Religion news 14 May

The economic damage of the coronavirus continues to affect many religious bodies. The Catholic Church worldwide is suffering. In the USA more than 13,000 parishes have applied for government relief, the Washington Post reports. They are dependent on contributions from the pews to a much greater extent than the Church of England, which has managed to persuade most of its remaining members to give by direct debit. So without contributions at Sunday Masses, the church is facing a financial catastrophe. One estimate is that the shortfall this year will be as large as a billion dollars, and not less than $700,000.

Meanwhile, in Rome, the Vatican is in financial trouble. Reuters reports that the annual “Peter’s Pence” fundraising campaign has been delayed by three months, while the Vatican Museum, which is normally an important financial support to the City State has been shut down like every other museum in Italy. An official denied to the Catholic News Service that the Vatican was in danger of bankruptcy, but said it would lose between 25% and 45% of its revenue this year. There are plans to open the museum to masked and socially distant visitors. It would be a wonderful opportunity to see its masterpieces without crowds – but only if you can get to Rome in the first place.

The closure of churches is not just a financial blow. It appears to some traditionalists as a theological attack on the church. This helps to explain the otherwise inexplicable tone in the latest traditionalist manifesto – a letter written by Archbishop Viganò, one of Pope Francis’s fiercest enemies, which suggests that measures to combat the coronavirus are a Satanic fraud designed to bring about a tyrannical world government:

“There are powers interested in creating panic among the world’s population with the sole aim of permanently imposing unacceptable forms of restriction on freedoms, of controlling people and of tracking their movements. The imposition of these illiberal measures is a disturbing prelude to the realization of a world government beyond all control. Let us not allow centuries of Christian civilization to be erased under the pretext of a virus, and an odious technological tyranny to be established, in which nameless and faceless people can decide the fate of the world by confining us to a virtual reality.”

Among the signatories were three Cardinals. One of them, Cardinal Robert Sarah, has been spoken of as a future Pope. He rapidly denied ever signing the letter although he expressed some sympathy with its aims. Cardinal Mueller, the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, remains as a signatory, but explained that he was largely concerned with the closure of churches and did not necessarily agree with all that was there.

In this country it was revealed that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has been working as a part-time hospital chaplain. The story, which first appeared in the Telegraph had him working incognito and praying with patients and – down the telephone – with their families. There’s no doubt it was true, and even in character, and was a welcome positive story after he encountered a sustained attack all last week for his decision to bar clergy from their churches.

A Church of England bishop has intervened in the emerging concerns about the impact of the coronavirus lockdown on young people’s mental health. Two reports point to the harmful effects of the lockdown. Unicef is warning that the coronavirus presents a growing crisis for the worst affected families and is calling for greater co-ordination at the top of government to ensure children’s voices are heard. The Bishop of Gloucester Rachel Treweek signed an open letter to the government urging them to give children a voice:  “This viral pandemic has turned the lives of children upside down and is having a big impact on them, not only regarding their education, but also in how they play, live their friendships, develop their gifts and interests, and think about the future. As adults, we have a lot to learn from children and young people, and sometimes we simply need to create spaces to listen and be committed to a culture of ‘us’ which is about people of every age and background being valued and having a say.”   Today (14th May) Young Minds is launching a campaign calling for government action to limit the effect of the coronavirus lockdown on children’s mental health. Their survey indicates 67% of parents and carers are concerned about the long-term impact.

The Muslim Council of Britain is seeking clarification from the government on whether open air celebrations of Eid can be held within lockdown restrictions. Eid is the festival which ends Ramadan, the month of fasting and falls this  year on 23 / 24 May. In a statement, the Muslim Council of Britain said the indications were that Eid would have to be celebrated at home. It is continuing to liaise with scholars and health professionals to issue guidance on the safe re-opening of mosques as the lockdown begins to ease.

And finally – the Australian branch of the Genesis II church has been fined for advertising offences, after claiming a solution containing bleach cures coronavirus. Genesis II was made famous by Donald Trump who suggested research was needed into the effectiveness of injecting disinfectant.  But Australia’s drugs regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, imposed a fine of more than $150,000 saying there was no clinical, scientifically accepted evidence showing the solution could cure or alleviate any disease.