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In a revealing article in the Irish Times published online 45 minutes ago, Catherine Corless, the amateur historian who uncovered the records of the 796 children who died at the Tuam children’s home, run by the Bon Secours sisters has expressed her dissatisfaction by the way the story has been covered by the media, in particular the claims that 800 bodies were ‘dumped’. ‘I never said that word’ – she states.

What has upset, confused and dismayed her in recent days is the speculative nature of much of the reporting around the story, particularly about what happened to the children after they died. “I never used that word ‘dumped’,” she says again, with distress. “I just wanted those children to be remembered and for their names to go up on a plaque. That was why I did this project, and now it has taken [on] a life of its own.”

Her motivation was entirely about commemorating those who died there and her original article describes how she believes that the children were buried in an unofficial graveyard at the rear of the home. Perhaps this is why the locals have been so shocked on the discovery of the news, because many of them had tended to what was believed to be ‘the angels plot’ putting up a makeshift garden and Marian shrine.

In the light of Corless’ research which was first reported last year, a graveyard committee was established, a copy of her article was distributed and donations asked for a plaque following a Mass at Tuam Cathedral last year. Barry Sweeney, one of the boys who had originally discovered the graves, got in touch with Catherine to confirm that he had found bones, but as the Irish Times reports:

. “But there was no way there were 800 skeletons down that hole. Nothing like that number. I don’t know where the papers got that.” How many skeletons does he believe there were? “About 20.”

He goes on to state that the size of the slab broken into was 120cm by 60cm, roughly the size of his coffee table. This makes sense and what I was suggesting in my previous post which received such condemnation from certain quarters. There is no way that you would squeeze 800 bodies into a septic tank.

The article notes the archive material about the sewage scheme which was brought to the home in 1937. The tank had been in use between 1926 and 1937 during which period 204 children died. Catherine Corless admits that it is impossible that the tank would fit 204 bodies and that they would have been thrown into a working sewage tank.

My theory has always been that during these works, which would have required digging, bodies of famine victims were unearthed and it was these who were put unceremoniously into the hollowed out tank, perhaps to save space.

Catherine Corless has said that no-one from the government has asked to review her work, neither has anyone corroborated it, but that she would be happy to share it.

It is likely that the babies are buried on the site somewhere, there are many children’s burial grounds in County Galway and throughout Ireland, but the story that 800 babies were ‘dumped in a septic tank’ is undoubtedly false.

Michael Cook from Mercatornet produced this map of all the childrens’ burial grounds in Country Galway.

Childrens Burial Grounds Galway

Here is an archeological explanation of the work that has so far been carried out on the site of the former home. These specialists posit  that the children may have been buried at a site less than a mile away.

We would hypothesise that not only did the Bons Secours nuns in Tuam have to face the difficulties in burying dead infants but so too did many/most Irish families at a time when infant mortality rates were very high. It is no coincidence that Children’s Burial Grounds abound throughout Ireland and also that one is found in Ballymoat townland less than a mile northeast of the Workhouse. If the nuns did bury the infant dead within the Home grounds then where did the neighbouring families bury their infant dead? Some in the children’s burial ground and some in consecrated ground?

None of this detracts from the unacceptably high death rates in Mother and Baby homes and it is important that more research into these institutions is carried out, which is why the Archbishop of Dublin asked his diocesan archivist to collate all the records pertaining to the Mother and Baby homes and make them available to the government, just a few months ago.

This letter in the Irish Times, along with many of the comments on my previous post, throws some light onto conditions faced in the home.

Cohorting infants in institutions puts small infants at risk from cross-infection, particularly gastroenteritis. Early infection to the gastrointestinal tract can cause severe bowel damage. Without the availability of recent technology, many such infants would die from malabsorption resulting in marasmus [severe malnutrition]. The risks would have been much increased if the infants were not breast fed.

In foundling homes in the US in the early 20th century, mortality was sometimes reported as greater than 90 per cent among infants cared for in such institutions. Lack of understanding of nutrition, cross-infection associated with overcrowding by today’s standards, and the dangers of unpasteurised human milk substitutes were the main factors.

Of course many of the babies are reported to have been breast-fed as their mothers were there, but gastroenteritis is certainly an important consideration. Even if the babies were breast-fed, they would have been at increased risk once weaning began. There is always the possibility that they were mixed fed but in any event milk substitute only one factor in gastroenteritis which is very dangerous. My daughter was very ill with campylobacter as a baby, despite good hygiene and being breast-fed.

Irish Blogger Shane, (Lux Occulta) has carried out research indicating that the mortality rate in the home at Tuam was actually LOWER than much of the rest of the country, except in Dublin, where it was the same.

Between 1925 and 1937, 204 children died at the Home — an average of 17 per year. 17 deaths out of 200 children equals a mortality rate of 8.5%. It is interesting to compare that with the rest of the country at the time. In 1933, the infant mortality rate in Dublin was 83 per thousand (ie. a mortality rate of 8.3%), in Cork it was 89 per thousand (8.9%), in Waterford it was 102 per thousand (10.2%) and in Limerick it was 132 per thousand (13.2%). (Source: Irish Press, 12th April, 1935; below).

Also the historian Liam Hogan (@limerick1914) who has done so much work in digging up the archives and sharing them, has discovered that the home never once left the hands of the County Council. In 1951, 10 years before it shut, the sisters were begging the board for a grant, saying that they were too ashamed to show councils part of the building which desperately needed renovations, the children were sleeping in attics in terrible conditions and the building were considered a fire risk. In a meeting in 1949, Senator Martin Quinn were told that the children were suffering as result of the condition of the building, to which he replied “I do not like these statements which receive such publicity”.

It seems that the home shut after money wrangles, the County Council were simply not prepared to spend the money to upgrade the building which they owned, especially if it was later to be handed into the hands of the nuns. It was pointed out however, that the nuns could not be expected to take over and maintain a property which was in such bad condition.

Other interesting facts to have emerged are that the Mother Superior was a member of the NSPCC and that the ratepayers repeatedly talked about the unacceptable cost of the ‘misfortunates’. ‘I want the public to know what the illegitimate children are costing the ratepayers of Galway’ said one report in 1938.

This is not meant in any way to deflect or divert blame from any individuals within the Catholic Church, we know that various religious fell well short of the standards expected of them.

“800 bodies dumped and she wants to talk about the logistics” scoffed one tweep. But to most critical thinkers, the story never made sense.

No matter what may have gone on, there is no way that nuns would have been refusing to baptise children as suggested or simply tossing their bodies into a septic tank. That people were so willing to believe this and jump on the outrage bandwagon should be a cause for concern and shows that much work still needs to be done to atone by the Church and others for a terrible time in Ireland’s history.

article-2645870-1E1E699200000578-319_634x321The story of the home run by the Catholic sisters of the Bon Secours has hit the UK press after a resulting Irish media storm.

It has predictably whipped up anti-Catholic outrage and sentiment amongst the small clique of Irish secularists who seem to inhabit Twitter, lurking to pounce on anyone who dares to say anything less than condemnatory about the Catholic Church in Ireland. It’s difficult to tell how representative they are of wider public opinion, but nonetheless the story and the victims deserve a response.

The UK Daily Mail handles the story in an uncharacteristically balanced fashion, noting that these types of homes were prevalent throughout Ireland and run by both the Catholic and Protestant Church.

The existence of a mass grave is tragic – it is saddening that children were buried in this fashion, without any sort of memorial and no burial records, however the claims that they were unceremoniously dumped into a septic tank full of sewage will almost certainly be false. The bodies which were found by two boys playing in the 1970s were interred in a concrete tank. The septic tank referred to had been attached to the building when it was a former workhouse, and was decommissioned by the time the sisters took over the building to run as a home in 1926.

Little is known about the size of the tank, nor has it been confirmed how many bodies are contained therein. The first task must surely be to secure the site and carry out forensic analysis. The boys who discovered the grave describe it ‘full to the brim with bones’ after breaking through concrete slabs, but that does not confirm numbers of bodies. It’s interesting that back in 1975, no further investigation was thought necessary, the site was apparently blessed by a priest before being resealed.

Local historian Catherine Corless has discovered the records of 796 babies and children who died at the home, but it isn’t clear whether or not they are all contained within the grave. The first thing must be to establish numbers and ages of those who were interred and a respectful re-internmnet and memorial must be erected. This is already in progress. The sisters of the Bon Secours have already requested an urgent meeting with the Archbishop of Tuam to discuss how best to honour all those in the home. This is an important first step.

One inconsistency is that according to an advert placed in a local paper, the Connacht Tribune in 1932, the Home was tendering for coffins. This would seem to be inconsistent with a policy that sought to expediently dispose of bodies in an undignified fashion.

The logistics of tossing corpses into a septic tank should also be thought about. How likely is it that they would have had a permanently open space or pit in which to to place bodies. Surely the existence of this would have been noted somewhere along with resulting hygiene concerns?

Archives from 1937 call for “the removal of the cesspool at the back of the home” as the smell was intolerable. In 1938 the MO and Matron of the home pleaded for a new disinfecting chamber and laundry and six months later sent a letter to the Committee asking if anything could be done to speed up the process. The idea of a permanently open grave doesn’t seem to tally with the other stated concerns. One also has to wonder about how the bodies were placed into a sealed septic tank via narrow pipes. Did the nuns return regularly to a pit full of decayed macerated corpses without commenting on it anywhere?

The Connacht Tribune records that Tuam Sewerage Scheme was to be extended to the Children’s Home in 1928. Is it possible that during this period existing graves were exhumed and the bodies reinterred. The boys’ description of a pit with a brimful of bones suggest that the bones could at least have been adult, it is unlikely that babies’ bones buried in shrouds would have been visible 20, 30, or 40 years later. The grave was  explained as belonging to famine victims  – presumably this belief would have had some basis? Prior to being a home for married mothers, the building was a workhouse for famine victims.

What we do know is that often bodies were exhumed during the road building process in Ireland and not reinterred in a respectful fashion, even being dumped in drains in some instances. It is feasible that the children were buried correctly, even on consecrated ground and then later moved during a redevelopment of the site. This is why decent forensics is vital.

Another piece of the outrage stems from the widespread practice of burying babies in unconsecrated ground. These days this no longer happens, but the belief in limbo was still prevalent in mid twentieth-century Ireland. I remember being shocked as a child when my mother pointed to an area on the edges of the churchyard in Ashburton which is where she said, her baby brother born in 1946 was buried, away from the graves of his grandparents right in the centre of the church. She related how the monks from neighbouring Buckfast Abbey came out to conduct the service, (they did not have a graveyard at this time), but that he died before they had a chance to baptise him. This may seem cruel, but it was the norm. That’s not to say that no rites were carried out. In any event limbo is not an abhorrent concept which has been revamped in a PR exercise. The truth is that we do not know what happens to the souls of the babies, but we trust in God’s mercy, knowing that He is good. Limbo taught that as innocents, the souls of the babies would enjoy happiness, only not the perfect happiness of the beatific vision.

The practice of burying babies in unconsecrated ground has long since been revised, however it’s telling that no such outrage is expressed by these pro-choice secularists with regards to the appalling treatment of foetal remains by hospitals and abortion clinics who  were happy to incinerate them for energy with surgical waste.

The death rates from neglect, malnutrition and preventable diseases easily treated with antibiotics are undoubtedly shocking. No-one seeks to excuse them. With that in mind, the death rates in Tuam seem to be consistent with the death rates of illegitimate children throughout Ireland as a whole, which were 3 or 4 times that of legitimate children and double the death rates of illegitimate children in England and Wales.

Ireland was in the grip of poverty, as  Anglo-Irish Catholic tweep @dillydillys has pointed out, rural Irish society was ruthless compared with our comfortable armchair perspective. Life was tough during the lean years of the economic wars between Britain and the Free State.

Clare Mulvany, an Irish colleague in Catholic Voices tells of how her uncle died aged 18 months from a simple skin infection easily treatable with antibiotics who was hastily buried the next morning. It’s how life operated. Antibiotics were not easily available or accessed and bodies would be buried swiftly.

There are many allegations of children being deliberately starved and maltreated – where this happened this is abhorrent and should be condemned. The calls for an inquiry and a Garda investigation are correct, if belated. This should have happened back in the ‘70s or even in February 2013 when the story began to emerge in the press. Also there are reports of Catherine Corless meeting with the film-makers behind Philomena last year, Why did this story take so long to air?

In direct contravention of allegations of ‘dying rooms’ and deliberate starvation, a Tuam Herald report in 1949 on the Inspection of the home, says that “they found everything in very good order and congratulated the sisters on the excellent conditions in their Institution”. An earlier Board of Health report in 1935, says that “Tuam is one of the best managed institutions in the country”.  In 1944, the Matron requested that all occupants were immunised against Diphtheria.It was also recommended that vaccines for whooping cough were supplied.  Is this indicative of an uncaring attitude? In 1950 a programme of improvements to the building was proposed to the Committee however these were never carried out due to costs. The home finally closed due to dilapidation in 1961 after the £90,000 proposed extension was instead used to carry out improvements on the nursing home run by the sisters.

children-at-the-home-in-tuam-co-galway

In a revealing exchange in 1961, it was claimed that those in charge of the home had not been paid for extra work done and that some of the most capable nuns had been moved. It was admitted that the conduct of the home had been unsatisfactory for quite some time. The conditions were attributed to a shortage of ‘trained staff, unsuitable buildings and other factors’.

The Archbishop of Dublin is quite correct to call for a social history project to be run in parallel to any inquiry in order that an accurate picture of life in the homes can be established.

This is not to deny abuses or shocking treatment, but to point the blame solely at the church alone is too simple.

Reports from 1929 show that a special maternity ward for the unmarried mothers was added to the Home in Tuam. The reason for this is that married women and paying customers at the local district hospital in Connacht were unwilling to share their hospital facilities with the ‘misfortunates’. They wanted segregation. This proposal was opposed by a priest, Canon Ryder who wanted to find accommodation for these mothers in other hospitals.

This moving of the mothers to a separate institution lacking trained staff and facilities would have undoubtedly contributed to infant and maternal mortality rates.

Society and state wanted these women to disappear and colluded with the Church who were willing to provide institutions. A sanctioned burning of library books portraying unmarried mothers in a positive light took place in Galway in 1928. A ratepayers meeting in  Portumna said that no additional burden should be placed upon married parents who already had enough to do with the raising on their own children and that the state must step in to act. In a direct contravention of the Catholic principles said to be influencing attitudes towards unmarried mothers, it was deemed unreasonable to expect married families to pitch in and help. In 1926, the annual cost of £26 for each year to raise each infant was deemed unacceptably high. The Board of Health was told to provide for them at the least possible expense and therefore the charity of the Sisters was extremely convenient.

Fr Owen Sweeney, Chaplain to London’s Irish centre noted in a meeting in Galway in 1964, that “facilities were so much better in Ireland (than England) for the unmarried mother and her child”.

But before condemning the Church alone, we should also ask questions of a society that was happy to wave goodbye to unmarried mothers and who wanted them hidden. The concerns and stigma were driven as much by cost as anything that the Church taught on this matter. Every single Western culture stigmatised single mothers prior to the advent of the contraceptive pill.

I am glad that such attitudes have changed. I mentioned in previous posts that my grandmother was illegitimate. She was born in 1913 and one of the lucky ones, but the stigma blighted her childhood and affected her right up until her death at the age of 99. My family has experienced what this does to a person. My mother was never able to learn the identity of her own grandparents until her mother died last year.

For every mother sent to an institution there was a society unwilling to accept them into their community and to stand up for their basic dignity. There was a documented unwillingness to rely on their testimony regarding the paternity of their children or to hold the men to account.

To blame the refusal to share precious resources with those who were deemed to be morally deficient on account of their straightened circumstances, on Christian doctrine, demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the Gospel message. The Catholic church may be complicit in that the institutions may well have mistreated those in their care, but that surely needs to be attributed to the individuals who worked there, some of whom had discovered a vocation was a convenient solution to their own poverty. Nowhere does the Catechism ever condone unjust treatment of the poor and Christ reserves some of his strongest words for those who mistreat children. One wonders how much of this pointing the finger of the blame at the Church is a projection of personal guilt – the children from the home were forced to sit apart from and bullied by their legitimate peers as Catherine Corless relates.

But we are fooling ourselves if we believe that we are living in a more enlightened age or seek to blame such stigma on religious doctrine. The demonisation of those on welfare and benefits due to the media coverage of families such as those belonging to White Dee has nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with human nature.

We display exactly the same attitude in terms of marginalising vulnerable children and wishing for an expensive embarrassing problem to be quietly dealt with every time we stay silent or sanction an abortion, whether that’s of a child from a socially disadvantaged or financially struggling parent or one who has disabilities.

Last week Archbishop “Charlie” Brown described the green shots of the Irish Catholic Spring following 20 years of winter.  Ireland’s wounds are beginning to heal, helped by the enthusiasm of the young and the appointment of Marie Collins to the newly established Pontifical Commission to the Protection of children.

With the green shoots and buds of Spring emerging no wonder then, that there are those waiting and willing to use opportunistically whatever they can, in this case the tragic deaths and apparent insensitive disposal of childrens’ remains, to scorch then salt the earth. Justice can only be served by truth. The victims deserve nothing less.

childrens_home_nursery

With thanks to Twitter user @limerick1914 who has provided a fascinating compilation of the archives.

Update:

This post is not intended as either a defence of anything untoward which may have happened in the Toam home. It is simply applying a reasonable standard of criticism to hyperbolic narratives flying about the internet, based on publicly available sources.

The facts as we have them so far are these: there are records of 797 children dying over a 40 year period at The Home in Toam. Some bodies are known to exist in the site of a former water tank. We know the site was formerly a workhouse for famine victims. It is reasonable to request more evidence, be that forensic or some sort of archeological records in terms of work completed on the site which now contains part of a building site.

For those concerned with the fate of the deceased, a far more constructive step than venting online would be to donate to the St Jarlath’s Credit Union account set up for the purpose of receiving donations to the memorial fund which is one of the reasons why Catherine Corless broke her story. Incidentally she does not seek to lay the blame at the door of the Catholic Church – her reflections being far more nuanced. 

Screenshot 2014-05-29 10.33.57

Ever-mindful of the ninth commandment along with the precept of spreading light not heat, I’ve been giving some serious thought and prayer as to whether or not to write more about the Drewitt-Barlow couple, since discovering some rather unsavoury facts about them and being urged to go public by various friends.

What concerned me about the abuse that they threw my way the other night, is that despite having had no contact with them for two years the accusations that Barrie flung at me had a somewhat familiar ring, almost as if someone was feeding him via DM – in particular I found it fascinating that he decided to begin tweeting Joe Kelly, the editor at the Universe in an attempt to get me sacked.

Why would this former self-identifying ‘practicing Church of England member’, Essex celebrity and LGBT activist within the space of a few minutes know exactly whom to contact? It very much tallies in with a pattern of behaviour experienced by another gay man who has frantically contacted any organisation with whom I might be connected, urging them to drop me. Barrie Drewitt-Barlow boasts that he is a member of the ‘mafia’, a promotional poster for his new series uses that as the strapline and the Facebook page for their new series, The Parent Makers, contains the following boast:

“Certain things can only happen, when the right people are involved. When Barrie speaks, people in the IVF world listen, if they don’t hes been known to half their business with just a few cutting comments” Julia & Harry, Ipswich, Intended Parents, with twins on the way!

“Its not WHAT you know, its WHO you know, THE PARENT MAKERS really are like a Mafia! 

 

One of the reasons I have wondered whether or not to exercise prudence is because Barrie Drewitt-Barlow seems to have a volatile temper, judging by the way he liberally scatters horrific abuse on Twitter, needing only a hair-trigger to set him off, and also by his petulant displays of temper, showcased on his TV show. Back in 2006, Drewitt-Barlow was fined £90, which his partner described as a ‘slap on the wrist’ for making death threats towards parents who  believed they had been defrauded by a private school they had set up in Spain. Just at the beginning of this month, he emailed someone who admittedly used some inflammatory and provocative language, emphasising his rich privileged lifestyle and boasting that ‘my vast wealth and contacts will crush anyone’. Having used my photograph to allege that I am a racist and another man’s photo to allege that he is a pedophile, Drewitt-Barlow laughs that he has the money to afford a legal battle. Clearly, this man feels as though he is immune from and above the law.

It’s not difficult to come to the conclusion that Barrie-Drewitt Barlow displays several narcissistic tendencies along with several chips on his shoulder, a look through his twitter feed shows a pattern of self-promotion, boasts and abuse, the key themes being attacking anyone whom he believes is inferior by virtue of their looks, breeding or social class. For someone concerned with helping people to become parents through surrogacy, he displays a disturbing eugenic mindset, even going so far as to attack a photograph of a young toddler as being ‘gross’ and destined for a career working in McDonalds.

One could easily laugh off this vain, self-indulgent man with delusions of grandeur were it not for the fact that there are 5 young children involved and that he represents the face of gay parenting in the UK.

This review written about a previous series, My Weird and Wonderful Family, makes the point that there is no law about ‘f-ing your kids up’, Larkin-style, notes that Barrie loves his kids, but highlights his focus upon physical appearance.

When asked how they chose their donors, Barry said: ‘We originally went for a combination of looks and intelligence’, before looking pointedly at his slightly chubby daughter and adding, ‘but this time we’ll go for looks alone’

One has to wonder how healthy an environment this is for a young teenage girl growing up without a mother and four male siblings, or indeed for any of his children. Viewed in this context, along with his social media output, Barrie’s yelling at his son for not being a ‘gorgeous, designer child’ seems less and less amusing.

In this interview with Joanna Moorhead in the Guardian, Tony states how important it is that their children are themselves, that they shouldn’t have to live a lie, being themselves is the most important thing of all.

An admirable sentiment, but one has to wonder how this is commensurate with their withholding the information regarding their genetic parentage from their children. Stating that “I’ve got Daddy’s nose and Dad’s eyes” is surely a blatant piece of self-deception. Furthermore Orlando’s defensive response to his father’s taunting, “I AM designer and I AM gorgeous’ but defiantly rejecting any concern about his curly hair, confirms that  has been conditioned that his  sense of worth is based around the superficial.

Every single parent attempts to model their child into their version or interpretation of a responsible human being, if I were foolhardy enough to allow the cameras into my home, there would be many mutterings about religious indoctrination from the liberal cognoscenti, and the perceived imposition of religious views upon our children. If I was filmed impatiently telling my child that they ought to be more prayerful or respectful when they careered around the bedroom during bedtime prayers, that this is a time to be silent and talk to God, there would be an outcry from various quarters and allegations of emotional abuse.

“At the school Christmas party, he stole the part of the Fairy Godmother from one of the kids, and felt up the headmaster. Barrie is a gaudy monster plucked from the dark recesses of a Tennessee Williams play, as acted by Lily Savage or Bette Davis.”

In my previous post I mused over the control that would-be parents exercise over a woman’s body, Barrie has confirmed this by insisting that his children are born by cesarian section which carries more risks for the mother than a natural delivery, because ‘childbirth is like something out of Freddy Kreuger.’ Furthermore the mothers have little to no contact with their children (I have seen her yes, said Aspen in a dull monotone , not wishing to elaborate further, on TV this week)- potentially leaving their daughter to navigate the minefield of female puberty and menstrual cycles with no close female relative and a dad who believes that the whole business pertaining to natural female reproduction is all rather ghastly. One wonders what his son who was naturally conceived before Barrie realised he was gay,  and kept a secret from him for some years, makes of it all – does he feel a keen sense of genetic inferiority?

As I said, I am aware that there are 5 vulnerable children involved here, so I don’t want to say too much about my perceptions of the situation, however by constantly hauling their children around TV studios and inviting the TV cameras into their homes, whether that be for a style make-over programme of their daughter’s bedroom, or for several reality series, the Drewitt-Barlows are inviting people to form an opinion. The children are being turned into celebrities, given a label that will follow them their whole life and having their privacy invaded  without being able to give their informed consent. Barrie openly discusses their daughter’s sexuality and muses over which child of theirs is most likely to be gay, concluding that it will probably be their two year old son, the  public projection of a niche adult sexuality onto a small infant being of questionable taste.

One has to ask how fair this is upon the children themselves: most established celebrities have agreements with the press to pixellate out their children’s faces and do their best to bring them up out of the glare of the spotlight. One might have thought that this was the most sensible option for a couple who are keen to trailblaze for the cause of gay parenting. especially when you have gone on record to state that you fear your children are at risk from kidnap and media intrusion. One might also question the wisdom of disclosing that your children attended the same school as another potential kidnap target, Brooklyn Beckham, who was also their friend.

Indeed a brief google of this couple, reveals an embarrassment of material from which to choose, from placing photographs of their children on gay dating websites (post civil partnership), being banned from running any company directorships in the UK, allegations of fraud, their children’s Christening (although Barrie now denounces the Church of England for its homophobia) and alleged dodgy dealings, (including Barrie’s leading a sex education class in which he asked the children to think about gay Nazis) leaving behind a string of defrauded and outraged parents in Spain.

On Barrie’s facebook page he talks about the haters and protestors who he has been warned will attend his marriage blessing to Tony, leading him to up security and eliciting expressions of sympathy with them against the hateful bigots.

Alan Craig, an evangelical Christian and grass-roots campaigner, describes the situation somewhat differently, explaining how their PR agent had emailed him with the following blurb. “We… actively invite protesters to turn up and be interviewed” “Clearly the event was to be an exercise in spin, hype and mirrors.”, he noted, although he still took the opportunity to turn up and peacefully propose his point of view.

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This couple are never quick to allege homophobia and how difficult it is to be gay, Barrie quoted it as justification for his abusive Twitter rant, they have cited it for the reason why they moved their children to a private school (although one notes that the flexi-boarding facilities must come in handy in terms of their frequent trips to the States and Australia promoting the surrogacy business), and put in a complaint to the border agency about their homophobic treatment, when agency officials, puzzled by the documentation, questioned the feasibility of both of the men being biological fathers to all of the children.

A few months ago, they called the police after an elderly man in the Maldon branch of Tescos called them ‘a couple of queer boys’. The insult is not to be applauded, but one might have thought that this pair who proudly talk of their background growing up on “Manchester’s roughest council estate” had grown a thicker skin?Screenshot 2014-05-29 12.34.16

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But it’s okay to falsely name and shame others as being pedophiles and racists?

On the one hand Barrie constantly talks about homophobia and having to fight for the right to drink in gay bars, how life is impossible for them as gay dads (not the best advert for gay couples considering becoming parents), yet on the other, he describes his early life as follows: “As a teenager, Barrie was outrageous, growing up through the 80’s in the city centre of Manchester , Barrie was able to express himself in the way he wanted too. Being gay was never an issue for him and he was, as they say, loud and proud!” In this clip (in which incidentally they joke with their children about who is the most loved parent and who they would live with in the case of divorce) Barrie says that he was able to express his sexuality from the age of 13.

The reason I am devoting time to this issue is because the Drewitt-Barlows are being held up by the mainstream media and press as exemplary gay parents and talk about leading the way in terms of changing public attitudes to gay parenting. A 2010 survey in the now defunct Pink Paper, discusses how they have changed attitudes. They have over 137,000 Twitter followers, their own TV series and get sympathetic plugs in the Independent and Daily Mail about ‘ethical surrogacy’. Just the other day, standing in for Lorraine Kelly, Kate Garroway gushed over them and stated how great it was that attitudes towards same-sex parenting and surrogacy have changed, and various LGBT activists fawn over them and encourage their vital work. “Beware the surrogacy cowboys” shout the headlines!

Rivka Edelman from English Manif pour Tous puts her own take on who might be being misled here. Surrogacy advocates baulk at the notion that this is all about designer babies, accessories, babies for sale or children as commodities, but when Barrie comes out with quotes such as “you get what you pay for” such as he did when speaking to Julie Bindel, it doesn’t incline one to sympathy.

Both on his Twitter feed and in this clip, Barrie talks about how this is only a process for the rich – partly because they use California, one of the few places in the world where commercial surrogacy is legal, although they continue to lobby for it in the UK. They are happy to pay thousands to genetically select the sex of their next baby, already having the name picked out, and advise clients who are looking to select particular physical attributes for their child. It’s hard to think of children as being anything other than a rich couples’ accessory, when clients stride in demanding a checklist.

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Equality for all?

Barrie claims to be a ‘clinical social worker’, a highly specialised role which requires a specific set of qualifications and experience. It is concerning that someone with an alleged professed interest in child welfare, is happy to behave in such an abusive fashion to other people. Throwing violent temper tantrums, smashing up cakes, throwing things at his partner and storming out of a restaurant when he hasn’t got his own way, doesn’t demonstrate that he is able to exercise self-control nor does it model good behaviour for his children. Nor is verbally abusing an employee, by getting close up in their face and swearing at them, the behaviour one would like to experience from one’s boss. It’s not really surprising that his PA called for me to be urinated upon – which Barrie then endorsed.

Given that the Drewitt-Barlows were refused permission to adopt and state a sketchy knowledge of the process, (here on the Lorraine show they say that an adoption panel is made up of a vicar, a policeman and a housewife who are typically prejudiced) and Barrie has been accused of lying about his qualifications as a nurse, what grounds does he use to justify the title of ‘clinical social worker’?

In the case of the Drewitt Barlow’s application to adopt, they claim that the panel recommended that they spent some time helping out with children with special needs as they did not have experience with children, before being approved to adopt. Barrie and Tony then went on a cruise around the Med to think about it, whereupon the idea of surrogacy popped into place. They felt that the panel were treating them as ‘second class citizens’ only fit to look after ‘third class citizens’ instead of a healthy child. My understanding of adoption panels is that their decisions are not binding and they come to their conclusions based upon the reports and suggestions of social workers. Furthermore they are not random individuals but have specific experience and knowledge in this area. The Drewitt-Barlows were not refused permission to adopt, but asked to get more experience, which seems reasonable.

When I first became aware of them, living in the next-door village, my reaction was not one of homophobia, but the image jarred. Two men, looking after babies? How would they know what to do? What if they dropped the baby? Shouldn’t there be a mother.  My own experience of motherhood has taught me that men are of course more than capable of looking after babies, but that mother and baby enjoy a unique and special bond. The image of two men and a baby may no longer be so disconcerting (at the time we were influenced by media films, such as Jack and Sarah, Three men and a baby which portrayed men and childcare in a pretty sexist fashion) but it isn’t unreasonable or homophobic to want some evidence of experience in childcare for two men seeking to take sole custody of a child.

Surely a social worker would know this? What kind of ‘social work’ does Barrie do? From what’s been offered to the public it seems to be little more than running a CRB and credit check as well as briefing people on what to expect on their ‘journey’.

Despite the accusations of bigotry, I am not opposed to gay couples being approved as foster carers or adopters, so long as they are able to pass the relevant checks and vetting. Any couple who wishes to put themselves through the sacrifice involved in adopting a child who will, in all likelihood have some issues or problems, should be applauded for their altruism and commitment. Ideally a child ought to have a loving mum and dad, we know that life doesn’t always work out that way for them, but rather than this being framed around the issue of ‘gay rights’ children’s rights always ought to be put first. If a gay couple can provide a loving, stable home for a child and can be matched with a suitable child (and being in a same sex home doesn’t conflict with a child’s culture) and the alternative is languishing in a care home, then we should not be blinded by ideology. That said, the Catholic care homes should not have been forced to close. Their criteria that children should always have the complementarity of both sexes parenting is entirely reasonable.

We know that there are gay parents out there doing a worthy and admirable job. Any sensible and reasonable advocates of same-sex parenting ought to kick this pair into touch as the face of gay parents in the media.

They scream at accusations of exploitation and yet their very language when referring to a potential donor, “we won’t use her again”, betrays this notion. Barrie endorses abortion and others’ rights over a woman’s body stating that prospective parents have a right to abort, recommending clauses are inserted into the legal documentation compelling the gestational mother to abort should the baby be diagnosed as having a disability.

When Barrie is filmed fantasising about being massaged by a pair of male masseurs, moaning in delight, spending several nights going out wining and dining, getting drunk with z-list celebs, writhing round with pole-dancers and talking about kissing other men, it plays into every single negative stereotype about gay men and relationships and whether this really is a situation which should be encouraged. I wonder what would happen to low-income heterosexual couple who were found to have posted photographs of their children on swingers’ websites, one of whom appeared to manifest an anger-management problem?

Still perhaps I should not be protesting so much, this TV series showing the process  and mindsets of the men who wish to promote surrogacy and gay equality could prove every to be social conservative’s dream.

One might imagine that I am a seasoned veteran when it comes to invective and yet there was something about the abuse that Barrie threw at me which really unsettled my peace of mind. I was not alone, others wrote to me expressing similar spiritual disquiet and offering prayer. Most significant was an email from a gay man who had always been loosely supportive of surrogacy but said that having witnessed this behaviour, it had really hammered home the true nature of the business. Like me, he was so disturbed by what he had witnessed, that he had trouble sleeping. Others on my Facebook have urged that the various media reports ought to be assembled and disseminated.

I await the threats and lawsuits.

A few years ago, I critiqued Tony and Barrie Drewitt-Barlow, the ‘gay dads’ who have set up a surrogacy business, after being spammed  by them on Twitter for suggesting that surrogacy exploited women. The post received some interesting comments after the Drewitt-Barlows put it out there on Twitter, said I was a mad Catholic woman in need of their help and requested that people leave their views.

Their new TV show aired last night and so they appear to be trolling Twitter, appearing to generate controversy and publicity to raise their viewing figures. One of the criticisms of surrogacy is that it reduces children to commodities, but of course parents would never treat their children like consumer goods , let alone ridicule and humiliate them for their genetic inheritance and the way in which they were brought into the world.

When Barrie shouted this at his son, it was clearly a joke:

“I paid for a gorgeous designer child with straight hair, not some reject from an 80s pop band with curly frizz.’’

The clip of the series in which Barrie can be seen shouting this at his son, can be seen here. (Not suitable for children, contains strong language). It gives an insight into his character as well as some of the heartbreak faced by infertile couples and pretty much encapsulates every single objection to this clinical and commercial procuring of children.

I don’t want to give them publicity for their new show and I am aware that by writing about this, I am giving them exactly what they want, but these men, together with a friend who seems to be wishing to kick start a career as a celebrity, have tonight called for me to be crucified, suggested that I am urinated upon, said that I am a pervert, a racist and a homophobe, in an unsolicited and unprovoked attack.

Writing for the Conservative Woman website, Laura Keynes proposes similar arguments and critiques of surrogacy highlighting the familiar silence and dissonance of mainstream feminism on what, like gendercide, should be a pressing issue for all who profess female solidarity.

For those who can bear it, I’ve created a storify of the Drewitt-Barlow’s libellous accusations here. I hate writing these kinds of blogs, but a few people have said that I need to find a way of documenting exactly what is going on here.

I stand by the tweet made back in November 2013, which the Drewitt-Barlows dug up tonight to justify their attack. This ‘dating site’ for egg donors really is a tawdry look into the women-for-hire nature of these men’s surrogacy business. Their company website is equally chilling. It strongly suggests surrogacy in America, California in particular, where the Drewitt-Barlows made legal history in that they were able to get a court order naming them both as parents on their child’s birth certificate. They advise on how to file an Pre-Birth order, which removes any rights or hold over the gestational mother may have over the child, so that the minute the child is born “specialist arrangements can be put in place to ensure the transition goes as smoothly as possible”. In the case of the birth certificate for same-sex parents, the court issues a pre-birth judgement specifying that on the birth certificate, one name is put in the box for father, the other in the box for mother,  in a piece of mind-bending legal fiction. The ‘intended parents’ therefore have rights over the woman’s body in that her child is yet to be born. ‘Intended parents’ are advised to  file for and obtain this judgement once the woman has reached 20 weeks in her pregnancy, in order to ensure that she is not able to exercise any rights over her child or her name be automatically placed on the birth certificate, should he or she be born prematurely.

It’s all about getting the baby away from their gestational mother before she has any chance to change her mind. One also has to ask whether or not as legal ‘intended parents’ a couple may impose their wish of birth plan onto a woman? Who gets the final say when there are tough decisions to be made which could perhaps compromise the baby. Is she restricted in her choice of pain relief and disbarred from commonly used opiates such as pethidine, which cross the placenta and can make the newborn drowsy?

Barrie Drewitt-Barlow, is I gather, responsible for the @gaydads Twitter account, which has been issuing misogynistic, abusive and libellous tweets. The force of his unsolicited and unprovoked aggression, has knocked me for six, it’s bizarre that two men who are millionaires,  have a flourishing business,  five children, their own TV show and over 137,000 followers on Twitter want to squash a minor Catholic commentator in this way even writing to the Universe to suggest that I am dropped for being ‘evil’ and ‘homophobic’. Just to jog a few memories, this was the couple who threatened to sue the Church of England if they were not allowed to conduct a ‘gay wedding’.

According to the British Surrogacy Centre, Barrie is their lead ‘social worker’, having worked in clinical social work for over 10 years. A regular on day time TV shows such as This Morning and Lorraine, he is asked to take part in many TV debates regarding surrogacy and areas on same sex parenting.  Barrie has been a regular contributer to many top magazine and newspapers for many years now and has recently written his first book as a guide to Surrogacy.  As a social worker, Barrie’s aim at all times is the welfare of any children born through surrogacy and has at any one time up to 5 student social workers under him from Universities across the UK.”

And this ‘social worker’ is abusing a mum of four for her defective genes, supposed evilness, being a ‘troll’, a ‘bully’, a racist, a homophobe and getting his followers to hate on her and tweeting her editor to get her dropped from her weekly column all because she dares to publicly disagree with the nature of their business? He’s appearing on daytime television as an equality champion, social worker and expert in children’s welfare, but is quite happy to call for the crucifixion of a pervert evil mother, with his mate asking for her to be urinated on, a sentiment which he happily endorsed by re-tweeting to all his thousands of followers?

I’d love to know what a social worker would have to say to me if I were to even allude to a negative aspect of my daughter’s physical appearance on television.(She is totally perfect as she is and I wouldn’t dream of humiliating her in this way, she’s enough of a sensitive sausage as it is). I think we’d all know what would happen, they’d be whisked away from me quicker than you could say bigot. I’m more than a little bit scared, having been warned off saying anything about this couple, for my own personal welfare – a few have reminded me that we are dealing with very wealthy and very influential people here.

Orwell and Huxley are in my blood, I remember my dad discussing, Brave New World, Animal Farm and 1984 with me from an absurdly young age. I was brought up to believe that free speech and free expression are sacrosanct, that the press must be liberated from state-control and that everyone should have the right to speak their mind, no matter how unpopular their views. One of the difficulties that my father has with my Catholicism (him being a staunch Anglican) is that thanks to his influence I have always been a fierce individualist, always resisting the pressure of group-think. The same is still true, I became convinced of the truth of Catholicism, on the strength of the evidence and after some critical thinking and against some pretty fierce opposition. Again and again my dad emphasised that it does not matter what other people think of you, all that counts is being true to yourself and able to account for your own views. Mind you, my dad is probably every bit as foolhardy as I, on a family weekend to Canterbury back in 1983, as my sister and I were making a bee-line for Morelli’s the famous ice-cream parlour, a group of activists were standing outside forming an impromptu conga-line with some hastily scrawled placards and shouting “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Out, Out, Out!” What did my dad do? Returned each chant with “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, In, In, In!”, while my mum looked on in fear in and dread, hissing “Stop it Ken, you’re going to get your teeth knocked down your throat”! I’m still rather proud of him for that, truth be told – though translated into the digital world, it would definitely constitute a definition of ‘trolling’.

I was brought up to believe that we lived in a truly free liberal and democratic society, as a child at the height of the Cold War, I really valued the freedoms that I believed that we had. Disillusionment is proving to be an increasingly difficult pill to swallow. What kind of a world are we living in when I’m scared for what might happen to my family and children as a result of being forthright about my views on the internet?

I guess I still haven’t fully internalised Matthew 10: 16-42. Tough times ahead.

 

 

The appalling tragedy of Elliot Rodger, the troubled young man who went on a shooting spree claiming the lives of seven random young people near the University of California is already being claimed by the vocal media feminists who want to claim that it’s further proof of the patriarchy, which wishes to reppress, harm,  sexually violate and subjugate women. This is why women must be allowed to do whatever they like without consequence because as the dreadful case of this young man demonstrates, all men secretly hate women and want to take out their anger on them. The patriarchy must be fought because this one young man apparently hated all women and wanted to exact his revenge on them.

The reason for this rationale is that prior to carrying out this act of senseless slaughter, Elliot Rodger had apparently uploaded a video to YouTube in which he talked of his anger and frustration about still being a virgin at the age of 22, no girl had ever even kissed him and every single girl he was attracted to spurned his advances.

With the victims and killer barely cold, it’s rather distasteful to be claiming their deaths to advance any type of ideology, but it’s probably worth putting out a few thoughts to counter the feminist narrative that will permeate the papers and bandwidths over the next few days.

Elliot Rodger’s behaviour was clearly that of a psychotic and mentally disturbed individual. It certainly isn’t proof that all men hate women and wish to sexually dominate them. One of his statements alluded to the fact that he wanted to harm specifically blonde women, whom he referred to using an especially derogatory term. Is that indicative that blonde women have a harder time than other women? Do we need to combat blonde prejudice – look at the jokes pertaining to blonde women as being intellectually inferior! If I was attempting to claim this act as proof that something needs to be done about attitudes to blonde women, I would rightly be laughed off the planet. The guy had issues and according some press reports, high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome meaning that he had difficulty forming relationships.

If there is anything to be claimed from what has happened, it’s the issue of mental illness and young people, in particular diagnosing potential problems and intervening earlier. I’d also venture that the USA seem to have something of a problem in terms of gun controls. Why on earth did this young man who was known to the police department have access to lethal weapons capable of causing mass devastation?

Watching Elliot’s video is a surreal and rather chilling experience. This man was so detached from reality, the phrase ‘dead behind the eyes’ comes to mind. His face is soulless and expressionless, perhaps a symptom of his Asperger’s but he looked more like he was delivering a carefully rehearsed acting performance, albeit one that was wooden, cliched and hammy. You’d expect to see this sort of vignette in teen comedy horror film, not real life.

To blame the patriarchy is a glib response, one which misses the point. Elliot Rodgers’ sense of horror that he was a freak for still being a virgin at the age of 22, is one that is echoed by the press reports. Can you blame him, growing up in a culture that is preoccupied with priming young people for a life of sexual activity at an ever earlier age, not only via the usual media channels of  films, magazines, advertising, pop music but also by a sex education system which wants to tell 12 and 13 year olds that sex is a safe, fun enjoyable activity that should be entered into as soon as you feel ready.

In my parents’ day, 50 years ago, being a virgin at the age of 22 was perfectly respectable and nothing to be ashamed of, neither was virginity at any age. Why should people be thought of weird, stigmatised and seen as missing out on something, simply because of their choice not to get physically intimate with others? Sexual contact is not the be all and end all of relationships. Relationships are no less fulfilling on account of lacking a sexual element.

Rodgers’ attitude to sex seemed to be that it was his right, that he was missing out, that he should been able to experience lots of sex with attractive women, in the same way that he could go to bar and try out the different liquors on offer. His resentment stemmed from the fact that all of his peers were having sex, he seemed to have the message that everybody should be enjoying sex, it was his right or entitlement and that girls were having sexual relationships with lots of other people, but not with him. The root of his problem is that he could see girls all around him having sex, only not with him, despite his best efforts to behave like a gentleman. His drawing depicting the sexual revolution and what he wanted to do to enact his own revolution is not only chilling in that it lays bare his distorted vision, but like all self- deception intermingled is an element of truth. The effects of the sexual revolution don’t seem to have done much for either sex.

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To attribute what happened in California to a hatred or loathing of women dangerously misses the point.  Far more pertinent is the sexualisation of society leading to the idea of a right to sex, objectification of the other by both sexes and that conceit that young people should be at it night and day with each other like rabbits.

If we concede that sex is some kind of right or entitlement, (which certain UK health authorities do by permitting allowances to be spent on services provided by sex workers) then it could lead to severe repercussions by those who are mentally ill and face rejection. Sexually motivated crimes will always occur but society needs to be careful not to validate the sentiments of Elliot Rodger. His victims deserve better than having his crimes written off to being as a result of hatred of women. Had he been getting the sex he craved no-one would have had a problem with his attitude. The problem isn’t patriarchy, it’s seeing sex as a recreational activity which everyone has the right to access. Combined with psychosis and access to handguns, it was a tragedy waiting to happen.

Possibly as a result of John Smeaton’s blog, Archbishop Peter Smith has clarified what I was intimating yesterday, namely that his statement was a specific response to the government in which he was making no wider comment about the morality or advisability of civil partnerships.

Ben Trovato makes an interesting and challenging point in terms of ‘gay identity’ but I would agree with Lazarus’ comment; the term ‘gay and lesbian’ is not necessarily a loaded one implying lifestyle or entire identity, I formerly understood it solely in terms of orientation and don’t have a problem with its usage in this context, although I understand that in today’s world the term gay or lesbian implies someone with an active romantic and sex life which is problematic, not to mention oxymoronic if it prefixes the word ‘Catholic’.

It’s difficult to know quite what the right word should be, I absorbed the phrase same-sex attraction after listening to numerous Catholic Answers podcasts and reading Jimmy Akin; intellectually I am persuaded that this should be the preferred term. That said, many of my same-sex attracted friends baulk at the phrase, they find it derogatory and loaded, others don’t like the term LGBT and therefore while ‘same-sex attracted’ is the most helpful in a Catholic context, basic courtesy dictates that if someone doesn’t like you referring to them using a certain word or phrase, then you really ought to avoid doing so, not least out of respect. Finding the correct terminology is a minefield, but gay and lesbian seems to be the most universal term.

There’s a delicate balance between rejecting the idea of an all-defining identity and yet being aware of and respecting other people’s sensitivities and dignity. So much is not about what you say, but how you make people feel and there needs to be some way of allowing people to feel comfortable, so if someone identifies to me as being ‘gay’, I’m certainly not going to correct them by barking “I think you’ll find it’s really same-sex attraction”! Precision and clarity are important, but language policing is a dangerous road to go down. Do we care that same-sex attraction perhaps sounds derogatory and signifies disproval? We need to speak the truth in love, but perhaps by respecting someone else’s choice of descriptor demonstrates love, which will then open them  up to the truth. In any event I’m not sure that using those words does necessarily cede ground or accept an implicit premise. We aren’t saying ‘yes we accept that you only define yourself as gay’, but accepting that same-sex attraction exists and that a person identifies as having it.

Archbishop Smith was writing a response to a secular authority trying to use plain English in the terms that would be easily understood, especially as civil partnerships and gay marriage are pertinent to those who would define themselves as gay and lesbian and for whom Archbishop Smith was trying to advocate. Had he replaced the words lesbian and gay with same-sex attracted it may not have been so effective. The sentence would have been rather clunky.

“Some same-sex attracted Catholics do not wish to enter into civil same-sex marriage because of their deeply held belief that marriage is between a man and a woman only, but still wish to have the legal rights that are contained in a civil partnership.”

I can’t get too riled about it, there are more important battles to be fought, especially as this was not a formal teaching document.

With that in mind, Ben’s response was cogently argued and he has a right to criticise a bishop as a private individual where he believes him to be error. He wasn’t uncharitable, I wouldn’t necessarily agree that this statement was proof of  a ‘shameful failure’ on the part of the  CBCEW but that’s about as strong as Ben ever gets and it certainly wasn’t nasty or personal in any way, nor did it cast aspersions on anyone’s authenticity as a Catholic.

Ben was highlighting an issue for Catholics to think about and this is kind of the purpose of blogging – to share material and put ideas out there. The Catholic blogosphere shouldn’t be just one shiny happy everything’s perfect in the garden place, but a place to disseminate and dissemble ideas. Neither, is it in any way orthodox to jump to the defence of bishops, simply because of the office they hold. To do that is clericalism at its worst. The office of holy orders should always be treated with respect, but it does not make one immune from criticism.

So I don’t agree with Ben on this one, (I’m sure he’ll get over it in time), just as many people won’t agree with me. Catholic or Christian blogging doesn’t mean that these types of public discussions shouldn’t take place, but that they should be conducted respectfully, if robustly.

Although John Smeaton was discussing civil partnerships as opposed to descriptors or implicit acceptance of an identity or agenda, I found Ben’s post far more thought-provoking as a wider-issue. I’m still mulling it over and oscillating at time of writing. This is what good commentary should do, namely challenge and stimulate.

I still maintain that had John written the same as Ben, it still shouldn’t have appeared on a Spuc-director blog and it seems that there is a general consensus that a private blog would be far more helpful in order to separate out his personal views from that of the organisation. Some of my  friends and family who are far more sympathetic to spuc than I am, felt that the post was counter-productive for both the Catholic church and pro-life and yet another unnecessary attack on good people of faith.

Domestic violence, poverty and adultery damage and undermine family life and pose a threat to the unborn. Perhaps SPUC doesn’t articulate these concerns because it feels that the public already perceive them to be immoral and damaging. Equally we don’t hear much about cohabitation which is in the same league as people in same-sex relationships, i.e. having sex outside of marriage. Maybe just maybe if we could hear more in these areas in relation to the unborn child, then the relentless  focus on Catholic politics and homosexuality wouldn’t make one’s teeth itch, quite so much?

SPUC revisited

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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