REUTERS, June 21 — A senior Vatican official said the human rights group Amnesty International will be discredited if it pushes for the decriminalization of abortion worldwide, reported Reuters.

The London-based organization, founded by Catholic lawyer Peter Benenson in 1961, has begun consulting its 2 million members around the world on whether it should drop its neutral stance on abortion and start pushing countries to repeal laws that make abortion a crime. Tensions between the Holy See and the group have increased since 2000 when Amnesty lent its voice to groups pushing for the United Nations to include the right to legal abortion in a declaration on women’s rights.

“I have great esteem for Amnesty but doing this, they cut off their hands,” Cardinal Renato Martino said in an interview during a visit to Singapore. “I hope they don’t do this because if they do, they are disqualified as defenders of human rights,”

“Human rights follow if the human being is at the center of all concerns,” the cardinal added. “We can collaborate with anyone who shares this belief.”

Vatican Fights to Save Bishops Held by China

THE SUNDAY TIMES, June 18 — The plight of seven detained bishops — at least one of whom is gravely ill — of the Church in China, has prompted secret negotiations between the Vatican and the Chinese.

The men, most of them frail and elderly, are political hostages in a dispute half a century old over the Pope’s right to appoint bishops in China and the Vatican’s recognition of Taiwan. The talks were disclosed by Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong, who has watched with alarm as recent moves to reconcile the Vatican with China have turned into a strident confrontation.

Cardinal Zen said Chinese leaders did not want to face up to the contradictions in their society. “For us it is a real mystery how they can open the market and then be so backward in their religious policy. They are afraid of anything they cannot control and so they even try to control consciences. But that’s impossible.”

Israel Extends Invitation to the Vatican

JERUSALEM POST, June 19 — In an effort to boost Catholic tourism to Israel, Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog has invited the Vatican to hold next year’s World Bishops Conference in Israel, according to the Post.

Herzog presented the possibility in a meeting June 18 with the Vatican’s Apostolic Nuncio to Israel, Archbishop Antonio Franco, as a means of strengthening relations between Israel and Christian leaders.

Also on the meeting’s agenda were preparations for the anticipated visit of Pope Benedict XVI next year and a request from Franco to advance an administrative-economic agreement between the two, whereby Israel would provide assistance to clergy in the country. Approximately half the 800,000 Christian tourists to Israel last year were Catholic, double the 2004 total.