Religion news 28 May

The Bishop of Ripon, whose tweet set off a chain reaction from bishops furious at Dominic Cummings and the PM’s support of him, has said she is aware that speaking ‘truth to power’ has the potential to annoy and offend. The Bishop of Ripon Helen Ann Hartley said in the Yorkshire Post: ‘I didn’t post those tweets lightly, I did so because my own personal story and the stories of so many I have heard in recent weeks has been seriously undermined by the behaviour of individuals who set a clear policy and who I expected to model that in their own lives.’   Along with other tweeting bishops, she has since received death threats. In the article, she said that Jesus challenges people to pray for their enemy, and on twitter  she did just that:  ‘Praying today for all who hold public office whether that be elected, appointed, delegated; and for those who are fearful or who are in anguish at this time 🙏🏻’

Meanwhile a vicar from Brighton, who thought he had won a government review of fines for families who travelled to get childcare during lockdown, has spoken of his disappointment that it has now been ruled out. Rev Martin Poole was selected to ask a question at the daily government coronavirus briefing, the day after the controversy exploded surrounding Dominic Cummings’ trip to Durham during lockdown.  The health secretary Matt Hancock labelled the question “perfectly reasonable…. especially coming from a man of the cloth” and pledged to look into the matter.  But it was ruled out on Wednesday morning by another government minister, speaking on BBC news.

OFCOM has announced an update in licensing information which will allow people organising drive in church services to apply for a temporary radio licence. It would mean that people can assemble in their cars, tune in and listen to the service broadcast from a site in front of them. Ofcom says: ‘Given the coronavirus pandemic, we are waiving the usual 60-day notice period for licence applications. We will also process applications quickly, so we can provide an answer to applicants within two weeks of their application being received. These events might be a way for communities and congregations to enjoy a film or to worship, while still observing social distancing.’

The Pope has advanced the cause of 14 holy men and women to become saints. The process involves recognising miracles and martyrdom. They include Charles de Foucauld, a French soldier, monk and missionary killed at his hermitage in the Sahara in Algeria in 1916, who was the inspiration for several religious associations and communities; Cesare de Bus, who founded the Secular Priests of Christian doctrine in the 17th century; Michael McGivney, a 19th century American priest who founded the Knights of Columbus; and the French laywoman Venerable Pauline-Marie Jaricot, who founded the Society of the Propagation of the Faith.


Churches and other places of worship in South Africa will reopen next month, according to the country’s president Cyril Ramaphosa. Services will, however, be limited to 50 people, the president announced this week, while worshippers will be required to wear face coverings.

Churches in the Holy Land have been reopened to worshippers and tourists, but with restrictions in place.  Visitors to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem must wear masks and be free of a fever to enter. No more than 50 people can enter at any one time.  The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection has also reopened but visitors must coordinate their visit in advance, Reuters reported.

The Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron has also opened after three months lockdown. 50 worshippers have been allowed to enter and morning prayers are performed three times to allow more people to pray.

A German branch of Ikea welcomed around 800 Muslims to pray in its car park to mark the end of Ramadan on Sunday.  The branch in Wetzlar, north of Frankfurt, offered the space up for socially distanced mass prayer. Places of worship have reopened in Germany but with strict rules which would have made it impossible to cater for such a large gathering indoors.

Choral singing remains off limits in Germany, despite places of worship opening their doors.  In mid-March a member of the Berlin Cathedral Choir revealed that she had been tested positive for Covid-19 and within two weeks, around 30 other members had tested positive while a further 30 were showing symptoms. Similar stories emerged from choirs around the world, according to AFP, including one in Amsterdam where more than 100 members fell ill.  Research has shown that singing produces an especially high number of potentially infectious micro-particles and that saying ‘aah’ for 30 seconds produces twice as many particles as coughing for the same length of time. The country’s Catholic Church has proposed “quiet singing” during socially-distanced services, while the Protestant maintains a complete ban.

An Israeli court has ruled that a former Jewish school principal, who stands accused of 74 child sex charges in Australia is mentally fit to face an extradition hearing.  Malka Leifer, who was head of a Jewish girls’ school in Melbourne, fled to Israel in 2008 after accusations were raised against her, the BBC reported. Ms Leifer, who was not in court on Tuesday, allegedly raped and indecently assaulted girls at the ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel School in Melbourne. Her accusers have waived their right to anonymity. She denies all charges.