Signs of the Times

In Final Jubilee Document, Pope Outlines Vision of Church’s Path

In a final document on the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, Pope John Paul II revisited highlights of the Holy Year and suggested how its spiritual gifts can help lead others to the Gospel. The apostolic letter, titled Novo Millennio Ineunte (“At the Beginning of the New Millennium”), offered some last words on several controversial jubilee themes, including the tension between dialogue and evangelization. It also sketched out the pope’s vision of church priorities in the third millennium, emphasizing that the personal encounter with Christ should ultimately influence the economic and social behavior of modern society.

In the context of religious pluralism, the pope pointed to the importance of dialogue with non-Christians and respect for their beliefs, especially in warding off the “dread specter of those wars of religion which have so often bloodied human history.” But for the church, he said, interreligious dialogue can never be understood as negotiation, as if the faith were a matter of mere opinion. Likewise, the Christian’s joyful proclamation of the Gospel should not be considered “an offense to the identity of others,” he said.


Citing the recent and controversial document Dominus Iesus, the pope said interreligious dialogue cannot simply replace proclamation. The pope delivered a realistic assessment of the state of ecumenism, saying Christians had carried into the third millennium the “sad heritage of the past” and that there was “still a long way to go” before Christian unity can be attained.

In describing the unity of the church of Christ, the pope appeared to choose his words carefully, especially after ecumenical tensions in the wake of Dominus Iesus. “This unity is concretely embodied in the Catholic Church, despite the human limitations of her members, and is at work in varying degrees in all the elements of holiness and truth to be found in the other churches and ecclesial communities,” he said.

The document defended the jubilee’s running theme of individual and collective repentance, saying that the church’s examination of conscience and admission of historical faults had humbled Christians and “strengthened our steps for the journey toward the future.”

The document also affirmed that the church’s social teachings are an essential part of Christian witness and “we must reject the temptation to offer a privatized and individualistic spirituality which ill accords with the demands of charity.” The document drew a stark picture of modern economic reality, pointing out that immense possibilities are offered to a fortunate few while millions are left in degrading conditions. It called for a “new creativity in charity,” to find ways that get close to those who suffer and ensure that aid is not seen as a “humiliating handout.”

Addressing foreign debt, the pope said he was gratified that recently some creditor nations had approved a substantial forgiveness of bilateral debt of the poorest nations. Those decisions now need to be implemented, and more work needs to be done to relieve the massive multilateral debt that poor countries have contracted with international lending organizations, he said.

The pope said the church should not apologize for trying to implement its moral teachings in society. The defense of human life from conception to natural death is not a case of “imposing” Catholic teachings on nonbelievers, but of protecting values rooted in human dignity, he added. In defending the Christian view of marriage and the family, he added, the church “cannot yield to cultural pressures, no matter how widespread and even militant they may be.”

Parish-Supported Health Clinic Network Spreading in Florida

In February St. John Vianney Church in Orlando, Fla., plans to open the fifth Shepherd’s Hope Health Center, located in a nearby elementary school, for people without other access to health care. The clinics, each a partnership between a local church and Shepherd’s Hope Inc., are housed free of charge at Orange County public schools. Each clinic operates one or two evenings per week and is staffed by volunteers. “One of our biggest challenges at Shepherd’s Hope is how to get enough medicine,” said Cindi Kopelman, executive director of Shepherd’s Hope and a member of Holy Family Church in Orlando. “All of our medical services are donated but medication is expensive.”

European Governments Urged to Restrict New Religious Sects

European governments are under pressure to restrict new religious movements on the grounds that their activities threaten civic freedom and legal order. Some human rights groups have criticized government commissions and laws dealing with sects, but church leaders say such measures are needed to protect society against criminal and destructive activities. Government officials say their actions reflect public concern about an upsurge in new religious movements, some of which use mind-control methods and spread apocalyptic teachings.

Auxiliary Bishop Zygmunt Pawlowicz of Gdansk, Poland, noted that while “national constitutions enshrine the principle of legal equality...individual laws also set limits to religious freedom, to ensure public order or the good of families and marriages. Those who violate these limits must face the legal consequences.”

Willy Fautre, who heads Belgium’s Human Rights Without Frontiers, based in Brussels, said, “The real question is whether a state should limit the freedom of some religious groups while giving privileges to others.” Fautre said the Catholic Church should be more cautious in speaking against new religious movements. “Anti-Catholic mentalities are still strong in many parts of Europe. Today’s campaign against small religious groups could be setting a dangerous precedent,” he said. For instance, the Belgian parliament’s 1997 blacklist of sects included the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and Opus Dei movements.

L.A. Parishioners Vow to Stem Tide of Gang Violence

About 500 people filled the hall of St. Frances X. Cabrini Church in South Central Los Angeles to tell Sheriff Lee Baca they were tired of being afraid of local gangs. “We don’t want any more crimes in our community,” said Maria Silaya, whose son was killed during a shooting at a doughnut shop across from the church. “We are here today because we are determined to gain control of our neighborhood,” declared Alfonso Delgadillo, a parishioner for the past 15 years and now a community leader.

In a speech frequently interrupted by cheers and applause, Baca enumerated several anti-crime initiatives, including: 14 more sheriff’s deputies assigned to the community, three of whom are designated “town sheriffs”; a new sheriff’s station to be built in the neighborhood; and the start of a gang-reform program that has shown success in East Los Angeles. “If we don’t do something to help turn their lives around—so they don’t have to be involved in violence, so they don’t have to be involved in crime—then we’re just doing half the job. I want to do a complete job: put the bad ones in jail and help the good ones get out of the gangs,” Baca said.

Catholic, Other Religious Leaders Meet with President-Elect Bush

The head of the U.S. Catholic bishops said it was clear from a meeting George W. Bush had with him and other religious leaders that the president-elect wants to heal wounds of division in the country and “work with faith-based organizations to address social ills.” Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that the incoming president “wants to bring people together.”

The bishop, who was the first religious leader called on to address the meeting, said he believed the Catholic Church, for one, had great experience helping the nation’s poor, particularly through the work of agencies like Catholic Charities. Bishop Fiorenza, two other Catholic representatives and leaders of other denominations met with Bush for more than an hour to talk about ways the government and faith-based organizations could work together.

The Rev. Virgilio Elizondo, a participant in the meeting who founded the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio, said Bush was tapping the religious leaders for their ideas, telling them that faith-based groups “have a long history of doing things with a little amount of money.” Father Elizondo called the session “a breakthrough” because the upcoming leader of the country “officially wants to encourage religious groups to help them do what they do.”

Father Elizondo said Bush kept bringing up how the wounds of the nation run far deeper than what was apparent during the last election. “What I heard loud and clear was that we couldn’t talk about healing without talking about poverty,” the priest said. Father Elizondo, although optimistic about the meeting, said he knew changes “wouldn’t happen overnight.”

Referring to Bush’s comments in the meeting about the healing of divisions that needs to occur, Bishop Fiorenza said the country’s sins of slavery, segregation and bigotry have “cast long shadows” and that their “festering wounds are still there negatively impacting African-Americans, Hispanics and the poor.”

Canon Lawyer Group Defends Rights of Clergy in Disputes

Msgr. Michael Higgins, founder and current chairman of Justice for Priests and Deacons, said that requests by priests for canonical assistance, usually in controversies with their bishops, continue to increase. The group was founded in October 1997 as a referral service for members of the clergy who believe themselves to be victims of injustice in the church and need a canon lawyer.

Msgr. Higgins said that in most cases the priests’ rights have been violated by their bishops. “Bishops often have good intentions,” Msgr. Higgins said, “but don’t know well the rights of clergy or the proper canonical procedures to be followed, whether it is in imposing penalties, removing pastors or other matters. Often the bishops don’t realize they should have canonical consultation before acting or don’t get good advice when they seek it,” he added. “Too many times bishops only consult secular lawyers who don’t understand the canonical aspects of a situation.”

He cited several situations in which, he said, priests’ rights often are violated, including cases of allegations of sexual misconduct, where a priest facing such accusations is suspended because of pressure on a diocese to take action in the wake of an allegation. Canonical process is usually not followed, he said, and the accused priest is not presented with the evidence against him and is not given the right to have his own defense. Monsignor Higgins said that in cases where a priest’s faculties have been taken away, there usually is no reason given, even though, he noted, canon law states there must be a “grave cause” to take away faculties. He also said that he knew of cases where a priest was forced to undergo a psychological evaluation. If the priest refused, he said, the bishop told him that he would no longer have an assignment in his diocese or financial support.

Those familiar with such situations say it is difficult for priests or deacons to get a canon lawyer locally to represent them because most canon lawyers are priests working in the tribunals or chanceries of their dioceses. Canon lawyers are often reluctant to get involved in a dispute between their bishops and a priest or deacon of their own dioceses.

Msgr. Higgins said that referrals by Justice for Priests and Deacons should not be seen as an attack on dioceses or bishops. Rather, “we see it as a service,” he said. “It’s important for priests and deacons to be aware of their rights and that certain procedures and processes must be followed under canon law when accusations are made. All too often they are not provided this information and, as a result, they may not be justly treated.”

Church Giving Is Mixed: Less Goes to Charity

U.S. church giving went up slightly in 1998, but a smaller portion of those contributions went to charity and outreach, says the latest Empty Tomb report. The State of Church Giving Through 1998, released in mid-December, was the 10th annual report by Empty Tomb researchers John and Sylvia Ronsvalle. They said contributions to churches as a percentage of members’ disposable income went up slightly, from 2.49 percent in 1997 to 2.52 percent in 1998, but more than four-fifths of every dollar given was used to cover congregational finances. The average church member gave about $588 to his or her church in 1998, with just over $496 going to congregational finances and just under $92 to charities.

Court Clears Naples Cardinal

An Italian court cleared Naples Cardinal Michele Giordano of charges of complicity in loan sharking on Dec. 22, following a two-year investigation. Prosecutors had accused Cardinal Giordano of funneling more than $500,000 to a usury ring run by his brother and embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from archdiocesan bank accounts. The cardinal’s lawyers noted that he authorized magistrates to examine the transaction histories of his bank accounts, including those at the Vatican Bank, which would have been otherwise off limits. The Vatican had objected that the investigation, which involved a search of the Naples archdiocesan offices and phone taps, violated a treaty governing church-state relations.

Surgeon Says Pope’s Slow Gait Not Related to Hip Replacement

Pope John Paul II’s limp and slow gait are related to a neurological disorder, not problems with his artificial hip, said the orthopedic surgeon who implanted the prosthesis in 1994. An Italian magazine quoted Dr. Gianfranco Fineschi as saying the pope suffers from Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological disease. However, after the magazine Oggi went on sale Jan. 4, Fineschi denied having been so specific about the pope’s condition. “I did not say and I do not know that the pope has Parkinson’s,” Fineschi told the Italian news agency ANSA. Oggi claimed Fineschi said the drugs the pope “is taking to treat the Parkinson’s disease, which is the cause of his hand tremors, affect his muscles, reducing facial expressions and forcing him to move with small steps.”

“Every time the pope leaves on a trip or tires himself during an official event, I fear for him,” Fineschi said. “As a doctor, I should order him to rest, but it would be useless,” he said. The pope carries out his mission “even at the cost of great suffering, with total altruism.”

In the interview, Fineschi said the pope told him about papal meetings with a variety of world leaders including Poland’s former Communist president, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski; the former Chilean dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet; and U.S. President Bill Clinton. The doctor quoted the pope as saying, “Jaruzelski told me: ‘I am Catholic, but in the face of the Red Army, that counts for nothing.’” Fineschi said the pope told him he had advised Pinochet to resign. Although the dictator remained in office, “after our meeting he sought, within his limits, to mitigate the harshness of his regime,” the doctor quoted the pope as saying.

After one of his meetings with Clinton, Fineschi said the pope told him: “The only one I wasn’t able to dialogue with was Clinton. I spoke and he looked at the wall, admiring the frescoes and the paintings. He was not listening to me.”

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