Signs of the Times

No Letup in Anti-Christian Violence in India

Catholic educational institutions across India closed Aug. 29 to protest the continuing violence against Christians that has left at least 11 people dead in India’s eastern Orissa State. On Aug. 26 Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil of Ernakulam-Angamaly, president of the Indian bishops’ conference, appealed to all Catholic groups to organize “peaceful rallies across the country to register strong protest against the repeated attacks” on Christians. Reports indicated no letup in the anti-Christian violence. They recounted how armed men ransacked and burned church properties in the state. The Vatican condemned the attacks Aug. 26 and expressed its solidarity with Catholics in Orissa. It urged everyone to recommit to dialogue and respect for one another. The church also will observe Sept. 7 as a day of prayer and fasting for Christians in Orissa.

Novena Podcast for Days Before Election

The U.S. bishops are encouraging Catholics to pray a novena for life, justice and peace before the November national elections. The special novena is part of “the bishops’ campaign to help Catholics develop well-formed consciences for addressing political and social questions,” said Joan Rosenhauer, associate director of the U.S.C.C.B.’s Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development. The bishops adopted the document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility in November 2007. The novena for faithful citizenship can be used in the usual way, on nine consecutive days before election day, or on one day in each of the nine weeks leading up to the election or “in any way that works best for a community or individual,” said Rosenhauer. The Conference has made available for download from the Internet a podcast of the novena for faithful citizenship ( It will be available until the Nov. 4 election.


Labor Conflict at California Catholic Hospital

When Msgr. John Brenkle heard of the labor-management trouble brewing at Catholic-run Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital in California, he knew he had a touchy problem on his hands. Workers were telling him that the hospital’s owner—the St. Joseph Health System, under the direction of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange—was strongly anti-union. But Monsignor Brenkle, pastor at St. Helena Parish in Santa Rosa and an experienced hand at labor law, told Catholic San Francisco, the newspaper of the neighboring Archdiocese of San Francisco, that he knew the sisters as having an exemplary record in battles for farm worker rights in the 1960s and for “the tremendous amount of good work they do for the poor.”

United Healthcare Workers West, a unit of the Service Employees Inter-national Union, has been trying to organize workers at Santa Rosa Memorial for the last several years. The union filed a National Labor Relations Board complaint in March 2005 alleging the employer had used intimidation and threats during a workplace campaign leading up to an election on union representation. John Borsos, a union vice president, said the conflict started in 2004 when the employer hired a “union avoidance firm” in response to the organizing campaign. Far from reaching agreement on their differences, the hospital system and union have prolonged their battle and now are entrenched in a fight that has attracted the national media to the union’s narrative about a Catholic employer’s performance in light of church teaching.

Church Works to Suspend Immigration Raids

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, R.I., and 15 Catholic pastors have called on a federal immigration official to stop massive immigration raids in Rhode Island for the time being and to allow agents who disagree with such raids on moral grounds to step aside as conscientious objectors. In an Aug. 19 letter to Stephen Farquharson, interim director of the Boston office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the group urged that the moratorium stay in place until the country implements “a comprehensive and just reform of our immigration laws.... We need a moratorium until we can get this broken system repaired.” I.C.E. spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said agents have taken an oath to uphold the law. “We will continue to enforce the law and I would stress we do that in a very professional way with an acute awareness of the impact that enforcement has on the individuals we encounter.”

Maryland Bishops Testify Against Death Penalty


While others debated the financial costs of maintaining the death penalty in Maryland, Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien highlighted moral concerns during an Aug. 19 appearance before the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment. Testifying in the state capital for the first time since his Oct. 1, 2007, installation as head of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop O’Brien said Catholic opposition to the death penalty is consistent with the church’s respect for the sanctity of human life. He quoted from Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical The Gospel of Life, which calls for the defense of life from conception to natural death. “Woven into the fabric of the [pope’s] exhortation was an appeal to end capital punishment—to stand against the killing of even those who have committed murder and, in so doing, have affronted God’s dominion and denied their own and their victims’ God-given humanity,” said Archbishop O’Brien, who was accompanied by Bishop Eugene Sutton of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and Bishop John Schol of the United Methodist Church of Maryland.

Conscience Protection for Health Care Workers

The rights of doctors, nurses and other medical personnel who do not want to be involved in abortion and sterilization procedures for religious or moral reasons would get a boost under new rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Announced Aug. 21, the regulations are designed to increase awareness of three laws already on the books, the first dating to 1973, regarding conscience protection for health care workers. Hospitals and other health care institutions that receive federal funds would be covered by the regulations as well. “The proposed regulations are absolutely essential,” said Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for policy and communications in the Office of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “These regulations are implementing long-standing laws on the books. They’re not expanding those laws, they’re not changing them, they’re not introducing new material except to raise awareness about their existence.” The rules would cover a wide range of activities, from full-scale participation in a procedure to the cleaning of instruments afterward, McQuade explained.

Bishops: Pelosi Misrepresented Abortion Teaching

The chairmen of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life and doctrine committees criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying she “misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church on abortion” in a nationally televised interview Aug. 24.

Pelosi, (D-Calif.,) who is Catholic, said in an appearance that day on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that church leaders for centuries had not been able to agree on when life begins.

An Aug. 25 statement by Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., said the church since the first century “has affirmed the moral evil of every abortion.”

“The teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable,” the statement said. “Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.”

The statement recalled how in the Middle Ages “uninformed and inadequate theories” about the development of a child in a mother’s womb led some theologians to suggest that human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy.

“While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development,” the church leaders said.

However, they added, scientists discovered more than 150 years ago that a new human life begins with the union of sperm and egg, making such a biological theory obsolete.

“In keeping with this modern understanding, the church teaches that from the time of conception (fertilization), each member of the human species must be given the full respect due to a human person, beginning with the respect for the fundamental right to life,” Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Lori concluded.

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, Pelosi said specific considerations must be undertaken during each trimester of a child’s development before an abortion can be performed. “This isn’t about abortion on demand. It’s about careful, careful consideration of all factors...that a woman has to make with her doctor and her God,” she told Brokaw.

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