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Privacy concerns grow as more websites monitor Americans' online lives

WASHINGTON -- In the space of one month, the conversation about life online swiveled from "stop online piracy" to "stop online privacy."

In January, many of the top online websites banded together to fight a bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act. Some even intentionally went dark for a day, strongly hinting to Web users that the online future could be similarly bleak. Key members of the House, including some of the bill's sponsors, got the message loud and clear and shelved the bill without bringing it to a vote.

County coroner: Cardinal Bevilacqua died of natural causes

PHILADELPHIA -- Suspicion surrounding the death of Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, former archbishop of Philadelphia, has been laid to rest with a Thursday coroner's report that he died of natural causes Jan. 31 at St. Charles Seminary in Wynnewood.

"Elderly people with pre-existent natural disease often die quite suddenly," Montgomery County Coroner Walter I. Hofman said Thursday at news conference at his office in Norristown.

Bevilacqua, 88, had been living at the seminary since his retirement in 2003.

Hofman said the cardinal had received excellent care for prostate cancer and dementia, and toxicology tests revealed normal levels of medications to treat the conditions.

He added that cancer had contributed to heart failure, which was the official cause of death.

"The coroner confirmed that Cardinal Bevilacqua was ailing, taking multiple prescription medications, and he died of natural causes," said Donna Farrell, archdiocesan communications director, who spoke Thursday at a press briefing at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Philadelphia. "It is what we believed and knew in our hearts all along, and this speculation can finally be laid to rest."

Maryknoll votes on Bourgeois' dismissal from order

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The leadership of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers has voted on whether they will dismiss from the order Fr. Roy Bourgeois, a longtime peace activist who has come under scrutiny for his support of women's ordination.

While the outcome and timing of the vote is unclear, the order's communications manager confirmed with NCR on Wednesday it had taken place.

After losing school job, gay teacher loses church job

FLORISSANT, Mo. -- A Catholic school music teacher who was fired after church officials learned he planned to marry his male partner has been fired from his other job as a music director at a suburban Catholic church.

Al Fischer, 46, was told by a priest at St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Catholic Church in Florissant that he could no longer work as one of the parish's part-time music directors, a paid position he's held for several years, according to Fischer's partner, Charlie Robin.

The reason given by the priest, according to Robin, was that Fischer's firing and pending marriage had become "too public of an issue." The pastor at St. Rose could not be reached for comment.

Fischer declined to comment, and a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of St. Louis said in an email that Fischer "was relieved of his duties [at St. Rose] when he publicly demonstrated a life inconsistent with Catholic teaching."

Priest who inspired Cesar Chavez dies at age 88

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Fr. Donald McDonnell, who introduced the young Cesar Chavez to social justice and the principles of nonviolence, died Feb. 20 in California at the age of 88. Representatives of the United Farm Workers, which Chavez founded more than a decade after meeting McDonnell, were among the mourners at the priest's Feb. 25 funeral at Saint Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco.

The two men became close friends in the early 1950s, when Father McDonnell came to the impoverished east San Jose barrio of Sal Si Puedes ("Get Out If You Can") to establish a ministry among the Hispanic population. Chavez and his wife were among the priest's first parishioners of what would later become Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in San Jose. Chavez drove the priest to farm worker camps to say Mass and accompanied him to local prisons.

"Cesar Chavez tried to live the gospels and the social teachings of his Catholic faith every day, but his career dedicated to service to others all began with the lessons he learned early in life from Father McDonnell," said Arturo Rodriguez, Chavez's successor as president of the United Farm Workers.

Longtime peace activist says her health is on the decline

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In an email to friends, longtime peace activist Sacred Heart Sr. Anne Montgomery said her physical health is deteriorating and that she would no longer be able to tolerate the chemotherapy treatments she has been receiving.

The chemo "seemed to be helping," Montgomery wrote in her email Friday, "but last weekend I had breathing problems and tests showed a lung full of fluid and that continuing any chemo, etc. would not help."

Montgomery, who has spent years in jail and prison for acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, mostly against nuclear weapons, joined Josephite Fr. Philip Berrigan, his brother, Jesuit Fr. Daniel Berrigan, and five others for the first Plowshares action Sept. 9, 1980, when the eight activists (the Plowshares 8) entered a General Electric weapons plant in King of Prussia, Pa., and used carpenter's hammers to disarm two nose cones on a Mark 12A nuclear warhead.

In 2011, Montgomery received a two-month federal prison sentence for her role with members of Disarm Now Plowshares, who entered a weapons facility in Washington state Nov. 2, 2009.

Communion denied, grieving deprived for woman spurned at funeral Mass

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COLUMN

"I'm her partner."

Those are the only words Fr. Marcel Guarnizo of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Md., needed to hear. Those are the only words he used to inform his conscience, to base his decision to deny Communion to a grieving woman at her mother's funeral.

By now, the story has been widely reported. Barbara Johnson, a Washington, D.C.-area Catholic, had come to St. John Neumann's on Saturday for the funeral Mass. After learning that morning that Johnson lived with her female partner of 20 years, Guarnizo put his hands over the communion platter and did not let Johnson partake.

But, in a compelling phone interview Wednesday, Johnson said the denial was just the climax of a series of unfortunate and uncompassionate events surrounding her mother's funeral.

In the weeks and months leading up to her mother's death, Johnson, who was raised Catholic and has attended and taught at Catholic schools, said she was virtually unaware of the fight for same-sex marriage in her home state of Maryland, which is set to legalize the practice this week following the state senate's Feb. 23 approval.

Ruling ordering removal of school's prayer banner won't be appealed

CRANSTON, R.I. -- A local school committee voted it won't appeal a federal court ruling that called for the permanent removal of a Cranston public high school's prayer banner that had been in place for almost 50 years.

After hearing three hours of passionate testimony Feb. 16, the Cranston School Committee voted 5-2 to not appeal because most members believed that the cost of additional legal expenses would hurt the school department budget.

The banner became the center of debate last April when the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit contending that it was a religious symbol displayed in a public school that violated the First Amendment rights of Jessica Ahlquist, a self-avowed atheist, who is now a junior at Cranston High School West.

More than 700 people attended the committee meeting, many of them wearing signs bearing the directive "Appeal," while others carried placards supporting their position. Before the meeting began, many supporters of the prayer banner sang "God Bless America," while during the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, a large number in the audience shouted "Under God."

Lifelong Catholic is first American to join Russian ballet company

HERNDON, Va. -- Keenan Kampa will make history this summer as the first American to join the prestigious Mariinsky Ballet Company based in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Being offered a position with Mariinsky, also known as the Kirov Ballet, is "such an absolute honor," Kampa said. "Even thinking about it, I get chills sometimes."

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