Signs of the Times

Christians, Muslims in Bethlehem Hold March for Peace

For the first time in almost two months Manger Square and the streets of Bethlehem were filled with people after dark as several hundred people participated in a candlelight march to protest Israeli-Palestinian clashes. In the last few months Bethlehem has been dead after 4 p.m. because fear has captured the life of the people, said Viola Raheb of the International Center of Bethlehem, which with the Christian Churches of Bethlehem and the National and Islamic Emergency Committee organized the march. This march is a sign that we will not let fear and anger take away our lives. We will take back our streets, Raheb said.

Vatican Official Meets Patriarch Alexei II in Moscow

In preparation for Pope John Paul II’s trip to Ukraine in 2001, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray met with the Orthodox patriarch of Moscow. The largest Ukrainian Orthodox community, which is under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarch, opposes the papal visit. In late November, during a visit to Moscow by Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, Patriarch Alexei reaffirmed that he would not meet the pope until Eastern Catholics stopped aggressive proselytism in Ukraine. Vatican officials and Ukrainian Catholic bishops said that Patriarch Alexei’s remarks were exaggerated.


Lutherans, Anglicans, Catholics Meet on Episcopal Authority

Episcopal authority is a gift received through God’s grace and should not be confused with power, agreed the six bishops who took part in the Lutheran-Anglican-Roman Catholic conference in Arlington on Dec. 1-2. The all-too-commonly accepted concept of authority as power is inadequate, said Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb of Mobile, Ala., in one of his keynote addresses to the gathering, known as LARC. It is important to see authority in a bishop, at least ideally, as a gift coming from God through Christ leading an individual to follow Christ more securely so that in the end he or she is brought back to the Father completely, he said.

Vatican Official Calls for More Just Relationship With Animals

Human dominion over the natural world must not be taken as an unqualified license to kill or inflict suffering on animals, a Vatican official said. The cramped and cruel methods used in the modern food industry may cross the line of morally acceptable treatment of animals, the official said in an article on Dec. 7 in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. The article, titled For a More Just Relationship With Animals, was written by Marie Hendrickx, a longtime official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

New Catholic Professorship at Kansas Public University

Archbishop James P. Keleher of Kansas City and officials of the University of Kansas signed an agreement to establish a Roman Catholic professorship at the public university in Lawrence. The professorship in the department of religious studies will be permanent and will be funded privately through the university endowment association. The association expects to receive matching dollars from the state of Kansas for the interest from the endowment fund. The agreement says the professorship will enhance the quality of education at the University of Kansas by broadening its ability to teach students about Roman Catholic thought and history and stimulate them to launch their own investigations of Roman Catholic traditions.

Although religious affiliation will not be a factor in the appointment, the parties agreed that the person selected should be a nationally recognized scholar in Roman Catholic studies and be familiar with the study and teaching of religion at a university. The search committee will be made up of at least seven people, three who will be agreeable to the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center. Final hiring authority rests with the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Catholic Official Criticizes AMA Action on 'Morning-After’ Pill

A spokeswoman for the U.S. bishops called it tragic that the American Medical Association would consider recommending over-the-counter sale of the so-called morning-after pill. Cathy Cleaver, director of planning and information for the bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, said the drug deprives new embryos of their ability to implant in the uterine wall and thereby brings about their death. Delegates at an A.M.A. convention in Orlando on Dec. 5 approved without discussion a resolution to increase education on and accessibility of the morning-after pill, and called on the Federal Drug Administration to consider making it available without a prescription.

Theologian Signs Affirmation, Vatican Ends Probe

The Vatican ended its investigation of an Austrian theologian after he signed a 16-point affirmation of Catholic doctrine drafted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. According to a notice published in L’Osservatore Romano, Reinhard Messner, who teaches at the University of Innsbruck, was under investigation because the congregation said some of his writings questioned whether Christ established the sacraments and downplayed the importance of the church in interpreting Scripture. The doctrinal congregation said Messner erred when he insisted that the Bible should be used to evaluate church teaching and practice, rather than using church teaching to interpret the Bible.

The 16 points, including an affirmation that the church’s interpretation of Scripture on matters of faith and morals is binding, must be held firmly if a theologian is to be considered Catholic, the congregation said. Messner’s signature and promise to reflect those beliefs in his future writing ended an almost three-year process of investigation and discussion with the congregation. Messner’s position on an ecclesiastical faculty within the state university requires him to have a nihil obstat from the Vatican, declaring that his teaching does not contain errors of faith.

Messner’s focus on Scripture as the norm leads to his conclusion that there is no way of knowing if Christ intended to institute the sacrament of the Eucharist when he celebrated the Last Supper, the congregation said. He also has written that from the breaking of the bread’ of primitive Christianity no direct line leads to our eucharistic celebration. The doctrinal congregation said there are similar problems with Messner’s writing about the sacrament of penance, its institution by Christ and its relationship to nonsacramental forms of forgiveness.

Among the 16 statements of faith which Messner affirmed was one saying: The church in faith knows, and therefore teaches in a binding manner, that in addition to the sacrament of baptism which remits sins, Christ instituted the sacrament of penance as the sacrament of forgiveness.

Voucher Program Overturned

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati ruled on Dec. 11 against Cleveland’s school voucher program, saying it involves the grant of state aid directly and predominantly to the coffers of the private, religious schools, and it is unquestioned that these institutions incorporate religious concepts, motives, and themes into all facets of their educational planning. The court said, There is no neutral aid when that aid principally flows to religious institutions, nor is there truly private choice’ when the available choices resulting from the program design are predominantly religious. The decision will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Although the Cleveland program is open to public as well as religious schools, nearly all the participants are in church-run schools. It provides up to $2,500 per student per year for low-income families to pay tuition at participating schools outside the Cleveland public school district. This school year, 3,761 students attending 56 schools participate. Forty-six of the schools are church affiliated. Students at the religious schools account for 96 percent of the participants.

Food for Poor Sends Audits to Church, Civil Officials

Officials of Food for the Poor in Deerfield Beach, Fla., say that now-completed internal audits commissioned by its board of directors show that financial improprieties by its founder and former C.E.O., Ferdinand Mahfood, were finite and limited. Officials, who released a summary report on the audits, also said they show that proper financial controls are in place to safeguard agency funds and future operations. The full audit reports on the Catholic overseas relief agency have been sent to its board of directors, the F.B.I. and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

The audits came in the wake of Mahfood’s resignation on Sept. 25. He gave up his position after admitting he had diverted charitable donationsnow estimated at more than $400,000to two female members of his staff with whom he was sexually involved and to members of their families. The funds were diverted during an eight-month period prior to Mahfood’s resignation, but they have since been restored, according to the agency’s spokesman, Adam Hollingsworth.

The summary said the investigation was completed by William Xanttopoulos, a former assistant U.S. attorney who examined the facts and circumstances of Mahfood’s misconduct. He also reviewed all other areas of the organization and confirmed the limited scope of the improper finances. His findings were independently verified by two prominent accounting firms, Rachlin, Cohen and Holtz and KPMG Peat Marwick. Food for the Poor solicits donations through advertising in religious publications, including America.

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