THE CATHOLIC HERALD DECEMBER 23 2011
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THE ARCHBISHOP of Southwark has welcomed a Government promise to protect freedom of conscience following the introduction of civil partnerships on religious premises.
The Government has come under increasing criticism from religious groups since the introduction of regulations to permit civil partnerships on religious premises without a debate in the House of Commons.
But an assurance was successfully sought from the Government in the House of Lords last Thursday when Baroness O’Cathain, a Conservative peer, tabled a motion to overturn existing regulations.
Baroness O’Cathain withdrew
Bishops welcome Government assurance on civil unions BY MADELEINE TEAHAN
the motion following assurances from Government Minister Lord Henley that no religious person would be forced to permit a civil partnership on their premises.
Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark welcomed the outcome of the debate. On behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales he said: “I was very glad to read the clear assurance given by Lord Henley for the Government in the debate in the House of Lords on December 15 on civil partnerships in religious premises.
“We had sought such an assurance to avoid any legal challenge to the regulations and to make clear beyond any doubt that the regulations and the Equality Act safeguard the legitimate freedom of churches not to allow such ceremonies on their own premises.
“At the end of the debate the Minister gave a very clear assurance to this effect, and said: ‘It is proper to say that it is Parliament’s intention that that is the position.’”
Speaking in the debate in the House of Lords, Lord Henley said: “We recognise that in allowing this expression of religious freedom and advancement for lesbian, gay and bisexual equality, we need to ensure that there are sufficient protections from legal challenge for faith groups who do not wish to host partnerships on their premises.
“We are confident that faith groups will not be forced to host civil partnership registrations on their premises if they do not wish to do so.”
In a briefing note circulated to peers ahead of the debate, the bishops said: “While we believe that the regulations do provide necessary legal protection, our understanding of the position does not amount to a legal certainty, and some legal opinions suggest that there are circumstances in which it is conceivable that a church might possibly be challenged for not consenting to civil partnerships on its premises. And, as has been noted, this is an area of law which is new and evolving where lobby groups will want to test the boundaries.
“Unsurprisingly, some religious groups remain very concerned about what may only be a theoretical possibility, but which would nonetheless be very damaging if it came to pass. And even if a challenge were unlikely to succeed, no church should have to face the concern and legal expense involved given that the Government’s intentions were to protect their free choice.”
Catholic MP Edward Leigh also tried to overturn the regulations in the House of Commons but the Government did not schedule a debate.
The Government’s latest reassurance is particularly significant for campaigners on both sides of the debate because of a landmark ruling in 1992 known as “Pepper versus Heart”.
Since this ruling, when questions of legal ambiguity arise judges may refer to statements made previously in Parliament in order to determine what exactly the implications of certain laws are and what Parliament did and did not intend when the law was passed.
The bishops’ conference and other religious campaigners will be reassured that Lord Henley’s statement will mitigate the threat of future legal challenges to churches who refuse to host civil partnerships.
Following the Sexual Orientations Regulations in 2007 controversy surrounding religious freedoms and gay rights has escalated.
A gay couple were awarded £1,800 in damages at the beginning of this year when a Christian couple who owned a bed and breakfast refused to give the couple a double bed because they believed that sex outside marriage was a sin.
Catholic adoption agencies which conscientiously object to placing children with gay couples have also been forced to sever ties with their Catholic diocese or close down following the Sexual Orientations Regulations.
The Coalition has also announced its intention to legalise gay marriage before the next election.
The Government will launch a formal consultation on the initiative next spring, during which Archbishop Smith has said that the bishops’ conference will oppose legislation in “the strongest terms”.
David Cameron: Christianity has shaped Britain
Helen Mirren gives award to Sister who founded Aids charity
BY DAVID V BARRETT
DAVID CAMERON has said that Christian values have made Britain what it is today and that people should not be afraid to stand up and defend them.
The Prime Minister’s speech at Christ Church, Oxford, was part of the 400th anniversary celebrations of the King James Bible.
Mr Cameron described himself as a “committed” but “vaguely practising Church of England Christian”. While he would stand up for the values and principles of his faith, he said, he was “full of doubts” and “constantly grappling with the difficult questions when it comes to some of the big theological issues”.
“We are a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so. Let me be clear: I am not in any way saying that to have another faith – or no faith – is somehow wrong. I know and fully respect that many people in this country do not have a religion. And I am also incredibly proud that Britain is home to many different faith communities, who do so much to make our country stronger,” he said.
“But what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make
Britain what it is today, values and morals we should actively stand up and defend. The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option. You can’t fight something with nothing. Because if we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything.”
Calling Britain a Christian country, Mr Cameron said, does not mean “doing down” other faiths, because “it is easier for people to believe and practise other faiths when Britain has confidence in its Christian identity”.
“Many people tell me it is much easier to be Jewish or Muslim here in Britain than it is in a secular country like France,” he said. “Why? Because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths too.”
He said it was right for the Church to get involved in politics, but that comments could go both ways.
“I certainly don’t object to the Archbishop of Canterbury expressing his views on politics. Religion has a moral basis and if he doesn’t agree with something he’s right to say so. But just as it is legitimate for religious leaders to make political comments, he shouldn’t be surprised when I respond.”
People often say that politicians shouldn’t “do God”, he said, referring to a remark by Tony Blair’s spin doctor Alistair Campbell. “If by that they mean we shouldn’t try to claim a direct line to God for one particular political party, they could not be more right. But we shouldn’t let our caution about that stand in the way of recognising... how incredibly important faith is to so many people in Britain.”
Colin Bloom, executive director of Conservative Christian Fellowship, said he was “delighted” by the comments.
He said: “For too long political leaders have been afraid to talk about faith or the importance of Christianity in our nation. In David Cameron we have a leader who is not afraid to speak about his religious convictions.”
Andy Flannagan, director of the Christian Socialist Movement, was more cautious. “There genuinely is much to welcome here,” he said. “We must remember, however, that Scripture is a challenging double-edged sword that cuts to the core of whether our thoughts and actions are truly Christ-like, rather than a butter knife we might use to spread a veneer of safe respectability, appointing ourselves as a ‘Christian nation’.”
SISTER Raphaela Händler, who has spent 30 years caring for people with HIV and Aids in Africa, received a prize last week from actress Dame Helen Mirren during the “Ein Herz für Kinder” (A Heart for Children) telethon in Berlin.
She was presented with the “Golden Heart” award at the annual event where celebrities get together to raise money for children across the world. This year the televised event raised €14 million (£12 million).
Sister Händler founded
Catholic Aids Action in 1998, alongside Lucy Steinitz, through the Namibian Catholic bishops’ conference as Namibia’s first Church-based response to the country’s HIV/Aids crisis. It is currently operating 14 offices in nine of the 13 regions.
Catholic Aids Action says it has four principal focuses: homebased family care and counselling, youth education and prevention, care and support to orphans and vulnerable children and voluntary counselling and testing.
Christmas Service Times Sunday 18th December - Fourth Sunday of Advent
Mass 8, 9, 10.30am (Solemn)*, 12, 5.30, 7pm
Morning Prayer 10am Cathedral Carol Service* 3.30pm Confessions 11am-1pm; 4.30-7pm
Monday 19th December Mass 7, 8, 10.30am (Latin), 12.30, 1.05, 5.30pm (Solemn)*
Morning Prayer 7.40am; Vespers* 5pm
Confessions 10.30am – 6pm Tuesday 20th and Wednesday 21st December
Mass in the Crypt 7, 8, 10.30am (Latin). Mass in the Hall 12.30, 1.05, 5.30pm
Morning Prayer 7.40am (Crypt);
Evening Prayer 5pm (Hall) Confessions 10.30am – 5pm Christmas Celebration* 7.30pm (entry by ticket only) The Cathedral closes at 5pm, and re-opens in the evening for Christmas Celebration ticket holders only
Thursday 22nd December Mass 7, 8, 10.30am (Latin), 12.30, 1.05, 5.30pm (Solemn)*
Morning Prayer 7.40am; Vespers* 5pm
Confessions 10.30am – 6pm Friday 23rd December Mass: 7, 8, 10.30am (Latin), 12.30, 1.05, 5.30pm (Solemn)*
Morning Prayer 7.40am; Vespers* 5pm
Confessions 10.30am – 6pm Saturday 24th December – Christmas Eve Mass: 8, 9, 10.30am (Solemn Latin)*, 12.30pm
First Mass of Christmas 6pm Morning Prayer 10am; First Vespers of Christmas* 4pm
Confessions 10.30am – 3.30pm TheCathedralclosesbrieflyafterthe6pmMass
Vigil and Midnight Mass* 11.15pm Sunday 25th December – Christmas Day Mass 8, 9, 10.30am (Solemn)*, 12pm (with carols), 5.30pm.
No 7pm Mass.
Morning Prayer 10am; Vespers and Benediction* 3.30pm
No Confessions today TheCathedralclosesat6.15pm The Cathedral Choir sings at services marked with an asterisk*
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