Jesuit USA Newsletter

Feb 19, 2002

In This Issue

Hostage Drama at Fairfield University Ends Peacefully

A hostage situation at Fairfield University in Connecticut ended peacefully on February 12. The standoff began at about 4 pm and ended seven hours later after the man, recent Fairfield graduate Patrick Arbelo, released 22 students and their teacher and, around 11 pm, and surrendered to police. Arbelo began releasing the hostages in batches throughout the afternoon and into the night. The final hostage, a male student, was freed about six hours after the standoff began.

Dr Elizabeth Dreyer was teaching a religious studies class when Arbelo entered the classroom, saying he had a bomb, which was later determined by police to be fake. Arbelo ordered a hostage to call WCBS-TV in New York, and he delivered a rambling statement by phone, demanding that it be aired.

Students and school officials said that the teacher of the class, Dr Dreyer, who was held hostage for several hours, is extremely well-liked and that her class, "Voices of Medieval Women," is one of the toughest to get into.

After his capture Mr Arbelo was arrested on charges of first-degree kidnapping and held on a $500,000 bond.

Fairfield University is a Jesuit-run Catholic institution with some 5,000 students about 60 miles northeast of New York City. Fr Aloysius P Kelley SJ, president of Fairfield University, thanked the faculty, staff, and students for their "magnificent response" to the crisis. [Source: CNS. Do not repost electronically]


Jesuit says Venezuelan Bishops to Continue Criticizing President

Fr Luis Ugalde SJ, the rector of Catholic University in Caracas, said that despite the increasing threats against the Catholic Church, the Venezuelan bishops will not back down in their criticism of President Hugo Chavez.

"The current government is clearly abusing power and eroding the credibility of democratic institutions, and the Catholic bishops have decided not to be accomplices to this," Fr Ugalde said.

"The government tries to make this appear as if the bishops and the priests were taking sides in the political arena, but what the bishops are doing is just applying the Gospel to daily life," he added.

Fr Ugalde's comments came after several days of heated public exchanges by Chavez and the bishops at a time when Chavez's popularity is dropping.

On January 27 Chavez, describing himself as a practicing Catholic, criticized the bishops for aligning themselves with opposition politicians.

"They do not walk in the path of God, in the path of Christ," he said of the bishops during his weekly radio address. He told the bishops to examine their consciences and say the Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary 20 times each. He also invited the bishops to a meeting, but the bishops refused.

A statement by the bishops' conference accused Chavez of "insults" and said the climate was not right for a meeting. The statement denied that the bishops were siding with opposition politicians.

On January 11 the bishops' conference issued a statement saying that poverty, unemployment, and social combativeness prevail in Venezuela. It said that a mentality of "winners and losers" has made dialogue among different sectors of society almost impossible.

Chavez, an ex-military officer who led a failed 1992 coup attempt, was elected president in a landslide three years ago. He has been dropping in popularity spurred by criticisms that he is trying to install an authoritarian regime and has not fulfilled many of his promises to improve living conditions for the poor in this oil-rich country.

On January 31, Venezuela's largest political party asked the Supreme Court to remove Chavez as mentally unfit.

Chavez has said that he is opposed by political parties and powerful elites who fear his plans for closing the gap between rich and poor will erode their control of society. [Source: CNS. Do not repost electronically


Indian Students Start Program Monitoring Atrocities Against Women

A convention on violence against women that St Joseph's Evening College, a Jesuit college in Bangalore, India, organized has spurred students to set up a program to monitor atrocities against women.

Fr Ambrose Pinto SJ, principal of the college, said personnel from Christian and non-Christian colleges in the city met to address the problem for the first time and made "some concrete decisions to curtail violence against women."

The gathering not only helped educate students about increasing incidents of violence against women, but also encouraged them to assume responsibility to work out "preventive measures," added Fr Pinto.

The meeting was held at a time when National Crime Records Bureau figures in India point to a serious problem. In 2000, a rape or molestation case occurred every 26 minutes, a dowry-related death every 102 minutes, sexual harassment every 51 minutes, and torture every 33 minutes, the report said.

A group has set up a "women-watch" program that plans to monitor cases of violence against women in Bangalore and distribute information materials to all city colleges to spread awareness. [Source: CNS. Do not repost electronically]


Zimbabwe's Jesuits Offer Sanctuary to those Trying to Escape Violence

Jesuits working in Zimbabwe promised to turn their churches into safe havens to offer sanctuary to anyone trying to escape mounting political violence in the country.

The 194 members of the Zimbabwe Province unanimously agreed on two statements to condemn the state-sponsored violence in the run-up to Zimbabwe's presidential elections in March.

The first statement makes the sanctuary offer, while the second attacks the government's political manipulation of Zimbabwe's youth.

In the March election, Robert Mugabe, a Jesuit-educated Catholic who has ruled Zimbabwe since it won independence from Britain in 1980, is running for re-election.

In a statement titled "A Time for Deciding," the Jesuits said, "We have seen various groups, their numbers increasing in recent weeks, who drive people out of certain areas by violence, prevent people from entering certain areas, abduct people, prevent people from expressing their views, and coerce them into expressing contrary views.

"Wherever we are able to, we shall provide places of sanctuary, that is, places where we insist that no violence shall take place, places where no weapons of any kind shall be brought, where victims or potential victims of violence can receive protection, where their pursuers shall be, as far as in our power, prevented from entering."

The second statement appealed to Zimbabwe's youth to resist government attempts to recruit and train them in "illegal and criminal activities."

"Remember, this nation is not at war: It is simply preparing for an election," the Jesuits said. " After that election, with the help of God, the nation will return to normality. But if bands of youth persist in violent activities, they could bring the nation to a state of civil war." [Source: CNS. Do not repost electronically]


Jesuit Debates Human Cloning at Senate Hearing

Supporting a total ban on human cloning as a panelist at a Senate hearing was Fr Kevin FitzGerald SJ, chairman of Catholic health care ethics at Georgetown University's Center for Clinical Bioethics.

Government regulation of scientific experimentation on humans is nothing new, given "the wrongs done in the name of science," and is needed to safeguard respect for human life, he said.

The February 5 hearing was held as the Senate prepared to debate human cloning. Awaiting Senate action is a bill passed by the House of Representatives last year that would outlaw all human cloning. Several senators have proposed their own bills. All would ban reproductive cloning but several would allow cloning human embryos for research; President Bush has said he favors a total ban.

Fr FitzGerald said public policy should not be subordinate to scientific criteria.

"When facing the unknown or the uncertain, the answer of science is always to do the research. This is perfectly good science, but it may not be good public policy or the ethical thing to do," he said.

"We Americans know from our own history with eugenics and with research on minorities, the mentally disabled, and even our own military forces, the tragedies that can occur when public policies concerning human experimentation are shaped according to the dictates of science," he added.

"Our society has chosen to limit what experiments can be performed on human beings, even though these limits may slow scientific progress," he said. [Source: CNS. Do not repost electronically]


Compassion, Assessing Pain Called Key Tools Against Assisted Suicide

The Catholic response to those who request physician-assisted suicide is to look for the causes of their pain and address them with compassion, said Fr Myles N Sheehan SJ, a doctor at Loyola University Chicago who spoke to medical professionals at a conference on "Recovering Our Traditions: A Catholic Perspective on End-of-Life Care."

Though some may see a request for physician-assisted suicide as a crisis situation, Fr Sheehan said he sees it as an opportunity for a conversation. "It often is a request for help," he said.

He said that responding to an assisted suicide request by explaining that such acts are against Catholic hospital policy is a bad idea.

Instead, he urged medical professionals to use a six-step procedure that involves clarifying what a person is truly seeking, assessing the underlying causes and compassionately addressing them, and discussing legal alternatives.

When they face difficult situations common in today's medical system, such as receiving poor care or having to spend all their money on care, it is not irrational or sinful for them to have thoughts about assisted suicide, he said.

"Something has to be done so this systemic injustice doesn't continue to be perpetrated," he said.

Helping them kill themselves is not the solution, the priest said, quoting Pope John Paul II's encyclical "Evangelium Vitae": "True 'compassion' leads to sharing another's pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear."

Fr Sheehan also urged caregivers to turn to the sacraments for support. "We don't rely on our own brilliance," he said. And, priests need more training in end-of-life care, he added. [Source: CNS. Do not repost electronically]


Jesuit Appointed to National Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing

Tommy Thompson, Secretary of Health and Human Services, has appointed Fr Robert Baumiller SJ, associate dean for health education programs at Xavier University, to the Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing.

A philosophy and biology professor, Fr Baumiller teaches bioethics and medical genetics and its implications with Fr Timothy Meier SJ. Fr Baumiller's committee appointment will begin on February 28 and run through 2005 if the legislation is renewed.

"We will meet in Washington four times per year to look at federal policy in the area of genetic testing--how it should be used, how it should be quality controlled, and what tests should be considered," he said.

Fr Baumiller also serves on the Ohio Public Health Department's Genetics Task Force, which was created two years ago. [Source: Xavier University]


JRS Involved in the Rebuilding of Schools in Goma

Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is raising funds to deal with the damage done to schools in Goma as a result of the recent volcanic eruption. The JRS plan involves supplying basic school supplies to damaged schools and the total reconstruction of schools that were demolished.

The eruption resulted in the destruction of around 40 percent of the schools in Goma and put a virtual halt to the education of the young throughout the city. JRS in the Democratic Republic of Congo reports that some of the damaged schools have received canvas tents and that some other schools that have been destroyed are looking into the possibility of moving to other buildings that are still intact. [Source: JRS Dispatches]


Remembrance of Things Past


From the Editors

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