MARCH 8, 2004


Panel cites inadequate screening of seminarians

Should ‘zero tolerance’ remain?
Focus now on seminaries, gays and celibacy

Relief agencies ready
to aid Haitians

Unborn Victims of Violence Act moves to U.S. Senate
Ruling won’t impact
faith-based initiative

St. Mary’s scientist finds
new dinosaur species

St. Mary’s College honors educator in Philippines
African American Pastoral Center honors youth
JSTB receives $2 million for endowed scholarships

School of Pastoral Ministry graduates 34 lay ministers

St. Elizabeth School adds a chapel and science lab

Sesame Street puppeteer is Christopher Award honoree

St. Mary’s College prepares for deep cuts in Cal Grants
Catholic Charities offers
aid at Family Service Centers
Soldiers visit Union City school to say ‘thanks’
Bishops’ film office: ‘Passion’ film is brutal
CCISCO honors
teens for community service
• Burying statues
• Mel Gibson's 'The Passion'
• A life risked for freedom




Official newspaper of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California encompassing all of
Alameda &
Contra Costa counties.




Church laments court
ruling on birth control

By Voice staff
(Compiled from wire stories)

Catholic leaders have criticized a March 1 California Supreme Court decision requiring Catholic Charities to pay for birth control as part of its prescription drug plan for employees.

The state’s high court ruled 6-1 that Catholic Charities of Sacramento does not qualify for an exemption as a “religious employer” because it does not primarily employ or serve people who are of the Catholic faith and because it offers such secular services as counseling, low-income housing, and immigration services to the public without directly preaching about Catholic values.

Justice Joyce Werdegar, in writing for the majority opinion, noted that the charity employs workers of differing religions and serves people of all faith backgrounds. Because of these factors, the court ruled that Catholic Charities must abide by the state’s Women’s Contraceptive Equality Act.

Mark Chopco, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., said the decision “sets a very dangerous precedent for religion in general. Besides the immediate and practical implications for church institutions, the court has come forth with a “more dangerous doctrine that says the state can decide what is and what isn’t a religious institution.”

Carol Hogan, associate director for pastoral projects and communications for the California Catholic Conference in Sacramento, said the ruling “shows no respect to our religious organizations. It appears to cynically expect Catholic organizations to continue offering their employees prescription drug coverage even though the inclusion of contraceptives violates church teaching.”

Hogan told Associated Press reporter Paul Elias that the conference is concerned the ruling could open the door to mandated insurance coverage of abortion, to which the Catholic Church is outspokenly opposed. Chopco said he fears the ruling could affect hospitals, colleges and universities and social service agencies run by the Catholic Church and other faith groups.

Ned Dolejsi, director of the California Catholic Conference, called the ruling “a bitter disappointment. This case was never about contraceptives, nor about insurance. It was about our ability to practice our religion — providing food, clothing and shelter to the neediest among us – as an institution which is part of the Catholic Church.”

Catholic Charities of California took the case to the state Supreme Court to challenge a 1999 state law that requires all employers to include contraceptives when they provide insurance coverage for prescriptions.

Hogan said the law was drafted to cover 10 percent of workers statewide, many employed by Catholic institutions, for whom the cost of contraceptive prescriptions is equivalent to a year’s worth of trips to Starbucks for coffee. “Ninety percent compliance represents full compliance,” she said in a Catholic News Service story.

Catholic Charities USA also expressed disappointment. “We are dismayed by the court’s intrusion into the rights of a Catholic organization and find it disturbing that a court can define a Catholic Charities agency as not being a religious organization,” the Alexandria, Virginia-based organization told Adelle M. Banks, a reporter for Religion News Service.

Associate Justice Werdegar’s majority decision acknowledged Catholic Charities’ assertion that to offer insurance coverage for prescription contraceptives to its employees would be religiously unacceptable. She advised the agency “to avoid this conflict with its religious beliefs” by simply not offering coverage for prescription drugs.

Catholic Charities had previously argued that the church’s social justice teachings call for it to provide prescription insurance as a moral duty.

Lone dissenting Judge Janice Brown, who ruled in Catholic Charities’ favor, wrote that if “employers such as Catholic Charities are serious about opposing the mandate and drop all prescription coverage, women who work for those employers could actually be worse off…. It could put a financial health care burden on them.”

Brown criticized the court’s majority ruling “as a crabbed and constricted view of religion, which would define the ministry of Jesus Christ as a secular activity.”

Other groups hailed the ruling as an effort to give women access to contraception. “Hopefully this decision will bring proper scrutiny on Catholic health care facilities that seek to circumvent state laws and deny women access to health care that they are legally entitled to,” said Jon O’Brien, vice president of Catholics for a Free Choice.

The ACLU applauded the ruling and said the California case and the state’s narrowly defined exemption were closely watched nationwide as “a model accommodation between efforts to extend health care and claims of religious liberty.”

The ruling could prompt other states to fashion similar legislation, said lawyers with the ACLU, who filed briefs against the charity. Nineteen other states already have adopted similar laws, which supporters said are designed to erase gender discrimination because women historically pay more for birth control than men. The laws also are intended to help cut down on unplanned pregnancies, supporters said, according to the AP story.

Catholic Charities of Sacramento has 183 full-time employees and had a $76 million budget in California in 2002.

Number of abusive clergy: 4,392

By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — Catholic Church leaders said Feb. 27 that 4,392 priests have abused 10,667 minors in the past half-century, with at least $657 million paid in legal settlements and treatment costs.

The findings, by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, show that 4 percent of the 109,694 priests who served the church between 1950 and 2002 were credibly accused of abuse.

A third of all the abuse cases were reported to church officials after major media attention was given to the problem two years ago.

The highest spike of cases came between 1970 and 1980, with 10 percent of priests ordained in 1970 eventually accused of abuse. But, the report said, for the entire 52-year period, “the problem was indeed widespread and affected more than 95 percent of the dioceses and approximately 60 percent of religious communities.”

The report said it is “impossible to determine” if all victims have come forward with their claims.

“We know that a number of individuals delay their disclosure of sexual abuse and there’s a chance that (the numbers) could rise from the 1980s and ‘90s as time goes on,” said Karen Terry, the lead investigator from John Jay College.

The report does not include financial costs from 14 percent of the nation’s 195 dioceses, and much of the data does not include major financial settlements reached by various dioceses in 2003.

In addition to all diocesan priests, the study covers about 80 percent of priests in religious orders, such as the Jesuits and Franciscans, who make up one-third of all Catholic priests in the country. Twenty-two percent of all allegations involved religious order priests.

Among the report’s major findings:
• Sixty-seven percent of accused priests were church pastors, while fewer than 3 percent were deacons.
• Victims were overwhelmingly boys, most often (40 percent) between the ages of 11 and 14. Nineteen percent of victims were girls.
• Just more than half — 56 percent—of accused clergy molested one child, while 44 percent abused between two and 10 children.

About one-quarter of abuse claims involved a small number of serial predators who were accused of molesting more than 10 children. (In the Archdiocese of Boston, which released its own figures Feb. 26, serial predators were more common; more than half of the abuse allegations lodged by 815 victims were linked to just seven priests.)

• More than half (57 percent) of the alleged abuse occurred in a church or rectory. Ten percent occurred in schools.

• Victims were plied with alcohol or lured by money, pornography, overnight trips or sporting activities. Typical abuse included touching victims under their clothes, oral sex and mutual masturbation.

“Like in the general population, child sex abuse in the Catholic Church appears to be committed by men close to the children they allegedly abuse, many appear to use grooming tactics to entice children into complying with the abuse, and the abuse occurs in the home of the alleged abuser or victim,” the study said.

The report showed that the vast majority of cases were not investigated by either church or civil authorities. Only 14 percent of cases were investigated, only 5 percent of priests were criminally charged, and less than 3 percent spent time in prison.

Bob Bennett, a Washington attorney with the church’s National Review Board set up to deal with the abuse problem, said the plague of child abuse extends well beyond the granite walls and stained glass of the Catholic Church.

“There is absolutely no excuse for what occurred in the Catholic Church... but in America, nobody wants to talk about this problem, nobody wants to study this problem. ... This is a national health problem,” he said.

At a news conference announcing the report, Gerald Lynch, president of John Jay College, said the study was “accurate and comprehensive” regarding clergy sex abuse of children.

“This was not a sampling,” he said. “We had an entire population.”
The study noted that the most common action by church authorities to a substantiated allegation was to send the priest for medical evaluation or treatment.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Feb. 27 that about 700 priests and deacons have been removed in Catholic dioceses since January 2002.

Under the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” adopted in June 2002, the bishops committed to removing from public ministry any priest or deacon against whom credible accusations of sexual behavior with children are made.

Abuse victims say apologies
help healing

By Barbara Erickson
Associate editor

Women who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the former pastor of St. Bede Parish in Hayward returned to the church last week to receive direct apologies from Bishop Allen Vigneron during the third in a series of reconciliation services in the diocese.

In his homily during the March 1 service, Bishop Vigneron acknowledged each of four survivors by name and spoke of his sorrow for the abuse committed by Monsignor George Francis, pastor from 1955 to 1986. He also apologized to three of the women’s mothers, who had asked to be included in the service.

Carondelet Sister Barbara Flannery, chancellor and head of diocesan outreach to victims, said the service was the only one so far to name survivors publicly. At the previous ceremonies – St. Ignatius in Antioch and St. Philip Neri in Alameda – the survivors did not wish to be acknowledged.

Sister Flannery also named the victims, the mothers and Monsignor Francis in the prayers of the faithful. A fifth victim was present at St. Bede, Sister Flannery said, but preferred to remain anonymous.

Some 200 persons attended the service, where space was reserved in the front of the church for survivors and their families. All of the women had suffered abuse from Monsignor Francis when they were young girls.

Terrie Light, Northern California Director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said it was important to hear the bishop name Monsignor Francis and to acknowledge her by name. She was also glad that Bishop Vigneron and Sister Flannery both dropped the title from the former pastor’s name.

When the bishop named Monsignor Francis directly as the perpetrator of the crimes, Light said, “I just felt this huge surge of relief.” She also felt relieved and affirmed when parishioners and others approached her to praise her work on behalf of sex abuse survivors and acknowledge the struggle she faced to make her voice heard.

“I had felt like the Catholic community had shunned me for so long,” she said. She passed out leaflets at the parish in 1998, after Monsignor Francis died, and some parishioners accused her of lying.

To return to the site of her abuse was “a bit overwhelming,” Light said, but she knew it was important to attend the event, which SNAP had been urging the diocese to do for some time. Other survivors echoed her sentiments.

Maggie Austin, now of Sacramento, said she had also come because SNAP had requested the ceremony, but she herself had no emotional reaction. “I just don’t feel anything,” she said.

Her mother, Christie Robinson of Sacramento, said it was difficult to step into the church. “I still feel him around here,” she said with a shudder, but she appreciated the service. “I thought it was very sincere.”

Oakdale resident Jennifer Chapin, who recently won a $3 million settlement from the diocese in compensation for the abuse she suffered, said she had trouble concentrating on the service because it was difficult to come back to the site of her ordeal. But, she said, “It seems it went a little way” to help the process of healing.

Her mother, Marilyn Weise, also of Oakdale, said she was “antagonistic” at the beginning of the service, but she later felt that it “was very nice” and helped her deal with the pain.

Mary Catherine Byers Field, now living in San Leandro, found the service “surprisingly helpful.” She was also grateful for Bishop Vigneron’s letter inviting her to the event and apologizing for the abuse. To see the words in writing and to hear them in the homily gave her a boost, she said.

“It meant a lot to me to hear (Monsignor Francis’) name connected to him in his church,” she said. Her concern now, she said, is to ensure that it never happens again to any other young girl.

Other survivors of abuse also attended the ceremony. Among them was Sonia Todd, who was a child in El Salvador when she was molested. Todd played Andean pipes in honor of the victims before the service began.

Another was Carol Mateus of Belmont, who said her abuse took place in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. “I really liked Bishop Vigneron’s talk,” she said. “He seemed to be assuming responsibility and seemed genuinely sorry.” She hopes the archdiocese will also hold parish apology services.

Parishioners Ken and Linda Kline said the service helped heal the pain of betrayal. At first they hadn’t believed the charges against their longtime pastor, but eventually they became aware of the truth.

“The bishop’s words were very comforting,” Ken said. Linda added, “Now we need to experience the healing and move forward.”

The ceremony followed a pattern set for diocesan apology services this year and next, with readings from Isaiah and Matthew and the congregation and cantor singing “There is a Balm in Gilead” and “Christ Be Our Light.”

After the bishop’s homily, Sister Flannery read a series of intercessions as members of the congregation came forward to venerate a plain wooden cross, some of them visibly moved and in tears. Sister Flannery prayed for those who have been molested, for their families, for the parish community and for the gifts of courage and compassion to listen to the victims’ stories and bring the truth to light.

Terrie Light said that when she began telling her story of abuse, she felt “like no one knew what to say.” There were no prayers or rituals for dealing with the aftermath of abuse, nothing like funerals or prayers for the sick. Now, she said, there is a ritual that works.

“Here’s that public place where people can come up and express their sorrow and their sympathy,” she said. It also helped restore “the right order of things” that had been thrown into chaos with the abuse and the cover-up, Light said.

Hearing the passage from Isaiah, which describes the suffering servant, helped restore the right balance, she said. In the past she heard such words read by a priest who was performing evil acts, and his position and prestige forced his victims into silence. At the apology service, these words were used to affirm her right to speak out.

It is also important for parishioners to see the bishop speaking out and naming the victims and the perpetrator, Light said. Some parishes are divided into groups of persons who refuse to believe the accusations and others who support the victims. When the bishop comes to the parish and speaks the truth, she said, this helps put divisions to rest.

The facts of clergy sexual abuse should become part of the historical record, she said. “It’s terrible, it’s evil, it’s shameful, and it’s also true.”

With the apology services, the church is making a beginning, Light said. “It’s a big mess to clean up, and we’ve only got one broom and a mop, but I’m glad the bishop rolled up his sleeves.”

Four years ago, during the Jubilee Year, Bishop John Cummins held an apology service for victims of clergy sexual abuse. The ceremonies this year are aimed at healing the wounds of parish communities where abuse occurred.

Two more services have been scheduled for this spring: Mon., April 19, 7:30 p.m., at St. Joseph, Pinole; and Tues., May 4, 7:30 p.m., at St. Cornelius, Richmond. Other services will be announced later.


Panel cites inadequate screening of
seminarians as factor in sex abuse

By Amanda Mantone
Religion News Service

WASHINGTON—Inadequate screening of potential priests and lack of sound formation in sexuality — not celibacy or homosexuality — are the most significant factors in the sexual abuse of children by priests in the Catholic Church, according to a blue ribbon panel commissioned by the nation’s Catholic bishops.

The findings of the 12-member National Review Board were released Feb. 27 along with the first-ever report on the scope of sexual abuse of minors in the church.

“Dioceses and (religious) orders simply did not screen candidates for the priesthood properly,” said Bob Bennett, the Washington attorney and board member who spearheaded the report. “As a result, many dysfunctional and psychosexually immature men were admitted into seminaries and ordained in the priesthood.”

The review board also said that when formation on the meaning and purpose of priestly celibacy was inadequate, “those candidates who were most troubled sexually were most likely to fail.”

The board’s 145-page report probed the “causes and contexts” of clergy sex abuse in the United States over the last 50 years. At least 4,392 priests abused 10,667 victims, according to a companion report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

The board noted that 80 percent of the abuse was “homosexual in nature,” but said an inability to remain chaste — not homosexuality — was a more direct cause of sexual abuse among clergy.

“There is no doubt there are many outstanding priests of homosexual orientation who live chaste and celibate lives,” Bennett said. “Whether they are capable of living the celibate life is the paramount consideration. Sexual orientation should not be a requirement, one way or the other. Priests can be homosexual, but they must be celibate.”

Louis Schlesinger, a professor at John Jay College and expert in sexually motivated antisocial acts, said, “It’s a grooming process to get a child to have sex. The issue is not if they’re gay, the issue is pedophilia and ephebophilia (attraction to adolescent sex partners).”

But Bennett said celibacy has become an “albatross” for some priests and needs further discussion.

“It would be presumptuous of the review board, and beyond its mandate, to opine on the relative merits of a celibate or noncelibate priesthood,” the review board said, while calling on the bishops to study the issue further.

“There can be no doubt that while it is a gift for some, celibacy is a terrible burden for others, resulting in loneliness, alcohol and drug abuse and improper sexual conduct,” the board said.

It called for more oversight of newly ordained priests and urged bishops to meet “personally and privately” with each of their priests “at least once or twice a year.”

The board also urged the bishops to study the living arrangements of diocesan priests who often live alone in rectories without the community support and supervision common in religious commuities.

“Several witnesses (interviewed by the board) recommended that dioceses consider establishing residential living centers for priests that would help to meet the twin purposes of fostering community and healthy intimate relationships and ensuring oversight of priests,” said the report.

Regarding the issue of homosexual priests, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee, who heads the bishops’ committee on priestly life and ministry, said more “up-front screening” is needed because gay seminarians and priests face “added temptations” in trying to live a chaste and celibate life.

“There are pressing questions, and perhaps more urgent scrutiny, that needs to be given to a candidate who has homosexual inclinations,” said Archbishop Dolan, a former rector of the flagship American seminary in Rome.

He cautioned, however, that it is “completely absurd” to automatically link gay priests with pedophilia. The majority of gay priests, he said, are “faithful, celibate, chaste men.”

The report also said requiring priests to lead celibate lives does not lead to sex abuse, but said the church failed to screen candidates for ordination — gay and straight — who weren’t cut out for the chastity of priesthood.

“Celibacy does not cause sex abuse. Celibacy is a great gift to many priests,” Bennett said. “For those who are unable to live in celibacy, it’s an albatross of loneliness, alcoholism and crossing the border.”

The board said the sex abuse crisis was worsened by bishops who covered up abuse allegations, in fear of scandal, rather than concern for victims.

“Many breached their responsibilities as shepherds of the flock, and put their heads in the sand,” Bennett said. “They did not understand the broad epidemic nature of the problem. Some placed the interests of the accused priests above those of the victims.”

Bennett said fear of litigation also contributed to the crisis, with many bishops cloaking allegations in secrecy rather than report a priest to law enforcement.
The board, in its recommendations, called for stepped-up screening of would-be priests, which will be monitored by an upcoming Vatican review of U.S. seminaries.

The board also told bishops to respond more readily to abuse allegations, and to report them to civil authorities, without distraction by threat of scandal or litigation.

“We must cooperate completely, with less secrecy and more transparency,” Bennett said.

The board also recommended a further, more extensive study of the factors leading to clerical sexual abuse.

Should ‘zero tolerance’ remain?

By Richard N. Ostling
AP Religion Writer

NEW YORK (AP) – The dismaying national reports on molesters among Catholic clergy add a new layer of complexity for U.S. bishops as they look ahead to one of their next major decisions in fighting sex abuse – whether to renew what’s known as their “zero tolerance” policy for abusers.

The bishops commissioned a study released Feb. 27 that found 4,392 priests were accused of abuse from 1950 to 2002. They plan to debate at their June meeting either keeping or revising the toughened abuse policy they adopted at the height of the crisis two years ago.

The chief matter is “zero tolerance,” the rule that priests guilty of even one abusive act with a minor must be permanently removed from active ministry and, in most instances, eventually dismissed from the clergy.

While pressure from the public and victims to keep the policy in place is intense, some in the church want changes. Priests and bishops have argued that kicking out abusers without rehabilitation is too harsh, and merely cuts an untreated abuser loose on society.

The survey conducted for a church watchdog panel by John Jay College of Criminal Justice makes things even trickier, because it found a steep drop-off in abuse cases in the 1990s, when bishops began crackdowns but before zero tolerance went into place.

Meanwhile, a new Vatican report by non-Catholic experts on therapy with abusers says zero tolerance is too harsh. An official with the sponsoring Vatican agency said bishops shouldn’t abandon a sinner but apply punishment and “return him to a meaningful role in the church.”

The U.S. policy “sacrifices priests for the sake of the bishops,” complains Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio, publisher of Ignatius Press. “From a human point of view it is unjust. From a Christian point of view it is inconceivable.”

He thinks the purpose of the policy “is not to protect the reputation of bishops, who deservedly lost it, but to do the right thing now.”

Victims’ advocates agree the church should do the right thing, but they feel strongly that’s keeping the policy in place.

They argue that the new national count of abusers is a clear underestimate, partly because many victims wait years or even decades to come forward.
John Jay researchers agreed. They said dioceses examining individual cases of offenders estimated there may be 3,000 additional victims who have not filed claims.

That means that, instead of a 1970s peak and a steep decline in abuse cases in the 1990s, the true picture is closer to one of molestation continuing unabated, victims claim.

Susan Archibald of The Linkup, a national abuse survivors’ group, says “the bishops as leaders should send a strong message that if you harm the young or vulnerable, there’s no place for you within our ranks.”

Bishops must also consider morale among their priests.

Father Robert Silva of Stockton, president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils which represents 27,000 U.S. clergy, thinks abusers must be removed from active ministry. But “simply dismissing them from the clerical state and putting them on the street” is cruel.

He also says children would be safer if miscreants were kept under church supervision, a point made by the Vatican’s therapy consultants.

That’s a strong argument, says Father Reese, but bishops face serious legal liability if a sidelined priest does further harm.

Father Thomas P. Doyle, a onetime canon lawyer at the Vatican embassy turned victims’ advocate, says the church’s internal legal system has never protected the due process rights of accused priests, and “right now the morale of priests is at rock bottom, if not lower.”

Father Doyle also says the system can’t effectively handle abuse charges against bishops — a current problem in the Springfield, Massachusetts, and Albany, New York, dioceses.

Focus now turns to seminaries,
gays and celibacy

By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — Following a major report by the Catholic Church on the sexual abuse of minors by priests, focus now turns to three root causes identified by a lay review panel of experts: seminaries, gay priests and mandatory celibacy.

The church’s National Review Board, in its 145-page report issued Feb. 27, urged an overhaul of screening for seminary students to prevent psychologically and emotionally immature men from becoming priests.

“It is clear that some men became priests ... who never should have been admitted into the seminary or never should have been allowed to continue to ordination,” the board said.

Catholic bishops will vote in November on a Vatican-ordered blueprint for seminary formation, and leaders say increased scrutiny for would-be priests will be part of that review.

The blueprint coincides with a planned “apostolic visitation” of U.S. seminaries by Vatican officials already in the works for at least two years. No time line has been set for the Vatican visit.

“One of the best things you can do in terms of spiritual direction is help a man not become a priest who shouldn’t be,” Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., said in a televised “town hall meeting” at Catholic University of America after the report was issued.

A key component of the seminary review will be how to handle the issue of homosexuality. The landmark report on abuse by John Jay College of Criminal Justice found that 81 percent of cases involved boys, or cases “of a homosexual nature.”

Gay Catholic groups are nervous that the board’s report will spark a “witch hunt” of gay priests. Some estimates have said that between one-quarter and one-half of Catholic priests are gay. The board noted the presence of a “gay subculture” in many seminaries.

“This is a great way for the bishops to step back from their responsibility of being shepherds,” said Matthew Gallagher, executive director of Dignity/USA, an organization of gay Catholics. “They blame the crisis on the gay priests, and now they’re going to blame the witch hunt on” the review board.

Some Catholic leaders, however, cautioned against a rush to blame gay men for the problem.

“Homosexuals are normally, I’m told, attracted to homosexual men. So it’s unfair to homosexuals, to the gay community, to scapegoat them,” Chicago Cardinal Francis George said.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the gay issue is just one of many that needs to be considered.

“We do not wish to disparage or in any way to denigrate the very generous and faithful service of any of our priests who may be homosexually oriented but have been absolutely faithful to the promises they made,” he said.

Church officials might consider the so-called “Bevilacqua model,” in which former Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia issued a blanket prohibition on gay candidates in his seminary.

But perhaps the more challenging question will be the issue of celibacy, which the board concluded is a “terrible burden for (some priests), resulting in loneliness, alcohol and drug abuse, and improper sexual conduct.”

In the past year, small groups of priests and lay activists in at least a dozen dioceses have petitioned for a discussion of optional celibacy, which church leaders have flatly rejected. In December, Pope John Paul II said the “complete gift of self in celibacy” was not up for discussion.

There is near-universal agreement that celibacy is often misunderstood, both among priests and the larger public. Church officials said seminaries need to do a better job of preparing men to lead celibate lives.

“The problem here is lack of chastity. It’s not homosexuality, it’s not heterosexuality,” said Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee, head of the bishops’ priestly life and ministry committee. “The goal here is virtue, the goal is fidelity to one’s promise, to integrity of life.”

The review board called for the church to handle celibacy “in an open and forthright manner.” It also called the church to do a better job of policing lapses of celibacy “in situations that do not involve the abuse of minors.”

Father Tom Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine America, noted that priests who lived alone accounted for nearly twice as many abuse cases as those who lived in religious communities.

“Is the ‘Lone Ranger’ model of diocesan priesthood detrimental to the life of celibacy?” he asked.

The report said priestly “living arrangements bear revisiting.”

Relief agencies ready to aid Haitians

By Voice staff

Aid programs in Haiti were assessing damages and struggling to restore food programs and other services after days of turmoil leading up to former President Jean Bertrand Aristide’s flight into exile on Feb. 29.

Florida-based Food for the Poor, which serves some 250,000 Haitians with food, medical care and other projects, reported that none of its staff or offices had been harmed in the chaotic days leading up to Aristide’s departure.

“We feel that the people in the surrounding area who recognize the kind of work we do were probably instrumental in keeping it unharmed,” said Ann Briere of the public relations office.

The program employs some 600 Haitians to run its projects. Many of them were unable to leave their homes during the week of fighting, she said, but staff there said the situation was calming with the arrival of U.S. Marines and other troops. “We’re just anticipating going full steam ahead,” Briere said.

Catholic Relief Services, with a staff of 200 in the country, was more cautious in its assessment of the situation. The capital remained tense after Aristide left, CRS said in a press release, and humanitarian aid was suspended.

Brian Shields of the CRS office in Baltimore said the program lost some vehicles to looting but was hoping to recover those as the marauding gangs left the streets. “Now we’re trying to get things up and running,” he said.

CRS also announced that it had received $412,000 from USAID Disaster Assistance for cash grants. The money will help local organizations provide for those who suffered from the recent fighting in Port-au-Prince and along the southern peninsula.

“Kids don’t have anything to eat at orphanages and other CRS feeding centers,” said Jed Hoffman, CRS regional director for Latin America. “This cash will help us respond immediately to purchase food and other basic necessities on the local market.”

However, the cash grants are a “stop-gap measure,” Hoffman said. All the warring factions of Haitian society and the international troops in the country, he said, will have to work to restore order so CRS can get its supplies to the poor.

To contribute to Food for the Poor, send donations to the program at 550 SW 12th Ave., Dept. 9662, Deerfield Beach, FL, 33442 or call (800) 427-9104.

To contribute to CRS efforts in Haiti, send donations to Catholic Relief Services, “Haiti Crisis,” PO Box 17090, Baltimore, MD 21203-7090 or call (800) 736-3467.

Unborn Victims of Violence Act
moves to U.S. Senate for debate

By Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service

WASHINGTON (RNS) The House of Representatives’ passage of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act on Feb. 26 brought praise and criticism from organizations generally on opposite sides of the abortion debate.

By a vote of 254-163, the House approved the bill, which was named after Laci Peterson and her unborn child Conner, victims of highly publicized murders in California. It gives a fetus separate victim’s rights when a pregnant woman is attacked.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he hoped to take up the measure soon, the Associated Press reported.

President Bush, a representative of the nation’s Catholic bishops and leaders of evangelical Christian groups hailed the House action.

“Pregnant women who have been harmed by violence, and their families, know that there are two victims — the mother and the unborn child — and both victims should be protected by federal law,” the president said in a statement. “I urge the
Senate to pass this bill so that I can sign it into law.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, agreed that the Senate should address the matter soon “so that unborn children in this country are brought one step closer to having the full protections of the law they so clearly deserve.”

Groups expressing disappointment in the vote ranged from Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, to the National Organization for Women.

“The legislation would be yet another step in limiting reproductive rights,” said June Walker, national president of the New York-based Hadassah. “By establishing the fetus as its own distinct entity, this legislation could potentially pit the rights of a fetus against the rights of its mother.”

NOW President Kim Gandy agreed, saying, “If members of Congress want to address the pervasive problem of violence against pregnant women, then they need to pass increased funding for education and for enforcement.”

Cathy Cleaver Ruse, spokeswoman for the U.S. Catholic bishops on reproductive issues, said she was offended by the arguments of abortion rights advocates.
“Only the abortion lobby would tell a woman that she’s lost nothing when she loses her child to a brutal attacker,” she said.

Ruling won’t impact faith-based initiative

By Religion News Service

WASHINGTON (RNS) The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Washington state’s denial of a tax-funded scholarship to a student pursuing ministry studies will have little effect on President Bush’s faith-based initiative, according to experts on church-state issues.

The justices ruled 7-2 Feb. 25 that states may deny public scholarship money to students studying religion, allowing Washington to withhold its $1,500 Promise Scholarship from Joshua Davey, who was pursuing ministry studies.

Currently, the federal government provides funding to a number of religious organizations to provide social services, but “Locke v. Davey will at least weaken the strength of that argument,” said Marc Stern, general counsel of the American Jewish Congress.

Stern said he didn’t think the ruling would affect federally funded vouchers to allow students to pay tuition at private schools. Most children who receive them attend parochial schools.

The day after the ruling, Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, told a group of reporters that Bush’s support of faith-based social programs “continues to stand on strong constitutional ground.”

St. Mary’s scientist finds
new dinosaur species

By Carrie McClish
Staff writer

The dean of science at Moraga’s St. Mary’s College announced Feb. 26 that he and his team of researchers have discovered fossilized remains believed to be that of a previously unknown species of dinosaur.

Judd Case, who teaches biology at St. Mary’s, said the fossils were found Dec. 12 on James Ross Island off the coast of Antarctica after bad weather had forced them away from their original research site.

The fossils are of a meat-eating dinosaur known as a theropod, which is related to the enormous Tyrannosaurus Rex. The remains include fragments of the upper jaw with teeth, individual teeth and many of the bones from the animal’s lower legs and feet.

The structure of the bones indicate that the dinosaur was able to take long strides and to run, Case said at a news conference organized by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Washington, DC., which funded his research.

The discovery by Case’s team marked the second time in less than a week that a new dinosaur species was found in Antarctica. A larger plant-eating dinosaur was discovered thousands of miles away on Mount Kirkpatrick by another group of researchers.

Case said the most unusual characteristic of the new theropod is its size. It is a great deal smaller than the Tyrannosaurus Rex. The animal’s foot and leg bones indicate that it stood between six and eight feet tall and weighed around 300 pounds.

“If you really want to put that picture into your head of a size, how they portrayed the size of the velociraptor in “Jurassic Park” would have been about the same size of our dinosaur,” he said.

“But fortunately real velociraptors are about half that size. But everybody has the license to portray dinosaurs any way they want.”

The scientific find came as a surprise to Case and his researchers. Extremely cold, icy weather and related travel problems kept them from going to Vega Island to continue some previous research in the migration of animals, said William Martin, a colleague of Case and curator of the vertebrate paleontology at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

They believed that the island would provide a “smoking gun” showing that marsupials like kangaroos and koalas originated in North America and then traveled through South America into Antarctica while it was still part of a massive supercontinent before arriving in Australia.

Instead, the researcher had to settle on the Antarctic peninsula in an area known as the Naze, where exposed materials represent a period at the end of the Mesozoic Era (248 million to 65 million years ago) that includes the Cretaceous Period. At that time, the waters of the continental shelf covered the area at a depth of 300 to 650 feet.

Because relatively few dinosaur fossils from the Cretaceous Period have been found in Antarctica the researchers were not expecting to find any. Case admitted he was “taken aback” by the discovery.

At first, “you’re not sure you’re seeing what you are seeing,” he said. But as the reality began to sink in he felt a “big sense of relief” to “find something of significance.”

The discovery took place in “a very unusual environment,” he said.
The team was “well out into the ocean as far as what was represented at that time. And to come across a dinosaur was most unexpected... but boom, there it was on that particular day.”

The animal is believed to have floated from the shore out to sea after it died roughly 70 million years ago and settled to the bottom of what was then a very shallow area of the Weddell Sea.

It has not yet been assigned a scientific name and is being referred to as the Naze theropod because of the geographic location. “We are still trying to be sure of the last identifications before we put our manuscript to a journal,” Case said.

St. Mary’s College honors educator
in Philippines

St. Mary’s College conferred an honorary doctorate on Christian Brother Rolando Ramos Dizon during its annual convocation, Feb. 17, on the Moraga campus. Brother Rolando is chair of the Philippines’ Commission on Higher Education and until last year served as president of the De La Salle University System in the Philippines. Previously, he was president of La Salle University in Bacolod City for 12 years.

A Christian Brother since 1961, he earned his doctorate in international development education at Stanford University as a Fulbright Scholar and has led many educational associations in his native Philippines.

St. Mary’s recognized his contributions as an educator and administrator by honoring him as a Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership.

African American Pastoral Center honors outstanding youth

The diocesan African American Pastoral Center honored 141 elementary and high school students during its 16th annual Black History Month awards ceremony, Feb. 22, at St. Louis Bertrand Church in Oakland. The youth were singled out for their community service and their efforts to promote multicultural harmony and social justice within their schools or parishes.
The honorees are:
Bishop O’Dowd High School, Oakland
Evelyn Montiel Barry Breaux
Allyson Kardell
Holy Names High School, Oakland
Meron Medhanie Dina Ali
Britney Williams
Moreau Catholic High School, Hayward
Candace Harris Rayna Minnegan
Samantha Brathwaite
Salesian High School, Richmond
Hazel Wheeler Annika Woods
Faith Robbins Chantee’ McWhorter
St. Elizabeth High School, Oakland
Jasmine Brown Marvin Toliver
Lee Coleman Samiyah Fassete
St. Joseph Notre Dame High School, Alameda
Angel Wardle Michael Priest
Ocean Beverly Kellae Gamble
St. Mary’s High School, Berkeley
Sheena Gordon Zakiya Mackey
De’zha Kendall Jonathan Adams
Our Lady of the Rosary School, Union City
Tiffany Smith
St. Augustine School, Oakland
Tylea Harris Terence Mims
Tauqeer London-Rashad Sarah Brown
Calvin Harrell, III Sidney Ragland
Adriana Brown Julian Purvis
St. Bede School, Hayward
Adriana Ambeguia Kyle Greenlee
St. Bernard School, Oakland
Jonah Mai Langi-Ray Mekkah Jacob
Mikalah Holmes Brenda Garibay
Bibiana Enriquez Whitney Lang
Rocio Ochoa De’Naya Goudeau
Shabreia Horton
St. Cornelius School, Richmond
Kenshay Gooden Ashley Clark
Keya Boyd Rodney Dunlap
Jahmia Woodard Sean Thomas
Sts. Cyril-Louis Bertrand Academy, Oakland
Tyrell Whittaker Tori Hunter
Viviana Melero Parysh Janice
Isaah Porter Torrance Jones
Vivian Hinojosa Jessecca Brown
St. David School, Richmond
Maya Williams Cerri Karanja
Christopher Williams Kimberly Grant
Denzel Williams Nia Chappell
Jason Lincoln Alexis Carpenter
St. Elizabeth School, Oakland
Ayanna Brett-Klein Jasmine Amons
Zana Blaylock Jones Pierce Samuels
Cierra Burns Mechelle Miller
Armante Washington
St. Isidore School, Danville
Keji Fatona
St. Francis of Assisi School, Concord
Isabel Reynoso Robert Freeman
Nicholas Fong Brent Bode
Seanne Tsai Natalie Marquez
St. John School, San Lorenzo
Maya Ephrem Kevin Walker
Bryan Quibol Gabriel Davis
Kathreece Farrales Jasmine Lopez
St. John the Baptist School, El Cerrito
Terrell Lopez Marcellus Demer
Alexandra O’Sullivan Henrychris Uwuseba
Raymond Hardman Brandon Rice
Francesca Neveu Gibson Evelyn Saldana
Laureina Toler
St. Joseph School, Pinole
Jarrod Ramos Jaclynn Kiikvee
Briana Malaluan Marvin Arroz
Kasey White Vanessa Mae Carzon
Sophia Hoggatt Adriana Rosas
St. Leo The Great School, Oakland
Joseph Tesfay Yesame Kinfe
Avery Dueberry Justin Pollard
Jada Banks-Maoe Aziza Baker
Kayla Jones James Anderson
Jamil Brown
St. Lawrence O’Toole School, Oakland
Darius Gomez Adrieanna Williams
Ashli Fisher
St. Martin DePorres Regional School, Oakland
Imani Campbell Christian Lewis
Keisha Tillman DiAja Dunn
Jordan Johnson Jamal Davis
Gabrielle Lee Leslie Mills
St. Paschal Baylon School, Oakland
Christina Bradley Shevonna Boyd-Guice
Adrian Collins Robert Tillman
Brandon Hill Michael Watts
Desiree Harris Jeanine Manley
Joshua Crum
St. Peter Martyr School, Pittsburg
Devin Brown Melodie Chatman
Marquis Morris Monica Bruce
Alexandra Jones Amanda Graham
Anastasia Pitts Joseph Brown

JSTB receives $2 million
for endowed scholarships

By Voice staff

The Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Foundation in Los Angeles has awarded a $2 million grant to the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley (JSTB) for endowed scholarships.

The grant will enable the Berkeley theological school to attract “the very best students” to its master of divinity program, said Jesuit Father Joseph Daoust, JSTB president. Their divinity degree is awarded to Jesuits seeking ordination and lay men and women pursuing a career in the Catholic Church.

“The support and commitment of the Leavey Foundation is truly remarkable and will help further our efforts to provide well- trained lay and ordained leaders in the Catholic Church,” Father Daoust said. “We will forever be thankful for their support.
The facility currently prepares men and women to serve the Church as scholars and teachers.

It received accreditation from the Vatican Congregation of Catholic Education as a Pontifical Faculty of Theology, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and the American Association of Theological Schools.

School of Pastoral Ministry
graduates 34 lay ministers

By Voice staff

Thirty-four women and men who have attended the diocesan School for Pastoral Ministry for the past three years were honored during a graduation liturgy Feb. 7 at Saint Philip Neri Church in Alameda. Father Larry Silva, vicar general/moderator of the curia, presided.

The School for Pastoral Ministry is designed for lay people who want to increase their knowledge of the faith and build practical ministerial skills. Both Catholics exploring their call to ministry and those working as lay ministers can attend the school.

The school offers catechists and parochial school teachers the chance to work towards their certification as master catechists. It also provides classes for men interested in applying for the permanent diaconate.

This year’s graduates are: Martin Bailey, Corpus Christi, Piedmont; Peter and Victoria Chan, Chinese Pastoral Center, Oakland; Clement Chen, St. Monica, Moraga; David Cloyne, St. Michael, Livermore; Evelyn Cook, St. Mark, Richmond; Rebecca Doherty, St. Bonaventure, Concord; Rey Encarnacion, St. Agnes, Concord; JoAnn Evans, St. Paul, San Pablo; Gregory Fiorini, St. Francis of Assisi, Concord; Janice Fraga, Our Lady of Lourdes, Oakland; Patricia Freitas, Catholic Community of Pleasanton; Richard Gierak, St. Bonaventure, Concord; Diana Gregory, St. Leander, San Leandro;

Annie Lam, Chinese Pastoral Center, Oakland; Joyce Ludwig, Catholic Community of Pleasanton; Susan Maduell, St. Barnabas, Alameda; Phil Medrano, St. John, San Lorenzo; Trudy Miller, St. Leander, San Leandro; Rita Mitchell, Corpus Christi, Piedmont; Dolores Padilla, Corpus Christi, Fremont; Jesus Preciado, St. Joachim, Hayward; Irene Campos Preciado, St. Joachim, Hayward; Simeon Rojo, St. Agnes, Concord;

Annette Roux, St. Stephen, Walnut Creek; James Rulope, St. Paul, San Pablo; Sharon Schabert, St. Bede, Hayward; Mary Sides, St. Joachim, Hayward; Melinda Turchan, St. Joachim, Hayward; Jane Walker; St. Bonaventure, Concord; Michael Walker, St. Bonaventure, Concord; Lynn Wiley, St. Michael, Livermore; Darren Williams, Church of the Good Shepherd, Pittsburg; and Caroline Wong, Chinese Pastoral Center, Oakland.



St. Elizabeth School adds a chapel, science lab to campus

By Voice staff

A new chapel created in the former library of St. Elizabeth Elementary School in Oakland is offering a haven of respite and prayer for students, faculty and staff.

Dedicated Jan. 30 by Bishop Emeritus John Cummins and Franciscan Father Marco Antonio Figueroa, pastor at St. Elizabeth Parish, the chapel is being used daily during Lent by teachers and staff for communal morning prayer.

It gives them an opportunity to “start the day in a positive direction,” said Dominican Sister Barbara Hagel, St. Elizabeth principal.

“The staff loves it,” she added. Recently they came together for an impromptu prayer service for an ill brother of one of the teachers.

The principal is overjoyed to have a chapel on campus. “It’s wonderful. I think it is pretty unique for an elementary school to have a chapel,” she said. “It has been my dream for a long time.”

The chapel, she said, serves as a reminder to everyone at the school that Christ is the center of the school and that Christ is “the reason why we are here. He is the ultimate factor in why we have Catholic education.”

The new chapel occupies space used by the school library before it was moved to larger quarters in the new educational center that was dedicated the same day. The center also houses two kindergarten classrooms and a new science lab for junior high students.

The chapel can accommodate 15-20 students who sit on the floor; there are large pillows and chairs for the teachers and staff.

The chapel has a cross of the resurrected Christ, a white stone statue of the Holy Family and a copy of the Scriptures. Father Figueroa is seeking permission to have the Eucharist reserved in the chapel.

The chapel won’t replace the near-by parish church for school liturgies. “Whenever we have a whole student body prayer service — we have 400-plus children in our school — we still use the church,” Sister Hagel said.

“This is just a small chapel mainly for quiet moments in the day and for small groups. It is a more intimate place than the church.”

Sesame Street puppeteer among honorees at annual
Christopher Award ceremony

By Voice staff

Sesame Street’s master puppeteer Caroll Spinney, broadcasting icon Art Linkletter, and journalist Father James Catoir are this year’s recipients of awards by The Christophers, the New York-based non-profit organization that encourages the Judeo-Christian tradition of service to God and humanity through the media.

Spinney, who brought Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to life for over 35 years as a master puppeteer on TV’s Sesame Street, received the 2004 James Keller Award during the 55th annual awards program, Feb. 26, in New York. The “lifelong educator” was cited for bringing comfort and joy to millions of children and for a body of work that exemplified the virtues of kindness, patience and friendship.

Linkletter, known for his 19-year stint as host of NBC-TV and radio’s “People Are Funny,” received the Life Achievement Award. He was honored for his remarkable contributions to the craft, business and spirit of the broadcasting industry, for his work with children on-stage and off, and as a mentor and educator in the war against drug abuse, said The Christophers.

The 2004 Christopher Leadership Award was presented to Father Catoir for promoting sound values and encouraging devotion to God through and with the mass media. The priest, who spent 17 years as chairman of the board and CEO of The Christophers, had been host of the national weekly TV series “Christopher Closeup.”

He wrote 15 books, and served as president of the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators, The Association of Catholic TV and Radio Syndicators, and The Catholic Press Association. As founder and current president of the St. Jude Media Ministry, he continues to use radio, TV, print and the web ( as his pulpit to inspire a national audience.

St. Mary’s College prepares for
deep cuts in student Cal Grants

By Voice staff

If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal goes through to cut Cal Grant tuition assistance by 44 percent for students about to enter private colleges and universities, Saint Mary’s College in Moraga will be ready – at least for the current crop of high school seniors who enroll at the school.

The St. Mary’s Board of Regents has established a Cal Grant Supplemental Award to help carry these students along for four years, said Michael Beseda, vice president of enrollment services. The funds will come out of a $15 million fund established by the Board to assist its 2,500 undergraduate students.

However, there will be no such assistance available for the next class, said Beseda, a 1979 St. Mary’s graduate who said he received Cal Grants during his college years.

Nearly 27 percent of the school’s 2,572 undergraduates are assisted by Cal Grants, which are presently set at $9,708 per student per year. Current students will not be affected by the reductions.

Beseda called the situation “unfortunate” for California’s future college students if the governor’s proposal passes, because it would decrease student grants from the current $9,708 to $5,482. He added that these cuts would hamper the La Sallian mission to help poor students. Saint Mary’s tuition for new students next fall is $25,000.

Beseda sees the governor’s proposal as “bad policy. It would represent a huge change in the student financial picture. We haven’t seen reductions like this in over a decade,” he said. The vice president concurred with a recent legislative analysis, which recommended that Cal Grants be increased rather than decreased, in order to educate the next generation of adult Californians. “That would be good policy for the state,” said Beseda.


.Catholic Charities of the East Bay offers one-stop aid
at Family Service Centers

By Sharon Abercrombie
Staff writer

Catholic Charities of the East Bay has consolidated its services into a new “one-stop” format to make it easier for clients to receive various types of assistance at one location. The four Family Service Centers in Oakland, Brentwood, Concord and Richmond provide help with housing, family counseling, immigration and refugee services, job training and referrals, as well as food and utility vouchers.

The new centers are modeled on a “continuum of care” approach, said Solomon Belette, director of programs at CCEB. This means that a new client can walk through the doors, receive a comprehensive needs assessment, and then be able to tap into custom-designed assistance.

“It’s a long-term relationship, where families receive on-going care that helps them to chip away at their problems and move towards economic sufficiency,” explained Belette. “We will walk the walk with them for anywhere from one to two years.”

CEEB will also provide referrals to services outside the agency. Not all of the 12,000-15,000 clients seen annually will need long-term assistance, he added.

Funding for the various services comes from Catholic Charities’ Season of Sharing, Franciscan Charities, United Way and FEMA.

CEEB’s new model is the result of a six-year strategic plan that examined how the organization could best fulfill its social services mission. As the staff developed the plan, the same issue kept surfacing. Due to continued government cutbacks and welfare reform, more and more families were coming to the agency with multiple problems – the biggest being the lack of affordable housing.

But the integrated approach to services is not new. In 1993 the agency began providing multiple services at their downtown Oakland location so clients did not have to travel from one office to another to get what they needed.

Over the years, staff saw what worked best and what didn’t. They tweaked and refined their program into its present configuration.

The new family service centers are in locations easy to reach by public transportation. Other specific features: The Concord location is housed with the Diocesan Family Life office. The Richmond center will be working closely with St. Mark’s Parish. The center in Brentwood offers an on-site food pantry. The others offer food vouchers

The Family Service Centers’ locations are: Oakland, 433 Jefferson St, (510) 768-3100; Brentwood, 760 1st St., (925) 516-3880; Concord, 2350 Pacheco St., (925) 825-3099; Richmond, 2369 Barrett Ave., (510) 234-5110.



Soldiers visit Union City school
to say ‘thanks’

By Sharon Abercrombie
Staff writer

Since the U.S. began its war in Iraq, students at Our Lady of the Rosary School in Union City have been saying special prayers for Army Second Lieutenants Peter and Susan Chacon. On Feb. 18 the couple visited the school to say Thank You for the prayers and letters the third and fourth graders sent to them during their months in Iraq.

In their letters the students told the pair they were not to worry about Peter’s mom, school secretary Jill Chacon, who is a member of St. John the Baptist Parish in San Lorenzo. They were taking care of her, the students said.
When the students learned that the couple would visit their school, there was cheering and enthusiastic preparations.

“Don’t celebrities have red carpets?” one child asked teacher Claudia Orozco. When Orozco said this was true, the class went into action with paper, scissors, crayons and felt colored markers to create a red carpet and several large welcome signs.

The Chacons hadn’t anticipated such a fuss. As they walked through the school door, principal Gloria Galarsa, who had taught Peter in sixth grade at St. John School in San Lorenzo, was waiting with a big smile. “You aren’t going to cry, are you?” Peter asked.

Her welcome was just the beginning. Next in line were their young pen pals who listened intently as the Chacons answered their barrage of questions.
Did Susan and Peter carry guns? Yes, and Peter’s included a laser — information that elicited a chorus of “wows.”

Since they were off duty that day, neither officer was in uniform or carrying a weapon. But they had brought along other visual aids for the students to see — paper money bearing Saddam’s likeness and a “top secret” map of Iraq. Encased in clear plastic, the map had large dots on it, but no names of towns.

Other “top-secret” stuff: In Iraq, Peter was known as Warrior-3-6 and Susan was Eagle Fire –5.

“It’s a safety thing, “ Susan told the students. “If any of the bad guys were tuned to the same radio frequency, they would have a hard time figuring out who or where we were.”

Then Peter let the students in on a scoop — kids were responsible for Saddam Hussein’s capture. A young boy had approached the gates of Army headquarters with tips on where the Iraqi leader was hiding. Peter explained that the Army does not react immediately to these kinds of tips, so they 0waited until another kid came forward with news of Hussein’s whereabouts, and then they investigated and found their man.

In Iraq, children also served as valuable barometers of danger, said Susan. “When there were kids out playing, we knew the bad guys were gone. When we’d go into a town, and there were no young people around, we knew the bad guys were nearby.”

Peter, a graduate of St. John’s and Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward, and Susan, a Myersville, Pennsylvania resident, met as West Point students. They married in October 2003 and were assigned to Iraq, to towns 150 miles apart — Susan in Mosul, Peter in Sinjar. “Sometimes we’d run into one another by accident, when our companies were traveling around,” said Peter.

Peter was in charge of 30 soldiers. “Sometimes we would go talk to the mayor or take soccer balls and food to a school or to a neighborhood. Sometimes we would build school playgrounds. Other days, my men would help the Iraqi police build up their forces again. We were always helping people.”

Susan was in charge of shopping for her unit. Accompanied by an Arabic speaker, she went into town to purchase wood, nails, paper towels and food. Susan’s unit did its share of good deeds as well. On one occasion they arranged to have a water pipe built in a village so shepherds didn’t have to haul their water by donkeys and buckets anymore.

Peter learned to speak Kurdish. When the kids urged him to say something, he acknowledged apologetically, “I didn’t learn many polite things. Just stuff like “turn right, turn left. Get down on the ground right now.”

Both Peter and Susan wore uniforms, heavy helmets and metal plates, and each of them carried guns, ammunition, and two radios at all times — gear which added up to 100 pounds of extra weight.

But other aspects of their lives varied. Peter ate standard canned Army rations. “It wasn’t very good. Some days I only ate one meal so I lost weight.”
Susan’s unit was in an area where fresh vegetables, rice, lamb and a kind of pita bread were readily available.

Both said it was disturbing to see Iraqis going through military garbage every night. “For them, it was like going to a shopping center. The people were so desperate they were even glad to get a pair of socks with holes I’d thrown away,” said Susan.

When asked what their best memories were, Peter said it was the day his unit was providing security for the local elections of the mayor and city council. “A band was playing. People were screaming and hollering, laughing and crying. It was the first time they ever got to experience real freedom in an election.”

Susan said she would never forget the looks of sheer delight and gratitude on the faces of children when her company gave them shoes to wear. “It was 40 degrees outside.”

What did the soldiers miss from back home? For Peter it was “taking a shower and watching TV commercials.” Susan longed “to eat at the Outback Restaurant.”

Following their classroom visit, the couple shared some adult observations with The Voice.

Both joined the army because “we were idealistic and wanted to serve our country,” Peter said. “The Army deals with people. The Navy is about boats, and the Air Force, planes. “

Asked for their reactions to media coverage on the Iraq occupation, Susan Chacon said she wishes reporters would focus more on the humanitarian projects the U.S. military has brought to Iraq.

His unit would “move resources in and the Iraqis would run the projects,” Peter said. He found that even though the country was poor, many Iraqis were skilled.

He’d do it all over again to help bring freedom to the people, even if he lost his life, Peter said. And he did have one close call – a bomb exploded nearby, injuring his leg and earning him a Purple Heart. “I’m convinced some guardian angels were deflecting the shrapnel away from me.”

Or maybe it was all those prayers coming from Our Lady of the Rosary School.

The Chacons plan to spend the next two years at Ft. Campbell, Ky., safe from exploding bombs and 140 degree summer heat.

But the prayer corner at Our Lady of the Rosary continues; Peter Chacon’s brother, Philip, has just been deployed to Iraq.

Next year, the red celebrity carpet will be doing double duty.

Bishops’ film office: ‘Passion’ film
is brutal and penetrating

Abridged version

“The Passion of the Christ” (Newmarket) is an uncompromising interpretive dramatization of the final 12 hours of Jesus’ earthly life. Unflinching in its brutality and penetrating in its iconography of God’s supreme love for humanity, the film will mean different things to people of diverse backgrounds. Co-writer, producer and director Mel Gibson has undoubtedly created one of the most anticipated and controversial films of recent times.

Like other films on Christ’s life, “The Passion” does not simply translate a single Gospel narrative onto the screen. Rather it is a composite of the Passion narratives in the four Gospels embroidered with non-scriptural traditions as well as the imaginative inspiration of the filmmaker. The result is a deeply personal work of devotional art - a moving Stations of the Cross, so to speak.

However, by choosing to narrow his focus almost exclusively to the Passion of Christ, Gibson has, perhaps, muted Christ’s teachings, making it difficult for viewers unfamiliar with the New Testament and the era’s historical milieu to contextualize the circumstances leading up to Jesus’ arrest. And though, for Christians, the Passion is the central event in the history of salvation, the “how” of Christ’s death is lingered on at the expense of the “why?”

The film employs a visceral, undiluted realism in its retelling of the passion, eschewing Sunday School delicacy in favor of in-your-face rawness that is much too intense for children. That notwithstanding, the movie is an artistic achievement in terms of its textured cinematography, haunting atmospherics, lyrical editing, detailed production design and soulful score. It loses nothing by using the languages of the time, Aramaic and Latin, as the actors’ expressions transcend words, saying as much as - if not more than - the English subtitles.

For those coming to the film without a faith perspective it may have little resonance. But for Christians, “The Passion of the Christ” is likely to arouse not only passionate opinions, but hopefully a deeper understanding of the drama of salvation and the magnitude of God’s love and forgiveness. It is not about what men did to God, but what God endured for humanity.

Due to gory scenes of torture and crucifixion, a suicide and some frightening images, the USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III - - adults.

(The full review, from which the above was taken, can be seen at


CCISCO honors teens
for acts of community service

By Voice staff

The Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO) recently honored 16 young people, including 12 members of Catholic parishes, who have made a difference through their active involvement in their communities. The youth were congratulated during Jan. 25 ceremonies at Santa Maria Church in Orinda.

The honorees are:
Jordan Alpay-Villa, St. Callistus Parish in El Sobrante
, an active member of the parish youth group and a cadet-in-training for the Sheriff’s Department;

Christian Asuelo, St. Joseph Parish in Pinole, a dedicated and talented peer minister for youth ministry at his parish;

Michelle Emry, St. Bonaventure Parish in Concord
, a youth group leadership team member and peer counselor at Carondelet High School in Concord;

Renee Floresca, St. Joseph Parish in Pinole, credited for her leadership qualities, taking initiative, and being a positive force in the parish community;

Ashleigh Kubokawa, St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Concord, a key contributor to the parish’s religious education, Vacation Bible Camp, food distribution, and adopt-a-family projects;

Monsserrat Lopez, St. Mark Parish in Richmond, a talented and thoughtful volunteer who is available to help when needed;

Stephannie Lopez, St. Mark Parish in Richmond, an active community volunteer and assistant to the parish’s religious education coordinator;

Nancy Marquez, St. Anthony Parish in Oakley, a responsible youth ministry leader and a dependable volunteer;

Nora Murphy, St. Isidore Parish in Danville
, a faith formation class aide and active high school youth minister;

Jessica Orr, St. John the Baptist Parish in El Cerrito
, dedicated volunteer with GRIP (Greater Richmond Interfaith Program) and the parish blood drive;

Nicole Orr, St. John the Baptist Parish in El Cerrito, an active volunteer with GRIP, including the Souper Center, Permanent Winter Shelter, and Walk to Overcome Hunger, and the parish blood drive;

Diana Ortiz, Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Brentwood
, parish youth group leader and tutor for immigrant children;

Gabriela Santos, St. Peter Martyr Parish in Pittsburg
, parish youth group leader and supporter.

Other young people cited by CCISCO are Francis Guiam, nominated by Pinole United Methodist Church; Ignacio Miller, nominated by Barbara Alexander Academy; Rich Schimbor, who was nominated by Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church; and Noel Shaun Walton, nominated by Easter Hill United Methodist Church.