Students who pass on religion win fight

PARENTS have claimed a victory in the dispute over teaching religion in schools, with the Education Department changing controversial guidelines so that students who opt out of the classes must now be given meaningful activities.

Sophie Aitken, one of three parents who have taken legal action against the department on the grounds the classes are discriminatory, said the changes represented a win for parents.

The new policy says principals must ensure students who do not attend are appropriately supervised by teachers and engaged in "positive, independent learning such as self-study".

Let gay marriage law reflect the real world

State and church recognition should not be confused.

GAY marriage will not go away. The reason is simple: most Australians accept being gay as a fact of life - a matter of innate identity and biology. Only a minority holds to the old prejudice that homosexuality is unnatural, thus justifying discrimination. That was Greens MP Adam Bandt's point in moving last November that MPs consult their electorates.

Outlook bleak if gay bill goes to conscience vote

A BILL for gay marriage would clearly fail if Labor gave a conscience vote, MPs' reports to Parliament on the issue indicated yesterday.

Of some 30 speakers, including Labor, Coalition and crossbench members, about two-thirds were against gay marriage, based on what they found in canvassing their electorates or their personal opinions.

Others sat on the fence while only a handful declared themselves in favour. There was considerable support for civil unions. The reports followed a motion from Green Adam Bandt calling for local consultations.

Bishops divided over questioning Vatican

AUSTRALIA'S Catholic bishops have responded to popular fury over the Pope's sacking of Toowoomba Bishop Bill Morris earlier this year by agreeing to send questions about it to the Vatican.

But the 42 bishops are divided about another petition asking them to put particular questions to the Pope when they make their five-yearly visit to the Vatican in October. Catholics for Renewal have sent their letter to all 1369 Australian parishes, but some bishops, including Canberra Archbishop Mark Coleridge, have told parish priests not to distribute the letter or its request for signatures.

Sins of Brothers demand inquiry

Christian Brother Robert Best, now due to serve out 14 years and nine months in jail, didn't tell us anything about his crimes. From the harrowing statements of those he attacked, however, we know much about the destruction he brought to their lives.

14 years' jail for Christian Brother

CATHOLIC order the Christian Brothers says it would again accommodate one of its members - a twice-convicted paedophile - if he is released from prison.

The order also faces a massive compensation payout if an impending civil action by 11 victims of Robert Charles Best is successful.

Best, 70, was yesterday jailed again for sex crimes against 11 young boys but this term is by far the most substantial.

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'Legal savage' in a fight for secularity

IT WAS all too much for Ron Williams. The father of six had agitated for years about the presence of religious teaching in state schools. He had fired off letters of complaint about John Howard's national school chaplaincy program and conveyed his concerns in person to two education ministers and their departmental heads.

Sins of the fathers still haunt abuse victims

THERE'S a man walking around Ballarat with a haunted look in his eyes. His disposition is gentle but he's a tortured soul, attacked by demons he often cannot control. He sometimes cries in the streets when he sees happy children. He's also an alcoholic and dysfunctional, and he talks to the dead.

On Monday, as many in Ballarat prepare for a momentous day in their troubled lives, this man, who wants to be anonymous with the pseudonym Steven, will be talking to the dead again, moving from grave to grave in the local cemetery, whispering a message he has waited a long time to deliver.

Storm over rabbi's email

ONE of Australia's most prominent Jewish leaders has been slammed for questioning whether child molestation should be immediately reported to police in the wake of the Yeshivah College scandal.

Rabbi Yosef Feldman has stood down as president of the Rabbinical Council of NSW ''to clear his name'', after his comments in an email, reported in the Australian Jewish News, provoked outrage.

Suicide inquiry won't shed light: bishop

AN INDEPENDENT inquiry into dozens of suicides among victims of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests and brothers in Victoria would achieve little, a Catholic bishop says.

Police investigating the case of convicted paedophile Brother Robert Best believe at least 26 victims of sexual abuse at schools in which he taught have committed suicide. One of the investigating officers wants a parliamentary inquiry to investigate the deaths.

''If it helps the victims I'd be more than happy for it to go ahead,'' Bishop of Ballarat Peter Connors said.

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