Catholic Essentials


Despite prayer vigils and vehement opposition from the Catholic hierarchy and faithful, the U.S. Senate voted to sustain President Clinton’s veto of a bill that would have banned partial-birth abortions. The House voted to override the veto, but after a vigorous floor debate about the procedure, the Senate voted 57 to 41, ten votes short of the two-thirds majority required to override. The day after the vote, the New York Times, which has opposed banning partial-birth abortions, ran an editorial highlighting the need to protect children from defective automobile air bags.


The Nobel Prize committee awarded its 1996 Peace Prize to a Catholic bishop and an exiled activist from an embattled, occupied province of Indonesia. Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo of the East Timor and Jose Ramos-Horta were hailed by the Nobel committee for their efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution to the occupation by Indonesia which began in 1976, and their advocacy for the rights of the Timorese. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the director of the Vatican press office, expressed the delight of the Holy See at the news that the Nobel Peace Prize had been awarded to Bishop Belo, administrator of the Diocese of Dili in East Timor, for his efforts to achieve justice for the Timorese people and reconciliation within the larger society of Indonesia.

Trocaire, a Catholic aid agency, refused to participate in a fundraising concert that included a performance by singer Sinead O’Connor. The controversial Irish singer appeared on a U.S. television show four years ago and received worldwide condemnation for tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II, calling him an “enemy.” Trocaire’s public statement said it could not be involved in the concert, which marks the first anniversary of the execution of Nigerian civil rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, because of O’Connor’s public anti-Catholic stance.

Yet another provincial government in Russia may enact laws narrowing religious practice. As of this writing, the legislature of Sverdlovsk in the Ural Mountains nine hundred miles east of Moscow is on the verge of passing what would be one of the harshest of these new provincial laws, in spite of the public opposition of local Orthodox Bishop Nikon. Sverdlovsk’s proposed version explicitly targets not only foreign religious groups but Russian ones as well. In a joint statement presented to a legislative hearing on October 1, local Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Old Believer, and Muslim clergy denounced the bill as a threat to believers of all confessions. Most of the deputies present at the October 1 hearing informally expressed support of the proposal.


Pope John Paul II underwent surgery at the Gemelli Hospital on October 8 to relieve a “recurrent inflammation of the appendix.” While he is remaining in his quarters, however, the pope has not abandoned his work. Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls revealed that the Holy Father has been busy with paperwork and continuing his plans for future projects and future travel. At the top of the papal list, Navarro-Valls said, is the resumption of the pope’s visits to parishes around Rome.

A senior member of the Vatican Curia criticized the Helms-Burton Act that authorizes United States action against foreign firms doing business in Cuba. Roger Cardinal Etchegaray, president of the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace, said on Vatican Radio that the new law, as it is written, will injure the people of Cuba by suppressing new economic development. Cardinal Etchegaray quoted Jaime Lucas Cardinal Ortega y Alamino of Havana as saying, “Any economic measure which aims to isolate the country by eliminating the possibility of development and even threatening the survival of the people is unacceptable.” The Helms-Burton Act allows U.S. citizens and corporations to sue foreign companies that invest in property confiscated by Cuba’s Communist revolutionaries in 1959. Cardinal Etchegaray repeated the Vatican’s opposition to unbridled use of sanctions as a means of diplomatic pressure, particularly when they threaten a country’s food supplies. “For the Holy See… sanctions represent a means of pressure on governments which do not respect fundamental principles of international co-existence and are to be used according to strict legal and ethical criteria,” he said. “But when they hit the civilian population indiscriminately, above all those who live in precarious conditions, they cannot be justified.”

In the official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Father Gino Concetti responded to the story of two English women who are seeking to be impregnated with sperm donated by their husbands, who are now dead. “To take one or two reproductive cells, and conserve them for the purpose of posthumous procreation, is to make a choice that contradicts God’s plan for marriage and the transmission of life,” the theologian wrote. Even if such practices are legal, he wrote, the baby will pay a heavy price—not only because he will be born fatherless, but because he has been used as “an object—the property of his parents,” and deprived of the natural patrimonial right that every child should have—the knowledge that he was the product of his parents’ act of love.

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