Archive of February 4, 2004

Christians must ponder their own moral integrity before taking Holy Communion, Pope says

Vatican City, Feb 4, 2004 (CNA) - While commenting on Psalm 14, “Who is worthy to be before the Lord?,” Pope John Paul II said during his general audience today that Christians must ponder their own moral integrity in an examination of conscience before going to Holy Communion.

The Holy Father affirmed that, as opposed to other religious cultures that require “an exterior ritual pureness that includes ablutions, gestures, and special clothing” in order to be received by God,  Psalm 14 emphasizes “the purification of the conscience so that every decision is inspired by love of justice and one’s neighbor” and invites us to “combine faith and love, prayer and existential commitment, adoration and social justice.”

Referring to the eleven duties that “can be the basis of a personal examination of conscience every time we prepare to confess our sins and to be admitted in communion with the Lord in the liturgical celebration,” John Paul II enumerated those that “express an ethical choice: to follow the path of moral integrity, the practice of justice, and perfect sincerity in speaking.”

In reference to our neighbor, he said, “there are three duties: to eliminate calumny in our language, to avoid any action that could hurt our brother, to do away with insults against those who are beside us on a daily basis.” 

“Then there is the need for a clear position in the social setting: to despise evil, honor those who fear God.” 

“Finally, the last three precepts that should be part of our examination of conscience: to be faithful to our word upon swearing, even when there are negative consequences for us; not to practice usury, a scourge that even in our times is an infamous reality capable of strangling the life of many people, and lastly to avoid any type of corruption in public life, another duty which we should know how to practice with vigor in our time.”

John Paul II finally emphasized that “to follow this way of authentic moral choices means being prepared to encounter the Lord. Those who react in the way indicated by the psalmist - concludes our prayer – ‘will never vacillate’.”

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Catholic League report puts clergy sexual abuse in context

Washington D.C., Feb 4, 2004 (CNA) - In anticipation of two major studies on clergy sexual abuse that will be released Feb. 27, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights issued a report to help put the recent scandal in the Catholic Church in perspective.

The report was printed to counter the assumption that the problem of sexual abuse is worse in the Church than in any other sector of society.

It compiles data, which indicate that family members are the most likely to sexually molest a child. As well, it shows that the incidence of the sexual abuse of a minor is slightly higher among the Protestant clergy than among the Catholic clergy, and that it is significantly higher among public school teachers than among ministers and priests.

“The report does not seek to exculpate anyone who had anything to do with priestly sexual misconduct, but it does seek to challenge those who continue to treat this issue in isolation,” said Catholic League president William A. Donahue in the preface to the report.

One of the studies, to be released Feb. 27, is a national study on the extent of sexual abuse of minors by priests since 1950, conducted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. The other is a study of the causes and consequences of the abuse crisis, conducted by the National Review Board. The board was established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Both studies were done at the request of the U.S. bishops. 

About 903,000 children were victims of child maltreatment in 2001, 10 percent of whom (or 90,000) were sexually abused. The report cites two clinical child psychologists – Wade F. Horn and Dr. Garth A. Rattray – who both found that the majority of sexually abused children (about 85 percent) are abused by family members and friends.

The report also cites several newspaper surveys and studies, which demonstrate that less than 1.8 percent of the estimated 60,000 Catholic clergy in the last 40 to 50 years have been accused of child sexual abuse. The large majority of victims, up to 91 percent, were adolescent boys.

Protestant Clergy

In 1990, a study by the Park Ridge Center for the Study of Health, Faith and Ethics in Chicago, revealed that 10 percent of ministers said they had had an affair with a parishioner and about 25 percent admitted some sexual contact with a parishioner. Two years later, a survey by Leadership magazine found that 37 percent of ministers confessed to having been involved in “inappropriate sexual behavior” with a parishioner.

Joe E. Trull, co-author of the 1993 book “Ministerial Ethics”, found that “from 30 to 35 percent of ministers of all denominations admit to having sexual relationships—from inappropriate touching to sexual intercourse—outside of marriage.”

The Catholic League also cites a 2000 report, conducted by the Baptist General Convention in Texas, which states that: “The disturbing aspect of all research is that the rate of incidence for clergy exceeds the client-professional rate for physicians and psychologists.”

“In the authoritative work by Penn State professor Philip Jenkins, Pedophiles and Priests, it was determined that between .2 and 1.7 percent of priests are pedophiles,” reads the report. “The figure among the Protestant clergy ranges between 2 and 3 percent.”

The problem of sexual abuse also exists among the Jehovah’s Witnesses and in the Jewish community among rabbis, the report pointed out.

Child-care professionals

The report also cites the incidence of abuse among athletic coaches nationwide, which is at 0.2 percent. In other words, about 6,000 coaches have been convicted of sexual abuse in the U.S. Between three and 12 percent of psychologists have had sexual contact with their clients.

The report also indicated that the number in incidences of abuse in schools progressively increased, from 1986 to 1991. Abuse in schools was by far the most common. In 1991, The Handbook on Sexual Abuse of Children reported that 17.7 percent of males who graduated from high school and 82.2 percent of females reported sexual harassment by faculty or staff. About 13.5 percent said they had sexual intercourse with their teacher.

In 1994, Hofstra University professor Charol Shakeshaft and her colleague, Audrey Cohan, found that of 15 percent of all students have experienced some kind of sexual misconduct by a teacher and that up to 5 percent of teachers sexually abuse children.

“By putting the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in perspective, it is hoped that this report will make for a more fair and educated public response,” said Donahue.

Read the full report at:

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Baptists launch evangelization campaign based on ‘The Passion’

Dallas, Texas, Feb 4, 2004 (CNA) - The Baptist General Convention of Texas is hoping Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, to be released in theaters Ash Wednesday, will be a good opportunity for outreach and evangelization.

In preparation for the film’s release, the 2-million member Baptist convention has launched an ad campaign in theaters, which is designed to spark interest and questions on the part of younger viewers about Christianity, reported the Associated Press.

Many evangelical Christian groups throughout North America have launched similar campaigns. Catholic journalist John Allen also expressed his hope in a column last week that the Catholic Church will take advantage of the momentum created by the film and be at the ready to minister to those who have a spiritual awakening or come seeking answers to questions of faith.

However, AMC Theatres has refused to accept the Baptists’ 30-second ad, describing it as "too dark" and "too Christian," reported the AP.

Becky Bridges, communications director for the association of 5,700 Texas Baptist churches, said the black-and-white ad follows the theater’s ad regulations and does not use religious symbols, icons or the words “Jesus”, “Bible” or other “God talk.”

The ad opens with a young man asking: "You want to see the most scandalous story ever?"

Words then flash on and off the screen: "Betrayal. Sin. Adultery. Greed. Envy. Weakness. Poverty. Torture. Murder."

"Redemption," the actor says.

The ad ends with the message "Now playing at a Baptist church near you" above a Baptist General Convention of Texas logo.

Baptists plan to run the ad on about 200 Regal theater screens across Texas. At a cost of about $40,000, the ad will run for four weeks, starting the Friday before the opening of Gibson's movie.

AP reported that the Baptist convention offered to soften its ad, including taking out references to "murder" and "torture," but that did not change AMC’s mind.

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Important step in dialogue between Catholics and the Coptic Orthodox Church

Vatican City, Feb 4, 2004 (CNA) - The Vatican Press office released today an account of the first meeting of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Churches held on January 27 to 30 in Cairo, Egypt.

The meeting, hosted by His Holiness Shenouda III, Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and the See of St. Mark, was presided by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and His Eminence Metropolitan Amba Bishoy of Damiette, General Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

In their opening speeches, both Cardinal Kasper and Metropolitan Bishoy underscored the importance of the meeting, which marks the beginning of new official theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and “the Oriental Orthodox Churches as a family.”

In the first part of the meeting the many studies and activities carried out over the past thirty years were examined.  Later, discussion was opened up on the following topics: unofficial consultations held between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches; official dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church; official dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church; the declarations made by the Catholic Church and any Orthodox Church. 

A paper was presented which was jointly sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops  (USCCB) and the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches in the U.S.A. on various aspects of their dialogue. 

The topics and discussion have demonstrated that considerable work has been done which may be useful for the future dialogue of the commission.

The ‘work plan’ and agenda for dialogue comprised the second part of the meeting, which was dedicated to the topic of the next meeting, “Church as communion,” scheduled to take place on January 25-30, 2005.  Cardinal Kasper extended an invitation to have the meeting in Rome.

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Catholic prisoners of conscience denied religious assistance

Havana, Cuba, Feb 4, 2004 (CNA) - Authorities of the Guanajay Prison in Havana are continuing to deny religious assistance to eight Catholic prisoners of conscience, who have been requesting clergy visits for over nine months.

The prisoners denounced what they consider a violation of religious freedom as outlined in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The eight prisoners in question are Osvaldo Alfonso Valdés, Margarito Broche Espinosa, Carmelo Díaz Fernández, Efrén Fernández Fernández, Jorge Luis González, Marcelo López, Omar Pernet Hernández and Fabio Prieto Llorente.

For his part, Ariel Sigler Amaya, a political prisoner of conscience in the Canaleta Prison in Cieglo de Avila, continues to be held in solitary confinement and denied adequate food and medicine, according to his sister, María Victoria Sigler Amaya.

Sigler is being held in an enclosed, unsanitary cell and his sister says the food he receives is extremely low in nutrition, and he is not allowed to receive vitamin supplements to compensate for the poor diet.  Sigler is also not allowed to have religious books, including the Bible.

Ariel Sigler Amaya is president of a leading dissident group and was sentenced last April during the Government crack down on dissidents to 20 years in prison.

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Spanish bishops call for protection of the family from serious signs of disintegration

Madrid, Spain, Feb 4, 2004 (CNA) - The Spanish Bishops Conference is calling for a law to protect the family from the disintegration and re-definition to which it is currently being subjected in the country.  The petition appears in a document that was approved by the Plenary Assembly of the Spanish Episcopate last November and presented recently by the president of the body’s Subcommitte on the Family, Bishop Juan Antonio Reig of Segorbe-Castellón.

During his presentation of the document, Bishop Reig said that in 2002, for every 100 couples that married, 55.09 separated or divorced.  Marriages are increasingly ending sooner:  52% of those who separate have been married less than 10 years.

According to data for 2002 from the Institute for Family Policy, every 4 minutes in Spain a marriage ends in separation or divorce.  Morever, family breakups are increasing more rapidly than marriages.

The document from the bishops states that the birthrate in Spain is the lowest in Europe and the world.  In 2002, it was 1.26 children per woman.  The average child-bearing age of 32.17 years-old in Spain’s Basque province is the highest in Europe.  The document also states that an abortion takes place in Spain every 7 minutes.

The bishops also denounced the pressure from homosexual groups “who want special rights as a supposed minority, thereby eroding very significant building blocks of society that affect everyone.”

The bishops state that equating marriage to other relationships is “an utter injustice”, and they asked that this unmistakable difference be clearly stated in the political sphere in order to overcome the pressure to put all relationships on equal footing.

“We cannot be neutral in this area because the life and future of so many people are at stake, as well as the rights of younger generations to know the truth about love and human sexuality,” the document states.

The bishops denounce the existence of “insufficient and wrong-headed family policies,” which lead to severe problems “in people who are left forever wounded,” and they denounced politicians who “lack a global vision.”

The bishops also call for “integral” policies and measures with “family perspectives,” embracing all the aspects of man’s life, and not just the economic.

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Colombian bishops announce first agreement between the government and the FARC

Bogotá, Colombia, Feb 4, 2004 (CNA) - The Vice President of the Colombian Bishops Conference, Bishop Luis Augusto Castro, announced that the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have reached an agreement for the first time in negotiations sponsored by the Catholic Church. Both sides agreed that guerilla soldiers that the government will eventually release should remain in the country.  Bishop Castro, who heads up the negotiating commission authorized by President Alvaro Uribe, said, “We are little by little reaching common agreements, with the knowledge that there are still great differences.”

During the first day of the Colombian Bishops’ Plenary Assembly, Bishop Castro told reporters that as a starting point, the government and the FARC “are in agreement” about the necessity to arrive at a consensus that will allow hostages held by the rebels to go free, in exchange for allowing guerilla soldiers who will be released by the government to stay in the country.

Details regarding how the rebels will remain in the country still need to be worked out.

During the bishops’ meeting, Cardinal Pedro Rubiano, Archbishop of Bogotá, said the Catholic Church supports a negotiated peace settlement, with social justice and without impunity.  He stated the negotiations with armed rebels should take place in keeping with “fundamental rights in the context of truth, justice and reparation.”

He also emphasized that “in order to advance on the road to building peace, it is necessary that those responsible for offenses against human life and the dignity of the person, recognize the evil they have done and show signs, with acts of reparation, of their desire to be integrated into society, and that victims rid themselves of feelings of revenge and hatred.”

The Cardinal also called on both sides to reach a humanitarian agreement to alleviate “the thousands of Colombians who are victims of violence, forced relocation and abandonment by the state.”

The FARC continues to hold 60 Colombians and foreign nationals hostage, including politicians, civilians and military personnel, and 3 US citizens.

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