Archbishop denies ties to secret police force
ROME (CNS) - A Slovak archbishop said accusations that he once had ties to the communist secret police force were part of an effort to discredit the church in his country. In a Feb. 10 statement, Archbishop Jan Sokol of Bratislava-Trnava, Slovakia, called the claims a "media campaign" that caused "serious moral damage" to him and the church. An official from the Slovakian government's Institute of the National Memory said that in the spring of 1989 Archbishop Sokol, then an auxiliary bishop, was registered as an agent by Czechoslovakia's secret service. Prior to that, the official said the secret security forces had listed Bishop Sokol as a "candidate for cooperation," according to media reports. In his written response to the allegations, Archbishop Sokol said the claims were "an attempt to damage the trust in the church, which during the years of communist totalitarianism was able to stand on the side of truth despite great sacrifices." The archbishop's secretary, Tibor Hajdu, told Catholic News Service that no one has seen the file allegedly showing the archbishop on the secret service's list. That file and all documents covering western Slovakia and the capital, Bratislava, are expected to be released by the Institute at the end of March or early April, according to a set timeline that grants public access to the secret archives. Slovakia's leading churchman and the retired head of the Vatican's evangelization congregation, Cardinal Jozef Tomko, told CNS the accusations against Archbishop Sokol were based on dubious information.
Bishops say gays must not be denied employment
LONDON (CNS) - The English and Welsh bishops have decreed that gays must not be denied employment in Catholic organizations simply because of their orientation. New "Diversity and Equality Guidelines" state that "subject to limited and narrow exceptions, Catholic organizations must ensure that no job applicant or employee receives less favorable treatment than another on the grounds of race, gender, religion or belief, sexual orientation or age." The bishops said, "people of all sexual orientations have a right to take a full and active part in the life of the Catholic community." The guidelines recognize the distinction between sexual orientation and sexual activity, and they ask that members of Catholic organizations "respect" church teaching on chastity and fidelity. The guidelines were published by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales in early February to bring working practices in the church's educational, social work and charitable institutions into line with the demands of recent European and British legislation on discrimination in the workplace. The document acknowledges the reality of a society "in which relationships are increasingly fractured and complicated." It says that it is "only to be expected that this may at times be reflected in the lifestyles of those who serve the church," and it encourages leaders of Catholic organizations to seek advice from the church if tension arises between "discrimination law and the right of a Catholic institution to safeguard its ethos."
Battle brews in Maryland over stem-cell funding
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (CNS) - Results of a new poll released Feb. 7 show that the vast majority of Marylanders oppose human cloning for stem-cell research and that they oppose state sanctioning of the destruction of human embryos. The same day several Maryland lawmakers unveiled a proposal to spend $25 million on the forms of stem-cell research that would result in the destruction of human embryos and allow so-called "therapeutic cloning." Commissioned by the Maryland Catholic Conference and Maryland Right to Life, the Mason-Dixon poll showed that nearly 80 percent of Maryland voters oppose human cloning to create a supply of human embryos to be destroyed in medical research. Nearly 70 percent of those polled said state government should not endorse the kind of stem-cell research that requires the destruction of human embryos. When asked if scientists should be allowed to use human cloning to create children for infertile couples, 84 percent of Marylanders said no. Opposition to cloning was strong throughout the state and across party affiliation, race and gender classifications. The poll surveyed 625 registered voters statewide and was conducted Jan. 18-20. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. Nancy Fortier, associate director for justice, pro-life and human rights with the Maryland Catholic Conference, said the poll results indicate that Marylanders have serious ethical concerns with the forms of research now being promoted by lawmakers in Annapolis, the state capital.
Tennessee health care advocates brace for cuts
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) - Shawn Caster has seen two sides of the TennCare debate, as both the mother of a severely ill child who relies on the state-run health insurance plan for the poor and uninsurable and as an attorney with the Tennessee Justice Center, a nonprofit law firm representing TennCare users in federal court. "We're bracing for the worst and hoping for the best," she said. Her 11-year-old son, Julian, has had TennCare coverage since he was born with a diaphragmatic hernia, pulmonary hypertension and cerebral palsy. He uses a wheelchair and needs nursing care seven days a week. Gov. Phil Bredesen announced in January that nearly half the adults in the state's health care program for the poor would be cut off. Additional cuts, such as limits on the number of trips to the doctor that participants may make, would save the state $575 million for the next year, Bredesen said. While Bredesen has repeatedly said the 612,000 children now enrolled in TennCare will see no changes, attorneys at the Tennessee Justice Center contend children whose parents are making the transition from welfare to work, as well as those with catastrophic illnesses, stand to lose coverage. Other families will face higher co-payments and "could face lapses in their coverage if they can't pay," according to Caster, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Nashville. The Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission has been a strong supporter of preserving TennCare "in a fiscally responsible manner while ensuring that none of our citizens, particularly children, are left without health care."
Cardinal Lustiger retires, successor is appointed
VATICAN CITY (CNS) - After 24 years as head of the Archdiocese of Paris, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, 78, retired Feb. 11. The Vatican announced he would be succeeded by Archbishop Andre Vingt-Trois of Tours, a 62-year-old former auxiliary bishop of Paris. Cardinal Lustiger has led the Paris Archdiocese since January 1981. He was named to the College of Cardinals in 1983. Although retired as archbishop of Paris, he continues to serve as a member of several Vatican congregations. The cardinal, who converted to Catholicism from Judaism, represented the pope Jan. 27 at the commemoration in Poland of the 60th anniversary of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. The cardinal's mother died at the camp in 1943; his father went into hiding and escaped deportation. A Catholic family in Orleans, France, sheltered the cardinal and his sister during World War II. He was ordained a priest in 1954 and bishop of Orleans in 1979. Cardinal Lustiger has been the voice of French Catholics for almost a quarter century, particularly defending the right of believers to have a say in public debates, condemning anti-Semitism and promoting dialogue with Jews and with the nation's growing Muslim community.
Priest snowmobiles to fight multiple sclerosis
GREEN BAY, Wis. (CNS) - For the past 17 years, Father Charles R. Brooks, pastor of St. Edward Parish in Mackville, has been riding in the annual MS Snowmobile Classic Tour in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. He and eight other members of St. Edward's went Feb. 4 to Watersmeet, Mich., for two days of snowmobiling to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Over the 17 years, Father Brooks has raised $167,000. "I had a sister, Theresa Kemkes, who had MS for 44 years," said Father Brooks. "She was in a wheelchair for 42 of those years." This isn't the only event for which Father Brooks has ridden his sled. In the 1980s and 1990s, he was known locally for his 24-hour Enduros for Life to raise funds for pro-life causes. In 1987 he set a world record of 1,409 miles in 24 hours on one sled. The priest, 67, has also ridden motorcycles and jet skis for his Enduros fund-raiser, but his main love is the snowmobile. "I'm one of the pioneers in snowmobiling, at least locally," he said.