Signs of the Times

Labor Priest Gets Medal of Freedom

Msgr. George G. Higgins, since the 1940’s one of America’s most noted labor priests, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom during White House ceremonies on Aug. 9. For more than 60 years now, he has organized, marched, prayed and bled for the social and economic justice of working Americans, President Clinton said in conferring the award. His faith and his courage have strengthened not only our nation’s labor unions, but our American union, Clinton added. The award citation focused mainly on Monsignor Higgins’s work in the labor movement, but it also highlighted his pioneering efforts in Catholic-Jewish relations and his leadership in civil rights and religious tolerance.

Pro-Lifers Need Compassion Before Condemnation

By putting condemnation before compassion, the pro-life movement has failed to achieve its goal, said Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington at a pro-life conference sponsored by the diocesan Office for Family Life. Bishop Loverde said it is time to switch to compassion because for the last 30 years, the old rhetoric has done little to help those who are in crisis and those who have had abortions. The message of the pro-life movement, Bishop Loverde said, will get lost if delivered in a busy, noisy and violent way. Positive language opens eyes more than negative rhetoric.


Church Changed by Growing Number of Latino Catholics

The growing number of Latino Catholics is transforming the Catholic Church in the United States, a Hispanic theologian told participants at a summer theology institute in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. But the North American church needs to treat Latinos pastorally and not run roughshod over their sensitivities and popular religiosity in a drive for theological consistency, he said. Allan Figueroa Deck, S.J., executive director of the Loyola Institute for Spirituality in Orange, Calif., and theology professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, noted that today one of four U.S. Catholics is of Hispanic origin. That ratio, he said, is quickly moving to one of three. He estimated that there are now 23 million Latino Catholics in the United States.

Patriarch on Catholic-Orthodox Relations

Major obstacles remain in Catholic-Orthodox relations, Moscow’s Russian Orthodox patriarch said in an interview on Aug. 3 with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. Patriarch Alexei II cited Catholic persecution and proselytizing of Orthodox as the main problems facing the two churches and the possibility of a visit to Russia by Pope John Paul II, a trip the pontiff has long hoped to make. Calling the outstanding obstacles in relations open wounds, the patriarch appealed for an end to the persecution of Orthodox Christians by Greek Catholics in western Ukraine and the work of proselytism carried out by Catholic Church structures among the traditionally Orthodox population of the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches, told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica on Aug. 4 there was no persecution of the Orthodox Church by the Eastern Catholic churches, but among the people there could be questionable incidents.

The union of Eastern Catholics with Rome has long been a sore point in Catholic-Orthodox relations, especially since the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe made it possible for Latin and Eastern rite Catholics to operate freely in traditionally Orthodox countries. Russian Orthodox Church leaders accuse Ukrainian Catholics of aggressively encouraging Orthodox to join with Rome. They also claim that Ukrainian Catholics have used force to reclaim churches the Communist government confiscated in the 1940’s.

Aristide Associates Denounce Party’s Totalitarian Shift’

A prominent priest once known as a close associate of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide signed a petition denouncing the totalitarian shift of the pro-Aristide Lavalas government. Holy Ghost Father William Smarth was one of the 193 high-profile intellectuals who signed the petition, which compares the current situation in Haiti to the one that existed during the period of de facto military rule. The petition, whose signatories include other former pillars of the Lavalas movement, including Jean Casimir, the Aristide government’s ambassador to the United States, calls on the Haitian population to block the road to totalitarian rule and denounces the alleged misuse of public resources by the Lavalas government.

Report Says Guatemalan Army Kidnaped Mayan Children

A report by the Catholic Church in Guatemala accused the country’s army with kidnaping hundreds of Mayan Indian children during the 36-year civil war that ended in 1996. Presenting the report in a packed cathedral on Aug. 8, Auxiliary Bishop Mario Rios Montt of Guatemala City said: The army, the state and the ex-guerrillas have a moral obligation to help look for these children. This cannot wait. Bishop Rios became coordinator of the human rights office after his predecessor, Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera, was murdered following the publication of an earlier church report critical of the military.

Investigators in Guatemala believe that after the preliminary seven-month inquiry, there could be as many as 400 more cases to investigate. The kidnaping of children by soldiers during army sweeps is a practice widely documented in neighboring El Salvador and in Argentina and Chile.

Among those listening in the cathedral was the Guatemalan president, Alfonso Portillo, who attended the Mass after the presentation and received a copy of the document from Bishop Rios. Portillo’s party was founded by the former president, Gen. Efrain Rios Monttbrother of Bishop Rioswhose 1982-83 regime oversaw some of the worst abuses of the conflict that left an estimated 200,000 dead.

A day after the report was released, Portillo announced that his government was accepting the state’s responsibility in 10 cases of human rights violations attributed to the army during the war. The cases included two massacres in which more than 300 people died, as well as the assassinations of a leading journalist and of a well-known anthropologist, Myrna Mack.

Cardinal Opens Convention With Call to Protect the Vulnerable

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles opened the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 14 with a prayer calling on delegates to be committed to protecting the life of all people, from unborn children and the elderly to those on skid row and death row. God of life and love...we pray that your spirit will inspire all candidates, regardless of party, to embody in their words, actions and policies values that protect all human life, establish peace, promote justice and uphold the common good, he said. He called on the delegates to work on behalf of immigrants and those who are poor, hungry and suffering, and to promote equal access to health care and education.

In his closing benediction at the Republican Convention, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua of Philadelphia prayed: Grant above all that we recognize that this land of ours will be a great nation and fulfill its destiny to the extent that it lives up to its own declaration that all human beings, from the first moment of their existence to natural death, possess the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’

Bishop Calls Moluccas Violence 'Tragedy of Humanity’

A bishop from Indonesia’s Molucca Islands called Christian-Muslim violence in the region a tragedy of humanity but said it is politically, not religiously, motivated. Bishop Petrus Mandagi of Ambon also said he believes the international community has a responsibility to stop the violence, which has claimed thousands of lives since January 1999.

The bishop, who visited the United States in early August to urge U.S. and U.N. officials to pressure the Indonesian government to end the violence, said he saw three possible elements behind the conflict. First, former Indonesian President Suharto and his cronies have targeted the Moluccas to create instability so they will not be tried for war crimes committed during their 32 years in power. Second, the military is angry at its loss of power and creating pockets of instability throughout Indonesia so that people will need its protection. Third, he believed the instability might be created by Islamic fundamentalists trying to create a Muslim state.

Consultants Named to New Ex Corde’ Committee

Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati has named four consultants to his committee of bishops charged with developing the U.S. procedures for giving Catholic theologians a mandatum to teach. They are: James J. Conn, S.J., a professor of canon law at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore; Maureen Fay, O.P., president of the University of Detroit Mercy in Detroit; Daniel Finn, a professor of theology at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn.; Terrence Tilley, chairman of the department of religious studies at the University of Dayton, Ohio. Father Conn supported the mandatum in an article in America (1/30/99).

The consultants were selected from nominees suggested by the Catholic Theological Society of America, the College Theology Society, the Canon Law Society of America and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. The Pilarczyk committee is to develop procedures that will spell out how U.S. bishops are to grant, withhold or withdraw a Catholic theologian’s mandatum, or mandate to teach in a college or university.

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