On Friday, February 20, 2004, Beliefnet hosted an online chat in conjunction with Churchwerks.com. Chatting from the floor of the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, California, Cardinal Roger Mahony talked about topics as diverse as cloning, his city's new cathedral, and Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ."

Welcome to Beliefnet's online chat with Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, leader of America's largest Catholic diocese. Cardinal Mahony is speaking with us from the floor of the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, Calif.

Good morning, everyone!

Here's a question from user "Noel": I am currently in the MAPM program at St. John's and am looking forward to helping the people of God in my parish at St. Raphael's. Where do you see the role of Pastoral Associates in the next 5 years? Are the pastors ready for this role in their parishes? Pastoral Associates are very important to the life of a parish, since they are prepared to deal with every kind of pastoral issue, question, or problem that arises in a parish. As with anything, some pastors are more ready than others--but watch for increasing receptivity.

Victoria: I am very impressed with your initiative of "Whole Community Catechesis". How do you see it unfolding with regard to roles of DRE/CRE? Are you fearful that, in abandoning the schoolroom model, we will create yet another generation with no doctrine to back up their Faith?

Actually, Whole Community Catechesis will deepen faith life--right now, parents just drop the kids off at Church, and leave. With their personal involvement in the process, that helps everyone know and pass on their faith. That means they should take advantage of adult education programs at their parishes, right? Yes, and after the Synod, there will be many more adult education programs all around the Archdiocese.

Rey: Since statistics from the Catholic church show that Hispanics are now the majority of the faithful in many dioceses across the U.S. -- and will be the majority of the faithful in the near future -- what is the church doing to respond to this tremendous pastoral need that is now amongst us all? Many of our Churches have very active and strong pastoral outreach to our Hispanic community. But we must always do more--esp. by involving our best people in leadership roles.

Leonel M.: Mel Gibson's upcoming movie "The Passion of the Christ" has had more than its share of headlines for the last year or more. But what is the relationship of Gibson's church near Malibu to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles? Is it part of a schismatic group? I know nothing about the Church in Malibu. It is certainly not in communion with the Universal Catholic Church nor the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. I have never met Mr. Gibson, and he does not participate in any parish of this Archdiocese. He, apparently, has chosen to live apart from the communion of the Catholic Church. I pray for him.

The Holy Spirit is promised to the Church, as well as the presence of Jesus: "Behold, I am with you all days until the end of the world." Those words were spoken to the Church, not to an individual in any century. We have several related questions about Mel Gibson; I'll try to summarize them. Many people have the impression that Mel Gibson is--for lack of a better word--a "regular" Catholic. Could you briefly explain the Catholic traditionalist movement? Actually, there is no such thing as the "Catholic traditionalist, modernist, movement." Either one is in full communion with the Catholic Church, in unity with the Successor of Peter, or not. One cannot pick and choose which Pope to follow, especially dead ones, or which teaching to follow--and then set aside the rest. Such people may be very nice people, but that doesn't make them "Catholic" in the true sense. Even the media is beginning "to get it" about these groups. We must give full assent to the Creed and all that the Church teaches. So if Mel Gibson does not accept the Church's teachings as outlined in Vatican II documents, he's "not Catholic in the true sense"? The Sixteen Documents of the Second Vatican Council constitute the accurate, authentic teaching of the Church. Those teachings are now contained in the Catechism of the Church. If one chooses to set aside any of those, then they choose to separate themselves from the unity of the Church. Keep in mind that the first temptation of Adam and Eve was precisely this: Satan told them, "you will be like gods, choosing good and evil." Wrong.
Users also ask if you plan to see "The Passion of the Christ." Someone has offered to give me a VHS of the movie, and I will view it.

floralmom: Do you think it's possible to make a realistic movie about Jesus' crucifixion that doesn't make Jews look bad? Scripture is very clear that the people throughout the Gospels were supported of, and responsive to, Jesus. It is the small group of leaders who are always jealous and seeking to silence him; eventually, to kill him.

User rbethell asks a related question: 'how do we as Christians present the Passion story in a way that is both true to our scriptures, and yet sensitive not to place blame for the suffering of our Lord?' I think it's always best to present the life of Jesus in the larger context of the entire Gospel--it's always more difficult to select one small slice of the Gospel and have it stand alone. There is a mini-series, Jesus of Nazareth, that will run during Lent. That broader approach should attract people to Jesus even more fully. danielv: I read a news story this week that made it sound like South Korean scientists had made progress toward human cloning. What's the church's position on that kind of research? The Church always focuses upon God's creative role in the procreation of children. To attempt to interfere with, or alter, that natural process is against the natural Law and God's plan for the human person and family--morally wrong. Are the U.S. Catholic Bishops and other religious groups lobbying the government to clamp down on cloning excesses? How can laypeople get involved?

Yes, the Catholic Bishops and other Catholic groups are working hard to make certain that moral, ethical guidelines are in place for any research that could harm the natural process of procreation. Laypeople can be very powerful advocates--a simple note to your US Senator or Congress member is most helpful; as well as the politicians in Sacramento.

ccvasquez: When deciding for whom to vote for public office, how much weight should a Catholic give to the official's position/record on abortion? Gay Marriage? I think Catholic voters need to contact all of those running for public office and challenge them on the ethical and moral issues--ask them to explain why they support certain measures, and by what ethical principles.

Sally C.: How concerned should we be about the Pope's failing health? What will happen if he is unable to perform his duties? The Holy Father's physical condition is actually improving--he read his entire Christmas homily, as well as the Jan. 1st Message for Peace. I think his new medications are helping him. We should continue to pray for him. He is a source of courage and strength to many who are ill. Here on Beliefnet, we know a lot of people are praying for him: we have several online prayer circles for him. Those prayers are obviously having a tremendous effect. Cardinal, the next question is for Beliefnet, so we'll field it. edelphi: "Moderator, are you stating Beliefnet's official position on the subject? Careful how you phrase things on these political subjects."

Edelphi, Beliefnet is drawing from questions sent to Beliefnet boards, to RE Congress boards, and from other boards. We'll try to include the user's screen name whenever we can.

Cardinal, we now have several user questions on the abuse issue.

Mary H.: What are you (we) doing to protect and defend your fellow priests that were accused unjustly (just as you were)? They must feel an awful sense of betrayal by diocese and people they have served. Our Policies and Procedures are very clear: every allegation must be fully investigated, and only when credible evidence has been confirmed, does our Oversight Board recommend administrative leave. Our priests know that the Board works very hard to protect them from all false accusations.

Anita: I know there's a big report coming later this month on how the Church has dealt with the problem of child molestation by priests. But as someone in the top leadership, what's your view? What's your diocese done to correct these problems and win back people's trust? Please visit our Los Angeles website. We have a full Report on that site, and you will see how we have responded over the years: www.la-archdiocese.org

We have given a full Report over 73 years: 1930 through 2003, a very complete Report. Appendix lists the names of all accused clerics whose names are in the public domain.

spiritofpeace: Just this week, a Catholic bishop was convicted of killing a man in a hit-and-run accident. Between that and the pedophile priests, this is not a great time for priests. How will the church attract the next generation of spiritual leaders? And how can we be sure it's a better crop?

It is fascinating since vocation interest continues to increase, not decrease. But we are seeing more mature, excellent men whose lives are strong in Christ and who want to serve His Church. In addition, our application is extremely thorough, our mentoring throughout the Seminary is strong, and evaluation occurs constantly. We are getting some very fine candidates, a real grace! Reverting back to the cloning issue, user edelphi made this comment: "The Korean scientists emphatically did not support reproductive cloning. Their research was only for therapeutic cloning." A lot of people are confused about the difference. Can you shed any light on this? The problem with any of those artificial processes is that beginning human life is discarded along the way. That's the moral/ethical problem. Go to the Vatican website, and look for the Academy for Life site--they have some excellent material on this very topic.

Runecaster95: Is it acceptable for Catholics to participate in acts of devotion such as Zen meditation and Hindu chanting, providing the emphasis remains on Christ? Any form of prayer and meditation that helps us deepen our life in Jesus Christ is a positive. We might call the same type of prayer "centering prayer," or "Christian mantra."

Joseph: Now that it's been completed, what are your thoughts about the cathedral? Are you satisfied, and, if not, what things might you have hoped had gone differently? We have all been amazed at how many people keep coming to the Cathedral week after week, and how deeply God's grace is touching their lives. The stories of personal conversion are incredible. People have surely found God's love and mercy in that wondrous spiritual space. User barronista asks; "Is that actually a winged serpent on the door of the new Los Angeles Cathedral? If so what significance does that have for Catholics? And if it isn't a winged serpent, what is it? ' Actually, there are many signs and symbols on the Great Bronze Doors. There are 40 different religious symbols, all of them portraying God's presence or power in a variety of faith traditions. Robert Graham's book in the gift shop describes each in its totality.

nrt5155: As Lent approaches, could you offer some advice on spiritual practices that would be helpful during this season? I always recommend that people undertake things that are less dramatic, but which you can really accomplish each day of Lent. Too many people take on practices that are not able to be sustained, so they just stop. Eg, Magnificat publishes a Lenten Companion--one full page for each day of Lent. Following that type of prayer regime, together with attending Mass more frequently, is really fruitful. Also, some fasting regularly puts us in harmony with the season.

nrt5155: In your opinion, what is the value of practicing fasting and abstinence during Lent? Fasting and abstinence are among our oldest traditions--found in the Old Testament, and even as Jesus begins his own ministry. But we have to be moderate--and not have as our goal simply losing weight!

Beliefnet: I see "the Atkins Lenten Diet" ahead :)

Fasting helps us see the value of God's presence and lessens our focus upon the material goods around us. Our next question draws from the philosophy of Jacques Maritain (wow!). A user asks about the church and immigration. REC2004 says, "According to Maritain, ...a nation state can be multi-racial and multi-ethnic but it cannot be multi-cultural without being politically unstable. Should the church therefore assist immigrants in assimilating in the existing culture rather than try to foster a policy of cultural separatism which will lead to political instability?" The Church works very hard to assist all immigrants become part of the larger community or society, since their own economic and social development demands that involvement. Isolation will never help new groups of people advance properly. But those people can still pray in the language of their hearts, and still work towards unity and harmony with all.

Jane M.: Who do you think goes to heaven? Do you think people of other religions will be there? Do people who haven't accepted Christ as their savior go to heaven when they die? As the Second Vatican Council teaches us, it is the Church's belief that everyone goes to heaven "through the salvific merits of Jesus Christ." Therefore, if they belong to another faith community, we believe that it is still the merits of Jesus' Paschal Mystery that enables them to reach the Kingdom of God. Keep in mind that each of us "chooses" our final destiny, and God continually calls to us to return home. Looks like we're out of time, folks. Cardinal, thank you very much for chatting with us! And thanks to everyone who joined us! God bless everyone!!!

Thanks for joining Beliefnet in talking with LA Cardinal Roger Mahony! To learn more about the latest in Catholic religious education, visit http://www.recongress.org/. For news and commentary on important Catholic issues, visit www.beliefnet.com.

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