Archive of July 8, 2011

Pope to field questions from young people during WYD

Madrid, Spain, Jul 8, 2011 (CNA) - Pope Benedict will answer questions from young people during the Aug. 20 prayer vigil, World Youth Day 2011 organizers announced on July 7.

One young person from each continent will ask the Holy Father a question about his own doubts and concerns. The Pope will respond to the questions during the Saturday night vigil that will gather thousands of young people at the Cuatro Vientos airfield outside Madrid.

During his visit to Croatia on June 5, Pope Benedict reminded young people that “the time of youth is given to you by the Lord to enable you to discover life’s meaning!”

“It is a time of vast horizons, of powerful emotions, but also a time of concern about demanding, long-term choices, a time of challenges in your studies and in the workplace, a time of wondering about the mystery of pain and suffering. What is more, this wonderful time of life is marked by a deep longing which, far from cancelling everything else, actually lifts it up and fulfils it,” he said.

“Dear young people: if you are rooted in Christ, you will fully become the person you are meant to be. As you know, this is the theme I chose for my Message for the coming World Youth Day, which will see us gathered this August in Madrid and towards which we are now making our way,” the Pope said.

The international gathering of youth will take place Aug. 16-21 in Madrid, Spain, with Pope Benedict scheduled to arrive on Thursday, Aug. 18. The Pope will enter the Gate of Alcala during the welcoming ceremony.

He is also scheduled to address young people after the Way of the Cross on Friday at Cibeles Square.

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After New York’s marriage vote, Archbishop Dolan warns of further redefinition

New York City, N.Y., Jul 8, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - After marriage was redefined to include same-sex couples in New York, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan is warning that this step could lead to a further redefinition that accepts multiple partners and infidelity.

The New York City archbishop said that in recent decades, the Church has been a prophetic voice  warning that no-fault divorce, contraception, cohabitation and promiscuity would lead to “a cheapening of the marriage bond and harm our kids.” 

“And now we ring the steeple bell again at this latest dilution of the authentic understanding of marriage, worried that the next step will be another redefinition to justify multiple partners and infidelity,” he said.

The archbishop surveyed the effects of the June 24 passage of New York's same-sex “marriage” law in a July 7 post on his official blog, “The Gospel in the Digital Age.”

In an apparent response to the argument advanced in the New York Times and elsewhere that the Church shrank from openly fighting the legislation in his state, Archbishop Dolan said he and his brother bishops “were on the frontiers” against the bill in their writings, sermons, personal lobbying, and interviews.

He said the bishops were also backed up “by indefatigable efforts” from the New York State Catholic Conference, ecumenical and inter-religious cooperation, and thousands of Catholic faithful. 

“We have been bloodied, and bruised, and, yes, for the moment, we have been defeated. But, we’re used to that. So was the Founder of our Church,” he wrote.

He said that while Catholics have no concern for political “clout” or how they're perceived in the media, “we do worry indeed” about our freedom of religion, would could potentially be threatened by same-sex “marriage” legislation. 

“Editorials already call for the removal of guarantees of religious liberty, with crusaders calling for people of faith to be coerced to acceptance of this redefinition,” he said.

Archbishop Dolan noted that ironically, “the real forces of 'intolerance' were unmasked” in the debate by those defending traditional marriage being consistently depicted as “right-wing bigots and bullies.” 

However, he added, “the problem is not homophobia but theophobia – a hatred by some of God, faith, religion, and the Church.”

Archbishop Dolan also said he's worried that the new law and similar legislation around the U.S. will stifle religious rights.

“If the experience of those few other states and countries where this is already law is any indication,” believers “will soon be harassed, threatened, and hauled into court for their conviction that marriage is between one man, one woman,” he said.

The New York archbishop underscored that from the outset, the goal of Catholics in the fight “was pro-marriage, never anti-gay.”

“As I replied recently to a reporter who asked if I had any message to the gay community, 'Yes: I love you. Each morning I pray with and for you and your true happiness and well-being. I am honored that so many of you are at home within our Catholic family, where, like the rest of us, we try, with the help of God’s grace and mercy, to conform our lives to Jesus and His message.'”

Archbishop Dolan insisted that ultimately, regardless of same-sex “marriage” legislation and subsequent intolerance for religious beliefs, the Church always has and will stand “up for marriage – one man and one woman, united in lifelong and faithful love.”

“None of this is anti-anybody, but simply pro marriage,” he wrote.

Archbishop Dolan’s full post can be read at:

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Portuguese cardinal clarifies statements on ordination of women

Lisbon, Portugal, Jul 8, 2011 (CNA) - Cardinal Jose Policarpo of Lisbon has issued a statement clarifying remarks he made on the ordination of women during an interview with the Portuguese Order of Lawyers.
In the statement published on July 6, Cardinal Policarpo said, “Reactions to this interview have forced me to look at this issue with greater care, and I realized that I provoked them, above all because I did not take into sufficient account the latest statements of the Magisterium on this issue.”

The cardinal said that review led him to clearly explain his position “as bishop and pastor of the People of God.”

Cardinal Policarpo’s statement comes after a source at the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference—who asked to remain unidentified because of the sensitivity of the situation—told CNA the cardinal does not in fact support the ordination of women, although “he was not accurate in speaking about the priesthood during a recent interview.”

The source clarified that the reports claiming that the Patriarch of Lisbon is a supporter of women’s ordination are based on “deliberately selective excerpts from an interview that in itself was unclear.”

Cardinal Policarpo, who was elected president of the Bishops’ Conference of Portugal in 2011, “tried to explain Catholic teaching on the priesthood to a secular media outlet unfamiliar with Catholicism,” the source added.

“The outcome of the interview was not great, but to conclude that he was supporting the ordination of women is an exaggeration and even a distortion of what he said.”

In his July 6 statement of clarification, the Portuguese cardinal quoted Blessed John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in which the pontiff stated: “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.”

“Not conferring the apostolic priesthood on women through priestly ordination is a tradition that is rooted in the New Testament, in Jesus Christ himself and in the way in which he laid the foundations of his Church,” the cardinal continued.

“The issue of the ordination of women to the apostolic priesthood has emerged recently, especially in Western countries, because of various factors,” such as “movements promoting women” or “an understanding of the ministerial priesthood as a right and a power.”

“The difference in ministries does not diminish the dignity of the mission” women have, and the impossibility of being ordained “does not mean a minimizing of women, but rather it is intended to complement the differences between males and females, which is fully realized in the relationship between Christ and Mary.”

Cardinal Policarpo concluded, “we are invited to adhere to the Magisterium of the Holy Father, in the humility of our faith, and we will continue to study in depth the relationship of the ministerial priesthood to the priestly nature of the entire People of God and to discover the feminine way of building the Church, in the decisive role of the mission of women.”

“During this year in which I celebrate the 50th year of my priestly ordination-- a great manifestation of God’s kindness towards me--I wanted to issue this clarification to the faithful of my diocese. It would sadden me if my words were to cause confusion in our adherence to the Church and the teaching of the Holy Father,” the cardinal said.

“I believe I have clearly shown you that communion with the Holy Father is an absolute part of the exercise of my ministry,” he said.

The full statement in Portuguese can be found at

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Catholics working for peaceful birth of South Sudan

, Jul 8, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Local and international Catholic organizations are working to ensure a peaceful transition to independence for South Sudan on July 9, after two decades of struggle that killed or displaced over six million people.

South Sudan's people will be “free to build a society the way they want to according to their own vision,” said Bishop John H. Ricard, a representative for the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, speaking to CNA from the southern capital Juba on July 8.

Thousands are expected to attend the independence day ceremonies, including northern Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir. On the morning of July 9, he will begin the celebration to the tune of the new Sudan National Anthem.

After the anthem, South Sudan's proclamation of independence will be read, and dignitaries from China, the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development will give speeches.

The independence celebrations will run through the evening of July 12. Dan Griffin, a Sudan adviser for the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services said the Sudanese people are feeling a cautious joy.

“I find the Sudanese very mindful that not everyone is free,” Griffin said in a July 8 interview with CNA. “It's like the apartheid fell, but only fell in pieces.”

“You talk to people and they know that the violence is ongoing,” Griffin said, addressing conflict in the Nuba Mountains region of Southern Kordofan. The area is wedged in between the North and the seceding South.

A May agreement placed 4,200 Ethiopian peacekeepers in the region, though the situation remains “tense and volatile,” the U.N. said on July 5.

The U.N. reports that 2,000 people have been killed and 300,000 displaced in 2011, due to the fighting. The north has been accused of ethnic cleansing in the Nuba Mountains, a situation that has been described as a “new Darfur.”

Griffin said the Church and Sudanese leaders are working with the U.N. to negotiate access to the violence-ridden areas, especially the Nuba mountains.

The violence has reinforced the importance of international involvement in South Sudan's move for independence.

“Our purpose is to do more than celebrate this milestone,” wrote United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in a July 7 New York Times editorial heralding South Sudanese independence. “It is to highlight the international obligation to stand by the people of South Sudan as they seek to build a stable, strong and ultimately prosperous nation.”

The secretary general warned that the “last thing a new nation needs is a celebration as it springs into existence, only to then be forgotten until the next crisis.”

The new nation faces tremendous challenges of its own, along with the difficulties of establishing peaceful diplomacy with the neighboring country it once fought against.

Lisa Grande, the leader of the United Nations' humanitarian efforts in South Sudan, described the new nation “one of the most underdeveloped on the planet” in an interview with the Associated Press.

South Sudan has a literacy rate of 17 percent and suffers from extremely poor physical infrastructure.

“Someone who could be my daughter has a higher chance of dying in childbirth than finishing school,” said Grande. “That says everything you need to know about Southern Sudan.”

Bishop Ricard said the Church recognizes the “enormous problems and challenges Sudan will face,” but also the new republic's potential “to forge a future that will be filled with hope.”

“Independence is not in the poverty, suffering and conflict here, but it gives us an opportunity to address their root causes,” Griffin said.

He stressed that the South Sudanese people are “putting the war behind them and focusing on their future.”

“They can look at more long-term programming and development without the fear of being constantly being moved back to square one because of displacement, violence and bombing,” he noted.

“There's a sense that we have our own wings and we can fly,” Bishop Ricard said. “We can develop and live up to the potential we have as a nation and a people.”

The bright potential of the new republic has been contagious, causing a massive influx in southern refugees returning from the North and bordering countries. Foreigners in the capital city say the streets are filled.

“This is the place for them to be,” Bishop Ricard said. “They can finally return home with some degree of assurance that they can stay home and find a job … prosperity, and a good life.”

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US bishops dedicate $2.1 million to Latin American pastoral work

Washington D.C., Jul 8, 2011 (CNA) -

The U.S. bishops’ subcommittee on the Church in Latin America has approved over $2.1 million in grants for 86 projects to help pastoral work in 20 countries.

“We continue to respond to the needs of the Church throughout Latin America,” said subcommittee chair Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles.

“We are working extensively with the Church in Haiti and in Chile as they continue to address the needs resulting from the earthquakes in 2010. In Haiti, we are helping build churches, schools, and convents that are designed and built to withstand future earthquakes.”

One special grant for the Catholic Church in Cuba will support evangelization efforts and the celebration of the 400th anniversary of its patron saint, Our Lady of Charity of Cobre.

Other projects include aid for the pastoral care of indigenous peoples in El Salvador and a social analysis project to aid pastoral work in Colombia. Funding will also go to GRAVIDA, an Argentinean network of pro-life and pro-family centers working in 21 dioceses.

Pastoral projects totaled over 45 percent of the funds approved, while 32 percent went to special projects, such as assistance for the Diocese of Ica in Peru which is rebuilding after a devastating 2007 earthquake.

Almost $500,000, over 23 percent of funds, will assist the formation of religious, seminarians and clergy. The grants will help educate more than 900 men and women preparing for lives of service in the Church.

The Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America is part of the U.S. bishops’ conference’s Committee on National Collections. It supports the conference’s grantmaking program and its international policy work on Latin America. The subcommittee meets three times a year to review and make grant decisions.

More information on the Collection for Latin America is available at

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Spokesman for Mexican archdiocese demands freedom of speech

Mexico City, Mexico, Jul 8, 2011 (CNA) - The spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico City recently stated that an electoral court is not respecting his freedom of speech.

The court demanded that Father Hugo Valdemar be punished for telling Catholics not to vote for the Democratic Revolution Party in 2010.

In August of last year, the political party sued Fr. Valdemar and Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iniguez of Guadalajara for criticizing the legalization of abortion and same-sex unions in Mexico City. The lawsuit was dismissed by the Federal Electoral Institute, but the Electoral Tribune of the Federal Judiciary Branch reinstated it and ordered it be tried.
The institute absolved Cardinal Sandoval of any wrongdoing but upheld charges that Fr. Valdemar violated the law. The priest appealed the ruling, but on July 1 court upheld the decision and said he should be penalized for not respecting “democratic values.”
Fr. Valdemar rejected the decision in a statement on July 3 published by the Archdiocese of Mexico City’s news service.  He called it sad that “the opinion of one citizen critical of a political party for its immoral and criminal actions that are destructive of the family and its values” be considered “an attack on the democratic life of our country.”
“I have never issued any statement against the (Democratic Revolution Party),” Fr. Valdemar stated.  Only once, last August, “did I grant a telephone interview to the daily El Universal in which I in fact stated that no Catholic in conscience could vote for the (political party), in the wake of the immoral and criminal laws it has passed in the Federal District.  But I said that only at that time, and that statement cannot be called proselytism,” the priest said.
“I would respectfully recommend that the justices read the definition of ‘proselytism,’ and they will see that it consists of a deliberate, repeated and intentional action for or against something, and therefore one sole mention in one sole interview cannot be interpreted as a violation of election laws,” he explained.
Fr. Valdemar also responded to comments by the leader of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), Jesus Zambrano, who called on the priest and the cardinal to accept the ruling and not take it “personally.” 

“I would ask Mr. Zambrano this: What am I? Am I not a human person? Was not the lawsuit and conviction filed against me? Of course this is a personal issue against someone who has publicly exposed them and it is also an institutional problem: the PRD’s hatred of the Catholic Church, which it wishes to frighten, silence and subjugate. This is the democratic spirit that inspires the national PRD and they have never been ashamed to show it,” he said.

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Vatican official: UN gay 'rights' agenda endangers Church's freedom

Geneva, Switzerland, Jul 8, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

The Vatican's representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva says a recent resolution on “sexual orientation and gender identity” is part of an agenda that could restrict the Church's freedom.

“The resolution marks a change. It is seen as the beginning of a movement within the international community and the United Nations  to insert gay rights in the global human rights agenda,” said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, head of the Holy See's Permanent Mission to the U.N. in Geneva, in a recent e-mail interview with CNA.

The archbishop noted that a U.S. State Department spokesperson had described the resolution as “a beginning of an international norm that will take hold gradually.” But “if norms are established,” Archbishop Tomasi wondered, “what provisions will be made for freedom of expression on the part of religious leaders?”

He spoke of a “genuine concern” that natural marriages and families “will be socially downgraded with the eventual legislation that puts homosexual “marriage” and the marriage between a man and a woman” on the same level. The Vatican representative also said marriage could be threatened by related measures that would mandate homosexual adoptions and introduce “compulsory sex education at school that clashes with Christian values.”

At a June 27 event co-hosted by the U.S. State Department and the Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies organization, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton credited a “major push by American diplomats” for the June 17 passage of what she described as “the first ever U.N. resolution recognizing the human rights of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) people worldwide.”

Clinton called the resolution a “huge step forward,” and stated that “so far as the United States is concerned and our foreign policy, and our values … gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”

The resolution, which expresses “grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination … against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity,” will not have an immediate effect on U.N. member states. Instead, it formally requests that the High Commissioner for Human Rights undertake an investigation into such acts, in preparation for further dialogue at the council during 2012.

Although the resolution will do little in the short term, the secretary of state described its passage – over the objections of numerous Arab and African counties, as well as  Russia and Moldova – as one of the department's “momentous achievements” on a matter of “high priority.”

In his remarks to CNA,  Archbishop Tomasi reiterated that the Church does not support violence against those who engage in homosexual behavior, or any attempt by the state to punish an individual simply because of “feelings and thoughts.”

“I think that violence against homosexual persons  is not acceptable and it should be rejected, even though this does not imply an endorsement of their behavior.”

“The terms 'sexual orientation and gender identity' are not defined in international law,” he noted. “To the extent that they are not external behavior, but feelings and thoughts, they cannot be subjected to punitive laws.”

But “for some people,” he pointed out, “these words are a code phrase for types of conduct.”

The archbishop expanded on a point he has previously tried to impress upon the Human Rights Council, as he observed that all societies regulate sexual behavior to some extent – by forbidding practices like incest, pedophilia, or rape – for the sake of the common good.

He contrasted the “clear message” of God's creation, which spells out the complementarity of the two sexes, with the U.N.'s contrived and vague terminology of “orientation” and “gender identity.”

“Instead of  'gender,'” Archbishop Tomasi said, “the concept we should use is 'sex,' a universal term in natural law referring to male and female.” 

“In fact, it seems that terms such as 'gender' or 'sexual orientation' are devised to escape reality and to accommodate a variety of feelings and impulses that then are transformed into rights.”

This use of “rights” language, to justify practices like same-sex “marriage,” may appear superficially harmless as long as the alleged rights seem to be confined to private life. But Archbishop Tomasi warned that these impulse-driven claims of “rights” are in conflict with authentic rights – such as the free exercise of religion, and the education of one's children.

He pointed to the “traditionally Catholic country” of Spain, as “an example of where the current trend may lead.”

In that country, “legislation has been passed in the last four or five years in favor of homosexual marriage, free abortion in the first 22 weeks of pregnancy, of compulsory education even for children aged 8 to 12 on such issues as masturbation, same-sex marriage, contraception and abortion.”

This arrangement prevails in Spain, “notwithstanding the fact that thousands of parents are opposing this policy that denies their fundamental right to decide on their children’s education.”

Archbishop Tomasi suggested that Catholics today have a responsibility “to clarify legal and moral aspects of the current culture” – by drawing a distinction between desires and rights, promoting the Catholic synthesis of faith and reason, and making it clear that a judgment against homosexuality is not a condemnation of homosexuals.

“There is confusion in some people’s mind,” he noted, “in combining a just respect and protection for every person – including homosexuals – and support for the indispensable role of the family, the parents right to educate their children, the support of the natural family for the common good.”

While the secular West may find this ethos increasingly incomprehensible, the Church will continues to promote it. “The teaching of the Church is not conditioned by political consensus,” the archbishop noted. “At times she is misunderstood and even becomes the target of reprisals and persecution.”

“Reason and natural law, however, support faith-inspired positions,” he stated, “and the convergence of faith and reason is exceptionally fruitful for the progress and well-being of the human family.”

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Southern California diocese considers buying Crystal Cathedral

Orange, Calif., Jul 8, 2011 (CNA) -

The Diocese of Orange says it is potentially interested in buying a 3,000-seat glass church in Southern California that faces bankruptcy. 

The diocese announced on July 7 that it's currently looking for a building to meet the needs of the1.2 million Catholics in Orange County, the 11th largest diocese in the nation.

Although it's been planning for over 10 years to build a new, 2,500-seat cathedral in Santa Ana, the diocese has only hired an architect for the project and is now considering converting the bankrupt church in Garden Grove into a Catholic cathedral.

“While we continue to develop plans for a cathedral in Santa Ana, it is prudent to evaluate the opportunity to engage in the pending auction of this property and to mitigate the chance that it cease to function as a place of worship, if acquired by others,” Bishop Tod D. Brown said on Tuesday.

The Crystal Cathedral –  an architectural landmark made with over 10,000 panes of glass and designed by the late Philip Johnson – would be an instant solution to the diocese's building needs and would cost roughly half the $100 million price tag for the planned cathedral.

“I have authorized our advisors to contact the appropriate parties in the proceedings to determine a possible course of action,” Bishop Brown said.

“If the Diocese of Orange can prevent the loss of this important Christian Ministry and what the Crystal Cathedral has represented to so many for so long – and meet its own priorities for a new cathedral, we have a duty to at least review the options.”

At the same time, Bishop Brown cautioned that no official plans have been made.

“This is solely an exploratory consideration, not binding upon any party involved in the proceedings,” he said. “There is no change of course concerning development of the existing Cathedral site or other parishes in the community.”

The Crystal Cathedral, founded by pastor Robert H. Schuller, filed for bankruptcy last October. The church decided to file for Chapter 11 after some of its creditors sued for payment, according to church officials.

Documents from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Ana show that hundreds of creditors could be owed between $50 million and $100 million, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The Diocese of Orange said that Bishop Brown has followed the news of the Crystal Cathedral bankruptcy proceedings with “concern” and is interested in the “landmark church remaining a functional part of the liturgical landscape for the region.”

Construction on the Crystal Cathedral began in 1977 and was completed in 1980 at a cost of $18 million.

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New Vatican prefect for religious emphasizes rebuilding trust

Vatican City, Jul 8, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The new Vatican prefect for consecrated life says his key job is “rebuilding a relationship of trust” with religious orders -- a situation he seems to blame on his predecessor.

“We have had to confront many difficulties. There was quite a lot of distrust on the part of the religious, due to some positions taken previously. Now, the focal point of the work is precisely that of rebuilding a relationship of trust,” said Archbishop Joao Braz de Aviz in the latest edition of the Italian Catholic magazine 30 Giorni.

The 64-year-old Brazilian took over the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in January after the retirement of Cardinal Franc Rode. During his time in office, the Slovenian cleric frequently referred to a “crisis” in religious life that he traced back to the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. 

Notably, in 2008, Cardinal Rode undertook an apostolic visitation of women religious in the United States. Archbishop Braz also seemed skeptical of the initial approach taken by that investigation. 

“There was mistrust and opposition. We’ve spoken with them, their representatives have also come here to Rome,” he said.

“We’ve started to listen again. It's not to say that problems don't exist. But, we have to confront them in another way. Without preemptive condemnations. Listening to reasons.” 

Archbishop Braz grew up in a poor family in the town of Mafra in southern Brazil. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Apucarana in 1974. He admits to having been influenced by “Liberation Theology” in those early days.

“We were idealists, we wanted give our life to something big. The option for the poor gave us great hope, especially for those of us coming from poor families.” 

That legacy leaves him with mixed emotions, given that many of the Catholic groups who promoted the idea – often described as a hybrid of Marxism and Christianity - now operate as secular non-governmental organizations.

“They said they wanted to change the Church, but their faith failed and what was left was sociology. This can only arouse sadness,” he told 30 Giorni.

“Yet I remain convinced that in this period something great happened for the whole Church. A realization that human sin creates structures of sin. Also, that the preference for the poor is God’s choice, as seen in the Gospel.”

Towards the end of his interview Archbishop Braz was equally candid about his skepticism over the Legion of Christ. The order’s future is currently being reviewed by the Vatican following the revelation that their late founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel,  had sexually abused seminarians over many years and fathered children with different women.

“As far as the Legionaries go, I was never convinced by the lack of trust in personal freedom that I saw in their structures,” said Archbishop Braz.

“It was an authoritarianism that sought to dominate everything with discipline. I took the seminarians of Brasilia out of their seminaries, because I saw that things couldn’t go on that way.”

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Pope sending delegation to mark South Sudan independence

Vatican City, Jul 8, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI is sending a papal delegation to the Republic of South Sudan to mark the east African country’s independence tomorrow, July 9. The delegation will be headed Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, Kenya.

“The Holy See …invites the international community to support Sudan and the new independent State,” Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., said in a statement issued July 8. 

The statement urged northern and southern Sudanese to engage in “frank, peaceful and constructive dialogue” to achieve “just and equitable solutions” to all the questions surrounding the historic secession of South Sudan. The Church also hoped that the process will result in “peace, freedom and development.”

South Sudan’s independence is the end result of a 2005 peace deal that concluded more than two decades of civil war between the Muslim Arab-dominated north and the mainly Christian and animist south. The split was ratified earlier this year in a referendum that saw over 98 percent of southern Sudanese vote for secession.

“With this celebration of independence we are saying goodbye to the past and embracing a new thing, without fighting, a new future of reconciliation, solidarity and forgiveness,” said Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako of Khartoum, North Sudan, in a July 8 interview with Vatican Radio.

Cardinal Wako explained how this evening will witness people across North and South Sudan gathering in towns and villages to build bonfires and hold prayer vigils and fasting. At dawn the bonfires will then be lit and the fast will be broken. 

“The bishops’ conference have planned a religious celebration – not necessarily on the same day. But in all diocese there will be celebrations with dance and song in thanksgiving to God and the acknowledgment of the good that those who have worked for peace have achieved in the country,” the cardinal said.

The Catholic Church played a key part in bringing peace to the war-torn region. This included attempts to broker dialogue at the highest levels as well as supporting ordinary people on the ground.

“It did a lot to convince people that no solution would be found by violence and conflict,” said Cardinal Wako.

Those efforts involved trying to get those doing the fighting to reflect upon their moral behavior while also making sure those most affected by war were protected, fed and educated. “We opened a lot of schools during the war, which at least occupied large part of the young people, rather than their taking up arms.”

But out of all the Church did, it was women who played the most crucial role, Cardinal Wako said. He explained, “we recruited women in order to talk and convince people in the villages of the need for peace.” 

“And we also encouraged literacy among women, we challenged them to do something constructive, the mothers and sisters to help their men develop and become the building blocks of the future society in Sudan.”

In the same way the Catholic Church helped to end the war, it is now being asked to play a central role in building a lasting peace.

“The Churches are the only institutions really that cut across these tribal and ethnic divisions, and also the social divisions,” said Rob Rees of the English Catholic-Aid agency CAFOD told Vatican Radio.

“If you take the Catholic Bishops Conference, for example, there are nine principle ethnic groups that are represented by the bishops.”

“The bishops all get along with each other, obviously. They can demonstrate that unity between the different ethnic groups is possible.”

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