From NSS Newsline - 19 february 2010

Thursday 4 March 2010
popularity : 1%

- Vatican heaps insult on injury for Irish abuse victims

- Secularist of the Year prize goes to Southall Black Sisters

- Hospital chaplains paid more than nurses and 150% more than cleaners – but which is more important ?

- As the election approaches – who will you vote for ?

- Vote to get the bishops out of the Lords

Vatican heaps insult on injury for Irish abuse victims

The Vatican has scored another PR disaster by again failing to acknowledge that there was a cover up of Catholic child abuse in Ireland.

After publication of two reports that showed that the sexual and physical abuse of children had been endemic for decades in Irish institutions run by the Catholic Church, the Vatican summoned all 24 Irish bishops to a conference last week. It rapidly became clear that the conference was more about saving the Church’s face than making reparation, or even an apology, to the thousands of victims of Catholic priests.

Victim support organisations condemned the whole exercise as a "charade" and "window dressing". One group said the Pope had "washed his hands" of the scandal.

The Ryan Report found the Catholic Church and Irish government covered up almost four decades of sexual abuse and beatings by priests and nuns on thousands of children in State care. And the Murphy Report unveiled a catalogue of cover-ups by the Catholic hierarchy in Dublin to protect the Church. But in a Vatican statement, the Pope specifically failed to acknowledge the cover-up or formally apologise for the abuse. The Pope also failed to sack under-fire Bishop of Galway Martin Drennan – or even formally accept the resignations of other bishops, who were criticised in the Murphy Report for their mishandling of cases of sexual abuse. We understand no bishop or higher-ranking Catholic prelate has ever been laicised (sacked) for active or administrative misconduct over child abuse.

Ratzinger also ignored the failure of the Papal Nuncio to co-operate with the Murphy Commission’s investigation into abuse in Dublin.

In a statement, the Vatican said the Pope had told the bishops the sexual abuse of children and young people was not only a heinous crime, but also a "grave sin that offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image".

The Vatican created another storm by announcing that the Pope had also told bishops that the "weakening of faith" was a significant contributing factor in the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors.

Maeve Lewis, of support group One in Four, said the Pope’s response was inadequate. "It is deeply insulting to survivors to suggest they were abused due to failures of faith, rather than because sex offending priests were moved from parish to parish, and those in authority looked away while further children were sexually abused," she said.

Campaigner Andrew Madden, who was abused by Dublin priest Father Ivan Payne, said the meeting showed "self-preservation" was the Church’s priority. He said Ratzinger and the bishops placed this over the concerns of people who had been abused for decades.

"That hardly represents change," Mr Madden said last week. "I can only conclude the Catholic Church remains a disgraced, discredited organisation that seems to be entirely incapable of responding in any intelligent, meaningful way to the findings of the Ferns, Ryan and Murphy reports."

Another campaigner who was herself a victim of abuse, Marie Collins, said the Pope had insulted the survivors by failing to put the bishops’ resignations on the agenda and again ignoring the chance of reforms. "This is a clerical club in a clerical world ... they are people who live in a different century," she said after hearing the details. "I see no hope for the future." She said the Pope had said paedophilia was a "heinous crime" but he should have said that it was a heinous crime for a bishop to put an abusive priest in charge of children."

Another survivor, Christine Buckley, said she was profoundly disappointed with news that the Pope is to issue a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics on the scandal. "A collection of 24 bishops who appear to have been lectured about the tensions and the disunity of their members rather than trying to find out why these abuses happened and how to resolve them," she said. "The other part of the statement that really hurts me is there was 17 hours spent on diocesan abuse, there was half an hour spent on the Ryan abuses."

Another victim, Colm O’Gorman, described the Vatican meeting as "a cynical PR exercise". Mr O’Gorman said: "For the Pope simply to come out and tell us that the rape and abuse of children was a heinous crime is stating the obvious at this point."

Rape Crisis Network executive director Fiona Neary said it was "shocking" that the "systemic failures of the institutions of the Catholic faith are not mentioned as being a significant contributory factor in the sexual abuse of minors". It was clear that the most senior levels of Catholic institutions were unable "to take responsibility for their collusion with the abuse of children in Ireland". The talks were an opportunity for the Pope to apologise to victims for the Church’s reluctance and failure to report sex offenders to civil authorities, but it "was an opportunity wasted", she said.

Michael O’Brien of the Right to Peace group said his first reaction to the news from Rome was one of disbelief. "It’s unbelievable what we heard today from the pope. This is the man who is in charge of the Catholic Church worldwide and he hadn’t even the gumption to say he was sorry for what happened to us. All he’s done now is to add salt to the wounds and this is very hurtful. We were expecting something and we got nothing."

Meanwhile, Irish politicians have denounced the refusal of the Pope’s diplomatic representative (nuncio) in Ireland to testify to a parliamentary panel probing the level of Catholic Church co-operation with investigations into the church’s cover-up of child abuse. The papal nuncio to Ireland, Cardinal Giuseppi Leanza, told MPs in a letter published on Monday that he would not answer questions from the parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

Cardinal Leanza has faced heavy criticism in Ireland for ignoring letters from two state-ordered investigations into how the church for decades suppressed reports of child abuse by parish priests and in Catholic-run residences for poor children. The investigators said the cardinal did not reply to letters seeking the Vatican’s assistance.

An Irish MP, Alan Shatter, said it was "not only deeply regrettable but incomprehensible" that Cardinal Leanza would not explain the Vatican’s lack of co-operation with Irish investigations, given "it is acknowledged in Rome that members of the clergy in Ireland are guilty of abominable sexual abuse of children". A campaign to expel the papal nuncio from Ireland has been started on Facebook.

See also: Never let them preach high standards to anyone again Northern Ireland victims must not be forgotten, says campaigner Vatican is oblivious to people’s anger How the Church helps the criminals escape justice How the Church destroys its victims Why the Pope’s solution is simply beyond belief


Secularist of the Year prize goes to Southall Black Sisters

At a convivial and glitzy gathering last Saturday, the £5,000 Irwin Prize for Secularist of the Year was won by the Southall Black Sisters (SBS).

Announcing the prize, NSS President Terry Sanderson said: "Southall Black Sisters (SBS) was set up to meet the needs of Black and Asian women who are the victims of domestic violence or injustices in the legal system. The main aim of the organisation is to help women to gain more control over their lives, to be able to live without fear of violence and be able to assert their human rights to justice, equality and freedom. SBS are right on the forefront of the feminist struggle in this country. They celebrated their thirtieth anniversary last year, being founded in 1979 during the Southall race riots."

Mr Sanderson said that the group had been chosen to receive the prize because they provide a secular space where women fleeing violence or injustice — often resulting from religious attitudes — can find a safe haven.

He said: "The Government’s ’cohesion’ agenda has put an enormous amount of power into the hands of religious leaders in minority Asian communities. These are almost always very conservative in their outlook and some consider women’s rights to be unimportant. The Southall Black Sisters can provide women with some time away from this all-powerful religious patriarchy for them to sort out their problems in their own way.

"Over a thousand women a year contact SBS on issues such as domestic violence, homelessness, immigration, police and racial harassment, health and concerns about their children."

Receiving the award on behalf of the SBS was its Director, Pragna Patel. Pragna gave a very moving acceptance speech in which she commented: "If you had asked me 20 years ago what one of the biggest struggles would be in 2010, I would not have said the struggle for a secular society. Yet here we are today." Pragna is also a founder of Women Against Fundamentalism.

A special campaigning award was presented to Samantha Stein for her work on setting up Camp Quest, the UK’s first residential summer camp specifically for children whose parents want an alternative to the usual religious sponsorship of such camps.

Keith Porteous Wood, who was compère, said "umpteen people had come up to him to say that this, the fifth, Secularist of the Year presentation had been the best ever. The atmosphere had been electric with nearly 200 people enjoying a slap up meal in a glamorous restaurant in London’s west end."

Also on stage was Peter Hearty, who runs the Platitude of the Day website, rating each Thought for the Day. Dressed in his preachers garb (after all he is a "Reverend" courtesy of an accommodating website and $20 cash) he presented The Platitude of the Year award for the most Platitudinous "Thought" – it went to Right Reverend James Jones, Lord Bishop of Liverpool and Bishop of Prisons, for reminding us all how Christianity solved the problems of Northern Ireland (yes, really!). Anne Atkins narrowly avoided winning – each time her name was mentioned there was a loud hissing.

Unfortunately, because the Bishop was not there to collect his award, the prize has now been forfeit. This consists of five personally signed and inscribed books by Richard Dawkins, which will be put up for auction on eBay to raise funds for the NSS. See pictures of the event


Hospital chaplains paid more than nurses and 150% more than cleaners – but which is more important? By Dennis Penaluna

Figures published on the Royal College of Nursing website concerning the NHS ’Agenda for Change’ pay-scales clearly show that chaplains are valued more than the people whose work is absolutely essential for patient well-being.

The minimum starting salary for nurses is £20,710 pa and for chaplains it is £25,829, plus they also get extra for being called out, plus an additional amount as a national recruitment and retention payment of nearly £4,000. In all, a new-starter chaplain will probably earn around £32k pa.

Additionally, all chaplains received an average pay-rise last April of 6.1%. Nice work if you can get it – which you can’t, of course, unless you are an ordained priest. The NHS employs around 1,000 full and part-time chaplains (mostly CofE) but only a bare handful of humanist practitioners.

Some of the most important people employed in hospitals, the porters and cleaners, start on the NHS’s minimum wage of £6.77 per hour. The pay of a new starter chaplain is roughly 21⁄2 times as much.

Our research into the cost of chaplains in the NHS revealed that most people mistakenly believe that hospital chaplains are there on a voluntary basis and get paid by their religious group. They are paid for by the tax-payer and they place a £42 million p.a. burden on the NHS.

Another myth to demolish is the claim by some in the CofE that the church pays for the training of healthcare chaplains. It does not! It might pay for them to be trained as priests but the NHS picks up the tab for their healthcare ’training’. They start on Band 5, the mid-point of which is £23,345 – nice training if you can get it. (You can’t!)


As the election approaches – who will you vote for?

Over the next few months, as the election machinery begins to crank more forcefully into action, the NSS will receive its usual request from members about where the parties stand on the issues of concern to secularists.

We will, through Newsline, bring you what information we can find, and it would be useful if readers could approach those in their own constituencies who are standing for election to ask where they stand on given issues. So, we are asking you to approach candidates for the Labour, Conservative and LibDems (or other parties) in your area to ask them their stance on the following issues:

* Faith schools – do you support the plans for the expansion of the faith school system? * Reform of the House of Lords – do you support a fully-elected House of Lords, and do you think the Bishops bench is a legitimate part of the Upper House? * What is your stance on the funding by the health service of hospital chaplains? * Do you support the concept of farming our social services to religious groups? If so, do you think it necessary to place conditions on the funding of these groups to prevent discrimination in service provision and employment? Or do you think religious groups should have the right to deny employment to people of other faiths and none while they run state-funded welfare services?

Please let us see the replies you get so that we can share them with other Newsline readers, to help inform their decision about who to vote for. Send the responses to enquiries@secularism.org.uk or by post to NSS, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL.

To get the ball rolling, here is a reply one of our readers received from his MP, Theresa Villiers, Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet. Our reader had asked about state funding for faith schools and hospital chaplains. Ms Villiers replied:

"There are currently no plans to scrap hospital chaplaincy services either by the Government or the Conservative Party. Hospital chaplains offer spiritual comfort and peace of mind to many patients that doctors and nurses, despite doing a brilliant job, perhaps are not qualified to give in all cases.

I also note your views regarding Conservative policy on faith schools. I support faith schools, and believe that the state should continue to fund them. Many faith schools provide their pupils with an outstanding, academically rigorous education, making them rightly valued by parents and the local community.

Parents should be free to raise their children within a religious tradition, and they should also be free to choose a school which reflects that belief. Of course we need to work towards creating a more integrated society, but that is not inconsistent with recognising parents’ legitimate freedom to decide upon the type of education their children receive.

I believe that every parent should have the right to have their child educated in a good school, regardless of their religious beliefs, and to be able to do this we need to create 200,000 new school places.

Our plans would allow good new schools to open in precisely those areas where parents are denied a proper choice.

Last weekend, the Financial Times Weekend Magazine carried a long essay on the influence of religious groups on Conservative Party policy formulation. Although at the moment these groups present themselves as being primarily concerned with "poverty", we note the involvement of groups such as the Christian Medical Fellowship and the Lawyers Christian Fellowship, both of which have alarmingly regressive social agendas that would impose reactionary religious restrictions on to the private and public life of us all. Here is a political blog about the Tory claims from the Guardian.


Vote to get the bishops out of the Lords

The NSS has long campaigned for an end to the presence of 26 Church of England Bishops in the House of Lords. We need a truly secular state for a truly plural democracy to thrive, where people of all faiths and those without can co-exist as respecting equals. Now a group called POWER 2010 is trying to provoke debate on a number of issues ahead of the general election.

After one month in which any member of the public could cast their vote for the changes they would make to democracy, and with over 70,000 votes cast, only 50 votes separate a fully-elected second chamber in 5th place and the 6th place. This matters, because only the top five reforms will make it onto a pledge card, a set of people’s proposals for democratic renewal which will then form the basis of a campaign in every constituency in the run up to the election.

So, if you wanted to see an end to the anachronism of bishops in the House of Lords make sure you use your vote today. Real change begins at the grassroots. Have your say and be represented. The vote closes on Monday.



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