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Racist Dictator

Daily life in Zimbabwe, a country blessed with natural resources and an energetic population, goes from bad to worse. The average life expectancy for women is 34; for men 37. Inflation is at 8,000 percent. As the people suffer and as African neighbor states seem disinclined to intervene, pressure has come upon the British government to act. The Anglican Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has urged the prime minister to impose sanctions and mount campaigns to remove President Robert Mugabe and end the humanitarian disaster. Archbishop Sentamu, born in Uganda, likened Mugabe to the late Idi Amin Dada: Enemies are tortured, the press is censored, the people are starving and meanwhile the world waits. Mugabe is the worst kind of racist dictator. Having targeted the whites for their apparent riches, Mugabe has enacted an awful Orwellian vision, with the once oppressed taking on the role of the oppressor and glorying in their totalitarian abilities.

The Catholic Church has long deplored and called attention to the worsening human rights situation in the country. The Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, led by a Mugabe supporter, has come under criticism for being silent. So it is all the more significant that Sentamu has added his powerful voice to those of fellow churchmen who have called for strong and immediate action. It is to be hoped that their cries will not fall on deaf ears.

Getting Higher Marks

With a presidential election approaching, the churchs role in U.S. society will be on many bishops minds and may well appear on the agenda of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in November. A less predictable agenda item, however, is the role of women in the church, which the Womens Justice Coalition suggested to them last spring.

The left-of-center coalition (Call to Action USA; Catholics Speak Out, Quixote Center; the Ecumenical Catholic Communion; Future Church; Rapport for Women Ordained; Southeastern Pennsylvania Womens Ordination Conference; Women-Church Convergence; and Womens Ordination Conference), using volunteers from its own members, surveyed 23 of the 193 U.S. diocesesthe dioceses in which the volunteers lived. From the results of this sampling, the coalition drew up a report and a report card, which it sent to all the bishops.

The report card, a convenient device for public relations purposes, gave them three As (for diocesan subsidies for educating lay ministers, the percentage of women directing existing offices, and the inclusion of women and men as eucharistic ministers and lectors at cathedral liturgies) and four Bs (for the existence of employee grievance procedures, the percentage of women on diocesan pastoral councils, inclusion of women in the footwashing on Holy Thursday and participation of girl altar servers at cathedrals).

Lower marks underlie the reports recommendations that bishops work to end gender discrimination on seminary faculties, teach seminarians the history of women in Christianity, incorporate the biblical and historic roles of women into all Catholic education, encourage equitable representation of women on diocesan advisory boards, ensure just employee and conflict-resolution practices, and sponsor future studies on justice for women in the church.

Politics aside, church leaders exert their strongest influence by example.

Eco-Benedictines

Last spring, Portsmouth Abbey School in Rhode Island held a major conference on wind energy just one year after installing a sleek, Danish-made, 164-foot, 660 kilowatt wind-powered generator on its property. The school, run by Benedictine monks, collaborated with the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, which promotes wind power throughout the state as a non-fossil fuel source and pitched in $450,000 for the project. The turbine project exemplifies how church and state can cooperate for the common good.

The Benedictines have been going green for a long time. In 1997 the sisters at Sacred Heart Monastery in Richardton, N.D., learned that their state has the greatest wind-energy potential of all the contiguous states. The sisters, who operated a nursing home, a retirement home and a llama farm on their 50 acres, paid high utility bills. So they installed two small wind turbines and realized immediate savings: 39 percent the first year and 47 percent the second (saving $15,800 that year). But saving money was only part of what motivated the sisters. They respected the environment as Gods gift and quickly acted as good stewards.

Currently, the semi-cloistered Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of Clyde Monastery in rural Missouri are erecting a 289-foot wind turbine on their property to help an energy cooperative. Though by law the monastery must use electricity from a public utility, not the energy generated by their wind power, they are demonstrating what can be done ecologically. This is just their latest eco-friendly move. The sisters own two hybrid cars, recycle everything from printing paper to wood to scrap metal and have replaced their 500-plus windows with thermal glass.

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