In a week of elections, starting with that of Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, here, and ending with the Downing Street announcement
‘The Queen has nominated the Right Reverend Justin Welby, MA, Hon FCT, the Lord Bishop of Durham, for election by the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury in the place of the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Rowan Douglas Williams, MA DPhil DD FBA, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England and Metropolitan,’
there have been relatively few new developments in the field of law and religion, although there has been progress on a number of issues, and relevant links to other current events.
We started the week with Dame Catherine Wybourne ’s thoughts on Gunpowder Plots and a Few Damp Squibs that Robert Catesby’s Gunpowder Plot – normally attributed to Guido Fawkes, the man responsible for the explosives – ‘proved to be yet another damp squib’ and ‘far from achieving anything of value, he merely re-stoked the fires of anti-popery’. This is certainly true. It is not widely appreciated that the 1662 Book of Common Prayer included a State Service entitled ‘Gunpowder Treason’, which
‘The Minister of every Parish shall give warning to his Parishioners publickly in the Church at Morning Prayer, the Sunday before, for the due observation of the said Day. And after Morning Prayer, or preaching, upon the said Fifth Day of November, shall read publickly, distinctly and plainly, the Act of Parliament, made in the third Year of King James the First, for the observation of it.’
Its anti-popery is clear from the two Collects which refer to ‘the deliverance of our Church and Nation from Popish tyranny and arbitrary power’ and give thanks for deliverance for those ‘assembled in Parliament, by Popish treachery appointed as sheep to the slaughter, in a most barbarous and savage manner, beyond the examples of former ages’. This service, together with the two other State Services [King Charles the Martyr, and the Restoration of Charles II] were only removed in 1859, thirty years after the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829.
Across in the United States, issues of law and religion have arisen in relation to the Presidential Election, which are of relevance here only insomuch as those of the Catholic faith are bound by the same canonical provisions viz. Canons 285 §3 CIC and more particularly Canon 287 §2 CIC under which clerics
‘are not to have an active part in political parties and in governing labor unions unless, in the judgment of competent ecclesiastical authority, the protection of the rights of the Church or the promotion of the common good requires it.’
Whilst a parish’s distribution of Mitt Romney endorsements might be regarded by some of ‘promotion of the common good’, Ekklesia’s report, if true, that
‘[a] Catholic bishop in a swing state released a pastoral letter this week warning his flock that “to vote for someone in favour of [the Democratic party’s] positions … could put your own soul in jeopardy,” ‘
would seem to stretch the interpretation of the Canon too far. God and Politics in the UK gives a further analysis of the attitudes of other faith groups and the US presidential election. The final position of Obama’s 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206, belies the apparent closeness of the election until the very last minute, and one can perhaps excuse the Archbishop Cranmer blog from predicting ‘President Romney – get used to it’. However, his subsequent post on Wednesday 7th November, which congratulated Justin Welby on his elevation to Canterbury, seemed to be on firmer ground, the bookmakers William Hill and Ladbrookes both having suspended betting on the previous day, here.
In addition to our comments on the new ABC, Thinking Anglicans summarized many other initial reactions to new Archbishop, here, with further opinions here, and even more reactions, here. There’s probably little more to be said, other than to note two points: The Tablet blog notes that in response to a reporter’s question ‘Do you really believe in the Virgin Birth?’, he replied: ‘I can say the whole of the Creed without crossing my fingers’; and then there’s the issue of procavia capensis, the coney/rock hydrax/rock badger, which is best followed on Heresy Corner or the Daily Telegraph.
Back in the real world, we gave an update on the charitable status and public benefit issues surrounding “closed” congregations reported in the transcript of the 30 October 2012 evidence session on the Regulation of the Charitable Sector and the Review of the Charities Act 2006 at which the Exclusive Brethren gave evidence. Underlying the issue was the fact that the removal of the presumption of public benefit in the Charities Act 2006 had opened an area of doubt, and witnessed have given their opinions on whether the production of guidance by the Charity Commission might make the application of the legislation too inflexible or not.
Richard Ottaway’s Scrap Metal Dealers’ Bill passed its report stage in the Commons on 9th November, but in order to prevent it being rejected through the action of Tory rebels, it was necessary to introduce the compromise of a 3-year review of the regulations and a ‘5-year sunset clause’ after which “it could be replaced if necessary with even more effective legislation”, here. The Church of England has been lobbying hard in favour of this government-backed Private Member’s Bill, but there are a number in the secondary metals business who believe that this legislation is not the correct way to resolve the problems of lead and copper theft. The Bill now goes to the House of Lords, where the support of the Lords Spiritual is assured.
Finally, we reported on the Welsh Assembly Government’s proposals for the introduction of presumed consent for organ donation, here, and the challenge in the Supreme Court concerning aspects of the competence of the WAG to introduce such measures. NHS Blood and Transfusion has recently completed a consultation on what are perhaps more radical plans in this area. This, and the relevance of Canon 1196 CIC, will be considered in posts later this week.
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An addendum to the situation in the US: Tax exempt status rests on churches not pursuing political aims or getting involved in politics. The Huffington Post recently asked why the IRS was refusing to move on those churches which were obviously ignoring this stricture. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/03/political-activity-religious-groups_n_2069128.html
“Political watchdog and secularist groups are asking the U.S. government to investigate whether Catholic bishops and a Christian evangelical group headed by preacher Billy Graham should lose tax breaks for telling followers how to vote in this year’s election.”