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Bishops urge mass exodus from Amnesty over abortion stance


THOUSANDS of Catholic schools and churches have been urged to boycott Amnesty International because of its new policy in favour of abortion. Each of the 2,075 maintained Catholic primary and secondary schools in England and Wales have received a letter from the bishops telling them that continued membership of the human rights group is going to be “difficult”. The letter was also sent out to more than 5,000 Catholic parishes to alert priests that it would no longer be morally acceptable to host churchbased Amnesty International groups. It was signed by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham, the chairman of the Department for Education of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and Bishop Crispian Hollis of Portsmouth, the chairman of the bishops’ Department for International Affairs. “We Catholics very much share the vision of Amnesty’s original mandate, as well as its opposition to violence against women, and we acknowledge the vital work carried out by Amnesty over the years,” the bishops said in their letter. “However, any undermining of the fundamental right to life from its defenceless first beginnings is too important to be ignored.” They said: “Religious education in our Catholic schools and parishes should always include a thorough presentation of the social teaching of the Catholic Church, as an inspiration to work together for justice. Sadly, the new policy on abor

tion adopted by Amnesty International has put Catholic schools, parishes, and justice and peace groups in a very difficult position with regard to formal membership of, affiliation to, or financial support of Amnesty International.” The bishops added that parishes, schools and individuals “might therefore consider alternative ways of continuing and developing their active work for prisoners of conscience, for men and women facing violence, torture or the death penalty, and for fair trials for all, while also giving support to people subjected to violence and oppression of any kind”. “Such alternatives include Action by Christians against Torture, and new groups currently being developed in the wake of Amnesty’s change of policy,” the bishops said. The grassroots boycott was agreed last week at a meeting of the bishops in Leeds. It follows a decision taken by all of Amnesty’s 70 international groups in August to abandon the group’s neutral policy on abortion as part of its Stop Violence Against Women campaign. Then, the group’s International Committee –made up of more than 400 delegates from 75 countries – voted to “support the decriminalisation of abortion, to ensure women have access to health care when complications arise from abortion, and to defend women’s access to abortion, within reasonable gestational limits, when their health or human rights are in danger”. Amnesty is now putting its legal expertise and lobbying power into campaigning for abortion in countries where it is illegal, such as in Nicaragua. It is also involved in helping to

shape international treaties and agreements that favour legal abortion. Amnesty was set up in 1961 by the Oxford lawyer Peter Benenson, a convert to Catholicism, to fight for the release of prisoners of conscience, for fair trials for political prisoners and for an end to torture, ill-treatment, political killings, disappearances and the death penalty. It has developed huge Christian-based support among its 1.8 million members. The adoption of the abortion policy immediately triggered an exodus of Catholics, including Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who resigned with “great sadness” after more than 40 years with the organisation. Bishop Michael Evans of East Anglia also left the group after 31 years of active membership in protest at the move. He said: “Many Catholic schools are involved with Amnesty and they have been asking us if they can continue to be members. “I think there is a problem in belonging to Amnesty International. The new policy puts Catholic schools and parishes in a very difficult position.” There are 570 school-based Amnesty groups in Britain, 81 of which are in Catholic schools. Since Amnesty adopted the abortion policy 13 Catholic schools have informed the organisation that they are closing down their groups. Eight are in Northern Ireland. More than 200 individuals have also announced their resignation in protest at the policy. However, at least one Catholic school has decided to start an Amnesty group since August and others have decided to reaffiliate. Amnesty

Thousands of schools and churches are expected to leave Amnesty International

spokesman Mike Blakemore said the policies on sexual and reproductive rights enabled it to “confront grave human rights abuses”. “There is more that unites Amnesty International and the Catholic Church than divides

us,” he said. “It is disappointing that individuals and schools are being asked by the Catholic Church to consider alternative ways of supporting human rights. “Amnesty International is the world’s largest and most

effective human rights organisation with a big job to do. Our members and supporters cannot possibly play an active part in all of our campaigns and in some circumstances, because of deeply held beliefs, they choose not to do so.”

Government gives grant to help adoption agencies


THEGOVERNMENTis to give Catholic adoption agencies threatened with closure under new gay rights laws a grant of about a quarter of million pounds to help them to find ways of staying open. Whitehall has indicated to Church leaders that it is willing release a sum in the region of £250,000 to the adoption agencies, which find new homes

for about 250 children each year. The bishops have now agreed that a joint application should be made by the agencies by the end of the month in the hope of acquiring the money by the New Year. The 12 Catholic adoption agencies in Britain have until the end of 2008 to either comply with the Sexual Orientation Regulations –forcing them to place children in the

care of same-sex couples –or they will face prosecution. The bishops have warned the Government that their agencies are more likely to close down rather than contravene the teachings of the Catholic Church. The bishops said after their November meeting last week that they welcomed the Government’s offer of “limited financial assistance to agencies to pay for further work to



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be done to explore whether within the law there might yet be ways found which will enable the adoption work to carry on and for our agencies to continue to be Catholic agencies”. “The excellent work of Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales is at the service of many of the most vulnerable children in our society,” they said. “This work is a manifestation of the Gospel in action, founded on the Church’s moral and social teaching including the Catholic understanding of the vocation of marriage. “The threat that now hangs over the future work of our agencies is entirely the result of the Government’s decision to include adoption work within the scope of the sexual orientation regulations, and then to refuse a reasonable exemption. It is a problem not of our making.” The bishops said they wanted the Catholic adoption agencies to “continue as Catholic agencies, and we reaffirm our commitment to do everything we can to seek a workable solution to this very difficult problem”. They aim to ask the directors and trustees of the adoption agencies to use the money to “explore all feasible ways in

which the moral and doctrinal requirements of the Church and the practical requirements of the law can be met, including the legal, practical and financial implications of any recommendations”. They also want agency bosses to jointly recommend the most appropriate ways forward in the interests of the children and adoptive parents, the staff and future work of the agencies “in the event of an irreconcilable position”, and to set out the employment, financial and other implications of such recommendations The bishops said it would be helpful for there to be a moral theologian on the group to make sure that any proposed solutions do not contradict Catholic teaching on marriage and the family. They say it will be for the trustees of each agency, in conjunction with each local bishop, ultimately to decide the future of their agency’s adoption work. The Sexual Orientation Regulations came into force in April under the 2006 Equality Act. They ban discrimination against homosexuals in the provision of goods and services. They were approved by the Government in spite of an appeal from Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor for

an exemption. But faced with a Cabinet rebellion the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, refused to offer the Church a way out. Instead, he gave the agencies 18 months to adapt to the law. Catholic agencies in the dioceses of Nottingham, Northampton and Cardiff are all now looking at the possibility of becoming secular charities so that they can carry on their adoption work. But one agency –the Leedsbased Catholic Care –in July voted to pull out of adoption altogether, ending a service which placed some 20 children with new families each year. Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster also announced in the summer that the Catholic Caring Services, an adoption agency which places children with new families in northwest England, will probably close rather than abide by the regulations. It emerged earlier this month that the Government is struggling to find new homes for many of the 4,000 children in the care of the authorities. Official figures have revealed a 13 per cent fall in the number of children adopted in spite of a target to increase adoptions by 50 per cent.

Letters: Page 11

Theologian advises bishops on how to work in a secular society


ARCHBISHOPBruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, a leading theologian, has spoken to the Bishops of England and Wales about how to reach out to non-believers in a secular society. The archbishop, speaking at the bishops’ annual autumn meeting, pointed to recent legislation such as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill and the Sexual Orientation Regulations as examples of the “loss of God” in British society. He said: “Look beyond the ‘clash of rights’, which is how the debate about religion and the state is usually framed, and to look at the issue behind that, the absence of a centre, and the loss of God in a secu

lar society.” Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor had invited the archbishop to speak at the conference following recent crises over legislation on same-sex adoption and abortion and the ongoing debate about the place of the Church in the public sphere. Archbishop Forte also told bishops that the Enlightenment had had “satanic effects” on society. He said: “The dream of emancipating the world and life was shattered in the unheard-of violence, which the age of emancipation produced, eloquent signs of which are the Shoah of the Jews and all the holocausts of our times, up to the holocausts of famine.” The archbishop encouraged the

English and Welsh bishops to improve the dialogue between believers and non-believers. “[This] is one of the highest and most enriching challenges in the cultures marked by non-belief and religious indifference. “Are we ready as believers and as Church to accept this challenge without fear, with spirit and full hearts, trusting in the faithful God?” Archbishop Forte, 58, has reportedly won the admiration of both Benedict XVI and his predecessor John Paul II. He is considered a possible successor to the Pope. He was also tipped to be the next prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before Cardinal William Levada was appointed in 2005.


Welsh martyr St David Lewis honoured with plaque

St David Lewis, the last Catholic martyr of Britain, is being commemorated with a plaque at the place where he was arrested before being hanged, drawn and quartered in 1679. St David was a Jesuit priest in 1678 who celebrated Mass around south Wales at the height of antiCatholic hysteria following the alleged “Popish

Plot” of 1678 to 1681. He was arrested and sent to London to be examined by the notorious Titus Oates. He was canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970, along with 39 other English martyrs. Brian McDowell of Cwmbran Historical Society said: “I’m very pleased this plaque is being put up. Let’s just say history is being recorded.”

Cafod welcomes Climate Bill

THEOFFICIALaid agency of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales has welcomed the “historic” Climate Change Bill, while adding that the legislation is not farreaching enough to tackle global warming effectively. In a press release responding to the publication of the Bill, Cafod said the Government’s proposals were not “strong enough” and did not take into account vital scientific evidence. George Gelber, head of policy at Cafod, said: “The weakness of the current Climate Change Bill means it is the equivalent of insulating a house then leaving the windows open. “Only by introducing the strongest possible legal framework for reducing United Kingdom greenhouse emission will the Government ensure the United Kingdomtakes an international lead on climate change.”

ACN gives aid to every continent

THEUNITEDKINGDOMoffice of Aid to the Church in Need has this month sent out aid to almost 30 countries to help Christians on every continent across the globe. The faithful in countries as far apart as Vietnam and Ukraine have received aid from the Surrey-based office of the charity. The money has gone to a widerange of projects, from funding a youth day for children in Galilee, northern Israel, to providing a much-needed domestic gas

facility for a mission station in Chichawatni, Pakistan. ACN UK National Director Neville KyrkeSmith said: “We are only able to help build up the Church and the Faith thanks to the compassion and commitment of ACN’s faithful benefactors. The persecuted, oppressed and those in real pastoral need know that they have friends in Christ who are praying for them. May God bless them for their solidarity in faith and love.”

Branagh to star in Dissolution drama

KENNETHBRANAGHis to star in a BBC adaptation of a detective novel set during the dissolution of the monasteries. The Belfast-born actor will play Shardlake, protagonist of the C J Sansom bestseller Dissolution, a hunchback lawyer in the service of Thomas Cromwell who becomes disillusioned by the excesses of the Reformation.

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Bishops launch drive against binge drinking




THE IRISH bishops have launched a campaign to counter the alcoholic “cycle of destruction” that has become the scourge of the country. Speaking at a school in Tallaght in south Dublin, Cardinal-elect Archbishop Sean Brady joined Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin and Bishop Eamonn Walsh of Ferns to launch the DVD Find the Balance: Dare to Dream. The film is based on the pastoral letter Alcohol: The Challenge of Moderation, which was published in February to coincide with Lent. This is the first time that a letter had been adapted to a video format. Archbishop Brady said: “The core message of this DVD is that to be happy in life we need a balance in life. To be really happy we need self-control as well as selfdetermination. Above all, you need self-respect. You need a sense of your own dignity and

of your own worth. We cannot believe in a God who loves, if we don’t, first of all, love ourselves.” Binge drinking is seen as the dark side of the Irish economy’s “Celtic Tiger” boom. Irish alcohol consumption trebled between 1960 and 2002; in the EU only France and Luxembourg consume more, although Russia is Europe’s leading per capita consumer of alcohol. Many blame the new-found wealth and the abandonment of Catholicism as the causes of the alcohol epidemic. Archbishop Brady said: “One of the great myths in our culture today is the belief that you can only be happy when you can do what you want, when you want, as you want. This is simply not true. The message of this DVD is also the message of Jesus and His Church.” Billboards warning of the excesses of alcohol have become a common sight in Ireland, especially during the Christmas season, and the archbishop suggested a series

of measures to stigmatise binge drinking and to tackle the social problems that lead people to drink heavily. “The following should become priorities for us all,” he said. “Building supportive caring communities –churches have a key role in helping to bring this about. Supportive communities offer the best bulwark against social isolation and many of the other problems that flow from, or contribute to, the abuse of alcohol. Making heavy drinking, binge drinking and drunkenness as anti-social as we have made many other things which destroy our health and environment like smoking and drink-driving.” Archbishop Diarmuid Martin added: “We have a national alcohol problem, an alcohol problem deeply imbedded in parts of our Irish culture. Alcohol abuse is not someone else’s problem; it is a national problem, a problem for us all. “These are not statistics of which we can be proud. Where are the roots of our

Cardinal-elect Sean Brady speaks in October at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh to students from St Catherine’s College

PA Photos

drinking problem? Why are we different from other Europeans? What is important today is to affirm together that these statistics have to be overcome. We have to break this cycle of destruction on our society. We have to become clear on the fact that alcohol makes you happy for a deceptive, very brief moment. The hangover of alcohol is not just yours, it brings suffering and misery

to many others. It is only when we break this cycle of destruction on our society that we will be a much happier society.” Teenage drinking has become such a problem that health questionnaires have been changed to reflect heavier consumption. Two years ago the upper limit answer to the question “How often have you felt drunk?” was changed from “9-10 times” to “11-15

times” and “16-20 times and more”. Further questions have been added asking teenagers if they ever got so drunk they got sick, passed out or had to be hospitalised. The most recent answers suggested that 78 per cent of those who had drank alcohol had been drunk, with 29 per cent of those between 13 and 15 years old who admitted to drinking saying they had been drunk more than 20 times; 21

per cent had passed out and eight per cent were admitted to hospital. On top of alcohol, Ireland has one of the world’s worst drug problems; it is second only to Britain in cannabis abuse in Europe. Heroin is also a massive social and medical problem, with drug deaths rising from seven per year in 1990 to 90 by the end of the decade. Ireland has the highest rate of under-25s

attending drug rehabilitation centres in Europe. Tallaght, where the bishops launched the DVD, is notorious for its drug abuse. Bishop Walsh thanked Tallaght Community School for its young social innovators programme, and said: “It has already set a new standard in helping young people address the issue of drugs and substance abuse. I congratulate you on that success.”

Bishops of England and Wales study child protection recommendations Cardinal laments ‘shocking’ levelof suicides in Britain’s prisons


THEBISHOPSand religious of England and Wales have established an implementation group to consider the proposals of the Cumberlege Commission. The group, chaired by Bill Kilgallon, chief executive of St Gemma’s Hospice, will present a report at the bishops’ meeting next spring. It will examine in detail the recommendations laid out by the Cumberlege Commission, which was established to review the Church’s progress on child protection since Lord Nolan’s report in September 2001. The bishops of England and Wales and the executive committee of the Conference of Religious of England and Wales met last week to discuss how best to respond to the proposals. In a joint statement they said

they were committed to making the protection of children and vulnerable adults “an integral part of the life and ministry of the Church”. The statement added that bishops and congregational leaders would undertake training in helping the Church to tackle child abuse. But they did not explicitly accept any of the recommendations of the report. Instead, a separate group has been established to consider “the pace and scope” of the recommended changes and to work out the costs. The group, whose vicechairs are Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton and Sister Jane Bertelsen, will study “all aspects of the proposals”, especially regarding the Church’s handling of abuse allegations. The statement said: “We readily accept and want a clear and transparent process, and so the recommendations

should be thoroughly tested and, where necessary, adapted to suit the reality of Church life.” Cardinal Cormac MurphyO’Connor said: “As a result of the huge amount of work in this area, both by COPCA and volunteers across the dioceses, we are now in a totally different place from five years ago, and the next stage of this process is to embrace safeguarding into the work of the bishops’ conference and the life of the Church as a whole.” He added: “Safeguarding the vulnerable, both children and adults, is integral to Church life and ministry and it is the responsibility of all to make the Church a safer place.” The Cumberlege report was released in July and concluded that “much progress” had been made in tackling child abuse. But it said that the clergy’s fear of malicious allegations needed to be addressed urgently.

It pointed out that a growing number of priests felt that the system brought in five years ago on the recommendations of Lord Nolan was unjustly loaded against them. This is because many priests believe the procedures treat them as if they are guilty as soon as an accusation is received, even if the police later find there is no case to answer. The report recommended that the process of handling allegations should be made transparent and should be brought in line with canon law. The report, entitled Safeguarding with Confidence, argued that the will of bishops and congregational leaders to tackle child abuse had only been “patchy”. It said: “In part this is due to a growing confidence –some would say complacency –that with the establishment of COPCA child protection has been adequately addressed.”


CARDINALCormac MurphyO’Connor has expressed his horror at the “shocking” suicide levels in Britain’s jails and called on the faithful to show more compassion towards prisoners and their families. The Cardinal, speaking on Prisoners’ Sunday, said the present overcrowding of Britain’s penal system had reached “breaking point”. He said: “Jesus Christ teaches us to believe in the innate dignity and worth of every human being, and in the possibility of redemption, no matter what a person has done. “The Christian faith calls us to demonstrate loving compassion towards the most marginalised and forgotten in society. Through justice, mercy, forgiveness and hope, no one is beyond the reach of God’s purpose.”

According to reports there have been 78 self-inflicted deaths in Britain’s prisons this year. To mark Prisoners’ Sunday, the Prison Advice & Care Trust (Pact), a charity founded by Catholic lawyers, has produced an information pack to encourage Catholic parishes to get more involved with their local prisons and support the families of the incarcerated. Pact director Andy KeenDowns said: “More than 150,000 children every year experience the imprisonment of a parent or close relative. Some of them live in our parishes, but suffer in silence. Every day, hundreds of prisoners walk out of prisons with no home, no job, and no one to support them. “As a result, two-thirds of prisoners go on to commit more crimes and make more victims. “I hope that this pack will

encourage parishes to think about what we can all do as Christian communities to make a difference.” Earlier this week prison reformers called for more support for new inmates in order to prevent suicides. The Prison Reform Trust suggested that giving inmates free telephone calls to family or friends could prevent suicides in prison. Research indicates that roughly a third of suicides occur within the first week of imprisonment. Juliet Lyon, director of the trust, said: “With tens of thousands of people crammed into our overcrowded jails, this Sunday offers all of us an important opportunity not only to think about how to support prisoners on release, but also to think about how community service, restorative justice and treatment for mental illness and addictions can all play a vital part in reducing

any needless use of imprisonment.” In 2004, the bishops of England and Wales launched a campaign to reform Britain’s prisons. The bishops called for prisons to become places of redemption, not retribution. They said that the current system of justice had not succeeded in bringing down crime rates. Cardinal MurphyO’Connor, himself an experienced prison visitor, said at the time: “We are asking for retribution to be balanced by reform and rehabilitation. “Most people in prison do damage because they are damaged. “If we can help repair that damage, then we can restore the dignity of the human person, which is the Godgiven right of all of us. “This is not gullible dogoodism. It is informed and enlightened self-interest.”

Young murder suspects take solace in faith


TWOOFthe suspects in the killing of the British girl Meredith Kercher in Italy have turned back to their Catholic faith. Amanda Knox, from Seattle, and her Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, are two of the four suspects being held in custody pending charges of the sexual assault and murder of Meredith Kercher, a student at Leeds University who had been studying Italian in Perugia as part of an exchange programme. Both have taken solace in the faith, according to the two priests who have been visiting the suspects.

Fr Saulo Scarabottoli said that Amanda Knox, who was born a Catholic and attended a Jesuit university, has been reading the Gospels every day and has asked to attend Mass. She was refused the first time she asked because she was in solitary confinement and was not allowed to come into contact with other prisoners. He said that despite her upbringing she had received very little religious instruction and did not believe in God, and that she was asking him about the meaning of the Resurrection: “Afterwards we talked about the meaning of life.” He said he would apply for Miss Knox to attend Mass

next week. According to Fr Scarabottoli, Miss Knox has said that she would like to “turn over a new leaf” and renounce “sex and drugs” if she is released from prison. The priest who visited Mr Sollecito in the male section of the Capanne prison, Fr Cesare Piazzoli, said that the computer science student also had a “deep religious conviction”. Last week a fourth suspect was arrested in Germany in connection to the murder of Miss Kercher. Miss Knox has given several conflicting versions of what happened on the night her housemate, Miss Kercher, was killed.

Amanda Knox is being held in custody in Italy

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Church agency agrees abortion compromise


THEIRISHbishops’ pregnancy counselling agency has agreed to refer women seeking abortions to secular agencies. CURA reached an agreement with the Irish government’s Crisis Pregnancy Agency after the CPA said earlier this year that subsidies would be withdrawn, in CURA’s case by €2.2m (£1.6 million) over three years, unless it agreed to the compromise. Under the agreement CURA will not have to provide brochures explaining to women how to acquire overseas abortions, but will be expected to refer them to a secular agency which will.

CURA, which has 16 branches in the Republic of Ireland, was set up 30 years ago. Katharine Bulballa, chairwoman of the CPA, said that CURA was one of the longest established crisis pregnancy counselling support services in Ireland. She said it had “an important role to play, and we look forward to working constructively with them”. CURA’s president, Bishop John Fleming of Killala, said the deal would “help CURA to continue to provide care for those who experience a crisis in their pregnancy”. In 2005 the Irish bishops’ conference prohibited CURA counsellors from giving women lists of foreign abortion agencies.