Los Angeles Archbishop Roger M. Mahony will be the point man for two new policy statements on controversial subjects--AIDS and the Middle East--when the nation's Roman Catholic bishops meet in Baltimore next week.
Mahony chairs a bishops' committee that has drafted a statement on the Middle East that calls for creating an independent Palestinian homeland and "limits on Palestinian rights" to ensure the security of Israel. And he heads a committee that has issued a paper rejecting the use of condoms, instead urging chastity as the only real solution to the AIDS epidemic.
Both topics have been hotly debated, but Mahony said this week that he expects the documents to be approved without major change.
Although the nation's 300 bishops usually hold their November policy-making session in Washington, the meeting will be in Baltimore this year because it is the 200th anniversary of the Diocese of Baltimore. John Carroll was installed there in 1789 as the first bishop in the United States.
In addition to presenting the two position papers, Mahony will be one of 10 candidates for the office of president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. However, the present vice president, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, is considered likely to succeed Archbishop John L. May of St. Louis, whose three-year term as chief spokesman for the U.S. hierarchy is expiring. According to the conference regulations, May cannot be reelected.
May said in a telephone interview this week that the proposed statement on the Middle East was "a hot topic" that has relevance outside the religious field.
While the American Jewish Committee has called the working draft "an honorable and compassionate attempt to represent the various parties' concerns for justice, recognition and security," the Anti-Defamation League has called it "fundamentally flawed."
Kenneth Jacobson, ADL's director of international affairs, said a recommendation in the proposed paper that the Palestinians be granted " 'territorial and political sovereignty' runs counter to American policy and can only retard the chances for peace."
The AIDS statement is the most recent effort to resolve confusion that began in 1987, when the bishops' administrative board released a paper that, while not promoting the use of condoms, expressed tolerance for educational programs that included information about prophylactics.
The document to be voted on next week says: "It is not condoms which lead to good health but appropriate attitudes and corresponding behavior regarding human sexuality, integrity and dignity."
Some Protestant leaders who work with AIDS programs have criticized the proposed Catholic statement, saying it is an unrealistic and ineffective way to prevent the spread of the fatal disease.
Other major items at the bishops' four-day meeting, which begins Monday, include:
- A resolution on abortion and public policy that calls abortion "the fundamental human rights issue for all men and women of good will" and urges Catholics to "redouble their efforts" to achieve constitutional protection for unborn life and advance "morally acceptable alternatives to abortion."
- A recommitment by the bishops to their 1987 plan for evangelization among black Catholics and concern about rising tensions over the roles and expectations of the 2 million blacks within the 56-million-member U.S. church.
- A plan of action on food and agriculture that focuses on world hunger, the problems of U.S. farmers who have lost their land in recent years, deplorable living conditions among farm workers and the increasing environmental impact of some farming practices.
- A speech on Monday by Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, the Vatican secretary of state, who will attend the anniversary celebration as the personal representative of Pope John Paul II.