Year of Faith: response to a "profound crisis"
The upcoming 2012-2013 Year of Faith seeks to awaken humanity at a critical moment, Benedict XVI said during an address to members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 27 January.
"In vast areas of the earth the faith risks being extinguished, like a flame without fuel. We are facing a profound crisis of faith, a loss of a religious sense which represents one of the greatest challenges for the Church today."
Benedict hopes the Year of Faith, which will run from 11 October 2012 to 24 November 2013, will contribute "to restoring God's presence in this world." Such a renewal of faith, he stressed, "must, then, be a priority for the entire Church in our time."
Referring to the quest to reunite all Christians, the Pope acknowledged that ecumenical efforts had not always served to strengthen believers' faith. Along with the "many good fruits that have emerged from ecumenical dialogue," there are also "risks of indifference and of false irenicism", giving the appearance of unity, without regard for truth.
"In this scenario," he noted, "faith comes to be replaced by a shallow-rooted moralism," which can cause the dialogue between Christian groups to become superficial."
US joint letter against "gay marriage"
Thirty-nine US religious leaders, including four Catholic bishops and a wide range of other religious representatives, have signed a joint letter, "Marriage and Religious Freedom: Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together," which was released on 12 January.
The letter objects to the possibility of religious groups being forced to treat same-sex unions as equivalent to marriage: "Altering the civil definition of 'marriage' does not change one law, but hundreds, even thousands."
As the letter explains: "By a single stroke, every law where rights depend on marital status - such as employment discrimination, employment benefits, adoption, education, health care, elder care, housing, property and taxation - will change so that same-sex sexual relationships must be treated as if they were marriage.
"That requirement, in turn, will apply to religious people and groups in the ordinary course of their many private or public occupations and ministries - including running schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other housing facilities, providing adoption and counseling services, and many others."
The push to alter the definition of marriage "warrants special attention within our faith communities and throughout society as a whole," the letter said, because such an action would have "grave consequences," including interfering with the "religious freedom of those who continue to affirm" traditional marriage.
The letter concluded: "The promotion and protection of marriage - the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife - is a matter of the common good and serves the well-being of the couple, of children, of civil society and all people."
Catholic News Service
US Bishop calls for renewal in catechesis
Bishop Alexander Sample, 50, of Marquette, US, was interviewed at the end of last year by The Catholic World Report on the fifth anniversary of his episcopal ordination. The following is a pertinent and timely extract from that interview.
"I consider myself as a John Paul II priest and bishop ... I lived through the late 1960s and 1970s when there was so much confusion, upheaval and experimentation, both in our culture and in the Church.
"In this time of great confusion, catechists suffered. We booted the Baltimore Catechism out the door, but there wasn't anything to replace it. I was taught the faith in Catholic schools using materials that were weak and insubstantial. I wasn't being taught my faith. The liturgy suffered from experimentation as well.
When I speak about this publicly, invariably people of my generation come up to me to agree with what I'm saying. This includes many bishops.
"My generation raised up the next generation. Since we weren't taught the faith, we raised children who weren't either.
"We need a renewal in catechesis. I feel passionately about this. In my Diocese of Marquette, I directed the development of a diocesan curriculum for faith formation for grades K-8. It is a solid, substantive, systematic, and sequential curriculum, which builds from one year to the next. It is topical, based on the pillars of the catechism. Every parish is expected to follow this curriculum.
"Now I'm turning my attention toward adult faith formation. If we can get catechesis and the liturgy right, we'll be well on our way to the renewal and growth of the Church for which we hope."
Catholic World Report
Spain's low religious practice rate
New data shows that despite over 70 percent of Spaniards identifying themselves as Catholic, only 13.6 percent say they practise their faith and attend Mass on Sundays and holy days.
A new study from the Centre for Sociological Studies in Spain showed the number of those who claim to be Catholic remains practically unchanged from last year, with just a small 0.2 percent decrease.
According to the data, of all those polled by the survey who claim to be believers - both Catholics (73.4 percent) and those of other religions (1.9 percent) - 58.2 percent "almost never" attend Mass.
Respondents who said they attend religious services - excluding weddings, First Communions or funerals - "several times a year" increased from 16.4 percent to 17.7 percent, while those who practise their faith "once a month" fell from 10.1 percent to 7.3 percent.
Catholic News Agency
Scottish midwives refuse abortion cases
Two Catholic midwives are testifying before Scotland's highest civil court that they are being forced to participate in abortions against both their consciences and the law.
Mary Doogan and Connie Wood have been told by the state-run National Health Service in Glasgow that they are expected to supervise and support other midwives who perform abortions. As senior staff, the two midwives were expected to be on standby to help in abortion procedures in certain medical situations.
In their 17 January petition to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, the women explained that "they hold a religious belief that all human life is sacred from the moment of conception and that termination or pregnancy is a grave offence against human life."
The midwives maintain that their right to opt-out of providing abortions for reasons of conscience is upheld by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Section 4(1) of the UK's 1967 Abortion Act.
The court heard how both Doogan and Wood have worked for over 20 years at Glasgow's Southern General Hospital and that throughout that time they have always made clear their conscientious objection to abortion.
In 2007, however, the National Health Service in Glasgow decided to send more women undergoing late-term abortions to labour wards, instead of admitting them to gynecological departments. This change in policy led to the current dispute between the health service and the midwives.
Catholic News Agency
Pope's call to defend religious freedom
On 19 January Benedict XVI, speaking to a group of US bishops on their ad limina visit, warned of "certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion."
He said that the Church in the US "is called, in season and out of season, to proclaim a Gospel which not only proposes unchanging moral truths but proposes them precisely as the key to human happiness and social prospering."
Benedict said it was "imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realise the grave threats to the Church's public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion ...
"The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country as essential components of the new evangelisation, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs at every level."
Benedict praised the bishops' "efforts to maintain contacts with Catholics involved in political life and to help them understand their personal responsibility to offer public witness to their faith, especially with regard to the great moral issues of our time ...
"There can be no doubt that a more consistent witness on the part of America's Catholics to their deepest convictions would make a major contribution to the renewal of society as a whole."
Zenit News Agency
Bosnia-Herzegovina: radical Islam on the rise
Radical Islam is increasing in Bosnia-Herzegovina because authorities are not challenging it and money is being sent to its followers by extremists in the Middle East, Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo warned.
Cardinal Vinko Puljic, the Archbishop of Sarajevo, said that Wahhabism is spreading in the Balkan country with 3,000 to 5,000 Wahhabis in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
"Nobody in the government has the courage to do anything to prevent this development," Cardinal Puljic told Aid to the Church in Need during a visit to its headquarters in Konigsberg, Germany.
"Muslim centres and mosques have been built in many places with petrodollars from Saudi Arabia" with at least 70 new mosques being built in Sarajevo alone in recent years. The King Fahd Mosque, the country's largest Islamic place of worship, has been a magnet for Muslim fundamentalists, according to Aid to the Church in Need.
Cardinal Poljic added that Christians were being treated unequally since although mosques were being built or repaired, building approval for churches could be delayed for many years. While in most cases Muslim property confiscated under communism has been returned, confiscated Church property had still not been returned to its owners.
Meanwhile, the Cardinal explained that the Catholic Church is seeking greater cooperation between different ethnic and religious groups. "We are a minority but we are a constructive force that wishes to make a contribution to the success of society."
Bosnia-Herzegovina is about 40 percent Muslim and 31 percent Serbian Orthodox. Catholics make up 10 percent of the country and their numbers have suffered due to emigration since the 1992 to 1995 war.
US survey: more abortion restrictions favoured
A large majority of Americans supports significant restrictions on abortion, in contradiction to the Supreme Court decisions which require permissive laws nationwide, according to the results of a new survey sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and released on 23 January.
"Almost four decades after the Supreme Court's decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, which resulted in the almost totally unrestricted abortion regime of today, these decisions continue to be out of step with the vast majority of Americans," said Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus.
The Knights of Columbus-Marist Poll survey found that 79 percent of Americans say they would not allow abortion after the first three months of pregnancy. Another 51 percent said they would only allow abortion, at most, in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother or they would not allow it at all.
Eighty-four percent of survey respondents said that laws can protect both the life of the unborn and the health and well-being of the mother.
"Far from being settled law, the inadequacy of the Court's reasoning on abortion in Roe and Doe is readily apparent to most Americans. Once a survey moves beyond the labels of pro-life and pro-choice, we see a fundamental unity among Americans in favor of significant abortion restrictions," Anderson said.