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Hong Kong Cardinal: Time For Vatican To Take Harder Line With China January 26, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Catholic, World News.
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VATICAN CITY (AP)–Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen says he believes the time is ripe for a change in strategy and a more uncompromising line as the Vatican works toward establishing diplomatic ties with China.

Beijing’s ties with the Vatican were broken in 1951 after the communists took power in China. Worship is only allowed in government-controlled churches, but as many as 10 million Catholics are estimated to belong to unofficial congregations loyal to Rome.

The Vatican has long indicated that it wants to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing, even at the cost of moving its embassy from Taiwan. But it will not compromise on the tradition dictating that only the pope – and not a local church – can appoint bishops.

Last year, China’s state-sanctioned Catholic Church, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, unilaterally appointed three bishops.

Zen, an outspoken champion of religious liberty, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that he believes it is now time for Holy See to take a harsher stance on other matters as well.

“I think in this moment the most important thing we have to do is to assess the situation, to assess what we have done in many years and realize that we must change strategy,” he said. “Because in so many years we have accepted compromises which in the beginning were good and necessary, but after so many years we can see there is a bad side effect.”

For instance, the Vatican should take a firm line with the government-controlled church when it tries to impose conditions or limitations for running programs in seminaries in China or teaching courses for clergy, Zen said.

“Maybe people don’t like to take a hard line, but I would say clearer lines” are needed, Zen said.

Zen was in Rome to debate the Chinese problem in discussions last week with officials at the Holy See. Pope Benedict XVI did not attend the talks, but was briefed on them, and Zen said he also has been writing letters to the pontiff.

The Hong Kong cardinal could not discuss what was said during the talks and declined to reveal most of what he wrote to Benedict.

However, “one thing I can say is that I’m telling him that the people in China expect from him clear direction,” Zen said.

The last months have seen a series of arrests of priests in China, according to Asia News, a Vatican-affiliated news agency. At least 17 underground bishops have disappeared, been arrested or detained in isolation. Twenty priests have been arrested and at least five, detained on Dec. 27 in Hebei, are still in prison, the agency reported last week.

However, Zen said he believes the upper echelons of China’s government may be readier for change than the state-sanctioned church.

“The foreign office is more interested in establishing diplomatic relations and the higher authority has a more international perspective,” Zen said. “So they must understand that a normalization of relations between Beijing and the Holy See may be conducive to more prestige for the nation.”

Zen, 75, said he has asked the pope to let him step down as Hong Kong’s bishop so he can focus on helping the Vatican establish ties with China.

“It’s impossible to do the two jobs together. So I asked the Holy Father to consider my retirement,” Zen said.

At an audience with the pontiff on Thursday morning, Zen said he asked Benedict if he would allow him to retire. “He said something very evasive, so maybe he’s still not ready to answer. But I hope he is really considering my request.”

Vatican Pledges To Pursue Diplomatic Relations With China January 20, 2007

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VATICAN CITY (AP)–The Vatican pledged Saturday to pursue dialogue with China aimed at establishing diplomatic ties, as Pope Benedict XVI prepares a message for his flock in China, where Catholics have been jailed for their loyalty to the pope.

A twofold strategy emerged from two days of high-level debate on China at the Vatican: continue to champion religious freedom in China while pursuing diplomatic ties.

Benedict, who called the meeting, did not attend the talks, but received a detailed briefing on proposals made during what the Vatican described as a frank debate.

Participants included Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the pope’s top aide, along with leading prelates from China. On hand was Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, an outspoken advocate for freedom of worship.

Benedict “benevolently has decided to write a letter to Catholics in China,” the Vatican said in a statement, without indicating when the letter might be sent.

Asia News, a Vatican-affiliated news agency, said it’s likely Benedict would “directly” take up specific questions on dealing with illicit ordinations in the state-sanctioned Catholic church, which does not accept the pope’s authority.

“The hope was expressed that a normalization of relations on various levels, with the aim of allowing the peaceful and fruitful life of the faith of the Church and of working together for the good of the Chinese people and peace in the world, would be achieved,” the statement said.

Vatican officials said that “on various levels” included diplomatic relations.

The Vatican has long indicated that it wants to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing, even at the cost of moving its embassy from Taiwan, but will not compromise on the tradition dictating that only the pope – and not a local church – can appoint bishops.

The Vatican has vigorously denounced Beijing’s insistence on ordaining bishops without papal approval. Last month, Benedict expressed “great sorrow” over the latest such ordination, the third known case in 2006.

Cardinal Zen has accused Beijing of reneging on a promise to stop the practice. China views papal appointments as interference in its internal affairs.

Among the prelates participating in the Vatican strategy session on China were bishops from Taiwan and Macau, a former Portuguese enclave.

US Judge Approves Kentucky Sex Abuse Suit Against Vatican January 15, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Catholic, Kentucky News.
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)–Three men who accuse Catholic priests of sexually abusing them in childhood can pursue damages from the Vatican in a negligence lawsuit, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

The ruling lets the men pursue their claim that top church officials should have warned the public or authorities about priests in the Louisville Archdiocese who were suspected of abusing children.

William McMurry, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said the ruling could open the way to take depositions of Vatican officials and to obtain copies of church records and documents.

“Our whole purpose is to hold the Vatican accountable,” McMurry said.

Many lawsuits stemming from the clergy sex abuse crisis have named the pope, the Vatican and other high-ranking church officials as defendants. But the Holy See is typically immune from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II dismissed claims that the Holy See was negligent by failing to protect children entrusted to the clergy. He also threw out claims of deceit and misrepresentation by the Vatican.

Jeffrey Lena, a California-based attorney for the Vatican, said the ruling was in many respects favorable to the Holy See because the remaining allegations rely on the unproved assumption that U.S. bishops act as agents of the Vatican. He predicted that claim would not be borne out as the case proceeds.

Vatican officials declined to comment.

McMurry is seeking to have the lawsuit certified as a class action, which would allow other accusers to join the case. McMurry represented 243 sex abuse victims that settled with the archdiocese in 2003 for $25.3 million.

One of the three plaintiffs is Michael Turner of Louisville, who also filed the first lawsuit against the archdiocese. The Rev. Louis E. Miller was removed from the priesthood in 2004 by the late Pope John Paul II after pleading guilty in 2003 to sexually abusing Turner and other children in the 1970s. He is serving a 13-year prison sentence.

The two other plaintiffs, James H. O’Bryan and Donald E. Poppe, have not settled. Both live in California and allege that they were abused by priests while growing up in Louisville.

Vatican Spokesman: Warsaw Archbishop Was Right To Resign January 7, 2007

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VATICAN CITY (AP)–The Vatican’s spokesman said Sunday that the past actions of the Warsaw archbishop who cooperated with communist-era secret police compromised his authority and he was right to resign.

The behavior of Stanislaw Wielgus “in past years during the communist regime in Poland gravely compromised his authority,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi said in an interview with Vatican Radio.

He confirmed the comments to The Associated Press. Lombardi added that Wielgus was right to resign on Sunday, “despite his humble and moving request for forgiveness.”

Warsaw Catholic Archbishop Resigns Amid Scandal January 7, 2007

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WARSAW (AP)–Warsaw’s new archbishop resigned Sunday over his involvement with the communist-era secret police, which has shaken the deeply Roman Catholic homeland of the late Pope John Paul II.

Stanislaw Wielgus announced his decision at the capital’s St. John’s Cathedral, packed with worshippers gathered for a Mass that was to have marked his formal installation. The congregation included President Lech Kaczynski.

A forlorn-looking Wielgus read from a letter to Pope Benedict XVI in which he offered his resignation “after reflecting deeply and assessing my personal situation.”

Though Kaczynski and some others applauded, many in the church and a large crowd packed outside in the rain shouted, “We welcome you,” “Stay with us,” and “No, No!”

Dressed in a resplendent golden miter and robes, Wielgus, 67, made his brief announcement less than an hour after Poland’s church said in a statement that he had resigned.

Revelations that Wielgus had contacts with the hated secret police of the communist regime, which ended in 1989, had shaken a country where many view the church as a moral authority that bravely opposed the regime.

The case, which had simmered since mid-December, expanded into a full-blown crisis on Friday when a church historical commission said it had found evidence that Wielgus had cooperated with the secret police.

Wielgus initially denied that, but then issued two statements acknowledging that he did sign an agreement in 1978 promising to cooperate with the security force in exchange for permission to leave Poland to study in West Germany.

However, he stressed that he did not inform on anyone or try to hurt anyone, and he expressed remorse for both his contacts with the secret police and his failure to be forthcoming from the beginning.

The church said the pope has asked the outgoing archbishop, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, to administer the archdiocese until a replacement is found.

In place of the installation, Glemp devoted Sunday’s Mass to a homily defending Wielgus. He called him “God’s servant” and warned of the dangers of passing judgment based on incomplete and flawed documents left behind by the communist authorities.

“Today a judgment was passed on Bishop Wielgus,” said Glemp, who is also Poland’s primate.

“But what kind of judgment was it, based on some documents and shreds of paper photocopied three times over? We do not want such judgments,” Glemp said to loud applause.

He said that Wielgus was intimidated and threatened into agreeing to cooperate with the communist police.

Throughout the homily, Wielgus looked down, his mouth twitching and eyes batting shut repeatedly in apparent emotion.

Wielgus, previously bishop of Plock, was named by the Vatican on Dec. 6 to replace Glemp, who stepped down after more than 25 years as archbishop of Warsaw.

The Vatican released a translated version of the statement from the Polish church, and Vatican deputy spokesman Rev. Ciro Benedettini said it would have no comment beyond that.

One woman outside the church, Jadwiga Lachowska, 64, said she still had full trust in Wielgus and saw no reason for him to step down.

“Why should he? He didn’t harm anyone. He didn’t inform on anyone -he only hurt himself,” she said.