A look at the ethical and religious issues of the week


London, United Kingdom




A look at the ethical and religious issues of the week




Vatican secrets; Interfaith row; AI and beyond the grave

Some of the Vatican’s secrets have been revealed in a new book, ”Secretum”, by Massimo Franco. It’s in the form of a series of conversations with Archbishop Sergio Pagano, who has worked in the Vatican archive for 45 years. From stories of Vatican intrigue to a letter written in 1530 by English nobles urging Pope Clement VII to grant Henry VIII an annulment so he could marry Anne Boleyn, Massimo Franco tells Edward about some of the gems in the Archive. The Inter Faith Network (IFN) is to close after the government withdrew funding because one of its trustees is associated with the Muslim Council of Britain. Since 1987 the IFN has worked to promote understanding and good relations between people of different faiths. Edward talks to IFN’s executive director, Dr Harriet Crabtree and to Zara Mohammed, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain. Increasingly AI is being used to help people maintain a form of relationship after death, to help preserve a legacy or experiences worth remembering. We hear from the AI version of the actor Ed Asner who died in 2021, from Stephen Smith, CEO of StoryFile, who created it and from Dr Nathan Mladin from Theos whose latest report looks at the pros and cons of how AI is being used in the rapidly changing world of grief tech. Producers: Amanda Hancox and James Leesley


Sunday: Vatican secrets; Interfaith row; AI and beyond the grave

A look at the ethical and religious issues of the week with Edward Stourton.


Israel Gaza conflict; Rochdale Labour; Rave in the nave

Israeli troops are set to advance into the Gazan city of Rafah, defying international pleas to reconsider. Some 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering there. The UK House of Bishops is calling for an immediate ceasefire in the conflict. The Sunday programme spoke to Bishop of Worchester Dr John Inge. Sir Keir Starmer has defended his handling of the antisemitism row in his party as a Muslim candidate is withdrawn from the race in Rochdale. William Crawley speaks to Marc Levy - the chief executive of the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Mohammed Shafiq, National Executive Committee member of PCS Union and Chief Executive and founding member of the Ramadhan Foundation which is one of the UK's leading Muslim youth organisations. Church buildings have opened their doors and held public events for centuries; Choral Evensong, Classical concerts and in more recent times, Lego building and Crazy Golf. But this year, many cathedrals across the country are taking it a step further and hosting 80s, 90s and 00s themed ‘Silent Discos’. Canterbury Cathedral recently hosted two sold-out nights with an attendance of 3,000 people at £25 per ticket. But not everyone agrees. Some critics have questioned whether this is an ‘appropriate’ use of sacred space, and a petition campaigning against the events has amassed over two thousand signatures. So what is an ‘appropriate’ use of a sacred space? William Crawley speaks to the Dean of St Albans, Jo Kelly-Moore. Presenter: William Crawley Producers: Bara'atu Ibrahim and Linda Walker Production Coordinator: David Baguley Editor: Tim Pemberton


Asylum Conversions, the Power of Prayer, 'Sexualised' Jesus

Sunday's interview last week with Weymouth Baptist Church has led to a great deal of debate about whether church leaders are backing fraudulent asylum claims. The home secretary is now investigating how the asylum system deals with migrants who have converted to Christianity. We talk to the Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani on the churches role in asylum. Religious leaders across different faiths united to offer their prayers for King Charles following the announcement of his cancer diagnosis. How is personal faith challenged by a cancer diagnosis and how do different faiths and modern science approach the idea of praying for someone’s health in times of sickness? We hear US neuroscientist Joshua Brown and Kishori Jani, a teacher of Hindu scripture who runs popular social media channels featuring mantra chanting. Spanish artist Salustiano García Cruz's depiction of a handsome, youthful Jesus on a poster in Seville has become the source of controversy. The painting, which shows a young and muscular Jesus in a loincloth, has critics – largely conservatives on social media – calling the image "offensive", "evil", and too "sexualised" for Holy Week. We take a look into how Jesus has been depicted in art over the centuries with Dr Siobhan Jolley, Art and Religion specialist at the National Gallery. PRESENTER: EMILY BUCHANAN PRODUCERS: ALEXA GOOD AND ROSIE DAWSON EDITOR: DAN TIERNEY


Asylum conversions, Jaz from Traitors on Sikhism, Siobhan McSweeney on St Brigid

The issue of converting asylum seekers to Christianity has been in the headlines this week with accusations that some clergy are naive or too eager to help asylum seekers stay in the country. We talk to a Baptist elder with experience of converting and helping asylum seekers. Jaz from Traitors won the respect of TV audiences with the way he played the gameshow, but he revealed it was his Sikh faith that guided him through the show and helped him be a true Faithful. The film Samsara – which has just reached our cinemas – has attracted some great reviews despite the fact that you are encouraged to watch part of it with your eyes closed. It tells the story of the journey of the soul of an elderly woman in Laos to its reincarnation as goat in Zanzibar. Edward speaks to director Lois Patino and Dechen Pemba from the Tibetan Film Festival who went to see it on our behalf. There was another bust up over same sex blessings in the Church of England this week. A Bishop resigned from the process, and 130 people wrote a letter in protest at what they believe are delays to a trial to test out separate services of blessing. Edward talks to Professor Helen King and Dr Ian Paul, both members of General Synod and hears from a couple waiting for their special day in church. A year of celebrations to mark 1500 years since the death of St Brigid are underway in Ireland. Edward talks to Derry Girls actress Siobhan McSweeney and historian Dr Mary Condren about why she's a feminist saint fit for the 21st century. PRESENTER: EDWARD STOURTON PRODUCERS: CATHERINE MURRAY & JAMES LEESLEY EDITOR:TIM PEMBERTON


C of E safeguarding concerns, Nicaragua Catholic Church crackdown, Jesus in pop music

The Church of England is facing renewed criticism following its decision to close its own Independent Safeguarding Board last year. At the time, church authorities said they closed the board in order to replace it with a more independent and more effective body. But some victims and survivors of abuse say that decision left them feeling abandoned, silenced and re-traumatised. William Crawley hears from one of those survivors, as well as from David Glasgow, a clinical psychologist who has published his own report into the matter, and from Dr Jamie Harrison, chair of the House of Laity on the Archbishops' Council. In Nicaragua, Catholic universities and charities have been closed or seized by the government because bishops and priests have publicly challenged what they view as the regime's abuse of human rights. Francisco Urrutia, General Secretary of the Association of Jesuit Universities in Latin America, tells the programme that President Daniel Ortega's regime is set on silencing the church's voice in public life. The rapper Lil Nas X is the latest musical artist to cause controversy with his new song, "J-CHRIST", accompanied by a music video in which he's strapped to the cross in place of Jesus. He has apologised insisting he didn't mean to mock Christianity. Delvyn Case, Professor of Music at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, explores the history of pop music's sometimes uncomfortable relationship with Jesus. PRESENTER; William Crawley PRODUCERS: Amanda Hancox and Alexa Good EDITOR: Dan Tierney.


Cathedral charging; Last Christians in Gaza; Muslim Comedian Ola Labib

Sunday hears from George Antone from Catholic aid agency Caritas, a member of Holy Family Church in Gaza City. He's one of around 400 parishioners taking shelter in the church and tells us about problems finding food and receiving aid to keep going amidst the war. Would an entry fee put you off visiting a cathedral? One in four now charge in England. William hears from listeners as well as the Very Revd Jo Kelly-Moore, Chair of the Association of English Cathedrals, and the Very Revd Dr Tim Stratford, Dean of Chester Cathedral, which is free to enter. Muslim comic Ola Labib talks about keeping her standup secret from her parents when she changed careers from pharmacy, and the things she won't do on stage because of her religion. Hear about the beautiful tradition of Gaelic Psalm singing being preserved and presented in a new exhibition touring the Hebrides this year. Dr Frances Wilkins and Magidh Smith talk about Seinn Spioradail. Does it matter if the future King, and therefore the future Supreme Governor of the Church of England, is not particularly "religious"? A line from the new biography of the King speculating on the religious observance of the Prince of Wales has sent the tabloids into a spin. William asks political theologian Dr Jonathan Chaplin - when a head of state is given a constitutional role in an established church, does it matter if he, or she, has little or no personal faith? Presenter: William Crawley Producers: Catherine Murray and Helen Brown Editor: Tim Pemberton


The ethics of surrogacy

Pope Francis has called for a global ban on surrogacy, saying it is the commercialisation of pregnancy and a threat to human dignity. Edward Stourton hears the experiences of a couple and their surrogate and explores the ethics of surrogacy with Christian ethicist Dr Helen Watt and fertility lawyer Natalie Gamble. The Houthis in Yemen have been carrying out a campaign of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea, prompting US and UK air strikes this week. But who are the Houthis? What do they believe? International relations professor Simon Mabon explains the theology and ideology behind this Shia Islamist group. In recent decades, Ireland has seen the most extraordinary decline in Catholicism, with far fewer people regularly attending Mass. There's also a crisis within the clergy as the supply of vocations has dwindled. The average age of Catholic priests in Ireland is 70, for nuns it's over 80. Two new documentaries from the Irish broadcaster, RTE examine the possibility that both professions could be in terminal decline. This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Austrian composer, Anton Bruckner. He became a prominent figure in 19th century music, famous for his sacred works and his symphonies. The writer and composer, Stephen Johnson reflects on how Bruckner's Christian faith inspired his work and how writing music to the glory of God helped Bruckner to manage his mental health problems. Presenter: Edward Stourton Producer: Jonathan Hallewell and Alexa Good Editor: Tim Pemberton


Does religion do more harm than good?

Researchers at the University of Birmingham have conducted a wide-ranging survey on perceptions of religion and science, which suggests that half the UK population believes that religion does more harm than good. 50% of respondents said religion 'has more negative societal consequences than positive', 30% said it 'has more positive societal consequences' and 20% didn’t know. We discuss the findings and weigh up the religious ‘balance sheet’ with Professor Alice Roberts, anatomist, broadcaster and Vice President of Humanists UK; and Dr Musharraf Hussain, Imam, scientist and charity worker in Nottingham. Also in the programme: This week saw the UK cinema release of ‘One Life’ – a film about the British man Nicholas Winton who, in the months leading up to World War II, rescued 669 mostly Jewish Czechoslovakian children from the Nazis. One of those children, Milena Grenfell-Baines, tells her story. The Church of Scotland is on a five-year mission to close places of worship made unviable by a lack of ministers, falling income and dwindling congregations. Reporter Moira Hickey visits Birnie Kirk, near Elgin in Moray, which recently held its last service after nearly 900 uninterrupted years of Christian worship. Producers: Dan Tierney and Catherine Murray Production co-ordinator: David Baguley Editor: Helen Grady


Tackling the rise in homelessness

Emily Buchanan presents the final edition of Radio 4's Sunday programme of 2023, and brings together a panel of guests from different faiths to discuss the stand out events of the last year and also look forward to the issues and stories they expect everyone will be talking about in 2024. New figures from the charity Shelter indicate a sharp rise in homelessness. More than 300,000 people are thought to have spent this festive season without a proper home. We speak to the Anglican Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, who regards this as a moral scandal. In recent days Russia has intensified its attacks across Ukraine, in a significant escalation of the war. We return to Zhanna Bezpiatchuk, a reporter with the BBC Ukraine Service, who was one of the first people we spoke to after Russia's full scale invasion in February 2022. She reflects on nearly two years of conflict, how it's affected her life and the importance, during wartime, of her personal faith. A spontaneous memorial garden has sprung up close to the Angel of the North sculpture in Gateshead. People have been leaving notes and trinkets in memory of friends and family who have died. We hear from Professor Anne Whitehead who’s been documenting the development of this new "shrine". She reflects on how the sculpture has taken on a new and spiritual dimension. Producers: Jonathan Hallewell and Rajeev Gupta Editor: Tim Pemberton


Christmas in Bethlehem, 800th anniversary of the nativity scene, The stories behind our favourite carols

Edward Stourton presents a special Christmas Eve edition of Sunday, featuring live carols from Manchester Chamber Choir. On Christmas Eve in 1223, in cave near the cliffside village of Greccio in Italy, St Francis of Assisi created what's thought to be the first nativity scene. It was staged for the local villagers and it was a 'living scene' featuring people and animals. Colm Flynn reports from Greccio, and the art historian Dr Geri Parlby explores the nativity scene’s fascinating story and enduring appeal. There will be no Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem this year. Shaimaa Khalil reports from the birthplace of Jesus. Rev Dr Munther Isaac, Dean of Bethlehem Bible College, has created a nativity scene in his church directly inspired by the suffering endured as a result of the Israel-Gaza conflict. He reflects on it with Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner. Carol singing is another much-loved tradition at this time of year. But how many of us have really thought about where our favourite carols come from? The composer and conductor Andrew Gant traces the weird and wonderful history of our carol tradition in his book "Deck The Hall". He says, “it can be a bit like trying to sweep up all the stray pine needles when you’ve taken down your Christmas tree: there’s always a corner you find you haven’t reached.” Producers: Dan Tierney and Alexa Good Editor: Helen Grady.


Israel-Gaza latest; C of E same sex blessings; the rights and wrongs of 'Surveillance Santa'

Security corresponent Frank Gardner has the latest from Tel Aviv as Lord Cameron calls for a 'sustainable ceasefire' in the war between Israel and Hamas. In the midst of the Covid inquiry and following the government’s response, last week, to the 2017 Hillsborough report, it seems public inquiries are constantly in the news. But what is their purpose and what are the ethics of inquiry? From today, same-sex couples in the Church of England are able to receive a blessing. We know that private blessing services have been happening for years, below the radar, but the House of Bishops has authorised the use of a new suite of special prayers to be used as part of regular services from today. William talks to Rev Catherine Bond and Rev Jane Pearce being blessed in their parish in Suffolk. It's been called the Vatican 'trial of the century', Crux reporter John Allen has the latest from Rome where Cardinal Becciu , once considered a possible future Pope, has been found guilty of embezzlement and sentenced to five and a half years in jail. After the verdict was read, the cardinal's lawyer indicated that he was likely to appeal. Not long til Santa comes down the chimney, but is it ok for parents to frighten kids into good behaviour by saying he's watching them, or that they need to behave to be rewarded with presents? William talks to Catholic columnist Cristina Odone and Canon Ann Easter about whether it works.


Gaza Christians; American Sikh; Ethics of War

Eight hundred Christians have been sheltering in two churches in Gaza City since the beginning of the war, with warnings that supplies are running low. Nader Abu Amshah from the Middle East Council of Churches has been in regular contact with them. ‘American Sikh’ is a short animated film about an ordinary New Yorker who is viewed with suspicion after 9/11 because of his beard and turban. One day as part of his search for acceptance in American society, he decides to wear a Captain America costume, fully turbaned and bearded. It completely transforms the way people interact with him on the streets of New York. After being screened at film festivals ‘American Sikh’ is eligible to be shortlisted for an Oscar, we speak to the film’s main character and director, Vishavjit Singh. The Israel-Gaza conflict involves two of the world's great religious traditions - Judaism and Islam - and each has their own principles for determining when and how war should be fought. To find out what they are, Edward talks to Daniel Greenberg, a lawyer who writes about Jewish ethics, and Audu Bulama Bukarti, an expert on the Islamic rules of war.


Power of religion at Cop28; Shane McGowan's Catholicism; Near-death experiences

Faith is front and centre at Cop28 this weekend. The Pope may have missed the climate summit because of health problems but for the first time at the gathering , a Faith Pavilion has been erected. Edward looks at the role religions can play in mobilising support for action on climate change. Hear about the near death experience involving bright lights and angelic figures that turned a manual labourer into an artist and composer Edward talks to priest Eugene O'Hagan about the faith of Shane McGowan who died this week at the age of 65. The Pogues's singer described himself as a 'religious fanatic' and a 'free-thinking Catholic'. We'll hear how important his religion was to life and his work. A World Health Organization team in Gaza has described scenes in the hospitals there as “like a horror movie”, even before the bombing started again this week. Dr Ghassan Abu Sittah, a British-Palestinian surgeon who operated on patients at the Anglican-run al-Ahli hospital in Gaza, has now returned to the UK and tells Edward Stourton about his experiences. Edward hears from Rachel Goldberg, whose son Hersh was badly wounded when he was taken hostage by Hamas


Same sex church blessings; Religion in Dr Who; Antonio Banderas on playing King Herod

As tension builds in the Middle East over the much anticipated truce between Israel and Gaza, we look at the latest in the developing situation. The armed wing of Hamas said on Saturday it was delaying the handover of a second group of hostages as part of a temporary ceasefire deal until Israel “adheres to the terms of the agreement”. We'll also hear from Rachel Goldberg, whose 23-year-old son Hersh Polin Goldberg was taken hostage from the Nova music festival on October 7. This week, Rachel was granted an audience with Pope Francis as one of 12 individuals whose family members are being held hostage by Hamas. For award-winning actor Antonio Banderas, playing the evil King Herod in the nativity musical “Journey to Bethlehem” gave him an opportunity to explore his faith and find the joy of playing the bad guy, we hear about his experience in the film. Jewish groups have criticised Pope Francis over his comments that they saw as accusing both Hamas and Israel of "terrorism". Francis made the comments on Wednesday, we'll look into the comments and the reaction to them. At 5:15pm on 23 November 1963, the first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast on BBC One. Exactly 60 years on, the show is celebrating its diamond anniversary with three new hour-long specials starting this weekend. We'll look behind the Tardis to explore the hidden spiritual meaning behind some of the stories with Dr Andrew Crome is a cultural historian at Manchester Metropolitan University. We return to the continuing row in the Church of England over church blessings for same-sex couples -- and the fears raised by some that the church could be heading for a split, with the Church of England Evangelical Council now seeking to set up its own alternative leadership system for priests opposed to those blessing services. The Christian season of Advent begins next Sunday, which means lots of people will be getting their Advent calendar ready to begin the annual countdown to Christmas. The Church of England is marketing its first ever printed Advent Calendar, complete with a fold-out, stand-up crib, we'll look at how it's set to compete in a very crowded market. Presenter: William Crawley Producers: Linda Walker and Amanda Hancox Editor: Helen Grady Studio Managers: Colin Sutton and Michael Smith


Same Sex Blessings in the Church of England

This week Church of England leaders voted narrowly to allow special services of blessing for gay couples. At a meeting in London, the church’s General Synod approved the move on a trial basis. It has been a hugely divisive issue and there are fears that it could split the church. Equality campaigners insist that gay Anglicans should be able to marry in church like everyone else. But some conservatives say that the church is straying from scripture, which teaches that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. The Labour Party leadership was hit by a major rebellion this week in the Commons when 56 MPs defied party policy and voted for a ceasefire in Gaza. Eight shadow ministers also resigned their positions in support of an immediate ceasefire. Muslim party members, councillors and MPs have been vociferous in pushing for an end to the violence in Gaza as the death toll has soared. Labour usually enjoys strong support from Muslims, but could this issue lose the party votes, or even seats at the General Election? Why have human beings always been so attracted to stories about the end of the world? Across cultures and history, stories and works of art have reflected ideas of the apocalypse. It's the subject of a new exhibition which includes poems by T. S. Eliot and W. B. Yeats. The exhibition's venue is a Victorian house in Bedford, which once belonged to a now defunct Christian apocalyptic movement, called the Panacea Society. We'll hear the history of this eccentric organisation and also examine the strangely enduring appeal of the apocalypse. Presenter: Edward Stourton Producers: Jonathan Hallewell and Bara'atu Ibrahim Editor: Helen Grady Studio Managers: Helen Williams and Sue Stonestreet


Interfaith relations and Israel-Hamas war; The Bard and the Bible; Hindu ante-natal rituals

William Crawley talks to interfaith experts about navigating Jewish-Muslim relations against the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas war. As we celebrate 400 years of the publication of Shakespeare's first folio, Professor Regina Schwartz, an expert in both explains how 'Love thy neighbour' is central to understanding the Bard and the Bible. Hear about the Diwali baskets being made in Birmingham to celebrate the big day. Angry meetings and an intractable issue: The General Synod of the Church of England gets ready to talk same sex blessings this week. Reporter Harry Farley has the details


Use of scripture in war rhetoric & Church of England same-sex blessings

William Crawley has the latest on events in Israel-Gaza. He’ll also be discussing use of scripture in war rhetoric with two experts after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referenced the Bible earlier this week. Also on the programme, a Sikh man who felt discriminated against when he was barred from doing jury service because of his religious sword. Are bells the soothing sound of Sunday morning or a nuisance for neighbours? New bells are going up at a parish in Devon and it’s caused a bit of a ding dong. Hear from the Canon of St James’s Church in Tiverton as well as critics. The Church of England General Synod meets later this month and one of the issues to be discussed includes same-sex relationships. In February, the Synod voted in favour of allowing blessings in church for LGBT couples, whilst maintaining that there was no change in the church's doctrine of marriage: church weddings would still only be for heterosexual couples. For supporters of same-sex marriage, it didn’t go far enough. The BBC's Linda Pressly met some of those who feel strongly on both sides of this debate. Presenter: William Crawley Producers: Bara'atu Ibrahim & Rosie Dawson Editor: Tim Pemberton



A look at the ethical and religious issues of the week


The Israel-Hamas conflict and its repercussions in the UK

This week's Sunday explores the latest on the conflict in the Middle East, and its repercussions in the UK for Jewish and Muslim communities. The archbishops of Canterbury and Jerusalem unite in a call for peace. As the Metropolitan Police reports a spike in anti-semitic hate incidents, a Jewish woman from London tells the programme how her Muslim friends escorted her to synagogue in an act of solidarity. And we examine the significance of the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which is layered in history and meaning for Muslims and Jews alike. Presenter: William Crawley Producers: Bara'atu Ibrahim and Louise Clark Editor: Dan Tierney.