Religion and Law roundup: 2nd December – Advent I

Ordination of women as bishops and archbishops

Shortly after becoming Prime Minister in 1964, Harold Wilson is alleged to have said that ‘a week is a long time in politics’.  As Justin Welby begins to pick up the reins of the Church of England, he will appreciate that applies equally to the Church of England. The ‘no’ vote to the ordination of women to the episcopate on 20th November precipitated political and media action that few could have anticipated, and a few ill-chosen phrases were seized upon as evidence to support hostile comment from both within and outwith Church circles.

Whilst the issues are important for both points of view, the relevance of the politico-media concerns was put into perspective by the lack of interest shown in the decision of the Archbishops Council that “a process to admit women to the episcopate needed to be restarted at the next meeting of the General Synod in July 2013”. Likewise, the paucity of e-petitions demanding removal of bishops from the Upper House does not seem to reflect the reported antipathy towards the Church, ranking beneath the interest shown in ‘Drop the VAT hike on the sale of static caravans’.

Whilst the Church’s latest moves overcome the potential delay before the process can be ‘restarted’, the Church’s procedures remain ponderously slow.  At the Diocesan Synod of the Oxford Diocese on 17th November it was noted that under Bishop Welby, a review of the contentious ‘parish share’ funding had been resolved in the Durham Diocese in a mere 6 weeks. Similar swift action would restore some of the lost confidence in the Church, but a simplification of a revised Measure re: women in the episcopate without appropriate safeguards for those of contrary theological beliefs could be as counter-productive of the ‘over-lobbying’ this time around.

The significant event of last week was the prospect of parliamentary intervention and the Prime Minister’s suggestion that the Church should “get with the programme”, [i.e. the “be reasonable, see it my way” approach to legislation, such as same-sex marriage and the implementation of Leveson legal safeguards].  The situation is reported to have resulted in William Fittall, Secretary General of the General Synod, expressing his strong concerns to the Archbishops’ Council and suggest that the Church should take steps in July 2013 to consecrate women bishops and vote them through by 2015, otherwise it risks the matter being taken out of its hands by Parliament. A leaked copy of Fittall’s memo was reported in The Times on 26th November by Ruth Gledhill as “‘Secret church memo on women bishops demands U-turn’, and elsewhere. Given the sensitivity of the situation and the views expressed within of the memo, one must ponder the motives behind whoever handed the hard copy [i.e. less traceable] to The Times.  Whatever view they might have intended to promote, this must have been done in the knowledge that it would have a damaging impact on the Church.

In parallel but independent of the memo was an assessment by Bob Morris of the UCL Constitution Unit, Women as bishops: should Parliament intervene? Posted on this blog, it received widespread attention and came to the different conclusion

“Since nothing so far suggests that Parliament contemplates such a rupture, it follows that the Church must be allowed to deal with the present crisis itself. Whether in doing so it strengthens the case for a radical review of remaining church/state ties is another question.”

Thinking Anglicans urged its readers “to study this article in full”, with which we would fully concur.

To date there have been no further substantive developments at national level since the Church’s statement on 28th November. However, yesterday the Bristol Diocesan Synod passed a vote of no confidence in the ability of the General Synod of the Church of England to effect the clear will of the majority of Church members in relation to women bishops, here.  In an earlier post, Paul Roberts had suggested the best way of getting the matter straightened-out for the Church of England, viz.

“the basic approach would be to get sufficient numbers of Diocesan Synods to pass this or similar votes of No Confidence in the current General Synod, in order to get a dissolution and an early election.”

Finally, canon lawyers amongst our readers may have spotted the comment in Thinking Anglicans’ item Women Bishops: electronic voting results:

“some at least of the three ecclesiastical judges consider it inappropriate to vote on church legislation which they may later have to enforce.”

indicating the importance they place on the “separation of powers”. TA’s full voting list may also be of interest to some, but events seem to have overtaken analysis of the details of the vote.

Commission on a Bill of Rights

On 27 November the Commission on a Bill of Rights published the responses to its second consultation. You can read Frank Cranmer’s response here – but reasonably regular readers of this blog can probably guess what it said without going to the bother…

Abortion law in Ireland

We noted the publication of the the Report of the Expert Group established to recommend a series of options on how to implement the ECtHR’s judgment in A, B and C v Ireland 25579/05 [2010] ECHR 2032 (16 December 2010) on termination of pregnancy. This has been the Irish Government’s version of the votes for prisoners controversy in the UK: both have involved unenthusiastic Governments having to find some way of complying with a ruling of the ECtHR in the face of considerable political opposition to doing so, both have resulted in action barely before the deadline for compliance ran out and neither has resulted in a proposal that will change the situation in the very near future. The only difference between them is that the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition in Ireland is rather less unenthusiastic about limited reform of abortion laws than the Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition at Westminster is about giving the vote even to the very limited group serving than six months or less.

The Oireachtas Schedule of Business reveals that there will be Opening Statements in Dáil Éireann on the Report of the Expert Group on Tuesday afternoon, 4 December.

The BBC reports that a new opinion poll published today, Sunday, shows a majority of Irish people want new legislation on abortion. The survey suggests that eight out ten people would support laws which allow abortion where the mother’s life is in danger, including where there is a threat of suicide.

Organ donation and presumed consent – this time in Scotland

On 1 November the Scottish Parliament held a debate on the shortage of organs for transplant and the possibility of introducing a system of presumed consent but without coming to any conclusion on the matter. Winding up the debate, the Minister for Public Health, Michael Matheson said that the recent task force on organ donation had not recommended a move to an opt-out system because of its potentially negative implications for clinical practice – nor was it convinced that an opt-out scheme would necessarily increase donation rates. Nevertheless, he told the Parliament that an opt-out was “not completely off the agenda” and Scotland would be taking part in the UK-wide review of the the position in 2013. He noted that the Welsh Assembly was looking to move to a system of soft opt-out and expected to learn more from its experience – but he suggested that a move to an opt-out system was not without “real risks”.

Ritual slaughter in Poland and Lancashire

The BBC reports that the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland has ruled that it is contrary to Polish law to slaughter animals without pre-stunning, despite the fact that paragraph 18 of the Preamble to the new EU law on slaughtering allows the practice:

“Derogation from stunning in case of religious slaughter taking place in slaughterhouses was granted by Directive 93/119/EC. Since Community provisions applicable to religious slaughter have been transposed differently depending on national contexts and considering that national rules take into account dimensions that go beyond the purpose of this Regulation, it is important that derogation from stunning animals prior to slaughter should be maintained, leaving, however, a certain level of subsidiarity to each Member State. As a consequence, this Regulation respects the freedom of religion and the right to manifest religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance, as enshrined in Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.”

The report says that the Polish Agriculture Ministry has awarded licences to at least seventeen slaughterhouses to kill animals according to Jewish or Muslim guidelines; however, at the request of animal rights’ groups Attorney General Andrzej Seremet argued that an amendment made in 2004 allowing ritual slaughter on religious grounds was unconstitutional in that it contravened animal rights legislation dating back to 1997 which stated that slaughter should only take place “[following] the loss of consciousness” after a farm animal had been stunned. The Union of Jewish Communities is taking legal advice on a challenge.

The issue of kosher and halal slaughter is a matter of some controversy in the UK, and we have noted previously that Defra held its own consultation on the matter, Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing, which closed on 24 October.  This week a separate issue has arisen in which the Lancashire Council of Mosques’ (LCM) Halal Sub-Committee is urging Muslim parents not to allow their children to eat meat and chicken at schools that are supplied with catering/meals from Lancashire County Council (LCC), here.  This too concerns stunning before slaughter, and appears to have arisen after it was recently discovered that LCC’s latest suppliers of “halal” products

“are not accredited by any halal certifying organization that is in line with the halal criteria adopted by the LCM in 2007 and which was subsequently presented to the LCC.”

An impasse appears inevitable following reported statements of the leader of the Council that

“it is misleading to say the suppliers we have chosen are not accredited halal suppliers – the body which accredited our suppliers was the body which accredited the meat for the Olympic Games … it was ‘unacceptable’ [for the LCC] to use meat from animals which had not been stunned. This is non-negotiable.”

Church encourages parishes to enter the ‘ethical vacuum’

On the day following the publication of the 1987-page report on the inquiry by Lord Justice Leveson in which he described the internet as an ‘ethical vacuum’, the Church of England’s Communications Update was devoted to the its use of social media, and encouraged its readers

“to join a national campaign and livetweet [do we need words like “livetweet”? fc] your church’s Christmas service – helping take the joy and meaning of Christmas to the 10 million people who make up the UK’s ‘Twitterati’”.

Whether or not all clergy will appreciate the initiative is uncertain, these moves demonstrate the importance now placed by the Church in electronic communication and social media in communicating its message, as advocated in an earlier post.  The Communications Update provides advice to those Churches that do not currently have a Twitter account, and gives advanced notice of “A new series of free inspirational ‘on the go’ podcasts for Advent“ to be launched on 3 December.

A final thought by David Pocklington: Of Vesture – II

As the six new Cardinals ponder the financial implications of their new status, here, those lower down in the Roman Catholic hierarchy have recently been given a reminder regarding their dress code. Vatican Insider reports that the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, signed a circular letter sent to all offices in the Roman Curia, to stress the need for priests and clerics to turn up at work wearing traditional clerical garb, i.e.  dog collar and black cassock.  The report notes ‘it is very rare for priests in the Apostolic Palace not to dress like priests’ and the letter is intended as a subtle reminder to ‘those who come to the Vatican from outside and are just passing through Rome.’

Canon 284 (1983 CIC) states

“Clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical garb according to the norms issued by the conference of bishops and according to legitimate local customs”.

With regard to the latter, the report noted that “the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) established that “the clergy has to wear a cassock or dog collar,” meaning black or grey vestments and a white dog collar” [strictly, the cassock is clerical dress and not a vestment in view of its non-liturgical use].

Although not directly applicable to the Church of England, the norms will be followed by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See, the final interviews for whom were scheduled for 23rd November.  The new appointee will take over from the Very Reverend Canon David Richardson when he retires after Easter in 2013.

Although the Church’s recent concern for dress was not addressed towards the laity, earlier this year the Catholic Herald ran an article questioning ‘Why are we so badly dressed at church?’ comparing the casual, informal approach in the US and Britain with that in Spain where the congregation go to elaborate lengths to look their best.

Within the Church of England, choristers and some clergy often forget that whilst the cassock is ideal at covering whatever one is (or isn’t) being worn beneath it, attention to footwear is sometimes absent, and there is possibly a need for my co-blogger’s suggested Worship and Doctrine (Amendment) (Polished Black Shoes with Cassock) Measure. (“But he’s only a Quaker – so what does he know about anything anyway?”, fc)