Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Catholicism’ Category

I’ve been meaning to revisit the topic of NFP or, as I would prefer to call it, NFA and Joseph Shaw has provided me with the perfect opportunity, with a blogpost critiquing this rather natty little video, promoting the benefits of NFP, as opposed to conventional contraception.

First off, I think Catholics need to stop referring to NFP (Natural Family Planning) and instead refer to NFA – Natural Fertility Awareness. The semantics here are important: the former term implies a contraceptive mindset, validating the secular mindset that every family needs to be meticulously planned in terms of timing and number of children, whereas Natural Fertility Awareness is more accurate in terms of the (more often than not) Catholic mindset of those who adopt this attitude towards their sex lives.

Unlike the secular rigidity of the term Family Planning, favoured by our state health agencies, the phrase Natural Fertility Awareness conveys something of the fluidity and indeed flexibility, of the process. Moreover one does not need to be sexually active in order to monitor one’s own fertility and I’m a great advocate of young women (and indeed young men) being versed in the basic principles, before they may actually need to practice it.

There is nothing inherently immoral about teaching young women how to be aware of and chart their individual fertility – the process takes a few months to get to grips with and do so accurately. The engagement period tends to be a busy and frenetic time. observations can be missed or mistaken. It isn’t unreasonable for a married couple to wish for a short honeymoon period where they aren’t plunged straight into the trials and tribulations of pregnancy at a time when they may be attempting to consolidate financially, especially if they have not previously been cohabiting or sexually intimate.

Indeed if more young women were to monitor their fertility then arguably potential problems could be identified and treated more swiftly. Even, Sir Robert Winston, the IVF pioneer has argued that too many women are being automatically referred for IVF treatment after a failure to conceive, when cheaper and more effective treatments may be available. (Such as for example, the NaPro Centre in Ireland).

Natural Fertility Awareness is scorned by the vast majority of the medical profession, who do not understand it and believe it to be some sort of outdated rhythm method from 50 years ago as opposed to a rigorously scientific method, based on a woman’s own individual fertility, rather than the standardised version assumed by manufacturers of hormonal contraception. This leads to a passive attitude adopted by woman, who are taught to believe that their natural fertility is an out of control monster which needs to be medically  suppressed in order for them to stay healthy.

Last week my youngest daughter came up with an alarming looking rash, (it turned out to be some sort of pityriasis) which needed swift checking out by a medic. Unable to get a GP appointment within a few days, I took her instead to the walk-in centre in central Brighton so she could be seen swiftly. This particular centre also happened to be an anonymous walk-in sexual health and GUM clinic. I was particularly struck by the larger -than-life size posters advertising their sexual health and contraceptive services. Basically there was nowhere you could look without seeing adverts for sexual health prominently displayed. (Which is understandable when you consider Brighton’s considerable LGBT population and the location of the clinic, next to the railway station. You can pop in for an anonymous HIV test).

I was sat in front of an enormous six foot banner stand, which displayed a photograph of a clean-cut, wholesome-looking, causal but modestly dressed, pretty young blond woman, advertising “reproductive health services.’ The image has stayed with me precisely because as I thought at the time, the model was obviously chosen for her ordinary look. The message was crystal clear, all young women will be having sex and therefore they need to ensure that they do not have an unwanted pregnancy or contract any sexually transmitted diseases.

It was precisely the sort of image that I identified with as a teenager or in my twenties, just a normal-looking young woman, probably a professional of some sort, living a normal adult life, in sexual relationships and needing to make sure that she was healthy. Sexual health being just one more adult responsibility that she had to deal with. Take the pill, use condoms with new partners, get checked from time to time to make sure you haven’t inadvertently picked up anything nasty – no big deal, all part of being an empowered grown up.

I had bought into that entire mindset which is why the poster really struck a chord with me.  I too was that ‘empowered’ young woman who believed that all romantic relationships ought to involve sex and that consensual one-night stands were no problem. Sex was  a fun and exciting thing to do and most people who had an unplanned pregnancy had been a bit stupid. (Until it happened to me). Everywhere young women go, they are subtly indoctrinated into a certain way of thinking about sex and their sex lives. The poster was deliberately designed to feature a bland image of an everyday, normal attractive woman, with whom most woman would identify. No doubt in other areas, the models used would vary according to demographics.

Which is why it is so important that women are introduced into another way of thinking about their fertility, namely monitoring their own individual cycles instead of being duped into a passive acceptance of long-term hormonal suppression as being the norm.

This is why I don’t have so much of a problem as Joseph Shaw does, in terms of the secular nature of the video, which is perhaps designed to reach beyond the Catholic faithful.

I’ve personally found NFA to be so enriching for my marriage, despite not always managing to avoid pregnancy, that I want to share it with others because it’s a great thing in and of itself, and as Dr Shaw notes, the fewer people pumping estrogen into atmosphere or suffering from potential side effects, the better. Sceptic readers could do worse than read Sweetening the Pill. In January 2014, Vanity Fair published a 10,000 word expose of the Nuvaring, which has been responsible for thousands of avoidable blood clots and hundreds of deaths, all suppressed by the manufacturers who are now facing lawsuits. Wanting to get women off this stuff is an act of charity and mercy.

Advocating NFA to non-Catholics is the perfect example of graduality – get women onto a more natural and healthier way of avoiding pregnancy and it may well prove a useful first stepping stone in terms of evangelisation. It also might do something to engender better attitudes to sex and the rejection of female instrumentalisation, which has to be in the interests of the common good. I cannot emphasise how much of an uphill battle it is to overturn the entrenched attitudes hammered into children by well-meaning but ultimately ideologically blind professionals, since pre-adolescence.

T1593_300

Every secular priest ought to read this too. Ideally have a copy on hand to lend to couples.

For Catholics struggling with NFA, I strongly recommend Simcha Fisher’s Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, which is unashamedly written from a Catholic perspective. The book does not tell you how to chart, it does not give the pros and cons of NFA, it does not moralise, or tell you how many children you ought to have, but rather it acts as a spiritual accompaniement purely in terms of the sex and relationship issues related to NFP. If only it had been written two years ago when I was struggling with an unplanned pregnancy, in extremely challenging circumstances. Not only should married couples read it, but anyone involved in any sort of ministry involving engaged and married couples and yes priests, I mean you – it’s not a heavy theological tome, it’ll take a couple of days at most, but most definitely a decent use of your time.

Like Joseph, Simcha identifies the notion of being ‘baby-phobic’ but nonetheless she expclicity rejects the idea of the ‘contraceptive mentality’ that many Catholics using NFA have supposedly adopted. Certainly every Catholic I know who uses NFP, does so with a prayerful mentality and to accept NFA is also to accept that sex could always result in a baby, something that our experience has taught us.

In the aftermath of the Synod, there is a troubling narrative doing the rounds, namely that Catholics who avoid children must have a critical reason for doing so. As I said last year, this is explicitly, not the case, and to get hung up on the ‘grave and serious’ reasons for avoiding conceptions, ignores the actual teaching of Humanae Vitae.

What I said in August 2013, still seems pertinent.

Ultimately if a faithful Catholic couple is using NFP then they are still accepting and participating in God’s plan for creation. NFP/NFA accepts that no method of pregnancy avoidance, bar total abstinence is 100%. It is hugely unlikely that such a couple would then opt for abortion or reject an unplanned pregnancy. Practicing NFP constantly reminds one that this is always a possibility which is why NFP encourages spouses to care for and take responsibility for each other.

We should not berate those who use it in good conscience, procreation is one of the missions of marriage but not the sole mission, there are other ways of building the kingdom, the church does not treat children as a moral good to be pursued at the expense of all other moral goods. Gaudium et Spes 50 suggests that having a large family would be the generous thing to do, but also states that it is up to couples to decide.

But berating those for using NFP to avoid in good conscience, or discouraging discussion of using NFP to plan a family responsibly, is not the way to go, particularly for those encountering these concepts for the first time, which sadly seems to be a not insignificant proportion of the faithful.

To be clear, Joe Shaw did not advocate that everyone should have 10 children, nor did he insist that the reasons for avoiding children ought to be life-threatening, but he was stating that the vocation of marriage must include openness to children. The challenge is how to communicate this beyond the Catholic faithful.

Postscript for the sake of transparency

I am extremely happy to go on record as saying that following the birth of our fifth (God willing, living) child in March, I am no longer open to pregnancy.

I should not need to justify this to the Catholic faithful and it speaks volumes that I immediately feel defensive about this decision. Couples ought to be trusted to prayerfully discern what is right for them in their particular circumstances without having to defend themselves to random shouty online strangers.

For those wishing to ‘judge’ my Catholicity, the reasons are as follows:

  1. As I age, pregnancy is exacting an increasing toll on my body physically. This is in turn having an impact on the rest of the family as I am constantly exhausted and unable to function at full capacity. Due to the transient nature of our living circumstances over the past few years, there are no family or friends close by to help pick up the slack. While pregnancy is only a temporary stage, this recent piece from First Things notes that Catholics should not shy away from accepting and validating its difficulties. I am one of those women for whom pregnancy is a form of the Passion.
  2. I am facing my fourth cesarian section. While I know of women who have had as many as seven, 4 is considered the upper limit for this to be performed safely by most surgeons. During the birth of our youngest daughter there were some difficulties in terms of scar tissue and a large amount of adhesions; this next procedure is expected to be complicated and may well result in some damage to surrounding organs or emergency hysterectomy. A recent ante-natal appointment resulted not in discussion of the wellbeing of my unborn baby, but my being exhorted to accept sterilisation while I was on the table. An option which I have declined.

So no doubt in being very clear that we wish to avoid pregnancy – we fall into the scandalous contraceptive mindset. Perhaps the difference is that it’s not that we reject the idea of further children, but of further pregnancies?

However if the Catholic Church really wishes to throw off her image of misogynistic judgementalism, perhaps advocates of the vocation of marriage, ought to embrace the positive instead of loudly critiquing what they believe to be the motivations of the imaginary minority. I don’t need some shouty man imagining that he can persuade the world to tell me how I need to put my health and family at risk if I wish to save my soul or trying to engage me in online discussion about how married couples need to be open to life 100% of the time. Actually this is one issue where the feminists have a point, there is something particularly grating about a man who does not ever experience the physical tribulations of pregnancy and childbirth telling women how they ought to feel about the subject, no matter how logical, rational or theologically correct he may be.

Using NFA requires trust and a whole new way of thinking. Let’s encourage people to do that without telling them exactly what their decisions should be or implying that they ought to have fifty children until their uterus drops out.

Read Full Post »

Blogging apologia

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

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

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

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

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

That's Caroline Farrow that is!

That’s Caroline Farrow that is!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post »

web-patten-getty

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Party poopers?

same-sex-marriage_2560538b

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,788 other followers