PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) --- Catholic and other opponents of the death penalty praised Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber for placing a moratorium on the use of the death penalty for the rest of his term. "Those of us who respect the dignity of human life from conception to natural death applaud this decision," said Portland Archbishop John G. Vlazny. "This is what we have been praying for and asking for," said Ron Steiner, a member of Queen of Peace Parish in Salem and an organizer for Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Kitzhaber announced his decision Nov. 22, saying he regretted allowing two men to be executed during his first time in office in the 1990s. A Democrat, he was out of political life for eight years before being elected again in November 2010. His new term began in January and ends in January 2015. Having received letters and petitions from Oregon Catholic leaders and other foes of capital punishment, the governor said he is morally opposed to the practice and supports life without parole as the most serious sanction for aggravated murder. With the moratorium in place, Oregon joins 16 other states and the District of Columbia that do not have the death penalty. Of those 16, Illinois is the most recent one to abolish it, in 2011. His decision halts for now the planned execution of double-murderer Gary Haugen, who was set to die by lethal injection Dec. 6. Haugen, who had sought his own death, is one of 37 men on Oregon's death row. All now have at least a temporary reprieve. Kitzhaber, his voice trembling, sounded as if he wished he had established the ban 15 years ago, before the executions of Douglas Wright and Harry Moore in 1996 and 1997. Like Haugen, the two men refused to continue legal appeals. "I do not believe those executions made us safer," Kitzhaber said during a news conference. "Certainly I don't believe they made us nobler as a society. And I simply cannot participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong."
Despite a few 'rough spots,' Catholics adapt to new missal translation
WASHINGTON (CNS) --- Years of planning went into it, followed by catechesis over the past several months via workshops, classroom and video presentations, diocesan communiques, bishops' pastoral letters, parish bulletin inserts, and countless stories and special sections in Catholic newspapers. All of it was done to prepare everyone, from clergy to the people in the pews, for the first use of the new English-translation of the Roman Missal as Advent began with Masses Nov. 26-27. By all accounts, despite "a few rough spots here and there, and occasional 'and also with your spirit' and other hybrid responses ... it looks like we made it!" said Father Richard Hilgartner, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Divine Worship. "We are now praying with the Roman Missal," the priest said in a Nov. 28 email to employees at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. He told The Catholic Review, newspaper of the Baltimore Archdiocese, his home archdiocese, that it will take time for people to grow accustomed to the new language, which is more literally translated from the original Latin than the earlier translation. While there may be a short-term sense of entering unchartered waters, he said, in the long term the new translation may provide opportunities to enrich prayer life. "We'll have new words and new images in our prayer, so I hope that ultimately people will hear things that speak to their hearts."
Addressing U.S. bishops, pope defends church efforts on sex abuse
VATICAN CITY (CNS) --- In a speech to U.S. bishops, Pope Benedict XVI defended the church's "honest efforts" to confront the priestly sex abuse scandal with transparency, and said its actions could help the rest of society respond to the problem. While the church is rightly held to high standards, all other institutions should be held to the same standards as they address the causes, extent and consequences of sexual abuse, which has become a "scourge" at every level of society, the pope said Nov. 26. On wider issues, including the institution of marriage, the pope encouraged the bishops to speak out "humbly yet insistently in defense of moral truth." Responding to the challenges of a secularized culture will first require the "re-evangelization" of the church's own members, he said. The pope made the remarks in a speech to bishops from the state of New York, who were in Rome for their "ad limina" visits. The group was led by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, who as president of the U.S. bishops' conference has spoken of the need to restore the church's credibility and its evangelizing capacity. The pope began his talk by recalling his 2008 visit to the United States, which he said was aimed at encouraging Catholics in the wake of the sex abuse crisis. He said he wanted to acknowledge the suffering inflicted on victims as well as the church's efforts to ensure the safety of children and deal "appropriately and transparently with allegations" of abuse.
Pope urges international agreement on climate change
VATICAN CITY (CNS) --- Pope Benedict XVI urged international leaders to reach a credible agreement on climate change, keeping in mind the needs of the poor and of future generations. The pope made the remarks at his noon blessing at the Vatican Nov. 27, the day before officials from 194 countries were to begin meeting in Durban, South Africa, to discuss the next steps in reducing greenhouse gases and stopping global temperatures from rising. "I hope that all members of the international community can agree on a responsible, credible and supportive response to this worrisome and complex phenomenon, keeping in mind the needs of the poorest populations and of future generations," the pope said. The meeting, which runs until Dec. 9, is the latest in a series to consider follow-up action to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which obligated industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a specific amount. The Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of 2012, and the Durban encounter is considered crucial in forging an additional commitment period. The goal of the talks organized by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change is to cut greenhouse gases by 50 percent by 2050 and prevent temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius.
Catholic seminary enrollment up, but numbers seen as only part of story
WASHINGTON (CNS) --- In his first months as rector of Theological College in Washington, Father Phillip Brown has been confronting a problem that the national diocesan seminary for the U.S. Catholic Church "has not had for a long time" --- it is bursting at the seams. Enrollment is maxed out for the 2011-12 academic year at 90 seminarians. Five of those seminarians are back in their dioceses this year gaining pastoral experience, but a Sulpician seminarian and five priests from other countries also live there, bringing the total number of residents to 91 plus faculty members. "If I had to start with a problem, that's the problem I'd like to have," Father Brown told Catholic News Service. "It's a very healthy sign, a positive sign for Theological College and for the U.S. priesthood." The trend of rising seminary enrollment is being duplicated around the country: At the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, 40 new seminarians arrived this year, bringing total enrollment to 186, the highest level since the 1970s; St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., welcomed 30 new graduate-level seminarians, making its class of 100 seminarians the largest since 1980. The influx forced 24 seminarians and two priests off campus into leased space at a former convent; In the Diocese of Scranton, Pa., where the St. Pius X diocesan seminary closed in 2004 because of declining enrollment, the number of seminarians has more than doubled from eight to 17 in the past two years. Most of the Scranton seminarians are studying at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., where communications specialist Dan Skalski said enrollment has remained steady over the past five years, or at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, where a class of 76 "new men" brought enrollment this fall to a full house of 250 seminarians.
Pro-life New Jersey nurses sue hospital over new policy on abortions
WASHINGTON (CNS) --- Confronted with what one called "a choice between our faith and our jobs," 12 nurses are suing University Hospital in Newark, N.J., over a new policy requiring them to care for patients before and after abortions, even if they have religious or moral objections to abortion. The hospital, part of the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey, said that because "no nurse is compelled to have direct involvement in, and/or attendance in the room at the time of," an abortion, its policy does not violate state or federal conscience protection laws. U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares issued a temporary restraining order Nov. 3 directing the hospital not to compel adherence to the new policy until after the case comes before his court Dec. 5. At a Nov. 14 news conference outside the hospital in Newark, Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., joined the nurses and their attorneys in criticizing the new policy, which was announced in September. "In pursuit of an illegal and highly unethical policy to coerce its own nurses to participate in abortions including support activities such as pre- and post-procedure complicity in abortion, UMDNJ has not only imposed irreparable harm and suffering on its own nurses, but has willfully and recklessly put federal funding for the institution at risk," Smith said. He estimated that the hospital was risking up to $60 million in federal funds by taking actions that violated the Church Amendment, which prohibits institutions that receive federal funding from discriminating against those who refuse to participate in health care services they find religiously or morally objectionable.
U.S. priest serving at doctrinal congregation is new nuncio to Ireland
VATICAN CITY (CNS) --- Pope Benedict XVI has named U.S. Msgr. Charles J. Brown, a longtime official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as the new apostolic nuncio to Ireland. With the appointment, he was named archbishop of the titular see of Aquileia. The appointment, announced by the Vatican Nov. 26, comes at a delicate moment in Vatican-Irish relations. In July, the Vatican recalled its previous nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, after Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and others sharply criticized the Vatican's handling of clerical abuse. In early November, the Irish government announced it was closing its embassy to the Holy See for economic reasons, although keeping diplomatic relations open. Archbishop-designate Brown, a 52-year-old priest of the Archdiocese of New York, has worked since 1994 in the doctrinal congregation, which was headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger until his election as pope in 2005. As nuncio, he will act as the Holy See's ambassador to Ireland and will also serve as a liaison with the Catholic Church community there. Vatican officials said it was unusual to appoint a non-diplomat to such a position. Some observers pointed to the fact that the doctrinal congregation has overall responsibility over cases of clerical sex abuse of minors, and said the Vatican appears to expect the nuncio to play a key role in the healing of the scandal.
Black Catholics' survey finds strong ties, strong engagement in church
WASHINGTON (CNS) --- African-American Catholics are much more engaged in their church on a variety of levels than are white Catholics, concludes the first National Black Catholic Survey. Whether in a majority black church, a mixed or mostly white parish, the survey found African-American Catholics feel satisfied and fulfilled in their parishes, explained retired Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., who is president of the National Black Catholic Congress. By "engaged," Bishop Ricard explained, the authors of the report mean African-Americans are involved in their parishes well beyond simply attending Mass somewhat regularly. That includes having strong networks of friends and family in their churches, participating in multiple parish activities and saying their spiritual, emotional and social needs are met there. Bishop Ricard, who is rector of the Washington seminary of his religious order, the Josephites, said the results of the survey surprised and pleased him and the leaders of the National Black Catholic Congress who commissioned it, along with the University of Notre Dame's Institute for Church Life and the office of the school's president. The survey will be used as the basis of a pastoral plan for evangelization that will be presented during next July's National Black Catholic Congress in Indianapolis. "This is a bright spot for the church," said Bishop Ricard in an interview Nov. 28 at St. Joseph's Seminary. Whatever their parish situation, a majority of African-American participants in the attitudinal survey conducted by Knowledge Networks, "feel affirmed and have decided they are going to stay Catholic," he said. "It's a very optimistic message." Among the conclusions of the survey were that black Catholics feel more committed to their parishes emotionally, spiritually and socially than do white Catholics. In those respects, as in many other aspects of the survey, black Catholics were shown to be much more like black Protestants in their approach to church than they are like white Catholics. "Compared with other religious and racial groups, African-American Catholics behave and look like African-American Protestants," said the executive summary written by study authors Darren W. Davis, a professor of political science and associate vice president for research at Notre Dame, and Donald B. Pope-Davis, professor of psychology and vice president and associate provost Notre Dame.