Category: Vatican

Vatican: It may be a new velvet glove, but it’s the same old iron fist

You’ve got to give the Vatican credit for having installed a Pope who appears to be nice and cuddly and says all the right things. But as with everything pertaining to the Vatican, one needs to keep a sceptical antenna waving. Nothing is as it seems in that kingdom of lies and deception.

The propaganda coup that they have pulled off by getting rid of the disastrous Ratzinger (retired through ill-health? Give me a break! It’s clear, to me at least, that he was disposed of) and replacing him with the apparently cuddlier, kindlier and more modest South American, is brilliant.

So far.

But for those who are prepared to look beyond the carefully constructed image, it is clear that Senor Bergoglio is, in fact, as hard and unyielding as his cold-hearted predecessor.

Bergoglio has just scored a big hit in Brazil where his inflated spectaculars rallied great crowds on Copacabana beach. On the plane back to Rome he answered questions from journalists who wanted to press him on the same “hot button” issues that so tormented Herr Ratzinger — and from which they gleaned so many column inches.

It was very revealing. Take away the apparently emollient words and Bergoglio says exactly the same as Ratzinger. He thinks homosexuals should be treated with respect (“Who am I to judge? You can’t marginalise these people,” he says patronisingly). But then he goes on to say that the Church still condemns homosexual relationships and always will. So, it’s business as usual and his implacable opposition to gay marriage remains unshakable.

On the question of the involvement of women — yes, they should play a “full part” in Church life, he says. Except that they will never, ever be permitted into the priesthood and they will never, ever have any real power or influence.

Put the kettle on, sister — and my apartment needs cleaning.

He says that God “forgives and forgets” sins if there is repentance (but he, quickly adds, God doesn’t forget crimes, such as the rape of children).

So the Vatican’s despicable history of persecution and corruption is all OK now because it repented and God has forgiven and forgotten. Handy, isn’t it? And I’m sure all those heretics it burned at the stake and those women it used as slaves in the Magdalene Laundries will take great comfort from the fact that the Vatican is truly sorry. So just shut up about it and let it drop, will you?

Bergoglio makes big noises about being the pope of the people, the pontiff of the poverty-stricken and the weak and disenfranchised. He makes very public gestures about living in modest accommodation and not wanting to wear fancy costumes all embroidered with jewels. What’s not to like?

Well, if he is as orthodox and dogmatic as this talk to journalists suggests, then his heart is as hard as any tyrant’s. He will do nothing about the ban on condoms in countries afflicted by AIDS, he will do nothing to force the hands of the religious orders who refuse to pay for their past cruelties in Ireland and leave it for the taxpayer to pick up the tab. And we have yet to see any move to address the issue of child rape and exploitation by priests. (He made it illegal in Vatican City, but how many children live there?).

The Vatican’s untold wealth remains untouched, while millions starve. He makes patronising gestures like washing the feet of prisoners. But his past shows that he is conservative to the core and will change nothing except, perhaps, the window dressing of the papacy.

Bergoglio is going to have to do more than smile and speak in a kindly voice to convince this cynic that he is one iota different to the two horrors who sat on the throne of St Peter immediately before him.

He is no reformer. If he had been, the powers-that-be in the Holy See wouldn’t have let him anywhere near the papacy.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society | 30th July 2013

Ratzinger will hide in the Vatican in order to avoid arrest

Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1979. In 1981, Ratzinger was appointed Vatican enforcer but turned a blind eye to sex offenders. Photograph: AP

(Reuters) – Pope Benedict’s decision to live in the Vatican after he resigns will provide him with security and privacy. It will also offer legal protection from any attempt to prosecute him in connection with sexual abuse cases around the world, Church sources and legal experts say.

“His continued presence in the Vatican is necessary, otherwise he might be defenseless. He wouldn’t have his immunity, his prerogatives, his security, if he is anywhere else,” said one Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It is absolutely necessary” that he stays in the Vatican, said the source, adding that Benedict should have a “dignified existence” in his remaining years.

Vatican sources said officials had three main considerations in deciding that Benedict should live in a convent in the Vatican after he resigns on February 28.

Vatican police, who already know the pope and his habits, will be able to guarantee his privacy and security and not have to entrust it to a foreign police force, which would be necessary if he moved to another country.

“I see a big problem if he would go anywhere else. I’m thinking in terms of his personal security, his safety. We don’t have a secret service that can devote huge resources (like they do) to ex-presidents,” the official said.

Another consideration was that if the pope did move permanently to another country, living in seclusion in a monastery in his native Germany, for example, the location might become a place of pilgrimage.


This could be complicated for the Church, particularly in the unlikely event that the next pope makes decisions that may displease conservatives, who could then go to Benedict’s place of residence to pay tribute to him.

“That would be very problematic,” another Vatican official said.

The final key consideration is the pope’s potential exposure to legal claims over the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandals.

In 2010, for example, Benedict was named as a defendant in a law suit alleging that he failed to take action as a cardinal in 1995 when he was allegedly told about a priest who had abused boys at a U.S. school for the deaf decades earlier. The lawyers withdrew the case last year and the Vatican said it was a major victory that proved the pope could not be held liable for the actions of abusive priests.

Benedict is currently not named specifically in any other case. The Vatican does not expect any more but is not ruling out the possibility.

“(If he lived anywhere else) then we might have those crazies who are filing lawsuits, or some magistrate might arrest him like other (former) heads of state have been for alleged acts while he was head of state,” one source said.

Another official said: “While this was not the main consideration, it certainly is a corollary, a natural result.”

After he resigns, Benedict will no longer be the sovereign monarch of the State of Vatican City, which is surrounded by Rome, but will retain Vatican citizenship and residency.


That would continue to provide him immunity under the provisions of the Lateran Pacts while he is in the Vatican and even if he makes jaunts into Italy as a Vatican citizen.

The 1929 Lateran Pacts between Italy and the Holy See, which established Vatican City as a sovereign state, said Vatican City would be “invariably and in every event considered as neutral and inviolable territory”.

There have been repeated calls for Benedict’s arrest over sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

When Benedict went to Britain in 2010, British author and atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins asked authorities to arrest the pope to face questions over the Church’s child abuse scandal.

Dawkins and the late British-American journalist Christopher Hitchens commissioned lawyers to explore ways of taking legal action against the pope. Their efforts came to nothing because the pope was a head of state and so enjoyed diplomatic immunity.

In 2011, victims of sexual abuse by the clergy asked the International Criminal Court to investigate the pope and three Vatican officials over sexual abuse.

The New York-based rights group Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and another group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), filed a complaint with the ICC alleging that Vatican officials committed crimes against humanity because they tolerated and enabled sex crimes.

The ICC has not taken up the case but has never said why. It generally does not comment on why it does not take up cases.


The Vatican has consistently said that a pope cannot be held accountable for cases of abuse committed by others because priests are employees of individual dioceses around the world and not direct employees of the Vatican. It says the head of the church cannot be compared to the CEO of a company.

Victims groups have said Benedict, particularly in his previous job at the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal department, turned a blind eye to the overall policies of local Churches, which moved abusers from parish to parish instead of defrocking them and handing them over to authorities.

The Vatican has denied this. The pope has apologized for abuse in the Church, has met with abuse victims on many of his trips, and ordered a major investigation into abuse in Ireland.

But groups representing some of the victims say the Pope will leave office with a stain on his legacy because he was in positions of power in the Vatican for more than three decades, first as a cardinal and then as pope, and should have done more.

The scandals began years before the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope in 2005 but the issue has overshadowed his papacy from the beginning, as more and more cases came to light in dioceses across the world.

As recently as last month, the former archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, was stripped by his successor of all public and administrative duties after a thousands of pages of files detailing abuse in the 1980s were made public.

Mahony, who was archbishop of Los Angeles from 1985 until 2011, has apologized for “mistakes” he made as archbishop, saying he had not been equipped to deal with the problem of sexual misconduct involving children. The pope was not named in that case.

In 2007, the Los Angeles archdiocese, which serves 4 million Catholics, reached a $660 million civil settlement with more than 500 victims of child molestation, the biggest agreement of its kind in the United States.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the pope “gave the fight against sexual abuse a new impulse, ensuring that new rules were put in place to prevent future abuse and to listen to victims. That was a great merit of his papacy and for that we will be grateful”.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Additional reporting by Robin Pomeroy; Edited by Simon Robinson and Giles Elgood)

Reuters | Philip Pullella | VATICAN CITY | Fri Feb 15, 2013

The pope can quit, but it doesn’t erase his complicity in his Church’s crimes

Geoffrey Robertson QC addressing the Protest the Pope Rally opposite Downing Street in London in September 2010.

Yesterday’s resignation by Pope Benedict was merely expedient – he has become too old to cope. It would have been both astonishing and courageous, a few years ago, had it been offered in atonement for the atrocity to which he had for 30 years turned a blind eye – the rape, buggery and molestation of tens of thousands of small boys in priestly care.
His “command responsibility” for this crime against humanity goes back to 1981, when he was appointed Prefect (i.e. Head) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican body that disciplines errant priests. Although the CDF files are a closely guarded secret, letters from Cardinal Ratzinger have emerged in several US court cases, always protective of rapist priests. As father Hans Kung, the eminent Theologian, put it in his open letter to Catholic Bishops in 2010, “There is no denying the fact that the world-wide system of covering up cases of sexual crimes committed by clerics was engineered by the CDF under Cardinal Ratzinger”.

The worse case was that of Father Maciel, a bigamist, paedophile and drug-taker who raped his own children but had become a close friend of John Paul II. Ratzinger was in possession of all the evidence about Maciel but refused to act.  Even after he became Pope, Ratzinger refused to defrock this monster priest or provide his affidavit to police. Instead he merely ‘invited’ Maciel to retire and lead a quiet life in the US, away from media attention. Ratzinger undoubtedly loathes such men, but he was always the ostrich Pope, the academic who kept his head in the sand until the storm hit.

Pope Benedict’s Vatican has been an enemy of human rights. The fiction that this religious enclave is a “state” enables it to appear at UN conferences and to veto initiatives for family planning, contraception or any form of “gender equality”. Benedict himself has decried homosexuality as “evil”, and ruled that women have no right to choose, even to avoid pregnancies that result from rape or incest; IVF is wrong (because it begins with masturbation); condom use, even to avoid HIV Aids within marriage, must never be countenanced. There is no denying that his Vatican has been a force in international affairs, rallying the Catholic countries of Latin America to make common cause on moral issues with Islamist states like Libya and Iran.

As Head of a State – even such a make-believe state as the Vatican – Pope Benedict has absolute immunity from legal action. But this immunity is not the same after you retire. There are many victims of priests permitted by Cardinal Ratzinger to stay in holy orders after their propensity to molest was known, and they would like to sue the ex-pope for damages for negligence. If he steps outside the Vatican, a court may rule that they have a case.

Geoffrey Robertson QC is author of “The Case of The Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse.”

The Independent | Geoffrey Robertson QC | 12th February 2013

Vatican: reactionary Pope Ratzinger resigns

And so we are to see an end to the rule of Joseph Ratzinger at the Vatican. At such times it is usual to break out into a chorus of “Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead” from the Wizard of Oz, but we fear that Ratzinger’s successor will be as bad, if not worse, than the man himself.

Ratzinger has ruled for decades at the Vatican, even before he became Pope. He was chief inquisitor under the rule of John Paul II, and as the old Pope’s health failed, Ratzinger ramped up the reactionary agenda. (Not that John Paul II was any slouch at authoritarianism and bigotry).

Under Ratzinger the Vatican has become despised and resented throughout the world. He has played a major role in reducing the Catholic Church’s popularity and its authority.

Catholics have deserted the Church at an increasing rate, repelled by the inhumanity of Ratzinger’s unbending adherence to what are perceived as cruel doctrines.

When he came to Britain in 2010, we were told that the visit had been a huge triumph. In fact, it was an abject failure as the official statistics showed and the Catholic Church’s own research confirmed. The visit did succeed, though, in generating the largest protest march ever seen against a papal visit. (video)

Of course, the endless child abuse scandals that have been exposed have been a major factor in Ratzinger’s failure as pope. As one revelation followed another, it was clear that for centuries the Church has been covering up the crimes of its clergy. It has put the safety of children well behind the interests of those of the Church.

Every single accusation of child abuse landed on Ratzinger’s desk when he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In most cases they were kept secret. Only when the civil authorities became involved did the Vatican come clean about its activities – and even then it had to be forced.

For all its claims that it has now cleaned up its act, new cover-ups seem to be discovered almost every week. And we should not forget the horrible attempts to avoid paying compensation to people whose lives they have ruined and who the Church sometimes dismissed as liars and money-grubbers.

Under Ratzinger, too, the Catholic Church has become crazily politicised. He has instructed his bishops to go out into the world and aggressively push legislators to obey Vatican edicts. In this, too, he has failed dismally.

When you recall the apocalyptic language that the Catholic Church has been using to oppose gay marriage, and its predictions of the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it, (including several increasingly hyperbolic interventions by Ratzinger himself) you would have thought that Catholic politicians would have felt it beholden upon them to vote against.
But not so. An interesting by-product of the controversial Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was the number of supposedly Catholic MPs who voted in favour of it.

There are 82 known Catholic MPs. Of them, 57% voted for the Bill with 34% against and 9% registering no vote.

But this illustrates that Catholic politicians in this country do not, in general, take their whip from the Vatican. (Some do of course, and are quite open about it). Even so, politicians still labour under the impression that there is a “Catholic vote” that can be corralled. There is no such constituency.

But this is the latest of many recent indications that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has become increasingly isolated under Ratzinger’s arrogant rule. Its many political confrontations with governments around the world who are trying to modernise their societies usually result in defeat for the Church.

Let’s have a look at a few:

During the American presidential election, the Church decided that it was totally opposed to President Obama’s plan to introduce a health insurance mandate. The reason? It would include funding for contraception.
In an effort to placate the bishops, Obama has since offered two radical modifications that would relieve the Church of having to provide contraception to its employees. But, as is its way, the Church will accept nothing less than total surrender.

There is a strong suspicion that this confrontation was manufactured as a means of defeating Obama at the election. It was presented as “an attack on religious freedom”, but it was perceived as a peevish assault on the rights of women.

As we know, the Church’s attempt to derail Obama’s campaign failed. Indeed, it could be argued that the Church’s hysterical behaviour and childish demands for complete obedience went a long way to ensuring that Obama got his second term.

The Catholics in the pews suddenly started thinking for themselves and the bishops were unable to order them into voting the way the Church told them to. Instead of rushing to the polling booths to defeat Obama, Catholics voted for him in record numbers.

In Spain – once regarded as the most Catholic country in the world – the previous secularist Government legalised same-sex marriage. The Church set its face against such a reform and agitated violently against it. The reform passed. The new Government, which is supposedly sympathetic to the Vatican promised to repeal the law. It has failed to do so, thwarted by the constitutional court. Abortion reforms were enacted, Church privileges were reduced, and changes made to the stranglehold the Church had on education.

InPortugal, similarly, same-sex marriage is now legal. This despite the Catholic Church’s best efforts to defeat it.

In thePhilippines, the Church declared that a Bill in parliament to make contraceptives legal and freely available must not pass. It passed.

In Ireland, once unquestioningly under the thumb of the Catholic Church, the child abuse revelations have been so extreme that it caused the Prime Minister to denounce the Church in parliament and has since closed the Irish Embassy at the Vatican. The Church is also trying to defeat a small change to the stringent abortion law that would allow women who have been raped to have an abortion. It is unlikely that the Church will prevail.

In South American countries, which the Pope could once guarantee to rule with a rod of iron there have also been rebellions. InBrazil gay marriage was approved (although the Church succeeded in defeating attempts to reform the harsh abortion laws). In Mexico City same-sex unions are now legal.

This political agitating, and these attempts to interfere in democratic parliaments is increasingly resented. Poll after poll shows that the Catholic population do not agree with or accept the Vatican’s doctrines on abortion, contraception, homosexuality or assisted suicide.

This is reflected in the dwindling number of Catholics who continue attend Mass – or have anything else to do with the Church.

Joseph Ratzinger will now disappear from the scene. Many will sigh with relief at his departure. But we shouldn’t celebrate too soon. He has put in place a college of Cardinals that are as reactionary as he is – or even more so.

Whoever they elect as the next Pope, there is unlikely to be much improvement.

National Secular Society | Terry Sanderson, President | 11th February 2013

Ireland: The Magdalene Laundries report confirms the need to keep church and state matters separate

Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny

It takes an age to squeeze much remorse out of the Irish government, doesn’t it? In 1999, after decades of child abuse in Catholic-run organisations, it finally issued “a sincere and long-overdue apology” to the victims and set up a Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, which took nine years to present its findings.
Now the government has been told – by a report prompted two years ago by the UN Committee Against Torture – that the Irish state colluded in sending 30,000 women to the infamous Magdalene Laundries between 1922 and 1996.

The prime minister, Enda Kenny, didn’t apologise to the families of the women who’d been incarcerated in these hellish institutions despite committing no crime. He said: “The stigma [of] the branding together of all the residents… in the Magdalene Laundries needs to be removed.” No, it doesn’t. The stigma of the Laundries will survive as a reminder of how inhumanly innocent people can be treated by supposedly charitable institutions.

These were places where “loose girls” or “fallen women” could be packed off to, girls impregnated by their fathers or uncles or the local priest, girls who were considered too flightly or flirtatious or headstrong to be biddable members of society. They could be put to work all day, washing sheets for the military, fed on bread and dripping, forbidden to speak and offered no way out, or any explanation about why they were imprisoned. Half of them were teenagers, doomed to spend their best years in a workhouse, being humiliated by nuns, told they’d offended God and that their parents didn’t want them.

The Laundries’ existence isn’t news. People have been familiar with their cosy-sounding name for years. Joni Mitchell wrote a song about them on her 1994 album Turbulent Indigo. Candida Crewe wrote a novel about them in 1996. Miramax produced the 2002 film The Magdalene Sisters, left, directed by Peter Mullan. The only people seemingly oblivious to their existence are Irish politicians.

Why they stayed oblivious is pretty clear. Ireland has had a chronic problem of keeping church and state matters apart. Government and church traditionally, if tacitly, support each other – which meant, in the past, the authorities turning a blind eye to abusive priests. The girls sent to the Magdalene Laundries had committed no crime – they were accused of committing sin – but they could be taken by Gardai and locked away in prisons funded by the state.

No wonder the government didn’t want the ghastly business coming into the light. It’s vital Mr Kenny tries to frame some response to the victims’ families beyond feeling sorry for what the victims endured. And the Magdalene report confirms the importance of keeping church and state matters separate – even if, as we’ve seen in this week’s historic Commons vote, the institutions are heading for a fight.

The Independent | John Walsh | 6th February 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. | 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.


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

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