National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  April 25, 2003


Catholic peace director fired for antiwar activities

Portland, Ore., Archbishop John Vlazny fired his peace and justice director, Frank Fromherz, April 8 who promoted an antiwar message Vlazny thought was “not in sync” with his own views, according to The Oregonian daily newspaper. A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that Fromherz was one of a group of employees being laid off after budget cuts, but Fromherz told the paper he was removed for violating his role as an “agent” for the archbishop. Fromherz, 49, is a professor of religion and society at the University of Portland.

In a note from Vlazny to Fromherz made available to the paper, the archbishop said, “Your decision to … promote your views about the war, which are not in sync with mine, is a violation of the basic principle of agency, which should govern your activities as archdiocesan director of justice and peace.”

Fromherz told the paper that he did not request Vlazny’s permission before organizing protests or writing antiwar material, and said that he thought the archbishop had a “perfectly plausible basis” for firing him. He said he hoped that in the future the archdiocese would show more tolerance of antiwar opinions, noting that his firing “could send a chilling message to someone in a parish who doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the archbishop.”

Army probe clears chaplain of coercive baptisms

A U.S. Army inquiry has determined that a Southern Baptist chaplain in Iraq who reportedly was giving baptisms to dirty soldiers has not been using coercion. “I am confident that Chaplain [Josh] Llano does not, has not and will not use coercion in the exercise of his official responsibilities,” said Chaplain [Col.] Al Buckner, director of operations at the Army’s chief of chaplains office at the Pentagon, in a statement.

A report from the Knight Ridder news agency about Llano’s possible exchange of baptisms for baths prompted strong criticism from organizations concerned about church-state separation. That news story stated that the 32-year-old chaplain, who described himself as a “Southern Baptist evangelist,” told a reporter: “It’s simple. They want water. I have it, as long as they agree to get baptized.”

A statement from the U.S. Army’s Office of the Chief of Public Affairs said Llano does not recall making such a statement. “He did make some of the remarks the reporter attributed to him, but not all to her, and not in the context or with the intent the article appeared to suggest,” the statement reads. The Army said soldiers at Camp Bushmaster were not suffering from a water shortage and the chaplain was only given water for baptism after water needs of the soldiers were met.

Dominican sisters convicted in missile silo trespass trial

Three Dominican sisters were convicted April 7 in federal court in Denver on charges of obstruction of national defense and of causing property damage of more than $1,000. Srs. Ardeth Platte, 66, Carol Gilbert, 55, and Jackie Hudson, 68, were arrested Oct. 6 after entering a Minuteman III missile silo in northern Colorado and symbolically disarming it by hammering on the tracks above the missile that is buried underground and leaving crosses with their blood at the site (NCR, Nov. 8).

“We contend we’re upholding the laws of the land, yet the government claims we’re breaking them. It seems that if Jesus were living today, Jesus would be considered a criminal, too, and be crucified again,” Platte told the Catholic Herald, the Colorado Springs diocesan newspaper, and The Chronicle of Catholic Life, Pueblo diocesan newspaper.

She made the comments from the Clear Creek County Jail in Georgetown, which is in the mountains west of Denver. The three women religious are being held in jail until sentencing because they refused an offer to be released on bond after the verdict was read. While they face up to 30 years’ imprisonment and fines up to $500,000, the lead prosecutor said it was unlikely they would receive the maximum penalty. Sentencing is scheduled for July 25.

Cardinal asks Bush to offer citizenship to all in military

Hours after celebrating the funeral Mass for a Guatemalan Marine who was awarded U.S. citizenship posthumously, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony asked President Bush to extend the same favor to all noncitizens in the military, not just at their deaths.

Mahony wrote his letter to Bush shortly after presiding over the funeral for Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, who was among the first casualties of the Iraq war when he was struck by enemy fire March 21 in a battle at Umm Qasr. Gutierrez, 22, came to the United States illegally as a teenager after being orphaned at the age of 10. He later obtained legal papers and joined the Marines in part to pay for college. The president granted him citizenship April 2.

In his April 7 letter, Mahony urged Bush to take whatever administrative steps necessary to award U.S. citizenship to every man and woman serving the military in the Persian Gulf and to set in motion the steps to award citizenship to anyone who is favorably discharged from the armed services. “While we are all grateful for that gesture after [Gutierrez’s] death, there is something terribly wrong with our immigration policies if it takes death on the battlefield to earn citizenship,” Mahony wrote.

Religious groups support ban of ‘conflict diamonds’

Religious and human rights groups are rallying behind a bill to ban so-called “conflict diamonds” that are illegally mined in Sierra Leone, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other nations. The Clean Diamonds Trade Act would ensure that diamonds imported into the United States are legally mined. Money from the sale of conflict diamonds has been used to support terrorist groups or dictatorial regimes.

The House passed the bill April 8 in a 419-2 vote. The Senate is expected to approve the measure soon, and President Bush has signaled that he will sign it. “This will be a day long remembered not just for those in Washington, but more importantly for the victims of African diamond warlords who have suffered physically and emotionally for years,” said Richard Stearns, president of the Christian aid group World Vision.

The primary supporters of the bill include World Vision, Catholic Relief Services, Amnesty International, Oxfam America and the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism. The legislation would codify a verification system known as the Kimberly Process to ensure that diamonds are legitimately mined and traded. Some 50 countries have signed on to the agreement.

Buddhists, Catholics meet for dialogue and meditation

Fourteen Buddhists and 14 Catholics met in northern California for four days of dialogue and silent meditation March 20-23. The Northern California Chan/Zen-Catholic Dialogue -- the first in an anticipated series of four annual meetings -- was held at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, a Buddhist university and monastic community in Talmage, about 110 miles north of San Francisco. Chan and Zen are the respective Japanese and Chinese names for a meditative school of Buddhism.

Cosponsors of the dialogue were the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, which runs the university and monastery, and the San Francisco Zen Center. Dharma is the term in Buddhist thought for duty or the moral and natural law that governs all things in the universe.

During the meeting each of the participants spoke on what it means for him or her to follow Christ or the way of the Bodhisattvas, enlightened beings. Each speaker also distributed a short text on the theme. Most of the texts distributed by Catholics were from the gospels or Christian saints. Buddhists shared texts from the “Avatamsaka Sutra,” the “Shurangama Sutra” or the writings of Zen masters.

U.S. version of instructions for Mass approved by Vatican

Belleville, Ill., Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, notified the bishops in late March that the Vatican has confirmed the U.S. English version of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. In a decree dated March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, he declared that it is to be “the sole translation ... for use in the dioceses of the United States of America.”

The instruction, approved in English translation by the U.S. bishops at their general meeting last November, presents norms for the celebration of Mass. It includes detailed instructions for each part of the Mass; for the duties of the celebrant, other ministers and the people; for differences when there are concelebrants and when a deacon is present or not; for the arrangement and furnishing of churches; and for the bread and wine and sacred furnishings, vessels and vestments.

It also has norms for the selection of Mass, the choice of texts for the Mass, the selection of texts set to music and special rules for Masses for the dead and Masses with prayers for various circumstances. USCCB Publishing said it plans to have the instruction published in book form by early May.

Pen pals
Libby Peters, 10, admires a drawing she received from a pen pal at the California state prison. Peters recently joined her father for a visit to a death-row prisoner at San Quentin. Her father, Kent Peters, heads the San Diego diocesan Office for Society Ministry, which sponsors a letter-writing campaign to death-row prisoners.
-- CNS/Kent Peters
Iraqi Christian women pray near a tapestry with an image of Mary April 13 during Sunday services at Al Najat Church in Baghdad. It was the first time worshipers ventured to church following the start of the coalition bombing of Iraq's capital city.
-- CNS/Nancy Wiechec
Palm Sunday pageant
Men dressed as Roman soldiers participate in a Palm Sunday procession in Antigua, Guatemala, April 13. Planning for the colorful pageants leading up to Easter begins well before Christmas.
-- CNS/Jill Replogle


Court rules against Vatican radio in pollution case

ITALY: The country’s highest appeals court has cleared the way for officials of Vatican Radio to be tried on charges of polluting the environment with electromagnetic emissions. The Court of Cassation, acting on an appeal by the Italian government, on April 9 reversed the finding of a lower court on Feb. 19, 2002, that the officials could not be tried because Italy lacks jurisdiction over Vatican territory.

The court will report the “motivation” for its ruling separately, probably not until late spring or early summer. “Vatican Radio takes notice of the court’s decision and will wait until it knows the motivation for the sentence,” the director of Vatican Radio said in a statement.

At issue are Vatican Radio’s powerful transmitters at suburban Santa Maria di Galeria, north of Rome (NCR, March 23, 2001). Residents of the town and nearby Cesano blamed a rise in cases of cancer and leukemia, especially among children, on the electromagnetic emissions from the transmitters. Vatican Radio lowered the emissions to comply with Italian law after a bitter war of words with government officials, who had threatened to shut off its worldwide Easter broadcasts after technicians reported that emissions had reached seven to eight volts per meter. Italian law puts the limit at six volts per meter.

Modified seed fails for some 500,000 farmers

INDIA: At least 500,000 farmers have been left in the lurch in eastern India after the failure of a crop of genetically modified maize. The Bihar state government now plans legal action against the distributors of the maize seeds produced by the U.S.-based company Monsanto. Puranamashi Ram, Bihar’s food minister, said March 26 that farmers, mostly in the state’s 20 northern districts, cultivated Monsanto’s “900 M” variety maize on 150,000 hectares of land.

“The plants have grown copiously and even borne large-sized corncob, [but] to the shock of our farmers, they have no grains within them,” he said.

Genetically modified organisms such as the 900 M maize have had their original genetic makeup altered in an attempt to enhance or produce desirable characteristics, such as increased yield or resistance to disease. Local people say distributors cheated farmers in selling them “unapproved” seeds that they promised would yield three times what local varieties produce. The state commissioner for agriculture, Madan Mohan Singh, said March 28 that the government directed officials to file criminal cases against the suppliers of the Monsanto maize.

Vatican calls for coverage of world’s simmering wars

VATICAN: Unprecedented news coverage has brought the war in Iraq into living rooms around the globe. Now the Vatican wants equal time for many of the “off-screen” wars simmering in more than 30 other countries. In early April, the Vatican missionary news agency, Fides, published a 22-page dossier to draw attention to the “silent wars” around the globe. The agency complained that, judging by newspaper headlines and running TV coverage, Iraq was the only war worth reporting -- or worth protesting.

“Millions of victims, including women and children, millions of wounded, millions of disabled who will always carry the signs of violence in their flesh do not make news, do not stir the media and do not send people marching in protest,” it said. “They don’t even merit a few lines in a newspaper.”

The pope has reminded people that as Baghdad, Iraq, burns, the Holy Land is still being devastated by continual violence between Palestinians and Israeli occupation troops. On April 9, the pope said that while the world’s attention was focused on Iraq equally tragic news was coming in from the Great Lakes region in Africa, where a massacre left hundreds of people dead.

Military chaplains consider same-sex ceremonies

CANADA: Military chaplains are considering offering same-sex marriage ceremonies as a gesture to help homosexuals in the military feel more at ease in the Canadian Armed Forces, reports the National Post. Anglican ministers within the forces are discussing making themselves available for “blessings” of gay and lesbian couples, the paper reports. It quotes a Defense Department official as saying there is nothing stopping a chaplain from officiating at the union of gay or lesbian soldiers.

Maj. John Fletcher, a senior Anglican chaplain, said he would “dearly love to be free to celebrate such ministry if requested by a couple to do so,” but conceded his church forbids same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Were the denomination to decide to perform such ceremonies involving military personnel, the nation’s Defense Department would not stand in the way, said Lt. Col. Dave Kettle, a spokesman for the chaplain-general’s office.

Embargo isolates people from new ideas, priest says

CUBA: The U.S. economic embargo against Cuba is preventing the free flow of information and new ideas into the communist-ruled Caribbean nation, said Trinitarian Fr. Stan De Boe, justice and peace director of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men. De Boe, part of a delegation of religious men and women from the Americas who visited Cuba in March, said religious leaders in Cuba want an end to the embargo for more than economic reasons.

Information is limited in Cuba under the regime of President Fidel Castro, which controls the mass media allowing the government to control the thoughts of Cubans about world events, he said. “The government’s political view is the only voice heard. There are no other views on politics presented,” said De Boe. Education focuses on technology and science with a lot of issues such as social justice and community organizing ignored, he said.

De Boe said that restrictions on U.S. citizens visiting Cuba should also be lifted. This would lead to a greater exchange of ideas between Americans and Cubans, he added. De Boe was part of a delegation composed of leaders of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Canadian Religious Conference and the Conference of Latin American Religious.

Suicide protests lacked clear motive, official says

CZECH REPUBLIC: A series of suicides designed as political statements by Czech youths were “desperate acts” that lacked any clear motive, said a Czech church official. “The church is against suicide, even when it may be connected with political protests,” said Lawrence Cada, press officer for the Czech bishops’ conference.

Five suicides by immolation have occurred since March, with the latest occurring April 2 in Plzen by a 21-year-old student who left a note deploring “global injustices” and the state of Czech schools and hospitals. Cada said that church leaders had not spoken out on the incidents, which were viewed by many as “publicity-seeking actions.” He added, “As protests, they could be connected with the constant stories of corruption here. But the economic situation is actually improving, so this makes little sense.”

The April 2 suicide came a day after a Prague man was rushed to the hospital after dousing himself in gasoline and less than a month after a 19-year-old died in an incident in Prague’s Wenceslas Square. The Czech CTK news agency said officials found a note expressing the 19-year-old’s “dissatisfaction with the global political situation” and describing himself as “a victim of the so-called democratic system where not people but money and power decide.”

Group calls U.N. to recognize famine was act of genocide

UKRAINE: A coalition of Ukrainian church groups petitioned the United Nations to declare that a Soviet-orchestrated famine in the 1930s was an “act of genocide.” The All-Ukrainian Council of Churches said in a petition to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, “The man-made famine of 1932-33 in Ukraine was devastating for our nation and placed our people’s very existence in question.”

“The churches of Ukraine offer prayers for the millions of innocent victims of this crime against humanity. They want the memory to become an eternal warning to all nations throughout the world that they should work together to preserve creation,” the petition said. “This terrible disaster took the lives of approximately 10 million people and became the largest in scale and at the same time least-known of all the 20th century’s tragedies.”

The council, chaired by the head of the Eastern-rite Ukrainian Catholic church, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of Lviv, said the Soviet regime had refused help for famine-afflicted regions and had instead “deliberately worsened their situation” by confiscating food and crops and turning back from western Russia any who tried to cross the Dnestr River into Romania. Also included in the 16-member council are Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders.

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

National Catholic Reporter, April 25, 2003

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