News Roundup

Australian Commission urges violating seal of confession when child abuse revealed

An Australian Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse issued a report today recommending that laws on reporting sexual abuse of children “should exclude any existing excuse, protection or privilege in relation to religious confessions”, including the confessional.
The commission’s report said the right to practice one’s religious beliefs must accommodate civil society’s obligation to provide for the safety of all and, in particular, children’s safety from sexual abuse. “We understand the significance of religious confession – in particular, the inviolability of the confessional seal to people of some faiths, particularly the Catholic faith. However, we heard evidence of a number of instances where disclosures of child sexual abuse were made in religious confession, by both victims and perpetrators. We are satisfied that confession is a forum where Catholic children have disclosed their sexual abuse and where clergy have disclosed their abusive behavior in order to deal with their own guilt,” they wrote.
In response, Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, the president of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said the inviolability of the seal of confession is a “fundamental part of the freedom of religion,” and this is recognized in Australia and many other countries around the world.
“Confession in the Catholic Church is a spiritual encounter with God through the priest,” Hart said.

Arlene Foster assures pro-life group she will fight to preserve NI abortion law

The leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, has told a pro-life group that they will do “everything in their power” to preserve the North’s strict anti-abortion laws. She was meeting with Youth for Life NI, who are a youth branch of Precious Life, as part of their ‘lobby for life’ campaign.

Precious Life said in a statement that Mrs Foster acknowledged Northern Ireland is “definitely under pressure to change its pro-life laws”, however she “firmly assured us that the DUP will do ‘everything in our power’ to safeguard our current laws and protect the most vulnerable in our society.”

“It is so incredibly important to lobby for life at this present point in time because of the stark threat to unborn children here as Northern Ireland faces a great deal of political instability,” Precious Life said.


You must include gay bar, London council planners tell developers

For the first time ever, the inclusion of a gay bar as part of a development has been mandated as a condition of planning permission by a London council. Moreover, the Guardian newspaper is reporting that “the mayor’s office will send an inspector to make sure it is gay enough”. The move is in response to the declining number of gay bars in London.

Tower Hamlets council has told the developers of the site, which used to house a gay bar, that their plans for offices and nine luxury flats will get planning permission only if it includes a pub that will “remain a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-focused venue for a minimum of 12 years”. It is believed to be the first time that the sexual orientation of a venue’s customers has been included as a condition of planning approval.

The borough’s mayor, John Biggs, said: “Tower Hamlets council is committed to celebrating our great diversity, which includes serving the needs of our LGBTQ+ community. I am delighted that as a council we are leading the way in using innovative ways to protect spaces such as the Joiners Arms site.”

According to the Guardian’s correspondent, Rupert Neate, City Hall’s culture at risk officer, Ed Bayes, will be involved in assessing licensee applications to ensure that the operator of the new bar “will be sufficiently LGBT, and not seeking to open a gay bar in name only”.


Children as young as five excluded from UK schools for sexual misconduct

Hundreds of primary school pupils in the UK, including some as young as five, have been suspended or expelled from their schools in the last four years after being involved in sexually inappropriate behaviour, including watching pornography and sharing indecent images, according to separate sets of figures published by the Press Association and the department of Education. The figures also revealed a marked gender divide with there being 18 incidents involving boys for every one incident involving a girl.

The Press Association figures were compiled from freedom of information requests to local authorities around the country although the vast majority of councils contacted said they did not hold the information or refused to disclose it. Of the 15 councils who did respond, there were 754 reported incidents between July 2013 and April 2017. Broken down by age range, the figures revealed that there were seven cases of children in their first year of school involved in sexual misconduct during the four-year time period.

Last month, figures from the Department of Education revealed there were in total 2,070 suspensions for sexual misconduct and 70 expulsions in English schools for the 2015-16 academic year alone. Of those, primary school children accounted for 200 suspensions and five expulsions.


Children’s organisation urges Royal couple to not have any more kids

In a bizarre turn of events, a Children’s organisation called ‘Having Kids’ has sent an open letter to Prince William and Kate Midleton urging them to stop having kids. In an echo of China’s coercive two-child policy laws, the San Francisco based group believes that couples should limit themselves to having at most two children as a means of promoting sustainable living. In their letter to the Royal couple, they say, “Your discussion of having a larger family raises compelling issues of sustainability and equity. Large families are not sustainable. As degraded as the world’s environment is today, none of us can imagine what the world would be like if fertility rates had not been halved in the 20th Century, below 3 children per woman.”

“We must keep moving in the right direction, especially given the many studies that show family planning has the most potential for mitigating climate change and its impacts. The future of your country will be defined by the impacts of climate change.”

They say that all people, and especially public figures, should plan their families with goal of “producing a smaller and more resilient populace capable of thriving in that environment”.

“Rather than having a third or more children, families consider forgoing another child and taking part of the substantial resources saved to help a different family plan a fair start in life for their child,” they write, adding helpfully, “There are many ways to do this and we can provide more information.”


Australia to hold postal vote poll on same-sex marriage

A postal vote will be held in Australia in November to gauge public opinion on whether or not to legalise same-sex marriage. The result will not be binding on parliament, but the Government has pledged to act on the outcome by either moving a same-sex marriage bill or dropping it from the legislative calendar.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has come out against the legalisation of gay marriage, offering several reasons why people should vote “no” in the upcoming plebiscite. Speaking to reporters outside Parliament, Abbott said: “I say to you: If you don’t like same-sex marriage, vote ‘no.’ If you worry about freedom of speech and freedom of religion, vote ‘no’; and if you don’t like political correctness, vote ‘no’ because this is the best way to stop it in its tracks.”
Advocates for same-sex marriage have opposed the postal vote. Green Party LGBTI spokeswoman, Janet Rice, said the “threat of a postal plebiscite” was a “ridiculous distraction”. She warned that mail can go astray and many young people “hardly know how to send a letter … it’s just not the way to be making a decision”.


Pope Francis: It’s ‘terrible’ children taught they can ‘choose’ gender

Pope Francis has launched another attack on gender theory, this time taking aim at the teaching of children in school that they can ‘choose’ their own gender, calling it a form of ‘ideological colonisation’ promoted and funded by international lobbies. Speaking to bishops in Poland, the Holy Father said that in both the developed and the developing world there are real forms of “ideological colonisation” taking place. “And one of these – I will call it clearly by its name – is [the ideology of] ‘gender’. Today children – children! – are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex,” he said. “Why are they teaching this? Because the books are provided by the persons and institutions that give you money. These forms of ideological colonisation are also supported by influential countries. And this terrible!”


Euthanasia used for 4.5 percent of deaths in the Netherlands

Euthanasia has become “common practice” in the Netherlands, accounting for 4.5 percent of deaths, according to researchers who say requests are increasing from people who aren’t terminally ill. A 25-year review published in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine and compiled from doctors’ questionnaires shows that in 1990, before it was strictly-speaking legal, 1.7 percent of deaths were already from euthanasia or assisted suicide. That rose to 4.5 percent by 2015. The vast majority — 92 percent — had serious illness and the rest had health problems from old age, early-stage dementia or psychiatric problems or a combination thereof. Almost two-thirds of those who died were under 80.

Penney Lewis, co-director of the Centre of Medical Law and Ethics at King’s College London., said the increase in numbers is not surprising. “Doctors become more confident in practicing euthanasia and more patients will start asking for it,” she said.

Scott Kim, a bioethicist at the U.S. National Institutes of Health said the report raises concerns, particularly in regards to elderly recipients. “These are old people who may have health problems, but none of them are life-threatening. They’re old, they can’t get around, their friends are dead and their children don’t visit anymore,” he said. “This kind of trend cries out for a discussion. Do we think their lives are still worthwhile?”


Appeal for ‘ethical’ gene-editing that protects embryos

A leading academic has called for an ethical approach to gene-editing that would preserve and protect embryos rather than destroy them in the process. Martin Clynes, Professor Emeritus of Biotechnology at the National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology in Dublin City University, said that such an approach would preserve the possibility of finding medical cures. “If gene editing could be used to eliminate or correct disease-causing genes (such as cancer predisposition genes) in sperm, ova, or individual embryos, thus sparing the individual and their descendants from inherited disorders, this would surely be a worthwhile undertaking,” he said.

“While the technology to do this may not be quite there yet, I believe it will be possible to do this before long and we should distinguish this clearly desirable application from unethical approaches which involve experimentation and destruction of embryos.”


Same-sex marriage campaigners in the North emboldened by recent changes

Campaigners and politicians in have expressed confidence that same-sex marriage will soon become a reality in Northern Ireland. Jeffrey Dudgeon, an Ulster Unionist member of Belfast City Council, who has been campaigning on gay rights for more than 40 years said he is confident that same-sex marriage will be introduced relatively soon: “I have always believed that you take the long view, you take your victories when you can and don’t expect too much too quickly. But we are at the end of the road.” SDLP Assembly member Claire Hanna believes that there has been an under-the-radar transformational change in attitudes to same-sex marriage over recent years and that even the DUP leadership would love to see the back of the issue.

Recent political changes also point to vulnerability on the issue. In the last and fifth Assembly vote on it, in November 2015, a majority voted for the first time in favour of same-sex marriage. The DUP, however, used the petition of concern mechanism to veto any change. That mechanism can be triggered by 30 MLAS and it then mandates that 60 per cent of the chamber, with 40 per cent of both unionist and nationalist representatives be required for legislation to pass. A successful petition of concern vetoes legislation only for the lifetime of the Assembly.

In the new, probably more liberal, 90-member Assembly, the DUP has 28 seats so would need the support of two other Unionist members if it wanted to obstruct a prospective sixth attempt to introduce same-sex marriage.

Part of the negotiations to bring back Stormont are about taking the petition of concern away from issues such as gay marriage. But if Stormont does not come back commentators think that British direct rule ministers might introduce same-sex marriage through Westminster.

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