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FEBRUARY 7 2014 THE CATHOLIC HERALD

Ruling saves last adoption agency with ties to Church

BY STAFF REPORTER

ST MARGARET’S Children and Family Care Society in Scotland has won an appeal that allows it to remain functioning without assessing gay couples as possible adopters.

The ruling last Friday by the Scottish Charity Appeals Panel means that Glasgow-based St Margaret’s Society has become the only Catholic adoption agency in Britain to stay open as an agency operating in accordance with the teachings of the Church.

Eleven English and one Scottish agency have ceased their services or broken their links to the Church following the 2007 Equality Act. Among them are the Cabrini Society in Southwark and Catholic Care in Leeds, which lost its case in 2012.

The laws compel them to assess samesex couples as potential parents to children placed for adoption or into foster care.

The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) had reviewed the charity’s practices in January 2013 following a complaint from the National Secular Society. In a report OSCR found it be breaking the Equality Act and was not providing “public benefit”.

But the appeals panel ruled that St Margaret’s was a fully Catholic institution, part of the Catholic Church and so bound to operate by the teaching of the Catholic Church.

In a statement, archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow expressed his gratitude for the decision, which he described as “wise”.

“It means that families who are ready to adopt can look forward to the future with a little more serenity, and children in great need can be placed into loving homes,” he said.

A statement issued by St Margaret’s said that staff at the agency, which last year found new homes for 35 children, were “delighted and relieved” about the news.

An 85-page ruling by the appeal panel, published last Friday, concluded that St Margaret’s was not breaking the law by assessing only married couples and single people as potential foster parents and adopters.

It said the agency had “successfully

St Margaret’s Children Society found new homes for 35 children last year shown that it was more than an adoption agency per se and that the whole purpose of what it is about is the manifestation of its religion and the religion of its members and supporters”.

It said the agency was clear in its charitable purposes that its work must be “in accordance with the teaching of the Catholic Church”.

The ruling added that indirect discrimination against gay couples was permissible because it represented a “proportionate means” of obtaining a legitimate aim, allowed under the terms of the 2010 Equality Act.

There had never been any complaint by any same-sex couple, and the case was based on a purely theoretical complaint by the National Secular Society, which had argued that by breaking the Equality Act the charity had ceased to be a public benefit. That was rejected.

Neil Addison, a barrister and author of Religious Discrimination and Hatred Law, said: “The judgment is significant because it accepts that providing charity is not just something the Church happens to do but is an essential part of its purpose. Pope Benedict is quoted in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est and Motu Proprio ‘in the

Photo: PA

service of Charity’. This means that a Catholic Charity is entitled to the exemptions that the Equality Act gives to religious organisations provided that it makes it clear in its constitution that it operates in accordance with Catholic teaching.”

He said: “It certainly does have an influence on England, because it is applying the same law, the Equality Act, and although the charity law is different between England and Scotland it is very, very similar. And the original OSCR decision was based on the English decision, OSCR was applying the case law that applied to the English agencies.”

St Margaret’s gave me a new life. Now its work can continue

Comment Ronnie Convery

WHEN, last Friday lunchtime, it was announced that St Margaret’s, Scotland’s last Catholic adoption agency, had been saved, I had more reason than most to breathe a sigh of relief. For 48 years ago St Margaret’s Adoption Society (as it was then) arranged my adoption.

For me that event evokes three major sentiments of gratitude. First, gratitude to my birth mother who made the greatest sacrifice any mother could ever make in handing me over to the agency, because she knew that she could not give me the kind of life she would have wanted. I never knew that heroic lady, but every day I am grateful to her for that act of supreme selflessness.

Second, my gratitude is expressed for my mum and dad (both are now gone to their reward). I never use the term “adoptive parents”. For me they were simply the best, most caring and loving parents anyone could ever have. Thirdly, I am eternally grateful to St Margaret’s. It was through their patient work that I was given a chance of a new life.

And so I watched with dismay over the last year as the National Secular Society complained to the Scottish Charity Regulator. Its wish was that St Margaret’s be stripped of its charitable status because it did not represent a public good; that the agency was anti-equality because (all other things being equal) it gives preference to couples who have been married for two years. The regulator agreed and

St Margaret’s was given an ultimatum: change or lose your charitable status.

Last week the Scottish Charity Appeal Panel ruled that the secularists and the regulators had got it wrong and that St Margaret’s could continue to do what it does best – make loving families.

In light of the decision I felt no urge to punch the air in triumph. The word “victory” did not appear in any press release or comment that I made. Rather the overwhelming emotion was one of relief: relief that good people could get on with doing good work for children in great need – children like me all those years ago.

St Margaret’s was always an unlikely pawn in an ideological war. The agency is not about campaigning or politics. It’s about putting little children first, often sibling groups who are hard to place, and finding for them the very best home they can. Is that ambition so terribly wrong? This week we got the answer. The right answer. Ronnie Convery is communications director at the Archdiocese of Glasgow

Spokesman says survey results are confidential

BY MADELEINE TEAHAN

THE BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE of England and Wales has received 16,500 responses to the worldwide survey on the family – but, unlike in Germany and Switzerland, the responses will not be made public.

A spokesman for the bishops’ conference said: “In accordance with the wishes of the Holy See, the summary of the responses sent to the synod of bishops is confidential.

“However, the statistical information shows a high level of engagement in the consultation process. Summary reports were received from all 22 dioceses in England and Wales, as well as reports from the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and the Apostolic Prefecture of the Falkland Islands.”

The spokesman said that diocese received emails, letters and online forms from Catholics across the country, ahead of the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops which is due to take place in October.

The spokesman said: “Analysis of 12,266 online responses indicates that 80 per cent of respondents were laity, 69 per cent were married and 38 per cent were parents. Twenty per cent of respondents were in positions of responsibility within the Church as priests, chaplains, catechists, teachers, deacons, seminarians or pastoral assistants.

“At least six per cent were active in voluntary roles as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, readers, musicians, governors of schools, members of diocesan commissions, parish councils or as members of parish organisations. Nearly one per cent of respondents identified themselves as either a lapsed Catholic or a nonCatholic.”

Sixty-nine per cent of respondents said that they were married while six per cent said that they were divorced.

The spokesman added that “distribution across the age ranges was fairly even though weighted towards the older generation” with 24 per cent aged up to 45 years and 30 per cent aged 65 and over. He continued: “An additional 1,163 responses were received from 57 other countries which were forwarded to the local dioceses and episcopal conferences of those countries.” Report: Page 4

Bishop: Bill will deny healthcare to vulnerable people BY ED WEST

THE BISHOP for migrants has criticised the Government’s Immigration Bill, saying that victims of trafficking and domestic violence could be denied vital health care if it becomes law.

Speaking ahead of the debate last week, Auxiliary Bishop Patrick Lynch of Southwark said: “It is vital that victims of human trafficking, female genital mutilation and domestic abuse are not denied medical treatment as a result of misidentification, delays in identification or because they feel discouraged to seek assistance.”

The Bill aimed to restrict immigrants’ seeking NHS services for free, and also required that landlords check the status of tenants. He said: “Victims of these horrific abuses are often reluctant to seek help in the first place and it is therefore essential that robust safeguards are in place.”

Caritas Social Action Network, the social action arm of the bishops’ conference, has also criticised the new law. Chief executive Helen O’Brien said: “We are anxious to ensure that vulnerable individuals are not put at risk of harm as a result of their legal status. We fear the requirement for landlords to conduct checks on a potential tenant’s immigration status may discourage owners from renting to migrants and increase homelessness levels.”

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Cardinal-elect highlights gifts of women religious BY STAFF REPORTER

CARDINAL-ELECT Vincent Nichols of Westminster has praised women religious for having “the gift” of living well in a community.

The cardinal-elect said at a Mass celebrating religious life in Westminster Cathedral: “I have long thought that religious women have a great capacity to give a particular witness to this [life in community] gift of the Gospel, despite all the difficulties it entails. A sure sign is the joyful laughter that often rings out when religious are together.”

The Mass last Saturday was attended by representatives of most of the 98 female religious communities in the diocese, including women celebrating the 25th, 40th and 50th anniversaries of their consecration.

In Birmingham, meanwhile, Archbishop Bernard Longley said religious occupy a “privileged position” in the Church.

Cardinal-elect Nichols with two women religious Mazur

This, he said, was “not the privilege of honour and recognition”, but “the privilege of being chosen by Jesus to befriend those who most need to know his love”. The Masses followed the news that Pope Francis had declared 2015 to be a Year of Consecrated Life.

Westminster choir to sing at consistory BY ED WEST

THE CHOIR of Westminster Cathedral will sing at this month’s consistory, according to the director of the Sistine Chapel choir.

The two prestigious choirs will sing on February 22, the

Feast of the Chair of St Peter when Pope Francis is due to create 19 new cardinals, including Cardinal-elect Vincent Nichols, who had a private meeting with Pope Francis last week.

This month’s consistory is the first under the new Pope,

who has created 16 new voting cardinals, who will comprise one in six of all voting cardinals as a result.

On February 20 the Holy Father will “reflect on the theme of the family” with the cardinals-elect, naming them on February 22.

St Mary’s gains full university status

BY ED WEST

ST MARY’S University College in Twickenham, the largest Catholic higher education institution in England, has been awarded full university status.

The decision by the Privy Council means that it will officially change its name to St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and that new principal Francis Campbell will become vice-chancellor when he takes up his position in April. The university, with its close ties to the hierarchy of the Church, hosted Pope Benedict XVI during his visit in 2010.

Dr Arthur Naylor, interim principal, said: “These are exciting times for St Mary’s and the granting of University title will facilitate its development both at home and abroad.”

Bishop Richard Moth, chairman of the board of governors, added: “This is excellent news for St Mary’s and recognises all that the university offers to students and staff alike.”

In 2012 Newman University College in Birmingham and Leeds Trinity University College were granted full university status, the first Catholic colleges since the Reformation to have been so awarded. St Mary’s was to apply at the same time but was criticised by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education for its diploma in hypnosis. The course was dropped that year.

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