Piura, Peru, Dec 21, 2010 (CNA) - Archbishop Jose Antonio Eguren of Piura, Peru reminded the faithful that the true meaning of Christmas is found in Christ, not in presents.
The archbishop noted during Mass on Dec. 19 that gifts are merely an expression of the joy over the coming of the Savior. He encouraged Catholics to open their hearts and homes to “the Child to be born.”
“That is the true meaning of Christmas,” he said.
He also urged the faithful to follow “the example of Mary and Joseph, who were always attentive to the Lord’s will and ready to follow it. And what God wants of us is that we embrace the Baby Jesus, our Reconciler, and believe in Him.”
Archbishop Eguren recalled that Scripture refers to St. Joseph as “a just man because he always embraces the will of God, and adjusts his life to what God asks of him, not to what he wants.”
Likewise, St. Joseph lived the virtue of obedience, “and for this reason he will always be seen as caring for the Baby Jesus and as the chaste and faithful husband of Blessed Mother.”
“We all face many problems each day,” the archbishop continued. “But we must not let our daily problems overcome us during these days of celebration. May the joy of Christmas reign in our hearts, because we know well in whom we have put our trust: in Jesus,” he said.
“True happiness consists in doing God’s will. And in this time of Advent, God asks us that we believe in the one he sent, his Son Jesus,” he concluded.
Brussels, Belgium, Dec 21, 2010 (CNA) - Cardinal Godfried Daneels has said that the Catholic Church in Belgium must “look its dark side in the eyes” and renounce a mentality which thinks more about itself and not about victims of sexual abuse.
Cardinal Daneels, the retired Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, on Dec. 21 addressed a parliamentary panel investigating priests’ sexual abuse of children. He said the Church should move away from an arrogant age of “class mentality,” the Associated Press reports.
It was once impossible for an abused child to tell his or her parents that a priest was the culprit, the cardinal said.
“There was a compulsion of conscience among parents to protect the priest,” he continued. "The time has gone that children would be given an additional smack by parents when they said something wrong about someone with authority -- because a priest, or a teacher, was always right."
The treatment of sexuality in church circles can lead to “hypocrisy,” he continued. This can only be countered by openness and transparency.
The cardinal declared an end to the time when abusive priests were “untouchable” and could “enforce silence.”
Earlier this year, a Belgian bishop was forced to resign after years of abusing his nephew. Over 500 witnesses have come forward to charge Catholic clergy with molestation in incidents ranging over a period of decades.
Vatican City, Dec 21, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) -
More than a month later, Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks about condom use and AIDS, made in his latest book, continue to provoke commentary and controversy.
The Vatican’s doctrine office says the Pope’s words were widely “manipulated for ends and interests which are entirely foreign to the meaning of his words” — resulting in “confusion” about the Church’s true teaching on sexual morality.
But in fact the Pope did not change anything in Catholic moral teaching or pastoral practice, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in a note issued Dec. 21.
The 1,100-word clarification note, “On the Trivialization of Sexuality, ” addressed remarks the Pope made in his new book-length interview with German journalist Peter Seewald, “Light of the World” (Ignatius Press, $22).
In the book, the Pope was asked to revisit remarks he made during his 2009 trip to Africa. He repeated that condoms are not a “real or moral solution” to the AIDS pandemic on the continent. However, he suggested that condom use, although never moral or justifiable, might be sign of moral awakening in some people.
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.”
Pope Benedict’s words were widely reported as breaking with the Church’s long-standing prohibitions against the use of artificial means of birth control.
Such interpretations were “erroneous,” according to the new Vatican statement: “The intention of the Holy Father is clear: to rediscover the beauty of the divine gift of human sexuality and, in this way, to avoid the cheapening of sexuality which is common today.”
The Vatican said that “anyone who reads” the Pope’s words in context could see that the Pope was not talking about the use of condoms by married couples, as some commentators argued.
“As is clear from an attentive reading of the pages in question, the Holy Father was talking neither about conjugal morality nor about the moral norm concerning contraception,” it said.
“The idea that anyone could deduce from the words of Benedict XVI that it is somehow legitimate, in certain situations, to use condoms to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is completely arbitrary and is in no way justified either by his words or in his thought,” it added.
The Pope’s words instead referred to “the completely different case of prostitution, a type of behavior which Christian morality has always considered gravely immoral,” according to the new statement.
The statement acknowledged the role of prostitution in spreading AIDS and said those who have AIDS and still engage in sexual activity “are consciously putting the lives of others at risk through behavior which has repercussions on public health.”
What the Pope said was only that “anyone who uses a condom in order to diminish the risk posed to another person is intending to reduce the evil connected with his or her immoral activity,” according to the statement.
The Vatican also countered claims made widely in the media that the Pope was teaching that condom use would be the “lesser of two evils.”
“An action which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed,” according to the statement.
“The Church teaches that prostitution is immoral and should be shunned. However, those involved in prostitution who are HIV positive and who seek to diminish the risk of contagion by the use of a condom may be taking the first step in respecting the life of another — even if the evil of prostitution remains in all its gravity. This understanding is in full conformity with the moral theological tradition of the Church.”
The Vatican concluded that the Church’s role in the fight against AIDS continues to be one of caring for those infected with the disease and encouraging all men and women to “live abstinence before and fidelity within marriage.”
Quoting from the “Light of the World,” the Vatican added: “It is also important to condemn any behavior which cheapens sexuality because, as the Pope says, such behavior is the reason why so many people no longer see in sexuality an expression of their love: ‘This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.’”
Washington D.C., Dec 21, 2010 (CNA) -
As violence against Catholics by the Vietnamese government continues, Rep. Chris Smith appealed to President Obama for a resolution designating Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC).
Beatings, Church raids, arrests – and even deaths – are some of the violent incidents inflicted on Catholics by authorities in Vietnam over increased conflict on property rights. Throughout the last several decades, in provinces throughout the country, tensions have mounted between the Communist government and local parishioners as officials have repeatedly attempted to claim land where Catholic churches and facilities are situated.
One of the latest violent outbreaks involved a funeral procession earlier this year, where government agents clashed with 500 Catholics and at the parish cemetery of Con Dau. Police arrested 59 people as part of the incident.
On May 4, Catholics had conducted a funeral procession for an 82-year-old woman and tried to bury her in the cemetery, which had been seized by the local government to build a tourist resort.
Police broke up the procession, “beating over 100 mourners, arresting dozens and deliberately beating two pregnant women so as to kill their unborn babies,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said in a Dec. 15 congressional hearing.
Rep. Smith said a pall bearer at the funeral by the name of Nam Nguyen was later kicked and bludgeoned to death by police in July while his wife knelt in front of the them, begging them to stop.
“The reign of terror on this 85 year-old Catholic community continues to this day,” he said, “and shows no sign of abating.”
Vietnam journalist Joseph An Dang provided CNA with a report on how police recently raided the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ho Chi Minh city, belonging to the Redemptorist order.
On Dec. 8, local officials interrupted scheduled liturgical celebrations and ongoing Christmas preparations. Fr. Vincent Pham Trung Thanh, the provincial superior, was taken in for questioning where the Redemptorists were accused of preaching anti-government sentiment, instigating disorder, inciting riots and violating social media codes.
The government has allegedly threatened more raids in days to come.
Rep. Smith said in his remarks to Congress that although Vietnam was listed as a CPC in 2004 and 2005 – with demonstrable progress for Catholics in the area – the country has since been removed. He claimed that the Vietnam government promising concrete actions as well as a major trade agreement with the U.S. led to Vietnam being taken off of the CPC list.
After this, he said, many “religious believers who expected a thaw and reform and openness were arrested or rearrested and sent to prison.”
He added that the CPC – and the penalties described by the International Religious Freedom Act – has in the past and “can be again a useful tool in performing reform in Vietnam.”
“Congress, the president, and all those who espouse fundamental human rights ought to be outraged at Vietnams's turn for the worse,” he added. “We should stand with the oppressed, not the oppressor.”
“President Obama should re-designate Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern for its egregious violations of religious freedom.”
Rome, Italy, Dec 21, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - A leaked State Department cable shows that the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See is reading Catholic statements on the environment through the lens of population control policy.
The cable, released Dec. 19, is one of hundreds of thousands of unauthenticated U.S. State Department documents being released through the WikiLeaks website.
The Nov. 11, 2009 cable, titled “Pope Turns up the Heat on Environmental Protection,” was apparently signed by U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Miguel H. Diaz.
It explained that Pope Benedict XVI's proposal to curb environmental degradation is to reject “excessive materialism and consumerism.”
“In the Vatican's view,” the cable's author wrote, “unsustainable lifestyles in developed countries--and not population growth worldwide--is to blame for global warming. Vatican officials claim that the planet has the capacity to feed and sustain its expanding population, provided resources are properly distributed and waste controlled.”
The cable noted Vatican officials' past claims that the world's most populous countries were not the ones that released the most greenhouse gas.
“As China and India industrialize and release more greenhouse gases, however, the Vatican may find it more difficult to blame climate change on lifestyles only. Even as this happens, however, the Vatican will continue to oppose aggressive population control measures to fight hunger or global warming.”
The U.S. government has long advocated population control internationally. While recent justifications of population control policy focus on environmental impact, in the 1970s the U.S. National Security Council's National Security Study Memorandum 200 backed population control for different reasons.
That memorandum advocated population control to prevent developing nations from becoming politically powerful, to protect U.S. access to other countries' natural resources, and to limit the number of young people who are more likely to challenge existing social and political norms and cause instability.
The rest of the Nov. 11, 2009 cable focused on the Vatican's view of genetically modified organisms.
While the Vatican's message about caring for the environment is “loud and clear,” its message on biotechnologies is “still low-profile” and only “quietly supportive,” the Vatican embassy cable commented.
It recounted Pope Benedict XVI's Nov. 16, 2009 remarks at the World Food Security Summit in Rome. There, the pontiff called for changes in lifestyle and habits of consumption, linking development to the use of “agricultural technologies.”
The cable author interpreted the last phrase to include biotechnologies, calling the remarks a “small but significant step” towards more vocal Vatican support for the technologies.
On Nov. 11, 2009 the Vatican embassy's political officer had spoken with Msgr. James Reinert, described as the “point person” on biotechnology and food security for the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace.
Msgr. Reinert said that genetically modified crops have a role in increasing agricultural production. However, he reportedly added the Vatican cannot force all bishops to endorse biotechnology, especially if they oppose it due to concerns about corporate profiteering.
The cable noted that some Catholic bishops have been skeptical about the benefits of new biotechnologies. It also claimed that the Vatican's own scientific academy has stated that there is no evidence genetically modified organisms are harmful. Instead, they could play a role in addressing food problems.
This appears to be a reference to a May 2009 study week organized by the Pontifical Academy for the Sciences. However, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi recently emphasized that only seven of the 40 scholars participating in the study week were pontifical academicians. He said the scholars' statement must not be considered a statement of the pontifical academy because “the academy, as such, has never been consulted about it.”
The Vatican Embassy's 2009 cable said it would “continue to lobby the Vatican” to speak in favor of genetically modified organisms in the hope that this would encourage individual church leaders elsewhere to “reconsider their critical views.”
In a Dec. 3 e-mail response to CNA, the U.S. Vatican Embassy condemned the disclosure of the cables and said it cannot speak to the authenticity of any of the documents provided to the press.
Fr. Lombardi has stressed that the cables reflect the perceptions and opinions of their authors and cannot be considered as expressions of the Holy See.
Baltimore, Md., Dec 21, 2010 (CNA) - Catholic sisters in Baltimore auctioning off a rare baseball card to support their mission work, hit a snag recently as the winning bidder failed to come through with the promised $220,000.
The bleak situation brightened, however, when an avid card collector – a Catholic doctor from Philadelphia – wired the funds after the original bidder missed the 30-day deadline to purchase the card.
The mission work of the School Sisters of Notre Dame will receive a big financial boost from the sale of one of the most prized baseball cards in the world. One of the sisters received the highly valued collector's item featuring Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner in her deceased brother’s will.
Sr. Virginia Muller told the Associated Press in October that the slightly damaged card of Wagner, one of only 60 that exist, was bequeathed to one of the sisters in a safety deposit box with a typewritten note explaining its value.
When Heritage Auction Galleries put the card up for auction last month, it eventually garnered $220,000. However, the original bidder failed to provide the money within the 30-day span following his winning bid.
Yet on Dec. 20 – much to the delight of the sisters – Dr. Nicholas DePace, a Catholic cardiologist from Philadelphia, wired the the money and now owns the card. An avid collector for 30 years, he immediately agreed to purchase the card after a staff member at the auction house told him it was available again.
"I'm ecstatic about it. ... I will argue that this Wagner card is the most significant Wagner card because it's the American story about how people just get a baseball card and they hide it in the safe," DePace told the Associated Press. "There's a treasure there, and the treasure comes out, and now the treasure's going to be shared with tens of thousands of people."
"God bless him," Sr. Muller said on Dec. 20. "If we hadn't received the money today, then I would have been concerned.”
Wagner, known as the “Flying Dutchman,” was one of the five original inductees into baseball's Hall of Fame and compiled a .328 batting average during his career. A card in mint condition from the same early 1900s batch went for $2.8 million in 2007 – the highest price ever paid for a baseball card.
Anchorage, Alaska, Dec 21, 2010 (CNA) - When the soft glow of the parol, or Filipino star lantern, begins to light the dark Alaskan night, 13-year-old Robin Jones begins to feel anticipation and excitement for Christmas. Jones’ Filipino family hangs the star outside their home each year in honor of Simbang Gabi, a special novena celebrated in the Philippines.
“My dad hangs it outside with the rest of our Christmas decorations,” Jones said. “(The parol) is similar to the lanterns that they use at church for Simbang Gabi, and I always get excited when we hang it up!”
Jones’ family, along with hundreds of other Alaskans, celebrates the special Filipino novena of Simbang Gabi each year to help prepare for Christmas.
“It’s a tradition that is hundreds of years old,” Jones explained. “We’ve been celebrating it every year for as long as I remember, and I look forward to it every year.”
Novena rich in tradition
The tradition of Simbang Gabi dates to the 1600s.
According to the Archdiocese of Manila, Simbang Gabi traces its origins to Mexico, to a monastic monk by the name of Fray Diego de Soria. He is said to have received Vatican permission to hold an outdoor Mass at dawn for Christmas, to accommodate all the people. It evolved into the novena tradition of holding an early morning Mass on each of the nine days before Christmas.
According to local Filipino priest Father Ben Torreto, on loan to the Archdiocese of Anchorage from the Diocese of Cotabato City in the Philippines, these Masses were called the “Misa de Gallo,” Spanish for “Mass at the rooster call.” Having Mass at such an early time in the morning helped people embrace the penitential spirit of Advent, he explained.
“Going to Mass at dawn is a sacrifice,” Father Torreto said. “Since you have to wake up at early dawn, which is not a normal time for waking up for many, it becomes a sacrifice.”
Spain brought the tradition of novenas to the Filipinos, who embraced the practice and have been celebrating it ever since.
“It is a part of our religious tradition,” Father Torreto explained. “It has been handed down from generation to generation.”
Before the novena, the faithful typically offer up particular intentions that they will pray for during the novena, Father Torreto explained. The prayers and sacrifices also help focus on the true meaning and spirit of Christmas, he added.
“Simbang Gabi is an Advent preparation to make ourselves worthy of the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ,” he said. “Thus, whatever sacrifices and prayers we do must bring us closer to the birth of Christ.
Passing on tradition
Because dawn comes so late in the day in Alaska, Filipinos and other Catholics in the Archdiocese celebrate Simbang Gabi in the evening, at various churches around Anchorage.
“At each church during the Masses we have the parols, or electric star lamps which resemble the star that the three wise men followed,” Jones explained.
After each Mass, participants gather to share traditional food from the Philippines.
“A lot of young people go to Simbang Gabi,” Jones said. She added that she likes the fact that youth participate in the novena, because it is also a way to preserve Filipino culture.
“A lot of young people from the Philippines are Americanized,” she said. “So this is important because it allows young people to go back to traditions.”
Father Torreto agreed with Jones, but was quick to add that all Alaskans, not just Filipinos, are invited to participate in Simbang Gabi.
“We are hoping that this Filipino religious tradition will promote an appreciation among Alaskans that even though we are not in the Philippines … we keep our religious traditions,” he said and, “We are all in this Advent season, joyfully awaiting the birth of our Savior.”
To that end, Father Torreto encourages all Catholics to participate in the novena. He pointed out that the Mass is celebrated in English.
Jones also encouraged participation in the nine days of Masses and festivities.
“I think this tradition will grow. I think it will become bigger and bigger,” she said. “I definitely want to celebrate it and continue to pass it along.”
This year, the tradition will start on Dec. 15, with Mass at Holy Family Cathedral at 6 p.m. Throughout the nine days, Masses will rotate throughout the parishes in the Anchorage bowl, concluding with a special Mass at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on Dec. 23.
Father Jaime Mencias will hold a special novena for those who live in the Mat-Su Valley.
Printed with permission from Catholicanchor.org.
Phoenix, Ariz., Dec 21, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Citing numerous and ongoing violations of Catholic teaching, including an instance of abortion, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix has declared that St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center can no longer call itself a Catholic institution.
The bishop announced his decision in a press conference at diocesan headquarters Dec. 21. It follows months of negotiations with officials for St. Joseph’s and its parent company, Catholic Healthcare West.
These talks, aimed in part at getting the hospital to admit its ethical wrongdoing in performing the abortion, reached an impasse last month. The bishop had given officials a Dec. 17 deadline to reach an understanding. When that date passed, he extended the deadline to Dec. 21.
“They have not addressed in an adequate manner the scandal caused by the abortion,” Bishop Olmstead said in making his announcement.
“Unfortunately,” he said, the talks “have only eroded my confidence about their commitment” to the Church’s Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. These directives are a set of standards drawn up by the U.S. bishops to guide treatment in Catholic institutions.
St. Joseph’s continues to maintain that it did nothing wrong in performing an abortion on a woman in November 2009. The woman was 11 weeks pregnant and doctors contended that she had a heart and lung condition that could threaten her life if she carried the child to term. Some of the hospital's medical advisers, including Mercy Sister Margaret McBride, who served on the hospital's ethics board, approved the abortion.
Catholic teaching forbids direct and intentional abortion as the deliberate taking of innocent human life. It holds that abortion is never medically necessary or morally permissible. While a woman may undergo a necessary treatment that could have the unintended effect of killing an unborn child, abortion is never permitted as a form of medical treatment.
Bishop Olmsted declared in May that Sister McBride had incurred an automatic excommunication for her role in recommending the abortion.
At that time, he also entered into negotiations with St. Joseph’s seeking to convince the hospital to admit its wrongdoing and to commit to complying with the Church’s ethical guidelines in the future.
In a letter he wrote this past November that was leaked to the press on Dec. 15, Bishop Olmstead voiced frustration with the hospital’s continued justification of the abortion and its refusal to cooperate with him.
“In effect, you would have me believe that we will merely have to agree to disagree,” he told Catholic Health Care West president Lloyd Dean. “But this resolution is unacceptable, because it disregards my authority and responsibility to interpret the moral law and to teach the Catholic faith as a successor of the Apostles.”
The bishop had been insisting that St. Joseph’s admit to its ethics violation, commit to avoiding abortion under all circumstances, and retrain staff members through an institution of his choosing.
Ultimately, the negotiations failed and Bishop Olmstead said he had concluded that St. Joseph “is not committed to following the teaching of the Catholic Church [and] therefore, this hospital cannot be considered Catholic.”
He said that in the process of the negotiations he had discovered a pattern of serious ethical violations at both St. Joseph’s and in the wider Catholic Healthcare West system in Arizona.
He said the abuses had been going on “throughout my seven years as bishop of Phoenix and far longer.”
He faulted the institutions’ participation in the so-called “Mercy Health Plan,” through which it receives federal and state monies to provide health care services to the poor — including abortion, birth control, and sterilization.
Although St. Joseph's does not provide these services itself, by setting up and managing the conditions under which other hospitals provide these services, St. Joseph’s was “formally cooperating” in these unethical procedures, the bishop charged.
The bishop said that representatives of St. Joseph's and Catholic Healthcare West had acknowledged they understood that their administration and participation in the Mercy Health Plan made them morally responsible for its actions.
In his press conference, Bishop Olmsted also questioned the hospital’s motivations and priorities, noting that revenues from its participation in the Mercy Health Plan will reach nearly $2 billion this year.
For the past 26 years that the plan has been in existence, he said, St. Joseph’s hospital has made more than $100 million per year.
In a statement, St. Joseph’s president Linda Hunt said the hospital was “deeply disappointed” by the bishop’s actions. She again justified the abortion and said the hospital “will continue through our words and deeds to carry out the healing ministry of Jesus."
With its Catholic identity stripped, St. Joseph will be forced to remove the Eucharist from its chapels, and is prohibited from celebrating Mass at the hospital.
“For seven years now, I have tried to work with St. Joseph's,” the bishop said, “and I have hoped and prayed that this day would never come, that this decree would not be needed. However, the faithful of the diocese have a right to know whether institutions of this importance are indeed Catholic in identity and practice.”
The diocese has launched a new informational website at www.arizonacatholic.org, "to provide information and resources" on St. Joseph's ethics violations and Bishop Olmsted's decision to declare the hospital "no longer Catholic."
CNA STAFF, Dec 21, 2010 (CNA) - Archbishop Roberto Luckert of Coro, Venezuela said President Hugo Chavez's new law will turn the country into a “constitutional democratic dictatorship.”
On Dec. 17, Venezuela's National Assembly approved President Chavez's request to rule by decree for 18 months. The additional power, the president argued, would help him address the damaging floods within the country.
The law comes just weeks before the new National Assembly, elected earlier this year, takes office.
During the elections on Sept. 26, Chavez’s ruling party only won 95 of the 165 seats in the Assembly, which is not enough to maintain a majority. Although three Assembly members from other parties are expected to vote with the ruling party, with just 98 votes, Chavez would still fall short of a two-thirds majority needed to get his measures passed.
The new law gives Chavez the power to enact laws on land use, the military and police forces, transportation and public services. He will also have greater control over the treasury and the tax code, urban and rural development, international relations and the emergency response to the flooding.
Archbishop Luckert told CNA on Dec. 20 that the measure is “an abuse and a violation of the Constitution,” as Chavez already has “many ways in which he can do what he wants” to address the crisis caused by flooding.
The new law has turned the National Assembly into “a congress of political eunuchs who will not be able to do what they are supposed to do,” he stated.
The tasks of lawmakers are “to pass laws, to legislate - not to sit on their hands and act like useless fools or mute dogs in a congress in which they won’t be able to do anything,” the archbishop continued.
“Personally I think they want to turn this new Legislative Assembly - which the ruling party will not have the majority - into a pack of dogs with no bark. They won’t be able to speak up when they should and they won’t be able to pass laws that will truly benefit the country.
“Why do we want lawmakers who will have their hands tied?” he asked.
Archbishop Luckert said the new law has turned the country into “a constitutional democratic dictatorship” that is being set up under the cover of law. Venezuela is following the lead of Cuba, he warned.
“All of these laws or norms are part of the Cuban package and the Cuban advisors are trying to impose them on Venezuela,” he said. “We are going down the same path as the Castro autocracy that has afflicted that poor country for 59 years,” the archbishop warned.