INSIDE THIS WEEK’S PAPER
BARRISTER NEIL ADDISON WARNS US OF THE THREAT TO OUR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM PAGE 8
CARDINAL HUME BY THOSE WHO KNEW HIM BEST
FRIENDS REFLECT ON THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS DEATH PAGE 9
June 12 2009 £1.20 (Republic of Ireland €1.70)
Bishops fear new Bill could force schools to take down crucifixes
BY SIMON CALDWELL
CATHOLIC schools and care homes could be forced to remove crucifixes and holy pictures from their walls in case they offend atheist cleaners, bishops have warned MPs.
They said that under the terms of Equality Minister Harriet Harman’s new Equality Bill they could be guilty of harassment if they depicted images “offensive” to nonCatholics.
Under the terms of the Bill, which is being scrutinised by a parliamentary committee, harassment is defined as “unwanted conduct ... with the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment”.
The bishops of England, Wales and Scotland have complained that because the burden of proof for such a highly subjective definition is reversed in legal proceedings, under the terms of the Bill, it would put them in an impossible position if people complained about any manifestation of religious belief – even on Church property.
Mgr Andrew Summersgill, the general secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said: “The practical consequences of this are that a Catholic care home, for example, may have crucifixes and holy pictures on the walls which reflect and support the beliefs of the residents.
“A cleaner may be an atheist or of very different religious beliefs. Nonetheless, if a cleaner found the crucifixes offensive there would be no defence in law against a charge of harassment,” Mgr Summersgill said in a written joint submission to the committee.
The bishops argue that it is essential that a test of “reasonableness” is included if the Church is not to be unduly penalised by the
law. “If this Bill is serious about equality, everything possible must be done to avoid it having a chilling effect on religious expression and practice,” added Mgr Summersgill.
A spokesman for the bishops confirmed that a similar threat existed for Catholic schools, which could be forced to remove crucifixes or holy pictures if atheist dinner ladies found them offensive.
The bishops have also complained that the Bill, which applies to employment practices, appears to establish a hierarchy of rights in which some rights are subservient to others.
They fear that the rights of homosexual people, for instance, will always trump the rights of religious freedom.
“Exempting Catholic staff from a gay pride recruitment event could be seen as failing to tackle prejudice against homosexuality – but obliging them to participate could be seen as failing to tackle prejudice against religious belief, to say nothing of harassment,” said Mgr Summersgill. “It is regrettable that the Bill provides no indication how such overlapping rights are to be dealt with.”
The written submission was made by the Catholic Church ahead of an oral hearing in Parliament on Tuesday.
Richard Kornicki, a former senior Home Office civil servant who now works as a parliamentary coordinator for the English and Welsh bishops, was due to express the concerns of the bishops.
Even though the Bill is supposed to ensure equality for religious groups Miss Harman conspicuously forgot to mention this when she announced the proposals to the House of Commons last month.
A fortnight ago she also refused point blank to allow a debate on the rising numbers of Christians complaining that they are discriminated against in the public sector.
Her refusal to acknowledge a problem comes in spite of a sudden proliferation in the number of legal battles between employers and Christians suspended or sacked for expressing their religious convictions or simply wearing religious jewellery such as crucifixes.
Publicly funded Church schools, adoption agencies and even hospital chaplains have all come under attack while the Government has given taxpayers’ money to groups that promote atheism.
Last week MPs on the parliamentary committee scrutinising the Equality Bill received evidence from groups sympathetic to the legislation including the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a Government quango, the gay rights group Stonewall and the British Humanist Association.
It also heard from Professor Stephen Whittle of Press for Change, a transsexual rights group. “We would argue strongly that we experience discrimination because other people think that we look different,” Prof Whittle told the committee. “It is what those other people do, not what we do, that creates that discrimination. Therefore, the Bill needs to refocus upon what it is those other people see and react to.”
Lynne Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat member of the committee, said she was persuaded by his argument.
But Fr Tim Finigan, a priest in south-east London, said the demands of Professor Whittle meant that if a teacher or Church accountant, for instance, “decides to come in some days dressed as a man but is presently at the stage of having a part-time inclination to come in wearing a skirt and stilettos, they’ll be protected by law against any ‘harassment’ on your part. Remember – it’s what you do, not what they do that creates
the discrimination,” he said on his blog, the Hermeneutic of Continuity.
Fr Finigan added: “For the Government to promote this agenda in the extreme form it is taking in the Equality Bill at a time when the political system is suffering unparalleled contempt, and the far-Right groups have their best opportunity for years, is stupid beyond belief.”
The Equality Bill is an overarching piece of legislation designed to sweep up the different strands of discrimination law created over the last few decades into one coherent package.
Equality and diversity guidelines used by employers have already been used against Christians who expressed their faith at work. Examples include Christian nurse Caroline Petrie, who was suspended after offering to pray for a patient.
The Government has made clear that certain provisions in the Bill are intended to make sure churches can no longer insist that employees such as youth workers live lives consistent with the churches’ teaching on sexual ethics.
Neil Addison, a barrister and an expert on discrimination law, said there was no need for the Equality Bill to contain any clauses on harassment because British law already covered it.
He said it had arisen from a misinterpretation of the European legal requirement to prevent harassment in the workplace. But he said the provisions of the Bill lacked the objective test of reasonableness included in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
“It is tailor-made for people to come up with silly objections and be petty-minded because it puts the emphasis on the person being offended rather than on an objective test of what ought to be considered reasonable,” he said.
Editorial Comment: Page 13
Harriet Harman, pictured outside 10 Downing Street, is responsible for the Equality Bill PA Photo
SSPX ordinations could lead to excommunication, says diocese
BY ANNA ARCO
THE SOCIETY of St Pius X has announced that it will go ahead with plans to ordain 21 priests in America, Germany and Switzerland despite opposition from bishops.
In a statement the SSPX said that priestly ordinations would take place without the direct permission of the Holy See as scheduled. A spokesman for the Diocese of Regensburg, Germany, said the plans could result in ex
communication. Spokesman Jakob Schötz said: “Our bishop is waiting for Rome to advise on how to respond. But it will almost certainly result in the excommunication of the priests and the bishop who ordains them.”
Mr Schötz was reacting to an announcement by the society that it would ordain three priests and three deacons in its seminary at Zaitzkofen in Bavaria on June 27 despite repeated requests from Bishop Gerhard Müller of Regens
burg to hold off the ordinations. Bishop Müller said the ordinations contravened Canon Law and told Vatican Radio that he had spoken with the responsible parties and advised them of this. He also said he had invited members of the society to speak with him at their request.
Another 18 seminarians are to be ordained at the SSPX headquarters in America and Switzerland.
The SSPX seminary rector, Fr Stefan Frey, said the soci
ety now had “provisional legal status” in the Catholic Church pending a “definitive canonical ruling” on its future, and had not been told to “put a stop to ordinations”.
He said the new priests would be ordained “without direct Church permission” because of the “grave state of emergency” facing the Church.
Mr Schötz said the new ordinations would be viewed as “a provocation against the whole Catholic world”.
Rapper defends Pope on condoms
Director tackles life of Opus Dei founder
BY ANNA ARCO
A POPULAR French rapper has defended the Pope’s position on condoms.
Bruno Beausir – also known as Doc Gynéco – told VSD magazine that he understood the Pontiff ’s thinking. He said: “Benedict XVI is a religious [man], but they are trying to turn him into a president for an association which fights
against sexually transmitted diseases. One mustn’t be delirious, it’s not for him to advertise condoms. The pope isn’t an intégriste [traditionalist] but integrated. Nuance!”
The hip-hop artist rose to fame in the 1990s when he helped popularise the genre in France.
Unlike his peers, however, he has never sung about violence and often sings about the sadness of poverty and life in the deprived French suburbs, known as banlieues. He is of Guadeloupean origin.
BY ED WEST
A BRITISH director is to make a film about St Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, founder of Opus Dei.
Roland Joffé previously directed The Mission, an Oscar-winning film about a Jesuit priest trying to convert the indigenous people in the Brazilian jungle.
St Josemaría founded the organisation in 1928 and was canonised in 2002, 27 years after his death,
by Pope John Paul II, who declared that he “counted among the great witnesses of Christianity” and “a saint of ordinary life”.
Opus Dei has given its blessing to the film, called There Be Dragons , although
information officer Luis
Gordon told media it had no part in its funding.
“The film team asked us for help in
and we gave
them access to the documentation,” he said.
DON’T MISS: PAUL JOHNSON ON MEETING BENEDICT XVI PAGE 12
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