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News Briefs

Catholic Priests Want to Reopen Debate on Celibacy


A long-simmering debate among Roman Catholics in the United States about whether to open the priesthood to married men is back in the forefront, pressed by priests who say they are concerned about their dwindling ranks.

While leading American bishops released letters on Thursday defending mandatory celibacy for priests as a vital church tradition that is not open to discussion, groups of priests in several dioceses were considering joining fellow priests in Milwaukee who recently petitioned for just such a dialogue in the church.

“There is an enormous amount of support for this among priests,” said the Rev. Donald C. Fisher of the Association of Pittsburgh Priests, a liberal group of priests and laypeople that plans to collect 5,000 signatures on a petition supporting optional celibacy. “It’s the elephant in every clerical living room.”

Supreme Court to Hear Campaign Finance Case on Monday


Nearly everything about the campaign finance case that the Supreme Court will hear in a special session on Monday is outsized: four hours of argument (compared with the usual 60 minutes); eight lawyers (compared with the usual two); a lower court record of some 100,000 pages along with opinions totaling 1,638 pages that left the law in a greater state of confusion than it had been before.

Ten separate groups of plaintiffs are challenging 13 provisions of a 61-page statute that even specialists in election law describe as dauntingly complex, in what many regard as the most important election case in a generation.

During the 10 months the law has been in effect, the political system has scrambled to adjust to new rules that may well be changed once again depending on how the court rules, just as the next campaign season gets fully under way.

The most direct impact has been felt so far by the national political parties, with the Democrats suffering most from the loss of the big unregulated contributions known as soft money, and the Republicans getting most of the benefit from the doubling to $2,000 of the so-called hard money contributions to individual candidates.

Afghan Terrorists Financed By Drug Trade, U.N. Official Says


The U.S.-led coalition force in Afghanistan must address the country’s drug trade because the huge opium and heroin crops are being used by militants to fund their activities, the top U.N. drug official has warned.

Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the Vienna-based U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, said in an interview here on Tuesday that there were indications that persons carrying out violence in Afghanistan were financing their attacks with drug trafficking, and in some places forcing farmers to grow opium poppies.

“The terrorists and traffickers are the same people,” he said at the end of a weeklong visit to Afghanistan. “You cannot fight the war against terror without going against drug trafficking.”

Costa said that he had asked the U.S.-led forces here several times to focus on the drug trade, and that he had seen reports that military forces had recently intercepted drug traffickers and had destroyed at least one illegal heroin laboratory.

Afghanistan was the world’s largest source of illicit opium in 2002, producing 3,750 tons, according to the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime.