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Newsline 1 March 2013

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Is the Catholic Church at last getting the come-uppance it has so long deserved?

Is the Catholic Church at last getting the come-uppance it has so long deserved?

Opinion | Mon, 25 Feb 2013

By Terry Sanderson

Freedom of religion is a vital freedom and one that must be protected.

As a secularist I know I should not be concerned about the inner workings of churches and, so long as they remain within the law, they should be able to organise themselves as they wish. They should be able to create doctrines by which their followers are obligated to live and, at least in the West, nobody is obliged to follow a religion they find uncongenial.

But all the same, it is taking much discipline to resist the feelings of schadenfreude at the accumulating catastrophes that are assailing the Catholic Church. And trying not to wallow in the hope that more will follow.

If ever an institution has been in need of humbling, it is this one.

If it were prepared to keep its unreasonable, inhumane teachings to its own members, we would not protest. But increasingly it tries to impose those teachings on the world outside by the ruthless pursuit of secular political power. Not content to forbid abortion and contraception to its own faithful, it tries to deny them to us all.

It instructs its bishops to agitate in the political arena, it threatens Catholic politicians who do not vote in the way they "should" and it operates covertly behind the scenes using its diplomatic power to gain access to the decision makers.

And yet despite its manipulation of the democratic processes, it does not operate democratically itself. It answers no questions, covers its secrets and hides its corruption behind impenetrable walls.

Now we have the case of Cardinal Keith O'Brien, a classic example of church hypocrisy coming back to give him a well-earned bite on the bottom.

Like many holy men before him (such as the US televangelists Jim Bakker and Ted Haggard) it appears that his virulent attacks on homosexuality may eventually be shown to be little more than a cover for his own tendencies in that direction.

As is usual with the Catholic Church, everything possible is being done to stop this scandal unravelling any further. O'Brien has been rapidly dispensed with in the hope that no further details will emerge. Faint hope of that.

And still the questions swirl around the head of Ratzinger. Why precisely has he decided to resign? Old age and infirmity? Perhaps, but the agitation of the Vatican's officials who are berating the media for daring to speculate suggests that there is more to come.

But still the Church thinks it can simply dismiss its scandals in the hope — as in so many times in the past — they will soon be forgotten. That is certainly the way that Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor is behaving. He had the gall to sit in front of TV camera yesterday and say that the church must be "transparent" about child abuse.

This from the man who, when he was Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, covered up the activities of one of the worst clerical child abusers this country has seen. It is one of the mysteries of the age as to why the BBC investigation into his wrong-doings was dropped and why the secular authorities did not take action.

It seems there is now developing a dual perception of the Catholic Church.

On the one had there is the corrupt, scandal-ridden hierarchy and on the other the ordinary Catholics in the pew who are struggling to hold on to their loyalty to the church.

Whatever good individual Catholics do in the world (and it is substantial good), it is undermined by the rottenness in Rome.

Vicar calls for disestablishment

Vicar calls for disestablishment

Opinion | Tue, 26 Feb 2013

A Church of England vicar is advocating disestablishment. In a letter in the latest issue of the Church of England Newspaper, the Rev Paul Carr of Billericay writes:

Having reflected on the momentous decision of Parliament to pass the Bill to redefine marriage, with some despondency I might add, I have come to the conclusion that there is a much deeper, much more fundamental issue at stake: and that is the rejection, by Parliament, of a Christian lifestyle – which is symptomatic of the post-Christian society in which we live, where people give little credence to the teaching of the Bible and can't be expected to follow its teaching. If people choose to live a life that is outside of God's best for them, then we must allow them to make that choice and, following the example of the early Church, show them an alternative and vibrant way to live.

One thing that strikes me very strongly, in the midst of the intense debate and discussion, is that we can no longer, as the state Church, impose Christian morals and ethics on a Parliament who vote so favourably for something which we, as an institution, opposed.

Furthermore, I want to suggest that serious consideration should be given, once again, to the disestablishment of the Church of England so that we can be released to focus our energies on spreading the Gospel of the Good News of Jesus without the hindrances of political activism which, undoubtedly, weakens our position.

I have to admit that, for many years, I opposed disestablishment on the grounds that 'being' Anglican provided many opportunities for mission through the occasional offices and the acceptability which we enjoyed in the eyes of many in our communities. However, and unfortunately, I'm not convinced that is true today.

Like many others, I am acutely aware that the Church of England is not currently looked upon favourably by many members of our society.

The dilemma, frustration, and reality, is that our mission fields are being taken away from us because we are increasingly seen to be inconsistent and hypocritical and are known for being anti-women and anti-gay, and not known to be pro-Jesus and believe in a God of love and compassion and forgiveness and healing and wholeness, who can transform our lives through faith and trust in him in Jesus.

Hospitals in dire cash crisis, but the chaplains sail merrily on

Hospitals in dire cash crisis, but the chaplains sail merrily on

Opinion | Tue, 26 Feb 2013

By Terry Sanderson

Not a week goes by now without more depressing headlines about the gradual demolition of the NHS. Recent ones include:

But however many nurses are put on the scrap heap, however many doctors are given their marching orders, there always seems to be money for chaplains.

For example, take a look at this job advert from the latest Church Times:

Bradford teaching Hospital – Chaplain, Christian, £25,528–£34,189 for 37.5 hours a week. The Trust says it "recognises that chaplaincy is an essential component of patient care and is committed to maintaining its provision of chaplaincy services".

The Southwest Yorkshire Foundation NHS Trust is also looking for a chaplain on the same salary scale. As is the Weston-Super Mare hospital.

Meanwhile, people are dying because of lack of medical resources at hospitals

NSS welcomes Professor Lawrence Krauss as an honorary associate

NSS welcomes Professor Lawrence Krauss as an honorary associate

News | Thu, 28 Feb 2013

The National Secular Society expressed its delight that Professor Lawrence Krauss has agreed to become an honorary associate.

French challenge to exception of Alsace Moselle from separation law fails

French challenge to exception of Alsace Moselle from separation law fails

Opinion | Thu, 28 Feb 2013

By Catherine Le Fur

A challenge to the exception of Alsace-Moselle from the 1905 French law that separates church and state has failed.

A previously unknown secularist group appealed to the Constitutional Council (a body dedicated to validating the constitutionality of laws), claiming that the current status in Alsace-Moselle contradicts the secular nature of the Republic, as stated in Article I of the 1958 constitution of the 5th Republic.

The Constitutional Council delivered its verdict on February 21st, upholding the current status quo.

In its reasoning it said Article I of the constitution contains wording that permits exceptional provisions (as in Alsace-Moselle). Secondly, the State upholds secularism by recognising the four religions already recognised in the concordat of 1801 (Catholic, Lutheran. Reformed Protestant and Jewish).

Lastly, the Council said, both the writer of the constitution of the 4th Republic (1946) and that of the 5th (1958) didn't deem it necessary to end the Concordat regime in those departments.

The Concordat signed in France in 1801 between the Emperor Napoléon and the Pope gave the Emperor the right to appoint bishops. This Concordat was repealed in 1905 by the enactment of the Separation Law but it is still in effect in Alsace-Moselle because at that time it was part of Germany. In Alsace-Moselle the leaders of four religions already recognised in 1801 are appointed by the state.

The French Federation of Freethought (Libre Pensee) said it was unsurprised by the decision.

How could a secular conception suddenly appear from an anti-democratic Constitution, which allowed, on an unprecedented scale, the adoption of all the anti-secular laws, since the Debré law on December 31st 1959? This was the mother of all the anti-secular laws in France– it allowed for state-subsidy and state-running of religious schools, overwhelmingly Catholic.

But one would have to be a little naïve to think that the Concordat problem, and more generally the clerical status in Alsace-Moselle, could be settled by a legal appeal.

If it seems strange that nobody has tried an appeal before — and particularly the French Federation of Freethought — it's because changing it is no longer a constitutional issue, but a political one.

Repeatedly, the French Federation of Freethought opposed those who wanted to introduce a "magical" priority question of constitutionality because for us, as for the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the 1905 Separation Law is part of the body of Constitutional law. The juridical and political short cuts lead to an impasse.

Now the 46th proposition of François Hollande is definitively dead. (He wanted to incorporate the main principles of the 1905 law into the constitution, with the addition of the second clause in the first article of the constitution: "The Republic ensures freedom of conscience, guarantees the free practise of religions and respect the separation of Churches and State, in accordance with the first title of the 1905 law, subject to the specific rules set out in Alsace-Moselle."

The decision of the Constitutional Council absolutely conforms to the provisions in force in the institutions of the European Community. There are 14 Concordats in Europe and the Lisbon Treaty protects the antidemocratic advantages of the Churches inside the European Union.

In France, with the Third Act of Decentralization, which will be debated later this year, and which proposes to allow local authorities much more leeway to "experiment", there is a serious risk that the influence of the Concordat will begin to spread.

The French Federation of Freethought has chosen another approach. It is calling all the authentic secularists to join the demonstration on May 4th 2013 in the place Kleber in Strasbourg, for the repeal of the Concordat.

Crackdown on secular intellectuals in Turkey continues

Crackdown on secular intellectuals in Turkey continues

News | Thu, 28 Feb 2013

A senior astrophysics professor in Turkey appears to be the latest target of what academics and scientists in that country say is an ongoing campaign by its conservative government to intimidate secular intellectuals.

Trial of Bradlaugh and Besant to be examined in new play

Trial of Bradlaugh and Besant to be examined in new play

News | Fri, 22 Feb 2013

A new play by Derek Lennard, The Fruits of Philosophy (Such a scandal!) which examines secularism and free thought in Victorian Britain will be presented at Conway Hall on Friday 15 March at 7.30pm.

Win £250 – just write an uplifting Secular Thought for the Day

Win £250 – just write an uplifting Secular Thought for the Day

News | Thu, 21 Feb 2013

The ongoing irritation at the BBC's exclusion of secular voices from The Thought for the Day slot has spurred one the NSS's previous presidents, David Tribe, to sponsor a prize of £250 for the best secular Thought for the Day.

To win the prize, we are looking for a short essay in a similar format to the BBC's religious slot.

Thought for the Day is supposed to be an 'uplifting' reflection on a topical issue from a religious point of view.

To be in with a chance, your secular Thought should be between 450 - 650 words and be positive in approach and ideally related to a topical matter. We are not looking for a humanist Thought or an atheist Thought, but specifically for a secular Thought. We suggest you look at the NSS's Secular Charter for some ideas.

So, let's have some great (secular) Thoughts for the Day and good luck!

Send your Secular Thought for the Day to or by post to NSS, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL. Entries that require a great deal of correction or editing are unlikely to win the prize, so please let us have copy that is clean and finalised to your satisfaction. Please submit entries by Monday 18 March.

NSS Speaks Out

Terry Sanderson commented on the Cardinal Keith O'Brien scandal on Voice of Russia Radio (scroll to bottom of page) and Keith Porteous Wood talked about the Vatican's travails on Russian Television.

Campaigns manager Stephen Evans was on BBC WM talking about single-faith schools.

Scottish spokesperson Alistair McBay had this letter and another one in the Scotsman.

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