The Most Rev. Roger Herft, Archbishop of Perth, is to take early retirement. His decision comes two months after he voluntarily stood aside from official duties, having admitted that he failed to act on long-standing abuse allegations made against priests in his former diocese, Newcastle.
Herft told his diocesan council he would take accrued leave until he formally retires on July 7 next year. During an Australian Royal Commission into abuse allegations within national institutions, he admitted he had given “incorrect” evidence under oath, denying knowledge of accusations against a priest.
In his resignation letter, Herft said he was “humbled by the courage and fortitude of survivors and victims of child sexual abuse as they continue to bear witness to their stories of suffering.” His successor will be chosen by a diocesan synod early next year.
Welby Focuses on Homelessness
The Archbishop of Canterbury says Christmas can be “an empty time” for people without homes, work, and someone to love them. He highlighted a 30 percent increase in rough sleeping across England from autumn 2014 to autumn 2015.
“Sadly, homelessness is still with us — sometimes on the streets and sometimes in overcrowded hostels or emergency shelters,” Archbishop Justin Welby said.
He cited the example of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church in central London, which has held a Christmas appeal for the homeless — broadcast by the BBC — since 1925.
“Good things happen when we work together,” he said. “While no one would wish to celebrate 90 years of homelessness, 90 years of good work, trust, and kindness is indeed something to shout about.”
Copts Struck by Violence
The six presidents of Churches Together in England have issued condolences and a statement of concern following the bomb attack within the complex of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, where 25 people died as they gathered for worship.
The statement said: “We pray for those who have lost loved ones that they may know God’s comforting presence.” It stated too that their prayers are “that all people of faith in Egypt, Muslims and Christians alike, may be strengthened in their quest for peace and their rejection of the crude and cruel tactics of the terrorists.”
The peaceful period between Coptic Christians and the government of Gen. Abel Fattah El-Sisi seems to have faded away. When the military ousted the government of Mohamed Morsi, an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s Coptic Christians were overjoyed.
Sisi, however, has failed to address longstanding grievances and promises of equality to a Coptic community that is the biggest group among Egypt’s Christians, who comprise 10 percent of the population.
Christians say they face systematic discrimination. Official restrictions on church buildings are a running sore. Complicated bureaucratic procedures make it hard for churches to undertake even simple repairs. Rumors of proposed church construction projects are often enough to trigger an outcry and even mob violence.
Relations between the state and Egypt’s Christians have often been fraught. In the 1970s, President Anwar Sadat curried favor with Muslim radicals and at one stage exiled the Coptic leader Pope Shenouda III to a desert monastery. During the regime of Hosni Mubarak, who ruled from 1981 to 2011, there was little improvement. All told, just 10 church buildings were approved.
There is a proposed bill governing church construction, but local Christians say it is nothing to celebrate. Human Rights Watch says it continues to give Muslim authorities tight controls, and decisions about church building projects are unable to escape the wrath of violent mobs.
Ishaq Ibrahim, researcher for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, says the proposal “empowers the majority to decide whether the minority has the right to hold their religious practices.”
Violence against Christians peaked in 2013 but continues. At that time 200 Christian-owned properties were attacked. There were undertakings to rebuild and repair damaged churches and homes, but few have been honored. Many who attack Christians get away with it.
Recently young Coptic Christians formed a union named the Maspero Youth Movement. It is so named after the killing of 28 mostly Christian protesters in Maspero by the military in 2011.
Wellington Cathedral Reopens
St. Paul’s cathedral in the New Zealand capital of Wellington is on track to reopen in time for Christmas. Worshipers and visitors have been barred since a 7.8 magnitude earthquake on November 14 threatened a nearby building collapse.
Work on demolition will destroy the quake-damaged building near the cathedral.
Dean Digby Wilkinson was “relieved to have the cathedral open for this busy period of the year,” he told Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report. “Usually the Advent period is a big time for us, so it’s been a fairly massive disruption having to leave the building.”
A nativity play at a church in the Welsh Vale of Glamorgan came to an unexpected halt when a donkey bit a child. It led to donkeys being removed from the scene.
Apparently several donkeys were part of the Christmas play held at St. Mary’s Church in Barry. The Church in Wales issued an apology and said it acted swiftly to ensure no repetition.
“As generations of Barry children have learnt from riding donkeys on the local beach, they are among the more stubborn and unpredictable of God’s creatures,” said a Church in Wales spokeswoman.
She added that donkeys played “a crucial role in the nativity story and are a very popular addition to other church events throughout the year. We would remind children to treat all donkeys with care and respect, and ask families to keep a watchful eye on younger children in particular when in the company of these much-loved animals.”
Animal welfare campaigners earlier criticized using donkeys in nativity plays in the Welsh capital of Cardiff, calling it “Victorian-style exploitation.”
John Martin • Photo by Anglican Taonga