World Report: US religious freedom body faces the axe

World Report: US religious freedom body faces the axe US congress

The future of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom is to be decided on December 16.

The body, a federally funded commission which advocates for religious freedom and monitors religious abuses globally has been targeted as America attempts to reduce its trillion dollar deficit.

When the commission’s funding came due for re-approval in late September, the US Congress voted 391 to 21 in favour of a wider bill that would have seen funding continue for the next two years.

However, at the Senate stage, an anonymous senator halted the bill’s progress, throwing the commission’s immediate future into doubt. An interim spending bill signed by President Obama on November 18 offered a four-week lifeline.

Now, the commission’s future lies with a second spending bill due before the Senate on December 16.

The US bishops have previously hailed the commission’s work and, in October, the bishops’ own Committee on International Justice and Peace called for the Senate to insure its continuation.


Religious freedom

The head of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has called on governments to make greater efforts to protect religious freedom amid an increasing number of attacks against people of faith.

Speaking to legislators on November 30 at a meeting at Parliament in London, Leonard Leo said: ”At a time of increasing marginalisation, discrimination and persecution — especially of Christians — I appeal to the international community to respond robustly to attacks on religious freedom wherever they occur.”

Mr Leo also made reference to Pope Benedict XVI’s words on religious freedom.

”On many occasions, Pope Benedict has said the right to religious freedom should be viewed as innate to the fundamental dignity of every human person,” he said. ”It is crucial to the common good of society.”

USCIRF ( is an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission whose commissioners are appointed by the president and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

USCIRF’s principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the president, the secretary of state and congress.


Election alarm

The Catholic Church in Egypt has expressed alarm at the first election results in the country. Responding to the strong performance of Islamist parties after the November 28 poll, Father Antoine Rafic Greiche, official spokesman for the country’s Catholic Church said: ”We were expecting the Muslim Brothers to do well, but we did not expect at all the success of the Salafists.” He warned that the attitude of the Salafists towards the country’s Christian community is ”they can get their passport to go to the USA, France, Britain or somewhere else in the West”.

The Catholic concerns were echoed by Coptic Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Giza who said: ”I am afraid what the Salafists might do if they got power.” See page 18.


Killings condemned

The Catholic bishops have condemned the murders of four hostages held by FARC guerrillas for over a decade.

After authorities confirmed the deaths of Libio Martinez, Elkin Hernandez Rivas, Edgar Yesid Duarte Valero and Alvaro Moreno on November 26 — following a failed rescue — the Churchmen said: ”We are grieved by the drama that these brothers of ours and their families have had to live through all these years. We are grieved by the manner in which the hope of them returning to their homes, alive and safe, was shattered.”

One surviving hostage described how the rebels had ordered him and the others to walk towards the rescue troops as they were to be released.

He, however, disobeyed and fled as the others were shot.

”Colombians must demand that respect for persons and for human life be always the central objective of all of society’s activity, that murder or violence in any form never be justified for any reason, that the humanitarian values and principles sacrificed so often amidst confrontation be respected,” the bishops stated.

Burkina Faso

New diocese

The Pope has established a new diocese in the country. The new Diocese of Gaoua will be led by Bishop-elect Modeste Kambou, vicar general of the diocese of Diebougou, from which territory was gleaned for the boundaries of his newly formed region.

The diocese will border Ghana on its eastern fringe and Ivory Coast to the south. The parish church of Gaoua, dedicated to the Sacred Heart, becomes the Church Cathedral of the diocese.


Priest cleared

A priest implicated in the sexual abuse of Anglican Archbishop John Hepworth while the latter was Catholic seminarian has been cleared of any wrongdoing by his diocese.

Following a two-month investigation into the claims of abuse, Archbishop Philip Wilson of the Diocese of Adelaide announced at the end of November that ”there is no substance to the allegations made by Archbishop Hepworth”.

He revealed that a lawyer tasked with investigating the matter had interviewed 29 people who were present during the time of the alleged offences.

The case entered the media spotlight in September when a state senator publicly named the accused priest.

In all, Archbishop Hepworth made allegations against three priests relating to his seminary years in the 1960s. It is reported he has now filed a police complaint on the matter following the end of the diocesan investigation.

Sri Lanka

Nun arrested

A nun with the order established by Mother Teresa has been charged with child trafficking.

Missionary of Charity Sr Mary Elisha was first detained on November 25 at the Prem Niwasa children’s home in Moratuwa, south of the capital Colombo.

Her arrest followed an investigation by the National Child Protection Authority which alleges that Sr Mary was involved in trafficking and other criminality linked with pregnant women attending the home. The nun appeared in court on December 1 to deny the charges against her.


Christians attacked

A group of Islamist protestors, reportedly inspired by an imam’s sermon, have attacked Christian-owned businesses in the Iraqi Kurdistan towns of Zakho, Sumaili and Shiuz. In the incident, which involved the group storming shops, a hotel and a beauty parlour, at least 30 people were injured, 20 of them police officers attempting to quell the violence. It was further reported, to the AsiaNews agency that many of the youths were linked to an extremist Islamist wing in the region.


Reform manifesto

Four Catholic priests in the country have received backing for their newly written manifesto on Church reform. The document, Believers Speak Out, calling for the appointment of laypeople as parish pastors, liturgical leaders and preachers, and the ordination of women and married men was signed by 6,000 Catholics at the start of December. Speaking about the document he and his three fellow priests created, Fr John Dekimpe said: ”The Belgian Church is a disaster. If we don’t do something, the exodus of those leaving the church will just never stop. I really want the bishops to reflect deeply about the growing discontent of so many believers.”

Saudi Arabia

Women drivers

An academic in the country has warned that allowing women to drive will lead to a rise in premarital sex. The rationale offered by the scholar, Kamal Subhi in seeking to warn wider Saudi society appears to be that women’s increased mobility will lead to a mixing of genders and, consequently, increased opportunities for sinful liaisons. The report was offered to the clerical Shura Council which advises the kingdom’s royal family.