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Scotland’s Catholic bishops disappointed by same-sex marriage bill


EDINBURGH, Scotland — The Scottish Parliament has passed a bill that will allow same-sex marriages to be performed later this year, but religious organizations have the right not to perform them.

Members of the Scottish Parliament supported the legislation, 105-18, at the end of a Feb. 4 debate and applauded when the result was announced.

Lawmakers had rejected pleas from the Catholic Church to oppose the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill and also resisted attempts to amend it.

The bill will be sent to Queen Elizabeth II for the formality of royal assent before it will become law, with the first same-sex marriages expected in Scotland at the earliest at the end of July.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland said in a Feb. 5 statement that the bishops were disappointed by the outcome of the vote.

“It does not change the church’s understanding of our commitment to the sacrament of marriage,” the statement added.

The bill offers some protection to the churches by not compelling religious organizations to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples but instead allows them to “opt in” to the legislation. Clerics whose religious organization have not opted into the law will not be able to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.

During the debate, Alex Neil, secretary for health and well-being, said the Scottish Assembly had “got the balance right in the bill.”

“We are extending the rights and freedoms of people of the same sex who wish to be married and to have that marriage recognized by the state,” he said. “At the same time, we are building in necessary safeguards for the rights of those who are opposed to same-sex marriage and who do not wish to perform same-sex marriage, particularly church organizations and celebrants.”

“We are doing a remarkable thing today,” he added. “We are saying to the world, loud and clear, on behalf of Scotland, that we believe in recognizing love between same-sex couples in the same way that we do between opposite-sex couples.”

However, John Mason, Scottish National Party representative from Glasgow, said he was fearful that anyone opposed to same-sex marriage would be victimized if the bill went through without more robust protections.

He unsuccessfully proposed an amendment asking for recognition that “belief in marriage as a voluntary union between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others for life is a belief worthy of respect in a democratic society.”

“It is an integral tenet of faith for many Christians, Muslims and others as well as the belief of many of no faith position at all,” he said.

Initially, Scottish bishops were extremely vocal about same-sex marriage. At one point, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, then archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, described same-sex marriage as a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right” that would “shame Britain in the eyes of the world.”

After the cardinal resigned in February 2013 amid allegations that he made sexual advances to seminarians, the Scottish bishops made their views clear through formal channels, such as presentations to government committees, rather than through the media.

Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen wrote Jan. 30 to 22 members of the Scottish Parliament whose constituencies fall within his diocese to ask them to amend the legislation if they could not prevent the bill becoming law.

He said he had major concerns over the “category mistake” of trying to redefine marriage and about the adequacy of proposed safeguards for groups and people who held to the traditional understanding of marriage.

“There is a widespread attitude that accuses those unsympathetic to the proposed legislation of bigotry or homophobia,” he said. “This is seriously unjust, and a very real concern.

“It is an irony that a measure aimed at preventing a perceived injustice to a small minority threatens to provoke fresh injustices to a far larger percentage of the population,” the bishop said.

He asked lawmakers to try to protect churches against possible litigation and threats to their charitable status.

He also said parents needed to be protected from attempts to stop them from passing on their “understanding of marriage to children, most notably in faith schools.”

Bishop Gilbert said he also feared that Christians and others might suffer discrimination in their career or workplace, face restrictions on freedom of speech, be denied access to public services or be prevented from fostering or adopting children.

“Sometimes we are assured that these freedoms are already sufficiently guaranteed by law, but others question this,” he said. “The general climate is not reassuring. It would therefore be a real reassurance for those dismayed by this proposed legislation to have their concerns met within the legislation itself.”

Same-sex marriage was legalized in England and Wales in July under the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act, and the first marriages between gay and lesbian couples will be performed in late March.


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U.N. panel presses Vatican to revise canon law on child abuse – updated


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child continued to insist that the Vatican compile and publish detailed statistics on clerical sexual abuse of minors and that the pope, as head of the church, can and should order Catholic dioceses and religious orders around the world to implement all the policies of the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child.

The committee, which spent Jan. 16 questioning two Vatican representatives, also urged the Catholic Church to revise the Code of Canon Law to make it mandatory that bishops and religious superiors report suspected cases of sexual abuse to civil authorities, even in countries where civil law does not require such reporting.

The Vatican always has insisted that church law requires bishops and religious superiors to obey local laws on reporting suspected crimes; however, it also has said that where reporting is not mandatory and the victim does not want to go to the police, the victim’s wishes must be respected.

The “concluding observations” of the committee, which monitors compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by the Holy See in 1990, were published Feb. 5.

A statement published by the Vatican press office the same day said, “The Holy See reiterates its commitment to defending and protecting the rights of the child, in line with the principles promoted by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and according to the moral and religious values offered by Catholic doctrine.”

The committee urged the Vatican to release all its files on clerical sexual abuse cases in order to allow public scrutiny of how cases of alleged abuse were investigated and judged, how offenders were punished and how victims were treated.

“The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators,” the U.N. report said.

Throughout the report, the committee condemned what its members viewed as a “code of silence” surrounding the cases and claimed “the Holy See has given precedence to the preservation of the reputation of the church over children’s rights to have their best interests taken as a primary consideration.”

Testifying before the committee in January, Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, the former investigator of alleged abuse cases in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the Vatican knows “there are things that need to be done differently,” particularly to address concerns about whether a local bishop or religious superior has covered up cases of alleged abuse.

“Only the truth will help us move on,” he told the committee.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, also testified and told the committee that new rules and guidelines adopted under Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, “when properly applied, will help eliminate the occurrence of child sexual abuse by clergy and other church personnel.”

The committee’s “concluding observations” said the church’s procedures for dealing with suspected cases of abuse are so hostile to children and their parents that some have reported being “re-victimized by the church authorities.”

The committee’s report also objected to confidentiality being “imposed as a condition of financial compensation,” although Bishop Scicluna had told committee members that in the vast majority of cases, the compensation is awarded by a court, which sets the terms.

Archbishop Tomasi told Vatican Radio Feb. 5 that his first reaction to the report was “surprise because the negative aspect of the document they produced makes it seem that it was prepared before” he and Bishop Scicluna testified in January. “In fact, the document doesn’t seem to have been updated to take into account what has been done in the past few years” by the Vatican and by individual bishops’ conferences.

“The church has responded and reacted and will continue to do so” to protect children and end the scandal of clerical sexual abuse, the archbishop said. “We must insist on a policy of transparency and zero tolerance for abuse because even one case of the abuse of a child is a case too many.”

In other areas concerning the rights of children as set forth in the U.N. convention, the committee:

— Praised a pledge to consider “withdrawing the discriminatory expression ‘illegitimate children’ which can still be found in canon law.”

— Insisted the church and its teaching on sexuality “contribute to the social stigmatization of and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents and children raised by same sex couples.”

— Said the rights of children to know their biological parents have, in some cases, been violated by Catholic adoption agencies and in cases where the biological father is a priest. The policy of some Catholic convents and hospitals to let mothers know they can anonymously leave unwanted babies and any other practice that gives parents anonymity should be only a last resort, it said.

— Expressed concern about adolescents “separated from their families and isolated from the outside world” when they enter minor seminaries run by some religious orders.

— Asked the church “to review its position on abortion, which places obvious risks on the life and health of pregnant girls” and to amend church law to identity “circumstances under which access to abortion services can be permitted.”

— Suggested the church needs to “overcome all the barriers and taboos surrounding adolescent sexuality that hinder their access to sexual and reproductive information, including on family planning and contraceptives.”

The Vatican press office said the Holy See would give the U.N. committee’s report, which is not binding, a “thorough study and examination.”

“The Holy See does, however, regret to see in some points of the concluding observations an attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of human person and in the exercise of religious freedom,” the statement said.


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Filipino mother works to bring typhoon relief to neighbors


Catholic News Service

TACLOBAN, Philippines — Shirley Boco wants anyone who will listen to know that the 1,297 people she represents deserve more attention than they are getting as the recovery from November’s Typhoon Haiyan begins to gain momentum.

A woman and child sit in their makeshift home in Anibong, a community in Tacloban, Philippines, Feb. 4. According to the Philippine government, more than 6,000 people died as a result of November’s Typhoon Haiyan. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Boco, 33, is captain of the barangay, or local community, in the poverty-stricken Anibong section of Tacloban. She advocates for a larger cash-for-work program so that more community members can clear debris left by the storm. She wants more shelter kits to be distributed to families living in makeshift housing, or no housing at all, in the poverty-stricken community in the western part of Tacloban. Food packs from nongovernmental organizations could include things other than rice and sardines, she believes.

And Boco worries about what will happen to the fragile homes that have sprouted on the shore since the storm: Many probably will be destroyed again as efforts continue to refloat at least one of the seven large ocean vessels washed farther ashore at the peak of Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda.

People salvaged material to rebuild their homes where they had lived prior to the storm because they had no other option, said Boco, the mother of two sons, ages 12 and 15. People are building temporary housing thinking they may be forced to move again because the government is prohibiting the construction of permanent housing within 125 feet of the shoreline.

“Our people came into our area just to have partial shelter right now because the government has not offered a permanent relocation. Right now, we have to go back to where Yolanda landed,” Boco explained.

At the height of the storm, thousands of Anibong’s residents fled to higher ground by climbing a nearby hill and riding out the storm. People clung to trees for hours until the water subsided. But the danger they faced did not deter them from wanting to stay in Anibong.

As captain of the barangay, Boco aired her concerns to Catholic Relief Services representatives visiting Anibong Feb. 4.

Boco credited the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency for its programs in the barangay since the storm, but she also asked for additional emphasis on hiring people for debris removal.

Although Boco feels city officials had treated the community fairly, she said the services offered have fallen far short of meeting the immense need.

That makes Boco’s regular treks into town that much more important so she can keep the needs of her constituents in front of city officials.

“I go the city hall to follow up on the benefits for the people in our areas. Right now we are always waiting for their command,” she said.

Returning home, Boco sometimes has good news and other times not.

“I say to them we have to stand on our own feet, find some job if ever we can find,” she said. “I worry about all the persons who don’t have a job. We have to get income for survival, to meet our daily needs.”

Many of the men in Anibong are fishermen who lost boats in the storm. Some supplies were delivered, enabling some fishermen to repair their boats, Boco said, but for most, there are no boats left to repair.

Some families who have not rebuilt homes have taken up residence on a few of the cargo ships that were tossed ashore. On one ship, residents painted the message in capital letters: “We need foods, rice and water.”


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German, Swiss bishops report Catholics rejecting teachings on family


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Reports from bishops’ conferences in Germany and Switzerland show a clear divergence between what the church teaches on marriage, sexuality and family life and what Catholics, even those active in parish life, personally believe.

The differences are seen “above all when it comes to pre-marital cohabitation, (the status of the) divorced and remarried, birth control and homosexuality,” said the German bishops’ report, posted Feb. 3 on their conference website in German, Italian and English.

The text is a summary of the official responses from all of Germany’s 27 dioceses and about 20 German Catholic organizations and institutions to a Vatican questionnaire published in preparation for October’s extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family.

The Swiss bishops’ conference published an initial report Feb. 4 based on 25,000 responses, similar in most cases to those received by the German bishops.

“Most of the baptized have an image of the church that, on the one hand, is family friendly in its attitude, whilst at the same time considering her sexual morality to be unrealistic,” the German survey found.

Both the German and the Swiss reports said Catholics in their countries accept the church’s vision of marriage as a life-long union of a man and a woman open to having children, and hope to realize that vision in their own family.

However, the German dioceses reported that “pre-marital unions are not only a relevant pastoral reality, but one which is almost universal,” since between 90 percent and 100 percent of couples who seek a Catholic wedding are already living together, despite church teaching that sex outside of marriage is sinful.

“Many, in fact, consider it irresponsible to marry without living together beforehand,” the report said.

Much of the German summary was dedicated to questions concerning divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, who the report said account for a significant share of Catholic couples, including those actively involved in parish life and church activities.

The bishops’ conference said one-third of all marriages in Germany end in divorce, and while “Catholics’ marriages are somewhat more stable than average,” the difference is not great.

The summary said many of the respondents supported a 2013 initiative of the Archdiocese of Freiburg to encourage divorced and remarried couples to speak to a local priest about their situation, suggesting that their status could be resolved as a matter of personal conscience.

Cardinal-designate Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has criticized the initiative and said Catholics “convinced in their conscience that a previous marriage was invalid” must have that belief confirmed by a church tribunal.

But reforming and streamlining the church’s annulment process would not make a big difference in Germany, the bishops’ report said, because most remarried people do not regard their original unions as “null and void,” but rather as having failed. “They therefore frequently consider an annulment procedure” — which declares that an apparent marriage was null from the start – “to be dishonest.”

According to the church, a person who has not received an annulment is in most cases still bound by his or her original marriage vows and not free to enter into another union. Someone who remarries under such circumstances is therefore excluded from Communion, though not from church life.

Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis and many bishops around the world have considered the status of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics a pressing pastoral problem; it is one of the problems Pope Francis has said is a matter to be considered at the synod.

Both the German bishops’ and the Swiss bishops’ summaries said Catholics in their countries believe the church is unmerciful to Catholics whose first marriages have failed.

“Divorce and remarrying frequently lead to a process of becoming distant from the church or of widening the existing gap,” the German bishops reported. “Many no longer wish to be associated with an institution which they regard as unforgiving.”

Both the German and Swiss bishops’ surveys found the vast majority of Catholics reject or simply ignore church teaching that every sexual act between a husband and wife should be open to the transmission of life, therefore ruling out the use of artificial contraceptives.

The Swiss bishops said that “approximately 60 percent of participants in the consultation support the recognition of and a church blessing for homosexual couples,” though the responses showed “no consensus, but rather a polarization,” with strong negative reactions.

While Catholic teaching insists homosexual people should not be discriminated against, it holds that homosexual acts are always immoral and that marriage can only be a union between one man and one woman.

The German bishops said Catholics in their country, which has recognized “civil partnerships” of same-sex couples since 2000, largely “regard the legal recognition of same-sex civil partnerships and their equal treatment vis-a-vis marriage as a commandment of justice.”


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Indian cardinal opposes criminalizing same-sex relationships


BANGALORE, India — The head of the Catholic Church in India has reiterated its opposition to “criminalization” of homosexuality.

“It is for the government and the legislature to sort out the situation now,” Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai said after the Supreme Court declined to review its December ruling on an anti-sodomy law.

The December ruling served to reinstate Section 337 of India’s penal code, a law that outlawed homosexuality, making it a felony subject to fines and sentences of up to 10 years to life in prison.

Asked about the gay groups and human rights activists criticizing the court’s decision and even targeting the church, Cardinal Gracias told Catholic News Service that while the church was opposed to “criminalizing homosexuality, we are not supporting gay marriages.”

“The Catholic Church does not want homosexuals to be treated as criminals,” he said. “People with different sexual orientations also need pastoral care.”

“The church stand is, ‘Who am I to judge them?’ as the Holy Father has said,” Cardinal Gracias added, referring to Pope Francis’ July 28 remarks about homosexuality during a news conference with reporters flying with him from Brazil to Rome.

“I have told our priests to be sensitive when dealing with this subject,” said Cardinal Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and one of eight members of the Council of Cardinals appointed by Pope Francis to work on reform in the Roman Curia and advise him on church governance.

M.P. Raju, a Catholic who is a senior lawyer with the Supreme Court, told CNS the court’s stance effectively has “thrown the ball back to the government.”

“The government has to amend the archaic legislation. But the question is whether it will do it with the elections approaching,”  Raju said.


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Pope accepts resignation of Israeli Melkite prelate


Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Melkite Archbishop Elias Chacour of Haifa.

Canon 210 of the Eastern Code of Canon Law allows for resignation for health reasons or at the age of 75. Archbishop Chacour is 74.

Last October, the well-known archbishop was called in for questioning for suspected sexual harassment of a woman who works in the community; the allegations concerned an incident that allegedly took place five years ago. Following several hours of questioning, the archbishop was released on bail under restricting conditions.

The complaint was filed two years ago, but the investigation needed special permission to proceed because of the archbishop’s standing. Archbishop Chacour was reported to have been cooperative but denied the allegations against him.

A source familiar with the church in Galilee noted that the archbishop tendered his resignation after speaking with church officials, who suggested it would be best if he resigned.

Ill health and the sexual harassment charges against him appear to be among the several reasons he resigned, said the source.

“His health is not perfect, but health is not the main reason (for his resignation),” the source told Catholic News Service. “It seems there are also the accusations, but it is a combination of reasons, the (sexual harassment) charges, mismanagement, disputes with priests. (With all these) it seems he reached the conclusion (to resign.)”

‘ Archbishop Chacour told CNS Jan. 28 that he had presented his requirement for resignation last year before any of the charges had been filed against him. He said his retirement had “no relation whatsoever” to the charges and described himself as “happily retired” in good health.


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Quebec to vote on euthanasia bill next month

January 28th, 2014 Posted in International News Tags: , ,


Catholic News Service

OTTAWA, Ontario — Quebec’s euthanasia Bill 52 will come to a vote in February, and the province’s bishops say it “goes against the most basic human values and contradicts the very purpose of medicine.”

“Bringing about a patient’s death is not a medical act,” the bishops said in a Jan. 23 statement.

“To cause death to a sick person is not to care for him,” the bishops said. “A lethal injection is not a treatment. Euthanasia is not a form of care.”

The vote could come soon after the Quebec National Assembly reconvenes Feb. 11. The commission tasked with a detailed study of the bill “rushed through going through the articles to finish the amendments,” in January, said Nicolas Steenhout, executive director of Living With Dignity, a coalition of people and groups opposed to euthanasia in Quebec.

Although dozens of amendments have been proposed, Steenhout said, the bill would still allow euthanasia, or the deliberate killing of patients.

“The feeling people on the street are getting is this is now something that is good,” he said. “They really aren’t informed of the problems in the law and the risks the law would bring, especially compared to what is going on in Belgium and Holland.

“People think there is abuse going on elsewhere but it will never happen in Quebec,” Steenhout said. “I think that is a very dangerous impression to leave people with.”

The bishops said that, if the legislation is passed, “the act of causing death would be considered a form of ‘care’ that could be offered and ‘administered’ to the terminally ill.”

“We already have the right to refuse overtreatment. We already have the right not to have our lives artificially prolonged by being plugged in to all sorts of equipment,” they said. “These are givens: We do not need a new law to guarantee them.”

Steenhout noted that the legislation indicates a person must be at end of life before he or she can be euthanized, but it fails to define what “end of life” means.

“That causes huge risks, leaving the words completely open to interpretation and abuse,” he said.

The amended bill also defines “medical aid in dying,” as the administration of substances or drugs at the patient’s request to relieve the patient’s suffering “by causing death,” Steenhout said. It means “a doctor is going to administer a poison to someone and they will die.”


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Ireland plans to reopen embassy to Vatican


Catholic News Service

DUBLIN — Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin welcomed an Irish government decision to reopen a Vatican Embassy just over three years after closing it.

Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore announced Jan. 21 that Ireland was preparing to open a scaled-back embassy but gave no date for the reopening.

Gilmore came under sharp criticism in November 2011 when he announced that the embassy would close and a diplomat based in Dublin would represent Ireland at the Vatican.

At the time, the government said the closure was a cost-saving move, a claim rejected by opposition politicians who accused Gilmore of wanting to downgrade relations with the Vatican amid tensions about the church’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse against priests.

The Vatican had no immediate response to the announcement.

Archbishop Martin said that reopening the embassy, although on a smaller scale, was “a very constructive exercise.”

The archbishop, who previously served as a Vatican diplomat, said Pope Francis, from the outset of his pontificate, “has dedicated himself to being a strong voice for fighting poverty.”

The Vatican remains an important place of interchange on questions of global development, Archbishop Martin said, adding that a resident Irish ambassador will enhance relations between the Vatican and Ireland.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the new mission would be “a scaled-back, one-person embassy with a focus on international development.”

Gilmore said the embassy will “enable Ireland to engage directly with the leadership of Pope Francis on the issues of poverty eradication, hunger and human rights.”

Brendan Smith, spokesman for the opposition Fianna Fail party on foreign affairs, welcomed the move. “The reasons given for closing the embassy in the first instance were completely bogus and it was a mistake,” he said.

“At the time, we pointed out the diplomatic value of having representation at the Holy See and the networking influence it gave us,” he said. “But the Labor Party knew best and pressed ahead with their populist agenda.”

Questions remain about where the diplomatic offices will be housed because the former embassy on Rome’s Janiculum Hill now serves as Ireland’s Italian Embassy.


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Bishops visiting Holy Land decry ‘man-made disaster’ in Gaza


Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Bishops from North America, Europe and Africa called on international leaders to act immediately so people living in the Gaza Strip can have access to basic necessities.

Palestinian girls play in the courtyard of Schmidt’s girls school in East Jerusalem Jan. 15. Bishops from North America, Europe and Africa met with students during a solidarity trip to the Holy Land. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)

“Gaza is a man-made disaster, a shocking scandal, an injustice that cries out to the human community for a resolution. We call upon political leaders to improve the humanitarian situation of the people in Gaza, assuring access to the basic necessities for a dignified human life, the possibilities for economic development and freedom of movement,” they said in their Jan. 16 statement.

The bishops spent the two days of their Jan. 11-16 trip visiting Christian schools and social and health institutions in Gaza as well as meeting with the local parishioners. Their visit, known as the Holy Land Coordination, is an annual event that began in 1988 at the request of the Vatican. Each year they come at the invitation of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land and focus on prayer, pilgrimage and advocacy with the aim of acting in solidarity with the local Christian community.

The tiny Christian community of Gaza is made up of about 2,500 Christians out of a total Gazan population of more than 1.5 million people. The majority of the Christians belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, with just under 200 Catholics living in Gaza. Israel has blockaded the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control in 2007, although it loosened restrictions in 2010. Egypt opened one border crossing to Gaza in 2011.

“In the seemingly hopeless situation of Gaza, we met people of hope,” the bishops said. “We were encouraged by our visit to tiny Christian communities which, day after day, through many institutions, reach out with compassion to the poorest of the poor, both Muslim and Christian.”

At least one bishop remarked on the destroyed buildings and pock-marked facades that remain from Israeli shelling of Gaza.

In their statement, the bishops noted the warmth with which they were received in Gaza, and also the Christians’ request that they not be forgotten by the world’s Christians, whom they asked to pray for them and support them in whatever way they can.

The delegation also visited Palestinian Catholic schools in Gaza, East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, West Bank.

Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, said he was impressed by the “efforts for education” at Bethlehem University, the Schmidt’s Girls College in East Jerusalem, and the Catholic schools in Gaza.

“(These efforts) build a foundation which have a final impact on the interaction with different cultures and faith,” the bishop said during a Jan. 15 visit to the German Catholic girls’ school, where some 500 girls study from kindergarten through high school. “Education offers a perspective that will hopefully give way to peace.”

Rudiger Hocke, headmaster, told the bishops that several graduates of the school have already served in Palestinian governmental positions. He said while the school does not encourage emigration, it sees its mission as preparing its students for wherever life might take them.

“Palestine is a country where children do not know where they will end up in 10 years. They must be able to function in all parts of the world,” he said. In addition, he said, he sees his charges as the future leaders of their society for negotiations and contact with the Israelis, and they must be able to function on an equal level with their Israeli counterparts.

Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he was struck by the important role Christian institutions and organizations such as the schools play in reconciliation between Christians and Muslims.

“We often picture Muslim-Christian relations in the rest of the world being antagonistic but here … at least where Christian institutions are running (programs), they really build relationships. It is quite remarkable and hope-filled,” said Archbishop Durocher.

He compared the complete isolation of the Gazans to building a wall around Montreal and not giving people freedom of movement. Nevertheless, he said, “the complexities of the issues are overwhelming.”

“From outside it is difficult to understand why (the Israelis and Palestinians) don’t just sit down and talk and solve their problems. But then you realize that the roots of the problem (of) distrust are built over decades of fear, and that kind of feeds everything,” he said.

In this situation what is most remarkable is the resilience of the people, he added, and the hope they maintain in the midst of their struggle.

“It is a testimony to the human spirit,” he said.

Bishop Declan Lang of Bristol, England, said it is also important to “have sensitivity to the needs of the people who live in Israel.”

“We have to (hear) the hope, fears and expectations of both communities,” he said.

South African Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town said he felt a “great affinity” with the Palestinians, whose suffering he compared to blacks in South Africa under apartheid.

“I personally would not call (Israel) an apartheid state. I believe there are nuances in the Holy Land which must be recognized … but it is very similar to apartheid in the sense of the loss of human dignity and of the subjection of people to the political will of others,” said Archbishop Brislin.

He said South Africa’s example should offer hope to the people of the Holy Land.

“We must never forget that democracy in South Africa brought not only liberation to black people but also to white people, because it freed whites from the burden of oppressing people and allowed us to develop normal relationships with our fellow human beings,” the archbishop said. “The same can be true of the Holy Land, and I believe it will be.”


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U.S. bishop visits Gaza, calls residents’ situation ‘intolerable’


Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — A U.S. bishop who traveled into the Gaza Strip called the situation there “intolerable” and said it must be “addressed by the world community.”

“People are denied their basic rights of movement and the opportunity to experience what we call a normal life,” Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, told Catholic News Service Jan. 13 as he and other church leaders arrived in Bethlehem, West Bank.

Bishop Pates, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, was part of the Holy Land Coordination, an annual event in which bishops from the U.S., Canada and Europe travel to the Mideast to show support for churches there.

He called Gaza’s tiny Christian community a “long-suffering people” and said the local Christians were concerned about the lack of educational opportunities for their children. However, he added, parishioners at Holy Family Catholic Church were extremely grateful for their visit and their support.

“Typically people do not visit (them in Gaza),” he said. “They were grateful for the help people give them in the situation and by recognizing the difficulties they are facing. The described a difficult and problematic situation which is really a slap in the face of dignity.”

Israel has imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control in 2007, although it loosened restrictions in 2010. Egypt opened one border crossing to Gaza in 2011.

Bishop Pates said that although the church leaders’ entrance into Gaza through Israeli security went smoothly, it took them two hours to cross the border on the way out.

“It really brought home for us how intolerable the security situation is,” said Bishop Pates. “It was very disconcerting.”

In November 2012, Israel launched its Pillar of Defense attack on Gaza, in response to hundreds of rockets being launched into southern Israel from Gaza.

Bishop Pates said the destruction in Gaza remains visible, with destroyed buildings and pock-marked facades.

“You see terrific devastation. Some buildings still have evidence (of the attack),” he said

Besides visiting the Catholic parish, the bishops met with members of the local Christian community, including Greek Orthodox Archbishop Alexius


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