Category Archives: Politics

Cif Belief: Poland’s ‘baby hatches’ leave vulnerable mothers exposed

Polish Catholics are defending hatches where unwanted babies can be left. But they can do more harm than good

Over the last six years, the Polish branch of the Catholic charity Caritas has installed 50 baby hatches across the country. These hatches (heated boxes in the walls of hospitals and religious buildings where mothers can safely abandon their babies) have saved over 40 children in that time – but they are now under threat. In June the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child caused outrage when it protested that baby hatches violated article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which states that every child has “the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents”. Now the committee is taking the issue to the European parliament, provoking Caritas Poland to speak out passionately in defence of the hatches it has branded Okna Życia (“windows of life”)…

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Cif Belief: The folly of German bishops making Catholics pay

A decision to make outcasts of German Catholics who do not pay church tax has drawn outrage from members

The German Bishops’ Conference issued a decree last week warning those who opted out of paying the country’s “church tax” that they would no longer be entitled to the sacraments, to a religious burial or to play any part in parish life. The measure, which only just stops short of formal excommunication, has shaken the German Catholic church at a time when it is already facing serious challenges. The drive to designate non-paying adherents as outcasts who have committed “a grave offence against the Christian community” has been met with distaste by both liberal and conservative Catholic groups in Germany, and the issues that this case raises go right to the heart of the shifting nature of Catholic identity…

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Comment is Free: Community-run libraries are part of the degradation of the service

Volunteers can bring much to libraries, but the fact they are replacing paid staff shows how much de-skilling has taken place

Surrey Libraries Action Movement (Slam) is celebrating after the high court ruled that Surrey county council’s plan to replace trained librarians with a volunteer-only service in 10 of its libraries was unlawful. Following Slam’s legal challenge, Mr Justice Wilkie stated that the council had failed to assess the adverse impact of the decision on vulnerable groups, contravening the Equality Act 2010.

But the battle is not over yet. The council believes providing equality and diversity training for volunteers may see the plan go ahead, and across the country library services are in the crosshairs as councils face a 28% cut in central government funding over a four-year period. “Community partnership” models such as that proposed for Surrey are being widely considered and some libraries are already operating under this model…

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The Guardian, Face to Faith: The church, Occupy LSX and Solidarnosc

Religion still has a major part to play in popular protest, as it did in Poland 30 years ago

Thirty years ago this week Poland woke up to find tanks in the streets, phone lines cut, and roads blockaded. On the morning of 13 December 1981 General Jaruzelski declared war on his own people, imposing martial law in an attempt to shut down Solidarnosc – the trade union which had become a freedom movement. In the years that followed, one institution would sustain the dream of a new Poland more than any other, shaping the movement’s language and providing its leaders – the Catholic church. With the archbishop of Canterbury suggesting last week that Jesus would have been an Occupy LSX protester, this anniversary is a reminder of the role religion can play in popular protest…

The Guardian, 17 December 2011, p. 49.

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The Guardian, Comment is Free in Brief: Are you being served? William and Kate’s modern mask slips

The newlyweds were presented as the progressive face of the monarchy, but now they want a housekeeper and dresser

In the runup to the royal wedding we were repeatedly presented with an image of William Wales and Kate Middleton as the “modern royals”. The media and “royal sources” alike presented them as just a normal young couple and, as such, part of a new generation of royals who would usher in an age of renewal for the monarchy. A sign of their new approach to royalty was that they had no domestic staff at their cottage in Anglesey, and it was officially announced that they would not be employing any after their marriage either. But this carefully constructed image of William and Kate as the progressive face of the monarchy has been compromised by the news that they are advertising for a housekeeper and dresser to serve them in their new home of Kensington Palace. The mask of normality has slipped…

The Guardian, 9 June 2011, p. 31.

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Comment is Free: Save our libraries … but not our gross-out comedy DVDs

These temples of learning have been under attack for years – depleted of professionals and filled with council money-spinners

I have been a member of my local library since I was four. I am still using the library card I was given when I first joined (its authenticity is proven by the fact that it is signed by my mum, not me), and it is probably the public service that I make the most use of. Despite this, I wasn’t as enthusiastic as many about Philip Pullman’s call to arms in defence of libraries against funding cuts. Last year I worked part-time in a small branch library, and what I found there was a service which, after a long process of erosion, no longer offers what many think our public libraries should…

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Cif Belief: Poland’s faith divide

Ignited by the Smolensk crash, bitter tensions have emerged between Poland’s Catholics and liberal secularists

When 96 Polish dignitaries, including President Lech Kaczyński, were killed in a plane crash near Smolensk in April, the world briefly turned its gaze to Poland and its often tragic history. The victims were travelling to a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre – the murder of some 20,000 Poles by the Soviet secret police in 1940. The two tragedies became fused in the public imagination, reviving old anti-Russian prejudices and seeing the memorials to Katyn across Poland become the focus of fresh mourning. But the events that followed, and their consequences for Poland’s religious culture, have been little-covered in western Europe. The last six months have seen a bitter controversy emerge, raising serious questions about the place of religion in Polish public life…

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Filed under Cultural history, Politics, Religion

Cif Belief: Newman suggests a university’s ‘soul’ lies in the mark it leaves on students

John Henry Newman rightly insists in his classic work on the subject that narrow specialisations produce narrow minds

As universities face an estimated £4.2bn in spending cuts and increasing pressure to become more “market driven”, the recently beatified John Henry Newman would have had something to say about the possible impact on higher education. The clergyman, Oxford academic and famed convert to Catholicism gave a series of lectures in 1852 reflecting on the university’s purpose that were published as The Idea of a University in the same year…

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Cif Belief: Theology is a crucial academic subject

It’s failing to make a case for its survival as university cuts bite. But theology’s value as an academic discipline is incalculable

Bangor University has announced that its school of theology and religious studies will close in 2013, merging with the theology department at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David in a cost-cutting exercise. With university budget cuts of £200m planned, the loss of the department is unlikely to be an isolated case. At the University of Birmingham’s school of philosophy, theology and religion, one of the largest in the UK, up to a third of staff are facing redundancy, while the University of Sheffield’s biblical studies department was also threatened with closure last year. Universities are under pressure to make immediate and drastic savings, and theology seems to be failing to make the case for its survival as a discipline worth studying…

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Cif Belief: So macho, too macho?

The leader of the Christian party, which opposes homosexuality, made his money writing gay disco anthems

Now he’s a guest on the BBC’s new religion and ethics programme, Sunday Morning Live, it is hard to believe that the Reverend George Hargreaves , Pentecostal minister and leader of the Christian Party, spent 15 years as a leading light in the British pop industry, working with such typically eighties acts as Yazz and Five Star. Hargreaves’s party promotes a raft of right-wing policies, including restriction of abortion, outlawing embryo research and instituting mandatory Christian religious education in schools. As they have also called for “the end of the promotion and teaching in schools of homosexuality as a family relationship” it is surprising to learn that during his music career Hargreaves wrote that perfect slice of gay euro-pop “So Macho” for the teenage pop princess Sinitta…

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