Peruvian Bishops calling government to negotiate with indigenous organizations

Peru, Sep 4, 2008 - Catholic bishops in Peru's jungle dioceses have thrown their support behind indigenous organizations, calling on the government to negotiate with native peoples before passing laws that affect their lives and livelihoods.

In an open letter released Sept. 2, bishops from six dioceses called on the government "to foster effective participation of the interested parties in the design and implementation of the country's development policies. If this is not the case, we warn that the physical and sociocultural survival of indigenous people will be threatened."

The bishops expressed support of indigenous peoples in their fight against laws that change the way native or peasant community lands can be sold or leased, as well as a series of other decrees dealing with farmland, protected areas and water rights. The decrees form part of a package of 99 laws the government passed between March and June as part of its process to implement the free-trade agreement signed last year with the United States.

"An issue as delicate as land needs to be addressed through dialogue with the indigenous peoples. The government simply made a decision and this is the wrong way to do things," Bishop Francisco Gonzalez Hernandez of Puerto Maldonado told CNS
 in a telephone interview after the letter was released. "We are not making a utopian environmental demand or one that sees native peoples as needing protection but a call to the government for fairness."

Native federations, led by the umbrella group Indigenous Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon, started a protest Aug. 8 against the two decrees that changed land tenure laws. Deeming their action "peaceful indigenous insurgency," protesters occupied oil and gas installations in the northern and southern jungle.

The government made an effort to negotiate but declared the decrees were not up for debate. In place of negotiation, Peruvian President Alan Garcia ordered a 30-day state of emergency Aug. 18 in four jungle provinces.

The standoff between the government and the indigenous association was ended by Congress, which repealed the two most contentious decrees. However, Bishop Gonzalez expressed fear that the problem is not over and that there are tensions just below the surface.

"President Garcia has said that he will insist on these decrees, which has everyone on guard. The government seems to have a strategy of rushing headfirst into things without contemplating the consequences," he said.

Bishop Gonzalez, whose diocese is in the southern jungle, said he and bishops from central and northern jungle dioceses are willing to facilitate debate and negotiation.

"We are not ideological or tied to one position. We are reasonable and want to find solutions, but we also demand that the rights of indigenous peoples be respected. The government has confused this with opposition," he said.

The government, while toning down its public commentary, continued its hard-line push against indigenous organizations, particularly the indigenous umbrella group.

The Peruvian Institute for International Cooperation, an agency that oversees nongovernmental organizations that receive donations from abroad, ordered an audit of the finances of the Indigenous Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon. But after the Sept. 2-3 investigation, the agency announced it found nothing wrong with the organization's books.

Pro-government media also weighed in, accusing international agencies, such as the British aid agency Oxfam, of encouraging the protests.

Oxfam published a lengthy examination of the 99 decrees, finding that dozens are illegal because they violate constitutional norms or have nothing to do with the free-trade agreement, so should not have been passed as part of the package.

Edson Rosales, a spokesman for the Indigenous Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon, said the government is trying to cover its mistakes by demonizing his organization and its supporters.

"We are only demanding that the government respect our rights that are in the constitutional and international conventions signed by Peru. We do not think that this is too much to ask for, but the government does not want to admit it was wrong," he said.


30th anniversary of the U.S. bishops' pastoral statement

The 30th anniversary of the U.S. bishops' pastoral statement on people with disabilities offers an opportunity to acquaint a new generation of bishops and young people with the document's message, according to speakers at an Aug. 13 "Webinar."

"I'm not suggesting you take on a whole new line of work," said Peg Kolm, director of the Office for Ministry to Persons With Disabilities in the Archdiocese of Washington. "But you need to take this work to the next generation in a partnership year."

Janice Benton, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, said many in the disabilities community viewed the November 1978 pastoral statement as "our Declaration of Independence." The document said there "can be no separate church for people with disabilities" but only "one flock that follows a single shepherd."

The hourlong Web-based seminar sponsored by the National Catholic Partnership on Disability brought together catechists, parish advocates, directors of disability ministry and others at more than 200 sites across the United States. Co-sponsors included the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, Kolm's office, National Apostolate for Inclusion Ministry and National Catholic Office for the Deaf.

Noting that 30 years represents "a generation, the average period of time between human parents and their offspring," Kolm made a number of suggestions designed to expand awareness in a new generation of the gifts of those with disabilities and their role in the Catholic Church.

The mother of a now-17-year-old daughter with a "rare syndrome," Kolm said she once thought the church only had "the three B's" to offer her child -- "baptism, burial and back of the church." Instead she found that the bishops' pastoral became her "portal back into my church."

She said the Washington Archdiocese is planning "a full year of engagement" around the anniversary, from Nov. 16, 2008, to Nov. 15, 2009. Suggested activities for the Come a Little Closer Campaign range from speakers in classroom or youth ministry settings to film festivals or book clubs on disability-related themes to teen social events.

"Teens with and without disabilities need and want more social experiences," Kolm said. "Partner with a youth minister, special educators and other professionals in the field to have a 3-M event: Mass, meal, mission."

Benton's talk during the Webinar traced the history of disabilities ministry since the pastoral statement and outlined some emerging trends.

She said the 1978 pastoral -- portions of which were read on the Senate floor during debate on the Americans With Disabilities Act -- influenced passage of that legislation. In turn, the legislation enacted in 1990 influenced "people's expectations of access in all aspects of their lives, including access to worship," Benton said.

"While much has been done" in the past 30 years to bring the disabled into full participation in the church and society, she added, "exclusion continues to happen, and people sometimes leave the church in pain."

Describing disabilities as "a normal part of life," she said one person in five and one family in three is affected by a disability. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 41.3 million Americans -- 15 percent of the civilian, noninstitutionalized population 5 and older -- has some level of disability. This includes 6 percent of children 5 to 15, 12 percent of people 16 to 64 and 41 percent of adults 65 and older.

The recent past has seen "an ever-increasing range of disabilities" with which the ministry must be involved, including autism-spectrum disorders, celiac disease and mental illness, Benton said. Among other factors affecting disabilities ministry, she named budget cuts, the "changing face" of the U.S. Catholic Church -- including a greater percentage of Hispanic members and a growing elderly population -- and the "increasingly individualistic" American society.

During the Webinar, moderator Tom Grenchik, executive director of the bishops' pro-life secretariat, read an Aug. 15 letter from Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, episcopal moderator of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability.

"Today, a new generation of leaders must be recruited and trained so we can continue to advance in the 21st century our church's outreach, catechesis, advocacy and support in the important work of disabilities ministry," the cardinals said.

"We join the National Catholic Partnership on Disability in calling on all people of good will to find new pathways, develop new partnerships and bring new vitality to this ministry, ever mindful that we are one flock under the care of a single shepherd," they added.

To help participants in the Webinar follow up on the event, organizers posted a "disability ministry tool kit" on the Web site Among the more than two dozen items in the tool kit were bishops' documents, access and inclusion models, tips for reaching those with specific disabilities, a plan developed by the Diocese of Richmond, Va., for Inclusion Sunday, lists of disability-related films and books, and suggested prayers.

Pope Benedict XVI : Bishops of other Chinese dioceses would visit Rome

Vatican City, Jun. 27, 2008 - As he met on June 27 with a small group of bishops from Hong Kong and Macao, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his hope that bishops of other Chinese dioceses would soon be free to visit Rome.

The Holy Father told the Chinese bishops, who were making the ad limina visits, "I and pray to the Lord that the day will soon come when your brother bishops from mainland China come to Rome on pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, as a sign of communion with the Successor of Peter and the Universal Church."

The Chinese government, which has sought for years to establish an independent "Cathoilc Patriotic Association" subject to the Communist party rather than to the Holy See, does not ordinarily allow Catholic bishops to travel to Rome. In 2005, Pope Benedict issued an invitation to four Chinese bishops to participate in the October sessions of the Synod of Bishops-- a gesture that was widely interpreted as an effort to improve relations between Rome and Beijing. But after several weeks of confusion the Chinese government refused permission for the bishops to make the trip to Rome. In the Macao and Hong Kong dioceses, the Pope said, the key challenges include proper formation of young priests and promotion of Catholic schools. Both, he said, are critical to "the new evangelization which constitutes the essential and pressing task of the Church."

The Holy Father encouraged the bishops to "continue your contribution to the life of the Church in mainland China," by providing material support, offering opportunities for the training of Chinese clerics, and acting as conduits for information and moral support.

Pope exhorted the bishops from Honduras to promote the truth about marriage

- Thursday morning saw Pope Benedict receive bishops from Honduras as they completed their “ad limina” visit. The Pontiff exhorted the prelates to continue their work to promote the truth about marriage in their country.

Recalling that the Honduran people "is characterized by a profound religious spirit which finds expression, among other things, in the numerous and deep-rooted practices of popular devotion,” the Pope noted that this character faces challenges. Most notable among the challenges are “the spread of secularism and the proselytism of sects,” Benedict said.

These trials should not lead to discouragement, said the Holy Father. Rather, they should “serve as a stimulus for a bold and far- reaching effort of evangelization, founded - rather than on the effectiveness of material means and human plans - on the power of the Word of God, faithfully accepted, humbly experienced and trustingly announced."

Calling the formation of priests to announce the Gospel “priceless,” the Pope also emphasized the importance of good formation for seminarians.

The Pope then focused in on the topic of defending marriage and the family, saying that the “solidity and stability” of the two foundational institutions “is such a benefit to the Church and society.” “In this respect, it is right to recognize the important step taken by including an explicit recognition of marriage in your country's Constitution, although you well know it is not enough to possess good legislation if then we do not undertake the necessary cultural and catechetical labors that highlight "the truth and beauty of marriage, a perpetual alliance of life and love between a man and a woman,” Benedict XVI said.

Charity was also highlighted as an important role for the bishops to cultivate. As “successors of the Apostles," the Holy Father said, bishops must be "the foremost leaders of this service of charity in the particular Churches."

"I well know how you are affected by the poverty in which so many of your fellow citizens live, and by the increase in violence, emigration, environmental destruction, corruption and shortcomings in education, alongside other serious problems. As ministers of the Good Shepherd you have - through word and deed - worked intensely to assist the needy,” the Pope noted.

I exhort you," he concluded, "to continue through your ministry to show the merciful face of God, strengthening the network of charity in your diocesan and parish communities with particular concern for the sick, the elderly and the imprisoned."


Stem-cell research not a conflict between science and religion - U.S. bishops

ORLANDO, June 13, 2008 ( -- Declaring that stem-cell research does not present a conflict between science and religion, the U.S. bishops overwhelmingly approved a statement June 13 calling the use of human embryos in such research "gravely immoral" and unnecessary.

In the last vote of the public session of their Jan. 12-14 spring general assembly in Orlando, the bishops voted 191-1 in favor of the document titled "On Embryonic Stem-Cell Research: A Statement of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops."

"It now seems undeniable that once we cross the fundamental moral line that prevents us from treating any fellow human being as a mere object of research, there is no stopping point," the document said. "The only moral stance that affirms the human dignity of all of us is to reject the first step down this path."

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., introduced the document on behalf of Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, who was not at the Orlando meeting.

Consideration of the stem-cell document came after an intense and complicated debate at the meeting over a 700-page liturgical translation. Archbishop Naumann thanked those involved in the liturgical debate for "making stem-cell research seem simple," which drew laughs from the other bishops.

The seven-page policy statement was approved with little debate and few amendments.

Archbishop Naumann said it would be issued in an "attractive educational brochure" intended for the "broadest possible distribution."

Also coming out this summer, he said, are three educational resources on the medical advances being made with adult stem cells: a 16-minute DVD called "Stem-Cell Research: Finding Cures We Can All Live With"; an updated parish bulletin insert on the topic; and a brochure on "Stem Cells and Hope for Patients," which will be part of the bishops' annual Respect Life observance.

Although the U.S. bishops have been active in the national debate on stem cells, individually and collectively, this marks the first time they have addressed the issue in a document "devoted exclusively" to that topic, Archbishop Naumann said.

"Even our opponents admit that ours is one of the most effective voices against destroying human embryos for stem-cell research," he added.

The document is designed to set the stage for a later, more pastoral document explaining why the Catholic Church opposes some reproductive technologies.

"While human life is threatened in many ways in our society, the destruction of human embryos for stem-cell research confronts us with an issue of respect for life in a stark new way," it says.

"The issue of stem-cell research does not force us to choose between science and ethics, much less between science and religion," the document says. "It presents a choice as to how our society will pursue scientific and medical progress."

The policy statement seeks to refute three arguments made in favor of permitting stem-cell research that involves the destruction of human embryos. It says proponents of embryonic stem-cell research argue:

-- "Any harm done in this case is outweighed by potential benefits.

-- "What is destroyed is not a human life, or at least not a human being with fundamental human rights.

-- "Dissecting human embryos for their cells should not be seen as involving a loss of embryonic life."

Responding to the first argument, the document says that "the false assumption that a good end can justify direct killing has been the source of much evil in our world."

"No commitment to a hoped-for 'greater good' can erase or diminish the wrong of directly taking innocent human lives here and now," the statement adds. "In fact, policies undermining our respect for human life can only endanger the vulnerable patients that stem-cell research offers to help. The same ethic that justifies taking some lives to help the patient with Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease today can be used to sacrifice that very patient tomorrow."

On the claims that a week-old embryo is "too small, immature or undeveloped to be considered a 'human life'" or "too lacking in mental or physical abilities to have full human worth or human rights," the document notes that the embryo "has the full complement of human genes" and is worthy of the same dignity given to all members of the human family.

"If fundamental rights such as the right to life are based on abilities or qualities that can appear or disappear, grow or diminish, and be greater or lesser in different human beings, then there are no inherent human rights, no true human equality, only privileges for the strong," the statement says.

The document also dismisses the argument that there is no harm in killing so-called "spare" embryos created for in vitro fertilization attempts because they would die anyway.

"Ultimately each of us will die, but that gives no one a right to kill us," the statement says. "Our society does not permit lethal experiments on terminally ill patients or condemned prisoners on the pretext that they will soon die anyway. Likewise, the fact that an embryonic human being is at risk of being abandoned by his or her parents gives no individual or government a right to directly kill that human being first."

The document also addresses moves to permit human cloning and the "grotesque practice" -- banned by the Fetus Farming Prohibition Act of 2006 -- to develop cloned embryos in a woman's womb in order to harvest tissues and organs from them.

It closes with a reminder that the use of adult stem cells and umbilical-cord blood have been shown to offer "a better way" to produce cells that can benefit patients suffering from heart disease, corneal damage, sickle cell anemia, multiple sclerosis and many other diseases.

"There is no moral objection to research and therapy of this kind, when it involves no harm to human beings at any stage of development and is conducted with appropriate informed consent," it says. "Catholic foundations and medical centers have been, and will continue to be, among the leading supporters of ethically responsible advances in the medical use of adult stem cells."


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