Signs of the Times
Vatican Observatory Head Says He Was Not Fired
George Coyne, S.J., who headed the Vatican Observatory for more than 28 years, said suggestions that he was forced out of the post by Pope Benedict XVI are simply not true. The Vatican announced on Aug. 19 that Father Coyne, 73, would be stepping down as head of the Vatican’s scientific research organization and that his replacement would be José Funes, S.J. Some news reports suggested Father Coyne was replaced by the pope in reaction to comments the Jesuit astronomer made over the last year supporting evolution and criticizing intelligent design as an explanation of how the universe was created. At the time, Father Coyne was on vacation and purposely avoiding the news media. Upon his return from vacation, Father Coyne responded to queries with a written statement on Sept. 8 explaining that he had for several years been requesting a replacement as head of the observatory. He continues as head of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. After a year’s sabbatical doing parish ministry, he will return to the observatory.
Israel’s Arab Christians Suffer Discrimination
Raik Matar, after 34 days of being unable to work in his engineering and contracting firm because of the war between Israel and the Hezbollah militia, is now unable to pay his three employees, his monthly expenses and his own salary. The bank won’t take [my situation] into consideration.... We already have work contracted. We just have to work with what we have to pass this difficult situation, said Matar, who has owned his business for 15 years. During the war, agricultural lands just outside Fassuta, an all-Melkite Catholic village, were flattened for use as an Israeli artillery base. Fifteen missiles fired by Hezbollah in Lebanon landed around the village and one inside the village, injuring a resident. Some 100 missiles also fell in and around the industrial area of the Melkite village of Mi’ilyah, a few miles away. Fassuta is one of the closest Israeli towns to the Lebanese bordertwo miles away. Mi’ilyah, like its Jewish neighbor Ma’alot, is a mere 3.4 miles from the border. Yet while neither Fassuta nor Mi’ilyah appear on the Ministry of Interior’s list of border towns whose businesses will receive full compensation, businesses in Ma’alot and the Jewish town of Alkosh, 2.8 miles from the border, will be entitled to full compensation.
Former Underground Bishop Wants Unity
A Chinese bishop recently released after more than 10 years of house arrest has expressed his desire to work for unity and reconciliation within the Diocese of Baoding. Auxiliary Bishop Francis An Shuxin of Baoding, who previously identified himself as a member of the underground church, said that he has now gained the government’s recognition of his position as a bishop and is permitted to do pastoral work openly under government supervision. However, even though he is now part of the government-approved church, he said he has not joined the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and has not received an official identity card.
Two Cases of Miracles for Archbishop Sheen
Documentation of two miracles attributed to the intercession of the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen were sent to Rome this summer as part of the promotion of his cause for canonization. The cases claiming the archbishop’s intercession involve a woman from Champaign, Ill., and an infant in Pittsburgh, Pa. The cases were investigated and documented and, following ceremonies in Peoria, Ill., and Pittsburgh, documentation was sealed and prepared for delivery to the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes for further study. The ceremony in Peoria was witnessed by several members of the Sheen family and officials promoting the cause. During the ceremony, folders containing more than 500 pages of witness testimony and medical data regarding the Champaign case were packaged and sealed. Archbishop Sheen, a native of El Paso, Ill., in the Diocese of Peoria, gained worldwide fame as a radio and television host and author. He died on Dec. 9, 1979. The Diocese of Peoria officially launched his cause for canonization in September 2003.
Priest Offenders Sent to Supervised Residences
Following the lead of U.S. religious communities, some dioceses are putting into supervised residences priests who have been involved in cases of sexual abuse of children. The idea is to monitor their activities professionally as a way of preventing further abuses. The Archdiocese of New York has established a supervised residence for priests who have been assigned to a life of prayer and penitence to give them the supervision and care that is appropriate, said Joseph Zwilling, the archdiocesan communications director. In St. Louis, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke has assigned a priest who was released on Aug. 30, after serving a three-year jail term for statutory sodomy, to a monitored residence, while the archdiocese pursues with the Vatican its request that the priest be laicized. An archdiocesan spokesman said that several other priests involved in child sex abuse cases are living in monitored residences.
Communist-Era Priest-Informers Should Confess
The Polish bishops’ conference has urged priests who acted as informants under the Communist regime to confess, and they warned against condemnation and revenge. The truth about sin should lead every Christian to a personal admission of guilt, penance and confession, including public confession if necessary, the bishops’ conference said in a report on the infiltration of the church by the secret police under Communism. But there is no place in the church for revenge, retribution and humiliation, even in the case of sinful people. The church of Christ is a community of reconciliation, forgiveness and love. In the 3,000-word report published in late August, the bishops said the decisive majority of Catholic priests had proved worthy servants of Christ under Communist rule and in some cases paid with their lives. They added, however, that there could be no justification for priests who acted as informants for the Communists, who ruled Poland from 1947 to 1989.
In Germany, Benedict XVI Reflects on Crisis of Faith and Reason
In a lecture at the University of Regensburg, where he once taught theology, Pope Benedict XVI used a historical critique of Islamic violence to introduce a reflection on the crisis of faith and reason in the West. The pope began his address on Sept. 12 by highlighting a 600-year-old discussion on Islamic jihad or holy war, quoting at length a Christian emperor who condemned Islam for spreading the faith by the sword. But instead of critically assessing Islam, the pope focused his attention on what he said was the West’s centuries-old tendency to exclude the question of God from the realm of reason. This tendency to devalue religious thought, he said, makes it more difficult for the West to engage in the urgently needed dialogue of cultures and religions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion to the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures, he said.
To introduce the theme of his lecture, the pope quoted from an account of a dialogue between the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an unnamed Muslim scholar sometime near the end of the 14th century. The pope said the account was marginal to his theme, but that he found it interestingparticularly when the emperor touched upon the subject of Islamic holy war. The pope cited what the emperor told the Islamic scholar: Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.
The pope said the emperor must have known of the early Islamic teaching that there is no compulsion in religion, but was no doubt also aware of later instructions in the Koran about holy war. In the account, the emperor goes on to explain why spreading the faith through violence is unreasonable, because violence is incompatible with God and with the nature of the soul.
The pope went on to explore, in great detail, why Christian theology has come to affirm that faith is indeed compatible with reason and that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature. Asked by reporters about the papal text, Federico Lombardi, S.J., the Vatican spokesman, said the pope had no intention of giving an interpretation of Islam as violent.
Benedict’s main point, developed in an academic style, was that in the Western world the growing separation between faith and reason has resulted in a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, in which society tries to construct a system of ethics without taking religion seriously and individuals try to make moral choices based solely on the subjective conscience.
During his trip on Sept. 9-14, Pope Benedict also celebrated a Mass for tens of thousands of people outdoors in Regensburg, met with Jewish and Christian representatives, visited his hometown of Marktl am Inn, and stopped to pray by the tombs of his parents and his sister. Before his trip began, while on the plane carrying him to his native Germany, Pope Benedict XVI wondered aloud whether this might be his last trip home. I should go once to Berlin. But I am an old man and I don’t know how many years the Lord will give me, he said on Sept. 9.