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Quebecois bishops: prohibition on religious garb will 'fuel fear and intolerance'

Quebec City, Canada, Jun 18, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The Canadian province of Quebec passed a law Sunday prohibiting future government employees “in positions of authority” from expressing their beliefs through religious symbols during office hours.

The law passed June 16, previously known as Bill 21, does not mention any religion in particular, and would include, for example, hijabs for Muslim women and crosses for Christians. It covers covers judges, police officers, teachers, and other public figures, the BBC reports.

“We believe that Bill 21, as it stands now, will fuel fear and intolerance, rather than contributing to social peace. We therefore call on members of the government and all Quebecers to promote important amendments to this project, in order to seek more to welcome than to exclude, to understand that to reject,” Quebec’s Catholic bishops wrote in a statement issued in French June 14.

Existing employees are exempt from the new legislation. Some critics of the law claimed it particularly targets Muslim women, but Jewish organizations have also spoken out against it.

Quebec has previously sought to assert the secularity of the state and ban religious symbols. The province issued a ban in 2017 on religious full-face coverings, but it is was suspended by a judge last June.

The bishops of Quebec expressed concern about the law, especially as it relates to teachers.

“The measures affecting teachers reveal a lack of knowledge about religious life in society, as well as its cultural connotation. This lack of knowledge seems to us fueled by prejudices and fear. Rather than defuse them, these measures exacerbate them.”

“On a daily basis, [religious] people build a better society through their benevolent acceptance of others, their active solidarity with excluded and poor people, their hope for the future and their concern for peace,” the bishops noted.

The bishops pointed out that the clothing and symbols of certain religious traditions are often misunderstood as being a “tool of propaganda,” and that the new law will only encourage “unjustified mistrust.” They also expressed worry that representatives of a secular state will now be the ones to determine what is and isn’t a “religious sign.”

“Certain traditions incite or force the faithful to put on particular clothes or symbols, generally as a sign of humility. This phenomenon seems to be misunderstood, especially when we automatically consider any religious sign worn by a person as a tool of propaganda whose function is to convert those who see it,” the bishops wrote.

“Mistrust inspired by certain dress practices related to a particular religious identity may be exacerbated by the discretion of some other religious groups to use explicit signs. For example, Christianity, which remains the declared religious affiliation of the vast majority of the population in Quebec, does not require its faithful to wear specific clothing or symbols.”

The Archdiocese of Montreal had issued a statement in April saying that the crucifix represents the Christian roots of the country and does not need to be removed in a religiously pluralistic society.

“As a sign revered by Christians, the crucifix remains a living symbol. It symbolizes openness and respect toward all peoples, including toward other faith communities and religious traditions, which rightfully adhere to their own signs and symbols,” said Archbishop Christian Lépine.

Europe, too, has also seen debate over religious symbols in recent years. In 2017, the Court of Justice of the European Union upheld a ban on religious symbols in the work place. The court ruled that it is not directly discriminatory for a workplace to ban “any political, philosophical or religious sign” if the ban is based on internal company rules requiring neutral dress.

A ban on teachers wearing religious headscarves was ruled unconstitutional in a German court in 2015. In Austria and the German state of Bavaria, full-face veils are banned in public. France banned religious symbols and veils in schools in 2004.

In 2013, four Christian British Airways employees won a legal case in the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled their employer engaged in illegal discrimination for telling them they could not wear their crosses.

Church in Scotland urged to update sex abuse reporting and prevention protocols

Glasgow, Scotland, Jun 18, 2019 / 04:11 pm (CNA).- A Scottish Catholic organization set up to prevent, report and audit allegations of sexual abuse within the Church can do even more to “rebuild trust” following the sex abuse scandals, an independent review board has found.

The review, conducted by the Independent Review Group (IRG), was a follow-up to a major review undergone by the Church in Scotland in 2014 and 2015, led by Andrew McLellan. That review concluded with the publication of the “McLellan report”, which included a set of recommendations on how to make the Church "a safe place for all,” according to the BBC.

The recently-conducted review by the IRG examined how well the Church had implemented the recommendations of the McLellan report, and where there was still room for improvement.

Baroness Helen Liddell, who headed the IRG review, said that the Church had made "a good start” in addressing and safeguarding against sex abuse, but that more could be done, the BBC reported.

The group recommended that the Church review and strengthen its current safe environment service, the Scottish Catholic Safeguarding Service (SCSS), as well as provide more accessible, robust support for survivors of abuse.  

The SCSS provides training to diocesan and religious leaders on sex abuse prevention standards in accordance with the bishop’s standards as well as national standards, and facilitates an annual audit of compliancy with national sex abuse prevention standards, according to their website.

The site also contains several downloadable resources, information on upcoming training sessions, and an audit from the bishops of Scotland on abuse allegations that occurred between 1943 to 2005. The IRG recommended the SCSS become more independently sourced, and that any audits conducted by the group be independently reviewed, according to The Press and Journal.

It also recommended that each of the eight dioceses in Scotland have a clear plan and public statement on what resources and support are available for survivors of abuse, as well as an independent person to which survivors can be referred for support and counsel. The IRG also recommended including survivors in groups that make decisions about sex abuse reporting and prevention.

The IRG statement from the review noted that the bishops need to be open to learning from the information that is gathered in abuse audits if they are to move forward in making the Church a safer place for children and vulnerable groups.

“Improvement in policy and openness to learning from the audit process will start to shift culture,” the group stated.

“Commitment to create a dedicated, independent safeguarding service which supports the development needs of the eight dioceses; drives consistency; is empowered to independently investigate concerns or complaints and can act without bias in all its affairs is critical to rebuilding trust with congregations and the general public,” the IRG added.

Liddell said that the problem of sexual abuse in the Church will only be solved through a “change in culture” and with the “vigour” necessary to implement this change.

“There needs to be a change in culture, in capacity, in capability and that needs training, learning, reflection, the utmost transparency, and it needs leadership,” she said, according to The Press and Journal.

“We have found a willingness to adopt that change, but true progress can only come about as a result of deep analysis of strengths and weaknesses,” she added.

Bishop Joseph Toal, who leads the SCSS, said he was grateful for the IRG’s work and that he would give it “serious consideration,” The Press and Journal reported.

“We are determined to apply what we learn, both from the steps we have already taken and from the IRG’s report, and to ensure that the highest standards of safeguarding practice are met throughout the Church in Scotland.”

 

US Supreme Court will soon decide 'Peace Cross' First Amendment case

Washington D.C., Jun 18, 2019 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- Before the month is out, the US Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision in an establishment clause case with the potential to create a new standard for dealing with problems related to religious liberty, religious symbols, and the relationship between religion and public life.

The case, The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, hinges on the legality of the Bladensburg Peace Cross--a 40-foot stone cross that was erected in 1925 in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

The cross honors those from the area who were killed in World War I. The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has performed regular maintenance around the monument since 1961, as it is located on a median in the middle of a public road. This, the American Humanist Association has argued, is entangling government unnecessarily with religion.

Joe Davis, legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA that things appeared to be positive during oral arguments, and that “at least five” of the justices indicated that they felt as though the cross monument was legal. Oral arguments do not, however, always reflect what the justices decide months later.

If the Supreme Court does indeed rule in favor of keeping the peace cross, it is increasingly likely that they would have to use a new sort of legal test to justify how the cross is constitutional. Since 1971, the Supreme Court has used the “Lemon test” to decide these cases, something Davis described as “wildly inconsistent.” The application of the Lemon test has led to some religious symbols being found constitutional, and others not.

“(The Lemon test) has been heavily criticized over the decades," explained Davis.

It is a threefold standard, which examines if the action in question has a secular purpose, a primarily religious or secular effect, and if the action “entangles the government with religion” excessively.

The “test” was established in the Court's 1971 decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman, which struck down a Pennsylvania law allowing the reimbursement of private school teacher's salaries from public funds.

In The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, those arguing in favor of the Peace Cross proposed alternative tests for the court to consider instead of Lemon.

"The parties defending the cross argued that (the Lemon test) should be replaced by a coercion test, when you ask if the government action is coercing some religious exercise,” said Davis. “And if it's not, it's not an establishment clause violation."

The governmental party defending the Peace Cross put forward an “independent, secular meaning test,” said Davis, which would be similar to parts of the Lemon test.

The Becket lawyers argued what Davis termed a “historical approach,” which would put the action in the context of what the founders of the United States intended when they created the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

“The idea would be, you take the government action and you say ‘Does this look like what establishment of religion looks like at the founding? Is this the kind of thing that the founders were concerned about when they ratified the establishment clause?’” said Davis.

This historical approach would work, said Davis, “because you can just compare whatever the current case is about to the historical data, and see whether it matches up.”

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case in February. The court’s term ends at the end of the month, meaning that the decision will be released shortly.

Eritrean Catholic Church denounces government seizure of health clinics

Asmara, Eritrea, Jun 18, 2019 / 02:26 pm (CNA).- The Eritrean Catholic Church has criticized the government of the one-party state for seizing and closing its 22 health clinics throughout the country last week.

“The government can say it doesn't want the services of the Church, but asking for the property is not right,” read a letter from the Church to the Eritrean health ministry, the BBC reported June 17.

The Church added that its social services cannot be characterized as opposition to the government.

In seizing the clinics, patients were told to return to their homes, and military are guarding the buildings.

Of the 22 Catholic clinics in Eritrea, eight are in the Eritrean Eparchy of Keren alone, where they serve an estimated 40,000 patients annually.

According to the BBC, analysts believe the seizures were retaliatory, after the Church in April called for reforms to reduce emigration. The bishops had also called for national reconciliation.

Government seizure of Church property is not new, however.

A 1995 decree restricting social and welfare projects to the state has been used intermittently since then to seize or close ecclesial services.

In July 2018, an Eritrean Catholic priest helping immigrants and refugees in Italy told EWTN that authorities had recently shut down eight free Catholic-run medical clinics. He said authorities claimed the clinics were unnecessary because of the presence of state clinics.

Christian and Muslim schools have also been closed under the 1995 decree, according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom's 2019 annual report.

Eritrea's human rights record has frequently been deplored, and the nation has been designated a Country of Particular Concern for its religious freedom abuses by the US Department of State since 2004.

Many Eritreans, especially youth, emigrate, due to a military conscription, and a lack of opportunities, freedom, education, and health care.

A July 2018 peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which ended a conflict over their mutual border, led to an open border which has allowed for easier emigration.

Mom, target of doxing state rep, calls for Sims’ censure

Harrisburg, Pa., Jun 18, 2019 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- State Rep. Brian Sims is facing possible censure in the Pennsylvania legislature following his harassment and attempts to dox women and minors outside a Philadelphia abortion clinic last month.

In videos posted on social media May 2, Sims offered money to his followers if they would publish the names and addresses of pro-life demonstrators, including two women and several high school-age students. One of the demonstrators, Ashley Garecht of Lower Merion Township, travelled to Harrisburg June 17 to encourage state legislators to back the censure.

“It’s unclear to me why any member of this body would be hesitant to sign on to the resolution,” said Garecht, who can be seen with her daughters being harassed by Sims in one of his videos.

Garecht told local media that she thinks the incident highlights Sims’ abuse of power as much as his intolerance for pro-life speech.

“What happened to us was about an elected state representative who declared in his own video to be an elected state representative harassing and intimidating citizens out of their First Amendment rights--and three of those were minors. Then he took it a step further by offering money to expose their identities on the internet.”

So far, 36 lawmakers have supported the resolution, out of the 201 members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Rep. Jerry Knowles (R-Berks/Carbon/Schuylkill) filed the resolution in early June. Knowles is seeking to remove Sims from the four committees he belongs to, as well as prevent him from being appointed to any additional committees or positions until the end of his term. Sims’ term expires Nov. 30, 2020.

“It should be noted that Representative Sims also used his elected position to intimidate the individuals with whom he was interacting, clearly stating on the videos that he was a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives,” said the memorandum issued by Knowles that was sent to other members of the Pennsylvania House.

In the videos, Sims referred to one woman as an “old white lady,” and in another, he targeted three teenage girls accompanied by Garecht.

Sims has not yet publicly apologized for attempting to dox the pro-lifers, but he did publish a video where he pledged to “do better for the women of Pennsylvania.”

Following outcry against Sims’ actions, a pro-life rally was held outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia on May 10, where Sims is a volunteer patient escort.

In the 2014 case McCullen v. Coakley the Supreme Court unanimously found “buffer zones” around abortion clinics, limiting the space where a person can either pray or protest, to be unconstitutional.

Garecht said she has forgiven Sims for his doxing threat and harassing comments, and that she and her family continue to pray for them. She may pursue some sort of civil action suit against Sims.

“This isn’t about a vendetta for me as a mother,” said Garecht. “This is about standing up specifically for my daughters to hold the person who attacked them to account.”

Scottish bishops authorize independent audit of each diocese

The Catholic bishops of Scotland have authorized an independent audit of every diocese in the country to ensure child protection procedures are as robust as possible.

Franco Zeffirelli, enigmatic Catholic director of operas and film, dies

Famous for lavish set designs and known for bringing Shakespeare's work to the screen, Franco Zeffirelli was the Vatican's choice to stage the telecasts for the 1978 papal installation and the 1983 Holy Year opening.

Rosica resigns from Salt and Light after plagiarism scandal

Toronto, Canada, Jun 18, 2019 / 11:20 am (CNA).- Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, has resigned as CEO of the Salt and Light Media Foundation, four months after reports emerged that the priest had plagiarized sections of texts in lectures, op-eds, scholarly articles, and other writings.

“After 16 years as the founding Chief Executive Officer, I have submitted my resignation to the Board of Directors of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation effective today,” Rosica said in a June 17 statement. The priest, who led the Salt and Light network since it launched in 2003, was placed on leave from the non-profit in March.

Rosica also apologized for his acts of plagiarism.

“I ask forgiveness for errors in not properly acknowledging individuals and attributing sources in my writings,” he said.

In a separate statement released June 17, the Salt and Light Foundation’s board said that “Fr. Rosica played a critical role in the founding and growth of this network over the past 16 years. The involvement of many young women and men on our various media platforms has made a positive difference in the lives of many people around the world. We are grateful to Fr. Rosica for his leadership.”

Rosica was first reported by Life Site News Feb. 15 to have plagiarized sections of text in lectures and op-eds from a variety of writers, among them priests, theologians, journalists, and at least two cardinals.

Subsequent reports found pervasive plagiarism in academic articles, essays, speeches, and op-eds by Rosica, dating back more than a decade. Rosica has served as a Vatican press aide and was a central figure in the planning of World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto.

The priest was reported in March to have misrepresented his academic credentials, claiming falsely in his official biography to have earned an advanced degree from École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem.

“I realize that I was not prudent nor vigilant with several of the texts that have surfaced and I will be very vigilant with future texts and compositions,” Rosica told The Catholic Register Feb. 18.

“I take full responsibility for my lack of oversight and do not place the blame on anyone else but myself.”

Rosica told the National Post Feb. 22 that “What I’ve done is wrong, and I am sorry about that. I don’t know how else to say it.”

Rosica also told the National Post his plagiarism was inadvertent and not malicious. He explained that “it could have been cut and paste,” apparently meaning that he had mistakenly included passages of text written by others in his texts without remembering to attribute them.

In April, it was discovered that one of Rosica’s most controversial publications, a July 2018 blog post, had been plagiarized from a 2014 blog post by by Richard Bennett, a former member of Dominican Order and an apparently laicized priest, who is now active in a fundamentalist Protestant organization which says it “places particular emphasis on the evangelization and conversion of Roman Catholics.”

In his July post, Rosica copied Bennett’s passage saying that Pope Francis “breaks Catholic traditions whenever he wants because he is ‘free from disordered attachments.’ Our Church has indeed entered a new phase: with the advent of this first Jesuit pope, it is openly ruled by an individual rather than by the authority of Scripture alone or even its own dictates of tradition plus Scripture.”

Fr. Rosica resigns as CEO of Salt and Light Foundation

Basilian Fr. Thomas Rosica has resigned as CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, the latest chapter in a scandal that has embroiled him since February.

Archbishop Hebda responds to Tim Busch statement

NCR received the following email from Tom Halden, director of the office of communications for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, regarding the story posted June 12, an interview with Catholic entrepreneur Tim Busch.