- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The nation’s Catholic bishops voted unanimously yesterday to update a 25-year-old stance against the death penalty with a new statement: “A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death.”

About 280 prelates attending the annual fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at the Capitol Hyatt also listened to a report on damage to four Gulf Coast dioceses affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, for whom a national offering by American Catholics of $108 million was what one archbishop termed “a drop in the bucket.”

The death penalty statement, said Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, is part of “our common commitment to restrict, restrain and bring an end to the use of this ultimate penalty.”

It is “deeply flawed and often unfair,” he added. “This statement is a call to reject the tragic illusion that we can demonstrate respect for life by taking life, that we can teach that killing is wrong by killing those who kill others.”

However, Catholics politicians and citizens are not mandated to oppose the death penalty because, unlike abortion and euthanasia, the death penalty is not always and everywhere wrong, he said.

“Hence, we’re not saying that someone signing a death warrant is committing an intrinsically evil act,” Bishop DiMarzio said.

The bishops also heard a report on damages wrought earlier this fall by Katrina and Rita on Catholic dioceses fronting the Gulf of Mexico.

Of the $108 million donated by Catholics, said Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, $63 million went to Catholic parishes, $22 million went to affected dioceses, $4 million went to dioceses sheltering hurricane evacuees and the rest remains to be spent.

The infrastructure for the Archdiocese of New Orleans and the Diocese of Biloxi, Miss., was “devastated,” he said. The dioceses of Lake Charles, La., and Beaumont, Texas, were heavily damaged as well.

Catholic officials were getting the “runaround” from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on what sort of support the government can offer damaged Catholic schools, he added, prompting them to go to a fellow Catholic, Jim Towey of the White House Office for Faith-based Initiatives, for some answers.

Mr. Towey and an unnamed Homeland Security official “were very helpful and understood the plight of the bishops,” Archbishop Fiorenza said.

Still, the USCCB needs “strong, aggressive advocacy” to Congress and the White House on helping Catholic schools recover, he said.

Xavier University, a Catholic school in New Orleans with a heavily black-majority student body, needs help after suffering $90 million in damages, the Texas prelate said.

Moreover, electricity is still not on in much of New Orleans as one of the major electrical utilities has gone bankrupt, the medical situation is “grim,” schools are still not open and hospital emergency rooms, he added, are available only to people with medical insurance.

“We’re going to be in this for a long, long time,” he said. “We need to put the legislative pressure on so that the city of New Orleans and the Archdiocese of New Orleans recover.”

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