Signs of the Times

Pope Introduces New Mysteries of the Rosary

The rosary is a powerful prayer for peace, for families and for contemplating the mysteries of Christ’s life, Pope John Paul II said in a new apostolic letter. Pope John Paul marked the 24th anniversary of his election on Oct. 16 by signing the apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (The Rosary of the Virgin Mary), during his weekly general audience. The pope declared a Year of the Rosary through next October, asking everyone to recite it frequently, lovingly and with the knowledge that its prayers link them with Mary and lead them to Jesus.

To expand the rosary’s references to Gospel events and underline the depth of its connection to Christ, Pope John Paul II has asked people to add five mysteries of light to the rosary meditations. In his letter he suggested, as optional, five new mysteries:


Christ’s baptism in the Jordan.

His self-manifestation at the wedding of Cana.

His proclamation of the kingdom of God with his call to conversion.

His transfiguration.

His institution of the Eucharist.

Each of these mysteries is a revelation of the kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus, the pope wrote. The addition, he said, is meant to give it [the rosary] fresh life and to enkindle renewed interest in the rosary’s place within Christianity as a true doorway to the depths of the heart of Christ, ocean of joy and of light, of suffering and of glory.

The pope also offered a suggestion for how the new mysteries could be included by people who follow the practice of reciting one set of mysteries each day of the week. One could pray the joyful mysteries on Mondays and Saturdays, the sorrowful mysteries on Tuesdays and Fridays, the glorious mysteries on Wednesdays and Sundays and the luminous mysteries on Thursdays.

Seminaries Have Improved Screening, Says Report

Much has changed in the screening process for seminarians since the middle of the 20th century, when the most notorious clergy sex abusers were trained, according to a memorandum to rectors and seminary faculty members from the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Priestly Formation. Seminaries in the United States today are placing new emphasis on screening for men who are able to live chaste celibacy, the committee members said. The memorandum was issued as a sign of support for seminary personnel and to welcome an upcoming visitation to all U.S. seminaries, the Rev. Edward J. Burns, executive director of the bishops’ Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation, told Catholic News Service.

In the screening of applicants and in their overall priestly formation, there is a great contrast between the situation in the middle part of the last century and the situation at the beginning of the new millennium, said the eight-member committee, chaired by Bishop George H. Niederauer of Salt Lake City. There has been a new emphasis in the development of the screening process for seminarians, in particular screening for men who are able to live chaste celibacy, the committee added in the Sept. 25 report. A large majority of the cases of child sexual abuse that have most alarmed the country were committed by clerics who attended seminaries in the middle part of the last century. The committee said there has been a genuine renewal and reform in the priestly formation programs of the seminaries in the United States since the last visitations 20 years ago.

We commend the priestly formation programs throughout the United States, the bishops said, praising the care, concern and expertise that have gone into them. It is important for us to share this confidence with the rectors and seminary faculty members at this time. Father Burns said seminariesin order to assure that candidates possess the psycho-sexual-socio maturity necessary for priests todayhave been providing more resources for students in the on-campus counseling services.

Celibacy formation should be integrated into the entire seminary program through conferences, formal classes, faculty advising, homilies, spiritual direction and opportunities for professional counseling, he said. Visitation teams note frequently that seminaries should be mindful that only candidates that are able to sustain a chaste, celibate life be admitted to priestly formation, Father Burns added. Rectors, faculty members and those charged with formation must be able to testify to a man’s capacity to live a celibate life while relating to others in a mature fashion.

In a homily earlier this year at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, Pa., Bishop John C. Nienstedt of New Ulm, Minn., chairman-elect of the priestly formation committee, said a new edition of the bishops’ Program for Priestly Formation will need to deal directly with the acceptance or nonacceptance of priesthood candidates who admit a homosexual orientation.

Bishop Nienstedt added: I would not speculate on the specific outcome of that discussion, but at a minimum I would say that every priesthood candidate must meet the following criteria:

He must be willing to give internal consent to the church’s teaching...that a homosexual inclination is objectively disordered since every homosexual act is intrinsically disordered.

He cannot espouse a gay’ identity, by which is meant allowing himself to define his personality, outlook or self-understanding by virtue of a same-sex attraction.

He must be prepared to admit that the sacrifice rendered by a celibate commitment is the renouncing of wife and children for the sake of the kingdom, and he must be ready to make that a personal and substantial, not merely symbolic, gift of self.

As chairman-elect, Bishop Nienstedt automatically becomes committee chairman when Bishop Niederauer completes his term in November.

German Catholics Angry About Cologne Cardinal’s Comments

German Catholics reacted angrily to recent criticisms by Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne of lay people for their lack of knowledge of the church. Cardinal Meisner, speaking during a Mass at the German bishops’ fall meeting in Fulda on Sept. 25, accused many lay people of developing a do-it-yourself ideological faith which is Catholic only in name. He also accused lay organizations of muddying and darkening the Catholic faith. Leaders of lay organizations, the cardinal said, often had very limited knowledge of the faith.

While other German bishops distanced themselves from the cardinal’s remarks, the homily drew a strong rebuke from several lay leaders. Hans Joachim Meyer, president of the Central Council of German Catholics, said Cardinal Meisner made stupid and slanderous accusations. Anyone who knows these women and men knows that they can certainly take on the archbishop in the knowledge of the faith, their loyalty and their witness, Meyer said.

Abortion Rate Down, Except Among the Poor

The Planned Parenthood-affiliated Alan Guttmacher Institute released the findings from its third national survey on Oct. 8. The report noted an 11 percent decline in the nation’s abortionsdown from 24 abortions per 1,000 women in 1994 to 21 per 1,000 in 2000. The report noted that the 2000 figure showed a 21 percent decline from the abortion rate in 1987, when there were 27 abortions per 1,000. It also found that 25 percent of all pregnancies in 2000 ended in abortion and said that more than a quarter of those who obtained abortions identified themselves as Catholics.

The report noted a marked increase in the abortion rate for women with lower incomes, reflecting that these women have high pregnancy rates as well as a greater likelihood...of ending a pregnancy in abortion, the report said. Others note that welfare reforms, which deny additional benefits to new children, are also forcing poor women to have abortions.

"An 11 percent decline ... is heartening, especially as we approach the 30-year anniversary of legalized abortion on demand in the United States," said Cathy Cleaver, director of planning and information for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Pro-life Activities.

"Overall, women who are better off have lower pregnancy and abortion rates than poor and low-income women," the report said. "As a result of the increase ... and a decline among middle- and higher-income women, the gap in abortion rates has widened and abortion has become more concentrated among economically disadvantaged women."

Cleaver said the report found that 21 percent of women turn to abortion because of "financial reasons. Women facing an unintended pregnancy want financial and emotional support ... what these numbers tell us is that we must redouble our efforts to provide resources and support to those women most in need."

The study found the steepest decline in abortion rates in the 15- to 17-year-old age group, falling to 15 abortions per 1,000 women in 2000 from 24 per 1,000 in 1994, a decline of 39 percent. "Both abortion rates and birth rates for adolescents have been declining since the early 1990s," it said, "reflecting that fewer teens are becoming pregnant."

Laura Echevarria, spokeswoman for the National Right to Life Committee, said parental consent and parental notification laws have had an impact on teen abortions. "In states where these laws exist," she said, "there has been a decline in the number of both teen pregnancies and abortions."

The report painted a portrait of the average U.S. woman who obtains an abortion as being an economically disadvantaged, never-married, religious 20-year-old who has one or more children and lives in a metropolitan area.

Statistically, 56 percent of women who get abortions are in their 20s; 67 percent have never married; 61 percent have one or more children; 88 percent live in a metropolitan area; 57 percent are economically disadvantaged (living below 200 percent of the federal poverty line); 78 percent report a religious affiliation (43 percent Protestant, 27 percent Catholic and 8 percent other religions); 52 percent planned on having children in the future; and 48 percent had an abortion previously.

News Briefs

Modern society needs to redevelop its sense of mercy and forgiveness, said a British cardinal. Ours is becoming a name, blame and shame culture: a kind of killing culture where reputation, self-respect and the communion of caring and solidarity which keeps society together are swept away in an instant by an impulse to sell or buy a so-called news’ story, said Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster.

Beginning the 25th year of his papacy, a landmark reached by only four of his predecessors, Pope John Paul II thanked God for his ministry and entrusted his future to the care of the Virgin Mary.

Pope John Paul II told Chilean bishops on Oct. 15 that the church in their country should be a model of inclusion, at a time when global economic and social structures seem to exclude the world’s powerless. Part of the church’s duty, he said, is to remind people that cultural identity cannot be reduced to the sum of a nation’s economic output.

Marking the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John Paul II renewed his appeal to Catholics to revisit the council’s documents, which he said continued to be a sure compass for the church.

Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh said the U.S. bishops’ proposed national adult catechism should be ready for final approval in late 2003.

Acknowledging the difficulties in Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, Pope John Paul II and Romanian Orthodox Patriarch Teoctist formally committed their churches to continuing the search for Christian unity. At the end of a weeklong visit to Rome, the patriarch presided with the pope over the Liturgy of the Word at the beginning of a Mass on Oct. 13 in St. Peter’s Basilica.

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