Religion news 9 September 2021

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The religious credentials of Afghanistan’s new prime minister

Mullah Hasan Akhund has been appointed interim prime minister of Afghanistan, leading a government with men who were in charge when the Taliban ruled in the 1990s, former Guantanamo Bay prisoners and the new generation of fighters and religious leaders. Ali A. Olomi, a historian of the Middle East and Islam at Penn State University, explained in an article for The Conversation that the new prime minister is seen as a religious influence in the Taliban, having served on shura councils, and holding the title given to those trained in Islamic theology.

Last Jewish person in Afghanistan flees the country

Zebulon Simentov, 62, the last member of Afghanistan’s Jewish community has left the country, the Associated Press reports. His departure was organised by an Israeli American businessman and it is reported that 29 of his neighbours joined him, escaping to a neighbouring country. AP suggests that Jews have lived in Afghanistan for at least 1,000 years and in the late 19th century, 40,000 Jews were settled, many having fled Iran. Simentov ended his days in the country living in a dilapidated synagogue in Kabul.

Catholic campaigners join protest to stop the arms trade at the ExCeL Centre

Sister Katrina Alton, of the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace based in Nottingham, has joined a peace camp outside the ExCeL Centre in London to campaign against the arms trade. Protesters blocked both entrances to the centre, stopping lorries bringing weapons, and one broke through a cordon and jumped on a tank making its way in for a display. Catholic Bishops, Pax Christi, Justice and Peace movements, Cafod and the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund have taken up the call of Pope Francis and signed a statement in opposition to the arms trade.

Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney faces legal action after allegations of bullying

Anne Dyer, the Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney and Scotland’s first female bishop, faces legal action in a dispute over alleged bullying behaviour. The Scottish Episcopal Church has commissioned an independent review and a human resources investigation into the allegations. Christopher Cromar, now a cathedral organist, is considering taking action against her. Bishop Dyer, 64, was previously the warden of Cranmer Hall theological college in Durham.

The bishop, the satanic novelist and conversion therapy

Xavier Novell, the ultraconservative Catholic Bishop of Solsona in Catalonia, resigned last month for “strictly personal reasons”. This week, the news site Religion Digital revealed that Novell, 52, who had also appointed himself the region’s exorcist, had fallen in love with Silvia Caballol, 38, a divorced mother of two and writer of steamy prose. Caballol, a psychologist who has studied sexology, yoga, Catholicism and Islam, writes of demonic lust in such books as Amnesia Trilogy and The Hell in Gabriel’s Lust. In a further twist, Sophia Smith Galer, now a reporter for Vice, revealed another reason for his resignation. She reports that the Spanish online newspaper El Diario said Novell’s support of conversion therapy could be behind his departure. Her report is here. Novell became the youngest bishop in Spain at the age of 41 and seemed destined for a glittering career but his views clashed with the increasingly liberal Vatican. Pope Francis swiftly accepted Novell’s resignation but the church has not commented, The Times reports.

Antisemitic aristocrat and the reptile conspiracist

Piers Portman, son of the 9th Viscount Portman, awaits sentence after calling Gideon Falter, chairman of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, “Jewish scum”. He denied religiously aggravated harassment, saying: “I am an honourable British man who was brought up to show respect to a fellow human”, but was convicted at Southwark crown court. Portman was accompanied to his trial by Matthew Delooze, an author who believes reptilian aliens secretly rule the world using human puppets, including the royal family and celebrities, The Times reports.

Today is “Buy a Priest a Beer Day”

Today is unofficially International Buy a Priest a Beer Day when people are encouraged to take their priests out for a beer to express their appreciation for all they do for them personally and their broader communities. Originating in the Anglican church in southern Queensland, Australia, the idea has captured the imagination of clerics around the world on social media. Describing his call to the priesthood over a beer in a pub, the Rev Max Lambourne said: “It is amazing how God is able to work through the very ordinary, like a pub chat between two mates, to bring about the most extraordinary situations.” The church post explaining the day says ginger beer or coffee would do, but “everyone likes to be appreciated for their contributions and hard work and our clergy work extremely hard … so perhaps today, or another time this month, each of us can make contact with our clergy to show our thanks for all that they do”.

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