Religion and Law round up – 31st March

Was such a quiet week worth rounding up at all?

Lord Carey and “persecuted Christians”

Just when we had concluded that there had been hardly anything worth reporting in the last week, the former (or should that now be “former former”?) Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, sought to enliven Holy Saturday by sounding off in the Daily Mail about Christians feeling that they were a “persecuted minority”. He quoted a poll by ComRes (also reported in the Mail) to the effect that two-thirds of Christians feel that they are part of a persecuted minority; and though he conceded that their fears may be exaggerated “because few in the UK are actually persecuted” he nevertheless said that “the Prime Minister has done more than any other recent political leader to feed these anxieties” and cited same-sex marriage as an example. We will post on the matter at greater length later in the week.

Prison chaplaincy and the C of E 

Section 7 of the Prisons Act 1952 requires that every prison establishment in England shall have a chaplain who “… shall be a clergyman of the Church of England”. Mutatis mutandis, the result of section 53(3) is that every Welsh prison must have a chaplain who is a cleric of the Church in Wales even though it is no longer the Established Church. There are lots of prison chaplains of other denominations and other faiths but the other chaplains are not statutory officers of the prisons in which they work.

While Ken Clarke was Secretary of State for Justice it was apparently decided in principle to open the post of Chaplain-General of the Prison Service in England and Wales to all faiths. At one minute past midnight on Good Friday, however, The Times (safe behind its paywall so no link) reported that the current Lord Chancellor & Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, has decided that the post will continue to be filled by an Anglican, apparently on the grounds that the C of E is the established Church. There has been not a peep (nor even a tweet) out of the MoJ Press Office.

Women in the C of E episcopate

On Tuesday the Church of England Media Centre issued an update on the progress of the legislation to allow the consecration of women as bishops. The consultation document generated 376 responses by the closing date of 28 February. Of these responses, 10 were from organisations and three from bishops, and of the remaining 363 submissions 154 were from General Synod members and 209 from others. The working group has met twice in March and has further meetings scheduled for April and May. It remains on track to report to the House of Bishops before its meeting on 20/21 May, when the House will be deciding what proposals to bring to the Synod in July. At its April meeting the group is having further facilitated conversations with those who joined it for the earlier discussions at the beginning of February.

As the work of the group progresses, we note that other initiatives within the Church and Parliament formed with a view to expediting the consecration of women into the episcopate have faltered.

Women and the Mandatum

Few, other than liturgical traditionalists and canon lawyers within the Roman Catholic Church, would have considered as unusual the actions of Pope Francis at the Coena Domini Mass in the chapel of Casal del Marmo prison, which he celebrated with about fifty or so of its young inmates.  At the start of the Easter Triduum, many religions include the foot-washing rite, referred to as the Mandatum, as a re-enactment of Jesus’s washing of his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper as a gesture of humility.  This was re-introduced into the Catholic liturgy by Pope Pius XII in 1955, and revived for the first time in 400 years in Canterbury Cathedral in 2003 by Archbishop Rowan Williams, (although it had been practised in the Church of England prior to that date: when Frank was an undergraduate at St Chad’s, Durham, at the College Easter retreat in 1964 the Principal, Theo Wetherall, washed the feet of the twelve youngest students at the Maundy Thursday Mass).

According to Roman Catholic liturgical law, the non-obligatory rite is restricted to adult males (viri selecti) and it has been noted that “someone … washing the feet of any females (or, it seems, even of males under 18, per 1983 CIC 97) …  is in violation of the Holy Thursday rubrics”. Nevertheless, it is know that permissions have been granted to individual bishops to permit women to have their feet washed, and this was the practice of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, before he became pope.

However, no pope has ever washed the feet of a woman before, and Francis I’s gesture sparked a debate: conservatives and liturgical purists suggest that he set a “questionable example”; liberals have welcomed the move as a sign of greater inclusiveness in the church.  At this early stage in Pope Francis’ papacy, it would be premature to attempt to interpret the significance of this and other less divisive issues.  Nevertheless, in view their worldwide implications and the issues that these have continued to raise on an annual basis, it would be timely to revisit and clarify the Mandatum rubrics. Unlike other more pressing canon law issues, such a decision has a one-year lead-in.

Dead Kings: the Richard III saga drags on and Alfred the Great heaves into view…

The Guardian reported on Tuesday that the Plantagenet Alliance, fifteen living relatives of Richard III, is making an application for judicial review of the decision to rebury his remains in Leicester Cathedral instead of York Minster. According to the report, the relatives are bringing the action against the Ministry of Justice, which granted the archaeological excavation licence to Leicester University in the first place, claiming that they were not consulted and that their rights have been breached.

And what rights, one wonders, might those be? As we have pointed out previously, in Rudewicz, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Justice & Ors [2012] EWCA Civ 499 the Court of Appeal was called on to decide an exhumation and reburial case to which there was an objection by the closest living relative of the deceased, a first cousin, once removed. A strong Divisional Court (Hallett LJ and McCombe J) had already dismissed an argument based on Article 8 ECHR (respect for private and family life) on the grounds, inter alia, that “family life” could not subsist after death. Delivering the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Lord Neuberger MR said that he had

“… some difficulty in seeing how Article 8 is engaged. It might have been different if there had been a close personal relationship, or even a close familial relationship, between Ms Rudewicz and [the deceased], but they never met, and she is a distant relative. It is difficult to see how her family life or private life can fairly be said to be involved on the facts of this case” (para 39)”.

A fortiori (as they used to say before the Woolf Reforms) in the case of the relatives of someone who died almost 500 years ago and whose familial links are extremely tenuous at best. A statement from the University of Leicester notes that

“Richard III is believed to have no living descendants. Any distant relations are therefore descended from his siblings. Statistically speaking, many tens of thousands of individuals alive today are descended in this way.”

In addition, we noted the exhumation under faculty of remains in a grave in St Bartholomew’s Church, Winchester, which, it is thought, might be those of King Alfred the Great and his family. (Frank – ever the cynic – wondered whether Noggin the Nog might be next.)

And a Happy Easter to all our readers…

2 thoughts on “Religion and Law round up – 31st March

  1. Pingback: Religion and Law round up – 7th April | Law & Religion UK

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