Cleveland, Ohio, Apr 18, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Following a ruling from the Vatican, Bishop Richard G. Lennon of Cleveland has announced he will reopen 12 parishes closed in 2009 and 2010, a move he says will stretch the diocese’s resources.
“I now say, it’s time for peace and unity in the Diocese of Cleveland. More than ever, this is a time for all Catholics to come together with God’s help and strive to strengthen our diocesan church’s serving the pastoral and spiritual needs of all the faithful,” Bishop Lennon said at an April 17 news conference at Cleveland’s Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
The bishop said he will not appeal the rulings from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy that reversed his decisions to close the parishes.
“Doing so would prolong the process a number of years and would create more uncertainty and continue to divide our Catholic family,” he said. “We will work with the priests and parishioners as they re-establish their parishes.”
Major decisions on staffing and other matters have not yet been made.
“Our present situation is a very complex matter with no easy or perfect solution,” the bishop said.
He said he has worked with a number of advisors and diocesan councils to understand the Vatican ruling and to decide on future actions.
The decision to close the parishes came as part of a comprehensive reconfiguration plan announced in March 2009. The plan intended to address population shifts, financial hardship for many parishes, and fewer priests.
Closings and mergers resulted in 50 fewer parishes in the diocese. Some parishioners exercised their rights under canon law and appealed the bishop’s decision to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy.
“With fewer active priests available to serve the entire eight-county Diocese, we will be forced to spread our clerical resources thinner,” he said.
The reopened parishes must continually demonstrate that they have the active membership and the financial resources to sustain themselves, the bishop said.
The diocesan reconfiguration process dates back to 2001 when then-Bishop Anthony M. Pilla introduced the Vibrant Parish Life Initiative to address future challenges in the diocese. In May 2007, Bishop Lennon directed 69 parish clusters to consider how to share resources and propose how to reduce the number of parishes. The decision to close the parishes came after an “extensive” review process involving parish representatives and others, the diocese said.
In July 2011, Bishop Lennon announced that he had asked the Vatican to investigate his decision to close the parishes because “a number of persons have written to Rome expressing their concerns about my leadership of the diocese.”
In response, the Vatican sent emeritus Bishop John M. Smith of Trenton, N.J. to investigate and report.
In his April 17 statement, Bishop Lennon stressed the need for peace.
“During these Easter days, I often think of Jesus’ first words as he appeared to the Apostles after rising from the dead: ‘Peace be with you’,” he said.
There are 710,000 Catholics in the 174 parishes of the Diocese of Cleveland.
Front Royal, Va., Apr 18, 2012 (CNA) - The late labor activist César Chávez offers Catholics a model for faithful and effective civic engagement, according to a professor of history at Christendom College.
In his April 16 essay for Crisis Magazine, “The Passion of César Chávez,” Dr. Christopher Shannon claims that the United Farm Workers leader was “the last Catholic in America” to achieve a “cultural/political synthesis” that brought the Church's social teaching into the public square.
The union organizer, Shannon says, contributed to the development of “an authentic Catholic politics,” because of his ability “to speak a common language with non-Catholics” while trying to “lead them … to a fuller understanding of a distinctly Catholic position open to people of good will.”
While Chávez's birthday on March 31 is a civic holiday in some states, he is also controversial in some quarters of the labor movement.
This discomfort over Chávez's legacy, Shannon notes, is partly due to the Catholic activist's decision to bring his faith to bear in disputes over issues like wages and working conditions.
“As a Catholic school boy in the 1970s, I was taught to see Chávez as a kind of Catholic Martin Luther King, a great national figure that we could call our own,” he recalls.
But according to the Christendom College professor, even “self-styled 'progressive' Catholics” have largely “forgotten” Chávez – preferring “issues of race, gender and sexuality” to his struggle on behalf of farm workers, which drew heavily from Catholic social teaching.
“The secular Left, in turn,” he writes, “has long had trouble with Chávez precisely because he was an orthodox Catholic and refused to allow his movement to be co-opted by Marxist ideology or the neo-pagan identity politics of the Chicano movement.”
In the Crisis essay, Shannon details the ways in which Chávez used Catholic ideas and practices – such as pilgrimages, fasts, and Marian devotion – to focus the nation's attention on concerns that were not “sectarian,” but universal.
Shannon notes that “while speaking for a largely Mexican Catholic constituency,” the union leader “was also trying to speak to a broader American public.”
His message, meanwhile, was that of Pope Leo XIII – who called on Catholics, and non-Catholics, to “protect the workers from the greed of speculators who use human beings as instruments to provide themselves with money.”
Shannon suggests that Catholics who feel “politically adrift” can look to Chávez's achievements for guidance on making the Church's social concerns known to the world.
His essay can be read in full at http://www.crisismagazine.com/2012/the-passion-of-cesar-chavez.
Washington D.C., Apr 18, 2012 (CNA) - On May 3, Americans of all religious backgrounds will “gather together to pray and seek God” during the annual U.S. National Day of Prayer.
The need for prayer is clear when we “look at what’s going on around us,” said Dion Elmore, director of public relations for the National Day of Prayer Task Force.
“We have troops overseas right now in harm’s way. Our economy has been struggling for the last several years.”
Elmore told CNA on April 17 that there is a great need to call on God “and ask Him to be our provider,” especially “as our nation navigates through these trying times.”
Held each year on the first Thursday of May, the National Day of Prayer invites people of all faiths to offer prayers for America.
Elmore explained that the task force works to support, publicize and reinforce this call to prayer. While the National Day of Prayer is not a specifically Christian event, the task force focuses on calling Christians to “support our nation” by participating in the annual prayer day.
On May 3, hundreds of groups will be holding prayer events in cities throughout the country. The National Day of Prayer Task Force will hold an event at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C., with speakers including noted author and pastor Dr. David Jeremiah.
The practice of calling for God’s guidance and assistance is a “long-established tradition in our country,” said Elmore.
He explained that the First Continental Congress called for a day of prayer in 1775 as it worked to form a new nation. Presidents including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln also called for days of prayer.
In 1952, a National Day of Prayer was established by a joint resolution of Congress, and in 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a law permanently establishing the National Day of Prayer as the first Thursday of May each year.
Elmore said he finds it particularly interesting to see why the nation’s leaders called for days of prayer.
In their writings, speeches and statements, the founding fathers and early presidents reveal their conviction that God had blessed America and the people need to ask for his continued aid, he explained.
This belief continues to today, and so each year the president signs a proclamation encouraging Americans to pray, he said. In addition, the governors of all 50 states plus several U.S. territories all signed similar proclamations last year.
President Barack Obama has issued proclamations for the National Day of Prayer in previous years, and is expected to do so again for the prayer event this year, which has the theme “One nation under God.”
Elmore noted that the Scriptures contain numerous references to nations gathering in prayer. He said that May 3rd presents Americans with an opportunity to re-examine themselves as a nation, asking, “Are we still one nation under God?”
The answer is a resounding “yes,” he continued, pointing to recent polls showing that most Americans believe in a God and spend time in prayer. “God’s not going anywhere,” he said.
Vatican City, Apr 18, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The example of the early Church should inspire 21st century Christians to pray during tough times in the trust and knowledge that Jesus is “the hope which does not disappoint,” Pope Benedict XVI said.
“May we learn to see that God is present in our lives, even at moments of difficulty, and that everything, even things incomprehensible, is part of a plan of love in which the final victory over evil, sin and death is truly is that of goodness, grace, life and God,” he said April 18.
Pope Benedict was addressing over 25,000 pilgrim gathered in the sunshine of St. Peter’s Square during the traditional Wednesday General Audience. Continuing his catechesis on Christian prayer, the Pope dwelt upon an episode in the history of the early Church often referred to as “little Pentecost” which took place between Easter and Pentecost itself.
Chronicled in the Acts of the Apostles, the incident occurred after the release of Peter and John following their arrest for preaching the Gospel.
“In the face of danger,” noted the Pope, the community along with Mary “does not seek to analyze how to react or defend themselves, or on what measures to adopt.” Instead “in that moment of trial they all raised their voices together to God” in prayer.
In response God sent he Holy Spirit upon them such that “the place where they were gathered together was shaken” and all of them now “spoke the word of God with boldness.”
“This was the unanimous and united prayer of the whole community, which was facing persecution because of Jesus,” said the Pope. “In suffering persecution for Jesus’ sake,” he continued, “the community not only did not give way to fear and division, but was profoundly united in prayer.”
Pope Benedict noted how this unity which is “consolidated rather than undermined, because it is supported by unshakeable prayer,” has been a consistent feature of the Church since earliest times.
Therefore the Church “must not fear the persecutions she is forced to suffer in her history, but must trust always, as Jesus did in Gethsemane, in the presence, help and strength of God, invoked in prayer.”
The early Church did not pray “to be defended, to be spared from trials or to enjoy success, but only to be able to proclaim the Word of God frankly, freely and courageously.”
It also prayed to “read events in the light of faith,” and subsequently found “the key to understanding persecution” in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.
“We too,” concluded the Pope, “must bring the events of our daily lives into our prayer, in order to seek their most profound significance.”
Prior to today’s Audience, Pope Benedict toured St. Peter’s Square in his popemobile where he was met with enthusiastic cheers of “ad multos annos” to mark his 85th birthday earlier this week and his 7th anniversary as pontiff tomorrow.
“I would like to express my gratitude for the good wishes you have been sending me for the seventh anniversary of my election,” he said in remarks to pilgrims after the General Audience.
“I ask you to support me always with your prayers so that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I may continue my service to Christ and the Church.”
Rome, Italy, Apr 18, 2012 (CNA) - A new book launched by L'Osservatore Romano features opinion pieces from the 150 year-old Vatican daily reflecting on life, culture and the world from a Catholic perspective.
The book, titled “A Catholic Look. 100 Editorials from L’Osservatore Romano,” features writings published in the last four years under the leadership of editor-in-chief Giovanni Maria Vian, who assumed the post in 2007.
In an interview with CNA, Vian said the collection “is especially important because it presents a Catholic outlook intended to go beyond cultural or geographical boundaries, a universal outlook that the Holy See has, and also a Catholic outlook in the sense of the faith.”
Vian said the book does not “hide its point of view, but it is capable of hosting the perspectives of other Christians, other believers and the laity.”
The Catholic Church’s opinion is essential in today’s world, he added, because “it is the only international institution capable of developing a culture different from the dominant culture, and it is something that is more than a culture, it is a proclamation, a presence in support of the human being.”
He also noted that the role of the Vatican daily in recent times is a “role consistent with its history. It strives to present a friendly face of care to the world in the name of the Holy See.”
Vian reflected that his work as director of the paper has been “a great honor and above all a great responsibility.”
“I try not to think about it too much because the responsibility is enormous. I try to assume it each day with great assistance from my superiors and colleagues, because this is a team effort,” he explained.
During a recent presentation of the book, Cardinal Angelo Schola of Milan quoted Pope Paul VI, who said “the contribution L’Osservatore Romano is making now more than ever to today’s pluralistic society.”
Cardinal Schola said the paper inspires readers to reflect on important issues and helps Catholics around the world to “live an authentic ecclesial experience.”
He said that the newspaper is defined by its “international and ecumenical dimension, by inter-religious dialogue, by the great issues of bioethics” as well as “science and the economy.”
Cardinal Schola also called the Vatican daily a “resource for curious collaborators around the world, for exponents of other confessions and religions, and for the laity,” noting how it also highlights a “special concern for women.”
Madrid, Spain, Apr 18, 2012 (CNA) - An international group of Catholic doctors voiced support for a Spanish bishop who has come under media fire for criticizing destructive behaviors within the local gay community.
“Catholic doctors profoundly respect persons with homosexual traits,” but “do not support the practice of homosexuality,” said the International Federation of Catholic Doctors Associations in an April 17 statement siding with the bishop.
Bishop Juan Antonio Reig Pla of Alcala de Henares has faced intense criticism after remarks given in a Good Friday sermon in which he condemned sexual practices he believes to be harmful.
As part of a larger cultural critique of sexual behavior in modern society, he lamented how some with same-sex attraction “corrupt and prostitute themselves or go to gay night clubs” in order to “validate” their struggle.
“I assure you what they encounter is pure hell,” he said on April 6.
Despite outcry from local politicians and some within Spain's gay community over the bishop's homily, the Catholic federation supported his remarks as a valid insight. They pointed out the broader issues Bishop Reig Pla brought up such as the scourge of sex trafficking in Europe and controversial sex-ed programs aimed at young children.
“Catholic doctors profoundly lament the failure of modern states and of public international institution to combat 'sexual tourism,' involving adults or children,” the association said in its statement.
They also joined the bishop in denouncing “the contents of some textbooks,” especially those used in Spain's recently axed Education for the Citizenry course, which encouraged children “to 'explore' all areas of sexuality.”
“We are right in every way to consider these lessons perverse,” the doctors said, “And Bishop Reig is right in every way to condemn these and other abuses of the human being.”
Washington D.C., Apr 18, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Vatican called for reform amid a doctrinal “crisis” within the U.S.'s Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), appointing Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to lead renewal efforts.
The appointment was made as the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith revealed the findings of its multi-year doctrinal assessment of the women's conference, which has more than 1,500 members throughout the country.
The assessment document explained, “it is clear that greater emphasis needs to be placed both on the relationship of the LCWR with the Conference of Bishops, and on the need to provide a sound doctrinal foundation in the faith of the Church.”
Initiated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2008, the assessment was carried out by Bishop Leonard P. Blair of Toledo, Ohio, a member of the U.S. bishops’ doctrine committee.
Among the key findings of the assessment were serious theological and doctrinal errors in presentations at the conference's annual assemblies in recent years.
Several of the addresses depicted a vision of religious life that is incompatible with the faith of the Church, the assessment said. Some attempted to justify dissent from Church doctrine and showed “scant regard for the role of the Magisterium.”
The document cited one address about religious sisters “moving beyond the Church” and even beyond Jesus. Such positions – which constitute “a rejection of faith” and “serious source of scandal” – often go unchallenged by the LCWR, it said.
It also noted a lack of sufficient doctrinal formation in material prepared for new superiors and formators, which may be reinforcing confusion on Church doctrine.
Furthermore, it voiced concerns about “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” that were prevalent in some programs and presentations sponsored by the conference, and risked distorting Church teaching on the divinity of Christ, the Holy Trinity, the Eucharist and the inspiration of Sacred Scripture.
The assessment observed that letters from LCWR officers have suggested dissent from Church teaching on human sexuality and protested the Holy See’s actions on women’s ordination and ministry to homosexual persons.
It also said that while the women's religious group has been a strong advocate of social justice issues, it has remained silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a prominent topic in the U.S. public debate surrounding abortion and euthanasia.
To address these “serious doctrinal problems,” Archbishop Sartain has been mandated for up to five years to work with LCWR leadership in renewal efforts.
The archbishop will report regularly to the Holy See and will be aided by Bishop Blair and Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, along with an advisory group including clergy, religious women and other experts.
Archbishop Sartain will work with the conference to revise its statues, which will be submitted for approval by the Holy See, and to review its links to affiliated organizations.
Future speakers and presentations at major programs and assemblies will be subject to the approval of the archbishop, who will also work to create new formation programs to provide a deeper understanding of Church teaching.
In addition, Archbishop Sartain will “review and offer guidance” in the application of liturgical norms and texts,” ensuring, for example, that the Eucharist and Liturgy of the Hours are given proper priority in LCWR events.
Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that the findings of the doctrinal assessment are aimed at “fostering a patient and collaborative renewal of this conference of major superiors.”
He expressed hope that the new measures will help “provide a stronger doctrinal foundation” for LCWR’s “many laudable initiatives and activities.”
Vatican City, Apr 18, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Bishop Patrick J. McGrath of San Jose, Calif. said that St. Peter’s example of following Jesus even to death should inspire present day bishops to do the same.
“The question we need to ask, it seems to me, is this – Domini quo Vadis? Lord, where do you go? And Jesus answers, and he always does, that even in spite of ourselves we need to follow where he is leading,” said Bishop McGrath at morning Mass at St. Peter’s tomb in Rome.
He was joined by his fellow bishops from California, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah who are in Rome this week, April 16 – 21, for their “ad limina” pilgrimage to the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul.
He recalled the traditional story of St. Peter fleeing the persecution of the early Church in Rome only to meet a vision of Christ travelling in the opposite direction.
“He asked Jesus, ‘Domini, quo Vadis?’ or ‘Lord, where do you go?’ Jesus answered 'I go to be crucified again,'” explained Bishop McGrath. “After the vision Peter understood the message and he stayed here in this city and continued Christ’s ministry.”
Bishop McGrath said that St. Peter found his courage to follow Christ because he was “truly overcome by the joy of the resurrection.” This was the “the joy that fueled him on his journey to follow Christ” and “it must also fuel you and I today,” he told the bishops.
This is why St. Peter who was “a simple fisherman” was empowered to live “a life of faith and, yes, doubt” and “in the end followed Christ’s call even to his death.”
This week’s “ad limina” visit also gives bishops an opportunity to discuss the health of their diocese with various Vatican departments.
Following Mass this morning the episcopal delegation held a series of meetings the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization. This evening they will attend a reception at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.