European churchman reiterates claim that UK’s referendum debate on EU was often ‘hysterical
The President of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), retired Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill (pictured), has said that the campaign in the UK earlier this year surrounding the country’s referendum on European Union membership had not seen a debate “in which facts get in the way of argument”.
Bishop Hill, speaking on 6th December to the Gazette editor at Church House, Westminster, said the campaign had been “very disturbing in terms of democratic process”.
He was commenting on a CEC document which was published shortly before the 23rd June UK referendum, What future for Europe?
THE MESSAGE OF CHRISTMAS
The Christmas story is not an easy one for many people to hear.
Many women listening to the story of the Virgin Mary’s conception of the Christ Child will be disturbed because they wish they could conceive and can never explain why they have not become mothers. There are mothers who have given birth to children with health and learning problems who find it difficult to listen to stories about a perfect child. There are women who have seen their children die and who can identify more with the Mary in the Pieta images, holding the dead body of Jesus, than with the Mary on traditional Christmas cards.
There are also many men who will hear the story of Joseph of Nazareth in different ways. There are men who are not the fathers of the children of their wives but who seek to be good fathers without having to give explanations. There are men who have to move with their families for economic, social or even political reasons and who are worried about being regarded as inadequate.
Yet, the Christmas Gospel brings judgment not on those who are on the margins of society or who need compassion and to be freed from society’s reproaches. Instead, the Christmas Gospel brings judgment on those with power and those who make decisions. That’s who Herod was, after all.
The Christmas story of a refugee family in the Middle East who flee their home because of the murderous plots of a capricious despot should stir up compassion for the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in our day. Although they continue to cross the Mediterranean in harrowing circumstances every night and every day, the governments north and south on this island have still to meet their commitments to accepting a tiny proportion of these refugees.
The Christmas story of a wandering, homeless family who find no room at the inn in Bethlehem should strengthen every resolve to tackle the major refugee crisis and the wider crisis of homelessness we face today.
The story of the three Magi, who fall on their knees after a long journey across from Persia or Babylon, should encourage all to welcome the stranger from afar and to challenge the current rise of racism across the Western world.
We have, in fact, sanitised the Christmas narrative so that the uncomfortable challenges are replaced by the baubles and bright lights. Yet, even the secularised stories that have become part of our Christmas traditions can offer unexpected challenges and hope.
The bright lights can indeed be taken as symbolising the coming of the Light of the World, breaking into human darkness and loneliness to bring light and love.
The Christmas tree, taken indoors in the bleak midwinter, serves as a reminder of the challenge – expressed so well in the Anglican Five Marks of Mission – “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth”.
The story of Santa Claus has its roots in the life of St Nicholas of Myra, a bishop who defended the doctrine of the Church but who also defended the rights of children in danger of being abused and traded, and who was concerned for the plight of people on the high seas. His generosity in the presents he distributes freely is a reminder of the over-abundant generosity of God in the gift of Christ at Christmas.
The Christmas Crib is still the central decoration in many secular places. It is as if society is clamouring for the Good News that is the Christmas message. Instead of sanitising this message, the Church needs to find a new boldness in living out the full implications of what is, seriously, a very happy Christmas story.
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- Tuam, Killala and Achonry Introduction and Installations
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- Connor Clergy ‘Quiet Morning’
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- IICM statement following death of high-profile ecumenist
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In Perspective – Love came down at Christmas
Insight – American Life: At Standing Rock, God heard our cries for justice
Focus on Limerick and Killaloe
- Bishop Angaelos considers Cairo Cathedral bombing
- Dr Tveit responds to weekend of violence
Letters to the Editor
I REFER TO Mr Richard Balmer’s letter in your issue of 2nd December.
I really wonder where Mr Balmer obtains his facts. He trots out the usual tired, anti- European British press myth about the EU being “governed by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels who award themselves enormous salaries and even greater expenses of office allowances”, as he words it.
Is he not aware that the Commission is a civil service which merely implements decisions taken jointly by the Council composed of representatives of the (democratically elected) governments of the Member States, and the European Parliament.
As to the “enormous salaries”, could Mr Balmer please explain why the EU finds it so difficult to recruit enough office staff and graduate level multi-lingual officials from the Western European countries, including notably the UK and Ireland?
The usual explanation is that the salaries are not sufficiently attractive. While senior civil servants are well paid (as they are in the UK and Ireland), it takes years to be promoted to such salary levels.
The EU is competing with other international institutions and commercial and financial enterprises, and it pays less well than those alternative international employers.
I must point out to Mr Balmer that the Court of Auditors, appointed by the Member States, is responsible for auditing the European Union’s accounts. In October 2016 it signed off the EU accounts for the 9th year in a row.
I refer him to the Court of Auditors’ Annual Report or, if that is too detailed, to the Court’s Press Release of 13th October 2016 which is available online (http:// europa.eu/rapid/press-release_ IP-16-3343_en.htm).
Yet, according to Mr Balmer this did not happen. Bizarre!
As to the European elite wanting to include Turkey in the Union, had this been the case Turkey would now be a member.
Despite 40 years of very vague talks, Turkey is no nearer to joining than it was in the 1970s.
So, according to Mr Balmer, the European “elite wants power, position, wealth, kudos”.
Who comprises this elite? In the European Union, the real centre of power is the Council, i.e. the Member States. Is that the “elite”?
Perhaps Mr Balmer is not aware that the eastern expansion of the EU in 2004 and 2007, which led to the influx of migrants from central and eastern European countries, was largely brought about by pressure from Germany and the United Kingdom, for different reasons, despite reluctance on the part of several other Member States.
Furthermore, as the United Kingdom is not party to the Schengen agreement, it is even now entitled to maintain border controls and to exclude non-EU migrants, including those resident in other Member States.
With regard to Mr Robert S. Stinson’s letter in the same issue of the Gazette, I would refer him to the facts stated above.
The only element in his letter with which I am in agreement is the illogicality and expense of maintaining two series of buildings for the European Parliament, in Brussels and Strasbourg.
Unfortunately, the termination of parliamentary sessions in Strasbourg would require a unanimous decision by the Member States and France does not agree. The other Member States and the EU Institutions would be delighted if all EP sessions were to be held in Brussels.
Can France, weakened by its failure, in spite of EU pressure and encouragement, to bring about badly needed reforms, continue to hold out indefinitely?
I would not assume that all those in Northern Ireland who voted to leave the EU are bigots (in response to Mr Stinson’s term). It is more likely that many were ill-informed and misled by a mendacious press and by unscrupulous politicians (not so much in Northern Ireland as in Great Britain).
I EXPERIENCED being raised in the notorious Bethany Home for single Protestant mothers and their babies in the 1940s. I know the truth better than any historian ever could, because I lived it.
Today, our so-called Protestant Church leaders have abandoned us and our Catholic governments are still employing all of the familiar tactics of time-wasting Commissions of Inquiry.
And when they are finally done, the current Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby homes will not give us justice and redress.
There will be more stalling.
The Bethany Home survivors are living proof of how the Irish state and the Church of Ireland have kicked us again while the last few of us still alive are now old and in ill health.
They all hoped we would have joined our 227 brothers and sisters buried in pauper graves in Mount Jerome in Dublin. But we are still here – still hanging on to life.
Historians and academics might consider talking to survivors of injustice done by Protestants to the most innocent and vulnerable Protestant babies and children of the ‘good old days’.
A few of us are still here to bear witness and if people can’t be bothered to listen, then go to Mount Jerome cemetery and witness the names of our 227 fallen brothers and sisters.
That silent monument says more about the reality of life for poor Protestants than all the clever and learned academic articles ever written.
REFERRING TO Dermot O’Callaghan’s open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, highlighted in the 16th December Gazette, is it not somewhat inappropriate for the Director of Core Issues in Northern Ireland to attempt to sway the Archbishop’s thinking regarding covenanted same-sex partnerships between Christians in the Church of England?
It is well known that Christians are divided on the ethical issues and that psychiatric research is being constantly updated.
However, the Royal College of Psychiatrists stated clearly in 2010: “There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.
Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish.”
Whether approaching the matter from a scientific or a theological viewpoint, Archbishop Welby must be well provided with all the information, research results, and advice he can possibly need in this area. He must also be aware of the strength of feeling on both sides of the debate.
Would we not all be better advised to pray for the Archbishop than to lecture him?
Chair, Changing Attitude Ireland Delgany Co. Wicklow
LAST WEEK in the Gazette (issue of 16th December), the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin from 1999-2012, the Very Revd Robert MacCarthy, corrected previous comments that he made regarding Patrick O’Brien, a child abuser. O’Brien was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment on 10th November, after pleading guilty to 52 sample charges of abusing 14 boys, over a 40-year period.
In 2004, Kerry Lawless, a former St Patrick’s Cathedral chorister who O’Brien was convicted in 1989 of abusing, brought O’Brien’s presence in the cathedral to Dean MacCarthy’s attention.
The Dean was reported in The Irish Times on 11th November as having removed O’Brien as a volunteer from the Cathedral in 2004.
In the Gazette of 25th November, Dean MacCarthy was reported as having stated that he was unaware prior to 2004 of O’Brien’s history as an abuser. However, the Dean admitted to Patsy McGarry in The Irish Times that an unnamed woman in the congregation, whose son O’Brien abused, “kept on agitating” about his presence.
Dean MacCarthy now states that he was officially notified of O’Brien’s presence in 1999, after which “I then at once removed O’Brien from the list of [Cathedral] volunteers”.
The Dean revealed that the Cathedral administrator, Dr Kerry Houston, also informed “my [1991- 99] predecessor, Dean [Maurice] Stewart about the matter, but Dean Stewart did nothing”. Dean MacCarthy did something. Up to 2004, did it make any material difference? Though not listed to do so, it seems as though O’Brien carried on with his voluntary work in plain sight.
The Church became aware during the 1980s of O’Brien’s abuse of children towards whom the Church had a duty of care. Evidence to hand suggests that the Church of Ireland did nothing effective with the information.
The Dean’s letter confirms institutional awareness of the presence of a child abuser.
On his retirement, Dean MacCarthy remarked that the Church of Ireland was, “lucky that there was no inquiry into sexual abuse within the Church of Ireland – if there had been, I doubt if we would have been found to be blameless” (The Irish Times, 23rd January 2012).
Has the Church’s luck run out? Should safeguarding its good fortune supersede the interests of abuse victims, or a wider public interest in a fuller account of what happened?
Niall Meehan (Dr)
Head, Journalism & Media Faculty
Grifith College Dublin
Archbishop Idowu-Fearon on Anglicanism
AS A LAY member of General Synod who stands in full support of the GAFCON movement, I read the interview with the Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, with much interest (Gazette, 16th December).
I was greatly encouraged to read of his support for Lambeth Resolution 1.10. However, I cannot accept the conclusion he has reached about GAFCON representing a break away from the Anglican Communion.
GAFCON represents a huge number of orthodox Anglicans worldwide who have no intention
of breaking away. Instead they are committed to “the task of restoring the Bible to its rightful place at the centre of the Anglican Communion”, a mission restated by GAFCON chairman, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, in his Advent Statement (also Gazette, 16th December).
GAFCON’s foundational Jerusalem Declaration and Statement is crystal clear that the movement is fully committed to ongoing traditional and orthodox Anglicanism.
Dundonald Co. Down
Christmas Messages 2016
A joint Christmas Message from the
- Archbishops of Armagh, the Most Revd Richard Clarke and the Most Revd Eamon Martin
- From the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Michael Jackson