News Roundup

Consider giving unmarried fathers automatic guardianship, report recommends

Serious consideration should be given to granting automatic guardian rights to unmarried fathers, an Oireachtas Committee has recommended.

The Joint Committee on Justice and Equality had heard evidence that family law conflict is often exacerbated by unmarried fathers not having automatic guardianship rights in respect of their children, even if their name is registered on the birth certificate. The report says, “Only mothers have automatic rights to guardianship in these cases and, by contrast, married parents are automatically joint guardians with equal rights in relation to the child. Not only does this ignore the realities of modern family life in Ireland, it also creates inequality in terms of parental rights and responsibilities; and this in turn often results in separating parents taking the adversarial route through court, leading to tension and conflict between parties, with the child caught in the maelstrom”.

Members of the Committee agreed with the view that unmarried fathers should be given automatic guardianship rights, though it was recognised that practical issues could arise, for instance, where a father is not involved, or does not wish to be involved, with the child. Automatic guardianship exists for unmarried fathers in Northern Ireland,

The Committee’s report on reform of the family law system, published on Thursday, makes 38 recommendations.


New report shows Christianity is disappearing in parts of Middle East

Christianity’s disappearance from parts of the Middle East can only be stopped if the international community acts now, according to a new report launched in Westminster Wednesday.

The 2019 “Persecuted and Forgotten?” report, produced by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), warns of Christianity vanishing from towns and cities in the region, as – despite the defeat of Daesh (ISIS) – the impact of genocide has led to haemorrhaging numbers of the faithful.

There were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq before 2003 but by mid-2019, they had fallen to well below 150,000 and perhaps even less than 120,000 – a decline of up to 90% within a generation.

In Syria Christian numbers have fallen by two thirds since the conflict began in 2011.

The ACN report notes that the international community has shown unprecedented concern about the persecution of the region’s Christians, but failed to provide the aid required to ensure its survival during that period covered by the report (2017-19).

The Report also found that the persecution of Christians has worsened the most in South and East Asia – noting that, in 2018, 477 anti-Christian incidents were reported in India.

In the same region, 300 people died – and more than 500 were injured – in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday 2019 when jihadists bombed sites including three churches.

In a number of African countries Christians were threatened by Islamists seeking to eliminate the Church – either by use of force or by dishonest means, including bribing people to convert.

In Nigeria’s north and the ‘Middle Belt’ regions, militants continued a reign of terror against Christians and Muslims alike -3,731 Christians were reportedly killed in 2018.

While in other parts of the African continent, the main threat to Christians came from the state – over a 12-month period, more than 70 churches were attacked in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains with 32 burnt down.


Warnings against changing law on euthanasia after killing of Paralympian

A UK coalition of groups opposed to euthanasia has expressed sadness at the death of Belgian Paralympian Marieke Vervoort whose life was ended by euthanasia yesterday, but warns against changing the law in the UK.

Dr Gordon Macdonald, Chief Executive of Care Not Killing, commented: “It is extremely sad news that Ms Vervoort has chosen to end her life this way – But her death highlights how the right to die has become a duty to die in both Belgium and their near neighbours in the Netherlands.

“In these countries, laws which were only ever supposed to apply to mentally competent terminally ill adults have been extended and safeguards removed. Euthanasia laws in Belgium and the Netherlands now include those who are not terminally ill, disabled people, non-mentally competent adults, those with mental health problems, couples and even children.”

Care Not Killing is a UK-based alliance bringing together over 40 organisations – human rights and disability rights organisations, health care and palliative care groups, faith-based organisations groups – and thousands of concerned individuals.


Christian leaders in NI speak out over abortion and gay marriage

Church leaders have joined their voices to a chorus of pro-life and pro-family groups in the North criticising the legalisation of a very permissive abortion regime and the redefinition of marriage.

In a statement, the Catholic bishops of Northern Ireland said the Westminster legislation had removed “all explicit protection for the unborn child up to 28 weeks of pregnancy”, creating “potentially one of the most liberal and unregulated abortion regimes in the world”.

Calling abortion, “a brutal violation of the precious gift of life”, they said, “[t]his is a tragic day for the unborn children who will now never bless our world with their unique and precious lives. It is also a sad day for our local democracy”.

On same-sex marriage, they said they are “also concerned at the redefinition of marriage which effectively places the union of two men, or two women, on a par with the marriage relationship between a husband and wife which is open to the procreation of children”.

The Presbyterian moderator Dr William Henry expressed his church’s “disappointment and regret” at the failure to restore the Executive before the deadline on Monday night.

“It remains surprising that some parties have been willing to allow the UK parliament to legislate for the people of Northern Ireland without consideration of the devolution settlement, and we are disappointed that the recall of the Northern Ireland Assembly today was dismissed by some as a political stunt,” he said.

The president of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Rev Sam McGuffin, said he was “deeply disappointed that our Northern Ireland MLAs have, through their inability to cooperate, allowed this abortion legislation to become law”.

“I wish to place on record my thanks to those organisations who have supported the right to life cause and would encourage them to continue in their efforts to bring about a change to this extreme legislation,” he said.


Young people of faith showing better mental health, says new US study

Young people of faith are less anxious and more optimistic than their nonreligious peers, a major new study has found.

In one of the largest global studies of its kind to be conducted, the Barna study, carried out in partnership with World Vision, examined the data of 15,369 people aged 18- to 35-year-olds across 25 countries.

It found that those who attended a place of worship on a weekly basis were less likely to say that they experienced anxiety (22%), compared with those who did not attend church regularly (33%).

While half of practising Christians (51%) said they felt “optimistic about the future”, this fell to a third (34%) among those with no faith.

Young people with no faith were more likely to say they often felt sad or depressed (28%) than practising Christians (18%), and they were also more likely to report feeling “lonely and isolated from others” (31% vs 16%).

While less than a third of respondents with no faith (29%) said they felt “able to accomplish my goals”, this rose significantly among practising Christians to 43 per cent.

Those without a faith were twice as likely as those with an active faith to say they felt “uncertain about the future” (51% vs 27%).


Child and Family Relationship Act to finally be fully implemented May next year, says Simon Harris

Two long delayed parts of the Child and Family Relationships Act will finally be commenced on 5th May 2020.

The announcement was made in the Dáil by Minister for Health, Simon Harris. The uncommenced sections of the Act regarded the legal parentage of children born to some same-sex couples. The Act became law in April 2015 in time for the same-sex marriage referendum. However, complications prevented its full implementation up to now.

Donation-conception is controversial because it involves a deliberate severing of the natural ties to at least one parent and may also involve deliberately depriving a child of either a mother or a father.

Meanwhile a new group has launched demanding ‘equality’ for children conceived for LGBTQ+ parents via sperm or egg donation.

Equality for Children say that many children of LGBT couples in Ireland are denied the right to have both of their parents legally recognised. They want this rectified in law.


Rising and worrying levels of loneliness among older Irish adults

A new report has found “worrying” levels of isolation among over-50s.

Loneliness is most prevalent among over-75s and those living alone, the study by researchers in Trinity College Dublin found. It was also found to be damaging to the health and wellbeing of older adults, the loneliest of whom had poorer quality of life and health.

Depression is found in tandem with loneliness, with more than three-quarters of the most lonely group reporting depressive symptoms compared to just 7.4 per cent of the least lonely group.

Dr Mark Ward, the lead author of the study, said the report “highlights the fact that certain groups of older adults are particularly vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation. In particular, older adults who live alone are more socially isolated and report greater feelings of loneliness.”


Surrogate mothers want their responsibility to end at birth

A group representing surrogate mothers in the UK has called for a law change to give a baby’s intended parents legal responsibility for the baby from the moment it is born. This is to ensure the surrogate would not be left with the baby if the commissioning parents wanted to abandon it.

Britain’s largest organisation for surrogates says plans to update the laws do not go far enough as they would still leave them with rights over the child for a period after the birth of the child.

At present parents whose child is carried by a surrogate must win a parenting order from a court to gain legal responsibility, a process that can take many months.

The law commission proposed that intended parents should become the legal parents from birth. However, it wants the surrogate mother to retain a right to object for a short period.


Stormont Assembly to meet in bid to block abortion and same-sex marriage laws

The Stormont Assembly was due to meet Monday for the first time in almost three years to try and block Westminster-imposed laws on abortion and same-sex marriage coming into effect tomorrow. The bid is expected to fail.

Thirty-one Unionist MLAs signed a petition calling for the Assembly to be reconvened in a response to an appeal by Northern Ireland peer Baroness Nuala O’Loan. However, the session will not stop the planned legislation as that requires the restoration of a power sharing government, including the appointment of new ministers to a new Executive.

That requires the backing of the largest nationalist party Sinn Féin, which has branded the recall ‘a pantomime’. The SDLP and Alliance Party have both described it as a political stunt.

Meanwhile, the Irish bishops released a statement over the weekend pleading with the North’s politicians to stop abortion legislation from coming into effect.

Bishop of Clogher, Larry Duffy, said it is vitally important that political leaders in Northern Ireland face up to their responsibility to protect life, especially the life of the most vulnerable, including unborn babies and their mothers.

“I appeal to political representatives to set aside differences and to use the opportunity of the assembly meeting on Monday next and to assert their own authority on this critical question. The political impasse on this has gone on too long and has been cynically manipulated by the parliament at Westminster to remove legal protection for unborn babies in Northern Ireland up to 28 weeks in their mother’s womb.”


Decline in number of Americans calling themselves ‘Christian’, says new survey

The percentage of American adults who describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion is down 12 percentage points over the past decade. That’s according to Pew Research Center telephone surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019 which found the current figure to be 65%.

Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated share of the population, consisting of people who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” now stands at 26%, up from 17% in 2009.

Both Protestantism and Catholicism are experiencing losses of population share. Currently, 43% of U.S. adults identify with Protestantism, down from 51% in 2009. And one-in-five adults (20%) are Catholic, down from 23% in 2009. Meanwhile, all subsets of the religiously unaffiliated population – a group also known as religious “nones” – have seen their numbers swell. Self-described atheists now account for 4% of U.S. adults, up modestly but significantly from 2% in 2009; agnostics make up 5% of U.S. adults, up from 3% a decade ago; and 17% of Americans now describe their religion as “nothing in particular,” up from 12% in 2009. Members of non-Christian religions also have grown modestly as a share of the adult population.