Thu, Mar 15, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Pope Benedict asserts Church policy in `exhortation'


Pope Benedict XVI, insisting that the faithful hold firm to Church teaching, has told Catholic politicians they must support the Vatican's nonnegotiable rejection of abortion and gay marriage.

On Tuesday, Benedict also rebuffed calls to let divorced Catholics who remarry receive Communion.

Putting his conservative stamp on his nearly two-year-old papacy, Benedict in a document also said that the Vatican was keeping its requirement that priests in the Roman Catholic Church be celibate, despite shortages of priests in some parts of the world.

A worldwide meeting of bishops, held at the Vatican in 2005, had endorsed the celibacy requirement, and Benedict, with the document, embraced their call.

The 131-page "exhortation," destined for both clergy and rank-and-file faithful among the world's 1.1 billion Catholics, is part of Benedict's vigorous campaign to ensure bishops, priests and their congregations strictly follow Church teaching.

Before becoming pontiff in April 2005, Benedict, a German theologian, led the Vatican's drive to safeguard Church teaching from doctrinal error.

Laced throughout the document are what sounds like nostalgic calls by Benedict for a kind of comeback for Latin and more "sobriety" during Mass.

Russell Shaw, a conservative Catholic writer in the US, described Tuesday's document as "certainly consistent with the pattern of this pontiff to date, a highly intelligent, highly thoughtful document which says nothing surprising but which reaffirms the traditional positions of the Church."

The question of whether Catholic politicians whose politics conflict with Church teaching should be denied Communion grabbed attention during the 2004 US presidential election campaign, when St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke said he would deny the Eucharist to the Democratic presidential nominee, Senator John Kerry, a Catholic who supported abortion rights.

Benedict wrote that public witness to one's faith was especially required of politicians who decide matters such as abortion, euthanasia, "the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman ... and the promotion of the common good in all its values."

"These values are not negotiable. Consequently Catholic politicians and legislators, conscious of their grave responsibility before society, must feel particularly bound, on the basis of a properly formed conscience, to introduce and support laws inspired by values grounded in human nature," Benedict wrote.

Benedict indicated he was leaving the matter of wayward Catholic politicians to local bishops.

"Bishops are bound to reaffirm constantly these values as part of their responsibility to the flock entrusted to them," the pope said.

Referring to Benedict's leaving the matter to bishops, Lisa Sowle Cahill, a theologian at Boston College, said liberals might be "grateful he's not more aggressively insisting that pastoral flexibility be curtailed."

The plight of divorced Catholics who remarry is a concern for many faithful in the US, where divorce and remarriage is common among the general population.

While Benedict acknowledged "the painful situations" of those remarried Catholics, he also reiterated the Church's stance that they cannot receive Communion because the Church views such faithful as living in sin if they remarry and consummate their new marriages.

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