The National Catholic Review
Worldwide Hunger Picture Still Bleak, Says Bread for World

Grim realities about hunger worldwide are detailed in Foreign Aid to End Hunger, a report issued by Bread for the World Institute in Washington. The report urges President Bush and Congress to allocate an additional $1 billion a year in U.S. development aid for Africa, “where hunger is deep, pervasive and widespread.” In sub-Saharan Africa more than 186 million people are malnourished, according to the report. About 291 million live on less than $1 a day, and every third person is chronically undernourished, it says. The report, released by the sister institution of the Christian citizen’s anti-hunger movement Bread for the World, also was sponsored by 14 other religious and development assistance organizations, including Catholic Relief Services.

Former Military Officer Ordered Bishop’s Murder, Say Prosecutors

A former head of Guatemala’s military intelligence ordered the murder in 1998 of Auxiliary Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera of Guatemala City, prosecutors said. Meanwhile, defense lawyers for a diocesan priest also charged with the killing declared his innocence and said he should be released. In the indictment read to a packed courthouse on March 23, the opening day of the trial of five people accused of murdering Bishop Gerardi, the attorney general’s office accused retired Col. Disrael Lima Estrada of masterminding the killing out of fear that the late bishop would testify against him in the future. The public prosecutor charged that Lima, 58, was terrified of the legal implications of a damning report, Guatemala: Never Again, which detailed human rights abuses committed by the army during the nation’s 36-year civil war. Bishop Gerardi published the report just two days before his death.

Poland’s Jews Criticize Bishop for Remarks on Massacre Report

Leaders of Poland’s small Jewish community have criticized a bishop for dismissing reports about a World War II Polish massacre of Jews as “propaganda.” In a statement issued in mid-March, the Union of Jewish Religious Councils said: “Many people in Poland are ready to accept the painful truth of Polish participation in this crime. But there are also people who reject the moral challenge flowing from this tragedy.” The union was reacting to a homily on March 11 by Bishop Stanislaw Stefanek of Lomza accusing Jews of seeking to “make money” from revelations about the massacre.

Talks Opened With Archbishop Lefebvre Followers, Says Vatican

A Vatican spokesman confirmed that at Pope John Paul II’s request formal talks have been opened with a group of followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The contacts between the Vatican and the Priestly Society of St. Pius X are still going on, the spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said on March 22. He gave no further details of the talks, which began last year. The society’s bishops were excommunicated in 1988 with Archbishop Lefebvre, a self-styled traditionalist who rejected the Second Vatican Council’s reforms in liturgy, ecumenism and other areas of church life.

Catholics Must Fight Racism in Church, Pope Says

Catholics must work to ensure that no one is excluded from their communities and that people of all races and cultures feel the church is their home, Pope John Paul II said. Marking the U.N. celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21, the pope said, “It is obligatory” that religious communities join international efforts to fight racism.

Vatican Working to Correct Sexual Abuse of Nuns by Priests

The Vatican acknowledged the problem of sexual abuse of nuns by priests in some missionary territories and said it was working with bishops and religious orders to correct it. Following the statement on March 20, missionary officials and senior members of religious orders said the dimensions and geographical extent of the sexual abuse were largely unknown and complicated by sometimes overlapping issues of cultural practice and failure to live vows of celibacy.

They also said instances of sexual abuse and misconduct did not paint a complete picture of the church in Africa and elsewhere. But the acknowledgment drew attention to long-standing concerns that the African church’s rapid growth has not been accompanied by adequate formation or commitment.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, papal spokesman, said that “some negative situations” should not obscure the “often heroic faithfulness of the great majority of men and women religious and priests.” He said the problem “is restricted to a limited geographical area,” which he did not identify, and said the Vatican was addressing it through the “dual approach of formation of persons and of solving individual cases.” His statement came in apparent response to a mid-March article in The National Catholic Reporter, which asserted that sexual abuse of religious women by priests, including rape, was a serious problem, especially in Africa.

The article cited five internal church reports, several of which were presented at the Vatican, written between 1994 and 1998 by senior members of women’s religious orders and a U.S. priest. The article said some Catholic clergymen have exploited their financial and spiritual authority to gain sexual favors from nuns, a situation facilitated by cultural subservience of women in some regions.

In Africa, where H.I.V. and AIDS are rampant, young nuns are sometimes seen as safe targets of sexual activity by priests and other males, it said. In several extreme cases, priests have impregnated nuns and then encouraged them to have abortions, the article said. In one instance, a priest celebrated the funeral Mass for a nun he had taken for an abortion and who died during the procedure.

The reports cited did not name alleged abusers or victims and only once named a country-specific incident: a bishop in Malawi who dismissed the leaders of a diocesan women’s congregation in 1988 after they complained that 29 sisters had been impregnated by diocesan priests.

In a joint statement on March 21, the two main associations of men and women religious—the Union of Superiors General and the International Union of Superiors General, respectively—underscored their awareness of the problem and said they were taking concrete steps to address it. Sister Rita Burley, superior general of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and president of the International Union of Superiors General, said the steps included tougher standards for admission into religious life, a focus on human development in formation and resolution of specific cases of abuse.

The unions’ statement said the great majority of the church’s 1 million nuns and 200,000 religious men faithfully and courageously witness the Christian message, a fact “which often in today’s world ‘never makes news.’”

The two main associations of U.S. religious—the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious—said they were “deeply disturbed” by the reports of sexual abuse by priests. “In any culture or situation, those in power have an ethical responsibility not to exploit others for personal gains,” they said.

The Rev. Bernardo Cervellera, director of Fides, the Vatican’s missionary news service, said the problem was limited to sub-Saharan Africa and was related to negative cultural views there of women and the value of celibacy. These are not cases of “psychopathic” violence against women, but instead a “cultural way of living” that is common throughout the region, he said.

A missionary priest in Tanzania told Catholic News Service that violations of celibacy vows, including consensual sex between priests and nuns, were so widespread that this stymied Vatican efforts in the mid-1990’s to promote local candidates for nomination as bishops. Part of the problem in Africa is the relatively high number of young, unsupervised priests, who in the past would have had older Western missionaries as “mentors,” a senior official of a missionary congregation said.

An African Oblate priest in the southern African country of Lesotho, Alexander Montanyane, said another difficulty was a slippage in sexual values caused by the gradual disintegration of traditional African societies. “The society’s values are changing so much, and the new vocations are coming out of that society,” he said.

One African priest in Rome criticized the publication of the reports and said they seemed to take for granted that celibacy was unworkable in African cultures. In addition, while individual cases might be true, the reports’ failure to cite specific names or locations undermines their credibility and harms the reputation of the African church in general, said the Rev. John Egbulefu, a theology professor at Urbanian University.

The Rev. Henk C. J. Bonke, procurator general of the Missionaries of Africa, said sexual abuse of nuns by priests was not limited to Africa and even extended to the United States. He said several religious congregations had developed policies to guide investigations of alleged abuse.

Students’ ‘Sweatshop for a Day’

To the estimated 250 million child laborers in the world, the climate-controlled room, with modern machinery, lights and a bathroom just down the hall, wouldn’t seem like much of a sweatshop. But “Sweatshop for a Day” at Sartell High School, sponsored by the St. Cloud chapter of Free the Children, gave students from area Catholic and public schools a small taste of what child laborers—age 5 to 14—experience every day. About 25 participants worked from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on March 18, making 318 bags used to hold kits of school supplies donated by classmates. The bags, with kits inside, will be shipped to Free the Children headquarters in Toronto and distributed to underprivileged children in developing countries.