Monthly Archives: January 2013

Icelandic Parliament passes life stance equality law

Hope Knutsson, President of Sidmennt, The Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association

Today,  January 30, 2013, the Icelandic Parliament (Althing) passed a law which gives secular life stance organizations the right to apply for equal legal status with religions. The new law amends the current law about registered religious organizations. Thus, for the first time in Icelandic history, the government recognizes and guarantees equality between secular and religious life stances!

Sidmennt, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association has been lobbying for such a change for more than 10 years and celebrates this historic turning point. As soon as the law takes effect, Sidmennt will apply to the Ministry of the Interior for registration which will guarantee equal rights and freedom of conscience to its 300 members.  Sidmennt is grateful to the Minister of the Interior, Ogmundur Jonasson, who introduced and championed this human rights bill and to all those members of Parliament who voted in favor of it.

An additional improvement provided by this law is that newborn babies will no longer automatically be registered into the religion of the mother, but rather according to the religious or life stance registration of both parents, and only if the registrations match. Sidmennt members and many other people in Iceland including many legislators feel that this does not go far enough and that it is a human rights violation for government to be involved at all in registering people’s religious affiliation and is especially abnormal to register newborn babies in a religion. The sponsors of the new law say they want to work towards abolishing this anachronism but think it can only be done in stages.

Although this law is an important step towards equality, the government is not changing the privileged status of the Evangelical Lutheran State Church, which enjoys both legal and financial privileges over all other life stance organizations.

Hope Knutsson
President of Sidmennt

Sidmennt | 30th January 2013

 

Sidmennt – The Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association

UK: Majority want secular state schooling, while RE declines

The majority of British people want state-funded schools to be secular, a recent YouGov poll has revealed.

The poll, conducted on behalf of Prospect magazine, asked whether the Government should “make all state schools secular and stop them having special links with the Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other religion”. Nearly half of those surveyed (48%) agreed that state schools should be entirely secular. Those opposing stood at 38%, while an additional 14% said they “don’t know”.

Support for secular state schools was strongest in Scotland, with 63% in favour. Opposition was at its highest in the North, at 43%.

The question was posed as part of a wider survey on education. The poll also found strong support for a ban on schools supplying unhealthy food and drink (72%) and mobile phones in the classroom (83%). Three quarters expressed their support for a return to “traditional” history teaching covering the main dates and events in British history and teaching students “to be proud ofBritain’s past”.

See the complete poll (pdf).

Meanwhile, the Government’s introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is having a negative impact on school provision of non-EBacc subjects, including religious education (RE), according to a new survey of schoolteachers.

Among respondents, 13% reported a decline in provision for RE in their schools as a consequence of the EBacc (3% more than recorded that their schools were planning to cut RE in a similar survey in May 2011). Comparable reductions in provision for other non-EBacc subjects were: 14% for citizenship, music, and personal, social and health education; 15% for information and communication technology; and 16% for art and design and technology.

Source: Online survey of over 2,500 schoolteachers by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), the largest teachers’ union.

More information

National Secular Society | 30th January 2013

UK: Catholic Church recognises that same-sex couples make loving parents, but they must be banned from marriage

Gay parents make loving parents according to the Catholic Church in UK

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has made a surprising acknowledgement that same-sex couples make good parents. The statement is included within a document submitted to MPs and Peers urging them vote against same-sex marriage.

The document says: “We recognise that many same sex couples raise children in loving and caring homes. Nevertheless, marriage has an identity that at its core is distinct from any other legally recognised relationship, no matter how much love or commitment may be involved in these other relationships.

“Marriage has, over the centuries, been the enduring public recognition of this commitment to provide a stable institution for the care and protection of children, and it has rightly been recognised as unique and worthy of legal protection for this reason.

“Marriage furthers the common good of society because it promotes a unique relationship within which children are conceived, born and reared, an institution that we believe benefits children.”

Despite acknowledging that same-sex couples have children and that not all heterosexual couples chose to or can have children, the document claims that changing the law will break the ”existing legal link between the institution of marriage and sexual exclusivity, loyalty, and responsibility for the children of the marriage.”

It says that allowing same-sex couples to wed “threatens subtly, but radically, to alter the meaning of marriage over time for everyone.”

The document says that it recognises that there are different views as to the status of marriage. “We recognise that there is an alternative view of what constitutes the ‘good’ of marriage, and we understand that proponents of same sex marriage often adopt this alternative view, in good faith.

“Under this alternative view, the ‘good’ of marriage is that it fosters intimacy and care-giving for dependents, builds trust, and encourages openness, and shared responsibilities.”

The Church says: “The basic argument that is advanced in favour of same sex marriage is one of equality and fairness. But we suggest that this intuitively appealing argument is fundamentally flawed. Those who argue for same sex marriage do so on the basis that it is unjust to treat same sex and heterosexual relationships differently in allowing only heterosexual couples access to marriage. Our principal argument against this is that it is not unequal or unfair to treat those in different circumstances differently. Indeed, to treat them the same would itself be unjust.”

The Catholic Church opposed the introduction of same-sex civil partnerships but it seems now to support the maintenance of a separate relationships system for same-sex couples. It points out that the Government is opposed to allowing opposite-sex couples to have civil partnerships, despite support from those who responded to the official Home Office consultation.

The Church says: ” Catholic teaching, whilst it does not condone same sex sexual activity, condemns unfair discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. We note that same sex couples already effectively enjoy equivalent legal rights as heterosexual couples by virtue of the Civil Partnership Act 2004. A Civil Partnership in essence entitles a same sex couple to equivalent legal benefits, advantages and rights as heterosexual couples6 . Therefore the changes proposed in the Bill?are not needed in order to provide legal recognition to and protection for same sex relationships. Our opposition to same sex marriage is not based in discrimination or prejudice; it is based in a positive effort to ensure that the unique social values currently served by marriage carry on being served by that institution in the future.”

Despite referring to support in the official consultation to point out that the Government is ignoring support for straight civil partnerships, the Church says that the Government has ignored the 625,000 signatures to the Coalition for Marriage’s petition in favour of the 53% of those who responded to the Government.

The Church claimed that the no mainstream party had a policy to introduce equal marriage during the 2010 general election. The Conservative Party pledged to review the case for same-sex marriage in an equalities manifesto published before the election.
The Catholic Church also warns of a “slippery slope” saying that at the time civil partnerships were introduced that politicians promised that same-sex marriage wouldn’t follow. It is unclear what the Church imagines might become law next.

The Church also claim that the protections to prevent churches being forced to hold same-sex marriages will not adequately protect religious organisations or individuals. It claims that faith schools could be “compelled” to teach about a definition of marriage which goes against the teachings of the Church.

PinkNews.co.uk | Staff Writer  | 29 January 2013, 9:15pm

UK: National Secular Society to challenge Catholic Church’s new restrictions on teachers

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has issued a new booklet warning teachers and governors at Catholic schools that they risk dismissal if they enter a relationship that is not approved by the Church.
The warning comes in guidance (PDF) written by Monsignor Marcus Stock, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and co-published by the Catholic Education Service.
British Catholic weekly newspaper, The Tablet, reports:

Under the heading of “substantive life choices”, Mgr Stock includes marriage in a non-Catholic church or register office without canonical dispensation, remarriage after divorce and “maintaining a partnership of intimacy with another person, outside a form of marriage approved by the Church and which would, at least in the public forum, carry the presumption from their public behaviour of this being a non-chaste relationship”. This also applies to all staff in a Catholic school.”
Other “substantive life choices” he rules unacceptable include “maintaining the publication or distribution of, or by any other means of social communication or technology, material content which is contrary to gospel values”.

Many ‘faith’ schools are granted special legal privileges enabling them to discriminate in employment on religious grounds. Many teachers can find themselves blocked from certain positions because they are non-believers or of the ‘wrong’ faith. In addition, teachers can be disciplined or dismissed for conduct which is “incompatible with the precepts of the school’s religion”.
The National Secular Society has described the Catholic Church’s restrictions on its employees personal relationships as “prurient and tyrannical.”
Stephen Evans, campaigns manager at the National Secular Society, said:
“It is scandalous that the Catholic Church is able to use taxpayers’ money to practise this sort of crude discrimination. The document is completely unacceptable. The way a person arranges their private life, so long as it is within the law, should be of no concern to an employer.
“We will be writing to the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, asking how he can justify a law that permits teachers in faith schools to be disciplined or dismissed for conduct which is ‘incompatible with the precepts of the school’s religion’. Such a harsh and unfair law drives a coach and horses through equality legislation and leaves teachers, paid using public money, uniquely vulnerable to religious discrimination.”
The level of discrimination permitted in ‘faith’ schools is currently the subject of an investigation at the European Commission following a complaint by the National Secular Society concerning whether UK legislation relating to state funded ‘faith’ schools breaches European employment laws.
The NSS has made clear that if it comes across anyone who has been fired from a Catholic school simply because they are living in a relationship that the Church does not approve of, it would be happy to assist them in a legal challenge.

National Secular Society | 26 January 2013

Ireland: We want secular schools, say parents

Pressure is building on the Irish Education minister to establish a multi-denominational school in Dublin under the Educate Together banner. Educate Together, a multi-denominational body, promises that “No child is separated because of his or her religion or belief system” in any of their schools.

The Dublin City Educate Together Second-level Action Group collected over 2,000 expressions of interest from parents who are looking for an addition to the current second-level school provision. It held a public meeting to discuss the plans this week.

Olivia Morahan, one of the campaigners from five Educate Together primary schools, told the Irish Herald: “We want this school because of the whole ethos, it’s child-centred and it’s democratically run and multi-denominational. From my own experience, I’ve two children in the early years of an Educate Together primary school and it’s a very different schooling to what I experienced growing up. There are demands on both sides of the city, so in the long term the best solution would be one for the northside and one for the south.”

Campaigners said they are trying to pressure Education Minister Ruairi Quinn to set a timeline for when they can expect to see an Educate Together secondary school in Dublin.

The enthusiasm for an Educate Together secondary school is thought to be driven by the positive experiences reported by children coming through the primary level equivalents.

Last month, the Government asked parents in six Dublin areas to decide what kind of primary school they want for their children. The survey seeks to find out the participants’ preferred choice of school patron. It will probably result in a dilution of the influence of the Catholic Church, which currently controls over 90% of the country’s 3,000 primary schools.

A similar exercise last year led to the church being asked to hand over one school in each of the five areas surveyed to Educate Together.

National Secular Society | 24th January 2013

Ireland: Catholic Church wants reassurance that its “right” to indoctrinate school children will remain

Ruairi Quinn, Minister for Education and Skills in Ireland. (Wikipedia)

THE battle lines are being drawn between Catholic bishops and Education Minister Ruairi Quinn over the future of primary schools.

Moves to reduce the dominance of the Church in primary education will see the handover of some schools to other patron bodies.

But the church is seeking guarantees about the protection of the ethos of schools that remain under Catholic control.

Last year the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism produced a blueprint on a process for divesting Catholic schools to other patrons, and on ways to ensure that denominational schools were more inclusive.

One strand involves the handover of Catholic schools to another patron body in areas where parents express a demand for greater choice.

Following surveys late last year, the Catholic Church has been asked to divest a school in each of five towns and suburbs and the Department of Education is currently running similar surveys in a further 38 areas.

The other element of change is concerned with laying down new rules for the treatment of religion in all primary schools to ensure that they are inclusive.

That is to be subject to a public consultation process that will get under way after the parental surveys are completed in February.

That will mean an overlap between the two strands of the process and, while there is no formal link, a leading Catholic educationalist yesterday called for a trade-off.

Professor Eamonn Conway said that no Catholic primary schools should be handed over without firm guarantees that the ethos of the remaining schools would be respected.

Prof Conway is head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, and a priest of the Tuam archdiocese. He said that under one proposal, Catholic schools would be forced to display all religious symbols along with their own and to vet hymns and prayers to ensure they were sufficiently ‘inclusive’.

He also challenged the proposal to delete Rule 68, which obliges national schools to ensure that a religious spirit underpins all their work.

He challenged proposals to weaken Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act, which protects the right of religious organisations, including schools, to employ only individuals who will respect the ethos of their employer.

Mandatory

Prof Conway also said a proposed new programme for primary schools, Education about Religion and Beliefs (ERB), should not be made mandatory because it “could teach pupils in a secularist view of religion”.

Catholic bishops also used the launch of Catholic Schools Week yesterday to insist that any change to the ethos must not undermine the faith of school-going children.

Bishop Brendan Kelly of Achonry said it would be a “terrible travesty” for children “if a natural part of who they are is not acknowledged and nurtured in our schools”.

His concerns were echoed by Bishop Jones of Elphin who told the young congregation: “It is because of you that we are all concerned about Catholic education in our schools.”

Irish Independent | Katherine Donnelly and Caroline Crawford | Tuesday, January 22 2013

How the Vatican built a secret property empire using Mussolini’s millions

Behind Pope Benedict XVI is a porfolio of property that includes commercial premises on London's New Bond Street. Photograph: Alessandra Benedetti/Corbis

Papacy used offshore tax havens to create £500m international portfolio, featuring real estate in UK, France and Switzerland

Few passing London tourists would ever guess that the premises of Bulgari, the upmarket jewellers in New Bond Street, had anything to do with the pope. Nor indeed the nearby headquarters of the wealthy investment bank Altium Capital, on the corner of St James’s Square and Pall Mall.

But these office blocks in one of London’s most expensive districts are part of a surprising secret commercial property empire owned by the Vatican.

Behind a disguised offshore company structure, the church’s international portfolio has been built up over the years, using cash originally handed over by Mussolini in return for papal recognition of the Italian fascist regime in 1929.

Since then the international value of Mussolini’s nest-egg has mounted until it now exceeds £500m. In 2006, at the height of the recent property bubble, the Vatican spent £15m of those funds to buy 30 St James’s Square. Other UK properties are at 168 New Bond Street and in the city of Coventry. It also owns blocks of flats in Paris and Switzerland.

The surprising aspect for some will be the lengths to which the Vatican has gone to preserve secrecy about the Mussolini millions. The St James’s Square office block was bought by a company called British Grolux Investments Ltd, which also holds the other UK properties. Published registers at Companies House do not disclose the company’s true ownership, nor make any mention of the Vatican.

Instead, they list two nominee shareholders, both prominent Catholic bankers: John Varley, recently chief executive of Barclays Bank, and Robin Herbert, formerly of the Leopold Joseph merchant bank. Letters were sent from the Guardian to each of them asking whom they act for. They went unanswered. British company law allows the true beneficial ownership of companies to be concealed behind nominees in this way.

The company secretary, John Jenkins, a Reading accountant, was equally uninformative. He told us the firm was owned by a trust but refused to identify it on grounds of confidentiality. He told us after taking instructions: “I confirm that I am not authorised by my client to provide any information.”

Research in old archives, however, reveals more of the truth. Companies House files disclose that British Grolux Investments inherited its entire property portfolio after a reorganisation in 1999 from two predecessor companies called British Grolux Ltd and Cheylesmore Estates. The shares of those firms were in turn held by a company based at the address of the JP Morgan bank in New York. Ultimate control is recorded as being exercised by a Swiss company, Profima SA.

British wartime records from the National Archives in Kew complete the picture. They confirm Profima SA as the Vatican’s own holding company, accused at the time of “engaging in activities contrary to Allied interests”. Files from officials at Britain’s Ministry of Economic Warfare at the end of the war criticised the pope’s financier, Bernardino Nogara, who controlled the investment of more than £50m cash from the Mussolini windfall.

Nogara’s “shady activities” were detailed in intercepted 1945 cable traffic from the Vatican to a contact in Geneva, according to the British, who discussed whether to blacklist Profima as a result. “Nogara, a Roman lawyer, is the Vatican financial agent and Profima SA in Lausanne is the Swiss holding company for certain Vatican interests.” They believed Nogara was trying to transfer shares of two Vatican-owned French property firms to the Swiss company, to prevent the French government blacklisting them as enemy assets.

Earlier in the war, in 1943, the British accused Nogara of similar “dirty work”, by shifting Italian bank shares into Profima’s hands in order to “whitewash” them and present the bank as being controlled by Swiss neutrals. This was described as “manipulation” of Vatican finances to serve “extraneous political ends”.

The Mussolini money was dramatically important to the Vatican’s finances. John Pollard, a Cambridge historian, says in Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: “The papacy was now financially secure. It would never be poor again.”

From the outset, Nogara was innovative in investing the cash. In 1931 records show he founded an offshore company in Luxembourg to hold the continental European property assets he was buying. It was called Groupement Financier Luxembourgeois, hence Grolux. Luxembourg was one of the first countries to set up tax-haven company structures in 1929. The UK end, called British Grolux, was incorporated the following year.

When war broke out, with the prospect of a German invasion, the Luxembourg operation and ostensible control of the British Grolux operation were moved to the US and to neutral Switzerland.

The Mussolini investments in Britain are currently controlled, along with its other European holdings and a currency trading arm, by a papal official in Rome, Paolo Mennini, who is in effect the pope’s merchant banker. Mennini heads a special unit inside the Vatican called the extraordinary division of APSA – Amministrazione del Patrimonio della Sede Apostolica – which handles the so-called “patrimony of the Holy See”.

According to a report last year from the Council of Europe, which surveyed the Vatican’s financial controls, the assets of Mennini’s special unit now exceed €680m (£570m).

While secrecy about the Fascist origins of the papacy’s wealth might have been understandable in wartime, what is less clear is why the Vatican subsequently continued to maintain secrecy about its holdings in Britain, even after its financial structure was reorganised in 1999.

The Guardian asked the Vatican’s representative in London, the papal nuncio, archbishop Antonio Mennini, why the papacy continued with such secrecy over the identity of its property investments in London. We also asked what the pope spent the income on. True to its tradition of silence on the subject, the Roman Catholic church’s spokesman said that the nuncio had no comment.

The Guardian | David Leigh, Jean François Tanda and Jessica Benhamou | 21st January 2013

UK: the East London Mosque condemns the “street vigilantes”

The East London Mosque condemns the "street vigilantes"

Individuals claiming to be self-styled ‘Muslim patrols’ have been harassing members of the public on the streets of east London late at night, including outside our mosque after it has closed. They have anonymously uploaded their exploits to the internet.

These actions are utterly unacceptable and clearly designed to stoke tensions and sow discord. We wholly condemn them. The East London Mosque is committed to building co-operation and harmony between all communities in this borough. The actions of this tiny minority have no place in our faith nor on our streets.

Earlier this week we contacted the Police and the local authorities to alert them to the presence of these individuals and video. We advise anyone who has been harassed by these individuals to contact the Police.

We will monitor the situation closely and our Imams will be speaking out against such actions.

The East London Mosque | 17th January 2013

Letter to Members of the French Parliament

Two men marrying in Amsterdam, Netherlands, in the first month after the possibility to marry was opened to same-sex couples (2001). (Wikipedia)

Re: Marriage equality in France

 

Dear member of the French National Parliament,

On the eve of your parliamentary debates regarding whether to support marriage equality in France, I invite you to look to another European country that went through the same discussions and soul-searching about 15 years ago.

In 1994, as a member of the Dutch parliament, I proposed to introduce marriage equality legislation. Years of debate ensued, in part because nowhere else in the world had such legislation been introduced.

Several of the arguments that were used in the Netherlands against same-sex marriage have also come up in the French public discussions, and I think it is worthwhile sharing the Dutch experience with you.

The first argument used against my proposal was that marriage between two people of the same gender did not exist anywhere in the world and that if the Netherlands introduced same-sex marriage, the rest of the world would openly mock us.  That argument cannot be used any more since 10 countries have followed suit and opened their civil marriages to same-sex couples. Several states in the United States and Mexico have also implemented such legislation. Also, predominantly Catholic countries such as Argentina, Portugal, and Spain have since allowed such marriages. Politicians in those countries withstood pressure from leaders of the Roman Catholic Church to vote against their marriage equality bills stating that a separation between church and state should be maintained.

The second argument that was often used against marriage equality was based on religious beliefs, according to which only a marriage between a man and a woman could be recognized.  The naysayers argued that the introduction of same-sex marriage would diminish the importance of the traditional concept of marriage as between a man and a woman. This argument failed since religious marriage continues to exist alongside civil marriage.

The legal reform in the Netherlands broadened the scope of civil marriages, as the proposed reform in France would do. Freedom of religion means that religious denominations have the right to exclude same-sex couples from wedding ceremonies within their churches, synagogues, or mosques. The state, however, is bound by principles of non-discrimination and equal treatment, fundamental rights long-recognized in France.

Lastly, I would like to mention the argument that raising children in a same-sex marriage would harm them. This argument was not based on facts.  At the time of the debate in the Netherlands thousands of children had already been born and raised in households of two people of the same gender. Surveys and academic research done by universities have shown that children benefit from a loving environment and that the sexual orientation of their parents is not decisive for their well-being. In the almost 12 years since marriage equality was recognized in the Netherlands no data have been published to show that children growing up in a same-sex household suffer because they are not raised by an opposite-sex couple.

Since the first same-sex marriages in 2001, annual surveys of public opinion have been carried out, and they indicate that marriage equality has been accepted by a large majority of Dutch society. Essentially, it has become a non-issue. Now in the Netherlands, people are used to seeing two persons vowing to take responsibility for one another and support each other. Their gender is not considered relevant.

Even political parties that voted against the bill declined to attempt to change the law when they came into power.  We’ve seen many opponents of the same-sex marriage law change their minds. One well-known example is Hannie van Leeuwen, who, as a Christian-Democratic senator at the time of the parliamentary debates, was a fierce opponent of same-sex marriage. In 2005 she publicly said, “At the time I opposed same-sex marriage, I was led by fear. Having seen so many gay and lesbian couples getting married, I realize I was wrong. I don’t understand anymore what made me treat gays and lesbians differently from other citizens.”

It is not only in the Netherlands that politicians across the political spectrum have stood up in support of same-sex marriage. In October 2011 British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke at the Conservative Party’s conference in Manchester:

“We’re consulting on legalizing gay marriage. To anyone who has reservations, I say: Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us,that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”

In Belgium, where marriage equality was introduced almost 10 years ago, Prime Minister Elio diRupo stated in January 2013, “I am proud of our country where all couples have the right to marry.”

Put simply, political leaders around the world are coming to realize that gays and lesbians are not a separate group with a different sexual orientation.  Rather, they are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers, our friends and neighbors.  Gays and lesbians are integral parts of our families and our societies.

The eyes of the world are on your upcoming parliamentary debate and vote. France is seen by the rest of the world as a country that supports the right to non-discrimination and equal treatment. In France’s foreign policy these fundamental principles in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity play an important role. Rightly, France is proud of its commitments to international human rights standards and the international treaties that it has ratified, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Covenant on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which all include protection against discrimination.

I urge you to do the right thing and vote for marriage equality and non-discrimination and join the group of countries that have already opened their civil marriage law to people of the same gender.

Respectfully yours,

Boris O. Dittrich
Advocacy director, LGBT Rights Program
Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch | JANUARY 21, 2013

Ireland: Vatican’s demand for silence is too high a price

"As authority became once again centralised in the Vatican, pressure came on priests of my generation to be more explicit and decisive in presenting church teaching."

Three days after my 66th birthday I find myself forbidden to minister as a priest, with a threat of excommunication and dismissal from my congregation hanging over me. How did I find myself in this situation?

I joined the Redemptorist congregation in 1964 and was ordained 10 years later. That was the era of great openness in the Catholic Church. We believed in freedom of thought and of conscience, and that church teaching was not something to be imposed rigidly on the people we served – they were intelligent and educated, and could take responsibility for their lives.

As preachers we must try to present the message of Christ in a way and a language that spoke to the reality of people’s lives. This necessitated a willingness to listen to the people, to understand their hopes and joys, their struggles and fears.

Helping people to deal with the teaching on contraception during the 1970s was a great training ground. Just repeating the official line of Humanae Vitae was no help. During those years priests and people alike learned a lot about how to form their consciences and make mature decisions about all areas of their lives. As priests we learned more from people than they learned from us.

As the years went by we could all see that the teaching authority within the church was reverting to the more authoritarian style of ministry practised in the past. As authority became centralised in the Vatican once again, pressure came on priests of my generation to be more explicit and decisive in presenting church teaching: orthodoxy was now the imperative, and allowing people to think for themselves was seen as dangerous. There was no room for grey areas.

Reports to Rome

We became aware that there were people around the country who reported any slight deviation from the official stance by a priest, for example allowing a woman to read the gospel at Mass. Throughout the world, priests were being sanctioned, silenced and even dismissed because they would not toe the line.

In autumn 2010, I was one of a small group who set up the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP). This association was unique in that it was an independent body of clergy, a new phenomenon in the church, and one with which the authorities, in Ireland and the Vatican, were uncomfortable and didn’t know how to handle. The growth of the movement served to catapult me into a more prominent position, which brought me to the attention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). I had been writing for various religious magazines for more than 20 years without any problem. But suddenly last February I was informed by my Redemptorist superiors that I was in serious trouble over some things I had written. I was summoned to Rome, not to the Vatican, which to this day has not communicated with me directly, but to the head of the Redemptorists.

This was the beginning of what is now almost a year of tension, stress and difficult decision-making in my life. Initially my policy was to see if some compromise was possible, and it seemed in early summer this was a real possibility.

But I gradually became aware that the CDF continually raised the bar, until it got to the point where I could no longer negotiate. I was faced with a choice. Either I sign a statement, for publication, stating that I accepted teachings that I could not accept, or I would remain permanently banned from priestly ministry, and maybe face more serious sanctions. It is important to state clearly that these issues were not matters of fundamental teaching, but rather of church governance.

So now, at this hour of my life, I either put my name to a document that would be a lie, and would impugn my integrity and my conscience, or I face the reality of never again ministering as a priest. I have always believed in the church as the community of believers and as an essential element in promoting and nourishing the faith. I have enjoyed my years of preaching, the main work of Redemptorists, and never had any doubt that Christ’s message was one worth proclaiming.

But to give up on freedom of thought, freedom of speech and most especially freedom of conscience is too high a price for me to pay to be allowed minister in today’s church.

Catholic identity

There are people who will say I should leave the Catholic Church and join another Christian church – one more suitable to my stance. Being a Catholic is central to my personal identity. I have tried to preach the gospel. No matter what sanctions the Vatican imposes on me I will continue, in whatever way I can, to try to bring about reform in the church and to make it again a place where all who want to follow Christ will be welcome. He made friends with the outcasts of society, and I will do whatever I can in my own small way to oppose the current Vatican trend of creating a church of condemnation rather than one of compassion.

I believe that the real aim of the CDF is to suppress the ACP – attempts have been made to clip the wings of the Austrian association. I hope and pray it will not succeed.

While I am dealing with these issues in my own life I believe it is appropriate for me to temporarily stand down from my position of leadership in the association. I will, however, remain an active member, and will be available to help in every way possible for the work of the ACP, which is bigger than any one person.

Finally, it could be asked why I am going public now having remained silent for a year. I need to take back my voice.

The Irish Times | Monday, January 21, 2013 | Fr Tony Flannery

 

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