Tuesday, November 29, 2005

THE VATICAN'S SEXUAL "INSTRUCTION" MANUAL

The Vatican's recently released document, "Instruction," reiterated its long-standing policy against gay priests. However, it does allow those who have "clearly overcome" homosexual tendencies to begin the process of becoming a priest.

Unfortunately, the Vatican didn't define how they could tell if a candidate for the priesthood had "clearly overcome" their homosexual tendencies. Priests can't date or marry women. That might be a good clue.

Church officials made a distinction between deep-seated homosexual tendencies and what they called "the expression of a transitory problem." In other words, the Vatican believes that some gays can just 'get over it.'

According to the document, "The Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the Seminary and to Holy Orders those who practice homosexuality, present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or support the so-called gay culture."

But the document said when "homosexual tendencies are only the expression of a transitory problem ... these must be clearly overcome at least three years prior to deaconate ordination." So those who aspire to be priests have three years to prove that they're not gay. Ready, set, go.

The highly anticipated 21-paragraph document, which advises bishops and seminary rectors on how to deal with potential gay priests entering the church, doesn't spell out how the "transitory problem" can be overcome, or how a potential priest can prove he no longer has such tendencies.

Reportedly, the new document reaffirms the church teaching that homosexual acts are "grave sins" which are intrinsically immoral and contrary to natural law. "Therefore, in no case can they be approved," it says.

"If a candidate practices homosexuality or presents deeply rooted homosexual tendencies, his spiritual director, like his confessor, have the duty to dissuade him in conscience from proceeding towards ordination," it said.

The document is sure to create controversy in the church. Some will argue that it will root out homosexuality in the priesthood, while others will claim that it will cause gay priests to go underground -- which some say was one of the factors that led to the sex abuse scandal in the first place.

The Roman Catholic Church's policy against homosexual priests goes back to a 1961 document which proclaimed that homosexuals should be barred from priesthood. But the Vatican felt compelled to issue updated guidelines because of the 2002 sex abuse scandal, which involved the abuse of teenage boys by priests.

The scandal had an enormous financial cost and deeply embarrassed the US church. Its reputation and integrity may have been irreparably harmed. In 1972 49% of Catholics reported attending church weekly; in 2000 a mere 26% did. It could be a long time before the Church recovers -- if it ever fully does. Surely the sex abuse scandal wasn't the sole reason for the decline, but it didn't help reverse the trend.

In responding to one of the most sensitive issues facing the Church, the document did not mention men who are already priests but only those entering seminaries to prepare for the priesthood.

That's because beggars can't be choosers.

The number of annual vocations to the priesthood has halved from around 1000 in 1965 to around 500 today. The number of men and women entering religious orders, primarily as nuns or monks, has declined by over 50% since 1965. And as the priesthood has become older, it has also become sparser; there were just under 59,000 priests in 1965, compared to around 45,000 today. The priest shortage is greatly affecting churches around the country; the number of parishes without a resident priest has increased from around 550 in 1965 to well over 3000 today. Apparently, fewer men are hearing "the calling" these days.

That's why church officials in the US allowed the sex abuse problem to fester for so long. They have a shortage of candidates and few other good options. So they just prayed for the predators, hoping their deviant ways would magically go away. Well, all the prayers in the world aren't turning gay people straight either.

Rev. Donald Cozzens, an author of "The Changing Face of the Priesthood," estimates that the number of gays in U.S. seminaries and the priesthood ranges from 25 percent to 50 percent. But other estimates have ranged from as low as 10 percent to as high as 60 percent.

The flamboyantly gay 70s group, The Village People, wrote campy songs that made light of the places that gay men might like to meet other men - the YMCA and the Navy. They could have just as well written a song called "In the Seminary."

It's little surprise that gay men have flocked to seminaries over the years. Some have tried to hide their sexuality. Becoming a priest would end the tedious, "When are you going to get married?" questions from family and friends. Others surely thought that they could just pray their sexuality away. Clearly that hasn't been working; the Church feels that it has a major problem on its hands. And still others chose to lead a cloistered life that provides lots of male companionship -- and sexual opportunities.

The answer is for the Church is to end the celibacy requirement for priests. Think of all of the worthy and wonderful candidates that are shut out because they want to be sexual beings who can have a wife and children. Married priests could raise other priests. It could become a family business, so to speak. Fathers are often their sons best role models. Priests, well....not exactly these days.

Celibacy leads nowhere -- except to unhappiness and declining numbers. The Vatican may eventually be forced to rethink its policy -- out of necessity.

Celibacy for priests wasn't even required until the Twelfth Century. The rule grew out of concerns for protecting Church property from inheritance. Pope Pelagius I made new priests agree that offspring could not inherit Church property. Pope Gregory then declared all sons of priests illegitimate (daughters couldn't inherit anyway). In 1022 Pope Benedict VIII banned marriages and mistresses for priests, and then in 1139 Pope Innocent II voided all marriages of priests and made all new priests divorce their wives.

The Vatican has always had issues with sex. But it's important to remember that it's comprised of men who aren't sexually active -- and some who never have been. Its hierarchy often seems overly rigid, out of touch, and hypocritical. While the Church teaches that sexual intimacy is designed for procreation (hence the restriction on contraception), infertile couples are still allowed to marry and post-menopausal spouses are allowed active sex lives. And the Church's ban on contraception is leaving many third world countries permanently in the third world, while contributing to the spiraling AIDS rate.

So the Church can issue documents, reaffirm old teachings, and do whatever else it wishes, but that isn't going to get at the root of its problems. They have a priest shortage that is only getting worse, and steadily declining numbers of parishioners. Allowing heterosexual priests to marry might just reverse both trends. Catholics would probably love a less rigid, more open-minded Church. It would certainly increase the pool of qualified, interested candidates to the priesthood. That'd be a great start. Rebuilding their reputation might take a little longer, but that would be another benefit of a much needed change.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

TIME TO ACT

Illegal immigration has become such an urgent and critical problem that in August the governors of Arizona and New Mexico were prompted to declare states of emergency along their borders.

It's estimated that 4,000 illegal aliens cross the 375-mile border between Arizona and Mexico every day. Last year, more than half of all illegal aliens apprehended were caught in Arizona. For every person the border patrol picks up, at least three slip into the country safely. Most obtain phony identification papers, including bogus Social Security numbers, to create new identities and mask their unlawful presence.

Transporting illegal immigrants requires fleets of stolen cars, which explains why Arizona ranks No. 1 in cars stolen per capita, with 56,000 vehicles ripped off in 2003.

In September, the commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Robert C. Bonner, resigned in frustration over US policy after four years on the job. It was obvious to him just how impotent US border control efforts are.

Bonner had clashed with the Bush administration over his support for the use of civilian "minutemen" along the U.S.-Mexico border to assist border patrol agents. President Bush, who's disregard of the problem forced concerned civilians to act in the first place, has equated the volunteer group with "vigilantes."

Saying that he was not asked to resign, Bonner indicated that it was just "a good time to move on."

His departure left three of the top positions within the Department of Homeland Security vacant: the chiefs of Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Having vacancies at the top positions in the departments that oversee immigration and border control just make a bad situation worse.

The government recently announced that the U.S. Latino population has increased 17% in the past four years. Latinos now number 41 million people in the US, or one out of every seven people. And presently, Latinos account for fifty percent of all US population growth, a percentage they are expected to maintain for the next 20 years.

No one knows exactly how many illegals are living in the U.S., but estimates run as high as 15 million.

Experts contend that 3 million illegal aliens flooded into the U.S. last year alone. It was roughly three times the number of immigrants who came to the U.S. legally. And at least 4 million people who arrived in the U.S. legally on work, tourist or education visas have decided to ignore immigration laws and stay permanently.

Many Americans are upset that illegal aliens often receive government-funded health care, education benefits and subsidized housing, and public-opinion polls show that Americans overwhelmingly favor a crackdown on illegal immigration.

But Latinos appear conflicted in their views of illegal immigration. A TIME Magazine poll found that 62% of US Latinos think illegal immigration is a "very" or "extremely" serious problem. Yet, 62% think that illegal immigrants should be able to get a US driver's license.

Other Americans think that the problem has clearly gotten out of hand. And situations like the following only fuel the fire.

In August, a US court granted two illegal El Salvadoran immigrants a civil judgment that gave them possession of a 70 acre Arizona ranch owned by a "vigilante" leader who they claim threatened them with a gun in March 2003 when he caught them sneaking into the US.

Mexican President Vicente Fox has done nothing to help the US with this problem, in fact he may have encouraged it. In 2000, Fox made his position clear when he called for a fully open border within 10 years, with "a free flow of people, workers" moving between the two countries. That free flow would quite clearly move in just one direction.

Under U.S. immigration law, illegal immigrants can be imprisoned after the second offense, but that almost never happens no matter how many times they're caught. The U.S. legal and prison systems would be completely overwhelmed.

While proponents of illegal immigration contend that illegals take jobs that Americans won't, evidence suggests that it is low wage rates, not the type of job, that American workers reject. The greatest impact of illegal immigration is on unskilled American workers at the bottom of the wage scale.

Of the 400,000 illegal aliens who have been ordered to be deported, 80,000 have criminal records—and the agency in charge, the Homeland Security Department, has no idea where any of them are, including those from countries that support terrorism.

Most illegals, including those with arrest records, are not jailed while awaiting a hearing. That's because Congress has failed to appropriate enough money to build sufficient holding facilities. Rather, the immigrants are released on their promise to return. But they don't.

As for illegals already serving time in U.S. jails, state law-enforcement authorities are not permitted to keep prisoners beyond their original sentence. When Homeland Security agents fail to show up promptly, which is often, the alien convicts are released back into the community.

There are two competing bills in the Senate that would deal with the illegal immigration problem. A number of Republican Congressman have told the White House that stronger enforcement is their top priority this Fall, and Tom Delay has said that President Bush has privately admitted making a mistake in how he's dealt with the issue in the past.

Experts contend that if the government simply issued a counterfeit proof Social Security card with an embedded photograph, and if all U.S. employers were mandated to require it under penalty of law, the illegal immigration problem could be solved.

Hopefully things will soon change. The time for our government to get serious about this problem is long since overdue.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

ANWR LEASES TO BE SOLD

Despite being set aside for protection 44 years ago, the Senate approved requiring the Interior Department to begin selling oil leases for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska refuge within two years.

Though past attempts had failed, this time drilling supporters attached language ending the ban on drilling in the refuge to a budget measure that is immune from filibuster.

It is estimated that 10.5 billion barrels of oil lie beneath the coastal tundra of northeastern Alaska. At present, the US uses about 7.3 billion barrels of oil a year. Do the math: that's less than a year and half's supply.

Experts predict that oil will not flow from ANWR for 10 years, and according to the Energy Department peak production of about 1 million barrels a day isn't expected until about 2025. Currently, the United States used about 20 million barrels of oil a day, and consumption is expected to increase an additional 32% by 2025. It's hard to see how ANWR will make any difference at all. In truth, it won't. The leases are clearly a giveaway to oil interests.

Environmentalists have cited a report by DOE's Energy Information Administration that concluded that ANWR oil would only slightly affect gasoline prices and marginally lower the growth of imports by 2025, when imported oil would account for 64 percent of U.S. demand instead of 68 percent without ANWR's oil. How about that for energy independence - a whopping 4% decrese in foreign oil reliance. Wow, let's celebrate!

The provision in the budget bill assumed $2.5 billion in federal revenue from oil lease sales over the next five years. Alaska would get a like amount as well as half of future oil royalties from the refuge. That's one reason Alaska's senators have fought for years to approve oil exploration in the refuge, which was set aside in 1961 for special protection.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

SENATE BILL FIXES PENSION SHORTFALLS

In an effort to shore up deficits in the pension plans that cover 44 million Americans, the Senate voted Wednesday to force companies to make up underfunding estimated at $450 billion and live up to promises made to employees.

The Senate legislation, which passed 97-2, would compel companies with defined-benefit plans to live up to their funding obligations, preventing them from abandoning the retirement benefits of millions of Americans. The near unanimous support for the bill, an anomally in Washington these days, reveals the importance of this issue to both parties.

The vote came a day after the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which insures the defined-benefit plans of 44 million people and takes over the plans of bankrupt companies, reported a deficit of $22.8 billion at the end of the 2005 fiscal year on Sept. 30, and predicted a troubled future. A shortfall has been reported in each of the last four years.

The PBGC said it assumed responsibility for the pension benefits of an additional 235,000 workers and retirees in 2005, bringing the total to 1.3 million, and paid benefits of $3.7 billion, up from $3 billion in 2004.

Premiums per participant, paid by companies, totaled $1.5 billion. In an effort top offset some of the deficit, those premiums would increase from $19 to $30 a year under the Senate bill.

The Senate legislation, unlike the House version, would also extend special relief for debt-ridden airlines. Bankrupt steel and airline companies have been a significant reason for the PBGC's mounting financial woes. But the White House, while saying it supports most of the bill, opposed including extended relief for the airline industry.

Earlier this year, United Airlines and US Airways filed for bankruptcy and forced their employee pension liabilities -- a combined $9.6 billion -- onto the PBGC. Delta Airlines and Northwest Airlines , which both filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September, could follow suit.

PBGC-covered single-employer defined-benefit plans, under which workers receive fixed monthly benefits based on their salaries and tenure, declined from 95,000 in 1980 to 30,000 in 2004 as companies either stopped offering plans or switched to 401(k)-type programs.