Week in Review

The big story of the past seven days

Supreme Court acquits Asia Bibi

What happened?
The future of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman accused of blasphemy, is hanging in the balance. Last week, Pakistan’s Supreme Court overturned her conviction, saying there was inadequate evidence against her.

But the decision sparked mass protests from extremists, and the Pakistani government struck a deal with the Islamist Tehreek-e-Labbaik party: Bibi would not be allowed to leave the country, and the Supreme Court will hear a legal challenge.

What the media are saying
In the Asia Times, Vivek Katju praised the judges’ “courage in allowing Asia Bibi’s appeal”. The judges had recognised that the evidence against Bibi was “woefully weak and contradictory”. However, they failed to “examine the validity of the law itself that makes a death sentence mandatory in such cases. If anything, they seemed to be leaning in its support.” At least they criticised those who take the law into their own hands: “since 1990, 62 blasphemy accused have been murdered before the trials could begin”.

In the New York Times, Mohammed Hanif said “the mobs will settle for nothing short of Bibi’s public hanging”. But the case is only one example, Hanif said: many others “are still languishing in cells waiting to be tried. There’s a literature professor, Junaid Hafeez, who has been in jail for the last five years facing bogus blasphemy charges. After he was arrested, his lawyer was shot dead for defending him.” The blasphemy laws, Hanif said, should be abolished.

On Monday, CNN reported more details of Bibi’s situation. According to a police source, “extra surveillance cameras have been installed at the converted jail in recent days and any individuals entering or leaving the location are searched, including those who are charged with preparing Bibi’s food.”

Meanwhile, Bibi’s lawyer Saif-ul-Malook has fled Pakistan to the Netherlands, and has told reporters that the UN and EU made him leave “against his wishes”. He said at a
press conference: “I pressed them that I would not leave the country unless I get Asia out of the prison.”


Synod was manipulated, says archbishop

What happened?
Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, who took part in last month’s youth synod, said there were serious problems with how it was run. For one, he told the National Catholic Register, there was “obvious manipulation” from organisers, with the final document stressing “synodality” even though the subject was not much discussed at the synod.

Why was it under-reported
Even while it was happening, the youth synod drew little interest from general media, and the remarks were published several days after the gathering had ended. But the intervention is remarkable for its bluntness. Archbishop Fisher lamented that the final document was only available in Italian, with interpreters struggling to keep up during voting. “We were not always sure what we were being asked to vote yes or no to,” Fisher said. “We were writing doctrine, as it were, on the run … voting on it in a matter of minutes, and under terrible pressure of time.”

What will happen next?
The archbishop has some influence on how synods are managed in future: he has been elected as one of 16 members of the ordinary council of the synod of bishops, which will prepare the next assembly. The body’s secretary general, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, remains in place.

Pope Francis has suggested he may adopt the final text of the youth synod as his own, rather than issue a separate exhortation. Fisher said he would advise against that, “given the rushed way that the synod document was prepared”.


The week ahead

US bishops will begin a three-day plenary meeting on Monday. Top of the agenda is grappling with the abuse crisis. Among proposals to be debated is the establishment of a third-party reporting system for abuse claims against bishops. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, conference president, has asked bishops to spend the previous week in “intensified” prayer, fasting and reparation.

Sunday marks 100 years since the end of the First World War. It is also Armistice Day. Cardinal Vincent Nichols is among those bishops marking the day, with a Requiem Mass at Westminster Cathedral.

Also on Sunday, Poland is celebrating the centenary of its independence. The country’s bishops’ conference called for 100 days of sobriety leading up to the day. A letter signed by Bishop Tadeusz Bronakowski said that alcohol was “one of the biggest threats to the family”, and described the “ambitious challenge” of 100 days of full abstinence as a step towards a “life of true freedom”.