Signs of the Times

Pope Tells Bush of Deep Concern About Iraq

In their first meeting since the Iraq war, Pope John Paul II told U.S. President George W. Bush he was deeply concerned about the grave unrest in Iraq and called for a speedy restoration of the country’s sovereignty. During a 50-minute encounter on June 4, the pope firmly reminded the president of the Vatican’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq last year.

The recent appointment of a head of state in Iraq and the formation of an interim Iraqi government are an encouraging step toward the attainment of this goal, the pope said, in a speech delivered in a strained and halting voice. The pope described international terrorism as a source of constant concern. But in an apparent reference to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers, he said recent deplorable events have undermined the values that are essential to defeating terrorism.


Speaking of their past differences on Iraq and the Middle East, the pope said the president was very familiar with the unequivocal position of the Holy See as expressed in numerous documents, direct contacts and diplomatic efforts. It is the evident desire of everyone that this situation now be normalized as quickly as possible with the active participation of the international community and, in particular, the United Nations organization, in order to ensure a speedy return of Iraq’s sovereignty, in conditions of security for all its people, he said, and expressed hope that a similar process would take hold in the Holy Land, where he said fresh negotiations are needed between Israel and the Palestinians.

The pope praised the president for his commitment to promoting moral values in American society, particularly when it comes to respect for life and the family. He also thanked the United States and its humanitarian agencies, particularly Catholic agencies, for their work in African countries that face fratricidal conflicts, pandemic illnesses and a degrading poverty.

The pope recalled the Allied liberation of Rome and noted that many American soldiers gave their lives for their country and for the freedom of the peoples of Europe. He prayed that the mistakes of the past that led to the tragedy of war would not be repeated again, and he said U.S.-European cooperation was sorely needed today.

After the papal audience, Mr. Bush met for about 45 minutes with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state, and other leading Vatican foreign affairs experts. A Vatican source said the talks did not break new ground, and that the president’s comments on Iraq and the Holy Land were fairly generic. The president explained his determination to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq, but there was no detailed discussion of how the United Nations might assume a more important transition role, the source said.

The group also discussed the situation in the Holy Land. The Vatican expressed its concern about the lack of meaningful negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and the plight of Christians in the area. The president said he was working to bring the two parties together, but wanted to be sure that any peace plan has solid backing from both sides and will not fall apart near the finish line.

The fact that this was an election-year visit may explain why the Vatican, while granting Bush a full-regalia welcome, did not bring in the U.S. cardinals and monsignors at the Vatican, U.S. seminarians studying in Rome or men and women religious and other Americans who work in and around the Holy See. That helped ensure that this encounter did not resemble a campaign stop. The Vatican’s Clementine Hall was about one-third empty when the president and the pope delivered their speeches, and most of those in attendance were either journalists or U.S. government employees who had come with the president. A group of 15 Western U.S. bishops, who had just finished meeting the pope before Bush arrived, were quietly ushered out and did not participate. When U.S. President Bill Clinton came to the Vatican in 1994, he addressed a lively crowd in the Clementine Hall and stopped to chat with many of the Americans.

Bishops to Begin Review of Sexual Abuse Policies

As dioceses continue implementing policies to prevent sexual abuse of children, bishops are starting to examine whether some of these policies should be modified. An issue already being debated is the degree of autonomy that should be exercised by the Office of Child and Youth Protection and the National Review Board. The two entities, composed completely of laity, were created by the bishops to help dioceses implement and monitor compliance with policies. But some bishops have complained that both have been acting too independently, cutting into the autonomy the bishops should have in running their diocesan affairs.

The bishops, at their assembly in Denver, Colo., on June 14-19, are scheduled to discuss a second annual audit of how dioceses are implementing policies and funding for an analytical study of the causes and context of the crisis of sexual abuse by clergy. Both involve functions undertaken by the National Review Board and the Office of Child and Youth Protection. Not on the bishops’ formal agenda, but already sparking public debate among bishops, priests, canon lawyers and victims, is what has been termed zero tolerance or the one-strike-you’re-out policy [see article in this issue by Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J.]. A full review of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, approved by the bishops in 2002, is expected to take place at the bishops’ November meeting in Washington, D.C., after a preliminary airing of charter issues at the June meeting in Denver.

Bishops also will have the chance to discuss modifying the review board’s membership. Four of the current 12 board members have announced their intention of resigning once replacements have been named. The board is appointed by the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, currently Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., who has said he would name replacements after consultation within the hierarchy.

Prior to the June meeting, some bishops were questioning how the review board and office of child protection have been operating. Archbishop Henry J. Mansell of Hartford, Conn., complained in a letter of Feb. 12 about disturbing trends toward growing independence by both organizations. They appear to be expanding their competence, responsibilities, activities and studies in a dynamic of autonomy, he wrote to Bishop Gregory. The letter expressed the views of Archbishop Mansell and three other bishops.

Another letter to Bishop Gregory on Feb. 12, signed by 23 bishops from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, urged that bishops should make sure the public knew that only the bishops have authority to approve recommendations for policies about sexual abuse of children. The letter urged bishops not to give the impression to the media that the numerous recommendations coming from the Office of Child and Youth Protection are in any way assured before they are discussed by the bishops. A similar position was taken by three bishops from Nebraska in a letter of Feb. 12.

The Dallas charter authorizes the child protection office to produce an annual public report on the progress made in implementing charter policies. For some bishops, producing an annual report does not necessarily entail annual audits, as audits are not stipulated in the charter. Some alternate suggestions have included:

follow-up audits on only those dioceses that were not in compliance,

audits on only those aspects of diocesan policies that were not in full compliance,

development of mechanisms by which regional groupings of dioceses can do their own oversight.

Bishop David L. Ricken of Cheyenne, Wyo., added that audits are very impractical and heavily burdensome for smaller dioceses, both economically and administratively.

For Justice Anne M. Burke, interim chairwoman of the review board, a credible annual report is not possible without some form of periodic auditing to ensure that compliance with policies continues from year to year. How can an annual report be prepared or approved without information obtained by the audits? she asked in a letter to Bishop Gregory on March 29.

Church Tax-Exempt Status Creates Pitfalls

The election-related pitfalls of federal tax-exempt status held by many religious institutions apply to everything from homilies and newspaper editorials to voter guides and political ads, an attorney for the U.S. bishops explained to a meeting of the Catholic Press Association on May 26. Deirdre Dessingue, from the office of the general counsel to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said it is that tax-exempt status, not the U.S. Constitution, that creates the legal need for religious organizations to tread carefully in election years.

The tax code bars exempt organizations from participating or intervening in a political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate. The I.R.S. draws the line at an act of political intervention by a bishop, priest or other church representative at an official function of the churchat Mass, for exampleor in an official publication of the churchlike the diocesan newspaper, she said. Those actions would likely be attributed to the church and be considered a violation of the tax-code restrictions.

A priest or minister is free to act on his own, in a manner and setting that do not tie him to the church, including supporting or opposing a candidate or party, she explained. The distinction becomes less clear if the clergyman’s personal political action is then reported by a church publication, say, with a headline such as Minister Jones endorses Candidate Smith, according to Dessingue. The U.S.C.C.B.’s general counsel’s office prepares a guide to following the I.R.S. regulations. The guide can be viewed online at:

Catholic University Turns Down N.A.A.C.P. Chapter

The Catholic University of America turned down a request for an N.A.A.C.P. chapter on its campus in Washington, D.C. Victor Nakas, director of public affairs for the university, said on June 4 that the school denied the request mainly because there are already two campus groups representing African-American studentsthe Black Organization of Students at Catholic University of America and Minority Voices, an umbrella group for minority organizations. He said university student life officials determined that an N.A.A.C.P. chapter would overlap with other organizations and duplicate what is already available.

Another factor that caused concern, Nakas said, was that the 95-year-old civil rights advocacy group had endorsed on its Web site the April 25 March for Women’s Lives, a march to keep abortion legal. William Jawando, the student who tried to form the student campus group, told reporters that a charter N.A.A.C.P. group would not take a position on abortion and that nothing in our constitution says anything about abortion.

News Briefs

Pope John Paul II urged U.S. bishops to counter erroneous yet pervasive thinking that has paved the way for acceptance of social evils like abortion, pornography and homosexual unions. The pope said on June 4 that over the last 40 years in the United States, human rights have become detached from the search for truth and have sometimes turned into self-centered demands.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wants to meet soon with a U.S. bishops’ task force to help clarify controversial questions over church teachings and Catholic politicians, according to Bishop Donald E. Pelotte of Gallup, N.M. Cardinal Ratzinger told American bishops visiting Rome that church leaders should be cautious about refusing Communion to Catholic politicians who oppose church teachings on abortion and other pro-life issues.

Hong Kong’s bishop is urging Catholics to fight for the vindication of victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun also urged Catholics to be prepared to defend the one country, two systems principle in Hong Kong, according to a report in UCA News.

The U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League has expressed its great distress over the Vatican’s plans to beatify a 19th-century stigmatic nun whose visions the league says fomented hatred and anti-Semitism. In a press release on June 7, the A.D.L. said the beatification of Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich, a German, could cause harm to Jewish-Christian relations. The league said many of the scenes it found troubling in Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ were inspired by Sister Emmerich’s book of visions, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

New restrictive measures announced by the United States will only make life harder for the poorest families of our nation, said the Cuban bishops. They criticized U.S. measures to further restrict travel to Cuba, especially by people with relatives there, and further limit the money sent to Cuba by Cubans living in the United States.

While one has a clear and grave obligation to vote against legislation that bolsters abortion, the practice of refusing Communion to politicians who support keeping abortion legal is not part of the pastoral tradition of the church, Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh said in an address on May 25.

Anytime an individual is tortured or debased, all humanity suffers, because all were created in God’s image, Pope John Paul II said. Because each person is our brother in humanity, we cannot be silent in the face of such intolerable treatment, the pope said in a speech on May 27 to seven ambassadors beginning their service at the Vatican.

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago denied the Eucharist to protesters wearing rainbow sashes on Pentecost Sunday. He and several gay activists said the problem wasn’t that the protesters were identifying themselves as homosexual but that they were using the Eucharist to make a political statement.

In a landmark move Catholic Healthcare West and the Service Employees International Union have reached a tentative agreement on a California-wide master contract covering 14,000 workers in 28 Catholic Healthcare West facilities across the state.

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