Religion and law round-up – 30th August

Is seems as though there is plenty going on if you know where to look – but not much in the UK

Vatican ex-envoy dies ahead of trial

On Friday the Vatican announced: “In the early hours of this morning SE Msgr. Józef Wesołowski, former Apostolic Nuncio was found dead in his home in the Vatican. The Vatican authority immediately intervened for the initial investigations, which indicated that the death was due to natural causes. The Promoter of Justice ordered an autopsy, which will be done today and the results will be communicated as soon as possible. The Holy Father has been fully informed”.

Those querying the use of the style “His Excellency Monsignor” in the Vatican announcement were given a legalistic but otherwise unsatisfactory explanation by Vatican spokesman Fr Ciro Benedettini: that “Wesołowski had appealed his laicization and that the appeal had been denied, but that the denial ‘was not officially communicated so as not to aggravate the situation’ with the on-going trial.”

A subsequent announcement confirmed that he died late on Thursday, and stated that the autopsy carried out on 28 August “confirmed the natural cause of death, attributable to a cardiac event … the Office of the Promoter of Justice will acquire the subsequent findings of the usual laboratory tests carried out by that Commission”. On his Canon Law Facebook page Dr Ed Peters despairs of the handling of the story by the Vatican Press Office; and we agree with his assessment that the events are “tailor-made for conspiracy theories”. Following last week’s ecclesiastical funeral in Rome of alleged Mafia boss Vittorio Casamonica, the Church’s handling of the arrangements for the former nuncio will be under detailed scrutiny.

Update: Vatican Insider carries a report of the funeral mass of Józef Wesołowski which took place on 31st August and was celebrated by Pope’s Almoner, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, “according to rite for the laity”.

Trinity Western Law School: round three

As we have mentioned before, Trinity Western University, British Columbia, is an overtly-confessional, Christian institution which requires its students to agree to comply with a code of conduct, the “Community Covenant”, which inter alia bans all sexual intimacy outside marriage between a man and woman. TWU is in the process of establishing a law school; and though its syllabus was approved for professional purposes by the Federation of Canadian Law Societies, reaction among Provincial Law Societies has been mixed. The Law Societies of Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Yukon  approved the law school’s accreditation, while the Law Society of Upper Canada (ie Ontario), the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society and the Law Society of British Columbia refused to do so because TWU’s Community Covenant is avowedly discriminatory in terms of sexual orientation – with the result that TWU’s law graduates will not be admitted to practise in those Provinces. (The Barreau du Québec is out of account: the only extra-Provincial law school that awards a qualification recognised in Quebec is the Civil Law Section of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law.) Moreover, in December 2014 British Columbia’s Minister of Advanced Education, having originally given Trinity Western his consent to establishing the law school, revoked it.

This week saw the third judicial review hearing on the matter. On 28 January 2015 the Nova Scotia Supreme Court handed down judgment in Trinity Western University & Anor v Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society & Ors 2015 NSSC 25, Campbell J ruling in favour of the University and holding that the NSBS had acted ultra vires by changing its rules to refuse to accept TWU graduates whose law degrees had been approved by the Federation of Canadian Law Societies. On 2 July, however, the Divisional Court of Ontario handed down judgment in Trinity Western University v The Law Society of Upper Canada 2015 ONSC 4250 and dismissed the application for judicial review of the Society’s decision not to accredit TWU’s law school. In the latest hearing, TWU is asking the British Columbia Supreme Court to overturn the decision of the BC Law Society.

So the score to date is TWU 1: Provincial Law Societies 1 – and the issue of the revocation of ministerial consent remains outstanding. We will report the latest result when judgment is handed down but we imagine that, whichever way the BC hearing goes, the dispute will end up before the Supreme Court of Canada.

Simplification of church legislation

Our 26 July round-up included a quick-link to the response by a working party of the Ecclesiastical Law Society, (ELS), to a consultation by the Archbishops’ Council’s on proposals for reforming ecclesiastical law. The Society’s response formed the basis of an article by Ruth Gledhill in Christian Today, Senior lawyers launch devastating critique on church law reform plans on which we commented in “Henry VIII powers” for the bishops? There has been further comment following the Thinking Anglicans post, Simplifying Church Legislation; and the article in the Church Times, Piecemeal revision of C of E law won’t help, say of C of E law canon lawyers, includes some observations from the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, who chairs the Archbishops’ Council’s task group on simplification. We await the Archbishops’ Council’s formal response to the Society.

Same-sex marriage in Ireland

RTÉ reports that the President, Michael O’Higgins, has now signed into law the 34th Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015 as passed by both Houses. The result of that is to amend the Constitution but not marriage law itself; and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said that in the coming weeks a new Marriage Bill will be introduced into the Oireachtas to “make the necessary changes in the law and make it a reality that in Ireland in 2015, marriages will be possible between people without distinction as to their sex”.

Zwarte Piet again

Last November we posted on the presence of Zwarte Piet, (“Black Pete”) in Dutch Sinterklaas parades as the traditional “helper” of St Nicholas and on the claim the custom is not just harmless fun but insults black people and helps perpetuate racist stereotypes.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has now intervened in the row. In a new report on the Netherlands (which is not yet available on the Committee’s website) it says that even a “deeply rooted cultural tradition does not justify discriminatory practices and stereotypes” and that the state should work to promote the “elimination of those features of Black Pete which reflect negative stereotypes and are experienced by many people of African descent as a vestige of slavery”. The Committee also urges the Dutch government to make sure that attacks on anti-Zwarte Piet protesters be effectively investigated and prosecuted.

Naked priests, safeguarding and canon law

Oscar Wilde observed, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life”; and readers who recall the Father Ted episode “The Plague” will note the similarities with those described by Dr Ed Peters in his 24 August post “Real consequences for real offenses”. He recalls that during the previous week

“ … in Hammond, Indiana, the pastor of St. Casimir Parish, Fr. William O’Toole, was confronted by police while walking around naked in the parish school … what plausible scenario exists, I wonder, whereby a pastor who walks around naked in his grade school could ever be assigned to pastoral ministry.”

This real-life scenario presents serious issues and Dr Peters ponders on the sacramental and canonical implications of “Tu es sacerdos in aeternum”; he suggests that whilst priests who are mentally ill need and have a canonical right to professional care, not included is the right to engage in public ministry. Unlike a non-cleric in similar circumstances, O’Toole was not arrested because he was a parish official; i.e. his ecclesiastical office gave him access to the school and protected him from civil arrest for being present therein.

Citing Canon 284 § 1, § 2, Canon 1389 § 1 and Canon 1395 § 2, Dr Peters suggests that a prima facie case for dismissal from the clerical state can be made against priests in circumstances such as this, and concludes:

“while priests cannot be ‘fired’ in the sense that that word means in most contexts, the legitimate canonical protections that sacramental ordination confers on clergy must not be the pretext by which a wholesome respect for the clerical state degenerates into virtual immunity from real consequences for reprehensible behaviour.”

Quick Links

  • Liberty: Liberty Human Rights Awards 2015 shortlist. Those nominated include: Adam Wagner of 1 Crown Office Row, nominated for Human Rights Lawyer of the Year for launching the innovative RightsInfo project, which seeks to correct misinformation and explain why human rights matter; and the Cardiff Law School Innocence Project, nominated for The Christine Jackson Young Person Award for becoming the first innocence project to help overturn a wrongful conviction.
  • Church of England, YouTube: Synod Elections 2015 – Your Voice Counts in which General Synod members talk about their experience and why it is important for church members of all ages, experience and backgrounds to consider standing for election. Nominations for General Synod close next week: The Guidance indicates that the suggested closing date in the provisional timetable is 4th September 2015, although the actual closing date is determined by the presiding officer; for the Oxford diocese, it is 2nd September.
  • Madeline Davies: Why are clergy wasting their time on social media? An interesting report on a session at Greenbelt on Saturday by Kate Bottley, the “Googlebox vicar “(54.9k followers), Richard Coles (87.5k followers) and Giles Fraser (28k followers), whose concluding advice was:
    • Coles: Never unfollow and take a fast 2-3 times a year
    • Fraser: Encourage people to do it, but don’t confuse it with real life.
    • Bottley: Be authentic and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
  • Simon Jenkins: Jumble sales of the apocalypse: Typing in tongues. A less useful, but entertaining view of how, if you have a spare 30 seconds, you can become an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church (motto: “We are all children of the same universe”). The Ministry-in-a-Box option for $140.00 includes an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity and the potentially more valuable “heavy-duty laminated Clergy parking placard.” (But don’t expect it to convince a UK traffic warden.)

And finally…

The BBC reports that the latest round of appointments to the House of Lords will take the number of peers in receipt of a Writ of Summons up to 826. Which is, of course, ridiculously large, but it does have an asymmetry that’s very easy to remember: 800 Lords Temporal, subject to no upper age limit or gender balance; 26 Lords Spiritual, all of whom retire at 70, are subject to legislation that aims to ensure they comprise ~50% women bishops within 10 years, and unchanged in number since 1847.

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