Signs of the Times

Catholic Health System, Union Set Expedited Election Rules

Catholic Healthcare West and the Service Employees International Union have signed a landmark agreement on procedures and conduct for expedited union representation elections. The 15-page accord between the nation’s largest health care union and the West Coast’s largest Catholic health system was released on April 6. It provides for representation elections within 35 days after authorization cards are presented by at least 30 percent of the employees in a potential bargaining unit. It sets procedures to hire a mutually acceptable elections official to oversee the election. It commits both sides to expedited mediation and arbitration procedures to resolve disagreements.

The veteran labor rights leader Msgr. George G. Higgins called it “a historic document” that “goes far beyond” any previous labor-management agreement in the health care field. He said he hoped every Catholic health care system in the country would look at the agreement as a model for its own dealings with unions. The agreement is particularly important because it goes beyond a statement of general principles to “specific ways of implementing them,” he said.


Senators Urged to Use Federal Budget Surplus to Aid Uninsured

The federal budget surplus estimated at $3.1 trillion over the next decade offers an “opportunity to dedicate necessary resources toward reducing the number of uninsured,” three Catholic leaders told U.S. senators on April 3. “At the very minimum, we urge that Congress include sufficient funding in the budget to reflect President Bush’s recommendation during the presidential campaign that we commit $132 billion over 10 years to expand coverage to the uninsured,” said a letter signed by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles, chairman of the U.S.C.C. Domestic Policy Committee; Fred Kammer, S.J., president of Catholic Charities USA; and the Rev. Michael D. Place, president and C.E.O. of the Catholic Health Association.

Former Republican Chairman Nominated for Vatican Post

Jim Nicholson, a Catholic who is former chairman of the Republican National Committee, has been nominated by President Bush to be ambassador to the Holy See. The nomination requires confirmation by the Senate. Nicholson, a Colorado real estate developer, chaired the Republican National Committee from 1996 through last year’s elections. During his stint as R.N.C. chairman, Nicholson was criticized by some abortion opponents for opposing their effort to block party funds from going to candidates who opposed efforts to make partial-birth abortion illegal. He currently is on the staff of the Washington law firm Greener and Hook.

A graduate of West Point, Nicholson was an Army ranger and paratrooper for eight years. He retired with the rank of colonel from the Army Reserve after 22 years of service, including time in Vietnam. During his military career, Nicholson received numerous awards including the Bronze Star and the Meritorious Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster. A Catholic News Service profile of Nicholson in 1997 outlined his history of volunteer service, including work with Volunteers of America, Colorado’s largest nonprofit social service agency; with the Listen Foundation, which helps children with hearing impairments; and as chairman of the capital construction committee at his Colorado parish, All Souls, in the Denver suburb of Englewood.

Superior Suggests Policies for Preventing Sexual Abuse Of Nuns

In view of reported sexual abuse of nuns by priests, the head of a women’s religious order presented the Vatican and other religious superiors with a series of policy suggestions on dealing with cases and preventing their occurrence. Sister Ellen Gielty, superior general of the Sisters of Notre Dame, made the proposals during a meeting in November 1998 of the Council of 16, a consultative body formed by the Vatican’s Congregation for Religious Life and delegates from the two main international associations of men and women religious. The suggestions include greater emphasis on formation in celibacy and human dignity, the elimination of situations of financial or academic dependence that might lead to sexual abuse, creating norms for nuns’ social interaction with men and increased cooperation between bishops and religious superiors. Sister Gielty’s report apparently was presented at the Council of 16 session in conjunction with another report that examined the problem of sexual abuse of African nuns in Rome and in Africa. That report was published, along with four other internal church reports dating to 1994, by The National Catholic Reporter in mid-March.

The religious superior of an abused nun should inform the bishop of the problem priest and indicate “expectations with regard to financial and other responsibilities in the case of paternity or public scandal,” she said. “It has also been suggested that religious congregations begin to train African sisters as lawyers to deal with problems of sexual abuse and violence,” she said. Sister Gielty recommended that bishops’ conferences, as well as religious congregations, develop guidelines to deal with the sexual abuse of nuns.

U.S. and Sudanese Bishops Say U.S. Must Help End Civil War

The U.S. government must play a “central role” in bringing about an end to Sudan’s 18-year civil war, concluded a delegation of U.S. and Sudanese bishops that toured Sudan. Measures the U.S. government could take include appointing a special envoy in Washington for Sudan, upgrading the U.S. Embassy in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, and sending more humanitarian aid to southern Sudan and southern populations in the north, said Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla.

Theologian Criticized by Vatican Wrote Interreligious Guidelines

Jacques Dupuis, S.J., whose book on non-Christian religions drew Vatican doctrinal congregation criticism in February was a main behind-the-scenes architect of current Vatican interreligious dialogue guidelines, originally published in 1991, according to Bishop Michael Fitzgerald, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Bishop Fitzgerald said the church owed Father Dupuis a “debt of gratitude for his pioneering work” in trying to make theological sense of religious plurality.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a notification on Feb. 26 warning that, while Father Dupuis’s intentions were good, his 1997 book, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, contained ambiguous statements and insufficient explanations that could lead readers to “erroneous or harmful conclusions” about Christ’s role as the one and universal savior.

Similar concerns were raised during the drafting of the 1991 Vatican document, particularly by Cardinal Jozef Tomko, head of the evangelization congregation, reports Father Dupuis. Dupuis authored the first draft of the dialogue guidelines, which were debated by a small drafting committee of about eight Vatican officials and consultors. Father Dupuis said the committee’s discussions were sometimes tense and did not always succeed in reconciling competing visions of the prominence that should be given respectively to dialogue and proclamation, both recognized as fundamental church missions. “In the document as it is now, there is some lack of complete harmony,” he said. Father Dupuis said Cardinal Tomko was not entirely happy with the document’s final draft and chose not attend the committee’s concluding meeting to vote on the text.

Maryland Approves Textbook Aid for Nonpublic Students

Once on the brink of being eliminated from the Maryland budget, a textbook program for children in nonpublic schools received approval when the Maryland legislature voted to support the funding—$5 million of the $8 million originally proposed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening. Richard J. Dowling, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, said he was delighted that textbook aid received renewed support. He credited the lobbying efforts of Catholic school parents, teachers and students with playing a crucial role in convincing lawmakers of the value of funding.

Catholic families had visited their representatives nearly every day during the first two months of the General Assembly, urging lawmakers to support textbook aid. They also flooded Annapolis with thousands of letters, e-mail messages and phone calls—a campaign not unnoticed by lawmakers. “I think it really made the difference,” said Delegate Martha S. Klima, a Baltimore County Republican. “If we get 20 letters on an issue, that’s a big issue. On textbook aid, my office received about 500 letters. The impact was huge for legislators—that’s what turned some of those votes around.”

Aid is limited to schools where tuition is lower than what public schools spend per student—currently about $7,100. School students will receive $60 per pupil for the books, with $90 per pupil going to students at those schools where at least 20 percent qualify for federally subsidized lunches.

BBC Program Reconstructs Life, Times (and Face?) of Jesus

A face has dominated the front pages of British newspapers and magazines for a week. The hair and beard are cut short. The skin is dark and the eyes stare out. And underneath, the question, “Is this the face of Christ?” The face is a reconstruction by forensic artists in Manchester, based on the skull of a first-century Jewish man, for “Son of God”—a three-part television series being shown in April by the British Broadcasting Corp. The series, according to the BBC, reconstructs the life and times of Jesus and aims to strip away the layers of history from the biblical sites and reveal them as Jesus would have known them.

In publicity notes for the series, producer Michael Wakelin suggests that the hair of men in the Middle East at the time of Christ would have been shorter and more curly than traditional religious art has shown. “Artistic clues have been gleaned from frescoes of Jewish faces painted in the third century A.D., found in the ruins of the Jewish synagogue of Dura Europos in Syria,” he said. “The images of Jewish biblical characters show that their hair was dark, short and curly, that they wore trimmed beards, and that their skin was olive-colored.”

It is “a clever piece of marketing by the BBC,” said Tom Horwood, acting director of the Catholic Media Office in London. “They are asking if this is the face of Christ. The answer is no, it is clearly not the face of Christ. It is just a first-century skull. Just because someone comes from the same ethnic group, it doesn’t mean that you can assume that they look the same,” he said. The ploy appears to have worked. More than 6 million viewers were reported to have tuned in to the series’ first program.

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