'Underdogs’ Winning in Congress, Rural Life Advocates Say
Rural life and family-farm advocates say they are winning the legislative fight on the 2002 farm bill, but the game is not yet over. "We’re in the third quarter of [debate on] this year’s farm bill. We’re the underdogs, and we’re ahead," said William Jordan, northeast regional coordinator for the National Catholic Rural Life Conference. Family-farm advocates have expressed satisfaction with the 2002 farm bill’s provisions so far. One of the points most important to them is a cap on government subsidies for the nation’s biggest farms and ranches, which rural life advocates say have unfairly favored corporate farming interests.
Missouri Bishops Seek Regulation of Payday-Loans
Missouri’s Catholic bishops are taking aim at the high interest rates charged by payday loan companies. The Missouri Catholic Conference, the public policy agency of the state’s bishops, believes the interest rates should be regulated. The conference points out that those who use payday loans are seldom one-time borrowers and often become trapped by the industry. The Catholic conference uses as an example Miriam Baard-Kenyon, who took out $2,600 in payday loans for medical expenses. To date, she has paid more than $10,000 in interest and fees without touching the principal. The $790 a month she now owes jeopardizes her family’s basic needs.
No Priest Involved in Sex Abuse Will Serve in Philadelphia
Under terms of a recently announced archdiocesan policy, any priest involved in the sexual abuse of a minor will not receive an assignment in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In the past, the archdiocese did allow priests to do restricted ministry, "when a priest is placed into a role where he is closely supervised and does not have close contact with minors," said Catherine L. Rossi, director of the archdiocesan office for communications. "We decided we could not monitor a priest 24 hours a day," she said. "Priests who have been released are in a transitional living arrangement or with their families. They are not in rectories or parish situations," Rossi said. "Some are in supportive counseling or treatment. They are encouraged to seek laicization. No priest that we know of in any ministry right now has been involved in sexual abuse of a minor."
The archdiocese reported that of the 2,154 diocesan priests who have been in service since 1950, there have been credible allegations against 35, or about 1.6 percent. "Many of the 35 affected priests have since retired, died or left the priesthood," reports Rossi. "Within the last two decades, once an allegation of sexual abuse has been brought to our attention, no new acts of abuse against minors by these priests have been reported," Rossi said." We have had no allegations of incidents of abuse by priests within the past three years." The archdiocese reports allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors to legal authorities in complete cooperation with Pennsylvania law. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, Rossi estimated, about $200,000 was paid by the archdiocese’s insurance fund to victims.
McCain, Lieberman Talk With Church Social Ministers
Two leading U.S. senators told a group of Catholic social ministers that among the most pressing items on the national agenda are fixing the nation’s social programs and making it easier for faith-based groups to use government funds to help others. Sen. John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, spoke briefly on Feb. 26 to an audience of several hundred parish, diocesan and national social ministers gathered in Washington for an annual conference that includes lobbying Congress on its agenda. McCain, a candidate for president in 2000, drew hearty applause for his support of campaign finance reform legislation, which he called a truly grass-roots effort. Lieberman, who ran for vice president in 2000, praised his audience for the church’s social service work in general and for their support of the faith-based initiative being considered in Congress.
Bush Outlines Proposals for Welfare Reform at D.C. Parish
President Bush, speaking at a Catholic church in the District of Columbia, outlined welfare proposals that include stricter work requirements as well as programs to support marriage and encourage sexual abstinence. He also said he favored giving states new flexibility in providing benefits and permitting more immigrants to receive food stamps. In remarks on Feb. 26 to a community development group that was meeting in the gymnasium of St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Washington, Bush said the initial results of a massive revision of welfare laws in 1996 are encouraging, "but we’re not content."
Irish Pro-Life Camp Divided Over Abortion Referendum
Irish pro-life activists are divided over whether to support a government-sponsored referendum limiting abortion. The Irish bishops, who support the referendum, have said that it is not a pro-life proposal but an anti-abortion measure. The pro-life activists campaigning against the proposals complain that they do not protect the unborn from the moment of conception; rather, the measures would criminalize the deliberate destruction of the unborn child after implantation in the uterus. Dublin Cardinal Desmond Connell described pro-lifers opposing the government proposal as "well-meaning but misguided."
Pope, Cardinals Approve Canonization of Nine
Pope John Paul II and cardinals gathered at the Vatican formally approved the canonization of nine new saints, including Mexico’s Juan Diego, Msgr. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, founder of Opus Dei, and the Italian Capuchin Padre Pio. During a ceremony at the Vatican on Feb. 26, the pope announced the dates for the canonization ceremonies for the three men as well as for six other priests and religious. Blessed Juan Diego will be canonized on July 30 in Mexico City after the pope visits Canada. Then he will travel to Guatemala for the canonization of Blessed Pedro de San Jose de Betancur on July 31. The pope also announced that Blessed Padre Pio would be canonized on June 16 and that the ceremony for the declaration of St. Josemaría Escrivá would take place on Oct. 6.
Younger Priests Happier, Less Progressive
A new sociological study of U.S. Catholic priests has found that the views of younger priests in 2001 on many church issues were similar to those held by older priests in 1970. In 1970, for example, half the priests ages 35 and under thought the idea of a priest as a "man set apart" was a barrier to realizing true Christian community, but only 14 percent of over-65 priests considered it a barrier. In 2001, only 15 percent of the priests 35 and under held that view, a smaller percentage than any group of priests over 35.
The study found that priests as a whole were happier in 2001 than in 1970, that fewer were thinking of leaving the priesthood or thought they would marry if celibacy became optional. On the other hand, it found that priests in 2001 were more concerned about overwork and unrealistic demands by lay people-a function possibly of the fact that the Catholic population increased more than 30 percent during that time while "the total number of nonretired priests declined 30 percent to 35 percent between 1970 and 2001." The new study was summarized in a 30-page report, Changing Commitments and Attitudes of Catholic Priests, 1970-2001, by Catholic University of America sociologist Dean R. Hoge and Jacqueline E. Wenger, a doctoral student.
When compared with their elders, younger priests today "believe, more than older priests, that priests are ontologically different after ordination," the report said. "They are less prepared than older priests to invite resigned priests, married or not, back to active ministry. They are less in favor of making celibacy optional for diocesan priests. And they are less in favor of empowering lay ministers as parish leaders.... They are less critical of the 'practices of governance at the international level in the church’ and less bothered by the way church authority is exercised."
Vatican Investigating Claims of Sex Abuse by Polish Archbishop
The Vatican said it was looking into accusations of sexual abuse against a Polish archbishop who worked for several years at the Vatican at the beginning of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate. Archbishop Juliusz Paetz of Poznan, 67, has denied the accusations brought by seminarians and priests in his archdiocese, according to a report in the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita on Feb. 23. The newspaper said a Vatican commission had visited the archdiocese last November to investigate the allegations and hear testimony, and that Archbishop Paetz had been called to the Vatican for a week of talks in early February.
Colombian Bishops Back Resumption of Fighting
The Colombian bishops have supported President Andres Pastrana’s decision to end negotiations with the country’s largest guerrilla group and send armed forces to retake a demilitarized zone controlled by the rebels. The bishops told the guerrillas to "change course" and reiterated the hierarchy’s desire to help negotiate a peaceful solution to the fighting. "We respect and support the decision of the president," said a statement issued on Feb. 21, the day after Pastrana announced his decision. "In a state of law such as ours, it is necessary to close ranks to defend our legitimate authorities and support the institutions that guarantee the life and honor of Colombians," they said. The statement, signed by Archbishop Alberto Giraldo Jaramillo of Medellín, president of the bishops’ conference, was issued during a meeting of the conference in Bogotá.