07 May 2021, The Tablet

News Briefing: Church in the World

Cardinal Marx has renounced the the Bundesverdienstkreuz, the Federal Cross of Merit.

Three days before he was scheduled to receive the Bundesverdienstkreuz (the Federal Cross of Merit, Germany’s only federal decoration) from the President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier on 30 April, Cardinal Reinhard Marx announced that he had renounced the honour, writes Christa Pongratz-Lippitt. The abuse victims’ association of the diocese of Trier had sharply protested against Marx receiving the award accusing him of not following up sexual abuse by a priest intensively enough when he was Bishop of Trier (2002-2007).  Peter Bringmann-Henselder, a well-known member of the Cologne Archdiocese’s Victims’ Association who had himself received the award for his work on behalf of abuse survivors, said in an open letter that he would return the award if Marx were to receive it and advised others who had received it to do the same. “I ask you to abstain from bestowing the award. I am convinced that this is the right step to take with consideration for those who are obviously offended, but especially out of consideration for the survivors (of sexual abuse)”, Marx said in his letter to the president.

Pope Francis will open a 14 May conference looking at how to reverse Italy’s low birthrate. Francis, who the Vatican said is to take part in the Rome event in person, has lamented the “Italian demographic winter” warning that “the future is in danger.” The online event is being organised by the Stati Generali della Natalità (the General States of Birth), which was established by the Forum of Family Associations, and is set to publish new data on Italy’s projected birth rate. The initiative is seeking the help of businesses, media and cultural leaders to tackle the decline in births. Last year, Italy recorded its lowest birth rate on record: 404,104 babies were born in 2020, the smallest figure since 1861 when the country was re-unified, while 746,146 deaths were recorded. 

Catholic doctor Stephen Karanja, who last month strongly opposed Covid-19 vaccinations, died last week from complications related to the disease. Karanja, a 61-year-old obstetrician and gynaecologist had been admitted into a hospital in Nairobi after falling sick days earlier. He had stressed steaming and use of antihistamines to battle the pandemic. He was chairman of the Kenya Catholic Doctors Association, a prolife medical practitioner’s association that opposes abortion and contraception. The Kenyan Conference of Catholic bishops said that the vaccines were licit and acceptable and the Ministry of Health has administered most of the 1 million vaccines the country received from a global vaccine initiative.

Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Center for Disease Control, announced the government agency was loosening its recommendations regarding indoor worship for those who have been vaccinated. “As we gather more and more data on the real-world efficacy of vaccines, we know that masked, fully vaccinated people can safely attend worship services inside,” Walensky said. 

Large Dutch churches can now welcome more Massgoers and funeral participants after the government announced a slight loosening of its tight health regulations. All churches were previously limited to 30 worshippers, but now those with more than 300 seats can expand the congregation according to the building size, provided only 10 per cent of the maximum capacity is allowed in. Funerals with social distancing are now allowed 100 rather than 50 participants.

St Sulpice, the spacious Left Bank Paris church that has taken over many events normally held in the currently closed Notre Dame cathedral, has dedicated one of its side chapels to the memory of victims of the Covid-19 pandemic. The association Tenir ta main (Hold Your Hand) took the initiative to rededicate the chapel of St Paul near the entry to the church after seeing how many victims died in hospital while their families could not visit them. “This project is a response to the request that many families have made of us for a place to pay tribute to their loved ones and to the victims,” said Laurent Frémont, the secretary general of the association who lost his father to the pandemic last November. Anyone grieving a loved one can leave a photo, a candle and a memorial text at the side chapel. 


Following another tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea, Caritas Internationalis has condemned the “indifference” that led to the deaths of more than 130 migrants off the Libyan coast between 21 and 22 April. “The 'moment of shame' must be followed by the moment of political will, welcome, legality and action,” said Aloysius John, Secretary-General of Caritas Internationalis. The confederation called for safe and legal migration routes, and greater support to local communities in the countries of origin so that people are not forced to migrate. 

China has been scaling up its persecution of members of the Church of Almighty God, which has at least three million members in the country. The Church claims that between January and March, some 750 members were detained in various provinces, and many were beaten, according to a 27 April report from Bitter Winter, a magazine on religious liberty, which also reports that a number of Catholic- and Protestant-run orphanages have been closed, after allegations of “proselytisation”.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has published a report, “Arson, Vandalism, and Other Destruction at Catholic Churches”, which documents attacks on churches in the US over the past year. From May 2020, at least 67 incidents occurred across 25 states, including arson, statues beheaded and and gravestones defaced with anti-Catholic language.  

The Funeral Mass for Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk was celebrated by Archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Andrew Yeom, and other bishops of Korea at Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul on 1 May. He died on 27 April at the age of 89. Pope Francis sent a message of “thanksgiving for Cardinal Jin-suk’s many years of service to the Church in Korea and to the Holy See.”More than 50,000 people visited the cathedral during the mourning period to pay their respects.  

The Catholic Archdiocese of Bangalore, in South India’s Karnataka state, has temporarily transformed Catholic schools into hospitals for Covid patients. Last week Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and president of Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council, urged India’s government to “treat the availability of medical oxygen as a basic human right … on a par with food, clothing and shelter.” Twelve Covid-19 patients on oxygen including a doctor died on Saturday in Batra Hospital in New Delhi after it ran out of the supply for 80 minutes. Bishop Jose Chittooparambil of Rajkot Syro-Malabar diocese in Gujarat State described as “shocking” the deaths of at least 16 patients and two nurses on 1 May, in a fire at a government hospital in Bharuch, Gujarat state.  

On 30 April, the Society of Priests of St James in Haiti confirmed in a press release that the priests and nuns being held hostage in Haiti had been released. The group, which included five priests, two nuns, and two other people, was kidnapped on 11 April while traveling to Ganthier, east of the capital Port-au-Prince. The Society, based in France, thanked the Catholic institutions of Haiti for their help as the country experiences an increase in kidnappings. 

Pope Francis has joined Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, to ask for special prayers for military-ruled Myanmar during the Marian month of May with the intention of achieving peace and reconciliation. In Italy, among the cloistered monasteries involved are the Franciscan Poor Clares of the Monastery in Via Vitellia in Rome and the Benedictine nuns of Santa Maria in Rosano. The pope’s plea came last weekend as thousands joined protests across Myanmar and around the world in what organisers called “Global Myanmar Spring Revolution Day”. Diaspora and exile communities in the US and Australia were among those marching in the streets to show defiance to military rule

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