The Christian Review 2018

Holy Land Religious Leaders claim, “POLITICAL PERSECUTION LEADS TO THE CLOSURE OF CHRISTIANITY’S HOLIEST SITE”

Deal W. Hudson
February 27, 2018

The following is a press release and statement from THEOPHILOS III, Patriarch of Jerusalem; FRANCESCO PATTON, Custos of the Holy Land; NOURHAN MANOUGIAN, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem regarding their decision to close the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to protest Israel’s taxation of Church property. Readers should be aware that the Church awarded custody of all the “Holy Places” in the Holy Land to the Franciscan Order in 1347. I have bolded some of the more important sections. Note the decision to collect “retroactive taxes.” (The Editor)

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. POLITICAL PERSECUTION LEADS TO THE CLOSURE OF CHRISTIANITY’S HOLIEST SITE

The leaders of Jerusalem’s churches have today announced the unprecedented decision to close the Church of the Holy Sepulcher until further notice, in protest at persistent moves to intimidate Christians and discriminate against churches in the Holy Land. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which dates back to the fourth century, is considered to contain the sites of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, making it the holiest site in the world for Christians.

The decision to close the Holy Sepulchre comes in response to recent actions by the Jerusalem Municipality and by members of the Israeli Knesset. The Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, is attempting to enforce a punitive and retroactive tax on church properties in the Holy City. Furthermore, Knesset member, Rachel Azaria (“Kulanu” party)  is seeking to advance the “Bill of Church Lands”, which would give the Israeli government the power to confiscate church property. These actions contravene the long-held Status Quo which is foundational to the guarantee of the churches’ rights and privileges in the Holy Land; and critically undermines the ability of churches to carry out their pastoral mission of housing the community, feeding the poor, caring for refugees, running schools for local children and maintaining the holy sites. Above all, they imperil the continuation of the Christian presence in Jerusalem.

The closure was announced on Sunday by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Catholic Custos of the Holy Land and the Armenian Patriarch. Their joint statement argues that ‘the systematic campaign against the Churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land’ has ‘reached an unprecedented level as the Jerusalem municipality issued scandalous collection notices and orders of the seizure of Church assets, properties and bank accounts for alleged debts of punitive municipal taxes.’  The statement also highlights the ‘discriminatory and racist bill that targets solely the properties of the Christian community in the Holy Land.’

Both developments come in a period when Christians are suffering an escalating campaign of intimidation from radical settler groupsChurches face daily desecration and vandalism and Christians are regularly subjected to violent assault as they travel to pray. These groups have long used intimidation, bribery and extremely anti-social behavior in an attempt to force Christians and other non-Jews out of the Holy City. While their actions clearly contravene Israeli law their crimes go largely unchecked.

Today’s statement reads as follows:

Statement on Municipal threats and the discriminatory “Church Lands Bill” 25.02.2018

We, the heads of Churches in charge of the Holy Sepulcher and the Status Quo governing the various Christian Holy Sites in Jerusalem – the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Custody of the Holy Land and the Armenian Patriarchate – are following with great concern the systematic campaign against the Churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land, in flagrant violation of the existing Status Quo.

Recently, this systematic and offensive campaign has reached an unprecedented level as the Jerusalem municipality issued scandalous collection notices and orders of the seizure of Church assets, properties and bank accounts for alleged debts of punitive municipal taxes. A step that is contrary to the historic position of the Churches within the Holy City of Jerusalem and their relationship with the civil authorities. These actions breach existing agreements and international obligations which guarantee the rights and the privileges of the Churches, in what seems as an attempt to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem. The greatest victims in this are those impoverished families who will go without food and housing, as well as the children who will be unable to attend school.

The systematic campaign of abuse against Churches and Christians reaches now its peak as a discriminatory and racist bill that targets solely the properties of the Christian community in the Holy Land is being promoted. This abhorrent bill is set to advance today in a meeting of a ministerial committee which if approved would make the expropriation of the lands of churches possible. This reminds us all of the laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during dark periods in Europe.

This systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land severely violates the most basic, ab antiquo [of an ancient date] and sovereign rights, trampling on the delicate fabric of relations between the Christian community and the authorities for decades.

THEREFORE, and recalling the Statement of the Patriarchs and Heads of Local Churches in Jerusalem, dated 14 February 2018 and their previous statement of September 2017, as a measure of protest, we decided to take this unprecedented step of a closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Together with all Heads of Churches in the Holy Land, we stand united, firm and resolute in protecting our rights and our properties.

May the Holy Spirit answer our prayers and bring a resolution to this historic Crisis in our Holy City.

THEOPHILOS III, Patriarch of Jerusalem
FRANCESCO PATTON, Custos of the Holy Land
NOURHAN MANOUGIAN, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem

Background:

Further information on the actions of the Jerusalem Municipality

In early 2018, the Municipality announced that it would start collecting property tax from church-owned properties. As well as hotels and businesses, the targeted properties include residences for the community including those within monasteries, community centers, schools, and clinics. These properties are central to the churches’ work in the community and provide vital income for the community services that churches provide for residents. Further, the Municipality is seeking to force the churches to pay these taxes retroactively. In response to their protest that these taxes are unlawful and unjust, the Municipality has charged assets and properties of churches as well as the bank accounts of some churches.

Further information on the Bill of Church Lands

This bill was first proposed by Rachel Azaria, a member of the Knesset for Kulanu. She was previously deputy mayor of Jerusalem. The bill had been signed by 40 members (one-third of the Knesset) and was first submitted to the Chairman of the Knesset and the Deputies of the Chairman and presented to the Knesset on the 26 July 2017.

Crucially, the bill gives the state the right to confiscate Churches’ land, if such land has attached to it leasehold rights and the Church awards any rights, on such lands, to any party that is not a party of the original leasehold. The bill has been referred to a committee headed by Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked. Shaked is a member of the ‘Jewish Home’ party. That committee is due to meet today Sunday to consider advancing the bill.

Further information on the activity of radical settler groups

These groups seek to coerce residents in the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem to leave. They have a long track record of extreme anti-social behavior, including desecration and vandalism of Christian property and holy sites, physical and verbal assault of Christians and Christian clergy and intimidation of non-Jews.

The Haaretz journalist Nir Hasson has uncovered evidence of the chairman of Ateret Cohanim use of various underhanded tactics including offering prostitutes to Palestinian property owners to encourage them to transfer their property to the group. Hasson found recordings of the group threatening owners that they will publicise the negotiations unless owners comply with the settler group. Hasson writes that such publicity would endanger an owner’s life. The recordings demonstrate that these settlers often work through intermediaries to hide their involvement. They even offer to help the sellers with unresolved issues with the Israel Tax Authority or the Jerusalem Municipality

The Jaffa Gate case

The case of the properties around the Jaffa Gate stands as a particularly worrying example of the actions of these settler groups. In 2004, a rogue employee of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem signed over long-term leases for three properties to one of these groups, Ateret Cohanim. The employee, Nikolas Papadimas had been given a power of attorney by then-Patriarch Irenaios, who denied giving the power of attorney for this purpose and claimed that Papadimas had made him sign a version that he did not approve. The deal was done with no legal representation on the part of the Patriarchate. None of the clergy, including the leadership, in the Patriarchate, knew about the deal. The Synod of the Patriarchate was not informed about the deal. No funds were received by the Patriarchate for the properties.

The purported deal awards the settler group a 99-year lease over the properties, with the option to extend for another 99 years. This lease does not affect the rights of the sitting tenants but places the settler group as their landlord. In 2004, the Patriarchate refused to accept the deal. The settler group took the Patriarchate to court to enforce their claimed right. The court battle lasted a decade and the Patriarchate was able to prove: that the employee in question had received a bribethat there was bad faith, that there was a conspiracy to make this deal and that the agreements lacked due authority from the Patriarchate. Despite this, the District Court wrongfully ruled in July 2017 against the Patriarchate.

Therefore, in the first week of November, the Patriarchate lodged an appeal to the High Court of Justice. Were this appeal to prove unsuccessful, the results would be immensely damaging to the integrity of the Old City. The properties in question are the Imperial Hotel, the Petra Hotel and a small house situated on a small plot of land near Herod’s Gate. The hotels are both on “Omar Ibn Al-Khattab” square, the very entrance of the Jaffa Gate and in the heart of the Christian Quarter the seat of all the Patriarchates’ and Churches’ administration headquarters and less than 500 meters away from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. If the settler group were to gain control of these properties, they would be able to pressure the tenants out of the property. There is the very real potential that they would be aided in this goal by the civic organs of the city of Jerusalem. Once they had forced the tenants out, they would be able to pursue their aggressive campaign of removing non-Jews from the city and from these strategic centers at the heart of the Christian Quarter, threatening the very presence of Christians in the Holy Land.

[]Hasson’s investigation in Haaretz has since demonstrated that Ateret Cohanim lied to the Jerusalem District Court about their evaluation of the value of the properties.

The Simple Reason Why We Should Hope Hell Exists

Deal W. Hudson
March 31, 2018

You’ve heard that Pope Francis may not believe in the existence of Hell, but all Catholics should hope he is wrong.  Why? The simple reason is this: Take away Hell, and you have taken away human freedom, dignity, and the imago Dei (Genesis 1.27).

It’s relatively simple, also, to understand why some theologians believe the Divine Caritas trumps human choices, even the fundamental choice of turning away from Him. If God is Perfect Love, after all, then it follows that God forgives those who “sin against the Holy Spirit.” Love, it is asserted, is Perfect when it forgives all and ignores how a person’s life has been lived.

In fact, this cannot be Perfect Love. Such Love does not ignore the unique dignity of the creature He made in his “own image and likeness.” Strip the person of his freedom to choose separation from God, even eternal separation, and you have lowered him to the level of farmyard animals.

Imagine meeting St. Peter at the gates of Heaven and finding out that nothing you choose, either for good or ill, made any difference in your eternal destiny, that all your efforts to live a good life and avoid evil had nothing to do with your being there.  You realize your entrance to Paradise was guaranteed all along by God’s Perfect Love.

In other words, God does not want you to suffer eternal punishment.  If so, what happens to the meaning of Christ’s Crucifixion? How can his voluntary death be seen as an act of love, an act belonging to Divine Will? If God does not will the creatures created in his image, why would he submit Himself to paying for sins that don’t really matter?

If Hell does not exist, both Good Friday and Easter make no sense — our human destiny has always been secured by the nature of God, His Perfect Love.

To my mind, the latest “mistranslated” remark of Pope Francis is the most perplexing of all since it cuts to the heart of what it means to be a Christian.

Pope Francis Gives the Democrats a Gift — But It Won’t Work

Deal W. Hudson
April 11, 2018

Writing for NEWSMAX, I explained why Pope Francis’s recent attempt to set abortion and immigration on the equal moral ground cannot be rationally defended. Yes, they have the principle of ‘loving thy neighbor’ in common, but they are distinctly different kinds of moral judgments.

Pope Francis get’s it. He understands why 52 percent of Catholic voters helped to elect Donald Trump in the face of fierce resistance from nearly all the of the U.S. Bishops, and the pontiff himself.

What Pope Francis gets is precisely what has historically pushed Catholic Democrats to vote for Republican presidents such as Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump — the abortion issue.

To remedy this, the pope has published an Apostolic Exhortation, On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World,” with the resulting headline from The New York Times: “Pope Puts Caring for Immigrants and Abortion on Equal Footing” (Jason Horowitz, April 9, 2018).

The headline, unlike most on the Catholic Church, is not an exaggeration, as seen in the following from the Pope, “Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned.”

This is no mere throw offline; he reiterates it, connecting the issue of abortion and immigration directly to politics: “Some Catholics consider it [migrants] a secondary issue compared to the ‘grave’ bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. (Emphasis added) “Such a thing is understandable,” yes, Pope Francis gets it — he realizes that a political candidate who is pro-life will attract Catholic voters when pitted against a rival who supports abortion-on-demand while insisting our national borders remain porous for the thousands of illegal immigrants who cross it each month.

The context of these statements in an exhortation on the “Call to Holiness,” suggests Pope Francis realizes the issue of abortion for Catholic voters is not a “single issue” at all — abortion connects to concerns about the moral dissipation of the culture in general.

Catholics regard a pro-life candidate as someone who will stand against the increasing tawdriness of culture which mocks religion and puts deviance on display. In other words, a pro-life candidate resonates with the still socially conservative America. (This is why I predicted pro-life Catholics would support Trump as early as February 2016).

In 2016, Catholic voters rocked the liberal, Democrat-aligned, Catholic establishment by ignoring the nonstop attacks on Trump and his “wall” by Catholic bishops, priests, nuns, professors, and journalists. Indeed, their voices chimed in with the same message throughout the campaign: Immigration is a “life issue,” putting it on par with the defense of innocent life. Pope Francis now seeks to codify that message. But it won’t succeed, and I will explain why.

His apostolic exhortation ignores the basic moral problem in equating immigration with abortion: prudential judgment (see my explanation here). Any Catholic’s opinion and action on what the bishops have called “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us” has no single answer.

 Do we support the “catch and release” ordered by President Obama? Do we support enforcing our laws pertaining to entering the United States? Do we build walls? No church teaching obligates a Catholic to a specific answer to these questions of public policy.

On the other hand, the question about whether to abort or not to abort has only one answer — no. Abortion is not a prudential matter. Some have called it one of the “non-negotiables,” others a “settled issue,” but the moral difference is clear.

Certainly, Pope Francis is right about this: at a general level, both abortion and immigration do meet on equal ground — the principle of loving one’s neighbor. But, as has been explained, that moral equality doesn’t confer equality on the type of moral judgments Catholics are obliged to make, one is liable to a variety of answers, the other is not.

To give an example of the distinction, here is a portion of letter written by the President of the USCCB, Archbishop Wilton Gregory to President Bush about the Iraq War: As Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, then president of the USCCB, wrote to President George W. Bush: “People of good will may apply ethical principles and come to different prudential judgments, depending upon their assessment of the facts at hand and other issues” (“Letter to President Bush on Iraq,” Sept. 13, 2002).

I’m not convinced that Pope Francis recognizes the “goodwill” of those Catholics who disagree with his view of immigration. As he puts it, “This is not a notion invented by some Pope or a momentary fad. In today’s world too, we are called to follow the path of spiritual wisdom proposed by the prophet Isaiah to show what is pleasing to God.”

Pope Francis has done his best to prop up the those Catholic Democrats who continue to promote abortion, support government funding of Planned Parenthood, and ignore the church’s teaching on life. His apostolic exhortation does not change Catholic moral teaching because, as I have shown, the claim the Pope is trying to make cannot be rationally defended.

In spite of the headlines, the Pope’s gift to the Democrats will not be of much use to them in propping up their Catholic credentials. Lay Catholic voters will see through this claim just as they saw through the church’s barrage of anti-Trump rhetoric in the historic 2016 presidential election.

 

What My Son Needs to Know Which I Learned Too Late

Deal W. Hudson
May 8, 2018

The one vivid memory I have of my grandmother, Nana, my father’s mother, was her sitting in a rocking chair smoking one cigarette after another while I sat on the floor of her darkened bedroom, the tall curtains drawn and the air filled with smoke.

It was the annual, or bi-annual ritual, this visit to the Alamo Heights home in San Antonio where my father, Jack, and his two brothers, Morley and Howard, were raised. I was ‘taken in’ to the bedroom, sat on the floor, the door was closed, and Nana began talking, a burning cigarette posed between her fingers and occasionally dipping to the ashtray on the small metal table beside her.

“Never expect justice in this world,” Nana told me, over and over again. On every visit, she would repeat that phrase, and after every visit, I would leave the room puzzling over what she meant. After all, I wasn’t even a teenager yet. The hard bruises of life were yet to appear on my flesh, and my heart was yet unbroken.

Nana’s words would come back to me countless times as I grew older, but it was a long, long time before I allowed them to take root in my basic attitude towards life or my expectations of the future. Looking back, I was clearly a very slow learner.

I reached 40 years of age still expecting people ‘to do the right thing,’ to return kindness for kindness, ‘to do unto others. . . .,’ and those kinds of things. I understood people made mistakes, could act selfishly and cruelly — certainly, I did. But what always caught me by surprised were deliberate, intentional acts of betrayal, dishonesty, and meanness. I was not programmed, as it were, to expect them, in spite of Nana’s attempts to prepare me.

When I try to remember the moment I lost what could be called my naiveté, it was my experience of being suddenly scorned by a group of nuns who ran a Catholic college where I had been asked to serve as a visiting professor. I had served several semesters there, very happily it seems for all concerned when I noticed the sisters were avoiding me and scowling at me when I attempted to speak to them. I was hurt.

When I asked friends on the faculty what had happened, the reason was explained, but it was an extremely petty matter that could have been cleared up with a few minutes of honest conversation.  Instead, the final months of my teaching was a trial for all concerned.  As a fairly recent convert to the Catholic faith, I was stunned that nuns would treat me that way after a long period of happy residence at their college.

Yes, it’s apparent how naive I was at the time, but other events would transpire to reinforce my newly-discovered appreciation of Nana’s wise advice. After all, I moved to Washington, DC and got involved in presidential politics. Enough said! It was there I found out, it’s not only politicians who break their promises, lie to your face, and attempt your ruin. What I experienced with the nuns was nothing compared to the Catholic bigshots I had to contend with in DC, both lay and religious.

If I had paid more attention to Shakespeare than Aristotle, I would have been better prepared for the “real world.” Or, perhaps, I should have paid just as much attention to Shakespeare as I did to Aristotle and St. Thomas. Throw in a better grounding in history, and I would have had the mix about right.

Something else occurred when I woke up to life’s ‘injustice,’ I came face to face with myself in a deeper way. That same naiveté had blinded me to what needed moral and spiritual attention to myself. Yes, I wasn’t as close to the Aristotelian mean as I had assumed — I had had my own bouts with larceny of sorts and needed to own up. That led me down a path of realizing I was no better than those nuns, or anyone else, who had spurned me.

So what is it that I want my son, Cyprian, to know in the 21st year of his life? I don’t want to scare him with a portentous description of life’s tragic vision, but I want him to be prepared for the evil that will be done to him and the evil he will do to others. When evil befalls him, I want him to accept it as part of life and to avoid falling into the blame game. When his choices hurt others, I want him to recognize it, own it, make amends, and pray for forgiveness.

In other words, I want him to be a man who views life realistically but not fatally. I  don’t want him to focus on the wounds but on how to handle them and to heal them if possible. I want him to know there are bad men in the world, but he should not become one of them. Finally, I wish him a resilence in life’s trials that only love can bring.