Signs of the Times

Bishops Join Death Penalty Moratorium Appeal to Clinton

The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference and the chairman of its Domestic Policy Committee are among 40 prominent Americans who have asked President Clinton to declare a moratorium on federal executions. The first execution since 1963 of someone convicted under federal law is scheduled for Dec. 12 at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. Juan Raul Garza, of Brownsville, Tex., was convicted of three murders under the federal drug kingpin statute.

The Nov. 20 letter listed a number of problems with how the death penalty is applied and asked Clinton to stop federal executions while the government continues to consider whether gross unfairness has led to death sentences for some people, while others have received lighter sentences. Among the signers of the letter were Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops; Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles, chairman of the bishops’ Domestic Policy Committee; and Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton of Detroit.


Vatican Issues Norms on Faith-Healing Services

New Vatican norms on faith-healing services say prayer meetings for healing need the approval of local church authorities and must avoid anything resembling hysteria. While recognizing that prayers for healing have a long and legitimate tradition in the church, the Vatican said there should be no confusion between these special services and liturgical celebrations. Several of the norms stressed that prayer gatherings for healing should remain separate from the celebration of Mass and the sacraments. It said the prayers for exorcism must remain separate from healing services and that the ministry of exorcism must be done in strict dependence on the diocesan bishop. It said a climate of peaceful devotion should reign in healing services, and if healings occur they should be reported and documented to competent church officials.

U.S. Jewish Groups Dislike Bishops’ Mideast Message

The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League expressed disappointment over the U.S. bishops’ special message on Returning to the Path of Peace in the Middle East, issued on Nov. 15. The national director of A.D.L., Abraham H. Foxman, said: We are dismayed by the position taken by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.... In the efforts to deal with this issue evenhandedly, they sidestep the underlying problem of the Palestinian Authority’s unwillingness to curb the violence or to protect Jewish holy sites from being vandalized and desecrated. In a 500-word statement, the American Jewish Committee said it is disappointed for what is omitted in the message.

Palestinians’ Economic Situation Worsening, Aid Agencies Say

The economic situation of the Palestinians in the West Bank is deteriorating drastically after two months of violence, say Catholic aid agencies in Jerusalem. In many of the villages where we are working, more and more people are reaching a point where they are running out of money, said Catholic Relief Services’ country representative, Susan Silveus. For the first two or three weeks people had reserves, and they had ways of coping, but now it is going into the long term, and people are getting depressed. Along with Caritas Jerusalem, C.R.S. has been reaching out to the poorer sector of Palestinian society, trying to determine the immediate needs of the people. In addition to its food program, Silveus said C.R.S., the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency, is shifting its tactics and plans more labor-intensive projects, in which people will be paid for their work.

Oregon Religious Leaders Urge Action on Global Warming

Saying that their faith calls Jews and Christians to care for the Earth, religious leaders in Oregon are calling for action on global warming. Leading scientists now warn that our continued and increasing use of fossil fuels, deforestation and pollution are accelerating a warming of the world’s climate that will dramatically and negatively alter the conditions of life on Earth, the leaders say in a statement. Our faith communities cannot ignore these warnings. About 50 rabbis, ministers and others have signed the statement, and more were expected to sign.

3,600 Risk Arrest at This Year’s School of the Americas Protest

Here I am, Lord. So said close to 10,000 people who gathered on Nov. 19 at the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., to demand the closing of the U.S. Army School of the Americas. About 3,600 people walked onto the military installation, risking arrest and prosecution, in an act of peaceful civil disobedience. Some of the school’s graduates have been implicated in the murders of hundreds of people in Latin American countries. The demonstration, now in its 11th year, was organized by SOA Watch, led by Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois.

Vietnamese Archbishop Says Human Rights Must Not Be Sidelined

In the wake of U.S. President Bill Clinton’s visit to Vietnam, a Vietnamese archbishop said human rights must not be sidelined amid economic reform and greater openness to the West. Attention needs to be paid not only to rebuilding the economy, Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh City told Catholic News Service in a written statement on Nov. 21. Human rights, he said on the heels of Clinton’s Nov. 16-19 trip, make up the foundation on which the dignity and happiness of every human being and people are built. The first U.S. president to visit a united Vietnam, Clinton met with the Vietnamese president, prime minister and Communist Party chief in Hanoi, promising to open a new chapter in relations between the former foes.

South African Church Official Alarmed at European Arms Deal

Church officials in South Africa expressed alarm at a multibillion-rand arms deal the government has made with European defense contractors. Very serious allegations of corruption have been made, and the only way to put the public’s mind at rest is a thorough investigation, said Archbishop Wilfrid Napier of Durban, president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference. South African regulators have started laying the groundwork for a massive multiagency probe into the arms deal. The investigation aims to get to the bottom of allegations of corruption involving government officials.

Problem of Homeless Kids Called an 'International Crisis'

The problem of homeless children is an international crisis, said the national president of Covenant House. Sister Mary Rose McGeady, D.C., speaking at the 15th anniversary of Covenant House in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Nov. 11, said the United Nations estimates that there are 200 million homeless children worldwide. I am constantly besieged for more Covenant Houses. The numbers are not going down; they’re going up, said Sister McGeady. The problem of kids disconnected from their families is an international crisis.

Congolese Bishops Urge U.S. Effort to Help End Conflict

Congolese bishops urged Americans to press the U.S. government to help bring an end to the war in Congo and send aid to its suffering people. We believe that the American people, if they were aware of what was going on, and because they hold so dearly to peace, to justice and to their liberty...would not allow in the 21st century a situation where a country could live under forced occupation by two invading armies. There is no way the American people would tolerate this, said Bishop Valentin Masengo Nkinda of Kabinda in an interview on Nov. 17.

Pope Praises International Law Against Child Labor

Pope John Paul II praised a new international law aimed at eradicating some of the worst kinds of child labor as a major contribution to the defense of children. In a telegram to Juan Somavia, director-general of the International Labor Organization, the pope said he hoped that all of the I.L.O.’s member states would quickly ratify and fully apply the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention or Convention 182, which came into force as international law on Nov. 19. The law requires signatories to prohibit and eliminate forms of child labor like slavery, prostitution, pornography, forced service in armed conflicts, drug trafficking and all other work harmful or hazardous to the health, safety or morals of girls and boys under 18 years of age. As of Nov. 20, nearly 50 countries, including the United States and Canada, had ratified the convention, unanimously adopted by I.L.O. members in June 1999. The I.L.O. estimates that some 250 million children aged 5 to 14 are victims of child labor around the world, half of them working full time. Of these, it says tens of millions are caught in the worst forms of labor targeted by Convention 182.

First Catholic Music Awards

The singer Dana Scallon and the liturgical music composer Marty Haugen dominated the first Unity Awards honoring the best Catholic music and videos. Scallon, the onetime candidate for president of Ireland who records professionally as Dana, won or shared in seven awards, and Haugen won all four awards for which he was nominated. The awards ceremony was sponsored by the new United Catholic Music and Video Association.

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