FaithWorld

INTERVIEW-Lisbon treaty to boost EU, church contact-Cardinal Dziwisz

dziwisz 2There was something missing from our post yesterday entitled Pope John Paul remains touchstone for Poland’s Catholic Church — a link to the story Reuters published based on the interview that Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz gave to Gabriela Baczynska and me. Since it hasn’t been posted separately on the web, here’s the story:

KRAKOW, Poland, Dec 16 (Reuters) – The Roman Catholic Church should use the EU’s new Lisbon Treaty to make its voice heard on moral issues in a Europe that has lost its Christian moorings, a leading Polish churchman said.

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who spent decades in the Vatican as private secretary to the late Pope John Paul II, also said Poland, still one of Europe’s most devout countries, was helping to shore up the faith by sending priests to several continents.

The European Union’s Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force this month, provides for the first time a legal basis for consultations between EU institutions and religious groups.

“I believe there is a need for such consultations with churches so as not to make mistakes on moral or ethical issues, for the benefit of societies,” Dziwisz told Reuters in an interview authorised for publication on Wednesday.

Does Europe’s new prez really think it’s a Christian club?

rompuy1Europe’s new president, Herman Van Rompuy, is little known outside his native Belgium. One of the few background facts about him circulating since his election is his opposition to Turkish membership in the European Union.  The operative quote, expressed in a 2004 speech when he was an opposition deputy in the Belgian parliament, is:

“Turkey is not a part of Europe and will never be part of Europe. An expansion of the EU to include Turkey cannot be considered as just another expansion as in the past . . . The universal values which are in force in Europe, and which are fundamental values of Christianity, will lose vigour with the entry of a large Islamic country such as Turkey.” (Photo: Herman Van Pompuy, 19 Nov 2009/Sebastien Pirlet)

The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, said something quite similar In an interview with Le Figaro, also in 2004: “Turkey always represented another continent throughout history, in permanent contrast with Europe,” he said, and joining it to Europe would be a mistake. Europe is united by its “culture which gives it a common identity. The roots which formed … this continent are those of Christianity.”

Bishops see more selfish Europe 20 years after Berlin Wall fell

referendum Photo; Irish “Yes” campaigners celebrate in Dublin, 3 Oct 2009/Cathal McNaughton)

Europe has become increasingly selfish and materialistic in the 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the heads of the Roman Catholic bishops’ conferences across Europe said at the end of their three-day annual meeting at the weekend.  “The crisis sweeping Europe today is serious,” they said in a statement after the session in Paris. They cited materialism, individualism and relativism as major challenges facing European society.

The bishops’ sober assessment contrasted with the upbeat mood that the overwhelming “Yes” vote in Ireland’s Lisbon Treaty referendum created.  It must be noted they drew up their statement before they’d heard the news from Dublin on Saturday. And their statement ended with a note of Christian hopefulness. Still, their diagnosis is so fundamental it’s hard to imagine they would have changed much in the text.

Here’s the way they put it:

“All that has happened since the fall of the Berlin Wall has been a great stepping stone in the European adventure… (but) twenty years later, we now see that the incredible European project, with a strong ethical basis, has greatly weakened… The hopes placed on building Europe have not so far been fulfilled. Here we take note of the influence of several factors:

Trees, worshippers and Ireland’s new blasphemy law

irish-crossWhat do Monty Python, the Virgin Mary and environmentalists have in common? They have all been at the centre of a debate in Ireland’s parliament this week before the upper house passed a bill imposing a fine of up to 25,000 euros for the crime of blasphemy. For days, Irish media has been excited about a tree stump in the western county of Limerick which has attracted a flow of pilgrims who believe it is an image of the Virgin Mary. As one senator recalled in the debate however, a local Catholic priest has warned his flock not to worship what he said is, after all, “just a tree.”
(Photo: Crucifixes with Irish flags in a shop in the pilgrimage town of Knock, 10 June 2009/Cathal McNaughton)

“Fr. Russell might be at risk of being found guilty of blasphemy since he is being critical, grossly abusive or insulting to people of a religion who seem to want to worship a tree,” Senator Ivana Bacik said. “We should be mindful of the danger of introducing an offence like blasphemy in light of the sort of events that we are seeing in Rathkeale in Limerick.”Senator Dan Boyle, the chairman of the Green Party, the junior member in Ireland’s governing coalition, quipped that he apparently led a party of “tree worshippers” and argued that the offence of blasphemy was archaic and should be made obsolete. “The concept of blasphemy was brilliantly satirised by Monty Python in the film ‘Life of Brian’ where a Pharisee was unintentionally stoned to death for repeatedly, although unwittingly, saying the word ‘Jehovah’,” Boyle said. “Much of the debate on this issue is a political equivalent of repeatedly saying the word ‘Jehovah’. It is something we need to get out of our political system as soon possible.”The house passed the bill, but only after an initial hiccup when two senators’ absence — one reportedly away at the dentist — all but caused the bill to be defeated by a small margin or at least its main provisions weakened to meaninglessness by an opposition amendment. The government of the traditionally Catholic country has defended the law by pointing out that there was already an existing piece of legislation dating back to 1961 that called for much stricter punishments. Ireland’s constitution requires some form of punishment of blasphemy and the new law would decrease the penalty involved.ahernAbolishing the crime of blasphemy altogether would require a constitutional amendment and a referendum. A referendum would not be impossible to organise — for example, Oct. 2 will see the second vote in less than two years on just one issue, the European Union’s Lisbon reform treaty, which was rejected by the Irish electorate last year. Some have suggested a referendum on defamation could be held on the same day. But the government has argued a referendum on blasphemy would be too costly and “distracting” for a country busy fixing one of Europe’s worst public finances and the worst recession in the industrialised world.
(Photo: Dermot Ahern, 9 March 2007/Thierry Roge)

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern also defends his bill by pointing to clauses which stipulate that blasphemous matter will only be prosecutable if it causes actual outrage among a substantial number of adherents of a religion. It also exempts works in which a “reasonable person” would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value.Which works qualify for that seems to open up a whole new debate. Atheists, who have separate campaigns running against the requirement for religious oaths before taking the office of judge or president of Ireland, say they will test the new law by quickly publishing a deliberately blasphemous statement. “The law also discriminates against atheist citizens by protecting the fundamental beliefs of religious people only,” said Michael Nugent, one of the founders of Atheist Ireland. “Why should religious beliefs be protected by law in ways that scientific or political or other secular beliefs are not?,” Nugent asked in an op-ed piece in Friday’s Irish Times.(Additional reporting by Ashley Beston)

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Orthodox renew hope Turkey will re-open historic seminary

Empty classroom at the Orthodox Halki seminary, Sept. 2006The silent halls and empty classrooms tended by elderly priests at a former Greek Orthodox seminary on an island off the Istanbul coast belie the crucible the school has become in Muslim Turkey’s quest to join the European Union.

The EU has said re-opening Halki seminary, a centre of Orthodox scholarship for more than a century until Turkey closed it down in 1971, is crucial if Ankara is to prove a commitment to human rights and pluralism and advance its membership bid. (Photo: Halki seminary classroom, 18 Sept 2006/Tom Heneghan)

The pro-Islamist government, despite introducing other sweeping reforms to bring Turkey closer to EU membership, has thus far refused to re-open the 165-year-old school located on a pretty wooded isle called Heybeliada in the Sea of Marmara.

Can the EU promote ethical values in the economic crisis?

EU Parliament President Poettering and EU Commission President Barroso hold a news conference with religious leaders in BrusselsControversy overshadowed events this month when European Union officials invited Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders from 13 member states and Russia to a meeting on economic governance.  Most of the Jewish leaders invited refused to attend, saying they considered some of the Muslim organisations taking part to be radical and anti-Semitic. The Universal Society of Hinduism issued a statement complaining it had not been invited and declaring: “It was clearly an insult.” (Photo: European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering (2nd L), Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (C) and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (2nd R) address media in Brussels 11 May 2009/Francois Lenoir)

A spokesman for European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who initiated the annual gathering with religious leaders five years ago, said the reason no Hindu representatives were invited was largely to keep the meeting focused. “This meeting also has to be sort of conclusive and lead to real debate — it’s not that we can invite 100 or 1,000 persons to have a huge conference on these issues,” the spokesman said.

The 20 high-level participants in the end included four representatives of Islam, a single Jewish organisation which did not join the boycott, and 13 Christian groups.

from Global News Journal:

Austrian far-right leader isolated over Israel stance

Senior figures from across Austria's political spectrum have condemned the head of the far-right Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, over his party's European election campaign directed against Israel and Turkey.

In an advertisement in the newspaper Kronen Zeitung, Freedom opposes the accession of Turkey and Israel to the European Union. Although Turkey is in EU accession talks, Israel is not.

Heinz-Christian Strache prepares for a TV discussion in Vienna, Sept. 17, 2008. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader (AUSTRIA)

Austria debates democratic credentials of its Islam teachers

Austrian politicians and media are in uproar over a recent survey that said a fifth of all Islamic religious education teachers here hold anti-democratic views.

In the survey of 210 teachers, conducted as part of a PhD thesis, 21.9 percent agreed with the following statement: “I oppose democracy because it is not compatible with Islam.”

The public debate has worn on without asking a few crucial questions, such as how representative these findings are, how thorough the survey was and whether the questions steered the answers.

Time to re-think ban on women at Greek holy site?

Last month I visited Mount Athos, a self- governing monastic state in northern Greece where some 1,500 monks live according to rules which have changed little in the last millennium. Athos’ 20 monasteries are considered by the world’s 300 million Orthodox as perhaps the second most holy site of their faith, after Jerusalem. They are home to breathtaking religious art and thousands of manuscripts dating back to the Byzantine empire, as well as priceless relics, like fragments of the True Cross, believed by the Orthodox faithful to have performed countless miracles. (Photo:Simomos Petras monastery at Mount Athos/Daniel Flynn)

For many Orthodox it is the fulfilment of a long-held dream to visit the rugged Holy Mountain — but not if you a woman. Women are completely banned from the 300 sq kilometre peninsula and any breach of this strict rule is a criminal offence in Greece punishable by up to two years in prison. Athonite tradition has it that the Virgin Mary’s ship was blown off course as she travelled with St John the Evangelist to visit Lazarus in Cyprus and that on making ground in Athos she immediately prayed to her son to dedicate the beautiful peninsula to her, which he did, meaning that other women were banned. Modern day monks say there are good practical reasons why women are prohibited: “God built a sexual attraction between men and women. To have them here would distract us from our main aim, which is prayer,” one monk told me. Many pilgrims have more flippant excuses. “Women would not like it here, there are no mirrors,” said one elderly Greek. The ban on women has already raised the ire of the European Parliament, which has two voted to criticise the prohibition: European Union taxes are helping to fund a massive renovation of the monasteries, which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In January a group of women including a Greek MP briefly entered Athos in a protest. Apart from accepting some female refugees during the civil war in the late 1940s, the most the monks have done to open up is allow many of their most precious treasures to be briefly seen at exhibitions in Greece.

But the main treasure of Mount Athos is the place itself and many Orthodox women feel frustrated by the ban on visiting it. “I would love to see it, but I know I never will,” is a common comment, though some say they understand the ban. At the same time, many Greek women are angry that their taxes are being used to fund wealthy institutions that they are banned from setting foot in, arguing that UNESCO status means the monasteries are treasures of humanity, not just of male humanity.

European Christian politicians respond to pope’s call

College des Bernardins, 1 Sept 2008/Charles PlatiauOne recurring theme in Pope Benedict’s speeches is the need he sees for Christians to speak out more in public on moral issues. A group of European politicians has taken up the challenge and held a brainstorming session in Paris to “find forms of political commitment that responds to their convictions and to the challenges of the 21st century,” as their hostess, French Housing and Urban Development Minister Christine Boutin, put it. The meeting was held at the Collège des Bernardins, the refurbished medieval college where Benedict spoke only last month about Europe’s Christian roots.

Although most politicians there could be described as Christian Democrats, there was no question about starting a specifically Christian political party. Instead, speakers stressed they wanted to bring Christian values back into the general political discourse after decades of being derided as old-fashioned. Several speakers from France mentioned the way secularists had sidelined them in politics. “We Christians have gotten used to living under a kind of house arrest,” said Jean-Pierre Rive, secretary general of the Church and Society Commission of the French Protestant Federation. “We have to get back into politics.”

The financial crisis, they said, provided a dramatic example of what can happen when greed and shady bank practices sideline values such as solidarity and concern for the poor. “A new world is being built and we Christians must play our part,” said Boutin, one of the most outspoken Catholic activists in French politics, at the Oct. 10 meeting. “Christians in France have lost the habit of communicating their experiences. There are politicians who are open to new ideas now. Let’s meet them and talk with them.”