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Vatican: Failure to protect child migrants an insult to human dignity

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Too often, national and international policies leave migrant children at the mercy of traffickers and sexual predators and are signs of a widespread failure to protect the innocent, a Vatican official said.

A migrant mother holds her child outside at a transit camp in early February in Gevgelija, Macedonia. (CNS photo/Georgi Licovski, EPA)

A migrant mother holds her child outside at a transit camp in early February in Gevgelija, Macedonia. (CNS photo/Georgi Licovski, EPA)

In addition, policies that involve criminalizing and detaining child migrants “are an insult to human dignity” and are “the dramatic evidence of existing inequalities and failing systems,” said Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, Vatican observer to U.N. agencies in Geneva.

“The grave error of the detention model is that it considers the children as sole, isolated subjects responsible for the situations in which they find themselves and over which they have little, if any, control,” the archbishop said. “This model wrongly absolves the international community at large from responsibilities that it regularly fails to fulfill.”

Archbishop Jurkovic spoke about the plight of child migrants during a U.N. Human Rights Council panel discussion June 9 on “Unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents and human rights.”

Children forced to flee without the protection of their parents or family members, he said, are given no options for a better life and are often “left at the lower levels of human degradation” due to lack of education and health care.

“They must be considered children first and foremost, and their best interest must be a primary consideration in all actions concerning them,” Archbishop Jurkovic said.

The practice of detaining and criminalizing migrant children should “never be an option” given that such a practice, even if for a brief period, “can have lifelong consequences on a child’s development,” he said.

While the protection of all migrating people is “vital and essential, it is not enough,” Archbishop Jurkovic added. The international community must step up its efforts to address the situations that force children to flee their homelands, situations that include war, violence, corruption, poverty and environmental disasters.

“A farsighted approach is urgently needed to tackle the tragic and intolerable situations that drive such a drastic increase in the number of children who abandon their lands of birth and search alone for refuge and hope for the future,” he said.

Archbishop Jurkovic urged world leaders to promote an integral human development for the “hundreds of millions of children who are living in appalling conditions.”

“Even while we are engaged in discussion and debate today, any number of these children will have joined the already huge odyssey of children on the move, simply in search of safety, peace and of a fair chance in life,” he said.

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Catholic leaders urge Israel to meet Palestinian hunger strikers’ demands

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Catholic leaders in the Holy Land urged Israel to concede to demands of Palestinian political prisoners on a hunger strike since April 17.

The prisoners are seeking an improvement in their prison conditions and an end to administrative detention, which allows Israel to hold prisoners almost indefinitely without having to charge them with a crime.

A Palestinian protester in Beita, West Bank, moves a burning tire during clashes with Israeli troops April 28. Catholic leaders in the Holy Land urged Israel to concede to demands of Palestinian political prisoners on a hunger strike since April 17. (CNS photo/Mohamad Torokman, Reuters)

A Palestinian protester in Beita, West Bank, moves a burning tire during clashes with Israeli troops April 28. Catholic leaders in the Holy Land urged Israel to concede to demands of Palestinian political prisoners on a hunger strike since April 17. (CNS photo/Mohamad Torokman, Reuters)

The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land said the prisoners are asking that their human rights and dignity be respected according to international law and the Geneva Convention.

“We urge the Israeli authorities to hear the cry of the prisoners, to respect their human dignity, and to open a new door toward the making of peace,” the bishops said in a statement released April 29. “The aim of this desperate act is to shed light, both locally and internationally, on the inhuman conditions in which they are detained by the Israeli authorities.”

The bishops affirmed the need to apply international law to the conditions of incarceration of political prisoners and condemned “the use of detention without trial, all forms of collective punishment, as well as the use of duress and torture for whatever reason.”

“Furthermore, we can never forget that every prisoner is a human being and his God-given dignity must be respected,” said the bishops.

Freeing prisoners will be a “sign of a new vision” which could mark a new beginning for Israelis and Palestinians, they said.

“As Christians, we are sent to work for the liberation of every human being, and for the establishment of a human society in which there is equality for all, Israelis and Palestinians,” they said.

According to reports in the Israeli press, Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said 300 of the hunger strikers have agreed to start taking food, although none of their demands has been met. Palestinians maintain the 1,500 prisoners are continuing their water-and-salt only fast.

The political prisoners are demanding improved visitation rights for family members, better access to phone calls and medical care. Some 6,500 Palestinian prisoners are held in Israeli jails for alleged offenses ranging from murder to throwing stones.

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Saving lives must be first concern of immigration policy, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The defense of the life, dignity and human rights of migrants and refugees must come before any other question when enacting migration policies, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis meets refugees at the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, in April 2016. In an interview with an Italian government journal, the pope said his visit to Lesbos and his 2013 visit to Lampedusa, Italy, were meant to show that all religions want "to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land." (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis meets refugees at the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, in April 2016. In an interview with an Italian government journal, the pope said his visit to Lesbos and his 2013 visit to Lampedusa, Italy, were meant to show that all religions want “to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land.” (CNS/Paul Haring)

“The defense of human beings knows no limits,” the pope said in an interview with the journal of the Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration of the Italian Ministry of the Interior.

“Those in power,” he said, “must be both far-sighted and coherent in watchful respect for fundamental human rights, as well as in trying to end the causes which force civilians to flee.”

Of course, he said, a safe and humane approach to handling the current global migration crisis requires international cooperation and policies that “respect both those who welcome and those who are welcomed.”

Newcomers must respect the laws of their host countries and be assisted in integrating into the life of their new communities, he said in the interview published April 7. And members of the receiving community must be educated to understand the real causes of migration and the desperate situations of those who feel forced to flee their homes.

The news media play a big role, Pope Francis said. They should explain the human rights violations, violence, poverty and catastrophes that lead so many people to flee.

But, especially, he said, the media must report responsibly and not simply “indulge in negative stereotypes when talking about migrants and refugees.”

“Just think of the unfair terms often used to describe migrants and refugees,” the pope said. “How often do we hear people talk of ‘illegals’ as a synonym for migrants? This is unfair. It is based on a false premise, and it pushes public opinion toward negative judgments.”

Asked about his 2016 trip to refugee camps in Lesbos, Greece, with leaders of the Orthodox Church, Pope Francis said it was a sign of “fraternal responsibility.”

“We are all united in wanting to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land,” the pope said. “There is no difference of creed that can outweigh this wish, in fact, quite the contrary.”

Pope Francis said he wished the political leaders of every nation would show the same kind of joint concern for “the cries of the many innocents who ask only for a chance to save their own lives.”

As for anti-immigrant feelings and fears among some Europeans, the pope urged people to remember what Europe was like after World War II.

Millions of Europeans immigrated to South America or the United States, he said. “It was not an easy experience for them, either. They had the burden of being seen as foreigners, arriving from afar with no knowledge of the local language.

“The process of integration wasn’t easy, but for the most part it ended in success,” Pope Francis said.

Countries that have grown and thrived over the centuries by accepting and integrating newcomers cannot forget that experience or pretend it will not be repeated today, he said.

For example, “Europeans contributed greatly to the growth of trans-Atlantic societies,” those in North and South America. “This is always the case: Any exchange of culture and knowledge is a source of wealth and should be valued as such.”

Members of the Catholic Church have an even greater obligation to recognize the value of welcoming newcomers, Pope Francis said. “We can see the peaceful integration of people from other cultures as a kind of reflection of its Catholicism. A unity which accepts ethnic or cultural diversity constitutes a dimension of church life, which in the spirit of Pentecost is open to all. open to embracing everyone.”

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Why the Catholic Church opposes legalized assisted suicide

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Catholic News Service

Concern for human life and dignity from conception to natural death is a fundamental principle of Catholic teaching. But new challenges continue to crop up for those at the end of their lives, as backers of assisted suicide make inroads in various states through legislative action, voters’ choices or judicial fiat.

A demonstrator against assisted suicide joins a protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London Sept. 11, 2015. St. John Paul II's 1995 encyclical, "The Gospel of Life" ("Evangelium Vitae"), forcefully affirms the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death and encourages a heightened commitment to supporting and caring for it. (CNS photo/Stefan Wermuth, Reuters)

A demonstrator against assisted suicide joins a protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London Sept. 11, 2015. St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, “The Gospel of Life” (“Evangelium Vitae”), forcefully affirms the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death and encourages a heightened commitment to supporting and caring for it. (CNS photo/Stefan Wermuth, Reuters)

Assisted suicide became legal this year in California and Canada. Those jurisdictions joined Oregon, Vermont, Montana and Washington state in allowing physicians to prescribe lethal drugs for patients who are believed to be close to death and have requested them.

The Catholic Church has long been a staunch opponent of efforts to legalize assisted suicide, describing it as not just a religious issue but a matter of human rights.

“From not only a Catholic perspective but any rational perspective, the intentional, willful act of killing oneself or another human being is clearly morally wrong,” said Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, Ontario, as Canada prepared for the legalization of assisted suicide earlier this year.

He cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops addressed the issue with the 2011 statement, “To Live Each Day with Dignity,” which takes on many of the arguments used to justify assisted suicide.

“One cannot uphold human freedom and dignity by devaluing human life,” the statement says. “A choice to take one’s life is a supreme contradiction of freedom, a choice to eliminate all choices. And a society that devalues some people’s lives, by hastening and facilitating their deaths, will ultimately lose respect for their other rights and freedoms.”

The church also sees assisted suicide as a failure to address people’s very real fears about overly burdensome medical treatments and intractable pain at the end of life, as well as the depression and guilt that sometimes fuel decisions to commit assisted suicide.

But opponents of assisted suicide see the answer to those concerns in greater reliance on palliative care.

“Palliative care implements a holistic, interdisciplinary care plan that identifies, assesses and addresses the comprehensive needs of the seriously ill patient, including pain and other symptom management, psychosocial issues, emotional support and spiritual care,” according to a brochure from the Supportive Care Coalition, composed of the Archdiocese of Boston, the Catholic Health Association and 17 Catholic health care ministries serving in 43 states.

The coalition, based in Oregon, where assisted suicide has been legal since 1997, sees palliative care as “a hallmark of Catholic health care.”

“It embodies our commitment to provide compassionate, high-quality, patient- and family-centered care for the chronically ill and dying by anticipating, preventing and treating suffering,” the brochure adds.

In June, just days after California began permitting assisted suicide, Pope Francis said some supporters of euthanasia tend to “hide behind alleged compassion to justify killing a patient.”

“True compassion marginalizes no one, it does not humiliate people, it does not exclude them, much less consider their death as a good thing,” the pope said in a talk to health professionals from Spain and Latin America. “This would mean the triumph of selfishness, of that ‘throwaway culture’ that rejects and scorns people who do not fulfill certain criteria of health, beauty and usefulness.”

His predecessor, St. John Paul II, wrote in his 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”), “To concur with the intention of another person to commit suicide and to help in carrying it out through so-called ‘assisted suicide’ means to cooperate in and at times to be the actual perpetrator of an injustice that can never be excused even if it is requested.”

He also criticized laws that “legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion or euthanasia.”

The U.S bishops’ 2009 Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services state that Catholic health care institutions “may never condone or participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide in any way.”

“Dying patients who request euthanasia should receive loving care, psychological and spiritual support and appropriate remedies for pain and other symptoms so that they can live with dignity until the time of natural death,” the directives add.

But part of the church’s role in fighting assisted suicide is in educating people that church teaching does not require the continuation of aggressive or extraordinary medical treatments when their benefit is outweighed by the burdens placed on the patient and his or her family.

In addition, many Catholics are unaware that suffering patients may receive as much pain medication as needed, even if it might hasten the patient’s death, as long as the intention is not to cause death but to relieve pain.

But in nearly every U.S. state, efforts continue in the legislatures, the courts or the court of public opinion to make assisted suicide a legal option.

 

O’Brien is retired deputy editor of CNS and is freelance book review editor for CNS.

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