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Archive of December 4, 2006

Prefect for Clergy clarifies statements on celibacy

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2006 (CNA) - Following the rapid dissemination of a quote printed by the Brazilian press this weekend, the newly appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes O.F.M., issued a statement through the Vatican this morning, clarifying that the removal of a requirement for priestly celibacy is not in the immediate works.

On Saturday, the Brazilian newspaper “Estado de Sao Paolo” ran a story in which they quoted the former Archbishop of Sao Paolo as saying, “Celibacy is a discipline, not a dogma of the church…Certainly, the majority of the apostles were married. In this modern age, the church must observe these things, it has to advance with history.”  

The quote was widely distributed and viewed as an indication that a change to the Church’s requirement of celibacy for Latin Rite priests was imminent.

However, as Cardinal Hummes was quick to clarify this morning, the Church has no immediate intention of lifting the discipline which requires a priest to offer the entirety of his life for the Church and remain unmarried.  

In regard to the current lack of priestly vocations experienced by many dioceses and religious orders around the world, Hummes said that the opinion of the majority of the hierarchy is that other problems, such as a pervasive culture of secularism, are more to blame than a requirement of priestly celibacy.

Hummes noted that his comments to the Brazilian paper were not meant to be novel. "In the Church it has always been clear that priests' obligation to celibacy is not a dogma but a disciplinary norm,” he said.

In fact, he continued, while the disciplinary norm has been present in the Latin Church for some time, there exist Eastern Rite Churches united to the Catholic Church in which married priests are a usual occurrence.

“Yet,” he continued, “it is also clear that the norm prescribing celibacy for priests in the Latin Church is very ancient and is founded upon consolidated tradition and upon strong motivations, both theological-spiritual and practical-pastoral, as reiterated also by Popes.”

The cardinal pointed out that, "Even during the recent Synod on priests, the most widespread opinion among the fathers was that a relaxation of the rule of celibacy would not be a solution even to the problem of the lack of vocations, which is, rather, to be linked to other causes, in the first place the modern culture of secularization. This is clear also from the experience of other Christian confessions that have married priests and pastors.”
 
"This question is not, then, currently on the order of the day for the ecclesial authorities, as was recently reiterated following the latest meeting of heads of dicastery with the Holy Father," he concluded. 

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Greek Orthodox leader to make first official visit to Pope

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2006 (CNA) - The Vatican announced what could be a major breakthrough in ecumenical relations between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches.  In a communiqué this morning the Holy See Press Office announced that, “His Beatitude Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens and of all Greece, is to visit the Holy Father and the Church of Rome from December 13 to 16.”
 
The message noted that while, "the archbishop was in Rome for the funeral of His Holiness John Paul II, this is the first time that the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church makes an official visit to the Pope and to the Church of Rome."
 
“The Holy Father will receive His Beatitude Christodoulos and his entourage on the morning of December 14,” the Vatican confirmed.  “At a ceremony in the basilica of St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls, the archbishop of Athens and of all Greece will be given part of a chain - kept in that basilica - with which St. Paul was held prisoner.”

“Later,” the communiqué continues, "Rome's Pontifical Lateran University will confer an 'honoris causa' degree upon the illustrious guest."
 
The message points out how on November 3, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece expressed its "joy at this visit, the fruits of which will be positive."
 
In his 2001 pilgrimage in the footsteps of St. Paul, John Paul II visited the Areopagus of Athens where he signed a joint declaration with His Beatitude Christodoulos, and was received by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece. In subsequent years, visits have been exchanged between delegations from the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece, which came to Rome, and from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which went to Athens. These initiatives were followed by "fraternal and intense" contacts between the Catholic Church of Rome and the Orthodox Church of Greece.

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Pope calls all to the God who comes among mankind

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2006 (CNA) - Presiding at the first prayer service for the season of Advent, Pope Benedict XVI recalled that God is a God who comes among man to save him from evil and death.  The Holy Father celebrated first Vespers on Saturday evening at St. Peter’s Basilica.

“At the beginning of a new annual cycle,” the Pope began, “the liturgy invites the Church to renew her announcement to all people, encapsulating it in these words, 'God is coming'."
 
"The one true God, 'the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob,' is not a God Who remains in heaven, disinterested in our history," said the Pope. "He is the God-Who-comes. He is a Father Who never ceases to think of us and, in absolute respect for our freedom, wishes to meet us and visit us; He wants to come, to dwell among us, to stay with us,” Pope Benedict continued.

“His 'coming' arises from His will to free us from evil and from death, from everything that prevents our true freedom. God comes to save us."
 
The Pope also noted how the Church’s liturgy during the Advent season calls mankind to put aside “false paths” and return to the path of God.
 
With "prayer and good works," said the Holy Father, the Christian community "can hasten the last coming, helping humanity to go out towards the Lord Who comes".

In this context, Advent must be lived "in communion with all those people - and thanks be to God, they are many - who hope for a more just and fraternal world,” he said.
 
"In this commitment to justice," he added, "it is possible that men and women of all nationalities and cultures, believers and non-believers, find themselves together to some degree. Indeed, all of them, though for different reasons, are animated by a shared longing for a future of justice and peace."
 
"Peace is the goal to which all of humanity aspires,” Pope Benedict emphasized. “For believers, 'peace' is one of the most beautiful names of God, Who wishes for understanding among all His children, something I had the opportunity to recall also during my pilgrimage of recent days to Turkey."
 
Let us then," he concluded, "begin this new Advent - a time given to us by the Lord of time - by reawakening in our hearts the expectation of the God-Who-comes, and the hope that His Name be hallowed, that His Kingdom of justice and peace may come, that His will be done, on earth as in heaven." 

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Benedict XVI recalls trip to Turkey, reminds Christians that Advent is a time of hope

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2006 (CNA) - Prior to praying the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI briefly recalled last week’s trip to Turkey, expressing his thanks to the Turkish people and reminding Catholics to follow the example of Turkish Christians who, “always live the experience of Advent.”

The Holy Father began by expressing his hope that the trip to Turkey would continue to produce, “fruits of goodness for ever more sincere cooperation among all Christ's disciples and for a productive dialogue with Muslim believers."

He thanked the Turkish authorities and people for, “a welcome worthy of their traditional spirit of hospitality," and thanked those who were praying for him during his trip, saying, “I felt how I was accompanied and supported by the prayers of the entire Christian community.”

The Pope then considered how the Catholic community in Turkey, “often finds itself in difficult conditions.”  The Pontiff noted that they are, “a small but varied flock, rich in enthusiasm and faith, who ... always live the experience of Advent intensely, sustained by hope.”

The Advent liturgy, the Pope noted, assures the Church, “almost as if to overcome our natural diffidence, that God 'comes:' He comes to be with us. ... He comes to bridge the distances that divide and separate us. He comes to reconcile us with Him and among ourselves. He comes into the history of humanity ... to bring the gift of fraternity, harmony and peace."
 
For this reason, "Advent is, par excellence, the time of hope," he said. And to live it fully, "the liturgy exhorts us to look to Mary Most Holy and to walk…with her towards the manger of Bethlehem.”

“When God knocked at the door of her young life, she accepted Him with faith and love,” the Pope said of Mary. “Let us allow ourselves to be attracted by her beauty, a reflection of divine glory, so that 'the God Who comes' may find in each of us a good and open heart He can fill with His gifts."

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Virginia bishop calls for citizens to take stand against pornography

Alexandria, Va., Dec 4, 2006 (CNA) - The Bishop of Arlington, Virginia, has taken up the fight against pornography and is urging all citizens and public officials to work for legislation that will create a culture in which the dignity of all human persons is respected.

In a lengthy pastoral letter, entitled “Bought with a Price: Pornography and the Attack on the Living Temple of God”, Bishop Paul Loverde addressed the moral, social, and spiritual dangers of pornography.

The bishop described pornography as a “plague” that “stalks the souls of men, women and children”, ruins marriages and families, “victimizes the most innocent among us” and “destroys people's ability to see one another as unique and beautiful expressions of God's creation.”

“Perhaps worst of all, however, is the damage that pornography does to man's ‘template’ for the supernatural,” he wrote. “Our natural vision in this world is the model for supernatural vision in the next.”

While American culture views pornography as a “mere private weakness or even as a legitimate pleasure to be protected by law”, the Church teaches that it is a grave offense, he stated plainly.

Freedom of speech “is not an absolute right,” he said, and it must “always be at the service of the common good.”

Bishop Loverde remarked on how pornography has become “mainstream entertainment” for the masses, accessible through the Internet, cable, satellite and broadcast television. He noted that it is also available on cell phones and portable gaming and entertainment devices designed for children and teens.

The bishop also addressed the false arguments in defense of pornography, which state that there are no victims in pornography, so no one is being harmed; that pornography can be an aid in maturing, both emotionally and sexually; that the temperate use of pornography can be therapeutic; and, that Christian opposition to pornography comes from a “Christian hatred of the body.”

Pornography, he said, “distorts the truth about human sexuality,” and uses and manipulates people in ways that are “incompatible with their human dignity.”

It also poses challenges to people who are trying to live their Christian vocations in all states of life — married couples, priests and consecrated persons, and single people.

In particular, it poses a challenge to young Christians, who “struggle to live the demands of discipleship” in a culture that has abandoned the virtue of chastity, he said.

“I fear that the full burden of our culture's surrender to pornography will fall on your shoulders, both now and in years to come,” he said to young people. “Not only have you been targeted by this criminal enterprise as a source of financial gain, but you also have to endure the impoverished notion of intimacy that results from a culture that has confused love with self-gratification.

“Know first that God has destined you for a true and fully human love that finds its center not in manipulating others but in sharing and flourishing in a communion with your beloved,” he wrote.

For Bishop Loverde’s full text, please go to: www.arlingtondiocese.org/offices/communications/boughtprice.html

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Church stands by teaching re condom use and AIDS, says cardinal

London, England, Dec 4, 2006 (CNA) - The Catholic Church stands by its teaching that the best way to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS is abstinence and not condom use, said Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor in a BBC interview Sunday.

The cardinal’s comment came in response to a remark made by British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Friday that it was time churches and religious organizations “faced reality” and lifted the ban on condom use in order to help end the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Blair made his statement in a message that appeared on MTV to mark World AIDS Day. Blair added that his government will spend £1.5 billion over the next few years to fight AIDS by increasing the number of condoms being distributed to developing nations.

But in an interview with Andrew Marr on “BBC Sunday AM,” the Archbishop of Westminster said that money would be better spent on providing “more anti-retroviral drugs, medicines, for the millions of children and women who are affected.”

He underlined that the primary way to combat AIDS is through “behavioral change, monogamous partnerships between a man and a woman.”

The cardinal said he has spoken with African bishops who have told him that their dioceses are flooded with condoms and that it has led to more promiscuity and to more AIDS. “I think you've got to look at this …within the whole context of the African culture,” he told Marr.

Cardinal O’Connor pointed out that the Catholic Church and its agencies provide more than one-quarter of the healthcare to AIDS victims worldwide.

He also note that the Pope did call for a report to be prepared on AIDS and condom use.

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Bartholomew I: Pope’s visit will have “incalculable value” for “reconciliation process”

Istanbul, Turkey, Dec 4, 2006 (CNA) - The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, said last week he is “convinced” that Benedict XVI’s visit to Turkey, in addition to being “historic,” also had “incalculable value” for the “reconciliation process” in the millennium-long split between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

Alluding to the controversial statements by Benedict XVI at Ratisbona last September, Bartholomew I told reporters that the Pontiff’s trip “has come at such a difficult time and in very delicate circumstances.”  

“Unity is a precious responsibility, but at the same time a difficult responsibility that must be assumed if it is not shared between brethren.  The history of the last millennium is a painful reminder of this reality.  There is no doubt that with God’s help, (the Pope’s visit) offers us the opportunity to take a beneficial step forward in the reconciliation process between our Churches,” he said.

Likewise, the Patriarch said that Pope Benedict’s four-day visit to Turkey constitutes “an opportunity to overcome some of the barriers of misunderstanding between believers of different religions, in particular between Christians and Muslims.”

Bartholomew I also revealed that he has made a surprise proposal of an ecumenical nature to the Pope, which he said was received positively by the Pontiff.

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Media reveals possible schedule for Benedict XVI’s trip to Brazil

Sao Paulo, Brazil, Dec 4, 2006 (CNA) - Media outlets in Brazil are reporting on a proposal by the Catholic Church in that country for a schedule of activities for Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Brazil in May of 2007 for the 5th General Conference of the Latin American Bishops’ Council, which will be held at the Marian shrine of Aparecida.

According to the proposed schedule that Cardinal Claudio Hummes will present to the Holy See next week, the Holy Father would stay in Sao Paulo for three days and two days at the city of Aparecida do Norte, 170 kilometers north of Sao Paulo.

The schedule would include a meeting with Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Sao Paulo and an outdoor Mass at the Plaza Campo de Bagatelle before an estimated one million people.

Auxiliary Bishop Pedro Luiz Stringhini of Sao Paulo, a member of the commission charged with organizing the papal visit, said a meeting with the youth was also proposed.

During his stay in Sao Paulo, the Pope would stay at the Monastery of Sao Bento, which has a central location and would facilitate the Holy Father’s travel to and from the main events there, scheduled for May 10 and 11. 

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Vatican reacts to illicit Chinese ordination

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2006 (CNA) - The Vatican reacted this weekend to the decision of the Chinese government to ordain another Catholic bishop without Vatican approval.  The Holy See said the illicit ordination of Fr. John Wang Renlei, which took place on November 30th, was a great cause of “sadness” for the Church.

The Vatican statement said that Pope Benedict learned about the ordination “with great sadness,” because it occurred without the mandate of the Pope, “without respecting the discipline of the Catholic Church concerning the appointment of bishops.”

While Beijing views papal appointments to the Chinese episcopate as interference in its internal affairs, episcopal ordinations without Papal approval are outside of Church law.
 
Last week’s ordination, the communiqué continued, is just the latest of the, “illegitimate episcopal ordinations which have been afflicting the Catholic Church in China for a number of decades.”

The illicit ordinations are, “creating divisions in diocesan communities and tormenting the consciences of many ecclesiastics and faithful,” the Vatican message continued. “This extremely grave series of acts, which offend the religious sentiments of all Catholics in China and the rest of the world, is the fruit and consequence of a vision of the Church that does not correspond to Catholic doctrine and undermines the fundamental principles of her hierarchical structure.”

“Indeed,” the statement continued, “as Vatican Council II makes clear, 'one is constituted a member of the episcopal body in virtue of sacramental consecration and hierarchical communion with the head and members of the body.'"
 
The Vatican said it attempted to take steps to stop the ordination, despite learning of it at the last minute.  The press release said that the Holy See made every possible effort, “in order to prevent an act that would have produced a fresh laceration in ecclesial communion.”

“In fact, an illegitimate episcopal ordination is an act objectively so serious that Canon Law lays down severe penalties for those who confer or receive it, assuming the act was carried out in conditions of true freedom.”
 
The Holy See says it is aware of the “spiritual crisis and suffering,” of the bishops who were compelled to take part in the ordination, “thus contravening the Catholic tradition which, in their hearts, they would like to follow faithfully.”

Several reports indicated that some bishops and priests who express their allegiance to the universal Church and serve the “underground” Church in China were forced to attend and celebrate the illicit ordination.

“The Holy See also shares the interior disquiet of those Catholics - priests, religious and laity - who find themselves obliged to accept a pastor whom they know is not in full hierarchical communion with the head of the College of Bishops or with other bishops around the world.”

Beijing broke ties with the Vatican in the 1950’s after the communists took power and set up a separate state-sanctioned Catholic church outside Vatican authority. However, millions are said to worship in underground churches that are loyal to Rome and millions more consider themselves in union with Rome, despite participating in parishes which are controlled by the government.

"It is a consolation to note that, despite past and present difficulties, almost the entirety of bishops, priests, religious and lay people in China, conscious of their status as living limbs of the Universal Church, have maintained a profound communion of faith and of life with Peter's Successor and with all Catholic communities around the world,” the Holy See’s message said.
 
"As regards these episcopal ordinations,” it concluded, “the Holy See cannot accept being faced with a 'fait accompli.' Therefore, it deplores the procedure with which the ordination of Fr. Wang Renlei in Xuzhou was carried out, and hopes that incidents of this kind will not be repeated in the future."

Yesterday China defended the ordination, saying criticism from the Vatican was "unreasonable," state media reported.

On Sunday, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted an unnamed spokesman of the State Administration of Religious Affairs as saying China and the Vatican have no official ties and have not reached an understanding on the ordination of bishops.

The spokesman added that China had informed the Vatican in advance of the selection and ordination.

"Given the status quo of the China-Vatican relations and the fact that the Chinese Catholic Bishops College has conducted assessments and the Xuzhou diocese has completed the selection and been prepared for the ordination, the Vatican's requests of stopping and postponing the ordination is unreasonable," the spokesman said.

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Church must address the whole person to fight AIDS, say African bishops

Rome, Italy, Dec 4, 2006 (CNA) - The Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) has said bringing God to the hearts of men and women, so that they believe in Him, in an effort to care for the whole person is a requirement “for combating AIDS, truly confronting its causes and curing the sick with due attention and love.”

In a statement signed by the president of SECAM, Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, the bishops expressed their concern over the magnitude of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  “The statistics, by themselves, tell a devastating story.  According to this year’s report by UNAIDS, 24.5 million of the 774 million people who live in sub-Saharan Africa live with HIV/AIDS,” they said.

"Despite good educational efforts,” the bishops noted, “many people remain ignorant about AIDS or still deny it. Despite greater availability of treatment, more people are dying. And despite the services offered, many infected and ill people are still crushed under the most desperate of circumstances."

Echoing Pope Benedict XVI's teaching this year, the Catholic bishops of Africa "encourage everyone to consider the deeper causes of the pandemic. It is not just medical. A public health approach is necessary but insufficient. As the Church's mission is to address the whole person in all dimensions of life, we feel the special responsibility to revitalize the strong moral values in our societies. That is what will lead to a true, sustainable solution to AIDS in Africa."

The bishops' statement commended efforts that have so far been made in fighting the pandemic, but urged those who have pledged to provide needed resources to keep their promise.

"On our part, within the means available to us, we will continue to offer care which is competent, loving and holistic. We will educate and preach tirelessly. We will continue to challenge our fellow Africans of every age and condition to exercise personal and communal responsibility. We will continue to invite especially our leaders, in the words of the Holy Father, to "a shared commitment to justice and love," the bishops said.

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