National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  October 10, 2003


Edited by Dennis Coday

African Anglicans at odds

LAGOS, Nigeria -- Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, the outspoken conservative leader of the world’s largest Anglican province, was elected Sept. 25 to head the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa. Later he rebuked Archbishop Ndongonkulu Ndungane of Capetown for supporting a gay American bishop and for saying that African Anglican leaders have an “ostrich mentality” and have become obsessed with homosexuality while ignoring the more pressing needs of AIDS and poverty.

Akinola called the decision of the U.S. Episcopal church to approve an openly gay priest, the Rev. Gene Robinson, to serve as bishop of New Hampshire, as a “satanic attack on God’s church.”

“Peace, hunger, sharia [Islamic law] and HIV/AIDS are indeed major life and death issues, albeit they are at the physical level,” Akinola said in a public statement. “Unfaithfulness to scripture is a more major life and death issue because it is spiritual.”

Anglican leaders from around the world are to meet in an emergency Oct. 15 and 16 gathering in London to discuss the fallout from Robinson’s election.

Maoists torch Catholic mission

KATHMANDU, Nepal -- Mission workers say that as many as a dozen Maoist rebels attacked a remote Catholic mission in eastern Nepal, ruining church facilities and traumatizing local staff. Using kerosene and explosives, the masked gunmen systematically destroyed residences, a clinic, a day care center for children, a chapel and kitchens.

Loreto Sisters had established the mission in Okhrey, north of Dharan, a town 530 kilometers southeast of Kathmandu in 1992. As a community health center, the mission had handled emergency cases and deliveries of babies within the center itself or in area homes. The day care center was run to help women who work in the fields.

Korea urged to send noncombat peacekeeping troops to Iraq

SEOUL, Korea -- When Korean religious leaders -- including Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, retired archbishop of Seoul -- met with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, they told him to send only noncombat troops as part of a U.N. peacekeeping force in Iraq.

Roh invited senior religious leaders not to discuss the problem of dispatching military personnel, but to hear the opinions of the religious leaders concerning various social issues, a presidential spokesperson said.

In April, South Korea sent about 450 noncombat soldiers to Iraq for engineering and medical missions after the end of the U.S.-led strike against Baghdad. Since the government acknowledged in September that the United States had asked South Korea to send “combat troops” to Iraq, local media have speculated that between 3,000 and 15,000 troops may be sent.

However, Fr. Paul Moon Kyu-hyon, co-chair of the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice, described the U.S.-led war on Iraq as a “war of imperialism and illegal invasion.” He said, “We should never allow even noncombat military personnel to be sent to Iraq. Sending them is not helpful to either Iraq or our country.”

Kenya struggles with sharia

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Kenyan Archbishop Zaccheus Okoth of Kisumu, who serves as a delegate to the country’s constitutional review commission, said he opposed the entrenchment of Islamic courts in the country’s constitution. But he appealed for the courts’ legal recognition.

The courts, called khadis, deal with personal issues such as divorce and property among Muslims. Kenyan Muslims have been arguing with the country’s mainly Christian population to retain the courts in a rewritten constitution. “Someone cannot discard his faith. Islamic courts fulfill conditions of sharia law, which [Muslims] believe is God-given through the Quran,” Okoth said.

But when the issue came to a vote Sept. 22 at the committee charged with writing the section on the judiciary, Okoth voted with the minority, losing the motion to have the courts deleted from the draft constitution.

“In this century we must keep religious law out of the constitution,” Okoth said. “We’re not against Islamic courts, but we must keep them out of the constitution.”

Israeli pilots refuse to fly air strikes in Palestinian terrorities

JERSUALEM -- Twenty-seven Israeli air force pilots, reserve pilots and air crews notified the air force commander that they will not participate in air strikes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. “We are opposed to carrying out attack orders that are illegal and immoral of the type the state of Israel has been conducting in the territories,” said a letter sent to Gen. Dan Halutz Sept. 24 and reprinted in Israeli newspapers.

Among the signers is reserve Brig. Gen. Yiftah Spector, revered for his daring as a pilot and air force commander. He is now a trainer in the reserves flight school.

Reportedly “gray refusal” is widespread in the air force. Dozens of pilots who refuse to participate in targeted assassinations and attacks in civilian areas get out of missions in private arrangements with their commanders.

Halutz called this a “political refusal.”

“Political refusal is the mother of all dangers to this nation. Refusal should not be a part of our language,” he said.

Israel has been criticized for targeted assassinations that have killed about 140 wanted Palestinians. Israel’s government says such strikes prevent suicide attacks like those that have killed hundreds of Israeli civilians.

Violence puts elections in doubt

CAP-HAÏTIEN, Haiti -- The violent blocking of an antigovernment demonstration Sept. 14 has again raised doubts about whether Haiti is ready for the parliamentary and local elections that the government vows to hold later this year, with or without opposition parties and despite disapproval from the Organization of American States and the United States.

The terms of legislators and other elected officials end in January 2004, but opposition parties -- who boycotted the 2000 presidential election over fraud charges -- and churches and civil society groups are refusing to participate in elections because of human rights and security concerns. That means that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide could soon be ruling by decree.

“We are waiting for minimum conditions to be met,” Archbishop Hubert Constant, head of the Catholic church’s Council of Bishops, said in late September. “That minimum isn’t something we have demanded. It is what the government agreed to in documents signed with the international community.”

Altar girl references dropped

ROME -- A Vatican official is saying that all references to altar girls in a draft document about liturgical abuses (NCR, Oct. 3) have been dropped and other points will be substantially revised. International media reports based on an Italian language magazine article had said the document discouraged the distribution of Communion under the forms of both bread and wine and banned altar girls.

An official familiar with the document, which the Vatican hopes to release by December, will be less detailed than the draft circulated in June to members of the congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

A ban against allowing ministers of other mainline Christian faiths to bless the congregation at the end of a Catholic liturgy also has been removed, the official said.


Methodists downsizing bishops

LOS ANGELES -- The United Methodist church may have too many bishops, and trimming the number of prelates could save the church $1 million per bishop, according to the church’s finance agency. A proposal to cut at least five bishops will be considered by next year’s General Conference meeting in Pittsburgh. Delegates to the meeting will vote on a four-year $586 million budget that includes a fund to support the work of church bishops.

The 8.4 million-member church currently has 50 bishops in the United States and 18 bishops in central conferences outside the United States. Bishops are elected to their posts by five regional U.S. jurisdictions.

The church’s General Council on Finance and Administration says an expected boom in retirements would make it easy to cut one bishop in each of the five jurisdictions. Each cut would save the church $1 million over four years in salary, benefits, travel and support staff costs. Conferences within each jurisdiction would likely be reconfigured under the plan.

Alleged accomplice faces suit for Romero assassination

SAN FRANCISCO -- A San Francisco-based human rights group filed a lawsuit Sept. 16 against a former Salvadoran air force officer for his alleged role in the 1980 assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.

The suit was filed in Fresno, Calif., on behalf of a surviving relative of Romero by the Center for Justice and Accountability and a San Francisco law firm. It accuses Alvaro Rafael Saravia, whose last known address was in Modesto, Calif., of playing a key role in the assassination of Romero, who was a strong critic of the military. He was killed March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass.

The lawsuit alleges that Saravia obtained weapons, vehicles and other materials for purposes of carrying out the assassination and that he provided his personal driver to transport the assassin to and from the chapel where the archbishop was shot and that he also paid the assassin. Saravia has lived in the United States since the late 1980s but he remains a Salvadoran citizen.

The suit notes that the U.N. Truth Commission for El Salvador and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded in separate investigations that Saravia played a key role in organizing the assassination.

Women’s movement assessed

HARTFORD, Conn. -- The Justice for Women Working Group of the National Council of Churches hosted a late September national ecumenical consultation on the state of the women’s movement in U.S. churches. The purpose was “to present an opportunity to church leaders to reflect on the status of women’s organizing for justice and equality since the 1970s and to strategize about the future of this work in the wake of backlash and denominational struggles.”

The work completed at the consultation, along with a survey of the NCC Justice for Women Network, will be compiled and synthesized in a written report for conferees and other interested parties. Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research conducted the survey. Adair Lummis, faculty associate for research at Hartford Seminary, offered an overview of the results for the consultation.

Areas of concern that emerged in the survey included the need to involve younger women, backlash from people who felt their power or prestige diminished by women’s entry into church leadership, the persistence of racism, and women’s organizations’ loss of control over their financial resources.

Alaska outreach
Megan Kennedy and Katie Dunn visit with children at the Yup'ik Eskimo village of Pilot Station in Alaska in early September. The teens were among a group of urban Alaskan youth invited to teach catechism and get to know the parishioners of St. Charles Spinola Parish in the isolated village on the lower Yukon River.

-- CNS/Katie Dunn

12 days of fasting for life, peace

STERLING, Va. -- A coalition of Catholic lay organizations is urging individuals, parishes and schools to join in the 11th International Week of Prayer and Fasting for “the conversion of nations, the end to abortion and world peace.” The observance was to open on Respect Life Sunday, Oct. 5, and run through Oct. 16. An all-day prayer vigil Oct. 13 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington will feature Catholic religious and lay speakers; Mass, confessions and recitation of the rosary; eucharistic adoration throughout the day; and a preview of Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion,” in the shrine’s lower crypt church.

Scheduled speakers include: Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.; Fr. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life; and Jim Caviezel, the actor who plays Jesus in “The Passion.”

Sponsors of the fasting and prayer event include the Catholic Campaign for America, Priests for Life, Sisters for Life, Human Life International, the American Life League, Catholic Answers, Divine Mercy International and the Apostolate for Perpetual Adoration.

Massachusetts governor wants death penalty restored

BOSTON -- Massachusetts Gov. Milt Romney has appointed a panel of scientific and legal experts to draft legislation to reinstate capital punishment in Massachusetts. Romney said the task of the panel was to use expertise in forensic science and law “to design death penalty legislation that meets the highest evidentiary standards,” Romney said.

Gerry D’Avolio, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, said that although Romney’s move to reinstate the death penalty represents a “much more sophisticated approach” to the issue, he does not see any reason to restore capital punishment in the commonwealth. One of only 12 states without capital punishment, Massachusetts banned the death penalty in 1984.

“Romney supports capital punishment and wants to see if this is a way to ease the issue into the legislature,” D’Avolio said. “We [the conference and the church] happen to disagree with him.” The Catholic church has a clear stance on capital punishment, D’Avolio said, and the conference plans to defend that position.

Poison letter ‘stunned’ Keating

WASHINGTON -- Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating reveals in an article he wrote in the October issue of Crisis magazine that a letter accusing him of having an affair and of never attending Mass was circulated among Catholic clergy while he was chair of the National Review Board, the U.S. bishops’ sex abuse watchdog. The Associated Press published an account of the article Sept. 30

“I was stunned and outraged,” Keating wrote. “Every word was a lie.” He cited this as one of the events that led to his resignation from the review board in June.

The U.S. bishops formed the National Review Board in 2001 to monitor compliance with their guidelines for dealing with sexual abuse. Keating was named to chair the board, but his direct talk and open criticism aggravated some of the U.S. hierarchy. Calls for his resignation came after he said the bishops were as secretive as the Mafia.

Keating did not reveal who wrote the letter, but he said it was “purportedly written by the vicar general of Oklahoma City … to his counterpart in Chicago.” Fr. Edward J. Weisenburger, the vicar general of the Oklahoma City diocese, would not comment to The Associated Press on whether he had written the letter. He did say he does not know the vicar general of the Chicago archdiocese.

Nuns in Ohio denied visas

CLEVELAND -- Two South Korean nuns, novices of the cloistered Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, are fighting deportation. The Department of Homeland Security’s immigration division denied their applications for religious-worker visas this summer.

Sisters Mary Catharina Laboure and Mary Cecilia, who are siblings, had been affiliated with the Poor Clares before arriving at the monastery April 18, 2002, with visitor’s visas. The women applied for religious-worker visas last September. The government denied their request, saying the nuns could not show they worked for the same employer for two consecutive years before applying.

“I don’t think anyone questions the sincerity of the nuns or wants to indicate they are a threat of some sort,” said Chris Bentley, a spokesman for immigration services. “But we have to see that the rules are applied equally.

The sisters’ attorney, Donald O’Connor, said that immigration officials may not understand the nature of the Poor Clares’ mission. Sr. Mary Cecilia, whose birth name is Sim Yu, had been a nun for 16 years in South Korea. Her sister, whose given name is In Suen Yu, became Catholic four years ago and joined her sister in the order.


National Catholic Reporter, October 10, 2003

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