Monthly Archives: March 2012

Italian court rules “it’s my culture” claim is no defence for man beating up daughter

Rome, 30 March (AKI) – Italy’s Supreme Court on Friday agreed with a lower court that a different culture was no reason for a Moroccan man to be allowed to beat his 12-year-old daughter for failing to correcetly recite the Koran.

The court upheld a ruling that the father was guilty of abuse and aggravated assault for hitting his daughter with a broom handle.

A defense lawyer argued that the culture of resident in northeastern coastal city of Ravenna allowed him to strike his daughter for “educational” reasons.

In the ruling, the judge said the father’s actions were “violent and unjustifiable” for Italians and foreigners alike.

ADN Kronos | 30th March 2012

Turkey: Secularists protest “dynamite” education bill

Thousands of people have joined a Turkish opposition rally denouncing a government education reform bill they say is designed to boost the influence of Islamic schools.

ANKARA (Reuters) – Thousands of Turkish opposition supporters demonstrated in the capital Ankara on Tuesday against a government attempt to railroad a new education bill through parliament which secular parties say is designed to promote Islamic schooling.

The government wants to overturn a 1997 law imposed with the backing of the military which extended compulsory education from five to eight years, but also stopped under-15s attending religious “imam hatip” schools.

That led to a sharp decrease in the numbers at the schools which were originally set up to train Muslim clerics. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and nearly half his cabinet attended imam hatip schools.

The main secular opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) agrees on the need for education reform, but says Erdogan is seeking revenge for the 1997 law and attempting to bring about his stated desire to raise a “religious youth”.

A 2010 World Bank study showed only 16 percent of 15-year-olds in Turkey attend schools with average reading, maths or science test scores comparable to or above an OECD average.

Relying on its large parliamentary majority, Erdogan’s AK party is to introduce the education bill to the assembly later on Tuesday and plans to complete voting on it by Friday, or if that is not possible keep parliament open over the weekend until it is passed.

In response, the CHP decided to hold its weekly meeting of parliamentary deputies in an Ankara public square, the first time this has happened in the history of the republic since it was formed in 1923. The AK Party called it unconstitutional.

“The people and the CHP are claiming their rights in this national struggle,” CHP deputy leader Erdogan Toprak told reporters at the square, accusing the AK Party’ of bulldozing the bill through the committee stage where it packed the room so that no one from the opposition could get in.

“According to what constitution can you pass 19 articles in 20 minutes?” Toprak asked. “Despite all our efforts in the committee, neither were our contributions accepted, nor was any tolerance shown.”


Faced with government efforts to rush it through parliament, Toprak said the CHP would do its best to hold up the bill, calling it “dynamite planted under the Turkish youth”.

While the AK Party has won three elections since 2002 and remains popular, there is a large minority of urbanised Turks who are wary of its roots in political Islam and suspect it has plans to overturn, piece-by-piece, the secular republic.

At least 5,000 people filled Ankara’s Tandogan Square, waving Turkish flags and carrying placards against the “4+4+4” education bill, so-called because it extends compulsory education to 12 years – four years primary, four years middle school, followed by four years of secondary school or vocational training.

Imam hatip schools would count as vocational training, allowing a boost to the numbers attending.

“4+4+4+Erdogan = 0,” read one of the banners.

“I am a child of the republic. I am thinking of the future of my grandchildren,” said 55-year-old Naciye Sahin. “This law will open the way to more headscarves and imam hatip schools. We don’t want to be a part of that. We are children of the republic and we want to stay that way.”

EuroNews | Umit Bektas | 27 March 2012

(Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Vatican cancels stem cell conference – in case it gets contradicted

Pope Benedict XVI was scheduled to hold an audience at the conference, which has now been cancelled. KeystoneUSA-ZUMA/Rex Features

It’s a confusing time at the Vatican, which has an international stem cell scandal of its own making on its hands.

What the heck is going on?

In an embarrassing move, they organized a stem cell conference for this year and then abruptly cancelled it, with the reason being that they had originally invited a number of prominent embryonic stem cell supporters/researchers to be speakers. There appears to be a huge schism in the Church over stem cells as one faction organized this conference and intentionally invited embryonic stem cell research leaders and then apparently higher ups, who got the vapors, cancelled the meeting.

The organizers of the meeting, at which Pope Benedict XVII was going to speak (see picture above right from Nature), had invited some of the top stem cell researchers in the world and then cancelled the meeting because these researchers were going to be there, a real slap in the face to the legitimate stem cell community.

Nature reports mixed feelings in the stem cell community not only over the meeting itself, but also regarding its cancellation.

Alan Trounson, President of CIRM, was quoted “I think the only interpretation is that we are being censored.” Dr. Trounson is right.

Another leading stem cell researcher who was invited, Dr. George Daley, says he was asked specifically not to make embryonic stem cells the focus of his talk, but “he planned to discuss them for historical context.”

Many stem cell researchers, including Dr. Christine Mummery, decided to decline invitations to this meeting in the first place because she was convinced it wasn’t going to be an “open discussion at all” and the adult stem cell researchers were going to be portrayed as the good guys, while the embryonic stem cell researchers were going to be the bad guys. I also raised this question in a piece called “Vatican Stem Cell Meeting 2.0: from stem cells to prison cells to hell?” of whether by attending, prominent stem cell researchers were tacitly giving some legitimacy to an ideologically harmful meeting, but at the same time I wondered if by going some of the stem cell leaders might do some significant good by fostering a healthy dialogue.

The Nature piece also quotes a Vatican official who had been involved in organizing the meeting who says he thought the program was worthy:

Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau, Officer for Studies at the Pontifical Academy for Life, called the cancellation a “sad event” in an e-mail to Nature, and said that attendees would soon receive an official explanation. “I cannot speak until the letter of explanation is given. All what I can say is that until this Friday, the congress was well on its way and that we thought that the programme, as it was, was worthy.” 

I believe it is clear that the Vatican is split on the stem cell issue and the handling of this meeting exemplifies that divide.

This whole thing reminds me of the Pepsi Challenge from decades ago, perhaps because Pepsi is also in the news lately over, in its case, a manufactured fake stem cell controversy. The Pepsi Challenge was (and perhaps still is?) a marketing approach Pepsi used to eat into the market share of Coke. It began when I was 8 years old in 1975. Pepsi did commercials of blind taste tests where people were given sips of Pepsi and Coke, without knowing which was which, and reportedly most people like Pepsi better.

I’d like to give the Stem Cell Challenge to the Vatican. If someone at the Vatican had a certain condition and needed a therapy that would only work if it were based on embryonic stem cells, would they take it? What if someone asked them do you want stem cell therapy A, which doesn’t work, or therapy B, which does work (but were not told which was adult and which was embryonic”, which one would they pick? Which would “taste” better? I think they’d pick the one that worked and for some medical conditions that will be embryonic stem cell therapies.

Science 2.0 | Paul Knoepfler | March 26th 2012


Nature | News

Vatican calls off stem-cell conference


Embryonic-stem-cell researchers question sudden cancellation of annual meeting.

The Vatican has abruptly cancelled a controversial stem-cell conference that was set to be attended by the Pope next month.

The Third International Congress on Responsible Stem Cell Research, scheduled for 25–28 April, was to focus on clinical applications of adult and reprogrammed stem cells. But a number of the invited speakers, including Alan Trounson, president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine in San Francisco, and keynote speaker George Daley, a stem-cell scientist at Children’s Hospital Boston in Massachusetts, are involved in research using human embryonic stem cells, which the Catholic Church considers unethical. The previous two congresses had also included scientists who worked on such cells, without generating much controversy.

Father Scott Borgman, secretary of the Church’s Pontifical Academy for Life, one of the conference organizers, says that logistical, organizational and financial factors forced the cancellation, which was announced on 23 March. The academy weighs in on bioethical and theological issues that are relevant to Church teachings.

The Catholic News Agency, an independent news service based in Englewood, Colorado, quoted an unnamed academy member who called the cancellation an “enormous relief to many members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who felt that the presence on its program of so many speakers, including the keynote speaker, committed to embryonic stem cell research, was a betrayal of the mission of the Academy and a public scandal”.

“I think the only interpretation is that we are being censored. It is very disappointing that they are unwilling to hear the truth,” says Trounson. He had hoped to provide a “balanced perspective” on the potential clinical applications of stem cells, both adult and embryonic.

Meanwhile, some European scientists, who had called for a boycott because they believed the conference unfairly maligned embryonic stem cell research, cheered its cancellation.

Daley says that he took his invitation as an indication that the conference would be open to discussion of all aspects of stem-cell research. “There are many areas of fundamental agreement about stem-cell research, such as the need to prove the safety and effectiveness of stem-cell medicines through legitimate clinical trials before allowing direct marketing to patients,” he adds.

Borgman says that the academy asked speakers to limit their discussions to adult stem cells. However, Daley says he was asked not to make embryonic stem cells the focus of his talk, but he planned to discuss them for historical context.

Christine Mummery, a stem-cell scientist at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, called the cancellation “good news”. She and a number of other European scientists declined invitations to the conference and encouraged their colleagues in the United States to follow suit. “The title [Congress on Responsible Stem Cell Research] was what put me off, and I thought this isn’t an open discussion at all; this is going to be all about proponents for adult stem cells, and the people working with embryonic stem cells will be the bad guys,” she says.

Daley says that although he and other attendees received requests to boycott the conference, “our collective feeling was it was better to engage in discussion rather than avoid it”.

Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau, Officer for Studies at the Pontifical Academy for Life, called the cancellation a “sad event” in an e-mail to Nature, and said that attendees would soon receive an official explanation. “I cannot speak until the letter of explanation is given. All what I can say is that until this Friday, the congress was well on its way and that we thought that the programme, as it was, was worthy.”

The conference was to conclude with a two-hour audience with Pope Benedict XVI.

Nature doi:10.1038/nature.2012.10312 |   Ewen Callaway  | 26 March 2012

Holland: Catholic Church under fire for castrating teenagers

At least 10 teenage boys or men under the age of 21 were surgically castrated “to get rid of homosexuality” while in the care of the Dutch Roman Catholic Church in the 1950s.

Evidence of the castrations has emerged amid controversy that it was not included in the findings of an official investigation into sexual abuse within the church last year.

The NRC Handelsblad newspaper identified Henk Heithuis (pictured), who was castrated in 1956 after reporting priests to the police for abusing him in a Catholic boarding home. Joep Dohmen, a journalist, found evidence of at least nine other castrations. Mr Heithuis died in a car crash in 1958, two years after being castrated at the age of 20, while under the age of majority, which was then 21.

Two clergymen were convicted of sexual abuse and Mr Heithuis was put in a Catholic psychiatric hospital before being admitted to a hospital in Veghel. There, court papers confirm, he was castrated “at his own request”, despite no submission of written consent. Cornelius Rogge, a sculptor and friend of Mr Hethuis is reported to have seen the effects of the castration and believes that “the castration was a punishment”.

Sources told Mr Dohmen that the surgical removal of testicles was regarded as a treatment for homosexuality and as a punishment for those who accused clergy of abuse.

Last December, an investigation by Wim Deetman, a former minister, received 1,800 reports of sexual abuse by clergy or volunteers within Dutch Catholic dioceses in the period since 1945. The Heithuis case was not followed up because “there were few leads for further research”. There are through to be at least ten other such cases.

However, according to this report, “Vic Marijnen, the chairman of the board at Harreveld boarding school, who later served as Dutch prime minister, had written a letter to the Dutch queen, requesting a pardon for those convicted of abuse at his school. Both this, and the information about castrations, was known to the Deetman Commission that investigated church sex abuse in theNetherlands. But neither matter was mentioned in the lengthy Deetman report published in December.”

Yesterday it emerged that minutes of meetings held in Catholic-run psychiatric institutions in the 1950s show that government inspectors were present when castrations were discussed.

National Secular Society | 23rd March 2012

Catholic Church now trying to silence victims’ support group

St. Peter's Square, Rome, Italy - Vincenzo Pinto, AFP/Getty Images


Ten years after Catholic bishops swore to clean up their act after decades of sexual abuse by priests and cover-ups by their leaders, the Catholic Church is proving that old habits die hard.

The New York Times reported last week that attorneys for the church have subpoenaed records from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known to most people as SNAP, as part of sex abuse lawsuits in St. Louis and Kansas City. The subpoenas demand e-mail records and, in some cases, testimony — even though SNAP isn’t directly involved in the suits.

The church demanded 23 years of SNAP’s communication with victims, though the victim in the suit is only 19. They’ve wasted hundreds of hours of staff time and cost SNAP $50,000. Now, SNAP is begging lawyers to work pro bono.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, outlined the strategy to the Times: “SNAP is a menace to the Catholic Church,” he said. “There’s a growing consensus on the part of the bishops that they had better … buy some good lawyers and get tough.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops denied turning up the heat, but the Missouri strategy is clear: Make victims afraid to talk to SNAP and bury them under legal fees — the tactic corporations such as tobacco firms use to silence smaller opponents: Intimidate, outspend.

For decades, the Catholic hierarchy — behind the backs of its innocent clergy and millions of parishioners — used intimidation and secrecy to hide accusations that priests molested children. Now, it’s using the same tactics to silence a group that gives aid and comfort to the priests’ victims.

So far, the new tactics appear limited to Missouri. None of SNAP’s four New Jersey chapters has been targeted.

SNAP is a support group, a referral center for victims. But the church sees SNAP as ringleaders and organizers. They want to bust SNAP the way sweatshops busted labor unions.

The church’s new legal assault on SNAP is unconscionable. For decades, pedophile priests created thousands of voiceless victims. SNAP gives those victims a voice — and now the bishops want to silence that, too.

New Jersey News | Star-Ledger Editorial Board | 19 March 2012

Vatican denial of women’s rights

UN Deputy Secretary General Asha Rose Migiro (left) and Marjon Kamara, Chair of the 56th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, speak at the Commission's opening session in the General Assembly Hall at United Nations Headquarters in New York. Photo Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Two quotes from the proceedings of the 56th session of Commission on the Status of Women:

NORWAY: Norway fully respects and protects religious freedom and cultural diversity.  But we cannot accept that religious, cultural and certain so-called moral arguments are being used to block decisions and avoid obligations we all know would give millions of women freedom and save hundreds of thousands of lives every year. All countries and cultures have their traditions and hold them dear. But in 2012, with the knowledge we now have with regard to women’s rights, opportunities and health, we also know that certain perspectives and practices are harmful –and dangerous – to women. This means we have to compromise. Many will have to let go of some traditional convictions, also when they are based on religious belief or culture. After all, every country, every culture and every society undergo permanent change. That’s what’s called – development.

THE HOLY SEE:  In closing, Madame Chairperson, my delegation reaffirms all of the Holy See’s reservations on past occasions with regard to the meaning of the term “sexual and reproductive health” and “reproductive rights” which should not include abortion or abortion services. Moreover, the Holy See in no way endorses contraception or the use of condoms, either as a family planning measure or as part of HIV/AIDS prevention programmes or classes/programmes of education in sexuality. Regarding the term “gender” and its many uses in the text, my delegation once again reaffirms the use of “gender” as referring to “women and men,” or male and female, according to its ordinarily agreed usage before, during and after negotiation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

Turtle Bay and Beyond | 19th March 2012   &   Norway Mission to the UN | 15th March 2012




Vatican Bank Account Closed At JP Morgan, Image May Be Hurt

* Latest in series of image problems for Vatican bank

* Vatican bank trying to meet EU’s transparency rules

By Philip Pullella and Lisa Jucca

VATICAN CITY/MILAN, March 19 (Reuters) – JP Morgan Chase is closing the Vatican bank’s account with an Italian branch of the U.S. banking giant because of concerns about a lack of transparency at the Holy See’s financial institution, Italian newspapers reported.

The move is a blow to the Vatican’s drive to have its bank included in Europe’s “white list” of states that comply with international standards against tax fraud and money-laundering.

The bank, formally known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), enacted major reforms last year in an attempt to get Europe’s seal of approval and put behind it scandals that have included accusations of money laundering and fraud.

Italy’s leading financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore reported at the weekend that JP Morgan Chase in Milan had told the IOR of the closing of its account in a letter on Feb. 15.

The letter said the IOR’s account in Italy’s business capital would gradually be phased out starting on March 16 and closed on March 30.

In Milan, JP Morgan Chase declined to comment and the Vatican also had no comment. It was not possible to contact IOR officials because Monday was a holiday in the Vatican.

Il Sole said JP Morgan Chase informed the IOR that the account was being closed because the bank’s Milan branch felt the IOR had failed to provide sufficient information on money transfers.

The financial newspaper, which gave the number of the IOR account, said some 1.5 billion euros passed through it in about 18 months. It said the account was a “sweeping facility,” meaning that it was emptied out at the end of each day with funds transferred to another IOR account in Germany.

The closure move by JP Morgan Chase, which was also reported by two leading general newspapers on Monday – Corriere della Sera and La Stampa – was a further blow to the IOR, whose image has been tarnished by a string of scandals.

In September, 2010, Italian investigators froze 23 million euros ($33 million) in funds in two Italian banks after opening an investigation into possible money-laundering.

The bank said it did nothing wrong and was just transferring funds between its own accounts. The money was released in June 2011 but Rome magistrates are continuing their probe.


The public image of the bank has also been harmed by the so-called “Vatileaks” scandal, in which highly sensitive documents, including letters to Pope Benedict, were published in Italian media.

Some of the leaked documents appear to show a conflict among top Vatican officials about just how transparent the bank should be about dealings that took place before it enacted its new laws.

The IOR, founded in 1942 by Pope Pius XII, handles financial activities for the Vatican, for orders of priests and nuns, and for other Roman Catholic religious institutions.

Last year, the Vatican adapted internal laws to comply with international standards on financial crime.

The 108-acre sovereign state surrounded by Rome now complies with the rules of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

It also established an internal Financial Information Authority (FIA) along the lines of other countries and has committed to comply with international anti-money laundering standards and liaise with the group and law enforcement agencies.

The IOR was entangled in the collapse 30 years ago of Banco Ambrosiano, with its lurid allegations about money-laundering, freemasons, mafiosi and the mysterious death of Ambrosiano chairman Roberto Calvi – “God’s banker”.

The IOR then held a small stake in the Ambrosiano, at the time Italy’s largest private bank and investigators alleged that it was partly responsible for the Ambrosiano’s fraudulent bankruptcy.

Several investigations have failed to determine whether Calvi, who was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge near London’s financial district, killed himself or was murdered.

The IOR denied any role in the Ambrosiano collapse but paid $250 million to creditors in what it called a “goodwill gesture”.

Huff Post | Philip Pullella and Lisa Jucca | 19 March 2012

France: Toulouse shootings – race, religion and murder

The Toulouse killings have come at a time when French politicians use a language of hatred

A man consoles schoolchildren out the Jewish Ozar Hatorah secondary college in Toulouse. Photograph: Aksaran/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Over the past few years of recession and regression, it has become a trite truism of European politics that you can’t go wrong going to the right. Politicians across the continent have found a new magic formula for electoral success and survival by playing on fears of foreigners and particularly of Islam – the wink and a nod that says that immigration has been the root of our social and economic decline. This is by no means an exclusively rightwing vice. Anyone who has heard the Dutch Labour party recently will have difficulty putting light between them and the demagogue Geert Wilders.

Until today, they might have tried to argue that there was no harm in it, that it’s healthy even, a rebalancing of the scales after two decades of biting our tongues and creeping political correctness.

The French airwaves have been full of such ugly equivocation these past few weeks as Nicolas Sarkozy has lurched his party wildly to the right in an attempt to save his skin, claiming there were “too many immigrants in France” and stoking Islamophobia with a ridiculous claim that the French were being secretly forced to eat halal; his prime minister François Fillon even said Jews and Muslims should put their dietary laws behind them and embrace modernity.

Claude Guéant, the interior minister who took personal control of the investigation, has been the most consistently xenophobic, championing the superiority of European Christian civilisation over lesser cultures who force their women to cover up – yes, observant Jews and Muslims, he meant you. The nadir came last week when Sarkozy’s new immigration chief Arno Klarsfeld – the eldest son, ironically, of Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld – called for a wall to be built between Greece and Turkey to save Europe from barbarian invaders.

Today in Toulouse we have been given a horrific illustration of where such delirious cynicism can lead. All of those who have been shot or killed in and around the city in the past eight days have had one thing in common. They are from visible minorities. They had names or faces that marked them out as not being descended, as Jean-Marie Le Pen would say, from “our ancestors the Gauls”. Their roots – both Jewish and Muslim – were in the Maghreb or the Caribbean. They were, in short, a snapshot of la France metissée – the mixed race, immigrant France that works hard and “gets up early” to empty bins and look after children; the people who die disproportionately for France yet who are also most often locked up in its prisons and crumbling banlieues.

As one father said this morning as he hugged his son to him outside the school, “They are attacking us because we are different.”

Police are a long way yet from catching, never mind understanding, what was going through the head of someone who could catch a little girl by the hair so he wouldn’t have to waste a second bullet on her. But some things are already becoming clear. He shouted no jihadist or anti-Semitic slogans, going about his grisly business in the cold, military manner oddly similar to Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian gunman who massacred 77 people at a social democrats summer camp last summer.

As with Breivik, politicians will be quick to the thesis of the lone madman. Another lone madman influenced by nothing but his own distorted mind, like the lone gang of neo-Nazis who had been quietly killing Turks and Greeks in Germany for years unbothered by the police, who preferred to put the murders down to feuds or honour killings.

What could be the link, they ask, between Jewish children and French military personnel? The link is they are both seen – and not just by a far-right fringe – as symbols of all that has sabotaged la France forte, to borrow Sarkozy’s election slogan. Confessional schools, be they Jewish or an informal weekend madrassa, are seen as actively undermining the secular Republic by activists of groups like the Bloc Identitaire and the Front National, as well as some members of Sarkozy’s UMP, and even some on the left.

A black man or a Muslim, particularly one of Algerian origin, in a paratrooper’s uniform touches a raw nerve among the old guard of the far right. It was the paratroopers who did the bulk of the dirty work to keep Algeria French, and who also tried to oust De Gaulle when he went against them.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the end of that war that left more than a million dead and two countries twisted and contorted by the pain of it in almost equal and opposite ways.

Not even Sarkozy, who has most politically to lose from these killings, is trying to hide the link with race and religion. Just as he echoed the old National Front slogan “Love France or leave it” and then denied he ever said it, he yesterday called on the French people to stand up “against hate”, having spent the past few months manically stirring it. The next 34 days will see whether he will be swept away by the storm he has helped to start.

The Guardian | Fiachra Gibbons | 19 March 2012

The spectre of militant secularism

At the weekend, I was honoured to award the Secularist of the Year prize to Peter Tatchell on behalf of the National Secular Society. From the stage, I looked across the restaurant where the celebratory lunch was held and saw only intelligent, polite people (if by that stage of the proceedings, intelligent, polite and slightly tipsy people). I had to break the news to them that according to respectable society they were fanatics; the moral equivalents of religious bigots. On the one hand, conventional commentators held, there were Islamist militants who slaughtered without compunction, Jewish Orthodox militants who persecuted freethinking women, Hindu nationalist militants who drove artists out of India, African Christians who murdered homosexuals, Protestant militants who attacked Catholic homes in Belfast, and Catholic militants who responded in kind.

On the other hand, there were ‘militant secularists’, who… well, what? No one can say.

‘Militant secularist’ has become the ‘neo-con’ of the 2010s: a know-nothing label that signifies extremism, without explaining where the extremism lies. Radio 4 broadcasters prove that their bias is not always squishy liberal by allowing the religious to denounce the supposed militancy of their critics, without allowing the critics to reply. Like the small-c conservative columnists in the broadsheets, they forget to tell you what is ‘militant’ about ‘militant secularism’ because if they did, they would expose their own fatuity.

Militant secularism or atheism has a specific meaning. From the Jacobins through to the communists, militants murdered priests or sent them to camps, and destroyed churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. Militant secularism still exists in communist China and North Korea. I and every other British secularist I know oppose it because we believe in freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

A reasonable principle to hold? Not according to polite society. The request for ‘freedom from religion’ causes it to forget what few manners it possesses.

In this morning’s Telegraph the Bishop of Oxford says the Church of England wants the taxpayer to pay for at least 200 new primary and secondary schools to combat the influence of secularism. Notice that the bishop does not say that he wants to combat secularism by proselytising his religion, winning converts and engaging in the free arguments of a democratic society. He must know that that game is up. The Economist reports that the number of regular worshippers in the Church of England will have fallen to 680,000 by 2020, down from about 800,000 now and just under 1 million a decade ago. This is a pathetic position to be in for a church which wants to maintain unelected bishops in the House of Lords and keep Elizabeth II as a queen/priest — head of state and head of the state church. Knowing it is losing the battle of ideas among adults, the church wants to indoctrinate children.

If it were the moderate Anglican church of my youth, I would object less. But, the Economist continues, as mainstream Anglicanism withers, the evangelicals are taking over. Its new generation of clerics ‘make it clear they wish to work in large evangelical churches, ripe for American-style mission, rather than in slums or charming villages where social views are relaxed and doctrinal purity is not prized’.

Secularists want to separate church and state, as the not noticeably militant French and Americans do. We oppose the division of children on sectarian lines, which often mean racial lines as well. We despair of a supposedly PC liberal establishment that will ignore the subjugation of women, when subjugation is conducted in the name of a god or gods. Anne-Marie Waters, one of the leaders of the campaign against Sharia law, put it well last week when she mocked middle-class women, who said in effect:

‘“We are feminists. We are incredibly right-on. We read the Guardian. We disapprove of women’s breasts getting a public airing and we strongly object to the fact that boards of directors are not 50% female. We will go absolutely ballistic if anyone dare understate how vile domestic violence is, or attempt in any way to justify it. We are feminists you see. Oh, but only when it comes to white women — did we mention that?’”

Does that mean that a spectre is haunting Britain — the spectre of militant secularism?

If you still believe it does, I can attempt to persuade you to change your mind with one prediction. If you turn on the news tonight and hear of a bomber slaughtering civilians anywhere from Nigeria to the London Underground, I can reassure you of one point: the bombers will not be readers of Richard Dawkins.

Spectator | Nick Cohen | Monday, 19th March 2012

 Join the movement!

March&Rally for a Secular Europe: Saturday 15th September 2012.

Poland: the clergy should pay its health and social security costs, rather than the state

Archbishop Kowalczyk: photo - wikicommons

Primate of Poland, Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk has told Polish Radio that “Poland cannot solve budget problems by fighting with the Church.”

On Thursday, Minister of Administration and Digitisation Michal Boni outlined proposed changes to Church funding at a session of the Joint Commission of the Government and the Episcopate.

Among other proposals, Minister Boni put forward the notion that the clergy should pay its health and social security costs, rather than the state.

He also speculated that Polish citizens could be entitled to pay 0.3 percent of their taxes towards the Church, echoing a model that is practised in several European countries.

Currently, the state pays about 89 million zloty per year (21.4 million euro ) into the Church Fund, which was set up by the communist authorities in 1950, as a means of compensating for Church property confiscated after the war.

Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk did not condemn yesterday’s proposals outright, noting that it was the government, and not the Church that was late in attempting to develop new legislation regarding the Church Fund.

However, he argued that the fund “should not be abolished, but reshaped.”

The archbishop also expressed anxiety that reforms will lead to religious instruction being removed from schools.

Meanwhile, Professor Zbigniew Mikolejko, head of Religious Studies at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology (a branch of the Polish Academy of Sciences), told Polish Radio that the proposed reforms are “a step in the right direction.”

The professor argued that the proposals “are not a provocation, but a sort of normalisation.”

Minister Boni has asked representatives of the principal religious organisations to submit their opinions on the proposals within the next thirty days.

News from Poland | 16.03.2012

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