A Philippine National Police team has been guarding padlocked trucks outside the bishop’s house since the trucks arrived April 26.
The trucks contain ballots for the May 19 national and local elections.
Bishop Leopoldo Jaucian of Bangued granted the request of Provincial Election Supervisor Vanessa Roncal to store the ballots inside his compound until they are “distributed to the 340 clustered voting precincts,” Father Drexel Ramos told the Asian church news agency UCA News April 28.
“No one would dare raid the bishop’s compound to destroy the ballots or the vans,” said the priest, who is in charge of election concerns in the diocese.
However, he said he is unsure about the safety of the ballots once they leave the walled compound.
The Philippine National Police listed mountainous Abra province as an election hotspot because of reports of violence during polls. Communist rebels and armed groups are present in the area.
No candidates have been reported killed this year, but armed men in uniform have reportedly asked villagers for whom they were voting.
New Armed Forces of the Philippines troops have also arrived in the province to help keep order during the election period.
Father Ramos expressed concern over reports that the area is one voting machine short and that there are no backups in the case of theft or machine breakdown.
About 83 percent of the more than 257,000 people who live within the boundaries of Bangued Diocese are Catholics.
Defenders of Pope Pius XII gathered in Rome to answer a list of questions about his actions in the face of Nazi persecution of Jews in Europe during World War II, an organizer of the event said.
Gary Krupp, founder of the Pave the Way Foundation, a nondenominational organization that seeks to improve interfaith relations, said a panel of five experts on the wartime period met April 26-27. The object of the videotaped meeting was to answer 47 questions about the Catholic Church and World War II that had been posed but never officially answered by a Catholic-Jewish commission disbanded about 10 years ago.
Krupp said the experts enlisted were Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel, a top promoter of the canonization cause of Pope Pius; Ronald J. Rychlak, professor of law and associate dean at the University of Mississippi, and the author of two books on Pope Pius’ wartime role; Matteo Luigi Napolitano, an Italian associate history professor at the University of Molise and a Pope Pius biographer; Andrea Tornielli, who covers the Vatican for an Italian daily and a Pope Pius biographer; and Michael Hesemann, a German author of several books about the church, including one defending Pope Pius’ wartime record.
Krupp, an American Jew, has maintained that Pope Pius has been unfairly judged by Jewish groups and some historians who say that he did not speak out forcefully to try to stop Adolf Hitler’s persecution of Jews. Krupp joins many Catholics who say the pope did all he could behind the scenes to try to save Jewish lives and that a direct confrontation would have provoked worse reprisals against Jews.
Krupp supports Pope Pius’ sainthood cause. Pope Benedict XVI recently declared the wartime pope venerable, one of the first steps toward sainthood, a move that angered many Jewish groups who say that Pope Pius’ role remains ambiguous and that it should be studied before the cause goes further.
The questions addressed by the panel originated with a joint commission of scholars formed in 1999 by the Vatican and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation to study the issue of Pope Pius and the Jews during the war. After examining published materials for a year, the commission suspended its work amid controversy over access to still-closed Vatican archives from that period.
According to Catholic News Service, Krupp said he would make the nine hours of recorded material available on DVD and on his foundation’s website.
He and four other Jewish figures who had been present during the taping of the panel’s discussions spoke briefly with Pope Benedict at the end of the weekly papal audience in St. Peter’s Square April 28.
They also met with German Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Krupp said. They discussed an interfaith effort to promote a tradition of families eating together on Friday night, he said. They also expressed their fear of a nuclear Iran and Iran’s hostile attitude toward Israel, Krupp said.
With a tangled set of six opinions, the Supreme Court ruled April 28 that it could be constitutional for the federal government to permit a large cross to stay within the boundaries of a national preserve in the California desert.
But it also sent the case involving the transfer of ownership of a small plot of federal land back to lower courts for further consideration.
With a main opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and several separate opinions that agreed on this aspect, a 5-4 majority said lower courts went too far in refusing to allow the transfer of the piece of land where the cross stands to a nongovernmental entity, which would keep it standing and maintain it. The transfer was ordered by Congress to address a legal challenge by a former National Park Service employee who objected to having one faith represented by a symbol on federal property.
The cross was placed as a war memorial in 1934 by the Veterans of Foreign Wars on a rocky hillside in an isolated section of the 1.6 million-acre Mojave National Preserve in San Bernardino County. Private groups and individuals have maintained and replaced the cross over the years. The site is far from areas that are frequently traveled, but it has been used over the years for Easter religious services.
A larger majority of the court agreed, 7-2, that the retired employee, Frank Buono, was entitled to sue over the cross’ presence on government-owned land. And a separate 4-1 opinion sent the case back to California federal courts that barred the land transfer, telling them to reconsider the situation in light of what Congress intended by ordering the transfer. The other four justices did not address this point.
Noting that an underlying question about the land-transfer statute must first be resolved before the ultimate fate of the cross is settled, Kennedy pointed out that so far the court has “refrained from making sweeping pronouncements,” when it comes to matters like that raised in Salazar v. Buono, “and this case is ill-suited for announcing categorical rules,” Catholic News Service reported.
The 8-foot-high cross has been covered by a wooden box while the case has been in litigation.
Pope Benedict XVI called on Catholic communication workers to give witness to their beliefs and to help infuse new media outlets with “a soul.”
“More than through technical resources, although necessary, we want to confirm ourselves living in this (digital) universe, too, with a believing heart so that it may contribute to giving a soul to the Internet’s endless flow of communication,” he said April 24.
Catholic News Service reported that the pope made his comments during an audience with participants of a national congress on digital media organized by the Italian bishops’ conference. The congress, which ran April 22-24, was titled, “Digital Witnesses. Faces and Languages in the Cross-media Era.”
During the congress, the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told participants that truth, transparency and credibility were paramount in communications.
“Secrecy and confidentiality, even given their positive aspects, are not values that are cultivated by today’s culture. It is necessary to be able to have nothing to hide,” Father Lombardi said in his address to the congress April 24.
Today is “above all a time of truth, transparency, and credibility,” he said.
The times “that we are experiencing, the price we are paying, all indicate that our witness must be decisively in line with rigor, consistency with what we say and what we are, and the refusal of every hypocrisy and duplicity,” he said.
Father Lombardi urged Catholic communications workers to “bring the joy of truth and loyalty” to the world, and to be “credible witnesses of what we say and do.”
In his audience address to participants later the same day, Pope Benedict spoke of the importance of new media reflecting the full human person. When too much focus is on the superficial, people can seem like “soulless bodies — objects of exchange and consumption,” he said.
The digital divide, which further separates the haves and the have-nots, still needs to be bridged, he said.
Some of the risks the Internet still present are the problems of “conformity and control, and intellectual and moral relativism — already quite evident in a waning critical spirit, in the truth being reduced to a play of opinions, and in the many forms of degradation and humiliation of a person’s innermost being,” he said.
Communicators can help humanize the mass media by upholding those universal values that promote the common good and the dignity of the human person, he said.
“Without fear we want to set sail for the digital sea, facing the open waters with the same passion that has governed the ship of the church for two thousand years,” he said.
Pope Benedict asked that media workers never tire of filling their hearts with “that healthy passion for mankind,” which in turn can find sustenance in a solid preparation in theology, “a deep and joyous passion for God,” and prayer.
Pope Benedict XVI is planning to create a Roman Curia department charged with overseeing the “re-evangelization” of traditionally Christian countries, an Italian newspaper reported.
The Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization will be announced in an apostolic letter being prepared by the pope and will be headed by Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella, Il Giornale said April 25. The Vatican had no immediate comment on the report.
The step would represent the first major Roman Curia innovation under Pope Benedict, who has frequently spoken about the need to renew the roots of the faith in European and other Western societies.
It was Pope John Paul II who first used the term “new evangelization,” and Il Giornale said a proposal to create a Vatican department to promote this type of activity was made in the 1980s by Father Luigi Giussani, the founder of the Italian lay movement Communion and Liberation.
More recently, the newspaper said, Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice re-proposed the idea to Pope Benedict, and the German pontiff decided to move ahead with the project.
Archbishop Fisichella has headed the Pontifical Academy for Life since 2008. He came under fire recently from a small number of academy members, who said in a statement that he should be replaced because he “does not understand what absolute respect for innocent human lives entails.”
The criticism of Archbishop Fisichella stemmed from an article he wrote in 2009, which said a Brazilian archbishop’s response to an abortion performed on a 9-year-old girl had shown a lack of pastoral care and compassion.
Almost lost in the recent furor over clerical sex abuse is that Pope Benedict XVI just turned 83 and is approaching one of the busiest stretches of his pontificate. At an age when most church officials have long retired, over the next six months the German pontiff will make six trips, preside over dozens of public liturgies, close the Year for Priests, chair a Synod of Bishops on the Middle East and keep up a steady stream of audiences, both public and private. A major document on Scripture in church life is expected before summer. In his spare moments — which are few — the pope is still working on his second volume of Jesus of Nazareth. Recent media reports have drawn a portrait of a weary pope, overwhelmed by the onslaught of criticism over the church’s handling of sex abuses cases. Yet on the public stage, Pope Benedict has shown few signs of succumbing to job fatigue. In Malta in mid-April for a 27-hour visit, he appeared to nod off for a few seconds during Mass, according to a Catholic News Service report. But although that moment was well photographed, it was the exception to the rule.
The Archdiocese of San Francisco has filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court challenging the Office of the Assessor-Recorder’s determination that it must pay property transfer taxes for moving church properties from one nonprofit entity to another.
The archdiocese said in an April 21 statement that the San Francisco Transfer Tax Review Board in a Jan. 26 decision issued a written administrative finding that the archdiocese was not exempt from a transfer tax, “despite the fact that the law pertaining to intra-church property transfers of this nature is overwhelmingly in favor of the archdiocese.”
Last November in a unanimous ruling, San Francisco’s Transfer Tax Appeals Board upheld an effort by Phil Ting, who heads the assessor-recorder’s office, to collect $14.4 million in taxes from the archdiocese.
According to the lawsuit, Ting claims the archdiocese owes a total of $21.7 million, including penalties and interest.
The San Francisco Archdiocese argues that imposing the transfer tax “on a purely intra-denominational reorganization is outside the San Francisco ordinance.”
It also “violates the California and U.S. Constitution by imposing a tax on a church for exercising its recognized constitutional rights to choose and change those civil law corporate forms that best accommodate its religious structure and needs,” the archdiocesan statement said.
Levying the transfer taxes, penalties and interest “on a religious organization in connection with an internal restructuring involving no exchange or receipt of money from which to pay any tax is inequitable.”
Such an action “threatens to confiscate substantial church assets that are devoted to religious purposes,” the archdiocese said.
Last fall when the appeals board upheld Ting’s decision to impose the tax, the archdiocese said at the time that months earlier it had presented his office with “a straightforward transaction” requesting to change the titles of ownership on various pieces of property, including churches, vacant lots, apartment buildings, schools and storefronts around the city.
But it said it faced “inexcusable delays and, at times, arrogance” from the Office of the Assessor-Recorder in its handling of the request.
In a statement e-mailed to Catholic News Service April 22, Ting said he was “deeply saddened” by what he described as “ad hominem attacks levied on me by the Catholic Church.”
“My office is simply enforcing the law — equally and fairly for all,” he said.
In its lawsuit, the archdiocese asks the court to direct the Transfer Tax Review Board to set aside its ruling and the assessor-recorder to withdraw the delinquent tax notices, as well as award the archdiocese its attorneys’ fees and costs.
Thousands of protesters gathered outside the state capitol and hundreds more at a state office building in Tucson April 23 awaiting Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s announcement that she had signed into law an immigration bill that has been harshly criticized by civil rights groups, religious leaders and even President Barack Obama, who called it “misguided.”
The law will require police to ask people they encounter in routine activities for proof of their immigration status and makes it a crime to be in the state illegally. Federal law treats presence in the country without permission to be a violation of civil law and does not require people to carry proof of their immigration status.
Brewer had been bombarded with mail, phone calls and e-mail messages since the Legislature sent her the bill April 19. Throughout the week protesters gathered at the capitol each day, including hundreds of high school students who walked off their campuses to join the protest. Students left their high schools in Tucson to do the same at a downtown state government building April 23.
Among those pressing Brewer to veto the bill were the state’s three Catholic bishops and Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, who called the legislation “the country’s most retrogressive, mean-spirited and useless anti-immigrant law,” in his blog.
At a press conference announcing she was signing the bill, Brewer said it would make Arizona safer.
In his remarks at a naturalization ceremony at the White House earlier that day, Obama said failure to enact immigration reforms at the federal level opened the door to “irresponsibility by others … which threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”
Obama said he’d instructed the administration to study the civil rights and other implications of the legislation. Several prominent organizations, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union, have threatened lawsuits to stop it from being implemented.
The turbulent atmosphere in Arizona around the legislation led Rep. Raul Grijalva to close his district offices early April 23, after threats of violence were received by the Tucson Democrat’s staff. Grijalva opposes the legislation and has encouraged an economic boycott of the state as a protest.
When Iraq’s prime minister announced that two high-ranking al-Qaida leaders were killed by U.S. and Iraqi forces, he also said that the terrorists were planning to attack Christian churches in the country.
Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad told SIR, the Italian bishops’ news agency April 20, “In the past few weeks, security sources told us to be very attentive because there was a strong risk of attacks on churches.”
On Sunday, April 18, “all of the churches in the capital were surrounded by military and police. We knew the risks associated with the concrete possibility that our places of worship would be attacked,” Bishop Warduni said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told reporters April 19 that a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation the day before on a safehouse in the town of Tikrit led to the deaths of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who were believed to be top al-Qaida leaders in Iraq.
“Imports are blocked, and this creates problems in vital sectors such as hospitals. And what will become of the plant and animal life affected by the toxic particles released by the ash cloud?” Bishop Pierre Burcher of Reykjavik told Vatican Radio on April 19.
Bishop Burcher said life in Reykjavik has not been drastically affected by the eruption, mainly because prevailing winds have carried the ash cloud away from the city. But people are worried about the future, he said.
“Another volcano, Katla, which is close to Eyjafjallajokull but is bigger and more dangerous, has often reawakened in the past. What will happen?” he said.
The bishop added that if the eruption continues, it could greatly disrupt the country’s tourism industry in the summer.
Experts in Iceland have voiced concern about the wind changing direction and bringing ash over more populated areas. Some are worried about the long-term effects of the ash on agriculture.
The eruption has also caused flooding that has damaged roads and bridges and led to some school closings.
The Swiss-born Bishop Burcher said that with its far-reaching effects, the volcanic eruption has illustrated the meaning of globalization in modern society.
“No event, even if small and distant, can leave the rest of the world indifferent,” Bishop Burcher said.
Iceland has around 320,000 inhabitants, including about 10,000 Catholics.