Saturday, December 27, 2008

President congratulates Pope, Catholics on Christmas

President congratulates Pope, Catholics on Christmas

TEHRAN (IRNA) -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a message congratulated Pope Benedict XVI, leader of Catholics throughout the world and followers of Jesus Christ on Christmas.

The full text of the message is as follows: “In the Name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful I congratulate Your Excellency and followers of the the prophet on birth anniversary of Jesus Christ, messenger of kindness, peace and friendship, as well as the new Gregorian year.”

“Today humanity is tired of war, bloodshed, tension, discrimination and deception. Current challenges and incidents have distanced humanity from its originality and trapped it in a deceptive mirage, which cannot be solved except by returning to God and further attention to divine messengers’ teachings.

“I hope that human being will be blessed with God’s graces and a world full of beauties will be established.

“Such significant issues will not be possible except through unity among the monotheists and paving the ways for reappearance of Imam Mahdi (May God hasten his reappearance).

“I wish blessings, happiness and health for the Pope and world Christians.”

Friday, December 26, 2008

Pre-Orders Open for Pope's 3rd Encyclical

Pre-Orders Open for Pope's 3rd Encyclical

NEW YORK, DEC. 24, 2008 ( Benedict XVI's third encyclical -- rumored to have the title "Caritas in Veritate" -- is already on pre-sale at various online book stores, including Amazon and Ignatius Press.

Though vendors are previewing an April '09 publication date, when Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, spoke of the encyclical this month, he was no more specific than "the beginning of next year."

The encyclical is expected to treat issues of social doctrine. And the Holy Father's message for the World Day of Peace on Jan. 1 was said to preview some of the main points the Pope will develop in the encyclical.

In July, Benedict XVI's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said the encyclical "comes and goes from the Pope's desk, because he doesn't want to repeat common concepts of the Church's social doctrine, but wants to offer something original, according to the challenges of today."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Pope calls for sense on genders

Gay rights groups and activists yesterday condemned passages in Pope Benedict XVI's end-of-year address in which the pontiff spoke about gender and the important distinction between men and women.

Speaking to the Curia, the Vatican's central administration, the pope said that the church viewed the distinction as central to human nature, and "asks that this order, set down by creation, be respected". The church, he said, "should protect man from the destruction of himself". He said a sort of ecology of man was needed, adding: "The tropical forests do deserve our protection; but man, as a creature, does not deserve any less." He attacked what he described as "gender" theories which "lead towards the self-emancipation of man from creation and the creator".

Father Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, claimed the pope had not wished specifically to attack homosexuality, and had not mentioned gays or lesbians in his text. Nevertheless, the speech provoked anger from campaigners, who interpreted the remarks as a papal call to save mankind from homosexuals and transsexuals.

"What keeps the pope awake at night is the idea that human beings might be able to seek out their own sexual identity to have a happy life," said Franco Grillini, of the Italian association Gaynet. "The speech has no scientific basis," said Aurelio Mancuso, head of Arcigay. "A divine programme for men and women is out of line with nature, where the roles are not so clear."
Riazat Butt on reaction to the pope's speech Link to this audio

Although Catholic doctrine is that homosexuality is not a sin, the church does condemn homosexual acts and the former Joseph Ratzinger stated in 1986 before he became pope that homosexuality "is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder".

Father Lombardi insisted, however, that there had been an overreaction to the pope's remarks. "He was speaking more generally about gender theories which overlook the fundamental difference in creation between men and women and focus instead on cultural conditioning."

Italian newspapers widely interpreted the speech as a specific attack on sex change operations. "I would like an audience with the pope and other transgenders in order to get to know each other," said Vladimir Luxuria, a transsexual former member of the Italian parliament. "We do not want to be transgressive or provoke, we only want to pursue our own nature."

Benedict's main target appeared to be same-sex marriages. He claimed that lifelong wedlock between a man and a woman was like "the sacrament of creation".

Mike Egan, chair of the UK-based Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said the pope's position on homosexuality was a mistake. "There are much greater threats to marriage and family life. There are bishops and clergy who think the official line on homosexuality is not true and the more official pronouncements, the deeper the hole the church is digging. I would say to gay Catholics, the man is right on lots of other things and hang on in there."

Catholic bishops in England and Wales are encouraging a more pastoral approach. Last month they issued a leaflet - entitled What is life like if you or someone in your family is gay or lesbian in their sexual orientation? ... and what can your parish family do to make a difference? - urging clergy and parishioners to welcome gay men and lesbians. "As a group that has suffered more than its share of oppression, the homosexual community has a particular claim on the concern of the church," it said. The leaflet cited comments received during a survey suggesting the church acknowledged it may have played a role in victimising and marginalising gay Catholics. These included: "The continual message from the church is that homosexuality is so, so dreadful. Our gay son just hasn't stood a chance."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Somali fighters destroying shrines

Somali fighters destroying shrines

Somali fighters used hammers to destroy the graves of clerics and other prominent people in Kismayo
Al-Shabab, an armed group fighting transitional government and Ethiopian forces in Somalia, is desecrating religious shrines in the south of the country, Al Jazeera has learned.

The ancient graves of clerics and other prominent people are among holy sites being targeted by the armed group in the port city of Kismayo.

Al-Shabab took control of Somalia's third-largest city about four months ago and quickly announced it would not tolerate anything it deemed un-Islamic.

Al Jazeera correspondent Mohammed Adow said Kismayo's Roman Catholic church was torn down just days after they seized power through bloody fighting.

"The 60-year-old church had not been used for nearly 20 years and not a single Christian lives in the city - but that was not a good enough reason for the militias to spare the building, he said."

"They are planning to replace it with a mosque."

Graves targeted

The fighters then turned their hammers on graves, some of which contained the remains of followers of Sufi, a mystical form of Islam.

The sites have been revered for decades and are regularly visited by people paying homage to the dead, a practice al-Shabab has condemned as being akin to idolatry.

"We are a chosen lot by Allah to try and correct the mystics of the people and guide them," Hassan Yaqub, a spokesman for the Kismayo administration, told Al Jazeera.

"We have a responsibility to the people to guard the people against all evil deeds."

In Marka, another coastal town in the south of the country, Al Jazeera witnessed the public implementation of Sharia, or Islamic law.

Three men accused of smoking hashish were given a public flogging before the al-Shabab fighters set fire to the drugs that were purportedly found when the men were arrested.

Such practices have become more frequent as al-Shabab has increased its influence across southern and central Somalia, taking back many of the areas which were formerly controlled by the Islamic Courts Union until late 2006.

In October, a 13-year-old girl was reportedly stoned to death in Kismayo after she was found guilty of adultery.

The UN later said that she had been raped.

Last month, 32 people were whipped for taking part in a traditional dance in the town of Balad, about 30km north of the capital Mogadishu.

Public support

The crowds which were made to witness the flogging in Marka appeared to be overwhelmingly supportive of the new measures being taken by the new Islamist authorities.

"We support their efforts 100 per cent. The establishment of Sharia is a source of joy for us all," one resident told Al Jazeera.

Another said: "We are happy with the Islamists, we now have peace and the criminals have nowhere to hide."

Somalia has had no effective government since a coup removed Siad Barre from power in 1991, leading to an almost total breakdown in law and order.

The only relative stability areas of the country have enjoyed in recent years was during the short period of rule by the Islamic Courts Union in 2006.

"For the Somali people the choice is really a very difficult one ... which one would they want to live with, a strict sharia or a situation with no security," Billow Kerrow, a Kenya-based regional analyst, told Al Jazeera.

"I think in the beginning they might find it easier to implement a very strict code of Islam, but as the government responsibilities start setting in the challenges will be enormous ... to try and practice a system which will be accommodating to all."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holy See-Israel Panel Bump Up Plenary to April

Holy See-Israel Panel Bump Up Plenary to April

Ahead of Possible Papal Visit to Nation in May

By Jesús Colina

JERUSALEM, DEC. 18, 2008 ( After 15 years, negotiations between the Holy See and Israel are picking up steam just as a possible visit of Benedict XVI to the Holy Land appears to be just months away.

A statement released today at the end of a meeting of Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the State of Israel and the Holy See announced it would bump up the next plenary session from June to April, and that it will hold four meetings in three months for the working-level commission: Jan. 15, Feb. 18, March 5 and March 26.

Since signing the Fundamental Agreement in 1993, which established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel, the two sides have been negotiating the particulars of tax exemptions and property rights for the Church, in particular for the holy sites. Talks have crawled along at best, and stopped altogether in 2003 for several years.

They began again in 2005, but never with the current intensity.

With these meetings, the statement explained, both delegations want to show their willingness to "accelerate the talks and conclude the agreement at the earliest opportunity." The statement also underlined "an atmosphere of great cordiality and good will."

While officially, the negotiations have nothing to do with Benedict XVI's visit to Israel, sources in the Vatican explained to ZENIT that Israel is interested in the good image the Pope's visit can give to the nation, and the Church is interested in consolidating its presence in the Holy Land.

No official announcement from the Vatican has been made regarding the Pope's visit, but the mayor of Bethlehem, Victor Batarseh, announced Wednesday that the Holy Father will visit the Holy Land in May.

The announcement confirmed reports this week by Italian newspaper Il Foglio that the papal visit would take place in May, with the Pope visiting Jordan, Israel and the territories of the Palestinian National Authority

The Israeli government remains silent on the issue, but last week a Vatican delegation was received by President Shimon Peres to analyze a possible visit.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Malaysia denies any plan to close Catholic paper

Malaysia denies any plan to close Catholic paper

By JULIA ZAPPEI – 16 hours ago

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia's Muslim-majority government denied any plan Wednesday to shut down a Catholic newspaper accused of flouting publication rules by running articles deemed political and insulting to Islam.

The Herald, the main Roman Catholic weekly in Malaysia, has received warnings over the past year that it could lose its publishing license, which expires Dec. 31. All Malaysian publications must renew their government license every year.

The Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, said the Home Ministry has not renewed the paper's license even though it submitted an application months ago, while in past years a license was typically issued far in advance.

"If they want to delay it like that, it doesn't give me any indication that it (the license renewal) will happen," Andrew said in a telephone interview.

Che Din Yusoh, an official with the Home Ministry's publishing unit, however, said officials were merely bogged down with a large number of license applications.

"We will issue it by the end of the month," he told The Associated Press. "There is nothing to worry about."

The Home Ministry sent a letter to the Herald's publishers earlier this year warning that the newspaper had "committed offenses" by highlighting Malaysian politics and current affairs instead of Christian issues for which it has been given a license.

The ministry also accused the Herald of carrying an article that "could threaten public peace and national security" because it allegedly "denigrated Islamic teachings."

The Herald has said, however, the article titled "America and Jihad — Where do they stand?" was not meant to insult Islam but was an analysis of circumstances following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

The publication is also currently embroiled in a court dispute with the government over a ban on the use of the word "Allah" as a Malay-language translation for "God." The Herald has sought a court order to challenge the government's ban on its use of the word. Hearings have not begun.

The government has said the use of the word could confuse Muslims, while the Herald insists "Allah" has been used for centuries to mean "God" in Malay.

The Herald's problems underscore the tenuous position of minority religions amid a recent string of interfaith disputes. Many Christians, Buddhists and Hindus fear their rights are being undermined by government efforts to bolster the status of Islam, Malaysia's official religion.

Ethnic Malay Muslims make up nearly two-thirds of Malaysia's 27 million people. Dissatisfaction among minorities over the demolition of Hindu temples, court rulings about the right to leave Islam and other religious disputes contributed to the government's poor performance in March elections.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Avery Dulles, 90; Prominent Catholic Cardinal, Theologian dies.

Avery Dulles, 90; Prominent Catholic Cardinal, Theologian

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 14, 2008; C08

Cardinal Avery Dulles, 90, a former professor at Catholic University who was born into a family of elite Protestant diplomats and became one of the country's most prominent Catholic theologians, died Dec. 12 at an infirmary at Fordham University in New York. Stricken with polio when young, he had post-polio syndrome, which led to progressive muscular and pulmonary deterioration.

Cardinal Dulles, who was appointed to the College of Cardinals by Pope John Paul II in 2001, was the first academic to be named to the Catholic Church's highest advisory council, as well as the first who had never served as a bishop.

Cardinal Dulles, a very tall and thin figure, was known for his unusual spiritual journey and came to be considered a calm statesman of Catholicism during a time of great turmoil.

Through more than 20 books and 800 articles, he articulated a conservative if tolerant case for Catholicism and the church's positions on contraception, sexuality, the role of women and clergy sex abuse. He served as a bridge between the Vatican and the more liberal American Catholic dissidents after the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. In his later years, he was seen more as an advocate of orthodoxy and said church sanctions against priests charged in sex abuse scandals were too extreme.

He was the son of former secretary of state John Foster Dulles, who served under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. His uncle, Allen Dulles, was CIA director from 1953 to 1961.

Cardinal Dulles wrote and spoke often of his conversion to Catholicism, a faith still looked at skeptically by many Protestants in 1940, when he joined the church. Among the skeptics was his father, who was initially embarrassed about his son's religious path but later reconciled with him.

Avery Robert Dulles was born Aug. 24, 1918, in Auburn, N.Y., and grew up in a patrician Presbyterian family. His grandfather was a Presbyterian minister, and a great-grandfather and great-uncle had both served as secretaries of state.

Cardinal Dulles, who wrote about his spiritual journey in his autobiographical "A Testimonial to Grace" (1946), considered himself an agnostic when he entered Harvard College in the 1930s. He was drawn to Catholicism by his readings of the poet Dante Alighieri and the Catholic philosopher Saint Thomas Aquinas. The concept of objective moral standards appealed to him, but his spiritual quest was crystallized during a walk in Cambridge, Mass., when he looked at nature and began to see a governing purpose to the world.

"It was a matter of becoming aware of this reality behind everything that existed," he said in a 2001 interview in the New York Times Magazine. "That evening when I got back to my room, I think I prayed for the first time."

After graduating from Harvard in 1940, he served in the Navy during World War II and attended Harvard Law School for a few semesters before entering the Society of Jesus in 1946. He was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1956.

He received a doctorate in theology in 1960 from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and taught at Woodstock College, a now-closed seminary in Maryland, from 1960 to 1974. He was a theology professor at Catholic University from 1974 to 1988.

He wrote and lectured on many topics relating to Catholicism, with a specialty in ecclesiology, or the mission of the church in the world. Through his teaching and writing, Cardinal Dulles became "the United States' preeminent theologian," Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl said in a statement.

Cardinal Dulles was at Catholic University when the Vatican disciplined many theologians who publicly disagreed with church authorities on a host of issues, including contraception, premarital sex, abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia. Cardinal Dulles sat on a faculty committee that defied the Vatican by recommending against the removal of a dissident theologian, but he did not speak out publicly against the church.

He said that he was opposed to the punishment of dissidents but that he could not support theologians and priests who routinely went against the church's teachings. His goal was to unify Catholics, he wrote, and to be a liaison between the Vatican and more free-thinking theologians.

After retiring from Catholic University, Cardinal Dulles joined the faculty at Fordham University, where he taught until last year. He served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society in the 1970s and was also a member of the International Theological Commission, the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue and a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Doctrine.

He had no immediate survivors.

Staff writer Matt Schudel contributed to this report.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Constitutional change cleared to be discussed in parliament


The potential change to Luxembourg's constitution, affecting Article 34, proposed by Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker following Grand Duke Henri's refusal to sign the Euthanasia / pallitative care bill if it is passed by parliament, has been cleared by the state's Constitutional Commission.

It is now clear for the issue to have its first reading and be debated in parliament later today. It must be accepted by a two-thirds majority and must have a second reading after three months, or be put to the people in a referendum.

The change would still require the Grand Duke to sign all new laws, but the wording would mean that he would no longer "enact" the laws. The article dates back to 1868.

From The Station Network 11/12/08

Spain's Cardinal Canizares to take top Vatican liturgical post

Spain's Cardinal Canizares to take top Vatican liturgical post

Vatican, Dec. 9, 2008 ( - Confirming a rumor that had circulated in Rome for months, Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) has appointed Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera of Toledo, Spain, to become the new prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

Cardinal Canizares replaces Cardinal Francis Arinze (bio - news), who is retiring. The retirement of the Nigerian cardinal, who had held the post of prefect since 2002, was announced on December 9: his 76th birthday.

Suggestions that Cardinal Canizares would be named to the Vatican's top liturgical post had arisen early in 2008. Because of Pope Benedict's keen interest in liturgical reform, and the intense and sometimes heated debates within the ranks of the Roman Curia on liturgical questions, the appointment has long been seen as a critical choice.

The appointment of Cardinal Canizares, who is regarded as a strong supporter of the Pope's plans for the liturgy, could clear the way for a second switch that has been the topic of much speculation among Vatican-watchers: the appointment of Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don, the current secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, as Archbishop of Colombo in his native Sri Lanka. Archbishop Ranjith has been an outspoken advocate of liturgical reforms, and his appointment, hand-picked by the Pontiff for his current position. Tradition-minded officials within the Vatican had been loath to see Archbishop Ranjith transferred until another prelate with similar views was installed in the dicastery.

The appointment of Cardinal Canizares provides a boost to the credibility of Andrea Tornielli, the respected Vatican-watcher for the Italian daily Il Giornale. After the Spanish cardinal met with Pope Benedict on November 20, Tornielli predicted that Cardinal Canizares would be appointed prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and that the appointment would be announced early in December. Tornielli-- who has accurately predicted several other recent moves within the Roman Curia-- also predicted that Archbishop Ranjith will be moved to Sri Lanka sometime in the spring of 2009.

Cardinal Canizares, who is 63, was ordained to the priesthood in 1970. He became Bishop Avila, Spain, in 1992, then Archbishop of Granada in 1996. In 2002 he was appointed Archbishop of Toledo and primate of Spain; he was raised to the College of Cardinals by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

The Spanish cardinal has been a strong voice for Catholic social teaching during a period when the country's hierarchy has clashed frequently with the Socialist political leadership. He denounced the government's moves to liberalize abortion law and said that legal recognition of same-sex unions "gos against nature, family, and a healthy society." More recently he encouraged Catholic parents to "use all legitimate means in your power to defend your right to determine the moral education of your children.”

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Vietnam court convicts Catholics in land dispute

By BEN STOCKING – 1 day ago

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A Vietnamese court convicted eight Catholics on Monday on charges of disturbing public order and damaging property during a series of prayer vigils to get back confiscated church land, but gave them light sentences.

One defendant received a warning while the others were given suspended sentences ranging from 12 to 15 months. They received up to two years of probation and were sent home.

The mostly peaceful but illegal vigils were a bold step in a country where church-state relations are often tense and the government frowns on public protests of any kind. The dispute did not focus on religious freedom but on a parcel of land worth millions of dollars.

Hundreds of Catholics, many carrying pictures of the Virgin Mary, cheered as the defendants emerged from the Donga Da district court. Some raised one of the defendants over their heads in jubilation, while others chanted "Innocent! Innocent!"

Scores of riot police stood guard around the building during the verdict, but no clashes were reported.

As he left the court, defendant Nguyen Dac Hung, 31, said he would appeal his 12-month suspended sentence. "I'm totally innocent," he said. "This is an unjust verdict."

While they decried the verdicts, Catholics were relieved by the light sentences. The defendants could have received up to seven years in prison.

"The authorities made a concession to the struggles of our Catholic brothers and sisters," said Le Quang Uy, a Catholic who came to show his support. "This is our victory."

The defendants were arrested several months ago during a series of prayer vigils held to demand the return of the land near the Thai Ha church.

Hundreds of Catholics gathered at the site for several weeks. They knocked down a section of the wall surrounding the land, set up an altar and a statue of the Virgin Mary on the site and prayed for its return.

During Monday's trial, the defendants maintained their innocence, saying they had peacefully sought the return of church land.

"Peaceful vigils cannot be illegal," said defendant Nguyen Thi Viet, 59. "We did not disturb public order. We did nothing wrong."

Hanoi authorities say the Thai Ha church and its surrounding land belong to the city. They say a former parish priest signed papers turning the property over to Hanoi in 1962.

Church members insist they have documents verifying their claim on the property.

Property laws are complex in Vietnam, where Communist authorities seized buildings and land from wealthy landowners, churches and other groups after taking power. Such properties were used by the state or redistributed to veterans or others who helped bring the Communists to power.

Earlier this year, Catholics also held vigils at a second valuable parcel of land in central Hanoi, the site of the former Vatican embassy in Vietnam, which closed after the Communist government took power in 1954.

In each case, the Catholics began their demonstrations after hearing rumors the government planned to sell the properties to developers.

As the conflicts escalated, the government announced it would convert each site into a public park and open a library at the former Vatican site.

With more than 6 million followers, Catholicism is the second most popular religion after Buddhism in the country of 86 million. Masses at Catholic churches around the country are heavily attended.

Vietnam has often come under international criticism for its record on religious and human rights. But in recent years, relations between Catholics and the government have begun to improve, emboldening church members to assert themselves more.

Vietnam and the Vatican have been discussing the possibility of re-establishing diplomatic relations.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Pope's Christmas Gift: A Tough Line on Church Doctrine

Wednesday, Dec. 03, 2008
The Pope's Christmas Gift: A Tough Line on Church Doctrine
By Jeff Israely

Those nicknames from the past — God's Rottweiler, the Panzercardinal — don't seem to stick anymore. After acquiring a reputation as an aggressive, doctrine-enforcing Cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI has surprised many with his gentle manner and his writings on Christian love. But with the Christmas season upon us, there is growing proof that the 82-year-old Pope is also quite willing to play the part of Scrooge to defend his often rigid view of Church doctrine.

Benedict's envoy to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, has announced that the Vatican will oppose a proposed U.N. declaration calling for an end to discrimination against homosexuals. At first blush, no one should be surprised to find the Catholic Church hierarchy butting heads with gay rights activists. But this particular French-sponsored proposal, which has the backing of all 27 European Union countries, calls for an end to the practice of criminalizing and punishing people for their sexual orientation. Most dramatically, in some countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, homosexuality can be punished by death.

Papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi was forced to clarify that the Vatican continues to condemn the use of the death penalty for any crime, including those associated with homosexuality. Instead, Migliore said the Vatican's opposition to the U.N. proposal was driven by concern that countries that prohibit gay marriage would somehow be targeted. Said Migliore: "Countries that don't recognize the union between people of the same sex as marriage will be punished and pressured."

The U.N. declaration does not in fact mention gay marriage, and most of the nations that support it themselves don't allow people of the same sex to wed. Archbishop Migliore confirmed on Tuesday that the Vatican had also refused to sign a U.N. document last May in support of the rights of the disabled because it did not include condemnation of abortion, and the rights the fetus with birth defects. Vatican officials nevertheless voiced support for the central principles of the disabled rights document, which Migliore helped craft before the final decision to withhold the Holy See’s signature.

The Italian gay rights association Arcigay says the Vatican's opposition to the anti-discriminatory measure is "unprecedented," and the citing of gay marriage is an "excuse" to distract people from the real intent of criminalizing gays. One Rome-based priest was disappointed that the Vatican decided to publicize its opposition to what appears a rather innocuous declaration. "When you're always trying to look for new ways to make your point, you lose credibility," says the priest. "Better sometimes to keep quiet."

Benedict has said repeatedly that the Church is forced to speak out against the tide of secularization, especially in Catholicism's home turf in Europe. His kindly manner notwithstanding, Benedict does not seem to hesitate doing or saying what he deems necessary to keep Catholicism from straying too far from its doctrinal tradition.

And that includes revisiting the Catholic liturgy if necessary. His top Vatican deputies are now studying a change to the mass that would affect the moment when members of the congregation are asked to greet each other with a "sign of peace." Worshippers then exchange handshakes, or sometimes a hug or kiss. In 2007, writing about the exchanging of the peace, Benedict called for "greater restraint in this gesture which can become exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly before the reception of Communion." It may now be moved earlier in the service. Cardinal Francis Arinze, head of the Vatican's liturgical office, said last month that the affectionate gesture is often misunderstood. "It is thought to be a chance to shake hands with friends. Instead it is a way to tell those nearby that the peace of Christ, really present on the altar, is also with all."

Though there is no indication if or when the proposed movement of the peace would happen, this change would respond to a desire by the Pope to rein in some of the excesses that he sees in the ways the faith is currently celebrated. And to those who wonder why not just let everyone to say 'peace' when and where they please for Christmases to come, one can imagine Benedict flashing that gentle smile, tilting his head ever so slightly and declaring: Bah Humbug!

FROM Time Magazine Online 9/12/08.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Russian Church elders choose interim leader

Sat Dec 6, 2008 10:19pm IST

By Simon Shuster and Guy Faulconbridge

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Russian Orthodox Church chose Metropolitan Kirill as an interim leader on Saturday after the death of Patriarch Alexiy II, a move that could open the way for more cooperation with Catholics.

Kirill, the Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, is an articulate public speaker and heads the Church's department for external relations. Most Russians see him as the public face of the Church, frequently appearing on television.

A group of 12 senior clergy, the ruling body known as the Holy Synod, selected Kirill by secret ballot at the patriarchal residence in the village of Peredelkino outside Moscow.

"One of the most blessed decisions taken by the synod was the selection of the interim leader of the church ... the Metropolitan of Smolensk, Kirill," Father Vladimir Vigilyansky, chief spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, said in comments broadcast live on Vesti television.

Patriarch Alexiy, who revived the Orthodox Church after the collapse of communism, died on Friday of heart failure at the age of 79.

The next Patriarch has to be chosen within six months and observers said four main candidates were in the running, including Kirill.

The main issues in choosing the new Patriarch will be Church relations with the state and the Catholic Church. Kirill, 64, has been a reformer on both matters.

He has been relatively open to the idea of building stronger ties with the Vatican, and some observers say he is a proponent of a more independent partnership with the state. Alexiy strengthened ties with the government under former President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.


Alexiy will be laid in state on Saturday at Christ the Saviour Cathedral, where his funeral ceremony is to be held on Tuesday at 1100 Moscow time (0800 GMT), Vigilyansky said.

He is to be buried at 1300 Moscow time at Moscow's Epiphany Cathedral, where the relics of his patron saint are stored.

During his 18 years as leader of the world's largest Christian Orthodox church, Alexiy helped heal an 80-year rift with a rival faction, which was set up abroad by monarchists fleeing the atheist Bolsheviks.

Another triumph was the reconstruction of Christ the Saviour Cathedral, which was demolished on Stalin's orders. The date in 1931 when authorities demolished the Cathedral -- Dec. 5 -- coincides with the date of Alexiy's death.

Alexiy, who criticised the Catholic Church for trying to win over converts, is credited by many Russians for helping to revive Orthodoxy and boost church attendance in the moral and spiritual vacuum created by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Supporters said Alexiy used close ties with the state for the benefit of the Church, restoring hundreds of almost derelict churches.

Opponents said he allowed the Church to become a minor partner of the Kremlin under Putin. Alexiy failed to shake off allegations he had links to the Soviet KGB. The Church has repeatedly denied that.

Russian Orthodox Church head dies

By Moscow Correspondent Scott Bevan and wires

Posted Fri Dec 5, 2008 8:36pm AEDT
Updated Sat Dec 6, 2008 3:05am AEDT

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexiy II, has died aged 79.

A church spokesman has said the Patriarch died on Friday morning at his home in the Moscow region.

While no reason has been given for his death, it is understood the Patriarch has been sick for some time.

Patriarch Alexiy II was an establishment figure who restored the authority of the church after decades of Soviet repression.

Former USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev has told the Interfax news agency he was shocked by the news.

The patriarch was an impressive character with a benign expression and moral authority among millions of Russian believers but his personality was always locked in by the deeply hierarchical nature of his role.

Alexiy II took stances on foreign policy issues that often matched the Kremlin line, criticising NATO strikes against Yugoslavia, the US-led war in Iraq and defending the rights of ethnic-Russians in the former Soviet Union.

An archbishop from regional Russia has described the Patriarch as a holy man and said the country had lost its pastor.

A date for the funeral has not been set.

A spokeswoman for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says he has cancelled his upcoming Italy trip after learning of the Patriach's death and is returning from India to Russia.

- ABC/Reuters

Opinion: The limits of 'marriage

Posted: 12/06/2008 03:32:57 PM PST

Ever since California voters passed Proposition 8, defining marriage in the state as between one woman and one man, my wife and I have been arguing about it.

She was appalled by the vote, and even more appalled when I told her that I wasn't.

"You're such a bigot," she said, "not to mention a hypocrite! How can you be for gay rights (which I am) and against same-sex marriage?"

My wife is from the north of England, where they don't embrace that famous restraint of Londoners.

In these kinds of situations, I've learned that written communication is best. So here, my love, is why I think California voters — not to mention voters in 29 other U.S. states — did the right thing.

First, I think everyone but the most mindless libertarians would agree that it's wise to allow the state to regulate family life to some extent, especially when children are concerned.

Many governments also have defined and limited the way adults can partner with each other, although approaches have varied.

During the 1800s, the then-new Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints openly practiced polygamy, emulating the common patriarchal practices of the Old Testament. Because Christian authorities had banned all forms of polygamy in the fourth century, mainstream American Christians generally frowned on the Mormon practice, and court actions and laws eventually forced the Mormon church to ban it, too.

A unanimous Supreme Court decision in 1878 set the precedent for state interference in religious marriage practices, concluding that "laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices."

Nearly 1,000 cultures around the world allow some form of polygamy, either officially or by nonregulation; in Senegal, nearly half the marriages are polygamous. In the U.S., both the Libertarian Party and the American Civil Liberties Union have opposed laws prohibiting polygamy.

As for same-sex marriage, since 2001, seven countries have come on board, including mainly Catholic Spain, even though the Roman Catholic Church is officially opposed to the practice.

There is no convincing evidence — absolutely none — that these various forms of romantic partnership do anyone, or any society, or any children, any harm. So I'm not really skeptical about same-sex marriage per se. If anything, I think that same-sex marriage is a shortsighted idea that doesn't go far enough.

Most Americans insist that they want the word "marriage" to continue to mean a long-term, opposite-sex union, as it has in the Judeo-Christian world for nearly two millenniums. To put this issue into better perspective, imagine that English were more like German and that the word "marriage" had a lot more syllables: "longtermoppositesexunion." Should same-sex couples wed under that label? I say no — and that gay activists have been fighting the wrong battle.

The real challenge is to have the state recognize the full range of healthy, nonexploitative, romantic partnerships that actually exist among human beings. Gay people are correct in expressing outrage over the fact that official recognition, the power to make health decisions, inheritance rights and tax benefits have long been granted to only one kind of committed partnership in the United States. But wanting their own committed relationships to be shoehorned into an old institution makes little sense, especially given the poor, almost pathetic performance of that institution in recent decades. Half of first marriages fail in the U.S., after all, as do nearly two-thirds of second marriages. Is that really a club you want to join?

Let's fight a larger battle, namely to have government catch up to human behavior. That means recognizing the legitimacy of a range of consensual, nonexploitative romantic partnerships, each of which should probably have its own distinct label.

In the U.S., the highest priority should be to give official recognition to "cohabitation," which is, in effect, renewable short-term marriage. Married households are now in the minority in the U.S., and cohabitation is increasing, especially among elderly people.

Those who cohabitate probably are wary of lifetime commitments (in part, perhaps, because such commitments so often prove to be illusory in our culture), but many might like the option of getting the same rights and benefits during their cohabitation that married people have.

This would be a step toward stabilizing relationships as they actually occur in 21st century America, and perhaps even toward reducing our disgraceful divorce rate. Trying to force all legitimate partnerships into one defective box — longtermoppositesexunion — denies millions of caring partners the benefits of state recognition and sets up millions of others to fail.

Robert Epstein is a visiting scholar at the University of California-San Diego, and former editor in chief of Psychology Today. He wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Monarch makes brave move.

Grand Duke of Luxembourg Henry I

.- For the first time in the history of Luxembourg, the Grand Duke has opposed a decision by the country’s House of Representatives. Henry I rejected a bill that would legalize euthanasia, and government officials have announced their intention to strip the Duke of some of his powers.

Some reports in the country are calling it a “grave constitutional crisis,” with Henry I announcing that for reasons of conscience he will not approve the controversial law, which the overwhelmingly Catholic population opposes.

Socialist and Green party lawmakers pushed the measure through, and the Grand Duke normally would approve the measure within a period of three months, but this time he made a different decision.

In wake of the rejection, Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, announced the country’s Constitution would be modified to reduce the Duke’s power.

“We are going to remove the term ‘sanction’ from article 34 of the Constitution and replace it with the term ‘promulgate,’ which means only promulgating laws so that they take effect,” Juncker stated.

Some media reports suggest the Grand Duke is repeating the crisis sparked in 1990 by his uncle, King Baldwin of Belgium, who refused to sign a law legalizing abortion that was approved by the Belgian Congress.

Henry I of Luxembourg took the oath as Grand Duke in 2000 after his father abdicated his seat. He was born on April 6, 1955, in Berzdorf. In 1981, Henry I married Maria Teresa Mestre, who is from Cuba. They have five children and two grandchildren.

When he became head of state, Juncker said he would be the “most decent Grand Duke” because of his “character and his deep knowledge of the people.”

In his first remarks as Grand Duke, Henry I encouraged citizens to conserve family values, ensure equality of rights for men and women and not be blinded by their prosperity.