FaithWorld

Pope John Paul II – a halo too soon?

(Pilgrims stand in front of a giant image of Pope John Paul II at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican April 29, 2011/Alessia Pierdomenico)

Is Pope John Paul II approaching his halo too fast? As the Vatican prepares to elevate the late pontiff one step closer to sainthood this Sunday, the Catholic world is caught up with beatification fever.

Rome is festooned with posters of the former pope on buses and lamp posts as the city where he was bishop for 27 years awaits one of the largest crowds since his funeral in 2005, when millions came to pay tribute. At least several hundred thousand people are expected at the mass in St Peter’s Square where his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, will pronounce a Latin formula declaring one of the most popular popes in history a “blessed” of the Church.

The frenetic preparations in Rome, in John Paul’s native Poland and around the world, have matched the buildup for Friday’s royal wedding in London and drowned out the voices of a minority of Catholics asking “Why the rush?.”

The answer depends on the definition of sainthood. “The official judgment of the church is catching up with the spontaneous judgment of the people of the church,” said American theologian and papal biographer George Weigel. “What’s happening is the acknowledgement of a Christian life nobly lived and one from which we can all take inspiration,” Weigel, who knew the pope, told Reuters.

Vandalism and threats greet “Piss Christ” photograph in France

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(The "Piss Christ" photograph damaged by Catholic activists at the Lambert Gallery in Avignon April 18, 2011/Jean-Paul Pelissier)

A controversial photograph of a crucifix submerged in the urine of New York artist Andres Serrano has been vandalized during an exhibit in Avignon and the museum’s employees have received death threats.

“Piss Christ” — a photograph that sparked an uproar when first exhibited in the United States in 1989 — was damaged Sunday “with the help of a hammer and an object like a screwdriver or pickaxe,” said the Collection Lambert, a contemporary art museum in France’s southwestern city known for its theater festival.

Pope John Paul’s beatification stirs pride and hope in Polish Church

(A procession at the Virgin Mary’s Offertory Minor Basilica in the centre of Wadowice, 22 May 2006/Tom Heneghan)

(A procession at the Virgin Mary’s Offertory Minor Basilica in the centre of Wadowice, 22 May 2006/Tom Heneghan)

In the sleepy town of Wadowice in southern Poland, they are sprucing up the main square and renovating the house where its most famous son, the late Pope John Paul II, was born as Karol Wojtyla 91 years ago. Wadowice, its streets decked out with stalls hawking kitsch papal memorabilia, hopes John Paul’s beatification on May 1 — the last step before sainthood — will lure even more pilgrims to the modest two-storey house which is now a museum.

The Catholic Church here and across Poland also hopes the beatification in Rome, bestowing on John Paul the title of ‘blessed’, will rejuvenate an institution whose image has been somewhat tarnished in his native land by political squabbles and a lack of charismatic leadership since the Pope’s death in 2005.

Belgium looks to Pope Benedict to help end its clerical sexual abuse crisis

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(Grand Place, Brussels, 14 April 2009/Kiban)

Belgium’s politicians and prelates are looking to Pope Benedict to help end a clerical sexual abuse crisis that is crippling the local Catholic Church and frustrating judicial authorities unable to resolve it.

Calls to punish former Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, who shocked Belgium last week by publicly excusing abuse cases that caused his downfall last year, have come from the Belgian prime minister, justice and foreign ministers and several senior politicians. Belgian bishops have denounced Vangheluwe, 74, who quit as bishop of Bruges after admitting to molesting his nephew, and several bishops have made clear they want swift punitive action from the Vatican, which took control of his case this month.

But there is no consensus on what Benedict, who has the final say on Vangheluwe’s fate, should do. He has shied away from stiff punishments for bishops caught in the abuse crisis plaguing the Church in Europe and the United States.

Belgium urges Vatican to impose harsh punishment on sex abuse bishop

(Belgium's Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck addresses the Justice Committee hearing on child sexual abuse in the Belgian Catholic Church, at the Belgian Parliament in Brussels September 17, 2010. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir )

(Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck addresses the Justice Committee hearing on child sexual abuse in the Belgian Catholic Church, September 17, 2010/Francois Lenoir )

Belgium’s justice minister urged the Vatican on Friday to impose stiff punishment on a disgraced Catholic bishop who denies being a paedophile despite admitting to sexually abusing two of his own nephews. Stefaan de Clerck spoke out amid a media uproar after former Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe defended himself on television by saying the abuse he committed was only “superficial.”

Vangheluwe, who quit his post and went into hiding a year ago after admitting to molesting a nephew, confessed in the interview on Thursday evening that he had molested a second one. He left Belgium last week under Vatican orders to seek “spiritual and psychological treatment” abroad and Belgian media say he is now in a French monastery. The Vatican has said the final decision on disciplining him lies with Pope Benedict.

Disgraced Belgian Catholic bishop admits he abused second nephew

(Roger Vangheluwe, Bishop of Bruges, is seen in this November 7, 2006 photograph in Bruges. Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and Primate of Belgium Andre-Joseph Leonard told reporters at a news conference in Brussels on April 23, 2010 that Vangheluwe has resigned after admitting sexual abuse of a young man. REUTERS/Edwin Fontaine )

(Roger Vangheluwe, former bishop of Bruges, in a November 7, 2006 photograph in Bruges/Edwin Fontaine )

A disgraced former Belgian Catholic bishop has  admitted that he had abused a second nephew, but said that he did not consider himself a paedophile. Roger Vangheluwe, 74, resigned as bishop of Bruges a year ago after admitting to sexually abusing one nephew and is still awaiting a final verdict from the Vatican. In his first public appearance in a year, Vangheluwe gave a long interview to Belgian television station VT4 that was broadcast live Thursday evening.

He began by saying how sorry he was and then gave details of his abuse of two nephews, one for some 13 years, the other for less than a year.  “It had nothing to do with sexuality. I have often been involved with children and I never felt the slightest attraction. It was a certain intimacy that took place,” Vangheluwe said.  “I don’t have the impression at all that I am a paedophile. It was really just a small relationship. I did not have the feeling that my nephew was against it, quite the contrary.”

Over 800 complaints to Austrian Catholic Church sexual abuse commission

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(The towers of Votivkirche church in Vienna August 10, 2010/Heinz-Peter Bader)

An Austrian commission investigating sexual abuse cases in the Roman Catholic Church said on Wednesday over 800 people had come forward to register as victims in the past year. Over a third of the cases have been settled, the head of the commission, Waltraud Klasnic, told a news conference. She said the number of complaints showed that the church must screen priests more carefully and look into their mental state before allowing them to qualify.

Klasnic said the commission, which was set up a year ago, was also looking into the structures that allowed such abuse and violence to occur, according to remarks carried by the Austria Press Agency (APA). Around three-quarters of the 837 complaints involved male victims. The commission does not pass legal judgment but hands over plausible cases to the authorities and most have the cases processed so far have involved compensation.

Abuse scandals in Austrian Catholic institutions have badly damaged the religion’s image with a record 87,000 people quitting the church in 2010. Hundreds of reports of child sexual abuse in Austrian Catholic institutions were triggered by the resignation of an arch-abbot in Salzburg last April after he admitted to sexually abusing a boy 40 years ago.

Santa Croce fresco restoration like “looking angels in the eye”

(Santa Croce Church is seen in Florence February 26, 2010. Restorers using ultra-violet rays have rediscovered rich original details of Giotto's paintings in the Peruzzi Chapel in Florence's Santa Croce church that have been hidden for centuries. The aim of the study, partly funded by a grant from the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles, was to gather information on the 170 square metre (1,830 square feet) chapel to use as a road map and "hospital chart" for a future restoration. Picture taken February 26, 2010. To match EXCLUSIVE: ARTS-ITALY/GIOTTO REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi )

(Santa Croce Basilica in Florence, Italy, February 26, 2010/Alessandro Bianchi )

For lovers of Italian art, it’s as close as you can come to ascending a stairway to heaven and looking angels in the eye. For the first time after a major restoration, the scaffolding that has shrouded the 850 sq m (9,150 sq ft) of frescoes of the Capella Maggiore in Florence’s famed Santa Croce Basilica will not be dismantled immediately.

Instead, for about a year, a small number of visitors will be able to don hard hats and clamber up the clanking steps to admire the 600-year-old frescos of Agnolo Gaddi, the last major “descendant” of the Giotto school, from close up.

Vatican says sex abuser bishop leaves Belgium for undisclosed destination

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(Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, November 7, 2006 photograph in Bruges/Edwin Fontaine)

A Belgian Roman Catholic bishop who resigned in disgrace after admitting to sexually abusing his nephew has left the country for “spiritual and psychological treatment” abroad, a Vatican ambassador has said. Former Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, 74, went into hiding after shocking the Belgian Church with his public confession in April 2010. He first stayed at a Belgian monastery but later left it, and his exact whereabouts were not made public.

Archbishop Giacinto Berloco, the papal nuncio or ambassador to Belgium, said in a statement the Vatican’s doctrinal department had investigated his case and decided he needed to go abroad for treatment. He did not say where the bishop went. “Bishop Vangheluwe, who since his resignation has lived in different places without a fixed address, has already left Belgium to submit to this decision,” he said in the  statement on Saturday.

Vangheluwe was the most senior Catholic cleric to admit to molesting a child amid all the sexual abuse cases exposed in Europe over the past two years. Other bishops who have resigned in Ireland were accused of covering up abuse cases.

Guestview: “Trifecta” of bad news launched Catholics4Change blog

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(Protesters near the courthouse before a hearing on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sexual abuse scandal in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 14, 2011/Tim Shaffer)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Elizabeth E. Evans is a freelance writer, columnist and priest-in-charge at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Honey Brook, Pennsylvania.

By Elizabeth E. Evans

Three seemingly unrelated events – and Susan Matthews found herself at a crossroads.