Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist
In June Pope Benedict XVI will receive the final proposal from the recent Synod of Bishops for the drafting of his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist. The commission of 12 cardinals and bishops from around the world, led by the secretary of the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Nicola Eterovic, will meet in June to present the Holy Father with a final proposal based on the 50 propositions that were made at the conclusion of last October's Synod.
According to a Vatican source, the commission will approve "a proposal and a plan for liturgical reform", to be made public in the Apostolic Exhortation the Holy Father will tentatively issue in October 2006.
The Vatican source said the exhortation would include an invitation to greater use of Latin in the daily prayer of the Church and in the Mass - with the exception of the Liturgy of the Word - as well as in large public and international Masses.
The document would also encourage a greater use of Gregorian chant and classical polyphonic music; the gradual elimination of the use of songs whose music or lyrics are secular in origin, as well as the elimination of instruments that are "inadequate for liturgical use," such as the electric guitar or drums, although it is not likely that specific instruments will be mentioned.
Lastly, the Pope is expected to call for "more decorum and liturgical sobriety in the celebration of the Eucharist, excluding dance and, as much as possible, applause."
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Hong Kong Cardinal on Vatican-Beijing accord
Hong Kong's Cardinal Joseph Zen believes the Vatican can restore diplomatic relations with China, but cautions that an agreement may still take some time.
Speaking in March after his elevation to the College of Cardinals, he said that compromise is possible on one key point of contention between Beijing and Rome: the appointment of bishops. The Chinese Government maintains that the selection of bishops is a matter of internal policy, which should be decided by Chinese authorities; the Vatican insists on the Pope's right to appoint bishops.
Cardinal Zen observed that in similar situations in the past, the Holy See has allowed government officials to have some say in appointments. "Only the Holy Father can decide which men are suitable," the cardinal said. "But if the government is worried about an appointment, they can give their views."
Cardinal Zen emphasised he was only offering his opinion, and that he is not directly involved in diplomatic negotiations with Beijing. However, his words carry considerable weight, since he has spent many months on the mainland and is personally acquainted with most of the priests who could be considered for episcopal appointments.
As things stand, Chinese bishops of the government-sanctioned "official" Catholic Church are named by the government. In practice, most of these bishops seek and receive approval from the Holy See before taking office.
Catholic World News
Spain's Brave New World
The Archbishop of Valencia described as "ridiculous" the civil registry's change in the terms "father" and "mother" to "progenitor A" and "progenitor B."
In his pastoral letter in March, Archbishop Agust’n Garc’a-Gasco stated that "those who dedicate themselves to abolishing family identity, who are making the juridical and social meaning of 'being father' and 'being mother' disappear, are imposing their ideological instructions to destroy the institution of the family and, with it, society itself."
Spanish law now allows for same-sex unions, including the adoption of children.
Subsequently, the Official State Bulletin established, with an order of the Ministry of Justice, a new family book form in which the terms "progenitor A" and "progenitor B" supplant "father" and "mother," according to the archdiocese's Avan news agency.
For Archbishop Garc’a-Gasco, "Spanish legislation in the matter of marriage and the family is every day more deceitful, sectarian and radical."
In his pastoral letter, he invited families to "break absurd silences" because "to complain or laugh about the absurd anti-family policies is not enough."
He encouraged Catholics to consider the forthcoming World Meeting of Families in Valencia as "a privileged occasion for families worldwide to manifest their initiative and solidarity."
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Cardinal Levada on Catholic politicians' duties
Cardinal William Joseph Levada, who took over Benedict XVI's former job as Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, recently granted an interview to Time magazine.
Asked whether "politicians should be granted communion if they support policies counter to Church teachings," Archbishop Levada pointed out "There are certain teachings that as Catholics we have to accept as part of Jesus' Gospel. When you see Catholic politicians who favour abortion rights ... you have to ask yourself how this person squares this with his personal faith."
"Catholic politicians", he stressed, "need to take this seriously. Maybe they need to say I'm not able to practise my faith and be a public representative."
Likewise, the Cardinal referred to the Church's recent document on homosexuals in seminaries calling it "very clear."
"It says a person with deep- seated homosexual tendencies is not suited for the priesthood," he pointed out. "Somebody who comes to the seminary from a gay lifestyle cannot be a priest."
"But", he also offered, "if you can show us after five or 10 years that you have been able to live a celibate life, it could be possible. But there would need to be spiritual and psychological evaluations."
Time's Jeff Israely closed his interview by asking if the Pope had "any advice on how to handle such a responsibility" when he "welcomed you to the new job."
With a laugh, Archbishop Levada said no. Benedict "just smiled, and said: 'Go to it'."
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Ugandan Cardinal criticises AIDS campaign
Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala of Kampala, Uganda, has rebuked the country's government for devoting funds to import condoms rather than to improving the lives of the poor.
He said that distribution of condoms did not prevent the spread of AIDS, but could mislead people into believing they provided protection from infection.
Uganda, in sharp contrast to neighboring countries in sub-Saharan Africa, has achieved some success in controlling the spread of AIDS, through a government-backed program that advocates sexual abstinence and marital fidelity, with the use of condoms as a last resort. But international organisations have kept up heavy pressure on the government to emphasise condom use.
The Cardinal pointed out that the funds invested in procuring condoms from Western countries, if they were channeled into projects aimed at improving the plight of the rural poor, would make a dramatic difference.
Catholic World News
Spanish Archbishop on pro-abortion politicians
In his weekly pastoral letter, Archbishop Braulio Rodriguez Plaza of Valladolid, Spain, denounced Spanish governmental officials who support abortion, saying their negligence has prevented thousands of citizens from being born.
In his letter in March, the Archbishop recalled the "chilling number of 85,000 abortions in Spain in 2004," which he blamed on the State for failing "to protect and look after the physical integrity of its citizens."
Christians reject abortion, he said, not only for religious reasons, but also because "logically it is incomprehensible."
He also reached out to women who have had abortions because of "pressure from society or a lack of alternatives", saying he wished to convey to them a "message of hope", and he expressed his support for crisis pregnancy centres that "provide pregnant women with alternatives."
Echoing the words of Benedict XVI to the members of the Pontifical Academy of Life, he said, "The Bible expresses love for each human being, even before he is formed in his mother's womb."
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Vatican sponsors conference on Crusades
The Vatican, in a move to rehabilitate the Crusaders, sponsored a conference in March portraying the Crusades as wars fought with the "noble aim" of regaining the Holy Land for Christianity.
The Crusades are seen by many Muslims as acts of violence that have underpinned Western aggression towards the Arab world ever since. Followers of Osama bin Laden claim to be taking part in a latter-day "jihad against the Jews and Crusaders".
At the conference at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, Roberto De Mattei, an Italian historian, recalled that the Crusades were "a response to the Muslim invasion of Christian lands and the Muslim devastation of the Holy Places".
Professor De Mattei noted that the desecration of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem by Muslim forces helped to provoke the First Crusade at the end of the 11th century, called by Pope Urban II.
He said the Crusaders were "martyrs" who had "sacrificed their lives for the faith". He was backed by Jonathan Riley-Smith of Cambridge University, who said that those who sought forgiveness for the Crusades "do not know their history". Professor Riley-Smith has attacked Sir Ridley Scott's recent film Kingdom of Heaven, starring Orlando Bloom, as "utter nonsense".
Professor Riley-Smith said that the script, like much writing on the Crusades, was "historically inaccurate. It depicts the Muslims as civilised and the Crusaders as barbarians. It has nothing to do with reality." It fuels Islamic fundamentalism by propagating "Osama bin Laden's version of history".
He said that the Crusaders were sometimes undisciplined and capable of acts of great cruelty. But the same was true of Muslims and troops in "all ideological wars". Some of the Crusaders' worst excesses were against Orthodox Christians or heretics - as in the sack of Constantinople in 1204.
The American writer Robert Spencer, author of A Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, told the conference that the mistaken view had taken hold in the West as well as the Arab world that the Crusades were "an unprovoked attack by Europe on the Islamic world". In reality, Christians had been persecuted after the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem.
Until the early 11th century, Christians, Jews and Muslims coexisted under Muslim rule in the Holy Land. After growing friction, the first Crusade was sparked by ambushes of Christian pilgrims going to Jerusalem. The Byzantine Emperor Alexius appealed to Pope Urban II, who in 1095 called on Christendom to take up arms to free the Holy Land from the "Muslim infidel".
Mexican bishop criticises Brokeback Mountain
Bishop Jose Guadalupe Martin Rabago, President of the Mexican Catholic Bishops' Conference, and head of the diocese of Leon, in March criticised the movie Brokeback Mountain - which is currently being distributed in Mexico under the name Secret on the Mountain - for its promotion of homosexual love between two cowboys.
Bishop Martin Rabago said that behind these types of movies and television programs, "there is a very clear tendency ... of inserting a conviction into the atmosphere and mentality of society that a disordered sexual orientation can be considered completely normal."
Asked about the controversial movie, the bishop noted that "people who have this type of orientation deserve respect, because they are human beings ... but orientations of this nature are always abnormal, they are deviated orientations."
"I can tell you," he continued, "that those of us who have pastoral contact with these types of people know about their great suffering."
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Fr Aidan Nichols' Oxford appointment
Fr Aidan Nichols OP has been appointed the John Paul II Lecturer in Theology at Oxford University. His appointment has been hailed in the English press as a milestone for the Catholic Church in post-Reformation Oxford.
Fr Nichols is renowned as a world class Catholic scholar who publishes in French and German as well as English and is equally at home in the worlds of Anglo-American and Continental Theology.
He is one of the leading English commentators on the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar and has published over 20 books on topics as wide ranging as sacramental theology, contemporary Thomism and the issue of whether aborted infants should be declared to be martyr companions of the Holy Innocents.
The prestigious appointment has been widely welcomed by the United Kingdom's Catholics.
Papal liturgical ceremonies under review
Benedict XVI is reviewing plans for papal liturgical celebrations, according to the Vatican's top liturgist.
Archbishop Piero Marini, the master of ceremonies for papal liturgies, spoke on this subject on 20 March, during a visit to Milan for the publication of his book, Liturgy and Beauty. Archbishop Marini revealed that Benedict XVI was more demanding than his predecessor in watching plans for liturgical celebrations at the Vatican.
"With John Paul II I had a bit more freedom," he said. "We had an implicit pact, because he was a man of prayer and not a liturgist." With the new Pope, "I have to be more attentive because he is an expert on liturgy."
Archbishop Marini said that he and the Pope were carrying out a re-examination of papal liturgical celebrations. He regularly sends his notes to the Pope, who returns them with corrections, suggestions, or a note of approval.
Since 1987, Archbishop Marini has made plans for all major papal liturgical celebrations. During that time he became a figure of some controversy at the Vatican, with some prelates objecting to the ceremonies he has devised.
For instance, after canonisation ceremonies that incorporated traditional African and Indian dance elements in October 2003, Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, spoke of "uncontrolled creativity" and a "too fertile imagination". Archbishop Marini has also been criticised for downgrading the use of Gregorian chant and polyphony in favour of more contemporary and popular music.
Archbishop Marini became involved in liturgical affairs as a young priest, serving as personal secretary to the late Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, the principal architect of liturgical changes in the wake of Vatican II. His approach has been criticised by those who favour a more traditional approach - including, in the past, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
The history of past disagreements between the current Pope and his chief liturgist had caused some observers to predict that Archbishop Marini would soon be replaced as the papal master of ceremonies. But nearly a year after the Pope's election he remains at his post.
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US Bishops call for protection of marriage
Bishop William Skylstad, head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, has called on all American bishops to mobilise their dioceses and urge the US government to establish a federal constitutional amendment protecting marriage as an institution between one man and one woman.
In a letter, made public on 3 April, Bishop Skylstad of Spokane, Washington, said that "there is a growing sense shared by many people, including a wide range of religious leaders, that a Marriage Protection Amendment is the only federal-level action that ultimately will protect and preserve the institution of marriage."
Addressing the bishops specifically, he wrote that "timely and focused efforts are needed to help the Catholic faithful form their consciences on such an important matter."
In June, the drafted Protection of Marriage Amendment is due to come before the US Senate.
At that time, said Bishop Skylstad, the Church "will have the opportunity once again to stand publicly in support of marriage as the God-given union of a man and a woman."
He said that time was short for taking action, and urged the bishops "to do whatever you can, given the situation and the resources available to you."
On 14 March, the Bishops' Conference Administrative Committee formally reaffirmed its support for a federal marriage amendment in a document "Promote, Preserve, Protect Marriage."
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Benedict XVI and Europe's Christian roots
On 30 March, Benedict XVI met with members of the European parliamentary group, the Popular Party, during a "Study Days on Europe" conference, an initiative of that party.
He thanked the Popular Party for their "recognition of Europe's Christian heritage" which, he said, "offers valuable ethical guidelines in the search for a social model that responds adequately to the demands of an already globalised economy."
Their support for the Christian heritage, he told the group, "can contribute significantly to the defeat of a culture that is now fairly widespread in Europe, which relegates to the private and subjective sphere the manifestation of one's own religious convictions."
Benedict pointed out that opposing or ignoring the European Christian tradition "would be a sign of immaturity, if not indeed weakness. ... In this context one has to recognise that a certain secular intransigence shows itself to be the enemy of tolerance and of a sound secular vision of State and society."
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