Signs of the Times
Vatican Opposition to War Based on Morality and Political Realities
The Vatican’s opposition to a war against Iraq is based on political realism as well as moral arguments, a leading Vatican official said. “From the outside, we may seem like idealists, and we are, but we are also realists,” Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, told Italian reporters on Jan. 29. “We are asking for reflection not only on whether a war would be just or unjust, moral or immoral, but also whether it is opportune to irritate a billion followers of Islam,” he said.
“I told an American friend, ‘Hasn’t the lesson of Vietnam taught you anything?’” he said. The cardinal said he appreciated that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were a dramatic tragedy and a trauma for the United States. “But even in Afghanistan things are not going so well. For this reason, one must insist on asking whether a war would be opportune,” he said.
Cardinal Sodano also repeated the Vatican’s strong moral arguments against a U.S.-led attack on Iraq. “We are against the war. That is a moral position, and there’s not much that needs to be said about whether [the war] is ‘preventive’ or ‘nonpreventive.’ It’s an ambiguous term. Certainly the war is not defensive,” he said.
Vatican Questions New Age, Supports Harry Potter
Although buying crystals, soaking in a tub with aromatic oils or listening to pipe music does not mean one embraces the New Age movement, the Vatican said Christians who buy such products should ask themselves what they are seeking. “Almost all the things in New Age have a good side,” said Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. “Music that relaxes you is good, but if this music empties prayer and turns into just listening to music and falling asleep, you cannot call that prayer,” he said at a press conference on Feb. 3 marking the release of a Vatican “reflection” on the New Age movement.
Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, which produced the 93-page document with Archbishop Fitzgerald’s office, said the growth of the New Age movement is a response to people’s longing for “peace, harmony and reconciliation with themselves, with others and with nature.” Its success, he said, must be seen as a wake-up call to the church. “It is obvious the church must ask why people go looking elsewhere for that which we believe is our reason for being: Jesus, the bearer of the water of life,” the cardinal said.
While the New Age label has been placed on everything from music to philosophy, the Vatican document said, in its depths it:
opposes institutional religions;
replaces the Judeo-Christian profession of a personal God with an interconnected cosmic web of energy;
denies the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, labeling him as just one example of a man who attained enlightenment;
denies the existence of sin and evil, focusing instead on bad energy or ignorance as the sources of personal and societal ills; and
promotes self-realization and self-redemption, denying that salvation is a gift of God.
“We should not ignore the fact that magic and sorcery are being promoted in modern culture,” said Teresa Osorio Gonçalves, an official of the interreligious dialogue office, who worked on the document. “I think this is why U.S. Protestants reacted so strongly to ‘Harry Potter’”—the books by J. K. Rowling and the films based on the books. “The Catholic reaction has been more balanced, looking at the impact on children,” she said.
“I don’t think any of us grew up without the imaginary world of fairies, magicians and angels—they are not evil,” said the Rev. Peter Fleetwood, who now works at the Council of European Episcopal Conferences. Their uses in the Harry Potter books and films, he said, are “not a banner for an anti-Christian ideology...but are used to teach the difference between good and evil.... I see absolutely no problem with Harry Potter,” he said.
On the surface, the New Age concern for the environment and its promotion of interreligious tolerance are positive, Cardinal Poupard said, and they are concerns shared by the Catholic Church. But New Age sees the earth as Gaia, a goddess, and promotes a universal religion in which all traces of the Judeo-Christian God will be erased. “What worries me is that many people involved in certain types of oriental or indigenous spirituality are not truly able to be fully aware of what is hidden behind” the New Age agenda, he said.
Vatican Issues Norms Prohibiting Transsexuals in Religious Orders
The Vatican has sent superiors of religious orders a confidential document prohibiting the admission of transsexuals to consecrated life and requiring expulsion or suspension of religious who undergo “sex-change” operations.
Citing the issue’s complexity and the danger of scandal, the document instructs superiors of men’s and women’s religious orders to submit cases of transsexualism to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was designated by Pope John Paul II to handle all such cases to ensure uniformity. The three-page document was prepared by the doctrinal congregation and sent to superiors.
The text defines transsexualism as a psychic disorder of a person whose anatomical sexual makeup is clearly defined but who develops “the conviction of finding him/herself in a mistaken body,” in extreme cases desiring to undergo a “sex-change” operation to acquire the opposite sex’s external sexual organs. The new organs have no reproductive function.
When submitting cases, the document said, superiors should include the subject’s entire clinical file, “or at least the documents related to the psychological testing together with clinical assessments regarding the chromosomal identity of the person.”
Study Finds Priests’ Salaries Low, But Financial Security Is Better
Catholic priests rank near the bottom of the pay scale when it comes to compensation for members of the Christian clergy, but the Catholic Church offers the best model for “financial quality of life,” according to a new Duke University study. The study, co-authored by the Rev. Becky McMillan, associate director of Duke Divinity School’s Pulpit & Pew research project, says the church’s provision for job security, benefits and allowances for priests makes the Catholic Church one of the more socially just in providing compensation plans. Rev. McMillan is a Methodist minister and a labor economics instructor at Duke.
“The Catholic Church is very resistant to the forces of the free market,” she told The Texas Catholic. “Priests are cared for. Congregations get pastoral leadership regardless of income. It’s more in line with the economic justice and equity norms that are expressed in the mission of the Gospel.”
In 2002 the National Association of Church Business Administration and the National Federation of Priests’ Councils did their own surveys. Both show Catholic pastors receive far less than the average base salary of Protestant senior pastors.
When the business administration group recently completed its biennial survey, it found the average pastor in the Catholic Church has a total taxable income of $31,465. That is less than half the compensation of Lutheran senior pastors, whose average income is $76,247. An Episcopalian senior pastor receives the largest average salary, $110,192.
But Rev. McMillan said those numbers are deceiving. There is a significant difference between base salary and “a better financial quality of life,” she said. Regardless of parish size, most Catholic priests have no family for which to provide, she said. They also usually have their room, board and pension covered by their parish, have their seminary training costs covered by the diocese and are compensated for continuing education. For most Protestant pastors, all those expenses must come out of salaries, she said, as well as the costs of supporting a family. Their base salary is higher, Rev. McMillan said, but it often is not enough: “The vast majority of Protestant pastors are serving [small] congregations and earning a bare minimum salary with no fringe benefits.”
Many Protestant churches “rely on the free market. Supply and demand of pastors determines the pastor’s salary,” she said. “As an economist, there is a lot of good in that efficiency. As a minister, I have a problem with that being the overall guiding force.
When you rely on the free market,” she added, “you start seeing smaller churches no longer being provided pastoral leadership. Bigger churches vie for superstar pastors by offering higher salaries.”
Vatican Considers Guidelines to Help Bishops Assess Apparitions
In response to a boom in reported Marian apparitions and other “private revelations,” the Vatican is preparing new guidelines to help bishops judge such phenomena and, in some cases, curb the enthusiasm of their followers.
Officials of the Vatican’s Congre-gation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in January they were updating a set of 25-year-old guidelines because of new risks and a need for greater doctrinal clarity—especially in places where lay groups have rallied around the apparitions in defiance of local bishops.
Oregon voters on Jan. 28 turned down a church-backed relief plan for schools, public safety and the state’s most vulnerable citizens. Measure 28, which would have raised income taxes for the next three years, failed 55-to-45 percent.
The Vatican confirmed that Pope John Paul II would meet with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz at the Vatican on Feb. 14.
As America went to press, the document on women deacons by the International Theological Commission that is analyzed by Phyllis Zagano in this issue was published in La Civiltà Cattolica.