News Roundup

Taoiseach praises Churches’ work for peace in NI

The Taoiseach has praised the Churches for their ongoing contribution to peace building, and the work they undertake on an ongoing and daily basis at community levels in Northern Ireland.

Representatives of the Presbyterian, Methodist, Church of Ireland, and Catholic church, and of the Irish Council of Churches, met with Micheál Martin yesterday to discuss a range of issues from the recent violence in Northern Ireland to the response to the covid-19 pandemic.

A statement from the government press office said that the Taoiseach and the Church leaders had a very constructive discussion on Northern Ireland, including a shared and grave concern at recent incidents of violence on the streets.

The Taoiseach and Church Leaders also agreed the pandemic has posed challenges for all citizens in terms of their mental health and wellbeing and “recognised the importance of faith to the spiritual and mental well-being of many people and communities and look forward to the time when church services and other in-person activities can resume”.


Archbishops of Canterbury regret shutting churches during 1st UK lockdown

Both the current and former Archbishops of Canterbury have expressed regret that churches were locked shut during the first UK lockdown.

The Church took the decision after the Government banned public gatherings of two or more people.

In Ireland at the time, while the Government didn’t close churches, many dioceses outside of Dublin ordered them shut.

Justin Welby told the Financial Times he didn’t push hard enough to keep churches available, at least for individual prayer.

He had also ordered clergy not to go in to them, even for private prayer or to conduct online services.

He now admits he made a mistake, saying he was too risk-averse.

Separately, the retired Archbishop, Rowan Williams, said there was a stronger case than he recognised at the time for keeping churches open for private prayer, simply because people value the sheer space.


Boris Johnson will exempt prayer from ‘conversion therapy’ ban

Boris Johnson has confirmed churches in Britain will still be allowed to pray for gay people who request help to live chastely – despite plans to ban conversion therapy.

The Prime Minister said all adults can still get ‘appropriate pastoral support including prayer’ in religious settings in the ‘exploration of their sexual orientation’.

The PM told the Evangelical Alliance (EA) that he takes ‘freedom of speech and freedom of religion very seriously’ and he will not back calls from some LGBT campaigners who wanted a ban on any practice aiming to change someone’s sexual identity, including prayer.

The EA’s UK Director Peter Lynas had warned that a ban would be “a substantive block on supporting those that do not wish to act on their sexual attraction.”

“Ironically, those calling for a ban are promoting polices that would discriminate against someone based on their sexuality – preventing someone who is gay from accessing counselling available to a straight person.”

He added: ‘An expansive definition of conversion therapy, and a ban along such lines, would place church leaders at risk of prosecution when they preach on biblical texts relating to marriage and sexuality.

He said they naturally “oppose abusive practices, and the use of electro-shock treatment and corrective rape are clearly wrong and should be ended”.

“However, such practices should already be banned or illegal and as such should be dealt with under existing policies and laws.”


Bishop submits affidavit in case challenging blanket ban on worship

An Irish Bishop has had an affidavit filed with the High Court in support of the case challenging the constitutionality of the ban on public worship.

The move was reported by the court reporter for the Irish Times though the identity and denomination of the ecclesiastic was not revealed.

Counsel on behalf of Galway businessman, Declan Ganley, was given permission by High Court Judge Charles Meenan to file the affidavit on behalf of the bishop at a hearing on Tuesday.

The Judge also allowed an additional filing to further argue against the ban on the grounds of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

The case also stands on article 44 of the Irish Constitution which holds that freedom of conscience “and the free profession and practice of religion are, subject to public order and morality, guaranteed to every citizen”.


Assisted suicide bills fail in France and Latvia

Moves to legalise euthanasia in France and Latvia have floundered.

The French bill was a personal initiative of a deputy for the parliamentary splinter group Libertes et Territoires (“Freedom and Territories”). He said the law would put a stop to a national “hypocrisy” of French residents travelling to Belgium or Switzerland for assisted suicide while, he claimed, French doctors are secretly performing 2,000 to 4,000 euthanasia every year.

The bill’s opponents filed about 3,000 amendments ahead of the debate which slowed down proceedings and made a vote in the allotted time impossible, thus killing the bill.

Meanwhile, on March 25, after a long debate, the Latvian Parliament (Saeima) rejected a public petition which had called for the legalisation of euthanasia. A total of 49 members voted for rejection, 38 voted against, and two abstained.

Opponents emphasised that Latvia needed to get its palliative care system in order first, before considering right-to-die initiatives. Deputy Vitālijs Orlovs, who is a doctor, declared in the debate: “I was taught to fight for patients’ lives to the end. I cannot imagine injecting a person with some substance to help them die – not for any amount of money.”


Public worship challenge postponed again

A constitutional challenge to the ban on public worship has been postponed again.

In the High Court yesterday, the State clarified that it is an offence to leave your home to celebrate or attend a public mass, other than weddings or funerals.

The admission contradicted previous assurances from the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, that it was not a criminal matter.

Judge Charles Meenan gave both sides two weeks to amend their filings in light of the clarification.

Galway businessman Declan Ganley first took the case in November alleging the restrictions are disproportionate and in breach of freedom of religion.

Meanwhile, in a letter to the Irish Times on Friday two law professors cited the case as an example of the Government misleading citizens about their legal obligations.

Prof Oran Doyle and David Kenny of the Covid-19 Law and Human Rights Observatory at Trinity College Dublin wrote: “In October, the Minister for Health told the Dáil that the organisation of religious services was not a criminal offence, but Gardaí continued to prosecute people anyway. The Government has now changed its interpretation of the law, maintaining in the High Court that the organisation of religious services is a criminal offence.”

In addition to other examples, they say The Government’s “persistent misrepresentation of citizens’ legal obligations offends the rule of law and corrodes public trust”.


Activist group formed to lobby for ban on ‘conversion therapy’

A new cross-party all-island coalition of activists will seek to outlaw what they broadly define as “conversion therapy” even as lawyers in the UK raise religious freedom concerns.

The Anti Conversion Therapy Coalition (ACTC), which launches today, is made up of independent activists, as well as members from different parties in the Republic and Northern Ireland.

The group will support Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield’s Prohibition of Conversion Therapies Bill 2018, which will soon undergo committee stage.

Nearly two dozen Senators have co-signed the Bill, including from Sinn Féin, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party, Green Party and Independents.

The bill would prohibit “any practice or treatment by any person that seeks to change, suppress and, or eliminate a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and, or gender expression”, and would criminalise any attempt to do so.

Meanwhile, in the UK, a broad ban on conversion therapy could criminalise Christian parents who encourage their children to follow the Bible’s teachings on gender and sexuality, a leading QC has said.

Prominent human rights lawyer Philip Havers QC has sent a formal legal opinion to Government ministers, warning them that a proposed ban could make everyday Christian actions illegal, including conversations both in church or at home.

Havers determined that encouraging a child with gender dysphoria to accept their birth sex, or preaching the Bible’s position on same-sex marriage, could become a criminal offence if a broad ban is instituted.


Scottish Bishops cite ‘free speech’ as crucial election issue

Catholic bishops have said that free speech on issues such as abortion, assisted suicide and human trafficking must be at the centre of elections.

In a turn that would have taken the British utilitarian John Stuart Mill by surprise, the Bishops say that if Scotland is to be “a tolerant, open, diverse country then we must be free to discuss and debate ideas, even those which are deemed by some to be controversial”.

In a pre-election pastoral letter the bishops urge Catholics to play their part “in putting human life and the inviolable dignity of the human person at the centre of Scotland’s political discourse” and to warn politicians against imposing “unjust restrictions on free speech, free expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.

In a 1,000-word letter distributed online and via 500 parishes, the bishops ask Catholic voters to give consideration to six key areas, when selecting a candidate. These include the beginning and end of life, poverty, family and work, free speech, Catholic schools and the environment. They say that “society relies on the building block of the family to exist and flourish” and that “government should respond to this reality with policies creating economic and fiscal advantages for families with children”.


Return to normality as Colorado bishops to restore Sunday Mass obligation on Pentecost

The Sunday Mass obligation will be restored for Catholics in the US state of Colorado next month, unless sickness or another grave reason prevents them from being able to attend Mass.

Numerous dioceses have gradually begun reinstating the Sunday Mass obligation in recent months.

A joint statement from the bishops of Denver, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo on April 6 announced that the Sunday and Holy Day Mass obligation will be restored on Pentecost, May 23.

“Prudent health precautions will still be taken by every parish, but as the worst of the pandemic seems to be behind us, and access to COVID-19 vaccines for those who desire to receive it has increased, the time has come that the general dispensation is no longer necessary,” the Colorado bishops said in their statement.

The bishops urged all Catholics without significant health risks or other serious obstacles to attend Mass every Sunday and to use the Easter season to reflect on the importance of Mass and the Church’s teaching surrounding it.

“The Sunday and Holy Day obligation is not something God asks of us out of his own necessity or need to be worshipped, but rather a gift to the faithful for our own spiritual nourishment, happiness, and eternal salvation.”


Drafters of legislation no longer using the words “woman” and “mother”

The words “woman” and “mother” are being erased from Irish legislation.

The move was revealed in a letter to the Irish Times on Tuesday.

Last month, a parental leave bill removed the word “mother” from seven existing Acts.

Another bill, to allow paid time off for undergoing IVF or suffering a miscarriage, doesn’t mention women or mothers even once.

Two further bills, to provide free period products, also do not cite women or girls, preferring gender inclusive terms instead.

The news prompted a flood of highly critical letters to Thursday’s and Friday’s Irish Times asking what’s wrong with the word ‘woman’?

One letter writer said for years women and girls were taught that the natural biological processes they lived with were shameful and dirty and should not be mentioned in polite company.

“Given that we’re finally moving beyond this extremely harmful silliness, it’s very difficult to understand why the words “women” and “girls” cannot be used in discussions about these same natural biological processes. Is it now shameful to mention women and girls in these discussions? If so, why?”, she wrote.

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