Hunger strike ends after church is approved
WARSAW, Poland (CNS) - Parishioners and their priest in Grodno, Belarus, stopped a hunger strike after local officials tentatively agreed to build a church following nearly 10 years of dispute over a building permit. Officials said the final decision to allow the construction depends on a surveyor's report, said Father Antoni Gremza, spokesman for the Grodno Diocese. Father Gremza told the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza that the parish had been asked to pay for the survey, although the parish presented its own survey earlier this year. Bishop Aleksander Kaszkiewicz of Grodno received a signed "initial accord" Dec. 7 from the city's deputy mayor to allow church construction. The district's governor also signed a note supporting the building site. Sixteen women launched the protest with Father Aleksander Szemiet of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Grodno Dec. 1 in a heated wooden shelter that has been used for Mass since the parish was registered in 1997.
Agency urges jewelers to adopt clean gold policies
LONDON (CNS) - A Catholic aid agency urged the jewelry industry in Great Britain to adopt clean gold policies after a survey revealed many Christmas shoppers want ethically produced gold. The Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, or CAFOD, the development agency of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, commissioned a YouGov survey which revealed Dec. 8 that about one in every three shoppers would choose to buy gold from stores concerned about how their gold was produced. "Companies need to show they are serious about change," said Sonya Maldar, CAFOD's extractives analyst, in a Dec. 8 statement. "We hope that the UK's leading jewelry retailers will ... work actively with their suppliers and mining companies to set new and robust standards for the gold industry. Growing understanding of these issues means it's in their best interests to take action now." CAFOD also encouraged jewelers to urge suppliers to respect human rights by adopting the Golden Rules of the No Dirty Gold initiative from the Oxfam aid agency and the Earthworks environmental advocacy group. The Signet Group, Tiffany & Co., Cartier, Piaget and Van Cleef & Arpels have signed on to the initiative. The survey found that more than one in four consumers would buy "Fairtrade" gold even if it meant paying higher prices. Fairtrade, which CAFOD and other Catholic agencies support, is a program promoting the fair trade of Third World goods such as gold.
Oregon judge announces mediated settlement
EUGENE, Ore. (CNS) - The Archdiocese of Portland will not need to sell off parish or school property under terms of a settlement between the archdiocese and almost 150 sex abuse claimants. U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan stood with church officials and victims' lawyers Dec. 11 in a federal courthouse in Eugene to say the claims were settled after more than three months of arduous private negotiations. Among the resolved cases is the $135 million suit that in 2004 pushed the archdiocese to become the first Catholic archdiocese or diocese in the nation to file for bankruptcy. About 20 claims remain, but Hogan said he expected those to be settled in the coming days. "We do not anticipate any parish property or school property to be liquidated or contributed or collateralized to fund the joint plan," said the judge, calling that result "the good news" of the day. Hogan gave no cumulative dollar amount for the settlement. At one point last year, abuse suits against the Archdiocese of Portland added up to more than $500 million. Agreements reached with the archdiocese's insurers will bring more than $50 million to the settlement. Nonparish and nonschool real estate is likely to be sold to help pay the rest, Hogan said.
Trade bill for Haiti hailed as key for turnaround
WASHINGTON (CNS) - A trade preference bill included in one of the last bits of legislation passed before the end of the 109th congressional session Dec. 9 is being hailed as having the potential to help start a turnaround in the bedraggled economy of the Caribbean nation of Haiti. In a late-night vote the Senate passed a bill that will give Haiti duty-free access to U.S. markets for products that include materials made from beyond the U.S. or the Caribbean. Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando, Fla., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Policy, said the break on tariffs "will go a long way toward helping Haiti in its present crisis." Haiti had been left out of recent free trade pacts that opened up markets in the Western Hemisphere, Bishop Wenski told Catholic News Service Dec. 11. By allowing Haiti duty-free access to sell goods that are made with fabric manufactured outside the United States or the Caribbean, the bill is expected to trigger the reopening of factories that have closed over the last 20 years, he said.
Ohio appeals board says nonprofit must pay taxes
CINCINNATI (CNS) - A Cincinnati-based foundation created by Catholic motivational speaker and author Matthew Kelly will have to pay real-estate taxes on its commercial property and office building, according to a ruling by the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals in Columbus. Representatives for the Matthew Kelly Foundation, which organizes and supports his speaking engagements and tours and distributes or sells his books, had argued in 2005 that the foundation should be exempt from paying property taxes because it operated exclusively for charitable purposes. The foundation was established as a 501(c)(3), or nonprofit, organization. "We were disappointed with the ruling," Kelly told Catholic News Service. "We are exploring our appeal options." In recent years, Kelly's foundation has had a program, called Schools Project, to give the Australian writer's books to students attending his seminars. He spoke to an estimated 60,000 students in 2006. The cost is underwritten by a percentage of Kelly's book sale profits and donations taken at his speaking engagements. The foundation buys all its books, CDs and merchandise from Beacon Publishing, Kelly's for-profit sole proprietorship that manages the licensing for all of Kelly's merchandise. In October, the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals notified the foundation that it supported the Ohio tax commissioner's 2005 ruling that denied Kelly's application for exemption of "real property from taxation for tax year 2004, and remission of taxes, penalties and interest for 2002 and 2003."
Priest is honored for helping migrants
MEXICO CITY (CNS) - Scalabrinian Father Florencio Maria Rigoni was awarded the 2006 Mexican Human Rights Award for his work on behalf of migrants from Central America. During the award ceremony Dec. 13, Mexican President Felipe Calderon called Father Rigoni, a native of Italy, "a Samaritan" for helping people "he doesn't know." Father Rigoni has been running a shelter for undocumented migrants for ten years in the Mexican town of Tapachula, which borders Guatemala. He is also known for his criticism of Mexico's migration policy as well as the U.S. plan to build a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border. The priest has said: "In 1,000 years no wall has ever stopped migrants."
Cardinal Pappalardo, Mafia foe, dies at age 88
VATICAN CITY (CNS) - The Italian Catholic Church's strongest voice against the Mafia for 26 years, retired Cardinal Salvatore Pappalardo of Palermo, died Dec. 10 at the age of 88. In a Dec. 11 telegram to the archdiocese, Pope Benedict XVI praised the cardinal as a "zealous and generous pastor" who tried to promote the "moral and cultural growth of Palermo's society." The pope sent a separate telegram of condolence the same day to Cardinal Pappalardo's sister, Maria. Named archbishop of Palermo in 1970, when the Mafia appeared to rule significant segments of life in Sicily, Cardinal Pappalardo often presided over the funerals of victims of Mafia violence. The funerals, pastoral letters and public appearances became occasions for the cardinal not to condemn Mafia involvement and to urge Sicilians to reclaim control over their lives.