Muslim Scholars

Try to Restrict Fatwas

At a major international meeting of Muslim scholars in Amman, Jordan, participants agreed that religious edicts called fatwas should be issued only by clerics bearing recognized authority -- a position that implicitly opposes calls for violence from militants such as those spearheading Iraq's insurgency.

The three-day meeting of about 180 experts from 40 nations was said to be the first representing Islam's eight major Sunni and Shiite schools of thought.

"The issuance of religious edicts is limited to qualified Muslim clerics in the eight schools of jurisprudence," according to a conference statement released July 6.

Leaders of the Amman meeting also said that believers cannot label other Muslims as "apostates," as Iraq extremists have done to justify killing police and civilians.

Jordan's King Abdullah II called the meeting to implement November's "Amman Message," a Jordanian initiative urging Muslims to reject extremism and tolerate other religions. The meeting was sponsored by a foundation partly financed by Jordan's ruling dynasty, which claims direct descent from the prophet Muhammad.

Before this month's conference, 10 top Muslim clergymen, including Egypt's Grand Imam Sheik al Azhar Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi and Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, had also ruled that fatwas must be issued only by qualified clerics recognized by the eight schools.

-- Associated Press

San Antonio Archbishop

Invites Pope to Visit

Pope Benedict XVI smiled and responded, "We'll see," when invited to visit San Antonio next year for the 275th anniversary of that city's historic downtown San Fernando Cathedral.

San Antonio Archbishop Jose Gomez told the San Antonio Express-News that the invitation was extended in the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall during a July 1 gathering at the Vatican for archbishops who received the pallium, a woolen cloak that is the principal symbol of their office, the day before.

During the gathering, each bishop knelt before the pope to receive his blessing, then rose and exchanged a few words with him, the Express-News reported. When Gomez did so, he mentioned the birthday celebration of San Fernando Cathedral.

The pontiff, 78, couldn't believe at first that a U.S. church could be so old, Gomez told the newspaper. "He asked, 'Is it possible?' " Gomez said, but then the pope remembered that the cathedral was built during Spanish colonial times.

Pope John Paul II prayed and spoke to students in religious formation at San Fernando on Sept. 13, 1987, as part of a 22-hour visit to San Antonio in which more than 1 million people saw him -- more than in any other city on that 10-day tour to the United States.

-- Religion News Service

Lay Catholic Group

Calls for Changes

A Catholic lay reform group that emerged after the Catholic sex abuse scandal has called for wholesale financial transparency in the U.S. church, as well as allowing lay Catholics a voice in the appointment of bishops.

Voice of the Faithful, a Boston-based group that says it has 30,000 members across the country, also said it would work for legislation that "holds bishops accountable for their failure to protect children."

During the group's national convention in Indianapolis last week, about 600 activists said church leaders must carve out a greater role for women and other lay Catholics in financial affairs and governance.

In Boston, where the abuse scandal angered parishioners into action, lay activists who have staged round-the-clock vigils have been successful in forcing Archbishop Sean O'Malley into revising a massive church-closing plan.

But that may not be enough, suggested the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a Dominican priest and retired Air Force chaplain who has long pushed church leaders to take the abuse scandal more seriously. Doyle told activists that legislative action may be the only answer.

Nine resolutions passed at the convention call for independent lay councils at all levels of the church, a process that allows parishioners and priests to have a say in the appointment of bishops -- they are now appointed by the pope -- and an "independent, widely disseminated, understandable annual . . . audit report for all church-related entities" that would report profits and losses.

"But we are not the enemy," said Voice of the Faithful president Jim Post. "The laity is not the problem. In fact, the laity may be the best friend the church has."

-- Religion News Service