Priestly vocations crisis over
Vatican comments on latest statistics
The worldwide crisis of clerical vocations has ended, according to the prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy.
Speaking to journalists on 30 March, as he briefed the press on the Pope's annual Holy Thursday letter to priests, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos reported that there are now 109,828 seminarians preparing for the priesthood around the world - a slight increase over the 108,517 in 1997, and an enormous increase from the 60,142 in 1975.
The Cardinal also observed that today's seminarians are somewhat older than their counterparts of a generation ago. Many have completed undergraduate education, and quite a few have gained some experience in professional life, before entering the seminary.
There were 404,626 priests serving the Catholic Church in 1999. Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos noted that some priests have returned to their ministry after having abandoned the priesthood, while the number leaving priestly life is falling: in 1975, 3,314 men left the priesthood, whereas in 1997 there were 1,006.
Chinese prelate's death
John Paul II's tribute to Cardinal Kung
John Paul II was "deeply saddened" when he received the news of the death in March of Cardinal Ignatius Kung (Gong) Pin-mei. In a message, the Holy Father recognised the deceased Cardinal's "heroic fidelity to Christ amid persecution and imprisonment, and his outstanding witness of communion with the universal Church and the successor of Peter."
Cardinal Kung's death could provide a decisive impulse to the unification of the underground and official Churches in China. According to Fides, the consecration of five bishops, carried out on 6 January by order of the Government and without the Pope's permission, is turning into a "boomerang". The recently ordained bishops appear to have "repented" over the illegal ordination and Catholics of the official Church have protested at the way it took place.
A priest of the Patriotic Association, controlled by the Communist Party, described Cardinal Kung to Fides as "our spiritual guide," and stated his conviction that Kung's death could become the moment of unity for the two Chinese Churches.
Fides also points out that, following the illegal ordinations, many bishops and priests of the official Church are rethinking their adherence to the Patriotic Association.
Support for Pius XII's World War II role
Conclusions of Russian historian
One of the latest historical testimonies to Pope Pius XII's honourable role during World War II has come from Russian historian Evghenija Tokareva. In a book entitled Fascism, the Church, and the Catholic Movement in Italy: 1922-1943, published by the Institute of World History of the Russian Academy for Sciences, the author states that Pius XII's attitude towards Nazism "was dictated by prudence" and that "the Vatican was not subject to an anti-Jewish policy."
Tokareva, who is very familiar with the tragic experience of the Russian Orthodox Church, which was subjected to another type of totalitarianism, analyses the actions of the Catholic Church in Italy during the fascist era with a critical spirit and extensive documentation. She pays special attention to the "Catholic subculture" and the role it played in the fall of that dictatorship.
In regard to Pius XII, who chose to stimulate effective aid to the Jews rather than make verbal pronouncements, Tokareva believes that it was a prudent decision, because by so doing he avoided vengeance that could have affected Catholics and the Jews themselves, which is exactly what happened in the Netherlands.
The Russian historian refers to the Pope's prudence, not only as characterising his relations with Nazism, but also with the Soviet Union, another regime responsible for horrific massacres. When Goebbels silenced Vatican Radio transmissions in 1941, he gave as a reason the fact that they were "more dangerous for us than those of the communists themselves."
Active pro-life NZ bishop
Offers money to mothers to bear child rather than have an abortion
Bishop Patrick Dunn of Auckland announced in April that his diocese will offer any kind of help necessary for women who choose to bear their child rather than have an abortion.
Bishop Dunn said the effort is a personal undertaking and will give every possible help, including money, to girls and women undecided about whether to have an abortion. He added that he will use his own money if necessary.
"I make this pledge to any woman regardless of creed or circumstances and without any conditions attached," he said. "It is a scheme that will allow women the right and freedom to choose life instead of death."
The offer is similar to one begun two years ago by Cardinal Thomas Winning of Glasgow, Scotland, who has said 107 women have accepted the offer of help and given birth to their babies. The Cardinal's offer has been regularly panned in the secular press which has dubbed it "cash for babies."
Holy See's UN status defended
Mainline Evangelical Protestants announce solidarity
The attempt by pro-abortion groups to downgrade the Holy See from UN Permanent Observer to non-governmental organisation (NGO) is meeting with strong opposition. A coalition of some 800 groups, spearheaded by the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), have joined together to defeat the campaign.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the opposition to this campaign is its universality. Focus on the Family, Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America have all announced their involvement in the campaign. "This campaign is a world historical moment precisely because it brings together so many groups from so many faiths in defence of the Catholic Church," said Austin Ruse, president of C-FAM.
Tom Minnery, vice-president of Focus on the Family, a mainline Christian organisation founded by Dr James Dobson, stated: "We at Focus on the Family know what a valuable ally the Catholic Church has been in defending life and the family around the world. We worked with Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals and Muslims at the UN World Conference on Women at Beijing back in 1995."
The US House and Senate have also passed resolutions in favour of the Holy See. The resolution warns that a Vatican ouster from the UN would "further damage relations between the United States and the United Nations."
Archbishop Renato Martino, Vatican Permanent Observer to the UN, explained that since the Holy See represents the Roman Catholic Church, its interests are not the economic and political interests of other states. Its mission focuses on the human person, and "In keeping with this principle, the Holy See is mainly concerned with all the issues of human rights, of justice, of religious freedom, of development, peace, etc., and attempts to present, always respectfully but without fear, the principles of the Gospel."
Mass facing the people
Vatican response to Bishop Foley of Birmingham, Alabama
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has responded to a query from Bishop David Foley of Birmingham, Alabama, concerning the proper orientation of a priest who celebrates the new Mass. Earlier, Bishop Foley's had barred the celebrating of televised Masses facing the altar (as was occurring on Mother Angelica's EWTN, which is located in Birmingham).
The Vatican response was that either orientation is acceptable, neither one being superior to the other:
"Thank you for the letter of 7 February 2000, asking this Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments for clarification of certain questions regarding liturgical celebration ... As regards the position of the celebrating priest at the altar during Holy Mass, it is true as Your Excellency indicates - that the rubrics of the Roman Missal, and in particular the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, foresee that the priest will face the body of people in the nave, while leaving open the possibility of his celebrating toward the apse.
"These two options carry with them no theological or disciplinary stigma of any kind. It is therefore incorrect and indeed quite unacceptable that anyone affirm, as Your Excellency sums up this view, that to celebrate toward the apse 'is a theologically preferable or more orthodox choice for a priest who wishes to be true to the Church's authentic tradition'."
On the other hand, this reply provided no vindication of Bishop Foley's instruction restricting priests to celebrating televised Masses facing the people.
Church in Germany: no more abortion certificates
Dioceses move away from State Consultation Centres
By the end of this year, Catholic consultation centres in Germany will no longer issue certificates to pregnant women in difficulties. Bishop Karl Lehmann of Mainz, President of the German Episcopal Conference, communicated this decision in April, although it had already been announced at the end of last year, in response to an express Papal request.
Until reunification of East and West Germany, abortion was illegal in West Germany but legal in the East. A compromise law was made to support the clause of the West German Constitution affirming the right to life and the practice in the formerly communist East.
Women in difficulty wanting an abortion were required to visit consultation centres, which would explain alternatives to abortion and issue a certificate of counselling. While abortion remains technically illegal, it is not punished if the woman has a counselling certificate.
The Catholic Church had opened many consultation centres in keeping with the system described, but questions arose about whether it was morally licit to issue a certificate that, for all practical purposes, had become a "ticket" to abort. The German Episcopate requested the Holy Father's advice. After various suggestions of issuing certificates that stated "Not valid for abortion," John Paul II responded by saying that the Bishops should avoid any action that would cloud the Church's unconditional position in favour of life, including the controversial certificates.
Between now and the end of the year, "the Episcopal Conference will present a concrete proposal to continue helping women in difficulty, but without issuing the certificate," Bishop Lehmann said. The German bishops have resolved their differences on this issue and are fully united and in agreement on the need to have no further involvement with the certificates.
Catholic Church in the United States
Hispanics make up most of growth
Since 1990, Hispanics have made up 71 percent of the population growth of the US Catholic Church. And this is not only in places like Miami or El Paso.
Charlotte, North Carolina, with 84 percent, topped the list of dioceses with the largest percentage increase in Hispanic population between 1990 and 1996. It was followed by Reno-Las Vegas, Atlanta, Raleigh (North Carolina) and Portland (Oregon).
The ranking came in a list of dioceses with the greatest percentage increases of Hispanic population in a report on Hispanic Ministry at the Turn of the New Millennium, released in March.
It took only 22,735 Hispanic newcomers to the Charlotte Diocese to account for 84 percent of the increase, since in 1990 the Catholic population was just 63,973.
Estimates of the number of Hispanics who are Catholic range between 67 and 71 percent, while between 30-38 percent of US Catholics are Hispanic.