Papal appointment of top diplomat to head Vatican interreligious council reflects high priority of faith dialogue

Vatican City, Jun.27, 2007 (CINS /UCAN) – Pope Benedict XVI has named Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran, one of the Holy See's most experienced diplomats, as president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID). The appointment of Cardinal Tauran, 64, who succeeds another French-born prelate, 76-year-old Cardinal Paul Poupard, reflects the high priority the pope attaches to relations with people of other faiths.

A Vatican statement issued on June 25 says the appointment takes effect on Sept. 1. That same day, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) will regain its original status as a separate Vatican office, thereby restoring its high profile and status.

Cardinal Tauran worked for two years as under-secretary for Relations with States, and served from December 1990 to October 2003 as the secretary for Relations with States, commonly known as the Vatican's "foreign minister."

Sources say Pope Benedict chose Cardinal Tauran because of the cardinal's extensive diplomatic experience and good relations with Muslims.

He entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1975 and worked 1979-1983 in the Vatican embassy to Lebanon. In 1983-1988, he was representative of the Holy See to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Many consider Cardinal Tauran the Vatican's top expert on the Middle East. He had the lead role in defining the stance of the Holy See on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its opposition to the US-led war on Iraq.

Vatican sources say the cardinal will be an invaluable asset to Pope Benedict as the pontiff formulates statements on Islam and other world religions with the high level of sensitivity and understanding they require.

His appointment aims to ensure that interfaith dialogue advances smoothly, without the kind of mishap the pope's lecture at Regensburg, Germany, on Sept. 13 triggered, sparking controversy and wounding his relations with Muslims.

On March 11, 2006, Pope Benedict took the controversial decision to unite the PCID's presidency with that of the Pontifical Council for Culture. Sources say the need to re-establish the PCID as a separate office became apparent in the aftermath of the Regensburg lecture.

The theologian-pope earlier re-assigned the council's president, Archbishop Michael L. Fitzgerald, the Vatican's top expert on Islam, to Cairo as nuncio to Egypt and the Arab League, and placed both offices under Cardinal Poupard.

In light of those decisions, the German-born pontiff was viewed as changing course in the dialogue with other religions, seeking to integrate interfaith dialogue with the dialogue with cultures and thereby distancing himself from a more theological or spiritual dialogue.

Many Muslims as well as church people say the March 2006 decision aimed to make dialogue with other faiths, particularly Islam, a lower priority. Many people also blame that decision for what happened at Regensburg.

At the height of the controversy with Muslims following Regensburg, sources say senior Vatican officials, including Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the new secretary of State, recognized the need to reverse the 2006 decision.

According to observers, Pope Benedict has shown remarkable humility and courage in accepting their advice and giving the green light to undo what he did in 2006. They also say the pope has also shown wisdom in appointing a man of Cardinal Tauran's caliber, credentials and experience as the new PCID head.

Given the PCID's uniquely important and strategic role, appointing Cardinal Tauran as president gives a greatly needed boost to the PCID staff and opens the path to more changes. It also sends a powerful signal to Muslims and people of other faiths that the pope is seriously committed to dialogue with them.

When Cardinal Bertone announced on May 27 that the PCID will regain its original status, he said that after the Regensburg lecture "the church re-launched dialogue also with the political and religious authorities of the other religions." Cardinal Tauran's appointment confirms this for many people.


Blair talks with Pope in Vatican

Vatican City, Jun.23,2007 - ( CINS /Christian Today)British Prime Minister Tony Blair has met privately with Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday, fuelling further speculation that he will convert to Catholicism after he steps down from his post next week.

The meeting took place for 25 minutes in the Vatican, and is the final leg of what media have dubbed Blair’s “farewell tour”.

It has been reported that Blair brought gifts for the Roman Catholic head, one of which was an original photograph of John Henry Newman, a 19th century Anglican leader who was one of Britain's most illustrious converts to Catholicism.

Following the 25-minute private meeting in the pontiff’s study, the most-senior member of the Roman Catholic Church in England, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, joined the meeting.

The prime minister’s wife, Cherie Blair, who is already a Catholic, accompanied her husband to the Vatican, and also met the Pope along with a British delegation at the end of the private talks.

A Vatican statement reveals that Pope Benedict and Blair conversed on various international situations, including Europe and the Middle East.

The statement told how the Vatican welcomed Blair’s intentions to work towards peace in the Middle East region, and to promote inter-religious dialogue when he steps down as prime minister.

In an interview with the Times on Saturday, when asked if he would convert, Blair answered: "I don't want to talk about it. It's difficult with some of these things. Things aren't always as resolved as they might be."


Vatican appeal:Total ban on cluster bombs

Geneva,Switzerland,June.22,2007(CINS/Cathnews) -  An international convention on arms limitation should include a total ban on cluster bombs, Vatican representative Archbishop Silvano Tommasi has told a United Nations arms conference.

The world community does not need more proof to realise submunitions "should no longer exist in the arsenals of armies who are concerned with better respecting international human rights," said Archbishop Tomasi told the conference according to a Catholic News report.

The archbishop was addressing a meeting of the group of government experts from countries who are parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

Also known as the Inhumane Weapons Convention, it prohibits or restricts the use of weaponry, such as anti-personnel mines, incendiary weapons and blinding lasers, that may cause excessive injury or have indiscriminate effects.

Cluster bombs and submunitions are not yet banned by any international treaty, and many governments still consider them legitimate weapons.

Typically, cluster bombs open in midair and scatter dozens or hundreds of submunitions or bomblets over a wide area. A percentage of duds do not explode and can remain a threat for many years. They pose a particular danger to children, as they are easily attracted to the bomblets' bright colorful casings, mistaking the volatile explosives for toys.

Archbishop Tomasi urged governments to "prohibit the production, possession, trade and use of submunitions, to destroy stockpiles," to cooperate in removing unexploded munitions from affected areas, and to help people and communities affected by cluster bombs.

The "urgency and seriousness" of the devastating effects of submunitions should encourage the parties to ban them outright, he said in his text.

He said an adequate response to this "grave humanitarian problem" is needed, adding that measures that do not better protect civilians will affect the convention's credibility.

"Credibility comes from treating problems in a serious, effective and productive way," he said. He urged the parties to formulate and endorse "effective and concrete action" against the use of cluster bombs and submunitions.


Protect prostitutes, punish clients, says Vatican

Vatican City,June.22,2007(CINS/VIS) - Nations should protect women from the violence and "modern slavery" of prostitution and punish men who use them, a new document released by the Vatican's department on migrant issues says.

Describing the section on the liberation of street women, in the document 'Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road' Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino said on Tuesday: "The Church has the pastoral responsibility to defend and promote the human dignity of those exploited by prostitution, and to work towards their liberation, providing economic, educational and formative support to this end. She ... must also prophetically denounce the injustices and violence perpetrated against street women and invite people of good will to commit themselves to the defence of their human dignity, ... putting an end to sexual exploitation."

The document says: "The victims of prostitution are human beings, who in many cases cry out for help, to be freed from slaveryThe customers too are people with deeply rooted problems, and in a certain sense are also slaves... An effective measure towards cultural change with respect to prostitution could derive from associating criminal law with social condemnation."

Archbishop Agostino Marchetto told a press conference: "We think there should be not only protection of women but also a punishment for the clients."

He said the Vatican would push for legislation along the Swedish model, which penalises customers with jail sentences and fines based on their salaries.

The section of the document that dealt with prostitution, called "Pastoral Ministry for the Liberation of Street Women", said men who frequent prostitutes should be aware of the Church's "clear condemnation of their sins and the injustice they commit".

Clients of prostitutes are not punished in many countries, including Italy. Italian law effectively turns a blind eye to prostitution, punishing only "exploiters of prostitution", such as pimps.

"Prostitution is a form of modern slavery", the document says, noting that the number of prostitutes in the world has risen dramatically due to complex social, economic and cultural reasons.

"It is important to recognise that sexual exploitation and prostitution linked to people trafficking are acts of violence, which constitute an offence to human dignity and a serious violation of fundamental rights," it said.

The document said the Church wanted "application of laws that protect women from the evil of prostitution and people trafficking" but also effective measures against humiliating portrayals of women in advertising.


Stop politicizing homilies, Vatican nuncio tells Catholic Polish clergy

WARSAW, Poland, Jun18,2007 - (CINS /CNS) – The Vatican's ambassador to Poland has called on Catholic clergy to stop preaching politicized homilies.

"I wish liturgical services in Poland would not turn into public rallies and just dispose people to be more human and more Catholic," said Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk, the Vatican's ambassador, or nuncio.

"We need priests, not politicians – and if politicians, then politicians of God's word," said the archbishop, whose sermon was carried by Poland's Catholic information agency, KAI. "We also need evangelists, not economists – we have enough of those already in Poland to do the job. Let's work on their spirit and conscience so they'll become true professionals in serving all society. This is the mission of a priest."

Preaching June 11 in Czuma, near Lublin, the nuncio said: "The times are over when people went to priests on every occasion, to arrange plumbing or telephones for their villages, and elected priests as council chairmen hoping they'd organize such things. This epoch has ended."

The same day, after multiple reports of bishops using their homilies on the feast of Corpus Christi to make political statements, the nuncio told a Polish television station that clergy should be more circumspect.

"Corpus Christi is the greatest eucharistic festival, not only in Poland, so some part of our speeches should be eucharistic," Archbishop Kowalczyk said. "We should show what the Eucharist is in a person's life, so as to make him more human, regardless of whether he'll be in government or working in a garden, steelworks or mine."

Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza daily said June 13 members from the governing Law and Justice Party had complained about a Corpus Christi homily by the bishops' conference president, Archbishop Jozef Michalik of Przemysl, in which he accused the party of "failing the moral test" by not securing a tightened abortion law. In the homily, the archbishop also praised Marek Jurek, the former speaker of Poland's Sejm, or lower house of parliament, for resigning over the issue.

In a homily the same day, Bishop Stanislaw Stefanek of Lomza condemned security measures at the June summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in Germany and told Catholics that current strikes and protests by doctors and teachers in Poland were a "classic terrorist method."

However, Bishop Jan Tyrawa of Bydgoszcz said during Mass that he supported the strikes, adding that current government actions were "divorced from reality and threaten anarchy."

"This is a worse time than under communism," Bishop Tyrawa said.

The dean of Poznan University's theology faculty, Father Pawel Bortkiewicz, defended the right of Catholic bishops to "speak out on public issues." He told KAI June 14 that he believed Corpus Christi processions were a good occasion for "raising political and social questions."

However, Dominican Father Maciej Zieba, a theologian, said church leaders should remember they were "preaching now in a free Poland, with freedom of speech and political democracy" and should be guided by "slightly different rules than in totalitarian countries."


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