Signs of the Times

Two Archbishops Challenge Lawmakers on Abortion

Two U.S. archbishops have challenged Catholic legislators to be faithful to the church’s teaching on abortion and the sanctity of life. Archbishop-elect Raymond L. Burke formally notified Catholic lawmakers in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., that they cannot receive Communion if they continue to support procured abortion or euthanasia. The four-paragraph canonical notification, published on Jan. 8 in The Catholic Times, the diocesan newspaper, called upon Catholic legislators in the diocese to uphold the natural and divine law regarding the inviolable dignity of all human life.... To fail to do so is a grave public sin and gives scandal to all the faithful.

Archbishop Burke, who was to be installed on Jan. 26 as the new archbishop of St. Louis, released the canonical notification along with a 10-page pastoral letter to Catholics of the La Crosse Diocese about their political responsibility to uphold the value of human life.


Catholic legislators who are members of the faithful of the Diocese of La Crosse and who continue to support procured abortion or euthanasia may not present themselves to receive holy Communion, the notification said. They are not to be admitted to holy Communion, should they present themselves, until such time as they publicly renounce their support of these most unjust practices.

According to Archbishop Burke, the notification became necessary as an outcome of his correspondence with three Catholic legislators. After several exchanges of letters, it became clear in all three cases that there was no willingness to conform to the teaching of the church, he said. So the notification became a necessity in order that the faithful in the diocese not be scandalized, thinking that it is acceptable for a devout Catholic to also be pro-abortion. Archbishop Burke has declined to name the three politicians, but secular news reports have identified two of them as Julie Lassa, a state senator, and U.S. Representative David R. Obey (Democrat of Wisconsin).

Elsewhere, the archbishop of New Orleans said in his archdiocesan newspaper column that while public officials sometimes have to support imperfect legislation on issues such as abortion, they should still be acting to help protect human life at all stages. In a column in the Clarion-Herald on Jan. 14, Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes said that sometimes public officials have to make a prudential judgment that at a given time in human history only imperfect legislation is possible.

Archbishop Hughes said the Louisiana bishops were sending to Catholic elected officials in the state copies of the Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life, issued a year ago by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It notes, he said, that when Catholic officials openly support the taking of human life in abortion, euthanasia or the destruction of human embryos, they are no longer faithful members in the church and should not partake of holy Communion. Moreover, citizens who promote this unjust taking of human life by their vote or support of such candidates share in responsibility for this grave evil.

In his column, Archbishop Hughes wrote that if the intent of a politician’s effort is to limit the evil as much as possible, no other approach to legislation seems feasible, and the legislation does not eliminate the possibility of introducing more restrictive laws in a more favorable political climate, it is legitimate for public officials to support such [imperfect] legislation. For public officials in such a position, however, it is important that they are publicly on record in support of legislation which is committed to the truth about the fullness of respect for human life.

On other moral issues, Archbishop Hughes said Catholic public officials should exercise prudential judgment and always be a witness to what is morally correct. For instance, he said, a pastoral judgment needs to be made whether, in a particular instance, capital punishment is morally justifiable. Our Holy Father and the U.S. bishops have cautioned that, in their judgment, the situations that justify capital punishment are severely limited, if not nonexistent.

In the case of the church teaching that war should be a last resort and that specific conditions must be fulfilled, the archbishop said the Catechism of the Catholic Church indicates that the responsibility to make such decisions about war weighs heavily upon those who have responsibility for the common good.

Archbishop Hughes said on other life issues it is always important to witness to what is morally correct. At the same time, we preserve the rightful freedom of individuals to make prudential judgments about the use of extraordinary means to prolong life when a person is terminally ill.

When the issue at hand is artificial contraception, he said, it may not be realistic to try to adopt legislation to make it illegal, but it is certainly possible to work for legislation to ensure the rightful freedom of conscience for medical workers, health care facilities and pharmacists to abide by their moral convictions and to protect citizens from having to pay for the provision of contraceptive services to others.

Archbishop Hughes concluded his column by saying public discourse needs to be marked by civility. We need courage and honesty to speak the truth about human life, he said. We need humility to listen to both friend and opponent. We need perseverance to continue the struggle for the protection of human life. We need prudence to know when and how to act in the public arena.

H.I.V. Sex Without Condom Also Violates Fifth Commandment

Someone who is infected with the H.I.V. virus and decides to have sex with an uninfected person has to protect his partner by using a condom, said Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Mechelen-Brussels. Speaking on the Dutch Catholic television program Kruispunt on Jan. 11, he said that sexual activity should be confined to marriage and that abstinence is morally correct and safe in offering protection against H.I.V. infection. But, Cardinal Danneels said, If a person infected with H.I.V. has decided to not respect abstinence, then he has to protect his partner, and he can do thatin this caseby using a condom. Otherwise, he said, an H.I.V.-positive person engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage without a condom not only breaks the Sixth Commandment, You shall not commit adultery, but he is also violating the Fifth Commandment, You shall not kill.

The church teaches that married couples should not use condoms and other contraceptive devices. Some church leaders, including some French and African bishops, have said that if a condom is being used to avoid a life-threatening disease, its use is not necessarily a contraceptive action.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 28 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live with H.I.V. or AIDS. The region leads the world in new infections, including three million adults and children who contracted the disease in 2003. Since the beginning of the worldwide H.I.V./AIDS epidemic 20 years ago, some 21.8 million people have died.

Vatican Official Says U.S. Abuse Norms Are Fair and Workable

The U.S. norms for dealing with priests accused of sexual abusein tandem with the Vatican’s more universal rulesare proving fair and workable, said Msgr. Charles Scicluna, a Vatican doctrinal official who deals directly with many of the cases. The norms were worked out between U.S. bishops and Vatican officials in a highly publicized series of meetings in 2002. They give bishops a number of options for dealing with accused priests, with the Vatican retaining oversight and final decision-making authority in most cases. The system is necessarily complex and deliberate, but it is working, he said. Some priests have been permanently removed from ministry, some have been laicized and some have been scheduled for a church trial, he said.

While the measures against abusive priests are strong, the process has adequately protected the rights of the accused and offered them a chance to appeal the decision of bishops and the Vatican, he said. As the promoter of justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Monsignor Scicluna acts as a type of prosecutor in sexual abuse cases. He said that under the new rules there are five basic options for dealing with sexual abuse accusations against priests:

The priest, penitent for his behavior and recognizing that it is incompatible with his ministry, requests laicization from the pope.

Even when not requested by the priest, the pope can decide to dismiss the priest from the clerical state. This is done only in grave and clear cases, a process of last resort, Monsignor Scicluna said. Typically, the doctrinal congregation makes the request for forced laicization on the recommendation of the local bishop, he said. It is anything but pro forma. Pope John Paul II, for example, asks questions and studies the facts of the case before making his decision, Monsignor Scicluna said. The pope’s decision is not subject to appeal or review.

A bishop or the Vatican can impose a penalty on the priest using an administrative penal process (described in Canon 1720 of the Code of Canon Law) without going through a church trial. If the bishop decides that the penalty should be permanent dismissal from the clerical state, he needs approval from the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation; if he decides on a lesser penalty, he can decree it on his own authority. This solution is used in cases where the facts are so apparently clear as to make a church trial unnecessary. But a priest does have recourse, by presenting an appeal before the full membershipcardinals and bishopsof the doctrinal congregation.

A trial of the accused priest can be conducted, typically by diocesan tribunals. These are church trials and the penalties are spiritual, as opposed to civil trials that may carry jail terms or other penalties. The decisions and penalties of the diocesan court can be appealed by the priest to the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation, which reviews all diocesan trials. As promoter of justice, Monsignor Scicluna can also appeal the local decision, for example, if he believes a conviction was warranted for a priest who was absolved.

In cases where a priest known to have been abusive cannot be prosecuted under church law for technical reasons, a disciplinary action can still be imposed on himsuch as limiting or removing him from direct ministry or, after consulting with psychological experts, declaring him impeded from the exercise of ministry. The priest can appeal these disciplinary measures to officials of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation or to the full membership of the congregation.

The doctrinal congregation has determined that since church law refers to a sin against the Sixth Commandment with a minor, such abuse does not necessarily involve physical contact. For example, it can involve exposing minors to pornography or, even less directly, the downloading of pedophile pornography over the Internet.

Problems arise when allegations are made many years after the abuse occurred, making it difficult to gather evidence and interview witnesses. Many times, the church court must base its judgment on moral certainty of the crime, as opposed to the discovery of incontestable evidence, Monsignor Scicluna said. In many cases, civil proceedings against an abusive priest give the Vatican and local bishops the kind of clear evidence needed to take steps against the priest and often remove the need for a lengthy church trial. One sign of the importance given to civil trials is that church officials are ready to suspend a canonical investigation in order not to disturb a civil investigation, he said.

Because of the care taken in reviewing cases of clerical sexual abuse, combined with the relatively small number of experts available to the doctrinal congregation, many cases take months to resolve. In the case of a trial, the time is even longer.

Monsignor Scicluna said that despite concerns when the norms were adopted, the rights of priests have been guaranteed at every step of the process. Even if there is an administrative process against a priest in lieu of a church trial, he said, three key elements are present: the accused knows the allegations, he has the right to respond, and he has the right to appeal.

In working on sexual abuse cases, Monsignor Scicluna said, the Vatican has followed two main principles: If a person is a risk to minors, he should not be in ministry; and if his ministry is a scandal to the community, he should not be in ministry. That policy stems from the pope’s statement in 2002 that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young. Sometimes removal from ministry is not enough, and the priest is also removed from the priesthood. It is the gravity of the offensesomething measured case by casethat takes it to this second step, Msgr. Scicluna said.

Pope Never Commented on Gibson’s Film, Says Secretary

Pope John Paul II never said, "It is as it was," after watching Mel Gibson’s film on the passion of Jesus, said the pope’s longtime personal secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz. The Holy Father told no one his opinion of this film, said the archbishop, who watched the film in the pope’s apartment with the pope in early December. The film, The Passion of the Christ, is Gibson’s interpretation of the last 12 hours of Christ’s life and is set for release in the United States on Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday. The alleged papal quote has appeared in hundreds of newspapers around the world as an unequivocal endorsement of Gibson’s controversial film, even though the papal spokesman, Joaquín Navarro-Valls, refused to confirm that the pope said it.

News Briefs

Poland’s Catholic church is seeking the canonization of Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma, who were executed along with their children by the Nazis during World War II for sheltering Jews.

While the Iraqi people have a right to control their country’s destiny, they are not ready for direct elections, said Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq.

On Jan. 9 Pope John Paul II encouraged Italy to continue its peacekeeping and humanitarian missions abroad, even while knowing some of the missions carry risks, citing the November deaths of Italian military police in Iraq and of Italian volunteers in other parts of the world.

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