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A few weeks ago I wrote an article published by Mercatornet comparing how abortion, which was brought onto UK statute books, supposedly for emergency and desperate case circumstances only, with the so-called safeguard of requiring the signature of two  independent doctors, has been automatically built into the health care system, meaning that in all stages in pregnancy women are presented with the virtue of our age – choice.

It’s inevitable that if assisted suicide is eventually enacted into legislation, euthanasia will drift exactly the same way. Any decent or civilised society should not be putting the option of whether or not to kill another person on the table, let alone committing the act for you.

I mentioned before how this incorporation of abortion into part of the package of ‘health care’ options offered to pregnant women, not only violates the Abortion Act itself, under the terms of which one might expect the request to be led by the woman herself, rather than suggested by the clinicians. My experience of the past few weeks, which to be fair is no different or more outrageous than in previous pregnancies, more than illustrates this.

This time I have been fortunate, there has been no doctor or midwife attempting to hector or pressure me into considering abortion on the grounds of not having adequate spacing between the children. Two years ago, I remember sitting in tears in the midwife’s office as she loudly tutted and suggested that I really ought to think about what I was doing and consider counselling for abortion and sterilisation while I attempted to pacify two bored and noisy toddlers as I hadn’t been able to arrange childcare for that particular appointment and had been told that there wouldn’t be another slot available for another 5 weeks. In the pregancy prior to that a self-identifying Catholic GP had proceeded to lecture me about how the Church was wrong about contraception and abortion and again suggested abortion, this time as a cure for acute morning sickness.

So actually this time has been a picnic, but nonetheless abortion has been subtly suggested as an easily accessible and acceptable pathway. Many readers will note this approvingly, however when so many women find this such a difficult and heart-wrenching decision and suffer agonising physical and emotional consequences, it is worth asking on those grounds alone, along with the  irrefutable fact that abortion ends a life, whether it ought to be treated so lightly on the NHS. It’s always there, always looming over you as an option, and for most women has the effect of adding pressure and really having to justify continuing with a pregnancy.

So let’s consider what happened to date. Firstly, I couldn’t manage to get the obligatory GP appointment wherein I turn up and say “OK doc I’m pregnant, I’ve done a positive test” and they say “right okay and you are fine with that?”, I confirm, it gets typed in on the computer screen along with dates, and from there I am allowed to proceed to book in with the midwife. The GP appointment does nothing useful for the pregnant woman, there are no blood tests, no care plan suggested, it’s nothing other than a gatekeeper appointment for those who have perhaps experienced an unplanned pregnancy or are undecided. If you are pregnant, happy about it and want to proceed straight to midwife, in my surgery, it is not allowed. With 4 children and a lot on my plate, it’s an unnecessary hassle.

Due to holidays and an early threatened miscarriage I managed to circumvent that particular rigmarole, helped by the fact that I had presented at the Early Pregnancy Unit who had directly booked me in for a 12 week scan, rather than having to go via midwife. It meant that a swift appointment needed to be found with a midwife to ensure that I had a set of notes with me and so they managed to slot me into a cancellation without first seeing a GP.

But even at the Early Pregnancy Unit, before I had even been scanned to find out what was actually happening with my uterus, the very first question I was asked, was whether or not the pregnancy was planned, which seems something of an insensitive irrelevance when a woman wants to know exactly what the status of the embryo or foetus (from 8 weeks) is.

I wanted to know whether or not the baby was miscarrying. Did it really matter at that point whether or not it was planned, or would it have affected my treatment? The only possible reason for that question was to discuss abortion options if necessary or work out whether or not it was worth attempting any preventative action which could save the baby.

The next question was “do you accept the pregnancy?”, which was fatuous. Either a woman is pregnant or she is not, regardless of whether or not she accepts the fact. It’s a clear euphemism and again presents an option on the table for a woman to think about. Why should the first thing that a woman anxious that she might be miscarrying a baby be asked, is whether or not she planned her pregnancy and whether or not she ‘accepts’ the baby.

I’ve said before, this question always reminds me of the questions asked of parents in Baptism and is for me a public confirmation and affirmation of the life inside, but nonetheless it was a disconcerting irrelevance. Would this happen in the diagnosis of a terminal disease. “Do you accept the prognosis and traditional plan of palliative care?”. Putting a big fat elephant in the room as to whether or not you are truly making a ‘moral’ choice by selfishly continuing with your life until its natural end.

From there on everything proceeded smoothly and as I said earlier in the week on Conservative Woman, I declined the option for Downs Syndrome screening.

One of the comments in which a woman claimed that I had no idea what I was talking about, did give me pause for thought as she outlined how a diagnosis could be helpful even if you were not planning on abortion, as Downs carries lots of risks for the child in utero. Technically a care plan should be tailored to ensure the safety of both mother and child, but when you are faced with the screening options, this is never specifically outlined in terms of your decision making and many women report being given very little in the way of positive support or information when told that their child has a genetic abnormality.

 Indeed the leaflet warns that once you have had the screening, you cannot turn the clock back and that unless you are prepared to cope with the stress of knowing that you have an increased likelihood of a child with Downs, or are prepared to consider a further diagnostic test (with a 1-2% chance of miscarriage) then you might be better off not having the screening at all.

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I declined because I didn’t want to be worrying about it. If the baby has Downs then while it will be far from easy, especially  as I already have a number of children. I’d rather meet the challenges and difficulties as and when they come, rather than spend sleepless nights worrying about hypothetical scenarios. Furthermore the leaflet states that the primary purpose of all the risky invasive tests is to detect Downs Syndrome, although other conditions may be discovered.

Screenshot 2014-08-29 11.13.01

So the scan went ahead yesterday. As predicted, I was asked to confirm whether or not I wished for the nuchal translucency test for Downs, which combines a screen result with a further blood test. When I said no, I was pretty candid about it, stating that the only thing that I was hoping to see on the monitor was a live baby after what happened last year.

The sonographer was very sympathetic, but nonetheless they said that she would still measure the nuchal translucency, i.e. the amount of fluid behind the baby’s neck to see whether it was within normal parameters. An increased amount of fluid is a strong indicator of Downs Syndrome. If the measurement was high, she would inform me in order to give me the option to change my mind about having the full screening!

It turned out that the measurement was well within normal limits. That doesn’t mean that the baby definitely does not have Downs Syndrome, but in all probability there is a lower risk.

I’ve been left feeling disconcerted as though I somehow went back on my word. When they told me that they would measure the fluid anyway, I should have firmly stated “look I’m not interested either way” but at that point, when you are lying on the table, there is a sense of having ceded control and powerlessness. I just wanted them to hurry up and switch on the equipment so I could see whether or not there was still a heartbeat.

I also have to confess to a slight sense of relief which goes to show that even the most pro-life amongst us are not immune from the insidious pressure and notion that a Downs Syndrome diagnosis is a catastrophic thing. All of which adds to the stigma, both for sufferers themselves and their parents, which Dawkins did his best to stoke, adding unrepentantly that he’d only upset a small minority, in any event. If the NHS didn’t make such an issue of flagging up Downs Screen for pregnant women, going so far as to suggest that it can be such a problem that women ought to consider risking their baby’s life, most probably wouldn’t give it much of a thought.

It’s not that I reject the idea of pre-natal screening or wish to demonise those who opt for it, but surely it ought to be offered purely for theraputic reasons, to alleviate and treat conditions, either in utero if possible, or to prepare future healthcare strategies and plans for mother and child, rather than continually  present the issue of whether or not the child ought to live. Screening the unborn for disabilities does nothing to help advance research into therapies to help sufferers.

It doesn’t feel as though the NHS has got the balance right, when they are being so proactive in terms of continually presenting abortion as a consideration.

Blogging apologia

Eagle-eyed readers may have notice that I have updated my previous strapline, which was typically flippant and suggested by my husband as a joke, when I couldn’t think of any better way of describing myself.

I never set out to write A Catholic blog, the cassock-loving thing was a play on the fact that I was married to a man who wore one and also to give a small hat-tip in terms of liturgical preferences.

A Catholic woman blogging about life, suits me, and the flavour of this blog much better. It was never my aim to write about liturgy, ecclesiastical politics, lobby for any political cause (the pro-life stuff just happened organically), give theological or homiletical insights (way beyond my skill-set) or show-boat my superior humility, modesty and piety!

No, the impulse that triggered this blog, was 1 Peter 3:15. I just wanted to demonstrate that rather than being the perceived Amish smock-wearing recluse who forced her children to wake up at 5am for prolonged periods of bible study and blushed at the use of a naughty word and who had no experience of ‘the real world’, actually, like most of us, I’m a  seasoned and regular sinner.

This blog was simply to explain some of my weird beliefs in a relatively simple and straightforward way, initially to those who, when I explained how excited I was about Pope Benedict’s visit and defended the Regensburg address, promptly attributed this to psychotic religious fervour, brainwashing or madness.

That's Caroline Farrow that is!

That’s Caroline Farrow that is!

I never imagined that it would take off in the way that it did which was probably why I was so woefully unprepared for the negative sides to blogging or expressing your views in public, which in my case meant that I became subject to a prolonged and still ongoing obsessive hate campaign, the intensity of which has at times, utterly floored me.

But with the help of regular confession, prayer and spiritual direction, I’ve managed to pick myself up, restore my equilibrium and it’s thankfully business as usual!

Mary O’Regan has suggested that bloggers need to become more Catholic, a suggestion with much merit, which got me thinking.

While I might endeavour to make this blog more solidly Catholic, my focus has never been to write solely about Catholic subject matter, probably because others such as official news agencies and publications, can do that better.

My aim gentle reader is to continue as a Catholic woman, a wife, a mother, someone with a passionate interest in the pro-life cause, who is a bit of a news junkie, offering her outlook and perspective on current affairs, the world around us, interspersed with a bit of what’s going on in my own life and some of my own experiences. That’s it I’m afraid. Life as a normal Catholic woman.

For those who think well Caroline, your experience is not that of a normal Catholic because your husband, yadda yadda, in some ways that’s right, but then I’m willing to bet, in fact I know, that there are plenty of Catholic women who are far more pious in terms of daily spirituality and Mass-going than I am. I wasn’t brought up by a ostensibly Catholic family, so I’m having to learn a lot of basic habits and customs for the first time and make a conscious effort to integrate them into family life. Plus with 4 children and school runs and the like, daily Mass, even regular adoration is sadly unfeasible and an undreamt of spiritual luxury.

The Catholic blogosphere has turned rather meta of late, people blogging about not blogging. My output has been tailing off simply for practical reasons. I’m busy with the  family, busy with children, busy with the new dog who is a bit of a handful, busy with my weekly Universe column, busy with Universe Catholic Radio, busy with Catholic Voices, busy putting newly acquired public speaking skills into practice, busy with other writing work, in short it’s all go.

I haven’t got time or excess emotional energy to worry about mad trolls, what Pope Francis may or may not be saying or who the next curial appointment is going to be. Which  is  also why I’m not blogging so much.

Plus I’m pregnant again and due to my advanced age, am finding it’s exacting a much greater physical toll than it did a few years ago. I’m only just coming out of the woods in terms of being able to look at my computer screen.

So I’ll probably continue to blog as previously, namely whenever I get particularly exercised about something or other, from loony Lib Dem sex ed policy, deeply dippy Dawkins or Tina Beattie’s latest (definitely more on that anon), sometimes erudite, sometimes critical, sometimes political, sometimes analytical, sometimes flippant, sometimes even pop culture, but always from the perspective of a Catholic laywoman, a wife, a mother, a daughter, sister, friend, who loves God, loves the Church, loves the Saints, who does her best and who sometimes gets it wrong!

Last year, the prominent religious broadcaster Vicky Beeching (presenter of Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4 and frequent reviewer of the papers on Sky News) asked me for an interview on Catholic perspectives for her faith and feminism website.

As is standard practice these days, she used the medium of Twitter to publicise her various interviews. At that point, my personal painful story of abortion was not common knowledge, however a former friend whom I had confided in, sent Vicky a series of messages in which she informed her of my secret and claimed it as proof that I had probably had multiple abortions (not true) and was secretly pushing a pro-choice agenda.

Again and again she messaged Vicky, her messages becoming increasingly urgent and demanding in tone, “what about her abortion, how can you interview her as being pro-life” the recurring theme.

Thankfully Vicky paid no heed and published the interview here, one which, I hope does give a good account of Catholicism in relation to women. Almost within 5 minutes of the interview being posted, another woman who has displayed obsessive tendencies in terms of her strong and frequently posted contempt for me, wrote a comment in which she too, mentioned my abortion, accusing me of hypocrisy, of sanctioning abortion for myself and no-one else, failing to understand that my experience of abortion made me realise what a terrible thing it is, for mother and baby alike.

Though healed, at that time I was still in the early stages of the pregnancy with Raphael (who died in utero) and not ready for this information to be outed, especially not on in the comments box of such a public website.

I therefore asked Vicky to remove the comment and she immediately edited it, much to the chagrin of the original poster, who repeatedly hectored her on Twitter “why did you delete my comment about Caroline Farrow’s abortion”.

Perhaps it was a coincidence, but shortly after the interview was published Vicky repeatedly found herself tagged into a series of vitriolic and very personal comments, about her appearance, her intelligence and her motivations by the person who had messaged her, using the pretext of something else Vicky had said publicly, with which she disagreed.

Vicky could, if she was unprincipled and unscrupulous have published all this information, in an attempt to show me up as a hypocrite and undesirable person whose position on abortion was untenable, especially as she herself has a pro-choice view. The fact that she didn’t speaks volumes about her honesty, integrity and decency as a person. As does the fact that she also passed a series of radio interviews my way about the forthcoming papal conclave back in 2013, feeling that I would make a better pundit on the subject.

I’ve only met Vicky in the flesh once, (when she told me about the trolling she had received in relation to me) but found her to be an immensely charming, genuine and sincere person, who has treated me with utmost Christian kindness, despite the fact that she must have found my views on same-sex marriage difficult to accept, and going by her interview in today’s Independent, in which she comes out as same-sex attracted, potentially quite hurtful.

A lot will be written by many Christian commentators about this, but I’d like to publicly offer my love, prayers, support and thanks to Vicky who has modelled Christian behaviour, tolerance, compassion and understanding to someone with whom she is ideologically opposed. I owe her at least as much.

To support Vicky in her coming out, is not to necessarily endorse any of the choices which she might make, but to accept that what she has done is extraordinarily brave, not least because many of her target audience will strongly disagree with her. There has been talk of boycotting her music and this admission could well affect her commercially, although I suspect it will consolidate and further her position in terms of mainstream broadcasting. It must also have been difficult coming out with parents who take the traditional and orthodox Christian view of homosexuality. I should imagine she will also be subject to a fair few salacious and sexually derogatory comments, especially from certain newspapers and media outlets.

Vicky’s experience of public exorcisms are not the way in the Catholic Church, most would agree that this is no way to help and support anyone struggling with feelings of same-sex attraction, however it does highlight the plight of many young Christians who believe themselves to be gay.

Reverend Peter Ould in his response on Facebook, offers some typically sensible thoughts:

1. It’s almost always better this side of the closet. Locking away such a huge part of your emotional life leads to the kind of stress Vicky describes. Being truthful about your feelings is normatively liberating and tends to be much more about living with yourself than living with others (and their perceptions of you).

2. Coming out as LGB does not necessarily mean endorsing a particular sexual ethic. It is perfectly possible to be open and honest about your sexual attractions and still hold to a traditional position on sex and marriage. The sign of an emotionally and intellectually stunted and repressed person is not that they don’t act on their attractions, but rather that they think a person has to act on their attractions and emotions in a particular way to be spiritually healthy.

3. Coming Out narratives, with their accompanying emotions, need to be reviewed with the passage of time. As C S Lewis so clearly indicates with the story of the Queen of Glome in “Till we have Faces”, the victim narrative many of us tell is in fact often a denial of responsibility for our own sinful decisions and responses that have shaped who we are today. It’s too easy just to ignore inconvenient facts from yesterday that distort (even contradict sometimes) the picture you’re trying to paint today.

4. When Vicky says “The Church’s teaching was the reason that I lived in so much shame and isolation and pain for all those years” and then describes that teaching as ” I am attracted to people of the same sex and I’ve been told God hates that”, it’s worth pointing out that such a teaching is not Biblical. The Bible has plenty to say about the sinfulness of some sexual practices but it does not say that God hates people for being gay. And if we shape our future theologies and lives on a reaction to incorrect previous ones, we need to pick up “Till we have Faces” again.

(The Catechism of the Catholic Church says similar and goes on to say that people should never be treated unjustly on account of their sexual orientation)

Peter goes on to note the choice of Patrick Strudwick as interviewer, who is certainly no friend to either the Evangelical or Catholic churches as a result of their teachings about homosexuality. A few commentators describe the choice of interviewer as a ‘punch in the gut’ and highly political.

Peter Ould wonders whether or not the Independent would be prepared to run full and front page spreads of the equally brave testimonies of those who publicly identify as having same-sex attraction but have chosen to live celibate lives?

I might disagree with Vicky about the direction in which she wants to take the Anglican church, but from her testimony it is clear that more needs to be done to help young gay Christians identify their true vocation and not to alienate them from God, who, as she says, still loves loves them regardless. If nothing else, certain denominations ought to seriously re-think the practice of public exorcisms or the idea that a sexual orientation is indicative of demonic possession!

I strongly believe that when it comes to Christians who are attempting to reconcile their sexuality with a strong love of the Lord, as in Vicky’s case, Pope Francis’ words are the most salient “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge”.

It is not for us to judge the heart and mind of another Christian, all we can do is explain our own stance and why we believe God has asked us to live a certain way and leave the rest to Him. I certainly can’t claim that my heart is any purer than any other Christian seeking to deepen their relationship with the Creator and who at the same time wishes for a lifelong partner.

I disagree with many of Strudwick’s narratives and assumptions, which are coloured by his personal judgement, but I am sorry that Vicky has experienced such a tortuous and painful time, including a debilitating illness and like many of my good Catholic friends, I have no interest in eschewing her on account of her sexual preferences.

Talking of her parents’ attitude to the theology around homosexuality, who disagree with her, but love her all the same she says “it’s a picture of what is possible, even when you don’t agree, that love can supersede everything”

A sentiment that we all ought to bear in mind.

If you read the Universe or follow me on social media, you may be aware that I have just returned from a pilgrimage to Lourdes.

One of the things that struck me about this particular trip is the response of my children, especially that of my ten year-old and four year-old. I guess this is how ‘indoctrination’ or enculturation really works – not by verbal barracking or proselytising but what Pope Francis would probably term a ‘culture of encounter’. My experience demonstrates why accusations of indoctrination against Catholic schools are so far off the mark. If a family does not practice the faith at home or introduce their children to Catholic traditions, then any seeds planted in school are likely to fall upon fallow ground.

If we begin with the ten year old, when asked what her favourite part of the trip (which included hotel party nights and lots of opportunities to socialise in a small group consisting of children her own age) her response was ‘doing the high stations of the cross’. For those who have never been, there are two sets of stations of the cross in Lourdes; one high up on a hilltop which give an imposing aerial view of Lourdes which I’ve never done, the steep slope rendering them impossible for wheelchairs and buggies, the other on the flat plain, adjoining the river. The lower stations are huge modern interactive sculptures, designed to be touched, whereas the high ones consist of larger than life tableaus, which really bring the Passion to life. Both are beautiful.

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Jesus falls the first time, High Stations of the Cross

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The Crucifixion, low stations of the Cross

I have to confess that upon hearing that her favourite part had been the Stations, I did shed a few tears of both pride and joy and no doubt any non-Christians reading this would cite this as proof of emotional abuse, ‘fancy,’ they would say, ‘making a ten year old walk in Jesus’ bloody footsteps and gruesome death on her holiday, how deranged and bizarre, robbing her childhood and imposing your ideas upon her’, but the point is that she was given the choice whether or not to do the more grown up version and chose to do it on her own. Furthermore, the Stations of the Cross, while constituting the penance that Our Lady requested that pilgrims to Lourdes must make, are invariably joyful – they have a happy ending and demonstrate Christ’s love for us. The Passion, the crucifixion is a central tenet of our faith. It does pre-teens no favours to infantilise them and in any event, the figures, while incredibly lifelike, go nowhere near as far as the realism of the Mel Gibson, Passion of the Christ movie.

So anyway, the other things that our eldest child enjoyed were the torchlight procession, perhaps unsurprisingly, what child would not enjoy walking with lit candles through the twilight and darkness, and full immersion in the baths, again, something that I have never done, both on health grounds (last time I went I was 37 weeks pregnant) and the logistics of 3 under 5s. In terms of the baths, again (and I know this reads like a smug mother post, really I don’t care) I was delighted that one of the adult helpers commented upon how quiet and thoughtful she was during the two hour wait, joining in with all the prayers and actually setting the tone for the other children. She didn’t think it was a weird thing to do at all, Our Lady asked for pilgrims to bathe in the spring and so that is precisely what she did. At the service of reconciliation, her age group was taken off to have some age-appropriate preparation prior to confession; she was one of the last to queue up and make her confession because according to the leader she wanted to have a little bit more time to think about things, rather than rushing straight up to get it over with.

Now I certainly can’t take the credit for producing such a thoughtful and reflective child, but I do believe that having a family that practices our faith at home, not in an ostentatious way, but just in little everyday habits, along with being away with a group all with a similar attitude towards Christianity, has definitely helped, in a way that being lectured at would not, which most children find deathly boring and is counterproductive.

The big surprise of the trip however, was not my eldest child, but the response of the four-year old, who tends to stubborn, wilful boisterousness and what this has to demonstrate towards the Church, particularly those who make certain assumptions about the young and ‘traditionalism’.

While away I read Joseph Shaw’s excellent blogpost on children and Latin whose experience mirrors my own. One of the things that the eldest loved while on the torchlight procession was being able to join in with all of the Latin chants. She may not know what every single word means, but in a procession consisting of several languages, whenever the Salve Regina, Paternoster, or Gloria Patri cropped up, she was able to join in and belt it out with gusto, a smile of recognition and excitment lighting up her face. This is what we sing at home, and wow, we are singing it here. She loves this whenever we go to a certain N.O. Mass here in Brighton. What we sing should never be about how it makes us feel, but given that this is cited so much as justification for ditching the Latin and plainsong, I suspect like most children, mine loves it because being able to join in makes her feel included and actually the Latin, quite grown-up. Children savour big words, they adore feeling as though they are adults, words like consubstantial make them feel all clever and sophisticated, like they too have been let in on a secret.

So on to the 4 year old, and also the 3 year old. Most of the basilicas in Lourdes, frankly aren’t very inspirational, especially the basilica of Pope Pius X, which resembles a giant underground car park, draped with flags of the saints in an attempt to give the place a spiritual air, but which from a distance could pass off as advertisement posters. The children absolutely loved the place. Why? Because it gave them licence not to concentrate and to run about in several different directions. Church meets play area, the low benches providing plenty of opportunity for imaginative young minds to double as hurdles, balance beams, places to hide underneath, swing off and climb over. Their attention wasn’t focused, all they could see was the play potential of the place.

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Interior of Pope Piux X basilica – lots of potential for adventurous toddlers and not much to capture their attention

On being informed however, that our final mass would take place in the Our Lady of the Rosary basilica, I have never seen the children so excited. For the uninitiated, this is the Church that Our Lady requested was built, on top of the grotto where she had manifested to Bernadette Soubirous over a period of 15 days. The building itself is incredibly imposing and ornate, decorated with irridescent gold mosaics, surrounded by statues and topped by a golden crown, signifying that of Our Lady, Queen of Heaven.

Catholic bling for children - a golden crown, what's not to like?

Catholic bling for children – a golden crown, what’s not to like?

The children could not wait. It was for them, like going to Cinderella’s castle, all week long they had been pestering us to climb up and down the stairs of the side of the basilica going to the ramparts, the Church was a source of amazement and fascination, like something out of a fairytale. They were drawn to it and dying to go inside, knowing that it was a special place, ‘guarded by statues.’

Move over Disneyland, exciting looking Church - who's inside...

Exciting looking Church – who’s inside…

When inside, they were not disappointed. Every single wall is covered with a gold mosaic, depicting one of the mysteries of the rosary. We were seated by the Nativity mosaic, to which the children went running up to “look mummy I can see Baby Jesus…and the wise men…and the angels”. They were transfixed, not knowing where to look next, but engaging with what they could see, instantly recognising the scene, despite the fact that some would claim that Byzantine iconography upon which the tableaus are based isn’t child-friendly, and wanting to walk around the church and stare. And stare. Inevitably towards the end of the Mass, they did begin to get fidgety, due to the prolonged announcements, but there was a considerable period of time where they were happy just to sit and gaze in wonder, and a curiosity was aroused to ask more – what’s that picture over there, who’s that, why are the windows round, and so on.

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Part of the Nativity scene that my children instantly recognised

During the Eucharist, presumably the ciboria belonging to the Basilica were used, and again, they were an object of wonderment to the children, having an obvious golden lustre. ‘What’s in there mummy’, asked the 3 year old, ‘is it treasure?’, ‘well actually yes it is’, being my response, ‘it’s the body of Jesus’. ‘Can I have it too’ she asked for the very first time.

Upon leaving the church, the children asked if they could go there every time they went to Mass and have repeatedly asked the same thing since returning home.

This is what the iconoclasm of the Reformation and to some extent the post-conciliar era, have deprived our children of – their cultural heritage which they are hungry for and able to engage with, which needs no dumbing down. I’ve never ever seen the children so excited about a church before, nor indeed so willing to engage. Not only with the basilica, but the whole spirit of the place; despite some of the tacky tourist overtones, the holy sites themselves in Lourdes retain an aura of great reverence, this really is the place where the veil between this life and the next is extremely thin. The 4 year old asked us whether or not Bernadette was sad when she never saw the beautiful lady again and insisted upon the lengthy story being read to her every night at bedtime, proving that when she wants to concentrate and engage, she is able to. To put things into cultural perspective, I was sent to a Catholic secondary school but had no idea who Bernadette was, what had occurred at Lourdes, other than it was something to do with Catholic superstition and the name of Madonna’s daughter!

For those who would say that the Church ought to concentrate all of its resources on the poor and embrace simplicity in all things, including buildings, vestments, ciboria and so on, I can only point to John 12:5. Yes, we must help the poor, but not to the exclusion of everything else, it helps no-one to lift them out of poverty if we then exclude them from the richness of the Gospel. We should not lose sight of the fact that we are here to serve God, spread the Gospel and not just get caught up in single issues, whether that be the pro-life cause, or fighting to get rid of poverty, something which in any event, will never be accomplished.

The money is well spent, if, as with my children, the surroundings of a building really helps draw them closer to God and want to engage with and understand what is going on inside. The fact that a 3 year old thought that a ciborium contained treasure, demonstrates the importance of the symbolism. No complex theology was needed to draw her eye to and cause her desire for the Eucharist. She could see how important and valuable it was for herself.

Reflecting on this later with an older religious sister, she disagreed and said what a shame it would be if the Church were to go back to a more formal liturgy, roman chasubles and so on and doubted whether or not altar servers ought to wear robes. She thought that a modern style was so much more universal and engaging, especially for the children. When I told her my experience, she was rather lost for words, believing that my children had a unique privilege due to their parents, but actually our family faith and habits are no more sophisticated or complex than the average Catholic, 50 or 60 years ago. There is nothing difficult, elite or complicated about being able to repeat a chant that you hear regularly in Church. Nothing deeply erudite about saying grace before meals, bedtime prayer or having a holy water stoop by your front door, or some statues or icons somewhere in your house, which can be picked up extremely cheaply.

The main objection seemed to be that traditionalists (as good a description as any can be found here) are concerned with ritual, rubrics and nothing else, whereas charismatics have their heart of fire for Christ. To me this seemed grossly unfair, why is a traditionalist deemed incapable of burning with love for Jesus and the Gospel, simply because they prefer the Extraordinary Form? The two traits are not mutually exclusive.

My children aren’t traddies, we don’t go to the Extraordinary Form often enough, none of us wear mantillas (so as not to draw attention to ourselves as much as anything else, although I bet the girls would love them) but they certainly responded far far better to a traditional version of Catholicism and the simple piety on offer in Lourdes, than anything they have in this country, although when we do go to a NO Mass at local church in Brighton which does celebrate the EF, their behaviour is markedly improved – the solemnity with which Mass is celebrated and the disposition of the other Mass-attenders has an impact.

A young seminarian whom I discussed all this with on the train journey home, posited that we need a new word to describe a new culture, noting that the pendulum is still swinging back into position since the extremes immediately following V2 and that nothing yet is settled, we are still on shifting sands. He coined the phrase “tradismatic”, a combination of traditionalism and the overt burning passion and fire for God manifested by the charismatic movement.

I’ve been rather taken with the phrase and the idea. The future’s bright, the future’s tradismatic! I hope it takes off.

Back in 1967, the Abortion Act was passed following a passionate and heated debate in the Commons. Baroness Knight’s speech against the motion was greeted with uproar and derision, when she stated that this bill, if passed, which was framed around compassion and cited difficult cases, would lead to wholesale abortion on demand. Her statement,

“once we accept that it is lawful to kill a human being because it causes inconvenience, where do we end?”

was mocked as being over-emotive and full of exaggeration. The Abortion Act had built-in safeguards, required the signature of two doctors to stop coercion or forced abortion and was only to be applied in limited cases to help desperate women who really had no other choice.

The parallels with the rhetoric surrounding Lord Falconer’s assisted suicide bill are striking. Forty-five years later, the architect of the bill has said that he never envisaged it would lead to abortion on demand, almost 200,000 abortions take place every year and repeat abortions are on the rise with some women having as many as 9 in their lifetime.

The two doctor safeguards have been thrown out of the window, undercover investigations have discovered doctors are not even examining their patients and have pre-signed stacks of abortion forms up to four years in advance and the Department of Health have outsourced the business of aborting babies to private companies, who claim to be charities and yet who receive millions of pounds from taxpayers for the medically awkward and messy task of terminating the lives of babies whose existence would cause an inconvenience to their parents.

The past forty-five years have seen doctors abuse procedures and break the law with impunity and enjoying immunity from prosecution or professional sanctions. In all likelihood thousands of babies have been aborted because they were female, others were aborted because their disability meant that their life was deemed to be of less value or worth, and some have been terminated, way beyond the point of viability. As one report last week pointed out, babies can be and are killed up to the point of birth for easily treatable conditions.

Medical prognoses have often been proven to be incorrect too. Babies predicted to have disabilities have been born perfectly healthy, in some cases a condition has proved easily manageable and no barrier to a good quality of life and some babies with absolutely nothing wrong have been aborted due to a mistaken diagnoses. The problem with any prognosis is that it is always phrased in fairly stark medical terminology with probabilities and scary official-sounding words like co-morbidity, the language often requiring a medical dictionary or interpreter. The language is devoid of joy, happiness or personal fulfilment but replete with potential difficulty and obstacles. There is only ever probability, never certainty and never any existential or metaphysical dimension to any sort of medical or clinical discussion.

Like the abortion laws, the assisted dying bill is backed by a host of rich, powerful and wealthy celebrities. With abortion a host of well-paid self-identifying ‘feminists’ both male and female come out in favour, with the same tropes – rights, compassion, autonomy.

But it isn’t the rich well-paid people who by and large are having abortions. Statistics worldwide demonstrate that is the poorest and most disadvantaged sections of society, especially certain ethnic minorities or immigrants who are resorting to abortion, because they find that they have no other choice.

Thinking about the UK for a moment, Tamara Beckwith, the millionaire trustafarian IT-girl of the 90’s, one of the Tara Palmer-Tomkinson stable, had a baby aged 19. For her, money was no object and she choose life, because she did not have a financial barrier. Equally we have former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, soap star Clare Sweeney and various other Daily Mail celebrities having babies and enthusiastically embracing and promoting single-motherhood because they can. They have the resources and the lifestyle to accommodate children and the perennial approval of an all-adoring public.

People such as these can argue for a position of choice, because they had the rare luxury of being able to enjoy it. Having a baby would not have been a game-changer for them in terms of money, resources or career.

But this situation is rare for us lesser mortals. We have to limit our family size or resort to abortion because it feels like there really is no other choice and we do not have a celebrity career or have to face the disapproval of friends and family for choosing to wreak havoc upon ourselves for having a baby.

Let me demonstrate how abortion, sold to Parliament as a compassionate choice to be used in limited circumstances with the signature of two doctors has been incorporated into the health care system. I’ve been pregnant once or twice now. The first thing you have to do (in my area anyway) is make an appointment with the GP to ‘confirm your pregnancy’. This entails telling the doctor that you have taken a positive pregnancy test and in my case asking to be referred to the midwife (and thinking that the whole business of saying hey doc I’m up the duff is a waste of everyone’s time and NHS resources).

See that. You cannot just book in directly with the midwife at my practice. No, you have to ‘discuss’ it first with a GP. Why? So that abortion can be discussed with you and offered if necessary or if you are undecided. In some cases, including mine, it has been suggested as a solution, to severe morning sickness and anxiety. This has happened to me with my third and fourth children. I’ve requested to be booked in with the midwife to get the whole ante-natal plan working and been asked whether or not I’m sure and reminded that there is plenty of time.

You offer someone abortion, or assisted death and there it is, straight away, on the table, like the big fat elephant in the room. When a doctor suggests it or even hints at it, it has added gravitas and instantaneously the pressure mounts, no matter how firm you might be feeling in your own mind. The impression is given that somehow you are being demanding, burdensome, irresponsible and reckless.

Since the legalisation of abortion every single pregnant woman now feels keenly aware of her ‘choice’. It’s a decision that hangs heavily in the air, every single day of an unplanned pregnancy, and even sometimes when one is planned, if there is a sudden change in circumstances. When employers become terse and uncooperative, if family or friends are unsupportive, the unspoken question, circles your head “am I doing the right thing”. When someone indicates to you that you are not, the pressure of social affirmation or expectation can prove almost irresistible.

Those diagnosed with a life-limiting condition or who suffer from a number of illness, if this bill is passed will every day have to confront this choice. “Should I just end things here and now? Am I selfish for wanting to stay alive? Am I a burden on family and resources?”. Could a bad day now lead to their premature demise thanks to a bout of depression or despair. I know, I’ve been there in pregnancy, wanting to do anything just to make the sickness end. Composer and peer Andrew Lloyd Weber has said that last year he was on the verge of joining Dignitas thanks to excruciating pain following 14 leg and back operations, but having come through the experience appreciates that to have killed himself would have been reckless and irresponsible.

Just as we see certain sections of the media and press demonise those with larger families on benefits or single mothers, because they didn’t take the option of abortion and now receive state benefits, will we now see the same said about those with multiple disabilities?

It certainly seems likely, when you have writers such as Polly Toynbee cheering on those who might feel that they would be a burden, ‘yes you will’ she says , it’s no bad thing if the terminally ill or medically dependent feel pressurised and Baroness Warnock barking that people with dementia have ‘a duty to die’.

Like abortion, the advocates for assisted dying are rich, famous and well-paid celebrities like Cilla Black, Richard and Judy and even now Lulu, seeping into the nation’s consciousness, introducing and reinforcing misplaced fears about death, dying and burdens.

They won’t have to face a cash-strapped NHS which will offer them euthanasia as a cost-saving and compassionate measure as an alternative to treatment which would prolong life. Like celebrity single mothers they really can choose between life and death without having to face censure or opprobrium for choosing the former. Meanwhile the rest of us are made to feel guilty for wishing to continue our existence.

It’s staggering when you look at the statistics surrounding birth, people are having babies later and later, partly due to financial pressures and partly because they perceive that they need to be a in a perfect chocolate box situation. Hand-in-hand with that, the idea of bodily autonomy (which is specious, no-one truly has this, you can’t force a doctor to chop off your leg) means that now we are all tuned in to the unrealistic idea of the perfect or ideal birth.

The same concept will inevitably creep in to the dying. Death will have to be further clinicalised, managed, perfect and ‘dignified’, and sold as being something which we deserve. Perceived quality of life will determine respect and value given to other people and where do you draw that line?

We are fundamentally treating our existence as passive consumers of an experience in which we are control freaks determining that everything has to be perfect according to our personal dictats and tastes, from relationships, careers, sex, pregnancy, birth, family circumstances and death. It’s hardly surprising that as society has become more prosperous and wealthy, people have become proportionally more selfish and fearful of becoming dependent on others or having others dependent on them.

Life is not perfect, it is fundamentally messy and we have to accept that everything has its season. We are on an unavoidable journey of dependence, independence and dependence once more. The fear and refusal to accept inter-dependence between parent and child now manifests right at the start of life, with parents desperate to put children in child-care and to rush their independence in order that they can be free of the burden of 24/7 child-rearing and resume their previous lives, with the child treated little more than a pet which needs training and in whom the state needs to have a stake. Is it any surprise then, when children similarly treat their parents as the state’s responsibility when they get older or that parents have a fear of intimate dependence?

There is never a perfect time to fall in love, never a perfect time to have a baby and never a perfect time to die. We must not licence doctors to build killing into our heath care system as part of a palliative care approach, but rather enable patients, just as we should pregnant women, to accept and reconcile themselves with what is going to happen, all the while offering comfort and support, rather than a violent way out.

I often muse that a woman is pregnant for 9 months as that period is a time of acceptance, anticipation and growth. The same should be applied to the dying, who deserve more than a validation of their fear, inner turmoil and despair.

Abortion was never intended to be an integral part of a woman’s healthcare needs, promoted in schools and offered as a routine and morally neutral choice. Neither was it believed by parliamentarians that society would promote abortions as desirable amongst certain classes of people, like single mothers , ‘chavs’ or those with chaotic personal lives and/or addictions. What makes Lord Falconer and his chums fool themselves into believing that assisted dying will not be applied to the poor and vulnerable in the same way?

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According to a report in today’s Financial Times, Chris Patten has been appointed by Pope Francis to take on the new role of improving the Church’s Vatican media  relations.

As former Chairman of the BBC Trust Lord Patten should have a lot of experience in terms of advising the Vatican how to overhaul their communications department and in particular their media outlets, which let’s be honest, need bringing up to date. Much of the heavy lifting in terms of communicating both the Gospel message and using the media as a form of Catechesis has already been done by enterprising American apostolates. The Vatican has, for some years now been lagging behind, the Church’s own media agency is never the first port of call when it comes to catching up on Papal news and events, or what’s going on in the Catholic world,  unless you are a well-connected Vaticanista or official reporter looking for confirmation of facts. The Vatican still needs to get its act together when it comes to stopping a lie from travelling half way around the world, while their press operation is still switching on their fax machine.

Of course the very last thing that Pope Francis needs right now is the services of a spin doctor, which I suspect he’d eschew, but if Lord Patten is going to use his expertise to help the Vatican in terms overhauling their digital output (which has markedly improved over the past few  years), or getting Vatican radio, TV and newspapers more up to date and able to better maximise the opportunities presented by the rolling news cycle, it will be no bad thing. Patten is a canny operator, in possession of a sharp intellect with a passion for public service and by all accounts a very personable and charming individual. Whatever one may think of the BBC’s editorial policies, their output is of a consistently high quality.

That said his tenure at the BBC wasn’t free of controversy, there was the disastrous coverage of Queen’s diamond jubilee river pageant which Patten admitted was ‘not the corporation’s finest hour’. Also was the affair of the over-generous pay-offs to executives which revealed a chaotic management with no-one willing to take responsibility, and there’s also the issue of the shiny new refurbishment at Broadcasting House (a project which came into being prior to Patten’s tenure) which came in millions over budget. Anyone whose visited there can’t help but to admire the place, I was struck between the transformation between October last year and just last month, the building seemed more high-tech and glossy than ever-before, all the lifts have been replaced and modernised, the recording studios are more spacious and comfortable, but nothing had previously seemed to be screaming out for improvement. I was nonetheless amused to learn that despite the billions spent on the place, apparently bits of the set on the news studio have a tendency to fall off. Perhaps it’s a deliberate retro-70s effect? BBC News meets Crossroads.

One doubts whether or not the Vatican, which is currently engaged in a Curial streamlining and efficiency exercise will have the inclination or surplus cash to play about with in the same way as the BBC – they simply don’t have large amounts of liquidity at hand, nor can I see senior Cardinals and prelates or lay officials getting together for a blue-sky media brainstorming mind-map session followed up by spot of team-building – although the sight of archbishops blind quad-bike racing or rock climbing in St Peter’s Square might be rather fun!

And of course, the big elephant in the room when it comes to the BBC is the Savile affair, although taking heed of the lessons learned in the Catholic Church Lord Patten stated that the BBC must tell the truth and face up to the truth about itself, no matter how terrible. He is no stranger to an institution rocked to its foundations by an abuse scandal and the need for confidence to be restored. At the beginning of this week BBC broadcaster Nicky Campbell launched a scathing attack on Lord Patten’s ‘ignorance’ in apparently ignoring talented female broadcasters and presenters, so it might be that this appointment is further grist to the feminists’ mill.

Lord Patten oversaw arrangements for the phenomenally successful Papal visit of 2010, and in September of 2010, The Tablet named him as one the UK’s most influential Catholics, such an accolade being something of a double-edged sword. Perhaps that’s why Damian Thompson appears to have little time for him, describing him in one tweet as being as Tory, as Tony Blair is Catholic. Ouch! It’s a theme reiterated by Damian in several posts, along with the fact that Lord Patten is a trustee of the Tablet, a Chancellor of Oxford University and  seemingly much trusted by the Bishops Conference in England and Wales, as a safe pair of hands.

Still, who are we to judge? He’s an experienced media operator, businessman and politician. For those understandably cautious about his orthodoxy, (he isn’t going to be responsible for formulating or promulgating the message, only the medium by which it is transmitted), let’s pray and wish him and the Vatican media operation, well.

Update:

It looks as though Lord Patten will be leading an extremely senior and experienced international team, according to the Vatican Press Release, which includes the very highly regarded Monsigner Paul Tighe, Secretary for the Pontifical Council for Social Relations and Gregory Earlandson, president and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor, so the Media Committee set up to consider reforms is not a mere quango and neither is Patten’s appointment some sort of English Catholic establishment political coup d’etat as might be claimed. Chris Patten is not acting as a Mandelson-style personal advisor or spin doctor, as reported in the Mail and his role is a voluntary, unpaid one.

The dry nature and visual format of the press release and the fact that the FT has so far been the only outlet to pick up the news, neatly proves the point about the need for reform.

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Taken from this weekend’s Gay Pride event in London. Genetic pre-disposition or social conditioning/choice?

Julie Bindel, bete noir of the LGBT activists scene is back, having written an interesting book Straight Expectations, one chapter of which examines the question of the ‘gay gene’ and whether or not homosexuality is a choice.

I never got an opportunity to debate Bindel  in any of the same-sex marriage media debates much to my regret. I’d like to meet Julie, though no doubt she would vehemently disagree with me. She’s highly intelligent, feisty and ferocious and in my opinion one of the most challenging writers on the entire subject. Her writing is all the more compelling for the conservative Christian when one considers that she does not share or endorse our creed, particularly in the area of sexual ethics.

Out of every single opponent I was put up against, including Peter Tatchell, whose main response was to screech ‘bigot’ by way of retort, none of them seemed to match the intellect of Bindel, nor did their  arguments go beyond the whole ‘equality equals sameness’ schtick. Intermingled amongst the disappointment of not debating Julie, was a sense of relief in that her arguments offered a genuine critique of the institution of marriage as a whole – which is a deft re-frame.

No doubt she would consider Catholic ideology as batshit extreme and outrageous as I consider some of her radical feminism, however what both positions have in common is that they are, if nothing else, entirely reasoned and logical. One of my colleagues appeared on a few programmes with her, and said that though her overall position was outre, he also conceded that she was very good and did actually make some sound points.

My husband, who has no idea who’s who in the media and chattering classes sent me a text the other day, saying that he had listened to Start the Week on Radio 4 on his way into work and heard this woman, whose name he couldn’t recall, whose overall position he didn’t espouse, having some disastrous ideas, but who was, in his opinion, nonetheless interesting. He urged me to download the programme or listen on Iplayer as he thought it was absolutely fascinating. Having checked out the synopsis, it was indeed Bindel discussing her new book and he was right, she did make some excellent and compelling points. If nothing else, Bindel is always interesting.

The Independent has published an interview between the respected establishment gay male voice Patrick Strudwick and Bindel, in which Bindel steadfastly and robustly defends her point of view that being gay is a choice. The dislike, frustration and contempt emanating from Strudwick is palpable. He deliberately chooses loaded comparisons, referring to her as an “Old Testament Maven from Tennesse” thereby planting and reinforcing the Levitical laws cliche, neatly aligning Bindel’s views with the Deep South redneck caricature.

Strudwick attempts to dismiss the issue of why some people have a different sexual orientation as being irrelevant and a preoccupation of bigots, forgetting that human diversity will always hold fascination for scientists and athropologists alike. It’s not bigoted wondering if there is a biological or evolutionary reason for various difference and by and large it is those very same bigots who would fight vociferously for the rights of gay people to be born should a test ever be developed which could identify the gay gene or sexual orientation in utero.

Bindel’s definition of choice is complex – it certainly isn’t of the “I think I’ll be gay to be fashionable”, or picking a sexual identity off the shelf, if one were to apply the word in a consumer context.

“Because I think the opposite of having an innate, biological explanation [for homosexuality] – there’s no evidence for that – has to be some kind of choice, as well as some deep-rooted, embedded responses that developed through different experiences in our childhood.”

That would appear to make sense, twin studies, appear to demonstrate that there is some kind of biological root, while there may be some kind of genetic disposition, gay men share some genetic signatures on the X chromosome, this is not the whole story. Biological factors could perhaps be mediated by childhood experiences, according to one clinical psychologist. Another theory is that environmental factors outside our control could affect gene receptors, meaning that they are either triggered or switched off in certain people, which always goes some way to explain why some people can smoke and drink inordinate amounts and yet still live to a ripe old age, free of related cancers.

The interesting thing is that these biological factors only seem to have been prevalent in men; Bindel may well have a point when she talks about lesbianism being chosen, and she’s also correct not to want to lump those who do not subscribe to hetrosexual norms, (including asexual people) into one homogenous mass. which if nothing else, is a form of de-humanisation. Actress Cynthia Nixon made a similar point about her lesbianism being freely chosen a few years ago, but was forced and  shamed by the liberal media into making a later retraction.

The quest for knowledge is not in itself bigoted and neither is there evidence to suggest that the scientists who Bindel believes to be ‘obsessed’ with the question are necessarily pursuing an agenda, whether that’s to definitively confirm the presence of a gay gene, or to use the idea of choice as a stick with which to beat gay people.

Strudwick puts his finger on the nub of why Bindel arouses such horror amongst some of the gay community because he believes that he stance will give ‘bigots comfort and fuel their agenda’.

They will say that even a prominent gay-rights campaigner agrees that it’s a choice, I counter.

“But I don’t agree with them! They wouldn’t use an argument from me in a million years!”

Strudwick is right, up to a point, there are those, including myself who believes that the personal testimony of a lesbian woman bears weight and there does seem to be an innate biological difference between lesbian women and gay men. Anecdote is not the plural of data, but I can think of several lesbian women of my acquaintance who have embarked on relationships with women after long-term relationships with men and sadly in some cases, of women who have decided that they were lesbian or preferred women following traumatic childhood cases of sexual abuse by men.

I’d also be inclined to agree with Strudwick in his identification of biological differences, gender is not merely a social fluid construct as Bindel would contend. Gender theory relies solely on ideology not an any established scientific fact. Julie’s position is a political one.

Given the numerous accusations of ‘bigotry’ leveled at those who did not wish to see the law changed and have a new definition of marriage imposed upon us, my support of Bindel will reinforce Strudwick’s conviction and unease about Bindel’s opinions.

Strudwick would do well remember that the endorsement of those with ‘undesirable views’ of a certain position, doesn’t alter the facts at hand and shouldn’t be allowed to poison or close down the discussion. Society and the media must allow for the free exchange of ideas and ignore the fact that haters on both sides of the sexual conservatism/libertinism debate or culture wars will grasp whatever is available to fuel their prejudice. The issue of whether or not being gay is freely chosen or an involuntary one, down to biological factors alone will continue to intrigue people until its satisfactory resolution, which would appear to be some way off.

The mainstream debate about same-sex marriage did not in any way centre around the causes of homosexuality, it was rightly irrelevant. What was under discussion was the institution of marriage, not the behaviour of non-heterosexuals.

Even in Catholicism that most ‘bigoted’ of religions the issue  does not ever figure, the Catechism observes that it is is not known why people have a different sexual orientation, and in event everyone ought to be treated with the dignity and respect that they are due. Straight or gay everyone is urged to act with appropriate sexual restraint. Being straight does not mean that one has no other choice other than to have sex with those to whom you find yourself attracted. Having consensual sexual intercourse or indulging in sexual acts will, always be a choice.

What is missing however, is that personal choices of this nature are rarely straightforward and almost never made in a vaccum. It doesn’t really matter whether or not homosexuality is chosen, what should be recognised is that even if this is the case for some people, even if a tiny minority do make a conscious choice to be of a certain orientation, this is completely irrelevant. We don’t stigmatise and demonise post-abortive women on account of their choices, the same principles must be applied to the gay community.

For those wondering why a Catholic is writing about or endorsing a LGBT writer, the answer is pretty simple. You can’t reject a point of view with any credence unless you can engage with it critically. Julie Bindel offers a radical critique of LGBT culture from a unique perspective.

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