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UK weather: 120 flood alerts are issued after more than a month’s worth of rain

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uk weather 120 flood alerts are issued after more than a months worth of rain

Fears of another autumn flood season for Britain were growing today as forecasters warned of further downpours after more than a month’s rainfall fell in 48 hours in some parts of the country.

More than 120 flood alerts and warnings have been issued across the UK, including 92 in England, 21 in Scotland and eight in Wales – with more wet weather forecast this week amid fears of further torrential rain for Thursday.

The Environment Agency was today monitoring the situation closely with river levels rising, but a dry September has limited the damage caused by Storm Alex which brought horrendous conditions over the weekend.

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Today's weather

Tomorrow's weather

Further showers are expected today (left) before more heavy rainfall is on the way for parts of Britain tomorrow (right)

Wednesday's weather

Thursday's weather

Downpours are also forecast for Wednesday (left) with the most torrential rain of the week expected on Thursday (right)

The Met Office said 5in (127mm) of rain fell at Blackpitts Gate in Somerset in the 48 hours to midday yesterday, which was the highest in the country. The average for the whole of October is 4¼in (108mm). 

Most areas endured heavy rain and windy conditions throughout Saturday and Sunday. Some homes in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, were flooded – and the River Coquet burst its banks in Rothbury, Northumberland.

Flooding on train lines caused disruption to services in Scotland. In North Wales, homes at Abergwyngregyn in Gwynedd have been flooded for the second time in six weeks after a river burst its banks. 

A family of four were rescued by firefighters from a road in Billericay, Essex, on Saturday after their car became trapped in floodwater, while police forces issued warnings to drivers after crashes on waterlogged roads. 

Flood alerts and warnings in England

Flood alerts and warnings in Scotland

Some 120 flood alerts and warnings have been issued across the UK, including 92 in England (left) and 21 in Scotland (right)

Firefighters and water utilities workers are seen at a flooded area in Hemel Hempstead yesterday after the heavy rain

Firefighters and water utilities workers are seen at a flooded area in Hemel Hempstead yesterday after the heavy rain

A resident of Rothbury in Northumberland bails water from their vehicle yesterday after the River Coquet burst its banks

A resident of Rothbury in Northumberland bails water from their vehicle yesterday after the River Coquet burst its banks

On Millennium Bridge in London, people walked under umbrellas during the downpours in the capital yesterday

On Millennium Bridge in London, people walked under umbrellas during the downpours in the capital yesterday

Met Office forecaster Craig Snell said the wet weather had been ‘quite widespread’, adding: ‘You’ve been extremely lucky if you have gone through the weekend without seeing much rain at all.’ 

The downpours had also been accompanied by plunging temperatures, well below the seasonal average, and windy conditions. Mr Snell said the ‘unsettled conditions’ would continue this week.

‘The next three days we will see sunshine and showers,’ he said. ‘It remains unsettled but a notch down from the weekend. The temperatures will be below par for the time of year.’ 

Mr Snell said forecasters were ‘keeping an eye on Thursday’ as another low pressure system sweeping in from the Atlantic could bring in more heavy rain and strong winds.

There remains ‘uncertainty’ about how bad the weather will be later in the week, he added.

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Jamaica-born public school boy British Army’s first black officer

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jamaica born public school boy british armys first black officer

The discovery of a war plaque has rewritten history books to reveal Walter Tull was not the first black British Army officer. 

Experts believed that Tull, an ex-Tottenham Hotspur footballer, was the first black man to be commissioned and also killed fighting in the Great War in 1918.

But a plaque honouring Lieutenant Euan Lucie-Smith, of the 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, suggests he joined up and died nearly three years before.

He was killed in action on April 25, 1915, at the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium – just six weeks after being deployed.

A newly-discovered plaque honouring Lieutenant Euan Lucie-Smith, of the 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, suggests he was the first black man to join the British Army. He was killed in action nearly three years before ex-Tottenham footballer Walter Tull was in 1918

A newly-discovered plaque honouring Lieutenant Euan Lucie-Smith, of the 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, suggests he was the first black man to join the British Army. He was killed in action nearly three years before ex-Tottenham footballer Walter Tull was in 1918

The incredible piece, which is set to re-write black history in the conflict, will go under the hammer in a military memoribilia auction. 

The antique was discovered by James Carver, a former Member of the European Parliament, who is a keen collector of medals relating to West African soldiers of the Victorian and Edwardian era.

The 51-year-old spotted it for sale and bought it on a hunch prompting a dive into the fascinating history of Lt Lucie-Smith. 

Walter Tull, also famous for his professional football career, has long been believed to be the earliest black officer of the war, but a re-examination of records has revealed Lucie-Smith predates him.

The incredible plaque, which is set to re-write black history in the conflict, will go under the hammer in a military memoribilia auction

The incredible plaque, which is set to re-write black history in the conflict, will go under the hammer in a military memoribilia auction

Mr Carver said: ‘I found it through a dealers site, a medal dealers site, I was just scrolling through and clearly they hadn’t realised the significance of the item.

‘I looked at Lucie-Smith and he was killed so early in the war and before Walter Tull and I researched the London Gazette and checked it against records of other candidates and he beat them all.

‘I researched his family tree and he’s quite the distinguished character.

‘His father was from a long line of distinguished white colonial civil servants but his mother was the granddaughter of quite a distinguished black lawyer, Samuel Constantine Burke who was advocating for the black communities of Jamaica in the 19th century.’

He added: ‘Until now, the best-known black soldier of World War One has been Walter Tull, however I now believe Lucie-Smith to be the first black officer.

Experts had believed that Walter Tull, an ex-Tottenham Hotspur footballer, was the first black man to be commissioned and also killed fighting in the Great War in 1918

Hero: Walter Tull

Experts had believed that Walter Tull, an ex-Tottenham Hotspur footballer, was the first black man to be commissioned and also killed fighting in the Great War in 1918 

‘His background was quite different to Tull’s – coming from a privileged Jamaican family, he was undoubtedly from the so-called ‘Officer Class’, having attended two English Private Schools.

‘To my mind he’s the first black officer.

‘Historically what’s interesting about this is he’s from a distinguished family, he went to two public schools in the UK. It’s astonishing but this is history.

‘Walter Tull is very special in that he was the first black officer commissioned from the ranks but my argument until I’m proved wrong is that Lucie-Smith was the first commissioned black officer.

‘With this month being Black History Month, the timing of this discovery seems all the more poignant.’

Lt Lucie-Smith landed in France on March 17, 1915 and was reported as missing just over a month later.

Lt. Lucie-Smith died at the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915. He has no known grave but is commemorated on Panel 2 to 3 of the Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium (pictured)

Lt. Lucie-Smith died at the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915. He has no known grave but is commemorated on Panel 2 to 3 of the Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium (pictured)

Records show that he was later confirmed as being killed in action after being shot in the head on April 25 1915, aged 25, during the Second Battle of Ypres – making him a casualty two years and eleven months before Walter Tull.

Private F. Jukes, at Suffolk Hall Hospital, Cheltenham, stated: ‘Lieut. Lucie-Smith – was told by his servant that he was killed, and had seen him dead… Shot through the head’.

He has no known grave but is commemorated on Panel 2 to 3 of the Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium.

He is also commemorated on the Berkhamsted School Memorial, the Eastbourne College Memorial and has an entry in ‘Jamaica in the Great War’.

An Army spokesperson said: ‘This new research does appear to suggest that Euan Lucie-Smith served as an officer before Walter Tull.

‘Our historians will be looking closely at the evidence to better understand the lives of these great men.

‘Black soldiers and officers made a huge contribution during the First World War and have continued to do so in every conflict since.’

After finishing his education in the UK Lucie-Smith returned to Jamaica where he was commissioned into the Jamaica Artillery Militia on November 10, 1911.

Christopher Mellor-Hill, associate Director of Dix Noonan Webb said: 'We are delighted to be offering this Memorial Plaque and celebrating the career of Euan Lucie-Smith'

Christopher Mellor-Hill, associate Director of Dix Noonan Webb said: ‘We are delighted to be offering this Memorial Plaque and celebrating the career of Euan Lucie-Smith’

He was later commissioned as a Second Lieutenant into the regular force of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment just six weeks after the outbreak of the war.

His name appeared on a list of soldiers in London Gazette of November 30, 1914, with his name above the others showing his seniority.

His was the only name on this list from the Caribbean, or East and West Africa and the date of its publication list suggests he was commissioned a full two years and eight months before Walter Tull.

Christopher Mellor-Hill, associate Director of Dix Noonan Webb said: ‘We are delighted to be offering this Memorial Plaque and celebrating the career of Euan Lucie-Smith.

‘Much has been written about Walter Tull, who was till now erroneously assumed to have been, and regularly referred to, as the first black officer commissioned into a British army regiment during the Great War, on May 30, 1917 and the first black officer casualty of the Great War, when he was killed in action during the First Battle of Bapaume on March 8, 1918.’

‘But now we have Euan Lucie-Smith, who was not only the first black officer commissioned into the British army, but was also the first black officer killed in action some three years before Walter Tull was.’

The plaque is being sold at Piccadilly-based auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb on November 12 with a guide price of £600 – £800.

Hero who won his Spurs in No Man’s Land: The amazing life of football star Walter Tull

Walter Tull’s father, Daniel, was from Barbados but emigrated to Britain as a 20-year-old in 1876.

He found work as a carpenter and married a local girl, Alice Palmer, four years later, before having Walter and his brother Edward.

His mother tragically died of cancer when Walter was just seven years old and his father died of heart disease in 1897.

Aged nine, Walter was placed in Bonner Road Children’s Home in the East End of London with his brother Edward.

Walter Tull overcame adversity early on in life - he was orphaned as a child and grew up in a children's home - to make his name as a professional footballer and then dying a hero leading out troops in the Great War. Pictured left with fellow officers

Walter Tull overcame adversity early on in life – he was orphaned as a child and grew up in a children’s home – to make his name as a professional footballer and then dying a hero leading out troops in the Great War. Pictured left with fellow officers

Two years after entering the home, Walter and Edward were split up when Edward was adopted and went to live in Glasgow.

Despite the adversity he faced early on, Walter impressed scouts while playing football for his children’s home and signed for top local amateur side, Clapton, in 1908.

The following year, he signed as a professional for Tottenham, making his first team debut against Manchester United. During his short career he endured racist abuse from crowds during matches. 

He was transferred to Northampton Town in October 1911 and played over 100 first team games before the war started.

He joined the newly-formed 17th (Football) Battalion, Middlesex Regiment,  part of the army’s ‘Pals Battalion’ that was made up of more than 120 professional footballers.

Walter signed as a professional for Tottenham (pictured, in white), making his first team debut playing against Manchester United during the 1909/10 season

Walter signed as a professional for Tottenham (pictured, in white), making his first team debut playing against Manchester United during the 1909/10 season

At the time there was a military rule excluding ‘negroes’ from exercising command as it was believed white soldiers would not wish to fight alongside black soldiers.

But Walter bucked this trend and became a black combat officer in the British Army. He was promoted through the ranks and became a second lieutenant on May 29, 1917.

He fought at the Somme, Passchendaele and during the Italian campaign of the winter of 1917 where was cited for ‘gallantry and coolness’ for leading his company of 26 men to safety during two night missions. 

In November 1917, Walter’s battalion was sent to northern Italy to help in the fight against both Austrian and German forces along the River Piave, north-west of Treviso.

On the centenary of the end of the Great War, Walter was remembered on a First World War stamp for his contribution to the war effort

On the centenary of the end of the Great War, Walter was remembered on a First World War stamp for his contribution to the war effort

While there, Walter volunteered on more than one occasion to cross over the River Piave, under cover of darkness, where elements of the German Army were based.

These dangerous night-time sorties involved both evidence gathering and carrying out an attack.

On both occasions, not only did Walter return unscathed, but he did so without incurring a single casualty among his men, feats which greatly impressed his commanding officer, Major General (later Sir) Sydney Lawford.

Mjr Gen Lawford mentioned him in despatches and recommended him for the award of the Military Cross, which he never received.

His incredible story was also memorialised on a specially-designed post box to mark Black History Month in September

His incredible story was also memorialised on a specially-designed post box to mark Black History Month in September

Walter died a hero aged 30 while leading his men in a counter attack against German defensive positions near the village of Favreuil in the Pas-de-Calais region on March 25, 1918. 

His men tried to recover his body from the battlefield but were unable to reach him due to the sheer volume of enemy fire.

His body was never found. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

Years on from the conflict, historians have revealed his significant contribution to the war effort, which has been recognised in several ways.

On the centenary of the end of the war, Walter was remembered on a First World War stamp, and last month was memorialised on a specially-designed post box to mark Black History Month.

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Maskless Welsh revellers pile on to the streets for the final time before national shutdown

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maskless welsh revellers pile on to the streets for the final time before national shutdown

Welsh ‘fire break’ lockdown rules 

Supermarkets can sell only ‘essential items’

Pubs and restaurants closed

Only leave the house to shop for food, medicine or take exercise

Household mixing banned indoors and outdoors

Most secondary school children will stay at home

Work from home wherever possible 

Wear face masks indoors and on public transport 

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Revellers piled onto the streets of Cardiff this evening to enjoy one last night on the town before Wales goes into a strict lockdown – but social distancing was nowhere to be seen.

Rowdy crowds without masks gathered in huddles and belted out Oasis songs as they tried to make the most of pubs and bars’ last night of service for more than two weeks.

At 6pm on Friday, the country goes into a harsh ‘firebreak’ lockdown until November 9, with people ordered not to leave their homes except for limited purposes such as exercise and all non-essential shops forced to shut down.

However, even existing restrictions were ignored this evening as revellers, many without face coverings, embraced and sang 90s classic Don’t Look Back In Anger outside a Gregg’s bakery in the city centre.

It comes as it emerged that Welsh supermarkets have been ordered to only sell ‘essential goods’ to customers during the country’s 17-day lockdown.

Stores will be told they are unable to sell items such as clothes to shoppers, and to prioritise other products deemed to be more important.

It means a likely return to the scenes witnessed at the beginning of the pandemic when there were rows over the contents of people’s shopping trollies.

Many retailers will be forced to shut as a result of the new regulations, but food shops, off-licences and pharmacies can stay open.

Despite there being just hours before it comes into effect, the Welsh Government was unable to provide clarity tonight on what is defined as ‘essential’ nor how enforcement of the rules would look. 

A large group of youngsters strike a pose on a busy night out in Cardiff - the last before new lockdown rules come in

A large group of youngsters strike a pose on a busy night out in Cardiff – the last before new lockdown rules come in

A group of girls enjoy one last night out in Cardiff before Wales goes into a strict 17-day lockdown from 6pm on Friday

A group of girls enjoy one last night out in Cardiff before Wales goes into a strict 17-day lockdown from 6pm on Friday

A young man gives a girl a piggy-back on a night out in Cardiff city centre before the new lockdown comes into force

A young man gives a girl a piggy-back on a night out in Cardiff city centre before the new lockdown comes into force

Two youngsters embrace as they enjoy a night out in the Welsh capital before pubs and bars are forced to shut for 17 days

Two youngsters embrace as they enjoy a night out in the Welsh capital before pubs and bars are forced to shut for 17 days

Revellers holding beer glasses pose on the streets of Cardiff, but only one of the group was correctly wearing a face covering

Revellers holding beer glasses pose on the streets of Cardiff, but only one of the group was correctly wearing a face covering

Drinkers made sure they were wrapped up warm this evening as temperatures begin to drop in the Welsh capital

Drinkers made sure they were wrapped up warm this evening as temperatures begin to drop in the Welsh capital 

Pubs, restaurants and all non-essential shops are being ordered to close until November 9 as a result of the new lockdown

Pubs, restaurants and all non-essential shops are being ordered to close until November 9 as a result of the new lockdown

Some revellers abided by the rules and wore face coverings but, for the most part, social distancing was nowhere to be seen

Some revellers abided by the rules and wore face coverings but, for the most part, social distancing was nowhere to be seen

A group of youngsters, some holding pints, pose as they enjoy their last night on the town for more than two weeks

A group of youngsters, some holding pints, pose as they enjoy their last night on the town for more than two weeks

One reveller drops something while her friends tuck into some late-night food as they made their way out of Cardiff's pubs and bars

One reveller drops something while her friends tuck into some late-night food as they made their way out of Cardiff’s pubs and bars

Some revellers were keen to make a quick getaway as the pubs and bars shut for the last time this month due to the new lockdown rules

Some revellers were keen to make a quick getaway as the pubs and bars shut for the last time this month due to the new lockdown rules

A group of friends took a seat on the pavement to tuck into their takeaway meal after a night on the town in Cardiff

A group of friends took a seat on the pavement to tuck into their takeaway meal after a night on the town in Cardiff

Friends embrace each other as they enjoyed a night out in Cardiff - the last that will be allowed for more than two weeks

Friends embrace each other as they enjoyed a night out in Cardiff – the last that will be allowed for more than two weeks

The Welsh lockdown is significantly more severe than England’s three-tier system, where even in the strictest areas, some social meetings are allowed outdoors and pubs can stay open providing they offer customers a ‘substantial meal’.  

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also wants to take a harsher approach than the PM, with more levels of curbs to tackle the pandemic, though she played down claims from a top adviser that families should prepare to see loved ones over Zoom at Christmas due to the ongoing crisis. 

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said it will be ‘made clear’ to supermarkets that only certain parts of their business will be allowed to open in order to sell essentials.

Retailers have been given mere hours to put together plans for the lockdown, which will run until November 9, as shopkeepers argue the rules do not make sense as customers will already be in their stores to buy the ‘essential’ items.

The move has sparked anger among opposition figures, with Welsh Conservative Andrew RT Davies tweeting: ‘The power is going to their heads’. 

Mr Drakeford made the announcement at a Senedd committee in response to a question from Conservative MS Russell George who said it was ‘unfair’ to force independent clothing and hardware retailers to close while similar goods were on sale in major supermarkets.

‘In the first set of restrictions people were reasonably understanding of the fact that supermarkets didn’t close all the things that they may have needed to,’ Mr Drakeford said.

‘I don’t think that people will be as understanding this time and we will be making it clear to supermarkets that they are only able to open those parts of their business that provide essential goods to people and that will not include some of the things that Russell George mentioned which other people are prevented from selling.

‘So, we will make sure there is a more level playing field in those next two weeks.’

From Friday all leisure and non-essential retail will be closed and this includes clothes shops, furniture shops and car dealerships. A complete list is yet to be published.

Shops allowed to remain open include supermarkets and other food retailers, pharmacies, banks and post offices.

Under the law, firms conducting a business that provides a mixed set of services will be allowed to open if they cease conducting the service that must close.

Mr George said: ‘It is deeply concerning that, given we are days away from the lockdown, we are still awaiting the publication of a full list of the types of businesses required to close, as well as guidance on business closures.

‘At a time of considerable uncertainty, it is totally unacceptable – whether intentionally or not – to create even more concern and anxiety, which is, sadly, what this Government is succeeding at.

‘The people and businesses of Wales deserve better than being left in the dark. For the sake of people’s jobs and livelihoods, I urge the Welsh Labour-led Government to heed our calls and publish a list, without delay.’

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Revellers took to the streets of Cardiff tonight to enjoy one more night on the town before the new lockdown comes in tomorrow

Pubs and bars will close tomorrow as a result of the Welsh government's 'firebreak' lockdown, so many made sure they were out to enjoy one last night out

Pubs and bars will close tomorrow as a result of the Welsh government’s ‘firebreak’ lockdown, so many made sure they were out to enjoy one last night out

Friends sat down for a drink together in Cardiff city centre before the new firebreak lockdown comes into force tomorrow

Friends sat down for a drink together in Cardiff city centre before the new firebreak lockdown comes into force tomorrow

A group of girls strike a pose in Cardiff as they look to make the most of one last night on the town before the new lockdown

A group of girls strike a pose in Cardiff as they look to make the most of one last night on the town before the new lockdown

Pubs and restaurants in Cardiff were busy tonight before they are ordered to shut down for Wales' new 17-day lockdown

Pubs and restaurants in Cardiff were busy tonight before they are ordered to shut down for Wales’ new 17-day lockdown

A group of girls pose for a selfie on a night out in Cardiff before Wales goes into a 17-day lockdown from 6pm on Friday

A group of girls pose for a selfie on a night out in Cardiff before Wales goes into a 17-day lockdown from 6pm on Friday

Crowds of people took to the streets in the Welsh capital, just hours before pubs, restaurants and non essential businesses are being ordered to close

Crowds of people took to the streets in the Welsh capital, just hours before pubs, restaurants and non essential businesses are being ordered to close

With a host of new restrictions and pub closures on the horizon, these youngsters were keen to take advantage of one last night on the town in Cardiff

With a host of new restrictions and pub closures on the horizon, these youngsters were keen to take advantage of one last night on the town in Cardiff

Drinkers packed into pubs on what is their last night out in the Welsh capital for more than two weeks, due to new rules

Drinkers packed into pubs on what is their last night out in the Welsh capital for more than two weeks, due to new rules

Andrew RT Davies, the Conservative shadow health minister, tweeted: ‘The power is going to their heads.’

He later added: ‘Is a flagon of Strongbow deemed essential? What about some much-needed underpants if you’re caught short?

‘I do hope there is some published guidance on what the Labour commissars deem as essential.’

Sue Davies, from consumer group Which?, said the announcement would cause ‘confusion’, particularly among the vulnerable.

‘Our own research showed that almost half of those who described themselves as situationally vulnerable in Wales during the previous lockdown had difficulty accessing the food and groceries they needed,’ she said.

‘The Welsh Government must act now to clarify the situation around what retailers can and cannot sell, and must urgently identify those most in need to give them the support to ensure that no-one who is at risk struggles to access the food and other basics they need.’

The First Minister said he would keep the principality closed down for as short a time as possible, but insisted it was necessary to act as a breaker to a ‘rising tide’ of cases – despite Wales having a lower rate of infections than England.

The decision to impose a ‘short and deep’ lockdown until November 9, which echoes national demands made by Sir Keir Starmer and wipes out Halloween and Bonfire Night, sparked a furious political backlash.

Data showed England had a coronavirus infection rate of 166 per 100,000 people in the week of October 14 while Wales had a rate of 163 per 100,000. 

Welsh Tories said it was dooming the country to an endless cycle of two-week lockdowns while Conservative MPs in Westminster said it was a ‘blunt instrument’ and ‘closing down the whole of Wales is disproportionate to the level of risk in some parts of the country’. 

Sara Jones, head of the Welsh Retail Consortium, said: ‘Compelling retailers to stop selling certain items, without them being told clearly what is and what isn’t permitted to be sold, is ill-conceived and short-sighted.’ 

And James Lowman, chief of the Association of Convenience Stores added: ‘Retailers must not be forced to stop making products available to customers just because ministers don’t think they’re essential.’ 

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: ‘The fire-break is designed to reduce all physical contact between households to an absolute minimum in order to slow the spread of coronavirus and save lives.

‘We have a small window in which to take this action and there are no easy choices. 

‘However, we fully recognise the impact the fire-break will have on businesses and are making a further £300 million available to support them through this difficult period.’ 

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ANDREW PIERCE: Pope Francis has declared support for same-sex civil partnerships…

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andrew pierce pope francis has declared support for same sex civil partnerships

The champagne was flowing freely, the dancefloor filling as Abba’s Waterloo boomed from the speakers, and two silver-haired men in their 60s mingled happily at a party to mark my civil partnership.

Unlike my other guests, however, these friends were sipping fruit juice.

The next day — Sunday — was the busiest of their working week and they couldn’t risk a hangover.

Jon and Peter are Roman Catholic priests who have been in a celibate relationship for at least two decades.

Today they, like me, are celebrating a landmark in the Church’s history as Pope Francis offers his clearest support to date for gay rights by endorsing same-sex civil partnerships.

‘Homosexual people have the right to be in a family,’ the 83-year-old Pope says in Francesco, a newly released documentary film. ‘They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it.’

Pope Francis has offered his clearest support to date for gay rights by endorsing same-sex civil partnerships

Pope Francis has offered his clearest support to date for gay rights by endorsing same-sex civil partnerships

The Pope’s pronouncement goes some way to repairing his reputation as a progressive pontiff. Indeed, for liberal and younger Catholics, any reform has been a long time coming.

But for traditionalists among the estimated 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, Francis’s words are seismic.

They threaten a schism with the Vatican like no other — and nowhere more so than in Africa, where homosexuality is illegal in many countries.

The continent is home to almost 200 million Catholics and the Church is growing strongly.

Between 1980 and 2012 (the last year for which data is available), the number of Catholics in Africa grew by 283 per cent, compared with just 6 per cent in Europe (with 277 million Catholics and an ageing population).

Bishops in Africa are predominantly social authoritarians who have made plain their feelings on homosexuality.

Take the words of Cardinal Robert Sarah, of Guinea, who in 2015 declared that ‘Western homosexual and abortion ideologies, and Islamic fanaticism’ are to the 21st century what the twin ‘beasts’ of Nazi and communist ideology were to the 20th century.

He is unlikely to agree with Pope Francis’s new stance.

Nor are the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, who last year decreed that ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) were disordered sexual orientations that could not be accepted as a normal way of life’.

In fact, the Pope’s words have already sparked a bitter row — and not just in Africa.

In the United States, which has about 51 million Catholics, Church leaders have lost no time in making their feelings known.

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, yesterday said the Pope’s statement ‘clearly contradicts what has been the long-standing teaching of the church about same-sex unions’.

And in South America, which accounts for more than 40 per cent of the global Catholic population (including Argentinian Pope Francis), homophobia is no less widespread. There, Catholic priests have combined with Evangelical churches to organise anti-gay marches in countries including Colombia and Peru.

In the Philippines, with 75 million Catholics and growing, Bishop Arturo Bastes said yesterday that he had ‘very serious doubts about the moral correctness’ of the Pontiff’s position.

Seasoned Vatican observers are already asking whether a fragmented Church globally will be Pope Francis’s legacy, although his supporters argue that this was a carefully considered intervention.

Even on his own doorstep, he faces a battle with his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

Even on his own doorstep, he faces a battle with his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. (The pair pictured together in 2013)

Even on his own doorstep, he faces a battle with his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. (The pair pictured together in 2013)

Catholicism and homosexuality have long had a troubled relationship. In 1986, when the Church was under the stewardship of the popular but deeply conservative Polish John Paul II, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith described homosexuality as ‘a strong tendency ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil… marriage is holy while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law’.

For traditionalists, little has changed since that hardline edict.

In 2003, the Congregation updated its teaching on whether there should be legal recognition for gay people, saying same-sex marriage was ‘deviant’.

The document added: ‘Respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.’

As for gay men and women adopting children, the document described this simply as ‘violence’ against children.

Those harsh words were drafted by German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — who, two years later, became Pope Benedict XVI.

After resigning in 2013, Benedict indicated that he would live in quiet seclusion in the Vatican as the Pope Emeritus. But he soon emerged as a backseat driver and arch-critic of his successor’s attempts to modernise.

In a biography published this year, 93-year-old Benedict accused opponents of wanting to silence him, while associating gay marriage with the Antichrist. Now, by speaking out in favour of civil partnerships, Pope Francis is directly challenging his predecessor.

In the past, he has tried to make his sympathies clear but in a less high-profile fashion. A decade ago, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he opposed same-sex unions in Argentina — but five years ago, when asked about gay priests, he responded: ‘Who am I to judge?’

He continued: ‘A person once asked me… if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: “Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?”.’

There was more of the same in the final draft of the 2014 Synod on the Family in the Vatican, which contained, at the Pope’s instigation, a reference to the ‘gifts and qualities’ of homosexuals.

Predictably, traditionalists launched a fightback against what they called the Lavender Mafia in the Vatican, shamefully using the revelations about paedophile Catholic priests to conflate child sex abuse with homosexuality.

The sin of ‘homosexuality itself’, not paedophilia, they argued, lay at the ‘root of the scandal’.

In August 2018, American Cardinal Raymond Burke declared: ‘There is a homosexual culture, not only among the clergy but even within the hierarchy, which needs to be purified at the root.’

The new papal view seems certain to stretch Burke’s loyalty to breaking point.

Some Vatican critics are cynical about the timing of the new documentary, seeing it as a ploy to divert attention from a growing financial scandal in the Holy See.

Last month, the Pope effectively fired Cardinal Giovanni Becciu, the powerful head of the office that oversees the canonisation of saints. He has been accused of embezzlement of Vatican funds, which he denies. Last week, a 39-year-old Italian woman linked to the Cardinal was also arrested.

Francis, his critics say, is a shrewd political operator who knows a controversy over civil partnerships will overshadow the stench of financial corruption at its heart.

The real test for gay Catholics such as me will be if Pope Francis one day permits civil partnerships to be blessed in church. That might drive traditionalists from the faith — but we can do without their hatred for ‘deviants’ who simply wish to have our loving relationships recognised by the Church to which we belong.

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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