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BISHOPS TARGET PERVASIVE `CULTURE OF VIOLENCE’

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This Christmas Eve, more than a few inner-city parishes will hold Midnight Mass early in the evening so that parishioners can get home safely. The next morning, some children will strip away gift wrapping to find the latest video game whose objective is to kill, maim and maraud your way to victory. And, surely, that night someone will get drunk and beat his spouse.

From the church to the home, there seem to be few havens from the violence that has become an increasingly common part of daily life. Alarmed that society has grown numb to it all, the nation's Roman Catholic bishops issued at their fall meeting a sweeping denunciation of the "culture of violence" that pervades American society.Their anti-violence message is aimed at euthanasia, abortion and the death penalty, as well as violence on television and in movies, and the everyday aggressive behavior that people can display behind the wheel on the commute to work. At root, the bishops said, was a violence of the heart, where self-concern took precedent over the common good.

Last month, voters in Oregon approved a law that permitted doctors to prescribe lethal medication for terminally ill patients. When it takes effect Dec. 8, the law will be the first in the nation to allow doctor-assisted suicide.

"Culturally, we are condoning and putting up with far too much in our media, our general approach to living and the way we relate to one another," said Bishop John Ricard, an auxiliary bishop in Baltimore and chairman of the Domestic Policy Committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"We've gotten so far afield from a clear sense of what is right and wrong, that there are principles and values that are transcendent and that are absolutely right and wrong."

Motivation for the bishops' statement on violence came from the street - too many funerals for teenagers, rectory windows shot out, gangs forming even in rural parishes - but there was also the violence of words and images of mayhem and menace in the media.

The bishops said not all violence was fatal: Just as dangerous was the intolerant atmosphere fostered by personal competition and language.

The bishops noted how the recent elections showed similar intolerance. "We are also experiencing the polarization of public life and militarization of politics with increased reliance on `attack' ads, `war' rooms and intense partisan combat in place of the search for the common good and common ground," their statement said.

In response, the bishops called for individuals and parishes to examine their responsibilities and potential for action in both the liturgy and social action. The suggestions, which will be sent to parishes nationwide, ranged from appropriate readings and blessings to clothing drives for shelters for battered women and organized anti-violence campaigns.

The bishops also singled out a number of successful local efforts. The Pittsburgh Diocese, for example, in a coalition that includes the city government and businesses is developing employment and education programs for at-risk youths.

The bishops encouraged parishes to focus on such issues from Jan. 15 through Jan. 22, a period that includes both the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade abortion decision.

Explaining the choice of dates, the bishops said they saw all their efforts flowing from their anti-abortion stand.

"All of these are life issues and speak to what we see as a very fundamental principle of respect for life at all stages," Ricard said. "We advocate a consistent fabric and ethic that goes from the womb to the tomb."