WASHINGTON (CNS) --- A three-year study of U.S. women religious called for by the Vatican has been completed with the final comprehensive report recently sent to Rome. No details of the findings in what the church calls an apostolic visitation were released by Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the apostolic visitator appointed by the Vatican to undertake the study. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, confirmed Jan. 10 that reports had been received by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life "and is now studying them. At this time, it is premature to expect comments from the congregation," he said. The Vatican spokesman said the congregation is expected "to make known its evaluation of the results of the visit" at some future date. The apostolic visitation office in Hamden, Conn., did not respond to several requests for an interview. In a Jan. 9 press release, the visitation office said a comprehensive report was sent to Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, the congregation's secretary. In addition, the release said, Mother Clare had submitted most of the reports on each of the nearly 400 religious congregations in the U.S. and continues to work on completing them by spring, the release said. Mother Clare said in the release that the visitation "generated widespread interest."
Decision on tax ruling finalized in favor of San Francisco Archdiocese
SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) --- A Superior Court judge made final his earlier tentative decision to throw out a multimillion-dollar "delinquent" tax bill imposed on the Archdiocese of San Francisco by the San Francisco assessor-recorder. Judge Richard A. Kramer Jan. 9 confirmed a 43-page "Tentative Statement of Decision" he issued in favor of the archdiocese Nov. 18. For more than three years, the archdiocese fought an attempt by Phil Ting, head of the Office of the Assessor-Recorder, to impose transfer taxes totaling more than $20 million on more than 200 parish and school properties involved in an internal reorganization by the archdiocese. The archdiocese maintained that the effort came despite the fact that the city's "documentary transfer tax" ordinance, as it is called, applies only to property "sold" in San Francisco and specifically exempts internal reorganizations of this kind. The church also countered that state and federal law have long recognized that intra-church reorganizations are not transfers and are not subject to such taxes. "This has been a very frustrating experience," said Jack Hammel, general counsel for the archdiocese. He said Ting's and his chief assistant's refusal "to recognize well-established law on this subject" and the "repeated delaying tactics" church officials encountered for three and a half years have "caused a considerable disruption to the charitable activities of the archdiocese."
Philly school mergers, closures signal new model of Catholic education
PHILADELPHIA (CNS) --- Jan. 6, traditionally celebrated as Epiphany, represented a true epiphany for thousands of Catholic school parents and students in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. On that day, the Blue Ribbon Commission formed by Cardinal Justin Rigali a year earlier, formally presented its final report to his successor, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput. While the scope of its recommendations were not unexpected, it was nevertheless stunning. If the recommendations are fully implemented, 45 of the 156 mostly parish-based elementary schools will cease to exist at the end of the present school year as will four of 17 archdiocesan high schools. In the case of the high schools --- West Catholic, Monsignor Bonner-Archbishop Prendergast, St. Hubert and Conwell-Egan --- it is an outright closing, with the students free to choose any other existing high school. Technically the elementary schools are not closing. They are combining with one or more other schools at another location to form an entirely new school, but in the minds and hearts of the parents and students involved, their school is closing. The report recommendations were first explained by Blue Ribbon Commission members to pastors, principals and directors of religious education at a morning gathering at Neumann University in Aston. It was repeated in a shortened version in the afternoon at a packed news conference at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center. In a letter sent to all parents and guardians, Archbishop Chaput wrote of the trends that are impacting Catholic education in the archdiocese --- declining baptisms, an increase in charter schools and the rising cost of education, which have resulted in higher tuition costs for parents and heavy operating deficits for schools. Because of this, many of the affected schools were forced to eliminate such programs as art, music, foreign language, library, physical education and technology, among others. At the news conference, Archbishop Chaput commended the 16-member Blue Ribbon Commission for its work, and said, "I hope the people in the archdiocese join me in thanking them because we owe them a debt of gratitude."
In speech to diplomats, pope condemns 'religiously motivated terrorism'
VATICAN CITY (CNS) --- Pope Benedict XVI condemned "religiously motivated terrorism" and restrictions on religious freedom during his annual address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican. Looking both at signs of promise and areas of concern around the globe, the pope said human dignity, truth and justice demand governments safeguard all human life and recognize the importance of the traditional family based on the marriage of a man and a woman. But his strongest words Jan. 9 were reserved for the topic of religious freedom and religiously motivated violence. The pope paid tribute to Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic and government minister for minorities in Pakistan, "whose untiring battle for the rights of minorities ended in his tragic death" when he was murdered last March. "Sadly, we are not speaking of an isolated case," the pope told the diplomats gathered in a formal, frescoed hall of the Apostolic Palace. "In many countries, Christians are deprived of fundamental rights and sidelined from public life; in other countries they endure violent attacks against their churches and homes," he said, mentioning particularly the Christmas Day attacks against churches in Nigeria. "In other parts of the world," he said, "we see policies aimed at marginalizing the role of religion in the life of society, as if it were a cause of intolerance rather than a valued contribution to education in respect for human dignity, justice and peace."
French president praises Joan of Arc for forging 'national conscience'
DOMREMY, France (CNS) --- French President Nicolas Sarkozy praised his country's patron, St. Joan of Arc, for helping "forge the national conscience. For the church, Joan is a saint. For the republic, she's the incarnation of the finest French virtues, including a patriotism that consists of loving one's homeland without resenting others," the president said Jan. 6 after attending Mass at Domremy to mark the 600th anniversary of her birth. Celebrations throughout the year will include Masses, conferences and theater productions, as well as a national pilgrimage in February. In May, Paris Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, president of the French bishops' conference, will celebrate a jubilee Mass in Domremy. St. Joan, a 19-year-old peasant girl, was burned at the stake in Rouen in 1431 after rallying a French army against English invaders and lifting the siege of Orleans. The national heroine, who was canonized in 1920, is widely credited with altering the course of the 1337-1453 Hundred Years War and strengthening French nationhood. In a speech at Vaucouleurs, Sarkozy said St. Joan had generated "sarcasm from those for whom courage could only be masculine" and skepticism about the voices she claimed to have heard, calling on her to save the country. "But Joan was really the face of the first French resistance in an era when the national conscience was being forged amid the most terrible ordeals," the president said.