US opinion polls: success of Benedict XV's visit
Surveys by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, converge in finding that Benedict XVI gained a roughly 10 percent increase in approval ratings in the United States in the wake of his 15-20 April visit.
The Marist poll asked Americans to rate Benedict as a 'spiritual leader' and a 'world leader' before and after the trip, and on both measures his scores went up ten points - 62 percent of those surveyed describe him as 'excellent' or 'good' on the former, and 51 percent say the same about the latter.
The Pew Forum found that Benedict's overall approval rating went up nine points, from 52 percent to 61, and among Catholics it went from 74 to 83 percent.
The Marist survey found that 52 percent of Americans said the trip gave them a 'more positive' impression of the Catholic church, while only 12 percent said 'less positive.'
Why did the pope's trip achieve these positive findings?
According to Vatican analyst John Allen, 'The lion's share of the credit, however, has to go to the pope himself. My suspicion is that the average American took away two basic images of Benedict XVI: kindness and candour. They saw a spiritual leader who came off as warm, humble and compassionate, and who did not flinch from addressing the pain left behind by the sexual abuse crisis.'
Australian bishops respond to Bishop Robinson's book
On 8 May 2008, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference issued a statement identifying doctrinal errors in Bishop Geoffrey Robinson's 2007 book titled Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus.
While acknowledging Bishop Robinson's 'years of effort to bring help and healing to those who have suffered sexual abuse and for what he has done to establish protocols of professional standards for Church personnel in this area', the Bishops said that people had 'a right to know clearly what the Catholic Church believes and teaches, and the Bishops have a corresponding duty to set this forth, as we seek to do in this statement.'
The statement then reads as follows:
'After correspondence and conversation with Bishop Robinson, it is clear that doctrinal difficulties remain. Central to these is a questioning of the authority of the Catholic Church to teach the truth definitively. In Saint John's Gospel, Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to the disciples in order to lead them into the fullness of the truth (cf. John 16:13). It is Catholic teaching that the Church has been endowed with this gift of truth.
'The book's questioning of the authority of the Church is connected to Bishop Robinson's uncertainty about the knowledge and authority of Christ himself. Catholics believe that the Church, founded by Christ, is endowed by him with a teaching office which endures through time. This is why the Church's Magisterium teaches the truth authoritatively in the name of Christ. The book casts doubt upon these teachings.
'This leads in turn to the questioning of Catholic teaching on, among other things, the nature of Tradition, the inspiration of the Holy Scripture, the infallibility of the Councils and the Pope, the authority of the Creeds, the nature of the ministerial priesthood and central elements of the Church's moral teaching.
'The authority entrusted by Christ to his Church may at times be poorly exercised, especially in shaping policy and practice in complex areas of pastoral and human concern. This does not, in Catholic belief, invalidate the Church's authority to teach particular truths of faith and morals.'
Latest statistics confirm growing Church
The Vatican Publishing House has recently released a new edition of the Statistical Yearbook of the Church, comprising information on the main aspects of Catholic Church activity in various countries for the period 2000-2006.
Over these seven years, the Catholic proportion has remained stable at around 17.3 percent of the total world population. In Europe, the growth was under one percent, whereas in the Americas and in Oceania the numbers grew, respectively, by 8.4 percent and 7.6 percent, in Asia they remained fairly stable in line with population growth, and in Africa they grew by over 20 percent.
The number of priests increased slightly, from 405,178 in 2000 to 407,262 in 2006, an overall rise of 0.51 percent. In Africa and Asia their numbers increased (respectively, by 23.24 percent and 17.71 percent), in the Americas they remained stable, while they fell by 5.75 percent in Europe and by 4.37 percent in Oceania.
The number of diocesan priests grew by two percent, from 265,781 in 2000 to 271,091 in 2006. By contrast, the number of religious order priests showed a constant decline, down by 2.31 percent to 136,000 in 2006. Of the continents, only in Europe was there a clear reduction in priests, from 51 percent of the world total to 48 percent. On the other hand, Asia and Africa together represented 17.5 percent of the world total in 2000 and 21 percent in 2006. The Americas remained steady at around 30 percent, with Oceania just over one percent.
Vatican Information Service
Vatican approves Marian apparitions in France
On Sunday, 4 May, during a Mass celebrated in the town of Laus in the French Alps, Bishop Jean-Michel de Falco of Gap, accompanied by numerous cardinals and archbishops from around the world, announced the official approval of the Church of the Marian apparitions to Ben™ite (Benedicta) Rencurel between 1664 and 1718.
During the Mass, attended by Roman Curial officials, Bishop de Falco noted these are the first Marian apparitions to be approved in the 21st century by the Vatican and the Church in France. He called it the most singular event to take place in France since the apparitions of Lourdes in 1858.
'I recognise the supernatural origin of the apparitions and the events and words experienced and narrated by Benedicta Rencurel. I encourage all of the faithful to come and pray and seek spiritual renewal at this shrine,' the bishop said.
'Nobody is obliged to believe in apparitions,' he continued, 'even in those officially recognised, but if they help us in our faith and our daily lives, why should we reject them?'.
The shrine of Our Lady of Laus attracts some 120,000 pilgrims each year. The Catholic philosopher Jean Guitton called it 'one of the most hidden and powerful shrines of Europe.'
Today the shrine is run by diocesan clergy with the assistance of a community of the Brothers of St John who are dedicated to promoting the sacrament of Penance.
Catholic News Agency
Death of a remarkable Australian bishop
Bishop John Aloysius Morgan, who died in Canberra on 21 May 2008 at the age of 98, was the world's fifth oldest Catholic bishop. He did not quite achieve his jokingly stated ambition to outlive Archbishop Mannix who lived to age 99.
Bishop Morgan enjoys a place in Australian history, not only because of his longevity but also because of his long service as chaplain to the Australian Army and later as Military Vicar of Australia. He was a fulltime Army chaplain during World War II, had distinguished service in Papua New Guinea and was present at the signing of the surrender of the Japanese in Salamaua on 15 August l945.
Of this Bishop Morgan commented: 'I have always regarded this day as providential - it was the Feast Day of the Assumption of Our Lady'.
Bishop Morgan was ordained in 1934 in Melbourne by Archbishop Mannix. In 1941 he entered full time Army chaplaincy which would last for the next five years. A well known painting in the Australia War Memorial shows Father Morgan saying Mass for the troops in the New Guinea jungle.
After the War, Father Morgan served in various parishes in Melbourne before being appointed Chaplain General Army in 1955. In that capacity he came to Canberra in 1964 which was to be home for the rest of his days.
In 1969 the Military Vicariate was established and in that year Bishop Morgan was consecrated Auxiliary Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, taking up the appointment of Military Vicar of Australia shortly afterwards.
He retired in 1985 as Auxiliary Bishop and Military Vicar, but continued a very active Ministry. Until well into his 90s he regularly celebrated a lunchtime Mass at St Christopher's Cathedral in Canberra and Massgoers were constantly amazed that even at his advanced age he would fully observe the liturgical actions such as genuflecting - and all the way to the floor.
In paying tribute, Archbishop Mark Coleridge said Bishop Morgan was the son of a remarkable Melbourne family and showed himself through his life to be an outstanding human being, soldier and priest.
'His life,' said Archbishop Coleridge, 'was full not only of years but of much else that made him such a memorable character.His courage and devotion to duty as a military chaplain were legendary, as were the depth of his Christian faith and his loyalty to the Church'.
Abstinence the key to AIDS fight in Africa
Efforts to curb the AIDS epidemic in Africa should concentrate on promoting sexual restraint, a team of Harvard researchers concluded in May, after finding that condom-distribution campaigns have not significantly reduced the spread of the disease.
'We need a fairly dramatic shift in priorities, not just a minor tweaking,' said Dr Daniel Halperin, who led the research team from the Harvard School of Public Health. The group's report in Science magazine found that male circumcision had a dramatic effect in curtailing the transfer of the HIV virus. But efforts to promote condom use did not affect the spread of AIDS in Africa.
The Harvard study focused on nine African countries where the AIDS epidemic has been most devastating with more than 12 percent of adults being HIV-positive.
The researchers found that programs designed to discourage sexual promiscuity had a strong positive impact in several countries. The most successful program was in Uganda, where a government-backed campaign produced a reported 50 percent drop in the number of people reporting multiple sexual partners. Similar programs had led to a reduction in the rate of HIV infection in Kenya, Ethiopia, Malawi, and Ivory Coast.
Catholic World News
Australian Catholics: Mass attendances decline further
According to the 2006 Australian Census, the Catholic population was 5,126,884 or 25.8 percent of the total Australian population, a fall from 26.6 percent in 2001.
The latest research figures from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Pastoral Projects Office shows that of these, in 2006, about 709,000 people, or 13.8 percent of all Australian Catholics, attended Mass on a typical Sunday, compared with the 2001 figure of 15.3 percent. Even the figure for at least once a month was just 15 percent.
There are 33 dioceses in Australia with 1363 parishes listed in the 2007-08 Official Directory. To service these in 2007 there were 3178 priests, made up of 1996 diocesan priests (with 424 of them retired) and 1182 priests belonging to about 40 religious orders.
The number of priests had peaked at 3895 in 1971, and remained above 3800 from 1968 until the early 1980s. Overall there was a decline in numbers of around 18 percent between 1971 and 2007.
In 2007, according to the Official Catholic Directory, there were 179 young men training to be priests in Australia's diocesan seminaries. In contrast, there were 546 in 1969. By 1991, that figure had dropped to 172, and it has remained around that mark since then, although it fluctuates somewhat from year to year.
In Australia in 2006, there were 1613 Catholics for every priest. According to the Statistical Yearbook of the Church, the number of Catholics per priest by continent in 2005 was as follows: Africa 4741, South America 7129, North America 1499, Asia 2329, Europe 1415 and Oceania 1845. The overall World average was 2743.