Newsbriefs: Vatican officials meet Egyptian foreign ministers, discuss dialogue
A Vatican statement May 21 said that Cardinal Tauran reiterated Pope Benedict XVI's esteem "for the people and authorities of Egypt and the Holy See's readiness to continue on the path of interreligious dialogue and cooperation" with Cairo's al-Azhar University. Muslim clerics at al-Azhar called off the dialogue in February saying a statement from Pope Benedict about the need to protect Christians in Egypt amounted to interference in the country's internal affairs.
Palestinian Christians wary about Obama's proposals for peace
JERUSALEM (CNS) — U.S. President Barack Obama's call for Israeli and Palestinian states based on Israel's 1967 borders met with a largely wary response from Palestinian Christians. While the Palestinians welcomed Obama's proposal — which includes mutually agreed-upon land swaps — in May 19 and 22 speeches, they doubted that Israel would easily back away from Palestinian territory it has occupied for nearly 44 years. Sami Awad, executive director of the Holy Land Trust and a promoter of nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, called Obama's proposal "symbolic." He said: "It was like every other president, he pushes the envelope a bit more than the previous president. That's not enough." Awad added that the plight of Palestinian refugees must be recognized and solved. As an activist, Awad also expressed disappointment that Obama failed to acknowledge what he believes to be a growing Palestinian nonviolence movement that seeks to challenge Israeli policy. Hussam Elias, an Arab Catholic living in Cana, Israel, who directs the Galilee program for the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations, noted that the crucial issue of the final status of Jerusalem had been left out of Obama's talks, even though settling on the city's future is key to reaching a final resolution to the conflict. Even so, Obama's speeches were an indication that "the time had come" for Palestinians and Israelis to make serious moves toward a final and justice peace agreement, Elias said. "It is clear that with the revolutions in the Middle East and all the social and political changes taking place, the current situation cannot continue," he said. "Israel needs to decide if it wants to be a part of the new Middle East or to be left out alone."
Guatemalan bishops call for prayer, action after massacre on farm
FLORES, Guatemala (CNS) — Two Guatemalan bishops called for prayer and government action in the wake of the brutal slaying of 27 workers on a farm owned by an alleged drug kingpin in the country's northern Peten department. "The Catholic Church cannot remain indifferent or silent in the face of the constant acts of violence that afflict our dear Peten, causing death and pain," Bishop Mario Fiandri of Peten wrote in a pastoral letter. Most of the victims — men, women and several minors — were beheaded with machetes. Bishop Fiandri's letter, dated May 18, called the massacre the "ultimate barbaric expression of a generalized situation of violence and insecurity." He said the church shared "the suffering and tears of the victims' relatives." Guatemalan media reports suggested that the May 14 mass killing was part of a battle between rival drug gangs. Many of the victims were from the area around Los Amates in the neighboring Izabal department. They had traveled to Peten in search of work, said Izabal Bishop Gabriel Penate Rodriguez. "The victims are poor farmers who went to Peten to try to earn a living on the large farms there. They went seeking life and found death — a cruel death, committed with a brutality and barbarity that has no name," Bishop Penate wrote in a statement issued May 20.
Vatican newspaper article says condom campaigns increase AIDS risk
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — An article in the Vatican newspaper said that, on a practical level, condom campaigns increase the possibility of AIDS infection by promoting a false sense of security. On a moral level, the article said, condom use by married couples goes against the church's teaching about responsible procreation because it "deforms" the conjugal act. The article was written by Father Juan Perez-Soba, a moral theologian who teaches in Rome at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. It appeared in L'Osservatore Romano May 24, three days before the start of a major Vatican conference that was expected to clarify church teaching on AIDS. Father Perez-Soba said that although use of a condom may have some effectiveness against HIV/AIDS contagion in single acts, it cannot guarantee safety — especially throughout the sexual life of a couple. It is wrong, therefore, to say that condom use can prevent infection, he said. "The numerous campaigns that invite people to use the condom indiscriminately have instead demonstrated the contrary: By feeding the false belief that there is no danger, they have increased the possibility of infection," he said. "To present the condom as a solution to the problem is a grave error; to choose it simply as a habitual practice is to show a lack of responsibility in regard to the other person," he said.
Serra International, USA Council still wrangling over restructuring
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CNS) — Serra International, a lay organization whose objective is to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and its Chicago-based USA Council are continuing their battle over restructuring. The international arm has taken steps to discontinue the operations of the U.S. council on the grounds that significant cost savings could be realized by eliminating overlapping functions while the organization's Colorado district is proposing major changes to Serra International's bylaws to "improve transparency throughout the organization." Last December, the board of trustees of Serra International passed a resolution calling for the USA Council to cease its activities but the council chose not to comply with a Jan. 30 deadline to discontinue operations and turn over any assets, Serra International chose to take legal action to enforce the resolution, according to Thomas Beyer, a lawyer for the council. According to a May 17 press release from Jacob Shafer, governor of Serra's District 6, Serra International filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against USA Council March 23 in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill. At the same time, the USA Council filed a motion to dismiss the case. The judge refused to grant either motion and gave each party additional time to gather evidence. The two parties are scheduled to appear in court again July 20. Serra's District 6, meanwhile, which includes 10 local Serra Clubs in Colorado, has asked for two amendments to Serra International's bylaws that are aimed at providing greater transparency and wider representation on the international council's board of directors, said Dave O'Keeffe, president-elect of the Colorado Springs Serra Club. Both amendments will be included in the agenda for Serra's delegate meeting in July.
Diocesan review board members say their work proceeds unimpeded
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Members of seven diocesan review boards that consider clergy sex abuse cases said their work never has been impeded by diocesan officials or church hierarchy as they developed recommendations on whether an accusation was credible or not. The review board members also said they worked collaboratively with officials within their dioceses to ensure that priests who posed a danger to children were removed from ministry as quickly as possible. Review board members talked about their work in response to inquiries from Catholic News Service following an account by the chair of the Philadelphia review board criticizing archdiocesan officials. Ana Maria Catanzaro, who chairs Philadelphia's board, charged in Commonweal magazine May 12 that church officials failed "miserably at being open and transparent" in their dealings with board members. In response, the archdiocese explained that its understanding of the best way to investigate and act on abuse allegations, especially those not pursued by civil authorities, has continuously changed over the years. The archdiocese has pledged to "improve that process from beginning to end." Catanzaro's revelations cast a shadow on the work of review boards across the country and likely will open the review board structure to deeper examination by victims' advocates and the U.S. bishops.
Caritas assembly opens looking at relationship with Vatican
ROME (CNS) — Whether they are tiny, all-volunteer organizations or agencies with hundreds of professional employees working around the globe, Catholic charities are called to be expressions of God's love and the Catholic Church's concern for the poor, said the cardinal-president of Caritas Internationalis. Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, president of the confederation of 165 national Catholic charities, opened the weeklong Caritas general assembly May 22 in Rome. While a central focus of the meeting was to be new statutes that would strengthen Vatican oversight of Caritas Internationalis, the gathering also marked the 60th anniversary of the confederation, which was celebrated with a daylong trip May 21 on a vintage steam train that boarded at the Vatican train station. The festive atmosphere of the train trip was a contrast to the businesslike atmosphere of the general assembly, especially as it prepared to elect new officers, including a new secretary-general after the Vatican Secretariat of State decided not to give the current secretary-general, Lesley-Anne Knight, its blessing to run for a second four-year term. "We all would have loved to continue our journey with the current secretary-general," Cardinal Rodriguez said in his opening address. "The way she was not allowed to stand as a candidate ... has caused grievance in our confederation," especially among the women working for Caritas, he said. The cardinal said a dialogue with the Vatican Secretariat of State about the new Caritas statutes formally began in February; because the dialogue is ongoing, he asked delegates to authorize the Caritas executive board to conclude the discussions with the Vatican and adopt provisional rules that would be in force until the next general assembly in 2015.
Priest from Lebanon to head US-based eparchy for Armenian Catholics
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI has named Msgr. Mikael Mouradian, who is superior of the Convent of Notre Dame in Bzommar, Lebanon, as the new bishop of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Nareg in New York for Armenian Catholics. The appointment was announced May 21 in Washington by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Bishop-designate Mouradian, who was born in Lebanon, succeeds Bishop Manuel Batakian, who is 81. The New York-based eparchy serves about 25,000 Armenian Catholics in the United States and about 10,000 in Canada. The church has two parishes in Canada, Toronto and Montreal, and seven in the United States — two in California and one each in Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. The eparchy was formed as an exarchate in 1981. On Sept. 12, 2005, Pope Benedict raised it to an eparchy. The same day Bishop Batakian, who had headed the exarchate since 2001, became the first eparch. Dioceses in Eastern Catholic churches are called eparchies. An exarchate is a church jurisdiction formed in areas where there are enough Catholics of that rite to establish a hierarchy but the church is not sufficiently developed yet to form an eparchy, or full diocesan structure.