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French archbishop criticizes bill that would make anti-abortion websites illegal

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PARIS — The president of the French bishops’ conference wrote French President Francois Hollande to express his worries about fast-tracked legislation that would extend illegal interference on abortions to websites. Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, president, said the bishops think the legislation questions the very foundations of liberties in France, and he urged Hollande to not allow the bill’s passage.

The archbishop said the idea of illegal digital interference could have an impact on a woman’s decision to get an abortion. Referring to the oft-used French expression for abortion, “voluntary pregnancy interruption,” Archbishop Pontier added that the bill would make it less “voluntary,” simply because it would make it “less and less free,” calling it a “serious infringement to democratic principles.”

Earlier this fall, the French government presented a draft law regarding the creation of illegal digital interference on abortion. France’s National Assembly passed the bill Dec. 1, and the Senate is expected to consider it Dec. 7, with a final vote in February. If it passes, it would condemn websites for “intimidating and/or putting psychological or moral pressures” in order to dissuade someone from getting an abortion. The text modifying an already existing abortion law raised acrimonious political debates in France.

Politicians backing the legislation say it is mostly aimed at websites that look very similar to official or neutral websites, but do everything to discourage women from getting an abortion, thus tricking users with disinformation. The bill would institute penalties of up to two years of incarceration and a 30,000-euro ($31,820) fine.

Laurence Rossignol, France’s minister for families, said it is time for the government to react to websites offering biased information. Opponents say it would violate free speech.

In the Nov. 22 letter, released Nov. 28, Archbishop Pontier said the legislation does not take into account a woman’s distress regarding her decision to get an abortion, especially since the abolition of a mandatory one-week waiting period earlier this year.

“In other words, women don’t find … official support to their questions in conscience,” said Archbishop Pontier. He said websites are more than ever an essential part in helping women find some answers.

“Some of our fellow citizens, joined in associations, have decided to give their time, particularly through digital instruments, to listening to hesitant or distressed women regarding a possible choice for abortion,” he wrote.

The success of such listening websites “proves that they fill a need. Must we worry? Many women turn to these sites after an abortion because they need a place to put words on what they lived. Others persevere in their plan to abort. Finally, others decide to keep their child. This diversity of expression and behavior is made possible by this place of liberty that are these websites. Their positioning calls for reflection, and this is precisely what they are being criticized for (in the legislation). It’s as if they should adopt at once a favorable positioning toward abortion. However, such a grave matter cannot be constrained in militant positions,” the archbishop wrote.

“Should we necessarily exclude every alternative to abortion to be considered a model citizen? Can the slightest encouragement to keep one’s child … be called a ‘psychological and moral pressure?’” he asked.

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French community to run church above Rome’s Spanish Steps

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — An agreement between the Holy See and France handed responsibility for the church that towers above Rome’s Spanish Steps to the French-founded Emmanuel Community.

The Trinita dei Monti church is pictured at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome in this Dec. 8, 2010, file photo. An agreement signed July 25 between the Holy See and France handed responsibility for the Trinita dei Monti church and the adjoining convent to the Emmanuel Community. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Trinita dei Monti church is pictured at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome in this Dec. 8, 2010, file photo. An agreement signed July 25 between the Holy See and France handed responsibility for the Trinita dei Monti church and the adjoining convent to the Emmanuel Community. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In a series of amendments signed July 25 between the Holy See and France, the Catholic community will run the Trinita dei Monti church and convent starting Sept. 1. The gardens, a school, a pilgrim welcoming center and all works of art on the property will also come under the community’s care.

The new amendments are part of an 1828 accord between the two states. The early 16th-century church had first been run since by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But when the sisters were no longer able to continue their mission because of a lack of new vocations, a Paris-based monastic fraternity took over running the property and the church’s pastoral programs in 2006.

However, the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem, a small coed monastic community whose monks and nuns live and work in the heart of major cities, could no longer take responsibility for running the property for “internal organizational reasons,” said Philippe Zeller, the French ambassador to the Vatican.

The Emmanuel Community, the ambassador said in a written address July 25, is an international Catholic community recognized by the Holy See as a public association of the faithful. Founded in France in 1972, the community has almost 10,000 members, made up of lay and consecrated men and women as well as priests from about 60 countries.

 

Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

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French cardinal in Lyon admits errors on abuse, meets with priests

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LYON, France —French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin in Lyon, under judicial investigation over his handling of sexual abuse accusations against clergy, admitted making mistakes and unveiled new anti-abuse measures at a meeting with local priests.

French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who is under judicial investigation over sexual abuse accusations against clergy, admitted making mistakes and unveiled new anti-abuse measures at a meeting with local clergy. He is pictured in a 2007 photo. (CNS photo/Mohamed Messare, EPA)

French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who is under judicial investigation over sexual abuse accusations against clergy, admitted making mistakes and unveiled new anti-abuse measures at a meeting with local clergy. He is pictured in a 2007 photo. (CNS photo/Mohamed Messare, EPA) 

“The cardinal has accepted the archdiocese committed errors in managing and nominating certain priests and has reiterated how important it is for victims of sexual abuse by clergy to see their right to truth and justice recognized,” the Lyon archdiocese said.

The statement was published in French newspapers following an April 25 meeting between Cardinal Barbarin and 220 priests from the archdiocese, which has been hit hard by abuse accusations.

France’s Catholic La Croix daily said the three-hour closed meeting in a Lyon suburb included testimony from at least one victim. It said participants described the atmosphere as “fraternal but noncomplacent” and said some priests had made “virulent criticisms” of the cardinal’s conduct, while others urged clergy to “stick together.”

In its statement, the archdiocese said the gathering had “unanimously determined to reinforce the struggle against pedophilia in the church,” by strengthening clergy formation and “establishing new criteria” for future appointments. The statement said a “listening cell” would be set up for victims to discuss their needs with clinical psychologists, and a “college of experts,” meeting twice monthly, would “study and analyze” the cases of accused priests.

“This is the engagement of a church determined to provide a sure home where families can feel welcomed in total security,” the archdiocese said. “It underlines the archdiocese’s willingness to assign a rightful place to all sufferings endured and is a collective effort to prevent such activities.”

Meanwhile, the archdiocesan vicar general insisted most Catholic clergy had backed Cardinal Barbarin and resisted calls for his resignation.

“It’s clear we didn’t have full knowledge of certain facts and were remiss in our obligation to investigate and check the truth,” Father Yves Baumgarten told a Lyon news conference. “But while some priests wanted the archbishop to take a retreat during the judicial investigation, the great majority wanted him to continue his mission.”

Prosecutors launched investigations after claims the cardinal failed to discipline a local priest, Father Bernard Preynat, who was charged Jan. 27 with “sexual aggression and rape of minors” while running a Catholic Scout group at Lyon’s Saint-Luc parish.

Calls for Cardinal Barbarin’s resignation grew after apparent inconsistencies in his statements about when he first heard of Father Preynat’s alleged offenses.

A group of 45 abuse survivors, La Parole Liberee, is suing the archbishop for failing to report abuse, a crime that risks a three-year jail term, and has also filed a lawsuit against Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith.

The French bishops’ conference adopted guidelines for handling accusations in 2001. Its 10-member permanent council announced new measures April 12, including a dedicated Internet site to ensure victims were “received, heard and accompanied,” and a “national independent commission of expertise” to advise local bishops.

However, in an April 13 statement, the Parole Liberee victim group said the measures sounded “like a rehash … lifeless and without interest,” adding that France’s bishops had failed “the test of courage” urged by the pope and Vatican.

The mass-circulation Le Monde daily said April 26 that the church’s response to abuse claims still appeared “lukewarm, with clumsy declarations,” adding that the Lyon scandals had caused “tongues to loosen around the country.”

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France says Vatican has not issued response for proposed ambassador

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Despite media reports that Pope Francis refused the candidate France proposed as its next ambassador to the Holy See, the French government has yet to receive an official response from the Vatican, said a spokesperson for the French government.

“For the moment, we wait,” said Stephane Le Foll.

During a press briefing April 22 in Paris, Le Foll confirmed that Pope Francis met with the proposed candidate, Laurent Stefanini. However, Le Foll discounted reports claiming the pope did not approve the nomination.

“What is cited in the newspaper is not the official word of the Vatican,” he said, responding to a question from a journalist. “I do not give any credit to the information (about the refusal) you brought up.”

According to the French Catholic news agency I.Media, the pope and Stefanini had a 40-minute private meeting at the Domus Sanctae Marthae April 17, during which they spoke and prayed together.

Since then, however, some media outlets published reports that accuse the Vatican of refusing France’s nomination because Stefanini is homosexual. The press also cited Dr. Bernard Kouchner, a French politician and co-founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres, as reacting to the Vatican’s alleged refusal, describing it as “racism.”

Le Foll told journalists he would not comment on Kouchner’s remarks, adding that as the former French minister of foreign and European affairs, Kouchner “should know in any case, on all of these subjects, to always take many precautions before commenting on information.”

The French government is waiting – “after the normal discussions, the time that is necessary for the study of the candidacy” — for a response from the Vatican, Le Foll said.

International law grants all states, including the Vatican, the right to review all nominations and accept or reject an appointed ambassador. The review process is usually private and states are not obliged to give a reason for refusing a proposed candidate.

Stefanini, currently France’s chief of protocol, is Catholic and worked as the first councilor for the French embassy to the Holy See from 2001 to 2005.

The Vatican press office has declined to comment on Stefanini’s candidacy.

 

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Pope to address European Parliament Nov. 25

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis will address the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Nov. 25.

The Parliament’s president, Martin Schultz, made the announcement Sept. 11, and the Vatican immediately confirmed it.

According to Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, Pope Francis will travel to Strasbourg and back to Rome the same day, and his brief trip should not be considered a pastoral visit to France.

In visiting the parliament, the pope will be accepting an invitation made by Schultz during a visit to the Vatican in October 2013.

“The decision to come to Strasbourg before visiting any individual EU member state as such gives a strong signal that the pope supports and encourages the pursuit of European integration and unity,” said a statement by German Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community. “We hope that the Holy Father will encourage European parliamentarians in their work and that he will indicate how the foundational values of the Union, inspired to a large degree by the Christian faith, may shape the Europe of tomorrow.”

Pope Francis will be the second pope to speak before the European Parliament.

When St. John Paul II addressed the body in October 1988, the event was disrupted by the Rev. Ian Paisley, leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, who unfurled a large orange banner branding the pope “Antichrist’” and shouted, “I renounce you. I renounce you and all your cults and creeds.”

Fellow parliamentarians threw papers at Rev. Paisley, and after a brief scuffle, he was forcibly ejected from the hall.

 

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Church leaders condemn attack at Jewish school in France

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TOULOUSE, France — French church leaders condemned a March 19 attack outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, the latest in a series of attacks by a gunman on a motorbike.

“Our region was overcome once more by horror this morning,” said Archbishop Robert Le Gall of Toulouse. “To the families affected by this outrage, we express our sentiments of deep compassion and our prayer.”

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