Monthly Archives: May 2012

Vatican: Bishops don’t have to report child abuse to the police according to new guidelines

The Italian Bishop’s Conference (CIE) has issued guidelines on child protection that inform its bishops that they are ‘not obliged to report illicit facts’ of child abuse to the police.

The new guidelines were released recently after the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith advised every Bishop Conference to create a document covering Child Protection if they did not already have one.

One of the conferences that was void of such documentation was the CEI which works under Pope Benedict XVI.

In their new five page document which advised Italian Bishops on how to deal with paedophilia they failed to focus on one of the most important and obvious means of combating the crime – informing police authorities.

Instead the document read: “Under Italian law, the bishop, given that he holds no public office nor is he a public servant, is not obliged to report illicit facts of the type covered by this document to the relevant state judicial authorities.”

In response to the documentation US Abuse Victims’ Group Snap told the Irish Times: “Once again the Catholic Church hierarchy has missed the boat . . . These prelates had a chance to do more than the bare minimum and thus set a good example for their colleagues around the world by putting the safety of children first and foremost, but they chose instead to put the reputation of the church first.”

Eurovision Song Contest: The truth about gay life in Azerbaijan

Contest winner Loreen is escorted to the stage after winning the Eurovision Song Contest (Photo: EBU)

As Baku celebrates the end of the Eurovision Song Contest, which saw Sweden’s Loreen win with her song Euphoria, we examine the realities of life of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people are forced to lead in oppressive Azerbaijan.

‘Welcome to the Eurovision Song Contest, from Baku in Europe!’ greeted star-eyed host Eldar ‘Ell’ Gasimov, the 2011 contest in a duo with Nigar Jamal.

The flamboyant contest was held in a fantastic newly erected Crystal Hall, a shimmering glass and steel building on the shores of the Caspian Sea. The atmosphere and festive mood of kitch glitz and glamour, with outlandish hair-does and exquisite dress codes more than match the glittery exterior of the venue.

During the finals, short video clips introducing contending countries reveal amazing and breathtaking scenery, stunning architecture, both old and new, and portray the country as a modern multi-cultural state. That’s the image Azerbaijan’s government is keen to project to the world through hosting the Eurovision song contest – that the country is secular, progressive and part of Europe.

But behind the curtains of a carefully crafted image, away from the flaunty spectacle, the flashy and ostentatious Crystal Hall, life for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Azeris is far less dazzling as they live in the shadows of a brutal authoritarian regime.


Just a few miles away from the gleaming Crystal Palace lay the less than pretty endless fields of oil cranes both inland and in landlocked Caspian sea. The Azerbaijani government, drunk with the riches of oil and gas, splashed over $134 million (€107 million) to construct the venue that was completed only about a month ago. It was part of $800 million (€639 million) worth of investment projects around Baku designed to tart up the capital for the Eurovision Song Contest.

An investigation  by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty revealed that the presidential family personally profit from this massive construction project. Human Rights Watch last week slammed Azerbaijan for what it described as the forced evictions of hundreds of Baku residents .

‘The event is overshadowed by the illegal evictions, expropriations, and demolitions for hundreds of local residents forced out of their homes,’ stated the report.

Human Rights Watch also noted how other lucrative construction projects, largely run by the presidential family and their allies have forced evictions of an estimated 60,000  people from their homes near the downtown area since 2008.

Azerbaijan is ranked 134 in the Global Corruption Barometer  right alongside notorious regimes such as Zimbabwe. Corruption and patronage dominate public life.

The country is run by Moscow educated President Ilham Aliyev, who took office in 2003 from his KGB general father, Heydar, who ran Azerbaijan also during Soviet times. He quickly crushed the opposition movements, reduced the parliament to a rubber-stamping body of a government headed by people with close business and political connections to the president.

In 2010 he managed to have presidential term limits abolished. The country is run in an authocratic way, where freedom of speech, press, and political association is crushed and a rigid oligarchy, much like in Russia, dominate most aspects economic life. Getting a good job, being promoted and protected depends on your connections and relationship with this top-down system of corrupt patronage.

LGBT rights advocate Peter Tatchell summarised the situation: ‘Azerbaijan has a shocking human rights record. It restricts religious and media freedom, suppresses peaceful protests, tortures political prisoners and jails journalists and opposition activists on trumped up charges.’


If lifting the curtains of the kitsch Eurovision Song Contest reveals a repressive regime, the reality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is no better.

Homosexuality was illegal in the country until 2001, when Azerbaijan was forced to decriminalise the statue or not be accepted into the Council of Europe. Besides this the government has done little for LGBT people. A few years ago two members of the Azerbaijani delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Gultekin Hajibeyli and Sabir Hajiyev,boycotted debates that were held on 27 January 2010 about discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and same-sex marriage.

‘I am not going to take part in these discussions and I think it wrong to raise this issue in PACE,’ Hajiyev said.

‘I have a very negative view of the debate. Yes, we have declared integration with European structures as our priority, but we must also protect our national and cultural values. This is unacceptable for us and we do not intend to copy everything that is adopted in Europe,’ said Hadi Rajabli, chairman of the Azerbaijani parliamentary committee on social policy.

‘What is the position of the Azerbaijani government regarding LGBT people?’ I ask Ruslan Balukhin (pictured above), a 22-year-old LGBT activist and founder of the support website . ‘Our government tries to ignore LGBT issues. I don’t know a single politician here who supports LGBT people,’ he answers empathically.

According to Balukhin, harassment and discrimination is the daily reality for most of the Azerbaijani LGBT community.

Besides homosexuality being decriminalised they have no legal protection and such anti-discrimination measures that do exist play little part in civil society. Gay and lesbians can be thus unfairly dismissed from their jobs, and homophobia is common.

‘LGBT people here often may be met with aggression,’ he added. But an even a bigger issue, according to him, is self-esteem influenced by cultural conservative traditions and values which lead many gay people to direct ‘hatred against themselves’.

Azeris who try to come out or are outed can face rejection by their family and even violence: ‘My brother has vowed to kill me, and then kill himself,’ Azeri gay artist ‘Badalov’ told the BBC . He has recently been granted political asylum in France. He reported that many people would approve of such ‘honor killings’ in Azerbaijan and that the pressure from family members and society is immense to conform. He recounts how he got married and tried to hide his sexuality because of such unbearable repression and harassment.

Transgender people also face similar issues of transphobia and discrimination according to a report by the Institute of Peace And War .

In 2009 a novel about a gay love story  between an Azeri and Armenian was ordered to be removed from sale by the police, and a panel discussion including the author was cancelled due to threats and intimidation.

According to Balukhin if you have money and are well connected nobody will dare to openly criticise you, whether gay or straight. So some celebrities, for example, can lead a good lifestyle and are well protected by bodyguards. But a connection with the corrupt and autocratic oligarchy is the only way to be protected from discrimination and harassment.

Baldov summarises the situation well in his interview to the BBC: ‘Everybody’s rights are violated in Azerbaijan, and gays are no exception.’

Although Azerbaijan is a predominately Shi’ite Muslim, the country is secular and separates religion from state – indeed a majority of its citizen seems themselves as secular. In an interview published by ILGA, the international LGBT organization, a gay Azeri empathically rejected the premise that homophobia is due to religious values: ‘Oh no, I am sure it is not about religion, it’s about fear of shame, not fear of God.’

As a result of such a decidedly unfriendly climate for gays there is little visibility and openness in Azerbaijan and life remains firmly in the closet.

But according to Azerbaijani organization Gender and Development, which works on gay and trans issues, the situation for LGBT people is beginning to improve. Elhan Bagirov told me that there is even a gay venue called Club 17, and he says his organisation is providing counselling and support as well safer-sex advice.

Summarising the situation above Tatchell stated: ‘Eurovision is renowned for its glitz, camp and kitsch. It has a huge gay following, yet Azerbaijan is often not a welcoming or safe country for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.’

LGBT Azeris, like the rest of the country’s people are not sure how to proceed. Are they to look to the west, or find their own way in negotiating their sexualities in their country? One this is for certain, according to Balukhin, ‘among Baku’s gays and lesbians there is no one even dreaming of [LGBT] demonstrations or parades’.

Nevertheless, just before the semi-finals were aired this week, hackers calling themselves ‘Cyberwarriors for Freedom’ attacked the official Eurovision website and posted an Azeri-language message demanding Azerbaijan ‘stop carrying out Eurovision 2012 in Baku and not allow gay parades’. No-one knows who this hacker group were but some suspect they are connected with Iran.


In recent days Iranian clerics and politicians have attacked Azerbaijan for hosting a ‘gay parade’ which they said was inappropriate for the country, which is officially secular but has a Shi’ite Muslim majority.

Ayatollah Sobhani, a top Iranian cleric, said that this was anti-Islamic behaviour. Protests against the imaginary ‘gay parade’ have erupted across Iran and were met by a counter protest in Baku. On 22 May the Iranian ambassador to Azerbaijan was recalled back to Tehran for consultation as a reaction to the protests in Baku and to the alleged ‘gay parade’.

While Azerbaijan has a population just over 9million Azeris, Iran has over a 30 million Azeri minority, making roughly 30% of the population of the country. The cultural and spiritual centre of Azeris is the Iranian city of Tabriz.

The recently found wealth and prosperity of Azerbaijan due to its oil and gas reserves, and the secular nature of the state, is thus a potential threat to the Iranian regime that is keen to keep total control of its significant Azeri population and the area they liven in which also contains rich oil and gas deposits.

Recent demonstrations by the Azeri diaspora in the USA , Sweden, Germany, UK and Denmark displaying slogans such as ‘Azerbaijan will be united and Tabriz will be its capital’ have thus alarmed the Iranian regime.

Meanwhile Azeri protesters within Iran demanded authorities pay attention to ecological issues and for rights for education in their native language. According to the media reports, more than 100 protestors were arrested in the subsequent clashes and an unknown number were injured.

The absurd allegations that led to this tense stand off between Iran and Azerbaijan show that Iran is happy to use the ‘gay-parade’ as a political weapon in order to legitimise and consolidate its role on its Azeri population.

Moreover the Iranian spiritual leaders talk about Islamic values is an attempt to both discredit the Azerbaijani regime in the eyes of the Azeri Iranians and also send a signal to its neighbour that religion can be used within their country against the government.

Commenting on this episode, Balukhin said: ‘Iran is trying to interfere in the domestic affairs of Azerbaijan. I hope that officials in Baku will have enough political will to not to succumb to such threats made by the government whose stance is religious fanatism and obscurantism.’

While there are no plans to hold any gay parade in Azerbaijan, LGBT Azeris like the rest of the country’s population are at a cross-roads between their traditions, values, and ties to their brothers and sisters across the border, the oligarchic model of government prevalent in the CIS, and the glitzy glamorous consumer lifestyle of the West.

PinkNews | Dan Littauer | 27th May 2012

 Please sign the Index on Censorship petition against the denial of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan:


Soraya Chemaly: A Message to Girls About Religious Men Who Fear You

Soraya Chemaly: Feminist, Satirist and Media Critic

Dear Girls,

You are powerful beyond words, because you threaten to unravel the control of corrupt men who abuse their authority.

In the United States last week there were people who wouldn’t let boys play a baseball championship final because a girl was on the opposing team. She’d already had to sit out two games because of their demands. Why? Did she, a competitive athlete and a member of her team, chose to? Was she being good and respectful when she acceded to their demands? Why were they not asked to forfeit their games? What messages were sent to her and her teammates? This is not complicated. It sent the wrong messages. Confusing messages. Incoherent messages. You need to know that she should have been allowed to play and not have had to sit out two games. These people, and others like them, all over the world, led exclusively by religious men, are scared of you and will not let you be. You worry them constantly.

If you were not powerful, they would not take you so seriously and they take you very, very seriously. You should, too. You can set the world on fire.

It doesn’t feel this way, I know. If that were true, you think, I would not have to sit out baseball games out of respect for religious beliefs that require my subservience and call it a gift. I would not be turned away from serving God with my brothers. I would not be taught that I’m an evil temptress or the virtue keeper of boys. I would not have virginity wielded as a weapon against me and my worth determined by my womb. I would not be spat on and called a whore by men when I am eight because my arms are bare. I would not be poisoned for going to school. I would not be forced, at the age of 9, to carry twins borne of child torture. I would not have to kill myself to avoid marrying my rapist. If this were true, they would pursue my rapists instead of stoning me for their crimes. I, and thousands others, would not be killed for “honor.”

Girls, these things happen because there are men with power who fear you and want to control you. I know that I have equated relatively benign baseball games with deadly, honor killings but, whereas one is a type of daily, seemingly harmless micro-aggression and the other is a lethal macro-aggression they share the same roots. The basis of both, and escalating actions in between, is the same: To teach you, and all girls subject to these men and their authority, a lesson: “Know your place.” I also know that there are places where girls are marginalized and hurt that are not religious. But all over the world these hypocritical, pious men, in their shamefully obvious wrongness, represent the sharp-edged tip of an iceberg, the visible surface of a deep and vast harm. They employ the full range of their earthly and divine influence to make sure, as early as possible, that you and the boys around you understand what they want your relative roles to be. Where there are patriarchal religions girls, in dramatically varying and extreme degrees, disproportionately suffer. Understand these men for what they are: bullies. Do not internalize what they would have you believe.

Your very existence makes them anxious. And their anxiety is particularly high because you have something no generation of girls has had before — globally connected communities of men and women who support your equality and freedom. Like guns, germs and steel, this transformative technology, which enables me to write to you here, alters geography, changes societies and dismantles systems of control — it makes the world a smaller place and it creates, even if slowly in some places, positive change for girls like you. You see, until now, these men could count on, indeed they could ensure, that you and the women around you were house-bound and isolated. Many of you still are. But now, there are millions and millions and millions people who are thinking about you and challenging these men every single day. You have the speed of light on your side and unless someone permanently turns the lights out, those days are gone. So, although you might feel like you are alone, you are not.

How do you threaten them? A girl, alone? By being able, strong, confident and yes, shameless. You may not “naturally” be interested in domesticity, piety, purity and submission, and they rely on your commitment to those things to order their worlds. Their actions, from one end of the spectrum to the other, are designed to fill you with self-doubt and, ultimately, fear — either bodily or spiritual — because otherwise you, and the young boys around you, will be fully aware of your strength and potential.

Because of this, they single-mindedly focus their attention on you, your body, your clothes, your hair, your abilities, your physical freedom. When their “manners” and “morals” are not universally applicable, but different for boys and girls, you can be sure that this is why. They seek to teach you, subtly, through small slights and gendered expectations, that you are “different,” weak, unworthy, incapable. The sadness is that, in their perception, if you are none of these things, then they are not strong, worthy and capable. This is not an excuse, but an explanation. It’s why they find infinite “benevolent” ways to undermine and disparage you, all in the name of “God’s word.” When that fails, they resort to violence. All over the world, their anxiety is manifest in a spectrum of actions ranging from mild paternalism, respectful of “proper boundaries,” to deadly enforcement of their rules.

Fear is why these men “officially” investigate Girl Scouts while perversely shielding child rapists. It’s why they obsess over your “purity.” It’s why they segregate you in public and private spaces. It’s why they instruct girls and boys that girls’ bodies are either shameful and dirty or sacred and belonging to men. Fear motivates them to teach that you pollute others by your very nature. It makes them intent on making sure you stay home and not be fully engaged in the world. It leads them to sanction marriages of 8-year-olds to old men. It convinces them that rape and its consequences are a “gift from God.” It’s why they empower others to stone you to death and disfigure you with acid.

Even “beating the gay” out of children, especially boys who are “more like” you, is aimed at you. Because if boys are “more like girls,” something these men believe is fundamentally inferior, then you can be “more like boys.” That causes ambiguity and destroys their carefully defined hierarchies and that is intolerable to them.

Fear is why they insist there is something fundamentally wrong with you. Don’t believe them. Fear is why they want you to cover your body. There is nothing wrong with your body, and your body is not to blame. Whether you chose to expose your body or to cover it up, consider the degree to which either choice is defined by a reduction of your character to narrow sexuality by a culture that refuses to hold men accountable for their actions and requires you to either radically display ourself for men’s pleasure or withdraw from the world and be held in reserve. Either way, ask who is defining your worth and by what measure. Fear is why they tell you you are so different from boys. You, and the boys you know, understand that your bodies are different, but that you are far more alike than dissimilar. Threatened, insecure, adult men say otherwise. Don’t give in. Even if you’re quiet. The differences these religious authorities exaggerate are simply pillars of oppression used to teach boys and girls that women’s subjugation is “natural” and “divine.” Reject them and their ideas.

This is hard to do. It requires that you, individually, be brave, strong, determined, fearless and confident. It requires that you demand that the adults around you pay attention and change their behavior. This is even harder.

First, and perhaps the most difficult to understand as a girl, is that women who love you and care for you often enable these men. This is what people say, “It’s not JUST men!” And they are right, women support them, individually and in groups, in ways that have private, public, political and societal consequences. But, make no mistake — although women are the enforcers of rules, they have no real, systemic authority in conservative religious hierarchies, and they know this. Yes, without their support these men could not continue, but until these women are truly free — bodily, economically, physically, politically — and their practical and spiritual salvation is no longer mediated by these very men, they will continue to support them. Enforcing the rules is a rational choice that enables them to survive, the world over, in unjust environments. You scare them too, because you call in to question their own complicity and cause conflict within.

Second, it is confusing that these men say they do what they do for your own good. They talk about respecting you and your dignity. You want to believe them; they have power and authority over you, your parents, your community and your access to God. They are often kind and benevolent and they love you. So, they must be right. But they are not. They demonstrate their own hypocrisy over and over and over again. They say they know what is best. They do not. You do. Don’t believe them when they teach you in hundreds of ways, through sacred text, careful words, cherished traditions, hidden threats and frightening examples, that you are inherently more sinful, base and corrupt, less worthy and in need of constant male guidance. Reject them.

The adults around you may not appear to support you when you take your humanity to its logical religious conclusions. Do not let them off the hook. Do not let them use “tradition” as an excuse or say it “really doesn’t matter.” Do not allow them to get away with asking you to “sit out games,” “be a good girl,” “don’t make a fuss,” and “put something on.” These are micro-aggressions that result in macro-aggressions. Adults often don’t think these things through. Sometimes it’s scary to them, too.

You can say: “There is nothing wrong with me. There is something wrong with you and your world.

Otherwise, when you get older, these same men, the ones who fear and hate you, will continue to undermine you. They will seek to control your body, keep you out of the public sphere, subjugate you in the name of a narrowly defined “family,” create impediments to your equality, shame you at every turn and justify your continued oppression in convoluted ways that defy reason and morality. They will investigate you for being strong, violate you, stone you to death, charge you with witchcraft, punish you in every conceivable way to set an example for … your children.

So, know that you are strong and powerful. Use your reason. Trust your instincts. Seek out those that would support you and, yes, know your place: on the field, in the street, on the bus (in the front), in school, at work and in public office.

You are not alone and you are brighter than the sun.


Soraya Chemaly | Huffington Post | 21st May 2012

Italy: Pope denounces ‘criminal’ book, threatens to sue

The Vatican is threatening to sue over a new book based on leaked documents. Picture: AP.

THE Vatican has denounced as “criminal” a new book of leaked internal documents that shed light on power struggles inside the Holy See and the inner workings of its embattled bank, and warned that it would take legal action against those responsible.

Pope Benedict XVI has already appointed a commission of cardinals to investigate the “Vatileaks” scandal, which erupted earlier this year with the publication of leaked memos alleging corruption and mismanagement in Holy See affairs and internal squabbles over its efforts to comply with international anti-money laundering norms.

The publication of His Holiness, by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, added fuel to the fire, reproducing letters and memos to and from Benedict and his personal secretary which the Vatican said violated the pope’s right to privacy.

Herald Sun | 20 May 2012

UK: David Cameron has to press ahead on marriage equality, and so do we

The consequence of backtracking would be "disastrous for democracy" (Photo: Flickr user MShades)

We should not be too down-hearted to hear from Tory MPs looking for any excuse to derail marriage legislation plans. Judging by their voting records, those who have spoken out would have voted against equality legislation anyway. Defence Minister Philip Hammond, for instance, has never supported pro-LGBT legislation in his political career.

Now that every argument they have proposed against change has failed – ‘marriage is a religious institution’ (it isn’t)’, ‘churches will be forced to marry the gays’ (they won’t), ‘marriage is about procreation’ (at what age should childless couples be forcibly divorced?), and so on, our opponents are scraping the barrel by claiming that ‘we have to focus on the economy’ and ‘the plans are too controversial and would be difficult to push through’.

Well that’s the first time I heard that the Tories were concerned about passing unpopular legislation. And this comes from the party responsible for some of the most draconean and unpopular cuts to public services seen in decades! Compared with the crisis in the NHS, marriage equality is not even on the radar. And the polls say so, too: The Mail on Sunday – of all newspapers- this weekend has found a clear majority in favour of marriage equality, in line with almost all polls on the matter. Most voters don’t think gay marriage is controversial, according to ComRes, the pollsters commissioned by Coalition for Marriage backers the Christian Institute themselves. The poll in fact found that ten percent of voters would be more likely to vote Tory, 13 percent less so, making a negative difference of three percent. The only parties disaffected Tories could migrate to would be on the extreme right, because all three main party leaders have pledged their support.

The excuse du jour is now that marriage equality is not the ‘top priority’ at the moment. This is rubbish. Of course the economy is a serious issue. But so is the principle of equality under the law. There is plenty of time in the Parliamentary year to for the 650 elected members to debate a whole range of issues. They are adults and can multitask, for goodness’ sake. It would require very little effort to push the marriage equality bill through Parliament, especially as it would almost certainly have the support of the majority of MPs. If Hammond were serious about the need to focus on the economy and nothing else, then he would be bringing the troops home from Afghanistan tomorrow. After all, it has been eleven years now, and the country’s human rights record is abysmal.

And maybe Mr Hammond might consider the dire consequences of aborting this legislation. It would show the Tory party as mean-spirited and not to be trusted to deliver on their promises. It would reinforce the image of the ‘Nasty Party’ which would make it less appealing to the young generation of voters. And it would show the current crop of politicians to be spineless, unprincipled, easily malleable, cowardly whimps who cave in at the slightest sign of opposition.

Reneging on marriage equality will only strengthen the hand of extremists who will have learnt that they can get their way if only they shout loud enough. Several of the fundamentalist organisations that make up the Coalition for Marriage aim to strip LGBT people of any rights and recognitions in law. The Christian Institute makes, for example, no attempt to hide its aim to eject gay people from the Armed Forces, while taking delight in the banning of any legal recognition of same-sex unions in North Carolina. Even so, the media refuse to hold them to hold them to account about their blatantly homophobic aspirations.

The campaign to derail marriage equality is working nicely, as far as Colin Hart and company are concerned. With over half a million signatories – still only equivalent to one percent of the electorate, after all the publicity they have gained – they have galvanised their support base and kept their campaign in the headlines by lining up high-profile clerics and right-wing journalists to make statements of such vitriol that one could be forgiven for thinking homophobia had suddenly become socially acceptable again. They copied the strategy of the Proposition 8 campaign, which against all predictions succeeded in California four years ago. They are trying to set the terms of the debate, by focusing on supposed slippery-slope consequences, and by neutralising the support and enthusiasm of MPs, who have no stomach for a fight with vociferous fundamentalists.

Those who are supposed to be campaigning on our side need to show a little more passion and solidarity. Let’s start with the liberal religious majority. It’s as if we have conceded that the phrases to feel strongly or to hold strong moral convictions can only apply to the conservative, traditionalist, or fundamentalist mindset. That’s certainly the attitude of the traditionalist wing of Christianity, for whom there are no serious grounds for debate on matters like homosexuality. As this Church of England legal paper, advising how to comply with the Equality Act when appointing bishops shows, liberal opinions are not taken seriously:

“It is clear that a significant number of Anglicans, on grounds of strongly held religious conviction, believe that a Christian leader should not enter into a civil partnership, even if celibate … it is equally clear that many other Anglicans believe it is appropriate that clergy who are gay by orientation enter into civil partnerships.” (paragraph 26)

The implication, as Guardian columnist Andrew Brown pointed out, is that anyone who disagrees does not do so on religious grounds. Only one truth is possible. Nobody can blame conservatives for being serious about their particular interpretation of Christianity. But progressive Christians must find their voice too. Equally, there needs to be a more unified stand between progressive religious, secular and humanist communities, whose voices are under-represented. This is a matter of urgency, as the church and conservatives attempt to deflect the challenge to their privileges by labelling secularists as the extremists. The good news is that liberal groups like Changing Attitude, Catholics for Choice and leading figures such as the Bishop of Salisbury are becoming more outspoken in their defence of LGBT equality. But it’s no use just making one speech; our opponents’ aim is to drown out any opposition by amplifying and repeating their attacks on equality, in the hope that the general public will just get sick of the issue.

If our politicians honestly believed in the principle of equality under the law, there would have been no grandiose consultation in the first place, and civil partnerships would have been made available to heterosexuals. The whole point is that we do not ask the permission of others to be treated equally. The starting point should be to ask by what right can anyone claim a say in the private, consenting relationships of other people? That said, the consultation is there whether we like it or not, so it’s vital as many of our friends and family fill it in as possible.

We must remain vigilant in exposing the myths and bigotry put about by C4M affiliates through blogs and opinion pieces. We must organise public rallies, to raise the visibility of the marriage equality campaign. We must make sure this campaign stays focused on love and commitment, which some of our detractors have never personally experienced. We must write to our local MPs, and encourage celebrities and other influential people to publicly show support. David Cameron reiterated his commitment to LGBT equality, and this needs to be reinforced and repeated by other politicians, with urgency. Progressive religious leaders need to make their voices heard too, especially as they represent the majority of religious viewpoints on this matter.

If our opponents can spin a story, so can we: another ComRes poll, dutifully touted by the Daily Telegraph, says that 60 percent of MPs think marriage equality is not a significant issue for their constituents. Oddly enough, it is considered a reason not to pursue legislative change.

But if it were known that some key C4M supporters were looking to reintroduce Biblical law, with respect to women’s rights, the complete ban on abortion, contraception, divorce laws, education, freedom of expression and blasphemy, would the general public be so ambivalent about the religious right winning this, which they see as the first of many battles?

Maybe the real focus of the debate should be whether the Enlightenment itself is under attack, from would-be theocrats desperate to take us back to the Dark Ages. If polling agencies shove in a question about that next time they do a survey for equal marriage opponents, they might get a different answer.

The consequences of abandoning marriage equality plans would be disastrous all round, for the Tories, for LGBT people and for democracy. There is only one way forward for Mr. Cameron, if he cares about the long-term reputation of his party: carry on regardless.

Adrian Tippetts | Secular Europe Campaign

Pink News | 17 May 2012

Sweden: Mosque advises Muslim women: don’t report abusive husbands

Six out of ten mosques in Sweden gave women advice about how to deal with spousal abuse and polygamy that contradicted Swedish law, a media investigation has revealed.

Using hidden cameras and telephone recording equipment, two women posing as abused spouses visited ten of Sweden’s largest mosques as part of a report put together by Sveriges Television (SVT) investigative news programme “Uppdrag granskning”.

The women then asked leaders at the mosques for advice about how to address issues such as polygamy, assault and non-consensual sex.

Six out of the ten mosques visited by the women, who had also claimed that their husbands had multiple wives, told them that they should nevertheless agree to have sex with their husbands even if they didn’t want to.

Six of the mosques also advised the women against reporting spousal abuse to the police. Leaders at another mosque were divided on the issue, while women received vague advice from yet another mosque.

Only two of the mosques gave the women clear advice directing them to report their abusive husbands to police.

The women were also told by nine of the ten mosques that men had the right – under certain circumstances – to have more than one wife.

Only one mosque told the women that men didn’t have the right to be married to several women at the same time and that their husbands needed to follow Swedish law.

The advice, which in many cases advocated violating Swedish laws, came from imams or family counselors at the mosques.

When “Uppdrag granskning” host Janne Josefsson approached two of the largest mosques featured in the programme to inquire about their official position on matters discussed by the women, the answers he received were totally different than what the women heard.

The chair of the Islamic Association in Uppsala claimed in the story that people should follow Swedish law.

When confronted by what the imam at the Uppsala mosque told the women, the Islamic leader explained that the imam had expressed his personal opinion in urging the women to forgive their abusive husbands rather than report them to police.

The imam with whom the woman met at the mosque in Stockholm defended polygamy and also advised against filing a police report about husbands who beat them.

He suggested instead that the women try to show their husbands more love.

“Don’t refuse to give him love, because then he might change,” said the imam.

Upon seeing the SVT report, however, the board of the Islamic Association in Stockholm (Islamiska förbundet Stockholm) decided to suspend the imam immediately and launch an internal investigation.

“This is a clear breach of Swedish law and they commit professional misconduct in their capacities as imams and associations,” Mohammad Fazlhashemi, a professor and author of books on Muslim intellectual history, told the TT news agency.

Fazlhashemi, who also appears in the SVT report, has reviewed a written transcript of the advice given to the women.

“What these men are saying to the woman violates their human rights. The men demean and insult the women when they say ‘you need to tolerate that these men hit you’,” said Fazlhashemi.

He is highly critical of the imams featured in the SVT report for not following Swedish law.

“Considering the fact that the mosques have received state funding, they have also committed to following Swedish law and the basic principles of democracy,” he said.

Fazlhashemi describes the Muslim leaders featured in the piece as “conservative, letter of the law traditionalists”.

“Now it’s time for some housecleaning. They need to weed out the bad seeds,” he said.

Fazlhashemi, who is also a Muslim, expressed concerns that such outdated mosque representatives benefit Muslim-haters and the far-right Sweden Democrats.

“They confirm the negative picture of Muslims. It’s a real shame that they confirm of the prejudices that Islamophobes have,” he said.

The Local | 16th May 2012

Norway shows the way by separating church and state

In a move that has taken many by surprise, the Norwegian Parliament is set to separate church and state when it carries a constitutional amendment to abolish the Church of Norway.

The nation will become secular, with no official religion, and the government will not participate in the appointment of church deans and bishops.

Svein Harberg, the spokesman for the Church, Education, and Research Committee stated that the decision “is historic both for the Norwegian Church and for the politicians in Parliament.”

A parliamentary committee report presented Tuesday contains a unanimous recommendation to have the state permanently separate from the church.

All 169 members of the seven parties in Parliament, including 10 representatives from the Christian Democratic Party and 30 from the Conservative Party, are said to be behind the move, according to a report from TV2.

The government will no longer have a minister of churches, and the state will no longer be responsible for the appointment of bishops and deans.

Instead, Norway will treat all religions and philosophies equally.

“The state will no longer engage in religious activities, but support the Norwegian church, national church and other religious and belief communities in line with it,” reports NRK.

The amendments are expected to be formally passed on Monday

The Church of Norway was formed after the Lutheran Reformation in 1536, and was officially called the Lutheran State Church. The state meddled very little in church matters, only quelling unrest when it had to, chose high church officials, and financially supported the church.

Opposition from secular groups arose in the 1970s when Norway’s economy boomed and the church benefited.

Traditionally, every citizen of Norway became a member of the Church of Norway upon baptism. 79 percent of Norwegians are registered members, but only about 20 percent make religion a large part of their lives and only two percent attend church regularly, according to 2009 and 2010 data. A 2002 study done by Gustafsson and Pettersson revealed that 72 percent of Norwegians “do not believe in a personal God.”

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “This gives us hope that one day our own Government – and indeed, the Church of England – will realise that Establishment of one particular church is unjust and anachronistic. Breaking the link between church and state inBritain, however, would be an enormous task that could well take generations to achieve – even if there was will to do it, which there isn’t.”

National Secular Society | 15th May 2012

France: Catholic Church promises to be a thorn in the side of new President

François Hollande – who will be sworn in as president today – was greeted last weekend by a demonstration of 1,500 extremist Catholics who marched through Paris threatening opposition to his proposals.

The Catholic Church and other right-wing groups in France have given notice that they intend to resist the newly-elected President’s progressive social agenda.

François Hollande – who will be sworn in as president today – was greeted last weekend by a demonstration of 1,500 extremist Catholics who marched through Paris threatening opposition to his proposals to introduce same-sex marriage, cut the Government’s funding of religious schools and legalise assisted suicide.

Using the familiar overblown rhetoric that has become familiar when the Catholic Church goes on the warpath, the march’s organiser Alain Escada, said: “We must act to stop the destruction of French civilization and of the French homeland. We can’t passively await the change Mr. Hollande and his allies want to impose on us.”

The party of Nicolas Sarkozy, the departing president, said it, too, would resist the legalisation of same-sex marriage as would Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front that worryingly did so well in the recent election.

Mr. Hollande’s aides say that he is unlikely to delay on gay marriage and other social initiatives because he has very little room to manoeuvre on the economic front and so must deliver on other parts of his electoral platform.

“We must go ahead within the first year of the mandate,” said Socialist lawmaker George Pau-Langevin, who was in charge of societal issues in Mr. Hollande’s campaign.

Same-sex marriage has been a longstanding issue in France. The country was among the first to grant same-sex couples legal rights with the creation of the Civil Solidarity Pact, a form of civil union, in 1999. Since then, other European countries, including Belgium, Spain and Portugal, have introduced gay marriage.

Mr Hollande has also promised to give half the posts in his cabinet to women.

National Secular Society | 15th May 2012

Northern Ireland: Vatican has miserably failed child sex abuse victims

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness

The Vatican has miserably failed the victims of child sex abuse within the Catholic Church, the Deputy First Minister has claimed.

As calls continue for Irish Primate Cardinal Sean Brady to resign over his involvement in a Church investigation that failed to stop paedophile priest Brendan Smyth’s reign of abuse, Martin McGuinness shifted focus to Rome’s attitude to historical clerical sex crimes.

“The issue of Cardinal Brady’s position in all of this is important for a lot of people. But of more importance to me is the attitude that pertains in the Vatican,” said the Sinn Fein politician.

Mr McGuinness hit out at how Rome had approached previous inquiries into abuse scandals and warned the Catholic authorities that if they failed to co-operate with a forthcoming investigation into institutional abuse in Northern Ireland, they would be compelled to do so.

Mr McGuinness has urged Cardinal Brady to reflect on his position, but during Assembly question time he said he was more concerned with the attitude of the Vatican to clerical sex abuse.

Commenting on recent action taken by the Church to censure outspoken liberal clerics, among them the high-profile Co Fermanagh author and journalist Father Brian D’Arcy, Mr McGuinness accused the Church of trying to silence progressive priests and deflect attention away from Church failings.

Addressing the Assembly, Mr McGuinness supported calls from Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, whom he described as a “colossus”, for a specific inquiry into the Smyth case.

“He is someone who understands absolutely what is going on and what is required to put it right, and of course he has called for the establishment of a commission of inquiry North and South into the Father Brendan Smyth case,” he said.

“So that is something that we have to take on board because I think that the trail of destruction, which it appears lasted from well before 1975 right through to the early 1990s, raises all sorts of questions as to how this monster was handled by the Catholic Church.”

Story so far

A BBC documentary last week uncovered revelations about an internal Catholic Church investigation into notorious paedophile priest Brendan Smyth in 1975. Cardinal Brady, then a 36-year-old priest, was involved in an interview with victim Brendan Boland, then a teenage boy, when he outlined Smyth’s crimes and gave the names of other children who were at risk.

The cleric passed the allegations to his superiors but did not inform police or the children’s parents. Dr Brady has said he now realises that the parents of children who were being abused should have been told of the allegations.

Northern Ireland: the National Secular Society calls for child abuse investigation

The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady was involved in the cover up of child sexual abuse.

The National Secular Society has called on the Northern Ireland Justice Minister to launch an investigation into child abuse in the Catholic Church.

The NSS wrote to Justice Minister David Ford following a serious allegation made in the BBC’s This World programme that a church inquiry in 1975 involving Brady, then a priest, was given the names and addresses of children abused by a serial paedophile priest. The programme claimed that this information was then not passed on to the families or the police, allowing the abuse to continue for at least another decade.

As a number of Catholic dioceses straddle the border, this is an issue that involves Northern Ireland too. In 2011 the NSS wrote to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland urging him to consider and all Ireland investigation. That request as ignored but the National Secular Society says it now hopes the Justice Minister will take the necessary steps to ensure that individuals within the Catholic Church are not permitted to evade the law which others are expected to follow.

In a letter to the Justice Minister, the National Secular Society said:

The Criminal Law Act (NI) 1967 makes clear that it is the duty of anyone aware of a criminal offence having been committed to inform the police. We therefore call on you to investigate whether Cardinal Brady – or anyone else in the church – broke the law by withholding the knowledge of crime from the police in Northern Ireland.

However, Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton yesterday said there would be no knee-jerk decision on whether to launch a police investigation.

Mr Hamilton did however confirm that the offence of withholding information from the police was on the statute in Northern Ireland in 1975 but said it had not yet been established whether the BBC documentary provided prima facie evidence the law had been broken.

He said officers would “do the right thing” based on where the evidence led them.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society commented: “Brady not feeling any need to resign, or the Church any need to sack or even suspend him, are the actions that speak louder than words. Such a response confirms that the Curia right up to the Pope himself continue to consider the Church to be beyond the law for its officials’ criminal actions, however heinous or widespread.

“The time has come for Governments and international organisations, including the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the International Criminal Court, to apply pressure onto the Vatican to release all the incriminating evidence it holds to justice agencies in the relevant countries.

“We include in this the UK Government, who should have raised this on behalf of the thousands of abuse survivors when Baroness Warsi visited the Vatican earlier this year. Victims of abuse are being are being abused again by the Church in denying them justice.”

National Secular Society | 4th May 2012

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