Tag Archives: Catholics

Ohio Parole Board Recommends Clemency for Death-Row Prisoner William Montgomery

Read this – don’t instantly discount or believe – read.

Faced with doubts about prosecutorial misconduct and the accuracy of forensic evidence, the Ohio Parole Board has recommended that Governor John Kasich grant executive clemency to William T. Montgomery (pictured), scheduled to be executed on April 11. Montgomery was convicted and sentence to death in 1986 for two murders he has long maintained he did not commit. An Ohio federal district court, affirmed by a federal appeals court panel, overturned his conviction in 2007 because prosecutors had suppressed evidence and witness statements that undermined its version of how the crime occurred, but with five judges dissenting, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reinstated the conviction. Montgomery’s supporters argued to the parole board that there was too much doubt about his guilt to risk executing a potentially innocent man. Prosecutors argued at trial that Montgomery murdered Debra Ogle and then killed her roommate, Cynthia Tincher to prevent her from testifying against him, then dumped Ms. Ogle’s body in the woods where it was not discovered for four days. However, prosecutors withheld from the defense evidence that multiple witnesses had seen Ms. Ogle alive four days after she supposedly had been killed and an independent review of the autopsy report showed that Ms. Ogle’s body likely had been discovered within hours of her death. The report noted that a body left in the woods for four days in above-freezing temperatures would have shown signs of decomposition, insect infestation, and animal predation, none of which were present, and the body’s state of lividity indicated death had occurred within twelve hours of its discovery. Adding to the doubt in the case, Montgomery’s co-defendant, Glover Heard told police five different stories before settling on a version of events that fit the prosecution’s theory and, instead of facing the death penalty, was sentenced to a term of years with eligibility for parole. Montgomery’s lawyers also presented the parole board with affidavits that undermined its confidence in the jury verdict, including one from a juror who was confused as to what the law required, another from a juror who had doubts about Montgomery’s guilt, and a third juror whose psychiatric behavior raised questions about her ability to serve. The Board majority cited both the State’s failure to disclose the witness reports that Ms. Ogle was alive after the State claimed she had been killed and the jurors’ affidavits as reasons for recommending commutation. Four Board members opposed commutation, arguing that the information presented was insufficient to overturn the jury verdict and finding no “manifest injustice” in the case that they believed warranted clemency. In an op-ed in the Toledo Blade, Phyllis Crocker, Dean of the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and a former member of the Ohio Supreme Court Joint Task on the Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty, wrote: “At best, Montgomery was convicted on a false set of facts and at worst, he may be actually innocent. In death penalty cases there must be no doubt whatsoever. There is too much doubt to allow this execution.” Montgomery’s lawyer, Jon Oebker, reiterated that his client’s assertion of innocence and said the defense plans to “explore every avenue we can.” Governor Kasich must issue a decision on the pardons board’s recommendation before the April 11 execution date.

(Jim Provance, Parole board recommends clemency for William T. Montgomery, Toledo Blade, March 16, 2018; Phyllis L. Crocker, Op-Ed: Next Ohio execution raises too much doubt, Toledo Blade, March 10, 2018; Jim Provance, Death row inmate William T. Montgomery seeks new trial, Toledo Blade, March 3, 2018; Jim Provance, Forensic experts question prosecution’s theories, Toledo Blade, March 8, 2018.) Read William Montgomery’s application for clemency here and the Ohio Parole Board’s clemency recommendation hereSee ClemencyInnocence, and Prosecutorial Misconduct

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California Supreme Court Grants New Trial to Man Sent to Death Row 25 Years Ago by False Forensic Evidence

The California Supreme Court has vacated the conviction of Vicente Figueroa Benavides (pictured), saying that the forensic evidence that sent the former Mexican farmworker to death row 25 years ago was “extensive,” “pervasive,” “impactful,” and “false.” Benavides, now 68, was sentenced to death in 1993 after being found guilty of brutally murdering Consuelo Verdugo, his girlfriend’s 21-month-old toddler, by raping and anally sodomizing her. However, the court said, medical evidence showed that the girl was never raped or sodomized and may not have been murdered at all. Instead, she may have died from complications from having been struck by a car. Benavides—whose lawyers have argued is developmentally disabled and possesses the mental ability of a 7-year-old—told the police and jury during the trial that he lost track of the toddler while he was preparing dinner on November 17, 1991 and he found her outdoors, vomiting. Consuelo’s mother took her to a local medical center that evening, where her condition worsened. After surgery and two hospital transfers, the child died a week later. At trial, forensic pathologist Dr. James Diblin testified that the toddler had died from “blunt force penetrating injury of the anus” and claimed that the major internal injuries she suffered were the result of rape. He further testified that arm injuries, internal trauma, dilated pupils, and compression rib fractures that Consuelo sustained had been “caused by tight squeezing during a sexual assault.” Dr. Jess Diamond, who evaluated the toddler at Kern Medical Center, also initially testified that the baby had been raped. However, medical records obtained by Benavides’s post-conviction lawyers showed that the examining physicians had not seen any signs of bleeding when Consuelo was brought to the hospital, and a nurse who helped treat the toddler said that neither she nor any of her colleagues saw evidence of anal or vaginal trauma when the child arrived. Instead, the court said, the injuries to Consuelo’s genitalia and anus were “attribut[able] to medical intervention,” including repeated failed efforts to insert a catheter and the improper use of an adult-sized catheter on the small child. “After reviewing the medical records and photographs that I should have been provided in 1993,” Dr. Diamond withdrew his assessment that Consuelo had been raped. “I am convinced that this case presents a tremendous failing of the criminal justice system,” he said. The defense also presented evidence from Dr. Astrid Heger, one of the country’s leading experts on child abuse, who described Dr. Didbin’s assertion that Consuelo’s injuries had been the product of sexual assault as “so unlikely to the point of being absurd. … No such mechanism of injury has ever been reported in any literature of child abuse or child assault.” She said the internal injuries the child sustained were commonly seen in victims of automobile accidents. During oral argument, Associate Justice Carol Corrigan, a former prosecutor, described Dibdin’s testimony as being “among the most hair-raising false evidence that I’ve encountered in all the time that I’ve been looking at criminal cases.” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye compared the sexual assault allegations to “a bomb dropped on the jury” that prevented the jurors from considering the evidence that the toddler may have been hit by a car. Prosecutors admitted that the forensic evidence they used to convict Benavides was false, but asked the state court to sustain a conviction for second-degree murder. With its key evidence discredited, Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green said it was improbable that prosecutors would attempt to retry Benavides. If the charges are dismissed, Benavides would be the fourth California death-row prisoner to be exonerated since the state brought back the death penalty in 1974.

(Maura Dolan, California Supreme Court, citing false evidence, overturns murder conviction that put Delano man on death row, Los Angeles Times,  March 12, 2018; Chloe Carlson, BREAKING NEWS: Death penalty reversed; “false evidence” used in trial, court rules, Kern Golden Empire, March 12, 2018; Jose Gaspar, With ‘hair-raising false evidence’ exposed, Delano man get a second chance, The Bakersfield Californian, March 9, 2018; Olivia LaVoice, Did Kern send an innocent man to Death Row? High court considering the stunning possibility, Kern Golden Empire, undated.) Read the California Supreme Court ruling in In re Vicente Benavides Figueroa. See Innocence.

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Email Shows Texas DA Had Phone Records Showing Alfred Brown Was Innocent, But Prosecuted Him Anyway

According to newly disclosed records, the Harris County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Texas death-row exoneree Alfred DeWayne Brown was aware of phone records that corroborated Brown’s assertion of innocence long before the case went to trial, but withheld the records from the defense and intimidated a witness who original testimony was supported by the records into falsely testifying against Brown. Brown was convicted and sentenced to death in 2005 for the murders of a Houston police officer and a store clerk during a 2003 robbery. No physical evidence linked him to the murders and he consistently maintained that he had been at his girlfriend’s apartment when the murders occurred. Brown won a new trial in 2014 after police investigator Breck McDaniel discovered copies of the phone records in his garage. At the time, prosecutors said that the records had been inadvertently misplaced. However, an email that was released by the Harris County district attorney’s office on March 2 in response to a civil suit filed by Brown shows that McDaniel alerted former Harris County prosecutor Dan Rizzo to the existence of the records on April 22, 2003, the day after his girlfriend, Erica Dockery, had told the grand jury that Brown had called her from her apartment. McDaniel told Rizzo in the email that he had obtained Dockery’s phone records “hoping that it would clearly refute Erica’s claim that she received a call at work” from Brown. Instead, McDaniel said, “the call detail records from the apartment shows that the home phone dialed Erica’s place of employment” twice on the morning of the killing and that Dockery had called Brown back from work. A Pulitzer-Prize-winning Houston Chronicle investigation revealed in July 2014 that, after her testimony, a police officer who served as the grand jury foreman in the case threatened Dockery with perjury for supporting Brown’s alibi. Then—after Rizzo had received the email confirming the truthfulness of Dockery’s testimony—prosecutors jailed Dockery for seven weeks until she changed her testimony to implicate Brown. After Brown was exonerated, he applied for approximately $1.9 million in cash and annuity payments under Texas’ exoneration compensation law. Prosecutors claimed that the court proceedings leading to Brown’s release did not constitute a determination that he was “actually innocent,” and his application was rejected in April 2016. Cate Edwards, Brown’s lawyer in the civil case, called the email revelations “horrifying.” Brian Stolarz, who represented Brown in the appeals leading to his exoneration, called the disclosures “[v]indication.” He said he was “sickened and disheartened” that “[o]nly now, after a civil lawsuit, does the whole truth finally come out.’ But he said he he was “encouraged that Dewayne is vindicated and his long journey to justice is near the end.” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, who took office in November 2016 on a platform of criminal justice reform, issued a statement saying that “The Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct require that ‘the appropriate disciplinary authority’ shall be informed when a lawyer becomes aware that another lawyer has committed a violation of applicable rules of professional conduct that raises a substantial question as to the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in all other respects.” The statement said “the Harris County District Attorney’s Office will notify the State Bar of Texas of the newly discovered evidence so that it may investigate the prosecutor’s professional conduct while handling the Brown case.”

(Margaret Downing, DA Ogg Finds Email Evidence That Prosecutor Did Know About Phone Records in Alfred Brown Case, Houston Press, March 2, 2018; St. John Barned-Smith and Keri Blakinger, DA: Former prosecutor withheld key email in death row case, Houston Chronicle, March 3, 2018.) Read the email here. See Innocence, Prosecutorial Misconduct, and Texas.

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Missouri Executed 17 Prisoners With Drugs Secretly Obtained From ‘High-Risk’ Pharmacy Cited for Hazardous Practices

Tax dodging secret cash payments!

BuzzFeed News investigation has disclosed that Missouri carried out seventeen executions between 2014 and 2017 using supplies of the drug pentobarbital it secretly obtained from a pharmacy the Food and Drug Administration had classified as “high risk” because of repeated serious health violations. The February 20 exposé describes a complex system of clandestine meetings, code names, and undocumented cash payments that Missouri employed to conceal the identity of Foundation Care, a suburban St. Louis compounding pharmacy that reporter Chris McDaniel discovered “has been repeatedly found to engage in hazardous pharmaceutical procedures.” Foundation Care—which was reportedly paid more than $135,000 for execution drugs—is alleged to have engaged in illegal practices, medicare fraud, and numerous manufacturing improprieties and, McDaniel reports, its cofounder has been accused of “regularly ordering prescription medications for himself without a doctor’s prescription.” Two former senior employees of the company—including the head of pharmacy operations—have alleged in a lawsuit that Foundation Care violated government regulations by reselling drugs returned by patients, intentionally omitting the names of ingredients in drugs it prepared, and failing to notify other states about a $300,000 settlement with Kansas over allegations of Medicaid fraud. Another suit by a former employee alleges that she was fired after complaining to her supervisors and the Missouri Board of Pharmacy about “serious operational violations.” Missouri switched to Foundation Care after reporters discovered the identifty of the state’s prior secret supplier of execution drugs—an Oklahoma compounding pharmacy called The Apothecary Shoppe. Reporters learned that The Apothecary Shoppe was not licensed to sell drugs in Missouri and had admitted to nearly 2,000 health and safety violations. Foundation Care first came to the attention of FDA investigators after a doctor complained to the agency that a patient he was treating had developed “a ‘life threatening’ illness” after taking a drug that had been prepared by the pharmacy. At that time, the investigators found that the pharmacy had shipped drugs to patients without conducting tests for sterility and bacteria, and a lab sample revealed drugs that had been contaminated with bacteria. In 2013, the FDA designated Foundation Care as a “high-risk” compounding pharmacy, and cited it as an example as to why greater federal oversight of compounders was necessary. A second inspection of the company that year found “multiple examples” of practices that could lead to contamination, and that Foundation Care had failed to “assure that drug products conform to appropriate standards of identity, strength, quality and purity.” In a February 2014 letter to the Missouri Board of Pharmacy, the FDA warned that the pharmacy’s practices “could lead to contamination of drugs, potentially putting patients at risk.” The possibility of drug contamination is one of the centerpieces of prisoner challenges to Missouri’s execution process, and experts in the case have indicated that contamination could create a “substantial risk of pain and suffering.” However, in a deposition in the Missouri prisoners’ legal challenge, state officials refused to say whether they were aware of any problems with their drug manufacturer, and lawyers for the state have affirmatively used Missouri’s secrecy provisions to deny prisoners’ access to information about its drug supplier and the company’s safety record, while at the same time arguing the prisoners have not proven that the execution may be unconstitutionally cruel. Foundation Care was acquired by AcariaHealth, a subsidiary of health-care giant Centene Corporation, in October 2017. After McDaniel’s report was published, the company issued a statement that, “[u]nder Centene’s ownership, Foundation Care has never supplied, and will never supply any pharmaceutical product to any state for the purpose of effectuating executions.”

Compounding pharmacies are drug producers that mix small batches of medications to meet the specialized needs of patients for whom mass produced medicines are not available. Regulated primarily by states, their drugs are reported to have a significantly higher failure rate than drugs produced by FDA-regulated manufacturers. An estimated twenty percent of drugs created by Missouri compounding pharmacies failed to meet Missouri Board of Pharmacy standards.

(Chris McDaniel, Missouri Fought For Years To Hide Where It Got Its Execution Drugs. Now We Know What They Were Hiding.,” BuzzFeed News, February 20, 2018; Samantha Liss, Centene says subsidiary will no longer provide drugs for Missouri executions, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 20, 2018; Will Schmitt, The identity of Missouri’s execution drug dealer, long a state secret, reportedly unmasked, Springfield News-Leader, February 20, 2018). See Lethal Injection and Missouri.

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Pentagon Fires War Court Official Who Was Attempting to Negotiate End to Guantánamo Death-Penalty Trial

The sudden firing by U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis (left) of the Pentagon official who oversaw military commission trials at Guantánamo Bay has raised concerns of political interference in the already tumultuous legal proceedings in the death-penalty trials of the five men charged with plotting the 9/11 attacks on the United States. The New York Times reports that Mattis fired Harvey Rishikof (right), who served as the Convening Authority of the Guantánamo tribunals, as Rishikof was engaged in plea negotiations that would potentially have spared the Guantánamo defendants the death penalty in exchange for pleading guilty to the September 11 attacks. The Pentagon provided no explanation for the February 5 firing, and David Nevin—who represents accused attack-mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed—told The Times that “[t]he firing fairly raises the question” of whether the Pentagon was attempting to unlawfully influence the convening authority. The Office of the Convening Authority is responsible for approving cases for trial, plea agreements, reviewing convictions and sentences, and providing resources to defense teams. Military law prohibits even the appearance of “unlawful command influence” over the handling of a case. Nevin said the defense has “an obligation to try to learn everything we can” about possible improper influence, and he has asked prosecutors to turn over information relating to Rishikof’s firing. At the same time Rishikof was dismissed, the Pentagon’s acting general counsel, William S. Castle discharged Rishikof’s legal advisor Gary Brown, also without explanation. Brown and Rishikof’s firings have focused renewed attention on the dysfunctional military tribunals at Guantánamo. The death-penalty trial of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, accused of planning the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, was thrown into chaos in October 2017 when his entire civilian defense team resigned amid allegations that military officials had violated attorney-client privilege by eavesdropping on legal meetings at the Cuban facility. Rishikof intervened in that case after the judge, Air Force Colonel Vance Spath, held the chief defense counsel for the Military Commissions Defense Organization, Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker, in contempt for allowing the resignations. Spath has directed that proceedings in the U.S.S. Cole case continue without expert death-penalty counsel, even though the only remaining member of Nashiri’s defense team, Lieutenant Alaric Piette, graduated law school in 2012, does not meet the American Bar Association standards for death-penalty defense, and has never tried any murder case. During a January 2018 pretrial hearing in the case, Spath criticized Piette for seeking a continuance in the case until expert death-penalty counsel could be appointed, telling Piette to “engage in self help” by attending special training to become “more comfortable handling capital matters.” On February 5, Piette, who stayed on the case out of concern for his client’s rights, told The New York Times: “I don’t know if I’ve done the right thing, but I don’t think I really had a choice.” Piette “doesn’t come close to being qualified” to handle the case, according to Ellen Yaroshefsky, a professor of legal ethics at Hofstra University. “So a death penalty case is basically going forward without a lawyer. If that is what we think passes as a court system, we’re in big trouble,” she said. 

(Charlie Savage, Fired Official Was Exploring Resolution to 9/11 Case Precluding Death Penalty, New York Times, February 10, 2018; Carol Rosenberg, Secretary of Defense fires Guantánamo war court overseer, Miami Herald, February 5, 2018; Dave Philipps, Many Say He’s the Least Qualified Lawyer Ever to Lead a Guantánamo Case. He Agrees., New York Times, February 5, 2018; Carol Rosenberg, Military judge to lone USS Cole lawyer: ‘Engage in self-help’ to learn capital defense, Miami Herald, January 23, 2018.) See U.S. Military and Representation.

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Florida Denies New Sentencing Hearings to More than Thirty Prisoners, Most Unconstitutionally Sentenced to Death

In three days of bulk decision-making, the Florida Supreme Court has denied new sentencing hearings to more than thirty death-row prisoners, declining to enforce its bar against non-unanimous death sentences to cases that became final on appeal before June 2002. At least 24 of the prisoners who were denied relief had been unconstitutionally sentenced to death after non-unanimous jury sentencing recommendations, including three prisoners—Etheria Verdell JacksonErnest D. Suggs, and Harry Franklin Phillips—with bare majority death recommendations of 7-5. The Florida court adopted June 24, 2002 as its cutoff date for enforcing its decision because that was when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Ring v. Arizona, an Arizona case establishing that the right to a jury trial entitles a capital defendant to have a jury find all facts that are necessary for a death sentence to be imposed. In January 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hurst v. Florida that Florida’s death-penalty statute, which reserved penalty-phase factfinding for the judge, violated Ring. Later, also in Hurst’s case, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that a capital defendant’s right to a jury trial also required a unanimous jury vote for death before the trial judge could impose a death sentence. That decision potentially invalidated more than 375 Florida death sentences. However, in December 2016, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Ring had announced a new legal right and that it would not apply Hurst to cases that had already completed their direct appeal before Ring was decided. The court issued opinions declining to apply Hurst in ten death-penalty cases on January 22, another ten on January 23, and a third set of ten on January 24. The court also issued unpublished orders denying relief in some other cases. Still more decisions are expected. These rulings reiterate the court’s decision to not grant relief to prisoners who were unconstitutionally sentenced to death prior to Ring. On August 10, 2017, the court, by a 6-1 vote, upheld the death sentence imposed on James Hitchcock, despite his being unconstitutionally sentenced to death following a non-unanimious sentencing recommendation by the jury. In dissenting, Justice Barbara J. Pariente wrote: “To deny Hitchcock relief when other similarly situated defendants have been granted relief amounts to a denial of due process.” In 80% of the new opinions, juries had not unanimously recommended death, but the prisoners’ appeals had been completed before Ring was decided. In four cases, the appeals of unconstitutionally death-sentenced prisoners became final in 2001. Steven Maurice Evans‘s appeal became final in March of 2002 and James Ford‘s unconstitutional death sentence became final in May 28, 2002, less than a month before Ring was decided. In the six cases in which prisoners had unanimous jury recommendations for death, the court declined to review other potential violations of Hurst and whether instructions diminishing the jury’s sense of responsibility may have unconstitutionally affected the verdict. Among those whose appeals were denied on January 22, 2018 is Eric Scott Branch, who was unconstitutionally sentenced to death following a 10-2 jury recommendation for death in 1997. Branch is set to be executed on February 22. According to a Death Penalty Information Center analysis of Florida’s death-row prisoners who have non-unanimous jury recommendations and whose convictions became final post-Ring, 153 prisoners on Florida’s death row are entitled to resentencing. Of them,123 (or 80.9%) have already obtained relief. At least eighteen prisoners who obtained relief under Hurst have since been resentenced to life, while two prisoners who initially had non-unanimous sentencing recommendations have been resentenced to death. In 2017, Florida executed two prisoners—Marc Asay and Michael Lambrix—after denying them relief despite their unconstitutional non-unanimous death sentences.

(“Florida Supreme Court rejects 10 Death Row appeals at same time,” Orlando Sentinel, January 22, 2018.) Read DPIC’s webpage providing background on Florida’s handling of the cases litigated under Hurst here. See Arbitrariness and Sentencing

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AMERICA/UNITED STATES – Salvadorans without protection in America, the Church will not abandon separated families


Washington – “The decision to terminate TPS for El Salvador is heartbreaking”. As detailed in our recent delegation trip report to the region, El Salvador is currently not in a position to adequately handle the return of the roughly 200,000 Salvadoran TPS recipients. Today’s decision will fragment American families, leaving over 192,000 U.S. citizen children of Salvadoran TPS recipients with uncertain futures. Families will be needlessly separated because of this decision”: with these harsh words , the US Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed its profound disagreement with the current government policy.
A statement sent to Fides, signed by Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, Chairman of the Committee on Migration, informs that on January 8th, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it is terminating Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador.
“DHS has provided an 18-month period during which TPS recipients from El Salvador can legally stay in the United States and prepare for their departure. While we recognize and appreciate this extra time, it will not remedy the underlying protection and family unity concerns that remain for Salvadoran TPS recipients.
We renew our call to Congress to work in a bipartisan manner to find a legislative solution for long-term TPS recipients, and we stand ready to support such efforts”, continues the text.
“TPS recipients are an integral part of our communities, churches, and nation. Without action by Congress, however, recipients’ lives will be upended and many families will be devastated. As with DACA, we strongly urge Congressional members and leadership to come together and address this issue as soon as possible. To Salvadoran TPS recipients, we promise to continue to stand in solidarity with you and pray for you and your families, and all those who are displaced or forced to flee from their homes”, concludes the statement.

ASIA/MIDDLE EAST – The Patriarch of Moscow: Russian intervention in Syria saved Christians from “genocide”

Pants on fire award!


Moscow – Thanks to Russia’s military intervention in the Syrian conflict, the “genocide” of Christians was stopped. And now, the Russian Orthodox Church will take on the task of supporting the reconstruction of Syrian churches, but also of mosques and historical monuments. This was stated by Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias, in the traditional television interview broadcast on Rossija channel 1 on Sunday 7 January, the day when Russian Orthodox Christians celebrated Christmas. In the interview, focusing on the condition and recent trials the Middle Eastern Christian communities have had to face, the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church also reproposed personal memories useful to account for the Russian approach regarding the Middle Eastern events of recent years. “In 2013”, said the Russian Patriarch, “the heads of local Orthodox Churches came to Moscow to celebrate the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, and when they met Vladimir Putin, one of the strongest messages was the request that Russia should accept to take part in the protection of Christians in the Middle East. I am pleased”, Kirill added, “that this happened, and thanks to Russia’s intervention, the genocide of Christians was stopped”. The Head of the Russian Church confirmed the intention of the Patriarchate of Moscow to contribute to the humanitarian aid of Middle Eastern populations, and also to the reconstruction of “places of worship, monasteries, monuments, including Muslim monuments and historical monuments”. Kirill also reread in parallel the recent Syrian events and those related to the fall of the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, emphasizing their impact on the condition of local Christian communities. According to the Russian Patriarch, “already in 2014 it was clear that the conflicts started in Syria were caused by extremist groups that, once they had reached power, they would have eliminated the Christian presence in that Country. This is why Christians actively supported Assad and his government “bearing in mind that with him” the Country had a certain balance of power and, very importantly, people felt safe”. In Iraq, on the contrary, recent events have seen the drastic decline of the native Christian communities, rooted in those territories since apostolic times. “During the regime of Saddam Hussein”, said Patriarch Kirill in this regard “I visited Iraq, including the northern part of Iraq. I was in Mosul, I was visiting the ancient Christian monasteries: There I saw the devotion of the people, and they were all happy to see that Christian churches lived in safety in a Muslim environment… Now there is practically nothing: monasteries destroyed, temples blown up”.

ASIA/INDIA – Hindu radicals attack a Catholic college

Racists posing as Hindu are still racists! Except for them, your race is your religion of your poligion!


Vidisha – Hundreds of police deployment was done at the St. Mary’s Post Graduate College in Vidisha, Sagar Diocese in Madhya Pradesh, central India as Hindu right-wing groups threaten to perform Hindu rituals in the premises.
“Calm has returned to the place now as only policemen on watch have remained in the area. We thank once again the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singhji and the Madhya Pradesh police force. And a big thank you for your prayers. The Fathers and Sisters and other personnel are in a state of shock. Do continue to pray for them,” said Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India , who is following the issue, told Fides news.
On January 4, more than 900 Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad , one of the Hindu right wing student groups threatened to gather and forcibly perform “Aarti of Bharat Mata” and other Hindu goddesses in the college.
“The Madhya Pradesh police assured church authorities full police protection. The priests who manage the College, however feel that the situation is potentially very dangerous as over 900 activists were expected to gather in violation of police orders. There was already an aggression earlier on 30 December despite the presence of 20 policemen. We need to pray more. We are in touch with the Federal Home Ministry,” said Mascarenhas.
“We thank our Home Minister Singh for directly intervening to ensure safety of our Institution and priests, nuns, college personnel and staff and students. A large crowd of activists were reported to have gathered outside the college wanting to enter the premises. But a huge battalion of police is confident of dealing with the situation,” Bishop Theodore added.
It can be recalled that during the last Christmas season, a group of Hindu radicals seminarians and priests of Satna were attacked, when they were in the villages for Christmas carols.

ASIA/INDIA – Threats of Hindu extremists to Christian schools in view of Christmas

Days ago the “Hindu Jagran Manch” extremist group warned the Christian schools of the state of Uttar Pradesh not to celebrate Christmas, calling it an “act of proselytism”. “It is abominable that the hard-line Hindu outfit groups continue to issue repeated dictate, intimidations and threats to Christians and attacking them in different parts of India”, says Carmelite Father Johnson Digal, a teacher in a Catholic school in Uttar Pradesh state to Agenzia Fides. “Most of all the students are Hindus and Muslims here, but they are cooperative with us so far. Last year one Pastor was forced to tonsure his head and was paraded on a public road, thinking he was converting people without any solid evidence”, he says.


Agra – It is unacceptable that national Hindu right-wing groups keep on threatening Christians ahead of Christmas, say Church leaders in India. Days ago the “Hindu Jagran Manch” extremist group warned the Christian schools of the state of Uttar Pradesh not to celebrate Christmas, calling it an “act of proselytism”. “It is abominable that the hard-line Hindu outfit groups continue to issue repeated dictate, intimidations and threats to Christians and attacking them in different parts of India”, says Carmelite Father Johnson Digal, a teacher in a Catholic school in Uttar Pradesh state to Agenzia Fides. “Most of all the students are Hindus and Muslims here, but they are cooperative with us so far. Last year one Pastor was forced to tonsure his head and was paraded on a public road, thinking he was converting people without any solid evidence”, he says.
Christian schools in Uttar Pradesh – India’s most densely populated state, ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party – have been issued a warning by several Hindu nationalist organizations affiliated to the “Hindu Yuva Vahini”, led by the leader Yogi Adityanath : these suspect that Christmas celebrations in schools, attended by many Hindu students, can encourage conversions.
The threat comes just days after Bajrang Dal activists accused a group of Christians, who were singing carols, a centuries-old tradition in India, of “proselytizing”, and burned their cars in front of a police station in Satna district, in Madhya Pradesh.
Such episodes on Church leaders is not a new phenomena but the fact is the attackers enjoy patronage from different quarters, in a country of great democratic tradition like India, which guarantees religious freedom to its citizens. The Hindu Yuva Vahini, an organization created in 2002 by Adityanath, had lodged a complaint against the Pastor of a Protestant church earlier this year, accusing him of converting Hindus to Christianity. The Pastor was only guiding a Christian liturgy. Back in 2014, Adityanath had warned Christians not to celebrate Christmas outside Churches. “False propaganda of religious conversions, intimidating minority institutions in the name of religion under the patronage of ruling parties has become a great threat to the very constitutional right of citizens in India. Slowly but steadily India is moving towards pseudo-theocracy. It is a time that all the Indians woke up to realize this and defend India against these fascist forces”, comments to Fides Jesuit Fr. Savarimuthu M, a teacher at Xavier Institute for Tribal Education in Jharkhand state.