Signs of the Times

Catholic Leaders Urge Calm in East Timor

Catholic Church leaders in East Timor have called for calm as troops continue to patrol the tense streets of Dili in the wake of a riot by hundreds of dismissed soldiers and about 1,000 of their supporters. Army protesters and their sympathizers took to the streets on April 28-29 with calls for the reinstatement of nearly 600 soldiers dismissed in February after they protested alleged discrimination, reported UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand. According to various reports, five people died in the rioting, 20 houses were burned and a market in Taibessi, southeast of Dili, was badly damaged. The protesters also broke the windows of the government palace and burned a government vehicle in front of the building. Media reports indicated that between 4,000 and 8,000 shaken city inhabitants took refuge at a Salesian-run skills training center about six miles west of the city. Both Australia and the United States issued travel advisories for East Timor, and Peace Corps volunteers have been relocated from the country.

Tax Forms Possibly Fixed to Cut Funding to Church

The Spanish revenue agency has sent taxpayers their income tax forms with the boxes allowing for voluntary contributions to either the Catholic Church or other nonprofit organizations already checked, often incorrectly. The forms are designed to allow taxpayers to indicate whether they wish to direct 0.52 percent of their income tax to the Catholic Church, to other nonprofit organizations, to split the percentage between the church and other nonprofits or to make no designation.


According to the Madrid daily La Razón, thousands of forms were premarked with the nonprofits box as the recipient. The paper claimed the forms were being manipulated to decrease funding to the church at a time when the church is negotiating its financing with the government.

The Catholic Church was financed by the Spanish government during the 36-year rule of Gen. Francisco Franco and still depends heavily on a large annual government grant, which includes money earmarked by citizens on their income tax declarations.

Faculty, Bishop Criticize Decision on Play

Several prominent University of Notre Dame faculty members have criticized the decision of the university’s president to allow future performances on campus of The Vagina Monologues, a play that explicitly discusses women’s sexuality and violence against women (see Am. 5/8). Bishop John M. D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend has said he is deeply saddened by the decision. He had previously asked that performances be ended.

On April 5, John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president, issued a statement saying that he had decided not to prohibit performances of The Vagina Monologues or other events, such as a gay film event, that present views contrary to Catholic teaching, as long as the issues are brought into dialogue with Catholic tradition. Some students and faculty celebrated the decision as a victory for academic freedom. Other students and faculty, however, expressed deep concern over it. Three faculty members wrote open letters published in The Observer, Notre Dame’s student newspaper, between April 11 and 20: John Cavadini, chair of the theology department; John Coughlin, a Franciscan priest who is a professor in the law school; and Wilson Miscamble, a Holy Cross priest who is a history professor and former rector of Notre Dame’s Moreau Seminary. They all expressed concern that Father Jenkins’s policy will damage the university’s Catholic character.

Portland Archbishop Stresses the Positive

In a letter to western Oregon’s 390,000 Catholics, Archbishop John G. Vlazny pointed to positive developments in the church as a larger context for understanding the Archdiocese of Portland’s bankruptcy case. The letter, released at Masses on April 30, also announced a $1 million budget cutback at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center. The archbishop cited the hundreds of Oregonians who entered the church at Easter, the high number of seminarians, the strength of Catholic schools, church assistance to vulnerable people and the continued preaching of the Gospel as reasons for the hope and the faith that I see in the faithful of this archdiocese. But Archbishop Vlazny said that, regardless of what may happen in the bankruptcy case...we face serious cash flow problems. He said $1 million in services to the parishes and schools will be trimmed for the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

Nun Was Pioneer in Catholic-Jewish Relations

Rose Thering, a Dominican Sister who was a pioneer in Catholic-Jewish relations and dedicated most of her life to fighting anti-Semitism, died of kidney failure on May 6 in Racine, Wis., at the Dominicans’ Siena Center, where she became a nun in 1936. She was 85 years old. Her funeral Mass was celebrated on the evening of May 9 at the Siena Center Chapel, with final commendation and interment the following morning at the order’s cemetery.

A scholar, educator and activist, Sister Thering was for decades in the forefront of challenging Christian prejudices against Jews and Judaism and promoting Christian-Jewish understanding. Her doctoral research in 1957-61, before the Second Vatican Council, focused on anti-Jewish teachings in U.S. Catholic catechisms, many of which at that time blamed all Jews for the death of Jesus. She was the subject of the award-winning documentary Sister Rose’s Passion.

Her unflinchingly honest analysis...profoundly influenced the development of the council’s groundbreaking declaration Nostra Aetate, said Eugene Fisher, an associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

New Cristo Rey High School in Newark

A Cristo Rey high school will be opening in the Archdiocese of Newark in September 2007. The high school will be the first to open in the archdiocese since 1964. To be named Christ the King, it will be located in a former Catholic elementary school that closed two years ago. Edward Glynn, S.J., former president of John Carroll University in Cleveland, has been named the school’s president. In making the appointment, Newark’s Archbishop John J. Myers cited Father Glynn’s extensive experience as an educator and administrator and said the priest will ensure the Catholicity of the school and foster the mission to provide an outstanding college preparatory program to the economically disadvantaged. Christ the King will be part of the nationwide Cristo Rey network of schools that integrate academics, community activities and corporate internships. Corporate sponsors are a necessary prerequisite for Cristo Rey schools because students are placed in a variety of entry-level jobs to help finance their education and provide work experience.

Vatican Approves Revised Norms on Sexual Abuse

With Vatican approval, the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued the revised special norms adopted by the U.S. bishops to deal with sexual abuse of minors by members of the Catholic clergy. Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., the U.S.C.C.B. president, decreed that the revised Essential Norms will take effect on May 15. The norms, which have the force of ecclesiastical law in all U.S. dioceses, require each diocese to have written policies on sexual abuse of minors by clerics, an assistance coordinator for victims and a review board that advises the bishop on individual cases and on policy.

Sociologist Identifies Splits Among Priests

The priest shortage, generational and cultural gaps and differences in leadership styles are contributing to a growing divide among U.S. priests, according to a noted sociologist. James Davidson, a Purdue University researcher who studies the sociology of religion, spoke on Understanding Divisions, Building Community at a workshop preceding the annual conference of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils on April 24-27.

Davidson had asked the priests to identify particular challenges within the priesthood that obstruct their ministries. Responses included a widening cultural and political divide, power struggles among fellow priests and between priests and bishops, and differing models of priesthood. Davidson defined two opposing models of priesthood: cultic, which sees the priesthood as above the laity, and servant-leader, which involves more of a team approach with the laity. That’s where I hear the greatest clash, he said.

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