Archive of February 27, 2004

Christian values not politics bond Europe, the Pope says

Vatican City, Feb 27, 2004 (CNA) - Pope John Paul II said today that it is not economic or political interests, or alliances of convenience, that forge bonds among peoples in Europe. Rather, the building blocks of a unified Europe must be the Christian and moral values common to all.

The Holy Father welcomed pastors from the French province of Besancon and the archbishop and auxiliary bishop of Strasbourg.

He highlighted “the centuries-old presence of the Church in different countries of the continent through its participation in unity between peoples and cultures and in social life, notably in the educational, charitable, health care and social domains.”

“Thus, a Europe will be born whose identity rests on a community of values, a Europe of fraternity and solidarity” that seeks “the promotion of man, respect for his inalienable rights and the common good,” he added.

The Pope called on the pastors to protect “integral formation of young people, notably those who will be the nation’s leaders tomorrow. The Church hopes to enlighten them with the Gospel and the Magisterium.  Here Catholic universities have a specific mission, to help youth to analyze particular situations and to envisage how to always place man at the center of their decisions.”

Pointing to the role of Christians in social life in all its forms, John Paul II said: “In political life, in the economy, in the workplace and in the family, it is up to the faithful to make Christ ever present and to make the Gospel values shine forth,” and to highlight man’s dignity, central place in the universe and primacy over individual interests.

“The participation of Christians in public life, the visible presence of the Catholic Church and other religious denominations takes nothing away from the principle of secularity nor from the State’s prerogatives. A well understood secularity must not be confused with secularism; it cannot erase personal and community beliefs. Religion cannot merely be placed to one side in the private sphere.”

The Holy Father stressed the importance of knowing one’s own religion and being aware of the traditions of other religions, pointing out the strong Muslim presence in France “with whom you try to maintain good relations and to promote inter-religious dialogue which is, as I’ve said before, a dialogue of life. Such a dialogue should also revive in Christians an awareness of their faith and their attachment to the Church.”

In concluding, the Pope told the prelates it was up to them “to intensify…relations with civil authorities and other categories of elected people in your country, in national and European parliaments, especially Catholic parliamentarians, and with international institutions.”

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John Paul II mourns President of Macedonia

Vatican City, Feb 27, 2004 (CNA) - The Holy Father sent a telegram of condolence to the authorities of Macedonia upon the death of Boris Trajkovski, President of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, who was killed in a plane crash.

In the telegram, the Pope conveys his condolences to the government and to the people of Macedonia and prays that “President Trajkovski’s resolute commitment to peace will inspire the nation to continue steadfastly upon the path of dialogue, mutual respect and reconciliation.”

The text was sent through the Apostolic Nunciature in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

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Pope calls on Bosnia-Herzegovina to resolve problems of local populations

Vatican City, Feb 27, 2004 (CNA) - Pope John Paul II called on Bosnians this morning to take up “the path of peace and justice,” and create “conditions for sincere forgiveness and authentic reconciliation, freeing the memory of rancor and hatred derived from injustices suffered from artificially constructed prejudices.”

“This great task requires the active collaboration and serious commitment of all components of society, including political leaders,” the Pope said while receiving the Letters of Credence of the new ambassador of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Miroslav Palameta. 

In his speech in Croatian, he focused on finding solutions to the problems that affect local populations and emphasized that “it is the challenge of a multiethnic and multicultural society like Bosnia-Herzegovina” to find solutions that are beneficial to all.

The Pope referred to “the unresolved question of the refugees and exiles of Banja Luka, Bosanska Posavina and other areas in Bosnia. The more time that passes, the more urgent the duty becomes to respond to their legitimate aspirations: their suffering requires our solidarity.”

The Pope underscored that “we must not ignore our differences, we must respect them,” and said that those who “have responsibility at various levels are called to make a greater effort in order to resolve the problems that affect local populations.”

 “Bosnia-Herzegovina wants to join the other European countries in building a common house. May this desire be fulfilled as soon as possible.”

“The Holy See supports this path to unification and hopes that a great family of peoples and culture will be built in Europe as a result of everyone’s contribution. The European Union is not only an extension of it borders, but it means growing together in respect for every cultural tradition and in a commitment to justice and peace on the continent and in the world,” he concluded.

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Anglican chancellor and scholar to retire, convert to Catholicism

London, England, Feb 27, 2004 (CNA) - Canon Edward Norman, the chancellor of York Minster Cathedral and a leading Anglican scholar, has announced that he is converting to Catholicism when he retires in May, calling it “a shaft of light before the sun sets,” reported the Daily Telegraph Feb. 24.

In his most recent book, “Anglican Difficulties: A New Syllabus of Errors”, Canon Norman offers sharp criticisms of the Church of England.

Though he argues that the book is actually not a criticism, he writes: "Every disagreement [at the General Synod]… proceeds by avoidance of principled debate. Ordinary moral cowardice is represented as wise judgment; equivocation in the construction of compromise formulae is second nature to leaders." 

The ecclesiastical historian said leaving the Church of England and becoming a Catholic are independent. “There is a big hole at the centre of Anglicanism – its authority. I don't think it's a Church. It's more of a religious society,” he told the Daily Telegraph. 

“Anglicanism is going to tip into the sea,” he predicted. “But it will all come out in the wash.” 

Canon Norman, who was originally in favor of the ordination of women to the priesthood “on rationalist liberal grounds”, now says that he is against it based “on the evidence.”

“We were told that a whole dimension to humanity was missing from the ministry, but that enrichment hasn't happened,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

"Women emphasize caring, relationships, suffering, healing and love. Men are interested in truth, ideas, conflict, sin, wickedness and virtue. Those are caricatures, but there was wisdom in our Lord entrusting the office of the priesthood to men,” he told the newspaper, admitting that his words were probably not appropriate for the current culture. “The priesthood is about teaching, not just conveyance of the sacraments. If you think Christianity is all about love and relationships, then it will disappear in the flood.”

The chancellor, who says his only ideology is “classical Christianity, without reservation,” has started attending mass in Catholic churches.

"Catholicism is what I have always believed, though I did not have the wit to realize it," Canon Norman told the Daily Telegraph. "You might call it a shaft of light before the sun sets."

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Harvard law professor says same-sex marriage not about civil rights, but special preference

Cambridge, England, Feb 27, 2004 (CNA) - A Catholic Harvard University law professor says all U.S. citizens should welcome President George W. Bush’s endorsement of a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage, based on the implications of same-sex marriage.

In an article on same-sex marriage released Feb. 25, Mary Ann Glendon argues that same-sex marriage is not a civil rights issue, but a movement for special preference. She states that it will impair children’s rights and jeopardize religious freedom. Furthermore, the decision to legalize same-sex marriage belongs to the people, not to the courts, and should be made according to the democratic process, she says. Such an important decision should only be made after full public debate, she says.

“What same-sex marriage advocates have tried to present as a civil rights issue is really a bid for special preferences of the type our society gives to married couples for the very good reason that most of them are raising or have raised children,” says Glendon.

“There is a real problem of distributive justice,” said the former Vatican representative to the Summit on Women at Beijing.

“How can one justify treating same-sex households like married couples when such benefits are denied to all the people in our society who are caring for elderly or disabled relatives whom they cannot claim as family members for tax or insurance purposes? Shouldn't citizens have a chance to vote on whether they want to give homosexual unions, most of which are childless, the same benefits that society gives to married couples, most of whom have raised or are raising children?”

The financial implications of same-sex marriage must also be given consideration, she says, adding that the media has not reported the financial costs to American citizens for this “new special preference” in terms of taxes and insurance premiums.

Children’s rights

Same-sex marriage will also impair children’s rights, since it will endorse the view that marriage is for the benefit of adults and that children do not need both a mother and a father, argues the law professor. It will suggest that “alternative family forms are just as good as a husband and wife raising kids together,” she says.

School programs will also be affected. Children will be taught about homosexual sex in marriage-preparation and sex-education classes. “Parents who complain will be branded as homophobes and their children will suffer,” she warns.

Religious freedom at stake

Glendon predicts that same-sex marriage will also jeopardize religious freedom and “usher in an era of intolerance and discrimination the likes of which we have rarely seen before.

“Every person and every religion that disagrees [with same-sex marriage] will be labeled as bigoted and openly discriminated against,” warns Glendon. “The axe will fall most heavily on religious persons and groups that don't go along. Religious institutions will be hit with lawsuits if they refuse to compromise their principles.”

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‘Confessional on wheels’ to tour Central Europe

Munich, Germany, Feb 27, 2004 (CNA) - Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Germany has prepared a “mobile confessional” in an effort to re-awaken enthusiasm for the sacrament of reconciliation among the faithful of Central Europe.

The van will be presented, blessed and sent out during the charity’s international congress, called “Meeting point Universal Church”, March 5-7, in Augsburg, Bavaria.

ACN’s “confessional on wheels” will also be used during World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne. It is meant to serve as a way to bring people closer to God by offering them the sacrament of reconciliation, an opportunity to speak to a priest or spiritual counselling wherever it stops on its road trip throughout the country.

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“Deafness to the voice of God” is the problem of our age, says Cardinal Ratzinger

Rome, Italy, Feb 27, 2004 (CNA) - In an interview with the Itailian daily, “Il Tempo,” Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that “deafness to the voice of God” is the principal problem of our age.

According to the 76 year-old Cardinal, “We try to reduce Christ to somebody who had a great religious experience, a Christ merely human who is not great because of his divinity but only because of the convenience of the moment.”

Moreover, he underscored that these are same problems Pope John Paul has confronted during his Pontificate.  “Materialism, agnosticism and relativism are the difficulties of our age,” he said.

Cardinal Ratzinger also stated that peace, unity and truth are the key words to this Pontificate.

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Catholic Charities warns two million Haitians are in danger of starvation

Madrid, Spain, Feb 27, 2004 (CNA) - The Director of Catholic Charities in Haiti, Wilnus Tilus, is warning the international community about the alarming risk to food supplies which could affect up to two million Haitians, half of the country’s population.

Catholic Charities and representatives of six Haitian organizations issued a statement warning of “the distressing, alarming and critical socio-political situation affecting the Haitian people, who are approaching the celebration of the bicentennial anniversary of their independence.”   

The statement underscored the climate of terror that exists in the country, the systematic repression carried out by both police forces and armed civilians, and the difficulties for victims to have recourse to justice, in the midst of a widespread lack of security.

The statement also called on the international community to ensure that the people of Haiti—65% of whom live in absolute poverty—can exercise their constitutional rights, that all acts of political violence in the country be condemned, and that the necessary means be adopted to halt the export of arms and munitions to Haiti.

 Likewise, Catholic Charities of Haiti asked that the humanitarian intervention that is launched avoid creating a sense of dependency in the Haitian people, and that the repatriations of Haitian immigrants be suspended until minimum security conditions in the country can be established.

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Book on John Paul II, the Pope that changed the world, is published

, Feb 27, 2004 (CNA) - George Bush, senior, ex-Soviet leader Mikail Gorbachov and ex-president of Italy Francesco Cossiga are but a few of the figures that share their impressions of Pope John Paul II in a new book entitled, “The Force of the Moment.”

The book, which was presented by ex-Polish Chancellor Wladyslaw Bartoszewsk in Vienna, includes commentary by 35 different world figures on the contributions of the Pope in bringing about change in the world.

In one of the chapters, ex-German chancellor Helmut Kohl, defines of the Pope as “the man who decisively contributed to making possible the dream of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the division between Germany and Europe.”

Gorbachov confesses that he has been reading the works of the Pope since 1978, and “some things I find attractive, others I find marvelous.”  “The Force of the Moment” also features comments by Shimon Peres, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and two ex-Secretaries General of the UN, Boutros Boutros Ghali and Javier Pérez de Cuellar.

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Committee investigating sex abuse: selection of candidates, priestly formation is key

Washington D.C., Feb 27, 2004 (CNA) - Robert S. Bennett, a Washington attorney heading the research committee of the National Review Board for the protection of Children and Young People, said the screening and formation of seminarians is the key to prevent sexual misconduct by priests.

Mr. Bennett made his statements after the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, upon the request of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB,) released the figures of the number of allegations of abuse committed by priests and deacons.  According to the report, released at the National Press Club in Washington DC, there have been  10,519  “substantiated allegations” against priests and deacons, which translates into around 4% of the clergy who served in the US during those years.

According to the report, the charts of the abuse show a peak during the 70s, and more than 10% of priests having allegations of child abuse were ordained in 1970.

The experts said it was “difficult” to determine how many allegations were completely proven –since, for example, many of the priests have already died--but said that in the half-century period, 615 priests were actually denounced to the police and 100 were convicted to serve time in prison.

According to the John Jay College report, one third of the allegations have been reported in 2002, including cases that go back to 1950. Prior to 1990, less than 17% of cases were known by Church authorities.

Jane Chiles, a member of the Board, said, “We want to address a especial word of respect and admiration for the priesthood and the priests of the US.”  “They nourish the people of Christ,” so “we stand in solidarity with them,” she said.

The crisis in context 

In his remarks, Mr. Bennett asked, “Are there more abuses in other institutions? We don’t know. It has become clear that the abuse of minors is a national problem. Although it is not an excuse at all of what has happened in the Church, we need to keep in mind that the children of America are in deep pain, and nobody wants to talk about this problem,” and he recalled that, according to official national figures, there are more than 100,000 children abused in the country.

Bennett said the crisis has also spiritual dimension, because “it is a question of right and wrong, of good and evil.”

According to Bennett, there were two contributing factors to the crisis: 

- First: dioceses and orders did not screen candidates to the priesthood sufficiently

- Second: Seminaries did not form priests adequately, failing especially to prepare them to live a chaste and celibate life in an oversexual society.

“Seminary reform must be a very high priority,” he said, explaining that “more than 81% of the cases were of homosexual nature.”

In fact, “we must call attention to the homosexual behavior that characterized the vast majority of the cases of abuse observed in recent decades,” the report says.

 “Celibacy did not cause sexual abuse,” said Bennett, but he said the Church “did a poor job in selecting the candidates to live celibacy.”

He also said that the problem was “a crisis of faith and is by living our faith, bishops, priests and the laity, that we will come out of this crisis.”

Finally, Bennett and other members of the Committee called on other organizations such as educators, the Boy Scouts and other religious denominations to do the same that the Catholic bishops have done: create strongly independent boards to discover the extent of child abuse and to prevent it.

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Changes are being made to correct the crisis, USCCB President says

Washington D.C., Feb 27, 2004 (CNA) - Belleville Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said after the release of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Study that bishops in the US are taking significant steps to better screen vocations and improve formation at the seminaries, and that there is still a strong commitment to improve measure to prevent sexual abuse.

“The picture that emerges sadly is one of those who broke faith with their people, their priesthood, and their religious vows,” said Bishop Gregory.  He also highlighted, at the same time, that the report underscores “the fault of church leaders who failed to appreciate and effectively act on the gravity of the abuse problem.”

“The heartfelt sorrow that we feel for this violation and the often ineffective ways with which it was dealt has strengthened our commitment to do everything possible to see that it does not happen again,” he added.

Bishop Gregory recalled also that “Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has dedicated this present Lenten season to concern for children. In that spirit, I ask every bishop to make a concerted effort to reach out, in an individual, personal, and pastoral way, during this holy Lenten and Easter season, to all those abused as children and their families who have not yet been reached.”

Addressing priests, the President of the USCCB said that “both your bishops and your people know that the vast majority of you are faithful, generous, and upright men whose lives of dedicated service are very much valued and appreciated. Together we are called to greater holiness of life and integrity of ministry.”

In conclusion, addressing lay Catholics, Gregory promised that “as far as it is humanly possible to know such things, I assure you that known offenders are not in ministry. I can say with absolute assurance that the bishops now have in place the means of responding immediately to allegations, assisting victims, and removing offenders from ministry”.

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