Signs of the Times

Influx of Iraqis to Jordan Strains Resources

The enormous influx of Iraqis over the past five years has put a large burden on Jordan, said church aid officials who are trying to help the refugees. Though official estimates put the number of Iraqi refugees in Jordan at about 1 million, Catholic groups working with the refugees say that number is closer to 1.5 million. Overall the situation is very difficult, said Ra’ed Bahou, director of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine in Amman. Most of the refugees are very poor, and this country does not have the resources to deal with the situation. The arrival of the Iraqi refugees in this landlocked nation of some 5 million peoplemore than half of whom are former Palestinian refugeeshas caused prices to skyrocket, making the cost of living for the average Jordanian almost prohibitive, said Hania Bsharat, assistant manager of the Extremely Vulnerable Individuals project of Caritas Jordan, the local church’s charitable aid agency. Most Jordanians do not welcome the Iraqis, she said. We are a poor country.... There is no way they can go back to Iraq.

San Diego Diocese Seeks Bankruptcy Protection

The Diocese of San Diego has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection so that it can handle equitably more than 140 claims of sexual abuse against members of the Catholic clergy. It is the fifth and largest U.S. diocese to do so since 2004. San Diego’s Bishop Robert H. Brom announced the decision Feb. 27, the day before the first abuse lawsuit was to go to trial, after a last-minute flurry of negotiations between diocesan and plaintiffs’ lawyers brought no agreement. We put money on the table that would have stretched our financial capability to the limit, but demands were made which exceeded the financial resources of both the diocese and our insurance carrier, Bishop Brom said in a statement posted on the diocesan Web site. The bankruptcy proceedings, which will be conducted under the jurisdiction of the federal bankruptcy court in San Diego, effectively put any civil lawsuits on hold. We have decided against litigating our cases because of the length of time the process could take and, more importantly, because early trial judgments in favor of some victims could so deplete diocesan and insurance resources that there would be nothing left for other victims, Bishop Brom said.


Jesuit Physician Speaks on End-of-Life Ethics

Church teaching on end-of-life issues is much more than dilemmas and controversies, a priest-physician told a gathering of Catholic health care ethicists in Chicago March 1. Don’t let people hijack our church anymore, said Myles N. Sheehan, a Jesuit priest and geriatric oncologist who is senior associate dean for educational programs at the Stritch School of Medicine at Loyola University Chicago. Let’s pay attention to church teaching and not to what someone reads in this liberal magazine or that conservative magazine, he added. Too often, church teaching is reduced to feeding tube in or out? Ventilator on or off? he said. But an obsession with the controversies makes us forget our areas of broad agreement. Father Sheehan spoke on the second day of a three-day conference titled Catholic Health Care Ethics: The Tradition and Contemporary Culture, sponsored by the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy at Loyola’s medical school and by the Catholic Health Association.

Discrimination Found in Chaplain’s Dismissal

A Jesuit priest is to be reinstated as a chaplain at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center after a federal board ruled that he was fired because of religious discrimination. Henry Heffernan, S.J., 76, was ordered to be reinstated at the N.I.H. clinic in Bethesda, Md., by the Merit Systems Protection Board, a federal agency that hears personnel disputes. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in January that Father Heffernan was wrongly suspended and fired in 2004. The merit systems board, a quasi-judicial entity, upheld the decision in a Feb. 23 order. The E.E.O.C. found that Father Heffernan was suspended and fired because of concerns he raised with the way the spiritual ministry director at the center insisted upon a multifaith chaplaincy. Among Father Heffernan’s objections to the multifaith approach advocated by the office were that non-Catholic chaplains would not approach topics such as death and dying from a Catholic perspective and that they could not immediately provide sacraments to patients.

Polish Bishops Criticize Priest’s Book

Polish church leaders have criticized a priest’s book that examines links between members of the Catholic clergy and the Communist secret police in Poland. It shows a worrying lack of concern for humanist principles, Archbishop Jozef Zycinski of Lublin told Poland’s Catholic information agency, KAI. I fear God will deal severely with those who’ve created such a sensation, treating secret police notes as a fount of truth which needn’t even be contrasted with other sources. Archbishop Damian Zimon of Katowice said in a March 1 statement that the book tendentiously selected secret police material with the aim not of seeking truth but of impugning the good name of Bishop Wiktor Skworc of Tarnow, who was accused in the book of collaborating with Communists.

Archbishop Zimon said he had instructed Bishop Skworc to meet with the secret police to defuse social tensions in southern Poland. He added that the book’s author, the Rev. Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski, had no formal or moral right to investigate priests outside of the the Archdiocese of Krakow. The book, titled Priests in the Face of the Security Service, was released Feb. 28 by the Catholic Znak Publishing House and is based on Father Isakowicz-Zaleski’s 18 months of archive analysis.

Film on Tomb Should Just Be Ignored, Says Bishop

Auxiliary Bishop Giacinto-Boulous Marcuzzo of Jerusalem called James Cameron’s Discovery Channel documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, nothing more than a question of business. Bishop Marcuzzo said that the film, which aired March 4 in the United States and March 6 in Canada, was just an attempt to make a profit. In a March 1 interview in Nazareth, the bishop said the documentary could create confusion among the faithful by purporting that a tomb discovered nearly 30 years ago in East Jerusalem contained the bones of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and their son, Judah. People of faith, everyone, really, should dismiss this as nothing but nonsense, he said. It should just be ignored. The burial boxes used in biblical times to house the bones of the dead were found in the cave by the Israeli archaeologist Amos Kloner in 1980. Kloner wrote the original excavation report on the site for what is now called the Israel Antiquities Authority. He has called the filmmakers’ claim nonsense.

Lebanese Elections First Step to Fix Crisis

The patriarch of Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic Church said early presidential elections could be the first step in resolving the country’s ongoing political crisis. I’ve addressed a letter to [Lebanese President Emile Lahoud] to tell him that he is the judge of the situation and that he must step down...because the country will not support his position, Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, the Maronite patriarch, told Catholic News Service March 5. Cardinal Sfeir suggested that a simple solution to the dilemma would be to elect a new president to replace Lahoud when his term expires in November. The presidential election would be followed by the creation of a new cabinet and parliamentary elections, and the examination of the country’s electoral law, which are all conditions stipulated by the Hezbollah-led government opposition. But Lahoud, a Maronite Catholic, has claimed he cannot hand over power to a government that he has been calling illegitimate since the resignation of all five Shiite cabinet ministers in November. Lebanon’s Constitution requires that members of the major religious sects be represented at the cabinet level.

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