The world has again been stunned by a jihadist attack, after two knife-wielding men burst into a church in a suburb of Rouen, France, killed an elderly priest — Fr. Jacques Hamel — during morning mass, and took hostages.
Sr. Danielle, one of the nuns who attended the mass said that the men, armed with knives, forced the priest to his knees before cutting his throat. “They recorded it; it was like they were performing a sermon in Arabic around the altar. It was horrific.”
Two nuns and one parishioner exited the church, followed by the attackers, one of whom was carrying a gun, who charged police shouting “Allahu akbar” (God is great). The attackers were shot dead by police.
The perpetrators have been named as Adel Kermiche and Abdel-Malik Petitjean, both 19. Both attackers were known to the French security services, having tried to reach Syria to join the so-called Islamic State (IS) and been turned back. IS said two of its “soldiers” had carried out the attack.
During the press conference on the flight back to Rome after World Youth Day, a journalist, Antoine Marie Izoarde, asked the Holy Father: “Why do you, when you speak of these violent events, always speak of terrorists, but never of Islam; never use the word Islam?”
Pope Francis responded: “I don’t like to speak of Islamic violence, because every day, when I browse the newspapers, I see violence, here in Italy … this one who has murdered his girlfriend, another who has murdered the mother-in-law … and these are baptized Catholics!
There are violent Catholics! If I speak of Islamic violence, I must speak of Catholic violence … and no, not all Muslims are violent, not all Catholics are violent. It is like a fruit salad; there’s everything. There are violent persons of this religion … this is true: I believe that in pretty much every religion there is always a small group of fundamentalists. Fundamentalists. We have them. When fundamentalism comes to kill, it can kill with the language — the Apostle James says this, not me — and even with a knife, no? I do not believe it is right to identify Islam with violence. This is not right or true.
I had a long conversation with the imam, the Grand Imam of the Al-Azhar University, and I know how they think … They seek peace, encounter … The nuncio to an African country told me that the capital where he is there is a trail of people, always full, at the Jubilee Holy Door
And some approach the confessionals — Catholics — others to the benches to pray, but the majority go forward, to pray at the altar of Our Lady … these are Muslims, who want to make the Jubilee. They are brothers, they live …
When I was in Central Africa, I went to them, and even the imam came up on the Popemobile … We can coexist well … But there are fundamentalist groups, and even I ask … there is a question … How many young people, how many young people of our Europe, whom we have left empty of ideals, who do not have work… they take drugs, alcohol, or go there to enlist in fundamentalist groups?
One can say that the so-called ISIS, but it is an Islamic State which presents itself as violent … because when they show us their identity cards, they show us how on the Libyan coast how they slit the Egyptians’ throats or other things … But this is a fundamentalist group which is called ISIS … but you cannot say, I do not believe, that it is true or right that Islam is terrorist.”
I certainly don’t know how I would answer the question asked on the spur of the moment. I can understand the meandering of Pope Francis in trying to avoid identifying Islam with terrorism. After all, we all know so many tolerant and peace loving Muslims. With our Western eyes, we tend to see social alienation, unemployment, lack of adequate housing or education, feelings of hopelessness and the absence of ideals as the underlying causes of terrorism.
We have to see things with jihadist eyes. Those who slit throats or carry out suicide bombings clearly believe that their actions do owe much to their religious faith.
It is not politically correct to say so, but violence was definitely part of the rise and expansion of Islam. At the time, no one found anything blameworthy in Muhammad’s military action since wars were part of the Arab Bedouin culture. Today, the problem is that the fiercest Muslim groups continue to adopt that model.
In the Qur’an, there are verses in favour of religious tolerance, and other verses that are aggressive and openly opposed to tolerance. Therefore, the doctors of the Islamic law are obliged to say that they do not agree with those who choose to adopt the verse of the sword as normative, even if they cannot condemn them. There are two different choices, the aggressive and the peaceful, and both of them are acceptable. There is a need for an authority, unanimously acknowledged by Muslims, that could say: from now on, only this verse is valid. But this has not happened and helps to explain some of the silence of Imams and other Islamic leaders
This means that when some fanatic slits the throat of an old man or bombs women and children in the market place in the name of pure and authentic Islam or in the name of the Muslim tradition, nobody can tell them: “You are not true and authentic Muslims.” As Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, S.J. puts it, “All they can say is: ‘Your reading of Islam is not ours.’ And this is the ambiguity of Islam, from its beginning to the present day; violence is a part of it, although it is also possible to choose tolerance; tolerance is a part of it, but it is also possible to choose violence.”
We also need new eyes to revisit one of the themes of Pope Benedict XVI’s address given at the University of Regensburg in 2006, as how we understand God’s nature has implications for whether we judge particular human choices and actions to be unreasonable. This is not just an issue for academia but where the rubber hits the road.
☩ Frederick Henry
On May 14th, in Edmonton and Calgary, there were Parents for Choice in Education Rallies protesting against Bill 10 and Minister David Eggen’s Gender Diversity: Guidelines for Best Practices There were also much smaller LGBT counter protests.
Despite the differing signage, ranging from “Flush Bill 10” to “Everyone Can Pee,” the issues are not just about bathrooms, plumbing and urination, parental rights, safety of children, how people feel, GSAs and an imperfect Bill 10. What is at stake is the very order of creation.
Mr. Eggen's guiding principle for best practices is: “self-identification is the sole measure of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” This foundational statement is simply assumed to be true and no evidence is offered to substantiate the claim.
Such subjectivity is ever expansive and morally problematic. LGBT has now swelled to LGBTTQQIAAP2S. The two Ts stand for transgender and transsexual and the double Qs represent both “queer” and “questioning”. The I is for intersex; the twin As for “asexual” and “ally”—the latter meaning you’re hetero but down with the cause. P is for pansexual, the catch-all for being up for pretty much anything depending on the situation. The newest addition is the “2S” which denotes being two-spirited, a term used for one who does not fit into the male/female binary. Some have even added “BDSM” for those into bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism.
However, facts, not ideology, determine reality. On April 6, 2016, the American College of Pediatricians, representing more than a hundred pediatricians, issued an important statement concerning gender ideology stating:
- Human sexuality is an objective biological binary trait: “XY” and “XX” are genetic markers of health – not genetic markers of a disorder. The norm for human design is to be conceived either male or female. Human sexuality is binary by design with the obvious purpose being the reproduction and flourishing of our species.
- No one is born with a gender. Everyone is born with a biological sex. Gender (awareness and sense of oneself as male or female) is a sociological and psychological concept; not an objective biological one. No one is born with an awareness of themselves as male or female; this awareness develops over time and, like all developmental processes, may be derailed by a child’s subjective perceptions, relationships, and adverse experiences from infancy forward. People who identify as “feeling like the opposite sex” or “somewhere in between” do not comprise a third sex. They remain biological men or biological women.
- A person’s belief that he or she is something they are not is, at best, a sign of confused thinking. When an otherwise healthy biological boy believes he is a girl, or an otherwise healthy biological girl believes she is a boy, an objective psychological problem exists that lies in the mind not the body, and it should be treated as such. These children suffer from gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria (GD), formerly listed as Gender Identity Disorder (GID), is a recognized mental disorder in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-V). The psychodynamic and social learning theories of GD/GID have never been disproved.
The College’s statement meshes perfectly with biblical and theological truths.
The primordial divine plan was spoken of clearly by Christ himself: “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female? (Mt.19:4).” At the core we see the father and the mother, a couple with their personal story of love: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Gen.2:24).” The result of this union is that, both physically and in the union of their hearts and lives, and eventually, in a child who will share not only genetically but also spiritually in the “flesh” of both parents. The family is thus the place where parents become their children’s first teachers.
Pope Francis, “the who am I to judge” Pope, has not minced his words: “the gender ideology is demonic.” He includes gender theory among the fundamental dangers of our era, with the same threatening potential as nuclear weapons and gene manipulation and describes it as an attitude with which man creates a new sin that is directed against God the Creator.
In his long awaited Apostolic Exhortation on the Family, the Joy of Love, Pope Francis renews his criticism of gender theory:
“Yet another challenge is posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender that denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programmes and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time.”
“It is a source of concern that some ideologies of this sort, which seek to respond to what are at times understandable aspirations, manage to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised. It needs to be emphasized that biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated” (56)
“Beyond the understandable difficulties which individuals may experience, the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created, for thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation… Sex education should help young people to accept their own bodies and to avoid the pretension to cancel out sexual differences because one no longer know how to deal with it.” (285)
☩ Frederick Henry
In one of his homilies (29/04/2013), Pope Francis commented on the text: "God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all" [1 Jn 1:5]. He pointed out that "we all have darkness in our lives, moments where everything, even our consciousness, is in the dark." But this does not mean we walk in darkness:
Walking in darkness means being overly pleased with ourselves, believing that we do not need salvation. That is darkness! When we continue on this road of darkness, it is not easy to turn back. Therefore, John continues, because this way of thinking made him reflect: 'If we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us'. Look to your sins, to our sins, we are all sinners, all of us… This is the starting point. But if we confess our sins, He is faithful, He is so just He forgives us our sins, cleansing us from all unrighteousness… The Lord who is so good, so faithful, so just that He forgives.
Pope Francis urges us to stand in front of the Lord "with our truth of sinners," "with confidence, even with joy, without masquerading… shame is a virtue: blessed shame." This is the virtue that Jesus asks of us: humility and meekness.
The process of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) has brought about a painful awakening for so many Catholics, and we see our culpability much more clearly than we did before. Some of the darkness has been lifted and our "blessed shame" has occasioned many apologies, before and during the TRC process, and has taught us much about humility and meekness.
Although many priests, brothers, sisters and lay people served in the residential school with generosity, faithfulness, care and respect for their students, this was not always the case. The TRC final report rightly observes that when Christians, through the residential schools, belittled Indigenous students as pagans or demonized, and punished and terrorized them into accepting Christian beliefs, this was in fundamental contradiction to the core beliefs of Christianity. In addition to the reprehensible crimes of sexual abuse, the failures to respect the identity and freedom of Indigenous children outlined in the TRC report are saddening and must never be repeated.
The TRC's Call to Action, recommendation #48 states: "We call upon the church parties to the Settlement Agreement, and all other faith groups and interfaith social justice groups in Canada who have not already done so, to formally adopt and comply with the principles, norms, and standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation."
Four Catholic organizations — the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Canadian Religious Conference, the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council, and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace — in responding to the questions raised on the legal concepts known as Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius (no one's land) have issued two documents on March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the principal saint of Canada.
The Catholic response to Call to Action #48 issues an appeal to all Catholics to make eight commitments in order to walk together in breaking open a future of acceptance, respect, justice, and reconciliation. I will cite four of those commitments that have particular relevance to our Diocese:
- Continue to work with Catholic educational institutions and programs of formation in learning to tell the history of Canada in a way that is truthful, ensuring proper treatment of the history and experience of Indigenous Peoples, including the experience of oppression and marginalization which resulted from the Indian Act, the Residential School system, and frequent ignoring or undermining of signed treaties.
- Work with centres of pastoral and clergy formation to promote a culture of encounter by including the study of the history of Canadian missions, with both their weaknesses and strengths, which encompasses the history of the Indian Residential Schools. In doing this, it will be important to be attentive to Indigenous versions of Canadian history, and for these centres to welcome and engage Indigenous teachers in the education of clergy and pastoral workers, assuring that each student has the opportunity to encounter Indigenous cultures as part of their formation.
- Encourage initiatives that would establish and strengthen a restorative justice model within the criminal justice system. Incarceration rates among Indigenous people are many times higher than among the general population, and prisons are not sufficiently places of reconciliation and rehabilitation. Such initiatives include the renewal of the criminal justice system through sentencing and healing circles and other traditional Indigenous ways of dealing with offenders where appropriate and desired by Indigenous Peoples.
- Support the current national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and work with others towards a healthier society where just relations flourish in families and communities, and where those most vulnerable are protected and valued.
The second document responds to the errors and falsehood perpetrated, often by Christians, during and following the so-called Age of Discovery. Both documents and appendixes can be found on the CCCB website, http://www.cccb.ca/site/index.php?lang=eng.
☩ Frederick Henry