Religion news 26 March 2024

Canon Christopher Whitehead. Image credit: © Marcin Mazur, CCLicense2.0

Priest whose ordination as bishop was abruptly cancelled, is told “no canonical action is warranted”

Canon Christopher Whitehead, whose ordination as the Catholic Bishop of Plymouth was abruptly cancelled in February while unspecified allegations were investigated, has been told that no canonical action is warranted.  The Diocese of Clifton made the announcement in a short statement following the conclusion of its inquiry. Canon Whitehead had the date set for ordination as 22 February, but with three weeks to go it was called off and he was suspended from active ministry while the inquiry took place. He has now resumed his duties as parish priest of Saint John the Evangelist in Bath. He was ordained priest in 1994 and has served in parishes in Bath, Swindon, Bristol, Warminster and Stroud. In Clifton, he has served as director of adult education, director of the ongoing formation of priests, and director of formation for the permanent diaconate.

Investigation into antisemitic abuse towards Hamas attack survivors at Manchester airport

The Home Secretary has ordered an investigation into reports that two Israeli survivors of the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October, who are visiting the UK to address a charity event, were detained for two hours at Manchester airport and spoken to aggressively by Border Force staff. The Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region had called on James Cleverly to take action, saying the border staff had told the men that they had to make sure “you are not going to do what you are doing in Gaza over here”, which was clearly motivated by antisemitism. The Council published the letter on Twitter / X and received an immediate response from Mr Cleverly who said “We are investigating this. We do not tolerate antisemitism or any form of discrimination. This incident will be handled in line with our disciplinary procedures”.  The Council said the men came to the UK to publicise the organisation they founded to help survivors of terror attacks.

Muslims miss out on mental health help when therapists fail to understand faith

NHS mental health provision is failing Muslims because therapists and medical practitioners lack cultural and religious awareness, according to a new report, Faith in Mental Health, issued by the Cambridge-based Woolf Institute. Stigma associated with mental health issues can be found in some Muslim communities, the report says, but this is compounded by Muslims feeling that their faith is routinely ignored by health professionals and is sometimes viewed as a negative influence that should be abandoned. The report calls for mandatory religious literacy training for health professionals, better understanding of mental health and therapy in Muslim communities and widespread collaboration between faith groups and public services. Our article on the report is here

Batley RE teacher at centre of cartoon row was “let down” by school, council and police

The UK government’s social cohesion adviser says a teacher who was forced into hiding after showing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed during a lesson in 2021 was “let down” by his school, the local council and the police. The teacher received death threats and was forced to move house after protests outside Batley Grammar School in 2021. ITV X reports that the case was referred to Dame Sara Kahn who said: “Despite being cleared of any malicious intent by an independent investigation two months later, our review of his case demonstrates that he was not considered a victim of crime…(and) was let down by all the agencies involved, most notably Kirklees Council, West Yorkshire Police and the Batley Multi Academy Trust.” In a statement, Batley Multi Academy Trust rejected her conclusions: “We do not recognise much of what is in it, its description of the events, nor the characterisation of our school and community……However, our school and community is in a very positive place and we know that this report will not upset that.”

Bill to force Charedi Jews in Israel to fight, threatens the government

Israel’s president Benjamin Netanyahu is facing a serious  threat to his government due to a cabinet rebellion over the exemption of Charedi ultra-orthodox Jews from military service. He has consulted coalition parties on the proposal which is expected to be put to the cabinet meeting today.  The final draft of the Bill continues to allow the Charedim to avoid being called up to the Israeli Defence Force. Israel has permitted them to focus on their religious studies rather than do national service since the foundation of the state in 1948, but there is growing criticism of their protected status as tens of thousands of citizens are called up to fight the war in Gaza. The Telegraph says that “Israel’s most popular politician, Benny Gantz and a member of the war cabinet, has threatened to leave the government if the Bill is passed.” Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defence minister, has also said he would not back such a bill either. According to the Jewish News, Gantz called the draft bill “a red line during normal times, and a black flag during wartime.”

Day off for Ramadan in Italian school criticised as attack on Italian values

The Times reports on a controversy in Italy over a school near Milan which announced a day off at the end of Ramadan but which has faced criticism from ministers in Giorgia Meloni’s government who say the decision is an attack on Italian values. The Iqbal Masih school in Pioltello  will close on 10 April to mark Eid al-Fitr, the celebration at the end of Ramadan, as an estimated 40 per cent of its pupils are Muslim and are unlikely to show up. The deputy prime minister, Mateo Salvini, called the move “unacceptable and against the values, identity and traditions of our country”. He said it coincided with moves to “remove Catholic symbols like the crucifix from classrooms out of fear of causing offence”. Daniela Santanchè, the tourism minister, is also quoted by the paper: “We must not turn away from our values — the values of the West.”   The 200 teachers at the school in an open letter said the decision was practical and that they were not playing politics or destroying Italian culture. They complained of having to endure “a wave of hatred generated by the press, social media and politicians”.

Church of Scotland tells government of support for  conversion therapy

The Church of Scotland has submitted a response in favour of the Scottish government’s plans to ban conversion therapy, a process that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, with arguments based on religious beliefs. The government has consulted the public on the bill and the church’s General Assembly agreed to “urge the Scottish Government to ban conversion therapy” and instructed the church to make representations to the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament. Emma Jackson of the Church’s Public Life and Social Justice Programme said the church’s response “is deepened by hearing the experiences of survivors of conversion practices.. We are all created in God’s image, and we all have inherent dignity. We must do all we can in our public witness to respect and affirm this high principle.” Similar legislation is planned, but has yet to be implemented, by the UK and the Irish Governments.

Liverpool diocese sad over resignation of senior cleric

The Diocese of Liverpool has issued a short statement on its website responding to the resignation of Canon Dr Crispin Pailing, a senior clergyman who has resigned from the Church of England over its “institutional validation of homophobic and misogynistic views”. According to the Church Times, he has been an outspoken supporter of LGBT+ inclusion.  The Diocese said: “Naturally, we are saddened that Father Crispin has decided to leave Liverpool Parish Church and parish ministry. His departure will be the loss of a fine priest who has had many achievements whilst in Liverpool and we thank him for all the work he has done”.

Bubble churches for young children so successful they are bringing parents into the CofE

The Church of England has awarded nearly £8.5 million for parish renewal programmes, children’s and youth work and church planting. The projects include the expansion of the “Bubble church”, which started at Ascension Church in Balham, south London, and has expanded to 30 churches across England. The Rev Marcus Gibbs explains  that families arrive for a half hour child centred service, led by youth workers with a puppet show, songs and actions. Parents enjoy a coffee and croissant and sit with their children in family bubbles on the floor, as the stories are told. It’s grown from nothing to 115 people and has proved so popular with young children that they bring their parents, 80 per cent of whom are new to church. A film about the service has been viewed 250,000 times, with 350 churches inquiring on how to start similar groups elsewhere.  Bubble Church has received £145,423 from the CofE funding award. Other CofE projects include hubs for youth work in the Diocese of Durham and funds for Sunderland Minster; parish “revitalisation projects” in Hereford and Kent; training for 600 youth workers and funds for chaplains in secondary schools.

Colourful Holi celebrations pictured across the globe

The Guardian focuses on pictures in a special report on how the Hindu festival of Holi has been celebrated around the world. The festival of colours features clouds of coloured powder and celebrates love, new beginnings and the victory of good over evil. Observed by millions around the world, the celebrations usually takes place over two days and people of all faiths are encouraged to take part. In continuing coverage across Britain, the BBC’s Asian network reports on how the Hindu Festival of Holi was celebrated in Leeds, which was host for what was reputedly the biggest of its kind in the UK.

Inside the world of the pioneering female only Halal Comedy Queens

Muslim standup Shazia Murza writes  in The Guardian about her journey from being “the only Muslim on the comedy circuit for many years”,  to leading the pioneering female-only Halal Comedy Queens. They celebrate the diverse comedic talents of Muslim women from around the globe, offering a fresh perspective on humour, culture, and faith. “We are about to go global. We’re playing countries including South Africa, Canada and the US. In the UK, this year we’ll play the London O2. These six bank robbers, letterboxes, ninjas, scary ghosts, blackout tents or just underdogs, are fighting back. Roofs are being blown off – not with bombs or guns but with punchlines.” Her biggest fear? “I can tell you that for most of us, our greatest fear is not a forced marriage or burqa. It is the fear of marrying a man with a bigger moustache. I’m really competitive – he can’t have a bigger one than me.”


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