Human Rights Lawyer in Mexico Shot Dead
A former nun who was one of Mexico’s leading human rights lawyers was shot dead in Mexico City on Oct. 19 in what authorities were calling a politically motivated killing. Digna Ochoa Placido, head of the legal defense department at Jesuit-run Miguel Augustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center, had been kidnapped and threatened several times for her defense of indigenous people in southern Mexico. Calling her death an execution, the Pro center said Ochoa’s killing causes us profound sadness, pain and indignation.
Ochoa was an outspoken critic of the Mexican military’s history of torture, killings and disappearances. A letter found with Ochoa’s body threatened other members of the human rights center.
Cardinal Bevilacqua Lauds U.S. Response to Terrorism
In a letter to President George W. Bush on Oct. 16, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua of Philadelphia called the U.S. war against terrorism a just war and commended the administration and Congress for their actions. He warned sharply against interpreting the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 as God’s punishment for moral decay within our nation or as an inevitable and deserved response to United States foreign policy. The cardinal said he wrote the three-page letter, to express my prayerful support for the multidimensional response to the terrorist attacks that you have been detailing for the American people.
Pope Pleads In Name of God’ for End to Holy Land Violence
Pope John Paul II pleaded in the name of God for an end to violence in the Holy Land, as an Israeli military operation left more than 20 dead in six Palestinian towns. It is with deep sadness that I have heard the painful and worrying news from Bethlehem, as well as from cities like Beit Jalla and Beit Sahour, the pope said at a Sunday blessing on Oct. 21. War and death have even arrived at the square of the Church of the Nativity of our Lord, he noted.
Celibacy Is Major Reason for Priest Resignations
Among U.S. Catholic priests who resign soon after ordination, difficulties of celibate living are a major factor, the sociologist Dean R. Hoge said, commenting on a study he has recently completed. Also important, though less so, are satisfaction with their current work in ministry, the level of support they receive from fellow priests, their living situation and their own spiritual life, he said. Resignations came disproportionately from large dioceses, said Hoge, a professor of sociology at The Catholic University of America.
The study also asked the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators how many priests resign in the first five years of ordination. Their best estimate was that 10 percent to 15 percent of the priests today resign in the first five years after ordination, Hoge said. The rate today is a bit higher than in the 1980’s.
On satisfaction or dissatisfaction with post-ordination experiences, celibacy stood out as the biggest difference. Only seven percent of those who resigned said they had been very satisfied with living a celibate life, while 49 percent of the active priests said they were very satisfied with celibacy. More than half the active priests were very satisfied with their living situation, while less than one-fourth of those who resigned felt that way. The main complaints of resigned priests were a lack of privacy and living too close to work. Resigned priests also ranked loneliness of priestly life and the way authority is too heavy-handed in the church among serious problems they had faced before leaving.
He said 94 percent of resigned priests thought celibacy should be optional for diocesan priests, and 90 percent thought women should be allowed to participate in all the church’s ministries. A substantial majority of active religious priests ordained within the previous five years held those views, but only a minority of the active diocesan priests: 29 percent for optional celibacy and 45 percent for women in all ministries.
Pope Urges China Dialogue, Apologizes for Offenses
In a renewed plea for an official dialogue with the government of mainland China, Pope John Paul II apologized for any actions taken by Catholics that offended China or gave an impression of disrespect for its culture. Over the centuries personal limitations, political pressure and theological disputes sometimes led to tensions and mistrust between China and the Vatican, offsetting the good work accomplished by missionaries in evangelization, education and health care, the pope told scholars. The pope’s message was addressed on Oct. 24 to an international conference in Rome marking the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Matteo Ricci, S.J., in Beijing.
Baptist-Catholic Conversation Ended
The cosponsors of the national Southern Baptist-Catholic Conversation have announced the termination of their current round of formal conversations. In a joint statement in October, they said the national conversation was only one of several forms of Catholic-Southern Baptist cooperation. Its ending should not be seen as a diminished commitment in either community to continued collaboration whenever possible, they said. The Catholic cosponsor, the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said the decision to end the conversations was made by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, cosponsor on the Baptist side.
Robert E. Reccord, president of the mission board, had notified Catholic officials last February of the board’s intention to end the conversations. The committee said it regretfully concurred in this decision. The joint statement announcing the end of the conversation was released on Oct. 23. It was signed by Reccord and Bishop J. Kendrick Williams of Lexington, Ky., Catholic cochairman of the conversations. It said the bishops’ committee will remain open to conversation, on whatever issues and at such a time as may seem appropriate should the occasion arise in the future. It said the mission board is committed to fulfilling its mandate to present the Gospel to everyone in North America. The overwhelming weight of this mission drives all its decisions.
Pro-Life Leaders Condemn Anthrax Threats
A spokeswoman for the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities sharply condemned the recent rash of anthrax threats sent to abortion clinics. Violence in the name of pro-life makes a mockery of the pro-life cause, said Cathy Cleaver, the secretariat’s director of planning and information. We don’t know who is behind the suspicious letters going out to abortion clinics, but we unequivocally condemn the use of any form of violence to oppose abortion, she said.
Polish, Austrian Church Leaders Criticize Halloween’s Popularity
Church leaders in Poland and Austria criticized the growing popularity of Halloween, introduced in most East European countries after the collapse of Communist rule. It’s humiliating to see people parroting things they don’t properly understand. This imported practice is alien to our traditions and dangerous for its attractive packaging, said Bishop Stanislaw Stefanek of Lomza, chairman of the Polish bishops’ family commission.
Newsweek Religion Editor Criticizes Baptists and Oprah
Kenneth L. Woodward, religion editor of Newsweek magazine, at a convention of Catholic communicators in San Antonio, criticized Baptists for what he called their obscene response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, where bands of Baptists descended on ground zero to proselytize firefighters and other workers...some [who were] patiently culling bones and trying to identify bodies by their parts in a makeshift morgue at the death site.
[The Baptists] trampled on sacred ground, he continued, oblivious to the thousands who had come to light candles and memorialize those buried beneath the rubble, plying their trade like maggots feeding on carrion.
He was no less critical of the evangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. On the Rev. Robertson’s television show, The 700 Club, on Sept. 13, the Rev. Falwell said the attacks were an act of God brought on by certain groups of Americans, including homosexuals and abortion advocates. The Rev. Robertson said on the show, I totally concur.
What struck me about the now-notorious Falwell-Robertson exchange on television was how very few of their fellow evangelists disagreed with them, he said. To suggest, as Falwell and Robertson did, that God is punishing us for our moral laxness is to illustrate how little the fundamentalist imagination has to offer, especially in a time of national crisis.
According to Woodward, on the other end of the spectrum is a hollowed-out version of Christianity prevalent in contemporary American society. Recall the insipid ministrations of Oprah Winfrey at the prayer meeting in Yankee Stadium, he continued. She asked us all to have faith in faith, hope in hope, to love lovea saccharine appeal to the classic Christian virtues as exercises without content.
All this is a very big part of the so-called religious revival in America, he said. It is hard to decide who offends most, the evangelists of the Falwell stripe or of the Oprah ilk. Both have huge follower-ships and both, from very different angles, stress what God can do for me.