National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  January 16, 2004


Edited by Dennis Coday

Bishop told to leave Burundi

VATICAN CITY -- Hutu rebels linked to the killing of the Vatican’s envoy to Burundi have given the president of the Burundi bishops’ conference 30 days to leave the country. The National Liberation Forces delivered the ultimatum to Archbishop Simon Ntamwana of Gitega Dec. 31, two days after Archbishop Michael Courtney was killed.

“We ask the Catholic church in Rome to find another country in which Msgr. Simon Ntamwana can be welcomed in the coming days,” FNL spokesman Pasteur Habimana said. The rebels apparently acted in response to Ntamwana’s charge that they had carried out the execution of the envoy. President Domitien Ndayizeye made a similar allegation in a television message to the nation hours after the killing.

Habimana denied that the FNL attacked Courtney, who played a role in negotiations leading to the signing of a power-sharing agreement Nov. 2 between another rebel group, the Forces for the Defense of Democracy, the main Hutu rebel force, and the government. Courtney had met with FNL leaders to try to bring them to the negotiating table.

Gay debate ‘calls church’s bluff’

LONDON -- The controversy within Anglicanism over homosexuality has called the church’s bluff about its claim to be with those on the edge and among the marginalized of society, says Church of Ireland Bishop Paul Colton of Cork. Preaching at Christmas in St. Fin Barre’s cathedral in Cork, the bishop said: “We have claimed to be on the side of those who were oppressed by society and consigned to its margins. But how are we faring?

“This edge place is where most homosexuals were forced to live prior to decriminalization and the arrival of equality legislation, but where, in spite of immense changes in society, many still find themselves -- especially those within the church.”

Colton said that since the “first cathartic decision” to admit uncircumcised Gentiles to the nascent Christian community, the Christian story had been one of prejudice being overcome step by step, including slaves, single mothers, children born outside marriage, people in interchurch marriages, divorcees, women and racism.

Clergy must be tested for HIV

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- The Pentecostal Assemblies of Zimbabwe, a group of 150 churches in a country where a quarter of the population is infected with AIDS, has ordered all of its pastors, marriage officers and couples seeking marriage to be tested for the HIV virus that causes AIDS. “Although this might sound rather controversial, discriminatory and infringing on individuals’ rights, we felt that the only way we could effectively fight this pandemic was through adoption of more pragmatic and practical measures,” Bishop Trevor Managa said in a news release.

Everyone who is tested will receive certification, but marriage officers who do not have the certification will not be allowed to conduct weddings. Clergy who test positive for the disease would presumably be allowed to continue working.

Church leaders who preach to and counsel church members on various issues, including HIV/AIDS, have to lead by example, Managa said.

Bhutan bans public Masses

DEONIYA, Nepal -- Christians are not allowed to hold public church services in the remote Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan and priests are routinely denied permits to enter the country, according to Bishop Stephen Lepcha, whose diocesan territory includes the tiny nation.

Lepcha is based in Darjeeling, near India’s border with Nepal. He is an ethnic Lepcha, the aboriginal inhabitants of the Sikkim region of India and neighboring parts of Nepal and Bhutan. He was in Deoniya for the ordination of a Lepcha Jesuit priest.

The bishop said that Buddhism is Bhutan’s state religion and any sort of proselytizing by other religions is prohibited. Migrant Christians from India and Nepal “enjoyed freedom to hold church services in public” until a few years ago, he said. Since then, “all public church services have been banned, and any breach of that ban invites incarceration.” He said he has not been allowed to visit the country for three years.


Churches to scrap service fees

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Raleigh diocese has approved a policy that prohibits parishes from charging fees for weddings, baptisms and funeral liturgies. Diocesan director of liturgy and author of the new policy, Msgr. Tim O’Connor said, “The sacraments are God’s gifts to us, and should be freely given to the people.”

The policies also says stole fees are to go to the church, although gifts to priests are not prohibited. Musicians, however, may charge for music.

Often at issue is when Catholics wish to be married on the coast (the diocese extends east to the Atlantic Ocean) or in a beautiful location, such as Sacred Heart Cathedral in downtown Raleigh, and not in their home parish. When the church is used for a wedding of nonparishioners, parishes can request an offering up to $200, the new policy says.

Christians mark week of unity

WASHINGTON -- Christians around the world will mark Jan. 18-25 as the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The 2004 theme -- “My peace I give to you” -- was suggested by an ecumenical group in Aleppo, northern Syria. Local churches are asked to host prayer services and dialogues during the annual unity week. The annual week of prayer is coordinated by the Geneva-based World Council of Churches and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Meanwhile, the retiring leader of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Konrad Raiser, bemoaned “unmistakable signs” that progress between Protestants and Catholics has slowed over the past decade. He said, “The expectations that we would be able to weave an ever-closer network of cooperative relationships has not been fulfilled.”

Diocese says abuse lawsuits impinge on constitutional rights

ALTOONA, Pa. -- The Altoona-Johnstown, Pa., diocese has asked a judge to dismiss 13 abuse-related lawsuits as an unconstitutional infringement on the church’s right to discipline and manage its employees. “Religious communities ... have the right not to be hindered by legislation or administrative action on the part of the civil authority in the selection, training, appointment and transfer of their own ministers,” Fr. John D. Byrnes, a canon lawyer, wrote in a filing last week.

Lawyers for the victims are suing the diocese for failing to protect them from abusive priests. They allege the diocese allowed abusive priests to continue working until at least last year.

The diocese has not used the argument before in county court, although it did reference it when appealing the case of a now-defrocked priest who was found guilty of abuse. A jury awarded $519,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages against the former priest, Francis Luddy. The punitive damages were later thrown out by the state’s Superior Court.

Corporate guru advises church

NEW YORK -- A corporate consultant foresees a significant decline in the Catholic church because of a rapidly aging work force, an inability to recruit new talent and declining sources of traditional revenue. Frederick W. Gluck, a former managing director of McKinsey & Co. and former vice chairman of the Bechtel Group, said: “Unless some dramatic action to energize a change program for the U.S. church that fully incorporates the laity is undertaken, I believe the decline that is already well under way will only accelerate.”

Gluck said the church’s problems are not related only to the sex abuse crisis. The church’s customers, or parishioners, “no longer feel committed to the product line,” he said.

Gluck’s recommendations include changes in management, new personnel policies, increasing the role of the laity in decision-making and financial transparency and disclosure “in each and every parish and diocese.”

Gluck’s analysis was reprinted in the Dec. 1 issue of America magazine after he presented it privately to Catholic leaders at a meeting last summer.


National Catholic Reporter, January 16, 2004

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