FaithWorld

Ireland attacks confessional secrecy after Catholic sex abuse scandal

(A Roman Catholic Croat confesses to a priest during a pilgrimage in Krasno, some 150km (93 miles) south of Zagreb August 15, 2009/Nikola Solic )

Ireland’s prime minister has said Catholic clerics would be prosecuted if they failed to tell the authorities about crimes disclosed during confession, the latest blow to the prestige of the once-dominant Church. A report this week found that the Church concealed from the authorities the sexual abuse of children by priests as recently as 2009, and that clerics appeared to follow Church law rather than Irish guidelines to protect minors.

“The law of the land should not be stopped by a crozier or a collar,” Prime Minister Enda Kenny told journalists on Thursday, referring to the hooked staff held by Catholic bishops during religious services. Kenny said his government would submit legislation to parliament that could jail clerics for up to five years if they failed to report to authorities information about the abuse of children.

The law will override the confessional privilege in Church law that prevents clerics from sharing information, he said. A series of revelations of rape and beatings by members of religious orders and the priesthood in the past have shattered the dominant role of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Ireland’s Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore on Thursday summoned the Pope’s representative, the papal nuncio, after the report said that the Vatican had undermined Irish guidelines on reporting sex abuse by referring to them as “study guidelines.”

Tunisian secularists nervous over slow change, concerned about Islamists

(Protests in Tunis July 7, 2011 after Islamists attacked a cinema to protest a controversial film called "Neither God nor master"/Zoubeir Souissi)

Secularists hope Tunisia’s gradual approach for moving to an open political system from a police state will help box in Islamists but it has created a political and security vacuum that could end up helping them. Tunisians forced out president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali via street protests in December and January, and over 90 political parties have sprung up in the newly freed public space.

Secular parties, policy-makers and Western powers are preparing for a future where the leading Islamist party Ennahda, driven abroad and underground by Ben Ali, is a key force in the North African country but working out how to limit its impact.

Sleepy French hamlet seen at threat from Apocalypse sects


(Pic de Bugarach, 14 November 2007/Thierry Strub)

The tiny southern French hamlet of Bugarach has drawn scrutiny from a government sect watchdog over droves of visitors who believe it is the only place in the world that will survive a 2012 Apocalypse. A report by the watchdog, Miviludes, published Wednesday said the picturesque village near Carcassonne should be monitored in the run-up to December 21, 2012, when many believe the world will end according to an ancient Mayan prophecy.

Miviludes was set up in 2002 to track the activity of sects, after a law passed the previous year made it an offence to abuse vulnerable people using heavy pressure techniques, meaning sects can be outlawed if there is evidence of fraud or abuse.

Surrounded in legend for centuries, Bugarach and its rocky outcrop, the Pic de Bugarach, have attracted an influx of New Age visitors in recent months, pushing up property prices but also raising the threat of financial scams and psychological manipulation, Miviludes said in its report. “I think we need to be careful. We shouldn’t get paranoid, but when you see what happened at Waco in the United States, we know this kind of thinking can influence vulnerable people,” Miviludes president Georges Fenech told Reuters.

Archbishop of Canterbury attacks UK government policies as radical

(Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at Canterbury Cathedral, April 4, 2010/Toby Melville)

Britain’s coalition government has embarked on “radical, long-term policies for which no one voted,” causing anxiety and fear, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said in an article on Thursday. The comments are his most outspoken against the year-old Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.

“With remarkable speed, we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted,” the spiritual leader of the 80-million strong Anglican Communion wrote. “At the very least, there is an understandable anxiety about what democracy means in such a context.”

Protests in Bahrain’s Shi’ite neighbourhoods fall on deaf ears

(Shi'ite protesters march in the Sanabis neighbourhood in Manama June 3, 2011/Hamad I Mohammed)

In a poor district of Bahrain’s capital, a few hundred people marched through cramped, crumbling alleyways banging pans and screaming, “Down with the regime.” A mile (1.5 km) away, in the city centre, with its gleaming malls and office blocks, no one heard them.

A week after the tiny Gulf island kingdom repealed martial law, and despite the lingering presence of a few checkpoints, much of Manama seems almost back to normal. “Everything is quiet, there’s nothing wrong. I haven’t heard about any problems,” a man who gave his name as Khalifa said as he walked to a Starbucks coffee shop.

Popular Indian guru Swami Ramdev to start hunger strike against corruption

(India's yoga guru Swami Ramdev speaks in support of anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare during a "fast unto death" campaign in New Delhi April 8, 2011. In the background is an image depicting Mother India/B Mathur)

Swami Ramdev, India’s most popular and powerful yoga guru, rejected an appeal by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday to call off a hunger strike against corruption, the second major challenge to a government losing its authority due to rampant graft. The charismatic guru, who dons a saffron cloth thrown over his bare torso, runs a $40 million-a-year global yoga and health empire and has millions of followers. Some 30 million viewers tune into his daily yoga TV show.

These followers are expected to rally behind him as he begins on Saturday a “fast-to-the-death” in Delhi until the government agrees to pass a tough anti-corruption “Jan Lokpal” bill and set up a task force for repatriating illegal funds held in foreign bank accounts by Indians.

Beyond bin Laden – Britain’s fight against violent Islamist radicalism

(Muslims hold placards as they march towards the U.S. embassy in London May 6, 2011/Suzanne Plunkett)

In a community centre in the British Midlands, 12 teenage boys — all of south Asian descent — watch intently as Jahan Mahmood unzips a canvas bag and pulls out the dark, angular shape of a World War Two machine gun. He unfolds the tripod, places the unloaded weapon on a table and pulls back the cocking handle. The boys crane forward. Mahmood pulls the trigger; a sharp snap rings out.

It’s two days since the killing of Osama bin Laden, and Mahmood, a local historian, is taking his own stand against global militancy. His show comes with a dose of education: a lesson in how Muslim and British soldiers fought together to defeat the Nazis. His methods are unconventional, but Mahmood believes they help address a weakness at the core of British counter-terrorism policy.

Filipinos flock to northern town for fertility dance for patron saint

(A boy is held up by his mother as hundreds of devotees dance and pray for children in an annual fertility procession in Obando, north of Manila May 17, 2011/Cheryl Ravelo)

Hundreds of couples flocked to a town in the northern Philippines to take part in a centuries-old ritual dance, honouring a patron saint believed to bring fertility. The ritual took place this year amid an increasingly acrimonious battle over a controversial bill promoting artificial contraception in this intensely Catholic nation.

Those seeking children packed into Obando by the thousands for the annual May ritual, inspired by miraculous stories of the babies it has brought. Couples dance in the two-hour long procession, swaying their hips to a traditional folk tune from bamboo and marching bands. The ritual is accompanied by a short chant and prayer to Saint Claire, the local patron saint of fertility, asking her to bless them with children.

Philippine Catholic bishops clash with Aquino over contraception bill

(Participants sit below a huge banner during a mass against a reproductive health (RH) bill in Luneta park, metro Manila, March 25, 2011/Romeo Ranoco)

Philippine Catholic bishops on Tuesday walked out of talks with the government over a planned bill allowing contraception in open opposition to President Benigno Aquino who vowed to push the bill into law. Aquino pledged last month to push for the enactment of a reproductive health bill in Congress in a bid to lower the maternal death rate in the Philippines, even at the risk of excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church.

The church, a major social and political force in the poor Southeast Asian nation, has blocked similar bills since the 1990s by talking to lawmakers and has denounced Aquino’s support for contraception, considered a sin.

Pakistan’s Islamist parties challenge weakening government

jamaat

(A supporter of Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami backs Pakistan's blasphemy laws during a rally in Peshawar January 23, 2011/Fayaz Aziz )

Pakistan’s disparate Islamist political parties are uniting behind their hatred of the United States, emboldened by a weak government that looks increasingly reluctant to stand up to extremism and a society where radicalism is widely tolerated. The prospect of these parties gaining strength in this nuclear-armed nation is a nightmare for its ally the United States and neighbors including India and Afghanistan, which are already fighting Islamist insurgents based in Pakistan.

But while there is little chance Islamist parties will be able to take power outright, they are becoming more prominent as anti-Americanism grows among ordinary Pakistanis, many of whom also reject attempts to soften a blasphemy law that has claimed the lives of two senior officials this year alone.