Confronted with what one called “a choice between our faith and our jobs,” 12 nurses are suing University Hospital in Newark, N.J., over a new policy requiring them to care for patients before and after abortions, even if they have religious or moral objections to abortion.
The hospital, part of the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey, said that because “no nurse is compelled to have direct involvement in, and/or attendance in the room at the time of,” an abortion, its policy does not violate state or federal conscience protection laws.
U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares issued a temporary restraining order Nov. 3 directing the hospital not to compel adherence to the new policy until after the case comes before his court Dec. 5.
At a Nov. 14 news conference outside the hospital in Newark, Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., joined the nurses and their attorneys in criticizing the new policy, which was announced in September.
“In pursuit of an illegal and highly unethical policy to coerce its own nurses to participate in abortions including support activities such as pre- and post-procedure complicity in abortion, UMDNJ has not only imposed irreparable harm and suffering on its own nurses, but has willfully and recklessly put federal funding for the institution at risk,” Smith said.
He estimated that the hospital was risking up to $60 million in federal funds by taking actions that violated the Church Amendment, which prohibits institutions that receive federal funding from discriminating against those who refuse to participate in health care services they find religiously or morally objectionable.
Two of the affected nurses, who work in the hospital’s same-day services unit, also spoke at the news conference.
“No health professional should be forced to choose between assisting abortions or being penalized at work,” said Beryl Otieno Ngoje. “The hospital is not speaking truthfully to the media when it says that it does not compel nurses to violate their beliefs.”
Fe Vinoya said she and the other suing nurses — who are among 16 nurses in the same-day services unit — have been “confronted with a choice between our faith and our jobs.”
“No nurse should be forced to violate her religious or moral beliefs in order to keep her job,” she said in a Catholic News Service report. “Nursing is a healing profession, and the law protects our right not to provide any services related to abortion.”
In a brief filed with the court Nov. 22, the hospital argued that the nurses were being required only to provide “the same routine pre-operative and post-operative care that is provided to all patients” in the unit, such as taking the patients’ vital signs and medical history and providing pain medications.
The hospital also said it would cost approximately $280,000 a year to hire nurses to perform the duties refused by the objecting nurses. “In the current economy, incurring such an unnecessary expense … would be devastating to the hospital,” the brief said.
In a Nov. 17 letter, chief nursing officer Theresa Rejrat offered to meet with the nurses “to discuss with us potential reasonable accommodations of your objections.”
“Such potential accommodations may include changes in duties, changes in scheduling and/or transfer to another nursing position that does not involve duties that are objectionable to you for religious and/or moral reasons,” she said.
Matt Bowman, legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based Christian legal alliance that is representing the nurses, said the letter itself amounted to job discrimination.
“The hospital is threatening to impose discriminatory transfers or changes in the employment conditions for these nurses because of their religious and moral objections to abortion,” he said. “Such discrimination against pro-life nurses violates state and federal law, the court’s order in this case and even the hospital’s own public statements saying that no nurse must assist in procedures to which they object.”
The head of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X said a “doctrinal preamble” presented by the Vatican needs changes before it can be accepted as the basis for the group’s reconciliation.
The statement by Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior of the society, appeared to hold out hope for further discussions with the Vatican, but it was unclear whether the Vatican would be willing to revisit the text.
“It is true that this doctrinal preamble cannot receive our endorsement, although leeway has been allowed for a ‘legitimate discussion’ about certain points of the (Second Vatican) Council. What is the extent of this leeway?” Bishop Fellay said in an interview posted on the society’s website Nov. 29.
In September, when Bishop Fellay was handed the preamble, the Vatican did not publish the document but said it “states some doctrinal principles and criteria for the interpretation of Catholic doctrine necessary to guarantee fidelity” to the formal teaching of the church.
In his interview, however, Bishop Fellay said the preamble was “a document which can be clarified and modified, as the accompanying note points out. It is not a definitive text.”
“The proposal that I will make in the next few days to the Roman authorities and their response in turn will enable us to evaluate our remaining options. And whatever the result of these talks may be, the final document that will have been accepted or rejected will be made public,” he said in a Catholic News Service report.
Asked whether the past two years of talks with the Vatican have been pointless, Bishop Fellay said they have allowed the society to present their objections to the doctrinal difficulties caused by Vatican II “and consequently show why adherence to the council is problematic. This is an essential first step.”
“In Rome itself, the evolving interpretations given to religious liberty, the modifications that have been made on this subject in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and in the Compendium of it, the corrections that are currently being studied for the Code of Canon Law … all this shows the difficulties that you run into when you try to abide by the conciliar documents at all costs,” Bishop Fellay said.
“From our perspective, this nicely shows the impossibility of adhering in a stable way to a doctrine in motion,” he added.
The eventual “canonical solution” envisioned by the Vatican for the society was expected to take the form of a personal prelature, or a church jurisdiction without geographical boundaries. Bishop Fellay said such an arrangement would be pointless unless the doctrinal differences were resolved.
Pope Benedict XVI has named U.S. Msgr. Charles J. Brown, a longtime official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as the new apostolic nuncio to Ireland.With the appointment, he was named archbishop of the titular see of Aquileia.
The appointment, announced by the Vatican Nov. 26, comes at a delicate moment in Vatican-Irish relations. In July, the Vatican recalled its previous nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, after Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and others sharply criticized the Vatican’s handling of clerical abuse.
In early November, the Irish government announced it was closing its embassy to the Holy See for economic reasons, although keeping diplomatic relations open.
Archbishop-designate Brown, a 52-year-old priest of the Archdiocese of New York, has worked since 1994 in the doctrinal congregation, which was headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger until his election as pope in 2005. As nuncio, he will act as the Holy See’s ambassador to Ireland and will also serve as a liaison with the Catholic Church community there.
Vatican officials said it was unusual to appoint a non-diplomat to such a position. Some observers pointed to the fact that the doctrinal congregation has overall responsibility over cases of clerical sex abuse of minors, and said the Vatican appears to expect the nuncio to play a key role in the healing of the scandal.
Reaction to the appointment was generally favorable in the Irish media. The Irish Times said in an editorial that the new nuncio would arrive with two major advantages over his predecessors.
“As an Irish American he will have an intuitive understanding of the Catholic people of this state and of this island. As a man who has served at the (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) for 17 years he will be deeply familiar with the issue that has plagued the Irish Catholic Church for almost two decades,” it said, according to a Catholic News Service report.
Born Oct. 13, 1959, in New York, Archbishop-designate Brown graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1981, where he majored in history. He holds graduate degrees in theology from Oxford University, in medieval studies from the University of Toronto and in sacramental theology from the Pontifical Athenaeum Sant’Anselmo in Rome.
He was ordained a priest in 1989 in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, and served from 1989-91 as vicar at St. Brendan’s parish in the Bronx. He came to the doctrinal congregation in 1994, working in the doctrinal section, and in 2004 also became an adjunct secretary of the International Theological Commission.
In a speech to U.S. bishops, Pope Benedict XVI defended the church’s “honest efforts” to confront the priestly sex abuse scandal with transparency, and said its actions could help the rest of society respond to the problem.
While the church is rightly held to high standards, all other institutions should be held to the same standards as they address the causes, extent and consequences of sexual abuse, which has become a “scourge” at every level of society, the pope said Nov. 26.
On wider issues, including the institution of marriage, the pope encouraged the bishops to speak out “humbly yet insistently in defense of moral truth.” Responding to the challenges of a secularized culture will first require the “re-evangelization” of the church’s own members, he said.
The pope made the remarks in a speech to bishops from the state of New York, who were in Rome for their “ad limina” visits. The group was led by Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference has spoken of the need to restore the church’s credibility and its evangelizing capacity.
The pope began his talk by recalling his 2008 visit to the United States, which he said was aimed at encouraging Catholics in the wake of the sex abuse crisis. He said he wanted to acknowledge the suffering inflicted on victims as well as the church’s efforts to ensure the safety of children and deal “appropriately and transparently with allegations” of abuse.
“It is my hope that the church’s conscientious efforts to confront this reality will help the broader community to recognize the causes, true extent and devastating consequences of sexual abuse, and to respond effectively to this scourge which affects every level of society,” the pope said.
“By the same token, just as the church is rightly held to exacting standards in this regard, all other institutions, without exception, should be held to the same standards,” he said in a Catholic News Service report.
Pope Benedict’s speech was the first in a series of five talks he is expected to deliver in coming months, as 15 groups of U.S. bishops make their consultative visits to Rome. He said he planned to focus primarily on the urgent task of “new evangelization.”
The pope said many of the U.S. bishops had shared with him their concern about the “grave challenges” presented by an increasingly secularized society in the United States. He said it was also interesting to note a widespread worry about the future of democratic society in general, by people who see “a troubling breakdown in the intellectual, cultural and moral foundations of social life” and growing insecurity about the future.
He suggested that the church could and should have a key role in responding to these deep changes in society.
“Despite attempts to still the church’s voice in the public square, many people of good will continue to look to her for wisdom, insight and sound guidance in meeting this far-reaching crisis,” he said.
In that sense, he added, the present moment is “a summons to exercise the prophetic dimension of your episcopal ministry by speaking out, humbly yet insistently, in defense of moral truth, and offering a word of hope, capable of opening hearts and minds to the truth that sets us free.”
At the same time, the pope said, the seriousness of the challenges facing the church in the United States cannot be underestimated. He said one big problem was that secularization affects the lives of Catholic, leading at times to “quiet attrition” among the church’s members.
“Immersed in this culture, believers are daily beset by the objections, the troubling questions and the cynicism of a society which seems to have lost its roots, by a world in which the love of God has grown cold in so many hearts,” he said.
For that reason, he said, modern evangelization is not something aimed only at people outside the church.
“We ourselves are the first to need re-evangelization,” he said. That must include critical and ongoing self-assessment and conversion, and interior renewal in the light of the Gospel, he said.
The pope praised the U.S. bishops for their response to the issues raised by increasing secularization, and their efforts to articulate a common pastoral vision. He cited as examples the bishops’ recent documents on political responsibility and on the institution of marriage.
In the end, the pope said, the effectiveness of the church’s witness to the Gospel in the United States is linked to “the recovery of a shared vision and sense of mission by the entire Catholic community.”
He said Catholic universities have an important role in promoting this renewal and ensuring the success of “new evangelization,” especially among younger generations.
“Young people have a right to hear clearly the church’s teaching and, most importantly, to be inspired by the coherence and beauty of the Christian message, so that they in turn can instill in their peers a deep love of Christ and his church,” he said.
The pope also spoke about the implementation of the revised translation of the Roman Missal, which is being introduced in the United States during Advent. He thanked the bishops for making this a moment of catechesis about the liturgy, saying that a weakened sense of the meaning of Christian worship inevitably leads to a weakened witness of the faith.
He said consolidating America’s “proud tradition of respect for the Sabbath” would help renew U.S. society in accordance with God’s “unchanging truth.”
As U.S. nutritionists cringe over the prospect of an overweight nation indulging in a two-month binge of “season’s eatings” — from Halloween candy to Thanksgiving dinners to Christmas feasts to New Year’s parties — there are millions of Americans who aren’t sure they’re going to get enough to eat this day or the next.
The problem is made worse by lack of access to nutritious food, as residents of America’s poorest cities and neighborhoods have little choice but to make do with fast food or convenience stores that don’t stock fresh produce.
And even if they were the food-savviest consumers in the country, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — the new name for food stamps – doesn’t stretch far enough to let each member in the household eat a healthy meal three times a day, seven days a week. Earlier this year, SNAP benefits were cut to pay for a boost in school lunch programs.
Hunger isn’t the only issue.
A Catholic Charities USA third-quarter “snapshot” of its member agencies issued Nov. 22 found that 88 percent of the agencies either had to turn away people or maintain a waiting list for at least one service, 64 percent couldn’t meet the need for emergency financial assistance, and 56 percent couldn’t meet requests for utility assistance — including 67 percent in Southern states dogged by heat waves and an extended drought.
What’s more, requests for help by the working poor were up 80 percent over the second quarter, requests by families were up 66 percent, by the homeless up 60 percent — and by the middle class up 59 percent.
“In the House’s agricultural appropriations bill for 2012, it voted to take away nutrition assistance from 600,000 young children and their mothers who now participate in the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program and to eliminate food aid rations for 14 million of the most desperate people in the world,” said the Rev. David Beckmann.
The Lutheran minister, who is president of Bread for the World, a Christian anti-hunger lobby, made the comments in a preface to the organization’s 22nd annual hunger report, titled this year “Rebalancing Act: Updating U.S. Food and Farm Policies.”
The report is peppered with indictments of current U.S. food policy. “Current policies favor production of calories, not nutrients,” it said. “Today, the United States does not even produce enough fruits and vegetables for Americans to meet the recommended daily allowances of vitamins and minerals.”
Elsewhere, the report noted: “Agricultural research has been starved for public support. Shrinking food supplies, and the use of food crops to make biofuels, such as corn to make ethanol, are driving up the cost of food well beyond what people in poverty can afford.” One woman reported that on days when money is scarce, she’ll get by on a two-liter bottle of soda to feel full so that her children can eat real meals.
“We do not need farm policies that encourage farmers to produce more fats and sweeteners to feed hungry children,” the report said.
At a Nov. 21 news conference to introduce the “Rebalancing Act” report, Rev. Beckmann said a new farm bill should get rid of agricultural subsidies in favor of revenue insurance, thus freeing up more funds for nutrition assistance in a country where federal statistics show that close to 46 million people are living in poverty.
“What farmers really need is some risk management,” Rev. Beckmann said.
Tianna Gaines-Turner, mother of three children and stepmother to another three, is a member of Witnesses to Hunger, founded in Philadelphia by a Drexel University professor so hungry people could document what their lives are like continuously living hand-to-mouth. After two years of volunteering, she got a job with Witnesses to Hunger last year and is helping set up new chapters in Boston, Baltimore, Omaha, Neb., and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. — not the first place one associates with hunger and poverty.
Gaines-Hunter told Catholic News Service Nov. 21 she planned to spend Thanksgiving “thankful that I have an adequate meal” and a safe, secure place to live for herself and her family.
Some are even less lucky. The D.C. Central Kitchen prepares 426 breakfasts and dinners each day for 801 East, a men’s shelter in Washington operated by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. For many of the men, it is the only food they’ll eat all day. The men must be out of the shelter by 7 a.m. each day, and cannot return until 7 p.m. each night.
The number of homeless men climbed with the onset of the 2008 recession, said Paul Amara, who helps manage shelters for Catholic charities. It was in this downturn, he added, that he first started seeing young men barely past the age of majority seeking shelter.
“Some stay and move on to other transitional housing programs. We have guys who come into the shelter and in the matter of a month or two get a job or something,” Amara said. “We have some who stay forever. We also have recidivists. From November to March, the chronically homeless stay off the street.
“After that, you see them disappear.”
Austerity measures introduced by the British government to tackle spiraling levels of public debt are hurting the poorest the most, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster told politicians.
At a Nov. 23 meeting in the British Parliament, Archbishop Nichols urged politicians to be more creative in finding solutions to economic problems. He said cutbacks were already being “felt disproportionally by the most vulnerable,” and families in particular “need our support.”
“The increase in youth unemployment, the pressure on housing provision and support, and the impact of personal debt are bringing hardship and distress to those least able to sustain them,” said Archbishop Nichols, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
“At the same time, some aspects of the distribution of wealth cause scandal and dismay,” the archbishop added in an allusion to huge bonuses still paid to bankers working in the financial district of London.
“None of us can be in any doubt about the severity of the challenges facing us in the coming months and years as the effects of long-term and widespread debt are tackled,” he told the meeting organized by the Caritas Social Action Network, an agency of the English and Welsh bishops’ conference.
“It is important that we address these challenges in the correct way, so that the decisions taking place here in Parliament on the future of the social security system, the health system and the criminal justice system are shaped by a practical recognition of the needs of, and really influenced by, the experience of those on the front line of this work,” the archbishop added.
He told the politicians that they needed to utilize their “wealth of knowledge and creativity” and invited them to recognize the “positive and vital role” that the church could provide in “inspiring initiatives.”
“Faith is not a problem to be solved, but an important part of the solution,” the archbishop added in a Catholic News Service report.
A coalition of Mexican human rights groups has called on the Mexican and Guatemalan governments to resolve the situation of some 300 farm families who fled a violent eviction in northern Guatemala and now reside in squalor on the Mexican side of the border.
A report issued by the 10 groups Nov. 22 said at least 100 children were among the displaced families residing in a camp without adequate sanitation a few hundred meters from the Guatemalan border in the Mexican municipality of Tenosique. Some of the residents are ill, while many children suffer from diarrhea.
“This is a very desperate situation for the majority of the (displaced people),” Franciscan Father Tomas Gonzalez Castillo, who helps care for the displaced families, said at a Nov. 22 news conference at the Jesuit-run Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center.
The eviction highlights Guatemala’s problems with security and human rights as parts of the country — especially the northern department of Peten — have been rife with drug-cartel violence and alleged human rights abuses.
The report said the residents of a corn-farming village, Nueva Esperanza, were evicted Aug. 23 by the National Police, Guatemalan army and members of the National Council of Protected Areas; the villagers homes were burned.
The villagers, the report added, supposedly violated a law forbidding the establishment of settlements in protected areas, even though La Esperanza was founded prior to the law’s implementation. Guatemalan officials have publicly alleged the families had connections to the drug trade, but Father Gonzalez rejected those allegations.
Talks involving the families and representatives of the Mexican and Guatemalan governments have been fruitless — and time is running short, advocates said. A new government takes office in Guatemala early next year, meaning talks would have to start again from the beginning, Father Gonzalez said in a Catholic News Service report.
The families could apply for asylum, but the authors of the report said the group came to Mexico with the expectation of returning to Guatemala and their properties — even though Mexico has a history of accepting refugees, including some from past conflicts in Guatemala. The families rejected a recent Guatemalan offer of about 7.5 acres of land per household, a fraction of what they farmed previously, Father Gonzalez said.
The report on the Guatemalans’ plight — based on a four-day investigation in October — also focused on the situation of Tenosique’s human rights advocates. Father Gonzalez was included in that group: He allegedly has been threatened by organized criminal groups, the police and the army for denouncing crimes committed against undocumented Central American migrants.
“The defense of human rights … has turned into one of the most risky professions in our country,” the report said.
In his document on the church in Africa, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the educational crisis on the continent, calling high illiteracy rates “a scourge on par with that of pandemics.”
“True, it does not kill directly, but it contributes actively to the marginalization of the person — which is a form of social death — and it blocks access to knowledge,” the pope said in a Catholic News Service report.
He noted that the educational crisis is not limited to Africa but is a worldwide problem. Africa, however, suffers more than other continents, with a literacy rate of less than 60 percent, according to international agencies.
The pope made the comments in a document “Africae Munus” (“The Commitment of Africa”), signed Nov. 19. The document, which presents the church’s role in the future of Africa, expanded on themes from the 2009 Synod of Bishops for Africa, including education.
The pope called for the development of educational programs that rely on both faith and reason to prepare children for adulthood.
He said it was important for students to be educated in the faith and to gain an understanding of the church’s social doctrine since religious education institutions “train children in the African values that are taken up by those of the Gospel.”
He said bishops in Africa have a responsibility to provide schooling for children.
“This is a matter of justice for each child and, indeed, the future of Africa depends on it,” the document said.
On a three-day visit to Benin, Pope Benedict XVI urged African Catholics to witness the hope of the Gospel in their daily lives and make the church a model of reconciliation for the entire continent.
In a particular way, the church must be “attentive to the cry of the poor, the weak, the outcast,” the pope said at a Mass Nov. 20 for more than 50,000 people who filled a stadium in Cotonou.
“I would like to greet with affection all those persons who are suffering, those who are sick, those affected by AIDS or by other illnesses, to all those forgotten by society. Have courage! The pope is close to you in his thoughts and prayers,” he said.
The 84-year-old pontiff delivered his homily in French, English and Portuguese, adding a few words in Fon, the local indigenous language. He occasionally wiped his brow as temperatures rose during the morning liturgy.
The pope stressed the urgency of evangelizing and said the church must make a special effort to reach those “whose faith is weak” and who think selfish satisfaction and easy gain is the goal of human life.
“The church in Benin has received much from her missionaries; she must in turn carry this message of hope to people who do not know or who no longer know the Lord Jesus,” he said in a Catholic News Service report.
The pope’s message was aimed beyond the borders of Benin, a small West African country with a population of nearly 3 million Catholics out of a total population of nearly 9 million. He came to Africa to unveil a document, “Africae Munus” (“The Commitment of Africa”), that outlined pastoral strategies and urged Catholics to become “apostles of reconciliation, justice and peace” across the troubled continent.
At every one of his public events, Africans — including many pilgrims who came from neighboring countries — gave the pontiff a lively welcome, blending song, dance and prayer in a spirit of religious celebration. The smiling pope clearly appreciated the reception.
One of the most animated encounters saw the pope surrounded by several hundred schoolchildren, who accompanied him in a rhythmic procession and cheered him inside a parish church. In a talk, the pope told the children to ask their parents to pray with them.
“Sometimes you may even have to push them a little. But do not hesitate to do so. God is that important!” he said.
Later he pulled a rosary from his pocket and asked the young people to learn how to pray it. Each child was given a rosary at the end before they left.
On Nov. 19, the pope traveled to the coastal city of Ouidah, a former slave trading post on the Atlantic, to sign his follow-up document to the 2009 Synod of Bishops for Africa. The 138-page text said the church should lead the way in promoting respect for human dignity and life at every stage, fighting against economic imbalance and environmental degradation, providing health care to those with AIDS and other diseases, educating the young and reconciling human hearts in places of ethnic tension.
In a brief talk before the signing, the pope said that in the face of Africa’s problems, “a church reconciled within herself and among all her members can become a prophetic sign of reconciliation in society” and help guide the struggle against “every form of slavery” in the modern world.
Ouidah is known as a center of voodoo practices in West Africa, and in a meeting with Catholic faithful there the pope underlined the need to reject customs incompatible with Christianity. Understood correctly, he said, the Christian faith “liberates from occultism and vanquishes evil spirits, for it is moved by the power of the Holy Trinity itself.”
He also encouraged lay Catholics to defend the institution of the family “built according to the design of God” and the Christian understanding of marriage. Parents should transform family life through the power of prayer and by transmitting values to their children by their own example, he said.
In a Ouidah church, Pope Benedict prayed at the tomb of Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, who worked for many years with the future pope in the Roman Curia. The pope said that over the years, the two had met many times, engaged in deep discussions and prayed together.
Addressing diplomats, civil authorities and religious representatives Nov. 19 in Cotonou, the pope said Africa’s challenges reflect wider issues common to all humanity, including scandals and injustice, corruption and greed, and “too much violence which leads to misery and death.”
He urged world leaders to put the common good at the center of their policies.
“From this place, I launch an appeal to all political and economic leaders of African countries and the rest of the world. Do not deprive your peoples of hope! Do not cut them off from their future by mutilating their present!” he said.
The pope also cautioned the international community against viewing Africa solely as a place of problems and failures. Often this perspective is fueled by prejudices, he said.
“It is tempting to point to what does not work; it is easy to assume the judgmental tone of the moralizer or of the expert who imposes his conclusions and proposes, at the end of the day, few useful solutions,” he said.
He warned of the related risk of seeing Africa only in terms of vast resources that can be easily exploited.
Relations between Christians and Muslims in Benin are generally good, and representatives of Islam were among those present at the Cotonou meeting. The pope emphasized that “everyone of good sense” understands the need for interreligious dialogue today and rejects the attempt to justify intolerance or violence.
“Aggression is an outmoded relational form which appeals to superficial and ignoble instincts. To use the revealed word, the sacred scriptures or the name of God to justify our interests, our easy and convenient policies or our violence, is a very grave fault,” he said.
In a wide-ranging document on the church’s future in Africa, Pope Benedict XVI urged Catholics to become “apostles of reconciliation, justice and peace” across the troubled continent.
The key to the church’s mission in Africa, the pope said, is for all Catholics to know the faith and the church’s social doctrine well, then witness it in daily life.
The document, called an apostolic exhortation, explored the themes treated by the 2009 Synod of Bishops for Africa. Titled “Africae Munus” (“The Commitment of Africa”), the 138-page text offered what it called “guidelines for mission” in virtually every pastoral area, including the sacraments, social justice and interreligious dialogue.
The pope signed the document Nov. 19 during a ceremony in Ouidah, Benin, a slave trade city on the Atlantic coast. He was making a three-day visit to Benin, where he met with bishops from the African continent.
The document said Africa, like the rest of the world, was experiencing a culture shock that strikes at traditional values and ways of life. But faced with this “crisis of faith and hope,” it said, Africa has the ability to be a spiritual inspiration because of the human and religious resources of its peoples.
The pope said the church should lead the way, promoting respect for human dignity and life at every stage, fighting against economic imbalance and environmental degradation, providing health care to those with AIDS and other diseases, educating the young and reconciling human hearts in places of ethnic tension.
These actions are the heart of the church’s evangelizing efforts, which include witness, words and service, and which must be based on the personal encounter with Christ, he said.
One specific proposal in the document was for a continent-wide “Year of Reconciliation” to beg God’s forgiveness for “all the evils and injuries mutually inflicted in Africa” and for the reconciliation of people who have been hurt in the church and in society.
Two separate sections of the document addressed men and women, in language that reflected the synod’s concerns over discrimination against women in many African countries.
Women and girls have fewer opportunities than men and boys in Africa, and their dignity and essential contributions to the family and society are often unappreciated, the pope said. Too many ancestral practices debase and degrade women, he added in a Catholic News Service report.
“Unfortunately, the evolution of ways of thinking in this area is much too slow. The church has the duty to contribute to the recognition and the liberation of women, following the example of Christ’s own esteem for them,” he said. He called women the “backbone” of local church communities in Africa.
The document reminded men to be faithful to their wives and to make a real contribution to the upbringing of their children. In an apparent reference to polygamy, it urged men to reject traditional practices that are “contrary to the Gospel and oppressive to women in particular.”
The document touched on many other issues raised at the 2009 synod:
– It pledged the church’s continuing assistance to AIDS patients and the church’s support for affordable treatment. But it said AIDS was an ethical as well as a medical problem, requiring “change of behavior,” including sexual abstinence, rejection of sexual promiscuity and fidelity within marriage.
– It said abortion, the “destruction of an innocent unborn child,” is against God’s will, and it encouraged Africans to be wary of confusing language in international documents on women’s reproductive health that goes against the church’s teaching.
– It urged Africans to continue to protect the institutions of marriage and the family and to maintain their traditional respect for the elderly.
“This beautiful African appreciation for old age should inspire Western societies to treat the elderly with greater dignity,” it said.
– The document said the church must be present wherever human suffering exists and “”make heard the silent cry of the innocent who suffer persecution, or of peoples whose governments mortgage the present and the future for personal interests.”
– It said African countries rightly expect outside assistance in dealing with their problems, but at the same time must themselves implement political, social and administrative justice at home.
– On the issue of ecology, the document said private business and government groups have enriched themselves by exploiting resources in a way that causes pollution and desertification, putting countless species at risk and threatening the entire ecosystem.
“The plundering of the goods of the earth by a minority to the detriment of entire peoples is unacceptable, because it is immoral,” it said.
– The document said Catholic relations with Muslims were a mixed picture across Africa; in some countries, members of the two faiths get along well, while in others Christians are treated like “second-class citizens.” It asked church leaders to work through patient dialogue with Muslims toward juridical and practical recognition of religious freedom.
– It warned that witchcraft is enjoying a revival in Africa, in part because of people’s anxiety over health, the future and the environment. It asked bishops to face the challenge of Christians who have a “dual affiliation” to Christianity and traditional African religions. The church must clearly reject any “magical elements,” which cause division and ruin for families, it said.
– It called on African bishops to find a correct response to the growing popularity of African independent churches, which have adopted elements of traditional African culture. It distinguished between those churches and religious sects, which it said were leading people of good faith astray. The church needs to study this phenomenon in order to “stem the hemorrhage of the faithful from the parishes to the sects,” it said.
– It denounced the “intolerable treatment” of many children in Africa, who are subjected to forced labor, trafficking and various forms of discrimination. “The church is mother and could never abandon a single one of them,” it said.
– The document decried the rising crime rate in urban areas of Africa, but also said prisoners are frequently mistreated. It said society’s leaders need to “make every effort to eliminate the death penalty” and to reform the penal system so that prisoners’ human dignity is respected.