FaithWorld

German Catholics urge pope to speak out on sex scandals

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"... And the pope is silent" reads the front page headline in this Hamburg daily, 15 March 2010

German Catholic politicians and lay activists urged Pope Benedict on Monday to speak out about sexual abuse cases by priests that have shocked the country and led to questions about his management of the crisis. The calls came amid widespread criticism in the media that the Bavarian-born pontiff made no statement after getting a briefing on the scandals at the Vatican on Friday from the leader of the Church in Germany, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch.

In Bavaria, a convicted abuser priest whose transfer to Munich in 1980 while Pope Benedict was archbishop there threatened to draw the pontiff into the scandal, was suspended from his post in a spa town, the Munich archdiocese announced.

“The Holy Father needs to say something about this,” Dirk Tänzler, head of the Federation of German Catholic Youth (BDKJ), told the Berliner Zeitung daily. “The Church needs to be more honest and stricter with itself, and that naturally includes the pope,” Wolfgang Thierse, a vice president of the German parliament and member of the Central Committee of Catholics, told ARD television.

A Vatican prelate, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, said Benedict would soon speak with “his clear and decisive voice, without hiding anything” in an expected letter on similar scandals in Ireland, but gave no date or hint if it would mention Germany.  Fisichella, in an interview with the Milan daily Corriere della Sera, echoed Vatican attacks on the media for pursuing the scandals. “The rage against the pontiff is insane,” he said.

Catholic daily buries the news in sexual abuse headline

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Headlines are supposed to highlight the news, but sometimes the news is uncomfortable. Like the sexual abuse cases for the Roman Catholic Church. Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian Catholic bishops’ conference, played down the big news in its front-page headline on Saturday about an  interview with the head of the Vatican office dealing with charges of sexual abuse against priests.

In the middle of the front page (at left), it ran the headline “Il ‘pm’ vaticano: in tutto il mondo trecento i preti accusati di pedofilia.” — Vatican public prosecutor: 300 priests accused of pedophilia in the whole world.”  That actually doesn’t sound like that many, given all the cases we’ve heard about all these years.

It’s only in the interview on page 5 that the real picture emerges. There the reader finds a much larger figure of  3,000 accusations of sexual misdeeds of all kinds made against priests since 2001, concerning cases dating back up to 50 years ago. That sounds more like it, although it still must be lower than the real number of cases because so many don’t get reported.

Tahir ul-Qadri and the difficulty of reporting on fatwas

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Muhammed Tahir ul-Qadri at a youth camp in Coventry, central England, August 9, 2009/Kieran Doherty

It never was and may never be easy to report about fatwas for a world audience. This point was driven home once again today when a prominent Islamic scholar presented to the media his new 600-page fatwa against terrorism and suicide bombing. Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri is a Pakistani-born Sufi scholar whose youth workshops fostering moderation and understanding in Britain had already caught our attention. His effort to knock down any and every argument in favour of violence is certainly welcome. But the back story to this event is so complicated that it’s hard to report on the fatwa without simply ignoring many important parts of this back story.

Part of the problem was the PR drumroll leading up to ul-Qadri’s news conference.  Minhaj-ul-Quran, his international network to spread his Sufi teachings, touted this fatwa in an email to journalists a week ago as a unique event “because at no time in history has such an extensively researched and evidenced work been presented by such a prominent Islamic authority.” Hype like this usually prompts journalists to throw an invitation straight into the trash can.

For God’s sake, blog!, pope tells priests

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Vatican and new media on pope2you.net, 22 May 2009/Jonathan Bainbridge

For God’s sake, blog! Pope Benedict has told priests, saying they must learn to use new forms of communication to spread the gospel message.

In his message for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Communications on Saturday, the pope, who is 82 and known not to love computers or the internet, acknowledged priests must make the most of the “rich menu of options” offered by new technology.

“Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources — images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites — which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis,” he said.

Q+A – What’s next in Malaysia’s “Allah” row?

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Facebook group protesting Allah ruling, 5 Jan 2010/Bazuki Muhammad

Malaysia’s government has filed for a stay of execution pending its appeal of a court ruling allowing a Malay-language Catholic paper to describe the Christian God as “Allah”, amid growing Islamic anger in the country. We reported on the dispute here yesterday, including how it has spilled over into Facebook.

What lies ahead in this row threatening to increase religious tensions in the mainly Muslim but multi-racial Southeast Asian country?

Our Q+A asks why this is arousing so much anger, what happens next, whether there will be political fallout from the dispute and whether religious tensions present an important threat to religious, political and economic interests in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s “Allah” row spills over into Facebook

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The word "Allah" in a Malay-language Catholic newspaper, 29 Dec 2009/Bazuki Muhammad

More than 43,000 Malaysians have protested online over a court ruling allowing a Malay-language Catholic paper to use the word “Allah” for “God,” signaling growing Islamic anger in this mostly Muslim Southeast Asian country.

A group page on social networking site Facebook was drawing 1,500 new supporters an hour on Monday as last week’s court ruling split political parties and even families.  Among those who signed up for the protest were Deputy Trade Minister Mukhriz Mahathir, the son of Malaysia’s longest serving prime minister, Mahathir Mohamed, while Mahathir’s daughter Marina called critics of the court decision “idiots” in her blog.

Would Polanski get a pass if he were a paedophile priest?

polanskiIt’s hard to watch France’s political and cultural elite rush to support filmmaker Roman Polanski against extradition to the United States on a decades-old sex charge and not wonder exactly how they interpret the national motto liberté, égalité, fraternité.” It’s tempting to ask whether they’re defending the liberty to break the law and skip town, respecting the equality of all before the law and championing a brotherhood of artists who can do no wrong. (Photo: Roman Polanski, 19 Feb 2009/Hannibal Hanschke)

Here in Paris, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner declared the arrest was “a bit sinister … frankly, (arresting) a man of such talent recognised around the world, recognised in the country where he was arrested — that’s not very nice.” He and his Polish counterpart have written to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the issue. Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand said “just as there is a generous America that we like, there’s also an America that scares us, and that’s the America that has just shown us its face.” Directors, actors and intellectuals have been signing a petition demanding Polanski’s immediate release.

Almost all the focus is on the argument that Polanski is a brilliant director, the charge of unlawful sex with a 13-year old dates back to 1977 and the victim herself says she wants the whole issue to be forgotten.  Almost completely ignored is the fact that he fled the U.S. to escape sentencing, which added a crime to the original crime. There is such a widespread assumption that all artists and intellectuals would automatically support Polanski that Paris papers today — both the left-of-centre Libération and the conservative Le Figaro — wrote with an air of surprise that Hollywood was not storming the barricades to back him.

Unusual tit-for-tat in the Vatican over Williamson affair

arborelius-2 (Photo: Video grab of Bishop Anders Arborelius on Swedish TV, 23 Sept 2009)

There’s nothing new about tit-for-tat and finger-pointing in diplomacy and politics but the Vatican is usually quite careful not to wash its dirty laundry in public. So it was surprising to see some of the principal characters in the the long-running saga of Richard Williamson, the traditionalist bishop who sparked a crisis in Catholic-Jewish relations when he denied the extent of the Holocaust on Swedish television, now spatting in public over it.

Just when the Vatican thought it had put the Williamson affair behind it, the story has came back to haunt the Holy See. On Wednesday evening, the Swedish television network SVT aired a follow-up to its January 2009 documentary about the Society of St Pius X (SSPX). That program sparked off a public controversy POPE-JEWS/because the Vatican lifted excommunications on Williamson and three other SSPX bishops three days later, creating the impression the Church either didn’t know or didn’t care about his Holocaust statement. In the uproar that followed, Pope Benedict once again condemned Holocaust denial and said he hadn’t known about the statements in advance. Usually discreet Vatican officials publicly blamed others for not informing him. (Photo: Bishop Richard Williamson, 28 Feb 2007/Jens Falk)

The new report on the “Uppdrag granskning” (Assignment: Investigate) program said the Vatican knew about Williamson’s views well before the bans on the SSPX bishops were lifted. To make matters worse, in conjunction with the new broadcast, the website of Stockholm’s Roman Catholic diocese posted a note saying Bishop Anders Arborelius and the Vatican nuncio to Sweden told the Holy See in November 2008 about the not-yet-aired interview that Williamson had given to Swedish television in which he said “I believe there were no gas chambers”. The interview was recorded in Germany in November 2008 and aired in Sweden on 21 January 2009. See our latest story on this here.

Italy’s Catholic Church vs. Berlusconi drama, Act II

famcriA running crisis in relations between Silvio Berlusconi’s government and the Church deepened when Italy’s top Catholic weekly accused him of acting like a “prince” while many Italians were struggling financially.  A scathing editorial in Famiglia Cristiana, Italy’s largest circulation weekly news magazine, also indirectly criticised the media mogul’s private life and attacked the type of women politicians he has promoted in his centre-right party. And it did so without naming him once. The clever editorial in its online edition on September 16, here in Italian, was unsigned, meaning it was written by the magazine’s editor, Father Antonio Sciortino.

The editorial came several weeks after relations between the government and the influential Church nose-dived when a newspaper owned by the Berlusconi family launched a personal attack against a top Catholic editor, forcing him to resign. Read our previous blogs on that episode here and here.

In the latest episode of a duel between the Church and the prime minister, the Famiglia Cristiana editorial made a number of clear references to Berlusconi and scandals or controversies that have surrounded him recently. In a laundry list of what it said were examples of the country’s moral degradation, it spoke of “escorts” and “high-class prostitutes.” Berlusconi has been at the centre of media attention in Italy and abroad over patriziaallegations that he spent a night with a call-girl in his Rome residence. The woman, Patrizia D’Addario, taped their private conversations and says she and other escorts were paid to attend his parties.

Afghan journalist jailed for blasphemy goes free

kambakhsh-3An Afghan journalist, sentenced to death for blasphemy, reduced to 20 years’ jail on appeal, has been set free and is living in exile in an undisclosed country, a media watchdog has said.  Perwiz Kambakhsh, 24, a reporter with the Afghan Jahan-e Now daily, was sentenced to death in January 2008 by a court in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. (Photo: Kambakhsh at a Kabul court hearing, 21 Oct 2008/Omar Sobhani)

Kambakhsh was arrested and imprisoned for downloading and distributing an Iranian article from the Internet that said the Prophet Mohammad had ignored the rights of women. Under Islamic law — stipulated in Afghanistan’s constitution — blasphemy is punishable by death.

In a statement on its website, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, which campaigns for press freedom, said Kambakhsh’s lawyer had confirmed to them Monday his release and that President Hamid Karzai had signed a pardon several weeks earlier. Karzai’s office was not immediately available for comment.