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Cardinal backs gay civil unions over Vatican objections: The Church of England Newspaper, June 23, 2013, p 7. June 27, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Marriage, Roman Catholic Church.
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Cardinal Godfried Danneels

Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the archbishop emeritus of Mechelen-Brussels, has broken ranks with the Vatican and given his support to legislation to create same sex unions.

In an interview with the Belgian newspaper Le Soir published on 4 June 2013 the cardinal said the Catholic Church “has never opposed the fact that there should exist a sort of ‘marriage’ between homosexuals, but one therefore speaks of a ‘sort of’ marriage, not of true marriage between a man and a woman, therefore another word must be found for the dictionary.”

“About the fact that this should be legal, that it should be made legitimate through a law, about this the Church has nothing to say,” the cardinal said.

A leader of the liberal wing of the Catholic Church in Europe, Cardinal Danneels was touted in the press as a possible successor to Pope John Paul II. His remarks follow similar comments made in recent months by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, and Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez, archbishop of Bogotà – who retracted his statement last November.

On 3 June 2003, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) released a statement entitled: “Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons”.

“The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions,” the statement said, released under the signature of then Cardinal Josef Ratzinger and given the imprimatur of Pope John Paul II.

The CDF held: “The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society. Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity.”

Cardinal Danneels’s comments follow a statement last month by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, archbishop of Genoa and President of the Italian Episcopal Conference in opposition to civil unions in Italy, “The family cannot be humiliated and weakened by similar representations that in a stealthy way constitute a progressive ‘vulnus’ on its specific identity, and that are not necessary to safeguard individual rights that to a large extent are already guaranteed by the law,” he said.

Pope Francis has yet to speak on the issue of civil unions in Italy or gay will marriage in England or France.

Child euthanasia in the European press: Get Religion, June 13, 2013 June 13, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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A front page story in the Monday edition of the Brussels’s daily De Morgen on a Belgian Senate committee’s deliberations on whether the country’s laws should be extended to permit the euthanasia of children and dementia patients has created a buzz on pro-life and political websites.

American commentators picked up the story after the Presseurop website ran an English language summary of the story entitled: “Another step towards euthanasia for children”.

Writing in National Review Online Wesley J. Smith captured the outrage common amongst these stories. He observed:

Child euthanasia: It’s all over but the final voting in Belgium as the Parliament agrees across party lines that doctors should be able to euthanize children. From the Presseurop story:

“In the wake of several months of testimony from doctors and experts in medical ethics, a Belgian Senate committee will on June 12 examine the possible extension of the country’s euthanasia law to include children. “On both sides of the linguistic border, liberals and socialists appear to agree on the fact that age should not be regarded as a decisive criteria in the event of a request for euthanasia,”De Morgen. They want doctors to decide on a minor’s capacity for discernment on a case by case basis.”

Treating a child like a sick horse is what passes for “compassion” these days.

I have received several emails from GR readers alerting me to these posts. This is a powerful story — but is it a GetReligion story? I would say no — this is a political story with an ethical question serving as the MacGuffin.

What is a MacGuffin you ask? It is a plot device in fiction and film — the object of passion, desire or motivation for the action, but of little real consequence to the film. Wikipedia notes that Alfred Hitchcock explained the term “MacGuffin” in a 1939 lecture at Columbia University: “[We] have a name in the studio, and we call it the ‘MacGuffin’. It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers”.

Why is euthanasia a MacGuffin in this story? Is it not an ethical question whose coverage would fall under ambit of GR? Perhaps. But in this case what we are seeing from the commentators is reaction to a single story from a left-wing Dutch language newspaper that was summarized by a website for an English-speaking audience. And the title served as a great hook too.

If you move outside of the De Morgen story what you find is the euthanasia argument is part of a the larger story of the dysfunction of the coalition government in Belgium. The Liberals and Socialists want to relax the law to allow under 18s to have the right to kill themselves — they still will not be able to drink, vote or smoke but would be able under law to be adjudged competent as to whether they want to live. The other coalition parties — the Christian Democrats and centrist parties object to the change, arguing this was not part of the manifesto that formed the coalition. The left is soliciting support from the Flemish nationalists and the Greens — currently in opposition — to supplant the center right coalition partners — and they want to do this before the next general election so the issue does not dominate the political debates.

The French language Brussels daily, Le Soir explains that:

(The center-right coalition party) CDH is slamming on the brakes, and (a second cener-right party) CD&V does not appreciate seeing their government allies take off without them, leaving them high and dry. This was the case in 1990 regarding another ethical matter, abortion. There also, the Christian family of parties was isolated since the socialists and liberals could count on the nationalist and ecologist votes. This cobbled-together majority left a bad taste.

“The work undertaken in the senate needs to continue in order to pull together a consensus in the government majority”, confides Benoît Lutgen. The CDH president emphasizes that in addition, this ethical matter does not appear in the general government policy declaration. “Having each party go off with its own partisan shopping list is out of the question. We don’t each vote for whatever strikes our fancy. I am requesting in regard to this text a consensus among party presidents.” And if not? “We have not yet gotten to that point”, adds Lutgen.

Wouter Beke adopted the same position: “No patchwork majority in this ethical matter.” What if, due to lack of consensus, it had to be done? At this point in the discussions in committee, this is the most likely scenario. “It would cause problems within the majority”, admits the MR.

Taken as a whole, the press coverage in Belgium gives a well rounded account of the political and faith issues at play. However, you will not find all points expressed in a single article. Liberal papers do a great job presenting the pro-Euthanasia perspective, while conservative and Catholic papers present to the pro-life arguments and issues. They are fulfilling their responsibilities under the European advocacy model of journalism — where there is no pretense of balance or impartiality. This would be a GetReligion story if an Anglo-American newspaper — committed to the classical liberal school of journalism — wrote the sort of story we find in De Morgen or Le Soir where one perspective is offered or if a particular point of view is privileged.

This is also a cautionary tale about the advocacy press. You can trust what you read, but remember you are not getting the full story.

First printed at Get Religion

Forgiving monsters — The Dutroux Case: Get Religion, August 2, 2012. August 2, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Corruption, Get Religion.
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One of the most notorious criminal cases in modern European history has returned to the public eye, dominating the front pages and leaders of Belgium’s newspapers. A judge has agreed to release Michelle Martin from prison on the condition she enter the Convent of the Les Soeurs Clarisses de Malonne (Poor Clares) and remain under police supervision.

The news of the parole has prompted an appeal by state prosecutors, public protests, outrage in the press — and the mayor of Namur has ordered police to guard the convent. Why such a fuss? The opening paragraphs of a solid AP story tells us why.

BRUSSELS — The ex-wife of a notorious pedophile who aided her husband’s horrific abuse and murder of young girls – and who let two children starve to death while her husband was in jail – was approved Tuesday for early release from prison, infuriating the victims’ parents and reopening a dark chapter in Belgian history.

Michelle Martin, who is now 52, received a 30-year prison term in 2004 for not freeing girls her then-husband Marc Dutroux held captive behind a secret door in their decrepit, dirty basement in Marcinelle, 40 miles south of Brussels.

Dutroux, 55, is serving a life term for kidnapping, torturing and abusing six girls in 1995 and 1996, and murdering four of them.

During those years, Dutroux also spent four months in jail for theft, leaving it to his wife to feed Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, a pair of friends imprisoned in the basement. Martin let the girls starve to death. They were 8 years old.

Bumbling police work and claims by Dutroux that he was part of a wider pedophile network that included politicians, judges and police officials prompted public protests in Belgium and nearly led to the fall of the government. King Albert intervened and ordered a reorganization of the criminal justice system. The Dutroux affair had a profound effect on Belgium’s national psyche, some have argued, damaging public trust in the country’s civil institutions. Sixteen years into her 30 year sentence, Michelle Martin may be leaving prison to enter a convent.

While this has been a gruesome true crime, political intrigue and corruption story, it has now become a religious liberty story with faith taking center stage in this drama. The AP article closes with these paragraphs:

Under the terms of her release, Martin will have to remain at the convent and be assigned a task daily. Moreau, Martin’s lawyer, said it took some time for the convent to agree to have her live there. But in the end they realized that no one else would take her in, he said.

“They accepted because their vocation is to welcome people nobody wants,” he said.

The convent’s decision to give refuge to Michelle Martin has not been warmly received by the Belgian press, some of whom cite the clergy sexual abuse scandal as evidence of its institutional failings. The coverage of the Michelle Martin parole is a great example of the strengths and weaknesses of European advocacy style journalism. Working from the same fact base, the European press can give widely diverse interpretations of events. While you may not find a single truth in the diversity of accounts, a European reader will come away much better informed of the events and issues at play than an American reader.

For example, in its articles the liberal national daily Le Soir has taken an outraged stance. Its editorial argued:

There is great doubt, it not total disbelief about the chosen place of [Martin’s] reintegration into society. .. . Certainly, the gesture of the Poor Clares is a remarkably generous. But a convent, cut off from the world and managed by women who have voluntary withdrawn from real life and any professional activity, should become a place for rehabilitation is breathtaking. That the Church – which has not shown great courage or clarity in recent years when confronted with deviant behavior – will serve as the monitor and guarantor  of Martin’s reintegration adds to the disorder.

Objections to her release were founded upon a belief that Michelle Martin was the incarnation of absolute evil — “l’incarnation du mal absolu” — the conservative national daily La Libre Belgique  reported. But no person was beyond redemption, the newspaper argued, saying the law must not “deprive anyone, not even the most heinous criminal, of any hope of getting out of jail. To challenge this principle based upon hatred of the criminal would be unreasonable.”

The Sudpresse’s editor disagreed, saying this was “un impossible pardon”. The Belgian judiciary in complicity with the Catholic Church had committed a coup against the Belgian people: “mauvais coup (de la justice belge), perpétré avec la complicité de l’Eglise catholique”.

However, De Standaard has endorsed the church’s intervention. Its editor said the news of the parole had led him to experience two feelings at the same time: horror over the crimes of Michelle Martin and respect for the Catholic convictions of the Poor Clares.

De Standaard printed a letter from the Abbess of Malonne, where the sisters explained their decision to give Michelle Martin a home. They stated they had agreed to take her in as she has no family and no half-way house or other institution would have her due to the notoriety of her crimes. They stated that while she would be residing at the convent under the supervision of the judicial authorities, she would not be a entering the order but would be the guest of the Poor Clares. And, they felt it was their Christian duty to act as they did.

Nous avons la profonde conviction qu’enfermer définitivement le déviant dans son passé délictueux et l’acculer à la désespérance ne serait utile à personne et serait au contraire une marche en arrière pour notre société. Michèle Martin est un être humain capable, comme nous tous, du pire comme du meilleur.

Ideology plays its part in the coverage of this story. Self-identified Catholic newspapers have stressed the theme of penitence and redemption. Some secular newspapers have objected to the intrusion of Catholic sensibilities into the parole of a “monster”, but others have advanced ethical theories of crime and punishment. No one newspaper encompasses all of these views, but collectively the debate over the parole of Michelle Martin is an example of the best of the European press.

Can Michelle Martin be forgiven? Is parole a form of forgiveness? Should the church be accorded a custodial role in a secular state? All great questions. What say you?

First published in Get Religion.