Religion news 18 August 2023

Image credit: Jack Hynes CCLicense2.0

Fall in A-level Religious Studies exam entries this year

The number of students who sat A-level Religious Studies this summer has fallen by 3.5 percent in England and 24 percent in Wales. 14,690 students took an RS A level in England in 2023 compared with 15,216 in 2022, while in Wales entries were recorded at 748, a fall from 982. This reverses a recent growth trend. Between 2003 and 2022, A level RS was one of the fastest growing subjects at A level, with an increase of 39 percent in the number of entries. The Religious Education Council of England and Wales is blaming the decline on the lack of specialist RS teachers, which has meant some schools, particularly in the Midlands and North East, are now struggling to offer the subject at A level.

Hillsong founder Brian Houston not guilty of concealing sex abuse

The founder of the global Hillsong Church, Brian Houston, has been found not guilty of concealing his father’s child sex crimes from the 1970s. A court in Sydney, Australia, ruled that Brian Houston had a reasonable excuse for not reporting the offences of his father, Frank Houston, to police.  The court accepted that Houston believed the victim did not want the abuse reported.  The victim, Brett Sengstock, said he had been repeatedly abused and raped from the age of seven. He waived anonymity and told the court that he had never told Houston not to report the abuse. Afterwards, he told reporters that the verdict in effect blamed him for the church’s failure to report the crime.  As a result of the charges brought two years ago, Brian Houston resigned as the senior global pastor of Hillsong Church, which began in Australia in 1983 and now operates in 30 countries, including Britain. After the verdict, he posted a response on Instagram: “Obviously a not guilty verdict after so many years of persecution is a great feeling. Although, I must say it feels a bit surreal”.

Hillsong case opens debate on mandatory reporting of sex abuse

Premier Christian News interviewed Justin Humphreys, CEO of the safeguarding organisation ThirtyOne:Eight, who said the verdict gave him deep sadness. One of the key lessons was to examine the merits of mandatory reporting which could prevent a reasonable excuse defence. The Church Times reports that the traditionalist group, Forward in Faith, is urging that the mandatory reporting of child abuse should not apply to information delivered in a confession. Their views were expressed in a submission to a public consultation following a recommendation from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. They say the priest’s obligation is to hear a confession in complete confidence, so that nothing is disclosed.

Teenager dies at Christian summer camp in Derbyshire

A 14 year old girl has died after falling ill at a Christians in Sport summer camp at Repton School in Derbyshire. In a statement, Christians in Sport says she fell ill and was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital where she died later that same evening. It adds: “We are all deeply shocked and saddened by this terrible news”.  The camp was ended early as a result. Derbyshire Police say there are no suspicious circumstances and a file is being prepared for the coroner.  

Catholic primate’s talks with Northern Ireland’s chief constable

The Catholic primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, is encouraging young people to consider a career in policing, despite the anxiety and distress caused by the leaking of data giving information on employees of the Police Service in Northern Ireland. He held talks with the PSNI Chief Constable, Simon Byrne, speaking of his concern at the leak but also his “unequivocal support” for people who serve as police offices or civilians. In a statement afterwards, he called on the community to reject those who would “intimidate or threaten the courageous women and men – including those from the Catholic community – who selflessly choose this noble vocation of policing.”

Sweden raises terror alert amid fears of revenge for Quran burnings

Sweden raised its terror alert to the second-highest level on Thursday, concerned that recent burnings of the Quran have made it a target for Islamist extremists.  The Prime Minister, Ulf Kristersson, told a news conference: “There are also several examples of terrorist groups that have urged their sympathizers around the world to take revenge for the Quran burnings that have taken place in Sweden. Among them are Hezbollah in Lebanon, al-Shabab in Somalia and al-Qaida.” Sweden’s laws on the freedom of speech have allowed the burnings to take place, a situation criticised by Muslim majority countries.  

More than 100 arrested in Pakistan after churches destroyed in mob violence

Police in Pakistan have arrested 129 Muslims after churches and homes of Christians were attacked following allegations that Christian men had defaced the Quran. Among the buildings attacked was the Salvation Army church, still smouldering and surrounded with barbed wire. Two men were also arrested for tearing pages from the Quran, writing insulting remarks and throwing it to the ground. The army was called in to restore order and Christians who had fled the violence are slowly returning.


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