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There are a number of Church matters in what may be called a little miscellaneous collection of current matters pertaining to the Church -- varied news items, large and small.

On the mystical beat, in Bosnia-Hercegovina, the Bishop of Mostar, who has jurisdiction over parish matters at the famous apparition site of Medjugorje (though not the actual apparitions, which are in the hands of the Vatican), reportedly has instructed local priests to halt their commentaries on the Blessed Mother's monthly message, something they have been doing for two decades.

Is it part of a steady "chipping away," a clamp down? Throughout the years, the diocese has periodically taken such actions, especially in the last ten years. In earlier days, the apparitions took place in a room to the side of the altar across from the sacristy or the choir loft or rectory at St. James Church but were removed from those settings by the previous bishop. Like the current one, he was often at odds with the Franciscans who control more than a dozen parishes in his diocese (part of a centuries-old conflict between secular and order priests there).

The current bishop, Ratko Peric, who long has been the most intense critic of Medjugorje, recently also instructed a Catholic rehabilitation center near Medjugorje called Cenacolo to halt appearances of seer Mirjana Soldo and also took away permission for exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at another community there, Oasis of Peace, that was connected to the apparitions. A priest who spent several years at Medjugorje in the early 1980s was recently granted laicization (in the wake of an alleged scandal, and after disciplinary actions initiated by Bishop Peric's predecessor and approved by the Vatican).

The parish website is still carrying the text of the Blessed Mother's monthly message, but without a priest analyzing it. Does the new restriction mean that the Vatican itself is beginning to distance itself (does it portend rejection), or is it simply something that the diocese has decided to do in that attempt to further express its discernment (which it otherwise has no vehicle for expressing, now that the issue is out of its hands)? Meanwhile, in its latest report, the parish states that it has had its "busiest August" (right, recent youth day there).

That's one matter: the Church and mysticism. Then there is the Church and politicians.

There was the matter of the Kennedy funeral Mass -- which generated a flurry of last-minute controversy.

In these situations, the Church is, of course, in an impossible situation. Shouldn't it deny a funeral for a politician who was a champion of abortion (as, certainly, was Senator Ted Kennedy), or at least make the send off a small, private affair?

That's what a number of pro-life activists wanted, and one can certainly see their concern. In the end, however, Cardinal Sean O'Malley presided over the funeral, along with a half a dozen priests. We must respect decisions of those who have Church authority over a matter. No one can know, of course, what Senator Kennedy may or may not have confessed towards the end, what was in his heart; no one can judge him, and so the Church is reluctant to do that. It's recalled that credible witnesses including priests and a nun have said that his brother, President John Kennedy, who also carried certain baggage, had his Confession heard right before going to Dallas from Fort Worth. As with Medjugorje, the Vatican has remained properly distant from the situation (lauding the late Senator Kennedy's contributions to a number of humanitarian causes, while lamenting his tragic record on abortion). One is led to wonder how many regular parishioners who not only supported abortion but had one have also been afforded funeral liturgies. One can note that the Church operates in charity and just about always grants funerals whether for politicians, regular laity, saints, or Mafia bosses in the hope of salvation.

But there are also extremes. In Phoenix, we receive a report that a priest declined to confront a parishioner who was working for an abortion clinic, remanding his prolife parishioners' demands with: "No, I will not speak to this parishioner. She has to make a living!" in the words of another correspondent.

There is the issue of vaccines: Trying times for Catholic education! Most of them all but mandate standard inoculations, often without knowing that cell lines used to create many vaccinations have been derived, in part, from aborted unborn babies! The spiritual implications are difficult to comprehend -- at the same time that Catholic schools have to obey local health rules and don't want to harbor an epidemic. A tight spot these days.

"In accordance with the New York State Education Code (of the United States of America), specifically, Public Health Law 2164, Section 9, regarding exceptions to immunization requirements, we have filed for a religious exemption," a viewer named Laura Sullivan wrote to His Eminence Cardinal Joseph William Levada, Prefect Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

"However, it is come to my attention recently that the Archdiocese of New York will not permit a legal religious exception to vaccination, even though state law is binding on both public and parochial schools.

"As you are already aware, fetal cell lines are used in creation and preparation of the following vaccines: measles, mumps, chicken pox, rubella, rabies, polio, and Hepatitis A," she wrote.

"A tremendous conflict arises because my religious convictions are predicated on the belief that all life is sacred. God's commandment 'Thou Shall Not Kill' applies to the practice of abortion. The Archdiocese of New York is one of nineteen (including all fifteen dioceses in Texas) out of 195 dioceses in our country that will not permit us to exercise our religious rights."

Certainly this is an issue that warrants attention -- although the Church does not explicitly teach it is wrong to be inoculated by such vaccinations. Is a new policy needed? And should a parent be forced to expose a child to such vaccines (which may also be harmful for other reasons)? It is certainly worth further urgent deliberation.

There are, however, some matters that bishops can and -- with all due respect -- must act upon. In these cases, the discernment was made long ago.

There is the occult: seminarians and priests have not been schooled about this, and therefore no longer practice deliverance, exorcisms, and home blessings in the way that is needed -- especially today.

Nor can they offer proper counsel.

In fact, many religious discount occult and the devil as matters of superstitions. New Age meditation classes are allowed in some parish halls and retreat centers -- an urgent issue for a Church that was instituted as a stalwart against paganism.

We heard from one viewer who complains that several friends were experimenting with the Ouija board (trying to summon the deceased) in an old chapel at her school -- where once there had been the Blessed Sacrament.

"I ended up going to our campus priest and told him about it, and he told me that as long as they aren't doing it seriously or they aren't do it continuously, it's not a problem," the student wrote us. "Maybe I heard him wrong with the 'seriously' part or the 'continuously' part, but I know I heard him correctly with the 'not a problem' part. Please pray for me and my friends. I don't think my priest took this seriously enough."

This is a school where students have been invited to give the homily.

There is a strong need for the Church to more vigorously address these matters, particularly in the U.S., Canada, and Australia, as well as to instruct seminarians on mystical theology (in, again, our hopefully respectful and hopefully unpresumptuous opinion).

"The saddest part," this young Catholic laments, "is that when I decided to stop going to Mass at school, it was because the Mass there was weakening my spiritual life. I didn't feel as close to God and I felt more inclined to do sinful things. The Mass should never do that."

The aforementioned chaplain, meanwhile, and again with all due homage, needs to know that there have been many cases in which use of the Ouija board has led to extremely negative circumstances -- for example, the case behind The Exorcist. That possession began with a "superstitious" Ouija board.

[resources: spiritual warfare books and Michael Brown retreats: Michael H. Brown, retreat Minnesota and Retreat and Mass in New Jersey]

[see also: President caps two-hour Kennedy Mass, Ted's letter to the Pope, Did priests coach Kennedys on abortion? and Archives: did JFK confess?]

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