16 December 2021, The Tablet

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

Saint Columba was “a saint for our times”
Peter Horree / Alamy

The Director of Research at the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research has called for “a complete overhaul” of the Church’s current teaching “on everything to do with sex”. In an address titled ‘Papal Teaching on Same-Sex Relationships: A Battle Against Reality’, given to members of the Association of Catholic Priests, Dr Luca Badini said the subject was “arguably the most important topic driving the alienation of young Catholics from the institutional Church”. Elsewhere in his address, he said the Church’s understanding of sex “as always aiming at procreation is such a profound distortion of what sex is about, it would be ridiculous were its consequence not so deadly”. He added, ironically it was “truly anti-life rather than pro-creation”. Dr Badini criticised those who had gone along with “one of the most appalling moral mistakes of the papacy over the last fifty years” which was the “papal paralysis and silence when asked to allow the use of contraceptives for the prophylactic purpose of minimising the transmission of STIs”. He said this silence had caused “suffering to millions of people, both straight and gay”. Dr Badini quoted theologian, Professor Gerard O’Loughlin, who recently said, “the moral question of homosexuality is no longer about its acceptability, but about the Church’s opposition to it, and about the Church’s homophobia”.

The Catholic Church in Scotland has appointed Lady Rita Rae QC as the first board chair of the new Scottish Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency, which will operate as a private company. Lady Rita, a recent Senator of the College of Justice in Scotland, will begin to recruit board members in January. The agency will operate entirely independently of the Church, with its own staff and non-executive directors who will work in close collaboration with dioceses and religious communities to ensure that they are meeting safeguarding standards. It will develop a forum in which those who have experienced abuse can contribute their own perspectives to the development of the Church’s safeguarding practice.

ACN’s national director, Neville Kyrke-Smith, has received a papal knighthood in recognition of his leadership of the charity since 1991. A former Anglican priest, he was made a knight of the Equestrian Order of Saint Gregory the Great during a Mass last week, presided over by Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark, who praised his “personal contribution in the most personal and missionary way to our brothers and sisters in the suffering Church”. 

Marking the 1500th anniversary of the birth of St Columba, one of the three patron saints of Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin said he was “a Saint for our times”. Speaking at Mass at St Colmcille Church in Knockaconey, Co Armagh, the Primate of All Ireland said there was a temptation for people to look at St Columba as “merely some historical figure in the past rather than seeing him as a saint for our time.” Noting that the great tradition of illuminated manuscripts, like the Book of Kells, is linked to Columba, Archbishop Martin said it was important for all to ask themselves what this Saint could mean for them personally. His writings, he said, showed Columba or Colmcille as he is also known, was a person of action. “He wanted to put his faith into action in life. He was known as a very hospitable person who welcomed the stranger. I think if he was alive today he would have a big interest in the whole debate about climate change because we know from those who wrote about him of his love for nature, for animals, and for birds. He had a great sense for caring for our earth. Which is something that we could all learn from today.” The Archbishop also paid tribute to the Saint, who founded 30 monasteries over a ten-year period, sense of mission.

The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales are promoting the #IamChurch initiative of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. It aims to give a voice to persons with disabilities, who contribute daily to the life of every church community. Five videos have been produced, available on the bishops’ website, to demonstrate the struggles of persons with disabilities and the first one highlights issues in their parishes. Serena, a young Italian woman, asks Pope Francis: “I know that many young people like me do not feel welcomed in their parishes, they do not receive Communion and do not participate in Mass with others. I don’t understand why, can you explain this to me?” Pope Francis affirms that, “no one can refuse the Sacraments to people with disabilities.” 

A report by the St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) has highlighted the devastating effects of in-work poverty on children. The report, “Stealing futures – In-work poverty and its impact on children and young people”, pulls together existing research on in-work poverty and reports from children and young people supported through its Mini-Vinnies groups, as well as from SVP volunteers, staff and St Vincent's community support centres who help people living in poverty. The SVP suggests that “with working-age adults making up approximately 60 per cent of the UK population, addressing in-work poverty should be a priority for policymakers”. The SVP is calling for a stronger social security safety net, including the reinstatement of the £20-per-week increase in Universal Credit, and the widespread adoption of a Real Living Wage. The report draws on a recent study from the Institute for Public Policy Research which found that rates of poverty in working households increased to a new high of 17 percent in the first quarter of 2020, equivalent to more than one in five households. We also know that as of 2018/19 the number of children living in absolute low income is 3.7million, or 26 percent of all children. 

A jury has cleared six Extinction Rebellion activists who held up commuters at Canary Wharf two years ago to highlight climate change. Three are Catholic and one, 86-year-old Phil Kingston, told The Tablet: “I was moved to tears of relief and joy; and then gratitude to God. The 25 April 2019 protest focused on the financial industry’s contribution to promoting climate emergencies, targeting the City of London, Canary Wharf, and the Docklands Light Railroad. The six – Phil Kingston, Diana Warner, Ruth Jarman, Ian Bray, Richard Bernard, and Nick Cooper – argued that their actions were a legitimate protest against government inaction on the Climate crisis. They were acquitted in a unanimous verdict given by a jury on 10 December. The protesters claimed the jury’s verdict was an application of the principles established in June by the supreme court, which ruled that the exercising of protest rights could constitute a “lawful excuse” for obstructing the highway, even if the protest is considered disruptive.

The Bishop of the Church of England Diocese of Chelmsford has urged the Government to repay its £400-million debt to Iran and take immediate action to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from imprisonment in the country. In her maiden speech to the House of Lords on 2 December, Bishop Guli Francis-Dehani said, “the British Government has acknowledged that this country owes a debt to Iran that is now 40 years overdue.” Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in jail and then house arrest in Iran since 2016. Her physical and mental health continues to decline. Bishop Guli, who comes from a family of Christian converts, has reported the “traumatic experiences” and “sting of injustice” she and her church community endured in the uprising which toppled Iran’s royal family in 1979. She fled Iran as a teenager with her family, who came to Britain as refugees.

Home Office Minister, Baroness Williams, has said that “something needs to be done” to facilitate everyone being able to receive the Last Rites, following the death of Sir David Amess in October. Baroness Williams said it was “so sad” that Sir David had been denied the Last Rites on the day he was killed on account of his priest not being allowed access to the crime scene. The comments were made in a meeting secured by Conservative peer, Baroness Stowell, and attended by the Catholic Union. The meeting followed a debate in the House of Lords last month on an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill, which proposed giving ministers of religion the right to attend crime scenes. The amendment was tabled by Baroness Stowell and Baroness Masham, who also attended the meeting. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury has appealed for a Palestinian family farm near Bethlehem to be saved from demolition or confiscation. The 100-acre farm is surrounded by Israeli settlements and there have been attempts over the years to take the land. The Nassar family, Palestinian Christians, operate the farm as an educational and environmental example of peaceful coexistence. “Four years ago I visited the Tent of Nations, a Palestinian Christian farm just south of Bethlehem and the Nassar family have owned and farmed this land for over a century,” said Archbishop Justin Welby on his Facebook page of 9 December. “Daoud Nasser's Christian faith commits him to love for his neighbours and the cause of reconciliation” he added, and “over the past decade and a half, the Tent of Nations has welcomed thousands of pilgrims and volunteers to help them cultivate the land - and grow seeds of hope by building bridges between people.”

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