Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2006 (CNA) - Questions
have arisen about the group of scholars who collaborated with National
Geographic in its recent T.V. special about the “discovery” and
contents of the alleged Gospel of Judas, which attempts to portray
Jesus’ betrayer in a positive light.
Elaine Pagels is a feminist who has written several books against the Catholic Church, such as “The Origin of Satan,” written with the initial help of her colleagues at the Hebrew University of Tel Aviv. With the assistance of the openly pro-abortion MacArthur Foundation, she researched and wrote “Adam, Eve and the Serpent,” in which she accused Christianity of offering a distorted image of women.
Pagels admits she was raised an atheist and that her father taught her that religion was “a children’s fantasy.” Her opinion, which was posted on the National Geographic website, is that texts like the Gospel of Judas are “changing the way in which we understand the beginnings of Christianity.” According to Pagels, the story of the betrayal of Judas gave birth to an anti-Semitic sentiment among Christians.
Pagels support for the exhibit “Art, Religion and Resistance,” which featured Andres Serrano’s blasphemous “Piss Christ,” is well known. In an interview, she defended Serrano in the wake of a scandal in the U.S. Senate over the use of public funds for art exhibits, saying, “Any person who studies what I study is doing that (same kind of work) also.” “Serrano comes from a devout Catholic family,” she claimed.
Christians as anti-Semites
Another of the scholars sought out by National Geographic was Amy Jill Levine, a member of pro-abortion feminist groups as well as the Anti-Defamation League. She believes Christians have been generally anti-Semitic since the time of Jesus, as evidenced in a talk she gave entitled, “Christians say the craziest things (about Jews).”
She participated in an analysis of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”—before the movie was actually filmed—in which she claimed the movie was anti-Semitic. Levine, who calls herself a “Jewish feminist Yankee,” said at that time that “Hollywood can easily change the truth,” in reference to Gibson’s film.
Levine claimed that those who composed and copied the Gospel of Judas “challenged the traditional characterization of Judas as a villain, espoused a stricter sexual ethic than the canonical gospels, and offered an alternative theology to both the proto-Orthodox church and the Synagogue.
Judas, the closest friend of Jesus
Another expert for the project was Bart Ehrman, head of the Religious Studies Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In works such as “Does Historical Evidence for the Resurrection Exist?” and “Lost Christianities,” which present information from the Gnostic sects of the first centuries, Ehrman casts doubt on the very existence of Jesus.
He has also written “Truths and Myths of the Da Vinci Code” in which he attributes some truthfulness to the Dan Brown novel. He exempts Jews from guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus and blames the Romans alone because he says Jesus represented a threat for the empire.
Ehrman told National Geographic that the text portrays Judas as “not the evil, corrupt, devil-inspired follower of Jesus who betrayed his master; he is instead Jesus' closest intimate and friend, the one who understood Jesus better than anyone else, who turned Jesus over to the authorities because Jesus wanted him to do so.”
Marvin Meyer is another scholar who collaborated with National Geographic. Several of his works, including “The Gnostic Discoveries”, “The Gnostic Gospels of Jesus”, “The Unknown Sayings of Jesus”, “The Gospels of Mary and Secret Gospels: Essays on Thomas” and “The Secret Gospel of Mark”, were used by Dan Brown as an influence for “The Da Vinci Code”.
Meyer is Griset Professor of Biblical and Christian Studies at Chapman University in Orange, California, and director of the Chapman University Albert Schweitzer Institute.
Stephen Emmel, another expert, contradicted himself regarding the age of the Gospel of Judas during a National Geographic press conference. Initially he said the text dated to 400 A.D., but later he said it was written in 300 A.D. The program however, claims the text was penned in 200 A.D.
Emmel is a professor of Coptology at the Institute of Egyptology and Coptology at the University of Münster in Germany. “We can all be grateful to the National Geographic Society for its effort to rescue this unique artifact for the good of science and for posterity," he said.
Craig Evans and Francois Gaudard are two other experts who collaborated with National Geographic. Evans, who has taught a various universities, denies that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, does not believe in the resurrection of Jesus or in his miracles and has written several works on the Gnostic sects in which he refers to the supposed anti-Semitism of Christians.
Gaudard, an Egyptologist and research associate at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, told National Geographic, “This text not only seriously challenges one of the most firmly rooted beliefs in Christian tradition, but also reduces one of the favorite themes of anti-Semitism to nothing."
Vatican City, Apr 24, 2006 (CNA) - An
official from the Pontifical Council for Health and Pastoral Care,
presided by Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, made it clear today that
the recent interview given by the Mexican prelate to the Italian daily
La Reppublica, doesn’t hint at any change in the doctrine of the Church
on the use of condoms to fight Aids.
Over the weekend, numerous dailies and news agencies have headlined the Cardinal’s interview, in which he declared that: "This is a very difficult and delicate subject that requires prudence. My department is studying this closely with scientists and theologians expressly assigned to draft a document that will be issued soon," he said.
The prelate’s declarations became the basis of heavy speculations, especially his thoughts on making “the Church’s position more flexible,” in respect to the use of condoms.
Nevertheless, Msgr. Antonio Soto Guerrero, personal secretary of Cardinal Lozano Barragán, and member of the Pontifical Council for Health, told CNA that “the Doctrine of the Church remains firmly within the principles of Catholic moral. Facing AIDS, there is abstinence; we cannot forget that the issue has to do in large parts to a moral disorder facing the seventh commandment.”
In his remarks to CNA, Msgr. Soto said that “indeed, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith , headed by Cardinal William Joseph Levada, is currently studying the possibility of drafting a document on the same issue, and for that reason he has asked for the opinion of the other dicasteries in the Vatican. “
“Our dicasteries have already sent very serious studies from members and consulters who are answering to consultations requested by the Congregation (for the Doctrine of the Faith). The Congregation will then carry out a thorough study that will last a few months before presenting the conclusions to the Pope, who will subsequently decide of the publication of a document.”
“The moral principle of the Church is the same,” he stressed, “but the situations we have to face changed. It’s rather about applying the doctrine of the Church to always new situations such as AIDS,” said Msgr. Soto.
“Let me take a specific example”, he told CNA, in which one member of a couple “has AIDS, and requests matrimony, has the other partner the right to protect his health in any way?”
“The principle”, he said, “remains the defense of life and the conscience that everything that sends back to the fifth commandment includes the seventh one too, the act of fornicating that implies defending life.”
Vatican City, Apr 24, 2006 (CNA) -
The president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Msgr.
Elio Sgreccia, responded to statements by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini,
published Friday by the online Italian magazine “L’Espresso,” and said
the Catholic Church has not changed her position on fundamental issues
such as the right to life from conception to natural death.
In a conversation with the Catholic News Agency, the prelate preferred not to directly address the statements by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, Archbishop emeritus of Milan, saying instead that “at the Vatican, we do not consider it necessary make a controversy out of something that does not merit it.”
Referring to an interview he gave on Saturday to the Italian daily “Corriere della Sera,” Msgr. Sgreccia said the “union of the feminine chromosome and the masculine chromosome contains in itself two pro-nuclei, and it is a fertilized ovum in which the process of fertilization has already begun.” This fusion of the nuclei in the cytoplasm of the ovum, he continued, is what results in creation of a new individual or individuals, in the case of twins.
“This beginning,” Msgr. Sgreccia pointed out, in contrast to statements by Cardinal Martini, is “precisely the beginning of an individual life and leads to an irreversible process towards successive development, containing already at that point a unique [genetic] patrimony.”
Msgr. Sgreccia also referred to artificial, or “in vitro,” fertilization, pointing out that “in artificial procreation-fertilization, the unitive dimension of the spouses, expressed through the gift of self in the conjugal act, is missing. This anthropological dimension has been considered essential for the legitimacy of the procreative act since the teachings of Pius XII on insemination and successively with Paul VI and John Paul II.”
Regarding the use of the condom, even in order to prevent the spread of AIDS, Msgr. Sgreccia said, “Let us remember that scientifically it does not offer complete protection,” and therefore “the most effective method of prevention is in the correct use of sexuality, which consists of chastity and fidelity.”
Vatican City, Apr 24, 2006 (CNA) - Meeting
with leaders of the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits,
Pope Benedict affirmed the genuine cultural need for the group’s
apostolate but charged them to maintain the true spirit of their 16th
century founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Gathering in St. Peter’s Basilica Saturday morning, the Vatican’s Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano celebrated Mass with leaders of the Jesuit order who are currently celebrating the fifth centenary of the births of St. Francis Xavier and Blessed Pierre Favre.
Following Mass, Pope Benedict met with visiting participants, expressing his thanks to God for having given the Society "the gift of men of extraordinary sanctity and exceptional apostolic zeal such as St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Francis Xavier and Blessed Pierre Favre."
May they be enlightened and dependable guides”, he told the group, “for your spiritual journey and your apostolic activity."
The Holy Father began by recalling St. Ignatius Loyola who, he said, was "a man of deep prayer, the center and summit of whose life was the daily celebration of the Eucharist. In this way, he left followers a precious spiritual heritage which must not be lost or forgotten."
Pointing to St. Ignatius’s faithful service to the Church, Benedict addressed some of "the Church's must urgent current requirements" today, including "cultural commitment in the fields of theology and philosophy, ... and the dialogue with modern culture ... so deeply marked by positivist and materialist scientism."
In this light, he said that promoting "a culture inspired by Gospel values requires intense spiritual and cultural preparation."
The Pope recalled that another major concern of St. Ignatius was "the Christian education and cultural formation of the young,” telling the group to “Continue this important apostolate, while upholding intact the spirit of your Founder."
Moving to the life of St. Francis Xavier, the Pope recalled how Pope Pius XI proclaimed him as "patron saint of Catholic missions." And although "his mission in the East lasted just ten years, it has proved remarkably fruitful over the four and a half centuries of life of the Society of Jesus, because his example encouraged many missionary vocations among young Jesuits."
It still continues, he added, to be a model for "missionary activity in the great countries of the continent of Asia."
Lastly, the Holy Father recalled Blessed Pierre Favre, who "spent his brief life in various European countries, especially Germany where, by order of Pope Paul III, he took part ... in discussions with the leaders of the Reformation. Thus he had an exceptional opportunity to practice the vow of special obedience to the Pope 'concerning missions,' becoming a model for all future Jesuits to follow."
Pope Benedict concluded his address pointing to April 22, 1541, the date on which “St. Ignatius and his first followers made their solemn vows before the image of Mary in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the Walls." Here, the Pope called on the Virgin Mary to continue her watch over the Society of Jesus.
Vatican City, Apr 24, 2006 (CNA) - Over
50,000 people gathered a the Vatican yesterday for the celebration of
Divine Mercy Sunday, which Pope Benedict called an integral dimension
to the faith and prayer life of all Christians.
The Pope’s words came prior to praying the Regina Coeli, which replaces the traditional Angelus prayer during the season of Easter. He used the opportunity to praise the late John Paul II, who both initiated the yearly Divine Mercy celebration and died on its occasion one year ago.
Benedict began his address to the crowd by quoting the Gospel of John, which recounts Jesus' appearance to His disciples gathered in the Upper Room on the evening of the "first day of the week" and then again "eight days later."
"From the very beginning,” the Holy Father said, “the Christian community began to live according to a weekly rhythm marked by the meeting with the Risen Lord."
He pointed out that this rhythm is underlined by the Vatican Council II Constitution "Sacrosanctum Concilium", which says, "By a tradition handed down from the apostles which took its origin from the very day of Christ's resurrection, the Church celebrates the Paschal mystery every eighth day; with good reason this, then, bears the name of the Lord's day or Sunday."
Pope Benedict went on to say that the wounds which Christ showed the apostles on both of the recorded occasions "are an inexhaustible fount of faith, hope and love from which everyone can draw, especially the souls that most thirst for divine mercy."
Likewise, he recalled his predecessor John Paul II, who "wished the Sunday after Easter to be particularly dedicated to Divine Mercy; and Providence ordained that he himself should die on the eve of that day."
The pontiff added that "The mystery of God's merciful love lay at the center of the pontificate of my venerated predecessor. We particularly recall his 1980 Encyclical 'Dives in misericordia' and his dedication of the new Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland in 2002.”
“The words he pronounced on that occasion”, Benedict mused, “were like a summary of his entire Magisterium, highlighting how the cult of divine mercy is no secondary form of devotion, but an integral dimension of a Christian's faith and prayer."
The Pope concluded his Sunday address by calling on "Most Holy Mary, Mother of the Church ... to enable all Christians fully to experience Sunday as 'the Easter of the week,' savoring the beauty of the encounter with the Risen Lord and drawing from the fount of His merciful love in order to be apostles of His peace."
He also recalled that Sunday was the first day of Easter for the world’s Eastern Christians. "In the festive climate of this day," he said, "I cannot fail to recall that many of these people - in Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria - are suffering because of the flooding of recent days.”
He assured them of his closeness to them “in prayer” and expressed his “heartfelt hope that, with a contribution from everyone, they may soon overcome these difficult moments."
Denver, Colo., Apr 24, 2006 (CNA) - Catholic
and Protestant churches in Colorado are joining forces to rebut the
claims made about Christianity in the The Da Vinci Code before it hits
movie theaters May 19, reported the Denver Rocky Mountain News. They
say they want to counter the story's fabrications, not boycott the book
Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs is encouraging viewers to also look at resources by Christian scholars at go.family.org/davinci.
The Catholic Church wouldn't be responsible if it ignored the questions generated by Da Vinci, said Jeanette DeMelo, communications director for the Archdiocese of Denver.
“We want to make sure the truth is known," DeMelo told the newspaper.
The archdiocese launched a mega campaign to educate clergy and lay people last week through a website (www.archden.org) inviting readers to learn the facts about Church history and Opus Dei.
In coming weeks, all priests will receive a book, The Da Vinci Deception, as well as talking points for homilies. The site also lists free, two-hour workshops given in Denver-area parishes by about a dozen seminarian volunteers.
Evangelical churches also have a stake in the fight, said Kyle Fisk, executive administrator of the National Association of Evangelicals.
“Evangelicals place a high, high, high value on the role of Jesus Christ; that's our focus," Fisk told the newspaper. "We certainly have theological differences [with Catholics] but there's a lot of unity in the body of Christ right now and we recognize we have some common world views, and we can work together."
The National Association of Evangelicals is distributing materials put out by Mission America. Mission America has scheduled national conference calls with 480 pastors and church leaders to talk about the movie.
Vatican City, Apr 24, 2006 (CNA) - Meeting
with a group of prelates from the Catholic Bishops Conference of Ghana,
Pope Benedict XVI said today that despite many economic and social
struggles in the African country, that the Church continues to shine
forth as “a beacon of hope” for Christians.
During his address, the Holy Father told the bishops--in Italy for their “ad limina” visits--that they "have all come to Rome, this city where the Apostles Peter and Paul gave of themselves completely in imitation of Christ. ... The gift of self to the other is also at the heart of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.”
“Those who receive this sacrament”, he stressed, “are configured in a particular way to Christ, the Head of the Church."
The Pope went on to praise recent efforts in Ghana "to deal with the scourge of poverty and to strengthen the economy,” but pointed out that “Notwithstanding this laudable progress, much still remains to be done to overcome this condition which impedes a large portion of the population.”
“Extreme and widespread poverty”, he said, “often results in a general moral decline leading to crime, corruption, attacks on the sanctity of human life or even a return to the superstitious practices of the past."
The Pope said that in the midst of this tenuous struggle however, the Church "shines forth as a beacon of hope in the life of the Christian, ... by helping the faithful gain a better understanding of the promises of Jesus Christ," and forming them "to deepen their Christian faith and thus enable them to take their rightful place both in the Church of Christ and in society."
In this light, he particularly praised the work of the country’s catechists, although noting that they "are often impeded in their task by a lack of resources or hostile environments."
He also invited the bishops "to ensure that these evangelists receive the spiritual, doctrinal, moral and material support they require to carry out their mission properly."
Observing that in Ghana, "young people constitute almost half of the population,” Benedict stressed that “A solid catechetical foundation…will strengthen them in their Catholic identity and give them the necessary tools to confront the challenges of changing economic realities, globalization and disease. It will also assist them in responding to the arguments often put forward by religious sects."
The Pope went on to highlight "the Church's task to assist Christian families to live faithfully and generously as true 'domestic churches',” reiterating the bishops' own concern "about the proper celebration of Christian marriage in Ghana.”
“While Christianity”, he said, “always seeks to respect the venerable traditions of cultures and peoples, it also seeks to purify those practices which are contrary to the Gospel."
He said that "For this reason, it is essential that the entire Catholic community continue to stress the importance of the monogamous and indissoluble union of man and woman, consecrated in holy matrimony. For the Christian, traditional forms of marriage can never be a substitute for sacramental marriage."
Pope Benedict also addressed the question of the priesthood, saying that it "must never be seen as a way of improving one's social standing or standard of living. If it is, then priestly gift of self and docility to God's designs will give way to personal desires, rendering the priest ineffective and unfulfilled."
The Holy Father closed his address by encouraging the bishop’s efforts "to ensure the suitability of candidates for the priesthood and to guarantee proper priestly formation for those who are studying for the sacred ministry."
He also pointed out that this year will mark 500 years since the arrival of missionaries in northern Ghana, saying, "It is my special prayer that missionary zeal will continue to fill you and your beloved people, strengthening you in your efforts to spread the Gospel."
Vatican City, Apr 24, 2006 (CNA) - As
the Catholic Church in Latin America prepares to celebrate the 400th
anniversary of the death of its patron Saint, St. Toribio de Mogrovejo,
the Vatican has released Pope Benedict’s official message for the event
in which he recalls the Saint’s profound impact on the region and the
St. Toribio was the second archbishop of Lima, Peru and celebrations for his feast are being held in Lima from April 24th through the 29th.
In his message for the occasion, Pope Benedict XVI addressed Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne, archbishop of Lima, as well as the bishops, priests, religious and laity from around Latin America participating in the event.
He invited them to "consider this anniversary as a providential opportunity to reactivate the journey of the Church in the various dioceses, drawing inspiration from the life and work of St. Toribio."
That saint, the Holy Father wrote, "distinguished himself for his selfless commitment to the edification and consolidation of the ecclesial communities of his day. He did so with a great spirit of communion and collaboration, always seeking unity as is shown by his calling of the third provincial council of Lima (1582-1583), ... one fruit of which was the so-called Catechism of St. Toribio."
The pontiff also highlighted the conciliar seminary in Lima, founded by St. Toribio which still exists today.
He expressed his particular hope that the seminary "may continue to give abundant fruit, precisely at a time when it is urgently necessary to promote vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life in order to face the immense task of building Christian communities that gather joyfully on Sunday, perform the Sacraments, foment spiritual life, transmit and cultivate the faith, bear witness of resolute hope, and always practice charity."
"St. Toribio's profound missionary spirit," the Holy Father continued, was apparent in "his efforts to learn various languages in order to be able to preach personally to all those entrusted to his pastoral care."
The Pope concluded his message saying that this fact "was also a sign of his respect for the dignity of all human beings, whatever their condition, in whom he always sought to promote the joy of feeling themselves to be true children of God."
Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2006 (CNA) - President
George W. Bush should have taken a stronger stand on the human rights
violations and religious persecution by the Chinese government on the
Falun Gong at an April 20 press conference, says the Christian Defense
Bush reportedly apologized to Chinese President Hu Jintao after a Falun Gong activist at the press conference shouted for Bush to help end Chinese religious persecution against the group.
The coalition believes Bush’s response to the episode should have focused on the human rights violations and the religious persecution by the Chinese government.
“The focus of the episode at [the] news conference should not have been an apology by President Bush,” said Fr. Patrick Mahoney, the director of the coalition. “Rather, it should have been an honest and open dialogue by the White House on human rights and religious freedom.”
The coalition is also calling on the U.S. government to drop criminal charges against religious rights activist Wenyi Wang.
“It was also troubling to see the repeated characterization of Wenyi Wang by the national press as a heckler,” he said. “This woman was simply attempting to draw public attention to the religious persecution of the Falun Gong by the Chinese government.”
Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2006 (CNA) - Recent
comments made by Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National
Committee, make it “clear that he wants to muzzle America's churches
and religious groups from professing what they believe on important
issues facing our society,” said a national Catholic-based advocacy
Fidelis was reacting to an article in Christian Science Monitor in which Dean said: “The religious community has to decide whether they want to be tax-exempt or involved in politics.”
“When it comes to debates over public policy and issues, Dean should be welcoming the voice of America’s churches, not attempting to silence them,” said Fidelis president Joseph Cella. “Instead, Dean has shown utter disregard for people of faith by threatening the historical and treasured role of religious groups and churches in American public life.”
“Under Howard Dean's rules, pastors, priests, and rabbis wouldn't have been able to mobilize people of faith to join the civil rights marches in Selma and Montgomery,” said Cella.
“In essence, Dean is saying that if religious groups want to continue to speak out, then the hand of government is going to exact a penalty,” Cella continued. Comments like these alienate religious voters, he added.
“Dean's blatant hostility toward any church or religious group calls into serious question his supposed outreach to values-voters following the 2004 elections,” Cella suggested.
Belfast, UK, Apr 24, 2006 (CNA) - Three
Augustinian priests who concelebrated Easter Mass with a Church of
Ireland clergyman could be dismissed from the priesthood by the
Vatican, reported the Sunday Business Post.
Augustinian Fathers Iggy O’Donovan, Noel Hession and Richard Goode invited Rev Michael Graham, the rector of St Peter’s in Drogheda, to join them for the Mass.
Archbishop Sean Brady is carrying out investigations. Because this involves a religious order, the final outcome would be a matter for the Augustinians.
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has exclusive powers to deal with the concelebration of the mass with non-Catholic clergy.
After such an event, the bishop has to carry out a preliminary investigation and then report to the CDF. If the bishop decides the accused clergymen should be dismissed from the priesthood, he may ask the CDF to “impose dismissal by decree”.
One Vatican source told the Business Post that, “Canon 1365 of the Code of Canon Law prescribes a ‘just penalty’ for anyone guilty of prohibited participation in such religious rites.” Several factors to be taken into consideration include the gravity of the offence, its frequency, the possible scandal caused and the impact on ecumenical dialogue.
“This canon highlights the importance and the delicacy of the Church’s apostolate towards ecumenism and testifies that, if the Church is to remain faithful to itself and to the ultimate success of the ecumenical movement, it must remain faithful to its own teaching.”
Madrid, Spain, Apr 24, 2006 (CNA) - In
the wake of a poll conducted by the Institute for Family Policy in
Spain, which showed that most Spaniards consider the government’s
efforts to address unwanted pregnancies a failure, several pro-family
groups are calling on the government to reconsider its position and
provide better assistance to pregnant women.
The results of the poll, which were made public last Thursday, showed that 78% of Spaniards believe the government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero should inform women about alternatives to abortion and its negative consequences.
The pro-family group “There Are Alternatives” said the growing awareness about abortion in Spain was positive and that with the new information; the Ministry of Health has an opportunity to address the problem with protection measures for pregnant women.
“Spain is at a historic crossroads when it comes to the drama of abortion, and it is the government which, at the national level must offer protection measures for pregnant women and for newborns, thus promoting real freedom to be mothers,” the group said in a statement.
The president of the civil rights watchdog website HazteOir.org, Ignacio Arsuaga, said the poll reveals that “abortion is a grave problem about which many citizens are not aware and numerous public administrations and the Ministry of Health do not seem interested, given their refusal to meet with associations that offer outreach to pregnant women and newborns.”
He said the government ought to promote ways to assist pregnant women and sensitize people about the positive social value of motherhood.
The Spanish Forum on the Family, for its part, is calling on political leaders to increase assistance to pregnant women through information about childbirth, pregnancy and motherhood. The group has also requested a meeting with Spain’s Minister of Health, Elena Salgado, to present a program it has developed to offer medical, psychological and material help to pregnant women throughout the country.