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Bells ring in treaty banning land mines

Amid global celebrations March 1 for the treaty to ban land mines, a spokesman for the U.S. Catholic bishops urged the United States to join the ban.

At a meeting with journalists and landmine survivors on Capitol Hill, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., outlined new legislation he plans to introduce that would move the United States closer to treaty compliance even if it does not sign the treaty.

Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark, N.J., chairman of the bishops' International Policy Committee, welcomed the anti-land mine pact as an "important step toward a more peaceful and humane world" and urged the United States "to join the 134 other nations that have already signed the treaty."

Of the 134 that have signed, 65 have already ratified the treaty. It took effect March 1, the beginning of the sixth month after the 40th nation ratified it.

The treaty's entry into force was greeted with public celebrations in many countries. In Washington ban advocates marked March 1 by meeting with their senators and representatives and participating in a rally and prayer vigil across the street from the White House.

Priest found guilty in death penalty protest

A Scranton diocesan priest active in prison ministry was found guilty Feb. 22 in Philadelphia Municipal Court along with six others on charges connected to a death penalty protest last fall at the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia.

Fr. William Pickard, chaplain at Lackawanna County Prison in Scranton for 14 years, and the six other defendants are members of the Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty.

Convicted on four separate misdemeanor counts, they each could face up to six years in prison. A hearing is set for April 7 to reconsider the verdict.

Also found guilty were the Rev. Jeff Garis, a Mennonite; C.R. Robinson, James Graham, Jim Cummings, Scott Lamson and Charles Sherrouse.

They were found guilty of obstructing the administration of justice through picketing; obstructing the highway; conspiracy to obstruct justice; and conspiracy to obstruct the highway.

"If we were obstructing anything, it is the injustice of Philadelphia's death sentencing, which disproportionately targets people of color and the poor," Garis said before the trial.

A state law prohibits picketing, demonstrating or leafleting with the purpose of intentionally influencing a jury, judge or court officer. Their Oct. 19 protest included carrying signs opposing capital punishment and the distribution of fliers decrying what they say is racial bias in Philadelphia's death sentencing, and calling for a moratorium on the death penalty.

Assisted suicide bill opposed by California's bishops

California's Catholic bishops and the state's Catholic hospitals are opposed to legislation introduced March 1 that would legalize physician-assisted suicide in California.

The measure, sponsored by Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley, is similar to Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law, enacted in 1997, which allows terminally ill patients to ask a doctor for lethal medications to end their lives.

Aroner said her bill "will provide people suffering from terminal illness the peace of mind to know that if their symptoms become so severe and debilitating or their pain so great, they have the choice to end their suffering."

David Pollard, associate director for legislation and public policy at the California Catholic Conference in Sacramento, which represents the state's bishops, said Aroner's bill "is not about compassion and choice. It's not a question of our failing in compassion to the dying. It's a question of the acceptance of the human condition of suffering."

He added that the bishops have been working over the past few years to support legislation to aid terminally ill patients, including expanding hospice care and making it easier for patients to receive pain control medications. …