Religion and Law Round-up : Mid-October’s Events and Non-Events

Following September’s round-up of events and non-events, here, a busy start to October has prompted a review of some of the more newsworthy events, providing updates and links to those which are not covered in other posts.

As easy as ABC?

The non-appointment of the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury continues to be a major non-event, but one where debate on the nomination process might be prompted by news that the House of Bishops of the Church of Ireland took only one day to select Dr Richard Clarke, Bishop of Meath & Kildare, as new Primate of All Ireland.  Since its disestablishment in 1871, there has been no direct link between the Church of Ireland and the monarch, an important factor in the appointment process.  Although the UK Prime Minister still has a role in the appointment of senior clergy in the Church of England, since the changes in 2007, he or she no longer plays an active part in the selection of individual candidate and recommending their appointment to the Queen, as did Margaret Thatcher in 1980, 1987 and 1990, and Tony Blair in 1997.  The Queen continues to be advised on the exercise of her powers of appointment by one of her Ministers, usually the Prime Minister, and the government consults the Church ‘as to how best arrangements can be put in place to select candidates for individual ecclesiastical appointments in line with agreed principles.’


The appeal ruling of a Cologne court regarding the legality of circumcision of a Muslim boy, reported here, although not binding elsewhere in Germany prompted many medical institutions to adopt a precautionary approach and place a ban on the procedure.  The issue is of importance to both Jews and Muslims and  a rabbi in the town of Hof is facing charges for performing this rite.  The implications have extended beyond Germany and prompted discussion and calls for a ban in Denmark, Norway, Austria and Switzerland.

On 10th October the German Cabinet approved a bill to make circumcision legal.  It will now be debated in the Bundestag and it is planned that the legislation will be passed before the end of the year.  However, it is reported that the matter remains controversial in Germany’s secular society which views religion with suspicion, particularly in the former East Germany with its history of Communist atheism.

‘No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition’

The National Secular Society has a very efficient news round-up page on its web site, although some translation is necessary to convert its the titles assigned to its hyperlinks to something more acceptable to non-members of the NSS.  This week has seen a couple of classics relating to the activities of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, (CDF), (which, incidentally, lost its ‘Inquisition’ title in 1904):

  • “Heretical Irish priest to face the Inquisition – unlikely to face the rack and the stake” which linked to an item in the Irish Independent entitled ‘Vatican ordeal for rebel priest Fr Flannery which concerned ‘[the] increasing scrutiny from the Vatican’s theological watchdog for expressing liberal views [on women’s’ ordination]’; and
  • The statement “the Inquisition is coming to get London’s gay Catholics” which linked to a question posed by a headline in Catholic Culture ‘Vatican to take action on gay-community Masses in London?’  The article quotes a report in Katholisches that the special Eucharistic celebrations at Our Lady of the Assumption, which take place twice each month, have drawn the critical attention of Archbishop Gerhard Müller, the new prefect of the CDF.

 The liturgies–which are heavily advertised among homosexual groups, and involve prominent display of symbols such as the rainbow banner–have drawn criticism from conservative Catholics.  The move of the CDF is apparently supported by the Archbishop of Westminster who is quoted as insisting that the Masses “are not occasions for confusion or opposition concerning the positive teaching of the Church on the meaning of human sexuality or the moral imperatives that flow from that teaching.”

There’s also an NSS link to an Independent article on George Carey’s reported comments at a fringe meeting of the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, although for preference we would go for the piece in ‘What’s in Kelvin’s Head?’ George C and Anne W

Doctors of the Church

In Thinking about Saints, Dame Catherine Wybourne reminded us that along with John of Avila, the Benedictine nun Hildegard of Bingen, (1098 – 1179), was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church at a Mass on 7th October in St. Peter’s Square.  St Hildegard made important contributions to medicine, poetry and music.  Those listening to Columba Aspexit would probably agree that her compositions took the ‘plain’ out of plainsong, and canon lawyers will be intrigued in her stance on burial:  she permitted a young man, who had once been excommunicated, to be buried in the cemetery attached to her convent; her refusal to remove the body resulted in an interdict being place on her convent by the bishop and chapter of Mainz, and whilst this was eventually lifted, this was after her death.

Church and State

In December 2011, the Hungarian parliament introduced a new law on churches under which more than 300 formerly registered denominations became no longer recognized by the state and therefore ineligible for the  resulting benefits ,including tax exemptions and their abilities to run state-funded schools here.  As a result, only 14 faiths were recognized, including the Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist churches and three Jewish denominations, but excluding smaller Christian groups such as the Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and local Church of England congregations.  Also not recognized are Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Baha’i communities and many smaller Catholic orders including the Benedictines, Marists, and Carmelites, and also Opus Dei

Although additional faiths have now been included, the new law has been widely criticized both in the European Union and the US, and 17 organizations which lost their church status as a result of the law have approached the European Court of Human Rights.  The ECtHR is now seeking information from the Hungarian government, here, which has until 23 January 2013 to respond.  The Court’s conclusions are expected in May or June.

Church and State – Italy

In a move by the EU prompted by  its long-standing ‘State Aid’ provisions, as from 1st January 2013 the Roman Catholic Church in Italy may lose its historic property tax exemption, here.  Currently, the Church does not pay taxes on land where at least a part of a Church property is used non-commercially, such as a chapel in a bed-and-breakfast.  La Repubblica reports that municipal government associations have estimated that this would result revenues of €500M to €2bn annually across the country, and the previously exempt properties in Rome alone – including hotels, restaurants and sports centers – net reach €25.5M annually.

However, it has also been reported that this has been rejected by Italy’s Council of State on the grounds that the decree is ‘too heterogeneous’ and goes ‘beyond the competences’ of tax law.

As the Italian proverb says, ‘fatta la legge, trovato l’inganno’.

Pussy Riot – the continuing story

Yekaterina Samutsevich, one of the three members of Pussy Riot jailed following their ‘performance’ protest in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, here, has been freed by a Moscow court. The BBC reports that the judges accepted the argument of her lawyer that she had been thrown out of the cathedral by guards before she could remove her guitar from its case to perform the band’s ‘punk prayer’ The two-year jail sentences on the other were upheld.

Although outside Russia there has been sympathy for Pussy Riot, including its inclusion by the European Parliament among its finalists for the EU’s annual Sakharov human rights prize, here, opinion polls in Russia suggest that a majority back the sentence and a significant number consider it to be too lenient.

Some might suggest that the European Parliament’s support of Pussy Riot is on a par with the award by the National Secular Society of the £1,000 Simon Biber Memorial prize for special achievement to former Councillor Clive Bone, here, for his involvement in the ‘Bideford Council Prayers’ issue, here, and here.  Other might not.  However, regardless of one’s views, the knock-on effects from the original incident have been greater than might have been predicted, as with the Cologne court’s ‘circumcision’ ruling, above.

G2 and G4: Of Chancellors and Registrars

The teaching of canon law to trainee priests in the Church of England is less rigorous than to Catholic seminarians, and whilst its Diocesan Registrars are required inter alia to be ‘learned in the ecclesiastical laws’ (Canon G 4§2), this is not a requirement for chancellors or judges of a Consistory Court, (Canon G 2§2).  There are, however, a number of chancellors who are so qualified, such as Professor Mark Hill, QC, who has been Chancellor of the Diocese of Chichester since 1999, of the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe since 2004 and Deputy Chancellor of the Diocese of York since 2007, here.

It is therefore significant that the Diocese of Bangor has appointed Professor Norman Doe as it Chancellor, whom its Press Release indicates ‘is considered by many to be the world’s leading expert in the Canon Law of the Anglican Church’.

3 thoughts on “Religion and Law Round-up : Mid-October’s Events and Non-Events

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