Signs of the Times

Brazilian Cardinal to Head Clergy Congregation

Pope Benedict XVI has named Cardinal Claudio Hummes of São Paulo, Brazil, a Franciscan, to be the new prefect of the Congregation for Clergy. The 72-year-old Brazilian-born son of German immigrants, Cardinal Hummes will succeed Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos of Colombia. The Congregation for Clergy, in addition to promoting initiatives for the ongoing spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation of diocesan priests and permanent deacons, also is responsible for the promotion of religious education through Catholic parishes. Although Cardinal Castrillón is retiring at the age of 77 from the clergy congregation, he continues to serve as president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, which oversees pastoral care for former followers of the traditionalist Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who was excommunicated in 1988 after ordaining bishops without papal approval.

Catholic Workers Want Military Law Rescinded

At the first national Catholic Worker gathering to be held in 10 years, participants issued a statement urging the U.S. bishops to demand the eradication of the Military Commissions Act, a new law governing how the United States detains and treats alien unlawful combatants. "We Catholic Workers are outraged at the recent passage of the Military Commissions Act, which subjects noncitizens, including legal residents of the U.S. and foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal," said the statement, drafted by representatives of more than 50 Catholic Worker houses and more than 300 Catholic Workers and friends meeting in Panora, Iowa, Oct. 19-22. "The act allows abusive interrogation methods which clearly violate the Geneva Conventions, strips prisoners of habeas corpus rights and provides immunity to the torturers," it said. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 was signed into law by President George W. Bush Oct. 17.


C.R.S. Helps Gaza Muslims Observe End of Ramadan

With the economic and political situation in the Gaza Strip in shambles and the unemployment rate skyrocketing to almost 90 percent, the month of Ramadan - the holiest season of the Muslim calendar - was difficult for residents like Nemr Jerad. Jerad, a 30-year-old father of six, lives with his family in an agricultural district bordering Egypt. He used to support his family with an annual income of $10,000 by exporting his crops to Israel and Egypt. But repeated closings of the border crossings by Israel, which Israel says are necessary for security, have left Gaza’s agricultural sector in ruins. The situation has worsened with the freezing of international aid and the withholding of tax revenues. "Using money from a special Catholic Relief Services fund established over the summer to assist Gaza and Lebanon, C.R.S. was able to aid almost 25,000 people in 3,200 needy families with food packages to help them celebrate the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday, which ended Ramadan," said C.R.S. director Tom Garofalo.

Modern War Changes Ethical Challenges

As the nature of war and conflict changes, so do the ethical challenges faced by members of the military, said the head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services. Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien, whose flock includes all U.S. Catholic military personnel and their families, was one of the speakers at an Oct. 23-27 Vatican conference for military ordinaries, the bishops in charge of the spiritual care of their nations’ armed forces. While a Catholic military chaplain’s ministry always will center on celebrating the sacraments, in a base chapel or a field tent, he also is called to be an ethicist, helping form and guide the approach of his unit and the concrete behavior of individuals, Archbishop O’Brien said. Like other speakers at the Vatican conference, Archbishop O’Brien said modern shifts in when a nation feels called to deploy troops raise new ethical questions. Ethical guidelines for a just war, including the principles that actions are proportionate and civilians are not targeted, were developed in the light of conventional wars between two countries or clearly identified groups. Now, he said, ethicists must deal with asymmetrical war, a conflict, such as one with terrorists, in which the two sides are not clearly identified, not similar entities and in which the battlefield can be anywhere.

Agenda for U.S. Bishops’ November Meeting

When the U.S. bishops meet in mid-November, they will debate and vote on statements about Catholic teaching on marriage and family planning, who is worthy to receive Communion and the pastoral care of homosexuals. They also will decide on a directory for liturgical music. Also on the agenda are the texts of liturgical readings for Advent, proposals for restructuring and downsizing the staff of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a funding proposal for research on the causes and context of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. The bishops will meet Nov. 13-16 at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel.

Strong Increase in Charitable Donations

The concept of donor fatigue did not seem to afflict the United States’ largest endowments, nonprofits and charitable groups in 2005, with Catholic organizations apparently benefiting from increased giving as much as most other major philanthropic groups, according to a survey conducted by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. In its annual study of the 400 largest philanthropic organizations, it found that the average increase in private donations was 13.2 percent, but some Catholic organizations eclipsed even that strong showing. Results of the study were published in the Chronicle’s Oct. 26 issue. Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore registered a 146.3 percent jump in donations, ranking 32nd out of the top 100 organizations, with $342.6 million in contributions. The Catholic Medical Mission Board, based in New York City, took in $196.74 million in donations, an increase of 60.4 percent. It was ranked 73rd. The other Catholic group in the top 100Catholic Charities USA, based in Alexandria, Va.ranked 14th, with support amounting to $646.19 million. Its contributions rose 11.2 percent.

Pope Grieves Over Abuse by Priests in Ireland

Pope Benedict XVI said priestly sexual abuse of minors was a heart-rending tragedy that requires an effort of purification by the church. Addressing Ireland’s bishops at the Vatican Oct. 28, the pope encouraged them to establish the truth about past sexual abuse cases, take steps to prevent future crimes and bring healing to the victims. The wounds caused by such acts run deep, and it is an urgent task to rebuild confidence and trust where these have been damaged, the pope said. Irish church leaders have had to deal with hundreds of allegations of clerical sexual abuse, many of which came to light in recent years. The bishops set up an advisory committee and an independent, lay-led commission to study the problem and earlier this year published Our Children, Our Church, a child protection policy that included new measures more consistent with civil procedures.

French Bishops: Tridentine Mass Threatens Unity

The possibility of a papal indult expanding permission to use the Tridentine Mass and the recent establishment of a traditionalist religious community in France threatens the unity of the church, said a statement from 10 French bishops on Oct. 30. The bishops, from the archdioceses of Besançon and Strasbourg and the Diocese of Metz, expressed their concerns over wider use of the Tridentine Mass, the pre-Vatican II rite favored by traditionalist groups. The old rite is celebrated in Latin and follows the Roman Missal of 1962, which was replaced in 1969 with the new Roman Missal.

Restored Baltimore Basilica Opens

"The $32 million restoration of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a gift not only to the Baltimore Catholic Church and community but to the entire nation," Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore said Oct. 30. The cardinal, seated in a wheelchair as he recovered from a broken ankle, spoke about the importance of the basilica as the first Catholic cathedral in the United States and as a symbol of religious freedom in the fledgling nation. Speaking at a media preview less than a week before the basilica was to reopen Nov. 4, the cardinal said the reopening would fulfill a long-held dream of sharing [the basilica] with the nation as both a beautiful place to worship and as a reminder of a time, until the American Revolution, when Catholics were persecuted as a devout minority. When the cornerstone was laid for the new church in 1806, it represented the rights of Catholics and other faiths to worship openly, Cardinal Keeler said. At that time, Bishop (later Archbishop) John Carroll of Baltimore was the only Catholic bishop for the entire country. Designed by Benjamin Latrobe, architect of the U.S. Capitol, the basilica was renovated to restore many original architectural details and to incorporate modern electrical, heating and cooling, plumbing and security systems in a way that maintained the building’s historical integrity.

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