Signs of the Times

Cardinal Examines Ways to Recover Moral Voice

Although the Catholic Church has always provided a moral voice for the modern world on such issues as abortion and war, the voice has lost its force and perhaps become more of a whisper than the shout it once was, said Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago. While the message remains the same, the moral force of the church’s voice is quite weakened now, the cardinal said on Jan. 25 at the Cardinal Bernardin Early Childhood Center in Chicago.

The cardinal said the church’s voice has lost some of its influence as society has come to value personal freedom over objective moral authority. Also, since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, society is skeptical of people who are religious out of fear that they might lean toward the fanaticism demonstrated by the terrorists, who claimed to be acting in the name of God, he said. The crisis of sexual abuse by members of the clergy exploded into this milieu of skepticism about religion, Cardinal George said, causing people to question further the church’s claim to moral authority.


Cardinal George suggested that for the church’s moral voice to be heard, the church must listen to those in society who oppose it. Who is the enemy of the church’s moral teaching? he said. Listen carefully to the opponents. Why are they saying what they’re saying? Where is the future of the church as a teaching institution and of the context in which the church teaches? The church, the cardinal said, may outlast a culture that says people should be able to do anything they want, provided they don’t hurt anybody. If she’s still around, he said, the church might play a part in picking up the pieces when something falls apart that nobody expects to fall apart.

Vatican Releases Church Statistical Yearbook

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state, and personnel from the Vatican’s Central Office of Church Statistics presented the first copy of the Vatican’s Annuario Pontificio for the year 2004, to Pope John Paul II during an audience on Feb. 3. According to the 2,000-page book, at the end of 2002:

There were more than 1.07 billion Catholics worldwide, an increase of 11 million over the previous year.

Out of a world population of more than 6.2 billion people, Catholics account for 17.2 percent.

Fifty percent of the world’s Catholics live in the Americas; 26.1 percent are in Europe; 12.8 percent are in Africa; 10.3 percent live in Asia; and 0.8 percent live in Oceania.

Catholics make up 62.4 percent of the population in the Americas, 40.5 percent of the European population, 26.8 percent of the population in Oceania, 16.5 percent of the African population and 3 percent of the Asian population. (The Official Catholic Directory reports that Catholics make up 23 percent of the U.S. population.)

There were 405,058 Catholic priests worldwide, only 9 fewer than at the end of 2001.

The number of diocesan priests rose from 266,448 in 2001 to 267,334 in 2002, while the number of priests in religious orders declined from 138,619 in 2001 to 137,724 in 2002.

There were 4,695 Catholic bishops, 30,097 permanent deacons, 54,828 religious brothers and 782,932 religious women.

The church’s workforce includes: 28,766 members of secular institutes, 143,745 lay missionaries and more than 2.7 million catechists.

The number of major seminarians rose from 112,244 in 2001 to 112,982 in 2002. In Africa, the number grew by 5.8 percent, and in the Americas seminary enrollment increased by 1.4 percent. Europe and Asia reported slight declines.

Panel Faults Prison for Geoghan’s Death

An investigative report on the murder of John Geoghan in his prison cell last August blamed major administrative breakdowns for an unwarranted transfer that placed the defrocked priest among some of the state’s most dangerous inmates. The report by the three-member panel appointed by Edward A. Flynn, the state public safety secretary, was released on Feb. 3. It says that Geoghan, 68, who was serving a 10-year sentence for fondling a child, should not have been moved from the M.C.I.-Concord prison, where he was originally assigned, to the protective custody unit at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Mass., where he was killed by another inmate on Aug. 23.

Most of the inquiry report’s criticisms were aimed at the medium-security facility at M.C.I.-Concord, where it said Geoghan was unduly harassed and physically abused. It said one guard at M.C.I.-Concord slapped Geoghan in the face, and guards there filed numerous overzealous and unwarranted disciplinary reports on him over minor infractions. The number of reports against him played a significant role in Geoghan’s being reassigned to a more dangerous security classification, it said.

Supervisory staff lacked any meaningful oversight over the guards’ actions against Geoghan, it said. The three-member classification board at M.C.I.-Concord rejected the move to reclassify Geoghan on the basis of the alleged disciplinary problems, but prison superintendent Michael Grant overrode the board decision and directed that he be transferred. Officials at the Massachusetts Department of Correction approved the reclassification, rejected three separate appeals against it by Geoghan and had him moved to the maximum security facility, where he was murdered five months later.

News Briefs

H.I.V./AIDS has moved into first place among concerns of church agencies in the area of corporate responsibility, according to the director of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. Patricia Wolf, of the Sisters of Mercy, said the agencies were asking corporations to evaluate the impact of H.I.V./AIDS on their workforce and to report on how they were responding with programs of treatment and prevention. A stockholder resolution on H.I.V./AIDS has been filed with American International Group, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil, Ford and PepsiCo.

Many priests who have abused children are not entering treatment programs now because they have little incentive to do so under the U.S. bishops’ zero tolerance policy of dismissing priests from ministry for even one act of abuse, said the Rev. Stephen Rossetti, president of St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md. He believes that many such priests could be treated to prevent future abuse and then perform limited, supervised ministry, if diagnosed as at low risk for relapse.

Mexican bishops said they want to play a more active role in the nation’s political life and will lobby the government this year to ease Mexico’s anticlerical laws. During last year’s midterm congressional elections, left-wing political parties sued 11 bishops and priests for telling parishioners not to vote for parties that supported the legalization of abortion and same-sex marriages. Article 130 of the Mexican constitution bans church officials from inducing the electorate to vote in favor [of] or against a candidate or political party. Bishops said the anticlerical laws infringe on their rights to free speech and religious freedom.

In a document addressed to Pope John Paul II and top church officials, a Lefebvrite bishop blamed the Vatican’s modern efforts in ecumenism for what he called a silent apostasy sweeping the world. Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the schismatic Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X, said the church’s postconciliar vision of Christian unity has played a major role in the phenomenon of Christians abandoning their faith and in moral relativism.

A French cardinal said a proposed law banning religious symbols from state schools appears to be unenforceable. Cardinal Bernard Panafieu of Marseille said the state would do better to act through persuasion than by compulsion if it wanted to control the use of religious symbols in its schools. A draft of the proposed law would ban the wearing of Muslim veils, large Christian crosses and Jewish skullcaps from state schools beginning in September.

The fact that a marriage has failed can never be adequate proof that the marriage was invalid from the beginning, Pope John Paul II said. In a speech on Jan. 29 to the Roman Rota, a Vatican court that handles mostly marriage cases, the pope defended the Catholic Church’s practice of presuming a marriage is valid unless serious proof is offered for its annulment.

Angelo D’Agostino, S.J., a psychiatrist with 24 years’ experience in Africa, said AIDS is killing 400 people a day in Kenya, while in Europe and North America it is no longer considered a fatal disease. He said this difference in mortality rates is due to the genocidal action of the drug cartels who refuse to make the drugs affordable in Africa even after they reported a $517 billion profit in 2002.

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