Catholic Union Head of Public Affairs James Somerville-Meikle writes: Like many people, I feared the worst when I heard new coronavirus restrictions were being introduced in England next week. Having just got used to going back to church – albeit with a face covering – I couldn’t bear the thought of churches having to close again. Thankfully the new “rule of 6” for indoor and outdoor gatherings does not apply to places of worship. The existing limit of 30 people for events such as funerals and weddings will also continue. These are important exemptions, and an encouraging sign that the Government is listening to faith communities. At times during this pandemic, the needs of religious groups have sometimes felt like an afterthought or certainly not a priority. The ban on funerals taking place under the original lockdown measures caused huge pain and frustration to grieving families, and some people felt that church closures went on longer than needed. Now, at least, it seems the Government has more sensitivity to some of these concerns. Long may that continue.
European Bishops warn of increase secularisation. Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, has argued that the pandemic “may have accelerated secularisation of Europe by ten years”.
Status quo in places of worship. While the Government has toughened the rules in order to control coronavirus, guidance for places of worship remains the same.
Clearer rules around eviction. Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick MP, has said that while the ban on evictions in England and Wales will end on 21 September, bailiffs will not enforce evictions in areas under a local lockdown.
Concerns over future of Catholic education. The Congregation for Catholic Education has warned that without government support Catholic schools “risk closure or a radical downsizing.” See the circular letter published (in Italian) in L’Osservatore Romano.
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
Action to protect free speech on university campuses. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said that the Government “are exploring a range of legislative and non-legislative options” to protect freedom of speech at university.
Dramatic increase in homelessness in London before Covid. The Combined Homelessness and Information Network has revealed that the number of people without shelter rose by 21% between April 2019 and March 2020, and by 170% since 2010.
Mobilisation against use of PSPOs against homeless people. Plans to fine people sleeping rough in doorways in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, have been rejected due to popular pressure. Conservative Councillors were planning to introduce a Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) to spread out homeless people.
Abortion rates at highest since the Abortion Act 1967. The Department of Health and Social Care has reported that the number of abortions in England and Wales has reached a record high, with 109,836 abortions performed from 1 January to 30 June 2020.
Government considers extending ‘temporary’ rules on abortion. Health Minister, Helen Whately MP, has confirmed that the Government will run a public consultation on making permanent the measures to facilitate abortion during the lockdown (allowing for home use of both pills for early medical abortion up to 10 weeks gestation for all eligible women). Replying to a Parliamentary Question, Ms Whately said that the current measure will be “kept in place until the public consultation concludes and a decision has been made.”
Lobby to allow pill over the counter. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health is pushing the Government to make progestogen-only contraceptive pills available over the counter without a prescription. MPs argued that the UK has record level of teen pregnancy, and that reproductive services have from suffered dramatic cuts. According to Dr Asha Kasliwal, President of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency “have been looking into it and [she] think[s] they are hoping for a good outcome soon”.
Peers debate immigration rules for priests and religious. An amendment on clergy visas, tabled to the Government’s Immigration Bill, was debated in the House of Lords on Wednesday night. The amendment was tabled by the Bishop of Durham with support from Catholic Union Vice Presidents Baroness Hollins and Baroness Hooper. There are already concerns about existing arrangements for priests and other religious coming to the UK from outside the EU, which could be made more problematic when freedom of movement with EU countries comes to an end. Responding to the debate, Lord Parkinson said: “We [the Government] recognise that faith is a calling and that the terms of appointment differ from traditional employment models.” However, the Government did not accept the amendment.
MP sets out vision against human trafficking. Conservative Chair of the Defence Select Committee Tobias Ellwood has said the UK has “a moral duty” to fight against human exploitation. In his open letter, he explains how the UK could proceed – working closely with France.
Dramatic situation of prisons in England and Wales. The Public Accounts Committee has put the spotlight on “the scale of failure in our prisons” and on “the disastrous probation reforms”. Their latest report found that only 206 out of 10,000 new prison spaces promised in 2016 have been delivered. They also revealed a £900 million backlog of maintenance work. The report said that prison overcrowding and poor living conditions led to high levels of violence and self-harm. Read some comments.
CATHOLIC VOICES WEBINAR: Coronavirus, Church & You
Wednesday 16th September 2020 @ 18.30-19.30
Over 2,500 Catholics were surveyed, between 19th May and the 26th July, about their experiences and attitudes towards lockdown. The team of researchers involved with the survey collaborated with Catholic Voices to produce an in-depth report on the findings of the survey called 'Coronavirus, Church & you’.
We want this report to be a resource that helps clergy and lay leaders to face the challenges ahead for the Church. To help in this process we will be hosting an exclusive webinar interview with one of the principal researchers involved in the survey and report, Professor Francis Davis.
JOIN US via Zoom on Wednesday 16th September (18.30-19.30) as we take a deeper look at some of the issues raised and lessons learnt.
To find out more about this webinar >>> https://www.catholicvoices.org.uk/events/coronavirus-church-you
To register for the webinar >>> https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/5615997764881/WN_QGcfTPUdQsa5RUGLTI_lqQ
Discover some of major findings and access the full report on our website >>> https://www.catholicvoices.org.uk/survey.
The Eucharist and Covid-19: Wednesday 16 September, 7pm–8.30pm
Chair: Prof Anthony Towey (St Mary’s University)
Panellists: Dr Mike Kirwan SJ (Loyola Institute), Rev. Philip Dyer-Perry (Diocese of Westminster), Dr Gemma Simmonds CJ (Margaret Beaufort Institute) and Joanna Hale (Northampton Diocese)
Zoom Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84867297879
Catholic Social Teaching and Covid-19: Wednesday 23 September, 7pm–8.30pm
Chair: Prof Stephen McKinney (University of Glasgow)
Panellists: Dr Kevin Hargaden (Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice), Rev. Dr Simon Cuff (St Mellitus College), Nikki Dhillon-Keane (Bishops’ Conference) and Prof. Philip Booth (St Mary’s University)
Zoom Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84277488162