Religion news 11 July 2024

Emmanuel church, Wimbledon. Image credit: Bill Boaden CCLicense2.0

Rev Jonathan Fletcher charged with indecent assault and grievous bodily harm

The former vicar of Emmanuel church, Wimbledon, the Rev Jonathan Fletcher, aged 81, has been charged with eight counts of indecent assault, on a man aged 16 or over, and one further count of grievous bodily harm with intent, alleged to have  taken place between 1973 and 1999.  He appeared at Wimbledon Magistrate’s Court yesterday and is due to appear at Kingston Crown Court on 7 August 2024. Southwark Diocese has issued a statement saying Mr Fletcher retired in 2012. “When concerns were raised with the diocese in 2017, his permission to officiate in the diocese of Southwark was removed by Bishop Christopher Chessun. Mr Fletcher currently has no authority to minister in the Church of England. The Diocese of Southwark cooperated with an independent investigation by charity Thirty-One Eight (published in 2021). The Diocesan Safeguarding team continues to offer support to those affected by this matter and has liaised with the police in the course of their investigations”. The Met Police “encourage anyone who has been a victim of abuse to come forward and speak to us”.

The Muslim Vote targeting seats in Australia’s federal election

 Australia has its own “The Muslim Vote” organisation, planning to run pro-Palestine campaigns against candidates in the next federal election.  The Guardian reports that it is targeting at least three safe Labour seats in Sydney, and is “looking to options” in Melbourne, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory. The organisation emerged after Muslim Senator Fatima Payman left Labour over a disagreement on recognising Palestinian statehood.   The Muslim Vote “denies being a political party and says it does not intend to become one”.  Its website says: “We will no longer accept being taken for granted. Australian Muslims are a powerful, united force of nearly 1 million acting in unison. The Muslim Vote alone is capable of forcing the current government into minority government. In 2024, we are focused on Federal seats where the Muslim vote can influence the outcome”. It lists the voting records of 27 members of the House of Representatives on issues affecting Palestine, Gaza and Israel.  It is guided by Islam to “act with integrity, justice, and compassion and drives our efforts to create a more equitable society”.  It points to leaders saying their Christian faith informs ideas and actions and says “there is no inherent conflict in allowing faith-based values to inform political engagement”.

Archbishops appeal to IDF to allow Al Ahli hospital in Gaza to re-open

The Diocese of Jerusalem has protested against the forced closure of the Anglican hospital, Al Ahli, in Gaza, as the Israel Defence Forces declared the immediate vicinity a “red zone”. It was the only remaining functioning hospital in the North of Gaza. Archbishop Hosam Naoum, the primate of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East said the sick and injured had been placed in great jeopardy: “In a time of warfare and great suffering it is essential that emergency healthcare services are maintained to treat the injured and the dying.” The Anglican Communion is appealing for funds for hospitals in the west bank and psychosocial support for children. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the closure puts injured and sick people in even greater danger and he appealed to the Israel Defence Forces “to allow the hospital to continue its sacred and courageous work of caring for people in desperate need”.

Pope: lethal autonomous weapons must be banned

Pope Francis has sent a message to religious leaders attending the “AI Ethics for Peace” in Hiroshima, Japan, this week, saying the development and use of “lethal autonomous weapons” should be reviewed and ultimately banned. He said “no machine should ever choose to take the life of a human being”. True decisions require human wisdom and evaluation and an over-reliance on artificial intelligence could undermine human dignity. “This is precisely what we saw in Hiroshima and continue to see today” in the hatred of war.

Anne Frank statue defaced in Amsterdam

A statue of Anne Frank in Amsterdam has been defaced with the word “Gaza” painted in red on the base. The statue is in a park near the place where Anne and her family hid from the Nazis, and where they were later discovered and then sent to concentration camps, where she died. The Mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema,  condemned the graffiti saying: “No Palestinian is helped by defacing her precious image.” Jewish Telegraph story here.

Hindu temple leader denies sex abuse and financial claims

Rajinder Kalia, leader of a Hindu temple in Coventry, who is being sued for alleged sex abuse and rape, has told the High Court that the claimants had lied and fabricated stories to extort millions of pounds from him. He denied accusations that he claimed to be divine or that he could perform miracles. Mr Kalia founded and leads the Hindu Sidh Baba Balak Nath Ji Society temple in Coventry. Four women are suing him claiming sexual abuse. They and three others also claim financial exploitation, although two of these cases have been struck out. The case continues.

Bailiffs evict retired priest from his church house

The Church Times tells the story of a 76-year-old priest who has been evicted from a vicarage where he lived for six years after retirement. The Rev Paul Williamson, was the vicar of St George’s, Hanworth, from 1992 to 2018, when he reached 70, the compulsory age of retirement. But he disputed that he should retire, and took his case to court, but lost. This week the diocese of London sent round the bailiffs and he is now staying at a youth-club headquarters nearby surrounded by boxes and bags, saying he will take the case to the Supreme Court.


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