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Archive of November 15, 2006

U.S. Bishops renew efforts in pastoral care for homosexuals

, Nov 15, 2006 (CNA) - By a large majority, the Catholic Bishops of the United States voted Tuesday to approve a new document which would guide their care for homosexual men and women.  The document, entitled “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care,” aims at placing an emphasis on welcoming and offering support for men and women who, due to homosexual inclinations, “feel themselves to be unwelcome and rejected,” by the Church.

Bishop Arthur Serratelli, who headed the committed which drafted the document said, that the bishops hoped the new guidelines would, “help us as bishops to promote sound, effective ministry to persons with a homosexual inclination,” noting that, “In her message the Church offers a positive message in Her teaching.  The Church offers hope.”

“The tone of the document,” Bishop Serratelli said, “is positive, pastoral, and welcoming… Its starting point is the intrinsic human dignity of every person and God’s love for every person.  Every person who ministers in the name of the Church must respect this human dignity.”

While the bishops did not shy away from using the often misunderstood term “disordered,” saying, “the homosexual inclination is objectively disordered, i.e., it is an inclination that predisposes one toward what is truly not good for the human person,” the bishops did make a concerted effort to clarify what a “disordered” view of human sexuality is.

The document also points out the importance of emphasizing the Christian understanding of virtue and the need for growth in virtue among all Catholics, especially the virtue of chastity.  The Church, Bishop Serratelli noted, “tells each person to live out the universal call to holiness.  This call often comes with struggle and self-denial.”

The bishops noted the possibility for those people who experience their homosexual attractions as an “unwanted burden,” to seek therapeutic help, but noted that “there is currently no scientific consensus on the cause of the homosexual inclination,” and, “no consensus on therapy.”

The document also dismisses the idea of homosexual “marriage,” in the context of placing the discussion of homosexuality within the greater context of God’s plan for sexuality.  “The complementary sexuality of man and woman is part of God’s creative design,” Serratelli said, noting that human sexuality is naturally created for the bond of marriage that has two natural ends, the expression of marital love and the procreation and education of children.

A large portion of the document offers a more practical consideration of the pastoral care for those with homosexual inclinations, taking a look at their participation within the life and sacraments of the Church, particular catechesis for such people, and means of offering pastoral support.

The bishops emphasized that all Catholics should be welcomed into their parishes and should participate fully in their local faith communities, in order to receive the spiritual support that the Church offers them.  However, they noted, “special care ought to be taken to ensure that those carrying out the ministry of the Church not use their position of leadership to advocate positions or behaviors not in keeping with the teachings of the Church.”

The document makes particular efforts to stress the need many people have for additional support in their struggle to live a chaste life.  In addition to underlining the need for spiritual direction for persons with homosexual inclinations, the bishops encouraged the use of support and counseling groups which are faithful to the Church - making special mention of the Catholic groups Courage and Encourage.

All of the bishops who spoke to CNA said that, while the document is in many ways a restatement of what they already know and work for, they were pleased with final product.  One bishop noted, “we need to keep doing a better job on the parish level, and this gives us a tool.”

To read the bishops’ document in full, visit the USCCB website at www.usccb.org.

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Holy Spirit marks the very identity of Christians, Pope Benedict says

Vatican City, Nov 15, 2006 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI returned, for a third time this week, to the figure of St. Paul during his weekly General Audience catechesis.  The Holy Father reflected on St. Paul’s writings on the Holy Spirit which, he said, marks the very identity of Christians.

“Having meditated last week upon St. Paul's writings concerning Jesus Christ's central position in our life of faith," the Pope began, "today we consider what he says about the Holy Spirit."
 
"St. Paul, in his Letters ... does not limit himself to explaining just the dynamic and active role of the third Person of the Blessed Trinity, but also analyzes the presence of the Spirit in the lives of Christians, whose identity is thereby marked. In other words, Paul reflects upon the Spirit, explaining its influence not only upon the activities of Christians but also upon their being.”
 
Quoting the words of St. Paul, the Holy Father said: "You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship." It is clear then, the Pope said, "that Christians, even before they act, possess a rich and fruitful inner life ... that instates them in a ... filial relationship with God. This is our greatest dignity, that of being not just the image but the children of God," which, in turn, "is an invitation to transform this objective gift into a subjective reality, that determines our way of thinking, acting and being."
 
"Paul also teaches us," the Holy Father continued, "that there is no true prayer without the presence of the Spirit within us." The Spirit is, "like the soul of our soul, the most secret part of our being, whence a prayer incessantly rises towards God."
 
"Another aspect of the Spirit,” the Holy Father noted, “is its association with love. The Spirit introduces us into the very rhythm of divine life, which is a life of love. And since by definition love unites, this means, above all, that the Spirit is a creator of communion within the Christian community."
 
"Finally, the Spirit, according to St. Paul, is a generous down payment given us by God Himself as a foretaste and guarantee of our future inheritance. The action of the Spirit guides our lives towards the great values of love, joy, communion, and hope."

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Every Catholic should consider how to more worthily receive the Eucharist, bishops say

, Nov 15, 2006 (CNA) - The Catholic bishops of the United States voted Tuesday to approve a document aimed at increasing the reverence of all Catholics for Holy Communion.  The document, written in a question and answer format, addresses the fundamental importance of the Holy Eucharist and the conditions for proper reception.  While the bishops did not directly address the contentious issue of denying communion to public officials who actively reject Church teaching, it did reiterate that all Catholics should seriously examine their own disposition for receiving.

"Happy Are Those Who Are Called To His Supper: On Preparing To Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist,” begins by recalling the Catechism’s instruction that “the principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus,” who comes in a real way in the Blessed Sacrament.  

“In virtue of our membership in the Catholic Church we are ordinarily free to receive Holy Communion,” the bishops note. “In fact, it is most desirable that we receive the Lord’s Body and Blood, so that Holy Communion stands out clearly as a participation in the sacrifice actually being celebrated.”

There are times however, when, after an examination of conscience, Catholics may come to realize that they, “should refrain from partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ.”  Such barriers to the reception of Holy Communion included the unconfessed committal of a mortal sin, a lack of adherence to Church teaching, or giving public scandal.

The bishops made a clear distinction when it comes to questioning Church teaching.  They acknowledge that some Catholics may not fully understand the Church’s doctrinal and moral teaching on certain issues and may have particular questions and even uncertainties, and said that such Catholics are welcome to partake of Holy Communion, “as long as they are prayerfully and honestly striving to understand the truth of what the Church professes and are taking appropriate steps to resolve their confusion and doubt.”  

If, however, “a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the defined doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definitive teaching on moral issues, however, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church,” and thus should refrain from taking part in Holy Communion, the bishops continued.

Those people who are, “publicly known to have committed serious sin or to have rejected definitive Church teaching and is not yet reconciled with the Church,” should also refrain from receiving communion as their reception would cause scandal for others, the bishops said.  “To give scandal means more than to cause other people to be shocked or upset by what one does. Rather, one’s action leads someone else to sin,” the bishops noted, quoting from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on the Eucharist, “Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil.”

Newark’s Archbishop John Myers, who proposed that the bishops write about the document told CNA he was, “very happy,” with it, “because I think it gives a solid foundation for all of us to think about proper preparation to receive the sacraments.”

“By having a point of reference, I think it has the potential of building more unity among the bishops as we deal with particular situations,” Archbishop Myers added.

In addition to discussing situations that would prevent Catholics from receiving communion, the document also provides a guide for the faithful to prepare to receive the sacrament more worthily.  “While the celebration of the Eucharist itself is a communal act,” the bishops noted, “the benefit that each individual receives from the Eucharistic celebration depends on the way he or she approaches the sacrament.”

The bishops point out tools for “remote” and “proximate” preparation to receive the Blessed Sacrament, including regular prayer, reception of the Sacrament of Penance, upholding the Eucharistic fast, actively participating in the liturgy, and offering a prayer of love and thanksgiving after receiving.

Bishop Arthur Serratelli, whose Commission on Doctrine drafted the document, noted that the aim of the bishops was to make clear the power and importance of the Sacrament and to bring more people to a deep Communion, not to keep them from Communion. The call to examination before receiving should serve as “a challenge now to Catholics to have a certain consistency in their lives," he said.

The bishop said the document may seem tough to some people, but in fact points to a real question about one’s own adherence to the faith, “If you reject...a teaching that is fundamental to Catholics," he said, "the real question is, then, Why would you want to take Communion? Because Communion itself says, 'I am part of this church and I embrace what it believes.'"

To read the bishops’ document in full, visit the USCCB website at www.usccb.org.

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Muslim philosopher meets Pope, praises ‘thirst’ to understand Islam

Paris, France, Nov 15, 2006 (CNA) - The first Muslim intellectual to have a private meeting with Pope Benedict XVI since his election said the pontiff has a real thirst for understanding Islam and conducting a sincere dialogue with its followers.

Muslim philosopher Mustapha Cherif, a former higher education minister and ambassador of his native Algeria, met with the Pope for a half-hour at the Vatican on Saturday.

Cherif, who has long been active in Christian-Muslim dialogue in France where he resides, described the Pope as “a man of dialogue.”

Cherif told Reuters that the Pope indicated he wants to understand Muslim views on jihad and the role of reason in faith. The pontiff also wants to explore how the religions could work together.

"He is a great theologian but not an expert in Islam," Cherif told Reuters on Monday.

Cherif said he told Benedict that jihad, understood in the West as holy war, is similar to what St. Augustine said about just war with rules on fighting and protecting non-combatants.

"He was surprised by that and said it had to be better known," Cherif was quoted as saying.

Cherif said he also refuted what Benedict had referred to in his Regensburg speech — that Islam was spread by the sword and that it did not value reason. Cherif noted that the Pope had expressed regret for appearing to criticize Islam.

He said he accepts the Pope’s readiness for dialogue, which could help Christians and Muslims to see that they are allies in a struggle against the loss of faith and rise of religious hatred, reported Reuters.

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Bishops offer "richer and more fulfilling" plan for marriage and sex, reject contraception

, Nov 15, 2006 (CNA) - Lamenting an “impoverished cultural view” which sees sex as a merely recreational activity, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a document this week aimed at addressing questions of sex, marriage, and contraception.

The Document titled, “Married Love and the Gift of Life,” acknowledges that, “God’s plan for married life and love is far richer and more fulfilling,” than the view offered by many today.  In God’s plan, the bishops say, “sexuality is the source of a joy and pleasure that helps the spouses give themselves to each other completely and for their entire lives.”

In the Document, which was presented to the main body of bishops by Baltimore’s Cardinal William Keeler and the Committee for Pro-Life Activities, “the Church teaches that the sexual union of husband and wife is meant to express the full meaning of love, its power to bind a couple together and its openness to new life.”

“Married love differs from any other love in the world. By its nature, the love of husband and wife is so complete, so ordered to a lifetime of communion with God and each other, that it is open to creating a new human being they will love and care for together,” the document continues.

That being said, the document continues, when contraception is used, “when married couples deliberately act to suppress fertility… sexual intercourse is no longer fully marital intercourse. It is something less powerful and intimate, something more ‘casual.’

The use of contraception, the bishops said, not only denies part of the inherent meaning of sexuality, but it actually “does harm to the couple’s unity.”

The bishops admitted that many couples “through no fault of their own, have not heard (or not heard in a way they could appreciate and understand)” the Church’s teaching on the harms of contraception.  “But as many couples who have turned away from contraception tell us, living this teaching can contribute to the honesty, openness, and intimacy of marriage and help make couples truly fulfilled.”

The document goes on to explore, in depth, the Church’s teaching on married sexual relations open to life and notes the benefits of natural family planning, which the bishops note is not simply based on a calendar date, but a series of scientifically observable signs in the woman’s body.

“Living God’s design for human sexuality in marriage can be difficult,” the bishops conclude, “But husbands and wives have not been left alone to live out this fundamental life challenge...The Church’s teaching on marital sexuality is an invitation for men and women—an invitation to let God be God, to receive the gift of God’s love and care, and to let this gift inform and transform us, so we may share that love with each other and with the world.”

To read the bishops’ document in full visit the USCCB website at www.usccb.org.

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Vatican cardinal says U.S.-Mexico fence ‘inhuman’

Vatican City, Nov 15, 2006 (CNA) - Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican's Council for Justice and Peace, condemned the building of walls between countries to keep out immigrants and said the United States’ plan to build a fence on the U.S.-Mexican border was part of an "inhuman program."

The cardinal made his comments on Tuesday during a press conference presenting Pope Benedict's message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

"Speaking of borders, I must unfortunately say that in a world that greeted the fall of the Berlin Wall with joy, new walls are being built between neighborhood and neighborhood, city and city, nation and nation," the cardinal said.

Reuters reported that when the cardinal was asked if the U.S.-Mexican fence was the wrong thing to do, he said: "Yes, that's exactly what it is."

The cardinal praised Mexican and U.S. bishops for opposing what he called "an inhuman program, which is what the construction of that wall and all others is."

President George Bush signed legislation last month approving the construction of a 1,100-km fence, stating that it is necessary for border control to keep out criminals and terrorists. Thousands of poor Mexicans risk their lives each year sneaking across the border to seek jobs.

In his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, the Pope calls for more laws to help immigrants integrate and for more protection for women immigrants who sometimes end up as victims of human trafficking and forced prostitution.

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Settlements reached in church sex abuse cases

Denver, Colo., Nov 15, 2006 (CNA) - Four men have agreed through mediation to settle their sex-abuse claims against the Archdiocese of Denver. The settlements are estimated by the Rocky Mountain News to be somewhere between $100,000 and $150,000 each.

Last May, Archbishop Charles Chaput offered a settlement process to the 29 men and one woman who filed lawsuits, alleging they were sexually abused by diocesan priests between 27 and 50 years ago. All of the lawsuits involved either Leonard Abercrombie, who died in 1994, or Harold Robert White, who is defrocked.

Jeff Herman, the Miami-based attorney who represents 19 of the clients suing the archdiocese, said all his clients pursued mediation but some of them stopped the process and opted for trial, saying they want the archdiocese to open all records pertaining to the two accused priests, reported the Rocky Mountain News.

Jeanette DeMelo, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, has said repeatedly that the archdiocese is hiding nothing and personnel files contain information that is legally protected for any organization or business. DeMelo has also noted that no priest accused of sexual misconduct is in active service in the archdiocese. She has encouraged anyone with a credible accusation to come forward.

"The archdiocese is very grateful to those who participated" in mediation, she told the Rocky Mountain News. Others are still going through the process, she added.

The remaining lawsuits are proceeding in Denver District Court. The archdiocese has filed motions to dismiss the cases, arguing that the statute of limitations has expired. Herman predicted they would not likely reach trial stage until next year.

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Argentina mother expresses forgiveness of son’s killer during court trial

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nov 15, 2006 (CNA) - The mother of a murdered Argentinean man surprised the country this week when she approached the man charged with the crime during his trial, gave him a rosary, hugged him, and invited him to open his heart to God.

The courtroom encounter occurred in the town of Esquel in southern Argentina.  Ana Maria Suarez was present during the trial of Fabian Chavez, 25, who confessed to killing her son, Mariano Drew.

Before those present, Suarez said, “Only prayer each day soothes my grief.  Yesterday when I went to the Church of St. Cajetan, I prayed to the Virgin Mary and I thought, my son is with God.  But I also thought of you, so young that you are.  I’m not going to hurt you.  I just want to give you this,” she said before handing him a rosary.

“Only God heals wounds. I forgive you.  And if my son offended you I ask your forgiveness.  I loved him and now I don’t want you to suffer.  The fate that has befallen you grieves me because I work with young people.  In this country there is much violence.  And you have been a victim of that since you were born.  It is love that also helps to heal wounds,” Suarez said, hugging the defendant, who broke down in tears.

Last September, Chavez, who was raised as an orphan and is an admitted alcoholic, beat 27 year-old Mariano Drew to death in the town of El Hoyo.

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Anglican, Catholic bishops have first joint meeting in UK

London, England, Nov 15, 2006 (CNA) - The Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops of England and Wales organized an unprecedented two-day joint meeting in Leeds this week. Forty Anglican and 30 Catholic bishops prayed and worshipped together on Nov. 14 and 15, and discussed how to heal the historic rift between them. They also discussed the rise of secularism in the United Kingdom.
 
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor were to issue a joint statement on the importance of working together and how to overcome the differences that remain between the two churches.
 
The joint meeting comes one week before Archbishop Williams, the leader of the Worldwide Anglican Communion, is scheduled to meet with Pope Benedict in Rome. The visit will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the meeting between Pope Paul VI and the late Anglican Archbishop Michael Ramsey.

Christian unions banned

In the course of their meetings, the UK bishops were also urged to consider helping thousands of Christian students at British universities from having their student societies banned, reported the Times Online.

Dr. Peter May, member of the Church of England General Synod and head of the Universities and Christian Colleges Fellowship, addressed the issue of Christian student unions in a letter to the bishops.

"If CUs (Christian unions) uphold orthodox Christian teaching, they can find themselves banned from using campus buildings for their activities or promoting them, their SU (Student Union) bank accounts frozen, and removed from the official list of SU societies on campus," the letter states.
 
The three cases cited include Birmingham University Christian Union, banned from the official list of societies after it refused to amend its constitution to allow non-Christians to become executive committee members; Exeter University Christian Union, ordered to change its name to Evangelical Christian Union and suspended until it complies, and Edinburgh University, where the Christian Union has also been banned and was refused permission to run a Bible-based course on relationships on campus.
 
The Exeter Christian Union has served notice on the university and the Guild of Students that it is taking legal action under the 1998 Human Rights Act. 

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Vatican cardinal deplores “cruelty” of euthanasia for newborns in the UK

Rome, Italy, Nov 15, 2006 (CNA) - Speaking with Italian reporters, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care, deplored the “cruelty” of a proposal to allow newborns with severe handicapped to be euthanized in the United Kingdom.

The cardinal noted that the position of the Church “is unchanged, life does not belong to man but to the Lord.  The life of an innocent being cannot be taken either by direct or indirect means.  Euthanasia is never permissible.  This goes for the terminally ill and for children, including those born with serious problems.”

According to Cardinal Lozano, “Ending the life of an innocent person, even if it is a premature baby who is gravely ill, is the equivalent of euthanasia, and this is an illicit action, as well as an act of cruelty.”

He also stressed that the “Catholic Church does not impose, she proposes her doctrine,” as the “dignity of the human person is based on the primordial principle that is human life and that we defend from beginning to end.”

Cardinal Lozano also emphasized that the Church does not teach that doctors must use disproportionate means or medicines that will only prolong the agony of a person who would otherwise be close to death.  “Nobody should be obliged to accept this kind of therapy,” he said.  “But in the case that is being presented here, we are dealing with murder.  We must remember that the fifth commandment says, Thou shalt not kill.”

In Great Britain, Anglican Bishop Tom Butler of Southwark said his church would not support the euthanasia for newborns and he called for distinctions to be made between euthanasia and the rejection of extraordinary means.

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Spanish ambassador admits government sought to manipulate papal comments

Madrid, Spain, Nov 15, 2006 (CNA) - Speaking to the Spanish daily “El Mundo,” Spain’s ambassador to the Holy See, Francisco Vazquez, admitted that the government of President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero sought to manipulate comments by Pope Benedict in order to promote his controversial “peace process” with the Basque separatist group ETA.

Vazquez denied that the Pontiff had intervened in negotiations with ETA and he said it was an “error” to manipulate the Pope’s comments, “and that was attempted,” he admitted.  “The Pope simply prayed that the peace process in Spain would move ahead.  There has been no Vatican intervention in the process, nor will there be,” he stressed.

Several weeks ago, the Spanish daily “El Pais,” the official government newspaper, made up a story that Pope Benedict XVI was supporting negotiations which the Spanish government initiated with ETA.

The story triggered a letter of clarification from the Bishops’ Conference of Spain which stated, “Made-up information such as this lacks all objectivity and, therefore, is entirely untrustworthy.”

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Venezuelan cardinal calls for election results to be respected

Caracas, Venezuela, Nov 15, 2006 (CNA) - Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas exhorted Venezuelans this week to “go to the polls” on December 3 to exercise their right as citizens and vote in the presidential elections peacefully and to “respect the final results.”

Speaking with reporters, the cardinal called for peaceful elections and the cessation of dirty campaigning.  “Above and beyond the problems we may have, we must live and treat each other as brothers and sisters.  We must embrace dialogue, tolerance and allow dissidence and difference of opinions, because that is very important,” he stressed.

The cardinal also called on Catholics to be builders of peace and that having different or opposing opinions should not lead to “the fostering of confrontations and attitudes of hatred.”
 

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