Baghdad, Iraq, Nov 14, 2008 (CNA) - The Latin-rite Archbishop of Baghdad Jean Sleiman has called on President-elect Barack Obama to make the protection of religious minorities in Iraq a priority for his administration. The request follows significant violence against Christians in Mosul.
Minority religious groups in Iraq are being politically marginalized, with the Iraqi parliament announcing a significant reduction in seats allotted for members of such groups for the upcoming elections. Recent allegations also claim political involvement in the October attacks on Christians in Mosul.
Archbishop Sleiman spoke by phone with the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need.
“It is very important that the U.S. should help protect minority rights in Iraq,” he said. “Pressure needs to be put on [the] government in Iraq to respect the needs not only of Christians but all minorities.
“I hope that the U.S. will encourage Iraq to improve and become a country where the rule of law is upheld, where there is equality and where human rights are at the heart of the constitution.”
The archbishop reported that Christians desperately needed increased security in Mosul, where at least 1,500 refugees have returned after weeks in displacement camps or other temporary residences. More than 15,000 fled Mosul last month after a surge of violence and intimidation.
Early Wednesday morning, two devout middle-aged Syrian Catholic sisters named Lamyaa and Walaa Sabih died after being stabbed to death in their home in Mosul. Their mother was also attacked and was in critical condition at a hospital.
On policemen’s arrival at their house, a security car was bombed, killing three policemen and badly damaging the victims’ home.
Walaa was married with two teenage children, a boy and a girl.
According to Aid to the Church in Need, the incident has caused doubts about the success of government attempts to improve security in Mosul by massively increasing police presence there.
Fr. Bashar Warda, who has overseen ACN emergency relief programs for Mosul refugees, said the attack was having a “dramatic” effect on the faithful, who now fear another wave of attacks.
“It is clear that many would think of leaving Mosul again. The government is trying to say that the city is now safe and then suddenly you have incidents like this,” he said, adding that the attack had taken place in an area with tight security.
“The police have acted very speedily to calm the situation but it is clear the attackers knew what they were doing,” the priest said.
“The government is trying to fool the outside world into thinking it is doing good things and that the Christians are safe. In reality the situation is really very challenging,” a local Catholic leader told ACN.
Archbishop Sleiman in his interview before the latest attacks voiced concerns that Christians had been exploited by some leading political groups alleged to have colluded in the campaign to expel Christians from Mosul.
In a joint statement last month, Iraqi bishops stated that the “tragic events in Mosul” were “part of a political plan” aimed at the “division and fragmentation of the country.”
On November 3 Iraq’s parliament allocated only six of its more than 400 seats for religious minorities, with only three of those seats for Christian minorities. The six minority seats are a decrease from the fifteen originally planned.
“The political parties here are not concerned about the rights of minorities. They think more about their own tactics and strategies,” Archbishop Sleiman claimed.
The archbishop also spoke of the upcoming change in the American presidency, saying:
“I do not detect a real enthusiasm for Obama. People here think that a change in president will not bring about a change in strategy – maybe in style….One Arabic online newspaper ran an article with a headline – ‘Bush was not a savage and Obama will not be an angel.’ I think this means the journal believes Bush was not as bad as some say and Obama will not be as good as people think.
“People don’t know quite what to think of Obama. His charismatic figure and his victory impressed everybody. But most people will be watching and waiting to see how the situation develops,” the archbishop said.
Baltimore, Md., Nov 14, 2008 (CNA) - On Tuesday the U.S. bishops approved the ICEL Gray Book Translation of the Proper of Seasons at their General Assembly in Baltimore by a vote of 189 to 30. They also approved the Revised Grail Psalter by the Monks of Conception Abbey for liturgical use in the United States in a 203-5 vote.
The Gray Book edition had been submitted for the bishops’ approval at their June 2008 meeting in Orlando by the Committee on Divine Worship. However, the vote to approve it was inconclusive, a press release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops states.
The bishops proposed modifications which were reviewed by the Committee on Divine Worship. Following the bishops’ approval, the modified text will be submitted to the Holy See for its approval, called a “recognitio.”
The Revised Grail Psalter will also require a “recognitio.” Already used in priests’ breviaries, the Psalter was recommended to the bishops by the Committee on Divine Worship because it can be easily sung and chanted.
Reportedly faithful to the original Hebrew, the text is critically aware of Christological references and is familiar to those who read the breviary.
Washington D.C., Nov 14, 2008 (CNA) - Supporters of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) are confident that President-elect Barack Obama will reverse the Bush administration’s 2002 decision to stop the $40 million it received in U.S. funding. The policy was instated because of UNFPA’s support for China’s one-child policy, which includes coercive abortion practices.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D – N.Y.) said the funding will be approved by the Democratic majority Congress. Her comments came while speaking Wednesday at a press conference at the National Press Club where the 2008 U.N. report on world population was released.
“You know the president will have to do nothing,” said Maloney. “He will just have to let the will of Congress go through. One of the changes is that UNFPA will be funded,” CNSNews.com reports.
The Bush administration in 2002 had stopped funding the organization, citing the Kemp-Kasten Amendment which prohibits funds from being available to organizations or programs determined to be supporting or participating in coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization programs.
In July of 2008, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte announced that for the sixth year in a row, the government had determined that “UNFPA provides support for and participates in the management of the Chinese government’s program of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization.”
Rep. Maloney reported that she discusses UNFPA funding controversies in her book “Rumors of Our Progress are Greatly Exaggerated.” She said the UNFPA was founded “with American leadership” and “was supported strongly by George Bush’s father.”
The new UN report, “Reaching Common Ground: Culture, Gender and Human Rights,” calls for “cultural sensitivity” to “mitigate and overcome cultural resistance to couples and individuals using modern contraception.” It claims to prepare for the empowerment of women with control over their fertility.
Nevertheless, Rep. Maloney claimed the U.S. will no longer “impose our own ideology” under the UNFPA funding changes.
She said Obama “has already said his administration will change the way we do business in Washington and that improving the role of women around the world is going to be one of his prominent priorities.
“I am thrilled with this report, and I am really thrilled at the new direction of our government,” Maloney said, according to CNSNews.com.
Montevideo, Uruguay, Nov 14, 2008 (CNA) - President Tabare Vasquez of Uruguay has vetoed a controversial law on sexual and reproductive health that legalized abortion and had been approved by the country’s House of Representatives by a vote of 49-48. Likewise, as she had recently announced, the Minister of Public Health, Maria Julia Munoz, and the Minster of the Interior, Hector Lescano, also signed the veto in support of the president’s decision.
According to the newspaper El Observador, the veto applies to all sections of the bill except for the first chapter, which deals with sexual and reproductive health.
Article 8 of chapter II read: “in the exercise of the sexual and reproductive rights that the present law protects and recognizes, any woman shall have the right to decide whether to interrupt her pregnancy during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy.”
According to Article 9, the voluntary interruption of pregnancy would be allowed if a woman informs her doctor of circumstances such as “economic, social or family hardship,” situations which in reality could be stretched to justify abortion for any reason. The bill only stipulated that the woman sign an informed consent agreement prior to the procedure.
Carlos Polo of the Population Research Institute in Latin America said it was “surprising that the Uruguayan president had ten days to issue his reaction to the law but that not even two had passed before he issued the veto he promised months ago, despite support for the measure within his own party.”
Vatican City, Nov 14, 2008 (CNA) - Although Cardinal Renato Martino previously said that the social encyclical Pope Benedict XVI has been writing would be published in December, major changes in the world economy resulting from the crisis in the United States are reportedly causing revisions to be made.
A Vatican official quoted by journalist Paolo Rodari of the Italian daily “Il Reformista” said the financial crisis that has hit the U.S. economy and its global repercussions has caused revisions to be made to the Pope’s forthcoming encyclical. The encyclical will focus on the demands of solidarity in the new global economy, according to Vatican officials.
The Vatican officials quoted by Rodari said the Pope will review the draft of the encyclical and that “no date has been set” for its publication.
The last social encyclical, “Centesimus Annus,” was written by Pope John Paul II in 1991 to mark the 100th anniversary of the first social encyclical, “Rerum Novarum,” by Pope Leo XIII.
Rome, Italy, Nov 14, 2008 (CNA) - After a prolonged legal battle, the Supreme Court of Italy has ruled food and hydration can be removed from Eluana Englaro, a 37 year-old woman who has been in a coma since 1992 after a car accident, in a similar case to that of Terri Schiavo, who died after 13 days of agony without food or water.
The Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the Attorney General of Milan, who was appealing a lower court ruling that granted permission to euthanize the woman last July. The request to suspend food and hydration was requested by Eluana’s father, Beppino Englaro.
The director of the Athenian Center for Bioethics of the Catholic University, Adriano Pessina, warned last July that a legal ruling of this type “does not consider the principle of the non-disposableness of human life and of the duty, of all civil society as well, not to legitimize the abandoning of therapeutic care and assistance for those citizens who are incapable of providing it for themselves.”
He told the SIR news agency the ruling gives guardians “true life or death power over the person that has been entrusted to them, contravening the meaning of guardianship itself. It is inconceivable that the best thing for somebody is death, something that never constitutes a good that should be protected.”
Pessina said “the interruption of food and water will constitute a slow agony for Eluana, who is guilty of only wanting to stay alive.”
The brother of Terri Schiavo, Bobby Schindler, also commented on the ruling, saying that it “seems to indicate that American ‘medical ethics’ are spreading like a virus among the international community, threatening countless numbers of elderly, ailing and disabled persons in an increasing and alarming way.”
“Our heart goes out to this family as we know very well the profound affect that these types of injuries can have on loved ones. However, we must remember that we have a grave obligation to do all we can to protect those with disabilities, recognizing that a person with a brain injury is a human being with an inherent dignity and a right to life. This young girl needs only food and water and her family’s love to survive. At the very least this should be provided to her.”
Rome, Italy, Nov 14, 2008 (CNA) - The president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Cardinal Stanyslaw Rylko, said this week, “The time has come to free ourselves from our false hang-ups of inferiority towards the secular world and courageously be ourselves, disciples of Christ.”
During his remarks at the opening of the Council’s plenary assembly, which this year is focused on the theme, “Twenty years after Christifideles laici: memory, development and new challenges and tasks,” the cardinal stated that “our true problem is not being a minority, but rather having voluntarily become marginal, irrelevant, because of our lack of courage, so that we will be left alone, because of our mediocrity.”
According to the L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Rylko denounced the “dictatorship of relativism” that Pope Benedict XVI has correctly identified, in which universal truth does not exist.
“The rush to create a ‘new man’ completely detached from the Judeo-Christian tradition, a new ‘world order,’ a new ‘global ethic,’ is gaining ground,” the cardinal said, and thus a “new anti-Christianity” is emerging that makes it politically correct to attack Christians and Catholics in particular.
“Whoever wishes to live and act according to the Gospel of Christ in the Western liberal democracies must pay a price,” he stated.
Denver, Colo., Nov 14, 2008 (CNA) - A consortium of left-wing Christian organizations has released a report on the reasons voters gave for how they cast their ballots in the recent election. Although the poll finds that Americans have rejected a “narrow agenda,” the Archdiocese of Denver says the report has “little value” because it is skewed by the preconceptions of the groups that commissioned the survey.
The newly released survey, which questioned 1,277 voters, was conducted November 5-7 by Public Religion Research for the groups Faith in Public Life, Sojourners and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.
While noting that only 21 percent of white evangelicals voted for Barack Obama, the consortium pointed to their finding that “nearly double” (39%) say he is friendly to religion and shares their values.
Dr. Robert P. Jones, President of Public Religion Research interpreted the results of his organization’s survey as showing that Americans desire to reclaim a “broader agenda,” a description that closely echoes the post-election theme of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and its political allies.
Katie Paris, Director of Communications Strategy at Faith in Public Life, agreed with Jones’ reading: "People of faith are tired of the culture wars and hungry for common ground. Evangelical and Catholic voters are rejecting a narrow agenda and embracing the conviction that we must all work together – an approach that will enable the faith community to effect real progress on difficult issues in the days to come," she said.
Yet, the same Public Religion Research poll found that the major deciding factor for voters was the economy and not moral issues, with 70 percent of voters listing it as one of the top two issues they considered when they voted.
Democratic political analyst Mark Stricherz explained to CNA that far from the “rebalancing of political alignments” that Dr. Jones depicts as the outcome of the survey, he sees a more complicated picture.
“The country is in a recession. Of course, Americans are most worried about their jobs, homes, taxes, and health insurance. But their focus on the economic issue cuts both ways in terms of the social issue. They don't want more restrictions on abortion; yet they also don't want taxpayers to pay for more abortions and certainly don't want to eliminate all legal protections for unborn infants, as President-elect Obama has vowed to do under the Freedom of Choice Act,” Stricherz told CNA.
The national poll also touched on the issue of abortion, asking respondents to what extent they agreed or disagreed with the statement:
“Elected leaders on both sides of the abortion debate should work together to find ways to reduce the number of abortions by enacting policies that help prevent unintended pregnancies, expand adoption, and increase economic support for women who wish to carry their pregnancies to term.”
Of those voters surveyed, 83 percent (86 % of white evangelicals and 81% of Catholics) said that they would like to see politicians cooperate to reduce abortions.
This result, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and their partners say, should be interpreted to mean that pro-lifers should focus their efforts on economic and social measures to reduce abortion. Other thinkers who agree with this reasoning, such as Douglas Kmiec and Nicolas Cafardi, assert that the pro-life movement has failed in the legal arena, and that it should redirect its energies.
However, this past Wednesday the U.S. Catholic bishops rejected the notion that the pro-life movement has failed by assailing Roe v. Wade in their joint statement. “A good state protects the lives of all. Legal protection for those members of the human family waiting to be born in this country was removed when the Supreme Court decided Roe vs. Wade in 1973. This was bad law.”
Jeanette DeMelo, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Denver, dismissed the Catholics in Alliance survey and the groups’ conclusions in a statement to CNA on Friday. “This survey has little value, if any, because it is skewed by the preconceptions of the partisan, activist groups that commissioned the survey,” she said.
DeMelo also pointed out that “Archbishop Chaput has already said that groups like ‘Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good have done a disservice to the Church, confused the natural priorities of Catholic social teaching, undermined the progress pro-lifers have made, and provided an excuse for some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue instead of fighting within their parties and at the ballot box to protect the unborn’.”
Archbishop Chaput has taken particular issue with Catholics in Alliance’s attempts to give equal moral weight to the issue of abortion in its voter education materials.
In a mid-October speech, Archbishop Chaput described their agenda, saying, “All of them seek to ‘get beyond’ abortion, or economically reduce the number of abortions, or create a better society where abortion won’t be necessary. All of them involve a misuse of the seamless garment imagery in Catholic social teaching. And all of them, in practice, seek to contextualize, demote and then counterbalance the evil of abortion with other important but less foundational social issues.”