Signs of the Times

Proposal on Islamic Law Stirs Controversy

Dr. Rowan Williams (above), the archbishop of Canterbury, provoked controversy in Britain and the worldwide Anglican Communion Feb. 7 when he suggested, during an interview with the BBC prior to addressing a meeting of British jurists, that it “seems unavoidable” that certain aspects of Islamic law might be recognized in the United Kingdom, just as Roman Catholic canon law and Orthodox Jewish law are now recognized. The archbishop’s comments met with a firestorm of criticism from traditionalists both inside and outside the church. In the last year, a number of prominent British figures, including Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw, have voiced criticism of Muslims for public manifestations of their faith, especially the wearing of head and body coverings. The comments were also thought to provoke dissent among Anglican churches outside the British Isles, in countries where Muslims enforce or seek to impose Shariah law on Christian minorities. In Jordan, Israel and other former Ottoman lands, however, so-called “personal law”—affecting birth, death, marriage and inheritance—is regulated by the legal code of a person’s religious affiliation.

Explaining his position to the General Synod of the Anglican Church Feb. 11, Archbishop Williams told his listeners, “I believe quite strongly that it is not inappropriate for a pastor of the Church of England to address issues around the perceived concerns of other religious communities and to try and bring them into better public focus.” Referring to his critics, Archbishop Williams quoted the late Msgr. Ronald Knox: “The prevailing attitude...was one of heavy disagreement with a number of things which the [speaker] had not said.”


Pope Reformulates Latin Prayer for Jews

Pope Benedict XVI has reformulated a Good Friday prayer for the Jews, removing language about the “blindness” of the Jews but preserving language that amounts to a call for their ultimate conversion. The new prayer replaces the one contained in the 1962 Roman Missal, sometimes called the Tridentine rite, which is no longer generally used by Catholics but which may be used by some church communities under recently revised norms.

The revised text, made available only in Latin, begins: “Let us pray for the Jews. May the Lord Our God enlighten their hearts so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, the savior of all men.” It continues: “Almighty and everlasting God, you who want all men to be saved and to reach the awareness of the truth, graciously grant that, with the fullness of peoples entering into your church, all Israel may be saved.”

The prayer in the post-Vatican II reformed liturgy reads: “that the people you first made your own may arrive at the fullness of redemption.”

Entry Visas for Senior Church Workers Only

The Israeli Ministry of the Interior has agreed to provide multiple-entry visas to “high-ranking church personnel” who must travel in and out of Israel for their work. In a letter to Archbishop Antonio Franco, papal nuncio to Israel and the delegate to the Palestinian territories, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said the church would need to submit a list of such personnel, to be “checked and approved” by the ministry before the multiple-entry visas would be issued. Sheetrit said all other religious workers who need to leave Israel for work would be able to apply and receive re-entry visas to Israel before departure from the country, thus avoiding the complication of having to apply for such a visa from outside Israel. Emergency cases would be treated as such and would be dealt with “immediately and on the spot,” wrote Sheetrit. Archbishop Franco, however, said that the church “was not fully pleased with the changes.” He said, “Even parish priests need to move around. In the Latin patriarchate they have many meetings and pastoral duties. [The priests] do not fit into [the category] of V.I.P.s. The practicality, it is not there.”

Next Step in Muslim Dialogue Set for March

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, will host a meeting with Muslim representatives in early March to plan a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI and the next step in their dialogue. Sohail Nakhooda, editor in chief of Islamica Magazine in Jordan, said the meeting with Cardinal Tauran was scheduled for March 3-4. Nakhooda was one of the 138 Muslim scholars who wrote to Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders in October proposing new efforts at Christian-Muslim dialogue based on the shared belief in the existence of one God, in God’s love for humanity and in people’s obligation to love one another. Pope Benedict responded in November by inviting a group of the Muslim scholars to meet with him and to hold a broader working session with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and with representatives of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies and the Pontifical Gregorian University. Five of the 138 scholars, including Nakhooda, will participate in the March meeting.

Grand Master of Knights of Malta Dies in Rome

The grand master of the Knights of Malta, Fra Andrew W. N. Bertie, who stressed the humanitarian work of the ancient order, died in Rome on Feb. 7 at the age of 78, officials of the organization said. Pope Benedict XVI sent a telegram of condolence, describing Bertie as a “man of culture and commitment,” who used his office to help the most needy. The members of the order are expected to gather in Rome in the coming weeks to choose a new grand master, whose election must then be approved by the pope. Bertie, elected in 1988, came from a noble family and had a wide range of experience. He taught judo, grew orange trees, served as an officer in the Scots Guard, spoke five languages and once worked as a financial journalist in London. Bertie was the first Englishman to be elected to the post of grand master in the order’s 900-year history.

C.R.S. Sets Requirements for Partner Agencies

Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas aid and development agency, is requiring its foreign partner organizations to give “complete and accurate” information on the place of condoms in all H.I.V./AIDS programs. “C.R.S. wants to ensure that partners are not giving inaccurate, misleading or no information at all on condoms—and that the focus and priority remain on abstinence and fidelity,” according to a new internal policy document sent to C.R.S. country representatives. The document warned the agency may cut funding from partners who refuse to comply. Ken Hackett, C.R.S. president, explained that the purpose of the new position paper was to ensure a unified H.I.V.-prevention approach that is consistent with church teaching. The agency’s newly formulated H.I.V. policy, obtained by Our Sunday Visitor, is laid out in a six-page position paper dated December 2007, with the heading “C.R.S.’ Position on the Prevention of Sexual Transmission of AIDS.” It was accompanied by a one-page memorandum to C.R.S. country representatives, dated Jan. 11, from Jennifer Overton, the agency’s senior technical adviser for H.I.V.

Irish Cardinal Withdraws Court Challenge

An Irish cardinal has withdrawn his request for an injunction to stop a government commission from examining documents related to allegations of the clerical sexual abuse of children. Cardinal Desmond Connell, retired archbishop of Dublin, withdrew his petition for a permanent injunction Feb. 11 after a discussion with Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh. The move drew praise from his successor, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who had said the cardinal’s original legal action took him by surprise. “Cardinal Connell is in a nursing home, still recovering from the effects of a fall, and I have naturally visited him and spoken with him,” Archbishop Martin said in a statement released Feb. 11. “He informed me of his decision not to proceed, and that decision was his own.” Archbishop Martin said he wanted to assure victims of abuse, as well as priests and congregations in the archdiocese, of his “continued commitment to seeking the truth about the past. It is my hope that the common aim of all remains focused on ensuring that an accurate understanding of the truth concerning sexual abuse of children by clergy emerges,” he said.

Biblical Scholar Leads Vatican Lenten Retreat

Pope Benedict XVI asked the former secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, Cardinal Albert Vanhoye, to lead his 2008 Lenten retreat. During the retreat, from Feb. 10 to 16, the 84-year-old French Jesuit cardinal focused on the theme, “We Welcome Christ Our High Priest,” drawing from a passage in the Letter to the Hebrews that says, “Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our profession of faith.” High-ranking Vatican officials also attend the annual retreat with the pope, who clears his schedule of all audiences for the week. Cardinal Vanhoye is also a former rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.

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