Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2019 / 02:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The US Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender persons serving in the military to go into effect, while the issue continues to be adjudicated in lower courts.
The Supreme Court’s five conservative members voted Jan. 22 to lift nationwide injunctions that had blocked the ban from going into effect. However, the policy is being appealed in lower courts, and those appeals will still be going forward despite the ruling.
In July 2017 Trump announced on Twitter that anyone identifying or presenting as a sex different from their biological sex would be prohibited from military service, with extremely limited exceptions. The policy was formally issued in 2018 by then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
Previously, under President Barack Obama’s administration, military policies were changed to allow people who do not identify themselves according to their biological sex, or who were seeking surgical “gender transition”, to join the military.
Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Carla Anderson insisted that the policy is in fact not a ban on transgender troops, but rather is a “personnel policy” that is “necessary to ensure the most lethal and combat effective fighting force in the world.”
Slightly under 1,000 people in the military have undergone a gender transition. In 2016, the government estimated that there were about 9,000 transgender troops in the U.S. military. Including reservists, there are about 2.1 million people in the military.
When Trump announced the policy in July 2017, a theology professor at the Catholic University of America said it was the “right decision.”
Those who identify as transgender are “people made in God's image, and they deserve our compassion, and they deserve to be treated with dignity, but that doesn't mean that they are fit for combat in the defense of a nation,” Dr. Chad Pecknold told CNA.
“Pope Francis is famous for his stress upon dialogue, and his non-judgmental approach with respect to the dignity of every person,” he said. “But the Holy Father has also been crystal clear that ‘gender theory’ represents a burning threat to humanity, starkly describing it as a ‘global ideological war on marriage’.”
Also on Tuesday, the Supreme Court declined to act regarding Trump’s plan to end the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This means that DACA will stay in place for the time being.
The USCCB has said in previous statements that they are in favor of a “permanent legislative solution” for DACA recipients as well as those under temporary protective status. This solution is “vital,” said the bishops.
Baltimore, Md., Jan 22, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Archbishop William Lori has issued a major pastoral reflection on the subject of racism in American society and the Church in the U.S.
Entitled “The Journey to Racial Justice - Repentance, Healing and Action,” Lori’s reflection was released to coincide with the commemoration of Martin Luther King Day. In the Jan. 21 document, the Archbishop of Baltimore wrote of his concern at renewed racial tensions in the country.
“Even as we Americans celebrate Dr. King’s inspiring example, we feel the shame of witnessing public demonstrations of racial and ethnic violence and hatred such as we have not seen in decades,” Lori wrote.
Recent reports have indicated a rise in hate crimes across the country, while major incidents like the 2017 racial demonstrations and conflicts in Charlottesville, VA, have highlighted growing concerns about a resurgence in overtly racist attitudes in sections of American society.
In a searching reflection on the evil of racism in American, Lori wrote that institutional and personal complicity by the Church needs to be frankly understood, acknowledged, and atoned for.
“No doubt, in looking back at the history not only of our Church, but also of our nation, one may justly say that racism is the original sin of our country, our state, and our local dioceses, and its deep roots continue to plague us,” said Lori.
“As we are so painfully aware in the midst of the current crisis in the Church, without acknowledging the sins of the past, we cannot hope to understand and heal the wounds of the present.”
The archbishop’s reflection laid out an unsparing resume of his earliest predecessors, saying that “no credible treatment of the history of the establishment of the Catholic Church in the United States can be told without also acknowledging the reality of the early Church’s direct involvement in slavery.”
Noting his own previous pastoral statement on Dr. King’s teaching on non-violence, Lori acknowledged that the Church had fallen short of the demands of the Gospel in the era of so-called Jim Crow laws and beyond, allowing de facto segregation between and even within parishes and other institutions.
While efforts by Church leaders to support and champion the civil rights movement offered examples of “efforts, sacrifices, and achievements” by Catholic leaders, priests, religious, and lay people, Lori warned there is still more to be done.
“Without a doubt, many members of the Catholic Church today have continued to devote themselves to addressing racial injustice in our Church and society,” the archbishop said.
“These efforts, encouraging as they may be, cannot by themselves end racial injustice, nor can they be causes of complacency,” he said, while asking “if we can still easily identify the ‘black’ and ‘white’ parishes of our archdiocese, have we truly accomplished the goal of racial equity we claim to embrace?”
In November, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released the pastoral letter “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” also on the subject of racism in America.
Lori made frequent reference to this document, which warned against a “neglect of history” among many in the Church with regard to racism and a lack of awareness of “the connection between institutional racism and the continued erosion of the sanctity of life.”
The U.S. bishops wrote that neither the Church or society could “look upon the progress against racism in recent decades and conclude that our current situation meets the standard of justice.”
“God demands more of us,” the bishops said.
In response to this demand, and to other recent scandals, Lori wrote that he felt a renewed call to be present to the witness of human suffering.
“I have come to realize in a new and clearer way an important truth: wherever the people of God are suffering is where I belong, at their side, listening, sharing compassion, and discerning how the Holy Spirit is calling me to take action.”
To this end, Lori used his pastoral reflection to commit to renewed action in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, pledging more training within the archdiocese to address the problem of racism, and to conduct a review of the diversity of Church institutions, including archdiocesan leadership, seminaries, clergy, parishes, schools and social service programs.
“In a spirit of repentance and prayer, we seek healing as we turn to the redeeming and reconciling love of Jesus with the hope of building a Church that is journeying toward a better future as we work side by side with those who are victims of racism today.”
Vatican City, Jan 22, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The moderator of the Vatican’s February summit on child sexual abuse has written an article outlining his take on the Church’s most effective models of response for addressing its sexual abuse crisis.
The article, written by Fr. Federico Lombardi, is published in the Jan. 19 issue of the Jesuit-run bi-monthly magazine La Civiltà Cattolica. Lombardi, a Jesuit and former papal spokesman, will be a central actor in the Feb. 21-24 meeting, which will convene the leaders of bishops’ conferences from around the world to discuss the clerical sexual abuse of minors.
Lombardi has long known in Italy as a key figure in the fight against sex abuse by clergy.
In 2011, Lombardi was part of a significant moment related to combating sexual abuse: A conference, “Toward Healing and Renewal,” organized by the Pontifical Gregorian University. The work of the conference become the basis for the establishment of the Gregorian’s Centre for Child Protection, which partially inspired the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
In 2017, Lombardi was involved in the organization of the conference “Child Dignity in Digital Age,” which drafted and presented to Pope Francis the “Declaration of Rome”, which proposed new approaches needed to countering sexual abuse in the internet era.
Lombardi is also part of the steering committee of the “Child Dignity Alliance.”
The former papal spokesperson has also gained attention as an expert on sexual abuse issues because of his articles on La Civiltà Cattolica. In an essay last month, he retraced step-by-step the history of the clergy sex abuse crisis and of the Church’s response.
In his most recent article, Lombardi listed some “good practices” for an effective response. Those documents will be likely at the center of the discussions in the February meeting.
Lombardi highlighted the document “Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse,” issued by the Canadian Bishops Conference, which addresses the effects of abuses on victims and community, explains how to respond to the crisis and outlines “guidelines” for juridical and pastoral procedures.
Lombardi said that “it is expected that every diocese will appoint dedicated people to collect abuse reports and to proceed to preliminary investigations.”
The moderator of the February meeting also praised the diocese in Bergamo, in Northern Italy, which established a specific office in the diocesan Curia, called the “diocesan service for the Protection of Minors.” While such offices are standard operating procedure in the United States, they are less common in other parts of the world.
Lombardi stressed that “the collaboration between dioceses and ecclesial institutions” is crucial, as it is important to “formulate and set up new curricula,” especially to train those on the front line of countering the abuse crisis. The Jesuit noted that “this is difficult in vast areas of the world that lack of experience, resources and competences.”
Vatican City, Jan 22, 2019 / 11:04 am (CNA).- As the Swiss Guards celebrated their 513th anniversary Tuesday, they donned for the first time their new light-weight helmets, which are made of black PVC and 3D printed.
The plastic helmets replace those made of metal, which were easily dented, and which would get so hot from the Roman sun in the summer months they could cause blisters on the guards’ ears.
Printed in Switzerland, the new helmets were unveiled by Swiss Guard Commander Christoph Graf during a press conference last May, but were formally added to the uniform Jan. 22 as part of the anniversary celebrations of the world’s smallest-but-oldest standing army.
Per tradition, the day’s anniversary festivities began with Mass in the Church of Santa Maria della Pieta in the Vatican’s Teutonic College, followed by a march of the Swiss Guards from the chapel to the Swiss Guard quarters on the opposite side of Vatican City.
The march follows a path under the Arch of the Bells and across St. Peter’s Square in commemoration of the arrival of Swiss mercenaries to the Vatican on Jan. 22, 1506, the year the Swiss Guard was founded.
Also on Jan. 22, the Guard released the first in a series of short videos illustrating the daily life of a Swiss Guard. The series, called “1506-The Swiss Guard Presents,” will publish new videos throughout the year on the 20th of every month.
The first 3-minute-long video is called “Service of Honor,” and shows the guards as they go about their various duties; it also includes clips from the State visit of Swiss President Alain Berset with Pope Francis Nov. 12, 2018.
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The series was created by Vatican Media and the Rome-based film company Officina della Comunicazione.
The Vatican’s Swiss Guard barracks is currently undergoing a renovation, which the website says was needed because it has not been renovated since the 19th century, had a lack of proper insulation, and had started to become run-down.
The three buildings being renovated encompass the area of the troop of the halberdiers (the lowest rank of the Guard), the canteen, administrative offices, and the cadre and family housing.
The renovation will be funded by the Vatican and by the Swiss Guard Foundation, which will conduct fundraising in Switzerland and abroad.
Vatican City, Jan 22, 2019 / 09:44 am (CNA).- Pope Francis appointed Tuesday two Navy chaplains, Fr. Joseph Coffey and Fr. William Muhm, as auxiliary bishops for the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services.
As bishops for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, Coffey and Muhm will serve the spiritual needs of personnel in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, as well as the Department for Veterans Affairs and those in government service outside of the U.S.
Coffey and Muhm’s past deployments include Afghanistan and Iraq respectively.
Coffey, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, is a Navy captain and past recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from the Military Chaplains Association.
During his 18 years of service as a Navy chaplain, Coffey’s assignments has served the Marines in Okinawa, Japan, the Coast Guard training facility in Cape May, NJ, and as a Naval chaplain recruiter.
Born in 1960, Coffey is the fifth of nine children of a Catholic family in Philadelphia. He has an M.A. in Moral Theology and a Master of Divinity from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia. Between university and seminary, he worked for one year as an auto dealer in Europe, selling cars to American serviceman in Germany and Belgium.
Muhm is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, a U.S. Navy Chaplain and captain since 1998. He was ordained by Cardinal John O’Connor in 1995 after serving in the Navy prior to entering the seminary.
He was deployed with the 1st Marine Regiment in Iraq from 2008 to 2009, and then was assigned as the chaplain for the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD. He holds an STB and Master of Divinity from St. Joseph Seminary, Yonkers, NY. Most recently Muhm was a parish administrator for the Most Precious Blood parish in Walden, New York.
The Archdiocese for the Military Services is responsible for more than 1.8 million men, women, and children across 29 countries worldwide.
Panama City, Panama, Jan 22, 2019 / 09:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- There will be 120 volunteers of the Order of Malta in Panama for World Youth Day, with the task of “providing first aid to young pilgrims”, Prince Dominique de La Rochefoucauld-Monbel, Grand Hospitalier of the Order, told CNA.
Within the Order of Malta, the Grand Hospitalier includes the office of Minister of Health and of Social Affairs, for Humanitarian Action, and for International Cooperation.
The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is a Catholic lay religious order of a military, noble, and chivalrous nature. It is a subject of international law, and in that capacity it has diplomatic relations with over 100 states and the European Union, and also holds a Permanent Observer status at the United Nations. It is preparing to sign a memorandum of understanding with Panama.
The Order of Malta is currently active in 120 countries, with a wide network of social and humanitarian work.
De la Rochefoucauld recounted that the Order of Malta organized for World Youth Day “120 volunteers, coming from Germany, France and Italy,” whose main task will be that of providing first aid to the pilgrims.
Given the number of pilgrims coming from long distances, “there are people who do not feel well, some of them faint, some of them simply cannot manage the energy. And so, there is the need of professionals there, who are able to care for these people.”
The Order of Malta volunteers are all specifically trained to face any kind of crisis. The Grand Hospitalier underscored that “they have been trained to help in crisis situations like earthquake,” not to mention that “our first aid units in France were among the first assisting the injured at the Bataclan theater.”
De la Rochefoucauld-Mombel also recalled the Paris 1997 World Youth Day, where he was among the first aid corps: “We were called because one of the girls of the group was not feeling well. When we got there, she had fainted, so we started the procedure, automatically: we opened the buttons, untied shoes, put her in the right position to let her breath. The doctor was in front of me. We stared from one to the other and in that moment the crowd started saying the ‘Our Father’ prayer. And we prayed the prayer, too, while continuing to provide the first aid.”
Vatican City, Jan 22, 2019 / 08:36 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a statement Tuesday the Vatican again denied having prior knowledge of sexual abuse allegations against Argentine Bishop Gustavo Oscar Zanchetta before his December 2017 appointment to a Vatican office.
In a Jan. 22 statement, interim director of the Vatican Press Office Alessandro Gisotti “resolutely” repeated a Jan. 4 Vatican statement that said no sexual abuse charges had yet emerged against the bishop at the time Pope Francis appointed Zanchetta to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) in December 2017. Gisotti said the charges only emerged in the fall of 2018.
The Vatican’s latest statement came in response to recent articles on the Zanchetta allegations carried by several news outlets. Gisotti said it was necessary to correct “some misleading reconstructions.” He also confirmed that Zanchetta’s case is being studied and that “information will be forthcoming regarding the results” of that process.
Bishop Zanchetta, 54, was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Quilmes in 1991. He remained there until his 2013 appointment by Pope Francis as Bishop of Orán. In July 2017, he announced his resignation as bishop, citing health problems and “an incapacity to govern the clergy.”
After spending some time in Spain, Zanchetta took up the position of assessor at APSA, which manages the Holy See’s assets and real estate holdings, in December 2017.
In a Jan. 20 report from the Associated Press, Zanchetta’s former vicar general said that information about alleged sexual abuse by Zanchetta had been sent to Rome several years prior to the Argentine bishop’s appointment to APSA.
Fr. Juan Jose Manzano, Zanchetta’s former vicar general in the diocese of Orán, told the AP that the Vatican received complaints against Zanchetta in both 2015 and 2017. According to Manzano, these complaints concerned alleged “obscene behavior” by Zanchetta, misconduct and sexual harassment of adult seminarians, and the possession of naked selfies on the bishop’s phone.
“In 2015, we just sent a ‘digital support’ with selfie photos of the previous bishop in obscene or out of place behavior that seemed inappropriate and dangerous,” Manzano, now a parish priest in Argentina, told the AP. The 2015 complaint against Zanchetta was not issued as an official canonical complaint, he noted.
In May or June of 2017, Manzano told the AP, he and the rector of the seminary made a second complaint against Zanchetta to the apostolic nuncio in Buenos Aires, who forwarded it along to the Vatican.
According to Gisotti’s Jan. 4 statement, the current Bishop of Oran is in the process of collecting testimonies regarding allegations against Zanchetta, which will be sent to the Congregation for Bishops.
“If the elements needed to proceed are confirmed, the case will be referred to the special commission for bishops,” Gisotti said.
Zanchetta has been placed on temporary leave from his APSA position while the investigation is ongoing.
Vatican City, Jan 22, 2019 / 07:30 am (CNA).- As the Church continues to wrestle with the fall-out of last year’s sexual abuse scandals, the Vatican faces a series of crucial decisions in the coming weeks. How they are resolved, and in what order, will likely set the tone for the rest of the year.
One month from today, the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences will gather in Rome for a special summit to address the abuse crisis. Ahead of that meeting, the Vatican has attempted to lower what it has called “excessive” expectations.
These efforts notwithstanding, the credibility of its discussions and conclusions will likely play a large part in shaping wider assessments of the Church in 2019. But before the three-day meeting begins, two other events could do much to frame how the February session will be seen from the outside.
The first of these events is the replacement of Cardinal Donald Wuerl as Archbishop of Washington, DC. The second is the conclusion of the penal process handling the allegations against Wuerl’s predecessor, Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. Both are expected imminently, and both seem sure to cast a shadow, for good or for ill, on February’s meeting and whatever it produces.
As has been previously reported, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently concluded the investigative phase of its handling of the McCarrick case. The CDF also confirmed that, instead of a full canonical trial, McCarrick was facing a penal administrative process - ordinarily reserved for handling cases where the evidence is clear and compelling.
Officials in different Vatican departments, if not the CDF itself, have already begun pointedly referring to the former cardinal as “Mr. McCarrick” in a nod to his likely laicization if he is found guilty of sexual abuse.
While Rome appears intent on ensuring the McCarrick case is resolved - one way or another - before the February meeting, how much detail the CDF makes public about the resolution will be important.
McCarrick is accused of a number of grave crimes, including the sexual abuse of minors and adults. What is done and said about his alleged abuse of adults may prove more significant, even if it represents the lesser charge canonically speaking.
If McCarrick is found guilty of abusing seminarians over a period of years, it will be far harder for the February meeting to ignore the growing calls for an expansion in law of the definition of “vulnerable adults” to include victims like McCarrick’s.
On the other hand, if no decision is reached, or publicly acknowledged, on those charges, the seminarians who submitted their testimony as part of the CDF process may well feel ignored, and their suffering marginalized all over again.
Either result is likely to inform perceptions of the Vatican summit next month and present a serious obstacle to those hoping to force through a narrower focus and agenda based only on the abuse of minors, about which there is less disagreement among the bishops.
Meanwhile, the replacement of Cardinal Wuerl in Washington remains a significant and increasingly urgent priority for Rome.
Just months ago, before the scandals of last summer, Wuerl seemed likely to continue in office until he was nearly 80, well past the normal retirement age for bishops, which he passed when he turned 75 three years ago. His resignation, submitted in 2015, was accepted last October (with obvious reluctance by the pope) due to mounting pressure on the cardinal following the Pennsylvania grand jury report - in which he was named more than 200 times - and questions about what Wuerl did or did not know about his predecessor.
Recent weeks have seen confirmation by Wuerl that, despite his earlier denials, he was aware of accusations against McCarrick involving misconduct with seminarians as early as 2004. His current tenure as administrator of the Washington archdiocese has helped to keep both him and McCarrick in the news.
While a replacement for Wuerl would likely be received as a welcome turning of the page for both Washington Catholics and the Vatican, deciding who that replacement should be has proven difficult for Rome to resolve. Sources in Washington and the Vatican, including the Congregation for Bishops, have spoken to CNA about a lack of consensus on who is best placed to succeed Wuerl.
Some in Rome had previously speculated that picking a successor for Wuerl might wait until after the February meeting, allowing it to be presented as part of an ongoing process of renewal. Recent events have now made his replacement a more pressing priority.
Further urgency now seems likely, given the expectation of a decision on the McCarrick case. Given the esteem Wuerl still enjoys in Rome, it is unlikely that the Vatican would announce his replacement soon after a guilty verdict on McCarrick, lest the two been seen as related events. If McCarrick’s fate is expected soon, the next archbishop of Washington may well be expected sooner still.
With the Congregation, the pope’s own inner circle of advisors, and Wuerl himself all eager to put forward their own candidates, a succession of supposed front-runners have been touted, beginning with Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, passing through Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, and now appearing to settle around either Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport or Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta.
Whoever emerges as the next Archbishop of Washington (and likely cardinal), they will have been chosen with an eye on presenting a credible face of change but one not expected to further rock the boat of the capital see.
If both McCarrick and Wuerl’s different situations can be resolved in the next few weeks, it may offer some breathing room before the February summit. But even assuming the most positive outcome and reception in both cases, little seems likely to dampen expectations for what many are calling a make-or-break meeting in Rome. Senior figures, like former member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors Marie Collins, are already warning that the meeting must produce a “practical” outcome and not merely “more talk.”
Earlier this month, Pope Francis wrote to the American bishops about the crisis of credibility facing the hierarchy. He and the Vatican are now facing three major events in the space of a few weeks. How each of them is handled could affect profoundly how quickly that credibility is regained.
Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2019 / 03:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Planned Parenthood, the largest performer of abortions in the U.S., has released its annual report, and its critics object to the organization’s increase in abortions and financial profits even as its number of adoption referrals has fallen.
“The big business of abortion is evident in this report, as Planned Parenthood turned a profit of nearly $250 million, a 150 percent increase, according to its own accounts. What a waste of taxpayer dollars,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said Jan. 21.
“While Planned Parenthood pushes talking points about healthcare, the fact remains that Planned Parenthood is the nation’s number one abortion vendor, profiting by violently ending life,” Hawkins charged. “But pregnancy is not a disease cured by abortion. Women deserve real, life-affirming care, and taxpayers deserve a return on their investment that helps women and their children, born and preborn.”
The Planned Parenthood annual report, covering the 2017-2018 fiscal year, was published over the weekend of Jan. 19-20.
The number of abortions performed by Planned Parenthood rose to 332,757, an increase of over three percent. Adoption referrals dropped by over 25 percent to 2,831. The abortion provider makes one adoption referral for every 117 abortions.
Hawkins backed the idea of defunding Planned Parenthood “to invest in life-saving care.”
Millennials and young adults prefer that tax money go to federally qualified health centers instead of Planned Parenthood, Hawkins said. She cited a Students for Life poll of 18- to 34-year-olds, conducted in January, whose respondents showed a 3-to-1 preference against tax dollars for Planned Parenthood.
Students for Life of America trains and organizes students for campus outreach to young mothers and to fellow students, with the goal of ending abortion. Since 2006 it has helped establish or build over 1,200 pro-life student chapters and has trained over 55,000 students.
While federal funds for abortion are limited, the abortion provider Planned Parenthood receives over $500 million in federal funding for programs involving contraception provision and other services.
It is also in the public eye for possible involvement in illegal sale of fetal tissue from aborted babies’ remains, after a series of videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress alleged that Planned Parenthood was involved in the sale of aborted fetal parts for profit.
The Department of Justice is currently investigating Planned Parenthood due to these videos. Congress has launched several investigations.
In 2018 Dr. Leana Wen became the new president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
“Planned Parenthood services — from birth control to cancer screenings to abortion — are standard medical care,” Wen said in the report. “Reproductive health care is health care. Women’s health care is health care. And health care is a fundamental human right.”
The report claims 12 million supporters and claims its contraceptive services averted about 400,000 pregnancies.
Harare, Zimbabwe, Jan 22, 2019 / 12:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As political protests in Zimbabwe have turned violent and even fatal, reportedly leaving at least 12 people dead, the bishops of the country have called for peaceful resolutions to the crisis.
“Zimbabwe is burning; its economy is hurting; its people are suffering. Many ordinary Zimbabweans express disappointment that hoped-for changes are yet to be felt, in access to employment, cash and broad stakeholder consultations. Our quasi currency, operating with multiple exchange rates, is fueling a national crisis,” the bishops said in a Jan. 17 letter.
“We call upon [the] Government and the Opposition to put their differences aside and work together to free Zimbabwe from economic shackles and international ostracisation.”
Last week, a sharp spike in fuel prices in Zimbabwe sparked violent protests from members of groups who oppose the current government.
According to the BBC, Presidential spokesman George Charamba told local journalists that the opposition group Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was responsible for the violence.
“The MDC leadership has been consistently pushing out the message that they will use violent street action to overturn the results of (last year's) ballot,” Caramba said.
However, the United Nations called on the Zimbabwe government to stop using “excessive” force to cull the protests, after reports surfaced that the government was conducting door-to-door searches and beating, torturing and using live ammunition on the protestors.
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced that he would be returning early from a foreign tour in order to help address the situation.
The clashes took place largely in the capital city, Harare, and the southern city of Bulawayo, where looting and riots have been reported and all schools have been forced to close. Reuters reported that more than 60 people were treated for gunshot wounds, following the government’s alleged use of live ammunition on the protestors.
News of the protests came despite government blocks on Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter messaging apps. The government said the blocks were part of an attempt to quell the violence, while human rights groups have said they were attempting to mask human rights violations.
The protests come after a long period of political and economic instability, from “the military-assisted political change that took place in November 2017 to the total shutdown of Zimbabwe's major cities and rural trading centres that began on Monday, 14 January 2019,” the bishops said.
They said that while they had hoped for good change after November 2017, they have “witnessed with sadness and concern [the] Government's piecemeal and knee-jerk reaction to the worsening economic situation, exemplified by the unilateral imposition of 2 percent tax on the country's major money-transfer and payment system and by the hefty increase in fuel prices on 12 January 2019, the immediate cause of the violent demonstrations and riots that brought Zimbabwe's major cities and rural trading centres into complete lockdown.”
The bishops said that they are “saddened and concerned” by the government’s failure to stabilize the economy, which has put the livelihood of many Zimbabweans in jeopardy, as well as by the violent riots and demonstrations, the disruption of essential services, and by the government’s intolerance for people expressing opposing views, leading to their torture and even death.
“We are writing at a time when our country is going through one of the most trying periods in its history. Once more the resilience and resolve of Zimbabweans is being put to test. We thank the many Zimbabweans who continue to pray ceaselessly for our Country. We, your Shepherds, write to you at this time to help rebuild hope, trust, confidence and stability in Zimbabwe,” the bishops said.
They encouraged the government and all citizens of Zimbabwe to help build a free country, with free elections and strong, politically inclusive institutions.
“We do not need a strong man or woman but strong institutions. We need to develop a new and challenging kind of politics, a new cooperation and harmony based on reasoned argument, generous compromise and respectful toleration,” they said.
“Zimbabwe is faced with a crisis that is not just political and economic but moral and spiritual. A new Zimbabwean politics needs to be more collaborative, inclusive and based not on one or two leaders, however effective and charismatic, but rather on strong democratic institutions that embody and secure the values of our democracy, regulate our politics, build trust and administer peace, truth and justice to all.”
The bishops urged the government to work to ease the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe rather than contribute to it, and they urged all citizens towards tolerance and peaceful, nonviolent protests that are within their constitutional rights.
“We believe in a God of second chances, who is always offering us new opportunities. Even in the midst of current tensions and disturbances there are new opportunities to rebuild hope, trust, confidence and stability in our country,” they said.
“The task at hand requires our collective responsibility in upholding everything that is good and right, to promote unity, reconciliation, and national cohesion. We wish to state our firm belief that Zimbabwe would easily become one of the best countries to live in on earth if only all of us, its people, committed to living and working with each other in harmony, tolerance and peace, putting the interests of the country before selfish and political party interests.”
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