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Catholics, Muslims urged to work together, learn from one another

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CHICAGO — Leaders in Catholic-Muslim dialogue called on members of both faith communities to find ways to accompany one another and work together at a moment when all religion is under threat from an increasingly secular and even anti-religious society.

San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy, co-chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ West Coast Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, and Sherman Jackson, a professor of religion and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California Dornsife, both offered comments at a March 8 public session in Chicago.

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago visits March 8 with Scott Alexander, associate professor of Islamic studies at Catholic Theological Union, and Saleha Jabeen, a 2014 graduate of the theological union. They spoke following a public session held during the March 7-8 National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, which had as its theme "Reflections on the Common Good and Hospitality in the Catholic and Muslim Traditions" and was held at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic)

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago visits March 8 with Scott Alexander, associate professor of Islamic studies at Catholic Theological Union, and Saleha Jabeen, a 2014 graduate of the theological union. They spoke following a public session held during the March 7-8 National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, which had as its theme “Reflections on the Common Good and Hospitality in the Catholic and Muslim Traditions” and was held at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic)

The public session came during the March 7-8 National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, co-sponsored by the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and held at the Catholic Theological Union.

Bishop McElroy said that theological dialogue and reflection is important, but the relationship between Catholics and Muslims in the United States must extend beyond theologians and take on a pastoral aspect.

“It is not enough to clarify our commonalities and differences on a deep theological level or even to publish these findings, if we do not take steps to broadly convey this deepened level of friendship and truth to Muslims and Catholics within our nation,” he said.

At the moment, Catholic and Muslim communities simply do not know one another well enough, the bishop said.

The U.S. bishops’ ecumenical and interreligious committee has co-sponsored three regional Catholic-Muslim dialogues for over two decades — mid-Atlantic, Midwest and West Coast. In February 2016, the committee announced the launch of a national dialogue.

Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich began his tenure as the Catholic co-chair of the national dialogue Jan. 1. The Muslim co-chair is Sayyid Syeed, director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances.

In his remarks, Bishop McElroy said ignorance “leads to problems between our two communities, but it is not merely or even primarily theological ignorance.”

“It is the ignorance of not knowing one another as brother and sister precisely in our religious identities,” he said.

“It is the ignorance of not having worked together as people of faith to confront secularism,” he continued, “(of) not having joined with one another to pass on religious faith to our children in a youth culture so hostile to faith, not working together to establish greater spheres for religious liberty within our nation so that we can live in fidelity to our traditions of faith and prayer and morality, not collaborating to bring the sacred understanding of sin and redemption into the heart of our society’s understanding of the human condition and human development.”

Jackson said the obstacle to greater friendship and cooperation goes beyond ignorance to fear.

“Part of what undermines the relationship between Muslims and anybody else in America, not just Catholics, is that it’s so easy to scare people about Islam,” he said. “Because of that fear, you can never get to the point of trust, and without trust there is no friendship, and without friendship, there is no real cooperation.”

Catholics faced similar suspicions in the United States of the 19th and early 20th centuries because they were believed to have a higher allegiance to Rome than to the country.

“The Jewish Question,” the phrase coined by German philosopher Bruno Bauer in the 19th century, was based on the idea that Judaism was a religion of laws that governed private and public conduct, and as such, was incompatible with the modern secular state, Jackson said.

“The present moment has prompted many of us to ponder whether America might be staggering toward a dreaded yet entirely avoidable ‘Muslim Question,’” he said,

Religion, whether Christianity or Islam, can be seen as opposed to the European enlightenment liberalism that American founding fathers relied on.

That liberalism “calls into question all forms of authority outside the individual self, especially religion,” Jackson said. “It insists that individuals must be free to choose their way of life, with the only restrictions being the extent to which their choices encroach upon the freely made choices of others.”

Religious traditions, including Islam and Christianity, set a much higher value on the common good, Jackson said, and call on their members to contribute to it. Muslims who embrace Shariah, Islam’s religious law — can contribute to and benefit from the common good in any number of ways, from following speed limits to keeping public spaces safe for all.

“While such Islamic virtues as fairness, mercy or hospitality may inform the spirit of these deliberations, concrete conclusions would draw upon such principles as efficiency, safety, economic cost, long­ term resource management and the like,” Jackson said. “And in none of this — Islam, Shariah or Muslim ‘God-consciousness’ — would pose an impediment to engaging with non-Muslims on a completely equal footing.”

The challenges of the current moment — including climate change, corporate greed, mistrust between law enforcement and communities of color, among others — could offer an opportunity, he said.

“In fact, given these contemporary challenges, now might be the time when religion in America, including Islam, is best positioned to demonstrate its value as a contributor to the common good,” Jackson said.

“For religion can stand up to the state, the market and the dominant culture,” he continued, “by equipping its followers with an independent moral identity with which to analyze and assess the activities of government, ‘the economy’ and the dominant culture, instead of looking upon the state as essentially the god of the nation, the economy as a divinely predestined order, or the dominant culture as the ultimate, supreme value that is too lofty to be subjected to critical examination.”

Bishop McElroy called on Catholics to take a more vocal stand against anti-Muslim discrimination in the United States and elsewhere.

“If the Catholic-Muslim dialogue is to mean anything at this current moment in our nation’s history, the Catholic community must in the context of this dialogue condemn unequivocally the anti-Muslim prejudice which is present in our midst, and more sadly, present within our own Catholic community,” he said.

“Our nation does face a threat from extremists who have distorted the tradition of Islam and bring violence against innocent victims, and we must be vigilant in identifying and combating that threat,” he said. “But in linking the Muslim community to that threat in a discriminatory manner, we undermine our national security and dishonor our national heritage.”

Bishop McElroy also called on Muslims to condemn the persecution of Christians in Muslim-majority countries, which, he acknowledged, many have already done.

“I have spoken at length with many Muslim leaders within the United States who have pressed for authentic religious toleration throughout the Middle East, and I know many who have placed their own lives and reputations at risk in this effort,” he said.

“But it is a work of the entire Muslim community within our nation, for building a society founded upon the principle of inclusion and religious liberty is a labor which will never be fully accomplished and will always have enemies,” Bishop McElroy added.

By Michelle Martin, a staff writer at the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

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Church leaders in Holy Land say occupation is root cause of violence there

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — The church must speak out against the continuing Israeli-Palestinian violence and remind people of their responsibilities, said representatives of the Catholic ordinaries of the Holy Land.

Church leaders, bishops. Holy Land, cause of violence, Israeli-Palestinian, violence, occupation, root cause,  Israeli occupation, Palestinian lands, Commission of Justice and Peace, of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries,

Palestinians mourn the death of Iyad Omar Ssjadiyya during his funeral at a refugee camp in Qalandia, West Bank, March 1. He was killed during an Israeli operation to rescue two soldiers who had entered the camp in their military vehicle. (CNS photo/Atef Safadi, EPA)

They also said the root cause of the problem is the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, which only the Israelis can bring to an end.

“We are called to speak out again and again. We have no political or military force, but we do have voices to be used to name things by their name and to call to responsibility. We have the responsibility to remind one and all that we are all human beings. We mourn every death by violence from both sides. We need to constantly renew the dream that there can be justice and peace for all,” the Commission of Justice and Peace of the Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land said March 22.

“We repeat again that we, as disciples of Christ, condemn violence on all sides. Violence is violence and only begets more violence. We, as created in the image and likeness of our Father, need to learn another way to solve the conflict,” the commission added.

In the statement titled “Beyond Occupation and Confrontation Toward a Common Understanding,” the Catholic leaders noted that while some people seek dialogue and ways toward peace, the politicians are continuing to make decisions that “strengthen separation, discrimination, exclusion and exile,” which lead to hopelessness and violence, especially among the youth, who feel they have nothing to lose and no future.

“The only way to end supposed incitement and teaching new generations about the ‘enemy’ is to end occupation. Only the occupier can do that,” they said. “It is only ending the occupation that will ultimately put an end to violence, the violence of the occupier and the occupied alike.”

“We believe in a kingdom of God that is already among us and not yet manifest,” they said. “In this kingdom, there are no enemies, but only brothers of one loving Father. In this kingdom, there are no borders, no walls, no fences but only one holy land in which people talk peace with one another. We refuse to be silent and we refuse to stop hoping.”

The Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land includes the region’s Catholic bishops and the Franciscan custos of the Holy Land.

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Indiana bishops call for ‘mutual respect,’ dialogue on religious freedom bill

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Catholic News Service

INDIANPOLIS — Indiana’s Catholic bishops April 1 urged people to show mutual respect for one another and allow “the necessary dialogue” to take place to make sure no one in the state will face discrimination, “whether it is for their sexual orientation or for living their religious beliefs.”

Demonstrators rally at Monument Circle in Indianapolis March 28 to protest a religious freedom bill signed in to law by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. More than 2,000 people gathered at the state Capitol to protest Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act because they say it would promote discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation. (CNS photo/Nate Chute, Reuters)

Demonstrators rally at Monument Circle in Indianapolis March 28 to protest a religious freedom bill signed in to law by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. More than 2,000 people gathered at the state Capitol to protest Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act because they say it would promote discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation. (CNS photo/Nate Chute, Reuters)

Remarking on the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law March 26, they said it “appears to have divided the people of our state like few other issues in recent memory.”

Their statement came amid protests by gay rights groups and others who say that the new religious freedom law could be a vehicle of legal discrimination.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence said he stood behind the religious freedom bill passed by the Indiana General Assembly when he signed it into law, but has since asked state lawmakers to send him some clarifications to make “it clear that this law does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone.”

“We want to make it clear that Indiana is open for business, we want to make it clear that Hoosier hospitality is not a slogan, it’s our way of life,” he said at a morning news conference March 31.

Pence attributed the firestorm over the measure to a combination of what he called “mischaracterization,” “misunderstanding” and “sloppy reporting.” As a result “Indiana has come under the harsh glare of criticism from around the country,” he said.

In their statement, the Catholic bishops reiterated the Catholic Church’s teaching that “every human being is created in the image of God,” that “every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect” and that everyone has a right to life’s basic necessities.

“We believe that it is crucial that religious freedom be protected,” they said.

“We support efforts to uphold the God-given dignity of all the people of this state while safeguarding the rights of people of all faiths to practice their religion without undue burden from the government,” they said in conclusion.

At the signing ceremony, Pence said if he thought the religious freedom bill “legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it. For more than 20 years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.”

“Indiana’s law contains no reference to sexual orientation,” he said, adding that it “simply mirrors” the federal law, known as RFRA.

The 1993 law says that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless that burden is the least restrictive means to further a compelling governmental interest.” It does not apply to the states, so with Indiana, there are now 20 that have passed such legislation.

In a March 27 post on a blog for lawyers called IN Advance, Indiana trial lawyer Matt Anderson called his state’s measure a “vague and just a poorly written law” that he said could be applied to disputes between private citizens. “You can defend yourself in a criminal or civil action on the very broad basis of ‘any exercise of religion,’” which is how it could be used to discriminate against gays and others, he argued.

Richard Garnett, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame in northern Indiana, in an opinion column in the March 26 issue of the South Bend Tribune, called the state’s RFRA a “moderate measure” modeled after the federal law and those of several other states and said it “does not give anyone a ‘license to discriminate.’”

Garnett noted that the more than 20 years of history of the applying of RFRA statutes to specific cases shows that courts across the country “have not applied it to require excessive accommodations or exemptions from anti-discrimination laws and civil-rights protections.”

In response to criticism, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long announced that the General Assembly will consider legislation to clarify the religious freedom law, which received a large majority of support from both chambers. The Senate passed the bill 40-10, and the House approved it 63-31.

Several House members spoke out against the bill during floor debate.

Democratic Rep. Ed Delaney of Indianapolis called the bill “futile and destructive,” adding that he felt the bill would allow discrimination. House Minority Leader Rep. Scott Pelath, a Democrat from Michigan City, also raised concerns, saying that he also believed the bill would permit discrimination.

Democratic Reps. Vernon Smith of Gary and Cherrish Pryor of Indianapolis, who are African-Americans, said even though they were devout Christians, they opposed the bill because they believed it could potentially cause discrimination.

In his opinion piece, Garnett pointed out that religious freedom laws have helped people of a broad variety of faiths.

“In practice, over the last two decades or so, Religious Freedom Restoration acts have been used not to excuse illegal discrimination or harmful behavior but instead to secure humane accommodations,” Garnett said, “such as allowing members of a small Brazilian church to possess plants that are necessary to make sacramental tea, or preventing the government from firing a Rastafarian with a traditional haircut, or respecting a family’s religious objections to an autopsy of their loved one.”

Professor Daniel Conkle of Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law has repeatedly sought to debunk the claims that RFRA allows for discrimination, citing current legal cases in support of his position. He testified during the House and Senate hearings, and reiterated his position in a recent opinion column in The Indianapolis Star.

Conkle, a constitutional law expert who supports gay rights and same-sex marriage, said the RFRA legislation has “little to do with same-sex marriage and everything to do with religious freedom.”

He added that “most religious freedom claims have nothing to do with same-sex marriage or discrimination.”

Conkle said in his column the Indiana law is “anything but a license to discriminate, and it should not be mischaracterized or dismissed on that basis.”” According to Conkle, even in the narrow setting of wedding service providers, claims for religious exemptions recently have been rejected in various states, including states that have adopted RFRA legislation.

 

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British faith leaders warn Parliament not to legalize assisted suicide

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Catholic News Service MANCHESTER, England — The leaders of Britain’s faith communities have united to warn Parliament against the “grave error” of legalizing assisted suicide. Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury joined 21 other of the most senior Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Zoroastrian and Jain faith leaders to protest the Assisted Dying Bill.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, has joined with other leaders of faith communities to oppose Parliament legalizing assisted suicide. (CNS file)

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, has joined with other leaders of faith communities to oppose Parliament legalizing assisted suicide. (CNS file)

The legislation scheduled to be debated in the House of Lords July 18 was designed to abolish the crime of assisting a suicide by allowing doctors to supply lethal drugs to people expected to die within six months and who are mentally competent. But in a July 16 open letter, the faith leaders said the bill would allow doctors to decide if some people are “of no further value” and that it would place vulnerable and terminally ill people at “increased risk of distress and coercion at a time when they most require love and support.” “This is not the way forward for a compassionate and caring society,” said the letter, signed also by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth and Dr. Shuja Shafi, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain. “While we may have come to the position of opposing this bill from different religious perspectives, we are agreed that the Assisted Dying Bill invites the prospect of an erosion of carefully tuned values and practices that are essential for the future development of a society that respects and cares for all,” the letter said. The show of unity among faith leaders followed three senior Anglicans saying they supported assisted suicide. Lord Carey, who served as archbishop of Canterbury from 1991 to 2002, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, each said they were in favor of the practice. Anglican Bishop Alan Wilson of Buckingham also has declared his support for “assisted dying,” making him the first serving bishop of the Church of England to say that doctors should be legally permitted to help their patients to commit suicide. “Today we face a central paradox,” Lord Carey wrote July 11 in the Daily Mail newspaper. “In strictly observing the sanctity of life, the church could now actually be promoting anguish and pain, the very opposite of the Christian message of hope.” The Church of England has opposed the bill on grounds of “patient safety, protection of the vulnerable and respect for the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship.” This position, according to the Church of England’s website, is consistent with successive resolutions against assisted suicide by its governing General Synod. In his Daily Mail piece, Lord Carey announced that he would dissent from such policy and vote for the bill. “The fact is that I’ve changed my mind,” he wrote. “The old philosophical certainties have collapsed in the face of the reality of needless suffering.” On July 13, Archbishop Tutu expressed similar sentiments in a column for The Observer, a London-based Sunday newspaper. “I revere the sanctity of life — but not at any cost,” the Nobel peace laureate wrote. “Yes, I think a lot of people would be upset if I said I wanted assisted dying. I would say I wouldn’t mind, actually.” However, Archbishop Welby called the Assisted Dying Bill “dangerous.” He argued that an assisted suicide law would exert pressure on the sick, disabled and elderly to “stop being a burden to others.” “What sort of society would we be creating if we were to allow this sword of Damocles to hang over the head of every vulnerable and terminally ill person in the country?” he asked in a July 12 article for The Times newspaper. The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have encouraged the laity to write to politicians to ask them to oppose the bill. Catholic Bishops Mark Davies of Shrewsbury and Mark O’Toole of Plymouth have issued pastoral letters condemning the bill, and Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth has announced that he will open the churches of his diocese for a “holy hour” of prayer and adoration July 17, the eve of the debate, in the hope that the legislation will fail. Lord Carey was nominated to Britain’s second political chamber on his retirement, but 26 Anglican bishops, including Archbishop Welby, sit there as “Lords Spiritual” and have a right to vote. If the bill progresses successfully through the House of Lords, later this year it will go to the House of Commons, where lawmakers will be allowed to vote according to their consciences. Under the 1961 Suicide Act, the offense of assisting a suicide is punishable in Britain by up to 14 years in prison.

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Indian bishops want charges dropped against Christian protesters

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BANGALORE, India — Meeting with the top government leader of the Karnataka state, 14 Catholic bishops called for the withdrawal of dozens of “false cases” against Christians protesting a series of 2008 attacks on three dozen churches.

Led by Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore, the prelates urged Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda Oct. 28 to withdraw all pending cases against “innocent Christian youth, who are still made to suffer by going to the courts and are being harassed by the police investigations.”

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