National Catholic Reporter

The Independent News Source

Oxford, England

Spanish bishops praise abdicating king's defense of democracy

King Juan Carlos of Spain received a tribute from the country's bishops after he announced his decision to abdicate in favor of his son.

The executive committee of the Span's bishops' conference described the work of the outgoing 76-year-old king as having "extraordinary value" because of his work on behalf of democracy during his 39 years on the throne.

Ukrainian Catholics fear 'new oppression' after Russian takeover

A Ukrainian Catholic priest in Crimea said church members are alarmed and frightened by the Russian military occupation and fear their communities might be outlawed again if Russian rule becomes permanent.

Fr. Mykhailo Milchakovskyi, a pastor in Kerch, Ukraine, described the atmosphere as tense because many residents of the town located in the eastern part of Crimea were unsure of their future.

"No one knows what will happen. Many people are trying to sell their homes and move to other parts of Ukraine," Milchakovskyi told Catholic News Service on Wednesday.

Catholic leaders praise missioners who stay in Central African Republic

Catholic leaders in the Central African Republic praised the courage of missionary priests and nuns who remained in the country during the current conflict, despite offers of evacuation.

"That most have remained here is the greatest act of witness our church has given," said Bishop Nestor-Desire Nongo Aziagbia of Bossangoa, Central African Republic.

Ukraine church urges return to peace amid spiraling street violence

The head of the Ukrainian Catholic church appealed for calm as violence worsened between police and pro-European Union demonstrators in Kiev, Ukraine.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, said Tuesday that he was dismayed and saddened by as violence escalated for the third consecutive day in and around Kiev's Maidan -- or Independence -- Square.

French court: No conscience clause for mayors in same-sex marriage

French Catholics criticized a Constitutional Court judgment denying local officials the right to opt out of conducting same-sex marriages. Antoine Renard, president of France's National Federation of Catholic Family Associations, charged that the court was operating under political pressure in issuing its decision.

"This ruling could have dramatic consequences for religious freedom both here and abroad," he said. "It also suggests the French Constitution is old-fashioned and needs verification."

European churches welcome EU move to link aid to religious freedom

Churches in Europe have welcomed pledges by the European Union to make financial help for countries around the world conditional on their protection of religious freedom.

The Brussels-based Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community, COMECE, said Tuesday that action was needed "given the systematic and increasing violations of freedom of religion by some governments and non-state actors."

With decline in participation, Brussels archdiocese to close churches

Belgium's Mechelen-Brussels archdiocese has become Europe's latest to plan church closures in the face of declining Catholic participation.

An archdiocesan official told the German Catholic news agency KNA that "dozens of churches" faced closing and that the city's largest Catholic landmark, St. Catherine Church, was expected to be turned into a fruit and vegetable market.

Bishop in Mali says people in hiding, afraid to enter churches

A Catholic bishop in war-torn Mali whose diocese lies in the path of Islamic insurgents said "people are hiding in their homes, unable to venture out."

Bishop Augustin Traore of Segou, Mali, told Catholic News Service by telephone: "Although our churches are still intact, people are becoming afraid to enter them. Our entire Catholic culture will clearly be in danger if this conflict drags on.

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