Saturday, 27 March 2010

What the New York Times story didn't tell you

The Pope and the Murphy case
By Phil Lawler | March 25, 2010 2:55 PM

The front-page story in the New York Times suggests that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), under the direction of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, failed to act against a Wisconsin priest who was accused of molesting scores of boys at a school for the deaf.

1. The allegations of abuse by Father Lawrence Murphy began in 1955 and continued in 1974, according to the Times account. The Vatican was first notified in 1996: 40 years after Church officials in Wisconsin were first made aware of the problem. Local Church leaders could have taken action in the 1950s. They didn't.

2. The Vatican, following the standard procedures required by canon law, kept its own inquiries confidential. But the CDF never barred other investigations. Local Church officials could have given police all the information they had about the allegations against Murphy. Indeed they could have informed police 40 years earlier. They didn't.

3. Milwaukee's Archbishop Cousins could have suspended Father Murphy from priestly ministry in 1974, when he was evidently convinced that the priest was guilty of gross misconduct. He didn't. Instead he transferred the predator priest to a new diocese, allowing him to continue pastoral work giving him access to other innocent young people. And as if that weren't enough, later Archbishop Weakland made sure that there was no "paper trail." There was certainly a cover-up in this case. It was in Milwaukee, not in Rome.

4. Having called the Vatican's attention to Murphy's case, Archbishop Weakland apparently wanted an immediate response, and was unhappy that the CDF took 8 months to respond. But again, the Milwaukee archdiocese had waited decades to take this action. Because the Milwaukee archdiocese had waited so long to take action, the canonical statute of limitations had become an important factor in the Vatican's decision to advise against an ecclesiastical trial.

5. In a plea for mercy addressed to Cardinal Ratzinger, Father Murphy said that he had repented his misdeeds, was guilty of no recent misconduct, and was in failing health. Earlier this month Msgr. Charles Scicluna, the chief Vatican prosecutor in sex-abuse cases, explained that in many cases involving elderly or ailing priests, the CDF chooses to forego a full canonical trial, instead ordering the priest to remove himself from public ministry and devote his remaining days to penance and prayer. This was, in effect, the final result of the Vatican's inquiry in this case; Father Murphy died just months later.

6. The correspondence makes it clear that Archbishop Weakland took action not because he wanted to protect the public from an abusive priest, but because he wanted to avoid the huge public outcry that he predicted would emerge if Murphy was not disciplined. In 1996, when the archbishop made that prediction, the public outcry would--and should--have been focused on the Milwaukee archdiocese, if it had materialized. Now, 14 years later, a much more intense public outcry is focused on the Vatican. The anger is misdirected.

This is a story about the abject failure of the Milwaukee archdiocese to discipline a dangerous priest, and the tardy effort by Archbishop Weakland--who would soon become the subject of a major scandal himself--to shift responsibility to Rome.

New York Times Contradicts Itself

Avvenire Newspaper shows that the New York Times contradicts itself
Riccardo Cascioli Offers Reconstruction of Events

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 26, 2010 - The documentation published by The New York Times contradicts its own thesis, which accuses Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of not being sufficiently energetic in the case of an American priest who the Church punished for acts of pederasty.

This is the conclusion of an analysis by Riccardo Cascioli that appeared in today's edition of Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian episcopal conference.

According to The New York Times, "top Vatican officials -- including the future Pope Benedict XVI -- did not laicize a priest who had molested some 22 deaf boys, despite the fact that several American bishops repeatedly warned that the lack of decisive action in the matter could embarrass the Church."

"In reality, in fact, the whole documentation published by The New York Times on its site, contradicts this tendentious reading of facts regarding Father Lawrence Murphy, between 1950 and 1974, chaplain in a school for the deaf of the Diocese of Milwaukee," Cascioli clarified.

He added: "In fact, the documents state that the only ones to be concerned with the evil done by Father Murphy were top officials of the American diocese and of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, while the civil authorities filed the case.

"In particular the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, entrusted with the issue only between 1996 and 1997, gave procedural indications in dealing with Father Murphy despite the distance of time of events which constituted an impediment to the norm of Canon Law."

Here is a translation of Cascioli's timeline, which appeared today in Avvenire.

* * *

It all began on May 15, 1974, when a former student of St. John's School for the Deaf presented a denunciation on abuses done to him and to other boys by Father Lawrence Murphy between 1964 and 1970, but -- as has been reported -- after an investigation, the judge in charge filed the case. The Diocese of Milwaukee instead immediately removed Father Murphy, with a temporary permission for reasons of health (until November 1974) which, however, became definitive. A letter of the Diocese of Superior in 1980 explains that Father Murphy lived in Bounder Junction, Wisconsin, in his mother's house, continuing, however, to exercise his priestly ministry helping the local parish priest.

In the meantime, however, the denunciations to the Diocese of Milwaukee multiplied and between July and December of 1993. Father Murphy was subjected to four long interrogations by those in charge of the archdiocese assisted by expert psychologists in pedophilia. A clinical picture emerged of a "typical pedophile," recommending psychological treatment for sexual obsessions and also pastoral/spiritual support, in addition to a restriction in his ministerial activity. Evident from the reports of the interrogations is that there were 29 denunciations of boys: Father Murphy admitted "contacts" only for 19 of the boys involved. Demonstrated in subsequent documents is that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee continued in its investigations seeking to speed up the reality and the breadth of the facts, and on July 17, 1996, Bishop Rembert Weakland wrote to the then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, requesting help with the case of Father Murphy and of -- not connected -- another priest, accused of sexual and financial crimes.

Bishop Weakland made reference to the denunciation of 1974 and explained, however, that only recently had he come to the knowledge of the fact that certain sexual crimes occurred during the sacrament of confession, so he officially asked a priest of the diocese, Father James Connell, to conduct an in-depth investigation (the decree is of December 1995). An obstacle to ascertaining the facts -- said bishop Weakland -- was the understandable reticence of the boys and of the community of St. John's School to make public embarrassing circumstances. Bishop Weakland turned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to have clarification on the jurisdiction in this case of "crimes of solicitation" (canon 1387), whether it belonged to the diocese or to the congregation.

From subsequent documents it would seem that the letter never arrived on Cardinal Ratzinger's desk and of the then Archbishop [Tarcisio] Bertone, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In any case, in the absence of a reply, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee went ahead and on Dec. 10, 1996, informed Father Murphy that on Nov. 22, ecclesiastical criminal proceedings were opened against him with a court-created ad hoc. The request of the accusation was the "destitution of Father Murphy from the clerical state."

The problem that was posed, however, was that of the prescription of crimes committed, for which the norm of Canon Law would have impeded to proceed. But the archbishop of Milwaukee was determined to single out an exception to the canon taking into account the physical and psychological situation of the victims, an intention endorsed later by Archbishop Bertone in the letter of March 24, 1997. At the end of 1997, the process then passed to the Diocese of Superior, but the president of the court was the same as that of Milwaukee, Father Thomas Brundage. Evidenced clearly from the documents presented by The New York Times was the intention of the ecclesiastical authorities of Milwaukee and Superior to proceed in the most expeditious way possible to come to an act of justice and reparation for the victims and the community of St. John's School.

In the meantime, Father Murphy wrote a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger (Jan. 12, 1998), requesting the annulment of the process entrusted to him because the Instruction of 1962 provides for undertaking criminal action within a period of 30 days from the moment in which the accusation is presented. Father Murphy asserted, among other things, in addition to being repentant that he was gravely ill and in any case had been living in retirement for 24 years, for which he requested at least not to be reduced to the lay state.

On April 6, 1998, Archbishop Bertone wrote to Bishop Fliss of Superior, in the name of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, explaining that -- after having examined the affair carefully -- there was no fixed period for criminal action as invoked by Father Murphy, so that the process could continue  even if -- added Bertone -- it is right to take into account article 1341 of the Code of Canon Law according to which a criminal sanction must be commuted only after having verified that it is not "possible to obtain sufficient reparation for the scandal, the re-establishment of justice, the emendation of the offender" with other means.

Bishop Fliss answered Archbishop Bertone on May 13, affirming that, in keeping with what the congregation indicated, there was the necessity of a prosecution of Father Murphy taking into account the gravity of the scandal and of the great pain inflicted on the Catholic community of St. John's School.

We arrive then at May 30 when there was a meeting in the Vatican between Archbishop Bertone, the undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Father Gianfranco Girotti, and the American prelates concerned with the case. Evident from the minutes of the meeting is that in the congregation there were doubts about the feasibility and opportuneness of the canonical process, given the difficulty of reconstructing the events that happened 35 years earlier, above all that which concerned the crime in the confessional, and given that no other accusations resulted for the period from 1974 onward. Hence Bertone, at the conclusion of the meeting, summarized the two essential lines to be held: a territorial restriction for the priestly ministry (in practice, Father Murphy had to stay in Superior) and decisive action to obtain the priest's repentance, including the threat of "resignation from the clerical state."

The bishop of Milwaukee wrote again on Aug. 19 to Archbishop Bertone to update him on the measures taken to activate the lines indicated by the congregation, and to inform him of the fact that his diocese would continue to be responsible for the expenses to maintain the therapies for the victims of sexual abuses. In the end, Father Murphy died on Aug. 21, closing the case definitively.



 VATICAN CITY, 26 MAR 2010 ( VIS ) - The following communique was released late this morning by the Holy See Press Office:

   "Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J., questioned by journalists concerning a new 'New York Times' article which appeared on 26 March and concerns the period in which Cardinal Ratzinger was archbishop of Munich, referred them to this morning's public denial in a communique published by the archdiocese of Munich, which reads:

   "'The article in the New York Times contains no new information beyond that which the archdiocese has already communicated concerning the then archbishop's knowledge of the situation of Father H.'

   "Thus the archdiocese confirms the position, according to which the then archbishop had no knowledge of the decision to reassign Father H. to pastoral activities in a parish.

   "It rejects any other version of events as mere speculation.

   "The then vicar general, Msgr. Gerhard Gruber, has assumed full responsibility for his own erroneous decision to reassign Father H. to pastoral activity".

Friday, 26 March 2010

Holy See Documents From World War II Go Online

Researchers Welcome Availability of Pius XII Information

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 25, 2010 - The Vatican announced today that official documents spanning more than 40 years are now available online.

The entire collection of the of the Actae Sanctae Sedis (A.S.S.) and of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (A.A.S.) -- i.e., the official Acts of the Holy See from 1865 to 2007 -- are now available in pdf format.

Also available is a multi-volume collection of acts from World War II, (Actes et documents du Saint-Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale), published by order of Paul VI starting in 1965, and edited by a specialized group of four Jesuit historians.

The project of putting the information online was supported by the New York-based Pave the Way Foundation.

A statement from Pave the Way noted the collection -- with its more than 9,000 pages -- describes the contents of 5,125 documents that are still not catalogued in the Vatican Secret Archives, and consequently, still not open to the public. These documents have been at the heart of controversy as researchers seek to settle debate over the role Pope Pius XII played in saving Jews from the Holocaust.

Gary Krupp, president of the Pave the Way Foundation, said the research project is "extremely important."

"To date, most of the research done in this area has been selective in nature. By opening these documents up for worldwide study, we hope to bring the truth of this controversial period to light," he said.

The foundation enlisted Israeli photographer Ardon Bar-Hama, whose work includes the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Codex Vaticanus, in order to deliver the highest quality fully searchable digital images of the documents.

Elliot Hershberg, chairman of the Pave the Way board, observed, "We felt that it was necessary to open these records, which are certainly not a substitute for the full opening of the war year archives. However, together with Pope Benedict XVI’s ordering of the opening of the Secret Archives up to 1939, we now have a clearer historical picture of the secret actions of Pope Pius XII and his attitude towards the Jewish people, his hatred of Hitler, and his secret work to defeat the Nazi regime.”


Secularism vs. Christianity

In recent weeks, Europe's secular media has launched what one Vatican official described as an "onslaught" on the Church, and clergy in particular, following continued revelations of clerical sexual abuse in various European countries over the past 50 years.

In the firing line have not only been clergy and bishops, but also Benedict XVI -- particularly in parts of the Italian, British and German press. The strength and unreasonableness of the criticism prompted Marcello Pera, an atheist philosopher, to write an open letter to the editor of Corriere della Sera last week.

 "There is a war going on," wrote Pera, who co-authored the 2004 book "Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity and Islam" with then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. "It's not just against the person of the Pope, because, on these grounds, it would be impossible. Benedict XVI remains impregnable because of his image, his serenity, his clarity, firmness and doctrine. It's enough for him to smile to defeat an army of opponents."

Pera, who is also a senator in the Italian parliament, noted that "the war is between secularism and Christianity." He said secularists know well that "if a fleck of mud lands on a white robe, the Church would be dirtied, and by soiling the Church, so too would be the Christian religion." That is why, he added, secularists question, without any evidence, whether the Church as a whole is capable of looking after children, educating them, or treating them in a Catholic hospital.

He warned that this is a "pitched battle of secularism against Christianity," adding that one would have to recall Nazism and communism to find a similar conflict. The means have changed, he wrote, but the end is the same: the destruction of religion. And he said it was "incredible" that secular Germany of all countries, while continuing to "beat its chest" over memories of wartime Europe, "forgets and does not understand that democracy itself would be lost if Christianity is again wiped out."

"The destruction of religion then entailed the destruction of reason," Pera wrote. "Today, it won't be secular reason that triumphs, but another kind of barbarism." He then listed what he saw as the various ethical and barbaric violations of today: "It is those who kill a fetus because his life would be detrimental to the 'mental health' of the mother. Those who say that an embryo is a 'clump of cells' good for experiments. It is killing an old man because he doesn't have a family to care for him anymore. It is about those who hasten the end of a child's life because he is no longer conscious and is incurable. It is those who think that Parent A and Parent B are the same as father and mother."

Political, secularist barbarism, he said, will lead to the destruction of Europe because what will be left will be multiculturalism, relativism and pacifism -- a Europe which says that it "mustn't have its own specific identity, but be a container of all identities."

"This war on Christianity would not be so dangerous if Christians understood it," continued Pera. "Instead, many of them participate in incomprehension." He cited weaknesses in the Church such as theologians "frustrated by the intellectual supremacy" of Benedict XVI; uncertain bishops "who believe any compromise with modernity" is the best way to promote the Christian message; and "cardinals who, in a crisis of faith, begin to suggest that priestly celibacy is not a dogma, and that perhaps it would be better to reconsider."

"The war of the secularists will continue," Pera wrote, "if not because of a Pope like Benedict XVI, who smiles but does not shrink one iota." He ended by calling on all those who understand why the Holy Father remains steadfast to "take the situation in hand" and not to wait "to take your next shot." Those who hide and limit themselves to being merely in empathy with him, he said, "don't understand why it's necessary."

Pera is one of a number of prominent European atheist intellectuals who are sympathetic to the Church's battles with radical secularism, post-modernism and cultural relativism. Perhaps the most famous is Jürgen Habermas, the German sociologist and philosopher, whose debates with Cardinal Ratzinger were published under the title "The Dialectics of Secularization" in 2007.

* * *

Edward Pentin is a freelance writer living in Rome. He can be reached at:

Vatican Statement on the “Murphy Case”

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 25, 2010 - The following is the full text of the statement given to the New York Times on Wednesday by Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office.

* * *
The tragic case of Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, involved particularly vulnerable victims who suffered terribly from what he did. By sexually abusing children who were hearing-impaired, Father Murphy violated the law and, more importantly, the sacred trust that his victims had placed in him.

During the mid-1970s, some of Father Murphy's victims reported his abuse to civil authorities, who investigated him at that time; however, according to news reports, that investigation was dropped. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was not informed of the matter until some twenty years later.

It has been suggested that a relationship exists between the application of Crimen sollicitationis and the non-reporting of child abuse to civil authorities in this case. In fact, there is no such relationship. Indeed, contrary to some statements that have circulated in the press, neither Crimen nor the Code of Canon Law ever prohibited the reporting of child abuse to law enforcement authorities.

In the late 1990s, after over two decades had passed since the abuse had been reported to diocesan officials and the police, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was presented for the first time with the question of how to treat the Murphy case canonically. The Congregation was informed of the matter because it involved solicitation in the confessional, which is a violation of the Sacrament of Penance. It is important to note that the canonical question presented to the Congregation was unrelated to any potential civil or criminal proceedings against Father Murphy.

In such cases, the Code of Canon Law does not envision automatic penalties, but recommends that a judgment be made not excluding even the greatest ecclesiastical penalty of dismissal from the clerical state (cf. Canon 1395, no. 2). In light of the facts that Father Murphy was elderly and in very poor health, and that he was living in seclusion and no allegations of abuse had been reported in over 20 years, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith suggested that the Archbishop of Milwaukee give consideration to addressing the situation by, for example, restricting Father Murphy's public ministry and requiring that Father Murphy accept full responsibility for the gravity of his acts. Father Murphy died approximately four months later, without further incident.


Vatican Spokesman Refutes Murphy Case Accusations
Clarifies Role of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

By Genevieve Pollock

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 25, 2010 - There were no cover-ups, the Vatican is confirming in response to media accusations that tried to implicate Benedict XVI in the case of a priest accused of abusing deaf children.

Today, several media sources followed the New York Times in reporting a story about Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who was accused of molesting up to 200 children.

The Holy See published the statement that Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, gave to the Times, in which he deplored this "tragic case" that "involved particularly vulnerable victims who suffered terribly."

Father Murphy was accused of sexually abusing children while he worked as director of St. John School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wisconsin, from July 1, 1963 to May 18, 1974.

"During the mid-1970s, some of Father Murphy's victims reported his abuse to civil authorities, who investigated him at that time," Father Lombardi acknowledged.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee noted on their Web site that in the fall of 1973 the abuse was reported to the Milwaukee police, who turned the matter over to the city of St. Francis local authorities. No civil charges were filed.

At that same time, the allegations were brought to the attention of Archbishop William Cousins, then the head of the archdiocese. Father Murphy was removed from his post on May 18, 1974.

In September of that year, the priest relocated to the Diocese of Superior. A civil lawsuit was filed against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee regarding Murphy in 1975, and was resolved in 1976.

Decades later

Father Lombardi noted that "the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was not informed of the matter until some 20 years later."

A case synopsis from the Milwaukee Archdiocesan tribunal, publicized by the New York Times, reported that the then Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who eventually brought the case to the congregation, began to receive letters in 1995 regarding accusations against Father Murphy.

On Dec. 21 of that year, he ordered an investigation into the matter. When it became evident that the allegations were most likely true, and, given the fact that they were grave and involved a violation of the confessional, Archbishop Weakland decided to bring the matter to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at that time headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, which deals with cases of the abuse of the sacrament of confession.

Father Lombardi affirmed: "In the late 1990s, after over two decades had passed since the abuse had been reported to diocesan officials and the police, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was presented for the first time with the question of how to treat the Murphy case canonically.

"The congregation was informed of the matter because it involved solicitation in the confessional, which is a violation of the Sacrament of Penance."

In other words, it involved the Vatican instruction "Crimen Sollicitationis" (crime of soliciting), which deals with clergy who are accused of using the sacrament of confession to make sexual advances toward penitents. The document was published in 1962, and contains procedures for dealing with these serious cases.

The Vatican spokesman clarified: "It has been suggested that a relationship exists between the application of 'Crimen sollicitationis' and the non-reporting of child abuse to civil authorities in this case.

"In fact, there is no such relationship.

"Indeed, contrary to some statements that have circulated in the press, neither 'Crimen' nor the Code of Canon Law ever prohibited the reporting of child abuse to law enforcement authorities."

In this case, the civil authorities were notified of the abuse decades before news reached the Vatican.


Archbishop Weakland sent the letter to Cardinal Ratzinger on July 17, 1996. On Oct. 15, the archbishop ordered a judicial trial against Father Murphy.

Regarding the trial, Father Lombardi clarified today that "in such cases, the Code of Canon Law does not envision automatic penalties, but recommends that a judgment be made not excluding even the greatest ecclesiastical penalty of dismissal from the clerical state (cf. Canon 1395, No. 2)."

The archdiocesan tribunal case synopsis detailed several other steps by which the trial moved forward in these months.

It noted that on Jan. 6, 1998, Father Murphy himself wrote a letter to the Vatican congregation stating that the peremptory time period had elapsed, and requesting an exception from the case being heard.

However, the archdiocesan tribunal reported that the Vatican congregation responded to Father Murphy with an April 6, 1998, letter asserting that there are no set time periods for cases of solicitation, and refusing the request for exception.

The tribunal ended the synopsis by expressing the hope for an official judgment in August, 1998.

In today's statement, Father Lombardi clarified, "It is important to note that the canonical question presented to the congregation was unrelated to any potential civil or criminal proceedings against Father Murphy."

Vatican meeting

On May 30, 1998, Archbishop Weakland met with then Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, at that time secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Bishop Raphael Fliss, then bishop of Superior; and others, to discuss the case of Father Murphy.

In the minutes of the meeting, also publicized by the Times, the Church leaders discussed the fact that "because of the long period of time" since the events of the case, "it is no longer possible to start a civil trial in the state of Wisconsin."

They referenced the "generous law of defense that exists in the U.S.A. and the difficulties that would arise from the execution of this case."

The meeting participants noted that there were also "not enough elements to instruct a canonical trial," but nonetheless stated that the diocese should remove the offending priest from the celebration of the Eucharist and consider "penal remedies."

They underlined the "needed remorse and reform" of Father Murphy.

On Aug. 19, 1998, Archbishop Weakland wrote to Archbishop Bertone outlining the action items that the archdiocese was pursuing in the case. Two days later, on Aug. 21, Father Murphy died of natural causes.

Upon receiving a letter informing him of the death, Archbishop Bertone responded on Sept. 28, affirming that "having taken note of his passing, the case of the accusation made against Father Murphy of solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession is, in effect, closed."

Father Lombardi affirmed in his statement that at the time of the investigation by the congregation, Father Murphy "was elderly and in very poor health."

He decried the tragic events, however, noting, "By sexually abusing children who were hearing-impaired, Father Murphy violated the law and, more importantly, the sacred trust that his victims had placed in him."


Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Pope Benedict’s Ecumenical Initiatives to Anglicans: address by Cardinal Levada

Five Hundred Years After St. John Fisher:
    Address by Cardinal William Joseph Levada
    Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario
March 6, 2010

    Thank you very much Fr. de Souza for the invitation to Kingston—my first visit—and to deliver this St. John Fisher visitor lecture. Thank you for introducing me to CCO. I’m delighted, I feel it a great privilege to be a part of this evening of testimony and partnership and, we hope, ongoing support. Of the fifty or so English Cardinals, only one was a martyr: St. John Fisher. As I mentioned, I am honoured to deliver this lecture named for St. John Fisher to this assembly sponsored by Newman House and by CCO.

    I’m reminded of the prayer with which our Holy Father imposed the cardinal’s biretta, or hat, on my head, some four years ago this month. The prayer reads: “Receive this red biretta as a sign of the dignity of the Cardinalate, by which you must be strong even to the shedding of your blood, in working for the increase of the Christian faith, for the peace and tranquility of the people of God, and for the freedom and progress of the Holy Roman Church.”

    I can’t say that I pray daily to be a martyr. I wish I were stronger. But it’s a good reminder for me to be here at this lecture in honour of the great martyr-Cardinal of the English Church. As a way of celebrating these 500 years since the time of St. John Fisher’s saintly and intrepid life, which brought him the martyr’s crown, and of celebrating as well this year’s promised beatification of the venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, whose search for the fullness of truth led him to Rome without requiring that he abandon the spiritual heritage that had nurtured him in the Anglican communion, I entitled my presentation today: “500 Years After St. John Fisher: Pope Benedict’s Initiatives Regarding the Anglican Communion.”

    The recent Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, establishing—I don’t need to translate this, I suppose, it won’t come out so well in translation: “groups of Anglicans”—establishing personal ordinariates for groups of Anglicans seeking full communion with the Catholic Church, was not created in a vacuum. For many Anglicans, the possibility opened by this initiative has seemed to be a logical development of the official dialogues between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church during the 45 year period since the end of the Second Vatican Council. Any discussion of Pope Benedict’s initiatives regarding Anglicans might therefore begin with a glance at this important history.

    Just a few years after the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, the first Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, commonly referred to by a short-hard term “ARCIC”, was established in 1969, with the mandate to produce agreed statements on three issues: Eucharistic doctrine, ministry and ordination, and authority in the Church. One notes immediately that these questions move from areas of greater supposed agreement—the Eucharist—to that of greater challenge, such as authority, which included discussions about papal primacy and infallibility.

    The commission worked rapidly to produce its agreed statements. There was a statement on Eucharist in 1971, on ministry and ordination in 1973, and on authority in the Church in 1976. With the further clarification on various points that were needed, ARCIC I, the first commission, prepared its responses called “elucidations”, which were published in 1979 and 1981, and produced a second agreed statement on “Authority in the Church II” in 1981. The work of ARCIC I was thus completed and received a largely favourable judgement both within the Anglican Communion and from the Catholic authorities. The Holy See would later approve the agreed statements on Eucharist and ministry with their elucidations. The ARCIC statements on authority in the Church stated that full agreement on certain issues, for example primacy and infallibility, had not yet been achieved and asked and recommended that these issues be addressed by a new ARCIC commission.

    The only outstanding question on ministry and ordination that remained was the ordination of women, an issue that was new. I note here that the ARCIC statement on ministry was published in 1973 and only in 1976 did the first ordination of a woman priest occur in the Episcopal Church in the United States. In spite of the request of the Holy See for further elucidation on this question, the commission maintained that its mandate to examine the classical teaching on ministry and orders had been accomplished, and asked that the question of the ordination of women be remanded for consideration by its successive commission. Until now this issue has not been examined by ARCIC.

    As a result of the work of ARCIC I, hopes ran high in ecumenical circles. Many Anglicans and Catholics saw in the agreed statements a path leading to the recognition of a common expression of their own faith. Such has been the testimony of the Anglican members of the working group with whom the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith consulted in the preparation of Anglicanorum coetibus, who see Pope Benedict’s apostolic constitution as one of the fruits of the ARCIC agreed statements. For many Anglicans, however, the question of women’s ordination remains a source of tension and disagreement, particularly in the Church of England, where more than 300 parishes have refused the ministry of bishops who ordain women, and for whom alternative episcopal oversight in the form of what are called “flying bishops”, suffragans to the Archbishop of Canterbury, have provided supplemental ministry throughout England.

    The decisions of the recent Synod of the Church of England to permit the ordination of women bishops and the refusal to authorize continued episcopal oversight have made the problem for this minority of Anglicans even more acute. For its part, the Catholic Church has clearly articulated its position on the ordination of women. In 1975, Pope Paul VI issued a formal appeal to the then-Archbishop of Canterbury, Fredrick Donald Coggan, to avoid taking a step which would have a serious negative impact on ecumenical relations. Just to say, parenthetically, that an appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury, though, is probably frustrating for him, because unlike the Catholic Church, there is no central authority in the Anglican Communion and, thus, the various provinces—some 39, I believe—have made their own decisions about such questions of practice and even doctrine.

    In 1976, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued its declaration Inter insigniores, stating that the Church does not consider herself authorized to ordain women, not on account of socio-cultural reasons, but rather because of the “unbroken tradition throughout the history of the Church, universal in the East and in the West”, which must be “considered to conform to God’s plan for his Church.” (I’m quoting there from the document.) This position was reiterated in 1992 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and again in 1994 with the Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II, Ordinatio sacerdotalis. In October of 1995, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a response affirming that the doctrine stating that the Church has no power to confer sacred orders on women is definitive tenenda—it must be held definitively and is to be considered part of the infallible, ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Church. For Catholics, the issue of the reservation of priestly ordination to men is not merely a matter of praxis, or discipline, but is, rather, doctrinal in nature and touches the heart of the doctrine of the Eucharist itself and the sacramental nature, or constitution, of the Church. It is therefore a question which cannot be relegated to the periphery of ecumenical conversations, but needs to be engaged directly in honesty and charity by dialogue partners who desire Christian unity, which, by its very nature, is Eucharistic.

    Cardinal Walter Kasper, current President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, addressed this point in an intervention given in June 2006 to the House of Bishops of the Church of England during its discussions on the ordination of women to the episcopate. In his talk he said this: “Because the Episcopal office is a ministry of unity, the decision you face would immediately impact on the question of the unity of the Church and with it the goal of ecumenical dialogue. It would be a decision against the common goal we have until now pursued in our dialogue: full ecclesial communion, which cannot exist without full communion in the episcopal office.”

    Returning briefly to the ARCIC process, in 1983 ARCIC II, the second commission, was established by the authorities of both communions, with a new group of representative theologians from each side. A list of the agreed statements produced by ARCIC II can give an idea of the broadened scope of the commission’s mandate. “Salvation and the Church” in 1987, “The Church as Communion” in 1991, “Life in Christ: Morals, Communion and the Church” in 1994, “The Gift of Authority: Authority in the Church III” in 1989, and “Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ” in 2005. These documents, although rich in content, have not received the widespread attention of the statements of ARCIC I, nor, as far as I know, have they been submitted for the evaluation of authorities of the two Communions, as were the previous statements.

    A more general analysis of the work of ARCIC II goes beyond the scope of this talk, not to mention the time available. But there’s one statement, “Life in Christ: Morals, Communion and the Church”, that addresses the question of homosexuality, which, in the past decade, has become another church-dividing issue in the Anglican Communion and potentially between the two Communions, and thus also touches our topic, since it motivated the need seen by some Anglicans to request the possibility of corporate union with the Catholic Church, to which Anglicanorum coetibus is a response.

    In “Life in Christ”, we read the following conclusions offered by the commission members, as a statement of doctrinal agreement between Catholics and Anglicans on the question of homosexuality. And here I quote number 87 of that agreed statement—that is, it’s an agreed statement of the Catholic and Anglican theologians, as their agreement was never officially authorized by either of the Communions.

    “Both our Communions affirm the importance and significance of human friendship and affection among men and women, whether married or single. Both affirm that all persons, including those of homosexual orientation, are made in the divine image and share the full dignity of human creatureliness. Both affirm that a faithful and lifelong marriage between a man and a woman provides the normative context for a fully sexual relationship. Both appeal to Scripture and the natural order as the sources of their teaching on this issue. Both reject, therefore, the claim, sometimes made that homosexual relationships and married relationships are morally equivalent, and equally capable of expressing the right ordering and use of the sexual drive. Such ordering and use, we believe, are an essential aspect of life in Christ.” (Life in Christ: Morals, Communion and the Church, Second Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission, 87.)

    While not an official doctrinal statement, this formulation is one that the Anglican and Catholic members of ARCIC II in 1994 proposed as a correct common formulation of the moral doctrine accepted by both Communions. No wonder, then, that the ordination of a bishop in a homosexual partnership in New Hampshire, with subsequent approval by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church of the United States in 2003, and the authorization of rituals for the blessing of gay unions and marriages by the Anglican Church in Canada, have caused an enormous upheaval within the Anglican communion.

    The fundamental issue here, as many have noted, is the question of authority. This may be briefly summed up in the following two points. Does the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and in Scripture intend to let us know God’s will in a way that requires our obedience (for example, the imitation of Christ, the Ten Commandments)? And secondly, has God, in Christ, left His Church, founded on the Apostles, an authority by which it can assure that can know the correct meaning of the revelation, amidst sometimes varying human interpretations (for example, the sensus fidei, the ecumenical councils, the Magisterium of the Pope and bishops)?

    Notwithstanding the tensions created, not only within the Anglican Communion but for ecumenical relations with the Catholic Church, the abovementioned two issues, last November, on the occasion of the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI approved the establishment of ARCIC III, which has for its mandate to continue the bilateral dialogue, with the theme “Church as Communion – Local and Universal”, including the discernment of ethical questions on these two levels and the interaction between them.

    Such a step is a sign of hope and a commitment to pursuing the path to full corporate union on the part of our two Communions. I think mention should also be made of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as an ecumenical initiative—Fr. de Souza mentioned it earlier in introducing me. It was promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1992 and prepared by a commission headed by Cardinal Ratzinger, then the prefect of our congregation. I served on the editorial committee of seven bishops, as he mentioned, and I personally witnessed the commitment of time and of his own theological resources on the part of Cardinal Ratzinger to this important task, which was proposed by the Synod of Bishops in 1985, in which all the presidents of the bishops conferences participated to review the implementation of Vatican II up to that point.

    Pope John Paul’s Apostolic Constitution Fidei depositum promulgating the Catechism, points out that, “It is meant to support ecumenical efforts that are moved by the holy desire for the unity of all Christians, showing carefully the content and wondrous harmony of the catholic faith.”

    As we met with Anglican consultants in the preparation of Anglicanorum coetibus, these bishops and theologians themselves proposed the Catechism of the Catholic Church as the norm of faith for the corporate groups of Anglicans who might avail themselves this new instrument for full corporate union with the Catholic Church. Thus, I would also characterize the Catechism as an ecumenical initiative of Pope Benedict XVI and of his predecessor.

    To conclude this first section of my talk—just to let you know that there will be an end eventually, but not right now—I want to introduce the musical image that I will use subsequently. In speaking of the extensive consultation of bishops, synods and episcopal conferences by which the Catechism was enriched, Pope John Paul said, “This response elicits in me a deep feeling of joy, because the harmony of so many voices truly expresses what could be called the symphony of the faith.”

    The logic, the second part of the talk, that last part, is titled “The Logic of Anglicanorum Coetibus.” We turn our attention now to the most recent of the Holy Father’s initiatives, the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, which is itself in continuity with the serious and longstanding engagement with Anglicans exemplified by the ARCIC process that I have just described. The Apostolic Constitution provides for the reception into the Catholic Church of communities of Anglican faithful, which can retain distinctive features of their Anglican spiritual, liturgical and disciplinary heritage.

    Union with the Catholic Church is the goal of ecumenism—one could put, “we phrase it that way”. Yet the very process of working towards union works a change in churches and ecclesial communities that engage one another in dialogue, in actual instances of entering into communion do indeed transform the Catholic Church by way of enrichment. Let me add right away that when I say enrichment I am referring not to any addition of essential elements of sanctification and truth to the Catholic Church. Christ has endowed her with all the essential elements. I am referring to the addition of modes of expression of these essential elements, modes which enhance everyone’s appreciation of the inexhaustible treasures bestowed on the Church by her divine founder.

    The new reality of visible unity among Christians should not thought of as the coming together of disparate elements that previously had not existed in any one community. The Second Vatican Council clearly teaches that all the elements of sanctification and truth which Christ bestowed on the Church are found in the Catholic Church. What is new then is not the acquisition of something essential which had hitherto been absent. Instead, what is new is that perennial truths and elements of holiness already found in the Catholic Church are given new focus, or a different stress by the way they are lived by various groups of the faithful who are called by Christ to come together in perfect communion with one another, enjoying the bonds of creed, code, cult and charity, in diverse ways that blend harmoniously.

    Since the Church is like a sacrament, she bears within herself the truth and grace of Christ. When we say that Christ reveals God, and that the Church bears the revelation of Christ in the world, we are admitting that the unenlightened human intellect is not up to the task of knowing God’s ways perfectly. We humans need revelation, enlightenment. Baptism as the foundational sacrament of Christian faith is the normal means for that enlightenment to begin to penetrate our intellects. Even so, while God in Christ has revealed as much about Himself and about our relationship to Him as we need, revealed truths about the infinite God still exceed our finite intelligence. There is always an element of mystery in our knowledge of God and God’s work. Therefore, we fully expect that, while we may accurately know what can be truthfully said, the full knowledge of what that means is enhanced by the contemplation of many groups of people on the same mystery.

    This contemplation is not just an academic exercise. It is also a necessarily an exercise of worship. That is why the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, closely associates elements of truth with elements of sanctification. Worship enables one to penetrate divine truth with the clarity of lovers, who have gotten to know their beloved, through his love of them. And worship thus impels believers to study, just as their sturdy strengthens their love of the God whose goodness they have come to learn.

    Visible union with the Catholic Church does not mean absorption into a monolith, with the absorbed body being lost to the greater whole, the way a teaspoon of sugar would be lost if dissolved in a gallon of coffee. Rather, visible union with the Catholic Church can be compared to an orchestral ensemble. Some instruments can play all the notes, like a piano. There is no note that a piano has that a violin or a harp or a flute or a tuba does not have. But when all these instruments play the notes that the piano has, the notes are enriched and enhanced. The result is symphonic, full communion. One can perhaps say that the ecumenical movement wishes to move from cacophony to symphony, with all playing the same notes of doctrinal clarity, the same euphonic chords of sanctifying activity, observing the rhythm of Christian conduct in charity, and filling the world with the beautiful and inviting sound of the Word of God. While the other instruments may tune themselves according to the piano, when playing in concert there is no mistaking them for the piano. It is God’s will that those to whom the Word of God is addressed, the world, that is, should hear one pleasing melody made splendid by the contributions of many different instruments.

    The Catholic Church approaches ecumenical dialogue convincedm as the Second Vatican Council’s degree of ecumenism states, that, and I quote here: “Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God.” (Decree on Ecumenism: Unitatis Redintegratio)

    She believes that she is the mystical body of Christ and she is convinced that the Church of Christ subsists in her because she recognizes that, while she is like the piano that has all of the notes, that is, all of the elements of sanctification and truth, many of those notes are shared with other communities and those communities often have beautiful ways of sounding the notes that can lead to a heightened appreciation of truth and holiness, both within the Catholic Church and within her partners in the ecumenical endeavour.

    Many Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, for example, design their church buildings and the liturgies that are celebrated in them with an accent of the eschaton—the life hereafter. One who walks into a building shaped like a Greek cross and surrounded by a dome covered in mosaics, filled with icons that depict our brothers and sisters in Heaven, breathe in the incense, that heavenly air, listen to the chants, is expected to think that he or she is already experiencing the Kingdom of Heaven. No wonder Pope John Paul used the image of the Church breathing with two lungs. For Latin Catholics, the Eastern Church liturgies can seem to provide a rich new timbre to the notes in which our common praise of God is lifted up.

    Other ecclesial communities formed from the Reformation encourage their members to base their prayers lives on the written Word of God. This biblical focus—here I am not referring to the errors that underlie the Protestant phrase sola scriptura—is perhaps more intense outside of the visible confines of the Catholic Church. The Church plays the right note, but other communities give it more volume.

    Turning to the Anglican Communion, we can see the many elements that impel toward full unity: regard for the unifying role of the episcopate, an esteem for the sacramental life, a similar sense of catholicity as a mark of the Church, and a vibrant missionary impulse, to name but a few. These are by no means absent from the Catholic Church, but the particular manner in which they are found in Anglicanism adds to the Catholic understanding of a common gift. These considerations help us appreciate the Catholic Church’s insistence that there is no opposition between ecumenical action and the preparation of people for full reception into Catholic communion.

    Indeed, the first ecumenical action logically leads to the second: reception into full communion. Unitatis Redintegratio, that is, the decree on ecumenism, asserts that almost all people long for the one visible church of God, that truly Universal Church whose mission is to convert the whole world to the Gospel so that the world may be saved to the glory of God.

    To return to our earlier metaphor, people long for discordant tones and voices to be harmonized, united, and when an individual or, indeed, a community, is ready for unity with the Church of Christ that subsists in the Catholic Church, it would be a betrayal of Catholic ecumenical principles and goals to refuse to embrace them and to embrace them with all the distinctive gifts that enrich the Church, that help her approach the world symphonically, sounding together or united. Just as there is one Saviour, so there is one universal sacrament of Salvation, the Church. The Eastern Churches that are united to Rome are enjoined to preserve their distinct institutions, liturgical rites, ecclesiastical traditions and way of Christian life. By so doing, the Second Vatican Council teaches they do not harm the Church’s unity, but rather, make it manifest.

    The experience we are embarking on with Anglicanorum coetibus promises also to make the Church’s fundamental unity manifest by adding to her life distinctive expressions of Christ’s gifts of holiness and truth. Nevertheless, a strict comparison between the Anglicans and the Eastern Church and Catholic Churches would not be correct, I hasten to add. The Eastern Churches, like the Ukrainian Catholic Church so numerous in Canada, are in the fullest sense of the term “Churches” since they have valid apostolic succession and thus valid Eucharist. They are therefore called Churches “sui juris” because they have their own legal structures of governance, all while maintaining bonds of hierarchical communion with the Bishop of Rome. The term Church is applied differently to the Anglican Communion for reasons rehearsed over a century ago by Pope Leo XIII in Apostolicae curae. So the legal framework for Anglican communities seeking full communion precisely as communities would be different from that of Eastern Churches. They remain a part of the Western Latin Church tradition. That is why the Holy Father has decided to erect personal ordinarities in order to provide pastoral care for such groups who wish to share their gifts corporately with their Catholic sisters and brothers and with whom they have shared a long history before the Reformation in the 16th century.

    The Apostolic Constitution of Pope Benedict XVI is a courageous way of seeking to ensure that distinctive elements in the Anglican world which foster Catholic unity can remain distinctive when groups of Anglicans enter into full communion. This is to the enrichment of everyone, even though their distinctive elements are to be lived ordinarily by those who come from an Anglican background. Already in 2003, “The Book of Divine Worship: Being elements of the Book of Common Prayer revised and adapted according to the Roman Rite for use by Roman Catholics coming from the Anglican tradition”—that’s a long title—was published with the approval of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States and the confirmation of the Apostolic See for use in those few parishes who have come in as corporate entities into the Catholic Church from the Episcopal Church of the United States. Anglicanorum coetibus envisages not only the inclusion of significant elements of Anglican ritual for groups coming into full communion, but also certain pastoral practices that are a part of their heritage in order to provide a new continuity for enriching their spiritual and ecclesial life in the future. Moreover, among the distinctive elements of Anglican heritage should be included the spiritual and intellectual gifts of the Oxford movement in the 19th century, the then-Anglican cleric Newman together with his fellows Tractarians have left a legacy that still enriches a common Catholic patrimony.

    This is the first time that the Catholic Church has reached out in response to men and women of Western Christianity who desire full communion and accorded them not just a place among many, but a distinctive place. This is not surprising. Twenty-eight years ago, the great historian of ecumenism, Fr. Yves Congar, wrote that if we take seriously that the Holy Spirit has been working among our fellow Christians, we have to take seriously the ways they express their beliefs. When their particular expression of faith adds harmony to ours, and ours add harmony to theirs, the logical step is to pass from talking longingly about unity to living in unity, a unity whose essence is revealed in harmonious diversity. The unity Christ desires is visible; it is not elusive or even unreachable. Likewise, the totality that Christ desires is visible. These assertions lie behind the famous teachings of Lumen gentium that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, but it is equally true to say that the unity Christ desires for His Church can always be added to, just as there is room for another instrument in the orchestra. The totality that Christ desires does exist in terms of the elements of sanctification and truth that the Church possesses, but the sharing of those elements, then the manner of celebrating them, is still far from complete. We sometimes do not know the value of what we possess and we need the spirit-filled insights of others to recognize the treasures we have.

    I conclude by saying that the Eucharist is the summit and the source of Christian life. It is celebrated in notably different ways in the various Churches that make up the Catholic world. Each liturgical rite sheds light on the mystery of the Eucharist, its representation of the Sacrifice at Calvary, its strengthening of the mystical body, the Church, the real presence of our Saviour, the foretaste of the heavenly banquet and so on. May the diversity and unity that is the Eucharist—Joseph Ratzinger said that there is really just one Eucharist with many altars—be a model for the Christian unity to which we are all committed. Thank you very much.


Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Archives Director: Pius XII Files Ready in 5 Years

Says No Mysteries or Surprises Expected
LAS PALMAS, Canary Islands, MARCH 2, 2010 ( According to the prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, the documents from Pope Pius XII's pontificate might be catalogued and ready for researchers in five years.

There are some 16 million documents from the 1939-1958 pontificate. They have generated great interest due to the polemics surrounding Pius XII's aid to Jews during the Nazi era.

Bishop Sergio Pagano, prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, gave the projected date for catalogue completion when he opened an event on the history of the Church held annually on the Canary Islands.

In his talk Monday, the bishop gave an overview of the history of the Vatican Secret Archives, noting how Pope Leo XIII opened it to researchers in 1881.

Pope Paul VI was responsible for the most recent expansion of the archives, now on two floors with 43,000 meters (47,000 yards) of display stands. Between 60 and 70 researchers work there daily, and sometimes as many as 90.

Regarding the controversial documents from Pius XII's time, Bishop Pagano said the Holy See would be willing to open the archives even tomorrow, since there is nothing to "fear" from them. But, he said, the documents must still be numbered, conserved, registered and ordered.

"When Pius XII's pontificate is opened, matters will be defined more closely, contexts will be provided, but nothing mysterious or surprising is expected," he said. "What will be seen is the great good that Pius XII did in relation to the Jews."


Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Marian Feast Named Holiday for Muslims, Christians

Interview With Mohammad Al-Sammak
By Tony Assaf

ROME, MARCH 1, 2010 ( Christians and Muslims in Lebanon are looking forward to sharing the Feast of the Annunciation as a national holiday, says the secretary general of the Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue.

Mohammad Al-Sammak said this in an interview with ZENIT while he was in Rome for a Feb. 22 conference on the theme, "The Future Is Living Together: Christians and Muslims in the Middle East in Dialogue."

It was organized by the Sant'Egidio Community, an international Catholic organization that focuses on prayer, spreading the Gospel, ecumenism, and dialogue with other religions and non-believers.

Al-Sammak, who also serves as a political counselor to the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, became the first Muslim to participate as an active member in a Synod of Bishops in 1995 when John Paul II convoked a special assembly of the prelates of Lebanon.

Al-Sammak is also one of the 138 Muslim leaders who signed the open letter "A Common Word Between Us and You," addressed to Benedict XVI and various heads of other Christian churches and confessions.

He worked for three years on a project with the Lebanese government to make the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, a holiday for both Christians and Muslims. Last week the authorities issued a decree making that day a national feast day.

In this interview with ZENIT, Al-Sammak spoke about the past, future, and other elements shared by Christians and Muslims in the Middle East.

ZENIT: What do you think of the crisis in Islamic and Christian relations in the Middle East and the fact that after 14 centuries of living together we are once again participating in a conference on dialogue?

Al-Sammak: Basically, the Muslims and Christians in the Middle East are condemned to decide to live together.

There is no third way: either they choose to live together or they are forced to live together.

Let us say that the coexistence between Christians and Muslims is not something premeditated but it is a choice. And since we have built a common life on the basis of a choice, we must be aware that there are differences between us and create a culture founded on respect for these differences and acceptance and living with them.

Neither of us can abolish nor impose our own way of life on others.

The diversity and plurality of our Arab societies -- Christian and Muslim -- are a vital and fundamental component and even an historical component. At the same time, they are also a formula for the future if there is a future for this region.

ZENIT: What could the future of the Middle East be if the Christians disappeared?

Al-Sammak: There is no future for the Arab region if the Muslims and Christians do not live together.

What is happening now in that region in regard to the diminishment of the number and role of Christians is a disaster not only for Christians but also for Muslims, and will lead to the disintegration of that society and the loss of the wealth of diversity and the scientific, economic, intellectual and cultural expertise of the Christians who emigrate.

Emigration is not so much a loss for the Christians as it is for the Muslims and at the same time it is a defeat for Islam-Christian coexistence.

ZENIT: To what extent are Muslims aware of the danger of a disappearance of Christians from the Middle East?

Al-Sammak: I must admit that the Christian preoccupation for the future is greater than the awareness that Islam has of this danger.

It must be our duty to broaden the circle of Islamic consciousness about the emigration of Christians and the gravity of the exodus of Christians for Islam in that region and the rest of the world.

The Christian exodus brings an indirect message to the world: that Islam does not accept the other and cannot live with others.

At this point the other world, or the Western world in general, following this logic, would have the right to say: If Muslims do not accept the presence of Christians among them, in reality an authentic and historical presence, why must we accept [Muslims] in our societies?

This reflects negatively on the Islamic presence in the world and so it is in the interests of Muslims, for the image of Islam in the world and for the interests of Muslims in different parts of the world, to maintain the presence of Christians in the Arab world and to protect this presence with all its might not only out of love for Christians but because this is their right as citizens and inhabitants of the region, who were there before Muslims.

ZENIT: Speaking of Muslims in the world, especially in the Western world, one often hears talk of Islamophobia. What, according to you, are the causes and solutions to this phenomenon?

Al-Sammak: Some of these causes stem from historical circumstances inherited from Western culture, which has a negative vision of Muslims that has its roots in literature and is reflected day after day in the media in one way or another.

But what feeds this phenomenon is the behavior of some Islamic extremists in the Western societies and when I speak of unacceptable behavior, I am not necessarily talking about terrorism, which is in itself dangerous, negative and catastrophic, but I am also talking about the confusion between religion and tradition.

Tradition is not religion and some of these persons of whom I am speaking unfortunately come from Muslim societies [that have] local customs and traditions that they say are part of the religion even if they are not, and perhaps they are contrary to the religion itself.

They live in Western societies clinging to those traditions because through them they think that they are expressing their independent personalities. And so they come to these Western societies that do not accept them, and they understand themselves to be different in culture, in language, in religion, in food in "halal" and in "haram," etc. and begin to feel themselves marginalized from social life; and to develop their own personality they cling to the traditions that they practiced in their countries and sanctify them, that is, they elevate them to the level of the holiness of religion in such a way as to give the impression to Westerners that if this is Islam, one cannot live with it.

But this is not Islam, these local traditions that come from African countries, from Pakistan, from Afghanistan, from India, etc.; the confusion between what is really religious and what is a social tradition to which a religious identity is given, leads to an increase in Islamophobia, understood as hatred of Islam based on ignorance.

Because ignorance about Islam derives from two things: The first is an erroneous interpretation of Islam by some Muslims and the second is the lack of understanding of Islam by some non-Muslims.

The basis of this social behavior practiced by some Muslims who come from underdeveloped or poor or primitive societies is not only in the fact that they ignore the social traditions of the West in the societies where they go to live, but that they also and above all ignore a large part of the constants of their faith and they negatively project this in such a way as to cause this situation of Islamophobia.

ZENIT: There is a growth in the currents of Islamic extremism. What is the impact of this growth on the Christians of the Middle East?

Al-Sammak: I think that these movements have already gone beyond the growth phase and that perhaps today we are witnessing the beginning of the phase of their decline.

This growth reached its height a short time ago but the drop in numbers has begun.

These movements do not only have an impact on Christians in the Middle East but above all they have an effect on Muslims.

Extremism is an attempt to monopolize the truth and an attempt to monopolize God and to monopolize the sacred; it is also an attempt to interpret religion according to the interests and concepts of certain movements and so the way of relating to Muslims is determined by these interpretations that are a threat to Islam, for Muslims and for Christians.

Thus we need a process of correction of these concepts through cultural and educational projects, and I can say that Arab countries are already conscious of this aspect after having paid a high price for the spread of the extremism that has begun to fade due to the courageous steps taken by different countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Algeria and others.

All of these countries have begun a new and courageous reflection to revive the practice of the true faith in a correct and positive way.

ZENIT: What do the Muslims of the Middle East expect from the next Synod of Bishops? Will you participate?

Al-Sammak: I participated in the previous Synod and I am grateful to His Holiness John Paul II not only for inviting Muslims to a Synod but also for having insisted on us participating as active members and not just as observers.

I, personally, was a member of working commissions and this was a fact without precedent in the history of synods in general and in the history of Muslims at Christian meetings.

In reality, the next Synod is very important because it will discuss the topic of Christians in the East; and this is not an issue that only regards Christians but an issue that is also of interest to Muslims because they have the same fate in the East.

What affects Christians in the Middle East also affects Muslims.

Therefore we are very interested in what will happen and what will be decided in the next Synod. So far we have not received any invitation to participate but I hope that this will happen and I hope too that the Islamic participation will bring about something similar to what it did in the Synod on Lebanon.

Also because if we Muslims participate, we will assume the responsibility for implementing what will be decided at the Synod in view of a common Christian-Muslim responsibility.

We have said this many times because we are responsible for implementing what was established by the post-synodal declaration, at least for what regards Lebanon. A similar declaration will also be issued by this Synod and so the Muslims could have a responsibility for implementing it.

ZENIT: In your opinion, is there a continuity between the path taken by John Paul II and that of Benedict XVI?

Al-Sammak: I think that in restoring the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, which was once annexed to the Pontifical Council for Culture, Pope Benedict XVI wanted to return to dialogue with the other religions, including the Muslims.

In fact, we have all seen how the Pope welcomed the Islamic initiative "A Common Word Between You and Us," which regards love in Islam and Christianity. I had the honor of being among the first signatories of this document.

The Pope's visit to Palestine and Jordan and his conversations with Muslim leaders opened new and broad perspectives to reactivate the dialogue launched by John Paul II in Assisi in 1986.

We have followed this work and we consider it among the most important missions that the Vatican is undertaking in relation to the Muslim world. We cannot however not take account of what is happening in some Muslim countries such as Nigeria, Indonesia and Malaysia.

There are some pathological aspects of Islamic-Christian relations that can only be dealt with through a culture of dialogue and a culture of respect for differences.

The role that the Vatican can play is clear in the process of openness toward the Islamic world to encourage and promote this culture and establish it in Islamic societies.

ZENIT: The Lebanese government decreed the Feast of the Annunciation as a common feast for Christians and Muslims. In what measure can such initiatives, especially when they are promoted by the state, promote coexistence?

Al-Sammak: This is one of the achievements that we are proud of and that we have been working on for the past three years.

For three years we have been organizing on March 25 a Muslim-Christian gathering centered on Mary, reciting verses from the Gospel and from the Qur'an that regard Mary, seeking to show what is common to Islam and Christianity.

Last year from the podium of the former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, I personally declared his agreement and his approval of the declaration of March 25 as a Muslim and Christian feast day. The idea was that on this day everyone must continue to work, because the former prime minister said: "I want the Lebanese to work one day more not one day less."

My brothers and I of the Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue (of which I am the secretary general) accepted the decision, because we wanted in any case to dedicate this day to Muslims and Christians.

Last week we met with Prime Minister Saad Hariri and we again proposed this idea to him, and he immediately supported it. And 48 hours later a decree was issued that declared March 25 a national holiday and a day of celebration: a day of [interreligious] work for both Muslims and Christians.