Signs of the Times

CD, Internet Site Aiming for World Youth Day Audience

Young people around the world will be able to participate in some of the World Youth Day activities without leaving home, through Internet and music CD’s. The Nashville-based Gaylord Entertainment Co. has been contracted by the Vatican to create a Web site - www.World - that will carry information about the Aug. 15-20 events in Rome. The site will be Web-casting some of the events live.

Archbishop Forgives Man Charged With Kidnaping Him

Archbishop Patrick F. Flores of San Antonio said he forgives Nelson Escolero, the 40-year-old Salvadoran immigrant charged with aggravated kidnaping over a hostage incident on June 28 involving the archbishop and his secretary. I forgive. In this I have no choice, Archbishop Flores said. If I want to be forgiven, I have to forgive. He said the man was very sick and in need of psychological treatment.


Pope Asks God’s Pardon for Times Catholics Hurt Orthodox

Pope John Paul asked God’s mercy for anything Catholics have done in the past 1,000 years that has harmed relations with Orthodox. I entrust to the mercy of God every such action not in harmony with God’s will for which sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have been responsible, the pope told a delegation representing Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox believers.

Indonesian Bishop Urges Action to End Sectarian Violence

An Indonesian bishop welcomed the government’s declaration of a state of emergency in the Moluccas Islands, but said that action, not words, is needed to end the sectarian clashes. Bishop Petrus Mandagie of Ambon said he supports President Abdurrahman Wahid’s decision to close the Moluccas to outsiders, but also expressed hope that the president will take action to restore security. The Moluccas erupted in renewed Muslim-Christian violence in late May following a period of relative calm. Clashes first broke out in January 1999 and have continued sporadically despite increased military presence.

Pope Appeals for Greater Global Efforts to End Poverty

Pope John Paul II urged the global community to work harder to alleviate poverty. Speaking after the Angelus prayer on June 29, the pope called the struggle against poverty one of the biggest challenges that humanity faces in the new millennium.... Necessary food, health care, education and work do not only represent objectives of development. These are fundamental rights, unfortunately still denied today to millions of human beings, he said.

Jewish Leader Expresses Concern Over Pius IX Beatification

The Vatican at least should listen to Jewish objections to the beatification of Pope Pius IX, even if it won’t cancel the event, said the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities. Amos Luzzatto said he hoped that with all the progress made in Catholic-Jewish relations over the past 20 years, the Vatican would react to Jewish objections with a willingness to let the Jewish community be heard. He spoke on June 27 during a daylong conference on the 19th-century pope, whose beatification is scheduled for Sept. 3. The conference focused on Pope Pius’s relationship with Italian Jews, particularly the way he handled the case of Jewish children baptized without their parents’ consent and the administration of Rome’s Jewish ghetto.

N.C.C. Looks to Replace Itself with New Ecumenical Structure

The National Council of Churches is ready to go out of existence if some new ecumenical body embracing Catholics and others now outside the council can be formed, according to the N.C.C. general secretary. In an interview with CNS, the Rev. Robert W. Edgar said the council was not proposing any particular structure, but inviting Catholics and others to join in forming a new vehicle for ecumenism in the United States. I’m not ruling anything out, he said. We want to convince our colleagues in the Roman Catholic Church and evangelical and Pentecostal churches that we’re serious.

C.H.A. Praises Clinton’s Proposal to Restore Medicare Funding

The Catholic Health Association praised President Clinton’s proposal to restore $40 billion in funding for Medicare over the next 10 years as an important step in the right direction. Hospitals and other health care providers have complained of cuts in government reimbursements for taking Medicare patients since the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. We have to face the challenge of making sure we pay the Medicare providers enough so they can give our seniors the high quality care they deserve, Clinton said in announcing his proposal at the White House.

Pope Urges Indian Prime Minister to Promote Religious Tolerance

As Indian Catholics mourned the death of the archbishop of Delhi, known as an outspoken defender of religious freedom, Pope John Paul II called on India’s prime minister to promote religious tolerance. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajapayee met on June 26 with the pope at the Vatican. The meeting took place less than a week after 70-year-old Archbishop Alan de Lastic, president of the Indian bishops’ conference, died in a car accident in Poland. The archbishop was a leader of a campaign to convince Vajapayee’s government to put an end to Hindu extremists’ attacks on Christians. An estimated 200 attacks on Christians, their churches and property have occurred since Vajapayee’s party came to power in 1998.

Supreme Court Rules on Abortion, Scouts, Schools

With contentious rulings on abortion, federal funds for parochial schools and gay Scout leaders, the Supreme Court closed its 1999-2000 term. The court:

Struck down Nebraska’s law banning partial-birth abortion.

Upheld a Colorado law establishing a bubble zone where protesters and sidewalk counselors may not approach people near medical offices.

Agreed that religious schools can participate in a federal program that helps pay for computers and other equipment.

Said the Boy Scouts of America are not obligated to keep a homosexual man as a Scout leader.

The U.S. Catholic Conference had filed amicus, or friend-of-the-court briefs, in all but the Colorado case.

In the Nebraska case the court ruled 5 to 4 that the law prohibiting partial-birth abortion unconstitutionally limits access to other abortions as well. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, one of the justices in the majority, said in a separate opinion that laws that more narrowly define their bans may not necessarily be unconstitutional. But Helen Alvaré, director of planning and information for the U.S. bishops’ Pro-Life Secretariat, found little comfort in O’Connor’s suggestion that laws banning partial-birth abortion might be upheld if they are more specific and include health exceptions. Health exceptions can be interpreted to mean any kind of abortion you want,Alvaré said.

In his dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that he believes the Nebraska case, Stenberg v. Carhart, will someday be considered one of the court’s greatest mistakes, along with the Dred Scott decision of 1857, which upheld the right to own slaves.

In a 6-to-3 ruling in the school funding case, Mitchell v. Helms, the court reversed a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that had said it was unconstitutional to include religious schools in receiving federal aid to buy computers, library books and other materials. Mark Chopko, U.S.C.C. general counsel, said the decision has nationwide ramifications because children attending religious schools throughout the country are eligible to receive [Elementary and Secondary Education Act] Title VI services.

Mercy Sister Lourdes Sheehan, U.S.C.C. secretary for education, said, This may be one of the most significant decisions that impact the rights of students in religious schools to enjoy equal access to technology and other resources necessary for a quality education in the 21st century.

In the case of Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, the court ruled 5 to 4 that the Scouts are not required under New Jersey’s public accommodations law to permit a homosexual man to serve as a Scout leader. Although the case was widely described as being about the rights of homosexuals to function in society without discrimination, Chopko said he saw it as something else entirely a clash between the asserted power of government and the rights of self-governance of private organizations.

The case arose when lifelong Boy Scout James Dale was identified in a newspaper article as co-president of a campus lesbian and gay student group at Rutgers University. When this became public, a New Jersey Scout organization revoked his membership.

Rehnquist said the First Amendment protects the Scouts. Public or judicial disapproval of a tenet of an organization’s expression does not justify the state’s effort to compel the organization to accept members where such acceptance would derogate from the organization’s expressive message, he wrote.

Chopko said the case was about a simple question: Who decides? Does the state have the power to set aside the leadership qualification decisions of a private organization using the state’snot the group’s yardstick? Chopko asked. If the state has that power, it has the ability to remake all private associations into public institutions. In his dissenting opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens, quoting Justice Louis Brandeis, wrote, We must be ever on guard, lest we erect our prejudices into legal principles.

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