Signs of the Times

Support Urged for Anti-Torture Provision in Defense Department Appropriations Bill

U.S. law and policy about torture of prisoners is more about who we are than who they are, an adviser to the U.S. bishops told congressional staffers on Nov. 2. In urging support for an anti-torture amendment to the appropriations bill for the Defense Department, Walt Grazer said reports of prisoner abuse by members of U.S. forces could seriously undermine the country’s antiterrorism efforts and compromise human dignity. Grazer, an adviser on religious liberty and human rights for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said at a briefing for congressional staffers that through its various ministries the church witnesses to both the anxieties and hopes of people who long for peace and security for their families, as well as the pain of those who have been tortured and mistreated under various regimes. Even great nations can risk their reputations and lose their soul through actions that violate fundamental moral principles, Grazer said.

Providence Sells Off Property; Hartford Settles

The crisis of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy continued to have financial, legal and pastoral ramifications for U.S. Catholic dioceses, as one diocese sold off property and another settled some 43 claims after a mediation process of more than two years.

Property owned by the Diocese of Providence, R.I., at the former Our Lady of Providence Seminary in Warwick Neck was sold for $1.8 million, said Michael Sabatino, the diocese’s chief financial officer. Known as the caretaker’s house, the property sits on 10 acres and is separated from the former seminary by a public street. The property was sold to a private developer, who plans to subdivide the parcel into lots for private homes. Assessed for $1.5 million, the property was part of the collateral used by Bishop Robert E. Mulvee of Providence to secure a $15 million, three-year line of credit in 2002 to settle dozens of lawsuits against the diocese brought by victims of sexual abuse by clergy.

Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn., announced on Oct. 31 that it had reached a settlement agreement on 43 claims of sexual abuse of minors against 14 priests for a total of $22 million. Most of the incidents of abuse were reported to have occurred in the 1960’s or 1970’s, with seven of them extending into the early 1980’s.

Legalized Suicide Eroding Medical Treatment

The legalization of assisted suicide is eroding medical advances and decent treatment, said one leader of a coalition of doctors who find the practice troubling. Kenneth Stevens, M.D., a veteran professor of radiation oncology at Oregon Health Sciences University and vice president of Physicians for Compassionate Care, criticized Oregon’s assisted-suicide law, saying it is devaluing human life and reversing the healing role of physicians. He and other Oregon doctors who oppose their state’s law say allowing the use of legal lethal prescriptions tends to result in fewer efforts on the part of doctors to find a solution to patients’ distress. Once a patient has the means to take [his or her] own life, there can be decreased incentive to care for the patient’s symptoms and needs, Stevens said during a recent panel discussion at the University of Oregon. He cited testimony from the Netherlands, where one doctor was at a loss to address a gastrointestinal obstruction because the patient had wanted euthanasia but then changed his mind.

Doctors Link Medicine and Spirituality

Catholic doctors from 43 states and Canada discussed the relationship of spirituality to physical health and medicine at the Catholic Medical Association’s 74th annual educational conference in Portland, Me. The Biological and Spiritual Development of the Child was the theme of the meeting on Oct. 20-22.

Daniel Siegel, M.D., a psychiatrist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who specializes in children and adolescents, kicked off the conference by looking at the physical development of the brain in light of attachment psychology, or what he called interpersonal neurobiology. The development of the mind and brain in children begins in the womb, Siegel said. He defined the mind as a process that regulates the flow of energy and information. Unborn children can remember, beginning as early as the seventh month and perhaps even earlier, he said.

After birth, their brain development begins in the brain stem and works from there to the higher functions. In the first three years, a million synapses are being made every second, he said. At puberty, the prefrontal cortex (where higher functions take place) becomes a major reconstruction site. The connections in the brain begin to be remade at this time and this continues into the 20’s. That’s why, he said, it is so dangerous to introduce drugs into the body in adolescence.

Irish Government to Audit Bishops on Guidelines

The Irish bishops face a national audit by government agents into how each diocese is complying with child protection guidelines published by the church nearly 10 years ago. News of the audit came shortly after publication of a report criticizing church and government officials over their handling of cases of sexual abuse of children by priests in the Ferns Diocese. The bishops held a special meeting at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, on Oct. 31 to discuss child protection issues following their receipt of a letter from Brian Lenihan, minister of state for children.

The minister offered a number of proposals regarding the audit to the bishops, who said they would respond rapidly and positively. Martin Long, the bishops’ communications director, said he could not give details of the government proposals, but following the publication of the Ferns Report on Oct. 25, Lenihan said he hoped to establish a national audit as to how guidelines contained in Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response, published by the bishops in 1996, are being followed.

Pope Urges Ecumenical Focus on Christ

As the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation work for full unity, they must remain committed to patient dialogue and keep their work focused on Christ, Pope Benedict XVI said. We should intensify our efforts to understand more deeply what we have in common and what divides us, as well as the gifts we have to offer each other, the pope told Bishop Mark S. Hanson, president of the Lutheran World Federation.

The Lutheran bishop and top officials of the federation, including its general secretary, the Rev. Ishmael Noko, met on Nov. 7 with Pope Benedict during the annual meeting of staff members from the federation and from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Bishop Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, thanked the pope for making clear since his election that Christian unity would be a priority in his pontificate.

Czech Cardinal Welcomes Court Ruling on Prague

A Czech cardinal welcomed a court ruling that gave the Catholic Church ownership of Prague’s cathedral and surrounding land after a 16-year legal dispute. Although there is still no general settlement of property issues between church and state, we are glad this ordeal is nearing its end, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk of Prague told the Daily Monitor in Prague on Nov. 3, after a district court ruling in late October. This is a clear response to those who claimed, using communist vocabulary, that the cathedral belongs to all the people and to the nonsense that the church could purloin the national heritage by taking it away to the Vatican. Government officials have vowed to appeal the judgment. Since it was founded, this cathedral has been the symbol of Czech nationhood, Adam Halmosi, a spokesman for the government’s Office for Representation in Property Affairs, told the Czech News Agency.

11 years 8 months ago
In the November 21 "Signs of the Times" report on the Catholic Medical Association October 20-22 meeting on "The Biological and Spiritual Development of the Child" your report referred only to the opening address by child and adolescent psychiatrist, Daniel Siegel, M.D., in which he emphasized the importance of research in interpersonal neurobiology. I hope that adult psychiatrists are also becoming interested in the neurobiology of relational psychology in adults as we learn more about ourselves as relational beings with the lifelong need for enduring, close emotionally nurturing relationships -- the need that underlies our longing for a spritually nurturing relationship with a power greater than ourselves.

11 years 8 months ago
In the November 21 "Signs of the Times" report on the Catholic Medical Association October 20-22 meeting on "The Biological and Spiritual Development of the Child" your report referred only to the opening address by child and adolescent psychiatrist, Daniel Siegel, M.D., in which he emphasized the importance of research in interpersonal neurobiology. I hope that adult psychiatrists are also becoming interested in the neurobiology of relational psychology in adults as we learn more about ourselves as relational beings with the lifelong need for enduring, close emotionally nurturing relationships -- the need that underlies our longing for a spritually nurturing relationship with a power greater than ourselves.

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