An idea whose time has come

Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes speaks at a news conference at the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo in 2006 after Pope Benedict XVI named him head of the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy. (CNS/Reuters)When Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes (left) recently launched a worldwide prayer campaign to seek spiritual reparation for priestly sexual abuse, it rang a bell.

A quick search of our files showed that Cardinal John P. Foley made a similar proposal back in 2002, when the accusations and revelations of abuse were building to a full-fledged scandal.

Here’s what we reported in a couple of stories at the time:

Archbishop John P. Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said the real tragedy of clerical sex abuse is not the embarrassment caused to the church, but the grave offense against God and children. Speaking in Philadelphia … he said he suggested to Pope John Paul that the church declare a period of prayer and reparation for the “tragic moral flaws” revealed in the lives of some priests. (Full story here.)

And:

“In this time of great tragedy for the church, I have suggested to the highest authority that the three days before Holy Thursday, which is the day on which we recall the institution of the priesthood, be dedicated to reparation and to prayer for the sanctification of priests,” he said. (Full story here.)

Archbishop Foley’s idea didn’t go anywhere at the time. Or at least it didn’t seem to — the path of Vatican initiatives is often circuitous and lengthy.

Today, nearly six years later, much has changed. The Vatican has had ample time to reflect on the damage caused by sex abuse. There is a new pope, of course, and more to the point there is a new head of the Congregation for Clergy in Cardinal Hummes.

His predecessor, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, will be remembered by many journalists for refusing to answer questions about sex abuse during a Vatican press conference in March 2002 — a week after Archbishop Foley made his proposal of churchwide prayer.

PHOTO: Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes speaks at a news conference at the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo in 2006 after Pope Benedict XVI named him head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy. (CNS/Reuters)

Let the sun shine

This photo montage provided by SolarWorld shows how solar panels will look on the roof of the Vatican's audience hall when installed in 2008. Some 2,000 panels were donated to the Vatican by SolarWorld, a German company. (CNS/SolarWorld)The German solar company SolarWorld gave Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican a brilliant gift for Christmas.

Thanks to the Bonn-based company’s generosity, a $1.5 million solar power system will be donated and installed for free on the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall this year — fulfilling Vatican engineer Pier Carlo Cuscianna’s dream of making the Vatican greener and going solar.

After writing the story, which you can read here, I was able to talk with the company’s CEO, Frank Asbeck.

He was very happy to be offering the Vatican this gift and told me about the time he met Pope John Paul II in Rome just a few years ago.

Asbeck said he was at one of the general audiences in “prima fila,” that is, the front row where attendees get to shake the pope’s hand as he goes down the line. When the pope got to him, Asbeck showed him a small solar panel and said “Look Holy Father at what we can do, making electricity from sunlight.”

Asbeck told me Pope John Paul looked at him with a smile and said “My son, God can do everything.” And then the pope asked that “God bless your activities.”

Asbeck said there is a commercial somewhere showing a nun wearing sunglasses saying solar energy “is power from the boss himself.” Solar energy, Asbeck said, is a free gift from God that belongs to everyone. And the German CEO is doing a lot to make sure the capability of capturing power from the sun is shared.

He established an “Ethics Council” at SolarWorld just last year. According to the SolarWorld Web site, the council’s mission “is to support not only the economic growth of the company but also the ecological and social dimensions of solar energy for a fair and sustainable worldwide development. “

Through their Solar2World project, the company gives solar technology for free to poor communities. In one case cited on its Web site, the company donated a photovoltaic system for an AIDS orphanage in Malawi in Africa. 

Asbeck told me a project is more likely to be a success when “a priest or good teacher takes responsibility” for the donated solar technology.

“People need a shepherd and if someone takes responsibility then the project is a success; people feel responsible,” he said, and it is less likely the solar-power system will be stolen, damaged or neglected.  

PHOTO: This photo montage provided by SolarWorld shows how solar panels will look on the roof of the Vatican’s audience hall when installed in 2008. Some 2,000 panels were donated to the Vatican by SolarWorld, a German company. (CNS/SolarWorld)

Milingo in Rome

Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo is seen at a press conference in Washington in 2006 following the Vatican's announcement of his automatic excommunication after he ordained four bishops without papal approval. (CNS/Paul Haring)Excommunicated Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo is coming to Rome this week for an unspecified period of time.

The married Zambian archbishop has continued to illicitly ordain married men as part of his Married Priests Now! campaign. The group was formed by the archbishop to promote a change in the celibacy requirement for Catholic priests in the Latin church.

Father Giuseppe Serrone, head of the Italian association of married priests — “Associazione Sacerdoti Sposati” — told the Italian news agency ANSA last Saturday that Archbishop Milingo was due to arrive in Rome this week.

He told CNS today that the archbishop would be part of some sort of media gathering or public event, but not until after Jan. 12. Keep tuned.

Though Pope Benedict XVI met with top Vatican officials in November 2006 to discuss the status of married priests and the case of the excommunicated archbishop, the pope and curial officials reaffirmed the value of priestly celibacy. 

PHOTO: Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo is seen at a press conference in Washington in 2006 following the Vatican’s announcement of his automatic excommunication after he ordained four bishops without papal approval. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Dispassionate debate at the Supreme Court

Police officers stand in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington Jan. 7 as justices inside took a look at whether lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. (CNS/Bob Roller)“Just the facts, ma’am,” Detective Jack Webb used to say on “Dragnet.”

That’s the safest approach to reporting on oral arguments before the Supreme Court. Leave the analysis to the pundits.

So it was with a fair amount of thought that I used the word “dispassionate” in a headline and news story from yesterday’s oral argument in Baze v. Rees, a case about the constitutionality of the lethal injection method used in 36 states.

Another observer might contend that the oral argument was full of passion, with repeated references to the “excruciating pain” experienced when the lethal injection procedure goes wrong at an execution.

Justice Antonin Scalia, always blunt, wondered where it’s written in the Constitution that an execution must be painless.

After all, he said, “it’s not surgery,” where the goal is for the patient to live. What difference does it make if an inmate dies painfully, as long as that wasn’t the intention of the executioners, he wondered.

That’s when the word “dispassionate” first occurred to me. Then there was the general disconnect in the courtroom.

What seemed obvious to me — it’s a human being’s life the justices were debating how to end — never seemed to be the point. Actually, the case could affect most of the 3,350 people currently on death row and others who will follow them there.

Granted, the legal issue before the court was about the procedures, not the morality of capital punishment. And the Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that they prefer to be concerned with only the narrowest interpretations of the Constitution necessary.

It’s a “just the facts, ma’am,” world they inhabit.

Even the attorney for Ralph Baze and Thomas Bowling, the two Kentucky inmates who are appealing the method of their planned executions, never said a word to connect those living, breathing, feeling men to the clinical system of killing being evaluated Indeed, the only mention of their names was in calling the title of the case.

It was a case argued on policies and process, statistical chances of error and how quickly the state can get back to the business of killing people without all the fuss over whether the procedure might be too cruel.

Ralph Baze and Thomas Bowling have accepted their convictions for their crimes. They’re prepared to spend their lives in prison, if their executions are set aside. Based upon the way the justices were talking, this case may not even answer the question they hoped would save them from execution.

It was striking that amid the legal debate about how to kill them, nobody thought it important to mention them.

PHOTO: Police officers stand in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington Jan. 7 as justices inside took a look at whether lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. (CNS/Bob Roller)

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