JANUARY 24, 2005





Archbishop freed
Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa, 66, talks with friends after being freed by kidnappers in Mosul, Iraq, Jan. 18. The archbishop, head of the Catholic Church in Mosul, was seized at gunpoint on Jan. 17 as he traveled to visit some of his parishioners. The Vatican called his kidnapping an act of terrorism.
The kidnappers asked for a $200,000 ransom, then decided to waive it. “I was not mistreated,” said the archbishop. “As soon as they realized I was a bishop, their attitude changed and they released me.” He believes his abduction was a “coincidence” and not an attack on the Church or Iraqi Christians.


Religious declaration
A Pakistani shows his new (lower) and old (upper) passports in Islamabad. In the old passport, the holder is required to declare his religion while the government omitted the religion column in the new ones. This change has caused a heated dispute within the country.

REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

Sex abuse suits now in mediation
OAKLAND — Sexual abuse claims against the Diocese of Oakland and other dioceses in Northern California have entered formal mediation that may settle the cases in advance of the first trial date in March.

Attorneys for both sides have met in San Francisco with retired Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Coleman Fannin, a mediator with the private arbitration firm, JAMS. Cases against all of the dioceses– with the exception of Fresno – could be settled before the first trials scheduled to begin on March 7, according to Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw, who is overseeing the consolidated cases.

The cases are claims for civil damages against the dioceses for alleged abuse. A state law temporarily suspending the statue of limitations for such cases allowed adults seeking damages to bring suit during 2003. The resulting 150 cases against Northern California dioceses were consolidated under Judge Sabraw as “Clergy III.”

Catholic Republicans gain strength in Congress
WASHINGTON (RNS) – The 109th Congress that opened this month contains not only solid Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, but also a record number of Catholic lawmakers, especially Republican Catholics.
There are 154 Catholics in the new Congress – an all-time high.

Pope offers indulgence for joining in Eucharist year

VATICAN CITY (RNS) – Pope John Paul II has offered a plenary indulgence – the promise of remission of temporal punishment for sins – to every Catholic who participates with “attention and piety” in celebrating the Year of the Eucharist.
Cardinal James Francis Stafford, former archbishop of Denver, made the announcement Jan. 14. The Church has granted plenary or partial indulgences for many centuries, often linking them to celebrations such as a Holy Year.

The pope has called on Catholics to mark the 12 months starting last October as the Year of the Eucharist. Those seeking an indulgence must also receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist unless they are physically prevented from doing so by illness or disability.

Stickers against evolution banned from textbooks
WASHINGTON (RNS) – Civil liberties groups are praising a federal judge’s decision to ban textbook stickers that notify public school students that evolution is a “theory, not a fact.”

On Jan. 13, U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper ordered the Cobb County School District in northwest Georgia to remove the stickers, declaring them an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment provision prohibiting laws that affect religions and their beliefs.

Mass numbers unfazed by clergy abuse scandal

WASHINGTON (RNS) – The Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal has not significantly affected Mass attendance among adult churchgoers, a series of surveys has found.

Ten telephone polls conducted by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate show about one-third of Catholics attend Mass every week, roughly the same number that attended before the scandal erupted.

The poll findings, which were gathered from September 2000, before the scandal rocked the church, until September 2004, contradict notions that the sex abuse allegations decreased weekly Mass attendance.

There has, however, been a long-range decline in attendance at Catholic churches and other houses of worship, but studies have attributed that to generational and attitudinal changes.

Sudan’s churches seek help to resettle refugees
GENEVA (RNS) – Sudanese church leaders have said they are ready to receive millions of refugees who will return home now that a final peace agreement has been signed between the government in Khartoum and southern Sudanese rebels. But they said massive amounts of resources will be needed to resettle all the returnees.

“They don’t have homes, they don’t have food,” Archbishop Joseph Marona of the Episcopal Church of Sudan said. “Our challenge is how we can resettle them.”
Two decades of war in the south, which ended Jan. 9 with the signing of peace accords between the government and southern rebels, left some 2 million people dead and 4 million displaced.

Patriarch tells Vatican to renounce expansion
ATHENS, Greece (AP) – A long-desired trip by Pope John Paul II to Russia could only occur if the Vatican renounces efforts to expand Rome-affiliated Eastern Rite churches in traditional Christian Orthodox areas, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church said.

The condition set by Patriarch Alexy II – contained Jan. 11 in a written reply to questions from The Associated Press – reinforces previous statements and suggests Russian Orthodox leaders have not been swayed by recent Vatican overtures that have included the return of an important icon and the relics of two Orthodox saints. Before a papal visit to Russia can be considered, “it is essential to renounce the proselytism which is being carried out ... by numerous representatives of the Catholic clergy,” Patriarch Alexy wrote.

Cardinal’s death increases likelihood of new red hats
VATICAN CITY (RNS) – The death of Belgian Cardinal Jan Schotte has reduced the number of cardinals eligible to vote for the next pope to 120 – increasing the likelihood that Pope John Paul II will create new cardinals in the coming months.
Cardinal Schotte, 76, died Jan. 10, reportedly of cancer. With the death, membership in the College of Cardinal fell to 184, with 120 of the cardinals under the age of 80 and thus eligible to vote in the conclave that will elect the pontiff’s successor after his death.

Pope Paul VI barred cardinals aged 80 and above from voting and set a ceiling of 120 electors. John Paul has respected the age rule but set aside the ceiling on the number of cardinal-electors at the last two consistories he called, in 2001 and 2003, to create new cardinals.

The number of cardinals eligible to vote for a new pope has been reduced by deaths, retirements and age. The current pope has held nine consistories in his more than 26 years as pope, and all but three of the cardinals eligible to elect his successor are his appointees.

Probe against founder of Legionaries of Christ
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – The Vatican has reopened an investigation into charges that a powerful Mexican priest close to the pope sexually abused seminarians. The allegations focus on the actions of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, now 84 and based in Rome. He leads a religious order known as the Legionaries of Christ, which claims 600 priests in 18 countries. Its U.S. headquarters is in Orange, California.

The allegations surfaced in February 1997 when nine former members of the Legion said Father Maciel first abused them years ago when they were young boys or teenagers, in seminaries in Spain and Italy. Father Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ have vigorously denied the allegations of abuse. The priest has accused the nine men of a conspiracy to defame him.

Poor Americans worry about jobs, health care
WASHINGTON (RNS) – While the general public worries about the economy, war and terrorism, the nation’s poor say that things like unemployment and health care are the biggest problems facing the United States, according to a new survey released Jan. 11.

The Poverty Pulse poll by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development found that the top five concerns for low-income people are unemployment, health care, education, discrimination and poverty.

Fewer Americans believe that poverty is increasing in the United States, although the number of people living in poverty in the United States has grown to 36 million, which is larger than the population of California, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Doctors call some medical results miracles
NEW YORK (RNS) – A national survey of U.S. doctors finds that a slim majority say they have seen treatment results in patients that they would consider to be miracles. Fifty-five percent of doctors said they would describe some results that way, compared to 45 percent who did not, according to a survey released in December by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

Doctors, in answering a multiple-choice question about their faith, said they represented a range of religions including various segments of Christianity and Judaism as well as Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and a category titled “other.”

‘Stance vs abortion not judicial standard’
WASHINGTON (RNS) – Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, chairman of the Catholic bishops’ Pro-Life Activities Committee, has asked the U.S. Senate not to automatically reject nominees if they do not support the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

“Insisting that judicial nominees support abortion throughout pregnancy is wrong,” Keeler wrote in a Jan. 6 letter. “By any measure, support for ... Roe v. Wade is an impoverished standard for assessing judicial ability.”

The bishops do not routinely take positions on individual nominees, but Cardinal Keeler said the process must not allow anti-abortion nominees to be derailed specifically because of their position on abortion.

Accused priest files suit against archbishop
NEW ORLEANS (RNS) – A Catholic priest has sued his archbishop, charging Jan. 7 that Archbishop Alfred Hughes defamed him by ordering him out of his Marrero pulpit on a charge that he molested a child in the mid-1980s.
Father Michael Fraser also charged that Archbishop Hughes violated the Church’s own procedures when he relieved Father Fraser from ministry as pastor before the completion of a preliminary investigation, as church policy requires.

Official newspaper of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California encompassing all of
Alameda &
Contra Costa counties.