Friday, April 30, 2010

Christian counsellor loses court fight over sacking

Christian counsellor loses court fight over sacking

Former Anglican archbishop intervenes but judge rebuffs man sacked for refusing to counsel homosexual couple

Gary McFarlane appeal

Christian relationship counsellor Gary McFarlane is challenging a decision which backed his sacking for refusing to give sex therapy to homosexual couples. Photograph: Barry Batchelor/PA

A marriage guidance counsellor's bid to challenge his sacking for refusing to give sex therapy to homosexuals has led to a serious clash between the Christian lobby and the judiciary.

In a powerful dismissal of the application to appeal, Lord Justice Laws said legislation to protect views held purely on religious grounds could not be justified. He said it was an irrational idea "but it is also divisive, capricious and arbitrary".

The former archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey had sent a statement to a judge hearing the appeal application by Gary McFarlane. The senior church figure called for a special panel of judges with a "proven sensitivity and understanding of religious issues" to hear the case.

Lord Carey said recent court decisions involving Christians had used "dangerous" reasoning and this could lead to civil unrest.

Lord Justice Laws's ruling said: "We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs. The precepts of any one religion– any belief system – cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic.

"The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments. The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the state, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself."

Lord Justice Laws quoted extensively from Lord Carey's statement when he gave his ruling on the application made on 15 April.

McFarlane, 48, from Bristol, wanted permission to appeal against an employment appeal tribunal ruling that supported his sacking by Relate Avon in 2008. The father of two, who had worked for the national counselling service since 2003, had alleged unfair dismissal on the grounds of religious discrimination.

Lord Carey said: "The description of religious faith in relation to sexual ethics as 'discriminatory' is crude and illuminates a lack of sensitivity to religious belief.

"The comparison of a Christian, in effect, with a 'bigot' (ie, a person with an irrational dislike to homosexuals) begs further questions. It is further evidence of a disparaging attitude to the Christian faith and its values."

Lord Carey and other Christian leaders began expressing concerns after Lord Neuberger, who as master of the rolls is head of the civil appeal court, ruled last December that Lillian Ladele, a Christian registrar, was breaking discrimination laws by refusing to conduct civil partnership ceremonies.

Referring to that case, Lord Carey said: "It is, of course, but a short step from the dismissal of a sincere Christian from employment to a religious bar to any employment by Christians. I believe that further judicial decisions are likely to end up at this point and this is why I believe it is necessary to intervene now."

He said the fact that senior clerics of the Church of England and other faiths felt compelled to intervene directly in judicial decisions and cases "is illuminative of a future civil unrest".

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Pope could cancel his planned visit to Britain because of a “hugely offensive” Foreign Office memo mocking his stance on abortion and birth contro

Foreign Office memo

The Pope could cancel his planned visit to Britain because of a “hugely offensive” Foreign Office memo mocking his stance on abortion and birth control, sources in the Vatican said.

Pope Benedict XVI
The Pope could cancel his visit to Britain because of the "hugely offensive" Foreign Office memo, Vatican sources said. Photo: REUTERS/Osservatore Romano

Senior Papal aides suggested the Foreign Office had not taken strong enough disciplinary action against those responsible for the document, which suggested the Pope should open an abortion clinic, bless a homosexual marriage and launch his own range of condoms while he is here.

No-one has lost their job over the memo, which was sent to Downing Street and at least three Whitehall departments, and the civil servant who authorised it has simply been moved to other duties.

One highly-placed source in the Vatican said: “This could have very severe repercussions and is embarrassing for the British government - one has to question whether the action taken is enough.

“It is disgusting. Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See has been in to see the Secretary of State and explain what happened and this will all be relayed to the Pope.

“It’s even possible the trip could be cancelled as this matter is hugely offensive.”

Cardinal Renato Martino, the former head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said: “The British government has invited the Pope as its guest and he should be treated with respect.

“To make a mockery of his beliefs and the beliefs of millions of Catholics not just in Britain but across the world is very offensive indeed.”

The memo, sent out in March following a “brainstorm” session by Foreign Office staff who are helping prepare for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in September, warned recipients that the contents “should not be shared externally” because the offending document, titled “The Ideal Visit”, contained “even the most far-fetched of ideas”.

As well as suggesting the launch of “Benedict” condoms, the memo also proposed that the Pope should “announce sacking of dodgy bishops”, sponsor a network of AIDS clinics, conduct a training course for bishops on child abuse allegations and ordain a female priest.

Embarrassingly for the Queen it also suggested getting the Pope and Her Majesty to sing a duet for charity and changing the national anthem from God Save The Queen to God Save the World.

The Foreign Office responded by sending Francis Campbell, the British ambassador to the Vatican, to an urgent meeting with senior officials of the Holy See, and said the “foolish document” had not been cleared or shown to ministers or senior officials before it was circulated.

A spokesman added that “many of the ideas in the document are clearly ill-judged, naïve and disrespectful” and the department was “deeply sorry for the offence which it has caused”.

Father Federico Lombardi, the Pope’s spokesman, said: “I am aware that the Foreign Office has made a statement on this matter and I am aware of the contents of the memo.

“We are not saying anything else as there is no need to ruin the good relations between the British government and the Vatican.”

Britain’s former ambassador to Italy Sir Ivor Roberts, editor of the diplomatic “Bible” Satow’s Diplomatic Practice, said: “Good God - this sounds rather sad and is a reflection of very puerile behaviour.”

Sir Ivor, now president of Trinity College Oxford, added: “If it was a joke then it is in very poor taste. It’s very depressing and embarrassing to think diplomats would behave in such a way.

“I hope all concerned are ashamed of themselves and it leaves a very unpleasant taste.”

U.S. man's lawsuit against pope must show Vatican as business

U.S. man's lawsuit against pope must show Vatican as business

MILWAUKEE (AP) — A lawsuit from the U.S. aims to place blame for priest sexual abuse at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church by claiming the Vatican controls leadership, fundraising and doctrine down to the lowest levels.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. federal court claims top leaders at the Vatican knew about allegations of sexual abuse at St. John's School for the Deaf outside Milwaukee and called off internal punishment of the accused priest, the Rev. Lawrence Murphy.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of an Illinois man by St. Paul-based attorney Jeff Anderson, who also has a pending lawsuit against the Vatican in Oregon for a man who claims he was abused at his Catholic school in the 1960s.

Among the pieces of evidence in the Wisconsin suit is a 1995 letter from one of Murphy's alleged victims detailing the problems at St. John's. It was addressed to the No. 2 person in the Vatican, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who was then secretary of state.

It was written a year before it was first believed the case was brought to the attention of the Vatican.

The lawsuit intends to prove the Vatican is a global business empire, practicing in "commercial activity" in Wisconsin and across the U.S. and holding "unqualified power" over each diocese, parish and follower.

The Vatican's U.S.-based attorney, Jeffrey Lena, said in a statement Thursday that the lawsuit was a publicity stunt with no merit and it rehashes theories already rejected by U.S. courts.

The Vatican previously has said that diocese officials and civil authorities knew about the allegations some 20 years before the Vatican was ever notified. Because of that, Lena said, it cannot be held liable for Murphy's abuse.

Some legal experts questioned the Wisconsin lawsuit's prospects.

Nicholas Cafardi, a canon lawyer and former dean at the Duquesne University School of Law, disputes the argument that the Roman Catholic Church is an international commercial business.

"He's alleging an employment relationship between individual priests and the Holy See," Cafardi said. "I'm sorry, but diocesan priests in the United States are not employees of the Holy See. ... If a court were to accept that, they would be creating a new Catholic Church, not the one that exists now."

Professor Joseph Dellapenna at the Villanova University School of Law doubts courts will treat the Wisconsin diocese as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Vatican. He noted a number of dioceses around the country have filed for bankruptcy because of abuse cases, and the courts have treated them as separate, independent entities.

The biggest issue could be overcoming the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which sets the rules for U.S. legal action against sovereign nations, including the Vatican.

Dellapenna said the suit's claims of misrepresentation and fraud are barred by the act. Another U.S. appeals court has ruled the act also bars its claims of emotional distress, he said, though Wisconsin's 7th Circuit could decide differently.

But Washington, D.C., attorney Jonathan Levy, a specialist in international law who has tried suing the Vatican Bank overHolocaust claims, said Anderson could succeed in taking advantage of exceptions to sovereign immunity.

"I'd say he's got some new and exciting theories in there why the Vatican should be held responsible for its bad acts," Levy said.

Anderson said the suit is unique because it's seeking injunctive relief, not just money, by compelling the Vatican to open its files on abuse cases.

"They have been hiding behind legal shields, and we have been successful so far in the courts in cracking those shields," he said. "We intend to use this case and others like it to wedge open those cracks."

He said the plaintiff had pledged to donate any monetary award to a fund to be shared by Murphy's victims.

The lawsuit is the latest move in the case of Murphy, who died in 1998. He was accused of sexually abusing some 200 boys at the deaf school from 1950 to 1974. He was put on a leave of absence when the allegations were revealed in the early 1970s. The lawsuit claims Murphy was still allowed to serve in ministry and work with children in another Wisconsin diocese into the early 1990s.

Murphy's case drew renewed attention after the recent release of documents called into question the actions of a Vatican office led by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Before the disclosure of the 1995 letter to Sodano, it was believed the Vatican first learned of allegations against Murphy in a July 1996 letter from Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland. That letter was sent to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the powerful Vatican office Ratzinger led from 1981 to his election as pope in 2005.

That office told the archbishop to move forward with a canonical trial against Murphy in March 1997. But then the office urged a different course after receiving a letter from Murphy.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, has said they suggested restricting Murphy from ministry rather than holding a full-blown canonical trial, citing Murphy's age, failing health, and a lack of further allegations.

The Wisconsin bishops ordered the proceedings halted, but in the end, Murphy died while still a defendant in a canonical trial, which could have led to Murphy being laicized, or stripped of the priesthood.

Sodano has long been accused in news reports in U.S. Catholic publications and other outlets of stalling a Vatican probe of the Rev. Marcial Maciel, the discredited founder of the Legionaries of Christ. The order has admitted that the late Maciel fathered at least one child and molested young seminarians.

Anderson provided a copy of a receipt showing the registered letter to Sodano had reached the Vatican. The man wrote Sodano again and got no response, according to Anderson.

Lena said that at the time, it was a local matter regarding a local priest and the victim had already communicated with the local bishop. Under those circumstances, Lena said it is "entirely appropriate" under canon law for the local diocese — not the Holy See — to respond.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Pope accepts Irish bishop's resignation

Pope accepts Irish bishop's resignation

British Roman Catholic leader also apologizes for abuse by priests

Last Updated: Thursday, April 22, 2010 | 2:44 PM ET

The Pope has accepted the resignation of an Irish bishop who admitted he didn't challenge the Dublin church's policy of covering up sex abuse by priests.

Bishop James Moriarty of Kildare, Ireland, seen here in January, resigned Thursday after admitting he didn't challenge the church's policy of covering up sexual abuse of children. Bishop James Moriarty of Kildare, Ireland, seen here in January, resigned Thursday after admitting he didn't challenge the church's policy of covering up sexual abuse of children.(Julien Behal/Associated Press)

The Vatican said Thursday the Pope accepted the resignation of Bishop James Moriarty of Kildare under a code of canon law that allows bishops to resign if they are ill or some other "grave reason" makes them "unsuited for the fulfilment of his office."

Moriarty, 73, is the third Irish Roman Catholic bishop to resign in four months as a result of the Irish sex abuse scandal.

Two others have offered to quit as the Vatican comes under increasing pressure to get rid of bishops who covered up for priests who molested children for decades.

Moriarty said Thursday he was stepping down because he realized that "renewal must begin with accepting responsibility for the past."

Also on Thursday, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain, Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, apologized for clerical abuse and said the actions of some priests had brought "deep shame to the whole church."

Hundreds of people have come forward in recent months, including in Pope Benedict XVI's native Germany, accusing priests of raping and abusing them while bishops and church higher-ups turned a blind eye.

On Wednesday, Benedict promised unspecified "church action" to confront the scandal, and the Vatican has said it would do everything in its power to bring justice to abusive priests and to protect children.

German bishop offers to resign

A leading conservative Roman Catholic bishop in Germany has also offered to resign amid allegations of physical abuse and financial misconduct, the Augsburg diocese says.

Bishop Walter Mixa offered to step down in hopes of allowing a "new start" for his diocese. He said he would co-operate fully with investigators and offered an apology.

"I ask the forgiveness of all those to whom I may have been unfair and to those who I may have caused heartache," Mixa wrote, acknowledging he was "fully aware of my own weaknesses."

The Vatican does not comment on possible resignations.

Mixa has been accused of hitting children while a priest decades ago. He initially denied ever using violence against youngsters, but later acknowledged he may have slapped them.

Although the case doesn't involve allegations of sexual abuse, Mixa has been a key member of Germany's Bishops Conference for more than a decade and his initial denial of physical violence fuelled frustration among German Catholics who saw it as evidence that the church was unwilling to come clean on abuse.

Adding to Mixa's troubles, a special investigator has found financial irregularities at a children's home under his responsibility around the same time as the allegations of abuse.

Mixa said in his letter he would support efforts for a "thorough investigation" into all the accusations.

Pope named in U.S. lawsuit

In Milwaukee, a lawsuit filed by a man who claimed he was abused by a Wisconsin priest accused the Pope and other officials of failing to protect children.

The plaintiff, identified as John Doe 16, alleged he was abused repeatedly by Rev. Lawrence Murphy, who taught at the Milwaukee-area St. John's School for the Deaf from 1950 to 1974. Murphy died in 1998, and was accused of sexually abusing about 200 boys at the school.

The suit claims that then cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and other officials, knew about the allegations against Murphy and conspired to keep them secret. The suit does not offer proof to back that claim.

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pope defiant over child sex abuse

Pope defiant over child sex abuse

Senior Catholics across Europe use Easter addresses to apologise and acknowledge the damage caused by the scandal, while pontiff remains unrepentant

pope easter

The pope delivers his traditional Easter message from the central loggia of St Peter's Basilica in Rome. Photograph: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images

Senior Catholics across Europe today apologised for the way the church had dealt with paedophile priests and acknowledged the damage the scandal had caused to its moral authority.

In Easter sermons that revealed penitence, shame and shortcomings, archbishops in Armagh, Dublin, Edinburgh, Vienna and Westminster asked congregations for their forgiveness and urged them not to abandon the church because of past sins.

But there was no apology from Rome, as Benedict XVI maintained a steadfast silence about the crisis in his annual Urbi et Orbi – To the City and the World – address.

The only mention of the turmoil came from Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, who stood before the pope in a packed St Peter's Square and lauded him as the "unfailing rock" of the Catholic church.

In a departure from protocol, he told the pontiff in a special tribute: "We are deeply grateful for your strength of spirit and the apostolic courage with which you proclaim Christ's gospel."

In an apparent reference to the crisis, and employing a term already used by the pope, Sodano said the church would not be intimidated by "idle chatter".

His appearance was a gesture of defiance and indignation in the face of continued criticism aimed at the Vatican over its response to waves of allegations. The Catholic hierarchy has insisted that the pope is beyond reproach and that the media are conducting a smear campaign against him by exaggerating the scale of the abuse and attempts to conceal it.

However, today saw an unprecedented outpouring of apologies by leading church members across Europe.

Cardinal Sean Brady, the primate of Ireland, admitted that the church failed to involve civil authorities to protect its reputation. Brady, who is under pressure to resign because of his role in making two sex abuse victims sign an oath of silence, said: "I realise that, however unintentionally, however unknowingly, I too allowed myself to be influenced by that culture in our church, and our society.

"I pledge to you that, from now on, my overriding concern will always be the safety and protection of everyone in the church – but especially children and all those who are vulnerable."

In his Easter homily the archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nicholls, told the faithful that the "serious sins" committed within the Catholic community had been much talked about. He added: "For our part, we have been reflecting on them deeply, acknowledging our guilt and our need for forgiveness."

In Austria, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn apologised for the abuse at an emotional pre-Easter mass. "For some of us, the Church's immaculate appearance was more important than anything else," Schönborn said. "We confess our guilt to the many whom we have wronged as the church, and whom some of us have wronged very directly."

Their penitence came hours after a contrite archbishop of Canterbury rang the archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, to try to defuse widespread anger and disbelief after he said the church in Ireland had lost "all credibility".

Rowan Williams made the comments in a BBC interview, explaining that an Irish friend had said it was "quite difficult in some parts of Ireland" to walk down the street wearing a dog collar. Williams remarked that an institution "so deeply bound into the life of a society, suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility – that's not just a problem for the Church, it is a problem for everybody in Ireland."

The backlash was almost immediate, with churchmen from Catholic and Protestant traditions condemning Williams as being thoughtless and unhelpful during one of the darkest periods for Irish Catholicism. Caught aback by the level of outrage, Williams rang Martin, who later told churchgoers he appreciated the archbishop's "sadness" regarding "some unfortunate words".

Williams also upset members of the Church of England by playing down the significance of a papal initiative to tempt Anglicans to convert to Roman Catholicism. He made no mention of his Catholic gaffe during his Easter sermon at Canterbury Cathedral.

The Pope has still to make any direct comment on the of scandals in continental Europe. Last month he issued a letter to Irish Catholics, who are reeling from years of revelations over child sex abuse and cover-ups. Papal aides said the letter, in which Benedict said he was "truly sorry" for the suffering of victims, should be read as applying to other countries.

The latest is Malta, which the pope is to visit this month. It was reported last week that 45 priests stood accused of sexual offences since the creation of a church response team in 1999.

None of the cases has been referred to the police and the retired judge who heads the project said that was the responsibility of victims and parents.

Put the pope in the dock

Put the pope in the dock

Legal immunity cannot hold. The Vatican should feel the full weight of international law

Well may the pope defy "the petty gossip of dominant opinion". But the Holy See can no longer ignore international law, which now counts the widespread or systematic sexual abuse of children as a crime against humanity. The anomalous claim of the Vatican to be a state – and of the pope to be a head of state and hence immune from legal action – cannot stand up to scrutiny.

The truly shocking finding of Judge Murphy's commission in Ireland was not merely that sexual abuse was "endemic" in boys' institutions but that the church hierarchy protected the perpetrators and, despite knowledge of their propensity to reoffend, allowed them to take up new positions teaching other children after their victims had been sworn to secrecy.

This conduct, of course, amounted to the criminal offence of aiding and abetting sex with minors. In legal actions against Catholic archdioceses in the US it has been alleged that the same conduct reflected Vatican policy as approved by Cardinal Ratzinger (as the pope then was) as late as November 2002. Sexual assaults were regarded as sins that were subject to church tribunals, and guilty priests were sent on a "pious pilgrimage" while oaths of confidentiality were extracted from their victims.

In the US, 11,750 allegations of child sex abuse have so far featured in actions settled by archdioceses – in Los Angeles for $660m and in Boston for $100m. But some dioceses have gone into bankruptcy and some claimants want higher level accountability – two reasons to sue the pope in person. In 2005 a test case in Texas failed because the Vatican sought and obtained the intercession of President Bush, who agreed to claim sovereign (ie head of state) immunity on the pope's behalf. Bush lawyer John B Bellinger III certified that Pope Benedict the XVI was immune from suit "as the head of a foreign state".

Bellinger is now notorious for his defence of Bush administration torture policies. His opinion on papal immunity is even more questionable. It hinges on the assumption that the Vatican, or its metaphysical emanation, the Holy See, is a state. But the papal states were extinguished by invasion in 1870 and the Vatican was created by fascist Italy in 1929 when Mussolini endowed this tiny enclave – 0.17 of a square mile containing 900 Catholic bureaucrats – with "sovereignty in the international field ... in conformity with its traditions and the exigencies of its mission in the world".

The notion that statehood can be created by another country's unilateral declaration is risible: Iran could make Qom a state overnight, or the UK could launch Canterbury on to the international stage. But it did not take long for Catholic countries to support the pretentions of the Holy See, sending ambassadors and receiving papal nuncios in return. Even the UK maintains an apostolic mission.

The UN at its inception refused membership to the Vatican but has allowed it a unique "observer status", permitting it to become signatory to treaties such as the Law of the Sea and (ironically) the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to speak and vote at UN conferences where it promotes its controversial dogmas on abortion, contraception and homosexuality. This has involved the UN in blatant discrimination on grounds of religion: other faiths are unofficially represented, if at all, by NGOs. But it has encouraged the Vatican to claim statehood – and immunity from liability.

This claim could be challenged successfully in the UK and in the European Court of Human Rights. But in any event, head of state immunity provides no protection for the pope in the international criminal court (see its current indictment of President Bashir). The ICC Statute definition of a crime against humanity includes rape and sexual slavery and other similarly inhumane acts causing harm to mental or physical health, committed against civilians on a widespread or systematic scale, if condoned by a government or a de facto authority. It has been held to cover the recruitment of children as soldiers or sex slaves. If acts of sexual abuse by priests are not isolated or sporadic, but part of a wide practice both known to and unpunished by their de facto authority then they fall within the temporal jurisdiction of the ICC – if that practice continued after July 2002, when the court was established.

Pope Benedict has recently been credited with reforming the system to require the reporting of priests to civil authorities, although initially he blamed the scandal on "gay culture". His admonition last week to the Irish church repeatedly emphasised that heaven still awaits the penitent paedophile priest. The Holy See may deserve respect for offering the prospect of redemption to sinners, but it must be clear that in law the pope does so as a spiritual adviser, and not as an immune sovereign.