tv Religion Ethics Newsweekly WHUT April 23, 2012 7:30am-8:00am EDT
coming up -- the vatican cracks down on the umbrella group that represents most of america's 55,000 catholic nuns. the charge -- not supporting strongly enough the church's opposition to abortion, women's ordination and other issues. plus, a brother and sister from austria recall how their family survived world war ii in a jewish ghetto in shanghai. and atheists in the army who want chaplains who are also atheists.
welcome, i'm bob abernethy. it's good to have you with us. the vatican released a major report this week cracking down on the umbrella group that represents most of the catholic nuns in the united states. the report criticized the leadership conference of women religious for what it called "serious doctrinal problems." while acknowledging the group promotes social justice, the report faulted the sisters for being silent on other issues dealing with the right to life, including abortion and euthanasia. members of the conference were also chastised for publicly challenging the catholic bishops on certain occasions. we have an analysis now of the
vatican's charges and their consequences from david gibson, national reporter for religion news service, a longtime vatican observer and author of the book, "the rule of benedict." he joins us from new york. david, welcome. >> good to be here, bob. >> what stood out for you in this report, this challenge? >> well, bob, i think it was really significant that this announcement came the day before pope benedict celebrated the 17th anniversary of his election as pope. back seven years ago in 2005 when he was elected, so many people thought he'd be the german enforcer when he became pope, and that really hadn't proved to be the case for most of his seven years on the throne of st. peter's. and many are wondering if this signals a new crackdown overall from the vatican. the nuns were certainly very surprised at this announcement. they didn't expect it, and they're sort of formulating their response, and how that back and forth goes over these next few months will be really
telling, i think. >> but what is the vatican going to do, and what are the u.s. bishops going to do to the nuns? they've got -- they're going to have severe oversight, right? >> yeah, i think you could compare it to a hostile takeover, more or less. they're going to take this organization -- and the bishops have the canonical authority under church law, so they can kind of do what they want. in fact, the nuns, the lcwr, is thinking -- or one option they may have is simply disbanding. >> leadership conference on women religious. >> yeah, the leadership conference on women religious, they're thinking of simply disbanding and reorganizing on their own, out from under the church's purview. but the church will have -- they have -- the archbishop of seattle has a five year mandate to oversee this overhaul, and they can rewrite their statutes and vet their speakers for their conferences and pretty much do as they like. >> do you see a role that the u.s. bishops might have played in preparing and going along with this announcement?
>> yeah. i think, obviously, the bishops were on board with this. in past years, even under the late pope john paul ii, the american bishops often pushed back on some of these things and defended their own or they were involved in negotiations to try and mediate an agreement before you had this kind of firm crackdown. but obviously, i think the bishops were onboard with the vatican from the get go on this. >> some people have said that they see signs of a split within the catholic community between attention to social service, taking the care of the poor and all on the hand, and religious freedom, defending religious freedom on the other, as the bishops are trying very hard to do, especially on proposals for health care reform. do you see that? and is this part of that? >> i think to a degree it is, bob. i think it's really the split between social justice, between doing all those things that the nuns in america, and sisters
throughout catholic history have done, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, running hospitals and universities, educational institutions, schools and the more doctrinal issues, the pro-life, anti-gay marriage initiatives, the preaching that the bishops want to do and the bishops are really wanting to get everyone on board here. >> thank you very much. david gibson of religion news service. >> thank you. observances were held around the world on thursday for holocaust remembrance day. in israel, sirens were sounded and people stopped to observe two minutes of silence for the 6 million jews who were killed during the holocaust. there were services at the yad vashem holocaust memorial in jerusalem and the auschwitz concentration camp in poland.
it's not widely known, but some 18,000 jews survived world war ii in a ghetto in japanese-occupied shanghai. deborah strobin, her brother ilie wacs, and their family were among the thousands of jews who fled nazi persecution in austria and germany and ended up in shanghai. now, more than half a century later, they've written a book about their experience. kim lawton spoke to them at the u.s. holocaust memorial museum in washington. >> coming to the holocaust memorial museum in washington, d.c., is often a deeply emotional experience for deborah strobin and her older brother ilie wacs. here, they relive their own memories of world war ii, memories they were reluctant to share out loud, until recently. >> i just didn't really want to talk about it. and neither one of us cared to just be out there. >> no, we never really talked about it, no. >> i mean, if someone would have told me this many years ago, i would never have thought that would happen.
>> but now, they are indeed sharing, in a new book called "an uncommon journey," which describes their family's flight from vienna to shanghai and ultimately to america. their experiences, they've come to realize, are part of the larger jewish story. >> it is important to tell that story. it is on the periphery of the holocaust, actually, what happened in europe. however, it is still a story. >> the story begins in vienna. their father, a tailor, had been a deserter from the romanian army, so the austrian government considered him stateless. in 1938, when ilie was 11, hiter's nazi army marched in, annexing austria. >> hitler was welcomed with open arms. people threw flowers at him. it was called the war of the flowers, the blumenkrieg. and i remember to this day the troops marching for endless hours through vienna and the
tanks, the goosestepping. and the people cheering hitler. i was very angry. i was very angry at the austrians. how could they have changed so quickly? overnight, within 24 hours. it was mostly anger. the fear came later. >> then in november 1938 came a series of attacks on jewish-owned businesses and synagogues known as kristallnacht, or night of the broken glass. a non-jewish friend convinced the family they needed to leave. but their father's papers were questionable, and countries like the u.s. had very strict entry requirements. >> however, for many years, shanghai had been designated a treaty port where foreign nationals could live and trade on chinese soil. >> shanghai was the only place in the entire world that had no visa requirement. nothing. all you had to do is book passage. so out of desperation, we had to
leave. we choose shanghai. nobody really wanted to come to shanghai, but it was the only place to go. >> the wacs family was able to secure passage on an italian luxury liner. >> the boat was called the "conte biancamane." >> the family boarded the ship in genoa, italy, on august 16th, 1939, just 2 weeks before world war ii started. ilie was 12 and deborah just 3 years old. >> i was told -- and i don't believe i remember that at age 3, but i remember getting a sense of going on this happy vacation. but that's all i remember, basically. they were trying to protect me. >> there was a russian jewish community who came to shanghai right after the revolution in 1917 and '18. then there was a sephardic jewish community, they were known as the baghdadi jews. so when we got to shanghai, there was already a jewish community there who could help us settle up. >> the family found a tiny apartment in the poorest section of the city, which was already occupied by the japanese.
ilie, a budding artist, did sketches of their surroundings. their father got some work as a tailor, but it was difficult to make a living. >> it was a hard life in shanghai. it was a very difficult life. food was scarce. our main occupation, thinking was about food. when are we going to eat again? nevertheless, there was a vibrant community in shanghai, 18,000 of us. there was theater, there were newspapers. >> things got much more difficult after the japanese attacked pearl harbor in 1941, and asia became a major front in the war. >> the germans kept pushing the japanese, "what are you doing about solving the jewish problem?" all the japanese did -- they put us in a ghetto. so they treated us well during the war. sort of treated us well. they didn't kill us, right? >> deborah says she didn't really understand what was happening, or why. ilie, on the other hand, saw it
as an adventure. >> he was always fearless. >> yeah, well, it didn't -- >> i had fear. >> i know. >> i was frightened all the time. >> you were frightened all the time. >> completely. i still am. >> you still are. i was not. >> but he was fearless. i mean, i remember when the bombs came -- i mean, when the planes came. and we could actually tell the difference between the japanese planes and the american planes. there was a difference. and i remember the sound of it and i remember my mother yelling we must go down in the basement. he didn't want to move. he wasn't finished sketching. >> finally in 1945, after the u.s. bombing of hiroshima and nagasaki, the japanese left shanghai, and the americans liberated the ghetto. jubilation, however, was short-lived. they had heard rumors that bad things were happening to jews in europe, but they had no idea that 6 million had been killed. >> it was really a very difficult time. on the one hand, we were happy the war was over. and th when we found out what had happened in europe, that none of our family had survived, most of the families had not survived, and it was quite
terrible. it was quite shocking. >> the jewish community in shanghai survived largely intact. the wacs family and many others finally started making their way to america, where they began a new life. both ilie and deborah eventually got married and had children. ilie became a successful fashion designer. deborah became a fundraiser and served as deputy chief of protocol for the city of san francisco. they didn't talk about what had happened in shanghai. then for his 70th birthday, ilie wanted to visit the holocaust museum. deborah reluctantly came along. and there, they saw a photo of three small children in the shanghai ghetto. deborah was the one on the left. >> at first, it was hard to look at the picture, to be quite honest. i mean, at first, i didn't know what i was looking at, even though i know it was me. but it didn't quite penetrate. i was concentrating more on the eyes. and i kept thinking, they look so sad. and then i realized, that was me.
that sad little girl, she was actually looking back at me. >> she remembered the day the photo was taken. the three had been playing in the park when a japanese soldier told them to sit and smile. >> we found out later on, obviously much later on, that there was a propaganda picture taken. they were looking for three children that were clean and didn't look -- and looked somewhat healthy. we weren't, but we looked it. >> seeing that photo planted the seed to find out more about what had really happened in shanghai. they went through their parents' old documents, which ilie still had stashed away. he donated the papers to the holocaust museum, but first, he made copies of the images and incorporated them in a series of paintings. >> they decided to write a memoir from each of their perspectives because they felt a responsibility to bear witness to what had happened, especially for future generations. >> since i didn't know anything, it didn't seem fair for my
children not to know anything, either. they needed to know. my grandkids need to know. >> writing the book, they say, helped them to see how fortunate they were to survive. and even more than that, they say it connected them to the greater jewish experience. >> i'm not a very observant jew, but i feel connected to the history of judaism. >> yes. >> it brings you closer. yes, it does. >> yes, it does. >> yes, it does. >> makes you feel proud. >> yeah. >> i'm kim lawton in washington. we have a story today about atheists in the army who want their own atheist chaplains. the army is cool to the idea, but it did permit a recent gathering of atheists at ft. bragg, north carolina. as lucky severson reports, the atheists say all they want is
equality with religious believers. >> it was only fitting that the first parachutist out of the plane at this festival for atheists and nonbelievers at ft. bragg is herself an atheist -- sergeant rachel medley. >> i am an atheist, and i'm a good person -- have, you know, a great life and have great friends, and my service to my country is based on my personal morals which are help other people, be kinds to others, treat others as you would like to be treated. >> she would like to be treated with more respect, as would many of the troops attending this first ever event expressly for soldiers who don't believe in god. sergeant justin griffith was one of the organizers. >> this is us coming out of the closet, you know, shattering that stained glass ceiling. we want to remove the stigma about atheists and whatever they think the word "atheist" means. >> as unlikely as it may seem, one token of respect they would
like is an atheist chaplain. that's a tall order, considering that conservative evangelical clergy dominate the ranks of the chaplaincy. organizations like the national association of evangelicals, the nae, dispute any need for an atheist chaplain. galen carey is an nae vice president. >> evangelicals very strongly support the men and women in uniform, and they want to see that their spiritual needs are met. i don't think you would find many who could understand, frankly, the point of a chaplain for atheists. >> there are over 3,000 chaplains altogether. 90% are christian, even though only about seven out of ten soldiers claim to be christian. there are also a handful of muslim, jewish and hindu chaplains. jason torpy, an iraq veteran, wants to know why the much larger group of atheists or humanists, estimated to be about 40,000 soldiers, don't have their own chaplain. >> they have trainings for the
jewish perspective and the eastern orthodox perspective and the christian science perspective even though, you know, our group -- even just the atheists, not even the general nontheists, you know -- even though we dwarf their numbers. >> torpy is a graduate of west point. he was a captain in the first armored division and is now the president of the military association of atheists and free thinkers. >> if i'm atheist or humanist, where's that support for us? the same reason that a christian will benefit from that and a muslim will benefit from that and be a better soldier if they're affirmed, and they can grow in their values, and they can plug into their community. we will benefit from that as well, but we can't right now because the chaplains either are ignorant of or hostile to nontheistic beliefs. >> our request for an interview with the department of defense was declined. instead, we were given a statement reiterating the pentagon's longstanding position. it reads, in part, "anyone wanting to become a chaplain must have an endorsement from a qualified religious
organization." for the department of defense, it's a sensitive issue, with pressure building from atheist groups around the country accusing the military of promoting christianity. but colonel stephen sicinski, the ft. bragg base commander, would deny that. >> i don't see there being any inequality today. i'm not tracking as to where you might think that there is inequality of treatment. we don't treat soldiers that are atheists as atheists. we treat them as soldiers. >> in 2010, colonel sicinski, at the urging of base chaplains, approved and supported a billy graham evangelistic association event called rock the fort to boost morale and, in the colonel's words, "bolster the faith." >> we were treated to a just massive festival, and they were actually very successful. they converted hundreds of soldiers onstage. >> and when sergeant griffith asked for a similar event for
atheists and humanists, colonel sicinski declined at first. months later, he changed his mind, and that set the stage for this event called rock beyond belief. the keynote speaker was the british biologist and famous atheist author richard dawkins. >> i'm delighted that a barrier has been broken through, that there never again can be a religious rally on a military base without the authorities knowing that it will be followed by something like this. >> this is just a manifestation, the latest manifestation of our attempt to ensure that a segment of our population gets the type of equal consideration that other types of or segments of the population would. >> prior to this event, the military announced that there would be no base chaplains available for interviews.
one chaplain wrote an open letter on ft. bragg's facebook page saying the secular festival would promote and glorify violence against people who possess a faith in god. there was no violence at the rock beyond belief event. sergeant griffith, who was a passionate christian in his teens and now wears dog tags that say "atheist," says he's had death threats. >> i get death threats on a regular basis claiming that i'm going to burn down the chapel, and that's not the case at all. in fact, we want to use the churches. we want to be a part of the community. >> among atheists, one of the most objectionable tests they are required to pass involves their spiritual fitness. it's a new test given annually. sergeant griffith failed. >> it went on and on telling me that i need to improve my spiritual fitness. but if i need help, i call this 1-800 number. so i called that 1-800 number, and i was basically just going to yell at whoever it was, and to my surprise this was a suicide hotline. i was told that i was suicidal because i was not religious. >> atheists contend it's
difficult to advance in the army if a soldier isn't deemed spiritually fit. >> i take this test again and again and again because every three months since i failed a section, the spiritual portion, that means i'm red and i have to take it again in three months. it's offensive in the highest. it's illegal. it's unconstitutional. it's a waste of money. and it's another tool to keep us down, to tell us atheists that we're freaks or somehow unfit. >> it's in the military's interest as well as the individual service member's interest that their spiritual needs are met, but i don't think that anyone is being discriminated against in the military because of absence of having a spiritual affiliation. >> jason torpy says the discrimination is often subtle, but it's ever-present, and, he says, it's misplaced because, he argues, atheists are making a greater sacrifice.
>> not only am i here serving my country, expanding the value, you know, liberty, protecting and defending constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. this is even more valuable because i'm giving the one life, you know, and when i die, i don't go to heaven. >> i must say, if i were in a fox hole in the heat of battle, i'd much rather be with an atheist solder than with a soldier who believed that some kind of supernatural being was watching over him. i'd want a soldier who knew that it was his own wit and bravery keeping us safe. >> galen carey with the national association of evangelicals says if atheists and humanists need someone to talk to, to receive counsel from, there may be another way. >> there are times when psychologists, psychiatrists, other counselors are needed. that's not exactly the role of a chaplain, so if we need to have more psychiatrists, then sure, we should bring them in. but that doesn't mean we need to have chaplains.
>> atheists argue that going to a psychiatrist, for whatever reason, is often interpreted as a negative on a soldier's record. >> chaplains have unfettered access to troops and they have clergy confidentiality. if you go to a psychologist or a psychiatrist within the military, it goes on your official record, which can jeopardize your job. >> it's just like anything else. anything that's different, or newer than other ideas, is always met with a little bit of trepidation by people. that's human nature. in the '60s, we were having the same conversation about people with different colored skin, so it's not a new conversation. it's just a new subject. >> it's a conversation that will likely go on for some time, but for those who share the goals of people here, there are signs of incremental progress in their campaign for equality with religious denominations. this festival is one sign. for "religion and ethics newsweekly," i'm lucky severson in washington.
finally on our calendar, the baha'i festival of ridvan begins this weekend. the 12-day holiday commemorates the prophet baha'u'llah's announcement in 1863 that he was the new messenger of god. and in rome, pope benedict xvi observed his 85th birthday on monday. during a celebration at the vatican, the pope said he was facing the final leg of the path he asked for prayers for strength to fulfill what he called the mission god gave him. this week also marked the seven year anniversary of benedict's becoming pope. at 85, he is the sixth oldest pope in church history. that's our program for now. i'm bob abernethy. you can follow us on twitter and
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