Asunción, Paraguay, Nov 18, 2010 (CNA) - Paraguay’s House of Representatives voted Nov. 9 against ratifying the “Ibero-American Convention on Young People's Rights,” a document that obliges countries that sign it to promote reproductive and sexual health, gender ideology and “freedom of sexual orientation.”
Despite pressure from international organizations such as the United Nations, the Paraguayan Congress voted against accepting the convention because of its promotion of “sexual and reproductive health,” a euphemism for liberal access to contraceptives and abortion. It also includes “sexual orientation” among the criteria for protection against discrimination, without specifying what the term means.
Homosexual activists voiced enthusiastic support of the convention when it was drafted in Bajadajoz, Spain, in October of 2005, and now they are seeking to get it ratified throughout Latin America.
Cristian Kriskovich of the Federation of Associations for Life and the Family in Paraguay told CNA the Convention was rejected by Paraguayan lawmakers because “they understand the dangers this document poses for our legal tradition, our young people and our families.”
He said making sexual orientation into a human right and protecting it against discrimination is “an attack on our legal system and on Paraguayan tradition and culture. We hope the Senate will follow suit.”
Carlos Polo of the Population Research Institute told CNA: “Instead of discussing these issues openly, the Spanish organizers (of the convention) opted for the shadowy actions of certain lobbyists. It is increasingly evident they want to avoid a public debate because they know it will be rejected by the people, as has been the case in Paraguay.”
“Up to now only a few countries have ratified the convention since it was signed in 2005. In those countries there was no public debate. The various organizations in civil society should demand a complete overhaul of this convention so that it responds to the genuine interests of young people."
Polo also called for the punishment of those who were "anti-democratically" pushing the convention, which he dubbed “ideological contraband.”
The convention has so far been ratified by seven countries: Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Spain, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Uruguay. It has been signed, but not yet ratified, by Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal and Venezuela.
Vatican City, Nov 18, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - China may be trying to force bishops loyal to Rome to participate in the ordination of a bishop chosen by the Chinese government without the Pope’s approval.
In an statement issued Nov. 18, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said that if the reports are accurate, China’s actions would mark “grave violations of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience."
The Vatican, he added, considers the planned ordination of Father Joseph Guo Jincai in the northeastern province of Hebei to be “illicit.”
Going ahead with his ordination would be “damaging to the constructive relations that have been developing in recent times between the People's Republic of China and the Holy See," Fr. Lombardi warned.
The official Patriotic Chinese Church has been making an effort to work with the Pope on the selection of bishops in recent years.
UCA News, the Asian Church news agency, reported that the ordination is planned for Nov. 20. It further reported that Chinese government officials are planning to force at least five bishops loyal to Rome to concelebrate the ordination Mass. There are reports, the agency said, of bishops being taken into custody to compel their participation in the ceremony.
The story is not a new one for the Vatican and China. They broke off diplomatic relations nearly 60 years ago over issues with the ordination of two bishops who did not have the approval of then-Pope Pius XII.
The bishops of the Catholic Church must all be given the approval of the Pope, who works with the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops in the selection of the diocesan leaders.
Since Pope Benedict wrote a letter to Chinese Catholics in May 2007 clarifying the relationship of clergy and lay faithful within the Roman Catholic Church, relations with the State-run Church have been smoother.
In that 2007 letter, he put particular emphasis on the "indispensable" nature of the communion and unity of bishops to the Pope and thus the entire Church.
Fr. Lombardi said the Vatican is in contact with Chinese authorities to seek clarification on this most recent issue.
Mexico City, Mexico, Nov 18, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Jose Luis Chavez Botello of Antequera-Oaxaca has called on Mexicans to take concrete action to bring about reconciliation in the country and reverse the grave deterioration that is affecting society and endangering the future.
“It’s not enough to just not be bad or to just do the bare minimum with regard to our laws and customs. We must be good and put ourselves at the service of reconciliation, unity and the common good,” the archbishop said in a press release issued Nov. 15.
With gang and drug cartel violence on the rise around Mexico, Archbishop Chavez Botello stressed that the work of reconciliation requires effort at the most basic levels of society—in families, neighborhoods and communities—where inter-personal relationships can be healed and strengthened.
For Mexicans, he said, there is no other way forward than to unite against violence and to work for reconciliation.
The archbishop’s message comes amidst the growing wave of violence related to the drug trade in Mexico, where the daily tally of murders continues to rise. Since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006, some 26,000 have been killed.
Vatican City, Nov 18, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The head of the Church of England, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury met privately in Rome with Pope Benedict XVI on Nov. 18.
The meeting comes at an awkward time in relations between the Church of England and the Catholic Church.
On Nov. 8, five Anglican bishops announced they were resigning their posts to enter the Catholic Church under special terms outlined last year by Pope Benedict.
One of the five, Bishop John Broadhurst of Fulham, told the London Times, that he believed thousands, not hundreds, of laity would follow them into the Catholic Church.
Archbishop Williams had already been scheduled to visit Rome to take part in 50th anniversary celebrations of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
However, his meeting with the Pope recalled one held in Rome almost exactly one year ago — after the Pope had released his plans to create “personal ordinariates” for Anglicans seeking to come over to Rome.
Details of this latest meeting have not been released. Archbishop Williams did address the conversions in an interview with Vatican Radio Nov. 18.
He said he was “deeply skeptical” about the “larger claims” of a massive exodus of Anglicans to Rome.
Asked about the Pope’s invitation to Anglicans and his creation of personal ordinariates, Archbishop Williams said: “I don’t see it as an aggressive act, meant to destabilize the relations of the churches, and it remains to be seen just how large a movement we’re talking about.”
For the first time, Archbishop Williams suggested that worshipers who join the ordinariate could be allowed to stay in their Anglican churches under a plan to let Roman Catholics share Church of England facilities.
The process is just getting underway and the parameters for new dioceses to be composed of former Anglicans, called "personal ordinariates," are still up in the air. By way of these ordinariates Anglicans will be able to "cross over" singly or en masse into the Catholic Church while retaining their liturgical traditions.
Through direct communication between the bishops and the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the first could be created in the United Kingdom in 2011.
Baltimore, Md., Nov 18, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York reacted to his Nov. 16 election as the new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops by saying he will continue the actions of the conference “with all vigor I can muster.”
“It’s not like we’re in crisis; it’s not like all of a sudden we need some daring new initiatives. Thank God for the leadership of Cardinal Francis George, things are going well,” he commented at a press briefing following his election.
He also rejected portrayals of the bishops’ conference as split between “social justice” and “pro-life” factions. These issues are “a package deal,” he explained, according to the New York Times.
Similarly, he rejected the idea that the bishops are partial to a political party.
"The bishops of the United States are not partisans, they're pastors," he said.
Responding to a question about the 2010 health care legislation, he said the passage of universal health care was marred by its lack of protections for the unborn.
“We should have been doing cartwheels,” he commented. However, the bishops thought the legislation wasn’t comprehensive because “unborn babies were in danger.”
Archbishop Dolan also discussed the novelty of his being elected over the sitting bishops’ conference vice president, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson. He suggested that the bishops did not like the idea that anyone is “a shoo-in” for the position.
The archbishop also downplayed the notion that his election was intended as a message.
“I don't think we bishops sit around thinking about that,” he commented, according to the Washington Post.
Bridgeport, Conn., Nov 18, 2010 (CNA) - Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut has warned the faithful of his diocese that their fight for religious freedom has just begun, despite the defeat of a law that would have stripped authority from Catholic clergy.
In a pastoral letter released in October, entitled “Let Freedom Ring,” Bishop Lori said that authentic religious freedom was coming under fire from legislators, judges and other officials. He warned of a “growing tendency in our state to view religious liberty as a grant to citizens by civil authorities,” rather than a God-given right that the state should acknowledge and protect.
Alongside this misconception, he said, there is a tendency to view religion as an exclusively private matter that must be prevented from influencing society. Some advocates of this view reinterpret the First Amendment as guaranteeing “freedom from religion,” effectively banishing faith from public life.
In his letter, Bishop Lori alluded to some government officials' attempts to obscure authentic religious freedom, by speaking only of believers' relatively narrow “freedom of worship” rather than the “free exercise of religion” that the U.S. Constitution guarantees.
A number of direct threats to the Church in Connecticut prompted Bishop Lori to speak out this fall, including last year's widely-criticized State Bill 1098. The measure's stated purpose was “to revise the corporate governance provisions applicable to the Roman Catholic Church.” It would have effectively barred bishops and clergy from any direct involvement in the administration of parishes.
S.B. 1098 utilized the strategy of limiting the concept of religious freedom, proposing to allow bishops and pastors to control “matters pertaining exclusively to religious tenets and practices” while denying them administrative authority in their parishes.
The bill's sponsors withdrew their proposal after it triggered a statewide uproar and attracted national attention in March 2009. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' general counsel Anthony Picarello said the bill was “not even close to constitutional,” and compared it to notorious anti-Catholic laws of the nineteenth century.
While the Connecticut legislature did not pass that bill, it did pass legislation forcing Catholic hospitals to assist in possible chemical abortions after cases of rape. In his pastoral letter, Bishop Lori revisited the 2007 controversy over the “Plan B law,” which he said was “aimed at Catholic hospitals.”
That law forbade medical professionals from administering an ovulation test to determine whether a rape victim's use of emergency contraception might cause an abortion. Only by examining both a pregnancy test and an ovulation test, can physicians know whether the drug endangers a human life.
After attempting to fight the law, Bishop Lori stated in 2007 that “reluctant compliance” was “the only viable option.” The state's Catholic hospitals currently provide the drug after performing only the pregnancy test, despite the documented risk of chemical abortions.
Commenting on the matter in his recent letter, Bishop Lori said the “Plan B law” had severely harmed the religious freedom and conscience rights of all citizens, especially healthcare professionals.
Bishop Lori also called attention to his state's redefinition of marriage as any union of two consenting adults. That redefinition occurred, in his words, “not because (Connecticut) citizens voted for it, but rather because four justices of the Supreme Court decided that traditional marriage between a man and a woman has 'no rational basis'.”
The decision, he remarked, establishes in law the unreasonable principle that marriage has nothing to do with either procreation or the raising of children.
Bishop Lori noted that the Church struggles legally and financially due to liability burdens. Connecticut's statute of limitations on civil claims of sexual abuse is 30 years, an unusually long period that allows virtually anyone to ensnare the diocese in a lawsuit long after the accused person or any possible witnesses have died.
By comparison, he noted that state institutions such as schools and juvenile detention facilities are “virtually immune from these kinds of lawsuits,” even though incidents of sexual abuse of minors in public institutions is “much greater than that which occurred in the Catholic Church.”
In regard to Catholic schools, Bishop Lori lamented that the state of Connecticut fails to provide many basic forms of support to Catholic schools that the U.S. Supreme Court has found to be constitutional. As an example he cited the fact that the state also does not allow education majors, even those at Catholic universities, to work toward their certification by student-teaching in any private school.
In response to these challenges, the Bishop of Bridgeport urged the faithful in his diocese and other concerned Catholics to inform themselves about the issues at stake, and defend religious freedom on all possible fronts– from water-cooler conversations and family gatherings, to the White House and the Supreme Court.
To this end, he recommended several methods, including prayer for public officials, vigilant political participation through voting and contact with one's representatives, and the study and practice of Catholic social teaching. He urged Catholics to follow the work of local conferences –such as the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference– that speak for the bishops on matters of public policy.
“It is also important,” the bishop urged, “that good men and women – with skills, virtues, and values – run for public office.” While noting that the calling to political life was a difficult one, he also spoke of the possibility for candidates with integrity “to recoup the moral consensus” that America's founding fathers considered central to democracy.
“A great need exists, for those who understand how to bring the truths, virtues, and values that flow from faith and reason into public life,” he observed.
San José, Costa Rica, Nov 18, 2010 (CNA) - The Bishops’ Conference of Costa Rica issued a statement on Nov. 15 urging their government to resolve the border conflict with Nicaragua and to avoid a military confrontation.
The two countries entered into dispute on Oct. 21 when Nicaraguan troops crossed the San Juan River, which forms part of their natural border, and carried out operations on the island of Calero, which both nations claim is part of their territory.
Costa Rica, which has not had a standing military since 1949, called for intervention by the United Nations and has not ruled out appealing to the U.N. Security Council.
The Costa Rican bishops have urged the government to continue working to resolve the dispute through dialogue and international law. They also called on Costa Ricans to renew their commitment to “peace, civility, fraternity and respect for life,” underscoring that “violence has never done anything else than destroy.”
The bishops called Christians and all people of good will to pray that government leaders would be “moved by justice and truth and complete the accords necessary for putting an end to this conflict.”
They noted that Costa Rica and Nicaragua have traditionally enjoyed good relations, and they invited Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica to continue collaborating “in bringing about the common good for the inhabitants of our nation.”
Washington D.C., Nov 18, 2010 (CNA) - The U.S. State Department released its 2010 International Religious Freedom Report on Nov. 17. Several of the nation's closest strategic and commercial partners came in for criticism, including some that were designated as “countries of particular concern” for their religious repression.
In Afghanistan –where U.S. and NATO troops are now expected to be fighting until 2014, in support of an officially Islamic state– the report listed a series of “serious obstacles” to religious freedom.
Some of these obstacles included “harassment, occasional violence, discrimination, and inflammatory public statements by members of parliament,” as well as television broadcasts targeting Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs.
Pakistan, another U.S. strategic partner whose constitution “establishes Islam as the state religion,” also drew some sharp criticism. “The government took some steps to improve its treatment of religious minorities,” the report stated, “but serious problems remained,” such as increasingly frequent and severe incidents of “organized violence,” and the abuse of non-Muslims at the hands of police.
The State Department continued to list Saudi Arabia as a “country of particular concern” for its attitude toward religious freedom, which is “neither recognized nor protected” by the country's Islamic monarchy, and “severely restricted in practice.”
Notably, the State Department also recently announced in October 2010 that it would be conducting the largest arms deal in American history with Saudi Arabia, by selling $60.5 billion in military hardware to the oil-rich kingdom.
Another American ally, Egypt –which has received almost $40 billion in U.S. military aid since 1980, and $28 billion in economic and developmental aid since 1975– received low marks on religious liberty. “The status of respect for religious freedom by the government remained poor, unchanged from the previous year,” the report noted.
Egypt's government “failed to prosecute perpetrators of violence against Coptic Christians in a number of cases,” and “again failed to redress laws ... and government practices, especially government hiring, that discriminate against Christians.”
It also appeared that “Operation Iraqi Freedom” may not have improved Iraqis' religious freedom during its final year.
While Iraq's new constitution attempted to ensure “freedom of … religious belief and practice,” the State Department found that “violence conducted by terrorists, extremists, and criminal gangs restricted the free exercise of religion and posed a significant threat to the country's vulnerable religious minorities throughout the reporting period.”
Iraq was not able to form a central government during a significant part of that reporting period. This tumultuous state of affairs may partly explain the State Department's finding that “very few of the perpetrators of violence committed against Christians and other religious minorities in the country were punished.”
China, a country that sold almost $300 billion in goods to America in 2009, was once again designated a “country of particular concern” for its treatment of religious adherents during the same year. The government has outlawed Catholic groups that are in full obedience to the Holy See, while setting up its own “Patriotic Catholic Association” to regulate Catholic activity and worship.
Chinese Protestants, Buddhists, Taoists and Muslims face a similar situation, with the government defining and overseeing the entire range of “normal religious activities” that it claims to permit. Chinese law does not protect other religions, and some are completely banned.
The State Department did acknowledge a slightly greater openness toward the possibility of greater religious liberty in China, and openness to discussion on the subject of unregistered churches. Relations between state-approved bishops and the Vatican have also improved in recent years.
Although President Barack Obama recently praised Indonesia for its “inclusive philosophy” and “rich diversity,” the State Department report was less sanguine. It noted that “decrees issued by the Indonesian Council of Ulama, the top Muslim clerical body,” had been “influential in enabling continued official and societal discrimination” against non-Muslims as well as minority Islamic sects.
While the Council of Ulama is not a government body, the State Department's 2007 report noted that the Indonesian government founded the council, in addition to funding it and appointing its members. The 2010 report took note of unsuccessful challenges to Indonesia's “blasphemy law,” which allows the 88-percent Muslim country to prosecute those guilty of “denigrating religion.”
Alongside these trading partners and allies, the report also criticized a range of countries with whom the U.S. has a tense, antagonistic or indeterminate relationship. Burma, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Uzbekistan were all designated as “countries of particular concern” for their attitude toward disfavored religions.
The Venezuelan government reportedly “respected religious freedom in practice”– with the exception of “those religious groups that criticized the government,” including the Catholic Church. In Cuba and Vietnam, where Marxist-oriented governments have historically endeavored to suppress or restrict religion, the report noted a mix of positive developments and continued problems.
The Vietnamese government “permitted the expansion of charitable activities by religious organizations” and began allowing more large-scale religious gatherings, although many restrictions remain. During the State Department's reporting period, President Nguyen Minh Triet met with Pope Benedict XVI to discuss the Church's presence in Vietnam.
While similar restrictions remain in Cuba, including “regular surveillance and occasional detentions,” the report said “many religious groups reported improvements in religious freedom.” President Obama recently renewed a ban on Cuban trade and travel for another year, making Cuba the only country in the world that the U.S. government currently sanctions under its 1917 “Trading With the Enemy Act.”