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Issue: "What is art?," March 20, 2004

No let-up in sex-abuse scandal

The clergy sex-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church refuses to go away. This month the district attorney in Springfield, Mass., announced he will go before a grand jury with accusations that recently retired Bishop Thomas Dupre, 70, abused two altar boys when he was a parish priest, beginning in the 1970s and continuing into the 1990s. Bishop Dupre resigned last month, citing health reasons. His resignation came a day after a Springfield newspaper confronted him with charges concerning the two boys. Refraining from public comment, he checked himself into a church-run psychiatric hospital in Maryland. He is the fourth bishop to resign over sex-abuse allegations in the past two years.

In Albany, N.Y., Bishop Howard Hubbard, 65, is fighting charges that he was involved in two homosexual relationships, one of which led to a man's suicide 30 years ago. He also was accused of sheltering gay priests from abuse charges. In a PR campaign, he denied ever having sexual relations with anyone and claimed conservatives in the church were out to get him and discredit the hierarchy. He announced he had persuaded the diocesan council to hire a former federal prosecutor to investigate the charges independently.

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The story deepened last month when priest John Minkler was found dead in his home near Albany. He had met with Bishop Hubbard two days earlier to deny involvement in writing and sending a 1996 letter to the New York Archdiocese that claimed the bishop was part of a "ring of homosexual Albany priests." The cause of Rev. Minkler's death remains under investigation.

The Archdiocese of Boston this month filed suit against one of its insurers, Lumberman's Mutual Casualty Co., for refusing to cover $59.3 million of an $85 million church settlement with 522 victims of clergy abuse. The insurer argued the archdiocese's settlement was a voluntary payment, and the company was not obligated to contribute. c

PCUSA and gay marriage: It's time to choose

A top official of the 2.3 million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) went before Congress this month and urged rejection of the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment to the constitution. The amendment, in response to the controversy over gay "marriages," would define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

At a congressional hearing, Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory, head of the PCUSA's Washington office, indicated the 215-year-old denomination was officially opposed to the amendment. She claimed that the church's formal support for civil rights means the PCUSA has affirmed "the civil right of same-sex couples to civil marriage."

Some fellow church members disputed her testimony. The PCUSA Book of Order itself defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. The church's courts have banned homosexual relationships from being called "marriages."

In response to news coverage of the conflict, the PCUSA's top executive, Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick, acknowledged that the church's general assembly hadn't taken any action to "publicly oppose" the federal amendment. But, he pointed out, the church's 2002 assembly disapproved a resolution that would have called for support of the amendment. He didn't address Rev. Ivory's testimony. c

The California Supreme Court ruled on March 1 that Catholic Charities, a church relief organization, must offer birth-control coverage to its employees even though the church considers contraception a sin. The ruling could affect thousands of workers at Catholic hospitals and other church-backed institutions in California and prompt other states to pass similar laws. Although "religious employers" such as churches by law are exempt from the requirement, the court said Catholic Charities is no different from other businesses. It noted that many of its employees are not Catholics. Catholic leaders said they feared the decision could lead to mandated insurance coverage of abortion.

Jehovah's Witnesses are now Poland's largest non-Catholic religious group, with 124,300 members, according to data released by the country's main office of statistics. The Catholic portion of Poland's 38.6 million population slipped from 95 percent to 90 percent during the 1990s, the office noted. About 79,000 Poles belong to the country's largest Protestant denomination, the Evangelical Augsburg (Lutheran) Church. Two "Old Catholic" breakaway groups account for 46,000 members between them.

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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