06 March 2023, The Tablet

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

Jeremy Corbyn and Valerie Flessati plant a walnut tree in Finsbury Park to commemorate Bruce Kent.
Jo Siedlecka

Activists belonging to Christian Climate Action staged protests at cathedrals across England and Wales on Saturday 5 March over Church investments in fossil fuels.

Seven Catholic cathedrals were amongst those targeted, with Catholics protesters calling for the Church to pledge not to invest in the oil and gas industry in light of climate change. So far, every Catholic diocese in Scotland has divested, along with ten Catholic dioceses in England, but ten other English dioceses retain investments in the fossil fuel industry

Susan Ward, 71, who took part in the action outside Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, said that she “wakes every morning to the dread of what my grandchildren will have to deal with”.


Stella Maris has resumed regular ship visits in the port of Odesa in Ukraine, after almost a year of not being able to do so due to security and safety concerns.

The charity’s port chaplain Fr Alexander Smerechynskyy and assistant chaplain Rostyslav Inzhestoikov were granted special permission in January to go on board ships, with a military escort at all times.

During the months that they were not allowed to visit ships, Fr Alex and Rostik have been supporting seafarers in many other ways, including ensuring the delivery of food parcels to seafarers trapped on ships in the Black Sea.


Pro-life organisations have criticised a Panorama investigation into crisis pregnancy centres in the UK, saying last week’s BBC broadcast displayed clear pro-abortion bias.  

Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for Right to Life UK, said that it was “clearly a hit piece” and encouraged supporters to submit complaints. The episode featured undercover footage from three crisis pregnancy centres, with commentary from three experts – two of whom work for the UK’s largest abortion providers.  


The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem and the city’s Anglican archbishop have consecrated the chrism oil for the King’s coronation on 6 May. Patriarch Theophilus III and Archbishop Hosam Naum conducted the consecration in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on 3 March.

The oil is based on the formula used for Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, but has been made without any animal products for the first time.  It uses oil from olives harvested at the Monastery of the Ascension and the Monastery of Mary Magdalene – where the King’s grandmother is buried – on the Mount of Olives.


An education minister has acknowledged that the 50 per cent cap on faith admissions for free schools means that religious groups “feel unable to participate” in the programme.  

The minister, Nick Gibb, was responding to questions in the House of Commons from the Conservative MP Alexander Stafford, on the place of faith schools in the levelling-up agenda. He said that they “have an important role to play in supporting levelling up, by providing high-quality school places throughout the country”.

Mr Gibb continued: “The department is committed to ensuring that all providers of schools with a religious character remain able to open new schools once all schools are in academy trusts and, as such, will continue to keep the 50 per cent cap under review.”


Prime minister Rishi Sunak’s plan for small boats “will lock up people fleeing war”, said Sarah Teather, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK.

This proposed bill is the latest measure aiming to punish refugees for the realities of being forcibly displaced. Refugees travel however they can and there are vanishingly few formal routes for them,” she said.

“To deny sanctuary to people who need it based on their mode of arrival is grotesquely cruel and cravenly dishonest. Furthermore, these proposals are unworkable and are not a rational response to those seeking asylum on our shores.”


Home secretary Suella Braverman has intervened after police recorded a non-crime hate incident regarding a Wakefield schoolboy who dropped a copy of the Quran that appeared to have been scuffed.

Referring in an article in The Times to a “disturbing” video that showed a meeting at a mosque where the mother of a boy was made to account for his behaviour, she wrote: “There is no right not to be offended. There is no legal obligation to be reverent towards any religion.”

She added: “I am not happy with the way non-crime hate incidents are recorded and I will soon be announcing new guidance for police.”


A new free app has been launched to encourage Christians to share their faith.  The Isaiah 61 Movement – or i61m – was designed by Christians Against Poverty founder John Kirkby CBE and his team. The app asks new users questions such as, “How many non-Christian friends do you have?” and “How confident are you in telling people about your faith?” 


The Redemptorists in Ireland have launched a new digital evangelisation platform, “The Preached Word”, this week. The mobile phone app hosts a team of 50 preachers. These include new voices of religious, laity and ordained from around Ireland who reflecting on the Church and mission in light of the Gospel.

The new venture links into the Redemptorists’ foundational ministry of preaching. Those behind the initiative have expressed the hope that the new platform will “help people in their life and faith”. 

Helena Connolly explained to The Tablet: “With so much of the Church’s mission and outreach shifting online during the Covid pandemic, the power of digital platforms was magnified. The internet is the core pillar of modern communication and mobile phones have now become the most important channel for internet access worldwide.”


The total number of women religious across Ireland’s 26 dioceses has declined from 9,031 in the year 2000 to just 4,494 today: a collapse of nearly 50.2 per cent, according to new figures obtained by The Irish Catholic.

In 1961, according to the census of that year, there were 13,259 women religious in the Republic of Ireland alone. Although nearly 80 per cent of Irish people consider themselves Catholic, vocations and Mass attendance have steeply declined in the last 50 years.

Over the period 1972-2011, weekly mass attendance by Irish Catholics fell from 91 per cent to 30 per cent, and the average age of a diocesan priest is 70.


A special mass in Peterborough has been held to celebrate the life of Catherine of Aragon, the Spanish Princess and devout Catholic who was Henry VIII's first wife.

The service, held in St Peter and All Souls Church, was addressed by the parish priest, Fr Adam Sowa MS, who said in his homily that “faithful Christians” have “sheltered in the shade” of Catherine for hundreds of years.

Catherine, the daughter of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, was born in 1485 and became Queen of England in 1509 upon her marriage to King Henry VIII. She had previously served as ambassador to England on behalf of Spain – the first woman to work as an ambassador in European history. 


The St Vincent de Paul Society has opened a third house for homeless families and individuals in North Norfolk, with Amélie House in Cromer now operational for two homeless families.

Since late 2019 the SVP’s network of temporary accommodation in the area has protected 100 people from homelessness, including 52 children. The project is part of a global initiative started by the SVP and sister organisations in 2018, aiming to transform the lives of 10,000 homeless people around the world by 2023.

Amélie House was formally opened and blessed by the Bishop of East Anglia, Peter Collins, on 20 February. He unveiled a plaque dedicated to the house’s namesake, Amélie Ozanam, the wife of Bl Frederic Ozanam, who founded the SVP in 1833. 


More than 100 people turned out last Saturday for the planting of a walnut tree in Finsbury Park in memory of Bruce KentThe commemorative tree planting was organised by local MP Jeremy Corbyn, who knew him for many years and recalled attending the Hague Peace Conference with him in 1999.

Mr Corbyn remembered him being “so cheerful, wonderfully witty and so knowledgeable” and “an inspirational leader and thinker with an incredibly broad-minded approach who believed in human love and good and that our wonderful planet can be saved by our actions”.

Before lowering the tree into place, alongside Bruce’s wife Valerie Flessati, he said, “let’s all strive to build this world of peace.”

The tree was given by the tree and nature department of Haringey Council. The commemorative plaque reads: “Dedicated to Bruce Kent, 1929-2022. Local resident and inspiring campaigner for Justice and Peace.” Short speeches were given by Kate Hudson, general secretary of CND, and Kevin Duffy of Friends of Finsbury Park. 


A pioneering project by the National Trust and other local partners is being implemented to save the twelfth century ruins of Fountains Abbey from flooding linked to the climate crisis. Natural solutions like tree-planting upstream, new ponds and meadow creation are underway.

The monastic ruins of Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire have stood for almost a thousand years but the foundations are at risk of being undermined by the increasing number of flooding events. Climate change makes rainfall heavier and it can take a huge effort to stop even a small river becoming a destructive force.

The scenic River Skell, with Fountains Abbey on its banks, flooded badly in 2007 and again in 2020, damaging the abbey and homes nearby. It has taken 16 organisations, including the National Trust, and money from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the European Union to come together in the Skell Valley Project to protect its banks and clear silt, as well as hold back floodwater.


The National Justice and Peace Network has announced that its annual conference will take the theme: “Sustainability? Survival or Shutdown”.

Scheduled for 21-23 July in Derbyshire it will address issues crucial to the common good and the well-being of the natural world, with a particular focus on the United Nations sustainable development goals. Echoing the words of Pope Francis in Laudato Si' that all issues are interconnected, it will consider such issues as conflict resolution, economic justice, and environmental challenges.

The Diocese of Westminster Justice and Peace Commission, CAFOD, Christians Aware and the Columban team for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation are on the organising group. Children and young people are welcome and have their own parallel programmes. Booking available here.


The Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA), which represents 89 per cent of primary schools in Ireland, has told the Minister for Children and the Education Minister that it is “neither prudent, nor age-appropriate, to teach primary school children about ‘what it means to be transgender’.”

According to the Irish Independent, CPSMA general secretary Seamus Mulconry stated in his letter: “There is no scientific consensus on the cause [or causes] of gender dysphoria and there is currently an intense international debate on the appropriate treatment of children with gender dysphoria.” He noted that the affirmative care model has recently been rejected in Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and the UK.


The co-founders of Social Justice Ireland (SJI), Sr Brigid Reynolds SM and Fr Seán Healy SMA have announced that they will retire from their roles as company secretary and CEO later this year.

Thanking them for their contribution to public life over more than 50 years, the chair of the board of SJI, Prof Tony Fahey, paid tribute to their tireless work, energy and dedication to the cause of social justice both in Ireland and across the globe.

“Both have been at the forefront of working to build a just society and ensuring that the voice of those who are vulnerable or marginalised is heard in the public policy debate for more than half a century,” he said.


The priest and physicist Fr Andrew Pinsent will deliver the next in the series of popular talks at St Mary’s Church, Hampstead on 19 March at 4pm.

Fr Pinsent, the research director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at the University of Oxford, will speak on the title “Can faith be reconciled with science? Escaping the Snow Queen’s Palace”.  

Fr Pinsent formerly worked as a particle physicist on the DELPHI experiment at CERN. His talk follows last month’s visit to St Mary’s by Br Guy Consolmagno SJ, the director of the Vatican Observatory. Attendees should contact the parish at hampstead@rcdow.org.uk.

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