news-2


Catholic Church urges Government to drop Gender Recognition Reform Bill

17 March 2020

 

In a strongly worded response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on its Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, Scotland’s eight Catholic Bishops have unanimously opposed the proposed legislation. Following a meeting of the Bishops’ Conference, they released the following statement:

 

“Together with a growing number of voices in society, the Church believes that sex or gender cannot be reduced to a mere construct of society that is fluid and changeable. Denying the biological reality of sexual difference and redefining something as fundamental as male and female is not within the purview of government or parliamentarians. Like marriage, it is part of the natural law: an unchanging principle of human existence.”

 

“Sex is constituted by biological organisation and reproductive functioning, and is recognised at birth, not assigned, government should not proceed with radical legal reforms or expose children to radical treatments. Caution and sensitivity is required.”

 

The bishops also point out that;

  

“Gender dysphoria is a condition that can cause significant distress and anxiety. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, of the American Psychiatric Association continues to recognise gender dysphoria as a genuine, troubling medical condition. By de-medicalising legal transition and moving to a self-declaratory model, as proposed in the consultation, society may fail to provide the necessary support for those affected by gender dysphoria in the form of contact with health professionals. De-medicalisation removes a vital protection and safeguard for vulnerable individuals, exacerbated by the proposal to reduce the time a person is required to live in their acquired gender from two years to just three months. By supporting these changes, the Scottish Government risks failing vulnerable people. “

 

The church’s consultation response points out that since the Scottish Prison Service issued guidance effectively allowing self-identification, the number of prisoners identifying as transgender has risen significantly, to the point where the incidence rate of men identifying as women is 350 times higher amongst the prison population than it is in the general population.

 

The bishops conclude by saying;

 

“The proposed changes risk creating medical, social and legal complications which will be difficult to resolve and damaging to those involved, particularly children and women. Accordingly, we have written to the First Minister, highlighting our concerns and urging her to not to proceed with the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill.”

 

ENDS

 

Peter Kearney

Director

Catholic Media Office

5 St. Vincent Place

Glasgow

G1 2DH

Tel:    0141 221 1168

Mob:  07968 122291

ISDN: 0141 204 4956

pk@scmo.org

www.scmo.org

 

Note to Editors:

 

1. The full text of the Church’s consultation response can be viewed below it will be submitted today (17 March 2020) by the Catholic Parliamentary Office

 

2. The text of the letter to the First Minister, from Bishop Hugh Gilbert the President of the Bishops’ Conference is also shown below.

 

1. Response from the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland to the Consultation on Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill - March 2020

 

Footnotes are available at the end of the document and are indicated by the number in brackets.

 

Consultation Questions

 

1. Do you have any comments on the proposal that applicants must live in their acquired gender for at least three months before applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate?

 

Please refer to answer to question 4.

 

2. Do you have any comments on the proposal that applicants must go through a period of reflection for at least three months before obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate?

 

Please refer to answer to question 4.

 

3. Should the minimum age at which a person can apply for legal gender recognition be reduced from age 18 to 16?

 

This is a very troubling aspect of the proposed changes. Allowing those under 18 years of age to legally change gender puts children and young people on a dangerous path towards irreversible medical experimentation.

 

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines children as those under the age of 18 years.

 

There are good reasons for not allowing those under 18 years to have sex reassignment surgery or other irreversible elective interventions; given their level of maturity they need special protection, especially in a very important formative phase in their life. And for the same reason those under 18 should not be encouraged to make ostensibly permanent legal declarations on their gender. The Church is deeply concerned for the health and wellbeing of young people and is particularly troubled about the potential negative impact of permanent legal declarations which could lead to irreversible surgery in future or, at the very least, non-surgical interventions the long-term effects of which remain unclear.

 

Individuals under 18 years of age cannot buy cigarettes, buy alcohol in licensed premises or get a tattoo. Yet the Scottish Government is open to the possibility that these same young people have the maturity to make a permanent legal declaration on their gender which, as set out above, could lead to a decision to undergo irreversible surgery or non-surgical interventions, with scant knowledge of what this means for their long-term health and wellbeing.

 

There are also concerns about the safety of puberty blockers: drugs given to young people in order to suppress their natural hormones. According to Michael Biggs, of the Department of Sociology at the University of Oxford (1), the use of puberty blockers remains an “experimental treatment.” Biggs also cites a NHS Health Research Authority research protocol  (2) where it states: “it is not clear what the long term effects of early suppression may be on bone development, height, sex organ development, and body shape and their reversibility if treatment is stopped during pubertal development.” Biggs goes on to quote Russell Viner, a paediatrician on the study team, who admitted: “if you suppress puberty for three years the bones do not get any stronger at a time when they should be, and we don’t really know what suppressing puberty does to your brain development. We are dealing with unknowns.” (3)

 

There are also concerns about the safety of puberty blockers: drugs given to young people in order to suppress their natural hormones. According to Michael Biggs, of the Department of Sociology at the University of Oxford (1), the use of puberty blockers remains an “experimental treatment.” Biggs also cites a NHS Health Research Authority research protocol  (2) where it states: “it is not clear what the long term effects of early suppression may be on bone development, height, sex organ development, and body shape and their reversibility if treatment is stopped during pubertal development.” Biggs goes on to quote Russell Viner, a paediatrician on the study team, who admitted: “if you suppress puberty for three years the bones do not get any stronger at a time when they should be, and we don’t really know what suppressing puberty does to your brain development. We are dealing with unknowns.” (3)

 

It is important to note that the term ‘puberty blockers’ though used here for ease of reference is actually an inaccurate term. The drugs used are ‘off label’ which means that they have not been officially approved for use as puberty blockers.

 

Evidence supports that most young people will not persist in gender dysphoria and will reconcile with their biological sex beyond adolescence. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders states that “in natal males, persistence has ranged from 2.2% to 30%. In natal females, persistence has ranged from 12% to 50%.” It is fair to say that rates of persistence are relatively low.

 

A paper in the British Journal of General Practice  (4) admitted that the majority of people presenting with gender dysphoria before puberty will “desist”, and that some will “seek interventions with uncertain long-term outcomes.” The authors also suggest that the rise in those presenting with Gender Dysphoria is multi-factorial but admit that “35% of those seen in the Tavistock service have autism traits.” The paper concludes with a call for “well-funded, independent, long-term research” to “ensure doctors meet their ethical duties to ‘first do no harm’ and fulfil good medical practice.”

 

In response to the growing demand for GPs to prescribe cross-sex hormones before specialist assessments the authors of the paper say that “more definitive knowledge is needed about: the causes of rapid increased referrals, especially girls and young females; the outcomes of interventions and ‘wait and see’ policies in this new demographic; and how to practice and organise services, especially anticipating long-term health implications.”

 

Sinead Watson, a 29 year old who transitioned to male in her early 20’s, and who is now attempting to de-transition, declared: “the idea that a 16-year-old can sign statutory declarations saying that they intend to permanently live in their acquired gender….they’re not old enough to smoke, they’re not old enough to drink…I find it really concerning that they would deem a 16-year-old emotionally mature and developed enough to have the foresight to say they are going to identify this way for the rest of their lives.”

Sinead adds: “I can’t undo what the testosterone has done to me, I can’t undo the double mastectomy.”

 

4. Do you have any other comments on the provisions of the draft bill?

  

The Catholic Church teaches respect for the male and female person made in the image and likeness of God and believes that sex or gender cannot be reduced to a mere construct of society that is fluid and changeable. At the same time, the Church is concerned for those who suffer discrimination and prejudice and those who experience gender dysphoria and expects those in authority to ensure an appropriate framework of support is available.

 

Pope Francis said: “Valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognise myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment.”

The pope added: “It is not a healthy attitude which would seek to ‘cancel out sexual difference’ because it no longer knows how to confront it.”

 

Denying the biological reality of sexual difference and redefining something as fundamental as male and female is not within the purview of government or parliamentarians. Like marriage, it is part of the natural law: an unchanging principle of human existence. Redefining what it means to be male or female will create confusion, upsetting the equilibrium of society and our natural instinct toward the marriage of man and woman and the flourishing of family life. If it is possible to legally change from being a man to a woman and vice versa it presupposes that there is nothing naturally distinctive about womanhood or manhood.

 

Government, in the pursuit of ideologies, must be conscious of the potential for the destruction of natural principles and traditional social habits of people. The bedrock of society that is marriage between one man and one woman and their openness to new life, the family they create, the right to life of unborn children, and the right to free speech and freedom of thought, conscience and religion have all been undermined by this pursuit.

 

Sex is constituted by biological organisation and reproductive functioning, and is recognised at birth, not assigned. Nor can surgery change sex. As Dr David Bell, Consultant Psychiatrist in the Adult Department of the Tavistock and Portman Centre in London, points out: “Surgery does not change biological sex. It is a given, it is not socially constructed.” (5)

 

Sherif Girgis, author and philosophy student, said “Male and female are not just any two sexes, as black and white are just two races. Maleness and femaleness, and a certain social purpose, are necessarily inter-defined: one cannot fully explain either maleness or femaleness without reference to the other and to a certain social good. The reason is that what differentiates them are not just different anatomical or genetic features, but – at a deeper level of explanation – their joint (basic) physical potential for a biological task: reproduction. And this task, its social value, and its link to sexual composition are certainly not mere social inventions.” (6)

 

Lawrence Mayer and Paul McHugh also refer to the distinction on the grounds of reproductive organisation: “The underlying basis of maleness and femaleness is the distinction between the reproductive roles of the sexes; in mammals such as humans, the female gestates offspring and the male impregnates the female. More universally, the male of the species fertilises the egg cells provided by the female of the species. This conceptual basis for sex roles is binary and stable and allows us to distinguish males from females on the grounds of their reproductive systems, even when these individuals exhibit behaviours that are not typical of males and females.” (7)

 

There are biological differences between men and women. Scientists have found that male and female bodies react differently to diseases and to treatment. Therefore, the difference between male and female is “an important basic human variable that should be considered when designing and analysing studies in all areas and at all levels of biomedical and health-related research.” (8)

 

Gender dysphoria, the feeling that one’s biological sex does not correspond with one’s lived or experienced gender, is a condition that can cause significant distress and anxiety. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5, of the American Psychiatric Association continues to recognise gender dysphoria as a genuine, troubling medical condition.

 

By moving to a self-declaratory model, as proposed in the consultation, and de-medicalising legal transition, society may fail to provide the necessary support for those affected by gender dysphoria in the form of contact with health professionals. De-medicalisation removes a vital protection and safeguard for vulnerable individuals. Sinead Watson, a 29 year old who transitioned to male in her early 20’s, and who is now attempting to de-transition, described the removal of the need for a medical diagnosis as “mind blowing” and that doing so would be “monumentally harmful”.  (9) This is further exacerbated by the proposal to reduce the time a person is required to live in their acquired gender from two years to just three months. The Scottish Government - by supporting these changes – risks failing vulnerable people. 

 

Gender dysphoria in individuals is associated with an increased rate of comorbid mental illness, especially mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and suicidality. (10)

 

There is also a danger that speeding up the process of changing gender legally will increase the possibility of people making choices and commitments they will later regret.

 

Without a clearer understanding of causes, government should not proceed with radical legal reforms or expose children to radical treatments. Caution and sensitivity is required.

 

It is worth noting that the European Court of Human Rights (Garcon and Nicot v France [2017] ECHR 338 (06 April 2017)), in a judgement which is legally binding, held that an ‘assessment model’, which is the existing model in Scotland, is compatible with human rights.

 

There is also considerable confusion as to the definition of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. For example, some argue that gender is simply the subjective choice of the individual. This position is often complicated by interchangeable use of the terms sex and gender, suggesting that sex might also be a subjective choice. This leads to a situation where any person could at any time change their sex. Others argue that gender is innate i.e. has a biological component and is thus unchangeable. Both propositions cannot be true.

 

Gender dysphoria should not be politicised to the point where science is side-lined. Science is key to understanding gender dysphoria.

 

There are other consequences of the proposed reform such as an increased risk to the safety of women. Could a man who self-declares as female be given access to a women’s refuge or safe house? Could a male prisoner self-identify as female and gain access to a women-only prison?

 

The Scottish Prison Service policy on transgender prisoners has, to some degree, anticipated the government’s proposals. The guidance declares that, with regard to transgender inmates, “the person in custody’s gender identity and corresponding name and pronouns must be respected” so that the accommodation chosen “should reflect the gender in which the person in custody is currently living.”

 

Rhona Hotchkiss, a former prison governor, recently stated that, prior to this policy coming into force, there were only two prisoners who identified as transgender—this rose to 22 male to female transgender prisoners in custody in 2018.

 

Ms Hotchkiss stated that none had self-identified as female prior to their conviction. This represents around 7 per cent of the numbers of women in Scottish prisons; significantly higher than the percentage of transgender people found in the wider population, which is estimated at around 0.02per cent. This means that the incidence rate of men identifying as women is 350 times higher amongst the prison population than it is in the general population.

 

The dangers posed to women are highlighted by the case of Karen White, a biological male and convicted rapist who, following his incarceration, self-identified as female and applied to be moved to a women’s prison. White’s application was successful, and he went on to sexually assault female inmates at the prison.

 

In March 2019, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf admitted that criminal incidents are tracked according to the self-identified gender of victims. Such a system could easily distort crime statistics and also result in biological male offenders being placed in women-only spaces. Katie Dolatowski, 18, a transgender sex offender who preyed on girls in public toilets in Fife and was housed in women only accommodation after being convicted.

 

Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, told The Times, “women who end up in custody are individuals who’ve often experienced quite grotesque and traumatic male violence so being asked to share their places of safety and refuge with individuals who they not unreasonably consider to be male and a threat to them – regardless of whether they are or not – is deeply problematic.”

 

There are also concerns regarding the safety and wellbeing of female schoolchildren if natal males are to be allowed to occupy female only changing facilities and toilets in schools. The importance of single-sex spaces and services, which is an exception under the Equality Act 2010 and which provides a vital protection for women and girls, cannot be overstated.

 

Irrespective of the outcome of the consultation, free speech and freedom of thought, conscience and religion must be upheld for those who do not subscribe to the idea that gender is fluid and/or that gender may be wholly divorced from biological sex. This is particularly important for, among others, those who work in education, for healthcare workers, marriage celebrants, prison staff, and religious representatives.

 

The Catholic Church understands that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. The determination of sex for this purpose is based on biology. The Church must be able to marry in accordance with her teaching.

 

The proposed changes risk creating medical, social and legal complications which will be difficult to resolve and damaging to those involved. There are particular risks for children and women.

 

 

5. Do you have any comments on the draft Impact Assessments?

 

No comment.

 

Footnotes

 

(1) Tavistock’s Experimentation with Puberty Blockers: Scrutinising the Evidence (2 March 2019)

(2) Early Pubertal Suppression in a Carefully Selected Group of Adolescents with Gender Identity Disorder, 4 November 2010, Research Ethics Committee number 10/H0713/79)

(3) Daily Mail, 25 February 2016

(4) Gender Incongruence in children, adolescents, and adults by Susan Bewley, Damian Clifford, Margaret McCartney and Richard Byng, Br J Gen Pract 2019; 69 (681): 170-171

(5) Seminar on Gender dysphoria/confusion in children and young people, Scottish Parliament, 5th March 2020.

(6) Windsor Lochnerizing on Marriage? Case Western Reserve Law Review 64 (2014), 988

(7) Sexuality and Gender Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences, Special Report, New Atlantis, 50 (Autumn 2016), 89

(8)  Institute of Medicine, Committee on Understanding the Biology of Sex and Gender Differences, Exploring the Biological Contributions to Human Health: Does Sex Matter? Theresa M Wizeman and Mary-Lou Pardue (Washington DC: National Academies Press, 2001), Executive Summary

(9) Seminar on Gender dysphoria/confusion in children and young people, Scottish Parliament, 5th March 2020.

(10) Zucker KJ et al, Gender Dysphoria in Adults, Annual Review Clinical Psychology 2016; 12: 217-247

 

  

2. Letter from the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland to the First Minister

 

17 March 2020

 

Dear First Minister,

 

Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill

 

Our thoughts are with you and those in Government at this difficult and uncertain time for us all, and we appreciate the guidance being given.

 

However, it is on another matter that I write.

 

On behalf of the Bishops Conference of Scotland – which has made its own submission to the Consultation – I wish to express deep misgivings concerning the proposed Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill. Together with a growing number of other voices in our society, the Catholic Church in Scotland is of the view that the proposed changes to the existing legislation risk creating grave medical, social and legal complications which will prove difficult to resolve and a source of harm to those they concern.

 

I am writing therefore to express the wish that this proposed legislation is not adopted.

 

True clinical gender dysphoria is a real, if reasonably rare, condition and, if persistent, can cause significant distress and anxiety to those affected by it. It must be distinguished from the normal developmental gender anxieties and uncertainties of adolescence, which can indeed also cause great pain to those who suffer them. However, the concern is that, by de-medicalising legal transition and moving to a self-declaratory model, this distinction will be lost and our society fail to provide the necessary health-professional support for those genuinely affected by Gender Dysphoria. Such a move risks failing vulnerable people. The question is, how can these gender anxieties and uncertainties be best addressed? Surely, not by blurring clinical boundaries, nor by allowing a certain social momentum – or indeed simply by a fashion – to determine our responses.  My sense is that, by not permitting the proposed legislation to proceed, the Scottish Government would do us, and especially our youth, a great service and show itself more in tune with an ever more critical public opinion.

 

We are all deeply concerned for the health and wellbeing of our young people. The possibility of permanent legal declarations being made at such a young age, along with the ensuing surgery or non-surgical interventions (with unclear long-term effects), will not enhance this well-being. Currently, individuals under 18 years of age cannot buy cigarettes, purchase alcohol in licensed premises or get a tattoo. Yet the current Bill assumes they have the maturity to make permanent legal declarations on their gender which could lead to irreversible consequences, with scant knowledge of what this means for their long-term health and wellbeing.

 

Evidence indicates that most young people will not persist in gender dysphoria and will reconcile with their biological sex beyond adolescence. A paper in the British Journal of General Practice admitted that the majority of people presenting with gender dysphoria before puberty will “desist”, and also that “35% of those seen in the Tavistock service have autism traits.” The paper concludes with a call for “well-funded, independent, long-term research” to “ensure doctors meet their ethical duties to ‘first do no harm’ and fulfil good medical practice.” We echo this call for more detailed research.

 

Finally, we are concerned that the proposed reform creates an increased risk to the safety of women. The Scottish Prison Service policy on transgender prisoners, for example, currently allows prison accommodation to “reflect the gender in which the person in custody is currently living.”  Since this guidance was implemented, the incidence rate of men identifying as women is now 350 times higher amongst the prison population than in the general population. Since many women in custody have often experienced what has been described as “quite grotesque and traumatic male violence”, being asked to share their places of safety and refuge with individuals who they not unreasonably consider to be male and a threat – regardless of whether they are or not – is deeply problematic.

 

These are only a few of the concerns that could be raised here - the de-stabilising effect on families would be another. This whole subject has many aspects and is not best grasped when reduced to mere individual choice. We do not want to enter heedlessly into such sensitive and uncharted territory. I envisage that even present policies will lead to a future backlash. There are some publicised instances of this already which explain the growing sense of unease. My earnest hope is that the Scottish Government will see the wisdom of desisting from any new legislation.

 

With assurance of my best wishes and prayers,

 

Yours sincerely

 

Bishop Hugh Gilbert

President

Bishops’ Conference of Scotland

Subscribe to Updates

Subscribe to:
Like   Back to Top   Seen 173 times   Liked 0 times

Subscribe to Updates

If you enjoyed this, why not subscribe to free email updates ?

Subscribe to News updates

Enter your email address to be notified of new posts:

Subscribe to:

Alternatively, you can subscribe via RSS RSS

‹ Return to News

We never share or sell your email address to anyone.

I've already subscribed / don't show me this again

Recent Posts

Bishop calls for Christmas “circuit breaker” in war on COVID

| 4 days ago | Blogging

In an article in the Sunday Times (25 October 2020) Bishop John Keenan has called for a  Christmas “circuit breaker” comprising a 24-hour lifting of restrictions on gatherings and celebrations,  in the war on COVID on Christmas day. The full text of Bishop Keenan's article is shown below:       The recent advice from Scotland’s National Clinical Director Prof Jason Leitch that we should prepare for a “digital” celebration of Christmas, and the idea of a normal Christmas was a "fiction" with "absolutely no question" of a "normal" Christmas being allowed, was dismal news. As it came in the middle of renewed restrictions and talk of even further limitations on how we live our lives in the coming months, it is easy to see why so many people are succumbing to despair.   The government has told us that its latest Covid-19 restrictions are having an impact on the spread of the virus, causing a "deceleration" in the increase of cases. I hope that is true and that it will be possible to ease restrictions rather than tighten them as we move towards the end of the year.   Regardless of what limitations COVID might place on our lives, as Christians we are sure that Christmas will never be cancelled. No matter what difficulties we face, we will celebrate the joy and love, the kindness and good cheer that attend the celebration of the birth of Christ as we always do.   It could not have been easy for Mary and Joseph to celebrate under Roman occupation in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, for soldiers in the trenches of the First World War or for nations across Europe in the post war privations of 1945, but Christmas happened and millions gave thanks that a saviour was born. Christmas won’t be cancelled.   As Christians, we are people of hope, we live in hope and while we take the national restrictions seriously, we hope and pray that Christmas 2020 can be as normal as possible. We will do all we can even in very adverse circumstances, to focus on the reality of Christmas, hoping that adversity will bring us closer to that reality. Ultimately, our hopes are for love and joy, peace and good cheer in this world, not just the next.   Since the resumption of public worship our parishes have been meticulous in controlling infection to ensure the safety of all those who cross the threshold of a Catholic church.   On that basis, we have every confidence that our parishes will celebrate Christmas full of faith, hope and love. We also have confidence that society will still want to celebrate Christmas and hold on to as many traditions as it possibly can at such a traditional time of year.   We’ve already witnessed so many heroes who’ve emerged from among us. When times are hard, compassion and concern for one another can grow. Our key workers across the country bear living witness to our ability to forge solidarity in the face of adversity. COVID has brought out the best in us, caused us to value all that we have and think more about those who have least.   For all of us Christmas is the one time of year when shopping and all that goes with it is not about buying for ourselves, but about giving gifts to our families and loved ones.   It truly is a time of giving.  Giving time, company and love to others. It is a time when we enjoy being together with friends and family, especially elderly members of our families. We are moved by the joy and love of the season, motivated by the greatest act of love we can imagine, when God gave his only Son to the world.   The prospect of these acts of joy and love being taken from us would be a dispiriting and depressing one. We understand that the comments from Jason Leitch were an attempt to remind people of the sobering reality of a COVID Christmas.     We also know that the government do hope that the situation will improve and what has been described as “a more family Christmas” will be possible.   Yet telling us that "We are not going to be in large f...

Scottish Government urged to follow Pope’s lead and foster “constructive dialogue”

| 13th October 2020 | Blogging

Scottish Government urged to follow Pope’s lead and foster “constructive dialogue” !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?"http":"https";if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+"://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");   Tuesday 13 October 2020   The Bishop of Motherwell, Bishop Jopseph Toal has called on the Scottish Government to act in the words of Pope Francis to “foster encounter and to seek convergence on at least some issues.” Writing in today’s Herald newspaper, Bishop Toal, referring to the recent Encyclical released by the Pope says;   “I hope the government will continue to foster encounter and to seek convergence by listening to concerns raised by many about a piece of proposed legislation.”   The bishop goes on to urge further amendments to the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, following the recent decision by the Justice Secretary to amend the Bill so as to raise the criminal threshold of the controversial stirring up offences from a ‘likelihood’ to stir up hatred to ‘intent’ to stir up hatred.    Bishop Toal comments;   “the Catholic Church will continue to argue for further change to this legislation to include; more equitable and robust freedom of expression provisions; greater clarity around the definitions of ‘hatred’, ‘abusive’ and ‘insulting’ which remain precariously vague”   The bishop also calls on the Scottish Government to “address the outstanding concerns of many, that religious texts, books and social media messages expressing certain views could be considered ‘abusive’ under the proposed law and act to protect freedom of expression and people’s right to be themselves and to be different.”   ENDS   Peter KearneyDirectorCatholic Media Office07968 122291pk@scmo.orgwww.scmo.org   Note to Editors:   The full text is shown below.     Pope Francis released a new Encyclical or teaching document last week called Fratelli Tutti, the encyclical is subtitled "on fraternity and social friendship" and is a plea for peace in the world. The title draws its inspiration from the words of St Francis and the life that he proposed for those who followed him. In the document, the Pope encourages us all to find bonds that will unite us in solidarity, fraternity and support for one another, especially as we face the continuing rigours and dangers of the pandemic.   He affirms the simple truth that we are brothers and sisters, living in a common home and sharing a common humanity and reminds us that dialogue should be respectful and strive for consensus, which leads to a culture of encounter. In the Pope’s words, “a country flourishes when constructive dialogue occurs between its many rich cultural components: popular culture, university culture, youth culture, artistic culture, technological culture, economic culture, family culture and media culture.”   The Pope devotes an entire chapter of his document to “A better kind of Politics”, which he describes as striving for “the common and universal good; it is politics for and with the people.” To create an open world with an open heart, it is necessary to engage in politics, which is a noble calling, in which our politicians should always try to achieve the common and universal good.   “Politicians are called to tend to the needs of individuals” the Pope writes and in a statement which could be addressed to our own Scottish Government, he adds; “They are called to make sacrifices that foster encounter and to seek convergence on at least some issues.” I hope the government will continue to do exactly that by listening to concerns raised by many about a piece of proposed legislation.   Scotland’s Justice Secretary recently confirmed that the Government will amend the Hate Crime and Public ...

Bishops say, high standards of infection control mean public worship and parish life can carry on

| 05th October 2020 | Blogging

Scotland’s Catholic Bishops say, high standards of infection control mean public worship and parish life can carry on.   Monday 5 October 2020   In a letter sent to Scotland’s 500 Catholic parishes, the bishops of Scotland urge the catholic community to maintain their “meticulous” infection control and safety measures. The letter points out, that the rate of Covid-19 infections is on the rise across Scotland and public anxiety is increasing, asking priests and parishioners, to “persevere in our efforts to reduce the risk of transmission and to ensure that our parishes and communities adhere to all infection control measures that have been put in place.”   Commenting on the letter, Bishop John Keenan, Vice President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland said;   “The tireless work of priests, parishioners and volunteers have ensured that Catholic churches are among the safest places for people to attend in the midst of this Pandemic. The bishops are urging everyone to redouble their efforts to reduce the risk of transmission and ensure that we all adhere to the infection control measures that we have put in place.”   Bishop Keenan added:   “Although no evidence has emerged of cases or clusters connected to our churches, we have every confidence that, if parishes continue their high standards of infection control, then public worship and parish life can carry on and we will continue to be able to attend to the spiritual welfare of the nation.”   “Among the many terrible effects of this pandemic is a surge in cases of depression, hopelessness and suicide. The loss of normality in all its facets has left many feeling bereft and desolate, in need of spiritual solace, like never before. It is in times of greatest peril that we need the spiritual comfort of public worship most, now, more than ever, our church doors need to be open, so that worshipping in safety can continue.”   ENDS   Peter Kearney Director Catholic Media Office 07968 122291 pk@scmo.org www.scmo.org   Note to Editors:   The full text of the letter from the Scottish Bishops is shown below. Two audio clips (28s and 27s) of Bishop John Keenan commenting on the letter and the church’s position are available on request by emailing: mail@scmo.org Bishops’ of Scotland Message to Clergy and People Let us not grow tired of doing good. (Gal 6:9)   The Covid-19 Pandemic has presented the Church with unprecedented challenges. It has brought about the temporary closure of Churches and, following the resumption of public worship, the introduction of rigorous health and safety measures to prevent transmission of the virus.   Since the resumption of public worship our parishes have been meticulous in controlling infection and ensuring the safety of all those who cross the threshold of a Catholic church. The Bishops wish to commend the work and cooperation of priests, parishioners and volunteers whose extraordinary efforts have ensured that Catholic churches are among the safest places for people to attend in the midst of this Pandemic.   However, we are now at a fragile point. The rate of Covid-19 infections is on the rise across Scotland and public anxiety is increasing. At this critical moment, we ask that we all persevere in our efforts to reduce the risk of transmission and to ensure that our parishes and communities adhere to all infection control measures that have been put in place.   Our discussions with the Scottish Government assure us that Government is aware of our extremely careful protocols and trusts us to see to our public worship and parish life with the discretion of responsible citizens. We, for our part, assure Government that we are employing this discretion for the good of public health in accordance with the law.   On that basis, we have every confidence that, if parishes continue these high standards, public worship and parish life can carry on and we will continue to att...

BCOS Meeting 7 September 2020 

| 21st September 2020 | Blogging

BCOS Meeting 7 September 2020     Conference Report:     The meeting was held over two sessions via Teams. All members of the Bishops’ Conference participated. Sir Harry Burns contributed for a part of the morning session which addressed in detail the implications of the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions on places of worship.    In his contribution, Sir Harry advised that the existing limits on maximum attendance of 50 for Mass and 20 for Weddings and Funerals were without scientific foundation and he could see no logical reason for them. Following a wide-ranging discussion on this, it was clear that this perspective was unanimously held. Sir Harry advised that he would raise the matter with officials and ministers in the coming days and report back to the conference. (Other representatives of the Conference have raised similar points). He also spoke of the possible trajectory of the virus over the next few months, advising that the concerns of the Government’s scientific advisors, were that a rise in positive tests among younger people, who are unlikely to require hospitalisation, at present could in the coming weeks spread to the elderly and vulnerable, with serious consequences for the NHS. He updated the bishops on progress being made towards a vaccine and suggested the timescales involved were likely to mean a viable vaccine could be available by December for use early in 2021.  The bishops thanked Sir Harry for his contributions and advice.    Archbishop Cushley updated the conference on the ongoing discussions about the disposal of assets belonging to ACTS. He described three options which had been tabled at a previous meeting of the successor body to ACTS, the Scottish Christian Leaders Forum (SCLF) after some debate a fourth option was proposed and received wide support, it was that any remaining funds be dispersed on a pro rata basis to the founding members of ACTS. Archbishop Cushley undertook to take this position back to the SCLF.    A discussion on a number of liturgical matters followed, led by Bishop Gilbert and based upon his “Report on Matters Liturgical to the Bishops Conference” which covered: The final stage of proof-reading of the Ordo, the proposal that St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, the first canonised Australian saint, be kept as an optional memorial in the Scottish Proper of Saints, the proposal that, given the devotion in Scotland, the optional memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11 February, be raised to the status of an obligatory memorial. The third change proposed to the Scottish Proper of Saints was the insertion of St John Henry Newman as an optional memorial. All these changes were endorsed.    The conference heard that the next meeting of the National Liturgical Commission will be in the second half of October and the next meeting of ICEL was scheduled for 8-12 February 2021.           Bishop Gilbert proposed that a renewed emphasis on the Eucharist would be opportune. This was agreed with. There was discussion over the modality, timing and preparatory work required for this. A discussion followed on the timing and the detail of such a move with one of the bishops agreeing to prepare a basic initial text on this subject.    Bishop Keenan presented a report on Seminary Provision proposing a range of options to be researched in terms of viability as serious options for the formation of men for the Priesthood. At the November BCOS Meeting each option would be discussed, in the light of the information provided, with a view to discerning the 3 most viable options. There would then be consultation on these options before a final decision is made by the Bishops in February/March 2021. Bishop Keenan also presented a report on Transitional Deacons and led a lively discussion on aspects of the model of priestly formation proposed by the Congregation for the Clergy and the recent Ratio.    On behalf of the Pastoral Ministry Group, Michael McGrath present...