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c. 1999 Religion News Service

Rwandan Catholic bishop pleads innocent in genocide trial

(RNS) A Rwandan Roman Catholic bishop, accused of participating in the 1994 genocide that left more than 500,000 of his countrymen dead, pleaded innocent Tuesday (Sept. 14) at the start of his trial.

Bishop Augusto Misago, reportedly the first Catholic bishop to go to trial accused of genocide, told a three-judge panel he did not help plot the 100-day slaughter or send three priests to their deaths.

In his opening statement, Misago, a Hutu, likened himself to Jesus, who he said was also unjustly accused. He insisted he is being made a scapegoat for the church’s alleged failure to stop the slaughter, Reuters reported.

The church has been bitterly criticized by human rights officials and genocide survivors for its silence during the killing frenzy. Much of the hierarchy of the church is Hutu and some members were closely allied with the extremist Hutu government that planned the genocide.

Misago, 56, is the most prominent of the more than 20 nuns and priests accused of participating in the genocide against Tutsis and moderate Hutus that began in April 1994. Many of those who died were hacked to death in churches where they had taken refuge.

The Vatican reacted with outrage to the bishop’s April 14 arrest. Top-ranking church members, including the Papal Nuncio, attended the trial’s opening session.

According to both prosecutors and defense attorneys, Misago was in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, when the killing began. When he returned to his diocese a week later, the killing was in full swing. Thousands of Tutsis sought shelter at his parish compound but he turned them away saying he had no space, he told Reuters in a recent interview.

But prosecutors contend he attended high-level meetings that organized the killing spree. Among the specific charges against him are that he sent 30 schoolchildren to their deaths at the hands of a mob of Hutus and was involved in the deaths of three priests of the diocese.”I deny all five of the charges against me; I don’t accept any of them,”he told the court.

Federal advisory board urges change in stem-cell research law

(RNS) A federal advisory panel recommended Monday (Sept. 13) that the law should be changed to permit federal funds to be used to support scientists wishing to harvest cells from human embryos for controversial stem-cell research.

The report, which has been long awaited, deals with cells that could give rise to any kind of cell in the body.

The National Bioethics Advisory Commission, which advised President Clinton, concluded that the research shows too much promise for treating an array of diseases _ from heart disease to juvenile diabetes _ to prevent it from occurring.

It urged the removal of a ban on using federal funds for such research using live human embryos, Reuters reported.”In our view, the ban conflicts with several of the ethical goals of medicine and related health disciplines, especially healing, prevention and research,”concluded the committee, which included lawyers, scientists, doctors, ethicists and other experts.

Supporters of the research say it could potentially be used to generate tissue transplants that could treat an illness such as Parkinson’s disease, where certain brain cells gradually stop working correctly.

But critics say the most potent stem cells are taken from embryos left over from attempts to make test-tube babies through in vitro fertilization. They believe destruction of such embryos is wrong.

Although the current federal law forbids use of federal funds for any research that involves human embryo destruction _ even if the embryo is slated for disposal _ privately funded scientists are free to conduct such research.

The commission argues that it would be better to have such research done under federal oversight. But it said federal money should not support research that would deliberately create an embryo for this purpose. It also opposed federal funds to aid attempts to use cloning technology to make human embryos.

Clinton, who has said in the past that he would not press for a change in federal law concerning embryo research, thanked the committee for the report. He did not say whether he would act on its recommendations.

Husband-wife team proposed to lead Baptist group’s missions

(RNS) A husband-and-wife missionary team will be nominated to lead the global missions program of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

A search committee plans to recommend veteran missionaries Gary and Barbara Baldridge to serve as co-coordinators of the group’s Atlanta-based missionary staff. The moderate Baptist group has been working to fill the position since the retirement of Keith Parks last June.

Gary Baldridge has served as interim global missions coordinator, but the couple would share equally in the coordinator’s duties, said Sanford Smith of Greensboro, N.C., chair of the search committee.

Barbara Baldridge would be the first woman to fill a top administrative post in the fellowship, reported Associated Baptist Press, an independent news service. She has been operations director of a ministry in Atlanta that offers food and financial aid to disadvantaged persons.

She said the joint nomination indicates the fellowship’s commitment to missionary spouses having equal roles.”The message is that we do see women in ministry as being as gifted as anyone else,”Gary Baldridge said.

The committee is scheduled to recommend the couple at the fellowship’s Coordinating Council on Oct. 14 in Atlanta.”This is kind of coloring outside the lines as far as management is concerned,”said Smith.”But we think they have the skills that will make it work. We feel comfortable with it.” The fellowship, organized in 1991, is one of several groups of moderate Baptists that have developed since the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.

British church school group wants to keep right to cane pupils

(RNS) A group of 40 Christian schools in Great Britain says it will launch a legal fight to keep the right to administer corporal punishment to its pupils despite Parliament’s outlawing of the practice.

At least one school, the Cedar School in east London, has closed down rather than accept the new law, saying that”corporal discipline”is a biblical imperative and is necessary to produce well-behaved and socially responsible individuals.”The Bible involves corporal discipline, just as God our father sometimes punishes us his children,”said Steve Sherwood, a teacher at the school.”We closed the school because to continue would be not giving honor to God and the biblical command.” The ban on corporal punishment in private schools took effect on Sept. 1. The ban has been in place for state-run schools since 1987.

The coalition of 40 Christian schools said it will take its case to the European Court of Human Rights.”This is an issue of parental rights and parental choice,”Phil Williamson, head teacher of the Christian Fellowship School in Liverpool told Ecumenical News International, the Geneva-based religious news agency.”For us, parents should have the right for the values and standards of the home to apply in the school.”Physical punishment within a loving relationship has been tried and tested for centuries,”he added.”It’s part of the Judeo-Christian heritage.” But the ban on corporal punishment was welcomed by the Independent Schools Council, which represents four-fifths of the some 2,000 private schools in Britain, most of which long ago abandoned the practice.”Many schools concluded, long before any form of legal ban was contemplated, that corporal punishment impeded good education,”the ISC said in a statement.

Anglican bishops meet amid tensions on issues, structures

(RNS) Bishop Richard Holloway, head of the Scottish Episcopal Church, opened the 11th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council on Tuesday (Sept. 14) with a sermon underscoring what he called the contradictions between the Christian church’s institutional nature and the ministry for which Jesus called it into being.”The Church has the impossible task of being an organization, with an unavoidable power structure, that exists to preserve the memory of one whose mission was to oppose the processes and sacrifices of power, because they are almost always exercised at the cost of the individual _ and it was individuals he was interested in, especially those who had been beaten up by the world’s power systems,”said the bishop, a controversial figure both within Scotland and among his fellow Anglicans.

Holloway is one the foremost advocates of gay rights within the church. In addition, he has called for a royal commission to examine the way in which Britain deals with its drug problem.

The ACC is meeting in Dundee, Scotland.

It brings together bishops, priests and lay people representing all the 38 autonomous provinces of the Anglican Communion. It meets every two or three years between the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference, which brings together all the world’s Anglican bishops.

The communion is sharply divided over the role of gays in the church, and some prelates have refused to attend the meeting because it is being hosted by Holloway.

Jesus, Holloway said,”expressed God’s absolute love for those outside the great institutional enclosures, with their ethic of survival and power. It was the victims of institutional power he went after. He lived among them, and died as one of them.” Holloway said”the pain of being (the) church”came in recognizing that the church is supposed to express the same uncompromising stance of unconditional acceptance as Jesus while knowing the system invented to do the job was not up to it because it was run by humans.”So, in trying to embody the absoluteness of God’s love, we cannot help but contradict it,”Holloway said.

Yet without the church, he said, nothing would be known about the Jesus whose message it so consistently compromised.”I would not be beating my breast about the failings of the church today and my part in those failures if the church had not introduced me to that mysterious, unavoidable man from Nazareth,”he said.

Israeli, Palestinian tourism officials promise millennium cooperation

(RNS) Israeli and Palestinian tourism ministers met Monday (Sept. 13) in Bethlehem, the city where Jesus was born, and promised to step up cooperation to prepare for the millions of pilgrims expected in the region during the millennium year.”To the extent we can bring more tourists, it will be better for everyone, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority,”said Israel’s tourism minister, Amnon Lipkin Shahak, at a press conference.”We have to cooperate on the technical issues, such as road congestion, as well as giving answers in real time,”he added.

Palestinians, in particular, want to ease travel restrictions between Jerusalem, which is under Israeli control, and Bethlehem, within the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. Christian pilgrims need to move easily between the two holy cities, said Palestinian Tourism Minister Mizri Abu Eitta at the press conference.

Quote of the day: the Rev. Fernando Enns of the Mennonite Church in Germany.

(RNS)”Everyone is against violence, of course, but what then? What are we doing to create a culture of peace? What means are we using to overcome violence?” _ The Rev. Fernando Enns of the Mennonite Church in Germany who successfully recommended that the World Council of Churches declare the period from 2001 to 2010 as a Decade to Overcome Violence. He was quoted by Ecumenical News International, the Geneva-based religious news service.


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