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Appeal Court rules against nun’s benefits claim

Strand News

A 74-year-old nun who has worked to keep her community afloat has been told by senior judges she will not receive state pension ben- efits as long as she continues to be supported by her religious order. Benedictine Sr Mary Isobel Scott was at the centre of an Appeal Court test case, in which the Department for Work and Pensions’ refusal to support elderly members of religious orders across the country was challenged. In a case which had “wider significance” to the 5,000 remaining nuns and 1,400 monks in England and Wales, her lawyers argued the Government should support her now she is no longer fit to work to generate the income needed for her maintenance. But the challenge was dismissed on the grounds that she does not qualify for the benefit as she is “fully main- tained” by her order. Sr Mary and another nun are the only ones

left of the community at Oulton Abbey, near Stone, Staffordshire. They manage a small nursing home and a playgroup and carry out other “good works” which generate a modest income. Their vows mean they are not allowed to earn a penny for their work, so any profits are ploughed back into the community –with some of the cash used to pay for the sisters’ food, accommodation and basic needs. As she has never been paid for her work, she has made no National Insurance contri- butions that would entitle her to a standard old age pension, so, in 2005, she applied for state pension credits – at that time around £109 a week. But the DWP refused to pay

her the means-tested benefit, usually awarded to the most needy, citing a regulation which excludes “members of religious orders who are fully maintained by their order” and that refusal was upheld by the upper tribunal in November last year. Sr Mary’s lawyers chal- lenged this decision, arguing it was wrong to find she was “fully maintained” by her order. Stephen Knafler QC said this left the nun in a catch-22 situation because, although she wants to retire due to her declining health, any reduction in her workload would mean the end of all she has toiled to achieve. He said that, as the Benedictine order has no centralised authority or control, the Oulton Abbey community was autonomous and self sufficient and, as such, unable to “fully main- tain” Sr Mary in her old age. The barrister added: “The human problem behind this case is increasingly common within the Benedictine Confederation and other religious communities. A nun cannot realistically be said to be fully maintained by a religious order if the ability of the order to fully maintain her is contingent upon the nun working past retirement age, despite ill health and despite being unwilling to do so.” But, rejecting Mr Knafler’s argument as “unsound”, Lord Justice Rimer, sitting with Lord Justice Carnwath and Lord Justice Sullivan, dismissed the appeal. The judge said there could be “no dispute” that the English Benedictine order of Oulton Abbey – established as a charitable trust in 1963 – was “fully maintaining” Sr Mary and she was therefore not legally entitled to the benefit.

Confirmation then Communion in Liverpool

THE ARCHDIOCESE of Liverpool has announced that from September next year local Catholic children will be confirmed before receiving their first Holy Communion, writes Jimmy Burns. The archdiocese explains the planned changes on its website: “These three sacra- ments make up the process of belonging to the Church (called Christian Initiation). The sacraments weren’t always in that order, and adults preparing for initiation have always received them in the original order: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist (Communion).” As part of the new procedures the way chil- dren are prepared for the sacraments will change. Instead of teachers, catechists and priests teaching children and parents about the sacraments, they will be encouraged to help the parents to hand on their faith to their children, fulfilling the privileges and respon- sibilities expressed in the Rite of Baptism. “New resources will help parents to prepare their own children for these sacraments with

34 | THE TABLET | 29 January 2011

the support of the local church community,” says the archdiocese in a statement posted on its website. According to its statement, which will be circulated among parishes, the Archbishop of Liverpool, Patrick Kelly, decided to restore the old order of sacraments of ini- tiation and to introduce a family catechesis approach at the end of 2008, with the encour- agement of the Council of Priests. The decision restores the order of sacra- ments widely followed in the Catholic Church until 100 years ago, and practised currently in many parishes in the United States. It is also the order followed in Salford Diocese where Archbishop Kelly was ordinary before his move to Liverpool in 1996. The old order of sacraments, now being followed by the Diocese of Liverpool, existed until 1910 when Pope Pius X brought forward the age of first Holy Communion. He left the age of confirmation as it was – thus changing the natural order of the sacraments of initi- ation – baptism, confirmation and Eucharist.


The High Mass that was televised from the church of St Mellitus, Tollington Park, on Sunday morning was really a very spe- cial event for viewers everywhere. For here we had all three priests Africans – the cel- ebrant being Fr Hilary Tibanyenda: the White Fathers’ Katanga Choir, and the music of the Mass a union of Western and African.

It was a great pity that because of a fail- ure in the electricity supply system the picture was some 10 minutes late in com- ing on the screen, and while we had sound only there was reason to be grateful for Fr John Bebb’s full descriptive commentary. For television I have occasionally found his commentaries almost too full, but here he supplied all we could not see. When we could see, it was an arresting sight: the White fathers keeping up the insistent gay beat of the African drums to the Gloria and the Credo jerked my sedate, English Catholicism to a new, delightful picture of the Church universal. But so did every- thing in this Mass; the sermon by Fr George Groves emphasised catholicity too, not only in the words he said about the African priests, but in his words about the use of Latin in the Church. The Tablet, 28 January 1961


Scarcely a day passes that the Holy Father does not receive consoling proofs of the good effects of his legislation regarding First and Frequent Communion, but per- haps nothing is more striking than the evidence that has reached him this week from one of the Christian Brothers’ school in India. Goethal’s Memorial Orphanage at Kurseong, Calcutta, an institute erected in memory of the late Bishop Goethal and entrusted to the Irish Christian Brothers, contains about 200 boys, and since the publication of the first Decree, “Sacra Tidentia Synodus”, the provisions of it have been so warmly adopted that the great majority of the boys are daily communi- cants, while many of the remainder communicate several times a week. Recently a class of boys varying from

seven to eight years of age made their First Communion and after it addressed a letter to the Holy Father thanking him for the great privilege. The report of the Superiors of the Institute says that an extraordinary change has been observed in the school since the practice of frequent communion has become prevalent. The Pope has expressed himself as greatly pleased and touched by what he has heard of this little oasis of Catholicism in the distant Himalayas.

The Tablet, 28 January 1911

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