News Roundup

Bishop opposes gene-editing research that uses and disposes of embryos

The Bishop of Elphin, Kevin Doran, has said the Church is totally opposed to bio-medical research that reduces embryos purely to research material to be experimented on and destroyed. He was speaking after researchers in the USA used embryos in such a manner to develop gene-editing techniques to remove mutations linked to heart disease.

Bishop Doran, who is chair of the Catholic Bishops’ Consultative Group on Bioethics and Life Questions, said – as part of the research – human embryos were “being deliberately generated under laboratory conditions with a higher than average risk of congenital heart disease”. They were being “deprived of any other purpose than to be used for research and then disposed of”, he said. He cited a recent charter for healthcare workers released by the Vatican that it was “gravely immoral to sacrifice a human life for therapeutic ends”. That charter stated: “To create embryos with the intention of destroying them, even with the intention of helping the sick, is completely incompatible with human dignity, because it makes the existence of a human being at the embryonic stage nothing more than a means to be used and destroyed.”



Timing of Abortion referendum will be set to maximise student participation

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the Government will seek to avoid holding an abortion referendum in the summer months when many students will be out of the country. “I definitely take the point and get the message that young people would like to have a referendum at a time that they are in the country so they can fully participate. So we will absolutely take that into account in setting a date,” he said.

He added that it was not just a matter of holding a referendum as a wording had to be agreed, legislation had to be put in place and a campaign had to happen.

“What we are planning for is a referendum probably May or June of next year,” he said.

“So if we don’t have it before the summer then we’ll probably have it in the latter part of the year. We haven’t set a date yet”.

If a referendum were not held in May or June next year, then it would likely be timed to coincide with the Presidential election in November 2018, which would be some months after a visit of Pope Francis to Dublin for the World Meeting of Families.



New research on Magdalene Laundries prompts call for a fairer assessment

New research has emerged that shows Magdalene Laundries in a more positive light, prompting calls for a more balanced and equitable assessment of their record.

Dr Jacinta Prunty, head of the Department of History, Maynooth University, examined records of two laundries in Dublin run by the Sisters of Charity and found that short-stay and emergency accommodation was in fact the principal role played by these particular homes. Research also revealed that substantial efforts were made by the Sisters to help teenagers and younger women prepare for independent living after their stay in the laundries. A transition hostel for teenagers was opened in 1966 to equip the residents with basic life skills named as “budgeting, nutrition, socialising, coping with jobs and life, self-management and responsibility”. Dr Prunty commented that “The small hostels, training centres and aftercare facilities for older teenagers run by these sisters with minimal, if any, State support, and the efforts made to find them employment, strike the outsider as truly innovative at the time.”

“The sisters were well aware of shortcomings, but it is difficult to deny the genuine interest they had in the welfare of these young persons and the efforts they made to see them safely on the way to independence,” she wrote.

“But the association of the Magdalene laundries with imprisonment, exploitation and cruelty, and with these alone, is so strongly established in the public sphere that it is difficult to know if there is space for a more rounded, fuller-informed and fairer assessment to emerge,” she concluded.


Australia’s National Broadcaster blasted for ‘antagonistic, one-sided narrative about the Catholic Church’

An Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) investigation into domestic violence in Christian Churches has drawn criticism from both the ABC’s own media monitor and Catholic leaders. ABC TV’s ‘Media Watch’ presenter Paul Barry said some of the material covered “tarnished” the investigation and headlines the ABC used to sell the story misrepresented important research.

While little or no Australian data was used, the investigation did cite American research from 2007 that said “conservative Protestant men who are irregular church attendees are the most likely to batter their wives”. However, the investigation omitted the conclusion of the research that “Conservative Protestant men who attend church regularly are found to be the least likely group to engage in domestic violence.”

The Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, condemned the ABC for its coverage.  “It’s time that the ABC took seriously its role to tell the story of the real Australia,” he said. “It should disengage from the group-think that has produced an antagonistic, one-sided narrative about the Catholic Church in this country.”


Ad claiming 100,000 lives saved by NI abortion laws deemed ‘accurate’ by regulator

An ad by a pro-life group claiming 100,000 lives have been saved by Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws has been deemed “accurate” by the North’s advertising regulator. A complaint submitted to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) was dismissed and an ASA statement said: “On balance, we concluded that the evidence indicated that there was a reasonable probability that around 100,000 people were alive in Northern Ireland today who would have otherwise been aborted had it been legal to do so. Because we considered that readers would understand the figure to represent an estimate, we concluded that the claim was unlikely to materially mislead readers.”

Spokesperson for the group Both Lives Matter, Dawn McAvoy said they were delighted with the result and called the independent verification of their estimate “a real endorsement of our campaign.”

“We have been as cautious as possible with our estimate and the real figure may be much higher. Using a simple comparison with the abortion rate in England and Wales the headline figure would be almost 250,000. There was also a suggestion that the advert was misleading and the ASA have rejected this,” she said.


Queensland cracks down on talking about Jesus in the playground

The Australian State of Queensland’s Department of Education and Training have warned school principals that they are expected to take action against students caught evangelising to their peers. “While not explicitly prohibited by the (legislation), nor referenced in the Religious Instruction (RI) policy, the department expects schools to take appropriate action if aware that students participating in RI are evangelising to students who do not,” says the department’s report, as such evangelising, “could adversely affect the school’s ability to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive ­environment.” Departmental policy defines “evangelising” as “preaching or advocating a cause or religion with the object of making converts to Christianity” and cite as examples sharing Christmas cards that refer to Jesus’s birth, creating Christmas tree decorations to give away and making beaded bracelets to give to friends “as a way of sharing the good news about Jesus”.

Centre for Independent Studies senior research fellow Peter Kurti described the department’s moves as “a massive assault on freedom of speech and freedom of religion”.


Archbishop Eamon Martin to defend right to life when he meets Taoiseach

The defence of the right to life as part of the common good will be raised by Archbishop Eamon Martin when he meets with Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, as part of official Church State talks due to take place at the end of the summer.  A Church source told the Sunday Times that Archbishop Martin is expected to tell Mr Varadkar that the Eighth amendment, which recognises the right to life of the unborn child, is for the “common good”. Dr Martin will make it clear that the Church will campaign against repeal of the amendment, through homilies at mass and in pastoral letters.

The talks are part of official Church-State dialogue initiated by Bertie Ahearn in 2007 and will include representatives of various Churches, faith communities and Atheist Ireland. They are due to take place at the end of the summer before the Dáil resumes after its summer recess. 


UK Bishop: Christians could be victims of Government’s new anti-extremism strategy

Christians could be targeted due to their faith by the Government’s ‘counter-extremism’ strategy, a UK bishop has said. Under the programme named Prevent, public sector workers are expected to report individuals at risk of radicalisation to local authority panels. But in a homily at Lourdes, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury said the strategy struggles to define extremism, and he said a recent “ComRes Poll found that one in three Britons now regard the claims of Christianity and even the person of Jesus Christ as representing extremism”. The poll also found that more than 40 per cent said people who believed marriage was only between a man and a woman were extremist. “It is even possible,” the bishop said, “that the very faith in Christ on which our nation was built might become a focus of the Government’s counter-extremism agenda.”


Taoiseach says Irish people, not UN, will decide Ireland’s abortion law

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that the Irish people and the Oireachtas will decide the country’s abortion laws, rather than the United Nations. He said, moreover, that UN committees are not courts and they do not have have jurisdiction in Ireland, but, he added, they are of course “welcome to offer their opinions”. The Taoiseach was speaking at a media briefing where he fielded questions on a variety of topics. Specifically on a recent UN Committee’s negative report on Ireland’s abortion laws, he said: “One thing I would be very firm about is that whatever laws we have in Ireland, those laws should be determined by either the Irish people through a referendum or through the Oireachtas voting democratically. I am a believer in Ireland as a sovereign state and as a democracy and ultimately, it is for us and nobody else to decide what our laws should be”. He added: “Now, there is a caveat to that of course where we sign up to certain international treaties for example and where certain courts have jurisdiction but UN committees are not courts and under our jurisdiction they are of course welcome to offer their opinions.”


Proposed date for abortion referendum angers pro-choice campaigners

Pro-choice campaigners and politicians are up in arms over a plan to hold an abortion referendum in mid-summer when many students are out of the country. In a media briefing on Friday, Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said the Government intend holding up to nine referendaa in the next year on dates in June/July and November 2018, and May or June 2019. A spokesman for the Taoiseach said that an abortion referendum would take place “ideally before the end of June” next year. This would “give sufficient time to tease out the issues”, he said, while “the desire is to address it expeditiously”.

Ailbhe Smyth of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment described the Taoiseach’s plan as “extremely worrying” and said holding the referendum in the summer months, when many students go abroad, “would effectively mean disenfranchising thousands of young people”. Solidarity TD, Ruth Coppinger,  said: “The optimum time is when a lot of young people can vote. The marriage equality referendum was on May 22, 2015.” Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, said the vote should take place “in May at the latest” because younger voters tend to go abroad for the summer. Ivana Bacik, a Labour Party senator and pro-choice advocate, said: “It should be held before the summer. The concern would be if it was delayed beyond that, other events, including the Pope’s visit [in August] or potentially another general election, could affect it.”

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