News Roundup

EU bishops defend Poland’s pro-life laws against European Parliament criticism

Representatives of Catholic bishops from across the EU have defended Poland’s legal protections for unborn children from an attack by the European Parliament.

In a letter released on Feb. 25, the bishops said that a resolution of the Parliament, passed on Nov. 26, 2020, would have “a very negative impact” on the way that the European Union (EU) is seen by member states.

The resolution, passed by 455 votes to 145, lamented what it called a “de facto ban on the right to abortion in Poland.”

Up to last year, Polish law permitted abortion in cases of rape or incest, a risk to the mother’s life, or where the unborn child suffered from a life-limiting condition likely to result in the death of the child. However, a Court ruled that the latter, on foetal abnormality, breached the Polish Constitution and would no longer be permitted. Abortion in the other cases remains in place.

In their letter, the bishops said: “From a legal perspective we wish to underline that neither European Union legislation nor the European Convention on Human Rights provide for a right to abortion. This matter is left up to the legal systems of the member states.”

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Catholic priest and other faith leaders challenge Scottish worship ban

A judicial review of the Scottish government’s ban on public worship will be heard at a hearing scheduled for 11th-12th March 2021.

A Glasgow priest has joined with various independent protestant churches to challenge the ban.

In a new video statement, Canon Tom White said “it’s very, very important that we keep each other safe, and that we keep our local communities safe; but as Christians, we acknowledge that we not only have physical needs, but spiritual needs. We need to make sure that we’re not neglecting our spiritual needs. This is really, truly essential for the wider holistic health of ourselves as a society”.

The Glasgow priest has joined with legal experts from ADF UK to launch the “Let Us Worship” campaign, which is gathering signatures of support from the public.

“Freedom of religion is a foundational human right. This right should be limited only to the extent that is necessary and proportionate. The government’s own medical advisors conceded in November that there is no robust medical evidence for the closure of churches, which have remained open in most European countries throughout 2021. There is no clear reason why the Scottish government could not find solutions which protect both the vulnerable and those who understand their communal worship to be as essential as food and water,” said Ryan Christopher, Director of ADF UK.

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Donnelly gives no commitment to bring in abortion censorship zones

The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has given no commitment to proceed with previous plans to ban pro-life gatherings outside facilities that provide abortions.

He was responding to a question from Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns about legislating for protest-exclusion zones.

In a parliamentary response to Ms Cairns, Mr Donnelly said that, while it was originally intended to provide for this in legislation, “a number of legal issues were identified which necessitated further consideration”.

“Since services under the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 commenced in January 2019, there has been a limited number of reports of protests or other actions relating to termination of pregnancy.

“This is an extremely positive development, suggesting that termination of pregnancy services have bedded in relatively smoothly to date and are becoming a normal part of the Irish healthcare system, in line with Government policy.

“However, where problems do arise with protests outside health care services, there is existing public order legislation in place to protect people accessing services, employees working in the service and local residents.”

Separately, it has been reported that Mr Donnelly has started a review into the State’s abortion legislation.

The abortion legislation is due to be reviewed, three years after its passage.

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Pope Francis begins historic four-day trip to Iraq

Pope Francis has begun a first ever papal trip to Iraq to preach a message of peace and reconciliation to warring communities and bring hope to a heavily persecuted Christian minority which has seen its numbers plunge in recent years.

He was greeted by the country’s Prime Minister, Mustafa Al Kadhimi, at Baghdad International Airport and together they travelled to the Presidential Palace where the holy Father met the President, Barham Salih.

There he gave an address to Government authorities, Civil Society leaders, and the Diplomatic Corps.

After that, he travelled to the Syro-Catholic Cathedral of “Our Lady of Salvation”, the scene of a 2010 terrorist attack where six ISIS suicide bombers killed dozens of worshippers during mass.

Tomorrow, he will travel south to Najaf to meet a top Shia Muslim cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani. After that, he will participate in a major inter-religious meeting in the plain of Ur, the site of the ancient biblical birthplace of Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

On Sunday, he will travel North to visit ancient Christian communities devastated by Isis.

He returns to Rome on Monday morning.

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People being ‘profoundly damaged’ by ban on public worship, says TD

Public worship must be restored in time for Easter, according to Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath. At present, Ireland and Slovenia are the only EU member-states banning public worship.

The Rural Independent Group of TDs raised the issue of reopening religious services, warning that people are being ‘profoundly damaged’ by the closure of public worship.

On Newstalk Breakfast, Deputy McGrath said public worship, “brings a peace and a solitude and spiritual nourishment to people.”

“They have been locked out of this in a meaningful way for almost 12 months like everything else now,” he said.

“Especially in the season of Easter, people like to be able to go to their places of worship and indeed to be involved and engaged.”

The rural TDs have written to the Taoiseach asking for the scientific evidence supporting the ban on public worship, warning that the absence of published data has “led many to conclude that it is backed less by science and more by an inability to grasp the fundamental constitutional importance of public worship.”

In a reply from the Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, the group was told that it is “not feasible to provide reliable estimates of the impact on R of very specific interventions.”

As a result, the group is calling for a move away from the “the harshest and most draconian possible approach” to a “more prudent and responsible” one.

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Husband wants damages from wife’s death to pay surrogate mother

A husband suing over the wrongful death of his wife wants damages to cover the cost of bringing the couple’s frozen embryos to birth via surrogacy.

He and his wife had initiated the IVF process before she passed away of cervical cancer.

He took a case against the HSE and three labs for allegedly misreading a smear test in 2011.

Counsel for Mr Creaven said he is determined to honour his wife’s wish and proceed to have a child through surrogacy. The couple’s frozen embryos are in a fertility clinic in the Czech Republic and Mr Creaven wants to go to the US for surrogacy. “It is the only way he can fulfill the wish they both had.”

The case also includes a claim for aggravated or punitive damages in relation to an alleged comment by a consultant to a member of Ms Mitchell Creaven’s family during a disclosure meeting in 2018 in relation to the result of an CervicalCheck audit of the 2011 slide. The consultant’s alleged comment: “Well, nuns don’t get cervical cancer” was “grossly insensitive”, counsel said.

On Thursday it was reported that the case was settled out of court.

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Western bishops criticise Govt’s lack of clarity on return to worship

The bishops of the Tuam province have “expressed concern” that public worship may not be available “for months to come” under the Government’s five stage plan.

In a statement released Wednesday, the bishops encourage Catholics to obey the law, but says it does not mean “we cannot or should not speak out when we believe that something seems unfair or could be done better”.

In particular, they are concerned “that public worship is still excluded even at level 3. This would suggest that we may not have the opportunity to celebrate Mass together for months to come,” the statement reads.

“It ignores the important contribution of communal worship to the mental and spiritual well-being of people of faith. The fundamental importance of Holy Week and Easter for all Christians, makes the prohibition of public worship particularly painful.

Regarding funerals, they argue that “a modest increase to 25 would, without compromising safety, bring much consolation to grieving families”.

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29 faith-based aid groups in Iraq issue joint statement in support of Papal trip

Twenty-nine humanitarian aid organizations operating in Iraq signed a joint statement on March 2 welcoming Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq, which will take place on March 5-8.

“As faith-based organizations, we fully embrace this message of fraternity and dialogue that Pope Francis is bringing to Iraq,” the aid organizations’ letter said.

“We firmly believe it represents a necessary way forward to heal past wounds and build a future for the country’s diverse communities. We work in collaboration with the national and local authorities to help communities reconcile, rebuild peace, and reclaim their collective rights to safety, services, and livelihoods.”

Signatories included Islamic Relief Worldwide, Christian Aid, World vision international, Lutheran World Federation, and Catholic Relief Services.

In their joint statement, the 29 aid groups highlighted the significant challenges facing Iraq, including war, insecurity, deeply strained relations between communities and a worsening economic crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, that is pushing many into poverty and depriving the government of resources needed to assist its own people.

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No ‘reliable estimates’ of public worship’s impact on Covid, admits Donnelly

The Minister for Health has admitted he does not know what public worship would add to the level of Covid infection. In the EU, only Ireland and Slovenia are currently banning public worship.

In a written answer to a parliamentary question from Carol Nolan TD, he said modelling the specific impact of attendance at religious services and public worship on the R number is not in the scope of the work of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group(IEMAG), a sub-group of NPHET.

He said it would be possible in theory to model the effect of specific restrictions or policy changes, but IEMAG “is of the view that it is not feasible to provide reliable estimates of the impact on R of very specific interventions”.

Deputy Nolan had asked him if there is specific data available on the contribution that attendance at religious services and public worship has made to the R number with respect to Covid-19; and if so, if he would make that data available.

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Pope’s trip to Iraq to go ahead despite bombings

The Vatican has insisted that rocket attacks on a US base would not deter the Pope from making an historic visit to Iraq on Friday.

A US coalition military base came under rocket fire, five days after President Biden retaliated for a previous strike with air raids on Iranian-backed Shia militias in neighbouring Syria.

A volley of ten missiles Wednesday morning hit the Ain al-Asad base in Anbar, western Iraq. The Iraqi military and the US-led coalition, which share the base, were still assessing the damage early afternoon local time, but said a civilian contractor had died apparently of a heart attack.

“The day after tomorrow, God willing, I will go to Iraq for a three-day pilgrimage,” the Pope said in his weekly address in Rome today. “For a long time I have wanted to meet these people who have suffered so much.”

On Tuesday, Matteo Bruni, the director of the Holy See’s press office, said Francis may accede to the Iraqi government’s request for him to use an armoured car.

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