Pope Benedict XVI named Archbishop Raymond Burke to head the Vatican's top canonical court

Vatican, Jun. 27, 2008 - Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, Missouri, has been named by Pope Benedict XVI to head the Vatican's top canonical court.

Archbishop Burke will become the prefect of the supreme tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, a judicial body that is roughly the equivalent of the US Supreme Court. He will replace Cardinal Agostino Vallini, who has been named the Pope's vicar for the Rome diocese.

Archbishop Burke was installed as head of the St. Louis archdiocese in January 2004. His tenure there has been marked by controversy, with the archbishop-- an acknowledged expert on canon law-- meeting resistance and public criticism as he sought to enforce the Church's norms. He announced the excommunication of women who claimed ordination to the priesthood, and of the leaders of a parish that refused to acknowledge his authority. In each case the Vatican confirmed the archbishop's decision.

Archbishop Burke was criticized by other American bishops in 2004, when he announced that he would not administer the Eucharist to a Catholic politician who supported abortion. Although he did not single out any public figure by name, the archbishop's statement clearly applied to Senator John Kerry, the Democratic candidate in that year's presidential election. In this instance, too, Archbishop Burke's stand was upheld by the Vatican.

As head of the Apostolic Signatura, Archbishop Burke will now hold one of the top canonical posts in the universal Church. His new post will also put him near the top of the list of prelates likely to be named cardinals at the next consistory.

A native of Wisconsin, Archbishop Burke was ordained a priest of the La Crosse diocese in 1975, and appointed bishop of the same diocese in 1994, remaining there until his appointment to St. Louis.

The Apostolic Signatura is the final court of appeal for annulments and other juridical matters under the Church's canon law. It also examines administrative matters referred to it by the Congregations of the Roman Curia as well as questions committed to it by the Holy Father.


Vatican to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII

Vatican City,June 21. 2008 - Vatican officials this week announced plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII, describing the controversial World War II pontiff as a "great pope" who spoke out when necessary.

    The Vatican has often defended Pius from charges that he remained largely silent in the face of the Holocaust.

    Officials said that a convention to discuss Pius' teaching and influence on the church will be held in November in Rome.

    The Vatican also plans a photo exhibit this fall in the colonnade of St. Peter's Square covering highlights of Pius' 19-year pontificate. He assumed the papacy in 1939 and died in 1958.

    "It is our hope that this solemn commemoration of such a great pope can give rise to further in-depth research, free of prejudices concerning his actions," said Monsignor Walter Brandmuller, president of the Pontifical Committee for Historic Sciences.

    Jewish groups and others say Pius should have done more to save European Jews from Nazi persecution. But his defenders say that any bolder public moves would have only angered the Axis powers, accelerating the extermination of Jews while endangering the Vatican.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella said that Pius "never failed to make his voice heard in a clear and explicit way, in different circumstances when it was needed, and when there was exact information about the facts and onecould see the consequences."

In May 2007, the Vatican recognized Pius' "heroic virtues," a step toward possible beatification.

But the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said any beatification was still "in the realm of the future."


Vatican prepares guidelines for Interreligious dialogue

Vatican City, June 17, 2008 – The plenary meeting that the pontifical council for interreligious dialogue held at the Vatican last week was the first of this pontificate, and took place with a new president – Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran – and with experts who were also newcomers to a great extent.

And the aim of the plenary session was itself new: to develop new guidelines for the bishops, priests, and faithful in relating to other religions. This objective, Cardinal Tauran said, was decided "after many years of hesitation over its appropriateness."

On Saturday, June 9, at the end of the three-day meeting, Benedict XVI received the participants in the Sala del Concistoro. He encouraged the publication of the guidelines because, he said, "the great proliferation of interreligious meetings in today's world requires discernment." This last word is used in ecclesiastical language to urge critical analysis and the choices that stem from it.

In effect, the relationship with men of other religions has been and is being practiced in different and sometimes contradictory ways within the Catholic Church.

In the Muslim countries, for example, the most widespread practice among Catholics is that of the silent testimony of Christian life. There are reasons of prudence that justify this practice. But against those who justify it always and everywhere, the congregation for the doctrine of the faith published a doctrinal note last December 3, presenting instead a thesis previously voiced by Paul VI in "Evangelii Nuntiandi" in 1975:

"Even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not [...] made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus."

The guidelines that the pontifical council for interreligious dialogue is preparing to publish will point in this direction. In introducing the plenary assembly, Cardinal Tauran said:

"We know that the Holy Spirit works in every man and every woman, independently of his religious or spiritual creed. But on the other hand, we must proclaim that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. God has revealed to us the truth about God and the truth about man, and for us this is the Good News. We cannot hide this truth under a bushel basket."

Speaking to 200 representatives of other religions during his recent visit to the United States, Benedict XVI expressed himself no less clearly:

"It is Jesus whom we bring to the forum of interreligious dialogue. The ardent desire to follow in his footsteps spurs Christians to open their minds and hearts in dialogue. [...] In our attempt to discover points of commonality, perhaps we have shied away from the responsibility to discuss our differences with calmness and clarity. [...] The higher goal of interreligious dialogue requires a clear exposition of our respective religious tenets."

This does not eliminate the fact that there is common ground for action among men of different beliefs, as the guidelines will insist. Introducing the plenary session, Tauran also said:

"The Ten Commandments are a sort of universal grammar that all believers can use in their relationship with God and neighbor. [...] In creating man, God ordered him with wisdom and love to his end, through the law written within his heart (Romans 2:15), the natural law. This is nothing other than the light of intelligence infused within us by God. Thanks to this, we know what we must do and what we must avoid. God gave us this light and this law at creation."

* * *

During the same days when the pontifical council for interreligious dialogue was holding its plenary assembly at the Vatican, there were new developments in relations between the Catholic Church and Islam.

In Saudi Arabia, in the holy city of Mecca, king Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud inaugurated on June 4 a conference of 600 representatives from the vast Muslim world, with the aim of "telling the world that we are the voice of justice and moral human values, of coexistence and dialogue."

To this end, Abdullah confirmed his desire to "organize meetings with brothers belonging to other faiths," in particular Judaism and Christianity. Islamism, according to the Saudi sovereign, "has defined the principles and opened the road for a dialogue with the faithful of other religions," and this road "passes through the values common to the three monotheistic religions". These values "reject treason, alienate crime, and combat the terrorism" practiced by "extremists among [our] own people," who "have joined forces in a flagrant aggressiveness to distort the rightfulness and tolerance of Islam."

Spoken by the king of Saudi Arabia – a nation of rigid Wahhabi Islamism and the place of origin of Osama bin Laden and of most of the authors of the attacks on September 11, 2001 – these words are of indisputable significance. At the Vatican, "L'Osservatore Romano" emphasized them in its reporting.

Moreover, King Abdullah said that he had gotten the "green light" for his project of interreligious dialogue from the Saudi ulema, and that he wants to consult with Muslims of other countries as well about the possibility. At the conference in Mecca, he brought together in a single room the sheikh of the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, Sayyid Tantawi, a leading Sunni authority, and the Shiite ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former president of Iran and member of the Assembly of Experts, the center of the regime's supreme power.

In Israel, the proposals of King Abdullah were received favorably by the Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yona Metzger, and the Sephardic chief rabbi Shlomo Amar.

The final statement of the conference, called "The Appeal from Mecca," announced the creation of an Islamic center for relations among civilizations. This will organize moments of dialogue with representatives of other religions, cultures, and philosophies, and will promote the publication of books on this topic.

* * *

Another novelty in these days is the upcoming meeting that the experts of the international magazine "Oasis" – backed by the patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Angelo Scola, and with a focus on dialogue between Christians and Muslims – will hold in Amman, Jordan, from June 23-24, on the topic of the connections between truth and freedom.

Amman is the city where the al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought is based, headed by prince of Jordan Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal. It is the same institute that promoted the famous letter of the 138 Muslims entitled "A common word between us and you" and addressed to the pope and to the other heads of Christian confessions.

Next November, a meeting is planned in Rome between authorities and experts of the Catholic Church, and a delegation of the 138 Muslims.

Meanwhile, one of the 138, Mustafa Cherif, a former education minister and ambassador of Algeria, has published a commentary on two recent events in his country in the monthly "Mondo e Missione" of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions.

The first of these events, which took place in early June, was the sentencing of four Algerians for converting from Islam to Christianity. The four are Protestant, but a similar sentence had been pronounced previously against a Catholic priest, guilty of leading a prayer, at Christmas, for a group of immigrants from Cameroon.

Cherif calls "incomprehensible and deplorable" the ways in which the question of proselytism is addressed in Algeria, because "our vision of law is founded on the Qur'anic principle: no imposition in matters of religion."

And he adds:

"Moreover, our Catholic friends in Algeria, who have been here for fifty years, have never tried to convert anyone, although they do have the right to witness to their faith. This, in spite of the fact that the current pope frequently recalls the central nature of the evangelizing mission for the Catholic Church."

The second event Cherif comments on is connected to this previous observation: the resignation, for reasons of age, of the archbishop of Algiers, Henri Teissier, made official by the Vatican last May 24.

Cherif draws a portrait of the elderly archbishop as "one of those moderate priests who seek the right balance, aware also of the reforms needed within the Church, and not hesitating sometimes to express their disagreements with the Vatican, especially over relations with Muslims."

As evidence of the "right balance" sought by Teissier, Cherif writes:

"Last December, the Vatican published a doctrinal note that reaffirms the mission of evangelizing non-Catholics. [...] Sometimes, nonetheless, after leaving to evangelize the world, many priests and pastors have set themselves to learn from the people they have encountered and from their culture, without necessarily seeking to divert them from their original religion. Archbishop Henri Teissier is one of those great men of faith who respect the other."

Cherif adds that he met Teissier for the first time in Cordoba in 1974, on the occasion of an international Islamic-Christian conference:

"It is important to recall that at that juncture, through the personal intervention of Archbishop Teissier with the bishop of Cordoba, our group of Muslim participants was authorized to hold our Friday prayers in the mosque of Cordoba."

The "mosque" cited here is properly, and has been for centuries, the cathedral church of the city.

* * *

The third interesting novelty is the criticism made against Benedict XVI, but even more so against the Islamic world as a whole, by a prominent Muslim intellectual, Mohammed Arkoun.

Arkoun, 80, born in Algeria, has taught at the Sorbonne, at Princeton, and at other famous universities in Europe and America. Today, he is the research director at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, founded by Aga Khan.

Interviewed by John Allen, the Vatican analyst for the "National Catholic Reporter," during a conference in Lugano, Switzerland, Arkoun took his cue from the lecture in Regensburg:

"Pope Benedict has said that an intimate relationship between reason and faith does not exist in Islamic elaboration and expressions. This statement, historically speaking, is not true. If we consider the period from the 8th century to the 13th century, it is simply not true. But after the death of the philosopher Averroes in 1198, philosophy disappeared in Islamic thought. To that extent the pope was right [...]. The fact is today, when one speaks with Muslims, they don't have any idea about this history."

And the 138 who signed the letter are no exception, Arkoun continues: "I don't know any historians of thought among them."

So the pope is mistaken to choose them as dialogue partners:

"The pope should create a kind of space of debate, instead of all these so-called interreligious dialogues that have been going on since the Second Vatican Council. I've participated in so many of them, and I can tell you that they're absolutely nothing. It's gossip. There's no intellectual input in it. There is no respect for scholarship in it. A huge scholarship has already been produced devoted to the question of faith and reason. All this is put aside and we ignore it. We just congratulate one another, saying: 'I respect your faith, and you respect mine.' This is nonsense."

And to the question of whether the young Muslim generations have a real thirst for a new way of expressing their faith, different from that of the "ulema on the television, " Arkoun responds:

"Of course. When [in Egypt] I give a lecture, the turnout is enormous. The interest of people is very strong. Also the older generations are happy, they feel they can breathe. People applauded when I said after this affair with the pope [Pope Benedict 's 2006 lecture at the University of Regensburg] that Muslims should not go to the street demonstrating against him, but they should run to the libraries. They should know what has happened to Islamic thought after the 13th century."


Pope Benedict XVI hosted US President George W. Bush at the Vatican

Vatican City, Jun. 13, 2008 (vaticans.org) - Pope Benedict XVI  hosted US President George W. Bush at the Vatican on June 13 for an extraordinarily cordial private talk.

The warmth of the Holy Father's reception for the American leader, and the enthusiasm that Bush showed during the meeting, prompted several Italian journalists to question whether the American president might be considering a personal commitment to the Catholic faith.

Breaking with the usual Vatican protocol, the Pope met President Bush in the Tower of St. John, rather than in the apostolic palace. After their private conversation, the two men walked together through the Vatican gardens, visiting the Lourdes grotto there.

The Vatican announced that the unusual reception was arranged "to respond to the cordiality of the welcome received by the Supreme Pontiff during his recent visit to the United States of America." In April the Pope had been clearly surprised and delighted by the warmth of his reception at the White House.

An official statement released by the Vatican after the Friday meeting indicated that the Pope's conversation with President Bush touched upon their shared "commitment in defense of fundamental moral values." They also spoke about international concerns including the tensions in the Middle East, the food crisis, and global poverty.

For reporters covering the presidential visit, however, the main focus of attention was not the policy discussion between the Pope and the President, but their personal relationship. President Bush-- who was probably meeting the Pope for the last time before leaving office in January 2009-- has spoken openly about his admiration for Pope Benedict . Reporters in Rome have openly questioned whether the American leader will follow the example of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was received into the Catholic Church shortly after he left office.

Neither the Vatican nor the White House has encouraged this speculation. President Bush is a committed Evangelical Protestant, for whom a move toward Catholicism would be a dramatic step. On the other hand his brother, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, is convert to the Catholic faith.

President Bush clearly appreciated the special treatment that he was receiving at the Vatican. "Such an honor, such an honor," he repeated as he met Pope Benedict .

The President addressed the Pontiff as "your eminence"-- improper protocol, since that title is used for cardinals, while the Pope is properly addressed as "your holiness." But in an earlier meeting with Pope Benedict just over one year ago, President Bush had addressed the Pontiff simply as "sir."

Some Vatican officials had suggested that Bush might join Pope Benedict in prayer at the Vatican's Lourdes grotto, just as the two men had prayed together at the White House in April. But if they prayed together again during this meeting, they did so privately. At the grotto the Pope and the President sat together for a short performance by the Sistine Chapel Choir.


Vatican diplomatic delegation has begun a week-long visit to Vietnam

Hanoi, Jun. 9, 2008 (vaticans.org) - A Vatican diplomatic delegation has begun a week-long visit to Vietnam. The visit-- the 15th in a series of annual trips-- comes at a time of heightened interest in bilateral relations and heightened tension between the Hanoi government and the Catholic Church.

Msgr. Pietro Parolin, a ranking official of the Secretariat of State, is heading the Vatican delegation-- as he has led groups in several previous trips to Vietnam. Each year the representatives of the Holy See have sought to increase the scope within which the Church can function freely in Vietnam. The talks have produced some concrete results, with the government giving overdue approval for the appointment of several new bishops.

In 2007 relations between the Vatican and Vietnam appeared to be warming, and hopes were raised for the eventual restoration of formal diplomatic ties. Vietnames premier Nguyen Tan Dung visited Rome in January, meeting privately with Pope Benedict XVI. In March a Vatican delegation traveled to Hanoi, and returned to report substantial progress in talks with their counterparts in the Vietnamese regime.

This year, however, relations have been complicated by a series of confrontations between the Vietnamese government and Catholic activists, involving disputes over property seized by the government from the Church. In January the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, intervened to ask Catholics to avoid a confrontation, and secured a promise for the return of property that once housed the offices of the apostolic nuncio in Hanoi. But several other conflicts have broken out involving other property in Hanoi and in Ha Dong, Ho Chi Minh city (formerly Saigon), and Vinh Long. These property disputes are likely to play an important role in the talks between Vietnamese and Vatican officials this week.

The Vatican delegation is scheduled to spend two days in Hanoi, meeting with a number of government officials including Pham Gia Khiem, the foreign minister and deputy prime minister. From Hanoi the group will proceed to Da Lat, Ho Chi Minh City, and the central provinces for meetings with local Catholics and Church officials.


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