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Faith & Parish

In religious education, actions speak louder than words


Our family didn’t do the traditional First Friday Devotion when I was a kid. Instead we had First Wednesdays.

On the first Wednesday of every month, we loaded our car with donated hot dishes (Midwest-speak for casseroles), Jell-O salads and cakes, and headed to St. Ben’s, a parish in inner-city Milwaukee that operated a soup kitchen for the poor and homeless. What had started as a first Communion service project became a monthly ritual for our family, one my parents continue to this day.

As a kid, I didn’t mind the long drive, or serving the meals to the guests, or even eating hamburger-rice hot dish for dinner. But my parents insisted our family go and sit among the guests while we ate. That was pretty uncomfortable for a suburban girl who only saw African-American people at the mall.

But it’s also what I remember most.

Alumni defend paddling at Catholic school


NEW ORLEANS -- One by one, alumni of St. Augustine High School took the microphone Feb. 24, recalling one paddling at the hands of a St. Augustine teacher that turned them around and taught them a lesson.

The 60-year-old tradition of corporal punishment at St. Augustine—believed to be one of the few remaining Catholic schools in the country that still paddles—faces a potential end.

Alumni aimed their impassioned defense of corporal punishment at New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond, whose concern about the policy prompted the Josephite order that founded the school to suspend paddling for the current school year.

The priests overruled objections from the local board of directors that runs daily operations at St. Augustine, a historically black, all-boys school that has furnished generations of New Orleans political and business leaders.

Aymond told reporters he had listened carefully to the crowd, but reiterated his concern about injuries reported by parents, and his own unease. Yet plenty of people argue that the paddle had an undeniable role in lending St. Augustine its high reputation.

New auxiliary bishop for Pittsburgh


WASHINGTON -- Pope Benedict XVI has named Fr. William J. Waltersheid, secretary for clergy and consecrated life of the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., as auxiliary bishop of Pittsburgh.

The appointment was announced in Washington Feb. 25 by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

A native of Ashland, Pa., Bishop-designate Waltersheid, 54, has held his current post in the Harrisburg Diocese since 2006. He also has been a parochial vicar, a pastor and vice rector of the Pontifical North American College, 2000-2003, and before that the college's director of pastoral formation.

His episcopal ordination is scheduled for Easter Monday, April 25, at St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh.

Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh issued a statement of welcome for the new auxiliary for his diocese.

"These are days of growth in the church of Pittsburgh," he said.

While Bishop-designate Waltersheid " will be a particular blessing to the entire church of Pittsburgh, I am especially grateful for all that he will do to be of support to the very dedicated and hard working priests of this diocese and the growing number of seminarians," Bishop Zubik said.

Traditionalists add spice to the Catholic stew


If ever an object lesson were needed in the complexities of running the universal Catholic Church, a recent interview with Bishop Bernard Fellay, the Swiss head of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, offers it in living color. It may be an especially apposite read for liberals, both inside and outside the church, who sometimes struggle to grasp that there’s actually Catholic life to the right of the pope.

Granted, although its bishops are no longer excommunicated, the Society of St. Pius X -- which broke with Rome in 1988, when the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre ordained bishops in defiance of the pope -- has no formal standing in the church. Granted, too, we journalists probably pay more attention to the traditionalists than their real-world following might justify, largely because they often say and do inflammatory things that make great copy.

Even with those stipulations, the climate of opinion represented by the Society of St. Pius X nonetheless remains an important part of the broader Catholic conversation.

US Catholic parishes growing in size and diversity


WASHINGTON – In just 10 years U.S. Catholic parishes have become considerably bigger and more diverse, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate reported as part of a major new study on Catholic parish life.

In 2000, just one-quarter of the nation’s parishes had more than 1,200 registered households. By 2010 that had grown to one-third. At the lower end, parishes with fewer than 200 registered households dropped from one-fourth of the nation’s total in 2000 to barely more than one in seven a decade later (24 percent to 15 percent).

Catholic activists to Congress: Don't put deficit on backs of poor


WASHINGTON -- When 300 leaders in Catholic social ministry went to Capitol Hill Feb. 15, their basic message to Congress was simple and direct: It is just plain immoral to put the heaviest burden of U.S. deficit reduction on the backs of the poor.

And they had fact sheets to show that is exactly what legislators are currently proposing.

Vatican's justice and peace head meets with U.S. social action leaders


WASHINGTON – Addressing more than 300 U.S. Catholic social justice leaders, the Vatican’s Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson urged them to keep their focus on building a just society “at a time of great financial difficulty not only for the United States but for the world.”

In working for justice “we are the reflections of the living body of Christ,” he said.

Turkson, former archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana, and now president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, is in Washington for the 2011 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, which has drawn more than 300 participants from dioceses and other Catholic organizations across the country.

In his keynote address he focused on the 120th anniversary to the first papal social encyclical, Leo XIII’s 1891 letter Rerum Novarum, on the condition of labor, and the legacy of Catholic social teaching that has grown since then.

Catholic health care plan in Arizona under review


The Catholic hospitals in Arizona provide managed health care to qualified poor people under a state Medicaid program called the Mercy Care Plan -- a plan that is now under severe church scrutiny.

In December, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix challenged Mercy Care, saying that under it Catholic facilities are providing, or at least formally cooperating in providing, abortion and other family-planning services that are prohibited by the U.S. Catholic bishops’ “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Facilities.”

The directives are normative for Catholic health care in the United States.

Olmsted decreed that St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix can no longer call itself Catholic because in 2009 it performed an operation that he and his advisors consider a direct abortion and because he has judged that its involvement in the Mercy Care Plan over many years violates several of the bishops’ directives.

Higher education leaders commit to strengthening Catholic identity



WASHINGTON -- Affirming and strengthening Catholic identity was the central theme of the 2011 gathering of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, held here Jan. 29-31.

From convention addresses and NCR interviews with participants, it seemed evident that the gathered presidents and administrators, coming from most of the 230-some U.S. Catholic institutions of higher learning represented by the association, were not just committed to maintaining and strengthening their Catholic identity: They were enthusiastic about it and were finding more ways to do it successfully.


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