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Abortion bill on Isle of Man raises multiple concerns, critics say

Douglas, Isle of Man, Feb 19, 2018 / 02:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid efforts to legalize abortion on the Isle of Man, critics of a new abortion bill have spoken out in defense of human life, saying the proposal would introduce a number of dangers.

“Every abortion is an act of desperation,” stated Monsignor John Devine, Dean of the Catholic Church on the Isle of Man, in a letter to the island’s Chief Minister Howard Quayle, according to IOM Today.

“The Catholic Church wishes to be supportive of those who find themselves contemplating an abortion, whatever decision they take,” Devine continued, noting his overall concern with the new abortion bill on the island.

He noted his concern that the bill cites “'serious social grounds' or 'impairments like to limit either the length or quality of the child’s life’ as justification for a late abortion.”

“The former could be cited if an unplanned pregnancy was considered to be inconvenient,” the priest wrote. “The latter is already being used in the UK to abort children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome or even cleft palate, a condition routinely corrected surgically at a later date.”

The Abortion Reform Bill, which would allow elective abortion up to 14 weeks and up to 24 weeks if medical reasons were presented, was in the clauses stage at the House of Keys last week and has passed the first two initial readings.

Abortion policy on the the Isle of Man, a crown dependency located between England and Northern Ireland, is currently governed by the Termination of Pregnancy Act 1995, which allows abortion only in cases where the mother’s life is endangered or if the baby has a low survival rate.

Since 2011, about 40 abortions have been performed under the island’s current law.

Devine noted his concern with the proposed abortion provision, saying that “premature babies delivered at 24 weeks can now survive.”

Devine additionally distanced the Catholic Church from some ongoing reform protests around the island, which have included graphic images and “explicit material,” saying these demonstrations do not represent the Church.

Other critics of the reform, including Lord Brennan QC, said the bill would introduce other discrepancies that would include “profound consequences.”

Brennan’s first concern was the bill’s allowance for only one doctor to approve an abortion. This, he said, could open the door to certain abuses within the practice, and recommended that abortion should remain the decision of two physicians.

If the abortion bill passes, Brennan also said that other provisions need to be set in place that would protect against sex-selective abortions and abortions where the baby has a deformity or disability.  

Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of the charitable organization Karma Nirvana, also advocated for more protections against sex-selective abortions on the island, noting that the new legislative provision could further endanger women in abusive situations.

“I think the failure to address sex selection and coercive abortion is a problem which I believe has to be addressed through amendments, because that in itself will send out a very direct, clear message,” Sanghere said, according to IOM Today.

Some other pro-life advocates said they have experienced discrimination amid the introduction of the abortion bill.

Sue Richardson was attending the second reading of the abortion reform bill when she was asked to remove her pro-life logo sweatshirt before entering the chamber.

“There were a lot of ladies and men dressed in red, the Handmaids colour, which is all right,” Richardson recalled, according to IOM Today.

“But when I reached security I was asked if I could take my sweatshirt with the LIFE logo off,” she continued, noting that security had been informed to not allow pro-life logos through.

Richardson noted her concern with the bias, saying that other attendees were allowed to showcase their stance on the issue.

According to the Humanity and Equality in Abortion Campaign, if the abortion reform bill is passed on the Isle of Man, it will represent the most permissive abortion legislation on all of the British Isles.

Bermuda repeal of gay marriage to stand

Hamilton, Bermuda, Feb 19, 2018 / 01:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The British government has said it will not overrule a Bermudian law passed earlier this month which abolishes same-sex marriage, less than a year after the institution was imposed by a court decision.

Bermuda's parliament passed a bill in December 2017 which abolished same-sex marriage, and rather allowed both opposite- and same-sex couples to form domestic partnerships. The Domestic Partnership Act was approved by Bermuda Governor John Rankin Feb. 7.

“The Act is intended to strike a fair balance between two currently irreconcilable groups in Bermuda, by restating that marriage must be between a male and a female while at the same time recognising and protecting the rights of same-sex couples,” said Bermudian home affairs minister Walton Brown.

“Bermuda will continue to live up to its well-earned reputation as a friendly and welcoming place, where all visitors, including LGBT visitors, will continue to enjoy our beauty, our warm hospitality and inclusive culture.”

In a 2016 referendum, Bermudians had voted against gay marriage by 69 to 31 percent, but a May 2017 Supreme Court ruling legalized the practice.

As a British Overseas Territory, Bermuda is a self-governing territory under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. The British government is thus able to block Bermudian laws, but it was deemed inappropriate to do so.

“That bill has been democratically passed by the Parliament of Bermuda, and our relationship with the overseas territories is based on partnership and respect for their right to democratic self-government,” said British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Eight same-sex marriages were contracted in Bermuda while the practice was legal, and they will continue to be recognized.

Some proponents of gay marriage have advocated a boycott of Bermuda over the new law, but others have argued it would counterproductive and would only harm same-sex persons in the territory.

The Domestic Partnership Act 2018 already faces legal challenges in the courts.

Bishops in Nigeria release books on marriage, family life

Ibadan, Nigeria, Feb 19, 2018 / 12:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Nigeria's Ibadan ecclesial province recently launched two books addressing marriage and family life within the country, drawing particular attention to the respect for human life from conception to natural death.

According to CEO Africa, the book launch took place at the John Paul II Centre at the University of Ibadan. The occasion featured various speakers, and included a prayer for the family, a choir, and a “eulogy of God” presentation.

The two books presented at the event were titled Marriage and Family: the Teachings of the Catholic Church, and A Catechism on Human Life: from Conception to Natural Death. The books were penned by the bishops of the Ibadan province in an effort to support and strengthen marriage and family life within the country.

The event was chaired by Dr. Juliana Iyabo Olusanmi, who said the books served as an “eye-opener” to the various issues surrounding married and family life. She also noted that the books are aimed at correcting “moral values in the society which will further preserve the sanctity and dignity of human life.”

Among those in attendance at the book launch were Archbishop Gabriel 'Leke Abegunrin of Ibadan, his five suffragan bishops, and Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo III, who is Alake, or king, of the Egba, a Yoruba clan.

Archbishop Abegunrin addressed those gathered, emphasizing unity within the nation. He also pointed to the books as resources to boost the quality of family life and strong marriages – not only within Nigeria, but also around the globe.

Others commenting on the books, including Fr. Michael Banjo, saw them as ways to fight against the practice of abortion and contraception within the country, which he said threatens the sanctity of human life. He also applauded the books’ sections on same-sex marriage and their defense of human dignity.

Pope accepts resignation of disputed Nigerian bishop

Ahiara, Nigeria, Feb 19, 2018 / 11:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis accepted the resignation Monday of a Nigerian bishop who had been rejected by many of the priests of his diocese since his appointment more than five years ago.

In June 2017 Pope Francis met with clerics of the Diocese of Ahiara and demanded that they accept the bishop appointment that had been made, or face suspension and loss of office.

In accepting Bishop Peter Okpaleke's resignation Feb. 19, Pope Francis chose not to take action against the clergy of Ahiara, saying they have since expressed repentance.

At the same time, Pope Francis appointed as apostolic administrator sede vacante et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis of Ahiara Bishop Lucius Ugorji of Umuahia.

Bishop Okpaleke's resignation letter was sent to the Vatican Feb. 14.

Okpaleke was appointed Bishop of Ahiara in December 2012 by Benedict XVI. However, the Ahiara diocese is dominated by the Mbaise ethnic group, and as an outsider from the nearby Diocese of Awka, Okpaleke was rejected by much of Ahiara's clergy and laity, who wanted one of their own to be appointed bishop over them.

The Mbaise are among the most Catholic of Nigerian peoples, with 77 percent of the diocese's population of 670,000 being Catholic. Nearby dioceses range between 19 and 70 percent Catholic.

However, Awka, Bishop Okpaleke's home city, is located in the state of Anambra. Ahiara, on the other hand, is located to the south in Imo state. The Mbaise have often asserted that the Nigerian hierarchy favors Anambra.

Many members of the tribe resent what they call the “Anambranization” of the Church in southeast Nigeria, believing there to be corruption within the Church in Nigeria and a “recolonization” of the Mbaise.

The Mbaise also have a high number of priestly and religious vocations, many of whom end up serving as missionaries in Western nations. The diocese has seen at least 167 priestly ordinations since its establishment in 1987. Because of this, many had hoped that one of their own would fill the two-year episcopal vacancy in the Ahiara diocese.

After Bishop Okpaleke's appointment, his Mbaise opponents blocked access to Ahiara's cathedral for his episcopal ordination, forcing the prelate to instead be consecrated and installed outside his new diocese, at Seat of Wisdom Seminary in the Archdiocese of Owerri, May 21, 2013.

In July 2013, shortly after his election, Pope Francis named Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja as apostolic administrator of Ahiara in a bid to resolve the problem; however, the effort proved to be unsuccessful.

In his letter of resignation, Bishop Okpaleke remarked that the situation in the Ahiara diocese “unfortunately … to the best of my knowledge has not improved.” He has remained in Awka since his espiscopal consecration.

Most importantly, this has been threatening my spiritual life,” he wrote. He said that he thus believes that remaining Bishop of Ahiara “is no longer beneficial to the Church,” as his apostolate would not be effective “where a group of priests and lay faithful are very ill disposed to have me in their midst.”

Exercising the ministry in a diocese where priests who are supposed to be my immediate and closest collaborators, brothers, friends and sons are at war with one another, with the laity and with me as their chief shepherd would be disastrous and a threat to the salvation of souls – including my own soul.

The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples said in a Feb. 19 letter to Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, president of the Nigerian bishops' conference, that Pope Francis had received 200 letters of apology from clerics of the Ahiara diocese. The congregation responded to each priest who wrote.

The congregation added that with the appointment of a new apostolic administrator, Pope Francis “wants to point out that He continues to have a special and particular concern for the Diocese of Ahiara.”

“For the time being, the Pope does not intend to provide normal Governance to Ahiara and reserves the right to evaluate its spiritual and ecclesial progress before He makes another decision.”

In a Feb. 14 pastoral letter, Bishop Okpaleke characterized opposition to his appointment as a “Refusal to give the Holy Spirit a chance” and announced his decision to offer his resignation.

He included a call to repentance, saying he wanted “to invite those who have remained in permanent opposition to have an authentic 'sensus Ecclesiae' (i.e. staying with the Church in love), to renew the spiritual bond and to refrain from being guided by ideologies, motivations and ideas that neither belong to Christ nor to the Church.”

Obedience is central to discernment, the bishop wrote, and “it involves trust that God is leading the Church.”

“I invite any dissenting priests to re-examine their initial motivations for becoming priests in the Catholic Church. Repentance and reconciliation are very urgent!”

In a Feb. 19 statement, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples confirmed that in their letters expressing “obedience and fidelity”, some of the Ahiaran priests who wrote to Pope Francis also said they would have “psychological difficulty” in collaborating with Bishop Okpaleke after years of conflict.

The congregation urged each priest involved to “reflect on the grave damage inflicted on the Church of Christ” and voiced hope that in the future, they would never repeat such “unreasonable actions opposing a Bishop legitimately appointed by the Supreme Pontiff.”

“The Holy Father, who accompanies with prayer this new phase in the life of the Church in Ahiara, hopes that, with the new Apostolic Administrator, the local Church will recover its vitality and never again suffer such actions that so wound the Body of Christ.”

Archbishop of Erbil: Christians in Iraq are ‘scourged, wounded, but still there’

Washington D.C., Feb 19, 2018 / 04:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- “Without an end to this persecution and violence, there is no future for religious pluralism in Iraq or anywhere else in the Middle East for that matter,” said Iraqi Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil in a speech at Georgetown University on Feb. 15.

The Chaldean Archbishop spoke of the state of Christianity in Iraq today and what both Muslim and Western leaders can do to help protect religious minorities and rebuild their communities.

“We Christian people, who have endured persecution in patience and faith for 1,400 years now face an existential struggle. It is possibly the last struggle that we will face in Iraq,” said Warda at an event hosted by Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.

After an attack by ISIS displaced more than 125,000 Christians, Warda said that there is a core of the faithful who will not leave their ancestral homeland in the Nineveh plains in Iraq.

In a single night, ISIS took nearly everything from the bishop’s flock, leaving them “without shelter, without refuge, without work, without properties, without monasteries, without the ability to participate in any of the things that give our lives dignity,” Warda said.

“And, yet, we are still there, scourged, wounded, yet still there,” he noted.

“So few of us are left, some estimate 200,000 Christians or less,” continued the Chaldean bishop. “While it is true that our numbers are small, the apostles were much smaller.”

When speaking of the suffering of his people, the Archbishop also spoke of forgiveness.

“We forgive those who murdered us, who tortured us, who raped us, who sought to destroy everything about us. We forgive them in the name of Christ.”

He said he believes that this message of forgiveness is something Christians can witness to their Muslim neighbors in the Middle East.

“We say this to our Muslim neighbors, learn this from us. Let us help you heal. Your wounds are as deep as ours ...We pray for your healing. Let us heal our wounded and tortured countries together,” he said.

Warda called on Muslim leaders to acknowledge that changes need to be made to protect religious minorities.

“It is not enough to say, ‘ISIS does not represent Islam.’ We need more.”

“I would encourage Muslim countries to come and step forward in helping by rebuilding Christian villages, Yazidis villages, to show some sign of solidarity,” Warda said.

As an example of this, he acknowledged the work of the United Arab Emirates: “Since the ISIS attack, they’ve been with us helping all -- Catholics, Yazidis, Muslims.”

“There is a fundamental crisis within Islam itself and if this crisis is not acknowledged, addressed and fixed then there can be no future for Christians in the Middle East,” he said.

“We’ve been hearing some courageous voices from Islamic leaders concerning the need of change and the need to address this issue openly. It should be encouraged.”

He also stressed the importance of “honesty and respect” in inter-religious dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

Warda is working towards sustainable solutions to rebuild his community in northern Iraq. He sees hope in the new Catholic University of Erbil, which recently opened its doors thanks to the financial support from the Italian bishops conference.

“We, Christians who have the good news and the forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ, I think that we could offer something. We can open our schools, open our educational centers even to those who tortured us and to tell them, ‘Please, listen to who we are and let us know who you are. Within educational institutions, we really have the chance to know each other better well and grow in tolerance and respect for each other,” Warda told EWTN.

Christian and Muslim students study together at the Catholic University of Erbil, which will someday host up to 700 students. Today there are currently 82 students studying  economics, international law, English literature, accounting, and other degrees.

Dr. MaryAnn Cusimano Love visited the Catholic University of Erbil last year. She told CNA that she saw firsthand in Iraq “the courageous work that the Church is doing,” and encouraged Christian groups to give direct aid to Archbishop Warda.

“We can keep him in our prayers, we can give him our direct aid, and continue to keep them in solidarity whether our governments are or not,” she said.

When it comes to the crisis facing religious minorities in Iraq, Archbishop Warda stressed: “We Christians should not remain passive or simply pray for the best, we too have a critical role to play.”

Archbishop Warda also called on Catholics in the West for spiritual, moral, political, and material support for Iraqi Christians as they rebuild.

“How will the West react? My question is not rhetorical. The Christians in the Middle East want to know the answer.”