Normalization of homosexuality is a ‘calamity’ – John Piper

Amid ongoing “gay pride” celebrations and the push for gay marriage, influential evangelical John Piper wants to put it all in perspective for the church.

“My sense is that we do not realise what a calamity is happening around us,” Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, wrote in a commentary on Thursday.

“Christians, more clearly than others, can see the tidal wave of pain that is on the way. Sin carries in it its own misery.”

It’s been nearly a week now since marriage for gay and lesbian couples was legalised in New York and since hundreds of thousands of Americans celebrated homosexuality with gay pride parades, not only in New York but also in Piper’s home state of Minnesota.

Homosexuality and its celebration are nothing new, the Reformed pastor clarified.

“[Homosexuality] has been here since we were all broken in the fall of man,” he wrote.

“What’s new is not even the celebration of homosexual sin. Homosexual behaviour has been exploited, and revelled in, and celebrated in art, for millennia.

“What’s new,” he underscored, “is normalisation and institutionalisation. This is the new calamity.”

America, and the rest of the world, is moving toward the institutionalisation of homosexuality, the 65-year-old pastor lamented.

Yet the Bible makes it clear that homosexual behaviour is sin, he said.

“Alongside its clearest explanation of the sin of homosexual intercourse (Romans 1:24-27) stands the indictment of the celebration of it,” he said.

“Though people know intuitively that homosexual acts (along with gossip, slander, insolence, haughtiness, boasting, faithlessness, heartlessness, ruthlessness) are sin, ‘they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them’ (Romans 1:29-32).’I tell you even with tears, that many glory in their shame’ (Philippians 3:18–19).”

For the first time since it began tracking the issue of same-sex marriage in 1996, a Gallup poll last month found that a majority of Americans (53 per cent) believe marriages between same-sex couples should be recognised by law as valid.

Moreover, 56 per cent of Americans say gay or lesbian relations is morally acceptable, another Gallup poll found in May. Only 39 per cent perceive homosexual relations as morally wrong.

Piper stressed that his purpose for writing on the controversial issue is “not to mount a political counter-assault”.

He doesn’t believe that is the calling of the church.

Rather, Piper expressed his desire to “help the church feel the sorrow of these days. And the magnitude of the assault on God and his image in man.”

He didn’t pin the sin of sexual immorality on homosexuals alone, however. Heterosexuals are just as guilty.

Piper emphasised that Jesus died for both heterosexual and homosexual sinners so that they might be saved. Jesus, he stressed, offers “astonishing mercy”.

But rather than embracing that salvation, thousands celebrated sin last weekend, he lamented.

“Christians know what is coming, not only because we see it in the Bible, but because we have tasted the sorrowful fruit of our own sins. We do not escape the truth that we reap what we sow. Our marriages, our children, our churches, our institutions – they are all troubled because of our sins,” he wrote.

“The difference is: We weep over our sins. We don’t celebrate them. We turn to Jesus for forgiveness and help. We cry to Jesus, ‘who delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10).'”

“And in our best moments, we weep for the world.”

The win in New York for gay rights activists is expected to propel the gay marriage movement forward. Already, they are working to push similar legislation in Maine and to defeat a measure amending the constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman in Minnesota.

Amid the movement to redefine marriage, Piper made it clear that Jesus created sexuality and “has a clear will for how it is to be experienced in holiness and joy”.

“His will is that a man might leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and that the two become one flesh (Mark 10:6-9). In this union, sexuality finds its God-appointed meaning, whether in personal-physical unification, symbolic representation, sensual jubilation, or fruitful procreation.”

Nevertheless, there are no signs of the gay marriage movement slowing down. With that, Piper left Christians with this concluding note:

“This is what I am writing for. Not political action, but love for the name of God and compassion for the city of destruction. ‘My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.’ (Psalm 119:136).”

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Vatican goes online in struggle against child abuse

The Vatican is turning to the Internet in its struggle against child abuse with a new website allowing clergy around the world to share information on eradicating the problem.

A key figure behind the initiative is German psychologist priest Hans Zollner from the Vatican’s Gregorian University, who spoke to AFP about the need for fundamental changes in how the Catholic Church handles abuse cases.

“Bishops have to give priority to victims,” said Zollner, a member of the order of Jesuits, often seen as intellectuals inside the Church.

“People working inside dioceses and religious orders should be taught to listen to them. All complaints have to be taken seriously,” he said.

Zollner’s university will host a conference next February at which the new e-learning centre is expected to be launched, with some 200 experts, diocesan officials and representatives of congregations attending.

It will be “a step … on a long and painful path,” Zollner said, adding the website would bring together the latest research on child abuse and Church laws, while allowing churches in different countries to have their say.

The website will be in five languages — English, French, German, Italian and Spanish — and the project is funded to last three years.

The Church is struggling to deal with rising anger and a string of lawsuits following thousands of abuse claims in Europe and the United States.

But many in the Church are concerned that the cases uncovered so far may only be the tip of the iceberg since abuses in much of the developing world — including in Africa and Latin America — have so far received little attention.

Pope Benedict XVI’s ever stronger denunciations of abuse are bringing some changes, however, and national bishops conferences around the world are set to come up with common guidelines against paedophiles by May 2012.

Zollner explained the process is slow and complex because of wide variations in national laws and the need for international coordination.

“The general sensitivity to the problem has clearly increased,” he said.

“But the Church is not a monolithic block. Sensitivities are very different. A critical point appears to have been reached,” he added.

“Many bishops are now saying: ‘We have to act’. There needs to be a more consistent and coordinated response as wanted by the Holy Father.”

The common agreement in the Church is that those responsible “must receive their punishment according to Church law and criminal law,” he said.

Among the changes Zollner has been working on, is stricter psychological tests for would-be priests to identify possible abusers.

The e-learning centre will make use of research from the child and adolescent psychiatry department at Ulm university in Germany, he said.

Abuse victims groups have accused the Vatican of failing to take the problem of paedophilia seriously early on, of not cooperating with police and allowing priests and bishops who covered up for abusers to go unpunished.

“For almost all victims, the most important thing is to be heard by a representative of the institution whose members have hurt them,” Zollner said.

Victims “should have the chance to express all their pain, anger, depression and fears to an official representative of the Church,” he added.

“The pope’s stance is there should no longer be priests who are protected and moved along. The Church must no longer give the impression it is shielding the perpetrators as it has often been seen as doing in the past,” he said.

The Jesuit father added: “It makes the victims suffer a second time.”

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Vatican profit up in 2010 but donations down

The Vatican has returned to profit after three years in the red but donations from the faithful fell nearly euro15 million ($22 million), or 18 percent, amid tough economic times and a year in which the priest sex abuse scandal exploded.

The Vatican issued its annual financial report Saturday, saying it made a profit of euro9.85 million ($14.3 million) in 2010 following a loss of euro4.01 million ($5.8 million) a year earlier and losses in 2007 and 2008.

Revenues were euro245.2 million ($356.1 million) against expenses of euro235.35 million ($341.8 million).

In a statement, the Vatican said the results showed a continuing positive trend that began in 2009 but was hampered then by the effects of the global financial downturn.

The separately administered Vatican city state also turned a euro21.04 million ($30.6 million) profit, thanks primarily to booming ticket sales at the Vatican Museums.

But donations from individuals worldwide, the so-called Peter’s Pence, were down US$14.8 million at US$67.70 million in 2010, an 18 percent drop from the year before. No explanation was given in the statement.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Vatican officials believed the main reasons for the decrease were related to the lingering effects of the financial crisis on Catholics’ ability to donate, and the fact that two donations of a few million dollars apiece from individuals in 2009 weren’t repeated in 2010.

The abuse scandal also erupted in 2010 in Europe, traditionally a top source of donations after the U.S.

Tens of thousands of people have either formally or informally left the Catholic Church in the wake of reports that priests sexually abused thousands of young people and bishops covered up the crimes.
In Austria alone, the number of Catholics who officially left the church in 2010 was 87,000 – a 64 percent increase over the 53,000 who formally had their names struck from church registries in 2009.

Such numbers are easily tracked because members pay a church tax unless they formally leave the congregation. Pope Benedict XVI’s native Germany, which also levies a church tax on members, has also seen thousands of people formally quit.

Individual dioceses around the world also make donations to the Vatican each year to help the pope govern the universal church.

Those figures were also down in 2010 at US$27.36 million compared to the US$31.51 million in 2009.

Lombardi said the effects of the abuse scandal on the Peter’s Pence and the diocesan donations wasn’t discussed in any depth during meetings Thursday and Friday of top cardinals to review the numbers.

But he didn’t dispute that such an interpretation of the results could be made.

The Vatican bank, though increased its donations to the pope for his charitable works by euro5 million ($7.26 million) to euro55 million ($79.9 million), the statement said.

The Vatican has published the annual report since 1981, when Pope John Paul II ordered financial disclosure as part of his efforts to debunk the idea that the Vatican is rich.

For the fourth year in a row, no press conference accompanied the release of the results.

Previously, a senior Vatican cardinal would explain the Vatican’s financial picture on the same day the results were issued.

A Vatican official said this week that such briefings are no longer planned.

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Cloyne report may be issued next week

THE CLOYNE report may be published next week.

Prepared by the Murphy commission, it follows an investigation into the handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations by church and State authorities over a 13-year period in the Catholic diocese of Cloyne.

Yesterday Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said it was “likely the report can be brought before Cabinet on Tuesday week and be published very shortly thereafter.”

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1’s This Week programme he indicated the delay in publication of the report was due to “a long-drawn-out process of consultation involving lawyers who had an interest in the matter”.

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The completed report was presented to the former minister for justice Dermot Ahern on December 23rd last.

Its findings concern clerical child sex abuse allegations made between January 1st, 1996, when the Catholic Church in Ireland first introduced child protection guidelines, and February 1st, 2009.

It was ordered by the government in January 2009 after publication the previous month of a report on the Cloyne diocesan website that found child protection practices there were “inadequate and in some respects dangerous”.

That report had been prepared by the church’s own child protection watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children.

The government extended the remit of the Murphy commission to include Cloyne.

The commission at the time was also investigating the handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations against a sample 46 priests in the Dublin archdiocese.

It published that Dublin report in November 2009.

Its Cloyne report contains 26 chapters, is about 400 pages long, and includes findings on all 19 priests who faced abuse allegations there over the 13-year period investigated.

On April 8th last, president of the High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns decided parts of the report should not be published pending the outcome of criminal proceedings against one priest.

US bishop resigns after alleged paedophile flees

Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday accepted the resignation of a US bishop accused of allowing an alleged paedophile priest from his diocese to flee to Mexico, as the Vatican takes action on abuses.

Bishop Daniel Walsh of the diocese of Santa Rosa in California resigned under an article in Catholic Church law invoking a “grave cause”, which can include a failure by the prelate in question to denounce a case of paedophilia.

Walsh, 74, is one year younger than the minimum retirement age for bishops.

Benedict last year called for a zero tolerance approach to child abuse by clergymen and called on bishops to work together with local law enforcement, following thousands of paedophile scandals across Europe and the United States.

Father Xavier Ochoa admitted to the bishop in April 2006 that he had abused young boys but the police were only told three days later by a diocesan lawyer.

By that time, Ochoa had fled to Mexico where he is still at large.

The diocese was ordered to pay five million dollars (3.5 million euros) to the three victims, as well as 20,000 dollars from Walsh personally.

The alleged acts committed by Ochoa included rape and forced oral sex.

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