Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Doe v Holy See - Oregon Decision

Back in July 2010 I  blogged on the case of Doe v Holy See   which was an attempt in the US to sue the Holy See (AKA:  the Papacy, the Vatican) over the alleged abuse of the Plaintiff by a Catholic Priest.  As I indicated in that Blog and I noted in a  follow up Blog in August 2010  this was going to be hard to do. 

According to reports in other Blogs such as  Vatican Inside  and  Life Site News  the cases against the Holy See have now been thrown out by the Judge.  I have tried to obtain copies of the Judgment but have been told by the Court that because there are other claims still continuing and it is only an interim judgment on an aspect of the overall claim there is no definitive judgment I can refer to to check the reports.

With that "Health Warning" having been given the decision appears to be based on the, not surprising finding by the Judge that

“There are no facts to create a true employment relationship between Ronan [the former priest] and the Holy See,”

Friday, 17 August 2012

Pussy Riot in a British Church

The news that members of  Pussy Riot the Russian Punk Rock band have been jailed for "performing" in Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow has been widely criticised but I do feel that the question needs to be asked whether what Pussy Riot did would be considered legal in any country.

They sang and danced in front of the Iconostasis which is one of the holiest parts of an Orthodox Church whilst making the sign of the Cross and prostrating themselves in a parody of prayer.  According to the translation given on the You Tube Video (and I do not speak Russian so I cannot confirm it) the song they sang went as follows

St. Maria, Virgin, Drive away Putin
Drive away! Drive away Putin! (end chorus)

Black robe, golden epaulettes
All parishioners are crawling and bowing
The ghost of freedom is in heaven
Gay pride sent to Siberia in chains

The head of the KGB is their chief saint
Leads protesters to prison under escort
In order not to offend the Holy
Women have to give birth and to love

Holy shit, shit, Lord's shit!
Holy shit, shit, Lord's shit!

(Chorus)  St. Maria, Virgin, become a feminist
Become a feminist, Become a feminist  (end chorus)

Church praises the rotten dictators
The cross-bearer procession of black limousines
In school you are going to meet with a teacher-preacher
Go to class - bring him money!

Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin
Bitch, you better believed in God
Belt of the Virgin is no substitute for mass-meetings
In protest of our Ever-Virgin Mary!

(Chorus)  St. Maria, Virgin, Drive away Putin
Drive away! Drive away Putin!  (end chorus)

So by any definition the incident involved Pussy Riot shouting obscenities in a Church whilst worshipers were there, disrupting a service, shouting insults about the Orthodox Church and parodying worship.

In Britain that would constitute a criminal offence contrary to 

s2  Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860
Penalty for making a disturbance in churches, chapels, churchyards etc
Any person who shall be guilty of riotous, violent, or indecent behaviour in England in any cathedral church, parish or district church, or chapel of the Church of England, or in any chapel of any religious denomination, or in England in any place of religious worship duly certified under the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855, 18 & 19 Vict c 81, whether during the celebration of Divine service, or at any other time, or in any churchyard, or burial-ground, or who shall molest, let, disturb, vex, or trouble, or by any other unlawful means disquiet or misuse any preacher duly authorised to preach therein, or any clergyman in Holy Orders ministering or celebrating any sacrament or any Divine service, rite, or office in any cathedral church or chapel, churchyard, or burial ground shall on conviction thereof before two justices of the peace, be liable to a penalty of not more than level 1 on the standard scale, or may, if the justices before whom he shall be convicted think fit, instead of being subjected to any pecuniary penalty be committed to prison for any time not exceeding two months.

Under s28 of the Crime and DIsorder Act 1998 a "Religiously Aggravated Offence" is committed when 

 (a) at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrates towards the victim of the offence hostility based on the victim's membership (or presumed membership) of a racial or religious group; or
(b) the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards members of a racial or religious group based on their membership of that group.
 "Religious Group" is defined as
"a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief."

So Pussy Riot could have been convicted in England of a Religiously Aggravated Offence probably either s5 or s4A of the Public Order Act. Section 4A carries a 2 year maximum sentence when it is an aggravated offence and s5 caries a fine 

Intentional harassment, alarm and distress - Public Order Act 1986, s. 4A
(1) A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he–
(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.

Harassment, alarm and distress - Public Order Act 1986, s. 5
(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he–
(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

There is also the offence of Aggravated Trespass under s68 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 which carries a sentence of up to 3 months imprisonment and which says 

Offence of aggravated trespass.
(1)A person commits the offence of aggravated trespass if he trespasses on land and, in relation to any lawful activity which persons are engaging in or are about to engage in on that or adjoining land, does there anything which is intended by him to have the effect—
(a)of intimidating those persons or any of them so as to deter them or any of them from engaging in that activity,
(b)of obstructing that activity, or
(c)of disrupting that activity

Since the words "sung" were not threatening the Pussy Riot group could not have been convicted in Britain of the Offence of Incitement to Religious Hatred  but they would still have faced the likelihood of prosecution and possible imprisonment though not for the possible sentence that they received in Russia

Whilst I personally think the sentence was excessive there is one aspect to the incident which has not been commented on in the British media and may explain why Orthodox believers in Russia were quite so outraged.  The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is of special importance.  It is a reconstruction of a Cathedral which was deliberately destroyed in 1931 as part of the persecution of Christians in the Soviet Union .  During this persecution groups such as the League of Militant Atheists often desecrated Churches and engaged in parodies of religious ritual whilst singing obscene songs.  

In the West we seem to have almost forgotten Communism and the evils it brought but people in Russia have not.  I notice that in Court one of the Pussy Riot demonstrators wore a T Shirt bearing a clenched fist and the words "No Pasaran" which was a slogan of the Spanish Communist Party during the Spanish Civil War.  It was a bit like appearing in a German Court wearing a T Shirt with a Nazi Slogan.  In those circumstances perhaps it is not surprising if Russians have taken a rather less rosy eyed view of the incident than that of the Western media