INDEPENDENT 2024-05-29 10:06:37


Pope Francis apologises after outcry over homophobic slur

Pope Francis has apologised after an outcry erupted over his alleged use of a deeply offensive slur to describe the LGBT+ community during a closed-door discussion with bishops.

The Vatican issued a statement on Tuesday acknowledging the media storm sparked by Pope Francis’s widely reported homophobic remark. He was said to have made the comment while reaffirming the Catholic Church’s ban on gay priests.

“The Pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms, and he extends his apologies to those who were offended by the use of a term that was reported by others,” Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni said.

The apology follows a closed-door meeting on 20 May at an Italian bishops’ conference in Rome, where one of the topics discussed was whether to allow celibate gay men to undergo training for priesthood at Catholic seminaries.

The 87-year-old pope is said to have spoken against the idea.

He was reported in the Italian media as joking that there was already too much frociaggine in some seminaries, which translates to a highly offensive Italian slur.

The Italian bishops conference had recently approved a new document outlining training for Italian seminarians. The document, which hasn’t been published pending a review by the Holy See, reportedly sought to open some wiggle room in the Vatican’s absolute ban on gay priests.

The Vatican ban was articulated in a 2005 document from the Congregation for Catholic Education, and later repeated in a subsequent document in 2016, which said the church cannot admit to seminaries or ordain men who “practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called gay culture”.

Italian is not Pope Francis’s mother tongue language, and the Argentine pope has made linguistic mistakes in the past that raised eyebrows.

His apology has been welcomed by a UK Catholic LGBT+ group.

Martin Pendergast, secretary of LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council, said: “Given the media frenzy that there has been around this, I think it is very significant that an apology has come so swiftly and he clearly recognised not just that he is sorry for those who might have been hurt but also that it was homophobic language.”

Mr Pendergast said the Pope “should be more careful about how he phrases things, particularly in these kind of off-the-cuff remarks”. He added: “I think he tends to use these slang words without understanding the ramifications they can have.”

He said the remark would not be a step back for relations between the church and its gay members and questioned the way in which the comment had emerged from the private meeting.

He said: “I just wonder what the rationale was for whoever released this to the media, was it used to weaponise against the Pope’s more consistent LGBT+ welcoming approach? It would have been better to have challenged the comment within the meeting [rather than leaking it].”

Asked about the comment, a spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said: “Echoing the consistent message of the Synod and this papacy, the Catholic Church is a place of welcome for all.”

Don’t know Glastonbury headliner SZA? Here’s why you should

Who is SZA?” a swathe of articles asked in the wake of the Glastonbury line-up announcement in March. “Why is she headlining one of the biggest festivals on earth?” Google trends from around the time showed that enough people were searching those exact questions for it to be worth answering. But the people asking “huh?” just haven’t been paying attention. As the 34-year-old singer-songwriter gears up to headline Primavera Sound in Barcelona this week (and a host of other European and North American festivals across the summer), it’s time to make space in your live music schedule for her.

It’s not unusual to have to wade through spittle-flecked complaints in the wake of a festival announcement, commenters bemoaning from their armchairs the work done by a vast network of people who’ve pulled together acts that fit the vibe, the budget and the expectations of ticket-buyers. Festivals like Glastonbury and Primavera Sound have often taken a chance on an unexpected headline act – back in 2007, people were furious that Arctic Monkeys were headlining Glastonbury for the first time with just two albums under their belt. Look how that all turned out.

So, a history lesson. SZA is no flash in the pan. She’s been working her way up the ranks since her first self-released EPs in 2012 and 2013, made at home on a whim using beats she came across on the internet. Even these first records contain everything she has come to epitomise: skewed electronic pop, enigmatic lyricism and angelic harmonies as she meanders through her subconscious, lethargically detailing her plans for bloody revenge and putting Adderall in her green tea. Off the back of these EPs, she signed a record deal with Top Dawg Entertainment to become the first female label-mate of Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q.

Things really started to take off in 2017 when she released Ctrl, which was critically adored and became the second longest-charting R&B album by a female artist on the Billboard 200: it also scored four Grammy nominations with its air of insouciant lo-fi indie, always foregrounding SZA’s rawly honest vocal over charmingly scrappy tracks that mix everything from the campfire strum of acoustic guitar to fuck-boi trap beats. She is refreshingly honest in a way that the empowerment set aren’t – when she’s the other woman, she’s sorry about it (but not sorry enough to stop); when she’s dating someone who leaves her hanging, she acknowledges her own whims that have hurt people too.

She followed Ctrl with SOS, released at the tail-end of 2022 – a date that scuppered its chances of the clean “year-end-round-up” sweep she would probably have got otherwise. It brought with it the pristine “Kill Bill”, in which she fantasises about killing her ex – “not the best idea”, she sings – and his new girlfriend in such a romantic way that you find yourself ready to hand her the gun. It has over one billion streams on Spotify (approximately one million of them were me). SOS hit number two on the UK album chart and broke the record for largest streaming week for an R&B album in the US. Between her own releases, she also featured on Rihanna’s 2014 album ANTI and the Kendrick Lamar-curated soundtrack for Black Panther, and had viral hits on TikTok. If you haven’t heard of SZA at this point, that’s honestly on you.

In fairness, though, music is more fragmented than it has ever been: someone can be as wildly successful as SZA without being a household name like Taylor Swift or Beyoncé (SZA has also written for Beyoncé, by the way). You could make the argument that someone like the singer-songwriter Mitski could be hitting the Pyramid Stage on Sunday night – she might not be “chart-big” but comes with a combination of rabid teen fans and “real music” types who find her acceptable because she has a guitar and will take any opportunity to tell you about the time they saw her play The Victoria in Dalston to 25 people (hi).

SZA, meanwhile, reflects both the fracturing of modern pop fandom, as well as music that has never been more free of the constraints of genre. SZA herself has expressed discomfort with being referred to as an R&B artist, and it does feel too limiting for the music she puts out. A SZA album isn’t really a genre piece: it’s a bird floating on a heat column, it’s a writhing existential question mark, it’s the afterglow of a really good kiss – and it’s got hits, babes, such hits. These are all things I want from a festival headliner: especially the hits, many of which creep up on you until the moment you find yourself earnestly yelling them into the night. And if you don’t know them yet… again, I have to stress, that is on you.

What even makes a headliner in 2024? It comes with a whole host of logistics made ever more impossible to navigate by Brexit, by the industry’s struggle to recover from lockdowns and by a population that demands their precise, esoteric tastes be catered to. Glastonbury – and to a lesser extent festivals like Primavera – are in a position to say, “Hey, we know you like loads of different stuff: this thing you haven’t heard before is going to be great.” Maybe that makes more sense at a festival that leans alternative, but how cool is it that one of the big three slots at Glastonbury has gone to someone who has a huge fanbase but hasn’t necessarily got that universal reach yet? That headliner pipeline isn’t going to fill itself.

So grab yourself a warm beer, pull up your waterproof trews and head out into the sea of people who already know that SZA is going to deliver a festival set that is as soft and heavy as life itself, that will be full of moments of transient beauty and righteous fury and will leave you feeling like you just experienced something special, even if it’s not your first choice. The era of SZA is here: might as well get on board.

JK Rowling says loved ones ‘begged’ her to keep trans views to herself

JK Rowling has said that her loved ones had pleaded with her to keep her polarising views on transgender women to herself.

The Harry Potter author has been met with strong backlash in recent years over her outspoken stance on trans women, and her claims that trans women “are not women”.

In an extract from a new book of essays, The Women Who Wouldn’t Say Wheesht, published in The Times, Rowling wrote that she initially kept her thoughts on the matter to herself “because people around me, including some I love, were begging me not to speak”.

“So I watched from the sidelines as women with everything to lose rallied, in Scotland and across the UK, to defend their rights. My guilt that I wasn’t standing with them was with me daily, like a chronic pain.”

The book is a collection of more than 30 essays and photographs from women in Scotland who claim to be on “the frontline of the battle for women’s rights”. It includes the views of women who are opposed to the Scottish government’s gender reform plans, like Rowling, who has previously argued that the proposals infringe on women’s safety.

Rowling first made her stance on transgender women public in December 2019 when she tweeted in support of researcher Maya Forstater, who was fired from her job at a think-tank, Centre for Global Development, over a series of tweets questioning government plans to allow people to self-identify as another gender.

In June 2020, Rowling publicly criticised the term “people who menstruate”, writing on X/Twitter: “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

Individuals and organisations often use the term “people who menstruate” to include transgender and non-binary people, for example, a person who now identifies as a man but still menstruates.

These initial remarks prompted backlash from fans of the author, who labelled Rowling a TERF – an acronym that stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist – a label that Rowling has said she also takes issue with.

The author went on to post an essay on her website titled “TERF Wars” about gender identity ideology, in which she outlined five reasons to be “worried about the new trans activism”.

The LGBT+ rights organisation GLAAD responded to Rowling’s comments, explaining that the author’s tweets align her with ideologies that “willfully distorts facts about gender identity and people who are trans. In 2020, there is no excuse for targeting trans people”.

After Rowling’s essay was published, stars of the Harry Potter franchise, including Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, condemned her comments and distanced themselves from the author and her work.

In a statement shared with The Trevor Project, Radcliffe wrote: “Transgender women are women…Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I.”

Rowling has denied being transphobic, but has previously stated that she would rather go to jail than refer to a trans person by their preferred pronouns.

Man, 20, arrested on suspicion of murdering woman on Bournemouth beach

A 20-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder after a woman was killed in a double stabbing on a beach in Bournemouth.

Two women from Poole were stabbed on Durley Chine Beach at around 11.45pm on Friday, in an incident which saw large areas of the seafront cordoned off to shocked residents for much of the bank holiday weekend.

A 34-year-old woman – named locally as Amie Gray – died at the scene, while a 38-year-old woman sustained serious injuries and remains in hospital.

Heartfelt tributes to Amie described her as a “wonderful human being” who “didn’t have any enemies”, as friends told The Independent they were in shock over her death.

In an update on Tuesday night, Dorset Police said they had arrested a man from south London.

The force said: “Following extensive enquiries, a 20-year-old man from the Croydon area of London has been arrested on suspicion of murder and attempted murder.”

Intelligence and firearms officers worked with the Metropolitan Police to arrest the man in London, the force said.

A 17-year-old boy from Lancashire arrested at an early stage of the investigation was later released without charge and had been “eliminated from inquiries” following investigations over the weekend, Dorset Police said on Monday.

The same day, Dorset Police released CCTV images of a hooded suspect and continue to urge anyone with information to come forward.

In their latest statement, Detective Superintendent Richard Dixey said: “The investigation has progressed at speed over recent days, which has now led to an arrest being made in London.”

He added: “We are continuing to update the loved ones of the woman who tragically died, as well as the victim in hospital, with all the latest developments and our thoughts remain with them.

“I would like to thank everyone so far who has provided information and reiterate my appeal for any witnesses who have not already come forward to please contact Dorset Police.

“The enhanced visible policing presence in the area will remain in place and we would continue to strongly encourage anyone with concerns to please not hesitate to speak to any officer who will be able to listen and provide appropriate advice.”

Speaking to The Independent this week, a friend of Amie described the personal trainer as “a lovely woman, easy going and such fun”.

Michelle Shipley said: “Me and my daughter are still in shock. I was talking to her hours before and planned to see her on the Sunday. I will forever treasure her voicenotes and the pink blanky she gave to my daughter.”

Another friend wrote on Facebook: “Fly high Amie Gray, I’ll miss you so much. I feel so heavy! You were such a good friend and someone I could call about anything. A beautiful person inside and out, thank you for all the laughs and memories I will cherish forever.”

Kate has ‘turned a corner’ and is now ‘tolerating the medication a lot better’

Following reports that the Princess of Wales had been “out and about” with family in recent days as she continues her course of preventative chemotherapy, some speculation has turned to when Kate will return to official engagements.

Though some conflicting reports suggest Kate could return as early as autumn and as late as into the new year, the Palace and royal insiders have been keen to stress that no official comeback date has been planned.

However, according to Vanity Fair, the royal has recently “turned a corner” with her treatment and is feeling a lot better.

“It has been a great relief that she is tolerating the medication and is actually doing a lot better,” the publication reported. “It has, of course, been a very challenging and worrying time. Everyone has rallied around her—William, her parents, and her sister and brother.”

While Kate was understood to be the driving force behind last week’s landmark early years project, it is understood that Kate is in no hurry to return to work, and remains focused on recovering.

Meanwhile, the official website for the royal family no longer includes a 2016 statement Prince Harry released in defence of his then-girlfriend, Meghan Markle. Through his press secretary, Harry had accused the media of turning his relationship into a public spectacle.

Sun, sea and secret escapes: Why Crete should be your top holiday pick

A rich cultural heritage, glorious white-sand coasts and crystal clear seas – if there’s anywhere that ticks the boxes of a beautiful Grecian paradise, it’s the island of Crete.

Stonewashed waterfront cafes and wine bars line the historic 14th Century harbour, Chania, showcasing the early-day Venetian-influence that is now infused in Cretan life. Fringing the island are vast stretches of white-sand and pebble beaches, providing both lively and quiet pockets of paradise for everyone. History-enthusiasts shouldn’t miss a visit to Knossos Palace – a myth-laden 1600 BC fortress where tales of the minotaur are shared by local guides. While for those aching for the great outdoors, Samariá Gorge’s dramatic limestone trails lead to secluded swimming pools fringed with pretty waterfalls.

Crete is abundant with luxury hotels, offering immersive kids’ clubs, pristine Blue Flag shorelines and world-class restaurants. Book with British Airways Holidays and you can secure your holiday with a low deposit and pay the remaining balance off in as many or as few instalments as you like.*

With the added assurance of full ATOL protection (5985), as well as 23kg luggage allowance per person and a 24-hour holiday helpline all you need to do is sit back and dream of Crete. What’s more, British Airways Executive Club members can use their Avios Points for part payment on holiday packages (see ba.com/holidays for more details). Here we pick three incredible stays for the perfect break…

Located within a 10 minute drive of the old town of Rethymnon, and set on a beautiful, 1000m long sand and pebble “Blue Flag” awarded beach, LUXME White Palace is just one example of the ‘Luxury-Made-Easy’ ethos for which Grecotel is famous.

Stylish Grecian white walls adorn the open-style communal spaces here, providing light-filled interiors that lead out to the main deep blue seawater pool, with additional activity pools for children who wish to enjoy their own space. Even better, guests staying in the LUXME White Palace bungalows can step off the private terrace and directly into the ‘swim-up’ shared pool, while those booked into the Yali Suites can indulge in complete privacy with their own pool.

A wonderful waterfront promenade hosting seven restaurants overlooks the beach. Don’t miss adults-only The White with its degustation-style menu, while a visit to Tavernaki, will introduce you to traditional Cretan cuisine and the delights of meze and ouzo. Relaxed afternoons can be spent at ‘Long’ Beach Bar, sipping on an Athenian spritz or a premium wine from the resort’s two on-site wine cellars, against the enchanting backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea.

Exuding elegance and glamour through traditional Grecian furniture and renaissance-era artwork, this beachfront hotel – situated just 5km from the old town of Rethymnon, set on a prime beachfront location in the heart of the Cretan Riviera – Caramel Grecotel Boutique Resort offers quirky decor, eclectically chic accommodation and luxurious facilities.

The central riad-style courtyard, decorated with ferns and palms, is a peaceful place to retire with a book. While the resort’s 69 rooms, 54 suites and 15 villas, shaded with terracotta roofing, contain handcrafted Italian tiles to provide a cool, refreshing feel.

The resort’s centrepiece is, unsurprisingly, the large seawater swimming pool – its inviting hues glistening in the sunlight from dawn to dusk. Around the edges, lily pad-style designer sun lounges provide a heavenly sunbathing spot, while soft mattresses, day beds and even a hydro massage ensure pure relaxation at all times.

Caramel Grecotel Boutique Resort offers two dining options: Caramel The Restaurant’s Mediterranean buffet and the Gourmet à la Carte Restaurant. Dishes are mostly created from fresh, seasonal and local produce, much of which is sourced from Agreco Farm, located just 7 minutes from the resort. Fresh salads, delicious hot and cold platters and herbal teas are available in the buffet-style selection – while the Gourmet menu features everything from fruits de mer to succulent lobster spaghetti.

Just 15 minutes’ drive from Heraklion International Airport, and situated on a stunning sandy cove, Amirandes feels as though you’re stepping into an ancient Cretan village; one that encompasses 17 acres of pristine gardens filled with olive and pine trees.

Built to mirror the design of the ancient Minotaur Palace and infused with Minoan and Venetian influences to create an infinitely tranquil setting, Amirandes balances the old with the new. At the centre of the hotel sits an ancient saltwater lagoon – the first glimpse of the natural pools that make up this resort. An Olympic-sized infinity pool surrounded by traditional sandstone, 60 private pools – and, of course, the Mediterranean Sea complete the soothing ambience of the resort.

Book the kids into the complimentary Grecoland Children’s Club, for fun-filled days spent in paddling pools and building sandcastles or playing dress-up and discovering arts and crafts. Teens will be spoilt for choice with mini-golf, a basketball court, five-a-side mini-football pitch and tennis courts.

At the resort’s five restaurants, choose between seafood platters, Asian fusion and hot-off-the-grill steaks – while the central Minotaur restaurant is home to a 30-piece Picasso collection. For those wanting to sample local cuisine, book a table among the olive trees at nearby Logári Taverna – which brings Cretan flavours to life through humble family recipes.

All holidays with British Airways Holidays are ATOL protected and include 23kg baggage allowance per person and a 24-hour holiday helpline. Secure your Crete holiday now with a low deposit* at ba.com/whitepalaceba.com/amirandes and ba.com/caramel

*Based on two sharing. Full balance due four weeks before departure for short haul holidays. Subject to availability. T&Cs apply. See ba.com/deposits

Can Keir Starmer really be called a socialist?

As if they couldn’t think of anything more interesting to ask the leader of the Labour Party during an election campaign, Keir Starmer has been tackled on the hot topic of socialism, and whether he is a true socialist. Surprisingly, given his track record, Starmer immediately agreed that he was – though his answer was given a generous garnish of progressivism.

“Yes, I would describe myself as a socialist,” he said. “I describe myself as a progressive. I’d describe myself as somebody who always puts the country first and party second.”

It is a little disconcerting because he has dumped many of the socialist pledges he made when campaigning for the Labour leadership, and has ruthlessly expunged the Corbynite left of the party. As Private Eye editor Ian Hislop might say: if he’s a socialist, I’m a banana.

It is a coup for Labour to position itself as the party for business

In a matter of weeks, the Labour Party will, most likely, be in government after 14 years in opposition. As Rishi Sunak so often points out, they have therefore had a long time to think about policy and ideas. Mr Sunak always adds, predictably enough, that the opposition has come up with nothing – or at least “nothing new” – in the election so far. This is harsh and, fortunately, Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, seems ready to prove him wrong.

In her latest high-profile speech – Sir Keir Starmer is granting her vice-presidential billing in this “presidential” election – Ms Reeves capitalised on the open letter signed by 121 business leaders endorsing Labour’s plans and Labour’s polling lead on economic competence. She wants Labour to be the party of business. The days when a Labour shadow chancellor would cheerfully throw out a random pledge to give everyone free broadband have, evidently, gone. She is, to borrow a phrase coined by a previous leader, a serious chancellor for serious times.

Making the Labour Party a determinedly pro-business party is certainly novel. Not since the 1990s and the “prawn cocktail offensive” in the City has the party made such an effort to reassure the business community. Labour hasn’t had much luck stealing the Tories’ clothes since, but, to extend the metaphor, the baleful impact of Brexit and Boris Johnson’s infamous “f*** business” remark pushed the Tories’ clothes a lot closer to Labour’s grasp.