FaithWorld

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.

Waco, Texas, made headlines in 1993 when federal agents raided the headquarters of the Branch Davidian movement, led by David Koresh, leading to a 50-day siege. The building was burned down when agents eventually tried to force their way in, leaving some 80 people dead.

Bugarach, with a population of just 200, has long been considered magical, partly due to what locals claim is an “upside-down mountain” where the top layers of rock are older than the lower ones. The Internet is awash with myths about the place — that the mountain is surrounded by a magnetic force, that it is the site of a concealed alien base, or even that it contains an underground access to another world. And now many have seized on it as the ultimate refuge with Doomsday rapidly approaching.

German abuse victims humiliated by compensation sums

heimkinder (Photo: A man wearing a T-shirt reading “former foster home child” at a news conference presenting the final report on abuse in foster homes in Berlin, December 13, 2010./Thomas Peter)

German victims of abuse in foster homes say the 120 million euros proposed as compensation was “humiliatingly” small compared with damages awarded in other countries, and vowed to fight for more. After a two-year inquiry, a government-appointed panel on Monday recommended 120 million euros be set aside for an estimated 30,000 victims expected to file abuse claims.

“It’s a poor start to the compensation process and another humiliation of victims,” the VEH victims’ group leader Monika Tschapek-Güntner said. “Roughly 30,000 victims are expected to apply for damages which will leave individuals between 2,000 and 4,000 euros.”

Tschapek-Güntner said that a deal struck between abuse victims and the Catholic Church in Ireland resulted in payments averaging 76,000 euros per victim. Irish compensation claims are expected to top 1 billion euros.

Inquiry cites almost 2,000 Dutch Catholic sex abuse reports

deetmanAlmost 2,000 people have declared themselves this year victims of sexual and physical abuse while they were minors in the care of the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands, an independent commission said on Thursday. (Photo: Wim Deetman, 1 Jan 2006/Roel Wijnants)

The investigation into abuses dating back to 1945 shows that the Netherlands ranks second worst behind Ireland for known cases in scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in Europe and the United States. The church-appointed commission’s findings were requested by the Dutch bishops’ conference after cases surfaced involving paedophile priests in the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Germany and other countries.

“I am very respectful of the people who came forward because declaring yourself a victim is a big step,” said Wim Deetman, a Protestant former education minister and former mayor of The Hague who heads the commission, of the 1,975 reported cases.

Muslim religious demands on French state schools rising: report

lyceeThe sometimes difficult integration of Muslims is climbing the ladder of public concerns in Europe. It’s been hotly debated in Germany and figured in recent elections in the Netherlands and Austria. Now, a French government body called the High Council for Integration (HCI) has drawn up a critical report about the problems faced by — and posed by — school pupils with immigrant backgrounds. It’s not only about Muslim pupils, but they are mentioned so frequently that it’s clear who’s mostly involved here. (Photo: Lycée Condorcet in Paris,  27 June 2009/Juan Antonio Cordero)

Among its findings, the report says Muslim pupils and parents in France are increasingly making religious demands on the state school system and that teachers should rebuff these demands by explaining the country’s principle of laïcité, the official separation of church and state. Among the problems it listed were pupils who upset classes by objecting to courses about the Holocaust, the Crusades or evolution, who demand halal meals and generally “reject French culture and its values.”

For more of its findings, read our news report on the study here.

“It is becoming difficult for teachers to resist religious pressures,” said the report, posted in draft form (here in French) on the website of the newspaper Journal du Dimanche (JDD), which published an article in its paper edition entitled “School threatened by communalism.” “We should now reaffirm secularism and train teachers how to deal with specific problems linked to the respect for this principle,” it said. The final report will be presented to the government next month.

Low support for radicalism among European Muslims — Pew report

london mosqueSupport for radical Islamist groups is low among European Muslims and some leading groups with overseas roots are now cooperating with local governments and encouraging Muslims to vote, according to a new report. (Photo: A minaret in East London, August 11, 2006/Toby Melville)

European groups linked to wider Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-i-Islami now focus more on conditions for Muslims in Europe than their original ideologies from Egypt and Pakistan, according to the report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The report also cited tensions between “jihadists” and peaceful Islamists in Europe, saying some groups linked to the Muslim Brotherhood were working with police to counter militants.

Child abuse was widespread in Belgian Catholic Church – Church report

AdriaenssensChild sexual abuse was widespread in the Belgian Catholic Church and drove at least 13 victims to suicide, according to a report published on Friday.  “Almost every institution, every school, particularly boarding schools, at one time harboured abuse,” Peter Adriaenssens, the head of a Church commission monitoring complaints, told a news conference. (Photo: Peter Adriaenssens, July 6, 2010/Yves Herman)

More than half of its 200-page report, based on cases recorded up till then, consists of excerpts of testimony from victims. The 475 cases it recorded included victims as young as two. Two-thirds were male and boys aged about 12 were particularly vulnerable. In most cases, abuse tailed off when victims reached 15 or 16.

Adriaenssens said: “With these testimonies, it was not about superficial handling. It was about oral and anal abuse, forced and mutual masturbation. In other words, it was about people who had experienced serious acts.”

Stock markets in Muslim countries usually rally during Ramadan-study

datesRamadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar marked with fasting and prayer, is also an uplifting time for stock markets in predominantly Muslim countries, according to a study by the University of New Hampshire. (Photo: A woman displays dates, a traditional food to break the Ramadan fast at sunset, in Amman on August 8, 2010/Muhammad Hamed)

Stock markets in Oman, Turkey, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Malaysia, Bahrain, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia generated average returns of 38 percent during the month of Ramadan over the years 1989 through 2007, according to the report, compared with their average 4.3 percent returns the rest of the year.

Observance of Ramadan this year is expected to start on or about Aug. 11 and finish on or about Sept. 10.

German Jesuit report shows years of sexual abuse cover-up

canisius

Canisius College, the Jesuit high school in Berlin, January 28, 2010/Fabrizio Bensch

A Jesuit investigation has cited 205 allegations of sexual abuse against priests at its schools in Germany, revealing decades of systematic abuse and attempts of a cover-up by the prestigious Roman Catholic order.  The new allegations threaten to further undermine the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, already accused of hushing up hundreds of sexual and physical abuse allegations in Church-run schools that have come to light recently.

“In the name of the order, I acknowledge with shame and guilt our failure,” Father Stefan Dartmann, Germany’s leading Jesuit official, said in a statement. “I ask for forgiveness.” The report also cited a further 50 allegations of abuse relating to other, mostly Catholic institutions.

Senegal’s Koranic “scholars” face beatings: report

senegal 2

Fali Ba, 10, a Talibe or Islamic student, holds a copy of the Koran at a Dara, or Koranic school, in Pikine on the outskirts of Senegal's capital Dakar, May 7, 2008/Finbarr O'Reilly

Barefoot children in tattered clothes scramble through the dusty, trash-strewn streets of Dakar, tapping on car windows and shadowing market-goers in the hopes of a few coins or a cup of rice.

The sight of young people begging is not uncommon in a country struggling with deep-rooted poverty, but in the West African state of Senegal there is a twist.

Child abuse crisis to spark Irish Catholic Church shake-up

irishvatican Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (L) and Cardinal Sean Brady (C) after meeting Pope Benedict, 11 Dec 2009/Tony Gentile

Pope Benedict has expressed “outrage, betrayal and shame” at the sexual abuse of children by priests in Ireland, which Church leaders said would lead to a shake-up of the Irish Roman Catholic Church.  Church sources expected some bishops to resign in the wake of a government report that said Church leaders in overwhelmingly Catholic Ireland had covered up widespread abuse of children by priests for 30 years.

“I think that we are looking at a very significant reorganization of the Church in Ireland,” Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said after he and other Irish Church leaders held an emergency meeting with the Pope on Friday.