Head of Public Affairs, James Somerville-Meikle, writes:

On Tuesday morning, over 700 people – including the Prime Minister – gathered in Westminster Hall for the annual National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast. It was the first time in three years that the event has been able to take place in person. The highlight for me was the complete silence that descended on the impressive 11th Century building just before the final blessing – so quiet you could hear a pin drop. It turned out to be the last moment of silence in Westminster this week. Events moved faster that many thought. Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid resigned just at the moment of the keynote speeches at the reception for delegates at the international conference on freedom of religion or belief, which took place in London this week. The leadership contest which will now follow in the wake of the Boris Johnson’s decision to resign creates a moment of uncertainty and opportunity. The next Prime Minister will need to make some important policy choices that will have an impact on Catholics in this country – from tax and childcare to free speech and immigration. The Catholic Union will be finding out where the candidates stand on these issues over the weeks ahead. 

PLEASE JOIN US! Catholic Union Drinks, Tuesday 12 July from 6pm. A social evening for Catholic Union members, guests and friends to meet each other and our staff and Council.  We have hired the upstairs bar of the Windsor Castle pub (formerly known as the Cardinal). There will be a cash bar and food available to buy from the pub menu.  There is no need to register – you can just turn up!  This is primarily a social event so feel free to invite friends, especially any who might be interested in joining the Catholic Union.  Venue: The Windsor Castle (upstairs bar), 23 Francis Street, London SW1P 1DN (behind Westminster Cathedral).

Monday 18 July at 7.30pm -  The Work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.  A Catholic Union Webinar with Alasdair Harrison, a barrister and member of the EHRC, who will talk about its work and give an insider’s insight into the difficult and controversial issues with which it deals. No need to register. A zoom link will be circulated nearer the time.
Catholic Union Summer Gathering. LAST CALL for tickets for the Catholic Union Summer Gathering on Saturday 23 July at St Mary’s College, Oscott, near Birmingham.  Please join us to hear more about the Catholic Union’s work from our President and Chairman and to see the beautiful Pugin chapel and other treasures of Oscott. Tickets are only £28 per person, which includes lunch, refreshments and a tour. The day will start at 11.15 am and will include Mass in the afternoon with the Rector of Oscott. Full details on how to book are here.
Craigmyle Lecture 2022. On Monday 19 September at 6.30pm Baroness Hollins will deliver the annual Catholic Union Craigmyle Lecture on "Keeping Children and Vulnerable Adults Safe - Insights from the Vatican" at the University of Notre Dame.  In person and live streamed. Followed by a Drinks Reception. Registration details to follow.
Catholic Union on Radio Maria. On 7 July James Somerville-Meikle, Head of Public Affairs at the Catholic Union, was interviewed by Radio Maria. You can listen to James in this 30 minute podcast.  James spoke about the events of the week including the Parliamentary prayer breakfast, the Freedom of Religion or Belief Conference, the visit of Cardinal Vincent Nichols to Parliament and a fairer tax system. Fr Toby Lees OP is the new Priest Director at Radio Maria.
Research. The Anscombe Bioethics Centre have contributed some interesting research to the ongoing debate about assisted dying.  The Director, David Albert Jones, together with Dr Anne Doherty and Caitlyn Axe, has written an article for the BJ Psych Open, Investigating the relationship between euthanasia and/or assisted suicide and rates of non-assisted suicide: systematic review.
Annual St Bede Lecture. On Saturday 9 July (today!) the Annual St Bede lecture will be given by Rev Bernard Eckerstorfer OSB, Rector, Athenaeum Sancti Anselmi de Urbe, Sant’Anselmo, Rome, at the Benedictine Institute, Ealing Abbey, at 2.30 pm. The lecture is titled: "Worship with One Accord: In Memoriam, Geoffrey Wainwright, 1939-2020". More information including on livestreaming can be found here.
Sea Sunday, 10 July. Every year churches around the world celebrate Sea Sunday. It is a day for people to come together to pray for seafarers and fishers, and thank them for the vital role they play in all our lives.  Find out more at Stella Maris.

FoRB or Religious Freedom?
  The term used throughout the Ministerial Conference this week was "FoRB", but how does that inclusion of "or belief" differ from the term religious freedom?  This Opinion piece by Miles Windsor of the US Religious Freedom Institute is well worth reading and reflecting upon. 
Bishop of Truro’s Report. On 4 July the independent review team assessed how the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office had implemented the recommendations from the Bishop of Truro’s 2019 report.
Ministerial Conference on FoRB. The Director and Head of Public Affairs of the Catholic Union joined over 800 delegates from 100 countries at the International Ministerial  Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in London this week (see photo below). Opening speeches were made in person or online by the Prince of Wales, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and religious leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi, Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu speakers plus the Humanists.  There were numerous official workshops plus a large number of conference fringe events including an event organised by our friends at Aid to the Church in Need.  Discussions at the conference were inevitably at a fairly general level but a follow-up meeting took place the following day at Lancaster House to consider more practical and specific follow-up.

Nigel Parker, Director, and James Somerville-Meikle, Head of Public Affairs, at the FoRB Ministerial Conference in London this week.  

A "non-binary" LGBT activist (referred to in the judgment as Mx C E Lord) has been recused from sitting as a lay member to hear an appeal in the Higgs v Farmor's School case after the President of the Employment Appeal Tribunal found that "the fair minded and informed observer could not exclude the possibility of bias", given evidence of tweets from the lay member which expressed strong opinions on some of the issues in the case.  You can read an account in the Law Society Gazette or read the judgment itself in which the judge was careful to explain that she entirely disregarded the lay member's personal protected characteristics.


National Church Awards 2022. Click here to enter your church, project, architect or volunteer to win the UK’s Church of the Year. The awards are: Church architecture, Church maintenance, Church tourism, Church volunteer, plus Friends and Church of the year. Winners will celebrate at "a glorious high tea" at the Mercers’ Company Livery Hall in October 2022.

MA in Catholic Theology. Durham University and the Centre for Catholic Studies has launched a new distance learning MA in Catholic Theology, designed for those looking to continue their academic and theological journey.


Bishop David Oakley of Northampton is supporting a Private Member's Bill which aims to end the "two child policy" for Universal Credit, a cause which has also been raised repeatedly by the Catholic Union. The Catholic Union had a meeting with Bishop David earlier this year and recently Bishop David commended the Catholic Union to all the parish priests in his diocese. You can read more at Independent Catholic News
Conservative Leadership Contest.  Right to Life have published a resource on their website listing how the likely candidates have voted in the past on the issues of abortion and assisted suicide.

Assisted Dying. As a result of a petition that received 155,805 signatures, the House of Commons debated assisted dying in Westminster Hall on 4 July.  You can watch the
 debate or read the transcript in Hansard. Care Not Killing’s summary of the debate can be found here.

PMQs. During Prime Minister’s Questions Time, Fiona Bruce MP, PM’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, called upon the Prime Minister to ensure that the freedom of religion or belief conference was followed up by concerted global action to promote those freedoms. 

Cardinal's Visit to Parliament.  Cardinal Vincent Nichols paid a visit to Parliament on 6 July where he met Catholic MPs and Peers, celebrated Mass in the St Mary Undercroft Chapel, and met Catholics working in Parliament (including representatives of the Catholic Union) at a reception afterwards. 


A new novel, The Devil’s Sandbags by Sheila Longman, about an undercover MI6 agent set partly in St Augustine’s Abbey, Chilworth, has hit the shops.  Find your copy online or in all good bookshops.

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Weekly Briefings are compiled by Louisa Collyer-Hamlin featuring an editorial from James Somerville-Meikle. Edited by Nigel Parker. You can find out more about our team here.
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