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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Sep-13-2011

By Catholic News Service


New poverty figures show Hispanics, children especially hard hit

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As the median U.S. household income declined, more Americans dropped below the poverty line, with Hispanics and children taking a particularly hard hit, according to statistics released Sept. 13 by the U.S. Census Bureau. The bureau's report on "Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010" put the nation's official poverty rate at 15.1 percent for the third consecutive annual increase. It was up from 14.3 percent in 2009. In the first full calendar after the December 2007-June 2009 recession, the real median household income went from $50,599 in 2009 (in 2010 dollars) to $49,445 in 2010. The decline was felt across all races and age groups, among Hispanics and non-Hispanics and native-born and foreign-born Americans. But the data showed that the poverty rate among blacks and Hispanics of any race was nearly identical in 2010, with 27.4 percent of blacks and 26.6 percent of Hispanics living below the poverty line. The poverty rate was 12.1 percent for Asian-Americans and 9.9 percent for non-Hispanic whites in 2010. The poverty threshold for a family of four was $22,113 in 2010. The Census Bureau found that 22 percent of children were living in poverty last year, up from 20.7 percent the year before. In the past decade, the median African-American household income decreased by $5,494, while the median Hispanic household income declined by $4,235. Nearly 10 percent of children under 18 were without health insurance in 2010, a rate that was not statistically different from 2009. But 30.7 percent of Hispanics were uninsured last year, compared to 20.8 percent of blacks, 18.1 percent of Asians and 11.7 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

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Pilot for Catholic sitcom filmed in Atlanta Archdiocese

CONYERS, Ga. (CNS) -- The kitchen table where the Willits family usually eats was covered on a recent summer morning with cables, batteries, audio and recording paraphernalia -- equipment to start filming a possible Catholic sitcom. A crew of six and Father Robert Reed, president of CatholicTV, had flown in from Boston, turning the Willits' home into a set for the pilot of the show tentatively titled "Mass Confusion." What began as a casual idea turned into a full-fledged effort to create Catholic, family-friendly entertainment and hopefully inspire others to get involved. Last year, Greg and Jennifer Willits, who host "The Catholics Next Door" on SiriusXM satellite radio, approached Father Reed with an idea for a new program: a humorous Catholic situation comedy reflecting family life and its rewards and struggles. Greg Willits said that like many turns in the road that his family has already experienced, this was an idea he pitched expecting to be turned down. But their steps in faith seem to lead to more doors opening. It began with the Rosary Army, a rosary-making apostolate they started in 2003, and then "That Catholic Show," an educational video series they produced, and then a podcast, which was picked up by the Catholic Channel and turned into their current radio show, "The Catholics Next Door." Now it may be a Catholic family show inspired by their lives as parents with five children. "We're excited and scared about this, but that's pretty much been the case with every new endeavor we've taken on," Greg wrote by email to the Georgia Bulletin, Atlanta archdiocesan newspaper. "When we started Rosary Army, we felt the same way. When we started podcasting, we felt the same way. When we went to radio, we felt the same way. It makes no sense that we, without any experience in this area whatsoever, should be doing this, but it seems with the doors open, God wants us to at least give it a try."

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Philadelphia Catholic high schools close due to ongoing strike

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- The Philadelphia archdiocesan Catholic education secretariat announced Sept. 13 that its 17 high schools would close Sept. 14 and not reopen until a settlement was reached with teachers on strike since Sept. 6. The high schools opened Sept. 7 and were staffed by administrators and nonunion employees. The first few days of school were primarily devoted to orientation sessions. In a letter to parents, school officials said continued reduced staffing could jeopardize student safety. They said missed days will be made up when the school year resumes and parents would then receive adjusted school calendars. Both sides in the dispute met Sept. 8, 9 and 11 but were unable to reach an agreement, though the education secretariat's announcement reported "some progress in the negotiations." A statement from the archdiocesan communications' office said the Secretariat for Catholic Education was "making every effort to minimize disruption to the academic year and bring a speedy resolution to the strike. We are anxious for our teachers to return to the classroom as soon as possible." Rita Schwartz, president of the Association of Catholic School Teachers Local 1776, likewise said in a letter to schoolteachers that the union was "working very hard to get the contract resolved and get our teachers back to work." Most of the more than 700 striking teachers voted against the archdiocesan contract proposal presented Sept. 6. "The main issue now and since the beginning has centered on job security," Schwartz told Catholic News Service.

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Abuse victims seek investigation of pope, top Vatican officials

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CNS) -- Several victims of clerical sexual abuse, a U.S.-based organization for survivors and a U.S.-based human rights organization formally asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Pope Benedict XVI and other top Vatican officials on charges they bear a responsibility for the abuse of children by Catholic priests around the world. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and their attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based organization, presented their petition to the court Sept. 13, they announced in a press release. The Vatican press office declined comment. The petition alleges that "Vatican officials tolerate and enable the systematic and widespread concealing of rape and child sex crimes throughout the world." Along with the petition, the groups filed thousands of pages of documents, including Vatican policies on handling clerical sexual abuse; correspondence from Vatican officials, bishops and accused priests in reference to several specific cases; and copies of reports and policies from individual bishops' conferences in several countries. The petition claims the church leaders who bear "the greatest responsibility" for cases of clerical sexual abuse are Pope Benedict, both as pope and as the previous prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals and former Vatican secretary of state; Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of state and former secretary of the doctrinal congregation; and Cardinal William J. Levada, current prefect of the congregation.

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Polish Catholic journal criticizes church handling of clergy sex abuse

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- A Catholic journal has criticized the Polish church's handling of sexual abuse by priests, following repeated claims that local church leaders failed to confront the problem. "The harm caused by sexual molestation of children is unquestionable, but the evil is much greater when pedophilia occurs in the community of faith, and when, in a falsely conceived defense of the church, the authorities hide the facts, conceal the perpetrators and ignore the suffering victims," the Wiez bimonthly said in an editorial in its August-September edition, dedicated to clergy sexual abuse. The journal questioned whether the Polish church's handling of abuse claims complied with Vatican instructions and whether the good of the church meant "the good name of clergy or the good of the weakest. In Poland, church superiors react in different ways. Sometimes sentences are passed on the quiet against priest-pedophiles in secular courts. Sometimes, everything is consistently denied," it said. However, the Catholic archbishop in charge of legal affairs for the Polish bishops' conference told Wiez abuse accusations were best handled with pastoral care and "appropriate therapy" and said the bishops would not be publishing guidelines on the issue adopted in 2009. Archbishop Andrzej Dziega of Szczecin-Kamien said he believed Poland's Catholic bishops had their own "competence and experience" on sexual molestation and would not need a commission -- like that established by the church in neighboring Germany -- to examine abuse cases. "The duty to handle cases, appropriately establish the truth and define the scope of responsibility of concrete people lies with the church superior -- but this remains an internal church activity and does not replace the competence of the wider judicial process," he said.

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Religious leaders look forward to renewing 'spirit of Assisi' with pope

MUNICH (CNS) -- St. Francis of Assisi appeals to believers and nonbelievers alike because they long for a world where people see each other as brothers and sisters and where they recognize and respect creation as a gift to all, said the superior of the Franciscan convent in Assisi. Conventual Franciscan Father Giuseppe Piemontese, custodian of the Sacred Convent of St. Francis, was one of eight religious leaders who spoke about "The Spirit of Assisi" during an interreligious meeting Sept. 11-13 in Munich. The meeting was sponsored by the Community of Sant'Egidio, a Rome-based lay movement. To mark the 25th anniversary of Blessed John Paul II's gathering with religious leaders in Assisi, Pope Benedict XVI has convoked a new gathering in the Italian town Oct. 27. Father Piemontese said the encounter will underline how important Blessed John Paul's gathering was for promoting dialogue and collaboration among religions, but it also will be a "reminder of what still remains to be done" to ensure true collaboration, respect and mutual support among peoples. Holding the gathering in Assisi makes sense to people because St. Francis "incarnated those high aspects of humanity, simplicity, humility" that enable people to recognize each other as brothers and sisters and to see all of creation as the work of the same hands that made them, he said. Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim of Aleppo, Syria, said marking the anniversary of the 1986 Assisi meeting "challenges us to reflect on these last 25 years. They were brimming with fruitful experiences" and helped religious leaders "strengthen their faith and enrich their enthusiasm and enhance their collective vision."

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Father Pavone suspended from ministry outside Amarillo Diocese

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Father Frank Pavone, one of the country's most visible and vocal opponents of abortion, has been suspended from active ministry outside the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, over financial questions about his operation of Priests for Life. The suspension was made public in a Sept. 9 letter from Amarillo Bishop Patrick J. Zurek to his fellow bishops across the country, but Father Pavone told Catholic News Service that he was returning to Amarillo and planned to continue functioning as a priest there. "My decision is the result of deep concerns regarding his stewardship of the finances of the Priests for Life (PFL) organization," Bishop Zurek wrote. "The PFL has become a business that is quite lucrative which provides Father Pavone with financial independence from all legitimate ecclesiastical oversight." Bishop Zurek said "persistent questions and concerns" from clergy and laity about how the "millions of dollars in donations" the organization has received are being spent led to the action. The bishop also asked Father Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, to return to Amarillo "to spend time in prayer and reflection." Father Pavone, meanwhile, told CNS Sept. 13 from Birmingham, Ala., where he had been taping programs for Eternal Word Television Network for more than a week, that he planned to comply with Bishop Zurek's request to return to Amarillo. Father Pavone said he was scheduled to leave Birmingham the afternoon of Sept. 13 and meet with Msgr. Harold Waldow, vicar for clergy in the Amarillo Diocese, immediately after his arrival. "Bishop Zurek asked me to go back to the diocese today, which I am doing for a limited period of time," Father Pavone said. "I am going there and my (priestly) faculties are fully intact and I'm in good standing."

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Priests for Life head is needed for work in Texas, Bishop Zurek says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, remains a priest in good standing in the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, said Msgr. Harold Waldow, vicar for clergy in the diocese. Msgr. Waldow told Catholic News Service Sept. 13 that Bishop Patrick J. Zurek only suspended Father Pavone's ministry outside of the diocese because the well-known pro-life priest is needed for work in Amarillo. Bishop Zurek in a decree Sept. 6 ordered the 52-year-old New York-born priest to return to Amarillo and announced it in a Sept. 9 letter to his fellow bishops. He pointed to "persistent questions and concerns" from clergy and laity about how the millions of dollars donated to Priests for Life are used as the reason for suspending Father Pavone's ministry. "He's here to be obedient to the bishop and try to work with the bishop," Msgr. Waldow said. "He's going to have assignments, and he will be put on our payroll and given health care and other benefits like any other priest of the diocese." For his part, Father Pavone said he planned to return to Amarillo the evening of Sept. 13 from Birmingham, Ala., where he had been taping programs for the Eternal Word Television Network for more than a week. He also planned to meet Msgr. Waldow soon after he arrived. Both Msgr. Waldow and Father Pavone said no meeting was immediately scheduled with Bishop Zurek, who was leaving the diocese the afternoon of Sept. 13 for two weeks. Father Pavone also told CNS he has already explored the possibility of being incardinated in another diocese so he could resume full-time ministry with Priests for Life as soon as possible. "I fully expect that my time in Amarillo, both in terms of this immediate trip and in terms of my affiliation with that diocese is going to be temporary," he said.

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Head of Nigerian bishops says government must get handle on violence

LAGOS, Nigeria (CNS) -- For the second time in as many weeks, a prominent member of the Nigerian bishops' conference has pushed the government to get a handle on violence perpetrated by the Boko Haram sect. Archbishop Felix Alaba Job of Ibadan, president of the Nigerian bishops' conference, said that, within the past five years, security agencies had furnished governments at all levels with information on activities of the extremist Islamic sect, but nothing significant had been done to curtail their activities. "We have spoken at length on it," he said Sept. 11, at the opening Mass of the Nigerian bishops' weeklong plenary in Abakaliki. "The blame as I know it is with the government. If you go to Maiduguri, you discover that their headquarters is at Central Railway quarters. What has the government done? At the first outbreak, I was there. I have been talking since then," he said. Violence -- especially in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital -- has claimed hundreds of lives and resulted in the loss of property running into thousands of dollars. Boko Haram has a somewhat undefined leadership and structure. The group says it is fighting against Western culture and education.


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