Sex and sensibility: Doing harm in places where Catholicism should have a bright future

Mar 19th 2009
From The Economist print edition

Doing harm in places where Catholicism should have a bright future

AFP AFRICANS always give a visiting pope a hearty welcome. Thousands of finely dressed Cameroonians danced and sang at the roadside this week as Pope Benedict XVI arrived on an inaugural African tour that will also take in Angola. The Vatican is keen on the continent, home to around 135m Catholics. Pope Benedict delivered a compassionate message, recognising that Africa suffers disproportionately from food shortages, poverty, financial turmoil and a changing climate. Yet for all the mutual appreciation, he got one matter painfully wrong.

Asked about the use of condoms to help tackle the scourge of AIDS, the pope restated, in unusually explicit terms, the church’s position that these are not useful to “overcome” the epidemic, indeed their use actually makes the problem worse. He suggested the disease could be beaten through chastity, abstinence and “correct behaviour”. Speaking in a continent where more than 20m people have died from AIDS and another 22.5m are infected with HIV, his statement sounded otherworldly at best, and crass and uncaring at worst. Merely wishing away human sexual behaviour does nothing for the potential victims of AIDS, many of whom are innocent under even the most moralistic definition of that word.

An ugly light
It need not be that way. Three years ago Pope Benedict was willing for his council for health to consider whether condom use would be a “lesser evil” than allowing the spread of a deadly virus. Liberal cardinals had suggested that in a marriage where one partner is infected, condoms should be permitted. In Africa, as elsewhere, many Catholics simply ignore the Vatican’s view on condoms anyway.

The pope now seems immovable on the issue. His words on condoms and AIDS look particularly heartless in light of a scandal in Brazil that also casts the Catholic church in a poor light. An archbishop there excommunicated doctors for performing an abortion on a nine-year-old girl who had been raped repeatedly by her stepfather and made pregnant with twins. The girl’s mother was also expelled from the church; the rapist was not. The Vatican has made a partial retreat, criticising the haste with which the decision was made—and, eventually, the decision itself. In this and in its views on condom use to combat the spread of AIDS, the Vatican risks seeming callous to the plight of the weakest, surely those whom the church should strive hardest to protect.

Christian Middle East exodus worries churches and Muslim leaders


VATICAN CITY — The need to find ways to stop the slow, yet steady departure of Christians from the Middle East has come into greater focus recently.

Pope Benedict urged the dwindling Arab Christian minority to patiently persist in its struggle to survive and hold onto its religious and cultural identity when he met with bishops from Iraq, Iran and Turkey who were in Rome to report on their dioceses early this year.

And he will have many public occasions to reach out and appeal directly to Christians with his proposed visit to the Holy Land May 8-15.

The Christian exodus has become so severe that Iraqi bishops called on the pope to convene a regional synod to address the problem.

In the meantime, conferences were held in Detroit, Lebanon and Rome in February to underline the important role Christians play in Muslim-majority nations.

The Rome gathering organized by the Sant’Egidio Community brought together Christian and Muslim scholars and religious leaders from the Middle East to discuss the value and contribution of the Eastern Christian churches in Arab nations.

One element that emerged from the meeting is that Christians don’t belong in the Middle East only because they’ve been there since the time of Jesus and are legitimate citizens of Arab nations.

The Christian culture and mindset contributes to the building of a more peaceful, democratic nation, many people said.

Some said a strong Christian presence could help moderate Muslims counter the rising wave of Islamic extremism sweeping across the region.

Mohammed Sammak, political adviser to Lebanon’s grand mufti, said, “The fewer Christians there are, the more (Islamic) fundamentalism rises,” fills the void and gains the upper hand.

“That is why as a Muslim, I am opposed” to Christians emigrating.

For Christians to disappear from the Middle East would be like “pulling out the threads of a cloth” so that the whole social fabric risks unraveling and dying, Sammak said.

Another danger, he said, is that if Muslim-majority nations do nothing to protect and encourage their Christian minorities to stay, then North American and European countries will think that Islam does not accept or respect Christianity.

If people living abroad see Muslims are unable to live with Christians even when they share the same culture, language and citizenship, he said, “then they’ll think, ‘So how can we Europeans live with Muslims.’”

Tensions and restrictions against Muslims living in or emigrating to Europe will increase as tensions and violence against Christians continue in the Middle East and vice versa, Sammak predicted.

Latin-rite Archbishop Jean Sleiman of Baghdad said Christians help preserve peaceful coexistence in a religiously and ethnically diverse society.

Christians possess a unique culture that displays “the willingness to mediate” and, therefore, they “could do so many things because reconstruction (of a war-torn nation) deals above all with souls, culture, mentalities,” he told Vatican Radio Feb. 23.

Many participants agreed that large numbers of Christians have been fleeing the Middle East for economic and political motives rather than purely religious reasons. Participant Bernard Sabella, a Catholic member of the Palestinian parliament, said the exodus of Christians “is related to the global market. So if a young Palestinian — Christian or Muslim — can get work in the United States or Dubai, then they will go.”

(HH: I really think they are discounting how much simply getting to ANYWHERE that is viable economically where they will have freedom from oppression is the main impetus.)

Mitri said the cultural and economic contribution of Christians have always outweighed their numerical proportion.

Sammak said losing Christians would mean losing the human, cultural, scientific and educational resources they bring to a nation.

Archbishop Sleiman told reporters that while economic and political problems are major reasons for leaving, Christians in countries like Iraq and the Palestinian territories leave out of “fear of Islamic fundamentalism and being legally discriminated against” in an Islamic republic or under Shariah, the religiously based law of Islam.

The Lebanese-born archbishop of Baghdad said he believes it is still possible for the dwindling numbers of Christians to play a role in the rebuilding of their country.

“But it’s important churches have to be convinced their role is still important. When I see emigration, I’m not sure Christians still believe their role is important,” he said.

(HH here: this is a thorny issue. From the viewpoint of Christian communities it is good to stand and fight for rights and change. For the individual and family though martyrdom is a lot to ask.
Careful lines need to be walked here. For a church to ask its people to potentially accept martyrdom is not something to be undertaken lightly.
Before asking Christians to stand firm in the face of terror and death I think the churches need to put considerable pressure on the Muslim governments to show more respect for the local non-Muslims. If that outside pressure is impossible to exert because it will “provoke” violence against Christians IN country then their influence IS gone and the churches should advise them to flee for their safety and their family’s souls; forced conversion or death is likely in the near future.)

Vatican rejects bishop apology for Holocaust remarks

February 26, 2009

The Vatican dismissed as insufficient Bishop Richard Williamson’s apology for making comments minimizing the Holocaust.

(HH here: I had some SLIGHT reservations about this new pope-dude but in this situation he certainly seems to have stepped up to the plate and stayed there once this psuedo-bishop’s views came out. I will be nice and not even question their explanation that the Pope didn’t make a mistake since he was not properly briefed. HEck it might even be true. What matters is that he looked at a line in the sand and stood on the right side of it.)

Williamson expressed regret for making the remarks but did not recant his views.

Pope Benedict XVI sparked a furor last month when he reinstated Williamson and three other excommunicated bishops, all members of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, just days after Williamson told Swedish TV that he believed “that the historical evidence is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler.” He said no more than a few hundred Jews died in Europe during World War II.

This week, Williamson expressed regret for making the remarks.

The Vatican said Williamson’s apology “does not seem to respect the conditions” for readmission into the Catholic Church as a clergyman, a Vatican spokesman said Friday, because it does not apologize for the Holocaust denial itself.

Williamson left Argentina this week after authorities there expelled him for violating the conditions of his work visa. …

Read it all by clicking on the title of the post.