17 July 2023, The Tablet

News Briefing: Church in the World

News Briefing: Church in the World

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin’s bill to ban the death penalty is in the federal courts.
Max Herman / Alamy

The leading Catholic anti-death penalty organisation in the US is backing Illinois Senator Dick Durbin’s bill to ban the death penalty in federal courts.

“As Catholics who believe in the inviolability of human dignity, we understand that we cannot build a culture of life with a federal government that can put people to death,” said Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of the Catholic Mobilising Network. “This legislation opens up the possibility for more healing and life-affirming forms of justice.”

President Biden has promised to sign such a bill into law, but it is doubtful it will pass in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.


Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, who chairs the US bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, denounced the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to permit the sale of oral contraceptives “over-the-counter” without a doctor’s prescription.  

“This action by a government entity flies in the face of responsible medical practice and concerns for women’s health,” Barron said. “Claims that the benefits of this action outweigh the risks are unfounded, especially in light of strong evidence of the many harmful risks of hormonal contraception to women’s health.”


The Melkite Greek Catholic Church, one of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches, will celebrate the three-hundredth anniversary of its formal declaration of unity with Rome with a jubilee year in 2024.

Patriarch Youssef Absi of Antioch said that “the Synod of our Church did not want this anniversary to pass without us reflecting on the past, present and future path of our Church and her mission”.  

The patriarch is resident in Damascus, with the Melkite Church concentrated in Syria, Lebanon, and other countries of the Middle East, but with a diaspora in Europe, the Americas and Oceania.


Caritas in the Philippines is distributing bottled water to communities in Manila’s slums, as the city and surrounding areas suffer severe water shortages.

Caritas head Jose Colin Bagaforo reported this week that “we are thinking of the children and the elderly who need clean water but don’t have money to buy portable water”. He said the charity was “giving them water to drink – a simple gesture but essential at this time”. 

Residents in poor areas of Metro Manila are having to form queues from early morning and wait for the city’s fire department to fill their buckets. The El Nino phenomenon (which warms the surface of the sea in parts of the Pacific) and the dry season have caused the problem with water receding in the main regional reservoir.


Catholics in the Indian state of Kerala launched a week-long protest from 12 July against the false police cases registered against the Church by the Communist-led state government’s. “Our people held protests at different locations,” said Joseph Jude, vice president of the Kerala Region Latin Catholic Council. 

The protest came after police filed riot charges against Fr Eugene Pereira, vicar general of the Archdiocese Trivandrum, and 50 others, mostly fishermen, on 10 July. They blamed government negligence after four fishermen died in an accident. Police filed the cases against Fr Pereira and others after local people complained to two state ministers visiting the site.

Bishop Varghese Chakkalakal of Calicut said that the government was targeting the Church for raising issues concerning the lives and livelihood of the fishermen. “We will not succumb to fake cases and other threats,” he said.


Catholic universities must not recoil from the risks of Artificial Intelligence (AI) but become involved in its ethical development, the prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Culture and Education has said.

Drawing on Pope Francis’ remarks on AI, Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça encouraged universities to prioritise individual well-being and uphold moral values. He was speaking during a scientific colloquium at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan.  

Participants raised concerns about the rapid pace of technological advancement, but agreed that AI has the potential to contribute to sustainable societies and to create new professions.


The Vatican has called for more attention to the vulnerability of small island nations to climate shocks.  

Speaking at a UN Conference on Sustainable Development in New York on 11 July, the deputy permanent observer of the Holy See mission, Mgr Robert Murphy, said that these islands are “a special case for sustainable development in view of their unique and particular vulnerabilities”.

Mgr Murphy said that “natural disasters and climate change continue to pose the most significant threats to small island developing states’ development and even their existence, while continuing to impose profound economic and social costs.”

He added that “capacity building for disaster risk reduction and environmental protection must be at the centre of development programs designed to support them”.


More than 300 young pilgrims in Hong Kong received a special missionary mandate from Cardinal-elect Stephen Chow Sau-yan before departing for World Youth Day in Lisbon.

At a Mass he celebrated with them, Chow said: “Pope Francis has invited you, he has recommended you to go out of yourselves, to respond to the Lord’s call through mutual encounter and encouragement with young people from all over the world.”

World Youth Day runs 1-6 August in Portugal, with Pope Francis due to arrive on 2 August. There are 14 groups of young people from Hong Kong parishes, religious congregations, schools, and ecclesial communities. Fr Fructuoso López Martin of the Missionaries of Guadalupe, president of the Hong Kong Diocesan Youth Ministry Commission, will head the pilgrimage.


The European Commission and Europa Nostra Foundation has honoured the conservation of a fifteenth-century altarpiece in Poland. The wooden altarpiece in St Mary’s Basilica in the main square of Kraków was carved in various woods between 1477 and 1489 by the German scupltor Wit Stwosz.  

Conservators worked on its 200 figures and thousands of details from 2015 until 2021. The altarpiece is more than 42 feet high and 36 feet wide, with the largest figure weighing 550 pounds and more than nine feet tall.

“The restoration of this magnificent altarpiece is a unique and exceptional achievement,” said the awards jury. “The project brought together people from different countries, reflecting the international importance of the site and the need for cooperation in preserving European heritage.”


A French priest has committed suicide after learning he was to be tried in civil court in October on charges of sexual aggression. Fr Benjamin Sellier, 47, threw himself under a freight train and was found dead near Avesnelles close to the Belgian border before dawn on 11 July, with a letter admitting the abuse of a minor girl, France Bleu Nord television reported.   

Bishop Vincent Dollmann of Cambrai said in a statement that Fr Sellier had been under civil investigation and had been ordered by Church authorities not to meet with young people. The accusations were kept secret until now because of the legal presumption of innocence.

Contacted by French television, the bishop asked for respect for a mourning period, after which he said “will come the time for the necessary clarifications.” Fr Sellier was popular in his Avesne-sur-Helpe parish. He was ordained in 2015 after an earlier career as a civil servant in a nearby town.


Bishop David J Malloy of Rockford, the chairman of the US bishops’ committee on International Justice and Peace, issued a statement on 12 July following the re-imprisonment of the Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Álvarez, urging “the United States and the international community to continue praying for the bishop and advocating for his release” and condemning his 26-year sentence as unjust.  

“The consensus from the international community is clear: the continued incarceration of Bishop Alvarez is unjust and must end as soon as possible,” Bishop Malloy said. “May Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of Nicaragua and the United States, illumine the hearts of all decision-makers, and may her maternal mantle protect the Church in Nicaragua.” 

In the UK, the Bishop of Clifton Declan Lang called Álvarez’s imprisonment “a manifestly unjust response to his tireless and courageous work upholding human dignity”.


Crowds in Paris watched as six trusses for the new roof of Notre Dame were lifted onto the cathedral on 11 July.  The seven-tonne frames, cut from ancient oaks using axes forged in the style of medieval carpenters’, were transported in barges up the Seine to the Île de la Cité. 

They are the first delivery of 25 trusses which will reconstruct la forêt – the “forest” of wooden beams, some dating from the thirteenth century, which supported the cathedral roof before its destruction in the 2019 fire.


Bishop Luigi Bettazzi, the last survivor of the original signatories of the Pact of the Catacombs which pledged bishops to a life of “evangelical poverty”, has died aged 99.

Bettazzi was an auxiliary in the Archdiocese of Bologna when he joined the 42 bishops who signed the pact after a Mass in the Catacombs of Domitilla in November 1965, towards the end of the Second Vatican Council. 

The bishops, led by the Brazilian Archbishop Hélder Câmara of Olinda e Recife and the Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro, pledged to “try to live according to the ordinary manner of our people in all that concerns housing, food, means of transport”.


The Vatican will grant a plenary indulgence for taking part in the two-year jubilee of St Thomas Aquinas, which began on 18 July, the seven-hundredth anniversary of his canonisation.

To obtain the indulgence, Catholics can make a pilgrimage to a holy place linked to the Dominicans to either participate in the Jubilee or “at least devote a suitable time to pious recollection”, including saying the Lord’s Prayer, reciting the Creed and invoking the intercession of the Virgin Mary and St Thomas Aquinas.


The US bishops’ National Eucharistic Revival committee announced the names of 17 speakers at the culminating Eucharistic Congress, scheduled for Indianapolis next July.

The congress will conclude the bishops’ eucharistic revival efforts, begun after polling indicated many Catholics do not understand or accept the doctrine of the Real Presence. 

Three persons will serve as masters of ceremonies at the congress, EWTN’s president Montse Alvarado, Sister Miriam James Heidland, host of the “Abiding Together” podcast, and Father Josh Johnson, host of the podcast “Ask Father Josh”. EWTN is the nation’s largest Catholic media empire, and is known for its frequent hostility to Pope Francis.  

Other speakers include Bishop Robert Barron, who recently criticised Cardinal-designate Américo Alves Aguiar’s comments about World Youth Day. Barron has become a regular speaker at the anti-Francis Napa Institute gatherings and other conservative venues.  

Fr Mike Schmitz, of Duluth, Minnesota, will also address the congress. Discussing Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoria Laetitia, Schmitz wrote, “Francis sought to muddy the Church’s clear teaching that the divorced and remarried must live as brother and sister.” Later, in The New York Times, Schmitz wrote, “Francis has built his popularity at the expense of the church he leads.” 

Chris Stefanick, a conservative podcast host affiliated with the Augustine Institute, is another speaker at the event. He has questioned Pope Francis’ authority in several instances, including the Pope’s refusal to deny communion to pro-choice politicians. 

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