New York Archbishop tackles President Obama
In a remarkable letter to President Barack Obama in September, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York strongly criticised "recent actions taken by your Administration that both escalate the threat to marriage and imperil the religious freedom of those who promote and defend marriage."
Archbishop Dolan, who serves as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), concluded the letter by calling upon the Obama administration to end its "campaign against DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act], the institution of marriage it protects, and religious freedom."
An accompanying analysis, prepared by USCCB staff, warned that "the comprehensive efforts of the federal government - using its formidable moral, economic, and coercive power - to enforce its new legal definition of "marriage" against a resistant Church would, if not reversed, precipitate a systemic national conflict between Church and State, harming both institutions, as well as our Nation as a whole."
Archbishop Dolan in his letter warned: "Mr. President, I respectfully urge you to push the reset button on your Administration's approach to DOMA. Our federal government should not be presuming ill intent or moral blindness on the part of the overwhelming majority of its citizens, millions of whom have gone to the polls to directly support DOMAs in their states and have thereby endorsed marriage as the union of man and woman.
"Nor should a policy disagreement over the meaning of marriage be treated by federal officials as a federal offence - but this will happen if the Justice Department's latest constitutional theory prevails in court."
Catholic World News
Meatless Fridays return to England and Wales
The bishops of England and Wales issued a document in September to prepare Catholics for the resumption of their obligation to abstain from meat on Fridays.
"The law of the Church requires Catholics on Fridays to abstain from meat, or some other form of food, or to observe some other form of penance ... The Bishops have decided to re-establish the practice that this penance should be fulfilled simply by abstaining from meat and by uniting this to prayer. Those who cannot or choose not to eat meat as part of their normal diet should abstain from some other food of which they regularly partake.
"Even though since 1985 it has been possible in England and Wales for the faithful to substitute another act of penance in place of abstinence from meat, many Catholics have continued to practice this ancient form of penitence. It is also clear that many of us forget our obligation to do penance on a Friday. Abstaining from meat is easy to remember, a simple way to give witness at work, at school and even in the family and, although it is still an act of penitence, cannot be considered to put any real or substantial additional burden on the lives of the faithful."
Catholic World News
Russian Orthodox leader on rights of Christians
On 12 September, Metroplitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate's department for external Church relations, spoke at a meeting in Rome of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on anti-Christian violence. The meeting's theme was "Preventing and Responding to Hate Incidents and Crimes against Christians."
During his address Metropolitan Hilarion pointed to a number of examples:
"We [the Russian Orthodox Church] believe that the time has come to discuss openly the violation of the rights of Christians and respond to this challenge through our common efforts. For decades now the encroachment upon the rights of religious minorities has been widely discussed on the European continent. Yet, practice shows that the position of the majority, which is comprised of traditional Christians in almost all the OSCE participating states, is far from being the best guarantee of their rights.
"The most convincing example of this was the way the European Court of Human Rights conducted the Lautsi v. Italy case on the question of the presence of crucifixes in Italy's schools. The resolution of this problem in favour of Christians was possible thanks only to the united efforts of a whole number of countries that spoke out against the Court's original decision.
"Among the countries united in support of Christian identity in Europe were Russia, Armenia, Bulgaria, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, and others. This was an unprecedented, for our times, fact of multilateral cooperation on the grounds of common Christian values.
"Spain, as well as a number of other countries, has recently introduced a course on "Education in Citizenship" in school syllabuses for primary school pupils, which includes sex education. Within this course pupils are indoctrinated with views on sexual relations, which are totally inconsistent with the religious beliefs of their parents ...
"Christians in the OSCE region are consistently attacked because of their position on abortion and euthanasia. Opponents not only fail to see that behind their false justifications lie the deprivation of human life, but they also question Christians' right to present their views and their democratic efforts to have them reflected in European legislation."
Zenit News Agency
Islam's spread in France
New research suggests there are now more practising Muslims in France than practising Catholics. While 64 percent of French people describe themselves as Roman Catholic, only 2.9 percent of the total French population actually practise the Catholic faith. That compares with 3.8 percent of the population who practise the Muslim faith. The research was carried out by the French Institute of Public Opinion on behalf of the Catholic newspaper La Croix.
Most French Muslims hail from the country's former colonies in North and sub-Saharan Africa.
There is also evidence that mosques are being erected at a much faster rate than Catholic churches. Mohammed Moussaoui, President of the Muslim Council of France, estimated that 150 new mosques are currently under construction across the country.
By contrast, the Catholic Church in France has built only 20 new churches during the past decade, and has formally closed more than 60. Many of these are now destined to become mosques, according to La Croix.
In 1999, Archbishop Giuseppe Bernardini, an Italian Franciscan who heads the Izmir Archdiocese in Turkey, recalled a conversation he had with a Muslim leader for the Synod of European Bishops, which was gathered in Rome. That leader told him, "thanks to your democratic laws, we will invade you. Thanks to our religious laws, we will dominate you."
G.K. Chesterton conference in Sydney
On 10 September, the biennial Chesterton conference sponsored by the Australian Chesterton Society, with the theme, "Faith in the Marketplace: The Social Catholicism of G.K. Chesterton", was held at Campion College, Sydney.
The participants explored the new avenues for the Catholic social philosophy of Distributism in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis and the faltering of the world's pre-dominant economic systems which are spread on an economic continuum between capitalism and socialism. The time seemed opportune for a truly Catholic economic and social vision to receive a refreshing modern presentation.
Karl Schmude in his talk outlined the key ideas popularised by G.K. Chesterton a century ago under title, "Chesterton and the Pickpocket: A Fresh Look at Distributism".
Race Matthews, a former Labor MP, addressed the "Legacy of Cardinal Moran" and considered in what ways Distributism might work in Australia.
Dr Garrick Small, an Associate Economics Professor from the Central Queensland University (Rockhampton Campus) gave the final presentation, "Small is Always Beautiful: E.F. Schumacher and Catholic Social Perspectives in the 21st Century."
Professor Small, drawing on evidence from various countries and economic systems, argued that Chesterton's basic ideas concerning co-operatives and rural resttlement schemes are providing better lives for many people.
Religious persecution in Iran
An Iranian Protestant pastor, sentenced to death in 2010 for apostasy, refused to renounce his Christian faith and revert to Islam during a third and final court hearing on 28 September.
A Washington Post blog reported that at one hearing, "When asked to 'repent' by the judges, Yousef [Nadarkhani] stated, 'Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?' The judges replied, 'To the religion of your ancestors, Islam.' To which he replied, 'I cannot'."
"I deplore reports that Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, an Iranian church leader, could be executed imminently after refusing an order by the Supreme Court of Iran to recant his faith," said British Foreign Secretary William Hague. "This demonstrates the Iranian regime's continued unwillingness to abide by its constitutional and international obligations to respect religious freedom. I pay tribute to the courage shown by Pastor Nadarkhani who has no case to answer and call on the Iranian authorities to overturn his sentence."
Scottish bishops oppose same-sex marriage
The bishops of Scotland have pledged their "strenuous opposition" as the Scottish government considers a proposal to legalise same-sex marriage.
Urging the government not to heed "a vociferous lobby group," the bishops said on 7 September that "no government can rewrite human nature [since] the family and marriage existed before the State and are built on the union between a man and woman. Any attempt to redefine marriage is a direct attack on a foundational building block of society and will be strenuously opposed."
On 11 September, Cardinal Keith O'Brien wrote in a newspaper column that same-sex marriage was "madness" and a "grotesque subversion of a universal human right."
He continued: "At the heart of this debate however there is one perspective which seems to be completely lost or ignored, it is the point of view of the child. Same-sex marriage means same-sex parenting, and same-sex parenting means that our society deliberately chooses to deprive a child of either a mother or a father.
"There is no question, that normalising gay marriage means normalising homosexual behaviour for public school children. In November 2003 after a court decision in Massachusetts to legalise gay marriage, school libraries were required to stock same-sex literature ...
"Disingenuously, the Government has suggested that same sex marriage wouldn't be compulsory and churches could choose to opt out. This is quite staggering arrogance. Firstly, no Government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood meaning of marriage. Additionally, imagine for a moment that the Government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that 'no one will be forced to keep a slave'. Would such an assurance calm the fury we would all feel? Would it in any way justify the dismantling of a fundamental human right? Of course not. It would amount to nothing more than weasel words to mask a great wrong."
Catholic World News
Archbishop Chaput on a bishop's duties
At an installation Mass on 8 September, Archbishop Charles Chaput formally took over as the new Archbishop of Philadelphia. During his homily he referred to his understanding of a bishop's duties.
"St Augustine described the bishop's duties in the following way: 'To rebuke those who stir up strife, to comfort those of little courage, to take the part of the weak, to refute opponents, to be on guard against traps, to teach the ignorant, to shake the indolent awake, to discourage those who want to buy and sell, to put the presumptuous in their place, to modify the quarrelsome, to help the poor, to liberate the oppressed, to encourage the good, to suffer the evil and to love all men'.
"It's crucial for those of us who are bishops not simply to look like bishops but to truly be bishops. Otherwise, we're just empty husks - the kind of men Augustine meant when he said, 'You say, "He must be a bishop for he sits upon the cathedra." True - and a scarecrow might also be called a watchman in the vineyard'."
Zenit News Agency