World Youth Day and secularised Spain
In August Benedict XVI visited a Spain that faces aggressive secularism and controversies concerning abortion, sexual ethics and marriage. But World Youth Day organisers hoped the event would trigger a revival of faith.
In May Archbishop Jose Ignacio Munilla Aguirre of San Sebastian said of Spain's youth: "In recent years they have endured years of secularisation. We are praying to John Paul II for his intercession, that he touch the hearts of those who need to be touched so that they will come."
Benedict XVI, during his two-day November 2010 pilgrimage to Spain, drew on the country's Christian roots and noted the need "to hear God once again under the skies of Europe." That need could be met at the Madrid World Youth Day, with over 420,000 young people expected.
But the event was to take place during a time of tension caused by a secularising government and society. Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela of Madrid in November 2010 said that there had been a "revival of radical secularism" that had prompted laws aimed at the basic institutions of society such as marriage, the family and the right to life.
The country has recognised "gay marriage" since 2005, and the Socialist government has implemented a compulsory school curriculum which has come under many legal challenges. Critics say that the curriculum promotes secularism and sexual immorality, imposes an official view of gender ideology, incites 12-year-olds to engage in sexual activity, and violates the rights of parents and their children.
In a population of over 46 million Spaniards, 42.5 million are Catholic. However, less than 15 percent of the total population participates in Church life.
Catholic News Agency
Confessional seal and child abuse cases
With Ireland considering legislation to force priests to break the seal of confession, the idea has been picked up by an Australia's Senator Nick Xenophon. Citing the Irish example, he called for the government to make it illegal for priests to refuse to reveal cases of sex abuse disclosed in the confessional.
"There is no contest when it comes to protecting the innocence of a child or maintaining a religious practice," he told reporters in Canberra in July. "Why should someone be absolved of their sins ... when it comes to child abuse because they've got a pat on the back from their priest? No church should be complicit in the cover-up of child abuse just so some pedophile can try and clear their conscience."
He added: "The laws of the land should always trump religious practices. The protection of children should come before any other consideration. Freedom of religion is one thing, but it shouldn't mean anyone is free to ignore their obligations to report this most serious of crimes."
Australia's federal attorney general said that the matter fell under the jurisdiction of local state government. Xenophon responded saying he would write to the attorneys general around Australia seeking support for the idea.
Responding to this call, Bishop Peter Connors of Ballarat said there was no way that any priest would betray the seal, an act for which the penalty under Church law is automatic excommunication.
"I would like to think parliamentarians would respect the law of the Church on this matter," Bishop Connors said. "If priests were required to report these things, the seal of confession would be broken."
The secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference, Father Brian Lucas, backed up the bishop and criticised the Xenophon proposal. "His proposal does nothing to protect children and flies in the face of a fundamental right of people to practise their religion," Father Lucas said. "No Catholic priest ... would ever betray a penitent. Priests have gone to their death" rather than break the seal.
Outspoken criticism of China's religion policy
Cardinal Joseph Zen has denounced the "preposterous and ridiculous" efforts by the Chinese government to exert control over the Catholic Church.
The retired Bishop of Hong Kong said last July: "It is absurd to hear the statements of politically correct state puppets defending Beijing's policies." He issued his statement just after the Chinese religion ministry complained about the Vatican's "rude" excommunication of bishops illicitly ordained by the Catholic Patriotic Association.
Cardinal Zen argued that it was nonsensical to have officials of an officially atheistic state judging the policies of a religious body. The institution that Beijing seeks to build, he said, "can no more be recognisable as Catholic," and the officials who are pursuing that policy are "making themselves the laughing stock of the world!"
Cardinal Zen exhorted the loyal Catholics of China to maintain their strong ties to the Holy See. Saluting their steadfast determination to preserve the unity of the Church, the cardinal underlined his feeling of solidarity by describing himself as "an old brother who is almost ashamed of living in freedom."
Catholic World News
Catholic Charities' foster work upheld in Illinois
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has abandoned a second attempt to block Catholic Charities from providing foster care services, one week after a judge's order kept the state from ending its contract.
Catholic Charities attorney Bradley Huff said on 18 July that the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services' most recent attempt to cut off Catholic Charities would have put its foster care ministry "out of business."
Shortly before a hearing that would have tested the legality of the state's move, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan agreed not to go forward with the plan to discontinue referrals to Catholic Charities, while continuing to pay the organisation under its existing contract.
This decision to reinstate the referrals marked another victory for Catholic Charities in its dispute with the state of Illinois over the recently passed Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act.
Illinois' Department of Children and Family Services had stated in a letter on 8 July that it was ending its relationship with Catholic Charities in three dioceses over the Church ministries' alleged refusal to comply with the new civil union law.
The three branches of Catholic Charities have maintained they are following the law, even as they continue their practice of placing foster children only with married couples and non-cohabiting single persons.
Catholic Charities was to continue to provide foster care and adoption services until a hearing scheduled for 17 August to decide the merits of the diocesan charities' complaint against the state.
Catholic News Agency
Christian women in Egypt converted by force
The US Helsinki Commission gathered on 22 July to discuss the increase in violence against Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt, specifically young women.
Reports of kidnapping and forced marriage and conversion began cropping up in 2007, but remained "unsubstantiated," said Michele Clark, an adjunct professor of international affairs at George Washington University.
"I am here to confirm these allegations," Clark said. "These are not isolated incidences."
Jean Maher, president of the France-based Egyptian Union for Human Rights Organization, said that nearly 800 Coptic Christian women had been kidnapped, raped and forced to convert to Islam since 2009. That number has only increased since the revolution in February, Maher said.
Christian women are an obvious target because they do not wear a veil, which makes them easily identifiable as Christian, said Clark.
Clark and Maher suggested that one of the greatest contributors to the abductions has been the inactivity of police. "Dozens of family members are reporting this," said Maher. "They are very badly treated by police."
In light of this situation, Clark urged the international community to tie financial aid to Egypt's upholding and protecting the fundamental human rights listed in its constitution.
Catholic News Agency
Vietnamese priest-activist back in prison
Father Nguyen Van Ly, a human-rights activist, has been arrested once again by the Vietnamese government. In 2007, Father Ly was sentenced to an eight-year prison term for his public criticism of the Vietnamese regime. After many pleas from international advocates, he was released in March 2010 for medical treatment.
Father Ly has suffered several strokes that left him partially paralysed and he also needed treatment for a brain tumor. At that time, prison officials said he would be jailed again if his medical condition improved.
Friends of the priest say that his medical condition remains very precarious, and the police who re-arrested him came prepared with an ambulance. The decision to put him back in jail appears to have been motivated by his recent public statements, issued from house arrest, denouncing the government for human-rights violations.
Catholic World News
Cardinal Burke: suffering and life's meaning
At an Archdiocese of Kansas City conference on end-of-life care on 23 July, Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, said that suffering does not cause a person to have less meaning in his life, nor does it give the government the right to decide if that person should live or die.
"No matter how much a life is diminished," he said, "no matter what suffering the person is undergoing, that life demands the greatest respect and care. It's never right to snuff out a life because it's in some way under heavy burden."
The theme of Cardinal Burke's keynote address was the "mystery" of human suffering and dying. The conference, organised by the St Gianna Physician's Guild, focused on medical issues surrounding those suffering and those at the end of their lives. The event was the first initiative of its kind for the group.
Cardinal Burke said that human suffering could only be understood in light of the "gift" and "dignity" of human life. "Human life is a gift to be accorded the highest respect and care from its beginning until natural death. We are not the creators of human life and must respect the plan of the author of life for us and for our world."
The cardinal stressed the importance of Catholics giving end-of-life care more attention, pointing out that nutrition and hydration are part of "basic human care" and to deprive patients of such care is not in any way "compassionate." Rather, "deliberately taking the life of an innocent human person is intrinsically evil and therefore is never justified," he said.
Along with the need for Catholics in general to be more informed on Church teaching about euthanasia, Cardinal Burke put special emphasis on Catholic students and seminarians being well versed on the topic. Ultimately, "respect for the dignity of human life is the foundation of good order in our individual lives and our society."
Without this respect, "our personal lives become profoundly disordered and society soon becomes a theatre of violence and death."
Cardinal Burke told an interviewer later that a Christian worldview wasn't necessary for people to agree that society does not have the right to determine who lives or dies. "Right reason" alone is enough for people from different perspectives to enter into productive dialogue on the issue.
Sale Diocese: Fr John Speekman decision
The Apostolic Signatura, the Church's highest judicial authority, has ruled in favour of Bishop Jeremiah Coffey's removal of Father Speekman from his Morwell parish in 2003.
Since then, the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy has twice supported Father Speekman's appeal against his removal. But the Signatura now argues the Congregation did not consider all the reasons presented to it.
Father Speekman responded, "I accept the decision as authoritative and have put the matter to rest in my own mind."
Bishop Christopher Prowse (Bishop Coffey's successor) said, "Soon I will discuss with Fr Speekman suitable possibilities for a fresh appointment in the Diocese of Sale."
Meanwhile, Bishop Prowse has been actively seeking overseas priests for his diocese from India, Sri Lanka and Nigeria.