News In Brief

High Court Says Church Can Use Banned Drug

WASHINGTON — In a unanimous decision Feb. 21, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right of a small religious sect to use a federally prohibited tea in its religious rituals.

The decision in Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal was one of the first to be written by new Chief Justice John Roberts. All the other justices joined in the opinion, except the court’s newest member, Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr., who did not take part in consideration of the case because he was not on the court when the case was heard.

The Brazilian-based church, which has about 130 members in New Mexico, California and Colorado, had received support in the case from groups that included the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the American Civil Liberties Union because of its potential implications for government decision-making about what constitutes a religious ritual. The case involved the sect’s use of a tea containing the hallucinogenic drug dimethyltryptamine, known as DMT, which is prohibited under the federal Controlled Substances Act.



California Braces for Assisted Suicide Push

PORTLAND, Ore. — Catholic leaders in California, facing an energized drive to legalize assisted suicide, are reviewing lessons learned in Oregon.

In 1997, advocates of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act used anti-Catholic rhetoric to combat a repeal bid. One group paying for radio ads called itself the “Don’t Let ‘Em Shove Their Religion Down Your Throat Committee.”

“We’re well aware of what happened in Oregon and how the Church became a target and how that made a difference,” said Carol Hogan, communications director of the California Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s Catholic bishops on public policy issues.

California’s Senate Judiciary Committee was expected to hold hearings soon on a bill to legalize assisted suicide. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he would rather see assisted suicide addressed in a voter initiative than in the Legislature.


Former American Head of Vatican Bank Dies

SUN CITY, Ariz. — Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, often regarded as the most powerful American in the Vatican during his 18 years as president of the Vatican bank, died Feb. 20 at his home in Sun City, apparently of natural causes. He was 84 years old.

His funeral Mass was to be celebrated March 2 at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, his home archdiocese, with Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George as chief celebrant. Burial was to follow at St. Casimir Cemetery in Chicago.

The U.S.-born archbishop, who spent 38 years in Vatican service before his retirement in 1990, headed the Vatican bank from 1971 to 1989 and was head of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State from 1981 to 1990.

Under his watch the bank was involved — unwittingly, he and the Vatican always maintained — in a major 1980s Italian banking scandal. He also served as advance man for the global travels of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II from 1964 to 1982 and paid special attention to security arrangements at all papal visit sites.