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VATICAN CITY - With a hymn and a prayer, Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella presented the Vatican's initial calendar of events for the Year of Faith, which begins with a Mass Oct. 11 in St. Peter's Square.

Archbishop Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, said the Pope has invited as concelebrants bishops and theologians who, like the pontiff, served as members or experts at the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council.

Published in Features

Many of you by now have heard about the Vatican’s doctrinal investigation into the words and actions of American nuns. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the main protector of right Catholic thinking, released an official document a few weeks ago outlining several concerns.

The CDF is generally worried about the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents about 80 per cent of America’s nuns, because of what the Vatican sees as a move away from orthodoxy into a more freewheeling Catholicism, a blend of American independence and secular thinking mixed with some right belief. In other words, the nuns are Catholic but not Catholic enough.

The CDF said the nuns’ leaders, not necessarily the rank-and-file women on the ground, have drifted into “radical feminism” and speakers at leadership events have expounded “moving beyond the Church and even beyond Jesus.”

The investigation did not pop out of thin air. It was launched in 2008 but apparently the Vatican telegraphed its concerns to the LCWR as early as 2001.

American mainstream media has played this as the bullies from the Vatican picking on the nuns. In three stories on the issue by The New York Times, America’s paper of record, not once does anyone appear to defend the CDF.

On June 1 one of these stories led with the following:

“The American nuns who were harshly condemned by the Vatican in April as failing to uphold Catholic doctrine finally responded on Friday in their own strong terms, saying the Vatican’s assessment was based on ‘unsubstantiated accusations’ and a ‘flawed process,’ and has caused scandal, pain and polarization in the Roman Catholic Church.”

Another story had this as its second paragraph:

“The bus tour (the sisters are undertaking) is a response to a blistering critique of American nuns released in April by the Vatican’s doctrinal office, which included the accusation that the nuns are outspoken on issues of social justice, but silent on other issues the Church considers crucial: abortion and gay marriage.”

“Harshly condemned,” “blistering” and “accusations” may seem like mere words, but they are in fact editorializing as to what the Vatican was doing to the nuns. Any non-Catholic reader, or any reader for that matter, gets the impression that the CDF has parked naval destroyers along the U.S. coast  as part of a full-fledged action against defenseless sisters. That rings especially true when the stories have absolutely no balance.

The nuns do have a case. Some of the language used in the CDF document is hard to understand. I am not sure what a “radical feminist” is and complaints about certain speakers attending LCWR events seem picky. The nuns are often the ones on the frontline dealing with the most difficult cases in society, and so to improvise on what the Church teaches may not be an act of a rebel but of someone finding a pastoral solution in a situation demanding immediate action.

But anyone who has any loyalty to the Church has to believe that the Vatican does not act on a whim. God knows no one has ever accused Rome of acting too quickly. That which may seem petty or even vindictive to The New York Times has a more profound meaning for those who do not make decisions by popularity polls or to satisfy current trends.

The Vatican must obtain a certain order, demands certain obedience, because that is how the Church has survived and thrived for 2,000 years. Those demands may rankle the ears of those outside the Church, but frankly that should not be the concern of Rome.

But there is more here that should concern Catholics, especially Catholics who have bought into the storyline that the Church leadership is made of ogres and should simply leave the sisters alone.

A part of me believes that what we are seeing is just more anti-Catholicism at the expense of the sisters. The very idea that journalists are jumping to the nuns’ defence probably has more to do with a chance to bash the Church rather than aid the good sisters.

When this fight has passed and is long forgotten many of those same people who today love the nuns will continue to find ways to attack the Catholic Church — and perhaps the nuns themselves on an occasion when they are no longer media darlings.

(Lewis writes about religion for the National Post and he is the editor of the paper’s religion site, Holy Post.)

Published in Guest Columns

VATICAN CITY - The Vatican Secretary of State blamed an ongoing scandal over leaked Vatican documents on unethical journalists and a spirit of hostility toward the Catholic Church.

"Many journalists play at imitating Dan Brown," said Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, in an interview with the Italian magazine Famiglia Cristiana. "They continue to invent fables or repeat legends."

Cardinal Bertone made his remarks as Vatican judges were investigating leaks to Italian journalists of dozens of documents, including letters to the pope and encrypted cables from Vatican embassies around the world, several of which hint at power struggles among officials of the Holy See.

Published in International

VATICAN CITY - Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, met for more than two hours with officials of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith June 13.

The Vatican did not immediately issue a statement on the meeting, part of ongoing talks aimed at reconciling the breakaway group with the Catholic Church. The society's founder, the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who rejected some teachings of the Second Vatican Council and the modernizing reforms instituted in its wake, was excommunicated for ordaining Bishop Fellay and three other bishops without papal permission in 1988.

In April, Bishop Fellay submitted to the Vatican his second official response to a "doctrinal preamble" outlining what the Vatican said were "some doctrinal principles and criteria for the interpretation of Catholic doctrine necessary to guarantee fidelity" to the formal teaching of the church, presumably including the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

The bishop's reply was studied by the cardinal-members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and, ultimately, by Pope Benedict XVI.

The cardinals and the pope had studied Bishop Fellay's first response, which was submitted in January, and later issued a statement saying his position "is not sufficient to overcome the doctrinal problems that are at the basis of the fracture between the Holy See and the society."

While Bishop Fellay has been generally positive about the possibility of reconciliation with Rome, leaked letters show that the society's three other bishops have had serious reservations about the process.

In May, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said, "In consideration of the positions taken by the three other bishops of the Society of St. Pius, their situation will have to be treated separately and individually" from the effort to reconcile with the SSPX as a whole and with Bishop Fellay.

"It is not that this is a process that necessarily will reach a solution that embraces all the positions" found among all the SSPX members, Father Lombardi said in May.

Pope Benedict's latest efforts to bring about reconciliation with the traditionalist group began when he lifted the excommunications incurred by Bishop Fellay and the other SSPX bishops after they were ordained without papal permission. The pope also established a Vatican committee for doctrinal talks with society representatives in 2009 and drafted the "doctrinal preamble" to explain the "minimal, essential" elements on which the society would have to agree for full reconciliation, Father Lombardi had said.

When the Vatican's doctrinal discussions with the society began in 2009, both sides said the key issues to be discussed included the concept of tradition in general, as well as the Second Vatican Council's teaching on the liturgy, the unity of the church, ecumenism, interreligious dialogue and religious freedom.

Published in International

VATICAN CITY - The Vatican is in line to control the new Internet address extension ".catholic" and decide who is allowed to use it.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a nonprofit corporation that coordinates the assignment of Internet domain names and addresses around the world, announced the Vatican's formal application  June 13 in London.

Published in International

WASHINGTON - The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith warned June 4 that Mercy Sister Margaret Farley's 2006 book, "Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics," contains "erroneous propositions" on homosexual acts, same-sex marriage, masturbation and remarriage after divorce that could cause confusion and "grave harm to the faithful."

In a notification signed by U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada and approved March 16 by Pope Benedict XVI, the congregation said the book "is not in conformity with the teaching of the church" and "cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching, either in counseling and formation, or in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue."

Published in International

VATICAN CITY - Some might find the Vatican an unlikely teacher of business management, especially these days, given the ouster of the Vatican Bank's president for negligence and a leaked document scandal alleging corruption and incompetence in the Holy See.

But according to one former Swiss Guard, the years he spent protecting Blessed John Paul II yielded life-changing lessons for a career in business.

Published in Features

VATICAN CITY - To help bishops determine the credibility of alleged Marian apparitions, the Vatican has translated and published procedural rules from 1978 that had previously been available only in Latin.

The "Norms regarding the manner of proceedings in the discernment of presumed apparitions or revelations" were approved by Pope Paul VI in 1978 and distributed to the world's bishops, but never officially published or translated into modern languages.

Published in Vatican

VATICAN CITY - The Italian television journalist who set off the "VatiLeaks" controversy by releasing private letters to Pope Benedict XVI and between Vatican officials has published a large collection of leaked documents in a new book called "Your Holiness."

In a statement May 19, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, called the publication of the letters for commercial gain a "criminal act" and said the Vatican would take legal action.

"The latest publication of documents of the Holy See and private documents of the Holy Father can no longer be considered a questionable -- and objectively defamatory -- journalistic initiative, but clearly assumes the character of a criminal act," Father Lombardi said.

Published in Features

VATICAN CITY - Reconciliation talks between the Vatican and the Society of St. Pius X have not reached their conclusion but will continue, the Vatican said May 16, after members of its doctrinal congregation examined the latest communication from the head of the breakaway traditionalist group.

"Some observations were formulated which will be kept in mind in further discussions," said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, following a meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Published in International

ROME - Much of the recent news from Rome deals with matters that, though important, will have minimal effect on the life of the Church as a whole. The negotiations with the Society of St. Pius X, the admission of former Anglicans to full communion, even the doctrinal assessment of one of the leadership associations of American women religious — all of these items are at the margins, rather than the centre, of the universal Church. The Society of St. Pius X has a significant presence in only a few countries, the former Anglicans in even fewer and the congregational leadership subject to doctrinal assessment represents an aging and rapidly diminishing component of American religious life.

Yet one recent piece of news is potentially of great significance for the daily life of the Church throughout the world. The Holy See announced last week reformed statutes for Caritas Internationalis, the global umbrella group of various Catholic development agencies.

Published in Fr. Raymond de Souza

VATICAN CITY - In an effort to boost recruitments through more modern methods of outreach, the Pontifical Swiss Guard has opened a page on Facebook.

Facebook.com/gsp1506 was launched May 4 "to open a window" and better inform young people about the "Guardia Svizzera Pontificia," said the guard's commander, Col. Daniel Anrig.

Published in Features

VATICAN CITY - A Vatican decree established new statutes and norms for Caritas Internationalis, giving Vatican offices, including the Secretariat of State, greater authority over the work of the Vatican-based umbrella group of Catholic aid agencies.

The decree strengthens the roles Vatican offices and the Pope play in working with the charity confederation, including naming and approving new board members and approving its texts, contracts with foreign governments and financial transactions.

Published in International

VATICAN CITY - Ten years after a historic papal response to clerical sex abuse, the Vatican urged priests to strive for greater holiness in their own lives so that they might effectively minister to others and reverse the tide of atheism.

In its annual letter to priests for 2012, the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy focused on Blessed John Paul II's 2002 Holy Thursday letter to clergy, in which the late pope responded to the growing revelations and scandal of sexual abuse of minors by priests.

Published in Vatican

VATICAN CITY - The co-founder of Wikipedia told a Vatican audience that his online encyclopedia could contribute to peace by promoting "a more thoughtful world," even as the site was under fire for how it referred to those who oppose and support legalized abortion.

Jimmy Wales, who co-founded Wikipedia in 2001, was invited to address the annual assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. The meeting at the Vatican April 27-May 1 focused on Blessed John XXIII's 1963 encyclical "Pacem in Terris" and continuing challenges to promoting peace and justice in the world.

Published in International