A double veto by Russia and China on Feb. 5 defeated a weak U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s repression of the yearlong popular uprising against his autocratic rule. “A couple of members of this council,” said Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, “remain steadfast in their willingness to sell out the Syrian people and shield a craven tyrant.” Russia claimed it would broker talks between the two sides, and the Arab League pledged to help advance a political transition. Meanwhile, the Syrian army launched its heaviest artillery attacks yet on civilian apartment blocks in Homs. Barring outside assistance, the Syrian people are destined to suffer even more cruelly.
The Free Syrian Army is under pressure to abandon its defensive posture; and in response to a yearlong assault by Mr. Assad, the population has begun to consider renouncing nonviolence in favor of outright civil war. Western defense experts are urging arms shipments and training for the rebels; and some Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are expected to supply such aid. An international consensus exists for defending the Syrian people, beginning with 13 Security Council members supporting the vetoed resolution. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is organizing a group called Friends of Syria not only to apply increased diplomatic and economic pressure but also to unite the Syrian opposition to prepare for “the morning after.” Given the prolonged, lethal attacks by the military on nonthreatening civilian populations, another step might be an International Criminal Court indictment of Mr. Assad and leading members of his regime for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Transparent and Accountable
Ten years after the height of the sexual abuse crisis, Catholics may be inured to stories about scandal. A spate of recent events, however, demonstrates that Catholics must continue to hold church officials accountable in order to ensure the integrity of the institution.
In the Archdiocese of New York, a bookkeeper was recently charged with embezzling $1 million from church accounts. Anita Collins had been convicted of similar crimes in the past, but the archdiocese never conducted a background check. In Philadelphia, the archdiocese fired its chief financial officer after it was discovered that she was paying personal credit card bills, which included large charges from casinos, with church checks. Meanwhile, Vatican officials are scrambling to counter assertions by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, now the papal nuncio to the United States, that the management of Vatican City State is rife with corruption and waste.
These stories hint at what could be a much larger problem. For too long, church officials failed to follow professional business practices. Parishioners trusted their pastor or bishop to use their donations wisely. Fortunately, many dioceses now make their financial statements available online; but the large majority do not include data on parishes, and only a handful have been officially audited. Further controls could be put in place. For example, while background checks are now required for all church employees in the United States who work with children, similar mandates do not exist for other church staff.
To be proper stewards of the financial resources they have been given, church officials must adopt transparent and fiscally responsible practices at all levels. A national mandate may be the only way to ensure that all dioceses follow the same standards.
Help From Our Friends
Christians who are hoping to become more active in their church communities this Lent might do well to seek a little help from their friends. A new study by Samuel Stroope, a sociology researcher at Baylor University, found that individuals with many friendships in a faith community show higher levels of religiosity. But sharing a worship space does not mean these friends spend their free time discussing doctrine. The study also showed that church-based friendships had greater impact on individuals’ religious behavior than on their beliefs. Of the 1,600 adults surveyed, 42 percent said that they had “a few” friends who attended their place of worship, and 32 percent said “none.”
The effect of church-based friendships among Catholics and Protestants also differs. Stroope said that “Catholic congregations received diminishing participation returns for the congregational friendships of their members” when compared with Protestant congregations. Many Protestants see their churches as a main facet of their social life. Catholics, on the other hand, often attend Mass more for sacraments than for socializing. But the relative sizes of the respective church communities may also be a factor.
The study serves as a reminder that faith communities must foster a welcoming environment. Building friendships within a parish can help Catholics feel supported living out their faith in the world, and it could help heal divisions within the church as well.