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A leading American academic has issued a rallying call to Christians in a country where “the love affair with Jesus and his Gospel and his Church is over”. In a major speech to delegates at the annual Legatus Summit of Catholic business leaders in Florida, and reported by Lifesite News, Professor Robert George of Princeton University, a high profile defender of life and traditional marriage said “it is no longer easy to be a faithful Christian, a good Catholic, an authentic witness to the truths of the Gospel” in a society where “the guardians of those norms of cultural orthodoxy that we have come to call ‘political correctness’” will tolerate Catholics as long as they don’t believe, or will at least be completely silent about, “what the Church teaches on issues such as marriage and sexual morality and the sanctity of human life.” However, simultaneously, Prof. George added, Catholics themselves, “having become comfortable, had forgotten, or ignored, [the] timeless Gospel truth”.
A Catholic Cardinal in Canada has urged lawmakers to respect the conscience rights of medical professionals as they debate allowing physician-assisted suicide. In an intervention before the parliamentary committee considering the legal change, Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, reiterated the Church’s stance on assisted suicide and euthanasia, but, acknowledging the possibility that the legislation may pass, he urged those drafting the law to recognise the moral objections of many healthcare workers and to grant them the right to refuse to participate in killing patients on conscience grounds. "It is clear that reasonable people, with or without religious faith, can have a well-founded moral conviction in their conscience that prevents them from becoming engaged in any way in the provision of assisted suicide and euthanasia," Cardinal Collins said. "They deserve to be respected.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said that if re-elected, he would commit to a referendum on abortion if there were consensus on the issue. Speaking on RTÉ Radio as the election campaign gears up, Mr Kenny acknowledged that Ireland is “changed” since the issue of abortion first began to divide people “33 years ago”, but, despite allowing for a free vote by party members in any referendum, he insisted that his plans for a ‘citizens’ assembly’ on the abortion issue must come first. Referencing the “brave women” who have come forward with stories of having aborted babies who would otherwise die at or shortly after birth, Mr Kenny said he was eager to “depoliticise this [issue] first of all, so I’m committing to setting up a citizens’ assembly within six months if returned to government”.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in its ‘concluding observations’ following Ireland’s appearance before the committee last month, has called on Ireland to remove the right of religious schools to prioritise student applicants on the basis of faith. It also calls for more non-denominational schools. The report expresses concern that Irish schools "continue to practise discriminatory admissions policies on the basis of the child's religion" and calls on the government to address this situation.
The European Parliament (EP) has declared the activities of Islamic State (ISIS) against Christians and other minorities ‘genocide’, In a Resolution adopted today, MEPs for the first time categorised the targeting and mass slaughter of religious and ethnic minorities as genocide, and called on the international community to act towards ending the killings. The move by the EP helps clears the way for crimes committed by Islamic State members as crimes against humanity which can be dealt with at the International Criminal Court. The resolution urged “the members of the UN Security Council to support a referral by the Security Council to the International Criminal Court in order to investigate violations committed in Iraq and Syria by the so-called ‘ISIS/Daesh’ against Christians, Yazidis and religious and ethnic minorities”.
Just 5% of Catholic primary schools in the Dublin area are over-enrolled, it has been revealed. This is far less than the figure of 20 percent which is often quoted. Dublin archdiocese has the highest percentage of over-enrolled schools in the country. Writing in The Irish Times newspaper, Bishop Brendan Kelly of Achonry, who is chairman of the Council for Education of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, became the latest prelate to defend Catholic schools. The issue of Catholic primary schools giving priority to children who are baptised Catholics in the event of over-enrolment has become a political issue.
The Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has announced plans for State funding of IVF and other fertility treatments. According to The Irish Times, the Minister stated his intention to provide funding for such treatments together with legislation to regulate this area of medical practice. “The ability to conceive a child naturally is a normal human expectation and a diagnosis of infertility can be a source of emotional distress, physical discomfort and financial hardship,” Mr Varadkar said.
Archbishop Eamon Martin has said Catholics should ask politicians about their policies towards the family, the right to life, schools and freedom of conscience in the coming election campaign. Speaking at a conference organised by the Iona Institute and The Irish Catholic newspaper, the Primate of All Ireland called on those who wish to be “advocates for the family and for the Catholic understanding of marriage” to actively press election candidates on a range of issues relevant to families in Ireland today.
The Christian Institute has launched a petition to support the owners of Ashers Bakery in Northern Ireland ahead of the bakery’s appeal against a decision that they were guilty of discrimination for not baking a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan on it. Ashers Bakery had faced legal censure in May of 2015 when a judge ruled that a refusal by the Christian owners of the business had discriminated against a gay rights activist in refusing to back a cake bearing the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’. While the case was brought by the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland, Ashers’ owners, the McArthur family, were supported in its defence of free speech and freedom of conscience by The Christian Institute, which continues that backing with the appeal beginning on Wednesday.
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said he no longer agrees with the protection afforded to the unborn under the 8th Amendment to the Constitution. Speaking to The Irish Times, Minister Varadkar said that his once held conservative views have now been altered by “life experience and growing up a bit”. “What we have at the moment,” he said, “is this kind of absolute right to life where the unborn’s life is equal to that of a pregnant mother, I don’t agree with that. I think that is too restrictive.” Arguing for a liberalising of the law the minister said: “The current line really is that a termination is possible if there’s a risk to the life of the mother, but what about the risk to [her] long-term health? “I think there should be a mechanism where decisions like that are a matter for the woman and her doctor, not the law.”
According to The Irish Independent, the Department of Education has issued the ‘Being LGBT in School’ guidance for all schools under which schools will have to operate to better accommodate the gender preference of a given pupil. This includes allowing students to access the toilets and changing rooms of their choice, in addition to sports activities, and addressing a student by a preferred gender pronoun. In addition, schools are advised that a student should be allowed to wear the clothing of their preferred gender. While the new guidance seeks to offer a compromise by also advising that access to facilities could be on a unisex – gender neutral - basis, the new guidelines note: “While some transgender students will want this arrangement, others will not be comfortable with it and consequently these students should be provided with a safe and adequate alternative, such as a single ‘unisex’ toilet facility where this is possible. This should not be a staff toilet facility.”
Ireland’s Catholic Bishops have said that moves to water down the place of religion in schools will have no effect on Church-run schools. In a statement from the Bishops’ Council for Education, responding to Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan abolition of Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools, the Bishops stressed: “The Minister’s announcement concerning rule 68 does not change the teaching of religious education in Catholic schools.” Under Rule 68, the status of religion in primary schools is afforded a protected position, but, as the Bishops point out, “the Catholic ethos of primary schools in Ireland is not based on the Rules for National Schools”. Referencing a recent Department of Education paper - Advancing School Autonomy in the Irish School System – which was issued in December, the Bishops quote: “In all primary and post-primary schools, the school’s stated ethos (that is, the values and principles it promotes) is decided by the owners or patrons/trustees of the school and not by central government.”
Eight out of 10 primary school principals who took part in an online survey would like to see less time devoted to religious education in schools, a new poll has shown. According to The Irish Times, the poll, which was conducted by the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN), reveals that of 600 principals who took part in the survey – a fifth of all primary schools principals in the country - 90% believe that more time should be given over to subjects such English, maths and physical education, while 85% nominated religion as the subject to be sacrificed to make this possible.
A Catholic education is about “people, not ideas”, the head of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association has said at the launch of Catholic schools week. Fr Tom Deenihan said, a Catholic school “is fundamentally not about ideas, or courses or even subjects or syllabi but, rather, it is about people. People are not clones, are not stereotypical and so, it follows, that people and students - especially students some might say - are not ideal, not perfect, and, dare I say it, sometimes not even holy. Students come from different backgrounds, with different personalities and have different experiences but, like everyone else, are made in God’s image.” This approach to education, described by Fr Deenihan as “seeing the face of God in others” is what makes Catholic schools in Ireland truly inclusive, despite recent arguments over access and ethos.
Pope Francis has defended marriage between one man and one woman over all other living arrangements. As he addressed members of the Roman Rota, the Holy See’s tribunal which judges on marriage cases, the Pontiff stressed that “there can be no confusion between the family willed by God and any other type of union”. He said the Church must show mercy to all families but “at the same time, proclaim the inalienable truth of marriage according to God’s plan. This service is entrusted primarily to the Pope and to the Bishops.” Such a clear understanding of marriage, Pope Francis explained, was at the heart of the Church’s ongoing mission to promote the marriage of a man and a woman as the form as best for society.
Northern Ireland’s Attorney General has announced his intention to challenge a Court of Appeal ruling which declared the region’s abortion laws too restrictive. According to The Irish Times, the office of John Larkin QC has confirmed that an appeal to the ruling has been lodged. Last December, Mr Justice Mark Horner heard a case brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) against the Department of Justice contending that the lack of access to abortion breaches women’s human rights. He ruled in favour of abortion in cases of rape, incest and those involving babies who will likely die at or soon after birth.
A senior member of the Fine Gael party has dismissed as “legal fiction” the contention that it may be possible to simultaneously retain the constitutional protection for the unborn and allow for abortion in cases of children with life-limiting conditions. In so doing, he has given his backing to the retention of Ireland’s pro-life amendment also known as the ‘Eighth Amendment’. Writing in The Irish Catholic, Barry Walsh, the Vice Chair of the Fine Gael Executive Council wrote: “On one level, this proposal [to allow abortions when a baby will die soon after birth] is a legal fiction, since it will be impossible to formulate a constitutional definition for something for which medical science cannot diagnose with any certainty.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has said it is wrong for parents to baptise their children only to gain access to Catholic schools. Speaking to The Irish Times, Dr Martin said canon law was clear that people “should only be baptised if there’s a reasonable probability that they will be brought up as Catholics”. The Archbishop added that the end result of baptism was not the baptismal certificate. “It’s a religious rite of entry to the life of the speculates that “some of the strong correlation between baptisms and birth rates” could be attributed to the admission policies of Catholic schools.
The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Richard Clarke has defended the role of faith-based schools in this country and also warned against the introduction of a form of ‘eugenic abortion’ Archbishop Clarke says in an interview with The Irish Catholic that faith-based schools play an important role, warning that the “notion that denominational education is no longer fit for purpose is more a political notion than actually something that will stand up”. He added his firm belief that there remains in Ireland today ““a legitimate place for schools that are of a denominational hue”. Archbishop Clarke also warned of a potential “eugenics culture” in Ireland should current abortion laws be liberalised. On the current drive to force a referendum towards repealing the constitutional protection for the unborn, the Archbishop warned that it could “begin a process where if there is any risk that a child may be disabled in any way, then a mother will be under pressure to have an abortion”.
The United Nations has revealed that Christians are being targeted in a “systematic and widespread” attempt by Islamic State to destroy their presence in the Middle East. According to a newly released report, based on Iraqi government records of civilian deaths and casualties together with eyewitness accounts of Islamic State atrocities, Christians, together with Yazidis, continue to be despised minorities open to summary execution and other abuses as Islamic State seeks to drive all ‘non-believers’ from its envisioned caliphate. Importantly, the report suggests that such actions may amount to genocide. Cataloguing a raft of atrocities being committed by Islamic State, the UN report states that the level of violence being endured by civilians in areas controlled by Islamic State is “staggering”.
A Catholic Bishop in Canada has described plans for the introduction of new rules on transgender pupils in schools in Alberta as “the madness of relativism”. In a letter to parishes entitled ‘Totalitarianism is alive and well in Alberta’, Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary denounces moves by education chiefs in the province to enforce tailored policies on all schools, including religious-backed, to accommodate transgender pupils by allowing a boy identifying as a girl to use girls’ toilets, among other measures. “The Alberta Government ‘Guidelines’ issued on January 13th show no evidence of consultation with or sensitivity to the Catholic community. They breathe pure secularism,” Bishop Henry wrote.
Irish Vintners are once again calling on the Government to end the traditional Good Friday closing of pubs. With an eye to the Ireland soccer International against Switzerland which takes place in Dublin on that day, March 25, the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) and the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) have joined in calling the Good Friday ban as “discriminatory”. Offering an image of “thousands of tourists wandering around the streets of our cities and towns asking why they can’t go into a pub for a drink”, the LVA chief executive Donall O’Keeffe argued that the figure would be greatly increased by the 2016 centenary celebrations while “we are also going to have up to 50,000 soccer fans in Dublin facing the same problem outside the stadium”.
Changes to official forms to remove the words ‘male’ and ‘female’ and giving children hormone blocking drugs to delay puberty if they voice doubts about their gender identity are among the suggestions of a group of British MPs in a new report. The report details ways in which it believes transgender people can be made to feel more included in British society, according to The Daily Telegraph. Among other recommendations, the committee is calling for a simplifying of the process by which a transgender person can be legally recognised as such. Under the current Gender Recognition Act, people in Britain must live under their preferred gender for two years before gaining an official certificate. The committee suggests this can be simplified to a ‘self-declaration’ without the need to wait.
A delegation of bishops visiting the Middle East has told persecuted Christians “you are not forgotten”. In a statement following the visit by the Bishops of the Holy Land Coordination, which included Ireland’s Bishop John McAreavey, the group addressed various communities across the region, stressing that “ongoing violence makes it all the more urgent that we remember and assist all, especially those on the margins, who seek to live in justice and peace”. Having met Christian refugees in Jordan, the Bishops said: “To the Christian refugees we met, you are not forgotten We heard about the trauma and difficulties in trying to rebuild their lives. For most, returning home is no longer an option. Jordan is struggling to cope with almost a quarter of its population now made up of refugees.”
The Minister for Children James Reilly has indicated the possibility of Ireland holding a referendum towards eroding the constitutional protection afforded to faith schools. He appeared yesterday before the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva, Switzerland, where he was pressed repeatedly on religious patronage of schools in Ireland and admissions policies. Speaking to reporters afterwards, Minister Reilly said: “I don’t believe that it is appropriate that a child needs to be baptised to go to school.” Quoted by The Irish Times newspaper, the Minister went on to point out the constitutional protection afforded to religious-backed schools and said “the only way to get forward momentum on this might be in the next government,” adding when asked about the possibility of a referendum, “that is the advice we have”.
The Labour Party is promising to cut the cost of childcare to €2 per hour if returned to government at the next election. The policy offers nothing to stay-at-home parents. According to The Irish Independent, the party’s undertaking would see a cap of €4.25 per hour (the current national average) for childcare, with the Government providing 50c per child. Labour envisages the plan would see parents paying €80 a week or about €320 a month for one child. Parents would be entitled to access State-subsidised care for children from the age of nine months to 12 years, for 40 hours per week.
The persecution of Christians across the Middle East and in Africa is on the rise, a new report has revealed. According to World Watch List 2016, compiled by Open Doors, a Christian advocacy group which annually monitors rates of persecution around the world, 2015 saw a deteriorating position for many Christian communities. However, despite the prominence currently offered by the media for the activities of Islamic State in its drive to eradicate Christians from territory it has claimed for its ‘caliphate’, Open Doors reveals that the country where it is worst to live as a Christian is actually North Korea, which is top for overall persecution. In terms of actual numbers of Christians murdered for their faith, Nigeria lays claim to over half the 7,000 recorded Christian deaths by violence globally.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has voiced doubts that a referendum aimed at repealing the constitutional protection for the unborn would pass. According to The Irish Independent, when asked about the issue of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution, which offers equal status to a mother and her unborn child, Mr Kenny said, on a personal basis: “You can’t just remove an article from the Constitution. You have to have the support of the people. I think if that were put to the people today, the result would be unclear.”
Over 200 mental health professionals in Chile have challenged the country’s College of Psychologists which stands accused of minimising the trauma caused to women by abortion. According to Lifesite News, doctors and psychiatrists were prompted to draw up ‘Abortion and Women’s Mental Health’ when the College’s own recently released document ignored the issue while advocating availability of abortion. In doing so, the College has been accused of ignoring “the conclusions of various qualitative and quantitative studies that demonstrate the damage that is caused to the mother who has an abortion”.
The Catholic Church in Scotland has described as “sinister” government plans to open family planning services near schools as one method of tackling teenage pregnancies. According to the Herald Scotland, the Scottish Catholic Education Service felt compelled to write to ministers in response to a draft proposal on teenage pregnancies which contained plans for drop-in centres towards offering the so-called 'Morning After Pill' in a “youth-friendly approach”.
A Catholic care home in Belgium is being sued by relatives of a patient for not offering euthanasia to her. The Catholic Herald reports that, when the St Augustinus home in Diest declined a request for a doctor to administer a lethal injection to Mariette Buntjens in 2011, the woman’s family transferred her to a private care home where the procedure was carried out. The family then initiated legal proceedings, claiming Mariette had endured unnecessary “physical and mental suffering” by not being allowed to die at St Augustinus. Belgian law currently permits doctors to conscientiously object to euthanasia, which was legalised in 2002, but is silent on whether institutions enjoy the same right.
State and other schools in England will not be required to teach non-religious views on an equal footing with religion, following the issuing of revised Department of Education guidelines. According to the Christian Institute, the review, which was prompted by a High Court ruling last November that the new Religious Education curriculum had wrongfully excluded atheism, gives backing to schools to prioritise religions and teach that England is principally a Christian country. The reason given for this by the Department of Education, is that the court ruling had been handed down on a “narrow, technical point”.
An Evangelical pastor in Northern Ireland has been found not guilty of issuing grossly offensive remarks during a sermon in which he described Islam as “a doctrine spawned in hell”. Brought before Belfast Magistrates’ Court, Pastor James McConnell had denied two charges levelled against him for the sermon, delivered at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast in 2014. Arising from the fact that the sermon, which described Islam as “heathen” and “satanic” was streamed over the internet, Pastor McConnell stood accused under the 2003 Communications Act with improper use of a public electronic communications network and causing a grossly offensive message to be sent by means of a public electronic communications network.
The number of children living in ‘traditional family’ settings in the United States has plummeted, new research has found. Defining the traditional family as one where “the children are under 18 years old, the mother stays at home while the father works and both parents are in their first marriage”, the Pew Research Centre studied US Census Bureau figures, beginning in 1960, in order to track the declining state of this family unit. The chief reasons for the decline are the growth in the number of working mothers, and the rise of divorce and out-of-wedlock births.
Pro-life voters must be aware of the position of political parties and individual politicians on abortion as Ireland's abortion laws may well rest on the outcome of the coming election, Bishop Kevin Doran has said. In the course of an interview on Newstalk Radio’s Pat Kenny Show, the Bishop of Elphin pointed out that “many of those who wish to remove the 8th Amendment from the Constitution have made no secret of the fact that their ultimate political objective is abortion on demand". "That's very clear from some of the political parties engaged in this debate, and I think people need to take note of that,” he said.
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