Signs of the Times

French Bishop Convicted of Silence in Child Abuse Case

Bishop Pierre Pican of the Diocese of Bayeux-Lisieux in Normandy, was convicted of keeping quiet about a priest who sexually abused children. He received a three-month suspended sentence. The priest, René Bissey, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for the rape of one boy and the sexual abuse of 10 others between 1989 and 1996.

Bishop Pican admitted that he was aware of the abuse, but was led to believe that the priest’s actions were limited to touching. The bishop said he confronted Father Bissey in January 1997 on one abuse case, but failed to follow up on other cases to which the priest admitted. “The failure to investigate what had happened to other victims was a lack of vigilance on our part,” the bishop said. After the meeting with Father Bissey, Bishop Pican sent the priest on a retreat, then transferred him to another parish in September 1998. The priest was arrested on pedophilia charges a few days later.


Six, Including C.R.S. Worker, Die in Attack In Northern Uganda

An ambush on a Catholic Relief Services vehicle in northern Uganda killed the Sudanese driver and five other Sudanese, said a statement from C.R.S. in Nairobi, Kenya. The attack occurred on Sept. 1 near Adjumani, about 200 miles north of Kampala, the Ugandan capital. Ugandan authorities blamed rebels for the killings.

Catholic-Anglican Commission Tackles Marian Dogmas

Hoping to overcome another hurdle in Catholic-Anglican relations, a joint dialogue commission has begun drafting a statement on the Catholic dogmas of the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception and Assumption. Members of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, known as ARCIC, met on Aug. 27-Sept. 3 at the Church of Ireland College of Education in Dublin. The commission members agreed on an outline for a joint statement on Mary’s place in church life and doctrine and undertook some preliminary drafting.

Churches Condemn Violence Outside Belfast Catholic School

Church leaders condemned continued violence outside a Catholic school, as young schoolgirls continued to be the target of rock-throwing and verbal abuse by Protestant extremists. Belfast’s Catholic bishop and the head of the Church of Ireland said children must be allowed to enter Holy Cross Primary School in North Belfast, while one parent compared the situation to the end of segregation in the United States in the 1960’s. “No society has the right to deny young children access to education,” said Anglican Archbishop Robin Eames, head of the Church of Ireland.

Sister Jeannine Gramick Will Join Sisters of Loretto

Sister Jeannine Gramick, whose writings on homosexuality brought her a silencing order from the Vatican, said she has left the Baltimore-based School Sisters of Notre Dame, which had been under pressure to expel her. She will join the Sisters of Loretto, based in Littleton, Colo. In comments to The Baltimore Sun, Sister Gramick said she believes the transfer to a new religious community makes the Vatican’s silencing order no longer valid. “By this transfer, I don’t have to follow the directive [of the superior general of the School Sisters of Notre Dame], and her directive was that I couldn’t speak or write about homosexuality at all,” Sister Gramick said. “Now I’m free to do that.”

Muslims, Catholics Pack Funeral Mass of Irish Missionary

More than 1,000 Muslims and Catholics attended the funeral Mass of an Irish missionary shot dead in the Philippines, an outpouring that one church official said showed the “fruit of his work.” The Irish Columban Father Rufus Halley worked for many years in Malabang, part of Marawi Prelature in Mindanao, a predominantly Muslim area. He was shot dead on Aug. 28, when he refused to leave with three kidnappers from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels.

Vatican Regrets That U.S. Left Racism Conference

The Vatican and members of U.S. religious orders expressed disappointment at the decision by the United States and Israel to pull out of the World Conference Against Racism. The United States “has had a unique experience in the fight against racism, something quite constructive from which we could all learn,” said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the Holy See’s permanent observer to U.N. offices in Geneva. He was sorry “that it didn’t feel it could serenely take part in the conference and bring up a positive contribution.”

“This [conference] wasn’t a tribunal to judge any individual country. The aim here was to stress the basic principles that would inspire a different co-existence among peoples,” said the archbishop. He said the focus on the Mideast at the conference has overshadowed other equally essential topics of debate, such as the conflict in Sudan.

An Israeli statement called the draft text “the most racist” international declaration in more than a half century. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a statement that the United States withdrew from the conference because Israel was being singled out “for censure and abuse.”

A group of U.S. nongovernmental organizations, which included religious groups, labor, women’s groups and civil rights organizations, organized a march and demonstration outside the conference center to express disappointment and outrage at the U.S. action.

Indian Dalits See Parallels With South Africa’s Apartheid

Lourdunathan Yesumarian, S.J., said he can relate to the stories he heard about apartheid at the World Conference Against Racism’s forum for nongovernmental organizations. In his native India, Father Yesumarian’s people must draw water from wells that are separate from those of other villagers, live in separate areas of town, and are relegated to menial jobs—such as cleaning toilets and collecting garbage—that other people refuse to do. Father Yesumarian is a member of the dalit, a group of people who do not fit into India’s four-tiered caste system. Where members of castes are believed to be created from some part of God, the dalits are said to not have been born from God and are therefore “impure” and “untouchable.” Literally, “dalit” means “put asunder.”

Vatican O.K.’s U.S. Bishops’ Decision on Confirmation

The Vatican has accepted the U.S. bishops’ decision to set the normal age range for conferring confirmation “between the age of discretion and about 16 years of age.” Within that range, each bishop can set a more specific policy in his own diocese. The age of discretion is usually considered to be about 7. The current temporary norm allows confirmation up to the age of 18.

Downpour Greets Day of Prayer for Rain in West Texas

The drought in West Texas was hurting crops and community water supplies, so Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer of San Angelo decided it was time to appeal to a higher authority. On Aug. 10 he wrote to Mayor Rudy Izzard of San Angelo and 22 other mayors in the region asking them to declare Sunday, Aug. 26, a day of prayer for rain. He also wrote to all Catholic parishes in the diocese asking them to offer special prayers that day. The local weather forecast for Aug. 25 was hot and sunny with only a slight chance of rain. But a storm front moved down from Oklahoma during the night, and heavy rains hit San Angelo between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. on Aug. 26. The day’s rainfall officially measured 0.94 inches, nearly doubling the city’s total for the whole month.

Vatican Asks U.N. Conference to Affirm Rights of All Migrants

The Vatican called on the World Conference Against Racism to affirm the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their immigration status. This affirmation must include broad outlines on how governments and the international system should apply these rights, said the Vatican’s statement to the conference, delivered on Sept. 3 by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, permanent observer of the Holy See to U.N. offices in Geneva. “Today the migrant, especially one who comes from a different cultural background, can easily become the object of racial discrimination, of intolerance, of exploitation and of violence,” Archbishop Martin said. In the case of undocumented migrants, the person might not even have minimum redress with the appropriate authorities, he said.

The archbishop said that an “intensive and balanced program of education” about migration—and racism in general—was needed to combat racial intolerance. This education must begin in the family, Archbishop Martin said, and from there, schools, media and other institutions must teach others to reject racism and hatred.

Archbishop Martin denounced the manipulation of religion to deepen political, economic and social divisions that are already present and called for interreligious dialogue. “True religious belief is absolutely incompatible with racist attitudes and racist practices,” he said.

Meanwhile, a coalition of 13 Catholic orders and nongovernmental organizations accredited to the conference—including Maryknoll, Franciscans International and the Center of Concern—released a statement on Sept. 2 calling for the conference to fight against racism and social injustice. The coalition said that certain countries have accumulated wealth and technological advancements in large part from “slave labor and colonial resources.” The provision of human rights, medical care and other social services must be given priority in the development process, the statement said. “The essential elements of reconciliation are truth-telling, acknowledgment of guilt, a request for forgiveness and reparation for damage done,” said the statement. The coalition called for the conference and member states to address past wrongs by restoring land to the dispossessed, canceling debts, returning cultural artifacts displayed in museums and encouraging peace.

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