ORLANDO, June 13, 2008 (vaticans.org) -- Opening their spring general meeting in Orlando, members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops got an interim report on the causes and context of child sexual abuse by priests and made quick work of proposals to revisit the ethical guidelines on feeding tubes and to declare a National Catholic Charities Sunday in 2010.
In the first morning session of the June 12-14 assembly at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, the bishops also took a preliminary look at two documents they will vote on later in the meeting. The first was a 700-page draft translation of the proper prayers in the Roman Missal for each Sunday and feast day during the liturgical year.
The other was a seven-page policy statement from the Committee on Pro-Life Activities that calls embryonic stem-cell research "a gravely immoral act" that crosses a "fundamental moral line" by treating human beings as mere objects of research.
Both documents were scheduled for further debate and vote June 13.
Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., chairman of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship, said the liturgical document under consideration was the second of 12 sections of the Roman Missal translation project that will come before the bishops through at least 2010.
Each draft section first goes through a consultative process in all English-speaking countries and a final draft is proposed by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, made up of representatives of bishops' conferences throughout the English-speaking world.
Because of that process, Bishop Serratelli said his committee had accepted only "a limited number of amendments considered absolutely necessary." Nearly 100 amendments proposed by a half-dozen bishops were rejected by the committee, although some might be brought before the full body of bishops before a vote.
The stem-cell document was introduced by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., in the absence of Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the pro-life committee.
Saying that the church has been "one of the most effective voices in the national debate on the use of embryos in stem-cell research," Archbishop Naumann said the new document would be the first by the bishops "devoted exclusively to this issue."
He said the stem-cell document will serve as a complement to a "somewhat longer, more pastoral document," aimed primarily at Catholic couples, on the church's teachings on reproductive technologies. The bishops decided not to consider both topics in one document because they face "distinct educational challenges," he added.
In an interim report on a study of the causes and context of sex abuse of minors by priests, researcher Karen Terry said she and her colleagues at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York have found some correlations between the frequency of child sex abuse by priests and the increase or decline in societal patterns of divorce, premarital sex and illegal drug use.
In the 1960s, for example, studies show there was a 200 percent increase in incidents of abuse by priests, as well as a 200 percent increase in the number of divorces and the number of new adult users of marijuana and a 70 percent increase in premarital sexual activity among 20-year-old women.
In the 1980s, when incidents of abuse by priests declined by 72 percent, the divorce rate was down 40 percent and there was a 60 percent decrease in premarital sexual activity and new marijuana users, Terry said.
A similar pattern also is seen in the number of resignations from the priesthood during each decade and the number of incidents of sex abuse by priests in each of those decades, she said.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the various phenomena are "shaped by the same social factors," Terry said.
The causes and context study, commissioned by the bishops' National Review Board, is expected to be completed by December 2010, said Bishop Gregory M. Aymond of Austin, Texas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People.
In voting on the first day, the bishops gave permission for their Committee on Doctrine to begin revising the "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services" to reflect recent church documents on medically assisted nutrition and hydration.
The documents include a 2004 address by Pope John Paul II to an international congress on the vegetative state and a 2007 response by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on questions raised by the USCCB on artificial nutrition and hydration.
The "modest revision" would later be brought to the full body of bishops for a vote, although Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., doctrine committee chairman, said he did not know whether the changes would be ready for a vote this November.
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati urged as wide a consultation as possible before the proposal comes to the bishops.
"We do not want to seem like we're handing this down from on high to the Catholic health care world," he said. "We need to get as much input as we can get."
The bishops also approved by voice vote a proposal to designate Sept. 26, 2010, as National Catholic Charities Sunday to mark the 100th anniversary of the network of Catholic social service agencies nationwide.
In written ballots they accepted a recommendation from the Committee on Budget and Finance to keep the 2009 assessment on dioceses to fund the work of the USCCB at the 2008 level of just over $10 million and a proposal by the Committee on Divine Worship to replace the Spanish word "vosotros" with "ustedes" in Spanish-language Masses in the U.S. to reflect the usage more common in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The diocesan assessment level was OK'd by a 140-0 vote, while the liturgical proposal was approved 187-3
Colombo, Srilanka, Jun. 10, 2008 (vaticans.org) – “Shocked” by the high number of casualties in recent senseless attacks in Dehiwala, Moratuwa and Polgolla, the Catholic and Anglican bishops of Sri Lanka signed a joint statementcalling on the government to find a political solution to the civil war.
“Killing of any human being is unacceptable but the killing of innocent civilians is abominable. We vehemently condemn these acts of wanton violence and terrorism,” the statement said.
The bishops also appealed to Tamil Tiger rebels asking them to desist from using violence.
They called on both sides to enter into negotiations to find a way out of the crisis that has plagued this country for so long.
“It is most urgent that the President and the government obtain the cooperation of all political leaders to forge a consensus as regards to a political solution since peaceful means is the only way to lasting peace,” the prelates said.
In another special press release the Anglican bishop of Colombo, Mgr Duleep de Chickera, urged “all parties to remain calm” because ethnic relations are fast spinning out of control exacerbated by the economic hardships people face.
Given the situation he urged the government and the rebels “to show greater political discernment and maturity to pull our country from the brink” and “collaborate [. . .] towards peace.”
Vatican City (vaticans.org) - Benedict XVI hopes that, thanks to agreements concluded with the government of Myanmar, the international community and "all who are ready to help" may bring to the victims of cyclone Nargis "the type of assistance required and enjoy effective access to the places where it is needed most". And "may God open the hearts of all so that a concerted effort may be made to facilitate and coordinate the ongoing endeavour to bring relief to the suffering and rebuild the country's infrastructure".
Help for the people struck by the catastrophe was, naturally, central to the thoughts that the pope addressed today to the bishops of the episcopal conference of Myanmar, received this morning after previous meetings in separate audiences, on the occasion of their five-year visit "ad Limina Apostolorum".
The Church of Myanmar, in the words of the pope, "is known and admired for its solidarity with the poor and needy. This has been especially evident in the concern you have shown in the aftermath of the cyclone Nargis". Benedict XVI praised in particular the actions of Catholic organisations and associations. "I am confident", he continued, citing his first encyclical, "that under your guidance, the faithful will continue to demonstrate the possibility of establishing 'a fruitful link between evangelization and works of charity'". "During these difficult days, I know how grateful the Burmese people are for the Church’s efforts to provide shelter, food, water, and medicine to those still in distress".
Turning his attention more exclusively to Church affairs, the pope then expressed his satisfaction with the growth of vocations, of both religious sisters and priests, and recommended a "robust and dynamic Christian formation" of all the faithful, inspiring them to take action in their workplace, family, and society.
Benedict XVI finally encouraged, for the majority Buddhist country, the development in mutual respect of "ever better relations with Buddhists for the good of your individual communities and of the entire nation".
bishops at their June 12-14 meeting in Orlando, Fla., 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," says the statement drawn up by the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Although the topic of embryonic stem-cell research has been raised in several broader USCCB documents and has been the subject of testimony and many letters to Congress, there has never been a formal statement on the issue from the full body of bishops, said Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the pro-life committee, in an introduction to the draft document.
"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. Proponents of embryonic stem-cell research argue:
-- "That any harm done in this case is outweighed by potential benefits.
-- "That what is destroyed is not a human life, or at least not a human being with fundamental human rights. ...
-- "That 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 draft 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 anyway, 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 die soon 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 intervene and 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 now seems undeniable that once we cross a fundamental moral line that prevents us from treating any fellow human being as a mere object of research, there is no stopping point," the policy statement says. "The only moral stance that affirms the human dignity of all of us is to reject the first step down this path."
The draft document 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 harms no human being 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."
WASHINGTON, April, 17, 2008 (vaticans.org) -- One of the "countersigns to the Gospel of life" in the United States is the sexual abuse of minors, a situation "that causes deep shame," Pope Benedict XVI told about 300 U.S. bishops gathered April 16 in the crypt church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
He called it an "evil" and said the U.S. bishops have "rightly moved" to address it. The programs they have put in place to discipline priests and other church personnel who are abusers, to create safe environments protecting young people, to foster healing and to "bind up the wounds" caused by "such breach of trust" are bearing fruit, he said.
But the pope also said the problem of sex abuse must be placed in a wider context when pornography, violence and "the crude manipulation of sexuality" are so prevalent in society today.
The pope arrived at the shrine in his popemobile, smiling and waving to enthusiastic crowds that lined the adjacent streets and the front of the basilica. He looked relaxed and in good form on the second day of his April 15-20 visit, which will also take him to New York.
After an evening prayer service, Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a talk that the bishops greeted the pope not as a foreign visitor but as "a father and a friend in Christ."
Cardinal George briefly traced the history of the church in the United States, including some times of trouble.
"In our own day, the consequences of the dreadful sin of sexual abuse of minors by some priests and of its sometimes being very badly handled by bishops make both the personal faith of some Catholics and the public life of the church herself more problematic," the cardinal said.
In his talk, the pope said priests themselves "have experienced shame" over abuse carried out by fellow clergy and others and they need the bishops' "guidance and closeness during this difficult time." He also said people must remember the "overwhelming majority" of priests and religious in the U.S. do "outstanding work."
The pope also addressed the effect of secularism and materialism on how Catholics and others live out their beliefs in a day-to-day world, the state of the family within society, "a certain quiet attrition" of Catholics leaving the faith and the need for vocations.
He talked about the role of the bishops in addressing issues of the day, especially during an election year when church leaders cannot assume, he said, that "all Catholic citizens think in harmony with the church's teaching on key ethical issues."
"It falls to you to ensure that the moral formation provided at every level of ecclesial life reflects the authentic teaching of the Gospel of life," Pope Benedict said, noting that currently in the U.S. and elsewhere there is "proposed legislation that gives cause for concern from the point of morality."
He did not mention particular issues, but said the Catholic community under the bishops' guidance "needs to offer a clear and united witness on such matters," and the minds and hearts of the wider community must be opened "to moral truth." Lay Catholics "can act as a 'leaven' in society" in this regard, he said.
Early in his speech he noted that the U.S. church is "blessed with a Catholic laity of considerable diversity, who place their wide-ranging gifts at the service of the church."
Regarding the sex abuse scandal, he said, "Many of you have spoken to me of the enormous pain that your communities have suffered when clerics have betrayed their priestly obligations and duties by such gravely immoral behavior."
He said the bishops have rightly moved to show compassion and care for the victims, to foster healing and promote reconciliation in the aftermath of "every breach of trust."
Saying that the bishops have acknowledged that abuse cases have been "sometimes very badly handled," he said the bishops' measures to address the scandal at all levels "are bearing great fruit."
However, he said, if such policies are to achieve "their full purpose," they must be placed "in a wider context" of sexual mores and children must grow up "with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships."
He said the values "underpinning society" need to be "urgently reassessed to provide a sound moral foundation for children and young people.
Children "have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person," the pope said.
"By acknowledging and confronting the problem when it occurs in an ecclesial setting, you can give a lead to others, since this scourge is found not only within your diocese, but in every sector of society. It calls for a determined collective response," he said.
Children must "be spared the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today," he said.
Offering a sound moral foundation to children is the responsibility not only of parents but of religious leaders, teachers and catechists, and "the media and entertainment industries."
Regarding other issues, Pope Benedict praised Americans for having "a genuinely religious spirit," but said secularism and materialism can subtly influence the way people live out their faith. He questioned why members of the faithful who worship in church on Sunday act contrary to their beliefs and church teaching during the rest of the week.
He pointed to people ignoring or exploiting the poor, or promoting business practices, sexual behavior or positions on right-to-life issues that are contrary Catholic moral teaching.
He also talked about the state of the family, saying that a healthy family life contributes to "peace in and within nations." In the family home, he said, people learn about justice and love, the role of authority and concern for one another.
But increasing rates of divorce and infidelity, delayed marriage, more cohabitation and a growing disregard for the sacramental bond of marriage are hurting the institution of marriage and eroding family as a basic building block of society, he said.
He also said the family is the primary place for evangelization and passing on the Catholic faith.
He said the church needs to discover "new and engaging ways of proclaiming" the message. He also said that too often today religion is becoming too much of a private matter, and as such "loses its very soul."
Regarding vocations, he said, "Let us be quite frank: The ability to cultivate vocations to the priesthood and the religious life is a sure sign of the health of a local church."
He urged the faithful to pray for vocations but said more than prayer is needed, he said. He encouraged the bishops to create opportunities for young people who come forward to explore a vocation also talk to their peers about the possibility, and to encourage all their priests to come together to dialogue and have an opportunity for fraternal encounters.
He urged all priest to overcome any divisions they have among them, to move beyond disagreements and listen to one another and "the Spirit, who is guiding the church into a future of hope."
As he opened his speech, the pope reviewed the beginnings of the church in the U.S. calling the nation's first bishop, Bishop John Carroll "a worthy leader of the Catholic community in your newly independent nation."
Bishop Carroll and his fellow bishops, the pope said, laid the foundation for "the rich variety of ecclesial life in present-day America."
He said people in the U.S. "are remarkable for their religious fervor and take pride in belonging to a worshipping community." He noted that Americans are "known for their generosity," and said the outpouring of help for victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was evidence of that.