Signs of the Times

Conscience Must Concur With Moral Principles

Responding to a recent statement by Catholic Democrats in the House of Representatives affirming the primacy of conscience in their voting decisions, three key leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said conscience must be consistent with fundamental moral principles, including the church’s opposition to abortion. As members of the church, all Catholics are obliged to shape our consciences in accord with the moral teaching of the church, said a Statement on Responsibilities of Catholics in Public Life, which called abortion a grave violation of the most fundamental human rightthe right to life. The statement, dated March 10, was signed by Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S.C.C.B. Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, D.C., chairman of the Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians; and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y., chairman of the Committee on Domestic Policy.

In their statement on Feb. 28, 55 of the 73 Catholic Democrats in the House acknowledged Catholic teaching on the value of human life and the undesirability of abortion and pledged to support alternatives to abortion, such as adoption, improved access to children’s health care and child care, and policies that encourage paternal and maternal responsibility. They said they seek the church’s guidance on those issues but also believe in the primacy of conscience. Some of the politicians who signed that statement are strongly pro-life, while others support keeping abortion legal.


Official Afraid of Sino-Vatican Relations

Cardinal-designate Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong said recent criticism of his papal appointment from a leader of the government-approved church body in Beijing shows how worried he is about the prospect of normalization of relations between China and the Holy See.

Anthony Liu Bainian, vice chairman of the government-approved Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, told the British news agency Reuters on March 8 that many Chinese believe Pope Benedict XVI’s appointment of Cardinal-designate Zen showed the Vatican wants to challenge Beijing. Liu also described Cardinal-designate Zen as a threat to the Beijing government, just as the late Pope John Paul II was a threat to the Communist regime in Poland and said the Hong Kong bishop is widely known as an opponent of Communism. The government church official made his comments as the plenary session on March 3-13 of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference was convening in Beijing. Liu is a standing committee member of the conference.

3.5 Million Kenyans Face Food Emergency

Catholic aid agencies in Britain and the United States say as many as 3.5 million Kenyans face a severe food emergency because of several seasons of drought. The Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, an agency of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said millions of Kenyans could starve to death unless emergency food supplies are delivered soon. Dominic Stolarow, a humanitarian officer of Cafod who has been visiting the worst-affected areas in the northeastern part of the country, said Kenya is also facing its most severe drought since 1971. Cattle die first in times of drought as they can only go for up to three days without water, he said in a statement on March 7. In some villages I went into I saw carcasses just piled up, he said. There is very little people can do once they have lost their livestock. The famine and drought have been caused by consecutive seasons of low rainfall.

No Payment of Claims Until Courts Resolve Issue

A U.S. bankruptcy judge in Portland, Ore., has indicated she will not permit plaintiffs in sexual abuse cases to be paid from parish property before the issue of parish ownership has been resolved in the courts. Judge Elizabeth Perris, who is hearing the Archdiocese of Portland’s bankruptcy case, also opened the door in her ruling on Feb. 28 to capping the estimated amount the archdiocese will need to pay all claims. This is one of the most encouraging rulings we have received, said Thomas Stilley, lead bankruptcy attorney for the archdiocese. The committee for those claiming sexual abuse had proposed a plan that would have trials proceed, with judgments paid as the trials are concluded on a case-by-case basis, tapping into parish and school property when needed. Perris, acknowledging that many unresolved issues remain regarding the parish and school property, was skeptical of the ability of the Tort Claimants’ Committee, a group representing abuse victims, to implement such a plan.

Pope Temporarily Merges Four Vatican Councils

At the start of what may be a sweeping reform of the Roman Curia, Pope Benedict XVI merged the leadership of four of the Vatican’s councils under two presidents. The Vatican announced on March 11 that French Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, also would serve as the interim president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and that Italian Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, temporarily would head the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers. The Vatican announced that the pope accepted the retirement of the head of the migrants’ council, Japanese Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao, who turned 76 on March 9. To fill the vacancy, the pope united for the time being the presidency of the office with that of justice and peace. Cardinal Poupard’s assignment as president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue filled a post made vacant after the pope on Feb. 15 named its former head, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, to be the new ambassador to Egypt and the Arab League.

Period Between Elections Critical Time in Holy Land

The Holy Land is at a critical moment in its history following the Hamas victory in Palestinian elections and preceding the Israeli elections on March 28, said Washington’s Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick. There is the sense that this is a very crucial moment, and it will require an enormous amount of wisdom and courage and prayer because there are so many intangibles we just don’t know, Cardinal McCarrick told Catholic News Service on March 10, the final day of a three-day visit to the Holy Land. The Washington cardinal said both elections could very significantly change the equation of keeping the peace in the Holy Land. The elections also may make it more difficult for the U.S.-backed road mapdesigned for a permanent, two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflictto move forward, he said. The cardinal said the U.S. Catholic Church is committed to the road map, developed in 2003. Despite the challenges during this time of transition, the United States needs to be dedicated to a two-state solution that gives Israel recognized borders and freedom from terrorism while at the same time giving Palestinians a viable and peaceful state, he said. Unquestionably, our country has a lot on its plate right now, but I believe the commitment the president made to the road map is a most important and essential one, and we still believe we have to follow [it] and encourage our government not to give up, he said.

Thousands Take Steps Toward Joining Church

Across the United States this Lent tens of thousands of prospective Catholics began the final phase of preparation for joining the church, a process that will culminate with the sacraments of Christian initiation at the Easter Vigil. For catechumens, people not yet baptized, the final part of the journey began with the Rite of Election on or near the first Sunday of Lent. For candidates, who are already baptized Christians, the start of Lent meant participating in the Call to Continuing Conversion. Catechumens will receive baptism, confirmation and first Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. Candidates will enter the full communion of the Catholic Church by receiving confirmation and first Eucharist. In the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., 1,133 catechumens and candidates participated in the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion services. Across the Potomac River in Arlington, Va., there were 697. Among other dioceses, there were 560 in Little Rock, Ark.; more than 500 in Nashville, Tenn.; 264 in Albany, N.Y.; 269 in Hartford, Conn.; and 325 in Wilmington, Del. When the bishops’ national evangelization office did a nationwide survey two years ago, it found that about 150,000 people joined the church that year through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

Miracle Confirmed for Blessed Mother Theodore

Vatican officials have affirmed a second miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Mother Theodore Guerin, the 19th-century foundress of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, opening the way for her canonization. In February in Rome, the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes affirmed earlier findings of that body’s medical and theological commissions that the curing of an eye ailment of Philip McCord, an employee of the Sisters of Providence, does not have a natural explanation and can thus be deemed a miracle. At a press conference at St. Mary-of-the-Woods on Feb. 22, Sister Ann Margaret O’Hara, the congregation’s general superior, said that the way is now open for the canonization of Blessed Mother Theodore. Before she can become a saint, Pope Benedict XVI must approve a canonization decree. According to Sister Ann Margaret, the formal canonization liturgy could take place as early as this fall. I think it’s a special day of joy because it celebrates the heritage of Mother Theodore, she said, and that it is still alive in this place, and that she came to this part of the world for the good of the people in this area.

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