World News in Brief

Norwegian diocese fined for overstating Catholic numbers

A Catholic diocese in Norway has been fined for overstating its number of faithful in order to receive a greater amount of state aid. Investigators in Oslo believe that diocesan staff went through telephone directories to locate the names of immigrants whose names suggested a Catholic country as their place of origin before adding the names to lists of faithful compiled between 2011 and 2014.

In addition to a fine of more than €110,000 levelled against the diocese, its chief administrative officer, Thuan Cong Pham, has been charged with fraud.

In response to the fine, the local Church issued a statement in which it insisted “We’ve never done anything illegal or received too much money. We have always recognised that we have made mistakes and had an unfortunate practise in parts of our registration. This was cleaned up long ago.”

The Norwegian state is now reportedly seeking the return of some €4.5million in state funds paid to date.


Aid to Venezuela stalled by government

Caritas Venezuela has revealed that it continues to struggle against government obstruction in attempting to import and distribute desperately needed medicines in the country.

As the nation’s economic woes worsen and the Vatican attempts to kick-start talks between the government of President Nicolas Maduro and opposition representatives, the director of Caritas  Venezuela, Yaneth Marquez, has revealed that a consignment of medicines sent from Chile in August is still awaiting customs clearance despite Caritas satisfying every paperwork requirement.

“The Church is very worried because the situation worsens, while the [customs] procedures are becoming complicated, and we need a permit” Ms Marquez said in a radio interview.


Pakistan sentences five to death over ‘blasphemy murders’

Five Pakistani men charged in relation to the 2014 murders of a Christian couple accused of blasphemy have been sentenced to death.

A court in Lahore ruled November 23 that the five were directly involved in the barbarous slayings of Shahzad Masih and his wife Shama, who were set upon by a mob when it was falsely claimed they had desecrated the Koran. The pair were badly beaten, resulting in broken legs, before being stuffed into a brick kiln and burned alive. Eight other defendants were found guilty of playing supporting roles in the attack and handed prison sentences.

It transpired during the trial that the main accuser in the case, the kiln owner, who had watched Shama burning paperwork – connected to her late father-in-law – and incorrectly identified it as pages of the Koran, is illiterate. Investigations later revealed that the Masihs owed the accuser money, suggesting that this had been the impetus for his accusation. The accuser was not found guilty of having and hand in the murders, however.

Reacting to the verdicts, Sajid Ishaq, chair of the Pakistan Inter-faith League said that while Christians would not support the death penalties handed down, the outcome of the case had “revived confidence in the judiciary”.


Pope mourns passing of leading Jesuit

Pope Francis has expressed his sadness at the passing of fellow Jesuit Fr Peter Hans Kolvenbach, a former superior general of the Society of Jesus. Fr Kolvenbach, a native of the Netherlands, died in Beirut on November 27, aged 87.

The Jesuit spent much of his ministry in Lebanon, where he became provincial for the Jesuits in the Middle East. Later he was appointed rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome before his 1983 election as the worldwide leader of the Society of Jesus, a post he held until 2008. That year, in a break with tradition, Fr Kolvenbach announced his intention to retire from his position.

Reacting to news of the Jesuit’s passing, Pope Francis hailed Father Kolvenbach’s “generous commitment to exercising his office for the good of the Church with a spirit of service”.