Signs of the Times

Mother Church Not a Sister Church, Says Ratzinger

Addressing what it called common misuses of the phrase sister churches in ecumenical dialogue, the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation issued a document stressing the Catholic Church’s unique identity as mother of all local churches. The document said clarification was necessary because ambiguous use of the phrase, putting the Catholic Church on equal footing with other churches, had become prevalent in contemporary writings on ecumenism.

The four-page document, accompanied by a letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was distributed to the heads of bishops’ conferences. The document said the expression sister churches could only be properly used as a way of describing the relationship between local Catholic churches, like the church of Rome, and non-Catholic churches.


Kohl’s Products Accused of Sweatshop Abuses

A group representing religious, human rights and labor organizations met outside Milwaukee’s City Hall on Aug. 21 hoping to raise public awareness of sweatshop abuses they say are rampant in the Nicaraguan factories that manufacture garments for Kohl’s department stores. Workers at these plants have recently been fired for requesting an 8-cent pay raise, and criminal charges have been brought against union leaders, according to Charles Kernaghan of the National Labor Committee for Human Rights. For each pair of jeans that Kohl’s sells for $30, the seamstress receives 20 cents, he said. Kohl’s spokeswoman, Susan Henderson, said the company is aware of the allegations made by the Nicaraguan workers and will consider them seriously.

Voucher Trial Improved Public, Private Schools

Voucher programs can help both private and public schools, according to a study by educators from Seton Hall University in New Jersey. The study focused on Giffen Memorial Elementary School and St. James Institute, both in Albany, where $2,000 vouchers were given to all first- through sixth-grade students enrolled in Giffen so they could attend the school of their choice.

The program, called A Better Choice, was funded by Virginia Gilder, who believed it was necessary that all of the voucher funds be available for students from a single school in order to improve that school. If four or five students fade out of a public school, Gilder said, nobody notices and it’s easier for the school to go about its business as usual; but if a big bunch leaves, the message can’t be ignored. According to the study, the teachers’ union and district administration were united in their opposition to the voucher plan.

After the A.B.C. program was instituted, 105 Giffen students left the school to enroll in various private schools. Approximately 68 of them entered St. James, located a mile from Giffen. The study found that changes occurred at Giffen after the program was announced:

Prior to the start of the school year, a new principal was appointed, and two new assistant principals and 12 teachers were hired.

During the school year, a three-year grant was secured that allowed the school to hire two social workers.

A daily schoolwide morning assembly was begun, staff workshops devoted to instructional methodology were held, a mentoring program for new teachers was created, a school reading improvement program was implemented, and there was an increased emphasis on school discipline.

As a result of the publicity generated by the A.B.C. scholarships, says the report, changes made at Giffen improved the school for the students who remained there.

U.S. Priest Murdered in Kenya Was Advocate for Human Rights

A U.S. missionary in Kenya whose outspoken advocacy for human rights nearly led to his expulsion from the country last year was found shot dead. Mill Hill Missionary Father John A. Kaiser’s body was found on Aug. 24 close to his car near the town of Naivasha, about 50 miles northwest of the capital, Nairobi. The 67-year-old priest had worked in Kenya for 36 years. The government ordered Father Kaiser’s deportation last November, but revoked the decision after an outcry in Kenyan media and appeals from the country’s Catholic bishops. Father Kaiser had drawn the ire of some members of government after testifying against two Cabinet ministers in an inquiry on tribal clashes.

C.R.S. Will Stay in Western Timor Despite U.N. Request

A Catholic Relief Services worker said the agency will remain active in western Timor’s refugee camps despite a request from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to suspend operations. Three U.N.H.C.R. staff members were badly beaten in an attack on Aug. 22 while delivering aid to refugees at a camp about 60 miles from western Timor’s border with U.N.-administered East Timor. The U.N.H.C.R. suspended operations in the camps indefinitely and asked other nongovernmental organizations working there to follow suit. We will continue operations, given the continuing needs of large populations, said Michael J. Frank, country representative in Indonesia for C.R.S.

Church Officials Decry Federally Funded Embryo Research

Calling it immoral and unnecessary, the Vatican condemned the production and use of human embryos for stem-cell research, despite its humanitarian aims. In a seven-page statement released on Aug. 24, the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life encouraged adult stem-cell research, which does not pose ethical problems and which has seen recent published successes. The Vatican’s statement came the day after new guidelines, backed by the Clinton administration, were released by the National Institutes of Health that will allow the first federal funding of such research.

Richard Doerflinger, associate director for policy development in the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, said that under the guidelines, the U.S. government for the first time in history...will promote research in which developing human embryos are destroyed. He condemned the federal funding of research on human embryonic stem cells as immoral and illegal, and unnecessary for medical progress.

Seminarians Aim to Organize Arkansas Poultry Workers

Two seminarians, Antonio Nilson Camelo and Alan Jenkins, traveled from Chicago to Fort Smith this summer on a special mission - to investigate how workers are treated in area poultry plants and to tell them how a union can help them. Camelo, a Comboni Missionary from Brazil, is studying for his master’s degree at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Jenkins is a Presbyterian seminarian also studying in Chicago. The two were part of an interfaith group of 25 seminarians who fanned out across the country this summer to help unionize workers as a way to bring justice to the workplace. The 10-week project, called Seminary Summer, was organized and sponsored by the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice and the A.F.L.-C.I.O.

German Church Denies Abuse of WW II Laborers, Offers Compensation

The German Catholic Church denied it mistreated foreign forced laborers during World War II, but offered $2.3 million in compensation to those who may have suffered. The president of the bishops’ conference, Bishop Karl Lehmann of Mainz, said that the church and church organizations had employed foreign forced labor because so many of their staff members were serving as conscripts in the armed forces. The laborers were paid, fed and housed in the same way as German workers, Bishop Lehmann said. He referred to Nazi secret police reports that criticized the church for treating foreign forced laborers from Poland as brothers in faith, thus undermining the racist ideology of the Nazis, according to which the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe were inferior.

U.S. Bishops Working to Build Relations in Strife-Torn Countries

Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark, N.J., told delegates to a Vatican-organized meeting in Mozambique that the U.S. bishops are increasing efforts to reach out to bishops in strife-torn countries to help them fashion peace. The archbishop addressed church leaders from Africa, Latin America and the Vatican in Maputo on Aug. 25 at a meeting to discuss ways to end the dozens of civil conflicts around the world. Through C.R.S. the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency, the bishops have started to make visit to countries to support them in their own efforts in development and peace-building, said Archbishop McCarrick.

Pakistani Church Leaders Reject Government Devolution Plan

Church leaders in Pakistan say they reject the government’s power-devolution plan that upholds the country’s separate electorate system, which divides non-Muslims into several special electoral groups and lets them vote only for the few seats reserved in the national and provincial assemblies for the group they belong to. They have no representation based on geographical constituencies, as do Muslims.

We totally reject this devolution plan for being technically flawed, ill-conceived and against the interest of the people of Pakistan as it seeks to alienate political parties in the country and reinforce the division of citizens on the basis of religion, said the ecumenical statement. The present regime has ignored the fact that the demand for the restoration of joint electorates was supported by 19 political parties, added the statement signed by the moderator of the Church of Pakistan, Bishop Samuel Robert Azariah, and Father Emmanuel Yousaf, administrator of the Archdiocese of Lahore.

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