Signs of the Times

Cardinal Says Boff’s Ideas Still Alive 15 Years After Silencing

Fifteen years after the Vatican silenced a Brazilian theologian for holding that the one true church can exist outside the Catholic Church, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said the idea continues to circulate. The cardinal, who is prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, discussed the case of former Franciscan Father Leonardo Boff in a speech on Feb. 27 at the Vatican. With the approval of Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger issued a notification in 1985 describing Father Boff’s book Church: Charism and Power as a danger to the faith. At a distance of 15 years, it is clearer than it perhaps was then that it was not so much a matter of a single theological author, but of a vision of the church which circulates with different variations and which is still very current today, Cardinal Ratzinger said.

Mexican Bishops Stress Human Rights in Pre-Election Document

Mexican bishops approved a document that will guide the church’s participation in Mexico’s elections this year and in the country’s democratic development in years to come. The document, Pastoral Demands of Contemporary Mexican Reality, states that democracy is not possible without full respect for human rights and contains a stern warning about the consequences of electoral fraud.


Sanctions Miss Intended Targets, Catholic Speakers Say

Economic sanctions imposed or supported by the United States against Iraq, Cuba and Serbia have done little to achieve their aims, according to U.S. Catholic Conference and Catholic Relief Services officials. In some cases, the conditions that brought about the sanctions no longer exist, they said. In others, leaders of the affected nations have not been driven from power but instead have used the sanctions to consolidate their positions, they told a workshop on embargoes held on Feb. 24 during the 2000 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington.

Gerald Powers, director of the U.S.C.C. Office of International Justice and Peace, said the use of sanctions can be looked at in the context of Catholic just-war teaching, and evaluation is possible according to whether the kinds of sanctions applied meet the purpose sought.

What he called a morally adequate approach on sanctions includes asking whether sanctions have a just cause, have the consent of the affected populationas they did in apartheid-era South Africa, protect civilians, are part of a political solution, are proportionate to the goals sought, have a chance for success and are used as a last resort.

Powers said that the stated U.N. goals for change by Iraq are legitimate, but there has been horrible suffering, horrible by any measure, and worse than most wars as well. Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussein, is not blameless, he stressed, citing the fact that he waited more than five years to apply the U.N. food-for-oil program offered to his country. Powers said Hussein also opted not to rebuild water treatment systems destroyed in the war in order to construct instead a pipeline to drain water and more easily repress the marsh Arabs in the south.

Thomas Quigley, a U.S.C.C. policy adviser in the justice and peace office, noted Cuba is no longer a Soviet satellite and no longer has the capacity to meddle in African or Central American rebellions. U.S.-imposed sanctions are about 40 years old and remain in place because of what Quigley called inertia, spite and the way we’ve always done things. This allows the Cuban leader Fidel Castro to blame everything wrong in Cuba on the sanctions, and there is a lot that is going wrong there, Quigley said.

Meanwhile, the head of Yugoslavia’s largest Catholic aid organization has condemned the hunger and hopelessness caused by Western sanctions. The Rev. Antun Pecar, director of Yugoslav Caritas, said the sanctions had retarded rather than promoted dialogue between government and opposition in Yugoslavia, while generating severe shortages in food, clothing, medicines and fuel.

Cardinal Keeler Defends Vatican-Palestinian Accord

Addressing a national Jewish meeting, Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore defended the recent Vatican accord with the Palestinian Authority and called it a historic breakthrough for religious freedom in an Arab country. The cardinal’s vigorous defense of the pact against Jewish criticisms came amid growing world attention to Catholic-Jewish relations as Pope John Paul II prepared to visit the Holy Land in late March. The P.L.O. in the [accord’s] preamble has finally acknowledged in an instrument recognized as binding under the international law the application of the principle of full religious liberty and freedom of conscience to its own society, the first Arab country to do so, Cardinal Keeler said.

Document Explores Theology of Church Seeking Pardon

A new document said the church should ask forgiveness for the past sins of its members and institutionsincluding Christians’ treatment of Jewsbut insisted that the holiness of the church itself can never be called into question. The church is not afraid of the truth that emerges from history, and it is ready to recognize errors where they are demonstrated, especially when they concern the respect owed to individuals or communities, the document said.

The lengthy document, titled Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past, was prepared by the International Theological Commission, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The document said the church, as the spouse of Christ, is a holy institution that cannot sin. Its members can sin and have sinned, but the process of reviewing historical faults must never impair the church’s task of proclaiming the revealed truth in faith and morals.

In determining responsibility, the document said, care must be taken not to blame an entire Christian community for the faults of a few. The fault is always personal, although it wounds the entire church, it said of past wrongs. Therefore, such sins have a significance that goes beyond individuals, and they are in effect carried by the entire church through the centuries.

The document argues that in discussing supposed faults of past Christian communities, the social context of the acts must be carefully considered. Such an examination requires unprejudiced historical judgments, free from self-justification on one side and an attitude of exaggerated reproach on the other.

It cited examples of historical wrongs that have been identified by the pope as potential grounds for an examination of conscience: the division between Christians; the use of violence in the service of truth, as by the Inquisition; the failure by Christians to denounce social injustices; and the relations between Christians and Jews.

Pope John Paul II’s planned mea culpa statement, to be made during a Jubilee Day of Forgiveness on March 12, is being anticipated by many as the culmination of a process he began several years ago, which prompted reservations among some Vatican officials.

Nigerian Bishops Denounce Christian-Muslim Violence

Sectarian violence spread from northern Nigeria to the south despite appeals from the nation’s bishops to end the violence. The death toll rose above 400 on March 1, after two days of Christian-Muslim violence in southern Nigeria that followed interreligious clashes that left hundreds dead in the northern city of Kaduna. Violence erupted after state governors in the north attempted to install Shariah, or Islamic law. After meeting with governors on Feb. 29, Vice President Atiku Abubakar announced the governors had agreed to drop plans to introduce Shariah.

Chaput: Cultural Survival Depends on Preserving Marriage

Preserving the status of traditional marriage as a union between a man and a woman is a matter of cultural survival, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver said in a column in The Rocky Mountain News on Feb. 27. The archbishop also expressed the church’s support for appropriate legislation which would class violence against homosexuals as a hate crime’ involving special penalties. The Colorado Legislature is considering a bill that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman and exclude the possibility of legalizing same-sex marriages in the state.

C.R.S. Signs Agreement With Sudanese Rebel Army

Breaking ranks with such organizations as Doctors Without Borders, CARE and Oxfam, on March 1 Catholic Relief Services signed an agreement with the rebel army in southern Sudan, which sets conditions on the operations of aid agencies in the area. The Memorandum of Understanding with the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, the group that controls most of southern Sudan, is intended to force aid groups to recognize the authority of the S.P.L.A. The S.P.L.A. is fighting against the Sudanese government based in Khartoum, in the north, which since 1983 has killed over two million people in its attempt to impose Islamic law on the region (Am., 1/15). The South is populated mainly by Christians and followers of traditional religions.

While almost a dozen other aid groups maintain that signing an agreement with the S.P.L.A. would seriously compromise their neutrality and increase concern about the safety of aid workers, C.R.S. defended its decision. We feel that our presence and activity in support of those in need...will not be compromised by the Memorandum of Understanding, said Kenneth F. Hackett, executive director of C.R.S. C.R.S. remains the largest nongovernmental agency operating in southern Sudan, directly reaching more than 200,000 recipients of aid in the region. The agreement with the S.P.L.A. comes in the midst of widespread famine. The U.N.’s World Food Program has called for aid to hundreds of thousands of southern Sudanese at risk in a desperate situation.

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