Religion news 3 October 2023

Image credit: © Mazur/ CCLicensse2.0

Pope suggests way forward for same sex blessings

Pope Francis has suggested there could be ways to bless same-sex unions that do not convey “a mistaken concept of marriage”. He was responding to a  series of questions known as “dubia”, from five conservative cardinals who challenged him on church teaching and published their concerns two days before the Synod in Rome, which starts tomorrow (Wednesday). They were his vocal critics Cardinals Walter Brandmüller and Raymond Leo Burke supported by three other Cardinals, Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, Robert Sarah, and Joseph Zen Ze-kiun. The Pope responded hours later, publishing his answers, saying it was appropriate to do so “given the proximity of the Synod”.  He said matrimony is a union between a man and a woman, but pastoral charity requires patience and understanding and priests cannot become judges “who only deny, reject and exclude.” Decisions should be made case by case and there was no need for dioceses or bishops conferences to turn pastoral charity into fixed norms or protocols. LGBTQ+ campaigners say his intervention advances efforts to provide welcome in the church.

Research suggests church schools admit fewer children with special education needs

LSE academic Dr Tammy Campbell has published research on reception class admissions between 2010 and 2020 which found that Catholic and C of E schools were less likely to admit children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) , than other state primaries.  In 2020, Catholic schools admitted 24 per cent fewer children with special needs, and C of E schools 15 per cent fewer. She concluded that faith schools offer relative advantage to affluent families who, she says, are less likely to have special needs. The Guardian quotes Nigel Genders, the C of E’s chief education officer, saying the church is taking steps to promote equal educational opportunities through training leaders in Send practice. A spokesperson for the Catholic education service said Catholic faith schools admit a higher proportion of pupils from deprived areas and fewer pupils from affluent areas and they welcome Send pupils.

Call for chief coroner’s report into Sikh activist’s sudden death

The family of Avtar Singh Khanda, a Sikh activist from Birmingham who died suddenly in June, aged 35, days after a cancer diagnosis, are calling on the chief coroner to investigate the death. The Times reports that he died shortly after the Canadian activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar was killed in a drive by shooting, in which Indian agents were implicated. Both men had campaigned for an independent state of Khalistan and there are suspicions that Mr Khanda was in fact poisoned. He was alleged to have pulled down an Indian flag in a protest outside the Indian High Commission in London and then received death threats. Michael Polak, barrister for Mr Khanda’s family, told a press conference: “Given the timing of Mr Khanda’s death, and the fact that death threats had been made by those with connections to Indian politics before his death, his case is at the very least suspicious”. 

Islamic sports group criticises hijab ban on French Olympic athletes

The Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation, which represents 59 groups from Muslim-majority countries, says the decision by France to order its Olympic athletes not to wear the hijab will send a message of exclusion. In a statement it says:  “We believe this contradicts the principles of equality, inclusivity and respect for cultural diversity that the Olympics stand for. The hijab is an aspect of many Muslim women’s identity and should be respected. This ban not only infringes upon the religious freedom of French Muslim athletes but could also deny them the opportunity to participate in the Olympics, representing their country and inspiring others.” France ordered the ban to protect the secular state, but the ISSF follows the UN in objecting to the decision.

Justin Welby appeals for peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia

The Archbishop of Canterbury has travelled to Azerbaijan to meet the country’s president and religious leaders as reports emerge of 100,000 Christians fleeing the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh after Azerbaijan seized control. Church Times reporter Francis Martin, in Baku to cover the meeting, reports that Justin Welby told him the talks were “very direct and challenging”. They addressed humanitarian concerns and the importance of peace with neighbouring Armenia.

Call for church law to dismiss abusive priests and leaders who cover up their crime

The campaigning group “End Clergy Abuse” is calling for a new church law which would permanently remove abusive priests and superiors who cover for them. The call comes a day after Victor Fernandez was made a Cardinal in a ceremony at the Vatican, an appointment which has outraged campaigners. They complain that he refused to remove a priest, Eduardo Lorenzo, who faced repeated accusations of abuse before taking his own life. Fernandez has been made the head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which investigates sex crimes. The Pope wrote to him to say he wouldn’t have to handle abuse cases personally in his new job, explaining that an Irish priest would handle the dossier. A founder of the campaign group, Peter Isely, told the Associated Press: “We easily went back 10 years on this issue this week”.  

Ten people killed during baptism at church in northern Mexico

The BBC reports that at least 10 people, including three children, were killed when the roof of a church in northern Mexico, collapsed as 100 people were attending a baptism. Forty people were hospitalised including  a four-month-old baby, three five-year-olds and two nine-year-olds. There was no immediate information on their condition. Dozens were trapped underneath the rubble of the Santa Cruz church in Ciudad Madero.

Bear Grylls is baptised in River Jordan

Bear Grylls, outdoor adventurer and TV presenter, has been baptised in the River Jordan. Announcing this on X/Twitter, he said: “It had always been a dream of mine to get in the water that Jesus was baptised in by my hero John the Baptist. The story is so amazing, & it seems wherever Jesus went, that new birth, new life, a new vision followed”. Bear Grylls is an ambassador for the Alpha Course. Premier Christian News report here


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