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German bishops defend exclusion of Catholics who stop paying tax

WARSAW, Poland -- The German bishops' conference defended a controversial decree that said Catholics who stop paying a church membership tax cannot receive sacraments.

"There must be consequences for people who distance themselves from the church by a public act," said Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, conference president, in defending the Sept. 20 decree.

"Clearly, someone withdrawing from the church can no longer take advantage of the system like someone who remains a member," he said at a news conference Monday as the bishops began a four-day meeting in Fulda. "We are grateful Rome has given completely clear approval to our stance."

The archbishop said each departure was "painful for the church," adding that bishops feared many Catholics were unaware of the consequences and would be "open to other solutions."

"The Catholic church is committed to seeking out every lost person," said Zollitsch, whose remarks were reported by Germany's Die Welt daily.

Symposium highlights challenges to international religious freedom

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WASHINGTON -- While concern over religious freedom is a hot topic of political debate in the United States, the issue internationally is a far more immediate matter of life and death, of national security, and of special concern to women, who are most often the victims of religious intolerance. The stark dimensions of the problem were outlined during an eight-hour symposium Sept. 12 at The Catholic University of America here.

Bosnia's Catholic leaders say real dialogue impeded by injustices

WARSAW, Poland -- Catholic leaders in Bosnia-Herzegovina said real ethnic and religious dialogue is not occurring and not all religions have equal rights.

"Real dialogue" is being impeded by "legalized war crimes and injustices," as well as by failure to implement the peace accord that ended the country's 1992-95 war, said Msgr. Ivo Tomasevic, secretary-general of Bosnian bishops' conference.

Tomasevic welcomed a September interfaith peace appeal, issued in Sarajevo after an international peace meeting sponsored by the Rome-based Sant'Egidio Community gathered 2,000 Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu representatives.

However, in an interview Wednesday with Catholic News Service, he said the country still lacks a firm foundation for religious and ethnic coexistence.

"Peace is firstly a gift from God, so it's important all faiths and confessions pray for it together," he said. "But we also need to work for peace, at a time when our Catholic population has almost halved and the Catholic presence in Sarajevo is dwindling year by year."

Christians in the Middle East: 'Something to be cherished'

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Pope Benedict XVI travels to Lebanon, Sept. 14-16, in part to deliver his exhortation on the 2010 Synod of Bishops on the Middle East. Another key aspect of the trip is that the pope’s presence reflects his desire to stand in solidarity with Christians and others, as the civil war in Syria shows no signs of ending and has begun to spill over into neighboring countries.

Msgr. John Kozar, president of the New York City-based Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), will be in Lebanon this week. NCR sat down with Kozar to discuss this trip and the work of CNEWA in the Middle East.

African bishops speak openly of hard-hitting realities

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The Nairobi gathering of theologians might have surprised anyone who expects Catholic bishops to dodge and weave when addressing the hard-hitting realities of the day.

Three times during the Aug. 21-23 event, which was focused on the themes of reconciliation, justice and peace, a bishop took the podium before the theologians.

Pakistani court grants bail to girl, 11, accused of blasphemy

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VATICAN CITY -- The Pakistani Christian girl accused of blasphemy was granted bail Friday after three weeks in police custody.

The judge, who ordered the girl's release on a bail of about $5,282, said there was insufficient evidence to justify continuing to hold Rimsha Masih in jail. However, the case against her was not dismissed.

Investigations continue both into accusations that Rimsha burned pages of the Quran -- a violation of Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws -- as well as into the actions of Khalid Jadoon Chishti, a Muslim cleric, who was taken into police custody Sept. 2 after being accused of planting the pages of the Quran and burned pieces of paper in the girl's bag.

Rimsha had been in police custody since Aug. 18. Her parents said she is 11 years old and has Down syndrome; a court-appointed physician reported she was about 14 and is developmentally delayed.

Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the Pakistani bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace, told Vatican Radio the bail was high for Pakistan and certainly beyond the means of Rimsha's family, but donations were expected to cover it. The girl was released Sunday.

Church part of uneasy alliance combating HIV/AIDS in Zambia

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LUSAKA, ZAMBIA -- In a week's time, it is possible to hear the church both criticized and praised for its response to Zambia's HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The critics include gay rights and AIDS activists who acknowledge that the church -- the wider church, both Catholic and Protestant -- should be praised for its health work in many areas but is a major obstacle to what they argue is a needed nonjudgmental and realistic conversation about the extent of male-to-male sexual contact, which is still taboo in Zambia.

Report highlights Islam's global diversity

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Nearly all Muslims can agree on the basic beliefs of Islam: There is one God, Muhammad is God's prophet, and Muslims should fast during the holy month of Ramadan and give alms to the poor.

Yet beyond these central pillars of the faith, Muslims worldwide vastly differ as religious convictions are shaped by cultural and social contexts, according to a new report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Roman Catholic Church in Scotland campaigns to stop gay marriage

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The Roman Catholic Church has sent a letter to its parishes across Scotland protesting a political race to legalize same-sex marriage.

The letter was read Sunday by priests in 500 Catholic parishes urging Scotland's political leaders to "sustain rather than subvert marriage" and to reaffirm that "marriage is a unique, lifelong union between a man and a woman."

Scotland is caught up in a debate over whether it should become the first segment of Britain to legalize gay marriage, ahead of England and Wales.

After the letter was read out in churches Sunday, the Scottish government insisted it intends to legalize same-sex marriages and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships because "it is the right thing to do."

The issue is still in the consultation stage in England and Wales.

The letter from the Scottish Catholic leadership was part of its latest drive to keep marriage in the province on a traditional path. It called on congregations "to pray for our elected leaders ... that they may be moved to safeguard marriage as it has always been understood, for the good of Scotland and of our society."

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July 18-31, 2014

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