Signs of the Times

First Lady and Pope Talk of Peace and Violence

Laura Bush, wife of the U.S. president, and one of her 24-year-old twin daughters, Barbara Bush, met the pope at the Vatican on Feb. 9 during a brief stop in Rome on the way to the Olympics. After the meeting, she told reporters traveling with her that peace, terrorism and violence were among the topics the pope raised. "He talked to me about the worries of terrorism, worries right now about violence in Beirut, Damascus and other cities in the Middle East as protests continued over cartoons published in Europe that many Muslims found offensive. His hope and certainly our hope [is] for peace and tolerance and for everyone to treat others with respect," she said.

Colorado Bishops Say Bills Create Unequal Justice

Colorado’s bishops have urged defeat of three bills before the state Legislature that would modify or eliminate the statute of limitations on civil suits and criminal actions in cases of sexual abuse of children against Catholic and other private institutions but not against public schools. The measures create two unequal kinds of justice, said the bishops in an open letter to Catholics. The letter said that misconduct against minors is more serious in public schools than anywhere else, including churches. Dated Jan. 30, the letter was signed by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, Bishop Arthur N. Tafoya of Pueblo and Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs. The Colorado Catholic Conference, on its Web site, asks Catholics to contact their elected state representatives and urge them to vote against the bills.


Anglican Women Bishops an Ecumenical Problem

"Because of the prospect of ordaining women as bishops in the Church of England, the quest for unity is at a plateau," said a British cardinal. "There is no doubt that recent developments in the Anglican Communion with regard to the ordination of women as priests and now as bishops - even more profoundly because a bishop is in a particular way a figure of unity - as well as other developments in the ethical sphere have meant that ecumenism is at a plateau," said Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster, England. The cardinal spoke at a London press conference on Feb. 6, the day of the first session of the Church of England’s general synod, at which Anglican leaders were scheduled to debate the ordination of women as bishops, a move church officials have said will present a new obstacle to Anglican-Catholic unity. "It’s probably inevitable that in due course there will be the ordination of women as bishops," said Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor. "If you have women as priests, it’s an inevitable conclusion."

Catholics Who Give Most Want More Accountability

Catholics who give more than $5,000 a year to the church are more critical than other Catholics about the church’s financial accountability practices, according to a new survey commissioned by Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities. Only 12 percent of larger parish donors rated the church above average in keeping them informed on the use of their donations, while over a third of typical parishioners rated church reporting practices above average, according to a survey analysis prepared by Charles E. Zech, director of the Center for the Study of Church Management at Villanova University’s College of Commerce and Finance. The survey, conducted in November and December 2005 by Zogby International, was the fourth annual Catholic donor attitude survey commissioned by Fadica, a Washington-based consortium of charitable foundations and individual donors interested in religious philanthropy. Responses were received from 1,000 Catholics nationwide, but only the answers of the 787 people who identified themselves as regular churchgoersattending Mass at least three times a weekwere analyzed.

New Orleans to Close Parishes, Delay Openings

The Archdiocese of New Orleans issued a pastoral plan on Feb. 9 that calls for the closing of seven parishes and delays the reopening of 23 others until there are enough parishioners in an area to warrant the resumption of pastoral ministry. It also calls for establishing six centralized elementary schools, which before the storm had served primarily as individual parish elementary schools. The archdiocese, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, is facing unknown projections regarding its future Catholic population, and hundreds of its properties suffered extensive damage. Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes of New Orleans projected that the archdiocese, which before Katrina was home to nearly a half-million Catholics in 142 parishes, might see its Catholic population return in the next two years to only 60 percent to 65 percent of its August 2005 levels. The Catholic population would then be about 295,000. The pastoral plan, which will take effect on March 15, establishes a framework for pastoral ministry in the seven deaneries that sustained the greatest damage from the storm on Aug. 29.

Pro-Life, Pro-Poor Lawmakers Hard to Find

"A major political challenge facing Catholics is to find the rare legislators who are pro-life and pro-poor," said John Carr, head of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Social Development and World Peace, on Feb. 13 at a plenary session of the 2006 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. We believe that life begins at conception but does not end there, he told 500 people involved in Catholic social ministry programs gathered from around the United States. The theme of the gathering in Washington, D.C., was "Bringing Good News to a Broken World." Carr said that Catholic public policy positions are nuanced and do not fall into the current polarized divisions of right versus left and Democrat versus Republican. "We are not the Democratic Party of prayer," he said. "We are not the religious caucus of the Republican Party."

Czech Official Opposes Law Controlling Church

A Czech government official has criticized his own government over a restrictive religious law and pledged to seek amendments to remove government control over church activities. The Law on Confessional Freedom and the Role of Churches passed on Nov. 22 and was signed by President Vaclav Klaus Dec. 6. Culture Minister Vitezslav Jandak told Czech television on Feb. 5 that he does not think the law is needed and is concerned that it will merely inflame church-state relations. I do not identify with it, he said, and will not try to defend it. He made his comments prior to talks with Christian Democrat legislators on Feb. 8, when he agreed to introduce proposed changes to the law before June parliamentary elections. In a report the same day, the Czech news agency CTK said Jandak also pledged to request parliamentary ratification of a concordat with the Vatican that would regulate church rights in the post-Communist country. The concordat was rejected by legislators four years ago, despite a decade of negotiation.

New Claims of Spying Under Communists

East European church leaders faced new pressure to name members of the clergy who acted as Communist agents after a Polish priest accused colleagues of spying on Pope John Paul II, and a Hungarian cardinal was named as a onetime informer. Several informers still hold church positions, said the Rev. Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski, a former Solidarity union chaplain. Let’s tell the truth about Karol Wojtyla’s times, he said, referring to Pope John Paul by his given name. It can’t be such that almost everyone knows who the informers were, but it’s only talked about on the quiet. Speaking at a press conference on Feb. 7 in Krakow, Poland, Father Isakowicz-Zaleski said he had seen names of clergy agents while reading his own secret police file. He said he believed revealing their names was essential during the Polish stage of Pope John Paul’s canonization process.

Challenges to Pastors of Multiple Parishes

For five years, the Rev. Pat Lee has served as pastor of both St. Joseph and Immaculate Conception parishes on Chicago’s near North Side, only six blocks apart. Father Lee can make the walk in six minutes. But that does not mean the two communities areor want to bethe same. The biggest challenge is to lead people to a broader vision of what church is, said Father Lee, who participated in a symposium on Feb. 7-9 about multiple-parish pastoring at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Ill. I do bring the resources of two places to the broader mission of the church. That should be an advantage. Father Lee joined pastors, pastoral leaders, researchers and planners from about 20 dioceses across the United States at the symposium.

Muslim Expert Named Nuncio to Egypt

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, 68, a member of the Missionaries of Africa and president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, was named Vatican ambassador to Egypt and the Arab League on Feb. 15. The archbishop has broad experience of the Muslim world, having studied for four years in Tunisia and taught Muslim-Christian theology in Kampala, Uganda, during the reign of Idi Amin Dada. He also lived in and ministered to a small Christian community in northern Sudan. He has worked in Rome since 1987, first as secretary of the Vatican Secretariat for Non-Christians and since 2002 as president of the council.

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