17 November 2021, The Tablet

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

“What a cruel time it has been for the dying and the bereaved,” Archbishop Eamon Martin said .

The final COP26 agreement has been described as “deeply disappointing” and a “missed opportunity” by Trócaire. The Catholic overseas development agency said the deal fails to show solidarity in supporting shattered communities recover and rebuild after climate disasters. Trócaire Head of Policy and Advocacy, Siobhan Curran, who attended COP26, said that while the commitment to “urgently deliver” $100bn for climate finance is welcome, it is still a fraction of the amount that will be needed in the face of the climate emergency. “There were huge expectations that COP26 would be the moment when wealthy countries stepped up and acknowledged they have done most to cause the climate crisis. They have turned their backs on indigenous communities, small-scale farmers, women and girls who desperately need support to recover and rebuild after climate disasters. This is a matter of great injustice,” she said. Ms Curran echoed Mary Robinson of the Elders group’s view that some world leaders were not in “crisis mode”. “We are in an emergency, and we needed world leaders to act like we are in an emergency. The clock is ticking. People are experiencing devastating consequences of climate inaction right now,” Siobhan Curran warned. Trócaire CEO, Caoimhe de Barra, described COP26 as “exclusionary”. She said civil society found it difficult to access the COP sessions and many were excluded from the negotiation area. “People from the global South and countries most affected by the climate crisis were under-represented at the COP, yet they are the most affected communities and their voices needed to be heard.”

Catholic education is a “vital ministry” within the Church which contributes to the growth and wellbeing of individuals, communities and society, as well as to the common good and care for our common home, Archbishop Dermot Farrell of Dublin has said. In his homily for Mass to open the academic year at Dublin City University (DCU), Archbishop Farrell said a true plurality of patronage needs to ensure parental choice while enabling all patrons, including Catholic patrons, to be true to their own ethos and characteristic spirit. He told the congregation gathered at St Patrick’s Chapel in DCU’s Drumcondra campus that Catholic schools are valued across the world because of, and not despite, their Catholic ethos. They embrace a variety of young people of various cultural identities and nationalities, and the plurality of their religious and other belief systems. “A Catholic school provides academically excellent education; it provides faith-based formation that allows each student to develop a moral foundation on which to stand for the rest their lives and, it gives a vision and hope beyond the limits of value-free education,” the Archbishop said. However, the Labour Party’s spokesperson on Education, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, told his party’s national conference at the weekend that religious patronage of schools must end. “If that requires a referendum, we should do it and we should win it,” he said and to loud applause from the floor, he added, “Let's get them out.”

Richard Ratcliffe, husband of the detained Iranian-British dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, ended his hunger strike outside the Foreign Office last weekend. His 21-day protest was a fresh bid to press the Government into taking firmer action for his wife who has been arbitrarily detained in Iran for more than five years. Ratcliffe's action is also highlighting the plight of other British Nationals arbitrarily held in Iran. Throughout his protest, Ratcliffe has been calling for the British government to pay a £400m debt to Tehran, dating back to the 1970s. The British debt is acknowledged as a precondition for the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other detainees. The cause of Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been supported by church leaders, politicians of all parties and campaigners since she was arrested. These include Lord David Alton of Liverpool, Bruce Kent of Pax Christi, and members of Westminster Diocese Justice and Peace. Emmanuel Church of England Parish in West Hampstead has kept a candle burning alongside a picture of Nazanin, Richard and their daughter to supporting the campaign for freeing the local resident. More than three million people have signed the Free Nazanin Ratcliffe petition. 

Father Lee Taylor and his partner Fabiano Da Silva Duarte have become what is thought to be the first same-sex couple to be officially blessed by the Church in Wales. It comes after the Church's governing body approved a new service of blessing for same-sex couples in September. However, it stopped short of allowing gay couples to marry in its parishes. Bishop of St Asaph, the Right Reverend Gregory Cameron, led the service at St Collen’s Church, Llangollen, where Father Taylor is priest-in-charge, and he described it as an “honour”. However, he admitted there were mixed emotions given same-sex marriages are still not permitted by the Church in Wales. The move has put the Church in Wales at odds with its sister Anglican church, the Church of England, which forbids clergy from blessing gay couples. Father Lee said the service was “extremely special” and felt it was, “an opportunity to celebrate our love and union in the presence of God.”

The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry has found that children were exposed to risk of physical and sexual harm at schools run by the Marist order. Lady Smith’s inquiry said that the historic treatment of children at St Columba’s College, Largs, and St Joseph’s College, Dumfries, was “shocking and distressing”. In a third interim report chairwoman Lady Smith said that “Marist Brothers in positions of trust at both boarding schools violated their monastic vows and breached the trust of children and their families.” She said that “both schools had flawed systems that allowed abusers driven by sexual motives to have easy access to children in their care”. Two Brothers working at St Columba’s were known to serial sex abusers. Speaking of the men, Lady Smith said “They sexually abused children of tender years with impunity. Some children also suffered sadistic treatment associated with sexual abuse. Their presence at St Columba’s for a period over twenty years meant that the sexual abuse of children there was chronic problem that destroyed childhoods and had lasting impact ”. Lady Smith spoke of a “culture of obedience, fear of severe punishment and the authority of the Catholic Church” as having empowered abuses and disempowered the victims, who were left in the position of not being able to complain, lest their accusations be disbelieved. One of the former teachers St Columba’s, Peter Toner, was gaoled in 2019 for the sexual abuse of five pupils at the school. A former teacher at St Joseph’s, Norman Bulloch, was sentenced as early as 1998 for sexual offences against boys. The inquiry, which follows reports on the conduct of Christian Brothers and Benedictines, collected testimony from more than 40 witnesses. Its conclusions are that the Marist Brothers were not qualified or trained in appropriate care of children in residential care, while complaints about staff were met with inaction or, in certain cases, the removal of brothers to other schools. Though the identification and punishment of individual teachers has been an important aspect of the committee’s work, but the exposure of structural and cultural failures has been paramount from the beginning.

The Bishops of Ireland gathered at the national Marian shrine in Knock, Co Mayo on Sunday for a special Mass of remembrance for all those who have died on the island during the Covid-19 pandemic and for their grieving families. “What a cruel time it has been for the dying and the bereaved,” Archbishop Eamon Martin said in his homily to the congregation which included representatives of families of the deceased and frontline workers.  The leader of the Irish Church said that in many cases during the pandemic, precious, final moments saw increased heartbreak. “At a time when physical closeness is so important, and our caring instinct is to hug someone, or hold their hand, it was distressing that often the final words of love and prayer had to be spoken over a telephone, or from behind windows and screens, or masks or visors.”He also highlighted that in a special way the bishops’ pilgrimage was also a way of expressing “deep gratitude and prayer” to the “heroes who kept our health, emergency and essential services going during the pandemic, often denying themselves in the cause of compassion, charity and love”. Even if the stories and statistics of Covid slip down the main news headlines, these heroes remain at their posts - dedicated, often exhausted, but always deeply committed to their vocation of love and care and mercy, he said. “Let society never forget them, and always ensure that our carers and health workers are appreciated, fully resourced and rewarded for their goodness.”






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