from elsewhere


EUROPE


Europe’s Catholic bishops establish Christian rights watchdog


Europe’s Roman Catholic bishops have set up an organization to defend the rights of Christians as well as monitoring prejudice and injustice across the continent. “Our first task will be to provide people around Europe with objective and reliable data about the anti-Christian discrimination which is taking place, as well as to alert Catholic bishops’ conferences and other religious institutions,” Thierry Bonaventura, media officer of the Council of Catholic Episcopates of Europe, told ENI news.

“But we also want to encourage local church groups to be involved and take concrete steps against intolerance, such as by presenting reports to the United Nations and the Council of Europe, and encouraging them to take appropriate measures.”

Bonaventura was speaking after the announcement of the formation of the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination, headed in Vienna by Bishop Andras Veres of Hungary, and Austrian lay director, Gudrun Kugler, during a meeting of the bishops in Zagreb.

In an interview on 6 October, the bishops’ spokesperson said the decision to set up the body had been taken in 2009 by the CCEE, which is based at St Gallen in Switzerland and groups bishops’conferences from 33 countries and Monaco and Cyprus.“The cases we highlight will involve Christians throughout Europe, so the scope of the organization will be ecumenical,” the media officer told ENI news. “For now, though, it’s a Catholic initiative, involving the CCEE and Catholic groups.”

In a statement on 4 October, the CCEE said the observatory would work autonomously but also enjoy support from local church leaders, especially in collecting data on anti-Christian acts. 

“The cases of Christians who suffer some form of discrimination have seen a rapid increase in recent years in Europe. Although this often happens in a hidden manner, the discrimination is all too real,” the statement added.“The aim is to awaken public opinion to what is happening, so that such situations do not become habitual and run the risk of degenerating into real hatred.”

At the same time, the CCEE’s Hungarian president, Cardinal Peter Erdo, said the observatory would also assist evangelisation and “authentic democracy based on equality,” by promoting a society “more respectful of religious freedom, and more capable of understanding and accepting its own roots and reality through a healthy secularism.

"When the existence of God is denied at all costs, as some groups seek to do,” said Erdo, “the result is always the denial of the possibility of basing life and societal structures on a solid foundation, basing them instead on the opinions of some or on the apparent momentary consensus of certain lawmakers.”

The cardinal noted, “Europe needs God. It needs to remember its own roots and thus look to the future with realism and hope. The situation is often not easy for Christians, who seek to bear witness with their lives to the faith and hope that is in them, through a lifestyle that becomes a challenge for others.”


Jonathan Luxmore, Warsaw (ENI)


POLAND

Poland’s Catholic schools ‘can bar homosexual teachers’

Poland’s Roman Catholic Church has defended the right of its schools to refuse employment to homosexual teachers, after human rights groupscalled for the resignation of a government minister who supports the policy.

“We must defend someone’s right to declare their views and convictions publicly,” Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw told the Gazeta Wyborcza daily newspaper on 5 October. “Under both State and church law, Catholic schools must clearly state the norms under which they take on teachers. It’s a long time since I encountered such an attack on a State official because of something they said.”

The archbishop was reacting to criticism of Elzbieta Radziszewska, the government representative for equal treatment, after she confirmed that Catholic schools are entitled to dismiss gay or lesbian staff members. She was also backed by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, who praised her for standing up for the rights of Catholics.

“Catholic schools must defend themselves. They are Catholic precisely because they want the moral values presented by the Catholic Church,” the cardinal told a radio interviewer. “They cannot accept values they don’t identify with, so they can indeed refuse employment to a declared lesbian.”

In a mid-September interview with Poland’s Catholic Gosc Niedzielny weekly newspaper, Radziszewska said church-owned schools and colleges could refuse jobs to declared homosexual staff and sack those already employed.

However, the claim was criticised as a violation of anti-discrimination laws by Elzbieta Czyz, a director of Poland’s Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, and rejected by the head of the country’s Anti-Discrimination Rights Association, Krzysztof Smiszek. He said the minister’s “hurtful statements” were in conflict with European Union norms and risked creating “a climate allowing homophobia”.

Grzegorz Schetyna, the speaker of Poland’s lower house of parliament, the Sejm, said he believed Radziszewska, a member of Poland’s governing Civic Platform, had “gone beyond a certain limit,” noting that her “indiscretion” risked “causing trouble for the political class and the State”.

Gay and lesbian groups have frequently complained of discrimination in Poland, where the predominant Catholic Church opposed clauses in the 1997 constitution barring discrimination on grounds of ‘’sexual orientation” and has rejected requests for a pastoral service for homosexuals. Although church leaders have condemned gay awareness events, homosexual groups say anti-gay violence has been met with silence in the country, which has been accused of tolerating homophobia by Amnesty International and the European Parliament.

Warsaw (ENI)

 


USA


Divorce, Evangelical Style 

Mark A. Smith, who teaches political science at the University of Washington, pays close attention  to what is now commonly called the  “culture war” in America. Though the roots of this cultural conflict reach back to the 1960s, the deep divide over social and moral issues became almost impossible to deny during the late 1970s and ever since. It is now common wisdom to speak of “red” states and “blue” states, and  to expect familiar lines of division over questions such as abortion and homosexuality. In the most general sense, the culture war refers to the struggle to determine laws and customs on a  host of moral and political issues that  separate Americans into two opposing  camps, often presented as the religious  right and the secular left. Though the truth is never so simple, the reality of  the culture war is almost impossible to  deny. 

And yet, as Professor Smith surveyed  the front lines of the culture war, he  was surprised, not so much by the  issues of hot debate and controversy,  but by an issue that was obvious for its  absence – divorce. 

“From the standpoint of simple  logic, divorce fits cleanly within the  category of ‘family values’and hence  hypothetically could represent a  driving force in the larger culture  war,” he notes. “If ‘family values’ refers  to ethics and behavior that affect,  well, families, then divorce obviously  should qualify. Indeed, divorce seems  to carry a more direct connection to  the daily realities of families than do  the bellwether culture war issues of  abortion and homosexuality.”

That logic is an indictment of  evangelical failure and a monumental  scandal of the evangelical conscience.  When faced with this indictment,  many evangelicals quickly point to the  adoption of so-called “no fault” divorce  laws in the 1970s. Yet, while those laws  have been devastating to families (and  especially to children), Smith makes  a compelling case that evangelicals  began their accommodation to  divorce even before those laws took  effect. No fault divorce laws simply  reflected an acknowledgment of  what had already taken place. As  he explains, American evangelicals,  along with other Christians, began to  shift opinion on divorce when divorce  became more common and when it  hit close to home.

When the Christian right was  organized in the 1970s and galvanized  in the 1980s, the issues of abortion and  homosexuality were front and center.  Where was divorce? Smith documents  the fact that groups such as the “pro- traditional family” Moral Majority  led by the late Jerry Falwell generally  failed even to mention divorce in their  publications or platforms.

“During the 10 years of its existence,  Falwell’s organization mobilized and  lobbied on many political issues,  including abortion, pornography, gay  rights, school prayer, the Equal Rights  Amendment, and sex education in  schools,” he recalls. Where is divorce –  a tragedy that affects far more families  than the more “hot button” issues?  “Divorce failed to achieve that exalted  status, ranking so low on the group’s  agenda that books on the Moral  Majority do not even give the issue an  entry in the index.” But the real scandal is far deeper  than missing listings in an index. 

The real scandal is the fact that evangelical  Protestants divorce at rates at least as  high as the rest of the public. Needless to  say, this creates a significant credibility  crisis when evangelicals then rise to  speak in defense of marriage. As for  the question of divorce and public law,  Smith traces a huge transition in the  law and in the larger cultural context.  In times past, he explains, both divorce  and marriage were considered matters  of intense public interest. But at some  point, the culture was transformed, and divorce was reclassified as a purely  private matter.

Tragically, the church largely  followed the lead of its members and  accepted what might be called the  “privatization” of divorce. Churches  simply allowed a secular culture to  determine that divorce is no big deal,  and that it is a purely private matter. As Smith argues, the Bible is  emphatic in condemning divorce. For  this reason, you would expect to find  evangelical Christians demanding the  inclusion of divorce on a list of central  concerns and aims. But this seldom  happened. Evangelical Christians  rightly demanded laws that would  defend the sanctity of human life.  Not so for marriage. Smith explains  that the inclusion of divorce on the  agenda of the Christian right would  have risked a massive alienation of  members. In summary, evangelicals  allowed culture to trump Scripture. 

An even greater tragedy is the collapse of church discipline within  congregations. A perceived “zone of  privacy” is simply assumed by most  church members, and divorce is  considered only a private concern.

Professor Smith is concerned with  this question as a political scientist. Why did American evangelicals surrender so quickly as divorce greater urgency. How did divorce, so clearly identified as a grievous sin in the Bible, become so commonplace and accepted in our midst?

The sanctity of human life is a  cause that demands our priority and  sacrifice. The challenge represented  by the possibility (or probability) of  legalized same-sex marriage demands  our attention and involvement, as  well. 

But divorce harms many more lives  than will be touched by homosexual marriage. Children are left without  fathers, wives without husbands, and  homes are forever broken. Fathers are  separated from their children, and  marriage is irreparably undermined as  divorce becomes routine and accepted.  Divorce is not the unpardonable  sin, but it is sin, and it is a sin that is  condemned in no uncertain terms. 

Evangelical Christians are gravely  concerned about the family, and this is  good and necessary. But our credibility  on the issue of marriage is significantly  discounted by our acceptance of  divorce. To our shame, the culture war  is not the only place that an honest  confrontation with the divorce culture  is missing. 

Divorce is now the scandal of the evangelical conscience.

Mark A. Smith, “Religion, Divorce, and
the Missing Culture War in America,”
Political Science Quarterly

AUSTRALIA


Anglicans warned church is on its knees


The Anglican Church in Sydney is in diabolical trouble. Already battered by the global financial crisis,  the diocese is planning further savage  spending cuts. The archbishop, Peter  Jensen, told the annual synod on  Monday: “The financial issues are  grave.”

 One of the biggest and richest dioceses in Australia, Sydney leveraged  its huge investment portfolio in the boom and sold when the market hit  rock bottom. After losing more than  $100 million, it was forced to halve its  expenditure. “There was considerable  pain,” the archbishop told the annual  gathering of clergy and laity in Sydney.  But it wasn’t enough.

“In round terms, it seems possible  that the amount of money available ... to support diocesan works in the next few years is going to be reduced from the $7.5 million of 2010 to something  like $4 million. Our major rethink of  last year was only the beginning.”

Back on the cards is the sale of  Bishopscourt, the Gothic mansion  on Darling Point where Anglican  archbishops have lived since 1910.  Real estate agents believe it would  fetch more than $25 million. But that  would only be a drop in the Anglican  bucket.

Two investment funds underwrite the diocese. Both are in trouble.  New management at the Glebe  Administration Board, which funds  the general work of the church in  Sydney, has identified “lazy and  unproductive” assets and warned that  it will have to cut payments to protect  the value of the endowment.

The Endowment of the See, which  funds the government of the church,  has hit big problems with St Andrew’s  House, the office block it owns behind  Sydney Town Hall. The archbishop told the synod that  $20 million worth of renovations  begun before the financial crash and  the decision of one tenant to quit the  building meant “the cash flow from  the rental at St Andrew’s House would  most likely be reduced to nothing for  the next several years”.

The big picture is that about $200  million in total assets will yield only  $4 million a year for at least the next  three years. “We are,” the archbishop  said, “asset-rich but cash-poor.” 

He blamed boards with an ethos  “too trusting of one another and  not sufficiently acute in seeking  accountability”; he spoke darkly  of “unconsidered and unhelpful  relationships”; and warned against “the  real, fatal and ever-present danger” of  allowing ministries to be taken over  by those who do not share the gospel  outlook of the diocese. But he counselled against recrimination. He even took a little 
of the blame himself: “Looking back, I can now see many of the things I  should have done, things Ishould not have done and even clear moments  when I should have spoken up or  insisted on different behaviour.”

This year he set up an archbishop’s  commission to advise on resolving  cash flow problems and identify  changes the diocese needed to make in  the way it was governed and the way it  did business. Among the possibilities  are cutting the number of Sydney  bishops and leaving the parishes to pay  for those who survive.

The archbishop has also “asked a  parallel group of mature Christians to  pray for the work of the commission  and at every point their work has been  bathed in the intercessory prayer of  these saints”.

David Marr


USA


TEC DIOCESE OF QUINCY: 
Last Episcopal Diocese 
ordains female priest


Women have been ordained as priests in all 110 dioceses of the Episcopal Church, after the last  holdout, in Quincy, Illinois, ordained  its first woman on Saturday, October 16, 2010.

The Reverend Margaret Lee, a grandmother of five and former chemist, is the first woman ordained  a priest in the Peoria-based Diocese of  Quincy’s 133-year history, according  to Episcopal News Service. She had  been a deacon since 1996.

A spokeswoman for the Episcopal  Church said all 110 dioceses in the  2.1 million-member church have now  ordained at least one female priest. The Episcopal Church voted to open  the priesthood to women in 1976. 

Quincy, which has about 1,800  members in 24 parishes, was one of  three dioceses that had refused to  ordain women, but its former bishop, a  staunch conservative, retired in 2008. The other dioceses — San Joaquin,  Calif., and Fort Worth, Texas —  had also refused to ordain women,  but conservatives in those dioceses, and the bishops who led them, have  seceded from the Episcopal Church in  the last three years. 

Remaining Episcopalians in those  dioceses have since ordained women. 

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