NOVEMBER 23, 2007 THE CATHOLIC HERALD
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
BANGLADESH CYCLONE EMERGENCY
COUNT ON CAFOD
In the wake of the cyclone that struck the southern coast of Bangladesh, as many as 10,000 people arefeared to have lost their lives. Many more thousands of families have seen their homes and livelihoods destroyed. As the cyclone threatened, CAFOD partner Caritas Bangladesh assisted with the evacuation of people and livestock.
Now, the focus switches to survivors. Clean drinking water, food and shelter materials are all pressing needs and CAFODhas pledged to support Caritas Bangladesh in its round-the-clock work.
“The death toll keeps rising, hundreds of thousands are homeless.
There is an urgent need for food,shelter and medical care. Drinking water is also a priority as many pumps have been washed away.Caritas and our other partners in Bangladesh are already distributing relief.” Pauline Taylor-McKeown, CAFOD.
To make a donation to CAFOD’s Emergency Response Fund, which allows us to respond to emergencies as and when they happen throughout the world:
Please call 0500 85 88 85
or donate online at www.cafod.org.uk
CAFOD is partof Caritas, a confederation of Catholic aid agencies in 162 countries – one of the largest humanitarian networks in the world. Through our Caritas partners all over the world, you can count on CAFOD to be there... before, during and after the crisis.
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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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