Killings in Nigeria

Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. on Monday expressed "concern and horror" at the violent conflicts which have taken place in Nigeria in recent days. The attacks led to the deaths of 500 Christians of the Berom ethnic group, in villages in central northern Nigeria, at the hands of Muslims of the Fulani ethnic group. Fr. Lombardi also explained that the events are to be seen "not as a religious, but a social confrontation."

Echoing that statement were the words of Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, in an interview with Vatican Radio. "This is a classic conflict between herdsmen and farmers, except that the Fulani are all Muslims and the Berom all Christians,” said the archbishop. He added that “The international media are quickly led to report that it is Christians and Muslims who are killing one another; but this is not true, because the killings are not caused by religion but by social, economic, tribal and cultural issues. The victims are poor people who know nothing about, and have nothing to do with, any of this and are completely innocent. For our part in the Church, we continue to work to promote good relations between Christians and Muslims, seeking to reach agreement in an attempt to overcome violence and to work together to face the real political and ethnic problems. Archbishop Olorunfemi said, "We pray for peace, for good government and for truth. And we pray also that people may realize that the only way to survive in this country is to recognize one another as brothers and citizens of the same nation."

The attacks came two months after similar clashes between Muslim and Christian groups over control of fertile farmland in the state of Plateau.

Note on cases of sexual abuse

The following is the text of A note issued today by Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi concerning cases of the sexual abuse of minors in ecclesiastical institutions:

"For some months now the very serious question of the sexual abuse of minors in institutions run by ecclesiastical bodies and by people with positions of responsibility within the Church, priests in particular, has overwhelmed the Church and society in Ireland. The Holy Father recently demonstrated his own concern, particularly through two meetings: firstly with high-ranking members of the episcopate, then with all the ordinaries. He is also preparing the publication of a letter on the subject for the Irish Church.

"But over recent weeks the debate on the sexual abuse of minors has also involved the Church in certain central European countries (Germany, Austria and Holland). And it is on this development that we wish to make some simple remarks.

"The main ecclesiastical institutions concerned - the German Jesuit Province (the first to be involved, through the case of the Canisius-Kolleg in Berlin), the German Episcopal Conference, the Austrian Episcopal Conference and the Netherlands Episcopal Conference - have faced the emergence of problem with timely and decisive action. They have demonstrated their desire for transparency and, in a certain sense, accelerated the emergence of the problem by inviting victims to speak out, even when the cases involved date from many years ago. By doing so they have approached the matter 'on the right foot', because the correct starting point is recognition of what happened and concern for the victims and the consequences of the acts committed against them. Moreover, they have re-examined the extant 'Directives' and have planned new operative guidelines which also aim to identify a prevention strategy, so that everything possible may be done to ensure that similar cases are not repeated in the future.

"These events mobilize the Church to find appropriate responses and should be placed in a more wide-ranging context that concerns the protection of children and young people from sexual abuse in society as a whole. Certainly, the errors committed in ecclesiastical institutions and by Church figures are particularly reprehensible because of the Church's educational and moral responsibility, but all objective and well-informed people know that the question is much broader, and concentrating accusations against the Church alone gives a false perspective. By way of example, recent data supplied by the competent authorities in Austria shows that, over the same period of time, the number of proven cases in Church institutions was 17, while there were 510 other cases in other areas. It would be as well to concern ourselves also with them.

"In Germany initiatives are now rightly being suggested, promoted by the Ministry for the Family, to call a 'round table' of the various educational and social organisations in order to consider the question from an appropriate and comprehensive viewpoint. The Church is naturally ready to participate and become involved and, perhaps, her own painful experience may also be a useful contribution for others. Chancellor Angela Merkel had justly recognized the seriousness and constructive approach shown by the German Church.

"In order to complete these remarks, it is as well to recall once again that the Church exists as part of civil society and shoulders her own responsibilities in society, but she also has her own specific code, the 'canonical code', which reflects her spiritual and sacramental nature and in which, therefore, judicial and penal procedures are different (for example, they contain no provision for pecuniary sanctions or for the deprivation of freedom, but for impediment in the exercise of the ministry and privation of rights in the ecclesiastical field, etc.). In the ambit of canon law, the crime of the sexual abuse of minors has always been considered as one of the most serious of all, and canonical norms have constantly reaffirmed this, in particular the 2001 Letter 'De delictis gravioribus', sometimes improperly cited as the cause of a 'culture of silence'. Those who know and understand its contents, are aware that it was a decisive signal to remind the episcopate of the seriousness of the problem, as well as a real incentive to draw up operational guidelines to face it.

"In conclusion, although the seriousness of the difficulties the Church is going through cannot be denied, we must not fail to do everything possible in order to ensure that, in the end, they bring positive results, of better protection for infancy and youth in the Church and in society, and the purification of the Church herself."


The city of Erbil - also written Arbil – is the third largest city in Iraq after Baghdad and Mosul and is the capital of the semi-autonomous northern region of Kurdistan.

On my first full day in Iraq last month, Father Rayan Atto, pastor of the Chaldean parish of Mar (saint) Qardagh in Erbil, accompanied Hank and Diane McCormick and me on a visit to the city, including the imposing and very ancient citadel. Standing high on a hill overlooking modern Erbil, the citadel is estimated to be 8,000 years old as it is actually composed of successive layers of buildings and towns, the oldest of which dates to 6,000 B.C.

Originally, the town was reached only through a ramp on its southern slope that led to a huge and arched gateway. From this gate steps led to a small open square which, in turn, led to four main alleyways which branched in all directions like a tree. Here I am with Fr. Rayan as we reached the top of the ramp.

I have seen some amazing aerial views of the citadel which dominates modern Erbil and which is, in fact, its nucleus: It is clearly riveting in size and history. As I discovered during our visit, we could have spent the better part of a day here.

Until recently some of the houses at the Citadel were occupied and a few served as government offices.

The citadel’s web site tell us that “The citadel town is the unique heritage of human experience and genius of thousands of years. It tells the story of how hundreds of past generations interacted with their natural environment and how they developed their way of life based on their cultural norms and values.”

The overall shape of Iraq’s “city on a hill” is rather elliptical. The citadel rises more than 30 meters (100 + feet) above modern Erbil and is composed of inward facing courtyard houses and several public buildings. Seen from ground level or from an aerial view, the citadel is quite dramatic.

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