Law and religion round-up – 12th May

Another bad week for the Church of England and its approach to safeguarding…

…which was not assisted by the timing and content of some of the material it released, infra. Following the previous week’s Panorama programme Scandal in the Church of England and the second IICSA seminar on mandatory reporting, on 8 May the Church published the report of the working party on the Ministry of Confession, which was followed on Thursday with the 252-page report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse into the Anglican Church, based on its case studies last year of the Diocese of Chichester and the response to allegations against the former Bishop of Gloucester. Neither was well received. Also this week, Pope Francis issued the motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi (“You Are the Light of the World”), which we summarized here.

Victims and their representatives were critical of both Churches; neither changed its approach to the seal of the confessional, thereby assisting the case of those seeking the mandatory reporting of abuse.

Ministry of Confession

On 8 May 2019, the Church of England issued a Press Release, a Report of the Seal of the Confessional Working Party and an Interim Statement on The Seal of the Confessional. The Archbishops’ Council and the House of Bishops of the Church of England commissioned a Working Party on the Seal of the Confessional which first met in 2015 and completed its report in 2017. However, the Working Party could not reach a consensus as to whether this should change, although it was unanimous in recommendations “a number of key areas”: improvements to training on the ministry of confession in relation to safeguarding issues; and the appointment of an adviser on the ministry of reconciliation in each diocese who can be a point of reference for training, supervision and advice.

Unsurprisingly, Forward in Faith welcomed the publication of the Report and the recommendation that clergy should receive training about the sacramental ministry of reconciliation. It also renewed its call on the House of Bishops to re-affirm the Seal of the Confessional as an essential principle of the doctrine of the Universal Church, as received by the Church of England. However, an article in the Daily Telegraph quoted Phil Johnson, chair of the campaign group, Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (MACSAS), who said that the Church of England’s failure to admit agree that abuse disclosed during confession should be reported shows that the institution “has missed a golden opportunity to take the moral high-ground”.

IICSA Report into the Anglican Church

On Thursday 9 May 2019, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, IICSA, published its 252-page report into the Church of England, based on its case studies last year of the Diocese of Chichester and the response to allegations against the former Bishop of Gloucester, Peter Ball. The Report made recommendations in five areas:

  • Introduction of safeguarding guidance for religious communities
  • Amendment of Canon C30
  • Amendment of the Sexual Offences Act 2003
  • Sanctions for failures to comply with safeguarding procedures
  • Disclosure of internal reviews to the national review body

The IICSA will make further recommendations related to the findings of this Report following the hearing in July 2019, which will focus upon the wider Anglican Church.

Charitable status and religious organisations

On Tuesday, the Charities Minister, Mims Davies, replied to a Written Question from Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes, Con) on whether the Government plans to restrict or remove the charitable status of Churches and other faith-based organisations who express and practise historic orthodox beliefs on the doctrine of marriage as follows:

“To be a charity, institutions, including Churches and other faith-based organisations in England and Wales, must meet the legal test for charitable status set out in the Charities Act 2011. This requires the institution to have a wholly charitable purpose for the benefit of the public. The advancement of religion has long been recognised as a charitable purpose. There is no presumption that a particular charitable purpose is for the public benefit.

The Charity Commission, as the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales, is responsible for assessing if an institution meets the legal test for charitable status. There are no plans to change the legal test for charitable status which applies to Churches and other faith-based organisations who express and practise historic orthodox beliefs on the doctrine of marriage.”

Security in places of worship

On Tuesday, the Home Secretary made a Commons statement on security in places of worship. Recalling the acts of terrorism in Christchurch and Sri Lanka, he said that there was no doubt that people had been targeted because of their religion and that the Government was doing all it could to prevent such attacks in the UK. Specifically:

  • it had increased the places of worship protective security fund to £1.6 million for 2019-20—double the amount awarded last year—and since the scheme was launched in 2016, more than £1.5 million had been awarded, with 63 grants to churches, 49 to mosques, five to Hindu temples and 16 to gurdwaras;
  • a separate £14 million grant provided security for Jewish schools and synagogues;
  • a new £5 million fund would provide security training for places of worship across England and Wales;
  • the Government was consulting religious communities on what more should be done to help them, and would shortly announce a programme of engagement, “to help us understand what they need and how to make it work in a faith setting”;
  • a Ramadan package of support for mosques, supporting Faith Associates to provide security training and advice in twelve workshops around England and Wales and guidance to over 2,000 mosques, community centres and madrassahs; and
  • increased police patrols near mosques following the Christchurch attack.

He concluded:

“We know that there are deep and genuine concerns in religious communities; we know that people are feeling vulnerable and scared, but have no doubt that I am listening to these concerns and we are responding … The freedom to practise any religion or none is a cornerstone of our democratic society. People must have the peace of mind to worship without fear, and I am doing everything within my power to make this possible.”

Education committees and religious representation in Scotland

The Times Educational Supplement reports that Perth and Kinross Council has become the first authority in Scotland to withdraw voting rights from religious representatives sitting on education committees. The move comes as the result of a row over the decision in March to close a five-pupil school, Blairingone Primary, at the end of the current school year. Elected members voted seven to six to keep the school open but two religious representatives supported the recommendation to close.

The decision was widely criticised by parents and community councillors; and Perth and Kinross Council subsequently voted to amend council regulations so that, in future, only elected committee members can vote. The Humanist Society Scotland is urging all councils to follow suit and has called on the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities “urgently” to review the status and power given to religious representatives. Its campaign manager, Fraser Sutherland, said that important decisions relating to education should be taken on a democratic basis by people who can be held to account by the electorate though “There is, of course, nothing to stop faith groups participating in discussions relating to local education in the same manner as any other interested local community group.” A Church of Scotland spokesman said that some of its representatives on education committees already chose to abstain from voting.

LGBT education in Birmingham schools

The Guardian reports that Nazir Afzal, the Crown Prosecution Service’s former lead on child sexual abuse, has confirmed he has been asked by parents and Birmingham City Council to help reach a resolution in the longstanding dispute over the teaching of LGBT issues in Birmingham schools. Parkfield Community School in Saltley became the scene of weekly protests over “No Outsiders” lessons, which parents claimed were “promoting LGBT ways of life”. The programme, designed to challenge homophobia, was suspended indefinitely until a resolution could be reached with protesting parents. It was also suspended at another four schools in the city run by the Leigh Trust.

Mr Afzal confirmed that he had spoken to parents of children at the Birmingham schools but said he would not be making any further comments, tweeting: “I can confirm that the city council and parents have asked me to mediate in this matter. I don’t want payment. I don’t propose to give a running commentary. I would prefer if nobody did so that we can try and make progress for the children at the heart of this.”

Body farms in the UK

On Wednesday we posted A “body farm” in the UK – organ donation in extremis which noted that an article in the journal Nature indicated that the UK is close to opening its first “human taphonomy facility” (HTF) (a.k.a. “body farm”) for forensic research. These are research facilities where the decomposition of a human body can be studied in a variety of settings. A search on the internet for “body farms” produces a large number of results amongst which we found Body Farm, a certified location in Hampshire of the Caravan and Motorhome Club (Members only). Perhaps a change of name will be advisable should the UK establish its human taphonomy facility?

Cathedral fire safety

On 9 May, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Dame Caroline Spelman, (Meriden, Con) was asked what steps the Church of England is taking with the Government to ensure the fire safety of cathedrals and churches following the Notre Dame fire; details of the expenditure of the former Chancellor’s grant of £40 million for the fabric of cathedrals; and what steps are being taken to support the creation of 3D laser maps to record notable historical buildings and provide an accurate record of their construction in the event of damage.

In response, Dame Caroline assured MPs that since the Notre Dame fire the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division had worked with the Cathedral Architects Association to ensure that its records were up to date and would continue to work closely on that issue: a national conference on the matter was being considered. The £40M grant in commemoration of the First World War centenary had resulted in important repair work to some of the Church’s most iconic buildings; for example, Lichfield Cathedral was completely rewired and might otherwise have had to be closed because of the fire risk it represented. With regard to 3D laser mapping, though it had been employed at Lincoln and St Albans, it was “very, very expensive”, and there were many other ways to try to be sure of the data on cathedrals. The Church had good archives, maps, photographs and accounts that often provided architectural excellent records.

Next week we are planning to post on the legal issues associated with fire safety in churches and provide some links to the technical advice that has been produced by experts in this area.

You wait for ever, and then three turn up at once…

… in this case, its the appointment of women to the episcopate. On 7 May, No 10 announced that the Queen had accepted the nomination of the Reverend Canon Dr Dagmar Winter as the next Bishop of Huntingdon, the Venerable Dr Joanne Woolway Grenfell as the next Bishop of Stepney and the Venerable Sarah Bullock as the next Bishop of Shrewsbury. These will bring the current total to 112 bishops in the Church of England (excluding the two archbishops and three vacant posts). Of these, 5 diocesans and 17 suffragans are women.

Quick links

And finally…

As we reported last week, the CJEU’s Grand Chamber has ruled that Greece’s domestic regulation that debars a monk or a cleric from practising as a lawyer cannot be applied to those from the other EU Member States because it breaches Article 3(2) of Directive 98/5/EC (on mutual recognition of legal qualifications).

Which is hardly surprising, but the question in our minds is whether the judgment only applies to those who qualified elsewhere? If so, supposing you’re a Greek monk who practised at the Bar before entering the monastery and you want to practise again, it would appear that you need to go to Cyprus or similar, register there, then return and apply to practise under your foreign credentials. Or have we missed something?

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