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Cardinal Pell submits appeal to Australian High Court

September 17, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Melbourne, Australia, Sep 17, 2019 / 04:32 am (CNA).- Cardinal George Pell Tuesday submitted an application for leave to appeal his conviction to the Australian High Court, following the Aug. 21 decision by the Court of Appeal in Victoria to uphold his conviction for child sexual abuse.

The leave to appeal was filed in Melbourne by Pell’s legal team Sept. 17, one day before the deadline of 28 days from the date of the Appeal Court decision.

Sources close to the cardinal told CNA Aug. 26 that Pell would be exercising his final appeal and that, while the majority of “special leave to appeal” cases were not granted by the High Court, his case would likely be accepted given the controversy triggered by the split decision of the Appeal Court judgement.

In seeking to take his case to the High Court in Canberra, Australia’s supreme court, Pell is exercising his last legal avenue to overturn a conviction which has divided opinion in the country and internationally.

Several Australian media outlets have reported that Pell will retain the same legal team which presented his case in Victoria, led by Brett Walker SC.

The cardinal was convicted Dec. 11, 2018, on five charges that he sexually abused two choristers after Sunday Mass while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and 1997.

He was sentenced to six years in prison, of which he must serve at least three years and eight months before being eligible to apply for parole.

The cardinal, 78, who remains an archbishop and a member of the College of Cardinals, was returned to prison immediately after court adjourned, where he has remained. Pell has not been permitted to celebrate Mass in prison.

Pell’s appeal was presented on three grounds, two of which were procedural and dismissed by all three appeal judges.

The judges were divided on Pell’s primary ground of appeal, that the decision of the jury was “unreasonable.”

At particular issue was the question of whether the jury which convicted Pell had properly weighed all of the evidence presented in his defense, or reached the determination of guilt despite the demonstration of clear “reasonable doubt” that he committed the crimes with which he was charged.

Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and Court President Chris Maxwell formed the majority in favor of rejecting Pell’s appeal that the jury verdict was unreasonable on the evidence presented, finding that it was open to the jury to find beyond “reasonable doubt about the truth of the complainant’s account.”

In an extensive dissent from the majority finding, Justice Mark Weinberg noted that the entirety of the evidence against Pell consisted of the testimony of a single accuser, whereas more than 20 witnesses were produced to testify against his narrative.

“Even the ‘reasonable possibility’ that what the witnesses who testified to these matters may have been true must inevitably have led to an acquittal,” Weinberg wrote, concluding that Pell had, in effect, been asked to establish the “impossibility” of his guilt and not merely reasonable doubt.

All three judges granted further leave to appeal on the ground of the unreasonableness of the jury’s conviction.

The decision by Pell to pursue the final legal avenue open to him means that a canonical process in Rome will be further delayed until the civil process concludes in Australia.


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Catholic leaders appeal for help after Jesuit school in India attacked

September 12, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Ranchi, India, Sep 12, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Catholics in the Archdiocese of Ranchi have appealed for help after a local Jesuit mission was brutally attacked by a large armed mob last week.

St. John Berchmans Inter College, a Jesuit school and hostel in India’s Jharkhand state, was attacked by around 500 armed Hindu extremists Sept. 3, the college’s secretary Fr. Thomas Kuzhively reported to Agenzia Fides.

The attackers were armed with sticks, chains, iron bars, knives, and pistols, and beat tribal students including two who were seriously injured, he said. They seriously damaged the school’s facilities.

The mob also tried to sexually harass female students, tried to prevent the transport of injured students to a hospital, destroyed and vandalized school property, stole cash, and attacked an attached hostel for tribal students, Kuzhively reported.

In the wake of the attack, school has appealed to the heads of Jharkhand, as well as other local and regional authorities, for action to be taken.

Christians in India have suffered an increase in attacks since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party rose to power in the country’s 2014 elections.

In recent years, religious minorities have been targeted by Hindu extremists for violence and oppression in efforts to keep them out of power and influence and to keep the poorer classes in the country in poverty.

After the BJP’s massive victory in 2017 elections, violent attacks against Christians increased in number; the country’s prime minister was recently reelected in May of 2019 and the BJP kept power, which sparked serious concerns for Christians in the country.

India is listed as a “Tier 2” country by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its latest annual report. Tier 2 countries are not the worst offenders of religious freedom in the world, according to USCIRF, but have serious violations of religious freedom that meet at least one of three conditions: “systematic, ongoing, and egregious.”

The Indian government has allowed for these acts of harassment, intimidation, and violence against religious minorities to continue, USCIRF says.


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Effort to pass abortion bill in NSW could push government into minority

September 5, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Sydney, Australia, Sep 5, 2019 / 03:03 pm (CNA).- As the Australian state of New South Wales considers a bill to decriminalize abortion, two members of parliament from the governing coalition are threatening to separate from the majority government if certain limiting amendments to the bill do not pass.

Tanya Davies and Kevin Conolly told the state’s premier, Gladys Berejiklian, that they will “no longer sit in the party room” if amendments to the bill are not passed, which would push the Liberal Party and National Party coalition into  minority government, The Guardian reports.

The government would go from 48 to 46 seats in the lower house, the Legislative Assembly; it is already in the minority in the Legislative Council.

The amendments the MPs are pushing for include the removal of provisions in the bill which require doctors who have a conscientious objection to performing abortions to refer patients elsewhere.

They are also pushing for an amendment to ban sex-selective abortions, which Davies first introduced in August. The amendment was voted down in the Legislative Assembly, with some legislators arguing it could lead to racial discrimination and profiling, and that sex-selective abortion “is not an issue in NSW”, reported The Catholic Weekly, the Archdiocese of Sydney’s publication.

Amendments to the bill will be considered beginning Sept. 17, after which a final vote will occur.

The bill passed the Legislative Assembly Aug. 8 by a 59-31 vote; votes on the bill have been delayed several times because of opposition and concerns it has been rushed through without proper consideration.

The Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 would allow abortions for any reason up to 22 weeks of pregnancy; after that, it would allow for abortions if two doctors believe an abortion should be performed, considering physical, social, and psychological circumstances.

It would require medical practitioners to offer counseling to a woman seeking to procure an abortion, if they believe it would be beneficial.

According to supporters of the bill, it clarifies what they believe were previously ambiguous terms in penal code with regard to abortion.

But opponents believe it opens the possibility of elective abortion at any time, as long as two doctors consent.

Under current law, abortion is only legal in NSW if a doctor determines that a woman’s physical or mental health is in danger. “Mental health” has been interpreted by courts to include “economic and social stress.”

The Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church of Australia, and the NSW Presbyterian Church all oppose the bill.

When the bill passed the lower house, Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney expressed his disappointment, stating that “if a civilisation is to be judged by how it treats its weakest members, New South Wales failed spectacularly today.”

The bill “still allows abortion right up to birth. It conscripts all medical practitioners and institutions into the abortion industry by requiring them to perform abortions themselves or direct women to an abortion provider. It still does nothing to protect mothers or their unborn children or to give them real alternatives,” he said.

Bishop Richard Umbers, an auxiliary bishop of Sydney and the Australian bishops’ delegate for life, said that despite the bill’s advancement, “the Catholic Church will continue to provide support, advise and care for all women facing any decision surrounding her pregnancy.”

He thanked all who “rallied to oppose the culture of death,” saying: “The graces given by God to the people of Sydney as a result of your fervent and tireless prayers and support for life will bring about great good for NSW in ways we will be blessed to witness and in many unknown ways.”


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Student leader: Withdrawal of Hong Kong extradition bill not enough to quell protests

September 4, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Hong Kong, China, Sep 4, 2019 / 03:49 pm (CNA).- Despite Hong Kong’s chief executive announcing that she will withdraw a controversial extradition bill, protests are continuing, with demonstrators demanding additional government and police reforms, said the leader of local Catholic student group.

“I don’t think that they will [be] satisfied with the withdrawal of the bill…people are too angry at the government and the police,” said Edwin Chow, acting president of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students.

Chow told CNA that demonstrators are angry not only about the bill, but also about police brutality shown in recent months and what they describe as unjust limits on democracy.

“So they will keep protesting, of course. And what has happened the last weekend is that on the 31st of August, actually we had a large protest, which originally the government did not allow, but we still [went] on the street, protesting. And the police used tear gas, and they used water cannons on the people,” he said.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam announced Wednesday via a video message that she is officially withdrawing a bill that, if passed into law, would have allowed extraditions of alleged criminals to mainland China.

The controversial bill sparked widespread protests on the island territory, beginning in earnest with a demonstration June 6 that saw an estimated 1 million Hong Kongers take to the streets. Many more large protests have taken place since, with police occasionally resorting to forceful tactics such as tear gas and water cannons.

Lam had suspended, but not fully withdrawn, the bill on June 15 after first introducing it in February. The process of withdrawal will officially start in October when the territory’s legislature next meets.

Hong Kong— a “special administrative region” of China, meaning it has its own government but remains under Chinese control— has total freedom of worship and evangelization, while in mainland China, by contrast, there is a long history of persecution for Christians who run afoul of the government.

Many Christians feared that the bill would provide a means for the mainland Chinese government to tighten its grip on the free exercise of religion in Hong Kong, as well as a means to persecute those in Hong Kong who support persecuted Christians on the mainland.

The island is only about 8% Catholic, but that represents a population of over half a million.

Protesters have articulated five demands for the government of Hong Kong, one of which was the withdrawal of the bill.

The other demands include Lam’s resignation; an independent inquiry into police brutality; the release of arrested protesters, who number nearly 1,200 in total; and an expansion of democratic freedoms, including universal suffrage. Under the current system, the territory’s chief executive is not elected directly by the people of Hong Kong, but rather a 1,200 member election committee.

“I think if we have true universal suffrage, maybe the chief executive…will really listen to people, because she’s elected by the people,” Chow said.

“The people [should] have the power to impeach him or her. The chief executive should be responsible to the people. But now…because now the government is selected by Beijing, they only can be loyal to Beijing, but not Hong Kong people. So this is why I think the people will keep protesting.”

Chow said beginning on Sept. 2, many university students boycotted their classes. He said the plan originally was to boycott for nearly two weeks, until Sept. 13. The boycott was “not well-planned,” he acknowledged, and right now it is “not very obvious that we are having a strike,” but student groups are planning to hold assemblies and meetings during the class boycott.

Chow said there is another large protest planned for this coming weekend, this time at the airport, where a large group of protesters gathered last weekend. He said many people have been arrested at subway stations.

He said he does not know of any members of the Catholic student groups that have been arrested or injured in the protests.

The auxiliary bishop of Hong Kong, who has been a vocal supporter of the protests, told CNA last week that he hopes prayer will help transform the area into “a channel of God’s peace.”

Many Catholic clergy in Hong Kong, including apostolic administrator Cardinal John Tong and bishop emeritus Cardinal Joseph Zen, have expressed support for the protesters.

“We’re urging fellow parishioners to join our ‘Friday fasting’ movement,” Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing told CNA on Aug. 30.

“It’s been a tradition for us to fast on Fridays. However, this tradition somehow was abolished. With fasting and prayers, we hope that we can help ourselves to strengthen our mind and soul to fight evil thoughts. Then, we would be in a better position to help fellow Hongkongers.”

Bishop Ha, who has taken part in ecumenical prayer rallies with protesters in the past, urged an increase in prayer and said he is concerned for the safety of the many young people involved in the protests.

“I do worry about the safety of the protesters, especially the young ones,” he said. “Youth is not just our future, they are also our present as Pope Francis said. Feeling sad, helpless and sometimes even furious is not unusual. However, we must prevent sadness developing into hopelessness, prevent anger turning into hatred.”


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Lawyers’ group hesitant about Australia’s religious discrimination bill

September 4, 2019 CNA Daily News 1

Canberra, Australia, Sep 4, 2019 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- The president of the Law Council of Australia signalled dissatisfaction with the government’s religious discrimination bill Wednesday. Among his concerns are its ability to bolster conscience protections for medical professionals who object to participating in abortion.

Arthur Moses, head of the association of law societies and bar associations in Australia, addressed the bill in a Sept. 4 address to the National Press Club in Canberra.

According to Guardian Australia, much of his criticism focused on the suggestion the bill could protect expressions of racial discrimination.

The religious discrimination bill would make it unlawful to discriminate against people on the ground of their religious belief or activity; establish a religious freedom commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission; and amend existing laws regarding religious freedom, including marriage and charities law, and objects clauses in anti-discrimination law.

It would protect religious speech under commonwealth, state, and territory law.

The coalition government wants to make religious belief and activity a protected class, like race or sex. It also hopes to ensure that groups rejecting same-sex marriage are not stripped of their charitable status.

In its current version, the bill would not protect religious statements that are “malicious, would harass, vilify or incite hatred or violence against a person or group or which advocate for the commission of a serious criminal offence”.

The draft bill was released last week for public consultation by attorney-general Christian Porter.

Moses, in his prepared remarks to the National Press Club, said the Law Council welcomed the bill’s release “not because we necessarily agree with the government’s approach or with every provision. But because this provides an opportunity for a discussion that is long overdue about what type of nation we want to be.”

“An inclusive, tolerant and harmonious nation? A nation where people are vilified because of their sexuality in the name of religion? We need to get the balance right to ensure that there are no unintended consequences,” he stated, adding that “reasonable minds may differ about how we balance competing rights.”

He urged that “as a starting point, we need to have a clear definition of what we understand freedom and liberty to mean.”

Guardian Australia reported that Moses said the bill “doesn’t carry the same type of protection as section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act”.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 makes unlawful offensive behaviour done publicly because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin if the act “is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people.”

Moses said that “the concept of offend and insult in section 18C is not to be found in this legislation – so the test is much more difficult to establish in relation to provisions of the religious freedom bill than what is currently contained in the Racial Discrimination Act.”

He maintained that “this is an area where we have said you need to be very careful because some comments that are made do have an impact on the most vulnerable members of our community.”

Moses also said the religious discrimination bill would allow employers to prohibit religious speech if they would suffer “unjustifiable financial hardship”.

He called this “an interesting concept … there is a mirage of freedom of speech but it’s confined by the employer’s bottom line. I think that’s silly, with all due respect.”

Australia’s coalition government is led by the Liberal Party, which is joined by the National Party. The opposition Australian Labor Party is expected to back the bill.

LGBT advocates are opposed to the bill, as it could override some provisions of Tasmanian law.

Some conservative members of parliament have asked instead for a religious freedom bill.

Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, of the Liberal Party, voiced concerns July 9 that the bill does not go far enough, saying it “would be defensive in nature and limited to protecting against acts and practices by others which are discriminatory on the grounds of religion.”

She said that “quiet Australians now expect the Coalition to legislate to protect their religious freedom.”

The religious discrimination bill is being introduced to implement a commitment made in the 2019 federal election.

A review of religious freedom in Australia was finished in May 2018, making 20 recommendations; among these was a Religious Discrimination Bill.

The government has asked the Australian Law Reform Commission to report on how to balance competing claims of religious freedom rights and LGBT rights.

Australia has seen debate over religious freedom in recent years with respect to the seal of the confessional, hiring decisions, and same-sex marriage.

When same-sex marriage was legalized in Australia in 2017, efforts to include amendments that would protect religious freedom failed during parliamentary debate.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney noted last year that “we cannot take the freedom to hold and practice our beliefs for granted, even here in Australia,” and that “powerful interests now seek to marginalize religious believers and beliefs, especially Christian ones, and exclude them from public life. They would end funding to faith-based schools, hospitals and welfare agencies, strip us of charitable status and protections.”


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Hong Kong auxiliary bishop calls for ‘Friday fasting’ amid ongoing protests

September 4, 2019 CNA Daily News 3

Hong Kong, China, Sep 4, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- As widespread protests continue in Hong Kong, a local bishop is urging people to pray and fast for peace, while speaking up against injustice and corruption.

The auxiliary bishop of Hong Kong, who has been a vocal supporter of the protests, told CNA that he hopes prayer will help transform the area into “a channel of God’s peace.”

“We’re urging fellow parishioners to join our ‘Friday fasting’ movement,” Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing told CNA on Aug. 30.

“It’s been a tradition for us to fast on Fridays. However, this tradition somehow was abolished. With fasting and prayers, we hope that we can help ourselves to strengthen our mind and soul to fight evil thoughts. Then, we would be in a better position to help fellow Hongkongers.”

Bishop Ha, who has taken part in ecumenical prayer rallies with protestors in the past, urged an increase in prayer and said he is concerned for the safety of the many young people involved in the protests.

“I do worry about the safety of the protestors, especially the young ones,” he said. “Youth is not just our future, they are also our present as Pope Francis said. Feeling sad, helpless and sometimes even furious is not unusual. However, we must prevent sadness developing into hopelessness, prevent anger turning into hatred.”

Large-scale demonstrations have rocked the territory of Hong Kong since early June, when an estimated 1 million marchers took to the streets, chanting and singing.

The protests began as a response to a controversial bill, put forth in February by the government of chief executive Carrie Lam, which would have allowed the Chinese government to extradite alleged criminals from Hong Kong to stand trial on the mainland.

Hong Kong has total freedom of worship and evangelization, while in mainland China, by contrast, there is a long history of persecution for Christians who run afoul of the government.

Protestors vehemently opposed the bill, sparking the first major protest on June 6.

Though Lam suspended the bill June 15 and even apologized, protestors feared that the proposal could be reintroduced. The next day, an estimated 2 million marchers were out on the streets.

Though the protests have been largely peaceful, participants on both sides have periodically resorted to violence. Police have used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon on protestors repeatedly. Thousands of high school and college students staged a strike on the first day of classes Sept. 2, with many wearing gas masks and helmets.

Protesters are demanding that Lam resign. Lam said this morning that she has no intention of stepping down. The New York Times reports that mainland China’s leaders will not allow her to resign even if she decides that she wants to do so, and Beijing officials have said that they strongly support her.

The protests have morphed to focus on actions by police that many have denounced as police brutality, including allegations of sexual assault by police officers.

Bishop Ha is among many Catholic clergy who have spoken out in support of the protestors. Ha stressed that “we’re Catholics and we’re part of our community. According to [the] Catechism of the Catholic Church and Social Teachings, we’re obliged to participate in improving our community and [speak] out when there’s injustice.”

“As Catholics, we have our daily prayers, holy Mass, holy communion and so on to nurture our conscience so that others would recognize we’re followers of Christ,” he told CNA. “I do not mean that we, Catholics, are better than the others. On [the] contrary, we’re all sinners and we have to pay special attention to our mind and soul.”

The apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong, has asked the government to eliminate the extradition law completely, and for an independent inquiry into the excessive use of force by the Hong Kong police.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong and a sharp critic of the Sept. 2018 Vatican-China deal on the appointment of bishops, celebrated Mass on June 16 at the invitation of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students in front of the government headquarters.

Edwin Chow, acting president of the Federation, told CNA in August that he would like to see Catholics and other Christians take on a larger role in ongoing protests against the government.

“For this movement, it’s a great chance for the Catholics and [Protestant] Christians to cooperate with each other,” Chow told CNA on Aug. 16.

“It’s a good chance for us to become united. Because I think for most of the Catholics and Christians, we have the same values, the same goal…so that’s why we cooperate, and I think after Christians and Catholics cooperate, or strengths, our power becomes stronger.”

While Chow said that Christians, among them Catholics, had a more major role when the protests began— leading the singing of hymns such as “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” in the streets during the protests, for example— their role has since diminished.

“For the Catholic groups, for the Christian groups, we have the responsibility and we have the power to calm our friends down,” he said. “Because I think singing hymns, just in the beginning, it creates a peaceful atmosphere, and it has a power to keep everyone very calm. So I think we can use this when we do this again.”