Signs of the Times

Ukrainian Catholic Leaders Back Opposition, Speak of Electoral Fraud

Ukrainian Catholic leaders backed opposition protests and said the presidential elections on Nov. 21 were marked by fraud. They also urged the government to avoid violence as hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets of western Ukraine to protest election results that declared pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich the winner.

When people take to the streets to defend their constitutional rights in a peaceful way, they are not a dark mass off the street.’ These are brave people, self-sacrificing and responsible, who should be honored and whose voice should be heard, for the voice of the people is the voice of God,’ said the synod of Ukrainian Catholic bishops, whose Eastern-rite church has some 3,300 parishes, mostly in western Ukraine. Their statement was released at a press conference in Lviv on Nov. 23.


The bishops said that before the election, the church had urged citizens to vote for a worthy candidate...according to the voice of conscience. But the elections, they said, were marred by one-sided information, buying votes and other abuses, while attempts had been made to falsify the results.

Our church did not campaign for any of the candidates. In our pastoral addresses to the faithful, we emphasized the importance of preserving democratic principles, said the statement, signed by Cardinal Lubomir Husar of Lviv. Today the nation is convinced that democratic principles were violated.

Although exit polls showed opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko leading by as much as 11 percent, Ukraine’s electoral commission declared Yanukovich the winner late on Nov. 24. Western governments had urged Ukraine not to certify the election until allegations of fraud were investigated.

Catholic bishops have appeared on television appealing for prayerful patience in the hope of greater justice and unity. Cardinal Husar also joined other church leaders in urging Ukraine’s outgoing president to take action against government officials who falsified results of the recent presidential election.

When the president does not fulfill his responsibilities as guarantor of the constitution, the guarantors become the people who go out onto the central squares to claim the truth, said an open letter to outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. The letter was signed by Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Pentecostal and evangelical leaders. Only the Moscow patriarch has openly supported the government’s candidate.

The spread of popular protests testifies that the rights of people were truly brutally violated. It would be impossible for the people of Ukraine to take such action only for the personal interests of one presidential candidate, and the entire world has understood this, said the letter, dated Nov. 30, issued after a week in which tens of thousands of Ukrainians demonstrated daily in Kiev.

The election is widely believed the most important since Ukraine became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. Whatever the outcome, Ukrainian Catholic leaders believe that the agitation for honest government and transparency has produced irreversible results. Those once cowed by government power, especially the media, are acting independently.

Media coverage in the West has stressed that Yushchenko, a former Central Bank president, favors closer Western ties and opposes the closer ties with Russia promoted by Yanukovich. But for Ukrainians the issue is not between East and West integration, or between Russian-language and Ukrainian-language speakers or even between regions of the country. The outstanding issue, according to local Catholic leaders, is between transparent government responsible to the people and oligarchical rule by intimidation and manipulation.

The recent threats of separatism, for example, have come only from governors in the East who are presidential appointees. The elected representatives (local mayors and councils) in those same regions quickly condemned the move. Even the president was forced to disavow the governors.

Vatican Returns Saints’ Relics to Orthodox

After hundreds of years, Orthodox faithful once again will be able to pray before the earthly remains of two of their greatest saints, theologians and patriarchs, St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. John Chrysostom. Pope John Paul II consigned part of the relics of the two fourth-century doctors of the church to Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople on Nov. 27 during a prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica. The relics of St. Gregory have been in St. Peter’s Basilica since 1580; St. John’s relics have been there since 1626. The portions of the relics retained by the Vatican will continue to be venerated in the basilica.

The Orthodox believe the relics were stolen from Constantinople, now Istanbul, Turkey, in 1204, when mercenaries participating in the Fourth Crusade to the Holy Land sacked the city. The Vatican said that, while the remains of St. John Chrysostom were transferred to Rome in the early 1200’s, those of St. Gregory Nazianzen were brought to Rome in the eighth century by some of the Byzantine nuns of St. Anastasia, who were forced to leave Constantinople to flee the iconoclast persecutions.

While Vatican and Orthodox officials differed over the events that brought the bones to St. Peter’s Basilica, the prayer service focused on the fact that both saints, famed theologians, lived and preached at a time when Christians of the East and West were still united.

Judge Sets Deadline in Portland Bankruptcy

A Federal bankruptcy judge in Portland has set April 29, 2005, as the deadline for claims by people who as children were victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in the archdiocese. The Archdiocese of Portland, facing lawsuits by more than 60 plaintiffs seeking more than $300 million, filed for bankruptcy protection on July 6 under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The Diocese of Tucson made a similar filing on Sept. 20. The Diocese of Spokane planned to file on Dec. 6.

At the same time that Judge Elizabeth Perris set the Portland deadline, she exempted those who are still minors, who have blocked memory of the abuse or who are aware of the abuse but have not realized a possible connection between the abuse and such personal problems as mental illness or substance addiction.

A Portland archdiocesan insurer that refuses to pay settlements called the judge’s inclusion of people who remember the abuse but have not yet connected it with personal damage a radical departure from usual court practice. Observers regarded the ruling as a potentially serious setback for the Portland Archdiocese, since one of the main goals of its Chapter 11 filing was to resolve liability for claims of past abuse. Archdiocesan lawyers had sought to limit post-deadline claims to individuals who are still minors or who have blocked out all memory of the abuse.

The judge handling the Tucson case exempted from the deadline only victims who are still minors and adults who do not yet recall having been abused as children.

Perris also opened the door to possible punitive damages against the archdiocese. She said plaintiffs’ attorneys could review archdiocesan files on 37 priests publicly identified as subjects of sexual abuse claims and interview people to support a possible claim of past negligent behavior on the part of archdiocesan officials. She also directed the 60 current abuse plaintiffs and the archdiocese to begin mandatory mediation.

Perris will not rule until early next year on one of the most crucial issues in the case, the extent of the archdiocese’s assets. The archdiocese says that under church law the assets of each parish belong to the parish, held in trust for the parish by the archbishop. It claims that archdiocesan assets are less than $20 million. Plaintiffs’ attorneys claim the parish properties are also part of the archdiocese’s assets, a position that would increase the archdiocese’s total net worth to about $500 million.

News Briefs

Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis, Mo., said he has no intention of letting up on his campaign against Catholic politicians who support legal abortion. He said he thinks next year’s Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, along with other Vatican initiatives during the current eucharistic year, will clarify some of the issues in the debate about refusing politicians Communion.

This year’s protest against Fort Benning’s training school for foreign military personnel led to fewer than two dozen arrests on Nov. 21 but drew a crowd estimated by organizers at 16,000 - several thousand more than the demonstration attracted in past years.

Bishop Joseph F. Martino of Scranton, Pa., has decreed the suppression of the Society of St. John, citing its financial instability, its failure to follow church law and the scandal caused by allegations of sexual molestation of minors by two of its founders. Priests who had left a schismatic traditionalist organization, the Society of St. Pius X, to return to the Catholic Church, established the Society of St. John in 1998.

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