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c. 2000 Religion News Service

Churches Criticize Philippines’ Use of Force in Hostage Standoff

(RNS) Religious leaders in the Philippines have condemned their government’s military assault on a separatist Muslim group that has been holding 19 people hostage for months on a southern island.

“A militarist approach will only exacerbate the problem,” said Sharon Rose Ruiz-Duremdes, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. She said the council’s members “cannot and will not support an all-out military attack that will endanger incalculable innocent lives,” according to Ecumenical News International, the Geneva-based religious news agency.

The Philippine military launched its attack against the Abu Sayyaf separatist Muslim group on Saturday (Sept. 16). According to military officials, government troops have captured 20 rebels since the fighting began, the Associated Press reported. Six government soldiers have been wounded and seven separatists killed.

The Abu Sayyaf has threatened to retaliate by beheading an American hostage and launching its own attack on cities in the southern Philippines.

On Wednesday (Sept. 20), Philippine President Joseph Estrada said the military attack would end if the Abu Sayyaf released its hostages, the AP reported. Two French hostages escaped Tuesday (Sept. 19), leaving 17 hostages, including 12 Filipino Christian evangelists.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines also condemned the government’s decision.

“The (bishops) do not support an assault against the Abu Sayyaf,” said Bishop Nestor Carino, a conference spokesman. “We are against violence. Although (the conference) condemns the kidnappings, it supports moves to return to the negotiating table.”

Bishop Osias Jaim, of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, said the government’s move was “long overdue” but urged the military to use caution.

“The government should apprehend them, as it should all criminal elements,” said Jaim. “But there should be no overkill.”

Former Office Manager Indicted in O’Hair’s Disappearance

(RNS) The former office manager for atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair has been indicted in the 1995 disappearance of O’Hair, her son and granddaughter.

David R. Waters, 53, was indicted Tuesday (Sept. 19) by a federal grand jury in Austin, Texas. Currently in prison serving a 60-year sentence on another charge, he is accused of extortion, kidnapping and robbery resulting in the death of another person, the Associated Press reported.

O’Hair, her son Jon Garth Murray and her granddaughter Robin Murray O’Hair disappeared five years ago with half a million dollars in gold coins. Authorities believe they were kidnapped, killed and dismembered, but federal agents have failed to uncover any remains.

O’Hair, who was 77 when she disappeared, was involved in successful court cases in the 1960s that removed government-sponsored prayer and Bible-reading from U.S. public schools.

Waters was convicted of stealing from O’Hair’s atheist organizations. He could face life in prison if he is convicted of the charges in Tuesday’s indictment.

Waters’ attorney was not immediately available for comment.

U.N. Report: Women Face Violence, Discrimination

(RNS) A new report by the United Nations Population Fund has found that discrimination and violence against women and girls “remain firmly rooted in cultures around the world.”

“Passed down from one generation to the next, ideas about `real men’ and `a woman’s place’ are instilled at an early age and are difficult to change,” said the report, “The State of the World Population 2000.”

The report highlighted a number of ongoing concerns, including efforts to make family planning available to all people.

“Today about one-third of all pregnancies _ 80 million a year _ are believed to be unwanted or mistimed,” the report said. “If women could have the number of children they wanted, the average family size in many countries would fall by nearly one child.”

It said there are some 500,000 maternal deaths in developing countries because of lack of health care before and after birth.

The report also estimated that there are 50 million abortions each year, 20 million of which are unsafe. It said some 78,000 women die each year from unsafe or illegal abortions.

The report also said that at least one in three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in some way and as many as 5,000 women and girls are murdered each year in so-called “honor” killings by members of their families.

Presbyterian Progressives Issue Theological Call to Arms

(RNS) Progressive factions within the Presbyterian Church (USA) need to take back their church and free it from fundamentalist dogma, the interim pastor of a leading liberal congregation said in a theological call to arms.

The Rev. David Bos, interim pastor of Downtown United Presbyterian Church in Rochester, N.Y., said progressives are due for another “Auburn Affirmation” reminiscent of a 1923 statement in which liberal parts of the church asserted their independence.

The 1923 statement was drafted in response to a churchwide decision to give the Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in New York City, a theology exam because he espoused unorthodox views on the inerrancy of Scripture and the virgin birth, among others.

Fosdick was eventually exonerated, but the statement drafted in his defense called on the church to “safeguard liberty of thought and teaching among its ministers.”

Bos, whose church has long been a leader for liberal causes, said it is time for a new Auburn statement and called for a convention in Auburn, N.Y., following next summer’s churchwide General Assembly.

“It is time to reclaim our church from those who would hold it captive to a certain ecclesiastical and political agenda,” Bos said from the church’s pulpit. “It is time to rescue the church from those who would impose an unseemly uniformity upon it. It is time to restore the liberty that is our rightful legacy of the Reformation.”

The 2.5 million-member church has been torn on the issue of homosexuality. At this year’s General Assembly, the church narrowly approved a ban on the blessing of same-sex unions, and next year the church will debate whether or not to ban the ordination of gays and lesbians.

A few weeks before Bos’ sermon, liberal and conservative elements in the church met for an unprecedented Bible study weekend to try to find some consensus on the authority of Scripture as it affects the debate on homosexuality.

Meeting at a church in Glen Ellyn, Ill., 10 leaders from opposing sides looked to Scripture for ways to preserve unity in the fractured church. Both sides said they plan to meet again early next year.

“When I first came into this room, I felt like I could hardly breathe,” said Michael Adee, an openly gay church leader from New Mexico, during one of the sessions. But over the weekend, Adee said, “the level of tension went down, and the level of trust began to grow.”

Conservative, Human Rights Groups Criticize China Trade Bill

(RNS) The Senate’s passage Tuesday (Sept. 19) of a measure granting permanent normal trade relations to China has drawn harsh criticism from critics in the faith and human rights community.

The 83-15 vote “sacrificed the last peaceable leverage available to the United States for initiating reform in China,” said Robert Maginnis, vice president of foreign affairs for the Family Research Council.

He echoed concerns raised by human rights groups that ending Washington’s annual review of China’s trade status and giving China the same low-tariff access to U.S. markets as other countries would take away Washington’s opportunity to call attention to China’s human rights record.

“We have given Beijing unqualified privileges, with no way of keeping their tyranny in line and holding them accountable for their human rights abuses,” Maginnis said. “China has repeatedly proved itself to be a rogue nation whose promises cannot be trusted, but the U.S. is nevertheless handing Beijing a trade deal on a silver platter. There is no accountability, no limitation, no contingency to Beijing’s trading privileges _ and so we can expect no change in their ever-worsening record of tyranny and abuse.”

His concerns were shared by Human Rights Watch.

“Congress and the administration should have used the (permanent normal trade relations status) leverage to get some human rights improvements first, before giving up the annual review process,” said Mike Jendrzejczyk, the group’s Washington director for Asia. “The timing of the (permanent normal trade relations status) vote is particularly unfortunate, just as human rights conditions are worsening. Beijing is closing down all channels of political dissent _ including on the Internet _ even while it’s opening up its economy.”

The measure, approved by the House in May, now goes to President Clinton for approval.

Despite Tensions, Cardinal Celebrates Mass With Chinese Patriotic Bishop

(RNS) Despite new tensions between Beijing and the Vatican, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray met with a high government official and celebrated a historic Mass with a bishop of China’s government-sanctioned patriotic church during a weeklong visit to China.

The 77-year-old French-born prelate was the first cardinal to celebrate Mass along with members of the Patriotic Catholic Association, a government-approved church that does not recognize papal authority and, in turn, is not recognized by the Vatican.

The cardinal’s visit to China came at a time when the Vatican is smarting over the patriotic church’s Jan. 6 ordination of five bishops with no ties to the Vatican. China has denounced the Vatican’s scheduled canonization of 120 Chinese martyrs on Oct. 1, the 51st anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

The U.S.-based Cardinal Kung Foundation reported renewed persecution of Catholics belonging to China’s underground church loyal to the Vatican. They said authorities last week arrested Bishop Zeng Jingmu, 81, who previously spent 30 years in prison.

Etchegaray, former president of the Vatican Council for Justice and Peace and the papal charity Cor Unum and currently head of the Vatican’s Holy Year committee, has often served as an unofficial papal emissary.

He arrived on his third visit to China Sept. 13 to attend a symposium on religion and peace, but from Saturday (Sept. 16), when the symposium ended, he was a guest of the patriotic church.

The Vatican said in a statement before the cardinal left Rome, however, that he was not on a “diplomatic mission,” that he was making the trip “in a personal capacity” and any meeting he might have with Chinese officials “cannot be interpreted as a recognition of the existing ecclesiastical structure.”

Beijing objects to the Oct. 1 canonizations both because they fall on its National Day and because the candidates for sainthood include a French-born martyr and others the government considers anti-Chinese. All were killed before the Communist Party took power in 1949, most of them in the Boxer Rebellion, a 19th century uprising against growing foreign influence in China.

Quote of the Day: President Clinton

(RNS) “Their only weapons are words, reason and the brave example of Aung San Suu Kyi, but these are fearful weapons to the ruling regime.”

_ President Clinton, speaking Tuesday (Sept. 19) at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on the democratic opposition movement in Myanmar, or Burma, before the debut of a play about human rights. Suu Kyi’s party won the national elections in 1990, but the ruling regime did not recognize the outcome.


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