Archive of April 13, 2007

Indiana Catholic Church fire determined to be arson

Indianapolis, Ind., Apr 13, 2007 (CNA) - The fire that destroyed St. Anne Catholic Church in New Castle in eastern Indiana, was arson, authorities said on Tuesday.

The brick church, built in 1924, had been a city landmark for eight decades. The damages are estimated at $1.5 million to $2 million.

According to The Associated Press, firefighters battled the fire for nearly six hours. No one was in the church at the time of the fire, but one firefighter suffered a back injury while fighting the fire.

There is a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the fire. 

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Federal bankruptcy judge orders external audit of San Diego diocese accounts

San Diego, Calif., Apr 13, 2007 (CNA) - A federal bankruptcy judge ordered an external audit of the Diocese of San Diego amid accusations Church leaders are trying to hide assets to avoid payment to sex abuse victims, reported The Associated Press.

Judge Louise DeCarl Adler threatened the diocese on Monday with contempt for misrepresenting facts and possibly violating bankruptcy laws. She criticized Church attorneys for failing to include 770 parish accounts in bankruptcy documents.

The diocese sought bankruptcy protection six weeks ago amid lawsuits, filed by more than 140 people who accuse priests of sexual abuse. Attorneys for the alleged victims have estimated that a fair settlement would total about $200 million. In March, the diocese proposed a $95 million settlement.

In an order, Adler cited a March 29 letter sent by a diocese parish organization to pastors. The letter urged them to get new taxpayer identification numbers and to transfer funds to new accounts.

The judge had said any post-bankruptcy transfers between the diocese and parishes outside of normal cash operations violate laws against shifting the diocese's assets while the bankruptcy case is pending. She said any transfers require court approval.

Adler said diocese attorneys Susan Boswell, Jeffry Davis and Victor Vilaplana appear to have "conspired with parishes" to create new bank accounts separate from the diocese.

Boswell apologized and said she had misinterpreted the judge's comments at a March 1 hearing concerning how the parishes should go about protecting their cash flow through the bankruptcy process.

Boswell agreed to file amended statements with the court reflecting parish accounts operating under the diocese's taxpayer identification number and to cooperate with an independent audit.

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Scholars revise conclusions about ‘Jesus family tomb’

Abuja, Nigeria, Apr 13, 2007 (CNA) - Several prominent scholars, who were featured in interviews in the controversial documentary Lost Tomb of Jesus, have now revised their statements, reported The Jerusalem Post.

The film argues that 10 ancient ossuaries discovered in southeastern residential Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot in 1980 contained the bones of Jesus and his family. The filmmakers attempted to explain some of the inscriptions on the ossuaries by suggesting that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and that the couple had a son, named Judah.

The most astounding revision is that of University of Toronto statistician Andrey Feuerverger, who provided statements that supported the central point of the film.

Feuerverger stated in the film that the odds are 600 to one in favor of the tomb being the family burial cave of Jesus of Nazareth. He now says these figures referred to the probability of a cluster of such names appearing together.

According to The Jerusalem Post, this conclusion has now been changed on the Discovery Channel website to read: "It is unlikely that an equally surprising cluster of names would have arisen by chance under purely random sampling."

The scholars’ revised statements are recorded in the 16-page paper titled "Cracks in the Foundation: How the Lost Tomb of Jesus story is losing its scholarly support". It was compiled by epigrapher Stephen Pfann of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem.

The paper was released two months after the documentary, made by Oscar-winning director James Cameron and Emmy-winning Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, was broadcast on the Discovery Channel at the beginning of Lent.

Israeli archeologists did say, at the time that the documentary was released, that the similarity of the names found inscribed on the ossuaries in the cave to the members of Jesus's family was coincidental, since many of those names were commonplace in the first century CE.

Shimon Gibson, who was on the team that excavated the tomb and also appeared in the film, is quoted in Pfann's report as saying that much more evidence is needed before the tomb can be considered the family tomb of Jesus.

"Personally, I'm skeptical that this is the tomb of Jesus and I made this point very clear to the filmmakers," Gibson is quoted as saying.

In the film, renowned epigrapher Frank Moore Cross, professor emeritus of Hebrew and oriental languages at Harvard University, is shown reading one of the ossuaries and stating that he has "no real doubt" that it reads "Jesus son of Joseph."

But Cross told Pfann in e-mail that he was skeptical about the film's claims because of the ubiquity of Biblical names in that period in Jerusalem.

"It has been reckoned that 25 percent of feminine names in this period were Maria/Miriam, etc. - that is, variants of 'Mary.' So the cited statistics are unpersuasive," Cross is quoted as saying.

Pfann’s paper also includes statements from DNA scientist Dr. Carney Matheson, who supervised the DNA tests carried out for the film from the supposed Jesus and Mary Magdalene ossuaries.

In the documentary, Matheson said: "These two individuals, if they were unrelated, would most likely be husband and wife." He later said: "The only conclusions we made were that these two sets were not maternally related. To me, it sounds like absolutely nothing."

Francois Bovon is a specialist in ancient apocryphal text who said in the film that the ossuary inscription "Mariamne" is the same woman known as Mary Magdalene. Pfann says Bovon later issued a disclaimer stating he did not believe that "Mariamne" stood for Mary Magdalene at all.

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Brazilian bishops: Right to life not subject to referendum

Sao Paulo, Brazil, Apr 13, 2007 (CNA) - The Secretary General of the Bishops’ Conference of Brazil, Archbishop Odilo, said this week the country’s bishops reject a government proposal to hold a referendum on whether or not to legalize abortion in the country.

Archbishop Sherer, who will soon take up his post in the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo, said the proposal was equal to debating about the right to kill. “This is absurd.  The Constitution does not foresee it,” he said.

“Nobody would like to see the right to life, which is untouchable, subjected to a referendum,” the archbishop stated.  “Unborn babies are human beings, and they have that same right.”  He also deplored calls to follow the model of Portugal, where abortion was legalized after a referendum.

“We don’t have to imitate what other countries have done,” he said.  “I would not like my right to life to be subjected to a referendum.  Society should care for life, and more so when it’s the life of innocent babies,” he stressed.

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More than a million people expected to join Pope in Brazil

Sao Paulo, Brazil, Apr 13, 2007 (CNA) - One of the hosts of Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit to Brazil, Archbishop Odilo Scherer, said this more than one million people are expected to attend the Masses which the Pope will celebrate.

During his visit to the country, the Pope will celebrate two massive outdoor liturgies.  The first will take place on May 11 at the Campo de Marte in Sao Paulo for the canonization of Friar Galvao, the first Brazilian to be raised to the altar.  The second Mass will take place on Sunday, May 13, to open the V General Conference of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference at the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida.

According to Archbishop Scherer, at the second Mass, the Pope will ask the Latin American bishops to be involved in the “processes of transformation” of the region, and he will address some of the challenges facing Latin America.

In addition to the two outdoor Masses, the Pope will also meet with an estimated 35,000 young people at in a stadium in Sao Paulo.

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Abortion proponents subject to defamation lawsuits, says Catholic lawyer in Mexico

Mexico City, Mexico, Apr 13, 2007 (CNA) - The president of the College of Catholic Lawyers in Mexico, Armando Martinez, said this week the director of Catholics for a Free Choice, Consuelo Mejia, could be subject to a civil lawsuit for moral harm, calumny, and defamation if she does not provide proof for every accusation she has made against Cardinal Norberto Rivera of Mexico and his spokesman, Father Hugo Valdemar.

Martinez spoke in response to statements by Mejia, who has claimed that Church hierarchy is responsible for threatening emails which various pro-abortion organizations have been receiving.  “We are going to file a lawsuit over the threats we have received via email at various organizations,” she said.

Mr. Martinez challenged the pro-abortion leader to file a lawsuit against the author of the email for the supposed death threat.  If not, he said, the hierarchy would be within its right to sue for defamation.

The Church has done nothing more than maintain a consistent position in support of life and has nothing to do with attacks against abortion supporters or anyone else.  Such actions do not reflect the behavior of Father Hugo Valdemar or of any other member of the Catholic hierarchy,” Martinez said.

Father Valdemar, the spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico, condemned all aggression and threats of violence against abortion supporters and called on authorities to investigate the matter.

“The Archdiocese of Mexico is a religious association, tied to the Gospel, and thus the Archdiocese considers any threat or aggression to be unacceptable, regardless of what the ideology of the person to whom it is directed,” he stated.

Martinez said the Church hierarchy has not violated any law by speaking out about abortion, since most actions to stop its legalization have been carried out by pro-life groups and Catholic lawyers.

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Benedict’s new book to follow, “the Pope’s path towards Jesus”

Rome, Italy, Apr 13, 2007 (CNA) - The Italian publishing house, Rizzoli has released an extensive press release and synopsis of Pope Benedict’s new book, "Jesus of Nazareth."   The book is to go on sale in Italian, German, and Polish bookshops starting Monday, April 16, which is also the Pope's 80th birthday. The volume, 448 pages long, is to be translated into 20 languages, and will be available in English starting May 15th.
Rizzoli, which was entrusted by the Vatican Publishing House with the sale of the rights of the book throughout the world, today released a press communiqué stating that "'Jesus of Nazareth' is the first part of a two-volume work examining Jesus' public life from His Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration."
"On the one hand," the communiqué continues, "this is a pastoral narrative ... offering an introduction to the principles of Christianity. ... On the other, the text is an essay that maintains the strict academic discipline that distinguish the writings and talks of the theologian Joseph Ratzinger.
"The pastoral concerns of the Pope," it adds, "and his exceptional theological doctrine, come together to focus on the central theme of the work: the conviction that, in order to understand the figure of Jesus Christ, it is necessary to start from His union with the Father.”
"A historical-critical methodology is indispensable for serious exegesis." Such a methodology "has granted access to a great quantity of material and knowledge that enable us to reconstruct the figure of Jesus with a profundity unimaginable a few decades ago. Nonetheless, only faith can lead to the understanding that Jesus is God; and if in the light of this conviction the sacred texts are read with the instruments of modern historical-critical methodology, they reveal ... a figure worthy of faith.
"For Joseph Ratzinger, faith and critical research are complementary, not antagonistic, and the Jesus of the Gospels is the historical Jesus," the communiqué concludes.
A synopsis of the new volume, entitled "the Pope's path towards Jesus," makes it clear that this book "reflects the personal search by Joseph Ratzinger for the 'face of Jesus,' and is not a document of the Magisterium."
"For Benedict XVI, the biblical text contains all the elements to affirm that the historical figure of Jesus Christ is also in fact the Son of God, Who came to earth to save humankind."
"Based on the intimate unity between the Old and New Testament, and employing Christological hermeneutics which see in Jesus Christ to the key to the entire Bible, Joseph Ratzinger presents the Jesus of the Gospels as the 'new Moses' Who fulfills the ancient expectations of Israel. This new and true Moses must lead the people of God to real and definitive freedom. He does so through successive steps which, nonetheless, always allow God's plan to be seen in its entirety."
In this light, "the immersion of Jesus in the waters of the Jordan is the symbol of His death and descent into hell, a reality that accompanied Him throughout His life. In order to save humanity, ... He had to overcome the principal temptations that in different forms threaten mankind of all times and, transforming them into obedience, reopen the way towards God, towards the Promised Land which is the Kingdom of God."
"The theme of the 'Kingdom of God' which runs throughout Jesus' announcement is given deeper consideration in the Pope's reflection on the Sermon on the Mount, ... in which the Beatitudes constitute the main points of the new Law and, at the same time, represent a self-portrait of Jesus." The Sermon "shows that this Law is not just, as in Moses' case, the result of a 'face to face' meeting with God, but carries in itself the fullness that arises from Jesus' intimate union with the Father."
Hence, a "fundamental element" of man's life is "talking and listening to God. And for this reason Benedict XVI has dedicated an entire chapter to prayer, explaining the Our Father that Jesus Himself taught us."
The synopsis continues: "The profound contact of men and women with God the Father through Jesus in the Holy Spirit brings them together in the 'us' of a new family which, with the choosing of the Twelve, recalls the origins of Israel. ... Even in its highly varied composition, the new family of Jesus, the Church of all times, finds in Him the unifying center and the guidance to live the universal nature of His Gospel.
"In order to make the content of His message more accessible and to turn it into a form of practical guidance, Jesus used parables. ... However, there is also a purely theological explanation of the meaning of the parables, and Joseph Ratzinger highlights this in a singularly profound analysis."
The Holy Father's book then goes on to consider "the metaphors used by Jesus to explain His mystery." These are "the great images of St. John," but "before analyzing them the Pope presents a very interesting summary of the various results of academic research into who John the Evangelist was," and "opens new horizons for readers, revealing Jesus ever more clearly as the 'Word of God'."
"This point of view is broadened further in the last two chapters of the book ... where the true mission of the Messiah of God and the destiny of those who follow Him is definitively established." Finally "an in-depth analysis of the titles which, according to the Gospels, Jesus used for Himself, concludes the Pontiff's book."
"Alongside the man of faith, ... alongside the highly sophisticated theologian, ... what also emerges from this book is the pastor who truly manages to 'encourage in readers the growth of a living relationship' with Jesus Christ. ... In this light," the synopsis concludes, "the Pontiff is not afraid to tell the world that, by excluding God and clinging only to visible and material reality, we risk self destruction in the selfish search for a purely material wellbeing," while renouncing the possibility "of achieving true freedom in the 'Promised Land,' the 'Kingdom of God.’” 

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Pope’s 80th birthday: “A particularly happy day,” says Cardinal Ruini

Vatican City, Apr 13, 2007 (CNA) - In a letter the faithful of Rome regarding the celebration of the Pope’s 80th birthday and the second anniversary of his pontificate, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Vicar of the Diocese of Rome, said the Pope’s birthday would be “a particularly happy day in which we will thank the Lord for the gift of our bishop and Pope Benedict XVI.”

It will also be a day in which we will pray with the Pope and for the Pope, imploring an abundance of divine blessings upon him, to sustain him and comfort him in spirit and body, so that he can be our model and sure guide in the faith,” the cardinal said.

This Sunday, he continued, “dedicated to the Divine Mercy, we will also pray with the Pope for our Church in Rome, that she will bear witness with generosity to the joy of the faith and strive to educate the young generations and promote Christian love, life and the family.”

He invited the faithful of Rome to pray for the Pope, especially on April 19, when he celebrates the second anniversary of his pontificate.

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Germans, Austrians make plans for celebration of Pope’s Birthday

Berlin, Germany, Apr 13, 2007 (CNA) - Catholics and non-Catholics alike are working together to celebrate Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming birthday.  Throughout Germany and Austria, plans are underway for concerts and Masses, as well as special charity funds and even a set of commemorative stamps.

A number of cities in the German state of Bavaria, the native region of Pope Benedict XVI, have created a special fund for the Church’s work in the Holy Land which they will present to the Pope as a gift on his 80th birthday on April 16.

Several communities in Bavaria have collected some $13,000 which they will send to the Pope for the Church’s work in the Holy Land.  Together with the monetary fund, officials said they will give the Pope a few cases of Bavarian beer, which will be delivered to the Pontiff by Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, Archbishop Emeritus of Munich and Freising.

All across Bavaria, Masses, concerts, and special events will be held to celebrate the Pope’s birthday.  In Altötting concerts will be held on Saturday and Sunday featuring the music of Mozart and Beethoven.  A special Mass will also be celebrated on Saturday in honor of the Pope.

On Sunday at the Cathedral of Regensburg Mass will also be celebrated for the Pontiff.  Following the Mass concert will take place outside the Cathedral.

On Monday, Pope Benedict XVI will continue celebrating his birthday at a gathering with 2,000 students at the Vatican.

Pontifical Postage

Austria's post office issued a special €1 stamp on Thursday in honor of the Holy Father.
The stamp features a smiling Benedict, wearing a crimson robe, a white skullcap and a golden cord with a crucifix around his neck. St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican crest are in the background.

Austria Post AG expects the special issue of 500,000 stamps to sell out well before Benedict's birthday on Monday.

The Pope is scheduled to visit Austria in September. Most Austrians are Roman Catholic.
Germany too is getting ready to celebrate Benedict XVI’s 80th birthday with a stamp.  A special-issue stamp worth 55 (Euro) cents was issued on April 12th, with an extraordinary run of ten million four hundred thousand pieces.

A special exception had to be made for the stamp; under German law only the living presidents of the Republic can have a stamp issued in their honor.

The stamp shows a smiling Pope, his arms outstretched, with the Papal coat of arms in the background and these words: “Papst Benedikt XVI. 55. Deutschland. 2007”.

Commemoration of the Pope’s scholarship

The Pope’s commitment to academics is also being taken into account. The “Papst Benedikt-Lehrstuhl”, or “Pope Benedict’s chair” is being established in Regensburg. The local Bishop, Gerhard Ludwig Müller, and the President of the Alf Zimmer University announced that a “chair” will soon be established at the university to give access to the scientific works of Joseph Ratzinger the theologian, whose complete works will be published.

In addition Cardinal Karl Lehmann, President of the German Bishops Conference has also announced the publication of a book containing one hundred statements made by the Pope about the “Joy of God”, published by “Neue Stadt.”

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Renewing the U.S. involves religious organizations, respect for life, President Bush tells Catholic Prayer Breakfast

Washington D.C., Apr 13, 2007 (CNA) - United States’ President George W. Bush spoke this morning at the annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, at Washington’s Hilton Hotel, telling the crowd of Catholic faithful that the “promise of America” is in need of renewal and that such a renewal will come through a greater respect for human life and an active hand from religious groups.

“Our Declaration of Independence states that our freedom rests on self-evident truths about the dignity of the human person,” the president said. “Throughout our nation's history, Catholic Americans have embraced, sustained, and given their lives to defend these truths.”

“This morning, we give thanks for the blessings of freedom, and we ask Almighty God to guide us as we renew our founding promise of liberty and justice for all.”

“Renewing the promise of America,” Bush said, “begins with upholding the dignity of human life.”

Referring perhaps to this weeks Senate vote in favor of funding the creation and destruction of human embryos for stem cell research, the president noted the “temptation to manipulate human life in ways that do not respect the humanity of the person.”

“When that happens,” the president added, “the most vulnerable among us can be valued for their utility to others -- instead of their own inherent worth.”

“We must continue to work for a culture of life -- where the strong protect the weak, and where we recognize in every human life the image of our Creator.”

The president also noted the need for more American citizens to look out for their neighbors.  In this effort, Bush said, faith-based institutions can “add something the government never can, and that is love.”

Catholic parishes and neighborhoods across the country take the call to love on their own shoulders, the president added, “and that is why we find so many of you leading America's armies of compassion. You are changing America one heart, one soul at a time, and I thank you.”

“Renewing the promise of America also includes ensuring a sound education for every single child,” President Bush continued.  Catholic schools, Bush noted, “were built by poor immigrants, they were staffed by legions of dedicated nuns, brothers, and priests -- and they have given millions of Americans the knowledge and character they need to succeed in life.”

Bush noted the work that Catholic Schools do to educate Catholics and non-Catholic’s alike – especially in the nation’s poorest neighborhoods.  “I appreciate the tremendous sacrifices that many dioceses are making to keep their inner-city schools going,” Bush said. “I am worried that too many of these schools are closing -- and our nation needs to do something about it.”

“I applaud our nation's Catholic schools. I will continue to work to help these schools reach more children in need, so that our children have the skills they need to realize the full promise of the United States of America.”

Finally, the President concluded, “to realize the promise of America, we must have comprehensive immigration reform that enforces our laws and upholds the dignity of every single person in the United States. And now is the time for the United States Congress to get a bill to my desk that I can sign.”

In addition to several members of congress, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sam Alito were also present at the event; as was current Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs and former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Jim Nicholson.

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Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop of Washington call Catholics to bold presence in public square

Washington D.C., Apr 13, 2007 (CNA) - During the 4th National Catholic Prayer breakfast, both the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, and the Archbishop of Washington DC, Donald Wuerl, stressed the need to bring a strong Catholic witness to the public square.

The event, held at the Washington Hilton, gathered more than 2,500 Catholics, including such Bishops Paul Loverde of Arlington, Virginia and Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin.  Also in attendance were Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson, and Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ).

“Catholics need three things to provide an effective witness to their faiths in the Catholic square,” Archbishop Sambi said. “Catholics in the US need first and foremost, a clear identity of who they are.”

“Second, they need a strong sense of belonging… belonging to a community that nurtures and supports all its members,” the Apostolic Nuncio continued.

“Third, they need certain exceptional qualities: exceptional spiritual, personal, family and community qualities because, being a minority, they have to make an impact based on excellence more than numbers.”

The Archbishop of Washington started his speech recalling that the United Stated was founded by persons who believed in personal freedom, but also in “the sovereignty of God and God’s law in our personal and societal life.”

After briefly recounting the religious foundations of the United States – from the Mayflower Compact to the Declaration of Independence - Archbishop Wuerl recalled that the cornerstone of the American experience is “our deep-seated conviction that we have inalienable rights from ‘the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.’”

For us, he added, “the understanding of God’s law at work and discernable through our rational nature also finds resonance in the Catechism of the Catholic Church which speaks not only of the foundational nature of the natural moral law but describes the commandments themselves as privileged expressions of the natural law.”

“As Catholics we also look to our Church for guidance that can only come from God. We believe that the teaching of the Church represents for us an opening on to the wisdom of God,” the Archbishop of Washington said.

He also recalled the decisive role Catholics played in the 1930’s in shaping the country’s system of social justice inspired in the Social Doctrine of the Church.

“Today,” Wuerl said, “our struggle is to achieve the same success using Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, and the Church’s teaching tradition on the dignity of life in the defense of unborn human life.”

The archbishop challenged today’s Catholic Americans to think of what the generations 100 years from now will say about “our success or failure in defending the dignity of the human person, from its conception to its natural end, according to the teachings of the Church.”

“Religious faith has played and continues to play a significant role in promoting social justice issues as it does in defending all innocent human life,” Wuerl said.  “We simply cannot put aside all of this conviction of how we live and make important decisions and still be who we are as Catholics and as heirs to the American dream of personal freedom, faith and the common good.”

After referring to current issues of moral conflict between science and the dignity of human life and the separation of religious conviction from the public life, the archbishop concluded, “What marks the current moment is deepening awareness of both the importance of what we do as people of faith and the significance of what we bring to our nation.”

“Looking to the future of our great country, we should do so with hope, confidence and enthusiasm, knowing that we bring something to the effort to build a good and just society and that no one else can. We share the wisdom and love of God.”

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