ZAGREB, Croatia - Pope Benedict XVI used his apostolic journey to the Croatian capital to encourage nations to build their communities on Christian values and to support the traditional family and the sanctity of life.

A culture guided by truth, reason and love not only will lead to peace, justice and solidarity, the community's very survival is dependent on such transcendent values, he said during his brief two-day pilgrimage June 4-5.

If religion, ethics and a moral conscience are banished from informing the public realm, "then the crisis of the West has no remedy and Europe is destined to collapse in on itself" and risk falling prey to every form of tyranny, he said in an audience with Croatia's political, religious, cultural, business and academic representatives.

Free and just democracies thrive when citizens' consciences have been formed by love and Christianity's "logic of gift" in which the good of the whole human family is sought after, not narrow self-interests, the Pope said June 4 in Zagreb's ornate Croatian National Theatre.

First phase of Irish Church visitation concluded


ROME - Vatican representatives have completed the first phase of an investigation of major Catholic institutions in Ireland, ordered by Pope Benedict XVI to examine the response of Irish Church authorities to the clerical sex abuse scandal.

A statement from the Vatican press office June 6 said that apostolic visitators to four metropolitan dioceses, as well as seminaries and religious institutes, had turned over their reports to the competent Vatican agencies. Among the visitators were Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins and Ottawa’s Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J.

In the coming months, the statement said, bishops and leaders of religious orders will receive notices on what they should be doing “for the spiritual renewal” of the Irish Church.

The visitation was announced by Pope Benedict in March 2010 in a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics after an independent report showed widespread and historic abuse of minors on the part of Church figures in the overwhelmingly Catholic country. The report accused authorities of covering up and enabling a “culture of secrecy” regarding the problem.

Assisted-suicide advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian dead at 83


WASHINGTON - Dr. Jack Kevorkian, dubbed “Dr. Death” for his longtime advocacy of assisted suicide and his role in assisting in the deaths of 130 people, died June 3 at age 83 in a Detroit-area hospital.

The former medical pathologist suffered from kidney-related problems.

Dr. Kevorkian was frequently in the spotlight throughout the 1990s, from his first role in an assisted suicide in Michigan in 1990 until 1999 when he was sentenced to serve 10-25 years after being convicted of second-degree murder for assisting in a nationally televised death of a man with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Released on parole in 2007, Dr. Kevorkian was banned from assisting in suicides or advising anyone on how to make his suicide machine he called the “Mercitron.” He was permitted to speak out in favour of assisted suicide, which he did.

Libya response scrutinized


WASHINGTON - NATO’s military campaign against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is giving rise to concerns that the effort’s goals remain unclear and will likely lead to a lengthy standoff between the longtime autocrat and rebel forces with innocent civilians caught in the middle.

The concerns revolve around whether the campaign is meant primarily to protect the rebels and their civilian supporters from indiscriminate attacks by troops loyal to Gadhafi or to remove the Libyan leader in the hope that democratic reforms follow.

Guiding the discussion is a relatively new concept in international relations characterized as the responsibility to protect — R2P in diplomatic shorthand. The concept, based on ethical concerns, has evolved over the past 20 years following strife-ridden periods in Somalia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in which civilian casualties mounted during internal conflicts as the world stood by idly.

Pope, Palestinian leader discuss Holy Land


VATICAN CITY - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held talks with Pope Benedict as well as with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti June 3, the Vatican's foreign minister.

The Vatican said the talks were "cordial" and focused on "the troubled situation in the Holy Land," according to a written Vatican statement released after the meeting.

Particular emphasis was put "on the urgent need to find a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one capable of ensuring respect for the rights of all and, therefore, the attainment of the Palestinian people's legitimate aspirations for an independent state," the Vatican statement said.

Salvadoran soldiers indicted for 1989 slayings


MADRID - Spain’s National Court has invoked a special law to order the arrest and trial of 20 former Salvadoran military officers for the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter.

Five of the six Jesuits were naturalized Salvadorans of Spanish birth. In announcing the charges, the Spanish court invoked its universal jurisdiction law, which says that some crimes are so grave they can be tried anywhere.

Issuing an indictment May 20, Judge Eloy Velasco Nunez said El Salvador’s juridical process “was a defective and widely criticized process that ended with two forced convictions and acquittals even of confessed killers.” Among those he indicted were a former Salvadoran defense minister.

A 1993 UN Truth Commission report said high-ranking Salvadoran military officials were responsible for ordering the murders and ordered a cover-up.

San Francisco's circumcision proposal a 'misguided' attack on religion


SAN FRANCISCO - San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer called a proposed ban on circumcision that qualified for the Nov. 8 ballot in San Francisco "a misguided initiative" and "an unconscionable violation of the sanctuaries of faith and family" by the city.

The archbishop made his comments in a letter to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle that appeared May 25. He expressed support for an opinion piece by Rabbi Gil Leeds published in the newspaper May 20, three days after the San Francisco Department of Elections validated the 7,743 signatures needed to qualify the initiative for the ballot.

The initiative would ban circumcision for any male under 18 except in cases of medical necessity. It says that religious belief could not be used as an exception to the law and violators could be fined up to $1,000 and imprisoned for up to one year.

Catholic hospital takes direct hit from Joplin tornado


JOPLIN, Mo. - A Catholic hospital in Joplin that took a direct hit from a category-F4 tornado that struck the city May 22 has made plans to get back to normal as soon as possible.

Five patients and one visitor at St. John's Regional Medical Centre lost their lives in the twister, but 183 other patients were evacuated to other facilities in Missouri and Arkansas.

"A number of Mercy caregivers themselves were injured," said a May 23 statement issued by the hospital. "Their selfless efforts put their patients first and resulted in a timely and orderly evacuation."

The six fatalities recorded at St. John's, a health care ministry of the Sisters of Mercy, were included in the total of 125 confirmed dead by early May 25, and is expected to climb. The number injured in the storm was 1,150 and news reports say there are up to 1,500 people unaccounted for.

"Our first priority is to the community of Joplin and to ensure that our patients, families and co-workers are safe and receiving the best care possible. We are grateful for your support as we work together to assist the Joplin community," the hospital said.

"Please know that Mercy remains committed to the Joplin community, both in the short-term and long-term," the statement said. "We are evaluating interim approaches to providing health care services, and we will be planning for the future as soon as we address more immediate needs."

A bare tree stripped of its branches and leaves is seen near St. John's Regional Medical Center. At least 89 people died and thousands of structures were wiped out in the monster tornado.Structural engineers were set to arrive in Joplin to evaluate the hospital building, said Mercy president and CEO Lynn Britton in a May 23 statement..

Donations to the Joplin Tornado Relief Fund, or wherever the need is greatest, can be made online through a site set up by St. John's at

"Please keep the people of Joplin in our prayers, especially those whose lives were taken as well as those who lost loved ones," said a May 23 statement from Bishop James Johnston Jr. of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. "We pray especially for the people of St. Mary's Catholic Church and school who suffered a total loss as well as St. John's Mercy Hospital which sustained major damage."

"Diocesan staff have been in contact with the other Missouri Catholic Charities organizations based in the Springfield-Cape Girardeau and Kansas City dioceses and the archdiocese of St. Louis," said a May 23 statement from the neighbouring diocese of Jefferson City.

The church, school and rectory buildings of St. Mary parish were all destroyed by the tornado, but the parish pastor, Fr. Justin Monaghan, was reported unhurt.

"The pastor rode it out in the bathtub. He's fine," said Leslie Anne Eidson, editor of The Mirror, newspaper of the diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. "He's staying with a local parishioner right now."

At Joplin's other Catholic church, St. Peter the Apostle, parish administrator Elizabeth Runkle told Catholic News Service May 23, "St. Peter's is fine. We're OK. We didn't have any damage. Everybody's fine."

Residents search through debris of what was once their home after a devastating tornado hit Joplin, Mo.St. Peter has an outreach centre that they're trying to use to speed aid to victims, according to Eidson.

McAuley Catholic High School, which serves the city's two parishes, escaped damage, Eidson said. It was being used as an overflow triage centre.

Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri was in Joplin and seeking donations to aid tornado victims. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul also was co-ordinating its own relief efforts in the Joplin area.

Joplin, in southwest Missouri near the borders of Kansas and Oklahoma, sits in "Tornado Alley," so called for the frequency and ferocity of the region's twisters.

"The tornado has split Joplin in two," reported Eidson. Travel in and out of the city was difficult in the wake of the tornado, she added.

Salesians suspend two members following pro-pedophilia remarks


ROME - The Salesians of St. John Bosco removed two European members from their duties after it was discovered one belonged to a pro-pedophilia organization and another made remarks defending pedophilia.

The Salesian headquarters in Rome said a Dutch priest identified only as Fr. "B" and the superior of the Salesians in the Netherlands, Fr. Herman Spronck, had both been suspended.

"The Belgium-Holland Province officially announced that Fr. B no longer has permission to carry out any pastoral activity and that Fr. Spronck has been relieved of his office as delegate," the congregation said in a May 23 press release.

The Salesian provincial of Belgium-Holland, Fr. Jos Claes, said that to the Salesians' "great surprise," Fr. "B" was a member of a Dutch-based association that advocates legalizing sexual relations between an adult and child. Claes said the association is "not compatible with our Salesian identity" and "we therefore condemn the membership and the opinions of Fr. van B."

It’s a tent, no, it’s a bell, no, it’s.... Pope John Paul II?


ROME - The city of Rome erected its first statue of Blessed Pope John Paul II and the reviews are not good. The Vatican newspaper said what a lot of people were thinking: it’s ugly.

Sculptor Oliviero Rainaldi intended to show the late pope with his cape billowing in the wind, as a symbolic image of welcome. The five-metre-tall bronze sculpture was placed outside Rome’s main train station, where tens of thousands of visitors arrive daily.

But when unveiled May 18, it looked more like an open tent, or a sentry-box, or a bell, commented L’Osservatore Romano. The papal cape looks like it was split open by a bomb. More importantly, the newspaper said, it’s unrecognizable as John Paul II — the head is “excessively spherical.”

Allied diplomats pressed Pope Pius to be silent on Nazi deportations


MANCHESTER, England - American and British diplomats discussed exerting pressure on Pope Pius XII to be silent about the Nazi deportations of Hungarian Jews, according to newly discovered documentation.

The British feared that the wartime pope might make a "radio appeal on behalf of the Jews in Hungary" and that in the course of his broadcast would "also criticize what the Russians are doing in occupied territory."

Sir Francis D'Arcy Osborne, the British ambassador to the Vatican, told an American diplomat that "something should be done to prevail upon the pope not to do this as it will have very serious political repercussions."

Osborne's comments were made to Franklin C. Gowen, an assistant to Myron Taylor, the U.S. special representative to the Vatican. Gowen recorded the conversation in a letter to Taylor, saying he had promised Osborne that he would bring his concerns to the "immediate attention" of the U.S. ambassador.