NSS Newsline - 11 dec. 2009

Friday 18 December 2009
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Murphy O'Connor

Murphy O’Connor will not enter the Lords

The Sunday Telegraph reported last week that the former Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy O’Connor, will not be taking up Gordon Brown’s offer of a seat in the House of Lords after all.

Ostensibly this is because accepting a life peerage would be against canon law which forbids Catholic clerics from taking any office that might result in them exercising political power. Murphy O’Connor has also reportedly consulted the Vatican and found that it, too, advised him not to become the first Catholic cleric to sit in Parliament since the reformation.

The National Secular Society had made representations to the Prime Minister against Murphy O’Connor being "ennobled". One of the reasons we gave was his complicity in the cover up of child abuse when he was Bishop of Arundel.

The Pope could have given a dispensation for the Cardinal to enter Parliament, but perhaps he was aware of the uproar that would follow over the Cardinal’s past failings in relation to child abuse. It must have been a hard choice for Ratzinger to say no, for he would dearly love to have such a faithful servant as Murphy O’Connor in Parliament to speak on his behalf denouncing gay rights, abortion rights, assisted suicide, stem cell research and any other progressive legislation.

In an interview with the Tablet, the Prime Minister had said of Murphy O’Connor: "I think he has shown great integrity right throughout the period in which he has been Cardinal and that has earned the respect of people far beyond the Catholic Church and right across the country."

He did not show much integrity in the time before he was cardinal, though, and had this proposal gone ahead, Mr Brown would have been again forcefully reminded of that by the NSS.

But Gordon Brown is determined to pack the House of Lords with "faith leaders", just because they are faith leaders. He has recently ennobled the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and there are widespread rumours that he will also offer a peerage to Muhammed Abdul Bari of the Muslim Council of Britain. We oppose all such honours being awarded simply because of a religious position. See also: Philippines priest faces de-frocking if he seeks re-election as governor


Labour sucks up to and bribes the Churches – could there be an election in the offing?

For those of you who weren’t aware of it, the Labour Party issues a regular "Churches Update" about its activities and "partnerships" with religious groups. The latest one, issued by Stephen Timms who is "Labour Vice Chair for Faith Groups", informs us:

"The UK’s first Interfaith Week was launched in November, by the Department of Communities and Local Government together with the Inter Faith Network. During the launch, the Rt Hon John Denham MP, Labour’s Community and Local Government Secretary announced that the Government was making £2 million available through the Faiths in Action Programme. Recognising the contribution of faith communities, he said: "Faith is a strong and powerful source of honesty, solidarity, generosity – the very values which are essential to politics, to our economy and our society."

It also tells us that

"The Christian Socialist Movement organised a record number of events at this year’s conference. The Annual Church Service was attended by a number of senior party figures, including the Prime Minister, who gave the scripture reading. CSM hosted a total of thirteen events which tackled issues such as Climate Change, Morality in Banking and International Development. CSM partnered with churches and NGOs such as Oxfam and Christian Aid. Speakers included the Rt. Hon. Douglas Alexander and Jon Cruddas."

And just to reinforce his religious credentials, the Prime Minister invited 100 of the nation’s "top Christian leaders" to a tea party in Downing Street last week. This seems a further indication of the direction in Mr Brown intends to take the country.

Mr Timms has also sent out a form letter to all his Labour MP colleagues, enjoining them to send it out to their local churches. The letter says:

"As we approach Christmas I wanted to write to you to thank you for the contribution that your church is making to our local community. I know your presence as a worshipping community is especially important at this time of year as you communicate to neighbours and families the message of Christmas.

As a Labour MP I strongly support a central role for faith in our society. I am delighted that we have a vibrant and active Christian community here in, as well as many people from other faith backgrounds. I am proud that, here in the UK, churches and other faith groups have a strong history of social action in our communities.

During this festive season I have been reminded of the service that many churches will be performing in and across the UK. I know that local Christians will give up time to put their faith into action, serving the needy and befriending those who are spending Christmas alone. But I also know that churches are serving their communities all year round. Sometimes this work goes unnoticed, but it makes a huge difference."

We know that political parties often have to blag all kinds of people in order to get votes, but this is particularly manipulative and cynical. I have no doubt that Mr Timms is a sincere (not to say obsessive) Christian, but I wonder how many churches that receive this letter will realise that it is a pro-forma jobby with not an ounce of sincerity from the MP who is exhorted to send it? See also: Christians in Parliament The PM’s Hanukah message


Poland, Spain and Slovakia come to different conclusions on "crucifix ban" decision

The recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights against the display of religious symbols in Italian schools has received very different reactions from some member states.

In Socialist Spain, a parliamentary commission approved last week by 20 votes to 16 a motion calling on Madrid to implement the ECHR ruling. The motion was submitted by the small left-wing Catalan ERC party and backed by the ruling Socialists among others, while the conservative opposition Popular Party voted against.

The Spanish government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is already at odds with the Catholic Church on such subjects as gay rights and liberalising abortion. In 2008 a court in the northern city of Valladolid ordered a state school to remove religious symbols from classrooms on a complaint from a parent, in line with the country’s secular constitution.

Meanwhile in deeply Catholic Poland, legislators on Thursday took a swipe at the EHCR, saying they were "worried" by "decisions which infringe upon freedom of religion, disregard laws and the feelings of believers and upset social calm".

The motion, which is not legally binding, was passed by a majority of 357 deputies against 40 opposed and five abstentions in Poland’s 460-seat lower house. Polish legislators also called on other European parliaments to "reflect upon ways to protect freedom of belief".

The Slovakian Parliament has also issued a statement declaring that the ECHR decision will be opposed there. It stated that the placing of religious symbols in schools and public institutions is "in line with the historical traditions of Slovakia. Respecting this tradition cannot be perceived as a restriction on the freedom of religion." The Slovakian declaration asserts that the placing of religious symbols falls under the authority of individual EU countries.


Israeli Justice Minister wants to create a theocracy

The Israeli Justice Minister, Ya’acov Neeman, said last week that he would like to see Israel develop into a theocracy based on Jewish law. Mr Neeman, speaking to a conference of rabbis and religious court judges on Monday, said that holy texts contain "a complete solution to all the things we are dealing with". He said that the "law of the Torah should become the binding law of the land." ("The Torah" can mean parts of the Old Testament but it also sometimes includes the Talmud, a delineation of Jewish laws dating to the second and third centuries and subsequent rabbinic opinions.) JPEG - 2.9 kb

Mr Neeman praised the work of rabbinical courts that gain jurisdiction by mutual consent in solving financial disputes. He said they were a good stepping stone on the way to full religious law.

Coming from the justice minister, the remarks were seen as threatening by secular Israelis, who make up 80 per cent of the Jewish population. Secular Jews are constantly on guard for instances of perceived coercion by the religious in a country that defines itself as Jewish but has never really specified what that means. It is already impossible to get married or divorced in Israel without an orthodox rabbi and state institutions observe the Sabbath as a day of rest. Secular Israelis fear that if religious law gains more sway, they will lose some of their personal liberties.

Amnon Rubinstein, a former justice minister from the liberal Meretz party, warned that "Proposing to transform Israel into a state of religious law is a revolution that will negate Israel’s character as a Jewish, democratic state, nullify the standing of the Knesset (parliament] and necessitate the replacement of judges with religious jurisprudents. ... This will not be the Israel that we know and a large part of the non-religious public will not want to live in such a state."

Haim Oron, a left-wing MP said Mr Neeman’s statements "reveal a worrisome process of Talebanisation of Israeli society."

Mr Neeman later tried to retreat a little from the statement he made to the rabbis. In a speech to the Knesset he said: "All that I did was to praise the work of the rabbinical monetary courts that arrive at their rulings on the basis of Hebrew law. The courts are overloaded and it is appropriate to encourage a transfer of authorities to alternative frameworks," he said. Given his remarks about increasing the influence of religious courts bit by bit, however, this was unconvincing.



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