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www.catholicherald.co.uk January 29 2010 £1.20 (Republic of Ireland €1.70)
Government suffers Equality Bill defeat
Church spokesman says Ministers should have engaged in dialogue with religious groups
BY ANNA ARCO
THE GOVERNMENT suffered a humiliating defeat over the Equality Bill in the Lords this week, after peers voted against measures which could have curtailed religious freedom.
On Monday the Lords backed an amendment proposing to drop a contentious clause in Harriet Harman’s Bill, which would have changed existing exemptions for religious employment. The amendment was passed by five votes.
Peers also voted against a last-minute amendment to change the language of the clause tabled by the Government in the face of heavy criticism from the Catholic Church, the Church of England and other religious groups with a majority of 21 votes. The Lords also voted to exclude the word “proportionate” in two sections of the Bill, which they argued would add a new legal dimension.
Church leaders feared that the legislation introduced in the Equality Bill would force the Catholic Church to ordain women and make it almost impossible to discipline priests who contravened Church teaching without facing crippling lawsuits. Although the Government backed down two weeks ago and tabled its own amendment “clarifying” the language, the Church urged peers to vote for an earlier amendment tabled by Baroness O’Cathain, the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, Baroness Butler-Sloss and Lord Anderson of Swansea.
The O’Cathain amendments, which were passed, leave the provisions for employment as they were defined in 2003, preserving the status quo. The 2003 Employment Regulations allow employers to discriminate on the basis of religion and sexual orientation with respect to employment for the purposes
HARRIET HARMAN: Church leaders feared her Bill would lead to crippling lawsuits
BARONESS O'CATHAIN: ‘Organisations based on beliefs must be free to choose staff’ BARONESS WARSI: Monday’s vote in the House of Lords a ‘victory for common sense’
of organised religion. A spokesman for the Catholic Church said: “While we’re obviously pleased by the outcome of the debate, it was an ultimately unnecessary vote. We raised our concerns over the problems of the drafting as soon as the Bill was published. If they had given earlier attention to the text and to our concerns, then we could have engaged in dialogue and we could have agreed upon drafting that met all the needs.”
The Bill enters its report stage in two weeks before returning to the Commons. At this stage it would be possible for the Government to reverse the Lords amendments but then the Bill would have to return to the Lords in a procedure known as “parliamentary ping-pong”.
Parliament watchers think the Government is unlikely to do so given that there is intense pressure to push the Bill through before the General Election expected in May.
During the debate, Baroness O’Cathain said: “Organisations that are based on deeply held beliefs must be free to choose their staff on the basis of whether they share those beliefs. It would, for example, be appalling if the Labour Party could be sued for not selecting Conservative candidates and no one would want to see Greenpeace sued for refusing to appoint oil executives to its board of directors.”
One point of contention during the debate was the suggestion that the Government had included the clause which narrowed the definition of employment for the purposes of organised religion in order to comply with an EU employment directive from 2000. A legal document from the European Commission to the Government, called “a reasoned opinion”, was leaked. It implied that the Government had agreed to comply with EU regulations while telling peers that it wasn’t changing the existing regulations through the wording of the Bill.
The High Court ruled that the religious liberty safeguard was legally valid in 2004.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, who tabled the Government amendment, denied that the Government was changing the wording in order to be in line with the EU.
She said: “Issuing a reasoned opinion is one of the formal steps in infraction proceedings, which the Commission can bring where it considers that a member state has incorrectly transposed a directive.
“The generally agreed position is that reasoned opinions are confidential between the Commission and the relevant authorities in the member state concerned. If the Commission is not satisfied with the member state’s response, the case could be referred to the European Court of Justice. That is why I cannot say any more about the reasoned opinion in question, to which we will be responding in due course.”
The European Commission’s reasoned opinion does not necessarily mean that Britain is currently acting against European law. Of the six reasoned opinions given to the British Government by the European Commission recently, the European Court of Justice ruled against the European Commission in four out of six cases.
The Anglican Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, argued in favour of Baroness O’Cathain’s amendments, saying that there were many jobs that could be done in the Church of England which could be done without being Anglican, “but for our clergy, and for some key lay roles, we impose certain requirements in relation to faith and conduct. The same is true of all other churches and religious organisations, although the nature of the requirements will vary in each case.”
He said that the requirements about marital status or personal conduct varied in different religious organisations, citing the Catholic Church’s requirements for priests to be male and celibate, which were different to those of the Orthodox Church or the Church of England.
Dr Sentamu said: “These touch on matters – gender, marital status and sexual orientation – that the law lays down that employers in general should not take into account. To use the language of the Bill, they represent ‘protected characteristics’ that can form the basis of discrimination claims.”
By contrast, he said “churches and other religious organisations cannot draw the same clear-cut distinction between who we are and what we do, between what we believe and how we conduct ourselves, between work life and private life. Successive legislation over the past 35 years has always recognised the principle that religious organisations need the freedom to impose requirements in relation to belief and conduct that go beyond what a secular employer should be able to require. “
He said that the Lords might believe that “Roman Catholics should allow priests to be married; they may think that the Church of England should hurry up and allow women to become bishops; they may feel that many churches and other religious organisations are wrong on matters of sexual ethics”.
But, he said, “if religious freedom means anything, it must mean that those are matters for the churches and other religious organisations to determine in accordance with their own convictions. They are not matters for the law to impose.”
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Social Action, supported Baroness O’Cathain’s amendment. Following the vote, she said: “Today’s vote in the House of Lords is a victory for common sense.
“The Church of England, the Catholic Church and leaders of other faiths have all campaigned together in a true spirit of community cohesion to protect an important religious freedom.”
A Government Equalities Office spokesman said: “We’re disappointed by the outcome of tonight’s vote in the Lords, and are considering next steps. It remains the case that people should not be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, regardless of who they work for. There is, however, a narrow exception to this for organised religion when recruiting people to carry out specific religious duties, for example preaching.”
He said it was too early to say whether the Government would consider reversing the will of the Lords when the Bill returned to the House of Commons.
Officials worry about costs of Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain
BY ED WEST
CHURCH officials have expressed concern about whether the faithful will have to pay a significant proportion of the cost of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain.
The Government is expected to cover the most significant expenses, such as security, as it was Gordon Brown who invited the Pope to visit in February last year.
But Church and Government officials are currently negotiating how other costs will be apportioned.
Anxiety will be increased by the memory of John Paul II’s visit in 1982, which plunged the Catholic Church in England and Wales deep into debt.
It will be the first papal trip to Britain since John Paul II’s visit. It is expected to begin on September 16 and the highlight will be the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman on Sunday, September 19, which the
Pope will personally preside over. It is also expected that he will address MPs and peers at Westminster Hall, at the very spot where Sir Thomas More was sentenced in 1535.
The Church may be able to fund part of the trip with merchandising rights, broadcasting rights, big private donors or collections.
One Church official, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “We are now in a situation where we don’t know who’s paying for it. It’s not in the Government Budget [and] is probably going to cost the Church about £3m to £6m.”
Other Church figures insisted the negotiations between the Government, the local Church and the Holy See were progressing smoothly.
A Government spokesman said he would not disclose any details about the trip until it had been officially announced.
Woman appointed to pontifical council
Senator raises £3m for Cistercian nuns
BY CINDY WOODEN
POPE BENEDICT XVI has named a lay woman undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, marking the first time in more than 20 years that a woman has served as undersecretary of a pontifical council.
Political scientist Flaminia Giovanelli, 61, has worked at the council since 1974, dealing with issues such as development, poverty and labour from the point of view of Catholic social teaching. She earned her political science degree from Rome’s La Sapienza University.
The last woman to serve as undersecretary of a pontifical council was Rosemary Goldie, an Australian, who held the position from 1966 to 1976.
Mrs Giovanelli will not be the highest-ranking woman at the Vatican. Salesian Sister Rosanna Enrica serves as undersecretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
BY MARK GREAVES
SCOTT BROWN, the newly elected senator for Massachusetts, has helped to raised over $5 million (£3 million) so that Cistercian nuns can replace their 50-year-old sweet factory.
Mr Brown, a member of the Christian Reformed Church of America, first raised money to buy a golf cart to transport elderly Sisters, and then helped efforts to upgrade the nuns’ sweet factory into a modern, environmentally friendly plant with solar panels and a wind turbine. The order funds itself by selling sweets and fudge.
He said: “When you have nuns praying for you three times a day and you’re not Catholic, anything that anybody can do or say about me, it’s Teflon. It bounces right off.”
Mr Brown, a pro-choice Republican, won the seat held by the late Ted Kennedy.
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