Armed militia fighters display weapons in the town of Koui, Central African Republic, on April 27, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Baz Ratner

Peace deal, legal fund, murder claim: News and Notes

  • June 20, 2017

News and notes from around the Catholic world as collected by The Catholic Register.

PEACE DEAL: The Roman Catholic Sant’Egidio peace group reached a deal on June 19 aimed at ending an ethnic and religious war between the government of the Central African Republic and more than a dozen armed groups in the country.

The deal called for the end to fighting and recognition of last year’s presidential elections. Violence has been ongoing in the country since 2013, when the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels grabbed power, leading to attacks from the anti-Balaka militia which is made up primarily of Christians.The Sant’Egidio group, backed by the Vatican, has been working for months in an attempt to end the bloodshed that has claimed thousands of lives. Two previous ceasefire agreements were short-lived.

The United Nations said half of the population of 4.5 million is in need of humanitarian assistance.

LEGAL FUND: A fundraising effort is beginning to cover legal costs in the battle to preserve funding for non-Catholic students in Saskatchewan schools.

Saskatchewan Catholic School Board Association (SCSBA) president Paula Scott said it will be approaching potential donors over the next few months in an effort to raise $250,000 to appeal a judge’s ruling in April. 

The public board in Theodore, Sask., sued the local Catholic board in 2005 after it opened a school following the closure of a public school, moving the provincial funding of those students from the public to the Catholic board. In April, a judge ruled funding of non-Catholic students in Catholic boards was unconstitutional. 

The SCSBA has appealed the ruling. The province has joined the appeal after invoking the notwithstanding clause, which is in force for up to five years and keeps the funding alive.

MURDER CLAIM: Catholic bishops in Cameroon said a bishop whose body was pulled from a river in early June did not commit suicide, but was murdered. 

“In view of the initial findings, we bishops of Cameroon affirm that Bishop Jean-Marie Benoit Bala did not commit suicide; he was brutally murdered. This is one more murder, and one too many,” the bishops said in a statement June 13.

The bishops named at least three other Church officials, dating back to 1988, whose murders had not been solved. “We feel that the clergy in Cameroon is particularly persecuted by dark and evil forces.” 

Bishop Bala, 58, disappeared from his residence May 31 and his body was found by a fisherman in the Sanaga River on June 2. The Camernews agency reported that a medical investigator had cited signs of torture on Bishop Bala’s body and indications that he had died before entering the water.

BEER TO BUILD: It was God and beer sales that helped sustain the Benedictine monks of Norcia, and it is God and beer sales that will help them rebuild. 

Last year, in August and again in October, strong earthquakes rocked the town of Norcia, Italy, killing hundreds of people and destroying the 14th century Basilica of St. Benedict, where the monks of Norcia dwelt. Miraculously, their brewery, where they produce Birra Nursia, was mostly left intact. 

The monks have began building a new, earthquake-proof monastery in San Benedetto in Monte, just outside the walls of Norcia, and have announced they are partnering with Leffe, a Belgian brewery, to make a special edition brew. The proceeds will go directly to the monks’ new chapel, “which is not just for the monks, but is open to all those thirsting after God,” the monks noted.

BLASPHEMY LAW: “Blasphemy” is a word often referenced in religious history, but it will likely soon be wiped from the law books of Canada.

Legislation was introduced June 6 to update the Criminal Code, primarily to reform sex assault laws, but also to repeal obsolete statutes, or “zombie laws.” One of those is Section 296, which refers to “blasphemous libel,” an infraction punishable by up to two years in prison, that hasn’t been applied since 1935.

Basically, the law has existed to prevent insulting or irreverent statements/actions against a religion, but vagueness in the law’s language and its potential to infringe on Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms have made it almost unenforceable. There are still about 50 nations who have anti-blasphemy laws, most of them Muslim-majority countries, though they also still exist in places like Germany and Switzerland.

VATICAN PROFIT: The Institute for the Works of Religion, often referred to as the Vatican bank, made a profit of 36 million euros (about $53 million) in 2016, according to its annual report.

The institute held assets worth 5.7 billion euros at year’s end, which included deposits and investments from close to 15,000 clients — mostly Catholic religious orders around the world, Vatican offices and employees, and Catholic clergy.

BISHOP HONOURED: Toronto Auxiliary Bishop John Boissonneau has been awarded the first Dr. Victor Goldbloom Award for outstanding interfaith leadership by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

“Bishop Boissonneau has proven an exceptional interfaith bridge-builder by playing a pivotal role in the national Jewish-Catholic dialogue — the first of its kind in Canada. Our community has been touched by his dedication, thoughtfulness, warmth and good humour,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of CIJA, in presenting the award June 7.

BIBLE STUDIES: Canada’s French-language organization for parish-level Catholic Bible studies has a new president.

Basilian Scripture scholar Fr. Timothy Scott has been appointed president of the Societé Catholique de la Bible by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Known by the acronym SOCABI, the organization is supported by private donations while the bishops maintain a measure of control through the appointment of its president.

Born in Regina, Sask., the bilingual Scott has studied Scripture at the Toronto School of Theology, Catholic University of Lyon and the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. He holds a PhD. in biblical theology from Rome’s Gregorian University.

“It’s a tourist request, because more Anglophones come to the cathedral, including many Americans,” he said. The book is also expected to be available in digital format in June. In 1674, St. Francois de Laval became the first bishop for the Diocese of Quebec, when it included every French and unexplored territory in North America, with the exception of the English and Spanish colonies.

BUBBLE ZONE BILL: The Ontario Attorney General announced May 29 the government will introduce a bill this fall to create “safe access zones” around abortion facilities.

The move comes after reports of bad behaviour by protesters, including a mentally unstable man who entered the Morgentaler abortion facility on in Ottawa and sprayed the waiting room with holy water. The size of the safety zone has yet to be determined.

Johanne Brownrigg of Campaign Life Coalition called the proposed legislation “a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

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