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Dear Members,
 
Catholic Union Head of Public Affairs James Somerville-Meikle writes:
 
It is usually not a good sign when the Catholic Church is ‘trending’ on Twitter. It was no exception on Wednesday this week when the report from the Mother and Baby Homes Commission in Ireland was published by the Irish Government. The findings of the report have made difficult reading for many people in Ireland and led to a lot of coverage in print and social media in this country as well. The report is a painful reminder of the importance of having good leadership at all levels of the Church. Sadly, this has also been the week in which we heard about the death of the Archbishop of Glasgow, Philip Tartaglia, and the former Bishop of Dunkeld, Bishop Emeritus Vincent Logan. May they rest in peace. But in the midst of this sadness, there are reasons to hope. This week, applications opened for the Christian Leadership Formation Programme which will provide training to the next generation of Christian leaders. The programme is being run by the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst and supported by the Catholic Union. We need to encourage Christian leaders of the future more than ever.
 
COVID
 
Lockdowns risk fundamental freedoms. In evidence to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Catholic Union has warned that there has been a disproportionate interference with people’s freedom of religion or belief during lockdowns. Head of Public Affairs, James Somerville-Meikle, said “While we are pleased that churches in England are currently allowed to remain open, it’s clear that the importance of churches has not always been recognised by the Government during this pandemic – and the restrictions on freedom of religious practice have sometimes been disproportionate”.
 
No evidence for churches spreading the virus. Faiths Minister, Lord Greenhalgh, chaired a meeting of the Covid-19 Taskforce on places of worship on Monday 11 January, which was attended by Cardinal Nichols. The group was set up by the Prime Minister in May last year to assist with the reopening of churches and continues to advise the Government on guidance that impacts on places of worship. The Catholic Union understands that the Taskforce was told there remains no evidence to suggest places of worship are contributing to the spread of the virus.
 
While in London… Mayor, Sadiq Khan, repeated his call this week for places of worship to be forced to close in the capital. The move follows his decision to declare a “Major Incident” in London last week as Covid cases continued to rise putting pressure on hospitals. The Government has insisted they remain focused on enforcement of the current rules, but a review of existing measures is due next week.

GENOCIDE

An amendment to the Trade Bill which would give UK courts a role in determining whether genocide is taking place in a country with which the UK has a trade agreement is gaining support ahead of a Commons vote on 19 January. See the Guardian's report here.  Iain Duncan Smith is leading a group of Conservative rebels supporting the amendment, which is also supported by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
 
HOMELESSNESS
 
“Moral obligation” to end homelessness says Labour. Shadow Housing Secretary, Thangam Debbonaire MP, has explored policy options to solve the issue of homelessness this winter. In an interview with House magazine, she describes the Government’s decision not to reinstate the ‘Everyone In’ programme as “immoral”. This continues a theme for Labour, with several of their MPs writing about homelessness last week as well. Full interview with Ms Debbonaire can be found here.
 
More praise for ‘Everyone In’… The National Audit Office reported this week that through its ‘Everyone In’ campaign, the Government “swiftly provided emergency housing for rough sleepers during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic”. However, the report went onto say “the response raised issues that need to be addressed if government is to achieve its goal of ending rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament”.
 
Clear increase in homelessness. Data obtained through a Freedom of Information request and shared with the Guardian revealed that despite the Government ban on eviction during the first lockdown, more than 6,000 people have been sent eviction notices since the pandemic began; more than 46,000 reported to their local council saying they were already homeless; and 36,000 people were threatened with homelessness.
 
Ban on evictions extended again. Despite statements from Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick MP, that the ban on evictions would not be extended again, the ban has now in fact been extended. The Government announced the bailiff ban will be extended to 21 February in England; and that councils would receive £10 million to accommodate rough sleepers. The Government has also announced further measures to support homeless people during the second lockdown – including their health and accommodation.
 
MIGRATION
 
Former Immigration Minister criticises immigration policy. The Government came under fire this week from former Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes MP, who expressed concerns over the UK’s new immigration policy. Ms Nokes, who now Chairs the House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee, said the current policy will cost more, and won’t offer effective support to the most vulnerable people.
 
Asylum seekers on hunger strike in Kent. Hundreds of asylum seekers went on hunger strikers over the living conditions, and access to minimum services, at a barracks in Kent where they are being housed.
 
LIFE
 
Hancock to look at data on terminally ill people. Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said this week that “the Government are open to gathering data on the experiences of terminally ill people in order to inform the debate.” The response came during Health and Social Questions in Parliament this week, when Conservative MP, Andrew Mitchell, asked what the Government was doing to reduce suicide rates amongst people who are terminally ill.
 
Consultation on home abortions closes in Scotland. A consultation on plans to make the current use of at home abortion services permanent in Scotland closed earlier this month. The Catholic Union understands several thousand people submitted responses through Right to Life’s email platform to raise concerns about the proposed changes.  The Catholic Bishops in Scotland also made a submission to the consultation in which they state, “there is a serious risk to the safety and wellbeing of women in allowing abortions to take place in the home.” Similar consultations are running in Wales and England.

NUCLEAR WEAPONS

The Catholic Bishops Conference made a Statement this week about the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which will enter into force on 22 January.  No State which possesses nuclear weapons is currently party to the treaty.

POPE FRANCIS

Pope Francis has urged leaders and politicians to focus on the common good, and on the unity of the country, the Church and society.  In an interview shown on Italian TV, he also commented on the storming of the US Capitol on 6 January and on the societal tendency to discard anyone who is not "productive" to society, especially the sick, the elderly, the unborn and migrants.

PRISONS

The Benedict XVI Centre at St. Mary's University, together with the Catholic Social Action Network and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, are hosting an evening discussion on Punishment and Prisons in the 21st Century with Bishop Richard Moth and Rev Jonathan Aitken, chaired by Professor Philip Booth. The event will take place on Wednesday 10 February 2021 at 6.00pm-7.15pm by zoom. There is more information and a link to registration here or you can register directly here.
 
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
 
North Korea and Nigeria worst for Christian persecution. Advocacy group Open Doors released its annual World Watch List this week, showing that North Korea and Nigeria were the countries where Christians faced the most threats for their faith. On 13 January, MPs heard directly from Amina (from Nigeria) and Father Daniel (from Iraq) about the issue of Christian persecution through a virtual event organised by Open Doors.
 
Fiona Bruce’s first speech as FoRB Champion. Fiona Bruce MP made her first speech in the House of Commons this week as the Prime Minister's newly appointed Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) in a debate on Global Britain. Mrs Bruce said in the debate, “for me, the heart of FoRB is based on respecting the unique worth of every created human being. It is about the importance of treating every individual with dignity.”
 
ALSO…..
 
VACANCY

The Von Hugel Institute at St Edmund's College, Cambridge is looking for a new Development Director (deadline 18 January): See here.

EVENTS

Tuesday 19 January at 3-4.15pm
How is Democracy Doing?  Blackfriars Las Casas Institute panel discussion relating to Free Speech. For details see here.

Thursday 21 January at 4pm
In Conversation: Dr Barbara Jatta, Director of the Vatican Museum, and Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, exploring the global arts sector's recovery from the pandemic.  Introduced by Sir Christian Sweeting (Chair, Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums UK). See here.

Thursday 28 January at 5-6.30pm
Christian Narratives and the Well-Lived Life: Thomistic Institute.  Aquinas Institute lecture with Prof Mark Wynn.  See here.
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