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Archive of January 17, 2013

Catholic official says Mali relieved by French intervention

Bamako, Mali, Jan 17, 2013 (CNA) - French military invention in Mali has “greatly comforted” the country's people who feared jihadist rebels could expand far into the country’s south, a Catholic Church official has said.

Father Edmond Dembele, secretary of the Episcopal Conference of Mali, told Fides news agency that Malians had “held their breath” for fear of the success of the rebels.

Now those in rebel occupied territory “look with hope” to the military operations. However, they worry about bombings and do not know what the reaction of the rebels will be when they leave cities like Konna, which they occupied on Jan. 10.

Fr. Dembele said Malians are now waiting for the land offensive.

French President Francois Hollande ordered an intervention in Mali Jan. 11 to counter rebel attempts to move into Mali’s south from the north. French warplanes began air strikes on rebel positions

French ground troops have aided the Mali army in armed combat against Islamist rebels, killing more than 100 militants. At least 11 Malian soldiers and a French helicopter pilot have also died, the BBC reports. There are about 800 French troops in Mali and their numbers will triple soon.

Another 3,300 troops from a regional West African force are expected to join the fight against the rebels. They include troops from Nigeria and the Ivory Coast. Benin, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Togo have also promised troops.

This Saturday West African leaders will hold a summit to discuss the crisis. EU foreign ministers will meet in Brussels on Thursday to discuss Mali.

Rebel forces reportedly pulled out of Gao and Timbuktu, which they occupied in the past year.

The rebel groups primarily adhere to a strict Wahhabi version of Islam. The majority of Malians are Muslim, but most of these belong to a form of Sufi Islam.

At least 140,000 refugees from Mali have registered in neighboring countries since April 2012 while an estimated 228,000 have been internally displaced, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says. The total population is about 15.4 million.

Fr. Dembele said that the Catholic Church in the area of Mopti, the largest regional capital closest to the fighting, is trying to help the displaced. The Mali bishops’ conference will hold a meeting next week to decide how to better coordinate Catholic relief efforts.

Both Islamists and more secular Tuareg fighters seized northern Mali in April 2012 after a military coup.

Many of the Tuareg fighters had fought under Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. After his fall in 2011, many returned to Mali and joined a rebellion against the Mali government. They were sidelined in Mali after Islamists took control of major towns.

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'Religious Freedom Day' prompts renewed opposition to mandate

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - President Barack Obama’s designation of a national Religious Freedom Day is leading to calls for his administration to show greater respect for the conscience rights of Americans.

“If it is not to be an empty promise,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, “religious freedom must also include acting on one’s deepest religious beliefs when one is feeding the poor, caring for the sick, educating the young, or running a business.”

Duncan welcomed the president’s proclamation but expressed regret over its failure to acknowledge the threats to religious freedom posed by the controversial contraception mandate.

Customarily proclaimed and celebrated every year on Jan. 16, Religious Freedom Day marks the anniversary of the 1786 enactment of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, penned by Thomas Jefferson.

In his official 2013 proclamation, Obama recognized “our right to exercise our beliefs free from prejudice or persecution.”

“Foremost among the rights Americans hold sacred is the freedom to worship as we choose,” the proclamation said. “Because of the protections guaranteed by our Constitution, each of us has the right to practice our faith openly and as we choose.”

Recognizing the contributions of people of faith to the building of America, the president acknowledged that religious liberty is not merely an American principle enshrined in the Bill of Rights, but “a universal human right” that constitutes “an essential part of human dignity” and a necessary ingredient for lasting peace.

He called on Americans to use Jan. 16 to learn about religious liberty and how it can be protected for future generations.

Tim Schultz, state legislative policy director for the American Religious Freedom Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told CNA that the annual proclamation indicates that Americans “overwhelmingly” support religious freedom.
 
He noted that the Religious Freedom Day is proclaimed every year by presidents of either political party, showing that religious liberty is not a partisan concern but a basic American principle.
 
Religion is “at the core” of people's identity, Schultz explained, and Americans of all faiths and no faith at all recognize the importance of a robust freedom of religion.
 
He called on the administration to ensure that its actions matched its language promoting freedom of religion for all Americans.

Other religious freedom advocates voiced concern over the Obama administration’s failure to support the free exercise of religion.

In a statement responding to the proclamation, Duncan criticized the president’s use of the phrase “freedom of worship.”
 
“Religious freedom certainly includes worship, but it extends beyond the four walls of a church,” he said, pointing to the contraception mandate, which requires employers to provide insurance coverage of contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can induce early abortions.

The Obama administration has denied an exemption to religious owners of for-profit companies, arguing that their exercise of religion does not extend to business decisions.

The mandate, Duncan warned, ignores the breadth of religious liberty “and is therefore out of step with our traditions and our laws, which promise religious freedom for all.”

Ashley McGuire, senior fellow for the Catholic Association, called the president’s proclamation “tremendously hypocritical.” She pointed to the more than 100 plaintiffs who have filed religious freedom lawsuits over the contraception mandate.

“By replacing ‘freedom of religion’ with ‘freedom of worship’ yet again,” McGuire told CNA, “the President makes plain as day his effort to confine religion entirely to the private sphere.”

“This is very bad for Americans of every religion,” she cautioned.

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European religious freedom ruling greeted as step forward

London, England, Jan 17, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A European court's new decision in the case of four British Christians claiming religious discrimination in their workplaces was received as a positive step by an attorney representing two of the plaintiffs.

“This decision here is good, in terms of rights, because it acknowledges that belief in orthodox Christian sexual ethics is actually a....manifestation of faith,” Andrea M. Williams, co-founder of Christian Legal Centre, told CNA Jan. 16.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled Jan. 15 that of the four plaintiffs, only one had been insufficiently protected by British law to have her right of freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination at work. Each of the cases related to the freedom of express Christian identity in public life and in the workplace.

The court found that the freedom of religion of Nadia Eweida, a Coptic Christian employed at British Airways, was breached after she was kept from wearing a cross while at work.

“Domestic law,” the court found, in the Eweida's case, “did not strike the right balance between the protection of her right to manifest her religion and the rights and interests of others.” The court ordered the U.K. to pay Eweida 32,000 euros, or $42,483.

The other three plaintiffs, who lost their cases, were Shirly Chaplin, a nurse who was kept from wearing a cross at work; Lilian Ladele, who lost her job with a London borough government for refusing to conduct civil partnerships; and Gary McFarlane, a therapist who was fired for saying he would be unable to give sex therapy to homosexual couples, though he did consent to give general counseling to same-sex couples.

The Christian Legal Centre represented Chaplin and McFarlane. The decisions can be appealed to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights.

The human rights court found that in all four cases, the religious beliefs motivating the plaintiffs' actions at work were worthy of protection, and must be balanced with concerns for the rights of co-workers and homosexuals.

“What the judges did in Europe was to give a wide margin of appreciation – that employers or the national government could decide how those rights were balanced,” Williams explained.

“But our courts, the domestic courts, have failed to recognize that these were even manifestations of belief. So we've made steps forward. Although we lost, we've made steps forward...in our country, we're beginning to lose even the argument that these were manifestations of faith.”

Williams said that this decision can be used in ongoing cases because “we will be able to say the European Court has recognized these beliefs as beliefs worthy of protection.”

In giving governments a broad “margin of appreciation” to balance competing rights, the court “sort of washed its hands” of deciding precisely how these rights are to be balanced in European nations. The Christian Legal Centre had hoped the court would clarify the balance of rights, but the decision can be used to argue for “how these rights are balanced, as a reasonable accommodation.”

“This means that at the Christian Legal Centre we will now go into our domestic courts on our current cases with fantastic legal argument on our side. In the U.K. these judgments have opened up numerous new legal arguments in our favour.”

Williams said she is hoping for “a change in legislation,” and that the Conservative government's discussion of a new Bill of Rights in the U.K. “would need to ensure that Christians are protected.”

The decision with regards to McFarlane is perhaps the most distressing.

“It's true generally that it's very difficult, increasingly it being Christian will be a bar to office, and if marriage is redefined in our nation, increasingly Christians will find it incredibly hard to be in certain positions in the workplace,” Williams stated.

“So that is the reality we are facing, but the more that we see this is for real, the more we will need to do something about it.”

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for the Holy See's Relations with States, told Vatican Radio Jan. 16 that the decision suggested “a real risk that moral relativism, which imposes itself as a new social norm, will come to undermine the foundations of individual freedom of conscience and religion.”

Freedom of conscience, he emphasized, is actually a necessary condition for a tolerant pluralistic society.

“The erosion of freedom of conscience also witnesses to a form of pessimism with regard to the capacity of the human conscience to recognize the good and the true, to the advantage of positive law alone, which tends to monopolize the determination of morality.”

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Catholic hospital in Jordan struggles to help Syrian refugees

Rome, Italy, Jan 17, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Jordanian Catholic hospital is appealing for more money to help with the growing influx of Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict in their homeland.

"What we're asking for is just to help us help others," said Sister Alessandra Fumagalli, at a Catholic Near East Welfare Association gathering on Jan. 16 at the Vatican. 

"It's really an emergency," she added. 

Sr. Fumagalli made her remarks at the headquarters of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, speaking alongside Cardinal Edwin O'Brien, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri and the Archbishop of Ottawa, Terrence Prendergast.

The hospital in the Jordanian town of Karak, known as "the Italian Hospital," had to stop construction work it began in 2011 because it ran out of money.

But if enough donations are made, it could have a dialysis ward aimed specifically at the increasing number of children suffering from kidney problems caused by bad water.

The hospital, run by the Comboni sisters, would also expand its capacity to care for pregnant women rooms for women.

It receives patients from a part of Jordan that extends from the area of Tafilah to the Dead Sea, a region that has about 300,000 residents.

But the Syrian conflict between those loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his regime has brought a huge influx of refuges to Jordan. The number of refugees in the area served by the Italian Hospital has now reached over 10,000.

"They are not covered because they're too far away from humanitarian help, which is mostly in the north of Jordan," Sr. Fumagalli told CNA on Jan. 16.

The sister, originally from the Italian town of Varese, recalled how in the last 70 years the hospital received other waves of refugees, including Palestinians and Iraqis.

The hospital has 40 beds, 30 consultant doctors and 5 resident doctors, but the space for patients remains limited.

"We have 15 people coming in three times a day because we just don't have enough seats for them," she said.

"We can't afford to buy medical equipment, so CNEWA is helping us a lot in these things," Sr. Fumagalli explained.

The Catholic charity organized the event where Sr. Fumagalli spoke. It brought together over 120 participants, including the Italian actor Giorgio Lupano and Italian political representatives, hoping to tell Italians of the worsening situation for Christians in the Middle East.

"The main purpose was to raise awareness in Italy of how much the Eastern Churches are in need, in order to support them," said Emanuelle Latini, the administrator of the association's office at the Vatican.

"The more people know about the work we do, the more they will want to help," he added.

But Sr. Fumagalli was not the only one who spoke about Christians in the region during the conference.

Issam Bishara, the group's director for Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, spoke about the level of poverty in the Palestinian refugee camp Dbayeh, located in the suburbs of Beirut.

"We've a dream to make this area good for everybody and to continue our service there," said Sr. Fumagalli said. 

To find out more, please visit: www.cnewa.org.

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Pope's former butler given hospital job

Vatican City, Jan 17, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Paolo Gabriele, the Pope's former butler who was released from prison just before Christmas, has a new job working for an extension of the Vatican hospital Bambino Gesu.

According to the German Catholic agency KNA, Gabriele has been offered a job doing clerical work for a new branch of the hospital near the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. He will also receive assistance with housing, since his wife and three children must move out of their current Vatican apartment.

The new extension of the hospital was opened on Sept. 10, 2012 and focuses on outpatient care for children. In early 2013 it will include a research center dedicated to pediatric diseases and illnesses.

The former butler was sentenced Oct. 6, 2012 to 18 months in prison for leaking sensitive papal documents to the media.

In an Oct. 26 Vatican communiqué, the Holy See summed up the damage caused by Gabriele by saying that a “personal offense was done to the Holy Father” and “the right to privacy of the many people who…addressed themselves to him was violated.”  

But on Dec. 22, Pope Benedict visited his former aide in prison to forgive him and pardon him for his crime.  

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told journalists that the Pope's visit was “a paternal gesture towards a person with whom the Pope shared a relationship of daily familiarity for many years.”

When Italian police officers searched Gabriele’s apartment May 23, following the publication of several confidential letters in Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi’s book “Your Holiness,” they discovered approximately 1,000 incriminating documents and 82 boxes of evidence.

During the week-long trial, the judges heard how Gabriele stole copies of confidential documents from the Papal Apartments. These included personal documents sent between the Pope and various cardinals, encrypted communications from papal ambassadors across the world, and some papers marked by the Pope with “to be destroyed” in German.

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Pew survey on abortion attitudes criticized as misleading

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A U.S. pro-life leader says a new study showing alleged support for legalized abortion among Americans is in fact exaggerated and unclear.

Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life of America, told CNA that she was “outraged” by the “horrible” wording in the survey, which led to misleading results about the views of Americans.

On Jan. 16, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a report about American attitudes on abortion after 40 years of its legalization throughout the country.

The report claimed that 63 percent of Americans do not want to see the Supreme Court completely overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationally.

However, the study has drawn criticism for its wording. Before being asked about whether the decision should be reversed, survey participants were told, “In 1973 the Roe versus Wade decision established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy.”

Hawkins explained that the question fails to acknowledge Doe v. Bolton, which was decided by the Supreme Court alongside the Roe case and effectively legalized abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

This wording, Hawkins said, certainly skewed the results of the survey from showing people’s complete views, as other studies have shown that “the vast majority of people” are opposed to abortion in the second and third trimester, even if they accept it in the first trimester.

In addition, she observed, the Pew survey asked people whether they would like to see the court “completely overturn” its Roe v. Wade decision or not.

She explained that giving only these two options fails to recognize the reality – shown time and again by other studies – that the majority of the country is in the “mushy middle,” somewhere between favoring a complete ban of abortion and completely accepting it.

While the Pew survey found that the majority of Americans did not want Roe v. Wade to be “completely” overturned, it also revealed that a plurality – 47 percent – believe that abortion is morally wrong, compared to just 13 percent who think it is morally acceptable.

This means that many people believe that abortion is morally wrong but do not think that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, Hawkins observed.

She attributed this discrepancy to a general culture of relativism in which people are taught that there is no objective right or wrong and that they should not judge the actions of anyone else.

She noted that when asked about the morality of abortion, respondents could say that they believed it to be morally acceptable or morally wrong, but they were also given a third option of saying that they did not believe abortion was a moral issue. Twenty-seven percent chose this response.

Hawkins said that this option does not make sense, because an action is either morally acceptable or it is not.

She added that she would be interested to see if those people actually thought that abortion was immoral but did not want to acknowledge it because they thought that doing so would come across as judgmental.

This fear of seeming judgmental is advanced by abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood, which promote the message that no individual can reject the actions of another as objectively wrong, even if those actions kill a child, she explained.

In addition, she said, men have been told that “they can’t have an opinion about abortion,” even though they can lose a child through one.

The pro-life movement must respond to this cultural relativism and fear of seeming judgmental by fearlessly proclaiming the truth, speaking out about how abortion hurts women and is never a good solution, she said.

One finding from the Pew poll that did not surprise Hawkins was the significant level of ignorance surrounding Roe v. Wade, particularly among young people. Of those under 30 years old, only 44 percent knew that the case dealt with abortion.

“There is a wide gap of knowledge when it comes to abortion in the United States,” Hawkins explained.

She pointed to a study released by Students for Life last summer in which 48 percent of respondents did not know whether Planned Parenthood performed abortions.

“People do not know what abortion law is,” she continued. “They just don’t know.”

At the same time, Hawkins said, human beings instinctively “know there’s something wrong with abortion.” She observed that women often cry as they enter and exit abortion clinics, and abortion is treated as an emotional and intense decision.

In addition, she said, even a three-year-old child will point to an ultrasound picture and identify the unborn child as a “baby.”

But despite this natural inclination that abortion is wrong, she acknowledged that it is also unpleasant and many people “block it out of their minds,” choosing not to think about it. For this reason, education is critically important, she said.

Experience working on college campuses has shown Hawkins that if she can get a conversation started with the students, they are open to the truth about abortion.

They key, she explained, is getting the students to “engage in a dialogue with us.”

Given a clear presentation on the scientific facts and laws regarding abortion, they are often convinced of the truth in the pro-life position, she said, adding that these students talk to their friends, and that is when “hearts and minds change on college campuses.”

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