Archive of November 22, 2010

Cardinal Zen laments China’s illicit ordination of Catholic bishop

Beijing, China, Nov 22, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - China’s government-run Catholic organization has ordained a bishop without the approval of the Pope. In response, a prominent cardinal said the action never should have happened.

Fr. Guo Jincai was ordained at Pingquan Church in northeastern Hebei province’s Chengde city on Nov. 20 in the presence of eight Vatican-approved bishops.

The ordination took place under strong security, with dozens of police blocking the building and denying entrance to reporters, the Associated Press says. At least three of the bishops had been sequestered by the government for several days to pressure them to participate.

China and the Vatican broke off diplomatic relations nearly 60 years ago over the unapproved ordinations of bishops. Relations between the Catholic Church and the Chinese government had improved in recent years, though Catholics loyal to Rome have faced harassment and persecution.

The newly ordained Bishop Guo is deputy secretary of the state-run Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which will soon hold a meeting to determine its leadership.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, an important aide to Pope Benedict XVI on China affairs, lamented the action.

“I am in no mood for celebration,” he commented, according to UCA News. He said he was disheartened to see “what should never have happened has happened again.” He was certain that the same sadness prevailed among many Chinese Catholics as well as for the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“Once more they have crucified Jesus,” he declared.

Liu Bainian, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association’s vice chairman, said the Vatican knew about the need for a bishop in the diocese two years ago.

“I believe the Pope loves China. I believe just a handful of people in the Vatican are hindering the improvement of relations," he told the Associated Press, saying that the lack of a bishop hindered the spread of the Gospel.

"We should not let any political reasons interfere with the spread of the Gospel in China," he added.

The official also reported that in time China would select bishops for more than 40 vacant dioceses. He expressed hope that the Vatican would endorse them.

Caridnal Zen was critical of Liu Bainian, saying bishops were forced to participate in the ordination by a “fascist method.” While not suggesting immediate condemnation of the bishops involved, the cardinal said it would be misguided to treat the illicit ordinations lightly.

In a Nov. 18 statement, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi criticized reports that the Chinese government was trying to force Catholic bishops to participate, saying such acts would be “grave violations of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience."

He added that the Vatican considered the ordination to be “illicit” and to be damaging to the “constructive relations” between China and the Holy See.

The last ordination of a bishop without papal approval in China came in 2006.

Scholars and church activists estimate that there are as many as 60 million Chinese Catholics loyal to the Pope, about three times the size of the government-backed church.

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Iraqi archbishop calls death sentence for Tariq Aziz 'an act of vengeance'

Rome, Italy, Nov 22, 2010 (CNA/Europa Press) - Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq has denounced the death sentence imposed upon former Vice Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. He called the punishment an “act of vengeance” that “will not help bring about peace.”

Aziz, the country's former deputy prime minister, is also Catholic.

According to Vatican Radio, Archbishop Sako said Aziz’s conviction was “unjust” because everyone in Iraq knows that "he could not oppose the government of Saddam Hussein, since those who dared to express a different opinion were killed.“ Those who are members of an authoritarian government are “trapped,” he continued.

The archbishop underscored that death penalty convictions are acts of vengeance and “signs of the government's weakness.”  He said the new Iraq should prohibit the death penalty “so that the country can truly develop” and move “towards democracy and reconciliation.”

The death penalty is “an offense against the person,” he noted, and the international community has the duty to call on governments to ban it.

The Associated Press reported Nov. 22 that Aziz will seek a presidential pardon rather than appeal the conviction.

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Beyond the controversy, a revealing glimpse into the mind of the Pope

Rome, Italy, Nov 22, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Perhaps it is the legacy of his early years as a professor, but Pope Benedict XVI seems to relish the chance to speak spontaneously and to take questions from a crowd.

In the five short years of his pontificate, he has engaged in an unusual number of public question and answer sessions — with bishops, priests, seminarians, even young children; and, of course, journalists.

His comfort with the “Q & A” format predates his pontificate. As head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he took part in several book-length interviews — beginning with his now famous conversation with Italian journalist, Vittorio Messori, published in 1985 as “The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church.”

His new interview book, “Light of the World,” is his third with the German journalist Peter Seewald.

Although not officially released until Nov. 23, the book is already the talk of the world. That follows the odd decision by the Vatican newspaper to violate the embargo on the book’s release and publish fragments of the Pope’s remarks on the controversial subject of condoms and the worldwide fight against AIDS.

But there is far more to this 219-page book than grist for scandal-mongers and controversialists.

It is true that the Pope is forthright and frank in responding to questions ranging from ecumenism to global warming. And he does not duck tough questions on his handling of controversies and scandals that have arisen in the Church under his watch.

He also speaks candidly and offers an unprecedented personal glimpse into his papacy.

At 83, the job can make him weary, he admits, and he makes a special effort to organize his time well and to make sure that he gets enough rest and time for prayer.

And he thanks God that he is in excellent health — because this Pope does not like to exercise.

Asked whether he ever uses the exercise bicycle given to him by his former physician, Pope Benedict responds enthusiastically: “No. I don’t get to it at all — and don’t need it at the moment, thank God.”

“Light of the World” presents the Pope as one of the world’s foremost public intellectuals, a man who has thought deeply about the modern world, with all its problems and its promises.

At the root of the problems in the world today is what he calls “the question about God.”

“For many people today, practical atheism is the normal rule of life,” Pope Benedict says. “Maybe there is something or someone, they think, who once set the world in motion eons ago, but he does not matter to us at all. If this attitude becomes a general existential position, then freedom no longer has any standards, then everything is possible and permissible.”

As he sees it, God has been displaced in a society that now puts all its confidence in the capacities of human reason and science and technology. “Today man thinks that he himself can do everything that he once awaited from God alone,” he states.

The Pope calls for a “major examination of conscience” of modern assumptions about the uses of knowledge, power, and freedom, and about the meaning of progress.

“This is the question: What is good? Where should knowledge lead power? …” he asks. “Is it progress if I can destroy? Is it progress if I myself can make, select, and dispose of human beings?”

He rejects what he calls a “fundamental concept of the modern era: freedom, which is understood as the freedom to do anything.” This understanding of freedom leads to the dangerous belief that “whatever one can do, one must also be allowed to do,” he says.

He also warns of the rise of a “new intolerance” in secular society that rejects traditional religious symbols and teachings as incompatible with modern freedoms. He notes that Christians and Church institutions are increasingly being pushed to the margins of society.

“When, for example, in the name of non-discrimination, people try to force the Catholic Church to change her position on homosexuality or the ordination of women, then that means that she is no longer allowed to live out her own identity … In the name of tolerance, tolerance is being abolished; this is the real threat we face.”

In the face of growing secularization, Pope Benedict poses hard questions for Catholics.

“To what extent do people belong to the Church in the first place?” he asks. “On the one hand, they want to belong to her and do not want to lose this foundation. On the other hand, they are of course also shaped and formed interiorly by the modern way of thinking.”

The Pope sees believers today as afflicted by “a sort of schizophrenia, a divided existence.” Faith in God is reduced to “a sort of archaic stratum” that has less and less meaning in a society where people are encouraged to live as if God is not relevant. 

Benedict XVI also questions the indifference of many Christians to the social and political implications of their faith.

“Really,” he says, “one often wonders how it happens that Christians who personally are believers do not have the strength to put their faith into action in a way that is politically effective.”

Pope Benedict reserves his most withering criticisms for some aspects of the institutional Church.

“The bureaucracy is spent and tired,” he says of some Church institutions in Europe and the West.

Of some Catholics who work for the Church, he adds: “It is sad that there are what you might call professional Catholics who make a living on their Catholicism, but in whom the spring of faith flows only faintly, in a few scattered drops.”

Yet the Pope remains bullish on the Church. He stresses the growth in the number of priests and seminarians worldwide. And he sees new vitality in the various movements in the Church, especially among the young, and especially outside of Europe.

“Christianity is perhaps acquiring another face and, also, another cultural form,” he says. “It does not hold the command post in world opinion; others rule there. But it is a vital force without which even the other things would not continue. … Thanks to what I myself am able to see and experience, I am quite optimistic that Christianity is on the verge of a new dynamic.”

He calls for a “new evangelization” and urges the Church to once more propose the truth about Jesus Christ to the world.

“Above all else we must try to make sure that people do not lose sight of God,” he says.
It is not enough for people to believe in God. They must be introduced to the God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ, a personal God — “a God who knows us, speaks to us, and approaches us — and who is then our judge also,” Pope Benedict says.

The Church’s preaching remains too “one-sided … largely directed to the creation of a better world,” according to the Pope. “Hardly anyone talks any more about the other, truly better world. … Our task is to open up this horizon, to broaden it, and to turn our gaze toward the ultimate.”

The Pope answers many complex questions in “Light of the World.” But perhaps his most moving answer comes in response to the simplest of the questions put to him: “What does Jesus want from us?”

Pope Benedict responds: “He wants us to believe him. To let ourselves be led by him. To live with him. And so to become more and more like him and, thus, to live rightly.”

The Pope Benedict XVI who reveals himself in the pages of this book is a man of prayer and humility.

He confesses that in his personal prayer he invokes the saints often: “I am friends with Augustine, with Bonaventure, with Thomas Aquinas.”

And this book again reveals how much his vision of the world has been shaped by St. Augustine’s meditations on original sin in his masterwork, “The City of God.”

He says: “St. Augustine said: World history is a battle between two forms of love. Love of self — to the point of destroying the world. And love of others — to the point of renouncing oneself. This battle, which could always be seen, is in progress now, too.” 

Of his own place in this epic battle between the “two loves,” Pope Benedict describes his pontificate as the humble continuation of his predecessor’s. “I really am a debtor,” he concludes, “a modest figure who is trying to continue what John Paul II accomplished as a giant.” 

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Spanish bishops encourage Catholics to participate in vigil for the unborn

Cadiz, Spain, Nov 22, 2010 (CNA) - Bishop Antonio Ceballos Atienza of Cadiz and Ceuta, Spain has called on Catholics to respond to Pope Benedict XVI’s invitation to participate in the Prayer Vigil for the Unborn on Saturday, Nov. 27.

The bishop invited Catholics across Spain to join in the special night of prayer. “Human life is a gift from God,” he explained. “It is the supreme gift that each person has received from the Creator.  Man is also called to the fullness of life that transcends his earthly existence.

“For this reason, it is the mission of the Church—and therefore of all believers in Christ—to defend and promote the right to life,” Bishop Ceballos said.

The Spanish bishop noted that “changes in today’s understanding of man ... which are the result of a secularized society that has forgotten the Creator” contribute to the emergence of “new forms of aggression against the dignity of human life.”

Bishop Ceballos ended by calling Catholsi to pray that human life be respected and defended by all.

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Argentinean archbishop denounces proposal to remove religious symbols

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nov 22, 2010 (CNA) - Archbishop Jose Maria Arancedo of Santa Fe de la Vera Cruz, Argentina has denounced a proposal to remove religious symbols from public places in the country's province of Santa Fe.

The archbishop called Congresswoman Alicia Gutierrez's plan “unjust” and said it needlessly provokes confrontation over “problems that don’t exist.”

In a reflection published Nov. 19, Archbishop Arancedo said the presence of religious symbols in the life and history of a community has an important purpose that must be understood and respected.  “The religious or cultural history of a people cannot be erased on the basis of a so-called progressive cultural mind-set,” the archbishop wrote.

He noted that the most important events in Argentina’s history have been marked by explicit and public references to God, such as the drafting of the country’s Constitution, “which openly contains an invocation of God, ‘the source of all reason and justice’.”

“The fact that we are proud to live in the ‘birthplace of the Constitution’ should not lead us to forget the religious roots of our forefathers,” the archbishop stressed.  “They are our inheritance and we have been raised with them.”  Our forefathers “did not discriminate against anyone. On the contrary, their faith made them open to all and respectful of all,” he added.

There is no basis to the claim that the presence of religious symbols in public constitutes discrimination, the archbishop emphasized.  “Our lawmakers need historical maturity, social respect and political prudence” in dealing with this proposal, he concluded.

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Analysis: What the Pope really said about condoms

Vatican City, Nov 22, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI’s comments on condoms in a new book-interview have whipped the media into a frenzy.

Many reports interpreted the words as a dramatic shift from Church teaching, but experts say that nothing has changed.

On the afternoon of Nov. 20, the Vatican's semi-official newspaper L'Osservatore Romano released a series of excerpts from the new book-interview called "Light of the World: The Pope, The Church and the Signs of the Times," by the German journalist Peter Seewald.

The newspaper, jumping the scheduled world release, chose to publish only two paragraphs of what is a more extensive response from the Pope to the question of whether the use of condoms could be justified to confront the problem of AIDS transmission.

This fragmented presentation did not give a full view of the Pope's words. But it said enough to lead some international media sources to conjecture that the pontiff had made a "U-turn" on Catholic teaching against contraception.

The actual text of the Pope’s remarks extends over two full pages. It begins with interviewer Peter Seewald asking the Pope about his statement to a reporter during his March 2009 trip to Africa that condoms are not a solution to the AIDS pandemic.

The Pope responds by reaffirming his answer. “People can get condoms when they want them anyway,” the Pope told Seewald. “But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen.”

Secular thinking about AIDS involves a “fixation on the condom” that implies a trivialization of sexuality, he said. As a result, sexuality is no longer seen as “an expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves.”

The remark that caused such a stir follows this. The Pope mentioned a situation in which condom use could be positive but still an immoral act. He used the example of condom use by male prostitutes.

Pope Benedict said: “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.”

Seewald followed this up with a question about whether the Church is “actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms.”

Pope Benedict responded, "She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality."

These words — and extremely varied interpretations given to them by commentators — have sent shock waves out from Rome to the world.

But it is apparent that the Pope’s words have been misunderstood or worse, badly distorted. While he said clearly that the use of condoms "is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection," he conceded that they could be used "in the intention of reducing the risk of infection."

Unable to wait for further explanations, the Australian daily, The Age, reported: "Pope lifts ban on condoms." This became the common theme in the reporting.

However, the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said Nov. 21 that "the reasoning of the Pope certainly cannot be defined as a revolutionary turning point."

He said that, instead, it offers an "original contribution" and a "far-sighted vision" of taking small steps to "a more human and responsible exercise of sexuality."

Janet Smith, an ethicist at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, published a statement on the website of Ignatius Press, the English language publisher of Seewald's “Light of the World.”

She said the Pope "is simply observing that for some homosexual prostitutes the use of a condom may indicate an awakening of a moral sense; an awakening that sexual pleasure is not the highest value, but that we must take care that we harm no one with our choices.

The Pope, she added, is not talking about morality, but the psychological state of those who make use of condoms. "If such individuals are using condoms to avoid harming another, they may eventually realize that sexual acts between members of the same sex are inherently harmful since they are not in accord with human nature.

"The Holy Father does not in any way think the use of condoms is a part of the solution to reducing the risk of AIDS. As he explicitly states, the true solution involves 'humanizing sexuality'.”

A former student of the Pope's, Father Joseph Fessio, editor-in-chief of Ignatius Press, said the Pope's comment on condoms is "very carefully qualified."

“It would be wrong to say, ‘Pope Approves Condoms'," Fr. Fessio said. "He’s saying it’s immoral, but in an individual case the use of a condom could be an awakening to someone that he’s got to be more conscious of his actions.’’

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, writing in “On the Square,” the blog for the magazine First Things, explained: “The Church holds that condom use is morally flawed by its nature, and that, equally important, condom use does not prevent AIDS and can actually enable its spread by creating a false sense of security.”

"In the context of the book's later discussion of contraception and Catholic teaching on sexuality, the Pope's comments are morally insightful,” Archbishop Chaput continued. “But taken out of context, they can easily be inferred as approving condoms under certain circumstances," he said.

Archbishop Chaput said the Pope’s aides should have been better prepared for the controversy over his remarks.

“One might reasonably expect the Holy Father's assistants to have an advance communications plan in place, and to involve bishops and Catholic media in a timely way to explain and defend the Holy Father's remarks,” he said. “Instead, the Vatican's own semi-official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, violated the book's publication embargo and released excerpts of the content early. Not surprisingly, news media instantly zeroed in on the issue of condoms, and the rest of this marvelous book already seems like an afterthought.”

Seewald himself is expected to explain his viewpoint and give more context from the interview in a press conference at the Vatican on Nov. 23.

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