Signs of the Times

Jesuit Holocaust Martyr

The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem has formally recognized Adam Sztark, S.J., (1907-42) as Righteous Among Gentiles, a title awarded to those who risked their lives to save Jews during World War II. Father Sztark was rector of a Marian sanctuary at Zyrowice and chaplain of a hospital in Slonim (Bielorussia). He risked his life trying to find refuge for Jewish children and adults. Caught in 1942, he was executed on Dec. 19, 1942. Father Sztark’s name was added to those of eight other Jesuits on the list of Righteous Among Gentiles: five from France, two from Belgium and one from Hungary.

Czech Church Cautiously Welcomes Gay Rights Law

A Czech church spokesman cautiously welcomed a government-backed bill granting some legal rights to homosexual partnerships. But full recognition of legal marriage should be reserved for the traditional family, he added. The church accepts that the state can recognize cohabiting homosexuals, whose lifestyles are a private matter, said the Rev. Daniel Herman, spokesman for the Catholic bishops’ conference. The Catholic Church saw no problem in extending property and inheritance rights to homosexuals, he said, and it was a positive sign that the bill stopped short of allowing gay couples to adopt children. He complained that Czech citizens had demonstrated a selective tolerance, by tolerating homosexuals while showing xenophobia toward Gypsies, Vietnamese and other nonwhite minorities.


Guatemalan Church Rejects Deal on Murder Case

The Guatemalan church refused a government offer to drop the murder charge against a priest in the 1998 killing of his bishop if the church agreed to stop pointing the finger at the army. Giving evidence at the end of the first week of the murder trial of five peopleincluding three military officersaccused of the killing, Auxiliary Bishop Mario Rios Montt of Guatemala City said that the government offer was made by Antonio Arzu, brother of the then-president, Alvaro Arzu. Antonio Arzu said that if the human rights office of the archdiocese, which Bishop Rios heads, desisted in its accusation against the government and military, he could arrange the release of the Rev. Mario Orantes, a diocesan priest who resided with the late bishop. The church rejected the proposition, Bishop Rios said.

Cuban Church-State Relations Remain Bumpy

Church-state relations remain bumpy, said Cuban Bishop Emilio Aranguren Echeverria of Cienfuegos, general secretary of the Cuban bishops’ conference. The official church phrase for describing relations with the government is formally good, said Msgr. Jose Perez Riera, associate secretary of the conference. This is used to indicate that relations could be better, he said. Church-state relations are administrative, with talks concerning minor things such as repairing churches and land usage, he said. Monsignor Perez said the bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission is not recognized by the government, and this hinders human rights work. The churchmen reiterated the Cuban bishops’ opposition to the U.S. economic boycott of Cuba as morally unjustified.

European Bishops Urge Overhaul of E.U. Agriculture Policies

While expressing concern for the plight of European farmers after disastrous outbreaks of disease among livestock, bishops called for an overhaul of the agriculture policies of the European Union. The current agriculture policy is not economically, socially or ecologically sustainable, said German Bishop Josef Homeyer of Hildesheim, president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community. The E.U.’s price guarantee policy has led to serious overproduction, harming the land and flooding the international market with exports, said Bishop Homeyer.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, the Vatican’s permanent observer to U.N. food and hunger agencies, said the environmental and human health risks of bio-engineered foods demand stronger international norms and controls.

Senegal Signs Peace Agreement with Priest-Led Rebel Group

Despite ongoing violence in a separatist region of southern Senegal, the government of that West African nation signed a peace agreement in late March with the separatist rebel movement headed by the Rev. Augustin Diamacoune Senghor. Senegal’s interior minister, Gen. Mamadou Niang, signed the peace agreement with Father Senghor, who heads the fractured Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance and is under house arrest. While more than 80 percent of the rest of Senegal is Muslim, the tribes of the Casamance region are historically animists and Christians.

The president of the Senegalese bishops’ conference expressed his disapproval of Father Senghor’s involvement in the rebellion, but the church has been asked by the government of Senegal and the political wing of the M.F.D.C. rebel movement to facilitate peace negotiations, explained Michael Culligan, senior regional representative for West Africa at Catholic Relief Services.

Archbishop, Magazine Cautious on Rapid Lefebvre Reconciliation

Following news reports suggesting an imminent Vatican reconciliation with a group of followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, an influential French cardinal and an Italian Catholic magazine said the Vatican should proceed slowly and cautiously. Cardinal Pierre Eyt of Bordeaux said the unresolved doctrinal, liturgical, sacramental [and] institutional differences with the Priestly Society of St. Pius X appeared too great to overcome without profound study and sufficient delay.

In a similar vein, the editors of Jesus, an Italian monthly magazine published by the Pauline Fathers, noted statements earlier in the year by the society’s leader, Bishop Bernard Fellay, condemning in no uncertain terms the church renewal introduced by Vatican II. Has he really changed his mind in such a short period of time? it asked in an editorial in its April issue.

La Razon, a Spanish newspaper, reported in mid-March that the Vatican was studying the possibility of re-incorporating the society into the church as a personal prelature, essentially a diocese without territorial boundaries. The only other personal prelature is Opus Dei.

Testimony Highlights Church Request for Foreign Aid

A spokesman for three Catholic agencies told a House subcommittee that U.S. foreign aid should be substantially increased, focusing on global poverty and getting assistance more effectively to the poor. William Headley, a Spiritan priest who is the deputy executive director of Catholic Relief Services, told the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations that the United States should spend an additional $1 billion just to bring U.S. assistance to sub-Saharan Africa above the bottom third of donors. During an unprecedented period of economic growth, U.S. foreign aid as a percentage of gross national product fell to the lowest of all donor countries, Father Headley said.

Father Headley noted that almost half of the world’s 6 billion people live on less than $2 a day, and 1.2 billion survive on less than $1 a day. In Africa alone, where 15 percent of the children die before the age of five, 300 million people subsist on 65 cents a day, he said.

On behalf of the church agencies he also asked the committee to support changes in how aid is delivered through faith-based organizations. Based on our field experience, we believe that aid delivery is impeded by the earmarking of funds, programmatic inflexibility, the tied-aid’ policy and micromanagement, he said. Tied-aid refers to the policy of tying assistance to certain U.S. products and services.

Steps Toward Fiscally Sound’ New York Archdiocese

Initial steps by Cardinal Edward M. Egan to ensure that the Archdiocese of New York is operating in a fiscally sound manner were announced on March 29. According to an archdiocesan press release, the seminary system will be consolidated, and six elementary schools were put on notice that they may be closed. All administrative units of the archdiocese will undergo an in-depth financial review. The New York Archdiocese has been wrestling with financial problems for a number of years, and in 1990 announced sharp cutbacks in subsidies to schools.

Vatican Won’t Intervene in San Francisco Controversy

Jesuit officials in Rome said there is no indication that the Vatican has been or will be involved in the controversy over the St. Ignatius Institute at the Jesuit-run University of San Francisco. In a cost-cutting move, the university transferred responsibility for the institute’s admissions and study abroad program from the institute to the university offices that deal with these areas. The director and assistant director of the institute were dismissed by Stephen A. Privett, S.J., the university president, who said they lacked the credentials to run an academic program. Father Privett said the institute would continue and that the changes were part of an effort to coordinate better the use of staff and resources from the institute, the university’s Catholic studies program and its theology department. Paul Murphy, a professor of church history who has taught in the institute, was named as the new director.

Joseph D. Fessio, S.J., a co-founder of the institute who was fired by an earlier president for financial mismanagement, said the move was the result of a longtime effort by professors outside the institute, particularly Jesuit theology professors, to gain control over the institute, which they saw as too narrow and too extremist. Father Fessio said that he had met with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, about the situation and that he had appealed to Pope John Paul II to intervene. Father Frank Case, an assistant to the Jesuit general superior in Rome, said that as of March 29 he had no indication that the Vatican was considering Father Fessio’s request. The Jesuit superior general’s position is that the dispute is a matter that must be resolved locally, Father Case said.

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