Saturday, July 27, 2013

Lumen Fidei: The Science of Creation and a Tale of Two Priests

By Father Gordon J. MacRae @ These Stone Walls


Perhaps the best example in modern science is one I tackled in my first “science post” on These Stone Walls three years ago, and used again as an encore post last week. It was about the Belgian priest, mathematician and physicist, Father Georges Lemaitre, originator of the Big Bang theory and the man who changed the mind of Albert Einstein on the true origin of the created Universe. In a brief disclaimer at the beginning of that post, I asked TSW readers to “indulge me in this few minutes of science and history.” Well, please do so again, for it’s a necessary prelude to this post. What follows will make much more sense if you’ve had another look at “A Day Without Yesterday: Father Georges Lemaitre and The Big Bang.”

At the very end of that post, there is a photograph of Father Lemaitre with Albert Einstein who once told Father Lemaitre in response to his theory about the Big Bang, “Your math is perfect, but your physics is abominable.” Six years later, in 1933, Einstein declared that his own “Cosmological Constant” – his theory that the Universe always existed – was his greatest error, and he called Father Lemaitre’s work “the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation I have ever heard.” For Einstein to use the “C” word – Creation – was a pivotal moment in modern science.

The story of Fr. Lemaitre’s role in modern cosmology was often stifled by science because he was a Catholic priest. Today, it is told well in How It Began: A Time Traveler’s Guide to the Universe by Chris Impey (Norton 2012), a professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Something astonishing happened after I wrote “A Day Without Yesterday.”

I first mentioned my friend, Pierre Matthews, a TSW reader from Belgium who has visited me several times in prison, in my post, “Saints Alive! Padre Pio and the Stigmata.” It described Pierre’s encounter with Padre Pio when he visited San Giovanni Rotondo as a teenager in 1954. It was like a bolt of lightning to know that there are but two degrees of separation between me and Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, one of the patrons of These Stone Walls. Pierre is also Pornchai Moontri’s Godfather... (continued)


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Pope prays at Rome basilica for World Youth Day

In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis prays in Rome's St. Mary Major Basilica he unexpectedly visited in view of his upcoming trip to Brazil to celebrate the World Youth Day, Saturday, July 20, 2013. Francis leaves Monday, July 22 for Rio de Janeiro, where more than a million young Catholics are expected to celebrate their new pope. The 76-year-old Argentine became the church's first pontiff from the Americas in March, and the trip to Brazil is his first international journey since becoming pontiff. Catholic youth festivals are meant to reinvigorate the faithful, and Francis is expected to inspire young people with his humble ways. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, ho)
(AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Some lucky faithful got a surprise when Pope Francis made an unannounced visit to St. Mary Major basilica Saturday to pray for followers who will gather next week in Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day.

The pope was ushered into the basilica through a side door and brought to a chapel where he prayed for more than half an hour in front of an icon of the Madonna, the Vatican said in a statement.

"Since the basilica was open to the public, and numerous faithful were present, the pope, before leaving, stopped in front of the central altar" where he asked the faithful to follow his journey "with prayer, faith and penance," the Vatican said. The entire visit lasted a little more than an hour.

St. Mary Major is the same basilica where the pope went for an early morning prayer the day after being elected pontiff.

Earlier, the pope reached out over social media to young followers gearing up for World Youth Day, wishing young Catholics en route to Rio a safe journey.

Francis departs Monday for Brazil, where more than a million young Catholics are expected to celebrate their new pope.

The 76-year-old Argentine became the church's first pontiff from the Americas in March, and the trip to Brazil is his first international journey since becoming pope.

Catholic youth festivals are meant to reinvigorate the faithful, and Francis is expected to inspire young people with his humble ways.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Vatican prelate in 'gay romance' with Swiss guard?

The headquarters of the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), the Vatican's bank, pictured on February 18, 2012 at The Vatican. The Vatican's "gay lobby" is back in the headlines after the alleged exposure of a homosexual prelate appointed by Pope Francis to a key position at the Vatican bank.

AFP - The Vatican's "gay lobby" was back in the headlines on Friday after the alleged exposure of a homosexual prelate appointed by Pope Francis to a key position at the Vatican bank.

The Italian weekly L'Espresso said prelate Battista Ricca had gay relationships during his time at the Vatican embassy of Montevideo in Uruguay as well as an affair with a Swiss guard which ultimately saw him sent back to Rome in disgrace.

Vatican expert for L'Espresso Sandro Magister said Ricca provided lodgings and a pay check for captain Patrick Haari in 1999 and was once left badly beaten after trawling notorious gay hangouts before his behaviour saw him transferred out of Montevideo in 2000.

An internal bid to protect him and cover up the scandal meant Francis apparently had no idea about Ricca's past before he appointed him as his personal representative at the scandal-hit bank this year.

Ricca went on to hold several prestigious positions in Rome, including the director of the Santa Martha residence where the pope lives.

Magister said the wiping of Ricca's records was an example of a "gay lobby" at work in the Vatican.

Vatican spokesman Frederico Lombardi brushed off the story as "not credible" but the magazine insisted the allegations were confirmed by primary sources. It said "numerous bishops, priests, religious and laity" in Uruguay had testified against Ricca.

Religious watchers said the leaks about Ricca's past may be an internal attempt to block the prelate from carrying out reforms.

In June, Francis admitted the existence of a "gay lobby" inside the Vatican's secretive administration, the Roman Curia.

"In the Curia, there are truly some saints, but there is also a current of corruption... There is talk of a 'gay lobby' and it's true, it exists," he was quoted as having said during an audience with CLAR (the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious Men and Women).

The admission followed Italian media reports in February which claimed that a secret report by cardinals investigating leaks from within the Vatican included allegations of corruption and blackmail attempts against gay clergymen, and on the other hand, favouritism based on gay relationships.

If the allegations are proven to be true, it would be a blow to Francis's attempts to clean up the scandal-hit Vatican.


Thursday, July 18, 2013



AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed sweeping new abortion restrictions on Thursday that could shutter most of the state's clinics that provide the procedure, a final step for the Republican-backed measure after weeks of sometimes raucous protests at the state Capitol.

Supporters credited God's will and prayer as the governor signed the legislation, with protesters' chants of "Shame! Shame! Shame!" echoing from the hallway. Opponents have vowed to fight the law, though no court challenges were immediately filed.

"Today, we celebrate the further cementing of the foundation on which the culture of life in Texas is built upon," Perry told an auditorium full of beaming GOP lawmakers and anti-abortion activists. "It is our responsibility and duty to give voice to the unborn individuals."

The law restricts abortions to surgical centers and requires doctors who work at abortion clinics to have hospital admitting privileges. Only five of the 42 abortion clinics in Texas - the nation's second-largest state - currently meet those new requirements. Clinics will have a year to either upgrade their facilities or shut down after the law takes effect in October.

The law also bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, based on the disputed notion that fetuses can feel pain at that point of development, and dictates when abortion-inducing drugs can be taken.

Supporters argue the new law will ensure high-quality health care for women, but opponents view it as over-regulation intended to make abortions harder to obtain.

Similar measures in other states have been blocked by federal judges, and opponents in Texas said they'll pursue a similar course.

"The fight over this law will move to the courts, while the bigger fight for women's access to health care in Texas gains steam," Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement.

The action fund is the political arm of Planned Parenthood, which announced later Thursday that it would close its clinics in Bryan, Huntsville and Lufkin by the end of August. The group cited years of state budget cuts to women's health programs, not the new law. Only the Bryan facility offers abortions.

"In recent years, Texas politicians have created an increasingly hostile environment for providers of reproductive health care in underserved communities," said Melaney A. Linton, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.

Perry and other top Republican leaders made passing the law a top priority, in part to please the most conservative wing of the party before the primary election in March. But it touched off weeks of protests that saw thousands of activists on both sides of the issue descend on the Texas Capitol in an outpouring of activism unseen in at least 20 years.

After the regular legislative session ended May 27, Perry added passing the abortion measure to lawmakers' agenda for a 30-day special session. But on the last day to pass bills, Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis staged a more than 12-hour, one-woman filibuster hoping to talk past a midnight deadline and kill the legislation.

Republicans used parliamentary objections to silence Davis, but just before midnight hundreds of bill opponents in the Senate gallery screamed and cheered so loudly that all work stopped on the Senate floor below until it was too late. It launched Davis into an overnight political sensation.

But Perry called lawmakers back for a second special session - setting up the bill's final approval last week.

"When Governor Perry signed the bill, he signaled a clear break with Texas families," Davis said in a statement Thursday. She said Perry and his party's elected officials "have now taken sides and chosen narrow partisan special interests over mothers, daughters, sisters and every Texan who puts the health of their family, the well-being of their neighbors, and the future of Texas ahead of politics and personal ambitions."

The signing ceremony was moved from Perry's office on the second floor of the Capitol to a basement auditorium, surrounded by dozens of state troopers who tightly controlled who entered and braced for potentially hundreds of activists. Instead, only about two dozen showed up, clutching coat-hangers and signs that read "My Body, My Choice" and "Shame!"

Perry drew applause for warmly greeting and shaking hands with Dem. Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, the only Senate Democrat who supported the bill.

As the governor and other lawmakers spoke, protesters repeatedly chanted "shame!" loud enough to be heard. Once the bill was signed, they hooted and then sang Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It!"

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who oversees the state Senate, blamed "intentional chaos created by the radical left" for the bill not passing sooner.

That was a common sentiment among supporters. The Catholic Association said in a statement: "Rick Perry is a brave man for standing up to the mob tactics of the abortion lobby and has earned the respect of pro-life women and men across the country."

Republican Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, who sponsored the bill in the Texas House and mistakenly suggested during debate that emergency room rape kits could be used to terminate pregnancies, said: "It really was the hand of God" and prayer that helped make the signing possible. Laubenberg told Perry, who announced last week that he wouldn't seek a fourth full term as governor next year, that: "Your eternal legacy will be as a defender of life."

Sen. Glenn Hegar, a Katy Republican who sponsored the bill in the Senate, called it "a very proud day in Texas history."

"This will literally change the lives of millions of Texans," Hegar said. "Not just today in 2013, but for eternity."


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

How to Become the British Monarch

How about Vatican III...Is it time?

“A Day Without Yesterday:” Fr. Georges Lemaitre & The Big Bang

By  Fr. Gordon J. MacRae

...Contact was about radio astronomy and the SETI project – the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. It wasn’t science fiction in the way “Star Trek” was science fiction. Contact was science AND fiction, a novel crafted with real science, and no one but Carl Sagan could have pulled it off. The sheer vastness of the Cosmos unfolded with crystal clarity in Sagan’s prose, a vastness the human mind can have difficulty fathoming. Anyone who thinks we are visited by aliens from other planets doesn’t understand the vastness of it all.

The central theme of Contact was the challenge astronomy poses to religion. In the story, SETI scientist Eleanor Arroway – a wonderful character portrayed in the film version by actress Jodie Foster – becomes the first radio astronomer to detect a signal emitting from another civilization. The signal came from a planet orbiting Vega, a star, not unlike our own, about 26 light years from Earth. The message of the book (and film) is clear: if another species like us exists, and we are ever to have contact, it will be in just this way – via radio waves moving through space at light  speed...

...I wrote Carl Sagan a letter at Cornell.  I understood that Sagan was an atheist, but the central story line of Contact was the effect the discovery of life elsewhere might have on religion, especially on fundamentalist Protestant sects who seemed the most threatened by the discovery.

I thought Carl Sagan handled the controversy quite well, without judgments, and even with some respect for the religious figures among his characters. In my letter, I pointed out to Dr. Sagan that Catholicism, the largest denomination of Christians in America, would not necessarily share in the anxiety such a discovery would bring to some other faiths. I wrote that if our galactic neighbors were embodied souls, like us, then they would be in need of redemption in the same manner in which we have been redeemed.

Weeks later, when an envelope from Cornell University’s Department of Astronomy and Space Sciences arrived, I was so excited my heart was beating BILLions and BILLions of times! Carl Sagan was most gracious. He wrote that my comments were very meaningful to him, and he added, “You write in the spirit of Georges Lemaitre!”

I framed that letter and put it on my rectory office wall. I wanted everyone I knew to see that Carl Sagan compared me with Georges Lemaitre! I was profoundly moved. But no one I knew had a clue who Georges Lemaitre was. I must remedy that.  He was one of the enduring heroes of my life and priesthood. He still is!


Georges Lemaitre died on June 20, 1966 when I was 13 years old. It was the year “Star Trek” debuted on network television and I was mesmerized by space and the prospect of space travel.  Georges Lemaitre was a Belgian scientist and mathematician, a pioneer  in astrophysics, and the originator of what became known in science as “The Big Bang” theory -which, by the way, is no longer considered in cosmology to be a theory.

But first and foremost, Father Lemaitre was a Catholic priest. He was ordained in 1923 after earning doctorates in mathematics and science.  Father Lemaitre studied Einstein’s celebrated general theory of relativity at Cambridge University, but was troubled by Einstein’s model of an always-existing, never changing universe. It was that model, widely accepted in science, that developed a wide chasm between science and the Judeo-Christian understanding of Creation. Einstein and others came to hold that The Universe had no beginning and no end, and therefore the word “Creation” could not apply.
Father Lemaitre saw problems with Einstein’s “Steady State” theory, and what Einstein called “The Cosmological Constant” in which he maintained that The Universe was relatively unchanging over time. From his chair in science at Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium from 1925 to 1931, Father Lemaitre put his formidable mind to work... (continued)


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The International Criminal Court Has Dismissed SNAP’s Last Gasp

By Fr. Gordon J. MacRae

(These Stone Walls)  ...In rejecting the petition last month, the International Criminal Court ruled that SNAP’s claims do not “appear to fall within the jurisdiction of the court” which accepts only cases reflecting “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole, namely genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.” In other words, as The Media Report’s David F. Pierre pointed out, the ICC is not a place to air shameless publicity stunts.

And “shameless publicity stunt” was always the sole point of this petition. It was never a serious endeavor, and this outcome, though slow in coming, was always predictable. I predicted it in an October 2011 post on These Stone Walls entitled “SNAP’s Last Gasp! The Pope’s ‘Crimes Against Humanity.’ ”

The entire project was staged by SNAP and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) just to generate headlines, and the mainstream media took the bait. News of the petition appeared in almost every major newspaper in the United States. In news interviews, CCR attorney Pam Spees described the SNAP petition:

“Crimes against tens of thousands of victims, most of them children, are being covered up by officials at the highest levels of the Vatican.”

The tone and content of the rhetoric was eerily similar – verbatim, even – to another propaganda campaign against Catholic priests that I wrote of in “Catholic Scandal and the Third Reich: The Rise and Fall of a Moral Panic.” Few of the same newspapers that trumpeted the SNAP petition against the Vatican ever bothered to cover the ICC’s summary dismissal of the case. We had to rely on the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights to issue a press release, and on The Media Report to publish this story. For me, the most shameful aspect of this SNAP publicity stunt was that I became an unwitting and unwilling part of it...

Click Here to Read More


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Catholic hospitals accept birth control compromise

By Rachel Zoll, AP Religion Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- In a split with U.S. bishops, a trade group for Catholic hospitals said Tuesday it can accept the Obama's administration latest compromise on birth control coverage by religious employers.

"We are pleased that our members now have an accommodation that will not require them to contract, provide, pay or refer for contraceptive coverage," said the Catholic Health Association.

Under President Barack Obama's health care law, most employers are required to cover birth control as a free preventive service for women workers. Churches and other houses of worship are fully exempt from the mandate. But religiously-affiliated hospitals, universities and social service groups are not.

The compromise, in a final regulation from the administration, attempts to create a buffer for these employers. It requires insurers or the health plan's outside administrator to pay for birth control coverage, and creates a mechanism for reimbursing them.

However, U.S. Roman Catholic bishops are suing to overturn the entire requirement, saying it trespasses on freedom of religion.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the bishops, said the hospital association had notified the bishops' conference about its stand late Monday.

Walsh said the bishops "did not contribute to the (group's) analysis or the statement itself." Catholic dioceses, charities and universities are among the plaintiffs in more than 60 lawsuits challenging the rule. The cases are expected to reach the Supreme Court.

The regulation has become another contentious issue in the health care overhaul Obama signed into law in 2010.

The Catholic hospitals' group, led by Sister Carol Keehan, joined other prominent Catholics in defying the bishops to support passage of the health law at a critical stage of the congressional debate.

More recently, the group had joined the bishops and leaders of other faiths in pressing the Department of Health and Human Services for a broader religious exemption from birth control coverage.

The birth control coverage requirement was widely praised by women's groups, and supported by medical societies as good for both mothers and children.

The administration's original birth control rule, introduced early last year, exempted churches and other houses of worship. However, faith-affiliated charities, universities and other nonprofits were required to comply.

After a public outcry, the Obama administration floated a series of compromises that resulted in a final accommodation June 28.

The latest version of the regulation attempts to create a buffer between the faith-affiliated charities and contraceptive coverage by requiring insurers or another third-party to provide contraceptive coverage instead of the religious employer.

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the bishops' conference, said in a statement last week that the bishops were still studying the regulation, adding that it does not appear to address all their concerns about religious freedom. The bishops have also sought a religious exemption for owners of for-profit businesses.

The National Association of Evangelicals, which represents Protestant churches across the country, announced Monday it also rejects the compromise.

The Catholic Church prohibits the use of artificial contraception. Evangelicals generally accept the use of birth control, but some object to specific methods such as the morning-after contraceptive pill, which they argue is tantamount to abortion, and is covered under the policy.

The hospital trade group's decision was first reported by the National Catholic Reporter.


Friday, July 5, 2013

Pope Francis embraces Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the Vatican

Pope Francis (R) embraces Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during a ceremony at the Vatican July 5, 2013. Pope Francis issued his first encyclical on Friday with a message on the importance of Christian faith that showed he plans no radical departure from the doctrinal stance of his predecessor Benedict. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano

Pope John Paul II to get sainthood, Vatican says

By Hada Messia

(CNN) -- The Roman Catholic Church will declare the late Pope John Paul II a saint, the Vatican announced Friday.

Pope Francis signed the decree Friday morning, the Vatican said. John Paul was pope from 1978 until his death in 2005, and was in a way the first rock star pontiff, drawing vast crowds as he criss-crossed the globe.

At his funeral, thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square and chanted "Santo Subito" -- Sainthood Now! The Polish-born pope was fast-tracked to beatification and became "the blessed" John Paul II barely six years after his death, the fastest beatification in centuries.

Pope John XXIII, who convened the Vatican II council in the 1960s, will also be declared a saint, the Vatican said

No date has been announced for the canonization ceremony.

Pope John Paul II, the third-longest serving pope in history, died in April 2005 at the age of 84.

He had suffered from Parkinson's disease, arthritis and other ailments for several years before his death.

During his tenure, he became the most widely traveled pope in history, and canonized more saints than any other pope.

His papacy included a lot of firsts. He was the first modern pope to visit a synagogue, and the first pope to visit Cuba.

There are essentially three steps to becoming a Catholic saint after death.

First, the title "venerable" is formally given by the pope to someone judged to have exhibited "heroic virtues." Second, a miracle must be attributed to the deceased person's intervention, allowing beatification. Canonization -- or sainthood -- requires a second attributed miracle.

In 2010, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI approved John Paul's first reported miracle: a French nun supposedly cured of Parkinson's disease.

Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, a nun whose order prayed to the pope after he died, said she was cured of the disease, an ailment that also afflicted John Paul.

The second miracle reportedly occurred in Costa Rica, where a woman said she recovered from a severe brain injury thanks to the intervention of John Paul, sources told CNN Vatican analyst John Allen.

Patrick Kelly, executive director of the Blessed John Paul II Shrine in Washington, explained the church's process for investigating reported miracles.

"A team of doctors first examine the miracle. Secondly, the team of theologians look at the miracles and then they discuss amongst themselves the legitimacy and all the facts surrounding the miracles," he said.

Despite being so beloved, John Paul didn't live up to expectations at a crucial moment in the church's history, as revelations of sexual abuse scandals involving thousands Catholic priests erupted across the world in the early 2000s, critics say.

In the United States alone, the scandal involved more than 16,400 victims or alleged victims and cost the church $2.6 billion in settlements, therapy bills, lawyers' fees and care for priests removed from ministry, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.