The Church's growth points
On 12 February, Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone SDB presented Benedict XVI with the 2007 edition of the Annuario Pontificio, or pontifical yearbook.
The yearbook reveals that between 2004 and 2005, the number of Catholics in the world increased from 1,098 million to 1,115 million, a growth of 1.5 percent. However, because this growth is very similar to that of the population of the planet (1.2 percent), the percentage of Catholics in the world remained substantially unchanged at 17.2 percent.
A geographical analysis of these variations shows that over the period 2004-2005, the number of Catholics in Africa grew by 3.1 percent, while the population of the continent grew by 2.1 percent. In Asia and the Americas the number of Catholics also increased slightly with respect to the population (2.71 percent against 1.18 percent in Asia, 1.2 percent against 0.9 percent in the Americas). In Europe, the number of Catholics grew slightly while the population remained almost stationery.
In 2004-2005, the number of religious and diocesan priests grew from 405,891 to 406,411 (a growth of 0.13 percent). However, the distribution of priests differed from continent to continent, with their numbers increasing in Africa and Asia (respectively, by 3.8 percent and 3.55 percent) and falling in Europe and America (by 0.5 percent), and in Oceania (by 1.8 percent).
The numbers of candidates to the priesthood, both diocesan and religious, increased overall, from 113,044 in 2004 to 114,439 in 2005 (an increase of 1.23 percent). Vocations are most numerous in Africa and Asia, but they are falling in Europe and are stationary in Oceania.
Vatican Information Service
Anglican ultimatum to US Episcopalians
Leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion, meeting in February in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, issued an ultimatum to the Episcopal Church of the United States, demanding an end to the appointment of gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex couples.
According to the BBC, the document calls for the US Episcopal bishops to 'make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions.'
It also calls on the US Episcopal Church not to ordain any other priests who are active homosexuals, requiring the bishops to agree that 'a candidate for Episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent - unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion.'
The Anglican Communion state- ment warns that if the above assurances can not be given by 30 September, the Episcopal Church could be removed from the worldwide Communion.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, called the Tanzania meeting due to growing unrest over the issue. Following the Episcopal Church's decision to consecrate the openly-gay Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, many parishes, dioceses, and faithful in the US began calling for a split of the US church, and sought to unite themselves with dioceses abroad.
Catholic News Agency
Global warming threats exaggerated: Cardinal Pell
Cardinal George Pell in his weekly Sydney Sunday Telegraph column said people had been 'subjected to a lot of nonsense about climate disasters as some zealots have been painting extreme scenarios to frighten us.'
He called those who make claims about ice caps melting and ocean levels rising spectacularly 'doomsdayers' and 'scaremongers.'
He criticised journalists who have called for Nuremberg-style trials for global warming sceptics and compared them with 'Holocaust deniers.' The media during the last 100 years, he remarked, has flip-flopped between promoting fears of a coming Ice Age and fears of global warming.
'What we were seeing from the doomsdayers', he said, 'was an induced dose of mild hysteria, semi- religious if you like, but dangerously close to superstition. I would be surprised if industrial pollution, and carbon emissions, had no ill effect at all. But enough is enough.'
The cardinal pointed out that enormous climate changes have occurred in the past, with long and terrible droughts not infrequent in Australia's history.
The scientific evidence on warming is, he said, mixed:
* Global warming has been increasing constantly since 1975 at the rate of less than one-fifth of a degree centigrade per decade.
* The concentration of carbon dioxide increased surface temperatures more in winter than in summer and especially in mid and high latitudes over land, while there was a global cooling of the stratosphere.
* The East Anglia University climate research unit found that global temperatures did not increase between 1998 and 2005.
* A recent NASA satellite found that the Southern Hemisphere has not warmed in the past 25 years.
'The science is more complicated than the propaganda!' he concluded.
Sunday Telegraph (Sydney)
Spanish Archbishop on General Absolution abuse
In his pastoral letter, 'Lent in Times of Trial,' Archbishop Fernando Sebastian of Pamplona has demanded that priests definitively cease from abusing the practice of general absolution 'in which the confession of sins and the direct and personal reception of absolution are suppressed.'
Archbishop Sebastian stressed that Lent is an invitation to repentance of our sins and to obtaining God's forgiveness through the Sacrament of Penance.
He pointed out, 'Nobody, no priest, no group, has the right to modify the norms of the Church regarding how this sacrament should be celebrated.'
These norms, he said, 'require the personal confession of sins to a confessor authorised by the Church and the manifestation of true repentance with a sincere purpose of amendment which prepares us to personally receive from the confessor absolution for our sins by the minister of the Church and in the name of God himself.'
The Archbishop warned that no Catholics had 'the right to modify the manner of celebrating the sacraments to their own liking without risking their profanation and the loss of their sanctifying force. Whoever acts thus commits serious disobedience, deceives the faithful and wounds ecclesial communion.'
Archbishop Sebastian urged the faithful to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance according to the norms of the Church. 'Without this practice there can be no spiritual growth in Christians nor will we ever be able to promote spiritually vibrant parish communities,' he said.
Catholic News Agency
Discovery India cancels documentary on Jesus
The Discovery Channel announced in March that it would not broadcast the The Lost Tomb of Jesus in India after protests from various Christian groups, led by the Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum.
The documentary, directed by Simcha Jacobovici and produced by James Cameron (Titanic), had its worldwide premier on 4 March.
Protesters said the documentary, which claims to have found the burial place of Jesus, his alleged wife, Mary Magdalene, and their son, Judas, trivialises the Christian faith.
Father Babu Joseph, the spokes- man for the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, said in a statement against the film, 'the documentary is not based on proven historical fact. Historically speaking, evidences closer to the event have more authenticity than evidences dished out after 2,000 years. According to Biblical and non- Biblical sources, it has been believed that Jesus rose from the dead, and that is the basis of the entire Christian faith and tradition.'
Numerous archeological experts, such as the internationally renowned Holy Land archeologist, Professor Amos Kloner, have also criticised the documentary. Kloner, who revealed the findings of the very same dig ten years ago, criticised the filmmakers' marketing strategy and said it was not based on proof.
Kloner said a similar film was released 11 years ago, and the new film, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, is simply a renewed effort to create controversy in order to make a profit.
Catholic News Agency
Cardinal Schönborn on intelligent design debate
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna has condemned a two-year-old US court decision that bars a Pennsylvania school district from teaching 'intelligent design'. During a lecture in February sponsored by the Homeland Foundation, the Cardinal said that restricting debate about Darwin's theory of evolution amounted to censorship.
In 2005, a US federal court ruled that the Dover, Pennsylvania, public school district could not teach the concept of 'intelligent design' in biology class.
Intelligent design says an intelligent supernatural force is responsible for the emergence of complex life forms. The judge ruled that the theory was creationism in disguise.
Cardinal Schönborn said the ruling meant that schools would only teach a materialistic, atheistic view of the origin of the universe, without considering the idea that God played a role - 'A truly liberal society would at least allow students to hear of the debate.'
The Cardinal, who has spoken often on the topic, affirmed that the Catholic Church does not endorse creationism. 'The first page of the Bible is not a cosmological treatise about the coming to be of the world in six days,' he said. But while 'the Catholic faith can accept' the possibility that God uses evolution as a tool, science alone cannot explain the origins of the universe.
Catholic News Agency
Portuguese voters back legal abortion
In a nationwide referendum on 11 February, Portuguese voters gave their support to a proposal loosening restrictions on abortion.
Although the number of voters participating in the referendum fell well short of the level required to make the decision binding, Prime Minister Jose Socrates said that his government would move forward with plans to allow legal abortion.
'The people spoke with a clear voice,' Socrates said, pointing to results that showed 59.25% of the voters approving a liberal abortion law, while only 40.75% opposed. However, just over 40% of the eligible voters participated; a 50% turnout would have been required to enact the law.
In 1998, a similar referendum on abortion had produced a bare majority (51-49%) supporting the existing law, again without the required turnout.
The proposal placed before the Portuguese voters on 11 February would have allowed legal abortion on demand in registered clinics through the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. Prime Minister Socrates said legislation allowing abortion under the same conditions would now be brought before the nation's parliament. He indicated that he was confident the measure would be approved.
Portugal currently allows abortion only in cases of rape, severe foetal deformation, or danger to the life of the mother. Among the nations of Europe, only Portugal, Ireland, and Malta currently ban abortion under most circumstances.
Catholic World News
Condoms not the answer to AIDS pandemic
Preaching chastity and fidelity are 'the only way' to tackle an AIDS pandemic sweeping Zambia, according to a nun who has set up a hospice for people infected by HIV. Sister Maria Crucis Beards recently spelled out the ineffectiveness of condoms and how the devices actually encourage promiscuity.
In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), she said most Zambians wrongly believed that condoms provided a guarantee against the spread of HIV.
'I believe telling people about the importance of chastity and fidelity is the only way to tackle the crisis. Condoms have been freely available for 10 years or more and yet there's been no obvious change in HIV levels. Clearly, condoms don't work,' she said.
Sr Crucis stressed the need for action against HIV, saying that up to 200,000 Zambians are in urgent need of HIV treatment with anti-retroviral therapy and about half of all general hospital admissions involve people infected with the illness.
Catholic News Agency