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SOUTHERNCROSS-MUGABE May-19-2011 (750 words) With photo. xxxi

Catholic paper: Dictator's Vatican welcome undermined Zimbabwe bishops

By Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- Southern Africa's independent Catholic weekly defended the Vatican against criticism for allowing Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to receive Communion at the beatification of Blessed Pope John Paul II, but took church officials to task for the warm welcome given the dictator.

In an editorial in the issue dated May 18-24, editor Gunther Simmermacher noted that no formal invitations were issued to heads of state, and he noted that "international diplomacy sometimes requires unpalatable things of its practitioners."

But he also said the "televised sight of the tyrant being warmly embraced by a broadly smiling prelate" was "embarrassing for the courageous bishops of Zimbabwe, and to the clergy, religious and laity who strive for a peaceful transition to an equitable and accountable democracy."

"Shortly before departing on his 'absolutely heavenly' Vatican sojourn, Mr. Mugabe described the Zimbabwean bishops as 'so-called men of God who lie' and 'mere puppets of Western countries,'" said the editorial. "In that light particularly, Mr. Mugabe's reception in the Vatican has created an impression, surely inaccurate, that the Vatican sides with him against the bishops of Zimbabwe."

The editorial said it was certain Mugabe would "refer to his welcome in the Vatican when next he feels compelled to insult and attack the bishops of his country and to denounce their apostolic obligation to work for justice and peace."

"Their teaching authority on issues of social justice has been compromised," said the editorial.

"Zimbabwe's bishops have been undermined, and the faithful have been scandalized. Now that damage requires correction," it said.

Simmermacher told Catholic News Service that the editorial was prompted "by a flood of letters we received from Catholics who were upset, hurt, confused and scandalized by the sight of Mugabe at the beatification ceremony -- one writer said he was losing faith because of it!"

Of the two letters The Southern Cross published, one writer said he read the reports "with such utter disgust that my 54 years as a practicing Catholic have been ripped from within me, and I do not know what to believe anymore."

"Thousands of people have been tortured and murdered by this tyrant, and he still murders and tortures -- yet he attends Mass and takes Communion in the Vatican?" the letter said.

The other letter called Mugabe's presence at the May 1 ceremony "mind-boggling. This is a man who authorized the massacre of 20,000 people a generation ago in Matabeleland. Not only has he not apologized, but he has continued his violent and oppressive ways of ruling Zimbabwe to this very present day, killing, maiming and intimidating those who oppose him."

Simmermacher's editorial quoted South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, a Mugabe critic, as saying any reception of Communion "is a matter for the internal forum -- between God and the believer."

Simmermacher told CNS: "There are aspects of the angry reaction that are perhaps misplaced -- Mugabe's reception of Communion. Then there was the anger about Mugabe's presence. I think that even for some people in the Vatican, his presence might well have been unwelcome. ... But where the anger is fair, it is at the warm reception he received, being warmly embraced by a prelate in full view of the TV cameras.

"I should emphasize that I don't think that the Vatican was taking sides, but that a perception has been created that suggests that it has endorsed Mugabe. It's the perception that needs to be addressed," he told CNS.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told CNS that invitations were given to the Vatican's diplomatic corps, but no invitations were "extended to a head of state or other political personality of the various countries. If they say they are coming, they are not refused. Everyone is received with the proper education and respect. One cannot certainly say that there was a particular diplomatic effort of the Vatican, with Italy, for this or that case."

"This is an opportunity to recall that when the pope gives an audience to political figures, they are never invited by the pope. They are the ones who ask to be received. And the fact that they are received does not in any way imply a judgment on their government or on their personal conduct," he said.

He added that for large ceremonies in St. Peter's Square: "There is no selection of who receives Communion. It is not possible to do so. Only those who receive Communion directly from the pope are personally authorized to do so."

END


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