Signs of the Times

Charities Gear Up for Hurricane Recovery

Catholic Charities was just one of several national organizations gearing up to provide assistance to victims of Hurricane Katrina, which slammed into the Gulf Coast east of New Orleans on Aug. 29 and left dozens dead in its wake. Insurance firms were expecting claims stemming from Katrina to be the largest single-event payout since the terrorist attacks in 2001. Catholic Charities announced on its Web site,, that it would work through its affiliates in the archdioceses of Miami, New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., and the dioceses of Baton Rouge and Houma-Thibodaux, La., and Biloxi and Jackson, Miss., where the hurricane did its greatest damage. Relief work had already begun in Dade County, Fla., which includes Miami. Katrina, then just a tropical storm, skirted the area on Aug. 25-26 but left behind heavy rains and flooding.

Bishop William S. Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has called on all 195 Catholic dioceses in the United States to participate in a national collection for hurricane relief, with donations going to Catholic Charities USA. Millions of people are in need of assistance and Catholic Charities will be among the primary responders, he said in a message on Aug. 30 to his fellow bishops. Contributions may also be sent directly to: 2005 Hurricane Relief Fund, Catholic Charities USA, P.O. Box 25168, Alexandria, VA 22313-9788.


Pope Urges Muslims to Turn Back Fanaticism

Meeting with Muslims in Germany, Pope Benedict XVI condemned terrorism in unusually forceful terms and called on Islamic leaders to help turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism in the world. In his talk on Aug. 20 in Cologne, the pope emphasized the responsibility of Muslim educators to form younger generations in the Islamic faith and promote attitudes of interreligious cooperation. In particular, he said, the message that every human life is sacred must be heeded and communicated to others. Should it ever cease to find an echo in people’s hearts, the world would be exposed to the darkness of a new barbarism. The 10 Islamic leadersseven men and three womenrepresented more than 3.2 million Muslims who now reside in the pope’s native Germany, about 4 percent of the total population.

Spokane to Appeal Court Decision

Citing the national consequences, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., said he will appeal a federal bankruptcy court’s ruling that parish properties must be included in the Spokane diocesan assets used to settle millions of dollars in claims over sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Patricia Williams of Spokane ruled on Aug. 26 that civil property laws prevail in a bankruptcy proceeding, despite any internal church laws that might bar a bishop from full control over parish assets. Diocesan lawyers had argued that in church law parish assets belong to the parish itself, not to the diocese. They said that while the diocesan bishop [as a corporation sole] was nominally the owner in civil law, even in civil law he held those properties only in trust for the parishes themselves.

It is not a violation of the First Amendment, Williams wrote, to apply federal bankruptcy law to identify and define property of the bankruptcy estate even though the Chapter 11 debtor is a religious organization. The judge also ruled that under Washington State law the bishop as corporation sole owns the property in trust for the diocese, not for the individual parishes. The decision applied only to real property (land and buildings); the status of parish money on deposit with the diocese will be decided later.

Her ruling, if upheld, would vastly increase the diocesan assets subject to claims and would up the ante nationwide for any other diocese considering that approach to resolving claims against its clergy in sexual abuse cases, if the diocese is organized in a manner similar to Spokane.

Last December the Diocese of Spokane filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 of the federal Bankruptcy Act, citing $11.1 million in assets and $83.1 million in liabilities, mostly from people seeking recompense for sexual abuse as children by priests.

Spokane was the last of three dioceses that made a Chapter 11 filing last year, but it was the first to receive a court decision on the question of diocesan ownership of parish properties. The Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., filed for Chapter 11 in July 2004, citing some $300 million in claims. At the time of the Spokane decision, the bankruptcy court in Portland was still hearing opposing arguments about the status of parishes as separately owned properties or diocesan assets. The judge in the Portland case is not bound by the Spokane decision but may find the arguments persuasive if Oregon law is similar to Washington law.

The Diocese of Tucson, Ariz., which filed for Chapter 11 in September 2004, earlier this summer reached a reorganization agreement under which it set up a $22.2 million fund to settle all current and future claims against it. A key element in the negotiations in Tucson was an agreement by the parishes to contribute $2 million toward that fund in return for avoiding protracted litigation over the issue of who owned the parishes.

Bishop Skylstad, who was traveling in Eastern Europe when the ruling was announced, said in a statement that the diocese would appeal this decision because we have a responsibility not only to victims but to the generations of parishioners...who have given so generously of themselves to build up the church in eastern Washington. In his statement the bishop said: The court’s decision has national consequences. Its impact will be felt not just by Catholic communities but by many other church communities of any denomination, of any faith expression.

Pope Recalls Holocaust as Darkest Period

In a visit to a synagogue in his native Germany on Aug. 19, Pope Benedict XVI recalled with sorrow the Nazi persecution of the Jews as the darkest period of German and European history. The pope warned of new signs of anti-Semitism today and said the Catholic Church has a duty to remember the Holocaust and to teach its lessons to younger generations who did not witness the terrible events that took place before and during World War II. Toward the end of his speech, he said Christians and Jews have to respect each other and added spontaneously, and love each other. The pope spoke to some 500 Jewish representatives in Cologne, in a synagogue destroyed during the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom and rebuilt in 1959.

Ugandan Archbishop Praises AIDS Fight

The Catholic Church in Uganda is making huge strides in combating the AIDS epidemic, while dissuading reliance on condoms and improving the status of women, said a Ugandan archbishop during a brief visit to the Diocese of San Diego. Archbishop Paul Bakyenga of Mbarara said the church has played an active role in his country’s controversial ABC policy, because the policy allowed the church to focus its energies on abstinence and fidelity. He said the program has successfully slowed the spread of AIDS. The policy’s name is an acronym for a three-pronged approach to AIDS prevention, which includes abstinence, being faithful to one’s spouse and, as a last resort, condom use. While the Catholic Church recognizes the immorality of using artificial means of contraception, including condoms, Archbishop Bakyenga said the church has had no difficulty working alongside government agencies and nongovernmental organizations that promote their use.

Levada Agrees to Be Deposed in Portland Case

Archbishop William J. Levada’s attorneys forged a last-minute agreement with a Portland lawyer representing those who say they were abused by priests in the Archdiocese of Portland. The former archbishop of Portland and San Francisco, now serving as prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had received a subpoena to testify on Aug. 12 in the archdiocese’s bankruptcy case. But on Aug. 10, he signed an agreement that he will return from Rome to California in January to give a deposition. The interview is planned to take place at the offices of his attorney in early January. Erin Olson, a Portland lawyer, hopes to establish patterns of behavior in the way the Archdiocese of Portland has dealt with alleged sexual abuse over the years.

Bishop Cites Impact of Denying Eucharist

Anytime a local bishop denies Communion to a politician because of his stand on abortion, the decision can have national ramifications, Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh said in a statement exploring ways the U.S. bishops could reach a more united approach to such decisions. There must be some way in which the bishops can establish a process, mechanism or procedure for appropriate national consistency, he said. Given the mobility of the population and the ubiquity and influence of the means of social communications, he said, actions taken by one bishop within a diocese can have immediate national impact and affect the bishops of the rest of the dioceses throughout the country, especially neighboring dioceses which share the same media market.

Pope: Unity Does Not Mean Uniformity

Meeting with Protestant and Orthodox leaders in Germany, Pope Benedict XVI pledged to move ecumenism forward during his pontificate, saying he realized that many Christians expect concrete steps to bring us closer together. While he reaffirmed the church’s belief that unity already subsists in the Catholic Church, the pope said that does not mean eventual communion must bring uniformity in theology, liturgy and discipline. The model should be unity in multiplicity and multiplicity in unity, the pope told some 30 non-Catholic representatives in Cologne on Aug. 19. The cordial, 30-minute encounter took place in the Catholic cardinal’s residence in the city center, where the pope was residing during his four-day stay.

Visitation of U.S. Seminaries Set for Fall

The Vatican-run apostolic visitation of Catholic seminaries and houses of priestly formation in the United States will begin late this September. Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, who will coordinate the visits, announced details of the plan on Aug. 19. Sparked by the sexual abuse crisis that hit the U.S. church in 2002, the visitations will pay special attention to areas such as the quality of the seminarians’ human and spiritual formation for living chastely and of their intellectual formation for faithfulness to church teachings, especially in the area of moral theology. The Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, which oversees seminary formation around the world, has appointed 117 bishops and seminary personnel as visitors. They are to visit each college- or theology-level institution, working in teams of three for smaller programs or four for the larger ones.

Speakers in La Crosse Need Bishop’s Approval

A new policy in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., requires prior approval of the bishop for any person under consideration to lecture, present a workshop, give a retreat or otherwise speak or give an address on faith and morals on diocesan property. Bishop Jerome E. Listecki set forth the new policy of prudence in a letter dated July 25 to all diocesan deans, pastors, pastoral associates, school chaplains, presidents of unified school systems, principals and executive curia staff. The policy also applies to any diocesan institution that wishes to promote a speaker being hosted by another organization on property not owned by the diocese. Bishop Listecki said: Various Catholic speakers are given a platform by some local churches and institutions, and some of the speakers hold positions contrary to the Catholic teaching. At times this is not always obvious, and when it’s discovered it becomes a source of embarrassment to the church and at times of misunderstanding to the Catholic faithful.

Israeli Letter Helps Calm Vatican-Israeli Dispute

The recent diplomatic storm between the Vatican and Israel appears to have blown over, aided by an explanatory letter from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, sources in Rome said. The situation has returned to the point where we can sit down and discuss common issues. It was in everyone’s interest that things calm down, a senior Vatican official said Aug. 29. Israeli Ambassador Oded Ben-Hurwho delivered Sharon’s letter to Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, in late Augusttold Catholic News Service that explanations on both sides had smoothed things over. Cardinal Sodano told me himself that the case was closed, the Israeli ambassador said. We are quite satisfied with the situation now and look forward to talks in the future. The Vatican-Israeli controversy erupted in July when, speaking at a Sunday Angelus blessing, Pope Benedict XVI denounced a series of recent terrorist actions around the world without mentioning similar attacks in Israel.

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12 years ago
I found the juxtaposition of two Signs of the Times items (9/12) to be ironic.

Bishop Donald W. Wuerl’s comments on the “national ramifications” of the denial of Communion to politicians were thoughtful and pertinent. Even more so to me when I saw your picture of the burial procession of Brother Roger Schütz of Taizé. I was reminded of a news report on his burial Mass in The New York Times on Aug. 24 reporting that at a eucharistic service celebrated Tuesday by a Roman Catholic cardinal (Cardinal Walter Kasper) for Brother Roger, who was a Swiss Protestant, Communion wafers were given to the faithful indiscriminately, regardless of denomination. The Eucharist is the embodiment of Christ’s love and of the oneness of all Christians, in spite of our sinfulness and divisions. Cardinal Kasper apparently realizes that it is not a weapon to be wielded to alienate sinners or further divisions. I hope Bishop Wuerl’s comments will stimulate some meaningful Christian discussion among his brother bishops in the United States.

12 years ago
I respect Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh, who seeks “a more united approach...” to receiving the Eucharist (9/12). The bishop is quoted: “There must be some way in which the bishops can establish a process, mechanism or procedure for appropriate national consistency.” May I suggest the hierarchy trust in the mercy and justice of God on behalf of the faithful who choose to receive Communion as the unifying principle. We all know that the gift of the Eucharist must never be seen as a reward or punishment concerning the faithful.

12 years ago
An item in Signs of the Times on Sept. 12 outlines the position of the Diocese of Spokane that parish churches and properties are not diocesan assets, following a bankruptcy court ruling that they are.

“If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck...”—the local bishop establishes parishes, modifies boundaries, closes parishes, assigns and transfers clerical personnel, audits parish books, approves major expenditures, approves building designs, imposes taxes and assessments, and so on—“ is a duck.”

It is right that all parish assets be a part of diocesan assets, because that is where control, i.e., ownership, resides. True, this could unfortunately result in forfeit of church/school properties to satisfy damage awards. But don’t blame the victims or their lawyers. Blame those who commit crimes and/or those who allowed the criminals to continue in positions that gave them opportunities for more criminal acts. And include those individuals’ personal assets as well.


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