Saturday, December 27, 2008

President congratulates Pope, Catholics on Christmas

President congratulates Pope, Catholics on Christmas

TEHRAN (IRNA) -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a message congratulated Pope Benedict XVI, leader of Catholics throughout the world and followers of Jesus Christ on Christmas.

The full text of the message is as follows: “In the Name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful I congratulate Your Excellency and followers of the the prophet on birth anniversary of Jesus Christ, messenger of kindness, peace and friendship, as well as the new Gregorian year.”

“Today humanity is tired of war, bloodshed, tension, discrimination and deception. Current challenges and incidents have distanced humanity from its originality and trapped it in a deceptive mirage, which cannot be solved except by returning to God and further attention to divine messengers’ teachings.

“I hope that human being will be blessed with God’s graces and a world full of beauties will be established.

“Such significant issues will not be possible except through unity among the monotheists and paving the ways for reappearance of Imam Mahdi (May God hasten his reappearance).

“I wish blessings, happiness and health for the Pope and world Christians.”

Friday, December 26, 2008

Pre-Orders Open for Pope's 3rd Encyclical

Pre-Orders Open for Pope's 3rd Encyclical

NEW YORK, DEC. 24, 2008 ( Benedict XVI's third encyclical -- rumored to have the title "Caritas in Veritate" -- is already on pre-sale at various online book stores, including Amazon and Ignatius Press.

Though vendors are previewing an April '09 publication date, when Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, spoke of the encyclical this month, he was no more specific than "the beginning of next year."

The encyclical is expected to treat issues of social doctrine. And the Holy Father's message for the World Day of Peace on Jan. 1 was said to preview some of the main points the Pope will develop in the encyclical.

In July, Benedict XVI's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said the encyclical "comes and goes from the Pope's desk, because he doesn't want to repeat common concepts of the Church's social doctrine, but wants to offer something original, according to the challenges of today."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Pope calls for sense on genders

Gay rights groups and activists yesterday condemned passages in Pope Benedict XVI's end-of-year address in which the pontiff spoke about gender and the important distinction between men and women.

Speaking to the Curia, the Vatican's central administration, the pope said that the church viewed the distinction as central to human nature, and "asks that this order, set down by creation, be respected". The church, he said, "should protect man from the destruction of himself". He said a sort of ecology of man was needed, adding: "The tropical forests do deserve our protection; but man, as a creature, does not deserve any less." He attacked what he described as "gender" theories which "lead towards the self-emancipation of man from creation and the creator".

Father Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, claimed the pope had not wished specifically to attack homosexuality, and had not mentioned gays or lesbians in his text. Nevertheless, the speech provoked anger from campaigners, who interpreted the remarks as a papal call to save mankind from homosexuals and transsexuals.

"What keeps the pope awake at night is the idea that human beings might be able to seek out their own sexual identity to have a happy life," said Franco Grillini, of the Italian association Gaynet. "The speech has no scientific basis," said Aurelio Mancuso, head of Arcigay. "A divine programme for men and women is out of line with nature, where the roles are not so clear."
Riazat Butt on reaction to the pope's speech Link to this audio

Although Catholic doctrine is that homosexuality is not a sin, the church does condemn homosexual acts and the former Joseph Ratzinger stated in 1986 before he became pope that homosexuality "is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder".

Father Lombardi insisted, however, that there had been an overreaction to the pope's remarks. "He was speaking more generally about gender theories which overlook the fundamental difference in creation between men and women and focus instead on cultural conditioning."

Italian newspapers widely interpreted the speech as a specific attack on sex change operations. "I would like an audience with the pope and other transgenders in order to get to know each other," said Vladimir Luxuria, a transsexual former member of the Italian parliament. "We do not want to be transgressive or provoke, we only want to pursue our own nature."

Benedict's main target appeared to be same-sex marriages. He claimed that lifelong wedlock between a man and a woman was like "the sacrament of creation".

Mike Egan, chair of the UK-based Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said the pope's position on homosexuality was a mistake. "There are much greater threats to marriage and family life. There are bishops and clergy who think the official line on homosexuality is not true and the more official pronouncements, the deeper the hole the church is digging. I would say to gay Catholics, the man is right on lots of other things and hang on in there."

Catholic bishops in England and Wales are encouraging a more pastoral approach. Last month they issued a leaflet - entitled What is life like if you or someone in your family is gay or lesbian in their sexual orientation? ... and what can your parish family do to make a difference? - urging clergy and parishioners to welcome gay men and lesbians. "As a group that has suffered more than its share of oppression, the homosexual community has a particular claim on the concern of the church," it said. The leaflet cited comments received during a survey suggesting the church acknowledged it may have played a role in victimising and marginalising gay Catholics. These included: "The continual message from the church is that homosexuality is so, so dreadful. Our gay son just hasn't stood a chance."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Somali fighters destroying shrines

Somali fighters destroying shrines

Somali fighters used hammers to destroy the graves of clerics and other prominent people in Kismayo
Al-Shabab, an armed group fighting transitional government and Ethiopian forces in Somalia, is desecrating religious shrines in the south of the country, Al Jazeera has learned.

The ancient graves of clerics and other prominent people are among holy sites being targeted by the armed group in the port city of Kismayo.

Al-Shabab took control of Somalia's third-largest city about four months ago and quickly announced it would not tolerate anything it deemed un-Islamic.

Al Jazeera correspondent Mohammed Adow said Kismayo's Roman Catholic church was torn down just days after they seized power through bloody fighting.

"The 60-year-old church had not been used for nearly 20 years and not a single Christian lives in the city - but that was not a good enough reason for the militias to spare the building, he said."

"They are planning to replace it with a mosque."

Graves targeted

The fighters then turned their hammers on graves, some of which contained the remains of followers of Sufi, a mystical form of Islam.

The sites have been revered for decades and are regularly visited by people paying homage to the dead, a practice al-Shabab has condemned as being akin to idolatry.

"We are a chosen lot by Allah to try and correct the mystics of the people and guide them," Hassan Yaqub, a spokesman for the Kismayo administration, told Al Jazeera.

"We have a responsibility to the people to guard the people against all evil deeds."

In Marka, another coastal town in the south of the country, Al Jazeera witnessed the public implementation of Sharia, or Islamic law.

Three men accused of smoking hashish were given a public flogging before the al-Shabab fighters set fire to the drugs that were purportedly found when the men were arrested.

Such practices have become more frequent as al-Shabab has increased its influence across southern and central Somalia, taking back many of the areas which were formerly controlled by the Islamic Courts Union until late 2006.

In October, a 13-year-old girl was reportedly stoned to death in Kismayo after she was found guilty of adultery.

The UN later said that she had been raped.

Last month, 32 people were whipped for taking part in a traditional dance in the town of Balad, about 30km north of the capital Mogadishu.

Public support

The crowds which were made to witness the flogging in Marka appeared to be overwhelmingly supportive of the new measures being taken by the new Islamist authorities.

"We support their efforts 100 per cent. The establishment of Sharia is a source of joy for us all," one resident told Al Jazeera.

Another said: "We are happy with the Islamists, we now have peace and the criminals have nowhere to hide."

Somalia has had no effective government since a coup removed Siad Barre from power in 1991, leading to an almost total breakdown in law and order.

The only relative stability areas of the country have enjoyed in recent years was during the short period of rule by the Islamic Courts Union in 2006.

"For the Somali people the choice is really a very difficult one ... which one would they want to live with, a strict sharia or a situation with no security," Billow Kerrow, a Kenya-based regional analyst, told Al Jazeera.

"I think in the beginning they might find it easier to implement a very strict code of Islam, but as the government responsibilities start setting in the challenges will be enormous ... to try and practice a system which will be accommodating to all."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holy See-Israel Panel Bump Up Plenary to April

Holy See-Israel Panel Bump Up Plenary to April

Ahead of Possible Papal Visit to Nation in May

By Jesús Colina

JERUSALEM, DEC. 18, 2008 ( After 15 years, negotiations between the Holy See and Israel are picking up steam just as a possible visit of Benedict XVI to the Holy Land appears to be just months away.

A statement released today at the end of a meeting of Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the State of Israel and the Holy See announced it would bump up the next plenary session from June to April, and that it will hold four meetings in three months for the working-level commission: Jan. 15, Feb. 18, March 5 and March 26.

Since signing the Fundamental Agreement in 1993, which established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel, the two sides have been negotiating the particulars of tax exemptions and property rights for the Church, in particular for the holy sites. Talks have crawled along at best, and stopped altogether in 2003 for several years.

They began again in 2005, but never with the current intensity.

With these meetings, the statement explained, both delegations want to show their willingness to "accelerate the talks and conclude the agreement at the earliest opportunity." The statement also underlined "an atmosphere of great cordiality and good will."

While officially, the negotiations have nothing to do with Benedict XVI's visit to Israel, sources in the Vatican explained to ZENIT that Israel is interested in the good image the Pope's visit can give to the nation, and the Church is interested in consolidating its presence in the Holy Land.

No official announcement from the Vatican has been made regarding the Pope's visit, but the mayor of Bethlehem, Victor Batarseh, announced Wednesday that the Holy Father will visit the Holy Land in May.

The announcement confirmed reports this week by Italian newspaper Il Foglio that the papal visit would take place in May, with the Pope visiting Jordan, Israel and the territories of the Palestinian National Authority

The Israeli government remains silent on the issue, but last week a Vatican delegation was received by President Shimon Peres to analyze a possible visit.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Malaysia denies any plan to close Catholic paper

Malaysia denies any plan to close Catholic paper

By JULIA ZAPPEI – 16 hours ago

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia's Muslim-majority government denied any plan Wednesday to shut down a Catholic newspaper accused of flouting publication rules by running articles deemed political and insulting to Islam.

The Herald, the main Roman Catholic weekly in Malaysia, has received warnings over the past year that it could lose its publishing license, which expires Dec. 31. All Malaysian publications must renew their government license every year.

The Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, said the Home Ministry has not renewed the paper's license even though it submitted an application months ago, while in past years a license was typically issued far in advance.

"If they want to delay it like that, it doesn't give me any indication that it (the license renewal) will happen," Andrew said in a telephone interview.

Che Din Yusoh, an official with the Home Ministry's publishing unit, however, said officials were merely bogged down with a large number of license applications.

"We will issue it by the end of the month," he told The Associated Press. "There is nothing to worry about."

The Home Ministry sent a letter to the Herald's publishers earlier this year warning that the newspaper had "committed offenses" by highlighting Malaysian politics and current affairs instead of Christian issues for which it has been given a license.

The ministry also accused the Herald of carrying an article that "could threaten public peace and national security" because it allegedly "denigrated Islamic teachings."

The Herald has said, however, the article titled "America and Jihad — Where do they stand?" was not meant to insult Islam but was an analysis of circumstances following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

The publication is also currently embroiled in a court dispute with the government over a ban on the use of the word "Allah" as a Malay-language translation for "God." The Herald has sought a court order to challenge the government's ban on its use of the word. Hearings have not begun.

The government has said the use of the word could confuse Muslims, while the Herald insists "Allah" has been used for centuries to mean "God" in Malay.

The Herald's problems underscore the tenuous position of minority religions amid a recent string of interfaith disputes. Many Christians, Buddhists and Hindus fear their rights are being undermined by government efforts to bolster the status of Islam, Malaysia's official religion.

Ethnic Malay Muslims make up nearly two-thirds of Malaysia's 27 million people. Dissatisfaction among minorities over the demolition of Hindu temples, court rulings about the right to leave Islam and other religious disputes contributed to the government's poor performance in March elections.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Avery Dulles, 90; Prominent Catholic Cardinal, Theologian dies.

Avery Dulles, 90; Prominent Catholic Cardinal, Theologian

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 14, 2008; C08

Cardinal Avery Dulles, 90, a former professor at Catholic University who was born into a family of elite Protestant diplomats and became one of the country's most prominent Catholic theologians, died Dec. 12 at an infirmary at Fordham University in New York. Stricken with polio when young, he had post-polio syndrome, which led to progressive muscular and pulmonary deterioration.

Cardinal Dulles, who was appointed to the College of Cardinals by Pope John Paul II in 2001, was the first academic to be named to the Catholic Church's highest advisory council, as well as the first who had never served as a bishop.

Cardinal Dulles, a very tall and thin figure, was known for his unusual spiritual journey and came to be considered a calm statesman of Catholicism during a time of great turmoil.

Through more than 20 books and 800 articles, he articulated a conservative if tolerant case for Catholicism and the church's positions on contraception, sexuality, the role of women and clergy sex abuse. He served as a bridge between the Vatican and the more liberal American Catholic dissidents after the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. In his later years, he was seen more as an advocate of orthodoxy and said church sanctions against priests charged in sex abuse scandals were too extreme.

He was the son of former secretary of state John Foster Dulles, who served under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. His uncle, Allen Dulles, was CIA director from 1953 to 1961.

Cardinal Dulles wrote and spoke often of his conversion to Catholicism, a faith still looked at skeptically by many Protestants in 1940, when he joined the church. Among the skeptics was his father, who was initially embarrassed about his son's religious path but later reconciled with him.

Avery Robert Dulles was born Aug. 24, 1918, in Auburn, N.Y., and grew up in a patrician Presbyterian family. His grandfather was a Presbyterian minister, and a great-grandfather and great-uncle had both served as secretaries of state.

Cardinal Dulles, who wrote about his spiritual journey in his autobiographical "A Testimonial to Grace" (1946), considered himself an agnostic when he entered Harvard College in the 1930s. He was drawn to Catholicism by his readings of the poet Dante Alighieri and the Catholic philosopher Saint Thomas Aquinas. The concept of objective moral standards appealed to him, but his spiritual quest was crystallized during a walk in Cambridge, Mass., when he looked at nature and began to see a governing purpose to the world.

"It was a matter of becoming aware of this reality behind everything that existed," he said in a 2001 interview in the New York Times Magazine. "That evening when I got back to my room, I think I prayed for the first time."

After graduating from Harvard in 1940, he served in the Navy during World War II and attended Harvard Law School for a few semesters before entering the Society of Jesus in 1946. He was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1956.

He received a doctorate in theology in 1960 from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and taught at Woodstock College, a now-closed seminary in Maryland, from 1960 to 1974. He was a theology professor at Catholic University from 1974 to 1988.

He wrote and lectured on many topics relating to Catholicism, with a specialty in ecclesiology, or the mission of the church in the world. Through his teaching and writing, Cardinal Dulles became "the United States' preeminent theologian," Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl said in a statement.

Cardinal Dulles was at Catholic University when the Vatican disciplined many theologians who publicly disagreed with church authorities on a host of issues, including contraception, premarital sex, abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia. Cardinal Dulles sat on a faculty committee that defied the Vatican by recommending against the removal of a dissident theologian, but he did not speak out publicly against the church.

He said that he was opposed to the punishment of dissidents but that he could not support theologians and priests who routinely went against the church's teachings. His goal was to unify Catholics, he wrote, and to be a liaison between the Vatican and more free-thinking theologians.

After retiring from Catholic University, Cardinal Dulles joined the faculty at Fordham University, where he taught until last year. He served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society in the 1970s and was also a member of the International Theological Commission, the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue and a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Doctrine.

He had no immediate survivors.

Staff writer Matt Schudel contributed to this report.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Constitutional change cleared to be discussed in parliament


The potential change to Luxembourg's constitution, affecting Article 34, proposed by Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker following Grand Duke Henri's refusal to sign the Euthanasia / pallitative care bill if it is passed by parliament, has been cleared by the state's Constitutional Commission.

It is now clear for the issue to have its first reading and be debated in parliament later today. It must be accepted by a two-thirds majority and must have a second reading after three months, or be put to the people in a referendum.

The change would still require the Grand Duke to sign all new laws, but the wording would mean that he would no longer "enact" the laws. The article dates back to 1868.

From The Station Network 11/12/08

Spain's Cardinal Canizares to take top Vatican liturgical post

Spain's Cardinal Canizares to take top Vatican liturgical post

Vatican, Dec. 9, 2008 ( - Confirming a rumor that had circulated in Rome for months, Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) has appointed Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera of Toledo, Spain, to become the new prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

Cardinal Canizares replaces Cardinal Francis Arinze (bio - news), who is retiring. The retirement of the Nigerian cardinal, who had held the post of prefect since 2002, was announced on December 9: his 76th birthday.

Suggestions that Cardinal Canizares would be named to the Vatican's top liturgical post had arisen early in 2008. Because of Pope Benedict's keen interest in liturgical reform, and the intense and sometimes heated debates within the ranks of the Roman Curia on liturgical questions, the appointment has long been seen as a critical choice.

The appointment of Cardinal Canizares, who is regarded as a strong supporter of the Pope's plans for the liturgy, could clear the way for a second switch that has been the topic of much speculation among Vatican-watchers: the appointment of Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don, the current secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, as Archbishop of Colombo in his native Sri Lanka. Archbishop Ranjith has been an outspoken advocate of liturgical reforms, and his appointment, hand-picked by the Pontiff for his current position. Tradition-minded officials within the Vatican had been loath to see Archbishop Ranjith transferred until another prelate with similar views was installed in the dicastery.

The appointment of Cardinal Canizares provides a boost to the credibility of Andrea Tornielli, the respected Vatican-watcher for the Italian daily Il Giornale. After the Spanish cardinal met with Pope Benedict on November 20, Tornielli predicted that Cardinal Canizares would be appointed prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and that the appointment would be announced early in December. Tornielli-- who has accurately predicted several other recent moves within the Roman Curia-- also predicted that Archbishop Ranjith will be moved to Sri Lanka sometime in the spring of 2009.

Cardinal Canizares, who is 63, was ordained to the priesthood in 1970. He became Bishop Avila, Spain, in 1992, then Archbishop of Granada in 1996. In 2002 he was appointed Archbishop of Toledo and primate of Spain; he was raised to the College of Cardinals by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

The Spanish cardinal has been a strong voice for Catholic social teaching during a period when the country's hierarchy has clashed frequently with the Socialist political leadership. He denounced the government's moves to liberalize abortion law and said that legal recognition of same-sex unions "gos against nature, family, and a healthy society." More recently he encouraged Catholic parents to "use all legitimate means in your power to defend your right to determine the moral education of your children.”

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Vietnam court convicts Catholics in land dispute

By BEN STOCKING – 1 day ago

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A Vietnamese court convicted eight Catholics on Monday on charges of disturbing public order and damaging property during a series of prayer vigils to get back confiscated church land, but gave them light sentences.

One defendant received a warning while the others were given suspended sentences ranging from 12 to 15 months. They received up to two years of probation and were sent home.

The mostly peaceful but illegal vigils were a bold step in a country where church-state relations are often tense and the government frowns on public protests of any kind. The dispute did not focus on religious freedom but on a parcel of land worth millions of dollars.

Hundreds of Catholics, many carrying pictures of the Virgin Mary, cheered as the defendants emerged from the Donga Da district court. Some raised one of the defendants over their heads in jubilation, while others chanted "Innocent! Innocent!"

Scores of riot police stood guard around the building during the verdict, but no clashes were reported.

As he left the court, defendant Nguyen Dac Hung, 31, said he would appeal his 12-month suspended sentence. "I'm totally innocent," he said. "This is an unjust verdict."

While they decried the verdicts, Catholics were relieved by the light sentences. The defendants could have received up to seven years in prison.

"The authorities made a concession to the struggles of our Catholic brothers and sisters," said Le Quang Uy, a Catholic who came to show his support. "This is our victory."

The defendants were arrested several months ago during a series of prayer vigils held to demand the return of the land near the Thai Ha church.

Hundreds of Catholics gathered at the site for several weeks. They knocked down a section of the wall surrounding the land, set up an altar and a statue of the Virgin Mary on the site and prayed for its return.

During Monday's trial, the defendants maintained their innocence, saying they had peacefully sought the return of church land.

"Peaceful vigils cannot be illegal," said defendant Nguyen Thi Viet, 59. "We did not disturb public order. We did nothing wrong."

Hanoi authorities say the Thai Ha church and its surrounding land belong to the city. They say a former parish priest signed papers turning the property over to Hanoi in 1962.

Church members insist they have documents verifying their claim on the property.

Property laws are complex in Vietnam, where Communist authorities seized buildings and land from wealthy landowners, churches and other groups after taking power. Such properties were used by the state or redistributed to veterans or others who helped bring the Communists to power.

Earlier this year, Catholics also held vigils at a second valuable parcel of land in central Hanoi, the site of the former Vatican embassy in Vietnam, which closed after the Communist government took power in 1954.

In each case, the Catholics began their demonstrations after hearing rumors the government planned to sell the properties to developers.

As the conflicts escalated, the government announced it would convert each site into a public park and open a library at the former Vatican site.

With more than 6 million followers, Catholicism is the second most popular religion after Buddhism in the country of 86 million. Masses at Catholic churches around the country are heavily attended.

Vietnam has often come under international criticism for its record on religious and human rights. But in recent years, relations between Catholics and the government have begun to improve, emboldening church members to assert themselves more.

Vietnam and the Vatican have been discussing the possibility of re-establishing diplomatic relations.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Pope's Christmas Gift: A Tough Line on Church Doctrine

Wednesday, Dec. 03, 2008
The Pope's Christmas Gift: A Tough Line on Church Doctrine
By Jeff Israely

Those nicknames from the past — God's Rottweiler, the Panzercardinal — don't seem to stick anymore. After acquiring a reputation as an aggressive, doctrine-enforcing Cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI has surprised many with his gentle manner and his writings on Christian love. But with the Christmas season upon us, there is growing proof that the 82-year-old Pope is also quite willing to play the part of Scrooge to defend his often rigid view of Church doctrine.

Benedict's envoy to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, has announced that the Vatican will oppose a proposed U.N. declaration calling for an end to discrimination against homosexuals. At first blush, no one should be surprised to find the Catholic Church hierarchy butting heads with gay rights activists. But this particular French-sponsored proposal, which has the backing of all 27 European Union countries, calls for an end to the practice of criminalizing and punishing people for their sexual orientation. Most dramatically, in some countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, homosexuality can be punished by death.

Papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi was forced to clarify that the Vatican continues to condemn the use of the death penalty for any crime, including those associated with homosexuality. Instead, Migliore said the Vatican's opposition to the U.N. proposal was driven by concern that countries that prohibit gay marriage would somehow be targeted. Said Migliore: "Countries that don't recognize the union between people of the same sex as marriage will be punished and pressured."

The U.N. declaration does not in fact mention gay marriage, and most of the nations that support it themselves don't allow people of the same sex to wed. Archbishop Migliore confirmed on Tuesday that the Vatican had also refused to sign a U.N. document last May in support of the rights of the disabled because it did not include condemnation of abortion, and the rights the fetus with birth defects. Vatican officials nevertheless voiced support for the central principles of the disabled rights document, which Migliore helped craft before the final decision to withhold the Holy See’s signature.

The Italian gay rights association Arcigay says the Vatican's opposition to the anti-discriminatory measure is "unprecedented," and the citing of gay marriage is an "excuse" to distract people from the real intent of criminalizing gays. One Rome-based priest was disappointed that the Vatican decided to publicize its opposition to what appears a rather innocuous declaration. "When you're always trying to look for new ways to make your point, you lose credibility," says the priest. "Better sometimes to keep quiet."

Benedict has said repeatedly that the Church is forced to speak out against the tide of secularization, especially in Catholicism's home turf in Europe. His kindly manner notwithstanding, Benedict does not seem to hesitate doing or saying what he deems necessary to keep Catholicism from straying too far from its doctrinal tradition.

And that includes revisiting the Catholic liturgy if necessary. His top Vatican deputies are now studying a change to the mass that would affect the moment when members of the congregation are asked to greet each other with a "sign of peace." Worshippers then exchange handshakes, or sometimes a hug or kiss. In 2007, writing about the exchanging of the peace, Benedict called for "greater restraint in this gesture which can become exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly before the reception of Communion." It may now be moved earlier in the service. Cardinal Francis Arinze, head of the Vatican's liturgical office, said last month that the affectionate gesture is often misunderstood. "It is thought to be a chance to shake hands with friends. Instead it is a way to tell those nearby that the peace of Christ, really present on the altar, is also with all."

Though there is no indication if or when the proposed movement of the peace would happen, this change would respond to a desire by the Pope to rein in some of the excesses that he sees in the ways the faith is currently celebrated. And to those who wonder why not just let everyone to say 'peace' when and where they please for Christmases to come, one can imagine Benedict flashing that gentle smile, tilting his head ever so slightly and declaring: Bah Humbug!

FROM Time Magazine Online 9/12/08.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Russian Church elders choose interim leader

Sat Dec 6, 2008 10:19pm IST

By Simon Shuster and Guy Faulconbridge

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Russian Orthodox Church chose Metropolitan Kirill as an interim leader on Saturday after the death of Patriarch Alexiy II, a move that could open the way for more cooperation with Catholics.

Kirill, the Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, is an articulate public speaker and heads the Church's department for external relations. Most Russians see him as the public face of the Church, frequently appearing on television.

A group of 12 senior clergy, the ruling body known as the Holy Synod, selected Kirill by secret ballot at the patriarchal residence in the village of Peredelkino outside Moscow.

"One of the most blessed decisions taken by the synod was the selection of the interim leader of the church ... the Metropolitan of Smolensk, Kirill," Father Vladimir Vigilyansky, chief spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, said in comments broadcast live on Vesti television.

Patriarch Alexiy, who revived the Orthodox Church after the collapse of communism, died on Friday of heart failure at the age of 79.

The next Patriarch has to be chosen within six months and observers said four main candidates were in the running, including Kirill.

The main issues in choosing the new Patriarch will be Church relations with the state and the Catholic Church. Kirill, 64, has been a reformer on both matters.

He has been relatively open to the idea of building stronger ties with the Vatican, and some observers say he is a proponent of a more independent partnership with the state. Alexiy strengthened ties with the government under former President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.


Alexiy will be laid in state on Saturday at Christ the Saviour Cathedral, where his funeral ceremony is to be held on Tuesday at 1100 Moscow time (0800 GMT), Vigilyansky said.

He is to be buried at 1300 Moscow time at Moscow's Epiphany Cathedral, where the relics of his patron saint are stored.

During his 18 years as leader of the world's largest Christian Orthodox church, Alexiy helped heal an 80-year rift with a rival faction, which was set up abroad by monarchists fleeing the atheist Bolsheviks.

Another triumph was the reconstruction of Christ the Saviour Cathedral, which was demolished on Stalin's orders. The date in 1931 when authorities demolished the Cathedral -- Dec. 5 -- coincides with the date of Alexiy's death.

Alexiy, who criticised the Catholic Church for trying to win over converts, is credited by many Russians for helping to revive Orthodoxy and boost church attendance in the moral and spiritual vacuum created by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Supporters said Alexiy used close ties with the state for the benefit of the Church, restoring hundreds of almost derelict churches.

Opponents said he allowed the Church to become a minor partner of the Kremlin under Putin. Alexiy failed to shake off allegations he had links to the Soviet KGB. The Church has repeatedly denied that.

Russian Orthodox Church head dies

By Moscow Correspondent Scott Bevan and wires

Posted Fri Dec 5, 2008 8:36pm AEDT
Updated Sat Dec 6, 2008 3:05am AEDT

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexiy II, has died aged 79.

A church spokesman has said the Patriarch died on Friday morning at his home in the Moscow region.

While no reason has been given for his death, it is understood the Patriarch has been sick for some time.

Patriarch Alexiy II was an establishment figure who restored the authority of the church after decades of Soviet repression.

Former USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev has told the Interfax news agency he was shocked by the news.

The patriarch was an impressive character with a benign expression and moral authority among millions of Russian believers but his personality was always locked in by the deeply hierarchical nature of his role.

Alexiy II took stances on foreign policy issues that often matched the Kremlin line, criticising NATO strikes against Yugoslavia, the US-led war in Iraq and defending the rights of ethnic-Russians in the former Soviet Union.

An archbishop from regional Russia has described the Patriarch as a holy man and said the country had lost its pastor.

A date for the funeral has not been set.

A spokeswoman for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says he has cancelled his upcoming Italy trip after learning of the Patriach's death and is returning from India to Russia.

- ABC/Reuters

Opinion: The limits of 'marriage

Posted: 12/06/2008 03:32:57 PM PST

Ever since California voters passed Proposition 8, defining marriage in the state as between one woman and one man, my wife and I have been arguing about it.

She was appalled by the vote, and even more appalled when I told her that I wasn't.

"You're such a bigot," she said, "not to mention a hypocrite! How can you be for gay rights (which I am) and against same-sex marriage?"

My wife is from the north of England, where they don't embrace that famous restraint of Londoners.

In these kinds of situations, I've learned that written communication is best. So here, my love, is why I think California voters — not to mention voters in 29 other U.S. states — did the right thing.

First, I think everyone but the most mindless libertarians would agree that it's wise to allow the state to regulate family life to some extent, especially when children are concerned.

Many governments also have defined and limited the way adults can partner with each other, although approaches have varied.

During the 1800s, the then-new Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints openly practiced polygamy, emulating the common patriarchal practices of the Old Testament. Because Christian authorities had banned all forms of polygamy in the fourth century, mainstream American Christians generally frowned on the Mormon practice, and court actions and laws eventually forced the Mormon church to ban it, too.

A unanimous Supreme Court decision in 1878 set the precedent for state interference in religious marriage practices, concluding that "laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices."

Nearly 1,000 cultures around the world allow some form of polygamy, either officially or by nonregulation; in Senegal, nearly half the marriages are polygamous. In the U.S., both the Libertarian Party and the American Civil Liberties Union have opposed laws prohibiting polygamy.

As for same-sex marriage, since 2001, seven countries have come on board, including mainly Catholic Spain, even though the Roman Catholic Church is officially opposed to the practice.

There is no convincing evidence — absolutely none — that these various forms of romantic partnership do anyone, or any society, or any children, any harm. So I'm not really skeptical about same-sex marriage per se. If anything, I think that same-sex marriage is a shortsighted idea that doesn't go far enough.

Most Americans insist that they want the word "marriage" to continue to mean a long-term, opposite-sex union, as it has in the Judeo-Christian world for nearly two millenniums. To put this issue into better perspective, imagine that English were more like German and that the word "marriage" had a lot more syllables: "longtermoppositesexunion." Should same-sex couples wed under that label? I say no — and that gay activists have been fighting the wrong battle.

The real challenge is to have the state recognize the full range of healthy, nonexploitative, romantic partnerships that actually exist among human beings. Gay people are correct in expressing outrage over the fact that official recognition, the power to make health decisions, inheritance rights and tax benefits have long been granted to only one kind of committed partnership in the United States. But wanting their own committed relationships to be shoehorned into an old institution makes little sense, especially given the poor, almost pathetic performance of that institution in recent decades. Half of first marriages fail in the U.S., after all, as do nearly two-thirds of second marriages. Is that really a club you want to join?

Let's fight a larger battle, namely to have government catch up to human behavior. That means recognizing the legitimacy of a range of consensual, nonexploitative romantic partnerships, each of which should probably have its own distinct label.

In the U.S., the highest priority should be to give official recognition to "cohabitation," which is, in effect, renewable short-term marriage. Married households are now in the minority in the U.S., and cohabitation is increasing, especially among elderly people.

Those who cohabitate probably are wary of lifetime commitments (in part, perhaps, because such commitments so often prove to be illusory in our culture), but many might like the option of getting the same rights and benefits during their cohabitation that married people have.

This would be a step toward stabilizing relationships as they actually occur in 21st century America, and perhaps even toward reducing our disgraceful divorce rate. Trying to force all legitimate partnerships into one defective box — longtermoppositesexunion — denies millions of caring partners the benefits of state recognition and sets up millions of others to fail.

Robert Epstein is a visiting scholar at the University of California-San Diego, and former editor in chief of Psychology Today. He wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Monarch makes brave move.

Grand Duke of Luxembourg Henry I

.- For the first time in the history of Luxembourg, the Grand Duke has opposed a decision by the country’s House of Representatives. Henry I rejected a bill that would legalize euthanasia, and government officials have announced their intention to strip the Duke of some of his powers.

Some reports in the country are calling it a “grave constitutional crisis,” with Henry I announcing that for reasons of conscience he will not approve the controversial law, which the overwhelmingly Catholic population opposes.

Socialist and Green party lawmakers pushed the measure through, and the Grand Duke normally would approve the measure within a period of three months, but this time he made a different decision.

In wake of the rejection, Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, announced the country’s Constitution would be modified to reduce the Duke’s power.

“We are going to remove the term ‘sanction’ from article 34 of the Constitution and replace it with the term ‘promulgate,’ which means only promulgating laws so that they take effect,” Juncker stated.

Some media reports suggest the Grand Duke is repeating the crisis sparked in 1990 by his uncle, King Baldwin of Belgium, who refused to sign a law legalizing abortion that was approved by the Belgian Congress.

Henry I of Luxembourg took the oath as Grand Duke in 2000 after his father abdicated his seat. He was born on April 6, 1955, in Berzdorf. In 1981, Henry I married Maria Teresa Mestre, who is from Cuba. They have five children and two grandchildren.

When he became head of state, Juncker said he would be the “most decent Grand Duke” because of his “character and his deep knowledge of the people.”

In his first remarks as Grand Duke, Henry I encouraged citizens to conserve family values, ensure equality of rights for men and women and not be blinded by their prosperity.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Does FOCA mean an end to Catholic health care?

Melinda Henneberger looks at the threat the Freedom of Choice Act poses to Catholic health-care centers that want no part of abortion, and concludes that the legislation would probably strip them of their opt-out for conscience. Henneberger believes that the bishops mean exactly what they say when warning that they will close the doors on every facility rather than be forced to perform abortions — and wonders how the Obama administration plans to replace a third of all hospitals in the nation? (via The Corner):

And the most ludicrous line out of them, surely, was about how, under Obama, Catholic hospitals that provide obstetric and gynecological services might soon be forced to perform abortions or close their doors. Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Chicago warned of “devastating consequences” to the health care system, insisting Obama could force the closure of all Catholic hospitals in the country. That’s a third of all hospitals, providing care in many neighborhoods that are not exactly otherwise overprovided for. It couldn’t happen, could it?

You wouldn’t think so. Only, I am increasingly convinced that it could. If the Freedom of Choice Act passes Congress, and that’s a big if, Obama has promised to sign it the second it hits his desk. (Here he is at a Planned Parenthood Action Fund event in 2007, vowing, “The first thing I’d do as president is, is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That’s the first thing I’d do.”) Though it’s often referred to as a mere codification of Roe, FOCA, as currently drafted, actually goes well beyond that: According to the Senate sponsor of the bill, Barbara Boxer, in a statement on her Web site, FOCA would nullify all existing laws and regulations that limit abortion in any way, up to the time of fetal viability. Laws requiring parental notification and informed consent would be tossed out. While there is strenuous debate among legal experts on the matter, many believe the act would invalidate the freedom-of-conscience laws on the books in 46 states. These are the laws that allow Catholic hospitals and health providers that receive public funds through Medicaid and Medicare to opt out of performing abortions. Without public funds, these health centers couldn’t stay open; if forced to do abortions, they would sooner close their doors. Even the prospect of selling the institutions to other providers wouldn’t be an option, the bishops have said, because that would constitute “material cooperation with an intrinsic evil.”

The bishops are not bluffing when they say they’d turn out the lights rather than comply. Nor is Auxiliary Bishop Robert Hermann of St. Louis exaggerating, I don’t think, in vowing that “any one of us would consider it a privilege to die tomorrow—to die tomorrow—to bring about the end of abortion.”

Whatever your view on the legality and morality of abortion, there is another important question to be considered here: Could we even begin to reform our already overburdened health care system without these Catholic institutions? I don’t see how.

As Henneberger notes, these facilities aren’t in overserved areas, either. Catholic facilities tend to be in places other for-profit clinics and hospitals avoid. The sudden disappearance of these clinics and hospitals would leave millions of people with much fewer choices in medical attention, or none at all.

Would Congress pass FOCA? If the Republicans hold onto their seats in Minnesota and Georgia, they’ll have enough Senators to filibuster it, but Henneberger wonders if Obama would have enough votes to pass the bill on straight majorities. Once the bill’s sweeping nature becomes known, she believes that only the hard-Left Representatives and Senators would back the bill, leaving FOCA to die quietly as it has in every session of Congress for the last 15 years it’s been proposed.

Obama pledged to make FOCA his highest priority, though, and his appointment of Emily’s List spokesperson Ellen Moran as his communications director sent a message that he intends to pursue it. Henneberger believes that any attempt to force FOCA through Congress will “reignite the culture war he so deftly sidestepped throughout this campaign,” as well as make fools out of pro-Obama Catholics like Douglas Kmiec. I don’t see Obama backing away from his pledge to make Planned Parenthood’s dreams come true, and I hope that Henneberger’s correct about Congress stopping those plans.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cardinal Rigali warns that FOCA makes abortion on demand a ‘national entitlement’

Cardinal Justin Rigali

.- Cardinal Justin Rigali, the chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, has written a letter to the U.S. Congress to alert them that the Freedom of Choice Act would undermine bipartisan efforts to reduce abortions and make abortion on demand a "national entitlement."

Writing to all members of Congress on September 19, Cardinal Rigali warned that the enactment of the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) would “deprive the American people in all 50 states of the freedom they now have to enact modest restraints and regulations on the abortion industry.”

“Despite its deceptive title,” he wrote, “FOCA would coerce all Americans into subsidizing and promoting abortion with their tax dollars. And FOCA would counteract any and all sincere efforts by government to reduce abortions in our country.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who introduced the bill, saw the legislation differently, describing it as being about “the absolute right to choose” prior to fetal “viability." Some supporters of the bill additionally argue that it would simply codify the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.

However, Cardinal Rigali noted that other backers of FOCA say it “would sweep away hundreds of anti-abortion laws [and] policies.” These include bans on public funding of abortions as well as “modest and widely supported state laws” protecting women’s safety, informed consent and parental rights, he stressed.

Further, the cardinal from Philadelphia claimed that under FOCA “abortion on demand would be a national entitlement that government must condone and promote in all public programs affecting pregnant women.”

FOCA, the cardinal said, would militate against the work of members of both parties who have “sought to reach a consensus on ways to reduce abortions in our society.”

Even though the Catholic Church disagrees with programs that help reduce abortion by means of contraception, Cardinal Rigali stated in his letter that, “there is one thing absolutely everyone should be able to agree on: We can’t reduce abortions by promoting abortion…. No one who sponsors or supports legislation like FOCA can credibly claim to be part of a good-faith discussion on how to reduce abortions.”

FOCA finds Sen. Barack Obama in the midst of a major contradiction. While the Act lists him as a co-sponsor, this is directly contradicted by his presently stated position of desiring to reduce abortions.

Obama’s support for the bill is not just legislative either. On July 17, 2007, Obama told the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, “The first thing I’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That’s the first thing that I’d do.”

Sen. John McCain has not taken a position on FOCA, but both Deal Hudson and Fr. Frank Pavone have told CNA that they strongly believe McCain would veto the bill.

Cardinal Rigali closed his open letter by urging all members of Congress “to pledge their opposition to FOCA and other legislation designed to promote abortion,” so that “we can begin a serious and sincere discussion on how to reduce the tragic incidence of abortion in our society.”

Friday, November 21, 2008

Italian Jews Back Out of Dialogue Day

Cite Concern Over Good Friday Prayer for Extraordinary Rite

ROME, NOV. 20, 2008 ( A representative of the Church in Italy is expressing his sadness that the Jewish community will not join in Jan. 17's day of dialogue between Jews and Catholics.

Giuseppe Laras, president of the Italian Rabbinic Assembly, announced the community's cancellation. The rabbi explained that the decision was based on concern over the Good Friday prayer in use after Benedict XVI's 2007 letter issued "motu proprio" opened the way to a broader use of the 1962 Missal. The Pope subsequently made changes to the Good Friday prayer for the Jews for that form of the liturgy. Those changes were released in February.

The new formula, used only by those communities celebrating Mass according to the 1962 Missal, "speaks of Jesus as the Christ and the salvation of all men, therefore, also of the Jews," Cardinal Walter Kasper said shortly after the changes were released. Cardinal Kasper oversees the Vatican's relations with Jews.

"Many have interpreted this affirmation as new, and not friendly in relation to the Jews. But it is based on the New Testament as a whole -- cf. 1 Timothy 2:4 -- and indicates the fundamental difference, which everyone knows, that exists between Christians and Jews," the cardinal explained on that occasion.

Bishop Vincenzo Paglia of Terni-Narni-Amelia, president of the Italian bishops' Commission for Ecumenism and Dialogue, confessed that the Jewish decision to not participate in the January dialogue day "has pained us."

The prelate told Vatican Radio that he had been in contact with Laras for months to try to overcome misunderstandings.

Though the bishop said the issue was resolved from his point of view, he said he could "understand the perplexity. This decision [not to participate] is sorrowful, but we will not give it more importance than necessary. The rabbi, in fact, in the note expresses the desire that obviously dialogue restarts and continues.

"We will continue celebrating this day of Judeo-Christian reflection on Jan. 17. It is a day that this year has been rather wounded, but we hope this wound serves to better deepen the indispensable relationship between Christians and Jews."

The prelate acknowledged that worrying pockets of anti-Semitism still arise, and "this requires attentive vigilance: We have to make our relationship more intense to nip in the bud any seed that could favor these attitudes."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Viet police stand by as mob ransacks Hanoi chapel

Hanoi, Nov. 17, 2008 ( - A Redemptorist monastery in Hanoi that has been the focus of a struggle between Catholic activists and government officials was attacked by a mob on Saturday night, November 15. Rather than trying to protect the monastery, police did their best to impede rescue efforts.

Hundreds of people, backed by the People's Committee of Quang Trung precinct, attacked the chapel. The violence began after representatives of the People's Committee had asked the Redemptorist priests for an urgent meeting. Father Joseph Nguyen Van That, as spokesman for the Redemptorist community, said that he was convinced the meeting had been scheduled as a diversionary tactic to clear the way for the mob violence. "It was an organized attack at nighttine," he said.

Summoned by priests who rang the monastery's bells, hundreds of local Catholics rushed to save the church. But as the mob ransacked the chapel, police concentrated their efforts on keeping the Catholic rescuers away from the building.

This was the second time the St. Gerardo chapel had been attacked by thugs. On September 21, the chapel was vandalized, with statues destroyed and books torn off shelves and thrown on the floor. The invaders “yelled, smashed everything on their way, threw stones into our monastery, and shattered the gate of Saint Gerardo Chapel,” wrote Father Matthew Vu Khoi Phung, the Redemptorist superior. In addition, “the gang yelled out slogans threatening to kill priests, religious, faithful and even our archbishop,” he added.

After morning Sunday Masses on November 16, a great number of Catholics from churches in Hanoi, hearing about the destruction that had taken place the previous evening, traveled to the Thai Ha district to show their solidarity with the Redemptorists. “It’s an obvious persecution against Catholics by the government,” said one Catholic parishioner.

“It was significant that the government stroke Thai Ha parish right on the day Catholics in Vietnam celebrated the Feast of Vietnamese Martyrs,” Father Joseph Nguyen reported from Hanoi. “This attack reminds people that since its very first outset, the seed of Faith in Vietnam soil was mixed with the abundant blood of the martyrs from all walks of life."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Nun Meena Lalita Barwa tells of brutal rape by Hindu mob in India

October 25, 2008

A Roman Catholic nun who says that she was raped and paraded half-naked through the streets by a Hindu mob in eastern India emerged from hiding yesterday for the first time to make an emotional public appeal for justice.

With her head and face covered by a black scarf, Meena Lalita Barwa, 29, described how she was attacked at a prayer hall in the eastern state of Orissa in August during the worst anti-Christian riots in India in decades.

The violence — which the Catholic Church says killed 60 Christians and left 50,000 homeless — has drawn international criticism from the Pope and President Bush and prompted calls for a ban on India's powerful Hindu nationalist movement.

Sister Meena said that a mob of up to 50 men armed with sticks, axes, spades, crowbars, iron rods and sickles dragged her and a Catholic priest from the house where they were sheltering on August 25.

One of the mob raped her, while two more held her down, and then a fourth tried to rape her again, before they paraded the priest and her, minus her blouse and underwear, along a road, she said.

When the crowd passed a group of a dozen policemen she begged for help, but they ignored her and talked in a “very friendly” manner to her attackers, she said. “State police failed to stop the crimes, failed to protect me from the attackers,” she said. “I was raped and I don't want to be victimise[d] by the Orissa police. God Bless India, God bless you all.”

She demanded that her case be handled by the Central Bureau of Investigation — India's FBI — rather than the Orissa police, who have been criticised for their inaction during the violence.

Sister Meena went into hiding after the attack to protect herself from Hindu extremists but decided to come forward after the Supreme Court turned down her initial request for a CBI inquiry earlier this week.

Her public appeal comes as pressure mounts on the Indian Government to ban Bajrang Dal, one of India's Hindu extremist groups, for their alleged role in violence in Orissa and elsewhere.

The Government fears that such a move would provoke a backlash from other Hindu extremists and mobilise votes for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of national elections, due in May.

The accused groups deny any involvement in the Orissa violence, saying that it was a spontaneous reaction to the murder of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati, a local Hindu nationalist leader, on August 23.

They blame Christians for the murder, although Maoist rebels have claimed responsibility and accuse Christian missionaries of bribing and coercing poor Hindus to convert.

However, victims in Orissa, church leaders and rights groups accuse Hindu extremists of executing the attacks to stir up their supporters ahead of next year's elections.

Father Thomas Chellan, the priest who was with Sister Meena when she was allegedly raped, told The Times that many of the mob were chanting Hindu slogans and were wearing the trademark saffron bandannas of the Hindu nationalist movement.

He said that they forced him to kneel on the ground and doused him in kerosene. One man brought out a box of matches and fumbled with it. “I thought, my God, now I will die.”

Another member of the mob interrupted and said that they should “burn him where others could see”, prompting the crowd to parade him and Sister Meena along the road.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Synod: Anglican bishop is a star of the show

Synod: Anglican bishop is a star of the show

Created Oct 16 2008 - 00:29


In any Synod of Bishops, the real star is, of course, the pope. In second place typically come high-profile Catholic prelates from around the world, as well as the bishops of dioceses of particular interest – such as Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly of Iraq – and, of course, powerful Vatican officials.

At this synod on the Bible, however, one of the “fraternal delegates," meaning a representative of another Christian confession, has more star power than most Catholic prelates in the hall: Anglican Bishop N.T. “Tom” Wright, the bishop of Durham in England, and one of the world’s best-known New Testament scholars.

In a room full of people who devour Biblical commentaries the way others churn through spy novels, heads turn when Wright walks in the room.

Though a committed member of the Church of England, Wright belongs to that wing of the Anglican Communion that stresses the grand tradition of Christian orthodoxy shared with Rome. He’s known for respectful, but firm, clashes with liberal Biblical scholars such as Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan on matters such as the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection.

Especially among English-speaking bishops and experts at the synod, Wright has been one fraternal delegate who needs no introduction. Several bishops who know Wright only by name have asked to have him pointed out, or to be introduced to him, because of their esteem for his work. In some cases, bishops have said that meeting Wright has been a highlight of the synod.

During the first meeting of the circoli minors, or small groups, several members of the group in which Wright is participating said afterwards how excited they had been to see and to hear the legendary New Testament expert.

On Tuesday, Wright finally took the floor in the synod hall. On a day when Pope Benedict XVI stressed the need to press beyond a purely secular and scientific reading of the Bible towards a theological exegesis, Wright struck much the same note – providing additional reason to believe this will be a key theme in the synod’s final recommendations.

In his remarks, Wright called for a “four-fold” reading of scripture understood as the love of God, which he said should involve:
• The heart (Lectio Divina, liturgical reading);
• The mind (historical/critical study);
• The soul (church life, tradition, teaching);
• Strength (mission, kingdom of God).

In words that would certainly be music to Benedict XVI’s ears, Wright placed special emphasis upon mission – including the church’s mission to the field of Biblical studies itself.

“In particular, we need fresh mission-oriented engagement with our own culture,” Wright said.

“Paragraph 57 of the Instrumentum Laboris implies that Paul’s engagement merely purifies and elevates what is there in the culture,” Wright said. “But Paul also confronts pagan idolatry, and so must we.”

“In particular, we must engage critically with the tools and methods of historical/critical scholarship themselves,” he said.

Indirectly, Wright also endorsed what Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec, the synod’s relator, referred to as a new “Marian paradigm” for reading the Bible in the opening address of the assembly.

Referring to “Mary as model,” Wright said she is the classic example of “waiting patiently in the soul,” which is also the posture of “the tradition and expectation of the church.” The church always awaits, Wright said, “the new, unexpected and perhaps unwelcome, but yet saving, revelation.”

Among other things, Wright’s presentation underscores a “mega-truth” about ecumenism these days, which is that on some issues, and in some cases, the fault lines that truly matter in Christianity no longer run between denominations but within them. When it comes to the Bible, Wright and the Catholic bishops gathered in Rome are arguably closer to one another than they would be to more liberal members of their own churches inclined to adopt revisionist readings and to challenge the historical veracity of key Biblical claims.

The Synod of Bishops on the Bible runs Oct. 5-26.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Should abortion be the litmus test for political support?

Editors Note: This articles is to be read with the article below, which fulfills this Blogs promise to post both sides of the discussion.

Should abortion be the litmus test for political support?
George Weigel

In an election cycle filled with its share of quirks, oddities, and surprises, the emergence of Roman Catholic pro-lifers as leading supporters of Sen. Barack Obama—himself a favorite of the National Reproductive Rights Action League—must rank as one of the strangest of twists and turns. Whatever its effect on the election, this unexpected development may also portend a new hardening of the battle lines within the Catholic Church, no matter who is inaugurated president in January.

The most visible of the pro-Obama Catholic pro-lifers has been Pepperdine University law professor Douglas Kmiec, formerly dean of the law school at the Catholic University of America and a minor official in the Justice Departments of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Kmiec began the 2008 cycle as co-chairman of Mitt Romney's campaign, but recently told the Chicago Tribune that, as the campaign unfolded, "I kept discovering that Obama was sounding more Catholic than most Catholics I know" on issues like the family wages, health-care costs and the war in Iraq. With Romney out of the race, Kmiec announced his support for Obama on Easter Sunday, arguing that "Senator Obama comes reasonably close" to embodying "an alternative way to be pro-life." Kmiec develops that arresting claim in a new book, "Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Questions About Barack Obama," published in mid-September.

Other pro-Obama Catholic intellectuals include Notre Dame professor M. Cathleen Kaveny, whose Obamapologetics are frequently found on the Commonweal blog, and Duquesne University law professor Nicholas Cafardi, one of the original members of the U.S. bishops' National Review Board to study problems of clerical sexual abuse. In a recent statement, "Senator Obama: A Moral Choice for Catholics," Cafardi summarized the three most frequently deployed arguments of self-declared pro-life Catholics who support Barack Obama for president.

First, according to Cafardi, Catholics have, as a matter of law, "lost the abortion battle ... and I believe that we have lost it permanently." Second, abortion is not the only "intrinsic evil" of the day; the Bush administration has been guilty of committing acts that are "intrinsically evil" in its policies on interrogation of terrorist suspects, in its failures after Hurricane Katrina and in its detention of terrorism suspects at Guantánamo Bay. Third, Senator Obama "supports government action that would reduce the number of abortions," including an "adequate social safety net for poor women who might otherwise have abortions."

The argument, in sum: the constitutional and legal arguments that have raged since Roe vs. Wade are over, and Catholics have lost; there are many other "intrinsic evils" that Catholics are morally bound to oppose, and Republicans tend to ignore those evils; liberalized social-welfare policies will drive down the absolute numbers of abortions and Senator Obama is an unabashed liberal on these matters. Therefore, a vote for Obama is the "real" pro-life vote.

The argument is, some might contend, a bold one. Yet it is also counterintuitive, running up against the fact that, by most measures and despite his rhetoric about reducing the incidence of abortion, Barack Obama has an unalloyed record of support for abortion on demand. Moreover, he seems to understand Roe vs. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court decisions as having defined abortion as a fundamental liberty right essential for women's equality, meaning that government must guarantee access to abortion in law and by financial assistance—a moral judgment and a policy prescription the pro-life Catholic Obama boosters say they reject.

According to his own Web site, Obama supports the federal Freedom of Choice Act [FOCA], which would eliminate all state and federal regulation of abortion (such as informed consent and parental notification in the case of minors seeking an abortion); these regulations have demonstrably reduced the absolute number of abortions in the jurisdictions in which they are in effect. FOCA would also eliminate, by federal statute, state laws providing "conscience clause" protection for pro-life doctors who decline to provide abortions. Obama (along with the Democratic Party platform) supports federal funding for abortion, opposes the Hyde amendment (which restricts the use of taxpayer monies for abortion) and has pledged to repeal the "Mexico City policy" (initiated by Ronald Reagan and reinstated by George W. Bush, which bans federal foreign-aid funding for organizations that perform and promote abortion as a means of family planning). According to the pro-choice Web site, Obama also opposes continued federal funding for crisis pregnancy centers.

Then there is the continuing controversy over Obama's role in the Illinois state legislature when that body was considering an "infants born alive" protection act that would extend full legal protection to infants who survive a late-term abortion. According to the Annenberg Political Fact Check, Obama opposed the 2001 and 2002 Illinois "born alive" bills on the grounds that they were attempts to undermine Roe vs. Wade but said he would have supported an Illinois bill similar to the federal "born alive" legislation signed by President Bush in 2002. Yet, according to Annenberg, "Obama voted in committee against the 2003 state bill that was nearly identical to the federal bill he says he would have supported." However one sorts out the conflicting claims in this often-bitter debate, in which charges of infanticide and lying have been hurled, there can be no doubt that Barack Obama did not make his own the cause of legal protection for infants who survive an abortion.

The "social safety net" component of the pro-life, pro-Obama argument may seem, at first blush, to make sense. Yet it, too, runs up against stubborn facts: for example, Sweden, with a much thicker social safety net than the United States, has precisely the same rate (25 percent) of abortions per pregnancy as America. As for the claim, often repeated by pro-life, pro-Obama Catholics, that more financially generous welfare policies would drive down abortion rates because financial pressure is a predominant cause of abortion, another stubborn fact intrudes: according to a survey conducted by the research arm of Planned Parenthood, the Guttmacher Institute, a mere 23 percent of abortions in the United States are performed primarily because of alleged financial need. There is also what some would consider the insuperable problem of squaring a concern for fostering alternatives to abortion with Senator Obama's opposition to federal funding of crisis pregnancy centers that provide precisely those alternatives. Moreover, the Freedom of Choice Act Obama has pledged to sign forbids publicly supported programs helping pregnant women from "discriminating" against abortion. Thus a federal Pregnant Women Support Act—a key plank in the platform of pro-life congressional Democrats—would, in Orwellian fashion, be legally bound by FOCA to include support for abortion.

As for the claim that the legal argument is over, and lost, that, too, seems belied by the evidence. Roe vs. Wade remains deeply controversial, in the culture and among legal scholars. Since 1989, the Supreme Court has shown a willingness, on occasion, to uphold laws regulating abortion clinics or banning certain forms of abortion. No Clinton-appointed justice contributed to that trend; it seems very unlikely that Obama nominees would extend the trend. In that respect, a pro-life, pro-Catholic Obama vote is not so much a recognition that the legal argument is over but, de facto, a vote to repeal the legal protections for the unborn that have been laboriously crafted in the 35 years since Roe eliminated the abortion law of all 50 states.

Another line of critique against the pro-life, pro-Catholic Obama activists has been mounted by, among others, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who holds a doctorate in political philosophy and currently serves as president of the U.S. bishops' conference. In a September letter to the people of the archdiocese of Chicago, the cardinal laid down what he described as a basic principle of justice: in a just society, innocent human life, especially when incapable of self-defense, deserves the protection of the laws. No one who denies that, the cardinal argued, can claim to be advancing the common good. And, as Roe vs. Wade does indeed deny the protection of the laws to the unborn, no one can, with any moral or logical consistence, claim to support both Roe vs. Wade and the common good. It's one or the other.

Similarly, two New York bishops, William Murphy of Rockville Centre and Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, the present and immediate past chairmen of the U.S. bishops' committee on domestic policy, implicitly challenged the position of Kmiec, Kaveny, Cafardi and others in a Sept. 24 letter to The New York Times. According to a Sept. 18 Times article, the U.S. bishops' statement on the 2008 election, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," had been crafted so as to "explicitly allow Catholics to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights if they do so for other reasons." That was simply not true, according to DiMarzio and Murphy, who said that "Faithful Citizenship" states that a Catholic can support a pro-abortion candidate "only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences...." Moreover, the bishops concluded, "this standard of 'grave moral reasons' is a very high standard to meet."

The pro-Obama, pro-life Catholics would doubtless reply that that standard has been met in this instance. But that claim still leaves them with a problem. As Cardinal George's letter indicated, the Catholic Church's teaching on the intrinsic evil of abortion involves a first principle of justice that can be known by reason, that's one of the building blocks of a just society, and that ought never be compromised—which is why, for example, Catholic legislators were morally obliged to oppose legal segregation (another practice once upheld by a Supreme Court decision that denied human beings the full protection of the laws). Questions of war and peace, social-welfare policy, environmental policy and economic policy, on the other hand, are matters of prudential judgment on which people who affirm the same principles of Catholic social doctrine can reasonably differ. The pro-life, pro-Obama Catholics are thus putting the full weigh of their moral argument on contingent prudential judgments that, by definition, cannot bear that weight.

One of the most interesting facets of the intra-Catholic furor over Kmiec, Kaveny, Cafardi and other pro-life, pro-Obama Catholics is the way this argument seems to have displaced the struggle between bishops and pro-choice Catholic politicians that was so prominent in 1984 (when the contest was between Geraldine Ferraro and New York's Cardinal John O'Connor) and 2004 (when the candidacy of John Kerry embroiled the entire U.S. bishops conference in a dispute over whether pro-choice Catholic politicians ought to be permitted to receive holy communion). That displacement, however, is likely to be temporary.

In the wake of ill-advised (and nationally televised) ventures into theology by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, several bishops—including Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, Madison Bishop Robert Morlino and Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl—issued statements underscoring the Catholic Church's unswerving moral opposition to abortion from the very beginnings of Christianity; the morality of abortion was not an open question for serious Catholics, as Pelosi in particular had suggested. (After receiving what seems to have been an avalanche of protest over the Speaker's misstatement on "Meet the Press," Pelosi's own archbishop, George Niederauer of San Francisco, announced publicly that he would invite Mrs. Pelosi in for a conversation.) Moreover, in the wake of both the Pelosi and Biden incidents, the chairmen of the bishops' pro-life and doctrine committees, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., issued sharp statements deploring the misrepresentation of Catholic teaching by the Speaker and the senator.

Many U.S. bishops, in other words, seem exasperated with Catholic politicians who present themselves as ardent Catholics and yet consistently oppose the Church on what the bishops consider the premier civil-rights issue of the day. It seems unlikely that the bishops, having found their voices after discovering the limits of their patience, will back off in an Obama administration—which could raise some interesting questions for, and about, a Vice President Joe Biden, whose fitness to receive holy communion may well be discussed in executive session at the bishops' annual meeting in mid-November.

Biden is not the only Catholic who will be seriously challenged by an Obama administration bent on reversing what its pro-choice allies regard as eight years of defeat; pro-life Catholics will face different, if equally grave, dilemmas. The bishops already find themselves defending the Catholic integrity of Catholic hospitals under pressures from state governments; those pressures, as well as pressures on doctors and other Catholic health-care professionals, will increase in an Obama administration, especially if FOCA succeeds in knocking down state conscience-clause protections for Catholic health-care providers and institutions. And should an Obama administration reintroduce large-scale federal funding of abortion, the bishops will have to confront a grave moral question they have managed to avoid for decades, thanks to the Hyde amendment: does the payment of federal taxes that go to support abortion constitute a form of moral complicity in an "intrinsic evil"? And if so, what should the conscientious Catholic citizen do?

About which, it will be very interesting to hear what professors Kmiec, Kaveny and Cafardi have to say.

George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow Of Washington’s Ethics And Public Policy Center, Is A Newsweek Contributor.

Why the faithful can in good conscience back the Democrat

Editors Note: I have published this article because I found the arguments interesting. NB, this blog does not endorse either candidate or party. I will find and publish the Weigal article in the next day or two in the interests of fairness.

Why the faithful can in good conscience back the Democrat

Nicholas P. Cafardi, M. Cathleen Kaveny and Douglas W. Kmiec

This article is a rebuttal to a previously published essay by George Weigel arguing that Barack Obama ' s views on abortion are fundamentally at odds with Catholic doctrine. To read the original article.

George Weigel and his fellow McCain advisers are growing frustrated at the state of the campaign, and they should be. This election rightly continues to focus on the millions of Americans at risk of losing their jobs and their homes. The issue of abortion, of course, is tied to the nation's economic fortunes. In part, we endorsed Senator Obama because his tax-reduction plan focuses on the betterment of average families and those living at the margins. Center for Disease Control statistics reveal that prosperity directly affects the abortion rate far more significantly than Republican rhetoric pledging to outlaw abortion—a feat John McCain has failed to accomplish with nearly three decades in Congress.

Mr. Weigel predicts that the emergence of serious pro-life Catholics supporting Obama in this election portends "a new hardening of the battle lines. Not on our part. To us, endorsing Barack Obama was not only about who would make the best president, but also about erasing many of these old battle lines, which, frankly, have been drawn on the wrong battlefield and have served no one well—especially women and the unborn, to say nothing of our political discourse.

In the closing weeks of this election, abortion is among the crucial issues for Catholic voters, but promoting a culture of life is necessarily interconnected with a family wage, universal health care and, yes, better parenting and education of our youth. This greater appreciation for the totality of Catholic teaching is at the very heart of the Obama campaign; it is scarcely a McCain footnote.

In a perfect world, the pro-life argumentation of George Weigel is unassailable. He counsels having constitutional law align absolutely with the defense of innocent human life; to which we say, "Amen." The problem for Weigel is that even our collective "Amen" will not make it so. In the meantime, millions of children are being aborted.

Mr. Weigel is an intellectual and for him it's a simple matter of accessing the objective truth of the human person as explicated in Catholic natural law and saying, "Follow me." For 35 years, however, pro-lifers have followed that intellectual siren call, asking the Supreme Court on multiple occasions to reverse Roe v. Wade. We have no objection to pursuing this legal avenue, which does not depend on who occupies the White House—though we have no illusions about it, either. The legal path has not worked to date, and it may never work.

The church asks its faithful to find meaningful—not hypothetical—ways to promote human life. While getting the law and philosophy right might eventually do that, it does bring up the question: What are you doing for the cause of life now? The McCain answer: not much.

Besides being prepared to nominate justices like Samuel Alito and John Roberts, who in keeping with their judicial oath are certainly not on record as having a predetermined view on the reversal of Roe, McCain's planning has all the narrow, in-built affluent bias of the near-identical Bush ideas. In terms of health care, McCain makes no provision for the uninsured and proposes that the insured pay more, in all likelihood dumping people into a private insurance market that is more expensive and less responsive to those with pre-existing conditions.

By contrast, Obama does make provision for universal health care and recognizes abortion for what it is: a tragic moral choice often confronted by a woman in adverse economic and social circumstances (without spouse, without steady income, without employment prospects, and a particularly stigmatic and cumbersome adoption procedure). Obama proposes to reduce the incidence of abortion by helping pregnant women overcome the ill effects of poverty that block a choice of life. A range of new studies–using U.S. rather than Swedish data–affirm this approach.

We're happy to continue to debate abortion, but the well-worn battlefield Mr. Weigel occupies should not distract voters from tangible policies that would actually reduce abortions. Before unwarranted Republican indenture, Catholic thinking gave proportionate consideration to how well a candidate addressed such important matters as a just economy, a living or family wage, access to health care, stewardship of the environment, fair treatment of immigrants and, not to be overlooked, the just or unjust conduct of a war. This is basic Catholic social teaching. It also just happens to be Barack Obama's policy agenda.

Is Obama the perfect pro-life candidate? No. Is he preferable to the self-proclaimed "pro-lifer" McCain? Yes, because promoting life in actuality beats McCain's label and all of Weigel's elegant theorizing and hand-wringing. The Republican alternative familiar to Weigel is simultaneously self-righteous, easy and ineffective. The Democratic path is practical, anything but easy—as no act of bona fide love of neighbor ever is—but inviting of a life-affirming outcome.

Weigel may also wish to stay tied up in knots over the fitness of Catholic politicians to receive holy communion, rather than practically asking how to be of help to a woman facing an unwanted pregnancy. But as we read the American bishops, they have invited Catholic officeholders to promote life as much as is politically possible (never conceding any life as expendable). The notion of using the sacrament as a political tool we find divisive, deeply offensive and contrary to the Gospel.

Weigel may also wish to engage in a theoretical debate about hypothetical public support for the funding of abortion, and whether that results in improper moral complicity with an evil act. That is a worthy seminar topic, but we recommend he start by asking the same question of himself in terms of coerced taxpayer support for an unjust and unjustifiable war in Iraq costing over $10 billion a month and thousands of Iraqi and American lives, which Weigel aided and abetted with his vocal support, contrary to the express prayers of the Holy Father he called "a witness to hope."

There is no more audacious embrace of hope than faith-based action that honors all of life.

from: Newsweek 19/10/08.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Poll: Most Americans Want Abortion Restricted

Over 90% Favor Limits

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, OCT. 17, 2008 ( A U.S. nationwide poll shows that almost all Americans think abortion should be restricted.

The poll was conducted for the Knights of Columbus by the Marist College Institute of Public Opinion between Sept. 24 and Oct. 3. It aimed to enable comparisons of the views of Catholic voters with those of the general electorate.

The poll asked respondents to state which of six statements came closest to describing their opinion on abortion.

Only 8% of U.S. residents chose the statement saying abortion should be available to a woman any time she wants during her entire pregnancy.

That same percentage said abortion should be allowed only during the first six months of pregnancy. Twenty-four percent moved the abortion limit to the first three months of pregnancy.

The largest percentage -- 32% -- chose the statement saying abortion should be allowed only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

Fifteen percent chose the fifth option: that abortion should be allowed only to save the life of the mother.

And 13% affirmed that abortion should never be permitted under any circumstance.

The poll also indicated that even among those who describe themselves as pro-choice, 71% favored restricting abortions. Of these, 43% would restrict abortion to the first trimester and 23% would restrict abortion only to cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said the poll results are "indicative of the fact that the term 'pro-choice' -- when applied broadly -- needlessly polarizes the discussion of abortion and masks the fact that there is broad consensus among Americans that abortion should be significantly restricted."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hindu Threat to Christians: Convert or Flee

BOREPANGA, India — The family of Solomon Digal was summoned by neighbors to what serves as a public square in front of the village tea shop.

They were ordered to get on their knees and bow before the portrait of a Hindu preacher. They were told to turn over their Bibles, hymnals and the two brightly colored calendar images of Christ that hung on their wall. Then, Mr. Digal, 45, a Christian since childhood, was forced to watch his Hindu neighbors set the items on fire.

“ ‘Embrace Hinduism, and your house will not be demolished,’ ” Mr. Digal recalled being told on that Wednesday afternoon in September. “ ‘Otherwise, you will be killed, or you will be thrown out of the village.’ ”

India, the world’s most populous democracy and officially a secular nation, is today haunted by a stark assault on one of its fundamental freedoms. Here in eastern Orissa State, riven by six weeks of religious clashes, Christian families like the Digals say they are being forced to abandon their faith in exchange for their safety.

The forced conversions come amid widening attacks on Christians here and in at least five other states across the country, as India prepares for national elections next spring.

The clash of faiths has cut a wide swath of panic and destruction through these once quiet hamlets fed by paddy fields and jackfruit trees. Here in Kandhamal, the district that has seen the greatest violence, more than 30 people have been killed, 3,000 homes burned and over 130 churches destroyed, including the tin-roofed Baptist prayer hall where the Digals worshiped. Today it is a heap of rubble on an empty field, where cows blithely graze.

Across this ghastly terrain lie the singed remains of mud-and-thatch homes. Christian-owned businesses have been systematically attacked. Orange flags (orange is the sacred color of Hinduism) flutter triumphantly above the rooftops of houses and storefronts.

India is no stranger to religious violence between Christians, who make up about 2 percent of the population, and India’s Hindu-majority of 1.1 billion people. But this most recent spasm is the most intense in years.

It was set off, people here say, by the killing on Aug. 23 of a charismatic Hindu preacher known as Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, who for 40 years had rallied the area’s people to choose Hinduism over Christianity.

The police have blamed Maoist guerrillas for the swami’s killing. But Hindu radicals continue to hold Christians responsible.

In recent weeks, they have plastered these villages with gruesome posters of the swami’s hacked corpse. “Who killed him?” the posters ask. “What is the solution?”

Behind the clashes are long-simmering tensions between equally impoverished groups: the Panas and Kandhas. Both original inhabitants of the land, the two groups for ages worshiped the same gods. Over the past several decades, the Panas for the most part became Christian, as Roman Catholic and Baptist missionaries arrived here more than 60 years ago, followed more recently by Pentecostals, who have proselytized more aggressively.

Meanwhile, the Kandhas, in part through the teachings of Swami Laxmanananda, embraced Hinduism. The men tied the sacred Hindu white thread around their torsos; their wives daubed their foreheads with bright red vermilion. Temples sprouted.

Hate has been fed by economic tensions as well, as the government has categorized each group differently and given them different privileges.

The Kandhas accused the Panas of cheating to obtain coveted quotas for government jobs. The Christian Panas, in turn, say their neighbors have become resentful as they have educated themselves and prospered.

Their grievances have erupted in sporadic clashes over the past 15 years, but they have exploded with a fury since the killing of Swami Laxmanananda.

Two nights after his death, a Hindu mob in the village of Nuagaon dragged a Catholic priest and a nun from their residence, tore off much of their clothing and paraded them through the streets.

The nun told the police that she had been raped by four men, a charge the police say was borne out by a medical examination. Yet no one was arrested in the case until five weeks later, after a storm of media coverage. Today, five men are under arrest in connection with inciting the riots. The police say they are trying to find the nun and bring her back here to identify her attackers.

Given a chance to explain the recent violence, Subash Chauhan, the state’s highest-ranking leader of Bajrang Dal, a Hindu radical group, described much of it as “a spontaneous reaction.”

He said in an interview that the nun had not been raped but had had regular consensual sex.

On Sunday evening, as much of Kandhamal remained under curfew, Mr. Chauhan sat in the hall of a Hindu school in the state capital, Bhubaneshwar, beneath a huge portrait of the swami. A state police officer was assigned to protect him round the clock. He cupped a trilling Blackberry in his hand.

Mr. Chauhan denied that his group was responsible for forced conversions and in turn accused Christian missionaries of luring villagers with incentives of schools and social services.

He was asked repeatedly whether Christians in Orissa should be left free to worship the god of their choice. “Why not?” he finally said, but he warned that it was unrealistic to expect the Kandhas to politely let their Pana enemies live among them as followers of Jesus.

“Who am I to give assurance?” he snapped. “Those who have exploited the Kandhas say they want to live together?”

Besides, he said, “they are Hindus by birth.”

Hindu extremists have held ceremonies in the country’s indigenous belt for the past several years intended to purge tribal communities of Christian influence.

It is impossible to know how many have been reconverted here, in the wake of the latest violence, though a three-day journey through the villages of Kandhamal turned up plenty of anecdotal evidence.

A few steps from where the nun had been attacked in Nuagaon, five men, their heads freshly shorn, emerged from a soggy tent in a relief camp for Christians fleeing their homes.

The men had also been summoned to a village meeting in late August, where hundreds of their neighbors stood with machetes in hand and issued a firm order: Get your heads shaved and bow down before our gods, or leave this place.

Trembling with fear, Daud Nayak, 56, submitted to a shaving, a Hindu sign of sacrifice. He drank, as instructed, a tumbler of diluted cow dung, considered to be purifying.

In the eyes of his neighbors, he reckoned, he became a Hindu.

In his heart, he said, he could not bear it.

All five men said they fled the next day with their families. They refuse to return.

In another village, Birachakka, a man named Balkrishna Digal and his son, Saroj, said they had been summoned to a similar meeting and told by Hindu leaders who came from nearby villages that they, too, would have to convert. In their case, the ceremony was deferred because of rumors of Christian-Hindu clashes nearby.

For the time being, the family had placed an orange flag on their mud home. Their Hindu neighbors promised to protect them.

Here in Borepanga, the family of Solomon Digal was not so lucky. Shortly after they recounted their Sept. 10 Hindu conversion story to a reporter in the dark of night, the Digals were again summoned by their neighbors. They were scolded and fined 501 rupees, or about $12, a pinching sum here.

The next morning, calmly clearing his cauliflower field, Lisura Paricha, one of the Hindu men who had summoned the Digals, confirmed that they had been penalized. Their crime, he said, was to talk to outsiders.

from The New York Times October 13, 2008.