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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.

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August 29-September 11, 2014

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