Friday, September 30, 2011

The Report

UNTIL 2003 it was not common for Amnesty to address human rights issues in the jurisdiction where it was based. 

This too applied to Ireland.

Although In Plain Sight is not its first time to comment on human rights issues here, it is its first time to address the issue of torture in this State, a spokesman for Amnesty said.

It felt compelled to do so “following all the abuse reports which highlight the failure of the State to act” in the context of “the gravest, systematic human rights failures” in its history, he said.

Research for In Plain Sight: Responding to the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne Reports was undertaken by Dr Carole Holohan.

It was commissioned by Amnesty International Ireland and financial assistance towards the project was provided by Atlantic Philanthropies and the One Foundation.

An advisory committee assisted with its preparation and included lecturer and commentator Elaine Byrne, historians Lindsey Earner- Byrne and Prof Diarmaid Ferriter, Colin Gordon of Food and Drinks Industry Ireland, former Mountjoy governor John Lonergan, Rosaleen McDonagh of Pavee Point, NUI Galway law Prof Gerard Quinn, DCU journalism lecturer Kevin Rafter, journalist Mary Raftery, Bride Rosney of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, Bart Storan of Amnesty Ireland and Bishop Willie Walsh.

Main findings  
1 Absence of clear lines of responsibility makes true accountability impossible.

2 The law must protect and apply to all members of society equally.

3 Recognition of children’s human rights must be strengthened.

4 Public attitudes matter. Individual attitudes matter.

5 The State must operate on behalf of the people, not on behalf of interest groups.

Implements Used And Injuries Suffered 

On page 59 of In Plain Sight, “implements” used against children and the injuries suffered, as described in the Ryan report, are detailed.


“The leather; the leather containing metal or coins; the cat o’nine tails; canes; ash plants; blackthorn sticks; hurleys; broom handles; rulers; pointers; sally rods; bamboo canes; towel rollers; rosary beads; crucifixes; hair brushes; sweeping brushes; hand brushes; wooden spoons; batons; chair rungs; yard brushes; hoes; hay forks; pikes; pieces of wood with leather thongs attached; canes; bunches of keys; belt buckles; drain rods; rubber pram tyres; golf clubs; tyre rims; electric flexes; fan belts; horse tackle; hammers; metal rulers; butts of rifles; T-squares; gun pellets and hay ropes.”


Resultant injuries included

“breaks to ribs, noses, wrists, arms and legs . . .

“Injuries to head, genitalia, back, mouth, eye, ear, hand, jaw, face and kidney . . .

“Burns, dog bites, lacerations, broken teeth, dislocated shoulders and burst chilblains.”

'Horrifying if done to prisoners of war'

MINISTER FOR CHILDREN: THE IN Plain Sight report reminds us that Irish children were subjected to “treatment that would be horrifying if it were done to prisoners of war, never mind little boys and girls”, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald said.

“Rape, burning, beating, biting. Horrendous, awful torture.”

Launching the In Plain Sight report, she said it “says boldly what we now must accept; people knew about children being abused long before it was put in print in the Ferns, Cloyne, Murphy and Dublin reports”.

This “strikes at our very national identity. Whatever happens to us, we Irish like to believe we are fundamentally a good people – kind, generous, brave, open-minded.

“So how could we have allowed this systemic abuse of children to have gone on for so long? How could a decent society have let this happen?

“One causative factor, one national attribute is becoming ever clearer to me as I read more of what happened in our schools, clubs, churches, homes and communities. Deference,” she said.

“At every turn, Irish people kept their mouths shut out of deference to State, system, church and community; when they should have been unified in fury and outrage they were instead silenced, afraid to even whisper a criticism against the powerful.

“Much of the blame for that lies in a past where the chasm between the powerful and powerless was too vast to close, but let’s not fool ourselves into believing that abuse occurred in a sepia-toned Ireland that is dead and gone.

“Abuse – awful, shocking abuse – happened long after we knew of the atrocities of the distant past. And again it was covered by deference,” she said.

“A critical error was the unquestioning deference to an organisation making itself out to be the paragon of virtue it obviously was not.

“We have to move Irish society to a position where we are not afraid of debate, where there are no sacred systems that take precedence over our people.

“We must make sure that no system and no people are ever allowed to become so important that lives are destroyed to protect their reputation.”

The “very awfulness of what happened may go some way to explaining why, as the report says, so many people find the topic too overwhelming to deal with”, she said in reference to a Red C poll finding published to coincide with the report.

“But the problem with that reaction, that urge to deny, to shut our ears and eyes, is that it can allow the past to recur.”

The poll took place on July 25th and 27th last. The Cloyne report was published on July 13th, with the Taoiseach’s controversial Dáil response on July 20th.

It found that 52 per cent of people found the content of the Ryan report on child abuse issues “overwhelming”, with 35 per cent saying it was “too upsetting to engage with”, while 58 per cent felt “helpless” as a result. On the other hand, it made 89 per cent angry at those who abused the children and 84 per cent “angry that wider society didn’t do more”.

Seventy-one per cent of those surveyed believed that “wider Irish society bears some responsibility for what has been revealed in the Ryan, Ferns, Murphy and Cloyne reports”.

And 88 per cent believed that “individual members of society should have demanded that the State act to prevent child abuse”, while 85 per cent felt that “individual members of Irish society should have done more to protect these children”.

Half believed “wider society is prejudiced against children in care in the State today”.

Church ‘not alone to blame’ over abuse

THE role of the Irish state and society in enabling the abuse and neglect of tens of thousands of children in religious-run institutions has come under the spotlight in an Amnesty report.

The In Plain Sight report, commissioned by the Irish section of the international human rights group, examines the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne Reports into abuses by Catholic priests and religious in dioceses and institutions, but says the Catholic Church was not alone to blame.

Colm O’Gorman, the executive director of Amnesty Ireland, said some of the early responses to the four reports had amounted to "scapegoating and two-dimensional blame".

"The reports identify what happened, but what has been absent from broader discourse is why it happened. All this happened in plain sight. It’s not that these things were not known."

Dr Carole Holohan, the author of the study, said dismissive attitudes to poor families, deference to the Church, lack of legal protections and the absence of state and regulation, all contributed.

Among her key findings were that there were no clear lines of responsibility for children in care and so no procedures for fostering or ensuring accountability.

"It wasn’t that the system didn’t work, but rather that there was no system."

She also found the law was skewed against children in residential institutions because they were generally committed by the courts so they were branded criminals in the public eye.

"Fear, an unwillingness and an inability to question agents of the Church, and disbelief of the testimony of victims until recent times, indicate that wider societal attitudes had a significant role to play in allowing abuse to continue," she said.

The state had also had a "deferential relationship with the Catholic Church" which caused politicians and officials to dismiss the concerns of parents, children and lay workers.

Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald said: "At every turn, Irish people kept their mouths shut out of deference to state, system, Church and community. When they should have been unified in fury and outrage they were instead silenced, afraid to even whisper a criticism against the powerful.

"The fundamental lesson for all of us is that we must create a society in which no one is afraid to speak or afraid to challenge those in power. We must make sure that no system or no people are allowed to become so important that lives are destroyed to protect reputations."

She said legislation to put the Children First guidelines on a statutory footing, to regulate the Garda vetting of people working with children, and to introduce mandatory reporting was all pending.

She also said a referendum of children’s rights remained a priority and would take place next year, although she could not give a date.

Horrors of child abuse could be repeated

CHILD abuse remains a serious threat in Ireland despite over a decade of inquires and reports revealing the suffering of tens of thousands of children at the hands of Church and state.

A major study says continuing lack of accountability in key institutions, public discomfort with the subject of abuse, and state reluctance to prosecute those who turned a blind eye to it mean the horrors of the past could be repeated.

The Amnesty International Ireland research was accepted by Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

"We should not fool ourselves into believing that abuse occurred in a sepia-toned Ireland that is dead and gone," she said.

"It happened long after we knew it was happening.

"It’s easy for us as a society to fall into a trap of believing that the current knowledge of what happened equates to safety.

"The assumption that because we know that abuse can happen, we make it less likely to happen, is fallacy because knowledge is of little use without action."

Norah Gibbons, the director of advocacy at children’s charity Barnardos, also warned of the "ongoing prevalence of an organisational culture that focuses on the protection of the institution or agency over the protection of children".

A key finding of the study, which examined the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne reports into clerical and institutional child abuse, is the failure of the criminal justice system to date to prosecute those in positions of authority who concealed crimes.

Lead author Carole Holohan said: "The reports raise serious questions about the rule of law, given the evidence of deferential treatment shown to priests and bishops by members of the gardaí."

Solicitor Pearse Mehigan, who also contributed, said every file ever referred to the DPP alleging abuse by clergy and the religious should be reopened and examined to establish "whether or not there were political machinations in force behind the decision-making process".

"If the failure of the criminal justice system to prosecute criminality on the grand scale revealed in the various reports into clerical child abuse goes unaddressed, then an environment of impunity will continue to exist."

The In Plain Sight study, which runs to over 400 pages, also catalogues the various forms of abuse and neglect recorded in the four reports and concludes they satisfy the definitions of torture, slavery and cruel and inhuman treatment as laid down under international human rights law.

Amnesty Ireland executive director Colm O’Gorman said: "The human rights violations referred to are some of the greatest human rights violations in the history of this state."

An accompanying opinion poll revealed the public’s ongoing difficulty with the subject of child abuse.

It found that 58% of adults felt helpless to deal with the issues raised in the four reports, 50% believed society at large would prefer to turn a blind eye to child abuse, and 50% said society remained prejudiced against children who were in the care of the state.

Cardinal Bagnasco scolds Berlusconi

In his introductory speech to the Italian Episcopal Conference’s permanent council, the bishops’ leader spoke of “styles of life which, if brought to light, it will be difficult to show their compatibility with institutional decorum”

The Italian Prime Minister was neither “kicked out” nor “excommunicated”. 

But the speech made by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco during the opening of the work schedule of the Italian Episcopal’s Conference’s (CEI) Permanent Council, can certainly not be defined as kind. 

CEI’s president said: “What is mortifying, is having to record behaviour that not only goes against public decorum, but is intrinsically sad and hollow. This is not the first time we are forced to take note of this: whoever chooses political militancy must be aware “of the scale and the sobriety, the discipline and the honour that this involves, as is attested by our Constitution.” (Prelude to the Permanent Council on 21-24 September 2009 and 24-27 January 2011).”

Bagnasco went on to say that “sadly, stories are being spread fast. If these prove to be true, on different levels, they reveal styles of life that are not really in line with peoples’ dignity or institutional decorum and public life. Many voices have been going round in recent weeks, referring back to us. Perhaps in recent years, it is the reliable voice of the Church’s teachings which is lacking. Teachings which asked and still ask the faithful to lead good lives, free from pansexualism and amoral relativism.”

The leader of the Italian Bishops went on to say that: “Moral responsibility has an internal hierarchy that stands out by itself, regardless of the exploitation that is going on. Licentious behaviour and improper relationships are negative in themselves and harm society, despite their popularity. They poison the air and weigh down the common path.” 

The Cardinal referred to Italy’s image on the world stage: “The international community watches the actors on the public stage with dismay and the Country’s external image is becoming dangerously weak. When it becomes evident that the situation is serious, complicated even further by crystallised and unbreakable dynamics and relations, enough to put people’s general wellbeing at risk, and then there can be no winners or losers: each individual is called to act in a responsible and noble manner. Forms of behaviour that is congruent and exemplary and proportionate to the difficulty of the situation, able to convince people to desist from the dangerous game of vetoes and clashing egos.”

In the first part of his introduction, Bagnasco reminded his audience of the events experienced recently by the Church (the Eucharistic congress in Ancona, the Spanish World Youth Day, the Pope’s visit to Germany), pointing to young people as the positive protagonists of these events. It was to them that the bishops’ leader turned: “Do not be indignant or resigned: this is what a fellow Bishop in Spain told his country’s youth, and this is the advice we too give to youngsters in our Country: to move in this direction, taking effective steps to help overcome the crisis, which affects all of us, and do this in a creative not a destructive way.”
The prelate the spoke of the need to put an end to tax evasion: “Honest people must be made to feel valued and the virtuous must be rewarded.” Cardinal Bagnasco did however offer a word of encouragement to Italy: “The path ahead has become more difficult to access and consumerism may have weakened us, but the Italian people of today know that they are as worthy as their predecessors. And they know that yesterday’s conquests must be earned again: indeed, “existential parasitism” is merely the instinct of fragile and desolate minds. The people of this Country, gives the best of itself during the toughest of times: of course, a credible objective is needed, that is worth committing to. This objective does exist; it involves bringing Italy out of the hole in which it finds itself, partly as a result of having been discouraged. Italy must be brought out of this hole, so that it can face up to its historical and cultural responsibilities. This means giving it the future is deserves and which the whole world needs. Italy has a mission to complete, it has had it in the past and it will have it in the future.” 

Then came the Cardinal’s abrupt call to the Country: “Italy must not be self-denigrating!”

About the presence of Catholics in the political life of the nation, Bagnasco commented: “The possibility of a cultural and social figure that is able to engage in dialogue with politics seems ever closer. This figure, by combining social ethics and life ethics would bear promising fruit for the future, leaving aside nostalgia and naïve illusions.” 

In short, it is to this “figure”, as he likes to call it, that Cardinal Bagnasco gives his “blessing”, not to the Christian Democrats (DC).

SSPX to review Vatican document for reconciliation in October

Leaders of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) will meet in Albano, Italy, on October 7 and 8 to review a document that the Vatican has asked the breakaway traditionalist group to affirm. 

A “Doctrinal Preamble” was given to the SSPX leader, Bishop Bernard Fellay, by Cardinal William Levada, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at a meeting in Rome on September 14. 

The Vatican described the document as “the fundamental basis for achieving full reconciliation with the Apostolic See.”

Analysis: Pope disappoints hopes of Catholics and Protestants

Pope Benedict's visit to his German homeland was bound to provoke harsh words from his critics. 

The surprise of the event was how bluntly he took his own Church to task and disappointed Protestants ready to work with him.

Despite his frail physique and soft-spoken style, the 84-year-old pontiff delivered a vigorous defense of his conservative views and brusquely rejected calls for reforms, some of which even had cautious support from some bishops.

At the end of his four-day visit on Sunday, Benedict predicted "small communities of believers" would spread Catholicism in future -- and not, he seemed to say, the rich German Church, which he hinted had more bureaucracy than belief.

Some Church leaders fear they may end up with only small communities if they don't consider reforms. 

Record numbers of the faithful have officially quit the Church in recent years, often in protest against clerical sex abuse scandals.

"The pope was demanding, almost hard -- not in his manner, but in the essence of his words," Berlin's Tagesspiegel daily commented. "Nobody should be fooled by his fragility."

"The pope sees the signs of the times, but interprets them not as a demand to courageously open up the Catholic Church but, on the contrary, to close its ranks."

Breaking down faith barriers is a major issue in the land of the Protestant Reformation. Christians are equally divided between Catholics and Protestants in Germany and intermarriage and ecumenical cooperation make both sides ask why old divisions still exist.

Politicians from President Christian Wulff down publicly told the pope they hoped his visit would help to bring the churches closer. 

One suggestion was to allow Protestant spouses of Catholics to take communion when they attend Catholic mass.


Benedict made a historic gesture for interchurch unity by presiding over a prayer service with a Protestant bishop in the Erfurt monastery where the 16th-century reformer Martin Luther lived as a monk before he split with Rome.

But in his speech to Protestant leaders there, he bluntly told them they were mistaken to expect him to come bearing gifts, like a political leader coming to negotiate a treaty.

His hosts, who would have been happy with vague words about the need to look into some problems, instead heard a short lecture about how Christian faith could not be negotiated.

Benedict's Protestant host in Erfurt, Bishop Nikolaus Schneider, stressed the bright side of the meeting -- the pope's positive words about Luther's deep faith -- and added: "Our heart burns for more, and that was clear today."

German media were less diplomatic. "An ecumenical disaster," wrote the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, blasting Benedict's treatment of Protestant leaders as "spectacularly half-hearted, patronizing and callous."

The lay Catholic group We Are Church said the faithful should stop hoping for help from Rome. 

The churches in Germany should simply "declare the unspeakable 500-year-old split in Christianity to be ended," it said in a statement.

"Let's do what unites us," it declared.

Catholics weren't spared either. 

Another reform proposal was to allow Catholics who divorce and remarry to receive communion at mass, something now barred to them because the Church upholds the sanctity of the first marriage.

Even Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the German Bishops' Conference, said before the visit he hoped to see some change in coming years to prevent the rising number of divorced Catholics feeling excluded from the Church.

Benedict passed over that idea in silence.


By contrast, Benedict was loud and clear in criticizing the German Church as too bureaucratic and focused on organizational changes rather than on the zeal of true faith, which he said was the key to confronting its problems.

He told this to the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), some of whose members have called for moderate reforms such as allowing women deacons to help at mass or ordaining older married men to counter the shortage of priests.

If a stranger from a far country visited Germany, he told them, he would find it materially rich and religiously poor.

"The real crisis of the Church in the Western world is a crisis of belief," Benedict said. "If we don't find a way to really renew the faith, all structural reform will remain ineffective."

The next day, he repeated this message to a wide range of lay Catholics working with and for the Church. 

He said they could only face the challenges ahead if they closed ranks with their bishops and with the Vatican.

"It is not a question here of finding a new strategy to relaunch the Church," he said, but of putting strategy aside and "living the faith fully, here and now."

ZdK president Alois Glueck was not convinced.

"It's not a question of either promoting introspection and prayer or changing Church structures," he said. "We have to link both these things."

Munich's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the most influential daily in the pope's native Bavaria, summed up the trip with the headline: "He came, he spoke and he disappointed.

Unmarked graves blessed by Catholic and CoI Archbishops of Tuam

Almost 190 unmarked graves on Achill Island in County Mayo were blessed by the Catholic and Church of Ireland Archbishop's of Tuam a ceremony on September 24.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tuam Most Reverend Dr Michael Neary and the Church of Ireland Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, Right Reverend Patrick Rooke presided  at the historic joint ceremony at the old Achill Mission's Church yard and graveyard.

Most of those interred in the unmarked graves in Achill died of starvation either immediately before or during the great Irish famine of 1845.  

The principal church in the Achill Mission is Saint Thomas's Church of Ireland, which was founded by the Rev Edward Nagle in 1831 as part of a heavy push from the 1800s by English and Irish evangelicals to convert and save the Irish from what were considered Roman Catholic errors, ignorance, and neglect. 

This mission provided food for the poor and saved many from starvation.  

However Rev Nagle's mission was dubbed by some as ‘souperism', a term coined during the Great Famine for some of the Protestant religions who gave out free soup during the famine in return for recipients converting to Protestantism. 

Later the then Archbishop of Tuam, Archbishop John McHale founded a Franciscan Monastery on Achill Island to counter the Rev Nagle's mission.

Speaking to local media in Mayo about the ceremony, local Church of Ireland Rector Val Roger's said, “There was so much jostling for position among the two religions during the Famine and it caused so much hurt because of the people's suffering.”  

He added, “The poor were looking for food and the Mission seemed to have food so that the relationship between food and faith became a complication.” 

Commenting on those who died he said, “I suppose a fair few of the 190 persons buried in the unmarked graves would have originally been from a Catholic background before converting.  We believe it is now time that Catholic prayers were also said over the graves.”

Public cash for Changing Attitudes Ireland

One of the main groups in the Church of Ireland’s debate about whether it should accept clergy in same-sex partnerships has received thousand of pounds of public funds according to a report in the News Letter.

Documents released to the News Letter under the Freedom of Information Act show that money went from the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) and Belfast City Council to the lobby group Changing Attitude Ireland.

Changing Attitude describes itself as “a Church of Ireland group with ecumenical friends, campaigning for the full acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and intersex people in the church”.

It has played a prominent role in the ongoing debate within Irish anglicanism over same-sex partnerships. 

On Tuesday Archbishop Alan Harper asked for both sides in the debate to “curtail” discussions on the topic until bishops discuss it in coming weeks.
OFMDFM said initially that it held no information about funding Changing Attitude. However, when the News Letter pointed out that the group’s website thanks OFMDFM — and the Irish government — for its funding, a Stormont Castle official replied: “We have reviewed our records and spoken with officers of Changing Attitude Ireland.

“We can confirm that Changing Attitude Ireland received a grant of £1,000 in 2008 from the Short-term LGB fund awarded by the last direct rule administration to the Coalition on Sexual Orientation.”

Lord Bannside, who as Ian Paisley was first minister until June 2008, has always maintained that any funds to gay groups during his time in Stormont Castle had been approved by the previous administration.

Belfast City Council documents released under FoI show that it gave the group up to £2,365 in 2008 for a conference entitled ‘Churches and intolerance’ including £290 for a display panel at the function, £300 in “consultancy fees” for three speakers and £400 for printing of presentations for “up to 90 participants”.

Canon Charles Kenny, secretary of Changing Attitude, said that he did not know anything about the grants from public funds in 2008.

Asked why taxpayers should fund either side in a church debate, the Rev Kenny told the News Letter: “This is a small amount of money which we have got and we are grateful for it. It is not for a specifically religious purpose but to help improve community relations and social attitudes here which are sadly out of kilter with those in the rest of the UK and modern Europe.”

Clergy ignore Primate’s plea on clergy civil unions

The News Letter reported on Saturday last that two Church of Ireland rectors have broken ranks to reject Archbishop Alan Harper’s appeal for an end to discussion of the church’s first same-sex union involving a minister.

The News Letter report continues: Amid growing impatience in sections of the church which has not yet made clear whether it accepts the controversial civil partnership, three weeks after the News Letter revealed the move, there are emerging warnings that if the church does not act evangelicals may find their own bishops.

In separate statements, the Rev Neville Hughes from the rural parishes of Mullabrack and Kilcluney near Markethill and the Rev Alan McCann of the urban parish of Woodburn in Carrickfergus rejected the primate of all Ireland’s call to halt discussion about the Rev Tom Gordon’s civil partnership.

On Tuesday the archbishop read a statement to the church’s influential standing committee appealing for space to allow the bishops to decide a way forward.

He asked the committee to “curtail” discussion of the partnership, and added: “In many parts of the church, the matter is seen as controversial. In such a situation it is important that great care be taken in anything that may be said.”

However, amid claims from both supporters and opponents of gay Anglican clergy that there has been a lack of leadership on the issue, there is growing evidence that at least some in the church are not prepared to wait for the bishops — who are divided on the issue — to agree a way forward.

The Rev McCann warned that some evangelical members of the Church of Ireland may follow their US counterparts who refused to accept their own bishops’ authority and appointed other bishops, some of them from outside the country, if the church accepts the Rev Gordon’s same-sex union.

The rector of Holy Trinity Church, who stressed that he was speaking in a purely personal capacity, told the News Letter: “Where do we go if they bring a fudge that we cannot support before general synod? Do we look outside of Ireland for episcopal oversight?

“Should we now be looking at the creation of an Anglican Mission in Ireland? The answer to these questions is probably that we may have no choice and have to look elsewhere for bishops to conduct confirmations, etc. Personally I cannot accept the oversight of a bishop who is not orthodox on this issue. My fear is that they will do what they have done in the past — kick it into touch by outlining their various viewpoints and we will be left not knowing who on the bench of bishops believes what. That is not acceptable this time.”

He also called for Dean Gordon to have his ministerial licence removed, arguing that he had “conducted himself in a manner unbecoming a clerk in holy orders” and that Bishop Michael Burrows, who approved of the partnership but has declined to comment publicly on it, should “at the very least be censured for his lack of episcopal oversight and discipline in this matter”.

Dean Gordon, however, said this week: “It’s not an issue in my parish, and isn’t mentioned here. All that I am saying is that I am enjoying my work.”

But the Rev Hughes, who began his clerical career in St Mark’s in Portadown, where Dean Gordon sang in the choir before moving south some 30 years ago, told the Portadown Times: “Burying our heads in the sand and hoping that by remaining silent, this will go away is not an option. Parishioners want to know the mind of their church now, especially in the light of the prime minister’s announcement that gay marriage is to be made legal in 2015.”

He added: “I can fully appreciate that Archbishop Alan Harper wants the bishops to discuss the issue, but we want to know the minds of our leaders now.”

His comments follow a hard-hitting statement he read from the pulpit of both his churches on Sunday in which he said that he could “fully understand members of our parishes asking ‘What is happening to our Church?’ This (the civil partnership) is not what we believe, not what our church teaches us”.

The Rev Alan McCann, who criticised Dean Gordon’s partnership after it was revealed, said that the “orthodox majority” in the denomination had not changed and therefore the onus was on those who accepted same-sex unions “to persuade Christendom that it has been wrong for 2,000 years on this issue”.

Speaking of the archbishop’s appeal to “curtail discussion” on the issue until the bishops meet, he asked: “Where does this actually sit in the listening process? It is obvious that Dean Gordon and Bishop Burrows did not listen to the Church of Ireland.”

He added: “Why are the bishops discussing this in secret? They appeal for openness in every other area of life. Why are they going into the shadows to discuss this?”

The Rev McCann said that the “orthodox biblical view on human sexuality is demonised, marginalised and despised, even by some in leadership within the church”.

BBC accused of political correctness over stance on AD and BC

The BBC has come under strong criticism after reports appeared in the media stating that it is encouraging the use of the secular date references Common Era and Before Common Era, over Anno Domini and Before Christ.

Anger has grown following a recent article by Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens, who accused the Corporation of bowing to political correctness and attempting to “write Christianity out of our culture” after University Challenge presenter Jeremy Paxman used CE rather than AD in reference to a date.

The BBC clarified in a statement on Saturday that it does not insist on the use of the CE and BCE terms.

“The BBC has not issued guidance on the dates system. Both AD and BC, and CE and BCE are widely accepted dates systems and the decision on which term to use lies with individual production and editorial teams,” it said.

James Naughtie, the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, told The Telegraph he was not aware of any change.

“Nobody has suggested this to me, and if they do, they will get a pithy answer, which may be too pithy to share with readers of the Telegraph,” he said.

BBC presenter Andrew Marr also said he would continue to use AD and BC because “that’s what I understand”.

“I don’t know what the Common Era is. Why is it the Common Era in 20AD and it wasn’t the Common Era in 20BC?” he said during his Sunday morning show on BBC1.

The BBC’s Religious and Ethics Department explains on its website that it uses BCE and CE in order to be “religiously neutral”.

It states on its FAQs page: “In line with modern practice uses BCE/CE (Before Common Era/Common Era) as a religiously neutral alternative to BC/AD. As the BBC is committed to impartiality it is appropriate that we use terms that do not offend or alienate non-Christians.”

The use of CE and BCE has been criticised by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, who said it was “unnecessary”.

Writing in The Telegraph, London Mayor Boris Johnson described moves to adopt CE and BCE as “absolute drivel” and “deeply anti-democratic”.

“Objecting to the use of Christ’s birth to mark each year is puerile political correctness,” he said.
“I urge all those who are fed up with the advance of pointless political correctness to fight back.”

Christian café owner warned by police over Bible verse display

The owner of a Christian café has been told by police to stop displaying “offensive” Bible verses.

Police visited Jamie Murray, owner of the Salt & Light Coffee House in Blackpool last Monday following a complaint about “insulting” and “homophobic” material, according to The Christian Institute, which is advising Mr Murray.

The café has a TV mounted on the wall that displays verses of the Bible from a set of DVDs called the Watchword Bible.

The DVDs provide audio and text of the entire New Testament but the volume is turned down in the café.

Police told Mr Murray they had received a complaint about “insulting” and “homophobic” material being displayed in the café, although they did not tell him the specific texts relating to the complaint.

According to The Christian Institute, Mr Murray was told to stop displaying the Bible verses because it breached Section 5 of the Public Order Act, which forbids the display of offensive or insulting words.

He said: “I couldn’t believe the police were saying I can’t display the Bible. The officers were not very polite, in fact they were quite aggressive. It felt like an interrogation."

“I said ‘surely it isn’t a crime to show the Bible?’ But they said they had checked with their sergeant and insulting words are a breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act. I was shocked. I’m not here to insult or offend anyone, but the Bible is the Bible. We’re always being told that we’re a tolerant and diverse nation. Yet the very thing that gave us those values – Christianity – is being sidelined."

“I’m not looking to make a name for myself, I’d rather be quietly getting on with running my café. But there comes a time when you have to say enough is enough.”

The Christian Institute is calling for the word “insulting” to be removed from Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

Spokesman Mike Judge criticised Lancashire Constabulary for its handling of the complaint. 

He believes their warning contravenes free speech and religious liberty.

“We’ve all seen the police stand by while extremist Muslims hold placards calling for infidels to be beheaded, but woe betides a Christian café displaying Bible texts," he said.

“Yes, the Bible speaks about morality, of course it does. But the Bible isn’t hate speech. Disagreement isn’t hatred. If a café customer dislikes parts of the Bible, the right response is to take their custom elsewhere – not dial 999.”

Mr Murray stopped displaying the verses while he sought legal advice but has since started running the DVDs again after receiving assurances that displaying Bible verses in public is not a crime.

Sam Webster, solicitor-advocate with The Christian Institute, said there may be grounds for a legal action against the police for infringing Mr Murray’s rights to free speech and religious liberty. 

The Christian Institute is advising him of his legal options.

Trip analysis: In pope's Germany, a test case for 'new evangelization'

Pope Benedict XVI's four-day visit to Germany highlighted two closely connected challenges for the church: how to re-evangelize traditionally Christian countries in the West, and how to regain a credible voice in modern society.

In a sense, the pope's German homeland was a test case for the "new evangelization" project that has taken center stage in his pontificate.

As the pope pointed out repeatedly during the Sept. 22-25 visit, modern Germany is a highly secularized country where atheism or religious indifference is widespread, where traditional moral values are eroding and where the church's message seems to have less and less impact.

And yet Germany has a native son as pope -- still a point of pride for many Germans -- and a tradition of intellectual debate. At the very least, the pope hoped for a fair hearing, and at some levels, he got one.

His address to the German parliament, in which he argued that social justice must be grounded in morality, prompted reflection and discussion in German media. The normally critical weekly Der Spiegel called the speech thought-provoking and "courageous."

It was a classic Pope Benedict speech, a philosophical exposition that ranged from the biblical account of King Solomon to the positivist world view of modernity. He showed that he can connect with the intelligentsia, and at this rarified level he gets respect.

The pope also clearly connected with the Catholic faithful who turned out by the tens of thousands for his Masses and prayer services. Praying before a statue of Mary at a shrine in Etzelsbach or kneeling in eucharistic adoration at the Freiburg cathedral, the pope heard behind him the sound of silence -- music to his ears, because it was a sign of intense participation.

His appeal to return to the Christian roots of Germany met with enthusiastic approval from what one woman called his "base" -- the Catholic families who have tried to maintain their religious traditions in the face of decades of communism and more recent years of social fragmentation.

Other audiences appeared less in sync with the pope's message and his single-minded focus on the "return to God" theme.

To Germans who have left the church or those who have pushed for a "dialogue" within the church on issues like priestly celibacy and the role of women and lay people, the pope had some pointed words.

First, he said the root problem was a misunderstanding of the nature of the church: It's not just a social organization that people opt in or out of, but a community of believers that belongs to Jesus Christ. He blamed internal dissatisfaction on Catholics' superficial notions of a "dream church" that has failed to materialize.

In a meeting in Freiburg with officials of Germany's central lay Catholic committee, the pope bluntly described the German church as "superbly organized" but lacking in spirit. Rather than relying on big church structures and programs, he said, "new evangelization" will depend more on small Catholic communities and individuals able to share their faith experiences with co-workers, family and friends.

The pope's visit was also designed to reach a wider audience, the millions of Germans who have drifted away from the church or religion. At the trip's first event at Berlin's presidential palace, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich told Catholic News Service that he was convinced these Germans would be listening to the pope -- even the skeptics, he said.

The skeptics were not at the papal venues, however. They followed the visit through the media, if at all. And their reactions were mixed.

"His speech to parliament showed he is a man with high intellect. But for most people, it is too high. The talk about needing to rediscover God -- this I didn't understand. It sounds like what he's saying belongs to the past," said Magda Hilmers, a Protestant from Freiburg.

Inga, a 46-year-old woman who comes from a Catholic family but said she is "not religious," thought the pope should have spoken more about social issues, including war and economic imbalances. She said she was put off by the cost and showiness of the papal visit.

For Andres Capriles, a young Bolivian immigrant to Germany, the pope's words were important but did not address what's on many Catholics' minds.

"People are not just disillusioned about God and religion, they are disillusioned about the church and the direction the church is moving, which seems to be away from the Second Vatican Council," he said.

Petra Kollmar, a 57-year-old Catholic from Freiburg, said the problem with the pope's visit was "what he did not talk about -- the 'no' to women priests, the church's attitude toward homosexuals and divorced people in the church, the abuse of children that has occurred."

Many of those interviewed said these are issues that have left the church with less influence and credibility among Germans.

Such attitudes are not uncommon throughout Europe, and they complicate the "new evangelization" plan, making it much harder for the pope to reach his target audience of the indifferent and disaffected.

But the pope's approach in Germany was not to make concessions. In Freiburg, he said that rather than launch a "new strategy," the church needs to "set aside its worldliness" and stop adapting itself to the standards of the secular society.

Faith lived fully is always counter-cultural, he said, but history has shown it's the only way for the church to regain credibility for its mission.

As evident in Germany, the pope sees "new evangelization" as a long and uphill process that starts with a clearer understanding of the church's own nature and purpose, and not an attempt to find middle ground with critics.

Panama archbishop speaks out against death penalty

Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa of Panama City recently denounced a proposal to legalize the death penalty in the country.

“We cannot counteract violence with violence.  There are other means,” the archbishop said according to the AFP news agency.

Representative Marco Gonzalez of the ruling party in Panama previously announced a proposal to legalize the death penalty in the country. He claimed it would end widespread violence in the region.

Gonzalez said he plans to move forward with his proposal in the coming weeks and is calling for lawmakers to debate the measure.

His announcement came after the discovery of five Panamanians of Chinese origin who were found buried together in a mass grave. Police suspect they were murdered by a man from the Dominican Republic.

Archbishop Ulloa instead called for tougher and stricter prison sentences and he called on the government to “clarify its security policy.”

Wealth of churches vs the wealth of people

The Greek Orthodox Church is currently coming under pressure to take less and give more as the country faces a dire financial crisis that could have a global impact. 

The Church reportedly owns property worth up to 700 billion euros.

That is more than double the country's national debt, a report in France 24 claimed out on Monday - yet it is the Greek state that pays the salaries and pensions of all Orthodox clerics in the country.

Thousands of people have joined a Greek Facebook group entitled "Tax the Church".

However the Church has vehemently denied claims it is one of Greece's biggest tax dodgers.

Of course, much has been written about the wealth of the Roman Catholic Church over the centuries, with the Pope often labelled the richest man on earth.

One of the motives Henry VIII had for breaking with the Church in the 1530s was to gain control of the Church's wealth in England.

Much of the Vatican's wealth is tied up in art and property.

The Catholic Church considers the "excessive accumulation of wealth by a few" to be a mortal sin, according to statements publicised by head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, when the Church published a modernised list of the seven deadly sins in the Vatican newspaper in 2008.

Sr. Mary Whited told Vatican, 'We are faithful'

Sr. Mary Whited was an introvert, a woman who considered and weighed her thoughts before speaking. 

But those who knew Whited, who died of cancer at age 70 on Aug. 31, did not mistake her quiet and gentle demeanor for weakness.

“I learned early on that it was not how much she spoke, but the quality of what she had to say,” St. Joseph Sr. Mary Dacey said at Whited’s funeral Mass Sept. 3 about the woman who followed her in the presidency of Leadership Conference of Women Religious. “And I learned to wait and to listen.”

Whited, a native of St. Louis, was a sister of the Most Precious Blood of O’Fallon, Mo., for 49 years. She was a teacher and principal, worked in formation programs for women beginning religious life, and served as leader in her community. She was her congregation’s superior general from 2004 to 2010 when her community’s motherhouse was transformed into a retirement village.

Whited served in the presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious from 2006 to 2009, and was among a handful of women religious leaders called to the Vatican to face questions about the investigation of women religious in the U.S. and about the leadership conference itself.

Sr. Fran Raia, current president of the Most Precious Blood Sisters, recalled that Whited said she never expected to sit across a table from cardinals at the Vatican, but that the women were prepared, and not fearful or defensive.

“We weren’t there to defend,” Whited later recalled. “We were there to speak our truth. And at the end of that conversation, Cardinal [Franc] Rodé [then prefect of the Congregation for Religious] said, ‘I’m going to meet with the pope next week. What would you want me to tell him?’ And I said, ‘Tell him we are faithful.’ And he said, ‘Is that all?’ And I said, ‘That is enough.’ ”

Upon Whited’s death, an internal communication to leadership conference members said, “Mary’s wisdom and quiet, gentle presence among us is a loss. Her ability to laugh at some of the foolishness that surrounded us at times is a gift that will linger in our memories of her. ... Mary is now with the God to whom she gave her life. We offer prayers of praise and thanksgiving that the LCWR was blessed to share in that life.”

Conference spokeswoman Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Annmarie Sanders said Whited “cared passionately about the role of religious life and where it was being led as it moves into the future.”

Raia recalled her friend and former classmate as a woman of integrity, insight and vision who built relationships and shared herself in writings to inspire, challenge and encourage others.

“She was a quiet, gentle wisdom figure in our community who searched for the truth,” Raia said. “She was the person who stretched us to look at the big picture” of national and international concerns.

Whited said in May that her cancer diagnosis had given her life new purpose, “not doing more,” but rather reconnecting with people who had been significant in her life and living every day with quality. 

“I want to be remembered,” she said, “for the relationships that have been established and how God has been present in those relationships.”

To that end, she visited with sisters, family and friends, and managed to attend a national meeting of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in California a few weeks before she died.

Most Precious Blood Sr. Carol Orf and the sisters in her community house in St. Louis invited Whited to lunch after they learned the news of her cancer diagnosis.

Orf recalled saying, “Mary, you have shown me how to live. Now you have shown me how to die.” 

She asked if Whited could ever forget that she had cancer.

Whited replied that the end of her days had brought new meaning to everything. 

“There’s suffering and dying, but you realize all these gifts around you,” Orf recalled.

Breakaway archbishop urged to quit

The head of the traditional Anglican communion, John Hepworth, has been asked to resign by colleagues in the United States.

It follows controversy over the archbishop's claim he was sexually abused by Catholic priests in his youth, decades ago.

Archbishop Hepworth is world primate of a breakaway group from the Anglican church which has members in several countries including the United States.

He is hoping his church will be allowed to join with the Catholic Church, of which he was once a member.

Archbishop Hepworth says this reconciliation is one reason he went public with his story of having been raped by Catholic priests.

"That was what was driving me. My twin task as a church leader dealing with the Pope, and my own personal story," he said.

But an affiliate church in the US opposes the move for unity and has now called on Archbishop Hepworth to resign as primate.

A spokesman for the Anglican Church in the US says up to 90 per cent of members are against joining Rome and there has been a lack of consultation.

In a letter to John Hepworth, the American clergy writes: "It is increasingly obvious to us … that recent developments have made it impossible for you to continue to function effectively as primate of the traditional Anglican communion".

The letter does not mention the sex claims or the naming of a priest by Independent Senator Nick Xenophon in Federal Parliament.

But it says the church needs "focused leadership at this critical time".

"For the good of the church and your family, as well as for your own emotional, physical, and spiritual health, we prayerfully urge you to consider submitting your resignation forthwith," it says.

Archbishop Hepworth says he is yet to receive any letter.

He says some in the church in the US do not want religious unity, but they are in the minority.

"The primate of the traditional Anglican communion is elected by his bishops and at this stage I retain the confidence of the bishops," he said.

"If a group of clergy in the US have got disgruntled that worries me, but it's not actually a global movement."