BALTIMORE - At the start of their annual three-day fall assembly in Baltimore, the U.S. bishops were urged to restore the luster, credibility and beauty of the Catholic Church in the hearts of its members.

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York called on his fellow bishops Nov. 14 to communicate to the world that the sinfulness of the church's members is not "a reason to dismiss the church or her eternal truths, but to embrace her all the more."

In his first presidential address since election as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last November, he opened and closed with the words: "Love for Jesus and his church must be the passion of our lives."

Vatican official calls humanitarian laws essential for civilian safety


VATICAN CITY - To protect innocent civilians from the harmful effects of weapons of war, "international humanitarian law remains an essential safety measure not to be weakened," a Vatican official said.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, focused on the responsibility to protect civilian populations from harmful weapons in an address Nov. 14 to a conference reviewing the international Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

"The responsibility of the CCW to protect civilian populations rests on its ability to comply with the provisions of international humanitarian law and even in strengthening them," he said.

Embryos cannot be destroyed even for important research, says Pope


VATICAN CITY - In rejecting research using embryonic stem cells, the Catholic Church is not trying to impede science or delay treatment that can save lives, Pope Benedict XVI said.

The church's opposition to the use and destruction of embryos flows from the conviction that all human life is sacred and that destroying the most defenseless will never lead to a true benefit for humanity, the Pope said Nov. 12 to participants in a Vatican-sponsored conference on research using adult stem cells.

"When the end in view is so eminently desirable as the discovery of a cure for degenerative illnesses, it is tempting for scientists and policy-makers to brush aside ethical objections and to press ahead with whatever research seems to offer the prospect of a breakthrough," the Pope said.

Pope set to light world's largest Christmas tree using iPad


VATICAN CITY - With a tap on an iPad, Pope Benedict XVI will light the world's largest electronic Christmas tree in the Italian town of Gubbio without having to leave his home in Vatican City.

The City of Gubbio and the Diocese of Gubbio announced at a news conference Nov. 12 that the Pope would light the tree via a video link set up by the Vatican Television Center. The tree-lighting ceremony takes place on the evening of Dec. 7, the eve of the Immaculate Conception.

U.S. Catholic college sues federal government over contraception mandate


CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Belmont Abbey College is suing the federal government over a new regulation that requires employer health insurance plans to provide free coverage of contraceptives and sterilization, even if it may be contrary to their religious beliefs.

The civil lawsuit was filed Nov. 10 in U.S. District Court in Washington by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based nonprofit, public-interest law firm that is representing the Catholic liberal arts college in Belmont.

Storms batter Alaska coast; Catholic institutions largely spared


WASHINGTON - The Catholic parish and the Catholic radio station in Nome, Alaska -- with a population of 3,600, one of the largest outposts on the western Alaska coast -- escaped the worst of the damage wrought by a severe storm that slammed into the state from the Bering Sea.

St. Joseph Parish and KNOM, a radio ministry of the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, were largely spared because they were three blocks inland from the shore. Homes and businesses within two blocks of the shore were strongly advised to evacuate because of the storm, which lasted two days.

Nome recorded wind gusts as high at 61 mph. Ric Schmidt, KNOM's general manager, said the intensity of the storm was equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane.

Church can be held liable for crimes of clergy, British court rules


MANCHESTER, England - A British court has ruled that the Catholic Church can be held legally liable for the crimes of abusive clergy.

The Nov. 8 ruling by the High Court in London for the first time defined in British law the relationship of a priest to his bishop as that of an employee to an employer, instead of seeing the priest as effectively self-employed. This means that a bishop and a diocese can be punished for the crimes of a priest. Survivors' groups hope that it will also mean that many people who claim to have been abused by clergy will be able to claim compensation more easily.

2012 papal trip to Mexico, Cuba being studied seriously


VATICAN CITY - Vatican officials are at an advanced stage in studying the possibility of a papal trip to Mexico and Cuba in the spring of 2012, the Vatican spokesman said.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, told reporters Nov. 10 that the nuncios to Mexico and Cuba have been told to inform those governments that "the pope is studying a concrete plan to visit the two countries, responding to the invitations received" from them.

In Benin, pope to outline church's pastoral direction in Africa


VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI is making his second trip as pope to Africa in mid-November, spending three days in Benin and presenting an important document on the future of the church on the continent.

Benin is a small West African nation with little international influence. But its 150-year history of Christianity, its multi-ethnic and multifaith identity, and its struggles for social justice make the country an ideal platform for the Pope's message.

The Nov. 18-20 trip features meetings with government leaders, a speech to non-Christian leaders and an encounter with children at a local parish. The 84-year-old Pope will deliver 10 major talks at 16 events in Benin, spending most of his time in Cotonou, but also visiting the coastal city of Ouidah.

Redemptorists urge Hanoi Catholics to remain calm after attacks


HANOI, Vietnam - Redemptorists at a Hanoi parish have urged local Catholics to keep calm after a mob led by government officials attacked a convent and church in early November.

The Asian church news agency UCA News reported tens of thousands of people attended 10 special Masses celebrated Nov. 5-6 at Thai Ha Church in the capital. Each Mass was attended by an estimated 3,000-5,000 people.

Vatican partners with company to discuss stem-cell research


VATICAN CITY - New biotechnologies raise questions in the fields of medicine, economics, ethics and philosophy, and the Vatican plans to look at all of them during a three-day conference devoted to adult stem-cell research, officials said.

The Pontifical Council for Culture partnered with NeoStem, Inc., a U.S. company researching and marketing adult stem-cell therapies, to sponsor the Nov. 9-11 international conference, "Adult Stem Cells: Science and the Future of Man and Culture."