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Archive of February 23, 2008

Human rights organization demands freedom for Cuban jailed for pro-life views

Havana, Cuba, Feb 23, 2008 (CNA) - The Lawton Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba demanded this Friday the immediate release of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, a Catholic pro-life leader who attracted the ire of the Cuban government after publicly protesting against abortion and the death penalty, which are both legal in the country.

In its statement, the Lawton foundation—founded by Biscet himself—demands "the release of Biscet and all Cuban political prisoners, so that this peaceful human rights activist may continue his struggle for justice in Cuba.”

“We urgently ask all men and women of  good will, the international press, human rights organizations, world health organizations and dignitaries of democratic nations to denounce before the Cuban government the unjust incarceration, criminal accusations, and imminent trial of this Cuban physician whose only crime is to honor the Universal Declaration of  Human Rights in his own country," the organization said.

The demand coincides with the visit of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone to Cuba, commemorating the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's visit to the Island.

For more information email: [email protected]

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Cardinal boots board of London Catholic hospital in ethics conflict

London, England, Feb 23, 2008 (CNA) - Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor has ordered the board of directors of a Catholic hospital in London to resign after disputes over staff support of abortion, contraception, and sex-change operations, the Guardian reports.

General practitioners at St. John and St. Elizabeth Hospital had been referring patients for abortions and prescribing the so-called morning-after pill, scandalizing many Catholics. 

The general practitioners serve about 9,000 patients at the hospital, which is funded by Britain’s National Health Service, self-paying patients, private health insurance companies and charitable donations.  The hospital serves patients regardless of their religious beliefs, and its maternity ward has become fashionable among celebrities.

According to the Guardian, a spokesman for the Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor explained the decision, saying, "In light of recent difficulties and challenges the cardinal asked the board to resign their office. This was to enable a new chairman to begin his office with the freedom to go about ensuring the future wellbeing of this Catholic hospital. The cardinal offered his sincere thanks to the old board and all they had done."

Members of the previous board included Aida Hersham, a Persian heiress and socialite, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the son of former Times editor William Rees-Mogg. 

Bishop George Stack, an auxiliary bishop of Westminster, had been appointed to the hospital’s ethics committee to ensure its adherence to Catholic teaching.  In December, two hospital directors resigned in protest, saying the cardinal placed Catholic values above patient care.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, who as Archbishop of Westminster is head of the Church in England and Wales, has appointed as the hospital’s new chairman Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, a former army chief of staff.  Lord Guthrie will appoint new directors, who will meet on Monday.

In 2005 Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor wrote the then-chairman of the hospital, saying, "There must be clarity that the hospital, being a Catholic hospital with a distinct vision of what is truly in the interests of human persons, cannot offer its patients, non-Catholic or Catholic, the whole range of services routinely accepted by many in modern secular society as being in a patient's best interest."

The firing of the board has generated rumors that the hospital is to be sold, but the hospital’s deputy chief executive denied any plans for sale.  “The committed plan remains to continue the objects of the charity, which, guided by its Catholic ethos, is to serve the local community," the official.

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Buddhists enter Catholics’ property dispute with Vietnamese government

Hanoi, Vietnam, Feb 23, 2008 (CNA) - A Buddhist leader in Vietnam is now asserting a claim to disputed land that once belonged to the papal nuncio but was confiscated by the Vietnam government in 1959.

After a month of Catholic protest and prayer seeking the return of the former nunciature, Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet announced an agreement on February 1 that would restore the property to Catholic ownership.

However, in a February 16 letter to the Vietnamese prime minister Venerable Thich Trung Hau, a leader of the communist-organized Vietnam Buddhist Church, now claims the land belongs to Buddhists.

Venerable Hau said that a pagoda named Bao Thien was built on the land in 1054.  In 1883, he claimed, "The French colonists seized [the land] and gave it to Bishop Puginier."

Catholics see the claim as a government ploy to undermine the agreement announced on February 1. 

The fence surrounding the former nunciature was broken through during the aforementioned Catholic protests and prayer vigils.  Recently the gates of the fence have been strengthened, while new panels carrying Communist symbols and slogans have been set in place.  Security officials now reportedly respond quickly to remove anyone who pauses to pray outside the building.

Father Joseph Nguyen, a Hanoi priest involved in the protests, said that Hanoi Catholics are facing “uphill battles” to regain the property.  He also responded to the Buddhist leader’s claim, saying, "Except the strong support from the government, Venerable Hau has nothing to prove what he said. On the contrary, we do have all legal land titles."

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