Mumbai, India, Mar 1, 2011 (CNA) - A new independent report on anti-Christian violence in the southwest Indian state of Karnataka has charged that the violence was pre-planned and backed by the state’s highest government authorities.
Justice Michael Saldanha conducted an independent Peoples’ Tribunal Enquiry to investigate the violence. He visited over 400 places and examined almost 3,000 witnesses and victims in addition to forensic evidence and media reports.
Hindu extremist groups led attacks on churches, schools and homes of Christians and physically beat hundreds of people. The report said that the violence was covered up by the government of Karnataka, currently run by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Karantaka’s chief minister and home minister allegedly encouraged the criminals, while the forces of armed police, the state administration and the lower judiciary were used against Christians and community institutions.
The religious violence was targeted to have maximum impact and the persecution has continued over the last three years. The report also blamed government inaction in the face of “an atmosphere of anarchy,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India reports.
The report additionally examined the profiling and stereotyping of the Muslim community, which has also been subject to attacks.
The Christian Secular Forum had sought a new investigation of the attacks. The report was officially presented in Mumbai on Feb. 23 in the presence of Archbishop of Bombay Cardinal Oswald Gracias, who is president of India’s bishops’ conference.
Cardinal Gracias said Justice Saldanha’s report needed to be taken seriously.
“In the case of Karnataka, it seems apparent that a massive cover-up exercise was underway and this did not augur well for India, which hopes to take its rightful place at the top among developed nations. Thus, Michael Saldanha had done a great service not just for the minorities, but for the country,” commented the cardinal.
He criticized the official Justice B.K. Somasekhara Report, which was launched by the ruling BJP government in the aftermath of the riots. That report did not serve its purpose of identifying persons and organizations responsible for the attacks on churches and Christians, he argued.
The Saldanha Report is more than a Christian issue, he noted, because it raises a national question about the credibility of judicial commissions.
Joseph Dias, general secretary of the Christian Secular Forum, also welcomed the new report for exposing the people and forces behind the anti-Christian violence. He charged that the earlier report exonerated extremist backers of “Hindutva,” or “Hindu-ness.” That report gave the impression of legitimizing the attacks and “kind of justifies attacking not only those so-called 'involved' but even those unrelated and hapless onlookers caught in the cross-fire.”
The Catholic Church will present the new report to India’s federal government to demand action against the Karnataka government, Fr. Charles Irudayam told Fides news agency.
Dias called for the immediate dismissal and the incrimination of Karnataka’s prime minister and interior minister for “having endorsed violence and crimes against defenseless citizens.”
Dr. Abraham Mathai, who is the president of Indian Christian Voice and vice-chairman of the Maharashtra Minorities Commission, also called for a rejection of the Somasekhara Report.
He also warned of the “dangerous trend” of parts of the judiciary who give the impression that charges of forced or suborned religious conversions can be used as an alibi to attack Christians, even when there is no evidence of unethical conversion.
The Karnataka government should consider Justice Saldanha’s report the more credible one and act on it, Mathai commented. He also called for the withdrawal of false charges against over 300 Christians and for adequate compensation to the victims of violence.
Fr. Irudayam, secretary of the Indian bishops’ conference Commission for Justice, Peace and Development, said that the Catholic bishops and faithful, all Christians and human rights organizations have protested against “sectarianism” and the “lies and prejudices” contained in the Somasekhara report.
“All Christians and honest people have rejected it without hesitation,” he continued, noting the “overwhelming evidence” of Hindu extremists’ responsibility for the violence.
Tens of thousands of Christians rallied on Feb. 21 against the Somasekhara Report, calling it “distorted” and “anti-Christian.” People from 45 different denominations marched through the streets of Mangalore, some with gags covering their mouths.
On Feb. 18 at St. Mark University of Bangalore protesters held a silent fast which involved 18 bishops, including Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore, Vatican Radio reports. The bishops, the Global Council of Indian Christians and Christian leaders in Karnataka had presented the state’s governor and the chief minister their own counter-report on the attacks.
New York City, N.Y., Mar 1, 2011 (CNA) - After the removal of a billboard in New York City which charged that abortion makes a mother’s womb the most dangerous place for African Americans, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan condemned the move as an intolerant “gag order.”
Likening the ad to anti-smoking campaigns that show the graphic affects of nicotine addiction or world hunger organizations that show pictures of starving children, the New York archbishop said that being “confronted by the truth can often be unpleasant.”
In a Feb. 25 post on his blog, The Gospel in the Digital Age, Archbishop Dolan said that the removed ad is so upsetting because its “message is somberly true.”
The billboard, sponsored by the group Life Always, measured 29 feet high and 16 feet wide and was erected on the night of Feb. 22. It depicted a young black girl beneath the phrase “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.”
Pete Costanza, the general manager for Lamar Advertising, said the billboard was being taken down because an objector to the billboard harassed the waiters and waitresses in the Mexican restaurant below the sign.
The restaurant has no affiliation with the billboard company or the pro-life group.
“I don’t want any violence to happen around the buildings there,” Costanza told the New York Times. His decision was not about politics, but safety, he remarked. He said he was not inundated by requests for the ad’s removal.
Lamar Advertising spokesman Hal Kilshaw told the New York Times that Costanza was worried about the safety of the restaurant staff and also about reports of a protest against the billboard.
In his recent blog post, Archbishop Dolan cited New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which reported last year that 59.8 percent of African American pregnancies in the city ended in abortion.
“That’s even higher than the chilling city-wide average of 41 percent of pregnancies ending in abortion,” he said.
The archbishop then asked what it was “that moved many of our elected officials to condemn this ad and call for the gag order?”
“Are they claiming that free speech is a right enjoyed only by those who favor abortion or their pet causes? Do they believe that unpleasant and disturbing truths should not be spoken?”
“Or,” he added, “are they afraid that when people are finally confronted with the reality of the horror of abortion, and with the toll that it is taking in our city, particularly in our African-American community, that they will be moved to defend innocent, unborn, human life?”
New Haven, Conn., Mar 1, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - From now until April 27, members of the “JPII generation,” and others who were impacted by Venerable Pope John Paul II, can submit a message that will be brought to the late Pope's tomb during his Beatification on May 1.
The Knights of Columbus are collecting the letters through the website HeadlineBistro.com. After April 27, they will be printed and brought to the Pope's resting place in the Vatican by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson.
The head of the Knights of Columbus will be attending the ceremony along with a delegation from the Supreme Council of the fraternal and charitable organization.
Matthew St. John, a spokesman for the Knights, told CNA on Feb. 28 that the idea originated with Anderson himself.
“This was Supreme Knight Carl Anderson's idea,” St. John explained, “to give the generation named for Pope John Paul II a way through which they could share their love for him and their thanks for his
“It is clear that Pope John Paul II importantly shaped the lives of so many young people,” he noted.
Although anyone may submit a letter, the project is especially geared toward members of the “John Paul II generation” of Catholic young adults.
This group of Catholics, who came of age during his pontificate, had a special bond with the Pope – due in part to his inauguration of World Youth Day, and many other ways in which he demonstrated concern for the contemporary realities shaping their lives.
In a recent interview with CNA, the Supreme Knight observed that young people, who “especially look for authenticity,” could feel a genuine bond of love between themselves and Pope John Paul II.
“That relationship,” Anderson said, was “the secret of so many World Youth Days.” He described the beatification of the late Pope as a “validation” of the experience that young people had, in encountering the Pope's paternal care for them.
Managua, Nicaragua, Mar 1, 2011 (CNA) - Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Jose Baez of Managua, Nicaragua is warning that the country could be on the road to an “open or veiled form of totalitarianism” in the wake of President Daniel Ortega’s decision to run for another term.
The Sandinista Party announced on Feb. 26 that Ortega would run for re-election, even though article 147 of the Nicaraguan Constitution does not allow a president to run for immediate re-election or to serve for more than two terms.
The following day, Bishop Baez remarked that the country could be on the way to an “open or veiled form of totalitarianism.” He added that he was not expressing a personal opinion, but rather that of Nicaragua's bishops.
Last year the bishops noted that power should not be concentrated “in the hands of a few.”
“We are watching as the law is being used by one group to impose its whims, we are watching the rule of law be torn to shreds, we are watching Nicaragua be used as if it were a company at the service of one group, one family, of the few,” Bishop Baez said.
The bishops are not acting in opposition to the government, he continued. Rather, they are providing guidance based on “the truth and justice that come from the Gospel” as well as “the wisdom of the Church in her social doctrine.” This wisdom helps politicians see past the dark clouds of sin and personal ambition, he added.
Politics in Nicaragua needs to be cleaned up, the bishop said, because “there is a lack of ethical and moral values.” Political problems have sidelined important issues such as unemployment, poverty, heath care and education, he said. “These must be the fundamental concern of politicians.”
Ortega was president previously from 1985-1990. He was re-elected in 2006.
Vatican City, Mar 1, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - For the month of March, Pope Benedict is praying for those around the world who are discriminated against because of their faith, and for the spiritual growth of Latin America.
The Pope's general prayer intention for March is: “That the nations of Latin America may walk in fidelity to the Gospel and progress in justice and peace.”
His mission intention is: “That the Holy Spirit may give light and strength to those in many regions of the world who are persecuted and discriminated against because of the Gospel."
CNA STAFF, Mar 1, 2011 (CNA) - The first “divorce” between a lesbian couple has been registered in the Mexican city of Piedras Negras, located on the Mexico-Texas border.
The divorce between Maria Marcela Orozco, 38, and Sandra Elvira Nava Jimenez, 45, was the first of its kind in Mexico, reported the newspaper Milenio. The Mexican State of Coahuila, in which Piedras Negras is located, legalized civil unions for same-sex couples in January 2007.
The pair divorced over accusations of infidelity and financial mismanagement.
President of the Mexican Institute on Sexual Orientation, Oscar Rivas Lozano, explained to CNA Feb. 28 that according to the organization’s statistics, “Homosexual unions tend not to last as long as heterosexual ones.”
One of the reasons for the high rate of break-ups among same-sex couples is that “infidelity is three times higher than among heterosexual couples,” Rivas Lozano said.
Fidelity has a different meaning for homosexual couples, he continued, as “they make a distinction between emotional and sexual fidelity, and they say, in some cases sexual fidelity is not considered important, whereas emotional fidelity is.”
For this reason, the institute holds that the institution of marriage cannot be applied to same-sex unions because “the vows of marriage themselves speak of fidelity, mutual help, procreation. And in the case of homosexual couples, this is different,” he said.
“Homosexual couples tend to stay together between three and six years, at the most,” Rivas Lozano said, adding that “female couples almost always stay together longest.”
Compared with heterosexual marriages, the difference is abysmal, as “according to the Civil Registry in Mexico, traditional marriages in the country last an average of 10 to 15 years.”
Among lesbian couples, “relationships are always very delicate because they are very passionate, and sometimes too much emotion is involved,” he continued.
“From the anthropological point of view, it is understandable because the male-female relationship tends to balance itself out psychologically, as women tend to be more intuitive and emotional, and men more reflective and rational,” Rivas Lozano said.
Juan Dabdoub of the Mexican organization Familia Mundial, located in Monterrey, told CNA he was not surprised to learn of the first lesbian divorce in Mexico. He noted that statistics show that those attracted to members of the same sex “have very high levels of instability in their emotional relations.”
Dabdoub said that in Spain it has been shown that homosexual men have an average of 39 partners throughout their lives. “What our homosexual brothers need is help, not encouragement; otherwise sooner or later they will suffer more intensely the effects of not receiving adequate reparative therapy in time.”
In Mexico, same-sex “marriage” is legal only in Mexico City, where the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional and granted couples the right to adopt children.
The Catholic Church, as well as other Christian denominations, harshly criticized the ruling, which was praised by Mexico City Mayor Macelo Ebrard, a possible contender in the country’s next presidential elections.
The Archdiocese of Mexico City called it “morally unacceptable” to make same-sex unions equal to marriage.
Catholic teaching does not support gay “marriage” because it is an attack on the nature, meaning and purpose of authentic marriage, comprised of a union between one man and one woman.
The Vatican and bishops around the world have denounced laws that aim to present “alternative models” of family and conjugal life as an attack on the basic cell of society.
Washington D.C., Mar 1, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - American inaction and complacency towards promoting religious freedom keeps the United States from exporting one of its “greatest qualities” and hinders an “honest discussion” on the relationship between Islam and democratic assumptions, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said March 1.
“We need to insist that religious freedom – a person’s right to freely worship, preach, teach and practice what he or she believes, including the right to freely change or end one’s religious beliefs under the protection of the law – is a foundation stone of human dignity,” he commented. “No one, whether acting in the name of God or in the name of some political agenda or ideology, has the authority to interfere with that basic human right.”
The Archbishop of Denver, who served from 2003-2006 as a commissioner for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, delivered his remarks in a March 1 keynote speech at a Georgetown University conference sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs. His talk addressed whether the role of religion in American politics and society is a model for other countries.
The United States has a history as a place of refuge for victims of religious persecution, the archbishop noted. At the same time, “(r)ight now in America, we’re not acting like we revere that legacy, or want to share it, or even really understand it. And I think we may awake one day to see that as a tragedy for ourselves, and too many others to count.”
The archbishop, drawing on his experience as a religious freedom commissioner, voiced concern that Christian minorities in Africa and Asia bear the brunt of religious violence.
“Nearly 70 percent of the world’s people now live in nations — regrettably, many of them Muslim-majority countries, as well as China and North Korea — where religious freedom is gravely restricted,” he said, citing a 2009 Pew Forum report.
The archbishop suggested that many leaders in government, media, academia and business no longer seem to regard religious faith as “a healthy or a positive social factor.” He criticized the Obama administration’s “ambivalence” toward “the widespread violations of religious liberty across the globe,” and also the inadequacy or lack of interest in the news media in reporting on these issues.
He said that the American model of religion in society can and should be adapted by other countries, because it touches upon universal desires for freedom and human dignity. “They’re inherent to all of us,” he added, noting “the democracy movements now sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.”
However, Archbishop Chaput underscored that American values themselves cannot be understood without acknowledging that they grow out of “a predominantly Christian worldview.”
“Dropping this model on non-Christian cultures – as our country learned from bitter experience in Iraq – becomes a very dangerous exercise,” he warned. “One of the gravest mistakes of American policy in Iraq was to overestimate the appeal of Washington-style secularity, and to underestimate the power of religious faith in shaping culture and politics.”
The Denver archbishop said that at the heart of the American model of public life is “a Christian vision of man, government and God.” He clarified that he was not saying that America is a “Christian nation,” or that the Protestant heritage is uniformly good. However, the American model has provided a “free, open and non-sectarian society” precisely because of its moral assumptions.
These assumptions have a religious grounding in “a Christian vision of the sanctity and destiny of the human person.” In the American model, the human person is not a product of nature or evolution or a creature of the state or the economy, or a slave of an “impersonal heaven.”
“Man is first and fundamentally a religious being with intrinsic worth, a free will and inalienable rights. He is created in the image of God, by God and for God. Because we are born for God, we belong to God. And any claims that Caesar may make on us, while important, are secondary,” he said.
Given our origins, Archbishop Chaput said that religious freedom is man’s “first and most important freedom” because he is created for a religious purpose with a religious destiny. Despite the “legion of blind spots” among the American Founders, the American logic of a society based on God’s sovereignty and human dignity has proven “remarkably capable” of self-criticism, repentance and renewal.
In the United States, he explained, religion is more than a private affair between the individual and God. It is essential to “the virtues needed for a free people,” and religious groups are expected to contribute to the social fabric.
“Americans have learned from their own past,” Archbishop Chaput concluded. “The genius of the American founding documents is the balance they achieved in creating a civic life that is non-sectarian and open to all; but also dependent for its survival on the mutual respect of secular and sacred authority. The system works. We should take pride in it as one of the historic contributions this country has made to the moral development of people worldwide.”
Archbishop Chaput's full speech can be read at:
Nottingham, England, Mar 1, 2011 (CNA) - On Feb. 28, two British judges ruled that a Christian couple can no longer participate in the foster care of children, because of their conviction that a homosexual lifestyle is immoral.
Eunice and Owen Johns, aged 62 and 65, are Pentecostal Christians from the city of Derby and have cared for 15 foster children in the past. Following the ruling, Eunice Johns said she and her husband were “extremely distressed” at the ruling handed down in Nottingham Crown Court.
“All we wanted to do was to offer a loving home to a child in need,” Eunice Johns said. “We have a good track record as foster parents, but because we are Christians with mainstream views on sexual ethics, we are apparently unsuitable as foster parents.”
“The judges have suggested that our views might harm children. We have been told by the Equality and Human Rights Commission that our moral views may ‘infect’ a child. We do not believe that this is so.”
Two senior members of Nottingham's family court, Lord Justice Munby and Mr. Justice Beatson, heard the case. Supporters and opponents of the Johns agreed it was a landmark moment for British society, and could set a legal precedent for future cases involving the controversial Sexual Orientation Regulations and the 2010 “Equality Act.”
In their ruling, Justices Munby and Beatson interpreted the non-discrimination provisions of those laws as applying to the relationship between parents and foster children. They implied that placing children with Christians who hold traditional beliefs could lead to “a conflict with the local authority's duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of looked-after children.”
The court acknowledged the implicit conflict between the Sexual Orientation Regulations on the one hand, and laws intended to prevent religious discrimination on the other. But the justices held that in cases of foster care, “the equality provisions concerning sexual orientation should take precedence” over the religious liberty of foster parents.
Elsewhere, the ruling held that government authorities can require individuals to demonstrate a positive attitude toward homosexual inclinations and behavior. The judges also concluded that the Johns had not been the victims of religious discrimination as such, because they were being excluded due to their ethical beliefs – and not, in the eyes of the judges, because of their Christian beliefs.
Justices Munby and Beatson also stated that Article 9 of the European Human Rights Act provides a “'qualified' right to manifest religious belief,” particularly in cases of beliefs “inimical to the interests of children.”
Andrea Williams, director of the U.K.-based Christian Legal Centre, noted that Eunice and Owen Johns had “effectively been told by British Judges that their views may harm children.”
The Nottingham judges prefaced their ruling by reasserting what they described as “the obvious point” that Britain is “a secular state, not a theocracy.” They wrote that “reliance on religious belief – however conscientious the belief, and however, ancient and respectable the religion – can never of itself immunize the believer from the reach of the secular law.”
Williams, however, pointed to a disturbing trend in recent British legislation and rulings.
“The law has been increasingly interpreted by Judges in a way which favours homosexual rights over freedom of conscience,” she noted. “Significant areas of public life are now becoming out of bounds to Christians who do not want to compromise their beliefs.
“If Christian morals are harmful to children and unacceptable to the State,” she asked, “then how many years do we have before natural children start being taken away from Christians?”
Britain's Sexual Orientation Regulations have been a source of controversy in the past. The regulations forced the closure of all of England's Catholic adoption agencies, after a commission ruled that they could not turn away homosexual couples from adopting children. Catholic Care, the last agency to close, was forced to shut down in August 2010.
Vatican City, Mar 1, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholic Church leaders must learn to understand and to speak in the “new language” of mass media and “digital culture” while recognizing the challenges they pose for faith and theology, Pope Benedict XVI said Feb. 28.
“(I)t is not just a question of expressing the Gospel message in modern language, but also of having the courage to give more profound consideration … to the relationship between the faith, the life of the Church and the transformations mankind is experiencing,” the Pope remarked this past Monday.
He addressed participants in the full assembly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications who are meeting to reflect on language and new technology.
Pope Benedict noted the risks that accompany the “new languages” of digital communications: the “loss of inner depth,” superficiality in relationships, the “flight into emotionalism,” and the ability of the most convincing opinion to dominate the desire for truth.
Cultural ideas have more than a verbal sense, he noted. The new ways of communicating are “more intuitive and emotional than analytical” and tend towards a different logical organization and a different relationship with reality.
The digital culture, the Pope said, makes it more difficult for people to “speak and listen to a symbolic language of transcendence.” Christians are called to discover in this culture “symbols and significant metaphors which may be of help in speaking of the Kingdom of God to modern man.”
Christian believers’ contributions, he noted, can be useful to mass media by opening “horizons of meaning and value which digital culture alone is incapable of seeing or representing.”
Pope Benedict said an appeal to “spiritual values” will help promote a “truly human” form of communication that surpasses the “facile enthusiasm or skepticism” of the digital world because it responds to the call imprinted into human beings who are created in the image and likeness of God.