Religion news 22 June 2021

Image credit: Big Issue

UN says Catholic Church must do more to stop abuse

The United Nations’ human rights office says the Catholic Church must do more to stop violence and sexual abuse against children. Four special human rights rapporteurs also expressed concern over church members obstructing and not co-operating with efforts to improve the legal prosecution of child abusers and evading reparations due to victims. In a letter to the Holy See in April, but published only on Monday on the OHCHR website, the experts said the violations had allegedly been committed over decades in many countries with tens of thousands of victims.

Legal age to marry may be raised to 18

The government is planning to raise the legal age to marry in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to 18 in an effort to clamp down on forced marriages. Justice minister Robert Buckland told the Telegraph that lifting the minimum age would prevent the misuse of parental consent in some religious communities. He said that while parental consent for under-18s had been intended to protect young people from making ill-advised life choices, it was now often being misused to “commoditise marriage and propagate child abuse”. The former chancellor, Sajid Javid, is hoping to introduce a private member’s bill next week making it illegal for under-18s to marry, saying most of these unions are “coerced or forced for cultural and religious reasons” . The move has been welcomed by campaigners who have lobbied for more protection for vulnerable young people.

That Big Issue seller . . . he looks just like the Archbishop of Canterbury

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has taken to the streets in Cambridge to sell Big Issue. The archbishop has been on study leave for six weeks in Cambridge and struck up a friendship with Big Issue seller Lee Welham, whose pitch is outside the Round Church. He said he felt nervous before he started because he thought he would be very conspicuous, but many people avoided looking him in the eye and, head down, crossed the road. In conversation with Lee, the archbishop agreed that Jesus was a sofa-surfer, with nowhere to lay his head: “Homelessness is an issue that matters profoundly to God, and tackling poverty together is the essential work of a society where every person is truly valued.” He sold five copies in 40 minutes. 

UK joins Canada, US and Australia in boycotting Durban IV

The UK has joined Australia, Canada and the United States in boycotting a commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the World Conference against Racism over fears it would be used as a platform for antisemitism. The decision by the Foreign Office not to attend the Durban IV conference in September has been welcomed by the Jewish Board of Deputies, the Conservative Friends of Israel and other Jewish groups.

Scientists and theologians join forces for new Anglican Communion Science Commission

Scientists, theologians and bishops from around the world are being invited to serve as commissioners for a new Anglican Communion Science Commission (ACSC). Its aim is to “resource the whole Anglican Communion for courageous and confident spiritual leadership in issues involving science”. It will be co-chaired by Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town and the primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, and Steven Croft, the Bishop of Oxford. Speaking in an introductory video, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said scientific advance had lifted many people out of poverty and enabled the world to feed itself. The ACSC will launch formally at 2022 Lambeth Conference. A series of videos exploring the relationship between science and faith were published on the Lambeth Conference website on Monday.

Pakistani lawyer who represented Asia Bibi faces threats to his life

The Pakistani lawyer who has successfully overturned a number of convictions for “blasphemy” has told the BBC he believes his life is in danger from extremists. Saif ul Malook, who represented Asia Bibi, the Christian villager who spent eight years on death row in a case that attracted international condemnation, says the current threats against him are the most dangerous he has ever received. Social media posts are calling for him to be “executed” for securing the acquittal of a Christian couple who had been sentenced to death. Blasphemy is legally punishable by death in Muslim-majority Pakistan.

Les Hijabeuses: female footballers tackle the hijab ban in France

Young Muslim women excluded from playing in football matches because of their headdresses are determined to play on and encourage other hijab-wearing women into the sport. The Guardian tells the story of Les Hijabeuses, a collective of young-hijab wearing female footballers campaigning against the French Football Federation’s ban on women wearing the hijab in official club matches and international games. This goes against football’s international governing body which lifted its hijab ban in 2014. Les Hijabeuses see themselves as part of a wider battle to promote a more inclusive society in France, which has seen a rise in far-right groups and Islamophobia. They say it’s not about promoting their religion. They love football and hope to change perception of hijab-wearing women, one football match at a time.

York Minster faces deficit of £2.3m after Covid closures in 2020

York Minster recorded a £2.3m deficit last year according to their recently published accounts for the year to 31 December 2020. The Guardian described the figures as “catastrophic”, with income at the cathedral plummeting from a surplus of £332,000 in 2019 due to low visitor numbers caused by the pandemic. Last year visitor numbers fell to just one-fifth of previous levels — from 706,500 in 2019 to below 147,500 in 2020 — as lockdown meant the cathedral was closed for 4½ months, and open with limited capacity for another six months. While income from visitors and worshippers was down 74 per cent to £1.3m last year, government and church grants meant overall income fell by 40 per cent to £6.5m.

Live TV feed of Stonehenge Summer Solstice cut over safety concerns

English Heritage says it cut their live feed of the Summer Solstice sunrise at Stonehenge because of safety concerns. The decision was taken after a crowd of 100 people defied Covid-19 restrictions and entered the stone circle before dawn, The Independent reports. Thousands of viewers around the world missed the 4.52am sunrise and were shown pre-recorded footage of the Neolithic monuments instead. The live feed resumed on social media channels about 5am showing a cloudy sky. English Heritage apologised, saying they were disappointed that a number of people had chosen to disregard their request not to travel to the stones. Police were called in and staff safety had to come first. Solstices are believed to have been celebrated at the Neolithic monument on Salisbury Plain for millennia, as the sarsen stones — the stones at the centre of the site, aligned with the movements of the sun — were raised in about 2500BC. On a clear day, the rays of sunlight channelled into the centre of the monument can be seen at sunrise on the solstice.


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