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Philippine bishops can keep money, cars

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MANILA, Philippines -- Senators have exonerated seven Catholic bishops who accepted donations of money and vehicles from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The senators said there was nothing irregular in the bishops' actions, because the vehicles were used to help people, not promote religion, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.

However, the bishops had already admitted that the issue had brought shame on the church, and they returned the vehicles, despite the Senate's decision.

In a statement read by Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato during the hearing, the bishops said the vehicles were used for social programs in their respective dioceses but they would return them. Three prelates from Luzon brought their vehicles to the Senate and returned them to Charity Sweepstakes officials.

Archbishop Quevedo said vehicles in Mindanao, including the one for his archdiocese, are ready for immediate return to a duly authorized sweepstakes representative.

Six of the seven bishops involved in the controversy faced the Senate committee.

Belfast bishop urges Catholics, Protestants to show restraint

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BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- The bishop of Belfast appealed for Catholic and Protestant residents to prove to the world they can live together in peace after fresh sectarian violence flared during the region's contentious Protestant marching season.

Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor appealed to both sides to show restraint and respect toward police after 22 police officers were injured July 11.

"I ask all who attend parades or protests in the days ahead to avoid provocation," he said in a statement July 12.

He urged local residents to ensure that "events are not manipulated by destructive influences from outside the communities where parades take place."

Police have expressed concern that fringe elements opposed to the 1998 Good Friday peace accord might be orchestrating communal strife.

On July 12, the traditional "Orangeman's day," Loyalist demonstrations commemorate the 1690 defeat of the Catholic King James II by the Protestant Prince William of Orange that definitively installed Protestantism as the religion of the British monarchy.

Catholic officials: South Sudanese will need patience

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- Catholic officials cited the need for patience and a focus on what the people of South Sudan have achieved as the church prepares to walk alongside the world's newest country on its path to peace and development.

In "achieving their right to self-determination," marked with a July 9 independence ceremony in the capital, Juba, the people of South Sudan have "what the better-educated and better-fed people of Libya, Yemen and many other countries are looking for," said Dan Griffin, adviser on Sudan to the U.S. bishops' Catholic Relief Services.

"Their potential and hope give them a tremendous advantage," he told Catholic News Service in a July 10 telephone interview from Juba. He noted that the 8 million citizens of South Sudan "may not have phones, banks or roads but they do have rights and dignity and a government of their consent."

A 2005 peace deal that ended Africa's longest-running conflict led to a January independence vote in which nearly 99 percent of the residents of the South voted to secede from Sudan. At least 2 million people were killed in Sudan's last civil war, fought from 1983 to 2005.

Mexican tribunal orders sanctions on archdiocese

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MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's electoral tribunal has ordered the Interior Ministry to sanction the Archdiocese of Mexico City for comments urging Catholics to not vote for political parties promoting liberalized abortion laws and same-sex marriage.

The Mexican bishops' conference and the Mexico City archdiocesan spokesman, Father Hugo Valdemar Romero -- also named in the ruling -- have questioned the legality of the order.

"According to the (tribunal) judges, a citizen's critical opinion of a political party for its immoral, criminal and destructive actions toward the family and its values is an attack against the democratic life of our country," Father Valdemar said at a July 3 press conference, two days after the tribunal ruling. "Such a proposition is not only a judicial contradiction, but borders on the ridiculous."

Father Manuel Corral, spokesman for the bishops' conference, called the ruling "an insult" and said it was delivered in a way that seemed to say "so that you'll learn."

Battle over the harnessing of Amazon's rivers

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Over the past decade, steady economic growth in Latin America has spurred a thirst for energy that the region’s governments are increasingly trying to quench by harnessing rivers.

Supporters tout hydroelectricity as a clean, renewable, low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels, but opponents say those claims are not true. And in Brazil, Peru and Chile, plans for major dams have sparked conflicts with environmentalists and indigenous people.

Rector: State security services watching me

OXFORD, England -- The U.S.-born rector of Ukraine's Catholic university said his country is "living in dark times" and accused state security services of placing him under surveillance.

"Our telephones are tapped -- the stationary ones probably, the mobile ones certainly. Lists of my telephone conversations have been shown to colleagues, and an assistant was followed through the city," said Father Borys Gudziak, rector of the Lviv-based Ukrainian Catholic University.

"I have seen fundamental change some in hopeless situations -- from communism to an independent Ukraine, from growing authoritarianism to the Orange Revolution. Although I believe we're living in dark times, I'm convinced the spirit and human dignity will prevail," he told Austria's Die Presse daily June 16.

He said the university students and faculty were "not a nest of radical revolutionaries. But we do try to be free."

The priest told the daily that other university staffers had received calls from the state security services asking about his activities.

Fighting threatens civilians in Sudan's Kordofan region

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A major humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in Sudan's oil-producing South Kordofan state, with church and humanitarian officials saying some 300,000 persons are trapped, cut off from relief aid and unable to flee fighting between forces of the Sudanese government and members of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, the former rebel group based in Southern Sudan.

In recent days, there have been growing reports of civilians fleeing to the Nuba mountains in South Kordofan, where officials of the Sudan Council of Churches say civilians are, according to one source, "being hunted down like animals by helicopter gun-ships."

Among those targeted are clergy and humanitarian workers, including Roman Catholics, who have been prominent in civil society work, voter education and in providing emergency and development assistance.

English archbishop: Marriage a 'public good'

LONDON -- The spiritual leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has praised traditional marriage as a "public good."

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster said it was "vitally important" for the "whole of society" to support marriage at a time when more British couples than ever were choosing to live together outside of marriage and to have children out of wedlock.

He said the British had acknowledged the importance of marriage by rejoicing over the April 29 marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in London's Westminster Abbey.

The "mighty public cheer" that rang out after the couple exchanged vows showed an "instinctive and profound public understanding of the nature and consequences of marriage itself," said Archbishop Nichols, who was a guest at the royal wedding.

"Marriage, as a permanent, exclusive commitment between this man and this woman was welcomed, applauded," the archbishop said in a homily at a Mass for married couples in Westminster Cathedral.

"There was rejoicing in what the newlyweds had just done," he said. "Marriage, then, is a public good.

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