The National Catholic Review
Bush’s Health Care Plan Seen as Inadequate

President George W. Bush’s plan to expand health insurance coverage through health savings accounts, outlined in his State of the Union address on Jan. 31, is of no value to low-income populations, the head of the Catholic Health Association said after the speech. Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is C.H.A.’s president and C.E.O., said she was disappointed in the proposal to expand the availability of tax-free savings accounts for health care expenditures, accompanied by high-deductible health insurance policies. Rather than offering a viable insurance option for low-income families and individuals, [health savings accounts] benefit only those who can afford them in the first place, said Sister Keehan, who sat in first lady Laura Bush’s box during the 2004 State of the Union talk. If one does not have the extra money to save for routine care, and if one cannot afford high deductibles for catastrophic care, health savings accounts provide no help, she said. In his address, the president said health care reform must be a priority to keep America competitive.

Jesuit General Prepares for Resignation in 2008

The superior general of the Society of Jesus, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, has informed members of the order that he intends to step down in 2008, the year he will turn 80. In a letter dated Feb. 2 addressed to all Jesuits, Father Kolvenbach said a general congregation to elect his successor and discuss other important matters would begin on Jan. 5, 2008, in Rome. Each of the 91 Jesuit provinces in the world will hold a provincial congregation by March 1, 2007, to prepare for the Rome gathering. While the Jesuit superior general is elected for life, the order’s constitutions allow a superior to step down.

Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Judged Unconstitutional

Two U.S. appellate courts overturned the federal ban on partial-birth abortions in separate rulings on Jan. 31. Circuit courts in California and New York became the second and third federal appeals courts to find the 2003 law unconstitutional. Last summer the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit also ruled the 2003 law unconstitutional. The Supreme Court was already considering whether to accept an appeal of that ruling. In San Francisco, the Ninth Circuit Court panel’s 3-to-0 ruling noted that the judges considered the law in light of the Supreme Court’s January ruling in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood. In the Ninth Circuit ruling, the three-judge panel said the federal ban was unconstitutional because it lacks a health exception, imposes an undue burden on women’s ability to have pre-viability abortions, and is too vague, depriving physicians of fair notice of what it prohibits and encouraging arbitrary enforcement. In its 2-to-1 ruling, the panel of the Second Circuit upheld the New York District Court that found the federal law unconstitutional because it does not provide an exception for cases in which the pregnant woman’s health is in danger. The ruling put off a decision about whether to impose an injunction on the law’s application until after the court receives further information in the form of briefs from the two sides in the legal challenge.

Christians to Hamas: We’ll Help, but Want Freedom

The patriarchs and heads of the Christian churches of Jerusalem told the newly elected Palestinian leadership that they extend their cooperation for the public good, but said they wanted full religious freedom. In a message on Jan. 31, the religious leaders told the leadership of the militant Islamic group Hamas that they would cooperate for the public good and the national Palestinian aspirations together with the cause of justice and peace in a nonviolent way. But the religious leaders said this referred not only to the realm of foreign relations, but also to internal matters such as the rule of law...with full religious freedom, especially in the social and educational fields. In the message the religious leaders also encouraged Palestinians, saying, We call upon the Palestinian people to continue their contributions to the making of their history, whatever may be the difficulties or obstacles, internal or external. The message was signed by Latin, Melkite, Maronite, Syrian and Armenian Catholic leaders; the head of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land; and Orthodox, Episcopal and Lutheran leaders.

Hindu Mob Attacks Bishop, Officials in India

Bishop Thomas Dabre of Vasai, India, and other church officials were attacked when they visited a remote village in western India to bless a church hostel for poor Hindu students. When Bishop Dabre finished the blessing of Sunrise Hostel on Jan. 29 at Ghosali village, about 90 miles north of Mumbai (Bombay), a mob of about 200 Hindus shouted slogans, pelted stones and damaged the new building and three church vehicles. The mob shouted Christians, go back and Foreign dogs, get out, but Bishop Dabre said he and the priests ignored the shouting, according to a report by UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand. This was well planned. It arose from the same tactic of anti-Christian propaganda used by Hindu fundamentalist groups, Bishop Dabre said.

Intelligent Design Makes God Too Small’

The director of the Vatican Observatory criticized supporters of intelligent design as belittling God and making her/him too small and paltry. George Coyne, S.J., said that intelligent design is not science and its view of a designer God is totally different from the Judeo-Christian understanding of God as a creator, in which everything depends upon God, or better, all is a gift from God. He called it unfortunate that, especially here in America, creationism has come to mean some fundamentalistic, literal, scientific interpretation of Genesis. Using the Bible as a source of scientific knowledge will unduly complicate the debate over evolution, he said. Father Coyne spoke on Jan. 31 at Palm Beach Atlantic University, an interdenominational Christian university with 3,100 students in West Palm Beach. He has headed the Vatican Observatory since 1978.

Jordan’s King Talks Islamic Moderation

King Abdullah II of Jordan took his efforts to promote moderation in Islam to the evangelical-dominated National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 2, earning a standing ovation with a speech that quoted the Bible as much as the Koran. He called upon people of faith to witness to its positive role in public life by being an example of the principles transgressed by those who oppose us. In every generation, people of faith are tested, King Abdullah said. In our generation, the greatest challenge comes from violent extremists who seek to divide and conquer. Extremism is a political movement under religious cover. Its adherents want nothing more than to pit us against each other, denying all that we have in common, he continued. We must therefore heed the words of the New Testament: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’

Cardinal Criticizes Cartoons of Muhammad

A Vatican cardinal sharply criticized the publication of newspaper cartoons satirizing the prophet Muhammad, saying the caricatures have offended the religious sentiments of millions of Muslims. Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, a leader for many years in the Vatican’s diplomatic service, said the cartoons demonstrated a growing trend to make fun of religious symbols in general. Freedom of satire that offends the sentiments of others becomes an abuseand in this case it has affected the sentiments of entire populations in their highest symbols, the cardinal told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Feb. 3. The cardinal said Christianity has similar sensitivities. One can understand satire about a priest but not about God. With reference to Islam, we could understand satire on the uses and customs and behavior, but not about the Koran, Allah and the Prophet, he said.

Pope Condemns Murder of Priest in Turkey

Pope Benedict XVI condemned all forms of violence as he mourned the death of an Italian missionary priest gunned down while praying in a church in Turkey. The pope noted the generosity and apostolic zeal with which the Rev. Andrea Santoro carried out his work as a missionary priest in favor of the Gospel and in service of those marginalized and in need.

The pope made his remarks in a telegram addressed to Bishop Luigi Padovese, apostolic vicar of Anatolia, the Asian part of modern Turkey. In the telegram released to journalists on Feb. 6, the pope assured Father Santoro’s small Catholic community of his spiritual closeness to them at this moment of sorrow as he firmly deplored every form of violence.

The 60-year-old Italian priest was part of the Vatican’s Fidei Donum program, which sends priests to help in the missions for a fixed period of time. In the afternoon of Feb. 5, the Italian priest was shot twice while he was praying in his parish, St. Mary Church, in the Black Sea coastal city of Trebizond. Father Santoro, from the Diocese of Rome, had served in Turkey for about 10 years.

Spokane Diocese Offers $45.7 Million Settlement

The Diocese of Spokane announced on Feb. 1 that it is offering a $45.7 million settlement to 75 people who claim to have been sexually abused by priests when they were minors. The settlement, awaiting approval from a bankruptcy court and the plaintiffs, is not the end, but the beginning of the end, according to Spokane’s Bishop William S. Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Bishop Skylstad, at a press conference in Spokane, apologized to victims of clergy sexual abuse for the terrible wrongs that were inflicted upon you in the past. He said he hoped that with the announcement of the proposed settlement we can together begin to take the first small steps toward reconciliation and forgiveness. I also apologize for the fact that this day has been so long in coming. The bishop also addressed all the Catholics in his diocese, telling them it is imperative that we resolve this tragic chapter in the history of our church and that we do so now.