FaithWorld

Rabat bets on better imams to counter extremist Islam

marrakech-mosqueMorocco has shifted from mass arrests to tight surveillance in its fight against Islamic militants and hopes a new campaign to reinforce the authority of state-appointed imams will cut off support for jihadism.

As militants reach a growing audience through DVDs and the Internet, the government has tried to seize back the initiative, revising laws governing mosques and adding new theological councils to tighten control of religious life in the regions. (Photo: Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech at sunset, 7 Jan 2005/Tom Heneghan)

Now it is preparing to send 1,500 supervisors into the north African country’s towns and villages to make sure that imams are preaching the moderate local version of Islam and respect for King Mohammed in his role as leader of Morocco’s Muslims.

“In this era of satellite TV, people no longer accept to see religious officials who are not trained,” said Hakim el Ghissassi, a cabinet member at Morocco’s Ministry for Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs. “If today we deny religious instruction to the young, where will they look for it? On extremist Internet sites with self-proclaimed radical Imams.”

Read the whole analysis here.


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Pope on Facebook in attempt to woo young believers

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You won’t get an email saying Pope Benedict added you as a friend and you can’t “poke” him or write on his wall, but the Vatican is still keen to use the networking site Facebook to woo young people back to church.

A new Vatican website, www.pope2you.net, has gone live, offering an application called “The pope meets you on Facebook,” and another allowing the faithful to see the Pope’s speeches and messages on their iPhones or iPods.

Phil Pullella looks at the Vatican’s latest bid to preach the gospel with new technologies. Read the full story here.

Vatican edits pope on condoms and AIDS solutions

pope-in-planePope Benedict’s comments about condoms on his flight to Cameroon have made headlines worldwide. They have been quoted extensively on many websites run by news organisations and also by the Vatican. But that hasn’t stopped the same Vatican from editing them after the fact to try to make them sound more acceptable. (Photo: Pope Benedict answers questions in the plane to Africa, with Rev. Georg Gänswein (L) and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (C), 17 March 2009//Alessandro Bianchi)

The main change on the Vatican website comes in the most controversial part, where he says: “It (AIDS) cannot be overcome by the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem.” This was criticised in Europe and the United States as going beyond a doctrinal question and spreading untruths about public health policies. Now the Vatican’s Bollettino (daily bulletin — here in the original Italian) has watered this down to have him say:   “On the contrary, the risk is that they increase the problem.” The Milan daily Corriere della Sera has the original transcript in Italian.

The Vatican editors also softened the pope’s talk about solutions. In the original, he said: “The problem of AIDS cannot be solved only with money …” In the new version, this comes out as: “The problem of AIDS cannot be solved only by advertising slogans …”

Vatican tangled in the Web

jpii-and-laptopOne passage in Pope Benedict’s letter today about the Williamson affair particularly stood out — the part where he confessed to almost complete ignorance of the Internet. There can’t be many other world leaders who could write  the following lines without blushing: “I have been told that consulting the information available on the internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news.” This made it look as if the world’s largest church was ignorant of the world’s liveliest communications network.

That’s not the case, of course. The Vatican runs a very full website of its own, www.vatican.va, as do Vatican Radio (in 38 languages), Catholic bishops conferences, dioceses and parishes as well as Catholic publications all around the world.

icann-logoIn fact, somebody in the Vatican seems to be following the Internet far more closely that the mainstream media (including ourselves), which missed an interesting little nugget now popping up on tech blogs and some Catholic sites mostly in Europe. The Holy See’s representative to the Government Advisory Committee (GAC) of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) recently warned against the tensions that could be caused if ICANN created new top-level domain names (so-called gTLDs) for religions.

Vatican statement accompanying papal letter to bishops

lombardiThe Vatican’s official spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi S.J., has issued the following statement on the letter Pope Benedict has sent to Roman Catholic bishops around the world about the controversy over the readmission of four excommunicated ultre-traditionalist bishops to the Church. In view of the controversy surrounding that step and the Vatican’s admittedly clumsy handling of its announcement, we wanted to run the statement in full below. Again, any comments on how you see this controversy are welcome. (Photo: rev. Federico Lombardi, 13 June 2007/Herbert Neubauer)

The difficult commitment to reconciliation

The “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre” is definitely an unusual document and deserves all our attention. Never before in his Pontificate has Benedict XVI expressed himself in such a personal manner and intensity on a controversial subject. There isn’t the slightest doubt: this Letter bears his mark, from beginning to end.

Official text of pope’s letter to bishops on Williamson affair

pensive-pope (Photo: Pope Benedict at his Wednesday audience, 28 Jan 2009/Tony Gentile)

The Vatican published today the official text of an unprecedented letter Pope Benedict has sent to Roman Catholic bishops around the world explaining his reasons for readmitting four ultra-traditionalist bishops to the Church and his dismay at the uproar caused by the Holocaust denial of one of them, British-born Bishop Richard Williamson. Papal protocol usually keeps a safe buffer around the pope, shielding him from the rough and tumble of daily disputes, but Benedict broke with that tradition to write about his dismay at the Williamson controversy, admit it was mishandled and reveal how isolated he was from information anyone could easily find on the Internet. Given its unusually personal nature, we reprint it here. The text and translations into other languages are available in the Vatican’s daily bulletin.

Do you find this convincing? Should he have said more? Or should this now close the Williamson controversy?

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LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI

TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

concerning the remission of the excommunication

of the four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre

Dear Brothers in the Episcopal Ministry!

The remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated in 1988 by Archbishop Lefebvre without a mandate of the Holy See has for many reasons caused, both within and beyond the Catholic Church, a discussion more heated than any we have seen for a long time. Many Bishops felt perplexed by an event which came about unexpectedly and was difficult to view positively in the light of the issues and tasks facing the Church today. Even though many Bishops and members of the faithful were disposed in principle to take a positive view of the Pope’s concern for reconciliation, the question remained whether such a gesture was fitting in view of the genuinely urgent demands of the life of faith in our time. Some groups, on the other hand, openly accused the Pope of wanting to turn back the clock to before the Council: as a result, an avalanche of protests was unleashed, whose bitterness laid bare wounds deeper than those of the present moment. I therefore feel obliged to offer you, dear Brothers, a word of clarification, which ought to help you understand the concerns which led me and the competent offices of the Holy See to take this step. In this way I hope to contribute to peace in the Church.

Pope to bishops: check your mail

pope-pic-1Those of us who thought the pope had said the final word on the Williamson saga will have to think again. It seems to be never-ending.

On Thursday the Vatican officially releases a letter to the world’s bishops in which the pope essentially acknowledges that the Vatican handled the lifting of the excommunications of four ultra-traditionalist bishops very badly and that it hurt him personally that things went awry. (Photo: Pope Benedict at his weekly audience, 11 March 2009/Alessia Pierdomenico)

The story started leaking out on Tuesday night in the blog of Andrea Tornielli of Il Giornale and a story with partial excerpts was published in the Italian newspaper Il Foglio on Wednesday.  The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung printed what it said was the full text in German of the pope’s letter. Our story is based on a face-to-face conversation I had with an Italian archbishop who received the letter. We discussed it over a light meal near St Peter’s Square.

Anti-Darwin speaker gagged at Vatican evolution conference

Pontifical Gregorian University in RomeThe start of a high-powered Vatican-sponsored acadmeic conference on evolution was anything but fossilized.The third STOQ International Conference, called Biological Evolution, Facts and Theories, began on Tuesday at the Pontifical Gregorian University (picture right) under the patronage of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture.The conference, which has been organised together with the University of Notre Dame to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, had barely gotten underway when charges of censorship and undemocratic and unacademic behaviour began flying.At the end of the first session Oktar Babuna, a Turkish doctor and collaborator of prominent Turkish anti-Darwin campaigner Harun Yahya,asked for the floor to put forward a question. Babuna, a proponent of the Islamic creationist campaign against evolution, spoke about his view that there were insufficient transitional forms from species to species to support the theory of evolution.After he began speaking two professors on the dias, Francisco J. Ayala of the University of California at Irvine and Douglas Futuyma of the State University of New York were visibly irritated. Someone in the hall can be heard saying “turn the microphone off” and seconds later two organisers approached Babuna. One of them abruptly took the microphone away from Babuna and another ordered him to go back to his seat. Watch it all here“After I walked back to my seat someone said “only evolutionists can ask questions,” Babuna told Reuters afterwards. “This is very anti-democratic and very unacademic. If this is a scientific meeting … if you have scientific questions to ask, they should be responded to scientifically, everybody accepts that … if you force people to shut up and don’t let them ask any question … then it is not a scientific theory but an ideology.” The spat was filmed by Babuna’s associate Dr Cihat Gundogdu, who put Atlas of Creationan edited version on the Harun Yahya website.Both men attended the conference with English and Italian versions of Harun Yahya’s super-slick mega-book Atlas of Creation (picture left) in hand. We have done numerous blogs on Islamic creationism, its proponents and its opponents. Some of the links are listed below. But what do you think about the debate and, more importantly, do you think officials at the Gregorian University were right or wrong to yank the microphone from Babuna at a scientific conference?http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2009/02/05/just-before-darwin-day-pew-reviews-faith-and-evolution-in-us/http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2008/12/24/a-one-stop-shop-for-the-latest-on-islamic-creationism/http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2008/11/25/harun-yahya-dangles-big-prizes-for-creationism-essays/http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2008/10/27/richard-dawkins-rips-into-harun-yahya-and-muslim-creationism/http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2008/06/19/harun-yahya-preaches-islam-slams-darwin-and-awaits-jesus/http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2008/04/07/harun-yahyas-islamic-creationist-book-pops-up-in-scotland/

Pope’s secretary victim of Facebook hoax

It had to happen sooner or later.

Someone pretending to be Pope Benedict’s personal secretary Monsignor Georg Gänswein, a German priest whose good looks have made him a celebrity in his own right, has set up a false Facebook account in his name. Several journalists in Rome have received an invitation from someone claiming to be him and asking them to be his Facebook friend.

But the journalists noted something strange in the dialogue with the purported monsignor. He sprinkles his Italian with German words like gut (good)  — something the real one doesn’t  do since he speaks perfect Italian. The bogus monsignor also posted a video clip of the real Gänswein walking with the pope during the Benedict’s summer holidays last year in the northern Italian mountains. The video — shot by Vatican television — is readily available. (Photo: Monsignor Georg Gänswein and Pope Benedict at the Vatican, 7 June 2006/Max Rossi)

But the real Gänswein, dubbed “gorgeous George,” doesn’t really need Facebook to make friends. There already are at least four Facebook fan clubs started by swooning admirers. One of the fan clubs uses an Italian play on words that can mean both that he should leave the priesthood or take off his priestly clothes.

Cardinal Martino does it again

Cardinal Renato Martino, the papal aide who angered Israel and Jews by comparing Gaza to a “big concentration camp” is no novice at being outspoken or controversial. The southern Italian cardinal speaks his mind, loves to talk and sometimes has had to pay the price. Martino, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (effectively its justice minister), has a laundry list of people and governments with whom he has clashed. But that hasn’t stopped him. (Photo: Cardinal Martino at the Vatican, 12 April 2005/Tony Gentile)

Perhaps his most famous remark came in December, 2003 when, shortly after U.S. troops captured former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Martino told a news conference at the Vatican that U.S. military were wrong to show video footage of Saddam. “I felt pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures,” he said at the time.

The “treated like a cow” remark was heard around the world and, needless to say, was not very appreciated in the White House. The Vatican had opposed the U.S.-invasion of Iraq in March of that year. In fact, a certain chill developed between Martino and then U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Jim Nicholson, a Vietnam veteran who later went on to become Bush’s Secretary for Veteran Affairs.