Friday, September 28, 2007

The original article was published in July 07. The Christian Science Monitor recently picked it up.

Catholic Church's Shift Toward Tradition
ROME, July 18, 2007
(Christian Science Monitor) This article was written by Robert Marquand.

The leader of 1.1 billion Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI, is completing a significant theological shift of the Roman Catholic church — a sweeping change that not only eclipses 40 years of a more moderate and collegial Catholicism, but seeks to reassert the spiritual supremacy of the Vatican and more openly proclaim the authority of the office of pope among all Christians.

Some two years after taking the reins, say Protestant and Catholic theologians and religious experts, the Bavarian-born pope is moving swiftly to affirm orthodox doctrines and medieval church rituals that undermine the spirit of Vatican II, a period of modernization in which the church appeared to be rethinking its centuries-long insistence that it had exclusive claims to matters of grace, truth, salvation, and church structure in the Christian world.

Liberal Catholics go so far as to characterize Benedict as leading a counterreformation in the church, in which fervent backers of traditional Catholic identity and faith are favored, even at the expense of popularity. "While Vatican II said that the Holy Spirit was in operation among the people, now we are saying, no, the Holy Spirit is operating in the bishops.

It is an enormous change," says Frank Flinn, author of the "Encyclopedia of Catholicism." The "impression [previous Pope] John Paul II gave was to emphasize teaching so that all may be one. But Benedict is turning around and saying to churches, 'you aren't all one.' It is destroying the ecumenical movement."

When the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became pope on April 8, 2005, many Catholics felt he might soften his reputation as a hard-line "enforcer of the faith." Yet his tenure has shown few signs of mellowing. In the space of three days this month, for example, he promoted the old Latin Mass, which contains references to the conversion of the Jews, then issued a blockbuster doctrinal clarification statement saying that Orthodox and Protestant churches were "lacking" and only authentic through their relationship with Rome.

"Benedict has fought for the same thing for 30 years, and now he is putting it to work," says Frederic Lenoir, editor of Le Monde's religious supplement in Paris. "His main aim in being pope is to unify the true believer groups, and he will lose members or destroy religious dialogues, if that's what it takes." Defenders say that only by a radical reassertion of traditional Catholicism can the church become the body able to bring clarity, order, and moral authority to a troubled world.

The various attempts to adapt the church to modernity in the 1960s, they argue, have resulted only in muddled meanings and a lack of proper moral concepts. Beyond that, the opening of the church allowed Jewish, Protestant, atheist, and Islamic ideas to compete against what is seen as God's church, instituted by Christ and the apostle Peter. Since Vatican II (1964-1969), the Roman Catholic Church in Europe has lost tens of millions of churchgoers at a time when Muslim populations are increasing in Europe.

Benedict has stated his central mission is to restore the Catholic Church in Europe and to bridge the gap with Eastern Orthodox churches that more closely share a traditional Catholic suspicion of modernity, the Enlightenment, the Reformation, pluralism, and secularism.

"We think this pope may be starting back on the proper pathway," says a friar at the St. Nicolas du Chardonnet church in Paris, a center of the ultra-traditional Lefebvrist Catholic sect. "We think he understands the real faith. What we object to is his visiting of the mosque in Turkey. He shouldn't have done that."

Last September, the pope stirred the Muslim world following an academic talk that made reference to Islamic teachings as inherently violent. It was the kind of religious assertion, described later by the Vatican as a "misunderstanding," that was rarely if ever heard under Pope John Paul II.

"The previous pope was friendly, down-to-earth, and a good pastor," says Daniele Garrone, a Rome-based theologian of the Waldensian church, a reformed faith. "But Benedict is emphasizing theological clarity, and I think he is painting himself into a corner.

If you believe the church is the sole authority, and you teach this, you have to pay the consequences. Benedict takes it seriously, so I really feel he is suffering right now. He doesn't take this lightly, but feels it is his duty. I wouldn't want to be pope at this point."

Pope Benedict was a German academic and prolific theologian. In the early years of his career, he studied with Hans Kung, a highly influential liberal Catholic theologian whom Benedict would one day reprimand for questioning the concept of papal infallibility. Pope Benedict also contributed to Vatican II, a period when the church was engaging Martin Luther's concept of the "priesthood of all believers" and vesting more authority in and pastoral attention to ordinary churchgoers.

Yet during the German student riots of 1968, a chaotic time when many young Germans were demanding that their parents face up to the Nazi past, Ratzinger felt deeply that the Vatican II project was coming unhinged. He became archbishop, then cardinal in 1977, and in 1981 was made prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith at the Vatican, a meteoric rise. Ratzinger began to pursue and censure liberal theologians favorable to Vatican II.

He issued a paper, "Instruction Concerning Certain Aspects of the 'Theology of Liberation,'" that started to quash liberation-theology movements, particularly in Latin America. His tenure as prefect became synonymous with a host of conservative positions on abortion, homosexuality, and birth control, earning him the informal nickname of "the enforcer."

In 2002, he was made dean of the College of Cardinals, the pope's right-hand man. In the first year, he issued "Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life" that requested bishops not to allow communion to politicians that did not uphold the church teachings on abortion.

Pope Benedict's press officer, Fr. Federico Lombardi, told the Monitor that the church is not changing its theological positions but is simply clarifying them and seeking to "end the confusion" inside Catholic seminaries about church beliefs. He felt the main difference is a stronger emphasis on "Catholic identity," however. Mr. Garrone argues that the church must appear to have continuity and can't admit it is changing.

"Many nuns, priests, sisters, theologians, and Catholics felt that Vatican II was a new beginning in the history of the church. But by emphasizing 'continuity,' Benedict is saying the second Vatican council was not a new beginning." The new papal favoring of Latin Mass is an example. Also known as the "Tridentine" Mass, it is performed by priests who turn their back to the congregation and speak in Latin.

This Mass was largely abandoned after Vatican II, partly because it was incomprehensible to lay Catholics and because it contained negative references to Jews. The Latin Mass has long been hated by Jews for its emphasis on the Jewish role in turning Jesus over to the Romans for crucifixion and for its call for Jews to come into the church. Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, described the Latin Mass initiative as "a theological setback in the religious life of Catholics and a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations."

While the Vatican is not forcing local Catholic churches to say the Latin Mass, it is encouraging local members who want it to lobby their parishes. Some priests argue that this may create further strains on their resources and possibly bring contention. On July 10, the Vatican issued "Regarding Certain Aspects of Church Doctrine."

It argued that churches emerging from the Reformation outside the direct authority of Rome "cannot be called 'churches' in the proper sense." Protestants, in particular, "suffer from defects," are properly called communities, not churches, and must one day recognize "the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him" — a major affirmation of papal authority.

While Catholics may engage in ecumenical activities, they must do so through a stronger sense of Catholicism as the true church. Not surprisingly, the July 10 statement brought a mixture of anger and irritation in other churches. The Rev. David Phillips, an Anglican official, described it as "ludicrous" to "accept the idea that the pope is in some special way the successor of the Apostle Peter," and added: "We are grateful that the Vatican has once again been honest in declaring their view that the Church of England is not a proper church. We would wish to be equally open; unity will only be possible when the papacy renounces its errors and pretensions."

The Vatican said it was surprised Protestants would feel anger at being described as less than churches in hundreds of stories in English-language papers around the world and asked them not to "overreact." "This isn't about Protestants, it is an internal theological document for purposes of clarity,"

Father Lombardi stated. Some analysts say that, as with the September controversy over Islam, the Vatican sought to downplay the issue even as the hard-line message was amplified in the world media, putting Rome in the position of defining the issue. "Benedict wants to say that Vatican II is not threatened, but the document on July 10 shows a very different reading," says Christian Mercier, religion editor of the Paris-based Catholic magazine, La Vie. In the past year, the pope has visited the mosque in Turkey, met with Eastern Orthodox prelates, written to Catholics in China, visited Brazil, and authored a best-selling book about Jesus.

Many theologians say the shifts under Pope Benedict aren't simply a small matter of rules, rituals, clarifications, and a tidying up of doctrine. Perhaps one of the most significant, though little noticed, changes has to do with the changing concept of the meaning of the kingdom of heaven.

The current pope has a different vision of time and eschatology. Under Vatican II, it was accepted that the coming of the kingdom is possible to experience on Earth and not simply in the afterlife. Vatican II stressed concepts like "becoming," "change," and "newness," and championed social justice and liberty as linked to ideas of grace. Pope Benedict has begun to roll back such ideas, says Mr. Flinn, the Catholic theologian at Washington University in St. Louis, and his theology is "pessimistic, in the sense that heaven and Earth are separate concepts, and that Christ's kingdom can't be experienced here."

"It is the old vertical eschatology," Flinn says. "Liberal Catholics read the scriptures as saying the kingdom is already here, but not yet. The Vatican seems to be saying the kingdom is not yet, not yet, until the end of time, when Jesus returns. Meanwhile, the church is in charge, the pope is the vicar of Christ, and the church has the full truth."

© Copyright 2007 The Christian Science Monitor. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

East and West Form One Church, Says Pope
Addresses Visiting Bishops From Ukraine

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 24, 2007 (

Benedict XVI affirmed that Eastern and Roman Catholics are united in forming one Church.

The Pope said this today when receiving in audience the bishops of the Latin rite of Ukraine, in Italy for their five-yearly visit and accompanied by Greek-Catholic bishops from that country. They visited Benedict XVI at the papal summer residence south of Rome.

The Holy Father stated: "In the variety of its rites and historical traditions, the one Catholic Church in every corner of the earth announces and bears witness to the one Jesus Christ, the Word of salvation for all men and for all of man."

It is for this reason that the effectiveness of all our pastoral and apostolic projects depends, above all, on faithfulness to Christ."

The Pope asked for an intensified collaboration between the Latin-rite bishops and the Greek-Catholic bishops in Ukraine "for the good of the entire Christian people."

Testimony"Animated by this spirit," the Pontiff told the prelates, "it is not difficult for you [...] to intensify cordial cooperation between Latin bishops and Greek-Catholic bishops, for the good of the entire Christian people. Thus you have the opportunity to coordinate your pastoral plans and your apostolic activities, always offering testimony of that ecclesial communion which is also an indispensable condition for ecumenical dialogue with our brethren in the Orthodox and other Churches."

The Holy Father suggested to the Latin and Greek-Catholic bishops that they meet at least once a year, reaching "agreement between yourselves in order to make pastoral activity ever more harmonious and effective. I am convinced that fraternal cooperation between pastors will be an encouragement and a stimulus for all the faithful to grow in unity and apostolic enthusiasm, and that it will also favor fruitful ecumenical dialogue."

Benedict XVI highlighted the prelates' efforts "to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel in the dear land of Ukraine, sometimes encountering no small number of difficulties but always supported by the awareness that Christ guides his flock with a sure hand, the flock that he himself entrusted to your hands as his ministers."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Pope: Terror fight must respect law
By Ariel David, Associated Press
Article Launched: 09/22/2007
Long Beach Press

VATICAN CITY - Democratic societies have the right to defend themselves against terrorism but must also respect laws and human rights - or they risk endangering the very freedoms they want to protect, Pope Benedict XVI said Friday.

"In democratic systems, the use of force in a manner contrary to the principles of a constitutional state can never be justified," the pope said at an audience with members of the Centrist Democrat International, an association of center-right parties from around the world.
"Terrorism is a serious problem whose perpetrators often claim to act in God's name and harbor an inexcusable contempt for human life," Benedict said.

The pope said that some terrorist networks justify their actions by "shamelessly" exploiting the charge that society has forgotten God, and he said that a greater respect for religion could help counter that accusation.

"Society naturally has a right to defend itself," but the struggle against terrorism must respect moral and legal norms, the pope said.

"How can we claim to protect democracy if we threaten its very foundations?" Benedict said. "It is necessary both to keep careful watch over the security of civil society and its citizens while at the same time safeguarding the inalienable rights of all."

The pope did not mention specific countries or people.

Benedict urged the politicians to spread values he said are being endangered by changes in their communities. He urged them to oppose abortion, divorce and ideologies that view financial gain as the only good.

The pope also spoke out in defense of religious freedom, which he said includes the right to choose one's faith.

"The exercise of this freedom also includes the right to change religion, which should be guaranteed not only legally, but also in daily practice," he said

Friday, September 21, 2007

Religion tells you to forgive but Pope Benedict could be excused for not forgiving US Secretary of State Condolezza Rice for a remark back in 2003.

In March 2003, just before the Iraq war, Condolezza Rice met with a special envoy from the Vatican Rome and told them that the Bush administration didn’t care about the views of the late Pope John Paul II on the immorality of its planned military actions in Iraq.

Ties between the Washington and the Vatican were plunged in further disarray after criticism from the Pope that Iraqi Christians under the new Iraqi Constitution is “unacceptable”.

The bad blood between the Pope and Rice were made public after it was revealed in an Italian newspaper that the Pope refused a meeting request from the US Secretary of State to discuss Iraq.

BBC News, which appears to have confirmed the Italian paper's story, says: "Instead of meeting the Pope, Ms Rice had to make do with a telephone conversation with the Vatican's number two, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was visiting the U.S. during August on other business."

AFP reported that the reply "'illustrated the divergence of view' between the Vatican and the White House about the 'initiatives of the Bush administration in the Middle East.'"


Vatican confirms pope's UN visit in spring, other stops undecided

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI plans to travel to the United States in the spring to address the United Nations, but other possible U.S. stops have not been confirmed, the Vatican said Wednesday.

Benedict accepted an invitation from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and will address the General Assembly.

American bishops and the Vatican also have been discussing other possible stops, including Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington. But only the spring visit to New York has been confirmed, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman.

A stop in Boston would send a particularly poignant message of papal concern over the clerical sex abuse scandal, which erupted there in 2002 and forced its archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law, to resign in disgrace.

The planning for the trip is delicate because it would come during the presidential election campaigns.

The trip is Benedict's first international visit planned for 2008. In July, Benedict is due to attend World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia. Later in the year, plans to visit the shrine in Lourdes, France, which in 2008 marks the 150th anniversary of the apparition of the Madonna.

Pope John Paul II visited the United States seven times during his nearly 27-year pontificate, the last in 1999.

The 80-year-old Benedict completed his seventh foreign trip as pope earlier this month with a three-day visit to Austria.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Pope's Message for Catholic-Orthodox Symposium
"We All Look With Hope" Toward Full Communion
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 17, 2007 ( Here is a translation of the Sept. 12 message Benedict XVI sent to Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, on the occasion of the 10th Inter-Christian Symposium, dedicated to dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox.* * *

With great joy I learned that the Tenth Inter-Christian Symposium, promoted by the Franciscan Institute of Spirituality of the Pontifical Antonianum University and by the Department of Theology of the Theological Faculty of the Aristotle University of Thessalonica, will take place on the Island of Tinos, where Catholics and Orthodox live together in brotherly love.

The ecumenical cooperation in the academic field contributes to maintaining an impetus toward the longed for communion among all Christians. To this regard, the Second Vatican Council had glimpsed in this field a possible opportunity to involve all of God's people in the search for full unity. "This importance is the greater because the instruction and spiritual formation of the faithful and of religious depends so largely on the formation which their priests have received" ("Unitatis Redintegratio," 10).

The theme of the symposium: "St. John Chrysostom: Bridge Between East and West," coinciding with the 1,600th anniversary of his death on Sept. 14, 497, will offer the occasion to commemorate an illustrious Father of the Church venerated in the East as in the West -- a valiant, illuminated and faithful preacher of the Word of God, upon which he founded his pastoral action; such an extraordinary hermeneutist and speaker that, from the fifth century, he was given the title of Chrysostom, which means golden-mouthed.

A man whose contribution to the formation of the Byzantine liturgy is known to everyone. For the courage and faithfulness of his evangelical witness he was able to suffer persecution and exile. After complex historical events, from May 1, 1626, his body reposed in St. Peter's Basilica, and on Nov. 27, 2004, my venerated predecessor John Paul II gave part of the relics to His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and, thus, this great Father of the Church is now venerated in the Vatican basilica as well as in the Church of St. George in Fanar.

The reflection of your symposium, which will deal with a theme related to John Chrysostom and communion with the Church of the West while analyzing some problems that exist today, will contribute to upholding and corroborating the real -- though imperfect -- communion that exists between Catholics and Orthodox, so that we may reach that fullness which will one day enable us to concelebrate the one Eucharist. And it is to that blessed day that we all look with hope, organizing practical initiatives such as this one.

With these sentiments, I invoke God's abundant blessing upon your meeting and all of the participants: May the Holy Spirit illuminate the minds, warm the hearts and fill each one with the joy and peace of the Lord.

I would like to take this opportunity to send a brotherly greeting to the Orthodox and Catholic faithful in Greece, and in a truly special way, to the archbishop of Athens and all Greece, His Beatitude Chrystodoulos, wishing him a full recovery in health, so that he may return to his pastoral service as soon as possible, and I assure my prayers for this intention. May the "Theotokos," loved and venerated with special devotion on the island of Tinos, offer her motherly intercession so that our shared intentions will be crowned by the much wished for spiritual successes.

From Castel Gandolfo,
Sept. 12, 2007

Thursday, September 06, 2007

New York Times
September 7, 2007
Muted Expectations as Benedict Heads to Austria

ROME, Sept. 6 — For all the reverent round-the-clock coverage, a papal trip is not really aimed at the general public. Popes travel to talk to believers — and that will be the case too when Benedict XVI arrives in Austria on Friday.

But the three-day visit to Austria, an overwhelmingly Catholic country with a strained relationship with its faith, highlights a central — and difficult — question of Benedict’s papacy: Which believers, exactly, does this pope talk to?

“We are good Catholics, of course,” said Martha Heizer, vice president of We Are Church, a group that neatly symbolizes the troubles that Roman Catholicism faces in Europe. “We are in the church and stayed in the church.”

Planning for We Are Church began in Austria in 1995 and the organization has since grown into one of the largest and most vocal Catholic groups. The group asked, but Benedict will not meet with its leaders on this trip to discuss problems facing Austria in particular, but many other once solidly Catholic countries as well: declining Mass attendance, lingering anger over pedophilia scandals, an unmet desire for renewal of church life.

The problem is that We Are Church is a liberal group that embraces marriage for priests and ordination of women — two positions that earned the group condemnation from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in a letter he wrote in 1998, seven years before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI. The group, he wrote, has “an understanding of morality which directly contradicts Catholic teaching.”

And so Austria is one key battleground in the larger war over the soul of a church evermore in decline in Europe. That struggle explains why, to some degree, excitement over the visit from a fellow German-speaker seems muted in Austria, so much so that the Vatican has lowered expectations over how big the crowds might be.

At the heart of the struggle is how to reconcile competing visions for rejuvenating the church.
In a papacy that seems increasingly conservative, Benedict seems intent on achieving this by engaging more traditional believers like himself.

This summer he loosened rules on saying the old Latin Mass, aimed partly at mending a rift with ultra-traditionalist Catholics on the church’s right wing. He also repeated his contentious belief that Catholicism is the only true church, a statement many in the church’s left and middle worry will hurt ties with other denominations.

Many liberal Catholics generally complain that the pope barely acknowledges them, and that their vision of the church could also help revive it. In Austria, that seems to have added to anger and frustration that has simmered since at least 1995, when a major scandal over pedophile priests erupted there, a painful preview of later scandals in the United States, Mexico and elsewhere that gave birth to We Are Church.

“In the beginning of his papacy the pope was for many people ‘simpatico,’ ” said the Rev. Rudolf Schermann, who edits a Catholic magazine in Austria that has pressed for changes in the church. But more recently, he said, the view has grown more skeptical, with the feeling that Benedict is unlikely to veer far from his view of church tradition or consult with those unlike him.

“The people of Austria are believers, but not without criticism,” Father Schermann said.
To be sure, the problems of the Austrian church, and of the churches around Europe, run deeper than the question of which wing of the church the pope engages. For decades in decline, the number of Austrians who call themselves Catholic has dropped, in a recent survey, to 74 percent, along with the numbers of those paying a state-administered “church tax” of $340 a year.

Colliding with this larger cultural shift away from Catholicism, anger exploded in 1995 over charges that Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër, the archbishop of Vienna at the time, had molested youths two decades earlier.

“Don’t leave the church!” Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, exhorted Austrians on his last trip there in 1998. Even then, crowds far smaller than expected embarrassed the Vatican.
Since 2004, defections from the faith have reportedly risen again, after some 40,000 pornographic images, including those of children, were discovered at a seminary near Vienna.
On the eve of the pope’s trip, there has been no disguising the difficulties of the Austrian church. The nation’s leading cleric, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, contended recently on Vatican Radio that “after very difficult times,” he saw a “great awakening” in Austria among those who understand that “our society needs the Gospel, prayer, faith.”

One unanswered question is whether Benedict will acknowledge the scandals, or even offer some apology for them, something Catholics of all leanings say they would like. Many expect some gesture.

“What the pope wants to do is simply to establish again a trust in the Catholic church, to say, ‘These terrible things happened but the church is aware of this,’ ” said Andreas Englisch, the Vatican reporter for the German newspaper Bild and author of books about John Paul and Benedict.

On whether Benedict might change his mind and reach out to groups like We Are Church, on this trip or anywhere else, Mr. Englisch and others are far more skeptical.

“He loves talking to people with a different opinion,” he said. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he engaged in public forums with nonbelievers like the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas and Marcello Pera, former president of the Italian senate.

“But he is talking to someone else — it is out of the church,” Mr. Englisch noted. Dissenting inside the church, he said, is a more difficult question for Benedict, who often speaks of church doctrine as truth, not negotiated but accepted.

Some experts question whether Benedict really intends to freeze out liberal groups. The Rev. John Paul Wauk, professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, noted that Benedict met with his old liberal rival, the Rev. Hans Küng, in the early days of his papacy and that he maintained ties with a left-leaning Italian group, the Community of St. Egidio.
Beyond that, Father Wauk said, he is not sure a papal trip is the best venue for discussing dissent in the church.

“He is there to teach the faith of the church,” he said. “That’s his role. In a public manner, the pope’s vocation as pastor of the church is not academic dialogue, one-on-one, which clearly Cardinal Ratzinger was comfortable with.”

But many point to his session with Dr. Küng, for years a harsh critic of Cardinal Ratzinger, as the only known meeting with a liberal.

In a telephone interview, Dr. Küng declined to comment directly on the meeting, instead speaking generally about the coming visit.

“I still hope that the pope would address the real issues of the church in Austria: the tremendous lack of priests, the exit of hundreds of thousands of people, the decay of this church, and to give constructive practical answers, and not only exhortations.”

If in fact it is the pope’s strategy to ignore the liberal wing, not everyone is certain he is mistaken, either on doctrine or strategy. Like Cardinal Ratzinger, many conservative Catholics argue that some liberals stand against church doctrine and deserve isolation. Some liberals worry not about their orthodoxy but whether their time may be passing.

The Rev. Paul M. Zulehner, director of the Institute of Pastoral Theology in Vienna, noted that a recent survey showed the most excitement about the pope’s visit among Catholics under 20. He said the young were more conservative, and were not joining groups like We Are Church.

“Liberals are decreasing in numbers,” he said. “They are elderly people. They are people like me. They were involved and very hopeful that the church could make changes. But the church is not now a church of changes.”

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Some things just need to be called to the attention of others. I loved this Letter to the Editor from Fr. Eric Groner in Greenville, Mississippi

From the Delta Democrat Times Newspaper

Just who's the thug? The pope or the professor?

To the editor:

Does professor Walter E. Williams of George Mason University write like a thug?

This is the question I pose after reading Professor Williams' column, “Pope Benedict XVI sanctions the OECD thugs” on Aug. 29, 2007.

According to Webster's Dictionary, a thug is a “thief, brutal ruffian or assassin: Gangster, killer.”

Has the OECD ever killed, beaten up or stolen something from anyone?Are the members of the OECD wanted by the law enforcement agencies around the world?

If the answer to these questions is no, then the thug title doesn't fit them. In a free society, we can disagree with other people's politics and philosophies of life, but that doesn't give us the right to call them names and cast aspersions on them. The mere inference that Pope Benedict supports or sanctions thugs in some way, shape or form is over the top. One might even say that an attempt to smear, steal or kill another person's good name whom we disagree with is a thuggish act.

In our society today, many writers engage in attention-grabbing headlines to entice people to read their work. It seems that professor Williams in his article doesn't understand what “tax evasion” means, why it is bad for a society governed by the rule of law and why Pope Benedict is against this type of behavior.

Maybe we should call Professor Williams “the nutty professor” for his own myopic world view and critique of an unfinished document that he hasn't even read. The nutty professor is complaining about an encyclical that is still in the writing stage, and his sources are based on hearsay information. A true gentleman and scholar would at least reserve judgment and not engage in such thuggery until after reading the finished encyclical.

I think one answer to the tax evasion/tax avoidance question that Professor Williams might want to consider can be found in the Bible. Jesus was asked if it was right to pay taxes to the emperor, and he responded that we should give to God what is God's and give to Caesar what is Caesar's.

Father Eric Groner, SVDSacred Heart ChurchGreenville

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Pope urges young to care for planet
By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press WriterSun Sep 2, 4

The planet risks irreversible decline from environmentally unsustainable development, Pope Benedict XVI warned Sunday, urging young Catholics to take the lead in caring for the Earth and its precious resources.

During an open-air Mass on the final day of a weekend religious youth rally that drew about 500,000 people to the town of Loreto, Italy's most important shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Benedict said the world's water supply particularly needed to be preserved and shared equitably to avoid conflicts.

The Loreto meeting organized by the Italian bishops' conference carried a strong environmental message. Participants were given biodegradable plates, recycling bags for their trash and a hand-cranked cell-phone recharger.

Benedict told the crowd, camped out under umbrellas and tents on a vast, dusty field on the Adriatic coast, that it was up to them to save the planet from development that had often ignored "nature's delicate equilibrium."

"Before it's too late, we need to make courageous choices that will recreate a strong alliance between man and Earth," Benedict said in his homily. "We need a decisive 'yes' to care for creation and a strong commitment to reverse those trends that risk making the situation of decay irreversible."

He said water needed to be preserved since "it unfortunately becomes a source of strong tensions and conflicts if it isn't shared in an equitable and peaceful manner."

Benedict lamented this week the environmental impact of recent forest fires in Italy and Greece. And during his summer vacation in the mountains, he spoke frequently about the importance of nature — God's creation — in inspiring spirituality.

Under Benedict, the Vatican has been taking steps toward greater environmental sustainability. It has joined a reforestation project aimed at offsetting its CO2 emissions, and has also said it was installing solar cells on the roof of its main auditorium.

Benedict urged the young to "go against the grain" and not be seduced by pressure, including from the mass media, to succeed at all costs in arrogant, egotistical ways.

"Be vigilant! Be critical! Don't get swept up in the wave of this powerful persuasion," he said. "Don't be afraid, dear friends, to take the 'alternate' path indicated by true love: a sober and solid lifestyle, with loving, sincere and pure relations, an honest commitment to studies and work, and the profound interest in the common good."

Andrea Ringressi, 29, and his girlfriend of three years, Marta Iuzzolini, 27, said they appreciated the pope's green message, particularly during an event that was producing small mountains of plastic water bottles and other refuse.

"It's a good idea here, because there's so much garbage!" Iuzzolini said as she surveyed the grounds, which by the end of the weekend had turned into a very un-ecological field of plastic tarps and garbage bags.
But the couple, who traveled across Italy from the Tuscan city of Pisa for the event, said Benedict's other main message — about how young people should not be afraid to commit themselves to marriage even though so many marriages fail — had particular resonance.

"Marriage is a challenge that we are thinking about," Ringressi said, as he snuggled with Iuzzolini under an umbrella. "I appreciate that he says there are difficulties, but that if you have this desire, this will to follow your dreams, confide in Jesus."

The meeting was an Italian warm-up for next year's World Youth Day, in Sydney, Australia, which the 80-year-old pope plans to attend.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Pope says Mother Teresa felt "God's silence"
Sat Sep 1, 2:38
Pope Benedict said on Saturday that even the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta "suffered from the silence of God" despite her immense charity and faith.

The Pope, addressing a youth rally in central Italy, referred to a new book that reveals that the Roman Catholic nun was deeply tormented about her faith and suffered periods of doubt about God.

It is significant that the Pope mentioned Mother Teresa's torment about God's silence as not being unusual because there was some speculation that the letters could hurt the procedure to make her a saint.

"All believers know about the silence of God," he said in unprepared remarks. "Even Mother Teresa, with all her charity and force of faith, suffered from the silence of God," he said.
He said believers sometimes had to withstand the silence of God in order to understand the situation of people who do not believe.

Due out on September 4, the book, "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light" is a collection of letters written to colleagues and superiors over 66 years.

The ethnic Albanian nun, who dedicated her life to poor, sick and dying in India, died in 1997 aged 87.

Mother Teresa had wanted all her letters destroyed, but the Vatican ordered they be preserved as potential relics of a saint, according to a spokeswoman for Doubleday, the U.S. publisher of the book.

Mother Teresa has been beatified but has not yet been made a saint.

Time magazine, which has first serial rights, published excerpts on its Web site last month.
When the German-born pontiff visited the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz last year, he publicly asked why God was silent when 1.5 million victims, mostly Jews, died there.

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