15 December 2022, The Tablet

Church in the World: News Briefing

Church in the World: News Briefing

The Rev. Hennady Mokhnenko, pastor and bishop of the Pentecostal Church of God of Ukraine, is pictured in an undated photo. In his homily in St. Peter's Basilica Nov. 2, 2022, Pope Francis said he had just received a letter from the pastor, who runs a children's home in Ukraine.
CNS photo/Mokhnenko's Facebook page

After two Catholic clergy were detained by Russian forces at the end of last month, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Exarchate of Donetsk has called for their immediate release. In a 30 November statement labelled as “urgent,” the exarchate voiced their solidarity with the clerics, who serve in the city of Berdyansk, in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region. The Redemptorist priests are Fr Ivan Levytskyi, abbot of the Nativity of the Holy Theotokos parish, and Fr Bohdan Geleta, who assists at the parish. They were detained for allegedly housing explosives with the intention to commit “guerrilla” activities against the Russian army. The Donetsk Exarchate called the allegations both “false” and “slanderous,” as the clerics had never ventured outside the realm of their pastoral responsibilities. It said there had been no contact with the priests. The city of Donetsk is under Russian administration. Its citizens endure heavy daily shelling from Ukrainian forces, with many civilian casualties. The Kyiv government meanwhile is banning Orthodox churches affiliated with Russia. The move follows extensive raids and arrests by the SBU security services on parishes that Kyiv said could be taking orders from Moscow. Pope Francis broke down in tears as he mentioned the suffering of Ukrainians when he was giving a traditional prayer to mark the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on Rome's Spanish Steps on 8 December.

Human rights groups highlighting oppression by Israeli occupation forces are expecting a backlash after extremists linked to Israel's new government called them an “existential threat” last weekend. Pax Christi International has said, “never have the Palestinian people needed the support and solidarity of the international community more than now.” Two weeks ago it warned that “as Israel ushers in a ultra-right wing, ultra-orthodox religious administration, belligerent Israeli settlers, protected by the Israeli Defence Force, are emboldened to attack, and the sanctity of the holy city of Jerusalem is put in jeopardy.” Several international organisations have documented Israeli occupation forces impeding medical staff. On 7 December video footage showed them preventing Palestinian medics reaching the old city of Nablus to evacuate wounded Palestinians. In Berlin last weekend, Jews demonstrated against the new Israeli government.  

South Sudan Catholic Church sources are reporting heavy fighting in the world’s youngest nation. The fighting started in Upper Nile state on 15 August but has since spread to Jonglei and Unity States further north. The United Nations says the fighting has displaced 20,000 civilians, with an estimated 3,000 fleeing to neighbouring countries. The fighting comes weeks before Pope Francis, travels to the conflict-hit country in the company of Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and Revd. Iain Greenshields of the Church of Scotland. The 3-5 February pilgrimage is intended to boost the country's fragile peace. Sr Elena Balatti, a Comboni Sister in Malakal diocese was quoted by Fides news agency saying: “Fighting is very heavy and it's difficulty to see the light of peace.

The Hong Kong media tycoon and Catholic pro-democracy campaigner Jimmy Lai was sentenced last Saturday to five years and nine months in prison for violating a lease contract for the headquarters of a liberal newspaper he used to run. A prominent critic of Beijing, who stayed in Hong Kong on principle, 75-year-old Lai has been imprisoned since December 2020. He was head of the parent company of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily that was shut down in June 2021 after a police raid.

Faiths attending the COP15 UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal from 7-19 December have called for a “just transition of industries which rely on the production and extraction of natural resources towards living in harmony with nature, and systems imbued with the sacred rights of people and planet.” In a statement, they urged a review of industrial agriculture, food systems and fossil fuel industries which “have been driving the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem destruction.” Pope Francis urged COP15 to forge key agreements for preserving the “network of life”. The UN head António Guterres, who is Catholic, warned that humanity has become “a weapon of mass extinction” and must end its “orgy of destruction”.

Pope Francis has issued a motu proprio that took effect on 8 December requiring all Vatican entities, including largely unregulated foundations, to be subject to governance, administrative, and accounting requirements imposed by the Secretariat for the Economy. The books of these entities will be subject to review by the Vatican’s auditor general. “Although these entities have a formally separate juridical personality and a certain administrative autonomy,” the motu proprio states, “it must be recognised they are instrumental in the realisation of the proper ends of the curial institutions at the service of the ministry of the Successor of Peter.”

Catholic immigration activists praised the Biden administration’s decision to extend Temporary Protected Status to Haitian refugees. The designation provides protection from deportation and grants work authorisation. “This is welcome news,” said Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network. “The conditions in Haiti are among the direst on earth …  Haitians living in the United States can breathe a sigh of relief at this news.”

Six months after the Pentecost Sunday attack on a Catholic Parish in Ondo Diocese, Nigeria, which killed 39 worshipers, there have been arrests and promises but no prosecution, a bishop has lamented. On 5 December, Bishop Felix Femi Ajakaye of Ekiti, a neighbouring diocese to Ondo, reminded authorities that, “Nigeria is still waiting.” Police announced in August that four suspects had been arrested. Bishop Femi called for an update on the investigation and the status of the prosecution.

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case pitting religious liberty and free speech claims against Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. The case was brought by an Evangelical Christian web designer, who argued she was unable to enter the market for designing marriage websites because she refuses to create websites for same-sex marriages. She argued her religious beliefs should trump Colorado’s LGBT anti-discrimination statute, and that the law compels her to perform speech with which she disagrees. Court watchers predicted the woman will prevail. 

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers several Midwestern states, affirmed a lower court ruling that Catholic hospitals do not need to comply with a Biden administration rule requiring hospitals to perform gender reassignment surgeries. Several plaintiffs, including the Religious Sisters of Mercy, argued that “performing gender-transition procedures would violate their medical judgement by potentially causing harm to patients” and violated their religious beliefs regarding gender.

 Hundreds of women marched to the Commission on Human Rights in Manila on 8 December to mark the Feast of the Immaculate Conception by calling for an end to rising domestic violence. They urged greater legal protection, such as higher and faster conviction rates of offenders. Fr Rico Ayo, of the Catholic Bishops’ Commission on Family and Life, praised them for supporting women’s rights and said, “may Mary inspire them to speak out not to dissolve their marriage, but to resort to the available legal remedies to protect their rights.”

Last week the prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Charity, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, visited the Italian island of Ischia on behalf of Pope Francis to meet with victims of recent flooding. An intense rainstorm and muddy landslides on 26 November killed 12 people. In the devastated town of Casamicciola Terme he met relatives of the deceased, distributed rosaries and prayed in the local church where coffins were placed. Bishop Gennaro Pascarella of Ischia called for “a wave of spiritual and concrete solidarity”.

A well known Jesuit priest has had his ministry restricted following an investigation. Officials from the Jesuit order said in a statement they have barred Fr Marko Ivan Rupnik, 68, from hearing confessions or conducting spiritual direction. The news comes after an investigation into the priest. Fr Rupnik was the creator of the official image of the 2022 World Meeting of Families. He also has designed artwork for churches around the world.

The Movement for Christian Workers celebrated its 50th anniversary with Pope Francis last week. Meeting with representatives at the Vatican, the Pope encouraged the movement, inspired by Catholic Social Teaching, to continue being “a leaven of justice and solidarity in society.” 

Christian Solidarity Worldwide released a report last week calling on states to ensure that the rights of indigenous people receive better protection. Titled “Belief and belonging” the report focuses on connections between freedom of religion or belief and indigenous rights. It called for better national and international efforts ‘to address intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief in indigenous communities”.

Two more bishops, including one still serving, have been named in a new list of offenders filed in an action against Quebec Archdiocese.  Bishop Jean-Pierre Blais of Baie-Comeau and the late Bishop Clément Fecteau, Emeritus bishop of Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, were named in a victims' list compiled by a law firm. Bishop Blais has denied the alleged offences between 1973 and 1975 and said he would collaborate with the legal proceedings but would not give interviews. The Archdiocese of Quebec will not comment on the allegations. The bishops' names were added to those of Cardinal Marc Ouellet and the late Auxiliary Bishop Jean-Paul Labrie, who were accused of abuse in August. 

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