Archive for Viewpoint

Summing up the American Losses at the VI Summit of the Americas, La Paz, Bolivia — May, 2012

By: Rev. Michael Gillgannon, a Kansas City – St. Joseph diocesean priest who has served the people of Bolivia for nearly 40 years

Pope Benedict XVI went to Cuba in March to continue the pastoral dialogue of the Catholic Church with the Cuban government which Pope John Paul II had so successfully initiated in 1999. Despite some not so well informed critics, Pope Benedict’s visit, including fruitful dialogues with both Fidel Castro, and his brother, President Raul Castro, had some quite interesting results symbolized by the regime making Good Friday a national holiday for workers to take part in religious observances. Pope Benedict reiterated his condemnation of the international economic embargo of Cuba while noting that the former Marxist ideology had become outdated in Cuba and elsewhere. Cuba has been in a process of deep economic and political change for some time and it became a pivotal point in the recent VI Summit of the Americas meeting. The difference of the patient dialogue of the Church and the unfortunately outdated Cuban, and Latin American, diplomacy of the United States was quite evident in their different results.

President Obama spent three days in Cartagena, Columbia for the Summit meeting of Hemispheric Presidents. Some cited this as a change in attitude, if not in policy, because few presidents had given that much time to Latin America before. The Summit event was inaugurated in the Clinton Administration in 1994 to promote free trade agreements like NAFTA all over the Western Hemisphere. The agenda this year was once again to promote trade (to seal and applaud such an agreement with the host country, Columbia, recently approved by both countries) but also to respond in new ways to the failed policies of years to curb the continental scourge of the drug trade and the cartels which control them throughout the Americas. The low point for the American President was not the scandalous behavior of the Secret Service agents accompanying him (Interestingly, prostitution is legal in most Catholic countries of the Americas. But, also interestingly, they outlaw the death penalty). Rather, it was the fact that university students in Columbia, reflecting popular sentiment against American policies, mounted demonstrations against him which forced the closing of the universities. And worse, the American agenda for Cuba, for trade, and for drug control, were all roundly rejected by the assembly.

The rejection included, unusual for this meeting, closed door diplomacy which was not able to reach a consensus agreement on a final document. So none was given. The democratically elected Presidents of Latin America and the Caribbean islands, representing over 600 million people, rejected the policy of not including Cuba in the Summit. Only the United States and Canada refused to budge on the fifty year-old policies of exclusion and embargo. Most analysts, north and south, repeated the truism that North American policies on Cuba reflect not intelligent and professional diplomacy but political deference to the influence of the Miami Cuban exiles on Florida and national American politics and policies. President Carrea of Ecuador boycotted the Summit because of the exclusion of Cuba. President Ortega of Nicaragua held a massive support for Cuba rally in Managua paralleling the Summit with thousands in attendance. The Latin American presidents ended by telling the North Americans that they would not attend another summit (in Panama in 2015) without the participation of Cuba.

The Columbia-U.S. Free Trade agreement, years in discussion, was offered as a benefit to the Columbian hosts for the occasion. But President Obama in his 2008 campaign had said he was opposed to such an agreement because of Columbian government policies against workers rights and trade unions. The Washington Office for Latin America recently published their study on such policies documenting that 30 union leaders were assassinated last year in Columbia. Since 1986 almost 3000 such organizers have been killed. And only 5% of such cases have resulted in penalties for their perpetrators. So much for workers benefits and social justice in the free trade agreements which the United States has imposed in the last 20 years on Mexico and Central America. Despite these contradictions, the U.S. policy makers seem tone deaf to the strong voices of so many progressive Latin American countries, like Ecuador and Bolivia, which are organizing political and economic trade blocs of their own excluding both the United States and Canada.

Among other serious disputes continue to be immigration. U.S. immigration policies seem to be unplanned, contradictory, and often, inhuman. A poem of Robert Frost questioned the saying “good fences make good neighbor” by intimating fences and walls are needed only because neighbors quarrel and lack mutual confidence. Building frontier walls and allowing States and municipalities to dictate national foreign policy does not seem to be wise when such laws are seen as unjust and insulting to human dignity. Latin governments ask, “Is the United States becoming a huge ‘Gated Community’ to keep out “the others”? Is fear and “national security” making a once welcoming people…“send us your homeless tempest-tossed”…a nation of selfish and closed citizenry? Latin Americas’ peoples and governments have every reason based on real experiences to think so despite the positive efforts of many Church people and others to change such unjust laws.

Another sore point is the international drug trade and the failed United States police and military policies of control both at home and in Latin America. A mounting wave of criticism is asking for a revision of these policies because they have not worked for years. And many international voices are saying it is time to look for international collaboration and coordination to control the illicit trade now destroying not only persons but national States.

“The Economist”, a journal usually critical of the economic and political policies of progressive Latin American governments, had a pointed comment on the Summit worth noting…

”If Latin America is doing so damn well all of a sudden, why does it not just get on with the business of standing on its own feet? As for the tricky issues of immigration, drugs and Cuba, can’t those southerners see how things stand north of the border? Don’t they understand that the thorny domestic policies of the United States make serious action on them impossible? They can see. They do understand. But in recent decades some of the countries of Latin America have managed against great odds to summon up the courage to overcome their own impossible domestic politics. It may be time for the United States to follow their example for a change.”

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A letter of farewell from Sr. Jeanne Christensen

Dear Friends,

In 2006, the Kansas City Olive Branch was launched by Michael Humphrey and Dan Meyers, members of the Salvadoran Faith Accompaniment Group, who were concerned about the continuity of the work of the Diocesan Peace and Justice Office.  This concern arose because both Fr. Frank Schuele and I were leaving the office.  I was humbled and pleased that they wanted to continue providing a strong resource to the peace and justice community in the greater Kansas City area.  With the help of dedicated individuals who served on the Visioning Board,   KC Olive Branch became a virtual reality.  Over the years religious women and men’s communities and individual donors have provided financial support.  Many have offered their ideas, encouragement, informational resources, and/or written articles.

In 2008, after both Mike and Dan experienced career changes, I became editor and successfully fulfilled that role only with the outstanding assistance of Clare Murphy Shaw – web mistress par excellent!!  Over the last several weeks, Mike, Clare and I have exchanged emails regarding the future of KC Olive Branch – the conversation was initiated when I expressed my need to resign as editor due to my additional ministry responsibilities.  I am continuing my Mercy community justice ministry from Kansas City, so you will still see me around.

I will miss my involvement with this wonderful virtual peace and justice community.  June 2012 will be the last edition that I edit.  How KC Olive Branch moves into the future is still being discussed.  If you have ideas or suggestions, feel free to send them to Clare, Michael or me; and I will see they get included in the conversation.

I hope that KC Olive Branch has been helpful and perhaps inspiring to you.  Thank you for being part of our community, working to make the world a more peaceful and just place for all.

Peace and blessings.

Jeanne Christensen, RSM

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Experiencing Climate Change and Responding

Several years ago, a friend and I returned to our beloved Glacier Basin Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park.  It took me a bit to figure out what was wrong:  about half the trees were missing.  And so were the shade and the feeling of being embraced by the forest.  What happened?

I soon learned from a ranger that the major culprit is the pine bark beetle. Normally beetles are killed off by a certain number of winter days below a certain temperature, which usually happens every 2-3 years. At that time these temperatures hadn’t happened for ten years. A nearby camper told me that Timber Creek Campground, another favorite, didn’t even open until July 4 because of dead tree removal. He said. “There’s not a tree left.”  I couldn’t even go there. That was when climate change became real and personal for me.  To this day, I can seldom tell the story without a surge of emotion.

The ranger commented: “The forest will come back, but it won’t be the same forest and it won’t be in our lifetimes.”

All of us have experienced climate change, if we pause to think about it.  The year 2011 included 12 major climate events ranging from killer tornadoes to floods, to drought to catastrophic fires.  In the Midwest, average annual temperatures have risen in recent decades, especially in the winter months. The growing season is starting earlier and lasting longer.  Extreme heat events and heavy downpours are becoming much more common.  Fire ants are headed north.

The vast majority of climate scientists and earth scientists (over 95%) agree that global climate change is real, caused by human activity, and a serious threat to our future.  For a snapshot of what this change might mean for humans, I recommend a study by the Pontifical Academy of Science called “The Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene.”  The article clearly illustrates the fate of glaciers, with before-and-after pictures. It analyzes the inevitable coming crisis of fresh water for both human consumption and agriculture for millions of people, many of whom are already poor. 1

The irony is that those who are contributing the most to this climate change phenomenon are those who are not only the least affected – for now – but who also have the greatest resources to cope.

Really, I’m not trying to make you depressed. I prefer to think of it as reality therapy.  The wonderful part about facing reality is that it has the power to move us to constructive action.

What action?  The choices range from reconstructing our worldview, to changing our daily habits, to speaking out in order to change our institutions and social structures.

Do you remember, during the recovery period from 9/11, when President Bush encouraged us to shop!  Are we a nation of citizens or of consumers?  Are we here on earth to reach out to one another and to build relationships of care, concern and mutual responsibility for the wellbeing of one another and the planet — or to accumulate more “stuff”?  As a culture, we have been seduced into a worldview in which personal worth is measured by money, where “the one with the most toys wins.” This culture is simply not sustainable—environmentally or socially. Not even spiritually.

There’s a new world view coming over the horizon – and odd as it may seem, it’s coming from science. Actually in some ways it’s not new, because it reflects something known by indigenous people in both the past and the present – that we are all one, we are all interconnected, in relationship, accountable for the impact we have on one another.  The difference is that today this worldview is rooted in scientific inquiry – including the realization that everything in the universe comes from the same single origin, and that we all are connected with and influencing each other.  We are all in a very real way kin.

Those of a Judeao-Christian heritage will recognize the resonance with the Wisdom Tradition in the Bible.  God’s wisdom (usually portrayed as feminine), who was with God before anything came to be, was present for the whole work of creation, and delights in being in the world with human children. The same theme is echoed in John’s Gospel:  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…through [whom] all things came to be, not one thing had its being except through [the Word]. “  I suspect that most religious traditions can find passages which explore humans’ relationship with the universe and each other in similar ways.

Today, literally millions of groups around the world are striving to learn how to live, in a vast diversity of ways, out of that reality that we are all interdependent:  through protecting and renewing creation, living compassionate lives, embracing spirituality, re-inventing small scale economies, restoring collaborative relationships, working to create a socially just society and much more.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu has so wisely said, “Each of us can do something. You can, you can, you can– I can!

Each of us can make changes in our priorities and our lifestyles. We can consume less, drive less, make wise consumer choices that support responsible companies, etc., etc.  We can talk with others about our concerns and work to change daily practices where we live, work and worship.  We can build a sustainable, resilient world based on relationships rather than large financial institutions.

We can attend an Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream symposium and follow up with like minded participants.  We can connect with local and national groups and movements, and spend a few minutes or even an hour or so a week doing electronic advocacy, writing letters or making phone calls to help change public policy.  Not infrequently, I get emails from www.earthjustice.org   (“because the earth needs a good lawyer!”) saying “We won!  You submitted 50,000 comments about this regulation and they had to listen to the public voice! We couldn’t have done it without you.”

For a plethora of do-able ideas, ranging from the individual to the institutional, I recommend The Better World Handbook: Small Changes that make a Big Difference. To join up with a faith-based metro organization that supports “greening” faith communities, connect through www.sustainablesanctuary.org.

The human future is in our hands. Let’s not blow it. If we get it right, generations yet to come will bless us and thank us for our wisdom, courage and committed action.

 

1 “Anthropocene” is the term for the new geologic era we have already entered, which is characterized by the impact of human activity on the planet.  Another relatively new term is “climate refugee” which refers to millions of people who are already fleeing their native lands because of extreme drought and unpredictable weather patterns which make it virtually impossible to grow food.

 

Resources:

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_academies/acdscien/2011/PAS_Glacier_110511_final.pdf

www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/us-impacts/full-report/regional-climate-change-impacts/midwest

www.lwv.org/content/global-climate-change-impacts-midwest

www.storyofstuff.com

www.pachamama.org

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What is Ethical Consumption?

This is the third in the series on consumption. We hope you have found the first two in the series informative and helpful.

This time, we consider ethical consumption.  Ethical consumption stresses the role of the consumer in preventing the exploitation of women and children in sweatshop factories overseas and in the U.S. It also considers the environmental costs of production. These costs include the depletion of natural resources, as well as human costs. For example, when a corporation like Unilever, producer of Dove and Lever soaps, Vaseline Intensive Care lotion, Finesse shampoo, Surf detergent, and Mentadent toothpaste, employs women in the jungle areas of Bihar, India to collect seeds from the sal tree for use in lipstick, the women are deprived of control over what was formerly a resource for their own use.

Consumption in North America today will eventually destroy the environment and is in general hazardous to human health. According to the 1998 United Nations Development Report, 20% of the world’s population consumes 86% of the world’s resources, while the poorest 20% consume only 1.3%. “Not everyone has been invited to the party,” said U.N. administrator James Gustave. “Expectations have gone global but affluence has not.”

Obviously, consuming less on a personal level in the United States does not directly ensure that people in other parts of the world will immediately be able to meet their basic needs.  Changing social patterns of consumption, however, will eventually make a difference.   Once individuals begin to understand how their purchases are connected within a global framework, they can demand new, sustainable methods of production.  Living with fewer “things” and assuring that all resources, including labor, are used wisely and fairly will help create a more equitable and ecological world.

By consuming consciously and ethically we can realistically create change. Being aware of current issues in labor exploitation, environmental conservation, and human rights is the best way to spend ethically. Before buying anything ask: Who makes it? Who needs it? And who profits from it?

Website Source:  http://spot.colorado.edu/~shortk/consumption.html

An outstanding link for additional information is the Center for the New American Dream.  This site covers topics such as Redefining the Dream, Beyond Consumerism, and Collaborative Communities.  It includes an excellent video, “Visualizing a Plenitude Economy.”    Your attention is held by an artist drawing as the speaker presents a new dream, an alternative to our consumerist culture.

 

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Deficit Reduction Committee Members Were Right to Reject Dangerous Plans

Statement by Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, November 22, 2011.

We applaud members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction who stood firm and ultimately rejected cuts that would harm Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and food stamp beneficiaries. We thank those who opposed still more tax giveaways to millionaires and insisted that fair revenue increases had to be part of any emerging plan to cut the deficit.

A bad plan would have been worse than no plan – and some very bad plans were put forward. These included a $643 billion Republican proposal that would have resulted in just $3 billion in tax increases from ending tax breaks on corporate jets. Democrats were right to reject this proposal, which reportedly cut $216 billion in domestic appropriations. The plan once again targeted programs that serve low- and moderate-income families, such as education, job training, housing and public health, while asking nothing of upper-income Americans.

Likewise, Democrats were correct to take a pass on a proposal by Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) that contained $250 billion in net new tax revenue but masked a large low-to-middle-income tax increase, with almost all of the new revenue paid right back out in tax cuts disproportionately benefiting millionaires and billionaires. The plan, which also would have made the Bush tax cuts permanent, amounted to a massive tax decrease for those at the top, while those lower down the economic ladder would have paid with higher taxes and cuts to Medicare and other critical programs.

The public overwhelmingly supports closing tax loopholes and increasing taxes on the wealthy and corporations to reduce the deficit. It also opposes cuts that negatively affect Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries. In a poll this month by Lake Research Partners/Tarrance Group poll of swing states, 89 percent of those surveyed said they were either strongly or somewhat in favor of closing tax loopholes to make the tax code fairer and 66 percent supported increasing taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations. In contrast, only 19 percent favored making hundreds of millions of dollars in beneficiary cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

The best way to reduce the deficit is to get people back to work, buying goods and services and paying taxes.  The Joint Select Committee should have approved a plan with job creation initiatives in the short term, followed once the economy strengthens by tax increases and spending cuts that spare low-income and vulnerable people from harm. Extending the federal Unemployment Insurance (UI) program for the long-term unemployed is must-pass legislation for Congress before federal UI expires in December. Abandoning the jobless with unemployment stuck at 9 percent would be unthinkably cruel and a severe blow to the economy.

Regrettably, too many members remained intransigently opposed to such a sensible and productive plan. They insisted instead on service and benefit cuts that would weaken our economy and jeopardize our future, while shifting the tax burden so that the rich benefit even more. Over the coming years, such a plan would leave more of our young people unprepared for employment, more of our population lacking health care and more of our seniors economically insecure. The members of the Joint Select Committee who rejected that approach should feel proud of their success in staving off a dangerous course of action.

The Coalition on Human Needs (CHN) is an alliance of national organizations working together to promote public policies which address the needs of low-income and other vulnerable populations. The Coalition conducts analyses of federal budget proposals and policies to determine their impact on people in need. The Coalition’s members include civil rights, religious, labor and professional organizations and those concerned with the wellbeing of children, women, the elderly and people with disabilities. CHN is located at 1120 Connecticut Ave. NW Suite 312, Washington, D.C. 20036. For more information please visit www.chn.org.

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ECONOMIC JUSTICE: Occupy Wall Street and Catholic Social Teaching

Posted on October 25, 2011 by paxchristiusa

By Tony Magliano

The Occupy Wall Street movement has a powerful ally in Catholic social teaching! Recently I became more convinced of this truth after spending a couple of hours with the Occupy Baltimore segment of this now global movement. In front of Baltimore’s pricey Inner-Harbor, I encountered a small tent city ranging from homeless persons to college graduates. Four of them talked with me about why they are there. In the shadow of a skyscraper with huge bold words Bank of America on it, one of the occupiers pointed to it and said “they, and the many other greedy corporations like them, control most of the wealth, while so many of the rest of us have so little.”

Since the federal government’s bailout of the mega banks and various other large companies, corporate profits have risen to an all time high. And yet, many pay little or no taxes. Hedge fund managers and CEO’s are raking in millions, while huge numbers of families continue to lose their homes, 14 million people remain unemployed, and 50 million have no health insurance and a record 46 million Americans live in poverty – including 16 million children!

Another occupier cited Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz’s eye-opening calculation that the richest one percent of Americans now own 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. And that the gap between the rich and the rest of us – especially the poor – is wider now than at any time since the Great Depression! The occupiers unanimously agreed that with this tremendous concentration of wealth comes a tremendous concentration of power. Wealthy corporations, with their large campaign contributions, wield considerable influence with Congress and executive branch, whereas the shrinking middle-class and poor have very little influence with America’s policy makers.

Blessed Pope John Paul II addressed very strong words to these “structures of sin.” He said, “The all-consuming desire for profit, and … the thirst for power, with the intention of imposing one’s will upon others” is opposed to the will of God! The Catholic social teaching principle known as “the universal destination of the earth’s resources” insists that all people deserve a fair share of creation and the goods of humankind – certainly to the point of having each person’s basic needs entirely met. Pope Paul VI taught that God intends for everyone to adequately share in the goods of the earth, and that all other rights must be subordinated to this truth!

American society’s failure to fulfill this ethical principle is a moral indictment against most of Washington’s politicians, corporate America and liberal capitalism – which highly favors those with wealth and power at the painful expense of those with little or none. Blessed John Paul said the human inadequacies of capitalism are far from disappearing.

So much of America’s political and economic system is unjust. And yet for the most part, Catholics are silent. Silence supports the rich and powerful, never the poor and weak! But Catholic social teaching calls us to speak up for the poor and weak. So let us raise our voices together with our courageous brothers and sisters of the Occupy movement. Demand that our do-little Congress significantly raise taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations, drastically cut military spending, stop the wars, create millions of public service jobs, give small businesses – especially green energy companies – job-producing financial assistance, extend the efficiency of Medicare to everyone, pass strong anti-sweatshop legislation and greatly increase poverty-focused assistance to the nation’s and world’s poor!

Tony Magliano is a Catholic News Service columnist whose work appears in diocesan papers throughout the United States. If your diocesan paper does not carry his column, we encourage you to call them and request that they do.

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Crane Pruning Hook

July 4, 2011 remarks by Father Carl Kabat, OMI at the construction site of the new nuclear weapons parts plant in Kansas City, MO.  Fr. Kabat is a 73-year-old priest of the Catholic order Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate who is best known for his eccentric, nonviolent protests against nuclear weapons. He has served over 17 years total in prison over his lifetime.

I, Fr. Carl Kabat, omi, have been pondering an appropriate way to celebrate the fourth of July, commonly called Independence Day.  Today it would be more appropriate to call it Interdependence Day since all of us live on this small planet Earth.  To show my patriotism and love for my country and the good of my country, I have decided on a pruning hook action in Kansas City, Missouri.

The opinion of the 1995 World Court is that weapons of mass destruction are a crime against humanity.

Christian churches have said that it is a sin to build a nuclear weapon.  Churches have declared that nuclear weapons are a crime against The Holy One and humanity and are to be condemned unreservedly!

Some have further stated that the manufacturing, deployment or use of nuclear must be condemned unreservedly.

The Nazis during WWII killed and burned 6 million of our Jewish sisters and brothers and 5 million sisters and brothers (who were communists, priests, Gypsies, enemy combatants, homosexuals, people with disabilities, etc).  Now 4 of our Minuteman IIIs could, in 30 minutes, go half way around the world and kill 12 million of our sisters and brothers.  We have become very sophisticated and efficient in our killing and burning.

We have more nuclear weapons than all the rest of the world combined and at one time could kill everyone on this planet fifteen times over.

Eighty five percent (85%) of the parts for nuclear bombs are made by the people of Kansas City.

May The Holy One have mercy on us all!

By my action I wish to en-flesh the reversal of our insane actions and hope that we will start to celebrate an interdependence and rid ourselves of nuclear weapons.

Peace,

Fr. Carl Kabat, omi

Thomas Hereford provided the following background information. 

Fr Carl Kabat entered the construction site of the new nuclear bomb factory in Kansas City, MO approximately 10:00 p.m. July 3rd.  At dawn, on July 4, he had broken windows on a number of those huge cranes on the site but was unable to get into the cabs.  He then looked around for someone to “go to confession to” and couldn’t find anyone.  His plan was to cut the fence to get out, hitchhike to Kansas City and take the bus back to St. Louis.  The police must have changed his plans for him.

Fr. Kabat was charged with illegal entry and held at the downtown Kansas City, MO jail.  He was released at 4 a.m. Tuesday, July 5th; and has returned to St. Louis by bus.

In follow up to earlier arrests at this site, you are asked to come to Municipal Court, 1101 Locust, KCMO, on July 19 for the 1:30pm hearing for several of the 53 persons (including 33 Missourians and many Catholic Workers) who trespassed on May 2 at the site for the new nuclear weapons parts production plant in southern KC, at Missouri Hwy. 150, between Prospect and Botts.  If you have questions, contact Jane Stoever, 913-206-4088.

The synoptic Gospels record that when Jesus approached Jerusalem and prepared for his act of nonviolent civil disobedience at the Temple and the probable consequences of arrest, jail, trial and execution that would follow, he told his disciples that the courtroom would be the place where they would be able to proclaim the truth of God’s reign.  Mark’s Gospel, the earliest of the four, advises Christians, in the words of Jesus, to speak boldly when dragged into court, for the Spirit of God will be present:

Watch out for yourselves.  They will hand you over to the courts.  You will be beaten in synagogues.  You will be arraigned before governors and kings because of me, as a witness before them.  But the gospel must first be preached to all nations.  When they lead you away and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say.  But say whatever will be given to you at that hour.  For it will not be you who are speaking but the holy spirit. (Mark 13:9-11)

And lastly, for further reflection you may want to read remarks by Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the U.N.  He gave a speech at the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocesan Catholic Center on July 1, 2011.  His remarks, “The Nuclear Question: The Church’s [Catholic] Teaching and the Current State of Affairs,” can be found in their entirety here.

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