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 February 20, 2006VOL. 44, NO. 4Oakland, CA
News in Brief


Murder of a priest
Father Andrea Santore prays in a cemetery in the Turkish Black Sea city of Trabzon. The 60-year-old Italian Catholic priest was shot dead in his church, Feb. 5.



Cartoon protest
Pakistani Christians from the Minority Front group join in protests against the publication of cartoons with negative depictions of the Prophet Mohammad in Western newspapers. Thousands of Muslims protested in Lahore, Feb. 7, as outrage grew throughout the Muslim world.



A papal gift
Pope Benedict XVI presents U.S. first lady Laura Bush with a set of rosary beads at the conclusion of their meeting in the Papal Library at the Vatican, Feb. 9. The first lady was visiting Rome before heading to Aviano Air Base to meet with U.S. troops and continuing on to the opening ceremonies of the Torino 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin.


British Muslims seek to ban images of prophet
LONDON (RNS) – Hundreds of Islamic religious leaders held emergency talks calling for changes in British law to stop “insulting” caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which already have been printed in continental Europe, from being published in Britain.

Some 300 Muslim scholars at the Birmingham talks also urged that Britain’s Race Relations Act be strengthened to give Muslims the same rights as Jews and Sikhs – an issue which itself has long been a bone of contention in the nation’s Islamic community.

Religion scholars protest Patriot Act
WASHINGTON, D.C.(RNS) -- The world’s largest association of religion scholars has joined two other organizations in challenging a provision in the Patriot Act that they say has prevented a prominent Muslim academic from obtaining the necessary visa to teach in the United States.

The American Academy of Religion, along with the American Association of University Professors and the Pen American Center, are suing in federal court on behalf of Swiss national Tariq Ramadan, who was denied entry in 2004 after he was named to teach at the University of Notre Dame.

The suit challenges a section in the Patriot Act denying entry to anyone who uses his “position of prominence within any country to endorse or espouse terrorist activity, or to persuade others to support terrorist activity or a terrorist organization, in a way that the secretary of state has determined undermines United States efforts to reduce or eliminate terrorist activities.”

The lawsuit, filed for the groups by the American Civil Liberties Union, claims Ramadan has “been a consistent critic of terrorism and those who use it.”

Church of England protests Caterpillar, Inc. in Israel
LONDON (RNS) – The Church of England has voted to pull its investments out of companies, including the U.S. machinery giant Caterpillar Inc., that it claims are profiting from Israel’s “illegal occupation” of Palestinian territory.

The surprise action, which came at the behest of the Episcopal church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, was approved overwhelmingly by the church’s general synod and appears to target the $3.92 million holdings it has in Caterpillar.

The disinvestment vote signaled Church of England concerns that the bulldozers that Caterpillar manufactures are used by Israel to demolish Palestinian homes. The same sort of earthmoving equipment is used by the Palestinians in their own rebuilding work.

Crime wave hits priests in Scotland
GLASCOW, Scotland (RNS) – A wave of burglaries, vandalism and at least two attacks on elderly priests has targeted Catholic churches in one of Scotland’s biggest cities, prompting its archbishop to demand better protection from the police.

“I am horrified at the level of intimidation my priests are having to face,” Glasgow Archbishop Mario Conti said.

In one of the seven incidents reported to police, a vandal broke into St. Mary’s Church in Glasgow’s Calton district while Msgr. Peter Smith was saying the vigil Mass and caused damag e estimated in the thousands of dollars. Other incidents have involved break-ins, the theft of collection boxes and altar items as well as vandalism to priests’ cars at churches dotted across Glasgow.

Pope prays death of priest will promote dialogue
VATICAN CITY (RNS) – Amid appeals for the Vatican to harden its stance toward Islam, Pope Benedict XVI on Feb. 8 expressed hope that the murder of an Italian priest in Turkey would strengthen the push for dialogue between religions Before a crowd of thousands at his weekly general audience, Pope Benedict praised Father Andrea Santoro for his missionary work among Christian minorities in Turkey. “May the sacrifice of his life contribute to the cause of dialogue among religions and peace among peoples,” the pope said.

The tribute came amid a swell of public outrage in Italy over the death of Father Santoro, who was gunned down Feb. 5 after celebrating Mass at his parish in the predominantly Muslim town of Trabzon, Turkey.

The priest’s captured assassin is a 16-year-old Muslim who cited the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad as his motive for the killing.

Muslim doctors seek fatwa against smoking
EDINBURGH, Scotland (RNS) – Muslim health professionals in the United Kingdom are asking scholars to issue a worldwide religious edict against smoking, according to a paper published in the British Medical Journal.

The paper summarizes data on smoking in 30 majority Muslim countries, showing that smoking rates are disproportionately high compared to European countries.

Islam’s holy book, the Quran, does not directly prohibit the use of tobacco. However, jurists have recently issued edicts outlawing its use, citing Islamic law’s general prohibition against any actions resulting in harm to the body or the health of others.

Former Vatican official sought on assault charges
VATICAN CITY (RNS) – Canadian police are calling for a retired Vatican official, formerly in charge of promoting Catholic missionary activity worldwide, to return to Canada and face charges of sexually assaulting a minor decades ago.

Msgr. Bernard Prince, 71, the former secretary-general of the Pontifical Work for the Propagation of the Faith, was charged in late October after his alleged victim, now in his late 40s, reported having sex with the cleric in 1969 when he was 12 years old. Msgr. Prince, who currently resides in Italy but holds Canadian citizenship, is believed to be the first Vatican official to face sex abuse allegations.

Msgr. Prince declined to comment, asserting that Canadian authorities had never informed him of the charges.

Bankrupt diocese offers settlement in abuse suit
SPOKANE (RNS) – The Diocese of Spokane has offered a $47.5 million settlement package that includes several unprecedented non-monetary concessions to victims’ demands. The diocese will institute new policies on behalf of sex abuse victims, including referring to plaintiffs as “victims” rather than “alleged victims.”

Spokane Bishop William Skylstad, who also serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, will personally identify accused clergy, lobby for the abolition of statutes of limitations on sex crimes, and write letters to the victims and their families.

Bishop Skylstad also agreed to add two members, approved by victims, to the diocesan board that reviews charges of sex abuse against clergy.

Victims will also be able to return to the parishes where the abuse originated, and write about their experiences in the diocesan newspaper.

Spokane is one of three U.S. dioceses to file for bankruptcy following sexual abuse scandals. The settlement must be approved by the federal bankruptcy court and by the plaintiffs within 120 days.

Pope Benedict to visit Poland in late May
VATICAN CITY (RNS) – Pope Benedict XVI plans to visit Poland in late May, making stops at his predecessor’s birthplace and the Auschwitz death camp, according to the Polish bishops’ conference.

The pope is expected to visit Warsaw, Poland’s capital; Krakow, where Pope John Paul II was archbishop; and Wadowice, the town where the former pontiff was born as Karol Wojtyla in 1920.

Pope Benedict, a German who enrolled in the compulsory Hitler Youth organization as a teenager, will also visit the Nazi death camp in Auschwitz, where more than a million Jews died between 1940 and 1945.

The visit to Poland, Benedict’s second trip outside Italy, is scheduled for May 25-28.


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