Religion news 20 March 2024

Migrants crossing English channel
Image credit: Sandor Csudai CCLicense4.0

Bishops likely to renew their objection to Rwanda bill in the Lords today

The Rwanda deportation bill goes back to the Lords today for their agreement before becoming law. But Labour peers will try to re-insert six proposed changes which the Commons rejected and it is likely they will receive support from Church of England bishops, who objected to the bill when it was debated in the Lords earlier this month. The bishops of Worcester, Chelmsford and Manchester are expected to be present, there may be more on the day. The bishops are unlikely to speak as the motion is to agree or disagree, but if the vote goes against the bill, the government’s wish to get the first flight off in the spring may not be met, as it cannot vote again until after the Easter recess in April. The bishops are not “whipped” as a group, they vote independently, but they all object to this bill.

Nine O’Clock service vicar in court on rape and indecent assault charges

The Rev Chris Brain, who led the Nine O’Clock Service, an evangelical night club inspired worship at a church in Sheffield in 1980s and 1990s, has appeared in court charged with rape and 33 charges of indecent assault against against 11 women, former members of the congregation.  Brain, now 66, of Park Road, Wilmslow, Cheshire, was granted unconditional bail and is due to appear again at Sheffield Crown Court on 15 April.

Muslim community programme to identify need and distribute Zakat donations

Dr Sohail Hanif, CEO of the National Zakat Foundation, is forging ahead with a new community based project to distribute Zakat, charity giving by Muslims especially during Ramadan, to help those in need. In a message filmed and distributed on social media, Dr Hanif urges mosque leaders to bring forward volunteers to be trained in how to assess need and organise a programme to distribute funds. It follows a successful pilot with Al Madinah Mosque in Barking last year, and the inclusion of news partners in Acton Mosque, Al-Emaan Centre in Bromley, Purely Masjid, and Bradford Foundation Trust. He says that those most in need are “often ignored or unknown even within our close-knit communities” and by giving help where it is needed, they become involved in their local community and their lives are improved. 

The breakdown between the government and the Muslim Council of Britain

The story of how the Muslim Council of Britain came to find itself ostracised by the government and reportedly at risk of being listed as an extremist organisation, is told in an article by Imran Mulla in Middle East Eye. He reports that since the MCB was boycotted first by the Labour government in 2009, there were, in fact,  meetings with Conservative ministers between 2010 and 2015 and continuing meetings with civil servants until March 2020, when the MCB produced evidence of Islamophobia against 300 people, including Conservative MPs, councillors, party members and special advisers. Shortly afterwards, Robert Jenrick, then communities secretary, told government departments they were banned from engaging with the MCB. Article is here

Civil Service Muslim Network suspended after speakers on Gaza

The deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden has ordered an immediate suspension of the Civil Service Muslim Network, after it hosted events when speakers encouraged officials to lobby colleagues to change the government’s policy on the conflict in Gaza.  A document about the meetings was passed to The Times which said people had been worried by antisemitic comments, including that the Israel lobby has an insidious influence on British politics, and that the mainstream media is biased and full of lies.

Lawyers accuse the Pope of interfering in the Vatican fraud trial

The Associated Press reports that several prominent lawyers have criticised the conduct of the recent Vatican fraud trial, when nine people were convicted of crimes related to a €350million investment in a London property. They included the senior Vatican official Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who was convicted of embezzlement. The lawyers Geraldina Boni, a professor of canonical and ecclesiastic law at the University of Bologna and an adviser to the Vatican’s legal office, together with Manuel Ganarin and Alberto Tomer, have written an article in the legal journal of the University of Milan, saying there were four executive decrees from the Pope giving prosecutors “carte blanche” to pursue their case without any judge overseeing them, through intercepting suspects’ communications and deviating from existing Vatican law. They said this violated a fair trial and the arguments are likely to feature in the defendants’ appeals.

80 per cent of Catholics in Brentwood don’t attend church believing they don’t belong

The Catholic diocese of Brentwood has completed research on why 80 per cent of baptised Catholics in the area do not attend church. The report “Believing, not Belonging”, found many did not feel welcome, appreciated or even visible, and their story was unrecognised in the church’s ethical teaching. The Covid lockdowns made them realise they could no longer tolerate or collude with a “church scarred by clericalism, or a church in which abuse is covered up, or a church in which women have no role, or one in which accountability is a distant dream”. Report is here

Hindu and Sikh festivals across the UK this week

The Hindu festival of Holi and the Sikh festival of Holla Mahalla were marked by officers in the British Armed Forces at an annual military festival in Aldershot, with plenty of coloured paint thrown around and a display of martial arts. Bright festivals of colour are taking place in towns around the UK this week with the traditional large Holi event in Leicester this weekend. See our factsheet on Holi here

Devon villagers furious that their church clock chimes were silenced

The clock at St John the Baptist church in Witheridge, Devon, which has chimed every quarter of an hour for 150 years, has been silenced after one resident complained.  North Devon Council handed down a noise abatement notice in December saying the chimes were too loud, to the fury of local villagers who signed a petition in protest. After negotiation, the parish council was forced to install a silencer, banning chiming from 11pm to 7 am and only allowing chimes during the day once an hour. The Mail quotes one villager saying: “If you don’t like the bells, buy yourself some earmuffs. I think the whole thing is absolutely pointless”. The resident who complained has reportedly moved out.


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