Pope John Paul II asked U.S. bishops to engage in frank dialogue and informed discussion to build greater unity and consensus within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In a message to New York bishops, the pope praised the bishops’ conference for its work and statements on life issues, education and peace and asked them to work with similar energy on the topics of the decline in Mass attendance and in recourse to the sacrament of reconciliation, the threats to marriage and the religious needs of immigrants.
The pope met on Oct. 8 with 18 bishops from the eight dioceses of New York, who were making their ad limina visits to Rome to report on the status of their dioceses, as they are required to do every five years. Pope John Paul’s message to the group focused on the bishop’s obligation to govern, an obligation he said has full and specific implications within a bishop’s own diocese, but also implies concern for the good of the whole church.
Bishops today can only fulfill their office fruitfully when they work harmoniously and closely with their fellow bishops, he said.
A bishop, he said, has a God-given authority over his own diocese, but a bishops’ conference should assist him in carrying out his mission in harmony with his brother bishops.
My dear brothers in the episcopate, the pope said, I pray that you will work diligently with one another in that spirit of cooperation and unanimity of heart that should always characterize the community of disciples. The pope told the bishops that practices in Catholic dioceses across the United States could not be marked by unity without an underlying consensus, and this, of course, can only be attained through frank dialogue and informed discussion, based on sound theological and pastoral principles.
Pope John Paul did not mention any specific areas of public policy, liturgy or church discipline that might be marked by a lack of consensus among U.S. bishops, but church observers have noted the different positions bishops have publicly taken on how to deal with Catholic voters and politicians who are pro-choice.
He encouraged the bishops not to be afraid to handle thorny issues, because solutions to difficult questions emerge when they are thoroughly and honestly examined under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.Bishops Asked to Consult Widely on Abuse Policies
U.S. bishops are being asked to conduct wide-ranging consultations in their dioceses on possible revisions of policies adopted in 2002 to prevent sexual abuse of children. These consultations should include priests’ councils, pastoral councils, child protection personnel, educators and the diocesan review board that advises the bishop on sexual abuse policies and on specific cases of allegations, said a letter to the bishops by Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis.
Archbishop Flynn is chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, which is overseeing the revision process. A press release by the U.S. bishops’ Department of Communications in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8 gave details of the letter.
The bishops are expected to begin discussion of the policies at their general meeting on Nov. 15-18. The letter said that the review of sexual abuse policies would be concluded at the bishops’ general meeting in June 2005. It asked that the results of the diocesan and regional consultations be submitted to the ad hoc committee by Jan. 15.
Archbishop Flynn’s letter said the committee also has been seeking advice from the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and the bishops’ National Review Board, appointed to monitor compliance with the policies. The policies are contained in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted by the bishops in 2002. The charter calls for a review after two years to ensure its effectiveness in resolving the problems of sexual abuse of minors by priests.Medical Association Urges Sweeping Reforms
The 900-member Catholic Medical Association has called for sweeping reform of health care delivery in the United States and proposed better ways to help the poor and uninsured, restore trust between patient and doctor, respect the conscience of all parties and control costs.
The organization urged the reform in a statement titled Health Care in America: A Catholic Proposal for Renewal, which was approved and released at the organization’s convention in Orlando, Fla., on Sept. 23-25.
After examining the present state of health care, the statement makes six main proposals:
to reform tax laws to give incentives for people to purchase their own health insurance directly, with refundable tax credits enabling the poor to do so;
to remove burdensome and unjust mandates from health care;
to allow choice of private insurance policies through creation of voluntary groups that sponsor coverage;
to encourage health savings accounts, which allow the consumers to control more discretionary and routine health spending;
to guarantee comprehensive protection of conscience;
to encourage experiments in diocesan self-insurance.
R. Steven White, M.D., president of the Catholic Medical Association and chairman of the task force that produced the statement, said in a telephone interview that most physicians recognize that the nation’s health care delivery system is having a harmful effect on the doctor-patient relationship. Too many third parties with financial interests are making decisions about patient care, he said, and health care is burdened with intrusive mandatessome that actually prevent doctors from waiving fees for poor patients and others that violate the conscience rights of health care providers. As the statement notes, a regime of omniscient rules is being substituted for the judgment of the physician and the responsibility of the patient.
White called the statement, produced by a 12-member task force and endorsed by the Catholic Medical Association board and assembly, a teaching document that defines the essential nature of medicine and what physicians are called to do. The document draws heavily on Catholic theology and social teaching.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church inspired the statement’s authors to portray Catholic medicine as a cathedral, with Jesus as the cornerstone. Subsidiarity, solidarity, the sanctity of human life and virtue are the four pillars that support the structure. Justice is the floor, and charity is the light that fills the space and guides the activity therein.
The association’s statement was to be posted in the near future on its Web site at www.cathmed.org.Zambia Should Not Be Called Christian Nation
Zambia’s designation of itself as a Christian nation should be removed from the constitution, said the Episcopal Conference of Zambia. The declaration could lead to abuse of religion for purely political ends and even bring discredit to the name Christian, the southern African country’s bishops said in a submission to a constitutional review commission on Sept. 30.
Legislating faith and religion into the constitution can lead to fundamentalism, which can one day be used against Christianity by a leadership of another religious persuasion, the bishops said. The 41-member review commission was appointed by President Levy Mwanawasa in April to draft a new constitution after assessing submissions from Zambian civil society and other interested parties. Frederick Chiluba, who ruled Zambia from 1991 to 2002, declared the country a Christian nation in 1992. Experience has shown that since 1992 Christianity has been brought into the political fray to the faith’s detriment, the bishops said.Nations Ignore Nuclear Disarmament Treaty
Failure by nuclear and non-nuclear states to adhere to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty increases the possibility that terrorists will acquire such weapons, said the Vatican representative to the United Nations. The 1968 treaty is in a fragile state, because the original bargain of no proliferation in exchange for nuclear disarmament is not being observed, said Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican’s permanent observer at the United Nations in New York. Instead, there has been an ongoing struggle between the non-nuclear countries to obtain weapons and the nuclear nations to further modernize their weapons, he said on Oct. 7 at a meeting of the General Assembly’s First Committee, a subcommittee that deals with disarmament and international security.Vatican Favors Reform of U.N. Security Council
The U.N. Security Council should be reformed so that it represents better the world’s population, geopolitical regions, economic groups and civilizations, said the Vatican representative to the United Nations. Such revisions would improve the credibility and efficacy of the reformed Security Council, said Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations.
Reforms must also improve the actual capacity and political will to contribute substantially to reach the goals that constitute a priority for the overall majority of the member states, he said. The archbishop spoke on Oct. 4 at a session of the U.N. General Assembly held to discuss ways to revitalize and strengthen the United Nations.
The Security Council is the United Nations’ most powerful body, the only body whose decisions are obligatory on member states and the only one authorized to enforce resolutions through military action. The council is composed of five permanent members and 10 rotating members elected to two-year terms. The permanent members are the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China and France.
Archbishop Migliore stopped short of suggesting that the veto power over decisions held by the five permanent members be ended.
Regarding general U.N. reforms, Archbishop Migliore said that the nations that have attained a superior degree of scientific, cultural and economic development have the responsibility to make a greater contribution to the common cause.
Changing historical conditions reinforce the need for an international body like the United Nations, he said. The universal common good is confronted with problems of worldwide dimensions; problems, therefore, which can be solved only by an authority possessed with power, organization and means coextensive with these problems and whose sphere of activity is worldwide.News Briefs
A board of the Archdiocese of Seattle examining cases of sexual abuse of minors by members of the Catholic clergy has recommended that the archdiocese also improve programs to prevent sexual abuse of adults by priests. We have seen instances where priests abused their authority and caused harm by engaging in sexual relations with adults, said a 15-page report by the archdiocesan Case Review Board.
The Catholic University of America announced on Oct. 12 that the N.A.A.C.P. has permission to start a group on campus, as long as its members abide by all university policies, a requirement for all campus groups, and its members do not take part in advocating for abortion or other issues contrary to church teaching. The university’s decision on the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter is a reversal of its initial rejection of the formation of a chapter in April.
Caritas Internationalis has launched a campaign to bring world attention to the humanitarian crisis in Colombia, where a 40-year civil war and drug trafficking plague the country.
Nearly nine-tenths of nonordained people who administer U.S. Catholic parishes are women, said a report published by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. It said that women religious accounted for 71 percent of parish life coordinators who were interviewed, and lay women accounted for an additional 18 percent.
The Catholic Health Association welcomed the federal government’s decision to reverse a plan that would have required hospitals to ask patients about their immigration status. The administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in a letter to hospitals and advocacy groups on Oct. 1 that in response to public criticism of the proposal to check on immigration status, the idea has been dropped.
Following a meeting with people who said they were sexually abused by women religious, officials of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious agreed to study suggestions for improving its relationships with victims. We are fully committed to the healing of those who have been wounded by abuse, particularly abuse by members of congregations of women religious, said an L.C.W.R. statement.
A growing number of Catholics from the United States and Canada have developed the erroneous belief that they have the right to receive Communion even if they have not confessed their sins and been reconciled with God, said Cardinal Bernard F. Law during a talk on Oct 11 at the 48th International Eucharistic Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Davenport’s Bishop William E. Franklin has raised the possibility that the diocese may file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and discussed other potential financial fallout from the clergy sexual abuse crisis during a meeting with parish leaders on Sept. 30.
The Vatican has laicized a retired diocesan priest of the Diocese of Davenport, James Janssen, who is a co-defendant in 10 sexual abuse lawsuits filed against that diocese. The decree by Pope John Paul II does not allow for any appeal or recourse. He has been out of ministry since 1990. In February Bishop William E. Franklin of Davenport accepted the recommendation of the diocesan review board to request the Vatican to laicize Janssen and four other priests. Diocesan officials said no decisions have been made on the other priests.