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APRIL 27 2012 THE CATHOLIC HERALD
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Top barrister: Church will have to offer gay marriages
BY SIMON CALDWELL
DAVID CAMERON will not be able to exempt churches from a duty to offer marriages to gay couples, a senior Catholic barrister has warned.
Neil Addison, the director of the Thomas More Legal Centre, said that the Prime Minister’s assurances to the Church that they would not be compelled to perform religious marriage for gay couples are worthless.
He said two judgments by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, combined with a Court of Appeal ruling in 2010, clearly showed that the Government would be acting illegally if it legalised civil gay marriages without permitting them on religious premises too.
It means that if the Coalition Government presses ahead with its plans to re-define marriage to include gay couples the Catholic Church could face prosecution under equality legislation for acting in accordance with its teachings.
“The Government will be obliged to permit same-sex marriage on religious premises on exactly the same basis as it permits heterosexual marriage,” said Mr Addison, a specialist in religious discrimination law.
“How this will affect the rights of churches which are registered for marriage and in particular how it will affect the Church of England and its clergy who are registrars of marriage by virtue of their status as priests of the established church is legally very arguable,” he said.
“Certainly a good legal case can be made that any place or person who is registered to perform marriage must be willing to perform same-sex marriage on the same basis as they conduct heterosexual marriage since, in law, there will be no difference between the two.”
In its consultation document launched last month, the Government stated that a new law would “make no changes to religious marriages” which “ will continue to only be legally possible between a man and a woman”.
But Mr Addison said that a recent European Court of Human Rights case involving two French lesbians found that, although there is no human rights obligation for any country to legislate for gay marriage, once a state had passed a gay marriage law it must be applied to all citizens equally. The ruling upheld the findings of an earlier case involving a homosexual who had sued the Austrian government.
Mr Addison said: “What the Government assurance is ignoring is the fact that, in law, there is no difference between and no status for civil as opposed to religious marriage – both are in law the same thing and merely take place in different premises.”
He said the position of the churches had already been undermined by a ruling of the Court of Appeal ruling against the registrar Lillian Ladele who in 2009 had taken Islington Council to court for refusing her the right not to officiate at same-sex civil partnership ceremonies.
The judges decided that her orthodox Christian view of marriage “was not a core part of her religion”.
Mr Addison said: “Churches which perform heterosexual marriages will have to be willing to perform same-sex marriages and they will have no legal grounds to resist since the courts have determined that the ‘orthodox Christian view of marriage’ is not a ‘core’ part of Christian belief.”
The remarks of Mr Addison came as British Muslims grew increasingly vocal against the proposals.
Dr Majid Katme, the head of the Islamic Medical Association, called on Britain’s two million Muslims to form “a holy alliance” with Christians and others against the proposals.
Dr Katme said: “Marriage in Islam is only between a man and a woman. This is the belief of the two million British Muslim believers and the belief of about 30 million Muslims who live in western Europe.
“It is the same belief of 1,600 million Muslims in the world,” he said. “It is the same belief also in the holy teachings of Judaism and Christianity.”
He continued: “The time has come to establish a holy alliance of all faiths with those sensible people who are without faith in order to oppose gay marriage in any new law.”
He urged Muslims to sign Lord Carey’s Coalition for Marriage petition which has already attracted about 450,000 signatories opposed to gay marriage, making it one of the largest petitions in British history.
The words of Dr Katme were substantially stronger than the statement issued by the Muslim Council of Britain, which last month had described the Government’s case as “strikingly weak”.
All the mainstream Christian churches are opposed to the proposals.
St Charles Borromeo church, Hull
Alex Ramsay Photography/Committee for Patrimony
Archbishop warns against Government’s VAT proposal BY DAVID V BARRETT
ARCHBISHOP Vincent Nichols of Westminster has joined other senior clerics in criticising the Government’s imposition of VAT on alterations to listed buildings, including churches.
The tax change, which was in George Osborne’s recent Budget, will add 20 per cent to the cost of improvements to listed church buildings.
Archbishop Nichols said the move was “regrettable”.
“Our Grade I listed churches are places of worship which are open to all. They are also buildings of great architectural beauty and historical significance. At a time of increasing austerity, it would be regrettable if they had to face higher costs for repairs and alterations from planned changes to VAT,” he said.
The Diocese of Westminster has 59 listed buildings, including three Grade 1: Westminster Cathedral, St Etheldreda, Ely Place and Our
Lady of Willesden. Because it has many more old churches the change will hit the Church of England the hardest; around 12,500 of its 16,000 buildings are listed.
The Anglican bishop of Southwark, Dr Christopher Chessun, said the imposition of VAT would “cause a great deal of difficulty for those caring for the nation's heritage”.
Dr Richard Chartres, the Anglican Bishop of London, has written to the Chancellor asking him to exclude places of worship from the extension to VAT, or to improve a scheme through which churches can reclaim the money.
The change was intended to address the anomaly by which repairs to l isted buildings are charged VAT while alterations are not; the addition of a conservatory or an indoor swimming pool to a millionaire’s listed home was VATfree until the change. But nearly half of Britain’s listed buildings are churches, and the change in tax regulations would mean that even installing heating and lighting, toilets or disabled access will cost 20 per cent more. Many such projects are entirely funded by volunteers in church communities.
Sophie Andreae, chairwoman of the sub-committee for Patrimony of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, which works on the care and conservation of church buildings, said: “It’s a very significant backward step, at just the t ime that many Victorian Catholic churches are beginning to embark on major work.”
She cited major restoration work on buildings such as the Grade II* l isted church of St Charles Borromeo in Hull, which would cost an extra £200,000, “a very significant additional cost for a congregation struggling to do its best for the church in what is now a deprived inner city area,” she said.
An e-petition to “urge the Chancellor to reconsider” has so far attracted over 18,000 signatures.
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Religious orders to give £90m to abuse victims Catholic groups back free school meal campaign
BY MICHAEL KELLY
SOME 15,000 former residents of state-funded, Church-run institutions in Ireland will be able to apply for further compensation for abuse they suffered, the government has announced.
The new compensation fund will be financed from the cash contributions of up to €110 million (£90 million) offered by the 18 religious congregations involved in running the institutions. The government has already paid out nearly €1.30 billon (£1.1 billion).
To date, contributions of £21 million have been received from the congregations toward the fund. This is in addition to some £78 million that religious congregations contributed to a 2002 deal under which the government committed to indemnify the orders from further claims.
Following the publication of the Ryan Commission’s report in 2009, which found that abuse was widespread, it emerged that compensation to former residents and legal fees had climbed to over a billion; pressure mounted on the religious congregations to contribute more than the £104 million agreed upon in 2002. The government insisted that the orders should contribute 50 per cent of the total cost, but the religious orders said they cannot contribute that amount. However, by the time they add in property they have transferred to the government with money they have paid, the £411 million to the overall cost of redress.
In announcing the compensation fund, the government also repeated a call to religious orders to hand over their schools to the government as partial payment for abuse compensation.
Minister for Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn said: “I am continuing to pursue the 50-50 division with the management bodies involved and have proposed the transfer of school infrastructure to the state for the benefit of the taxpayer as one mechanism to allow those involved the opportunity to shoulder their share of the costs.”
He said he hoped “that this new fund will provide ongoing support to those who suffered as children in residential care in state-supervised institutions”.
“We have let these people down in the past. I am determined that we will not fail them again,” he said.
There was no immediate reaction from the 18 congregations concerned.
Last year, the Irish bishops’ conference and the Conference of Religious of Ireland, which represents 136 religious congregations, agreed to an additional £8 million.
BY DAVID V BARRETT
MORE THAN half of children living in poverty are not receiving free school meals. Two Catholic agencies are supporting a campaign to make free school meals available to all children in poverty.
Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN) and the Catholic Education Service are backing the Children’s Society’s Fair and Square campaign which aims to ensure that all 2.2 million children living in poverty will receive free school meals. All children whose families receive the new universal credit, they say, should be entitled to free school meals.
The Fair and Square campaign hopes to secure healthy free school meals for the 1.2 million children in poverty who currently do not receive them. It is calling for extended entitlement, the provision of cashless systems to remove stigma and a new national review of nutritional standards.
Helen O’Brien, chief executive of CSAN, said: “The current system not only disadvantages the poorest children, jeopardising their nutrition, well-being and education; it additionally creates work disincentives by penalising parents moving into low-paid employment. The introduction of universal credit is a key opportunity for the Government to take account of the evidence and public opinion,
and adopt a fairer approach to this fundamentally important issue.”
CSAN and its member charities have also raised concerns over food provision for children in poverty during school holidays.
Dr Rosemary Keenan, Chief Executive of the Catholic Children’s Society (Westminster) said: “I have heard first-hand from poor parents, at our St Francis Family Centre in the East End of London, about the tremendous difficulties they have in making ends meet when they have to feed their children during the school holidays. The free school dinner is the main meal of the day for their children and having free school meals helps parents on very tight budgets to ensure that their child has at least one healthy meal a day.”
The Fair and Square campaign has three target dates. It is calling for the extension of eligibility for free school meals to all children living in poverty in England by October 2012. It aims to increase the number of local authorities and schools committed to introducing cashless or other non-stigmatising systems for the delivery of free school meals by March 2013. By the same month it hopes to secure a commitment to review and improve the implementation of the guidance on nutritional standards for school meals across local authorities.
NEWSBULLETIN Catholic pop group release song in support of Asia Bibi Catholic pop group Ooberfuse will be performing their new single “Free Asia Bibi” at a rally for the Pakistani Christian on the third anniversary of her imprisonment.
rie Anderson said: “We hope that the song ‘Free Asia Bibi’, performed in conjunction with Hammad Bailey, will help to spread the word about the grave injustice Asia and others like her are enduring today around the world.”
Following a dispute with neighbours Asia Bibi was found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to death.
Ooberfuse singer Cher
The peace rally and concert will be held outside the Pakistani embassy in London on June 14.
Cathedral opens toilet block WESTMINSTER CATHEDRAL has opened a toilet block with disabled access following many requests from visitors. This will be the first time in the Cathedral’s history that street-level toilets, which include a baby-changing room, have been made available to the public.
The building has been built on the former car park on Morpeth Terrace. The facilities will be accessible from inside the Cathedral during Cathedral opening hours.
Special attention had to be paid to the materials used in construction. The Historic Churches Committee ruled that the bricks for building the toilet block had to match the 12.5 million handmade bricks belonging to the Cathedral. This required great attention to detail, as the original bricks were an unusual size.
Every layer of brickwork, as well as the band of stone, and window sills, needed to match the main Cathedral exterior in keeping with the original design.
Church exempt from new tax THE CHURCH in Ireland is to be exempt from the country’s new property tax, saving it €500,000 (£400,000) a year.
Following the 2011 Local Government Act, the Church is exempt from the payment of household charges because it is a charity.
The Church has 1, 368 parishes in Ireland and over 10,000 houses, schools, halls, churches and shops.
Sikh receives papal award One of Britain’s Sikh leaders has been invested with the Order of St Gregory at a special Mass and ceremony at St Chad’s in Birmingham.
Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham invested Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia with one of the highest Papal Awards. The Order of St Gregory is normally bestowed on Catholics but in rare cases it is also conferred on nonCatholics.
Competition winners announced Michael Ryan, Elizabeth Banigan, Joanne Purcell, Adrian Baxter and Margaret Sproston have each won two tickets to hear the Sistine Chapel Choir at Westminster Cathedral. We will be contacting them shortly.
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