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c. 1999 Religion News Service

Religious environmental partnership announces $16 million campaign

(RNS) The National Religious Partnership for the Environment has announced a $16 million environmental campaign that aims”to make concern for the environment a fundamental focus of religious life for every denomination in America.” The announcement on Thursday (May 27) came on the same day that top religious leaders met in a closed-door meeting with officials from the business, labor, government, science and environmental sectors. About 35 people participated, including John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO; Robert Shapiro, CEO of Monsanto Corp.; and Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club.”As a participant in the meeting, I was struck by the consensus that environmental issues generally and global climate change specifically at its core is not a political and technical matter,”said John Carr, secretary for the U.S. Catholic Conference’s Department of Social Development and World Peace.”There is a moral, even spiritual, dimension to this.” The upcoming efforts by the religious partnership include distribution of educational materials for congregations, regional training for local clergy and lay leaders and the increased involvement of numerous national religious agencies in environmental issues.

Paul Gorman, executive director of the partnership, called the campaign”an entire quantum jump in terms of the scale and magnitude and the diversity of the program.” The campaign will be put in place by member groups of the partnership _ the U.S. Catholic Conference, the National Council of Churches, the Evangelical Environmental Network and the Coalition on Environment and Jewish Life. Those groups, along with others in faith communities, will finance the effort, Gorman said.

Examples of national initiatives that will be undertaken include a Catholic effort focused on children’s environmental health; materials for evangelical congregations preceding Earth Day 2000 from the International Bible Society, the National Association of Evangelicals and others; a Jewish”Healthy Food and Farms”program; statewide interfaith campaigns addressing global warming; and efforts to address links between race, poverty and toxic pollution.

In addition to plans for thousands of new congregational projects and 100 new regional efforts, Gorman said the partnership’s work will become more global.”We’re beginning to get inquiries from people in other nations saying, `How have you done this?’ and `How has it worked?'”he said.

The partnership, which began in 1993, hopes the campaign also will produce future leaders for whom concern for the environment will be second nature.”A central objective of the next 10 to 20 years is that the next generation of religious leaders will hold care for creation as a defining vocation and ministry,”Gorman said.

Affidavit suggests O’Hair was killed by office manager

(RNS) An affidavit unsealed Wednesday (May 26) implicates a former office manager of famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair as her murderer.

David R. Waters, who pleaded guilty Thursday in Austin, Texas, to two unrelated federal weapons charges, has not been charged in the case involving O’Hair, who disappeared in 1995. He was convicted of murder in 1965 in Illinois.

The affidavit from the Internal Revenue Service demonstrates for the first time the government’s theory about how O’Hair vanished mysteriously with her son, Jon Garth Murray, and granddaughter, Robin Murray O’Hair, in September 1995, the Associated Press reported.

The trio disappeared from San Antonio, Texas, with $500,000 in gold coins.

Waters, 53, orchestrated a plot to steal $600,000 from O’Hair’s United Secularists of America, the affidavit says.

O’Hair gained prominence through her efforts to oppose recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and required Bible reading in public schools, which were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1963.

Citing a confidential informant, the document also states Waters had a deep hatred for O’Hair.

In 1993 and 1994, he worked for her in Austin and”was open about his dislike of the O’Hairs and made comments about harming Madalyn,”the document said, citing an informant.

The informant said O’Hair wrote a long article in the American Atheist newsletter describing Waters’ criminal history after he pleaded guilty in May 1995 to stealing money from the O’Hairs.”At this point in time, Waters had a serious change of attitude regarding the O’Hairs,”the affidavit stated.

Patrick Ganne, Waters’ lawyer, said of the affidavit:”What it looks like to me is a script for Oliver Stone’s next movie. They don’t have any direct evidence to link him. It is all speculation.” When the O’Hairs disappeared authorities wondered if they had run off with their organization’s money or if they were victims of foul play. Others thought O’Hair, at the time 77 and ailing, had chosen to leave public view so she could die quietly without Christians praying over her.

Authorities recently suggested the remains of the O’Hairs were buried in barrels, but two recent searches of a ranch near San Antonio have concluded without a discovery of bodies or barrels.

Catholic Conference stresses Social Security benefits

(RNS) America’s controversial Social Security program reflects the principles of Roman Catholic social teaching, according to the nation’s bishops, and any changes made to the national retirement and disability program should benefit the poor.

In a statement released Friday (May 27), the U.S. Catholic Conference’s Administrative Board _ top leaders of the conference _ said a commitment to”protecting human dignity (and) preserving the common good,”were the guiding principles behind both Social Security and the church.

Government officials have predicted that by the year 2032, Social Security payouts in benefits could exceed tax revenues as the population ages and fewer people enter the workforce. Some economists, however, have given more dire estimates, predicting a more imminent imbalance between taxes and benefits.

The fears have prompted an intense policy debate on how or whether to reform the Social Security program. The bishops’ statement will form the basis for any advocacy on the issue on Capitol Hill.

The bishops’ statement identified four policy priorities which it urged would-be reformers to consider when weighing solutions to the Social Security’s looming financial problems. They included assuring that reforms do not endanger the poor, reducing benefit inadequacies between men and women and the belief that the poor should bear less of the Social Security tax burden.

Central to the statement was the commitment that any changes in the tax structure of the program”should be weighted in favor of the poor.””Those with lower incomes should bear less of the total Social Security tax burden than those who are most affluent,”the statement said.

Intended by the bishops to provide a Catholic perspective on what it called the”largest and most successful social programs in the United States,”the statement also acknowledged that”people of good will can and will disagree about specific applications and policy judgments.” Still, they said,”we believe these principles can contribute to the public dialogue on preserving our commitment to our children, our parents and ourselves through Social Security.”

Groundbreaking ceremonies for Los Angeles cathedral held in private

(RNS) Fearing potential pickets and disruptions, the official groundbreaking for the new $163 million Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles was a small, private ceremony with about 30 philanthropists, church officials and construction workers present.

Cardinal Roger Mahony, using a frontloader, personally moved the first few piles of dirt at the May 17 ceremony, archdiocesan officials said.

Unlike this cathedral-specific groundbreaking, the construction site itself had a ground blessing in 1997, with more than 15,000 Catholics attending and last fall the cathedral’s whole 5.6-acre site had a groundbreaking, too.

But both those events attracted vocal protests by about a dozen local Catholic Worker members vehemently opposed to spending $163 million for the cathedral complex.

Archdiocesan spokesman the Rev. Gregory Coiro told Religion News Service that prior groundbreaking and blessing events meant less fanfare this time. He described Catholic Worker opposition as isolated.”You’ve got an archdiocese with 4 million Catholics and you’ve got a handful of people who are the only people protesting the new cathedral,”he said.

More than $130 million of the cathedral’s $163 million price tag has been raised, mostly from a core group of major Los Angeles philanthropists. Located on prime city real estate, the 3,000-seat, 63,000 square-foot cathedral, plus a parking garage, conference center and 100,000 square-foot plaza will open in mid-2001.

Quote of the day: Polish Roman Catholic activist Kazimierz Switon

(RNS)”The government wants to remove the chapel and the crosses. They can do this only over my dead body.” _ Kazimierz Switon, a radical Roman Catholic activist who has spearheaded the drive to place Christian crosses at the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp announcing he has mined the field around the crosses to deter the government from removing the crosses.


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