Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Holy mess: 11 million Irish Americans leave Catholic Church

By: Niall O'Dowd

Empty pews: Catholics are fleeing the Church in record numbers - particularly Irish American Catholics
Empty pews: Catholics are fleeing the Church in record numbers - particularly Irish American Catholics

A new survey shows 34 million Americans, or 15 percent of the population, say they have no religion.

Even more significant is that one-third of those, about 11 million people, are Irish Americans.

The survey by professors at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, does not explain why Irish Catholics are by far the highest number of people who are losing their religion every year in America.

We can only surmise the reasons for this, but I have some definite ideas. Think church sex scandals. Let's look at the timeline first.
The number of non-religious or "Nones" has nearly doubled between 1990 and now.

* In 1990, Nones accounted for 8.2 percent of the population
* In 2001 they accounted for 14.2 percent
* As of 2009, they account for 15 percent

The report estimates that the figure will grow to 25 percent in 10 years time — making non-religion the largest "religion" in America.

Why are so many Irish Catholics leaving the faith? The obvious reason to me is the church sex scandals. They disproportionately affected Irish Catholics and most of the abusers we read about were Irish Catholic priests.

Certainly, based on evidence from Ireland where hundreds of thousands have fled the church and vocations have plummeted after the church scandals there, America with a similar experience is unlikely to be any different.

There has been such incredible scrutiny of the church from every angle and the church has responded so poorly since the scandals began that it is hardly surprising that people are leaving.

For instance, the Boston archdiocese, a hub of Irish Catholicism in America, has been riven by deep scandals that surely have turned many parishioners off

It is only my opinion but Irish Catholics had a deep and almost mystical attachment to the church and followed her rules more devoutly than other groups.

"Rome dictates and Ireland takes" was the old saw about how devoutly the Irish followed the signals from the Vatican.

Once that trust was broken — indeed shattered — it was always likely that many would turn away.

We are told that the leavers are "young, male and independent" and that almost all of them were identified as Catholic at age 12.

The loss of faith by Irish Americans has been profound and will require an incredible effort to win the faithful departed back. The church has a massive struggle on its hands.

Sex abuse rife in other religions, says Vatican

The Vatican has lashed out at criticism over its handling of its paedophilia crisis by saying the Catholic church was "busy cleaning its own house" and that the problems with clerical sex abuse in other churches were as big, if not bigger.

In a defiant and provocative statement, issued following a meeting of the UN human rights council in Geneva, the Holy See said the majority of Catholic clergy who committed such acts were not paedophiles but homosexuals attracted to sex with adolescent males.

The statement, read out by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's permanent observer to the UN, defended its record by claiming that "available research" showed that only 1.5%-5% of Catholic clergy were involved in child sex abuse.

He also quoted statistics from the Christian Scientist Monitor newspaper to show that most US churches being hit by child sex abuse allegations were Protestant and that sexual abuse within Jewish communities was common.

He added that sexual abuse was far more likely to be committed by family members, babysitters, friends, relatives or neighbours, and male children were quite often guilty of sexual molestation of other children.

The statement said that rather than paedophilia, it would "be more correct" to speak of ephebophilia, a homosexual attraction to adolescent males.

"Of all priests involved in the abuses, 80 to 90% belong to this sexual orientation minority which is sexually engaged with adolescent boys between the ages of 11 and 17."

The statement concluded: "As the Catholic church has been busy cleaning its own house, it would be good if other institutions and authorities, where the major part of abuses are reported, could do the same and inform the media about it."

The Holy See launched its counter–attack after an international representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, Keith Porteous Wood, accused it of covering up child abuse and being in breach of several articles under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Porteous Wood said the Holy See had not contradicted any of his accusations. "The many thousands of victims of abuse deserve the international community to hold the Vatican to account, something it has been unwilling to do, so far. Both states and children's organisations must unite to pressurise the Vatican to open its files, change its procedures worldwide, and report suspected abusers to civil authorities."

Representatives from other religions were dismayed by the Holy See's attempts to distance itself from controversy by pointing the finger at other faiths.

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, head of the New York Board of Rabbis, said: "Comparative tragedy is a dangerous path on which to travel. All of us need to look within our own communities. Child abuse is sinful and shameful and we must expel them immediately from our midst."

A spokesman for the US Episcopal Church said measures for the prevention of sexual misconduct and the safeguarding of children had been in place for years.

Of all the world religions, Roman Catholicism has been hardest hit by sex abuse scandals. In the US, churches have paid more than $2bn (£1.25bn) in compensation to victim s. In Ireland, reports into clerical sexual abuse have rocked both the Catholic hierarchy and the state.

The Ryan Report, published last May, revealed that beatings and humiliation by nuns and priests were common at institutions that held up to 30,000 children. A nine-year investigation found that Catholic priests and nuns for decades terrorised thousands of boys and girls, while government inspectors failed to stop the abuse.


World Council of Churches
News Release

For immediate release


Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I will open the meeting of the
World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission on Faith and Order,
which will take place in Kolympari, Crete, Greece, from 7 to 14
October 2009. At this plenary meeting, the 120 members of the
commission, which is seen as Christianity's most representative
theological forum, will address the question of Christian unity
from new perspectives.

Participants at the Crete gathering will not only address issues
that have traditionally divided Christian denominations, but also
matters that have become divisive in more recent times even
within churches, such as questions of moral discernment.

This new approach will be rooted in a reflection on how churches
relate to their sources of theological authority, and developed
through case studies illustrating how churches use these
references to make moral decisions.

WCC president from Europe Dr Mary Tanner will encourage
participants to engage in what she affirms could be the beginning
of a new phase in Faith and Order's history.

The main theme of the meeting "Called to be the One Church" will
be addressed by:
· Metropolitan Prof. Dr Gennadios of Sassima, Ecumenical
Patriarchate of Constantinople;
· Rev. Dr Maake Masango, Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern
Africa, South Africa;
· Rev. Dr Marianela de la Paz Cot, Episcopal Church in Cuba;
· Dr Minna Hietamäki, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland;
· Sister Ha Fong Maria Ko, Roman Catholic Church, China/Italy.

The discussion on the future of the study "The Nature and
Mission of the Church" will be stimulated by contributions from:

· Rev. Dr Paul Collins, Church of England;

· Rev. Dr Hermen Shastri, Methodist Church in Malaysia
· Rev. Dr Viorel Ionita, Romanian Orthodox Church.

>More information on the meeting:

>Biographical information on speakers:

Documents available online for accredited media:

>WCC member churches in Greece

Additional information: Juan Michel +41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507
6363 media@wcc-coe.org

The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith,
witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical
fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings
together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches
representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110
countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic
Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, from
the Methodist Church in Kenya. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.

Pope to summon on Middle Eastern Churches


VATICAN CITY, Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday he planned to summon a special synod of bishops to discuss the Middle East in October next year, the Vatican said in a statement.

He was speaking to Roman Catholic Church leaders from the region at Castel Gandolfo, his summer residence outside Rome, the Vatican said.

"I will not forget the call for peace you have put in my hands ... and my thought go firstly to the regions of the Middle East," the statement quoted the pope as saying.

"I am using this occasion therefore to announce the summoning of a synod of bishops for the Middle East which will take place from October 10 to 24."

The theme of the conference will be "The Catholic Church in the Middle East, communion and witness," he added.

The majority of people living in Middle Eastern countries are Muslim and Christians in the region can endure difficult conditions.

In January, Louis Sako, the archbishop of Kirkuk in Iraq, visited Benedict and asked for a meeting to be called on the situation of minority Christians in countries including Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran.

Attacks on churches in Iraq in July left four dead and 32 injured.

During a visit to the Holy Land in May, the head of the Roman Catholic Church urged Christians not to flee the region and called for freedom to allow them to practise their religion.

A number of Middle Eastern churches come under the Catholic umbrella, including Maronites, Chaldeans, Armenians and Copts.

Vatican Mosaic Studio

Pope Pius XII was anything BUT “Hitler’s Pope” in new movie

As this Rome Reports video indicates, Pope Pius XII was anything but “Hitler’s Pope,” as claimed calumniously a few years ago by British writer John Cornwell (actually, even Cornwell himself subsequently acknowledged the historical evidence disproves that scurrilous claim).

In fact Hitler had no use for the Church or for its wartime leader, and even conspired to kidnap Pius XII during the period Rome was under Nazi occupation. Now, a movie thriller about the failed plot is in production, with filming taking place on site in the Vatican recently while Pope Benedict XVI was away at his summer residence at Castelgandolfo.

Needed: Both Lungs

by: BY NCRegister.com

A leading figure in the Catholic Church in Russia made a startling statement in recent weeks.

In an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera Sept. 14, Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of Moscow said that unity between the long-separated Catholic and Orthodox Churches could be accomplished in the very near future.

In fact, he said it could be a reality “within a few months.”

That would be an astonishing accomplishment, considering the fact that the split between East and West has existed for almost 1,000 years and that at times the road to communion has been full of boulders, potholes, ambushes, false exits and missing bridges.

On that road, we have stumbled over things such as the filioque clause in the creed. We have been sidetracked by the disunity among the various national churches in the Orthodox communion. Many Catholic bishops and theologians have been, and a number still are, reluctant to accept the Orthodox tradition of admitting married men to holy orders. And some Orthodox communities remain vehemently opposed to ecumenism.

But there have been hopeful signs, as well. In regards to the primacy of Peter, which is perhaps the largest apparent obstacle to unity, Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint, invited those not in communion with Rome to help “find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation.”

The pontificate of Benedict XVI has made many Orthodox leaders optimistic: His work as a theologian is greatly admired in Orthodox circles, and he is without the burden of the difficult political history between Poland and Russia, which hindered Polish Pope John Paul II from making as much progress.

And the election of Patriarch Kirill I of the Russian Orthodox Church, a man seen as more open to the West than his predecessor, has also encouraged those who hope for unity.

There’s another factor that bodes well for future developments, as well: Orthodox and Catholics are finding that they share common concerns, particularly the increasing secularization of Western society. Patriarch Kirill said recently that “Catholics understand that Orthodox are their allies. And Orthodox are more and more coming to understand that Catholics are their allies in the face of hostile and nonreligious secularism.”

Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk, president of the Department for External Church Affairs of the Patriarchate of Moscow, has expressed his hope for a “united Catholic-Orthodox response to the challenges of secularism, liberalism and relativism.”

This takes us back to what Archbishop Pezzi said recently. “On issues of modernity, Catholics and Orthodox Christians feel the same way,” he said. “Nothing separates us on bioethics, the family and the protection of life.”

There seems to be less and less that separates us on other issues, as well. Orthodox are closer to Rome than perhaps any other church or faith community. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches have the same seven sacraments, valid apostolic succession and valid priesthood. Except for the primacy of the papacy, we believe the same tenets of faith. We venerate many of the same saints. We shared everything for the first millennium of Christianity (including the Church Fathers) and much else since the split of 1054. Several centuries later, many Orthodox reunited with Rome, bringing with them their rich liturgical traditions, Christ-centered and Marian theology and hesychastic spirituality as Byzantine Catholics.

If fighting secularism, especially in Europe, is emerging as a major point of collaboration between our two Churches, it is perhaps providential that Pope Benedict is visiting the Czech Republic in the wake of Archbishop Pezzi’s hopeful remarks. As Edward Pentin, the Register’s Rome correspondent, says in his front-page article this week, the former Communist country is now considered to be one of the most secular in Europe.

Speaking Sept. 13, papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said that although the Czech people have a great and ancient cultural tradition, mostly formed by Christianity, it is becoming increasingly secular, and “religious practice is confined to a minority.”

According to the 2001 census, 59% of the Czech people were unaffiliated with any religion, while 26.8% were Catholic.

The Orthodox Church is a small minority in the region, but its history looms as large as the Catholic Church. It traces its roots back to Sts. Cyril and Methodius, apostles to the Slavs, who came here in the ninth century.

It’s interesting that Cyril’s namesake, Kirill, is now Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, and that the Orthodox Church in the Czech Republic now comes under his jurisdiction. It was Pope John Paul II who declared Cyril and his brother co-patrons of Europe along with St. Benedict, whose namesake now sits on the chair of Peter.

As Pope Benedict preaches the Gospel this weekend in the Czech Republic, a country that sits between East and West, and as both Churches prepare to celebrate the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, a feast day on which traditionally a high-ranking Vatican official visits the Patriarchate of Constantinople, let us pray with greater intensity that a path to unity will be made clearer. The issues have divided us for 1,000 years. It must be obvious to all by now that human effort is insufficient to arrive at a solution. Only God can enlighten our minds to see the path we must follow so that all may be one.

In the face of an increasingly secularized and aggressively secularizing culture, a united response from the two great traditions of the Church is more urgent than ever.

Many have said that the Church must breathe with both lungs, East and West. If it does, a new breath of fresh air can sweep through Europe.

Czech Republic: Pope Benedict crowns the Infant Jesus of Prague

By Eva-Maria Kolmann

On the first stage of his apostolic journey to the Czech Republic, the Pope has visited the celebrated image of the Infant Jesus of Prague,. A little earlier today, in the church of Our Lady of Victories in the nation's capital, he solemnly crowned this world famous image, reports the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). During the ceremony, Pope Benedict XVI pronounced the following prayer:

O my Lord Jesus,
we gaze on you as a child
and believe that you are the Son of God,
who became Man through the working of the Holy Spirit

in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

Just as in Bethlehem,
we too adore you, with Mary, Joseph,
the angels and the shepherds,
and acknowledge you
as our only Savior.

You became poor
to enrich us with your poverty.
Grant that we may never forget the poor
and all those who suffer.

Protect our families,
bless all the children of the world
and grant that the love you have brought us
may always reign amongst us
and lead us to a happier life.

Grant, O Jesus, that all
may recognize the truth of your birth,
so that all may know
that you have come to bring
to the whole human family
light, joy and peace.

You are God, who live and reign with God the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.


This crowning by the reigning Pope represents the highest honour the Church can pay to an image of Jesus Christ or the Blessed Virgin Mary. The President of ACN, Father Joaquín Alliende, commented: „ The gesture of the Holy Father is an expression of a profound truth. Even as a Child, Christ is already a King. The Child Jesus is the only King who can bring peace to the world".

The image of the Infant Jesus of Prague is believed to have been a gift from St Teresa of Avila to a Spanish noblewoman. This lady gave it as a wedding gift to her daughter, who brought it to Prague in 1556. From 1628 onwards the image has been kept in the Carmelite church of Our Lady of Victories in the historic Mala Strana district of Prague. There it went through troubled times. During the 30 Years War, the statue was desecrated by Protestant soldiers from Saxony, who hacked off its hands and threw it onto a pile of rubbish behind the altar, while the Carmelite Friars were expelled. Some years later the image was found again by Father Cyrillus a Matre Dei, a Carmelite priest from Luxembourg who had a great devotion to the Infant Jesus of Prague. According to legend, while praying before the statue he heard a voice saying, "The more you honour me, the more I will bless you". Since then the devotion to the Infant Jesus of Prague has flourished greatly and spread throughout the globe.

Today over a million pilgrims come each year to visit the church of Our Lady of Victories in Prague and to seek
consolation and help from the Infant Jesus, while expressing their devotion to him. Numerous miracles and answers to prayers have been ascribed this image, which was likewise the inspiration for the renowned children's story, The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

In Czech Republic, Pope Benedict's powerful challenge to secularism (Subscribe to RSS Feed)

During a weekend visit to the Czech Republic, Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) surveyed the damage done to that nation by generations of Communist rule, and warned the Czech people against socialist materialism with secular materialism. "Man needs to be liberated from material oppressions", the Pontiff insisted.

In an unusual number of public speeches crowded into a 3-day schedule, the Pope repeatedly challenged the people of the Czech Republic to follow the example set by the great saints of their past history, revive a precious Christian heritage, and bring help to a society that is longing for true freedom but does not know how to find it.

The Pope began his trip-- the 13th foreign voyage of his pontificate-- on Saturday morning, and arrived in Prague shortly before noon. He was greeted at the airport by Czech President Vaclav Klaus.

During the welcoming ceremony the Pope outlined the theme that he would continue to develop, from different perspectives, throughout his stay. The Czech Republic, he said, has a deeply rooted Christian culture that can be traced back to the evangelization of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Their country "has been a meeting point for different peoples, traditions and cultures," and consequently has played an important part in European history-- "sometimes as a battleground, more often as a bridge."

The recent history of the Czech people is clouded by the years of Communist rule, and "the cost of 40 years of political repression is not to be underestimated," the Pope continued. The atheistic regime strove to silence the voice of the Church, but brave Christians "kept the flame of faith alive." Now that religious freedom has been restored, the Church should be a powerful witness in a secular society.

The Pope's challenge was directed at a Czech population that has become thoroughly secularized, with religious influence dwindling in the past generation. But the huge throngs who greeted the Pope demonstrated that the flame of faith is still alive. On Saturday afternoon the Pope visited one of the centers of that enduring faith, the shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague. As he venerated the famous statue the Pope prayed for the welfare of troubled families.

Later in the afternoon the Pontiff traveled to Prague Castle for a formal meeting with President Havel, followed by talks with other political leaders. In an address there the Pope remarked that 20 years have now passed since the "Velvet Revolution" that swept the Communist government from power, and "the process of healing and rebuilding continues." The Czech people still seek true freedom, he said, and that freedom can only be attained through a recognition of truth. The truth about European society, he continued, cannot be understood apart from a recognition of that society's Christian heritage.

Prague, the Pope reminded the Czech political leaders, is often called "the heart of Europe." He asked them to consider how they could understand this "heart," and suggested that "a clue is found in the architectural jewels that adorn this city." The architecture confirms the Christian heritage, he observed. "The creative encounter of the classical tradition and the Gospel gave birth to a vision of man and society attentive to God's presence among us."

On Saturday evening, at he led a Vespers service in the city's cathedral, the Pope delivered the same message in even stronger form. "Society continues to suffer from the wounds caused by atheist ideology, and it is often seduced by the modern mentality of hedonistic consumerism amid a dangerous crisis of human and religious values and a growing drift towards ethical and cultural relativism," he said. Catholics must take the lead in guiding society back toward a model of Christian humanism.

Pope Benedict flew from Prague to Brno on Sunday morning, and celebrated an outdoor Mass there for a congregation of about 120,000. Again he lamented the development of a secular materialism in which Christian faith and hope "have been relegated to the private and other-worldly sphere." An intense public focus on economic and scientific progress has produced very mixed results, he reminded the congregation. Christians must provide the necessary counterpoint, constantly reminding their neighbors that reality is not confined to the visible, material world.

In the afternoon the Pope met with the Czech bishops, and renewed his warning against the forces in society that seek "to marginalize the influence of Christianity upon public life" and the "artificial separation of the Gospel from intellectual and public life." The Church, Pope Benedict said, must show "a spirit of courage to share the timeless saving truths" that bring hope to the world.

Returning to Prague Castle on Sunday evening, the Pope gave an address to Czech university faculty and students, delivering a message that reminded many listeners of the Pontiff's famous lecture at the University of Regensburg. The scholarly world, he reminded his audience, "is directed to the pursuit of truth, and as such gives expression to a tenet of Christianity which in fact gave rise to the university." For decades, the aspirations that fuel university life were suppressed by an ideology that stunted the human spirit. But the quest for truth and for freedom "can never be eliminated, and as history has shown, it is denied at humanity's own peril."

There is still enough risk, the Pope said, that academic life will be stunted by "the temptation to detach reason from the pursuit of truth." A spirit of dogmatic relativism, he said, "provides a dense camouflage behind which new threats to the autonomy of academic institutions can lurk." Again the net result is deadly to the scholarly enterprise, the Pope said: "An understanding of reason that is deaf to the divine and which relegates religions into the realm of subcultures, is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures that our world so urgently needs."

September 28 is the feast of St. Wenceslas, and the Pope traveled to the church of St. Wenceslas in Stara Boleslav, outside Prague, to join in an annual pilgrimage to the site of the 10th-century martyr's death. There the Pontiff again celebrated an outdoor Mass, and in his homily exhorted the Czech faithful to imitate the virtue of St. Wenceslas, a generous king who gave first priority to the welfare of his people and to his own spiritual growth. "Do we not place more value today on worldly success and glory?" the Pope asked. "Yet how long does earthly success last, and what value does it have?"

Once more the Pope referred to the end of the Communist era, pointing out that with the fall of that regime, the members of the political elite were suddenly ousted from power. They had been affluent, comfortable, and confident, the Pope said. "Yet one need only scratch the surface to realize how sad and unfulfilled these people are." Christians must learn from St. Wenceslas, he said-- and pass the message along to others-- to have "the courage to prefer to kingdom of heaven to the enticement of worldly power."

After the Mass, the Pope offered a special word of advice to the young people in the congregation. "In every young person there is an aspiration toward happiness," he said. That aspiration is fundamentally healthy, but it can be manipulated and exploited by secularism and materialism "in false and alienating ways." The Pope encouraged young people to preserve their aspirations, take them seriously, and continue in the pursuit of true and lasting happiness until they discover, as St. Augustine discovered, "that Jesus Christ alone is the answer that can satisfy his and every person's desire for a life of happiness, filled with meaning and value."

Is Catholic-Orthodox Unity in Sight?

by Edward Pentin

The Catholic Archbishop of Moscow has given a remarkably upbeat assessment of relations with the Orthodox Church, saying unity between Catholics and Orthodox could be achieved “within a few months.”

In an interview today in Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper, Archbishop Paolo Pezzi said the miracle of reunification “is possible, indeed it has never been so close.” The archbishop added that Catholic-Orthodox reunification, the end of the historic schism that has divided them for a millennium, and spiritual communion between the two churches “could happen soon, also within a few months.”

“Basically we were united for a thousand years,” Archbishop Pezzi said. “Then for another thousand we were divided. Now the path to rapprochement is at its peak, and the third millennium of the Church could begin as a sign of unity.” He said there were “no formal obstacles” but that “everything depends on a real desire for communion.”

On the part of the Catholic Church, he added, “the desire is very much alive.”

Archbishop Pezzi, 49, whose proper title is Metropolitan Archbishop of the Mother of God Archdiocese in Moscow, said that now there are “no real obstacles” on the path towards full communion and reunification. On issues of modernity, Catholics and Orthodox Christians feel the same way, he said: “Nothing separates us on bioethics, the family, and the protection of life.”

Also on matters of doctrine, the two churches are essentially in agreement. “There remains the question of papal primacy,” Archbishop Pezzi acknowledged, “and this will be a concern at the next meeting of the Catholic-Orthodox Commission. But to me, it doesn’t seem impossible to reach an agreement.”

Prospects for union with the Orthodox have increased markedly in recent years with the election of Pope Benedict XVI, whose work as a theologian in greatly admired in Orthodox circles. Benedict is also without the burden of the difficult political history between Poland and Russia, which hindered Polish Pope John Paul II from making as much progress as he would have liked regarding Catholic-Orthodox unity.

Relations have also been greatly helped by the election of Patriarch Kirill I earlier this year as leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is by far the largest of the national churches in the Orthodox Church. As the former head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external relations, Kirill met Benedict on several occasions before and after he became Pope, and the Russian Orthodox Patriarch is well acquainted with the Roman Curia and with Catholicism.

The Prospects for Catholic Unity With the Orthodox
By Scott P. Richert, About.com Guide to Catholicism

Last week, Catholic blogs lit up with optimistic headlines such as "Is Catholic-Orthodox Unity in Sight?" They were prompted by two events: an interview given to Italy's Corriere della Sera by the Catholic archbishop of Moscow, Paolo Pezzi; and the first visit to Rome of Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the president of the Department for External Church Affairs of the Russian Orthodox patriarchate of Moscow.

The interview with Archbishop Pezzi does indeed paint a rosy picture. According to the National Catholic Register, the archbishop declared that reunification "is possible, indeed it has never been so close," and he predicted that it "could happen soon, also within a few months."

Relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches (particularly the Russian Orthodox Church) have greatly improved in recent years. The Orthodox view Pope Benedict XVI more favorably than they did Pope John Paul II for a variety of reasons, including his theological rigor and his attention to the liturgy. And the recent election of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill I has placed a relatively young, and decidedly ecumenical, clergyman at the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In fact, Patriarch Kirill previously held the position that Bishop Hilarion now holds, and, as the National Catholic Register notes, in that position "met Benedict on several occasions before and after he became Pope."

Still, despite all of these positive signs, there are reasons to doubt Archbishop Pezzi's assessment. The previous patriarch of Moscow, Alexy II, had stated that the election of Pope Benedict opened up the possibility of cooperation between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches on moral and cultural questions, without first settling the question of unity.

During his visit to Rome from September 15 through September 20, 2009, Archbishop Hilarion echoed Patriarch Alexy, noting "the similarity between Catholic and Orthodox teaching on marriage and family life," which he contrasted with "Protestant communities which had pursued the liberalization of the Christian teaching."

In one important sense, however, Archbishop Hilarion went further than Patriarch Alexy ever had, stating that "We should clearly understand, that division is sin, tearing apart body of Church and weakening the power of Christian witness in secular world," and reminding his listeners that "Each of us, conscientiously fulfilling a task the Church has given him or her, is called to personally contribute in treasury of Christian sanctity and work to achieve God-commanded Christian unity."

Both Catholics and Orthodox agree that Christ's prayer that "they may be one, as You, Father, and I are One" requires that the Church be visibly united—not simply on moral and cultural matters, but ecclesiastically. But while we need to pray for unity with the East, we should not be surprised that a millennium of division will be hard to repair.

As one Catholic friend on Twitter remarked after I posted a link to a story about Archbishop Pezzi's interview, "If it takes years to fix the SSPX schism, I don't see how the Orthodox could be resolved in months." Indeed. Yet with the Holy Spirit, of course, all things are possible.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pope's Homily on the Martyr / King St. Wenceslaus


This great saint, whom you are pleased to call the 'eternal' Prince of the Czechs, invites us always to follow Christ faithfully, he invites us to be holy.

Stará Boleslav, Czech Republic (Catholic Online) - We present the Holy Father's Homily to the faithful who gathered for his final Mass in the Czech Republic. It is no accident that this is the Feast of the great Christian King, the martyr Saint Wenceslaus. The Pope has been reflecting during the entire visit upon the essential and integral influence of Christianity on the history, and the future, of Europe:



This morning, we are gathered around the altar for the glorious commemoration of the martyr Saint Wenceslaus, whose relics I was able to venerate before Mass in the Basilica dedicated to him. He shed his blood in your land, and his eagle, which – as the Cardinal Archbishop has just mentioned – you chose as a symbol for this visit, constitutes the historical emblem of the noble Czech nation. This great saint, whom you are pleased to call the "eternal" Prince of the Czechs, invites us always to follow Christ faithfully, he invites us to be holy. He himself is a model of holiness for all people, especially the leaders of communities and peoples. Yet we ask ourselves: in our day, is holiness still relevant? Or is it now considered unattractive and unimportant? Do we not place more value today on worldly success and glory? Yet how long does earthly success last, and what value does it have?

The last century – as this land of yours can bear witness – saw the fall of a number of powerful figures who had apparently risen to almost unattainable heights. Suddenly they found themselves stripped of their power. Those who denied and continue to deny God, and in consequence have no respect for man, appear to have a comfortable life and to be materially successful. Yet one need only scratch the surface to realize how sad and unfulfilled these people are. Only those who maintain in their hearts a holy "fear of God" can also put their trust in man and spend their lives building a more just and fraternal world. Today there is a need for believers with credibility, who are ready to spread in every area of society the Christian principles and ideals by which their action is inspired. This is holiness, the universal vocation of all the baptized, which motivates people to carry out their duty with fidelity and courage, looking not to their own selfish interests but to the common good, seeking God’s will at every moment.

In the Gospel we heard Jesus speaking clearly on this subject: "What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?" (Mt 16:26). In this way we are led to consider that the true value of human life is measured not merely in terms of material goods and transient interests, because it is not material goods that quench the profound thirst for meaning and happiness in the heart of every person. This is why Jesus does not hesitate to propose to his disciples the "narrow" path of holiness: "whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (16:25). And he resolutely repeats to us this morning: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (16:24). Without doubt, this is hard language, difficult to accept and put into practice, but the testimony of the saints assures us that it is possible for all who trust and entrust themselves to Christ. Their example encourages those who call themselves Christian to be credible, that is, consistent with the principles and the faith that they profess. It is not enough to appear good and honest: one must truly be so. And the good and honest person is one who does not obscure God’s light with his own ego, does not put himself forward, but allows God to shine through.

This is the lesson we can learn from Saint Wenceslaus, who had the courage to prefer the kingdom of heaven to the enticement of worldly power. His gaze never moved away from Jesus Christ, who suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow in his steps, as Saint Peter writes in the second reading that we just heard. As an obedient disciple of the Lord, the young prince Wenceslaus remained faithful to the Gospel teachings he had learned from his saintly grandmother, the martyr Ludmila. In observing these, even before committing himself to build peaceful relations within his lands and with neighbouring countries, he took steps to spread the Christian faith, summoning priests and building churches. In the first Old Slavonic "narration", we read that "he assisted God’s ministers and he also adorned many churches" and that "he was benevolent to the poor, clothed the naked, gave food to the hungry, welcomed pilgrims, just as the Gospel enjoins. He did not allow injustice to be done to widows, he loved all people, whether poor or rich". ...

Wenceslaus died as a martyr for Christ. It is interesting to note that, by killing him, his brother Boleslaus succeeded in taking possession of the throne of Prague, but the crown placed on the heads of his successors did not bear his name. Rather, it bears the name of Wenceslaus, as a testimony that "the throne of the king who judges the poor in truth will remain firm for ever". This fact is judged as a miraculous intervention by God, who does not abandon his faithful: "the conquered innocent defeated the cruel conqueror just as Christ did on the cross" (cf. The Legend of Saint Wenceslaus), and the blood of the martyr did not cry out for hatred or revenge, but rather for pardon and peace.

Benedict XVI, Homily - Mass at Stará Boleslav
September 28, 2009

Pope Benedict to Visit London: Is the Rebirth of a Christian Europe Underway?

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Catholic Online

May this visit to England hasten the recovery of a dynamically orthodox Christian witness in that Nation; one which opens up the path to the recovery of a genuinely Christian Europe.

LONDON (Catholic Online) – The London Times has reported that Pope Benedict XVI will visit Britain next year. If this wonderful news is confirmed it will mark the first official visit by a Pope. Pope John Paul II made a pastoral visit in 1982. The Times reports that this historic visit will soon be confirmed by the Vatican. It will take place next September. Further, that “…during his time in the country, expected to take place in September next year, Pope Benedict will have a meeting with the Queen, Supreme Governor of the Church of England and will be accorded the full panoply of a state visit. It is possible the Pope will also stay with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Gordon Brown extended a formal invitation during a private audience in February and preparations have been under way for some time”

Having an apparent access to the itinerary, the Times indicated it will include visits to London, Birmingham, Oxford and Edinburgh. The report has led to rumors that the Holy Father’s visit may indicate that the beatification of John Henry Cardinal Newman might take place in Birmingham, at the site of the Oratory which was founded by the beloved convert to the Catholic faith. Newman is one of the highest profile converts from Anglican Christianity to the Roman Catholic Church. He is still beloved by the Anglican Christians who maintain their ties to Christian orthodoxy against the decline within their own church. Other details of the itinerary: “The visit is expected to include an invitation to the Pope to address both houses of parliament at Westminster, in the same Westminster Hall where St Thomas More was tried and condemned in 1535 for opposing the Act of Supremacy. This was the act that made King Henry VIII "supreme head" of the emerging new Protestant body, the Church of England, signaling the formal breach with Rome”.

A visit by Pope Benedict to Britain may have implications for those within the Church of England who have witnessed their Church being torn from within over the last few decades. The decline of orthodoxy in that community has reached a critical stage where some observers think it is irreparable. There has been speculation over the plight of some within the broader Anglican community who openly discuss entry into full communion with the Catholic Church. The “Traditional Anglican Communion”, one of many “splinter groups” which have arisen as a direct result of the Church of England’s movement away from classical Christian orthodoxy, has formally requested to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. They have done so with a refreshing humility, agreeing to do whatever it would take. They still await a formal response from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith in Rome.

In an age which has witnessed a decline in Christianity on the European continent, Pope Benedict XVI is an ardent evangelizer, calling for a rebirth of Christianity in Europe. Some interpret the choice of his Papal name as a signal of his commitment to lead such a rebirth. I am numbered among them. We will closely follow the plans for this apostolic visit and invite our readers to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the successor of the Apostle Peter. St. Augustine of Canterbury was sent to what became England by another great Pope St. Gregory, in 669, to bring freedom to the inhabitants of that beautiful land through the proclamation of the full Gospel of Jesus Christ as found within the Church. Now, in the Third Millennium, the successor of Gregory is soon to do the same.

Pope Benedict XVI participated in the Second Vatican Council. He not only understands the authentic teaching of that Council but has led the way in its proper implementation in many areas of life, both within the Church and in her mission to the contemporary age. He also understands the way that the Council was hijacked in some circles, disregarded in others and absolutely misinterpreted in still others. He is a voice for dynamically orthodox and faithful Catholic Christian faith, practice, worship and life. In his homily prior to the convening of the conclave where he would be chosen to fill the Chair of Peter, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger gave a prophetic insight into the challenges of the age:

“How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking... The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves - thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects are created and what Saint Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error (cf Eph 4, 14). Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and "swept along by every wind of teaching," looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today’s standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”

Some attempted to misuse this prophetic insight to paint him as rejecting the modern world. That is nonsense. What he rejects, and rightly so, is the emptiness of modernity and post modernity. What he proposes is a different path, not to the past, but to a future of hope and authentic freedom. It is the truth that paves that path to authentic human flourishing and freedom. It is found in Jesus Christ, the “Way, the Truth and the Life.” Jesus reminds every person in every age, that we can “know the truth” and that “the truth will set you free.” Benedict is his mouthpiece and Vicar. Those who watch the early days of Popes tell us to watch for two things, the name they choose and the content of their first homily. He chose the name Benedict. One of the young priests who commentated during his assumption of the Papal office noted that then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger visited Subiaco before all the events began. He prayed and rededicated himself to the work of the Church for the future. Interestingly, a short while later he took the name Benedict.

Saint Benedict was born around the year 480 in Umbria, Italy. He is the father of Western Monasticism and co-patron of Europe (along with Saints Cyril and Methodius).As a young man he fled a decadent and declining Rome for studies in order to give his life entirely to God. He went to Subiaco. The cave that became his dwelling is now a shrine called "Sacro Speco" (The Holy Cave), which is a sanctuary for pilgrims. Pope Benedict XVI is a re-builder, working in continuity with the 2,000 year teaching of the Catholic Church by helping to ensure that the proper understanding of the Second Vatican Council becomes a reality. He has surprised many in the area of authentic ecumenism. He is leading the Church into a truly “Catholic” Millennium. His overtures toward our Orthodox brethren are bearing fruit.

I believe we are witnessing the beginnings of the coming full communion of the Church, East and West, as the "two lungs" on the One Body of Christ begin to breathe together again in order to animate this new missionary age. Pope Benedict, like his namesake, is helping to bring a Christian influence back to Europe. This mission has not been easy. And, it will probably get more difficult. The old adage is true; it always seems darkest before the dawn. Those who hoped to change the teaching and doctrine of the Catholic Church are deeply disappointed. However, for all who hunger for a vibrant, faithful, dynamically orthodox Catholic Church, the source of all truth, the God who is Truth, has been true to his promise to Peter, "upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against her". Pope Benedict XVI is a gift.

May this visit to England hasten the recovery of a dynamically orthodox Christian witness in that Nation; one which opens up the path to the recovery of a genuinely Christian Europe and the continued unfolding of a new missionary age.

7 Christians are crucified in Sudan

Marauding bands of guerrillas have crucified seven Christians during a series of raids on villages in Sudan.

One of the men was tied to a tree and mutilated while six other victims were nailed to pieces of wood fastened to the ground and killed.

Villagers who found their bodies near the town of Nzara said it was like a "grotesque crucifixion scene".

Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio has now appealed for international help to stop the attacks by members of the Lord's Resistance Army.

He said his government appeared powerless to prevent attacks by members of the guerrilla force based in northern Uganda. He spoke out after a spate of killings and abductions in two towns near the borders of the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In one instance guerrillas stormed into Our Lady Queen of Peace church in Ezo during a novena prayer and desecrated the Host, the altar and the building before abducting 17 people mostly in their teens and 20s. One of the captives was later tied to a tree and killed while 13 others in the group are still missing, according to Aid to the Church in Need, a charity helping persecuted Christians.

The bishop said the attack, which happened on the feast of the Assumption, was "a huge shock to us".

"It was hard to take in the fact that we were so exposed to such a risk," he said. "The attackers clearly wanted to harm the people because they knew they were at prayer.

"Afterwards people kept coming to me with such suffering in their eyes, begging me to do something about the situation - to get back their children and grandchildren who have disappeared."

Bishop Hiiboro said that the attack in Ezo was part of a cycle of violence that could only be broken with international cooperation "The government here cannot make a real difference to the Lord's Resistance Army problem," he said. "They kept promising that they had the issue under control but now we see the reality. Nobody is coming to our aid. We are asking those who are responsible in the international community to do something about it."

A week after the first attack six people were ambushed in a forest near to the town of Nzara and killed after they were nailed to pieces of wood fastened to the ground. At about the same time a further 12 people were abducted from a village close to Nzara.

Bishop Hiiboro responded by ordering three days of prayer, culminating in some 20,000 people walking more than two miles barefoot in sackcloth and ashes in silent protest at the alleged government inaction to increase security in the region. Government ministers from the state capital, Yambio, and Juba, the provincial capital of south Sudan, took part in the event and said they would try to increase the police presence in the region.

Bishop Hiiboro has also written to the government in Khartoum, the capital, to remind officials that under the civil war peace settlement the regime has a duty to protect the south of Sudan as well as the north.

Sudan is predominantly Muslim in the Arab north of the country but the black tribal people of the south are mostly either Christians or animists.

The Lord's Resistance Army has waged war against the Ugandan government since 1987 but often forays into other neighbouring African countries. It has a reputation for extreme violence including random murder, abduction, mutilation, sexual enslavement of women and children, and forcing children to participate in hostilities. The group is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States.

It was founded and is led by Joseph Kony. He has formed the guerrillas into a religious cult based on a blend of Christianity, traditional African religion and witchcraft. He claims to be a spokesman of God and a "medium" of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

NY Vocations video!