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US Bishops Pastoral    
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The U.S. bishops’ Pastoral on Civic Responsibility
                                                         in condensed form

One of our greatest blessings in the United States is our right and responsibility to participate in civic life. The Constitution
protects the right of individuals and of religious bodies to speak out without governmental interference, endorsement or sanction. It is increasingly apparent that major public issues have clear moral dimensions and that religious values have significant public consequences. Our nation is enriched and our tradition of pluralism enhanced when religious groups
contribute to the debate over the policies that guide the nation.

As bishops, it is not only our right as citizens but our responsibility as religious teachers to speak out on the moral dimensions of public life.

Catholics are called to be a community of conscience within the larger society and to test public life by the moral wisdom anchored in Scripture and consistent with the best of our nation's founding ideals. Our moral framework does not easily fit the categories of right or left, Democrat or Republican. Our responsibility is to measure every party and platform by how its agenda touches human life and dignity.

In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process is a moral obligation. Every believer is called to faithful citizenship, to become an informed, active and responsible participant in the political process.

Challenges to believers

Our nation has been blessed with great freedom, vibrant democratic traditions, unprecedented economic strengths, abundant natural resources and a generous and religious people. Yet not all is right with our nation. Our prosperity does not reach far enough. Our culture does not lift us up; instead it may bring us down in moral terms. Signs of the challenges surround us: abortion, poverty (especially among youth), violence, scandal, intense partisanship. All of these things destroy the lives and dignity of countless thousands.

This new millennium requires a new kind of politics, focused more on moral principles than on the latest polls, more on the needs of the poor and vulnerable than the contributions of the rich and powerful, more on the pursuit of the common good than the demands of special interests. As Catholics and as voters, this is not an easy time for faithful citizenship. Faithful citizens not only consistently participate in public life; they are disciples who view these responsibilities through the eyes
of faith and bring their moral convictions to their civic life.

Sometimes it seems few candidates and no party fully reflect our values. But now is not a time for retreat. The new millennium should be an opportunity for renewed participation. We must challenge all parties and every candidate to defend human life and dignity, to pursue greater justice and peace, to uphold family life and to advance the common
good.

What Catholics offer

Catholic teaching offers a consistent set of moral principles for assessing issues, platforms and campaigns. Because of our faith in Jesus Christ, we start with the dignity of the human person. Our teaching calls us to protect human life from conception to natural death, to defend the poor and vulnerable, and to work toward a more just society and a more
peaceful world. No polls or focus groups can release us from the responsibility to speak up for the voiceless, to act in accord with our moral convictions.

The Catholic community also offers its own firsthand experience. Through our many Catholic institutions we have broad experience serving those in need. We know the needs of the poor.

Finally, the Catholic community is large and diverse. We are Republicans, Democrats and Independents. We are members of every race, come from every ethnic background and live in urban, rural and suburban communities. We are CEO's and migrant farm workers, senators and persons on public assistance, business owners and union members. But we are all called to a common commitment to protect human life and stand with those who are poor and vulnerable.

Thus, we bishops wish to suggest some issues which we believe are important in the national debate.

Protecting human life

Human life is a gift from God, sacred and inviolable. This is the teaching that calls us to protect and respect every human life from conception until natural death. We urge Catholics and others to promote laws and social policies that protect human life and promote human dignity to the maximum degree possible. Laws that legitimize abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia are profoundly unjust and wrong.

We support constitutional protection for unborn human life, as well as legislative efforts to oppose abortion and euthanasia. We encourage the passage of laws and programs that promote childbirth and adoption over abortion and assist pregnant women and children. We support aid to those who are sick and dying by encouraging effective palliative care. We call on government and medical researchers to base their decisions regarding biotechnology and human experimentation on respect for the inherent dignity and inviolability of human life from its very beginning.

The Church has always sought to have conflicts resolved by peaceful means between and among nations. Church teaching calls on us to avoid and to limit the effects of war in many different ways. Thus, direct and intentional attacks on civilians in war are never morally acceptable, nor is the use of weapons of mass destruction or other weapons that cannot distinguish between civilians and soldiers.

War, genocide and starvation threaten the lives of millions throughout the world. We support programs and policies that promote peace and sustainable development for the world's poor. We urge our nation to join the treaty to ban anti-personnel land mines and to promptly ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty as a step toward much deeper cuts
in and the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. We further urge our nation to take more serious steps to reduce its own disproportionate role in the scandalous global trade in arms.

Society has a right and duty to defend itself against violent crime and a duty to reach out to victims of crime. Yet our nation's increasing reliance on the death penalty is extremely troubling. It has become clear, as Pope John Paul II has taught, that inflicting the penalty of death is cruel and unnecessary.

Promoting family life

We must strive to make the needs and concerns of families a central national priority. Marriage as God intended it provides the basic foundation for family life and needs to be protected in the face of the many pressures working to undermine it. Tax, workplace, divorce and welfare policies must be designed to help families stay together and to
reward responsibility and sacrifice for children. Just wages should be paid to those who support their families. Special efforts should be taken to aid poor families.

The education of children is a fundamental parental responsibility. All parents—the first, most important educators—should have the opportunity to exercise their fundamental right to choose the education best suited to the needs of their children, including private and religious schools.

Communications, whether print media, radio, television or Internet, play a growing role in society and family life, shaping the values of our culture. We support regulation that limits the concentration of control over these media; disallows quick sales of media outlets that attract irresponsible owners seeking a quick profit; and opens these outlets to a greater variety of program sources, including religious programming. We support the development of the TV rating system and of the
technology that assists parents' TV supervision.

The Internet, since it offers vastly expanded capabilities for learning and communicating, should be available to all students regardless of income. Because it poses a serious danger by giving easy access to pornographic and violent material, we support vigorous enforcement of existing obscenity and child pornography laws with regard to material on the Internet, as well as efforts by the industry to develop technology that assists parents, schools and libraries in blocking out unwanted material.

Pursuing social justice

In accordance with God's plan for human society, we are called to commit ourselves to protect and promote the life and dignity of the human person and the common good of society as a whole. We must always remember God's special concern for the poor and vulnerable and make their needs our first priority in public life. We are concerned about
a wide range of social issues:

Economic issues. Church teaching on economic justice insists that economic decisions and institutions be judged on whether they protect or undermine the dignity of the human person. We support policies that create jobs with adequate pay and decent working conditions, increase the minimum wage so it becomes a living wage and overcome barriers
to equal pay and employment for women and minorities.

Labor. We reaffirm the Church's traditional teaching in support of the right of all workers to choose to organize and bargain collectively and to exercise these rights without reprisal. We also affirm Church teaching on the importance of economic freedom, initiative and the right to private property, which provide resources to pursue the common good.

Poverty. Efforts to provide for the basic financial needs of poor families and children must enhance their lives and dignity. The goal should be reducing poverty and dependency, not simply cutting resources and programs. We seek approaches that promote greater responsibility and offer concrete steps to help families leave poverty behind.

Social Security. We are also concerned about the income security of low- and average-wage workers and their families, when they retire, become disabled or die. In many cases, women are particularly disadvantaged. Any proposal to change Social Security must provide a decent and reliable income for these workers and those who depend on them.

Health care. Affordable and accessible health care is an essential safeguard of human life and a fundamental human right. We support health care that is affordable and accessible to all.

Housing. The lack of safe, affordable housing is a national crisis. We support a recommitment to the national pledge of "safe and affordable housing" for all and effective policies that will increase the supply of quality housing and preserve, maintain and improve existing housing.

Farm policy. The first priority for agriculture policy should be food security for all. Food is not like any other commodity: It is necessary for life itself. Our support for food stamps, the Women, Infant and Children program (WIC) and other programs that directly benefit poor and low-income people is based on our belief that no one should face hunger in a land of plenty. Farmers deserve a decent return for their labor. Our priority concern for the poor calls us to advocate especially for the needs of farm workers whose pay is often inadequate and whose housing and working conditions are often deplorable. We also urge that public policies support the practice of sustainable agriculture and careful stewardship of the earth and its natural resources.

Environment. Care for the earth and for the environment is a "moral challenge" in the words of Pope John Paul II (1990 World Day of Peace Message). We support policies that protect the land, water and air we share, and encourage environmental protection, sustainable development and greater justice in sharing the burdens of environmental neglect and recovery.

Immigration. The gospel mandate to love our neighbor and welcome the stranger leads the Church to care for immigrants, both documented and undocumented.

Violence. This concern leads us to promote a greater sense of moral responsibility, to advocate a reduction in violence in the media, to support gun safety measures and reasonable restrictions on access to assault weapons and handguns and to oppose the death penalty.

Discrimination. Our society must also combat discrimination based on sex, race, ethnicity or age. Such discrimination constitutes a grave injustice and an affront to human dignity. We support judiciously administered affirmative-action programs as tools to overcome discrimination and its continuing effects.

Practicing global solidarity

Since the human family extends across the globe, our responsibility to promote the common good requires that we do whatever we can to address human problems wherever they arise around the world. As a very wealthy and powerful nation, the United States has a responsibility to help the poor and vulnerable, promote global economic prosperity and environmental responsibility, foster stable and peaceful relations among nations and uphold human rights in the world community.

We urge the United States to provide debt relief to overcome poverty in the poorest countries, which are shackled by a debt burden that forces them to divert scarce resources from health, education and other essential services.

We should play a leading role in helping to alleviate global poverty through foreign aid programs that support sustainable development and provide new economic opportunities for the poor without promoting population control and through trade policies that are tied to worker protection, human rights and environmental concerns.

More concerted efforts to ensure the promotion of religious liberty and other basic human rights need to be an integral part of U.S. foreign policy. We also need more consistent support for the United Nations, other international bodies and international law.

Persons fleeing persecution should be provided safe haven in other countries, including the United States. We urge a more generous immigration and refugee policy based on providing temporary or permanent safe haven for those in need.

The U.S. should take an affirmative role, in collaboration with the international community, in addressing regional conflicts. Assistance in resolving these conflicts must include a willingness to support international peacekeeping, as well as long-term post-conflict reconstruction efforts.

Recommitting ourselves

Building peace, combating poverty and despair and protecting freedom and human rights are not only moral imperatives; they are wise national priorities. Given its enormous power and influence in world affairs, the United States has a special responsibility to ensure that it is a force for justice and peace beyond its borders. "Liberty and justice for all" is not only a profound national pledge; it is a worthy goal for any world leader.

We hope these reflections will contribute to a renewed political vitality in our land. We urge all citizens to register, vote and stay involved in public life, seeking the common good and renewing our democracy.

As Catholics, we can celebrate the new millennium by recommitting ourselves to carry the values of the gospel and Church teaching into the public square. As citizens, we can and must participate in the debates and choices over the values, vision and leaders that are taking our nation into the new century. This dual calling of faith and citizenship is at the heart of what it means to be a Catholic in the United States.

This condensation of Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New
Millennium (1999 by U.S. Catholic Conference) is not intended to substitute for the
entire document, but to show highlights. The entire pastoral can be read on the
Internet at www.nccbuscc.org, or ordered in print by calling 1-800-735-USCC. All
rights reserved.
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Holy Year Indulgencelink.jpg (563 bytes)

Q: During the Holy Year, why can a person receive an indulgence only for visiting some special place like a cathedral?

A: There is a Holy Year indulgence which can be gained by visiting special churches. Most dioceses or archdioceses have designated several. It is possible, however, to gain an indulgence by visiting other churches. 

Some historical background is needed to understand the Holy Year custom of visiting special churches. 

The Roman Catholic teaching on indulgences expanded after the Crusades began in 1095 A.D. At that time, only three shrines could be visited any day of the year to obtain a plenary indulgence: the Holy Sepulcher (Jerusalem), St. Peter’s Basilica (Rome) and Santiago de Compostela (northwest Spain). 

Francis of Assisi asked for the same privilege for the Portiuncula, a tiny chapel he had rebuilt outside Assisi. Pope Honorius III agreed but restricted the indulgence to the anniversary of the chapel’s dedication (August 2). That indulgence now includes all churches. 

As part of the Holy Year celebration, Pope John Paul II has asked bishops to designate several local churches as pilgrimage sites for people unable to travel to Rome or to the Holy Land. 

A person who visits any church any day of the year and prays before the Blessed Sacrament for half an hour can gain a plenary indulgence, according to the 1986 Handbook of Indulgences (Grant #3). 

The person must pray the Our Father and the Creed and go to confession and Communion several days before or after praying before the Blessed Sacrament. The person must also pray for the pope’s intentions. 

Other actions which can lead to a plenary indulgence include making a three-day retreat, making the Stations of the Cross, reciting the rosary in church or with one’s family, attending a parish mission or reading the Bible for half an hour. 
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Why Sunday and Not Saturday?

Q: What is the basis for the Catholic Church changing the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday? I need one that is biblically based.

A: Our Christian faith is based on the Lord’s resurrection from the dead, which happened on Easter Sunday. Jews celebrated Saturday as the Lord’s Day. Except for Seventh-Day Adventists, most Christians have judged it best to observe the Lord’s Day on Sunday. 

Two quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church may help explain the reason for this change. “Jesus rose from the dead ‘on the first day of the week.’ Because it is the ‘first day,’ the day of Christ’s Resurrection recalls the first creation. Because it is the ‘eighth day’ following the sabbath, it symbolizes the new creation ushered in by Christ’s Resurrection” (#2174). 

“Sunday is expressly distinguished from the sabbath which it follows chronologically every week; for Christians its ceremonial observance replaces that of the sabbath. In Christ’s Passover, Sunday fulfills the spiritual truth of the Jewish sabbath and announces man’s eternal rest in God” (#2175). 

Aren’t these reasons biblically based? The resurrection of Jesus is the key event of the New Testament. St. Paul writes in First Corinthians: “And if Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, your faith” (15:14). 

Calendars in some European and Asian countries indicate Monday as the first day of the week and Sunday as the seventh day. I once found that out by assuming Day 1 on a German train schedule meant Sunday when it really meant Monday! Many U.S. plane schedules indicate Monday as Day 1. 

Our Catholic UpdateSunday Mass: Easter All Year Long” (C0399) is a shortened version of Pope John Paul II’s 1998 apostolic letter Day of the Lord [Dies Domini] about celebrating Sunday. 

The pope says that the Christian Sunday leads “the faithful each week to ponder and live the event of Easter, true source of the world’s salvation.” 
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Bishops Issue Plea Against Capital Punishment

0'Donnell joins US bishops in cause

LAFAYETTE - Bishop Edward O'Donnell, of Lafayette, is one of the U.S. Catholic bishops who signed a statement issued on Good Friday urging an end to capital punishment."I wish the people of the Diocese of Lafayette to be informed, that as a member of the Administrative Board of the U.S. Catholic Conference, I join with my brother bishops in issuing a statement concerning capital punishment," Bishop O'Donnell said.The statement reflects the most recent thought of the Church as embodied by Pope John Paul II," the bishop continued. "I am proud of the Bishops' conference for taking what is a prophetic and probably not unanimously accepted proposition and at least calling it to the attention of the people."So, even if they do not agree with it, they will give it some thought and some prayer with the idea of hearing the voice of Christ calling through his Church," Bishop O'Donnell emphasized.
    In the news release from the Catholic News Service announcing the statement, the bishops urged an end to capital punishment, asking Catholics and all people of good will to preach, teach, pray and serve as witnesses against the 'tragic illusion' of the death penalty".  On this Good Friday a day when we recall our Savior's own execution, we appeal to all people of good will and especially Catholics to work to end the death penalty" the statement said, noting that the church's teaching on the subject has evolved.  "It refers to Pope John Paul II's request to governments to stop using capital punishment in his 1995 encyclical, 'Evangelium Vitae' (Gospel of Life) and his observations in St. Louis in January that instances where the death penalty is necessary to protect society are "very rare, if not practically nonexistent."and horror at so many innocent lives lost through. Criminal violence.
    We hope that they will come to see as we have, that more violence is not the answer."The statement goes on to observe that more Catholics are at the forefront of efforts to end capital' punishment through lobbying, prayerful witness at execution sites and education. The statement also encouraged Catholics to support crime victims and their families, through compassionate response to their pain and anger and by standing with them, "as they struggle to overcome their terrible loss and find some sense of peace."The statement concludes by asking pastors to preach and teach about respect for all life and about the need to end the death penalty"
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VATICAN LETTER Mar-10-2000 (900 words) Backgrounder. xxxi
Mea culpa, tua culpa: Vatican hopes others inspired by apologies
By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When it comes to saying, ``We're sorry,'' Pope John Paul II has always been ahead of the
curve.

Well before the church prepared its ``Forgiveness Day'' jubilee liturgy in March, the pope had publicly apologized for the
shortcomings of Christians through the ages, on topics ranging from slavery to the Inquisition.

On more than 100 separate occasions during his 21-year pontificate, the pope has asked forgiveness from groups, including
indigenous peoples, other Christian churches and women.

These expressions of regret have always been unconditional. At the same time, some church officials wouldn't mind hearing
some apologies in return.

``The church's `mea culpa' is absolute. It isn't asking for an exchange. But it seems to me that it also serves as a challenge to
others ... to make a similar examination of conscience,'' said Franco Cardini, an Italian church historian.

Even the pope has wondered why the church's soul-searching has not prompted others to do the same.

``What is interesting is that it is always the Catholic Church and the pope who ask forgiveness. Meanwhile, others remain
silent. But maybe that is the way it should be,'' he said in late 1997.

The pope was set to formally proclaim the church's responsibility for past wrongs in a Mass March 12, following publication
of a 19,000-word theological reflection on the same topic, ``Memory and Reconciliation.''

The media has focused on whether the pope was being specific enough in his apology. But a look at what the pope has
already said reveals plenty of specifics:

-- On the Inquisition, the pope in 1982 referred to its ``errors of excess,'' and on several occasions since then he has
condemned the Inquisition's use of ``intolerance and even violence in the service of truth.''

-- On the Holocaust, in 1997 the pope expressed regret that Christians' consciences were lulled under Nazism and that
Christians showed inadequate ``spiritual resistance'' to Nazi persecution of the Jews. In 1998 a Vatican document on the
Shoah, the Hebrew word for the Holocaust, expressed repentance for the same moral shortcomings.

-- On the Crusades, the pope in 1995 characterized these armed Christian expeditions as mistakes. He praised the zeal of
medieval Crusaders, but said today we should ``give thanks to God'' that dialogue, not recourse to weapons, was
recognized as the right way.

-- On native peoples, the pope in 1985 asked forgiveness from Africans for the way they were treated in recent centuries.
In North America in 1984 he apologized for the ``blunders'' of missionaries and in 1987 acknowledged that Christians were
among those who carried out the cultural oppression of native peoples and the destruction of their way of life.

-- On ecumenism, the pope has several times called for mutual forgiveness among separated Christian churches. In 1995, he
bluntly asked ``forgiveness, on behalf of all Catholics, for the wrongs caused to non-Catholics in the course of history.''

-- On women, in a 1995 letter that examined in brief the historical discrimination against women, the pope said that if ``not
just a few'' members of the church were to blame, ``for this I am truly sorry.''

The pope has made similar pronouncements on the church's past actions regarding slavery and racism, acquiescence to
political dictatorship, and scientific theories like those of Galileo, who was condemned for saying Earth revolved around the
sun.

With all this and more on the record from Pope John Paul, some church leaders are looking for company -- in a sense,
hoping that the request for forgiveness becomes ``contagious,'' in the words of Father Bruno Forte, a theologian who helped
guide the preparation of the document on ``Memory and Reconciliation.''

The document briefly touched a nerve when it observed that the recognition of faults has been ``for the most part one-sided''
so far.

Historian Cardini said it would be refreshing, for example, to hear expressions of regret from the Queen of England for past
treatment of Catholics in her country, not to mention the persecutions against church leaders carried out in various
revolutions -- in France, Spain and Mexico, for example.

``An examination of conscience -- or to use a less `Catholic' term, a historical reflection -- could be carried out by
Protestant churches on their own conduct toward Catholics, or by (Russian) Orthodox leaders who have in the past
supported repressive actions of the Tsarist government,'' Cardini said.

``Perhaps Muslims should also make this kind of reflection for the various jihads (holy wars) proclaimed in the past,'' he
said. As for the present, China could start working on its apology now for the current treatment of the Catholic Church, he
added.

Various local Catholic episcopates have followed the pope's lead on ``mea culpas'' and have stated apologies even more
forcefully. A few years ago, French bishops apologized for the acquiescence by some church leaders to Nazi policies. More
recently, Australia's bishops issued an apology to aborigines and victims of sex abuse by priests.

Outside the Catholic Church, a rather lone voice of apology was raised in February by Romanian Orthodox Patriarch
Teoctist, who asked forgiveness for the concessions the church made under communism in order to survive.

Patriarch Teoctist didn't try to shun responsibility; he said his own personal decisions had ``made a great number of the
faithful suffer.''

The patriarch's gesture did not go unnoticed at the Vatican, which would love to hear more of the same from other quarters.
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