THE YEAR IN REVIEW
DECEMBER 22, 2006 THE CATHOLIC HERALD
A year of crisis and reconciliation
Clockwise, from above: Islamic activists demonstrate in Kashmir against Pope Benedict after his speech at Regensburg; similar protests took place in Turkey; how the Herald reported the controversy
Continued from Page 9
In June, there were more reports of a papal trip to Britain in 2008 after it emerged that Tony Blair, following the example of Cardinal Cormac MurphyO’Connor, had extended an “open invitation” to Pope Benedict. It was said that several key figures in the Blair Government, including the Prime Minister himself, were keen to secure a papal visit before the next general election. As the football World Cup kicked off in Germany Scotland fans who supported England’s opponents were lambasted by Fr Willie McFadden, the rector of Scotus College, Scotland’s largest seminary. He said that members of the Tartan Army – Scotland’s famously friendly band of supporters – should examine their consciences before pledging allegiance to England’s first-round opponents: Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago and Sweden.
After violence erupted in the Middle East Pope Benedict issued a desperate appeal for peace. He condemned the militant Islamist group Hezbollah for its terror raids on Israel but equally rebuked Israel for responding with “unjustified” violence. “As bitter experience has shown, positive results do not come from following such paths,” said Pope Benedict, speaking to 5,000 people in Les Combes, northern Italy, where he was on holiday. In England and Wales, priests and lay Catholics expressed dismay after it emerged that the bishops of England and Wales had abandoned several traditional Holy Days of Obligation . The bishops’ conference announced that the Vatican had given its approval for three of the Holy Days to be dropped. Epiphany, the Ascension of the Lord and Corpus Christi – all the Solemnities of the Lord except for Christmas – will now be moved to Sunday. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor said in a statement that the move was driven by a concern for the “diminishing observance” of these days. But critics of the decision insisted that Catholics had not been properly consulted and accused the bishops of bowing to “a secular age”. Catholic writer Dr William Oddie said that the “secrecy” of the bishops’ appeal to Rome was a “disgrace”. In Rome, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo , president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said that the Catholic Church was on a collision course
with international law over its opposition to stem cell research and gay marriage. The warning came just days before Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Spain for the World Meeting of Families. “We worry that, especially with current laws, speaking in defence of life, the rights of family are becoming in some societies sort out of a crime against the state,” said Cardinal Trujillo. Pope Benedict appointed Fr Federico Lombardi , a Jesuit priest, as his chief spokesman after Opus Dei member Dr Joaquin Navarro-Valls announced he was stepping down after 22 years in the job. Cardinal Walter Kasper said that Turkey was not yet ready to join the European Union. He accused the Turkish government of failing to uphold religious freedom, which he described as “a foundation of European culture”. The cardinal’s comments were made in response to the stabbing of a French missionary priest in the country. “Turkey must change many things and it is not just a question of laws but of mentality and you can’t change mentality in one day,” he said. The Vatican decided to open its archives covering the years leading up to World War Two for the first time. The move was expected to debunk the widely held theory that the Vatican was complicit in the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust. Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, who married a Korean acupuncturist in a Unification ceremony in 2001, started a campaign to challenge the Church’s teaching on priestly celibacy. The Zambian archbishop said at a press conference in Washington DC that he sought to “reconcile” the 150,000 or so married priests around the world to the Church so that they could resume their ministry.
In what was described as the first-ever “papal press conference” , Benedict XVI gave one of the most candid and revealing interviews ever given by a Pope. During the discussion the Pontiff said that he wanted to present the Church as a “positive option”, rather than as an institution that “always says no”. He said that this shift in emphasis was necessary in order to prevent Catholicism from being consigned to “the trash of history”. The Pope fielded questions from three German journalists and a priest. He was asked why, when speaking to the World
The Pontiff stands inside the Church of St Oswald, in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, where he was baptised as a child
Meeting of Families in Valencia last month, he avoided using the words “homosexual marriage”, “abortion” or “contraception”. He replied: “Christianity, Catholicism is not a collection of prohibitions: it’s a positive option. It’s very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost disappeared today. We’ve heard so much about what is not allowed that now it’s time to say: we have a positive idea to offer.” Later in the month Pope Benedict pleaded for the release of a Chaldean Catholic priest who was kidnapped in Baghdad. Masked bandits forced Fr Saad Sirop Hanna from his car before taking him away.
“His Holiness makes a heartfelt appeal to the abductors to release the young priest at once so that he can return to the service of God, the Christian community and his countrymen,” said Cardinal Angelo Sodano in a message to the Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel-Karim Delly of Baghdad. Another Iraqi cleric claimed that half of the war-torn country’s Christian population had fled since the American-led invasion of 2003. Auxiliary Bishop Andreas Abouna of Baghdad said that before the Second Gulf War there were about 1.2 million Christians in the predominantly Shia Muslim Arab state. But he said that the
overall number of Christians had dropped to about 600,000 in just three years. “Half of the Christians have gone,” the Chaldean Catholic bishop said. “What we are hearing now is the alarm bell for Christianity in Iraq. When so many are leaving from a small community like ours, you know that it is dangerous – dangerous for the future of the Church in Iraq.” The European Court of Human Rights ruled that a terminally ill patient did not have the right to prevent doctors from starving him to death in the final stages of his illness. The plea of Leslie Burke, 46, for doctors to continue giving him food and fluids after he was no longer able to communi
cate was rejected. Celtic Football Club goalkeeper Artur Boruc found himself in hot water after making the Sign of the Cross in front of the supporters of his team’s secrivals, Rangers. Mr Boruc, who has played more than 20 times for Poland, received a caution from the Scottish judiciary. Ruth Kelly, the Catholic Communities and Local Government Secretary, said she was “surprised” at the move, in a country which is supposed to value religious diversity and freedom of speech. Andy Brown, a Celtic supporter, added: “International goalkeepers should be safe when it comes to crosses, so this is ridiculous.”
Pope Benedict’s homecoming trip to Germany was overshadowed as remarks he made about Islam caused worldwide controversy. During a lecture about reason and the use of violence in the name of religion at Regensburg University, the Pontiff quoted Manuel II Paelogos, a 14th century Byzantine emperor who said: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman.” In response, Benedict XVI faced innumerable death threats and mass intimidation from many parts of the Islamic world. In Somalia a nun was murdered and in Asia and the Middle East churches were attacked and effigies of the Pope were burned in response to the alleged “insult to Islam”. In Britain one radical Muslim reportedly called on the Pope to be executed. Leading Catholics blamed elements of the Western media for the continuing outrage. The BBC website – a popular news source in Islamic countries – was accused of “pouring petrol on the flames” of the controversy. The BBC later admitted to screening out emailed comments from readers that were in favour of the Pope. Benedict XVI said sorry to Muslims who were offended by his speech but conspicuously stopped short of issuing a full apology. Speaking from his residence of Castel Gandolfo the Pope said: “I am deeply sorry for the reaction in some countries to a few passages of my addresss at the University of Regensburg which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims,” he said. Benedict XVI insisted that the speech was, in fact, “an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue” between the religions “with great mutual respect”. Moderate Islamic leaders were satisfied with this apology, though there were many extreme Muslims who demanded a full retraction of the speech. During the trip itself, the Holy Father had received a hero’s welcome from a congregation of a quarter of a million people when he celebrated Mass in his native Bavaria. In a moving and highly personal pilgrimage to his old diocese of Munich the Holy Father had hinted that, at the age of 79, he may never find the time or the energy to return to his homeland. As Muslims continued to decry the Pope’s choice of quotation, three Catholics in Indonesia were execut
ed for allegedly orchestrating attacks against Muslims in spite of appeals for clemency from the Vatican and even Benedict XVI himself. Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva, and Marinus Riwu were shot dead by a firing squad in Palu, Sulawesi, after they were denied a final Mass and confession. Human rights groups inisted that the men did not have a fair trial and accused the Indonesian government of trying “to appease the growing Muslim fundamentalist lobby” by killing the Christians. It was said that their lives were taken as a “sop” for the impending executions of the Islamist extremists who carried out the Bali bombings in 2002. In the same month, the charity Aid to the Church in Need produced a shocking study revealing unprecedented levels of persecution suffered by Christians around the world. The report recorded rising violence and discrimination against the faithful, usually at the hands of Islamist fanatics in every continent. Islam and Christianity did come together, however, as religious leaders held demonstrations across the world to highlight the plight of the victims of the forgotten war in Darfur. A day of prayer was held in more than 30 world capitals to show support for the suffering people of Sudan. In London, Cardinal Cormac MurphyO’Connor led prayers with a delegation of spiritual leaders who called for the international community to intervene to help end the conflict. On the liturgical front. there was more good news for traditionalists as five priests and seminarians, including past members of the Society of St Pius X, founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, returned to full communion with the Catholic Church. They founded the Good Shepherd Institute, a new society of apostolic life of pontifical right, in Rome. In Scotland, Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow defended a group Scottish firefighters who were disciplined for objecting to promoting fire safety at a gay pride rally. Archbishop Conti said the decision to force nine firemen to undergo “diversity training” after they refused to man an information stall was alarming. “They were asked, while in uniform, to hand out leaflets during a demonstration where they had legitimate concerns about being the subject of taunts and jokes. “In some cases, their religious sensibilities were being grossly offended by people dressed as priests and nuns lampooning the Church,” he said. THE CATHOLIC HERALD DECEMBER 22, 2006
THE YEAR IN REVIEW
for the Pope and the Muslim world
The spiritual leader of Scotland’s Catholics became involved in a fierce political row after he offered his support for Scottish independence. In an exclusive interview with The Catholic Herald , Cardinal Keith O’Brien of St Andrews and Edinburgh, said that he was “happy” for Scotland to detach itself from Britain. In reply, Tony Blair argued that Scottish independence would “take the country backwards”. “I wouldn’t have thought it is a matter of religious faith, at least I hope not,” said Mr Blair. “Independence would be a disaster for Scotland because it would wreck its economy, [and] stop it functioning as part of the UK.” In other home news, a campaign by the Catholic Church in England and Wales forced the Government to back down from plans to impose quotas of non-Catholic pupils in Catholic schools . Lord Baker of Dorking described Education Secretary Alan Johnson’s volteface as the “fastest U-turn in British political history”. It came after more than 50 Labour MPs contacted the Secretary of State to say that they feared losing the support of Catholic voters if the Government pressed ahead with its proposals. Whitehall was also deluged with tens of thousands of letters from Catholic teachers and parents furious at the plans. Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham also played a crucial role in forcing the Government to back down. He met Mr Johnson in person to drive home the Church’s “vehement” opposition to “political interference” in Catholic education. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor accused the BBC of a “persistent bias” against the Church. The Archbishop of Westminster made a formal complaint to the head of the corporation over a documentary that accused Benedict XVI of covering up child abuse by priests. He told Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC, that he wanted to express the “enormous distress and alarm of the Catholic community” at the decision to broadcast the Panorama special “Sex crimes and the Vatican”. “The main focus of the programme is to seek to connect Pope Benedict with the cover-up of child abuse,” he said. “This is malicious and untrue and based on a false presentation of documents.” Just days after writing this letter, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor enjoyed his first formal audience with Pope Benedict. After the meeting the Cardinal hinted that he may stay on as Archbishop of Westminster after his 75th birthday next August, confounding those who thought his resignation next year was inevitable. The Cardinal – who according to Canon Law must offer his resignation when he turns 75 – said that he did not know if his time as spiritual leader of Catholics in England and Wales was nearing its end. “I will wait for the response of the Holy Father,” he said. “I am quite open to whatever decision he makes.” Back home, the head of a Catholic college in Kent was forced to resign amid accusations that she was “too Catholic”. Maria Williams stepped down as head teacher of St Luke’s Catholic Sixth Form College in Sidcup after a vote of “no confidence” from staff. Pupils at the school had complained of being forced to attend Mass and take part in processions in which they carried statues of the Virgin Mary. There had also been objections to a lecture in which the speaker had condemned homosexuality. In Rome it emerged that Pope Benedict was drafting a document to allow the wider use of the pre
Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury attend a prayer service in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel at the Vatican on November 23
Vatican II Tridentine Mass . The possibility of a blanket indult in favour of the Tridentine Mass prompted an uproar from the Church in France. Five French bishops and 30 young priests publicly voiced serious doubts about the move. The French bishops conference later announced that it had no objection in principle to the reintegration of traditionalists. The Israeli ambassador to the Holy See urged the Vatican to stop the beatification process of Pius XII. The request came just days after the alleged discovery of a first-hand account of how Pius XII, so often condemned as an antiSemite, once told a Jewish German to be proud of his faith in front of a crowd of Nazi soldiers. The BNP once again prompted Catholic ire after its official newspaper, The Voice of Freedom , claimed that Benedict XVI had “echoed” the Party’s extreme anti-Islamic
rhetoric during his speech in Regensburg in September. The front page of The Voice of Freedom juxtaposed a photograph of the Pope with a picture of the BNP’s chairman Nick Griffin under the headline “Warning about Islam”. Joe Benton, Labour MP for Bootle, said: “It is so typical of the BNP and inflame the racial thoughts among the populace. I can only condemn how cheap it is to make political capital out of this.” In America Fr Stan Fortuna, a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in New York, aka The Rapping Priest, released a new hip-hop album that includes rhymes about world peace, absent fathers and Pope John Paul II.
With the controversy concerning the Pontiff’s
Regensburg speech still fresh in the memory, Pope Benedict travelled to Turkey . The visit was undoubtedly the most politically sensitive and challenging journey of his pontificate so far. A massive security operation accompanied Benedict XVI wherever he went, although the Pope refused to wear a bullet-proof vest as he disembarked the plane. The Pontiff was greeted on his arrival by the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After the meeting the Turkish government announced that Benedict XVI had told Mr Erdogan that the Church wanted Turkey to join the EU. The Vatican later denied the claim. On the ecumenical front the Archbishop of Canterbury told The Catholic Herald that the Anglican Communion may one day reconsider the ordination of women priests if presented
with a convincing theological reason for doing so. Lambeth Palace was quick to reject reports that the archbishop was reconsidering the ordination of women. Dr Williams’s Herald interview came just days before he met Pope Benedict in Rome. After the two leaders met they said that the “journey of friendship” between Catholics and Anglicans would continue even though the path towards full unity appeared to be blocked. In America, the Catholic Church continued to put pressure on President Bush over the Iraq war. With violence against Iraqi Christians continuing to soar – including the alleged crucifixion of a teenage boy in Basra – Bishop William Skylstad said that the situation was “perilous” and urged the President to pull troops out of the war-torn country. In London, Cardinal Renato Martino joined Britain’s spiritual leaders
to offer papal support for a Government-sponsored scheme aimed to help the world’s poorest people. He flew to London for a meeting with Chancellor Gordon Brown to launch the so-called “bonds for babies” project. Bad news for parentless babies in the United Kingdom, however, as t he future of Britain’s nine Catholic adoption agencies was thrown into grave doubt by a Government decision to press ahead with gay rights laws that would force them to place children with homosexual couples. Catholic agencies may in future have to either fight costly court battles or close altogether. The Vatican made it clear that no Catholic adoption agencies can be involved in a practice it has described as “gravely immoral”. In another alarming development for British children The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology called for a debate on the infanticide
of severely disabled babies . The College urged the health profession to discuss the introduction of “active euthanasia” on some infants in order to spare parents the “real life-long costs” involved in bringing them up. Labour MP Jim Dobbin, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, described the appeal as “ludicrous”. At the Vatican, the prospects of a Latin American succeeding Pope Benedict increased dramatically after the Pope promoted a high-profile Brazilian to a senior curial post. Cardinal Claudio Hummes, Archbishop of Sao Paolo, was appointed as the new prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. The cardinal was widely tipped to be the successor to John Paul II before the papal conclave in 2005. On another issue, the Vatican ruled that priests celebrating the Eucharist
should say that Jesus Christ’s blood was shed so that sins may be forgiven “for many” and not “for all”. Cardinal Francis Arinze was reported to have written to the heads of the world’s episcopal conferences informing them that new versions of the Missal should be more faithful to the Latin phrase “pro multis”, which accurately translates as “for many”. In Lebanon 800,000 mourners gathered in central Beirut for the funeral Mass of murdered Maronite Catholic leader Pierrre Gemayel.
English Heritage revealed that the future of some of the most beautiful Catholic churches in England and Wales is “hanging by a thread”. Important Catholic buildings will fall into ruin unless extra funding is found to protect them – and that could further accelerate the closure of parishes. The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales admitted that dioceses have been guilty of “precipitous closures of significant buildings” which have caused “a great deal of concern and unhappiness”. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor challenged the Prime Minister to spend taxpayers’ money on anti-retroviral drugs instead of condoms if he truly wants to help Aids sufferers in Africa. His comments on the BBC’s Sunday AM television programme came as a direct response to criticism of the Catholic Church’s position on condoms days earlier by Tony Blair. “I think what I’d like to say to the Prime Minister is it’d be much better if we used that money to provide more anti-retroviral drugs, medicines, for the millions of children and women who are affected,” said the Cardinal. Church leaders in Britain united to condemn the renewal of the Trident missile system as the controversy over Britain’s nuclear programme escalated. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, joined Catholic Church leaders in criticising the Government’s plans to update the aging Vanguardclass submarine fleet, which carries the American-made Trident nuclear missiles. In November the Catholic bishops of England and Wales denounced the plans and demanded total disarmament. They had said that the mere existence of nuclear weapons posed grave moral problems for the Church because their “uniquely destructive power means that they belong to a different category from any other weapons”. The Vatican announced that it was “certain” a tomb found directly underneath the High Altar of St Paul’s Basilica belongs to the great apostle himself . Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, archpriest of St Paul’s basilica, confirmed that a roughly cut marble sarcophagus, or stone coffin, was unearthed with an inscription that reads “Paul Apostle Martyr”. The cardinal conceded, however, that archaeologists are uncertain that the tomb contains St Paul’s remains. Nevertheless, commentators regarded the discovery as a dramatic archaeological breakthrough. Paul Badde, a German writer and journalist who followed the story closely, argued that the finding was of huge historical significance. He said: “The identification of the grave of this Apostle is, for the entire West, much more important than the digging up of any new grave of any given pharaoh, no matter how precious and full of gold it may be.” On another matter, the Vatican approved the decision of an American bishop who excommunicated members of a dissenting Catholic group that opposes Church teaching on contraception, priestly celibacy and male-only clergy.