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Archive of November 23, 2010

Bishops highlight God's signs of hope to Chile

Santiago, Chile, Nov 23, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The bishops of Chile emphasized the recent signs of hope and encouragement God has given to the country in a message they released following their 100th plenary assembly.

In their Nov. 22 statement, the bishops expressed gratitude to God for the numerous “signs of hope, big and small, that encourage us in our daily walk.”

In addition to the courageous faith of the 33 Chilean miners rescued after 69 days underground, the bishops also pointed to the “spiritual strength” Chileans have displayed in dealing with the pain and suffering, and the loss of human life and property, resulting from the earthquake that struck the country last Feb. 27. 

All of this proves that “not only do we have a glorious past we must remember, but also a great story yet to be built,” they said, referring to the celebration of the country’s bicentennial of independence.  The present and the future of the country will be different if Chileans “put Jesus first,” the bishops said.

They also underscored the importance of devotion to Mary, “without whom, history teaches us, nothing can begin or begin anew.”  She is the “Queen and Mother of Mercy” and brings us “Jesus, the blessed fruit of her womb, our Redeemer and Lord.”

Mass at Shrine of Maipu

On the Solemnity of Christ the King on Nov. 21, Catholics from across Chile gathered at the Marian Shrine of Maipu for Mass to thank God for the perseverance of faith in the Chilean people during their 200 year history as a nation.

Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz of Santiago urged the faithful to put the truths of Jesus Christ into practice “with the eagerness of the first apostles and the saints.”

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Condom controversy overshadows official release of Pope’s new book

Rome, Italy, Nov 23, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Pope’s new book should not be reduced to one remark the pontiff makes about condoms, according to a leading Vatican official.

“Reducing the entire interview to one phrase removed from its context and from the entirety of Benedict XVI's thought would be an offense to the Pope's intelligence and a gratuitous manipulation of his words,” said Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the newly established Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.

He made his remarks at a Nov. 23 news conference announcing the official release of “Light of the World,” a new book that collects conversations between
Pope Benedict XVI and German journalist, Peter Seewald.

The Vatican’s own newspaper had broken the official embargo on the book over the weekend, releasing fragments of the Pope’s remarks about using condoms to fight the spread of AIDS in Africa. The excerpts caused a storm of media controversy — with many suggesting that the Pope had changed the Church’s teaching forbidding the use of artificial means of birth control.

The controversy is being further fueled by remarks made by the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi. He told the press conference that while the Pope had used the example of a male prostitute using condoms, the point could apply to men, women, and even transsexuals engaged in prostitution. 

“I asked the pope personally,” he said, adding: “Whether a man or a woman or a transsexual does this, we’re at the same point,” Fr. Lombardi said. “The point is the first step toward responsibility, to avoid posing a grave risk to another person.”

Seewald, too, emphasized the point in his remarks. He noted the controversies over different translations of the Pope’s words and said: “The pope indicates that, in addition to the case he cited, there may be other cases in which one may imagine that use of a condom could be a step toward responsible sexuality in this area, and to prevent further infection.”
 
Others at the conference tried to steer the conversation away from the controversy.

“We have a Pope who does not evade any question, who wishes to clarify everything using a language that is simple but not for that reason less profound, and who benevolently accepts the provocations inherent in so many questions,” Archbishop Fisichella said.
 
He and veteran Vatican correspondent, Luigi Accattoli, focused attention on the deep philosophical and political themes addressed in the new book. The book, they said, is really a conversation about the relationship of the Church with a modern world that has grown increasingly secular and hostile to religion.

Archbishop Fisichella explained how Seewald had asked the Pope "about the great questions facing modern theology, the various political events that have always marked relations between States and, finally, the themes that often occupy a large part of public debate.

"In these pages Benedict XVI often returns to the relationship between modernity and Christianity, which cannot and must not be seen as parallels,” the archbishop said. “Rather, the relationship must be lived by correctly uniting faith and reason, individual rights and social responsibility; in a word, by 'putting God first'. … This is the task the Pope sets for his own pontificate and we cannot, in all honesty, deny how difficult it seems to be."
 
Accattoli emphasized how personally the Pope speaks in this book and suggested journalists read it as “a guided visit to the papal workshop of Benedict XVI and to the world of Joseph Ratzinger.”

On the condom controversy, Accattoli said the Pope was offering a realistic approach to a very difficult moral and public health issue.

"Cautiously and courageously Benedict XVI seeks a pragmatic way in which missionaries and other ecclesial workers can help to defeat the AIDS pandemic, without approving — but also without excluding, in particular cases — the use of the condom,” he said.

At the same time, he affirmed the importance and relevance of the Church’s ancient restrictions on artificial birth control, Accattoli said.   “He likewise reaffirms the 'prophetic' nature of Paul VI's 'Humanae vitae', though without concealing the existence of real difficulties in 'finding paths that can be followed in a human way,' ... and recognizing that 'in this field many things must be rethought and expressed in new terms.'"

Despite the controversy, Archbishop Fisichella urged that the book be read as a meditation on “how the Church in the world can announce the good news which brings joy and serenity."

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Catholic thinkers examine Tea Party movement and Church teaching

Washington D.C., Nov 23, 2010 (CNA) - This past election season “Tea Party” rallies were held around the country to protest government policy or to call for a new direction for the country. The movement even showed some substantial political clout at the ballot box. But is the movement compatible with Catholic social teaching?

CNA spoke about the movement with Dr. Steven Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, and Fr. Robert Sirico, president of the Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Acton Institute.

Fr. Sirico described the Tea Party as “an amorphous thing” with a lot of variety and as a “populist, spontaneous movement.” He thought its common themes include a desire for less government and a desire “to limit the power that politicians have over peoples’ lives.”

Participants find motivation in a variety of philosophies. Some have “well-developed Catholic sensibilities” while others’ sensibilities are “almost anarchistic.” He thought it was “remarkable” that the Tea Party could bring so many non-political people into the political process.

The Church’s teaching on subsidiarity can meet these people and “augment what they’re doing,” he said, while also guarding against “the more fanatical edges of the tea party.”

Fr. Sirico explained subsidiarity as being the principle that higher levels of society should not intervene in lower levels without “manifest and real necessity,” and such intervention should only be temporary.

“Needs are best met at the local level,” he said, calling government “the resource of last resort.”

For his part, Dr. Schneck agreed the Tea Party is still a movement being formed. He sees it as motivated in part by middle class frustration with “a political environment that seems to reward the rich and the poor but ignores or even undercuts the middle.” He also sees a “libertarian dynamic that wants to end do-gooder, nanny government.”

He told CNA that Catholics are called to practice politics based on four aspects: the dignity of the person, the common good rather than private interests, solidarity with our fellow citizens in community, and an understanding of subsidiarity that recognizes the appropriate role of the state and civil society in addressing community needs.

This approach also reveals other requirements for good politics, such as preferential consideration of the poor, welcoming the immigrant, the importance of family and community, and a “stewardship” understanding of property and creation.

Granting that no political movement conforms to these principles, Schneck said the Tea Party movement has its clearest tensions with Catholic teaching on the issues of the common good and solidarity, while immigration, poverty and stewardship may be other areas of tension.

“Solidarity reminds us that we must properly understand ourselves and others as part of the Mystical Body of Christ,” he explained, saying that responsibility to others is “prior to our individual liberties.”

“Our freedom is not limited by our responsibilities to others in community, but is rather enhanced by what we do for others.”

Schneck also warned that a “hard-edged individualism” which sees justice best resolved in competition ignores solidarity’s emphasis on “caritas,” that is, Christian love.

On the issue of national health care, which many Tea Party participants have opposed, Schneck noted Pope Benedict’s recent insistence that health care is an inalienable right and governments are obliged to ensure universal health care for all citizens regardless of their ability to pay.

Like Fr. Sirico, Schneck thought that subsidiarity “dovetails quite well” with Tea Party thinking, for example in arguing that education policy is best set by local government rather than national.

“As part of subsidiarity, however, it is also true that if local government or the private resources of civil society are unable to address the needs of the common good, then the national government is morally bound to respond,” he continued.

Fr. Sirico had his own criticisms of the movement. He thought charismatic leaders could lead people in the wrong direction, and the Tea Party’s lack of a “historical memory” of past mistakes means that it lacks safeguards against plausible-looking proposals that “end up being harmful.” Some Tea Party rhetoric suggests it has no role for government to serve the poor.

However, Fr. Sirico said in his experience most people sympathetic to the Tea Party movement, including himself, are not of that mindset.

He compared the government policy to a dentist visit, saying “we just want to get through it with as little pain as possible.”

Schneck added that it was “gratifying” to see individual Tea Party representatives oppose abortion “even though libertarianism theoretically is suspicious of government promoting moral or religious values.”

The future of the Tea Party’s support for pro-life concerns and marriage issues has also been a public issue. Some Tea Party spokesmen have said the Republican Party should not focus on either.

Jeffrey Bell, a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told CNA he saw very little of this opinion in the daily activities of movement participants and sympathizers.

“People who think that voters are not concerned about social issues should go look at Iowa,” he commented, referring to the electoral successes of traditional marriage activists in the key presidential primary state.

“People don’t get amnesia on other issues just because the economy is in bad shape. They’re still a factor,” Bell remarked. “And the people who feel strongly about these issues, who are quite a few, are going to be less likely to vote for a candidate who is on the other side.”

He did not think a Tea Party focus on fiscal issues and small government could eclipse social concerns. Polls indicate that most Tea Party participants are social conservatives, said Bell, and “very, very few” Tea Party-backed candidates for the Senate or the House were pro-choice on abortion.

He contended that both movements are “very similar” because of the importance they place on returning “to the values of the Founding.”

“It’s really a triumph of social conservatives that people would see these economic and size of government issues in the same light as many would also see abortion and traditional marriage,” Bell claimed.

Those who are speaking of a “big civil war” between social conservatives and others in the Tea Party are, in Bell’s view, “creating an issue where, on the ground, not much of an issue exists.”

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England sees highest number of new seminarians in over a decade

London, England, Nov 23, 2010 (CNA) - Seminaries in England have seen a rise in the number applicants this fall – the highest number in over a decade, according to the local bishops' conference.

This September, 56 men began their journey towards the priesthood in the country, the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales announced on Nov. 15, adding that Pope Benedict's recent visit to the U.K. may boost numbers in the near future.

“The number of people responding to the call of Christ to be priests and religious has been rising slowly but surely,” said Fr. Stephen Langridge, Chairman of the Vocations Directors of England and Wales.

At their annual seminar in Birmingham earlier this month, local vocation directors discussed what has contributed to the increased interest in vocations within the U.K. One example, the recently held “Invocation” festival held in Birmingham this July 2010 for Catholic young adults, drew close to 300 men and women seeking further vocational discernment. The event was so popular that it is slated to be held again in June of 2011.

In addition to this initiative, several dioceses and religious orders are running discernment groups for young men and women, the bishops' conference reported. Vocation seminar participants also noted World Youth Day Madrid in 2011 as an opportunity for young people to enrich their knowledge of Catholicism and increase their individual vocation discernment.

Fr. Christopher Jamison, director of the National Office of Vocation, who attended the Birmingham seminar, noted the life of St. John Henry Cardinal Newman, whom the Pope canonized during his recent papal trip.

“When everybody in the Church takes seriously Newman’s insight that ‘God has created me to do him some definite service,’ then a greater number discover their call to the priesthood and religious life,” Fr. Jamison said.

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Vatican spokesman’s remarks on condoms add to confusion, top US theologian says

Vatican City, Nov 23, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Remarks by the Vatican spokesman intended to clarify the Pope's meaning on the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS have only caused further confusion, a leading U.S. moral theologian said.

Dr. John Haas suggested the spokesman might have misunderstood the Pope’s meaning when he told a press conference Nov. 23 that the Pope would condone condom use not only by male prostitutes, but also by women and even “transsexuals.”

As controversy over the condom issue continued for a fourth day in media reports and in comments from international agencies dealing with the AIDS crisis, Haas told CNA, “We ought to let the Pope speak for himself.”

The controversy began Nov. 20 when the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano broke an embargo and published excerpts from "Light of the World,” a new book based on conversations between Pope Benedict XVI and German journalist Peter Seewald.

L'Osservatore Romano ran only two paragraphs of the Pope's comments on condom use and the global AIDS crisis, although the original discussion in the book is more than two pages long.

The paper quoted Pope Benedict as reaffirming the stance he took in 2009 during his trip to Africa, where he said that condoms are not the answer to the AIDS crisis. In fact, his full answer reaffirmed the Church's negative judgment against condom use, which he said was “of course” not a “real or moral solution” to AIDS or other problems.

However, the Pope also observed that condom use in some circumstances, although not justified, may indicate an individual's awareness that sex has moral meaning and consequences. This, in turn, the Pope said, might lead the person to a greater sense of moral responsibility.

He cited the example of a male prostitute using a condom. The Pope said “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.”

Although the Pope stressed again that condoms are not “the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection,” his remarks set off a media firestorm, with major news outlets reporting a “shift” and even a “U-turn” in Church thinking on this issue.

The storm had begun to die down by Nov. 23, the book’s official release date.

But in a Vatican press conference called to celebrate the book’s release, papal spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, reignited the controversy.

The translation of the Pope's interview – originally conducted in German – was questioned. Despite the word “prostitute” being used in masculine form in German and English, the Italian translation suggested the Pope might have been referring to female prostitutes.

Asked about this by reporters, Father Lombardi said that it makes no difference whether Pope Benedict was referring to a male or female prostitute.

“I asked the Pope personally if there was a serious or important problem in the choice of the masculine gender rather than the feminine, and he said no,” Father Lombardi said. 

The Pope’s main point, he added, was that condom use by prostitutes might represent “the first step of responsibility in taking into account the risk to the life of another person with whom one has relations.”

“Whether a man or a woman or a transsexual does this, we’re at the same point,” Fr. Lombardi said. “The point is the first step toward responsibility, to avoid posing a grave risk to another person.”

Media reaction to Fr. Lombardi’s remarks was swift, with nearly every major news agency reporting that the Pope believes that condom use – even in heterosexual relations – is a lesser evil than transmitting HIV to one's partner.

This confusion on a fundamental matter of Church moral teaching is hardly helpful, Dr. Haas told CNA. 

Haas, head of the National Center for Catholic Bioethics and a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said the Pope should issue comments of his own on the situation.

Haas said people need to keep in mind that Seewald's book “is not a formal teaching document – it's an interview with a journalist.”

The book, he said, “has no magisterial weight whatsoever.”

However, Haas was troubled by Fr. Lombardi's remarks, which he said seem to misrepresent what the Pope is trying to argue in the book. 

“The gender of the prostitute is indeed relevant to the point the Pope wanted to make with regard to the use of condoms,” Haas said.

Referring to the Pope’s specific example of a male prostitute, Haas said, the “presumption is that the male prostitute has AIDS. His decision to use a condom perhaps might mean some expression of concern and regard for the other person.”

“Even in the midst of an act of prostitution and an act of sodomy, the man still has concern for the 'other,'” Haas said, explaining the Pope’s point.

Further, this concern “might actually lead eventually to a life of chastity out of love for the other.”

Haas said Pope's remarks reflect his "profound optimism about human nature." But he questioned the exact meaning of Fr. Lombardi's comments, as they have been reported in the international media.

Haas pointed out that female prostitutes do not use condoms. If a female prostitute does use condoms, he said, that act would likely reflect a selfish concern – to protect herself from disease.

"She would want to protect herself from being infected and in no way would be expressing the concern for the 'other' that the Pope said might be the first step toward 'moralization' if it were being done by a male prostitute."

“This is why the example of a female prostitute doesn't work,” Haas said.

Haas held out the possibility that either Fr. Lombardi’s remarks had been misreported or that perhaps he had been “mistaken” about the Pope’s meaning.  

“We ought to let the Pope speak for himself,” he said.

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Controversial bishop faces expulsion for hiring lawyer with neo-Nazi ties

Vatican City, Nov 23, 2010 (CNA) - Leaders of the Society of St. Pius X threatened to expel controversial member Bishop Richard Williamson for hiring a lawyer with neo-Nazi ties. The bishop will appeal charges in a German court for publicly denying the scope of the Holocaust.

Bishop Bernard Fellay – head of the St. Pius X society – ordered Bishop Williamson on Nov. 22 to fire his attorney Wolfram Nahrath, whom Bishop Williamson hired to represent him as he appeals an incitement conviction in Germany on Nov. 29.

The Associated Press reported that Nahrath has allegedly defended neo-Nazis in the past and is the former leader of a neo-Nazi group in Germany called Wiking-Jugend, or Viking Youth.

In April, a court in Regensburg, Germany fined the British-born Bishop Williamson almost $14,000, for his remarks in a 2009 interview with Swedish television on the Holocaust. The 70-year-old bishop had denied the magnitude of the Holocaust, saying only 300,000 Jews perished, and that there were no gas chambers.

It is considered a hate crime in Germany to deny the Holocaust, in which about six million Jews and millions of others were killed.

Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of four society bishops this year, including Bishop Williamson, hoping to reconcile the group with the Catholic Church. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre – who founded the Swiss-based group in 1969 which opposes some provisions of Vatican II – had ordained Bishop Williamson and two others without papal consent. He, along with Bishop Williamson and the two others, were excommunicated in 1988.

When Pope Benedict lifted the excommunications this year, Bishop Williamson's comments about the Holocaust caused controversy especially among Jewish groups. Bishop Williamson later offered an apology for his remarks, which the Vatican rejected as insufficient.

The society's general secretary Fr. Christian Thouvenot issued a statement on Nov. 20 explaining that “just ten days before his trial,” Bishop Williamson chose “to dismiss the lawyer charged with his defense, in favor of a lawyer who is openly affiliated to the so-called neo-Nazi movement in Germany, and to other such groups.”

“Bishop Fellay has given Bishop Williamson a formal order to go back on this decision and to not allow himself to become an instrument of political theses that are completely foreign to his mission as a Catholic bishop serving the Society of Saint Pius X,” he added.

Disobedience to this order, Fr. Thouvenot said “would result in Bishop Williamson being expelled from the Society of Saint Pius X.”

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