Religion news 17 March 2022

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Nazanin Ratcliff finally on a plane home. Image credit: Tulip Siddiq MP, Twitter

Nazanin Ratcliffe’s release met with joy

Nazanin Ratcliffe, who has been held in prison in Iran for six years after being falsely accused of spying, has arrived home to be reunited with her husband and 7-year-old daughter Gabriella in the UK. Among the messages of relief and joy on social media, the Bishop of Chelmsford, Guli Francis-Dehqani, said the release was “Absolutely wonderful. I cannot fully express how overjoyed I am by this news. My very best wishes to Nazanin and Richard and their family”. She also expressed delight for another detainee, retired civil engineer Anoosheh Ashoori, who came back on the same plane. The Bishop fled with her family from Iran to the UK when she was a child, after an assassination attempt following the revolution in 1979 – her father was the Anglican bishop in Iran – and she has campaigned for Nazanin Ratcliffe’s release.    

Ukraine news

Cinema bombed in Mariupol where 1,000 people – including many children – were sheltering; Ten Ukrainians queuing for bread in Chernihiv killed in missile strike; President Biden calls Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” – the Kremlin calls the accusation “unforgivable rhetoric”; The US pledges $1bn in weapons to Ukraine; President Zelenksy addressed Congress and repeated his plea for a no-fly zone and more sanctions; The FT says a potential peace deal rests on Ukraine declaring its neutrality

Pope meets Patriarch Kirill to press for a just peace

Pope Francis has spoken by video link to the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, Patriarch Kirill, to discuss the war in Ukraine and the need for a just peace. The Vatican reports that the Pope said: “The Church must not use the language of politics, but the language of Jesus”. Kirill is close to the Kremlin and widely regarded as providing religious justification for Russia’s claim on Kyiv. The Pope has condemned the Russian invasion and appealed for an end to the “massacre”. Their meeting followed approaches by Vatican diplomats to allow the Holy See to mediate. The leaders have met once before –  in Cuba in 2016 –  but this is the first known communication between them since the invasion.

Churches in England deplore discrimination in refugee system

Churches Together in England, which represents 52 churches, has issued a statement deploring discrimination in the way refugees are treated in this country. While welcoming an easier visa application system and embracing the role churches can play in welcoming refugees, CTE “deplores the discrimination against African and Asian people and those of religious minorities fleeing Ukraine” saying there has been a slow welcome for Afghan refugees with many remaining housed in bed and breakfast accommodation. It urges the government to consider amendments to the UK Borders and Nationality Bill, and prays that all strangers are welcomed in Britain.

Ukraine’s current response is a just war, but what about the response of the West?

The use of force to stop Russia’s onslaught against Ukraine is a “just war”, but there is no responsible alternative response other than the current decisions to give defensive weapons, impose sanctions and offer humanitarian assistance, some academics believe. The moral complexities and dilemmas of decisions that have not stopped the loss of life were considered by a panel at a Religion Media Centre briefing this week. Academics and commentators said the threat of escalation had involved moral decisions based on duty, responsibility and what would be of the greatest benefit.  Failure to act against Russia’s attempt to de-stabilise the West had left it feeling emboldened to invade. Read the full report here. Watch the briefing here

Other news

Lords reject moves to allow assisted dying

The House of Lords has rejected moves to legalise assisted dying in England and Wales. An amendment to the Health and Social Care bill, proposed by Lord Michael Forsyth, which would “permit terminally ill, mentally competent adults legally to end their own lives with medical assistance” was defeated by 179 to 145 votes. It is the twelfth time since 1997 that proposals for assisted dying have been rejected in Parliament. Opponents in the Lords included the bishops of Durham, Birmingham, Bristol and Oxford. There is another amendment in favour of assisted dying currently at committee stage in the Lords, proposed by Baroness Meacher. 

Ampleforth College rated inadequate after stories of sex and drugs

Ampleforth College, the Catholic boarding school in north Yorkshire, has been rated inadequate by Ofsted, which says pupils are at risk of harm. The report outlined one incident on the last day of school last year, when sixth formers escaped for a graduation party in nearby countryside with alcohol brought in secretly, resulting in one student unconscious in an orchard and another needing hospital treatment. Police were called when Class A drugs were found on the school’s site and now sniffer dogs and thermal-imaging cameras have been introduced. In another incident, two pupils engaged in sexual activity while a third looked on. The report also expressed concern that the head has no veto over monks joining the community in the adjoining Abbey. In 2020, the school was told to stop admitting new pupils after an emergency Ofsted report showed it failed to meet safeguarding and leadership standards. In 2018, IICSA (the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse) reported there had been “appalling sexual abuse” over decades on children as young as seven. Robin Dyer, head of Ampleforth, issued a statement published in full by York Press, saying this latest Ofsted report is based on incorrect assumptions and factual inaccuracies regarding safeguarding. The school had made repeated attempts to correct the facts before the report was published and the injustice cannot be allowed to stand: “Ampleforth is a safe school. Our students know it and our parents and staff know it too.”

Outdoor weddings here to stay

The government has announced that outdoor weddings at licensed venues in England and Wales, allowed during the pandemic, will be legalised permanently. A government consultation found that 96 per cent of respondents backed making this change permanent, while 93 per cent supported extending it to religious weddings. Reforms to religious ceremonies will be made in due course after the consultation found every major faith group supported the move. In July, further reforms are expected after the Law Commission reports on modernising the law to create a simpler legal structure.

Former president of Methodist church banned from ministry

The Rev Steven Wild, a Methodist minister of 40 years standing and the President of the church from 2015-2016, has been told that he will not be permitted to return to the ministry after an investigation into safeguarding complaints against him. He was suspended as Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly district chair in September 2021 as a result of a safeguarding assessment, not a disciplinary process, which was then considered by a safeguarding panel. The church has not released information about the nature of the complaints, only saying that they did not relate to children. Mr Wild has called for an investigation into the process and judgments reached and issued a statement saying: “I want to make it absolutely clear that I categorically deny that I have ever – or would ever – intentionally behave in a way that would bring the Church that I have loved and faithfully served for over 40 years into disrepute.” He was due to retire this summer.

Faith and Hope at the BBC

The BBC has announced a strand of religious programming “Faith and Hope” this Spring. Highlights include the actor Jill Halfpenny presenting a series visiting locations of faith and place in Northumbria; seven pilgrims following Saint Columba’s route through the Scottish Isles; Diarmaid MacCulloch exploring spiritual silence in a series of essays “Talking About Silence” on Radio 3; and on BBC1 “A Believer’s Guide” following people through major life events. For the run of major religious festivals in the spring, the BBC will include programmes for Easter, Holi and Eid including “My First Festivals and My Life” on CBBC. BBC iPlayer has all the content on “The Faith and Hope” page

It’s St Patrick’s Day

St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, who by legend was British and went to Ireland as a slave, drove snakes out of the island and used a clover to illustrate the Trinity. It’s a day of feasting, festivities and drinking. Read more on our factsheet here


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