UPDATED: Pope to address crews on space station Saturday

UPDATED information: The pope’s hookup with the International Space Station is now set for tomorrow at 13:11 Rome time (7:11 A.M. EDT) and the Vatican Television Center plans to live-stream it here.

VATICAN CITY — Now that the Space Shuttle Endeavour has lifted off and is scheduled to dock tomorrow with the International Space Station, plans are back on for Pope Benedict XVI to chat with the astronauts.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said today that the pope’s audiovisual satellite linkup with the space station is scheduled for 13:56 (1:56 p.m.) Rome time Saturday. The conversation originally was scheduled for May 4, but the Endeavour’s liftoff was delayed.

The papal linkup was organized by the European Space Agency, which has one Italian on the Endeavour and one Italian already on the space station. Both crews will be in the space station when the pope calls.

Pope Benedict at Castel Gandolfo last summer. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)

Father Lombardi also confirmed today that Pope Benedict has declined invitations for a summer vacation in the northern Italian Alps. Instead, the pope will go to his summer villa in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, early in July. There will be no weekly general audiences in July, Father Lombardi said.

While the pope isn’t scheduled to return to the Vatican until late September, he won’t be spending all his time at Castel Gandolfo: he’s scheduled to travel to Madrid in August for World Youth Day and to his native Germany in September.

Vatican announces study meeting on HIV/AIDS

VATICAN CITY — At the end of the month, the Vatican will host a study meeting on caring for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Lighting candles for AIDS awareness. (CNS/Reuters)

Originally announced as a one-day gathering, the encounter now is scheduled for May 27-28. Technically it is being sponsored by the Good Samaritan Foundation, a small initiative that helps pay for antiretroviral drugs and others services for people with HIV/AIDS. The foundation operates under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry.

Msgr. Jean-Marie Mpendawatu, undersecretary of the council, said in February that the study meeting would take a comprehensive approach to AIDS prevention and treatment and that it would precede the publication of pastoral guidelines for Catholic health care workers in the field.

A press release from the council dated Saturday said the meeting would look at current medical and scientific information, education programs and treatment options, but with a special emphasis on “aspects of humanization and fairness and the magisterial and pastoral orientations that should guide caring for sick people.”

It pointed out that the study meeting would include “non-Catholics and people with beliefs that are not always totally in harmony with the church.” Their presence, the press release said, does not signal an attitude of questioning church teaching, but rather is an opportunity to explain how programs that follow church teaching are focused on fully respecting the patient as a person and promoting his or her dignity.

Michel Sidibe, executive director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV-AIDS — known as UNAIDS — is expected to attend.

A World Youth Day song? Quite Normal!

A musical ensemble calling itself “Witnesses to Love” from the Pope John Paul II Catholic Newman Center at Illinois State University in Normal, Ill., has one of only six U.S. entries in a World Youth Day song contest.

However, while there may be only six songs from the States, worldwide there are 138 tunes in the competition. And while Witnesses to Love’s song, “Planted,” was not placed into competition until April 30 — the last possible day it could have — it climbed to 50th place after just five days and has inched its way up to 44th in electronic voting conducted at the contest site.

The top 25 vote getters will be judged by a panel, with five of them selected to be performed at World Youth Day in Madrid.

The one catch is that voting ends May 31, which means that “Planted” is going to need a lot more votes to make it to the next round.

To read more about Witnesses to Love and “Planted,” check out the story written in The Catholic Post, Peoria’s diocesan newspaper.

Team USA making the grade in Rome

Seminarians from the Pontifical North American College cheer their soccer team during the 2010 season opener in the Clericus Cup in Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

ROME — The Stars and Stripes will be waving once again at the semifinals of the Clericus Cup tournament — the soccer series starring seminarians and priests studying at Rome’s pontifical universities.

This is the fourth year in a row that the Pontifical North American College soccer team, the NAC Martyrs, has made it to the semis. They came in 4th place overall in 2008 and 2nd place in 2009 and 2010.

But this could be THE year they win the final championship.

Every single year since the soccer series kicked off in 2007, the NAC’s path to victory had been crushed by losing to the Neocatechumenal Way’s Redemptoris Mater seminary.

The “Red Mat” team has come out winning the final cup in three out of the past four seasons. However, in an odd twist of fate, the Red Mat team did not make it to this year’s semifinal playoff , losing 0-1 last Saturday to the Opus Dei-run Sedes Sapientiae College. With Red Mat out of the way, the Martyrs may have a better shot at a final’s victory.

The Martyrs’ strong defense and coordinated offense led them to beat the Urbanian College, an institution for seminarians from mission countries, 2-1  last Saturday to make it to the May 21 semifinal game.

Vatican announces documents on sex abuse, Latin Mass

VATICAN CITY — After weeks of speculation, the Vatican press office announced the release dates of two documents that had the Catholic blogosphere abuzz: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s circular letter to bishops’ conferences on preparing guidelines for dealing with the sexual abuse of minors by priests; and an instruction on implementing Pope Benedict XVI’s authorization of wider use of the so-called Tridentine Mass.

Cardinal William J. Levada (CNS/Reuters)

The doctrinal congregation’s document is being released Monday. U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the congregation, had announced in November that his office, which coordinates the church’s response to abuse cases, was preparing the document. Its purpose was to help every bishops’ conference in the world design a “coordinated and effective program” of child protection and of dealing with allegations. The guidelines are expected to address the issue of reporting allegations of sexual abuse to local law enforcement.

The document being released Friday is an instruction from the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, which oversees the use of the Mass according to the Roman rite used in the church prior to the Second Vatican Council. In 2007, Pope Benedict authorized widespread use of the old liturgy. Now, after almost four years of experience, the Vatican instruction aims to respond to questions that have arisen over the implementation of the pope’s permission.

Forging partnerships against human trafficking

Human trafficking affects millions of victims worldwide in shadowy networks that relatively few people realize exist.

A daylong conference in Rome hosted by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and St. Thomas University School of Law May 18 will bring new light to what authorities call modern-day slavery. Organizers also hope it will lead to long-term partnerships that involve the Catholic Church and the corporate sector.

Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, who runs the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and the conference’s keynote speaker, told Catholic News Service that the church can create broader awareness of the evil of trafficking.

Explaining how people are forced into commercial sex will stress the need to fight demand for it, said CdeBaca, a lifelong Catholic. In addition, he explained, shedding light on the fact that laborers work in slavelike conditions to harvest fresh produce, mine precious minerals or manufacture consumer goods from chocolate candy bars to designer clothing, will inform people so they can ask questions about the products they are buying.

“You can’t (fight trafficking) by catching the bad guys and helping the victims,” he said. “You have to fight modern slavery by getting people to make the right choices.

“It’s how can we look and see what our own slavery footprint is.”

By involving the Catholic Church, CdeBaca said he hopes the conference will lead to stronger connections with businesses so that corporate officials are better aware of the insidious nature of human traffickers.

The conference will feature a series of panel discussions on the role of faith communities, corporations and average people in reducing and perhaps eventually eliminating human trafficking. Archbishop Antonio Veglio, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, will give the invocation.

Among the presenters are Miguel Diaz, U.S. ambassador to the Vatican; Salesian Sister Estrella Castalone of the International Union of Superiors General and its Talitha Kum network that focuses on human trafficking; the Rev. David Schilling of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility; Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America; and Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who has worked on child sex trafficking issues.

They will be joined by corporate representatives from information giant LexisNexis, hotel operator Carlson and Body Shop International, which sells health and beauty products. They will discuss their efforts to expose trafficking networks.

Infallibility redux

VATICAN CITY — In a letter informing Australian Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba of his dismissal, Pope Benedict is said to have described the church’s teaching against women’s ordination as “infallibly” taught by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

That the present pope would use such language is not surprising. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he said the same thing in a 1995 written statement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — a statement which was itself approved by Pope John Paul.

The year before, in 1994, Pope John Paul had issued his apostolic letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” (“On Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone”), declaring that “the church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the church’s faithful.'”

The 1995 doctrinal congregation statement, as well as later Vatican documents, said the teaching against women’s ordination had been “set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium.” We wrote about the significance of that statement here. The point being made was that such teachings are infallibly taught and must be accepted as definitive by Catholics, even if they have not been defined as infallible by a solemn act of the pope.

In 1998, in a commentary on Pope John Paul’s apostolic letter “Ad Tuendam Fidem” (“To Defend the Faith”), the doctrinal congregation made two related points: It said there was no difference in the “full and irrevocable character of the assent”‘ owed to church teachings that are set forth as divinely revealed or that are taught definitively. And it said that when a pope confirms or reaffirms a doctrine, declaring that it belongs to the ordinary and universal magisterium as a truth that is divinely revealed or a truth of Catholic doctrine, “such a doctrine is to be understood as having been set forth infallibly.”

The Vatican documents of the mid-1990s prompted discussion among some theologians and canon lawyers, some of whom questioned the Vatican’s assertion that the teaching on ordaining only men had been “infallibly taught.” We covered it extensively at the time. That debate has now resurfaced with the removal of Bishop Morris.

According to the Australian public broadcasting network ABC, Bishop Morris said that in his letter, Pope Benedict asserted that “Pope John Paul II had said irrevocably and infallibly that women cannot be ordained.”

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, declined to comment on Pope Benedict’s letter to Bishop Morris or confirm its contents. However, on the infallibility issue, he pointed to the 1995 doctrinal congregation document and to the Second Vatican Council’s document on the church, “Lumen Gentium” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), which in section 25 spoke of infallibility and how it is understood.