Archive of February 18, 2008

Jesus washing Peter’s feet “was always before me”, says the Pope

Vatican City, Feb 18, 2008 (CNA) - On Sunday morning, Pope Benedict and the Roman Curia came to the end of their six day retreat that they took as a way of making Lent a time of true conversion. Following its conclusion, Benedict XVI thanked Cardinal Vanhoye S.J. for leading the retreat, saying, you “helped us to listen to the voice of the Lord, to relearn the meaning of His priesthood and of ours.”

With all of the prelates gathered in the Redemptoris Mater chapel, the Holy Father spoke about what he meditated on during the Spiritual Exercises.  He recalled how Jesus knelt before Peter to wash his feet. This image, he said, "was always before my eyes" and "spoke to me.”

The theme of the retreat focused on the Christ as the model of priests and this caused the Pope to reflect on how the washing the disciples’ feet was "an act of extreme humility” and how through it “Jesus' new priesthood was fulfilled. It was fulfilled precisely in the act of solidarity with us, with our weaknesses, our suffering, our trials, even unto death.”

"With new eyes I also saw Jesus' red clothing, which speaks to us of His blood", the Pope added. And addressing Cardinal Vanhoye he went on: "You showed us how Jesus' blood was, through His prayer, 'oxygenated' by the Holy Spirit. And thus it became a force of resurrection and a source of life for us".

The Holy Father also noted how Peter had asked the Lord to wash not only his feet but also his head and hands, commenting: "It seems to me that - beyond that specific moment - this expresses the difficulty faced by St. Peter and by all the Lord's disciples in understanding the amazing novelty of Jesus' priesthood, of this priesthood which is debasement, solidarity with us, and thus gives us access to the true shrine: the risen body of Jesus."

"Throughout the period of his discipleship and ... until his own crucifixion, St. Peter had to listen ever and anew to Jesus, in order to enter more deeply into the mystery of His priesthood, the priesthood that Christ communicated to the Apostles and to their successors. In this context, the figure of Peter seems to me like one of us today,” Pope Benedict continued.

Turning back to Cardinal Vanhoye, the Holy Father gave him one last word of thanks. "You have helped us to listen to the voice of the Lord, to relearn the meaning of His priesthood and of ours. You have helped us to participate in Christ's priesthood and thus to receive a new heart, the heart of Jesus, as the centre of the mystery of the new Covenant".


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Cardinal explains reasons for new standards for sainthood

Vatican City, Feb 18, 2008 (CNA) - Today the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins presented the anticipated Instruction, “Sanctorum Mater” to increase the rigor of the sainthood process.

The new restrictions are expected to diminish the number of candidates proposed to the Vatican for recognition.

In his remarks, the Portuguese cardinal explained that the Instruction is divided into six sections.

“The first draws attention to the need for a true reputation of holiness before beginning a process, and explains the duties and roles of the petitioner, the postulator and the competent bishop,” the cardinal said.

“The second part describes the preliminary phase of the cause which extends as far as the 'Nihil Obstat' of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.” The ‘Nihil Obstat’ is a status given to the works of the person in question which certifies that nothing in their teachings contradicts the teachings of the Church. 

“The third section concerns the instruction of the cause. The fourth part concentrates on the gathering of documentary proof and the fifth on the gathering of proof from witnesses. Finally, the sixth section of the document outlines the procedures for the closing of the inquiry,” he explained.

Cardinal Martins also explained the need for the publication of the document.  “In some dioceses, certain provisions of the law have not always been understood and, consequently, not been put into practice with the necessary meticulousness, which has sometimes made it necessary for the congregation to supply clarifications or to ask diocesan curias to correct errors.”

He continued, “dioceses do not always have access to specialized individuals with practical experience of the various procedures involved in a cause of canonization.”  For this reason, “it is evident that a practical document, such as this Instruction, was useful, indeed necessary.”

The new norms are also expected to clear up confusion regarding the methodology of the process. 

“When the current legislation on causes of saints came into force,” said the cardinal outlining another reason for the publication of the present document, “an unfounded idea became widespread that the traditional methodology ... had been substituted by some kind of historical-critical investigation.”

The reason for this confusion was “the fact that the term 'inquisitio' used in Latin (the only official text) to designate the procedure of the diocesan phase of a cause of canonization was translated in Italian as 'inchiesta' (inquiry)". The new Instruction, then, highlights "the importance of procedure" in causes of beatification and canonization, "and accurately highlights the norms that must be observed."

A final reason for issuance of the document is to emphasize the significance of the “fame of sanctity or martyrdom.” 

According to Cardinal Martins, some dioceses or others promoting a potential saint’s cause were not aware that a reputation for holiness “is a prior requirement of absolute importance.”

Lest a person’s reputation for sanctity be built up by their cause for sainthood being introduced, the cardinal insisted that “a procedure must not begin without irrefutable proof that the Servant of God ... is held to be a saint or martyr by a considerable number of faithful, who invoke him or her in their prayers and attribute graces and favors to his or her intercession.”

During the pontificate of Benedict XVI, there have been 20 beatification ceremonies during which 563 Servants of God were beatified, including 48 diocesan priests, 485 male and female religious, and 30 lay people, for a total of 509 men and 54 women.

The canonization ceremonies celebrated thus far during the pontificate of Benedict XVI number four (three in Rome and one in Brazil), during which 14 people were canonized.

According to the Press Office of the Holy See, the current total of saints and blesseds of Pope Benedict’s pontificate is 577.

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Government responsible for attack on Nunciature in Venezuela, bishop asserts

Caracas, Venezuela, Feb 18, 2008 (CNA) - The president of the Venezuelan Plenary Council, Bishop Ovidio Perez Morales, condemned the recent attacks on the Apostolic Nunciature in Caracas and said the government is responsible in part, as from President Hugo Chavez on down officials have fostered a hostile environment.  He also said the attacks reveal that the Nunciature is not being protected according to established norms.

Speaking on Union Radio, Bishop Perez said the incident merits strong condemnation from the Church and from Venezuelans in general, as it is part of pattern of aggression against the Nunciature, which Catholics see as the Pope’s home in Venezuela much more than a simple diplomatic office.

He said the attacks prove the government is not doing its part to protect foreign embassies in Venezuela and that the hostile environment that has made such attacks possible has been created by officials in government from President Hugo Chavez on down.

Bishop Perez said the bishops would lodge a formal protest, adding that Catholics in general “should demand respect for their religious leaders.”

He also went on to question the Venezuelan government’s involvement in foreign affairs, such as the guerrilla problem in Colombia, while refusing to engage in dialogue in its own country.  “We live in a continuous climate of threats and terror,” he said.

“Those who go from this side of the desk to the other to enter into government” forget about everything they went through to get there, Bishop Perez stated, adding that the Church should be respected in her work for peace, justice and her option for the weak.”

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Media exaggerated coverage of abuse cases in the Church, says Cardinal Hummes

, Feb 18, 2008 (CNA) - The prefect for the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, said pedophilia is one of the gravest problems of sexual misconduct, but he asserted that the media exaggerated the number of priests involved in such cases, which in reality involved less than 1% of the clergy.

Speaking to some 450 participants at the 12th National Priests Meeting, the cardinal noted that worldwide the clergy numbers 406,000 priests, with 18,000 in Brazil.

Later on during his remarks, he called on priests to provide ministry to the divorced and then remarried, noting that their situation prevents them from receiving the Eucharist.

Asked about priestly celibacy, Cardinal Hummes said it is a gift from God that should not be seen as an imposition, but rather as something “we embrace in response as a gesture of love.” He recalled that the Church does not allow priests to marry and has no intention of “reinstating those who have married to the ministry,” even though some have expressed their desire to resume pastoral duties.


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Church in Spain has right to address political issues, says bishop

Madrid, Spain, Feb 18, 2008 (CNA) - In a letter to the faithful of his diocese, Bishop Jose Sanchez of Siguenza-Guadalajara said the Spanish bishops are not trying to meddle in politics, but they will not renounce their right to freely speak about political issues.

Bishop Sanchez said the outcry was so great over the Spanish bishops’ latest statement on Catholics and voting that he felt “obliged to provide an explanation to the diocese.”  “I sit on the Executive Committee,” he said, “and I feel responsible for the statement.” He noted that since 1979 the bishops of Spain have issued similar statements during election seasons.

While he noted that the bishops have no intention of intervening in party politics or in the crafting of laws, he stressed that the bishops are not just limited to speaking from the pulpit or the sacristy.  “We interested in the issues of the world in which we live, to which we belong and in which we have our own responsibility and duties,” he said.

“As such,” he added, “we offer, but never impose, criteria for discernment based on what we consider to the nature of things and proper reasoning, reinforced by the principles that are derived from the Gospel and that are developed in the Social Teaching of the Church.”

“We do not impose or recommend voting for a particular political party, now or never.  The meaning and direction of one’s vote is a personal responsibility.  We do however affirm that no one political party or human program exhausts the Gospel or is completely in keeping with it,” Bishop Sanchez stated.

He went on to list the concerns the bishops outlined in their statement: respect for life from conception to natural death, respect for the institutions of marriage and the family, freedom of education and the right of parents to decide the matter for their children, terrorism and unemployment.

While he acknowledged that, “as with every human effort,” the statement could be further refined, he expressed regret that “the reaction that has come from the government, from certain media outlets and certain social and even religious groups has been one of insults, threats, manipulations, demagoguery, division and discrediting of the bishops.”  He warned that Spain’s past is not the best when it comes to religion being turned into a political confrontation, especially when agitated by political leaders, the media or entertainment personalities.

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Mexican religious celebrate 100 years of uninterrupted Eucharistic adoration in Rome

, Feb 18, 2008 (CNA) - The sisters of the Cross of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, founded in Mexico in 1897, celebrated 100 years of uninterrupted Eucharistic adoration for the holiness of priests with a special Mass on February 14.  Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy, presided at the Mass which was held at the contemplative order’s house in Rome.

Archbishop Piacenza highlighted the uniqueness of the charism of the order’s foundress, Concepcion Cabrera de Armida (1862-1937), a Mexican mother who also founded the priestly congregation “Missionaries of the Holy Spirit.”

Concepcion felt inspired through prayer to create a religious congregation dedicated to “paying homage to the priesthood of Christ” and to “consoling the intimate suffering of the Heart of Jesus through prayer.”

The charism of the sisters of the Cross of the Sacred Heart is to pray for the holiness of priests and for priestly vocations, a practice recently requested by the prefect for the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes,

The sisters carry on the tradition of spiritually “adopting” a specific group of priests for whom they not only pray before the Blessed Sacrament but also offer their daily activities and sacrifices.

Since the founding of communities in Rome and various places in Europe and America, the sisters have carried on Eucharistic adoration without interruption for 100 years.

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Cardinal Ortega: John Paul II’s visit changes face of Church in Cuba

Havana, Cuba, Feb 18, 2008 (CNA) - In a brief interview with the Associated Press, the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, said John Paul II’s visit to the country changed both the Church and Cuban society.

“The mark John Paul II left in Cuba is profound.  Starting at that moment, things were different in the Church’s relations with society and the state,” the cardinal said after celebrating Mass at the Cathedral of Havana.

He also said the upcoming visit by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone would be “a follow-up” to what the Pope started.  Cardinal Bertone will be in Cuba February 21-26. 

John Paul II made the world known to Cubans and made Cuba known to the world, Cardinal Ortega continued.  His visit marked “an official opening for the Church to carry out her mission, and an openness in Cubans towards the faith that for many years was kept quiet.”

He went on to say that today “our people have faith, and although there is no spectacular growth in the Church, there is always a growing vitality.”

Cardinal Ortega noted that during the last 10 years this new openness in Cuba has brought benefits and dangers, “since modern culture can also bring with it much consumerism and a sort of indifference for the sacred, which is not positive.”

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Catholic college faces legal complaints after forbidding abortion health plan

Belmont, N.C., Feb 18, 2008 (CNA) - A Catholic college that made its insurance carrier drop abortion, contraceptive, and sterilization coverage from its health plan faces the threat of a lawsuit because of complaints from faculty.

A complaint against the college has also been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Deal Hudson, writing at on Friday, reported that Belmont Abbey College had asked its insurance carrier, Wellpath, to meet with faculty and staff to brief them on their insurance options. 

One faculty member noticed that the coverage included voluntary sterilization, abortion, and contraception, and alerted the college administration.

The president of Belmont College asked Wellpath to remove those procedures from the plan on the grounds that they were contrary to Catholic teaching.  Though the state of North Carolina requires this coverage, it offers an exemption for religious institutions.

Faculty and staff were then sent an e-mail memo explaining the coverage change and the reasons for that change.

According to, the college’s Vice President for College Relations Ken Davison explained the reasons for the change, saying, "This insurance coverage is contrary to the clear moral teaching of the Catholic Church so we will not offer nor will we subsidize these medical services. To do so would be contrary to our stated Catholic mission and identity."

Ken Davison said that eight Belmont College faculty, six men and two women, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  The complaint, filed during the Christmas break, alleged that the changes in insurance coverage were discriminatory on the basis of sex and religion.  One faculty member also complained to the state’s Department of Insurance about the changes in coverage and the religious exemption.

The National Women’s Law Center on January 16 mailed a letter to the college president threatening a lawsuit on behalf of the eight faculty members.  The letter demanded that the college reinstate the coverage and pay any damages and out-of-pocket costs.

No lawsuit has yet been filed.  However, the college has hired legal counsel to respond to the EEOC complaint.

The president of Belmont Abbey College, Dr. William Thierfelder, wrote to faculty explaining why he did not consult with them in making the changes to the health insurance coverage.

“The teaching of the Catholic Church on this moral issue is clear. The responsibility of the College as a Catholic College sponsored by the monks of Belmont Abbey to follow Church teaching is equally clear. There was no other course of action possible if we were to operate in fidelity to our mission and to our identity as a Catholic College,” he wrote.

In the letter, President Thierfelder also said he and Abbot Placid Solari, OSB, head of Belmont Abbey, would willingly discuss the issue with anyone who was concerned.

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Bill Clinton’s reaction to pro-life protestors criticized

Steubenville, Ohio, Feb 18, 2008 (CNA) - At a Sunday night campaign rally for his wife in Steubenville, Ohio, former President Bill Clinton was greeted by pro-life students protesting legalized abortion.  In response, he volleyed allegations that the pro-life position requires jailing women who have abortions.

After shouts and calls from the protesters, President Clinton responded angrily.  A video posted to YouTube recorded his reply.

"You want to criminalize women and their doctors and we disagree. I reduced abortion. Tell the truth, tell the truth, If you were really pro-life, if you were really pro-life, you would want to put every doctor and every mother as an accessory to murder in prison. And you won't say you want to do that because you know, that you wouldn't have a lick of political support," President Clinton said. The video can be found at:

Baylor University Professor Francis Beckwith, author of “Defending Life:  a Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice,” responded to the video in a post at the weblog "What's Wrong with the World."

Beckwith said the students should not have heckled the president.  "What the students did was disrespectful, and as a pro-lifer I condemn such conduct," he wrote.

However, he said the former president's argument was flawed, writing, "this argument ignores the pre-legalization laws and penalties for illegal abortion and possible reasons why they were instituted. Although it is clear that these laws considered the unborn human persons, in most states women were granted immunity from prosecution and in other states the penalties were very light."

Beckwith continued, "jurists and legislators in the past believed that the best way to prevent abortions from occurring and at the same time uphold the sanctity of human life was to criminalize abortion, prosecute the abortionist, grant immunity or a light penalty to the woman, and show her compassion by recognizing that she is the second victim of abortion."

Father Frank Pavone, president of Priests for Life, replied to a similar question about criminal penalties for abortion in a Feb. 1 Priests for Life newsletter.

"The pro-life movement is not out to punish women. Our goal, instead, is to stop child-killing. What would throwing women in jail do to accomplish that goal? Their children have already died, yet the abortionist goes on killing hundreds and thousands of others. It makes far more sense to put the abortionist in jail, so that he or she can no longer kill children," Father Pavone said. 

He noted that in prosecutions of abortionists, the testimony and co-operation of such women would be necessary, justifying lesser criminal penalties, if any, for women who had abortions.

He suggested that it is a cause for optimism that the question is being asked.

"This particular question will be raised more and more as we to come closer to restoring protection to the unborn. The question is actually part of the well-planned public relations attack that abortion advocates always try to make on us in the pro-life movement," said Father Pavone.

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