Hong Kong, June 9, 2008 (vaticans.org) - The Chinese government has invited the coadjutor bishop of Hong Kong, John Tong Hon, to the inaugural ceremony of the upcoming Olympic Games. The bishop has accepted the invitation, which was not extended to Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, while an expert on China-Vatican relations warns: "The visit appears to be just a protocol event because it is unlikely any concrete discussions with officials will be conducted".
The invitation was communicated by Beijing to the Chinese office in the territory: according to some observers, this is the latest "diplomatic openness" between the two sides, following the concert at the Vatican by the Beijing Philharmonic and the informal meeting between the pope and the Chinese ambassador to the Italian republic. Others emphasise that China "wants to build good relations with bishop Tong, who is less critical in public toward the Beijing government, and will soon become the bishop of Hong Kong".
For his part, Bishop Tong says he is "honoured by the invitation", and recalls the hopes expressed by the pope for a serene unfolding of the Olympics. Not long ago, the prelate highlights, "the Holy Father expressed his blessings towards China for a successful Olympics. I will follow his good wishes and attend this joyous national event as a witness".
The visit - which will take place on August 8 and 9 - will be the first made by Bishop Tong to Beijing as coadjutor bishop. Together with him, there will be Buddhist and Taoist leaders from Hong Kong, and the bishop of Macao, Jose Lai Hung-seng. The visit has also been approved by Cardinal Zen: both bishops have for some time decided to enter into China "only at the official invitation of the government"
Anthony Lam Sui-ki, an expert in China-Vatican relations and a researcher at the Holy Spirit Study Center in Hong Kong, tells the South China Morning Post: "The invitation was a gesture of good will, although Cardinal Zen, who has long been critical towards Beijing's control over religious freedom, was not invited. But the visit appears to be just a protocol event because it is unlikely any concrete discussions with officials will be conducted".
Vatican City (vaticans.org) - Benedict XVI hopes that, thanks to agreements concluded with the government of Myanmar, the international community and "all who are ready to help" may bring to the victims of cyclone Nargis "the type of assistance required and enjoy effective access to the places where it is needed most". And "may God open the hearts of all so that a concerted effort may be made to facilitate and coordinate the ongoing endeavour to bring relief to the suffering and rebuild the country's infrastructure".
Help for the people struck by the catastrophe was, naturally, central to the thoughts that the pope addressed today to the bishops of the episcopal conference of Myanmar, received this morning after previous meetings in separate audiences, on the occasion of their five-year visit "ad Limina Apostolorum".
The Church of Myanmar, in the words of the pope, "is known and admired for its solidarity with the poor and needy. This has been especially evident in the concern you have shown in the aftermath of the cyclone Nargis". Benedict XVI praised in particular the actions of Catholic organisations and associations. "I am confident", he continued, citing his first encyclical, "that under your guidance, the faithful will continue to demonstrate the possibility of establishing 'a fruitful link between evangelization and works of charity'". "During these difficult days, I know how grateful the Burmese people are for the Church’s efforts to provide shelter, food, water, and medicine to those still in distress".
Turning his attention more exclusively to Church affairs, the pope then expressed his satisfaction with the growth of vocations, of both religious sisters and priests, and recommended a "robust and dynamic Christian formation" of all the faithful, inspiring them to take action in their workplace, family, and society.
Benedict XVI finally encouraged, for the majority Buddhist country, the development in mutual respect of "ever better relations with Buddhists for the good of your individual communities and of the entire nation".
bishops at their June 12-14 meeting in Orlando, Fla., is designed to set the stage for a later, more pastoral document explaining why the Catholic Church opposes some reproductive technologies.
"While human life is threatened in many ways in our society, the destruction of human embryos for stem-cell research confronts us with an issue of respect for life in a stark new way," says the statement drawn up by the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Although the topic of embryonic stem-cell research has been raised in several broader USCCB documents and has been the subject of testimony and many letters to Congress, there has never been a formal statement on the issue from the full body of bishops, said Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the pro-life committee, in an introduction to the draft document.
"The issue of stem-cell research does not force us to choose between science and ethics, much less between science and religion," the document says. "It presents a choice as to how our society will pursue scientific and medical progress."
The policy statement seeks to refute three arguments made in favor of permitting stem-cell research that involves the destruction of human embryos. Proponents of embryonic stem-cell research argue:
-- "That any harm done in this case is outweighed by potential benefits.
-- "That what is destroyed is not a human life, or at least not a human being with fundamental human rights. ...
-- "That dissecting human embryos for their cells should not be seen as involving a loss of embryonic life."
Responding to the first argument, the document says that "the false assumption that a good end can justify direct killing has been the source of much evil in our world."
"No commitment to a hoped-for 'greater good' can erase or diminish the wrong of directly taking innocent human lives here and now," the statement adds. "In fact, policies undermining our respect for human life can only endanger the vulnerable patients that stem-cell research offers to help. The same ethic that justifies taking some lives to help the patient with Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease today can be used to sacrifice that very patient tomorrow."
On the claims that a week-old embryo is "too small, immature or undeveloped to be considered a 'human life'" or "too lacking in mental or physical abilities to have full human worth or human rights," the document notes that the embryo "has the full complement of human genes" and is worthy of the same dignity given to all members of the human family.
"If fundamental rights such as the right to life are based on abilities or qualities that can appear or disappear, grow or diminish, and be greater or lesser in different human beings, then there are no inherent human rights, no true human equality, only privileges for the strong," the draft statement says.
The document also dismisses the argument that there is no harm in killing so-called "spare" embryos created for in vitro fertilization attempts because they would die anyway.
"Ultimately each of us will die anyway, but that gives no one a right to kill us," the statement says. "Our society does not permit lethal experiments on terminally ill patients or condemned prisoners on the pretext that they will die soon anyway. Likewise, the fact that an embryonic human being is at risk of being abandoned by his or her parents gives no individual or government a right to intervene and directly kill that human being first."
The document also addresses moves to permit human cloning and the "grotesque practice" -- banned by the Fetus Farming Prohibition Act of 2006 -- to develop cloned embryos in a woman's womb in order to harvest tissues and organs from them.
"It now seems undeniable that once we cross a fundamental moral line that prevents us from treating any fellow human being as a mere object of research, there is no stopping point," the policy statement says. "The only moral stance that affirms the human dignity of all of us is to reject the first step down this path."
The draft document closes with a reminder that the use of adult stem cells and umbilical-cord blood have been shown to offer "a better way" to produce cells that can benefit patients suffering from heart disease, corneal damage, sickle cell anemia, multiple sclerosis and many other diseases.
"There is no moral objection to research and therapy of this kind, when it harms no human being and is conducted with appropriate informed consent," it says. "Catholic foundations and medical centers have been, and will continue to be, among the leading supporters of ethically responsible advances in the medical use of adult stem cells."
Manila, May. 13, 2008 (vaticans.org) - A longstanding dispute between a Filipino archbishop and the country's government leaders came to a head on May 13 when a Manila court issued a warrant for the prelate's arrest.
Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen Dagupan, a persistent critic of government corruption, has been charged with libel. The complaint was filed by a group of government employees who say that the archbishop defamed them when he said that they had acted as "guest-relations officers" at a party for José Miguel Arroyo, the husband of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
In April, Archbishop Cruz said that he would not be deterred by the threat of a libel charge. Government leaders are trying to silence public criticism, he said, adding that they are "irritated because I tell the truth."
WASHINGTON, April, 17, 2008 (vaticans.org) -- One of the "countersigns to the Gospel of life" in the United States is the sexual abuse of minors, a situation "that causes deep shame," Pope Benedict XVI told about 300 U.S. bishops gathered April 16 in the crypt church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
He called it an "evil" and said the U.S. bishops have "rightly moved" to address it. The programs they have put in place to discipline priests and other church personnel who are abusers, to create safe environments protecting young people, to foster healing and to "bind up the wounds" caused by "such breach of trust" are bearing fruit, he said.
But the pope also said the problem of sex abuse must be placed in a wider context when pornography, violence and "the crude manipulation of sexuality" are so prevalent in society today.
The pope arrived at the shrine in his popemobile, smiling and waving to enthusiastic crowds that lined the adjacent streets and the front of the basilica. He looked relaxed and in good form on the second day of his April 15-20 visit, which will also take him to New York.
After an evening prayer service, Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a talk that the bishops greeted the pope not as a foreign visitor but as "a father and a friend in Christ."
Cardinal George briefly traced the history of the church in the United States, including some times of trouble.
"In our own day, the consequences of the dreadful sin of sexual abuse of minors by some priests and of its sometimes being very badly handled by bishops make both the personal faith of some Catholics and the public life of the church herself more problematic," the cardinal said.
In his talk, the pope said priests themselves "have experienced shame" over abuse carried out by fellow clergy and others and they need the bishops' "guidance and closeness during this difficult time." He also said people must remember the "overwhelming majority" of priests and religious in the U.S. do "outstanding work."
The pope also addressed the effect of secularism and materialism on how Catholics and others live out their beliefs in a day-to-day world, the state of the family within society, "a certain quiet attrition" of Catholics leaving the faith and the need for vocations.
He talked about the role of the bishops in addressing issues of the day, especially during an election year when church leaders cannot assume, he said, that "all Catholic citizens think in harmony with the church's teaching on key ethical issues."
"It falls to you to ensure that the moral formation provided at every level of ecclesial life reflects the authentic teaching of the Gospel of life," Pope Benedict said, noting that currently in the U.S. and elsewhere there is "proposed legislation that gives cause for concern from the point of morality."
He did not mention particular issues, but said the Catholic community under the bishops' guidance "needs to offer a clear and united witness on such matters," and the minds and hearts of the wider community must be opened "to moral truth." Lay Catholics "can act as a 'leaven' in society" in this regard, he said.
Early in his speech he noted that the U.S. church is "blessed with a Catholic laity of considerable diversity, who place their wide-ranging gifts at the service of the church."
Regarding the sex abuse scandal, he said, "Many of you have spoken to me of the enormous pain that your communities have suffered when clerics have betrayed their priestly obligations and duties by such gravely immoral behavior."
He said the bishops have rightly moved to show compassion and care for the victims, to foster healing and promote reconciliation in the aftermath of "every breach of trust."
Saying that the bishops have acknowledged that abuse cases have been "sometimes very badly handled," he said the bishops' measures to address the scandal at all levels "are bearing great fruit."
However, he said, if such policies are to achieve "their full purpose," they must be placed "in a wider context" of sexual mores and children must grow up "with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships."
He said the values "underpinning society" need to be "urgently reassessed to provide a sound moral foundation for children and young people.
Children "have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person," the pope said.
"By acknowledging and confronting the problem when it occurs in an ecclesial setting, you can give a lead to others, since this scourge is found not only within your diocese, but in every sector of society. It calls for a determined collective response," he said.
Children must "be spared the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today," he said.
Offering a sound moral foundation to children is the responsibility not only of parents but of religious leaders, teachers and catechists, and "the media and entertainment industries."
Regarding other issues, Pope Benedict praised Americans for having "a genuinely religious spirit," but said secularism and materialism can subtly influence the way people live out their faith. He questioned why members of the faithful who worship in church on Sunday act contrary to their beliefs and church teaching during the rest of the week.
He pointed to people ignoring or exploiting the poor, or promoting business practices, sexual behavior or positions on right-to-life issues that are contrary Catholic moral teaching.
He also talked about the state of the family, saying that a healthy family life contributes to "peace in and within nations." In the family home, he said, people learn about justice and love, the role of authority and concern for one another.
But increasing rates of divorce and infidelity, delayed marriage, more cohabitation and a growing disregard for the sacramental bond of marriage are hurting the institution of marriage and eroding family as a basic building block of society, he said.
He also said the family is the primary place for evangelization and passing on the Catholic faith.
He said the church needs to discover "new and engaging ways of proclaiming" the message. He also said that too often today religion is becoming too much of a private matter, and as such "loses its very soul."
Regarding vocations, he said, "Let us be quite frank: The ability to cultivate vocations to the priesthood and the religious life is a sure sign of the health of a local church."
He urged the faithful to pray for vocations but said more than prayer is needed, he said. He encouraged the bishops to create opportunities for young people who come forward to explore a vocation also talk to their peers about the possibility, and to encourage all their priests to come together to dialogue and have an opportunity for fraternal encounters.
He urged all priest to overcome any divisions they have among them, to move beyond disagreements and listen to one another and "the Spirit, who is guiding the church into a future of hope."
As he opened his speech, the pope reviewed the beginnings of the church in the U.S. calling the nation's first bishop, Bishop John Carroll "a worthy leader of the Catholic community in your newly independent nation."
Bishop Carroll and his fellow bishops, the pope said, laid the foundation for "the rich variety of ecclesial life in present-day America."
He said people in the U.S. "are remarkable for their religious fervor and take pride in belonging to a worshipping community." He noted that Americans are "known for their generosity," and said the outpouring of help for victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was evidence of that.