Vatican statement on pope’s meeting with Irish bishops

Pope Benedict XVI and Vatican officials attend a closed-door meeting with Ireland's bishops at the Vatican. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI met with 24 Irish bishops at the Vatican during a two-day, closed-door meeting yesterday and today. The summit focused on the Irish church’s handling of sex abuse by priests against minors.

Here is the final statement the Vatican released this afternoon:

UPDATE: Our story: Irish-Vatican summit on sex abuse ends with call for courage, honesty

PRESS RELEASE ON THE MEETING OF THE HOLY FATHER WITH SENIOR IRISH BISHOPS AND HIGH-RANKING MEMBERS OF THE ROMAN CURIA

On 15 and 16 February 2010, the Holy Father met the Irish Bishops and senior members of the Roman Curia to discuss the serious situation which has emerged in the Church in Ireland.

Together they examined the failure of Irish Church authorities for many years to act effectively in dealing with cases involving the sexual abuse of young people by some Irish clergy and religious. All those present recognized that this grave crisis has led to a breakdown in trust in the Church’s leadership and has damaged her witness to the Gospel and its moral teaching.

The meeting took place in a spirit of prayer and collegial fraternity, and its frank and open atmosphere provided guidance and support to the Bishops in their efforts to address the situation in their respective Dioceses.

On the morning of 15 February, following a brief introduction by the Holy Father, each of the Irish Bishops offered his own observations and suggestions. The Bishops spoke frankly of the sense of pain and anger, betrayal, scandal and shame expressed to them on numerous occasions by those who had been abused. There was a similar sense of outrage reflected by laity, priests and religious in this regard.

The Bishops likewise described the support at present being provided by thousands of trained and dedicated lay volunteers at parish level to ensure the safety of children in all Church activities, and stressed that, while there is no doubt that errors of judgement and omissions stand at the heart of the crisis, significant measures have now been taken to ensure the safety of children and young people. They also emphasized their commitment to cooperation with the statutory authorities in Ireland – North and South – and with the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland to guarantee that the Church’s standards, policies and procedures represent best practice in this area.

For his part, the Holy Father observed that the sexual abuse of children and young people is not only a heinous crime, but also a grave sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image. While realizing that the current painful situation will not be resolved quickly, he challenged the Bishops to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve, and to face the present crisis with honesty and courage.

He also expressed the hope that the present meeting would help to unify the Bishops and enable them to speak with one voice in identifying concrete steps aimed at bringing healing to those who had been abused, encouraging a renewal of faith in Christ and restoring the Church’s spiritual and moral credibility.

The Holy Father also pointed to the more general crisis of faith affecting the Church and he linked that to the lack of respect for the human person and how the weakening of faith has been a significant contributing factor in the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors. He stressed the need for a deeper theological reflection on the whole issue, and called for an improved human, spiritual, academic and pastoral preparation both of candidates for the priesthood and religious life and of those already ordained and professed.

The Bishops had an opportunity to examine and discuss a draft of the Pastoral Letter of the Holy Father to the Catholics of Ireland. Taking into account the comments of the Irish Bishops, His Holiness will now complete his Letter, which will be issued during the coming season of Lent.

The discussions concluded late Tuesday morning, 16 February 2010. As the Bishops return to their Dioceses, the Holy Father has asked that this Lent be set aside as a time for imploring an outpouring of God’s mercy and the Holy Spirit’s gifts of holiness and strength upon the Church in Ireland.

Eco-conscious university bans use of plastic water bottles

The Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., reports that the University of Portland has announced a new initiative to make its campus more sustainable: It will no longer sell or use disposable water bottles.

According to the Sentinel, the university is the first college or university on the West Coast to eliminate disposable plastic water bottles and joins more than 20 schools across the country that have taken that action.

The University of Portland takes seriously its commitment to be a good steward of the planet, said Holy Cross Father William Beauchamp, its president. “This will not only reduce the amount of waste generated on our campus but will help focus attention on the critical issue of sustainability and water rights.”

The university was founded by the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1901.

Slogging through slush for snow treat in Rome

Privileged tourists enjoy the rare snow. (CNS/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — “It’s SNOWING,” the 7:51 a.m. text message from CNS reporter Cindy Wooden proclaimed. I rolled out of bed and headed with excitement to St. Peter’s Square, a mere seven-minute walk from my apartment near the Vatican. But the snow wasn’t sticking yet, and turned into rain just as I arrived in the square.

Snow hadn’t stuck to the ground in Rome since 1986, so the chance to get snow pictures is not an everyday event.

After getting very wet, I stopped for coffee and breakfast treats at a nearby bar with friends. Just as I finished a caffè macchiato and a cornetto, it began to snow again. I headed back to the square, but it was just a slushy mess when I arrived.

At about 10 a.m. I decided to head home, dry up and hope that it would start snowing for real. It continued to alternate between rain and snow, but just wouldn’t stick. I came up with a backup plan to drag out a 500mm lens and bring a tripod back out to the square to make a close up photo of snow falling around the statue of Jesus on the façade of the basilica.

But as I walked up Borgo Pio, I realized the snow was starting to stick! When I arrived in the square at 10:45 a.m., it was falling heavily and sticking. Tourists with their umbrellas took delight as they snapped photos. Several large tour groups got an unexpected treat as they trekked with umbrellas through the wet snow.

The snow fell with gusto for a time, even obscuring the dome of the basilica and the statue of St. Peter himself. As the snow slacked off around 11:20, seminarians from the North American College collected slush from the cobblestones and pegged each other. Other young people also did their best to throw icees at each other.

Young people engage in a slush fight in the aftermath of the rare snowfall. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Although I didn’t get hit by a slush ball, my jeans were sopping wet. My cameras were in even worse shape. The viewfinders were completely wet and had fogged over and I could barely photograph. My wife came out to rescue me and my excessive load of gear.

As quickly as the snow had come, it was over. This was Rome’s biggest snow in 24 years, and it lasted just about 45 minutes.

A seminarian from the NAC prepares to toss a grande slush ball. (CNS/Paul Haring)

As I headed for yet another treat at the bar, I remembered National Geographic photographer James Stanfield talking about photographing snow in St. Peter’s for his book “Inside the Vatican” while dragging around his 600mm lens after photographing a Mass in the basilica.

I realized that history had repeated itself and I even had the big glass on me as Jim did in the 1980s. I had always admired Jim’s shot of the snowfall in St. Peter’s Square, and felt privileged to have the opportunity to replicate it in 2010.

I call it ‘snowmaggedon,’ you call it ‘snowpocalypse’

Someone is a fan of snow. (Photo/Julie Asher)

Whatever you want to call it, we here in Washington want to call the whole thing off. I guess the prognosticators got it right when they predicted the snowstorm that hit the Washington region last Friday would come back again, delivering an unprecedented blow and leaving the nation’s capital and the rest of the mid-Atlantic states paralyzed. Today,  the sun is shining and streets are melting, but the hills of snow will be with us for quite some time. And despite the thaw, it is not clear when public transportation systems will be fully functional.

 And now comes word that Vancouver,  the site of the Winter Olympics, is in desperate need of snow and the Games’ organizers are worried. News reports say snow is being trucked in from elsewhere in British Columbia. Have they considered importing it from D.C.? Hmmmm….

An Olympic welcome from The B.C. Catholic

The B.C. Catholic, award-winning newspaper of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, British Columbia, has published a special Olympic edition.

Cover of The B.C. Catholic's special Olympic edition

“We Believe: A Catholic Guide to the 2010 Winter Games,” includes greetings from church officials, including Pope Benedict XVI; maps, Mass times and parishes near Olympic venues; and stories of faith. Reflecting the diversity of Vancouver and the Olympic athletes, Archbishop J. Michael Miller’s welcome was published in English, French and Mandarin.

The Olympics open in Vancouver and Whistler Feb. 12, and the Paralympics follow in March.  The Archdiocese of Vancouver and the Diocese of Kamloops have worked to prepare for athletes and fans from around the world.

Year for Priests: Praying outside the box

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

Over the past couple of weeks, I have met with a number of people about prayer, and since Lent is around the corner it seems fitting to pass along a few fruits from the conversations.

For most of the people with whom I speak, prayer is a conundrum.  We are told that prayer is essential to our spiritual life, but just about everyone I know feels that prayer is a struggle.  We are told that prayer is how we dialogue with God, but most of the time, it feels awkward and one-sided.  In my own past experience, I found that priests often had very little to say on the subject, seemingly because they struggled as much as everyone else.  So what are we to do?

I have always believed the first step is to take the whole idea of prayer out of the 12th-century box in which we keep it.  Whether we know it or not, most of us have a mental picture of what “good” prayer is supposed to be like, and usually it is contemplative, ritualized and originated in a monastery. However, prayer is much more than all that.

Second, we have to understand that there are as many different kinds of prayer as there are traditions in the church.  We can use broad categories like formal, informal, collective, individual, contemplative, active, introverted and extroverted (just to name a few), but even those hardly grasp the vast treasury of prayers prayed by the church.

I should note that throughout my formation, I struggled immensely with prayer, largely because I did not feel the presence of God at 5:30 a.m. in a dimly-lit, absolutely silent chapel.  As an extrovert, I wanted to sing, write and “voice” my prayer.  I eventually discovered that 90 percent of Religious men and women are introverts, so it makes sense that the adopted prayers of Religious are more contemplative.

Ultimately, I believe that prayer is anything that makes us more aware of, and increases our ability to accept grace.  It is anything that reminds us that we are not our own saviors.

Most of us are not called to live in a cloister, so if we take St. Paul’s words, “to pray without ceasing,” to heart, it means that prayer is not so much an action, as it is a disposition – a state of mind.

This means that not only is a rosary a prayer, but so is Mass.  Not only is a chapel a place of prayer, but so is nature.  Prayer can be a discussion about God in a coffee shop, a good book that makes us aware of our need for God, a beautiful song, journal time, and so on.

But all this is not to say that prayer is not a discipline, because it is.  Prayer is not a series of random thoughts, but a concentration on the presence of God in our midst in that moment.

In the end, my favorite quote about prayer comes from Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who once wrote, “Prayer may not save us, but it makes us worth saving.”

No amount of prayer will ever earn us our salvation.  Prayer is our response to God’s grace.  But the more that we pray, the better we become at saying “thank you” and asking others for help and recognizing their needs beyond our own.  Through our prayer, we not only improve our relationship with God, but we also improve our relationship with those around us.

Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil last May and is teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan.

Click here for more in this series.

Determined Haitians stand strong in the face of insurmountable obstacles

Girls outside tents at a camp on the grounds of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Port-au-Prince. (CNS/Bob Roller)

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – While leaving the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince this morning we passed by a U.N. World Food Program food distribution site. Dozens of earthquake victims were hurrying back to their tattered shelters a few blocks away, large sacks of rice in their possession.

The eagerness of the Haitians to return to their families with this gift of life was evident on their faces. No one looked happy — just very concerned that they get back to feed hungry stomachs.

The sacks, emblazoned with the USAID logo, are meant to last two weeks. After that, the World Food Program plan calls for continued distributions of food across 16 zones around the capital. How long the distributions will continue is anyone’s guess.

The realization that this could go on for a very long time is sobering. Hundreds of thousands of people are homeless in the country, most around Port-au-Prince. An estimated 400,000 of the area’s 3 million people have fled to the countryside, placing greater burdens on an already-stressed rural community where the agricultural capacity has been limited by recent hurricanes.

A crucifix remains standing amid the rubble of Sacred Heart Church in Port-au-Prince. (CNS/Bob Roller)

And here we — Catholic News Service photographer Bob Roller and myself — were ending our assignment after 10 days on the ground in the earthquake-ravaged city. We had the opportunity to leave. But these Haitians cannot. They will continue to encounter challenges that most Americans would find unimaginable.

Yet they stand strong as in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. They are not giving up. Their example is one for the world.

Now it remains for the world to respond.

Charlie Jacques prays the rosary for comfort outside destroyed Port-au-Prince cathedral

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Just about every morning since the Jan. 12 earthquake Charlie Jacques visits what’s left of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption and prays the rosary.

“It gives me comfort and gets me through the day,” the 33-year-old Jacques told Catholic News Service today, unwrapping a bright green rosary from his right hand to shake hands with a visitor.

Remains of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption are seen the day after the Jan. 12 earthquake. (CNS/Caritas)

He sits quietly on a splintered plastic chair tucked into a corner between a brick wall and the wrought iron fence that surrounds the cathedral. His gaze appears distant, thinking about the better times of the past.

For Jacques, it’s been the same routine for more than three weeks since the home he shared with his sister on Dalmas 2 was destroyed in the quake.  He said he lost his job as a laborer at a food depot the night of the disaster.

This morning, Jacques appeared fatigued in his dusty clothes. But he’s holding out hope that someone will help. First he wants food. He said he has eaten little since the earthquake. Second, he’d like a job so he can help support his sister and begin to save money for another home.

He wraps the rosary around his right hand again and returns to prayer.

Persevering Haitian barber rebuilds his shop amid signs of clean up

Chov Jean Jacques takes a break while workers rebuild his barber shop in Sarthe. (CNS/Bob Roller)

SARTHE, Haiti — Signs of clean up and rebuilding slowly are becoming more evident across some of the most seriously damaged neighborhoods around Port-au-Prince.

Barber Chov Jean Jacques is just one example.

We came across Jacques sitting in what was left of his tiny shop on the main street into and out of Sarthe, just north of the Port-au-Prince airport. He was watching two workers — masons Roudy Pierrilus and Louis St. Ilus — rebuild the front wall of his business on the side of the road at the foot of a heavily-trafficked, creaky bridge.

He said he expected to be back in business in a week or so.

The cost to rebuild is about US $1,500, Jacques estimated.  He borrowed money to pay the workers, and the construction-supply business extended credit for the concrete blocks and cement. Once he reopens he expects to repay the loans in due time.

The construction style is typical of many of the thousands of structures that came tumbling down in the earthquake: concrete walls with simple rebar supports. If another quake hits, it will tumble down again.

But people such as Jacques deserve credit and support for the desire to persevere and continue living.

When the earth quaked, Jacques was in the middle of a haircut for a customer. Three customers were waiting their turn. All escaped unharmed but the front of the shop and most of one side wall caved in. And with it most of his furniture and equipment.

“We just can’t say anything. It’s God’s will,” he said of the Jan. 12 quake, which Haitians call “The Event.”

As for where he will get chairs for his waiting customers and a barber chair, he told me, “If you get some, send some.”

U.S. Catholic leaders call for safeguards to protect Haitian children

The heads of five major Catholic agencies that are serving Haitian earthquake victims have written to three Cabinet secretaries outlining steps they feel should be taken to protect  Haitian children who have been left alone as a result of the Jan. 12 quake.

“The compassion of the American people has been evident in their response” to these children, the agency heads wrote. “As social service providers, we believe that certain processes should be established before such children are brought to the United States and placed in adoption proceedings.”

The full text of the letter is available here. It is addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

It was signed by the heads of the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services and the International Catholic Migration Commission.

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