Church to probe Access

THE Uniting Church, one of the key partners in Access Ministries that provides religious education in Victorian primary schools, has backed away from supporting the beleaguered agency.

The church's state synod (parliament) declined to vote on a proposal that the church continue to support the work of Access, instead forming a task group to explore the relationship between it and the synod, and how best to teach Christian education.

It was the liveliest and longest discussion of the five-day meeting at La Trobe University, which ends today.

'Four horsemen' draw godless crew

TICKETS are selling fast to what organisers say will be the most significant atheist gathering in history next April, when the ''four horsemen of the apocalypse'' share a stage for the first time.

The four horsemen are the world's most famous atheists - scientist Richard Dawkins, philosophers Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris and journalist Christopher Hitchens - who will speak at the second Global Atheist Convention at the Melbourne Convention Centre.

School chaplains' forum highlights tension

THE head of Access Ministries, Stephen Hale, has sought to assuage community concerns about religious instructions in schools through a forum in outer-eastern Melbourne.

The forum, held in Nunawading yesterday, highlighted the tension between some parents who say they are concerned about their children being indoctrinated by Access Ministries instructors during weekly religious classes and the organisation, which has repeatedly denied claims it is proselytising.

Parents are also concerned about the way children who opt out of religion classes spend that time.

Muslim and Jewish footballers proving they're all of a peace

THE weather was perfect, the footy was good and the snags - both halal and kosher - were tasty when the match was over.

The MUJU Peace Club's first footy game with two teams called Unity and Harmony and each consisting equally of Muslim and Jewish youths was a winner. One of the organisers, 16-year-old Oussama Abouzeid, described the day as awesome. ''Just to see everyone happy and smiling is inspiring,'' he said. Another, 15-year-old Zoe Lipton, said she was amazed. ''I thought it might just be a kick in the park. I never thought this could happen.''

One man's life, and how the church he loved let him down

THERE have been few certainties in the complex and troubled world of John Hepworth. His childhood was seared by poverty, loneliness and aggression. From the age of seven, he says, he often fled this life for the comfort and absorption of prayer.

On his own admission, Hepworth, 67, was at times an arrogant and needlessly flamboyant young man who easily made enemies as he pursued his chosen path. These traits, he concedes, may have damaged him, too, fuelling a perceived vendetta that continues to this day.

But he was a man of God, he says, and he had a dream.

New choice for school chaplaincy program

FOR the first time since the introduction of the controversial national school chaplaincy program, schools will be able to choose whether to use their funding for a chaplain or a secular welfare officer.

Schools Minister Peter Garrett yesterday announced the changes to the Howard government program, saying funding would be extended to schools that want to employ student welfare officers instead.

The change will open up the program to schools that have chosen not to take up chaplains, such as Essendon Keilor College in Melbourne's north-west.

Denying gay marriage will only hurt the children

All families need to be treated equally, for the sake of the children.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is a treaty that enjoys almost universal support, having been ratified by 193 countries, including Australia. It provides that in all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration.

Contrary to Nicholas Tonti-Filippini's assertion on this page yesterday, a proper application of the principle of the best interests of the child leads to the incontrovertible conclusion that Australia should legalise same-sex marriage.

Sex suspect 'protected'

PROMINENT members of the Melbourne Jewish community lied to the police, covered up an alleged sex scandal and protected a man accused of repeatedly molesting children from a school in St Kilda East, a court has been told.

Locksmith and security guard David Samuel Cyprys, 43, was yesterday charged with 16 counts of indecent assault and 13 counts of gross indecency claimed to have been committed between 1984 and 1991.

Radicals make the most noise, but so do empty vessels

Extreme viewpoints exist only as long as we give them a platform.

Church abuse victims call for government to step in

THIRTY victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Melbourne yesterday asked the Victorian government to investigate the church's handling of complaints, claiming it perverted the course of justice and bullied victims.

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