Monthly Archives: December 2012

UK: Catholic Church turned into political campaign group as its gay marriage hysteria grows

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales Photo: DAVID ROSE

The leader of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales has urged parishioners to write to their MPs “as soon as possible” urging them to block the Government’s same-sex marriage plans.

The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, said they should write “clearly, calmly and forcefully” outlining their concerns.

Among his fears is that children will no longer be taught about what he called “the true nature of marriage” in schools, if legislation is passed allowing marriage between homosexuals.

With the bill on same-sex marriage due to be tabled in mid-January, the clock is now ticking.

At least 130 Conservative MPs could vote against the Government on the issue, but many more would be needed to stop it becoming law.

In a pastoral letter to mark the Feast of the Holy Family, Archbishop Nichols called on Catholics to act now to change politicians’ minds.

It is the first time he has written directly asking parishioners to lobby MPs, and marks a new phase in the church’s campaign against the potential law change.

About five million people in England and Wales are Catholic, of which a million regularly attend church.

In the letter, read out in some churches, Archbishop Nichols said he wanted politicians to “resist the proposed redefining of marriage with all its likely consequences particularly in schools and in how children are taught about the true nature of marriage”.

He continued: “At this time, we look to our Members of Parliament to defend, not change, the bond of man and woman in marriage as the essential element of the vision of the family.

“I urge everyone who cares about upholding the meaning of marriage in civil law to make their views known to their Members of Parliament, clearly, calmly and forcefully. Please do so as soon as possible.”

Christmas, he wrote, was “a time in which to speak up for marriage, between a husband and a wife, as the heart of the family”.

It was important, he reiterated, to have “a clear vision of marriage and family, based on human nature itself”.

“The vocation of marriage”, he argued, was “rooted in a natural bond, blessed by God”.

Archbishop Nichols’ letter comes days after he attacked the Coalition’s plans to legalise gay marriage as “shambolic”, arguing ministers had no mandate from the public as there was no mention in either party’s manifesto.

He said: “From a democratic point of view, it’s a shambles. George Orwell would be proud of the manoeuvre. I think the process is shambolic.”

The Catholic church has been strongly opposed to extending marriage to gay couples since the proposal was unveiled in March.
At the time, Archbishop Nichols and the Archbishop of Southwark, the Most Reverend Peter Smith, wrote to congregations saying that redefining the “natural institution” of marriage would be a “profoundly radical” step.

They wrote: “Neither the Church nor the State has the power to change this fundamental understanding of marriage itself. Nor is this simply a matter of public opinion.”

Catholic schools have also been asked to promote a petition organised by the Coalition For Marriage opposing the plans.

Civil partnerships, introduced seven years ago, already enable gay couples to celebrate their unions in civil setting like town halls.
Under Mr Cameron’s plans, gay couples would instead be able to get married – either in a civil ceremony or, if agreed by religious authorities, in a religious setting.

Some religious organisations such as the Quakers and the Unitarians want to be able to offer marriages to gay couples. The Catholic church is strongly against, while the Church of England is divided on the subject.

Although Mr Cameron has repeatedly emphasised that churches will not be forced to marry gay couples, many Christians fear that equality legislation will eventually be used to force their hand.

The Telegraph | Stephen Adams | 30 December 2012

Italy: Vatican interferes directly in politics

The Vatican has endorsed outgoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti against controversial former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, making him a favourite in the elections scheduled for February 2013.

This is according to the Vatican’s Osservatore Romano newspaper.

The Vatican had supported Berlusconi for two decades before turning against him when his morality and management became questionable.

Yet the Vatican has always taken a hard position against clergy who participate in politics.

Is it not in order that the Kenyan Catholic clergy be allowed also to take sides in the current politics?

JAPHETH OLUOCH OGOLA, Nairobi | Daily Nation | 30 December 2012

Belgium: Church of Scientology to face charges

Belgian federal prosecutors are preparing to bring charges, including fraud and extortion, against the Church of Scientology as a “criminal organization,” according to press reports.

Charges of fraud, illegal medicine, breaches of privacy and extortion have been drawn up against the Church of Scientology and two senior executives, De Tijd, Belgium’s financial newspaper, has reported.

“The subpoenas have only just been sent to the scientologists,” the newspaper reported.

The charges are said to relate to employment contracts issued to recruit volunteers and members in breach of Belgium’s strict employment laws.

Prosecutors are investigating claims of extortion of members, the illegal use of “pseudo-medicine” and the keeping of records that contravene privacy laws.

A spokesman for the church’s Brussels headquarters said: “Unfortunately we have not received anything from the prosecutor’s office yet. The media have been informed – we have not.”

Scientology’s rejection of many medical practices and its psychological “auditing” techniques of recruits, including the taking of personal records, have long been controversial.

In February this year, a French appeals court upheld fraud charges and a $790,000 fine against the Church of Scientology in France for talking its recruits into paying large sums for bogus personality tests and cures.

The movement, which has the actor Tom Cruise as its figurehead, has been under investigation in Belgium for 15 years without any charges being brought against an organization that is viewed with suspicion as a cult in many European countries.

The Church of Scientology came under renewed scrutiny following the divorce last summer of Cruise and Katie Holmes, his actress wife.

There were reports suggesting that Holmes, who was raised a Roman Catholic, was worried about their daughter Suri’s future involvement in her father’s religion.

The Church of Scientology in Belgium has existed since 1974, with its European office for “public affairs and human rights” based in Brussels and with an active organization offering courses and exhibitions.

While Scientology is regarded as a religion in the United States, Italy and Spain, it is not recognized as a church in other European countries such as France, Germany, Belgium and Britain.

BRUNO WATERFIELD, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH | 29 December 2012 | Copyright (c) The Regina Leader-Post

Vatican: The disgrace of papal blessing for Ugandan homophobia

Pope Benedict XVI sending his first tweet. The Vatican has also hired a former Fox News executive to overhaul its communications. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI joined Twitter in an effort to galvanize the faithful and modernize the Catholic Church for a younger, increasingly secular generation, making him the last person after your grandpa to join the social networking site. The Vatican also hired a former Fox News correspondent to bring their communications strategy into the 21st century, since that network did such an impressive job during the 2012 US presidential election.

The Catholic Church is foundering, and it’ll take a lot more than 140 characters and a rightwing “news” hack to put it on a modern track.

The pope is a social issues guy, more interested in themes like “traditional” family values, gay marriage and abortion than, say, helping the poor. And the Vatican is quick to slap down anyone – but especially any women, and particularly women who have the nerve to think of themselves as equal to men – who focuses on helping the most in need, instead of crusading against abortion and gay people. As far as the Church is concerned, advocating for the equal participation of women is “radical feminism” worthy of condemnation; pushing for legislation that kills gay people is worthy of a blessing.

Yes, that’s correct: just around the same time the pope was drafting his first tweet, he met with Ugandan parliamentary speaker Rebecca Kadaga, who had earlier promised to level the death penalty for gays as a “Christmas present” to the Ugandan people (minus, one assumes, the Ugandans who will be murdered because of their sexual orientation). She received a private audience with the pope, and a blessing.

Uganda has been a target for western evangelicals who see that they’re losing the gay marriage battle in their own countries. Religious leaders and rightwing groups, including Rick Warren and the National Organization for Marriage, have gone to Uganda for years to spread anti-gay propaganda and bolster homophobia. These religious leaders position themselves as experts, telling Ugandans that gay people sodomize children, spread Aids, destroy marriage, break up families and pose an imminent threat to society – and then they feign shock when Ugandan leaders decide that the legal punishment most befitting these child-raping, society-crushing individuals is death.

In the meantime, gay, lesbian and transgender Ugandans face vigilante attacks daily, and are routinely raped, beaten, ostracized, tortured and murdered.

The pope – whose own track record on men who sodomize children isn’t exactly stellar – blesses one of the people whose hateful policies not only provide social cover and justification for that violence but, if enacted, would put state power behind the imprisonment and execution of gay people.

The Church’s obsession with policing sexuality is nothing new: in fact, it’s a centuries-old Catholic tradition for the Vatican to poke its nose in your bedroom when it feels its power is threatened. The early anti-sex crusades were focused on women – and haven’t let up. Women were ordered to serve their husbands and were barred from the priesthood. Abortion was debated in Thomas Aquinas’s day – he thought the act was a sin against the marriage, and that, of course, male fetuses were ensouled earlier than female ones – and for a long while, the Church distinguished between early and late-term abortions in terms of punishment.

But as the papal states lost territory to Italy in the late 19th century, the pope came down hard on women, declaring all abortion to be murder. The Church, it seems, is a bit like a schoolyard bully, needing to pick a scapegoat to demonstrate its ultimate authority. Women have spent the past several centuries serving as that target.

The Church extended its reach into the sex lives of its followers (and of women, in particular) again in the 1930s, when it issued its ruling on contraception for the first time ever and deemed birth control incompatible with Catholic teachings on life. Right around that same time, the Church was dealing with what it called the “terrible triangle” of anti-religious and anti-Catholic actions in the Soviet Union, Mexico and Spain. Desperate for a way to show its power and control followers, the Vatican decided that it was wrong to use anything other than crossed fingers to control the number and spacing of your children.

Here’s how successful they were: 99% of American women use birth control at some point in their lives, and Catholic women use birth control at the same rates as non-Catholics. In nations where Catholicism is deeply entrenched and abortion is illegal and birth control difficult to access, abortion rates are some of the highest in the world. The only difference is that far more of the procedures are unsafe, and tens of thousands of women die. The lowest abortion rates in the world can be found in the increasingly secular west European countries where the procedure is legal and often covered by state funds, and where birth control is widely accessible.

Realizing it was losing followers and that most women weren’t going to comply with the birth control mandate, and recognizing the social upheavals taking place through the 1960s, the Church re-evaluated its position – and doubled down. Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae restated the Church’s anti-contraception position, extended it to sterilization and threw in some claims about the natural roles of women and men. (The natural role of celibate men who spend very little time with women is, apparently, to tell all women what to do.)

The Church also took a stand against abortion again, and declared that abortion couldn’t even be had in the case of an ectopic pregnancy where the fertilized egg will never develop into a fetus. In the late 1980s, under pressure from the many nuns who have kept the Church functioning for centuries and were pushing for equal rights and recognition, Pope John Paul II asserted that women simply served a “different” role in the Church than men, but one that was equally as important. It was a nice little head-pat to Catholic women, but ultimately a condescending one: does anyone actually believe that there’s power in subservience, and that being blocked from all positions of real authority represents equal importance?

In 1995, again facing declining congregations, Pope John Paul II re-upped the Church’s hostility toward contraception, and further asserted that condoms were verboten – at the very moment HIV and Aids were ravaging nations around the world. The Church, ironically, categorizes contraception and condoms as part of the “culture of death”.

By the Vatican’s standards, taking a birth control pill or using a condom is far more deadly than contracting HIV, or executing an actual person for being gay.

As society has progressed, the Church has responded by digging its heels in to maintain outdated, misogynist social norms. And it has long used women’s bodies as a tool through which to exercise control in the face of waning influence. Now, gay people are being subjected to the same treatment. As the Church continues to recover from the international pedophilia scandal that its priests perpetrated and the entire institution covered up, and as the world’s population increasingly flees from formal religion, the pope is saying that two men or two women falling in love threatens world peace.

A Twitter feed can’t modernize an institution so out of touch with reality, with progress and with widely-accepted human rights norms.

If the Church really wants to modernize, it could take a stand for the rights of half the world’s population, and give women equal say in the Catholic hierarchy and over basic rights to their own bodies. It could promote condom use to save lives. It could take a good hard look at how its hunger for power and its authoritarianism enabled and covered for sex criminals who targeted vulnerable children.

It could back up out of our bedrooms and quit meddling in national politics, leaving its believers the right to practice as they wish, without imposing its strictures on the rest of us. It could put its enormous resources behind tried-and-true Jesus stuff like helping the sick and indigent, rather than waging battles against nuns who don’t hate gays enough.

I’m not holding my breath for any of that. But at the very least, the pope could refuse to bless leaders who want to murder gay, lesbians and transgender people for the simple crime of existing.

“Gay people have a right to life and dignity, and I oppose their persecution. #uganda,” he could tweet.

And that’s only 84 characters.

The Guardian | Jill Filipovic | 30 December 2012

France: Government acts to protect secularism from religious extremists

French Interior Minister, Manuel Valls

The French Government appears to be lining up for a full-scale confrontation with the Catholic Church, which is increasingly trying to interfere in political processes.

The socialist administration has announced it intends to establish a new agency to ensure the nation’s secularism is protected from religious extremism.

The agency will monitor extremist groups — not just Islamists, but of all faiths — and if they show signs of what the Interior Minister, Manuel Valls (right), called “religious pathology” legal action to dissolve the organisation will be taken – and foreign imams preaching hatred and violence will be deported.

Speaking at a conference on secularism, Mr Valls pointed to the incident last year when a French Islamist had gone on a killing spree, shooting to death three soldiers and four Jewish people. He said this illustrated how quickly religiously radicalised people could turn to violence. Mr Valls and two other government ministers said that the new agency would protect and promote the tradition of “laïcité”, which is the French version of secularism. The previous government of Nicolas Sarkozy had undermined this principle by pandering to the Catholic Church.

“The aim is not to combat opinions by force, but to detect and understand when an opinion turns into a potentially violent and criminal excess,” Mr Valls said. “The objective is to identify when it’s suitable to intervene to treat what has become a religious pathology.”

Mr Valls made clear that this was not an anti-Muslim exercise, but would cover all religious extremists. He mentioned the ultra-traditionalist Catholic group Civitas, which has aligned itself with the fascist Front National Party. He said the police were already monitoring Civitas as many of its activities already skirt the law.

Valls said the government had a duty to combat religious extremism because it was “an offence to the republic” based on a negation of reason that puts dogma ahead of the law. He cited extreme religious groups in other counties, Salafists, ultra-Orthodox Jews and others who sought to separate themselves from the modern world.

Announcing his initiative on Sunday, the President, Francois Hollande, said the new agency would also study ways to introduce classes on secular morality in state schools.

Education Minister Vincent Peillon told the conference the classes would stress the French values of equality and fraternity that teachers say pupils — especially in poorer areas with immigrant populations — increasingly do not respect. “We have to teach this and it’s not being done,” he said. “If we don’t teach it, they won’t learn it.”

Valls urged the more militant secularists at the conference not to see religions as sects to be opposed and to understand that established religions could help fight against extremists. “We have to say that religions are not sects, otherwise sects are religions,” he said.
Meanwhile the confrontation between the Catholic Church and the Government over plans to legalise gay marriage is ramping up. The Church has called several large-scale demonstrations throughout the country in opposition to the plans, while last weekend up to 150,000 people marched through the streets of Paris in support of the proposals.

Now, Housing Minister Cecile Duflot has warned that she might soon requisition unused church buildings in Paris for the homeless this winter. She told the Bishop of Paris that she “would not understand if the church does not share our goal of solidarity”.

Ms Duflot, a Green Party member, denied any connection between her threat and the debate over gay marriage, which her party vigorously supports. But Christine Boutin, a Catholic ex-MP accused the Government of “Cathophobia”.

National Secular Society | 18 Dec 2012

Dutch foreign minister criticises pope’s view on same-sex marriage

Frans Timmermans, Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs

The Dutch foreign minister has criticised Pope Benedict for his opposition to same-sex marriage – quoting comments by a papal envoy in Ireland last week to support his case for freedom of sexual orientation.

The minister, Frans Timmermans, a former diplomat, responded in unusually strong terms to the Pope’s Christmas speech in which he denounced gay marriage as destroying the very “essence of the human creature”.

Mr Timmermans referred to an address by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states – a post seen as the equivalent of Foreign Minister of the Holy See – at the meeting of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Dublin.

In his speech the Archbishop quoted the Pope, saying: “Good governance has to follow natural law that is written in the heart of every human being. Pope Benedict XVI expressed this view very clearly during his recent visit to Lebanon: ‘In God’s plan, each person is unique and irreplaceable . . .’. ”

To this Mr Timmermans, who also attended the OSCE conference, replied: “If every person is unique . . . then why should that unique person not have the right to stand up for his or her own sexual orientation?” In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriages.

Irish Times | PETER CLUSKEY | 24 December 2012

Gay marriage: public say the church is wrong

Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster: 'From a democratic point of view, it’s a shambles'

The public want the Government to go further on gay marriage by allowing Church of England vicars to conduct same-sex weddings, a poll for The Independent reveals today. As some religious leaders used their Christmas sermons to attack David Cameron’s plans, the ComRes survey suggests that the Church of England is out of touch with the public by opposing gay marriage. It defines marriage “as being between a man and a woman”.

By a margin of 2-1, people oppose the Government’s proposal to make it illegal for the Church of England to conduct gay marriages. Asked whether its vicars should be allowed to perform such ceremonies if they wanted to, 62 per cent of people said they should and 31 per cent disagreed, with seven per cent replying “don’t know”.

Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, warned that the Government’s plans would create a “sham” version of marriage. Urging all Catholics to join the political struggle against gay marriage, the Archbishop of Westminster used a midnight Mass to criticise governments which “mistakenly promote such patterns of sexual intimacy [outside marriage] as objectively to be approved and even encouraged among the young”.

In his strongest attack on the proposal, Archbishop Nichols told the BBC yesterday: “There was no announcement in any party manifesto, no Green Paper, no statement in the Queen’s Speech. And yet here we are on the verge of primary legislation. From a democratic point of view, it’s a shambles.”

Accusing the Government of ignoring the result of its consultation exercise, he said: “George Orwell would be proud of that manoeuvre. I think the process is shambolic.” He claimed that those who responded were “7-1 against same-sex marriage”.

The Rt Rev Mark Davies, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury, also told a midnight Mass at Shrewsbury Cathedral: “This Christmas we are also conscious of new shadows cast by a Government that pledged at its election to support the institution of marriage … the Prime Minister has decided without mandate, without any serious consultation to redefine the identity of marriage itself, the foundation of the family for all generations to come. This is again done in the name of progress … The British people have reason to ask on this night: ‘Where is such progress leading?'”

The incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, also highlighted the issue of gay marriage in his Christmas Day sermon at Durham Cathedral. Saying that some felt the Church was in a period of “division” and “betrayal”, he continued: “There are profound differences of opinion about the nature of Christian truth and its place in society, about the right of an ancient tradition to dictate or even to advocate ethical values around the end of life, around marriage, around the nature of human relationships, inequality, our duty to each other.”

According to the ComRes survey of 1,000 people, women are more likely than men to oppose the plan to outlaw gay marriage by the Church of England. By a margin of 64 to 27 per cent, women think that its vicars should be allowed to perform them. Among men, 60 per cent agree that gay weddings should be held when vicars want to conduct them, but 35 per cent oppose this.

There is much stronger support for the Church to conduct gay marriages among younger than older people. Almost three in four people between the ages of 18 and 44 support the move, compared to 55 per cent of 55- to 64-year-olds. Those aged 65 and over are the only age group opposed to the idea, by a margin of 50 to 38 per cent.

Under proposals announced by the Government earlier this month, the Church of England would be the only religious organisation specifically banned from conducting gay marriages. The aim was to reassure its critics by bolstering the Coalition’s pledge that Churches would not be bounced into holding such ceremonies against their will. It was also intended to balance the decision to allow other churches to “opt in” to same-sex marriage if they wish.

Christmas messages: Bishops’ interventions

“Basically the Prime Minister has said: ‘Where there is love and commitment, then that’s all that you need for marriage’ … But I think that’s very shallow thinking, and it’s a shame that these matters have not been given much, much more thought.”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

“This Christmas we are also conscious of new shadows cast by a Government that pledged at its election to support the institution of marriage … the Prime Minister has decided without mandate, without any serious consultation to redefine the identity of marriage itself, the foundation of the family for all generations to come.”

The Rt Rev Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury

“There are profound differences of opinion about the nature of Christian truth and its place in society, about the right of an ancient tradition to dictate or even to advocate ethical values around the end of life, around marriage, around the nature of human relationships, inequality, our duty to each other.”

The Rt Rev Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham

The Independent | 26th December 2012

Never mind Mayan doom – crackpot Pope says gay marriage will end mankind

If it’s not the Mayan Apocalypse, it’s the gays. Following the lead of hysterical doomsayers and adopting the outdated practice of credibility-robbing overstatement, Pope Benedict XVI has gravely informed his followers that gay marriage is a threat to the continued existence of all mankind. The pope didn’t volunteer a timeline for how quickly humanity will be wiped out by marriage equality, but really, at this stage who needs verifiable facts? The anti-gay grousing was included in his year-end speech, only days after the Vatican’s newspaper compared gay marriage proponents to conniving communists, promising a false utopia.

MSN | 23rd December 2012

The Pope’s hateful Christmas message

(Credit: Jeffrey Bruno via Shutterstock)

In a stunning move, on Friday, Pope Benedict used his annual Christmas message to the Vatican to assert the dignity of gay men and women around the world, and to plead for universal tolerance. “People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being,” he declared in a message aimed to end the shame and stigma of living in the closet and to abolish all forms of dangerous, destructive “conversion” therapy. Oh, wait. He was actually saying those things to once again marginalize and insult gay people. Carry on then, your holiness!

It’s been a banner week for the Catholic Church to assert its unshakable loyalty to Team Hetero. Just a few days ago, the pope said that gay marriage was a threat to world peace. It’s true: Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi are personally responsible for everything happening in Syria right now. On Friday, the pope continued with the theme, lamenting that sexual identity is “no longer a given element of nature that man has to accept and personally make sense of: It is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society.” See, this is what we’re fighting for, folks. To shake off the pernicious folly of having our orientation chosen for us by society.

It’s laughable, in a horrifying, this-guy-is-supposedly-the-spiritual-leader-of-1.8-billion-people way, that the pope made his argument against gay and lesbian rights in almost precisely the same language that best states why tolerance is so important and so necessary. He made his appeal directly to the very essence of our humanity. And you’ve got to hand it to a man who sees zero irony in saying that it’s gays who “deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves,” insisting that “the manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned.” I guess expecting gay people to magically decide they’re oriented toward the opposite sex is totally not a denial of nature, right?

Those of us who believe in human rights couldn’t agree more that to stifle one’s most basic essence is, to put it in Catholic terms, a sin. To warp anyone’s human impulse toward love, to deny any person the right to family and companionship – if you believe in God, then these must surely be great offenses to God himself. Old men in pointy hats can keep saying that LGBT rights are an “attack” on the family, but what they don’t realize is that when they’re talking about “the power of love,” they’re talking about the power that’s changing laws, that’s making new marriages and new families all around the world, right now. “In the fight for the family, the very notion of being — of what being human really means — is being called into question,” the pope says. “The question of the family … is the question of what it means to be a man, and what it is necessary to do to be true men.” It sure is. And you know what? That’s all any of us could wish for — the dignity of our own truth. The blessing of our nature.

Salon | Mary Elizabeth Williams | 21 December 2012

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