Archive of March 22, 2007

Vietnam to try Catholic priest for anti-government documents

Hanoi, Vietnam, Mar 22, 2007 (CNA) - A high-profile Catholic priest will go on trial March 30th on charges of disseminating materials aimed at undermining Vietnam's Communist government, reported The Associated Press.

Fr. Nguyen Van Ly and four of his associates are accused of producing so-called anti-government documents and communicating with anti-communist groups overseas. The pro-democracy priest is also accused of planning to form a new political opposition party named Lac Hong. The offense carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

The actions against Fr. Ly come as Vietnam and the Vatican discuss the possibility of establishing diplomatic ties. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung met with the Pope in January, in the first visit ever to the Vatican by a Vietnamese head of government.

The Vatican's undersecretary of state reportedly raised Fr. Ly's case with the Vietnamese government.

Fr. Ly has spent more than a decade in prison for his political activism and is one of the best-known members of Vietnam's small dissident community. He was last imprisoned in 2001, when he was sentenced to 15 years, but was released two years ago in an amnesty.

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Colorado bishops voice opposition to adoption bill

Denver, Colo., Mar 22, 2007 (CNA) - Colorado’s Catholic bishops expressed their opposition to a bill that would allow the live-in partner of a single parent — either same-sex or heterosexual — to become the second legal parent of a child, without the customary legal review process required in ordinary adoptions.

House Bill 1330, presented in the state legislature on March 6, would allow same-sex couples to adopt children in Colorado. Currently, homosexual individuals are allowed to adopt a child in Colorado, but same-sex couples are not.

The law would also allow a single parent’s heterosexual partner to adopt the child.  Furthermore, it would allow two siblings to adopt a child together. In this case, if one of the siblings were to become injured, disabled, or killed, the other sibling would automatically have the right to parent the child.

“This arrangement of joint legal parenthood creates the appearance of a family, yet without the stability of traditional marriage,” the bishops said in their March 21 statement. The statement was signed by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, Bishop Arthur Tafoya of Pueblo and Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs.

“House Bill 1330 will indirectly weaken our normative understanding of family and marriage — which is life-long love of one man and one woman for the benefit of children and the unity of the spouses,” they continued. “This classic definition of marriage is truly what is in the best interests of a child.”

The bishops noted that Colorado voters reaffirmed this notion of marriage and family when they approved Amendment 43, in November 2006, by a strong majority, and rejected Referendum I, which would have gives same-sex couples the same legal benefits as married couples, including the right to adoption.

“House Bill 1330 seeks to circumvent the clearly expressed will of Colorado voters by indirectly changing what the State of Colorado means by the words ‘family and marriage,’” the bishops wrote.

The bishops said elected officials have “a very serious duty” to support marriage and the family. They urged Catholics to review and consider this proposed legislation, and to make their opinions known to their representatives. 

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Don King gets front row seat for Pope’s general audience

Vatican City, Mar 22, 2007 (CNA) - Don King was front row at Pope Benedict XVI's weekly General Audience in St. Peter’s Square yesterday. The eccentric boxing promoter told the Associated Press that he was thrilled to be there and that it offered him a deep spiritual experience. His normally wild hair was even combed down for the event.

Seated in the front row of a special section on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica, King was able to hand Benedict a gift as the Pontiff rode by in an open jeep at the end of the audience.

King gave the Pope a green-and-gold boxing belt and a handwritten letter asking for prayers for a range of people, from President George Bush to the world’s sick and infirm.

"Faith is the thing that carries us through," the 75-year-old King reportedly said as he walked through St. Peter's Square, waving Italian and Vatican flags and signing autographs.

King was in Italy to discuss possible boxing matches, when he expressed his wish to meet the Pope. King, who spent four years in prison for manslaughter, had hoped for a personal meeting, but such private meetings have been harder to come by in the Pontificate of Benedict XVI.

Don King Productions spokesman Alan Hopper said the visit was arranged through a boxer King represents — Italian super welterweight champion Luca Messi, whose brother is a priest.

Before arriving in Rome, King toured Messi's hometown, Bergamo, where he began a fundraising campaign to restore the northern city's St. Mary Major Church.

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MTV boss fined for airing anti-Catholic program in Lithuania

Vilnius, Lithuania, Mar 22, 2007 (CNA) - Lithuania’s Radio and Television Commission voted unanimously to fine the director of MTV Networks Baltic for airing Popetown, an anti-Catholic cartoon whose humor is based on irreverence toward the Roman Catholic Church.

Marius Veselis will have to pay 3000 litas ($1435), reported Reuters.

The cartoons provoked a storm of criticism in Lithuania, where 80 per cent of the population is Roman Catholic.

The commission made its decision after the Inspector of Journalists' Ethics, Romas Gudaitis, said Popetown should be banned because it portrays the clergy as destructive and incites religious discrimination.

MTV Lietuva spokeswoman Ema Segal told Reuters that Veselis would appeal. Segal said the series was aired in all the three Baltic states but Lithuania was the only one that reacted strongly against it.  

MTV began airing the series in Lithuania in December, after a court rejected the Church's bid to postpone it. The Church later said it planned to sue MTV for inciting religious hatred.

"This is just an artistic satire and nothing more,” Segal was quoted as saying. “We neither attempted to mock religion nor God himself.”

According to Reuters, Veselis said in a statement last month that the reaction to Popetown had unmasked Lithuania as a "sort of half-medieval, half-communist, sick culture."

The show was commissioned by the BBC in 2002 but dropped in 2004 because of worries it might offend Catholics. There were protests against the series when it was shown in New Zealand and in Germany. 

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Archdiocese of El Salvador commemorates anniversary of death of Archbishop Romero

San Salvador, El Salvador, Mar 22, 2007 (CNA) - Archbishop Fernando Saenz of San Salvador announced that next Saturday, March 24, the Church in El Salvador will commemorate the 27th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Calling the assassination of “terrible sacrilege,” Archbishop Saenz told reporters the day would begin with pilgrimages to the crypt of the Cathedral where Archbishop Romero is buried and that the central act would be a Mass at midday, concelebrated by priests from around the country.

In addition, he said another Mass would be celebrated at the Cathedral in the evening by Bishop Alvaro Ramozzino of San Marcos, Guatemala.  

Asked about the state of Archbishop Romero’s cause of beatification, which was opened in 1984, Archbishop Saenz said, “It is in the early stages, as I understand the case has not yet been released from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and sent to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.”

“The way to accelerate this process,” he said, is “to not hinder it with political maneuvering or by politicizing his figure, and secondly, the most important thing is to ask for extraordinary favors, miraculous cures, even with much faith in God our Lord through Archbishop Romero.”

Archbishop Romero was assassinated on March 24, 1980 by a paid assassin during the civil war that shook the country until 1992, when the government and the guerrilla signed a peace agreement mediated by the United Nations.

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Cardinal Bertone: main objective of Benedict XVI is recovery of Christian identity

Vatican City, Mar 22, 2007 (CNA) - The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said this week that “the main objective of the Magisterium and ministry of Pope Benedict is to recover the authentic Christian identity and to explain and confirm the intelligibility of the faith in the context of widespread secularism.”

The Cardinal made his comments during a gathering of the Ethics and Finance Association in the city of Milan, just a few weeks prior to the second anniversary of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, which falls on April 19th.

In the eyes of the Pope, Cardinal Bertone continued, “Relativism has become the fundamental problem of the faith in our times.”  It’s an attitude “that is expressed not only as a way of renouncing unattainable truth, but also by appealing to the ideas of tolerance and the knowledge of freedom,” he said.

“Relativism is presented as the philosophical basis of democracy, which is supposedly founded on the fact that no one can claim to know the correct way,” Cardinal Bertone noted.  In this sense, the Pope has become a “passionate promoter” of the truth that is the person of Jesus Christ, “the only and universal Savior,” and for this reason he proclaims to all the nations: “Jesus cannot be relativized as one of many religious geniuses.”

In noting that the Pope always encourages respect for human life, the Vatican Secretary of State pointed out that Benedict XVI “does not want to fall into the error of constructing a political Catholicism” because “the faith does not provide political recipes but rather simply seeks to contribute to the purification of reason.”

Referring to current-day problems around the world, Cardinal Bertone explained that Benedict XVI “is facing a divided planet full of many problems: Islamic fundamentalism, the indifference of rich countries, confusion caused by sects, the disorientation caused by poverty in the third and fourth world, while at the same time a new economic vitality is occurring in the East.  And then there is the issue of ecumenism.  It is necessary that past differences with the Orthodox world, in Moscow and in other places, be overcome.”

Amidst such situations, Cardinal Bertone stressed, the Pope promotes dialogue “with the exponents of human thought: in science, philosophy, and theology in order to discover that they are all expressions of authentic reason open to the transcendent, and that they all have the task of understanding that there is one reality and that mankind is one.”

Cardinal Bertone noted that there are “two words” that are found throughout the Pope’s messages: “joy and friendship.”  The Pope shows us that God is close to us, “a friend,” and he wants everyone to see “how beautiful and gratifying it is to be a Christian.”

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Pastoral health care a sign of the closeness of God and his love, Pope says

Vatican City, Mar 22, 2007 (CNA) - Today in the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI received participants in the plenary session of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care. Pope Benedict told the Pontifical Council, which is led by Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, that pastoral health care is truly an important field of evangelization, intimately connected with the healing ministry of Jesus.

“Health pastoral care is, in fact, an evangelical field par excellence that immediately calls to mind the work of Jesus, the Good Samaritan of humankind…Who always accompanied His preaching with the signs He worked upon the sick," the Pope said.

"The health of man, of all of man, was the sign that Jesus chose to express the proximity of God and His merciful love that heals the spirit, the soul and the body," the Holy Father emphasized.

The Pope called on healthcare workers, in all their activities, to remember Christ, Who is presented by the Gospels as the "divine doctor," and he added: "Helping human beings is a duty, both as a response to a fundamental right ... and because the cure of individuals works for the benefit of the community as a whole.”

"Modern science progresses in as much as it accepts the constant discussion of diagnoses and treatment methods, on the supposition that existing data and supposed limits can be overcome," he added.

"Moreover, respect for and faith in healthcare workers is proportional to the conviction that these defenders of life will never despise a human existence, however handicapped it may be, and will always ... encourage attempts at a cure.”

"The commitment to treatment must, then, be extended to all human beings,” the Holy Father emphasized.

“This ethical perspective, based on the dignity of the human person and on the fundamental rights and duties connected thereto, is confirmed and strengthened by the commandment to love, the heart of the Christian message."

"Charity as a duty of the Church," said Pope Benedict, "has a particularly significant application in the care of the sick. The history of the Church bears witness to this with innumerable cases of men and women ... who have worked in this field."

Benedict XVI completed his talk by recalling the importance of the Eucharist, from which healthcare ministry can draw "the strength to help man effectively and promote him in accordance with his dignity.”

“The Eucharist, administered decorously and prayerfully to the sick, is a vital lymph that comforts them and gives their souls the interior light necessary to live their infirmity and suffering with faith and hope," the Vicar of Christ concluded.

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New archbishop of Sao Paulo says Pope will travel to Brazil with message for entire continent

Sao Paulo, Brazil, Mar 22, 2007 (CNA) - During his first meeting with reporters after being named the new head of the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo, Bishop Odilo Pedro Scherer said Pope Benedict XVI will visit Brazil in May with a message for all of Latin America.

Bishop Scherer, who will be installed as the new archbishop of the largest archdiocese in South America on April 29th, said the Pope’s visit will underscore “the importance of Latin America, [a region] the Pope follows with much attention and much affection because half of the world’s Catholics live here.”

Bishop Scherer, up to now auxiliary bishop of Sao Paulo, will replace Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who has been tapped by the Pope to head up the Congregation for the Clergy.

The new archbishop-elect said the Pope is well-aware of the realities of the Church in Latin America and in Brazil in particular, the country with the greatest number of Catholics in the world.  “We expect that which is proper to the mission of the Pope: that he shows the way…We expect from him encouraging words for the youth, who are looking for direction, courage, relief, consolation and well-being.”

He also emphasized the Church’s dedication to defending life and the family.  “I understand the difficulties in understanding the position of the Pope in a controversial world of plurality and diverse thinking and opinions,” Bishop Scherer said, “but it is outside the Church’s competence to change the Gospel.”
Pope Benedict XVI will visit Brazil May 9-14 to inaugurate the 5th General Conference of the Latin American Bishops’ Council. It will be his first visit to Latin America as Pope.

Bishop Scherer said there are no plans for the Pope to meet with representatives of liberation theology, as some media reports in Brazil speculated.

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Bishop calls for defense of life against the “Herods and Pilates” of our times

Mexico City, Mexico, Mar 22, 2007 (CNA) - As the possible legalization of abortion looms in the Mexican capital, Bishop Mario De Gasperin of Queretaro has called on Mexicans to defend life and not to allow the Herods and Pilates of our times to slaughter the unborn.

In a message marking the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the bishop said that government leaders are acting like Herod or Pilate when they tell women to “solve the problem however you can.  If you want to kill the child that is in your way, do it, because we will not oppose you.”

“Public servants are precisely that, servants, not owners of life, of individuals, of couples, of married persons.  Neither are they God.  They are mere mortals just like us.  They are merely servants of the well-being of all, they should make wise laws so that everyone can live in fairness, with justice and peace, because if they do not do so, not only do they fail in their duty, they also lose credibility and legitimacy,” he said.

Bishop De Gasperin noted that after the death of King Herod, Saint Joseph continued protecting the child Jesus in Galilee and thus he taught us to always remain vigilant so that the attacks against the unborn do not catch us off guard.

He added that unfortunately in Mexico today, there are repeated attempts to pass laws that “minimize the value of marriage, the family and human life to the point of destroying it, especially when it comes to the unborn.

Bishop De Gasperin emphasized that the state has the duty to reach out to women in crisis pregnancies and provide them assistance.  “Nothing can justify the taking of an innocent human life,” he said.

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Questions swirl after Fr. Fessio’s dismissal from Ave Maria

Naples, Fla., Mar 22, 2007 (CNA) - Confusion and unanswered questions continue to swirl around South Florida and the Church throughout the U.S. today as many wonder at the sudden firing of one of the nation’s best known Catholic figures.  Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J. was fired yesterday from his position as Provost of Ave Maria University, the promising new Catholic college, which has been finding its feet near Naples, Florida.

Catholic and non-Catholic news sources have been left wondering at the Jesuit’s sudden departure from the young Catholic university founded by Dominoes Pizza mogul, Tom Monahan.

In a short interview given to Florida’s “The News-Press,” Fr. Fessio said he had no indication before Wednesday that he would be asked to step down as Ave Maria’s Provost.

“Obviously, I think it was a mistake, but I am not in charge,” the priest told “The News-Press.”

Fessio said he was asked to a private meeting yesterday morning with chancellor Tom Monaghan. At the meeting, he was asked to resign his position with the school, clear his office and leave campus by the end of the day.

“I asked for a reason but was not given one,” Fessio said.

While the university released a short statement, on the firing, it did not serve to answer many questions, saying only that the priest was “asked to step down as Provost of the University as a result of irreconcilable differences over administrative policies and practices.”

The university statement continues by emphasizing that the school and Fr. Fessio never differed in their commitment to “our mission or the Magisterium of the Church.”

Fessio is a well known scholar and voice of orthodoxy in the U.S. Church.  The priest studied under the current Pope Benedict XVI, having written his thesis under Benedict’s direction when the Holy Father was still a Cardinal.  The two are said to maintain a close friendship to this day.

Fr. Fessio is also well known in his role as founder of Ignatius Press, one of the world’s top Catholic publishing houses, and as publisher of the Catholic World Report.

The Jesuit priest is also thought to be one of the driving forces in Ave Maria’s successful recruitment of topnotch Catholic professors and students.  At the same time Ave Maria, which was the first new Catholic university to open in 40 years, has not grown with the speed that many hoped it would.

Rumors of disagreement between Monahan, Fr. Fessio, and university president, Nick Healy, on the direction of the upstart school have swirled for months.  However, Fr. Fessio told the Naples News this morning that the only administrative choice he disagrees with is his sudden firing, “I think it was a mistake to fire me,” he said. "I thought we were working well together.”

“I love the students and faculty. I think it’s a wonderful place that is going to continue to grow,” Fessio said of Ave Maria.

The priest said he’s not sure where he will go from here, but that, “a great burden has been lifted off my shoulders. Now I can pray and work for the Lord’s vineyards in other ways.”

“The Lord has a plan. It will be revealed,” Fessio said.

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Rector of Pontifical Institute denies endorsing new fictional book on “Gospel of Judas”

Rome, Italy, Mar 22, 2007 (CNA) - The fictional novel, “The Gospel of Judas,” was presented yesterday at the Pontifical Biblical Institute of Rome (PBI).  Responding to reports in various media outlets, Jesuit Father Stephen Pisano explained that neither the Holy See, nor the Pope nor the Institute of which he is rector endorses this work of fiction.

“I want to underscore that allowing this book to be presented here does not imply that the PBI itself, or the Vatican or the Pope have in any way accepted it.  We simply want to provide a place for academic discussion about one aspect of the New Testament and we have Father Moloney to guide this discussion,” he said.

“The Institute, as an academic institution, has nothing to do with modern novels.  The only reason why we have allowed this book to be presented is because of the presence among us of Father Francis Moloney, a renowned expert and scholar of the New Testament.”

Moloney is currently superior of the Salesian religious order in Australia and has been a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission since 1984.  The priest, however, is well known for some rather unorthodox views on the life of Christ.  In an interview with the Times of London, the priest said he has become convinced that some of Jesus’ miracles were invented by the early Church.

Turning water into wine at a wedding feast came "out of a profound desire to show that Jesus, like the God of Israel, is the messianic giver of all good things."  Likewise, Moloney told the Times, Jesus’ walking on the water and calming the Sea of Galilee never happened either.  In his opinion the miracles were “created” from a desire to prove that Jesus had the same mastery over nature as the God of the Hebrew Bible.

While the rector of the Pontifical Institute said Father Moloney is qualified to explain various aspects of the life of Jesus, Father Pisano said he was aware of the “risk that the Institute is taking” by hosting the presentation as “our name could be used to market the book.  This is a risk we must take.”

Indeed several news sources, from London to L.A. have picked up on the story and noted the Catholic Church’s so called “support” for the book.

However, Father Pisano said the Institute’s interest is “the Bible itself, and if this discussion encourages people to read the Bible, to read it with intelligence and with a spirit of prayer, then maybe we can say that the presentation of this book is justified.”

He also expressed his fear that the book’s method of mixing fiction with biblical texts “could create certain confusion in the people about what came from the Bible and what came from the author.  Above all I worry that people think that everything that is written here is part of history, but it is not. This is a novel!”

Written by Jeffrey Archer, the novel was published in eight languages and has a glossary that clarifies which biblical quotes are authentic.  The glossary was compiled by Father Moloney.  The book’s story is told from the perspective of a fictitious son of Judas, Benjamin Iscariot, who says his father did not commit suicide, but retired instead to a Qumran monastery where he was crucified by Tito’s soldiers.

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