By Jerry Filteau, CNS | Published January 1, 2004
Here, month by month, are some of the highlights of religious news in 2003:
JANUARY: Pollster George H. Gallup finds record plunge in American religious attitudes and practices in 2002, blames Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal. Illinois Gov. George Ryan commutes death sentences of 167 inmates. Pope John Paul II, in annual address to diplomats, says war on Iraq must be “very last option.” News reports uncover Vatican instructions barring persons who obtain sex-change operations from ministry, religious life and marriage. U.S. churches are asked to hold special collections to meet African food crisis. Vatican says Catholic politicians must not back laws that attack life. Joint letter of U.S. and Mexican hierarchy urges immigration policy changes. Rejecting appeal of seven “ordained” women, Vatican reconfirms their excommunication. President Bush announces $15 billion initiative to fight AIDS around world. Religious opposition to Iraq war grows. San Francisco Auxiliary Bishop Ignatius Wang becomes U.S. church’s first Asian-American bishop.
FEBRUARY: Chorus of religious opposition to pending Iraq war mounts. Vatican steps up diplomatic campaign to stave off war and disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein peacefully. U.S. theologian Michael Novak stirs controversy with Rome trip to argue war on Iraq is justified as self-defense. Addressing U.S. social justice meeting, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa says “poverty and social injustice” are real weapons of mass destruction today. Pope says moral limits needed on biomedical research. Pope presses for proposed European constitution to cite continent’s Christian heritage. Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, pope’s foreign minister, says unilateral U.S. attack on Iraq without U.N. authorization would be a “crime against peace.” U.S. Supreme Court rejects use of racketeering law to prevent or punish abortion clinic protests. Vatican and Israel’s Chief Rabbinate Council hold five-day dialogue.
MARCH: Cardinal Pio Laghi as pope’s special envoy meets with Bush, tells media that Iraq war without U.N. authorization would be “immoral … illegal, unjust.” New Hampshire attorney general releases 9,000 pages of Catholic diocesan files showing dealings with priests accused of sexual abuse. Pontifical Academy for Life publishes ethics code for biomedical researchers. Catholic, other religious leaders launch campaign to highlight plight of 41 million uninsured Americans. Bush gives Saddam 48 hours to avert war. Vatican issues one-sentence comment: “Whoever decides that all the peaceful means made available under international law are exhausted assumes a grave responsibility before God, his conscience and history.” U.S.-led coalition begins war on Iraq. Cuban bishops protest arrests of dissidents. U.S. Christian scholars discuss possible role of pope in Christian unity. Pope warns world not to let war turn into “religious catastrophe.”
APRIL: Haitian bishops’ commission says recent spate of murders includes some by police. As Iraq war winds down, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, urges rebuilding U.N. role in international affairs as high priority for international community. About 300 people are killed in ethnic massacres in northeastern Congo. Pope John Paul issues encyclical on the Eucharist, calling it Christ’s greatest gift to the church. Rapid spread of SARS—severe acute respiratory syndrome—leads to canceled pilgrimages, changes in church practices in affected areas. South African bishops criticize court ruling extending parenting rights to same-sex couples.
MAY: Pope urges international consensus to regulate globalization. Pope, Colombian bishops condemn murder of 10 hostages by Colombian guerrillas. Vatican launches new program of faith-science dialogue at three pontifical universities in Rome. Pope visits Spain. Three priests are among dozens killed in new ethnic massacre in Congo. Rome conference studies Pope John Paul’s papacy as he nears 25 years in office; he says he tried to focus on human person and bringing Gospel message to everyone. Ugandan rebels kidnap 41 boys from minor seminary. Vatican condemns wave of Palestinian suicide attacks aimed at derailing new peace plan. Diocese of Manchester, N.H., settles 61 sex abuse cases for $6.5 million. Kentucky priest, Father Louis E. Miller, pleads guilty to 50 counts of child abuse, is sentenced to 20 years in prison. About 2,000 German Catholics, Protestants participate in unauthorized joint Communion service during yearly ecumenical gathering, leading to later suspension of two priests.
JUNE: Pope, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell meet to discuss Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In separate trips, pope visits Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., settles 243 sex abuse cases for $25.7 million. Canadian bishops criticize Ontario appeals court ruling that it is unconstitutional not to allow same-sex marriages. Frank Keating resigns as chairman of U.S. bishops’ National Review Board on sexual abuse shortly after controversial remark comparing some bishops to Mafia. Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien of Phoenix resigns after he is arrested on felony charges for fatal hit-and-run accident. Meeting in St. Louis, U.S. bishops vote to adopt new national directories for catechesis and deacon formation and ministry, discuss progress on sexual abuse response, analyze major issues confronting U.S. church in preparation for possible plenary church council. Dioceses across country begin participating in audits of their current clergy sex abuse responses and child protection programs and in separate detailed study of all clergy sexual abuse allegations since 1950. U.S. Supreme Court declares Texas law against sodomy unconstitutional. Controversy erupts over whether or not Mel Gibson’s not-yet-released movie on Christ’s passion and death is anti-Semitic. In apostolic exhortation on the church in Europe, pope urges Europe to remember Christian roots.
JULY: Bishop Sean P. O’Malley of Palm Beach, Fla., is named archbishop of Boston July 1 and is installed at the end of month. Pope urges peace in Liberia, Uganda. Israeli authorities demolish foundations of controversial, unauthorized mosque begun next to major Christian shrine. British bishop challenges government proposal to grant marriage rights to same-sex couples. Vatican cancels planned August visit of pope to Mongolia, homeland of 176 Catholics. Patriarch Raphael Bidawid, 81, head of the world’s Chaldean Catholics since 1989, dies after long illness. Four priests and a deacon reported arrested in China in apparent new crackdown on underground Catholic Church there. National evangelization conference is held in Oregon. Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua of Philadelphia retires; Archbishop Justin Rigali of St. Louis is named to succeed him. Massachusetts attorney general releases report on clergy sexual abuse of minors in Boston Archdiocese since 1940, says it shows “massive, inexcusable failure of leadership” by archdiocesan officials. Vatican document condemns legalization of same-sex unions, urges legislators to fight such proposals. Liberian church leader pleads for international intervention to halt chaotic violence. Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila alerts Philippine government to military mutiny, helps prevent coup.
AUGUST: “Brake the Cycle of Poverty” bicyclists end 61-day cross-country trip at Catholic Campaign for Human Development headquarters in Washington. Ontario bishops launch petition campaign to save traditional legal definition of marriage. U.S. Episcopal Church sparks division in Anglican Communion, ecumenical difficulties by confirming election of openly gay Canon V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. As docudrama “The Magdalene Sisters” is released; U.S. Mercy Sisters apologize for any role members of their order had in mistreating girls entrusted to them in Ireland’s Magdalene laundries. Citing priest shortage, group of Milwaukee priests asks bishops to start ordaining married men to priesthood. Ex-priest and notorious child molester John Geoghan is brutally murdered in prison. Florida bishops urge that Terri Schiavo, on feeding tube since 1990, be kept alive. Ending series of talks on Europe, pope entrusts continent to Mary’s protection. California Legislature passes domestic partners law giving same-sex partners many of the benefits and obligations of married couples.
SEPTEMBER: Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., head of bishops’ conference, reaffirms priestly celibacy in comments on Milwaukee priests’ petition. Teachers in Philadelphia’s 22 archdiocesan high schools strike at start of school year, reach contract Sept. 15. Head of Irish government commission assigned to investigate child abuse in church and state institutions resigns, citing lack of cooperation and other difficulties. Report by Ireland’s auditor general estimates compensation for abuse could cost government more than $1 billion. Vatican delegate to nuclear treaty conference urges ratification of total ban on nuclear testing. U.S. bishops’ Administrative Committee urges constitutional amendment to protect marriage. Boston Archdiocese agrees to $85 million settlement of more than 500 sex abuse claims. Pope visits Slovakia. Vatican official at United Nations urges total ban on cloning of human embryos, for reproduction or research. Leaked draft of Vatican liturgy document, said to discourage altar girls, causes stir. Some 900 people set out in buses for two-week Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride from Los Angeles to New York. Pope names 30 new cardinals, including Philadelphia’s Archbishop Rigali.
OCTOBER: Speculation on papal transition is fueled by comments of German and Austrian cardinals that pope’s health is bad. Congress passes Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Chicago Archdiocese pays $8 million for 15 sexual abuse claims. Pope, meeting Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, expresses concern about Anglican-Catholic relations. U.S. bishops’ quadrennial statement on political responsibility is issued. Boston’s Archbishop O’Malley warns against redefining marriage to include same-sex couples. Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., settles 40 sex abuse cases for $21 million. Rome celebrations mark 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s election. Pope issues apostolic exhortation on mission and identity of bishops. Pope beatifies Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Pope installs 30 new cardinals. Vatican approves new statutes for International Commission on English in the Liturgy, holds summit of heads of English-speaking bishops’ conferences to discuss liturgy. Florida Legislature and governor intervene to restore Schiavo’s feeding tube after its removal under court order. U.S. Catholic-Orthodox dialogue urges return to original formulation of Nicene Creed.
NOVEMBER: President Bush signs Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which is immediately challenged in court. U.S. Episcopal Church ordains first openly gay bishop, sparking “impaired communion” decisions in other parts of Anglican Communion and flurry of top-level Anglican-Catholic discussions. U.S. bishops, meeting in Washington, discuss war and peace issues, needs of church in Africa, developments in sexual abuse response and new developments in ecumenical relations. They adopt statements on food and agriculture issues, marriage and same-sex unions, devotions, stewardship for young adults. They adopt a conflict-of-interest policy, an updated responsible investment policy and revised rites for Sunday worship without a priest. Pope deplores several terrorist attacks but also criticizes Israeli security wall. Massachusetts high court orders state to give marriage rights to same-sex couples. Congress agrees to ban patenting or marketing of genetically engineered human embryos or fetuses. Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk pleads “no contest” to five counts of church failing to report sexual abuse to civil authorities in 1970s, 1980s. U.N. report says world’s hungry are rising by 5 million a year. Congress passes Medicare reform package; it gets mixed reviews from Catholic officials. Pope meets with Dalai Lama.
DECEMBER: Pope, other religious leaders mark World AIDS Day with calls for greater efforts to combat the disease. Vatican announces work of Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission will continue, although resignation of Anglican co-chairman could delay next meeting, but work of the churches’ joint unity and mission commission is put on hold over issues surrounding Episcopal Church’s gay bishop. Pope urges Catholics, Muslims to increase dialogue for peace. Chaldean Catholic bishops, in extraordinary synod at Vatican, end previous deadlock over new patriarch and elect Iraqi Archbishop Emmanuel-Karim Delly, a retired auxiliary of Baghdad, as their patriarch. Vatican officials, after private screening of Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” reject critics’ claims that it is anti-Semitic. Archbishop O’Malley announces he will sell archbishop’s mansion and half the 60-acre property to pay sexual abuse settlements. California Supreme Court hears arguments in Catholic Charities’ religious freedom appeal against state law requiring it to include contraceptives in its prescription drug benefits for employees; religious groups opposing similar law in New York plan to appeal lower-court ruling against them. Meeting with participants in world conference on food and agriculture, pope says ending hunger is part of peacemaking. U.S. bishops’ conference opposes federal proposal for over-the-counter emergency contraception. U.S. troops capture former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.