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Court date set for Finnish MP facing jail after tweeting Bible verse

Päivi Räsänen, Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015. / Courtesy of ADF International.

Helsinki, Finland, Sep 16, 2021 / 06:10 am (CNA).

A court in Finland has announced the date of a hearing to determine whether a former government minister should be jailed after tweeting a Bible verse.

The Helsinki District Court said that the case involving Päivi Räsänen, a physician and mother of five, will be heard on Jan. 24, 2022.

According to ADF International, a Christian legal group that is supporting her, Räsänen could be given a two-year prison sentence or a fine for the tweet, after the Finnish Prosecutor General filed criminal charges against her on April 29.

The MP could also face additional jail time if convicted of two other alleged offenses relating to her comments in a 2004 pamphlet and on a 2018 television program, the group said.

Räsänen said: “I await the court proceedings with a calm mind, confident that Finland will respect the freedom of expression and religion enshrined in fundamental rights and international conventions.”

“I will not back down from my conviction based on the Bible and I am ready to defend freedom of expression and religion in all necessary courts.”

“I cannot accept that voicing religious beliefs could mean imprisonment. I will defend my right to confess my faith, so that no one else would be deprived of their right to freedom of religion and speech.”

The Prosecutor General charged Räsänen, who served as Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015, with incitement against a minority group, arguing that her statements were “likely to cause intolerance, contempt, and hatred towards homosexuals.”

Finland is a country with a population of 5.5 million people, bordering Norway, Russia, and Sweden. Around two-thirds of the population belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, one of the country’s two national churches, alongside the Finnish Orthodox Church.

The 61-year-old MP, who was chairwoman of the Christian Democrats party from 2004 to 2015, is an active member of the Finnish Lutheran Church. But she questioned her church’s sponsorship of an LGBT pride event in 2019.

On June 17, 2019, she asked in a Twitter post how the sponsorship was compatible with the Bible, linking to a photograph of a biblical passage, Romans 1:24-27, on Instagram. She also posted the text and image on Facebook.

“The purpose [of] my tweet was in no way to insult sexual minorities. My criticism was aimed at the leadership of the church,” she told the journal First Things last year.

Police began investigating Räsänen in 2019. She faced several police interviews and had to wait more than a year for the Prosecutor General’s decision.

Juhana Pohjola, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, was also charged for publishing Räsänen’s 2004 pamphlet, “Male and Female He Created Them.”

Paul Coleman, ADF International’s executive director, said: “In a free society, everyone should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. The Finnish Prosecutor General’s decision to bring these charges against Dr. Räsänen creates a culture of fear and censorship.”

“It is sobering that such cases are becoming all too common throughout Europe. If committed civil servants like Päivi Räsänen are criminally charged for voicing their deeply held beliefs, it creates a chilling effect for everyone’s right to speak freely.”

The International Lutheran Council issued a statement in July describing the decision to prosecute Räsänen and Pohjola as “egregious.”

It said: “The vast majority of Christians in all nations, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, share these convictions. Would the Finnish Prosecutor General condemn us all? Moreover, shall the Finnish state risk governmental sanctions from other states based on the abuse of foundational human rights?”

Will the Swiss Guard allow women soldiers in the future?

The Swiss Guard swearing in ceremony at the Vatican on May 6, 2019. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).

As the Pontifical Swiss Guard continues with plans to overhaul its Vatican barracks, there have been reports that the new design could accommodate women guards, prompting questions about whether the 515-year-old army could be poised to make a significant change to its admission requirements.

“First of all, let me say that the reactions of the Swiss press to my statements have been excessive,” Jean-Pierre Roth, president of the charitable foundation funding the Swiss Guard’s new building, told CNA via email.

Roth told the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger earlier this week that “from the beginning, it was important to us that the new building provide space for women.”

The roughly $60 million building project includes plans to expand the living quarters for guardsmen, some of whom currently sleep in shared rooms or in housing outside the Vatican. The new barracks will allow each guard to have a private room with a private bathroom.

The British newspaper The Telegraph quoted Lieutenant Urs Breitenmoser, a spokesman for the Swiss Guard, who said that the individual rooms meant that “in future, if the decision is taken, we would be able to accommodate women as well.”

Roth explained to CNA that the building foundation is “planning barracks meeting the needs of the Swiss Guard in the coming decades. Who knows whether females will be integrated in the Guard in the future?”

“The decision belongs to the Holy Father. Our Foundation has no information about a possible decision,” he said.

To enter the Swiss Guard, a candidate must be a single Catholic male of Swiss nationality between the ages of 19 and 30 who is at least 5 feet, 8 inches tall.

Guards are allowed to get married while in service, and some of the guards live in family housing with their wives and children.

“A main objective of the project is to offer more apartments for married guardsmen. The barracks will have 25 apartments for families,” Roth said.

The renovation, which has been in the planning stages since 2016, does not yet have a start date for construction, though some reports have cited the year 2023. Roth said that the project is under discussion by the Real Estate Committee of the Vatican and then has to be approved by UNESCO. The work is expected to take several years.

Roth noted that many countries have women soldiers and police officers, so “it might be the case in the Swiss Guard.”

“As careful planners, we had to consider that development as a possible option,” he added. “We have thus foreseen single rooms for all non-married guardsmen and a flexible internal structure of the building allowing the creation of a women sector. It was just good sense and careful planning.”

According to the foundation, the guard’s quarters have only undergone minor changes since their construction in the early 1800s, leading to high maintenance costs and the need for major repairs and updates.

The new barracks are also necessary to accommodate growth, as the army expanded from 110 to 135 guardsmen several years ago.

Roth told CNA that the choice to have private rooms was in part because all day long the soldiers of the Swiss Guard “are in contact with the public or under public eyes. They also need some privacy.”

He added that it was much too early to speak about other changes that would need to be made to accommodate women guards, such as modifications to the uniforms.

“First the decision has to be made (who knows when?), then details will be decided,” he commented.

Catholic diocese rejoices as priest is freed barely 24 hours after kidnapping

Fr. Benson Bulus Luka was kidnapped from his parish residence in Nigeria’s Kafanchan diocese on Sept. 13, 2021. / Kafanchan Diocese

Kafanchan, Nigeria, Sep 16, 2021 / 03:10 am (CNA).

A Nigerian Catholic priest kidnapped at his parish residence on Monday has been freed.

The priest’s liberation was announced on Sept. 15 by Fr. Emmanuel Uchechukwu, chancellor of Kafanchan diocese, in northern Nigeria, reported ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner.

“With hearts filled with joy, we raise our voices in a symphony of praises as we announce the return of our priest, Rev. Fr. Benson Bulus Luka,” Uchechukwu said.

“Fr. Benson was abducted by armed persons from his residence at St. Matthew’s Parish Anchuna, in Zango Kataf Local Government Area, Kaduna State, on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021.”

“Barely 24 hours after his kidnap, our beloved brother priest was released by his abductors.”

Uchechukwu, chancellor of the diocese within the Ecclesiastical Province of Kaduna, thanked those who had prayed for the priest’s release.

“We want to thank all those that have offered prayers and entreaties for the quick release of our brother priest and others who are still in the dens of their kidnappers,” he said.

“We pray to God to hasten the release of those who are still in the hands of their captors.”

Uchechukwu encouraged priests to celebrate Masses of thanksgiving following Fr. Luka’s release.

“May Our Lady of Guadalupe intercede for us and all those that are still in captivity,” he added.

Fr. Luka’s abduction was announced on Sept. 14.

Nigeria has experienced rising insecurity since 2009, when Boko Haram, one of Africa’s largest Islamist groups, launched an insurgency seeking to turn Africa’s most populous country into an Islamic state.

The group has orchestrated indiscriminate terrorist attacks on numerous targets, including religious and political groups, as well as civilians.

The situation has further been complicated by the involvement of the predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen, also known as the Fulani Militia, who have clashed frequently with Christian farmers over grazing land.

Fr. Luka’s release follows a series of other kidnappings of Nigerian clergy.

In April, gunmen seized Fr. Izu Marcel Onyeocha, a member of the Congregation of Missionaries, Sons of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Claretians). He was later freed.

In May, two priests were kidnapped at St. Vincent Ferrer Malunfashi Catholic parish in Sokoto diocese. One of them, Fr. Alphonsus Bello, a 33-year-old Fidei Donum priest incardinated in Nigeria’s Kaduna archdiocese, was killed. The other, 75-year-old Fr. Joe Keke, was later released.

In July, Fr. Elijah Juma Wada, a priest serving in Maiduguri diocese, was abducted and later escaped after spending nine days in captivity.

Last month, Nigeria’s Catholic bishops decried the rise in abductions, killings, and property destruction, calling on the federal government to “take full responsibility for the present culture of violence.”

“Deaths in the hands of kidnappers, killer herdsmen, bandits, terrorist groups have made Nigeria one of the most terrorized countries in the world,” they said in an Aug. 26 statement.

They underlined the need for the government, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, “to show more strategic commitment and sincerity in this fight and take full responsibility for the present culture of violence and impunity in the country.”

“The government must be balanced and seen to be so in its response to the challenges of insecurity in every segment of the citizenry,” they said after their plenary assembly in Enugu diocese, southeastern Nigeria.

A version of this story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA's African news partner, written by Jude Atemanke. It has been adapted by CNA.

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