Church denies split over U.S. nuns

The Vatican on Tuesday sought to deny there were any internal divisions over its crackdown on the largest umbrella group of U.S. nuns after a top Vatican official complained that the Holy See’s reform project had caused him “much pain.”

The head of the Vatican’s office for religious orders, Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, was quoted over the weekend as saying his office wasn’t consulted or even advised by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about its decision to overhaul the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 80 percent of American sisters.

The Congregation last year placed the Leadership Conference under the authority of a U.S. bishop after determining that the sisters took positions that undermined Catholic teaching on the priesthood and homosexuality while promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Braz de Aviz was quoted by the National Catholic Reporter as telling an international gathering of sisters in Rome on Sunday that he learned of the Congregation’s crackdown only after its report had been completed. He said he told the then-prefect of the Congregation, U.S. Cardinal William Levada, that the issue should have been discussed with his office but wasn’t.

On Tuesday, the Vatican said Braz de Aviz’s words were misinterpreted. “The prefects of these two congregations work closely together according to their specific responsibilities and have collaborated throughout the process,” the statement said.

— Associated Press

Freeze seen on new settlement projects

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stopped approving new construction in West Bank settlements, two prominent Israeli activist groups said Tuesday, in what could be an attempt to clear the way for renewed peace talks with the Palestinians.

The anti-settlement group Peace Now, which monitors all new Israeli settlement construction, said Netanyahu has not approved new tenders or announcements of new building plans in the settlements since he won a new term in January elections.

“It seems that Netanyahu took it upon himself to follow a policy of restraint,” Peace Now said in a statement. It said Netanyahu was probably trying to avoid colliding with the U.S. at a time when Secretary of State John F. Kerry is attempting to restart peace negotiations.

The group said it did not know how long the freeze on new settlement building would hold, and noted that previously started settlement building is proceeding.

The Yesha settlers council, which promotes settlement construction, also said a freeze was in place. Yigal Dilmoni, a Yesha official, said Netanyahu’s office confirmed to him that the prime minister has stopped approving housing tenders.

“This does not help anything, and it is discriminatory,” Dilmoni said. “We are severely against this.”

Netanyahu’s office had no immediate comment.

— Associated Press

World Jewish Congress warns about neo-Nazi parties: The World Jewish Congress says it is greatly concerned about the emergence of neo-Nazi parties such as the Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary.
A study presented Tuesday at the WJC assembly in Budapest, the Hungarian capital, highlights the links between the strengthening of such extremist groups, the European economic crisis and latent Nazi-type tendencies. The study also focused on Germany’s National Democratic

Philippines volcano eruption kills five: One of the Philippines’ most active volcanoes rumbled to life Tuesday, spewing room-size rocks toward nearly 30 surprised climbers, killing five and injuring others that had to be fetched with helicopters and rope. The climbers and their Filipino guides had spent the night camping in two groups before setting out at daybreak for the crater of Mayon volcano when the explosion of rocks, ash and plumes of smokes jolted the mountain, a guide told ABS-CBN TV network by cellphone.

China disciplines 21 in extortion scandal: China’s ruling Communist Party has punished 21 officials over a scandal in which they allegedly were extorted by real estate developers after being secretly filmed in liaisons with hired women. The official Xinhua News Agency said Tuesday that the party’s disciplinary body in the central city of Chongqing had stripped former local district party chief Lei Zhengfu of his party membership.

— From news services