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Vatican

Pope, in Spain, denounces gay marriage, abortion

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI denounced abortion, same-sex marriage and the absence of religion in public life during a Nov. 6-7 visit to Spain, a country he called the “focal point” of tensions between faith and secularism in Europe.

“The generous and indissoluble love of a man and a woman is the effective context and foundation of human life in its gestation, birth, growth and natural end,” Benedict said on Nov. 7, in a sermon at the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) Basilica in Barcelona.

On his way to consecrate the 128-year-old (and still unfinished) church—the iconic masterpiece of modernist architect Antoni Gaudi—Benedict passed an estimated 200 demonstrators staging a same-sex “kiss-in” to protest Catholic Church teaching on homosexuality.

Church leaders have clashed with the Socialist government of Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero over its legalization of same-sex marriage and support for liberal laws on abortion and divorce.

Later on Sunday, Benedict visited a home for disabled children and youth in Barcelona run by Franciscan nuns.

Vatican confirms: five Anglican bishops convert

VATICAN CITY -- Five Anglican bishops have decided to join the Catholic Church and step down from their current positions with the Church of England, a Vatican spokesman said.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, confirmed to reporters a statement issued Nov. 8 by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales welcoming the five bishops.

Father Lombardi said that a "constitution" that would govern the entry of former bishops of the Anglican Communion was being studied.

Sex abuse survivors hold vigil near Vatican

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VATICAN CITY -- Gary Bergeron and Paola Leerschool, who had hoped to observe a moment of silence in St. Peter's Square with a large group of sex abuse survivors and their supporters, ended up walking to the Vatican alone, leaving letters for Pope Benedict XVI and leaving a small pile of stones to show survivors they had been there.

"The journey of a survivor is one step at a time. This is one step," said Bergeron, a native of Massachusetts and one of the numerous youngsters abused in the 1960s and 1970s by then-Father Joseph Birmingham, who once served as a priest in the Boston Archdiocese and since has been laicized.

Even though Italian military police prevented the whole group of about 100 people -- sex abuse survivors and their supporters -- from walking together to St. Peter's Square Oct. 31, Bergeron said the event "was very powerful for many of the survivors and, to me, that's a success."

Bernie McDaid, who also was abused by Birmingham, told the survivors, "My anger, your anger, our anger is justified."

Pope says bishops must educate faithful to vote against abortion

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VATICAN CITY -- Bishops must guide their faithful to use their vote to oppose efforts to legalize abortion and euthanasia, Pope Benedict XVI told bishops from Brazil.

"Dear brother bishops, to defend life we must not fear hostility or unpopularity, and we must refuse any compromise or ambiguity which might conform us to the world's way of thinking," the pope said Oct. 28 during a meeting with bishops from northeast Brazil.

The bishops were making their "ad limina" visits to report on the status of their dioceses.

Pope Benedict did not mention the fact that Brazilians were to vote Oct. 31 in a presidential election, but said he wanted to discuss with the bishops their obligation to give their faithful the information and moral guidance they need to ensure their political decisions contribute to the true good of humanity.

Both of Brazil's presidential candidates, Dilma Rousseff and Jose Serra, have said they oppose lifting restrictions on abortion, but Brazil's anti-abortion laws still have been a recurrent theme in the campaign.

Vatican hopes Iraq does not execute Tariq Aziz

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VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican hopes the death penalty will not be carried out against former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, 74, said the Vatican spokesman.

"The position of the Catholic Church on the death penalty is known," the spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said Oct. 26, the day the Iraqi high court sentenced Aziz to death by hanging.

Thinking straight about Israel, the Jews and the Archbishop

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We in the media have a genius for grabbing a small but sensational piece of a bigger picture and banging it like a cheap drum, which usually produces a fun-house mirror view of reality: Relatively small things seem huge, while bigger and more significant things shrink into near invisibility.

To take the most obvious recent example, whatever the big picture is for Islam in America, it certainly isn’t an epidemic of Qur’an burnings. Yet the mere threat of such an event from a Florida pastor whose entire congregation could fit into a phone booth held the world hostage for a month thanks to saturation “will he or won’t he?” coverage.

In some ways, reaction to the close of the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East is following the same script.

Exhibit offers peek inside Vaticanís 'splendors'

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PITTSBURGH -- The entrance to the Vatican Splendors exhibit evokes a part of St. Peter’s Basilica that few tourists ever see: the archaeological excavation beneath the altar, where the modest grave of St. Peter lies amid elaborate first-century pagan mausoleums.

The choice of beginning with the grave of Peter, the first pope, reflects organizers’ hopes that the visit be a spiritual as well as aesthetic experience.

“In a certain sense, Jesus Christ will walk with us through the exhibition. The other person who will walk with us is St. Peter,” said Msgr. Roberto Zagnoli, the curator and director of the ethnological department of the Vatican Museums.

Nearly 300 artworks and artifacts of the Vatican Splendors exhibit will be on display here until Jan. 9, when it will move and reopen Jan. 29 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., before returning to the Vatican.

Ticket and tour information for both venues is at http://www.vaticansplendors.com.

Acrimony with Israel clouds close of Middle East Synod

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In some ways, the surprise of the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East may not be that it ended amid acrimony involving Israel, the Vatican, and the mostly Arab bishops of the region. Instead, the surprise may be that it took so long to happen.

As the synod wrapped up on Sunday, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon complained that it had turned into “a forum for political attacks on Israel, in the best history of Arab propaganda.”

Ayalon specifically objected to a comment made at the synod’s closing press conference on Saturday by Greek Melkite Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros, who’s actually based in Newton, Massachusetts.

Bustros was commenting on a line in the synod's final message, which rejected use of the Bible to justify injustice.

“We Christians cannot speak of the ‘promised land’ as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people,” Bustros said. “This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people – all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people.”

On cardinals, consistories and 'Caritas in Veritate'

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If there’s one thing even the most religiously illiterate person tends to get about the Catholic church, it’s the difference between a cardinal and everybody else. Cardinals matter: they set a leadership tone, and, of course, they elect the next pope.

The news this week that Benedict XVI has named 24 new cardinals, including 20 who are under 80 and hence eligible to vote in a conclave, merits a few reflections. (My news story on the appointments, including the full list of names, can be found here: Wuerl and Burke among 24 new cardinals).

First, it would not seem that Benedict XVI has stacked the deck in any ideological sense. While there are no real liberals in this crop (not by the standards of secular politics, or for that matter in ecclesiastical terms), neither is the Nov. 20 consistory stuffed with arch-conservatives. In general, there’s a rough balance between traditionalists and pragmatists. The American appointments offer an example, with both the uncompromising Archbishop Raymond Burke and the centrist Archbishop Donald Wuerl.

Thumbnail bios of new cardinals -- part 3

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VATICAN CITY -- Following are thumbnail bios of some of the 24 new cardinals announced by Pope Benedict XVI Oct. 20 at the Vatican:

Cardinal-designate Elio Sgreccia

Cardinal-designate Elio Sgreccia, 82, an Italian bishop, is a bioethics expert who served as president of the Pontifical Academy for Life from 2005 to 2008. During that time he articulated, with Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican position on many thorny issues such as embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, the definition of brain death, abortion, in vitro fertilization.

Elio Sgreccia was born in Arcevia, Italy. He was ordained June 29, 1952, and served as rector of the local seminary. Pope John Paul II consecrated him a bishop Jan. 6, 1993.

Cardinal-designate Sgreccia served as secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family before Pope John Paul named him as head of the academy for life Jan. 3, 2005. John Paul died just three months later; the cardinal-designate led the academy under Pope Benedict until he retired in 2008.

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