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A summit on religion in Moscow

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This week, a World Summit
of Religious Leaders took place in Moscow under the sponsorship of
Patriarch Alexy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church. The summit,
designed as a lead-in to the July 15 meeting of G-8 nations in St.
Petersburg, drew over 200 religious leaders from 49 countries, including
Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and other communities.

The aim was to arrive at a common set of values in light of pressing
global concerns. In their final statement, participants called for an end
to terrorism, an ethical underpinning for modern notions of democracy and
human rights, and respect for human life from natural beginning to natural
end.

Short takes: Missionary attacked and Jesuits on liturgy

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Another Catholic
missionary has been attacked in Turkey. Fr. Pierre Brunissen, a Frenchman,
was stabbed outside the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows in Samsun, on the
Black Sea coast.

Brunissen survived, with a gash in his thigh about 10 centimeters long.

The incident comes on the heels of the murder of Italian missionary Fr.
Andrea Santoro on Feb. 5 in Trabzon.

Bertone's appointment puts the spotlight on Salesians; Salesians in the United States

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Roman Catholicism
stubbornly resists what Shakespeare once called "the weak list of a
country's fashion," but even so, the church too has its fads. One bit of
ecclesiastical vogue these days might well be called "Salesian chic."

That reality was given a "slammer," as they say in the newspaper trade,
last week by the appointment of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa, a
Salesian, as the Vatican's Secretary of State.

Rosmini's sainthood cause advances

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Several years ago, I was
on a panel in Montreal with Jesuit Fr. Bill Cain, head writer of ABC-TV's
short-lived series "Nothing Sacred." Cain described the negative reaction
the show had received in some Catholic circles, but expressed confidence
that someday its value would be recognized.

"Today they silence you, and in 200 years they beatify you," Cain
joked. "That seems to be the way it goes in the church."

"Cain's Law" is hardly universal, but it is spot-on for the early 19th
century Italian philosopher and theologian Fr. Antonio Rosmini, whose
works were censured during and after his life, but who today stands on the
brink of sainthood.

On Monday, 155 years after Rosmini's death, Benedict XVI signed a
"decree of heroic virtue," clearing the first hurdle towards Rosmini's
beatification. In fact, Benedict approved 19 decrees on Monday, moving
forward the causes of 162 candidates.

In his famous 1848 work The Five Wounds of the Church, Rosmini
identified the most grave challenges facing the church of his day as he
saw them:


  • The division of the people from the clergy in worship (due to
    ignorance and the use of Latin),
  • The defective education of the clergy,
  • The disunion of bishops (due to territorialism, nationalism and
    wealth),
  • The nomination of bishops by the secular power (rather than by
    election), and
  • The enslavement of the church by riches (due to the long shadow of
    feudalism).

These positions may seem unremarkable today, but at the time they
generated enormous controversy, and left Rosmini under a cloud. In 1887,
22 years after Rosmini's death, the Holy Office issued a decree Post
obitum
in which 40 "propositions" lifted from Rosmini's work were
condemned. For example, Rosmini was accused of favoring "ontologism," a
sort of philosophical form of pantheism. While the "propositions" largely
had to do with the mystery of God and creation, the politics of the 19th
century hovered in the background, especially Rosmini's openness to
Italian unification over against defenders of the temporal power of the
papacy.

For more than a century, Rosmini's supporters, including the Institute
of Charity which he founded, pushed for a reevaluation.

In 1984, John Paul II approved the opening of a beatification cause for
Rosmini, and in his 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio, John Paul
referred to Rosmini as an example of the "fruitful relationship between
philosophy and the word of God in the courageous research pursued by more
recent thinkers." (Also included on that list was John Henry Newman,
another churchman who stood under a cloud for a period of time.)

All this led to a nota of the Congregation of the Doctrine of
Faith dated July 1, 2001, which declared that the motives that led to the
1887 condemnation "can now be considered superseded," concluding that the
aberrant material in the 40 propositions "does not belong to the authentic
position of Rosmini." In effect, the nota amounted to an official
rehabilitation.

With Monday's action by Benedict XVI, Rosmini is now an authenticated
miracle away from beatification, and two from officially being declared a
saint.

One lesson the Rosmini saga may suggest is caution about hurling
accusations against today's disputed writers and activists, of whatever
stripe. While "Cain's Law" doesn't apply in every case, nevertheless
history indicates that often time has to pass before the church can reach
final judgment.

Preparations for African Synod

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On Tuesday, the Vatican
released the lineamenta, or "grand lines," for the Second Synod of
Bishops for Africa. The first Synod for Africa met in 1994, and resulted
in the document Ecclesia in Africa. No date has been established
for the next synod, although responses to the lineamenta were
requested by the end of October 2008, making it unlikely the synod will be
held before 2009.

The theme will be, "The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation,
Justice and Peace."

Benedict practices 'communion ecclesiology'

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On June 29, the Feast of
Sts. Peter and Paul, Benedict XVI imposed the pallium, the symbol of a
metropolitan archbishop's office, on 27 archbishops appointed during the
last year.

The pallium, which also symbolizes the link between the metropolitan
and the See of Peter, is a circular band about two inches wide, with two
pendants hanging down front and back. It's ornamented with six dark
crosses of silk, and is worn over liturgical vestments. The pallium is
given to metropolitan archbishops appointed during the last year, and can
be worn only within their ecclesiastical province.

Lopez Trujillo steps up battle against stem cells

 | 

In an interview this week
with the Italian magazine Famiglia Cristiana, Cardinal Alfonso
Lopez-Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said
that those who take part in embryonic stem cell research are subject to
excommunication.

"Destroying human embryos is equivalent to an abortion... it's the same
thing," Lopez Trujillo said.

Bertone named secretary of state

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To the surprise of no one, Benedict XVI has
appointed Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa, who worked alongside
then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from 1995 to 2003 as the secretary of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to be his new Secretary of
State.


The move makes Bertone, 71, the most powerful
figure in the Vatican after Benedict XVI himself. Since the era of Paul
VI, the Secretariat of State has played the role of a "super-dicastery,"
to some extent coordinating the work of all the other departments of the
Vatican. It is also responsible for the Vatican's relations with states,
hence its "foreign policy."

Reflection on liturgy changes: Bishop Trautman and Msgr. Moroney

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After a lengthy and, at times, contentious debate over
recent years about a new English translation of the Order of Mass, which
relies more heavily on a sacred vocabulary closer to the Latin originals,
some observers were surprised by the relatively anti-climatic nature of
the vote of the American bishops last week in Los Angeles. Following a
fairly brief discussion, the bishops approved the translation by an
overwhelming vote of 173 to 29.

Several factors no doubt help explain the result, including a recent
letter from Cardinal Francis Arinze of the Congregation for Divine Worship
to Bishop William Skylstad, president of the American conference, which
made adoption of the text seem inevitable, and the general fatigue many
bishops feel with the "liturgy wars" which have rocked English-speaking
Catholicism since the mid-1990s.

The man who rehabilitated Galileo

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Arguably, no one was more instrumental than Dominican
Fr. Enrico di Rovasenda in the Vatican's decision to reevaluate the case
of Galileo Galilei, which over the centuries had become the leading symbol
of a supposed clash between religion and science, between rigid dogmatism
and the free spirit of scientific inquiry.

Still going strong, di Rovasenda celebrated his 100th birthday in Genoa
on June 17. Cardinals Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa, the next Secretary of
State, and George Cottier, the Dominican who served John Paul II as
theologian of the papal household, were present for the festivities.

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