A 91-year old Roman Catholic bishop who was present when Pope John XXIII received the so-called “Third Secret of Fatima” in a sealed envelope says conspiracy theorists are all wet when they claim that the secret tells of the final days of the Earth.

The only surviving witness to a decades-long conspiracy theory has firmly denied the Catholic Church is hiding details about a predicted apocalypse.

Archbishop Loris Capovilla, 91, said there was no truth in the rumour that the Vatican was suppressing a vision of the end of the world.

The vision said to have been revealed 90 years ago by the Virgin Mary to three shepherd children on a hillside at Fatima in Portugal.

The three “Secrets of Fatima” were written down by one of the children, Lucia Dos Santos, who later became a nun.

Two of the secrets were revealed by the nun in 1941.

The first was a vision of hell, while the second apparently predicted the two world wars and the return of Russia from communism to Christianity.

The third secret, which was sent to Pope John XXIII in a sealed envelope in 1959, was only revealed by Pope John Paul II in 2000.

The Vatican said it referred to an assassination attempt on the pope in 1981 by a Turkish gunman, Mehmet Ali Agca.

However, many Catholics suspected that parts of the secret were not disclosed in order to avoid panic about the apocalypse.

The rumours swelled when the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, gave an interview in 1984 suggesting that the secret concerned “the dangers threatening the faith and life of Christianity, and therefore the world. And also the importance of our ultimate days”.

He added that the “things contained in this third secret correspond to what is announced in the Scripture.”

Full article here.

An arch-conservative cardinal chosen by the Pope to deliver this year’s Lenten meditations to the Vatican hierarchy has caused consternation by giving warning of an Antichrist who is “a pacifist, ecologist and ecumenist”.

Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, 78, who retired as Archbishop of Bologna three years ago, quoted Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900), the Russian philosopher and mystic, as predicting that the Antichrist “will convoke an ecumenical council and seek the consensus of all the Christian confessions”.

The “masses” would follow the Antichrist, “with the exception of small groups of Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants” who would fight to prevent the watering down and ultimate destruction of the faith, he said.

It ain’t easy being green.  See full article here.

World’s Last Chance, a group that takes reading the Bible to all-new-extremes, claims to be “exposing one of the last unfulfilled prophecies of the Bible.” Specifically, World’s Last Chance believes that they have found clues within scripture that suggest Pope John Paul II is coming back … and will be the next pope after Benedict XVI.

That’s right, as crazy it sounds, they believe that Pope John Paul II is going to magically appear here on earth and make our lives hell. With folks like this, it’s no wonder that Christians get a bum rap.

“How will the next pope be John Paul II?” says Dahlia Doss of World’s Last Chance, “According to the book of Revelation in the Bible, chapter 17, it will appear to the entire world that John Paul II has returned from heaven, but in reality, this phenomenon, as prophesied, will be a demon impersonating the deceased John Paul II.”

See full article here.

Earlier this week, Sam Brownback, a Republican senator from Kansas, announced the formation of an exploratory committee to consider his candidacy for president in 2008. Never heard of him? Here’s a little background on him:

Who would Jesus vote for? Meet Sam Brownback. Nobody in this little church just off Times Square in Manhattan thinks of themselves as political. They’re spiritual — actors and athletes and pretty young things who believe that every word of the Bible is inerrant dictation from God. They look down from the balcony of the Morning Star, swaying and smiling at the screen that tells them how to sing along. Nail-pierced hands, a wounded side. This is love, this is love! But on this evening in January, politics and all its worldly machinations have entered their church. Sitting in the darkness of the front row is Sam Brownback, the Republican senator from Kansas. And hunched over on the stage in a red leather chair is an old man named Harald Bredesen, who has come to anoint Brownback as the Christian right’s next candidate for president.

. . . “I am a seeker,” he says. Brownback believes that every spiritual path has its own unique scent, and he wants to inhale them all. When he ran for the House he was a Methodist. By the time he ran for the Senate he was an evangelical. Now he has become a Catholic. He was baptized not in a church but in a chapel tucked between lobbyists’ offices on K Street that is run by Opus Dei, the secretive lay order founded by a Catholic priest who advocated “holy coercion” and considered Spanish dictator Francisco Franco an ideal of worldly power. Brownback also studies Torah with an orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn. “Deep,” says the rabbi, Nosson Scherman. Lately, Brownback has been reading the Koran, but he doesn’t like what he’s finding. “There’s some difficult material in it with regard to the Christian and the Jew,” he tells a Christian radio program, voice husky with regret.

. . . The nation’s leading evangelicals have already lined up behind Brownback, a feat in itself. A decade ago, evangelical support for a Catholic would have been unthinkable. Many evangelicals viewed the Pope as the Antichrist and the Roman Catholic Church as the Whore of Babylon. But Brownback is the beneficiary of a strategy known as co-belligerency — a united front between conservative Catholics and evangelicals in the culture war. Pat Robertson has tapped the “outstanding senator from Kansas” as his man for president. David Barton, the Christian right’s all-but-official presidential historian, calls Brownback “uncompromising” — the highest praise in a movement that considers intransigence next to godliness. And James Dobson, the movement’s strongest chieftain, can find no fault in Brownback. “He has fulfilled every expectation,” Dobson says. Even Jesse Helms, now in retirement in North Carolina, recognizes a kindred spirit. “The most effective senators are those who are truest to themselves,” Helms says. “Senator Brownback is becoming known as that sort of individual.”

Full article here.

We wonder if Tourette’s Syndrome could be a root cause here: 

(CNN) — Calling President Bush “the murderer and spiller of Muslim blood,” al Qaeda’s top deputy released a videotape Friday accusing the U.S. president of being a “deceitful charlatan” who has lied to the American people.

Ayman al-Zawahiri also blasts the Bush administration for holding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, an alleged 9/11 conspirator, in a secret prison and alleging that Mohammed gave interrogators “valuable information which has helped the crusaders to kill and arrest a number of al Qaeda.”

“I ask this lying failure, who are the leaders of al Qaeda whose killing or capture was facilitated by the information extracted from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?” al-Zawahiri asks. “Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, may Allah free him, has hurt you thousands of times more than you have hurt him.”

On another portion of the tape, which appears to have been recorded at a different time and location, the terror leader addresses recent controversial remarks by Pope Benedict XVI and the situation in Darfur, Sudan.

Notably missing from al-Zawahiri’s remarks is any mention of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who has been the subject of unconfirmed reports that he is dead or ill.

Full article here.

CASTELGANDOLFO, Italy (Reuters) – Pope Benedict told Muslim envoys on Monday that Christian and Muslim believers must reject violence, in an audience meant to defuse anger at his use of quotes saying Islam was spread by the sword.

The Pope expressed his “esteem and profound respect” for members of the Islamic faith in a meeting with diplomatic envoys from some 20 Muslim countries plus the leaders of Italy’s own Muslim community at his summer residence, Castelgandolfo.

“Christians and Muslims must learn to work together … in order to guard against all forms of intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence,” said the 79-year-old Pope.

It was the fourth time he had tried to make amends to Muslims, without actually apologising directly, for a speech at a university in his native Germany on September 12.

Full article here.  Meanwhile, with regard to Sister Leonella, who was murdered with her bodyguard in Somalia five days after the Pope’s remarks and after a call to violence by a Somalian Muslim cleric, the Pope said:

“Some are asked to give the supreme testimony of blood, as it happened a few days ago to the Italian nun, Sister Leonella Sgorbati, who fell victim to violence,” the pontiff said. “This nun, who for many years served the poor and the children in Somalia, died pronouncing the word ‘pardon,'” the pope told pilgrims during his traditional Sunday noon appearance. “This is the most authentic Christian testimony, a peaceful sign of contradiction which shows the victory of love over hate and evil.”

Full article here.

The man who tried to kill the late Pope John Paul II in 1981 has warned Pope Benedict XVI not to visit Turkey, saying his life could be in danger. The warning from imprisoned Turkish national Mehmet Ali Agca came amid a furore in the Muslim world over the Pope’s recent comments on Islam. Pope Benedict is planning to visit Turkey in November.

“As a man who knows these things, I say your life is in danger. Don’t come to Turkey,” Agca was quoted as saying.

Lawyer Mustafa Demirbag said Agca made his statement during a meeting at the high-security Kartal prison in Istanbul on Monday.

Full story here.

The Pope has now apologized for his remarks on Islam. Most voices seem content.

Obviously, the reason that this controversy ballooned so quickly is that it was the Pope who said something about Islam. Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter can go on TV every day and say something careless or stupid about Islam, and no one bats an eye. No one has ever really suggested that they were infallible in any sense. They’re not really fatwa-worthy, when you think about it.  When the Pope says something, though, he claims title to speaking on behalf of an entire faith.

OK, then, what about that “infallibility” thing?

Papal infallibility is one of the most widely misunderstood aspects of Catholic doctrine. It is not what a lot of non-Catholics seem to think it is — a license to be wrong for and on behalf of millions of Catholics around the world. In fact, it does not apply to everything the Pope says. For example, suppose the Pope is sitting in your living room one evening, and he looks across the room and asks you if you could pour him a glass from that jug of wine sitting over there; and suppose the “jug of wine” is actually a vase, and there’s no wine in it. If you’re a Catholic, you don’t have to pour him a glass of rancid flower water and pretend he’s right. In fact, I think you would still be within your rights as a Catholic if you politely gave the Pope the name of your optometrist, and then went into the kitchen to find him some wine. But I’m not a theologian or an eye care professional, so don’t quote me on the latter point.

According to official doctrine, the Pope is only infallible when he is reiterating already-established dogma of the Church, or when he is exercising Solemn Magisterium ex cathedra — making official statements from the throne of St. Peter which meet certain established conditions, one of which being that it cannot contradict previous dogma. The last instance which scholars agree upon as being a clear invocation of papal infallibility occurred in 1950, when Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption of Mary. After that, there has been no clear use of it by any Pope.

So, even under Catholic dogma, a Pope is capable of making a mistake.

Before he ascended to the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and in that guise, had received the nickname of “God’s rotweiler.” He had served as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and dean of the College of Cardinals. It often takes awhile for a Chief Operating Officer — a position often occupied by rotweilers, though not necessarily “God’s rotweilers” — to grow into the role of Chief Executive Officer. Was the speech at Regensburg a CEO’s speech or a COO’s speech? Pretty clearly it was the latter — it was Joseph Ratzinger, God’s rotweiler, speaking within the comfortable confines of the lab of academia. But a Pope’s words are not so academic. Even if the drift of his message was as correct as anything a Pope can say — that faith and reason are bound together inextricably, and in that bond there is no possibility of a religious use for violence, no matter the religion — the world’s got a hair trigger temper at the moment, and it takes a CEO’s diplomacy to navigate it. If you want to call this an exercise of political correctness, you may if you wish — but the best CEOs know that it is not enough to be right 100% of the time — the market can still kill you if you say the right thing in the wrong way. That is the inevitable consequence of people and ideas banging up against each other in a competitive marketplace. Undoubtedly, in making his apology, the Pope carries this realization, too.

After the Pope’s controversial comments on Islam, Sheikh Abubukar Hassan Malin of Somalia urged Muslims to “hunt the Pope down for his barbaric statements” (irony alert!):

“We urge you Muslims wherever you are to hunt down the Pope for his barbaric statements as you have pursued Salman Rushdie, the enemy of Allah who offended our religion,” he said in Friday evening prayers. “Whoever offends our Prophet Mohammed should be killed on the spot by the nearest Muslim,” Malin, a prominent cleric in the Somali capital, told worshippers at a mosque in southern Mogadishu. “We call on all Islamic Communities across the world to take revenge on the baseless critic called the pope,” he said. Reached by telephone by AFP yesterday, Malin confirmed making the remarks that were echoed in less strident form by other senior clerics in the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS).

Full article here.  Meanwhile, rage there has erupted into violence, with tragic consequences:

Gunmen killed an Italian nun and her bodyguard Sunday at the entrance of the hospital where she worked, officials said, an attack some feared could be linked to Muslim anger toward Pope Benedict XVI.

Sister Leonella was shot in the back four times by two gunmen armed with pistols, Dr. Mohamed Yusef told The Associated Press. The shootings occurred midday Sunday at the Austrian-run S.O.S. hospital for women and children in volatile northern Mogadishu, witnesses and hospital officials said.

One person has been arrested and a search was under way for a second man, Yusuf Mohamed Siad, head of security for the Islamic courts now controlling the capital, told the AP. Sister Leonella, whose birth name was Rosa Sgorbati, had lived and worked in Kenya and Somalia for the last 38 years, family members said.

She was 65. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano denounced the slaying of the nun and her bodyguard as a “horrendous crime.” “A woman who had dedicated her life to the service of the weakest, the most defenseless and the neediest, beyond any ethnic or religious distinction, has been hit,” the Italian president said.

Via eitb24.

On BBC Radio’s World Update, we heard the following:

Yousef al Khoei, director of the Al Khoei Foundation in London: The Pope, being in a very important position, he should really know better than quoting a 14th century Christian emperor, who was a political man who made his statements for a political reason during around the time of the Crusaders — it does not necessarily apply to a statement in a world that is full of tension at the moment.

BBC: But I mean, there are forced conversions going on.

Khoei: Well, if you actually read the Koran, it says no compulsion in religion. It says . . . you have your religion and I have yours. [sic] So I do not know why he would choose to quote things out of context. When you have clear instructions in Islam which says no forced conversion – why do we need a Christian emperor to tell us what Islam is?

BBC: Well, in a way, you are agreeing with him, though, that’s what’s so difficult about all of this.

Khoei: I’m agreeing with him, but I’m not agreeing with the context and the way he said it.

BBC: Because it has a political impact.

Khoei: It has a strong political impact, and it would be seen as a Christian head of state having a go at another faith.

BBC: Well, I mean, it has to be said, some Muslim leaders do have quite a strong go at Western leaders, don’t they?

Khoei: Yes, I think we must not make religion part of the problem, we must make religion part of the solution. The problem with religious politicians is they try to bring religion into their agendas, and I would expect from somebody as holy as the Pope is to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

BBC: What do you think will happen now? Do you think the Catholic Church . . . what do you think the Catholic Church should do?

Khoei: Well, I really think… first of all I don’t think the Muslims should overreact to a statement. I think it is something said, maybe, is being quoted out of context — but I do actually believe that religious leaders, both Muslim and Christians, have a duty to reduce all this nonsense about the clash of civilizations, and to not contribute to it in the name of the faith. Because at the end of the day, all faiths call for one thing – that is peace. There is many ways to God, there’s as many ways — as one of our Muslim leaders says, ‘as many ways to God, as many breaths in this Earth.’ So let us not make religion really a part of this global conflict which people are talking about.

BBC: I’m also joined now by Archbishop Kevin McDonald. He’s the Catholic archbishop of Southwark. Do you think the Pope did make a mistake in making these remarks, which have proved highly offensive to many people around the world.

Archbishop Kevin McDonald, the Catholic Archbishop of Southwark: I think it’s important that this quote from the emperor be seen in context. It’s part of a very complex lecture which is really all about the relationship between Faith and Reason. And he quotes the emperor, Manuel II, as saying this, but he uses it as a springboard for making the point that violence is incompatible with reason, therefore incompatible with the nature of God. That’s the main point that he wants to make – that faith is rational, is reasonable. That the leaders should act reasonably, should act rationally. And anybody who acts violently in the name of religion is acting in a way that is contrary to the nature of reason, contrary to the nature of God. That’s the point he’s making in what is, by the way, quite a long, subtle and complex lecture. And I think also, it’s important to say, that this Pope has already called for a dialogue with Islam, and made quite significant overtures towards Muslims when he was in Cologne, and in other places. And I think what he’s said here needs to be seen in that context as well.

BBC: Sure, but if what he wants is dialogue, then surely it would be extremely naïve to believe that you, as the Pope could say, quote someone saying that Muhammad brought was evil and inhuman, and not expect a pretty strong response.

McDonald: I suppose so, but I would appeal to the Muslim community to see it as what it is, as a quotation, and also to see it in the context of an academic lecture. I think that it is important to read the whole text and to see where that quote is going. You know, I understand what you’re saying, that it could be seen as inflammatory. The only thing I can say is that I am quite sure the Pope didn’t intend to be inflammatory, but I am equally sure he intended it as a very strong challenge to anyone who would justify violence in the name of religion.

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