Africa: the Church's growth point
Latest Catholic Church statistics
According to the latest statistics released by the Vatican, the number of Catholics in the world has increased from 757 million in 1978 to 1.06 billion in 2001, the period of the present pontificate. However, this 40.2 percent increase has not kept pace with the overall world population increase of 45.8 percent.
The Church's growth was slowest in Europe at 5.3 percent compared with a 148 percent growth in Africa and 71 percent in Asia - although Catholics in Asia constitute only three percent of the total population.
While the overall number of diocesan priests has increased slightly since 1978, the ratio of priests to Catholic population has declined, from one per 1,797 in 1978 to one per 2,619 in 2001. Over that same period, the number of religious order priests fell by 20,000.
The picture regarding seminarians is mixed, with a continued growth in numbers worldwide from 64,000 in 1978 to 112,000 in 2001. Here, Africa again leads the way with a 272 percent growth while Asia has seen a 136 percent increase. However, in North America, the numbers have fallen by 40 percent.
While Europe has seen an eight percent increase, this masks large country-by-country differences between Eastern and Western European nations.
New Archbishop of Boston appointed
An experienced "problem-solver" in two previous dioceses
On 1 July, the Vatican announced the appointment of Most Rev Sean O'Malley to head the troubled Archdiocese of Boston. Archbishop O'Malley, a Capuchin currently heading the Palm Beach Diocese in Florida, will come to Boston with a reputation as a problem-solver, having previously served in two dioceses that - like Boston - faced serious trouble because of the sex-abuse scandal.
The Boston Archdiocese has been riddled with controversy for the past two years because of sex-abuse charges against local clerics and the discovery of a pattern of concealment by archdiocesan officials. Those charges, which prompted lawsuits that have driven the archdiocese to the brink of bankruptcy, finally prompted the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law on 13 December 2002.
Bishop Richard Lennon, who had been an auxiliary bishop of Boston, has been serving as the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese until the appointment of the new archbishop.
Archbishop O'Malley, who was born in Ohio in 1946, entered the Capuchin religious order and was ordained to the priesthood in 1970. In 1984 he was named coadjutor bishop of the St Thomas diocese in the American Virgin Islands, becoming bishop of that diocese in 1985.
In 1992, he was named Bishop of Fall River, Massachusetts, at a time when that diocese was the focal point of national attention because of scores of sex-abuse charges against a former priest of the diocese, James Porter. He led the Fall River Diocese for a decade, successfully restoring calm, before being given a tough new assignment as Bishop of Palm Beach.
There, he stepped into a situation in which two consecutive bishops had been forced to step down in less than four years because of personal involvement in sexual misconduct. Once again, he was apparently successful in restoring calm to the diocese. The Boston Archdiocese, one of the oldest and most populous in the US, serves a Catholic population of over two million people.
Archbishop O'Malley will lead an archdiocese that has about 1,600 priests (roughly divided between archdiocesan and religious priests), and six auxiliary bishops.
Catholic World News
Canadian Archbishop directs his priests
No same-sex 'weddings'
Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais responded to inquiries from reporters in June on homosexual "marriage" by warning priests not to conduct same-sex weddings. In his communications, the Archbishop warned that any Catholic clergy officiating at a homosexual "marriage" ceremony would be suspended.
"In the Catholic Church, an attempted marriage of two of the same sex would not be recognised and the person officiating would be suspended from his sacred duties," he said.
Archbishop Gervais stressed that no change in civil law or even a ruling from the country's Supreme Court would alter the Catholic Church's position on marriage. "We will continue to support the recognition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others," he said. "Even if the Supreme Court of Canada gave its approval, the Catholic Church would not permit any of its licensed personnel to celebrate these relationships as marriages."
Mel Gibson's new movie 'The Passion'
Receives positive responses from Christian organisations
Seeking positive reactions and responses to his film The Passion, Mel Gibson screened it to hundreds of pastors at Focus on the Family's Colorado Springs headquarters on 27 June.
"I'm not a preacher and I'm not a pastor," Gibson told The Colorado Springs Gazette, "but I really feel my career was leading me to make this. The Holy Ghost was working through me on this film, and I was just directing traffic. I hope the film has the power to evangelise."
That's exactly what it does, said Ted Haggard, pastor of the city's New Life Church and president of the National Association of Evangelicals. "It conveys, more accurately than any other film, who Jesus was. You can't help but be upset when you realise the gravity of what Jesus went through ... I've been pastor at New Life Church for 18 years, and I don't remember anyone displaying a fear of God on our platform the way Mel did today."
In fact, Gibson said, the film has already been evangelistic. "Everyone who worked on this movie was changed. There were agnostics and Muslims on set converting to Christianity." Gibson added that he wants to release the film, mainly shot in Aramaic, without subtitles to "transcend language barriers with visual story telling."
Still, the showing had subtitles in place. Focus on the Family President Don Hodel said he was very impressed. "It's certainly the most powerful portrayal of the Passion I've ever seen or heard about," he told the Gazette. "The movie is historically and theologically accurate."
National Alliance of Christian Leaders
'Gay' cleric declines episcopal appointment
Threat to unity of Anglican Church worldwide
A homosexual Anglican cleric, whose appointment as Bishop of Reading had threatened to provoke serious divisions within the Church of England, has decided to decline the appointment.
Canon Jeffrey John announced his decision on 7 July after conferring with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who had appointed him to the episcopal post. "It has become clear to me that in view of the damage my consecration might cause to the unity of the church I must seek the consent of the Crown to withdraw acceptance of my appointment," John said.
The appointment in June of Canon John, a personal friend of Archbishop Williams, had prompted a heated debate among Anglican prelates around the world, after London newspapers revealed that the Anglican cleric is actively homosexual.
Some African bishops then said that they would break with the Church of England if the appointment was not rescinded. The Archbishop of Canterbury - whose public statements on homosexuality have been a source of grave concern for conservative Anglicans - acknowledged that the appointment of an avowed homosexual "brought to light a good deal of unhappiness," and allowed that "there is an obvious problem in the consecration of a bishop whose ministry will not be readily received by a significant proportion of Christians in England and elsewhere."
Catholic World News
Kenyan TV network apology over Mass satire
Catholics organise protest petition
In a letter of apology to Nairobi's Archbishop Raphael Nzeki, the program manager of the Kenya Television Network admitted that the cast members of a popular weekly show had gone "overboard." The show features skits that contain social and political satire.
The program manager wrote: "The intention was not to bring ridicule to yourself, the Catholic Church or indeed the Christian faith." He said he had discussed the matter with those involved with the show and "they have assured us that they will henceforth remain more sensitive to all religions and indeed social beliefs."
Father Emmanuel Ngugi, rector of Holy Family Basilica, where the Archbishop's office is located, said the program "extended jokes to what they were not supposed to touch."
The offending scene, aired on 8 June, showed an actor portraying the Archbishop celebrating Mass, with the words of Consecration changed in an offensive manner.
Father Ngugi and several parishioners promptly drew up a petition demanding the network formally apologise for the skit. They collected more than 2,000 signatures before submitting the petition to the network.
The Irish Catholic
Pope John Paul II's next book
To deal with his personal and pastoral experience as a bishop
Pope John Paul II is at work on another autobiographical book. As the Holy Father prepared to leave Rome for his summer residence at Castelgandolfo, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told reporters in June that he would use his vacation time "to finish a book that he is writing about his pastoral and personal experience as a bishop."
The Pope has already produced three books of a personal character during his pontificate. Gift and Mystery, published in 1996, was written for the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination, and relied heavily on his personal experiences in ministry.
His prose-poems, Roman Triptych, were published in March of this year, offering his personal reflections on the relationship between man and God. And Crossing the Threshold of Hope, a lengthy interview published in 1994, was a straightforward exploration of the Pope's own thoughts.
It was noted that the Holy Father will celebrate the 25th anniversary of his election to the papacy this coming October - making it a likely occasion for the book's appearance.
Catholic World News
Archbishop Bathersby recovering from stroke
Expected to return to normal duties soon
Archbishop John Bathersby of Brisbane has suffered a mild stroke. The Courier Mail reported (26 June) that he became unwell the previous Saturday and was admitted to the Mater Private Hospital where it was found that he had suffered a small disruption of the blood flow to the brain.
A Church spokesman said the stroke had not caused any hindrance to movement or speech.
The Archbishop stayed at the Mater for tests until 24 June before resting at home. He is expected to return to normal duties soon, although no date has been set.