Communist Restrictions Remain, Say Czechs
The Czech Republic bishops’ conference said it could seek international arbitration against a new religious law imposing Communist-style restrictions on church activities. We can’t understand why the state wishes to tie the church down with these crazy, unnecessary rules, said Martin Horalek, spokesman for the conference. After the Velvet Revolution, it was generally believed the church should have maximum freedom. Since then, every effort has been made to reimpose Communist-style restrictions by involving the state in church affairs. On Dec. 6 Czech President Vaclav Klaus signed the law that gives government officials the right to veto the opening of places of worship and requires church charities to obtain ministry approval. In a telephone interview with Catholic News Service on Dec. 15, Horalek said the president failed to understand church objections to the new law.
Judge Rules Parishes Belong to Archdiocese
A federal judge ruled on Dec. 30 that it is the Catholic Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., not its individual parishes, that owns all parish properties. In a statement released by a spokesman, Bud Bunce, the archdiocese expressed disappointment. "We feel strongly that this decision is not supported by the facts or the law and believe it infringes on the archdiocese’s right and the parishioners’ rights to freely exercise their religion," the statement said.
At stake in the decision is the property of 124 parishes, including 40 parish elementary schools and three archdiocesan high schools, whose combined worth may be as much as half a billion dollars. About 130 claimants seeking damages for alleged sexual abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of Portland have asked to have the parish and school properties included among archdiocesan assets available for settling their claims. The archdiocese has argued that under church law each parish owns its own property and that the archdiocese merely holds those properties in trust for the parishes.
House Immigration Reform Bill Would Hurt Nation
Despite a Catholic bishop’s warning that the measure would have serious and severe consequences for immigrants and the nation, the House approved an immigration reform bill on Dec. 16 that calls for the building of a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexican border and would make illegal presence in the United States a crime, rather than the civil offense it is now. Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino, Calif., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, had urged rejection of H.R. 4437, the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, in a letter to House members dated Dec. 14. It is an extremely punitive bill which is far broader than illegal immigration and, if enacted, would unduly harm immigrants and their families, even those who are currently lawful residents, he said. Moreover, the bishops are deeply disappointed by the bill’s enforcement-only focus and absence of reforms in the U.S. legal immigration system that would address our current immigration problems more comprehensively.
Number of Hispanic Catholics in U.S. Steady
Despite the number of Hispanics who are joining evangelical Protestant churches, the percentage of Hispanics in the United States who are Catholic has remained steady at 70 percent, said an expert in Latino population trends. This is the result of a revolving door by which the losses to other churches are compensated by the continued immigration flow from Latin America, said Gaston Espinosa, assistant religious studies professor at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. In the United States, he said, Latino Catholics are more numerous than all mainline white Protestants. There are about 29 million Latino Catholics and 22 million mainline white Protestants, he said. Espinosa is the research director for the Hispanic Churches and American Public Life Project, an ecumenically sponsored three-year survey of almost 3,000 Hispanics nationwide.
Vietnam Still Violates Religious Rights
Vietnam still violates the religious rights of its people on a large scale even though there’s some movement in the right direction, U.S. Representative Christopher H. Smith said following a fact-finding visit to the Communist-run nation in southeast Asia. The New Jersey Republican, who heads the House’s Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations Subcommittee, told Catholic News Service that during his visit on Dec. 1-3 he met with numerous Catholic leaders and representatives of other religions who detailed religious rights violations by the Vietnamese government. Indicative of the Vietnamese government’s approach to human rights, he said, was the fact that it denied entry visas to two Vietnamese-American human rights leaders he sought to bring with him on his visit. He said Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai has indicated that churches can now re-engage in charitable work. It remains to be tested whether or not that will be real.
Pope Names New Nuncio to United States
Pope Benedict XVI named a veteran Vatican diplomat, Italian Archbishop Pietro Sambi, to be the new papal nuncio to the United States. Archbishop Sambi, 67, has served as the Vatican’s representative to Israel and Palestine, where he helped arrange Pope John Paul II’s historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000. He replaces Colombian Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, who was retiring at age 75 after serving as nuncio in Washington since 1998. The Vatican announced the appointment on Dec. 17. Archbishop Sambi is known in church circles as an energetic and gregarious man with an ability to bring the human touch to diplomatic challenges. He speaks Italian, English, French and Spanish. In a statement welcoming the appointment, Bishop William S. Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the pope had honored the United States by appointing such an experienced prelate.
Church Needs Celibate and Married Priests
The church needs a debate on celibacy and has room for both married and unmarried priests, an Irish bishop said. There is room for both priests who are married and celibate priests in our church, said Bishop William Walsh of Killaloe, Ireland, in an interview with the Sunday Tribune newspaper in December. "I have known some very fine priests who have left the priesthood because they found the challenge of celibacy not life-giving for them. Men like that are a great loss to the ministerial priesthood.... Obviously each one of us longs for love and intimacy in our lives, because without that we live alone and in isolation. Unless in some way celibacy is a generous gift to others and to God, it is meaningless. If we see celibacy simply as abstaining from sexual intimacy, then it is negative, not life-giving," the bishop said.
Ruling Does Not Prohibit Talk of Intelligent Design
After a federal judge’s ruling that intelligent design is a religious belief and not science, a law professor and a theologian said on Dec. 21 that the theory could still be discussed in public school social studies or current events classes. If it is studied as a modern phenomenon, it is much more likely to fly legally, said Lee Strang, a law professor at Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich. But if it aims to get Christianity in the classroom, it would not be permitted, Strang, who teaches courses in constitutional law, told Catholic News Service. John Haught, theology professor at the Jesuit-sponsored Georgetown University in Washington, said it would be permissible to talk about the controversy in nonscience classes. I would suggest that it be discussed in a class on critical thinking, Haught told CNS. Public schools should be talking about religion. This can be done without fostering a religion.
Israelis, Palestinians Must Build Life, Not Death
Israeli and Palestinian political leaders must be builders of life, not death, Latin-rite Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem said in his Christmas message. Understand, after such a long time of demolition, death and fighting, that these ways could not and will never produce [anything] but more demolition, death and fighting, he said in his message, delivered to journalists on Dec. 21. Injustices such as the Israeli separation barrier, imprisonments and assassinations only add fuel for violence, he said. When injusticethe cause of violenceceases, violence will stop and security will reign. We hope that we can begin a new period in which all violence will stop on both sides, Israeli and Palestinian alike, the patriarch said. Half-measures, half-liberty and half-sovereignty lead nowhere except to fall again in an interminable cycle of violence and insecurity.
Israeli and Palestinian leaders have a chance to create a moment of grace...with a complete stop of all violence and all vengeance, Latin-rite Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem said in his Christmas homily. If our leaders have a sincere will, they can...allow a new future to begin, a new land to be rebuilt, in which new hearts, better than walls and all military actions, will ensure the security of Israelis, and for the Palestinians, freedom and the end of occupation, the patriarch said in his midnight Mass homily at St. Catherine’s Church, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas attended midnight Mass. Addressing the Palestinian leaders present and Israeli leaders, the patriarch said: Christmas says the ways in this land sanctified by God are ways of peace, based on justice and equality between the two peoples, no one superior to the other, no one under submission to the other. The two must be equals in dignity, in rights and in duty.
Hindus Burn Effigies of Cardinal, Bishop
A Hindu extremist group repeatedly has burned effigies of an Indian cardinal and auxiliary bishop, claiming they are trying to convert Hindus. Every evening since Dec. 13, activists of Hindu Jagaran Manch have burned the effigies of Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi and Auxiliary Bishop Vincent Barwa in various parts of Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand State, reported UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand. The agency reported on Dec. 27 that the Hindu protest started after the prelates spoke against Jharkhand’s Chief Minister Arjun Munda’s plan to enact a law forbidding forced religious conversions. Munda announced this plan to enact the anti-conversion bill during a pro-Hindu rally in Ranchi on Dec. 10. Six people under the banner of Kendriya Sarna Samitithe collective name for animist tribal religionsset the fires.
California Diocese Holds Schism and Heresy Trial
A church tribunal in the Diocese of San Bernadino reviewed evidence in mid-December to determine whether the Rev. Ned Reidy, a former Catholic priest who now pastors his own separate church, is guilty of heresy and schism. The Rev. Howard Lincoln, diocesan spokesman, told Catholic News Service by phone that the Rev. Reidy was automatically excommunicated when he left the Catholic Church, but he was never laicized. He remains a priest, although no longer in good standing. Father Lincoln said on Dec. 27 that the church tribunal that conducted the trial had not issued a verdict. He said the diocese views the trial as the most prudent course to take...as a means to officially clarify the Rev. Reidy’s status in the church, since he continues to live and exercise ministry in the area where he used to be a Catholic pastor. The diocese has an obligation to be clear about who is legally entrusted to minister in the name of the church, he said.
Legislator in Sri Lanka Assassinated at Mass
A senior member of Sri Lanka’s Parliament was shot dead inside the Catholic cathedral in Batticaloa during midnight Mass on Christmas. Joseph Pararajasingham, of the Tamil National Alliance, who represented Batticaloa district in Parliament, and his wife had returned to their seats in the front row, Bishop Joseph Swampillai of Trinco-maleeBatticaloa told UCA News. Bishop Swampillai said he was still distributing Communion to others when the two killers, who had been hiding behind a pillar, ran toward the couple and fired shots before fleeing. Media reports indicate that the legislator died instantly and seven others, including his wife, were wounded when the gunmen fired into the crowd. Police were reported to have been providing security to Pararajasingham at the time of the attack. The Sri Lankan military reportedly blamed the killing on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, but the Tamil rebels have blamed military intelligence and allied groups.
A Day in the Life of a Married Maronite Priest
In Bziza, a small village in northern Lebanon, the Rev. Charles Ksas begins weekday mornings with the Liturgy of the Hours. As the day unfolds, the Maronite Catholic priest then splits his time as spiritual director for a school, as a part-time financial director of a technical school, and on some days he attends classes for a doctorate in theology. On Saturdays, he does accounting for his diocese. He arrives back in time to celebrate the 6 p.m. Mass for his parish of 500. I am tired, but full of joy, said Father Ksas of his busy schedule. Not very far from Beirut, in the mountain village of Cornet Chewan, the Rev. Joseph Tannous is the rector of a school. He also celebrates Mass four days a week for his parish of approximately 1,200. I try to organize my time in such a way that everything will fit in, said Father Tannous.
Both priests are married with families, as are around 50 percent of the Maronite priests in Lebanon. The married priesthood is a tradition that dates back to the early days of the Maronite Catholic Church, which traces its roots to the fourth-century hermit St. Maron. In those days, about 90 percent of the priests were married.