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Continuing Archival Controversy

A group of Catholic and Jewish scholars established to study World War II archival material already published by the Vatican has suspended its work. In a letter dated July 20, the scholars said that in order to continue working together they would need "access in some reasonable manner to additional archival material,’’ which the Vatican has said is not possible at present. The letter was sent to Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, and signed by the five members of the group. Cardinal Kasper was out of town on July 24 and unavailable for comment.

Responding to the suspension of this work, the Vatican said the 11 volumes available contain all the relevant documents. "Everything regarding the topic up until 1945—everything regarding World War II and the position of Pope Pius XII on the Jews and the Holocausthas already been published by the Vatican in the 11 volumes available to everyone,’’ the Vatican press office said on July 25.

A Jesuit historian involved in Pope Pius XII’s cause for beatification said the Vatican has nothing to hide in its archives regarding the pope’s conduct during World War II. Peter Gumpel, S.J., criticized members of the Catholic-Jewish historical commission and Jewish leaders who complained that a thorough study of the pope’s conduct could not be made without access to the archives. The priest made his statement on July 26 after members of the commission announced they were suspending their work. Father Gumpel said Cardinal Jorge Maria Mejia, the Vatican archivist, personally explained to the scholars that material from Pope Pius’s pontificate—"more than 3 million pages’’—had not yet been cataloged or classified and therefore could not be consulted.

Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore has appealed for joint Catholic-Jewish research on Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust, unmarred by "a politically driven agenda.’’ In a three-page statement on the suspension of work by an international team of Catholic and Jewish scholars, Cardinal Keeler said, "Those who might wish to politicize this moment of pain should reflect on what is at stake in our effort to grapple together with our history.’’ He said the latest controversy shows "more clearly than ever that the work of reconciliation will be long and immensely challenging. Of crucial importance for the future must be the separation from scholarly research of elements of a politically driven agenda that poisons the atmosphere and makes true progress unattainable.’’ Cardinal Keeler, U.S. episcopal moderator of Catholic-Jewish relations, issued his statement on July 27, shortly after it was revealed that the scholars had reached an impasse on how to proceed.

Zimbabwe Bishops Pull Magazine

The Zimbabwe bishops’ conference has pulled the summer issue of its bimonthly magazine because of its coverage of scandals involving an African archbishop and members of the clergy. Bishop Alexio Churu Muchabaiwa of Mutare, conference president, banned the 36-page Catholic Church News, citing stories it had published on the marriage of Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo in New York and the alleged sexual abuse of nuns by African priests. Petronilla Samuriwo, editor of the magazine, said she heard of the ban when she received a copy of a letter dated July 4 from Bishop Muchabaiwa to his fellow bishops. In the letter Bishop Muchabaiwa said coverage of the scandals was "not only counterproductive but also detrimental to the faith of the young and old in our Christian communities.’’ Samuriwo called the decision to pull the publication "very disappointing.’’

'Immoral and Misguided Weapon'

A South African Catholic newspaper expressed support in an editorial for Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, whose recent comments that the use of condoms, in certain narrow circumstances, could be morally justifiable drew international headlines. The Southern Cross also said in its edition of July 18-24 that the country’s bishops "will be faced with the challenge of reconciling the church’s doctrinal and compassionate dimensions’’ when they discuss the church’s response to the H.I.V.-AIDS pandemic at the bishop’s plenary meeting on July 24-30. The Cape Town-based newspaper said the bishop’s comments that in some rare cases the use of condoms is the lesser of two evils "should be seen as an attempt to balance Catholic doctrine with the need of the church to be compassionate to the most ostracized and vulnerable people in our society.’’

During their meeting the South African bishops said that the promotion of condom use to combat AIDS was an "immoral and misguided weapon against the disease." The bishops said that they "had to find a way to blend the church’s traditional teaching on the sanctity of family life and values with the compassionate out-reaching role demanded by Christ."

Indonesian Churches Bombed

A bomb blast that ripped through a Jakarta Catholic church injured 72 people, including a 61-year-old nun whose legs had to be amputated. A second bomb later on July 22 detonated outside a Jakarta Protestant church. No one was injured in the second attack, reported UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand. The first blast rocked St. Anne Catholic Church at 7:05 a.m.; some 900 people were attending Mass. Vincentius Suryatma Suryawiyata, S.J., of St. Anne Church told UCA News on July 22 that the blast occurred during his homily. Thick smoke and the cries of the injured created panic, the priest said. About five minutes later, another explosion shook a Protestant church inside an army barracks about two miles from St. Anne Church.

Humanitarian Refugee Policy

The United States needs to move away from a refugee policy that considers humanitarian principles to be secondary to strategic interests, said Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick in a Washington Post op-ed column on July 22. Cardinal McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, D.C., said that there was little to celebrate when the world marked the 50th anniversary of the U.N. treaty on refugee protection earlier in the month. The number of refugees worldwide has increased by 6 million in the past 20 years to a total of more than 14 million, he said. "Most languish in tented camps around the globe, with little hope for return to their homes and no prospect for a new future in another country,’’ he wrote. "Approximately 80 percent are women and children.’’

Virginia’s 'Moment of Silence'

In a case now likely to head to the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., upheld a Virginia law mandating a "daily moment of silence’’ in the state’s public schools. The federal appeals court said the law, passed in 2000 and implemented throughout Virginia during the current school year, was not made unconstitutional by the inclusion of the word "pray.’’ Under the law, each of the state’s one million public school students is required to set aside one minute each morning to "meditate, pray or engage in other silent activity.’’ Writing for the 2-to-1 majority, Judge Paul V. Niemeyer said the requirement was at most a minor and nonintrusive accommodation of religion.’’

Priest’s Testimony Leads to Freedom

In a case that raised questions about what constituted a sacramental confession, two men imprisoned for murder 13 years ago were freed in late July after a priest testified that another man had confessed to the crime years ago. U.S. District Judge Denny Chin released Jose Morales and Ruben Montalvo without bail, saying that if Joseph Towle, S.J., had testified in a trial, "it is difficult to imagine that any reasonable jury could find Morales guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.’’ Morales, 31, was found guilty in 1988 of stabbing to death Jose Antonio Rivera in New York the year before. But Father Towle testified before Chin on July 16 that Jesus Fornes told him in 1988 that he, not Morales and Montavo, had committed the crime. Fornes himself was killed in 1997.

Vatican Requested Changes

The Brazilian bishops’ conference has barred auxiliary bishops from serving as president and vice president of the conference, bringing it into compliance with a Vatican request. In addition, the more than 300 participants who gathered for the conference’s meeting on July 15-21 decided to entrust more power to the bishops, leaving fewer decisions to be made by conference committees and Catholic organizations. "The revision of the statute was necessary so that the organization could be more clearly defined as an organization of bishops,’’ said Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo of São Salvador da Bahia. The changes reflect instructions in Pope John Paul II’s 1998 apostolic letter on bishops’ conferences and in implementation guidelines contained in a 1999 document from the Vatican Congregation for Bishops.

Ordinations Flawed But Valid

The Vatican said a mass ordination of more than 100 indigenous permanent deacons by the former head of a southern Mexican diocese was valid, despite doctrinal ambiguities and liturgical irregularities. But the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments told the diocese’s new bishop that he should indefinitely suspend ordinations of permanent deacons and focus instead on priestly vocations. The congregation led a six-month Vatican investigation—joined by the congregations for doctrine, bishops, clergy and Catholic education—of the ceremony conducted in January 2000 by now-retired Bishop Samuel Ruíz García of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, and his then-coadjutor, Bishop Raul Vera López. The Vatican detailed its conclusions in a letter dated July 20 to Bishop Ruíz’s successor, Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivél, that was published in late July in the congregation’s bulletin.

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