In closed-door meeting, cardinals examine sensitive issues

A day of reflection and prayer for about two-thirds of the world's cardinals began with strong words from the Pope Benedict XVI against the true "dictatorship" of relativism. It finished with an address from the Vatican official in charge of leading the fight against sexual abuse in the Church.

Some 150 of the world's present and future cardinals met at the Vatican Nov. 19, for a day of closed-door discussion about the future of the Church.

Many of them have descended on Rome for the Nov. 20 consistory, a ceremony in which the Pope welcomes the group's 24 newest members.

Pope Benedict used the rare opportunity to address the themes of religious freedom and the importance of the liturgy in Christian life, according to the Vatican press office.

He spoke to the cardinals of the need in the world for the freedom to follow Jesus' command to announce the Gospel.

The relationship between truth and freedom, he said, is essential but faces the great challenge of relativism — the belief that there are no absolute truths, only different opinions. While relativism might appear to be an expression of freedom, the Pope explained, it actually risks destroying it and becoming an authentic "dictatorship."

He urged cardinals remain committed to upholding the freedom to spread the Gospel truth. In addition, he urged them to remind people of the cultural achievement in such an atmosphere.

Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone warned his fellow cardinals that a process of secularization in western countries threatens to remove spiritual values from everyday life.

Cardinal Bertone also spoke of the obstacles to religious freedom in predominantly Muslim countries.

The freedom to practice Christianity in Middle Eastern nations was one of the major issues raised during two weeks of meetings in the Vatican in October. During the Synod for the Middle East, stories of restrictions and persecution were heard from bishops active in places like Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

The issue was further discussed at today's gathering of cardinals at a late-morning debate in which inter-religious dialogue, particularly with Muslims, emerged as a dominant theme.

Sensitive issues were the order of the day. In the afternoon session, one presentation was given by Cardinal-designate Angelo Amato and two by the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada.

Cardinal Levada spoke of the Church's response to the sexual abuse of minors and about the entry of ex-Anglicans into full communion with the Catholic Church through jurisdictions called ordinariates.

On sex abuse, he talked about the pending legal proceedings and spoke of the broad responsibility of bishops to protect the faithful entrusted to them. The Church must collaborate with civil authorities in investigations, and seminaries and religious orders must be more attentive to the selection and formation of candidates, he said.

Cardinal Levada pointed to the Pope’s example in leading the fight against pedophilia and underscored the imporance of an effective to commitment to the protection of minors.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will be circulating a letter to bishops providing better guidelines for establishing a coordinated program to deal with abuse, he said.

In the open debate that followed the presentations, cardinals again picked up the theme of sexual abuse. They suggested that bishops' conferences be encouraged to develop quick, effective, articulate and complete plans to protect minors. Those plans should also take the multiple aspects of the issue into account, they said.

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The cardinals spoke of the necessary protocol for intervention, for the re-establishment of justice, for victim assistance, for prevention and formation in all countries.

According to the Vatican, the Cardinals' College also expressed its solidarity with those suffering in Iraq and Haiti and proposed a new fund-drive to assist these communities in difficulty.

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