Signs of the Times

Supporting Marriage Is No Excuse to Bash Gays

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles urged California Catholics to back an upcoming referendum defining marriage as a contract between a man and a woman, but he said they should oppose anyone who will use this measure to promote hatred against homosexual persons. Californians are to vote on Proposition 22, a referendum on the legal definition of marriage, on March 7. The initiative says that only a union between a woman and a man is valid or recognized in California law.


Meanwhile, Bishop Kenneth A. Angell of Burlington said he was disappointed at the Vermont Supreme Court’s ruling on Dec. 20 that gay and lesbian couples must receive the same legal protections and benefits as married couples. But he added, Thank God it does not redefine marriage. The court in Montpelier stopped short of legalizing same-sex marriages, saying the Legislature should decide whether to recognize such unions as marriages or set up a legal system of domestic partnerships.

Chiapas Coadjutor Bishop to Head Another Mexican Diocese

Pope John Paul II named Coadjutor Bishop Raul Vera Lopez of San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico’s Chiapas state as the new bishop of the Diocese of Saltillo in northeastern Mexico. Bishop Vera, a 54-year-old member of the Dominican order, was named coadjutor bishop in San Cristobal in 1995. He had been expected to succeed Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia, a noted proponent of the rights of indigenous people in the troubled southern state of Chiapas. Bishop Ruiz, who has headed the San Cristobal Diocese since 1960, submitted his letter of resignation to Pope John Paul on his 75th birthday in November.

Rumors of diplomatic pressure in Rome by the Mexican government to have Bishop Vera removed from San Cristobal circulated throughout 1999. On Dec. 16, Bishop Ruiz warned in an open letter that forces outside the church were trying to influence the succession process to prevent Bishop Vera from becoming head of the diocese. The succession in San Cristobal is controversial in part because of the uprising by the indigenous-led Zapatista National Liberation Army that began on Jan. 1, 1994. The Vatican statement said the reasons for the move are purely church-related for both San Cristobal and Saltillo.

Some Schools Teach Abstinence as Only Birth Control Option

One-third of U.S. public school districts that teach sex education promote sexual abstinence as the only appropriate form of birth control, but most present abstinence as one of many birth control options, according to two surveys released in mid-December. Although a vast majority of U.S. school districts require that their schools promote sexual abstinence in sex education classes, one in three schools offers abstinence programs teaching students to wait until marriage, or until they are older, to have sex. Most schools use what is termed abstinence plus programs that discourage sex, but suggest use of contraception for students who still choose to have sexual relations.

Poll Finds Many Americans Spiritual But Not Religious

Most Americans think of themselves as religious, but in a recent Gallup Poll 30 percent called themselves spiritual but not religious. The survey found that Catholics were more likely than Protestants to describe themselves as religious. Catholics were also more likely than Protestants to say other religions besides their own offered a true path to God. Eighty percent of Catholics and 74 percent of Protestants held that view. Only 42 percent of the Protestants surveyed said non-Christian religions can offer a true path to God, but 61 percent of Catholics held that view.

The survey also found that four-fifths of Americans believe that one day God will judge them and send them to heaven or hell. But 44 percent said good people can go to heaven even if they don’t believe in God.

A.M.A. Delegates Vote to Support Federal Pain Relief Bill

Delegates to an American Medical Association meeting in San Diego voted to back a federal pain relief bill that would thwart Oregon’s assisted suicide law. Many of the 500 delegates, who represent 300,000 physicians nationwide, said assisted suicide should not spread, but they also want some changes in the bill, called the Pain Relief Promotion Act. Fearing federal oversight, they want state regulators, not the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, to mete out whatever punishment might be warranted for doctors who help patients die.

Vatican Asks for Overhaul of ICEL

The Vatican has called for a complete overhaul of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), which translates liturgical texts into English. Questioning the quality of ICEL’s work as well as the way it functions, the Vatican ordered the revision of the commission’s statutes. Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, said the new statutes must give his office a greater say in the work of the commission, including Vatican clearance of ICEL personnel. Representatives of the 11 bishops’ conferences that sponsor ICEL will meet on Jan. 21 in London to discuss Cardinal Medina’s letter.

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, the U.S. representative on the commission, said that one key point behind Cardinal Medina’s letter is that the relationship of ICEL staff and translation experts to the bishops is not structurally as strong as it might be. He added that he thought another of the Vatican congregation’s primary concerns was to limit ICEL’s role to being an agent of translation of Latin texts into Englishnot an agent of change on its own, composing original texts in English for consideration by the bishops’ conferences.

ICEL was founded in 1963 by bishops’ conferences in English-speaking countries to develop common English translations of liturgical texts. Cardinal Medina said, for a number of years now the Vatican has pointed out how ICEL was being too free in its translations. The Vatican has emphasized the importance of a literal translation from Latin into English when dealing with the prayers and readings for Mass and other liturgies.

Cardinal Medina’s letter, dated Oct. 29, urged the bishops to draft new statutes for ICEL quickly and to submit them to the congregation before the end of April.

UNICEF Reports Dire Conditions for Children in Africa, South Asia

High mortality rates, low birth weights and stunted growth are prevalent among children under age 5 in African and South Asian countries, said a new report from UNICEF, the U.N. Children’s Fund. Out of 25 countries with highest under-age-5 mortality rates estimated for 1998, 23 are in Africa, according to the report, The State of the World’s Children 2000. In South AsiaAfghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lankafrom 1990 to 1997, 33 percent of infants had a low birth weight, and more than 50 percent of children under age 5 had stunted growth, it said. The UNICEF report said nations’ failed leadership was to blame for the staggering number of violations of children’s rights, such as lack of access to health care and the abuses of armed conflict, forced labor and sexual exploitation.

Venezuelan Flood Survivors Helped by C.R.S., Caritas

Many survivors of Venezuela’s deadly floods and mudslides were being helped by Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency. C.R.S. committed an initial $100,000 in emergency aid for local purchase and distribution of relief supplies being coordinated through Caritas Venezuela, the Venezuelan bishops’ relief agency. About 20,000 people were being sheltered in church buildings. The Venezuelan government estimated that as many as 30,000 people had been killed in the flooding caused by heavy rains. A top Red Cross official said on Dec. 28 the death toll was between 20,000 and 50,000. Many victims remained buried by mudslides or were swept out to sea. About 400,000 people were left homeless as mudslides engulfed thousands of flimsy homes built on mountainsides along a 60-mile stretch of Caribbean coast just north of the capital, Caracas.

O.A.S. Blames Salvadoran
Government for Murders

The Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States said the government of El Salvador is responsible for the murders of six Jesuits and two women in 1989. In a report released in late December, the Washington-based commission found that Salvadoran state agents carried out the murders and covered them up in violation of international human rights law and the Geneva Conventions concerning the conduct of internal armed conflict. The commission called on the Salvadoran government to rescind its amnesty law, complete a full investigation into the murders and punish those responsible.

In the early morning hours of Nov. 16, 1989, Jesuit Fathers Ignacio Ellacuríathen rector of the Central American University in San SalvadorMartín Baro, Armando López, Joaquín López López, Segundo Montes and Juan Ramón Medrano were dragged from their beds and shot dead by an elite army unit. Their housekeeper and her teenage daughter were also murdered.

A 1993 truth commission, set up at the end of the conflict, concluded that the murders had been ordered by members of the army high command at the time. But a post-war amnesty law has meant that none of those named has been brought to trial. In 1991 a group of lower ranking officers and one colonel were found guilty of carrying out the killings and were briefly imprisoned before being released under the same amnesty law.

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