National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  April 18, 2003


Enrollment down in nation’s Catholic schools

Enrollment in the nation’s Catholic schools fell by 2.4 percent last year as 140 schools were closed or consolidated, yet experts say there are strong signs of life for parochial schools. Forty percent of Catholic schools have waiting lists for admission, and 47 new Catholic schools opened last year, according to a report issued by the National Catholic Educational Association.

Enrollment in the country’s 8,000 Catholic schools fell by 65,000 students to 2.5 million. One-quarter of students are members of minority groups, and 13 percent are non-Catholic, although that figure can reach higher than 70 percent in some urban settings. Despite 300 new schools in the past decade, the number of Catholic schools is down about 5 percent.

Michael Guerra, president of the NCEA, said population shifts to the suburbs have emptied inner-city schools. “We have students anxious to attend Catholic schools in places where we don’t have enough buildings. And in some areas, we have an abundance of buildings but fewer students,” he said. Guerra said the economic downturn has made it difficult for middle-class families to afford tuition, even though scholarships are often available for lower-income families.

Boston Globe wins Pulitzer for church abuse coverage

A Boston Globe investigation into sexually abusive priests that sparked a national overhaul in Catholic church policy won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The prize cited the newspaper for “courageous, comprehensive coverage of sexual abuse by priests, an effort that pierced secrecy, stirred local, national and international reaction and produced changes” in the Catholic church.

The Globe’s investigation, which began with a court victory to unseal church documents in late 2001, eventually led to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law one year later for his handling of the abuse crisis. Globe articles that began appearing in January 2002 led to a national review of church sex policy, which resulted in dramatic reforms passed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops six months later (NCR, July 5, 2002).

“You made history last year,” Globe editor Martin Baron told a packed newsroom April 7 after the awards were announced. “And you made the world a better and safer, and more humane place.” The public service award carries no cash prize, but the paper will receive a gold medal. The Pulitzers are administered by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.

Anti-hunger group says subsidies hurt poor farmers

Bread for the World, a Christian anti-hunger group, says that government subsidies for farmers are actually hurting rural America and keeping foreign farmers locked in poverty. The group said in its 13th report on world hunger that the $310 billion spent by developed nations on agricultural subsidies could be better spent on economic development, job training and direct assistance to the poor, both at home and abroad.

According to the report, almost half of the $95 billion spent by the United States to support U.S. farmers in 2001 went to only 8 percent of farmers. Approximately 60 percent of farmers got no federal aid; most went to large agribusiness operations. Subsidies artificially inflate prices of U.S. goods and clog the world market with excess products like corn, cotton and wheat, said the Rev. David Beckmann, the group’s president. Meanwhile, poor overseas farmers cannot sell their products, keeping them locked in poverty.

The report found that eliminating government subsidies would triple the net agricultural trade of foreign markets, including $10.7 billion a year in sub-Saharan Africa and $22.8 billion in Asia.

Faith-based halfway house constitutional, court says

An appellate court has ruled that the funding of a Milwaukee faith-based program by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections is constitutional. A decision by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined that Faith Works Milwaukee is one of several choices given parole violators who are required to enroll in a halfway house contracting with the state.

Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wis.-based organization, said that the recommendation of the faith-based program by some parole officers could amount to “governmental support to religion.” Annie Laurie Gaylor with the Freedom From Religion Foundation told the Associated Press that her group considers it “bad treatment to tell addicted men their addiction results from sin and belief in Christ is the solution.”

The appellate panel rejected the group’s argument, saying, “To exclude Faith Works from this competition on the basis of a speculative fear that parole or probation officers might recommend its program because of their own Christian faith would involve the sacrifice of a real good to avoid a conjectured bad.” Its decision upheld a July 2002 ruling by a district court.

Don’t disenfranchise Catholic health care, doctor says

Warning that secularism has risen to the level of a “substitute religion,” a prominent Catholic doctor said April 4 that Catholic health care providers and institutions must not allow themselves to be “disenfranchised” by attempts to remove the religious dimension from their work. “The greatest danger today to the fruitful interaction of religion and medicine is the turn being taken by academic bioethics and those who -- not thinking on their own -- accept academic bioethics as authoritative,” said Dr. Edmund Pellegrino, professor emeritus of medicine and medical ethics at the Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University in Washington.

He was speaking on the last day of a three-day symposium at The Catholic University of America on “Diverse Visions in American Health Care: Conflict, Conscience and the Law.” The gathering was sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Program in Law and Religion of The Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law and School of Religious Studies.

Pellegrino said religion “profoundly influences, alters and contributes to medicine” as a “source of morality beyond and outside man and woman.” He urged physicians to view their work as a vocation -- “something more than a job” -- and said such an approach is “necessary to restrain the hubris that often accompanies the immense power of modern medicine.”

Business manager arrested at Florida Catholic newspaper

Kathi Williams, business manager for The Florida Catholic newspaper, was arrested March 25 on grand theft charges after preparations for an audit revealed an undetermined amount of missing funds.

Steve Paradis, editor/general manager of the operation that produces editions for the Miami archdiocese and the five Florida dioceses, resigned from his post three days later, although he is not implicated in Williams’ alleged financial wrongdoing. “I felt that under the circumstances it was the best way for myself and for the newspaper to move forward,” Paradis said March 31. Carol Brinati, director of communications for the Orlando diocese, emphasized that Paradis was “not involved at all” in the alleged theft but offered his resignation only because it “occurred under his watch.”

Brinati said the problem was discovered when an outside accounting firm, hired to help the newspaper prepare for its annual audit, discovered “some discrepancies” in its financial records. When the consultant confronted Williams about the discrepancies, she “admitted taking some money,” Brinati said. Williams was arrested, posted $1,000 bail and was released March 26, according to an Orange County jail clerk. Brinati said she did not know how much money had been taken.

Mexican bishop calls laity to ministry at Texas meeting

The world today needs the testimony of the church, especially that of the laity, Bishop José Raúl Vera López of Saltillo, Mexico, told El Paso-area Catholics March 29. The bishop, whose diocese borders the United States, issued a plea for the laity to become partners with Jesus in the ministry of service to which all Catholics are called through baptism. El Paso Bishop Armando Ochoa awarded certificates to 720 lay ministers and catechists during the congress’s closing Mass.

Vera was keynote speaker for a two-day diocesan congress, which brought nearly 3,000 participants to the El Paso Civic Center for presentations by leading figures in ministry from across the United States and Latin America. The theme of the gathering was “Hagamonos en Cristo/Let Us Be Strong in Christ.”

Citing the Blessed Virgin Mary as the premier partner of Jesus, Vera stressed that Jesus drew many people marginalized by society -- a tax collector, Mary Magdalene and others -- and converted them to the mission of the gospel. It is very important, Vera said, to understand that priests, consecrated religious and laity are complementary in accomplishing the mission of the church.

Touch up
Danielle Shaulis of Tri-Maple Studio works on the Christ figure of the first station from St. Patrick Church in Erie, Pa. Fourteen life-size depictions of the Way of the Cross, originally carved in Germany between 1893 and 1901, were being restored by the New Alexandria studio.
-- CNS/Edward Zelachoski
Victims of ethnic violence
A woman and two children wait for care at a hospital in Drodro, Congo, April 8. Tribal warfare left some 350 civilians dead when militias attacked the town with machetes and guns April 3 at dawn. During his weekly general audience April 9, Pope John Paul II decried ethnic conflict and prayed for peace in central Africa.
-- CNS/Reuters

Buddhists, Catholics launch first formal dialogue

Buddhists and Catholic bishops sat down at a California retreat center recently for their first round of official dialogue. The March 20-23 talks were the first for the two sides, organized by the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, the San Francisco Zen Center and the U.S. bishops’ conference.

The 14 Buddhists and 14 Catholics spoke about what it means to follow the way of Bodhisattvas (enlightened beings) and the way of Jesus Christ. The group reflected on the writings of a range of religious figures from the Dalai Lama to St. Ignatius. “Several times participants discussed their understanding of terms such as transformation, grace, the incarnation and the passion of Jesus, discernment of spirits, prayer, Buddha-nature and related terms,” a church news release said.

Each day was opened with 45 minutes of optional meditation in the Buddhists’ meditation hall. The Buddhist hosts transformed their Confucius Hall into a space for Christian worship, with a newly constructed wooden cross on the wall. The two sides plan to meet again in 2004 and continue regular talks through 2006.

Remove Mother Teresa image from bus passes, atheists say

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has asked the city bus system in Madison, Wis., to stop using an image of Mother Teresa on bus passes. The group of atheists and agnostics said that members of the public complained after seeing an image of the well-known nun on bus tickets for the month of April. Mother Teresa died in 1997 and is scheduled to be beatified by the Vatican this fall.

Anne Nicol Gaylor, president of the foundation, said Mother Teresa knew the depths of poverty caused by overpopulation yet “campaigned throughout her life against contraception, sterilization and abortion for anyone, promoting Roman Catholic dogma.” She said, “Women who ride the publicly owned Madison Metro bus service should not have to spend a month looking at her. Religious figures do not belong on monthly passes of publicly owned transportation facilities,” Gaylor said.

Julie Maryott-Walsh, a spokeswoman for the bus system, said there are no plans to remove the Mother Teresa bus passes. Other figures in the yearlong series include Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt and Henry Ford. Maryott-Walsh said the Calcutta nun was chosen for her service to the poor and as a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, not for her Catholic faith.


Church official questions tactics in war on drugs

THAILAND: An eight-week-old war on drugs in Thailand has left more than 1,500 people dead, leading a church official to question the government’s methods in tackling the problem. Jesuit Fr. Vichai Phokthavi, secretary of the justice and peace commission of the Thai bishops’ conference, questioned the government’s approach to the drug problem, even though the government has received wide public support.

“This campaign should not be a ‘license’ for police to kill drug dealers,” Vichai said. The priest questioned whether the number of drug dealers killed should be used as a “standard measure” for judging the success of the campaign. He also doubted government and police claims that the killings were committed by drug dealers among themselves and expressed concern as to whether due process was being followed and whether rehabilitation was being used in the campaign.

On Feb. 1, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra initiated the nationwide campaign to eradicate use of illegal drugs, primarily amphetamines. He said they cause great damage to society. Near the end of March, official figures cited by media for the number of people killed directly or indirectly as a result of the campaign were close to 1,500, with some 30,000 drug users and dealers reportedly arrested.

Bishops claim police involvement in killings

HAITI: A report by the Haitian bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission charges that at least a murder a day has occurred in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince over a four-month period, several with police involvement or complicity. The report, which gives the names of victims, the location of the murder and a brief description of the incident, reveals there were 40 murder victims in November, 24 in December, 9 in January and 44 in February.

In many cases, victims were unidentified, suggesting that assassins dumped bodies in areas where the victims were unknown, the report said. “Such violence is a direct consequence of the free circulation of firearms and the climate of insecurity and impunity that has taken hold of the country,” Fr. Jean Hanssens, director of the Justice and Peace Commission, said in the report.

In one incident, the report said, a 17-year-old boy was killed by eight men hired by the wife of the police commissioner of Jacmel. The report said Barbara Petiote Pierre sought to have the youth killed after he dumped garbage in front of her house. In another incident, the bodies of three brothers were discovered by their mother in a Port-au-Prince morgue. The brothers had been arrested in early December.

Church activities curtailed after deadly virus outbreak

CHINA: Catholic church services during Holy Week in Hong Kong will be curtailed as an increasing number of people are infected with a deadly pneumonia virus. To curb the spread of the disease, called severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, the Hong Kong diocese has suggested that the foot-washing rite during the Holy Thursday liturgy be suspended, Fr. Thomas Law Kwok-fai said. On April 2, Hong Kong authorities reported that of the 685 people infected by SARS 16 had died.

Law, who heads the diocesan liturgy commission, said the diocese also suggested that there be no baptism by immersion during the Easter Vigil April 19. However, a decision on canceling the Palm Sunday procession April 13 had not yet been made, he added.

In Canada, the Toronto archdiocese has also taken some precautions against the spread of the disease. It has issued a letter to priests saying that during Mass they can omit both the common cup of wine from the eucharistic liturgy as well as the practice of shaking hands in the exchange of peace. Nine people have died of the disease in Canada thus far, and 217 cases have been reported.

Water access is a human right, Vatican document says

JAPAN: Access to water for drinking, farming and sanitation is a basic human right that should be guaranteed explicitly by international law and assisted by international development programs, the Vatican said. The lack of safe drinking water and sanitation systems “all too often is the cause of disease, unnecessary suffering, conflicts, poverty and even death,” said a Vatican document presented at the March 16-23 World Water Forum in Kyoto.

The Vatican document said more than 1 billion of the world’s people do not have access to adequate supplies of drinking water and that twice as many lack adequate sanitation. Many people have argued that, like the right to air to breathe, the right to water is so basic that is does not need to be listed among specific human rights in international documents, the Vatican said. But, the document said, it might be time to state the right explicitly because of the seriousness of the problem and its threat to human life and human dignity.

While the Vatican encouraged new laws, international development and foreign investment projects aimed at increasing access to safe water supplies, it also said water policy-makers should try to learn from the many indigenous communities that have age-old, environmentally sound methods of water procurement and conservation.

U.S. missionary killed during roadside robbery

GUATEMALA: A U.S. missionary was shot and killed in Guatemala during a roadside robbery. Kentucky native Todd Fields, 41, had been a Christian missionary in Honduras for 13 years. According to the Associated Press, Fields was driving a group of high school students to a retreat in neighboring Guatemala when the group was held up March 28. Elizabeth Hammons, Fields’ mother-in-law, told a Kentucky newspaper that his van was carrying two other adult missionaries and the children of missionaries when it was robbed.

“Men in a van pulled up alongside their van and tried to get them to stop and tried to run them off the road,” Hammons said. Rather than pull over, Fields “tried to get away and to run them off the road.” The robbers fatally shot Fields, but left the other two adults and students unharmed after taking them to a secluded area and robbing them.

Fields and his wife, Lynnell, had lived in Honduras with their daughters Savannah, 14, and Sophia, 10. The two missionaries served with Global Outreach International, a nonprofit foundation based in Tupelo, Miss. An interdenominational Christian missions agency, Global Outreach has more than 100 missionaries stationed in developing countries to aid needy communities and evangelize.


Franciscan province sues Los Angeles archdiocese

An Indiana province of the Conventual Franciscans is suing the Los Angeles archdiocese seeking reimbursement of any likely costs in a sexual abuse suit against a Franciscan priest who served in the archdiocese. In a legal action filed in Orange County Superior Court, according to a Los Angeles Times report, the Province of Our Lady of Consolation Conventual Franciscan Friars argue they were not responsible for the actions of a friar on loan to another Catholic organization.

The Franciscan priest, Bertrand W. Horvath, allegedly sexually molested an altar boy at Mission Viejo 30 years ago when the Orange diocese was still part of the Los Angeles archdiocese.

In another Southern California development, Fr. Carl Sutphin, forced in 2002 to retire as associate pastor of the new Los Angeles cathedral, has been arrested by Ventura County authorities and charged with 10 counts of felony molestation. His accusers, two brothers, allege they were 9 and 12 respectively when Sutphin molested them on a fishing trip and later while hearing confession. If convicted, the priest, who is being held on $500,000 bail, could face up to 17 years in prison.

-- Arthur Jones

California freezes clock on clergy abuse investigation

With time about to run out for prosecuting several priests accused of sexual abuse, California Gov. Gray Davis signed emergency legislation April 3 that freezes the clock while judges consider the merits of defense challenges to subpoenas for evidence.

A March 21 NCR story reported that the archdiocese was aware it had “little to lose and everything to gain from delay” on such criminal cases. The law was rushed through the Legislature as an April 8 deadline approached for a Los Angeles grand jury to hand down indictments against several priests and former church employees accused of having molested children.

A 1994 California law eliminated a statute of limitations requiring charges for sexual abuse of minors to be brought no more than six years after the crime itself. The 1994 law said there is no time limit from the crime itself, but the state must bring charges within a year after law enforcement authorities learn of an allegation. The new law suspends that time limit while the court is engaged in processing legal challenges to a possible indictment.

Catholic Charities accepts donation nixed by bishop

Despite a decision to the contrary by Bishop Richard Lennon, apostolic administrator of the Boston archdiocese, Catholic Charities board members voted April 8 to accept $35,000 from the Voice of Compassion, the fund-raising arm of lay group Voice of the Faithful. Lennon had barred the agency from accepting donations from the group March 31. He further told other archdiocesan institutions not to accept their donations.

In a letter addressed to Lennon, Voice of the Faithful had warned that it would offer the money to Catholic Charities if the archdiocese refused the money. Catholic Charities, a charitable organization within the archdiocese, had taken money from the lay group last December after Boston Cardinal Bernard F. Law, then head of the archdiocese, turned down the funds (NCR, Aug. 2, 2002).

In response to Catholic Charities’ decision to again accept the donation, Lennon issued a statement April 8, saying: “I am disappointed that Catholic Charities has decided to accept money from the Voice of Compassion Fund.” However, in keeping with his stated goal of “fostering unity,” he said he “will not take any steps at this time regarding their decision.” Lennon said that he remains committed to “those in need of assistance,” and said that he hoped unity, “so necessary for the Archdiocese of Boston, will be brought about by all of us working together.”

Neal F. Finnegan, chairman of the Catholic Charities board in Boston, said the group had been “put in a difficult position,” but, he told The Boston Globe, “we felt that we had a higher responsibility to the needs of the poor, and to the basic mission of Catholic Charities.”

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

National Catholic Reporter, April 18, 2003

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