17 November 2021, The Tablet

News Briefing: Church in the World

News Briefing: Church in the World

The Portuguese bishops’ conference, pictured here arriving at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, has a national commission on sexual abuse.
CNS photo/Pedro Nunes, Reuters

The Portuguese bishops have vowed to do all they can to keep child safeguarding and that of other vulnerable people at the centre of their priorities and announced the creation of a national organisation to coordinate the work of the 21 diocesan commissions for the protection of minors. Following the first day of their plenary meeting in Fátima, on 8 November, the president of the bishops’ conference said: “We will do all we can to protect the victims, discover the historical truth and prevent these dramatic situations”. Bishop José Ornelas of Setúbal spoke of the need to “provide safe and trustworthy opportunities for reporting and for accompanying abuse victims”. The move comes in the wake of a new investigation in the Diocese of Viseu, where a priest stands accused of sending sexually explicit text messages to a 14-yearold boy, but also of the French Sauvé report (see above). The Portuguese bishops did not call for a similar independent investigation, a position criticised by some. A group of 241 Catholics, including lawyers, academics and at least one member of Parliament, wrote an open letter to the bishops asking them to back an independent inquiry. The group expressed scepticism regarding official numbers of abuse cases in Portugal, around 10 over the past decade. “We are unaware of any sociological or other reasons that might exist,” the letter says, that explains why Portugal is any different from countries such as France, Poland, or Germany. “It is now well understood that this sort of behaviour, which can be witnessed in the Catholic Church in all geographical locations … is systemic and related to the internal exercise of power.”

Mosul, Iraq, will see the reopening ceremony of the main church of the monastery of Mar Korkis at the end of November. The Monastery of St George, by the Tigris River and dating back to the tenth century, was severely damaged by jihadists six years ago and used as a detention centre. The Iraq Heritage Stabilisation Programme completed the restoration in partnership with the Syriac Chaldean Antonine Hormizd Monastic order and with financial support from the US State Department. Local engineers and architects reconstructed the monastery’s dome and covered the church’s walls with Mosul Marble. Seven Salesians and a female staff member based at a centre in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, were released on Monday, eight days after their arrest, according to the news agency Fides. There was no mention of charges against them. Fides said a further 14 people remain in custody, “including Salesian religious, brothers, laity, employees”. It added that the government is targeting international bodies such as the Catholic Church and the Salesians, “to ensure that they do not promote political activities and do not support rebel groups”. Distress at arson attacks Catholic bishops in Kenya expressed distress over arson and unrest in the country’s high schools. Fires started deliberately in as many as 40 boarding schools have resulted in student injuries and massive loss of property. “We note that among the many… possible causes of this unrest are rising indiscipline caused by drug abuse and peer pressure, coupled by other stresses exerted on learners by an overcompressed and erratic calendar,” Archbishop Martin Kivuva Musonde, the bishops’ conference chairman, said on 12 November. Kivuva said congestion in dormitories, dining halls and classrooms had put further strain on students. “We need to review ways of maintaining discipline in our schools through … correction, mentorship, counselling and effective chaplaincy ministry. Specifically, parents should be more involved in this process,” the archbishop said.

The Pope visited Assisi on 12 November in a pilgrimage dedicated to the poor in preparation for the celebration on 14 November of World Day of the Poor. Francis entered Assisi’s Basilica of St Mary of the Angels with 500 economically or socially disadvantaged people and volunteers who accompanied them. Before going to the basilica, Francis visited the Poor Clares Convent, where he privately met the cloistered nuns. “You carry on your shoulders the problems of the Church, the pains of the Church and also – I dare say – the sins of the Church, our sins, the sins of the bishops, we are all sinful bishops; the sins of the priests; the sins of consecrated souls ... and bring them before the Lord”, he said. Hands must move not only to pray but also “to work”, Francis said, recalling St Paul’s words in his Letter to the Thessalonians: “Whoever does not work, must not eat.”

Cuba’s bishops have issued a statement supporting Monday’s peaceful protests demanding greater freedom and dignity in the country. They expressed concern about increasing tension and confrontation in Cuba and called for “mechanisms where, without fear of intimidation and reprisals, everyone can be heard and dissatisfaction is channelled in the face of the harsh daily realities that overwhelm so many, especially the most impoverished and vulnerable”. Protest marches were held across the island, despite being banned by the ruling Communist Party. Rockets and heavy weapons fired by Myanmar soldiers have hit the Catholic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in the Diocese of Pekhon, Shan State. Diocesan priest Fr Julio Oo reported that the cathedral complex has offered refuge to hundreds of local people during fighting in the area. “We are concerned that churches are becoming more and more targets of attacks by military forces,” he said.

The Diocese of Tombura Yambio has urged South Sudan’s government to provide security for Church personnel and property after recent attacks that killed a catechist and damaged several Church buildings. The diocese last week called for the rule of law to be upheld, and for national and international principles of human rights protection to be respected. Younger clergy more orthodox The 2021 Survey of American Catholic Priests was released this week by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Baylor University. It features 1,036 priests who answered 54 questions. The survey found that younger clergy tend to be more conservative than their elders on a host of issues. “We find strong empirical confirmation of the nearly ubiquitous perception that younger priests are more orthodox in their beliefs than older priests,” the authors state in the abstract.

The canonisation of Bd Charles de Foucauld and six others will take place in Rome on 15 May 2022, the Vatican has said. The delayed ceremony will be the Church’s first canonisation Mass since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak. The US Catholic bishops gathered in Baltimore on 15-18 November for their annual autumn meeting, their first inperson assembly since November 2019. Much of the focus was expected to be on a document on Eucharistic coherence, and the final document’s possible ramifications for pro-choice Catholic politicians, notably President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In mid- October, the draft text of the document, titled “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church”, was leaked. Its 26 pages did not contain a rebuke of Biden or any other politician. 

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