APRIL 12, 2004





150,000 new Catholics
received at Easter vigil

BALTIMORE (RNS) – An estimated 150,000 Americans formally became Catholics on April 10, a sign church leaders call “good news in challenging times.” The converts entered the church during the Holy Saturday vigil leading up to Easter. The process for receiving new members, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, was revived after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s to restore the ancient practice of receiving converts at Easter.

Father Hehir to receive 2004 Laetare Medal
NOTRE DAME, OH (RNS) – Father Bryan Hehir, one of the country’s foremost Catholic theologians, will receive the 2004 Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame, one of the most distinguished awards given to American Catholics. Father Hehir is director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Boston and a member of the faculty at Harvard Divinity School, where he was appointed the first Catholic dean in 1998.

Father Hehir served on staff at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and was the main architect of two major pastoral letters – “The Challenge of Peace,” a 1983 letter that criticized American nuclear policy, and “Economic Justice for All,” a 1986 statement on the U.S. economy.

French bishops criticize Gibson’s ‘Passion’
PARIS (RNS) – France’s Catholic bishops have criticized Mel Gibson’s controversial film “The Passion of the Christ” as a distortion of Christian teaching and potentially anti-Semitic. They said that the film might not be anti-Semitic in itself but “could be used to support anti-Semitic opinions.” They also said the film’s violence, “which overwhelms the spectator, ends up blotting out the meaning of the Passion and the essence of Christ’s person and message – love carried to its perfection by the voluntary giving of one’s self.”

Church liable for Newfoundland offenses
OTTAWA (RNS) – A Catholic diocese in Newfoundland is “vicariously liable” for hundreds of sexual assaults one of its priests committed against young boys over a 30-year period, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled March 25.
The court also found that two successive bishops were directly liable for their “failure to properly direct and discipline” Father Kevin Bennett. At the same time, the court ruled 9-0 that the worldwide Roman Catholic Church cannot be sued in Canada because it is not a legally incorporated entity. The court stated the evidence before it on that issue was “too weak.”
The day after the ruling, the Newfoundland Diocese of St. George’s offered to settle with 36 men who suffered sexual abuse as altar boys between 1961 and 1989. The victims are seeking millions of dollars in damages.

Quebec is third Province
allowing gay marriage

QUEBEC CITY (RNS) – Homosexuals in Quebec have the right to wed, Quebec’s top court ruled March 19, making it the third Canadian province to allow same-sex marriage.

The Quebec Court of Appeal upheld a lower-court ruling that the traditional definition of marriage is discriminatory and illegal. The court quashed a challenge by the Catholic Civil Rights League and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada to a 2002 ruling by the Quebec Superior Court that said restricting marriage to a union between a man and a woman was unjustified under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Same-sex marriages have been declared legal by appeals courts in Ontario and British Columbia. Together, the three provinces represent more than half of Canada’s 32 million people.

Gay marriage ban moves forward
BOSTON (RNS) – After months of debate, the Massachusetts Legislature established civil unions for gay couples March 29 but approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The amendment still needs to pass next year’s Legislature and win voter approval in a November 2006 state ballot before the state constitution can change.
Opponents of gay unions called the amendment tantamount to blackmail, forcing voters to accept civil unions instead of preserving traditional marriage.

Pope appeals for end to use of child soldiers
VATICAN CITY (RNS) – Pope John Paul II has appealed for an end to the “scandalous” practice of recruiting child soldiers, whom he described as both victims and perpetrators of war. “In some corners of the Earth, especially in the poorest countries, there are child and adolescent victims of a horrible form of violence; they are enlisted to fight in so-called forgotten conflicts,” he said.
“They suffer, in fact, a double scandalous aggression: They are made victims and at the same time protagonists of war, overwhelmed by the hate of adults.”

Phoenix bishop given probation
PHOENIX (RNS) – Bishop Thomas O’Brien, the former leader of the Diocese of Phoenix, has been sentenced to four years on probation for a hit-and-run accident that killed a pedestrian.

Bishop O’Brien, 68, was also ordered to perform 1,000 hours of community service, including hospital visits to severely injured and dying patients. His driver’s license was suspended for five years.

Catholic school enrollment drops
WASHINGTON (RNS) – Enrollment in the nation’s Catholic schools fell by 2.7 percent last year, despite waiting lists at one-third of the schools. Though 35 percent of all U.S. Catholic schools have student waiting lists, 123 were forced to close or consolidate this year – a net loss of 45 schools nationwide. Many of the closed schools were in urban areas.

National Catholic Educational Association President Michael Guerra blamed the closures on shifting populations and the economy. At the same time, 34 new Catholic schools were opened in the past year. Many of them were launched by boards and parents unable to enroll their children in already-full local Catholic schools.

School abuse ‘100 times’ worse
than by priests

NEW YORK (RNS) – Sexual abuse of children in public schools may be “100 times” worse than in the Roman Catholic Church, according to a draft report by Charol Shakeshaft, a scholar at Hofstra University. She estimated that 4.5 million students are sexually harassed or assaulted by school employees by the time they graduate high school. The study was commissioned by the No Child Left Behind Act, the president’s key education initiative. In her draft report, Shakeshaft said the problem is “woefully understudied.”

Ave Maria University plans large church
NAPLES, FL (RNS) – Ave Maria University, the nation’s first Catholic college to open in 40 years, plans to build one of the country’s largest churches, along with the nation’s largest crucifix, at its new campus in Naples, Fla.
The college, started by Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, unveiled plans for a $240 million campus that is scheduled to open in 2006.

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