The start of a high-powered Vatican-sponsored acadmeic conference on evolution was anything but fossilized.The third STOQ International Conference, called Biological Evolution, Facts and Theories, began on Tuesday at the Pontifical Gregorian University (picture right) under the patronage of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture.The conference, which has been organised together with the University of Notre Dame to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, had barely gotten underway when charges of censorship and undemocratic and unacademic behaviour began flying.At the end of the first session Oktar Babuna, a Turkish doctor and collaborator of prominent Turkish anti-Darwin campaigner Harun Yahya,asked for the floor to put forward a question. Babuna, a proponent of the Islamic creationist campaign against evolution, spoke about his view that there were insufficient transitional forms from species to species to support the theory of evolution.After he began speaking two professors on the dias, Francisco J. Ayala of the University of California at Irvine and Douglas Futuyma of the State University of New York were visibly irritated. Someone in the hall can be heard saying “turn the microphone off” and seconds later two organisers approached Babuna. One of them abruptly took the microphone away from Babuna and another ordered him to go back to his seat. Watch it all here“After I walked back to my seat someone said “only evolutionists can ask questions,” Babuna told Reuters afterwards. “This is very anti-democratic and very unacademic. If this is a scientific meeting … if you have scientific questions to ask, they should be responded to scientifically, everybody accepts that … if you force people to shut up and don’t let them ask any question … then it is not a scientific theory but an ideology.” The spat was filmed by Babuna’s associate Dr Cihat Gundogdu, who put an edited version on the Harun Yahya website.Both men attended the conference with English and Italian versions of Harun Yahya’s super-slick mega-book Atlas of Creation (picture left) in hand. We have done numerous blogs on Islamic creationism, its proponents and its opponents. Some of the links are listed below. But what do you think about the debate and, more importantly, do you think officials at the Gregorian University were right or wrong to yank the microphone from Babuna at a scientific conference?http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2009/02/05/just-before-darwin-day-pew-reviews-faith-and-evolution-in-us/http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2008/12/24/a-one-stop-shop-for-the-latest-on-islamic-creationism/http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2008/11/25/harun-yahya-dangles-big-prizes-for-creationism-essays/http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2008/10/27/richard-dawkins-rips-into-harun-yahya-and-muslim-creationism/http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2008/06/19/harun-yahya-preaches-islam-slams-darwin-and-awaits-jesus/http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2008/04/07/harun-yahyas-islamic-creationist-book-pops-up-in-scotland/
Tens of thousands of people have signed petitions either backing or criticising Pope Benedict for readmitting ultra-traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson into the Roman Catholic Church. The supporters are ahead in statistical terms, but this isn’t really a representative sample so it’s hard to draw any firm conclusions. It does give some idea, though, of how much interest the issue has created. (Photo: Bishop Williamson leaves for London after expulsion order from Argentina, 24 Feb 2009/Enrique Marcarian)
The Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich reports today that about 30,000 people, including many theologians, have signed a petition criticising the readmission of ultra-traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson and urging Pope Benedict to defend the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The petition (here in English translation) was launched by the lay reform movement Wir sind Kirche (We are Church), which the SZ says will present it to German bishops holding an assembly in Hamburg next week.
Searching on the support side, I found a French-based petition claiming 47,222 signatures so far. It praises Benedict for lifting the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops and adds: “By this brave gesture, You acted (as) the Good Shepherd of the flock entrusted to You by God.” The site includes a “letter of encouragement” by Rev. Régis de Cacqueray, head of the large French chapter of the SSPX, and sports a selection of logos from traditionalist websites — mostly not SSPX — supporting the petition.
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Libyan theologian Aref Ali Nayed is a senior advisor to the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme and a leading signatory of A Common Word.
By Aref Ali Nayed
Being held in the early days of the Obama presidency, this year’s U.S.-Muslim World Forum in Doha last weekend was particularly luminescent with rays of hope. One was the very fact that its host, the influential Brookings Institution think-tank, invited faith leaders to discuss how to improve the dreadful state of relations between Washington and the Muslim world. The basis for discussion was A Common Word, an appeal by 138 Muslim scholars to Christian leaders to join in a dialogue based on the shared commandments to love God and love one’s neighbor.
That a theological and spiritual initiative is of keen interest to policy planners is indeed a fresh ray of light. Basking in that hopeful light, moreover, I had the rare privilege for a Muslim theologian of listening to the U.S. CentCom Commander General David Petraeus expound there on a “network of networks” that constituted a “security architecture” for our Middle East region.
Could the Pope make a historic visit to commmunist Vietnam later this year? A papal envoy hinted at this on Thursday, as Vietnam and the Vatican are seriously discussing establishing diplomatic ties. “This is my wish,” Vatican Undersecretary of State Monsignor Pietro Parolin told reporters when asked if he thought the Pope could visit the Southeast Asian country this year. He added that the question had not been discussed in meetings with the Foreign Ministry and government’s religious affairs committee. (Photo: Priest outside a Hanoi court trying Catholics for illegal protests, 8 Dec 2008/stringer)
The papal envoy has been attending the first meeting of a joint working group on improving ties this week in Hanoi. He said the talks had made progress, but establishing ties was a process that will take time.
Roman Catholicism in Vietnam dates back centuries, even before French colonial rule. Now some 7 percent of mostly-Buddhist Vietnam’s population of 86 million are Catholic, making it one of the biggest Catholic communities in Asia.
Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), has made some interesting comments in an in-house video interview shown at a meeting of his supporters in Paris on Thursday evening. First of all, he said he was surprised to see how quickly the Vatican lifted excommunication orders against him and three other bishops. Relations with Rome had been “rather cold” for months, he said, since he declined to accept a Vatican ultimatum last June to stop criticising the pope and to accept his authority in doctrinal matters. Fellay said he wrote to the Vatican in December requesting the retraction of the excommunications as a way to make contact again. “Since the letter was relatively severe, I didn’t expect a quick response. It was just a way to reestablish contact,” he said.
Another reason not to expect any change in his status, Fellay said, was the fact that rumours he heard from Rome said the Vatican was thinking of reaffirming his excommunication because he was leading a “schismatic drift”. Just before he was due to leave for Rome in mid-January to make courtesy calls on some Vatican officials, he said, he got a call saying officials there wanted urgently to discuss the excommunications with him.
We know the rest of the story from there. The excommunications were lifted, Bishop Richard Williamson’s interview caused an uproar and the Vatican handled the whole thing very poorly. What is striking in this part of Fellay’s account is the apparently sloppy handling of this even beforehand. Let’s step back and remember that this split was the most important schismatic act since the Second Vatican Council. The Vatican has been dealing with this issue for years. Why such a rush all of a sudden?
Two Jewish leaders due to meet Pope Benedict on Thursday say he has to ensure the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) changes some of its core views before current Catholic-Jewish strains can ease. We’ve run a news story on my interviews with them and a timeline on Catholic-Jewish relations. To give a fuller picture of what they’re saying, here are the transcripts of our talks.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (Photo: Conference of Presidents)
What do you hope to get from the meeting with the pope tomorrow? Can steps be taken to put this behind you?
What should be done with Bishop Richard Williamson? In the wave of protests following his denial of the Holocaust, many critics argued he should have no place in the Roman Catholic Church. He gave them more ammunition over the weekend by telling Der Spiegel that he would have to study the historical evidence before deciding whether to publicly recant, as the Vatican has demanded. But he and his three fellow rebel bishops from the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) have already been let back into the Church thanks to Pope Benedict’s decision to lift their excommunications. They now have to find an official niche in the Church to occupy. (Photo: Bishop Richard Williamson, 28 Feb 2007/Jens Falk)
It’s not clear when the SSPX bishops will begin negotiating their rehabilitation with the Vatican, partly because we don’t know how long Williamson will take for his new history assignment. But whenever those talks get under way, one of their goals will be to find a role for the four men who, although illicitly ordained, are valid bishops. And if they are rehabilitated, they will have to be bishops of somewhere or something. As the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it, bishops “are appointed for the government of one portion of the faithful of the Church, under the direction and authority of the sovereign pontiff, who can determine and restrain their powers, but not annihilate them”.
The operative word here is “restrain”. SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay could be made bishop of a personal prelature, on the model of Opus Dei, but that still leaves the other three without official positions. The two others — Alfonso de Galarreta and Bernard Tissier de Mallerais — haven’t received too much media attention yet and it’s not clear what they might end up doing. But Williamson looks set for the sidelines even if he pops up on YouTube doing penitential readings from Saul Friedländer‘s books.
BUENOS AIRES – After setting off an international furor last month when he denied on Swedish TV that Nazi gas chambers ever existed, Bishop Richard Williamson is holed up in the seminary he runs in Argentina and won’t talk to the press.
The traditionalist bishop was excommunicated 20 years ago, but Pope Benedict rehabilitated him on Jan. 24, causing an outcry from Jews, Catholics and nonbelievers alike who object to Williamson being brought back into the Vatican’s fold.
So I headed out with a photographer to look for the bishop in the seminary in the quiet farming town of La Reja, an hour’s drive from Argentina’s capital. We found a stark-looking tan-colored church, located on extensive tree-lined grounds where a Mass was being held.
Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, who is Number 2 to Pope Benedict at the Holy See, ordered Bishop Richard Williamson to recant his Holocaust denial “absolutely, unequivocally and publicly” if he wants to serve as a prelate in the Roman Catholic Church. The tough statement, reported here by our Vatican correspondent Phil Pullella, came after a mounting chorus of Catholic bishops denounced Williamson’s statement and more or less clearly urged the apparently reluctant Vatican to take some strong disciplinary measures. Many of those appeals included calls for Williamson’s ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) to support Second Vatican Council reforms they have until now rejected. (Photo: Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 19 June 2008/stringer)
Bertone’s statement (original here in Italian) also said clearly that an indispensible condition for a rehabilitation of the four SSPX bishops whose excommunications were lifted last week was “full recognition of the Second Vatican Council and the Magisterium of popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.”
This might seem like the logical next step in the Vatican’s damage control campaign. But now look at the interview with Bertone the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire published just yesterday. When asked about Williamson’s comments, he answered: “There’s no need to confuse things… The Society of Saint Pius X …has asked the pope for forgiveness for this regrettable episode. The pope spoke clearly on Wednesday. It seems to me that the question can be considered closed.” (emphasis mine).
When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected the head of the Roman Catholicism in 2005, the best-selling daily Bild caught the national mood with a frontpage headline crowing Wir sind Papst! (We’re Pope!). Now, Germans are falling out of love with their pope for readmitting to the Church an excommunicated bishop who denies the Holocaust. For the vast majority of Germans, denying the Holocaust is beyond the pale. Shunning anyone who does deny the Holocaust is considered a civic virtue. So seeing the world’s most prominent German rehabilitate a Holocaust denier is quite distressing for a upstanding, post-war German democrat. How could he do it? (Photo: Pope Benedict at the Vatican, 2 Feb 2009/Alessandro Bianchi)
The Vatican and Catholic bishops around the world have been defending the pope, saying the lifting of the excommunications for the controversial Bishop Richard Williamson and three other bishops was an internal Church issue unrelated to his political views. They say repeatedly that this is not a rehabilitation, but simply a readmission to allow discussions on rehabilitation to start. After botching the initial announcement, the Vatican has had a tough time trying to convince public opinion in other countries. In Germany, where many understandably think Holocaust deniers deserve no sympathy whatsoever, this task is proving to be doubly difficult.
From Chancellor Angela Merkel and former Foreign Minister to leading Catholic thinkers, Jewish groups and editorial writers in top-selling newspapers — they’re all criticising the pope’s controversial decision to welcome Williamson back. Here is our news story from Berlin wrapping up the reaction. In Rome, another German, Cardinal Walter Kasper, bluntly told Vatican Radio: “There wasn’t enough talking with each other in the Vatican and there are no longer checks to see where problems could arise.”