Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News

Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News

Deborah Waters Gyapong has been a journalist and novelist for more than 20 years. She has worked in print, radio and television, including 12 years as a producer for CBC TV's news and current affairs programming. She currently covers religion and politics primarily for Catholic and Evangelical newspapers.

OTTAWA - When Canada’s Catholic bishops meet for their annual plenary Oct. 17-21, they will face ongoing budgetary concerns and decisions on how to bring closure to the more than two-decades-old clerical sexual abuse crisis.

The bishops will also reflect on freedom and conscience formation, another area where Catholic institutions, especially schools and health care facilities, are experiencing pressure from provincial governments. They will also consider controversial immigration issues as well as ecumenism and interfaith relations.

OTTAWA - The Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) and the Catholic Civil Rights League have blasted International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda’s $6 million grant to the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

In an Oct. 4 letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, COLF board chairman Bishop Gerald Wiesner expressed “dismay” that “the world’s largest abortion provider and promoter” would receive the Canadian International Development Agency grant over the next three years.

Planned Parenthood “works aggressively to dismantle abortion laws in countries where abortion is prohibited and to have abortion recognized as a universal human ‘right,’ ” Wiesner wrote.

OTTAWA - The Canadian bishops are teaming with Salt+Light Television to give Catholics a glimpse of the inner workings of the bishops’ conference.

When the Catholic bishops from across Canada gather for the annual plenary Oct. 17-22 in Cornwall, Ont., for the first time Salt+Light will provide a live window on some of the proceedings. Salt+Light, a Canadian digital Catholic network, will collaborate with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to offer streaming-video online via the revamped bishops’ web site and Salt+Light’s web site and network.

OTTAWA - The publication of a new English translation of the Roman Missal, a month ahead of schedule, caps a year of much being accomplished by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CCCB) secretariat.

“It has been an incredible year,” said CCCB General Secretary Msgr. Pat Powers as almost 90 bishops prepare to meet in Cornwall, Ont., Oct. 17-21 for their annual plenary meeting.

The first copies of the missal were slated to arrive Oct. 15, well ahead of the scheduled Nov. 10 shipping date. This huge publication task also involved CCCB staff in catechesis about the new translation in workshops around the country and online, as well as the publication of new musical settings.

OTTAWA - Canada’s Catholic bishops have intervened in the case of an Iranian pastor who faces a possible death sentence for refusing to renounce his Christian faith.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani converted to Christianity from Islam. A year ago, he was sentenced to death on charges of apostasy. He has been given five chances to recant his Christian faith, but has refused. The Iranian Supreme Court has turned his case over to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In an Oct. 6 letter to the Iranian Embassy’s Chargé d’affaires Sheikh-Hassani, Kingston Archbishop Brendan O’Brien raised the “urgent case” of the pastor, whose “life remains in danger” even though at the time his death sentence seemed to have been commuted though he was still being detained and “under pressure to recant his conversion.”

But Nadarkhani now faces additional charges of “rape, extortion and security-related charges," according to a report from the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission.

Writing as the chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, O’Brien reminded Sheikh-Hassani that Iran voted in favour of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes the right to “freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief.”

The letter requested the Iranian government “respect its international commitment to human rights, and that Pastor Nadarkhani, and all other persons in your country who are in similar situations, be treated in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

A copy of the open letter was sent to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who issued a statement Sept. 28 expressing concern over Nadarkhani’s plight.

“Canada deeply deplores reports that an Iranian Christian pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, could be imminently executed for refusing an order by Iran's courts to recant his faith,” Baird said, calling upon Iran “uphold its obligations under international human rights law.”

“Iran consistently violates the human rights of minorities, including Christians and Bahá’i,” Baird said. “Our government is committed to establishing an Office of Religious Freedom to promote and protect these rights around the world, ensuring that this type of persecution does not go unchecked.”

Voice of the Martyrs has also raised the pastor’s plight in its regular bulletins on the plight of persecuted Christians.

OTTAWA - Veteran Rome-based reporter and author John Allen Jr. says there is no such thing as “the Vatican” as commonly portrayed by the mainstream media.

“Only seen from afar” is the Vatican perceived as a bunch of “Stepford wives all in lockstep,” the National Catholic Reporter’s senior correspondent recently told the Canadian Catholic School Trustees Association annual conference here.

Those who work in the Vatican come from a wide variety of backgrounds and have sometimes widely differing viewpoints, he said. 

OTTAWA - Canada’s Catholic bishops and its development agency have begun a new forum for dialogue on contentious issues that should go a long way to preventing controversial explosions like that which came down upon the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace last spring, said the agency’s executive director. 

“The meeting clarified that both CCODP and the CCCB mutually agree it is important to involve local bishops from the Global South in the dialogue, discussion and rapport that are part of development work,” said a joint communiqué issued Sept. 26. “It also agreed that when CCODP identifies questions or concerns about this, it will consult with the CCCB Standing Committee.”

OTTAWA - With more than 100 religious leaders in attendance on Oct. 3, the International Affairs Minister opened formal consultation on the creation of Canada’s first Office of Religious Freedoms.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said the office, which was promised by the Tories in the last election, is intended to “promote and protect freedom of religion and belief, consistent with core Canadian values such as freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”

“Most importantly,” Baird said, “it will demonstrate that Canada truly is a free society.”

OTTAWA - Calgary Bishop Fred Henry has come out in support of a bill introduced by a Conservative MP that would strike the controversial Section 13 from the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Henry, who faced human rights complaints in 2005 for writing a pastoral letter defending traditional marriage, said Section 13 and its provincial counterparts “need to either be eliminated or subjected to an extensive re-write.”

Section 13 deems discriminatory any action “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt” if they are “identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”

OTTAWA - Throughout the developed world, lowered birth rates and family breakdown will have a devastating effect on the global economy and the welfare state’s viability, says an international study released Oct 3.

“On current trends, we face a world of rapidly aging and declining populations, of few children — many of them without the benefit of siblings and a stable, two-parent home — of lonely seniors living on meagre public support, of cultural and economic stagnation,” says the study, entitled “The Empty Cradle: How Contemporary Trends Undermine the Global Economy.”

Co-sponsored by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) and pro-family groups in the United States, the Philippines, Spain and Colombia, the study shows even developing countries such as Iran, Lebanon, Chile, Thailand and South Korea have seen their lifetime births per woman shrink to fewer than two from averages as high as six. Canada’s birth rate is only 1.5 children per woman.