News Roundup

Slovak parliament rejects EU ‘overreach’ on abortion

The Slovak Parliament has rejected a move by the EU to influence local law on abortion and related sexual and reproductive matters.

A resolution rejecting the so-called Matic Report was initiated by MP Anna Zaborska of the Christian Union party and was adopted by 74 out of 117 votes.

It stated that “issues concerning the healthcare policy and education fall within the competence of the national states – Members of the European Union. Therefore, it views the draft proposal of the European Parliament Report on the Situation of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in the EU in the Frame of Women’s Health as violating the principle of subsidiarity and overreaching the European Parliament’s competence”.

Following this, MEP, Miriam Lexmann, has initiated an open letter to the EU Parliament President David Sassoli that can be signed by national MPs from different EU Member States echoing the text of the Slovak resolution.


Priest killed in crossfire in north-central Mexico

A Franciscan priest was killed in a hail of gunfire on his way to celebrate Mass and provide sacraments in a rural Mexican village known for drug cartel conflicts.

Fr. Juan Antonio Orozco, 33, was struck June 12 in the late morning as he drove in a rural region of western Durango state, where “he entered the crossfire of two groups fighting over the Durango to Zacatecas highway,” Bishop Luis Flores Calzada of Tepic said in a brief social media post. The bishop included a photo of the victim, wearing white robes, lying in front of a red pickup that identified the Franciscans’ parish ministry. The truck had several bullet holes.

Franciscan Fr. Gilberto Hernández, spokesman for the Order of Friars Minor, said the slain priest had travelled to celebrate Mass in a rural village. Orozco was one of three Franciscan priests serving the Santa Lucía de la Sierra parish in a rugged and isolated part of Zacatecas state. The spokesman said no threats against Orozco had been made, even though the region has public security issues.

The violent death of Orozco — known locally as Padre Juanito — marks the latest killing of a priest in Mexico. At least 29 priests have been killed in Mexico since 2012, according to the Catholic Multimedia Center.


Catholic pupils singled out for bullying, say religion teachers

Religious education teachers have expressed concern that children who are practising Catholics are singled out for bullying more than non-religious students, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Citing upcoming research from DCU’s Anti-Bullying Centre, Prof James O’Higgins Norman said such pupils were often seen as “old fashioned or out of the mainstream culture” due to a decline in the number of children who practice religion.

“In addressing that we need to promote understanding of difference, that difference is the norm and a good thing, and no two kids are the same,” he said.


Critics say Argentinian blacklist of pro-lifers uses Dirty War tactics

A Planned Parenthood-funded list in Argentina of supposed members of the “alt right” – including the country’s Catholic bishops – is being decried as harking back to the days of the country’s ‘Dirty War’ when it was under military rule.

A group of self-described progressive journalists created a website called Reacción Conservadora [Conservative Reaction], in which they have names, pictures and personal information of people and institutions that they claim are ‘conspiring’ to prevent the broadening of abortion rights.

The list includes Argentina’s Catholic bishops, politicians, journalists, academics, medical doctors and even the daughter of a candidate for sainthood.

The website included an interactive map with logos of organizations and faces of individuals. When a person clicked on the images, it would open a file with personal information about them.

The list reminded its targets of similar blacklists employed by the military during the 1974-1983 Dirty war, when the regime “disappeared” thousands of political opponents.


Catholic school refuses to use bishops’ new RSE resource

A Co Wicklow Catholic primary school has said it will not be using Flourish, a relationships and sexuality education (RSE) supplementary resource developed by the Irish Bishops’ Conference for use from junior infants up to sixth class.

The decision by Lacken national school management follows protests by 22 parents at the Blessington school who, in a letter to the school board of management on May 17th last, said: “We do not feel the Flourish programme is fit for purpose when teaching RSE to children. It is discriminatory to LGBTQ+ children and families and it does not correspond with the view of the State.”
The resource mentions very briefly that Catholics believe marriage is between one man and one woman.

The 22 parents said they did not want the program to be used even as a “supplementary” resource to complement the existing curriculum.

Their preference was that it not be used “in any shape or format”.

In a May 27th response, Lacken principal Fiona Jones and the school board of management assured the parents that “we intend to continue with our present RSE programme going forward. This rules out the use of any other programme, supplementary or otherwise.”


New stem cell research guidelines a ‘shifting goalpost’ for embryo safeguards

A British bioethicist is warning that extending a 14-day limit on experimenting on human embryos will “strip away one of the few remaining limits to injustices committed against embryonic human beings.”

For 40 years, the International Society for Stem Cell Research banned experimenting on human embryos that are more than 14 days old. On May 26, it lifted the prohibition and called for greater discussion on the issue.

David Albert Jones, the head of the Oxford-based Anscombe Bioethics Centre, said the decision was the latest in a series of changes that amounted to a “shifting goalpost” on human embryonic research.

“When the UK legalised experimentation on human embryos in 1990, it was promised that this would be subject to various ‘safeguards’: 1) No human embryo would be created by cloning; 2) No human embryo would be genetically modified; 3) No part-human, part-nonhuman embryo could be created; 4) The use of human embryos in assisted reproduction and in research would be regulated with the utmost care; 5) And, most famously, no experimentation on human embryos would be permitted after 14 days,” he said in a statement.


Woman who lost job over gender-critical tweets wins appeal

The view that men cannot transition to become women is a “protected belief” under equality law, a UK tribunal ruled yesterday.

An appeal panel led by a High Court judge found that a tax consultant was legally entitled to post social media comments arguing that gender identification was not the same as biological sex.

Maya Forstater was dismissed from the London office of the Centre for Global Development, a think tank, two years ago after she was said to have made “offensive and exclusionary” comments on Twitter.

She argued at an employment tribunal in 2019 that comments such as “woman means adult human female” or “trans women are male” were statements of neutral fact and were not transphobic or expressions of antipathy towards trans people.

But the tribunal rejected her claim and ruled that the decision to dismiss her was lawful.

However, on Thursday morning an employment appeal tribunal overturned that ruling, saying the original judge had “erred in law”.

The ruling of the three-strong panel, led by Mr Justice Choudhury supported Forstater’s argument that her comments were protected as a “philosophical belief” within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010.


Christian couple on death row in Pakistan for ‘blasphemy’ acquitted

A Pakistani court has ordered the release of a Christian couple who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy.

Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar were jailed in 2013 for allegedly sending a text message insulting the prophet Muhammad – even though both are illiterate.

In April, the European parliament cited their case when it passed a motion condemning Pakistan for failing to protect religious minorities.

Last week, however, the Lahore Supreme Court acquitted the married couple on appeal.

Their lawyer, Saif ul-Malook, welcomed the ruling and said his clients are among the most helpless people in Pakistani society.

Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan, where anyone deemed to have insulted Islam can face the death penalty and the whiff of even unproven allegations can lead to mob lynchings and vigilante murders.

Rights campaigners say accusations are often made to settle personal disputes.

Amnesty International welcomed the decision saying the couple should neither have been convicted nor faced a death sentence in the first place.

“‘Blasphemy’ cases are often premised on flimsy evidence in environments that make fair trials impossible, underscoring the significance of this verdict. The authorities must now immediately provide Shafqat, Shagufta, their family and their lawyer Saiful ul-Malook with adequate security,” said a spokesperson.


Highest ever number of abortions in England last year

There were 209,917 abortions in England and Wales last year, the highest number since the Abortion Act was introduced in 1968, according to statistics released by the Department of Health and Social Care today. This was despite an extended lockdown caused by Covid-19.

The abortion rate in 2020 was highest for women aged 21.

The official statistics reveal that the number of Irish women travelling to England for abortions declined from 375 in 2019 to 194 in 2020.

In addition, there were 693 abortions where a baby was recorded as having Down Syndrome, an increase of 6%  from 2019, although this may be an underestimate.

Under the current law, abortion is allowed up to birth if a baby has a disability.

The campaigning group Don’t Screen Us Out said the actual numbers are probably higher than reported due to under-reporting on disability abortion statistics. A 2013 review showed 886 abortions for Down Syndrome in England and Wales in 2010 but only 482 were reported in official Government figures. The underreporting was confirmed by a 2014 Department of Health and Social Care review.

The group says the private availability of early cfDNA testing (otherwise known as NIPT) is likely already leading to an increase in the numbers of children with Down Syndrome being screened out by abortion.


Severe drop in Catholic Church income in Dublin during pandemic

Archbishop Dermot Farrell will run a Summer Dues collection to support priests of the Dublin Archdiocese after revenue generated by weekly churches collections collapsed as a result of the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Finances have been “severely impacted” by the pandemic, Archbishop Farrell has said with the drop in income from the usual two collections at Sunday Masses down by “80per cent and 86 per cent respectively for the first quarter (January to March 2021).”

The initiative, which is aimed at making up a portion of the shortfall, will follow the pattern of the Christmas and Easter dues collections giving parishioners an opportunity to contribute to the income that supports priests.

“The Summer Offering collection will be launched on the weekend of the 20th June,” he said in a letter to parishioners.

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