“The Church is a business like any other,” says 23-year-old Conor Murray, who has travelled from his home in Galway to join the protesters in London. “It felt that its commercial concerns were threatened by us being here. The cathedral earns £16,000 a day in tourism revenue. There are Tescos that don’t make £16,000 a day… This is a protest about the gross inequality of wealth in our society and the Church has shown its true colours.”
Conor’s words reflect a general feeling in the Occupy London camp outside St Paul’s cathedral that this is a Church that has lost its way. The protest was never aimed at Christianity; it was intended to challenge the corporate greed of big business but, say the protesters, the cathedral’s reaction has highlighted just how pervasive the problem is in our society. Even the country’s national religion – an institution that is supposed to caution against worshipping Mammon, the false god of material wealth – expressed dismay when it had to close its gift shop and restaurant last week.
A group of disaffected Catholics in Malta have been forced to resort to civil law after they were unable to terminate their membership of the Church earlier this year. They join a string of organisations set up in recent years to push for the right to formally defect from the Catholicism.
Not In Our Name was founded earlier this year as a response to the abysmal behaviour of the Maltese Church during the referendum campaign to introduce divorce, which included refusing absolution to parishioners intending to vote for divorce and pressurising the elderly and vulnerable to vote against it.
On Saturday, the Maltese people go to the ballot box to decide whether or not their country should make divorce legal.
Malta and the Philippines are the only two countries left in the world where divorce remains unavailable, with the exception of Vatican City. Marriage laws have been a politically contentious issue in the island nation for decades. While it is currently not possible for Maltese courts to dissolve a marriage, divorces obtained by citizens overseas are legally recognised, which is not the case in the Philippines. Those unable to seek a divorce elsewhere have two alternatives. Legal separation enables the division of shared property but partners cannot remarry. Annulment allows for this possibility but then the couple’s own marriage is considered to have never existed. They need to show that it was invalid from the start.
Many of you will remember Section 28, the controversial amendment that banned local authorities from “promoting” homosexuality. Scotland repealed the amendment in 2000, three years before the rest of the UK.
In 2006, the Church of Scotland became the first major denomination in the UK to ‘bless’ gay unions, voting that this was a matter of conscience for individual ministers. This is in stark contrast to the Church of England, which has consistently reaffirmed that clergymen are banned from blessing same-sex unions, although individual cases have taken place unofficially.
I was surprised to learn last week that the Humanist Society of Scotland (HSS) has finally been granted permission to lay a wreath at the Stone of Remembrance during this year’s November 11th ceremonies.
Firstly, I was surprised at the news that this makes Scotland the first nation in the UK to allow a secular organisation to take part in national remembrance day events. In a country where less than 50% of people believe in a God, this seems far overdue. The HSS say they want to represent the servicemen and women of the war who did not have religious faith, but I hope they will also be laying the wreath on behalf of all the non-religious people in the UK who wish to remember those who gave their lives without referring to a God.
Part of The Guardian’s series, “Can we choose what we believe?”
Are we responsible for what we believe? Do we have a choice in the matter? This is not just a philosophical question but one that has considerable relevance to modern life.
At every point throughout history we have treated people as if they choose to believe. The Spanish Inquisition’s treatment of its hapless victims assumed that they could have avoided their heresies. The Chinese government treats Falun Gong practitioners as if they freely flout the law. More controversially, if US authorities end up executing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Pakistani accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks, they will imply that he chose to believe he was on a mission from God and that he could have chosen to believe otherwise – and this raises issues about the alleged use of indoctrination in the spreading of extremism and the training of suicide bombers.
On Sunday, Malta Labour party MP Adrian Vassallo announced that he will be standing down over plans to allow couples to divorce.
Let me explain. It may surprise some of you to learn that in Malta, a member of the Commonwealth and an EU state, divorce is still illegal. And this isn’t one of those outdated laws that they somehow never got around to changing, like cab drivers not being able to pick up people infected with plague. Malta was a British colony until 1964, and though divorce has been allowed for an elite few in British law for centuries, and for all citizens since 1857, banning divorce is something the Maltese people chose to do during the 1960s, by omitting it from their new constitution entirely. In the deeply Catholic nations of the Mediterranean this was relatively common at the time. Divorce was still illegal in countries like Italy, Portugal and Spain, and even in the Republic of Ireland. But these places all legalised divorce in the period between 1971 and 1994. Somehow Malta has found itself one of only two countries left in the world where divorce is still illegal, along with the Philippines.