Pro Pontiff, Pro-Magisterial, Pro-life, Pro-family. These articles reflect these values and I believe should be Interesting to Catholics. If there are any article I have missed, or you feel should not be here, or you agree/disagree with, then please feel free to post a comment.

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Umbert the Unborn

A Story of Adoption

Elizabeth Foss

My son Christian was searching the bookshelves yesterday, apparently frustrated by the dearth he saw there. Since we have well over 1,000 titles at his disposal, I wondered what was missing.

A Man Who Heard the Call

"There’s hardly anything on Joseph here! I understand why we need so many Mary books, but nobody says much about Joseph, you know? And he was a hero…" he trailed off.

A hero indeed. Though I hadn’t spoken it, I had been meditating lately about the heroic good of St. Joseph and the Nativity. Commonly, we look at the story of Christmas as a birth story: We have a round-bellied Madonna riding on a donkey until she gets to a cave where animals joyfully welcome a lovely baby. As a mother who has been nine months pregnant during Advent and a mother with a newborn on Christmas Day, it is easy for me to identify with the birth story.

But the Nativity story is also a story of adoption. A strong man heard the call of a God to take into his heart and home a baby that was not his biological child. Despite the raised eyebrows of those around him, and because he dearly loved his wife and the God they served, he traveled a great distance. He wasn’t sure what he’d find there; to say that the accommodations were less than what he was used to is to understate the case. And then, almost immediately, it was his job to rescue the baby, to save him from grave danger.

Once they were safely at home, he raised the child as his own. He shared the faith of his fathers; he taught him the family trade. Certainly, there were challenges in this family that related to the adoption. This child, at 12, left his foster father for three days to return to the home of his real Father. How many children of adoption have experienced that same restlessness and caused the parents who have rescued them the grief that Mary and Joseph felt while they searched for their child?

Strong and Faithful

St. Joseph was faithful. Perhaps he recognized that we are all children of adoption. We are all broken, disenfranchised, wounded and in grave danger. Our Savior makes us brothers and sisters, heirs to His throne. We become one family of faith, like that little family in Nazareth so many years ago.

For some reason, the Lord has surrounded me by the miracle of adoption. I have seven children. Five of them have godparents who are adoptive parents. Most recently, Christian’s godmother welcomed a little boy from Liberia, just in time for Thanksgiving.

When I look at the fathers in these families, I am struck by their courage. Adoptive moms assure me that adoption is rarely ever a man’s idea. And it is almost always an idea born of a woman’s pain. The sorrowful heart of a mother meets the sorrowful heart of a child and together they begin a new life. But how do they get to "together?" They become a family through the courageous actions of a man who sees the pain of his wife and listens to her as she tells him about the pain of the child. Rarely do these women beg and plead. Rather, like Mary, they trust God. They pour out their hearts in prayer and God convicts their husbands. The program director for a Catholic adoption agency assures me that this is not the case of weak, badgered men who cave to whining women. Rather, they are tender, brave men who recognize a mutual need and hear a distinct call.

The father who adopts is strong and faithful. He travels to places like Kazakhstan, Russia, China, Guatemala and even hostile Africa. He saves the baby — often from abject poverty, illness or death. He is the St. Joseph of our times.

There are literally millions of children in this world who need rescuing. We are called in James 1:27 to care for the widows and the orphans. What does that mean exactly? Do we toss a few coins in the poor box or wrap an extra gift at Christmastime — or do we take a risk? Are there brave men out there after the heart of St. Joseph who will travel great distances to difficult places to rescue a baby and give it a home all because it’s the will of God? It is the will of God.

These are the weakest of us, the poorest, the most defenseless. In this country, we cannot fathom children who scurry along the murky puddles in Haiti scavenging for a few slender fish, only to come up without anything. These children are so malnourished that their hair turns orange and falls out in clumps. There are "dying rooms" in China where children who have cerebral palsy or missing hands or missing ears are left in the dark to starve to death.

What Will Become of These Children?

And what will become of the children who grow up orphans if we do not have men like St. Joseph in our midst? According to Shaohannah’s Hope, a foundation begun by Christian music legend Steven Curtis Chapman, who has adopted three daughters,

Statistics regarding the future prospects for children who [are] emancipate[d] from orphanages, the foster care system, or who grow up as street children are profoundly bleak.... Theft, prostitution, homelessness, substance abuse, incarceration and suicide affect the lives of the vast majority of those children who grow up as orphans and never find permanent, loving homes. In short, orphans by definition are children who for whatever reason have found themselves in need of permanent, safe, and loving families. And for such children, being taken in by a family through the "spirit of adoption" is their greatest need. (
They were going to stone the Mother of God. Joseph knew the baby was not conceived by him. He didn’t understand it. How could this baby be his to raise? How could he be asked to overcome the opinions of his community, the misgivings of his own mind, and listen to the call upon his soul? Where would he find the courage? How could he possibly provide for the childhood of the child of God Himself? Why couldn’t this be simple? Why couldn’t he marry Mary and just conceive a baby of his own? Instead, he must set off on a two-year odyssey to a distant and hostile land to protect a baby that didn’t even look like him. And what of the future? This was an extraordinary way to build a family; how could he know what the future held, particularly with a beginning like this?

A hero? He was a hero. He was a strong, courageous man of faith. And there are men like him today. They are Paul, and Joe, and Mark, and Chuck, and Scott, and Kevin, and Ed. They are ordinary men who are called to extraordinary measures for a humble, helpless child and the love of the woman who becomes the child’s mother. They are the men of the Christmas story. God bless them!

  • Elizabeth Foss is a freelance writer from northern Virginia. Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss can be purchased at

  • (This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

Vatican recognizes Ukrainian prelate's move to Kiev

Vatican, Dec. 29 ( - The Vatican has acknowledged the controversial move by Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, who in August transferred his see from Lviv to the Ukrainian capital city of Kiev, despite angry opposition from the Russian Orthodox Church.

A terse public statement released on December 29 by the Vatican Information Service announced that Cardinal Husar had named Bishop Ihor Vozniak as the new Archbishop of Lviv. The Vatican announcement identified Cardinal Husar by his new title as "Archbishop Major of Kiev-Halyc."

Infinite Littleness

Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, Diocese of Lincoln

Culture Shock

The Gospel passage traditionally proclaimed during the liturgy of the Third Mass of Christmas is the Prologue to the Gospel according to Saint John (John 1:1-18). The Prologue contains the resonant and magnificent sentence: “The Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us.” The Greek word literally means He pitched His tent with us.

Commenting on this phrase our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, wrote, “We have become so accustomed to this expression that we are no longer struck by that enormous divine synthesis of apparently irreconcilably divided elements. This is where the genuinely new element of Christianity was and still is to be found, that element which seemed to the Greek mind absurd and unthinkable. What is said here does not spring from some particular culture, Semitic, for instance, or Greek, as people nowadays repeatedly and thoughtlessly assert. It runs counter to every cultural model known to us. It was just as absurd for the Jews as it was on quite different grounds for the Greeks or for the Indians or, come to that, as it is for the modern mind, for whom this synthesis of the phenomenal and religious spheres appears quite unreal and who therefore renews the attack on it with all the self-consciousness of modern rationality. What is said is new because it comes from God and could only be brought about by God. It is something entirely new and strange to any and every culture throughout history, into which we can enter by faith and only by faith, and which opens up for us entirely new horizons of thought and of life.”

Midnight Mass

However, it is especially and precisely at Midnight Mass each Christmas that the synthesis of the human and divine, which the Pope speaks about, is vividly presented to our minds, our eyes, our ears, and our hearts. It is at the First Mass of Christmas, more than any other time, that the paradoxical and overwhelming beauty of the beginning of God’s work for our salvation is displayed for our souls’ benefit.

In the words of Saint Augustine, it is then and there that we encounter Jesus as “the Revealer of His Father and the Creator of His mother, the Son of God from His Father without a mother, and the Son of Man through His mother without a father. He is as great as the day of the angels and as small as a day in the life of man. He is both the Word of God before all ages and the Word made Flesh at the appointed time. Maker of the sun, He is made beneath the sun. Disposing all the ages from the bosom of His Father, He consecrates the day of Christmas from the womb of His mother. In His Father He abides. From His mother He goes forth. Creator of heaven and earth, He is born under heaven upon the earth. Wise beyond all speech, He remains wise as a speechless Baby. Filling the whole world, He lies in a manger. Ruling the stars He nurses at His mother’s breast. He is great in the form of God and small in the form of a servant. His greatness is not diminished by His smallness nor can His smallness conceal His greatness.”

The Bishop of Hippo goes on to say, “When He assumed a human body He did not stop His divine activity, He did not cease to know all things mightily from one end of the universe to the other, and to order all things delightfully when, having clothed Himself in the fragility of our flesh, He was received into but never confined in the Virgin’s womb. He did this so that, while the Food of Wisdom was not taken away from the angels, we nevertheless with them could be able to taste how sweet the Lord is.”

The Holy Night

At one of the last Midnight Masses of his pontificate, the late Pope John Paul II said that on the night before Christmas time opens up to eternity. The sublime holiness of the Christ Child makes all time holy, the days, the weeks, the months, the years, the centuries, the millennia. By His birth Jesus turned time into the “today” of salvation. At Midnight Mass we celebrate the mystery of Bethlehem, because that night is night within time but also beyond time.

That Pontiff said, “On Christmas Eve the ancient yet ever new proclamation of the Lord’s birth rings out. It rings out for those keeping watch like the shepherds of Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. It rings out for those who have responded to Advent’s call and who, waiting watchfully, are ready to welcome the joyful tidings which in the liturgy of Midnight Mass become our song: Today is born our Savior.”

Our present Holy Father noted the mystery of Christmas is “that God has become Man. He has become a little Child. Thus He fulfills the great and mysterious promise to be Emmanuel, God-with-us. Now He is no longer unreachable for anybody. God is Emmanuel. By becoming a Child, He offers us the possibility of being on familiar terms with Him.”

Ox and Ass

Pope Benedict XVI said that we should remember while gazing at the Christmas crib “that the ox and the ass are no mere products of pious imagination. They have become actors in the events of Christmas through the Church’s faith in the unity of the Old and New Testaments. In Isaiah (1:3) it is stated, The ox knows its owner and the ass its master’s crib. But, Israel does not know. My people do not understand. The Fathers of the Church took this prophecy as applying to the New People of God, the Church composed of Jews and Gentiles. In God’s eyes all mankind, Jews and Gentiles, were like those without reason and insight. But, the Child in the manger had opened their eyes so that they now recognize the voice of their Master, the voice of their Lord. Thus in the holy night the faces of the ox and ass are turned to us questioningly. Do you recognize the voice of your Lord? Both of those animals represent the prophetic cypher in which is hidden the mystery of the Church, our mystery, since we are ox and ass when confronted with the One Who is eternal. On the first Christmas night those beasts had their eyes opened. May this happen to us so we might recognize our Lord, the One in the manger.”

Gentle readers, may Christ’s joy and grace be yours in a very merry Christmas for you and your loved ones. My prayer for you is: (written originally by Sister Madaleva) “The stars at Bethlehem shone very clear and bright. Oh, may they shine with light divine for you this Christmas night!”

Exaggerated Love

George Weigel

Ten years ago, on the evening of December 6, 1995, Pope John Paul II changed my life. In May of that year, I had begun talking with his press spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, about the necessity of a reliable papal biography — and the possibility that I might take on such a project.

Over dinner on December 6, and after Father Richard John Neuhaus had raised the point, it was John Paul himself who made it rather vigorously clear that he thought I should write the story of his life and pontificate. He thus set me off on the ten-year adventure that has continued beyond Witness to Hope to the recently-published God’s Choice, which tells the story of John Paul’s death and the election of Joseph Ratzinger as his successor.

“What struck you most about John Paul II?” is a question I’ve been asked innumerable times. Every year, Christmastime reminds me of the late pope’s profound faith in the Incarnation. Karol Wojtyla loved the Christmas season and made it last as long as possible — according to Polish custom, the decorations stayed up and the carols were sung right through to February 2, the liturgical feast of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple. This affection for Christmas was far more than ethnic habit, though. It grew from John Paul’s deep-set conviction that in the birth of Christ we meet, in the flesh, the exaggerated infinity of God’s love.

Creation displays the boundlessness of that love — that’s what Christians see, that’s the “design” we perceive, when we look at the natural world. The Incarnation both confirms and takes us far beyond that perception: here, in the child born to Mary of Nazareth, we see the measureless love of God in the flesh, as one of us. Like the Magi, we come to understand that God’s love is not just (just!) infinite; its infinity is exaggerated, spilling beyond the Infinite to embrace the finite, so that what is flesh and finitude is drawn up into the infinite life of Love Itself. It’s because of the manger that we can say, with the Apostle John, “God is Love.”

Like John Paul II’s, Benedict XVI’s pontificate will be Christ-centered. Pope Benedict may stress the “scandal” of the Incarnation — the “stumbling block” and “folly” that some find in the claim that the Creator God entered the world in the person of His Son, so that the Son, through His obedient death, might reconcile the world to Love Itself. Yet Pope Benedict will also insist that this scandal, which has challenged humankind since St. Paul posed it to the Corinthians, is not a scandal against reason; the mystery of the Incarnation, and the scandal of the Cross to which the Incarnation inexorably points (as old Simeon will remind Mary on Candlemas), is beyond reason. It is not irrational; but the “reason” within the mystery and the scandal can only be grasped in an act of love.

Which is, after all, the Christian meaning of “mystery.” The mysteries of the faith are not puzzles to be solved, in the manner of P.D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh. The “mysteries” (as the early Church Fathers called the truths into which the newly-baptized were initiated) are truths beyond reason — like the truth of Christ’s Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. And beyond reason is not, as some 21st-century thinkers insist, the realm of the irrational; beyond reason, although not against reason, is the realm of love, in which, as St. Paul reminded those boisterous Corinthians, we know even as we are known.

That is the truth on which John Paul II staked his life. That is why every encounter of his papacy, from meetings with Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev to an audience for the Italian Union of Hairdressers, was an expression of his commitment to invite everyone to St. Paul’s “more excellent way": the way of divine love — a love of exaggerated infinity. That’s what I remember about John Paul II at Christmas. That’s the great message he took to the world — as his worthy successor now does in his turn, and in his distinctive way.

George Weigel is author of the bestselling books The Courage to Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church and Letters to a Young Catholic.

Pope to name new cardinals?

Vatican, Dec. 29 ( - Pope Benedict XVI may soon name new members of the College of Cardinals, according to rumors in the Italian press.

The ADN Kronos news agency has gone so far as to say that the Pope will call a consistory for February 22, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. Citing "informed Vatican sources," ADN Kronos said that the consistory will be announced-- and presumably the new cardinals will be identified-- on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany.

The rumors of a consistory have circulated quickly in Rome. Pope Benedict and his immediate staff aides have closely guarded the confidentiality of the Pope's thoughts and policy decisions. The sudden burst of public speculation could signal that news of the pending consistory has passed beyond the pontifical household.

The timing also seems right for a consistory. The College of Cardinals now has 111 members who are below the age of 80 and thus eligible to vote in a papal conclave; the regulations established by Pope Paul VI in 1975 allow for 120 cardinal-electors.

Moreover, there are many leading prelates who appear to qualify for red hats. For example, Archbishops William Levada and Fran Rodé are now prefects of major Vatican congregations-- the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for Religious, respectively-- whose leaders have always been cardinals.

Other Vatican officials who could join the College of Cardinals might include Archbishop Agostino Vallini, the prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura; Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity; Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue; and even potentially Archbishop John Foley, the American-born president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

Moreover, there are many archdioceses around the world which are traditionally led by prelates with the rank of cardinal. Archbishops André Vingt-Trois of Paris, France; Antonio Cañizares Llovera of Toledo, Spain; João Bráz de Aviz of Brasilia, Brazil; and Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, Poland would be among the leading candidates for the College of Cardinals.

The timing of a consistory could also be tied to the announcement of new appointments to the leadership of the Roman Curia. Several prominent Vatican officials have now served well beyond the ordinary retirement age of 75. Most prominent among these is the Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who is now 78 and has held his current post for 14 years. Cardinal Edmund Szoka, the governor of the Vatican city-state, is also 78. Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos will turn 77 in July, by which time he will have served over 10 years as prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy.

Other Vatican officials who have passed their 75th birthdays include Cardinals Julian Herranz, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts; Stephen Fumio Hamao, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants; Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture; and Ignace Moussa I Daoud, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

If he does announce a consistory, Pope Benedict is likely to make some unexpected appointments, offering evidence of his own policies and priorities. A cardinal's red hat is the highest honor that the Pope can bestow on a living cleric.

During his long pontificate Pope John Paul II held nine ordinary consistories, naming 231 cardinals, of whom 169 are still alive.

There has not been a consistory since October 2003, when Pope John Paul II named 30 new cardinals and created 2 others in pectore-- that is, secretly. Since Pope John Paul died without having revealed the identity of those two prelates, they cannot assume their role as cardinals unless the deceased Pontiff left behind some indication of their identity.

Open Doors Reports Escalation of Church Persecution in 2005

Allie Martin

(AgapePress) - Dr. Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA says there was a noticeable increase in persecution of Christians throughout the world in 2005. That international ministry has released a review of persecution against believers worldwide across the last year.

The Open Doors review found that there was an increase in persecution of Christians in such countries as North Korea, Indonesia, and Eritrea. Dr. Moeller says many believers in the U.S. and other free nations are largely unaware of the oppression and hostility faced by fellow believers in many parts of the world. He feels some of the countries most hostile to the Christian faith are simply not "on the radar screens" of many in the church.

For instance, the ministry leader notes, "Eritrea doesn't make the news very often because it's not either an ally or an enemy of the United States; but it is a country where millions of people are subjected to a Marxist-influenced government that is drumming up fear in a war with Ethiopia." For Christians in Eritrea, he explains, the difficulty with the government is "primarily that it refuses to acknowledge any religious expression apart from four permitted religions and denominations."

Also, in Eritrea 26 pastors and 1,700 evangelical church members are currently imprisoned, and some have been tortured by government military forces, Moeller points out. Meanwhile, in other nations on Open Doors' watch list, the violence and systematic harassment and maltreatment of Christians either carried out or tolerated by government authorities is similarly egregious.

In North Korea, an estimated 400,000 Christians face daily persecution, including torture in prison camps. That is one reason why that country topped Open Doors' world watch list of countries where persecution is most severe in 2005. Meanwhile, in Indonesia, more Christians were killed and churches burned, and three Christian women were arrested for running a program for children.

Nevertheless, Moeller notes that some positive developments have occurred in the past year. For example, he says the evangelical church is growing rapidly in many of the countries where persecution of the church is common -- even in some parts of Asia and the Middle East that are dominated by Hindu, Buddhist, or Islamic majorities.

The president of Open Doors believes some of this growth can be attributed in part to Christian disaster relief efforts -- particularly the church's response to the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, which killed more than 283,100 people, and the 7.6-magnitude South Asia earthquake of October 2005, which had an estimated death toll of more than 87,350 people.

That earthquake, the epicenter of which was in the Pakistan-governed territory of Kashmir, caused more than five billion dollars in damage, left an estimated 3.3 million Pakistanis homeless and directly affected more than 4 million people throughout the region. Many of the survivors are at risk from exposure and disease, and panic is widespread among them, as the area has experienced some 1,518 aftershocks -- the most recent on Christmas day, measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale.

Moeller says persecution against the church has not stopped its ministry and relief efforts toward disaster victims. "The church has reached out to help rebuild in tsunami-devastated areas," he notes, "and also in Pakistan where the fledgling Muslim-background [Christian] believer church in the devastated area of Kashmir has been a source of hope and healing for many as they've sought to rebuild in that terrible place."

Open Doors' ministry to the persecuted church has likewise gone forward in the past year. Moeller says the ministry was able to send more than three million bibles and other Christian study materials to China for underground house churches, and has continued to send resources and support to persecuted believers in other nations all over the world.


800,000 attended Pope Benedict's audiences in 2005

Vatican, Dec. 28 ( - More than 800,000 people have attended the weekly public audiences held by Pope Benedict XVI since his election in April.

An estimated 1,400,000 people also assembled in St. Peter's Square on Sundays for the Pope's Angelus audiences.

The Media’s Shabbiest Moments

L. Brent Bozell

The year 2005 is ending as it began, with another successful election in Iraq and a liberal media still flapping around trying to find other controversies to submerge it. It does not matter to them that a Gallup poll found that 74% of Americans express confidence in their military, but only 28% express confidence in their newspapers or TV news outlets. The “mainstream” media excels in excoriating the performance of nearly everyone else, but acts as if nothing they do should be held up as ineffective, inaccurate, or just plain absurd.

That’s why the Media Research Center and a panel of more than 50 judges have compiled an annual Best Notable Quotables, a collection of the media’s greatest stinkers in the past 12 months. The utterances speak volumes about our supposedly ideologically detached press corps.

In August, NBC’s Today show was in Iraq, and Specialist Steven Chitterer told co-host Matt Lauer that "Morale is always high. Soldiers know they have a mission. They like taking on new objectives and taking on the new challenges." Lauer won the Good Morning Morons Award for interjecting: “Don’t get me wrong here, I think you are probably telling me the truth, but a lot of people at home are wondering how that could be possible with the conditions you’re facing and with the attacks you’re facing. What would you say to those people who are doubtful that morale can be that high?” Captain Sherman Powell unloaded a quote for the ages: "Sir, if I got my news from the newspapers also, I’d be pretty depressed as well."

The networks specialize in moral equivalence, that we in America need to be held to the highest standard, but what that really meant in 2005 was that our leaders and our troops were to be constantly presented as nearly identical to terrorists. The more extreme example of this came from NBC anchor Brian Williams, who won the Slam Uncle Sam Award. He tried to dismiss concerns that new the radical Muslim leader of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, might have been a holder of American hostages in Iran in 1979-80 thusly: "What would it all matter if proven true? Someone brought up today the first several US Presidents were certainly revolutionaries and might have been called terrorists at the time by the British Crown, after all." The father of our country, a terrorist? Why yes, said Williams, according to some.

Some quotes were shorter and yet even dumber. The Politics of Meaninglessness Award for the Silliest Analysis went to CNN weekend anchor Carol Lin. She was so politically correct she couldn’t be factually correct. Riots in Paris centered on the deaths of two black French citizens of Tunisian heritage. What did she report on national television? “It’s been 11 days since two African-American teenagers were killed, electrocuted during a police chase, which prompted all of this.”

Some of the awards were predictable. David Gergen of US News won the Media Hero Award for sucking up to someone who might be the next president, oozing on CNN that uber-feminist Hillary Clinton has “always had strong religious faith. She’s been a strong Methodist. She does have conservative social values on many issues."

Speaking of journalistic apple-polishers, the Crazy Chris Award for Matthews’ Left-Wing Lunacy was a real contest. He swooned over Jane Fonda’s Vietnam views. But the winning quote came on the night Matthews fawned over Cindy Sheehan for being so bright she should run for Congress: “I have to tell you, you sound more informed than most US Congresspeople, so maybe you should run.”

But the media’s biggest losers continue to be the die-hards who went down on the 60 Minutes 2 ship that tried to destroy President Bush with phony National Guard documents. Dan Rather remained “Captain Dan the Forgery Man” by boasting to old colleague Marvin Kalb on C-SPAN that “To this day no one has proven whether it was what it purported to be or not .You know, I didn’t give up on my people, our people. I didn’t and I won’t." Kalb replied: “I believe you just said that you think the story is accurate." Rather affirmed: “The story is accurate.”

He’s still clueless. And so is his comrade in concoction, former CBS producer Mary Mapes, who won Quote of the Year honors for her interview with ABC’s Brian Ross. Ross was stunned when Mapes claimed she would retract her story if anyone could disprove it. "But isn’t it the other way around? Don’t you have to prove they’re authentic? Isn’t that really what journalists do?" Replied Mapes: “No, I don’t think that’s the standard."

And they wonder why only one in four Americans trust their work.

Pakistani Christians receive Muslim death threats

Dec. 29 (AsiaNews) - Christian leaders have received death threats in Sangla Hill, Pakistan, where Muslim leaders incited mob violence against Christians in November, the AsiaNews service reports.

“If you don’t accept our deal in two days, then get ready to die,” a spokesman for an Islamic extremist group reportedly told Christians. Two clerics and one prominent Christian layman in Sangla Hill received the same threatening telephone message. Police traced the calls to a public phone booth.

The "deal" to which the threatening message referred involves blasphemy charges against a Christian from Sangla Hill. The man who was accused of insulting Islam insists that he is innocent, and is being accused by vengeful neighbors after a financial dispute. The argument over his guilt or innocence triggered the mob violence on November 12.

[For a more detailed story see the AsiaNews web site.]

Liberal Catholic Church

Dear Catholic Exchange:

I noticed in our local newspaper that a couple got married in a Liberal Catholic Church. I looked up the particular church, but it didn't give me much information on the religion as a whole, other than they don't follow the Pope.

I know there must be some other differences, can you possibly give an explanation?

Dear Sir or Madam,

Peace in Christ!

We would need more information, such as a name and address, to be able to identify this particular sect. In the meantime, however, we can give you some general ideas.

The word “catholic” means universal. Today, many ecclesial communities are adopting the word to describe their openness or inclusivity. The name is not necessarily used to signify any relationship to the Roman Catholic Church. The community to which you refer specifically states that it doesn’t “follow the pope” as you say. Unfortunately, this community has separated itself from full catholic unity.

The first recorded, non-biblical use of the term was by St. Ignatius of Antioch in his Letter to the Smyrneans, written circa 110 A.D. (chapter 8, verse 2). From this time until the Protestant Reformation, the term catholic referred to the universal Church founded by Jesus Christ. This Church was identified by her bishops, who were true successors of the apostles. This Church is the one that received the deposit of faith from Jesus and the apostles and preserved and expounded that deposit throughout the ages. Today, this Church subsists in the Roman Catholic Church (cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 8).

For further information, please follow the link to our faith fact One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic: The Marks of Christ's Church (1).

United in the Faith,

Peter Balbirnie
Information Specialist
Catholics United for the Faith
827 North Fourth Street
Steubenville, OH 43952
800-MY-FAITH (800-693-2484)

  1. One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic: The Marks of Christ's Church
    Issue: What are the four marks of the Church?

    Response: The four marks of the Church are an important element of the Catholic faith, dating back to the earliest ecumenical councils in Church history (Nicea in 325 and First Constantinople in 381). In the Nicene Creed we profess one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Those four adjectives for the Church—one, holy, catholic, and apostolic—are what we call the four marks of the Church.

    Discussion: The Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses the four marks of the Church in its treatment of the Creed. The Catechism begins its discussion in the following manner:

    This is the sole Church of Christ, which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. These four characteristics, inseparably linked with each other, indicate essential features of the Church and her mission. The Church does not possess them of herself; it is Christ who, through the Holy Spirit, makes his Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, and it is he who calls her to realize each of these qualities (no. 811).

    The marks of the Church simply are fundamental, distinctive features by which the Church founded by Christ can be recognized. Only faith can recognize that the Church received these features or characteristics from God, but certainly their historical manifestations are signs that speak to human reason. For example, we believe by faith that the pope is the successor of St. Peter and that bishops are true successors of the apostles. Yet our ability to historically trace apostolic succession back to the time of Christ is itself strong evidence that bolsters and supports our beliefs.

    Our profession of one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church was not only affirmed in the first Church councils, but reaffirmed at the Council of Trent in the 16th century. In the 19th century, the Vatican Holy Office reiterated this teaching, writing:

    The true Church of Jesus Christ was established by divine authority, and is known by a fourfold mark, which we assert in the Creed must be believed; and each one of these marks so clings to the others that it cannot be separated from them; hence it happens that that Church which truly is, and is called Catholic should at the same time shine with the prerogatives of unity, sanctity, and apostolic succession.

    Moving to the present, the Catechism devotes an entire section—paragraphs 811-70—to the four marks of the Church.

    We profess one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church because we believe that God in His goodness bestowed these blessings on His Church, which He has given us as the instrument of salvation for the whole world. So when we say that we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, or we believe in Mary’s Immaculate Conception, or we believe in seven sacraments, we understand that all our beliefs are inseparably tied to our belief in God the Holy Trinity, who can neither deceive nor be deceived, and who calls us to communion with Him.

    Still the One
    The first mark is our belief in one Church, or the Church’s unity. This truly is a difficult mark to grasp today, in the face of centuries-old divisions and the existence of tens of thousands of Christian denominations.

    Unity is an attribute of God. God is one. Christ is one with His Father and fervently prayed that His disciples would fully experience this unity. Unity in the family, unity in the Church, and unity in all social structures are all reflections of God’s unity; the disunity we encounter reminds us of the lingering effects of sin in our lives and in the world. Unity requires obedience to lawful authority, and all authority comes from God. Those to whom God has entrusted authority are to exercise their authority for the sake of unity. In fact, Vatican II emphasizes that individual bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches (cf. Catechism, nos. 886, 938).

    Further, unity is not necessarily “sameness.” The Trinity has three distinct Persons without compromising the unity of the Godhead. Similarly, man and woman are different, yet their complementarity allows them to come together as one through the Sacrament of Marriage. And in the Church there are many roles and gifts that help build up the one Body of Christ.

    The Church teaches that there are three visible bonds of unity in the Church:

    (1) profession of one faith received from the apostles;
    (2) common celebration of divine worship, especially of the sacraments; and
    (3) apostolic succession through the sacrament of Holy Orders, maintaining the fraternal concord of God’s family (Catechism, no. 815).

    Catholics share a common belief, worship, and Church governance. Above all, charity, as St. Paul writes in Colossians 3:14, binds everything together in perfect harmony.

    But there is such a proliferation of Christian denominations and beliefs, how can we say the Church is one? We need to make an important distinction here. We do believe in one Church, and in fact the Church is one. However, Christians are divided and are still striving for the unity that Christ wills for His followers when He prays in John 17:20-21: “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”

    So we don’t pray for the unity of the Church, but we fervently pray for the unity of all Christians (even of all Catholics!). Vatican II and our Holy Father have made ecumenism, or the quest for Christian unity, a real priority in our time. The division among believers is a cause of scandal and hinders the Church in her mission of bringing Christ to the world.

    The one Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with them. The profound reality of our membership in the Catholic Church is a blessing and gift. More has been given us, so more is expected of us. Vatican II makes it abundantly clear that Catholics who don’t persevere in charity cannot be saved (cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 14). This should rule out any and all condescension or arrogance toward those who do not possess the fullness of the faith.

    As Catholics we have to uphold both the truth and the desire for unity. Denial of a truth of faith is heresy, and a breach of Church unity is schism. These are not popular or pleasant terms, but as St. Thomas More said, these aren’t pleasant things. We have to resist heresy or falsehood as well as divisiveness or schism to be loyal sons and daughters of the Church.

    Those churches and Christian communities that are not in full communion with the Catholic Church nonetheless possess elements of sanctification and truth. These elements, such as love of Christ, devotion to Scripture, Baptism, and other fundamental beliefs and practices impel us toward full communion, and the Church also teaches us that our fidelity to that portion of the Gospel that we’ve received from Christ will be the basis of our salvation. In other words, while the fullness of the means of salvation is found in the Catholic Church, the Holy Spirit indeed uses other Christian communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church (cf. Catechism, no. 819).

    Catechism, no. 821 provides a number of ways to promote unity among Christians, which of course begins with our own deepened conversion to Christ and prayer for unity, as well as fraternal dialogue and cooperation, such as in pro-life activities.

    Ephesians 4 is one of the usual scriptural references in support of the oneness or unity of the Church. In verses 4-6, St. Paul refers to one Body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all.

    But let’s look at the verses that immediately precede St. Paul’s emphatic affirmation of the oneness of our faith. He writes: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3). This is an examination of conscience for all of us; our faith calls us to live true humility, meekness, patience, self-sacrificing love, and peace. When we live this way—which is our calling as Christians—we truly are building Christian unity.

    Saints and Sinners
    The holiness of the Church may even be more difficult to understand and accept at first blush than the Church’s unity. After all, the Church is composed of frail, weak, sinful human beings, yet Catholics have the gall to say the Church is “holy.” The truth is that we’re able to make such a bold statement only because individually and as a Church we have Christ in us, transforming us, healing us, reconciling us to the Father.

    As a holy people, we have been consecrated and set apart by God. As St. Peter writes, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). The Church is the bride of Christ, for whom Christ died. According to St. Paul, in laying down His life for His bride, Christ sanctified and cleansed His Church, making her holy and without blemish. We talk about being part of the communion of saints through Baptism, and “saint” is just another word for “holy one.” We don’t often think of ourselves as saints. But the truth of the matter is that, if we’re to enjoy eternal life in heaven, we need to become saints.

    The reason we don’t typically think of ourselves as saints is that we recognize we’re works in progress. We still haven’t rooted all sin out of our lives. This reality of sin and grace is beautifully reflected in the ancient Marian hymn Alma Redemptoris Mater, or Loving Mother of the Redeemer, in which we ask Our Lady to assist us who have fallen yet strive to rise again. This falling and rising, this battle of sin and grace, continues in the Church and in each of us individually.

    Vatican II drives home this point: “Christ, ‘holy, innocent, and undefiled,’ knew nothing of sin, but came only to expiate the sins of the people. The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal” (Catechism, no. 827, Lumen Gentium, no. 8). We don’t join the Church because we’re saints, but because we want the Church to help us sinners become saints. We are all in need of the divine Physician, who calls people who realize they’re sinful and in need of grace.

    The Church’s holiness is found in various ways. Our beliefs are holy, and so we speak of the Holy Bible and Sacred Tradition. The holiness of the Church’s Magisterium as an authoritative teaching office is reflected in the title we use for the pope. He’s our Holy Father, through whom God ensures that our faith bears the fruit of holiness from generation to generation. The Church is holy in her worship and sacraments. For example, the holy sacrifice of the Mass, even if celebrated by a priest living in sin, is still the Holy Eucharist, which brings us the fruits of holiness. Even the government of the Church reflects a certain holiness. The word “hierarchy,” which to some today might have negative connotations, actually means “sacred power.”

    And holiness is found in the Church’s members. The Church canonizes men and women through the centuries who have faithfully and heroically responded to the call to holiness and who now enjoy eternal life in heaven. Many of them died for our holy faith. They are held up for us as models and intercessors in our own journeys of faith. And chief among these, of course, is our spiritual mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

    One of the real emphases of the Second Vatican Council as well as the apostolate of Catholics United for the Faith has been the truth that all of us—without exception—are called to holiness. Holiness doesn’t happen automatically or by accident. Rather we must cooperate with God’s grace and strive for charity in all things. Prayer, sacraments, acts of penance and charity, and good spiritual reading are all vital to a healthy spiritual life. We must strive to see in all things an opportunity to grow in holiness. This can’t happen unless we embrace the present moment and gratefully accept whatever comes our way as an opportunity to grow in love of God and neighbor.

    Here Comes Everybody

    Today’s Catholics are called to be leaven in the new millennium. This is a tremendous challenge, as the richness of our Catholic faith isn’t reducible to mere sound bites, and timeless Christian wisdom is often portrayed today as simply one voice among many or as the “spin” of the religious right. This all points to the ongoing need for prudent inculturation, which is the process of adapting the Gospel —without diluting or disfiguring it—for new cultures and generations. Rather than withdraw into a secure Catholic ghetto, we’re called by our Holy Father to be an evangelizing presence in the world, allowing God’s grace to transform a generation that at times seem to be lost in cyberspace.

    The Catechism provides an excellent exposition of the catholicity of the Church. The Church is catholic or universal, both because she has already received from Christ the fullness of salvation (cf. Eph. 1:22-23), and because she has been entrusted with the mission of bringing the Gospel to the entire human race.

    Regarding the Church’s missionary nature, the Catechism devotes an important paragraph to inculturation, worth quoting in full:

    By her very mission, the Church travels the same journey as all humanity and shares the same earthly lot with the world: she is to be a leaven and, as it were, the soul of human society in its renewal by Christ and transformation into the family of God. Missionary endeavor requires patience. It begins with the proclamation of the Gospel to peoples and groups who do not yet believe in Christ, continues with the establishment of Christian communities that are a sign of God’s presence in the world, and leads to the foundation of local churches. It must involve a process of inculturation if the Gospel is to take flesh in each people’s culture. There will be times of defeat. With regard to individuals, groups, and peoples it is only by degrees that [the Church] touches and penetrates them, and so receives them into a fullness which is Catholic (no. 854).

    This incarnational, sacramental dimension of the “new evangelization” requires profound respect for other peoples, cultures, and generations, and absolute fidelity to the Person and teaching of Jesus Christ. It’s not an either-or proposition. The Church calls us to build on the truths we already have in common with others while patiently fostering full communion in the Body of Christ. The glass is never only half full or half empty, it’s both. Dialoguing without ever summoning to conversion is cowardly and weak; summoning to conversion without first connecting with other people is foolhardy and harsh. We need grace and courage to hold these two realities together in our own particular network of relationships.

    But, most of us are not missionaries in foreign lands. Our journeys generally lead us to work, the grocery store, or the mall. How do we live the catholicity of the Church?

    First, we have to affirm with St. Paul that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for through Christ we all become through Baptism children of God and heirs of heaven. No group of people is excluded from this invitation. For us to look down on or refuse to engage others because of their race, culture, or nationality is an implicit denial of the catholicity of the Church.

    Second, the Church is by her nature missionary. She has been sent to make disciples of all peoples. All Catholics are bound to support the missionary efforts of the Church. Material support by way of contribution, clothing, medicine, and the like are all very important. But even more fundamentally, we should regularly pray and offer our daily sufferings for the spread of the Gospel. This spiritual foundation is the engine that powers the Church’s missionary activity.

    Third, we must not be ashamed of the fact that all salvation comes from Christ. As Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said: “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12). And we further believe that Christ entrusted the fullness of the means of salvation to His Church, so that those who hear the apostles and their successors hear Christ. This does not mean that those who are not Catholic or who are not even Christian can’t be saved, for nothing is impossible with God. The Church’s traditional understanding of the maxim “outside the Church there is no salvation” is treated in Catechism, nos. 846-48.

    But if we really do believe what the Church teaches about salvation in and through Christ, shouldn’t we use every means at our disposal to let the whole world know about it? This is not to use truth as a club to beat people or as a license to be obnoxious. However, most Catholics probably err on the side of being too soft-spoken in our presentation of the Gospel to others. With St. Paul we must say, woe to us if we don’t proclaim the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 9:16).

    Sent on a Mission
    Finally the Church is apostolic, which is a form of the word “apostle” that comes from the Greek, meaning “one who is sent.” The Catechism says that the Church is apostolic because she was founded on the apostles in three ways:

    (1) She was and remains built on “the foundation of the apostles” (Ephesians 2:20), the witnesses chosen and sent on mission by Christ himself;

    (2) With the help of the Spirit dwelling in her, the Church keeps and hands on the teaching, the deposit of faith, the salutary words she has heard from the apostles;

    (3) She continues to be taught, sanctified, and guided by the apostles until Christ’s return through their successors in pastoral office: the college of bishops, “assisted by priests, in union with the successor of Peter, the Church’s supreme pastor” (Catechism, no. 857).

    Apostolicity or apostolic succession has everything to do with authority. Nobody takes it upon himself or herself to be sent, to be an apostle, but rather it is an authority, a power, a mission given by the One who does the sending.

    All authority comes from God the Father, who in the fullness of time sent His Son, Jesus Christ, among us to show us the Father and lead us to salvation. At the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says as much, indicating that all authority has been given to Him, and then He gives this same authority to His apostles, who are commissioned to go to the end of the world—baptizing and teaching through the abiding power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

    We then read in the remainder of the New Testament, particularly the Acts of the Apostles, about how the apostles “father” the infant Church over which they’ve been given authority. We see individual apostles tending to particular Churches and the apostles collectively and collegially acting on behalf of the Universal Church at the Council of Jerusalem, always with due regard for Peter’s primacy.

    We also see in the New Testament that the apostles are already making provision for the next generation of Church leadership, particularly in the pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus. After all, the Church was instituted to continue to the end of time. So we do have apostles consecrating episkopoi or bishops, such as Timothy and Titus, giving them apostolic authority—and not merely human authority—as ministers of the Gospel. The living Tradition of the Church, the sacred deposit of the faith, is entrusted to each living and breathing bishop in an unbroken line of succession—as we hear St. Paul exhort the young Bishop Timothy: “Guard O Timothy that sacred deposit that has been entrusted to you” (1 Tim. 6:20).

    We also have the testimony of the Church’s Apostolic Fathers, such as Pope Clement and Ignatius (3rd bishop of Antioch, disciple of St. John), and of the early Church Fathers, including Ireneaus and Cyprian, among others, who not only attest to the hierarchical nature of the Church, but manifest it in their very ministry (Clement). Church councils through the ages have further clarified the solemn teaching that the office of bishop is of divine origin and bestows apostolic authority and power.

    But what does this mean for the 99.9% of Catholics who aren’t the pope or even a bishop? As Vatican II emphasized, all of us are called to the “apostolate”—that by virtue of our own Baptism we have been sent to build up the Church, and in that regard laity have the special vocation of engaging the world and directing all things in accordance with God’s will. All have a role to play, but always in communion with the rest of the Body of Christ.

    The Church’s apostolic nature does oblige us to remain staunchly loyal to all bishops who are in communion with the pope, particularly one’s own bishop. We cannot drive a wedge between the Universal Church, represented by the pope, and the diocesan or “particular” Church, headed by the bishop. There are only two possibilities: Either we’re in communion with the pope and his bishops, or we’re not.

    In an address given on November 20, 1999, Pope John Paul II accentuates this point, quoting extensively from Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium:

    I likewise point out the attitude that the laity should have toward their bishops and priests: “To their pastors they should disclose their needs and desires with that liberty and confidence which befits children of God and brothers of Christ. . . . If the occasion arises, this should be done through the institutions established by the Church for that purpose and always with truth, courage, and prudence and with reverence and charity toward those who, by reason of their office, represent the person of Christ.” Unity with the bishop is the essential and indispensable attitude of the faithful Catholic, for one cannot claim to be on the Pope’s side without also standing by the bishops in communion with him. Nor can one claim to be with the bishop without standing by the head of the college.

    Our Church is incarnational, and thus human and divine elements are intimately (yet without confusion) brought together. We see this preeminently in Christ Himself, the eternal Son of God, yet fully human in all things but sin. We see this in the Bible, the inspired, inerrant Word of God, yet at the same time fully the work of diverse human authors. We see this in the Church, which is both the Mystical Body of Christ and at the same time a human institution composed of sinners. And so in bishops we find divine power and authority held in frail human vessels.

    Bishops are human beings and consequently are not exempt from the frailties and weaknesses all of us experience in this life. The conduct or teaching of these “human vessels” may not always be worthy of an apostle of Jesus Christ. Yet we live the apostolicity of the Church by manifesting a filial or “childlike” piety in all our dealings with bishops and priests by virtue of their office as our “spiritual fathers.” We absolutely must not accept error, but with patience, fortitude, and charity we always must preserve unity in our pursuit of Christ’s truth.

    Recommended Reading:
    Holy Bible (Catholic edition)
    Catechism of the Catholic ChurchVatican II Documents
    Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis
    Yves Congar, Tradition and Traditions
    To order, call Benedictus Books toll-free: (888) 316-2640. CUF members receive a 10% discount.
    Hahn and Suprenant, eds., Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God
    Leon Suprenant and Philip Gray, Faith Facts: Answers to Catholic Questions
    Ted Sri, Mystery of the Kingdom: On the Gospel of Matthew
    Leon Suprenant, ed., Servants of the GospelMost Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, Without a Doubt: Bringing Faith to Life

    To order these and other titles, call Emmaus Road toll-free: (800) 398-5470.

    Available Faith Facts:

    • Rock Solid: Salvation History of the Catholic Church
    • Without the Church There Is No Salvation
    • Following Our Bishops
    • “We Believe in One God....”: The Nicene Creed and Mass
    • That They May All Be One: The Difference the Church Makes
    • The Theological Virtue of Faith

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    © 2000 Catholics United for the Faith
    Last edited: 12/12/01

    Date created: 2/23/2005
  • Editor's Note: To submit a faith question to Catholic Exchange, email Please note that all email submitted to Catholic Exchange becomes the property of Catholic Exchange and may be published in this space. Published letters may be edited for length and clarity. Names and cities of letter writers may also be published. Email addresses of viewers will not normally be published.

ABC News airs 'female

Catholics say 'Joan' a myth used historically to ridicule church


Similar to its take on the controversial "Da Vinci Code," ABC News "Primetime" gives credence to the claim that a woman disguised as a man served as pope in medieval Rome.

Titled "On the Trail of Pope Joan," an ABC promo says, "Diane Sawyer takes you on the trail of a passionate mystery. Just as intriguing as 'The Da Vinci Code.' Chasing down centuries-old clues hidden even inside the Vatican. Could a woman disguised as a man have been pope? Thursday night. One astonishing Primetime."

But the media-watchdog weblog Newsbusters points to research by scholars hundreds of years ago that debunked the claim and cites recent books that have repudiated it further.

Catholic Church records have no indication of a pope by any of the names ascribed to her, and there are no gaps in the history. Another problem, scholars say, is there was no mention of such a pope in any historical account until the 13th century, about 400 years after her presumed reign.

In the book "The Myth of Pope Joan," first published in 1988, French author Alain Boureau traces the origin of the story of a woman named Joan who disguised herself to enter the male preserve of Catholic scholarship, rose to the papacy and then died giving birth two years later.

Boreau points out the church itself subscribed to the story until the 16th century, when Rome distanced itself from "Joan" after Protestant reformers used it to discredit the Catholic Church.

In 1996, however, New York writer Donna Woolfolk Cross's historical novel "Pope Joan" was released and a movie based on the book currently is in production.

The book, which became a best-seller in Germany, suggests the church engaged in a 400-year cover-up that prevented Joan from becoming one of history's most famous women.

But Catholic writer Philip Jenkins, in his book "The New Anti-Catholicism, calls the "Pope Joan legend" a "venerable staple of the anti-Catholic mythology."

"Though it has not the slightest foundation," he writes, "from the sixteenth century through the nineteenth, the tale was beloved by Protestants, since it testified to Catholic stupidity. ..." Today, he says, "Pope Joan enjoys a lively presence on the Web, where feminist anti-Catholics celebrate her existence much as did seventeenth-century Calvinists."

The posting on the Newsbusters site said: "That a major network like ABC would lend credibility to such a vicious anti-Catholic smear is deplorable."

As WorldNetDaily reported in 2003, ABC News broadcast a special, based partly on the novel "The Da Vinci Code," which examined whether Jesus married Mary Magdalene.

Reporter Elizabeth Vargas, now a co-anchor for "ABC World News Tonight," said the show was being put together "as respectfully as we can," but it drew criticism from religious leaders, including Joseph De Feo of the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

De Feo noted most of the people interviewed in the program believe the theory either is plausible or are convinced it's true.

"The facts themselves scream out that this is a crackpot theory," De Feo said.


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  • © 2005

Court Asked to Rehear Case Over Calif. Schools' "Becoming Muslim" Exercise

Jim Brown & Jenni Parker

A federal appeals court is being asked to reconsider its ruling that allows public schools to teach junior high students how to "become Muslims." The Thomas More Law Center, a national public-interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is asking the entire Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on what can be done in public schools with regard to teaching Islam and other religions.

Several parents sued California's Byron Union School District for requiring their 7th-grade children to participate in a three-week class activity in which they not only had to study important Islamic figures and wear traditional Muslim attire, but were also required to observe the "five pillars" of the Islamic faith, adopt Muslim names, recite a portion of a Muslim prayer, and even stage their own "jihad" or "holy war." The plaintiffs' attorney, the Thomas More Law Center's Ed White, believes the school district violated the parents' and children's constitutional rights to free exercise of religion.

Earlier, White had asked a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit to overturn a previous San Francisco federal district court's ruling that the Byron Union School District did not violate the US Constitution. However, the Ninth Circuit panel of judges upheld the lower court's determination in a brief, unpublished memorandum decision.

In that ruling, however, the panel overlooked and failed to rule on the plaintiff's claims that their free exercise and parental rights had been violated. The Thomas More Law Center has asked the three-judge panel to reconsider their decision and to issue a ruling on the claims not previously addressed. The Law Center has also asked all 24 active judges on the Ninth Circuit to consider and rule on the case.

White says the Byron Union School District never informed the parents about an exercise that would be grading their children on how well they observed the tenets of Islam. In fact, he points out, "The parents were never told that there was even a way to opt their child out of such an activity."

Actually, the only way the parents found out about the school's Islamic exercise, the attorney points out, was virtually by accident. He says a Byron Union District mom was "looking through her son's book bag and asked, 'Hey, what's all this stuff?' and the kid said, 'Oh, we're doing this in school now.' So the parents objected, but it was after the class [activity] was over."

So it was after the fact that parents learned how, for three weeks in 2001, their children were told they would "become Muslims" and had worn identification tags bearing their new Muslim names along with the Star and Crescent Moon symbols of Islam. The children received materials telling them to "Remember Allah always so that you may prosper," and they made banners to hang in the classroom, inscribing them with the Basmala, a phrase from the Koran used in Muslim prayers that is translated, "In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate."

Richard Thompson, chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, was disappointed by the San Francisco district court's ruling and the Ninth Circuit panel's decision to uphold it. He commented that if students had been instructed on Christianity in the same manner as they were on Islam in this case, the court would most likely have found a constitutional violation.

Ed White agrees. The parents' lawyer says the courts should not be allowing this apparent double standard on the teaching of religion in public schools. When the Byron Union School District's teachers taught the children other religions in the seventh grade," he asserts, "they didn't go into any of these activities. When they taught Buddhism or Christianity, they didn't engage in these simulations [of Islamic observances]. They didn't have to practice the faith, memorize various parts of the Bible, et cetera."

White has filed a petition for a rehearing of the case before the entire Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Chief counsel Richard Thompson says the appellate court needs to clarify in a published opinion just how far public schools can go in teaching about religion.

  • (This article courtesy of Agape Press.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Umbert the Unborn

Each embryo object of God's love, pope says on Holy Innocents feast

Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- On the feast of the Holy Innocents, Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his last general audience of the year to the unborn child, saying even the tiniest embryo is the object of God's loving gaze and concern.

God looks upon all people with "loving eyes," even the "shapeless" human life curled inside a mother's womb, he said in his Dec. 28 general audience in St. Peter's Square.

The pope also paid tribute to the hundreds of thousands of people hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami last year.

He asked for prayers for those struck by the Dec. 26, 2004, disaster and for all those who "have been affected by natural disasters in other parts of the world and are still waiting for our concrete and proactive solidarity."

The pope devoted his Dec. 28 catechesis to the last half of Psalm 139, in which the psalmist thanks God for having "knit me in my mother's womb." He said this psalm displays God's all-knowing and ever-present nature; even from the moment of conception, he knows a person's past, present and future.

The psalm also shows "the greatness of this small, unborn human creature, created with God's hands and surrounded by his love," the pope said.

The "benevolent and loving gaze of God's eyes already rest upon" the tiny, "shapeless" embryo, he said.

The Old Testament is replete with images of God as an artisan, a potter, even a tailor; he lovingly handcrafts people from "the clay of the ground" and "with bones and sinews knit me together," the pope said, citing verses from the books of Genesis and Job.

He said these images show "what a masterpiece the human person is," even when he or she has been "afflicted and wounded by suffering."

Whatever his or her size or condition, the human being is "a prodigy" of God and represents "the highest and most awesome reality in the entire universe," said the pope.

The Son of God "became man, rather, became a child, for our salvation," he said.

At the start of his last general audience of the year, the pope rode in the back of his open-air jeep, smiling and waving to some 20,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square. Because the morning temperatures were still cold, the pope was wearing a heavy red cape and "camauro," a red velvet cap trimmed with ermine.

He greeted and blessed dozens of handicapped children and adults at the end of his audience as they were wheeled, one by one, up to him.

He had said in his catechesis that even those who are "weak in the faith and in Christian life are a part of the architecture of the church."

"It's true, they are imperfect and small; however, for as much as they are able to understand, they love God and their neighbor, and they don't neglect to do the good they can," he said.

  • Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Turning from the Truth

Charles Colson

The Sad Case of Madalyn Murray O’Hair

Why would anyone deliberately turn his or her back on the truth?

I found myself asking this question many years ago, after an encounter with America’s most famous atheist, Madalyn Murray O’Hair — a story that I tell in my new book, The Good Life. You probably will recall that it was O’Hair who brought the court case that eliminated official public school prayers in 1963.

Mrs. O’Hair and I had been invited to debate the topic of Christianity on David Frost’s NBC variety program. I was aware that she knew the subject well, because she graduated from an evangelical college, and she had a close knowledge of the Scriptures. So I decided it would be a good idea to take my Bible with me. It proved handy when Mrs. O’Hair claimed that the Bible “is a brutal, horrible book.”

I held out my Bible and asked her to read to us the passages she was talking about. She backed away as if I held a weapon. All that she would say was, “It’s full of hate and murder,” even though her refusal to defend her views clearly cost her the sympathy of Frost and the audience.

After the debate, I approached Mrs. O’Hair to tell her that I, like many other Christians, was praying that she would find the truth. She retorted, “Well, I don’t pray, but if I did, I’d pray that you will lose. You will lose, Mr. Colson. You will fail.”

The whole experience left me with the impression of an angry, bitter woman. But I found it interesting that she couldn’t just leave me alone to what she thought was my superstition, or even laugh my views off. My conclusion was that Mrs. O’Hair couldn’t leave me alone because she really did know the truth and had turned her back on it.

Sadly, the story of Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s last days illustrates what can happen when someone deliberately rejects the truth. You may recall that O’Hair and her son and granddaughter were abducted and killed by one of their former employees.

When the family first disappeared, many of those who knew them suspected that they were going into hiding to live off illegally funded foreign accounts. O’Hair’s crooked financial habits were well-known to several of her closest associates. She had surrounded herself with an atmosphere of secrecy and suspicion for so long that few were surprised or concerned by her disappearance. The police did little; the organization she had started carried on as usual. Even after her son eventually filed a missing-persons report, it was years before the dismembered bodies of the Murray-O’Hair family were discovered.

Am I saying that all atheists are doomed to be murdered? No, of course not. What I am saying is that Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s willful defiance of God, and her often-mentioned contempt for her fellow human beings, translated into an abrasive manner and a criminal lifestyle that turned people against her and, in the end, caused her gruesome death.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair once said, “I hope I live my life in such a manner that when I die, someone cares.” Tragically, her own rebellious, selfish will led her to a very different fate. The lesson? It is sin to reject the truth, and when you do, you become yourself the very thing that blocks the truth — that is, evil.

  • (This update courtesy of the Breakpoint with Chuck Colson.)

Supporting and Caring for Our Parish Priests during the Holiday Season

Lisa Hendey

As a child, my family had a close personal relationship with the pastor of our parish. He frequently dined in our home and was a visitor at holiday celebrations. In today’s age of priest shortages, I found myself wondering about what might be a way to support and encourage my current pastor during the holiday season.

For some answers and advice, I turned to Fr. Stephen J. Rossetti, director of the Saint Luke Institute and author of the new book The Joy of Priesthood (Ave Maria Press, September 2005, paperback, 221 pages) (1). Thanks to his work counseling priests, Fr. Rossetti was able to share an interesting and informed perspective on how Catholic families can be of support and encouragement to their parish priests during the holiday season. I’m pleased to share my conversation with Fr. Rossetti and invite your family to join mine in special prayers this holiday season for all of the priests who work so diligently on our behalf.

Q: Please tell us a bit about your own background and vocation.

A: People often ask priests why they became answer is simple but I believe it: God called me. In the end, that's the nub of it. John Paul the Great once said that God does not say 'yes' one minute and then 'no' the next. I believe God's call to me to be a priest is enduring and I pray for his strength to be a good one. I am grateful for this vocation, it has been a source of great grace for me, and I hope, for others.

I often marvel at how much energy people direct toward priests. If I walk in a public place, some people will smile and say something kind; others will be negative and project quite a bit of hostility. The figure of the Catholic priest is still a powerful symbol in our society, for some very positive, negative for others...but rarely neutral.

Q: Please describe your book and its primary message.

A: The book was originally meant as a kind of personal sharing between myself and my brother priests. I have worked with them personally and in their most vulnerable moments for 16 years, and so I wanted to share with them some things from my own heart and what I have learned from them...I am grateful to them for being a part of my life. However, I have been a bit surprised that people who are not priests have found the book helpful and interesting. Actually, I have been surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response to the book in general. It is encouraging to me.

Q: How can Catholic families be of support and encouragement to their parish priests during the holiday season?

A: The people in the parishes might not realize it but they are really the 'family' of the priest. As a celibate individual dedicated to serving them, he looks to the people not only as one who builds community, but also as one who strongly needs this community as well. Together they work and pray. People are very generous to their priests which we especially see around Christmas time. Priests' offices are filled with Christmas cards and their kitchens are loaded with home baked cookies. While this is not always good for the waistline, it is important for the heart. My recommendation to the parishioners? Keep sending those cards and cookies! We appreciate your love more than you know.

Q: In today's busy age with the shortage of priests, is it realistic for Catholics to desire and maintain a familial type of friendship with their parish priests? How can families "bond" with or build a friendship with their Pastors?

A: This is a tough issue and one that I am very concerned about. I fear that our priests will have so many parishioners with several parishes that he won't have a chance to get to know them. Certainly he won't be able to go to all the social functions that the pastors used to go to, but there must be a personal connection between the priests and the people. This is important for both. Frankly, I don't know what to say about this. I guess I look to our priests and people to adjust to the new demands and come up with some new models and new ways of making it work.

Q: What would be an appropriate and appreciated Christmas gift for a parish priest?

A: Your best Christmas gift to a priest is to make a good confession, attend Mass regularly and bring your children. Nothing makes a priest happier than to see the faith and support of the people. When people are practicing their faith, it strengthens a priest's faith. I always find it edifying, for example, to give out communion during the Mass. I see the faith in the people's faces and it is encouraging to me.

Q: What types of difficulties do our priests face at this time of the year, and how can we support them?

A: Christmas is a very busy time of the year for priests, as is Easter. I know it is a very busy time for all the people too. Sometimes I think we don't need to do more, but we need to do less, that is, we need to focus on a few important things and then relax a bit more and spend time with our families.

If you are able to volunteer to help with a few Church things, perhaps your pastor needs a few extra helping hands. Most parishes do some projects for the poor and needy during Christmas or provide Christmas gifts to children - these are very important. Perhaps one of the best things you can do is to contact a Catholic friend who hasn't been to Church in a while and invite them to come to Christmas Mass with you. It could be the beginning of their road back.

Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you'd like to add on this topic?

A: It is heartening to me that, in these difficult days, there are so many faith-filled people who love and support their priests. I have found that this is really one of the major pieces of 'glue' that holds the Church together, the bond between priest and people. Keep praying for your priests and loving them. They are not perfect, thank God... God decided to ordain human beings like you and me, He did not ordain angels. Priests understand and have compassion for our weaknesses because they too are frail human beings. It is to save us all, priests and people, that God sent his Son.

  1. For more information on The Joy of Priesthood visit
  • (Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous web sites, including, and an avid reader of Catholic literature. Visit her at for more information.)

EU Committee Says Doctors Should be Forced to Perform Abortion

A European Union advisory panel has issued a statement that threatens the rights of medical professionals to refuse to participate in abortions and other procedures that may violate their religious beliefs. The opinion states that denying access to abortion may be a violation of international human rights.

The EU Network of Independent Experts on Fundamental Rights released a 40-page opinion on the right to conscientious objection in light of a proposed treaty between the Vatican and Slovakia. The treaty would guarantee that Catholic hospitals and medical professionals would not be legally obligated to "perform artificial abortions, artificial or assisted fertilizations, experiments with or handling of human organs, human embryos or human sex cells, euthanasia, cloning, sterilizations, [and] acts connected with contraception..." The Network was charged with determining whether or not such an agreement would be a violation of EU law. The report recognizes that its findings are recommendations and "not binding."

While the Network acknowledged the right to conscientious objection, it warned that such a right was not "unlimited." "Indeed, the right to religious conscientious objection may conflict with other rights, also recognized under international law. In such circumstances, an adequate balance must be struck between these conflicting requirements, which may not lead to one right being sacrificed to another."

The opinion declares that the "right to religious conscientious objection" "should be regulated in order to ensure that, in circumstances where abortion is legal, no woman shall be deprived from having effective access to the medical service of abortion. In the view of the Network, this implies that the State concerned must ensure, first, that an effective remedy should be open to challenge any refusal to provide abortion; second, that an obligation will be imposed on the health care practitioner exercising his or her right to religious conscientious objection to refer the woman seeking abortion to another qualified health care practitioner who will agree to perform the abortion; third, that another qualified health care practitioner will be indeed available, including in rural areas or in areas which are geographically remote from the centre."

In e-mail correspondence obtained by the Friday Fax between international abortion rights leaders, the decision was praised. Irene Donadio of International Planned Parenthood Federation wrote, "The Conclusions reflect all the arguments presented by the SRHR [sexual and reproductive health and rights] community!"

In first eight months, pope attracts nearly 3 million pilgrims

Carol Glatz

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In the first eight months of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI drew nearly 3 million pilgrims to public events.

According to Vatican statistics, more than 2.8 million people attended the weekly general audiences, the Sunday blessings, special papal audiences or liturgical celebrations at which Pope Benedict presided.

According to the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household, 810,000 people attended Pope Benedict's 32 general audiences in 2005. Pope John Paul II's record for general audience attendance was more than 1.5 million people spread out over 45 Wednesdays in 1979, after his October 1978 election.

Since his April 19 election, Pope Benedict held special audiences with more than 250,000 people.

More than 394,000 people attended liturgical celebrations presided over by the German pope, with the majority of those people -- some 220,000 -- attending his April 24 installation Mass.

Nearly half of Pope Benedict's 2.8 million visitors attended his midday Angelus prayer and blessing. Some 1.4 million people attended the Sunday event from May through December, with the highest monthly attendance being 350,000 people in December.

While tickets are required to attend the weekly general audience, the Angelus address is open to the public without tickets.

Crowd numbers for the noonday Angelus dropped dramatically in August and September. The year's monthly average is about 250,000 people, but about 25,000 people attended in August and 25,000 people attended in September.

In the summer months, the Angelus prayer is not traditionally held at the Vatican, but in the small courtyard of the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.

God loves every embryo, Pope says

Vatican, Dec. 28 ( - Man is the masterpiece of God's creation, and when a chld is conceived, "God already sees the future of that still-unformed embryo," Pope Benedict XVI said at his public audience on December 28.

God recognizes a human being even when the unborn child "is not visible to the eyes of other men," the Holy Father told the 20,000 people who gathered in St. Peter's Square. The Pope's meditation, based on Psalm 138, also reflected his thoughts on the feast of the Holy Innocents.

Psalm 138 extols the power of God the creator, and his knowledge not only of the past and present, "but also the entire range hidden by the future," the Pope observed. God knows and loves the smallest of his creatures, and sees every human being as the finest product of his handiwork, he continued. He added that this theme is particularly appropriate for reflection during the Christmas season, as the world celebrates the God who was "made man for our salvation."

At the conclusion of his meditation, Pope Benedict recalled the tsunami that devastated southern Asia one year ago, and offered prayers for those still suffering from the aftermath, "and for those, even in other parts of the world, who have suffered natural disasters."

Vatican tells movement to change liturgical practices

Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- The Vatican has told communities of the Neocatechumenal Way to join their entire parish at least once a month for Mass and to phase out their practice of receiving Communion seated around a table.

The instructions were contained in a Dec. 1 letter from Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, published in late December by an Italian newspaper and an Italian magazine.

Officials of the congregation and the Neocatechumenal Way were not available for comment Dec. 28.

The letter said Cardinal Arinze met Nov. 11 with the leaders of the international parish-based faith formation program -- Kiko Arguello and Carmen Hernandez, who founded the Way, and Father Mario Pezzi -- to discuss the liturgy.

According to the letter, Pope Benedict XVI requested that the changes be made.

"In the celebration of the holy Mass, the Neocatechumenal Way will accept and follow the liturgical books approved by the church without omitting or adding anything," the letter said.

Because the celebration of Sunday Mass is so important in the life of a parish, the letter said, the Neocatechumenal communities in each parish must join the rest of the parish at least once a month for Sunday Mass.

The statutes of the Neocatechumenal Way, approved by Pope John Paul II in 2002, allow the communities to celebrate their own regular weekly Mass on Saturday evenings.

For more than 30 years, members of the Neocatechumenal Way have prepared their liturgies by baking their own loaves of unleavened bread, and they have received the consecrated bread and wine while seated around a table.

However, the letter said, the practice should not continue.

"The Neocatechumenal Way will be given a transition period of not more than two years to pass from the common method of receiving holy Communion in its communities -- seated, using a decorated table placed at the center of the church instead of the dedicated altar in the sanctuary -- to the manner normal to the entire church for receiving holy Communion," the letter said.

"This means that the Neocatechumenal Way must move toward the manner foreseen in the liturgical books for the distribution of the body and blood of Christ," it said.

Cardinal Arinze's letter also emphasized a point made in the Neocatechumenal Way's 2002 statutes: Only a priest or deacon may give the homily at Mass.

The cardinal told the communities to be very careful to ensure that any readings or comments meant to reinforce the Gospel message are brief and clearly different from a homily.

He also said that the communities should make use of all the eucharistic prayers contained in the Roman Missal, rather than using only the second eucharistic prayer.

Cardinal Arinze said the Vatican would allow the Neocatechumenal Way to continue one of its special practices, exchanging the sign of peace just before the offertory rather than just before Communion.

At the October Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, an archbishop from Guam said he had seen a remarkable growth in faith in parishes where the Neocatechumenal Way was operating.

Archbishop Anthony Apuron of Agana, Guam, said the entire church should consider adopting some of the Way's liturgical practices, including restoring "the 'breadness' of the bread," by using the "unleavened bread used in the ancient and primitive church rather than the wafer-thin, mass-produced bread we use as hosts for our people today."

And, he said, when a priest carries the Eucharist to people who are seated, it fosters more of a sense of community.

"What sort of a banquet does one go to which requires you to stand rather than sit?" Archbishop Apuron asked.

  • Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

California School Curtails Christian Students' First Amendment Rights

Jim Brown

A spokesman for the advocacy group known as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) says California State University at San Bernardino is discriminating against a Christian student group in a way that has become all too common on college campuses across the United States.

California State University — San Bernardino is refusing to recognize a campus Christian Student Association (CSA) for requiring that its members be Christians and adhere to the group's statements of faith and sexual morality. The university claims that by trying to maintain its evangelical identity, the CSA is discriminating against non-Christians.

However, FIRE's legal director, Greg Lukianoff, calls the university's argument absurd. "If you do not share the core beliefs of the group, you do not have the right to join it," he asserts. "Freedom of association means nothing if you don't have the right to exclude people who don't agree with you on the fundamental reason why you associate in the first place."

Lukianoff says CSU-San Bernardino's position "just completely turns the idea of discrimination on its head." And if the CSA sues, he adds, a California court may allow the school to continue misusing its nondiscrimination policy, but federal courts will not.

The CSU-San Bernardino administration is ignoring legal precedents and trampling the CSA members' constitutional rights, the FIRE spokesman insists. "[T]he university is actually... denying students' First Amendment freedom of association rights," he says. "University after university has done this; FIRE has fought cases all over the country."

Some of FIRE's more prominent victories in this area, Lukianoff points out, include wins at "Tufts University in 2000; Rutgers University in 2003; the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where we had two cases over the course of two years." Also, he notes, FIRE succeeded in securing victories at "Purdue University; Ohio State University; Louisiana State University, where we were defending a Muslim group; and Milwaukee School of Engineering."

A legal challenge to the California State University system’s policy of denying student religious organizations the right to govern themselves according to their own religious principles has already been filed by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a nonprofit legal defense and policy organization. Nevertheless, CSU-San Bernardino, which is a member of the California State system, is standing by its policies and continuing to deny CSA official recognition, despite the ongoing legal challenge.

  • This article courtesy of Agape Press.)