Signs of the Times

Call to Renewal Announces Covenant Targeting Poverty

Representatives of more than 50 multidenominational, faith-based service and policy groups organized as Call to Renewal announced a Covenant to Overcome Poverty at a rally on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 16. At a time of record prosperity, the poor are being left behind, said the Rev. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine and convener of Call to Renewal, but the churches are being drawn together. John Carr, secretary of the U.S. bishops’ Department of Social Development and World Peace, noted that on the previous night’s 90-minute televised debate for Republican presidential candidates not a single mention was made of how the candidates would help poor people. Sharon Daly, deputy director of Catholic Charities USA, said the campaign and its issues are nonideological and nonpartisan and that it calls for personal responsibility as well as social responsibility.

Israel Criticizes Vatican - P.L.O. Accord, but Pope Still Welcome

As a diplomatic controversy continued over the signing of a Vatican-Palestinian accord, Israeli officials criticized the Vatican move but said Pope John Paul II would still be welcome in March. Israel views the upcoming visit of the pope in the region as an important historical mission, said Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Eytan Bentsur. We are expecting a message of peace and conciliation that will not include any pre-determination of the results of the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Bentsur said.


Vatican and Palestinian Liberation Organization officials signed the agreement on church rights in Palestinian territories on Feb. 15. The agreement said unilateral actions affecting the status of Jerusalem were morally and legally unacceptable. It also called for an internationally guaranteed status for Jerusalemwhich Israel has always rejectedin order to protect basic religious freedoms.

New South African Guidelines on Communion

The southern African bishops’ revised ecumenical directory, which has Vatican approval, removes any possibility of misunderstanding about eucharistic sharing, said a South African theologian. Brian Gaybba, a theology professor at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, said he thought the original version would have gone through without a hitch if it weren’t for the Clinton incident. The parish priest of the Soweto church where U.S. President Bill Clinton attended Mass in March 1998 said he was following the directory when he gave Clinton Communion.

Gaybba said that in terms of the original directory, Clinton, a Southern Baptist, should not have been given Communion. He noted that misunderstandings took place when people didn’t read the details of the document. The new document stresses the details and conditions and makes it very clear that no circumstance, in and of itself, justifies eucharistic sharing, he said. Nowhere in the new document are special occasions for sharing referred to without immediately pointing to the sections that refer to circumstances where grave spiritual need can arise, Gaybba said.

There are two basic principles that enable the prohibition on eucharistic sharing to be dispensed from. The first is in danger of death and the second is where there is grave spiritual need, Gaybba said. In the second instance, certain conditions apply, and these are listed in the directory. The bishops’ earlier directory said that a special need for eucharistic sharing can be said to exist on occasions when Christians from other churches attend a eucharistic celebration for a special feast or event.

Another area of the South African directory that is now far more guarded is the section dealing with partners in mixed marriages, Gaybba said. A unique situation exists as regards spouses of a mixed marriage who attend Mass together in a Catholic church, the directory says. The non-Catholic spouse could well experience a serious spiritual need to receive holy Communion on occasions when he or she accompanies the family to a Catholic Mass. Requests for this kind of eucharistic hospitality should be referred by the parish priest to the local ordinary, it says, then refers readers to the sections dealing with other conditions required for eucharistic sharing. The earlier version said if such couples attend Mass together only infrequently, then they may both receive Communion on those occasions, provided that it is the spontaneous desire of the non-Catholic partner to do so.

Chiapas Paramilitary Closes 33 Churches

A paramilitary group operating with the support of local officials seized a church in northern Chiapas and forced its closure, the Diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas reported. A statement from the diocese on Feb. 16 said the group, known as Peace and Justice, closed the church on Feb. 14, bringing to 33 the number of Catholic churches in the diocese closed because of paramilitary violence. The church is located in the indigenous community of Jol-Ako in the municipality of Tila, close to the Chiapas-Tabasco state border. Residents told the diocese that the church was seized on Feb. 14 by Peace and Justice members accompanied by local civil authorities, including the public prosecutor.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Justo Mullor, papal nuncio to Mexico, praised the bishop of Chiapas. The name of Samuel Ruiz will figure among the names of the sons of Mexico who have done something for Mexico, he said. I believe that if all the bishops of the world were like him with his faithful, the world would be a bit better, he added. The archbishop is returning to Rome where he will be president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the Vatican’s school for diplomats. When a reporter asked if he would defend Bishop Ruiz in Rome, he said, It is not that I will do that, but that I have already done it.

Church Coalition Decries Canadian Response on Sudan

A Canadian church coalition denounced the federal government’s response to a government envoy’s report claiming that a Canadian-based oil company’s operations in Sudan are exacerbating its civil war [see Am., 1/15]. The report confirmed what we in the churches and the N.G.O. community knew all alongthat oil development in general and Talisman’s involvement in particularwere intensifying the war in Sudan, and I would go so far as saying undermining the prospects for peace, said Gary Kenny, director of the Inter-Church Coalition on Africa. Despite the findings of a special envoy, John Harker, Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy stopped short of imposing sanctions against Sudan or the Calgary-based Talisman Energy Inc. in announcing on Feb. 14 new Canadian initiatives aimed at bringing peace to Sudan.

Vieques Island Provokes Church-State War of Words

The struggle to drive the U.S. Navy off Vieques, a small island east of Puerto Rico, has provoked a war of words among several Catholic bishops and political leaders in the U.S. Caribbean territory. Archbishop Roberto O. González, O.F.M., of San Juan and Bishop Alvaro Corrada del Rio, S.J., apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Caguas and auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, have expressed support for Catholic protesters who want the Navy to stop using Vieques as a bombing range. And in December the Puerto Rican bishops’ conference issued a statement declaring Navy practices on Vieques immoral and supporting civil disobedience as long as it was nonviolent and truly a last resort. The war of words heated up on Feb. 9, when Puerto Rico’s Gov. Pedro Rossello called on Catholics to practice religious disobedience to defy church leaders and said those leaders had exceeded their authority.

Vaccine From Aborted Fetus Cell Lines Judged Morally Acceptable

The St. Louis Archdiocesan Pro-Life Office says using a hepatitis vaccine derived from cell lines developed from an aborted fetus is morally acceptable because it is the only available alternative to the spread of the disease. The office said it had been receiving inquiries about the ethics of such vaccinations when a bill was passed in St. Louis County ordering food handlers to be vaccinated. Some of them have refused to get the vaccine because of their pro-life views. Hepatitis A, a viral infection of the liver, is usually contracted by consuming food or drinks handled by an infected person.

In making its determination, the Pro-Life Office cited research by the ethicist Edward Furton of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Boston, who concluded it is permissible for a Catholic to receive the vaccine since the individual is not in immoral cooperation with the evil of abortion. In an interview with the St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper, the Rev. Edward Richard, professor of moral theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, said he agreed with Furton’s conclusions. There’s no alternative if we want to prevent the spread of diseases and the consequences that flow from that, Father Richard said. The use of the vaccine itself is not intrinsically evil. Certainly the origins are, but the person who uses it wants to do something positive, he added. Father Richard emphasized there is no other option available, not just in the case of the hepatitis A vaccine but also when it comes to rubella, chicken pox and other vaccines.

No one should have to be put in this position, he said. In spite of the fact that people find this totally abhorrent and want nothing to do with it, the moral principles of the church always apply. One can morally use the vaccines.

Father Richard said those who want to make a strong case against the health care industry must consider the protection of others and their own lives. They cannot endanger the lives of others in the community, the priest said. Furton said adults have a moral obligation to provide vaccinations to their children, and operators of day-care centers also have a responsibility to protect children from potentially deadly diseases. We are talking [about] not only potential but the likelihood that the disease would spread, he added. The desire to be moral, in that respect, to protect ourselves when something is available, is the motivation for using a vaccine.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.


The latest from america

Acknowledging that the church is currently “in a state of crisis and shame,” Sister Veronica Openibo urged church leaders to “acknowledge that our mediocrity, hypocrisy and complacency have brought us to this disgraceful and scandalous place we find ourselves as a church.”
Michael J. O’LoughlinFebruary 23, 2019
Lay oversight of Catholic bishops is needed—but it should be a process that respects the principle of apostolic succession while providing a check on the successors of the apostles.
John GarveyFebruary 22, 2019
Dr. Joseph J. McGowan, president of Bellarmine University, Patrick Hart, O.C.S.O., and Archbishop Thomas Kelly during the ceremony at which Brother Hart received an honorary degree from Bellarmine University on May 10, 2003. (Courtesy of Bellarmine University)
For decades, Patrick Hart was the literary executor of Thomas Merton's works and the custodian of the legacy of the 20th century’s most prominent religious seekers and teachers.
Joseph McAuleyFebruary 22, 2019
Child psychologist and founding member of the Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA) organization, Miguel Hurtado from Spain, center, reads an open letter to the Benedictine order outside the St. Anselm on the Aventine Benedictine complex in Rome on Feb. 22. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
In addressing the abuse crisis, Ms. Ghisoni called for “the dynamic involvement of the whole people of God.”
Gerard O’ConnellFebruary 22, 2019