Religion and Law round up – 10th March

Round-up of a fairly quiet week (unless you’re a cardinal)

Same-sex adoption 

We have previously reported the conclusion of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) that St Margaret’s Children and Family Care Society, a Glasgow-based Roman Catholic adoption agency, was failing the charity test in s 7 of the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 because it gave preference to couples who had been married for two years or more and, in effect, discriminated against the unmarried and against same-sex couples.

St Margaret’s subsequently appealed against OSCR’s decision and OSCR has now upheld its original ruling in an update to its earlier report:

“Having carried out the review on 4 March 2013, OSCR found that the charity does not provide public benefit because the way it provides benefit involves unlawful discrimination, which causes detriment to the public and to particular groups of people, the effect of which outweighs the other positive effects of the charity’s work. OSCR also found that access to the benefits the charity provides is unduly restricted. OSCR therefore found that the charity fails the charity test and confirmed the decision to direct the charity to meet the charity test”.

Comment: St Margaret’s has the right to appeal OSCR’s decision to the Scottish Charities Appeal Panel. It will be interesting to see whether the Scottish Government will make any further supportive noises now that OSCR has confirmed its decision or whether it will keep well out of it and leave the matter to the regulator and the Appeal Panel. Executive interference in regulation is not how the system was intended to work.

Succession to the Crown Bill

On Friday, Bob Morris gave further insights to the Lords committee stage on the Succession to the Crown Bill on 28 February.  In view of the interest shown by our readers, below is a timeline showing our coverage of the Bill [1]

1st Reading House of Commons, 13 December

2nd Reading and Committee stage House of Commons, 22 January

Report Stage House of Commons, 28 January

2nd Reading House of Lords, 14 February

Committee Stage House of Lords, 28 February

The Sounds of Silence?

After their arrival in Rome and prior to their participation in the General Congregations, the Cardinals are required to swear an oath

“… to maintain rigorous secrecy with regard to all matters in any way related to the election of the Roman Pontiff or those which, by their very nature, during the vacancy of the Apostolic See, call for the same secrecy,”  [Universi Dominici Gregis, (UDG), 12].

However, the interpretation of these words has been the source of friction primarily between Vatican officials and Italian cardinals, and the US cardinals – the two counties with the largest number of cardinal electors.  Writing in The Tablet, a former director of public affairs for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor noted that during the 2005 Sede Vacante,

“…  many cardinals wanted their deliberations to be insulated from the media (to prevent parallel discussions that would put pressure on the college); the Americans, on the other hand, wanted to keep the right to speak to the press up until the conclave. What was eventually agreed was that the cardinals would be free to speak to the media before the funeral, but should desist afterwards”.

In 2013, concern has again been expressed at the “parallel briefings” being given by the US cardinals, and on 6 March Rorate Caeli and La Stampa carried reports on their cancellation.  This was not well received in the US – “Team America Shut Down – Another Vatican communications stupidity” – a headline that will win few European friends, although some supportive canon law (and practical) justification is given here.

Against this confidentiality, La Stampa, the Italian daily, has been printing verbatim reports from the General Congregations and has also launched The Papal Conclave Diretta – “a live blog on papal conclave, with coverage of College of Cardinals meetings, and of related events in Rome and Vatican City, by La Stampa and VaticanInsider.com journalists and experts”. The cost to news organizations interested in buying rights is US $1,000.  Presumably La Stampa works on the principle fatta la legge, trovato l’inganno.

Moving to the Conclave itself, further oaths of secrecy must be sworn by Cardinals and others involved, (UDG 47, 48), but recent events of the Vatileaks scandal and the (consequent?) modifications in Normas nonnullas translate the requirements to the world of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons Vatican Insider reports:

“The Apostolic Palace is riddled with bugs which were installed as a response to the document leak. In the Vatileaks era the Conclave has also become a game of mirrors between those who installed the bugs and those who now have to remove them….

… the voting area and the spaces surrounding it, (Sistine Chapel and the Santa Marta residence) are in the process of being cleared out and debugged. The aim is to avoid what happened in the 2005 Conclave, when a German cardinal managed to leak cardinals’ choice of Joseph Ratzinger for Pope, so German television reported the news before the Protodeacon managed to make the famous “Habemus Papam” announcement. To prevent this, a Faraday cage is going to be used to block bug signals”.

Can 10 Minute Rule Bill help women to be bishops?

On 21 November, Ben Bradshaw is reported to have indicated that the tabling of a Ten Minute Rule Bill “could at least allow the issues arising from the vote [in General Synod] to be raised in parliament”. It should be little surprise, therefore to see in Thinking Anglicans on 8 March that Diana Johnson MP will introduce a bill into the House of Commons on 13 March under the ten-minute rule to enable women to become bishops in the Church of England. However, very few ten-minute rule bills progress on account of government opposition and lack of parliamentary time, and data for 1945 to 2009 indicated that the last such Bills reaching Royal Assent were in 2002, here and here.  

As we noted in December, despite initiatives such as Bristol Diocesan Synod vote of no confidence in the present General Synod, the costly and ineffective “no confidence” vote in the Chair of the House of Laity, here, and measures within Parliament, the programme initiated by the House of Bishops is the most likely to produce an early result for the introduction of women in the episcopate.

However, we also suggested in our observations on Proposition 4 of the Consultation Paper,

“A third objective is working to a realistic agreed timetable. There would be less pressure from Parliament, the media and elsewhere if groups within the Church agree on when specific milestone events in the process are to be achieved.”

Adding to the blog roll

Readers will gather that in the process of following events in Rome we have been drawing on the official and unofficial blogs and news services on the other side of the Tiber. Closer to home, we note that Justin Welby is now a fellow blogger, here, and we await with interest to see whether he decides to opt for an ebuzzing listing.

And finally: crux fidelis…

The Daily Express carried a rather strange report and the BBC a video-clip about a minor feud in Brearton, a village in the North Riding, where the locals have a tradition of erecting a large, plain, free-standing cross at the edge of the village green to mark Lent. Retired solicitor Alan Pickard, an atheist, took exception to this and dumped it in the pond during the night. He subsequently e-mailed neighbours to explain why: in his view, the proper place for the cross was the churchyard, not the communal green, and if it was re-erected on the green he’d chuck it in the pond again. The cross is now in the churchyard: case closed.

All very droll, you may think, and hardly worth agitating electrons for. But what if Brearton had been in New York instead of North Yorks? Americans do appear to enjoy their seemingly-continuous (and sometimes fairly nitpicking) arguments about the intricacies of the First Amendment and its establishment/free exercise clauses. A couple of examples will suffice.

  • In Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v Connellsville Area School District (WD PA March 7 2013), a Pennsylvania Federal district court refused to dismiss an establishment clause challenge to a 6-foot tall stone monument containing the Ten Commandments located near the auditorium entrance to a junior high school. The monument has been there since 1957.
  • In La Jolla, California, there has been a cross on top of Mount Soledad since 1913. The present version was erected in 1954 and the row about it has been rumbling on at least since 1989. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled the cross unconstitutional in January 2011; and the case even managed to get within touching-distance of the US Supreme Court itself, which refused in June 2012 to review the matter by way of certiorari. And all that for a dispute about a concrete cross?

Eweida & Ors seems pretty small stuff in comparison.


[1] Bob’s piece on the second reading is on the UCL Constitution Unit blog. Bob has other posts on the Succession to the Crown Bill on this site.

3 thoughts on “Religion and Law round up – 10th March

    • I’m afraid that as a Durham person born, bred and educated I don’t believe in all this new-fangled Thatcherite nonsense. The Government can draw administrative boundaries in whatever way it likes, but so far as I’m concerned, the County of Durham is the bit from the Tyne to the Tees. So, consequently, I have no desire to annex bits of Yorkshire. Did people from Middlesbrough suddenly start thinking of themselves as being from a place called “Cleveland”? I very much doubt it.

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