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Newsline 14 February 2014

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Church of England is kept alive only by its presence in our schools

Church of England is kept alive only by its presence in our schools

Opinion | Thu, 13 Feb 2014

With the Church of England is on its last legs, it's about time its continued involvement in state education was called into question, argues Terry Sanderson.

The Church Times has been carrying a series of supplements over the last few weeks taking a "heath check" of the Church of England.

Most of the time it has had difficulty finding a pulse.

The statistics it has published, on attendance, age profile of members and finances, show a once-powerful organisation that is now on its last legs, but obdurately hanging on using the state-funded life-support machine.

The Church Times admits that its schools are now the CofE's "single largest engagement with the state" and that with the help of a sympathetic government, it intends to increase the numbers substantially in the next few years.

It repeats the unconvincing mantra that it is not using schools to evangelise or try to create new members for its dwindling congregations.

But everything it does indicates the opposite.

The General Synod resolution declaring that schools "stand at the centre of the Church's mission to the nation" says it all.

Is that what schools are for? Mission?

Look at the article in the Church Times supplement entitled "How to rescue RE" and you find suggestions that teachers should "Grab time from any subject by making cross-curricular RE work well."

Cross-curricular RE? That sounds remarkably like injecting religion into every lesson, ensuring that there can be no escape from it. You might well choose to withdraw your child from RE and collective worship, but you can't exempt them from all lessons.

And that's really what "cross-curricular RE" means – no option.

When Ruairi Quinn, the Irish education minister, last month suggested that maybe – at half an hour a day – there was a little bit too much religion in Irish schools and that maybe some of the time could be handed over for other subjects, he rapidly felt the full force of the Catholic steamroller.

Yet here we have it the other way round, with the Church of England suggesting that religion steal time from maths and science to push its ideas even harder at children.

The author of the Church Times article writes: "A teacher fromWalsall reports that linking RE to drama, dance and art has had good effects in her urban primary school. Many previously unenthusiastic staff became committed to RE because they see the creative side of the subject in action. And many creative pupils did their best work exploring sacred stories in Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism, through the arts." [Islam doesn't seem to figure here, for some reason].

Another suggestion from the same author: "At Hazlemere CofE Combined school in Buckinghamshire, the RE co-ordinator Susan Brice, has been getting pupils aged eight to 11 to plan reflective RE experiences. RE experiences for the younger children – such as working in pairs on blind-faith walking, life-journey planning, making a cross of lights (in this, the children heard the story of Jesus's forgiveness of even the people who killed him, and thought about how forgiveness is like a light and how hard we sometimes find it hard to forgive), and inviting parents and other adults to share in the experience."

Oh yes, there's nothing churches like better than blind faith.

There is a lot of talk of "spirituality" and its encouragement. Spirituality is, of course, a word that could have been invented for those who wish to sneak a heavy sectarian religious agenda into schools (and hospitals) under a benign-sounding banner.

It's amazing though, how "being spiritual" rapidly morphs into being Christian and thence into being Anglican or Catholic or Muslim or Hindu.

Whenever the word "spirituality" is bandied about in schools, you can be sure that the evangelists are at work somewhere.

So, we return to the strange anomaly of a church that hardly anyone goes to that controls a third of the nation's schools, uses public money to practice discrimination in staffing and pupil selection and blatantly proselytises children who cannot escape.

I'm utterly mystified as why we, as a nation, allow it to happen. The National Secular Society will continue to advocate an education system in which no religious organisation controls our state schools.

Vatican’s attack on its critics is a familiar tactic

Vatican’s attack on its critics is a familiar tactic

Opinion | Fri, 07 Feb 2014

After hearing the UN's scathing attack on its child abuse record, the Vatican's counter-attack against its critics is a familiar tactic, argues David Clohessy

Inadvertently, by their comments over the past day, Vatican officials are essentially proving what a UN panel has concluded: that the Catholic hierarchy is not reforming its handling of clergy sex crimes and cover ups.

For decades, when abuse and cover up reports surface, many church officials "shoot the messenger" and divert attention. Vatican staffers are doing that now.

One of them, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, attacks the motives of 21 independent children's experts who volunteer to serve on a respected United Nations panel, calling them "ideological" and implying they are deceitful (The report, he claims, "appears to have been written before (Vatican) representatives even had a chance to tell their side of the story..."

He also says that "the report in some ways is not up to date" even though the panel met with Vatican officials just last month (and spent hours quizzing both abuse victims and Vatican staffers).

(If an archbishop blasts an objective panel of volunteers who work for children in public like this, imagine how bishops treat victims in private.)

Another "Vatican insider," who is nameless, tells a journalist that the UN report was full of "spite" and attempt to "bash the Church," while of course providing not a scintilla of evidence to support such a claim.

This kind of attack is part and parcel of the long-standing, deeply-rooted Catholic clerical culture and practice of assaulting those who report abuse and cover up or question the hierarchy's handling of abuse and cover up.

We are both repulsed by and grateful for these comments. On the one hand, attacks like this discourage and deter victims, witnesses and whistleblowers from speaking up. On the other hand, they reveal a defensive, self-centered Vatican mindset that is one of the reasons kids remain vulnerable to child molesting clerics and victims keep being hurt by callous church officials.

Finally, veteran papal spokesman Fr. Frederico Lombardi claims, as hundreds of his colleagues and supervisors have done for decades, that things will soon get better.

We'll believe it when we see it happen. We'll believe it when we see Pope Francis clearly disciplines – or even expose - just one Catholic official who is endangering kids or rebuffing police or deceiving parishioners.

We'll believe it when he demotes Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn, a convicted wrongdoer.

Right now, St. Paul Minnesota police want to question, Fr. Kevin McDonough, Archbishop John Nienstedt's long-time second-in-command, who has acted selfishly and secretively in clergy sex cases for decades. McDonough refuses and Nienstedt does nothing.

We'll consider it progress when a Vatican official publicly denounces them both and insists that McDonough sits down with police.

David Clohessy is Director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). His piece originally appeared on the SNAP website and is reproduced here with kind permission. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the NSS.

NSS Speaks Out

Terry Sanderson was on LBC radio talking about the loss of interest in Bible stories.

The CofE General Synod motion on the Girl Guides oath was widely reported with reaction from the NSS, including London Evening Standard Daily Telegraph, MSN, York Press Belfast Telegraph and The Times (subscription)

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