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August 29, 2013

Archbishop of Canterbury: Church\’s attitude to same-sex marriage considered \’wicked\’ by the young

Archbishop of Canterbury: Church’s attitude to same-sex marriage considered ‘wicked’ by the young

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, stated yesterday that he thought the Church of England’s view on same-sex marriage and homosexuality as out-of-step with the views of society but defended his vote against the same-sex marriage bill earlier this year. Welby also said Christians needed to “repent” for their homophobic treatment of gay and lesbian people.

Speaking at an event organised by the Evangelical Alliance, Welby said the Church was “deeply and profoundly divided” over the question of same-sex marriage, and noted younger people found the Church’s view on the topic to be “wicked”:

“We have to face the fact that the vast majority of people under 35 not only think that what we’re saying is incomprehensible but also think that we’re plain wrong and wicked and equate it to racism and other forms of gross and atrocious injustice.”

Despite this, he said he did not regret voting against the same-sex marriage bill, but he wishes to keep an open mind and listen to those in the Church who have a different opinion from him.

Canterbury Cathedral.
Image: Hans Musil.

Welby also stated he thinks the Church needed to stress the things they are for rather than against: “One of [the] things that I think is most noticeable where we make a bad impression in society at the moment is because we are seen as against things, and you talk to people and they say I don’t want to hear about a faith that is homophobic”. Welby stated the Church needed to make “an alliance with the poor”.

Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of Stonewall, responded to Welby’s comments: “It is a tiny bit rich to say he has great sympathy for gay people when in the 10 years since the introduction of civil partnerships the Church has doggedly refused to bless people’s long term partnerships even though they are happy to have services for pets and even canals.”

Benjamin Cohen, publisher of the PinkNews website, welcomed the Archbishop’s acknowledgment that most younger people support same-sex marriage and explained the nature of people’s reaction to the Church’s views: “They do see that attacking gay people for the gender of the person that they love is as evil and incomprehensible as attacking someone for being born black or disabled. People don’t chose to be gay just like they don’t chose their race.”



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February 7, 2013

Same-sex marriage in the UK passes second reading in Commons

Same-sex marriage in the UK passes second reading in Commons

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Part of the promotional material the government have produced to promote the bill.
Image: Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Legislation to allow same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom has passed the second reading in the House of Commons Tuesday by 400 votes to 175. Amendments to the Bill are now to be discussed and voted in the committee stage and then debated in the House of Lords, the unelected upper chamber.

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2013, if passed, would allow same-sex couples to get married in both civil ceremonies and religious ceremonies where a particular denomination has agreed to provide such services. The government have said the Bill contains a “quadruple lock”, four separate measures to protect the religious freedom of those who do not agree with same-sex marriages on religious grounds.

Before the debate

The government’s proposals have caused “growing discord” within the Conservative Party according to a letter written by a group of Conservative local constituency chairmen. The letter, which was delivered to Downing Street on Sunday, claimed the policy would cause “significant damage to the Conservative Party in the run-up to the 2015 election” and “resignations from the party are beginning to multiply”.

Sir Peter Bottomley says the legislation is “not going to be a big deal”.
Image: Steve Punter.

The Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley criticised media focus on the letter sent to Downing Street, telling the BBC the importance of the letter was overblown: “There are, say, 630 associations, there’s now two active officers for each one, that’s over 1200. Twenty five past and present officers went to Downing St — 25 out of over 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 — doesn’t strike me as newsworthy.”

Bottomley said he believes the majority of people in Britain are supportive of same-sex marriage although older people tend to be against it, and said the legislation is “not going to be a big deal”.

On Monday, in response to the letter sent to Downing Street, another letter from fifty grassroots activists within the Conservative Party including constituency chairmen and the chairman of Conservative Future, a group for Conservative supporters aged under 30, argued Conservative MPs should support the Bill: “Please do not allow the impression that all Conservative Party activists are opposed to gay marriage. Many of us strongly agree with the proposal. Nor is it true that gay marriage has no mandate. David Cameron made his support for it clear in his first conference speech as party leader, and won loud applause. It was in the party’s equalities manifesto at the last election.”

The letter said opposition to same-sex marriage would “risk alienating the voters we will need in 2015” and argued the plans have broad support from the wider public.

Maria Miller MP: “if a couple love each other, then the state should not stop them getting married unless there is good reason — and being gay is not reason enough”.
Image: Department for Work and Pensions.

In response to criticism from within the Conservative Party, Maria Miller, the government minister responsible for the Bill, wrote an editorial in The Times defending the proposals. Miller wrote: “The proposals for change are straightforward — if a couple love each other, then the state should not stop them getting married unless there is good reason — and being gay is not reason enough.”

Miller defended the bill from accusations it would infringe on religious freedom: “This bill is about choice. It is about giving those who want to get married the opportunity to do so, while protecting the rights of those who don’t agree.”

The Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire, Nadine Dorries, confirmed on Monday in a post for the blog ConservativeHome that she plans to vote against the Bill, saying the Bill fails to make heterosexual and gay couples equal because the Bill does not require gay couples “to make any commitment to faithfulness whatsoever in the way straight couples are required to” and because there is no requirement for consummation. She also argued it is politically unwise for the Conservative Party, claiming loss of support “could lose us as many as 100 seats”. Dorries said Labour’s introduction of civil partnerships was “the right thing” but the Labour Party would not have supported same-sex marriage because it would cost them support from Catholics. She argued that if Conservatives push for same-sex marriage to become law, Labour would then not have to take a political hit for passing the Bill.

The Conservative Party activist Tim Montgomerie contradicted claims that the Conservatives would face a drastic drop in support, claiming a YouGov survey shows it won’t affect voter intentions: “the effect might well be negative in the short-term but — AT WORST — it will reduce the Tory vote from about its current 34% to 33%”.

Iain Dale has suggested closeted MPs who vote against the legislation may be ‘outed’ by gay rights campaigners.
Image: Steve Punter.

Conservative blogger and radio host Iain Dale — who is also openly gay — argued on his blog that a number of the opponents in the Tory ranks are themselves in the closet and may face outing attempts by gay rights campaigners. On ITV, Dale said he had looked at a list of MPs who intend to vote against the Bill on the website of Campaign for Equal Marriage: “I note with interest the names of several MPs who most people in the Westminster Village know to be closet gays. And I note also the names of two supposedly straight MPs who I know to be conducting gay affairs at the moment. I don’t believe in ‘outing’ anyone, but because of the rank hypocrisy there will be others who will take a different view.”

Before the debate, Labour leader Ed Miliband said he will vote “proudly” for equal marriage: “I don’t think that the person you love should determine the rights you have. That’s why I’ll be voting for equal marriage, along with the rest of the shadow cabinet.”

Liberal Democrats committed to supporting the policy. A notable exception among the Liberal Democrats is John Pugh MP who said in a letter to his constituents published on Monday he will vote against the Bill because he believes “it achieves none of its objectives and weakens the link between marriage and the family”.

In the run up to the debate, MPs claim to have received emails they characterised as “vitriolic”, “appalling”, and “unpleasant” from both supporters and opponents of the Bill. The Conservative MP Angie Bray said: “You get emails from one side saying you’re morally deficient if you vote no and emails threatening hell fire and brimstone if you vote yes. It has frankly been an ill-tempered debate on both sides.”

Some MPs have said negative emails from opponents have prompted them to support the Bill. An anonymous MP told The Independent: “Quite a few of us who were considering abstaining will vote in favour of gay marriage because of the unreasonable nature of the emails we have been receiving. Some of the emails I’ve had are simply appalling and I’m fed up with it.”

Conservative MP David Burrowes, who opposes the Bill, said unpleasant messages have also come from supporters of the Bill: “I’ve had death threats, hostility and hate mail. My children have even been told that their dad is a homophobe.”

Burrowes made his case against the Bill Tuesday on ConservativeHome: “Marriage has never been just about the happiness and fulfilment of the individuals involved. It is part of a bigger picture — human societies need stable family groupings, especially for the nurture and care of children. The man-woman union at the heart of marriage has to do with this bigger picture.”

Burrowes also argues the marriage Bill will not significantly advance gay rights, pointing instead to his support for an introduction of a new offence of homophobic hatred.

Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin wrote an article defending the legislation for ConservativeHome, arguing “the Bill respects those who feel that same-sex marriage does represent an attack on their view of marriage” and since “nobody is going to be forced to take part in a same-sex marriage who does not wish to do so, I very much hope that in turn they will respect those who feel that the present inequality of marriage is an attack their identity and freedom as individuals.”

The newly elected Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, used his first post-appointment public statement to reaffirm the Church of England’s opposition to the Bill: “I stand, as I have always stood over the last few months, with the statement I made at the announcement of my appointment, which is that I support the Church of England’s position on this. We have made many statements about this and I stick with that.”

The Guardian opinion writer Polly Toynbee argued the fallout within the Conservative Party has failed to show they are “a modernised party” but instead revealed them “as a nest of bigots”, warning that the party disunity threatens the Conservatives’ chances at the next election.

The debate

The Second Reading started just after 12:30pm on Tuesday. Maria Miller introduced the bill: “The depth of feeling, love and commitment between same-sex couples is no different from that depth of feeling between opposite-sex couples. The Bill enables society to recognise that commitment in the same way, too, through marriage. Parliament should value people equally in the law, and enabling same-sex couples to marry removes the current differentiation and distinction.”

Miller argued against the charge that the Bill redefines marriage by pointing to previous reforms of marriage law: “Suggestions that the Bill changes something that has remained unchanged for centuries simply do not recognise the road that marriage has travelled as an institution.”

Miller concluded her introduction of the Bill by appealing to fairness: “Despite all the discussion and debate, this Bill is about one thing — fairness. It is about giving those who want to get married the opportunity to do so, while protecting the rights of those who do not agree with same-sex marriage. Marriage is one of the most important institutions we have; it binds families and society together, and it is a building block that promotes stability. This Bill supports and cultivates marriage, and I commend it to the House.”

Yvette Cooper gave the Opposition response.
Image: Yorkshire Labour Euro team.

The Labour politician Yvette Cooper gave the Opposition response. She welcomed the Bill and argued: “Parliament should not stop people getting married just because they have fallen in love with someone of the same sex, and we should not say that same-sex relationships are intrinsically worth less.”

Regarding the claim that the Bill would eventually force religious groups to perform same-sex ceremonies, Yvette Cooper stated: “It is clear that they will not have to.”

Cooper also argued against a number of objections to the Bill. She said some object that marriage is by definition between a man and a woman, but: “We cannot hide discrimination simply by calling it a definition. Marriage has changed many times over the centuries — and thank goodness for that.”

In response to the argument that marriage is for the purposes of procreation and protection of children, Cooper argued: “Many marriages are childless, and we do not prevent people who are too old or too sick to have children from getting married. We do not do fertility tests at the altar.”

Following the speeches of Miller and Cooper, MPs from all parties spoke both for and against the Bill. Opponents argued their opposition to the bill was not driven by homophobia or bigotry, the Labour MP Robert Flello stating: “the debate has been characterised as bigoted religion on the one hand versus equality on the other.”

Conservative MP Edward Leigh argued marriage exists for children: “Marriage exists to keep the parents exclusively committed to each other, because, on average, that is the best and most stable environment for children. If marriage were solely about the relationship between two people, we would not bother to enshrine it in law, and nor would every culture, society and religion for thousands of years have invested it with so much importance.”

Leigh then suggested proponents were motivated by their own interests rather than the interests of children: “Marriage is not about ‘me, me, me’, nor about legally validating ‘my rights’ and ‘my relationships’; it is about a secure environment for creating and raising children, based on lifelong commitment and exclusivity”.

The Conservative MP Nick Herbert introduced some levity into the debate when he ridiculed the idea that heterosexuals would be threatened by gay and lesbian couples getting married: “Darling, our marriage is over: Sir Elton John has just got engaged to David Furnish”.

David Lammy MP compared the campaign for gay rights to civil rights: “Separate but equal is a fraud. It’s the language that tried to push Rosa Parks to the back of the bus.”

During the debate, a number of gay MPs spoke in support of the bill. Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams noted: “Through my teenage years being openly gay was virtually impossible as it was terrifying in terms of the abuse.”

Crispin Blunt
Image: Ministry of Justice.

Another Conservative MP, Crispin Blunt, spoke of the importance of the bill to him as a gay man: “Semantics matter. Words express the values of society. This bill about marriage is part of the astonishing and wonderful change that has taken place over the last fifty years that has taken millions of us from criminalisation to legal equality and the enjoyment of self-worth and validation. That certainly wasn’t apparent to me as a young man. What I understood was that there was something wrong with me that had — had — to be mastered. And for three decades I managed that struggle. And the relief and happiness of not having to do so any longer comes from others who fought for all of the measures advancing equality over the last five decades that are the precursors to today’s Bill.”

Crispin Blunt’s speech prompted Mark Menzies to note he would change from abstaining to supporting the bill.

Hugh Robertson closed the debate, praising the House for a “lively and impassioned debate” and stated the government’s case: “This is a bill with a very straightforward proposition at its heart: whether extending marriage for same-sex couples strengthens marriage and increases equality or whether it is a threat to religion and society. The Government believes it is the former.”

According to media reports, more Conservative MPs voted against the Bill than for it in the second reading. Conservative MP Tim Loughton said: “Apparently there’s 132 Conservative MPs who voted in favour, so I think what we’re going to see is that more Conservative MPs voted against this legislation than for it.”

Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the passage of the Second Reading, saying the legislation represents “an important step forward for our country”.



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January 25, 2013

UK government formally launches same-sex marriage legislation in Parliament

UK government formally launches same-sex marriage legislation in Parliament

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Maria Miller
Image: Department for Work and Pensions.

The British government formally published legislation today to allow marriage for same-sex couples. The bill is titled the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. MPs would be able to vote on the legislation at the second reading in Parliament on February 5.

Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, said of the legislation to BBC Radio 4: “We feel that marriage is a good thing and we should be supporting more couples to marry.” Gay and lesbian couples have been allowed since 2005 to form civil partnerships.

The Coalition for Equal Marriage, a campaign group supporting the legalisation of same-sex marriage, have tracked support by individual MPs and claim 336 MPs are likely to vote in favour of the legislation, while 130 are likely to vote against. Conservative MPs are to be given a free vote, but both Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs are broadly in support.

As part of the legislation, the government have included a set of provisions they describe as a “quadruple lock” against churches and other religious denominations being forced to perform same-sex weddings, including an explicit ban on the Church of England and the Church of Wales doing so. The “quadruple lock” consists of an explicit statement in the Bill “that no religious organisation, or individual minister, can be forced to marry same-sex couples or to permit that to happen on their premises”, an amendment to the Equality Act 2010 to prevent claims of discrimination against religious organisations for not performing same-sex weddings, an opt-in for religious groups who do wish to perform same-sex marriages, and the explicit ban for the Churches of England and Wales.

Maria Miller said the government recognises “that some churches won’t want to participate in same-sex marriages. We are trying to make sure that there are the protections there for churches who feel that this isn’t appropriate for their particular beliefs. We know that there are churches who do want to take part in same-sex marriages, so we have made sure that there are provisions there so they can.”

Former defence secretary Liam Fox, opposing the legislation, has suggested the European Court of Human Rights will overrule the government’s protections for churches. He argued earlier this month: “Any assurances that we are given that distinguishing between churches will not be used at some point by European courts to drive a coach and horses through the legislation carries little credibility with those of us who have watched similar assurances trounced in the past.”

The Roman Catholic Church has strongly opposed the measures. Archbishop Vincent Nichols has said he is “very disappointed” the government is pushing for same-sex marriage and claimed it would “weaken” the institution. The Archbishop also claimed of the legislation: “[t]here was no announcement in any party manifesto”. However, the Conservative Party’s “contract for equalities” for the 2010 election included a statement saying they would “consider” same-sex marriage: “We will also consider the case for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage.”

A Guardian/ICM poll conducted in December 2012 found 62% of the British public favour allowing same-sex marriage.



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January 5, 2013

Church of England to allow celibate gay bishops

Church of England to allow celibate gay bishops

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Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Episcopal Church in the United States elected the openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003.
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The Church of England are planning to allow gay men who are celibate and in a civil partnership to become bishops according to an announcement made by the House of Bishops. This expands a previous decision made in 2005 allowing gay clergy with civil partners.

Whether gay clergyman would be allowed to become bishops became an issue in 2003 with the appointment of Rev Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading. Jeffrey John was forced to step down from his position and now serves as Dean of St Albans Cathedral. In 2010, he was also a candidate to become Bishop of Southwark but was rejected, allegedly because of his sexual orientation.

Anglican evangelicals have suggested such a change ought to have been passed by the General Synod rather than the House of Bishops. Chris Sugden from Anglican Mainstream said the change coming from the House of Bishops “looks too much like salami-slicing away at the Church’s teaching”.

Former Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali raised questions about what celibacy means for a gay bishop: “Does the admission of those in civil partnerships to the episcopate, who state they are celibate, include those who were previously in actively homophile relationships including with their present partner? The House of Bishops statement does not elaborate on this point but it is crucial to an understanding of what celibacy might mean in this context.”

In November, the General Synod voted against proposals to allow the appointment of women as bishops.



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April 2, 2012

First female bishop in NSW and Canberra consecrated

First female bishop in NSW and Canberra consecrated

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Monday, April 2, 2012

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Genieve Blackwell has become the third woman Anglican bishop in Australia and the 31st in the world. On Saturday, Blackwell was consecrated in St Saviour’s Cathedral, Goulburn in the state of New South Wales (NSW), Australia as the Regional Bishop of Wagga Wagga. She was first ordained nineteen years ago.

St Saviour’s Cathedral, Goulburn in 2006.
Image: Matilda.

Cquote1.svg It is a great thing that the gifts of women are being recognised and confirmed Cquote2.svg

Genieve Blackwell

Blackwell is quoted as saying “It is a great thing that the gifts of women are being recognised and confirmed”.

The appointment is controversial because the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney and Metropolitan of the Province of NSW, Peter Jensen, whose role it is to lead the service, opposes the ordination of female bishops.

Jensen asked the Bishop of Newcastle to represent him at the service. The Diocese of Sydney does not agree with most of the rest of the country’s dioceses, so there were no Sydney bishops present among the 18 who consecrated Blackwell.



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September 15, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI heads to the UK amid protests

Pope Benedict XVI heads to the UK amid protests

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Benedict XVI travelling (USA, 2008)
Image: Shealah Craighead / White House.

The Roman Catholic Pontiff is visiting the United Kingdom for the first time since 1982, when his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, was in Britain. The Catholic Church has been preparing an official visit of Benedict XVI for some time, with the visit starting tomorrow. The initial plans were made last September; the visit was only announced on March 16, 2010 when it was officially confirmed by the Vatican. The tour extends through Sunday, and includes stops in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, and Birmingham, at the latter of which the Pope is going to celebrate the Beatification of Cardinal Newman.

Portrait of Cardinal Newman by Sir John Everett Millais

When Pope Benedict departs from Rome Ciampino Airport at 8:10 am, he will first head to Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, to meet Queen Elizabeth. After he has presided over several celebrations in Scotland, including an open-air Mass at Bellahouston Park, he will fly to London.

On Friday and Saturday the papal delegation and its leader will remain in the British capital to meet several religious authorities, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, leader of the Church of England. Furthermore Benedict XVI will receive courtesy calls from Prime Minister David Cameron as well as the leader of the Opposition Harriet Harman and other political and institutional personalities.

On the last day, Sunday, the Pope will travel by helicopter to Cofton Park, Birmingham, for the Beatification of Cardinal Newman (1801–1890), a priest in the Church of England who converted to the Roman Catholic Church. Newman was defined as “man of conscience” by the Pope in his speech for the centenary of Newman’s death, in 1990.

The first recent source of conflict between British policies and Vatican positions emerged in February in the form of the Equality Bill, aimed at preventing discrimination against heterosexual, homosexual, and transsexual people.

Richard Dawkins
Image: Marty Stone.

In the same period, the National Secular Society launched an online petition called “Make the Pope Pay”. At the deadline of the petition, June 6th, 2010, it counted 12,340 signatures.

On April 11th Richard Dawkins, with Christopher Hitchens‘s support, interviewed by The Sunday Times, said that they were trying to initiate criminal proceedings against the Pope – on the occasion of his visit to UK – over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

David Miliband, Foreign Secretary until May 11th, 2010
Image: Shelley and Alan Heckman.

A further incident happened at the end of April 2010 when a British Foreign Office internal memo (attached to an official document which listed brainstormed ideas for the Pope’s tour) suggested many sarcastic ideas for Benedict XVI. This included launching a condom brand marked “Benedict”, or, during his visit in UK, inaugurating an abortion clinic, blessing a homosexual couple, or ordaining women as priests. The Ministry immediately apologized and explained that the document was only brainstorming that didn’t represent the political positions of the Foreign Office. The Vatican answered via Benedict XVI’s spokesman the Rev. F. Lombardi who said “[a]s far as the Vatican is concerned, the case is closed. There never was the slightest doubt about the trip.”

In the United Kingdom in July, many of the people opposing the Pope’s State visit gathered thanks to a new web site named Protest The Pope, which intends to organize protests against the visit. The events suggested and organized by the site include marches, protests, and cultural events.

Protest The Pope plans the biggest march for Saturday in London, when the Catholic Pontiff will stay in the capital for his tour. The march will start at 1:30 pm from Hyde Park (Piccadilly side) toward Piccadilly Circus, then to Trafalgar Square, Whitehall and Downing Street.

The British Government is expected to spend for public safety and public policy in general more than £12 million (14 million). £1.5 million (€2.2 million) alone is for the evening at Hyde Park.



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July 11, 2010

Church of England rejects compromise over women bishops

Church of England rejects compromise over women bishops

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in 2007
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The Church of England’s ruling body, the General Synod, yesterday rejected a compromise deal on the divisive issue of women bishops. An amendment to satisfy traditionalists was jointly proposed by its two most senior clerics, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu. Despite getting a majority of support across the Synod as a whole, it was rejected after narrowly being defeated in the vote of the House of Clergy.

The amendment would have allowed male “complementary bishops” to cater to parishes, which objected to having a female bishop in their diocese. The bishops would supposedly have “co-ordinate” powers, but some campaigners supporting women bishops said the plans would result in an unfair “two-track” system.

“I do not believe this will deliver, and it is certainly not good news for women clergy,” said Christine Allsopp, Archdeacon of Northampton, of the proposed amendment.

Many traditionalists have strongly opposed the ordination of female bishops, and threatened to leave the Church over the issue. The situation has been worsened by offers from Pope Benedict for disaffected Anglicans to join the Roman Catholic Church instead.

Earlier Dr Sentamu had claimed that Dr Williams was facing “spin and propaganda”, and called for it to end. Dr Williams insisted that the vote should not be considered a test of the Synod’s “loyalty” to the two Archbishops, but the rejection is widely seen as a blow to their authority.

The Synod is due to continue its debate on women bishops over the next few days.



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January 26, 2010

Anglican bishop abducted in Nigeria

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Anglican bishop abducted in Nigeria

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

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An Anglican bishop in Nigeria was abducted by armed men earlier today, according to officials.

The incident occurred in Benin City, located in Edo state, where Reverend Peter Imasue was reportedly ambushed on his way home from a church. Official reports say that kidnappers trailed Imasue from Matthew Cathedral to his home, then forced their way into the premises of the residence, and locked the gateman in his security outpost. Imasue was then dragged into a vehicle. It was not immediately known where he was taken.

Samuel Salifu, the secretary general for the Christian Association of Nigeria, commented to the Agence France-Presse news agency that “we were told he was kidnapped yesterday. We are trying to establish what exactly happened but we understand the kidnappers are asking for 15 million naira [about US$100,000].”

The abduction comes amidst recent tensions between Muslims and Christians in the country, which saw fierce clashes a week ago and five hundred people dead, mainly in the city of Jos.



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December 22, 2007

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair converts to Catholicism

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair converts to Catholicism

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Tony Blair in June 2007 at Heiligendamm, during the 33rd G8 summit.
Image: Gryffindor.

Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, has left the Church of England and joined the Roman Catholic Church.

Blair, currently the special envoy for Quartet on the Middle East, has long been attending mass with his wife and four children, who are all Catholic. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor received Blair into full communion with the Catholic Church during Mass at Archbishop’s House, Westminster, on Friday.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said, “I am very glad to welcome Tony Blair into the Catholic Church … For a long time he has been a regular worshipper at Mass with his family and in recent months he has been following a programme of formation to prepare for his reception into full communion … My prayers are with him, his wife and family at this joyful moment in their journey of faith together.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, senior archbishop of the Church of England said, “Tony Blair has my prayers and good wishes as he takes this step in his Christian pilgrimage.”

Ann Widdecombe, of the Conservative Party, was more cautious. “If you look at Tony Blair’s voting record in the House of Commons, he’s gone against Church teaching on more than one occasion. On things, for example, like abortion,” she said. “My question would be, ‘has he changed his mind on that?'”

Tony Blair, who has yet to release any official comments, said in a BBC documentary last month: “You know you can’t have a religious faith and it be an insignificant aspect because it’s, it’s profound about you and about you as a human being.” He also said that he had avoided discussing his religious views out of fear of being called “a nutter.”



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April 12, 2007

Violence in Uganda over forest clearing proposal

Violence in Uganda over forest clearing proposal

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

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Four people are reported killed in Kampala, Uganda, amidst protest marches organised against a government proposal to cut down 7,000 hectares of forest land to expand a private company’s sugarcane plantations.

Two men of Asian descent were stoned to death by a mob, and the deaths of two others were under investigation, according to police sources. A witness said that one of the Asians was attacked after he ran his motorcycle into a crowd. BBC News reported that a looter was shot dead and a bystander wounded by security guards.

Asian businesses and a Hindu temple were attacked by rioters; in response, police deployed armoured cars, used tear gas, and opened fire to quell the violence. A group of Asians trapped in the temple by a mob were rescued by police.

Cquote1.svg This forest is our heritage and cannot be given away by the Ugandan government. Cquote2.svg

—Phillip Karugaba, spokesperson for Environmental Action Network

The sugar company is owned by the Mehta Group, established by Indian immigrant Nanji Kalidas Mehta. Asian immigrants formed a prosperous trading community in Uganda before they were expelled by Idi Amin in 1972. Many returned following Amin’s downfall, but some Ugandans view their presence and business with suspicion.

The Mabira reserve forest in south-east Uganda covers about 30,000 hectares and is home to several rare species; it has been a reserve forest since 1932. A primatologist working in the area announced in February that monkeys in the forest previously thought to be Gray-cheeked Mangabey (Lophocebus albigena) were in fact a new species.

President Yoweri Museveni’s government is considering a proposal to de-notify and transfer 7,000 acres of land to the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (Scoul) to expand its sugarcane plantations. A cabinet paper says the plan will generate 3500 jobs and will contribute 11.5 billion shillings to the treasury.

Arched tree root in the Mabira forest.
Source: S A Perez.

Scoul bills itself as the largest employer in East Africa, with 7,300 employees manufacturing sugar and industrial alcohol at its 10,000 hectare Lugazi estate. The Ugandan newspaper Monitor reports that Scoul’s plantations have been reduced in acreage after it failed to reach agreement over existing leases with various landlords.

Scoul says that plantations at the Mabira forest will help double its annual production to 110 metric tonnes, and in a newspaper advertisement published on Thursday, said that “anti-development lobby groups” were misleading the public about the Mabira plan. In its environment policy, the company says it is committed to a managing land and wetlands resources in an environmentally sensitive manner.

The plan is opposed by Ugandan MPs because of its environmental impact. An official from the Ugandan National Forestry Authority told the news agency AFP that the plan will destroy the area’s biodiversity and affect locals’ livelihood.

Scoul says the forest land is already being encroached upon by subsistence farmers.

Meanwhile, the group has been offered land in Mengo and by the Anglican church in Mukono as an alternative to the Mabira plan. Scoul Chief Executive S.C Khanna says that he will consider such an alternative if the land is fertile, free of “squatters” and close enough — within 30 km of the sugar factory — so that the cost of transporting sugarcane is viable.

Scoul has increased security after multiple fires destroyed crops at its plantations.

 
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See Wikinews Shorts: May 22, 2007
 

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