Malcolm, Teresa, National Catholic Reporter
Austrian leader draws reproach from Vatican
Two days before he was scheduled to present a Christmas tree to Pope John Paul II, Austrian right-wing leader Jorg Haider drew a mild Vatican reproach for his statements on immigration.
In an interview published Dec. 14, Haider suggested he and the pope were in basic agreement about slowing down the influx of immigrants into Europe, particularly Muslims.
"We agree with the pope when he says the immigration flow should be moderated. Besides, the church is well aware of the religious problem connected with immigration, since many come from Muslim countries," Haider said.
The same day, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told reporters that Haider had misinterpreted the pope's thinking. "I think one could say that this comment is a simplification and, from what I know, incorrect -- as is obvious," Navarro-Valls said.
Haider, the governor of the province of Carinthia and the former leader of the Austrian Freedom Party, was to attend a Vatican ceremony Dec. 16 to celebrate the donation of the pope's Christmas tree, which came from Carinthia this year.
The ceremony has prompted criticism and protests. The Israeli Foreign Ministry and Jewish organizations have called on the pope to cancel the encounter. Haider has built his reputation largely on anti-immigrant positions, as well as on statements of sympathy for some policies of Hitler and his Nazi regime.
The Vatican has downplayed the ceremony, pointing out that it was arranged well before Haider became governor. Navarro-Valls also said papal audiences typically follow "pastoral criteria" and are not really comparable to meetings between heads of states or political leaders.
Bethlehem protesters hold candlelight march
For the first time in almost two months, Manger Square and the street of Bethlehem were filled with people after dark as several hundred people participated in a candlelight march Dec. 10 to protest Israeli-Palestinian clashes.
"In the last few months Bethlehem has been dead after 4 p.m. because fear has captured the life of the people," said Viola Raheb of the International Center of Bethlehem, which with the Christian Churches of Bethlehem and the National and Islamic Emergency Committee organized the march. "This march is a sign that we will not let fear and anger take away our lives. We will take back our streets," Raheb said.
Bethlehem Mayor Hanna Nasser, along with Christian and Muslim religious leaders, led the march. Nasser said the city would have only "minimal" celebrations during Christmas, involving the traditional religious processions.
"We are condemning very strongly what is happening in Palestine and we are calling upon the U.N. to take resolutions very quickly and to send in [forces], not just observers, ... until we can restart the negotiations," he said before the start of the march.
Act barring Catholics from monarchy challenged
A legal challenge to the 1701 Act of Settlement, which bars Roman Catholics or those married to Roman Catholics from the British throne is being mounted by one of Britain's major newspaper, The Guardian.
The 1701 act bars from the throne anyone who "is, are or shall be reconciled to or shall hold communion with the see or church of Rome or shall profess the popish religion or marry a papist."
Last December the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously to ask the Westminster Parliament to repeal the Act of Settlement. Church leaders who have expressed misgivings about the act remaining in force include Archbishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster and Cardinal Thomas Winning of Glasgow.
The legal challenge to the act will allege its incompatibility with the Human Rights Act, which came into force this year, incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into British law. …