Religion news 2 February

Image credit: Lambeth Palace

French politicians debate law to stop religion creeping into public services

In France, the National Assembly has started a two week examination of laws which would prevent religious authorities “creeping into” public services, against the nation’s secular values. It applies to all religions, but has been criticised as anti-Islam. It would allow oversight of associations and mosques, including foreign financing; force associations receiving state funds to sign a contract of Republican commitment ensuring they honour French values; ensure that public service employees respect neutrality and secularism; force all children from age 3 should attend a regular school, amidst fears that underground schools are indoctrinating children in radical ideology; outlaw the issuing by doctors of virginity certificates, the practice of polygamy and forced marriage; create a new crime for hate speech online in which someone’s personal details are posted. The measures follow gruesome attacks in Paris and Nice last year. Full AP story here:

Archbishop of Canterbury leads the nation in prayer

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby started a daily national time of prayer at 6pm last night, acknowledging the suffering and turmoil of people dealing with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Church of England leaders decided on this initiative after the country reached the milestone of 100,000 deaths from the virus.

Katie Harrison becomes Archbishop’s public affairs adviser

The Archbishop of Canterbury has appointed Katie Harrison to be his new public affairs adviser. Katie has been the communications lead at Tearfund and more recently, director of the Faith Research Centre at Savanta Comres. She has also been a member of the advisory board of the Religion Media Centre since its inception and a key organiser of “Exploring Belief”, the annual religion media festival held at the JW3 centre.

Bishop of Lincoln returns to work after 20 month safeguarding inquiry

The Church Times reports that the Bishop of Lincoln, Christopher Lowson can return to work as Bishop of Lincoln after a 20 month suspension due to a safeguarding investigation. The bishop has accepted a formal rebuke for the mishandling of a safeguarding disclosure and has apologised unreservedly for his “error of judgement”.  The length of the suspension has once more brought the church’s disciplinary mechanism into the spotlight.  Former Conservative minister now ordained,  the Rev Jonathan Aitken, wrote in the Telegraph last week that a similar delays,  such as that experienced by the former Archbishop George Carey, “are not tolerated when it comes to complaints against Parliamentarians, civil servants, business executives or prison and probation service employees. Why should clergy be treated so much worse?”

Campaign to boycott Jewish News after exposé of illegal mass weddings

The Jewish News says it has seen evidence that some members of the strict Orthodox Jewish community in Stamford Hill have launched a campaign to boycott and destroy copies of the paper after it exposed at least 50 large weddings had been held in contravention of Covid-19 rules. It says that while a majority of the community has acknowledged wrongdoing and pledged to curb further illegal activity, others have blamed the paper for stoking antisemitism.

Pope Francis: Children of an annulled marriage deserve attention

The Pope has called for greater attention to the consequences of marriage annulments, especially on a separated couple’s children.  The Catholic Church allows annulment in cases of mental or physical infirmity, the lack of Catholic faith in one of the spouses before marriage, or if consent to marry was gained by verbal or physical violence. The Religion News Service reports that the Pope reformed the process for annulments in 2015, empowering diocesan bishops to act as judges instead of reference to a Catholic court. Since then, he said he has received many letters from lawyers who were losing clients.

Common values and peace sought in interfaith week

This is World Interfaith Harmony Week, a moment proposed by King Abdullah II of Jordan and confirmed by the United Nations. Its purpose is to provide a platform when all interfaith groups and others of goodwill can recognise common values and bring peace and harmony to their communities. It began very simply with Muslim and Christian leaders engaged in dialogue based on two common commandments – love of God and love of the neighbour. voiding duplicating each others’ efforts.

American priest leaves his job after live streaming exorcism of alleged election fraud

A priest in Madison, Wisconsin, has left his job after live-streaming multiple exorcisms of alleged fraud in the election of Donald Trump. The Rev John Zuhlsdorf is known for critical views of Pope Francis and sympathy to President Trump’s policies. His bishop said there was a “mutual decision” for him to leave. He had been given to perform exorcism of coronavirus, but nothing of a political nature. In his blog, which he updates several times a day, Fr Zuhlsdorf  spoke of a “present atmosphere of cancel culture” infecting the Church, media and streets.