Russian President Meets Pope, Does Not Extend Invitation
On his first official visit to Western Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican on June 5 about the ongoing need to bring Western and Eastern Europe closer together. However, during the meeting Putin did not invite the pope to visit Russia, underlining the continuing distance between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. Pope John Paul has made it a policy not to visit a country with an Orthodox majority without first having an invitation from the Orthodox Church. Russian Orthodox Church leaders continue to accuse the Catholic Church of proselytismaggressively encouraging Orthodox Christians to join the Catholic Church. They also continue to claim that Ukrainian Catholics have used force to reclaim churches the Communist government confiscated in the 1940’s.
Sister Gramick Refuses Silence, Risks Expulsion From Order
Jeannine Gramick, S.S.N.D., has refused a formal command from her superior general not to speak or write at all about homosexuality or the Vatican order banning her from all homosexual ministry. Calling her refusal a matter of conscience, the 58-year-old Baltimore nun said that silencing her on those matters would make her give up her human right to self-defense. I choose not to collaborate in my own oppression, she said.
Sister Gramick’s longtime colleague, Robert Nugent, S.D.S., said he had accepted the further silencing. The priest and nun were leading figures in Catholic ministry to gays and lesbians since the 1970’s. On July 13, 1999, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ordered them to halt all ministry with homosexual people. It said errors and ambiguities in their views about church teachings on homosexuality have caused confusion among the Catholic people and have harmed the community of the church.
The two were called back to Rome this May to be told that Vatican officials regarded their continuing public discussions of their case as contrary to the meaning and intent of the July 13 notification. Sister Gramick said that because of her refusal to maintain silence about her experiences with church authorities, she expects to be expelled from her order.
Nigerian Church Officials Hail Presidential Pardon of Rebels
Nigerian church leaders hailed President Olusegun Obasanjo’s decision to pardon rebel leaders and soldiers for their role in the country’s civil war more than 30 years ago. In a nationwide broadcast on May 29, Obasanjo pardoned the rebel leader of the former Biafra Republic, Lt. Col. Emeka Ojukwu, and thousands of other soldiers dismissed from service for their role during the war, which left more than a million dead.
Mexican Cardinal Calls for End to Xenophobic Attitudes’ in U.S.
Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City asked an end to xenophobic attitudes in the United States that have contributed to recent violence and deaths for Mexicans who have tried to cross the border illegally. Speaking to reporters following a Mass on May 28, the cardinal was especially critical of ranchers in southern Arizona who have organized vigilante groups to capture undocumented workers. A fundamental human right is the right to work...and I believe that the laws of countries and concrete attitudes must leave behind those xenophobic feelings and attitudes, he said.
Green Bay Diocese Sets Master Plan for Fewer Priests
Anticipating a one-third drop in parish priests over six years, the Green Bay Diocese has completed a comprehensive plan to close, merge or link dozens of parishes and increase lay staffing across northeast Wisconsin. The five-year plan, which covers 15 geographical planning areas, calls for mergers of at least 10 parishes into five and more than 50 linkages of two or more parishes. It foresees more extensive interparish program collaboration and points out that many of the local planning groups have suggested various ways of sharing programs, talents and resources as they worked through the implications of redistributing priests.
Catholic Radio Network Ends Broadcasts, Seeks Buyer
Catholic Family Radio, a lay-led, for-profit radio network, canceled all of its shows on May 25. In place of the regular weekday lineup of talk shows, it is airing programming from Mother Angelica’s shortwave radio service, WEWN. The network is looking to sell its stations. It continues to sell its weekend time for infomercials. In interviews with Catholic News Service, those connected with Catholic Family Radio suggested that the network had fallen victim to both an ambitious business plan that could not be sustained and advertiser reluctance to place ads on religious stations.
Vatican Clears U.S. Catholic Higher Education Norms
The National Conference of Catholic Bishops announced on June 7 that the Vatican has approved the U.S. bishops’ norms for Catholic colleges and universities. They will take effect on May 3, 2001, one year from the date of the Vatican approval. At their meeting last November, the bishops approved the norms implementing the 1990 papal document on higher education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae.
Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, president of the N.C.C.B., said the yearlong period before the U.S. application takes effect will be used to resolve questions and deal with practical matters of implementation. During that time, he said, the issues behind many of these inquiries will be addressed in dialogue with college and university presidents, theologians and canonists.
Throughout years of development of the U.S. application, one of the most vigorously debated issues was how to apply in the U.S. context the general church law that theology professors need a mandatum, or mandate to teach, from the diocesan bishop. The mandatum, as described in the norms:
Is fundamentally an acknowledgment by church authority that a Catholic professor of a theological discipline is a teacher within the full communion of the Catholic Church.
Should not be construed as an appointment, authorization, delegation or approbation of one’s teaching by church authorities. Those who have received a mandatum teach in their own name in virtue of their baptism and their academic and professional competence, not in the name of the bishop or of the church’s magisterium.
Recognizes the professor’s commitment and responsibility to teach authentic Catholic doctrine and to refrain from putting forth as Catholic teaching anything contrary to the church’s magisterium.
In a footnote to the norm on how the mandatum is to be construed, the document says that it is not the responsibility of a Catholic university to seek the mandatum; this is a personal obligation of each professor. It adds, If a particular professor lacks a mandatum and continues to teach a theological discipline, the university must determine what further action may be taken in accordance with its own mission and statutes.
Archbishop Backs Greece’s Call to Remove Religion from ID’s
The head of Greece’s Catholic minority has backed government calls to scrap the obligatory listing of religious affiliation on citizens’ identity cards. But, he warned that change was vigorously opposed by the Orthodox Church, which nominally accounts for 97 percent of the country’s population of 10.2 million. Having to give one’s religion causes discrimination, and we will do everything to ensure the practice stops, said Archbishop Nikolaos Foskolos of Athens.
A call for the removal of religion from ID’s was made after the re-election in April of the ruling Socialist Party by Justice Minister Michalis Stathopoulos, who said it violated European Union standards and criticized the Orthodox Church’s exaggerated protection. But the proposal was angrily dismissed in a speech on May 14 to Orthodox family groups by Patriarch Christodoulos as a crime against the nation by neo-intellectuals who are biting the church like wild dogs.
The rights of Catholics, who include 50,000 ethnic Greeks and 150,000 foreign residents, have been sensitive in Greece since a 1994 Supreme Court ruling that the Catholic Church enjoyed religious freedom but not legal status. In four judgments during 1996-97, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Greece for violating the 1950 Convention of Human Rights and demanded legislation to establish the Catholic Church’s juridical status. However, Archbishop Foskolos said the government had so far done nothing and added that the bishops planned to appeal again to the European Court.
The issue of religious freedom has grown since Greece joined the EU in 1981. But until now, no government has dared act against the will of the Orthodox Church for fear of losing votes, the archbishop said. Greeks claim to be religious even when they don’t practice any religion. There are atheist government members who swear their ministerial oaths on the Gospel. It’s a bizarre situation.
Russian Court Rules That Jesuits Qualify for Registration
Overturning a ruling of Russia’s Ministry of Justice, the country’s constitutional court has ruled that the Jesuits qualify for registration as a legal religious organization. The court, in a decision dated April 13 but made public in late May, granted registration to the Russian region of the Society of Jesus, Vatican Radio reported. The decision came almost exactly one year after the justice ministry denied the Jesuits’ application for legal recognition under a 1997 law, citing among other reasons that the Jesuit region was not founded by Russian clergy.