News Roundup

Religious worship may continue in England through latest lockdown

Church leaders in England have welcomed that public worship may continue even as a new lockdown has been announced by the Government.

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said everyone in England must stay at home except for permitted reasons during a new coronavirus lockdown expected to last until mid-February.

All schools and colleges will close to most pupils and switch to remote learning from Tuesday.

Communal worship and life events like funerals and weddings can continue, however, subject to limits on attendance.

The Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Cardinal Nichols welcomed the exemption for religious worship.

“The regular practice of our faith in God is a source of personal resilience & dedicated service of those in need, both vital in these difficult times. I am glad no measures have been introduced to obstruct or curtail this essential source of energy for the common good,” he said on social media.


HSE refers to ‘women and people with a cervix’ in latest screening advice

The HSE has reinstated the use of the word ‘women’ in describing who should go for cervical screening, after controversially replacing it a year ago.

The advice originally mentioned women alone, but this was quietly replaced by “anyone with a cervix” in December 2019 in order to be more inclusive to trans people.

The new wording states: “Women and people with a cervix between the age of 25 and 65 should go for regular cervical screening when it’s due.”

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) said the HSE had made a “mistake” by removing the word ‘women’, and said that “fully inclusive” language should be used in future.

NWCI director Orla O’Connor said the “current language has not achieved this”.

“NWCI and Teni [Transgender Equality Network Ireland] have recommended an immediate amendment to their electronic resources such that sentences that refer to ‘people who have a cervix’ instead read ‘women, transgender men, intersex, and non-binary people with a cervix’,” O’Connor said.


RTE offers partial apology for comedy sketch accusing God of raping Mary

RTE has offered a limited apology for a comedy sketch that accused God of rape.

A mock news report on a New Year’s Eve countdown programme said God was “the latest figure” to be implicated in “ongoing sexual harassment scandals”.

The news reader added: “The five-billion-year-old stood accused of forcing himself on a young Middle Eastern migrant and allegedly impregnating her against her will before being sentenced to two years in prison, with the last 24 months suspended”.

The sketch showed an old man dressed as “God” being led away by a garda and shouting: “It was 2,000 years ago.”

Catholic leaders swiftly condemned the sketch. Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin tweeted his shock that the makers of the show “didn’t realise how deeply offensive was” the mocking ‘news report’.

He added: “This outrageous clip should be removed immediately and denounced. To broadcast such a deeply offensive and blasphemous clip about God and our blessed mother Mary during the Christmas season . . . is insulting to all Catholics and Christians.”

Archbishop-elect of Dublin Dermot Farrell said he was “deeply disturbed” by the segment and a “discourse which fails to respect the victims  of all ages and genders of this most degrading of crimes has not any place in our world.”

In a statement, the broadcaster acknowledged that some viewers were offended by the sketch and said that around 1,100 complaints have been received so far.

It said: “RTÉ recognises that matters which can cause offence naturally differ from person to person, within comedy and satire in particular.

“Having reviewed the feedback and complaints received up to this point, RTÉ wishes to apologise to those who were offended by the segment.

The clip will not be removed from the RTÉ Player, but a warning will be attached to the footage to advise viewers that the material may cause offence.


Nuns arrested as Beijing turns up heat on the Church in Hong Kong

The Vatican’s diplomatic presence in Hong Kong – and the Church as a whole – is coming under mounting pressure as Beijing moves to extinguish opposition voices in the city under a new national security law.

In May, two Chinese nuns who work at the mission were arrested by mainland authorities during a visit home to Hebei province. The nuns, in their 40s, were detained for three weeks before being released to house arrest without being charged. They are forbidden to leave the mainland. Meanwhile, Western diplomats say, Chinese security agents have stepped up surveillance of the Holy See’s mission in recent months.

The arrests, which haven’t been previously reported, are viewed by top clerics in China and in the Vatican as a sign Beijing wants the mission shut. It lacks official standing because the Holy See and China haven’t established formal diplomatic ties. While priests are sometimes arrested on the mainland, “it is highly unusual for nuns to be detained,” said another of the clerics, who has long-time contacts on the mainland. “Normally they are left alone.”


Argentine senate legalizes abortion in Pope Francis’s homeland

On Wednesday, Pope Francis’s home country of Argentina legalized abortion, after the senate approved a bill presented by President Alberto Fernandez.

Pope Francis referred specifically to the abortion debate in Argentina three times since Fernandez presented the bill in November, through three private letters that later became public. In his letters, the pope noted that the pro-life position is a “scientific” issue, and not a religious one.

The law allows minors as young as 15 to have an abortion without parental consent.

Several pro-choice senators argued that their Catholic upbringing led them to their decision, saying they were protecting the life of the mother.

The new law allows for abortion on demand up until the 14th week of pregnancy, and woman can have an abortion up to birth if her mental health is at risk, although it does not define the term.

Though hospitals and clinics can refuse to perform abortions, they must cover the expenses for a woman to receive it somewhere else.

Fernandez had promised to make abortion “legal, safe and free” in the campaign trail, and the first decision by his health minister was to create a protocol making abortion more widely available in the country if a pregnancy was the result of rape or the life of the mother were at risk.

Argentine senate legalizes abortion in Pope Francis’s homeland


Massachusetts legislature overrides Governor’s veto, expands abortion availability

The Massachusetts Senate on Tuesday voted to override the Governor’s veto of legislation that greatly expands abortion in the state, making the measure law.

The Democratic-controlled Senate’s 32-8 override came a day after the Democratic-controlled House similarly voted to override Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto 107-46.

The bill, known as the Roe Act, codifies abortion rights into state law, allows abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases where the child has a life-limiting condition, and lowers from 18 to 16 the age at which women can seek an abortion without consent from a parent or guardian.

Baker, in vetoing the legislation last week, said while he strongly supports many provisions of the measure, he could not support expanding the availability of late-term abortions and permitting 16- and 17-year-olds to get an abortion without parental consent.


Scottish Council rejects official sex ed in favour of Catholic teaching materials

A local Scottish council has voted by a margin of 23 to 4 to endorse a Catholic manual on teaching sex education and relationships in schools.

The vote came after Church of Scotland ministers on the Western Isles said parents and teachers were unhappy about Scottish government-backed material on relationships, sexual health and parenthood (RSHP), teaching children about the human body, different gender identities and sexual relationships, pornography and safe sex.

Rev Hugh Stewart, a minister in Lewis presbytery, said the official materials suggested children as young as three be taught about human genitalia, while the Catholic material said 10 was the earliest age for that.

Due to be translated into Gaelic, the official materials would also put children from Christian homes under pressure to “embrace” views about gender and relationships which conflicted with their morals, and were not appropriate to their age and stage of development, he said.

“It is one thing for a child or young person to be educated and objectively informed, it is another to require them to ‘embrace’, which infers a tacit support for, a view that contradicts their own morality or faith position,” he said


Teenagers turn to God during pandemic

Young people in their late teens and early twenties are more likely to believe in God than millennials in their late twenties and thirties, according to polling that suggests the trend for younger people being less religious is changing.

It has been suggested that the ease with which young people can access information about faith and find like-minded people online may have helped to build and bolster their faith. Experts said they faced less “stigma” from their peers for being open about their religious beliefs and may have been driven to think more about them during the pandemic.

The survey by YouGov also found, however, that religious and spiritual belief in Britain has declined overall during the pandemic, with the proportion of people citing faith in God or some kind of “higher spiritual power” falling from 49 per cent to 44 per cent between January and November this year.


Bishop Dermot Farrell announced as the new Archbishop of Dublin

Pope Francis has appointed Dr Dermot Farrell, until now Bishop of Ossory, as Archbishop of Dublin.

He replaces Archbishop Diarmuid Martin whose request for retirement has been accepted by the Pope.

Archbishop Martin will continue governing the diocese until the installation of Bishop Farrell.

The new bishop has lectured in Moral Theology at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth. In 1990 he was appointed as Executive Assistant to the President of College, Micheál Ledwith. In 1993, following Ledwith’s resignation, he was appointed Vice-President of Maynooth, and in 1996 was appointed President, a position he held until 2007.

From September 2007 he served as a Parish Priest in his home diocese of Meath, before being made Bishop of Ossory in 2018.

Among his extensive administrative experience, he served on the board of Allianz plc.


Court strikes down strict lmits on religious attendance in NY

A US federal appeals court on Monday upheld challenges to New York state’s Covid-related attendance restrictions at houses of worship.

The Second Circuit court which covers New York, Connecticut and Vermont, ruled that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s order limiting attendance at churches, mosques and synagogues in covid “hotspots” to 10 or 25 persons “discriminates against religion on its face.”

The ruling follows an earlier U.S. Supreme Court decision which had issued a temporary injunction against those limits pending the appeal.

Since that decision, on November 25, a majority of states have moved away from strict caps on worship attendance.

The Appeals Court also asked a lower-level District Court to reconsider the 25% and 33% percentage capacity limits using ‘strict scrutiny’ – the highest standard known to constitutional law. A spokesperson for the Becket Fund said that would be a hard standard for the Governor to meet.

“It would be better to stop trying to restrict synagogues, churches, and mosques. Gov. Cuomo should read the writing on the wall and let New York join the 33 states that do not cap or put percentage limits on in-person worship,” The Becket Fund added.