Signs of the Times

Catholic Family Wants Justice, Not Death, for Murderers Involving I.R.A.

A Catholic family’s campaign for justice has put increasing pressure on the Irish nationalist party, Sinn Fein, and its military wing, the outlawed Irish Republican Army.

Robert McCartney, 33, a forklift driver from the small Catholic enclave of Short Strand in Belfast, was stabbed to death after a pub brawl on Jan. 30. McCart-ney’s five sisters and his fiancée maintain that more than 70 people witnessed the incident; but because the murder involved I.R.A. members, witnesses are afraid to give evidence to police. Family members rejected an I.R.A. offer to shoot those involved in the killing. They say they want those responsible for the murder to be tried in a court of law.


The I.R.A. does not allow those living in the areas it controls to have any dealings with the police. Instead, the organization has its own justice system: punishment beatings, expulsion orders or executions of those it deems guilty of crime.

On March 3, Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh, Northern Ireland, said: The courage and determination of the McCartney family to ensure justice for their brother, Robert, has been an outstanding example of how the power of love, the love of another person, the love of noble ideals such as justice, fairness and freedom, can rise up and render transparent and weak the efforts of others to bully, frighten and control whole communities. The archbishop told journalists it was time for Catholics in Northern Ireland to set aside reservations about the police force and assume their full civic responsibility for an agreed and representative system of law and order.

AmeriCorps Volunteers in Catholic Schools O.K.

A federal appeals court ruled on March 8 that the national service program AmeriCorps can subsidize the volunteers it places in Catholic schools without violating the constitutional separation of church and state. This decision overturns a ruling last year by a lower court. In a 3-to-0 decision, Judge A. Raymond Randolph of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit wrote that the U.S. government is neither promoting religion nor creating incentives for AmeriCorps volunteers to teach religion in some of the nation’s neediest Catholic schools.

AmeriCorps, a federal agency run by the Corporation for National and Community Service, involves 50,000 people each year in service programs with nonprofit secular and faith-based groups in education, the environment and public safety. Participants in service programs in education earn college tuition vouchers of $4,725 through the AmeriCorps education awards program in exchange for 1,700 hours of service. When they apply for the tuition voucher, they must submit time sheets on hours served. But these do not include any time they spent on religious education or such activities as attending Mass.

The American Jewish Congress, which brought the suit against AmeriCorps three years ago, charged that by placing volunteers in Catholic schools the program’s funds were being used to teach Christian values. The lawsuit singled out three AmeriCorps granteesthe University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, known as ACE; the Catholic Network of Volunteer Service; and the Nebraska Volunteer Service Commission.

The Alliance for Catholic Education, formed in 1994 by the University of Notre Dame, the U.S. bishops’ Department of Education and the National Catholic Educational Association, trains young Catholic adults as teachers and places them in needy Catholic schools. Last year, the program had 163 participants. Those who take part in the program receive a small stipend of about $12,000 from the schools where they teach and also earn master’s degrees in education after two years of teaching and intensive summer training.

The Catholic Network of Volunteer Service, formed in 1963 and based in Washington, D.C., connects 10,000 volunteers each year with groups across the United States and abroad. About 1,500 of its volunteers serve in Catholic schools through the network’s member organizations, such as Urban Catholic Teacher Corps in Boston, which is similar to the Notre Dame program, and Vincentian Service Corps, which places volunteer teachers in inner-city Catholic schools.

In a ruling on July 2, 2004, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler said the AmeriCorps program had completely blurred the line between secular and nonsecular activities by providing tuition vouchers to volunteers in religious schools.

In overturning Judge Kessler, the ruling on March 8 noted that if AmeriCorps participants taught religious subjects, they did not count this work toward their service hour requirements and that the volunteers were prohibited from wearing the AmeriCorps logo while teaching religion.

The American Jewish Congress also objected to the fact that in addition to the tuition vouchers the service groups to which AmeriCorps teacher volunteers belong receive up to $400 a year for each full-time participant. The appeals court ruled that the $400 was much less than the actual administrative costs. The appeals court described the AmeriCorps program as neutral and said it offered many options for participants who do not want to carry out their service in a religious school.

Cardinal Did Not Ask Rice to Intervene in Lawsuit

The Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, did not ask U.S. Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice to intervene in a lawsuit against the Vatican, an informed Vatican official told Catholic News Service on March 3.

The official said that during a meeting at the Vatican on Feb. 8, Cardinal Sodano simply expressed surprise over a class-action lawsuit naming the Holy See as the responsible party for the sexual abuse of minors by U.S. clergy.

In June, an attorney in Louisville, Ky., filed a lawsuit against the Holy See, accusing it of being responsible for the sexual abuse of children by clergy in the United States. The attorney, William McMurray, is also seeking monetary damages for the plaintiffs.

Cardinal Sodano took up the issue [with Rice] and said how he had been surprised the Vatican was named as the defendant in the lawsuit, said the Vatican official. He said Cardinal Sodano never would have asked Rice, as head of the U.S. State Department, an executive body, to intervene in a judicial matter. He knows the separation of powers is sacrosanct, he said.

According to international law, a nation state is immune from the jurisdiction of the courts of another nation state. However, a foreign sovereign state may be sued over a commercial matter, according to the 1976 U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which restricts foreign state immunity in certain cases. But whether a foreign state, such as the Holy See, would be immune to U.S. litigation is determined by the courts in the United States, not by executive authorities like Secretary Rice.

The U.S. State Department does, however, formally serve notice to a foreign country that it is being sued. The State Department acts as the postman, delivering an order from a U.S. judicial court to the foreign state, said a senior U.S. official in Rome.

What procedures the Holy See would need to follow in handling the case would be a question Vatican officials could ask the State Department. The Holy See can ask the State Department to assist it in asserting its immunity, said Mark Chopko, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.

Chopko told CNS that the civil suit filed in Kentucky against the Holy See claims the Vatican did not exercise its responsibility to supervise priests accused of sexual abuse of children. Chopko said that there have been about 20 cases in which the Vatican was named as a defendant, but to his knowledge most of them had been dismissed. He said cases placing responsibility on the Holy See for the actions of diocesan clergy have little chance of success, because the crux of these cases is who has supervisory power over a priest. Under church law, the Holy See is not responsible for the supervision of a priest, Chopko said. You can sue the bishop, but not the Holy See.

News Briefs

On March 8 the Diocese of St. George’s, Newfoundland, announced it has become the first Catholic diocese in Canada to seek bankruptcy protection as a result of sexual abuse claims.

The General Assembly of the United Nations approved a declaration on March 8 calling on member states to prohibit all forms of human cloning, inasmuch as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life.

Eastern European bishops warned of continued political instability and ethnic tensions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and urged the church to take the lead in peace and reconciliation efforts. Bosnia-Herzegovina has no future if an unjust peace persists and equal human rights are denied to the constituent ethnic groups, heads of bishops’ conferences from Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and Turkey said in a statement on March 1 after meeting in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.

Lebanon’s Maronite bishops urged that the nation quickly form a transitional government and commended the Lebanese people for the peaceful demonstrations that toppled the nation’s pro-Syrian officials.

Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino was held for three hours and treated disrespectfully by U.S. immigration officials at the Miami airport, when he tried to enter the United States on a Vatican diplomatic passport at the end of February, said the Cuban bishops. An official wanted to open a file on the cardinal as a possible dangerous person and began asking him questions, which he refused to answer, said the bishops in a statement on March 3.

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