Sunday, December 13, 2009

Catholic Bishops Say Clergy Exemptions In Britain's Proposed Equality Bill Are Too Narrow

On December 15, Britain's House of Lords is scheduled to debate the proposed Equality Bill that has already passed the House of Commons. The Bill is designed to consolidate into a single statute the various anti-discrimination laws that Britain has enacted. (Background.) Britain's Catholic Herald and the Boston Pilot both report on the briefing for Catholic members of the House of Lords prepared by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales who are concerned that the employment discrimination exemptions for clergy are too narrow. The bill provides an exemption from ban on employment discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status or sexual orientation for individuals whose "employment mainly involves" either "leading or assisting in the observance of liturgical or ritualistic practices of the religion," or "promoting or explaining the doctrine of the religion (whether to followers of the religion or to others)." (Schedule 9, Sec. 2(8)).

The bishops say that many priests do not spend 51% of their time in these two activities. Instead they may be involved for much of their time in pastoral work, private prayer and study or administration and building maintenance. They say the bill may well make it unlawful for the Church to require that a Catholic priest be male, unmarried or not in a same-sex civil partnership, since no priest would be able to demonstrate that he spends most of his time leading worship or explaining doctrine. Last week the House of Commons defeated a proposed amendment that would have allowed religious organizations to hire only people whose conduct was consistent with the Bible's teachings. (See prior related posting.) [Thanks to Scott Mange for the lead.]