FaithWorld

President Aquino’s contraception plan angers Philippines Catholic Church

philippines (Photo: Activists display condoms to support a reproductive health bill in Manila October 1, 2010/Romeo Ranoco)

The senior bishop in the Philippines’ powerful Roman Catholic Church denied Friday any suggestion that the church could excommunicate President Benigno Aquino for backing a plan to teach Filipinos about contraception.

“Abortion is a grave crime, excommunication is attached to this,” Bishop Nereo Odchimar, head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), told Radio Veritas on Thursday. He said excommunication was a possibility if condoms were distributed to the poor.

But Friday, he denied the church would consider such action against the president. “While the prevailing sentiment of a number of bishops was that of dismay and frustration over the reported stance of the president regarding artificial contraceptives, imposition of the canonical sanction has not been contemplated by the CBCP,” he said in a statement.

The Church is a major social and political force in the poor Southeast Asian country. Its support has been a key factor in the overthrow of two presidents over 25 years and politicians are careful not to offend it. Abortion is illegal in the Philippines, but condoms and birth control pills are available despite church objections.

Like four out of five Filipinos, Aquino is a Catholic. But he backs a program before Congress on grounds that slowing annual population growth of 2 percent could boost living standards, as one in three residents lives below the poverty line.

Russian Orthodox say “no breakthrough” at Catholic-Orthodox talks last week

catho-orthThe Russian Orthodox Church said on Tuesday there was no “breakthrough” at a Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue meeting in Vienna last week that ended with reports of promising progress on the thorny issue of the role of the Catholic pope. The statement may be more interesting for what it doesn’t say than what it does. It’s not clear which reports Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the “foreign minister” of the Moscow Patriarchate, was referring to when he said that “contrary to allegations in the press, the Orthodox-Catholic Commission meeting in Vienna has made no ‘breakthrough’ whatsoever.” (Photo: Pope Benedict and Metropolitan Hilarion meet at the Vatican, May 20, 2010/Tony Gentile)

Did any media report a breakthrough? Not that I’ve seen. Is it possible that Hilarion was actually referring to the cautiously upbeat statements given at a final news conference by Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon and Archbishop Kurt Koch, the top Vatican official for Christian unity?

Hilarion was in Vienna last week but did not appear at the news conference. Metropolitan John, who spoke for the Orthodox side, is affiliated with the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, the spiritual leader of all Orthodox which Moscow seems to compete with for a leadership role. Could this have played a part?

Catholics and Orthodox report promising progress in latest round of unity talks

cathorth 1Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians reported promising progress on Friday in talks on overcoming their Great Schism of 1054 and bringing the two largest denominations in Christianity back to full communion. Experts meeting in Vienna this week agreed the two could eventually become “sister churches” that recognize the Roman pope as their titular head but retain many church structures, liturgy and customs that developed over the past millennium. (Photo: Metropolitan John Zizioulas (L) and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn in Vienna, 24 Sept 2010/Leonhard Foeger)

The delegation heads for the international commission for Catholic-Orthodox dialogue stressed that unity was still far off, but their upbeat report reflected growing cooperation between Rome and the Orthodox churches traditionally centred in Russia, Greece, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

“There are no clouds of mistrust between our two churches,” Orthodox Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon told a news conference. “If we continue like that, God will find a way to overcome all the difficulties that remain.” Archbishop Kurt Koch, the top Vatican official for Christian unity, said the joint dialogue must continue “intensively” so that “we see each other fully as sister churches.”

Belgium’s Catholic sex abuse scandal prompts questions on mandatory celibacy

mechelen 1Three Roman Catholic bishops in Belgium, reacting to damaging sexual abuse scandals in their ranks, have taken the rare step of urging their Church to consider easing its ban on married men in the priesthood.

The three are all from Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region shocked by the resignation of a prominent local bishop who had sexually abused his nephew. About 85 percent of cases in a recent report on abuse in the Church were also from Flanders. (Photo: St. Rombouts Cathedral, seat of the primate of Belgium, and main marketplace in Mechelen,  23 July 2010/Ad Meskens)

The head of the Belgian Church, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard of Brussels, has put out the message that the priority for the embattled Belgian Church is to help its victims.

Pope, ending his British trip, recalls Nazi terror in WW2

london in blitzPope Benedict on Sunday expressed “shame and horror” over the wartime suffering caused by his German homeland and said he was moved to mark the 70th anniversary of a key air victory with Britons. (Photo: London during the Blitz/U.S. National Archives)

On the last day of a four-day visit to Britain that drew the biggest protest march of any of his foreign trips, the pope also beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman, one of the most prominent English converts from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism.

The pope was seen off from the airport by Prime Minister David Cameron who said Benedict had challenged the “whole of the country to sit up and think” about issues such as social responsibility during his four-day state visit.

Excerpts from farewell comments by PM David Cameron and Pope Benedict

cameron pope (Photo: Pope Benedict and Prime Minister David Cameron before the pope’s departure, 19 Sept 2010/ Eddie Keogh)

Following are excerpts from comments by Prime Minister David Cameron and Pope Benedictbefore the pontiff left for Rome on Sunday after four days in Scotland and England.

Prime Minister David Cameron:

“Your Holiness, on this truly historic first State Visit to Britain,  you have spoken to a nation of 6 million Catholics but you have been heard by a nation of more than 60 million citizens  and by many millions more all around the world.  For you have offered a message not just to the Catholic Church but to each and every one of us,  of every faith and none.  A challenge to us all  to follow our conscience,  to ask not what are my entitlements, but what are my responsibilities? To ask not what we can do for ourselves, but what we can do for others?

“…this common bond has been an incredibly important part of your message to us.  And it’s at the heart of the new culture of social responsibility we want to build in Britain.  People of faith – including our 30,000 faith-based charities – are great architects of that new culture.  For many, faith is a spur to action. It shapes their beliefs and behaviour; and it gives them a sense of purpose. Crucially, it is their faith that inspires them to help others. And we should celebrate that. Faith is part of the fabric of our country. It always has been and it always will be. As you, your Holiness, have said, faith is not a problem for legislators to solve but rather a vital part of our national conversation. And we are proud of that.

Excerpts from Pope Benedict’s speech to bishops of England, Wales and Scotland

pope bishops (Photo: Pope Benedict surrounded by bishops in Birmingham, September 19, 2010/Simon Dawson)

Pope Benedict urged the Catholic bishops of England, Wales and Scotland on Sunday to confront the assumptions of modern culture, help the poor, protect children and work together with Anglicans.

Here are excerpts from his speech to them:

“… In the course of my visit it has become clear to me how deep a thirst there is among the British people for the Good News of Jesus Christ. You have been chosen by God to offer them the living water of the Gospel, encouraging them to place their hopes, not in the vain enticements of this world, but in the firm assurances of the next. As you proclaim the coming of the Kingdom, with its promise of hope for the poor and the needy, the sick and the elderly, the unborn and the neglected, be sure to present in its fullness the life-giving message of the Gospel, including those elements which call into question the widespread assumptions of today’s culture. As you know, a Pontifical Council has recently been established for the New Evangelization of countries of long-standing Christian tradition, and I would encourage you to avail yourselves of its services in addressing the task before you…

“… The spectre of unemployment is casting its shadow over many people’s lives, and the long-term cost of the ill-advised investment practices of recent times is becoming all too evident. In these circumstances, there will be additional calls on the characteristic generosity of British Catholics, and I know that you will take a lead in calling for solidarity with those in need. The prophetic voice of Christians has an important role in highlighting the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, who can so easily be overlooked in the allocation of limited resources. In their teaching document Choosing the Common Good, the Bishops of England and Wales underlined the importance of the practice of virtue in public life. Today’s circumstances provide a good opportunity to reinforce that message, and indeed to encourage people to aspire to higher moral values in every area of their lives, against a background of growing cynicism regarding even the possibility of virtuous living.

Excerpts from Pope Benedict’s sermon on Cardinal John Henry Newman

newman (Photo: Pope Benedict at a beatification Mass for Cardinal John Henry Newman in Birmingham, September 19, 2010/Darren Staples)

Pope Benedict declared the 19th century English Cardinal John Henry Newman blessed — the first step on the road to sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church — at a ceremony in Birmingham on Sunday.

Here are excerpts from his sermon:

“…This particular Sunday also marks a significant moment in the life of the British nation, as it is the day chosen to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain. For me as one who lived and suffered through the dark days of the Nazi regime in Germany, it is deeply moving to be here with you on this occasion, and to recall how many of your fellow citizens sacrificed their lives, courageously resisting the forces of that evil ideology. My thoughts go in particular to nearby Coventry, which suffered such heavy bombardment and massive loss of life in November 1940. Seventy years later, we recall with shame and horror the dreadful toll of death and destruction that war brings in its wake, and we renew our resolve to work for peace and reconciliation wherever the threat of conflict looms…”

“… In Blessed John Henry, that tradition of gentle scholarship, deep human wisdom and profound love for the Lord has borne rich fruit, as a sign of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit deep within the heart of God’s people, bringing forth abundant gifts of holiness.

Pope apologizes for “unspeakable crimes” of sexual abuse

papal flag (Photo: Girl waves papal flag before a Mass with Pope Benedict in London September 18, 2010/Kevin Coombs)

Pope Benedict apologized to victims of sexual abuse on Saturday, saying pedophile priests had brought “shame and humiliation” on him and the entire Roman Catholic Church. It was the 83-year-old pontiff’s latest attempt to come to grips with the scandal that has rocked the 1.1 billion-member Church, particularly in Europe and the United States.

“I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the Church and by her ministers. Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes …,” he said in his sermon in  Westminster Cathedral, the mother church for Roman Catholics in England and Wales and a symbol of the struggle of Catholics here in the late 19th century to assert their rights after the Reformation.

“I also acknowledge with you the shame and humiliation that all of us have suffered because of these sins,” he said, adding that he hoped “this chastisement” would contribute to the healing of the victims and the purification of the Church.

Pope supporters and detractors duel in liberal London

protest 9 (Photo: Supporters and protestors hold a signs while waiting for Pope Benedict to arrive at Westminster Abbey in London September 17, 2010./Suzanne Plunkett)

Pope Benedict is usually greeted by adulating crowds when he travels in Italy and other Catholic countries but he was treated to a mixed reception in London. Protesters, many angered by a sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church worldwide, shouted “anti-Christ” and “Pope will go to hell” as the pope drove through the heart of London on Friday in a bullet-proof popemobile.

Hundreds booed aggressively as he arrived at Westminster Abbey in London’s historic core to celebrate Evening Prayer — one of the religious focal points of his four-day visit to Britain. Papal supporters at times tried to steal the momentum by chanting “We love you pope” but in most cases were quickly drowned out by boos and whistles.

protest 7 Photo: Protesters outside St Mary’s University College in London, September 17, 2010/Andrew Winning)

Waving banners reading “Betrayed”, protesters included activists rallying against child sex abuse allegations as well as Protestants, gays and women rights campaigners.