Religion and Law round up – 14th April

A week dominated by the Church of England’s publication about its understanding of marriage and the first signs of the new Pope’s reform agenda

Same-sex marriage and the C of E

The week saw the publication by the Church of England of Men and Women in Marriage  a short summary of the Church of England’s understanding of marriage intended to explain the rationale for the Church’s doctrine of marriage and its continued importance. We confess that it struck us as rather bland: principally because it was trying to defend the idea of marriage as being heterosexual and monogamous while at the same time trying to avoid being condemnatory of same-sex relationships  and not quite managing to do either adequately.

During his Presidential Address to the Governing Body of the Church in Wales, the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Rev Dr Barry Morgan, took a view that seemed both more relaxed and more robust. While he was content with the procedural compromise that had been reached over the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in relation to the Church in Wales, he evidently did not dismiss out of hand the possibility that Welsh Anglicans might one day wish to conduct same-sex marriages. He also announced that the Bishops had asked the Church’s Doctrinal Commission to examine the whole issue of same-sex relationships. Once it had produced its report there would have to be a general discussion on the way ahead for the Church.

A fuller report of this aspect of the Presidential Address will be posted early next week.


On 7 April Pope Francis “took possession of” the Archbasilica of St John Lateran[1] as Bishop of Rome (cf the installation of Justin Welby as Bishop of Canterbury as well as ABC), a title for which he is thought to have a marked preference. It has been suggested that this may underscore his commitment to the principle of collegiality: the shared governance of the Church by all the world’s bishops in communion with the Pope. This is supported the announcement on 13 April that Pope Francis has appointed a group of cardinals to advise him on church government and a revision plan for the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, Pastor Bonus. The full text of the communiqué issued by the Secretariat of State states that:

“The Holy Father Francis, taking up a suggestion that emerged during the General Congregations preceding the Conclave, has established a group of cardinals to advise him in the government of the universal Church and to study a plan for revising the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, Pastor Bonus“.

The group consists of: Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, President of the Governorate of Vatican City State; Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, Archbishop emeritus of Santiago de Chile, Chile; Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, India; Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany; Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, Archbishop of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley OFM Cap, Archbishop of Boston, USA; Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney, Australia; Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, SDB, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in the role of coordinator; and Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano, Italy, in the role of Secretary.”

Pope Francis is currently in contact with this group, although its first meeting will not take place until 1-3 October 2013. It appears, therefore, that curial reform will not take place in the short term. However, one appointment that has been announced is that of the Franciscan leader, Fr Jose Rodriguez Carballo, as the new Secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life.

This week, it was also reported that as part of his general plan to reorganise Bishops’ Conferences, the Pope plans to end the situation whereby he chooses the men who would fill the two top positions within the Italian Bishops’ Conference, (CEI), ie the president and secretary general. This would result in greater involvement of national episcopates in the universal Church government and a greater collegiality in decision-making.

As part of on-going work, (ie not directly attributable to Francis I), progress was made towards greater transparency of the Vatican bank, (the Istituto per le Opere di Religione – IOR), and it will provide a more comprehensive review in its December 2013 report to Moneyval, the Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism.

Abortion and maternity care in Ireland

Readers may recall the case of Savita Halappanavar, who presented with back-pain at University College Hospital Galway on 21 October 2012, was found to be miscarrying and died of septicaemia a week later. According to her husband, over a three-day period she asked several times that her pregnancy be terminated but her request was refused. The adjourned inquest reopened in Galway on 8 April and we shall report the outcome. The underlying issue, of course, is the present state of abortion law in Ireland – itself currently under scrutiny in the Irish Parliament in light of the ECtHR judgment in A, B and C v Ireland [2010] ECHR 2032.

The circumstances of her Mrs Halappanavar’s death have been the subject of a separate inquiry by a committee of the Health Service Executive under the chairmanship of Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, past President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and a professor at St George’s Medical School in London. The HSE has already apologised for the events that contributed to Mrs Halappanavar‘s death: the report of Professor Arulkumaran’s committee is apparently at the final draft stage.

Employment, religion or belief

We reported the slightly strange case of the delayed press coverage of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s guidance for employers on religion or belief in the workplace which was published on 14 February. The Mail was hysterical (so what’s new?): the Telegraph was more measured. But why the time-lag, we do not know.

The EU and the ECHR 

In last week’s round-up we mentioned that after three years of negotiations the Council of Europe and the European Union had reached initial agreement about EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights as required by Article 6 of the Lisbon Treaty. The UK Human Rights Blog has an extremely useful guide to the process of accession written by David Hart QC. It cannot be too highly recommended – but his conclusion seems to be “Don’t hold your breath”.

Merda taurorum animas conturbit?

As a footnote to his Presidential Address to the Church in Wales Governing Body on 10 April, the Archbishop notes that

“Professor Thomas Watkin has, mischievously, pointed out that the Church in Wales is already familiar with the concept of same-sex marriage if one wants to be married in the Welsh language in the Church in Wales. The opening words of the Marriage Service[2] is ‘Saif y ddeuddyn sydd i’w priodi o flaen yr offeiriad – and ‘ddeuddyn’ is a comprehensive word – it could be two people, or indeed, two men! – since the literal translation is two men”.

However, reading further down the Wedding Service, Gwasanaeth Priodasone will find the more familiar words

“Yr ydym wedi ymgynnull yng ngŵydd Duw i dystio i briodas y mab hwn a’r ferch hon ac i weddïo drostynt,”

 which Google Translate gives for those without Welsh (ie dp and fc):

“We are assembled in the presence of God to witness the marriage of this man and this woman, and to pray for them.”


And finally…

The aforementioned publication by the Church of England’s Faith and Order Commission received what can only be described as mixed reviews. Much the funniest was by The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley. Enjoy.

[1] In an article in the [GlasgowHerald John Macleod (son of Donald Macleod, Professor of Systematic Theology at the Free Church College and former Principal of the College) once described Pope John Paul II as “Moderator of the kirk session at St Peter’s”. Sloppy journalism – every properly-educated canonist knows that the Pope moderates the kirk session of St John Lateran.

[2] Church in Wales Book of Common Prayer 1984 version.