Thursday, May 31, 2012

Spanish Opposition Eyes Church Tax to ensure that even the Catholic Church contributes to the costs of overcoming the ongoing and deteriorating financial crisis in Spain, Spain’s main opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) has recently launched a nationwide initiative calling for property tax to be imposed on church property and real estate.

Until now, the Catholic Church has been exempt from property tax, in accordance with a concordat concluded between Spain and the Vatican in 1979, and subsequently modified in 1998.
The PSOE party now plans to submit applications to all town and municipal councils calling for the tax to be levied on residences and other real estate owned by the church, with the exception of places of worship.

Defending the initiative and the party’s plans to end the church’s tax privilege, PSOE board member Oscar Lopez underlined the need for all citizens to take part in efforts to combat the crisis, including the church.

Although conservative-led states such as Leon, Zamora and Valladolid are currently examining the idea of levying such a tax on the Catholic Church, the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is opposed to the idea of modifying the Vatican treaties.

It is estimated that the church currently owns around 100,000 properties in Spain, although around a half of these are religious buildings.

Philadelphia monsignor apologizes in clergy-abuse case

A Roman Catholic church official apologized to a priest sex-abuse victim on the final day of testimony in his groundbreaking child-endangerment trial.

Jurors are set to hear closing arguments Thursday after the defense rested Tuesday afternoon for Monsignor William Lynn and a co-defendant.

Lynn, 61, who served as the Philadelphia archdiocese secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, is the first U.S. church official charged over his handling of priest-abuse complaints. He and the Rev. James Brennan have been on trial for 10 weeks.

Brennan has pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting a teen in 1996. Defrocked priest Edward Avery pleaded guilty to a 1999 sexual assault days before trial and is in prison.

Lynn testified that he tried to get accused priests out of parishes and into treatment, but said his power was limited because Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua had the final say.

Avery's victim was abused years after Lynn had deemed the priest and part-time disc jockey "guilty" of an earlier abuse complaint. Lynn said that Avery was one of his first referrals, however, when an archdiocesan review board was formed after the priest-abuse crisis exploded in Boston in 2002.

That was "way too late" for Avery's victim, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington snapped.

"And I'm sorry about that," Lynn replied.

Lynn said that Bevilacqua would not permanently remove a priest unless he was a diagnosed pedophile. That was rare among the dozens of priests accused of raping or molesting children in Philadelphia.

Defense lawyers call the mild-mannered Lynn a scapegoat for the alleged failings of the archdiocese.

Asked Tuesday if it isn't immoral to keep predators in ministry, a weary Lynn asked, "You want me to answer for the whole church?"

No other Catholic officials in Philadelphia have been charged despite two scorching grand jury reports on priest sexual abuse, one in 2005 that did not lead to any charges because the statute of limitations had expired on the accusations, and another last year that led to the charges against Lynn and four others. 

The remaining two men, a priest and teacher charged with abuse, will be tried separately because they are not archdiocesan priests.

Lynn testified that he drew up a list of accused priests in 1994, to let Bevilacqua and his top aides know the scope of the abuse complaints contained in secret, locked archives at the archdiocese.

"I think the whole purpose in sending that list up was action should be taken on a number of people," Lynn told Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, who had a list of questions of her own for the defendant.

Instead, the cardinal had the list destroyed soon after he read it, according to a memo turned over by the archdiocese just weeks before trial. Lynn said he never knew that until the memo surfaced.

Lynn also offered an explanation for why the archdiocese didn't act on old complaints, some of which dated to the 1940s, before the 2002 reforms. He said that either Monsignor James E. Molloy or now-retired Allentown Bishop Edward Cullen, two top Bevilacqua aides, told him "that for many of the priests, the actions happened so long ago, if the cardinal had taken action, Rome would overturn it."

Cullen, Molloy and the Rev. Joseph Cistone, now bishop of Saginaw, Mich., ranked above Lynn in the church hierarchy. Molloy shredded the list of accused priests, and Cistone witnessed it, according to the signed memo. Three of the 35 priests were diagnosed pedophiles, and a dozen more deemed "guilty" by Lynn, mainly because they had admitted it.

Molloy died in 2006, and Bevilacqua died in January. Neither Cullen nor Cistone were called to testify.

Both Lynn and Brennan had a series of character witnesses testify before the parties rested Tuesday. And more than a dozen people from St. Joseph's in Downingtown, a large suburban parish that Lynn led from 2004 until his arrest last year, stood to support him.

"This man has so much integrity, he'd never throw anyone under the bus," said parishioner Florence Buttner, 69, of Downingtown.

Brennan's lawyer has attacked the credibility of the accuser, who testified earlier in the trial.

Lynn faces up to 21 years in prison if convicted of two counts of child endangerment and conspiracy. 

Earlier Tuesday, Sarmina refused a defense motion to throw out the child-endangerment count linked to Brennan's victim. 

The defense argued the charge was filed too late.

Inter-church alliances are not always blessed (Comment)

Rowan Williams"It is impossible to pass silently by the liberalism and relativism which have become so characteristic of today's Anglican theology," declared Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev in 2010 at a dinner hosted by the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, at Lambeth Palace. 

Condemning women's ordination and blessing of same-sex partnerships by some churches, he stated that "we seek and find allies in opposing the destruction of the very essence of Christianity".
Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk is a Russian Orthodox, not an Anglican, archbishop, chairman of the Moscow patriarchate's department for external church relations. 

Yet arguably he and his Roman Catholic counterparts have influenced the Church of England and wider Anglican communion to an extent that few can match, slowing progress towards the inclusivity which many feel is essential in living out gospel values and sharing the good news of Christ in today's world.

The ecumenical movement has brought many benefits, for instance enabling ancient doctrinal divisions to be overcome and joint action on problems like global poverty and militarism. 

The Church of England is part of the Porvoo Communion, bringing together several European churches in full communion. 

Yet for Williams, deepening such bonds has taken second place to pursuing closer relationships with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox hierarchies.

Originally a progressive Anglo-Catholic who supported the ministry of women and gay people and a brilliant scholar, he has long been fascinated by the Orthodox church and its rich spiritual heritage. His doctoral thesis was on Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky, and he has also written on icons and Russian writers Bulgakov and Dostoevsky.

When he took office, he soon came under pressure from fellow Anglicans – largely conservative evangelicals – to support a more centralised structure for the communion, up till then a family of autonomous churches, and oppose equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people. But this was reinforced from a different quarter: the Vatican.

In visits to Rome in 2003 and 2006, and on many other occasions, he was urged to act on these issues and women bishops. 

The Eastern Orthodox church suspended dialogue with Anglicans after a partnered gay man became a US bishop, increasing the pressure.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Vatican's council for promoting Christian unity, was invited to speak at the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, and took the opportunity to condemn moves towards greater inclusion. 

"Homosexuality is a disordered behaviour. The activity must be condemned," he insisted, expressing sadness that dialogue between the Anglican communion and the Roman Catholic church had been seriously compromised over women's ordination and homosexuality. Kasper later triggered protests after criticising England's multiculturalism.

Meanwhile numerous Roman Catholic theologians, priests and laypeople in Britain and beyond were distancing themselves from the Vatican's stance on women and gay people and failure adequately to tackle child abuse. 

What would improve inter-church relations at international level might damage them at the grassroots, where ordinary Christians befriend one another and join in projects such as night shelters for homeless people.

Despite the pope's rather tactless wooing of Church of England opponents of women's ordination, cordial relations continued. 

Williams occasionally expressed polite disagreement with the hardline stance and authoritarianism of other churches. 

Nevertheless he went on trying (with limited success) to reshape the communion to make it more palatable to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox hierarchies as well as member churches intent on imposing their views on others. 

This included arguing that same-sex unions should not be blessed without the agreement of ecumenical partners. He has also sought to dilute proposals to allow women bishops in the Church of England.

Russian Orthodox leaders have been criticised for their closeness to an authoritarian state, and have backed anti-gay laws that undermine basic freedoms. 

In 2012, Hilarion called for an international Orthodox and Catholic alliance to defend "traditional Christian values" including "the possibility of marital union as a union only between man and woman". 

Papal representative Archbishop Antonio Mennini, visiting Britain, urged cooperation with other faiths as well as denominations to oppose same-sex marriage.

Perhaps Church of England members, and other Anglicans, should discuss how far the quest for truth, love and justice, and local mission, should be compromised in attempts to win the favour of Vatican and Eastern Orthodox leaders, who no doubt will continue to disapprove of Anglicanism. 

Their views should be taken seriously, but unity is not the same as conformity.

Vatican crisis highlights pope failure to reform Curia

When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict in 2005, epithets like “God’s Rottweiler” and “Panzerkardinal” suggested he would bring some German efficiency to the opaque Vatican bureaucracy, the Curia.

Instead, as the “Vatileaks” scandal has revealed, the head of the Roman Catholic Church can’t even keep his own private mail secret. 

His hand-picked deputy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, faces a “monsignors’ mutiny” by prelates in the halls of power.

Benedict’s papacy has been marked until now by controversies over things he has said and done, such as his criticism of Islam at Regensburg in 2006 or his 2009 decision to readmit four excommunicated ultra-traditionalist bishops to the Church.

Now a goal he has failed to achieve — gain control over the Curia — has come back to haunt him. 

Leaks of confidential documents on everything from Vatican finances to private papal audiences make his papacy look weak and disorganised.

“We’ve almost forgotten that reform of the Curia was part of Benedict’s program at the start,” recalled Isabelle de Gaulmyn, who was Vatican correspondent for the French Catholic daily La Croix at the time.

“Seven years later, the Curia has never seemed as opaque, ineffective, closed and badly governed as it is today.”

The “Vatileaks” scandal has revealed, among other issues, the infighting behind the sacking of the Vatican bank president. 

The pope’s own butler has been arrested on suspicion of stealing documents that have since been leaked to the media.

The target seems to be Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state (prime minister), whose critics accuse him of playing politics and blocking their efforts to stamp out corruption and cronyism in Vatican management.


The Curia, a centuries-old bureaucracy dominated by Italian clerics, is essential to the success or failure of a papacy because it can effectively cancel or water down papal decisions if they go against long-standing interests or traditions.

Its name comes from the Latin word for a royal court and its jumble of overlapping departments, commissions and tribunals seems more suited to an intrigue-filled Renaissance monarchy than a modern and transparent democratic government.

The institution that gave the world the word “nepotism” is not always a model meritocracy either. Some officials are talented and dynamic while others are bureaucrats who seem to owe their posts more to connections than capabilities.

Each department has an advisory board of cardinals and bishops and those who sit on several boards can create powerful links that cut across department lines to influence policy.

Pressure for reform grew during the long reign of Pope John Paul. He announced changes in the 1980s to give local bishops more say in central policy-making, but focused more on his travel and preaching and did not really implement it.

Benedict was seen as the best man to reform it since he had been a Curia member since 1981 and reportedly knew it inside out. Now the task looks set to be handed on to his successor.

“I’m not sure anyone has ever really controlled it, or can control it,” Thomas F.X. Noble, history professor at Notre Dame University in Indiana, said of the bureaucracy housed on the Vatican grounds and in office buildings nearby.

The Curia has held its own in Church power terms despite two non-Italian popes and the growing majority of Catholics from the developing world.

In February, the last time Benedict named new cardinals, 10 of the 18 who can vote for the next pope were Curia officials. 

That boosted their faction to 35 percent of the votes in the next conclave, meaning they will play an important role in the election and could try to win the papacy back for Italy.

Supporters of the tradition of Italian popes say only they know the culture well enough to control the Curia.


The crisis, which hurts Benedict’s image as a leader just as he drives an increasingly conservative line in Church policy, is as much a result of the pope’s diffident management style as of the institutional dysfunction of the Curia itself.

“He’s a solitary scholar and he’s not interested in the bureaucracy,” said Chester Gillis, professor of theology at Georgetown University in Washington. “His real ambition seems to be to finish the third volume of his book.”

Benedict, a leading Catholic theologian in his own right, has devoted considerable time in office to writing a major study entitled “Jesus of Nazareth” rather than administering the Church. The first two volumes appeared in 2007 and 2011.

His stern reputation stems from his long tenure as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), where he cracked down on liberal trends such as liberation theology.

But his CDF work focused on his own speciality, theology. “It was not about managing the Church,” Gillis noted.

When he was elected pope, Benedict brought along several trusted CDF colleagues, including Bertone.

Bertone’s critics call him an autocratic power-broker, a role the Curia lends itself to because its structure suits a Renaissance monarchy more than modern democratic governance.

There are no cabinet meetings among heads of departments, or dicasteries, and information circulates mostly on a need-to-know basis. Decisions with major implications for the Church are not always discussed with other departments that might be affected.


Benedict did start reforming the Curia in early 2006, downgrading its department for interfaith dialogue into a sub-department of the culture ministry and sending its experienced head away to be nuncio (ambassador) in Cairo.

But he restored it as a full department the following year after his Regensburg speech in September 2006, which suggested Islam was violent and irrational, sparked protests by Muslims in several Islamic countries.

Some Curia officials had vetted the speech but not warned him of its diplomatic dangers. 

At Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland earlier that year, Benedict added the word Holocaust to his speech after journalists saw an advance text and told his aides Jews would be offended if he did not clearly mention it.

Benedict’s aides apparently did not prepare him for the wave of sharp protests from Catholics, Jews and even German Chancellor Angela Merkel to his surprise decision in 2009 to readmit four rebel bishops to the Church after a 21-year schism.

The shocked pope had to write a long letter explaining the step and admit nobody in the Curia had done an Internet search for him and seen one bishop was a notorious Holocaust denier.

The Vatican has also reacted slowly and defensively to the clerical sexual abuse scandal shaking national churches around the world, giving the impression it puts its institutional interests ahead of the children molested by priests.

The cumulative effect of such incidents over the years and revelations of Vatican mismanagement now has been to cast Benedict’s as “a tin ear papacy,” said Christopher Bellitto, a Catholic Church historian at Kean University in New Jersey.

“This all seems to be a power game that matters only to the power players,” he said. “It seems to be a Church hierarchy further distancing itself from the people in the pews.”

Congress to 'reflect today's church'

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (right) and Fr Kevin Doran, at a press conference on the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Maynooth today. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish TimesThe Eucharistic Congress which begins in Dublin on June 10th “will reflect the Church in Ireland today. It will not be a going back to the Church of 1932 (when the last Eucharistic Congress took place in Dublin) or any other period,” the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said today.

“Its strength will be the quality of people’s faith, not numbers. It will be a Congress of prayer,” he said.
Archbishop Martin was speaking at a press conference in Maynooth this afternoon as the Irish Bishops’ Conference summer meeting came to an end. 

It had been brought forward from its usual June dates so as not to clash with the Congress which continues to June 17th.

Congress secretary general Fr Kevin Doran said that to date 22, 500 people had registered for the week of events with participation of between 10,000 and 12,000 expected at the RDS each day. 

An estimated 90 per cent of those registered were lay people he said.

“A full house” was expected at the final Mass at Croke Park on Sunday June 17th with just between just 3,000 and 4,000 tickets still available.

Fr Doran recalled that at the last Eucharistic Congress in Quebec four years ago approximately 12,000 registered with 35,000 at the final event. He attributed the larger numbers registered for the 2012 Dublin Congress to the Irish diaspora and the influence of Irish missionaries in Africa.

Altogether 7,000 pilgrims were coming from 102 countries overseas, including 1,000 from Canada, others from “the two Congos, Uganda, El Salvador, Korea, and 17 from Turkmenistan.”

He said the budget for the Congress was €11.8 million, one third of which had been contributed at collections in churches throughout Ireland. 

Another quarter would be raised from participants themselves, with the remainder to be raised in further contributions from Ireland and Bishops’ Conferences abroad.

Archbishop Martin felt there would “no great clash” between Congress events and Ireland’s international soccer team’s participation in the European Championships. 

The Congress “will be a big event for the Catholic Church and I hope it will create an image of the Irish Catholic Church which is appropriate to our times,” he said. It would be “the beginnings of a change of image that the Catholic Church presents of its identity to Irish society,” he said.

The vice president of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Rev Prof Michael Mullaney spoke of the Theological Symposium which takes place there before the Eucharistic Congress, from June 6th to 9th. It would explore the ecclesiology of Communion 50 years after the opening of Vatican II with “over 30 noted international theologians” taking part, he said.

It had been expected that about 200 might register to attend but that figure was already 320 and it seemed likely that this could rise to 400.

The Bishops Conference also received updates from the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC) and its Towards Healing support services for survivors of abuse agency.

Archbishop Martin said there was general agreement among the bishops that there was need for additional personnel to be made available to the NBSC but no final decision had been made on how this would be done. He felt reviews undertaken by the NBSC “should be self-financing.”

Bishop Denis Brennan of Ferns diocese drew attention to the work of the Towards Healing services which last year provided 28,000 counselling sessions to over 1,300 survivors, while its helpline responded to nearly 12,000 calls. 

Its work involved “700 independent therapeutic counsellors” whose services were provided at no cost to survivors.

It was also announced at the press conference that Fr George Hayes of Kerry diocese has been appointed vice-rector of the Irish College in Rome and Fr Hugh Clifford of Galway diocese has been appointed director of formation there. 

The appointment of a new spiritual director at the College has yet to be made.

It was also announced that Rev Dr Kevin O’Gorman has been appointed lecturer in Moral Theology at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

'We are destroying lives' — Catholic Church laments Tayside's abortion record

Tayside remains unchallenged as the abortion capital of Scotland, having recorded the highest rate of terminations for the 22nd year in succession.

The figures published by NHS Scotland for 2011 were greeted with sadness by the Roman Catholic Church, whose spokeswoman said: ''This is not a league table you would want to be top of with such depressing regularity.''

The number and rate of abortions has fallen north of the border over the last three years, reversing a rising pattern since the Abortion Act in 1967. 

However, this is not the case in Tayside.

Nationally it stood at 12,471 last year, down from 12,826 in 2010, and at 12 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44.

There were 1,138 abortions in Dundee, Perth and Kinross and Angus last year — a rate of 15 abortions per 1,000 women and up from 14.7 the previous year.

In Fife there were 884 or 12.4 per 1,000 women, down from 897, and much closer to the national average.

There is a clear link between the rate of abortions and the level of deprivation, with the rate in deprived areas as much as double that in more affluent parts of the country.

More than a quarter of the 12,471 women who had terminations in Scotland in 2011 had a previous termination, with Tayside the highest in this category at 35.5%.

Most abortions across Scotland were with women under 24 and the overwhelming majority (93%) were carried out at less than 24 weeks on grounds that continuing with the pregnancy ''would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman''.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: ''We have been working with NHS boards and local authorities to tackle unintended pregnancy and we are moving in the right direction. We are pleased to see that the percentage of women who had their abortion before nine weeks' gestation has increased, as termination earlier in pregnancy provides better health outcomes for the woman and reduces any risk from the procedure.''

A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Dunkeld said: ''Our position is that any abortion is an abortion too many and the message of sanctity of life is one we are trying hard to get across. People continue to ignore it and we are destroying lives — not just the lives of the unborn child but also of the mother. It has been proven that women who lose babies in this way are destroyed by the action they have taken years after the event.''

NHS Tayside commissioner for sexual health Ann Eriksen said: ''We have a number of programmes under way in Tayside which are aimed at reducing the rate of unintended pregnancy and improving sexual health overall. Education campaigns and in particular making contraception, especially long-acting methods, more widely available has helped bring the number of both abortions and teen pregnancies down in the last five years."

''Most general practices in Tayside now offer long-acting methods of contraception. In addition, free condoms are widely available for people under 25. In partnership with our local authority colleagues we are continuing to develop programmes aimed at improving sexual health and relationship education to help young people make informed decisions about their sexual health.''

NHS Fife director of public health Dr Edward Coyle said: ''We note that the total number of abortions in Fife has fallen slightly but it is important to examine further how to respond to reduce this, although it is recognised that rates are higher in areas of deprivation. Services had improved since relocating to Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy, and this allowed more medical abortions than surgical abortions, enhancing the choices available to the women and improving the support offered. We are working across agencies, including the NHS, education, community services and social work to deliver a comprehensive sexual health strategy that improves sex and relationships education and information for the public.''

He added that men and women need to stop to consider the consequences of unprotected sex, including pregnancy, before taking risks.

Condoms should be used to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections, and the role of parents and carers is crucial in explaining and discussing these issues.

Dalton McGuinty tells Catholic church he’s in charge of schools

The provincial government — not the Catholic church — is the higher power when it comes to running Ontario schools, says Premier Dalton McGuinty.

The reminder came a day after Cardinal Thomas Collins, archbishop of Toronto, accused the minority Liberal government of making “religious freedom . . . a second-class right” with a 
controversial amendment to an anti-bullying bill.

McGuinty, a Catholic whose wife Terri teaches in the separate school system that gets $7 billion annually in taxpayer funding, acknowledged Collins has responsibilities to exercise in his position.
“I have a different set of responsibilities,” McGuinty said Tuesday at the Bombardier factory in Downsview.

“I’m accountable to all faiths, I’m accountable to people of no faith. I’m accountable to all parents.”

Under the amendment supported by the New Democrats and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, Catholic schools must let students call anti-homophobia support groups “gay” clubs or words to that effect if teens so desire.

That means all children “will be accepted and respected for who they are,” the premier said, arguing it is one of Ontario’s “fundamental values that transcend any one faith.”

Collins questioned why the government would be “rigid” in giving students more power than school principals and trustees in naming clubs.

“Any student apparently can sort of override the people who have a serious responsibility to care for all the kids in the school,” Collins, also president of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, told Newstalk 1010.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, who attended Catholic school and whose father was a principal, agreed with Collins that school officials should get the final word.

“I really don’t care what people decide in schools to call clubs. I just think that principals should have a say in what’s happening in those schools.”

Hudak said “oh, sure” when asked if it was possible to have an anti-homophobia club in a school without using the word “gay” or similar terminology in the name.

“This is supposed to be about fighting bullying across the board, protecting kids no matter why they’re bullied — if they’re gay if they’re disabled, if they’re fat or whatever reason.”

Education Minister Laurel Broten said her amendment does not give students free rein in choosing names that might be deemed inappropriate, specifying they must promote a “positive school climate that is inclusive and accepting of all pupils.”

“I feel confident that it will significantly allow students to have a voice and will put in the necessary protection,” she told reporters.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it would be “frustrating” and disrespectful to allow students to set up gay-straight alliances or similar clubs but not permit “gay” in the name.

“That respect needs to come regardless of which school system students are enrolled in.”

Liberal sources say they amended the language in the bill to “remove any ambiguity” that might allow Catholic educators to override the provincial edict on naming clubs.

They believe the strategy has been successful politically because the NDP hasn’t broached it in the legislature and, more surprisingly, neither have the Tories despite their concerns.

That has led to an easy ride for the government — at least at Queen’s Park — on a contentious issue that has dominated news headlines and talk radio all week.

The cardinal’s statement against the amendment — including his plea that “we simply ask that diversity be respected in our society” — has Liberals suggesting his comments make the government seem reasonable and fair.

Although Conservatives have charged the amendment is a deliberate provocation of Catholics aimed at sapping public support for their school funding, Broten reiterated that is “absolutely not” the case.

Collins acknowledged the threat of lost funding is often made at Catholics.

“I’m a taxpayer too but we all are serving the common good, so this idea you can kind of override the religious values that serve the common good just simply on the point of public funding I think is just not a good argument.”

Jim Hughes of the anti-abortion group Campaign Life Coalition charged that Broten’s amendment on gay naming shows she is “an apologist for the homosexual activists and their drive to insert their agenda into all schools.”

Endangered church has historical value, says report

St Joseph's Church in Collingwood should not be torn down as it retains "important architectural, historical [and] cultural features", a conservation expert has declared, according to a report in The Melbourne Times Weekly.
Nigel Lewis, whose report was commissioned by residents who are fighting to save the church at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, said the fire-damaged building remained the focus of the parish complex in Otter Street and should be rebuilt.

"This humble church is ... significant as one of the most historically important expressions of Irish diaspora in Victoria," Mr Lewis said. 

"Collingwood was one of the most ... important 19th century communities of post-gold rush and post-famine Irish communities in Victoria."

The Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne is appealing Yarra City Council's decision to reject its application to demolish the church but leave the tower and a small adjoining section of wall to build a playground for students at St Joseph's Primary School.

The case started last week and will return on July 19. 

A report commissioned by the Archdiocese stated the church was unstable and that much of the former church's heritage significance was lost in the 2007 fire.

Archdiocese spokesman James O'Farrell declined a request to comment as the case is ongoing.

Pope saddened by massacre in Syria

Pope Benedict has expressed his deep sorrow at the massacre in Houla and called for politicians, faith leaders and the international community to redouble their efforts to bring peace to Syria, reports the Independent Catholic News.

The Holy Father said in a statement: "The recent massacre in the Syrian town of Houla in which around one hundred people, including numerous children, lost their lives, is a motive of great sorrow and concern for the Holy Father and the entire Catholic community, as it is for the international community which has expressed unanimous condemnation of the incident."

"Renewing its appeal for an end to all forms of violence, the Holy See exhorts the parties involved and the entire international community to spare no efforts to resolve this crisis through dialogue and reconciliation. Likewise, leaders and believers of the various religions, through prayer and mutual collaboration, are called to commit themselves to promoting the peace which is so much sought after, for the good of the whole population."

Vatican congregation refuses appeal of church relegations

The Vatican's Congregation for Clergy has rejected appeals by former parishioners seeking to reverse the Archdiocese of Boston's decision to convert six church buildings to non-religious use, called "relegation for profane use" in Church parlance.

The decisions, dated March 20 to May 10, affect the buildings of St. Frances X. Cabrini in Scituate, Our Lady of Lourdes in Revere, St. Jeanne D'Arc in Lowell, Our Lady of Mount Carmel in East Boston, St. James the Great in Wellesley, and Mary Star of the Sea in Quincy. 

The ruling on St. Frances X. Cabrini in Scituate had previously been made public.

The churches were among those closed in 2004 as part of the archdiocese's parish reconfiguration. 

At the time, the archdiocese said the closures were required because of demographic changes, declining Mass attendance and a shortage of priests.

In making their appeals, the former parishioners had argued that the archdiocese did not show sufficiently "grave" reasons, as required by Church law, to relegate the six church buildings, clearing the way for their sale or conversion to other use.

Secretary of communication for the archdiocese Terry Donilon said the Vatican documents supporting the archdiocese's decision leave no room for confusion.

The reasons "are clear to the Vatican, they are clear to us, and they are clear to most people who read them. It is clear," he said.

Recently, the Vatican has reversed church relegation decisions in some other U.S. dioceses.

Donilon refuted suggestions from parish closure opponents that the decisions in Boston were influenced by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley.

"We feel we did it right procedurally, we did it right on the substance, we provided an enormous amount of information with the Vatican to back up the decision that was made, and I think they are grasping at straws and I think they are trying to create a conspiracy theory that does not exist," he said.

In Wellesley and Scituate, former parishioners maintain vigils at their former churches.

He said those in vigil are not actively participating in their Catholic parish life, and invited those in vigil to return to "the fullness of parish life."

Donilon said archdiocesan calls to end vigils are not calls to end the appeals process.

"We are clearly going to respect the appeals process. We are going to allow it to play out. We have from day one, but I think it is fair to say, particularly in the case of the vigils, that they have to end," he said.

Under the appeals process the former parishioners can appeal to the Vatican high court, the Apostolic Signatura, Donilon said.

"Once the Signatura rules, they are speaking on behalf of the Holy Father. It is case closed at that point," he said.
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Most voters doubt Catholic institutions would shut down over mandate

A new survey shows that while more Americans are opposing the federal contraception mandate, the majority of voters also doubt that Catholic institutions would shut down rather than comply with the rule. 

According to a May 22-23 Rasmussen poll, 51 percent of voters find it unlikely that Catholic organizations would shut down rather than buy insurance to cover abortifacients, sterilizations and contraceptives, as required by the Obama Administration's Health and Human Services mandate.

Although 43 Catholic institutions recently announced lawsuits against the federal government over the mandate, only 40 percent of voters believe it to be “somewhat likely” that institutions would actually close their doors over the issue.

Sixteen percent believe such action to be “very likely” while 17 percent think it would be “not at all likely.”

Despite this doubt, 51 percent of voters disagree that the government should force religious organizations to provide contraception coverage if it violates their beliefs. Thirty-six percent of voters support this policy even if it violates religious beliefs.

Overall support of the mandate has fallen slightly when compared to those surveyed in a Feb. 7 poll. Of those questioned in the most recent poll, only 39 percent of voters favor the mandate as compared to the 43 percent who supported it in an earlier poll.

This new poll indicates a slight rise in women's opposition to the mandate, with female voters now evenly split over the issue. 

Men still overwhelmingly disagree with the mandate, with 52 percent in opposition and 34 percent in favor.

China: Police cracks down on Marian shrine of Donglu

A Catholic source who visited Donglu village (the village, which is home to a Marian shrine is in the Diocese of Baoding, in the Province of Hebei) in May told AsiaNews that since the start of the month, the government has deployed officials to guard the points of entry into the village round-the-clock. 

At each point, there are tents, apparently for day and night shifts. 

Officials check each vehicle and pedestrian entering the village, he said. 

Meanwhile, officials have put up red banners calling for "independently self-managed Church" and "resist foreign infiltration, fight crimes."

AsiaNews’ source, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, explained that "Underground Catholics in Donglu can hardly conduct religious activities. The homes of several Catholic lay leaders of the underground community are guarded by officials day and night. The names of visitors are recorded visitors."

At meeting points in the village, officials set up more tents in an apparent attempt to prevent gatherings or unauthorised religious activities. Officials are on guard 24 hours a day.

Joseph, a Catholic in Donglu, told AsiaNews that the banners are not unusual in Donglu village. But in May, there are more of them, and security is tighter. For Catholics in Baoding diocese, especially those in Donglu, it is sad to see that the Marian pilgrimage site has been destroyed, he said.” 

But Catholics will pray in their heart to the Blessed Mother. Local Catholics have to reflect on how disunity has come to such a strong Catholic community and how it has been smashed. Solidarity and unity are important for Church members," he said.
“Between the early 1980s and 1995, the Marian shrine in Donglu village was a popular pilgrimage site in northern China, especially on 23 and 24 May, feast day of Mary Help of Christians. Every year in that period, the village saw tens of thousands come from across the country. 

On 23 May 1995, more than 50,000 pilgrims had come to Donglu shrine. A year later, the government began its crackdown, deploying its forces to stop pilgrims from coming to Donglu, especially during May.”

Vatican announces it has caught poison pen letter writer......but doubts are growing in the Holy See Vatican Gendarmerie’s inquiry into the publication of secret documents “has allowed us to identify one person in possession of confidential documents.” 

Fr. Federico Lombardi stated this, explaining that this person “is now at the Vatican magistrate’s disposal for further questioning.”

The Vatican Gendarmerie, led by general Domenico Giani has allegedly identified the poison pen letter writer, who Italian newspaper Il Foglio has revealed is the Pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele: a layman working in Benedict XVI’s apartment, who had previously worked
in the Pope’s anteroomfor for a number of years. He is currently undergoing a legal process.
The Vatican Gendarmerie found large wad of confidential documents in an apartment in Via di Porta Angelica, in Rome, where the Pope’s butler Paolo Gabriele lives with his wife and three children. 

This just over 40 year old man from Rome has been working in the Pope’s apartment since 2006, entering the Pope’s Family after a period serving Mgr. James Harvey, Prefect of the Papal Household.

But is he really a poison pen letter writer or just a scapegoat to save the skin of someone higher up? 

This is the question many in the Vatican are asking since rumours have been spreading regarding the inquiries into the leaked documents. 

The butler is in fact considered by many in the Holy See as a simple, good person who is devoted to the Pope.
Behind the document leak is a refined mind who is au fait with ecclesiastical policy. It was particularly strange how he conserved “confidential documents” after months of controversies surrounding the Vatileaks that were passed on to the press. 

In less that 24 hours, the Vatican seems to have caught at least two poison pen letter writers, allowing news about them to filter through: one was the President of the IOR Ettore Gotti Tedeschi and the other, the Pope’s butler. 

Both of them laymen.

Gotti Tedeschi has been accused of being careless enough to allow the leak of a document sent to him by e-mail, without even deleting his e-mail address. 

The former president of the IOR has announced he will take legal action against anyone who tries to link him to the poison pen letter writer. 

Meanwhile, the Pope’s butler allegedly held on to “confidential documents” for months after the Vatileaks scandal broke out, before letting them out into the open.

Order investigates British knights

An inquiry into the Order of Malta in Britain has been launched and their leadership suspended following concerns over the handling of a sacristan convicted of child pornography offences.

The Grand Master of the order, Fra' Matthew Festing, has announced that a "Magistral Delegate" will take charge of the British Association of the Order following concerns over the handling of the case of a sacristan who had been convicted of child pornography offences.

Vernon Quaintance, 68, served at the knights' weekly Masses and last month was convicted of possessing videos that showed children being abused. 

In a separate police investigation, he has been arrested for seven allegations of indecent assault against children dating between 1970 and 2011.

Four senior knights had heard of concerns but not reported them to relevant authorities. 

The president, Charles Weld, and his governing council have been suspended for the duration of the inquiry.

Priest attacks 'colonial' monarchy

The monarchy is a flawed symbol of national unity and Catholics should "hesitate" before taking part in the Queen's Diamond jubilee celebrations, a senior priest has said.

Fr Ashley Beck, Dean of Studies of the Diaconate formation programme for nine dioceses in England and Wales, said for many Catholics with an Irish background the monarchy represents "colonialism and oppression" and he criticised its close relationship with the armed forces.

In a letter to The Tablet he said the Church should look critically at "wealth and privilege and the monarchy."

Catholic former MP Ann Widdecombe criticised the priest's remarks saying: "I think Ashley Beck has stepped out of the medieval period. Catholics have died for their country and their Queen and his comments are an insult to them."

Pope seeks loyalty at Katholikentag Benedict XVI called on 80,000 German Catholics to be loyal to their faith and to the Church at this year's Katholikentag in Mannhein.

In a message delivered by the apostolic nuncio to Germany the Pope told participants to "identify yourselves with the Church."

However, the person who received most media attention in Mannheim was the initiator of the Austrian Priests' Initiative (API), Mgr Helmut Schüller, who attended the "Alternative Katholikentag" organised by church reform groups. 

He accused the hierarchy of "turning the wheel back" to before the Second Vatican Council.

The 98th Katholikentag was a prelude to the Year of Faith which will begin in October on the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

Cleveland priests doubt Lennon's leadership, call for removal

The recent decision of Cleveland bishop Richard G. Lennon to eliminate his diocese’s pastoral planning office appears to have been the final straw, atop a growing list of grievances, for some of his priests. 

Since the office’s closing and concurrent firing of two long-time and respected employees, several priests have written letters to Lennon’s superiors in the United States and in Rome, voicing a lack confidence in his leadership and requesting his removal.

The letters surfaced even as Lennon is engaged in the early stages of restoring 11 parishes, carrying out an order from Rome that reversed his earlier decision to shutter the churches. 

The bishop said in a May 23 meeting with the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s editorial board he hopes to begin reopening parishes by mid-June and complete the process by Aug. 1, the newspaper reported.

Obtained by NCR Thursday morning, the letters from three priests — whose names and respective parishes were blacked out — call for Lennon’s removal as their bishop, and express their waning confidence in his ability to lead the diocese.

“I write to you with a heavy heart to say that it is time for our Bishop, Richard Lennon, to move on,” wrote one priest in a letter dated May 7 to Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy.

Lennon, “aware of the growing disconnect” between himself and the presbyterate, wrote to all diocesan priests May 21, saying “I am writing to assure you of my desire to remedy this situation.”

The letter announces a series of nine, two-hour small group gatherings for the bishop and priests to be held between June 7 and July 2. “I will come to these meetings eager to hear your suggestions for improving our relationship. I will listen with an open heart,” Lennon wrote.

The priest, in his letter to Piacenza, acknowledged Lennon’s positive qualities — good one-on-one, skilled in fundraising — but said that the “pain and damage caused by the merging and closing of churches” calls for new leadership, even if they had occurred under “the best of bishops.”

He added that the congregation’s decrees overturning Lennon’s attempted shuttering of the 11 churches were interpreted as a vote of no confidence by Rome, and ultimately says it is time for Lennon to leave Cleveland.

“Cardinal Piacenza, there is no joy in Cleveland. Ministry has become a burden for so many of us. We live in fear of retaliation if we are vocal. Desperation has pushed me to a point beyond fear. Please help,” his letter concludes.

In a second letter, addressed to the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the priest — who identifies himself as a pastor of a merged parish that included one of the 11 appealing parishes — expands on the effect of the elimination of the pastoral planning office.

“Pastorally my parish is in turmoil,” he wrote. “The only diocesan office to contact us about our status was the Pastoral Planning Office. That office was decimated by Bishop Lennon last week and two of the diocese’s most dedicated and loyal employees were simply let go after years of faithful service.”

Little more than a week after announcing his decision not to appeal the congregation’s ruling, Lennon dissolved the pastoral planning office, firing with three days notice David DeLambo and Rick Krivanka, two longtime employees with the diocese with extensive knowledge of a majority of the parishes in the diocese.

Lennon said budget constraints forced him to close the office which was largely responsible for helping parishes grow and in developing a sense of pride and ownership among parishioners in their parish's health.

For merging or reopening parishes, the office assisted them in cultivating a spirit of unity and belonging, as well as helped shaped a plan for future growth and stability.

A recent success story for the office’s work is found at St. Colman parish, once slated for closure itself. Upon fighting to keep his church open, Fr. Bob Begin worked with the pastoral planning office on a plan that eventually doubled the church’s weekend worshipping families, and doubled its collection and outreach workers, as well as welcomed 16 new Catholics this Holy Saturday.

In his letter, the priest quotes a fellow pastor who described the office as having “the institutional memory and the competence to help for effective strategic planning. The feelings of dismay and outrage at this latest senseless move on the part of Bishop Lennon only serve to fuel the flames of distrust and suspicion that make it more and more difficult to see how he can ever be an effective leader in this diocese.”

“With all due respect and before imminent chaos in the diocese erupts, I ask you to ask our Holy Father to have Bishop Lennon removed as Bishop of Cleveland,” his letter concludes.

A second priest — writing to Piacenza, Viganò and also Bishop Emeritus John M. Smith of Trenton, N.J., the apostolic visitator to Cleveland in 2011 — shared in the first’s frustration of the pastoral planning office’s closing and its impact on the success of the reopening parishes.

In his letter to Piacenza, the priest accuses Lennon of “going through the motions of reopening the churches/parishes as you have decreed,” and that the closing of the office demonstrates he is managing the reopenings in a way to guarantee the parishes’ failure.

He further stated that those employed in the planning office alone had the expertise to guide the 11 parishes’ restorations, due to their long history within the diocese and past success in working with other parishes, including the letter-writing priest’s own.

“In fact there is no plan to supply the professional services that are necessary to fulfill your decree in any meaningful way,” he wrote. “The plan is rather to assure that no effective assistance will be available. The perception is that the closing of this office is both punitive and strategic.”

In his letter to Smith, who visited Cleveland in 2011 at Lennon’s request to investigate his leadership in the wake of the mass closings and mergers, the priest summed up his perception of the scene in Cleveland: “There is more distrust than ever and the opinion of almost everyone I talk to from the churches that have won their appeals is that the Bishop is going to ‘set them up for failure.’ … please register my voice as one that thinks that it would be better for all if this Bishop were removed.”

That priests are writing letters is a significant development, said Fr. Donald Cozzens, a retired priest who teaches at John Carroll University, in University Heights, Ohio. 

“It takes a certain amount of moral courage for a priest to do that,” he said, indicating that a priest risks a lot by taking such action.

Cozzens said that the role the priests play in the coming months in Cleveland will be critical, given their role not only as leaders at the parish level, but as “collaborators with the bishop in the overall mission of the diocese.”

“And I think it’s fair to say a number of Cleveland priests do not have confidence that there is the kind of cooperation needed today between our bishop, the priests of the diocese and the laity of the diocese,” he said, pointing to the bishop’s initial handling of the parish closings and the closing of the pastoral planning office.

The revelation of the priests’ letters follows the filing of a motion in Rome by St. Patrick parish, requesting the congregation to urge Lennon to enact their decree within 15 days.

If he failed to reopen the West Park church in that timeframe, the motion requests an outside body to do so, specifically Viganò, Smith or the Metropolitan bishop (Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati). 

Peter Borre, an advocate for several parishes, said the move was intended to “take this out of the hands of Lennon, and find somebody’s who’s hierarchically superior who will in fact implement what these decrees are all about, the restoration of the parishes, the reopening of the parochial churches.”

Another letter, authored by a retired priest “in good standing” with the diocese, told Viganò of a priest recently “fired” by Lennon. Upset with his handling of parish finances, the bishop ordered the priest to resign immediately from his parish, but not before writing out his resignation in longhand. 

Since then, the priest has been reassigned as a parochial vicar of another parish, but has been provided no office, phone or computer. He was unable to claim all of his belongings before his former rectory’s locks were changed, and has been provided no arrangements for meals.

“In the Cleveland Diocese our priests and deacons have been, and still are, bullied and ill treated,” wrote the retired priest. Many fear retaliation if they criticize or question the bishop.

“Priestly morale is decimated,” one priest wrote to Vigano. “Our presbyteral council meeting of April 27 was nearly ended in fisticuffs between the clergy and the bishop.”

“We pray for our bishop every day at Mass,” the priest wrote. “I cannot imagine him being happy here under these circumstances. … I am convinced that unity can only come about with a fresh start at the top. It would give him and us peace, as well.”

“The folks are hurting. The priests are hurting,” he wrote. “Things seem to be so bad that not even the bishop can do anything to make them better, because he is hurting, too. Perhaps it is time for a parting of the ways, hopefully with honor and peace, and an opportunity for healing and forgiveness. Right now there is something wrong here.”