ACCRA, Ghana - The church must strengthen its role in observing and monitoring elections in African countries where electoral violence prevails, said church representatives from 20 African nations.

Noting that 12 African countries are scheduled to hold elections before the end of 2011 and 14 others in 2012, participants in a mid-September conference organized by Catholic Relief Services and the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar said that "poor governance is often the source of intimidation, violence or conflicts in Africa during and after elections."

"More often than not," elections in Africa have been manipulated "to satisfy selfish or partisan interests to the detriment of the common good," participants said in statement signed by Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Accra. Other signers included chairs of their national bishops' justice and peace commissions: Bishop Paul Bemile of Wa, Ghana; Bishop Alexio Churu Muchabaiwa of Mutare, Zimbabwe; and Bishop Gbaya Boniface Ziri of Abengourou, Ivory Coast.

Pope says German trip will focus on rediscovering God's presence


VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI said his Sept. 22-25 trip to Germany would focus on restoring God's place in individual and social life -- as creator, spiritual guide and force for good.

The pope made the remarks in a videotaped message broadcast Sept. 17 by the German state television network. A transcript was made public by the Vatican.

Saying he was very much looking forward to his third visit to his homeland as pope, he previewed some of the main events, including his address to the German Parliament, Mass in Berlin's Olympic Stadium, visits to the Catholic enclave of Eichsfeld and a youth vigil with young people in Freiburg.

Vatican calls for improved medical care to combat maternal deaths


GENEVA - Scientifically, and not just morally, the best way to prevent maternal deaths is to improve the medical care offered to pregnant women, not divert needed resources into promoting contraception and abortion, a Vatican official said.

The international community "has made insufficient progress in preventing about 350,000 deaths that occur annually during pregnancy and childbirth," said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican observer to U.N. agencies in Geneva.

The archbishop took part in a Sept. 15 U.N. Human Rights Council discussion on "adopting a human rights-based approach" to reducing maternal mortality.

Pope transfers nuncio from Ireland to Czech Republic


VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict has named Italian Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza to be the new nuncio to the Czech Republic, transferring him from his post as ambassador to Ireland.

The Vatican announced the change Sept. 15; it had been rumored for months.

Archbishop Leanza had been nuncio to Ireland since February 2008 and was temporarily called back to the Vatican in late July after Irish government officials publicly criticized the Vatican and accused it of being unhelpful to Irish bishops who wanted to enact stronger measures to protect children in the midst of the clerical sexual abuse crisis.

Controversy swirls around Australian Anglican archbishop's abuse claims


SYDNEY - The primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion said he left the Catholic priesthood years ago after being sexually abused as a seminarian and young priest in the 1960s and 1970s.

Archbishop John Hepworth, leader of the Traditional Anglican Communion, a breakaway group of Anglicans seeking membership in the Anglican ordinariate established by Pope Benedict XVI, told The Australian newspaper about his ordeal after he said his complaint against the one surviving alleged abuser was not investigated by the archdiocese of Adelaide.

Similar complaints filed against two now-deceased priests in the archdiocese of Melbourne led to a compensation payment to Hepworth, the newspaper reported.

The case became embroiled in controversy after an Australian senator publicly identified the accused living priest, despite privacy and legal concerns raised by Church officials.

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney joined the debate when he said that public confidence in the integrity of the Catholic Church's procedures in handling reports of clergy sex abuse is vital in obtaining justice for victims and all concerned parties.

Hepworth told The Australian that he filed a six-page formal complaint with Church officials in Adelaide in March 2008 and followed it up with several other detailed statements. When he inquired about the status of his case earlier this year, Hepworth said he was told the inquiry was still in a "preliminary stage" because he had not filed a formal complaint.

Hepworth, 67, said the abuse started in 1960, when he was 15 and enrolled at St. Francis Xavier Seminary in Adelaide, and continued for 12 years. He said two priests and a seminarian who went on to become ordained committed the abuse.

Despite his ordeal, Hepworth was ordained a Catholic priest and stayed with the Church until 1972, when he moved to England. He became an Anglican and then a priest in the Anglican Church, rising to his current position in the breakaway Traditional Anglican Communion.

Sen. Nick Xenophon fueled the story by naming the sole living priest as Msgr. Ian Dempsey, a parish priest in Brighton in the Adelaide archdiocese. Dempsey has denied the abuse claim.

Xenophon said he revealed the priest's name because the Adelaide archdiocese had refused to place Dempsey under administrative leave pending the outcome of its investigation.

The archdiocese, headed by Archbishop Philip Wilson, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference, had asked the senator to refrain from naming the priest in the interest of justice. The archdiocese said in a statement after the priest was identified that it was "surprised and disappointed" by Xenophon's action.

"The fact that the senator has taken this action is a matter of grave concern to us because it has the potential to interfere with the orderly process of what is already a very difficult and complex matter," the statement said.

"In our view it is inappropriate and unfair for these matters to be aired in public whilst our investigation remains on foot and when the priest concerned has categorically denied the allegation."

Dempsey said in his own statement that he was aware of Hepworth's allegation, which he called unsubstantiated.

"I have made it clear in writing to the inquiry that I categorically deny the allegations, which I note are said to relate to events that occurred some 45 years ago and have nothing at all to do with underage people," he said.

In an earlier statement, the Adelaide archdiocese rejected "any suggestions that there has been no investigation, or a delayed investigation, of allegations made by Archbishop Hepworth."

"Contrary to suggestions made by Archbishop Hepworth, the process, which has been under way for some time, was specifically designed to cater (to) Archbishop Hepworth's understandable emotional sensitivity concerning this matter," a spokeswoman said.

In Sydney, Pell said he was "deeply sorry for his (Hepworth's) suffering and appalled at what he has experienced."

"The task now is to ensure that the complaint he has made to the Adelaide archdiocese is carried forward expeditiously according to the Church's Towards Healing protocol and the demands of natural justice. The public needs to be assured that the matter is being handled appropriately," he said.

Vatican gives Society of St Pius X doctrinal statement


VATICAN CITY - The Vatican has given the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X a formal "doctrinal preamble" listing several principles they must agree with in order to move toward full reconciliation with church.

U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave the statement to Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the society, Sept. 14 during a meeting at the Vatican that lasted more than two hours.

Although the Vatican did not give the society a deadline, in order to move toward full reconciliation, leaders are expected to study and sign the preamble "within a few months," said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.

U.S. abuse victims seek investigation of Pope


THE HAGUE, Netherlands - Several victims of clerical sexual abuse, a U.S.-based organization for survivors and a U.S.-based human rights organization formally asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Pope Benedict XVI and other top Vatican officials on charges they bear a responsibility for the abuse of children by Catholic priests around the world.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and their attorneys from the Centre for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based organization, presented their petition to the court Sept. 13, they announced in a press release.

The Vatican press office declined comment.

Prayer means crying out to God with trust, pope says at audience


VATICAN CITY - Praying in the midst of suffering, Christians must remember how God has loved them all their lives and will rescue them, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Holding his weekly general audience Sept. 14 in the Vatican audience hall, Pope Benedict continued teaching about prayer and used Psalm 22, "one of the most prayed and studied psalms," as an example of how to cry out to the Lord from a basic position of trust.

The pope returned to the Vatican by helicopter from Castel Gandolfo to hold the audience with about 8,000 pilgrims and visitors -- too many to be accommodated at the papal summer villa, but few enough to fit in the air-conditioned audience hall.

Pope, religious leaders in Europe mark 9/11 anniversary


ANCONA, Italy - Remembering the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Pope Benedict XVI appealed to government leaders and all people of good will to work toward a future marked by solidarity and peace.

The pope marked the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the United States after celebrating the closing Mass for the Italian National Eucharistic Congress in Ancona, on Italy's Adriatic coast.

Before leading the midday Angelus prayer with about 80,000 people gathered at a shipyard, the pope recalled the anniversary.

"In commending to the Lord the lives of the victims of the attacks carried out that day and their families, I ask leaders of nations and people of good will always to refuse violence as a solution to problems, to resist the temptation of hatred and to work in society, drawing inspiration from the principles of solidarity, justice and peace," the pope said.

In his homeland, pope to face growing secularism, some protests


VATICAN CITY - In the days leading to Pope Benedict XVI's visit to his homeland Sept. 22-25, German media were asking whether the pope would feel at home in the country he left 30 years ago.

Obviously, he visited Germany frequently while serving in Rome and kept up with friends and colleagues and with developments in church life, theology and politics. As pope, he traveled to Germany in 2005 to celebrate World Youth Day in Cologne and again in 2006 to visit Bavaria, the region where he was born and raised and served as a theology professor and bishop.

After interviewing key Germans involved in planning the upcoming papal trip, Vatican Radio's German program in early September said there's a bit of a sense that the pope and Germans are strangers to each other.

The country was still divided into East and West Germany when he moved to Rome as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and while the communists in the East had succeeded to a large extent in severely limiting Christian life and practice, church activity in the West still was lively.

10 years after 9/11, US comfort level with Muslims slow to change


WASHINGTON - A decade after the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, led to a backlash against Muslims, many Americans are still uncomfortable with followers of Islam and think its teachings are at odds with American values.

Slim majorities of the people polled this summer by the Public Religion Research Institute say Muslims are an important part of the U.S. religious community and that they are comfortable with Muslim women wearing burqas or Muslim men praying in public in an airport. Those majorities were less than 55 percent in each category.

The report released Sept. 6 by the Brookings Institution, which partnered with the religion institute for the study, noted similarities to how Catholics and Mormons were treated in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

"Throughout American history... immigrants professing faiths outside the existing mainstream have tested the commitment to religious liberty," said the report, "What It Means To Be An American."

It noted that Mormons' endorsement of polygamy was seen as an affront to marriage and a threat to democracy, leading to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being "hounded" to "the brink of legal extinction by the 1890s."