The right to be abandoned?

baby hatchThis is a so-called “Window of Life”, or, less prosaic, a baby hatch in Warsaw, Poland. There are about a hundred or so in eleven European countries, and in the past decade they have saved the lives of about 500 babies, CNS reports.

But he UN Committee on the Rights of the Child wants them closed, because they violate the rights of the child to know his or her parents and to preserve his or her identity.

The baby hatches were installed to help mothers who, for some reason, could or would not take care of their newborn children, without endangering those same children. For some mothers, even a hospital is too frightening or seemingly dangerous a place to bring their child, and some would resort to leaving their children somewhere outside. In the ideal situation, this would be in a place where the child would soon be found and taken care off, but it is all to conceivable that this was not always the case. The baby hatches are places where the children can be left without the mother being known.

They do not solve the problem of mothers abandoning their child. They merely look out for the child’s safety, providing a warm shelter for the short time that the child is alone, and people to take care of him or her afterwards.

Are rights being violated? Perhaps, but not by the sisters taking care of the babies. By the mothers then? Perhaps so, but in most cases there will be extenuating circumstances. Simply looking at the facts of these cases – a mother is unable or unwilling to care for her baby and is looking to leave it in the care of someone else, without going through the proper channels of, say, adoption – it is clear that the baby hatches are the best option for the babies. It protects them from weather and other dangers, not to mention the chance of not being found until it is too late.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is simply wrong. Sure, a child has every right to know his or her parents and to be part of a loving family. But when parents or family are lacking, should these rights be preserved over a child’s immediate safety? I would think not.

The baby hatches, and the (often religious) organisations staffing them, are a form of charity in difficult situations, and they should be dismantled the moment they are no longer necessary. But for now, they sadly are necessary.

Photo credit: CNS/Jonathan Luxmoore

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“A new agora” – Pope delves into social networks for Communications Day Message

popetweeterThe Holy See today released Pope Benedict’s Message for the 47th World Communications Day, which deals with the topic of social networks, This is in itself a natural progression from the topics of previous messages, which the Holy Father all devoted to what he called the “digital continent”, the Internet, which is an area to be evangelised, just like any physical part of the world.

As ever, the Communications Day Message is eagerly expected by many Catholics who are active in social media, and I am no exception. The message is not long (only some 1,600 words), so my Dutch translation is already up on the Translations page.

Pope Benedict sees the social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook as “a new “agora”, an open public square in which people share ideas, information and opinions, and in which new relationships and forms of community can come into being.” This potent mixture can lead to true communication, friendship, communion, but that requires authenticity, because we don’t just share ideas and information, “but ultimately our very selves”.

This shows us that the pope takes social networks very seriously. It’s not just something on the side, to be used when we need it for work or entertainment: “The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young.”

The Holy Father calls us to be authentic Christians on the social networks, to be who we are. “It is natural for those who have faith to desire to share it, respectfully and tactfully, with those they meet in the digital forum.” This indicates how we should express ourselves online:

“At times the gentle voice of reason can be overwhelmed by the din of excessive information and it fails to attract attention which is given instead to those who express themselves in a more persuasive manner. The social media thus need the commitment of all who are conscious of the value of dialogue, reasoned debate and logical argumentation; of people who strive to cultivate forms of discourse and expression which appeal to the noblest aspirations of those engaged in the communication process. Dialogue and debate can also flourish and grow when we converse with and take seriously people whose ideas are different from our own. “Given the reality of cultural diversity, people need not only to accept the existence of the culture of others, but also to aspire to be enriched by it and to offer to it whatever they possess that is good, true and beautiful” (Address at the Meeting with the World of Culture, Bélem, Lisbon, 12 May 2010).”

A final important point in the message is that social networks can also help those faithful who are, for some reason or other, rather isolated: “social networks can reinforce their sense of real unity with the worldwide community of believers. The networks facilitate the sharing of spiritual and liturgical resources, helping people to pray with a greater sense of closeness to those who share the same faith.”

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Glemp passes away

z13285238Q,Kardynal-Jozef-GlempIf it weren’t for Blessed John Paul II, Józef Cardinal Glemp would have been the sole face of Polish Catholicism in the waning days of that country’s Communist regime. Yesterday he died at the age of 83.

Born in the Polish heartland in 1929, the life of young Józef was marked by war. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, he was employed as a slave labourer. Despite this, which undoubtedly marked his teenage years, he was able to continue his seminary education, culminating in an ordination to the priesthood in 1956. He belonged to the priesthood of the Archdiocese of Gniezno, although he initially worked in neighbouring Poznań. After two years, he was sent to Rome, to study canon law at the Pontifical Lateran University. In 1964, Father Glemp earned his doctorate and also the title of Advocate of the Roman Rota. He also wrapped up studies in church administration, which no doubt prepared him for his future job.

Returning to Gniezno, Fr. Glemp took up work as chaplain to Dominican and Franciscan sisters and taught religion in a house for underage delinquents. He was also secretary of the Gniezno seminary, and had duties as notary for the Polish curia.

For fifteen years, starting in 1967, he was the secretary of Poland’s great wartime prelate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. This took Fr. Glemp to Rome and all over Poland and made him a familiar face among the Polish bishops. In 1972 he was made a Chaplain of His Holiness, conferring on him the title of Monsignor. In 1976, Msgr. Glemp became a canon of Gniezno’s metropolitan chapter.

In 1979, Msgr. Glemp became bishop of Warmia, but he wouldn’t stay there long. In 1981, his longtime mentor and collaborator, Cardinal Wyszynski, died. The cardinal was archbishop of both Gniezno and Warsaw, and Bishop Glemp succeeded him in both sees, in part as a reflection of their respective importance: Warsaw as Poland’s capital, and Gniezno as Poland’s primatial see. Archbishop Glemp therefore became Primate of Poland. This gave him the right to wear a cardinal’s  red zucchetto, although he wasn’t a cardinal yet.

In 1983, Archbishop Glemp became Cardinal Glemp, with the title church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. I 1992, Pope John Paul II decided to dissolve the union “ad personam” between Gniezno and Warsaw. Cardinal Glemp remained as archbishop of Warsaw alone, but he held the title of Primate until his 80th birthday in 2009. After that date, the title reverted to the archbishop of Gniezno.

Cardinal Glemp was president of the Polish Bishops’ Conference from 1981 to 2004, and was also ordinary of the Eastern-rite Catholics of Poland from 1981 to 2007. Following th sudden resignation of his successor in Warsaw, Archbishop Wielgus, Cardinal Glemp served as Apostolic Administrator of Warsaw for three months in 2007. Until his retirement, he was a member of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Apostolic Signatura.

Cardinal Glemp’s time as archbishop was marked with few controversies, chief among this perceived anti-Semitism. He later regretted that he was perceived as such. In the Cold War years, he worked with future president Lech Walesa, and was a careful intermediary between Church and Communist leadership. He was not a violent man, and never supported violent opposition to the regime, stating that his duty was the preservation of the Church, not the overthrow of the government. Although he urged restraint from the faithful, he expected the same from the Communists.

Cardinal Józef Glemp passed away afer a battle with lung cancer. He leaves a strong Catholic identity in Poland, having successfully averted the tides of secularism in his time.

The College of Cardinals remains with 119 electors out of 210 members.