Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Prayer To The Sacred Heart


O Sacred Heart of Jesus,
living and quickening source of eternal life,
infinite treasure of the Divinity,
and burning furnace of divine love.

Thou art my refuge and my sanctuary,
O my amiable Savior.

Consume my heart with that burning fire with which Thine is ever inflamed.

Pour down on my soul those graces which flow from Thy love,
and let my heart be so united with Thine,
that our wills may be one,
and mine in all things,
be conformed to Thine.

May Thy divine will be equally the standard and rule
of all my desires
and of all my actions.


Angels too religious

In England, a support group for parents of stillborn babies has been told to drop the word angel from a special pack as it may offend grieving parents who are not religious.

The Whisperer Group donated the New Angel Mum bags for families at Colchester General Hospital.

They had decided that angels was the perfect way to describe stillborn and miscarried babies.

The packs contain announcement cards for the arrival of an angel baby and a handwritten letter from the group addressed to new angel parents.

However the health authorities told the group to drop the word angel as it may offend grieving parents who are not religious.

Bereaved father Ted Townsend wrote to the group, “There is no other word to describe them. Whether religious or not, the term angels sums up what these babies are. What a stupid world we live in. The NHS should be grateful to people like yourselves, not make things awkward.”

One of the organisers, Michelle Taylor, said that the bag would make a huge difference and show the parents that people are thinking about them.

The importance of acknowledging and remembering a miscarried baby is emphasised by the Miscarriage Association of Ireland.

It offers bereaved parents the opportunity to enter details of their baby on a Book of Remembrance or a Memorial Stone in one of three graveyards in Dublin.

It also offers cards and mementoes for parents to fill in with the baby’s details.

There is a section on the association’s website that offers parents the opportunity to remember their babies on special days.

Several of the poems there refer to babies as angels for example lines such as, “An angel never dies” or, “Born an angel.”

Many of the poems and memorials are secular and others are very religious.

For such babies there is a special burial and memorial area in Glasnevin Cemetery and it is called the Holy Angels' Plot.


Muintir na Tíre president praises role of Canon Hayes

The huge contribution that Muintir na Tíre founder Canon John Hayes made to Irish life was acknowledged this week by the National President of the organisation Martin Quinn.

Speaking at the organisations AGM he claimed, “one thing that I certainly take from this great man was that he knew exactly what our greatest resource was it's in our name and that is, ‘the people of the land’.”

He added, “Canon Hayes believed that people working together unified for the common good could achieve anything. He will always be remembered for his initiative in founding an organisation that taught the people of Ireland not just how to live more effectively in their own parish, but more especially how to care for their neighbours and to share their common lot and heritage.”

One of the major facets of Muintir na Tíre is the Community Alert organisation, which has 1,300 branches nationally and celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

Mr Quinn claimed that the principles that Canon Hayes ingrained in rural communities was very evident during the adverse weather conditions earlier this year when the magnificent work of Community Alert in helping people was highlighted.

Mr Quinn, who is a native of the South Tipperary parish of Bansha where Canon Hayes served as a Parish Priest from 1946 until his death in 1957, also claimed that Community Alert would be marking its 25th anniversary with a special conference at the Garda College in Templemore this October.


Sts. Peter and Paul serve as foundation of the Church, Benedict XVI says

Although they carried out different missions, Saints Peter and Paul together form the foundation of the “one, holy, Catholic, Apostolic” Church, said Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday.

The Pope celebrated Mass at St. Peter's Basilica on the solemnity of the two saints and later led the Angelus in St. Peter's Square.

Greeting those present in the square, the Pope explained that the celebration of the Apostles Peter and Paul is a celebration of the Church's sacred roots.

Both saints, he noted, are buried in the cathedrals in Rome dedicated to them.

The Holy Father spoke of Peter's profession of faith to Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This declaration from the humble fisherman of Galilee is not the product of reason, he said, but a revelation of the Father, as confirmed by Jesus, who responded by saying that “neither flesh nor blood has revealed this to you.”

“Simon Peter is so close to the Lord that he himself becomes a rock of faith and love on which Jesus built his Church,” the Pope said, noting that Jesus goes on to tell Peter, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

The Pontiff also recalled the life of St. Paul and the millennium celebration of his birth. He reflected on St. Paul's commitment to spreading the Gospel and sharing the Truth with the Gentiles.

Despite their different gifts and missions, these two patron saints of Rome both form the foundation of the “one, holy, Catholic, Apostolic” Church, which today is present in the world to proclaim and bear witness to the essential mystery of communion, said the Holy Father.

In light of the Church's mission, the Pope recalled that he had bestowed the pallium on 38 metropolitan archbishops that morning.

The pallium symbolizes communion with the Bishop of Rome and reminds of the mission to feed the flock of Christ with love, he explained.

The Holy Father also thanked members of the Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, who attended the Mass. Their presence, he said, reflects the spiritual bond between the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople.

Urging the faithful to follow the example of Sts. Peter and Paul, he then turned in prayer to the Virgin Mary, Queen of the Apostles, who guides and supports the people of God on their journey.

After the Angelus, the Pope asked the faithful to pray for the archbishops who had just received the pallium, that through the intercession of the Apostles, “they will be heralds of the Gospel and true models of pastoral charity to the flock.”


Pope Clarifies That Only He Can Criticize a Cardinal

In the Church, only the Pope can level accusations against cardinals.

This was the clarification made today by the Vatican at the conclusion of an audience between Benedict XVI and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, Austria.

The meeting took place between the two to discuss statements made by the cardinal regarding the investigation of his predecessor, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër, who resigned in 1995 amidst allegations of sexual abuse.

Cardinal Schonbörn made comments to journalists April 28 that were interpreted by the media as an accusation against Cardinal Angelo Sodano's treatment of the investigation. It was understood from his statements that he believed that the then secretary of state, under Pope John Paul II, had blocked the inquiry for "diplomatic reasons."

Benedict XVI received first Cardinal Schönborn, a former student of his, to discuss the situation. The two were then joined by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who is now the dean of the College of Cardinals, and the current secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

The Vatican communiqué confirmed that in the second part of the meeting, "some widespread mistakes were clarified and resolved in part derived from some expressions of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who expressed his displeasure over the interpretations made."

The note then continued, "It is reminded that in the Church, when it is a question of accusations against a cardinal, the competence belongs only to the Pope; other entities can have a consultative function, always with due respect for the persons."

Furthermore, the statement clarified the interpretation of the word "chiacchiericcio," which had been used both by Benedict XVI during his homily on Palm Sunday, and subsequently by Cardinal Sodano, when speaking of the sexual abuse crisis. The word in English has been translated by the media as "petty gossip," but the Vatican has translated it as "gossip."

The word, the Vatican clarified, "has been interpreted erroneously as a lack of respect for the victims of sexual abuses, for whom Cardinal Sodano has the same sentiments of compassion and condemnation of the evil, as he has expressed in several interventions of the Holy Father. That word, pronounced in Benedict XVI's Easter address, was taken literally from the papal homily of Palm Sunday and referred to the 'courage that does not let itself be intimidated by the gossip of prevailing opinions.'"

The Vatican also reported that Cardinal Schönborn "wished to clarify the exact sense of his recent statements on some aspects of present ecclesiastical discipline."

In March, it was widely reported in the Austrian press that the cardinal believed it time to reconsider celibacy in the Church. A spokesman later clarified that the cardinal considers it time to reconsider the "formation of the clergy."

SIC: Zenit

Archeologists find evidence of St Peter's prison

The Mamertine Prison, a dingy complex of cells which now lies beneath a Renaissance church, has long been venerated as the place where the apostle was shackled before he was killed on the spot on which the Vatican now stands.

It been a place of Christian worship since medieval times, but after months of excavations, Italian archaeologists have found frescoes and other evidence which indicate that it was associated with St Peter as early as the 7th century.

Dr Patrizia Fortini, of Rome's department of archaeology for Rome, said: "It was converted from being a prison into a focus of cult-like worship of St Peter by the 7th century at the latest, maybe earlier.

"It was a very rapid transformation. We think that by the 8th century, it was being used as a church. It would have been wonderful to find a document with his [St Peter's] name on it, but of course that was always going to be extremely unlikely."

St Peter and St Paul are said to have been incarcerated in the jail by the Emperor Nero.

The two apostles are said to have caused an underground spring to miraculously rise up from the ground so that they could baptise their guards and their fellow prisoners.

Peter was then crucified, upside down, in AD64. He was buried on a low hill on which, 250 years later, the Emperor Constantine built the first Basilica of St Peter.

The hellish prison in which the founder of the Roman Church supposedly spent his final days consisted of two levels of cells, one on top of each other.

The lower cell could only be reached through a hole in its roof and was purportedly where the Romans imprisoned their most formidable enemies, including a Gaulish chieftain, Vercingetorix, who had fought against Caesar in 52BC.

Some prisoners starved to death and their bodies were tossed into the Cloaca Maxima, the city's main sewer.

In the 17th century a church – St Joseph of the Carpenters – was built over the Mamertine Prison and it still stands today, overlooking the ruins of the Roman Forum.

Its exterior bears the words "The Prison of the Apostolic Saints Peter and Paul" and a marble carving of the two bearded martyrs peering glumly through prison bars.

When Charles Dickens visited the site in the 19th century he described "the dread and gloom of the ponderous, obdurate old prison".

Hanging on the walls he found "rusty daggers, knives, pistols, clubs, divers instruments of violence and murder brought here fresh from use".

Historians have long believed the dungeon was built in the 5th century BC, under Servius Tullius, one of the kings of Rome before it became a republic.


Vatican welcomes first Russian ambassador

The Vatican has received the diplomatic credentials of Nikolay Sadchikov, the first-ever Russian ambassador to the Holy See.

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Secretary for Relations with States, welcomed the Russian envoy in a brief ceremony on June 26.

Russia and the Holy See had exchanged diplomatic representatives since 1990, but only last December was the relationship upgraded to include full diplomatic ties and the exchange of ambassadors.

Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the Vatican’s representative in Moscow, is expected to meet soon with foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, confirming his new status as the apostolic nuncio.


Vatican lends world's oldest Hebrew book to first major exhibition for new Jewish Museum

The Vatican has loaned a 9th century prayer book considered to be the oldest Hebrew publication in existence to the Jewish Museum in London.

The Museum persuaded the library of the Catholic ruling body to allow the biblical commentary feature in its Hebrew Treasures from the Vatican and Major British Collections display, a three-month show which is the first major temporary exhibition at the centre since it reopened in March following a £10 million rebuild.

In an impressive set of fellow artefacts, a decadently-illustrated bible from 15th century Spain and an image of the Temple of Solomon, the architectural inspiration for the Sistine Chapel, come as further highlights.

Oxford's Bodleian Library has provided 11 of the 24 manuscripts and books in the show, with eight coming from the British Library.

The Vatican and Lambeth Palace Library have contributed three each, revealing religious tolerance and cultural interaction between Jews and non-Jews in the Muslim and Christian Worlds from the Middle Ages onwards.

Designed by Metropolitan Museum of Art collaborator Patrick Kinmouth, the exhibition contains illustrations and decorative designs reflecting styles from gothic Northern Europe to Italy and Spain.

Historian Simon Schama and the BBC's Alan Yentob launched the show at a private view positioning Cherie Blair as the guest of honour.

Her visit was backed by her famously spiritual husband, who said he hoped it would prove "another small building block in strengthening Jewish-Catholic relations in this country."

“At a time when religious issues are often portrayed as creating division and unrest around the world, this exhibition demonstrates how positive connections can be made between Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” added Rickie Burman, the Museum Director.

“It is a reminder that in many cases our shared experience is stronger than our differences.”

SIC: C24

Vatican Vows To Fight Responsiblity For Priest Abuse

The Vatican is stepping up its defense against a U.S. lawsuit that could find the Holy See responsible for sexual abuse committed by American priests.

The door was left open for that possibility on Monday, when U.S. Supreme Court justices passed on hearing an appeal from a lower federal court that said priests could be considered Vatican employees.

The original suit comes from Oregon, where a plaintiff identified only as John Doe claimed to have been sexually abused in the 1960s, when he was 15 or 16 years of age, by a Roman Catholic priest.

The lawsuit accuses the Vatican of transferring the priest from city to city despite repeated accusations of abuse, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

The Vatican's lawyer, Jeffrey Lena, released a statement today saying the U.S. high court's refusal to hear the appeal "is not a comment on the merits of our case."

When it goes back to Oregon, attorneys representing the Church "will, of course, point out to the district court that the priest in question is not an employee of the Holy See, and that, therefore, the district court does not have jurisdiction over the case," Lena said in the statement.

The Vatican had claimed immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 that protects foreign states from being sued in U.S. courts.


Eight in 10 priests want celibacy to end

A vast majority of Austrian Roman Catholic priests want an end to mandatory celibacy, a new survey has shown.

Pollsters GfK Austria said 80 per cent of the 500 interviewed parish priests supported calls for an abandonment of the ruling.

Fifty-one per cent said women should be allowed to become Roman Catholic priests.

More than six in ten (64 per cent) of priests the agency spoke to said the Austrian Church should get up to date with the modern world.

GfK Austria revealed the new study showed that younger priests had more conservative mindsets than their elder colleagues.

A vast majority of 92 per cent complained of inadequate education in becoming a priest, while 48 per cent accused the institution’s leaders of "acting helpless and lacking vision".

The number of Austrian men deciding to become Catholic priests is meanwhile in decline.

Church officials said earlier this month that 24 men will be consecrated priests in 2010 by the end of June.

They said 33 consecrations took place in the first six months of last year.

The reputation of the Roman Catholic Church in Austria suffered dramatically as hundreds of people came forward to report violent and sexual abuse at its institutions over the past few months.

The Church reacted by setting up a special commission to deal with the cases and provide victims with financial compensation and therapy.

The question of the amount of compensation is currently an issue of heated public discussion.

Viennese Archbishop Cardinal Christoph Schönborn refused to comment on reports claiming that the Church tried to keep the overall sum lower than 100,000 Euros.

More than 30,000 Austrians left the Church in the first three months of this year, up by 42 per cent compared to the same time span of 2009 when more people than ever cancelled their membership.

Fears are increasing that up to 80,000 Austrians will leave throughout this year.

Last year’s 53,216 people quitting their membership meant an all-time record high.


BBC launches new Sunday religious show

The BBC Breakfast presenter Susanna Reid is to present a new religion

and ethics programme on BBC1 from next month.

Sunday Morning Live will feature short films and discussions between the hosts and their studio guests, opening out to an audience who will interact with them through phone calls, videos and emails.

The new series, which is being made in Belfast, will have an initial run of 20 live episodes.

The first programme airs on 11 July and its promise of topicality and accessibility is a throwback to The Heaven and Earth Show, a magazine show that had a cosier feel than the more adversarial format of its successor, The Big Questions, which one former panellist likened to a "lynch mob".

The new show's launch may appease those institutions that continue to despair at the perceived decline of the quality and quantity of religious programming.

Last February, the Church of England passed a motion that proposed it "express its deep concern about the overall reduction in religious broadcasting across British television in recent years".

The motion also called upon mainstream broadcasters "to nurture and develop the expertise to create and commission high-quality religious content across the full range of their output, particularly material that imaginatively marks major festivals and portrays acts of worship".

Last month Roger Bolton, presenter of Radio 4's Feedback, called for BBC News to appoint an editor for religion, as it has for business and finance.

Bolton, who used to present Sunday on Radio 4, said the BBC needed such an appointment to improve its coverage of religious affairs and to bring a spiritual perspective to general news stories.

Religious programming will experience a revival this year.

Next Monday, Channel 4 debuts a 90-second slot that will run after the nightly news and offer a view on a religious or spiritual issue.

Unlike the BBC's Thought for the Day, it will be open to atheists and secularists in addition to representatives from major religions.

There are also two documentaries under way about Pope Benedict XVI – one from Channel 4, presented by the human rights activist Peter Tatchell, and the other from the BBC, presented by the campaign strategist Mark Dowd – to coincide with the papal visit to the UK in September.


Three Decades of Visions Alter Medjugorje Beyond Recognition (Contribution)

It is late afternoon on the “Apparition Hill” in the shrine town of Medjugorje and the Italians are going up and the Croats are coming down.

But the Croat pilgrims have a loudspeaker, so their harsh-sounding chants of “Zdravo Marijo” drown out the softer sounding murmur of “Santa Maria, prega per noi peccatori” as the two groups pass one another mid-way.

It’s hot and dangerous on these slippery, sharp rocks where, almost 30 years ago, six Bosnian children had the first vision of the Virgin Mary, the first of thousands because the visions never stopped, prompting long-lasting controversy over their authenticity.

People have stumbled and been injured on this hillside.

One priest tripped and died.

But still they come, in all weathers, older folk panting and gasping in the heat; up they go, battalions of Croats, Italians and Irish alongside smaller contingents of Spanish, French, English, Germans, Czechs and even Lebanese.

Down below, Medjugorje, unrecognizable to anyone who hasn’t been here for years, shimmers in the haze.

Down there, huge, shiny air-conditioned coaches rumble through the streets day and night, disgorging hordes of passengers into what now must be the most international town in Bosnia - a place where everyone seems to speak some English, German and Italian as well as Croatian and where you can pay your bills in an amazing variety of currencies.

Twenty-two years ago, on my first journalistic assignment for the new Independent newspaper, I came to Medjugorje to see the visionaries and meet their bitterest critic, their own bishop, in nearby Mostar.

It was a village of one-storey cottages back in those days, off the beaten track, where pious peasants rented out rooms for nominal fee.

Chickens clucked and scratched around in the dirt lanes.

A ceaseless flow of visitors - and of money - has swept that village away.

The cottages have gone, converted into grim-looking five-storey pensions and hotels. The livestock has disappeared, too. There is not a rooster in sight on the neat lawns, kept green by hissing sprinklers.

If the village has changed drastically, so have the visionaries. They grew up, married and had families.

In my minds’ eye, I still see Vicka standing on the threshold of her parents’ home, fielding questions from a semi-circle of pilgrims gathered outside.

“What colour is purgatory?” I remember one of them asking.

“Yellow,” she answered, not missing a beat.

“Can we get souls out of hell with our prayers?” Answer: No.

“Help me, I have cancer; ask the Virgin to cure me,” shouted a woman from Mexico. “Our Lady hears everyone’s prayers,” Vicka replied, calmly.

She was a fresh-faced teenager then, with apple cheeks, sweet smile and perfect skin. The smile is still there, but I feel shaken on seeing the rest of her prematurely aged, lined and pain-ravaged face in a recent photograph.

Her visions may have helped to bring unimaginable wealth and prosperity to the dusty and obscure village in which she was born but her own health has not been spared.

The power behind the Medjugorje phenomenon is the repeat nature of the original miracle – the constant series of visions, the latest of which I see flagged up in several languages, including Arabic, on a screen outside the church.

It’s not the content of the messages, banal and almost unvarying that they are, that draws most pilgrims; more the fact that the messages just keep on coming.

“Most other shrines are totally dead compared to this place,” explains an Irish priest, Fr Terry, reeling off the names of several he had visited or worked in, including Fatima in Portugal and the Virgin of Guadeloupe in Mexico.

Fatima had been just a “big empty square”, he recalled. “There was no buzz”.

Medjugorje, on the other hand, has buzz. Wandering up to the church for a late-night service of Benediction, I’m astonished to find a huge crowd there, even at this hour. All on their knees, in the darkness, eyes fixed on the Host held aloft in a golden monstrance.

There is a 24/7 character to the place, as Fr Terry suggested: Mass in English, followed by Mass in Spanish; followed by Mass in Croatian; followed by Confession; followed by the Rosary; followed by Benediction.

One crowd leaves the church, another pours in.

No wonder Fr Terry wanted to move here permanently.

Not everyone appreciates the “Medjugorje experience”, of course. Waiting for a bus to Mostar to take me back to Dubrovnik, I meet an angry old Italian who has had enough. His Italian tour guide told him he was going to go to hell for asking stupid provocative questions and for saying he wanted to “go see how the Muslims live in Mostar”, he told me.

“It’s almost impossible to get out of this place. They don’t want us to see anything of Bosnia,” he grumbled.

He had a point. Life in Medjugorje can resemble that dark US comedy, The Truman Show - a film set from which escape is not exactly encouraged.

Visitors are invited to stay within bounds, to walk from the Apparition Hill to the Cross Mountain, go to St Jacob’s church several times a day, to buy souvenirs (grappa, cigs and rosaries) from the thousands of stalls, to eat dinner in their pensions and when not doing the above, to unwind in the countless bars and cafés.

The vast majority of visitors arrive in curtained, air-con coaches and leave in the same a few days later, having seen nothing of the country beyond the limits of Medjugorje.

My old Italian was having none of this; when his tour guide told him he’d be “beaten up and robbed by the Muslims” if he insisted on going to Mostar, it made him more determined to go.

Meanwhile, the long-awaited seal of papal approval for the visions appears to be on its way. It’s no secret that the old Polish pope looked on the phenomenon with deep sympathy and that his German successor, Benedict XVI, does likewise.

A new Vatican commission, tasked with determining the shrine’s final status, has been working under Cardinal Ruini, a close friend of the Pope’s, since March. The visit paid to Medjugorje last December by Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna, another close papal ally, was a straw in the wind.

It’s exciting stuff for Vatican observers. But whether anything that Rome said would actually stop the flow of pilgrims at this stage is more debatable.

“People come from all over the world, from Ireland, from as far as the Philippines,” Ivan Topic, member of the Vatican commission and head of Napredak in Sarajevo, told me.

“This cannot be ignored, nor the fact that so many have been converted,” he added.

“Even if the commission’s verdict was negative, people would still come.”


Invocation 2010: a festival with a difference

Like other festivals, Invocation has tents, portable toilets and speakers.

But similarities with other events end there.

Organised by the Catholic church of England and Wales, Invocation 2010 is a national festival to recruit monks, nuns and priests to its ranks ahead of the Pope's visit to Britain this autumn.

The first event of its kind to be held in this country, it is expected to attract more than 100 would-be church entrants aged between 16 and 35 to Oscott College in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands this weekend.

Young Catholics will be treated to inspirational talks from archbishops, sung complines and an optional midnight rosary.

Familiar faces will make an appearance, including Abbot Christopher Jamison, who took part in the BBC series The Monastery, and Sr Gabriel Davison, who featured in the BBC series The Convent.

The organiser, Chris Smith, who works for the archdiocese of Birmingham, said he was expecting more than 400 people.

"What we wanted was a real cross-section," he said. "We have dynamic priests and nuns, we have people training to be priests and nuns. They will be able to share their experiences. This is the first time all the religious communities and dioceses have worked together. Young adults are used to festivals".

Smith described the interest in vocations as encouraging.

"The age range of people showing an interest in entering the priesthood or becoming part of a religious community is getting younger. They are now 16, 17 or 18 but 10 years ago they would have been 30 or 40 years old."

There has been a rise in the number of people entering seminaries in England and Wales, from 24 in 2003 to 43 in 2009.

This reflects a global pattern.

Last year, the Vatican announced that the number of Catholic priests had risen from 405,178 in 2000 to 408,024 in 2007, reversing a two-decade long decline.

In its statistical yearbook, the Vatican said the biggest leaps were in Africa and Asia. The figures were "a continuing trend of moderate growth ... after over two decades of disappointing results," it said.

On a website aimed at men considering a life in the priesthood, the British situation is described as "complex". says: "To attribute the lower number of persons entering the priesthood to any single cause would be too simple. The world and the church have undergone dramatic change in the last 30 or 40 years or so. Furthermore, the high number of people entering religious life in the 1950s and 1960s was not typical of most of the church's history.

"Today's lower numbers have been attributed, among other things, to the many changes religious congregations have experienced; growing professional opportunities for men and women; the acceptance of Catholicism into mainstream culture; the reluctance of many people to make permanent commitments of any kind; and an increasing attachment to material goods and social status."


Pope Benedict's complaint is off-base

It was disappointing to hear Pope Benedict XVI lash out at Belgian police Sunday after they raided church offices in a search for hidden evidence of child sexual abuse.

The pontiff called the action “surprising and deplorable” and stressed the church’s “autonomy” to conduct its own investigations.

That claim of autonomy is especially troubling.

The fact that the Roman Catholic Church has failed to adequately investigate these cases and protect children from repeat offenders is now beyond dispute.

The horrifying pattern first revealed in Boston has now played itself out over and over, across the globe.

Given that, how can civil authorities be expected to respect the church’s autonomy?

We are not talking about spiritual or religious matters.

We are talking about violent crime against children.

Did the Belgian police go too far?

That’s possible.

They drilled into the tomb of a Belgian cardinal on a suspicion church records were hidden there.

They took files from the office of a child psychiatrist who was working with the church and had spoken with abuse victims on the condition of anonymity.

To judge the police action, though, we would need to know what they knew: Was the information leading them down these paths solid enough to justify the obvious affront to the church and its followers?

Or were the police being reckless at a time when the public’s anger at the church is at a peak?

No doubt we will learn more about that as the case unfolds.

In Belgium, the investigation is driven in part by revelations of the Rev. Rik Deville, a retired priest who told reporters he had informed church authorities more than 15 years ago about sexual abuse allegations against a Belgian bishop, but that no action was taken.

That bishop later resigned after admitting guilt.

Deville formed a group to investigate abuse within the Belgian church in 1992 and now claims to have 300 files on such cases.

He complains that an investigative commission formed by the church includes no lay people and no connection to civil authorities.

“It’s not up to the church to decide who violated the law and who should be punished,” he said in the wake of the raids.

“The bishops have a long history ... of silence and omissions. They protect the guilty, and not the victims.”

We don’t prejudge the investigation in Belgium.

The church deserves the same rights as any other institution when it’s accused of wrongdoing.

But the police have a duty to conduct reasonable searches for evidence of violent crime, no matter who objects.


Can the Pope be compelled to testify? What the Supreme Court did - and did not - say

Despite the impression created by dozens of headline stories, the US Supreme Court did not issue a decision against the Vatican yesterday, nor have sex-abuse victims won the right to take testimony from the Pope.

In fact, the Supreme Court did not issue any decision at all. The justices decided not to decide.

Every year thousands of legal decisions are appealed to the Supreme Court.

The nation’s top court can handle only a fraction of those cases.

The justices choose the issues that seem most pressing from a constitutional point of view, and leave the lower courts to sort out the remaining cases.

On Monday, the court announced that it would not hear the Vatican’s appeal of an Oregon court’s ruling that allowed the Holy See to be listed as a defendant in a sex-abuse lawsuit.

The suit, originally filed in 2002, now goes back to the Oregon court for arguments.

By declining to hear the case, the Supreme Court did deal a minor legal setback to the Vatican, which had sought to have the case summarily dismissed.

But the Oregon court’s ruling - which the Supreme Court let stand - only gives plaintiff the opportunity to argue that the Pope and the Vatican can be included as defendants.

That argument is far from resolved.

In their effort to include the Pope as a defendant, the plaintiff faces an uphill struggle.

The Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act protects the Holy See from liability unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the priest who abused him was acting as an employee of the Vatican.

By any of the normal legal standards - who signed his paycheck, who was his direct supervisor, who gave his assignments - the priest was working for the diocese, not the Vatican.

Any effort to draw a connection between diocesan policies and Vatican directives would run into a further obstacle: the historical (and very prudent) reluctance of the American courts to become involved in the internal affairs of a religious body.

Even if an American court did give plaintiffs the right to take testimony from the Pope, the Pope would not be bound by that ruling.

The Pope is not subject to American law - nor to any other system of civil law. He is sovereign; in Vatican City he is the law.

Bottom line: If an American plaintiff takes testimony from the Pope, it will be because the Pope chose to give testimony - not because a court compelled it.


Archbishop Martin and the enemies within

Diarmuid Martin, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, is coming under closer scrutiny than ever before as forces of opposition within the church heckle for his resignation in one of the most volatile eras that the Catholic Church as ever undergone in Ireland.

The Archbishop is reportedly unhappy at the Pope’s refusal to acknowledge the resignation of two bishops criticized in the Murphy report into child sexual abuse in the Church for their failure to address the epidemic and bring the perpetrators to the authorities.

Although Bishops Eamonn Walsh and Ray Field both offered their resignations to the Holy See, the Pope has not acknowledged their resignations, meaning that under Canon Law they have no force.

The Vatican’s Press Office has refused to comment on the reason why this may be so.

It now seems that the blame-game is turning on Martin himself who is viewed by some as the greatest luminary of the Church in Ireland and by others as a self-serving egoist who is ruthless in his politics and interested only in his own furtherance.

The Archbishop has been caustically critical about the failure of the Church to come to terms with the extent and scope of sex abuse.

In a recent speech delivered at a meeting of the Knights of Columbanus in Dublin, Martin spoke of his concern that there are signs of "subconscious denial" about the extent of the abuse in the Irish Catholic church and how it was covered up.

Those on the inside are also coming out with information that the Archbishop would perhaps not want made public.

One insider told Dublin’s Tribune newspaper how "he is absolutely clear when he is doing public statements. They will have been drafted and gone through meticulously." and how "the media absolutely adore him; from the moment he arrived he has singled this out as an area to be developed."

Martin’s approach to media relations is what perhaps sets him most at odds with his predecessors, who consistently show a preference for conducting sensitive Church business behind firmly closed doors.

Though this degree of openness once more finds its critics even within his own ranks: “he is not collegiate,” said another insider “opting instead to engage in megaphone diplomacy."

Perhaps the most overt example of opposition to Martin within the Church was a specially convened meeting of 25 priests at Manresa retreat house in Dublin last January.

The meeting, held behind closed doors, reportedly focused on the Archbishop’s supposed failure to deal adequately with the fallout from the Murphy Reprort.

The minutes of that meeting read: "anger, frustration and a sense of helplessness [were] expressed at the lack of compassion shown by the diocese in recent months, particularly towards the auxiliary bishops. We felt that a grave injustice has been done to men who have loyally served this diocese with selfless commitment and Christ-like compassion."

Emeritus Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin Dermot O'Mahony, himself criticized in the Report, earlier this year criticized Martin for his public comment that the management of cases was "inexcusable".

Critics say that Martin has few friends and lives quite a solitary existence. It’s believed that his further and growing isolation in the Church is leaving him with a dearth of support within his own ranks, and that the time could be ripe for an easy coup.

It’s also believed that his influence with the Pope himself is on the wane. One abuse survivor told Martin after his return from a trip to Rome that it seemed as if he’d had his wings clipped, something which he denied.

Another Church ‘insider’ summarized the Archbishop’s problem:"he is almost totally isolated, there is a deep sense of grievance against him in the wider church. It would be far better for him to bring people with him, perhaps by engaging in a root-and-branch listening exercise. He is clearly not happy in the job."


Transport campaign priest believes western line will re-open

The former Maynooth sociology professor and campaigner for the regeneration of the west of Ireland, Fr Micheál Mac Greil, has said he is satisfied that the western rail corridor which would link Limerick with Sligo will be fully re-opened despite the state of government finances and irrespective of who is in power.

Speaking after meeting a cross-party group of TDs and senators from the west of Ireland, he acknowledged that the full restoration of the line - much of which was closed several decades ago - would need “a political decision.”

Fr Mac Greil said that the rail infrastructure had enormous potential for passengers and freight.

The Western Rail Corridor was a classic example of a “desirable front-loading infrastructural investment that fits in well into the national spatial strategy policy,” he remarked.

It would, he said, link the airports at Waterford, Cork, Shannon, Galway, Knock and Sligo, through the cross-radial link between Rosslare and Sligo.

Furthermore, said Fr Mac Greil, if the Western Corridor became operational again, it would also connect the north-west, west and mid-west of the country with the major deep-sea ports at Foynes, Cork, Waterford and Rosslare.

He said he had told the Oireachtas representatives that the immediate need was to secure confirmation that the second phase of the development from Athenry to Claremorris via Tuam would proceed.

He argued that this section would be even more successful than the recently re-opened Limerick - Athenry section of the line.

“In my opinion, investment in the enhancement of Ireland’s rail network is something that serious politicians should address.”


Methodist Church to clarify position on abortion issues

The Methodist Church’s annual Conference has voted in favour of a new briefing to clarify its position on issues related to abortion.

The vote comes one week after the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists published a review stating that foetuses in the womb could not feel pain before 24 weeks, therefore making it unnecessary to reduce the time limit for abortions.

The briefing, to be produced by the Joint Public Issues Team over the coming months, will seek to explain the Methodist position on abortion “in modern language” and “place this in the context of modern law and science”.

It is intended not to alter the Church’s official position on abortion but to keep the complex issues surrounding abortion under constant review and help churches think about the issues.

As such, the Methodist Church’s original 1976 statement on abortion will remain unchanged.

That statement rejected calls for abortion on demand and stated that abortion should not occur after the life is viable outside of the womb.

A report in 2008 expanded the Methodist Church’s official position on abortion to include mention of the fact that foetuses are created in the image of God.

The Methodist Church’s Abortion Statement Working Group stated that there was “no evidence that the Methodist people as a whole wish for a change” and that even those who did feel differently from the 1976 statement felt it should remain as the Church’s official position on the issue.

Ruth Gee, Chair of the Abortion Statement Working Group, said the briefing would make the Church’s position on abortion “more accessible and useful” to churches as they seek to respond to medical, scientific and technological developments.

Conference representative, the Rev Martin H Turner, said a briefing would allow new research on foetal pain as well as recent findings on the mental health implications of abortion to be taken into consideration.

The decision to draw up the briefing also received the strong support of Methodist youths.

Simon Pillinger, of the Methodist Youth Assembly said: “There is an increasing rate of teenage pregnancy and abortion [and] as medical technology advances the time life is viable comes closer and closer to conception. I would implore Conference to re-evaluate this situation – issues like this plague young people.”

Other issues on the agenda included racial justice, environmental issues and the living wage. Conference heard from minority ethnic members that racism was still “alive and well” within the Church and wider society and that race relations should be regarded as the work of all Methodists, rather than that of minority ethnic members only.

John Howard, of the Joint Committee on the Ethics of Investment, spoke of the positive impact that the Methodist Church’s discussions with corporations like Nestlé and BSkyB on their operations. He expressed concern, however, that environmental issues in some parts of the world were not receiving the attention they were due.

He told Conference: “The quantity of oil spilled every year in the Niger Delta is greater than the oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico up until now and yet it doesn’t get the same publicity.”

Conference heard the call for the minimum wage to equal a living wage and was challenged to pay a living wage to all staff within its churches and charities, although it acknowledged that current budgetary constraints meant it was unlikely this would be achieved within the next five years.

Paul Morrison, Policy Adviser on the Joint Public Issues Team, said: “By paying a living wage ourselves our voice to promote it to others is greatly enhanced.”


Pope says pallium is sign of bond that protects church from evil

Placing a woolen band around the shoulders of 38 new archbishops, Pope Benedict XVI told them it was a Gospel "yoke" -- not a heavy burden, but a sign that by remaining united with the church in faith, they will have the strength to face whatever challenges come their way.

"Communion with Peter and his successors, in fact, is the guarantee of freedom for the pastors of the church and for the communities entrusted to them," the pope said June 29 during his homily on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Celebrating Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Benedict gave the archbishops from 26 countries, including Vietnam, the woolen pallium as a sign of their sharing with him authority over the faithful in their archdioceses.

The archbishops, named in the past year, included: Archbishops Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee; Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati; Thomas G. Wenski of Miami; and Albert LeGatt of Saint-Boniface, Manitoba.

In his homily, the pope said the church has faced persecution throughout history, but it suffers greater damage "from that which pollutes the faith and Christian life of its members and its communities, attacking the integrity of the mystical body, weakening its capacity for prophecy and witness, tarnishing the beauty of its face."

Jesus promised the church would be free -- not just from physical destruction, but also from spiritual defeat by the devil, he said.

Unity with the church and with the pope, he said, guarantees that "the local churches and bishops' conferences have freedom in relation to local, national or international powers, which can, in some cases, block the church's mission."

But even more importantly, communion with the pope "is the guarantee of freedom in the sense of full adhesion to the truth, to the authentic tradition, so that the people of God are preserved from errors concerning faith and morals," he said.

The pallium is the "yoke" Jesus spoke about; it does not weigh down the person carrying it, but supports him in his unity with the rest of the church, the pope said.

Giving and receiving the woolen band is "a gesture of communion" with the church whether it is threatened with "political interference or other harsh trials" or even "in the case of communities that suffer under the influence of misleading doctrines or ideological tendencies and practices contrary to the Gospel," Pope Benedict said.

The New Testament speaks of the danger of divisions and misunderstandings within the Christian community, but also of "the dangers of the 'last days,' identifying them with negative attitudes that belong to the world and can contaminate the Christian community: selfishness, vanity, pride (and) attachment to money," he said.

Still, he said, Jesus' promise that the forces of evil would not prevail against the church guarantees that it will be free "both from the material bonds that seek to impede or constrain its mission, as well as from spiritual and moral evils that can attack its authenticity and credibility."

In the presence of a delegation from the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, the pope said, "one of the typical effects of the action of the Evil One is division within the ecclesial community. Divisions, in fact, are symptoms of the force of sin."

Thanking the Orthodox delegation for celebrating the feast with the Catholic community, the pope also said he was confident that a renewed faith in Jesus and continuing commitment to dialogue would bring unity one day.

Archbishop LeGatt of Saint-Boniface, Manitoba, said he had been reading about the pallium before coming to Rome and while it is a sign of the authority he shares with the pope, "it's really a sign of service, a sign of the service of communion within the church, of the unity of faith and the unity of charity that I've been entrusted with, that all the baptized are entrusted with."

The six crosses on the pallium are a sign that bishops are called to love people as Christ did -- with total self-giving, he said. "It's a call to a kind of ministry, a kind of pastoral ministry, a way of being good shepherd along with the Holy Father who is the shepherd of all the church. It's a real call to continue growing in my own spirituality, my own faith, to be a more proper instrument of that communion," he said.

Archbishop Schnurr said the pallium has taken on several meanings throughout history, but pastoral care for one's archdiocese and an assurance of Christ's presence are the two primary messages carried by the woolen band.

"The Holy Father, in placing the pallium around the shoulders of the new archbishops, is encouraging and telling the archbishops that they must carry their sheep," he said. "The other symbol is that of the yoke; the duty of the office can be rather onerous at times, but we are to see the pallium and be reminded of the words of Christ, 'Come to me all who labor and are weary for my yoke is light and my burden is easy,'" the archbishop said.

Archbishop Wenski, who traveled with about 200 pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Miami and his former Diocese of Orlando, said the pallium "is a symbol of our closeness to the Holy Father and also of our pledge to remain in communion with him and to be obedient to his teachings."

Several of the pilgrims in Archbishop Wenski's group were people originally from Haiti, including a woman chosen to receive Communion directly from the pope.

"As I've said several times since the earthquake in Haiti last January 12, geography has made us neighbors, but we are also called to be brothers and sisters," he said.

Receiving the pallium with archbishops from around the world "shows the universality of our church, that the church is indeed Catholic because it encompasses the whole world. And it shows that after 2,000 years, we continue to carry on the great commission to bring the Gospel to all nations," he said.

Archbishop Listecki said receiving the pallium from Pope Benedict was "a tremendous thrill. Obviously, this is the church universal at its best."

He said he felt humbled kneeling in front of the pope and he felt the huge responsibility of his office, but he also felt for the pope.

The Milwaukee archbishop said that just as the archbishops felt the love and support of the pope during the ceremony, he hoped that Pope Benedict "would feel the unity that we feel with him and that that unity strengthens him."


Bishop Kicanas defends Holy Father against protest group

A bishop defended the Holy Father's role in combating clerical sex abuse to a self-described “Catholic” protest group in Arizona, who recently urged others not to give to the Church during an annual collection.

Calling themselves, “Send the Bishops a Message,” the group chose the annual Peter's Pence Papal Collection Day to encourage individuals to support other charities instead of the Church as a way to express dissatisfaction with the way they believe the Pope has handled clerical sex abuse cases.

“We're here for two things,” said organizer Frank Douglas to local KVOA news on Sunday. “To protect children and to heal the wounded.”

“There are still sexual predators in the Catholic church and they're being hidden by the bishops and the Pope,” claimed Douglas.

The group's website further asserted that “Church officials have adamantly refused to accept responsibility for their grave moral failures in the clergy sex abuse crisis. They repeatedly 'apologize,' but neither admit to covering up sex crimes against children nor accept their part in the horrendous scandal brought down upon Catholics everywhere.”

In a statement contradicting the protestors, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson wrote on Sunday that “Clearly, Pope Benedict encourages and supports efforts within the Church to put in place effective ways of preventing and responding to sexual abuse of minors.”

“The Holy Father has expressed his profound sorrow and regret about the sin and crime of sexual abuse by priests and the failure of some bishops to respond appropriately to abuse of children by priests,” the bishop added.

“He made this very clear in his statement to the thousands of priests gathered in St. Peter's Basilica two weeks ago to conclude the Year for Priests.”

“He has expressed his deep sorrow to victims of abuse personally in face-to-face meetings on several occasions,” the prelate continued. “He has established a special study of the tragedy of abuse within the Church in Ireland.”

“He has consistently supported the efforts of the U.S. Bishops to address child abuse by priests and to support the zero tolerance policy. In dioceses across the U.S., including our Diocese of Tucson, significant policies and procedures have been put in place to provide safe environments for children and vulnerable adults.”

Speaking on the importance of the annual collection and its global benefits, Bishop Kicanas said that the “charities supported by the gifts of Catholics to the Peter's Pence Collection do immense good throughout the world. Catholics can be assured that their gifts are used only to support the charitable ministries of the Holy Father in desperately poor and struggling nations.”

“Because of this worldwide collection,” he added, “the Holy Father is able to personally direct charity on behalf of the entire Church. The collection provides for the needs of the Church in struggling parts of the world, including providing humanitarian assistance to victims of war, oppression and natural disasters.”

“We can all be very proud of how our gifts and the sharing of our blessings benefit countless numbers of people, especially the littlest and weakest among us,” Bishop Kicanas concluded.


Rosary for the Bishop celebrates six months of prayer, global expansion

Thursday, July 1, marks six months since the inauguration of the Rosary for the Bishop campaign, an online website that encourages the faithful to pray for bishops across the U.S. and around the world.

The prayer campaign began in 2005 in Madison, Wisconsin, where an online effort was made to collect prayers for Bishop Robert Morlino of the Diocese of Madison.

On January 1, 2010, the project was expanded to include all U.S. bishops, and it has since grown to incorporate those from other countries as well.

"At the beginning of 2010, we launched Rosary for the Bishop for all U.S. bishops," said Tom Reitz, one of the website's administrators. Since then, the campaign has grown in response to visitor feedback.

"We kept getting emails from people saying 'can you please add the bishops of my country?' So we did,” Reitz said. “Now the service is available for bishops in the U.S., U.K., Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Gibraltar, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada."

Since its inception, membership has risen to more than 800 participants from 45 U.S .states and 10 other countries. So far, the website has recorded 28,000 Rosaries prayed for more 250 Catholic bishops.

On the campaign website,, visitors can commit to a weekly or monthly Rosary for any bishop.

The website features anonymous statistics on how many Rosaries have been prayed, as well as a Google map marking the locations of participating dioceses. Participants also have the option to receive reminder emails.

"Rosary for the Bishop is a growing, evolving program," explained Reitz.

"We keep adding new features to the site, especially features that members have suggested." In recent months, the site has added a blog, Facebook "like" buttons and more detailed options for prayer reminders. More features are planned for the future.

Several bishops have expressed appreciation for the program.

"Rosary for the Bishop is a special blessing and source of encouragement for me," said Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa.

"It gives me great serenity to know that so many men and women are turning to Mary, asking her special care and intercession for the bishops," added Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison.

Syte Reitz, one of the campaign's founders, explained that the program was originally inspired by “the Exodus passage (17:11) in which Aaron and Hur help Moses to keep his hands lifted up in prayer so that Israel would be victorious.”

"Heaven knows that our good bishops are under fire for standing up for our Catholic Faith nowadays,” he said. “What can we do about it? Support them with our prayers!"


Critics see ruling on Christian Legal Society as blow to religious freedom

Critics lamented the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on Monday to dismiss a lawsuit from a Christian student organization seeking to be officially recognized by a California public university.

The group sought to overturn a previous court ruling which sided with the school and denied recognition to the organization because of its statement of faith.

The confrontation between the Christian Legal Society (CLS) and the University of California's Hastings College of Law first began when the group was denied school recognition because of the group's statement of faith.

The statement prevents anyone who is “unrepentantly” engaging “in sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman” from being a group leader or member.

UC Hastings charged that this provision violates the school's ban on “sexual orientation” discrimination, despite the fact that CLS's statement of faith is based on the conduct of members of any sexual orientation and not on one's “immutable status.”

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Christian group's First Amendment rights of association, free speech and free exercise were not violated by the college's nondiscrimination policy.

In September of 2004, CLS asked UC Hastings if the group could be exempt from the religion and sexual orientation sections of the university's nondiscrimination policy. Adhering to those sections of the policy, CLS chapter members argued, would force the group to admit members and elect leaders who held beliefs and engaged in conduct contrary to the mission and purpose of the group.

The court's opinion, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said UC Hastings' decision was reasonable because the university requires all groups bearing its endorsement to be nondiscriminatory.

Ginsburg was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor in ruling in favor of UC Hastings.

Several critics lamented the Supreme Court's Monday ruling, as well as the media coverage of the decision for falsely depicting CLS's stance.

Sam Casey, General Counsel for Advocates International (AI), a Christian organization that helps represent law students globally, told CNA in a phone interview that contrary to some media reports, CLS did not claim in their statement of faith that homosexuals were not allowed membership.

The Associated Press reported today that an “ideologically split Supreme Court ruled Monday that a law school can legally deny recognition to a Christian student group that won't let gays join.”

Rebuffing this claim, Casey stated that no homosexual students have ever been dismissed or barred from the group, but cohabiting heterosexuals have been.

The real issue, he explained, is a matter of chastity and living according to Christian principles versus one's sexual orientation alone.

Casey also cited concern that the California University is discriminating against CLS as it is the first group to ever be singled out and held to the school's nondiscrimination policy.

Disagreement with the ruling was also voiced by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote in a strongly worded dissent that the ruling was “a serious setback for freedom of expression in this country.”

“Our proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express 'the thought that we hate,'”Alito said, quoting a previous court decision.

“Today's decision rests on a very different principle: no freedom for expression that offends prevailing standards of political correctness in our country's institutions of higher learning.”

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins also criticized the ruling, adding it “throws student organizational mission statements out the door, as everyone at a state school with an 'all-comers' policy, regardless of belief, can now join any organization, even if they oppose that organization's purpose and mission.”

“Today's ruling renders student organizations effectively purposeless, and would allow, for example, Republicans and Democrats who wish to sabotage one another's college groups to join and undermine them from the inside out,” he asserted.

“More importantly, the Supreme Court handed down a decision that erodes religious freedom under the auspices of preventing discrimination against homosexuals,” Perkins charged.

“The Court majority essentially held that it is acceptable to discriminate against private religious organizations that disagree with them on whether homosexuality is a constitutional right, and against religious groups that want to organize in universities according to the dictates of their faith.”

Eric Rassbach, National Litigation Director at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed in amicus curiae brief in favor of CLS, also warned about the dangers of the ruling.

“Public Universities are now poised to become echo chambers where diversity is discouraged and conformity is mandated,” Rassbach said.

“By refusing student groups the right to choose their own requirements for leadership, the Court has struck a blow to religious groups’ ability contribute to a competitive marketplace of ideas.”


Pope says greatest danger to Church is internal pollution

During his address for today's feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Holy Father asserted that the “greatest danger” to the Church is not external persecution, but the “negative attitudes” of the world that can pollute and “infect the Christian community” from within.

The Pope made his remarks on Tuesday morning at Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, where he concelebrated with 38 metropolitan archbishops whom he bestowed the pallium upon after delivering his homily.

The pallium is a white stole made of wool from lambs blessed and presented to the Pope each year on the feast of St. Agnes. It is reserved for use by the Pope and all metropolitan archbishops and expresses communion with the Bishop of Rome.

In his homily, Pope Benedict first reflected on the theme of freedom for the Church, emphasizing that Sts. Peter and Paul demonstrate that “God is close to his faithful servants and frees them from all evil, and frees the Church from negative powers.”

Speaking on Christ's promise in the Gospel that the “powers of hell shall not prevail” on the Church, the Pontiff explained that this not only “includes the historical experience of persecution suffered by Peter and Paul and other witnesses of the Gospel,” but “it goes further, wanting to protect especially against threats of a spiritual order.”

“Indeed, if we think of the two millennia of Church history, we can see that - as the Lord Jesus had announced, Christians have never been lacking in trials, which in some periods and places have assumed the character of real persecution.

“These, however, despite the suffering they cause, are not the greatest danger for the Church,” the Pope said.

“In fact,” he noted, “it suffers greatest damage from what pollutes the Christian faith and life of its members and its communities, eroding the integrity of the Mystical Body, weakening its ability to prophesy and witness, tarnishing the beauty of its face.”

Reflecting on the Scripture readings, the Pope explained that the “Second Letter to Timothy – of which we heard an excerpt – speaks about the dangers of the 'last days,' identifying them with negative attitudes that belong to the world and can infect the Christian community: selfishness, vanity, pride, love of money, etc.”

“There is therefore a guarantee of freedom promised by God to the Church, it is freedom from the material bonds that seek to prevent or coerce mission, both through spiritual and moral evils, which may affect its authenticity and credibility.”

“The theme of the freedom of the Church, guaranteed by Christ to Peter, also has a specific relevance to the rite of the imposition of the pallium,” the Holy Father explained, “which we renew today for thirty-eight metropolitan archbishops, to whom I address my most cordial greeting, extending with it affection to all who have wanted to accompany them on this pilgrimage.”


Priest removed in Italy after confessing to child abuse

A 74-year-old priest has been removed from his position in northern Italy after confessing he sexually abused minors.

Alois Kranebitter, parish priest in the Alto Adige region's Bolzano-Brixen diocese, will no longer be allowed to celebrate mass in public and will be obliged to live in a place where he has no contact with children, the diocese said in a statement.

'These cases of abuse date back 20 years. The victims and the priest have been carefully questioned by an ecclesiastical judge and by the bishop,' the statement said.

'The suspect priest deplores his own behaviour. He wants to live out the rest of his old age in penance.'

Bolzano-Brixen's bishop Karl Golser said he wanted 'clarification' about the Kranebitter case and to help the victims.

'We can't put the clock back but we want to do all we can to alleviate the pain of the victims. We also owe the faithful an explanation,' Golser said.

The office of Bolzano's chief prosecutor Guido Rispoli made no immediate comment but earlier in June he met Golser to discuss possible cases of paedophilia among members of the Catholic church in Alto Adige.

Bishop Golser said any priest accused of child sexual abuse must be reported to the Vatican body responsible for disciplining the clergy, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

'The worst offenders may be defrocked,' he said. He also stressed there was a 'zero tolerance' approach to the sexual abuse of children by members of the Catholic Church.

Golser said canon law has a longer statute of limitations than Italian law, an advantage for victims of paedophile priests who often only manage to bring the alleged abuse to light decades after it took place.

Italy is one of several European countries where there has been a surge of child abuse allegations against members of the Catholic church.

The US and Brazil have also been hit by similar scandals.


Conscience must be made central to partnership Bill (Contribution)

The Civil Partnership Bill – before the Dáil this week – forces citizens to collude in things they believe to be morally wrong

NO CHURCH-STATE controversy in recent times has raised so many difficult political and moral issues compared with those raised by the proposed Civil Partnership Bill.

These include:

  • the nature of the family and its status in the Irish Constitution;
  • the rights and obligations of citizens arising from the fact that they live together in a mutually supportive and stable partnership, or plan to do so;
  • the rights and obligations of legislators when legislating on laws which touch on fundamental constitutional or moral issues;
  • the right of citizens to make conscientious objections on the basis of their moral convictions or religious beliefs;
  • and, finally, the rights and obligations, if any, of ordained ministers of the Catholic Church either individually (bishops and priests) or as a body (through the bishops’ conference) to express publicly their views on any proposed legislation.

All of these issues touch on the nature of democracy, more specifically on the question of the role of conscience in democracy – and, by implication, the rights of the church with regard to its obligation to form the conscience of its adherents.

When the Irish Bishops’ Conference issued its statement recently on the proposed legislation, there was an outcry from a handful of members of the Oireachtas. A tiny but very vocal minority were outraged at the audacity of the bishops to express any opinion on this or, presumably, on any other matter.

They effectively claimed that the church – in particular, in the wake of the Ferns, the Ryan and the Murphy reports – should remain silent.

This, of course, would leave the way free for that tiny but vocal minority of secularists to impose their views on the whole of society, views that are repugnant to the sincere convictions of most citizens.

These same citizens are being increasingly intimidated by a media that has adopted these “liberal-progressive” views. Is this democracy, Irish style?

Citizens may disagree on the nature of marriage and the morality of sexual relations outside marriage.

But they cannot be indifferent, since, apart from personal moral wellbeing, the wellbeing of society as a whole is at stake. In addition, the Bill touches on the Constitution and its recognition of the privileged role of marriage due to its unique significance for the common good of society.

Even though the Bill avoids the actual term, it fundamentally redefines the well-known legal definition of marriage as the “voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others” (recently cited by Baroness Deech, the chairwoman of the Bar Standards Board, professor of law at Gresham College, London).

This definition seems to be at the basis of the recent ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (see The Irish Times , June 26th, 2010) rejecting the claims of same-sex couples to a right to marry.

One may disagree with the usual legal definition but this is such a fundamental issue that citizens must be free to make up their own minds in the debate.

And here, I would argue, members of the Oireachtas have the primordial right as citizens and legislators to be free of the Party Whip and to follow their conscience. Conscience is the only bulwark against the totalitarian tendencies of all states.

This finds recognition in the present German Basic Law (or constitution), which, to avoid a repetition of totalitarianism of the Nazi period, when the conscience of citizens was mercilessly crushed, insists those elected to parliament “ . . . shall be representatives of the whole people, not bound by orders or instructions, and responsible only to their conscience” (Art 38.1).

As a result, the German parliament, like Westminster, allows a free vote on contentious moral issues. By asking for a free vote in the Dáil on the proposed Bill, the Irish bishops in their recent statement did nothing less than reiterate this basic democratic principle.

I have elsewhere argued that Irish democracy has been neutered by the inordinately dominant role played by the party whip. Though necessary in many instances in order to expedite business in parliament, the way the party whip is invoked in the Oireachtas effectively eliminates the need for real debate in parliament. It reduces parliament to rubber-stamping decisions which have been taken in secret.

Legislators are thereby deprived of their right to exercise their own responsibility for the common good as legislators acting according to their own conscience. The overuse of the party whip effectively “banishes conscience to the bathroom” (to quote Vaclav Havel in a similar context) and so undermines democracy.

But the proposed Bill goes a step further. It effectively deprives all citizens of their right of conscientious objection to the provisions of the Bill, should it become law.

All appeals – including those from two Church of Ireland bishops – to make provisions in the Bill for citizens to follow their conscience have been rejected.

Should the Bill become law, people such as registrars, photographers or those responsible for parish halls, etc, will be forced to co-operate in acts they consider in good conscience to be morally wrong.

In sum, the refusal to include a conscience clause in the proposed Civil Partnership Bill undermines the primacy of conscience which is the bedrock of democracy.

The imposition of the party whip for the vote on this particular Bill (and on other similar Bills) is contrary to the right and duty of TDs and Senators to act as legislators in the full sense of the term, responsible to their conscience.


Pope launches team to 're-evangelise' the West

Benedict XVI announced the creation of a new Vatican department dedicated to tackling what he called "a grave crisis in the sense of the Christian faith and the role of the Church."

He expressed deep concerns that previously staunch Catholic countries in Europe and North America were facing "the eclipse of a sense of God".

Tens of thousands of worshippers are deserting the Church over issues such as clerical sex abuse and the ban on married priests.

"I have decided to create a new body with the aim of promoting a renewed evangelism," in countries that are going through "progressive secularisation of society", the 83-year-old Pope said.

The new department, to be called The Pontifical Council for New Evangelisation, will try to reinvigorate belief among Catholics in rich, developed countries – or, in the pontiff's words, "find the right means to re-propose the perennial truth of the Gospel."

It is expected to be led by an Italian archbishop, Rino Fisichella, who as head of the Pontifical Academy for Life is the Vatican's top bioethics official.

Congregations in the West have fallen dramatically and faith in the Church has been hard hit by a series of high-profile scandals involving the sexual abuse of children by paedophile priests.

The Vatican, together with senior Church leaders in individual countries, has been accused of ignoring or actively covering up sex abuse cases in the United States, Australia, Germany, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Austria.

The Pope himself has been accused of turning a blind eye to paedophile priest cases when he was Archbishop of Munich and then head of the Vatican's office for doctrinal enforcement.

The Pope made an official visit to Portugal last month, but barely 20 per cent of the population in the formerly staunchly Catholic country regularly attends church and the average age of priests is 62.

Austria – once seen as a bulwark against the Protestant Reformation and a stronghold of Catholicism in central Europe – is witnessing a particularly strong push for a more liberal Church, partly in response to the paedophile sex abuse scandal.

The Austrian Church has estimated that up to 80,000 of the country's 5.5 million Catholics could leave the church this year a new record.

In Britain there are about six million Catholics – one in ten of the population – but only around a million say they go to Mass every Sunday.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the President of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said he looked forward to co-operating with the new body.

"This initiative identifies a challenge with which many in the Catholic Church, and many in other Christian communities, are familiar," he said.


We should not be surprised by resilience of the church (Contribution)

The church is much more robust than many commentators would have us believe.

IN THE midst of significant failures of leadership in our civic, political, fiscal and religious institutions, people have become cynical and disillusioned.

The dominant view abroad is that this disillusionment is most acute within the Catholic Church.

The supposition is that the “we” members of the church have lost confidence and trust in the “they” who are the leadership.

Commentators who are expert on “we” declare the church to be in terminal decline, a slump that is irredeemable. Such a view does not reflect how things actually are on the ground and the health of the church is much more robust than many commentators would have us believe.

The church has always numbered saints and sinners among its members. Sin has the unerring capacity to damage the Body of Christ and its virulent repercussions throughout the church cannot be ignored. But sin does not have the last say. Christ has conquered sin by His death and resurrection. Through the gift of His Spirit, the church continues to renew and reform; at grassroots level it is very much alive and planning for its future.

On June 8th last, in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, Cardinal Seán Brady and Bishop Gerard Clifford commissioned some 300 lay women and men who had undergone training to take up new leadership roles within the newly created pastoral areas throughout the archdiocese.

Cardinal Brady announced the new “diocesan aim” and promulgated the diocesan pastoral council constitution that will guide the unfolding of the pastoral plan. The membership of this council reflects all the states of life within the church but the vast majority are lay people.

The new pastoral areas will have clerical and lay leadership acting in unison as co-responsible for the pastoral life of their areas.

This is as it should be.

Other developments show how vibrant the church is in the cross-Border archdiocese of Armagh. More than 100 people completed a year’s study of theology at centres in Drogheda and in Armagh. Stringent child safeguarding reforms have been applied across the diocese with a host of volunteer laity acting in child-protection roles.

We should not be at all surprised by the resilience of the church. The life of the church is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit and there is a divine guarantee she will not be left orphaned. However, church structures exist to serve and to protect the life of the church. They are not cast in stone and are subject to the laws of change and decay as is any human institution. Venerable structures that have been central to how the Irish church operated are no longer viable because these were heavily dependent on priests and religious whose numbers are in steep decline.

Just as new school trusts, largely under lay stewardship, have emerged to care for Catholic education, similar new realities will emerge to strengthen the life of faith in our dioceses and parishes. The creation of new pastoral areas is one such new structure.

The Swiss theologian Hans Urs Balthasar characterised the laity as a “sleeping giant” who needed to awaken and take up its rightful role within the life of the church.

We are on the threshold of that awakening.

Pope Benedict XVI, speaking in Rome in May 2009, reminded his clergy that laity must no longer be viewed as “collaborators” of the clergy but truly recognised as “co-responsible” for the life of the church.

We see the working out of that truth in the developments taking place in Armagh.

It augurs well for the future of the church in Armagh and in Ireland.


Pope Benedict XVI to 're-evangelise' West

THE Pope yesterday announced he is to create a new Vatican office to fight secularisation and "re-evangelise" the West.

This was a tacit acknowledgment that his attempts to reinvigorate Christianity in Europe have not succeeded and need a new boost.

He said parts of the world were still missionary territory, where the Catholic Church was relatively unknown.

But in other parts of the world, such as Europe, Christianity had existed for centuries yet "the process of secularisation has produced a serious crisis of the sense of the Christian faith and role of the church".

The new pontifical council, he said, would "promote a renewed evangelisation" in countries where the church has long existed "but which are living a progressive secularisation of society and a sort of 'eclipse of the sense of God'."

The Pope did not say who would head the new office, but Italian media have said he would tap Monsignor Rino Fisichella, who as head of the Pontifical Academy for Life is the Vatican's top bioethics official.

He created a minor uproar last year when he defended Brazilian doctors who aborted the twin fetuses of a nine-year-old child who was raped by her stepfather.

Also yesterday, the resignation of a church-appointed child abuse commission in Belgium left the Vatican reeling from widening pedophile scandals on both sides of the Atlantic.

A war of words broke out between the Vatican and Brussels after the Pope condemned as deplorable the seizure by police of the commission's files, and the detention of nine bishops for an entire day last week.

The Pope spoke out again yesterday, warning an Austrian cardinal against repeating accusations that an Italian cardinal covered up child abuse claims.

The crisis enveloping the church deepened yesterday when the US Supreme Court opened the way for the Vatican to be sued by the victims of pedophile priests.

The Vatican had wanted the court to throw out a lawsuit seeking to hold it responsible for the crimes of a priest who was moved from Ireland to Chicago, then to Portland, Oregon, to escape prosecution.

Yesterday, the court rejected the Vatican's argument that, as a sovereign state, it had immunity from prosecution in the US.

In Belgium last Thursday, police seized 475 case files from the offices of a commission of inquiry into child abuse as they stepped up their investigation after suspicions that senior church figures were being protected from the law.

Police also seized computer files from the home of Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who led the church in Belgium for 20 years and faced allegations that he ignored claims of abuse.

Peter Adriaenssens, a respected child psychiatrist who was brought in to chair the commission this year, was furious that his team's documents were seized.

"We were used as bait," he said, suggesting that accusers had come forward confident in the anonymity afforded by his commission. "Why would they raid our offices? That can only be because they assume that we withhold information, or that we would manipulate things," he said.

In a sign of the tension felt in the Vatican, it issued a blunt statement yesterday in which it effectively said the Pope had censured Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, who last month publicly accused another cardinal of covering up abuse.

Cardinal Schonborn accused Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano of having blocked an investigation into abuse by former Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, who stepped down as archbishop of Vienna in 1995.