As evidence of genocide mounts, now is the time to pray for China

by Benedict Rogers

China today faces the worst human rights crisis since the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, and the most severe crackdown on religious freedom since the Cultural Revolution. While the Chinese Communist Party regime has always been repressive, today it stands accused of genocide, forced organ harvesting, repeated breaches of international treaties, an all-out assault on all forms of dissent, civil society activism or independent media and a war on faith.

Last month, the British House of Commons voted unanimously to recognise the atrocities perpetrated against the predominantly Muslim Uyghur people as a genocide. This follows similar motions by the Canadian and Dutch parliaments, an official decision by both the previous and current United States administrations, and a growing body of opinion from legal experts and scholars. 

At the same time Hong Kong’s promised freedoms, rule of law and autonomy have been rapidly dismantled, in flagrant violation of the Sino-British joint declaration and the city’s own mini-constitution, known as the “basic law”. Hong Kong’s jails are now filling up with political prisoners. Most recently, some of Hong Kong’s most prominent, most senior, most mainstream and most internationally respected pro-democracy campaigners, including Catholics such as media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai, student leader Agnes Chow and trade unionist Lee Cheuk-yan, have been jailed. Others – such as the “father of the democracy movement”, devout Catholic Martin Lee and fellow barrister Margaret Ng – received suspended sentences. For what? For having participated in a peaceful protest in 2019.

Meanwhile repression in Tibet intensifies, practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement continue to be targeted and Christians in mainland China – Catholic and Protestant – face intensifying persecution. Thousands of crosses have been destroyed in recent years, while churches have been closed or in some cases destroyed. In state-controlled churches, images of China’s ruler Xi Jinping and Chinese Communist Party propaganda banners are displayed alongside – or sometimes instead of – religious images. Surveillance cameras are erected at the altar, and young people under the age of 18 are banned from all churches, receiving the sacraments, and attending Bible studies. With these severe restrictions, perpetuating the faith and attracting new religious vocations among the next generation will prove difficult.

The Bible and other Christian texts are being censored from the Chinese Internet. Unauthorised possession of bibles results in bible burnings. The regime is currently retranslating and reinterpreting the Bible and is expected to do so in ways that serve the  goals of the Communist Party, such as occurred in the retelling of John’s Gospel in a 2020 state-sponsored textbook, which depicted the adulterous woman being stoned to death by Jesus.

New rules on the selection of Catholic bishops in China make no provision for any papal role in the process, in complete disregard for the recently renewed Sino-Vatican agreement of 2018. Bishops, who are essential to the life of the Catholic Church, are needed to fill dozens of vacant diocesan posts throughout China.

Catholic and Protestant clergy who refuse to join the state-approved churches face the risk of arrest and imprisonment. The Catholic bishop of Baoding diocese in Hebei province, Bishop James Su Zhimin, has become one of the world’s longest-serving prisoners of conscience. While leading a religious procession in 1996, Bishop Su was taken into police custody and has not been heard of since. He had already been imprisoned for 26 years and severely tortured under Mao Zedong’s rule. The 70-year old Catholic bishop Augustine Cui Tai, of  Xuanhua Diocese, Hebei province, has been in detention without due process for most of the last 13 years. Bishop Cui Tai was mostly recently taken into detention on 19 June 2020. 

Among Protestants, Pastor Wang Yi, one of China’s most prominent Christian voices and founder of the underground Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, was sentenced in December 2019 to a nine-year prison term. 

It is for all these reasons that Asia’s most senior cleric, Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Bo, has called for a “Week of Prayer for the Church and Peoples of China” from 23-30 May this year. In his capacity as President of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, Cardinal Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, issued a statement on 14 March urging the faithful to extend the annual Worldwide Day of Prayer for the Church in China, designated in 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI as 24 May – the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians – to a week of prayer.

Cardinal Bo emphasised the need to pray both for the Church specifically, and for all the peoples of China, saying: “Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the peoples of China have faced increasing challenges, which impact us all. It is right that we should pray not only for the Church but for all persons in the People’s Republic of China. We should ask Our Lady of Sheshan to protect all humanity and therefore the dignity of each and every person in China.”

He added: “In proposing this Week of Prayer I am expressing my love for the peoples of China, my respect for their ancient civilisation and extraordinary economic growth, and my hopes that as it continues to rise as a global power, it may become a force for good and a protector of the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalized in the world. Pope Francis rightly reminds us that “there is also a deeper hunger, the hunger for a happiness that only God can satisfy, the hunger for dignity. I am calling for prayer for each person in China that they may seek and realize the full measure of happiness that our Creator has given to them.”

Writing six weeks after a military coup plunged his own country into turmoil, Cardinal Bo said: “Many parts of the world are currently challenged, including my own country of Myanmar at this time, but in a spirit of solidarity it is right to focus not only on our own challenges but to pray also for others, in the clear knowledge that their well-being is closely linked to ours.”

In response to Cardinal Bo’s call, a website – GlobalPrayerforChina.org – was launched last week by an informal coalition of lay Christians from six continents who have joined together to facilitate the Global Week of Prayer. 

The website features resources for parishes and individuals, including up-to-date information on the persecution of Christians in China, as well as the genocide of the Uyghurs, repression in Tibet, the dismantling of democracy and human rights in Hong Kong and other injustices and threats to human dignity throughout China. It includes profiles of individual prisoners of conscience, and pastoral resources for prayers and homilies.

Cardinal Bo’s call is right, courageous and timely. It must not fall on deaf ears. In two weeks’ time, I hope that Catholics – and Christians more broadly – around the world will take up his request and devote time to praying for China, individually and collectively. Individuals can do so throughout the week in their personal, private prayers, and parishes can do so collectively during Mass. 

After a year in which the world has been plunged into crisis by a pandemic, evidence of a new genocide is mounting. A place that was until recently one of Asia’s most open cities has become a closed and repressed territory of fear. And the Church faces a level of persecution not seen for decades. It is right to pray for the Church and peoples suffering under the regime responsible for these acts of inhumanity and mendacity. It is right to pray for China.

Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and writer. He is the co-founder and Chief Executive of Hong Kong Watch, Senior Analyst for East Asia at the international human rights organisation CSW, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, a member of the advisory group of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and a board member of the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign.

The Global Week of Prayer for the Church and Peoples of China will be held from 23-30 May 2021. Resources are available at https://globalprayerforchina.org/

Source: thetablet.co.uk


USCIRF confirms “intensified religious persecution during the pandemic”

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom annual report denounces that “the pandemic fostered misinformation targeting religious minorities”.

Persecution of religious minorities has intensified with the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the latest USCIRF annual report. / Photo: Open Doors.,

Persecution of religious minorities has intensified with the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the latest USCIRF annual report. / Photo: Open Doors.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has released a new edition of its annual report on religious persecution worldwide, focusing on the effect of the public health measures put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The commission’s chair, Gayle Manchin, pointed out that “this past year was challenging for most nations trying to balance public health concerns alongside the fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief”.

As in previous editions, the USCIRF divides the document into several sections including a list of fourteen countries that it recommends the US State Department to consider as “countries of particular concern(CPCs), and twelve more nations that “should be placed on the State Department’s Special Watch List (SWL)”.

Furthermore, the commission presented a series of recommendations to the government and reviews whether those from the last report have been implemented, such as increasing aid to support religious minorities and religious freedom, increase the sanctions against those who violate this right, and designating the reality of the Uyghur people as genocide.

 

Changes in the Special Watch countries List

The CPCs are those where “their governments engage in or tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations” of the religious freedom rights. These include Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, India, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam.

For the first time ever, the State Department designated Nigeriaas a CPC in 2020, something that USCIRF “had been recommending since 2009”.

In its list of SWL countries, USCIRF mentions Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey and Uzbekistan, as well as Cuba and Nicaragua, after the State Department previously did so in December 2020.

The Central African Republic, Bahrain and Sudan are no longer on the list, because “although religious freedom concerns remain in all three countries, conditions last year did not meet the high threshold required to recommend SWL status”, explained USCIRF.

 

“The pandemic fostered misinformation targeting religious minorities”

As Open Doors did in its annual World Watch List, the USCIRF also warns that persecution has worsened during the pandemic.

“USCIRF’s 2021 Annual Report documents both the deepening of religious divides, and intensified religious persecution and violence during the global pandemics”, said USCIRF Vice Chair Anurima Bhargava.

But it also insists on “the swift and significant progress that can and has been made, as in Sudan, to support and strengthen religious communities of all faiths”.

According to the report, “while many of these restrictions were justifiable under public health exceptions defined in international law, some restrictions harmed religious minorities or otherwise violated freedom of religion or belief”.

“The pandemic also fostered a wave of misinformation targeting religious minorities”, underlines the document, which also stresses that “despite being obliged by international law, many governments have failed to respond adequately to that misinformation”.

 

New recommendations

“We urge the Biden administration and Congress to champion religious freedom and to center the safety and dignity of religious communities as foreign policy priorities”, reads the USCIRF report.

They also call on the Administration to “maintain the United States’ leadership roles in the Alliance and the International Contact Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief […] and to review US policy toward the CPC countries, to demonstrate meaningful consequences and encourage positive change”.

Furthermore, they call on the Congress to join other entities in promoting religious freedom, and to adopt a resolution to establish a Senate Human Rights Commission to monitor violations of religious freedom and freedom of conscience, among other abuses.

Read the full 2021 USCIRF report here.

Source: evangelicalfocus.com


Legislators urge Biden to address global religious persecution

Capitolmdgn/Shutterstock

A bipartisan group of members of Congress asked President Biden this week to prioritize responding to global religious persecution.

“Religious freedom, one of the most basic human rights for all people, has historically been an area of sincere bipartisan support and agreement in American foreign policy,” stated a May 4 letter by members of both the House and Senate to President Biden.

The May 4 letter was led by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.). The members were joined by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), as well as Reps. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).

“The United States is a beacon of hope and freedom, and we must continue to be a leader in calling attention and responding to religious persecution wherever it occurs,” they stated.

Citing the Pew Research Center’s annual study of global religious restrictions and persecution, the legislators called the current state of international religious persecution a “crisis.”

The members called on Biden to fill vacant positions in his administration that are charged with promoting international religious freedom.

In particular, they urged Biden to appoint an “experienced, well-qualified Ambassador-at-Large leading the International Religious Freedom office within the State Department.”

Such an appointment, they said, “is vital” to the agency’s “success” in promoting international religious freedom, countering religious persecution, and engaging with governments, religious leaders, NGOs, and civil society.

The coalition of legislators also asked Biden to appoint a Director of International Religious Freedom within the National Security Council.

“Having a designated point person to coordinate among all components of the U.S. Government that work to advance religious freedom abroad is vital to the success of these initiatives,” they stated.

In addition to filling the new positions, the legislators recommended the Biden administration pursue initiatives and actions to work with global allies on issues on religious freedom.

The members urged the administration to lead coalitions of actors in government, civil society, and foreign nations to create initiatives that protect religious freedom.

The letter said that because of China’s hostility towards religious groups in particular, the U.S. has an obligation to respond.

“China’s hostility toward religion and people of faith extends to Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners and Christians, some of whom are unjustly imprisoned for their faith, such as Pastor John Cao,” the letter said.

The members argued that U.S. engagement was integral to the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was imprisoned in Turkey for more than two years. The legislators added that because of the prioritization of religious freedom, the U.S. has been able to “defend Coptic Christians in Egypt, denounce anti-conversion laws in India, and draw attention to the alarming rise in anti-Semitism in Europe.”

The coalition of legislators said they hope the administration “will work on a bipartisan basis with Congress to advance these policy items and prioritize the right of all people to have a faith, live their faith, change their faith or have no faith at all.”

Source: catholicnewsagency.com


53 years of abortion: 9,675,153 lives lost since 1967 – one unborn baby every 3 minutes

Today marks the 53rd anniversary of the Abortion Act coming into effect in 1968 – 6 months after it received Royal Assent.

Since then, a staggering 9,675,153* unborn babies have lost their lives to abortion across England, Wales and Scotland — more than one death every three minutes; 25 lives ended every hour.

The number of abortions in England & Wales reached an all-time high in 2019 at 209,519, while the number of terminations performed in Scotland was the third-highest on record at 13,583.

Record abortion figures will likely increase

Unfortunately, abortion figures across the UK are likely to increase following the introduction of an extreme abortion regime in Northern Ireland and policy changes allowing ‘DIY’ home abortions across England, Scotland and Wales.

New and radical abortion legislation in Northern Ireland, imposed upon the region by the Government in Westminster, allows abortion on-demand up to 24 weeks and disability-selective abortion right up to birth – including for Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot.

In March it was revealed that 1,345 terminations have already taken place under the new regime, despite the fact that the Northern Ireland Department of Health has not officially commissioned abortion ‘services’.

The number of abortions taking place in Northern Ireland is now set to increase, with the Conservative Government announcing that it has introduced regulations to Parliament that will give the Northern Ireland Secretary new powers to enable him to force Stormont to to expand abortion access across Northern Ireland, through the commissioning of abortion services. These regulations will be voted on in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the introduction of ‘DIY’ home abortion schemes across Great Britain has coincided with record-high abortion numbers in England and Wales.

Abortion statistics released by the Department of Health and Social Care show that 109,836 abortions were performed for English and Welsh residents in the 6 months between 1 January and 30 June 2020.

This is 4,296 higher than a six-month average of 105,540 in 2019. While a month-by-month breakdown is unavailable, 2019 saw the highest number of abortions ever recorded for English and Welsh residents over a full year, at 207,384.

An unsafe industry

The increase in abortion numbers has coincided with a rise in the number of safety abuses and other significant scandals, placing women at risk, with UK abortion providers.

Early last year, it was revealed that over 60% of England’s abortion clinics are rated inadequate or requiring improvement when it comes to safety.

Over the past two years, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has released alarming reports detailing health and safety abuses at two of the largest abortion clinics in the UK. Inspectors found an abortion clinic in London which specialises in late-term terminations was putting the lives of women at risk and, in November 2019, the CQC handed BPAS Merseyside the worst rating of any private abortion provider so far.

The situation may be significantly worse too. Despite the damning reports, the CQC announced in March 2020 that it would be suspending safety inspections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In their absence, an undercover investigation found evidence of abortion providers putting women at significant risk by not carrying out basic checks before sending them ‘DIY’ home abortion pills.

The investigation also discovered ‘DIY’ home abortion pills can easily be obtained and administered to others, potentially in a coercive manner.

In May 2020, it was revealed UK police were investigating the death of an unborn baby after its mother took ‘DIY’ home abortion pills while 28 weeks pregnant.

In addition, abortion provider BPAS said they were investigating a further eight cases of women taking ‘DIY’ home abortion pills beyond the 10-week limit, raising questions over what checks are being conducted to ensure the law isn’t being broken and dangerous late-term abortions aren’t happening.

More recently, a nurse in the UK has shared how she was left fearing for her life and needing emergency surgery after Marie Stopes International denied her counselling and pressured her to take abortion pills at home, rather than under the supervision of a doctor in a clinic.

A lucrative industry

Despite the significant rise in safety abuses and other scandals, abortion providers and their bosses continue to be well compensated by the UK taxpayer through Government contributions.

Abortion provider Marie Stopes International’s chief executive earned £347,176 in 2019 and £434,500 in 2018, according to accounts submitted to Companies House.

The accounts also show the abortion provider had a record income of £308 million from operations here in the UK and overseas, receiving over £46 million in 2019 from the Department for International Development (DfID), who remain the single largest donor.

42 of MSI’s employees were paid more than £100,000 in 2019, an increase of four in the previous year. BPAS, the UK’s largest abortion provider, paid 10 of its staff over £100,000 in 2019, an increase of three on the previous year.

A discriminatory industry

The abortion industry continues to unjustly and disproportionately target unborn babies diagnosed with a disability.

In 2020, it was revealed the number of abortions performed on unborn babies with cleft lip and palate in England & Wales has increased 150% since 2011.

Meanwhile, the latest available figures show that 90% of children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome before birth are aborted. There were 3,183 disability selective abortions across England & Wales in 2019, with 656 of those occurring following a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s syndrome.

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ has made a key recommendation that the UK change its abortion law on disability so that it does not single out babies with disabilities for abortion, right up to the point of birth.

An industry on limited time?

Last year it was announced that the High Court in London will hear a landmark case against the UK Government over the country’s discriminatory abortion legislation.

Currently in England, Scotland and Wales, the law singles out babies with disabilities such as cleft lip, club foot and Down’s syndrome, and allows terminations right up to the point of birth. However, there is a 24-week time limit for most abortions that are carried out when a baby does not have a disability.

Heidi Crowter, a 25-year-old woman with Down’s syndrome, and Máire Lea-Wilson, whose twenty-two-month-old son Aidan also has the condition, both believe this is “deeply offensive” and have joined forces to challenge the law.

Heidi’s legal challenge has generated widespread support from those with first-hand experience of Down’s syndrome, disability advocates and more, with over 5,000,000 people watching Heidi tell Channel 5 the current law is “deeply offensive”.

Analysis of the 2019 General Election, conducted by pro-life charity Right To Life UK, revealed the number of pro-life MPs has increased while the pro-abortion lobby has lost a large number of MPs.

This played a part in the failure of an attempt to hijack the UK Government’s flagship Domestic Abuse Bill with two extreme abortion proposals, in July 2020.

Majority want safeguards for unborn babies

Opinion polls repeatedly show that the public wants increased protections for unborn babies and the number of abortions reduced – rather than the wholesale removal of legal safeguards around abortion.

Only 1% of the UK population want abortion to be available up to birth and over 70% of women want the abortion limit to be reduced to 20 weeks or lower.

Polling from 2019 revealed that over 41% of Londoners believe abortion should be illegal in almost all circumstances.

Polling also revealed that two-thirds of women and 70% of 18-34-year-olds in Northern Ireland did not want Europe’s most extreme abortion law imposed on the province by Westminster.

‘National tragedy’ 

A spokesperson for Right to Life UK, Catherine Robinson said: “The UK’s abortion law is failing both women and unborn babies. It is a national tragedy that 9,675,153 lives have been lost since the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act, each one a valuable human being who was denied the right to life”.

“Every one of these abortions represents a failure of our society to protect the lives of babies in the womb and a failure to offer full support to women with unplanned pregnancies”.

“We are always looking at how we can save more lives by ensuring that protections for unborn babies are introduced and safeguards are strengthened to protect both mothers and babies”.

*This figure is a projection for England, Wales and Scotland through to midnight on 27/04/21 and has been calculated based on the following assumptions:

  • The number of abortions per day in England & Wales will remain the same in 2020 and 2021 as in 2019.
  • The number of abortions per day in Scotland will remain the same in 2020 and 2021 as in 2019.
  • The rate of abortions throughout the year is evenly distributed.
  • Please note, figures have been released for the number of abortions for England and Wales through to June 2020. We have not used this published data in our modelling as it only provides data for the first half of the year, which is unreliable for making a prediction due to possible seasonal variation. We have not included data for abortions that have occurred in Northern Ireland in 2020 and 2021 because it has not been made clear on which day abortions began being performed in Northern Ireland and it is therefore unreliable to model a projection for the remainder of the year using this data.

Source: righttolife.org.uk


Arizona disability abortion ban will protect mothers and unborn babies, Catholic bishops say

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who has signed a law barring abortions based on non-fatal genetic disorders, speaks at an awards luncheon in Scottsdale, Ariz., June 17, 2019. Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who has signed a law barring abortions based on non-fatal genetic disorders, speaks at an awards luncheon in Scottsdale, Ariz., June 17, 2019. Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Catholic bishops of Arizona on Tuesday applauded the passage of an expansive state law that they say will help mothers and unborn children while saving lives.

SB 1457, signed into law April 27 by Gov. Doug Ducey, most notably prohibits abortions done solely because of a nonlethal genetic abnormality, such as Down syndrome. The state already prohibits race and sex-selective abortions.

The law also confers to unborn children all civil rights afforded to born persons.

“SB 1457 continues Arizona’s legacy as the most pro-life state in the country and establishes that Arizona’s laws will be interpreted in the context of valuing all human life,” the bishops of Arizona said in an April 27 statement.

“This legislation looks forward to the day that Roe v. Wade is overturned and shows concern for both unborn children and their mothers.”

Arizona’s bishops include Edward Weisenburger of Tucson, Thomas Olmsted and Eduardo  Nevares of Phoenix, James Wall of Gallup, and John Pazak of the Ruthenian Eparchy of Phoenix.

Any doctor performing an abortion will be required to complete and affadavit stating that they are not aborting the baby because of a nonlethal abnormality, and the doctor must inform the woman it is illegal to do so.

A doctor who performs an abortion because of a genetic abnormality will be charged with a felony unless it was done “in a medical emergency.” The woman on whom the abortion is performed will not be criminally liable.

The new law also contains several other pro-life provisions, including a ban on public educational institutions, such as universities, performing abortions. It also will allow the father or maternal grandparent to sue if a child is aborted; and mandates the cremation or burial of fetal remains after an abortion, with the method chosen by the mother.

The law also prohibits the delivery of abortion-inducing drugs— i.e. “the abortion pill”— through the mail, clarifying that a medical abortion may only be prescribed by a doctor after a 24-hour waiting period.

“Arizona already has a statute on the books protecting human life from the moment of conception, and SB 1457 leaves this excellent statute in place while also not making the mother a criminal,” the bishops continued.

“For all of the reasons above, we believe that SB 1457 will help mothers and their unborn babies, while saving lives. Accordingly, we are also appreciative of Senator Nancy Barto [R-Phoenix] for sponsoring this bill and all of the legislators who voted in support,” the bishops concluded.

The bill went through several revisions in the legislature, including an amendment that clarified that the “personhood” clause giving civil rights to unborn children does not amount to a ban on in-vitro fertilization in the state.

After SB 1457 failed to pass initially several weeks ago, sponsors tweaked the language such that it narrowly passed, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats opposed.

“Arizonans can be proud of a state that leads the way in protecting the preborn and caring for women facing unplanned pregnancies,” said Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, which helped write SB 1457.

“Arizona children diagnosed with disabilities prior to birth will no longer be discriminated against. Arizona women will be ensured commonsense safeguards if they choose the abortion pill. Arizona taxpayers will not be forced to support abortions at public colleges and universities, and the laws of Arizona will be interpreted to value all human life.”

Source: catholicnewsagency.com


‘No government has the right to close churches’: Pastor holds outdoor service in Ireland despite worship ban

An Evangelical pastor has told Premier he will hold a second socially-distanced service in Phoenix Park, Dublin this weekend, despite religious services being outlawed in Ireland.

On Sunday, Pastor John Ahern of the All Nations Church, preached in front of around 100 worshippers at the foot of the park’s papal cross and said he will hold another service on Sunday 2nd May.

Health Minister Stephan Donnelly signed a regulation earlier this month making in-person services temporarily a criminal offence and only allowing religious services to take place virtually. Ireland’s four Catholic archbishops, Eamon Martin, the archbishop of Armagh and primate of all-Ireland, Dermot Farrell of Dublin, Michael Neary of Tuam and Kieran O’Reilly of Cashel and Emly said they would be taking legal advice following the move which they described as “a breach of trust” and “a potential infringement of religious freedom and constitutional rights.”

On Sunday, Pastor John urged those gathered to socially distance: “We are not here today to be dangerous and reckless. But how is it dangerous to stand here, but not to walk into a Tesco or an Aldi. I believe it is a human right to worship Jesus, our Lord and Saviour,” Aherne told the gathered worshippers.

“If the Gardai turn up I don’t want anybody to say anything to them. We are children of God let’s act like it,” he said.

A Gardai car passed by but no officers approached the event.

“Ireland it’s time to rise from the ashes of this season of despair,” he added. “People have lost their jobs, they’ve seen their businesses closed and some may never open again. And yet you hear these glib little phrases, like, we’re all in this together, by people who are on huge money and haven’t had their money cut. And I think that is the height of hypocrisy.”

“There is something sacred about public worship, and that is why no government has the right to close churches. No government has the right to say you can’t gather for public worship.” When they criminalised worship, the government stepped over a line. Governments do not have the right to close churches.” he continued.

Following the signing of the regulation by Health Minister Stephan Donnelly, making in-person services temporarily a criminal offence, Pastor John told Premier that he’d made a decision to go back “to pastoring my people.”

“If gathering to worship is a criminal act all I can say is, I hope the government have plenty of prison space, because there’s going to be a lot of ministers who will be willing to go to prison over this,” he said.

The penalty for breaches of the new law are a fine or up to six months behind bars. The Irish government is set to review worship restrictions on May 4.

Source: premierchristian.news


Canadian Supreme Court cements closure of private hospices for refusal to participate in assisted suicide

A British Columbia hospice society recently lost an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, one of several legal avenues it unsuccessfully pursued in an attempt to avoid participating in assisted suicide.

Delta Hospice Society, located in the town of Delta in the Canadian province of British Columbia, was founded 30 years ago by a Christian woman who vocally opposed assisted suicide. Up until this year, the private society operated a 10-bed hospice facility, a charity shoppe, and a supportive care center.

In 2016, Canada legalized assisted suicide, which is euphemistically referred to as “medical aid in dying (MAiD).” Following its legalization, Delta Hospice Society faced mounting public pressure over the years to ‘get with the program’ and offer assisted suicide. The society steadfastly refused, however, noting that assisted suicide is not part of hospice care because rather than providing care, it ends a life.

The legal battle officially began in 2019, and at the same time, thousands of advocates of assisted suicide — some local and some from out of town and even from other countries — attempted to become members of the society in an effort to change its policy from the inside. From a pre-controversy membership of around 150, membership increased ten-fold to 1,500 in 2019, and by early this year numbered nearly 9,000.

While critics claimed that the society’s board was “going rogue” and “imposing their religious beliefs on others” by refusing to offer assisted suicide, the society’s president noted that the board was simply maintaining the organization’s founding mission and vision. She emphasized that Delta locals had access to assisted suicide from other sources, saying, “I understand their frustration because a lot of them want access. But of course they do have access to it in our community. They have access to it in the Delta Hospital and they certainly have access to it in their own homes.”

In June of 2020, the society’s lawyer reiterated that “the society wants to do the same thing it’s been doing for three decades.”

Though the society attempted to become a faith-based organization, which would have exempted them from coerced provision of assisted suicide under the law, and additionally attempted to curb its membership, it was repeatedly overruled by the Supreme Court of Canada and the British Columbia Court of Appeals.

Furthermore, it was forbidden by the Supreme Court of Canada and the British Columbia Court of Appeals from rejecting new members, even though DHS is a private organization.

This ruling drew concern from faith-based organizations in Canada, who see the forced acceptance of new members as the writing on the wall. Peter Stockland, a columnist for the Toronto-based Catholic Register newspaper, commented, “The effects of the decisions in the lower courts seem to me very worrisome. From the documents I’ve read, it appears to mean any private society is vulnerable not only to having its membership taken over by those willing to pay a few bucks to join, but those who join can seek ends that are antithetical to the original mission.”

In February, Delta Hospice Society was stripped of $1.5 million in public funding for its refusal to provide assisted suicide, causing the facilities to close on February 25th. On March 31st, a provincial health authority, Fraser Health, formally ended its contract with Delta Hospice Society, and assumed control of the 10-bed hospice facility and the supportive care center. The facilities reopened under the new leadership on April 15th, and assisted suicide is now offered there. The Delta Hospice Society officially ran out of legal options in early April when the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear an appeal.

Last week, local news channels announced that in the wake of the controversy over Delta Hospice Society, a new hospice society was founded that fully supports offering assisted suicide. The president of the newly formed Heron Hospice Society was the previous spokesman for Take Back Delta Hospice, which forcefully objected to the Hospice Society “picking and choosing” members, including rejecting membership applications from overseas.

Interestingly, membership in the Heron Hospice Society is limited to residents of Delta who are over 19 years of age.

Source: liveaction.org


Religious hatred driven by weaponisation of technology

Persecution of faith groups has drastically increased in more than 95 percent of the world’s worst-offending countries, according to the latest Religious Freedom in the World report.

The report, by international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, shows how the latest technologies are being used to crush religious freedom.

Over the past two years, oppression against vulnerable faith communities has increased in all but one of the 26 countries listed in the survey’s worst or “red” category.

The report, which covers all 196 countries worldwide, traces the rise of transnational Islamist networks, including an online “cyber-caliphate” which is expanding globally is now a tool of online recruitment and radicalisation.

It goes on to describe how Islamist terrorists employ sophisticated digital technologies to recruit, radicalise and attack.

Cross-border networks are spreading across the Equator leading to jihadist attacks from Mali to the Philippines, taking in Comoros in the Indian Ocean, with the aim of creating what the report calls “transcontinental caliphates”.

The report also describes how digital technology, cyber networks, surveillance including artificial intelligence and facial recognition technology has increased persecution.

The Chinese Communist Party is keeping religious groups in line with the help of 626 million AI-enhanced surveillance cameras and smartphone scanners.

In addition to Islamist extremism, the report identifies two principal protagonists of persecution, highlighting increased crackdowns by authoritarian regimes, such as North Korea, and majoritarian religious nationalists’ persecution of minorities in India and Myanmar.

Covid-19 is also to blame for increased persecution, according to the report, which describes how societal prejudice against minorities, including in Turkey and Pakistan, means that some faith groups are denied food and other vital aid.

The report concludes that violations of religious freedom occur in almost one third of the world’s countries, 62 out of 196, with many of them being the most populous nations such as China, India and Pakistan.

ACN international president Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern said: “Regrettably, despite the – albeit important – UN initiatives and the staffing of religious freedom ambassadorships, to date the international community’s response to violence based on religion and religious persecution in general can be categorised as too little, too late.”

The report also details increasing cases of sexual violence used as a weapon against religious minorities – crimes against women and girls who are abducted, raped and forced to convert.

In the West, the report concludes, there has been a rise in “polite persecution”, a phrase coined by Pope Francis to describe how new cultural norms and values have consigned religions to what the report calls “the quiet obscurity of the individual conscience”, making it more difficult for people of faith to access the public square.

However, the report also highlights progress in inter-religious dialogue, noting the Vatican’s role, in particular the declaration signed by the Pope and Sunni leader Grand Imam Ahamad Al-Tayyib of Al-Azar.

In his foreword, Fr Emmanuel Yousaf, national director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace in Pakistan, writes: “Over more than 45 years as a priest in Pakistan, I have struggled on behalf of our community against persecution and discrimination. When Christians working in the fields and brick kilns have not received their due portion of wheat or rice, I have approached the landlords and kiln owners asking them to give just wages and put an end to this injustice.

“When I discovered that boys and girls in my parish were not receiving the education they deserve, I set up schools and hostels. I have worked in rural communities in which Christians were not respected due to their faith, and were banned from shops, restaurants and cafes; in such places, our faithful were not allowed to touch glasses or other eating implements used by the majority community. And we have supported girls from minority faith backgrounds who are particularly at risk.

“These are children who, despite the fact that they are only minors, are kidnapped, forced to convert and marry – and they also suffer rape and other abuse. The plight of these girls shows that living as a religious minority in Pakistan is becoming increasingly problematic.

“And, although there have been some improvements, amendments to the blasphemy laws in the 1980s are exploited by extremists who misuse the legislation to terrorise minority faith communities. These poor and marginalised families live in fear of being accused of blasphemy, a crime which is punishable by execution or life imprisonment. I have been involved in many cases, not least that of Asia Bibi, who was on death row for nearly a decade before justice finally won through.”

He says the case of Salamat Masih and his two uncles will stay with him forever. “Salamat was accused of writing blasphemous comments about the Muslim Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The two uncles were also accused. Never mind that Salamat was only 12 and illiterate, never mind that the offending script was calligraphy and used religious language normally only used by Muslim clergy.

“In spite of this, the three were charged, but before anything could happen Salamat and his uncles were shot by three men brandishing automatic rifles. One uncle, Manzoor Masih, died of his injuries; the other uncle, Rehmat Masih, and Salamat himself were severely injured, but survived by the grace of God. Worse was to come when Salamat and his surviving uncle were sentenced to death.

“I worked ceaselessly with the family lawyer to overturn the sentence. Eventually, we succeeded. Sadly, the judge who acquitted them also was murdered in cold blood by the extremists. In the decades since then, we have worked hard to help rebuild the lives of Salamat, his surviving uncle, their relatives and 40 families from their village who fled on the night that the accusations were first made. I am grateful to Aid to the Church in Need for its help to families in dire straits and its support for our advocacy for those falsely accused.”

Source: thetablet.co.uk


Govt moves to cancel ‘cancel culture’ at universities

Cancel culture’ and ‘no-platforming’ are to be challenged on university campuses with sanctions against institutions that fail to uphold freedom of speech.

The newly created Office for Students (OfS) will take a robust approach to free speech in response to growing censoriousness at campuses across the country.

In recent years, mainstream speakers such as Tory MP Amber Rudd have been barred from debates at Oxford University. Feminist Germaine Greer has also been blocked from debating trans issues and pro-life societies have faced outright discrimination from student bodies.

Lord Wharton of Yarm, chair of the OfS, told The Telegraph that moves to restrict speakers were “ridiculous” and stressed that “a free, open dialogue and free flow of opinion in higher education” needed to be upheld.

Describing free speech as “crucially important”, he added that new powers given to the OfS would be used to ensure that a diversity of opinion was available to undergraduate students.

Head of Communications at CARE James Mildred welcomed the announcement:

“A robust defence of free speech is necessary in our culture where opinions that are not in the mainstream are increasingly marginalised and silenced. Christians are often at the business end of moves to ‘cancel’ and ‘no-platform’ students. We hope that the OfS will use its powers and that universities will return to their historic tradition of fostering broad, open debate.”

James Mildred Head of Communications

Source: care.org.uk


European bishops: Some nations reduced religious freedom during pandemic

A commission of Catholic bishops has warned religious freedom is threatened in the European Union, as restrictive laws are imposed in the wake of Covid-19.

Some governments in Europe have “unquestionably reduced and diminished” religious freedom during the pandemic in disproportionate ways, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, or COMECE, said this week.

“It is important not to send out a message that Christians, or more generally believers, are being persecuted inside the EU. However, not overdramatising does not mean ignoring these disturbing trends.

“There is a lack of understanding and, in some cases, a lack of interest as to what religion is, and what it means for millions of people in the EU,” COMECE said in a statement to Catholic News Service.

The COMECE media office’s statement came following a recent online bishops’ plenary, which included talks with Margaritis Schinas, Greek vice president of the EU’s governing commission.

“The EU rightly considers itself a beacon of fundamental rights – this also entails a responsibility to uphold high standards in protecting freedom of religion,” COMECE said.

“Freedom of religion can be limited under certain conditions, and this is allowed by international human rights standards. As a Church, however, we have to be firm on how, when and up to which point we are ready to accept limitations on church life.”

The commission said Pope Francis had warned against viewing “the spiritual and moral dimension of the human person” as “less important than physical health,” and seeing religious freedom as just “a corollary of freedom of assembly.”

In a statement earlier this year, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, COMECE president, said he feared “a broader, increasing trend” toward neglecting fundamental rights protected under the 1950 European Convention and the EU’s 2000 Charter of Fundamental Rights.

In its recent statement, COMECE said the talks with Schinas – which took place under treaty provisions requiring the EU to maintain an “open, transparent and regular dialogue” with churches – had been “frank, constructive and forward-looking,” but said it feared religion was being turned into a “subculture,” and “lost in a large area devoted to culture and sports.”

“Quite often initiatives aimed at curbing radical strains of Islam end up having a harsh and invasive impact on all churches and religious communities which do not pose any threat to democracy or fundamental rights,” COMECE said.

“We need to overcome tendencies undermining the interdependence of human rights and selectively placing rights in a hierarchy, with freedom of religion neglected rather than promoted. This vision endangers the entire architecture of human rights.”

COMECE said talks with Schinas had also covered a “fair and just approach” to migrants and asylum-seekers in the 27-country EU, as well as post-pandemic recovery, vaccine distribution and surveillance.

Picture: A woman wearing protective gloves and a mask is pictured in a file photo praying in a nearly empty church in Bilbao, Spain, during the Covid-19 pandemic. (CNS photo/Vincent West, Reuters).

Source: thecatholicuniverse.com