Signs of the Times

U.S. Bishops Urge Immigration Reform

President George W. Bush’s address on May 15 about immigration reform received mixed reviews from advocates for immigrants, who expressed gratitude for his support of legalization for illegal immigrants but had concerns about his plan to deploy National Guard troops on the border. Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino, Calif., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, said he welcomed the president’s speech on the need to reform the immigration system, but he expressed concern about the introduction of military personnel, because there has not been an adequate public discussion about its implications, especially for the treatment of migrants. In his first such nationwide address on a domestic policy matter, Bush gave his most explicit support to date for a program that would provide a way for most of the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the country to legalize their status.

Mass Attendance Steady Despite Abuse Crisis

The crisis over sexual abuse of minors by members of the Catholic clergy has produced little change in Mass attendance by Catholics and in monetary contributions to parishes, said a study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. But contributions to annual diocesan fund-raising campaigns have suffered significantly, it said. An overwhelming majority of Catholics also said that the crisis has hurt the church’s credibility on political and social issues, the study reported. CARA is the Catholic research organization based in Washington, D.C. The study was based on 10 telephone polls of self-identified Catholics starting in January 2001 and ending in October 2005. Seven of the polls were sponsored by the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Communications. The 42-page study, released on May 4, also used data from previous CARA surveys and from polls done by other organizations.


Commandments for Protecting Environment

A Catholic social vision for the environment can be translated into a short ethical set of 10 commandments, according to a Jesuit professor of social values. Environmental issuesranging from global warming, species depletion and extinction, deforestation, polluted and diminishing water supplies, a cascading growth of the world’s deserts, increasing salination of farmland, a precipitous loss of fish stock around the worldwould loom very large, indeed, in any thoughtful scrutiny of contemporary signs of the times which call for a Catholic discernment and response, said John A. Coleman, S.J. He made his remarks on April 25 during the annual Koch Lecture in Catholic Thought at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn.

Pope Expresses Concerns to Venezuela’s President

Pope Benedict XVI expressed his concern over the nature of reforms under way in Venezuela, specifically concerning abortion, religious instruction in public schools and the independence of Catholic media outlets. During a 35-minute, closed-door private audience in the Vatican on May 11 with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the pope spoke of some of the Vatican’s concerns and handed the president a letter at the end of their talk. One issue the pope mentioned was the importance of the protection of life from its beginning, said a written statement released by the papal spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls. While the country’s educational reforms include giving wider access to public education, especially to the poor by building more schools and eliminating entrance fees, the pope said he was worried about moves to eliminate religious instruction from the curriculum.

Migliore: Just Solutions Can Defeat Terrorism

Just solutions to political, social and economic problems that frustrate young immigrants worldwide can rob terrorists of the oxygen of hatred and thwart efforts to recruit the impressionable, the Vatican’s representative to the United Nations said on May 11. Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the permanent representative of the Holy See to the international body, spoke before the General Assembly during its informal consultations on a counterterrorism strategy. The political, social and economic exclusion of immigrant communities stokes the frustration of young people and has led to breakdowns in order in some places; but the demand for a just solution to these questions remains a legitimate one, the archbishop said. By resolving such questions swiftly and justly, nations can rob terrorists of the oxygen of hatred and of grievances, real or imagined, by which they attempt to legitimize their evil deeds and recruit the impressionable, he added.

Hispanics Should Be More Involved in Ecumenism

Hispanic Catholics and Protestants should engage in more ecumenical sharing, collaboration and witness, Thomas P. Rausch, S.J., told a national gathering of Catholic ecumenical leaders on May 9. Father Rausch spoke at a luncheon of the National Association of Diocesan Ecumenical Directors, held in conjunction with the National Workshop on Christian Unity on May 8-11 in San Jose, Calif. Over the past 40 years the ecumenical climate has changed forever in the U.S. Catholic Church’s relations with most Orthodox and Protestant churches, Father Rausch said. But among Hispanic Catholics and Hispanic Protestants, he said, in spite of some recent initiatives, the old hostilities are still strong.... This is particularly regrettable, given the rapid growth of the Hispanic community in the United States and the high level of Hispanics who continue to practice their Christian faith.

Tampering With Creation a Threat to Humanity

Science that tampers with human life threatens humanity, when people think they can fill in for God and tamper with creation, specifically human life, Pope Benedict XVI said. The human embryo must always originate from an act of love between a man and a woman and already be treated as a person, he said in an address on May 13 to members of the Pontifical Council for the Family. Scientific and technological advancement in the field of bioethics becomes a threat when man loses sense of his limits and, basically, claims to supersede God the creator, Pope Benedict said. Council members met on May 11-13 at the Vatican to discuss the achievements, challenges, and current and future projects of the department founded 25 years ago by Pope John Paul II. Two major themes under discussion at the council’s plenary assembly were the sanctity of life and marriage.

Puerto Rican Budget Faces Shortfall Crisis

San Juan’s Archbishop Roberto González, O.F.M., has been a prime mover in efforts to resolve the Puerto Rican government’s budget shortfall problems that have left 100,000 state employees without pay and shut down public offices and schools. The archbishop is part of a four-member special commission of civic leaders he helped set up to recommend measures to resolve the crisis. The problems started at the beginning of May, when the government announced it did not have enough cash to meet all its obligations through June 30, the end of the fiscal year. The shortfall has resulted in the closing of 43 government agencies and 1,600 public schools two weeks before the end of the academic year for 500,000 students. The situation led to a series of street protests organized by labor and political groups on the Caribbean island, a U.S. territory of 3.9 million people.

Nigerian Cardinal Criticizes Vandalism

Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie of Lagos condemned the vandalization of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation pipelines that led to the deaths of more than 200 people on May 12. A similar explosion last year killed about 50 people. The cardinal, who visited the site after the explosion, expressed shock at the way the vandals had punched holes in the pipeline to fill their jerry cans illegally with fuel. The fact that many are jobless is obvious. But that does not translate into people going into a crime of this magnitude and pilfering fuel from the pipelines, the cardinal said. He also said government leaders at the state and national levels need to provide more job opportunities. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s secretary of state, said in a telegram on May 13 to church and government officials in Nigeria that Pope Benedict XVI was deeply saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life caused by the recent pipeline explosion.

House of Lords Blocks Assisted-Suicide Bill

A bill opposed by British church leaders to legalize assisted suicide was blocked in the House of Lords, and its supporters accused church leaders of causing its defeat. One legislator who supported the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill accused Catholic officials of leading a very unpleasant campaign against the legislation and causing its defeat. After a seven-hour debate in the House of Lords on May 12, members voted 148 to 100 to delay the second reading of the bill. The vote wrecked any prospect that the bill could become law in the current parliamentary session. The outcome was seen as a victory for the Catholic Church in England and Wales, which in March began one of the largest campaigns in its modern history to prevent the bill from becoming law. Opening the debate, Lord Joffe, sponsor of the bill, urged politicians to recognize that the heavy mailbags they had received in response to the bill were the fruit of an unrepresentative lobby led by the Catholic Church.

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