FEBRUARY 21, 2005





Christians gain few seats
in Iraq national election

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The Chaldean Bishop of Iraq said he continues to be concerned about the rights of Christians because in some Christian areas of the country ballots were not handed out for the Jan. 30 elections. But Bishop Shlemon Warduni said he hopes the voting results “will bring good to Iraq, in the form of peace, freedom, security and law.”

According to the Vatican agency Fides, there will be six Christian deputies in the national Parliament and an additional five in the Kurdish.

Concerns raised after cloning license issued
GLASGOW, Scotland (RNS) – Some religious observers of bioethics are reacting with concern to a decision by the British government to approve human cell cloning for medical research.

Ian Wilmut, who directed the creation of the cloned sheep “Dolly” in Scotland in 1996, received a human cloning license Feb. 8 from the British government.
Wilmut and Christopher Shaw, a motor neuron expert in London, will lead an effort to find a treatment for motor neuron diseases such as Lou Gehrig’s disease. To study nerve function in these diseases, they will clone cells from affected patients and compare them with nerve cells developed from human embryos without the disease.

Donald Bruce, a Church of Scotland spokesman, said there was a “significant danger” that Wilmut’s research would lead to misuse of the technology by “maverick scientists in some other country where there is little or no regulation who wish to make and implant cloned embryos to create cloned babies, regardless of major risks and ethical objections.”

Rice holds talks
with high Vatican officials

VATICAN CITY (RNS) – Unable to meet as scheduled with Pope John Paul II because he was hospitalized, new U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discussed the Middle East Feb. 8 with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state; Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, foreign minister; and other officials of the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said there was “an exchange of opinions on various international problems with particular reference to the Holy Land, the Middle East and the situation in other Asian countries.”

They also discussed “the issue of religious freedom in various parts of the world” and relations between the Vatican and Washington, “reaffirming the will to collaborate in the defense and promotion of spiritual values,” he said.

Pope to see Israel, Palestinian ministers
ROME (RNS) – Health-permitting, Pope John Paul II will grant a joint audience to the Israeli and Palestinian ministers of tourism on Feb. 25.
The anticipated audience comes in response to a Jan. 19 letter Avraham Hirchson, the Israeli minister, and Mitri Abu Aita, his Palestinian counterpart, sent to the pope outlining the recent improvement in relations between the Israeli and Palestinian governments.

Asylum seekers in U.S.
unfairly held in jails

WASHINGTON (RNS) – A commission set up by Congress has found some foreigners seeking a haven from persecution or torture are being unfairly held by the U.S. government in jails and jail-like facilities.

Experts appointed by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom found procedures to protect asylum seekers under expedited removal – under which immigration officials can detain and promptly deport immigrants arriving without documentation –were applied inconsistently. Also, most asylum seekers were detained in facilities resembling prisons – some actually in jails with convicted criminals.

N.J. diocese settles abuse lawsuit
with 27 victims

PATERSON, N.J. (RNS) – The Diocese of Paterson has quietly settled a clergy sex abuse lawsuit involving allegations from 27 victims – most of them against one priest over a 14-year period.

One plaintiff who asked not to be named said the main lawyer for the victims told him the diocese agreed to pay about $5 million to be divided in different amounts among the litigants. The church also agreed to provide up to four years of counseling for each plaintiff.

Lawyers in the case and Paterson Bishop Arthur Serratelli declined to comment on the exact settlement amount.

Shanley verdict hailed by abuse victims
BOSTON (RNS) – Victims of clergy sexual abuse and reform-minded Catholics said the Feb. 7 guilty verdict against a former priest charged with pedophilia shows that abuse allegations must be taken seriously and processed through the criminal justice system, not “secretive” church procedures.
Former priest Paul Shanley, 74, was convicted of raping and fondling a boy, now 27, in churches outside Boston. Shanley was sentenced to 12-15 years in prison.

House leader Pelosi praises
Catholic schools

WASHINGTON – In a resolution she read on the floor of the House of Representatives Feb. 1, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi saluted Catholic schools for their “dedication to educating the next generation of Americans and for their success in doing so.”

Congresswoman Pelosi spoke of the positive impact her years in Catholic schools have had on both her private and public life. “My Catholic education helped me appreciate the gift of faith and the conviction that we all contain a spark of divinity, and to recognize that spark of divinity in every person we encounter,” she said. “And it nurtured in me a commitment to community and to public service.”

Jailed Vietnamese priest
released by government

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – A Catholic priest jailed for criticizing Vietnam’s communist government has been freed, an official said Feb. 2, as the government carried out its pledge to release the high-profile dissident in a general amnesty ahead of the Lunar New Year.

The case of Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly had drawn much international scrutiny, and word of his imminent release drew praise from the U.S. government, members of Congress and human rights groups worldwide.

Father Ly, 58, was freed from Nam Ha jail along with 222 other inmates. He boarded a train bound for his home province of Thua Thien Hue in central Vietnam.

The priest angered Vietnamese authorities by giving written testimony in 2001 to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, urging the United States not to ratify a bilateral trade agreement until the communist government improved its human rights record.

Campus murder seen as way to intimidate
SAN SALVADOR (RNS) – The Lutheran Church in El Salvador and officials at the Salvadoran Lutheran University contend a robbery and brutal murder on their campus last month was an act of intimidation aimed at the church for being outspoken in politics.

The Rev. Hector Fernandez, Lutheran University president, said in a Jan.31 statement that the university is known for “promoting a critical conscience in society, accompanying the people in their struggles for justice, and in giving opportunities of education for the poor in El Salvador.”

California Court sued for use
of religious symbol

SACRAMENTO (RNS) The controversy over whether the Ten Commandments can be displayed in government buildings has been expanded to government symbols, even though the commandments themselves are unreadable on a California appeals court’s official seal.

Ryan Donlon, a California attorney admitted to practice law in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in June, is suing that court for displaying what he claims are the Ten Commandments on the official court seal. The court is the same one that ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance’s “under God” clause is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

It is unclear whether the seal actually contains the words of the Ten Commandments.

Official newspaper of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California encompassing all of
Alameda &
Contra Costa counties.