U.S. bishop head: Synod paper good, needs work

Written by Peter Smith on .

The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has applauded a document issued Monday that calls for the church to affirm the positive aspects of gay unions and other couples who lack a church marriage, but he also wants to see strengthened language affirming church teachings and those who live by them.

In comments at a press conference on Wednesday in Rome, Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz calmly wove a diplomatic thread through the hoopla that has accompanied the document released Monday, half-way through a two-week synod at the Vatican to discuss issues and challenges related to the family. Some bishops there have denounced the document for failing to emphasize church teachings against homosexual acts, while many advocates for gays and others alienated from the church found the language to be surprisingly welcoming.

Archbishop Kurtz called it a "wonderful working document" but that the one to be issued at synod's end would be more important and lasting.


His three calls for revisions:

“One would be to highlight the importance of the witness of sacrificial, loving families today. ... (Second would be) to make sure all our words are truly welcoming and come truly from the heart ... and the third one was to locate clearly our pastoral ... outreach as being located within the beauty of sacred Scripture and Church teaching.”


Before the synod started, Archbishop Kurtz wanted to emphasize that while the traditional family has indeed become much less the norm than it once was, 

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, the former Pittsburgh bishop, is among those helping revise the document.



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How to control (or not) climate change in Pittsburgh

Written by Ethan Magoc on .

(Ethan Magoc/Post-Gazette photos)

Professor Peter Adams asked for a show of hands Tuesday night.

How many in the audience use energy-saving LED bulbs in their homes?

About 90 percent of hands went up among the 110 or so attending "Building a More Resilient Pittsburgh," a discussion at Carnegie Mellon University that examined climate change and Pittsburgh's future.

"That's pretty good," Mr. Adams said of the bulb usage. "This is not a representative crowd."

And that moment encapsulated the challenge humanity faces in stemming effects of climate change. The global crowd that believes severe changes in weather patterns are already taking place — changes that humans have caused — is not yet large enough to form a critical mass to reverse them.

There also exists a quandary for citizens who want to help but feel limited. You can change a rather small number of energy consumption patterns. Switch in LED light bulbs. Take shorter showers. Live in a potentially more expensive apartment or house closer to your job to save commute time and burned gasoline.

In the end, you can't directly control the industrial polluters, poor existing infrastructure or rising rents that cause people to live further from their jobs.

Political inertia is at work, too, noted one of the guests who asked questions of a five-person panel.

What can be done to push politicians to act?

Grant Ervin, the City of Pittsburgh's sustainability manager, pointed to efforts in local communities.

Too often, he said, "practice is ahead of policy," and the public needs to drive the conversation.

Grant Ervin, left, and Fred Brown.

Fred Brown of the Kingsley Association backed up that suggestion. Larimer, a neighborhood in which his organization works frequently, has built a unique relationship with Mayor Bill Peduto. Residents there have his administration's attention for their efforts to create a net zero community.

Some day Larimer will use no more energy than it produces and saves. It's getting there through a mix of efforts, though not because its residents devised a magical way to alter their energy consumption.

Kelly Klima and Peter Adams.

"No silver bullet is going to solve the problem," said Kelly Klima, a CMU research scientist in engineering and public policy. "Solar won't do it."

Solar power is too intermittent, she said, and quite expensive to build the infrastructure needed to harvest sunlight. You'd need a backup in places like Pittsburgh.

Still, Mr. Adams said, there are benefits to shifting away from burning coal wherever possible. He researches the effects of particulates on public health.

"Forget the problems caused by climate change, and there are still benefits to getting coal out of the system," he said.

And what about transportation, a daily thorn for many Pittsburghers? Why can't high speed rail be part of the equation for traveling and getting to work?

"The short answer?" Mr. Ervin said in a deep tone. "Mouuuntains." The area's geography is going to prevent a reality of speeding commuter trains in the short (and maybe long) term.

From left, CMU professor Neil Donahue, Mr. Ervin and Mr. Brown.

As for students in attendance and those who otherwise make up a large part of Oakland's transient population, one asked: what can they do?

Mr. Brown spoke of a moral obligation, even if it's just in a Pittsburgh dorm room.

"Whether you're living here for six months or six years, everything we do has an impact," he said.

Even at the dessert table, there were guilt-inducing reminders of the need to conserve. "Eat what you take," the sign reads.

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Marchers issue global warning

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .


The Great March for Climate Action is in Pittsburgh today and tomorrow, with 35 out-of-town marchers joining with 25-30 local activists calling for public and private actions to reduce the impact of fossil fuels on the environment.

The march began in March in Los Angeles and culminates in a series of planned actions in Washington, D.C., where the group is scheduled to arrive Nov. 1.

March initiator and former Iowa legislator Ed Fallon said the marchers are "the Paul Reveres of climate change."

Tomorrow's Post-Gazette will carry a story about the local leg of the march. Photographer Michael LaMark was along to chronicle a portion of the walk through the North Side.




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Bishops call for humbler approach to gays, broken families

Written by Peter Smith on .

Call it a preliminary document at a preliminary synod -- and it is -- but it sets a tone that will be difficult to reverse. One longtime Vatican correspondent calls it a "pastoral earthquake."

It's the most dramatic example yet of Roman Catholic bishops doing what Pope Francis has been doing individually for the past year and a half: Making dramatically conciliatory statements in the pastoral approach to people whom the church has long deemed as living in sin.

Good things can happen in same-sex relationships, for example. And people living together outside of marriage, or at least a church marriage, often show genuine love for each other and their children and share "authentic family values" even while not living up to church ideals.

Moreover, the church should "accompany" people dealing with real life, not just teaching an abstract ideal.

In other words, don't be thrown by the modest title of this document, called "Relatio post disceptationem." It's a summary of the first week of discussions of a select group of bishops and some lay people at an "Extraordinary (not regularly scheduled) Synod" on family matters. After a week of discussions about the widespread dissent from church teachings among Catholics, or at least the disparities between their lives and church teachings, the document calls for pastoral care first, judgment later.


1. No, the bishops aren't proposing changing doctrine.

2. This is only the first of two synods on the family, with an "ordinary" one next year.

3. Nothing changes until the pope signs off on it.

4. The document pays particular tribute to perhaps the most unpopular of modern encyclicals, "Humanae Vitae," decrying artificial birth control and citing the impact of a declining birth rate in some societies.

But it's clear in far more than just the famous "Who am I to judge" quote that Francis favors a more pastoral approach, and the bishops are following suit, saying the church needs to walk with people in their concrete circumstances.


Even look at some of the section headings: "Positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation." "Welcoming homosexual persons."

Some quotes: 

"Imitating Jesus’ merciful gaze, the Church must accompany her most fragile sons and daughters, marked by wounded and lost love, with attention and care, restoring trust and hope to them like the light of a beacon in a port, or a torch carried among the people to light the way for those who are lost or find themselves in the midst of the storm."


"Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

"... Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority."


"Jesus looked upon the women and the men he met with love and tenderness, accompanying their steps with patience and mercy, in proclaiming the demands of the Kingdom of God."



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Local officials mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Written by Liz Navratil on .

Allegheny County district attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. greets Steelers president Art Rooney II, left an event in Market Square marking Domestic Violence Awareness Month.(Lake Fong/Post-Gazette)

Several local law enforcement officials gathered in Market Square this morning to mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The event was sponsored by the Center for Victims of Violence and Crime.

U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton defined domestic violence as a pattern in which one person seeks "to maintain power and control over the other intimate partner" and noted that his office recently prosecuted someone for cyber stalking.

Steelers president Art Rooney said domestic violence is "a problem in our country that is deserving of a lot more attention than it has received." He also commended Steelers player William Gay, who has spoken recently about the death of his mother, who died in a domestic violence incident.

Allegheny County district attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. spoke about efforts to make it easier for victims of domestic violence to receive help. He noted that his office helped set up a system that allows hospitals to video conference with City Court and criminalized protection-from-abuse order violations.

Juvenile Court Judge Dwayne Woodruff said children who witness domestic violence are more likely to repeat it. He compared domestic violence to a "virus" that affects "the family and everyone around it."

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