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All Christchurch parishes closed until engineers inspect them

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CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand -- No Catholic church or school in Christchurch will be used until engineers have declared it safe.

Christchurch Bishop Barry P. Jones announced the measure Feb. 25, three days after a magnitude 6.3 earthquake rocked New Zealand's second-largest city, causing more than 100 deaths and widespread damage.

Indian cardinal criticizes report on church attacks

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BANGALORE, India -- The president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India added his voice to the rising tide of critics of a controversial report that cleared Hindu fundamentalists, police and local government leaders of a series of attacks on Christian targets in September 2008.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai flayed the report Feb. 23 for failing "to identify persons and organizations" involved in the attacks despite the testimony of dozens of witnesses who identified individual perpetrators who took part in the incidents in southern Karnataka state.

The report by a commission, chaired by retired Judge B.K. Somasekhara and appointed by the Karnataka government, had "hurt our religious sentiments by its uncalled-for remarks and exoneration of the fundamentalist forces," the cardinal said.

Churches, Christian groups and various church leaders, including Catholic bishops, have led public protests calling upon the Indian government to conduct its own inquiry into the attacks since the commission's report was given to the Indian government Jan. 28.

In Italian sex scandal, Vatican caught in a bind

VATICAN CITY -- No major Western European leader in recent years has been a more stalwart ally of the Roman Catholic Church than Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Berlusconi’s stands against euthanasia, living wills, in-vitro fertilization and domestic partnerships have put his country in line with Catholic teaching, and out of sync with all other major countries in the region, including traditionally Catholic Spain. His government has also granted large financial subsidies to Catholic schools, and expanded tax breaks for church-owned businesses.

Yet in Berlusconi’s increasingly public personal life, the billionaire businessman-turned-politician is not exactly a model of Catholic values.

After months of ever more graphic reports of wild parties and sex with young women, including several alleged prostitutes, a judge on Tuesday (Feb. 15) ruled that Berlusconi must face trial on April 6 on charges of paying for sex with a minor and obstruction of justice.

Quebec mayor fights order to remove crucifix

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TORONTO -- The mayor of a Quebec town says he will appeal a decision by a human rights tribunal that bans prayer at city council and ordered him to remove a crucifix from the council’s chambers.

Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay said he will refuse to heed the judgment from the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal that also ordered him to remove a Sacred Heart statue.

The tribunal ordered the town to pay $30,000 in damages to the local resident who complained about the religious symbols, ruling they infringed on his freedom of conscience. The town is roughly 90 percent Catholic.

Tremblay has set up a toll-free telephone line and posted a link on the town’s website to solicit donations for his legal battle.

“Why is it us Christians that always have to bend?” Tremblay told the Globe and Mail newspaper. “Our values have no importance. I am the first mayor in the history of the world to be punished for reciting a prayer.”

The tribunal’s decision is widely viewed as the latest step toward Quebec’s aggressive march toward secularism. Earlier this month, provincial lawmakers voted to ban ceremonial Sikh daggers, known as kirpans, from the legislature.

Bishops lead sit-in over Indian court findings

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BANGALORE, India -- Nineteen Catholic and Protestant bishops staged a sit-in to protest the findings of a report that cleared Hindu fundamentalists of a series of attacks on Christian targets in southern Karnataka state in September 2008.

The clerics, including 13 Catholic bishops, were joined by nearly 500 church leaders in the southern city of Bangalore, where they again criticized the findings of a commission chaired by Judge B. K. Somashekhara for not identifying the attackers in 57 incidents involving Christian churches and other sites.

The demonstrators gathered in central Bangalore, with the bishops sitting on chairs in their clerical garb under a midday sun.

Organized by the Karnataka United Christian Forum for Human Rights and the Karnataka Region Catholic Bishops' Council, the church leaders said the report was biased and that it "whitewashed" the incidents.

The crowd renewed a call for a new inquiry headed by the India's Central Bureau of Investigation. They also demanded the withdrawal of more than 150 cases lodged against Christians who were injured in the attacks.

Caritas head denied second term by Vatican

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VATICAN CITY -- Vatican officials have prevented the secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis from seeking a second four-year term.

Lesley-Anne Knight, a British citizen born in Zimbabwe, did not receive the necessary approval, or "nihil obstat" ("nothing stands in the way"), in January when she submitted her name as a candidate to continue in the position with the church's worldwide aid and development organization.

"The Holy See wants a change in the way it works with Caritas and says this requires a change in the person of the secretary-general," said a statement released late Feb. 18 by Caritas Internationalis in Rome.

"The Holy See has therefore not granted Mrs. Knight the nihil obstat to seek another mandate," the statement said.

The statement said the Vatican had acknowledged "the professional work done and achievements of Mrs. Knight."

Elections for the position of secretary-general and international president, which is held by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, are set for late May in Rome during Caritas Internationalis' quadrennial general assembly.

Irish bishops reject 'bonus culture' of capitalism run amok

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Facing an economic crisis that has produced record unemployment, staggering levels of household debt, and deep political unrest, the Catholic bishops of Ireland have issued a stinging critique of “the excesses of advanced capitalism” and its “bonus culture,” calling for an economy rooted in social solidarity as opposed to “radical individualism.”

Indian priest dies trying to save woman

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COCHIN, India -- A Syro-Malabar Catholic priest who had a role in the 2008 canonization of St. Alphonsa Muttathupandathu, India's first woman saint, was killed while trying to save a parish worker who had become entangled in a power line.

Father Mathew Thondamkuzhy, 72, of St. George Church in Lalam, Kerala state in the Syro-Malabar Palai Diocese, was electrocuted while trying to free the female staff member, said Father George Choorakkat, diocesan vicar general.

The worker, Achamma George, 63, became entangled in the high-voltage power line while working on the parish grounds, the diocesan spokesman said.

Father Thondamkuzhy reportedly rushed to save the woman after hearing her cries for help, said Father Choorakkat.

"He tried to use a plastic rod to save her, but was also electrocuted," he said.

Engineers found the bodies of the two victims when they went to switch off a transformer before doing maintenance work.

Bangladesh mourns tribal evangelizing bishop

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MYMENSINGH, Bangladesh -- Retired Bishop Francis A. Gomes, who pioneered evangelization among tribal people in his northeastern Bangladesh diocese, died Feb. 17 following a lengthy illness. He was 79.

Catholics across the country mourned the death of the bishop, who had been seriously ill since his retirement in 2006, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News. His health worsened after he became paralyzed following a massive stroke in 2008.

"He was taken to Bangkok for treatment, but doctors informed he wouldn't improve anymore," said Salesian Sister Maria, one of the two nuns who cared for Bishop Gomes.

He was born April 30, 1931, at Rangamatia parish in the Dhaka Archdiocese. He was ordained a diocesan priest in December 1959.

Bishop Gomes pioneered evangelization among tribal people throughout the Mymensingh region and was the first local Bengali priest to work among tribes in the area.

He led Mymensingh to erection as diocese in 1987, and he became the first bishop of the new diocese. Mymensingh had been part of the Dhaka Archdiocese.

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August 15-28, 2014

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