Signs of the Times
Vatican to Release Some WW II Archival Material Early
The Vatican announced it would open ahead of schedule part of its 20th-century archives, including new documents on Vatican-German relations and Pope Pius XII’s efforts to help prisoners during World War II. The Vatican said cataloguing the documents from the pontificate of Pope Pius XI would take another three years to complete. But in the meantime, starting in 2003, it will make available to scholars some of the documentsthose that relate to Vatican-German relations in 1922-39. The documents are considered especially sensitive because they cover a period in which Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, served first as nuncio to Germany and then as Vatican secretary of state.
Future of Voucher Program Before Supreme Court
A decision on whether a school voucher program in Cleveland violates the constitutional separation of church and state now rests with the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on the issue on Feb. 20. Based on some of the comments made by the justices during the 80-minute presentation, Cleveland’s voucher program might be considered constitutional as long as parents are offered a wide variety of alternatives for their children beyond just public and religious schools. Alternatives include tutoring programs, magnet schools and community schools, which are public schools separately chartered by the regular school district. Currently, 96 percent to 99 percent of students who participate in Cleveland’s 6-year-old pilot voucher program attend a religious school.
U.S. Missionary Arrested in Zimbabwe at Prayer Service
A U.S. Catholic missionary and his Protestant colleagues were arrested during prayer services in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Marianhill Father Kevin O’Doherty, 69, of Detroit, was arrested along with three ministers and six lay leaders on Feb. 16 as they prayed for peace during Zimbabwe’s presidential election campaign. One minister was arrested from the pulpit, and the others were arrested during an impromptu service outside the Bulawayo jail. Those arrested were charged with disobeying the command of a police officer. They were released on $20 bail after two days and ordered to report to the local police station weekly until their court appearance on March 4.
Obedience to Church Teaching Lets Theologians Serve Truth
Pope John Paul II said obedience to church teaching does not limit theological work but opens theologians to authentically innovative service to the truth. More than a limit, church communion is in reality the place that enlivens theological reflection, supporting its audaciousness and pushing it to prophecy, the pope said on Feb. 16 to members of the Pontifical Theological Academy. The academy was holding an international forum on Dominus Iesus, a Vatican document published in 2000 that reasserted the uniqueness and universality of Christ to salvation.
Nuncio to Romania Confirms Demolition of Catholic Churches
The Vatican’s nuncio to Romania has confirmed that Eastern Catholic churches are being bulldozed by Orthodox occupiers and urged the country’s political class to settle the dispute. The entire responsibility for these demolitions lies with the local civil authorities, who approve such things when other solutions could be considered, the nuncio said.
Survey Finds Most Americans Regard Moral Truth as Relative
Most Americans believe moral truth always depends upon the situation and reject the idea of unchanging moral absolutes, according to two Barna Research surveys. Teenagers and young adults were the most likely to reject moral absolutes and to say their own moral decision making is based on feelings or self-interest rather than a set of principles, said a report released on Feb. 12. Only 13 percent of all adults and 7 percent of teens said they relied on principles from the Bible as the main basis for their own moral decisions. The report found that belief in unchanging moral absolutes is highest among the age group 36 to 5533 percentdropping to 14 percent among young adults aged 18 to 35 and only 6 percent among teenagers, aged 13 to 18.
U.S.C.C.B. President Expresses Sorrow for Clergy Sex Abuse
The president of the of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed profound sorrow for the sexual abuse of children by priests and said the harm they have caused is immeasurable. In a two-page statement on behalf of the bishops on Feb. 19, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., said such abuse is a reality against which we must be ceaselessly on guard.
We understand that your children are your most precious gift, he said. They are our children as well, and we continue to apologize to the victims and to their parents and their loved ones for this failure in our pastoral responsibilities. He acknowledged that there were cases of priest abusers that were not dealt with appropriately in the past but said the bishops have been working hard to take corrective measures and protect children.
I am very heartened by the professionals who work with both victims and abusers who encourage us in this work because, they tell us, there is not another institution in the United States that is doing more to understand and address the horror of sexual abuse of minors, he said. He also took the occasion to thank the more than 40,000 wonderful priests in our country who serve their people well. I am very saddened that the crimes of a few have cast a shadow over the grace-filled and necessary work that they do day in and day out for society and for the church, he said.
Sexual abuse of minors by priests and the way the church handles the issue were a topic of daily media reports in New England in the month preceding Bishop Gregory’s statement. John Geoghan, a former Boston priest defrocked in 1998, was convicted in mid-January of indecent assault on a child 10 years ago and faces another trial on charges of raping a child while he was a priest. Amid heavy media criticism, Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston acknowledged tragically incorrect judgments in giving Geoghan pastoral assignments before he removed the alleged molester from all ministry in 1994.
Cardinal Law instituted a new zero-tolerance policy under which no priest known to have sexually molested a minor at any time can hold any church job in the archdiocese. He publicly removed two pastors and barred six other priests from all ministry, and archdiocesan officials scoured personnel records and turned over to prosecutors a reported 87 names of priests against whom sexual abuse allegations had been made over the past 40 or more years.
Other New England bishops took similar actions. Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., who also chairs the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, announced on Feb. 15 that he has put one parish priest on leave and has barred six retired or sick priests from all ministry because of credible allegations against them. The bishop also released the names of seven suspended or retired priests who have been banned from active ministry since the time of sexual abuse allegations against them. He said the alleged occurrences date from 1963 to 1987. Likewise, Bishop Thomas L. Dupre of Springfield, Mass., said that no local priests found guilty of sexual misconduct with minors have parish assignments. He said a small number, after undergoing therapy, have been given nonparish assignments in which they have no regular access to children.
Bishop Gregorywho had to deal with a similar scandal of several child-molesting priests in Belleville when he was appointed bishop there in 1993said the new attention to the issue gives me the opportunity to renew the promise of our bishops that we will continue to take all the steps necessary to protect our youth from this kind of abuse in society and in the church.
As a church, he said, we have met with those who are victims of sexual abuse by priests. We have heard their sorrow, confusion, anger and fear. We have tried to reach out pastorally and sensitively not only to victims of this outrageous behavior, but to their families and the communities devastated by this crime. We have confronted priests accused of abuse and removed them from public ministry.
Bishop Gregory highlighted some of the efforts the bishops have made over the past two decades to learn about sexual abuse and address it in the church:
Our conference has encouraged the development of policies in every diocese to address this issue.
Bishops have developed procedures whereby priests moving from one diocese to another must have certification of their good standing.
Bishops have also revised seminary screening and have mandated in-service programs for priests, teachers, parish ministers and volunteers...to protect the innocent and vulnerable from such abuse.
Dioceses have implemented programs to ensure safe environments in parishes and schools.
While we have made some tragic mistakes, he said, we have attempted to be as honest and open about these cases as we can.... The church must be a place of refuge and security, not a place of denial and distress. Bishop Gregory said although few priests engage in the criminal activity of sexually abusing children, the damage they have caused cannot be measured. The toll this phenomenon has taken on our people and our ministry is tremendous, he said. This is a time for Catholic people, bishops, clergy, religious and laity, to resolve anew to work together to assure the safety of our children.
Bishop Gregory’s statement and other information on church policies and efforts to combat sexual abuse of minors have been placed on the official Web site of the bishops’ conference at www.usccb.org.