National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  April 4, 2003


House votes to support ‘under God’ in pledge

The House of Representatives voted 400 to 7 March 20 to condemn a federal court ruling that found the words “under God” unconstitutional in the Pledge of Allegiance. The nonbinding House resolution said, “The recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, including the phrase ‘one nation, under God,’ is a patriotic act, not an act or endorsement of religious faith or belief.” All seven members voting against the resolution were Democrats, while 15 other Democrats voted present.

The resolution came three weeks after the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld its controversial decision that found the pledge violates the constitutional separation of church and state. Attorney General John Ashcroft has said he will appeal that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Atheist Michael A. Newdow sued the Elk Grove, Calif., Unified School District last year, claiming that his daughter’s religious freedoms were violated by being forced to recite or listen to the pledge. A lower court rejected the suit, but the 9th Circuit agreed with Newdow. The resolution, introduced by Rep. Doug Ose, R-Calif., said the court’s ruling could lead to the prohibition of other “voluntary speech containing religious references” in classrooms.

Antiabortion activist convicted of murder

Antiabortion activist James Kopp was convicted of murder March 18 for shooting a doctor who had performed abortions. Kopp, 48, was convicted in a Buffalo, N.Y., court of murdering Dr. Barnett Slepian with an assault rifle through a window of the doctor’s home in 1998. The conviction on a state charge of second-degree murder came after a one-day trial the previous day.

At his sentencing, scheduled for May 9, Kopp faces a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of life imprisonment, the Associated Press reported. Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark said his office would seek “not a day less” than the maximum sentence.

Kopp’s attorney, Bruce Barket, said of the court decision: “Jim and I were disappointed by the verdict but not shocked by it.” He added that Kopp asked him to ask this question of society: “What are you going to do to protect babies?” Kopp claimed he had only wanted to wound Slepian to prevent him from performing abortions. Kopp still faces a related federal charge of interfering with the right to an abortion.

Water risk
An Indian woman washes clothes in Madras March 18.  Arsenic contamination of the water supply in India, Nepal and Bangladesh is afflicting more than 35 million people and if left unchecked, could reach "catastrophic" levels, a U.N. researcher warned March 16.

-- Photo by Getty/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


No drilling in refuge
Caribou graze in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.  The U.S. Senate voted not to allow drilling for oil in the refuge March 19 by a 52-to-48 vote.

                                              -- Photo by AFP/Dibyangshu Sarkar

Canon law group issues guide on sex abuse norms

The Canon Law Society of America has issued a 47-page guide to following church law in implementing the U.S. bishops’ norms on clerical sexual abuse of minors. The booklet was written by the society’s task force headed by Msgr. Frederick C. Easton, judicial vicar of the Indianapolis archdiocese.

Titled “Guide to the Implementation of the U.S. Bishops’ Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing With Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons,” the booklet is divided into three main sections: the rights of abuse victims, the rights of the accused, and a summary of the processes to be followed when an allegation is made that a priest or deacon has sexually abused a minor.

The summary of the processes approaches each step in procedures from the standpoint of the rights of the accuser, the rights of the accused and the responsibilities of the bishop. Among victims’ rights the guide cites the right to be heard and rights of reputation and privacy. It spells out canonical processes available to victims to vindicate their rights, including the right to challenge a bishop’s decision if they feel his response to a complaint has been inadequate.

Aid agencies call for more aid in Africa’s Horn

About $350 million in additional food aid is needed to prevent widespread famine in Ethiopia and Eritrea, said heads of U.S.-based international aid organizations. The aid directors said 14 million Ethiopians and 2 million Eritreans -- roughly two-thirds of the countries’ population -- were at risk for starvation unless emergency food aid was immediately allocated for the region.

The directors, Kenneth Hackett of Catholic Relief Services, Kathryn Wolford of Lutheran World Relief and Julius Coles of Africare, were in Ethiopia March 9-14, meeting with staff and government officials. “The government officials confirmed what our staff has been telling us -- that the situation is getting worse,” Hackett said March 18 at a Washington news conference.

Hackett told reporters that there was a 350,000-ton shortfall in food aid, with famine levels possibly reaching mid-1980s levels, unless there was a rapid response from the international community. Hackett noted that 14 million Ethiopians were at risk now, compared with 8 million in 1984-85. He said a cooperative Ethiopian government made agencies hopeful they could prevent widespread famine, but the government needs the help of the international community.

Catholic press circulation up, according to new directory

The combined circulation of Catholic periodicals in the United States and Canada rose slightly over the past year, nearing the 26.9 million mark, according to figures in the 2003 edition of the Catholic Press Directory. Magazine circulation dropped, but the figures for Catholic newspapers, newsletters and foreign-language publications rose. The total number of publications listed in the directory dropped from 640 last year to 626 this year, mainly because the number of newsletters dropped from 136 to 125.

The directory is an annual publication of the Catholic Press Association, based in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. It lists the names of Catholic publications and their addresses, phone numbers, circulation, subscription costs, frequency of publication, advertising requirements and names of key personnel.

According to its statistical summary, total circulation of those publications rose from 26,805,268 last year to 26,874,009 this year. There were 215 English-language Catholic newspapers, two fewer than last year, but their combined circulation rose to 6,673,207, about 54,000 more than last year. The number of English-language magazines was 242, down one from last year. Their circulation was 14,469,227, down about 273,000 from last year.

Manchester diocese to sell bishop’s residence

The bishop of Manchester, N.H., will have to find a new home after church officials decided to close his official residence as part of budget cutbacks. Bishop John McCormack will vacate the stately brick home by June 30 as part of a $500,000 cutback. The Manchester diocese was ordered to trim its $2.5 million operating budget after paying $6.29 million in sex abuse claims last year.

The diocese has spent $2.2 million of its $2.5 million in savings on abuse cases, according to The New York Times. Part of the cutbacks include eliminating 19 jobs, including the staff at the bishop’s residence, and closing the diocese’s youth center. Closing the residence could save the church $47,000 a year, said Patrick McGee, church spokesman.

Previously, Chicago Cardinal Francis George also discussed the idea of selling his landmark residence in order to save money, and church officials in the Boston archdiocese have considered selling the cardinal’s palatial residence there.

Episcopal bishops urge ‘environmental stewardship’

The Episcopal bishops of New England said the region risks losing its treasured fall foliage because of global warming and called on parishioners to work for environmental protection. In a joint pastoral letter, the 11 Episcopal bishops of New England said Christians are called to protect God’s creation from acid rain, suburban sprawl, smog and dangerous pesticides.

“Today, the natural world is under assault, forest are being stripped and oceans plundered, natural resources are being exhausted and entire species killed,” they said in the Feb. 27 pastoral letter. “Today, the world is being stripped, beaten and left half dead.” Global warming threatens to strip the region of its maple, birch and beech trees within the next century, the bishops said. “We face the loss of our spectacular fall colors and the end of fall-foliage tourism, as well as the destruction of our region’s maple sugar industry,” they said.

The Episcopal bishops said Christians have a sacred obligation to care for the planet by recycling and practicing “environmental stewardship.” New England Episcopalians have experimented with several forms of “green power” in churches across the region. In Boston’s historic Copley Square, the landmark Trinity Church last year harnessed geothermal energy for cooling and heating that leave the church pollution-free.


Bishops call for investigation of dissidents’ torture claims

KENYA: The Catholic bishops here have called on the Kenyan government to investigate cases of torture of political dissidents during the 1980s and 1990s. In a March 14 letter to President Mwai Kibaki, the bishops said that those involved in torture and other human rights violations should “face the full force of the law.” The bishops said that they supported the formation of a truth commission to investigate the alleged abuses, which occurred during the 25-year rule of former President Daniel arap Moi.

In mid-February, stories emerged of how government opponents and ordinary citizens were beaten, starved and forced to eat their own feces, and endured other atrocities in the basement of Nyayo House, a government building in downtown Nairobi. Among the victims were current Minister of Public Works Raila Odinga and many prominent members of Parliament.

Victims are suing members of Kenya’s former intelligence branch and other government officials. They also are demanding that high-level officials, including Moi, appear before a truth and reconciliation commission to explain the existence of the government’s torture chambers and the reasons for the torture. Chief Justice Bernard Chunga, a prominent judge during the Moi era, currently is being investigated for his role in torture of dissidents.

Arab opinions of U.S. reach an all-time low

MOROCCO: Arab public opinion of the United State has dropped to record low levels, a survey conducted in early March by the Arab American Institute/Zogby International said. The survey reported that since April 2002, opinions of the United States in the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have dropped significantly.

Morocco and Jordan showed the most significant drop, with Morocco falling from 38 percent of those surveyed in 2002 reporting a “favorable” attitude toward the United States to only 9 percent in the 2003 poll. Saudi Arabia reported the least favorable opinion of the United States, with only 3 percent of respondents expressing a favorable view. The United Arab Emirates and Egypt showed the highest opinion, with 11 percent each giving the “favorable” response.

In all five countries, where a total of 2,600 individuals were interviewed, the U.S. policy toward Iraq received only single-digit ratings of “favorable.” Nine out of 10 respondents opposed the current U.S. policy. The pollsters noted that “these numbers do not necessarily translate into support for the Iraqi regime,” since more than half of those surveyed in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates said the government of Iraq should comply with United Nations weapons inspectors.

Religious leaders join in appeal for tolerance

ENGLAND: Christians, Jews and Muslims in Britain have been urged not to let the war in Iraq drive them apart. The appeal came in a joint statement by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, archbishop of Westminster; Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams; Free Churches Moderator David Coffey; Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks; the chairman of the Council of Mosques and Imams UK, Sheikh Zaki Badawi; and the co-president of Churches Together in England, the Rev. Esme Beswick.

“This is a conflict neither about religion nor between religions,” they said. “We completely reject any attempt to misrepresent it in this way. As Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders in this country, we believe that it is vital, amid so much uncertainty and turmoil, to resist any attempt to drive our communities apart.”

The religious leaders also stressed that respect for every human being during a war, as set out in the Geneva conventions and protocols, must be guaranteed on all sides. “The rights and needs of civilians innocently affected by the conflict must be fully protected,” they said.

Hans Küng turns 75, seeks reconciliation with Vatican

SWITZERLAND: A prominent Swiss theologian said he hopes his teaching rights at Catholic universities will be restored. Fr. Hans Küng, who turned 75 March 19, said he wanted to be considered a “loyal Catholic theologian” in spite of disagreements over specific issues. Küng, who by a 1979 injunction is no longer allowed to teach as a Catholic theologian because of his views on such issues as papal infallibility, told the German Catholic news agency KNA that he and the Vatican could achieve a “pragmatic reconciliation.”

“Rome wouldn’t have to adopt my positions, it would be enough if they were just tolerated. In spite of the unsolved problems, one could simply recognize what is already recognized in the community of Catholics: that I am a loyal Catholic theologian,” he said.

Küng was one of the youngest advisers called by the pope to the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, but he soon entered into controversy with dissident views on the infallibility of the pope and on the exclusivity of the Eucharist. Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz, head of the German bishops’ conference, said Küng’s desire for reconciliation was “a remarkable expression of will” and said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is “certainly ready to take it up,” KNA reported.

Court lifts blockade on rebel Greek monastery

GREECE: The highest court in the country has lifted an armed police blockade of a rebel monastery and postponed an eviction order until later this year, supporters of the monks said. The Council of State March 12 ordered police not to evict the monks from their 1,000-year-old home on historic Mount Athos in northeastern Greece. Two days later, the court said the monks could come and go from the monastery and receive shipments of food, medicine and heating oil.

The monks at Esphigmenou monastery had vowed to die in the seaside complex rather than obey an eviction order from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians. Bartholomew ordered the Esphigmenou monks out of the monastery after he labeled them “schismatic” last year, the latest salvo in an ongoing 30-year dispute.

The monks disagree with Barthol-omew’s efforts to end a thousand-year rift with the Catholic church (NCR, Feb. 21). When the monks refused to leave the monastery, where women and female livestock are banned from the grounds, Bartholomew ordered all food shipments cut off and Greek police surrounded the monastery, with orders to expel anyone who left it.

Bones are not those of disappeared U.S.-born priest

HONDURAS: Human bones discovered in January in a remote section of Honduras are not those of a U.S. priest who disappeared during the government’s campaign against leftists in the early 1980s, said a Jesuit who studied the remains. “After examining the skeleton and talking with forensic experts here, I am satisfied that the remains are not those of Jim Carney,” Fr. Joseph Mulligan said.

When the skeletal remains of a male over six feet tall were uncovered in the Honduran jungle in January, many hoped that Carney’s remains had finally been found (NCR, March 21). Aida Romero, the government’s special prosecutor for human rights, called solving the case “very important.” She said that lack of cooperation from Honduran military personnel and the U.S. government have hampered the investigation.

Carney, who ministered for nearly 20 years in Honduras, was expelled by Honduras’ military government in 1979. He reentered Honduras in 1983 as chaplain of a small guerrilla band attempting to overthrow the military government. Several versions of what happened to members of the guerrilla group have surfaced that point to Carney’s death at the hands of U.S.-backed soldiers carrying out counterinsurgency operations in the rugged Patuca River area of eastern Honduras.

Russian Orthodox, Vatican work toward better relations

VATICAN CITY: The Vatican and the Russian Orthodox church have opened a series of meetings aimed at improving relations frozen for more than a year in a dispute over the creation of Catholic dioceses in Russia, the Vatican said March 20. Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, met in Geneva March 19 with Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, who is in charge of external church relations, the council said.

“In an open conversation, they agreed to hold further consultations aimed at resolving the problems that exist between the two churches,” the brief statement said. Relations between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, strained since the fall of communism, have been frozen since February 2002 when the pope promoted four apostolic administrations in Russia to the status of dioceses, making up a new ecclesiastic province of Moscow (NCR, Feb. 22, 2002).

Following the pope’s action, Patriarch Alexei II canceled a scheduled visit by Kasper and virtually severed relations with the Vatican. The Russian government then expelled a Catholic bishop and four priests. In recent months, however, Alexey has signaled a willingness to resume talks and indicated he might even consider a papal visit to Moscow.

Briefs, gathered from news services, correspondents and staff, are compiled and edited by Gill Donovan.

National Catholic Reporter, April 4, 2003

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: