FaithWorld

Spokesman for embattled Belgian archbishop quits, cites loss of trust

mettepenningen2The spokesman for Belgium’s Roman Catholic leader quit on Tuesday, citing a loss of trust in the archbishop who has caused a storm with harsh comments on AIDS and caring words for some paedophile priests.

Jürgen Mettepenningen, a theologian who became Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard’s spokesman in August, announced his decision only days after the prelate agreed to stop speaking in public until Christmas to calm the storm engulfing the Church. (Image: Jürgen Mettepenningen, 2 Nov 2010/screengrab RTL video)

His resignation reflected growing criticism of Léonard within his own church, where bishops have cautiously spoken out against their leader and lay Catholics are turning increasingly caustic. Politicians have also stepped up criticism of him. It also highlighted the damage that scandals of clerical sex abuse of minors have done to the Church in Europe, especially in Belgium and Ireland where bishops reacted in defensive ways that further angered Catholics and public officials.

“I no longer want, can and will act as spokesman for Archbishop Leonard,” said Mettepenningen, 35,  in a statement announcing his immediate resignation.

“Archbishop Léonard has sometimes acted like someone who’s driving against the traffic and thinks everyone else is wrong,” he later told journalists (see full statement in French here). “For three months, I was his GPS but the driver holds the steering wheel and decides which way to go. All too often, I had to indicte that the route should be recalculated. But if the driver continues on his way, if he is blind to the accidents caused, then the GPS doesn’t have to wait to be dismissed. It should withdraw by itself because its function has become superfluous.”

Cuba’s Catholic Church to open first new seminary in decades

havana cathedral (Photo: Havana’s Catholic cathedral, June 14, 2010/Desmond Boylan)

The Roman Catholic Church will open on Wednesday its first new seminary in Cuba in more than half a century in a further sign of its improving relations with the island’s communist-led government.

The seminary replaces a similar school for future priests that was  expropriated by Cuba’s communist authorities in 1966 and transformed first into a military barracks, then a police academy.

Catholic officials said Cuban President Raul Castro was expected to attend the inauguration — reflecting the more cordial relations between the Church and the government. Castro turned to the Church this year to serve as an internal interlocutor as he faced growing international pressure over political prisoners and human rights.

Fifty-two killed in raid on Iraqi Catholic church

baghdad church 1 (Photo: Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, November 1, 2010/Mohammed Ameen)

Fifty-two hostages and police officers were killed when security forces raided a Baghdad church to free more than 100 Iraqi Catholics held by al Qaeda-linked gunmen, a deputy interior minister said on Monday.

Lieutenant General Hussein Kamal said 67 people were also wounded in the raid on the Syrian Catholic church, which was seized by guerrillas during Sunday mass in the bloodiest attack in Iraq since August. The death toll was many times higher than that given overnight in the hours after the raid.

baghdad church 2 (Photo: Bomb damage outside Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad November 1, 2010/Mohammed Ameen)

The gunmen took hostages at the Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) Church, one of Baghdad’s largest, and demanded the release of al Qaeda prisoners in Iraq and Egypt.  “This death toll is for civilians and security force members. We don’t differentiate between police and civilians. They are all Iraqis,” Kamal said, adding the number did not include dead attackers.

Top Belgian Catholic vows silence after uproar

leonardBelgium’s Roman Catholic leader has sworn off public remarks until Christmas after outraging public opinion twice this month with jarring comments about AIDS and a call for mercy for retired paedophile priests.

Brussels Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, already under fire because of the scandal of sexual abuse of minors by priests, caused a storm two weeks ago when he said in a new book that AIDS was “a sort of inherent justice.” Politicians, abuse victims and some leading lay Catholics rounded on him again this week after he said that prosecuting retired priests for abuse they committed long ago was “a kind of vengeance” that they should be spared. (Photo: Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, October 15, 2010/Thierry Roge)

“We’re in a very serious crisis and the last thing we need is more commotion,” Leonard’s spokesman, Jürgen Mettepenningen, told Belgium’s VTM television on Thursday evening. “I’ve agreed with Archbishop Léonard that there should now be as much radio silence as possible until Christmas” so that the Church can concentrate on overcoming the crisis and carrying out its main task of preaching the Gospel, he said.

Guestview: Catholics, Jews and petri dishes

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Rabbi Elliot Dorff is rector of the American Jewish University in California and chairs the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.This article first appeared in the Forward, a Jewish weekly published in New York, and is reprinted with their permission.

By Rabbi Elliot Dorff

edwardsThis month, Robert Edwards, a professor emeritus at the University of Cambridge, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for developing (along with Dr. Patrick Steptoe, who died in 1988), in vitro fertilization. The technique whereby eggs are removed from a woman, fertilized in a petri dish (hence the name “in vitro,” or “in a glass”), and then implanted into the womb, has enabled people to procreate who would otherwise not be able to have children. (Photo: Professor Robert Edwards, July 26, 2003)

Indeed, since Louise Brown, the first baby conceived through IVF, was born in 1978, some four million children have been conceived using this technique. Today between 1% and 2% of all babies born in the United States and other developed countries each year are conceived through IVF.

Brazil’s ugly abortion reality lost in election noise

brazil abortionIt was a little-noticed headline amid the daily crime, violence and accidents in Rio de Janeiro’s rough outskirts — Adriana de Souza Queiroz, 26, dead after a clandestine abortion went wrong. Queiroz, who scraped a living handing out pamphlets and was 3 or 4 months pregnant, last month became one of the some 300 Brazilian women who die each year after back street abortions.

The issue of abortion in the world’s most populous Roman Catholic country has been thrust into the spotlight by a presidential election in which front-running candidate Dilma Rousseff has been punished by religious voters for her past support for decriminalizing the procedure. (Photo:  An anti-abortion march in Brasilia September 10, 2008/Jamil Bittar)

Abortion rights groups have long argued the law does little to prevent abortions in Brazil and mostly hurts poor women who can’t afford safer, expensive underground clinics.

Peruvian faithful pay homage to Lord of Miracles

peru (Photo: The “Lord of the Miracles” painting during a procession in Lima October 18, 2010/Enrique Castro-Mendivil)

Thousands of worshippers dressed in purple robes paraded a revered icon through Peru’s capital this week in a tradition dating from 1687 when a mural depicting the same image of Jesus escaped unscathed in a powerful earthquake.

The procession of the Señor de los Milagros (Lord of Miracles), a mural picturing a dark-skinned Christ that is said to have been painted in a shrine by an Angolan slave, has drawn crowds of Roman Catholic devotees for centuries.

The icon is a copy of the mural, which is revered for its powers to cure the sick and protect against tremors in the Andean country. Originally worshipped by Afro-Peruvians, the Señor de los Milagros has become Peru’s best-known icon and has inspired worshipers around the world.

Polish bishops call IVF “younger sister of eugenics”

cloneBishops of Poland’s influential Roman Catholic Church have branded in vitro fertilization (IVF) “the younger sister of eugenics” in a letter aimed at swaying lawmakers ahead of a parliamentary debate.

Their intervention, two weeks after the Vatican condemned the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Prize for medicine to IVF pioneer Robert Edwards, triggered an unusually sharp response from lawmakers who say the clergy should not meddle in politics. (Photo: A cloned human embryo, created at the Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, 19 May 2005/handout)

“The in vitro method comes at great human cost. To give birth to one child … many humans suffer death at different stages of the medical process,” said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters on Tuesday.

Arab Christians face political Islam threat-official says

synod bishops 1 (Photo: Bishops at a Mass opening of the synod of bishops from the Middle Eastern at the Vatican, 10  Oct 2010/Tony Gentile)

The rise of political Islam in the Middle East poses a threat to Christians in the Arab world and must be faced together, a senior cleric told a synod of Catholic bishops on Monday.

At the two week meeting to debate how to protect minority communities in the region and encourage harmony with Muslims, the Catholic Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, Antonios Naguib, also said that attacks against Christians were on the rise due to growing fundamentalism in the region.

“Since 1970, we have witnessed the rise of political Islam in the region, consisting of many different religious currents, which has affected Christians, especially in the Arab world,” said Naguib. “This phenomenon seeks to impose the Islamic way of life on all citizens, at times using violent methods, thus becoming a threat which we must face together.”

Christians in Arab Gulf face hurdles to worship

doha church (Photo: Worshippers pack the first Mass at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Doha, March 15, 2008/Fadi Al-Assaad)

Every Friday in the Muslim Gulf Arab state of Kuwait, 2,000 worshippers cram into a 600-seat church or listen outside to the mass relayed on loudspeakers, prompting their Roman Catholic bishop to worry about a stampede. “If a panic happens, it will be a catastrophe … it is a miracle that nothing has happened,” said Bishop Camillo Ballin.

These churchgoers represent only the tip of the iceberg. Ballin reckons his flock in Kuwait numbers around 350,000 out of a total of half a million Christians in the country.

At least 3.5 million Christians of all denominations live in the Gulf Arab region, the birthplace of Islam and home to some of the most conservative Arab Muslim societies in the world. The freedom to practice Christianity — or any religion other than Islam — is not always a given in the Gulf and varies from country to country. Saudi Arabia, which applies an austere form of Sunni Islam, has by far the tightest restrictions.