Monday, January 14, 2013
A new height of absurdity for the Church of England
CoE plan to bless gay couples' civil partnerships... But they may be told to take solemn declaration to remain celibate for life (!) If Welby allows this he is off his rocker
The Church of England is considering allowing gay couples to have their civil partnerships blessed in church. Insiders have told The Mail on Sunday that a top-level panel of bishops set up to review the Church's policy on homosexuality is actively discussing the issue.
If the reform is approved, vicars would be permitted to conduct a formal blessing service in church for a same-sex couple who have earlier 'tied the knot' at a register office.
But any move to relax the ban on such blessings would provoke the biggest split yet in the Church, which is already reeling from rows over women and gay bishops.
One option the panel is expected to consider is a compromise under which gay couples seeking a blessing could be asked to declare they intend to remain celibate, in line with official Church teaching.
But this could create a backlash among gay couples, who would regard it as demeaning to be quizzed about their private lives.
A source close to the working party said that a 'wide-ranging discussion' was under way covering a 'whole range of options' and recommendations will be made to the House of Bishops later this year.
The working party of five bishops is meeting amid unprecedented pressure on the Church over its policies on homosexuality. Growing numbers of liberal clergy, including the Dean of St Paul's cathedral Dr David Ison, are openly calling for formal ceremonies for gay couples.
Christina Rees, a member of the Church's 'cabinet', the Archbishops' Council, said: 'If this happens it is long overdue. If we allow something, it is only logical that we can bless it.'
But traditionalists warned that a lifting of the ban on blessings would cause even deeper ructions than those over women bishops or by the Church's decision before Christmas to allow clergy in civil partnerships to become bishops. One said: 'If the bishops lift the ban on blessings it will be far more serious than the divisions we have seen so far.'
The issue will be one the most contentious facing the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, when he takes up his post next month. Although he opposes the Government's plans to introduce gay marriage, he has signalled that he may soften his views.
He said last year he would 'prayerfully and carefully' rethink his traditionalist stance and underlined his support for civil partnerships.
The Church allows clergy - and now bishops - to enter into civil partnerships as long as they promise to remain celibate. But it has always banned formal blessing services for civil partnerships. It also opposes the Government's plans to introduce civil gay marriage, which it says undermines the traditional understanding of the institution as between a man and a woman and threatens its place in the establishment.
The Government's determination to push through its reforms for civil same-sex marriages has opened the Church to accusations that it is out of step with society. Many clergy believe a move by the Church to bless civil partnerships would offer a middle way that might assuage its critics.
The Church's original ban on blessings was spelt out in a statement it released before civil partnerships - such as that between TV presenter Clare Balding and Radio 4 announcer Alice Arnold - were legalised in 2005.
The statement said sex should be confined to marriage. It added that because many people in same- sex partnerships would not be celibate, 'it would not be right to produce an authorised public liturgy in connection with the registering of civil partnerships.
'In addition, the House of Bishops affirms that clergy of the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership.'
'If the bishops lift the ban on blessings it will result in deep divisions of a kind that has not been seen in the Church of England for centuries. People are already close to setting up an alternative Church.'
But the statement added that people in such partnerships should be treated sensitively and many clergy do already pray for them in church. Some clergy also flout Church law by quietly carrying out unofficial blessings, and conservatives accuse liberal bishops of turning a blind eye.
A vicar caused a major row in 2008 when he conducted a service for two gay priests using the traditional wedding liturgy, including an exchange of vows and rings. The Rev Dr Martin Dudley, the vicar of St Bartholomew the Great in East London, was heavily censured by the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, but was not sacked from his post.
Traditionalists said last night that the Church should not lift its ban on such blessings even if the civil partners involved pledged to remain celibate.
One senior cleric said: 'Many in the Church will never believe civil partnerships are moral.
'There is an element of unreality about treating gay civil partnerships as a celibate arrangement, and it puts the Church in a very difficult position if it is required to ask intimate questions. If the bishops lift the ban on blessings it will result in deep divisions of a kind that has not been seen in the Church of England for centuries. People are already close to setting up an alternative Church.'
But Mrs Rees called for blessings to be introduced and said the Church should think hard before asking gay couples about their private lives. She said: 'We need to debate this fully before deciding whether we should put any further requirements on couples in civil partnerships.'
Sources stressed that no decisions had yet been taken by the bishops' working party on whether or not to lift the ban on blessings, and the House of Bishops would have to consider any recommendations sent to it before sanctioning any reforms.
A spokesman for the Church of England said: 'To presume that these discussions will even find a way into the final conclusions of the working party is pure speculation. Meanwhile the Church of England continues to serve this country and its people through daily acts of devotion in schools, hospitals, churches and communities.'
BBC hostility to Christianity again
With its decision to move the Radio 2 Sunday evening hymns programme to 6am - yes, you read that right, six o' clock in the morning! - the BBC might as well just admit it hates church-lovers, our old culture of hymn-singing and communal worship.
Why not scrap the programme altogether? What will simply happen is that the audience will fall off the cliff and the Darwinist atheists at the Beeb will be able to claim religious shows are even more unpopular than they have already made them.
For some of us, Sunday Half-Hour has long been part of the rhythm of the week. Sunday evening is when you start to ease your mind out of weekend mode and reapply yourself to thoughts of work. Hymns helped that process.
Sunday evening is deep-rooted, distinctly British, the light closing in to the strains of The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Has Ended. Well, that's one favourite that will no longer be played. It would sound a bit daft before dawn.
Last year Radio 2 imposed a new presenter on the programme: Diane Louise Jordan, formerly of Blue Peter. She has talked down to her adult audience as though they are children. The hymns are still OK, but the links have been as spiritual as a primary school lesson.
Radio 2 says Sunday mornings have a higher audience. That ignores the programme's aesthetic fit with eventide, its echo with the Anglican tradition of Evensong.
If Radio 2 Controller Bob Shennan ever went to church before breakfast on Sundays, he would not hear hymns. He would find services solemn and entirely spoken.
There is no point complaining to Mr Shennan or to the Corporation's chairman, Lord Patten, who, as a Roman Catholic, may have limited interest in Anglicanism.
We must simply hope Classic FM or some other broadcaster spots its chance.
I have no doubt that a grown-up programme of hymns on Sunday night, with beautiful liturgy, intelligent musical footnotes and a mature presenter, could succeed.
More than 1,000 priests sign letter claiming gay marriage is biggest threat to religious freedoms since the reformation
More than 1000 priests have signed a letter voicing concerns about how same-sex marriage will threaten religious freedoms and may even lead to Catholics being excluded from jobs.
In the letter, which is one of the biggest open letters of its type ever written, the priests claim that same-sex marriage could threaten freedoms in a way that was last seen during centuries of persecution of Catholics in England.
The letter, signed by 1054 priests as well as 13 bishops, abbots and other senior Catholic figures, expresses fears that the simple acts of practising or speaking about their faith will be severely limited.
They even claim the freedom to speak freely from the pulpit could be at risk.
Published in The Daily Telegraph, the letter goes as far as to compare David Cameron's proposed changes to the meaning of marriage to those of Henry VIII, whose efforts to divorce Catherine of Aragon sparked centuries of upheaval between Church and State.
Their fear is that Catholics who believe in the traditional meaning of marriage would effectively be excluded from some jobs - in the same way as Catholics were barred from many professions from the Reformation until the 19th century.
It said: 'After centuries of persecution, Catholics have, in recent times, been able to be members of the professions and participate fully in the life of this country.
'Legislation for same-sex marriage, should it be enacted, will have many legal consequences, severely restricting the ability of Catholics to teach the truth about marriage in their schools, charitable institutions or places of worship.
'It is meaningless to argue that Catholics and others may still teach their beliefs about marriage in schools and other arenas if they are also expected to uphold the opposite view at the same time.'
The Equal Marriage Bill, allowing couples of the same sex to marry, is due to be published this month.
The Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Philip Egan, one of the signatories, told The Daily Telegraph: 'I am very anxious that when we are preaching in Church or teaching in our Catholic schools or witnessing to the Christian faith of what marriage is that we are not going to be able to do it, that we could be arrested for being bigots or homophobes.'
A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: 'We have been very clear that our plans for equal marriage will fully protect the freedom of religions bodies to preach, teach and put into practice their beliefs about marriage.'
Australia: Conservative government of NSW moves to strengthen "hate" laws
The controversial commentators Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt are due to be called before an inquiry that will consider strengthening anti-discrimination laws to make it easier to convict people for serious racial vilification.
The inquiry was ordered by the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, who is concerned there have been no successful criminal prosecutions in the history of the NSW laws and that they have fallen out of step with community expectations.
The move is likely to inflame the debate over freedom of speech, amid warnings that broadening the laws could be dangerous and unacceptable.
It is understood Jones and Bolt are on a witness list drafted by the inquiry, which will hold public hearings in early April.
Last month, Jones was ordered by the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal to apologise on air for describing Lebanese Muslims as "vermin" and "mongrels" who "simply rape, pillage and plunder a nation that's taken them in".
In September 2011, Bolt was found by the federal court to have contravened the federal Racial Discrimination Act in newspaper columns which accused prominent light-skinned Aborigines of choosing to identify as black for personal gain.
The parliamentary inquiry will focus on Section 20D of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act, which deals with the criminal offence of "serious racial vilification" and requires proof "beyond a reasonable doubt" for a prosecution.
Penalties of up to $5500 and six months' jail apply to anyone found guilty of inciting "hatred", "serious contempt" or "severe ridicule" of a person or group by threatening physical harm to them or their property or inciting others to do so on the basis of their race.
The vilification laws have been in place in NSW since 1989. According to figures supplied by the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, 27 complaints have been referred by the board for criminal prosecution since 1998 the period for which records are available. But none were prosecuted as the Director of Public Prosecutions did not feel the burden of proof required by the legislation would have been achieved.
A spokesman for Mr O'Farrell said it was "questionable" whether this section of the act "constitutes a realistic test or is in line with community expectations".
"The Premier has therefore asked the [parliamentary law and justice] committee to report on whether section 20D is effective and if not, provide recommendations that will improve its efficacy with regard to the continued importance of freedom of speech," he said.
In NSW complaints about racial vilification must first be brought to the Anti-Discrimination Board, which will attempt to resolve them through conciliation.
If that fails the board's president may refer a complaint to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal if it is deemed an unlawful act or, in the case of serious racial vilification, to the DPP.
The inquiry was welcomed by the secretary of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, who said serious racial vilification should be treated differently from actions or material that simply causes offence. "It is treading on free speech but it's speech which has very direct consequences," he said. "And it's quite right to criminalise that sort of speech".
The president of the NSW Anti- Discrimination Board, Stepan Kerkyasharian, said the inquiry was overdue. "It's a great opportunity to deal with this matter," he said.
The chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Vic Alhadeff, said the NSW law was "completely ineffective in that for all practical purposes it is impossible to prove the elements of the offence in any specific case".
But director of the Legal Rights Project at the Institute of Public Affairs Simon Breheny, warned against broadening the law.
"The government is justified in restricting threats of physical harm," he said. "The current Section 20D is therefore appropriate as far as it restricts conduct of this kind. However, any weakening of Section 20D risks impacting on our fundamental right to free speech."
The NSW inquiry comes amid the furore about a proposed overhaul of federal anti-discrimination laws, which would make it unlawful to offend a person. The draft laws have been criticised by the former chief justice of NSW, Jim Spigelman, who believes they risk putting Australia in breach of its international obligations to protect free speech.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.