Law and religion round-up – 18th March

The Government’s Green Paper on integration, safeguarding in Chichester and Sweden, marriage, burial – and the living dead…

The Government’s Green Paper on integration

On Wednesday, the Government published its promised Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper triggering a consultation which will close on 5 June. We noted the proposals on religious weddings and sharia here; however, it also includes:

  • references to out-of-school educational settings (though there appears to be no suggestion that the Government is reviving the previous proposal for inspections by HMI);
  • further measures to strengthen the governance of minority faith institutions (by which, we assume, they mean mosques);
  • expanding the Strengthening Faith Institutions programme “to help a wider range of faith institutions to upskill their staff and strengthen their governance structures”; and
  • supporting training of faith leaders “to support ministering in the British context”.

On the last point, the Green Paper says that the Government wants places of worship to have

“well-qualified, informed and confident faith leaders, who are outward-looking, involve all parts of the community (especially women and young people), and are capable of resisting, and helping their congregations to resist, intolerant or extremist arguments”.

The Government’s underlying concerns appear to be immigrant communities – particularly from Pakistan and Bangladesh – and its perceptions about Islamic radicalisation. Much of the consultation document is couched in general terms because it would be in breach of the Equality Act 2010 if it were not – but it is very easy to see where it is coming from.

IICSA and the CofE

The second week of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) three-week public hearing into the extent of any institutional failures to protect children from sexual abuse within the Anglican Church commenced on Monday 12 March. On Tuesday, the IICSA heard evidence from the Revd Canon Dr Rupert Bursell QC, who was one of the commissaries of the Archepiscopal Visitation of Chichester, 2011 to 2013. Dr Bursell’s evidence is on pages 26 to 98, inclusive, of the Day 7 Transcript of the proceedings, and our post IICSA: Some legal views summarized some of the legal issues explored in this evidence session. 

Oral evidence was also heard from the current Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Revd Martin Warner, and from other suffragans and those involved in safeguarding in the diocese, past and present. On Thursday, evidence was given by former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams. The proceedings have been reported daily by Harry Farley, of Christian Today, and links to other media commentary have been posted by Thinking AnglicansAnglican Mainstream and the Daily Digest of the Church of England.

The timetable for the final week’s hearing has now been published and the last evidence to be heard will be from the Most Revd Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Bishop Peter Hancock, the Church’s lead bishop on safeguarding.

Seal of the confessional

Issues surrounding the seal of the confessional have been raised at various points during the week’s IICSA hearings. Dr Bursell expressed his belief that there should be no seal of the confessional in relation to child sexual abuse, and that the Church of England ought to amend its Canon so that, at the very least, it does not apply to the sexual abuse of children. Other witnesses, including Lord (Rowan) Williams and the Rt Revd Martin Warner, viewed the position differently, and the legal issues involved have been explored by various twitter commentators. A relatively recent summary of the development of the legislation is given in Dr Colin Podmore’s “The Seal of the Confessional in the Church of England: Historical, Legal and Liturgical Perspectives“, a lecture for the Bishop of Richborough’s Initial Ministerial Education Session, The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, 14 November 2016.

Running out of burial space

The BBC reports that Wales is running out of burial plots. Alex Glanville, Head of Property Services for the Church in Wales, told it that “We can no longer take it for granted that we will have a last resting place in or near our community. The majority of our churchyards will soon be full and we do not have the resources to extend them or open new ones.”

Which is no great surprise. Similar fears have been expressed about pressure on burial plots in England: the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management told the BBC that the situation was now at “crisis point” and the law needed to be changed to allow graves to be re-used.

Watch this space but don’t hold your breath – or you might need a plot yourself.

Offensive behaviour at Scottish football matches

The BBC reports that MSPs have voted by 62 to 60 to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012. The legislation was passed by the then-majority SNP government in 2011 in a bid to crack down on sectarianism, but all four opposition parties argued that it unfairly targeted football fans and had failed to tackle the problem. Opponents also argued that the legislation was badly-drafted and open to different interpretations of what constitutes “offensive behaviour”. For the Government, Annabelle Ewing said that the repeal vote was “deeply disappointing and worrying” and would compromise the ability of police and prosecutors to charge people for unacceptable behaviour. The repeal bill is expected to be given Royal Assent in April.

Privy Council, 14 March

Following the confirmation of the election of the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally as Bishop of London on 8 March, this week she was among the group who were sworn as members of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, (Court Circular, 14 March). The Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishop of London are members of the Privy Council ex officiis.

It was also announced that the Queen had given Her formal consent to the marriage of Prince Henry of Wales to (Rachel) Meghan Markle under the requirements of the Succession to the Crown Act 2013. This is the first Instrument of Consent to be issued under the 2013 Act and not under the Royal Marriages Act 1772 which it repealed.

Finally, the Order changing the name of the suffragan See of Richmond to the See of Kirkstall, under the Dioceses and Pastoral Measure 2007, was approved.

Safeguarding (?) in Sweden

Svenska Dagbladet reports (£) the case of a priest in the Church of Sweden who in 2008 persuaded two 16-year-old girls in a congregation in the Diocese of Visby to have sex with him. He was asked to leave his post in 2008 but, it appears, was reinstated in 2015 and is working as a youth catechist in a different diocese. Svenska Dagbladet said that it had been in contact with one of the priest’s new managers, who pointed out that his suitability to work as a priest had been investigated thoroughly and there were no complaints against him on file in the registry and said that the diocesan authorities had “full confidence” in him. [With thanks to Andrew Brown.]

Old news or possibly non-news, on the basis that it is not clear from the report that any criminal offence was committed and that the newspaper cannot, for obvious reasons, have the full facts. But it all sounds very, very different from the C of E’s Clergy Discipline Measure or the Kirk’s Discipline of Ministry Act.

Polygamy in Canada and “non-polygamy” in the US

We noted two recent cases on polygamy, R v Blackmore in the Supreme Court of British Columbia and Collier v Fox (D MT, March 9, 2018) in a federal district court in Montana, in which the two courts came to opposite conclusions in what appeared to be rather similar situations. The Montana court held that because there was no genuine threat that the parties challenging the law would be prosecuted under it, they did not have standing to bring the action. The BC court, however, held that the two defendants had entered into polygamous relationships contrary to s.293 of the Criminal Code of Canada even though their second and subsequent relationships were not legally-recognised as marriages.

And in Romania

… Constantin Reliu, a Romanian, left for Turkey in 1992 to work as a cook. His wife had not seen him since the 1990s and in 2003 was granted an official death certificate. Turkey deported him in January for having expired documents and sent him back to Romania – where, he told local media, it took him more than six hours to convince local officials that his reappearance wasn’t a hoax.

His application to have the death certificate annulled was rejected on Thursday by a court in the city of Vaslui – despite the fact that he appeared in person – on the grounds that his application was out of time. You can see the ruling here: in Romanian, but not difficult to puzzle out. Is this a very special case of Article 2 ECHR (right to life)?

Forthcoming conference

17 – 18 April 2018: Emergent Religious Pluralism(s): an Interdisciplinary Conference at the Woolf Institute, Cambridge, on the theme “how have changing realities on the ground informed the ideal of religious pluralism itself in different parts of the world?”

Quick links

And finally…

Non-story #1 of the week goes to the alleged destruction of the graves and memorial of Polish soldiers and airmen at Blockley Station Road Cemetery in Blockley; buried in the graveyard are 122 Second World War Polish nationals. The Daily Mail carried the headline Sick thugs in graveyard rampage smash graves of Polish soldiers and airmen who battled Hitler and quoted the Polish campaign group, British Poles, as describing the incident as “a sad day for community”. However, a subsequent tweet from British Poles stated

“We have now received evidence that the destruction of the Blockley Cemetery and sacred Polish graves was caused by nature, and not by human perpetrators. Attached pic by D Summerton [showing fallen tree lying across a number of graves]. Local community was not informed about the damages. Urgent restoration is needed”.

It appears as though the photographs of the destroyed graves were taken after the tree had been removed.

Non-story #2 of the week is down to the misguided actions of the Vatican communications office, who released a photograph of a letter from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and deliberately blurred the lines in the photo of the text. This had the effect of (possibly correctly) reinforcing of prejudices about a Vatican that “covers up” bad news while (incorrectly) providing ammunition to Francis’ conspiracy-seeking opponents. Nevertheless, the letter had been read in full at the Press Conference. It is now available here.

5 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 18th March

  1. Thanks for another incredibly helpful round-up, Frank and David. Is there any report as to whether Constantin Reliu’s wife/widow remarried on the strength of the death certificate?

    • Not that I’m aware. The report of the appeal court’s decision is very terse and the media reports are sketchy.

  2. According to http://www.complex.com/life/2018/03/romanian-court-tells-living-man-hes-dead
    ‘The woman now lives in Italy, but Reliu knows nothing about her new life.
    “I am not sure whether I am divorced or not,” he said. “I am not sure whether she is married to someone else or not. Nobody will tell me.”’
    And, according to https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/933061/court-dead-man-alive-and-well-barlad-romania-constantin-reliu-bureaucratic-ruling:
    ‘The Romanian daily Adevarul said Mr Reliu believes his wife sought to have him declared dead in order to annul the marriage and allow her to remarry.’

  3. From Daniel Hill

    This Romanian article suggests that Mr Reliu’s (former) wife has gone through a second marriage ceremony. It seems that this second ceremony was in Italy; it would be interesting to know what the effect of Mr Reliu’s reappearance would be on this in Italian law.

    Incidentally, the Romanian courts seem to have acted properly: it is open to Mr Reliu to file a claim to have the declaration of death annulled.

    (I owe this to a Romanian friend, Catalin Croitor.)

  4. “helping their congregations to resist intolerant or extremist argument” If, as a Christian, one follows some scriptural values (e.g. marriage only between a man and woman) you are branded an extremist. Would not “helping their congregations to respect and tolerate people who hold views that are contrary to their own” be preferable?

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