'Four Corners' on the Statement of Conclusions
ABC coverage true to form
The edition of Four Corners that went to air on 8 March was true to form, as far as the ABC's usual handling of orthodox Catholicism was concerned.
Titled "The Vatican's Verdict", the program lined up on-camera appearances from 15 people variously unhappy with the Statement of Conclusions and/or the curbing of general absolutions; the 'affirmative' side numbered a mere three.
Admittedly, the three concerned - Paul Brazier of the Australian Catholics Advocacy Centre, Archbishop George Pell and Peter Westmore, President of the National Civic Council and publisher of AD2000 - had frequent on-camera appearances. But a rough count of total appearances saw an overall 2:1 advantage for the "No" proponents.
The same proportion was evident in the follow-up Compass discussion. Even not counting the compere, Geraldine Doogue, the "No" side had Fr Paul Collins and Robert Fitzgerald, the NSW Community Services Commissioner, and immediate past President of ACOSS, pitted against Mary Helen Woods. Again a 2:1 ratio.
Priestly ordinations in Vietnam
Communist Government's concession
On 18 March 1999, the feast of St Joseph, Archbishop John Baptist Pham Ming Man of Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City), ordained nine new priests in the cathedral dedicated to Our Lady Queen of Peace.
The men are all members of religious orders: two Dominicans, two Jesuits, two Redemptorists, one Franciscan, one Sulpice Father and one member of the local Nazareth Institute. They range in age from 32 to 67 years old. Some priests of the area see the Communists' permission for the ordinations as another sign of a small opening toward religion.
Vietnam's Communist Government restricts ordinations to maintain controls over the activities of the Catholic Church. Government officials judge the candidate's qualities, sets the number for each seminary, and can veto the assignment of the seminarians to parishes. In addition, religious orders are not allowed to accept candidates or open novitiates, although several institutes have unofficial formation houses.
Until recently, ordinations in Vietnam were rare, particularly for religious orders. The latter were regarded with suspicion because they belong to international organisations. Nevertheless, vocations continued to flourish in Vietnam. The mature age of many of the candidates to the priesthood is explained by the Government's restrictions on the number of ordinations per year so that many who finish their studies while still young then have to wait years before being allowed to be ordained.
Catholic World News
Catholic numbers top one billion worldwide
Worldwide statistics on the Catholic Church include 400,000 priests
Cardinal Secretary of State, Angelo Sodano, last February presented the 1999 Annuario Pontificio, or Pontifical Yearbook, to Pope John Paul, in the presence of Archbishop Giovanni Battista Re and officials from the Statistics Office of the Church and the Vatican printing office. A communique, stating that the new yearbook is updated to 31 December 1998, also outlined some of the salient statistics of the Church.
During 1998, the Holy See established diplomatic relations with the Republic of Palau and the Republic of Yemen, bringing to 168 the number of countries with which it has such relations. Also last year, 12 new bishoprics, an apostolic vicariate and three metropolitan sees were created, and 137 bishops were appointed.
Catholics for the first time exceed one billion worldwide, equal to 17.3 percent of the total population. They constitute 62.9 percent of the population on the American continent, 41.4 in Europe, 27.5 in Oceania, 14.9 in Africa and 3 percent in Asia. Globally there are 219,369 parishes and 115,311 missionary stations.
At the end of 1997, those involved in pastoral activity included: 4,420 bishops, 404,208 priests (of whom 263,521 are diocesan), 24,407 permanent deacons, 877,477 religious, 31,197 members of secular institutes, 26,068 lay missionaries and 2,019,021 catechists.
Vocations in 1997 increased by 2.5 percent over the preceding year. The total number of priests was practically unchanged, but the number of permanent deacons increased by 4.1 percent. There was, however. a decline of 1.3 percent among religious.
Vatican Information Service
Latest research on Catholic student teachers
34 percent weekly Mass attendance better than national average of 18 percent
Research has recently been completed on first and final year student teachers at Australian Catholic University by Professor Denis McLaughlin, head of the department of Educational Foundations at the Brisbane campus of ACU. The survey questioned 640 male and female education students in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Among Professor McLaughlin's findings on the spiritual beliefs and practices of future Catholic school teachers, as summarised in the Sydney archdiocesan Catholic Weekly (14 March 1999), were:
* 56 percent pray regularly and 30 percent pray daily.
* 34 percent attend Mass weekly - which, it was noted, "contrasts with the national Catholic average weekly of 18 percent." 50 percent of student teachers attend Mass monthly.
* Student teachers are becoming "increasingly independent of the institutional Church as a guide for their lives."
* Responses from the Church to modern problems appear irrelevant to the students surveyed.
* The students' understanding of the Eucharist was "varied." This was said to be a reflection on "changing Catholic theology."
* Professor McLaughlin found that "In a number of important issues students held positions contrary to official Church teaching."
* However, on a positive note, it was noted that the student teachers surveyed were "sympathetic" and "at home in the Catholic heritage."
These findings should provide food for thought for Australia's bishops as they set about implementing the Statement of Conclusions.
Pontifical Academy to study death, euthanasia
International experts to present papers
The Pontifical Academy for Life is to meet in Rome later this year, to discuss the dignity of people facing terminal illness. That topic has taken on particular importance in the light of current proposals to legalise euthanasia in several countries, and reports that laws allowing physician- assisted suicide in the Netherlands have led to widespread abuses.
The Pontifical Academy will discuss the psychological challenges that confront people facing death, and their need for help in various forms. The group will also discuss the acceptance of death and the spirit of Christian hope which should sustain the dying.
For this meeting, the Pontifical Academy has commissioned papers by 17 professors from a wide range of countries. Their papers will address sociological, psychological, medical, philosophical, and juridical aspects of death and dying.
The two previous meetings of the Pontifical Academy for Life have examined other highly topical issues: the status of the human embryo in 1997 and the human genome project in 1998.
EWTN Vatican Update
Pro-abortion 'Catholic' group at UN conference
"Problem of male dominance" attacked
A US-based pro-abortion group claiming to represent grassroots Catholics was given a prominent role at a UN population conference last February, according to the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (CAFHRI).
CAFHRI said in a report that Frances Kissling of Catholics for Free Choice hosted a seminar called "Ending Male Dominance," on efforts by feminists to change the power structure of religions including Catholicism, Buddhism, Anglicanism, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism. "The central problem in religion, population, and reproductive health is male dominance," she said, in remarks at the seminar. Other women representing various religions spoke of the "problem of male dominance" in their faiths.
Kissling finished the presentation by attacking the Catholic Church and Pope John Paul II. She said that "Catholicism is not special, just different - we have a Pope." She went on to say that the Holy Father is a "great thinker and writer, not for the 20th Century, but for the 5th Century." Both remarks elicited applause and laughter, according to CAFHRI.
The conference sponsored by the UN Population Fund is undertaking a five-year review of the 1994 UN Cairo Conference on Population. Critics accuse organisers of excluding any voice opposed to the ideology of increased contraception, abortion, and explicit sex education for children.
Catholic World News
New Church guide to divorce, remarriage
New publication for priests
The Vatican library has produced a new 130-page book which brings together a series of official Church statements on the status of Catholics who divorce and remarry.
The new volume - a project suggested by Pope John Paul II - includes only statements which have been previously published, but groups them under one heading in order to provide a single source of advice for priests working with divorced Catholics. The book was produced under the supervision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and its prefect, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who wrote the introduction.
There are "certain ecclesial responsibilities" which Catholics who are divorced and remarried cannot exercise, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, insofar as those activities require "a particular witness to Christian life." Nevertheless, Catholics who are living in irregular unions should be encouraged to participate in the life of the Church insofar as that is possible, he added.
"Members of the faithful who divorce and remarry remain members of the People of God," the Cardinal pointed out. While they cannot properly receive Holy Communion, he continued, "If they accept that situation with an interior conviction, they can thus bear witness in their own way to the indissolubility of marriage and their fidelity to the Church."
EWTN Vatican Update
Australian diocesan seminary statistics
No "priestless parishes" says Archbishop George Pell
Thirty men have begun studies for the diocesan priesthood in Australia this year, bringing to 120 the total number of seminarians. This number does not replace those priests lost through illness or death. The average age of Australia's 2,097 diocesan priests is over 60.
The biggest single intake was eight new students for Melbourne's Corpus Christi Seminary, with seven for the Melbourne Archdiocese; Perth's St Charles Seminary received five (according to The Record) and Brisbane's Pius XII Seminary, five. In Sydney, there are three new enrolments among the 25 students at the seminary of the Good Shepherd, Strathfield, but none is for the Sydney Archdiocese. The small diocese of Wagga Wagga received four and Adelaide two new students.
There are 22 men studying for the Archdiocese of Perth at St Charles Seminary, three more in Rome and a deacon on pastoral placement. The Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary in Perth is administered by the Neo-Catechumenate Way and has 29 students from 14 nationalities. Those ordained spend two years in Perth parishes, after which they can be released for missionary work. Wagga Wagga has 24 students and Sydney 24 at its seminary with another three preparing for ordination to the diaconate. There are 31 students at Melbourne's Corpus Christi Seminary, 22 for the Melbourne Archdiocese.
In a recent profile in The Age, Archbishop George Pell was emphatic that there would be no planning for "priestless parishes" as such moves would be "self-fulfilling". He remarked that around Australia "there have been pockets of this defeatist thinking."