UK

Pope Francis Holds Sign Urging Falkland Islands Dialogue, Causes Stir in Argentina

Image via @CFKArgentina/RNS

Francis’ inadvertent gesture of support for renewed talks between the two countries inevitably caused a stir in his home city, Buenos Aires, with Argentine President Cristina Kirchner posting the pope photograph on Twitter. So too did Argentina’s foreign ministry, writing: “Pope Francis receives the Argentina-UK pro-dialogue message.”

But the Vatican played down the significance of the moment, saying the pope had no idea what was written on the sign. “The Holy Father did not even realize he had taken this object in his hands. He has discovered this just now after seeing the photograph,” the Vatican said in a statement.

British Ponder Charitable Tax Relief Status of Controversial Exclusive Brethren Schools

Textbooks in storage. Image via Kw_thailand/shutterstock.com

Textbooks in storage. Image via Kw_thailand/shutterstock.com

Schools run by a conservative Christian sect called the Exclusive Brethren are under investigation following claims by former teachers that they were required to use science textbooks with pages ripped out, prevent boys and girls from talking to one another outside classrooms, and tolerate bullying, racism, and homophobia.

Life at Britain’s 34 Brethren schools is under the microscope following a decision last year to grant them charity status, which allows the group to avoid taxes estimated to be worth millions of pounds every year.

The Exclusive Brethren includes about 17,000 members across England.

After their first bid for charitable status was rejected, the sect fought back with supporters writing thousands of letters to the Charity Commission, which regulates charities in England and Wales.

The sect’s leader is an Australian named Bruce Hales (followers call him “the Prophet”).

Over 200 members of Parliament supported the Brethren’s charity status. But new disclosures have changed the public image of the group.

Eight former teachers have spoken to the media and described school buses segregated by gender, classroom racism, and textbooks with pages on evolution, fossil fuels, and sexual reproduction ripped out.

Irish Abortion Debate Reflects Growing Church-State Tensions

RNS photo by Sarah Parvini.

Ruth Bowie and her husband Michael (pictured here with their son Dougie). RNS photo by Sarah Parvini.

DUBLIN, Ireland — Ruth Bowie was in the throes of grief when she found out she would never know her unborn child. At the 12-week mark, a pregnancy scan showed the baby had anencephaly, a fatal condition in which a portion of the brain and skull never form.

Bowie, 34, a pediatric nurse, knew the implications of the birth defect even before the doctor explained. But the life-changing news didn’t stop there.

“The doctors said we will continue to look after you, or else you can choose to travel,” she recalled.

Put another way, if she and her husband wanted to seek an abortion, they would have to travel to England to end the pregnancy.

Is the British Monarch the ‘Defender of the Faith’ or ‘Faiths’?

RNS photo courtesy NASA/Bill Ingalls via Wikimedia Commons

Queen Elizabeth II greets NASA employees on her walk in Maryland. RNS photo courtesy NASA/Bill Ingalls via Wikimedia Commons

 

LONDON — As Britain awaits the appointment of the next archbishop of Canterbury to lead both the Church of England and the far-flung Anglican Communion, there's renewed attention on the woman who officially gets the final say: Queen Elizabeth II, the "Defender of the Faith."

The current archbishop, Rowan Williams, ends his 10-year tenure in December. A Church of England committee is sifting through candidates — two of whom will be submitted to Prime Minister David Cameron, whose top choice will be submitted to the queen for final approval.

When he announced his retirement last March, Williams, 62, famously said his successor will need "the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros.”

Politicians and religious leaders say the next archbishop will need those qualities and more to handle deep divisions in the British church over female bishops and North/South divisions among his 77 million-member global flock over sexuality.

But he'll also need something else: the ability to envision life when Elizabeth — who turns 87 next year  is no longer on the throne, and when Britain is no longer a Christian-majority country.

Atheists Likely Will Outnumber Christians in the UK by 2032

London photo, S.Borisov, Shutterstock.com

London photo, S.Borisov, Shutterstock.com

LONDON — Christianity is waning in England and could be outnumbered by nonbelievers within 20 years, according to a new study.

The study conducted by the British Parliament showed there were 41 million Christians in Britain, down nearly 8 percent since 2004. Meanwhile, the number of nonbelievers stood at 13.4 million, up 49 percent over the same period.

Researchers at the House of Commons Library concluded that Christianity had declined to 69 percent of the population while those with no religion increased to 22 percent.

"If these populations continue to shrink and grow by the same number of people each year," the study said, "the number of people with no religion will overtake the number of Christians in Great Britain in 20 years."

U.K. Innkeepers Fined for Turning Away Gay Couple

No Room at the Inn. Image via Wylio, http://bit.ly/ADRtVi.

No Room at the Inn. Image via Wylio, http://bit.ly/ADRtVi.

LONDON — Britain's Court of Appeal has ordered a pair of Christian innkeepers to pay 3,600 pounds ($5,800) in damages to a gay couple that was told they could not share a room in the couple's guesthouse.

The three-judge panel rejected an appeal by the innkeepers, Peter and Hazelmary Bull, in their conviction of telling Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy they could not share a double room.

The court in London told the couple, who ran the Chymorvah House in Cornwall, England, to pay the penalty.

Why the "War on Christmas" Doesn't Translate Across the Pond

Christmas lights in London's Trafalgar Square, St. Martin's in the Field behind.

Christmas lights in London's Trafalgar Square, St. Martin's in the Field behind. Via http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/839615

I’m not sure we can quite get our heads around the latest ‘war’ being waged in the United States – the ‘war on Christmas’.

Visions of the 101st Airborne heading towards the North Pole abound. Anti-reindeer defense weapons, covert elf anti-merriment operatives and a unilateral ban on all copies of A Christmas Carol (in its various media iterations)? Is that what we have come to?

Surely — and thankfully — not, but given some of the rhetoric that is thrown around in the media at this time of year, you might be forgiven for thinking so!

Given that most reporting about religion in the UK and Europe usually includes the phrase “an increasingly secular country," you might think that the "war on Christmas" back on the old sod is even more sustained and sophisticated than in the United States.

Picture heavily fortified nativity scenes being assaulted by atheist flash mobs chanting “HAPPY HOLIDAYS!” if you will.

Well, I’m sorry to tell you that I’ve yet to witness such a terrifying scene on the streets of London.

Hit the Hallelujah Button: The Silent Monks/Boy Scouts of Richfordshire, UK

The German Baroque master composer George Frideric Handel wrote his most famous piece, the English oratorio Messiah, in 1741 and it was performed for the first time publicly on April 13, 1742 in Dublin, Ireland. In the intervening nearly 300 years since its composition, Handel's Messiah — and it's "Hallelujah Chorus" in particular — have become staples of Christmastide, with thousands of renditions recorded or performed by everyone from The Royal Philharmonic and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to Leonard Bernstein's unorthodox restructuring in the 1950s and R&B music producer Quincy Jones' modern "soulful celebration" gospel interpretation in more recent years.

Beginning today, each day until Christmas we will post a different video rendition of the "Hallelujah Chorus" for your holiday enjoyment and edification.

Inside, see the first installment from a silent order of monks (aka the Barton Boy Scout troop of Richfordshire, North Yorkshire, England) performing Handel's classic.

HALLELUJAH!

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