Signs of the Times

Two Dioceses Object to Program for April N.C.E.A. Convention

Citing objections to programming at the upcoming National Catholic Educational Association convention, officials of the dioceses of Peoria, Ill., and Pittsburgh said they will not allocate diocesan funds to pay for teachers to attend the convention. The dioceses also said educators who decide to attend the convention, to be held in Milwaukee on April 17-20, on their own will not receive the continuing-education credit usually available to them for participating. Msgr. Steven Rohlfs, Peoria’s vicar general and chancellor, told The Catholic Post, Peoria’s diocesan newspaper, that Bishop John J. Myers objected to the scheduling of Joan Chittister, O.S.B., as a keynote speaker. Sister Chittister is a well-known spiritual writer and lecturer. Many of her talks and published works are critical of church teaching on the ordination of women, homosexuality and other issues, and Monsignor Rohlfs described her as a “dissenter” from church authority.

Catholic School Students More Hopeful About Future

Catholic school students have significantly higher hopes for their future than do their public school counterparts, according to a survey conducted by a University of Kansas professor, Diane McDermott. In the survey of 1,200 schoolchildren in northeast Kansas, the Catholic schoolchildren came from the same lower socioeconomic background as other children surveyed.


The professor was testing her hypothesis that minority children had less hope for the future than other schoolchildren. As an afterthought, McDermott decided to test whether a statistical difference existed between public and Catholic students. “I didn’t expect there would be any difference,” said McDermott, a professor at the University of Kansas for 29 years. “But lo and behold, there was a difference—with Catholic school kids coming out significantly higher in hope. To us, it was pretty amazing.” These high hopes, the associate professor of counseling psychology discovered, usually translated into higher grades.

Major Funders of Catholics for a Free Choice Not Catholic

No foundations that have Catholic philanthropy as a focus appear in public records among the major funders of Catholics for a Free Choice, according to a Catholic foundation specialist. C.F.F.C. describes itself as an independent nonprofit Catholic organization “working in the Catholic social justice tradition.” It is most noted for efforts to promote wide access to abortion, contraception and voluntary sterilization and to support dissent from official church teachings in those areas. Francis J. Butler, president of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, wrote about C.F.F.C.’s reliance on secular foundations in the January-February issue of Philanthropy, the bimonthly magazine of the Philanthropy Roundtable. He said a review of recent C.F.F.C. grants recorded in the Foundation Center’s grant index “shows an organization without a single major supporter whose program focus is Catholic philanthropy.”

Colombian Bishop Welcomes Agreement on Peace Talks

The president of the Colombian bishops’ conference expressed “unconditional and enthusiastic support” for the agreement made by Colombia’s president and the leader of the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to renew peace talks. Archbishop Alberto Giraldo Jaramillo of Medellín praised the 13-point agreement signed by President Andres Pastrana and Manuel Marulanda in early February after the president traveled to the demilitarized zone of San Vicente del Caguan.

The archbishop hailed the agreement’s plan to “make of San Vicente del Caguan a demilitarized zone only for the purpose of peace, and not for the guerrillas to recruit new militants.” If the guerrilla army “keeps its word in this regard, it means that children will not be forced to join the guerrillas,” he added. A nearly 40-year conflict involving guerrillas, death squads and government security forces in Colombia has claimed more than 35,000 lives in the last 10 years alone and left some 1.2 million people displaced.

Vatican, Lutheran, Reformed Churches Discuss Indulgences

The abuse of indulgences contributed to the Reformation, and questions about the Catholic practice continued to raise ecumenical concerns during the Holy Year 2000. Representatives of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Lutheran World Federation and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches met in Rome on Feb. 9-10 to discuss the questions. “The purpose was to clarify historical, theological and pastoral issues related to indulgences in order to come to a better understanding of each other’s traditions,” said a statement from meeting participants.

The Catholic Church grants indulgences to the faithful after they have gone to confession, received the Eucharist, prayed and performed specific works of charity or penance. Msgr. John Radano, an official at the Council for Christian Unity and a participant in the meeting, said the Catholic view is that “an indulgence is an expression of God’s mercy for a penitent and contrite sinner conveyed through the church.” The acts performed by the penitent are not designed to earn the indulgence, but are “gestures which outwardly express an inner repentance,” Monsignor Radano said in an interview after the meeting.

Michael Root, a professor at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, who presented a paper at the meeting, had written earlier that “typical Lutherans may not know many of the details of the history of the Reformation, but they know that the Reformation began as a protest against the sale of indulgences.”

Between the 11th and 16th centuries, in addition to indulgences granted after penitents performed acts of charity, some priests offered indulgences to those who would make financial contributions toward the building of churches, including St. Peter’s in Rome. In 1517 Martin Luther condemned the practice. The Council of Trent also condemned the abuses, but reaffirmed the right of the church to grant indulgences. Pope Pius V enacted further restrictions on the granting of indulgences in 1567, including forbidding the practice of offering an indulgence to those making financial contributions to the church.

Root, writing on the topic in Pro Ecclesia magazine, said official Catholic teaching “makes clear that indulgences relate to sins which have already been forgiven and to persons who are duly disposed.... As reconciled with God, such persons are justified” already. But Root, in the magazine article, said the approach some Catholics take in seeking indulgences can give an impression to outsiders that they are trying to earn part of their salvation, which could “undercut that trust in Christ’s saving work which Catholics and Lutherans agree is central to our justification.”

Mahony Encouraged by Bush’s Faith-Based Plans

In a statement he issued on Feb. 12 as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Domestic Policy Committee, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles said the bishops welcome the administration’s attention to the battle against poverty and the role faith-based groups have in fighting it. He also raised a handful of issues about how the initiative will be implemented, from protecting the dignity of social service recipients to respecting the religious integrity of the providers.

Cardinal Mahony said the bishops particularly welcome “the clear recognition by the president that faith-based and community efforts cannot substitute for just public policy and the responsibilities of the larger society, including the federal government.” The efforts of the church through organizations like Catholic Charities, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the Catholic Health Association and Catholic schools and parishes already serve millions of people a year, touching hearts and changing lives in the process, Cardinal Mahony noted.

“But our efforts cannot replace the needed government action to address the more than 40 million Americans without health care, the many children who go to bed hungry and the millions of families who work every day but cannot provide a decent future for their children,” he wrote. “Our nation still needs significant public investments in health care, nutrition, child care and housing. Faith-based and community initiatives are essential, but government still has an indispensable role in assuring that the basic needs of the American people are met,” he said.

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