Melbourne seminarians continue to increase
In his report to Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne in December 2004, at the conclusion of his six years as Director of Vocations, Fr Paul Stuart noted that during that period 41 new seminarians had been "welcomed" into the Archdiocese. Compared with earlier periods, this represented "a reversal of the trend downward in applications" for Melbourne.
In February 2005 the total number of Melbourne seminarians will be 31, 29 of them at Corpus Christi Carlton and two at the North American College, Rome. This, says Fr Stuart, is more than double the figure for 1993, despite decreasing Mass attendances, clergy sex scandals, the huge decreases in numbers in other Australian dioceses, and with the services of only a part-time Director of Vocations. "Something is going right in Melbourne", he said.
Fr Stuart's successor is Father Anthony Denton. Fr Stuart concluded his report: "I will actively support his ministry because I believe every priest is a Vocations Director, and every presbytery is a Vocations Office."
Anglicanism about to implode says UK bishop
The Anglican Archbishop of York, David Hope, told the The Telegraph (London) on 5 December that because of the ordination of an actively homosexual bishop, the Anglican Church is "on the verge of implosion."
Archbishop Hope, considered the second most important man in the Anglican Church in England, said the "fundamental Christian message" of the Anglican Church "is in danger of being lost" because of the differences that have emerged surrounding the ordination of women and, especially, the ordination of active homosexuals.
The internal struggle of the Anglican Communion because of these moral issues, he said, "puts off both young and old people." The Anglican Communion needed to first concentrate on "urgent" issues such as "the Christian doctrine of creation, redemption and sanctification."
Dr Hope retired as Archbishop of York on 15 January 2005.
Sydney Archdiocese program offers alternatives to abortion
Cardinal George Pell has announced a program, new to Australia and only the third of its kind in the world, to provide support to pregnant women who are contemplating abortion.
"We want to respond to the needs of women facing an unexpected or difficult pregnancy by providing them with life-affirming options," he said.
"Through the program, expectant mothers and, if required, their families, will be provided with social, emotional and practical support to enable them to continue with their pregnancy to full term. Women need real alternatives to abortion, and this new program is targeted to meet the specific needs of women contemplating abortion."
Cardinal Pell had asked the Catholic agency, Centacare, to develop the program, saying he believed very strongly in the importance of such a service in offering assistance to all women, including those who felt they had no one to turn to for help.
It would involve, he said, "a professional counselling and support service to women and their partners and families, as well as a referral service for accommodation and appropriate ongoing support services" as well as "spiritual help" if it were requested.
Bishop Anthony Fisher, auxiliary bishop of Sydney, and spokesman for the Centacare Pregnancy Support Program, said he had personally known young women who had been pregnant and thought they had no way out, no choice, no solution and no one to turn to.
"They had been offered abortion or abortion referrals by their doctors. When they had a chance to see someone and talk about their options they realised that this was not the end of the world and changed their minds."
Bishop Fisher said he firmly believed that whether people were for or against abortion, there should be little reason for anyone to object to the positive options to abortion such as this program offered.
"There has been a lot of material lately of women reflecting back on their abortions and saying they had no alternative. We hope to provide that alternative."
Bishop Fisher acknowledged the teachings of the Catholic Church were seen by many as abstract and judgmental and complaints in that direction at times could have some basis.
"It has to be made clear that we are really here not to be judgmental; whatever it was that has brought the girl or woman to this point is past. There are to be no inquiries or accusations or recriminations."
As well as counselling there will be financial support for those who need it. If, for example, a girl needed to leave home because of her condition, accommodation would be found.
The bishop added that because of the Church's close contacts with education they would be able to ensure that schools and tertiary institutions were pregnancy-friendly, and that the girls would be treated well and supported.
The Centacare Pregnancy Support Program is now available for women and their families who live in Sydney.
What US Christians believe about Christmas
An article in Newsweek last December on the birth of Jesus cites that magazine's most recent poll on what Americans believe about Christmas.
The article examines the ongoing scholarly debate over the historical accuracy of the Nativity narratives and their theological meaning and whether some of the central images and words of the Christian religion owe as much to the pagan culture of the Roman Empire as they do to apostolic revelation.
However the poll indicates a wide gulf between the views of the scholars cited in the report and what Christians believe.
The Newsweek poll indicates that 79 percent of Americans, and 87 percent of Christians, say they believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, without a human father.
In addition, 67 percent of Americans, and 75 percent of Christians, believe that the biblical story of Christmas is historically accurate. Less than a quarter of Americans (24 percent), and 17 percent of Christians, believe the story of Christmas is a theological story, written to affirm faith in Jesus Christ.
The poll reveals that 93 percent of Americans believe Jesus Christ actually lived, and 82 percent that he was God or the Son of God.
Fifty-two percent of all those polled believe, as the Bible says, that Jesus will return to earth someday; 21 percent do not.
"No religion" second largest category in Canada
The second largest religious group in Canada, after Catholics, are those who identify themselves as belonging to "no religion," according to a report in the Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail.
A statistical profile on the family carried out by the Vanier Institute showed that 17 per cent of Canadians have "no religion," while the number of Muslims in the country grew from a small base by 129 per cent between 1991 and 2001.
The increase in non-traditional religions in Canada during the same period is also dramatically high, with the numbers of Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs all up by more than 80 per cent.
Over the same period, the number of Presbyterians declined by 35 per cent.
Thomas Groome students challenge marriage laws
Both women who took a High Court action late in 2004 to force a review of Ireland's marriage laws have had a long and substantial involvement in religious education. The two women actively seeking legal recognition of homosexual unions, have taught extensively at a Catholic teacher training college in Dublin.
Ann Louise Gilligan is a former religious sister who currently teaches Education in St Patrick's College, Drumcondra. She has taught at the Catholic teaching college since 1976, and at one time was chair of the Religious Studies Department, from 1982-1992. It was while studying under well-known pedagogue Thomas Groome at Boston College in the US that Miss Gilligan met Miss Katherine Zappone.
Miss Zappone has also taught at St Patrick's College and studied Education and Religious Studies at Boston College from which she holds a doctorate. Before this she took Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC. A government appointee to the Irish Human Rights Commission, she was formerly Chief Executive of the National Women's Council of Ireland.
Archbishop Bathersby on "spying" in churches
Archbishop John Bathersby of Brisbane was reported in The Courier-Mail (4 December 2004) as condemning the practice of "spying" by conservative elements in church congregations. He said that taking notes during a service with the intention of using that material to complain about what was taking place was disrespectful.
The Archbishop was responding specifically to complaints he had received about the masses at St Mary's Catholic Church in South Brisbane and Father Peter Kennedy. He said that regardless of how unorthodox the Mass might be perceived as being, it was still an act of worship and should be respected.
"People from the right wing of the church will go along and have little notebooks and take notes, and that is also not honouring the presence of the body and blood of Christ," Archbishop Bathersby said. "In other words it's spying on an act of worship."
Father Kennedy expressed agreement: "People have no right to be doing this sort of thing. They have no respect for the Mass and they have not respect for the liturgy. They see the Mass as so sacred and yet they come in and take notes."
Archbishop Bathersby said it would not be possible to report adversely on the content of a service while respecting what was taking place. "I don't like that (spying) one bit. I think it still is an act of worship, even though there is a great deal of unorthodoxy about it at St Mary's. It still is an act of worship and I don't think it's right to be a part of that and neglect the fact that worship is taking place."
Abstinence and fidelity keys to stopping AIDS
Just prior to the celebration of World AIDS Day late in 2004, the prestigious medical magazine The Lancet published a document signed by experts from 36 countries who for the first time recognised that abstinence and fidelity are crucial to stopping the spread of AIDS.
The signatories acknowledged that use of condoms alone is not enough to stop the spread of AIDS and recommended abstinence should be promoted among young people not yet engaged in sexual activity, emphasising that avoiding risks is the best way to prevent AIDS.
If sexual activity has already occurred such individuals should be encouraged to return to abstinence or mutual fidelity with a healthy person as the best way to avoid infection.
Although the experts continue to promote the use of condoms among "sexually active young people," they insist they are not 100 per cent safe. Likewise they promote preventative programs urging parents to assume their responsibility in passing on values and expectations related to the sexual behaviour of their children.
Regarding sexually active adults, the first priority should be the promotion of mutual fidelity with a healthy partner, they said. The experience in countries in which the incidence of infections has diminished shows that reduction in the number of partners is critical for achieving this objective on a wide scale.
According to the document in The Lancet, the situation in Uganda - with its focus on abstinence and fidelity - represented a radical shift in the policies of prevention, hitherto centred exclusively on condom use.
In 1991, Uganda had 15 per cent of its population infected with AIDS. By 2002 this had fallen to 10 per cent. UNAIDS acknowledged this decline was "unique in the world".