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No. 6438

Bishop backs Tory free school reforms


THE BISHOP in charge of Catholic education has backed a flagship Tory reform that would make it easier for parents to set up their own state schools.

Bishop Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham, chairman of the bishops’ Department of Catholic Education and Formation, said the idea of Swedish-style “free schools” replicates exactly how Catholic schools were founded in the 19th century.

He said he wanted to begin talks with the Conservatives about it and said that the Church had “a lot of experience to offer”.

His comments follow a private meeting between Tory leader David Cameron and Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster which was said to be “very positive and friendly”.

The bishop said: “[The free schools idea] interests me greatly because of course that was exactly how Catholic schools were founded – by local communities getting together, pooling their resources. Many Catholic primary schools were started in the front room of the presbytery by parents with help from the local convent.”

Bishop McMahon, a Dominican who took over as head of education last year, said he saw the reform as an “opportunity” for the Church.

He said: “I would like to find out more about it and get into discussion with them [the Conservatives] about this.”

Under Tory plans, parents, charities and other not-for-profit groups could apply directly to the Government to set up schools that would be independent from local authorities.

They would receive funding based on pupil numbers and, if relatively small, could operate in offices or church halls and not just tailor-made school buildings. A similar system was introduced in Sweden in 1992 and now a fifth of Sweden’s pupils attend a free school.

Bishop McMahon said that the reform could help strengthen communities by encouraging parents to become more involved in their schools.

He said: “The traditional triangle of home, school and parish has come under severe strain in recent years. I think if there is more local involvement with school and with Church at the centre of that then it will give support not just to pupils but to parents and families as well. I see it as a total entity with the Church, the school and the home working in close cooperation.

“That’s why I see this as an opportunity and not something to be frightened of. So much of human formation takes place within not just the family but within the local community and I would like to see how that can be emphasised and encouraged. If you like it’s a little bit anti-globalisation, more localisation.”

Michael Gove, the Shadow Education Secretary, said he was “absolutely delighted” that Bishop McMahon wanted to meet.

“I’ll be in touch to arrange to meet at the earliest opportunity,” he said. “I’m a huge admirer of the contribution that the Catholic Church has made to education in Britain. I hope our legislative changes will help the Church to establish schools that will be popular with parents and will continue the tradition of educational excellence that the Church has already established.”

About 300 groups of parents and teachers have already expressed an interest in starting their own schools, according to the

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Editorial comment: Page 13 January 15 2010 £1.20 (Republic of Ireland €1.70)

Benedict XVI baptises 14 infants in Sistine Chapel


Pope Benedict XVI baptises a baby during a Mass in the Sistine Chapel on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Photo: CNS


POPE BENEDICT XVI has praised the role of parents and godparents after baptising 14 children in the Vatican.

Presiding over the annual liturgy in the Sistine Chapel last Thursday, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Pope baptised the newborns in front of their parents, godparents and siblings.

In his homily the Holy Father underlined the importance of the sacrament. “This is a great day for these children,” he said. “With baptism, they become participants in the death and resurrection of Christ, and begin with him the joyful and exciting adventure of the disciple.”

He said the sacrament brought a particular responsibility for parents and godparents: to nourish the faith of the newly baptised with words and the witness of their lives. In this way, he said, the children will be able to “shine in our world, which often gropes in the shadows of doubt”. The infants, seven girls and seven boys, were all children of Vatican employees, and the Mass was marked by a family atmosphere. The siblings of the baptised carried the offertory gifts, and as each child stepped forward, the Holy Father greeted them with a few words.

Throughout the liturgy, the cries and babbles of babies echoed off the frescoed walls and ceiling of the chapel, which includes Michelangelo’s famous frescoes, as well as Pietro Perugino’s and Pinturicchio’s painting, The Baptism of Christ.

Among the children baptised as part of the annual tradition were Ginevra, Maria Magdalena, Edoardo and Giulia, who was unflinching throughout the ceremony, keeping her eyes wide open as the Pontiff spoke. While the sacrament of baptism is a blessing in itself, parents Luca and Samantha Grilone told the Zenit news agency, having the Pontiff himself administer the sacrament to their firstborn, Gabriel Maria Andrea, was a double blessing. Mr Grilone had himself received First Communion from Pope John Paul II in 1986, before going on to be a Vatican employee, where he served as an acolyte in various papal ceremonies.

He said: “Seeing the altar servers reminded me that 20 years ago I was in their place. Now I am married and a father.”

Mr Grilone, who now works in the Vatican Museums, married Samantha Barreca in July 2008, and their son was born on December 1. The new mother said she was worried her infant would cry during the ceremony, but little Gabriel was silent throughout. “Perhaps he was praying,” added the baby’s mother jokingly.

Mrs Grilone added: “Our child has been purified of Original Sin. We hope that with our example we will be able to advance with him on the Christian journey he begins today.”

She said that she hoped her son might one day become a priest. “Perhaps it’s too early. I don’t know if it’s God’s will. We must wait to see what path the child will follow. Then we’ll see.”

The Rite of Baptism took place at the bronze font sculpted by Mario Toffetti, and during the Mass the newborn’s parents received Communion from Benedict XVI. “When we received Communion in front of the baptismal font, I couldn’t contain myself,” Mrs Grilone said. “I cried and laughed at the same time. I tried to hold back my tears.”

She underlined the experience of being close to the Pope. She said: “I like the way he speaks, the way he expresses himself with little gestures. Those who do not see him personally do not notice these little details.

“At the moment of baptism he seemed like a grandfather. Although he didn’t know us he expressed much affection with his look. I will always carry this in my heart, my whole life.”


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Pope to make ‘symbolic’ visit to Rome synagogue this Sunday


THE LATIN Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, will accompany Benedict XVI this Sunday when the Pontiff visits Rome’s Great Synagogue.

The archbishop told the Italian news agency SIR that he and other Catholics of the Holy Land would accompany the Pope in the hope that the gesture would strengthen interreligious relations, as well as express the Church’s respect for Israelis. Others who will accompany the Holy Father include Archbishop Antonio Franco, apostolic nuncio in Israel and the apostolic delegate for Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories, and Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, vicar of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem for Israel.

“I will go with the Pope to the synagogue,” said Archbishop Twal. “My hope is that this visit might help our interreligious relations. It is a gesture we make with the heart, to demonstrate our respect also to the Israeli community. We hope it will have a positive impact on Israeli public opinion and on Jerusalem.”

Fr David Neuhaus, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Hebrewspeaking Catholics in Israel, told SIR that “although this visit does not represent a novelty, it has a high symbolic value. Jews and Catholics perhaps are not yet accustomed to seeing the Catholic Church going with respect to Jewish brethren.”

Rabbi David Rosen, director of the American Jewish Committee’s interreligious affairs department, said: “With the visit to the synagogue, Pope Benedict is institutionalising revolutions. By visiting the Roman synagogue Benedict XVI is making it very difficult for a subsequent Pope not to pay such a visit.

“John Paul II’s visit could have been a one-off, but now with Benedict XVI’s visit there is a sense of continuity,” he said.

Gibson tells political leaders: read Belloc

Jennifer Lopez: my faith rules out IVF


HOLLYWOOD actor and director Mel Gibson has urged politicians to read the work of Hilaire Belloc, the Liberal MP and 20th-century Catholic writer.

In an interview with the Daily Mail about his new film Edge of Darkness, Gibson said: “Political leaders ought to go back and read work like Hilaire Belloc. He used to write about distributism. That suits me more. It’s not Communism; it’s redistribution. Of course, it would require that everyone is kind – which is never going to happen. That’s utopian. But if you study history you discover that it constantly regurgitates itself. You can only do your little bit, try to make some difference somewhere.”

Hilaire Belloc was a prolific writer, influencing G K Chesterton in his conversion to Catholicism. He advocated spreading the ownership of the means of production as widely as possible.


CATHOLIC singer and actress Jennifer Lopez has said she would never have considered IVF because of her faith.

The Puerto Rican-American, one of the highest paid actresses in the world, recently starred as a career-driven single woman who has a child using in vitro fertilisation in the film

The Back-Up Plan. But, having had twins Emme and Maz two years ago at 39 ,

“J-Lo” told Elle magazine: “I just felt like you don’t mess with things like that. Because... when it comes to family and relationships, I’m quite traditional.”

She added: “I also believe in God and I have a lot of faith in that, so I just felt like you don’t mess with things like that.”