Monday, May 31, 2010

Salve Regina

Exam Prayer

Lord Jesus,
for me and all my fellow students,
may we have Your help today and
all the days of these exams.

May I be assured of Your
friendship and the friendship
of all who wish me well.

Just give me a clear mind,
a reassurance that the work
I've done will be enough
and that I can believe
in myself and
my ability.

If, for a moment,
that belief should fail,
may I depend
on those I know
who are praying
for me.


Medicine and Miracles

Catholics are accustomed to hearing about miracles and people being cured through the intercession of the saints, but today's materialistic culture often looks on this with scepticism.

British author John Cornwell has a book on Cardinal John Henry Newman coming out at the end of May, and the Sunday Times recently gave him a lengthy space to voice his doubts about the validity of the miracle that was approved by the Vatican as the basis for Newman's beatification this coming September.

In his May 9 piece Cornwell states that the Vatican documentation of the miracle "enters the realms of astonishingly arcane medieval language and mindset."

Cornwell then proceeds to cast doubt on the medical reliability of the cure, not forgetting to add in for good measure numerous sweeping criticisms of Benedict XVI.

Cornwell is not alone in casting aspersions on the use of miraculous cures. Last December, after Rome announced the approval of the miracle required for the canonization of Australia's Sister Mary Mackillop, a medical specialist in Sydney, David Goldstein, expressed his doubts.

In an article published Dec. 22 in the Australian newspaper, he said that it is impossible to determine if improvements in patients were the result of prayers.

The Anglican bishop of North Sydney, Glenn Davies, was also critical, according to a Dec. 24 report in the Australian. "Who can prove that the reported miracles were actually the work of Mary McKillop?" Bishop Davies asked.

Fortunately, a handy guide to dealing with these and similar objections was published last year by Jacalyn Duffin, a physician who holds the Hannah Chair for the history of medicine at Queen's University, Ontario, Canada.

In her book "Medical Miracles: Doctors, Saints, and Healing in the Modern World" (Oxford University Press), she examined 1,400 miracles cited in canonizations from 1588 to 1999.

Her curiosity about miracles was sparked by being asked to examine tissue samples she subsequently found out were part of a canonization process. On receiving as a present a copy of the "positio," the documentation of the miracle, Duffin suddenly realized that such files must exist for every canonized saint.

During several stays in Rome she researched hundreds of these records. Duffin calculated that she was able to review from a third to a half of all miracles deposited in the Vatican archives since the rules governing canonizations were laid down in 1588.


The new regulations that were part of the Counter-Reformation reforms required careful gathering of evidence and a scrupulous examination of the material by medical and scientific experts. Paolo Zacchia (1584-1659) played an important part in formulating the guidelines, Duffin explained.

In his writings he presented an explanation of the different types of miracles and defined that for a healing to be deemed miraculous it should be of an incurable illness and the recovery should be complete and instantaneous. Duffin noted that medical experts working for the Vatican continued to cite Zacchia until well into the 20th century.

Some criticize physical healings as the basis for declaring saints, but Duffin commented that the need for credible evidence pushed the selection process toward healings as there could be independent witnesses, including doctors.

Over time there were changes in some of the modalities of the canonization process, but considering the records of the last four centuries, Duffin declared that she was impressed by the remarkable stability in the commitment to science.

In fact, the Church has consistently relied on a scientific scepticism to test the validity of the miracles. In the records of the miracles that Duffin examined she found that clerics readily deferred to the opinion of scientists. The religious authorities withheld a judgment of supernatural activity until they were convinced that the experts were prepared to label the events as inexplicable.

"Religion relies on the best of human wisdom before it imposes a judgment from inspired doctrine," Duffin stated.

One point that she added to this relationship between religion and science was that religion tends to more comfortable with science than vice versa.

In the processes some physicians were discomforted, as if their cooperation would constitute a betrayal of their commitment to the idea of Western medicine that rejects the proposal that diseases or cures are of divine origin.

Duffin noted that in the 19th century, Catholics and Protestants argued over the matter of whether an absence of an explanation for a cure does really mean that the event is a miracle. That debate continues, she added, as when one of her colleagues explained that while we may not know the natural explanation, one must exist.

But, Duffin objected, such an attitude does not really address the most crucial question when it comes to medical miracles. The positivist attitude that refuses to accept miracles takes the position that if something is wondrous we must reject it as an illusion or lying, because there is only the natural world. Such confidence in a natural explanation is, in fact, a belief masquerading as fact, Duffin argued. In other words, to assert that a miracle simply cannot occur is no more rational and no less than an act of faith than is the assertion that miracles can happen.

The difference between the religious and positivist approaches lies in the interpretation of the evidence, Duffin commented. The medical canon is immersed in an antideistic tradition, while for religion all plausible scientific explanations must be eliminated, after which they are prepared to declare a miracle.

In both approaches what is left is that which is unknown, but the religious observers are prepared to accept divine agency.

Medical knowledge

While some may refuse to admit the possibility of divine intervention, the Catholic Church is certainly careful to utilize all of medicine's resources so as to eliminate any natural explanations of cures. In one of the book's chapters Duffin examined the use of medical knowledge in the canonization process.

For a start, the Vatican does not recognize healing miracles in people who have refused orthodox medicine to rely solely on faith. The intervention of doctors provides objective medical evidence that avoids any possible manipulation of the case in question.

In her studies of the files, Duffin found that the predominance of testimony by doctors increases through time. The files she reviewed showed that in the 17th century an average of one doctor was named in each record, but only a small proportion of them gave evidence in person. After 1700, however, at least a third or more of the physicians mentioned in a record provided testimony in person.

In the second half of the 17th century, the evidence of the physicians treating the patient was supplemented by independent medical observers. Eventually the number of expert doctors consulted increased until it matched or even surpassed the attending physicians.

Duffin also pointed out that the Church does not rely exclusively on Catholic doctors. The inquiries examined the faith of all witnesses, doctors included.

As prior to the 20th century, most of the miracles came from European countries where the majority of the doctors were Catholic.

Many, nevertheless, admitted they did not regularly practice their faith, and a couple had even been excommunicated. None, however, were disqualified from being witnesses.

In more recent times doctors who were of other faiths, or who openly profess to be of no religion, have testified.

In the end a miracle is only declared when the doctors are prepared to admit their own ignorance as to how a person recovered when the best scientific medicine failed.

An admission that the contemporary mentality of pride in modern knowledge and science finds hard to make.

SIC: Zenit

Madrid cardinal calls on priests to be 'ministers of authentic joy'

The Archbishop of Madrid and president of the Bishops’ Conference of Spain, Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, praised the “great service” of priests around the world, “especially in these times marked by discouragement, skepticism and sadness.”

The prelate then encouraged them to be “ministers of authentic joy.”

During Mass at the Cathedral of Toledo for the 10th National Eucharistic Congress, Cardinal Rouco said, “We must spare no effort in encouraging priestly vocations and underscoring to the faithful the true meaning and necessity of the priestly ministry.”

He also spoke of the Eucharist, saying, “Without the Eucharist, there is no Church and without priests there is no Eucharist, and thus there is no Church.”

“We must not forget that the security of man to draw near the true altar of God depends decisively on the priestly ministry that takes place in the Church as Eucharistic ministry,” the cardinal said.

He reminded priests during the Mass that with prayer, “The Christian communities we serve become authentic schools of prayer, as John Paul II desired and requested.”

He called the Eucharistic Congress “a new invitation to give thanks to God for our ministry and for the supreme gift of the Eucharist that we must embrace with devotion.”


Holy Face nun beatified, remembered by Pope Benedict XVI

Mother Maria Pierina De Micheli was beatified in Rome on Sunday.

Although he was not present at the rite, after the Angelus he commemorated her for her "extraordinary devotion" to the Holy Face of Christ.

The beatification ceremony, presided over by the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Archbishop Angelo Amato, took place on Trinity Sunday at the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

According to Vatican Radio, many of those present at the rite were from Argentina and other parts of South America, a sign of the love for her in her adopted home of Buenos Aires.

Archbishop Amato reportedly said that the trinitarian stamp that marks each of us as children of the Father, brothers of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit has even greater visibility in the saints.

Blessed Pierina, he stated, was "a trinitarian creature, shaped by the mercy of the Father, redeemed by the Crucified son and enriched by the grace of the Spirit of holiness."

The Holy Father spoke briefly of the life of the nun from the Daughters of the Immaculate Conception order in the Argentinean capital after the Angelus on Sunday.

Born in 1890 in Milan, Italy, she followed other siblings into the religious life, dedicating herself to education in Argentina and Italy from the age of 23 until her death in 1945. She had an "extraordinary devotion" to the Holy Face, he said, which saw her through trials and sicknesses.

During Sunday's Mass at St. Mary Major, the prefect of saint's causes listed this devotion along with her Marian piety and her offering of prayer and suffering for the sanctification of priests as the three characteristics of holiness defined by Pope Benedict XVI in the Apostolic Letter concerning her beatification.

The archbishop explained that Mother Pierina's devotion to the Holy Face originated in visions she had of Immaculate Mary holding a scapular with the face of Jesus on one side and a radiant host on the other. She was told by the Virgin of the images' value as an armor of defense and a token of Jesus' mercy and love.

She later produced the Holy Face from the visions in the form of a medal that was distributed around the world.

Concluding, Archbishop Amato remembered her for the "concrete sign" she left in history of the Triune God and how she still "invites all people to see the attraction of divine beauty."

The remains of Blessed Pierina reside at the Holy Spirit Institute in Rome.


Pope asks for prayers for June Cyprus trip

The Holy Father asked for prayers on behalf of his coming trip to Cyprus during the English greeting after Sunday's Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square.

He was joined for the Marian prayer by an estimated 50,000 faithful and pilgrims.

Referring to his coming Apostolic Journey to Cyprus, from June 4-6, Pope Benedict said he would be going to the nation "to meet and pray with the Catholic and Orthodox faithful there and to consign the Instrumentum Laboris (working document) for the upcoming Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Middle East."

The document will serve to further the process of establishing the scope and focus of the Special Assembly to take place in October of this year in the Vatican with the theme "The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness. 'Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul.'"

The Holy Father asked for prayers for this encounter of preparation and also for "prayers for the peace and prosperity of all the people of Cyprus."

Concluding his English language blessing, he invoked the blessing of the most holy Trinity upon all present and their "loved ones at home."


Parents ignore limousine ban at First Communion

A number of parents have ignored a plea from a priest in Drogheda to drop the growing practice of having their children ferried to their First Holy Communion in limousines.

Fr David Bradley had written to parents of children from Marymount School in the town who were scheduled to receive First Communion last weekend at the Holy family Church.

In a gently-worded hint, he requested that parents desist from hiring stretch limousines or horse-drawn carriages because of “demand on parking space”.

He explained that guidelines were being issued about behaviour at the ceremony because incidents had occurred at previous First Communion ceremonies that “completely ruined” what were otherwise nice ceremonies.

However, several parents ignored the request not to use elaborate transport and some children were seen arriving at the church in vehicles which included a stretch limousine, a 'Princess’ horse-drawn carriage and another pink limousine.

One parent said later that minor traffic disruption was caused by a glass carriage and some large cars at the same time and that after Fr Bradley spoke to some of the occupants, they moved along.

The parent said she supported Fr Bradley’s position because the ceremony was “not a wedding” and she believed the use of ostentatious transport “takes from the meaning of the day”.

Other requests to parents in the priest’s letter related to the use of cameras and to the importance of switching off mobile phones.

Fr Bradley also asked them to ensure that neither they or the children chewed gum during the ceremony and that no-one was to stand at the back of the Church.

He also issued an instruction that anyone who went out of the Church during Mass to smoke would not be re-admitted.

His letter said it was “regretful” that he had to impose such conditions “as many families and guests are respectful and prayerful during ceremonies”.

“However we do have to be realistic and be mindful of those who can and have in the past, completely ruined what otherwise may have been a lovely ceremony”.


In Moscow, Orthodox Churches Draw Closer

President Dmitry Medvedev warmly welcomed the spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians on Tuesday, hailing improving ties between Russia's powerful church and its ancestor faith.

Relations among the Orthodox have improved after past strains when churches in Estonia and Ukraine broke away from the Russian mother church and tried to pledge allegiance to the patriarch in Istanbul.

"The visit of your holiness is a significant event and, beyond all doubt, it will help strengthen the dialogue which always linked the two sisterly churches," Medvedev told Bartholomew, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, according to a transcript published by the Kremlin.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has assigned a high priority to improving interfaith relations since his election last year. Church sources say dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church has improved markedly and a historic meeting between Pope Benedict and Kirill is now a prospect.

Medvedev said Bartholomew's visit was "especially important, taking into account the fact that Russia is a country where the majority of the population is Christian Orthodox in its faith."

The size and growing political clout of the Russian church, which has strong backing from Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, contrasts sharply with Bartholomew, who has a tiny flock and is under severe pressure from the Turkish authorities.

Turkey refuses to recognize Bartholomew's full title and has kept his church's main seminary in Halki closed despite pressure from the European Union and U.S. President Barack Obama.

Addressing Bartholomew, Medvedev stressed "the constructive and fully-fledged dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the state … that allows us to tackle very hard tasks."

Underlining his status as Orthodox leader, Bartholomew replied: "We, as the mother church, are glad about this success and harmony, about these kind relations of cooperation which exist between the state and the Russian Orthodox Church."

Muslim Istanbul, formerly the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, is the ancient seat of Orthodox Christianity.

Kirill, who leads the biggest of the Orthodox churches with 160 million believers, visited Bartholomew in 2009 to show his interest in improving relations.

Greeting Bartholomew in Moscow, Kirill has shown deference to his guest and even personally translated his address from Greek into Russian for the congregation during a solemn service in Moscow's gold-domed Christ the Savior Cathedral.

The previous day, the two church leaders led a procession of roughly 40,000 through central Moscow to commemorate Cyril and Methodius, the missionaries who brought Orthodoxy to the Slavs in the ninth century and devised the Cyrillic alphabet.

Amid the signs of mutual respect, it was unclear whether the two sides discussed the contentious issue of breakaway Orthodox Churches in Ukraine and Estonia.

Religion experts said that the significance of Bartholomew's visit to Moscow could not be overestimated.

"This is an extraordinary visit," said Father Mark Arey, of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, an expert on relations between Moscow and Constantinople.

"It signals a real synergy for world Orthodoxy and shows they [the patriarchs] are working toward solutions of the problems they have."


The truth about Opus Dei (Contribution)

I have always been shocked at how little people in the UK know about Opus Dei, the ultra-secretive Catholic organisation mostly present in Spain, Italy and South America, but also active here.

I have more knowledge of it than I would like, having studied at the Opus Dei-owned University of Navarre in Pamplona, northern Spain, in the early 1990s when it was the top university to go to.

On beautiful spring days, in-love couples would keep a distance (Opus Dei condemns pre-marital sex).

Students dressed conservatively. The system favoured those close to what we called "the cause", who dominated the clubs or extracurricular groups.

This crowd would also lead tutorials, leaving the contrarians at the back (I was an independent minority, sitting towards the front). Some students came from Opus Dei-owned schools and knew how to play the system, even if they didn't always follow strict Opus Dei guidance.

Others were full members: rich (it is a private university), smart, attractive 20-year-olds who avoided the opposite sex in order to avoid temptation. I had friends among both groups. Some were helped by a celice, a spiked ring, worn so tightly around their legs that they would bleed, in order to suppress desire.

Opus Dei membership, in theory, is not allowed until 18, but I knew people who had opted for celibacy at 13, and had spent years using the celice. I have stayed in touch with some of my fellow students. A few have now left the organisation, in some cases rather traumatically.

Not all Opus Dei members are celibate. The group also includes "supernumeraries", members who marry and who follow strict guidelines such as daily mass attendance or the Catholic church's ban on contraception.

Needless to say, Opus Dei sees women as mothers or housewives, and at university boys were given preferential treatment – in my year, a group of male students went on a trip to meet newspaper editors in the US; women were barred, on the pretext that it was organised by one of the Opus Dei male-only clubs.

The organisation has become more open following the publicity over Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. It has a website and a communications team aimed at making it look transparent.

But still, Opus Dei members don't proclaim their allegiance and often meet in anonymous flats or churches.

The group claims that it believes in freedom.

But obsessively insisting to teenagers that pre-marital sex is a sin, or suggesting they wear a celice to help them remain celibate, is far from freedom-enhancing.


Royal Mail get date of Reformation wrong on new stamp

THE Royal Mail have been branded second class after getting the date for the Scottish Reformation wrong.

Post Office bosses issued a John Knox stamp bearing the slogan "Reformation 1559".

But last night, historians slammed the blunder as the Reformation happened a year later in 1560 - with this year marking the 450th anniversary.

The mistake was spotted by a 75-year-old philatelist from Aberdeenshire who - unfortunately for the Royal Mail - also holds a PHD in church theology.

Retired personnel manager Dr Sandy Waugh, from Banchory, said: "They have got the wrong date. It is a bit off and very embarrassing

"They should have done more research.

"After all, it's the 450th anniversary of the Reformation, which banned Papal supremacy - and to compound the timing of the mistake even more, the Pope is due here in September.

"This must be up there with their biggest mistakes. I think it was nice to have a stamp of John Knox but they could have at least got the date right."

The Reformation established Scotland as a Protestant country and broke ties with Rome and the Pope.

Knox led the revolution that sparked a turbulent period across the country and shaped Scotland for centuries to come.

The Royal Mail's mistake has also reignited a row about the failure to recognise this year's anniversary.

Professor Tom Devine, from Edinburgh University, has branded the low-key approach adopted by the Scottish government as "scandalous".

The historian said: "The Royal Mail has got the date wrong. The formal date of the Scottish Reformation is the middle of 1560, when the act of parliament that banned the Mass and cut the link with Rome was passed.

"But at least the Royal Mail have recognised the momentous event, which is more than the Scottish government, and to some extent the Church of Scotland, have. It has all been very low key."

The Royal Mail issued the stamps as part of a series about the reign of the Stewarts.

A Royal Mail spokeswoman said: "The stamp featuring John Knox is specifically designed to commemorate the role played by John Knox in the Scottish Reformation.

"It focuses on the importance of the year 1559 in John Knox's career, as that was when he returned from exile in Geneva to lead the campaign for the Scottish Reformation.

"The significance of the year 1559 is explained in the presentation pack published by Royal Mail, of which the John Knox stamp is one part.

"The stamp is about John Knox and, therefore, there has been no error made by Royal Mail on this stamp."

In August, First Minister Alex Salmond said that requests to the government for support in marking the 450th anniversary of the Reformation in Scotland would be considered.

A government spokesman said: "We are working with the Church of Scotland and others to ensure this important anniversary is properly commemorated, and we will make further announcements in due course."


Serbian patriarch invites Pope for first ever visit to Serbia

Serbian Patriarch Irinej has invited Pope Benedict XVI to Serbia, for the pontiff's first-ever visit, Belgrade daily Novosti reported on Sunday.

The pope, if he accepts, will travel to Serbia in 2013 for a celebration of the anniversary of the Edict of Milan.

"Representatives of all churches will be invited to the celebration of 1,700 years of the Edict of Milan in Nis in 2013 and there is no reason to pass the Church of Rome," Irinej said.

In 313 Roman Emperor Constantine and Emperor Licinius, who ruled the eastern parts of the empire, signed the Edict of Milan which proclaimed religious toleration in the Roman empire. Constantine was born in Naissus - the modern day southern Serbian city of Nis.

"I hope that (the celebration) will be a chance for a new relationship between theWestern and the Eastern churches," Irinej said.

The relations between the Serbian Orthodox Church, with roots in the Byzantine part of the Roman Empire, and the Vatican have been strained since World War II, when the Hitler-backed regime in Croatia, a Catholic country, killed tens of thousands of Serbs in concentration camps.

SIC: ETimes

Egypt court orders Coptic church to allow remarriage

A court in Egypt has ordered the Coptic church to allow its faithful to remarry, quashing an appeal by the head of the church, local media reported on Sunday.

"By law, a Christian can remarry and the constitution guarantees his rights to have a (new) family. The appeal by Pope Shenuda III to prevent Copts from remarrying is rejected," Egypt's High Administrative Court said in its judgement, which can not be appealed.

The ruling relates to the case of Hani Wasfi, an Egyptian Copt who complained against the pope's refusal to let him remarry after having been divorced.

After initially losing his case in a lower court, the leader of Egypt's Coptic minority launched an appeal in the high court.

Divorce is forbidden by the Coptic church except in proven cases of adultery, or if a spouse converts to another religion or branch of Christianity.

Civil marriage alone, without a religious ceremony, is not recognised in Egypt.

Copts make up about 10 percent of the country's 80-million largely Muslim population, and are the Middle East's biggest Christian community.

The church's strict conditions for remarriage have been subject to growing criticism by Copts themselves as well as civil rights organisations.


Apostolic visitation of US sisters now in its third phase

At the end of 2008, with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI, Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé, who heads up the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, announced an Apostolic Visitation of the institutes of women religious in the United States.

He appointed as Apostolic Visitator Mother Mary Clare Millea, Described by the New York Times as "an apple-cheeked American with a black habit and smiling eyes", the superior general of her order, the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and lives in Rome

The stated purpose of the visitation was "to look into the quality of life of the apostolic congregations of women religious".

The investigation was to look at the way women's orders are run and why the numbers of vocations are falling.

In 1965 there were 173,865 women religious, while in 2000 this had fallen to 79,876, a loss of 54 percent.

Some of the largest religious orders that once staffed parochial schools and administered Catholic hospitals surrendered their traditional roles, some to work with the poor and more marginalised groups, while others have opted for what are seen as more fashionable political causes, such as feminism and eco-spirituality.

The first phase of the visitation was an invitation to the heads of orders to dialogue directly with Mother Clare; the second was the completion of a comprehensive survey of basic information by the major superiors in the United States.

The third phase now in progress is an on-site visitation to various congregations. Seventy-eight women and men religious were chosen to visit selected houses this spring and autumn.

It will conclude on 12th December.

At the end Mother Millea will use the data gathered to prepare her report for Cardinal Rodé.

Indications are that while initially the sisters resented the imposition of the visitation, they have now accepted it and are getting on with their lives.


Killarney cathedral could give tourism a boost: Fianna Fáil councillor

A continental trend which sees cathedrals being used as viewing platforms for their locality should be taken up in Ireland according to Killarney Fianna Fáil Town Councillor Tom Doherty.

He said that Killarney should use its famous St Mary's Cathredal to give tourism a kick start in the area.

Planning for an observation wheel in the County Kerry town similar to London's big Wheel was recently ruled out by the local council.

Now Cllr Tom Doherty has suggested that the town council use the local cathedral tower as a means of viewing the town.

Speaking this week to The Kingdom newspaper, Cllr Doherty claimed: "Killarney has a natural viewing tower situated in St Mary's Cathedral. Throughout Europe many churches are open to the public offering panoramic views of their locality and hinterlands. This opportunity may also be viable in Killarney".

He claimed that permission would have to be sought from the church authirities before this could be done.

The landmark cathedral was designed by Augustus Welby Pugin in the mid-nineteenth century and constructed in the neo-gothic style with the tower and spire reaching up to 86 metres.

It was completed in 1912.


Survey shows Americans split on abortion, sexual morality and divorce

A new survey report shows division in the American public.

While half of Americans find abortion to be morally wrong, they are evenly split on the issue of doctor-assisted suicide.

Though a large majority says adultery is morally wrong, majorities of respondents find other sexual immorality and divorce to be acceptable.

The poll, part of Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs survey, was conducted May 3-6.

The organization contacted 1,029 adults for the survey and claims a margin of error of plus or minus four percent.

Only about 38 percent of respondents thought abortion was morally acceptable, with 50 percent recognizing it as morally wrong.

Differences in party affiliation were evident, as 51 percent of Democrats, 39 percent of Independents, and 26 percent of Republicans said the practice was morally acceptable.

Only 36 percent of women said abortion was morally acceptable, while 41 percent of men did.

Almost 60 percent of Americans declared embryonic stem cell research to be morally acceptable, with 68 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of independents, and 47 percent of Republicans accepting the practice.

Less than 10 percent of all respondents said human cloning is acceptable.

While 77 percent of respondents said suicide is morally wrong, 46 percent said the same about assisted suicide. Only 26 percent thought the death penalty is morally wrong.

Fewer than 10 percent of respondents said polygamy or extramarital affairs are morally acceptable, but 69 percent said divorce was.

Only 38 percent said sexual relations between an unmarried man and woman are morally wrong, with men more likely to find them acceptable than women.

Fewer than half of Republicans said such acts are morally acceptable, but so did around 65 percent of both Democrats and independents.

For the first time, Gallup says, more than half of respondents said homosexual acts are morally acceptable. About 35 percent of Republicans agreed, as did 61 percent of Democrats and Independents.

An October 2009 survey report from the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life also claimed that only about half of Americans think homosexual acts are morally wrong.

However, given the options of deeming the subject “morally acceptable” or “not a moral issue,” only 12 percent of respondents to that poll chose the former option while 35 percent chose the latter.

According to Gallup, its poll showed the greatest gender gap on the subject of the use of animals for furs or for experimentation.

Only half of women found the wearing of fur acceptable, but 73 percent of men did.

About 40 percent of men accepted the cloning of animals, compared to 19 percent of women.

Men were also more likely to accept medical testing on animals.


Priest accused of shoplifting butter, sofa cover

A Roman Catholic priest who formerly served in Belleville and Breese is accused of shoplifting butter and a sofa cover at a Wal-Mart in Southern Illinois.

Police in the village of West City arrested 41-year-old the Rev. Steven Poole on Friday. He's charged with two felony theft counts.

Investigators say Poole failed to scan a $3.22 container of butter and a $60 sofa cover at a self-checkout.

Poole then allegedly went to the store's bedding section, picked up a memory foam mattress and switched the pricing bar code. That caused the $145 item to be scanned for $31.

Allegedly, Poole also possessed a stolen laptop computer power pack.

He's the priest for St. Andrew's Catholic Church in Christopher and St. Mary's Catholic Church in Sesser.

Poole does not have a listed home telephone number, and messages left for him at the churches were not returned.

In 2001, Poole was convicted in St. Louis County Circuit Court of stealing an antique pub sign from a Ladue, Mo., antiques shop. He was sentenced to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service.

In January 2001, Poole filed a false report with the Breese Police Department that he had been beaten and robbed at St. Augustine's Church. He was sentenced to six months of court supervision.

After the incidents in 2001, Poole was assigned to St. Mary's Church in Belleville to serve as an assistant to the pastor there.

Diocesan leaders said then that Poole had undergone counseling. He remained at the Belleville church for about a year.


Two Female Priests Buried as Church Outsiders

Two funerals this month find women ordained as Catholic priests buried outside the church they were striving to change from within.

Mary Styne, 70, of Milwaukee, died May 12. She was ordained in 2009 by Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an organization that has been ordaining women to the priesthood in contravention of church law since 2002.

Janine Denomme, 45, of Chicago, died May 17, just weeks after her ordination by the same group; her funeral was May 22.

The women, both of whom died of cancer, are the first members of Roman Catholic Womenpriests to pass away.

The group now has more than 100 bishops, priests and deacons worldwide, mostly in the United States.

Women presided over both funerals.

While Styne's death and funeral were quiet, Denomme's drew renewed media attention to the battle lines running through the Catholic Church over women's ordination.

While Styne knew the Catholic hierarchy would never allow her funeral in a church and arranged for services at a nonsectarian chapel, Denomme's survivors asked to hold her funeral at St. Gertrude, the local parish she loved.

The Chicago Archdiocese refused.

"Those who willingly separate themselves from the church cannot be granted a church funeral unless they gave some sign of repentance before death," it said in a statement.

The Chicago Archdiocese said Denomme's excommunication resulted automatically from her participation in a "simulation" of ordination on April 10, five weeks before her death.

The church's decision to refuse burial upset many members of the progressive North Side parish, as did the fact that many of the conservative Catholic websites and blogs covering the story dwelt on how Denomme was a lesbian.

Some of the parishioners will meet Tuesday to discuss how or whether to formally respond.

"She followed her conscience," said Barbara Zeman, a Roman Catholic female priest in Chicago. "They threw her, and us, away."

Denomme expected to have her funeral at St. Gertrude, Zeman said. She went into the hospital almost immediately after her ordination, so she never had the experience of being excluded from the life of the parish that other female priests know.

Denomme was ordained to the deaconate in July 2009, a few months after being diagnosed with colon cancer. Over the next year, she chronicled her disease in a blog, which she saw as her ministry. The site attracted more than 23,000 visitors.

Bishop Joan Houk, of Roman Catholic Womenpriests' Great Lakes region, recalled that Denomme was so ill at her priestly ordination in April that she needed to lie in an upstairs chamber, rather than in the main sanctuary with the other candidate for ordination.

Houk shuttled back and forth between the two rooms to administer the sacrament.

Houk said the priests in her region thought the archdiocese's refusal to bury Denomme was senseless but unsurprising.

'Constant Denial to the Women'

"I see the constant denial to the women," Houk said in an interview at the wake. "Denial of community, denial of ministries such as lecturing or Eucharistic minister. They deny us the opportunity to pray on Catholic property."

Denomme's funeral was held at First United Methodist Church in a northern Chicago suburb, or "St. Gertrude's North," as a speaker at her wake irreverently dubbed it, to cheers and applause.

Styne's funeral was held in the Chapel of the Chimes at Wisconsin Memorial Park and she was buried by the funeral home Church and Chapel.

In Denomme's case, some parishioners said the archdiocese had told Rev. Dominic Grassi, pastor at St. Gertrude, that if he celebrated the funeral Mass at the parish it would be the last he'd ever say. Grassi declined to speak publicly about his conversation with Bishop Francis Kane.

"There was no way that our pastor could just go forward with a funeral," said Valency Hastings, a parishioner at St. Gertrude for eight years. "He would have been punished."

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's watchdog committee for doctrinal matters, declared in 1976 that women could never be priests because Jesus and his apostles were all male, and canon law codifies that stricture. Pope John Paul II, predecessor to the current pope, decreed an end to the ordination debate in 1994 in an apostolic letter.

Denomme's path to the priesthood began in her hometown of Detroit, where she played Mass with her three brothers, pretending to consecrate Chex cereal.

She came to Chicago in 1987 as a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and worked with homeless women. Most recently Denomme worked as youth program director at Center on Halsted, a community center serving gays, lesbians and transgendered people.

'Ruined for Life'

"I remember her wearing a T-shirt: 'JVC – Ruined for life,'" said her friend Rosie Gianforte in the eulogy. "She would say that her life was 'ruined' because she understood in a whole new way the inequalities and injustices in the world and once her consciousness had been raised, she was never the same again."

Friends and fellow parishioners at St. Gertrude described her as "gentle," "a peacemaker" and possessing the gifts of mediating disagreements and drawing out the talents of others. She was heavily involved at St. Gertrude: singing at Mass, volunteering as a spiritual director and religious teacher and preaching in the church's lay preaching program.

"She was really well-liked in the parish," Grassi said. "Loved."

Parishioners and female priests reacted to the archdiocese's decision with a mix of anger, sadness and forgiveness.

The day Denomme's partner, Nancy Katz, broke the news about the funeral on Denomme's blog, Susan Lersch resigned from St. Gertrude.

Lersch, a parishioner for eight years, voluntarily brought communion to the sick at a local long-term care facility; as such, she was officially representing the parish to the secular world.

But after the parish chose not to bury Denomme, she didn't feel she could go on as the church's representative.

"I did not feel comfortable representing that decision," she said. "It was time to go. A line had been crossed."

Other parishioners said they struggled to extend forgiveness. Ruth Giles-Ott, a parishioner for 15 years, said she attended a faith-sharing meeting on May 10 where the group members discussed the archdiocese's decision.

Christians are called to "radical love," she said, and that includes Cardinal Francis George.

Hastings said the parish has moved past anger into reconciliation, which is what Denomme would have wanted.

At the same time, "Cardinal George has to face these tough questions about the lack of compassion to someone who dedicated her whole life to the church and the hypocrisy we see in not carrying out the basic act of buying the dead," she said.


Devine slams anti-Catholic agenda in child sex abuse row

The Bishop of Motherwell, Joseph Devine, claims today that opponents of his church are using child sex abuse scandals to further an “insidious” anti-Catholic sectarian agenda.

In an interview with the Sunday Herald, to accompany an exclusive article on the scandals, Devine said sectarianism was “constant” for most Catholics in Scotland, adding: “The proper name for it is anti-Catholicism.”

In his article, Devine describes some commentators as “hell-bent on depicting the Catholic Church as the paedophile empire of sexual abuse against children”. He also attacks “scurrilous” attempts to smear the Pope with the ongoing scandals.

The bishop also told the Sunday Herald he wants to lay the issue of sex abuse to rest in Scotland ahead of the visit of Benedict XVI to Scotland in September.

Devine accepts some failings in the way the Catholic Church has dealt with abuse in the past, and says it is important to confront and atone for sins and betrayals.

The Church should compensate victims of abuse financially, and perpetrators should be prosecuted, he adds.

However, he also points to the family as the source of the majority of abuse, and claims that fewer than half of one per cent of the clergy had any sexual allegations made against them.

“Statistics reveal that more than 75% of all sexual abuse of minors happens in the family, perpetrated by family members, mostly those who are married, and by others known to the victims,” he writes.

“Sexual abuse of minors is not a ‘Catholic Church’ problem.”

Devine also says ongoing scandals have overshadowed good works by the church throughout the world to relieve poverty and suffering.

Claiming he is not attempting to downplay the suffering of victims who have experienced “grievous sins and perversions” at the hands of paedophile priests, Devine told the Sunday Herald that while there is “a certain amount of truth” in the allegations of a cover-up within the Church of sexual abuse, that is not the whole story.

“Thirty years ago, no-one spoke about this,” he said. “A friend of mine, a Jewish doctor, said to me in 1985 that he understood the difficulty faced by priests. That was because doctors were also struggling with this.

“When they saw babies who were black and blue, their response was to open the textbooks and look for the disease which had those symptoms. They knew fine well it wasn’t a disease, but they couldn’t bring themselves to believe that a parent would hurt their child like this.

“The Catholic Church used to have places we sent people when things went wrong – places where priests who had problems with things such as alcohol or depression could go to be treated. But abusers could not be treated in the same way. We found out to our regret they are incurable. They need to be removed from the community and ­layified. They cannot be changed.”

The Catholic Church in the UK is now one of the safest places on earth for a child to be, Devine believes.

He points to increased vetting at all levels in the Church, with a coordinator dedicated to this task in every parish.

While Bishop Devine claims Scotland has been “luckier” than Ireland and America in terms of abuse levels, the Church in Scotland has been found guilty by association.

“People know abuse did happen. It happened all over in Ireland and America,” he said. “They say if it was happening there, it must be here to the same extent. That is not true.”

With one in 200 of the clergy in Scotland having faced allegations of sexual abuse in the last 40 years, critics of the Church have “taken something minimal and made it look maximal,” he adds.

He believes this is partially malicious. “Sectarianism is far from dead in this land. The Government calls it that, but it is wrong. The proper name is anti-Catholicism. It is constant all the time, and a thing like this is grist to the mill.”

Survivors of clerical abuse reacted angrily to the bishop’s comments. Helen Holland, who experienced physical and sexual abuse in Nazareth House in Kilmarnock, dismissed the comments as a stunt.

“They’ve had plenty of opportunities to meet survivors of abuse and listen over the last 10 years. Why are they only ­talking about it now?” she said.

Referring to Devine’s comments that most abuse occurred within the family, Holland said: “It is a social problem, and in any other part of society it is dealt with by alerting the police.

The Church’s response was to move priests from one place to another.”

Holland said many survivors wished to see the Church taking part in the independent forum for survivors.

Bishop Devine said the Church had been unable to engage with that forum due to insurance issues.

SIC: HScot

I’ve no regrets, says Milingo

At 80, Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo may be running out of steam.

His walk is a bit laboured and his breath is somewhat raspy.

Some puff also seems to have gone from his cheeks, but his conviction, he says, has never been stronger.

The controversial priest and self-proclaimed healer on Sunday presided over the consecration of two deacons within his Married Priests Now church.

The archbishop, who shot into international fame in 2006, when he publicly challenged the relevance of celibacy in the Catholic Church believes he has fought a good fight and that his years of struggle will soon bear fruit.

“Everywhere I go, I am received with love by people of all faiths. They love and understand what I stand for,” he told the Nation yesterday during the ordination of Victor Kimemia as a deacon.

Mr Kimemia’s faith lies within the African Orthodox Church of Kenya, which does not allow the ordination of married priests.

“God’s word is for all of us. We should not discriminate the married from the unmarried,” argues Archbishop Milingo.

“In His eyes, we are all the same,” he said.

Despite his excommunication five years ago, he says there’s no love lost between him and the Roman Catholic Church.

“They said I came from a family of witchdoctors and that I falsely proclaimed to be a healer. They did not know I talk to God directly,” he told the Nation.

Despite his self-professed love for the Roman Catholic Church, the Archbishop’s public call for an end to mandatory celibacy in 2001, punctuated by his very public marriage to a doctor of acupuncture from Korea, was rejected as an embarrassment.

Healing ministry

Upon the insistence of the Vatican, he set aside his marriage and returned to his healing ministry in Italy. His disappearance and return, seclusion and subsequent restriction left many questions unanswered.

Following his marriage, Archbishop Milingo says Pope John Paul II summoned him to the Vatican, where he had to promise not to see his wife anymore, and to move to a different monastery.

“Of course I protested. For 43 years as a celibate priest, I only knew God as a male. Now, through my union with my wife, I have come to see the other side of God’s heart, which is female,” he says.

After the separation, his wife, Sung went on a hunger strike in protest. They reunited in 2002.

After courting controversy in his twilight years, the archbishop says he does not regret the choices he has made in life.

About himself, Archbishop Milingo says: “I don’t want to be put on a pedestal. I lead a simple life.”

Does he believe that priests should be allowed to marry?

“When I ordained my first married priests, I went on my knees and asked God to tell me whether ordaining married priests was wrong. He said ‘nonsense.’ I knew I had made the right decision.”


"Father Oprah" ordained as Episcopal priest

A Miami priest who left the Catholic Church after photos surfaced of him kissing his girlfriend on the beach has been ordained as an Episcopal priest.

Alberto Cutie, known as "Father Oprah," has since married Ruhama Canellis and the two are expecting a baby.

Cutie was removed from his parish last year after the photos were first made public.

He said he met Canellis at church, and the two were friends for years before becoming romantically involved.

Hundreds gathered at an Episcopalian ceremony Saturday marking his return to priesthood. He said the denomination is "welcoming of all."

Cutie's once popular cable television show and advice column have fallen by the wayside since the scandal.

He said many Catholics "act as if I dropped dead, as if I don't exist."


Sex abuse victims say church is still tenaciously fighting claims

John Caruso thought his trauma within the Roman Catholic Church began and ended with Rev. James Kneale.

The St. Catharines-area priest was convicted of sexually abusing the former altar boy 11 years ago.

Caruso and his Fort Erie family sued Kneale, the Diocese of St. Catharines and former bishops for $8.6 million, claiming, among other things, that church officials knew or should have known the priest was a sexual predator.

The response was an unexpected legal thunderbolt: Kneale and the diocese countersued Caruso’s mother and father.

They claimed the parents were negligent in failing to get counselling and medical help for their teenaged son and that Caruso’s father regularly beat him, compounding his psychological troubles.

The legal hardball shattered the once-devout family.

Caruso’s parents had to hire their own lawyers. Family relationships were strained. Caruso attempted suicide several times. And it got worse: His mother Claire died March 22, 2009, while the legal war still raged — a full decade after Kneale’s conviction, and 25 years after the priest performed a sex act on him during a rectory sleepover.

“She took it to her grave thinking she was part of the problem,’’ said a sobbing 40-year-old Caruso, the only time he broke down and cried during a phone interview from his Chatham home.

“She kept saying, ‘I feel like it’s my fault John.’ I kept telling her ‘No, it’s not your fault.’ ”

St. Catharines lawyer Peter A. Mahoney, who represented the diocese, declined to comment on the legal tactics behind the counter-claim because “my sense is that the (news)papers don’t want to be accurate (and) they misquote (people).”

Phone and email messages left with Wayne Kirkpatrick, the monsignor currently running the diocese, were not returned.

Four months after burying his mother, Caruso accepted the diocese’s undisclosed financial offer.

“Why do you think I took the settlement?’’ he asked, angrily. “I couldn’t take it anymore. I was going to kill myself.”

The pressure Caruso experienced in battling the Catholic Church is not unusual, say those suing Catholic dioceses, priests and nuns over abuse.

Despite the church’s pledge to handle victims with compassion — a position repeated this month by Pope Benedict — it too often plays a game of courtroom chicken with stall tactics, hostile discovery sessions and intrusive psychological probes that unnerve vulnerable clients, say victims and their lawyers.

“They don’t want to pay out the money,’’ said Jack Lavers, a Newfoundland lawyer who has worked both sides of the liturgical legal landscape. “There are (cases) that do start and never seem to finish.”

Seemingly relentless legal campaigns — especially against victims like Caruso, whose abuser had been convicted — appear to clash with church reforms adopted two decades ago after the Mount Cashel orphanage sex scandal.

Pastoral outreach for victims of clergy abuse was among the recommendations in the 1992 “From Pain to Hope” report commissioned by the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops.

Counselling and empathy for the abused were again recommended in a 2007 CCCB task force.

The CCCB declined to provide a spokesperson to address allegations of legal bullying and stalling, and instead suggested contacting church representatives from Cornwall or London.

London’s vicar general, Rev. John Sharp, has worked on nearly 60 lawsuits involving victims of the late Charles Sylvestre, convicted of abusing 47 women as minors. Nearly 40 more women came forward after the priest was jailed in 2006.

Sharp said each victim’s circumstances are unique and claims of harsh treatment “may very well be” in some cases. But London-area victims are “immediately” offered counselling with a professional of their choice as soon as they report abuse.

“In our diocese we are committed to keep these things moving as quickly and fully as we possibly can,” said Sharp, who estimates he still has 20 active Sylvestre cases.

“I would do it every day to keep at it but there’s a whole process that’s involved in (litigation): lawyers’ schedules, availability, all that stuff. I can appreciate (cases) taking so long; I wish this had been over a long time ago.”

Lavers said courtroom reality is that plaintiffs often get worn down and agree to accept smaller sums or drop their cases completely.

The St. John’s lawyer, who defended the Mount Cashel superintendent in criminal and civil court, now represents victims. He’s settled about 30 cases against the Catholic Church, taking “10 and 12 years to bring some of them to closure.”

Cases drag on while medical, education and work history information is gathered and studied for discovery and mediation sessions. Insurance company lawyers — insurers pay plaintiffs if the church has coverage — add another layer of scrutiny.

One London-area woman, who asked not to be named, said the defence cancelled its own psychological exam of her in Toronto 36 hours before it was scheduled — and after she’d booked that day off work and hired babysitters for her children. The new date was several months later.

Sometimes empathy is evident. Chatham’s Lou Ann Soontiens, for instance, recalls professional, courteous attention from Sharp’s London team.

Soontiens was a Sylvestre victim. She’d been assaulted for years and had an abortion arranged by him — a procedure that was botched — after the priest raped her as a teenager.

Soontiens sued the London archdiocese and settled for a reported $1.75 million, the largest known church award for a sexual assault victim in Canadian history.

“I had other girls tell me they went through hell but I can’t say that,” said the 54-year-old, who wrote about her abuse in Breach of Faith, Breach of Trust which was launched earlier this month in Chatham. She also had kind words for “compassionate” Bishop Ronald Fabbro, who was supportive throughout the three-year litigation.

Similar support was not there for Judi Evans.

The 65-year-old native of St. John’s, Nfld., is among a group claiming physical and emotional abuse at the Belvedere Orphanage — a female counterpart of Mount Cashel. More than 30 women are suing the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy and the province of Newfoundland. Her case is now 13 years old and has only a faint pulse.

Evans, a singer who entertained Toronto crowds for three decades at nightspots like the El Mocambo, the Silver Dollar and the Royal York, said the legal limbo frustrates her and her five sisters who were all “tortured” by the nuns in the 1940s and ’50s.

Evans said she was beaten with belts and fists, locked in a dark tower without food for hours and, as a kindergarten student, was placed in a bathtub of scalding water and scrubbed with a hard brush between her legs when she peed her pants. One of Evans’ sisters had two fingers sliced off while operating a bread machine in an unsupervised kitchen while another sister needed stitches after a nun hit her in the head with the schoolyard bell.

“I had a business, I had a successful career,” said Evans, whose singing days ended when she began addressing childhood memories in the mid-1990s and had a breakdown.

She’s also battled alcoholism (she’s sober now), depression and now requires regular psychotherapy.

“(Other orphans) ended up drug addicts, prostitutes, suicides or emotionally abused . . . or drunks, because I was there too,” said Evans, who lives in Toronto with her husband of 34 years, Joe. She asked that her married surname not be used.

“I would give the world to see this come to closure of some sort.”

But the Belvedere case has little traction.

Nuns have died, memories are fading, time limits on physical assault allegations ran out decades ago, no criminal charges were laid and the potential financial compensation may not, ultimately, be worth the trauma of putting the women on the stand, says Evans’ lawyer, Richard Rogers.

That’s one of the reasons he has not formally filed a statement of claim. Rogers, who represented Mount Cashel and residential school victims, hopes to negotiate a group settlement for clients, most of whom needed extensive therapy as adults.

Some women claimed they were also sexually assaulted by nuns.

Thomas O’Reilly represents the Sisters of Mercy and described Evans’ case as being in a state of “inertia,” citing the lack of a statement of claim.

The province responded to the Star in an email, stating “liability is being contested and the claims are being actively defended.”

Lavers understands why Rogers wants to avoid a trial. He witnessed two Belvedere women crack during discovery sessions a decade ago.

“The ladies would have breakdowns (and) and would end up in the (psychiatric) hospital,” said Lavers, who then represented two Sisters of Mercy nuns who were being sued as individuals.

“My heart went out to a couple of them because it appeared to be a re-victimization of the whole thing. I think it became so difficult for them to face it, they just walked away. It just wasn’t worth it to them.”

Cecilia McLauchlin felt she was in a game of “survivor” when she sued the London archdiocese in 2007. She was abused by Sylvestre when she was about 4 until she was 6.

The 32-year-old settled with the church last September — five days before her trial was to start. Prior to that, she had a 9-hour psychological assessment in Toronto for the defence that she said “haunted” her and caused regression in her therapy. The defence is entitled to conduct independent medical assessments.

McLauchlin was alone with a male doctor who asked graphic, explicit questions about her abuse and her adult sex life. She was also asked to describe the priest’s penis — even though Sylvestre was dead. McLauchlin said she was given a written assignment with hundreds of questions, such as: Do you ever feel like jumping off a bridge?

Another Sylvestre victim — the woman who’d had her psychiatric exam in Toronto cancelled — is in her fifth year of litigation. The woman said she’s seen the priest’s victims crumble after years on “an emotional roller coaster.”

“They couldn’t eat, sleep, work, they couldn’t carry on in their personal relationships,” said the woman, whose trial date is in 2011.

“There was so much anger in their lives and frustration. They just said ‘I want this done. I don’t care if I get $10, I just want this done.’ ”

Swifter resolutions would be more humane for victims, said Connie Coatsworth, a counsellor who has treated between 15 and 20 adults sexually assaulted as children by Catholic clergy.

“The longer (litigation) goes on, the harder it is for (patients) to heal,’’ said the Chatham therapist, who sees clients suffer under stresses related to lawsuits. “If (the church) truly wants healing for them, they need to expedite this process.”

Caruso called the church’s conduct hypocritical because it boasts of pastoral outreach to victims yet treated him “like sh--.”

“Their only concern is to piss you off and get you going and do everything they possibly can to deter you from suing them.”

Caruso said it would be more helpful to victims — and probably cheaper — for the church to provide counselling to ease their pain instead angering them into court action.

“I did not want to sue,” he said. “I didn’t want to be the poster child for this kind of bull.”


Cyprus trip a political minefield for the pope

Pope Benedict XVI, often under fire for political missteps on foreign trips, is heading into a potential diplomatic storm when he visits Cyprus this week, a pilgrimage to a divided island that could anger Turkey and the rest of the Muslim world.

Divisions between Greeks and ethnic Turks, splits in the Orthodox Christian community, and concerns over damaged Christian and Muslim houses of worship will be come under scrutiny during Benedict's three-day trip starting Friday.

The visit will be a key test of whether the pope has found his diplomatic feet.

The pope's linking of Islam to violence during a speech in Germany led to outrage in the Muslim world, nearly forcing cancellation of a trip to Turkey in 2006.

Other controversies arose from his remarks on a trip to Africa that condoms can make the continent's AIDS epidemic worse and his comments in Brazil that Latin America's native people wanted to become Christian even before Europe's conquerors arrived.

The Cyprus trip comes just days after the island's leaders — Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and the newly elected president of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots, Dervis Eroglu — resumed peace talks after a two-month pause.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged the rival leaders to ensure that the reunification talks do not fall apart, warning that time is working against them.

Cyprus police say that although they are aware of possible protests by some religious groups against the pope's trip, there have been no credible threats to his safety.

"We are continuing our planning regarding the pope's safety and all necessary measures will be taken to ensure that not even the slightest incident will take place," said police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos.

Cyprus was ethnically split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared an independent republic in the north in 1983, but only Turkey recognizes it and maintains 35,000 troops there.

Officially, the island's division is not on the pope's agenda. Benedict has no plans to visit northern Cyprus, said Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi. He declined to anticipate what the pope might say on the issue.

Instead, the trip was designed around Cyprus' location as a bridge to the Middle East. Benedict will meet with leaders from Catholic churches in the region to draw up proposals for a major meeting of Middle Eastern bishops at the Vatican in October.

Still it will be hard to ignore Cypriot tensions, and the pope on Sunday appeared to anticipate that atmosphere when, during his remarks to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square, he asked for "prayers for the peace and prosperity of all the people of Cyprus."

The Cypriot ambassador to the Holy See, George F. Poulides, says Benedict will be staying at the Vatican Nunciature, located right on the so-called Green Line in Nicosia — the U.N.-patrolled buffer zone between bullet-pocked buildings and army sentry posts separating the ethnically divided communities.

"This is a historic trip, the first time a pope is visiting Cyprus," Poulides said.

But the Turkish Embassy to the Holy See said it regrets the pope will not visit the north, insisting he would be welcome there and saying it hopes Benedict won't ignore the Turkish community in his speeches. There is a tiny Catholic community with three churches in the north, the embassy said.

A government official in Ankara said Turkey would be watching the visit closely and may comment if there is indication of political support for the Greek Cypriots or any allusion to the alleged destruction of churches in the north.

During a 2006 Vatican audience, the late Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos gave the pope an album of photographs of destroyed churches in the north under the Turkish occupation and of others converted to restaurants, shops or other secular uses.

Reporters covering the meeting quoted Benedict as saying "such destruction (is) incredible."

The Turkish north has published a book showing the destruction of mosques, cemeteries and other signs of Turkish culture in the south.

It is called, "Erasing the Past: Turkish Cypriot Culture and Religious Heritage under the control of the Greek Cypriot Administration."

There are also problems between Cypriot Catholics and Orthodox Christians, who are dominant in the south.

Some hardline Orthodox clerics, who view the pope as a heretic, say Benedict should stay in Rome to avoid provoking the island's 800,000 Orthodox.

Benedict on Sunday said he was "making an apostolic journey to Cyprus, to meet and pray with the Catholic and Orthodox faithful there."

Doctrinal, theological and political differences caused the Orthodox and Catholic churches to formally split in the 11th century. Officials from both churches have been engaged in talks in recent years to heal "The Great Schism," but opposition to reconciliation still lingers.

Archbishop Chrysostomos II said such critics "can stay at home" if they don't like the papal visit, which most church leaders have welcomed.

To head off anti-pope groups from inflaming public opinion, the synod released a circular read out in churches assuring the faithful that no talks on sensitive religious matters will be held during the pope's visit.

Benedict is to hold an ecumenical prayer service shortly after arriving. He will also meet with the president and diplomatic corps as well as the island's small Maronite and Roman Catholic communities.


Future pope refused defrocking of convicted priest

The future Pope Benedict XVI refused to defrock an American priest who confessed to molesting numerous children and even served prison time for it, simply because the cleric wouldn't agree to the discipline.

The case provides the latest evidence of how changes in church law under Pope John Paul II frustrated and hamstrung U.S. bishops struggling with an abuse crisis that would eventually explode.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press from court filings in the case of the late Rev. Alvin Campbell of Illinois show Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, following church law at the time, turned down a bishop's plea to remove the priest for no other reason than the abuser's refusal to go along with it.

"The petition in question cannot be admitted in as much as it lacks the request of Father Campbell himself," Ratzinger wrote in a July 3, 1989, letter to Bishop Daniel Ryan of the Diocese of Springfield, Ill.

With the church still recovering from a notable departure of priests in the 1970s to marry, John Paul made it tougher to leave the priesthood after assuming the papacy in 1978, saying their vocation was a lifelong one.

A consequence of that policy was that, as the priest sex abuse scandal arose in the U.S., bishops were no longer able to sidestep the lengthy church trial necessary for laicization.

New rules in 1980 removed bishops' option of requesting laicizations of abusive priests without holding a church trial. Those rules were ultimately eased two decades later amid an explosion of abuse cases in the United States.

Campbell's bishop had requested that he be quickly defrocked, in part to spare the victims the pain of a trial, but Ratzinger's response was in keeping with church law at the time.

Bishops retained the right to remove priests from ministry or to go through with a trial and recommend to Rome a cleric's defrocking, and nothing prevented them from reporting such crimes to police as they should have done, the Vatican has argued.

"Nothing in the new code prevented a bishop from exercising his discretion to restrict ministry or to assign a priest to a job where he was out of contact with the public," said Jeffrey Lena, the Vatican's attorney in the U.S.

Campbell's is one of several decades-old cases to emerge in recent months raising questions about Ratzinger's decisions and the church law he was following involving abusive priests as head of the Catholic Church's doctrinal watchdog office, a position he took in 1981.

The round of scandals worldwide left the Vatican initially blaming the media and groups supporting abortion rights and gay marriage, but recently Benedict has denounced the "sin" that has infected the church.

John Paul's views on laicizations were made known in a 1979 letter to priests, in which he wrote that their ordination was "forever imprinted on our souls" and that "the priesthood cannot be renounced."

Ryan, in his letter to Ratzinger, quoted Campbell saying essentially the same thing: "Once a priest, always a priest."

"The whole idea was that the priesthood was so sacred you couldn't kick these guys out," said the Rev. Tom Doyle, a canon lawyer who reviewed the Campbell case and who has advocated for abuse victims.

"It wasn't that it wasn't possible — it was possible — but the practice had been not to accept the petition unless the priest accepted."

Campbell's misdeeds date back at least 15 years before his defrocking.

As an Army chaplain, he was reprimanded and ultimately left the service after abusing at least one boy, according to military and church correspondence.

An Army letter in his file said he had exploited his rank and position as a chaplain "by engaging in indecent homosexual acts" with a child under 16 who had been under his supervision.

Even so, Bishop Joseph McNicholas, then at the helm of the Springfield diocese, wrote to him,

"Be assured that we will welcome you with open arms here at home."

While church officials overseeing clergy in the military were alerted of Campbell's actions, and reference is made to the molestations in Ryan's letter to Ratzinger, it's not clear whether McNicholas knew.

Campbell became a pastor upon his return to the diocese. In at least three instances after returning to diocesan work, he was forced to depart jobs as parish pastor or administrator "for reasons of health," a euphemism for sexual abuse used within the church that Ryan himself put in quotes.

After workers at a rape crisis center alerted authorities that they were treating one of Campbell's victims, police found he had been plying boys with video games, bicycles, watches and other gifts to get them to the waterbed in his second-floor rectory bedroom.

Ryan sent Campbell to a New Mexico treatment facility after the arrest.

Campbell was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 1985, after admitting to molesting seven boys during his time as pastor of St. Maurice Parish in Morrisonville, Ill. He was released in 1992 after serving about seven years for sexual assault and sexual abuse.

Ryan apparently waited four years after Campbell went to prison, according to church files, before asking for the priest's defrocking. It's unclear what accounted for the delay.

In his 1989 letter to Ratzinger, Ryan outlined Campbell's many offenses against children and asked for his laicization.

He pointed out the local notoriety of the priest's case and said his crimes and those of another abusive priest had already cost the diocese $1.5 million in damages and legal fees.

"I fear the infliction of further pain upon the victims of his criminal activity and their families," Ryan wrote.

"I fear that the diocese will suffer further pastorally and in public relations, to say nothing of greater financial damage."

Ratzinger refused, citing Vatican policy, and told the bishop to proceed with a church tribunal.

It is unclear whether a church trial was ever held for Campbell. After his release from prison, he was cajoled by Ryan and his subordinates into accepting his defrocking. Three years after Ryan's initial letter to Ratzinger, the bishop's request to Rome was granted.

For bishops attempting to remove a child molester without a church trial or the priest's cooperation in the 1980s, requests were rebuffed and sent back to diocesan tribunals where the cases could stagnate for years.

While a full-fledged canonical trial could make sense given such a serious crime, bishops found them virtually inapplicable, in part because the statute of limitations very often had expired well before allegations had even been reported. Bishops' hands, in some cases, were tied.

"In that case, it was tied by the universal law of the church," said Monsignor Kenneth Lasch, a retired priest and canon lawyer who has advocated for abuse victims. "Rome would take the position at that time that unless he was convicted canonically, they wouldn't laicize."

Lena defended the church's handling of cases, but said it has been improved with revisions.

"Is our criminal justice system broken because procedures are complex, or because they are designed to ensure that an innocent person is not wrongly convicted? Any mature criminal justice system — including the canonical system — has two duties: to punish the guilty and, of no less importance, to protect the innocent from mistaken prosecution. Sometimes, in a rush to judgment, people forget about the latter," Lena said.

"And of course, legal systems can always be improved. I think the consensus is that the implementation of SST and the procedures developed in its wake improved the canonical system," he said.

SST is short for "Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela," John Paul's 2001 letter that, among other things, mandated all abuse cases would be overseen by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger's office.

Kathie Sass, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Springfield, said no one familiar with the intricacies of the Campbell case was still working in the tribunal and able to talk.

Sass said Ryan, who lives in a nursing home outside the diocese, was unable to respond to questions. He retired in 1999 under a cloud of accusations of sexual relationships with male prostitutes and at least one priest; his successor found that he had engaged in "improper sexual conduct," allegations Ryan denied.

David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that in Campbell's case "and hundreds like it, Ratzinger chose to put concerns about dangerous pedophiles and the church's reputation above concerns about children's safety."

Others believe the ultimate blame lay with John Paul, whose policies the cardinal was interpreting.

"Ratzinger was just obeying his boss," said Doyle.

John Paul "certainly, I would say, is more culpable than Benedict," said Lasch.

The Vatican previously accepted involuntary laicizations, but turbulence of the 1970s, in which the Catholic Church suffered a huge worldwide loss of priests, helped push John Paul to revise the policy and promulgate the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which emphasized more due process rights for priests and discouraged penal sanctions.

"It didn't have any provisions in it for involuntary laicizations," said Msgr. John Alesandro, a canon lawyer and professor at Catholic University. "But I think most canonists believed that whether it was in the Code of Canon Law or not, the pope could do it."

John Paul did not, and as the abuse crisis exploded in the Catholic Church in the United States, bishops grew frustrated.

Alesandro sat on a Vatican-commissioned panel examining the policy, which ultimately was revised under "Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela."

In 2003, new revisions gave bishops the right to ask the Vatican to laicize a priest through a speedier administrative procedure, or for the CDF itself to forward a defrocking case directly to the pope if the evidence is overwhelming.


Irish nun pays ultimate price for defying bishop in abortion case

The centrepiece of the drive in front of St Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, is a white marble statue of the saint cradling an infant.

St Joe, as he is known to the locals, has been here since the Irish Sisters of Mercy founded the medical centre back when the area was still part of the old 'Wild West'.

Today he still watches over the faithful of the city.

The sick touch him for good luck and hopeful home-owners bury miniature versions of him in their yards when they are trying to sell their house. He is patron saint, amulet and mascot all in one.

He also stands as a reminder of the strictly Catholic ethos at the hospital and the dogmatism of the Church hierarchy in the city.

In the past few weeks a scandal has rocked this sun-scorched corner of the South-western US, propelling it into the international news and placing it at the forefront of the culture wars in America.

At the centre of it all is an Irish nun who, in attempting to read 21st Century pragmatism into ancient Church doctrine, fell foul of her bishop and became a hero to locals.

Margaret McBride, a medically trained Sister of Mercy and until recently the most senior Church figure at the hospital, has been hailed as "tireless" and "the moral conscience of the hospital" by her colleagues.

Gloria Steinem's feminist Ms Magazine called her "a ray of light in the darkness" and the Washington Post described her as "brave".

"More mother hen than CEO," according to one man who knows her, she is regarded by locals as a woman of great integrity and moral courage. Several of them wrote to local papers in support of her.

To her bishop and senior figures in the Church, however, she is persona non grata and a participant in a "grave moral disorder", and they have fired back with damning counter accusations.

In the process, this softly spoken nun with unmistakably Irish roots has become a lightning rod for an intense social debate.

Last November, a desperately ill 27-year-old mother of four presented herself to the hospital.

The woman was 11 weeks pregnant and suffering from pulmonary hypertension -- a severe heart complaint which can be exacerbated by pregnancy. She faced almost certain death if she continued to carry her child. Doctors put her risk of mortality at "close to 100 per cent".

Although abortions are legal in Arizona, St Joseph's does not perform them as a matter of course.

The hospital has close ties with the Diocese of Phoenix, and the conservative Bishop Thomas Olmsted -- the most senior local church figure -- has great influence on decisions made.

Nevertheless it was thought that an exception could be made: directive 47 in the US Catholic Church's ethical guidelines for health care providers allows, in some circumstance, for procedures that could kill the foetus in order to save the life of the mother.

An emergency meeting of senior figures at the hospital was called and each of those present was asked to give their opinion on the viability of the procedure.

Medical personnel, ethicists and senior administrators at the hospital each in turn said that they felt an abortion was necessary and justifiable to save the life of the mother.

The pregnant woman and her family were also consulted and agreed that a termination would be the best option. Sister Margaret's role was apparently to give the theological perspective.

"They were in quite a dilemma," said Lisa Sowle Cahill, who teaches Catholic theology at Boston College.

"There was no good way out of it. The official Church position would mandate that the correct solution would be to let both the mother and the child die. I think in the practical situation that would be a very hard choice to make."

As it turned out, it was a choice Sister Margaret felt able to make. Mindful that the pregnant woman was gravely ill and deeply distressed, the nun gave her reluctant assent. The abortion was carried out in late November and the woman survived, eventually returning home to care for her four children.

It was thought that that would be the end of the matter, but, in spite of strict patient confidentiality rules, Bishop Olmsted, head of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, found out that an abortion had been carried out.

A dogmatically pro-life figure, Olmsted had made himself something of a hero to the US anti-abortion movement.

Olmsted issued a statement saying, "I am gravely concerned by the fact that an abortion was carried out several months ago in a Catholic hospital in this diocese ... I am further concerned by the hospital's statement that the termination of a human life was necessary to treat the mother's underlying medical condition. An unborn child is not a disease. While medical professionals should certainly try to save a pregnant woman's life, the means by which they do it can never be by directly killing her unborn child. The end does not justify the means."

He made the decision that Sister Margaret McBride would become merely Margaret McBride.

This woman, who had served the Church for over 30 years, would be excommunicated, banned from receiving the sacraments and shamed before her peers.

Worse was to follow: Sister McBride was to be moved to a different position at the hospital (widely understood to be a demotion).

Suzanne Pfister, a hospital vice-president, defended McBride's actions but confirmed that she had been reassigned from her job as Vice-President of Mission Integration at the hospital. Pfister wrote that St Joseph's "adheres to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services" but added that the directives "do not answer all questions".

Neither the dioceses nor St Joseph's would comment on whether the bishop had a role in the reassignment.

Writing in the left-leaning Huffington Post, bioethicist and medical historian Jacob M Appel described Olmsted as having a "reputation as a particularly cold-hearted and intransigent figure" who had "gained notoriety for refusing communion to a 10-year-old autistic child who could not swallow".

He added, "Thanks to men like Mr Olmsted, obtaining obstetric care at a Catholic hospital has become a dangerous game of Russian roulette."

The Reverend Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer, said last week that the bishop "clearly had other alternatives than to declare her excommunicated".

Doyle said that Olmsted could have shown her some mercy. He added that this case highlighted a "gross inequity" in how the Church chose to handle scandal.

This, too, is a sticking point for many locals in Phoenix. By the beginning of last week, a Facebook page -- Allies of Sister Margaret -- had been set up in support of the nun, with many of its hundreds of members drawing a sharp contrast between the swift and sure judgement against Sister Margaret and the rather more lenient approach taken against paedophile priests.

Olmsted himself replaced Irish-American Bishop Thomas O'Brien, who, according to an official report, "allowed priests under his supervision to have contact with minors after becoming aware of allegations of criminal sexual misconduct" and acknowledging "transferring offending priests to situations where children could be further victimised."

O'Brien was also later convicted of leaving the scene of a fatal accident, after running over a man in Phoenix.

There was no evidence that O'Brien had been excommunicated or that Olmsted considered this a necessary step.

McBride's support in the community is perhaps to be expected. An Irish-American, she achieved a bachelor's degree in Nursing and a Master's in Public Administration from the University of San Francisco, in addition to her religious training.

"She is, in my long experience of her, one of the most upstanding, capable people you could hope to meet," Dr William Bohnert, former Chief of Staff at St Joseph's, told the Sunday Independent.

In a letter to the Arizona Republic, a local newspaper, he wrote: "I have witnessed countless hours of devotion and caring by her and her colleagues attending critically ill patients and dealing with the stress of their families."

Speak to others in Arizona, however, and a more critical picture of Sister Margaret emerges. As a senior hospital administrator in a part of the US with more than its share of illegal immigrants, she was no stranger to making difficult, controversial choices.

According to the New York Times, St Joseph's focuses on keeping down the cost of the uninsured and repatriates about eight uninsured patients per month.

One of these people was 18-year-old Joe Arvizu, an undocumented, poor Mexican boy, who suffered from leukaemia and had to have surgery to stop bleeding on his brain. His family, however, had no insurance and couldn't afford the treatment.

"They said they knew that we couldn't pay the bill, so they couldn't continue with the treatment anymore," his mother Rosa told local press.

"I asked for a payment negotiation, but they said that no, we couldn't make it with the income we have. I didn't want to make any decision by myself, but they told me the ambulance was ready."

Despite his mother's objections, Joe was transferred to a hospital in Mexico. Joe died on December 3, 2007 -- the hospital was unable to supply the blood for a transfusion.

Sister McBride was quoted by local press as saying that the hospital's charity committee reviewed Arvizu's case but decided he would be able to get adequate treatment in Mexico.

"We're trying to be good stewards of the resources we have," she told the New York Times.

"We're trying to make sure that the acute-care hospital is available for individuals who need acute care. We can't keep someone forever."

"You're dealing with high risk, high pressure, life-and-death decisions at the hospital," one former colleague of Sister McBride said last week, on condition of anonymity.

"Nobody is infallible. But most people in the hospital are 100 per cent sure she got it right with regard to this abortion case. And I imagine the four children of this woman, who get to grow up with their mother around, would agree that she did the right thing."

The Diocese of Phoenix last week released a statement saying that the Catholic Church in fact excommunicated all those who were involved in the abortion, not just Sister Margaret. It added,

"Anyone who has been excommunicated knows that by their own evil actions they have removed themselves from communion within the Church."

"This is a kind of a power play too," says Annie Loyd Bachand, a supporter of McBride.

"This was a woman who was considered by locals to be one of the most senior figures in the Church. Part of this can be seen as the Church patriarchy again putting women in what it considers is their place."

The options for Sister McBride are limited. According to some commentators, she can appeal to the Vatican. Or she can go to confession and, through the absolution of the bishop or a priest, be readmitted to the Church.

According to the diocese she would also have to "assist in efforts to repair the scandal they have created".

However, some have urged her not to do this. In a piece on America's National Public Radio website last week, author Julianna Baggott urged Sister Margaret not to confess: "Dogma isn't faith. Dogma can't look a child in the eye and explain that health care providers let her mother die -- but for a dogmatically correct reason."

Whether McBride's career at the hospital can be repaired is not known. Some locals say that as long as Bishop Olmsted remains in office there will be a black mark against her name.

Her colleague, urologist Dr John Garvie, who still works at the hospital, summed up much of the local mood when he wrote: "What she did was something very few are asked to do; namely to make a life-and-death decision with the full recognition that in order to save one life another life must be sacrificed. Try to imagine the agony involved in such a decision. People not involved should reflect and not criticise."

Whether his words make a difference to Sister Margaret's career remains to be seen.

She has become an ironically totemic figure for the pro-choice movement in the States -- a religious figure with roots in a country where abortion is still illegal, standing up to Catholic dogmatism and quietly championing the rights of women.

America, and the world, are watching.