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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.