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Pope Francis endorses same-sex civil unions for the first time as pontiff

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Pope Francis became the first pontiff to endorse same-sex civil unions on Wednesday, sparking cheers from gay Catholics and demands for clarification from conservatives given the Vatican’s official teaching on the issue.

The papal thumbs-up to same-sex civil unions came midway through the feature-length documentary ‘Francesco’ that had its debut screening at the Rome Film Festival on Wednesday.

The film, which includes fresh interviews with the pontiff, looks into the issues that mean the most to Pope Francis, including the environment, poverty, migration, racial and income inequality, and the people most affected by discrimination.

“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” Francis said in one of his sit-down interviews for the film. “What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”

ILGA Europe, an association that promotes the interests of LGBTI people, gave the pontiff’s words a cautious welcome.

“In the context where there is so much polarisation and scapegoating of LGBTI people, often endorsed and stoked by religious leaders, Pope Francis’ statement on same-sex unions is to be welcomed and should be carefully listened to,” the organisation said on Twitter. “We will monitor closely to see in how far the statement will be picked up by the churches and will lead to real change for LGBTI people and their families.”

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit who has sought to build bridges with gays in the church, praised the comments as “a major step forward in the church’s support for LGBT people.”

“The pope’s speaking positively about civil unions also sends a strong message to places where the church has opposed such laws,” Martin said in a statement.

However, US conservative Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, called for clarification. “The pope’s statement clearly contradicts what has been the long-standing teaching of the church about same-sex unions,” he said in a statement. “The church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships.”

Catholic teaching holds that gays must be treated with dignity and respect but that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” A 2003 document from the Vatican’s doctrine office stated the church’s respect for gays “cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.”

Doing so, the Vatican reasoned, would not only condone “deviant behavior,” but create an equivalence to marriage, which the church holds is an indissoluble union between man and woman.

That document was signed by the then-prefect of the office, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI and Francis’ predecessor.

While serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages. However, he had never come out publicly in favour of civil unions as pope.

Director Evgeny Afineevsky had remarkable access to cardinals, the Vatican television archives and the pope himself. He said he negotiated his way in through persistence, and deliveries of Argentine mate tea and Alfajores cookies that he got to the pope via some well-connected Argentines in Rome.

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Court in Pakistan Orders Arzoo Raja Stay in Shelter Home Until She Turns 18

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Pakistan – On Monday, November 23, the High Court in Sindh ordered that Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl allegedly abducted and illegally married to a 44-year-old Muslim man, remain in a government shelter home until she turns 18.

On October 13, Arzoo was allegedly abducted from her family home in Karachi by Ali Azhar, her Muslim neighbor. Arzoo’s parents reported the incident to local police and were informed two days later that their daughter had converted to Islam and married Azhar.

Arzoo’s parents challenged the validity of the marriage claiming it violated the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act. However, on October 27, the court ruled in favor of the marriage and order local police to protect Arzoo and Azhar.

On November 2, police were ordered by the High Court in Sindh to recover Arzoo and arrest Azhar. This came after Pakistan’s Minister for Human Rights became involved in the case as an intervener. Arzoo was taken to a women’s shelter and Azhar was arrested.

On November 9, the High Court in Sindh ruled that Arzoo was a minor and that her marriage to Azhar violated the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act. Arzoo returned to the women’s shelter after she refused to reunite with her family and insisted that she had freely chosen to marry Azhar.

On November 23, the High Court in Sindh declined to dismiss the criminal charges against Azhar in addition to ordering Arzoo remain in the government shelter home.

“I believe it is a good verdict, because the court has not quashed the FIR registered by Arzoo’s father and statutory rape of a minor has been added to it, a crime punishable with life imprisonment or death sentence,” Jibran Nasir, the Christian family’s attorney, told Morning Star News. “Arzoo will remain in the shelter home and reconsider her decision to not live with her parents.”

“Please understand that Arzoo is reluctant to live with her parents because of the consistent brainwashing done by the accused and certain community activists for ulterior motives,” Nasir added.

According to a study by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan, an estimated 1,000 Christian and Hindu women are abducted, forcefully married, and forcefully converted to Islam every year. Many of the victims are minors. Sexual assaults and fraudulent marriages are used by perpetrators to entrap victims and authorities are often complicit.

The issue of religion is injected into cases of sexual assault to place victims from religious minority communities at a disadvantage. Playing upon religious biases, perpetrators know they can cover up and justify their crimes by introducing an element of religion.

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At least 41 people have been killed in a road accident in Brazil

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At least 41 people were killed and 10 injured on Wednesday when a bus and a truck crashed in southeastern Brazil, police said.
The bus, which was carrying employees on their way to work at a textile factory, collided with the truck just before 7am on a motorway outside the town of Taguai, in Sao Paulo state, police said.
“There were bodies everywhere” when rescuers arrived at the scene, a police source said.
“It was impossible to tell who had been in the truck and who had been in the bus,” he added.
Authorities are still investigating the cause of the crash. The death toll, initially reported as 32, was expected to rise further, state police said in a statement.
“We know there are more victims in the wreckage of the vehicles, but we don’t know how many,” it said.
Police said 37 people were killed at the scene. Four more died of their injuries in hospital. Another nine people are in serious condition, they said.

“In a situation like this, blood transfusions are essential, and the worst part is that stocks are down because of the coronavirus pandemic,” state health secretary Jean Gorinchteyn told television network Globo News.
Images from the scene showed the vehicles smashed into pieces, debris strewn across the road. The front end of the bus was completely torn off.
Dozens of rescuers were still busy at the scene. Taguai is about 340km (211 miles) west of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city and economic capital.

“I want to send my condolences to the families and friends of the victims of this very terrible accident,” said Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria.
Local media reports said there were 53 people on the bus. The truck driver reportedly survived.
The crash was one of the worst in recent memory in Brazil, where 5,332 people died in road accidents last year.

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