World News in Brief

Louisiana court rules in favour of Confessional seal

A court in the US state of Louisiana has ruled that a priest is not compelled to report information of a criminal nature received during Confession. The judgement, handed down by the state’s Supreme Court, arose from a case in the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge in which Fr Jeff Bayhi became the subject of a lawsuit from Rebecca Mayeux. She claimed she told Fr Bayhi during Confession she was being abused by a parishioner but that the priest did nothing to stop the abuse and did not report it to the police. 

A ruling in 2014 stated that Fr Bayhi was at fault and should have gone to the police. That finding is now set aside after the Supreme Court pointed out that it was “not conclusively determined” whether a priest in confession is a mandatory reporter of child abuse under provisions of the reporting legislation. Thus, “any communication made to a priest privately in the Sacrament of Confession for the purposes of confession and absolution is a confidential communication…and the priest is exempt from mandatory reporter status,” the court ruled.


Blasphemy charge set aside in Pakistan

A Christian mother and her son have been cleared of charges of blasphemy in Pakistan after community leaders urged figures in an Islamic political party to intervene in the case.

Shakeela Kauser and her nine-year-old son were accused of burning pages of the Koran on October 20 and detained by police in the city of Quetta. However, Christian representatives brought the case to the attention of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party, members of which worked to investigate the circumstances leading to the accusations. The matter was resolved and the blasphemy charges were set aside.

Speaking on behalf of the Christian community, Fr Renald Remindran said “We are delighted with this outcome. In the province of Baluchistan no one so far has been charged and convicted for blasphemy.” 


Vatican-mediated talks in Venezuela ease tensions

Vatican-mediated talks between government and opposition figures in Venezuela have led to a damping down of tensions on both sides.

Talks began on October 30 in Caracas, with one early report from the Vatican’s mediator, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, indicating that things were “positive”. This was confirmed on November 1 when the government of President Nicolas Maduro – who had extended the invitation for Vatican participation – announced that four activists jailed for opposing the government’s handling of the ongoing economic crisis would be released as a token of good faith. The Democratic Unity opposition alliance agreed to call off a planned protest march and delay what was to be a drive in Congress to void the authority of the president.

The Democratic Unity representatives have signalled a clear intention to engage with the next round of talks, scheduled for November 11.

Through a combination of plunging oil prices and bad management of state affairs, Venezuela’s economic fortunes have steadily deteriorated, marked by widespread shortages of medicines and basic items. Despite this, President Maduro has resisted repeated calls for him to step aside.


Japanese bishops call for united call in ending reliance on nuclear power

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan is calling for unity among religions in the country towards ending its reliance on nuclear power. 

In a major new publication, Abolition of Nuclear Power: An Appeal from the Catholic Church in Japan, the bishops offer both a technological and theological call for Japan to move away from nuclear power in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. The document is itself an expansion of the bishops’ message Abolish Nuclear Plants Immediately, which came in the wake of Fukishima and is based on five years of reflection and on Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’. In addition to looking at the problems with nuclear power from the perspective of Catholic ethical teaching, it reaches out to other faith communities in appealing for all to oppose the means of power generation. An English language version of Abolition of Nuclear Power is currently in preparation.