Israeli Citizen Named Melkite Archbishop
For the first time, the Vatican and the Melkite Catholic Synod of Bishops have agreed on an Israeli citizen to be archbishop of Akko, Israel. Archimandrite Elias Chacour, parish priest of the village of Ibillin in northern Galilee and founder of Mar Elias College there, was elected by the Melkite Synod of Bishops in Lebanon on Feb. 7 and confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI on Feb. 17. Normally, the bishops submit a list of names, and the pope appoints Eastern Catholic bishops.
The archbishop-elect has been active in reconciliation and interfaith dialogue in Israel, both personally and through Mar Elias College, and was awarded the 2001 Niwano Peace Prize. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. He is also the author of Blood Brothers, his story of growing up by the Sea of Galilee and a call for peace and reconciliation in his conflicted homeland.
Independent Investigator for Chicago Abuse Cases
The Archdiocese of Chicago has hired an investigator to conduct an independent overview of its handling of recent abuse cases and asked for a complete review of its policies and procedures for monitoring members of the clergy accused of sexually abusing children. Both moves came as Cardinal Francis E. George, O.M.I., named Jimmy Lago, chancellor, as the person responsible for overseeing the efforts of all employees and offices to make sure children are protected. The initiatives came in the wake of the arrest in January of the Rev. Daniel McCormack, then pastor of St. Agatha Parish, on charges that he had sexually abused two boys. Since then he has been charged with abusing a third boy, who came forward after the first two cases were reported in the media. The archdiocese and Cardinal George personally were widely criticized for not removing Father McCormack from ministry sooner. The priest had been questioned by Chicago police at the end of August 2005 after one of the boys reported being molested three years ago; he was released without charge because the state’s attorney did not believe there was enough evidence to prosecute him.
Federal Tax and Budget Cuts Hurt Poor, Vulnerable
The newly approved 2006 federal budget and the budget proposals for coming years will cut programs for the poor and vulnerable even as tax cuts and higher defense spending increase federal deficits, Catholic social ministry leaders were told on Feb. 14 at a national conference in Washington, D.C. Ellen Nissenbaum, legislative director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the Bush administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2007 calls for deep cuts in domestic discretionary programs, some cuts in entitlement programs and tax cuts that will increase the deficit. This fails the test of fairness, and it certainly fails the test of fiscal responsibility, she said. Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, said the 2006 budget reconciliation bill, just signed into law the previous week, institutes changes in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program that will lead to less Medicaid funding and make it much harder for states to meet requirements for federal funding.
New Yorkers Rally for Education Tax Credits
With thousands of parents from across the state rallying to their call, and New York’s Governor George Pataki offering support, Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn and other proponents of school choice took their campaign for education tax credits to Albany on Feb. 14. They challenged state legislators to take the opportunity to help all of the children of New York. "This morning, I want to rejoice in all of the people who have come to the city of Albany to say they want everyone to have a chance," the cardinal said, "a chance at sending their children to schools of their choice, schools that are what they want - academically, spiritually and morally." Speaking at a news conference on Feb. 14, at which 30,000 postcards supporting the credits were on display, the cardinal said working-class and middle-class families deserve to give their children the educational opportunities that wealthy people have without even trying. He also thanked elected officials who support credits. While the cardinal and other religious leaders spoke at the news conference, busloads of parents, many with their children, and other tax credit supporters gathered at the steps of the New York state capitol.
Cuban Church Reflects on Pastoral Goals
Twenty years after the first meeting of bishops that was allowed following the Cuban revolution, the Catholic Church on the Caribbean island reflected on its internal life and main pastoral goals, with support from the Vatican. During the celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of that meeting in February 1986, which was a milestone for the Catholic Church in Cuba, the country’s bishops unveiled their pastoral plan for 2006-10.
For Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cuba was the first stop on a trip that included the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, where he was presenting the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. The Vatican official even gave a copy to Cuba’s President Fidel Castro. In presenting the compendium to the Cuban bishops, the cardinal noted that the church’s social doctrine takes into consideration people’s material and spiritual needs and underscores the deep sense of our common life, of our struggle for justice.
Supreme Court to Consider Abortion Ban
The U.S. Supreme Court said on Feb. 21 that it will consider the constitutionality of the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. The court agreed to hear an appeal by the Bush administration of a U.S. appeals court ruling that the 2003 law is unconstitutional because it does not include an exception for the health of a pregnant woman. The appeal is the first abortion case the high court has agreed to hear since Justice Samuel Alito Jr. replaced Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who retired. O’Connor was often a swing vote on abortion cases and many observers regard Alito as more likely than she was to favor legal restrictions on abortion. Three federal appeals courts have found the 2003 law unconstitutional. The first such ruling came last July from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, in St. Louis, Mo., which said that a health exception is constitutionally required in any law restricting abortion.
Pope to Invest 15 New Cardinals in March
At the end of his general audience on Feb. 22, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he will call a meeting of the entire College of Cardinals for prayer and discussion on March 23, and on the following day will hold a consistory, during which he will invest 15 new cardinals. On March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, all the cardinals will join him for a Mass. Two Americans are among the nominees: Archbishop William Joseph Levada, the pope’s successor as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Sean Patrick O’Malley, O.F.M.Cap., the archbishop of Boston.
Three priests over the age of 80 were included on the list in recognition of their faithful service to the church, notably Albert Vanhoye, S.J., a longtime collaborator of the then Cardinal Ratzinger. Father Vanhoye served as secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission of which Cardinal Ratzinger was president. Born in Hazebrouck, France, in 1923, Father Vanhoye holds degrees from the Sorbonne in Paris and the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, where he has taught since 1963. Prior to that he was professor of biblical exegesis at the Jesuit seminary at Chantilly in France. Robert F. O’Toole, S.J., the president of the Gregorian Foundation and one of Father Vanhoye’s successors as rector of the Biblicum, welcomed this honor for a biblical scholar internationally recognized for his careful analyses, influential publications and active participation in scholarly associations. His work for the church over many decades has been truly extraordinary.
Church Must Participate in Cultural Debates
The Catholic Church must participate in modern cultural debates, finding ways to present enduring truths in a serious, yet accessible way, Pope Benedict XVI said. The pope met on Feb. 17 with the editors and staff of La Civiltà Cattolica, a Jesuit-run magazine founded by Pope Pius IX in 1850 whose contents are customarily reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State before publication. By writing about cultural, social and political issues, the pope said, the magazine helps the Catholic Church in its dialogue with the modern world, identifying positive trends and offering the guidance of the Gospel. Increasingly, modern culture is closed to God and to his moral law, even if it is not always prejudicially averse to Christianity, the pope said.
Vatican Radio Celebrates 75 Years
Pope Benedict XVI was scheduled to visit the Vatican’s own radio station as it celebrated its 75th anniversary. Since Feb. 12, 1931, when Pope Pius XI officially inaugurated Vatican Radio, every pope except Pope John Paul Iwho was pope for 34 dayshas paid at least one official visit to the station or its broadcasting centers. On March 3, Pope Benedict was scheduled to visit the radio’s headquarters at the Palazzo Pio building, which sits at the far end of the wide boulevard in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, just across from Castel Sant’Angelo. The pope was to wrap up his visit by delivering an address to the radio’s staff in the building’s Marconi Hall.