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News stories this week are:

Elect our Bishops?  Why not?

Rome pilgrimage honours women office-holders 

New ethics needed to save life on earth: Boff

‘Vulnerable people need to be looked after’

ACCER echoes minimum wage concern

Australian family delegates named

Church welcomes move to block pornography

Reaching out to HIV / AIDS affected families in PNG

CACW farewells EO


Elect our Bishops?  Why not?

The Crowley-O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, Fr Richard P. McBrien, will give the keynote address at a day-long conference themed:  Elect our Bishops?  Why not?  Fr McBrien’s address will be: “The Election of Bishops:  The Return to the Tradition”.  “A Proposal for a Diocesan Committee for the Selection of Candidates for the Office of Bishop” will be one of the sessions in the afternoon before a Mass for Renewal closes the conference.  The conference is being organised by the Aloysius P. Kelley sj Chair of Catholic Studies of Fairfield University and Voice of the Faithful, Diocese of Bridgeport, in the United States and will be held at the Fairfield University, on Saturday, April 29.


Rome pilgrimage honours women office-holders in early Church

From March 31 to April 8, 31 Catholic women from the United States and Canada will visit Rome to honour women leaders in the early church by tracing archaeological evidence that, official statements to the contrary, the Catholic Church does have a tradition of ordaining women to church ministries.

“Church officials can tell us that  they have no authority to ordain women but it is incorrect to say, as they have since 1976, that there is no tradition of women’s ordination in the Catholic Church,” said pilgrimage co-leader Sr Christine Schenk. “The archaeological, epigraphical and literary data plainly show that we have had many women officeholders, including priests, deacons and bishops, as those roles were understood at the time.  We are grateful for the opportunity to honour these wonderful women and learn about their leadership.”

The pilgrimage is sponsored by the Cleveland-based FutureChurch and will be co-led by archaeologist and theologian, Dr Dorothy Irvin.  Dr Irvin holds a pontifical doctorate in Catholic Theology from the University of Tubingen and for the last 18 years has been an active field archaeologist.  The group will visit catacomb sites to view ancient frescos of women being clothed in priestly vestments and celebrating the Eucharist. Visits to Rome churches to view mosaics of early women leaders, including a woman bishop, as well as day trips to Ostia and Assisi are on the schedule.  Prayer and lecture activities are planned for each site.

Concurrently, a six-month postcard campaign has been launched asking U.S. Bishops to allow women to preach and proclaim the Gospel and to petition Rome to open the conversation about women deacons and priests.

The pilgrimage and postcard campaign are special activities derived from FutureChurch’s Women in Church Leadership and Mary of Magdala projects, which have been developed in partnership with Call To Action and its 41 regional affiliates.


A new ethics needed to save life on earth

CURITIBA, Brazil (IPS) - Affect, care, cooperation and responsibility are the four central principles of a new ethics that humanity urgently needs to adopt, in order to avoid becoming extinct as "a victim of itself,"  according to Leonardo Boff, one of the founders of liberation theology. 

 Emotions and sensitivity are "the essence, the core dimension of the human being," said the Brazilian theologian at a panel on "ethics, biodiversity and sustainability". The panel formed part of the Global Civil Society Forum, held parallel to the March 20-31 Eighth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP8).

 It is not reason but feeling that is involved in our first contact with reality, and "today's great crisis is not economic, political or religious, but a crisis of affect, of the capacity to feel a connection with others," he said.   It is indispensable to "take care of all living things," and science shows that cooperation is the "supreme law of the universe," he added.  "The world is not made up of objects but of relationships. It was cooperation that made possible the leap from animal to humanity, and without it we are dehumanised, which is what occurs in the case of capitalism," the theologian told around 300 activists, most of them small farmers. 

Boff, who left the priesthood after suffering sanctions at the hands of the Vatican for expressing "dangerous ideas" over the past two decades, has outlined his ecological concerns in several books. He has been invited to give talks at several panels at the COP8.          (full report by Mario Osava for Inter Press Service)


‘Vulnerable people need to be looked after’

The Mr T case indicates an urgent need for legislative reform, according to the Director of the Edmund Rice Centre, Mr Phil Glendenning.  Mr T. is an Australian citizen who was unlawfully detained by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) and then offered no support on his release. The Commonwealth Ombudsman described the case of Mr. T as ‘disturbing’ after the Australian citizen was detained on three separate occasions by DIMA as a suspected unlawful non-citizen.

“Vulnerable people need to be looked after not locked up, “Mr Glendenning said. “The Ombudsman’s report is very welcome, as is the Minister’s and DIMA’s commitment to implement his recommendations. We recognise that DIMA has been forced to reform its processes, and we acknowledge the years of hard work done by community groups, advocates and a number of politicians from all sides of the political spectrum to bring DIMA to recognise the need for change. However, the current changes have no legislative backing. We have seen that this Government has abandoned due process when it suits its political interests… The changes that have taken place are welcome, but without legislation this approach leaves open the possibility of a return to the sorts of disgraceful situations highlighted in the cases of Mr T., Vivian Alvarez Solon, Cornelia Rau, and others like them yet to be identified.  Comprehensive legislative reform is still needed to ensure all Australian citizens – especially the vulnerable - are safe in their own country.”


ACCER echoes minimum wage concern

The Catholic Church’s industrial relations body this week backed growing concerns that the minimum wage could be eroded under the new WorkChoices regime.  This follows comments made by President Giudice of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission that the growth in the minimum wage would slow down into the future as a result of WorkChoices.

Australian Catholic Commission for Employment Relations executive officer, John Ryan said, “ACCER is concerned also that the new Australian Fair Pay Commission will not take into account the need for workers to support their families and that it will not be able to influence the Commonwealth’s taxation and welfare policies on low income earners.”   The taxation debate has to resolve the issues facing low income earners and welfare to work participants, he said.  “The current tax debate is focused on the top end.  There also needs to be a focus on those at the bottom of the income scale who are confronted with higher marginal tax rates as they earn more in wages.”

“The neglect of low income earners in the tax debate has come at a time when their tax rates are at historically high levels.  Over the last 40 years, the wage earner on the Basic Wage/Federal Minimum Wage has seen his or her income tax increase from 8.71% to 13.27%, a 52.4% increase in the tax burden. Their marginal tax rates have increased from 17.6% to 34%, an astonishing 93%.”

(further discussion on taxes, wages and welfare is available on ACCER’s website www.accer.asn.au)


Australian family delegates named

Two Australian couples will attend the World Meeting of Families in Valencia, Spain, in July, as delegates of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference. They are Peter and Mary McPhee from the Diocese of Wagga Wagga and Bernie and Pauline Victory from the Archdiocese of Adelaide.

Chairman of the Bishops’ Committee for the Family and for Life, Bishop Eugene Hurley (Port Pirie) who will accompany the couples to Spain, said the meeting would be a wonderful celebration of its theme: ‘The Transmission of Faith in the Family’.  Both couples had a long commitment to and passion for not only living out a faith-filled family life, but promoting and celebrating marriage and family in schools, their parish and diocese, he said.

Also travelling to Spain will be the co-chairs of the Family Working Group of the Bishops’ Committee for the Family and for Life, Ron and Mavis Pirola, of Sydney. They have been members of the Pontifical Council for the Family since its origin in 1983. Bishop Hurley and Dr and Mrs Pirola, will escort a pilgrimage to the World Meeting of Families, which would take in Madrid as well as Valencia. There also will be an option to extend the pilgrimage after the meeting for an extra seven nights through Spain and France.


Church welcomes moves to block pornography from home computers

Policies to make Internet Service Providers (ISPs) block violent and pornographic material before it reaches home computers are a significant step forward in protecting children from the dangers of cyberspace, according to the Chairman of the Bishops’ Committee for Media, Archbishop Barry Hickey, of Perth.  Reports at the end of last week indicated that the federal government was investigating and trialling the idea. The opposition this week announced its policy to have ISPs filter out websites rated R or above and Family First and some government backbenchers have also been lobbying the Communications Minister to adopt such a policy.  Archbishop Hickey noted that similar systems were already in place some other countries.


Reaching out to HIV / AIDS affected families

Judy is a mother of five living in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG). She contracted HIV from her husband in 1997. Nine years ago her husband told her that he intended to take another wife. In the Highlands it is customary for a man to take many wives. Judy disagreed with her husband, and after much arguing and violence, he left Judy and their children and went off with a new wife.  Many months later he returned suffering from diarrhoea and rashes. Judy took him to the hospital but no one knew what was wrong. Finally he was tested for HIV and found to be positive.

Judy was then tested for HIV and found that she was also  HIV positive. At that time no counselling was available for people diagnosed with HIV or their families. “I just had the test and they told me that I had HIV. They did not tell me what that meant, they just sent me away”, she said. Judy’s husband died of HIV/AIDS in 1998.

In June 2004, the Holy Spirit Sisters, with support from Caritas Australia, opened the Bethany Centre where people at risk of contracting HIV can receive counselling and be tested for the virus.  Judy now works there.

Judy’s story is this week’s feature for Caritas Australia’s annual Lenten appeal, Project Compassion.


CACW farewells Executive Officer

The Commission for Australian Catholic Women has farewelled its Executive Officer, Mrs Therese Vassarotti, with “deep sadness and gratitude”.  At its March meeting, in Canberra, the Commission thanked her for her “passion and commitment to the shared vision of full participation of women in the life of our Church and the wiser community”.  Mrs Vassarotti, who has been with the Commission since May 2000, takes up the position as National Director of Education and Formation with Catholic Health Care Australia.



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