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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Mar-18-2010

By Catholic News Service


Second group of nuns backs bishops' position on health care reform

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A coalition of U.S. women religious representing more than 100 communities said March 17 that the position on health care reform and abortion articulated by the U.S. bishops is "the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church" and should be followed. The statement by Mercy Mother Mary Quentin Sheridan, president of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, came a day after the leaders of more than four dozen U.S. congregations of women religious urged members of Congress to "cast a life-affirming 'yes' vote" on the Senate's version of health reform legislation. "Despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions," they said in a letter delivered to all members of Congress March 17. "It will uphold long-standing conscience protections and it will make historic new investments -- $250 million -- in support of pregnant women." Mother Mary Quentin noted that Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has opposed the Senate version of health care legislation "because of its expansion of abortion funding and its lack of adequate provision for conscience protection. Protection of life and freedom of conscience are central to morally responsible judgment," she said. "We join the bishops in seeking ethically sound legislation." The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious represents 103 communities. It was formed in 1992 by Vatican decree in response to a request from a group of women superiors belonging mainly to communities that are not part of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, whose president was among the signers of the letter urging passage of the Senate health reform bill. The letter urging passage claimed its signers represented 59,000 women religious, roughly the total number in the United States. But the major superiors' council represents more than 10,000 nuns, and LCWR, founded in 1956, says on its Web site that it represents about 90 percent of the nation's nuns.

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Exhibit shows impact US nuns, past and present, have had on nation

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington has taken on a mystical quality in the form of an exhibit called "Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America." The dimly lit S. Dillon Ripley Center at the Smithsonian Institution holds more than a few nun's habits and artifacts. The exhibit also features state-of-the-art multimedia images, photos and historic narratives depicting the impact Catholic sisters have had in the U.S. "It's really amazing to see all they've done for our country," Smithsonian spokeswoman Becky Haberacker told Catholic News Service during a recent tour of the exhibit, which made its Washington debut Jan. 15. "It's also really interesting to find out how rugged they are. That just isn't something I imagined before when I thought about nuns." For nearly 300 years communities of U.S. women religious have had a lasting place in the American social and cultural landscape and this new traveling exhibit honors their work and showcases their role in American society. The exhibit includes an 1804 letter from President Thomas Jefferson to an Ursuline nun, braided corn husk shoes worn by pioneer sisters, the nurse's bag of a nun used during the Civil War and student work from the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first all-black community. During the tour, Sister Annmarie Sanders -- a Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who is communications director for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious -- spoke of her pride in her organization's role in assembling the traveling exhibit.

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Organization to distribute $750,000 in grants to retired religious

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Support Our Aging Religious, a national organization working to help U.S. religious congregations finance the retirement of their elderly and infirm members, will distribute $750,000 in grants to 44 religious congregations this year. Grants will be awarded to congregations in need in 17 states. The funds are used to help with basic building repairs and safety features needed in the care of the elderly and infirm religious -- such as making spaces handicapped accessible and installing fire alarms or wander guard systems. A news release from SOAR said the organization was grateful for donations it received "especially during this time of financial strain." It noted that "the severity of need among religious congregations cannot be overstated." The total underfunded retirement liability for U.S. religious orders is estimated at more than $11.8 billion and many religious congregations have limited capacity to build up resources to care for their elderly and infirm members. The current average annual Social Security benefit for religious is $4,154 compared to $13,836 for lay recipients. The group's news release noted that although the ministries many change for older men and women religious, they never "retire from their commitment to mission." It said even the "eldest and most frail members continue to serve others through their prayers and by offering up their illness and pain as silent prayers for benefactors, the church, and the world. They long to continue their ministry and to live out the last days of their lives with dignity and in peace." SOAR, based in Washington, raises money through newsletters, videos, direct mailings, the sale of the CD "Sisters in Song," and gala dinners in Washington, New York and Southern California.

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Vatican official urges confidentiality by confessors on sex abuse sins

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A priest who confesses sexual abuse in the sacrament of penance should be absolved and should generally not be encouraged by the confessor to disclose his acts publicly or to his superiors, a Vatican official said. Likewise, the confessor should not make the contents of such a confession public, said Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court that handles issues related to the sacrament of penance. Bishop Girotti spoke in an interview published March 17 in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. His comments came as church leaders were responding to the disclosure of hundreds of allegations of past sexual abuse by priests in several European countries. Bishop Girotti spoke strictly about the response of a confessor, and not about the wider responsibility to acknowledge and investigate priestly sexual abuse outside the confessional. When a priest confesses such acts, "the confession can only have absolution as a consequence," he said. "It is not up to the confessor to make them public or to ask the penitent to incriminate himself in front of superiors. This is true because, on one hand, the sacramental seal remains inviolable and, on the other hand, one cannot provoke mistrust in the penitent," he said. "From the confessor, (the penitent) can only expect absolution, certainly not a sentence nor the order to confess his crime in public," he said. Other Vatican officials, who spoke on background, said a distinction should be drawn between what a confessor requires of a penitent as a condition for absolution, and what the confessor may strongly encourage the penitent to do.

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British court rules in favor of Catholic adoption agency's practices

LONDON (CNS) -- A Catholic adoption agency prevailed in a legal battle to continue its policy of assessing only married couples and single people as potential adopters and foster parents. The ruling in the High Court in London means that the adoption agency, Catholic Care, is exempt from dealing with same-sex and cohabiting couples who present themselves as prospective parents. The charity, which covers the northern English dioceses of Leeds, Middlesbrough and Hallam, is the only one of 11 English and Welsh Catholic adoption agencies to fight the country's 2007 sexual orientation regulations through the courts. Unable to comply both with Catholic teaching that gay adoption is "gravely immoral" and the regulations compelling them to assess gay couples who may apply to care for children, the other agencies have either closed their adoption services or established them as secular charities with no church control. Leeds-based Catholic Care, however, challenged a ruling by the Charity Commission, the body which regulates the activities of charities in England and Wales. The commission ruled that Catholic Care could not use one of the regulations -- Regulation 18 -- to continue to offer its services. Overall, the regulations ban discrimination against gays in the provision of goods and services, but Regulation 18 allows a charity to practice limited discrimination in the course of its work. Justice Michael Briggs published his ruling in favor of the agency March 17, two weeks after hearing arguments. Briggs said the Charity Commission misinterpreted Regulation 18 and criticized its thinking as "neither logical, rational, purposive nor responsive to any reasonable linguistic interpretation."

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Invest capital in businesses, not get-rich-quick schemes, says pope

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI said capital investments should be dedicated to offering credit to small and medium-sized businesses rather than funneled into get-rich-quick schemes in the financial markets. Businesses can thrive and produce "social wealth if businessmen and managers are guided by a far-sighted vision, which prefers long-term investments rather than speculative profits, and which promotes innovation rather than focuses on amassing wealth just for oneself," he told a group of Italian industry owners and businessmen at the Vatican March 18. Many businesses, especially smaller enterprises, struggle to stay afloat in today's competitive, globalized market, the pope said. "Small and medium-sized business are in even greater need of financing, while credit appears less accessible," he said. He said that it is difficult for businesses to compete on a global scale, especially against businesses in countries that offer little or no rights and protections for workers, because higher labor costs make products and services more expensive. Many businesses have had to make large sacrifices in an effort to avoid layoffs and stay competitive, he added. "In this context, it's important to overcome that individualistic and materialistic mentality that prompts investments to be diverted away from the real economy in order to favor investments in financial markets, aiming for easier and faster returns," he said.

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Guatemalan colonel convicted of killing bishop released from prison

GUATEMALA CITY (CNS) -- A retired army colonel convicted in the 1998 killing of Guatemalan Auxiliary Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera of Guatemala City was granted parole by a judge March 16. Byron Lima Estrada, the retired colonel, was released less than half way through his 20-year prison sentence. He was convicted in 2001 of planning the murder of Bishop Gerardi, who was killed Apr. 24, 1998, two days after releasing a church report saying the military was responsible for most of the killings, disappearances and human rights violations during 36 years of civil war. Lima Estrada's term was cut short for good behavior, his lawyer told reporters. Church officials were quick to denounce the decision. Nery Rodenas, director of the Office of Human Rights for the Archdiocese of Guatemala City, called the decision unacceptable. "He (Lima Estrada) did not even fulfill the requirements for parole under the law, ... including community service," he said. Rodenas said the church would urge an appeal of the ruling. Lima Estrada was one of four men convicted of the bishop's murder. His son, army Capt. Byron Lima Oliva and Father Mario Orantes Najera, an assistant priest at the church where Gerardi lived, preached and was killed, remain behind bars. The fourth man, Jose Obdulio Villanueva, a sergeant in the military's elite presidential guard, was killed in a prison riot in 2003. Lima Estrada was convicted of masterminding the killing. At his trial, prosecutors said he feared the bishop would testify about wartime killings.

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Former teacher at Spanish schools arrested for allegedly abusing boys

MADRID, Spain (CNS) -- A man who taught at Catholic schools in Spain for nearly three decades was arrested in Chile on suspicion of sexually abusing boys, Spanish police said. Jose Angel Arregui Erana, 53, who taught at schools run by the Clerics of St. Viator order, was arrested in August. He is accused of possessing about 2,000 images and more than 400 hours of child pornography, much of which he secretly recorded, investigators told the Spanish newspaper El Pais March 17. Arregui told medical examiners investigating the case that the tapes were made between 1993 and 2003, the newspaper reported. Investigators in Chile learned about the images and traced some of them to Spain, where another investigation was launched. The newspaper reported that Arregui moved to Santiago, the Chilean capital, in 2008 and was teaching at the University of St. Thomas. At least 15 of Arregui's victims in Spain, ages 12 to 14 at the time the alleged abuse occurred, have been identified, Spanish investigators said. Arregui taught physical education, religion and language at three schools run by the Viatorians in Madrid and the northern Basque towns of Bausari and Vitoria for 26 years, according to El Pais. When news of the arrest broke March 16, Daniel Fernandez, a director at one of the schools, said in a statement that during the years the abuse allegedly occurred, no complaints were received from parents or teachers.

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Months of joblessness taking toll on Oregon man's finances, well-being

PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- Ted Walsh is finally being forced to sell his house. He hopes a buyer comes before his money runs out completely. The unemployed high-tech veteran, out of work for 18 months, has used up retirement savings and faces high medical bills for his wife and son. Meanwhile, he's trooped through scores of job applications and a dozen face-to-face interviews. At 48, he's up against hundreds of younger applicants at every turn. He's even colored his hair to look younger, an act once unthinkable to him. When an information technology manager position opened at Mentor Graphics in Portland in February, Walsh and 2,000 others applied in a span of only 24 hours. "This is no fun," said the lifelong member of St. Anthony Parish in Forest Grove, a suburb west of Portland. Recognizing the plight of people like Walsh, Congress has extended unemployment benefits for those trapped in the economy's jobless recovery. The Oregon Employment Department reports that the state's unemployment rate is standing steady at 10.7 percent, only slightly better than the historic lows of 2009. Last year on average, 26 percent of Oregon workers remained unemployed for six months or longer, the highest level seen in records kept since 1994. The national unemployment rate has remained constant at 9.7 percent. One friend who is a company recruiter looked over Walsh's resume and applications. The diagnosis? Walsh is over-qualified for the jobs available. "What it really means is that I know what I am doing," Walsh countered wryly.


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