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.