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Party poopers?

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The question on every talk-show host’s lips yesterday following publication of a poll that a fifth of Britons would reject an invitation to a same-sex wedding, was ‘would you turn down an invite’.

It’s what I was asked on both LBC and 3 counties radio as was any other Catholic Voice who did a press interview. (Do check out Fiona O’Reilly and Fr Edmund Montgomerie on the Catholic Voices website who both made outstanding representations of the Catholic position).

If nothing else, this poll demonstrates the undemocratic fashion in which the government pushed through the legislation despite a hefty opposition. David Cameron admitted that had he known the level of opposition that would have been stirred up, as indicated by the over 660,000 signatures on the petition by the coalition for marriage. that he would not have pushed the legislation forward. Perhaps this goes some way to explain why the government and other lobby groups have attempted to frame the issue as being purely about love and cast anyone who disagrees in the role of disagreeable irrational homophobic bigots.

A few Catholics have privately expressed their reservations to me about some of the Catholic Voices responses to the question about whether or not we would refuse to attend a same-sex marriage.

Obviously there is no  stock answer and a question such as that requires a nuanced response, which isn’t always possible in a short media slot. Speaking on a personal level, none of my gay friends, some of whom are in civil partnerships, some of whom are single, have expressed an interest in getting married. Some take a similar view to the leading art critic Brian Sewell who is gay.

The response that I might well attend the reception, provoked the understandable response that “you’d eat their food and drink their drink, but not attend their wedding”.

The attitude I would take would depend entirely upon the situation and those involved. There is no formal Catholic teaching on what we should do in these situations and it seems to me that we need to balance demands. On the one hand, a same-sex marriage is not what we consider to be a marriage, regardless of what the law might prescribe. The state has eviscerated marriage and stripped it of its meaning. As Catholics we have the need to witness to truth, therefore we cannot do anything which might imply that we accept or condone the state’s new definition of marriage. This would include doing anything that might cause confusion or scandal or imply endorsement, such as for example,participating in a ceremony  signing a civil marriage register or doing one of the readings.

Out of love, we must continue to witness to the truth. However there is also something of a delicate balancing act to consider. Any witness to the truth, must not include a rejection of the person. We must always leave open the opportunity for reconciliation and conversion of heart. Whatever we do, we need to do all we can to ensure that we do not facilitate a total breakdown of a relationship.

So it seems to me that not attending the ceremony but attending the after-party, might be one such compromise. Especially if it were a family member and one was under pressure to be a part of a family gathering. These are where the situations are often fraught with difficulties. Maybe a better compromise would be the other way around? Non-attendance of the ceremony could prompt questions as to why you weren’t there and provide a discreet opportunity for evangelisation, at a later more opportune occasion.

In any such situation, the only thing to do is to discuss the situation with the couple involved and also think hard as to what your presence might achieve. Would it signal an implicit acceptance or could it be a chance for reconciliation/later evangelisation. It’s a judgement call that is best left in the hands of the individual to prayerfully discern. The Church doesn’t ask her members to estrange themselves from their family. It really is a delicate balancing act of the demands of truth and the Gospel with those of personal relationships.

The situation is similar in terms of what to do when you have a family member who is going against the Church’s teachings on marriage in some other way. You cannot pretend that you approve of the situation, but must find a way to express this charitably making clear that it is the objective act of which you disprove, not the person themselves, whom you still love.

The Church’s teachings are that this is not a real and valid marriage. That is an uncomfortable and for many an unpalatable, truth. As to how we negotiate the delicate balancing act of being witnesses to truth and maintaining loving relationships and keeping the door open to future communication, that has to be a matter of personal conscience. If we are to rebuild the culture of marriage we have to ensure that we don’t close down opportunities to evangelise in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.

Looking at the coverage of the first same-sex marriages that took place last night and up and down the country today, what saddened me was that with Peter Tatchell as a witness and the rainbow themed cakes and flags, some of the ceremonies appeared to be concerned with making a political statement rather about love.

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Tonight I appeared in the audience as part of BBC’s Question Time.

I hadn’t been planning to, I was asked by a friend on Tuesday who had a ticket and couldn’t go. The questions I had planned were about the fetal remains scandal and teachers.

I hadn’t expected gay marriage to come up, it’s done and dusted now in the UK and I don’t expect to see a reversal in my lifetime. That’s not to say that I am not sad about matters, in my view this contributes to a weakening of marriage and a denial that as study after study demonstrates, unless there are overwhelming circumstances such as violence or substance abuse, children fare better with and have the right to be brought up by both biological parents.

I am not going to regurgitate once more my views on the issue – if anyone is genuinely interested they can look at the category tag on this blog.

I didn’t recognise Marilyn who asked the question about gay marriage as being from my parish until after the show. She didn’t recognise me either. Probably because I had brushed my hair and didn’t have at least 2 young children hanging off each hip. Catholic parishes are large. Mine offers two Sunday Masses which are packed out. I am usually too preoccupied with stopping the kids from immolating themselves on the candle stands and making mischief therefore many people I only know by sight and the questioner is one.

So I hadn’t planned what I was going to say on the topic, otherwise I would have made a few other more salient points, elaborating more precisely on Roger Helmer’s theme about how freedom of religion and conscience will be affected.

Dr Evan Harris and others have picked up on my appearance and membership of Catholic Voices. Firstly, I disclosed my identity to the producer when my friend nominated me for the ticket. Far more salient and relevant than Catholic Voices (which is unpaid voluntary work and therefore doesn’t count as an occupation), I did disclose that I write a paid weekly column for the Catholic Universe paper, present a weekly radio show on UCR Catholic Radio and write professionally for a number of socially conservative publications. Google is a tool available to anyone and they were at liberty to use it and decline me a ticket. I wasn’t asked to do the BBC’s 100 women with my CV hat on and neither was it in the blurb. So you can complain to them all you like, but actually this is precisely what Catholic Voices is about. Enabling people to take the initiative in getting their voice heard in the public square whether that be around the water cooler or on TV.

It does show that the BBC are willing to air diverse voices and as my view offered a counter-balance to the panel, that’s why it was given time. A secret stitch up it was not. It was a toss up whether or not to go earlier, I actually needed a night to catch up on work. You are not told to disclose your political or faith views prior to speaking. Several members of the audience were political activists and party members, with all sorts of specialised views. I am not sure why my faith needs to be disclosed before I am allowed to speak. I knew that if I did speak, there would be the inevitable outrage from the usual quarters.

When the question on gay marriage came up, I hadn’t planned on saying much, because the questioner did so well, but when David Dimbleby asked who in the audience didn’t agree with the new law it was stand up and be counted time. Proposing a radical alternative point of view in that environment which was extremely hostile and pressurized, was I think, the hardest TV gig I have ever done. It was very much on the hoof and I was on the defensive rather than being able to reframe. Especially when David then interrogated me about my views regarding gay adoption and children which are far more nuanced.

I stand by my comment that children shouldn’t be made to order. Using a surrogate or sperm donor is exploitative, it treats another person along with a child, as a commodity. The practice of surrogacy, in particular, is beset with ethical difficulties.

Here is a more nuanced appearance. http://youtu.be/vB_g4kHeV8E

Afterwards Lord Wolfson and Roger Helmer MEP both made a beeline for me to thank me for my ‘bravery’. I didn’t feel brave, I felt frightened and sick. I didn’t know whether or not I would be able to add much to what Marilyn had said. It was only when Dimbleby specifically asked who didn’t agree that I realised that not to put my hand up would be cowardly. I did it so as not to let down James, who had dropped out and who wanted to ensure a Catholic voice (with a small v) was heard. We both thought that fetal remains would be the topic but I also knew that had I sat on my hands, I would be letting him and every single Catholic who has ever supported me, down.

Getting up from my seat, the girl who had asked a question about help for those who rent, sought me out to tell me I was disgusting. I asked her if she knew me or my friends and how she could make that judgement. Other people came and stuck up for me, reminding her that one of the warm up questions was about good manners. The lady I was sat next to was very warm and good-natured and apologised (I told her none was necessary) if she had been aggressive. She respected my beliefs.

Other people said that they wished they had also spoken up in support of traditional marriage but were too scared.

On the way back to the car, a group of young people spat at me. Marilyn then caught up with me, calling out “were you the lady at the front”, neither of us recognizing each other before the penny dropped. She is not an extrovert, doesn’t enjoy the spotlight and was shaking like a leaf. We saw each other to our respective cars safely.

I was expecting a Twitter hate-fest but have still been shocked by some of the vehemence and spite. I am not advocating penalising or punishing people on account of their sexuality and neither did I say that marriage was solely about children. The Twitterati were hearing what they wanted. What intrigues me as ever, is why no-one can see that not once have I judged individuals but instead made judgement calls on situations, which is what we are called to do as Christians. As ever ironically enough, it’s those who are accusing me of judgmentalism, who are in fact being the judgmental ones and claim to be able to gaze into my soul and confidently state that the position is based on hate.

But this is the kind of thing that faces those of us who will continue to stick to our guns and propound a traditional view of marriage. As the night has gone on, I am beginning to worry about my safety. Back in 2011 when David Cameron suddenly announced his intention to introduce gay marriage, I didn’t envisage things would get so nasty. Given my time again, I would still do the work I have done but definitely used the net under a pseudonym.

Anyway, have a look when it’s up on iplayer.

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Both the Catholic Herald’s Op Ed and Bishop Egan’s press release, firmly hit the button when it comes to Catholic blogging and social media.

It’s balance that all of us have struggled to achieve at some point or other. I know that my output has suffered at times, it’s hard to retain perspective when you have a small group of people, intent on destroying your professional reputation and even attempt to interfere in your husband’s vocation, fuelled by a heady combination of resentment and jealousy.

It’s part of the inevitable cost of propounding an orthodox Catholic perspective on the internet which will invariably attract negative attention from those to whom your message, your values and everything that you stand for is a complete anathema.

I’ve refrained from joining the Protect the Pope brouhaha, despite the fact that on the whole I overwhelmingly support Nick Donnelly’s work, because communications between a Bishop and one of his clergy should be private – I don’t know what was said, the Bishop’s motivations for asking Deacon Nick to take a pause and whether or not he intends this to be a permanent state of affairs.

I’ve heard Deacon Nick speak a few times on EWTN’s Celtic Connections and it’s hard to reconcile this image that many would wish to paint of a bat-guano spittle-flecked mentalist, with the polite, softly-spoken, reasoned and  theologically educated gentleman who loyally, faithfully and accurately defends and reflects magisterial teaching and corrects errors being propounded in allegedly Catholic publications, blogs and the mainstream media.

But so much can be lost in tone, and admittedly in recent times, without wishing to be either treacherous or traitorous to Deacon Nick, whom I admire greatly, I do agree with some commentators that the tone of his blog has, perhaps unintentionally, come across as overtly aggressive or perhaps lacking in charity.

I’ll go a bit further and put my neck on the line to say that personally, I have been dismayed to witness attacks, not only from Protect the Pope, but from other members of blogosphere on my own bishop, Kieran Conry, which call his orthodoxy into question. From my personal perspective Bishop Kieran has always been a kind, orthodox bishop, who has behaved in a deeply pastoral and understanding fashion, not only to my family, but to me personally.

I don’t want to make this post about Bishop Kieran per se (and I will delete uncharitable comments) but as Robin said in this month’s Catholic Life magazine, Kieran was the one to give Robin the nudge he really needed and when Robin went to see him back in Easter 2010, told him that he had no other option other than to offer his resignation to his Anglican bishop and become a Catholic, whilst rightly, at the same time, making no promises about future vocation. This is not the mark of an unorthodox bishop and neither are his recent initiatives of  reviving the Catholic practice of  abstaining from meat on Friday (which looks set to be taken up by other Bishops’ conferences around the world), encouraging Catholics take prayer into their work-place and most recently getting people back to confession by promoting the sacrament. As our diocesan bishop he deserves and has earned our loyalty and personal respect.

Both of us have found some of the attacks on him quite hard to swallow, but such can be the vehemence and bitterness involved on the Catholic blogosphere, we have refrained from commenting or entering into the fray. That fact is very telling. Also while some bloggers have written some things with which I disagree, or have found uncharitable, overall the quality of their output has been high. All of us have the odd off-post – the nature of blogging is amateur and while we should aim for highest standards of truth and accuracy, overall if someone continues to write unpalatable stuff, then there is always the option to stop reading it as opposed to picking public fights, which contravene scriptural principles. Catholic ideals of tolerance entail that divergences of opinion mean that rejecting another’s ideology or view is not commensurate with rejecting that person’s friendship. Half the problem, especially on Twitter has been a stasi-like attempt to dictate friendships and make others guilty of a crime of association. We are not a cult, calling out heterodoxy is not the same thing as shunning, yet interestingly enough it has been the liberal contingents who reject vast swathes of Catholic teaching who have been the ones attempting to target and isolate orthodox voices of reason who communicate with those of a more strident bent and turn certain bloggers such as ‘Eccles’, into untouchables.

Getting back to the Deacon Nick furore, it seems to me that a pause is not quite the same thing as being censored or silenced. We don’t know all of the circumstances. I am inclined to charity on both sides. Recently there has been a fashionable tendency by some Catholics to denigrate or deride Deacon Nick’s blog for its focus upon magisterial teachings regarding sexuality rather than themes of Catholic Social Teaching which impact on political issues. Deacon Nick has been sneered at for appearing obsessed with sexuality or others’ orthodoxy which seems to me to be unfair. He seems to have been under attack from several factions which as I know from personal and bitter experience, can make one overtly defensive and short on patience. While it’s tempting to keep steaming on regardless and not let the beggars get to you, sometimes a pause is wise – it gives you time to spiritually recharge and return stronger and more refreshed. It isn’t necessarily a silencing.

We all have our specialist focus areas, while I often get written off as a religious bigot, the focus of my blog is often deliberately theologically-lite, mainly because others do this better and because I am aware that I have a wide cross-section of readers. One could almost classify it as ‘Catholic in name only’, except that would imply a measure or level of dissent, whereas I adhere to and endorse the catechism of the Catholic church in its entirety. My focus tends to be upon pro-life issues, especially abortion and on the failures and shortcomings of contemporary feminism. Deacon Nick’s focus is transparent. Vatican II urges the laity to take the initiative therefore if people believe that Deacon Nick’s blog has a one-sided focus, there is nothing to stop them from setting up their own and plugging the perceived gap, instead of attempting to dictate to others what they should and should not write about.

I’ve never really thought about my aims in any depth, I blog on the hoof, as and when the urge takes me,  fitted in around the other responsibilities I have to juggle, but if I had to pin it down, I guess my aims would be to demonstrate that it is possible to lead a happy and fulfilled joyful life as a Catholic woman, to inspire others to enquire and look more deeply into the Catholic faith themselves, as well as change hearts and minds regarding the rights of the unborn. As a Catholic woman surrounded by contradictory and confusing messages about the role of women in society, I aim to offer comment and common sense from a socially conservative perspective.

So I’d be unlikely to be one of those bloggers likely to fall foul of the bishops. Also let’s not forget the massive elephant in the room here, I am obviously constrained by what I can and cannot say for a number of obvious reasons. My obligations and responsibilities mean that I cannot be so free and easy with my opinions as others, even when I am dying to correct misinformation which is out there, or highlight an injustice or issue which might be of concern to Catholics. There are several times I find myself having to sit on my hands and recent situations have highlighted the  appeal of blogging pseudonymously which may mean that one doesn’t get quite the same platform, but do at least allow you to speak freely without compromising your work or family’s confidentiality.

But the main reason that I refrain from getting involved in inter-Church politics is simply to avoid the backlash and nastiness, not least to my family, should give all blogging Catholics pause for thought. If Bishops don’t always take the internet as seriously as they should, it’s because they are put-off by the reams of nastiness and uncharitable comment out there and have perhaps been misled into thinking that the Catholic blogosphere consists of uninformed, unkind ranting on specialised issues which are of no concern to the faithful at large. Which is why bishops often ignore correspondence pertaining to the internet. They think it’s one big messy squabble out of which no-one comes out well.

Bloggers should be aware that they are not as influential as some might like to think – none of the parishioners in any of parishes which I have attended in the past few years have ever discussed the shenanigans on the blogs or Twitter. Most of them didn’t even know I even blogged, or was a member of Catholic Voices until they unexpectedly caught a few seconds of me on the telly or radio. It might seem a big deal to us, or other Catholics if we’re on the BBC, or have millions of people reading our blogs, but I bet Deacon Nick or Fr Tim Finigan, to name two of the biggest independent bloggers aren’t regularly mobbed in Sainsburys. Nor, I should imagine are the professionals, such as Joe Kelly of the Universe, Madeleine Teahan, Francis Phillips, Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith, Luke Coppen, Tim Stanley, or even Damian Thompson. The most I’ve ever had is a mother in the playground tell me she saw me on TV and thought I scrubbed up really well and looked totally different, and someone ask were they drunk or did they really see me on the news in the pub on a Friday night?!

We shouldn’t get too big for our boots, but we should also remember who and what it is we represent and act with dignity, respect and charity at all times. If we want both the bishops and the public at large to take us seriously, which we should, especially if there are serious issues which need tackling, (Cramner made an interesting point about whether or not bloggers would have drawn attention to clerical child abuse had they been about at the time) then independent voices such as those on the blogosphere are vital, so we need to make sure that we do not waste the opportunity.

The ever sardonic tweeter Heresy Corner, a.k.a Nelson Jones, has frequently wryly and sardonically observed the similarities between online in-fighting amongst Catholic and feminist circles. It’s inevitable to some extent given the fallenness of human nature, but publicly quarrelling ourselves into irrelevance and obscurity while those with the power to actually change things, ignore pressing issues relating to matters such as catechesis and the spread of heterodoxy, is Dawkins’ dream.

But it’s a testament to the overall quality of amateur bloggers that many of us who aren’t clerics like Fr Tim or Fr Ray Blake, such as Laurence England, Greg Daly and Megan Hodder, to name but a few, have been picked up by not only Catholic publications, but also by the wider mainstream media as a whole. It is in part thanks to my blog, that media researchers googling for an alternative point of view on a topic have given me a much wider global platform than I could ever imagined when I started and one that has resulted in a regular weekly column and radio show.

It’s vital for Catholicism that both the laity and clerics continue to speak in the public square, have a voice in the mainstream media as well as contribute to internal discussion.  If we want to be heard, we need to up our game and make sure that we are worth listening to.

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Yesterday I appeared on BBC1′s The Big Questions with my Catholic Voices hat on, in order to discuss the UN report into child abuse. Austen Ivereigh one of the founders of the project has done an outstanding job in terms of reporting developments, describing the process as little more than a kangaroo court and analysing what precisely went wrong. These posts should be mandatory for anyone wishing to understand the reasons behind Catholics’ vociferous expressions of shock, dismay and disgust and provide a comprehensive response, pointing out the many errors, false statements and lack of understanding.

No right-thinking Catholic wishes to deny or downplay the terrible harm that was caused to victims, a harm that was compounded by the attitude of those within authority who in many cases ignored or disbelieved their claims and some even went so far as to attempt to smear and discredit victims. All of this was contemptible and inexcusable – childhood abuse destroys lives and sets people up with a lifetime of mental health issues. I am the mother of four children I could not be responsible for my actions and would struggle to contain my anger were I to discover that someone had laid a finger upon my precious children, or had emotionally abused them in some way, and no doubt would succumb to wishing to wreak dreadful vengeance or fighting for justice.  The anger of victims of abuse is righteous and it is justified, they and their families have been treated shamefully by members of our church.

But truth is the bedfellow of justice and without it, justice cannot be served. This report lets down the victims by serving a false narrative of orchestrated abuse and a centralised deliberate policy of cover-up, whereas the truth is that the Catholic church is massively decentralised, individual Catholic bishops have a lot more direct canonical power than their Anglican counterparts. Where there were failings this was due to the ineptness at a local level, and if we want to prevent any sort of recurrence then we have to be able to look at what happened and analyse matters objectively. Blaming the Vatican directly is far too glib and simplistic, as well as being erroneous and it lets too many people off the hook, including those members of the laity who colluded with the abuse. Furthermore by writing such an blatantly ideological report, the UN allow those hardliners within the church who may be resisting reform to dismiss it. There are some countries who are still lagging behind in terms of formulating and reporting their child protection measures to the Holy See as Pope Benedict requested, along with some who seem to have very low prosecution rates, the UN has effectively deprived the Holy See of a chance to leverage the report and use it to rapidly effect change. John Allen, the veteran reporter, suggested that the report had been written before even hearing the Vatican’s testimony.

There is a lot that I wished to say yesterday, however the format of the show meant that I was never once allowed to finish my points and taken off on several blind alleys, such as for example, whether or not the law ought to force priests to break the seal of the confessional, despite the fact that there is no statistical or even anecdotal evidence to suggest that were priests compelled by law to report penitent child abusers in their confessional, this would have prevented any cases of abuse. Breaking the seal of confidentiality would discourage people from confessing their sins and being compelled to seek the help that they need, especially in the cases of those predisposed to pedophilia who were not guilty of any actual crimes. If a priest were to wish to confess sexual crimes in the context of the confessional, chances are that he would seek out a large city centre Cathedral far from where he lived in order that he could retain his anonymity in an old-fashioned confessional box, therefore it’s unlikely that a confessor would even know who he was, let alone whether or not he was a priest. What’s he going to do? Start chasing the guy down the aisle and conduct a citizen’s arrest, until the police arrive? Far better to withhold absolution unless and until the penitent has proven his wish to make amends by handing himself into the police. Mandatory reporting will simply discourage confessions and is an unacceptable incursion of the state into religious freedom and practice.

While the UK has witnessed child abuse, perpetrated by members of the Catholic church, the numbers are relatively small, 0.4% of priests and deacons were discovered to have been abusers and it’s notable that there are not many prolific UK survivors or survivors groups. Ireland is a different case due to the inter-relationship between the Catholic Church and state and the preponderance of state mandated Catholic institutions The scandal broke at a time where the church was beginning to lose its power and authority after decades of poor catechesis, without secure foundations the church crumbled as a result of the combined blows of the abuse scandal and the effect of the Celtic tiger.

Cases of Irish abuse are often presented in the UK media and without the cultural knowledge and background most Brits accept the narrative of Irish clerical abuse on an industrial scale without question, and are disgusted. Furthermore it’s very difficult for an English person such as myself to argue authoritatively against an Irish victim of abuse such as Colm O’Gorman who has dedicated his life to attempting to force change in the Vatican and takes issue with large chunks of doctrine. Speaking to him about the Miss Panti row, Colm doubted my perspective and cultural knowledge, due to my British nationality.

Nationality should not preclude being able to present and analyse facts – it’s easy to write me off as an English ignoramus who hasn’t studied Irish abuse in detail, however a close Irish friend of mine has had a similar interest in terms of discovering the truth of Irish clerical abuse to Colm, spending years painstakingly pouring over the original reports and so I present their compelling, factual and statistical report below. By concentrating on clerical abuse, we overlook the measures that need to be taken to combat a much more widescale problem, which would still appear to be being brushed under the carpet.

Abuse is by no means a distinctively Irish phenomenon, of course; in 2011 the NSPCA conducted a study, published as Childhood Abuse and Neglect in the UK Today, which found 24.1pc of British adults between the ages of 18 and 24 had experienced sexual abuse during their childhood or adolescence, while the 2007 Baltic Sea Regional Study on Adolescents’ Sexuality surveyed more than 1,500 18-year-old Swedish girls and found that 56pc of them had having experienced unwanted sexual contact. Different methodologies result in different figures, of course, but it is clear that this is a serious problem for all countries.

Background: The Carrigan Report 1930

The 1930 Carrigan Report noted that there was ‘an alarming amount of sexual crime increasing yearly, a feature of which was the large number of criminal interference with girls and children from 16 years downwards including many cases of children under ten years’; the Irish police estimated that under 15% of abuse cases ever went to court, as it was difficult to establish guilt and parents tended to feel it would be better for their children if their experiences were kept secret. The report was shelved, and nothing was done.

 The 2002 Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) study gave a fuller picture of the extent to which sexual abuse had been prevalent in Ireland; approximately 27% of 3,000 surveyed adults said that they had experienced sexual abuse in their childhood or adolescence.

Approximately one abuse survivor in sixty said that his or her abuser had been a religious minister; a further one in sixty saying his or her abuser had been a teacher who was a member of a religious order.

 The fact that this report found that almost 60% of Irish abuse had taken place in the context of the family circle, including neighbours, friends, and babysitters, has had little or no impact on Irish public life and has been but infrequently mentioned in Ireland’s mass media over the past twelve years. It seems to have been shelved almost as effectively as the Carrigan Report.

 In 2009 the Irish Times quoted an Irish detective who works with Interpol as saying that 85% of child sexual abuse takes place within the family circle; that same year the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland revealed that 97% of the abuse cases brought to their attention in 2008 had involved abuse within the family circle. Such claims and revelations have been resolutely ignored, however: Ireland’s public narrative of abuse remains resolutely focused on abuse by clergy and members of religious orders.

AbuseProportions

Irish Reports

The seriousness of the abuse of children within the Catholic Church in particular should certainly not be minimised in any sense, and the Irish State was quite right to address through a series of public reports the issue of abuse by clergy, members of religious orders, and lay people who worked with said orders.

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (2009), otherwise known as the Ryan Report, examined the issue of abuse – sexual or otherwise – in the industrial schools that were long a feature of the Irish landscape.  As the 2011 Colm O’Gorman-commissioned Amnesty International report In Plain Sight: Responding to the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy, and Cloyne Reports notes,  173,000 people entered these schools between 1936 and 1970 and 30,000 former residents complained to the Irish state of abuse they had suffered, with 14,448 of these seeking redress from the Residential Institutions Redress Board; just eleven cases of alleged abuse were, however, forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and in only three cases did the DPP make a decision to prosecute.

Despite how Catholic religious orders ran the State’s industrial schools, references to the Holy See are conspicuous by their absence from the Ryan Report , the Vatican being mentioned barely at a dozen points over the course of the Report’s five volumes, usually in the context of when orders had been founded or how things changed in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council; sections about communications with Rome invariably turn out to be about communications between particular orders’ Irish provinces and international headquarters.

At no point is Rome criticised in the Report, which implicitly recognises that the Holy See was in no meaningful way responsible for how these Irish schools were run; rather, the Report instead focuses on the religious orders themselves as essentially autonomous and distinctly Irish entities and on the Irish State which established, funded, and monitored the schools, and was responsible for children being sent to them in the first place.

 One telling detail of the report is section 1.6.77 which notes that when a Christian brother was suspected of abuse, the Irish authorities would often encourage him to seek dispensation to leave of his own accord rather than undergo the dismissal procedure; this, of course, meant that reports of abuse were not submitted to Rome.

The other three reports– the Ferns Report (2005), the Commission of Investigation Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin (2009) otherwise known as the Murphy Report, and the Commission of Investigation, Report into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne (2011), otherwise known as the Cloyne Report – were very different. These examined how between 1962 and 2009 Church and State had responded to allegations of child sexual abuse within the dioceses of Ferns and Cloyne and the archdiocese of Dublin.

If these reports can be said to have had a central finding it is that in the investigated dioceses, the Church’s own canon law policies on how to take action against priests accused of abuse were never followed. In Plain Sight recognised this, and a close reading of the reports bears this out: over the course of three official inquiries, the Irish State examined how the Irish Church handled 86 abuse allegations received between 1962 and 2009 and revealed that prior to 2003 not even one was submitted to Rome. No excuses can or should be offered for how these matters were mishandled by those in authority in the Irish Church.

Other than the cataclysmic mishandling of allegations, victims, and abusers by the Irish hierarchy and those associated with them, the Irish reports demonstrate something that Charles Scicluna, then in charge at the time of the CDF section that handled abuse cases – and a man who Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins has described as someone who really ‘gets it’ when it comes to the Church and abuse – told The Tablet in 2010: at the time when clerical abuse was at its most prevalentRome simply wasn’t told what was happening on the ground.

Over the last decade, almost half of all Irish Times articles mentioning abuse have mentioned clerical abuse, despite this representing, it would appear, between 1.7 and 3.4% of all Irish abuse, and insofar as Ireland’s government is interested in fighting abuse, it is concentrating on abuse within institutions, religious or otherwise, despite it now seeming that institutional abuse in general is almost – though sadly not quite – a thing of the past.

It is, of course, right that governments should seek to stamp out abuse within all sorts of institutions; they should, however, be seeking to do much more than that in order to prevent abuse, help survivors of abuse, and bring to justice the perpetrators of abuse, the vast majority of whom operate outside institutional walls.

The Ferns Report

The 2005 Ferns Report examined allegations of abuse in the diocese of Ferns between 1962 and 2002. It considered allegations of abuse made against 21 priests; not even one allegation was passed on to Rome during the period covered by the report, although in 2003 the apostolic administrator of the diocese sought Rome’s advice regarding the case of Monsignor Michael Ledwith, with the CDF subsequently dismissing Msgr Ledwith from the clerical state.

  • Fr Donal Collins – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr James Doyle – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Alpha – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr James Grennan – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Sean Fortune – not referred to Rome.
  • Msgr Michael Ledwith – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2003.
  • Canon Martin Clancy – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Beta – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Gamma – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2004 or 2005.
  • Fr Delta – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2004 or 2005.
  • Fr Epsilon – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Iota – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Kappa – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Lamda – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Zeta – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Sigma – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Upsilon – yet to be referred to Rome.
  • Fr Theta – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Omikron – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Tau – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Omega – pending advice, not referred to Rome.
  • Unnamed priests – inquiry took view that diocese and police were right in taking no further action, therefore not referred to Rome.

The Murphy Report

The 2009 Dublin or Murphy Report examined allegations of abuse against a representative sample of 46 priests in the Dublin archdiocese between 1975 and 2004, including cases where the civil authorities declined to prosecute, cases where the accused priests were dead at the time of accusations, cases where the accused priests were clearly innocent, and every single case where clergy had been convicted in the criminal courts.

Not one of these cases was sent to Rome for disciplinary reasons, although in three cases priests sought voluntary laicisation, and in three other cases priests appealed to Rome when action was taken against them.  In one of these three cases the appeal was upheld by the Roman Rota on technical grounds with the penalty being reduced; in another the appeal was initially upheld by the Roman Rota only to be subsequently overturned by the Pope; in a third the CDF rejected the appeal and confirmed the original decision.

  • Fr James McNamee – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Edmondus – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Phineas – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Vidal  – although he subsequently retracted his request, voluntarily sought laicisation from Rome.
  • Fr Patrick Maguire – after decision to laicise, appealed to Roman Rota on technical grounds in 2002 and was instead suspended from ministry for the following nine years.
  • Fr Ioannes – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Tyrus – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Jovito  – after 1993 decision to laicise, appealed to Roman Rota in 1994 and had penalty reduced to ten years suspension in a monastery; Dublin argued against this decision, and in 1996 Fr Jovito was dismissed by the Pope.
  • Fr Patrick McCabe – voluntarily sought laicisation in late 1987 and after Dublin contacted the CDF urging it to act quickly, was laicised in early 1988.
  • Fr Horatio – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Donal Gallagher – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Hugo – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Ivan Payne  – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Donato – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Harry Moore  – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Septimus –  after priestly faculties were removed, appealed to CDF Rome in late 2002, with the CDF supporting the decision to remove priestly faculties.
  • Fr William Carney  – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Thomas Naughton – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Cicero – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Clemens – at time of reporting, not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Dominic Savio Boland – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Quinton – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Marius – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Noel Reynolds – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Daryus – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Terentius – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr John Kinsella  – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Laurentius – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Klaudius – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Francis McCarthy  – sought laicisation from Rome.
  • Fr Sergius – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Dante – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Cassius – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Giraldus – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Aquila – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Blaise – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Benito – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Magnus – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Jacobus – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Guido – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Rufus – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Ignatio – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Cornelius – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Ricardus – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Augustus  – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Ezio – not referred to Rome.

The Cloyne Report

The 2011 Cloyne Report examined allegations of abuse and concerning behaviour on the part of 18 priests – and one bishop – in the diocese of Cloyne between 1996 and 2009. The first case to be reported to Rome was that of Fr Brendan Wrixon, the report’s Fr Caden, who was reported in December 2005. Suspended in the meantime, in April 2007 Rome confirmed that he should be barred from exercising any priestly ministry; in 2010 the Circuit Criminal Court in Cork gave him an 18-month suspended sentence for an act of gross indecency committed in the early 1980s.

  • Fr Ronat – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2009.
  • Fr Corin – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Darian – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Calder – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2009.
  • Fr Moray – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Flan – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Drust – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2009.
  • Fr Tarin – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Kael – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Baird – Private intervention sought advice from CDF in 2004; Msgr Scicluna advised that diocese be asked to conduct a preliminary investigation. Diocese did not further contact Rome.
  • Unknown Priest – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Rion – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Caden – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2005.
  • Two priest teachers in a diocesan college – not referred to Rome
  • Fr Naal – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Kelven – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Zephan – not referred to Rome.
  • Bishop John Magee – referred to Congregation for Bishops in Rome in 2009.

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Pray for Madiba

One of the insufferable aspects of social media, especially Twitter, is its tendency to shallowness or insincerity – the 140 character format lends itself to superficiality and at times empty soundbites, which is why blogging will always be a better medium in terms of allowing one to work out and explain complex concepts. I often wonder whether Tweets will be studied as a literary genre several generations down the line, the most amusing or profound statements being the modern equivalent of an epigram.

Nowhere is this tendency to make lots of noise better manifest than when we have the death of a major figure such as has happened today, Nelson Mandela. I’m not going to re-hash hagiographies here and now is not the time to lay into him for his failures in terms of governance as well as his liberalisation of abortion law (contrary to the wishes of most South Africans), Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith of the Catholic Herald and Tim Stanley of the Telegraph provide fine, thought-provoking obituaries of this ‘secular saint.’

What bothers me most about the abundance of  saccharin in evidence on social media tonight, is that it is the digital equivalent of the outpouring of grief following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales ,yet even more hollow and meaningless. We are encouraged to think of something terribly profound to say, to mark our loss and then move swiftly on to the next sujet du jour. It is mere noise, the ultimate sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Like mass hysteria, everyone feels compelled to say something, there’s an expectation that every right-thinking person will be wanting to pay their respects and anyone such as Rod Liddle, who expresses an unpopular or controversial opinion is pounced upon for their insensitivity. Admittedly no-one wants a sourpuss, the drunken old relative at the funeral reminding one of what a mean old skinflint Auntie Doris really was with her penchant for too much barley wine, but that’s part of the rich tapestry of life. Dying does not render someone saintly status, nor does it automatically cleanse them of their earthly sins, though we have to remember to exercise charity both towards the living and the dead in our speech. But to criticise someone for not reacting in the ‘right’ way, to hold someone up for public ridicule and attack because they have not behaved or mourned in the way that you think they should have done, reeks to high heaven of Pharisaism and is nothing better than an excuse to make one feel better about oneself.

This is a trait that is all too sadly apparent on the Catholic internet at times, there is far too much monitoring of other people’s comments going on, far too much “look at them over there, not being as orthodox as I am”, “look at those traddies/liberals” (delete as applicable) instead of the real and serious business of attempting to bring the peace of Christ in our encounters with everyone.

But back to Mandela, what is bothering me, is this digital equivalent of tying our bunch of garage flowers to the lamppost, a ghastly tradition which I would be sorely tempted to ban, in the unlikely event of becoming prime-minister. These outpourings of grief, mourning, loss, sentimentality are becoming part of the ritual of mourning, in lives where real-life lived experience and online interaction are increasingly enmeshed. So many of us are wasting so much time idling away on social media (and no need to point out the glaring log in my eye here) we spot someone has died, duly post some sort of mawkish sentiment and then move on to looking at cats or whatever else can distract us from higher pursuits.

An old man of 95 of ailing health has passed away after a prolonged and painful illness. His death has been expected for some time, indeed Fr Lucie-Smith was honest enough to confess that he wrote his piece some time ago, in common with many journalists I should imagine. Nelson Mandela had been out of the public eye for some time, is his death really such a tragic and terrible loss to the average Joe? Will we wake up every morning with a heavy-heart and sense of grief? Or for most of us, is it more a case of “great man, sorry he’s died”? In which case the tributes to a man we don’t really ‘know’ and never really ‘knew’ are a little insulting in their vacuousness. And why the hours of coverage on the BBC? A great elderly statesman has died of natural causes, surely after a few speeches or thoughts from world leaders and some other reactions, it’s time to move on, nothing more to see here. The broadcast media are also indulging and encouraging us in feats of grieving melodrama that would put the Victorians to shame. Perhaps hours of rolling news montages and acres of internet coverage are today’s equivalent of ornate gothic monuments?

The fake tweet purporting to be from Paris Hilton sums up the spirit of Twitter tonight, as do the responses. Ha ha, isn’t she stupid, glad I’m not as stupid as what she is. One should point out that in the morning she will still be fabulously wealthy and incredibly pretty before we get too smug.

Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 01.21.45

I digress. If the death of Nelson Mandela should teach us anything, instead of rushing to react, we should stop, pause and consider his life’s achievements and give thanks for them. He embodied the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation and instead of worshiping his memory, or posting glib thoughts, a better tribute might be to see how we can emulate that in our own lives and instead of aiming for grand gestures of tolerance towards total strangers, start with the more testing folk close to home, who may have caused us personal harm.

Also can we stop nonsense like this headline from tomorrow’s Sun.

Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 01.23.07

Nelson Mandela has not lost his final battle. Death, especially from geriatric causes, is not a ‘battle’ but an inevitability which comes to us all. We cannot win it, because it has already been won for us by Christ’s glorious death on the cross. Oh death where is thy sting, oh grave where is thy victory. We cannot cling on to life at all costs, we do not approach death as a battle, but with reconciliation and acceptance. As Christ says “For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; for he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall save it.”

And finally, this may be lovely, poignant, tender, moving and funny  from tomorrow’s Times, but can we also cut it out?

Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 01.25.32

Just as we cannot consign souls to hell, neither can we guarantee that they are going to heaven. Hopefully Nelson Mandela will end up a saint (with a small s, as it is highly unlikely that he will be canonised by the Catholic Church, though never say never) but we have no guarantee. To depict him as a saint does him no favours as he is still in need of prayers and  has whiffs of the diabolic in that it could prevent genuine prayer for him. This is what is so insidious about our current culture that fears and hides from death, in that once someone has died they are assumed to be enjoying the fruits of paradise, in order to comfort the living, which is in direct contravention of Catholic teaching. We cannot forget our responsibility to pray for all the dead.

And this is why the brief fake outpouring of grief and cloying sentiment is so damaging, because it distracts us from our very real obligation to pray for the dead as a work of mercy. Be sad for his family, be sad for South Africa, acknowledge the contribution he made to genuine equality, but keep things in perspective.

Like Nelson Mandela we too will die and on that terrible day of judgement, God isn’t going to be interested in tasteful and moving cartoons, rolling news coverage, front page headlines nor the amount of florid tributes written in haste by random strangers on the internet.

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(PS, perhaps I’m being unashamedly grouchy and fierce because 5th December marked the first anniversary of my Nana’s death. She died not having received the sacrament of reconciliation for at least 40 years and having forgone her previously regular Mass attendance being solely reliant on others to take her. I pray fervently every single day.)

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Repercussions

Admittedly I’m feeling incredibly vulnerable following yesterday’s post, being ‘outed’ is an uncomfortable experience, but God willing, it could turn out to be something of a blessing.

Firstly I am beginning to feel a little more comfortable in terms of referencing my own very personal experience, which is not atypical of women who have been through an abortion.

 It could also turn out to be an opportunity for apologetics.

Those who made the accusation have continued to taunt and abuse, openly discussing my  blogpost (which is fine in many ways, if you blog about a personal situation you are putting that information into the public domain) and mooting whether or not I am excommunicated from the Church, whether or not our children are illegitimate (who cares) and indulged in the usual sixth-form pop psychology antics about the amount of guilt that I must be carrying around. How unfortunate, they say, that rules which she tries to impose upon others have got her into such a mess, whereas the irony is that had I been aware of the rules I wouldn’t have got into such a state in the first place! And of course living by those rules has brought me greater peace, contentment, joy and bliss and fulfilment than I ever gained previously, which is why I passionately promulgate them.

One of the reasons that I believe that those who promote an authentic pro-life vision come under so much attack is because time and time again, it’s thanks to that particular Catholic doctrine that attracts so many converts, whether it be through investigating what the Church teaches about marriage, about contraception, family-life or abortion.

 My experience of abortion was definitely an enormous part of my journey home as for the first time I truly understood what was meant about God’s most severe mercy. A generic faith in God had never deserted me and bitter experience taught me that Christ’s commandments were not designed by an arbitrary capricious vengeful god, but are there to keep us from harm. I wondered that if the Catholic church was in fact right about abortion, then what else were they right about and why?

It wasn’t the great Damascene conversion, but a gradual process of looking back at my life and seeing those moments, where in retrospect, God was definitely present and planting seeds of grace.

To answer some of the ridiculous assertions, firstly I am not excommunicated from the church. Abortion does carry an  latae sententia sentence of excommunication, meaning that one automatically excommunicates oneself from the church upon having an abortion, however one has to be over the age of 16 and aware that it is an excommunicable offence.  In addition if you are are forced into it, acted out of grave fear, lacked the use of reason (unless culpably via drink or drugs) then excommunication wouldn’t apply.

 It needs to be remembered that excommunication is a medicinal measure, the deprivation of the sacraments is designed to make people bring their lives back into conformity with the church, not cast them out eternally. Regardless of whether or not one was excommunicated for abortion, this is always lifted upon receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, although there are certain reserved sins that a priest needs to apply for permission from the Apostolic Penitentiary in Rome or his Ordinary, in order to absolve you from. Abortion is technically one of those sins which not every priest has faculties to forgive, however in the UK and other countries such as the US there is a blanket permission given to clergy to issue absolution for on the unfortunate basis that it is so common.

Are my children illegitimate? The answer is no, and I doubt anyone really cares. Illegitimacy is historically bound up with inheritance rights and though the church might recognise that a marriage never sacramentally existed, it does recognise that it had civil validity and thus any children are not deemed illegitimate. So neither my eldest child, nor my subsequent children are illegitimate as they were all born as a result of civilly legal marriages.

The Church does not care whether or not children were born within or outside wedlock, every single person is of equal dignity and worth, circumstances of birth are beyond all of our control and no decent person would wish to attack anyone’s children on this basis. Pope Francis has repeatedly called upon priests to ensure that they baptise the children of unmarried mothers and in a personal phone call offered to baptise the baby of a woman who wrote to him in great distress after discovering that she had fallen pregnant by her already married lover. It takes great bravery to decide to keep a baby in a society that looks upon abortion as a desirable solution for unplanned pregnancies.

But here’s the best thing of all, and that is that once you have confessed to having sinned, no matter how terrible or dreadful the crime, (provided that you make adequate reparation through penance and resolve not to re-offend) then you are forgiven. I don’t carry about a hulking great chunk of guilt, because I laid it at the foot of the cross and trusted that it was forgiven. Regret remains, but all of this is a manifestation of Romans 8, 28. The abortion can never be justified, God neither wanted or willed it to happen, He allowed me to make my own choice, however now He has caused good things to come out of a terrible evil and sadness.

 It is true that having confessed I felt liberated, I made my confession in Oxford and remember almost floating down St Aldates on a cloud of air, but actually confession is not about how it makes us feel. Sometimes you can go and for whatever reason, not feel wholly forgiven or that perhaps the priest didn’t really take your sins seriously but the whole thing is an exercise in faith and trust. A little like having been forced to make a public confession in fact.

There is a large part of me which feels that having admitted to such a terrible thing, I can never show my face in public again, a feeling which is exacerbated when I see Catholics quibbling over whether or not I incurred an latae sententia, together with their friends who outed the information in the first place, stating that I only confessed for ‘attention’ and I may now regret it as everyone will know that I am excommunicated and my children are illegitimate. It is hoped that I will now face great shame and disgrace.

But my faith tells me that I am a walking lesson in the power of redemption and how Catholics apply the principle of hating the sin but loving the sinner. What I did was undoubtedly wrong, but in common with most post-abortive women, there were several mitigating circumstances. Abortion is murder, however that does not make post-abortive women murderers and I have always been extremely judicious in my choice of language. A murderer, especially if one adheres to the legal definition, is someone who possesses intent. Most women who have an abortion do not have the intent to take the life of a human being, rather they do not see the baby as a life, and tie themselves into Gordian knots of illogicality, aided and abetted by contemporary attitudes and abortion providers. There is a silent unspoken conspiracy between the woman seeking the abortion and those who participate in the act, to obscure the nature of what is happening.

Of course I was misguided hoping that people might now leave me alone, my existence is naturally going to be jarring and dissonant to those who disparage the Catholic church, those who have been laughing about the bones of St Peter and transubstantiation as being sick and hocus pocus.

What self-identifying ‘liberals’ (who are in reality anything but) hate most is grace, repentance and transformation because it assaults them to the core of their being. It tells them that they can change, sin can be forgiven and that God is calling them to repent. Which means that they have to accept that they might be doing something wrong in the first place, a concept which the narcissist cannot cope with. Why does it matter if I consider certain actions to be sinful, i.e. separating from you from God?

I have to be attacked for having once been in a similar state of mortal sin, because to do anything else accepts that their position is not immutable. Admitting that something could be wrong is an anathema. They have to scream hypocrisy because the alternative to is run screaming for God’s mercy.

There’s a certain provenance that all this has occurred on the occasion of the end of the year of faith. Reflecting upon yesterday’s readings, Pope Francis said this in his homily;

Jesus speaks only a word of forgiveness, not of condemnation; whenever anyone finds the courage to ask for this forgiveness, the Lord does not let such a petition go unheard. Jesus’ promise to the good thief gives us great hope: it tells us that God’s grace is always greater than the prayer which sought it.

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St Augustine of Hippo, arguably one of the greatest doctors of the Church, is one of my favourite saints, not only for his blinding theology, but also because of his brutal honesty when describing his previously rackety and louche lifestyle before being converted to Christianity by the grace of God.

Confessions, his apologia which is a spiritual classic, does not hold back when it comes to describing some of his past sins. He writes about taking pleasure in stealing, how he revelled in a self-indulgent lifestyle, enjoying chariot-racing, gambling, the pleasures of the theatre, played rude and unkind tricks on people and his sex-life was legendary. Augustine recounts how he spent thirty years of his life lost from God and Confessions reflects upon this time and how he believed that God had used this period to save him, but far from being a navel-gazing autobiography, Confessions is a work that seeks to praise God.

Some scholars believe that one of the reasons that St Augustine wrote this defining work, was because he was attempting to give an answer for Catholics in response to the Donatists who had a legalistic approach and did not forgive sin very easily. Augustine had been building a solid reputation as a faithful convert, he’d been baptised ten years previously, but at time of writing his Confessions had only been a bishop a few years and therefore was encountering much jeering from the Donatists who did not afford him much credibility because his reputation as a past sinner preceded him.

I could never hope to attain the intellectual brilliance of Saint Augustine although I aspire to his holiness and have great sympathy with him, not least because like him I have a ‘past’.

Today, on Twitter, once again the same group of people comprised of a hotchpotch of gay activists and disaffected Catholics, launched one of their attacks and did so very publicly and very specifically, using my name and hurtful events in my past as a means to attack. The accusation being that due to having behaved in a less than holy way in the past, I am now a terrible example and appalling representative of my faith.

I don’t claim to be a plaster-cast saint and like Saint Augustine I have made some disastrous mistakes in my past. I told a few people about this in confidence, and on one occasion briefly went public on this for about 2 minutes, before deleting a post, as I was advised that I was opening myself up to a lot of personal attack and would need to ensure that I had the necessary emotional strength to cope with it.

Those who scan my feed with gimlet eyes 24/7 obviously saw it and/or they were informed by the former friend whom I once told and now toss this about with impunity, believing that it validates their contention about the state of my soul. When I did an interview for Vicky Beeching’s faith in feminism site, within 5 minutes, a commentator steamed in with a comment containing personal information, then complained bitterly when upon my request Vicky kindly deleted it, appreciating the inappropriate nature of the remark. She later related how she was repeatedly emailed and told about my past, the claim being that I was a secret pro-choice advocate!

So here are the three accusations. I have screenshots of the vile tweets, but I won’t use them here because I don’t want to make this about personalities.

Divorce

1) I have divorced and re-married. That’s not very ‘Catholic’ is it and in reality I’m still married to another man and committing adultery. Yes really, that’s what a fake account set up using the name @realfarrow and my photographs said. As did another fake account @stain_of_sin which tweeted bible verses from Revelation about the ‘hating the whore’ and ‘her flesh burning’. Really. The latter account still exists at time of writing. It made a list called ‘mummy’s friends’ and made threats that they should all be told the truth unless I got off Twitter.

I’ve written about this before. I was never validly married in the eyes of the Church and for reasons I’m not going to go into, there are doubts surrounding the civil legality of my former marriage.

I’m not going to get overly defensive about the affair because I turned it over to a Church marriage tribunal who ruled that no marriage ever previously existed. I have to bear some blame because I did not understand the nature of the sacrament of marriage, that it entailed being open to children, was life-long and unbreakable. Neither did my former partner who still believes that marriage should have nothing to do with children.

The lesson I have learned from that is to ensure that my children fully understand what marriage is all about and take real care in discerning whether or not it is for them as well as in discerning a potential spouse. Like many people of my generation I suspect, I walked into something, without thinking about what came beyond ‘the big day’, because I was cohabiting and it was believed to be the ‘next step’ and because I felt under pressure from family that it was the right thing to do. I also liked the idea of respectability that being married and having a nice flashy ring afforded. Yes, I was that shallow.

Relationship breakdown is always a painful experience, especially when children are involved and mine was no different. Had the pair of us been more honest with each other about desires for children, then a lot of heartbreak would have been avoided on all sides.

Dodgy Bar job

2) I once worked in a bar called Hooters in another country. At least three different people have made specific reference to this, it stems from something I told a former friend a few years ago, not being public information. The reference is used frequently in an attempt to shame and humiliate me, because those familiar with said establishment will know that their gimmick is to employ attractive women who wear a relatively sexy uniform.

Hooters is billed as family restaurant. Kids eat free there. So basically I served beer and food at the age of 18, whilst wearing short shorts and a vest top. Big woo!

Abortion

3) Most seriously, and there is a whole other post in this, when I feel emotionally ready and strong enough, as this group frequently  tells people privately and now publicly, I had an abortion in 1997. I am one of those ‘baby-killers’ who I allegedly judge and despise. Except I don’t because I’ve been there.

Some of the factors that influenced my decision was that the baby was the result of a non-consenual encounter and it was clear I would be bringing up a child alone. I was on a six-month temporary contract at work and would undoubtedly lose my job. I was scared of the stigma of being a single mum on benefits as well as the reaction of my family and my reputation. I knew one day I wanted to get married and had been told that “no decent man will look at you twice”. There is something of an irony in that I eventually went on to marry someone who was delighted that I had a beautiful daughter and couldn’t care less that I was a single mother.

Adoption was dismissed as “you don’t want someone knocking on your door in 18 years time” and thus I found myself at  the door of the Marie Stopes clinic Whitmore Street in July 1997.

I had been warned to expect protestors or demonstrators by the clinic and was almost disappointed that there was no-one there. There was a part of me that wanted to be confronted or challenged, I don’t know what the result of that encounter would have been, but my feeling is that I would now have a 17 year old child who was alive.

What bothered me was not the circumstances of conception, but the idea of coping alone with a baby along with the accompanying shame and stigma.

I used biological sophistry to defend my decision, despite knowing inherently that this was a human life who deserved the same protection as everyone else. The ‘counselling’ in Marie Stopes consisted of a woman telling me that ‘there is no other choice, it’s clear-cut, you’re obviously in no position to be able to look after a baby’.

There’s a lot more for another time about the horrors of the procedure itself, the way that Marie Stopes treated me like a contemptible stupid piece of meat, from the monosyllabic person who carried out the scan, to the aggressive woman on reception who shouted at me the morning of the procedure, for not having brought the right piece of paperwork, one which she subsequently found she had all along. As I burst into tears, she then looked at me with a hint of remorse and said “are you sure you’ve made the right decision”? It was too late, I’d already taken the tablets to poison the baby and cause the foetal sac to detach from the placenta the day previously. One memory that stays with me is of the slightly chubby West Indian girl, listing like a beached whale, stretched out flat on the bench to entrance, vomiting profusely into a kidney dish and crying, all alone, whilst everyone looked on rather nervously. I wanted to reach out and touch her hand, but I didn’t.

Despite the fact that I thought abortion was the ‘right’ decision for me, that I didn’t believe that the baby could feel any pain and walked out of the clinic, physically traumatised, but too exhausted really to think or absorb what had just happened, it hit me the next day.

I was at home, sitting watching Coronation Street with the family, when all of a sudden the after-pains kicked in and I experienced stomach-wrenching contractions, which caused me to writhe in pain. It hit me. What the hell was I doing watching Coronation Street, pretending everything was alright when really my baby was dead? I ran to my bedroom lay on my bed and howled pitifully, like a wolf at the moon. There was a palpable, visceral sense of emptiness and loss, which no-one had warned me about and which I didn’t expect.

My baby was dead and gone, would never come back and I had killed him or her. I would have given anything to turn the clock back 72 hours just to have my baby back, to hold them in my arms, to see them, but it was too late. I couldn’t actually believe what I had done. The best analogy is that of the character of John Coffey in the Green Mile, when he discovers the bodies of the dead children and desperately cradles them and attempts to use his supernatural power to save them.

“I tried to take it back, but I couldn’t”.

I vowed then, that I never ever wanted any woman to suffer either physically or emotionally in the same way that I had, and it’s one of the reasons that I am so passionately and vehemently pro-life.

I am ashamed that I did such a dreadful thing, but equally I brought this all to the Lord in the sacrament of confession many many years ago. The thought of confessing to having killed my unborn child was terrifying and deterred me from going to confession for years, but once I had done so, it was the most beautiful, liberating and healing experience of my life. I walked out feeling 10 stone lighter, knowing and trusting that I had been forgiven.

I am as healed as one can ever be from such an experience, although there is always a sense that one (now two) of my children are missing, I should also have a seventeen year old who isn’t here. I know one day I will have to look that child in the face and apologise for the fact that I deprived them of the chance of life, and I cannot justify my decision. There may have been mitigating circumstances but it was the wrong thing to do nonetheless and I accept that, which is why so many women struggle with the healing process. It’s a delicate balance of accepting that one has lost a baby, accepting your personal responsibility in that, but at the same time being gentle with yourself.  Looking at teenage mothers who had the courage to continue with their pregnancy fills me with a sense of awe, inspiration and shame.

Going through the recent experience of a managed miscarriage, which had many similarities to the abortion, has thrown it all into sharp and painful relief – the contrast of giving birth to a deceased child, instead of one that you had caused to die, along with according him or her the respect and dignity that they were due as a human being, rather than allowing them to be discarded as a piece of clinical waste in the incinerator.

Conclusion

I’m coming clean as this has been repeatedly used to attack me over the past few months in an attempt to shame and hound me off public forums.

I made some hideous and reckless decisions when I was young, which inflicted some lasting damage. Like all of us I am wounded, but it’s Christ who heals our wounds and like his they can be transformed and glorified. One of the reasons I deviated so far from the path of God, was not just my own sinful nature, but because I hadn’t been brought up with strong faith foundations and didn’t understand the teaching of the Church or have any vision to aspire to.

I look at certain members of Catholic youth with a certain enviousness; armed with similar grace, faith, trust and certainty at that age, I could have prevented a lot of heartbreak and unnecessary mess.

And funnily enough, the only people who wish to berate me for my past are those who are outside the Church in one way or another, who are living irregular lifestyles. From those so-called orthodox, traditional Catholics, I’ve had nothing but acceptance and love. It isn’t Catholics doing the ‘judging’.

Like St Augustine I learnt that our hearts are restless until they rest in the Lord. And if my painful experience deters just one person from entering through the abortion clinic doors, if my witness inspires others to learn why it is I am so passionate about our faith, or to make people approach the faith with an open-mind or concede that my ideas are based on reason and truth, then the psychological cyber-bullying is worth it and will no doubt continue.

But yes, I made a mess of my life, including an attempted marriage and an abortion. But I am secure in the knowledge that I’ve made amends, conformed my life to God and that His love for has not diminished. And if there’s hope for me, then there’s hope for everyone.

Pray for me.

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Most people accept and acknowledge that behaviour is an important factor when it comes to matters of health. Although we cannot change our genetics, certain people are predisposed towards conditions such as cancer, there are things that we can do to mitigate risk and attempt to maintain optimum health. We know that smokers substantially increase their chances of contracting disorders affecting their pulmonary and circulatory systems, we accept that eating saturated fats and salt in large quantities increases our risk of heart attacks, we accept that obesity is linked to diabetes and that ideally we should eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day as well as take regular exercise.

Very few people kick up a fuss when the benefits of adopting certain behaviours are suggested and promoted by the government, we know that excessive drinking is bad for us, we know that pregnant women shouldn’t smoke and various health authorities and advisors are playing around with the idea of financially incentivising or discouraging certain behaviours in the interest of public health. One health authority is trialling the idea of financially rewarding mothers who breastfeed with a voucher system, in order to reboot and kick start a culture of breastfeeding which, if the mother is able to do so (the overwhelming majority of women can breastfeed with the right advice and support) is best for the child. We’ve seen minimum alcohol pricing introduced in Scotland and mooted in the UK, along with taxes on fast food, dubbed the ‘fat tax’. There’s also talk of making vaccinations compulsory for children in order to qualify for child benefit.

So why  is it, when it comes to issues of sexual health, proposing certain behaviours should be adopted, such as abstinence until marriage and remaining faithful and monogamous to one sexual partner only, becomes the subject of immense vitriol and scorn?

Those who follow me on Twitter, would do well to have a look at an illuminating discussion held over the course of the last few days. Leaving aside the usual awfulness comprised of “you have bizarre morals, you’d rather your children got cancer than had sex, you are twisted, everyone hates you, oh look now you’re playing victim again, you’re only doing this for attention, you ought to get off Twitter, no one listens to you and thank God you are not like most Catholics” (requisite skin of a rhinoceros is yet to form, it is hard to repeatedly attract such unfounded abuse) what seemed to be causing unprecedented amounts of opprobrium was the idea that sexual behaviour is key in terms of maintaining optimal sexual health and avoiding the transmission of STDs.

The first issue being that of the HPV vaccine which it is recommended that girls receive in early adolescence before they commence sexual activity. In a misleading advertising campaign, the NHS suggests that once the girls receive the vaccine they are therefore “armed for life”. As this interview with one of the lead researchers responsible for the development of the vaccine used in the UK, Gardasil, makes clear, HPV vaccination has its disadvantages as well its advantages. Instead of being armed for life, as the NHS advert suggests, the vaccine has a limited effect, lasting up to 15 years maximum.

Armed for life, or 5-15 years? Armed against every strain, or just a few?

Armed for life, or 5-15 years? Armed against every strain, or just a few?

The vaccine is not an immunisation against cervical cancer, but rather the HPV virus, which is present in almost all forms  of cervical cancer and believed to be responsible for the condition. While considering whether or not one ought to allow one’s child to be vaccinated, one needs to weigh up all information available, such as efficacy and benefits versus the risks.

As with all vaccines, there are risks with Gardasil, including auto-immune disorders and even death, although these are rare. As Marcia Yerman points out, this vaccine does not protect women for life, they can still get other HPV infections which are not covered by the jab and they must not neglect regular cervical smear tests, which are vital in terms of discovering and treating pre-cancerous cells.

An immunisation may protect you from certain forms of HPV which could lead to cancer, however cervical cancer is as my gynaecologist once put it, “one of the must stupid cancers to die from” in that is is easily treatable if caught early. Regular pap smears detect abnormal or precancerous cells which are then promptly removed before they have a chance to develop into full-blown cancer.

The best way to avoid infection with HPV, which is a purely sexually transmitted disease, is to limit the number of sexual partners you have, the ideal being to have just one sexual partner and remain faithful them to the rest of your life. If your sexual partner has equally never had any sexual contact with anyone else then your risk of developing an HPV infection which could lead to cancer is negligible. Worringly, there seems to be an emergence of head and neck cancers related to HPV infection, contracted through oral sexual contact.

While HPV vaccination could prevent infection, aside from the small risks of an adverse reaction, the danger is not that it will encourage promiscuity, (and regardless of vaccine, promiscuous behaviour is risky) but that it will encourage the phenomenon of risk compensation, as experienced by Professor Edward Green, former Professor of HIV Prevention at Harvard. Believing that they have been immunised against cervical cancer, girls may be encouraged not to use barrier forms of contraception and/or engage in sexual behaviour that they would otherwise have avoided, under the illusion that they were safe and protected. Most concerning is that they may be discouraged from participating in the cervical screening programme, (most women approach their smear with reluctance, no-one relishes the experience, it is a necessary uncomfortable part of health care) believing that they are protected from cervical cancer. An HPV jab isn’t going to prevent the development of precancerous cells let alone treat them.

Pap smears have never killed anyone. Pap smears are an effective screening tool to prevent cervical cancer. Pap smears alone prevent more cervical cancers than vaccines. The argument is best summed up by Marcia Yerman thus:

Gardasil is associated with serious adverse events, including death. If Gardasil is given to 11 year olds, and the vaccine does not last at least fifteen years, then there is no benefit – and only risk – for the young girl. Vaccinating will not reduce the population incidence of cervical cancer if the woman continues to get Pap screening throughout her life.

If a woman is never going to get Pap screening, then a HPV vaccine could offer her a better chance of not developing cervical cancer, and this protection may be valued by the woman as worth the small but real risks of serious adverse events. On the other hand, the woman may not value the protection from Gardasil as being worth the risk knowing that 1) she is at low risk for a persistent HPV infection and 2) most precancers can be detected and treated successfully. It is entirely a personal value judgment.

What is left out is that 95% of all HPV infections are cleared spontaneously by the body’s immune system. The remaining 5% progress to cancer precursors. Cancer precursors, specifically CIN 3, progresses to invasive cancer in the following proportions: 20% of women with CIN 3 progress to invasive cervical cancer in five years; 40% progress to cervical cancer in thirty years. There is ample time to detect and treat the early precancers and early stage cancers for 100% cure.

So really there is no need for the “Lord spare us from ignorant Catholic houseswives putting out dangerous information” “your daughters will get cancer”, “Farrow is spreading dangerous lies”, “you are pro-cancer and pro-HIV” invective spewing across my timeline.

Problem is, in a society when personal autonomy and choices are gods, suggesting anything other than all choices are of equal value (moral relativism) is akin to judgemental bigotry. It might be extremely convenient for me that Catholic doctrine on sexual morality is  scientifically sound, natural law is entirely logical, but it’s a nightmare for sexual libertines, most of whom seem to be unhealthily preoccupied or obsessed with others’ approval. Advocating a certain course of action is automatically deemed ‘judgemental’ or ‘blaming’ of those who don’t take that course of action and allegedly stigmatises those who do suffer from adverse health, regardless of whether or not they have engaged in risky behaviour.

The idea of a society when people can have as much sex as they like, with as many people as like, consequence free and that we can protect people from STDs might well be a beguiling one, but it is highly irresponsible. HPV vaccines, condoms, birth control and abortion all add to this masquerade, which is why people become so angry when their lifestyle is challenged. It’s easy to dismiss moral concerns as being based upon religious grounds but pointing out irrefutably scientifically established health risks raises things another notch. It must be disconcerting to learn that the prejudiced bigots are right, better to attack their motivation, values or character, instead of the issue itself.

The whole canard of HIV prevention in Africa was once again raised, with all evidence being dismissed as biased, simply because of the fact that it was presented by me and supported Catholic doctrine. As has been demonstrated, the Emeritus Pope was entirely correct when he pointed out that condom promotion exacerbated the problem of the spread of HIV. Condoms have a typical use failure rate of 18%, the spontaneous nature of sexual urgency makes laboratory conditions of perfect use, extremely difficult to replicate. Problems are exacerbated in countries such as Malawi, which as aid workers testify, are flooded with condoms nearing their expiry date and which have been stored and shipped in conditions making them more susceptible to damage. People are making risky decisions on the false premise that they are protected.

I guess I’m rather nonplussed, it’s bizarre to see coherent evidence denied simply because it supports your worldview. The ‘debate’ veered from accusations of making stuff up, of putting out irresponsible information on internet that would cause deaths, to an admission that I hadn’t actually said anything factually incorrect, but was cherry-picking the evidence to suit my own purposes. Isn’t that what most people do, come to a conclusion based on the evidence available?

Sexual health is not the only area in which emotions are inflamed when suggestions are made of an unhealthy lifestyle as being a contributory factor to certain conditions, and the age of moral relativism means that all are equal. Hence the perennial wars on baby websites about breast versus bottle. Health decisions, especially for children always involve  heavy personal investment. I’ve taken decisions (such as miscarriage management) that may not have been advocated as the best course of action as others, but the difference is, I’m not going to get offended if someone suggests I should have done something else, in the same way, I couldn’t give two hoots if someone thinks my cesarian-sections were because I was too posh to push. I know a natural childbirth is ideal but just because life doesn’t always work out the way you’d hope, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t aspire to the best.

Trying to discourage promiscuity, instead of relying upon the illusions and false promises of the pharmaceutical society, has to be a much more sustainable, long-term and ultimately cheaper solution. Pointing out that condoms don’t always work should not be an issue to cause such bad feeling. Why aren’t we asking why until the HPV jab was developed, that condom manufacturers and family planning officials were not widely publicising that they didn’t fully protect from HPV?

Evidently I’m still a naif, in that I’m still taken aback and surprised by the animus coming in my direction, for stating a medical fact. Stick to one sexual partner only (or remain celibate) if you want to seriously lessen your chances of contracting a sexually transmitted condition. It may not be the easiest, it may take willpower, but it’s no more impossible than say quitting smoking or cutting out the booze. You just have to want to do it. Stating the ideal does not blame the unlucky.

I may well get a t-shirt printed – Catholic teaching on sex corresponds with medical fact, get over it. What is more dangerous, giving an illusion of protection, or presenting the pure unadulterated facts as they stand?

While I should no longer be surprised, I still find myself taken aback nonetheless. Why are otherwise intelligent people so willfully blind when it comes to the consequences of sexual behaviour? Uncharitably, the only conclusion I can arrive at that is that it’s concrete proof that sin really does darken the intellect and make you stupid. People are too attached to a certain behaviour to want to admit that it could cause harm.

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Taken from the Catholic Universe 27 October 2013

 

Hochzeit-Kirche-a228189742

There has been a lot of speculation that divorced and remarried Catholics may  be allowed to receive Communion following Pope Francis’ remarks on the flight back from World Youth Day in Rio in July, when he said that a synod would need to explore the ‘somewhat deeper pastoral care of marriage’, including the thorny issue of divorced Catholics.

Speaking from the perspective of someone who has had a former attempted marriage declared invalid by the Catholic church, I have to confess to having mixed feelings on the issue.

 The subjects of annulments is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented facets of the Catholic faith and many’s the time I’ve rolled my eyes heavenwards on hearing the hoary old cliche that annulments are the equivalent of Catholic divorce or involve a secretive process which is only available to for the rich and well-connected.

 A Catholic annulment is not a dissolving of a marriage, rather the statement that while civil legalities may have occurred between a couple, something was missing that enabled the relationship to be considered a marriage in the spiritual sense of the word and that no sacrament ever existed.

 It’s a very difficult teaching for many to swallow and can seem rooted in sophistry, how can someone who observed all the legal formalities of marriage, who went through a wedding ceremony, later claim that they were not in reality, married? One can see why many might consider annulments a convenient piece of clever rule-bending, as they are subject to a strict code of canon law, couched in legal and theological language which is not easily understandable.

The reason why the annulment process remains shrouded in mystery is because not many of us make recourse to it, the subject only raises its head when a Catholic embarks upon a subsequent relationship and wishes to remarry. Personally I found the procedure incredibly healing, far from being an exercise in rubber-stamping or greasing the palms of officials, faced with the truth about the Catholic teaching on marriage, I was able to go through a process of self-examination which helped me to lay the past to rest, experience personal growth and finally move on.

It was not an easy time, I had to face up to my own faults and failings in terms of how I had approached the relationship, there was certainly an element of penitence, not least because as a Catholic I had married outside of the church without permission, ignoring and disregarding her teaching on marriage, but this only served to strengthen my resolve in terms of ensuring that were I to marry in the future, not only would it be sacramental, but that any potential spouse would share my understanding upon the nature of a Catholic marriage, that it is permanent, exclusive and open to life. In addition they would also need to support me in the practice of the Catholic faith.

It is therefore extremely annoying to hear that annulments are either far too complicated to obtain or being dished out indiscriminately to those who know how to bend the system, according to whom you listen to. I entered into the process in good faith, throwing myself on the mercy and judgement of the Church who acted pastorally, compassionately and above all, fairly.

The Church cannot change her teaching on the dissolubility of marriage, she cannot re-write Scripture and this is why Archbishop Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith has this week sought to dampen down the expectation that the rules on remarried Catholics receiving communion will be altered. Furthermore the German diocese of Freiburg in Germany which issued new guidelines making it easier for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion has been instructed not to implement them.

This seems right and just on the one hand, but on the other it can seem lacking in justice and compassion for those who have been left in impossible situations. Is it really the right thing to expect a spouse to remain permanently bound to another, who has left them for another partner? Why should someone be forced to make a choice between finding another lifelong partner, someone who could in many instances act as a supplemental parental figure for their children giving them much needed stability and security, and their relationship with God?

The adage hard cases make bad law comes to mind, divorce may be becoming far more commonplace, however that does not mean that the Church should sanction or encourage it or relax her rules regarding annulments. The permanence of marriage needs to be upheld for the good of individuals and society as a whole.

But where does that leave those in heartbreaking and complex situations? Pope Francis’ announcement of a more pastoral approach is certainly welcome, those who are unable to receive communion need to know that they are still loved and welcomed by the Church and not excluded. Hopefully some pastoral solutions can be sought whether that be through extending the practice of annulments whilst keeping their rigorousness intact or some other unforeseen remedy. The Eastern Orthodox Church allows for remarriage in the spirit of penitence, in which the formerly married partner stays away from communion for a short period of time, but Archbishop Muller seems to have ruled this out for now.

Prevention is better than cure however, so rather than going with the spirit of the age in terms of attitudes to marriage, the Church needs more than ever to reinforce and explain the importance of the sacrament. There is no way of avoiding all marital break-ups but armed with a full understanding of the commitment and responsibilities of marriage as well as the circumstances that constitute validity, we stand a much better chance of not needing to be rescued from messes of our own making.

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Taken from the Catholic Universe 13 October 2013

pietro-perugino-tobias-with-the-angel-raphaelHaving shared my pregnancy news with Universe readers in order to advocate breaking the taboo and stigma of early pregnancy, I am now reaping the downside of being upfront following the discovery during a routine scan that our unborn child had died in utero, right at the end of the first trimester.

As we were unable to verify the sex of our baby, born on the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels, we therefore chose the name Raphael in honour of the Archangel, who in common with all angels is pure spirit and therefore neither male nor female in the earthly sense. Furthermore Raphael is also associated with the healing ministry of God.

When explaining the reason for our choice of name, I was taken aback by the amount of Christians who while aware of the name of the archangel, associated it more with the Renaissance artist and knew nothing of the Biblical connotations.

 Raphael makes an appearance in the Book of Tobit, one of the books of the Apocrypha, in which he is sent by God to heal, protect and guide Tobit and his son and daughter-in-law Tobias and Sarah. The story of Tobit’s family is one of the hidden gems of the Bible, the message of which is that God is just. Tobit, Tobias and Sarah suffer many trials and difficulties but yet remain steadfast in faith during their time of testing and enjoy God’s blessings and mercy, with St Raphael being sent to them as answer to their prayers for deliverance and making the longest recorded speech of an angel in the entire Bible!

Like Tobit we are called to trust in God and live in accordance to his plan. Suffering is not a punishment but a test, it is not our struggles that define us, but our response to them – do we rail Job-like against God, or put our faith in him, trusting that though he has not willed terrible things to happen, he will work to bring good out of our pain.

 The book of Tobit is a great guide to Catholic spirituality, presenting the sanctity of marriage, angelic intercession, a reward for good works as well as emphasising the importance of prayer, almsgiving and fasting in our daily lives.

Upon re-reading it this week and explaining its significance in the choice of our baby’s name, it once again struck me as what a tragedy it is that so many of us Catholics don’t seem to know our bible as well as we ought. Not only does this mean that we are often left floundering especially when in conversation with our evangelical brethren, but that our faith and knowledge can lack richness and depth. Christianity is a revealed religion, about what God has shown and told us, most of which can be found in scripture.

If our knowledge of the bible is sketchy, as well as hindering and impairing our faith, it also means that we are missing out on a wealth of cultural richness. As a former English literature student, I was frequently taken aback at how much my fellow students were missing out on, by having almost no knowledge of the basic Old and New Testament stories which were a staple of basic education only a few generations ago. Without a good grip on the bible, it is impossible to appreciate staples of the English canon such as Beowulf, Chaucer, Blake and DH Lawrence to name but a few.

 This week the schools watchdog Ofsted have reported that more than half of England’s schools are failing pupils on religious education. A great deal of this has to do with the manner in which RE is now taught, in an impartial and objective fashion, laying out the tenets of different faiths from which children are taught to take a pick and mix approach, drawing out strands of truths from various religions, without being equipped with the basic knowledge to be able to make such critical decisions.

I was lucky enough to have old-fashioned scripture lessons at primary school, which was akin to a period of story-telling, music, art and drama. I remember the class sitting with rapt concentration to tales of King David, singing songs about the walls of Jericho tumbling and drawing vivid pictures of Elijah being taken up to heaven in a chariot, the memories of those lessons remaining with me today, almost thirty years later. Despite attending a Catholic secondary school, my knowledge of the Apocrypha was until quite recently, limited to being purely theoretical, even though it is a key part of our Catholic cultural inheritance.

If Religious Education teaching is lacking, it is time to reintroduce unashamed scripture lessons, which as my experience shows does not need to be an exercise in aridity, in order that all children are not denied the richness of their country’s spiritual heritage, regardless of whether or not they are adherents to what is still, our national religion.

 We cannot be surprised or shocked by the current proposals that the Bible should be removed from courtrooms, how can we swear a serious oath of truth upon it, or how can grieving parents or those suffering with the burdens and trials of life, absorb the messages of  consolation and hope from the Bible, if we don’t know what is contained therein?

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