Religion news 25 April 2024

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Catholic bishops against medical intervention for gender dysphoria children

The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have issued a pastoral reflection on gender which says that medical intervention for children experiencing gender dysphoria should not be supported and social transitioning for young children should be avoided. It says that sex-change intervention risks threatening the unique dignity the person has received from the moment of conception. Sexual identity of an individual is not a purely “cultural or social construction.”  The report “Intricately woven by the Lord” affirms that transgender people can feel welcome in the Catholic Church and says accompanying people with gender dysphoria is a complex but essential pastoral task, where “gentle, patient and respectful” language should be used.  Pastoral care must flow from an acceptance of the body as created, respect for parents as primary educators and upholding safeguarding principles. The report took two years to complete and is designed to help Catholic clergy and lay people in their pastoral work. Two weeks ago, the Vatican issued its own document, saying sex change operations and gender theory were grave threats to human dignity. At a press conference, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said there was harmony between the bishops and the Vatican on this issue and the publication timing was a coincidence. Report is here

Tributes to Frank Field, decent and inspiring public servant

Frank Field, committed Christian, former Labour MP and lifelong campaigner against poverty, has died aged 81 from cancer. Tributes have been paid to a man who was widely admired for his warmth and compassion alongside a tenacious devotion to public service. After ten years as director of the Child Poverty Action Group and six as director of the Low Pay Unit, politics beckoned and he became the Labour MP for Birkenhead from 1979-2019, elevated to the Lords in 2020 as Lord Field of Birkenhead. He was a member of the Church of England and once served on the General Synod. Bishops have spoken of his inspiring life well lived and his example as a courageous servant across the nation. Church Times tribute here

World’s first Sikh Court opens in London

Sikh lawyers in the UK have launched the world’s first Sikh Court in response to what they say is a lack of expertise in the UK judicial system. It will offer dispute resolution in family and civil matters. This has been met with uncertainty by some in the community as Sikhism does not have its own legal code, unlike the Jewish Beth Din system or Sharia law in Islam. However, barrister Baldip Singh, 33, one of the court’s founders, said its purpose will be “to assist Sikh families in their time of need when dealing with conflict and disputes in line with Sikh principles.” Report by Liz Harris in The Times here

Ban on prayer rituals at Michaela school “politicised and turned into moral panic

The decision by the High Court to back the ban on prayer rituals at the Michaela School in north London, has been politicised and tuned into a moral panic, with ramifications for Muslims, according to Dr Azim Ahmed, from the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK, based in Cardiff. Speaking in a Religion Media Centre briefing, he said individuals should be allowed to bring their diverse selves into public life without detriment or discrimination. The court’s decision surprised the leading expert on religion and the law, Professor Russel Sundberg. He was concerned that the High Court relied on the idea of “voluntary acceptance” – by going to the school the pupil had already tacitly accepted the school’s rules banning prayers. Religious Education adviser Ed Pawson said there was a lack of clarity and guidance about how religion should be treated in schools. Faith schools were subject to inspections to assess their values and ethos, but non-religious state schools such as Michaela, had no comparable inspection regime. Dr Joseph Downing, who has written widely on secularism in France didn’t agree with the school’s ethos that only by marginalising religion could diverse communities find harmony. There is no one way of achieving harmony he said, and multiculturalism in Britain has been achieved through a gradual evolution of values, laws and measures emerging over time. Listen and watch the discussion again on YouTube or as a podcast. The links and details will go up on our briefing page here

Russian Orthodox Church suspends priest who led memorial service for Navalny 

A Russian Orthodox priest who led a memorial service at the grave of the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny, has been suspended from clerical duties and ordered to serve three years of penance. Reuters reports that Dmitry Safronov prayed several times at the Moscow grave side and conducted a service there on 26 March 26 to mark 40 days since Navalny’s death in an Arctic penal colony.  His suspension was announced by the Moscow Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, which said he would be moved to another church and demoted to the role of psalm-reader. The statement said: “At the end of the period of penance, based on feedback from the place of obedience, a decision will be made on the possibility of his further priestly service”. He had also reportedly refused to recite a prayer for Russia’s victory in Ukraine, which can  be grounds for expulsion.

Gaza’s only Catholic priest meets Archbishop

The Archbishop of Canterbury met and prayed with Gaza’s only Catholic parish priest, Father Gabriel Romanelli, at Lambeth Palace yesterday. He is parish priest of the Church of the Holy Family in Gaza City, but was in Bethlehem when Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October, and has not been able to return to Gaza since. Up to 600 displaced people are currently sheltering in the parish. He repeated his call for an immediate ceasefire and humanitarian aid. His church runs three schools, has more than ten ambulances and two care homes for disabled children and adults.

Thirtyone:Eight launches safeguarding manifesto in advance of the general election

Thirtyone:Eight, a Christian based organisation representing victims of abuse and advising on safeguarding policy for churches, faith groups and other secular organisations, has published a manifesto outlining changes to safeguarding that politicians should tackle after the forthcoming general election. “Together we can. A manifesto for a safer society for all” outlines specific policy demands for every part of the United Kingdom, with the goal that every child and adult in the UK should be safe from harm and abuse. It recommends strengthening the safeguards already in place, better protection of victims and survivors of abuse, and methods to create safer environments for all.  Details  here.

Archdeacon says CofE conveyor belt asylum seekers claim is not backed by evidence

An Archdeacon has written a nine page submission to the home affairs select committee, saying claims that the Church of England was complicit in a “conveyor belt” of baptisms of asylum seekers , are deeply problematic.  The claims were made by former vicar the Rev Matthew Firth, who was priest-in-charge at St Cuthbert’s in Darlington for two years. But the Ven Rick Simpson, archdeacon of Auckland in the diocese of Durham, said in the statement: “No one else to whom I have spoken who was involved with St Cuthbert’s, its baptism ministry and its support for asylum seekers at this time recognises the picture that was presented; I was personally involved with St Cuthbert’s in this period, and I do not recognise it. This picture is also deeply problematic when interrogated in the light of the available evidence.” He said records showed that that out of 189 baptisms at St Cuthbert’s over a 10-year period, 14 were of refugees some of whom already had asylum status. Matthew Firth, left the Church of England to join the Free Church of England, a conservative traditionalist organisation. Guardian story here

Buddhist Temple made of a million beer bottles, collapses

A Buddhist temple in Thailand made of beer bottles has collapsed under its own weight. The Metro reports that the Temple of a Million Bottles – also known as Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew – has several pagodas but one measuring 10 x 10 x 15 metres dramatically fell to the ground only five months after being built.  Abbot Phra Waiphot Thammaparo, built the temple with help from religious devotees and explained one side lacked pillars bearing weight. But he is rebuilding to create a place where the ashes of his father can rest.


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