Vatican City, May 18, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI continued his series of reflections on Christian prayer today as he spoke about the relationship between intercessory prayer and God’s mercy throughout history.
In his third installment on prayer, Pope Benedict looked at Abraham’s example of praying for mercy.
“We now turn to sacred Scripture and its witness to the dialogue between God and man in history, a dialogue culminating in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. We can begin with the prayer with which Abraham, the father of all believers, implores God not to destroy the sinful city of Sodom.”
At Sodom, Abraham asked God not to take vengeance upon the notoriously sinful city.
“Abraham’s prayer of intercession appeals to God’s justice, begging him not to destroy the innocent with the guilty. But it also appeals to God’s mercy, which is capable of transforming evil into good through forgiveness and reconciliation.”
This aspect of prayer, said the Pope, reflects God’s unfailing mercy for his creation.
“God does not desire the death of the sinner but his conversion and liberation from sin,” he explained.
“In reply to Abraham’s prayer, God is willing to spare Sodom if 10 righteous men can be found there. Later, through the prophet Jeremiah, he promises to pardon Jerusalem if one just man can be found,” the pontiff recalled.
He concluded by saying that God’s mercy was most spectacularly manifested over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem.
“In the end, God himself becomes that just Man, in the mystery of the Incarnation. Christ’s prayer of intercession on the cross brings salvation to the world. Through him, let us pray with unfailing trust in God’s merciful love for all mankind, conscious that our prayers will be heard and answered.”
This is the third week Pope Benedict has used his Wednesday audience to teach pilgrims about Christian prayer. His previous theme – the lives of the saints – took two years to complete.
Kansas City, Mo., May 18, 2011 (CNA) -
A dispute between two Catholic authors on immigration is revealing deep divides within the U.S. Church. An advocate of the U.S. bishops' position says that anti-immigrant attitudes will weaken and divide both the Church and the pro-life movement.
“The strongest pro-life witness is love,” said Jack Smith, editor of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph's Catholic Key newspaper. “Those who show their love to women in crisis pregnancies when no one else does are the people who change hearts and save lives. It certainly doesn't augment that witness of love to have the same people turn ugly on immigrants,” he told CNA on May 16.
Smith has taken a public stand for the bishops' position on immigration, against Crisis Magazine contributor John Zmirak. A writer in residence at Thomas More College, Zmirak opposes illegal immigrant workers being given the “path to citizenship” that the U.S. bishops support.
In a May 12 essay for Crisis Magazine, entitled “Amnesty Equals Abortion,” Zmirak complained that these workers, if granted citizenship, would vote for Democratic Party candidates and torpedo the pro-life movement. Elsewhere, Zmirak has dismissed Bl. John Paul II's comparison of illegal immigrants and unborn children as “absurd,” a “non sequitur,” and “not Pope John Paul's finest hour.”
Zmirak advocated what he considered a merciful compromise, which would give illegal immigrants “the right to reside here permanently and to work, but never to vote.” But he stated that “those who favor amnesty,” including full citizenship and voting rights, “are not, in cold fact, pro-life,” because of their willingness to grant citizenship to immigrants who would likely vote for Democrats.
Smith, editor for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph's newspaper, fired back against Zmirak's proposal in a May 13 blog post, taking particular issue with the Crisis contributor's statement that the U.S. bishops were “not, in cold fact, pro-life” because of their advocacy of a “path to citizenship” that could result in more registered Democrats.
“Mother Teresa would not meet Zmirak’s pro-life test,” Smith stated. Nor, he noted, would Cardinal Raymond Burke – who has advocated the denial of Holy Communion to political supporters of abortion, but has also supported immigration reform as a way to “obey the command of Our Lord” to “welcome the stranger” and thus “welcome Christ Himself.”
Smith responded to several of Zmirak's other assertions in a May 16 interview with CNA. He outlined his reasons for supporting the bishops' judgment on immigration, and for seeing pro-life legislation and immigration reform as complimentary – not competing – goals.
“The admonition to welcome immigrants and to welcome the unborn is not simply a one-off casual statement of a single Holy Father,” Smith noted. “The Church's teaching on both issues has been repeated by numerous popes and bishops around the world, and neither teaching seeks optional adherence. It is not even unusual to couple them.”
Smith quoted Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who said in 2009 that “the Catholic commitment to the dignity of the immigrant comes from exactly the same roots as our commitment to the dignity of the unborn child." Archbishop Chaput also said that the pro-life movement must work to “make laws and social policies that will care for those people already born that no one will defend.”
He also rejected Zmirak's claim that the United States owes immigrants nothing other than the “mere justice” of “immediate deportation,” noting that Zmirak's own pro-life position should cause him to rethink the simplistic equation of written laws with strict justice.
“Some laws, like our abortion laws, are themselves unjust and should be changed,” Smith said. He pointed out that the Catholic Church “has never taught that justice consists in slavish adherence to each and every positive law.” Moral theologians have often explained the kinds of exceptions that could allow for a starving person to commit theft, or a person in an emergency to violate traffic laws.
“Many of our immigration laws and regulations also result in unjust and inhuman applications,” he continued, “such as the case where a child brought to the United States illegally by her parents at a very young age faces the prospect many years later of deportation to a country they do not know.”
Smith also rejected Zmirak's description, offered in a February 2011 article in Chronicles Magazine, of bishops who advocate a path to citizenship as idealists who ignore political reality.
According to Smith, Zmirak and other Catholics who adopt anti-immigrant postures are the ones demonstrating political naivete – by advocating policies that will fail politically, while alienating Hispanics from the Catholic Church, the pro-life movement, and social conservatism as a whole.
“If you want to cast your political future on the hope we're going to deport millions of Hispanics and then expect that the millions more legal Hispanic citizens left are going to be happy with you, you've already given up,” Smith said. “You have no political future.”
Instead of embracing whatever means will produce the best electoral and demographic goals, Smith said the Church in the U.S. “needs to be the entity that welcomes their fellow Catholics into their communities.”
“Reaching out to, creating community for, and catechizing immigrant populations should be job one for local churches,” Smith said, advocating a vision that places baptismal identity above immigration status.
If this does not occur, he warned, droves of Catholics may abandon the Catholic Church for the non-denominational evangelical groups that are growing in Mexico and among U.S. Hispanics.
“Many immigrant groups are not well catechized,” Smith pointed out. “They will get their catechism where they're welcomed – and if the storefront sect does a better job that the local parish, we will be held accountable for the lost sheep.”
Vatican City, May 18, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Blessed Pope John Paul II was born on May 18, 1920. Today, one of his closest colleagues revealed the true story behind the mosaic of Our Lady the late Pope had installed in St. Peter’s Square.
“After the assassination attempt on May 13, 1981, Vatican officials were evaluating the possibility of placing a plaque, or some visible sign, in St. Peter’s Square in the area where the Pope had been shot, in remembrance of a painful page in the history of the Church but also as testimony of divine protection,” Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re wrote in the May 18 edition of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
Cardinal Re was a senior figure in the Congregation for Bishops and the Vatican Secretariat of State during the pontificate of Pope John Paul.
“John Paul II, convinced that the Virgin Mary had protected him on that day, immediately expressed the desire that an image of the Madonna be placed in the square.” Cardinal Re added that Pope John Paul had also become aware that there was something “missing” from the St. Peter’s Square up until that time – an image of Our Lady.
So in the summer of 1981, then-Bishop Re was asked to join a small group charged with devising solutions. Their deliberations didn’t take long.
“Two hours later, we were standing in St. Peter’s Square and Monsignor Fallani (who was in charge of conservation in the Vatican) pointed to a window of the Apostolic Palace where the mosaic is now placed and said, ‘For me, a solution which works well for the setting of this square is a mosaic placed in the travertine frame of that window up there.’ He then asked what was behind that particular window.”
Cardinal Re said he explained that it was the room “where two sisters did some typing for the Secretariat of State, but that it was a large room and had another side window.”
So the group had decided upon a location and the use of a mosaic, but which image of Our Lady to use?
“Once again, the Pope offered his opinion that he would like a representation of Mary as Mother of the Church, because, he explained, ‘the Mother of God has always been united with the Church and has been particularly close during difficult moments in its history.’ He added that he was personally convinced that the Virgin Mary was in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, to save the life of the Pope,” Cardinal Re wrote.
The exact image was taken from an ancient painting of the Madonna and child that had a long history. It was housed in the old St. Peter’s Basilica, built in the 4th century by the Emperor Constantine, and then later in the present St. Peter’s, built in the 16th century under the guidance of Michelangelo. Finally, in 1964, the image was restored and renamed “Mater Ecclesiae” to mark the Second Vatican Council’s proclamation of Mary as “Mother of the Church,” Cardinal Re explained.
“On December 8th, 1981, John Paul II, before the recitation of the Angelus, blessed the Marian image, a sign of heavenly protection on the Pontiff, on the Church and on all who come to St. Peter’s Square.”
Denver, Colo., May 18, 2011 (CNA) - The National Lawyers Association, a group dedicated to providing support to pro-life attorneys across the U.S., will hold their annual conference in Denver this summer.
“We are pleased to be offering expert presentations on topics ranging from the historical origins of our 18th century federal Constitution to 21st century medical and legal issues involving human embryos,” said organization president John Farnan.
The conference, held from June 24-25 at the Holland and Hart law firm in downtown Denver, is open to association members and non-members, and will feature prominent speakers on a wide range of topics related to today's field.
The presentations “will touch on pressing issues in our Republic, while allowing lawyers to learn how to be more persuasive in the courtroom,” Farnan said.
Christopher Ferrara, president of American Catholic Lawyers Association, will give the keynote speech on legal positivism and the future of the pro-life movement.
Professor Patrick T. Gillen, a teacher of constitutional law and American legal history at Ave Maria School of Law, will discuss the origins of the Federal Constitution.
Trial attorney from Illinois Rita L. Gitchell will present theories on the the legal status of human embryos, and Kevin R. Boully, Ph.D. – a litigation and jury consultant – will address how jurors and judges make their decisions. He will also touch on how attorneys can be better advocates and more persuasive in the courtroom.
Deacon John Volk, MD, a family practice physician in Colorado, will present the medical aspects and procedures involving human embryos.
Attendees can register online at www.nla.org.
Madrid, Spain, May 18, 2011 (CNA/Europa Press) - The bishops of Spain have launched an appeal encouraging taxpayers to check the box on their income returns to designate a portion of their taxes for the charitable works of the Church.
The Bishops’ Conference of Spain noted in a video message online that checking the box will not cost taxpayers anything nor does it mean they will receive a smaller refund.
The video also lists a number of charitable works that benefit from the financial arrangement that has been in place between the government of Spain and the Church since 2006, including care of the sick and elderly, outreach to the poor and for education.
Fernando Gimenez Barriocanal, the bishops’ vice secretary for economic affairs, said the appeal also aims to “make known what the Church really is and to set many things straight.”
While there has been an increase in the number of taxpayers who have opted to make the contribution, Gimenez said the Church still faces a difficult financial situation because “everybody is simply doing without.”
However, he remains “optimistic” amid the economic crisis because people “understand where it is worthwhile to put their money.”
Washington D.C., May 18, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - A $2 million study commissioned by the U.S. bishops is not likely to put to rest questions about the causes of the sexual abuse crisis in the priesthood.
Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a top psychiatrist and authority on treating sexually abusive priests, told CNA that he is “very critical” of the findings because they avoid discussing important causal factors in clerical sex abuse cases, namely homosexuality.
The study began to receive criticism on May 17, the day before it was released, in both the secular press and from Catholic experts who have studied the issues involved closely.
The study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York cites the sexual permissiveness of the 1960s and poor seminary training as the root causes of the crisis. The report is the third commissioned by the U.S. bishops since the break of the scandal in 2002 and was intended to address the patterns and pathologies behind the abuse.
Despite the report showing that nearly 80 percent of victims were post-pubescent and adolescent males, the study concludes that clinical data “do not support the hypothesis that priests with a homosexual identity ... are significantly more likely to sexually abuse.”
Fitzgibbons disputed that conclusion, saying that “analysis of the research demonstrates clearly that the major cause of the crisis was the homosexual abuse of males.”
This, he underscored in a May 18 phone interview, “was the heart of the crisis.”
Statistics from the recent John Jay report show that less than 5 percent of abuse took place with prepubescent children, making pedophilia a fraction of the core issue and sexual activity with adolescent males the primary occurrence.
“One can conclude that these priests have strong same-sex attraction,” he said. “When an adult is involved with homosexual behavior with an adolescent male, he clearly has a major problem in the area of homosexuality.”
“Priests and seminarians with deep seated homosexuality have a serious responsibility to seek appropriate help to protect adolescents,” he emphasized.
Fitzsgibbons praised the John Jay Criminal College for their work in previous studies, which he said gave “accurate” statistics on sex abuse. However, he was critical of the college being chosen for the third study analyzing underlying factors, saying that criminologists “lack the professional expertise to comment on causes of sexual abuse.”
“The earlier conclusions were very accurate, but the present analysis – the attempt to identify causes and context – I would completely disagree with.”
“If the (U.S. bishops) conference wanted an analysis of the causes of complex sexual behavior with adolescents,” he said, “don't turn to criminologists.”
“They are not trained to understand those causes – that training is given to mental health professionals.”
“They can report on the statistical analysis of the behavior but in terms of causes, they've crossed a line, in my view.”
The John Jay researchers also clarified in their study that priestly celibacy was not a factor in clerical sex abuse and said that the offenders chose to victimize boys because clergy had greater access to them.
Bill Donohue, president of The Catholic League for Religious Liberty, reacted to the notion of accessibility to boys over girls, saying the “there are so few incidents of abuse these days – an average of 8.3 per year since 2005 – that it makes no sense to compare the percentage of male victims at the peak of the scandal to what has happened since altar girls were allowed.”
“The latest study on abuse notes that 83 percent of the allegations made in 2010 were by males, and the bulk of incidents took place in the early 1970s,” he said.
“Besides, priests had nothing but access to male altar servers before the 1960s, and the report notes that sexual abuse was not a problem then.”
“That’s because there were fewer gay priests then,” Donohue argued.
The report “says that 81 percent of the victims were male and 78 percent were post-pubescent,” he reiterated. “Since 100 percent of the abusers were male, that's called homosexuality, not pedophilia or heterosexuality.”
“A homosexual is defined by his actions, not his identity,” he said.
Despite the disagreement incited over the particulars of the report, the numbers ultimately show a drastic decline in sex abuse occurrences within the Church over time.
The “peak of the crisis has passed,” the report noted. Because the Church “responded,” abuse cases decreased and sexual abuse of minors “continues to remain low.”
Researchers said data show that abuse incidents were “highest between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s.”
“Ninety-four percent of the abuse incidents reported to the Catholic Church from 1950 through 2009 took place before 1990,” the study said, adding that currently, “fewer new reports are brought forward” each year.
Montevideo, Uruguay, May 18, 2011 (CNA) - The head of the Vatican's commission for Latin America called on the region's bishops to work for the sanctification of Catholics in their area.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet exhorted the bishops to follow the example of Christ, “in every concrete place where we have been called to exercise our ministry.”
The cardinal spoke during the inaugural Mass of the 33rd General Assembly of the Latin American Bishops' Council on May 16.
“By saying yes to God’s call, we have placed our freedom at the service of the abundance of divine grace, without which, as our Lord says in the Gospel of St. John, we could do nothing,” the cardinal continued.
He went on to say that it is an illusion to think one can understand the reality of Latin America and the Caribbean without viewing it through the lens of the truth contained in the Gospel.
“We must always go to the Good Shepherd to find the clues that lead us to the truth about ourselves and about the history of man and his destiny,” the cardinal said.
He concluded his remarks recalling Blessed John Paul II, “who was a disciple for us and an exemplary missionary of the Good Pastor.”
“Words are not enough, as we have been witnesses of his firm conviction for the truth of the Gospel and of his continuous pilgrimages throughout the entire world, bringing that truth and making it comprehensible to people regardless of age or condition, with an extraordinary ability to communicate,” Cardinal Ouellet said.
The 33rd General Assembly will end May 20.
Vatican City, May 18, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI has urged Catholics around the world to join him next week in praying for the Church in China.
“All Catholics throughout the world have a duty to pray for the Church in China: those members of the Faithful have a right to our prayers, they need our prayers,” the Pope said May 18.
Speaking at the end of his weekly audience, the Pope reminded pilgrims that May 24 is a global day of prayer for the Church in China. The date marks the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, who is venerated at the Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai. The Pope established the custom of praying for China on this day back in 2007.
“By our prayers we can obtain for the Church in China that it remain one, holy and Catholic, faithful and steadfast in doctrine and in ecclesial discipline.”
China has an estimated 8 to 12 million Catholics. They are divided, though, between the state-sanctioned church that sometimes names bishops without the Vatican’s approval and an underground church wary of government ties.
“Chinese Catholics, as they have said many times, want unity with the universal Church, with the Supreme Pastor, with the Successor of Peter,” said the Pope. He added that prayer from others around the world was key to making that happen.
“We can help them to find the path to keep their faith alive, to keep their hope strong, to keep their love for all people ardent, and to maintain in its integrity the ecclesiology that we have received from the Lord and the Apostles.”
Pope Benedict finished his remarks by asking Mary “to enlighten those who are in doubt, to call back the straying, to console the afflicted, and to strengthen those who are ensnared by the allure of opportunism.”