In brief


US bishops to hold retreat on abuse crisis

Pope Francis’s personal preacher will lead a retreat for American bishops early next year, to reflect on the clerical abuse crisis. Fr Raniero Cantalamessa will be director of the retreat at the University of St Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois, which houses the primary seminary for the Archdiocese of Chicago, from January 2-8. The Pope suggested the retreat for the bishops to consider prayerfully their response to the ongoing crisis in the American Church. The news comes as the attorney general of the District of Columbia launches an investigation into abuse in the Archdiocese of Washington – an archdiocese currently led by Cardinal Donald Wuerl. DC joins 13 states holding similar investigations.

Washington DC

Theologian alarmed by rise in number of witches

A Dominican theologian has deplored the rapid increase in the number of Americans identifying as witches, Wiccans or some other form of pagan. The Pew Foundation estimates that in 2014, 1 to 1.5 million Americans said they practised Wicca or Paganism, up from 8,000 Wiccans in 1990, and 340,000 in 2008. Fr Thomas Petri, academic dean at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC, told the Catholic News Agency: “Man is essentially a religious animal who seeks meaning beyond the ordinary and so is prone to worship powers beyond himself.” But those turning to paganism “couldn’t be more wrong,” he said, “and they need our prayers.”


Pope and bishops condemn synagogue shooting

Pope Francis and the American bishops have condemned last Saturday’s attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh, when 11 people were shot dead and six injured at a baby-naming service. “We are all hurt by this inhumane act of violence,” the Pope said. “May the Lord help us extinguish the fires of hatred that develop in our society.” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the US bishops’ conference, condemned the shooting and said the bishops “call on our nation and public officials to confront the plague of gun violence.” He added: “Violence as a response to political, racial or religious differences must be confronted with all possible effort. God asks nothing less of us.”

San Salvador

Capture order for Romero suspect

A judge in El Salvador has issued a capture order for a former military captain suspected of helping to plan the murder of St Óscar Romero in 1980. Álvaro Rafael “Chele” Saravia has been a suspect for the killing for years. He denies the allegations. The murder took place in a chapel in a hospital near San Salvador on March 24 1980. St Óscar Romero was felled by two bullets at the altar of the chapel. Saravia was first arrested as a suspect in 1987. An amnesty protecting those who were accused of crimes during the 1980-1992 civil war meant that attempted prosecutions have failed.


Nicaraguan Church denounces Ortega

Senior clergy in Nicaragua have again denounced the Nicaraguan government’s threats and intimidation towards members of the Church. Since April, hundreds have died amid a significant rise in violence from forces backing the regime of President Daniel Ortega. Bishop Silvio Báez, an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Managua, is the most high-profile churchmen to oppose Ortega’s regime. He has accused the military of besieging him in his home. Mr Ortega has released an audio file which, he alleges, implicates Bishop Báez in planning a coup.

Buenos Aires

Bishops back trade union

In an unusually direct political statement, the Argentine bishops have declared their support for anti-government trade unionists. Last week Hugo Moyano, the union figure who stands accused of multiple accounts of corruption, met Bishop Jorge Lugones, who has Pope Francis’s backing. In the face of the increasingly unpopular economic situation under president Mauricio Macri, the meeting was seen as an expression of concern by the Church for the poor. Last week, Radio Pope Francis, a station run by another union and named in the Pope’s honour, closed after a series of financial difficulties.


Seminary rejects ‘gay subculture’ claims

Fr David Marsden, a former formation tutor at St Mary’s College, Oscott, has claimed he was “fired from the college for striving to uphold the Church’s teaching on homosexuality”. He said the college would put men forward for ordination as long as “a candidate is not ‘acting out’ his homosexual tendencies at the moment or behaving in an inappropriately ‘camp’ way”. Oscott College said Fr Marsden’s letter “offers a distorted and false picture of life and formation at St Mary’s College”. Canon David Oakley, Oscott’s rector, told the Tablet: “Fr Marsden was asked to step down from the formation team for a number of reasons. As some of these are subject to legal review I am unable to comment at the moment.”


ECHR rules against woman who denigrated Mohammed

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against an Austrian woman who likened Mohammed’s marriage to a six-year-old to paedophilia. She had claimed she had a right to freedom of speech, that “religious groups must take criticism” and that she was contributing to public debate. The court said her comments suggested that Mohammed was “not worthy of worship”. The statements, the court ruled, were not based on facts and were intended to denigrate Islam.


Bible tops poll

The bible is the most-read book in the Philippines, according to a new survey. More than 70 per cent of adults favour the Bible over other genres. Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon hoped that by the Scriptures, the Philippines may “be transformed into a real Christian nation”.


Israeli police ‘violence’ against Coptic monks

The patriarchal vicar of Jerusalem has accused Israeli police of a disproportionate use of force. Mgr Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo criticised the response to a peaceful protest by Coptic monks. The protest stems from a dispute between the Copts and the Ethiopian Church over the monastery of Deir al-Sultan at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. “Lately the police seem to have two weights and two measures,” Mgr Marcuzzo said. “If Orthodox Jews protest, attacks or abuses are spared; if believers of other religions protest, the response is violence.”


State is still persecuting faithful, says Cardinal Zen

Cardinal Joseph Zen, China’s most prominent churchmen, has criticised the Holy See for its agreement with China over the appointment of bishops. Writing in the New York Times, Cardinal Zen said that the deal has not stopped the government from persecuting the Catholic community. Those Catholics who have long worshipped in “underground” communities are especially afraid, he said: some priests are telling their parishioners to stay away from Mass, because their safety cannot be guaranteed. However, Cardinal Zen told Chinese Catholics not to rebel against the deal. “Go back to the catacombs,” the cardinal advised. “Communism isn’t eternal.”