Signs of the Times

Chinese Ordain Five Bishops Without Vatican Approval

The government-approved church in China ordained five new bishops without papal approval. The ordination ceremony took place on Jan. 6, just hours before Pope John Paul II ordained 12 bishops in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Church officials in Rome said the timing was a deliberate provocation, and the Vatican expressed its astonishment and disappointment at the act. The Vatican missionary news agency Fides reported that nine of 12 original candidates refused to participate in the ceremony because it was in clear competition with the Holy See.

While China maintains that the election of bishops is a legitimate function of the local church, in practice it is the government and the Communist Party that control the selection of episcopal candidates. One of the new bishops, Zhan Silu, said that the new bishops had pledged obedience to the pope during the ceremonya point the others did not confirm.


Retired Bishop Who Disputed Medjugorje Apparitions Dies

Retired Bishop Pavao Zanic of Mostar-Duvno in Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose diocese included the site of alleged Marian apparitions, died on Jan. 11 at age 81. He was known for his statements against the reported apparitions at Medjugorje, which he said were linked to a longstanding dispute between the diocese and local Franciscan priests over control of parishes.

Nun Leaves Religious Life After Vatican Pressure

Sister Lavinia Byrne, a well-known British nun, announced she will leave religious life after coming under pressure from the Vatican to declare support for church teaching against contraception and women’s ordination. Sister Byrne is a regular broadcaster on the British Broadcasting Corp. Radio 4 Today program, in which she presents a short Thought for the Day. She teaches theology and frequently writes in the British Catholic press. "My dilemma of conscience came when I was asked by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to make a public statement saying that I supported Humanae Vitae and the papal document restricting priestly ordination to men only. I am profoundly sad that this is why I have to leave," she said.

Partial-Birth Abortion Case Will Go to Supreme Court

The Supreme Court will review a Nebraska law that makes it illegal for doctors to perform partial-birth abortions. The court announced that it would review a September ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit that said the law prohibiting partial-birth abortions was unconstitutional. The case will probably be heard in April, and a ruling is expected before summer.

Helen Alvaré, director of planning and information for the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, credited the recent decline in abortions to the four-year campaign against partial-birth abortions, which she said exposed people to the reality of abortion. The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports U.S. abortions in 1997 were at their lowest level in two decades.

Meanwhile, proponents of a California ballot initiative aimed at mandating parental notification before abortion of a minor’s pregnancy failed to collect by Jan. 6 the more than 670,000 signatures needed to qualify for November’s ballot.

Kenyan Religious Leaders Take Charge of Constitutional Review

Kenyan religious leaders declared that God was on their side, as thousands of people gathered at Uhuru Park gave them the mandate to proceed in spearheading the country’s deadlocked constitutional review process. A rare public prayer meeting on Jan. 11 brought together leaders from nearly all faiths in the country, who resolved that Kenyans would only accept a people-driven constitutional review process led by religious groups. The prayers were attended by more than 22 opposition members of Parliament, political party leaders and members of civil society, who seemed to see the religious leaders as trustees of the constitutional review., Yes;,, No

The Vatican owns the Internet domain name, but not its major variations,,, and Domain names are registered on a strictly first-come, first-served basis; the only protected names are trademarks. In early January, the Italian media reported that a Web site at imitated the Vatican’s official site but included irreverent material and altered papal speeches.

The Vatican has exclusive control over the suffix va, which is the international code for Vatican City State. Any Web address containing the suffix is authorized by the Vatican.

Centro Televisivo Vaticano, or CTV, compiles a weekly newscast of 20 to 30 minutes, which is now being made available on the Internet by Vatican Radio can be heard at

Retired Bishop Hurley Criticizes Gore’s Anti-Voucher Ad

Retired Bishop Mark J. Hurley of Santa Rosa has taken issue with what he says is a negative portrayal of private schools by Vice President Al Gore in a television campaign ad against vouchers. The bishop criticized a TV ad in which Gore, as a Democratic presidential candidate, says, I think it would be a big mistake to drain money away from public schools with vouchers that give money to private schools. Appearing with children in and out of classrooms, Gore adds that private schools are fine, but not with money designated for public schools, where 90 percent of our American children go. Bishop Hurley criticized Gore for using the words our and American when referring to the students who attend public schools because, he said, it clearly implies that religious schools are not really ours’ and are just a bit less than fully American’.

Fides Says Indonesian Officials Exploit Moluccas Conflict

Indonesian government officials are exploiting the conflict in the Molucca Islands to their own advantage, according to an interview reported in the Vatican’s missionary news service, Fides, on Jan. 11. There seems to be an intentional push to expel Christians from the islands, said Father Agustinus Ulahayanan, an Indonesian. But Father Ulahayanan downplayed the interreligious nature of the violence that has wracked the islands since January 1999, saying the fighting cannot be described as a horizontal conflict between Christians and Muslims.

In U.S. Poll, Mother Teresa Tops List of Century’s Most Admired

Mother Teresa of Calcutta came out as the most admired person of the 20th century in a year-end Gallup Poll. Of those surveyed, 49 percent called her one of the people they admire most in the century. Other Catholics in the top 10 were President John F. Kennedy, who was third, and Pope John Paul II, who ranked eighth. Most admired after Mother Teresa was the slain U.S. civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The U.S. bishops have nominated King, along with the American religious women murdered in El Salvador, to be honored at an ecumenical jubilee year service on May 7 at Rome’s Colosseum honoring thousands of 20th-century Catholic and non-Catholic Christians around the world who shed their blood for Christ.

Orthodox Patriarch Sees Little Hope for Christian Unity Soon

The leader of the world’s 200 million Orthodox Christians said hopes that Christians will achieve unity soon are groundless. He added that Pope John Paul II had taken larger steps toward Christian unity than previous popes, but warned that his exercise of papal primacy was still unacceptable to Orthodox churches. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, said. For me, fundamentally, the papacy expresses a spirit far removed from the spirit of the Orthodox Church.

Meanwhile, the heads of 14 Orthodox churches celebrated Orthodox Christmas in the Holy Land in an unprecedented gathering. In addition to the Greek Orthodox patriarch, the gathering included the patriarchs of Moscow, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Moscow, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Cyprus, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and Albania.

Untener Calls on Catholics to Bring Divorced Home

Bishop Kenneth E. Untener of Saginaw is calling on Catholics in the pews to serve as church ambassadors of reconciliation to divorced and separated Catholics. In a taped message that was played at the end of each Mass in all 109 parishes of the diocese on a weekend in December, the bishop called attention to brochures available in every parish that describe steps the diocese has taken to simplify the painstaking procedure to obtain a decree of nullity and explain how the people can initiate the process. I want you to put these in the hands of people who need to hear these words of welcome, Bishop Untener said in the taped message. This is a golden opportunity to do a world of mercy, and the year 2000 is a fine time to do it.

German Bishop Says He Thinks Pope Would Resign If Too Ill

Bishop Karl Lehmann, president of the German bishops’ conference, said he thought Pope John Paul II would resign if ill health made it impossible for him to fulfill the responsibilities of the papacy. He made the remarks in an interview broadcast on German Radio on Jan. 9. After Italian media reported his comments as a call for the pope’s resignation, Bishop Lehmann said he was not at all questioning the pope’s present capacities but was discussing a hypothetical situation in the future.The last pope to resign voluntarily was St. Celestine V, who stepped down in 1296 after a short reign.

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