Archive of August 31, 2006

Catholic League president says clarification needed on Hitler exorcism story

, Aug 31, 2006 (CNA) - Recent stories in the press, based on an erroneous interpretation of the Catholic Church’s teachings on exorcisms and the devil, beg for clarification, says Catholic League president Bill Donohue.

In an Aug. 27 interview with Vatican Radio, Fr. Gabriele Amorth, a Pauline priest who works as an exorcist in the Diocese of Rome, said he was “convinced that the Nazis were all possessed by the devil.” Furthermore, he asserted that the “horrors” committed by Stalin and Hitler also demonstrate “they were possessed by the devil.”

Some online articles, however, interpret Fr. Amorth’s comments to mean that Stalin and Hitler could not be held accountable and should be let off the hook. Some of these articles even joke that if Satan was the only problem, then the Vatican should conduct exorcisms on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il.


“Unfortunately, some are now reading these remarks as Father Amorth’s way of saying Stalin and Hitler were nuts who cannot be held responsible for their actions,” said Donohue.

The Catechism and the Church in no way imply “that those possessed by the devil are not responsible for their actions,” said Donohue. “Catholic teaching on exorcism does not equate demonic possession with mental illness,” he added

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in fact, makes a clear distinction between exorcism and mental illness, he points out. “Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science,” it states.

The Church teaches that the devil was at first created by God as a good angel, made became evil by their own doing, that is, of their own free will. 

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Pope Benedict says the conversion story of St. Francis, the “playboy,” is key

Castelgandolfo, Italy, Aug 31, 2006 (CNA) - The Holy Father met this morning with priests from the Diocese of Albano, a diocese on the outskirts of Rome, speaking to them of the importance St. Francis’s conversion can play in the lives of young people.  Pope Benedict also encouraged them to do a better job of explaining the Church’s understanding of the covenant of marriage to those who have divorced, APCom reports.

The Pope met with the priests in the Swiss Hall of his summer residence at Castelgandolfo.

According to Italian news agency ANSA, the Holy Father told the men that they should use the conversion story of St. Francis of Assisi as an example for young people in their diocese.  

The Pope stressed that the young Saint’s conversion is his real significance for the Catholic Church.

Francis (1181-1226) was the son of a well-to-do merchant in the town of Assisi. Historians say that as a young man he lived a carefree and irresponsible life focused on pursuing the ideals of his day.

Young Francis was drawn by the “glamour” of the military life, but underwent a dramatic conversion during a year he spent as a prisoner of war in Perugia.  Upon his return to Assisi he witnessed the terrible conditions in which beggars and lepers in his own city lived and renounced his former life.

Francis left his wealthy home to live as a hermit and devoted himself to looking after the sick and rebuilding decaying churches around Assisi. In 1209 he decided to live in total poverty and to spend his time preaching.

"First he was sort of playboy but then he felt that this was no longer sufficient," Benedict continued, according to ANSA.

Pope Benedict said the story was one which could "animate the young" and inspire them embrace the Church.

He also lamented that St. Francis name is sometimes "exploited" by being associated with political ideologies, apart from his Catholic message.

The Pontiff was apparently referring to a tendency by environmentalists and pacifists to evoke the medieval saint, who founded the Franciscan order of friars, as a champion of their causes. Francis, the Pontiff reportedly said, "was above all a convert."

The Pope also told the priests to remember the importance of the Sacrament of Matrimony in the Church and to do a better job preaching this significance, according to the APCom story.

In addition to being a great sign of love for the world, the Pope said, weddings, “are also an occasion to encounter people who don’t always come to Sunday Mass.”

This provides an opportunity to reach out, but it is also “a great responsibility” for pastoral evangelization.  The Pope noted that there are often many divorced Catholics who come to weddings, “who wish to go to communion and don’t know why its not possible.”

“Probably,” Benedict continued, “they didn’t understand, at the moment of their ‘I do,’ that this ‘I do’ is a Covenant with the Lord, in the midst of the Sacrament and the Church.”

"They need to understand this fidelity and, as such, to understand the problem of divorced people remarrying,” the Pope concluded.

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Vatican cardinal clarifies stories, says abortion doctors excommunicated themselves

Bogotá, Colombia, Aug 31, 2006 (CNA) - Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, offered clarifications yesterday on a string of stories claiming that he had “officially excommunicated” the doctors who performed the first legal abortion in Colombia on an 11 year-old girl.  Trujillo told Colombian network CARACOL, that neither he nor the Holy See has issued any formal declaration of excommunication, but that the Vatican has been clear that those who perform the horrible act excommunicate themselves.

Several media sources had picked up on statements Trujillo made in an interview on Colombian radio network RCN, in which he said doctors who performed the first legal abortion in Colombia on an 11 year-old girl have incurred excommunication.  Stories began to fly that Trujillo had “officially” excommunicated the doctors and the media juggernaut began to roll.

What Trujillo said, via telephone, was that the girl who had undergone the abortion “fell into a web of evildoers.”  The penalty of excommunication for such an act is automatic, he stated, noting that abortion “is a death sentence against a human being,” and therefore it carries a proportionate penalty.

Immediately the secular press, misunderstanding the Cardinal’s comments and the Church’s teaching, began contacting those involved in the abortion.  

The director of the Simon Bolivar Hospital, Hector Lemus, who authorized the abortion, responded to the reports on Trujillo’s comments saying, “I am a public official who obeyed a norm of the Court.  The procedure was carried out by the hospital, not by a person.  As head of this medical center, I assume responsibility, and thus I ask that my employees not be excommunicated.”

Stevenson Marulanda, president of the Colombian Medical College, speaking for himself, called the excommunication “exaggerated and radical.”  

However, Dr. Sandra Rocha, one of the experts who led opposition to the legalization of abortion, understood Trujillo’s comments and said, “The only thing the cardinal has done is reiterate what is spelled out in canon 1398 of the Code of Canon Law of the Church.  An act of moral gravity took place and was punished for the purpose of bringing about repentance.  He has every right to proclaim that,” she stated.

Dr. Rocha refers to the fact that the Catholic Church considers excommunication a serious ecclesiastical penalty resulting from a grave sin.  Excommunication, according to the Church, can only happen after a willful decision on the part of an individual, to remove themselves from communion with the Church by committing an act which is seriously at odds with Catholic teaching.  In other words, excommunication occurs automatically, based on the choice of the individual.  

While the Church hierarchy sometimes issues statements acknowledging that someone has excommunicated themselves, statements which always draw tremendous public attention, the decision of excommunication has already been made by the individual.  

Trujillo said his remarks merely acknowledged that performing an abortion is such a grave sin and that his comments were not an official Church announcement of the excommunication.

But, that is not to say a formal statement will not follow from the Church.  Last May Cardinal Pedro Rubian Saenz, Archbishop of Bogota, announced the excommunication of the justices of the Constitutional Court who voted in favor of legalizing abortion, as well as of those who promoted it.

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Catholic Relief Services expands operations in Lebanon

Beirut, Lebanon, Aug 31, 2006 (CNA) - Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is expanding its operations in Lebanon with the opening today of a new national office in Beirut. Due to the needs for both immediate assistance and long-term rebuilding, CRS decided to establish a more permanent core in the country.

"It quickly became obvious that the devastating effects of the war on the whole of Lebanon require more long-term support,” said Mark Schnellbaecher, CRS regional director for the Middle East and Europe. "We'll focus on rebuilding with programs that pay off for future stability, like back-to-school programs and specialized psychosocial support for children or programs to help generate income, like cash for work.”

When the war in Lebanon started July 12, CRS brought in emergency aid experts from around the globe to help local agencies set up centers for the hundreds of thousands who were fleeing bombed villages. Within days CRS, together with its local partner Caritas Lebanon, had served nearly 100,000 people.

CRS reports that almost all of the nearly one million people who left their villages have returned. But up to 40 percent are living with family and friends because they cannot live in their homes, which were damaged or destroyed or lack of electricity and water.

CRS places high value on partnering with local agencies to facilitate its work. In addition to Caritas Lebanon, CRS also coordinates closely with the Development for People and Nature Association (DPNA) as well as Mouvement Social.

Mouvement Social is working with communities in Nabatyeh to refurbish schools. Caritas Lebanon and DPNA are distributing a month's supply of food packets for 10,000 families in the Saida area and delivering a week's supply of water and more than 37,000 hygiene kits.

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Vietnam Bronze Star recipient, convert from Methodism is new Bishop of Sioux Falls

Sioux Falls, S.D., Aug 31, 2006 (CNA) - Today, Pope Benedict XVI named a new bishop for the Diocese of Sioux Falls, Monsignor Paul Joseph Swain, an adult convert to Catholicism and Bronze Star winner. Bishop-elect Swain, who is currently serving as Vicar General for the Diocese of Madison, will be taking the reigns of a South Dakota diocese which has been with out a bishop for over one and a half years.

Bishop Robert J. Carlson, who served as bishop of Sioux Falls for nearly 10 years before his installation as fifth bishop of the Diocese of Saginaw in February 2005, said this morning that Swain’s appointment is “wonderful news for the Church.”  

“He will bring exceptional experience and gifts to the diocese and will be blessed with many talented priests, committed religious, and faithful people,” Carlson said.

The 62 year old bishop-elect said that he looks forward to being a bishop in the Pontificate of Benedict.  “I am honored and humbled to be named by Pope Benedict who has set forth such an uplifting yet challenging call in his first encyclical, homilies, and meditations to live the vocation of life in its deepest sense.”  

The appointment of Swain is particularly notable due to the bishop-elect’s background - Swain grew up in a Methodist family and had a successful career before his conversion to Catholicism and subsequent ordination to the priesthood at the age of 44.

Swain was born and raised as one of six children in Newark, New York.  He studied history as an undergraduate and received his Masters in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1965.  After receiving the Bronze Star for his military service as an Air Force Intelligence Officer in Vietnam (1967-72), he received a law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and practiced law in the city for the next several years.  Swain’s proficiency at law eventually found him serving as Legal Counsel and Director of Policy for Wisconsin Governor Lee Dreyfus from 1979-83.

It was during the last years of Swain’s time in government that he began to feel spiritual awakenings which led to a deep and life-change conversion.

He was welcomed into the Church in 1983 and began his formation for the priesthood soon after.  Swain received his Master of Divinity degree in 1988 and was ordained in May of that year by Bishop Cletus O’Donnell.

Bishop-elect Swain has served in various roles for the Diocese of Madison and since 1997 has been Vicar General for the diocese and rector of the cathedral.   Madison Bishop Robert Morlino said the appointment of Swain is a great honor for the diocese. “The Holy Father has personally chosen Bishop Swain and I couldn’t be happier for him and for the whole church.  His appointment brings great honor upon our fine priests and our wonderful, faithful people in the Diocese of Madison.  His departure will leave a great void here, both in the chancery and in the downtown parishes, but I am confident that the Holy Spirit will provide for us.  I will, in a deeply personal way, miss his close and faithful collaboration as my Vicar General.”

Swain is said to be known and loved by parishioners, fellow-priests, and co-workers for his prayerfulness, humility, even temper, and quiet humor.  No date has been announced for his consecration as bishop and installation.

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9/11 had lasting, life-changing effects on priests

Washington D.C., Aug 31, 2006 (CNA) - With the fifth anniversary of 9/11 fast approaching, the testimonies of Catholic clergy who ministered at Ground Zero and accompanied families of those who died in Flight 93 indicate just how the attacks and the aftermath changed their lives forever.

Their testimonies are recorded in a moving 30-page booklet, called “Catholic Priests and How they Responded … In their Own Words”. Though published by the U.S. bishops’ Office for Vocations and Priestly Formation in 2003, they seem timeless and offer to all readers a moment for reflection and prayer as the memorial date nears.

In the book, Msgr. John Delendick, a fire chaplain for the City of New York, recalls funeral and memorial services, up to 16 per day, for the New York Fire Department which suffered the loss of 343 men. He would escort families of deceased firefighters to the site.

"I would ask the family members to be quiet and to speak to their loved ones in their hearts and then take a few minutes to listen for their loved ones to speak back," Delendick said. "From here we would escort them to a makeshift memorial, where we prayed, and they left their flowers or teddy bears or pictures."

Another Brooklyn priest, Fr. Robert Romano, deputy chief chaplain of the New York City Police Department, learned quickly that many of the officers he knew had died, including a college seminary classmate, several of his altar boys and his godson.

Fr. Romano would say Mass on Sundays and holy days for workers at Ground Zero. "I give thanks to God for using me and for allowing me to fulfill three promises I made on 9/11: to celebrate Mass and the sacraments at the site until the recovery and clean up were finished and to bless and walk out of the 'pit' the bodies of every one of our police officers that were found.”

“Two of these promises I have kept. I pray that I will be able to keep the third, to remember the deceased and their families so long as I have breath in me," he said.

Bishop Blase Cupich, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Vocations and Priestly Formation, said the stories summarize the meaning of priesthood for him.

"The men showed the very human face of Christ to those in need," he said. "Through Mass and the sacraments they brought grace to an otherwise graceless moment. They selflessly entered into the pain of those in their care and it changed them and their priesthood forever."

The stories of the priests of 9/11 are available at

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Defense of human life not just a “religious” mission, says Argentinean bishop

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Aug 31, 2006 (CNA) - Bishop Oscar Sarlinga of Zarate-Campana in Argentina said this week that in the debate on abortion the position of those who defend life cannot be characterized as “religious,” saying such a mission is the task of all of humanity.

Commenting on the controversy sparked by two handicapped rape victims who obtained abortions in Argentina, Bishop Sarlinga offered several observations to the faithful.  “What happened to these suffering individuals who deserve all of our empathy and compassion, has strongly re-ignited, so to speak, the issue of abortion in public opinion, not in regards now to rape, but in general, and with an eye towards its possible legalization,” he warned.

He noted that his observations were not just founded upon Catholic teaching and morality, but also on common sense.  The bishop pointed out that “all those who believe in the right to life and the dignity of the human person” are obliged, in conscience, to act accordingly.

A negative view of abortion can be grounded upon Christianity or other religions, he continued, or even upon the perspective of a non-believer on the basis of humanistic philosophy.  The difference is that “the Christian faith gives us a special light to see that the defense of life is essential.”

The opinions of Catholics are often dismissed for being simply religious, Bishop Sarlinga said, when “the issue we’re dealing with here is profoundly human and anthropological.”

“No one would say that the commandments against stealing and murder (which originate in Judaism and Christianity) belong strictly to the sphere of religion, and that therefore only believers should not kill or steal and everyone else should be allowed to do so,” the bishop maintained.

He noted that science has provided much information about the unborn, “not to mention studies on DNA,” and that the media has failed to adequately inform the public about the fact that an unborn child has its own unique genetic characteristics completely unique from those of the mother.

“Science shows that a newly conceived human being is the same one who will later become a baby, a child, a young person, an adult and an old man.  It would be good if the public were informed of such a fundamental fact by the media, through articles, statements and opinions of expert scientists in the field,” Bishop Sarlinga said.

“The right to life is a true cornerstone in the path of mankind’s moral progress,” he continued.  “It is a fundamental right that comes from the dignity that is proper to each human being.”  

He also pointed out that “the experience of the countries that have legalized abortion clearly shows that legalization does not help” reduce abortions but rather “leads to a considerable increase” in the number of cases.  This is due in part, the bishop said, to the fact that people often believe that whatever is legal is moral.

Christians, he said, should humbly yet firmly continue promoting the value of human life and the message of the Gospel, in order to “penetrate the very heart of the culture of our times.”

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Church needs young people who “listen and respond” to the call of God, says Spanish bishop

Madrid, Spain, Aug 31, 2006 (CNA) - During a Mass celebrating the transfer of the relics of St. Atilano, a ninth century Spanish youth who decided to pursue a monastic vocation, Bishop Demetrio Fernandez Gonzalez said the Church and the world needs young people who will “listen and respond” to the call of the Lord.  As such, the Bishop of of Tarazona said, it is important to propose holiness to them as the key to Christian life.

Noting the generosity of young people today, Bishop Fernandez said in his homily, “We need to propose to them, without fear, that holiness is the key to Christian life.”  The “drunkenness, drugs, and unrestrained sex” of today are an “insult,” he said, because young people “are capable of so much more.”

Bishop Fernandez said as someone who, from his youth, listened to and followed the call of God, St. Atilano is an “example for young people for all times” of someone who “searched for God, for the meaning of life, who sought to do good for others.”

“Today, too, there are young people working and studying, preparing themselves for the future with dignity and hope.  The future belongs to these honorable young people and not so much to those who spend all of their vital energy these days on carousing,” he said during the feast of the relics that is celebrated every August 28.

During his homily, Bishop Fernandez underscored the need for “families that live according to God’s law” and for “people dedicated to the common good, without seeking their own interests.”

St. Atilano was born in Tarazona in 850.  At 15 years of age he joined a Benedictine monastery.  After he was ordained to the priesthood, he went to Bierzo in search of St. Froilan, who was renowned for his preaching and had retired to the desert to live in solitude.

Froilan would later become Bishop of Leon and Atilano Bishop of Zamora on the same day in 900.  St Atilano governed the Diocese of Zamora until October 5, 919.

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Vietnamese government grants permit for Marian shrine

Hanoi, Vietnam, Aug 31, 2006 (CNA) - The construction of a Marian shrine on a Vietnamese hilltop began this month after government authorities granted the local diocese permission for the project.

The shrine is being built where a three-meter (nearly 10 foot) statue of Our Lady of Fatima was erected 47 years ago. Work began after the local government approved construction of a 300-meter (984 foot) flight of stairs leading to the statue, a platform for celebrating Mass and a chapel at the site.

More than 50,000 pilgrims gathered at the site for Mass and a foundation laying on Aug. 13th, reported UCA News. The mass was preceded by a Marian procession. The previous evening, about 15,000 pilgrims spent the night praying, reciting the rosary and singing Marian hymns.

The new shrine in Tanh Linh, 1,518 km south of Ha Noi, will be named Ta Pao Marian Shrine.

Bishop Paul Nguyen Thanh Hoan of Phan Thiet, who presided at the Mass, told the people that the statue had been standing on Mount Ta Pao for years, but few people paid attention to it until seven years ago, when lay Catholics started reporting miracles.

Bishop Hoan, 74, cited one case of a Vietnamese-American in the last stage of cancer, who reportedly was cured after visiting and praying at the statue. A local man was also healed from liver cirrhosis after his wife prayed at the statue.

The Mount Ta Pao statue was largely ignored during the Vietnam War (1964-1975), when Catholics fled the region. In October 1980, local Catholics rediscovered the statue, which had been broken, and in 1991 they restored it.

The statue became well-known in 1999, after three students said they saw the Blessed Mother appearing to fly to the other side of the mountain. News began circulating of many people going to the statue to pray, returning to the Church, and of broken families reconciling.

Local authorities discouraged visits to the statue for the next two years, but eased restrictions later, when they saw that the pilgrims were peaceful. In 2005 they allowed construction of the Dong Kho church, about 800 meters from the site.

Thousands of pilgrims now come on the 12th and 13th of every month and on Marian Feast Days.

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Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos to open museum on monastic life

Madrid, Spain, Aug 31, 2006 (CNA) - The famous Benedictine Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos has announced it will open a museum on monasticism at the centuries-old convent of St. Francis, in order to promote monastic life in contemporary society.

The abbot of Silos, Clemente Serna, told the EFE news agency a permanent exhibit would be ready for the museum’s opening in the convent’s cloister in order to present “the historical and spiritual itinerary of monasticism, especially that of the west,” in an attractive and easily understood way.

The museum, which is expected to open in 2008 or 2009, will also include exhibits on Buddhist, Hindu, and other Eastern monastic traditions.  Abbot Serna acknowledged that “it will be difficult for many people to understand what monks have in common, no matter what our religion might be, because we leave everything apparently in exchange for nothing, although the key is that we strive to be ourselves.”

The monks of Silos also plan to turn a section of the Convent of St. Francis—which has long been decommissioned--into a center of religious thought and reflection for analyzing “the worries of the global society from diverse points of view.”  

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