Pope Benedict names new cardinals who’ll choose successor, mostly Europeans

(A priest holds a tray of four-cornered cardinal's biretta hats during a ceremony installing new cardinals at the Vatican March 24, 2006. REUTERS/Tony Gentile)

Pope Benedict, increasing the chances the next pontiff will be a conservative European, has named 22 new cardinals, the red-hatted “princes of the Church” who are his closest aides and will one day choose his successor. Eighteen of the new cardinals will be eligible to enter a secret conclave to elect the next pope from among their own ranks, and of those, 12 are Europeans, bringing the number of “cardinal electors” from the continent to 67 out of 125.

The pope is a conservative on matters of faith and sexual morals such as birth control, homosexuality and the ban on women priests. Each time he names cardinals he puts his stamp on Roman Catholicism’s future by choosing men who share his views.

Among the most prominent on the list of new cardinals published on Friday are archbishops in key spots such as Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, John Tong Hon, archbishop of Hong Kong, and Rainer Maria Woelki, archbishop of Berlin in the pope’s native Germany. Others are from Italy, Portugal, Spain, Brazil, India, Canada, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Romania, Belgium, and Malta. They include the archbishops of Toronto, Prague, Utrecht, and Florence. The head of the Siro-Malabar Catholic rite in India will also become a cardinal.

With the new appointments, Benedict, who was elected in a secret conclave in 2005, has now named more than half the cardinal electors who will be able some day to choose a new leader of the world’s some 1.3 billion Roman Catholics. The other electors were all named by his predecessor John Paul.  Compared to 67 cardinal electors for Europe, Latin America now has 22, North America has 15, Africa has 11, Asia has 9 and Oceania has one.

Voices from al-Azhar on Egypt, Islam and elections

(A lecture in al-Azhar mosque, Cairo, 12 December 2011/Tom Heneghan)

Following are lightly edited excerpts from my conversations in Cairo with two senior officials of Al-Azhar, the prestigious Cairo mosque and university that has been the centre of Sunni Islamic learning for over 1,000 years. I quoted both of them yesterday in my story Egypt’s al-Azhar to preach Islamic message on satellite TV. Ibrahim Negm is senior adviser to Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, Egypt’s second-highest religious authority who is responsible for the Dar Al-Ifta office that issues fatwas. Mahmoud Azab is the adviser on dialogue to Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar and top Islamic authority for many of the world’s Sunni Muslims.

Ibrahim Negm, December 12, 2011

Q. Where does Al-Azhar stand amid all the changes in Egypt?

A. Al-Azhar is in a historic situation to upgrade itself and not just be content with speaking through the media. The people voted for the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis because they know them. We need to break the thick layers of barriers that have been built over the past three decades between the religious establishment and the people. We have to upgrade our Islamic discourse by talking about the simple concerns of the people. The issues that they have been battling with, the issues that the other camp has succeeded in addressing. Those are issues relating to behaviours, dress, rituals, day-to-day dealings. For example, they have managed to tell the people that to be a good Muslim, you have to wear a beard. That restricts the meaning of Islam to formal looks.

The religious establishment has not explained to people what Islam really means, that Islam goes beyond the outer looks, that Islam is all about values we need to inculcate. It doesn’t matter so much to wear a beard or full veil while you have problems with your neighbour. They have managed to get the people preoccupied with these kinds of issues. The result is that people basically have a crooked understanding of what it means to be religious nowadays.

German court rules Muslim pupil cannot pray at school, cites tensions

(Young boys study the Koran at the central mosque in Berlin's Kreuzberg district, October 30, 2001. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch)

A German court ruled on Wednesday that a Muslim student in Berlin cannot pray in the corridor of his high school even outside lesson time as it would disrupt the school. Germany’s Federal Administrative Court said in a statement its ruling applied only to this particular instance and took into account special circumstances at the school.

German media reported there were pupils belonging to five different faiths and different branches of Islam, which had caused tension in the past.

“Porn row” hits German Catholic bookseller, CEO explains mix-up

A woman reads a book in front of a huge bookshelf at the book fair in Frankfurt October 12, 2011. The Frankfurt Book Fair is the world's largest trade fair for books runs until October 16. This year's guest of honour is the country of Iceland. REUTERS/Alex Domanski

A major bookseller owned by Germany’s Roman Catholic Church has had its knuckles rapped by its clerical proprietors in the wake of accusations it was making profits from selling erotic books, and has amended its online shop to fix the loophole that made the disputed products available.

Weltbild, which has sales of 1.7 billion euros and is Germany’s second largest online book seller, found itself in the eye of a media storm after claims the search term “erotic” in its online store produced roughly 2,500 products.

Kosher food goes mainstream at Berlin supermarket

Bettina Bocca, an employee of Nah und Gut ("Near and Good") supermarket in Berlin's Wilmersdorf district, sorts kosher cheese at the kosher food department of the store October 13, 2011. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch)

When shoppers in New York, London or Paris come across kosher food in their neighbourhood supermarkets, it’s just one speciality product among many. When the same thing happens in Berlin, it’s a statement.

Berlin’s Jewish community, decimated by the Holocaust, has been steadily growing since Germany reunited in 1990. Thousands of Jews have moved in, synagogues, schools and shops have opened and some young rabbis have been trained and ordained. But presence isn’t the same as acceptance. In a city weighed down by memories of its Nazi past, even small signs that Jews are a part of normal daily life again take on deeper meaning.

Rapid growth is both dream and nightmare for Berlin suburb’s Lutheran church

(Pastor Elke Rosethal stands next to a baptismal font in the village church which was built in 1597, in Kleinmachnow in this picture taken September 26, 2011/Tom Heneghan)

Pastor Elke Rosenthal has a problem that Christian clergy elsewhere in Europe can only dream of. While pews across the continent are emptying, her Lutheran congregation in this leafy suburb of Berlin has tripled in size in recent years, outgrowing its two small churches and eager to break ground for a much larger structure.

But the dream sometimes seems like a nightmare for the Resurrection Church parish, which has hit barriers every time it tries to expand. Once a sleepy town in communist East Germany, Kleinmachnow has boomed since the wall between it and West Berlin fell in 1989. But German reunification also brought the political pressure groups and building codes that have frustrated the parish’s plans for new premises.

EU court bars stem cell patents when embryos destroyed, Christians hail ruling

(A microscopic view shows a colony of human embryonic stem cells (light blue) growing on fibroblasts (dark blue) in this handout photo released to Reuters by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, March 9, 2009/Alan Trounson/California Institute for Regenerative Medicine)

Europe’s top court has banned patenting any stem-cell process that involves destroying a human embryo, dealing what some scientists said was a “devastating” blow to an emerging field of medical research. Researchers fear the ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will hobble development in an area of science that could provide a range 21st-century medicines for diseases from Parkinson’s to blindness.

Stem-cell technology is controversial because some cell lines are derived from embryos. The ECJ decision now endorses widespread protection of human embryos by blocking patents. “A process which involves removal of a stem cell from a human embryo at the blastocyst stage, entailing the destruction of that embryo, cannot be patented,” it said. Blastocyst is the stage just before implantation in the womb, when the embryo consists of around 80 to 100 cells.

Analysis: Pope Benedict disappoints hopes of both German Catholics and Protestants

(Pope Benedict (background R) and Lutheran Bishop Nikolaus Schneider (background L) hold an ecumenical prayer servie in the church of the Augustinian Monastry (Augustinierkloster) in Erfurt September 23, 2011/Max Rossi)

Pope Benedict’s visit to his German homeland was bound to provoke harsh words from his critics. The surprise of the event was how bluntly he took his own Church to task and disappointed Protestants ready to work with him. Despite his frail physique and soft-spoken style, the 84-year-old pontiff delivered a vigorous defense of his conservative views and brusquely rejected calls for reforms, some of which even had cautious support from some bishops.

At the end of his four-day visit on Sunday, Benedict predicted “small communities of believers” would spread Catholicism in future — and not, he seemed to say, the rich German Church, which he hinted had more bureaucracy than belief.

Pope urges German Catholics to close ranks, some frustrated by lack of change

(Pope Benedict XVI makes an address during a meeting with Catholics involved in the Church and society, at the concert hall in Freiburg September 25, 2011/Miro Kuzmanovic)

Pope Benedict urged Catholics in his native Germany on Sunday to close ranks behind him rather than demand reforms or leave the Church, a staunchly conservative message that some who came to hear him found frustrating. Delivering his last major address of a four-day trip at a mass for about 100,000 people at a small airport near the southwestern city of Freiburg, he said the sometimes fractious Church needed to unite around him and the German bishops.

“The Church in Germany will continue to be a blessing for the entire Catholic world if she remains faithfully united with the successor of St Peter,” he said, referring to himself.

Luther rehabilitated? Catholics and Protestants disagree

(Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder, painted in 1529)

Among Catholic-Protestant splits on display during Pope Benedict’s visit to Germany is a disagreement over whether Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer who launched the split in western Christianity, has now been rehabilitated.

Pope Leo X cast Luther out of the Roman Catholic Church in 1521 with a vociferous decree branding him “the slave of a depraved mind” and calling his followers a “pernicious and heretical sect.” But his present-day successor, Benedict, spoke so positively of Luther’s deep faith during a visit to the monk’s old monastery in Erfurt on Friday that Germany’s top Protestant bishop announced Luther had effectively been rehabilitated.

“Luther has experienced a de facto rehabilitation today through this appreciation of his work,” Bishop Nikolaus Schneider, head of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), announced to journalists on Friday after talks with Benedict. “We heard this very clearly from the mouth of the pope,” he said. “What follows now formally is another question … but that’s not so important for me.”