Signs of the Times

Cuban Bishops Say Parental Rights Should Decide Boy’s Case

The Cuban Catholic bishops say the custody battle over a 6-year-old Cuban boy should be resolved in favor of parental rights. The boy, Elian Gonzalez, has been living with relatives in Florida since he survived an attempt to reach the United States by boat. He was found on Nov. 25, clinging to an inner tube off the Florida coast. His mother and stepfather drowned after an accident aboard the boat on which they left Cuba. The boy’s father, who remained in Cuba and said the child’s mother kidnapped him, was seeking custody.

The Cuban bishops’ conference said the case should be resolved according to the universally accepted recognition that minor children belong with their parents. We regret that emotional or political involvements are obstructing the prompt solution of this conflict, a solution provided for by the very basic norms of rights, they said. Returning the boy to his father would make it possible for him to resume his normal life in the shortest time possible, they concluded.


Pope to China’s Catholic Communities: Reconcile

Holy Year celebrations in mainland China should focus on reconciling underground and government-recognized Catholic communities, Pope John Paul II said. Celebrate the holy year by breaking down all barriers in order to overcome every possible cause of division, the pope said in a special letter to Chinese Catholics. In the letter, released on Dec. 10 at the Vatican, Pope John Paul said the Catholics of China who continue to suffer because of their faith will be in his thoughts and prayers during the year 2000.

Vermont Can Exclude Church Schools in Tuition Program

In its third action this term on use of state funds for parochial school students, the Supreme Court on Dec. 13 let a ruling stand that allows Vermont to exclude religious schools from a tuition subsidy program. Without comment, the court let stand a Vermont Supreme Court ruling that said it would violate the Constitution to include students at religious schools in the program for students at private schools. In October, the court also declined to review a Maine Supreme Court ruling that said the state may pay tuition for rural students to attend private schools as long as they are not religiously affiliated. In the same month the court declined to review an Arizona Supreme Court ruling that upheld the state’s program allowing tax deductions for contributions to church-run schools.

Pope Says Peace Requires Change in World’s Perspective

A complete change of perspective in international political and economic structures will be necessary to build lasting world peace, Pope John Paul II said. There will be peace only to the extent that humanity as a whole rediscovers its fundamental calling to be one family, he said in a message for the World Day of Peace, Jan. 1, 2000. The 22-page message was released on Dec. 13 at a Vatican press conference.

Msgr. Kelleher Dies; Urged End to Marriage Courts

Msgr. Stephen J. Kelleher of New York, a prominent church lawyer who in America (9/14/68) urged the abolition of church marriage courts, died on Dec. 5. Retired since 1990, he was 84 years old. Monsignor Kelleher was chief judge of the New York archdiocesan tribunal when he called for radical changes in the church’s handling of broken marriages, eliminating judicial annulment procedures and leaving the question of freedom to remarry up to the conscience of the individual.

Shortly after Monsignor Kelleher published his views in America, Cardinal Terence J. Cooke removed him from the archdiocesan court. At Monsignor Kelleher’s request, he was reassigned to parish ministry. While engaged in parish work and serving in 1973-74 as coordinator of volunteer ministry to New York City prison inmates, he continued to write and speak on his view that once a marriage is deadand will clearly not continuethe parties have a right to remarry and go to holy Communion. He urged that tribunals be replaced by consultative boards, which would be able only in extreme cases to say that a person cannot remarry. He presented the fullest argument of his case in his 1973 book, Divorce and Remarriage for Catholics?

Priest Says He’ll Run for Presidency of Czech Republic

A priest has agreed to run for president in the Czech Republic’s forthcoming elections, after gaining personal support from President Vaclav Havel. A church spokesman said the country’s bishops would support the move, but warned of strong opposition from ex-Communist and liberal politicians. "I’d be happy to stay as I am, rather than enter politics. But if it serves the common good, I’m ready," said the Rev. Tomas Halik, chairman of the Czech Christian Academy who helped found a civic rights movement, Impuls 99.

The spokesman for the Czech bishops’ conference, Father Daniel Herman, said Father Halik’s candidacy was a definite possibility, adding that Cardinal Miloslav Vlk of Prague was backing Impuls 99 as a way of building a democracy for everyone. Holding political office isn’t a priest’s main task. But the Vatican will not oppose it if a local bishops’ conference judges it acceptable, he said.

Notre Dame Asks All Licensees to Disclose Factory Sites

The University of Notre Dame has asked all licensed manufacturers of Notre Dame products to disclose where those products are made. Three of the university’s five largest licensees, Adidas, Champion and Gear for Sports said they would comply. Notre Dame has 235 national licensees.

The chairman of Notre Dame’s anti-sweatshop task force, William Hoye, expressed satisfaction with the progress on public disclosure but stressed it is only one facet of Notre Dame’s initiatives. Notre Dame’s focus will continue to be on constructing a credible and effective system of factory monitoring and follow-up that ensures just and fair treatment of workers, Hoye said. Notre Dame was the first university to have an independent auditor monitor manufacturing facilities. The school intends to create a dual monitoring process that will pair the auditing firm with church, civil rights, labor and other advocacy groups to provide a complete and accurate picture of working conditions in its licensees’ factories. The university also continues to participate actively in the Fair Labor Association’s monitoring program.

Loans to Encourage Education for Church Ministry

The Diocese of Joliet has begun offering interest-free loans for lay ministers to take graduate studies. The program, Leaders of the Future, intended to support graduate study for a variety of ministries in the seven-county diocese. The loans will make as much as $1,000 a year available for up to three years of study, explained Mame Byrne, director of the Diocesan Catholic Education Foundation. And for each year participants spend in ministry in the diocese after their studies are complete, the diocese will reduce the debt by $1,000 a year, Byrne explained.

Pope Apologizes for Church’s Treatment of John Hus

Pope John Paul II offered an apology for the Catholic Church’s treatment of the 15th-century Czech priest and theologian John Hus, who was burned at the stake as a heretic. Today, on the eve of the great jubilee, I feel the need to express deep regret for the cruel death inflicted on John Hus and for the consequent wound of conflict and division which was thus imposed on the minds and hearts of the Bohemian people, he said.

The pope’s words came in a speech on Dec. 17 to participants of an international John Hus conference, sponsored by the Vatican’s jubilee committee and the Czech bishops’ conference. Hus was burned at the stake in 1415 after being condemned as a heretic at the Council of Constance. Hus, an advocate of moral reform in the church, had doubts about the primacy of the pope that eventually led to his excommunication and death.

Historians Studying Vatican Papers Want More

Historians commissioned to review Vatican documents relating to the Holocaust indicated on Dec. 7 that their primary emphasis would be to push for the opening of all Vatican archives that might contain pertinent documents. The search for truth, wherever it may lead, can be best promoted in an environment in which there is full access to archival documentation and other historical evidence, said the team of Catholic and Jewish historians in a joint statement. The team held its first meeting in New York on Dec. 6-7.

Their assignment is to review 11 volumes of documentation published by the Vatican in the years 1965 to 1981, and try to reach a joint assessment. Prominent Jewish organizations have repeatedly called on the Vatican to open its World War II archives to clarify allegations that church leaders knew the extent of the Holocaust yet failed to raise their voices in defense of European Jews. The Vatican repeatedly has said that all relevant documents had been published in the 11 volumes prepared by a team of Jesuit researchers. It also has made it clear the team will not have access to unpublished material.

Robert S. Wistrich, a Jewish member of the team and a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said the most bizarre aspect of the team’s work would be sifting the 11 volumes, looking for what is not there. Then you request it, he said, and the team’s project could end if we came up against some kind of brick wall, he said. Team members said they had divided the material of the 11 volumes among themselves for individual review and planned to meet in March to share their findings.

Head of Pontifical Mission Criticizes Israel on Mosque

Israel’s decision to allow construction of a mosque next to a major Catholic basilica in Nazareth bodes ill for the future safeguarding of holy places in the region, said the president of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, Msgr. Robert L. Stern. Monsignor Stern said he hoped Israel would reconsider the controversial decision, especially in the face of growing Muslim support for an alternative site for the mosque.

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