Religion news 24 May 2024

Archbishop of Canterbury addressing Church of Scotland General Assembly. Image credit: Church of Scotland

Archbishop appeals for people to vote in large numbers “treasuring democracy

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, told the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly that his prayer for the general election is that people vote in vast numbers, “treasuring the privilege of citizenship in this democracy”. He was sure that churches would “contribute thoughtfully, respectfully, and as servants seeking the common good”. He said the Church of England and the Church of Scotland are established, but not state churches: “We do not interfere in politics, though some of us are sometimes accused of doing so… Where there is injustice, we must say so; where there is hunger, we must meet the need and speak against the cause… Whatever the issue, whatever the party in power, Christian ethics have, and must go on shaping our national value system”. He also warned that the “appalling” war in the Middle East would bring neither security for Israel, nor a free and secure Palestinian state. He repeated his call for a ceasefire, unfettered humanitarian aid, the release of all hostages and a long term resolution for all the people. View the speech here

Teenager known as “God’s Influencer” for his social media posts on Catholicism, is in line to become a saint

Carlo Acutis, a teenager who was known as “God’s Influencer” for his social media posts on the Catholic church and who died in 2006 aged 15, is to be declared a saint. Carlo was born in London but spent much of his life in Assisi. Two miracles have been associated with him –the healing of a Brazilian child of a congenital disease affecting his pancreas, and the healing of a university student in Florence who had bleeding on the brain, a miracle which was approved by the Pope. Carlo died from leukaemia and his body was moved to Assisi a year after his death, where it is on display with relics associated with his life. In a decree released yesterday, Pope Francis announced he will convene a Consistory of Cardinals to approve the canonisation of Carlo, making him a saint.

Pioneer UK apologises to people harmed by its founder Gerald Coates

Pioneer UK, a network of charismatic and evangelical community churches, has apologised to anyone harmed by its founder Gerald Coates, who died in 2022 aged 78. The organisation was responding to a report by Christian Safeguarding Services, which heard from more than 30 people and found a pattern where Gerald Coates’ ministry and pastoral practice “fell well short of expected standards and where appropriate boundaries were not respected”. Pioneer UK says this accelerated in the last decade of Gerald’s life, after he wrote a book called ‘Sexual Healing’ on how to give up an addiction to porn, which became a significant focus of his ministry.  It said in a statement: “The report reveals a clear pattern of Gerald sharing a prophetic word with a young man and then seeking to establish ongoing contact”. This included a “holy kiss” on the cheek and questions on pornography and masturbation. It involved young adults he met at conferences and events but there was contact via social media with three younger teenagers which should have been a safeguarding concern. Pioneer acknowledges its attempt to tackle this with Coates were insufficient and is committed to improving safeguarding practice.

Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral hosts exhibition on tragic impact of war on children

The way in which children are increasingly being targeted in wartime is the subject of a new exhibition that opened this week at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in central London. Called “Child of War”, it features the paintings of the war in Ukraine by war artist Arabella Dorman, and art by children from Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Britain. It reveals not only the immediate impact of war – losing parents, homes and schools – but also its lasting psychological impact on a whole generation of children. Ms Dorman said: “I’ve called it Child’s Play because so much of war by politicians is called war gaming and it’s far from any game”.  The exhibition includes items she found during a visit to Ukraine last year, including a broken teddy bear and a motanka doll – a Ukrainian symbol of hope – found in an abandoned school which had been bombed by Russian troops.  Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski, whose cathedral is hosting the show, said: “The exhibition is both fabulous and tragic”.  Read Catherine Pepinster’s article here

Global Anglican leaders shifting away from conflict towards reconciliation

Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves, vice president of the House of Bishops in the US Episcopalian church, said the recent meeting of global Anglican primates in Rome indicated a shift away from conflict and towards understanding how people with different views, especially on human sexuality, could be together. The bishop was representing ECUSA’s presiding bishop Michael Curry, who was unable to travel due to health concerns. She said: “In any conflict, there is often a generational shift, where things, people, change, but also sometimes you soften. You get more perspective as time goes on, and there was definitely some openness, not in changing opinions, but having a listening heart and saying, can we dwell in the same space? How much communion can we achieve”.  She said it was no secret that the Anglican Communion has had conflict in recent years, with some provinces splitting away for alternative global organisations opposed to same sex relationships. But at this meeting, there was an acknowledgment that reconciliation was not about agreement, but asking how much reconciliation could be achieved.

Methodist mega church stays within United fold despite mixed views on same-sex marriage

Highland Park United Methodist Church of Dallas, a megachurch with 15,000 members, has found a compromise position on same sex marriage which is allowing it to stay within the wider organisation and appeal to both progressives and conservatives. The United Methodist conference recently voted to allow same sex marriage and the ordination of same sex ministers in relationships. The progressive change has caused 7,500 churches to break away, but Highland Park has found a solution to stay. The Rev Paul Rasmussen said it had always been a big tent centrist church and he explained that it will continue to support the traditional idea of marriage and will prohibit same-sex wedding ceremonies on its property. But its clergy could perform same sex marriages at other venues if they wish. He pointed out that lay people still have the final say on appointing ministers and he affirmed that conference did a good thing when it removed a rule that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching”.  

Queensland tribunal says Twitter / X is subject to state laws on hate speech

A tribunal in Queensland, Australia, has ruled that X / Twitter has to answer to the anti-discrimination laws of the state, despite being based in America. The ruling followed a complaint from the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network, about 29 tweets which it said “denigrates, dehumanises, and demonises Muslims, portraying them as an existential threat”.   Queensland’s human rights commissioner was satisfied the complaint included religious vilification before referring the matter to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.  The ruling is said to have far reaching consequences for social media platforms, ensuring social media companies must be held accountable for locally-accessible content that breaches hate speech laws. Article here

Carmelite nun re-instated after battling accusations that she broke vow of chastity with a priest

The Vatican has overturned the dismissal of a Carmelite nun, who was removed after being accused of breaking her vow of chastity with a priest. Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, prioress of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas, appealed, saying she was on medication for cancer treatment and had grown close to Father Philip G. Johnson as they shared their experience of struggling to live with illness. When she feared they were becoming too close, she confided in a spiritual counsellor who alerted Bishop Michael Olson. His investigation led to a legal battle. Mother Teresa sued the bishop and diocese for invading privacy – the case was dismissed. The bishop reported the nuns at the monastery to the police for marijuana use – no legal action was taken.  In August 2023, the nuns accused him of abuse and an ugly attempt to seize control and said they no longer recognized the bishop’s authority. He responded by calling the behaviour “scandalous and schismatic” and said the nuns may have incurred excommunication.  The Vatican’s decision is that Mother Teresa can return to the order but is removed from leadership. The monastery is to be overseen by a group of Carmelite monasteries and a new prioress has been appointed. Religion News Service story here


Sign up for our news bulletin