FaithWorld

New Catholic archbishop of Brussels raises hackles in Belgium

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Archbishop Léonard and Cardinal Danneels at news conference in Brussels 18 Jan 2010/Thierry Roge

The long-awaited announcement of the successor to the retiring Catholic archbishop of Brussels, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, has sparked an unusual outcry in Belgium. The new archbishop, André-Mutien Léonard, is sometimes called  “the Belgian Ratzinger” for his conservative views. Danneels ranks as one of the last liberal prelates in a Church hierarchy that has turned increasingly traditional under Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict.

Léonard has been a controversial figure in Belgium for his critical stands on homosexuality, same-sex marriage and condom use. He has been an outspoken opponent of abortion and euthanasia, both of which are legal in Belgium, and criticised the Catholic universities of Leuven and Louvain for their research into assisted reproduction and embryonic stem cells.

The most outspoken comment came from Deputy Prime Minister Laurette Onkelinx, who is the country’s health minister. “Church and State are separate in Belgium, but when there are problems in our society, all the social partners sit down around a table, including representatives of secularism and of religion,” she told RTL radio. “Cardinal Danneels was a man of openness, of tolerance and was able to fit in there. Archbishop Léonard has already regularly challenged decisions made by our parliament.”

Onkelinx said Léonard’s appointment could upset the balance between secular and religious that Belgium has found. “Concerning AIDS, he’s against the use of condoms even while people are dying from it every day. He is against abortion and euthanasia … The pope’s choice could undermine the compromise that allows us to live together with respect for everyone.”

Journalism Italian-style and church-state relations

giornale-aug-28-croppedCall it a case of duelling headlines.

For the past few days, a highly personal and often below-the-sash battle has been waged in Italy between two newspapers — Il Giornale, owned by the family of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and Avvenire, the daily of the Italian Bishops Conference.  The generals in the battle, which has riveted Italy and has resulted in one of the worst periods for years in relations between church and state here, are the editors-in-chief Vittorio Feltri of Il Giornale and Dino Boffo of Avvenire.

It all started on Friday, Aug. 28 when Il Giornale published a front-page, banner headline story purportedly revealing that that Boffo had accepted a plea bargain in court in 2002 after being accused of harrasing a woman. The paper said Boffo had a homosexual relationship with her husband. The headline read “The Super-Moralist Was Condemned for Molestation” (see image above). Feltri, one of Italy’s more unorthodox journalists, attacked Boffo because he had written a spate of editorials criticising Berlusconi over the prime minister’s private life. The fact that ultimately Berlusconi’s family is Feltri’s boss was not lost on Italian readers.

Another element in the background was the fact that Berlusconi has been under the spotlight for anything but government recently, including accusations of cavorting with teenagers and prostitutes. For the record, Berlusconi says there was nothing “spicy” in his relationship with an 18-year-old aspriring model and that even if  a call girl spent a night in his house, he never paid for sex in his life. What’s more, Berlusconi is also going through a messy divorce. His wife Veronica says she wanted out because she couldn’t take any more of his “lies”.

Ex-nun urges Indian Catholic Church reform in tell-all book

amenA Roman Catholic nun who left her convent in India after 33 years of service has penned an unflattering picture of life within the cloistered walls in a book that may further embarrass the Church.

In “Amen: The Autobiography of a Nun”, published in India in English this month, Sister Jesme tells of sexual relations between some priests and nuns, homosexuality in the convent and discrimination and corruption in Catholic institutions…

“Amen” grabbed media headlines in February, when it was first published in Malayalam — the regional language of Kerala. With the new English edition and offers of a film based on the book, Sister Jesme’s plea for a reformation of the Church is now set to reach a wider audience.

GUESTVIEW: Obama inauguration: An interfaith invocation to answer the critics

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The author is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York. He is writing a book about Interfaith and Civil Society.

By Matthew Weiner

The choice of Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation, and the drama surrounding it, was President-elect Barack Obama’s latest carefully planned move to prove that he is not a far out liberal, but instead mainstream. Obama is good at the art of compromise, but also at improvisation. The liberal outcry that followed, and his addition of the openly gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson to join the party, continues to demonstrate his skill as political tai chi master. (Photo: Obama and Warren at Saddleback Church,17 Aug 2008/Mark Avery)

But Obama would be more in keeping with his own sense of diversity if he had the first ever interfaith invocation. Instead of a single speaker from a single religion, why not have many from a diversity of faiths and political positions? Instead of a liberal Christian or an evangelical Christian, he could have a conservative Christian, a liberal Jew, and a Muslim, a Buddhist  and a Hindu (or any such combination).

What Americans hear in church

If you’re a white evangelical or black Protestant attending church in America, you have probably heard a thing or two about homosexuality. If you’re Catholic, maybe not.

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Those are among the findings of a new survey conducted by Public Religion Research on behalf of Faith in Public Life, a non-partisan resource center.

It found that among the white evangelicals and black Protestants surveyed, 67 percent said their pastor speaks out about the issue of homosexuality — among Catholics that number drops to 37 percent.

Lambeth Conference: News or Not?

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 22 Feb 2008/Darren StaplesIt has been spoken of as a setting for schism. But could the Lambeth Conference — the worldwide Anglican Communion‘s once-a-decade global meeting beginning July 16 in England — be a bust when it comes to headline-making news?

That’s the way leaders of the U.S. Episcopal Church see it. There will be no grand pronouncements made or resolutions voted on, they say. The traditional Western parliamentary idea that produces winners and losers on debated issues has been scrapped for face-to-face meetings. Some of them have been baptized ”Indaba groups,” which Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has described as a Zulu term denoting “a meeting for purposeful discussion among equals.”

The Rev. Ian Douglas, a professor of World Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts who helped plan the meeting, recently told reporters at a briefing:

Gay Orthodox Israelis click on new religion Web site

HOD logIt’s been less than a month since an underground movement of gay Orthodox Jews in Israel went online and already tens of thousands of people have visited their Web site.

The site is called HOD (for Homo’eem Dateem or Religious Homosexuals), a play on the Hebrew word hod for glory. It’s the first to cater to gay men living in Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jewish minority, where homosexuality is viewed as a sin and people are often scared to admit publicly they are gay, fearing harassment or banishment.

Protesters at Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, 21 June 2007/Yonathan Weitzman

Of course, not all of the online visitors fit into that category, said Rabbi Ron, one of the site’s creators. The site was flooded after local media reported on its inception and Ron, a gay Orthodox rabbi who asked that his last name not be mentioned, was interviewed on Israeli radio.

Pope skirts condoms issue in World AIDS Day statement

Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd during his weekly general audience, 28 Nov. 2007When Pope Benedict expressed his closeness to victims of AIDS in advance of World AIDS Day on December 1, one thing was conspicuously absent from his comments — either a specific mention or a reference to the use of condoms.

The Pope, speaking at his weekly general audience on Wednesday, called for increased efforts to stop the spread of AIDS and said victims of the disease should not be treated with disdain. He criticised international agencies he said were spreading abortion. The C-word was not present in either in letter or spirit in his two-paragraph comments in Italian.

When his predecessor John Paul spoke of AIDS, whether he was speaking in the Vatican or during his trips abroad, he often mentioned, either directly or indirectly, that condoms were not the answer.

Burnout on the God beat – second top religion writer calls it quits

Covering religion may be harmful to your faith. Two leading religion journalists — one in Britain, one in the United States — have quit the beat in recent months, saying they had acquired such a close look at such scandalous behaviour by Christians that they lost their faith and had to leave.

Bates article in New HumanistStephen Bates, who recently stepped down as religious affairs writer for the London Guardian, has just published an account of his seven years on the beat in an article entitled “Demob Happy” for the New Humanist magazine. Bates followed the crisis in the Anglican Communion for several years and even wrote a book on it, A Church At War: Anglicans and Homosexuality.

“Now I am moving on,” his article concludes. “It was time to go. What faith I had, I’ve lost, I am afraid – I’ve seen too much, too close. A young Methodist press officer once asked me earnestly whether I saw it as my job to spread the Good News of Jesus. No, I said, that’s the last thing I am here to do.”

Episcopal Church likely to pass over lesbian candidate for bishop

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts SchoriIs there a straw that will break the Anglican Communion’s back? One move that, like the gay bishop consecration that started the current crisis, can trigger a landslide that finally pushes the Communion into schism? Religion reporters are now watching each and every conference and bishop’s election to see if it will hit the tripwire.

The next flashpoint in the Anglican Communion’s struggle with gay issues looked like it could come from Chicago, where the Episcopal (U.S. Anglican) diocese on November 10 will pick a new bishop from among eight candidates, one of them an openly gay woman. The Episcopal Church promised last month to “exercise restraint” in naming further homosexual prelates. In an interview this month, its Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori (in picture at right) stressed there would be “no outcasts in this Church.

Judging from how things look now, the lesbian Rev. Tracey Lind, who is now the dean of Cleveland’s Trinity Cathedral, may not be among the favorites vying for the post, Chicago Tribune religion reporter Manya Brachear reported on Monday.