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Belize’s far-reaching gender bill runs aground, and critics warn of international 'gender ideology' pressure

Denver Newsroom, Oct 18, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).-  

A bill purporting to secure equality and anti-discrimination in Belize was withdrawn last month, after Bishop Lawrence Nicasio and other Catholic leaders raised objections to the bill’s treatment of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Nicasio said the bill risked creating a “new colonialism” where international experts are allowed to change the country’s laws, culture and values.

“I think that it was an important battle and that if the bill had passed, it would have had dire consequences for the future of Belize,” Father John Robinson, SOLT, told CNA Oct. 13. “However, I am under no delusion that the war has been won. There is a push in education at all levels to accept the new gender theory and to normalize and promote the LGBT lifestyle.  I am sure that there will be similar proposals in the future.”

“It is important to realize that the Equal Opportunities Bill is only one part of a larger movement of social engineering that is largely promoted and funded by foreign entities,” said Robinson, who has lived in Belize since 1994 and is chairman of Belize’s Guadalupe Media.

“These groups have historically sought to bring about their agenda through education and law.”

Bishop Nicasio, of Belize City and Belmopan, had said the bill was “rushed” despite its great consequences for the country, and warned that it “ореnѕ thе dооr fоr Unіtеd Nаtіоnѕ Соmmіttееѕ аnd ‘ехреrtѕ,’ whо dо nоt lіvе іn Веlіzе аnd dо nоt undеrѕtаnd our vаluеѕ аnd сulturе, tо dісtаtе thе tеrmѕ оf оur lаwѕ.”

“Тhіѕ would bе а nеw соlоnіаlіѕm,” the bishop said in a Sept. 15 letter.

Several international NGO backed the legislation, as part of a global push to change laws in British Commonwealth countries.

In January the Belize government’s press office said the Equal Opportunities Bill was needed “to address and prevent discrimination, stigma, and violence.”

The bill aimed to regulate “specific conduct in areas of public life” regarding employment, education, access to premises or accommodation, provision of goods and services, travel, public services.”

It would have also established an Equal Opportunities Commission, a non-judicial body that would “work with stakeholders to address inequality, resolve disputes, conduct research and education, and develop guidelines to assist the government, businesses and the community in identifying and eliminating systemic discrimination.”

The commission would have been funded by the National Assembly but could also seek funds from domestic, regional and international sources, provided that the funding be disclosed.

Also called for by the bill was an Equal Opportunities Tribunal, a judicial body funded only by the Belize government. An appointed judge of the Supreme Court would compose the tribunal. The tribunal has the power to make declarations, awards and judgment on cases. It would “provide for broad-ranging remedies” and resolve claims not settled before the commission.

Bishop Nicasio, whose diocese encompasses the entire country of 383,000 people, voiced his desire “to end unjust discrimination and all injustice” and pledged cooperation to work towards these ends, but he said the Catholic Church could not support the bill for several reasons.

The bill could infringe on parents' rights, and, given the power of law to form consciences and opinions, the bill would “do much to confuse the youth of Belize regarding the sacredness of sexuality.” Sexuality is “a way toward holy matrimonial union and the conception of children,” he said.

The view of human nature behind the bill also drew criticism from the bishop, who said “the novelty of the anthropology” in it was another reason not to support it. The bill recognizes “intersex” as a sex in addition to male and female.
“The bill introduces the notion that humanity has three sexes instead of two, the notion that subjective gender identity is more important than one’s God-given biological sex and would impose on Belizeans the task of ‘gender mainstreaming’.”
It would give “unparalleled power” to an Equal Opportunities Commission and an Equal Opportunities Tribunal. In the name of fighting discrimination, it could endanger freedom of conscience and religion. While the bill made some exceptions for religious organizations, there were none for “individual believers with deeply-held, Bible-formed beliefs.” He warned the bill could create a “pendulum effect” and enable discrimination against these individuals.

For Fr. Robinson, the bill itself was “not a surprise.” He saw it as “only one manifestation of an ongoing social engineering experiment.”

“However, the extreme nature of the proposals was surprising, especially the creation of an entirely independent judicial branch with the rank of a supreme court and the power invested in the Commission/Tribunal with no real checks or balances.”

After the bill failed to advance, Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow told reporters Sept. 16 that the cabinet was “very upset” not to proceed with it and felt it was a good, necessary, and “overdue” bill, PlusTV Belize reported. He said the Belize constitution provides equal opportunity and the bill would have provided an “umbrella of protection”.

He claimed it was a misconception that the legislation would be “rushed” since there would be time for views to be voiced in committee. Barrow insisted that there had been “widespread” consultations.

The Anglican Bishop of Belize, Phillip Wright, in his role heading the Belize Council of Churches, had told the prime minister the council could not support the bill as it was written. The Roman Catholic Church in Belize is also a member of the council.

Backers of the bill were planning to proceed in the face of expected opposition from evangelical Christians, but opposition from other churches was too much, according to Barrow.

“We’re not going to go against all the churches, the evangelicals plus the Belize Council of Churches,” said the prime minister. According to Barrow, Wright seemed to suggest that further work could have resulted in an agreement.

The U.K.-based Human Dignity Trust, an LGBT advocacy group, aided with the drafting of the Belize bill. In an April 17 announcement, the trust said the Belize bill was “the first of their kind for the Caribbean region.” The trust “supported the process of public consultations on the proposed legislation” and translated the legal documents into “digestible explanatory materials for everyday Belizeans.”

The trust is a member of the Equality and Justice Alliance, a consortium of three NGOs which received about $7.25 million from the U.K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office in 2018 for a two-year program. This program aimed to engage Commonwealth leaders, governments and civil society leaders “to advance equality and equal protection before the law in order to secure the rights of all Commonwealth citizens, regardless of gender, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression.”

Besides the U.K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office and others, the trust is presently funded by the Canadian government’s diplomatic department Global Affairs Canada; the Tides Foundation’s Equality Without Borders Fund; the Open Society Foundations; and the Sigrid Rausing Trust, among others.

The Human Dignity Trust worked with the Belize National AIDS Commission and Office of the Special Envoy for Women and Children “in order to create an enabling environment for the introduction of this progressive legislation.”

Its specific efforts included a “public education campaign” on television, radio, a website and social media. Its public service announcements were “designed to break down stigma and encourage respect and tolerance for LGBT people, women and girls and people with disability,” the trust said.

Belize First Lady Kim Simplis Barrow, wife of Prime Minister Barrow, served as Belize’s Special Envoy for Women and Children through Oct. 1. She has praised the Human Dignity Trust’s work on the Equal Opportunity Bill.

While critics of Belize’s bill see it as a form of ideological colonialism, some backers of this international effort claim they were making amends for the colonial legacy of the British Empire. Then-Prime Minister Theresa May spoke to the Joint Forums of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2018, voicing “deep regret” that Britain had instituted “discriminatory laws,” including the criminalization of same-sex sexual relations, in its Commonwealth territories.

“It has been a great honor to be entrusted by the British government to provide technical support for law reform that has the power to transform millions of people’s lives across the Commonwealth,” Téa Braun, director of the Human Dignity Trust, said in April 2020. “We have been overwhelmed by the commitment of government officials in Belize, Mauritius and St Vincent and the Grenadines to rid their law books of discriminatory laws and enact protective legislation, and assisting them has been a privilege.”

The National Evangelical Association of Belize’s Sept. 9 criticism of the bill appeared to counter claims that there was sufficient consultation in the bill’s drafting. The first announcement of the consultations took place four days before the consultations. The 75-page first draft of the bill was released the same day as the first consultation.

The group said the proposed human rights commission’s ability to investigate someone without a formal complaint would allow “special interest activism in targeting organizations, schools or businesses.” The bill’s definition of “gender identity” has never appeared in Belize law before and would be that of LGBT activists. “Intersex” would also be a term new to Belize law.

The evangelical critics objected that similar anti-discrimination laws have been used in other countries to “arrest pastors, silence those who speak up about their values, sue cake bakers for not doing same sex wedding cakes.” The bill’s religious freedom protections are “severely deficient.”
Because the law aimed to protect “lawful sexual activity” from “discrimination,” a school that fired a teacher for sexual relations with a student age 16 or over would have faced a discrimination complaint if the bill had become law.
The critics also faulted the law’s ambiguity in banning “unintended,” “undirect,” “unaware,” and “partial” discrimination. The tribunal system established an “alternate independent judicial path” that undermines protections like presumption of innocence and provision of legal representation, they sad.
Robinson told CNA that advocates who campaigned to remove Belize’s little-enforced anti-sodomy law used success there to press for further changes.
“I am very grateful to those who vigorously opposed this bill and who sounded the alarm,” the priest said. “I found it very concerning that many Catholics were oblivious to the harm that this bill would have done to Belize and (that there) was reluctance in the Church to take action.  I am grateful especially to the Evangelical churches who were largely responsible for opposing and helping to defeat this bill.”

Another point of controversy in the country is the Ministry of Education’s “Belizean Studies” program in non-denominational secondary schools.
“This program has been rejected by the denominational schools because of its relativism, its subtle Marxism and its gender theory which promotes an anthropology that is in direct conflict with a Christian anthropology,” Robinson said.
In 2012 controversy focused on a Health and Family Life Education manual promoted by the U.S. Peace Corps through the Ministry of Education. Before its distribution through all primary schools in Belize, evangelical and Catholic critics objected to what Robinson characterized as “highly inappropriate sexual content” and its promotion of “sexual indulgence.” Objections from critics halted the program.

The United Nations is another area where Belizean leaders are encouraged to advance LGBT causes like the equal opportunity bill.

LGBT issues in Belize were a topic at a Nov. 12, 2018 review of Belize’s human rights record conducted by a working group of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. At that meeting several countries pressed Belize to pass anti-discrimination laws on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and some sought the legalization of abortion.
The Belize delegation said some recommendations were aligned with the government’s priorities. The delegation also voiced support for sex education and HIV prevention programs developed by UNESCO.


Pope Francis: God is supreme

Vatican City, Oct 18, 2020 / 05:13 am (CNA).- Catholics, by virtue of their baptism, must affirm to the world God’s primacy in human life and in history, Pope Francis said Sunday.

In his weekly Angelus address Oct. 18, the pope explained that “to pay taxes is a duty of citizens, as is complying with the just laws of the state. At the same time, it is necessary to affirm God’s primacy in human life and in history, respecting God’s right over all that belongs to him.”

“Hence the mission of the Church and Christians,” he stated, “to speak of God and bear witness to him to the men and women of our time.”

Before leading pilgrims in praying the Angelus in Latin, Pope Francis reflected on the day’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew.

In the passage, the Pharisees try to trap Jesus in speech by asking him what he thinks about the lawfulness of paying the census tax to Caesar.

Jesus replied: “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” When they handed him the Roman coin with the image of Emperor Caesar, “then Jesus replies: ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,’” Pope Francis recounted.

In his reply, Jesus “acknowledges that the tribute to Caesar must be paid,” the pope said, “because the image on the coin is his; but above all he recalls that each person carries within him another image -- we carry it in our heart, in our soul -- that of God, and therefore it is to him, and to him alone, that each person owes his or her existence, his or her life.”

Jesus’ line gives “clear guidelines,” he said, “for the mission of all believers of all times, even for us today,” explaining that “everyone, by baptism, is called to be a living presence in society, inspiring it with the Gospel and with the lifeblood of the Holy Spirit.”

This requires humility and courage, he noted; a commitment to building “the civilization of love, where justice and fraternity reign.”

Pope Francis concluded his message by praying that Mary Most Holy will help everyone to “flee from all hypocrisy and to be honest and constructive citizens. And may she sustain us disciples of Christ in the mission to bear witness that God is the center and the meaning of life.”

After praying the Angelus, the pope pointed out the Church’s celebration of World Mission Day. The theme this year, he said, is “Here I am, send me.”

“Weavers of fraternity: it is beautiful, this word ‘weavers,’” he said. “Every Christian is called to be a weaver of fraternity.”

Francis asked everyone to support the Church’s priest, religious, and lay missionaries, “who sow the Gospel in the great field of the world.”

“Let’s pray for them and give them our concrete support,” he said, adding his gratitude to God for the release last week of Fr. Pierluigi Maccalli, an Italian Catholic priest who was kidnapped by a jihadist group in Niger two years ago.

The pope asked for an applause to greet Fr. Macalli and for prayers for all those who are kidnapped around the world.

Pope Francis also encouraged a group of Italian fishermen, who have been detained in Libya since the beginning of September, and their families. The two fishing crews, which came from Sicily and include 12 Italians and six Tunisians, have been detained in the northern African country for over a month and a half.

A Libyan warlord, General Khalifa Haftar, has reportedly said he will not release the fishermen until Italy frees four Libyan soccer players convicted of human trafficking.

The pope asked for a moment of silent prayer for the fishermen and for Libya. He also said he is praying for the discussions happening at the international level regarding the situation.

He urged those involved “to stop all forms of hostility, promoting dialogue that leads to peace and stability, and to the unity of the country.”

Becciu 'vigorously' denies interference in Cardinal Pell trial

Rome Newsroom, Oct 18, 2020 / 03:12 am (CNA).- Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu again denied having interfered in any way with the trial of Cardinal George Pell, after Italian media reported an allegation that Becciu might have wired money to Australia as a bribe during Pell’s trial.

An Oct. 17 statement from Becciu’s lawyer, Fabio Viglione, said the cardinal, “regarding the everlasting attention of some journalists to Cardinal Pell’s trial, is compelled to reiterate vigorously that he has never interfered with it in any way whatsoever.”

The lawyer also said “to protect and defend his honor, so gravely damaged,” Becciu may seek legal recourse against some news organizations for their continued reporting of “an alleged, albeit non existent activity to taint the evidence of Cardinal Pell’s trial.”

Becciu’s latest denial comes after speculative reports in Italian newspapers earlier this month indicated he had been accused of wiring money from an undisclosed Vatican account to Australia while Pell was facing a 2018 criminal trial, on charges that he sexually abused two boys while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.

Pell was convicted of that charge, after a first trial ended in a hung jury, and in 2019 sentenced to prison. He was freed on April 7, 2020, after Australia’s High Court concluded the jury in Pell’s trial did not act rationally when it found no possibility of doubt in the charges the cardinal faced.

Reports that Becciu may have transferred money to Australia to set up Pell have attracted international attention.

The allegation, which CNA has not independently corroborated, is reportedly tied to Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, a former Becciu deputy who is said to be cooperating with investigators. But while the supposed allegations have made headlines in Italy, Australia, the U.K, and the U.S., they have not been independently confirmed and remain attributed only to anonymous sources.

Until 2017, Pell led an effort called for by Pope Francis to bring order and accountability to the Vatican’s finances, which have long lacked centralized procedures, controls, or oversight. Pell clashed in that role with Becciu, who as sostituto of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State served effectively as the pope’s chief of staff. Becciu at one point acted to cancel a contract Pell had made for an external audit of Vatican finances.

Since at least 2018, criminal investigators have been reviewing a web of investments and transactions at the Secretariat of State that are connected to Becciu; last month the cardinal was fired from his position at the Vatican and resigned “the rights proper to cardinals,” while formally remaining a member of the College of Cardinals.

It is believed Becciu may soon face criminal charges for his role in several Vatican investment and financial schemes of questionable integrity and legality that amount to hundreds of millions of euros.

A woman at the center of the most recent Vatican financial scandal, who is alleged to be closely connected with Becciu, is currently being held in an Italian jail pending extradition to the Vatican.
Cecilia Marogna, a self-described geopolitical analyst, was arrested Oct. 13 by Italian financial authorities after a warrant was issued by Vatican prosecutors through Interpol.

Marogna has said she worked for the Holy See’s Secretariat of State as a security consultant and strategist. Vatican authorities reportedly issued the warrant on charges of aggravated embezzlement. She has acknowledged receiving hundreds of thousands of euros from the Vatican via her company registered in Slovenia, and confirmed use of the funds for the purchase of luxury items, including designer label handbags.

She has stated that the money all went to her Vatican consultancy work and her salary; expensive gifts, such as trips or purses, she said, “were used to create cooperative relationships.”

Although a Milan court of appeal has upheld the execution of the warrant, lawyers for Marogna have appealed her extradition to Vatican City, a process that is expected to take as long as a month to complete. Pending the outcome of the appeal, Marogna is being held in a local jail after the Milan court deemed her a flight risk.


New calls for US sanctions on Turkey for Christian persecution

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 17, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Christian human rights leaders have called on the Trump administration to issue sanctions on Turkey in response to its actions in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict, and warned that Turkish actions were guided by "animus" against Christians.

The calls came during a panel discussion, hosted by the group In Defence of Christians Friday, titled “Turkey is Committing Another Christian Genocide. Why is the Trump Administration Silent?” The event focused on Turkish actions in the recent conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. 

The historic conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has reignited in recent weeks. The two countries, formerly part of the Soviet Union (USSR), fought a six-year war over the territory from 1988 to 1994 after the fall of the USSR, ending in a ceasefire. The United Nations currently recognizes the territory as part of Azerbaijan, but administered by ethnic Armenians. Turkey has been accused of actively exporting Syrian Islamist extremists to Azerbaijan to fight Armenia.  

Friday’s discussion featured panelists Toufic Baaklini, president of In Defense of Christians; Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America; Robert Avetisyan, Permanent Representative of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic to the United States; Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute; Rich Ghazal of In Defense of Christians; and Endy Zemenides of the Hellenic American Leadership Council. 

Turkey, said Baaklini, is a dangerous actor, and “We expect the Trump Administration to take action.” He said that the current policy towards Turkey is not working, and that “President Trump and Congress need to heavily sanction Turkey” in light of their hostility towards Christians. 

Several of the panelists called for sanctions in response to Turkish violations of international agreements. 

In October 2019, explained Ghazal, sanctions were lifted after Turkey agreed to a cease-fire in northeast Syria. Since then, however, “Turkey has violated this U.S.-brokered ceasefire over 800 times,” Ghazal said. 

On Oct. 8, militants shelled a cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, destroying part of the roof and damaging the walls of Holy Savior Cathedral in Shusha. Nagorno-Karabakh officially belongs to Azerbaijan, but it is also claimed by the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh. 

Armenians said that Turkish-backed forces from Azerbaijan were behind the attack.

The attack on the cathedral drew condemnation from Christian leaders and religious freedom advocates.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom stated last week that it was “dismayed to learn” of damage to the cathedral, and called for “the safeguarding of places of worship and religious sites.” 

Avetisyan said the present conflict is “unprecedented,” and that it is mercenaries hired by Turkey, not jihadists, who are behind much of the violence. 

“We need the world to speak out,” said Avetisyan. “We need the world to be involved in this situation.”

He called for the recognition of Artsakh, which has presently not been recognized by any United Nations member states, saying that it would send a message to Azerbaijan. 

While Turkey has been given a pass for their past behavior, Rubin explained, there was “absolutely no excuse” for what is currently happening in Artsakh. 

Turkey, he said, has no historical claim to Artsakh, nor does it have any history with the region. Rubin said that Turkey’s “sole motivation” in the conflict has been “purely animus.” 

This animus, he said, extends “not to Armenians as a people, but to Christianity as a religion.” 

“It becomes clear that perhaps we shouldn’t accept Turkey’s excuses anymore,” he said and said that the country has been “actively supporting” the Islamic State. 

Zemenides and Ghazal both pointed out that the dwindling number of Christians in the region is akin to the accepted definition of genocide. 

Zemenides stated that “the existence of Artsakh is an inconvenience” for Turkey, and noted that there are now fewer than 2,000 Greek Orthodox Christians in the country, and called its treatment of Christian minorities a “stain” on all western countries who are not speaking up for the Christians in the region. 

Rubin classified President Donald Trump’s relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as “absolutely bizarre,” and called for further action. There is a need for Congress to be “more assertive,” when it comes to Turkey he said, and this applies to both political parties.

“Congress has to stop allowing the White House to hand out waivers,” he said. 

Zemenides said that “If we cannot take a stand at this point--when churches are being bombed, when civilians are being bombed, when there is no end in sight [...] it’s going to be a stain on our collective conscience.”  

Ghazal further called for Turkey to be designated a “Country of Particular Concern” by the Office of International Religious Freedom, although he noted that it is up to the Department of State to make this call. 

The U.S., he said, “Must take action in the form of tough, biting sanctions and a discontinuation of military aid.”

Vatican: Coronavirus case in Pope Francis' residence

Vatican City, Oct 17, 2020 / 06:59 am (CNA).- The Holy See press office said Saturday a resident of the Vatican hotel where Pope Francis also lives has tested positive for COVID-19.

The person has been temporarily moved out of the Casa Santa Marta residence and placed in isolation, the Oct. 17 statement said. Anyone who came into direct contact with the person is also observing a period of isolation.

The patient is so-far asymptomatic, the Vatican said. It noted that in recent days, three other positive cases among residents or citizens of the city state have recovered.

The statement also added that pandemic health measures issued by the Holy See and the Governorate of Vatican City continue to be followed and "the health of all Domus [Casa Santa Marta] residents is constantly monitored."

The case within Pope Francis' residence is added to  the active coronavirus cases among Swiss Guards.

The Pontifical Swiss Guard announced Oct. 15 that a total of 11 members had now contracted COVID-19.

The army of 135 soldiers said in a statement "the isolation of positive cases was immediately arranged and further checks are being carried out."

It also emphasized that the guard is following strict new Vatican measures to contain the virus and would offer an update on the situation "in the next few days."

Italy was one of Europe’s worst-hit countries during the first wave of the coronavirus. More than 391,611 people total have tested positive for COVID-19 and 36,427 have died in Italy as of Oct. 17, according to government statistics. Cases are once again rising with more than 12,300 active cases recorded in Rome's region of Lazio.

Pope Francis met Oct. 17 with members of the Carabinieri, Italy's national gendarmerie, who serve in a company responsible for an area near the Vatican.

He thanked them for their work in keeping the area of the Vatican safe during events with pilgrims and tourists from around the world, and for their patience with the many people, including priests, who stop them to ask questions.

"Even if your superiors do not see these hidden acts, you know well that God sees them and does not forget them!" he said.

Pope Francis also noted that every morning, when he enters his study in the Apostolic Palace, he goes first to pray before an image of Our Lady, and then he looks out of the window onto St. Peter's Square.

"And there, at the end of the square, I see you. Every morning I greet you with my heart and thank you," he said.