Signs of the Times

At Jubilee for Workers, Pope Urges Globalization of Solidarity

Celebrating one of the biggest events of Holy Year 2000, Pope John Paul II appealed for a globalization that extends beyond the economy to encompass worldwide solidarity. At the Jubilee for Workers on May 1 on the Tor Vergata University campus on the outskirts of Rome, attended by about 200,000 people, the pope called for a resolution to labor inequality and injustice throughout the world. Despite technological progress, he said, realities such as unemployment, exploitation of minors and low wages persist. He warned that the organization of labor does not always respect the dignity of the human person, and the universal destination of resources is not always given due consideration.

Senate Committee Approves Pain Relief Promotion Act

The Pain Relief Promotion Act approved on April 27 by the Senate Judiciary Committee shows respect for dying patients and compassion for their suffering, reports Richard Doerflinger, associate director for policy development in the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. The bill, approved by a 10-to-7 vote, can mark a new beginning in our government’s commitment to the real needs of these patients, he said, and means a sad chapter in our nation’s history may be nearing an end.


The bill, which passed 271 to 156 in the House last October, has 43 Senate sponsors and is supported by more than 40 groups including the U.S. Catholic Conference and the Catholic Health Association. It would forbid physicians in Oregonand any state that in the future sanctions physician-assisted suicidefrom using federally controlled drugs in physician-assisted suicides. It authorizes $5 million annually in training grants to help educate health professionals in pain control and palliative care and provides for education of drug enforcement officials on the legitimate need for large doses of narcotics in pain control, Doerflinger noted.

Vatican Official Faults Continued Reliance on Nuclear Weapons

The Vatican’s foreign minister said on April 27 that nations that rely on nuclear weapons showed that the rule of law, confidence in others and the will to dialogue are not yet priorities. Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, secretary for relations with states, called nuclear deterrence a distressing solution for a world overwhelmed with weapons. Instead, he said, expectations of the world’s citizens at the beginning of a new millennium should lead nations toward progressive and effective disarmament.

Religion Coverage by Major Media Has Grown Over Decades

A new study has found that coverage of religion by major media outlets has grown over the past 30 years. The study showed a dip in the 1980’s, but said it rebounded in the 1990’s to levels surpassing that of the 1970’s. The Catholic Church figured more prominently than any other religion in news coverage, with Catholics accounting for 28 percent of the stories discussing religious groups. The study, issued in April by the Center for Media and Public Affairs and the Ethics and Public Policy Center, two Washington-based think tanks, examined news coverage in eight major media outlets.

They also repeated an oft-quoted 1980 study of journalists that found that half had no religious affiliation. Twenty percent were Protestant, 14 percent were Jewish, 12 percent Catholic, and 4 percent other. Only 8 percent said they went to church weekly, and another 6 percent said they went monthly. In 1995 the survey found more religion among journalists. Only 22 percent had no religious affiliation, while 36 percent said they were Protestant and 19 percent each said they were Catholic or Jewish. Eleven percent went to church weekly and 19 percent went monthly, with those who said they never went to church declining from 49 percent to 39 percent.

Vatican Collection of Papal Writings on Social Teaching

The Vatican released a book of quotes from some 75 papal documents over the last 100 years. The 225-page book, The Social Agenda: A Collection of Magisterial Texts, contains nearly 370 quotations, most a paragraph’s length, from Pope Leo XIII to the current pope. The texts are organized under the main headings: the nature of Catholic social teaching, the human person, the family, the social order, the role of the state, the economy, work and wages, poverty and charity, the environment and the international community.

The book was edited by the Rev. Robert A. Sirico, the American founder and president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Father Maciej Zieba, O.P., president of the Tertium Millennium Institute in Krakow, Poland, also worked on the text.

Father Sirico does not agree with all that the popes of the last 100 years have written about social justice, particularly when they have advocated government interference and regulation as a way to protect the poor. He is a vociferous critic of welfare as damaging to the dignity of the poor, and even warns about the dangers of private charity’s Samaritan dilemma, in which the good-intentioned offer of too much support actually hurts the needy. Father Sirico has suggested that soup kitchens require that diners help clean or prepare meals in return for food which, by the way, ought to be plain, with an emphasis on nutrition over taste and variety. Such measures might help separate out those who do not really need help, he says. True to his free-market ideas, he has argued for an end to U.S. trade sanctions on Iraq and Cuba, and supported greater trade relations with China.

Such ideas, he argues, are firmly rooted in the very heart and core of church teaching. He highlights the centrality in papal social encyclicals of the principle of subsidiarity and the right to private property. The popes’ practical and prudential application of these core teachingsfor instance, in advocating a state-determined minimum wageare, however, subject to discussion, he says. Have there been discussions in the Vatican where we’ve disagreed on points of policy? Of course. But I’ve never had anyone question my orthodoxy, he said.

New Zealand Bishops Support Same-Sex Couples’ Rights

New Zealand’s bishops said they support a system of registration that would give same-sex couples rights in law without the right to marry. The 10 members of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference made their submission to the Ministry of Justice in response to a ministry discussion paper, reported the New Zealand Catholic newspaper in late April. The bishops said marriage is defined by sexual differentiation, and any law change should not redefine it.

Negative Attitudes Toward Refugees Rebuked at Vatican

A Vatican official issued a stern rebuke of European and U.S. policies toward refugees, saying developing countries shouldered too much of the weight. The poorest countries, the ones less prepared in terms of infrastructures, are the ones letting [refugees] in, said Michael Blume, S.V.D., the undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, on May 2. Our reality is nothing compared to Asia and Africa, he said.

Vatican Seeks Ethical Guidelines for World Finance

The Vatican called upon financiers, bankers, economists and ethicists to help prepare a document of detailed ethical guidelines for the world of finance. More than 200 economic experts from 20 countries participated in a conference on April 30, On Ethics and Finance. The meeting was organized by the Vatican foundation Centesimus AnnusPro Pontifice, which was instituted in part to diffuse Catholic social teaching. Participants examined a second draft of a 13-page document titled Global Economy and Finance: Problems and Perspectives for the Year 2000. A final version was expected to be presented to Pope John Paul II and made public in February.

Parish Survey Finds Lay Ministers Outnumber Priests

Lay ministers now outnumber priests on the staffs of most U.S. Catholic parishes, said the report of a survey released on May 4. The National Catholic Parish Survey found that the average parish has two lay ministers and 1.8 priests. Not counting priests who are resident but not on staff or who
live in a parish but are retired reduces the number to 1.5 priests.

The new survey found that since 1982:

Average parish size has grown by 23 percent, from 2,300 members to 2,831, but the average ministerial staff has grown by only 9 percent, from 4.7 per parish to 5.1.

Lay ministry has grown dramatically (up 54 percent) while the average number of priests, deacons and religious on parish staffs has gone down (28 percent, 33 percent and 33 percent respectively).

Fifty-three percent of parishes have only one priest staffing them. Excluding resident and retired priests, 72 percent of parishes have only one priest staffing them.

Below the level of pastor, only 24 percent of parish ministers are priests. Excluding resident-only and retired priests, only 15 percent are priests.

The number of parishes with at least one lay minister on staff has more than doubled, from 30 percent to 68 percent.

The average number of parishioners per priest has risen from 920 to 1,572; if priests resident in a parish but not assigned there are excluded, the current ratio is 1,887 parishioners per priest.

Half of all American Catholics belong to only 18 percent of all parishes, those with membership of 5,000 or more. Forty-nine percent of all Catholics belong to suburban parishes.

More than 90 percent of the pastors responding to the survey said they were satisfied with their overall parish ministry. Those with large parishes, large staffs and diverse parish programs and outreach tended to express the highest levels of satisfaction. Jim Castelli, president of Castelli Enterprises, and the Rev. Eugene Hemrick, research director for the Washington Theological Union, conducted the mail survey of pastors in late 1999 and early 2000.

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