Security conundrum

{mosimage}The recent security measures announced by Ottawa may be good and ultimately necessary but they represent a troubling infringement on privacy and should be stalled until they can be brought to Parliament for a full and proper debate.

But that debate is not in the cards. Parliament was prorogued in December and will not resume until March. By then, according to Transport Minister John Baird, travellers in eight Canadian cities could be facing full body screening — virtual strip searches — as scanning machines are installed at airports.

Canadian government dishonest on KAIROS

{mosimage}By linking KAIROS with anti-Semitic organizations, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has probably revealed more about the Conservative government than the church-based agency that has blindly (maybe naively) wandered into the government cross-hairs. None of it is flattering.

Speaking in Jerusalem on Dec. 18, Kenney told the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism that the government had implemented zero-tolerance standards for anti-Semitism. Laudable so far. But when Kenney rhymed off several organizations that lost their funding due to unacceptable practices, the list included KAIROS, the multi-faith partnership of church groups that includes the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Lots of work needed to save vulnerable

{mosimage}Rimbocchiamoci le maniche is something my Italian father always says when there is much work to be done. Literally, it means to roll up one’s sleeves, but the idea behind it is to prepare ourselves for the hard work ahead. This could well be what we are being asked to do as Christians at the close of the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen.

Depending on whom you ask, the accord that came out of the climate summit could be considered “realistic,” as maintained by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, an “essential beginning,” as stated by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, or “a weak and morally reprehensible deal,” according to the Catholic Church through its international development agencies CIDSE and Caritas Internationalis .

Blair's non-Catholic approach in Iraq

The year comes to an end with what may well be one of the most significant political admissions in recent history. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that even if he had known Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction he would still have declared war on Iraq. In other words, the WMD casus belli is, as many of us assumed, utterly bogus. It also seems likely that Blair never believed that there were any such weapons and that intelligence experts had told him and U.S. President George W. Bush this for months before the invasion.

It’s particularly important in the case of Blair because, unlike Bush, he still enjoys enormous international prestige, has a thriving political career and is known to be a highly sophisticated man. He was also received into the Roman Catholic Church with little scrutiny or apparent formation by a notably liberal British hierarchy. He had led Britain through a period of infamously anti-family, anti-marriage and anti-Catholic legislation and has never shown any contrition for his failings.

Obama upsets Catholic right - again

{mosimage}Whatever you think of the current U.S. president, one thing is beyond dispute: Barack Obama certainly makes life interesting for the Catholic right.

The latest kafuffle started with the appearance in early December of a New York Times profile of White House social secretary Desirée Rogers. In this piece, we learned that the Obama family had toyed with the idea of breaking with White House tradition and not putting up an antique manger scene in the East Room of the executive mansion. (A White House official later confirmed that there had indeed been a discussion of whether to make Christmas more “inclusive” — apparently by excluding the crèche.)

Most understand Christmas is the season

Most of the advertising media and much of our public space at this time of year is devoted to Christmas. While creches, angels and peace candles are often part of the mix, there is no doubt that most messages are concerned with the cultural holiday, not the religious one.

It’s no wonder that Christians have been expressing concerns for half a century or more that Christmas has become too commercialized and that religion has been pushed to the back of the line, if not out of the public space altogether. Since much of the grumbling seems to concern exchanges in shops and restaurants, I suspect merchants aren’t the only ones who regard the season as a business event. We’re all part of it.

Welcome publicity from creche controversy

{mosimage}It was petty of Toronto bureaucrats to demand that a tribute to Fr. Ted Colleton be removed from a Nativity scene outside Old City Hall. But like the Grinch, their mean-spiritedness provided a timely, if inadvertent, reminder of the spiritual truth of Christmas.

The brouhaha erupted when a local do-gooder became upset because he noticed a Nativity scene that was  associating Jesus, Mary and Joseph with the virtues of life and family. That mankind’s holiest family are the standard for the sanctity of family life would seem as obvious as city hall itself. But, this being the 21st century, a letter was fired off to the mayor and, quicker than you can say Big Brother, the Nativity scene was  stripped of its pro-life endorsement.

Changing government priorities close the door on KAIROS

{mosimage}Canada’s International Development Agency (CIDA) has cut off funding to KAIROS, Canada’s main ecumenical social justice group which, for decades, had maintained a stable and respectful relationship with CIDA. KAIROS brings together 11 national churches and faith-based organizations that collectively represent 18 million Canadians. But due to CIDA’s abrupt about face the future existence of KAIROS is now in doubt.

The decision to wholly terminate a long-standing program relationship (a four-year cost sharing arrangement worth about $9 million, of which CIDA contributes  about $7 million) means KAIROS must make sharp funding cuts to more than 20 ecumenical and citizens’ organizations around the world. CIDA says that KAIROS was just not a “fit” with the agency’s emerging priorities. But those who watched this story unfold think KAIROS was a victim of CIDA’s moving goal posts.

Court gets it right

{mosimage}Christians living in several Middle East, African and Asian nations are routinely persecuted and often killed. It is a serious issue that is generally overlooked amid the many international and domestic matters that occupy our media and political leaders.

So it was as welcomed as it was rare to see a Federal Court judge overrule an immigration department official and grant a temporary order last week allowing a Catholic convert from Guinea to remain in Canada. Lamine Yansané is seeking permanent refugee status claiming that his father, a fundamentalist imam, had ordered his death — declared a fatwa against him — if he is returned to Guinea.

King Tut's glory bought at great human price

{mosimage}In the enormously rich drama of dynastic Egypt, the pharaoh Tutankamun played a very minor role. He was born around 1343 B.C., a century after the traditional date of Israel’s Exodus from Egyptian subjugation and during the period when the People of God were settling in Canaan. He assumed the crown of his politically troubled empire at age nine, and died when he was just 19. During his short reign, Tutankhamun (“living image of the god Amun”) appears to have backed a restoration of Egypt’s elaborate polytheism, which had been forcefully suppressed by his father, the pharaoh Akhenaten. If so, Tutankamun was still never forgiven for being the heretic Akhenaten’s son: His statues were defaced after his death and his name was largely written out of Egyptian history.

But despite his long obscurity, no ancient Egyptian is more popular today or more familiar to us than this royal young man. We know his serene and handsome face from the portrait-casket of solid gold that enclosed him in death. We know the games he liked to play, the beautiful wooden boxes he handled, even the bed he slept on. We know Tutankhamun so well because, in 1922, the British archeologist Howard Carter broke the seal on his tomb and found its treasury of grave-goods unplundered. The discovery of this trove of household furniture, jewellery, statuary and much else — interred for the king’s use in the afterlife — made headlines around the world. It also set in motion a wave of Egyptomania that persisted through the 1920s and, in some sense, has never subsided to this day.

Faith groups' hiring rights under the microscope

Arguments will begin Dec. 15 in Ontario Divisional Court in the appeal of the decision by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal against Christian Horizons . The tribunal ruled against the social service agency in April, 2008, stating that it cannot insist on faith requirements in its hiring, nor require employees to sign agreements attesting to such requirements.

The decision raised significant concerns about the freedom of all religious organizations to require employees to pledge to adhere to tenets of a religious faith. Christian Horizons operates more than 180 residential homes for people with developmental disabilities and provides support and services to about 1,400 people. It is funded almost entirely by the province, receiving about $75 million each year.