05 May 2022, The Tablet

News Briefing: Church in the World

News Briefing: Church in the World

Worshippers light candles during a traditional procession on Easter outside the St. Peter Parish Shrine of Leaders in Quezon City, Philippines, April 17, 2022.
CNS photo/Lisa Marie David, Reuters

According to a leaked draft of a court document, the US Supreme Court could be about to overturn the nationwide legal right to abortion. In a 98-page draft opinion, published by the news outlet Politico, Justice Samuel Alito writes that the 1973 Roe v Wade decision legalising abortion across the US is “egregiously wrong”. If the Supreme Court strikes down the ruling, so-called “trigger laws” could instantly make abortion illegal in 22 US states. However, the leak has the status of a draft, and the justices are not expected to issue a ruling until early July. Politico quotes Justice Alito as saying Roe’s reasoning was exceptionally weak, and far from bringing about a national settlement on abortion: “Roe [has] enflamed debate and deepened division.”

A new Catholic Bishops' Conference of Central Asia has been founded, which brings together Catholics from former Soviet countries of the region: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, as well as Mongolia and Afghanistan. Its first assembly was held last week in Nursultan in Kazakhstan, whose president sent greetings.

Apostolic nuncios were present as was Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. He outlined the priorities of nurturing friendly relations with other religions, and developing Catholic resources in local languages, "to contribute to the spread of the Gospel, the synodal process, work with young people and families and the implementation of Caritas projects". Bishop José Luis Mumbiela Sierra, 53, of the Diocese of the Santissima Trinità in Almaty, was elected president of the conference. Catholics are a small minority in the region, which is mainly Muslim and Russian Orthodox. Kazakhstan has the most Catholics with around 250,000 in a population of 19 million.

An ecumenical meeting held in Homs, Syria, last weekend brought together 750 young Syrian Christians from various Churches and regions. The event – organised by local Churches and the Taizé community in collaboration with the Jesuits – aimed to be a stage in the path of recovery for the country. This meeting is “great sign of hope,” said Brother Alois of Taizé in a message: “you do not allow yourself to be paralysed by the difficulties of life.” The city of Homs saw the martyrdom of Jesuit priest Fr Frans Van der Lugt in 2014.   

The Archdiocese of the South Korean capital, Seoul, is organising a faith school for Catholic grandparents as part of the Year of “Amoris Laetitia Family”, which will conclude in June during the tenth meeting of families in Rome. The initiative highlights the central faith role played by grandparents. Growing numbers are caring for their grandchildren because of an increase in families where both parents work, and Seoul Archdiocese wants to educate grandparents about the Catholic faith. The school will offer an eight-week programme with courses centred on three topics: self-care, grandchild care, and religious care.

Manila’s bishops issued a pastoral statement last week, calling on Catholics to pray the Rosary in the week leading up to Philippines presidential elections on 9 May. “With God there is nothing to fear despite the discouraging use of fake news, trolls and historical distortions,” said the statement signed by Cardinal José Advíncula, Archbishop of Manila. The bishops encouraged the electorate to vote for candidates who "promote the common good, especially for the poor and marginalised". The two frontrunners are Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the former longtime Philippines dictator, currently polling at 56 per cent, with the next highest candidate, former vice president Leni Robredo, polling at 24 per cent. Church leaders claim Robredo’s campaign has been undermined by online disinformation. Last week, she was presented with a declaration of support signed by 1,000 priests from across the Philippines.

President-elect Jose Ramos-Horta has announced he will adopt a papal-endorsed document on inter-religious dialogue into the school curriculum to maintain interreligious harmony and peace in Catholic-majority Timor Leste. The Abu Dhabi Declaration, which seeks to be a guide to promoting a “culture of mutual respect” between Christians and Muslims, was agreed by Pope Francis and the grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayyeb, during a papal visit to the United Arab Emirates in February 2019. “This document will be approved by the national parliament for inclusion in the primary and secondary school curriculum,” Ramos-Horta said on 29 April.

A high court judge in Juba, South Sudan, has jailed a Catholic priest and three others for shooting Bishop Christian Carlassare of Rumbek last year. Fr John Mathiang Machoi was given a seven-year sentence. On 25 April 2021, Carlassare was wounded in the legs in an attack carried out shortly after the announcement of his appointment as bishop of Rumbek. Comboni Bishop Carlassare has called for forgiveness for his attackers and for reconciliation and peace in the country. He said Pope Francis’ forthcoming visit, scheduled for July, will “give an important impetus to the process of pacification that will affect all communities, especially those that are most discouraged and most marginalised”.

United States Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene told the media outlet Church Militant that Satan is “controlling the Church”. She later issued a statement criticising the US bishops for their failure to confront clergy sex abuse, as well as their charitable support for immigrants. “The bishops are also busy destroying our nation using taxpayer money to advocate for the illegal invasion across our borders,” she said. Greene was sharply criticised even by conservative Catholics. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League issued a statement that said: “Satan is controlling the Catholic Church? She needs to apologise to Catholics immediately. She is a disgrace.” 

Washington’s Cardinal Wilton Gregory celebrated a special Mass on 1 May, at St Matthew’s Cathedral, commemorating the legacy of Mgr George Higgins, the long-time chaplain to the AFL-CIO, the largest group of associated trade unions in the country, who died 20 years ago on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. Fr. Evelio Menjivar, a prominent pastor in the D.C. area who focusses on labour issues, preached the homily. The following day, the Catholic Labor Network and the AFL-CIO hosted a panel to discuss Higgins’ legacy, the current state of the church-labour alliance, and voice hopes for the future.

The Spanish bishops’ conference announced on Friday last week that it will not take part in an independent commission into clerical sexual abuse set up by the national legislature. The bishops’ main complaint is that the commission will only examine sexual abuse of minors committed by members of the Catholic Church, rather than cases in Spain as a whole. “We want to state that to carry out an investigation of abuses only in the Church, when it is clear that out of 15,000 open cases in Spain, only 69 refer to the church, is a surprising decision,” said conference spokesman, auxiliary Bishop Luis Argüello of Valladolid.

The newly-elected president of the Bishops’ Conference of Cameroon, Archbishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya of Bamenda, says Cameroonians must “look to themselves” rather than blame outsiders when dealing with the major crises in the country. Cameroon is facing a separatist war in the west, and Islamist Boko Haram attacks in the north, as well as a refugee crisis. Speaking at the end of the bishops’ conference’s 47th plenary assembly on 30 April, Bishop Nkea said the crises in Cameroon are not caused by foreigners, but by Cameroonians themselves, and he invited his countrymen to own up to their responsibilities.

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