FaithWorld

What’s the use of apologising to Darwin?

Charles DarwinThe Church of England has just issued an apology to Charles Darwin for opposing his theory of evolution when The Origin of Species first came out 150 years ago. The Roman Catholic Church says it sees no need to say “sorry” for its initial hostility to the same theory. But both are now reconciled to evolution as solid science and are getting active in presenting their view that it is not incompatible with Christian faith. Is one approach better than the other to get this message across?

Next year’s double anniversary — the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species — is one reason to speak up about evolution. Another is the fact that evolution has become an increasingly controversial public issue, especially in the United States, and the debate is dominated by mostly conservative Protestant creationists and “intelligent design” supporters on one side and agnostic/atheistic scientists on the other.

A first edition of The Origin of Species, 13 June 2008/Lucas JacksonThat debate is so entangled in U.S. politics — the latest chapter being the questions about Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s views on teaching creationism in schools — that a less polarised view has a hard time getting heard. Trying to walk a middle path can be a tricky business, too, as Rev Michael Reiss in Britain has learned. A biologist and Anglican priest, he has just had to resign as the Royal Society‘s director of education after causing an uproar among scientists by saying creationism could be discussed as a “world view” in science class. He wasn’t advocating it, but thought that simply telling students with creationist views that they were wrong would turn them off science completely.

So what’s the best way for anyone who wants to get a word in edgewise? Apologies to a man long dead? Arguments that may not be heard? Something else?

One reason for the different approaches may be that the churches are responding to  different poles of this debate. The Church of England seems more concerned about arguments from the “new atheists” such as Oxford University’s Richard Dawkins. The Vatican seems to be thinking more about creationists and “intelligent design” supporters.

Is Benedict planning to take in traditionalist Anglicans?

Church of England Newspaper logoThere is speculation in Rome that Pope Benedict might receive about 400,000 (yes, 400,000) Traditional Anglican Communion members into the Roman Catholic Church this summer, after the official Anglican Communion finishes its ten-yearly Lambeth Conference on August 3. Both the Church of England Newspaper in the U.K. and the National Catholic Register in the U.S. have run stories on this. Both sides are subscribers only, so all links here are to reports about them.

Traditional Anglican CommunionAccording to the Church of England Newspaper, talks between the Vatican and the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) focus on the question of whether a group can enter into full communion with Rome as an independent rite, similar to the Eastern rite churches that keep their own traditions and leadership. That sounds like it means they would want to use the Book of Common Prayer, keep their married clergy and retain some autonomy of member churches.

The newspaper quotes the Episcopal Bishop of Fort Worth, Texas, the Rt Rev Jack Iker — now in Rome on study leave — that “it is thought that the Pope is sympathetic to the dilemma of traditionalists in the Anglican way.”

A rabbi, an imam and a priest discuss their “painful verses”

The Painful Verses, published by Editions Lessius, BrusselsA rabbi, an imam and a Catholic priest have written a book about the “painful verses” in scriptures that offend other faiths. Instead of plucking quotes out of each others’ holy books, however, they went to their own texts and picked out the passages they found difficult themselves. The result, recently published in France in the book Les Versets douloureux (The Painful Verses), amounts to an interfaith dialogue that goes straight for some of the most sensitive topics between different faiths.

The trio — Rabbi David Meyer, Imam Sohaib Bencheikh and Rev. Yves Simoens — thought it was a needed switch from the polite interfaith meetings they were used to attending.

Here’s a feature I wrote today after their book presentation this morning. Meyer said there were no plans yet to translate it but their publisher Editions Lessius was in contact with counterparts in Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Provocative Harper’s essay on Anglican split over gays

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola (with Bishop Martyn Minns), 5 May 2007/Jonathan ErnstThe June issue of “Harper’s Magazine” has a provocative essay by Garret Keizer called “Turning Away From Jesus: Gay rights and the war for the Episcopal Church.”

The split in the global Anglican Communion over the consecration of the openly gay U.S. Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson and the broader issue of the church’s take on sexual orientation and other social issues in general has been extensively reported on.

These fault lines are partly but far from exclusively geographical, dividing more traditional churches in the developing world — especially Africa — from those in the developed world. It threatens to undermine Anglican provinces like the Episcopal Church in the United States by creating competing authorities within them, one for a more liberal majority and another for a conservative minority.

How many Catholics will hear disputed Good Friday prayer?

A Good Friday procession at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, 21 March 2008/Yannis BehrakisGiven the discussion about the new Latin prayer to be read at Catholic Good Friday services in the Tridentine rite today, I’ve tried to find estimates for how many people will actually hear it. Jewish groups have expressed dismay that the new version of the prayer, which drops references to the “blindness” of the Jews but still calls for their conversion. The leader of Germany’s Jewish community said she could not fathom how the German-born Pope Benedict could “impose such phrases on his church.” The Vatican rejects this criticism and sources there say it could soon issue a conciliatory note. So there’s a lot of talk about this issue, but how much is actually happening on the ground?

Actually, the vast majority of Catholics attending Good Friday services around the world will not hear this prayer in Latin but a different one in their own native language. That prayer is based on a 1970 text without any explicit reference to the conversion of the Jews. There is no official number for how many will attend the Latin services in the older Tridentine rite that Pope Benedict promoted with a ruling last year authorising wider use of the old Latin Mass. But even ardent supporters of the traditional rite agree that the number is very, very small. Some have objected to our use of the term “tiny minority” for it, saying this was dismissive and implied the number was insignificant. It wasn’t, but it’s very hard to write about such a small amount without seeming to write it off.

Fr. John ZuhlsdorfLooking for anecdotal evidence, I first turned to the excellent conservative Catholic blog What Does The Prayer Really Say? (which just swept the 2008 Catholic Blog Awards). This was a logical step since its lively moderator, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (“Fr. Z”), had just taken us to task for writing “tiny minority.” I posted a question about how to describe the size of this group and several readers chimed in, suggesting words like “rare” (sounds like an endangered species), “relatively few in number” (too vague), “some” or “a few” (even more vague) or “small but growing minority” (that adds movement, but it’s still vague). Even the most neutral synonyms for “tiny” — diminutive, microscopic, miniature, minuscule, slight or wee (for my Scottish colleagues) — can be read as dismissive. How would Fr. Z put it — paupera lingua angliae?

Rare clerical revolt hits U.S. Catholic diocese

Priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Belleville, Illinois are staging a rare rebellion — demanding that their bishop, Edward Braxton, resign because of a lack of “collaborative and consultative leadership” since his installation in June, 2005.

Bishop Edward Braxton and his coat of armsBecause of the bishop’s lack of cooperation, consultation, accountability and transparency, it is the judgment of a great number of the presbyterate that he has lost his moral authority to lead and govern our diocese,” 46 priests — representing about 60 percent of those regularly assigned to parish work in the diocese — said in a statement issued on March 12. He should resign, they added, “for his own good, for the good of the diocese and for the good of the presbyterate.”

The priests said the problems they’ve had with their bishop were only exacerbated by a revelation earlier this year that he had used restricted funds to buy conference room furniture, vestments and other items for use in the diocesan cathedral.

So maybe it wasn’t just an Irish joke…

A Catholic priest with a chalice for Mass wineLooks like a story our Dublin office filed back in November wasn’t just an Irish joke.

Catholic priests in Ireland complained last year that tougher laws on drinking and driving meant they would easily go over the limit just by saying mass a few times in one day. Priests in rural areas often drive to several villages every Sunday to say mass, during which drinking a small quantity of wine is an essential part of the ritual.

Bloggers naturally had a field day with this one. “Eucharist could mean ‘water into fine‘,” one wrote. “No more ‘one for the road‘ for Irish priests,” said another. A third asked if drinking was part of a priest’s job description. “Only here in Ireland and only with the Roman Catholic Church could such a story arise,” one concluded.

Dominicans warn Dutch brothers against Catholic schism

Windmills at Kinderdijk, Netherlands, Jasper JuinenThe Order of Preachers, better known as the Dominicans, is warning its Dutch province against sliding into schism by pressing its proposal to allow lay Catholics to say mass if they have no priest available to do so. The Dutch Dominicans have proposed that because the worsening priest shortage means many congregations there don’t have anyone to celebrate the eucharist.

The Dutch Dominicans caused an uproar last autumn when they mailed a booklet called “Church and Ministry” (“Kerk en Ambt“) to parishes across the Netherlands without informing the country’s bishops beforehand. In it, they said a congregation should be allowed to appoint any devout Catholic as a lay minister — “Whether they be men or women, homosexual or heterosexual, married or unmarried is irrelevant” — and did not need the local bishop’s approval. The bishops promptly denounced the booklet and the order’s Rome headquarters distanced itself from it.

Now, the order has produced its own report (here in French under “lire le rapport“). It is — not surprisingly — highly critical of the radical proposals. It says they “risk not only worsening the polarisation within the Dutch Church but also encouraging schism.” The The Dutch Dominican booklet Kerk en Ambtauthor of the report, French Dominican Father Hervé Legrand, said the Dutch must know “the concrete results of the ordination of a gay bishop in the Episcopal Church in the United States: nationally, the creation of new schismatic and competing dioceses, internationally, the split in the Anglican Communion.” Any congregation acting on these proposals would “dissolve into a sect,” he wrote.

Elvis Presley, S.J.?

New Jesuit Superior General Fr. Alfonso Nicolas, S.J., 25 Jan. 2008/Dario PignatelliFather Adolfo Nicolas, the new superior general of the Jesuit order of Catholic priests, possesses, besides decades of experience, a good sense of humour. At his first meeting with reporters since his election on Jan 19, the 71-year-old Spaniard spoke about his life, his formation in Asia and what he had been reading about himself in the media.

I’ve read that I am 50 percent Kolvenbach and 50 percent Arrupe,” he said, referring to his two immediate predecessors, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach and Pedro Arrupe. “However, no one has yet said I’m 10 percent Elvis Presley, although one could say this and it wouldn’t surprise me. But I think this is all false.”

After the laughter died down, the soft-spoken Spaniard became a bit serious: “I am not Kolvenbach and I am not Arrupe. I am made for the reality in which I find myself.”

On remote Japanese island, a church forgets how to baptise

Yasutaka Toriyama of Japan’s “Kakure Kirishitan” or Hidden Christians conducts Christmas Eve ritual, 16 Dec, 2007.When journalists write about churches in decline, we usually cite facts such as falling attendance and dwindling vocations to illustrate the trend. On a recent trip to the remote southern island of Ikitsuki to visit descendants of Japan’s Kakure Kirishitan (Hidden Christians), a Reuters team discovered a surprising new indicator with a fascinating story behind it. Apart from suffering from dwindling numbers, some congregations in this unique branch of Christianity no longer know how to baptise new members.

The secrecy and suspicion of outsiders that helped the Kakure Kirishitan preserve their rituals and traditions through centuries of suppression have also contributed to the loss of those rites. Their story is explained in my feature and the video below.

Yasutaka Toriyama, 68, the gobanyaku or head of a household that traditionally holds a group’s relics such as scrolls or medals, told us the rite of baptism had been lost to his own small group because the elder who conducted it died without passing on his knowledge.