Pope’s comments on condoms spark headlines

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict’s latest comments on condoms, made in a book to be released Tuesday, are already sparking headlines.

The short version is that the pope indicated that in some situations, use of condoms in AIDS prevention might be a morally justifiable act. At the same time, he repeated what he said in Africa last year, that condoms are not the answer to the worldwide AIDS pandemic.

In the question-and-answer book, “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times,” the pope repeated his argument that focusing exclusively on condoms damages human sexuality, making it “banal” and turning it into a kind of “drug.” But he went on to say that in specific single cases — he mentioned prostitutes — condom use may be justified as a first step toward taking moral responsibility for one’s actions.

Asked whether this means the church is not opposed in principle to the use of condoms, the pope replied that while condoms are not a “real or moral” solution to AIDS, their use can reveal an intention of reducing the risk of infection and of living sexuality in a more “human” way.

These are nuanced comments, and one should read the passage in full to gauge the pope’s position. The pope’s answer seems to invite follow-up questions. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that the Vatican has never proclaimed a “ban” on condom use in AIDS prevention; on the contrary, some Vatican theologians and officials have argued that for married couples in which one partner is HIV-infected, use of condoms would be a moral responsibility.

Where Vatican officials appear to agree is that promotion of condoms as the only or best answer to AIDS carries grave risks, mainly by promoting the idea that condoms guarantee “safe sex.” In that sense, the pope said on his flight to Cameroon in 2009 that rather than solve the issue of HIV/AIDS, condoms “increase the problem.” He encouraged campaigns to promote responsible sexuality instead.

Despite journalistic hyperventilation, the pope’s latest comments do not signal a major new shift in Vatican thinking. Under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict — the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation began studying many years ago whether using condoms to prevent AIDS was morally licit in some specific cases, and sources said there were strong arguments in favor of condom use. A few years ago, a document on the subject was considered, but has been back-burnered indefinitely, according to sources.

What the pope has done is to raise the issue publicly, making clear that the church’s teaching against condoms as a form of birth control is different from its position on condom use in disease prevention.

Pope to go to Germany in 2011

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican confirmed today that Pope Benedict XVI will be going to his native Germany in 2011.

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin was lit up for celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2009. (CNS/Reuters)

The German Catholic Bishops’ Conference announced this morning that the pope will visit Berlin, Freiburg and Erfurt, probably sometime in September.

This will be his third trip to Germany since he was elected in 2005. His first papal trip abroad was to Cologne for World Youth Day in 2005 and then in 2006 he went to Munich, Altotting, and Regensburg.

This is his third scheduled trip for 2011 as he is also set to go to Croatia and later Madrid for World Youth Day in August.

There be audiences?

The promotion team for the upcoming feature film “There Be Dragons” has its work cut out. This is the same group that laid the groundwork for “The Passion of the Christ,” which sparked controversy well before the film’s debut in theaters.

A screening of “The Passion of the Christ” following the U.S. bishops’ 2002 fall general meeting in Washington attracted a packed house of close to 100 at the Motion Picture Association of America’s screening room downtown.

St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, founder of Oppus Dei. (CNS photo from Opus Dei)

But a screening Nov. 16 of “There Be Dragons” — which features many incidents in the early life of St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei — drew just nine people to a Baltimore multiplex across the street from the hotel where the bishops were conducting this year’s fall general meeting. Of the dozen bishops who RSVP’d in the affirmative, only one attended: Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron of Agana, Guam.

Most of the rest of the audience consisted of journalists covering the bishops’ meeting. While willing to give the film a chance, they issued pointed criticisms — from the makeup job given a character who ages throughout the movie to the film’s title. But the title is a play on the phrase “here there be dragons,” from the Latin “hic sunt dracones,” used in ancient maps to indicate a dangerous or unknown place, or a place to be explored. The movie’s makers say the theme running through the film explores “unknown territories” of hatred, guilt and forgiveness.

What was screened was not quite a rough cut, but writer-director and co-producer Roland Joffe (“The Mission”) intends to make more edits before the film. Promoters hope to have a distributor willing to roll out “There Be Dragons” on a thousand screens in the United States April 15, the Friday before Palm Sunday. The movie is already generating buzz in Spain, the birthplace of St. Josemaria and the setting of the film, much of which takes place during the Spanish Civil War.

In a 2009 teleconference with reporters, Joffe said the film is about human love, divine love, betrayal and mistakes and “about people trying to find meaning” in their lives.

Major differences between “The Passion” and “Dragons”? One is that Mel Gibson, who directed “The Passion,” was at the top of his game as a director and a promoter. Another is that lots of people of all faiths can understand the point behind a film about Jesus, while perhaps a much smaller audience would be compelled to see a film about a Spanish saint.

Backers of  “There Be Dragons” have less than five months to not only polish the film, but also to tailor the push to get a critical mass of moviegoers to see it.

Bishops, voting and electronic ballots

The change in the U.S. bishops’ leadership, which resulted in the election of Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York to be their president Nov. 16, took a matter of minutes, thanks to electronic voting.

But the election nearly had to be conducted the old-fashioned way — with paper  ballots.  A glitch in the system had kept the results of a test vote from appearing on an overhead projector screen in the front of the bishops’ meeting room. Without the results being visible to all, paper balloting would have ensued, with newly ordained bishops acting as tellers and counting each ballot submitted. However, after a technical fix, the test ballot finally went through without a hitch.

So did a second test ballot, on whether the bishops would play a round of golf sometime between now and the end of the year.  The results: 25 yes, 207 no. To laughter from the assembly, Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, the outgoing president of the bishops, noted dryly, “That vote signals the end of the clerical culture.”

Social media can be your friend

Image of Pope Benedict XVI on Vatican website as seen on iPod Touch. (CNS photo from Reuters)

Facebook, Twitter, podcasts and blogs are nothing to be afraid of, speakers told participants Nov. 12 at an overflow workshop at the annual convention of the National Council of Catholic Women.

The group of women and a few priests at the workshop in the Renaissance Hotel in Washington were urged to get on board with new social media as a way to evangelize and more effectively communicate especially with young people.

The speakers, Jeff Young and Lisa Hendey, certainly practice what they preach since they both have careers that use the social media tools to spread a Catholic message.

Young is a social media consultant who also produces a podcast and blog called the Catholic Foodie, which highlights food and faith. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com,  a website launched in 1999 that focuses on faith, parenting and family life. She also heads a home-based web design business and is webmaster for her parish website, St. Anthony of Padua in Fresno, Calif.

Emphasizing that today’s online tools can help people fulfill the Gospel mandate to spread the good news, the speakers urged participants to go home after the convention and branch out online and to consult a teenager in the family if they ran into any trouble.

Preparing to become a cardinal, German is ordained bishop

ROME — Cardinal-designate Walter Brandmuller was ordained a bishop Saturday, exactly one week before he was scheduled to be inducted into the College of Cardinals.

The 81-year-old retired president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences was ordained at the Church of Santa Maria dell’Anima, the home of Rome’s German-speaking Catholic community.

(CNS/Paul Haring)

The German historian was one of four churchmen over the age of 80 named cardinals by Pope Benedict XVI Oct. 20. The octogenarians were named to honor their contributions to the life and ministry of the church; they cannot vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.

Two of the four over-80s were already bishops when the pope named them cardinals: Italian Bishop Elio Sgreccia, retired president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, 82; and Spanish Archbishop Jose Manuel Estepa Llaurens, former military ordinary of Spain, 84.

The fourth is 93-year-old Italian Msgr. Domenico Bartolucci, retired director of the Sistine Chapel Choir. Since 1962 the Catholic Church has required all cardinals to be bishops, but Cardinal-designate Bartolucci asked Pope Benedict to exempt him from the rule, said an official at the College of Cardinals.

Cardinals-designate Brandmuller and Bartolucci are among 11 priests over the age of 80 who have been named cardinals since 2000. Seven of the 11 requested and received the exemption from episcopal ordination.

The consistory to create the new cardinals is scheduled for Saturday at the Vatican.

Bishop Kicanas responds to media reports on eve of bishops’ meeting

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz.,  vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has responded to media reports that he supposedly ignored evidence of sexual abuse by a future Chicago priest, Daniel McCormack, now serving time in prison. McCormack was a seminarian when then-Father Kicanas was rector of Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in the Chicago Archdiocese.

The media reports — with one of the first being a blog by Tim Drake of the National Catholic Register — come on the eve of the U.S. bishops’ annual fall meeting in Baltimore, where they will elect a new president. If the conference follows past practice, Bishop Kicanas as vice president of the bishops will be elected to succeed Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George as USCCB president.

In one part of the response, Bishop Kicanas said:

I would never defend endorsing McCormack’s ordination if I had had any knowledge or concern that he might be a danger to anyone, and I had no such knowledge or concern. At no time while McCormack was a seminarian at Mundelein did I receive any allegation of pedophilia or child molestation against him. I never received any allegation, report or concern about McCormack during his seminary years at Mundelein that involved sexual abuse of anyone. Prior to ordination, each student’s readiness for ordination was discussed at length by seminary administrators, faculty and the diocesan bishop. Furthermore, McCormack was evaluated, as was every seminarian, each of his four years by faculty and students who were given an opportunity to endorse or not endorse his continuing in the seminary. No student nor faculty nor anyone ever negatively commented on McCormack in all the endorsements he received. With the harm that he has done to children and families, it is tragic that he was ordained. Would that he had never been ordained.

McCormack was ordained in 1994. By 2006 McCormack was suspended from active ministry when he was arrested on charges of molesting two boys; more charges were added as more victims came forward. In July 2007 he was sentenced to five years in prison immediately after he pleaded guilty to five counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse stemming from charges he molested five boys between 2001 and 2005.

His arrest rocked the Chicago Archdiocese, because it came out that the priest, then pastor at St. Agatha Parish, had been arrested and questioned in late August 2005 about allegations made by the family of one boy stemming from incidents three years earlier. Police released him because of a lack of evidence. Chicago archdiocesan officials did not remove him initially because no formal allegations had been made against him by the boy or his family. In the aftermath Cardinal George repeatedly apologized for how the case was handled and he instituted a series of changes in procedures aimed at preventing similar situations.

A look at ‘Sparky’ Anderson’s legacy and ’96 CNS interview

George Lee 'Sparky' Anderson (CNS/Reuters)

The Nov. 4 death of George Lee “Sparky” Anderson is being mourned by baseball fans and countless others around the country, including in Detroit, where he managed the Tigers for 16 years and led the team to a World Series championship in 1984. “He was a remarkable person … a great human being and a man of faith,”  Cardinal Adam J. Maida, retired archbishop of Detroit, said in a statement. “The baseball world and our community have lost a great ambassador.” He met Anderson shortly after his arrival in Detroit as archbishop.

“His world was more than baseball,” added the cardinal. Anderson’s charitable works included helping children in southeast Michigan. 

Many news accounts say that Anderson earned the nickname “Sparky” to describe his “spirited play” when he was in the minors.

The news of his passing reminded us here at CNS of an interview our media editor, Mark Pattison, did with Anderson in Anaheim, Calif., in 1996, in which he talked about his baseball career, his decision to become a Catholic and how in 1987 he met Pope John Paul II during the pontiff’s visit to Detroit. “I shook his hand, and he said, ‘Bless you my son,’ And that’s probably one of the most memorable things that I’ll ever remember,” Anderson said. There’s a tribute page to the baseball great on legacy.com with a guestbook that has 325 entries and counting.

Christian unity needed for survival, patriarch says

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Catholicos Aram of Cilicia, the Beirut-based patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, is a forceful speaker and a committed ecumenist who believes that theologians should continue dealing with the dogmatic differences keeping Christians apart. But even while they do that, he said, Christians leaders and their faithful must get on with the business of the full visible unity of the churches.

“One of our top priorities in the Middle East at this point of history is Christian unity,” he said today during a meeting with Catholic journalists visiting Lebanon with the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. “Today our people don’t care” about highly theological, historically influenced differences. “They care about how we can be together.”

The Armenian Orthodox leader accepted Pope Benedict XVI’s invitation to send a “fraternal delegate” to the special Synod of Bishops for the Middle East in October and he said he wrote to the pope expressing his opinion that the synod “should not be exclusively Catholic” since the issues it was dealing with were “Christian concerns” common throughout the Middle East.

Catholicos Aram of Cilicia (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Echoing a call made repeatedly at the synod, the catholicos said, “The first thing we must do is fix a common date for Easter. There is no theological problem — it’s a calendar problem,” depending on whether a church follows the older Julian calendar or the Gregorian calendar used in the West. Especially in the Middle East, when people see Christians celebrating the major feast of their year on different dates, he said, they wonder how they can all claim to share the same faith.

One of the big issues at the synod was what the churches could do to help stem the tide of Christian emigration from the region.

“Emigration is a pan-Christian concern,” the catholicos said. “The churches in the Middle East have a clear policy on emigration: we are against it. The Christians should not leave the region…. Christians belong here and they should stay firmly attached to our land and our tradition.”

At the same time, he said, Christians must work together more closely to educate their members on their rights and obligations as citizens and be more vocal in demanding respect for those rights.

“We have to be faithful to our traditions and history, but faithfulness to our roots doesn’t mean we have to stay away from each other because we all are the body of Christ,” he said. “We must identify the best ways so that that God-given togetherness (of faith in Jesus) is visible in the life of the people, especially in the Middle East where we are a minority.”

“We cannot live like small islands in the middle of a huge ocean,” he said.

While Haiti’s earthquake zone was largely spared by hurricane, other parts were not so fortunate

A Haitian woman walks in a flooded street Nov. 6 in Port-au-Prince after Hurricane Tomas brushed the island. Tomas left 6,000 families homeless. (CNS/Reuters)

Reports emerged over the weekend that areas of Haiti’s southern peninsula were hit hard by Hurricane Tomas as it moved west of the country without making landfall Nov. 5.

The storm’s toll was not as great as first anticipated. Twenty people died and seven remain missing, according to Haiti’s civil protection department.

Still, 30,000 remain in shelters after 6,000 families lost their homes. Some people whose homes were destroyed in the massive Jan. 12 earthquake had their tents washed away in the most recent storm.

Many towns and villages in the far southwest sustained serious wind and flood damage. Thousands of people fled to shelters. Relief workers were making their way to isolated communities in Grand Anse and South departments. Travel was difficult due to deep mud and washed-out roads and bridges.

Camillian Father Scott Binet, international coordinator of the Servants of St. Camillus Disaster Relief Services, said in a blog posted this morning that the storm ripped off roofs from homes, left tent communities flooded and crops ruined. Carcasse was among the most devastated communities.

Catholic Relief Services and the U.N. World Food Program reported providing water, ready-to-eat meals and high-energy biscuits to more than 4,000 people who sought refuge in temporary shelters throughout the southern peninsula.

In Port-au-Prince CRS workers visited 15 camps to assess needs and found little damage in the overcrowded conditions. Assistance with clean water and sanitation was being provided.

Some 1.3 million people remain in the camps across a large part of the country 10 months after the earthquake.

Meanwhile, one crew of volunteers is planning a weeklong mission trip to Haiti beginning Nov. 13. Among their supplies is anti-malarial and cholera medications.

The trip’s leader is Brent DeLand, a member of Christ the King Parish in Springfield, Ill. His Haitian Development Fund supports a medical clinic in a poor neighborhood in Sarthe near the capital of Port-au-Prince. He told Catholic News Service pools of water left behind by the storm are prime breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Aid agencies and health workers fear that floods in the central part of the country may expand the cholera epidemic beyond the Artibonite province. The outbreak, which has claimed more than 500 lives and hospitalized 7,000 more since Oct. 19, has been contained to a fairly small area in central Haiti. Without the ability to control the water, it’s feared that bacteria-laden cholera could find its way elsewhere.

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