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Cardinal Marx: Bill banning circumcision in Iceland a threat to religious freedom

February 7, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Reykjavik, Iceland, Feb 8, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new bill proposed in Iceland that would make circumcision punishable by up to six years in prison is a “dangerous attack” on religious freedom, Cardinal Reinhard Marx has said.

“Protecting the health of children is a legitimate goal of every society, but in this case this concern is instrumentalized, without any scientific basis, to stigmatise certain religious communities. This is extremely worrying,” Marx said in a statement.

Marx commented on the issue as President of the Catholic Church in the European Union (COMECE). While Iceland does not belong to the European Union, it does have “privileged relations” with EU countries, COMECE noted.

“COMECE considers any attempt on the fundamental right to freedom of religion as unacceptable. The criminalisation of circumcision is a very grave measure that raises deep concern,” Marx added.  

Circumcision is a religious ritual for many, notably Jews and Muslims. Jews typically circumcise infant boys eight days after birth, while Muslim practices vary widely.

The proposed bill states that “Anyone who…causes damage to the body or health of a child or a woman by…removing sexual organs shall be imprisoned for up to 6 years.”

The bill specifically states that circumcisions on boys, if performed for non-medical reasons, would be banned in Iceland under the bill. Female circumcision has been banned in Iceland since 2005.

Male circumcisions used to be “generally encouraged…to prevent various disorders and behaviors,” the bill states.

“In recent years, this view has been expanding, and is quite widespread in Europe, that the execution of a construction for a purpose other than a medical is a violation of human rights boys because of irreversible interventions in their bodies,” it states, and carries a risk of infection.

The bill also states that circumcision of young boys violates “Article 12. UN Convention on the Rights of Children to Affect Your Own Life” as well as “paragraph 3. Article 24 which guarantees children protection against traditions that are harmful to children’s health.”

While the bill does not define at what age childhood ends, the age of sexual consent in Iceland is 15 years of age.

According to Mayo Clinic, circumcision may have some health benefits, including easier hygiene, decreased risk of urinary tract infections, decreased risk of sexually transmitted infections, and a decreased risk of penile cancer.

The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks, although they encourage parental discretion in the decision.

The health risks and benefits have been a topic of debate for several years in some European countries, although none have banned the practice outright.

Iceland, which has a population of around 334,000, has a small Muslim population of a few hundred people, and an even smaller Jewish population of around 100 people.

While Iceland has no designated Rabbi, Jewish news source reports that Chief Rabbi of Denmark Yair Melchior and the Rabbi of Oslo, Yoav Melchior are campaigning against the bill on behalf of the Jewish population in Iceland.

“Iceland does not have a significant Jewish or Muslim population; therefore there are hardly any opponents to the bill. Only considerable international pressure can help,” the Rabbis told ynetnews.
“There is no country in the world now that bans circumcision. This sets a dangerous precedent that may affect other countries; the Danish parliament is now considering such a bill as well,” they added. The Danish Medical Association has advised against male contraception in boys for several years, though no ban has been enacted in the country.

The European Conference of Rabbis also voiced their opposition to the bill in a statement, as reported in ynetnews.  
“Circumcision is a critical part of Jewish life and no authority in the world can forbid Jews from carrying out this commandment,” they said.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the group, added that “although the Icelandic Jewish community is small, we cannot ignore the dangerous precedent that this law can set and the consequences that such legislation can cause in other countries.”
“We call on lawmakers to immediately rescind this miserable piece of legislation and continue supporting Jewish life without limits.”

It is unclear when the bill would be up for a vote.


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Neocatechumenal Way: Kiko Argüello announces successor to Carmen Hernandez

February 5, 2018 CNA Daily News 2

Rome, Italy, Feb 6, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- During an international retreat of the Neocatechumenal Way held in Porto San Giorgio, Italy, Kiko Argüello announced Feb. 2 that Maria Ascensión Romero will be a new international member of the movement, replacing Carmen Hernandez, who died July 19, 2016. Argüello and Hernandez were the ecclesial movement’s co-founders.

Romero joins Fr.Mario Pezzi and Argüello to make up the international team, which according to the the movement’s statutes is to be comprised of three members. Romero was an itinerant missionary for years in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

The Neocatechumenal Way was founded in 1964 in Spain. It draws its inspiration from the practices of the early Catholic Church, providing “post-baptismal” Christian formation in some 40,000 small, parish-based communities.  The movement is present all over the world, and says it has an estimated membership of more than 1 million people.

Since the Neocatechumenal Way was founded, the group has sometimes been cautioned by the Vatican for inserting various novel practices into the Masses it organizes. These include practices such as lay preaching, standing during the Eucharistic Prayer, the reception of Holy Communion while sitting, and the passing of the Most Precious Blood from person to person.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


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Slain Maltese journalist fought for her convictions, priest says

February 1, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Valletta, Malta, Feb 2, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A close friend of slain Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia says the reporter’s life and death is a reminder that “one should have the courage to stand for one’s convictions.”

Maltese priest Fr. Joseph Borg spoke with CNA about Galizia’s legacy.

A well-known Maltese journalist famous for her shocking, in-depth stories exposing government corruption, Galizia was assassinated in October 2017 when a rental car she was driving exploded as she left her home in Bidnija. Three people have been arrested in connection with the bombing.

She was frequently threatened because of her work, and was best known for her investigations into corruption among the Mediterranean nation’s politicians.

Shortly before her death, Galizia had suggested on her blog that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his wife had used offshore bank accounts to hide payments from the Azerbaijani ruling family.

Galizia’s claims about the Maltese minister triggered early elections in the country, from which Muscat’s Labour Party managed to come out victorious.

Fr. Borg, Director of the Maltese Catholic radio RTK, was familiar with Galizia and wrote an obituary for her in The Guardian after her death. The two had a friendly relationship and were familiar with each others’ work. He had defended her work publicly, and at one point gave evidence in her defense during a court case against her.

In an interview with CNA, Borg said Galizia, who investigated Maltese connections in the 2015 Panama Papers leak on her blog “Running Commentary,” was aware that her work was unlikely to make an impact, but she was nonetheless committed to telling the truth.

When it came time for the elections after the leak, he said Galizia told him “I know that what I’m writing will not make a difference for the election result, people don’t care, but I have to write it because someone has to write it. We have to document what’s happening.”

Journalists have a responsibility to pursue stories like this, Borg said, stressing that “we can’t be consequentialists. We can’t say, ‘what will be the effect if it’s true?’”

“If it’s public interest we have to write it,” he said, explaining that while it is unethical to publish false information, “you can also be unethical by not writing something that you should write, not writing something that is of public interest…(this) is unethical.”

He said Galizia first got involved with investigative stories on corruption scandals during Malta’s election in 1981, two years after Britain pulled troops off the island in 1979. A constitutional crisis emerged when the Labour Party, despite taking in less votes that the opposing Nationalist Party, managed to end up with more seats in parliament.

Protests erupted, rapidly turning violent. Galizia became active in covering the story, writing for both the The Sunday Times of Malta and the Malta Independent, where she had a regular column, until her death.

In 2008 she launched her blog, which quickly became one of the most popular websites in Malta, as she could publish stories and commentary that weren’t able to be printed in the papers.

In this sense, Borg said one of Galizia’s greatest contributions to journalism is that “she gave hope to people. You go to her with a story and it gets published. She takes risks if she believes in people.”

Despite her high readership and Galizia’s efforts to unveil the shadowy misdeeds of those in power – including a Maltese politician who reportedly visited a brothel during a trip to Germany – Borg said the public was largely indifferent.

“The irony is that the economy was good and it became better, so people didn’t care,” he said.

“Even if you look at the demonstrations that were done after her funeral, one was very great, but then people dwindled. This is the situation. Most people reason out and say ‘I’m okay, what’s the big fuss? All of them are corrupt, so who cares?’”

Borg said if reporters stop covering difficult stories because of indifference, “what use is journalism?”

Using a colloquial Maltese phrase, he said it would be like “’a sun that does not heat’ – is it better that it’s cold?”

Galizia was able to raise the bar for journalism in Malta, Borg said, explaining that many Maltese journalists were in some sense “offended” that people went to her with the good stories, instead of them.  

Because of this, “now we have many people in mainstream journalism who have been trained to compete with her to get better stories,” Borg said, so “that was another contribution.”

He also pointed to Galizia’s “total disregard of a consequentialist approach to journalism,” and her attitude that “you have to do what you have to do” for the sake of public interest.

“She was not perfect, sometimes she got stories wrong, sometimes she also had gossipy parts, [but] most of the time she was incredible,” he said. “The main stories, what she wrote about corruption in Malta, incredible.”

“Her courage has inspired other journalists to go after more stories and we are getting more stories,” he said. And while some of this can be attributed to the fact that people simply need to find someone else to run their story, “journalists feel a bit ashamed if they don’t sort-of take risks like her.”

This is one of Galizia’s “best contributions to journalism in Malta,” Borg said, adding that other people and organizations should have the same courage to stand up for the truth, because “if someone who is alone does it, if you are part of an organization or institution, why shouldn’t you?”



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Conference addresses Catholic journalism, fake news, and a ‘post-truth’ era

January 31, 2018 CNA Daily News 2

Lourdes, France, Feb 1, 2018 / 12:08 am (CNA).- Last week, hundreds of Catholic media experts from all over the world gathered to discuss the problem of “fake news” and the challenge of reporting in what has been dubbed by some as the “post-truth” era.

With the advent of the internet and a sharp rise in the number of media outlets going online, competition to be the first to report a story is becoming more and more fierce.

The result is often a mass production and consumption of information with few adequate systems of checks and balances to verify what is being published. Pressure is high to compromise fact-checking for the sake of staying on top of a rapidly changing news cycle. Some entities intentionally offer misleading information to promote a certain agenda or sway public opinion.

Fake news can be hard to recognize because it often contains elements of truth, but is mixed with inaccurate or partial facts. This has led to confusion and a mistrust of information and the institutions providing it, experts say.

An analysis of this malady and proposals for a possible remedy were precisely the topic of discussion during this year’s Saint Francis de Sales Days conference, which took place Jan. 24-26 in Lourdes.

The conference, titled “Media and Truth,” was co-organized by the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications and French organization the Federation of Catholic Media (FMC). Other entities, including nonprofit media organization SIGNIS and the French bishops conference, also participated.

Speakers at the conference, who hold various positions in Catholic media, discussed the topic from philosophical, theological, political, economic and journalistic points of view.

Typically an event for French speaking media, this year the conference was open to international media and coincided with the Jan. 24 publication of Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Social Communications, which was dedicated to the topic of fake news.

In comments to CNA, Msgr. Dario Edoardo Vigano, prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, said talking about fake news right now “is central because the panorama of media has changed.”

With traditional newspapers in crisis, he said, news is increasingly being spread by “a plethora of people who think of themselves as authoritative interpreters of contemporary life on the internet.”

This phenomenon, he said, “confuses presence, at times very widespread, with pertinence.” Because of this, addressing the problem of fake news “means having the journalistic profession at heart.”

Natasa Govekar, director of the Pastoral Theological Department of the Secretariat for Communications, said that while technology may appear to make communication easier than in past generations, “in reality it’s harder… because we are inundated with images, but without an education on images.”

“We don’t realize the power that they have and we perceive them as if there were just illustrations that accompany a text to make it more interesting,” she told CNA. “We don’t realize that they arrive much faster and much more directly than words,” and often words aren’t able “to ‘correct’ the choice of a mistaken image.”

Govekar, who spoke on the second day of the conference about the impact of images in communication, said Pope Francis is a prime example of how a picture can communicate more clearly than words.

She said whenever she looks at the Pope’s social media accounts, particularly his Instagram “Franciscus” profile, the comments always say things like “I willingly listen to your words because of how you said them,” or “I like to see your comments or a minute of your video because you always have this smile that captivates,” or “Even if I don’t understand your language, just the tone of your voice is consoling for me.”

“Even before understanding what he is saying and what he is inviting us to, we see it. The image, the gesture, speaks before the words arrive,” Govekar said, explaining that people don’t need to conduct a study on the image to understand what’s being communicated.

Helen Osman, president of SIGNIS, echoed Govekar’s sentiments. With the rise of digital media, she said, information can be spread more quickly than ever before, but “the challenge is to provide quality material that people find useful and helpful in their lives.”

Osman spoke to the conference about state of both secular and Catholic media in the United States, highlighting a decrease of trust in journalists. This, she said, is largely due to the fact that journalists are perceived to be out of touch with their audiences, and can also be attributed to social media being used to promote “yellow journalism.”

“There’s this growing acceptance or reference for conspiracy theories or concepts that aren’t even factually accurate,” Osman said, explaining that in her experience, she finds that this trend is often due to fear.

As Catholic journalists, “we know what answers those fears,” she said, so “why are we not presenting that in a way that makes sense to people and helps them sort through this?”

Other speakers also noted that the Catholic media have not been exempt from the troubling trends plaguing modern journalism.

In his opening speech, Vigano observed that Catholic media are not only victims of fake news, “but we are also authors,” even if unintentionally.

And sometimes, fake news is spread intentionally, when worldliness and the search for honor becomes a motivation, he said. “Fake news is often used to eliminate an enemy or, on the contrary but no worse, to valorize a person who may not have any human or professional maturity.”

In her comments to CNA, Govekar warned that digital platforms can be a new and effective way to share the Gospel, but can also be misused to promote agendas under the guise of evangelization.

Likewise, Osman – who in her speech said Catholic media in the U.S. at times tend to be overly apologetic and defensive in tone – said Catholic media can also fall victim to fake news and conspiracies.

“We’re human, so yes we struggle with that,” she said, adding that “it’s not easy, it’s not easy to hear someone say things or demonstrate beliefs that are in direct opposition to my beliefs.”

She cautioned against the assumption that “anyone who disagrees with the Church is to be demonized or cast out, or at the very least not heard.”

Pointing to the Pope’s message for the World Day of Communications, Osman said Francis continues to challenge Catholics in this area, particularly on the need to listen and dialogue with others.

Communications, she said, “is about listening and about trying to understand the other person. So perhaps we can take off the lens that ‘this is an attack on me’ and instead focus on the other person and say, help me understand why you think this way.”

To avoid fake news, “the first step is to lean in more, to listen more, and instead of feeling like we’ve got to counter every position or every new development.”

“It’s not a debate for me to win,” she said, but “it’s a moment for me to understand who you are.”

Similarly, Msgr. Vigano, in his opening speech Jan. 24, also highlighted dialogue and listening as the remedy to fake news.

“The most radical antidote is to allow oneself to be (purified) by the truth” and to have “the ability to listen,” which involves actively trying to understanding their perspective.

Communications, he said, “isn’t just a transmission of facts,” but a reciprocal exchange with others. Ultimately, it’s “an occasion to build bridges of peace.”

In his comments to CNA, Vigano said that to fight against fake news, Catholics can first of all avoid sharing news that is unfounded and unverified.

He stressed that problem of truth “is in all of society, not just among Catholics,” and said that members of the Church, “we have a greater responsibility” than non-believers to work for truth.

For her part, Govekar said sharing information and working in teams is an effective tool to avoid fake news. She noted that Pope Francis, in his message for communications day, invites journalists “to be guardians of the news.”

Communion and teamwork help with this, she said, because involving multiple people creates feedback and fosters dialogue.

To recognize fake news, Osman urged readers to “come at all information with a critical eye: who’s writing it, what is their motive, why is this important to me, how does it stack up against my experience?”

“I think it’s a matter of not reading something and saying ‘oh, obviously this is true,’ but to…verify everything. In other words, don’t assume that this person or this material is bad, but verify everything.”


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Portuguese priest who fathered child will remain in ministry

January 31, 2018 CNA Daily News 2

Funchal, Portugal, Jan 31, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Portuguese Diocese of Funchal has said that a priest who fathered a child has resigned his duties as a pastor but will be able to continue his pastoral ministry.

In November 2017, Fr. Giselo Andrade, then pastor of  Our Lady of the Hill church, acknowledged his paternity of a girl born in August.

After investigating the case, the Diocese of Funchal stated that “the Church is a place of mercy and God forgives everything, but a double life is unacceptable.”

The diocese said that it is providing pastoral guidance in “the situation, respecting the delicateness of the case, the dignity of persons and the consequences it has in the parish itself and the other Christian communities.”

They also stated that “the priest himself had to discern, in dialogue with the bishop, if he intended to exercise the pastoral ministry according the requirements and norms of the Church or instead would embrace another vocation.”
In the Jan 28 notice, the diocese said that the decision that Fr. Andrade wouldd resign from his functions as pastor was made “after dialogue with the priest himself.”

The diocesan notice stated that the priest “will be able to continue the exercise of his pastoral ministry through some activities that were already entrusted to him in the area of communications and others that eventually may be assigned to him.”

The statement said that it was the priest himself who “expressed his desire to continue to exercise his priestly ministry under the conditions required by the Church.”

“Of course the need for clear discernment was seen, for a responsibly undertaken choice matured in reflection and prayer, a discernment made with serenity and free of pressure,” under the pastoral guidance of Bishop  António José Cavaco Carrilho of the diocese, the diocese said.

The notice also emphasized that by assuming the paternity of his daughter, Fr. Andrade demonstrated his commitment to the responsibilities inherent to this situation.

“This entire situation created an opportunity for debate and reflection in the news media and social media,” on the discipline of celibacy in the Church, considering that the Church “is not static but dynamic and has a history that allows it to recognize and evaluate its values and its faults.” he said.

The Diocese of Fuchal stressed that “Catholic priests accept and commit themselves in complete freedom, to live the gift of celibacy in their ministry of service to the People of God, in fuller conformity to Christ the Shepherd, with abundant fruits for the Church, including the sacrifice of some expressions and joys of family life.”

In a May 2017, interview, discussing the shortage of priests, Pope Francis said that “optional celibacy is not the solution.”

In November 2017, when Fr. Andrade acknowledged he was the father of a girl, the President of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Manuel Clemente, defended celibacy and rejected the possibility that it be abandoned or “softened.”

In a Nov 16 press conference at the end of the plenary assembly of bishops, the cardinal also commented that situations similar to Fr. Andrade’s also occur with romantic affairs involving priests.

According to the  Portuguese news agency Ecclesia, the cardinal, who is also the Patriarch of Lisbon, said that in cases of romantic affairs “responsibilities have to be assumed” and that priestly or conjugal life continues when there is the “will to repent going forward and do things more conscientiously and responsibly.”

As for celibacy, the cardinal said that “the priest is a living sign of Christ by choosing to not have a family in order to be family to everyone.”

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.