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Newsline 10 July 2015

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Religious chaplaincy costs NHS £23.5 million a year

Religious chaplaincy costs NHS £23.5 million a year

News | Wed, 08 Jul 2015

Figures published in the Independent have revealed that NHS Trusts spent over £23 million on religious chaplaincy in the last financial year – the equivalent cost of employing 1,000 new nurses.

Catholic hierarchy stand by while nuns’ orders seek to obstruct justice for their abuse victims

Catholic hierarchy stand by while nuns’ orders seek to obstruct justice for their abuse victims

Opinion | Mon, 06 Jul 2015

Following the failed attempt to obstruct the historic child abuse inquiry in Scotland, Keith Porteous Wood exposes the continuing reluctance of the Catholic Church to face up to and pay for its crimes.

Two orders of nuns have sought and failed to frustrate the appointment of the chair of the Scottish child abuse inquiry. Maybe they hoped no one would notice their shocking record of heinous abuse and ponder on their motives. As could be expected from the Scottish Catholic hierarchy's brazen and disgraceful record on denial and covering up abuse, it conspicuously did not distance itself from the appointment challenge.

A clue emerged when the Scottish Government appointed Susan O'Brien QC to lead its public inquiry into historical child abuse, which will have powers to force witnesses to give evidence and has committed itself to ensuring that abusers "face the full force of the law".

For some reason, two orders of nuns, the Congregation of the Poor Sisters of Nazareth and the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent De Paul, challenged Ms O'Brien's appointment, alleging fears of "apparent bias" on the flimsiest of grounds. The QC had acted for her clients only at a very late stage in a case brought against the Poor Sisters of Nazareth to argue a point of law. For these reasons, a judge dismissed the nuns' challenge and Ms O'Brien will continue to lead the inquiry.

Nuns certainly have their uses, whether or not they are doing the bidding of the Church hierarchy. They managed to convince the Irish Government to indemnify them from what would have been a €1.2bn compensation debt over child abuse for a mere 10% of that sum, costing Irish taxpayers over €1bn that they should never have had to pay.

As the Irish Independent put it: "Two nuns held a pair of deuces while the most experienced minister in the Government folded a full-house in a winner-takes-all game of poker with the Catholic Church." And it is likely that little of even the paltry proportion promised was actually paid despite what was later revealed as the massive wealth of the religious orders.

The expertise of the nuns of these Orders in Scotland is also evident on the very subject of the Inquiry.

Sisters of Nazareth ran homes in Tyne, Sunderland, Plymouth, and Manchester in England, Swansea in Wales, and in Scotland - Aberdeen, Glasgow, Midlothian and Kilmarnock. One of the 500 complainants against both orders said that Sisters of Nazareth "nuns regularly beat him and made him witness the violent degradation of other children" and that he is still being haunted by images of nuns "banging [children's] heads against the walls of the dormitories" in one of their orphanages in Aberdeen in the 1950s. Helen Cusitor said a named nun "would force-feed you your own vomit. That started from the moment I went in there."

Yet fast forward 11 years and we find the Sisters of Nazareth, so keen for that QC not to lead the Scottish Inquiry, had confirmed to its Northern Ireland counterpart that the children were made to eat their own vomit, were physically and sexually abused, and were known only by numbers rather than their names. The Order also confessed to withholding letters from children's families.

"[The Order] recognise the hurt that's been caused to some children in their care. They apologise unreservedly for any abuse suffered by children in their care. They go forward hoping that lessons will be learned, not just by them in the provision of care but also by carers generally in society and in wider society at large."

And the Scottish criminal justice system appears to support the abusers and fail the victims. A Nazareth nun "Sister Kevin" who had sexually and physically abused a victim escaped prosecution despite 30 witnesses being prepared to give evidence against her, "because of her age [80], her infirmity, and the length of time that has passed".

As for the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent De Paul, whose name changed from the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent De Paul – readers can conjecture why – they are best known for the unmarked graves of up to 158 children who died while living at Smyllum Park in Lanark. These graves lie in mounds at St Mary's churchyard in the town.

One victim told of the "sadistic, sick, mental torture" in Lanark. Another of "a face full of hate, an angelic, holy face turning into a face of horror, a woman crunching her teeth in hate, going berserk, screaming while you are pleading for mercy, the wee leather boots just booting into you. Bruises go away, but the horror stays in your mind."

The Catholic Church's spokesman, the 'Sexfinder General', Monsignor Tom Connelly, had his secretary explain to the Big Issue in Scotland: "It's nothing to do with us any longer". And, ten years on, no compensation has been made to victims.

The Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul are to pay €10million, 3% of their assets, and said they "unreservedly apologise to anyone who was abused and hurt while in our care as children".

The orders remain in business, looking after the elderly – hopefully with better care than they showed their young charges decades ago."

How sincere these apologies were can be judged by these "charities", who with wide publicity sought to compound their abuse of victims by obstructing the Inquiry, to no signs of objection from the Scottish hierarchy or the Vatican. Fortunately they failed.

There are many Catholics in Scotland including clerics and members of orders there that are doing selfless work. No doubt the level of child rape and abuse by Roman Catholic clerics and those in religious orders has substantially diminished from the horrific level of fifty years ago, even in Britain, never mind Ireland, where the level of reported abuse per capita was the highest in the world, as far as we know.

With the huge publicity over clerical child abuse and some improvements in child protection, the Church must realise that it is much more likely now than in the past to have to pay financially for such abuse and risk prosecution of both abusers and those who facilitated them in the criminal courts. Quite apart from being the ethical thing to do, putting their house in order is also very much in their financial self-interest.

But the Scottish Catholic Church's attitude to these tens if not hundreds or thousands of heinous crimes of the past (at least) which ruined the lives of its victims, many still alive, could hardly be worse even to this day.

And this deeply ingrained and long-standing cruelty in the Catholic Church in Scotland is not confined to Orders, it appears to go to the top of the episcopal structure and infect it.

Take Thomas Winning who became a bishop in 1971, and who soon after becoming a cardinal in 1994 angered Scots by asserting that it was up to the victim, not the clergy, to inform the authorities of criminal allegations.

Take also for example his successor, Mario Conti, a bishop since 1977, formerly Scotland's most senior Catholic, and now Archbishop Emeritus, who went as far as to accuse the former Nazareth House inmates of being seekers not of justice but of "pots of gold". He even denied "either in the context of confessional or outside the confessional, [receiving] any complaint of any kind of abuse relating to the care of children in Nazareth House". Carefully chosen words; he notably didn't say he wasn't aware of it.

Given that the episcopacy does not have control over religious orders, the presumption must be that the nuns did not act on "orders" from the episcopal hierarchy, although as we see above, the hierarchy is happy to go out on a limb to support an Order.

Following the conviction of a Nazareth nun for cruelty, Conti, "rejected a claim that he sought to protect the interests of nuns and priests above those of children" and resisted calls, including one from (now Sir) Malcolm Bruce when he was a Scottish LibDem MP, to apologise for the Church's role.

Take further Keith O'Brien, who became a bishop in 1985 and was, as a Cardinal, Britain's most senior Catholic. The Pope removed him from the archepiscopy in 2013 and forced him to leave Scotland for, among other things, forcing those under his control to submit to his homosexual advances. It is not clear whether this was also because of something much more serious; he "blocked an independent inquiry into cases of clerical sexual abuse covering 60 years".

Despite all this the Pope allowed him to remain a Cardinal, setting very publicly on behalf of the Vatican a very high bar for permitted, probably criminal, misdeeds being no impediment for remaining a cardinal. Not that Francis would be the first to do this. Cardinal Law, who fled to the safety of the Vatican from Boston, was one of many.

Abuse victim James McDermott wrote to O'Brien's successor as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Leo Cushley, and his assistant replied: "While the archbishop sympathises with your situation, he regrets that he is unable to assist you." The victim concluded: "New face, same old song". A former adviser to the Church, Alan Draper, who has been outspoken and has now been sacked by them, and is not the only investigator to leave in similar circumstances, described the Church's current position as "window dressing yet again. They have learned nothing." Victims and whistle-blowers alike are fought mercilessly to this day at every turn by the hierarchy.

Even since Francis was appointed as Pope, lawyers tell me that the Church throughout Britain continues to fight all criminal cases and claims for compensation tooth and nail.

When is a faith school not a faith school?

When is a faith school not a faith school?

Opinion | Wed, 08 Jul 2015

Academisation and the 'grey area' between faith and non-religious schools may allow even more schools to assume a religious character by stealth. To avoid this, we need a much clearer definition of 'faith school', argues Alastair Lichten.

The 1944 Education Act, known as the Butler Act, brought faith schools into the new state system. In England and Wales this created three categories of schools, voluntary aided (VA) and voluntary controlled (VC) (both primarily faith schools), and community schools.

Of course this distinction was always somewhat blurred. Community schools were (and still are) required to hold Christian collective worship and to give Christianity special input and prominence in religious education.

Meanwhile, there was, and still is, great diversity within VA and VC schools in terms of how robustly they promote their religious ethos and how they balance that with a genuine wish to serve the whole community.

For example, the NSS hears from governors at faith schools who want to make their admissions less discriminatory and from staff worried that their SIAMS assessment will force them to make their teaching more overtly religious. Meanwhile the way in which Christianity is promoted in some community schools would cause national headlines if it were another religion.

Successive government's expansion of free schools and academies have had the effect of further blurring the line. Particularly academies/free schools with a 'faith ethos' but not a formal religious character. There's also now the uncomfortable situation of schools without even a 'faith ethos' but who find themselves in an academy chain that does. Freed from local authority oversight, individual headteachers can find themselves with new opportunities to insert their personal religious beliefs into school life.

If anyone can sponsor an academy or free school and operate it according to their ethos, free from local authority control, what does it mean to be a faith school? What for that matter does it mean to be a community school?

Khalsa Science Academy in Leeds is one example of the blurring of the lines. It is a 'Sikh ethos free school' but vociferously rejects the label 'faith school'.

We don't know for sure how enthusiastically the Khalsa Academy will promote its Sikh ethos. Children from non-Sikh families being allocated places there may perhaps act as a barrier, but only if the parents choose to send their children there. The indications are that they will not, making this school as religiously segregated as any other minority faith school.

Rev Nigel Genders, the Church of England's chief education officer, has also insisted that schools run by the Church of England are "not faith schools" but "Church schools for all."

Maybe religious groups rejecting the 'faith school' label shows they are beginning to understand (if not embrace) the public's growing discomfort with many aspects of faith schools.

But the rise of academy chains has also given religious groups a new way to expand their influence in nominally secular schools.

The Church's intention to expand its Mission through non-Church schools is evidenced by a quote from a Diocesan Secretary in the Church of England's Church School of the Future Review:

"We have moved forward with affiliation and we do have some affiliated schools. We are keen to see such schools as part of our mission and we feel that we don't have to own these schools. So, through having affiliated schools with a clear link between diocese, school and parish, we are doing what we want to do, which is to promote the Christian ethos."

At the Third Reading of the Education and Adoption Bill, Second Church Estates Commissioner Caroline Spelman MP told MPs the Church will continue to develop diocesan and Church school-led multi-academy trusts which include community schools.

Seeking to allay fears expressed by the National Secular Society, that the Church may take control of previously non-Church schools, Ms Spelman told MPs at Second Reading that Church federations, such as the Trinity federation and the Pilgrim federation in the Norwich diocese, "demonstrated how the individuality of each school has been maintained."

The examples she cites do nothing to allay secular concerns. Quite the opposite – the Pilgrim federation runs four religiously designated schools, two of which appear to have been community schools until as recently as 2011.

Small rural schools are often underfunded schools and at particular risk of this type of takeover. The Government doesn't know how many children currently live in areas where the only state schools are faith schools, but any expansion of the Church's school portfolio will only impede parents' chances of obtaining a truly secular education free from religious influence.

Once converted into an academy, the permissive and informal nature of adopting a 'faith ethos' (as opposed to a formal religious designation) means the religious character of a school can change fundamentally without consultation and at any time simply through a change in the governing authority.

If we're to begin sorting out this mess there are some cultural as well as legal changes that must be made. Let's start by getting rid of the grey area of "faith ethos" academies. If a school wishes to operate as a faith school it should at least have to apply for a religious designation.

As an interim measure the Department for Education should keep a public record of which schools operate with a faith ethos and which schools do not.

There's a clear risk that government proposals to force struggling local authority schools in England to become academies could increase the proportion of faith based schools. To protect secular school provision, the National Secular Society has recommend changes to the Education and Adoption Bill to ensure that no non-religiously designated school is permitted to acquire a religious designation or faith ethos upon, or after academisation.

At the very least the Bill should be amended to maintain the requirement to consult with the local community to mitigate the possibility of non-religious designated schools acquiring a faith ethos without the clear support of parents, pupils, teachers and the wider community.

But more than that we need a cultural change, we need to challenge the idea it is appropriate to use schools to promote religious doctrine, doing so should come to be as frowned upon as promoting a political outlook, such a Neo-conservativism or Marxism, would be.

We need to value a child's right to a secular (and by that I mean neutral, not atheistic) education and to form their own religious and philosophical beliefs more than we value parents' and religious organisations' right to promote theirs with public money. These child-centred values can at first take root in good community schools and gradually, organically become a shared value across all schools.

Misrepresenting concerns about Islam won’t make society more cohesive

Misrepresenting concerns about Islam won’t make society more cohesive

Opinion | Wed, 08 Jul 2015

Recent polling found that 56% of Britons think Islam poses a threat to democracy. However this finding has been misrepresented to suggest that British people think Muslims themselves are a "threat".

When asked, "does Islam (not fundamentalist groups) pose a threat to Western liberal democracy?" 27% of British adults said the faith posed a "major threat" and 29% a "minor threat". 20% of respondents said it posed "not much threat" while just 15% said it posed "no threat at all." Unsurprisingly, there has been a substantial increase over the past fifteen years in those who perceive some level of threat to be posed by Islam to democratic societies.

I have reproduced the exact wording of the question above to contrast it with how it was reported: the Huffington Post reproduced the poll (which they commissioned from YouGov) under the headline: "7/7 Bombings Anniversary Poll Shows More Than Half Of Britons See Muslims As A Threat" (my emphasis).

An article by Mehdi Hasan on the topic of the poll carried a photo of a young Muslim boy at the top with the caption, "Have you ever paused to consider how a young Muslim schoolboy might react to polls suggesting his fellow Brits think he 'creates problems'?" (again my emphasis).

In the article Hasan reports turning to a Muslim friend after 7/7 and saying that Muslims in Britain were "screwed." Hasan says that Muslims were "demonised" after the attacks and undeniably many Muslims have faced suspicion and hostility, and violence, in the past ten years. Although Hasan probably isn't the best character to complain about demonising whole groups of people: some years after 7/7 he was recorded calling non-Muslims people who "live their lives as animals".

He writes: "The London bombings, in fact, opened the floodgates to what has become a familiar litany of condemnation and demonisation: honour killings, sharia law, halal slaughter, FGM, gender segregation, the face veil, child sex grooming." Objecting to young girls having their genitals hacked off, he implies here, is part of a pattern of "demonization" of Muslims.

The papers have been replete with Muslims young and old this week complaining of 'demonization' in the wake of 7/7. Likewise, Baroness Warsi among others has been arguing particularly loudly of late that the Muslim community is alienated.

How does it help society become more integrated, and for Muslims in particular to become (and feel) more integrated into society if a well-known Muslim journalist like Mehdi Hasan misrepresents British public opinion and makes out that a majority of British people regard a Muslim child as a "threat", when the poll was about views on a set of ideas, an ideology?

It cannot be repeated often enough that fears about Islam are not equivalent to bigotry toward Muslims. The distinction needs repeating because almost any utterance on this topic will be distorted by someone. The NSS recently posted a link to the poll, with no commentary from ourselves, on our Facebook page and one commenter responded by comparing us to Britain First and said just posting the poll 'demonised' minorities.

What about the substance of the poll? Is it fair to say Islam is a "threat"? Most Islamic countries are authoritarian, anti-secular to at least some degree and many are constitutionally theocratic. On women's rights, apostasy laws, rights for religious minorities and homosexuals, Islam in government has an appalling record. Might the reasonable observer speculate that the common theme is connected with the fundamentals of Islam in some way, and not just with Islamic fundamentalists?

I think there are some very obvious and self-evident reasons to regard Islam, prima facie, as a threat to democratic government; but this is entirely different from saying that Muslims constitute a "problem". Reporting the poll as though it reflected sentiments about Muslim people (and children) is hugely irresponsible, and feeds the narrative that Muslims are alienated and distinct from 'mainstream' society. This becomes self-fulfilling.

We've spent most of the past two weeks since the Tunisia massacre pitifully debating whether to use the English or the Arabic translation of 'Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant'. Language does matter, but the real distortion is not in the term "Islamic State", but the widespread (probably unstoppable) conflation between Muslims and the name of their belief system.

In the commentary around the poll, as with the term 'Islamophobia', the battle for language may already be lost: 'Islamophobia' has entered widespread usage, the conflation is seemingly complete. Islamists and their bedfellows on the so-called 'left' have masterfully normalised this linguistic association.

This makes it so much easier for anti-secularists next time there is a big push for a 'defamation of religion' or other de facto blasphemy law; because many will have already absorbed a sense that 'Islamophobia' is bad and bigoted, and therefore anything 'Islamophobic' should be opposed. The charge of 'Islamophobia' was already enough for gangs to carry-on with the industrial-scale rape of young girls without complaint from the 'authorities'.

This is why the language is so important, and why it should be a cause for such deep suspicion when people like Mehdi Hasan deliberately conflate 'Muslim' with 'Islam'. Whether wilfully complicit or not, there is an agenda behind it. Why else would 'Islamophobia' be the term of choice? It is a deliberate invention and invocation.

Finally, it is not illegitimate to worry that the striking growth in the Muslim population in the UK may provide a platform for Islamists to make a much bigger push for de facto blasphemy laws in the near future. In the far future, if present trends continue (a big if), Islamisation will be a real concern. This isn't a word that should be limited to nutty far-right groups either; the taxpayer is already funding Islamic state schools.

One must be precise with what is meant by "Islamisation." History shows us time and time again, as with the Bolshevik wing of the RSDLP, that it doesn't take a large majority or mass movement to fundamentally change a society. A small, politically-aware 'vanguard' can achieve this on their own, if empowered by a permissive or otherwise inert society: Islamists are already attempting to do this, always 'in the name of' the world's '1.6 billion Muslims'. Muslim people are not to blame for terrorism, but they have a vital role to play in the future in preventing an Islamist agenda being enacted in their name, whether that agenda is enforced with bombs and bullets in our present, or at the ballot box in some grim future.

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