Monday, February 25, 2008

Church and State, World Desk

Later today, as Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB continues his Cuban tour, the Vatican Secretary of State (above) is expected to meet with Raul Castro, who was confirmed yesterday as the island nation's new president.

As the wires put it, "the church is the only major institution in Cuba which is not controlled by the state, and it is expected to play an important social role" in the transition to the 76 year-old leader, whose brother Fidel stood down after a half-century at the helm. The Cuban church has sought a greater presence in state-run media and what Bertone himself termed "unlimited" scope to further pursue initiatives in education, health care and charitable outreach.

Commemorating the 1998 trip of John Paul II that marked a new era of cooperation between the island's civil and ecclesiastical chiefs, the cardinal's weeklong trip ends tomorrow. Over the weekend, Pope Benedict's top aide dedicated a monument to the late pontiff, and -- in an event that appeared to take on the exuberant air of a large-scale papal liturgy -- presided at a Mass and a youth gathering (address) at the sanctuary of Cuba's patroness, the "Caridad de Cobre."

Meanwhile, back in Italy, the run-up to scheduled mid-April parliamentary elections have seen the influential daily of the Italian bishops chide the country's medical association for "playing politics" with abortion:
While most of the outgoing centre-left coalition supports the abortion law, centre-right politicians are divided, some favoring a more restrictive approach, others an outright ban.

Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Bishops Conference, said a statement the [medical] association issued at a weekend congress, supporting the current abortion law, was invalid and "imaginary" because it had been approved "by acclamation" and not put to an individual vote by delegates.

Science and Life, a Catholic doctors' group, called the medical association's action a "putsch" and demanded a referendum.

The clash, which dominated Italian newspapers on Monday, appeared to thwart any attempt by political parties to keep the thorny issue of abortion in the background of the campaign.

Pope Benedict repeated the Church's opposition to abortion on Monday, saying life must be respected "from its dawn" and "in every moment of its earthly development" but did not mention the doctors' dispute.
The Pope was addressing a conference of the Pontifical Academy for Life on ethical care of the terminally ill.

And at the weekend, Ireland's second-largest diocese -- the northern see of Down and Connor, which includes Belfast -- received its long-awaited new head.

Until his appointment on Friday, Bishop-elect Noel Treanor served as the European bishops' lead observer at EU headquarters in Brussels. Before his 1989 appointment to COMECE, the 54 year-old appointee oversaw adult formation and pastoral renewal efforts in his home diocese of Clogher, located along the North-South border.

In the days before the official announcement, the betting firm Paddy Power -- the firm best-known for taking conclave wagers -- shut its book on the Down and Connor "stakes" given the sudden movement toward Treanor.

Also on Friday, Benedict XVI named Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza as his new nuncio to the Emerald Isle. Most recently the Vatican's man in Bulgaria, the veteran diplomat has also served as head of papal missions in Haiti, Malawi and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In Dublin, Leanza succeeds Archbishop Giuseppe Lazarotto, who had been transferred to the nunciature in Australia.

PHOTO: Reuters/Adalberto Roque