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Burial bone boxes were used between 20 BC and AD 70

Artefact 'may be evidence of Jesus' Tuesday, 22 October, 2002, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK

[Since then (June 2003) ths has been declared fake by Israeli researchers.]

An ancient burial artefact found in Israel may be the earliest archaeological reference to Jesus Christ ever discovered.

The limestone burial box for bones - called an ossuary - bears an inscription reading "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" in the Aramaic language.

The writing style, and the fact that ossuary burials were only practised by Jews between 20 BC and AD 70, put the find squarely within the time of Jesus and James, says Andre Lemaire, a French specialist in ancient inscriptions.

Writing up his findings in Biblical Archaeology Review, a US journal, Mr Lemaire says it is very likely that the inscription is an authentic reference to Jesus.

Experts do not doubt the existence of Jesus, but almost everything known about him comes from the New Testament.

There are no other verified artefacts from the first century.

Well-known brother

Although all three names were commonplace in Jerusalem during that time, Mr Lemaire estimates that there must have been only about 20 Jameses with a father named Joseph and a brother named Jesus.

Moreover, it was quite unusual to name brothers on such burial boxes, suggesting that his brother must have been unusually well known - which Jesus certainly was.

Two scientists working for the Israeli Government's Geological Survey have examined the box's surface patina and the inscription at microscopic level.

According to the journal, they reported last month there was "no evidence to detract from the authenticity".

They also confirmed that the limestone originated in the Jerusalem area.

Help from a historian

But there is no way to prove conclusively that the Jesus named on the box is Jesus of Nazareth.

Despite this, Mr Lemaire has used testimony from the first-century Jewish historian Josephus in an attempt to date the find more precisely.

Josephus recorded that "the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, James by name" was stoned to death as a Jewish heretic in AD 62.

Had his bones indeed been placed in an ossuary, that would have happened the following year, dating the inscription to around AD 63 - about 30 years after the crucifixion.

The owner of the box - an unidentified private collector in Jerusalem - did not realise the significance of the object until it was examined by Mr Lemaire in spring 2002.

He or she has no plans as yet to put the box on public display.

Vatican 'protecting paedophile priests' Friday, 18 October, 2002, 20:46 GMT 21:46 UK

The Pope blocked the US bishops' plan Victims of sexual abuse at the hands of US Roman Catholic priests have condemned the Vatican after it opposed American bishops' plans to deal with paedophile clerics.

The Vatican said the proposals from the US - which included sacking priests after just one "credible" report of sexually abusing a child - were vague and could be confusing.

Supporters of the Vatican said the Holy See was simply trying to develop a policy that protected children while also preserving the rights of accused priests.

But correspondents say the ruling from Rome is a huge setback to the US Church and its bishops, who drew up the plans amid a growing scandal fuelled by many claims of priests abusing children.

Mark Serrano, a national board member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called the Vatican response "a victory for Vatican bureaucrats and recalcitrant bishops".

'Ignoring' problems

Church leaders in areas such as Boston have been accused of ignoring allegations of abuse from priests and, in some cases, moving known offenders from parish to parish rather than make them face justice.

Sue Archibald, a spokeswoman for victims' advocacy group The Linkup, said the Vatican's ruling would allow bishops opposed to the new policy to ignore it.

"It brings us back to the same situation we've been in for the last several years," she told the Associated Press news agency.

"Let's look at the rights of victims here - the ones who have suffered the most."

Clergy 'targeted'

But there have been complaints on the other side that some clergy have been targeted to placate victims.

The policy effectively ruled out rehabilitation for any offending priests and the Pope has said he was worried that punishing clergy before wrongdoing was proved would lead to "summary trials".

The Reverend Robert Bullock, an organiser of the Boston Priests Forum, an advocacy group of more than 100 priests, said he hoped church leaders would respond to the Vatican statement by working to heal rifts between bishops and diocesan clergy.

The US policy - developed in June - "did all the things necessary for victims, but the question is what does it do to due process for priests," he said.

A joint commission of Vatican officials and US bishops will now try to resolve the situation.

The Vatican said there were conflicts between the policy and church law, and expressed concern that some language in the plan was imprecise and difficult to interpret.

'Great understanding'

The head of the American Bishop's Conference, Bishop Wilton Gregory, told a news conference that Vatican officials had shown great understanding.

He said the rebuff did not mean a reversal in the US Church's goal of protecting victims.

"We are not stepping back from our compassion for those who've been harmed, nor in our determination to put into place policies that will protect children," said Bishop Gregory, who met the Pope to discuss the matter on Thursday.

He said the US proposals were still on the table but there was little time to agree new guidelines before the next US bishops' conference scheduled for November.

It is unclear how US Church officials will now proceed, as most dioceses have already begun putting the policy into practice.

Bishops agree on sex abuse safeguards Saturday, 15 June, 2002, 02:52 GMT 03:52 UK

The policy must be approved by the Vatican After two days of intense debate, Roman Catholic bishops in the United States have voted to adopt new rules aimed at stamping out the sexual abuse of children by priests.

The vote came at a summit on the crisis in Dallas, Texas, which was called in an attempt to restore confidence in the Church.

Under the new rules, clerics who molest a child will be barred from face-to-face contact with parishioners but will be able to stay in the priesthood.

But - to the dismay of some victims - the bishops stopped short of ruling that abusive clerics will necessarily be expelled from the priesthood.

The chairman of the gathering, Bishop Wilton Gregory, has begged forgiveness from all those affected by the abuse allegations which have rocked the US Catholic Church.

Bishops stood and applauded after they approved the measures on a 239-13 vote.

The policy must now be approved by the Vatican in order to become binding in all US dioceses.

Victims angry

"From this day forward no one known to have sexually abused a child will work in the Catholic Church in the United States," Bishop Gregory said.

Under the plan, clerics who have abused children will be able to remain priests but they will not be able to undertake active work in the Church, including celebrating Mass or teaching in a parochial school.

Priests could still be defrocked but such a decision would be made by the presiding bishop, who will be advised by an advisory board made up mainly of lay people.

There had been speculation that the bishops would adopt a "zero tolerance" policy under which abusive priests would be automatically defrocked. But the idea was dropped during the debate.

Some victims were angry at the outcome.

Mark Serrano, of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said: "This is akin to telling a street killer in the city `We are sending you to the country'," he said.

"They will find children to prey upon."

Bishops hope that taking a firm stance will reduce criticism over allegations that senior clerics were aware that paedophile priests were being moved from parish to parish.


At the opening of the conference, Bishop Gregory frankly acknowledged the pain the Church had caused and expressed remorse for the scandal.

"In my own name and in the name of all the bishops, I express the most profound apology to each of you who have suffered sexual abuse by a priest or another official of the Church."

After he spoke, delegates listened in silence as four victims of clerical abuse told their stories.

One victim, Paula Gonzales Rohrbacher, from Alaska, told the bishops she was molested as a child by a seminarian her family had befriended.

"This crime has left deep scars on my soul," she said.

Another, Craig Martin, from Minnesota, said he had come forward "to break the silence and the pain that was killing [him]".

Across the street from the summit, around 50 protesters sang hymns and held placards calling on the bishops to support victims of sexual abuse by priests.

Church kicks out women 'priests' Monday, 5 August, 2002, 18:45 GMT 19:45 UK

The women had campaigned against excommunication The Vatican has excommunicated seven women who were ordained as priests by a controversial archbishop.

The women had refused to give up their claim to be priests.

The seven, from Germany, Austria and the United States, were ordained in June in Austria during a ceremony led by Argentine cleric Romulo Antonio Braschi, who is from a breakaway church.

The women were given time to renounce their ordination, but the Vatican watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said they showed no sign of what it termed "repentance".

Women cannot be ordained as priests in the Roman Catholic Church.

One of the women, Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger, said they planned to appeal against the order, which effectively casts them out of the Roman Catholic Church, removing their right to take part in its rites.

"This reaction is completely out of proportion. It is another act of discrimination against women," the former nun, who is now married and a schoolteacher, told the French news agency AFP.

She vowed to carry on working as a priest undaunted.

"People have asked me to lead the service at their weddings, and I will carry on my pastoral work unhindered," she said.

Boat ordination

The ceremony ordaining the women, which took place on a boat on the River Danube in Austria, was witnessed by 300 people.

Four of the women are German - Iris Mueller, Ida Raming, Gisela Forster and Pia Brunner.

Ms Mayr-Lumetzberger and Sister Adelinde Theresia Roitinger, who are Austrian, were also ordained, along with an Austrian-born American who used the assumed name of Angela White.

After the service, they were sent a warning by the Vatican, urging them to "repent" by a deadline of 22 July.

"Because the women... did not give any indication of amendment or repentance for the most serious offence they had committed... they have incurred excommunication," said a Vatican press release.

Pope attacks 'genetic abuse of life' Sunday, 18 August, 2002, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK

Worshippers chanted: "Poland loves you" Pope John Paul II has warned against abuses of genetic engineering at an open-air Mass attended by more than two million people in the Polish city of Krakow.

The Pope was given a rapturous reception by the crowd at Blonia Park - the emotional highlight of the visit. It was one of the biggest gatherings of Polish Catholics ever seen.

In his homily, the 82-year-old pontiff said man "frequently lives as if God does not exist and even puts himself in God's place".

The return to Krakow, the southern city where he studied, was ordained as a priest and helped the peaceful revolution against communism, has been full of nostalgia for the Pope. He joked that the locals wanted him to leave Rome and return to his homeland.

The festive atmosphere was not affected by news that Polish police had found and destroyed a suspect package - that turned out to be a dumped car battery - along the Pope's route.

Voice of God

The Pope told people at the Mass: "He [man] claims for himself a Creator's right to interfere in the mystery of human life. He wishes to determine human life through genetic manipulation and to establish the limits of death."

He said attacks on the family were a rejection of divine law and an attempt to silence the voice of God.

And he warned against the "false ideology of freedom".

"When the noisy propaganda of liberalism, of freedom without truth or responsibility, grows stronger in our country too, the shepherds of the church cannot fail to proclaim the one fail-proof philosophy of freedom, which is the truth of the cross of Christ," the Pope said.

During the Mass the Pope beatified four priests, including a 19th Century archbishop of Warsaw, Zygmunt Felinski, who was imprisoned in Russia under the Tsars and continued his ministry there during the period when Poland had been wiped off the European map.

The BBC's David Willey says this is hardly likely to please the Russian orthodox church, which accuses the Pope of consistently trying to poach converts in traditionally Russian lands.

Return home

Then, as he waved goodbye, the Pope told the crowd: "I would also like to say I'll see you soon, but this is entirely in the hands of God."

"Stay with us," the crowd chanted. "Ha-ha," the Pope replied. "Now you want me to desert Rome!"

The good-natured exchange came as attention focuses increasingly on John Paul's ill health - the pontiff suffers from Parkinson's disease and arthritis - and intense speculation about his health, but the Vatican says he is not planning to step down.

And the visit - the ninth to Poland since John Paul became pope - is limited to Krakow, representing a large scaling-down of the gruelling 20-city schedule he followed during his last trip to Poland three years ago.

But it has rejuvenated the 82-year old, says the BBC's David Willey.

Later on Sunday he was scheduled to hold private prayers at Krakow's historic Wawel Cathedral, where Poland's kings are buried.

Afterwards, he was to visit the graves of his parents.

On Saturday, the Pope made an emotional appeal for an end to war and human suffering, on the first full day of his visit to Poland.

The Patriarch's environmental trip took him to Venice

Sailing with the Green Patriarch Saturday, 15 June, 2002, 12:32 GMT 13:32 UK

By Misha Glenny Former BBC Central Europe correspondent

Let me say at the outset - working in the Balkans is difficult and often dispiriting.

How can one not be affected by the wretched children who live in the Albanian settlement of Porto Romano?

A former industrial complex from the communist period, it is now a squatter camp accommodating immigrants from the countryside who have come in futile search of the paved gold streets supposedly covering the capital Tirana and the nearby port of Durres.

On Tuesday last week an extraordinary group of scientists, religious leaders and environmental activists visited the toxic playgrounds of twisted Dickensiana, the cankered legacy of Albania's great dictator, Enver Hoxha.

It was a sobering experience, but a useful one for the Muslim, Jewish, Protestant and Catholic leaders who had accepted an invitation issued by Bartholomew I, Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church and first among equals of the autocephalous churches of Eastern Orthodoxy.

He wanted them to join him in drawing attention to the calamitous state of the earth's oceans, seas and coasts.

Ecological ills

The trip was the culmination of an unprecedented co-operative effort between Bartholomew and Pope John Paul II who had agreed to end it with a joint appeal to the world to establish environmental protection as our over-riding political, economic and social policy.

Locked into a northern finger of the Mediterranean that stretches from the Otranto Straits in the south to Trieste in the north, the Adriatic is especially vulnerable to the devil's cocktail of untreated sewage, regurgitated industrial slime, fanatical over-fishing and dribbling pesticides that has begun to threaten the basis of our entire marine eco-system worldwide.

Our pilgrimage took us along the coasts of the Adriatic's children - Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia and finally Italy.

Ferocious wind

But while we heard and saw present and future disasters, on this journey through the Balkans and Italy, there were compensations on a breath-taking scale.

I had never travelled through Montenegro's Bay of Kotor by boat, only around it by car.

But last Thursday, just as a late yellow afternoon gave way to the dark fluorescent blue of twilight, the enormous ferry carrying us drifted majestically into Kotor's first enormous crater. Its sides were studded with deep green forest, broken only by the delightful red and white roofs of tiny villages.

For 10 minutes we were as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.

But as we reached Kotor's thin neck leading to the second, more elongated bay, a ferocious wind began to blow us about the deck - and as the entrance narrowed, it almost felt as though we were about to confront both Scylla and Charibdys.

We survived, of course, to be greeted by the now twinkling lights of Kotor village and a Montenegrin customs office which, perhaps recognising the long tradition of smuggling in the region, had been converted into a bar for the evening to welcome the pilgrims.

Pope link-up

This contrast of the spectacular and the miserable served well to remind us what we are destroying with our lifestyles of relentless consumption.

But we were also afforded an opportunity into the greatness of humankind's creativity.

In Ravenna, we witnessed the first liturgy spoken by the Greek Patriarch in Italy for over 1,000 years.

With his sonorous low tenor, his friendly face and an astonishing bejewelled crown, the Patriarch moved several in the church to tears.

It may be hard to grasp, but this was a moment of immense historical significance in ecclesiastical history and a real sign that the two churches are coming closer together after a millennium of hostility.

This was underlined the next day when the Pope joined the Patriarch in the Doge's Palace in Venice - thanks to a live video link-up from St Peter's in Rome.

The Pope, frankly, looked close to death and every time it seemed as though he might keel over, the link up inexplicably went down.

But sign the document he did, opening a new chapter in Catholic-Orthodox relations.

Dry martinis

But then the highlight - we were invited to hear an Orthodox choir in the splendidly extravagant Basilica on St Mark's Square.

The eerie minor chords echoed through the church.

Then as the second chorus rose to a climax, so was the gorgeous mosaic ceiling of the Basilica illuminated with a battery of lights.

The audience was almost prostrate at this celestial harmony of light and sound and quite a few were - like me - not known for their religious conviction.

How do you top that? Well, I'll tell you - dinner in the courtyard of the Doge's palace, that's how.

Yes sometimes, I think, working on the Balkans does have its compensations.

And to finish? It's obvious. Off to Harry's Bar where, and I'm sure Hemingway will be pleased, they still make the finest dry martinis in the world.