A Look at Today (01.15.07)

No events in the diocese today 

Bishop Pfeifer at Holy Angels, San Angelo, for presentation to RCIA Class, 6:30 p.m.

CHRIST THE KING RETREAT CENTER — Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament 

Today’s Readings

First Reading: Hebrews 5:1-10
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 110:1, 2, 3, 4
Gospel: Mark 2:18-22

Today’s Headlines by the Catholic News Service

Bishop Skylstad says Iraqi security, dignity are key to Iraq policy

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Every U.S. action or policy in Iraq “ought to be evaluated in light of our nation’s moral responsibility to help Iraqis to live with security and dignity in the aftermath of U.S. military action,” said Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In a statement released Jan. 12, Bishop Skylstad said the new U.S. policies announced by President George W. Bush Jan. 10 or any alternatives to them must be viewed within the framework of “a key moral question that ought to guide our nation’s actions in Iraq: How can the U.S. bring about a responsible transition in Iraq?” He said “benchmarks” for progress toward such a transition include “minimally acceptable levels of security; economic reconstruction to create employment for Iraqis; and political structures and agreements that help overcome divisions, reduce violence, broaden participation and increase respect for religious freedom and basic human rights.” Bishop Skylstad, who was traveling in the Holy Land, issued his statement from Jerusalem, but it was released through USCCB offices in Washington.

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Judge says abuse lawsuit against Vatican can go ahead

WASHINGTON. (CNS) — A federal judge in Louisville, Ky., has denied a Vatican request to dismiss a sex abuse lawsuit seeking damages from the Holy See. U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II ruled Jan. 11 that U.S. bishops and priests are employees of the Vatican within the terms of the Federal Sovereign Immunity Act. The act generally exempts other sovereign states from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts, but it allows U.S. courts to adjudicate lawsuits seeking monetary damages from a foreign country for personal injury caused in the United States by an employee of that country “while acting within the scope of his office or employment.” The lawsuit, brought by Louisville attorney William McMurry on behalf of three clients who claim they were abused by priests when they were minors, is believed to be the first clergy sexual abuse suit that names the Holy See as the sole defendant. McMurry described Heyburn’s decision as “historic.” However, The Courier-Journal, Louisville daily newspaper, quoted attorney Jeffrey S. Lena of Berkeley, Calif., counsel for the Vatican, saying that calling U.S. bishops and priests Vatican employees is a “fairly weak linchpin” for the case.

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Catholics join in efforts to close military prison at Guantanamo Bay

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Pax Christi members from four chapters of the Catholic peace group were among several hundred demonstrators at a federal courthouse in Washington Jan. 11 calling for the shutdown of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Jean Stokan, policy director for Pax Christi USA in Washington, said participants came from the Baltimore, metro Washington, Northern Virginia and Springfield, Ill., chapters to join in the protest. Pax Christi USA was among 16 sponsors of the demonstration, which marked the fifth anniversary of the detention of military prisoners at Guantanamo. Among the dozens of groups endorsing the demonstration were the Justice and Peace Office of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in Red Bud, Ill.; various Catholic Worker houses; the Catholic Peace Ministry; the Anti-War Committee of the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh; the Sisters of the Precious Blood in Dayton, Ohio; and the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Scranton, Pa.

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Pro-life official decries passage of ‘misguided’ stem-cell bill

WASHINGTON (CNS) — A pro-life official of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops criticized House passage Jan. 11 of a bill that would expand federal funding of stem-cell research that involves the destruction of human embryos, but expressed confidence that an expected presidential veto of the “misguided and unethical legislation” would stand. Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, said in a statement that the 253-174 vote indicated that there were not enough votes to override the veto that President George W. Bush has promised. The bill now goes to the Senate for a vote; if it passes there, it will be sent to the White House for action by Bush. But Doerflinger said both houses of Congress should turn their attention “to stem-cell research that poses no moral problem — constructive research that is already beginning to help patients with dozens of conditions in clinical trials.” He added, “Unlike embryonic stem-cell research, research using stem cells from adult tissue, umbilical-cord blood, amniotic fluid and other sources is showing enormous promise and is likely to produce new treatments for patients now living.”

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Hike in federal minimum wage long overdue, say proponents

WASHINGTON (CNS) — An increase in the federal minimum wage, its proponents would argue, is not only an idea whose time has come, but an idea whose time had come long ago. The minimum wage was last increased in 1997. The 10-years-and-counting gap between increases is the longest since the minimum wage was instituted in 1938. Its purchasing power also has dropped. According to Catholic Charities USA, it’s now equal to $3.95 in 1995 dollars — when the minimum wage was $4.25. The current federal minimum wage is $5.15 an hour. The House Jan. 10 passed a bill calling for a minimum wage of $7.25 by 2009; under the measure it would go to $5.85 in 60 days, to $6.55 a year later and then $7.25 in two years. The Senate could take up the measure as early as Jan. 18. The federal poverty line for a family of three is $16,090, which is higher than the $10,712 that a worker getting $5.15 an hour would earn working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year.

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U.S. poverty called a major moral, policy challenge

WASHINGTON (CNS) — “Poverty remains our nation’s most serious political blind spot and one of our nation’s most profound moral failings,” says a new policy paper of Catholic Charities USA, “Poverty in America: A Threat to the Common Good.” The policy paper, published in the form of a 28-page booklet released Jan. 10 at a briefing on Capitol Hill, sets the framework for Catholic Charities’ new Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America. The paper is also available in Spanish. The goal of the campaign is to cut poverty in half by 2020. That would mean that the 37 million Americans now living below the poverty line, who form 12.6 percent of the country’s population, would have to drop to about 6 percent within 13 years. “Poverty in this nation is an ongoing disaster that threatens the health and well-being of our country, which our children will inherit,” the paper says. It says the spread of poverty in America “has been largely ignored” in recent years by politicians and the media, while the federal government “has substantially reduced the resources” devoted to assisting the poor. The policy paper and other resource materials are available on the Internet at http://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org.

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Maryland nonpublic schools fear future without state tax credits

BALTIMORE (CNS) — Henry Fortier calls it one of the “most painful” days in his life. After several years as principal of New All Saints School in West Baltimore — a time marked by increasing test scores and steady improvement in student performance — Fortier had to tell his students their school was closing. “It was devastating,” said Fortier, now one of the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s associate superintendents. “It hurt to see them hurt. I had kids offering their allowances to keep the school open.” New All Saints was one of 10 schools in the archdiocese that closed or merged within the last five years because of strapped financial resources and declining enrollment. Because of ongoing financial challenges, Fortier is convinced that even more schools will close unless they receive more support from the state. Organized by the Maryland Nonpublic Schools Legislative Coalition, a series of 17 educational forums was held Jan. 8 throughout Maryland to educate members of the Maryland General Assembly about the contributions made by nonpublic schools to the state’s economy by saving taxpayers public school costs.

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Bush declares Jan. 16 Religious Freedom Day

WASHINGTON (CNS) — President George W. Bush has declared Jan. 16 Religious Freedom Day 2007 to commemorate the passage of the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom written by Thomas Jefferson. Each year, since 1993, the U.S. presidents have acknowledged Religious Freedom Day and asked Americans to “observe this day through appropriate events and activities in homes, schools and places of worship.” The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom stopped the practice of taxing people to pay for the support of the local clergy and it protected the civil rights of people to express their religious beliefs without facing discrimination. In the Jan. 11 proclamation for this year’s Religious Freedom Day, Bush noted that for centuries people have come to America to worship freely. “Today our citizens profess many different faiths, and we welcome every religion. Yet people in many countries live without the freedom to worship as they choose and some face persecution for their beliefs,” the president said.

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WORLD

Publish or perish? Church struggles to judge communist collaborators

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The resignation of a Polish archbishop over spying revelations has highlighted a tension between judgment and forgiveness in the church, one that has taken on new meaning in post-communist Europe. In the broadest sense, it’s a tension found in the teaching of Christ, who preached forgiveness but told his followers to “judge justly” the wrongs of society. The question emerged in a more specific way during Holy Year 2000. As the church began an “examination of conscience” to ask forgiveness for historical sins, cardinals vehemently debated whether it was proper to judge past actions like the Inquisition or the Crusades by modern standards. In today’s Poland, the timeline has been abbreviated. The alleged spying activities involve living people and living memories, many of them documented in immense archives. The church has quietly struggled over whether to examine such files and publish the findings, aware that the disclosures may damage the church. Now that Warsaw Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus has resigned after it was learned he was an informant to the communist-era secret police, the church may have no choice but to make full disclosure.

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Philippine senator criticizes government blacklisting of Irish priest

QUEZON CITY, Philippines (CNS) — A Philippine senator criticized the government blacklisting of an Irish Columban priest. Senate opposition leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. called the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation’s treatment of the priest “fascistic” and “without reason.” “Are we now under martial law?” Pimentel asked. Columban Father Frank Nally was held overnight at Ninoy Aquino International Airport Jan. 5. Officials then put him on a plane back to Hong Kong, said Australian Father Brian Gore, regional director of the Columban Mission Society in the Philippines. Father Gore told UCA News, an Asian church news agency, that an immigration official said Father Nally was blacklisted, but the official did not explain why. Father Nally campaigns for sustainable development and served nine years as a missionary in the Philippines, mostly in Mindanao, Father Gore said.

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Lithuanian bishops consider suit over airing of ‘Popetown’ satire

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) — Lithuanian bishops are considering suing MTV Lithuania for airing the animated satire “Popetown.” The series, which lampoons the papacy, has aired regularly since its Christmas debut. A week before Christmas, the bishops’ conference tried to get a restraining order to keep the series from airing, claiming it incited religious hatred. “When we found out about the plans to show ‘Popetown’ and collected information about its content, it left us without the slightest doubt that the cartoon is so offensive and scornful of the rights of the faithful that we asked the court for a restraining order so that we would be able to prepare ourselves to file a suit, demanding that it not be aired,” said Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius of Kaunas, head of the Lithuanian bishops’ conference. He told Catholic News Service Jan. 11 that since the court did not grant the bishops’ request and the cartoon was being shown the bishops were considering legal action on different grounds. He did not elaborate.

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Polish bishops: Vatican to make decisions on communist collaborators

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) — The Polish bishops’ conference has set out measures for easing the controversy caused by the Jan. 7 resignation of the archbishop of Warsaw, saying decisions about bishops who collaborated with the former communist regime would be left to the Vatican. After an emergency bishops’ meeting in Warsaw Jan. 12, Archbishop Jozef Michalik of Przemysl, conference president, said there had been unanimous agreement that a five-member church commission, created in October, would study secret police files on a Catholic bishop only if the bishop in question requested it. However, he said, a final decision about those “burdened by collaboration” would be left to the pope or relevant Vatican department after the documentation had been passed to them. Archbishop Michalik told journalists that a team of legal experts would be set up in March to help, while individual dioceses would be encouraged to form their own local commissions. However, he said, church investigators would provide only a “dry report” on the contents of files, without “judging or evaluating.”

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PEOPLE

Atlanta archbishop visits ‘family of God’ at Georgia prison

JACKSON, Ga. (CNS) — During a visit to a state maximum security prison in Jackson, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta told a group of inmates that they were not forgotten and were integral members of the body of Christ and the church of Georgia. “You men are part of our family of God, the believing community, and so we come to share the mystery of Jesus being born here anew,” he said during his Jan. 4 homily in the prison chapel. He assured the dozen inmates at the Mass that Jesus is present for those who are sick, imprisoned and others on the margins of society where “the family of the church may more perfectly recognize the Lord.” After Mass, he greeted the inmates in attendance. He then celebrated a private Mass in the prison barbershop for five death-row inmates. About 2,000 male prisoners are incarcerated at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, which also houses the state’s 103 death-row inmates.

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Bishop-presidential contender in Paraguay hopes for great social pact

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (CNS) — Retired Bishop Fernando Lugo Mendez of San Pedro, Paraguay, who resigned from active ministry to run for president, said he hopes to foster a “great social pact” to achieve national reconciliation in a country with deep divisions. “I believe in collective leadership. … I’m no messiah,” Bishop Lugo, who is leading in opinion polls, told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview in mid-January. “Paraguay has a lot of very qualified people.” He said Paraguay was “a champion in corruption,” but added, “there are very healthy people who are not tainted by it” and said he would like his running mate — whom he has yet to pick — to be a female politician. With nearly 40 percent of Paraguay’s 6.5 million people living in poverty — and half of those poor struggling on $1 a day — plus rising inflation and Paraguay’s reputation as one of the most corrupt nations in the world, Bishop Lugo will have his work cut out if he succeeds in ending the Colorado Party’s six-decade grip on power in 2008.

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U.S. bishop discusses Palestinian plight due to Israeli settlements

NAHALEEN, West Bank (CNS) — The encroachment of Israeli settlements on Palestinian water sources must be addressed, said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., said his two-day visit to view Catholic Relief Services’ projects in West Bank farming villages brought to his attention the plight of farmers who are losing access to their water supply. “It is the first time I have become aware of the critical nature of the water supply. (Palestinians) feel their water supply is being cut from them by the encroachment (of Israeli settlements) beyond the green line,” said the bishop, who grew up on an apple farm in Washington and has been interested in farming all his life. Bishop Skylstad visited Israel and the Palestinian territories Jan. 11-18, participating in the Coordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church of the Holy Land and the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land. Bishop Skylstad and other bishops were to travel to the Gaza Strip Jan. 13 and spend three days visiting Catholic parishes and religious leaders in northern Israel Jan. 14-16.

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