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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update:

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

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

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A few years ago I was riled into writing about SPUC in less than complimentary terms following some less than charitable remarks about Catholic Voices, the organisation of which I am proud to be a part, not being orthodox enough. Writing on his blog back in 2011, John Smeaton, Director of SPUC called for the voices of ‘real Catholics’ instead of our appeasing liberal heterodox ones.

Admittedly I was less than charitable in my reply, my irritation and indignation fuelled in part by pregnancy hormones. The accusations of heterodoxy and attacks upon Catholic Voices coming from John Smeaton, did cease, for which I think we are all grateful – after all when it came to the thorny topic of the redefinition of marriage, it was clear that we were all on the same side.

And when it comes to the aims of SPUC, I think we’re all on their side, we all wish for a successful pro-life lobby group in this country. It is very disappointing for ordinary Catholics in the pews that by and large our leadership seems to be quiet on the subject of abortion, with a few notable exceptions and that there seems to be no specifically Catholic pro-life organisation, which is why SPUC occupy a weird hybrid position, ostensibly being a secular lobby group and not a registered charity, with no official Catholic endorsement. To be fair to SPUC they are simply filling a gap.

SPUC has two problems, the first one being that in order to gain any serious political traction, any pro-life movement, be that in the realms of abortion or euthanasia should not be perceived as a purely religious movement. To use the cliche, if I had a penny for every time I’ve trotted out the phrase that life issues, including contraception and IVF for that matter, don’t actually require any sort of religious belief or recourse to theism to be valid ethical positions, neither do they fit into any sort of left/right-wing praxis, then I’d be a seriously rich woman by now.

One of the accusations trotted out by those angered by my original post was that my criticism came from self-interest, I had my eye on staging some sort of coup and emerging as a female pro-life leader. One of the reasons that I have absolutely no intention or desire to lead any sort of movement (aside from the fact I am not a natural leader and have never been comfortable in these sorts of positions and have more than enough on my plate at present) is because as a lesser-known Catholic, I’d never be able to move beyond the ‘religious agenda’ template. The future of pro-life in the political sphere in any event, needs to be able to bust the religious zealot/wingnut frame and led by someone who has kept below the radar.

LifeCharity has a Catholic founder and chairman in Jack Scarisbrick and admittedly employs practicing Christians of all denominations, but it also employs those of other faiths and none. It is this wholly secular, non-religious flavour of the organisation which has enabled it to make some inroads in terms of being invited to participate in policy forums. It is precisely Life’s lack of overt religiosity, it refuses to endorse or alternatively condemn 40 Days for Life for example which makes the pro-choice lobby spit with fury as the tired accusations and tropes simply don’t work. This is why organisations such as Education for Choice, do their damnest to undermine them in other fields, such as pregnancy counselling and education. It isn’t LIFE’s secular nature that protects them from such attacks, let’s face it, there’s a whole plethora of people whom it would suit, from professional lobby groups to big Pharma groups or anyone with any sort of financial interests in contraception and abortion, who want pro-lifers kicked out of schools and not being allowed anywhere near a woman with an unplanned pregnancy. The lack of religiosity makes the smear merchants’ job much harder as well as enabling LIFE to reach a wider audience who would perhaps be more willing to lay their prejudices about religious organisations aside and listen.

The second problem is that the UK Catholic church should have a dedicated pro-life movement throughout the country. It’s very hard for Catholics to donate to secular pro-life charities who make appeals in church, when they emphasize the non-religious nature of their work. Now there’s no reason why religion should come into fields such as crisis pregnancy counselling or sex education especially for the wider world, but neither should Catholicism be excluded, particularly when we are talking about Catholic schools or parishioners.

I’m proud to publicly state my support for 40 days for life (as has Pope Francis), I believe that respectful, dignified silent prayer vigils with specialist trained and experienced crisis pregnancy outreach workers are an excellent witness to the faith. But it’s very hard to support an organisation who comes into my church and says ‘we don’t stand outside the abortion clinics’ in lofty tones signifying disproval.

There is a need for a Catholic organisation not only to support prayer vigils, but to do all of the grass-roots and outreach work to change hearts and minds which is every bit as vital as the politics. SPUC are quite good at some of this. My father-in-law is a member and is always exercised into action by the literature that comes dropping through his letterbox at regular intervasl from SPUC. He made an appointment to see his MP about same-sex marriage on their advice, rang them up and had a ‘very long helpful conversation for at least half an hour with a girl from there’ which briefed him in terms of what to say and what to expect.

Thing is though, as I said before, I’m still not convinced that this was the best use of their time and resources, it’s fighting a battle on too many fronts. Too many members of the general public were baffled by SPUC’s response to same-sex marriage whose point was that anything that undermines marriage therefore leads to the collapse of family life which then results in social consequences such as abortion, was too sophisticated and nuanced to work effectively. Marriage had already been weakened over the past few decades, notably with the introduction of no-fault divorce – an adulterer’s charter, there are consequences for the unborn child in terms of trying to state that every couple has the right to marriage and children, but most people could not see beyond the straw-man argument of causation and asked how two men or women getting married would then cause a third party to have an abortion.

The work that SPUC did in terms of briefing my father-in-law, could and should have been done by a different agency. If we’d had a cohesive official Catholic life movement, then they would have been able to pick up the slack.

The trouble is that because John Smeaton seems to spend a disproportionate amount of time attacking the Catholic bishops and hierarchy on his blog along with LGBT issues, it doesn’t make the Catholic church inclined to work with him, further fuelling his annoyance and thus the cycle of recrimination continues and nothing gets done.

No doubt lots of people will say to me in the coms box, yeah Caroline, but John Smeaton was right to criticise the bishops because of xyz. Specifically on this issue of Archbishop Peter Smith’s statement asking the government not to automatically convert civil partnerships into marriage and abolish them, which John Smeaton has blogged about, I would have a slightly different take. Yes, the CDF did issue guidelines against civil partnerships back in 2003, identifying correctly that they would lead to the introduction of marriage. The Archbishop was however speaking in the context of 2014, when civil partnerships are a reality. His point was the same as it was back in their introduction in 2003, being that civil partnerships do afford some important legal protections for same-sex couples. You really would need to be an unreasonable bigot to deny people the right to live with whom they choose and to be able to have that person given a special legal status as a significant companion, regardless of whether or not they are having an intimate sexual relationship. It isn’t beyond the bounds of imagination to suggest that there could be some Catholics living a chaste life within a civil partnership who do not wish to see them become marriages.

After attacking the Archbishop for his perceived deviation from Catholic teaching about civil partnerships, John then goes into a long diatribe about the lack of condemnation for homosexuality or homosexual acts from Peter Smith and whether or not civil partnerships or gay marriages are deemed to be sexual in nature, quoting an Anglican barrister for support!

It frankly appears prurient and petty minded. We know that there are problems with the legal definition of gay marriage, sexual consummation is necessarily missing, but the Archbishop was neither promoting gay marriage nor encouraging people to have extra marital sex. Stating the legal protections of civil partnerships is not the same as encouraging people to enter them. Does an Archbishop really need to take every opportunity to specifically denounce and reiterate Catholic teaching on homosexual acts? Aren’t we all already more than aware of what the Church says about sex outside of marriage? Besides which the Catholic church welcomed the Wolfenden Report which led to the de-criminalisation of homosexuality in the UK and have also called for homosexuality to be de-criminalised throughout the world, as acts of private morality should not be subject to criminal sanctions.

People are rarely converted to Christianity simply by preaching; clever reasoned, compelling and logical arguments are all very well, but there also needs to be some element of personal encounter as St Paul demonstrates. I recently attended a session with the Catholic Labour MP Rob Flello, who entered the Commons as an atheist, where he talked movingly about a very personal encounter with Christ which led to his conversion.

Continually preaching about homosexuality or reiterating Catholic teaching on it does nothing to bring about the joy of Christ. Surely these discussions are best held on a one-to-one personal basis? In any event context is everything, at a time when Catholics are fighting to have our voices heard in the public square, denouncements of homosexual acts as immoral and disordered in a document concerned with protecting the legal rights of those in civil partnerships is not only irrelevant, but risks any remaining credibility or opportunity to be heard.

But to get back to the point, SPUC have done some good work and do number some good people in their organisation. It’s just a tragedy to see them continually arguing themselves into irrelevance and alienating themselves from official Catholic endorsement and support with their leader’s relentless focus upon homosexuality which is often picked up on by mainstream media, along with criticism of the Catholic bishops. I’m not saying that the bishops should be exempt from criticism where it is merited, but as ever it really isn’t the remit of a secular lobby group.

Catholics cannot deny the link between abortion and the deviation from God’s plan for human flourishing. Perhaps it’s time for the UK church to propose that case a lot better than in the past and then maybe SPUC can concentrate solely on how best they can fulfil their remit of specifically protecting the life of the unborn child, for which purpose they solicit donations and support.

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Kudos to the BBC. Earlier on today I once again participated in BBC World Have Your Say, where the topic of Emily Letts, the woman who filmed her abortion was under discussion. The programme has to be one of the most pro-life broadcasts I’ve ever heard on mainstream media, which would not have been their intention.

In order to act as a counter-balance to Emily (who had the lion’s share of airtime and dominated proceedings at the beginning) they invited on 4 other post-abortive women, including Catherine Adair, a former Planned Parenthood clinic worker, who was able to tell listeners the parts of the abortion procedure that Emily Lett’s video left out such as counting up and bagging up the missing body parts and Nancy from Silent No More, who was able to tell of the effect that abortion had upon her life.

Listening to these women’s brave testimonies was incredibly powerful and moving. From a Catholic perspective it once again struck me how much potential the pro-life movement has in terms of drawing people back into the faith. Pro-choicers talk about judgemental religious bigots and yet there are so many men and women who open their hearts to grace and allow their tragedy to bring them closer to God. I’ve never experienced any shaming, judgement or snarky asides from orthodox Catholics and Christians about my abortion. Anyone whom I have discussed it with have let me know how sorry they are that this happened, and offered unconditional love and prayer. Of course the sacrament of confession by its very nature means that you will approach in a spirit of penitence, but the priest won’t bellow “you did what”, neither will he tell anyone and neither will he force you to make some kind of public reparation. Confession for us Catholics is about reconciling and forgiveness. When my kids look up at me, knowing they have been very naughty and say sorry, it isn’t my job to make them feel worse, even if they have done something they know they were expressly forbidden to do. God is pretty similar and so are the priests whom he uses. They are just happy that you’re there and want to help you. If confession involved shaming, you wouldn’t see the queue of young people waiting outside the confessional at Westminster Cathedral, giving up their lunch break for a good ear-bashing! Nor indeed would anyone go ever, if priests piled on the guilt.

When you listen to former clinic worker Abbey Johnson, she tells of how when she left her employment as an abortion clinic director, she said to 40 Days for Life founder Sean Carney, ‘look I might have left the industry, but sure as anything I’m not becoming a Catholic’. Two years later she was received into the Church. Catholic teaching in this area is what draws so many back to the church and who are then able to convince other hearts and minds. The vineyard is rich – which is why anyone who speaks up either on abortion or human sexuality will find themselves under a form of attack at some point. This is spiritual warfare where souls can so easily be led astray.

One of the many things that irked me about Emily’s testimony (once again I had no idea that she would be defending herself on the show, I was gobsmacked to discover she was a fellow guest 5 minutes before we went on air) was that when it came to the topic of post-abortive healing, she kept urging people to go to abortion-related and/or secular organisations where they wouldn’t be ‘shamed.’

Had the mic come back to me I would have picked her up on this. Pro-life counsellors NEVER shame post-abortive women and neither does the Catholic Church. The only shaming I can see going on, is the shaming of those who feel shame. Counselling should be an opportunity to explore and examine your feelings and how to harness negativity to a positive effect. A woman should be allowed to discuss, own and explore feelings of shame. While a counsellor should never seek to make a woman feel ashamed, they can help her to explore and discover for herself if her shame or guilt is justified. Ultimately no-one can or should tell another person what to ‘feel’.

It is not the role of any counsellor to remove a woman’s feelings of shame, but work out how she might best resolve those feelings. Furthermore shame is an emotionally loaded word, implying social stigma, whereas in many women the feeling is not shame, but regret. A counsellor can help a woman to realise that there may well have been mitigating circumstances surrounding her decision to abort, but it isn’t their job to suppress whatever a woman is feeling or to remove her instincts, rather to help them resolve them.

I’d be extremely concerned by a post-abortive counsellor trying to tell a woman that her feelings are wrong or misguided. We cannot help how we feel, while we cannot or should not dwell unhealthily upon negative feelings, we do at least need to acknowledge and resolve them.

While we’re on the subject of counselling, just as pro-choicers throw their hands up in horror at pro-lifers carrying out pre-abortion counselling, I’m equally concerned by a woman who thinks that abortion is a happy, awesome, dopamine fuelled experience telling women not to worry about it, it’s all fine. There may not be cutting involved in an early stage surgical abortion but it still entails intimate surgery which is the main source of anxiety for women, along with the risk of damage to the cervix and uterus. If a pro-life counsellor were to have been filmed telling a woman how physically harrowing many women find an abortion procedure, there would be uproar. Why then is someone employed by a clinic who stand to profit from a woman having an abortion, allowed to tell them it’s all a shiny happy thing of joy and love?

I’m with the Anchoress on this one. To my mind this was counter-productive. It wasn’t a happy video at all, Emily looked strained and displayed signs of self-deception, such as by repeating her words, she parroted glib catch-phrases and seemed lacking in conviction. When it came to the procedure itself, there was no disguising it was traumatic – note the lift muzak to disguise the noise of the suction machine and the clink of surgical instruments. Emily’s singing was forced – it reminded me of a recording I once heard of the Captain of doomed Saudi flight 163, who was heard on the flight recorders singing and humming to himself, instead of taking the decisive action needed which would have undoubtedly saved the lives of 301 souls on board who all perished unnecessarily. Emily’s singing and expressions of “I’m such a lucky girl” were coping strategies to distract herself from what was really going on down there.

Interestingly Emily’s catchphrases were about women who shouldn’t have to suffer in silence – suffering, pain, grieving and loss were her key themes. Having an allegedly vaguely bearable abortion procedure doesn’t somehow circumnavigate those issues that many women really do face. For those women who have faced heartbreak over a reluctant decision to abort, feeling that there really was no other option, this video is a slap in the face, making light of what is for many, a tragic and unwanted last resort.

There were plenty of ways of getting people talking about abortion, sacrificing her own baby’s life, without much thought and without consulting the father, doesn’t seem to be the most constructive way of doing so. Hey I’ve got you all talking she said, gushing over how beautiful and awesome we all were, in perhaps the way that only Americans can. Fact is Emily, I’d much rather have shut my mouth if it had meant that your baby lived. There are plenty of other stories out there which all need to be heard. If abortion is about suffering, then why aren’t we doing what we can to avoid it, rather than false attempts to sanitise and gloss over what is at the very least, an emotionally raw experience?

Emily said that she didn’t mean to get pregnant but also that she was not bothering to use birth control either, she was haphazardly monitoring her ovulation cycles. Were she to have been doing that, then she would have known fine well when she was fertile, so one has to wonder what this was all about. She had no long term partner, but ‘things happen’ and she wound up pregnant! And this was a sex educator?! She could have chosen to go down the same route that I did and use the pill, which is normally advised at her stage in pregnancy when someone is dead set, but after talking to a friend who had already videoed herself using this method, opted for surgery.

When Josie Cunningham used the prospect of abortion to gain fame, she was demonised around the world and yet by and large Emily is feted and admired for her ‘bravery’. What’s the difference between the two women who both used abortion as a form of self-publicity which makes one the target of admiration and the other the lowest of the low? Probably the time limit had something to do with this, but also class and that the middle-class college-girl liberal activist making a feminist political point is more pleasing on the eye. Josie Cunningham has spade loads more courage than Emily, nonetheless. It isn’t brave to film yourself doing something that you were planning to do anyway and edit out the nasty parts to mislead  your audience. Raising an unplanned baby alone – now there’s selfless courage!

Emily’s repeated on-air exclamations of how great, awesome and inspiring abortion is, deeply unsettled me, because they sounded so hollow and empty. “Hey, yeah wow, abortion, awesome, trust women”. Women make mistakes with their bodies just the same as men. Gender doesn’t sanctify or validate an unwise decision. Trust women, cos they like never ever get anything wrong about their reproductive decisions, like err unexpectedly getting themselves pregnant in the first place. (And no, that’s not shaming, it’s fact. There’s a reproductive decision, that Emily got wrong).

With that in mind, I do wish her all the best and hope this conflicted young lady  doesn’t have a rough ride in the future, either in terms of future fertility or suffering from an emotional fall-out. Today was only the second time I’ve discussed my abortion on air and the first time I did so in any great detail. Putting yourself out there like that is tough, I hope Emily finds the support that she needs, whatever the outcome.

When Emily said that were her apartment to catch fire, the scan photograph of her baby would be the first thing she would grab, it underlined her dissonance. That she is marvelling over her (God-given) ability to make life and that she likes to be reminded of the fact that she made a life either makes her a complete psychopath or a tragic victim of the deceptive and destructive sophistry that seeks to uphold abortion as a good.

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As expected, my debate with Benjamin Cohen made it into the pages of Pink News. “Catholic disagrees with gay marriage, IVF and surrogacy” shocker! I’m not too bothered, several people expressed the perspective  that the whole affair was about Ben trying to mine some controversial quotes.

That said it’s probably worth clarifying a few points. It is not my point of view that Benjamin Cohen is transphobic and neither as the report claims, was I trying to infer that.

What I was trying to get out is that Ben (and others) clearly do have a problem with Tara and myself being friends which is why he originally intervened.

 

This is the nub of the matter – Catholic teaching on sexuality means that instead of attempting to understand and respect each other’s point of view, Tara along with any other LGBT advocate and myself should hate each other.

That we come together on issues of mutual agreement and that I make no attempt to hector Tara into accepting a Catholic vision of sexuality, completely undermines this narrative of Catholics (and me in particular) of being hate-filled spittle-flecked individuals trying to force or impose our faith onto other people.

There are two tactics going on here. One is to undermine our friendship by pointing out Catholic doctrine on sexuality. “How can you be friends with her, she thinks this, ergo she HATES you, ergo you must have psychological problems and be filled with self-hatred to be friends with such a woman”. Our friendship must not be accepted or validated as genuine, built upon principles of mutual trust, care and respect, but instead painted as deeply dysfunctional. It is hoped that this will have the effect of ending our friendship, enabling the hateful horrible homophobe narrative to continue to be perpetuated. It’s pretty hard to claim someone is filled with hate and loathing towards the LGBT community if they number them as friends. Actually Tara is not my only LGBT friend (I expect Pink News will ask them to all come forward and identify themselves) by any stretch of the imagination.  But then again as Ben Cohen has tweeted that any gays who oppose gay marriage for anyone other than themselves are homophobes, then a quarter of the UK LGBT population merit this label according to the Com Res poll conducted  in 2012.

The second, more disturbing tactic is to attempt to cut Tara off from the support of the LGBT community on account of her views. The whole point of this piece was to highlight a member of their community who is bold enough to publicly deviate from group think and hold her up for derision. While I roared with laughter at the piece, Tara’s views as presented seemed perfectly reasonable and mainstream and not at all outrageous or extreme, what concerned me was an attempt to undermine her job and political career, by rendering her controversial, toxic, untouchable, someone who causes upset.

Tara is not opposed purely to same-sex IVF or surrogacy, but to all of these issues as she explains in her blog. Although she has mentioned that she is an NHS diversity consultant, she never talked about her job or her employers on the internet, nor has she been anything other than crystal clear that these are her personally held views. Nonetheless her employers have been contacted for comment.

It is my understanding that the role of a diversity consultant is to ensure that employees and clients are not discriminated against by virtue of their ethnicity, disability, sexuality, gender or any other characteristic. Their job is to provide equal access to employment opportunities as well as client services and ensure that the workplace is doing all that it can to serve the diverse needs of the community.

A diversity consultant would have no say over whether or not services such as IVF should be available and if so how many cycles each couple should receive; these are policy decisions which are made by senior management and clinical staff. I have no idea whether the area of the NHS in which Tara works is even concerned with fertility treatments; she assures me this does not form a part of her role, but her professionalism means that even though she may disagree with IVF as a concept, she still needs to ensure that everyone who qualifies for it under the NHS is able to access it.

There is no discernible reason why someone who believes that every child deserves the chance of a loving mother and father and that babies shouldn’t be removed from their mothers, unless there is a compelling reason to do so, is incapable of working as a diversity consultant. Believing that the state shouldn’t conspire to engineer a situation in which children are removed from their natural parents shouldn’t impact upon one’s diversity and equality credentials.

When did we become so emotionally needy as a nation, that we are unable to cope with stiff differences of opinion or disagreement? The reason why people are agitating for Tara to be kicked out of her job is because they cannot bear the idea of a state agency employing someone in an official capacity who will not validate their desires. A couple who have used IVF or surrogacy might feel ‘judged’ knowing that someone employed within a particular NCT trust disagrees with a life decision that they have made and that would never do.

If Tara had expressed a belief in Jesus Christ, son of God who was crucified, died, was buried and rose again on the third day, people may have looked upon her perhaps rather indulgently or patronisingly, but it would have not have created the storm of outrage. Which is why the secularist lobby are keen to disassociate life issues from religious conscience, arguing that these beliefs are not integral to religion which should in any event be kept private. Only those who believe that LGBT are inferior human beings could possibly object to a child missing out on their mum or dad.

The only imposition going on here  is of one particular viewpoint or mindset as being acceptable for certain state employees. Since when did diversity mean sanctioning every single viewpoint as being equally valid? Since when did diversity not allow for believing that women are exploited by the surrogacy industry and that children should not be treated as commodities? Why should this view disbar you from working to help enable marginalised sections of society access appropriate services?

The only way to avoid damaging culture wars is to listen to and attempt to respect the views of other people, even if we do not wish to sanction or implement their ideas. Surely we can agree to disagree on some issues, while working together on areas of common consent rather than turn certain other groups into untouchables?

When Benjamin Cohen described me as an ‘anti-euqality campaigner’ he was disingenuously implying that I work hard to perpetuate inequality and suffering and trying to paint me as a singularly unpleasant person. I can live with the ostracism of Pink News readers, but it doesn’t really do much to foster positive relationships and raises the emotional temperature. This is the kind of attitude that makes people afraid to speak out for fear of being labelled as fundamentalists. Believing that marriage is not a matter of equality, does not mean that one considers other people as second class citizens and as long-term readers of my blog will remember, I have been criticised in the past by some quarters for my inherent support of the rights that civil partnerships accord and for wishing for these rights to be extended.

In my previous post I outlined precisely my position regarding surrogacy and IVF which is not based upon any wish to discriminate. I have no experience of infertility, I cannot begin to imagine how painful it must be not to be able to have children, but the existence of certain technologies or techniques in order to conceive them does not automatically justify their use. The argument is essentially a moral one about whether or not the ends justifies the means and the values we place upon human life. Can we do what we like in order to secure the outcome we want, regardless of the potential cost?

The most important thing to clear up here is accusations of being opposed to the Jewish religion as specifically alleged by Benjamin Cohen who states that I campaigned to stop liberal and progressive Synagogues from solemnising gay relationships. Firstly it’s worth noting that not all branches of Judaism support  gay marriage. Secondly, I did not specifically campaign to prevent Synagogues from solemnising gay relationships. I was part of an effort which campaigned to keep marriage defined as between a man and a woman in UK law. Synagogues, along with any other religious institution should be free to perform whatever ceremonies and rituals which their religion proscribes (with provisos surrounding physical harms). I do not adhere to the Islamic proposition that a man may have 4 wives, however I am not campaigning for Muslims to be prohibited from taking multiple spouses. Asking that the law reflects existing Judeo-Christian principles and only recognises marriage as one man and one woman, does not oppress religious freedom or prevent people from following different cultural or religious practices. Non-legal recognition or solemnisation of certain situations does not prohibit people from entering into them informally, nor does it make them illegal or against the law.

Yesterday Pope Francis tweeted the following.

He has also described gay marriage in far stronger terms than I, as being a move from the Father of Lies.

Anti-equality campaigner, opposed to Judaism, fundamentalist, or just someone who follows the teachings of the Catholic church as articulated by the Pope?

Kudos and prayers for Tara for her bravery. By daring to be friends with Catholics and supporting a pro-life point of view she has put her job on the line and has made an unlikely champion of religious freedom and rejected the frame of the culture wars.

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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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