Catholic Church news roundup: Condoms, Two Thieving Priests, and Superstition

This Catholic news roundup includes three items…

Lancet lashes out at Pope over condoms

The Lancet, the journal of the British Medical Association, has launched a stinging attack on the Pope for his opposition to the use of condoms, branding as “outrageous and wildly inaccurate” his argument that the prophylactics serve to increase HIV infection.

“By saying that condoms exacerbate the problem of HIV/AIDS, the Pope has publicly distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine on this issue,” the journal said in an editorial released on Friday.

While the Vatican has long been opposed to the use of artificial contraception, Pope Benedict hardened his stance during his first visit to Africa, made last week, when he said that condom use actually increased the likelihood of HIV infection and the spread of AIDS.
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The controversy forced the Vatican to subsequently try and finesse the pope’s comments, insisting he had been misunderstood.
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- Source: Financial Times, UK, Mar. 27, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

John Skehan and Francis Guinan

Judge orders one Delray Beach priest to prison, calls theft ‘greed unmasked;’ second priest’s sentencing today

Despite uniform requests for probation from the Diocese of Palm Beach, prosecutors and the defense, it’s prison for Father John Skehan, the 81-year-old former longtime pastor of St. Vincent Ferrer in Delray Beach.

Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath sentenced Skehan this afternoon to 14 months prison, followed by seven years probation. He must surrender himself to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office on or before May 1. He will be adjudicated guilty – a priest for more than 50 years now turned convicted felon. […]

He previously pleaded guilty to grand theft over $100,000 and expressed his remorse, admitting he took money he was not entitled to even though he knew it was wrong.

- Source: Palm Beach Post, Mar. 24, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Second Irish Florida priest gets four years in jail for theft

The second of two Irish Catholic priests was sentenced to prison yesterday in a case involving the misappropriation of more than $8 million (€5.89 million) from a church in Florida.

Fr Francis Guinan and Fr John Skehan were accused in 2006 of skimming money from collection plates and bequests at their church in Delray Beach, Florida, and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on real estate, travel, rare coins and girlfriends.

Fr Guinan (66), originally from Co Offaly, was sentenced yesterday to four years in prison after taking the case to trial and being found guilty of a lesser charge of theft under $100,000.

- Source: Irish Times, Mar. 26, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

View the Palm Beach Post’s full coverage, including the police report, profiles, photos, timelines and more.
• In a poll on its website, the Palm Beach Post asked, “Will the priest scandal now cause you to think twice about donating money to the Catholic church?” At the time of this writing, 1305 (58.65%) people responded, “Definitely.”


Is One Man’s Faith Another’s Superstition?

At a Mass on Saturday in Luanda, Angola, Pope Benedict tried to warn his listeners of the dangers of belief in witchcraft.

Though he never used that word, his implication was clear when he suggested that African Catholics should offer Christ to their fellow citizens because “so many of them are living in fear of spirits, of malign and threatening powers.”

He worried aloud about many Africans: “In their bewilderment they end up even condemning street children and the elderly as alleged sorcerers. Who can go to them to proclaim that Christ has triumphed over death and all those occult powers?”

Who indeed? The statement reflects a real and tragic problem in many parts of Africa, even among people who identify as Christians. Many still consult shamans and use talismans or potions for everything from fertility problems to exorcisms, while others take things a horrifying step further: Children, especially those with a physical deformity or afflicted with a disease like AIDS, are often brutalized or killed in the belief that they are possessed by evil spirits. The elderly, especially women, are also common targets. Earlier this month, Amnesty International reported that more than 1,000 people were rounded up in Gambia in a government-sponsored witch-hunt, and in Tanzania alone, at least 45 albinos have been murdered since 2007 because popular superstition holds that they are witches.

No wonder church leaders who praise the explosion of faith across Africa as the future of Christianity — the Christian population has gone to 360 million today from eight million in 1900 — also take pains to try to purge superstition and witchcraft from the continent. And they regularly fail, or offend.
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But the problem is that one man’s superstition is another man’s religion, and vice versa. Many Protestants today still see Catholicism as being rife with superstition, most notably in the “hocus pocus” of the Eucharist (from the Latin words of consecration in the Mass, hoc est enim corpus meum, “This is my body”), while atheists and agnostics would see bien-pensant Protestants as worshiping an equally absurd form of the supernatural. It is all a matter of degree, one could argue.

And it’s a good argument, given the superstitions that commingled with religion in the past and persist in the present, either in certain doctrines or in the ingrained rituals of certain followers. The distance between “prosperity theology” — the notion that following God’s commands will make you rich — for example, and sacrificing animals to appease the gods is perhaps not as great as we’d like to think.

On the other hand, the history of religion could be viewed as the process, however halting and incomplete, of shedding magical thinking to reveal truth and meaning, which are the hallmarks of genuine belief as opposed to superstition.
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- Source: David Gibson, Opinion, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 26, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Mr. Gibson is the author of “The Rule of Benedict: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle With the Modern World” (HarperOne, 2006).

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