasonable and contrary to God's nature.
He later said he regretted any misunderstanding it caused among Muslims, after protests including attacks on churches in the Middle East and the killing of a nun in Somalia.
But as late as this month, the Regensburg speech was still having repercussions on Catholic-Islam dialogue.
When former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami met the Pope on May 4 he said wounds between Christians and Muslims were still "very deep" as a result of the Regensburg speech.
Some observers saw the Regensburg issue as a direct consequence of the Pope's downgrading of the Muslim dialogue office and the removal of Fitzgerald, since the Vatican no longer had a world-class expert on Islam to advise the Pope.
The Muslim official said he hoped Fitzgerald would be reappointed to head the council. Catholic officials spoke in more general terms.
"I just hope they get the right man," Reese said. "In the 21st century, inter-religious dialogue is too important not to have experts advising the Pope so that we don't have the kind of disaster that we had in Regensburg.
(Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan)
Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Cardinal: Pope to relax Latin Mass rules
By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press
A Vatican official has confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI plans to loosen restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass, reviving a rite that was essentially swept away by the revolutionary reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos told a meeting of Latin American bishops in Brazil this week that Benedict wanted to give all Catholics greater access to the so-called Tridentine Mass because of a "new and renewed interest" in the rite.
Benedict is also acting in a bid to reach out to an ultraconservative schismatic group, the Society of St. Pius X, and bring it back into the Vatican's fold, Castrillon Hoyos said Wednesday, according to a copy of his speech posted on the meeting's Web site.
The late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the society in 1969 in Switzerland, opposed to the liberalizing reforms of the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, particularly its reform of the Tridentine Mass into the modern liturgy celebrated today in the vernacular.
The Vatican excommunicated Lefebvre in 1988 after he consecrated four bishops without Rome's consent. Benedict has been keen to reconcile with the group, which has demanded freer use of the old Mass as a precondition for normalizing relations.
The 1962-65 Second Vatican Council was a landmark event in the Roman Catholic Church, modernizing the liturgy and its relations with other faiths. Benedict attended the council as a young theological expert, and has long lamented what he considers the erroneous interpretation of its work.
He has made clear he greatly admires the 16th century rite and in a recent document urged seminarians and the faithful alike to learn Latin prayers.
The Tridentine Mass differs significantly from the new Mass: It is celebrated in Latin, with the priest facing the altar away from the faithful. The rank and file do not participate actively in the service.
Castrillon Hoyos stressed that Benedict's plans to revive the Tridentine rite did not represent a "step backward, of a regression to times before the reforms." Rather, it is an offer to the faithful to have greater access to what he said was a "treasure" of the church.
"For this reason, the Holy Father intends to extend to the entire Latin church the possibility of celebrating the Holy Mass and the sacraments" according to the latest version of the Tridentine Mass, from 1962.
The pope would decree it an "extraordinary form of the unique Roman rite," he said.
Castrillon Hoyos noted that the Tridentine liturgy had never been abolished. Currently, local bishops must grant permission for priests to celebrate it — a bureaucratic obstacle that fans say has greatly limited its availability.
Castrillon Hoyos was the second Vatican official to confirm the pope's plans in as many months. In late March, the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, told Le Figaro magazine that Benedict believed there was no reason not to give the priests around the world the right to celebrate the old Mass.
Castrillon Hoyos gave no date of when the pope's document would be released. It remains unclear whether Benedict will remove the requirement that bishops must approve each celebration.
Castrillon Hoyos heads a Vatican commission, Ecclesia Dei, which was created to try to reconcile with Lefebvre's followers. Castrillon Hoyos said Benedict wanted the office to be converted into an office to "conserve and maintain the value of the traditional Latin liturgy."
Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press.
Friday, May 18, 2007
Tony Blair is preparing to convert to Roman Catholicism after he steps down as Prime Minister, according to a leading cleric.
His long- awaited formal switch to the faith of his wife and family will come shortly after he surrenders office, it is claimed.
Mr Blair's decision to formalise his Catholic beliefs was revealed by Father Michael Seed, who is regarded as unofficial chaplain to Westminster and is a regular visitor to Number Ten.
Last year, Cherie Blair praised Father Seed, a leading cleric at Westminster Cathedral, for his "ability to reach out to all kinds of people, whether it is the homeless on the streets to the people in the highest places in the land, including even in Downing Street".
Asked to elaborate yesterday, Father Seed, usually known for his openness with the media, said: "I'm afraid I can't say anything."
Mr Blair has long been expected to complete his conversion after leaving Downing Street.
Conversion: It has long been speculated that Tony Blair would convert to Catholicism
He has regularly attended Catholic services in recent years, both with his family and alone.
Mr Blair has also visited Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor John Paul II in Rome.
While opposition leader in the mid-1990s Mr Blair often took communion with his wife and children at a Catholic church in Islington in London, which is seen as a signal he is totally loyal to the faith.
However, he stopped doing so in public on the instructions of the then leader of Catholics in England and Wales, the late Cardinal Hume.
Mr Blair has not been seen in a church of his professed Anglican faith except on official occasions.
He is widely considered to have remained an Anglican because of the potential complexities of conversion while in office.
Some lawyers believe the 1829 Emancipation Act, which gave Roman Catholics full civil rights, may still prevent a Catholic from becoming Prime Minister.
Clauses in the Act state that no Catholic adviser to the monarch can hold civil or military office.
Despite his apparent commitment to the faith, Mr Blair has also frequently clashed with Roman Catholic leaders, particularly over his liberal policies on gay rights and abortion.
In recent months, the leader of Catholics in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, has been severely critical of the Sexual Orientation Regulations.
The Government claims the rules will protect homosexuals from discrimination.
But Catholic leaders say they will force Christians to act in conflict with their principles.
The Cardinal has threatened to close Catholic adoption agencies if they are forced to place children with gay couples.
If Mr Blair is to convert formally, he will have to undergo a course of instruction, which is likely to be conducted by Father Seed.
To be received officially into the Church, he will be expected to take part in a service of baptism, followed by confirmation and Holy Communion.
Downing Street refused to be drawn on Mr Blair's intentions yesterday. A spokesman said: "This story is always circulating in one form or another.
"The Prime Minister remains a member of the Church of England."
Thursday, May 17, 2007
VATICAN CITY -- A new book by Pope Benedict XVI arriving in American stores Tuesday is already an international bestseller.
Jesus of Nazareth has sold more than 1 million copies since it was released in Italian, German and Polish versions last month. The book will eventually be published in 20 languages.
Jesus of Nazareth is the first book by the pope, who had published several books as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before his election as pope two years ago.
A study of the life of Jesus from his baptism in the Jordan River to his Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, the 400-page book is based on Old and New Testament Scripture, with a special emphasis on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Despite its biblical grounding, the book includes notable references to non-Scriptural and even non-Christian sources.
An analysis of the parable of the Good Samaritan invokes Karl Marx's concept of alienation; a chapter about the Sermon on the Mount includes the work of Rabbi Jacob Neusner, an American biblical scholar.
He says both to blame for Latin America woes
APARECIDA, BRAZIL - Pope Benedict XVI blamed both Marxism and unbridled capitalism for Latin America's problems on Sunday, urging bishops to mold a new generation of Roman Catholic leaders in politics to reverse the church's declining influence in the region.
Ending a five-day trip to the most populous Catholic nation in the world, Benedict also warned that legalized contraception and abortion in Latin America threaten ``the future of the peoples'' and said the historic Catholic identity of the region is under assault.
Like his predecessor Pope John Paul II, Benedict criticized capitalism's negative effects as well as the Marxist influences that have motivated some grass-roots Catholic activists.
``The Marxist system, where it found its way into government, not only left a sad heritage of economic and ecological destruction, but also a painful destruction of the human spirit,'' he said in his opening address at a two-week bishops' conference in Brazil's holiest shrine city aimed at re-energizing the church's influence in Latin America.
He also warned of unfettered capitalism and globalization, blamed by many in Latin America for a deep divide between the rich and poor. The pope said it could give ``rise to a worrying degradation of personal dignity through drugs, alcohol and deceptive illusions of happiness.''
Benedict, speaking in Spanish and Portuguese to the bishops, also said Latin America needs more dedicated Catholics in leadership positions in politics, the media and at universities. He said the church's leaders must halt a trend that has seen millions of Catholics turn into born-again Protestants or simply stop going to church.
Contact: Jerry Horn, Priests for Life, 540-220-0095
WASHINGTON, May 16 /Christian Newswire/ -- A group of Catholic Democrats in the US Congress recently objected to comments of Pope Benedict XVI about the fact that legislators favoring the legality of abortion should not receive Communion. They said, "Advancing respect for life and for the dignity of every human being is, as our church has taught us, our own life's mission."
Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, responded, "Faithful Catholics, as well as those in the pro-life movement from every denomination, have had enough of this double-talk. It is not possible to advance 'respect for life and for the dignity of every human being' while tolerating the dismemberment and decapitation of the human beings still in their mothers' wombs. These legislators do not only contradict their faith; they contradict the very meaning of public service, and should not be in public office any longer. If they cannot muster the will to protect defenseless children, they should resign. We don't need public servants who can't tell the difference between serving the public and killing the public."
Fr. Pavone added that Priests for Life will deliver to the offices of these legislators detailed medical descriptions of the abortion procedures and will challenge them to publicly acknowledge that when they say "abortion," they are talking about the same thing described in those medical texts, that is, the dismemberment and decapitation of tiny humans. Priests for Life will likewise share this information with every Federal and State legislator in the country.
Priests for Life is the nation's largest Catholic pro-life organization dedicated to ending abortion and euthanasia. For more information, visit www.priestsforlife.org.
Friday, May 04, 2007
By IAN FISHER
ROME, May 4 — Pope Benedict XVI met today with Iran’s former president, Mohammad Khatami, who spoke here earlier in the day about the “very deep” wounds between Muslims and Christians.
The two men were originally scheduled to meet last fall, but the meeting was canceled in the uproar over a speech the pope gave in Germany that offended many Muslims. Today, at a conference here on intercultural dialogue, Mr. Khatami was asked whether the tensions raised after that speech had abated.
“Unfortunately, the wounds of this world are too deep, and can’t be closed easily, and maybe only one meeting is not enough,” he said, according to the ANSA news service. “But there is a common effort to try to close them.”
After the meeting at the Vatican, which lasted half an hour, the church issued a statement saying the men had “paused to reflect on the importance of a serene dialogue among cultures, intending to overcome the grave tensions that mark our times.”
In his speech in Regensburg, Benedict quoted a passage written by a medieval Byzantine emperor, including a reference to Islam as “evil and inhuman.” The pope said later that he had not intended to offend Islam, and he apologized for sparking the angry reaction that broke out in parts of the Muslim world.
The Vatican statement today said that the two men also discussed “the necessity of strong initiatives” for peace in the Middle East, mentioning specifically the regional conference taking place now in Egypt on ways to stabilize Iraq.
The statement said that the men discussed one of the pope’s chief concerns: the problems facing Christians in the Middle East, where their numbers in places like the Iraq and the West Bank have been declining rapidly in recent years.
Mr. Khatami, who served in office from 1997 to 2005 and was seen as a reformer, met with other top Vatican officials today as well, including its secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Vatican calls verbal attack on Pope "terrorism"
By Robin PomeroyWed May 2
The Vatican's official newspaper accused an Italian comedian on Wednesday of "terrorism" for criticizing the Pope and warned his rhetoric could fuel a return to 1970s-style political violence.
In an unusually strongly worded editorial, L'Osservatore Romano said a presenter of a televised May Day rock concert, which is sponsored by Italy's labor unions, had launched "vile attacks" on Pope Benedict in front of an "excitable crowd."
"This, too, is terrorism. It's terrorism to launch attacks on the Church," it said. "It's terrorism to stoke blind and irrational rage against someone who always speaks in the name of love, love for life and love for man."
At the concert, held every year in front of the Saint John in Lateran basilica -- Rome's cathedral where Pope Benedict sits as bishop -- one of the presenters, Andrea Rivera, spoke out against the Pontiff's stand on a number of issues.
"The Pope says he doesn't believe in evolution. I agree, in fact the Church has never evolved," he said.
He also criticized the Church for refusing to give a Catholic funeral to Piergiorgio Welby, a man who campaigned for euthanasia as he lay paralyzed with muscular dystrophy. He died in December after a doctor agreed to unplug his respirator.
"I can't stand the fact that the Vatican refused a funeral for Welby but that wasn't the case for (Chilean dictator Augusto) Pinochet or (Spanish dictator Francisco) Franco," he said between musical acts at the open-air concert.
The latest salvo between the Vatican and its critics in Italy comes a few days after the head of Italy's bishops' conference, Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, received a bullet in the post after making comments that his critics say compared homosexuality with incest and pedophilia.
The Osservatore said Rivera's monologue came amid growing anti-clericalism in Italy which included graffiti and Internet messages supporting the Red Brigades, the Marxist group involved in political violence particularly in the 1970s.
"Some people have even twisted (Bagnasco's words) to start an insidious 'war', a new season of tension, which is inspiring those who are looking for motives to return to taking up arms," the newspaper said.
Prime Minister Romano Prodi, a devout Catholic who is backing legislation to give legal rights to unmarried couples, including homosexuals -- a bill opposed by the Church -- called for calm.
"We have to have calm and good sense," he told reporters. "Unfortunately the rhetoric has continuously been getting harsher over recent months. This country doesn't need it."
Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Before letting limbo go entirely, it might be worth a last glance as a medieval/modern example of the church’s humanity, its imagination and its grudging ability to admit that it is wrong.
It is the lot of humans, of course, to set about trying to figure out these matters of salvation, puzzling through the gray areas where no texts apply and no divine intervention seems apparent. So it was with the problem of babies who died before having the capacity to do evil and before being baptized, and thus cleansed, in the catechism’s words, of the taint of original sin. What to do with these babies? Medieval thinkers devised a place -- limbo -- a spot not quite heaven and not quite hell where, as the CNS story on puts it, “denizens enjoy natural happiness but not the ‘beatific vision’ of the creator.” ( See story)
It was, in short, an attempt to figure out the mind of God regarding creatures who had not been subjected to all of the church’s rituals and those who had the misfortune to have been deprived of the Christian message.
The problem was that, inventive as the scheme may have been, it shortchanged the mercy of God, a not unimportant aspect, one suspects, in this business of salvation.
Any Catholic school kid in the United States a certain number of decades ago knew all about limbo, and it may be well to point out that, to our knowledge, there was no nun ready at the fourth-grade level to draw distinctions between it and other more defined truths of the faith. We knew precisely where those unfortunate unbaptized souls were going.
It took us centuries to come to the realization that perhaps these most inventive theologians of the past might have been wrong in their reading of the mind of God.
Even Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, apparently had trouble with the concept. In an interview while head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he said, “Limbo was never a defined truth of the faith. Personally -- and here I am speaking more as a theologian and not as prefect of the congregation -- I would abandon it, since it was only a theological hypothesis.”
There is, it is worth noting on the side, more than a small advantage in being the one setting or interpreting the rules. No one, as far as we know, accused the then-cardinal of being a cafeteria Catholic.
Much is being made now of what this new document says about the pope’s demeanor and ability to adapt.
Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese, who felt the sting of Benedict’s discipline when the priest was forced out as editor of the order’s America magazine, referred to the recent statement of the International Theological Commission as “a sensitive and pastoral response,” noting that parents mourning the death of a child “will no longer be burdened with the added guilt of not having gotten their child baptized quickly enough.”
He said the development also “shows that Benedict is not afraid to look at something that has been taught in the church for centuries and say it is not at the core of Catholic belief.”
John L. Allen Jr., in an online analysis (NCRcafe.org) considers the document one of the recent papal “surprises.” But then he goes on to say, as well, that the International Theological Commission, might not have had the nerve to be so bold in overturning a long-held concept had members not known ahead of time of the pope’s disposition toward the issue.
But why might they have been less bold if their theological investigation and reflection led them to that conclusion? If something isn’t true can it be less not true because a pope doesn’t believe it, or more not true because he does?
But we divert.
The real news is that everyone finally agrees -- after years of study by 31 theologians from around the world and 41 pages of explanation -- that a concept most Catholics, it can be ventured, had long ago thrown into the dustbin, indeed belongs there.
We at NCR hope God is pleased that the church has restored his capacity for exercising infinite mercy. It must have been a grand moment in heaven.
On earth, we hope the ongoing lesson is that we should not be too quick to absolutely proclaim what God has in mind for his creation or how severely God judges those who don’t fit all the categories created over time to determine who’s in the community and who’s out, who can gather around the table and who must be excluded.
Maybe we’ll learn to give God great latitude when it comes to dispensing mercy.
National Catholic Reporter, May 4, 2007