News Analysis

Week in review

The daughters of Asia Bibi (CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters)

The big story of the past seven days

✣ Britain ‘will not offer Asia Bibi asylum’

What happened?

Britain is not offering asylum to Asia Bibi because of concerns it may “stir unrest” among some British Pakistanis, according to a campaigner. Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said two other Western countries had offered Asia Bibi asylum but not Britain. The Home Office said it would not comment on individual cases. The Catholic mother of five has spent eight years on death row but was acquitted of blasphemy last month.

What the media are saying

Douglas Murray, writing at the National Review, said the British Government was “right to expect a backlash”. From the protests against the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists to public burnings of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, he said, “the Pakistani Muslim community in [Britain] has never been shy of expressing its views”. The mass protests in Pakistan calling for Asia Bibi to be hanged “amply demonstrate” the kind of country Pakistan has become – “Who would have guessed,” he said, “that her case would also throw so much light on the type of country Britain now is?” If anyone deserved asylum, wrote Murray, it was Asia Bibi – sentenced to death after an argument with a co-worker. “Any civilised country should be queuing up to give asylum to her and her family.”

Damian Green, a former Cabinet minister, told the Daily Telegraph: “It would be very disturbing if [the prospect of unrest] was on ministers’ minds. It would clearly be unacceptable if that was the case.” Ben Sixsmith, writing at the Spectator USA, said there was “room for scepticism” about the story, as it was possible that Chowdhry might be mistaken. But he said that “if the British Government is too weak to offer Bibi a safe haven, America should” – which would show that, for all Donald Trump’s toughness on immigration, “America can still be a sanctuary to those fleeing religious persecution”.

Meanwhile, according to Crux, the Italian deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini said he would do “everything humanly possible” to bring Asia Bibi to Italy.

The most overlooked story of the week

✣ Chinese police detain bishop and four priests

What happened?

The underground Bishop of Wenzhou was detained by police last week, according to Asia News. Bishop Pietro Shao Zhumin will be “subjected to isolation and indoctrination for 10 to 15 days”, the news agency said – an experience that police call a “vacation”. Days earlier it was reported that four priests in Hebei had been similarly detained.

Why was it under-reported?

Detentions of “unofficial” clergy happen often in China. According to Asia News, Bishop Shao has been taken away by police five times in two years – the last time, in May 2017, he disappeared for seven months. Each time clergy face pressure to become part of the official Church by joining the Beijing-run Patriotic Association. Now, though, these detentions have extra significance. They show that, whatever the Holy See hoped to achieve in its deal with Beijing, the repression of faithful Catholics has continued unhindered.

What will happen next?

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, says the Rome-Beijing deal has in fact made life harder for the underground Church. He told Asia News last week that clergy had cried while telling him how officials were using the deal to pressurise them into signing up to the Patriotic Association. As the deal’s details were still undisclosed, “they do not know if what officials say is true or not”. Cardinal Zen has given the Pope a new seven-page letter about the crisis – but he is unlikely to sway Vatican officials.

The week ahead

An 83-year-old priest who has been holding a pro-life vigil outside Canada’s parliament for almost 30 years faces a court hearing on Friday, November 16. Fr Tony Van Hee was arrested under a new Ontario law that outlaws any pro-life protests within 50 metres (164ft) of a clinic. Fr Van Hee was wearing a sign that said: “The primacy of free speech: cornerstone of Western civilisation.”

Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson, Mississippi, is expected to open the diocesan phase of Sister Thea Bowman’s Cause on Sunday. Bowman (pictured), the granddaughter of slaves and a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, died in 1990.

Isle of Man legislators passed the most liberal abortion law in the British Isles last week. On Tuesday it is likely to receive Royal Assent. The crown dependency’s new law decriminalises abortion, allowing elective abortion up to 14 weeks; for medical reasons or “serious social reasons” up to 24 weeks; and in emergency situations after that.

The best of the web

✣ Highlights from the week online

A close look at a problem of trust

Philip Scala, an FBI agent for 29 years, led operations against al-Qaeda and the mafia. Next on his list, according to the Economist, is the College of Cardinals. Scala has been hired to investigate the credibility of the world’s cardinals for an American lay group, Better Church Governance. The findings will be published online. The Red Hat Report, as it is known, “is a sign of how much many Catholics have come to mistrust their leaders and how far some will go to hold them accountable”, the Economist said. The loss of confidence arises from the abuse scandals – in particular, the twin bombshells of the Viganò testimony and the Pennsylvania grand jury report. The magazine quoted the Archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, who told the Italian newspaper La Verità there was “almost a sense of panic” in the US Church. “American Catholics make up a bit more than five per cent of the global total,” the editorial said. “But their Church, the fourth-biggest, matters far more than its size suggests. The Vatican needs its dollars, and its media-savvy cardinals often lead Catholic debate and innovation.”

Pope Francis is “on the defensive”, the article said, with his shortcomings on abuse exposed during his visit to Chile. Has he turned a corner since? The Economist quoted Anne Barrett Doyle of, a campaigning website, who lamented that the Pope “still spends a lot of time talking about calumny”. On many occasions, Francis “has taken the side of his fellow prelates”. It is unclear whether this is because he finds it hard to believe they covered up abuse, feels dutybound to presume their innocence, or is uneasy over his own record – it is alleged that he defended an Argentine priest later imprisoned for abuse.

The deacon who survived the Holocaust

Witold Engel was nine when he saw an SS soldier shoot a priest dead for smuggling a rosary into Auschwitz. When a Jewish man raised a complaint, the soldier shot him too. Witold, now 85, told the Denver Catholic that he “couldn’t take it anymore”, and stood up, shouting: “Shame on you. You should turn to God instead of butchering people.” Calling Witold a “Polish cockroach”, the soldier raised his gun ­­– just as another soldier appeared to take him to the commandant. “I guess the Lord was with me,” he said. Witold was just three when Russian soldiers took his family from Stryj, Poland, to Siberia. He later survived Auschwitz and Dachau. Witold emigrated to the United States when he was 18. Advised against becoming a priest, he served in the US Army and met his wife, Carmen. He was finally accepted as a deacon aged 60, and ministered in prisons, where inmates were moved by his story. “Two men came to God because of the visits,” the paper wrote. Witold said that God spared him so he could serve as a deacon. “Over 80 years after being sent to his first concentration camp, Witold continues to pray constantly and put his complete trust in God ­– who, he believes, saved his life over and over again,” the paper wrote.


A picture of Polish priests firing guns while in vestments and birettas has gone viral. The image, which shows the opening of a shooting range in the village of Stary Chrząstów, Zgierz County, was shared widely on social media. It caused controversy, with some Poles lamenting the shooting of a ribbon in Poland’s national colours. The photographer, Krzysztof Jarczewski, explained that the group was firing at a balloon tied to the ribbon. The priest in sunglasses drew particular interest online. One meme placed him next to a gun-wielding John Travolta in a scene from Pulp Fiction. A Facebook user added the caption: “This is the last thing you see if you insult the Blessed Virgin.” A Reddit commenter compared the scene to “when someone says ‘salvation is by faith alone’ in a Catholic group chat and everyone lights him up with theological arguments”. Other users expressed concern about the safety of the photographer. “Looks like the cameraman is gonna need new legs,” wrote one.

Kipper Williams cartoon

The week in quotations

Rome’s kibosh has rattled the floor. The world outside is livid
Rocco Palmo on the Vatican’s intervention into the USCCB plenary
Whispers in the Loggia

It doesn’t seem very synodal to me
Cardinal DiNardo on the Holy See’s intervention
Catholic News Agency

The cold shadow of euthanasia is spreading – we must resist
Cardinal Collins of Toronto
Catholic News Service

For you I am willing to give my life
Nicaraguan Bishop Báez, accused of plotting a coup, to parishioners

Statistic of the week

Average number of children per woman worldwide in 2017, down from 4.7 in 1950
Source: The Lancet