09 January 2020, The Tablet

News Briefing: Church in the World

News Briefing: Church in the World

Devotees left unconscious at the mammoth sea of crowd during the Feast of Black Nazarene in Manila, Philippines.
Joseph Dacalanio/Zuma Press/PA Images

A French publisher has withdrawn from sale a book of testimonies against Bernard Preynat, the defrocked priest at the centre of the sexual abuse case haunting the Church in France, because two alleged victims objected to their accounts being printed without their consent (writes Tom Heneghan). The two men had agreed that the website of the victims’ association La Parole Libérée could post their accounts, identified only by their given names. But they balked when the group decided to publish them in its book, "Abusés". One alleged victim accused the group, which aims to use the book’s proceeds to fund further victim advocacy work, of wanting to profit from the victims' suffering. The other said his account was only written for the website.  "These accounts have already been read by several thousands of people on the internet. How was I supposed to know some authors would oppose their publication?" association head François Devaux asked. The group's leadership had agreed to the book, printed in a first run of 1,000 copies with 17 accounts of Preynat’s abuse, but failed to notify the victims about it. The two then went to court to halt its sale.Without waiting for the court’s decision, the publishers cancelled the planned publication launch on 10 January but said they were considering reprinting the book -- which also includes six accounts from victims of another abusive priest – without the two contested testimonies. The controversy means the book cannot come out before Preynat's civil trial for sexual abuse next week (from 13 to 17 January). But it might by the end of the month, when Cardinal Philippe Barbarin will learn if his appeal against a suspended sentence for covering up Preynat’s abuse is upheld. 

Catholic organisations have joined Church leaders in warning Spain's Socialist-led government against violating the constitution and international law with its projected secularising reforms in education, family life and other areas (writes Jonathan Luxmoore). "This acting government is using totalitarian methods in an attempt to stifle critical entities for exclusively ideological reasons", said Ignacio Garcia-Julia, president of Spain's Family Forum. "We will campaign to demand respect and equal treatment for dissenting entities, for norms of democracy and plurality to be upheld, and for dissidents not to be persecuted and punished unfairly. This is the attitude of totalitarian regimes, not of consolidated democracies". The Foro de la Familia was reacting to a decision by the government of premier Pedro Sanchez to withdraw a direct state subsidy paid to it since 2003. It said the move, which was not notified or consulted on in advance, had been "exclusively political", and demonstrated the government's "undemocratic mood". It added that the Forum, which claims to represent over four million Spanish families, counted on "all citizens who care about the family, life and freedom" to work together to "keep these flags flying". Meanwhile, Spain's Catholic schools confederation said it was also concerned about government plans to restrict religious education, after relevant parental rights were questioned in November by Isabel Celaa, the Education and Vocational Training Minister. The confederation added that the right of parents to choose "religious and moral training in line with their convictions" was guaranteed under Article 27 of the Spanish constitution, as well as by European Union regulations and international law.

The Catholic Archbishop of Lagos used his World Peace Day message on 1 January to urge the Nigerian government to intensify efforts to tackle jihadist groups who murdered more than 20 Christians in the north over Christmas. Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins of Lagos said: "I plead with the Federal Government to put more decisive measures in place to curb the lingering cases of insecurity in the country in 2020."

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need of his disgust with the authorities. “The only difference between the government and Boko Haram is Boko Haram is holding a bomb. They are using the levers of power to secure the supremacy of Islam,” he said. In the latest atrocity by Islamists, a bride and all the members of her bridal party were beheaded by suspected Boko Haram militia at Gwoza in Borno State on 26 December. Their vehicle was ambushed while they travelled from Maiduguri for the wedding, scheduled for 31 December in Adamawa State.The Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust suggests that at least 1000 Nigerian Christians have been murdered by Islamist militia since January 2019.

As the death toll in Jakarta’s flooding rose to more than 60 people, the Archdiocese of Jakarta has distributed aid and offered shelter to the homeless. Low-lying Jakarta and surrounding districts have struggled to cope since the region was hit from New Year’s Eve by some of the most powerful monsoon rains seen in years. Around 400,000 people have sought refuge on higher ground, many in government buildings or places of worship, including churches. A flood crisis centre was set up at the Cathedral of the Assumption, and parishes collected food for nearly 200 people sheltering at St Augustine Church.

 Catholic Church leaders in Kenya are calling for urgent action to stop an advancing swarm of desert locusts which have swept northern and north-eastern parts of the country from Ethiopia and Somalia. The insects which have arrived in the country in the midst of heavy rains and floods are threatening livelihoods for local communities. The insects were first noticed on28 December in Mandera County (Garissa diocese) and have since spread to Marsabit diocese. “With the good rains, the people had planted food crops,” Fr Ibrahim Racho, vicar general of Marsabit Diocese told The Tablet. “Now the locusts are destroying everything including food crops.”

Several million devotees of the venerated statue, the Black Nazarene, processed through Central Manila on 9 January. A new security scheme at the annual event, involving 10,000 police, was designed to speed up the procession of the statue from Quirino Grandstand to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene at Quiapo Church. Last year, the procession of around four miles lasted 21 hours. During the centuries-old tradition devotees jostle to touch or at least catch a glimpse of the icon on its carriage. Carved from a dark wood in the sixteenth century in Mexico the statue was transported to the Philippines in 1606. 

In Indiana, after controversy engulfed two Catholic schools regarding the employment of two gay men who had entered into a civil marriage, a Democratic legislator, J.D. Ford, has joined forces with the Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jennifer McCormick to ban the allocation of funds from the state voucher programme from going to any schools that discriminate against LGBT students or teachers. Last year, the decision whether or not to fire gay men and women who get married made national headlines when the Society of Jesus who run Brebeuf High School refused an order from Indianapolis Archbishop Charles Thompson to fire a gay employee. The man’s husband, who taught at a diocesan school, was fired. Last year, Indiana awarded US$161 million in vouchers to some 36,000 students.

At Christmas, Sudan's Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowments apologised to the country’s Christians for "the unjust and clumsy policies" that their families and their religion were subjected to during the regime of deposed President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Minister Nasr-al-Din Mufreh singled out theft of and damage to church property and “unjust arrest and prosecution”. “Let’s unite and celebrate our beautiful unique diversity,” the minister said. Christmas was declared a public holiday for the first time in eight years and Muslim politicians attended Christmas services.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences and Archbishop of Yangon, joined politicians and dignitaries from 18 countries in sending an open letter to Hong Kong’s leader calling for an investigation into alleged police misconduct in Hong Kong.  In the New Year’s Eve letter, they told Carrie Lam they were horrified to see reports of Hong Kong police firing tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets on peaceful protestors during the Christmas holidays.

Agenzia Fides reports that in 2019, a total of 29 missionaries were killed across the world. These were: 18 priests, one permanent deacon, two Religious men, two nuns and six lay people. In Africa in 2019, 12 priests were killed, one Religious man, one Religious woman, one lay woman (a total of 15). In America, six priests were killed, one permanent deacon, one Religious man, four lay people (12). In Asia, one lay woman was killed. In Europe, one nun was killed.

Europe's Catholic pilgrimage centres have seen another sharp rise in visitors, with a record 350,000 completing the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and an increase also reported at Jasna Gora in Poland. The Pauline order which runs Poland's Jasna Gora shrine said 4.4 million visited the hilltop Marian sanctuary during 2019, a rise of 100,000 over the previous year, with the largest foreign groups coming from Germany, the United States, Italy and Spain. Virtually all European shrines have reported increased visitors in recent years, with Mariazell in Austria and Knock in Ireland welcoming record numbers. In Portugal, the Marian sanctuary of Fatima attracted a record 9.4 million in the course of 2017, the centenary of its famous apparitions. 

President Jovenel Moïse gave a speech in the capital of Port-Au-Prince to mark the 216th anniversary of Haiti's independence on Wednesday 1 January. Usually the commemoration, known as Te Deum, is held at the Cathedral of Gonaives, the town were Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared independence from France in 1804. However, the ongoing protests against the Moïse administration appear to have discouraged the president from traveling to Gonaives. On Wednesday, protesters joined in Gonaives to attend the funeral in the Place d’Arme of an anti-government protester Cénoble Mécène, 35, who was killed in a confrontation with police in December. Mécène’s coffin was carried through the streets but Yves-Marie Péan, bishop of Gonaives, kept the doors of the Cathedral closed.










  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99