Cardinal lauds agreement to end nuclear program
ROME (CNS) - South Korea's leading Catholic churchman welcomed the news that North Korea had agreed to wind down its nuclear program in exchange for fuel assistance from outside countries. Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jinsuk of Seoul said the agreement, announced in Beijing Feb. 13, had "averted a catastrophe of unimaginable consequences." The cardinal told AsiaNews, a Rome-based missionary agency, "If things had gone differently, we would have seen a nuclear conflict that would have destroyed us." The agreement followed three years of talks among six countries, including the United States. North Korea promised to shut down its main nuclear facilities within 60 days and to begin the process of nuclear disarmament, with international inspections. In exchange, the country would receive 1 million tons of fuel oil. The agreement also set in motion talks on a wide range of related issues, including normalization of U.S.-North Korean relations.
Families of kidnapped soldiers meet with pope
VATICAN CITY (CNS) - Searching anywhere and everywhere for information about their loved ones, the families of two kidnapped Israeli soldiers met Feb. 14 with Pope Benedict XVI. Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Reghev were kidnapped last July near the Israeli-Lebanese border by the militant Islamic group Hezbollah in a raid that sparked the monthlong conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. Despite efforts by the Israeli government and humanitarian organizations, the soldiers' families have had no news about them. Benny Reghev, the brother of one of the missing soldiers, asked for Pope Benedict's help in getting information, said Oded Ben-Hur, the Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, who joined the families at the pope's weekly general audience. "The Vatican has contacts," and any information might prove useful, Ben-Hur said. The ambassador said Karnit Goldwasser, the wife of one of the soldiers, told the pope she hoped to meet him again one day, accompanied by her husband.
Death penalty foes hail governor's moratorium
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) - Death penalty opponents in Tennessee are applauding Gov. Phil Bredesen's decision to temporarily halt state executions to study the state's protocol for carrying out death sentences, but they say it "doesn't go nearly far enough." Alex Wiesendanger, associate director of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing, called the move "a great first step," but said "a full study of the entire system is needed" beyond the 90-day study of the state's death penalty procedures. The Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission is also among those pushing for a more wide-ranging moratorium. Announcing the moratorium at a press conference Feb. 1, Bredesen said he is a death penalty supporter, but believes that "it is incumbent on the state to carry out these sentences constitutionally and appropriately." He also noted that "there did not appear to be any difficulties" with the executions of Robert Glen Coe in 2000 or of Sedley Allen last June, the only two executions carried out in the state since 1960.
U.S. praised for funding HIV/AIDS programs
WASHINGTON (CNS) - Catholic social ministry leaders got an unusual message Feb. 12 as they were preparing for a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill: Thank your legislators for supporting the funding of a massive program to combat the spread of the global AIDS/HIV pandemic. On many issues that Catholic social activists bring up with their senators and representatives, they are challenging current legislation or seeking politically unpopular legislative reforms. On the Presidential Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, however, "every year the president has asked for a certain amount of money Congress has always given more," said Oblate Father Andrew Small of the U.S. bishops' Office of International Justice and Peace. A briefing on the program, commonly referred to as PEPFAR, was one of numerous sessions on specific legislative issues that participants at the annual Catholic Social Ministries Gathering attended to prepare for meetings with their legislators in Washington. "Say, 'Thanks for your support for this, but we don't want you to think in any way that this is over,'" Father Small said.
Christian Churches Together tackles poverty
PASADENA, Calif. (CNS) - At their first meeting as Christian Churches Together in the USA, leaders of 36 churches and national Christian organizations issued a call to cut child poverty in America in half by 2017. "The scandal of widespread, persistent poverty in this rich nation" must be called "by its real names: moral failure, unacceptable injustice," they said. The new organization is the broadest fellowship of Christian churches ever formed in the United States. It includes national church bodies from all five major Christian families - Catholic, Orthodox, historic Protestant, evangelical/Pentecostal and racial/ethnic. The inaugural meeting, held Feb. 6-9 in Pasadena, drew more than 150 participants and observers.
Archbishop retracts collaboration statement
OXFORD, England (CNS) - A Polish archbishop who resigned after admitting collaboration with communist secret police has withdrawn his statement and asked a court to clear his name. Lawyers for former Warsaw Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus said he did not collaborate and that his secret police files were falsified. "There was neither secret not conscious collaboration - in my view, the archbishop acted in the interests of the church," said Marek Malecki, a lawyer acting for Archbishop Wielgus. He said a trial would allow "a different evaluation of the stance of clergy at the time." Waldemar Gontarski, another lawyer, said Feb. 13 that the national appeal the archbishop delivered Jan. 5 was not his own and that "not just his signature, but the whole file covering his alleged cooperation with the secret services has been falsified." Malecki filed a petition with Warsaw's Verification Court on behalf of Archbishop Wielgus, who resigned Jan. 7, two hours before his formal installation ceremony as archbishop of Warsaw.
Pope appoints bishop to top canon law post
VATICAN CITY (CNS) - Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, the Vatican's top expert in canon law, and named an Italian bishop to succeed him. Auxiliary Bishop Francesco Coccopalmerio of Milan, 68, was appointed archbishop and president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, the Vatican announced Feb. 15. Cardinal Herranz had led the office since 1994. The cardinal, who will be 77 on March 31, began at the Vatican in 1960, serving on the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law until the 1983 promulgation of the new code. At that time, he became secretary of the agency dealing with canon law. Archbishop Coccopalmerio earned his doctorate in canon law from Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University and his civil law degree from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan. He is president of the commission for juridical questions of the Italian bishops' conference.
Baltimore group tries to fill churches with men
BALTIMORE (CNS) - Having noticed that men were a minority in Catholic parishes in northeast Baltimore, St. Anthony of Padua parishioner Paul Gerhardt and a group of friends united to lure men back. So was born the Northeast Catholic Brotherhood a little more than a year ago. With about 25 men from three faith communities participating, the group has ignited a movement that inspires religious and community involvement. "We're a pretty informal group, but we're serious about getting men back in the church and contributing to the community at large," said Gerhardt, 50. "I'm really enthused by what we've accomplished in the last year and I think our outreach efforts are only going to grow."