July 2012 Print

Church and World

Syria: “Besides the war on the ground, a media war is unfolding.”

In an interview granted to the Catholic press service AsiaNews on June 7, Bishop Giuseppe Nazzaro, Vicar Apostolic of Aleppo, forthrightly condemns the massacre committed in Mazraat al-Qbeir and Maarzaf, in the suburb of Hama. The Italian bishop assigned to Aleppo, a city in the northwest of the country, also cites the massacre in Houla this past May 26 and denounces a veritable campaign to destroy Syria: “The United Nations (UN) have a moral duty to verify the circumstances as well as the perpetrators of these crimes, and what is behind these odious massacres.” Fury against the regime of Bashar al-Assad is fueling the spiral of violence and preventing the population and the government from finding an opportunity for a gradual transition toward democracy and reforms, he declared.

The Catholic bishop points out that the Syrian people, which is being subjected to the bloody campaigns of Islamic extremists who have infiltrated the country, has no voice to express itself in the media and consequently is becoming increasingly isolated. “The UN and the Western countries,” he stated, “do not realize that with their sanctions and their support for the rebels they are causing more casualties than the regime does.” “Those who want to destroy Assad—Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as the other Gulf States—rule their own countries with an iron hand without any respect for human rights and religious freedom. Why, to this day, has no one ever condemned the violent acts against the Shiites in Bahrain or the arrest and sentencing of Christian migrants in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait?”

On May 4, Bishop Nazzaro likewise denounced the presence of Libyan and Turkish agitators among the students of Aleppo, provoking the attack of the Syrian army against the university in that city. He asserted that foreign Islamist militants have been trying for months to cause insurrection at the universities of Aleppo for the purpose of stirring up violence in that city, which is the only one still spared confrontations between the regime and the rebels.

The agency Fides explained on June 15 that its sources confirm the presence of radical Islamist Salafist groups that “intend to fight a war of religion.” These people consider Christians as renegades, confiscate their property, carry out summary executions, and are ready to unleash a sectarian war. Similarly, Fides added on June 26, the regular army is said to have struck Houla, because of the many Salafist militants and terrorists who had burned down the national hospital in the city, causing a great number of casualties, and had then used civilians as human shields.

Syria is experiencing “a slow descent into hell,” Archbishop Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Damascus, declared on June 12. “The country is running the risk of an explosion of hatred between opposing factions that will last for decades,” the representative of the Holy See explained to the Catholic press agency AsiaNews in Rome. News of massacres, torture, and violence is re-echoed by the media throughout the world, he stressed, with the risk of “exploitation by the two parties in conflict.” The international community and the UN must do everything in their power to defend these innocent victims, who are exploited both by the regime and by the rebels. Unfortunately, he added, “besides the war on the ground, a media war is unfolding in which one no longer knows whom to believe.”

For Archbishop Zenari, “the international community and the Christian countries must not isolate Syria. To support the conflict between the regime and the rebels is dangerous and counterproductive.”

On June 21, Abp. Antoine Audo, Archbishop of Aleppo, explained to the agency I.media: “From outside, the West is always worried about wars of religion. There is nothing against the Christians as such, as some would have us think. No, there may be extremist elements, but the problem in Syria is a denominational problem, between a Muslim majority and a Muslim minority that are in conflict. Nevertheless, when there are situations of violence and anarchy, it is always the Christian minorities that pay the price. For they do not have militias and do not want to be armed.” 

(Sources: apic/asianews/fides/imedia – DICI, No. 258, July 20, 2012)

Vatileaks: The first report of the investigation soon to be delivered to the Pope

Arrested on May 23 in possession of confidential documents from the private correspondence of the pope, Paolo Gabriele is still being detained in a security room at the headquarters of the Vatican Police. The Vatican court will probably decide in early August whether it intends to try the former valet of the pope. The trial would not take place before October. Until then Paolo Gabriele could be placed under house arrest until the conclusion of the discovery phase, as his two lawyers have already requested, since his residence is situated within the walls of the Vatican. Accused of “aggravated theft” of private correspondence, he could be sentenced to between one and six years of prison. The pope can also decide to pardon him. He could also be released without charges. Without revealing its conclusion, the Vatican confirmed that the two internal investigations currently being pursued were about to conclude. As for the one conducted by the Vatican court, the judge Pierre Antonio Bonnet needs to evaluate the personal responsibility of the former employee of the pope and to uncover possible conspiracies.

This search for possible accomplices is the chief aim of the second investigation, entrusted since March to three experienced cardinals (Herranz, Tomko and De Giorgi). They have already listened to the testimony of several dozen persons; the hearings are coming to an end and the work of composing an initial report is underway. The investigatory commission will be received in the near future by the pope at Castel Gandolfo. The latter would then have more certain information about the extent of the “plot” aimed against him, insofar as its existence can be proved. The Supreme Pontiff, moreover, has reaffirmed his confidence in his Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, in a letter dated July 2, 2012. In it he communicates his deep gratitude toward Cardinal Bertone for his “discreet close working relationship” and his “enlightened counsels.” They have been “particularly helpful during these past months,” according to the letter that was made public on July 4 by the Press Office of the Holy See.

Whereas the Secretary of State of the Holy See found himself under fire from critics in this affair, which has been dubbed “Vatileaks” by the press, many observers predicted the departure of the Italian prelate next autumn, on the eve of his 78th birthday. With this letter it seems clear that Benedict XVI wished to put an end to these rumors about dismissal. 

(Sources: Apic/Imedia/Le Figaro – DICI, No. 258, July 20, 2012)

Switzerland: The major seminary in Basel has become too large!

The Seminary of Saint-Beat in Lucerne, which has been open since 1878 for candidates to the priesthood, not far from the Hofkirche in Lucerne, has become too large for the present needs of the Diocese of Basel. The 80 rooms of the building constructed by the local architect Walter Rüssli in 1972 were at that time all occupied by seminarians; presently residing there are 3 candidates for the priesthood, 19 theology students and 15 other students. The Diocese of Basel, which owns the building, will decide in the fall the future of the seminary.

The current use of the building—including the renting of rooms not occupied by the seminary—will continue until the summer of 2013, the rector Thomas Ruckstuhl explained. All options for the future of the seminary are being studied, with a view to submitting them to the Bishop of Basel. Maintenance costs for the building amount to around 2 million Swiss francs per year. Half of the expenses are covered by rent collected on rooms and halls, 20 percent by collections, and 30 percent, or about 600,000 Swiss francs per year, is paid by the diocese.

The Swiss Institute for Pastoral Sociology published in 2011 a study entitled Diocesan Priests in Switzerland: Prognostications, interpretations, perspectives (cf. DICI, No. 249, February 3, 2012). The volume shows that in Switzerland the number of diocesan priests was 2,877 in 1970, as opposed to 1,441 in 2009. “Priestly ordinations and the deaths of diocesan priests are without any doubt the two main factors influencing the trend in the number of diocesan priests in the dioceses. Over the last ten years 143 priestly ordinations were recorded in Switzerland and more than 500 deaths of diocesan priests. In other words, three times as many priests are dying than those who are being ordained,” the authors of the study explain. Since 1991 they have observed a decrease of a little more than 30 percent in the number of diocesan priests, whereby the decline has been particularly noticeable in the Dioceses of Basel, Sion, and Saint-Gall. On June 10, 2012, Bishop Felix Gmür of Basel ordained two new priests for the entire diocese. 

(Sources : apic/priesterseminar/spi – DICI, No. 258, July 20, 2012)

Senegal: Unrest after the breakthrough of Islamists in the legislative elections

During the legislative elections on July 1 in Senegal, the coalitions of Islamist political parties won around a dozen seats. Although almost 90 percent of the country’s population is Muslim, these results surprised political observers. The day after the elections, the sociologist Mamadou Moustapha Wone made a connection between the breakthrough of Muslim religious and the “failure of the traditional political class.” For, he wrote in the Senegalese daily newspaper Wal fadjri, “the traditional politicians have accustomed the Senegalese to doubletalk.”

In a commentary entitled “Should we fear the Islamist breakthrough in Sunday’s legislative ballot?” the Senegalese online newspaper ledakarois.net pointed out that with the entry of religious into Parliament “the worst is to be feared….Why this rediscovery of interest for religion? Are we headed for a ‘theocratization’ of the legislative chamber or simply toward a democracy strongly tinged with religiosity? Or are the Senegalese just searching for a new ideological orientation?” These are the questions asked by the newspaper in Dakar. 

(Source : Apic – DICI, No.258, July 20, 2012)

France: Only 15 priests for a whole diocese

Dici — A survey conducted in the Diocese of Moulins on October 1-2, 2011, during the 92 Masses celebrated on Saturday evening and Sunday, reveals that 71 percent of the faithful are women, 60 percent are over 60 years of age, and that the lack of priestly ordinations should lead to a precipitous fall in the number of priests in the years to come: soon there will be only fifteen or so left to carry out parish ministry. These disturbing statistics are accompanied by other alarming predictions: a deficit of 500,000 Euros in 2015, a decrease of 40 to 50 percent in the number of faithful in the next 15 years, and only 2.2 percent of the population attending church….

This survey in the form of an audit was requested by Bishop Pascal Roland, the ordinary of Moulins, who faces every day the repurposing of church buildings in his diocese and financial problems. “There were things that we suspected might happen,” he explains. “We have not made ends meet for several years now. And what is happening here is just like what is happening in the rest of the department [administrative district in France]. The renewal of the Church is experiencing a break in the transmission. This is a challenge for us all!” “We are confronted with our reality,” the spokesman of the diocese, Fr. Michel Saint-Gérand, went on to say. “We have some potential for setting things right, particularly by functioning differently. We must also get back in contact with the population.” 

(Sources : Le Point – DICI, No. 258, July 20, 2012)