Signs of the Times

Pope Names Cardinal Kasper Head of Christian Unity Council

Pope John Paul II has named Cardinal Walter Kasper from Germany, an internationally known theologian and ecumenist, to be president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Cardinal Kasper, who had been secretary of the council since 1999, is 68. The German cardinal succeeds 76-year-old Australian Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, who had been president of the council since 1989. Marc Ouellet, a Canadian Sulpician priest and a professor at Rome’s Lateran University, has been named a bishop and secretary of the council.

Pope Expected to Visit Mosque During Trip to Syria

During his visit to Syria in May, John Paul II plans to enter the mosque of Ommayad in Damascus, where a shrine is dedicated to St. John the Baptist, according to the Melkite Catholic Archbishop Isidore Battikha, the Syrian prelate in charge of organizing the papal visit. Vatican sources said that definitive plans for the mosque visit had not yet been made. If the pope does make the visit, he would become the first modern pontiff to enter a Muslim place of worship.


Diocesan Leaders on What Helps, Hinders Women in Church

Women in diocesan leadership positions in the United States say their participation in church decision-making is sometimes hindered by sexist attitudes, church structures or the strident voices of women themselves, according to a new survey. The results were compiled by the Life Cycle Institute of The Catholic University of America from questionnaires sent to 378 women in 128 dioceses who had been identified by their bishops as diocesan leaders. The aim of the survey was to examine how women’s voices are heard in church decision-making, said Archbishop John G. Vlazny of Portland, Ore., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Women in Society and in the Church.

Nearly one-third (31 percent) of the 233 women who returned surveys said diocesan leadership structures do not allow women’s voices to be heard, while 30 percent said diocesan leaders or priests have sexist attitudes or don’t understand women. But more than one-fourth (27 percent) said women’s voices are muted when the woman is overly militant, combative, single-minded or insubordinate.

Commentator Asks Greater Sacrifices by Americans

Americans benefit from the sacrifices of past generations and should be making sacrifices so that future generations live a better life, said Mark Shields, syndicated columnist and TV news commentator. All of us are warmed by fires we did not start. All of us drink from wells we did not dig, he told more than 500 people attending the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington. We can do no less for those who come after and should do much more, he said. Shields said the United States should return to the optimism and pragmatism that made the country great.

Indians Say Vatican Statement Won’t Affect Work

Theologians and church officials in India say a notification the Vatican issued concerning the Belgian Jesuit Jacques Dupuis’s book on religious pluralism will not affect their work in the country. The document also will not adversely affect interreligious dialogue in India, said the Rev. Antony Suresh, secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India’s Commission for Ecumenism and Dialogue. Lisbert D’Souza, the Jesuit provincial of India, said that the notification sounds harmless and applauds Father Dupuis’s understanding of the Vatican position.

Success, Not Nit-Picking, Called Key to Faith-Based Initiatives

The head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives assured Catholic social ministers that the overriding principle of the new effort is what gets the work done. John DiIulio said that as a Catholic he particularly appreciates the administration’s intention that his officeand similar operations in five Cabinet-level agenciesshould work on the principle of subsidiarity.

As he described it, the principle of subsidiarity is that people in need of assistance should get it first from their families, then from their immediate neighbors and churches, then from their larger local community or local government and only then, if help is still needed, make the long-distance call to the federal government. Subsidiarity says feel compassion and don’t phone, DiIulio said, But it doesn’t say, Never phone.’ He said the Catechism of the Catholic Church gets both parts right by calling for both individual responsibility for one’s own problems and for collective responsibility by the community.

His office’s mission is to cut away some of the regulations and policies in that complex network that have prevented community and faith-based organizations from obtaining federal funding to serve people at the most approachable level of neighborhoods and churches, he said. His goal, DiIulio said, is to make it possible for church-based organizations to use federal money in programs without worrying about becoming ineligible if the volunteers sing hymns while they work. We want them to be able to say God bless you,’ he said, even if nobody sneezes.

Catholics, Evangelicals Hold Theological Consultation

An international consultation of Catholic and evangelical representatives said it is considering a possible first-ever joint statement on shared beliefs and differences. In a communiqué the group said that when it meets again in February 2002, it is expected that a final version of a joint document will be prepared for publication. The consultation, is jointly sponsored by the World Evangelical Fellowship’s Theological Commission and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

In Good Faith,’ Statement on Faith-Based Funding

A diverse group of Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and church-state separationist organizations have collaborated on a report about government funding of faith-based organizations. For about two years, representatives of the groups met to seek common ground on questions about how government funding of social services provided by religious organizations should work. They released a report on their efforts, titled In Good Faith: A Dialogue on Government Funding of Faith-Based Social Services.

They said they hope the report helps distinguish where agreements and disagreements lie in a complex area of the law. The report cited a dozen areas of agreement on government funding of religious organizations to provide social services.

They included:

Organizations that are affiliated with religious bodies but are incorporated separately should continue to be allowed to receive government funding for their secular work.

When religious organizations provide tax-funded social services, the government should ensure that those who do not wish to go to a religious institution to obtain services have secular alternatives available.

Religious institutions should not be allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion or religious beliefs when providing government-funded services.

An institution that provides government-funded services may also offer religious activities, as long as they are privately funded, voluntary and clearly separate from the government-funded activities. The report said government-supported providers may have religious literature available in waiting rooms, for example, if it’s clear that accepting the material is voluntary and not part of the government’s support.

Religious art and religious names should be allowed at institutions that receive federal funding for certain activities.

Although the law is not settled on the issue, the participants agreed that religious organizations can use religious criteria in hiring for programs that are not funded by the government, even when the institution receives federal funding for other programs that have separate employment criteria.

When it comes to charitable choice, the participants agreed to disagree. The report summarized arguments for and against charitable choice provisions that have been passed by or introduced in Congress. In favor of the provisions were arguments that it: is constitutional; ends government discrimination against religious providers; protects faith-based providers without establishing religion; and protects the religious liberty of those who receive help from church-supported programs.

As points against charitable choice provisions, it said they: undermine government neutrality toward religion; promote government-funded discrimination; and jeopardize the religious liberty of those receiving aid.

Bishops’ Committee Launches Web Survey of Lay Catholics

The U.S. bishops’ Committee on the Laity has launched an online survey of lay Catholics in the United States as part of an effort to determine how parishes can help people connect their faith with their daily lives. The survey, which can only be completed online at, is available in English and Spanish and will be posted until May 13. The survey focuses on several aspects of church life, including knowledge of the faith, liturgical life, moral formation, prayer and missionary spirit. The survey will not be used to evaluate individual parishes but to help the bishops’ committee gain an understanding of how best to help lay Catholics.

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