Rome, Italy, Jun 25, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Speaking to CNA about the continuing negotiations between the Holy See and the State of Israel which have been attempting to decide the official status of the Church in the Middle Eastern State since 1993, Franciscan Fr. David-Maria Jaeger said that progress is "definitely" being made. While the going might be slow, he said, both sides are working hard to reach conclusions.
With the signing of the Fundamental Agreement in 1993, negotiations began between the Vatican and Israel on measures to protect the Church's patrimony in the Holy Land. The meetings have also focused on judicial, fiscal and economic policy for the Church in the area and issues related to the clergy and religious who work there.
Fr. Jaeger is involved in the negotiations as a legal adviser to the Holy See's delegation.
"The agreement is definitely possible and both sides are working very hard to achieve the agreement," Fr. Jaeger told CNA, saying that he has detected wholehearted goodwill and determination from the Israeli delegation for reaching an accord.
"In any case," he explained, "it has to take a little time because this is technically a very complicated agreement." He referred to the fact that many individually complex subjects are dealt with in the negotiations, and likened some of the work to the creation of tax legislation. The work, he said, "requires patience and attention and skill."
But, he commented, "definitely there is movement, maybe slower than we thought it would be all those years ago, but there is definitely movement and an attentive reader of the joint communiques must know that when the communique says 'progress' it's never an empty, ritualistic word in that context. It is very precisely made.
"There is progress," Fr. Jaeger insisted.
After the most recent plenary meeting between the two sides on June 15, the official communique reported that they "welcomed the progress accomplished by the 'Working Level' Commission since the previous Plenary."
Asked to provide an idea of where discussions are at now, Fr. Jaeger clarified that "it is the policy of the commission never to discuss contents.
"Even if it might seem like the negotiators are agreed on a particular topic," he noted, "they are not really agreed because nothing is really agreed until everything is agreed."
Washington D.C., Jun 25, 2010 (CNA) - Despite criticism from the U.S. Catholic bishops, the Catholic Health Association (CHA) has issued a statement saying it continues to support the insurance reform provisions in recent health care legislation and continues to “applaud” President Obama for his “strong leadership.”
The statement comes even though the U.S. bishops’ opposed the bill. Three leading bishops have said the divergence between the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and groups like the CHA have caused “confusion and a wound to Catholic unity.”
In a Tuesday statement, the CHA said President Obama’s June 22 remarks show he is “once again keeping national focus on the importance of implementing vital reform measures designed to protect the health and well being of millions of vulnerable people in this country.”
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, according to the CHA, will soon “stop insurance companies from prohibiting coverage for pre-existing conditions and end lifetime limits of coverage and other abuses such as arbitrary rescissions.”
The organization said it was “confident” that the act will provide both access to more affordable insurance and a greater sense of security to 32 million Americans who lack these protections.
“We continue to applaud the President for his strong leadership in this important area.”
The CHA supported the bill even though the U.S. Catholic bishops opposed the health care legislation for reasons including concerns about its restrictions on abortion funding. For lending her support, CHA’s president, Sr. Carol Keehan, received one of the 21 pens the president used to sign the legislation into law.
In a May 21 statement titled “Setting the Record Straight,” three heads of USCCB committees disagreed that the divergence between the Catholic Conference and other Catholic organizations, including the CHA, represented “merely a difference of analysis or strategy.”
“Rather, for whatever good will was intended, it represented a fundamental disagreement, not just with our staff as some maintain, but with the bishops themselves. As such it has resulted in confusion and a wound to Catholic unity,” the bishops said.
The disagreement was brought to the surface again by a June 16 CNA story that reported comments Cardinal George made on the rift at a recent U.S. bishops meeting. The remarks were recounted to CNA by several bishops who were in attendance at the meeting. The accuracy of the article was called into question by an employee of the USCCB, causing CNA's executive director Alejandro Bermudez to insist that the agency stands by its story and supports the release of the audio recording from the bishops' meeting.
Los Angeles, Calif., Jun 25, 2010 (CNA) - An outdoor Mass in northwestern Los Angeles will be celebrated this Sunday in thanksgiving for the appointment of Archbishop Jose H. Gomez as coadjutor of Los Angeles.
The June 27 Mass will be held at 5:00 p.m. at St. Catherine of Sienna Parish in Resada, a district of Los Angeles. According to the California Catholic Daily, an e-mailed announcement said that the parishes of Deanery 5, the San Fernando Valley, “welcome everyone to a Thanksgiving Mass in honor of Coadjutor Archbishop Jose Gomez.”
A reception will follow the Mass at 7:15 p.m.
According to the announcement, the Mass will be held outdoors in the parish area called “Field of Dreams.” Limited tickets are available for handicapped seating and reserved seating. Tickets for general seating will be handed out on a “first-come, first-served” basis and are provided through the parish.
Archbishop Gomez was Archbishop of San Antonio from 2004 to 2010 and Auxiliary Bishop of Denver from 2001 to 2004. With the retirement next year of present Los Angeles Archbishop Cardinal Roger Mahony, he will become the most prominent Hispanic prelate in the U.S. Catholic Church.
Madrid, Spain, Jun 25, 2010 (CNA) - The president of the Institute for Family Policy, Eduardo Hertfelder, has criticized the decision by the Spanish government to cut economic aid for families and warned that President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is becoming “the worst president for families in Spanish history.”
Hertfelder said the decline in aid from 42 to 24 euro ($52 to $30) per month for each child under age three has made the situation even worse for poor families. “If the measure is not revoked and ends up becoming law, once again it will be clear that this government only ‘thinks’ of the family when it wants to endanger it,” he said.
Likewise, Hertfelder said the policy is being implemented despite the fact that only the poorest of families—one in nine—apply for this aid, and that the number of births dropped in 2009, falling five percent from what they were in 2008.
All of this makes the family the most abandoned social group in Spain and shows the government has no political will to help it, he concluded.
Vatican City, Jun 25, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Authorities in search of information associated with cases of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels entered the archbishop's offices unannounced on Thursday morning. Elements of the search, which included examinations of tombs in the crypts of the cathedral, were decried by the Vatican on Friday.
The Vatican's Secretariat of State released a statement concerning the matter on Friday afternoon in which they included the full message from the Belgian bishops' spokesman, Eric de Beukelaer, and a note from the office itself.
The June 24 statement from De Beukalaer explains that while in a meeting at the archbishop's offices on Thursday morning, the bishops of Belgium were interrupted by judicial authorities and police effecting a search of the premises, following up on reports of sexual abuse in the archdiocese.
The spokesman reported that no other explanation was given as all documents and cellular phones were confiscated and no one was allowed to leave the building. The lockdown lasted from 10:30 a.m. Thursday until 7:30 p.m.
"It was not a pleasant experience, but everything was carried out in a correct way," he wrote of the interrogations of all present, including office staff.
De Beukalaer added that "the bishops have always said they have confidence in justice and in its work. The present search is accepted with the same confidence, and therefore, for the moment, they abstain from making further comments."
Italy's Corriere online news reported that the "blitz" was not only reserved to the living, officers carrying out "Operation Church" also descended into the crypt of the cathedral, reportedly with pneumatic hammers, to examine tombs for hidden dossiers.
This afternoon the Secretariat of State of the Holy See also issued a reaction in a communique accompanying the release of De Beukalaer's comments.
The secretariat expressed its "great amazement" for the methods used in some aspects of the search and said that the authorities showed "disdain" for the fact that the tombs of Cardinals Jozef-Ernest Van Roey and Leon-Josephy Suenens were violated.
"In dismay for such actions," continues the statement, "there is additional regret for several infractions of confidentiality, to which the victims, for whom the search was conducted, have the right."
The statement, made personally by the secretary for relations with states, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti and Mr. Charles Ghislain, Belgian ambassador to the Holy See, also underscored "the firm condemnation of each sinful and criminal act of abuse of minors by members of the Church, as well as the necessity to make reparations and confront such acts in a way consistent with the demands of justice and the teachings of the Gospel."
In his statement, spokesman De Beukalaer expressed the regret of the bishops and Prof. Peter Adriansses, president of the commission responsible for investigating abuses within the pastoral framework, regretted the fact that all of their dossiers had been taken.
This, he wrote, goes against the right to privacy of which the victims who have chosen to approach the commission are due. "This action, then, gravely damages the necessary and excellent work of this commission," the message concluded.
Vatican City, Jun 25, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict named Bishop Jozef De Kesel as the new bishop of Bruges on Friday. He will replace Bishop Roger Joseph Vangheluwe who stepped down upon admitting to having sexually abused a minor.
The vacancy was left in the Diocese of Bruges after 73-year old Bishop Vangheluwe's resignation was accepted by the Holy Father on April 23. He admitted his guilt in abusing a minor as a priest and, later, as a bishop saying that amidst the "media storm" of recent months he could no longer keep his crimes secret.
Bishop De Kesel, the newly-nominated Bishop of Bruges, will soon take control of the diocese. He had been serving as the Titular bishop of Bulna, Belgium and as an Auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels since his consecration in 2002. He was also the vicar general for the Vicarate of Brussels.
Within the Belgian Bishops' Conference, he is the head of the Inter-diocesan Commission for the Liturgical Pastoral Care in the two languages of Belgium, Flemish and French, and the bishops' delegate to the Commission of Episcopates of the European Community.
Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and Primate of Belgian Catholics Andre-Joseph Leonard said in a press conference to mark the occasion of the nomination that he was happy Benedict XVI had chosen a bishop to head the diocese after it had been weakened with the resignation of Bishop Vangheluwe.
Bishop De Kesel said that he would miss his archdiocesan post after "eight beautiful years" there, but is looking forward to entering into his new charge. Conscious of the difficulties in what he called the "well governed" Diocese of Bruges, he said that it would be "a walk of faith and hope."
Madrid, Spain, Jun 25, 2010 (CNA/Europa Press) - The executive committee of the Bishops’ Conference of Spain has approved a statement on the public displaying of religious symbols in Europe, saying crucifixes should remain in schools in order to strengthen the identity and values of students.
The statement comes as the EU Court in Strasbourg is expected to issue a ruling on June 30 on the displaying of religious symbols in public schools.
“Societies of Christian tradition must not oppose the public displaying of their religious symbols, in particular, those which educate children,” the bishops stated, warning that otherwise “these societies will find it difficult to convey their own identity and values to future generations.”
“They would become contradictory societies that reject the spiritual and cultural heritage” and “cut off their path to the future,” the bishops added.
“To pit oneself against the symbols of the values that shape the history and culture of a nation is to leave it defenseless against other cultural sources that are not always beneficial,” the bishops said. This also “caps the basic sources of ethics and law which have led to the recognition, promotion and protection of the dignity of the person.”
The presence of Christian symbols in public life, and specifically the crucifix, “reflects the sentiment of Christians of all confessions and is not intended to exclude anyone.”
“On the contrary, it is the expression of a tradition which everyone recognizes for its great value and enormous role as a catalyst in the dialogue between people of good will and as a support for those who suffer,” the bishops said.
They also underscored that religious freedom enjoys increasing recognition in Europe, and that some countries explicitly permit the displaying of other religious symbols. “Only in a Europe in which both the religious freedom of each person and the traditions of each people and nation are respected will appropriate relations between religions and peoples develop in justice and in freedom,” they stressed.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jun 25, 2010 (CNA) - During the ordination of Auxiliary Bishop Nicolas Baisi of La Plata in Argentina, Archbishop Hector Aguer underscored that all bishops should lead nonbelievers to Christ and “recover the full Catholic identity of all the baptized.”
During the Mass celebrated at the Cathedral of La Plata, Archbishop Aguer said, “In response to the dictatorship of relativism, the arrogance of biased thinking, the tyranny of the politically correct,” bishops must challenge the powerful and work to prevent “the de-Christianization of thought and our norms, which leads to the decadence of the culture and a progressive dehumanization.”
“The bishop is charged with keeping the deposit of faith pure and integral by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ with fidelity and constancy. This task is a grace that is destined to ignite in his heart a sort of holy obsession: recovering the full Catholic identity of all the baptized, showing those who do not believe the path towards the truth through untiring charity, with the irrefutable arguments of effective love,” the archbishop said.
Referring later to the opinion of Swiss dissident Fr. Hans Kung, who has not had the faculties to teach theology since 1980 and has called “on all bishops to rebel against the Pope and demand he change the course of the Church to move in the direction of the progressive lobbyists,” Archbishop Aguer said, “We, on the other hand, manifest our joyful adherence to Benedict XVI, the current successor to Peter, to his enlightening Magisterium and to his guidance as Supreme Pastor of the Church.”
“Each bishop, upon being assumed into the historical and spiritual flow of apostolic succession, is closely linked to the successor of Peter. He can only persevere in the unity of the Church under the authority of the successor of Peter and in obedience to him, with complete fidelity, without division,” he added.
Vatican City, Jun 25, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Holy Father met with participants in the Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches, or ROACO, on Friday for the final day of their summer meeting. He urged the agencies to contribute to creating lasting peace in the Middle East through their works and encouraged Christians in the region not to flee.
Addressing the group in an audience in the Clementine Room of the Apostolic Palace, he spoke to the diverse group first in Italian, and then in French, German and English, before closing again in Italian.
The Pope expressed his hope for peace and in the Middle East, noting that "all of us desire the gift of stable peace and secure coexistence in the Holy Land, in Iraq and in the Middle East. This will arise through respecting human rights, families, communities and peoples, and through overcoming religious, cultural and social discrimination."
Benedict XVI exhorted Christians who live in the region "to keep the faith and, despite numerous sacrifices, stay in the land where they were born. At the same time I encourage emigrants from the East not to forget their origins, especially their religious origins. Their human and Christian faithfulness and coherence depend on this," he said.
Those Christians who "suffer violence because of the Gospel," were also entrusted to the Lord by the Holy Father, who added, "I continue to hope that the leaders of nations will truly guarantee, without distinction and in all places, public and community profession of religious belief."
He also hoped for continued vocations to the priesthood from the local Church to help secure its future and looked forward to the Synod for the Middle East next October.
The Pope thanked God for the synod, saying that it "is already producing the beneficial fruits of 'communion and witness' for which the Synod was initially convoked."
In closing, he asked participants in the aid agency meeting, which was attended by Church officials and representatives from 40 aid agencies active in the Middle East, to "contribute with your works to keep the 'hope that doesn't disappoint' alive in the East."
Mar de Plata, Argentina, Jun 25, 2010 (CNA) - During a press conference Thursday announcing the Mar de Plata Social Week, which will take place June 25-27, Bishop Jorge Casaretto who heads the Argentinean bishops’ social ministry committee, said the objective of the event is “to continue working on the priorities of the 2010-2016 bicentennial to eradicate poverty and promote comprehensive development.”
According to the press office of the Diocese of Mar de Plata, Bishop Casaretto said, “A consensus must be achieved by contemplating the concrete faces of those who suffer the most and await concrete actions by all of us who, at different levels, have responsibilities to the public.”
“As we pointed out in the bicentennial document, we need to be aware that we will only obtain stable achievements through dialogue and consensus in support of the common good, if we take into account particularly our poor and excluded brothers and sisters. When personal interests take precedence over the common good, poverty will inevitably increase,” the bishop said.
“These six years of the bicentennial can be a great opportunity, a time of conversion to grow in social awareness and in an authentic culture of justice, solidarity and the just distribution of goods,” he added. “The Church operates from this perspective in order to achieve … a greater fraternity, so that we can truly encounter each other as brothers,” the bishop said.
Rome, Italy, Jun 25, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal Walter Kasper, at 77 years old, is wrapping up his tenure as the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. On Friday, he reflected on his years in the position and the importance of dialogue to the life of the Church.
“I have come to the end of my service," the cardinal told reporters in a press conference from the council's offices near the Vatican, during which, according to excerpts of his address printed by the Italian bishops' SIR news, he recalled his 11 years at the helm as not only demanding, but "riveting."
As president of the dicastery he has been responsible for promoting dialogue between the Universal Church and other Christian denominations, in addition he has dedicated himself to building inter-religious relations particularly between Catholics, Jews and Muslims.
Commenting on the current state of ecumenical and inter-religious relations, he said that personal relations of respect, esteem, confidence and friendship are vital to successful dialogue.
“Whenever such relations are missing, there cannot be any fruitful dialogue, which is always a dialogue of life. Ecumenism is not done from one’s desk. Dialogue is life. Dialogue is an integral part of the life of the Church.”
Referring to today's environment, he said that the ecumenical groundwork in place now is a "sound network of human relationships with Christians" which is durable and solid. This network, the cardinal said, will help achieve further progress.
This, he said, "is the real ecumenical innovation," adding that "the focus and the soul of such a lively ecumenism is spiritual ecumenism.
"The unity of the Church cannot be planned or manufactured,” he noted.
Reflecting on ups and downs of his time as president, he said, “I leave my office with hope, which is not human optimism, but Christian hope." Cardinal Kasper also said he is confident that “ecumenism is not an extra, but a constituent of the Church.”
He concluded by saying that the "torch" would now be taken over by a new generation who will bring a fresh vision to dialogue.
No one has been nominated as the future president of the dicastery, and Cardinal Kasper has not officially stepped down, but it is widely known that a change is imminent.
Rome, Italy, Jun 25, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Despite the relative calm that has settled over Mosul, Iraq since the May 2 bombing of buses carrying university students into the capital from towns nearby, fear hangs over the remaining Christian population of the diocese. According to Chorbishop Philip Najim, who is serving as the Apostolic Visitor of the Chaldeans in Europe, the “chaos” is not just limited to the Chaldean Christians still in Mosul.
On June 25, the Italian bishops' news service SIR published an interview with Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul Emil Shimoun Nona who explained that between the unstable government, problems resulting from the lack of electricity and fear, the Christian population of the diocese has been cut in half by people fleeing the volatile, hostile environment.
The local population of Christians now stands at approximately 10,000 people, he reported.
Seeking to learn more about the situation, CNA spoke with Chorbishop Najim, who was appointed by the Pope to establish parishes for the Chaldean community in Europe and provide for their pastoral care. In the Eastern Church, chorbishops assist bishops in carrying out their duties.
Chorbishop Najim told CNA that an “unknown force” is pushing the people out of the area, and while many countries have accepted the emigrants, including the European countries he oversees, the process is “unsystematic.”
“You can imagine the chaos we are living,” he said. He described the desperation of the people to escape the situation, driven by a loss of hope in their government and a lack of faith in their future.
The problem not only threatens the current generation of Chaldeans in the diocese, continued the chorbishop, but also those to come.
Regarding their presence in Europe, Chorbishop Najim said that he and 20 priests are working in collaboration with the European bishops to provide for those who emigrate to Europe.
But the clergy is stretched thin when it comes to meeting the numerous challenges associated with caring for the beleaguered Iraqi Christians. The chorbishop and the priests serving with him must maintain the Church’s identity, provide pastoral assistance, conduct social work, provide education and integration, and work with governments, he said.
Chorbishop Najim added that they continue to work toward an unknown future “day by day, step by step,” under the guidance of the Church, especially the prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, whom the chorbishop said, “is like a father to us.”
The chorbishop said hopes that the international community will rally to put an end to the suffering of Iraqis and that a sense of responsibility among political leaders to take action will prevail.
He also called October's Synod for the Middle East, "a very urgent issue for the Christians in the Middle East and for the immigrated Christians outside.
"Our faithful are looking for a serious move and authentic care from the universal Church so they will feel they are considered," he said. "It is a sign of hope and belonging to the Catholic Church."