FRI-SAT-SUN     April 7-9, 2000    vol. 11, no. 70    SECTION THREE

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WORLDWIDE NEWS & VIEWS with a Catholic slant continued:
  • Guatemala trial continues at snail's pace
  • Philippine Rebels may be willing to negotiate
  • Minnesota pro-lifers block honor to Blackmun in state capitol
  • German Bishops finally cut cord to abortion certificates controversy
  • Latest ShipLogs

  • WORLDWIDE NEWS & VIEWS with a Catholic slant continued:


        GUATEMALA CITY ( - The prosecutor investigating the murder of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi Conedera, Leopoldo Zeissig, said the investigation is following "a tortuous path," after the lawyer of two accused soldiers requested a face-to-face confrontation with their accuser, a witness for the prosecution.

        Ruben Chanax Sontay, a homeless man who is Zeissig's key witness, has said he saw Colonel Byron Miguel Lima Oliva and his father -- a retired military officer -- Byron Disrael Lima Estrada, leaving the crime scene minutes after Bishop Gerardi was murdered in his home.

        The lawyer for the two present and former members of an elite military unit have argued that Chanax Sontay "has changed his version too many times," and accused the prosecutor's witness of "trying to damage the defendant."

        The lawyer demanded a meeting between the two soldiers and Chanax Sontay before the trial formally starts. Zeissig, for his part, has recognized the soldiers' right to request the meeting, but said the process will only delay the beginning of the trial.

        "Too many variables are affecting the process," said Zeissig, referring to the fact that all the accused insist on their innocence while accusing, in their turn, the others. Last week, Father Mario Orantes, who also claims his innocence, was included in the murder accusation by the presiding judge.

        "The prosecution is committed to the solving of this case, but it seem that this tortuous process will get worse before it gets better," Zeissig said.

        Bishop Gerardi was murdered in the garage of his home in April 1998, two days after releasing a human rights report that blamed the military and its paramilitary allies for most of the deaths in the country's 36-year civil war. Human rights groups and Catholic leaders have criticized the investigators for focusing on various homeless men, Father Orantes, and the bishop's housekeeper as suspects, rather than anyone connected to the military.

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        MANILA ( - An Islamic rebel group in the southern Philippines said today it is prepared to release 15 of 33 Catholic schoolchildren it kidnapped several weeks ago.

        The Abu Sayyaf guerillas made the promise hours after another group freed the wife and infant daughter of the rebel group's leader. Khadafy Janjanali's wife and daughter were kidnapped in retaliation for the abduction of the children, their teachers, and a priest. More than 70 people were originally kidnapped from two high schools on Basilan island on March 20.

        They released an initial batch of 20 on the same day and 21 more in succeeding days. Four days after the kidnapping, local vigilantes headed by the bodyguard of the Basilan provincial governor seized 11 Abu Sayyaf supporters, including Janjanali's wife and daughter, to pressure the rebels into releasing their hostages.

        Abu Sayyaf had initially demanded that all negotiations be mediated by the Vatican, but Catholic leaders convinced them to talk to local Catholic representatives. Several Islamic groups are fighting to form an independent homeland in the southern Philippines.

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        ST. PAUL, Minnesota ( - Pro-life members of Minnesota's Legislature have blocked the placement of a bust of the late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun in the state Capitol because he wrote the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

        The privately-financed bust of the native Minnesotan would have been placed outside the Supreme Court chambers in the Capitol. But now the St. Paul City Council has unanimously voted to offer to display the bust in City Hall. "(Blackmun) should be honored, end of discussion," said City Council member Kathy Lantry, who proposed the resolution. "It's 'local boy made good.' If the state is going to have partisan politics, we should step in."

        A final effort to put the statue in the Capitol may still pass because the state Senate included authorization in a broad bill.

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    Dioceses Move Away from State Consultation Centers

        BERLIN, APR 6 ( By the end of this year, Catholic Consultation Centers will no longer issue certificates to pregnant women in difficulties. Bishop Karl Lehmann of Mainz, president of the German Episcopal Conference, has communicated this decision, which was already announced at the end of last year, in response to an express Papal request.

        Until reunification of East and West Germany, abortion was illegal in West Germany but legal in the East. A compromise law was made to support the clause of the West German Constitution affirming the right to life and the practice in the formerly communist East. Women in difficulty wanting an abortion were required to visit consultation centers, which would explain alternatives to abortion and issue a certificate of counseling. While abortion remains technically illegal, it is not punished if the woman has a certificate of counseling.

        The Catholic Church had opened many consultation centers in keeping with the system described, but questions arose about whether it was morally licit to issue a certificate that for all practical purposes, had become a "ticket" to abort. The German Episcopate requested the Holy Father's advice. After various suggestions of issuing certificates that stated "Not valid for abortion," John Paul II responded by saying that the Bishops should avoid any action that would cloud the Church's unconditional position in favor of life, including the controversial certificates.

        Between now and the end of the year, "the Episcopal Conference will present a concrete proposal to continue helping women in difficulty, but without issuing the certificate," Bishop Lehmann said. The German bishops have resolved their differences on this issue and are fully united and in agreement on the need to start on a clean slate, with no further involvement with the certificates.

        The departure from the system of certification will vary from diocese to diocese. The dioceses of Bavaria will leave the system in December, as will the diocese of Speyer; Dresden is scheduled to leave it on June 1, 2001. The Catholic consultation centers in Paderborn discontinued the certificates at the beginning of this year, and the diocese of Fulda has not granted them for years.

        This unanimous decision by the German Bishops must now resolve another problem: without the certificate, the conditions foreseen in the law for public recognition of the consultation centers, including public funding, will no longer exist. Speyer was the first to experience this. Based on the Bishop's decision to stop issuing certificates, regional authorities have withdrawn public funds from the consultation center.

        It is also unknown how the centers will get into contact with women in difficulties. In the previous system, 80% of the women who came had been referred to Catholic consultation centers by the gynecologists of the Social Security system. According to Bishop Lehmann, "now we must find new ways. It would certainly be a sign of insufficiency if we could only get in contact with pregnant women in crisis through the public health system." ZE00040606

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    April 7-9, 2000     volume 11, no. 70
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