Pope to bishops: improve charities supervision
Benedict XVI has released an apostolic letter on Catholic charities that asks bishops to improve their supervision of local charities and ensure that these groups' work does not contradict Catholic teaching.
The Pope's letter, released on 1 December, notes the duty of diocesan bishops and parish priests to see that in charitable service the faithful "are not led into error or misunderstanding."
Bishops and parish priests, said Benedict, "are to prevent publicity being given through parish or diocesan structures to initiatives which, while presenting themselves as charitable, propose choices or methods at odds with the Church's teaching."
The Pope's letter includes new regulations on how to better organise the Church's charitable activities which must adhere to Catholic teaching, conform to the intentions of the faithful and respect legitimate civil regulation. Benedict adds that it is the bishops' responsibility to ensure this.
"Above all it is important to remember that practical actions are never enough," he said. "Charity must express a genuine love for people, a love animated by a personal encounter with Christ" and Catholic charities must avoid becoming "just another form of organised social assistance."
Catholic News Agency
US bishop's strong stance against dissent
The Catholic bishop of Madison, Wisconsin, has banned employees of a local "spirituality center," including two nuns, from speaking in his diocese. He was concerned that they were misrepresenting the Catholic faith and preaching a New Age religion.
Bishop Robert Morlino is well known to pro-life and pro-family activists for his strong defence of Church teachings, particularly on life and family, and he has earned praise from Catholics in the past for cracking down on dissent in his diocese.
A memo in December from Msgr James Bartylla, the vicar general, explained that staff from the Wisdom's Well Interfaith Spirituality Center were no longer permitted "to preach, catechize, lead spiritual or prayer instructions or exercises, or to provide spiritual direction or guidance" at any Catholic institutions in the diocese.
The centre was also banned from distributing any of its materials or advertising in the diocese.
The vicar general explained that an examination of the centre's website had raised "grave concerns" that "the center and its members may espouse certain views flowing from New Ageism, panentheism, and indifferentism, and may not share an authentic view of the Catholic Church's approach to interreligious dialogue."
In his memo Msgr Bartylla said that concerns about Wisdom Well arose after applications were submitted to the diocese to have representatives of the centre speak. A speaker's policy put in place by the diocese in 2010 requires "any speaker under consideration to give a presentation on matters of faith and morals" to be approved by the diocese.
In 2006, Bishop Morlino took action against a number of priests who were contradicting Catholic teaching on life and family issues and in 2009 he dismissed a pastoral associate who advocated dissident liberation and feminist theology after she refused to recant her positions.
Art and liturgical music: Vatican directives
With the Vatican's approval of its restructuring on 14 November, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is shifting its focus more intensely onto art and liturgical music.
The restructuring is in accord with a September 2011 apostolic letter issued by Benedict XVI, where he noted that the changes will help the Congregation in "giving a fresh impetus to promoting the sacred liturgy in the Church."
This will be achieved mainly through a new office dedicated to sacred music and liturgical art, including architecture, which becomes operational in 2013.
Its charges will include issuing guidelines on liturgical music and the structure of new churches so that they reflect the mysterious encounter with the divine, as well as follow the dictates and instructions of the new English translation of the Roman Missal.
Spanish Cardinal Antonio Canizares, Prefect of the Congregation, is entrusted with overseeing that these future guidelines and existing ones on liturgical celebration are followed throughout the world.
French bishops defend marriage
Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, the Archbishop of Paris, has pledged that he and other French Catholics will oppose the Socialist government's plans to rewrite the marriage law.
Speaking to fellow bishops at a meeting at the shrine of Lourdes in November, Cardinal Vingt-Trois said, "When we defend the right of children to build their personality with reference to the man and the woman who gave them life, we are not defending a particular position. We are recognising what is expressed by the practices and the wisdom of all the peoples since the beginning of time and which modern specialists confirm."
He said same-sex "marriage" would harm the equilibrium of French society and of children: "It will not be 'marriage for all'," he said, citing the government's slogan, "it will be the 'marriage' of a few imposed on all."
The cardinal urged the government to focus on urgent economic matters that concern people more than ideologically motivated efforts to install "gay marriage".
Critics of same-sex "marriage" have said that the change is driven by political motives, and that it is not in demand by homosexual people themselves. This argument is backed up by the numbers of gay partners entering into civil unions, which have been legal since 1999. Only about four per cent of civil unions, which are open to heterosexual couples as well, are between persons of the same sex.
Whether the Cardinal's vocal opposition to the change will affect the debate remains to be seen. While 83 percent of France's population still call themselves Catholics on census forms, weekly attendance at Mass, according to 2002 statistics, is about eight percent. At the same time, opinion polls are showing that 60 percent of the public support President François Hollande's plan to redefine marriage, although this represents a slight drop since religious leaders began opposing it publicly.
Polls also show that while there is broad support for gay "marriage," the French are less enthusiastic about allowing homosexual partners to adopt children. Hollande said the bill, introduced in November 2012, will be law by mid-2013.
World's population: 84% identify with a religion
Around 84% of the world's population - about 5.8 billion individuals - identify with a religious group, according to a recent American study.
"Christians number 2.2 billion, or about one-in-three" of the 6.9 billion people in the world in 2010, the study found, adding that about "half of all Christians are Catholic."
Released on 18 December, the study examined censuses, surveys and population registers to determine the size, geographical distribution and age of the world's major religions.
As of 2012, the world contained about 1.6 billion Muslims, one billion Hindus, almost 500 million Buddhists and 14 million Jews. About one-in-six people throughout the world have no religious affiliation. However, the study said that many of this category had some religious beliefs, including belief in God or participation in religious observances.
In six countries - the Czech Republic, North Korea, Estonia, Japan, Hong Kong and China - the religiously unaffiliated make up the majority of the population. China is home to 62 percent of the world's religiously unaffiliated people.
Out of 232 countries and territories in the study, 157 have Christian majorities, the analysis noted.
"Christianity has spread far from its historical origins and is geographically widespread," it found, observing that 99 percent of Christians live outside the region where the religion started.
In addition, the analysis revealed that Christianity has roughly equal numbers in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa.
"Of the major religious groups covered in this study, Christians are the most evenly dispersed," it said.
Catholic News Agency
Benedict XVI launches new Latin academy
Pope Benedict XVI has launched a new Pontifical Academy for Latin to help priests and academics deepen their knowledge and ability with the language. "There is a pressing need for greater knowledge and more competent use of Latin in the ecclesial environment as well as in the world of culture at large," Benedict said on 10 November.
The new academy, which was announced in a motu proprio titled Latina Lingua, will have two goals. The first is "to promote the knowledge and study of the Latin language and literature, both classical and patristic ... especially in Catholic educational institutions where priests both train and educate seminarians." The second aim will be to promote the written and spoken use of Latin.
"There is a danger of an increasingly superficial knowledge of Latin, also reflected in the philosophical and theological studies of future priests, in contemporary culture and in the context of a general weakening of the humanities," Benedict XVI wrote in his letter.
"It seems urgent to support the efforts for a more responsible use of Latin and a better understanding of it, both within the Church and in the wider world of culture."
The Pontifical Academy for Latin, which will have a five year trial period, will be a part of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
US Catholics welcome new Mass translation
One year after the Church introduced revisions to the English-language liturgy, a large majority of American Catholics continues to view the changes in a positive light. A recent poll found that 70 percent of American Catholics agreed with the statement, "Overall, I think the new translation of the Mass is a good thing."
The poll, conducted in September 2012 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, sought to gain an understanding of how adult Catholics perceived the third edition of the Roman Missal that went into use on 27 November 2011.
Catholics who attend Mass at least once a week were most likely to approve of the revised liturgy, with more than 80 percent agreeing that it was a good thing. However, even among those who rarely attend Mass, more than 60 percent approved of the new translation.
Respondents were also asked whether the translation helped them feel closer to God and inspired them to be more faithful Catholics in their daily lives. In each case, at least three-quarters of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed. Catholics who attend Mass more regularly were more likely than others to strongly agree with each statement.
Catholic News Agency
Indian martyr beatified
The life of Blessed Devasahayam Pillai, an 18th-century Catholic layman who was martyred for refusing to deny his faith despite being brutally tortured, was held up as an example for all Christians to embrace.
"[India] can rejoice as this great martyr is now only a step away from being a declared saint," Bishop Peter Remigius of Kottar told Catholic News Service on 3 December, a day after 400,000 people attended the beatification ceremony in Nagercoil, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Saints' Causes, presided during the ceremony while Father Antony Gabriel, vice postulator of the canonisation process, called Blessed Pillai a "true martyr."
Born in an upper-caste family in 1712 and named Neelakandan, Blessed Pillai became a trusted soldier of the Hindu king, but later incurred his wrath for embracing Christianity.
In 1749, Blessed Pillai was arrested and sentenced to death. However, just before he was sent to the gallows, the Hindu king cancelled the execution order. Blessed Pillai remained imprisoned for three more years, enduring torture and public beatings for refusing to renounce his faith.
"Meanwhile, people had noticed his strong faith and started becoming Christians," Father Gabriel said. "That was why he was secretly taken to a jungle and shot dead." Christians later discovered his remains and buried them in front of the altar in St Francis Xavier Church, which now serves as the Kottar diocesan cathedral.
Catholic News Service