WORLD Vandals burn controversial Vatican Christmas tree
ROME (CNS) - Vandals burned a controversial Christmas tree given to Pope John Paul II by a right-wing Austrian politician and later replanted in southern Italy, police said. Only the top branches of the 89-foot-tall fir tree remained after the arsonists struck Feb. 12 near the city of Acerra. The tree had been replanted two days earlier at the site, where a dispute has raged over plans to build a large treatment plant for garbage. The tree was the object of protests in December at the Vatican, where it was erected in St. Peter's Square. It was presented by a delegation led by the governor of Austria's Carinthia province, Jorg Haider, who is known for his anti-immigrant views and past statements of sympathy for some Nazi policies.
South African priest shot to death at home
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) - A 34-year-old South African priest was shot dead at his home in one of a spate of attacks described by a church leader as a low-intensity war. Father Bongani Eric Shozi, a parish priest in Dundee Diocese, was shot twice in the face after he struggled to fight off five men who had entered his home, said Bishop Michael Rowland of Dundee. Cardinal-designate Wilfrid Napier of Durban, president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, said, "There is a low-intensity war against ordinary people in South Africa, and one gets the impression that the authorities are not taking it seriously. The measures they say they have put in place are not making an impact," he said, noting that the attacks "are taking an especially heavy toll on those whose job is to serve people."
NATION Pennsylvania bishops renew death penalty stand
HARRISBURG, Pa. (CNS) - Noting that much has changed since they last spoke on the issue of capital punishment in 1987, the Pennsylvania bishops have issued a new statement reaffirming their opposition to the death penalty. In "The Death Penalty: Choose Life," the Pennsylvania bishops note that, since their last statement, the rate of executions nationwide has increased, while the church has become ever more outspoken in opposing capital punishment. "We believe the death penalty should be abolished," said the statement released Feb. 12 in Harrisburg by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's bishops. "We envision no circumstances in modern American society that could justify its continued use."
N.J. bishop asks support for court challenge to Roe
METUCHEN, N.J. (CNS) - Bishop Vincent De Paul Breen of Metuchen believes Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring access to abortion is a constitutionally protected right, can and must fall. This January he asked all his priests and 32 other U.S. bishops to support a federal court challenge and prayer and action movement begun by three New Jersey women seeking to overturn Roe vs. Wade and its companion decision, Doe vs. Bolton. The court challenge is a class-action suit against New Jersey's governor and other state officials now on appeal in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.
Court to consider which groups are 'too religious'
WASHINGTON (CNS) - In a case being heard late in February, the Supreme Court will consider whether a public school can exclude a club from using classrooms after hours because its activities are "too religious." In Good News Club vs. Milford Central School, the court on Feb. 28 will hear oral arguments about the disagreement. The Good News Club is a community youth group sponsored by the national missionary organization Child Evangelism Fellowship. After the Milford, N.Y., school district ended bus service to a church where the club met, the organization asked to meet on school property. The district rejected the request on the grounds that, unlike other outside organizations using the school, the Good News Club's activities were "the equivalent of religious worship ... rather than the expression of religious views or values on a secular subject matter." Eventually, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district's decision.
Bishop says informed consent makes sense
ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) - Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde said legislation passed by Virginia's House and Senate to require informed consent and a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions makes sense. "It absolutely makes sense for women to have a period of education and reflection before such a life-changing experience," he said in a Feb. 8 statement. The bishop said the legislation, which passed in the Senate with a 24-16 vote Feb. 6 and passed in a 60-38 vote Feb. 3 in the House, "is an act of compassion reaching out to women in a difficult situation, offering information that may otherwise be withheld." The measure requires that women be informed of the risks and alternatives to abortion and then wait 24 hours before undergoing the procedure.
PEOPLE Bishop Lucker's cancer has spread to his bones
ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) - Bishop Raymond A. Lucker's skin cancer has spread to his bones. Bishop Lucker, 74, the retired bishop of New Ulm, Minn., learned the news in early January. He has lived with melanoma for 16 years and underwent surgery in summer 1999. He is taking weekly injections of interferon to help his body's immune system fight the cancer. His doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester is a melanoma specialist, he said. "I'm feeling fine, and I'm carrying on," the bishop said.
Bishop Hughes appointed coadjutor of New Orleans
WASHINGTON (CNS) - Pope John Paul II has appointed Bishop Alfred C. Hughes of Baton Rouge, La., as coadjutor archbishop of New Orleans. The appointment was announced in Washington Feb. 16 by Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Archbishop Hughes, 68, will assist Archbishop Francis B. Schulte in the governance of the archdiocese, the second-oldest diocese in the United States, and will succeed him as the 18th leader of the archdiocese when Archbishop Schulte steps down. "Life is full of surprises!" Archbishop Hughes said at a news conference at the Notre Dame Seminary chapel. "I thought that after Baton Rouge there was only heaven!"
Priest says Pius XII knew institutions sheltered Jews
ROME (CNS) - Catholic convents, parishes and institutions in Rome that hid and saved more than 4,400 Jews from the Nazis would not have taken such a risk without the approval of Pope Pius XII, said Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel. The priest, who is working on Pope Pius' cause for beatification, said the stories of Jews sheltered by priests and religious in Rome have been "unknown or purposefully ignored" in discussions about the pope's actions during the war. Within one of the most "barbaric periods of history, there were lights of humanity, courageous actions by a wide variety of people, including Pius XII in an exceptional way," he said. Father Gumpel spoke Feb. 16 during the presentation of an Italian book, "The Jews Saved by Pius XII" by Antonio Gaspari.
Iowa priest named rector of North American College
VATICAN CITY (CNS) - Msgr. Kevin C. McCoy, vice rector for administration at the U.S. bishops' seminary in Rome, has been appointed as the school's new rector. The North American College announced the appointment Feb. 13. Msgr. McCoy, a 46-year old priest from the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, succeeds Msgr. Timothy M. Dolan, who has been rector for seven years. Msgr. McCoy is to begin his new position July 1.