Archive of February 28, 2007

San Diego Diocese files for bankruptcy

San Diego, Calif., Feb 28, 2007 (CNA) - Following a failed final attempt at settling clergy-abuse claims, the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego filed for Chapter 11 protection just before midnight last night, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.  The filing makes San Diego the largest of five U.S. dioceses to declare bankruptcy.

The diocese’s action halts the first of about 150 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of children by 60 priests in incidents dating back decades.  The chain of lawsuits was set to begin today.

In a statement, Bishop Robert Brom said the goal of the filing was to allow for a fair dispersal of monies to all victims.  Brom said that despite the requests of a Los Angeles judge to stall the filing, it was necessary to take the step before the first case could begin, “because early trial judgments in favor of some victims could so deplete diocesan and insurance resources that there would be nothing left for other victims.”

Diocesan attorneys had met with Judge Anthony Mohr and attorneys of the plaintiffs on Monday to discuss a settlement.  Though he did not mention exact numbers, diocesan attorney Michael Webb said the diocese offered plaintiffs “a staggering amount of money,” which amounted to “the highest offer any diocese has made in terms of absolute dollars.”

“It was the final offer,” Webb said, “it was everything we were able to muster.”

“We put money on the table that would have stretched our financial capability to the limit,” Brom said in his statement, “but demands were made which exceeded the financial resources of both the diocese and our insurance carrier.”

In its brief electronic filing, the diocese said it had assets of more than $100 million, but estimated debts of more than $100 million.  The San Diego claims, dating back to the 1950s, could cost more than $200 million to settle, plaintiffs told the Union-Tribune.

The Bishop said that the diocese plans to present to the court, “an accurate statement on available diocesan assets and we will propose a comprehensive plan for compensating the victims and hearing their cases.”

At the same time, the bishop continued, “we will be disclosing the names of those accused…as well as the extent of their abuse, and we will verify that no known abuser is functioning in ministry.”

The diocese, he emphasized, will continue to “reach out with pastoral concern and care to victims of sexual abuse and their families, and to promote healing and reconciliation with them,”

The San Diego bankruptcy filings follow those of Dioceses of Tucson, Arizona; Spokane, Washington; Davenport, Iowa; and the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon.

Tucson which filed for bankruptcy in 2004 has already emerged from its settlement, and settlement agreements in Portland and Spokane are awaiting final approval.

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Pakistani Catholic bishop says Islamic radicals are aiming for him

Konigstein, Germany, Feb 28, 2007 (CNA) - Bishop Joseph Coutts, the Bishop of Faisalabad says that he is in the sites of Muslim extremists due to his continued efforts to establish inter-religious dialogue in his country. The bishop said that the increase in Muslim radical groups, coupled with his attempts to improve relations between Catholics and Muslims in Pakistan, have brought about numerous death threats since December.

Speaking recently with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Coutts said he would not let himself be intimidated and that he would persist “with inter religious activities, in favour of social harmony and religious peace in the country.”

“We have experienced the violence of certain extremist Muslim groups, a violence that did not exist formerly,” the bishop lamented. “This is for us a new phenomenon that does not go out from the population in general, but from the promotion of this way of thinking within extremist groups.”

According to the AP, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz acknowledged the extremist problems his country faces and issued a call yesterday for Pakistanis to stand up to the groups. “One of the big challenges faced by Pakistan today is extremism and terrorism,'' Aziz said in an address in Islamabad.  “If you want progress and development, do not support the extremist forces.”

In Pakistan, a country with 150 million inhabitants, Catholics are only a small minority of 1.5 million.

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Irish bishops: Israel must lift restrictions on Palestinians

Dublin, Ireland, Feb 28, 2007 (CNA) - Catholic Bishops in Ireland are questioning the commercial ties between their country and the EU with Israel.  The bishops said in a statement yesterday, that Israel has made the Gaza Strip "little more than a large prison" for Palestinians.

"Where there is evidence of systematic abuse of human rights on a large scale, as in the Occupied Territories, there are questions that must be asked concerning the appropriateness of maintaining close business, cultural, and commercial links with Israel," Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Field of Dublin wrote in a statement Tuesday.

Bishop Field, who is chairman of the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs, said he would raise the issue at his meeting with Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern that day.

The bishop called for an end to restrictions on Palestinian travel and family reunification as well as an end to “humiliating treatment of people at checkpoints.” He described the restrictions as "injustice."

Restrictions also make it difficult for Christians to worship at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.  Israelis say these restrictions protect them against Palestinian attacks.

"While we welcome cooperation between the EU and its neighboring countries, nevertheless such cooperation should not be at the expense of a large segment of the indigenous population - in this case the Palestinians," he said.

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Christians must have recourse to conscience, Vatican conference concludes

Vatican City, Feb 28, 2007 (CNA) - Christians must have recourse to conscientious objection to abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, said the President of Pontifical Academy for Life, Bishop Elio Sgreccia, at the conclusion of a conference last week.

“Until now we were familiar with objection of conscience in two fields, against military service and war and against abortion and sterilization,” he said, but there are many other cases today. “For example, the morning-after pill, or chemical abortion, and other methods including vaccines used in the third world,” he said.

The bishop was speaking at a two-day general assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life at the Vatican, Feb. 23-24. About 400 participants from around the world participated. The theme was: “The Christian Conscience Supports the Right to Life”.

“The conscience is often called the sanctuary of the person, the most secret nucleus which decides man’s action,” Bishop Sgreccia said. “Since it is a sacred place the conscience can also be profaned, destroyed - but like the temple, it can be rebuilt.

“Conscience seen as a source of water must remain pure, upright, certain.  It can be polluted but returning to the source it is purified,” he said.

During the conference Cardinal Lozano Barragán, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral, also spoke, examining the relationship between conscience and culture and exposed his reflections on writings of John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI on conscience.

Bishop Jean Laffitte spoke about “the history of conscientious objection and different views of the concept of tolerance.”

“An ideologically tolerant society, in the present day sense of the term, cannot tolerate conscience objection because this escapes its control: in fact it cannot tolerate the idea that there is a truth to be found,” he said, referring to the paradox. “To escape this totalitarian undertaking, the only response is the positive affirmation of human dignity as a truth valid for all.”

Professors also gave overviews on relevant legislation in Europe and personal and social responsibility in the context of the protection of human life.

Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, gave the closing address. He spoke the commitment to promote life in developing countries.

The prefect highlighted three fundamental principles which should guide Christians in the promotion of life: the primacy of charity, the formation of conscience, and the necessity to renew efforts to announce God’s absolute and universal Lordship over all creation.

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Filipino pro-life rally sees 10,000 teens

Manila, Philippines, Feb 28, 2007 (CNA) - A pro-life youth rally in Manila over the weekend gathered 10,000 young people. Organized by the nation's leading pro-life group, participants made commitments to abstain from sex until marriage and to fight to keep abortion illegal, reported
Pro-Life Philippines coordinated the rally along with pro-life groups at various colleges and universities.

Ali Atienza, who heads inner city development in Manila, spoke to the crowd. His father, Lito Atienza, is the mayor of Manila and also the president of Pro-Life Philippines.

Last March, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said she would veto any legislation that would legalize abortion.

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Oswaldo Paya calls for reconciliation between Cubans

Havana, Cuba, Feb 28, 2007 (CNA) - In an emotional message sent via internet, the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya, called on Cubans at home and abroad to overcome their hurt and their desires for vengeance in order to establish a dialogue that will bring reconciliation to the country.

In his letter, Paya recalled his own years of captivity as a young man.  “I do not remember them with hatred,” he said, despite having been obliged to “work ten hour days like animals, dressed truly in rags and sleeping and being transported like livestock.”

Paya recalled that at the work camps, thousands of young people “saw their lives destroyed forever.  Religious brothers and sisters, children of emigrants who were not allowed to leave the country because they were of military age, children of political prisoners, homosexuals, anyone that the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution deemed to be deviant, and even those who liked rock music, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, all suffered confinement,” Paya said.

“Thousands of the young and not so young were expelled from universities and their places of work and incarcerated solely for freely expressing themselves or for not expressing their unconditional support [for the regime].”

According to Paya, injustice does not begin “when someone decides to remain abroad and say what he has not said up that point.  I understand the reaction of many artists and intellectuals to seeing someone who has hurt them on television and who at one point in time violated their rights in the name of and with the power of the revolution.  I support the right to protest and the claims of artists and intellectuals who have been affected.  Many Cubans, millions, see things on television every day that hurt them and which they would like to respond to, but they have no voice, and the artists and intellectuals who do have one do not speak for them.”
“It’s a right of all Cubans that the historical memory be opened, but there is a greater right, which includes the former, and that is that a new horizon of freedom and rights for all be opened.  Not in an atmosphere of settling scores but rather of reconciliation and liberation.  For these ideals peaceful Cuban political prisoners are behind bars,” he added.

Drawing upon his own experience of suffering, Paya called on “intellectuals, journalists and artists who live in Cuba and who live abroad, from all positions and walks of life,” to embrace “humility and the option for the person, for the people.  More than demanding justice for a group of individuals for a dark period they suffered, this option for the people, for solidarity, means defending the rights of freedom of conscience and of expression for all Cubans, and promoting the national dialogue that our society needs.”

“Cuba needs dialogue between free persons in order to open this horizon,” Paya stressed.  “A dialogue without boundaries or exclusion.  Perhaps we cannot agree about the past, but we have the responsibility to agree with each other about the future, to spread hope.  In this spirit we can usher in a new time for the new generation which has the right,” he said in conclusion, “to make its own time, its own life, in freedom and in brotherhood.

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Archbishop says Church should continue to contribute to Venezuelan society despite obstacles

Caracas, Venezuela, Feb 28, 2007 (CNA) - The President of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Ubaldo Santana, said this week the Church in that country should continue to contribute to the well being of society despite the many obstacles it faces.

In an interview with the newspaper “La Verdad,” the archbishop said the mission of the Church in Venezuela is “to proclaim the Gospel, to propose Jesus Christ and to point out the way of salvation to humanity.”  The Church, he continued, “must evangelize in the culture in which the people live, in a simple language, and above all convincingly, so that believers may be deeply convinced that the Gospel can change their lives.”

“We see our mission from the point of view of faith, we believe that God is present in the midst of the reality that our country is experiencing.  We also have a vision of hope, because we believe that we Venezuelans, moved by our convictions, virtues and traditional culture, are capable of resolving our problems and moving forward to build a country ever more fraternal and just,” the archbishop continued.

“It is essential that (the Church) helps the country overcome conflicts, divisions, hatred and rivalries in order to find ways to live together in which no one is excluded and so that the greatest aspirations of the human heart can be reached, such as living in freedom, having employment, health, basic services and peace, free from violence and the lack of security,” Archbishop Santana stressed.  “That is where the Church can best exercise her service of evangelization.”

“The Church does not ask for privileges,” he went on, “but rather to fulfill her mission in complete freedom like any other social organization, with complete independence in her principles based on the fundamental convictions that she must convey.”

Archbishop Santana also emphasized that freedom of religion must be respected in the country, so that individuals may “adhere to a determined religions profession in accord with their conscience.”  “This freedom must be guaranteed by the legal structures of a country,” he added.

The archbishop concluded his comments with call to all Venezuelans to never give up the “struggle for a better future,” to love their children and defend life, and to work together to “overcome political, ideological and religious differences.”

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Uruguayan bishop invites faithful to take advantage of Lent to turn back to God

Montevideo, Uruguay, Feb 28, 2007 (CNA) - Bishop Raul Scarrone of Florida y Durazno said this week “in each one of us there is a heart waiting to be filled with the love of God,” and thus he called on the faithful to take advantage of the season of Lent to “authentically return to God” through interior change.

“Let us recall that Lent is an occasion for an encounter with ourselves, with others and with God.  It is through Lent that the human spirit seeks to encounter his Lord or to intensify his relationship with Him,” Bishop Scarrone said in Lenten letter.

The bishop explained that “by calling out to our hearts, God yearns that we return to the interior and spiritual dimension of ourselves, so that we can be authentic persons and not live with a heart estranged from Him or with a heart distracted by a thousand passing things that the world offers us.”

“Let’s return to our interior life and discover there the call of God to a more generous surrender, a bolder commitment and to discover the beauty of the Christian vocation that we have received in Baptism in all of its dimensions, thus becoming authentic ‘disciples and missionaries of Jesus so that in Him everyone might have life,” the bishop stated.

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Colombian bishops call for united pressure on rebel group to release prisoners

Bogotá, Colombia, Feb 28, 2007 (CNA) - The secretary general of the Bishops’ Conference of Colombia, Bishop Fabian Marulanda, expressed his concern this week for the hostages being held by the Marxist rebel group FARC and proposed a common effort be made to pressure the militants into granting them release.

In statements on Colombian radio, the bishop said pressure should not only be put on the government of Alvaro Uribe, but also on the FARC, because the rebel group in the end has the sole power to release the hostages.  “I don’t know if the facilitating countries will take their work as seriously as those who are directly experiencing it, a joint agreement inside and outside the country to pressure the FARC would be an interesting development,” Bishop Marulanda stated.

He went on to warn that because the government is currently involved in two other peace processes, it cannot resolve the problem of the hostages, which becomes more serious by the day, on its own.  “I see the government concerned about the peace process with the paramilitary and with the National Liberation Army (ELN), as well as about its policies,” the bishop explained.

He also said he was concerned the issue would polarize the country, and therefore he asked that it not become the subject of political battles.

The FARC has proposed releasing the 59 hostages it is currently holding, including politicians, military personnel, and foreigners, in exchange for the release of 500 of its soldiers being held by the government.

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