Papal envoy to discuss with Zardari persecution of Christians:

Thursday, November 25, 2010by Speroforum

“The visit of Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran is a great encouragement to Christians in Pakistan. It comes at a critical moment, in which there are increasing social and religious tensions, for the matter of Asia Bibi and for other reasons,” stated Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore and President of the Conference Catholic bishops of Pakistan in an interview with the FIDES news service. Currently, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, is visiting Pakistan on November 25. The trip, set for some time, coincides with a delicate moment in time when the country is facing and discussing, at all levels, the case of Asia Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy. In the next three days the Cardinal will meet with the Catholic community, with various Commissions of the Episcopal Conference and will also speak at an interreligious meeting. Today he meets with the civil authorities, including the Minister for Religious Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, and the President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari. Cardinal Tauran will convey to Zardari the Holy See’s concern over Asia Bibi, and express Pope Benedict’s appeal for clemency. Archbishop Saldanha said, “Right now we are concerned about the growing climate of intolerance. The tension has risen, following the manifestations and appeals of radical Islamic groups who wish to exacerbate the social and religious polarization. We hope that the mission of Cardinal Tauran may serve to calm tempers and contribute to a solution for the case of Asia Bib.” “For the Church” – the Archbishop noted – “the fairest way for the final settlement of the case is a new trial before the High Court, to unequivocally establish her innocence. A clear legal pronouncement of innocence is the only way to silence the protests.”” Alternatively, explains FIDES, a presidential pardon, rather, has the significance of freeing a person who admits to their guilt. This would cause a genuine revolt by Islamic groups. Within the feudal culture and by current Islamic interpretation, forgiveness is unacceptable: there must be an corresponding punishment to the offence, and offence to the Prophet is one of the most serious.” Islamic religious movements have announced demonstrations against President Zardari for today and in the following days and have issued threats to Minister Bhatthi, who dedicated himself completely to the case of Bibi. Zardari finds himself in a very difficult position, due to pressure subjected by Islamic groups that threaten a religious revolt. According to Fides sources, just to ease the tension of the moment, the President should take the time and not grant any pardon immediately. Some lawyers have also pointed out that, at the procedural level, the pardon may be granted only after the pronouncement of all three levels of court in existence (Tribunal of First Instance, High Court and Supreme Court). Meanwhile, projects and proposals circulate for the revision of the blasphemy law to be discussed in Parliament, which intend to prevent abuse. Parliament is considering directly assigning the investigations for crimes of blasphemy to the High Court (second level), to overcome the risks of summary judgements at the first level, influenced by external pressures and to introduce the requirement of the burden of proof on the accused. Source: FIDES

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