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Issue Date:  March 7, 2008


Abuse limitations bill withdrawn

BALTIMORE -- Catholic church officials have expressed gratitude that a Maryland lawmaker has withdrawn a bill that would have lifted the statute of limitations on child sex abuse civil cases. Catholic leaders feared that, had it become law, the financial toll of such cases would have devastated parishes, schools and ministries.

Eric Bromwell, a Democratic member of the House of Delegates, sponsored a bill that would have created a one-year window during which individuals claiming they were sexually abused as children could file civil suits against the perpetrator and private institutions such as dioceses, parishes and schools regardless of how long ago the alleged abuse occurred.

Richard J. Dowling of the Maryland Catholic Conference said he was “very gratified” by Bromwell’s decision because the “legislation targeted the Catholic church in an unfair way.”

Fr. Kevin Schenning, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Baltimore, said he too was grateful that Bromwell, one of his parishioners, withdrew the bill.

Many St. Joseph parishioners -- as well as Catholics throughout the archdiocese -- had contacted the delegate to discuss the issue. “It’s great that our voices are heard by our elected officials,” Schenning said.

SMU to house Bush library

DALLAS -- Southern Methodist University has formally agreed to house the George W. Bush presidential library, museum and public policy institute on its Dallas campus, despite objections from liberal United Methodists.

Trustees at the United Methodist-related university voted unanimously to green light an agreement with the Bush Presidential Library Foundation on Feb. 22.

Bush and his wife, Laura, a graduate of the university, are United Methodists.

An online petition protesting the Bush Foundation plans garnered more than 11,000 signatures. Some objected to the university, which was founded by Methodists in 1911, housing a partisan think tank promoting the Bush administration on campus. Some Bush policies, particularly the war in Iraq, run counter to Methodist beliefs, they said.

Foundation tops $100 million

The Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, a charity based in Kansas City, Kan., has exceeded $100 million in annual revenue for the first time.

“The remarkable thing,” said CEO Paco Wertin, “is that 90 percent of the donations are from small monthly gifts, averaging $25, from our 273,991 sponsors.”

The foundation is a lay Catholic sponsorship organization, connecting sponsors with more than 317,000 children and elderly in 25 developing countries. The organization provides necessities such as food, education and health care.

In 2007, program support accounted for 94 percent of the organization’s total expenses. It is the only major sponsorship organization to receive an A-plus rating from the American Institute of Philanthropy.

-- Catholic News Service

Aid for poor assured

The head of Misereor, a German church aid agency, has assured Indian Catholic bishops it will continue to support pro-poor programs in their country.

Msgr. Josef Sayer alerted the Indian prelates Feb. 18 during their biennial assembly that many German people now view Indians as competitors, in view of the country’s economic boom.

However, Sayer said his agency is aware that 52 percent of Indians still live under the poverty line or subsist on the equivalent of less than $1 a day. “Only 10 percent of Indians have become rich, and they give their country a shining image,” he said.

-- UCA News

IRS probing Obama speech

CLEVELAND -- The IRS is investigating the United Church of Christ over a 2007 speech on faith and politics by presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, a longtime United Church of Christ member.

The United Church of Christ announced Feb. 26 that the IRS is looking into whether Obama’s speech to its General Synod in Hartford, Conn., may have been a political activity that could threaten the denomination’s tax-exempt status.

The Cleveland-based United Church of Christ said Obama was invited to speak before he became a presidential candidate and no laws were violated. It called the inquiry “disturbing.” “When the invitation to an elected public official to speak to the national meeting of his own church family is called into question, it has a chilling effect on every religious community,” the Rev. John Thomas, United Church of Christ president, said in a news release.

Obama spokesman Reid Cherlin said the speech was not a campaign event.

Fundraising discouraged

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The Little Rock diocese is discouraging parishes and schools from supporting fundraising activities for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which raises millions annually for the detection, treatment and research of breast cancer. A portion of the money nationally is given to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings. Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of abortions in the United States.

Parishes and schools in Little Rock have hosted teams for the Komen Race for the Cure, which attracts 43,000 participants to the 5K race each October. The diocese based its policy on similar policies in St. Louis, Charleston, S.C., and Phoenix.

Subprime crisis, hunger linked

WASHINGTON -- The poorest counties in the United States are among the hardest hit by the subprime mortgage crisis, according to a study released Feb. 27 by the Christian anti-hunger advocacy group Bread for the World.

The report, titled “Home Ownership, Subprime Loans and Poverty,” found that in eight of the country’s 15 poorest counties, which have poverty rates exceeding 40 percent, the percentage of homeowners holding subprime mortgages is even higher -- up to 60 percent.

Bread for the World contends that the subprime mortgage crisis and hunger are interrelated, since victims of high-risk mortgage lending often limit their food purchases because they are saddled with increasing payments.

“Since you can’t cut back on mortgage payments or renegotiate the price of gas, the only place where you can save money is food,” said study author Todd Post.

“Some of the poorest people are going to be forced into deeper poverty because of widespread subprime lending,” said the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World.

-- Religion News Service

-- CNS/Reuters/Javier Galeano

Hands extended
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, was the first foreign dignitary received by Cuban President Raul Castro, who took office Feb. 24. Castro, who had been acting as president since July 2006, replaced his brother, Fidel Castro, who announced the previous week that he was stepping down for health reasons. Bertone said he had wished Raul Castro “success ... in this mission of service to his country” and had reaffirmed the Vatican’s commitment to “help bring the world closer to Cuba and share common ground on international issues.” Bertone was on a six-day visit to the island nation to commemorate Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to the country 10 years ago. The revolution Fidel Castro led in the late 1950s had ample support among Catholics. However, church-state relations were strained after 1961 when Castro nationalized church schools, dismantled church institutions and expelled 136 priests. Social action projects were prohibited. Church programs were monitored. Cuba and the Holy See never severed diplomatic relations, however, and tension began to diminish in the 1980s.


Major priest shortage expected

DUBLIN, Ireland -- New figures on vocations published in the 2008 Irish Catholic Directory indicate how quickly the country is headed toward a major shortage of priests.

The country lost 160 priests last year -- mostly because of death in old age -- and had only nine new ordinations. Currently there are about 4,750 priests in Ireland but, if current trends continue, by 2028 Ireland will have fewer than 1,500 priests.

“It’s a trend that priests would have known about for some time,” said Fr. Eamonn Bourke, Dublin diocesan vocations director. “But many laypeople are only beginning to become aware of the implications and the dramatic effect that the fall in vocations will have.

“It will mean parish amalgamations, it will mean some parishes not having daily Masses and it will probably mean some parishes not having a Mass every Sunday,” he said. Weddings and funerals will likely no longer be individual events, but shared ceremonies, he said.

Scientist to study origins of belief

LONDON -- The Pennsylvania-based John Templeton Foundation is funding research at Oxford University to determine if belief in a deity is instinctive or learned. The three-year project titled Empirical Expansion in Cognitive Science of Religion and Theology received a $4 million grant.

Justin Barrett of Oxford University’s Center for Anthropology and Mind, and Roger Trigg of Oxford’s Ian Ramsey Center for Science and Religion, will lead the investigation.

Barrett said developmental psychology has determined that faith in God is a universal human impulse, found in all cultures and grasped from a young age. The research team -- which comprises “believers” and “nonbelievers” -- will use a variety of methods to try to determine if faith in a deity is inherent to cultures worldwide and throughout human history.

Parishes leave Anglican church

TORONTO -- Seven congregations voted Feb. 15-17 to cut ties with the Anglican Church of Canada. They join 10 other Anglican parishes that have left the national church because of theological differences on blessing same-sex unions and related issues.

Six Anglican parishes in Ontario, eight in British Columbia and three in Alberta have formed Anglican Network in Canada, which holds more traditional views. The Anglican Church in Canada counts about 2,300 congregations.

Ten of the dissenting congregations have voted to align themselves with the Anglican Communion’s more orthodox Province of the Southern Cone, which covers most of South America.

The dissenting churches are being asked to hand over the keys to their buildings or face legal action to have them removed from the properties.

“If they don’t turn in the keys, we are planning to go and physically try to take possession of the parishes,” the Rev. Richard Jones, an official in the Niagara diocese, told the Toronto Star.

Olive branch extended to Jews

LONDON -- Some 100 imams, rabbis, community leaders, businessmen and journalists gathering in Cambridge Feb. 25 sent a letter to rabbis around the world calling for a far-reaching dialogue to try to end long-standing conflicts between Muslims and Jews.

In the keynote address at the gathering, Oxford University professor Tariq Ramadan explained the letter as an attempt to “generate dialogue and understanding between Jews and Muslims.”

“At the moment,” the letter said, “there is no challenge more pressing than the need to bring to a closure some of the historical and long-lasting estrangements between the Jews and Muslims.”

Ramadan said, “We need to get beyond ‘tolerance,’ which is saying that ‘I put up with you but I would rather you were not here,’ to a mutual knowledge and respect.”

-- Religion News Service

Peace prize to Jordan prince

The Tokyo-based Niwano Peace Foundation has awarded its 2008 prize for religious contributions to peace to Jordanian Prince El Hassan bin Talal, a chief adviser to the late King Hussein of Jordan.

Hassan, 60, has long been active in interreligious dialogue and epitomizes the moderate voice of Islam, the Niwano foundation said in a news release. “He has been a bridge-builder across existing political and religious divides,” it said.

-- Catholic News Service

National Catholic Reporter uses the following news services: AsiaNews, Catholic News Service, Latinamerica Press, New America Media, Religion News Service, and UCA News.

National Catholic Reporter, March 7, 2008

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