Religion briefs Beijing denies Bibles banned from Olympics
Chinese organizers say religious items for persona use will be welcome
BEIJING — Beijing Olympic organizers angrily disputed allegations of religious intolerance Thursday, saying Bibles and other religious items for personal use will be welcome at next summer’s games — except for the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.
Recent reports by a religious news agency and European media saying Bibles would be banned at the Olympics touched off an outcry that prompted a U.S. senator to call the Chinese ambassador for an explanation and a Christian athletes group to protest the “deep violation.”
Beijing organizers flatly denied the reports, and the Foreign Ministry charged the allegations were likely the work of people who want to sabotage Beijing’s hosting of the games.
“There is no such thing. This kind of report is an intentional distortion of truth,” said Li Zhanjun, director of the Beijing Olympics media center.
He said texts and other items from major religious groups that are brought into China for personal use by athletes and visitors are permitted. The Beijing Olympics Web site said “each traveler is recommended to take no more than one Bible into China.”
Li also said religious services — Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist — will be available to athletes in the Olympic Village.
However, he said, the policies do not apply to Falun Gong, reasserting China’s determination to eradicate the movement. Falun Gong was banned eight years ago as an “evil cult” after its members staged a mass protest outside government headquarters to demand official recognition. The State Department says Falun Gong practitioners in China face arrest, detention and possible torture as members overseas maintain a vigorous campaign of protest against China’s government.
“We don’t recognize it because it’s a cult,” Li said. “So Falun Gong texts, Falun Gong activities in China are forbidden. Foreigners who come to China must respect and abide by the laws of China.”
China’s leadership is using the Summer Olympics to project a positive image of the country. Venue construction has hummed at a record pace, and Beijing is so eager to host a flawless event that it enacted campaigns to stomp out speaking poor English, spitting, littering and cutting in line.
Yet preparations have been tarred by complaints about China’s human rights abuses and Beijing’s choking smog. The regime also has drawn criticism over its support for Sudan’s Arab-dominated government, an oil supplier accused of atrocities against ethnic Africans in Darfur.
The games have now cast a spotlight on religion, which is heavily regulated in China by the officially atheist ruling Communist party. Worship is legal only in party-controlled churches, temples and mosques, and those who attend others face harassment, arrest and terms in labor camps or prison.
Bibles are printed under government supervision and can be sold only in approved churches, according to the Web site of China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs. Visitors can bring in religious texts for personal use, but no more than three copies of each, said an official at the agency’s regulation department, who refused to give his name.
In a statement, the International Olympic Committee said the news articles reporting a Bible ban stemmed from a misunderstanding of what was said at an October briefing in Beijing during which items banned from import into China were discussed.
“It is clear that athletes coming to the games are able to bring with them religious items for personal use, as in previous games, to the Olympic venues,” the statement said.
Speaking at a regularly scheduled news conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said the media reports pointed to attempts to undermine China’s Olympic glory.
“There are some people out there who do not want to see China hold a successful games,” Liu said.
Catholic Church may excommunicate over female priests
ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Archdiocese has warned two Roman Catholic women that they will be excommunicated if they are ordained as priests on Sunday.
Rose Marie Dunn Hudson, 67, and Elsie Hainz McGrath, 69, are set to be ordained by a former nun as part of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement that began in 2002.
Only men are ordained as priests and deacons in the Catholic Church. The Womenpriests and the advocacy group, the Women’s Ordination Conference, are among Catholics pressing to change that tradition.
Both women said they will ignore Archbishop Raymond Burke’s warning.
“It’s a typically hierarchical form of intimidation, and we will not be intimidated,” McGrath said.
The archdiocese declined to comment about the letters, delivered by courier to the women’s homes Monday evening. In them, Burke warned the women they would be committing a “grave error” and “act of schism” by trying to receive priestly ordination.
He reminded them that the pope has stated infallibly that only men can receive a valid ordination, and wrote that “in order to protect the faithful from grave spiritual deception” if they go forward, they would “incur automatically ... the censure of excommunication.”
Further, Burke wrote, “additional disciplinary measures will also have to be imposed.”
“What is he going to do, burn us at the stake, or what?” Hudson asked. “We’re going to just totally ignore it. This is not unexpected. We wondered why it took so long.”
Both women have graduate degrees in religious studies and have been active in ministry for years.
Hudson is a retired teacher who has done prison ministry for the past 15 years. McGrath is the widow of a Roman Catholic deacon and has worked for the archdiocese, for the theology department at St. Louis University and as a campus minister.
Of the roughly 100 women who have been ordained as priests or deacons worldwide in the Womenpriests movement, including 37 in the U.S., only the first seven were officially excommunicated by the Vatican, said spokeswoman Bridget Mary Meehan. Others have received letters from their bishop like that sent by Burke, she said.
A former nun from South Africa who now lives in Germany is scheduled to ordain the women at a synagogue in St. Louis. Patricia Fresen, who has ordained other women, says she was ordained as a bishop in Germany in 2005 by an unnamed male bishop in good standing with the pope. She isn’t recognized as a bishop by the church hierarchy.