Father Balasuriya was excommunicated last January when he refused to retract teachings found in his writings after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith determined that his 1990 book "Mary and Human Liberation" contained heresies including denial of the necessity of baptism and denial of original sin and the immaculate conception. Father Bernard Quintus, provincial of the Province of Sri Lanka for the OMI, confirmed in a statement that Father Balasuriya had reconciled himself to the Church and was now welcomed back as a priest.
In December 1996, the CDF offered Father Balasuriya an opportunity to sign a profession of faith, but he had refused. He then appealed his case to Pope John Paul, but Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State, responded by saying that the Holy Father had studied the case carefully and concurred with the judgment of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, adding that Father Balasuriya had incurred automatic excommunication.
The newspaper's coverage was based on the work of theologian Stefan Heid, who has studied recent debates on celibacy in light of the traditions established in the early years of Christianity. He concludes that the tradition dates back to the first Apostles-- who, while some (such as St. Peter) were married, observed "perfect continence." Heid finds, from his study of the earliest Church councils, that the Apostles clearly understood Jesus to call for celibacy among priests, and thus they believed that in order to follow Jesus' example, they themselves must become celibate.
In a related story about the ancient Church, the Vatican announced that a sixth catacomb in Rome will be opened to pilgrims and tourists by the year 2000.
The Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology, whose members met with Pope John Paul II today, discussed their plans for the Jubilee celebration during the plenary meeting this week. The Commission, which oversees the five catacombs already open to the public, is working to open more such sites. A sixth catacomb, that of Sts. Peter and Marcellinus, will be opened soon.
Pope John Paul encouraged the group with their project, noting that a visit to the catacombs can be a method of catechesis-- "a school of faith, hope, and charity"-- because the lives of the first Christian martyrs bear vivid testimony to the power of Christ's love. As he put it: "In the silence of the catacombs, the pilgrim of the year 2000 can recover his religious identity in a sort of spiritual journey which, in light of the first witnesses to the faith, will help him to understand the reasons and the urgency for the new evangelization."
Forty-six percent of those polled said they do not believe in God, 45 percent are Orthodox, and 2 percent are Moslem, according to the survey by the Russian Center for Public Opinion Research. Less than one-fifth of one percent said they are Catholic. About 31 percent of those surveyed said they have always believed in God, 13 percent said they had abandoned professed atheism to become believers, 26 percent said they had never believed in God, and 2 percent said they had once believed and lost their faith.
Ninety-six percent of respondents said they had been baptized -- 83 percent as small children and 13 percent by choice when they were older. The poll of 2,400 people had a margin of error of 2 percentage points.
At the same time a high-level meeting between representatives of the Holy See and of the Russian Orthodox Church has confirmed that tensions in Ukraine remain a stumbling-block for ecumenical progress between the two bodies.
Cardinal Edward Cassidy, the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, led a Vatican delegation to talks in Moscow this week. The Orthodox group was headed by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk.
The Vatican offered no major comments on the discussions, although one highly placed official said "there is nothing new." The Moscow Patriarchate issued a statement indicating that the two sides had agreed to send a joint mission to Ukraine to study the problem there.
Orthodox spokesmen have complained repeatedly about the activities of Eastern-rite Catholics in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Catholic Church, suppressed under the Communist regime, has emerged with vigor since the fall of the Soviet regime. Orthodox leaders argue that the Ukrainian Catholics are hostile to their Orthodox neighbors, and impede ecumenism by seeking to gain converts from the Orthodox faith.