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Archive for January, 2011

I had a slight online altercation with Johann Hari on Twitter earlier this week. Altercation is probably too strong a word, more like I insinuated that his stance was slightly foolish, he attempted to justify it and then he ignored me. Quite right too. I have to confess to a shred of disappointment that I didn’t join that elite band of Tweeps who he has blocked – “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers”…

Mr Hari had, in his infinite wisdom, exhorted his followers to join a Facebook group entitled, “I would happily sacrifice my married couples’ tax allowance to save the EMA”.

The logic behind it being that EMA currently costs the treasury £500 million per annum with the proposed married couples’ tax allowance estimated at £550 million per annum. I don’t feel particularly inclined to discuss the EMA issue, other than to note that it seemed like a charming piece of naivety to assume that the coalition who are ideologically opposed to EMA, faced with an electorate who were declining a potential tax benefit, would say, “you know what, not many of our voters are that interested in receiving their £150 per annum, so let’s just keep the EMA after all”. They’d still cut EMA regardless.

The other point that this group failed to grasp was that the £150 a year, which they quantify in terms of buying married couples a Big Mac a week between them, compared to the resources needed to attend FE, is not about providing a financial incentive to marriage. What David Cameron appears to be wishing to do, is to provide married couples with a reward, for society to grant some recognition, no matter how small, to the contribution that marriage makes to society. Whether or not this is some sort of misguided sop to attempt to appease his core voters as well as an attempt to give a nod to the religious communities who all strongly advocate marriage, particularly in terms of being the most stable environment in which to bring up children, is a matter of conjecture. Whether or not it is a worthwhile use of resources is an entirely different matter and one on which people may draw their own conclusions.

The opposition would do well to avoid claims that it’s an attempt to bribe people to get married or stay in abusive relationships; £150 will probably buy you a wedding cake and marriage licence, but that’s about it, certainly not enough to make couples commit to marriage in their droves. Equally no woman suffering from domestic abuse is likely to be swayed to stay in that relationship by the offer of £150. Many women in those situations (and I am loath to employ generalisations on this topic) are not likely to be in control of their finances and thus £150 will make no odds. I should imagine that when fleeing one’s home to a refuge with your children, taking the bare essentials, that lost £150 or Big Mac per week is going to be the last thing on one’s mind. What many detractors to the Married Couples’ Tax Allowance are against, is the idea that society might reward or recognise marriage as being the ideal, which conflicts with their personal ideology and situation and allegedly “judges” those who are not married. If the Opposition are going to fight this, they need to make a serious economic case, instead of anti-marriage rhetoric and talk of forcing women to stay in dangerous relationships. There needs to be dialogue about whether or not this would amount to unfair penalisation of single mothers and whether or not the government should legislate for private morality; not reduce the argument to a banal statement about whether or not married couples need an extra burger a week, side-stepping the entire issue.

The group itself is disingenuous in its objectives, and Johann Hari short-sighted in promoting it. When I probed him on it, he unsurprisingly patronised me by informing me that it was in the Tory party manifesto and that I needed to do some research on it. Rightyho then Johann, let’s just assume that most folk on Twitter expressing some sort of political opinion didn’t bother to acquaint themselves with party manifestos. Given that there currently is no Married Couples’ Tax Allowance for the under 75s, it is simply being discussed as a possibility in the next budget, it seems rather daft to be renouncing something that you don’t actually have. Makes you look, dare I suggest, a touch stupid.

My other niggle was that given Johann Hari is neither married or in a civil partnership, I take umbrage at him strongly suggesting that people should volunteer to relinquish a tax benefit that he himself would not be party to. “I want you to give up your extra £150 for students in FE, but I’m not going to because I don’t get it anyway”. Although, if I’m honest, I’d probably bristle at any well-paid commentator for a national newspaper telling me to give up money, given that I’m in less of a position to be able to afford it. The statement lacked integrity. His response to this was “but my taxes are going to be used to pay the new subsidy”. Sorry to let you in on a teensy wee secret Johann but death and taxes are a fact of life and there will always be disagreement as to how taxes will be spent. I’m also a taxpayer and there are plenty of things that I cannot abide my taxes going on. A democracy elects a government whom they hope will best represent their wishes on how to spend taxes and manage the economy, amongst other things.

The aspect that riled me the most however, was the attempt to rally political activism by means of a Facebook group. Don’t get me wrong, the internet and social media are extraordinarily useful tools in building online communities, gathering together support and fellowship and hopefully building coherent groups, but they are only a part of the story, only part of the armory in achieving real social and political change, no matter what one’s cause or ideology. To rely too heavily on the internet, be it blogs, social media, or both in combination is to waste opportunity. Though I find Twitter immensely useful in terms of keeping abreast of developments and in forming useful relationships and finding Catholic fellowship; one major drawback, is that too much time reading a liturgical blog can, if one is not careful, detract one from reading the source material itself. One picks up bite size chunks of this and that, without ever reading the text in its entirety, meaning that one is unable to form critical judgements, only gleaning from the opinions of others.

Reliance solely upon social media, risks, as the Pope said this week in his message for the 45th World Communications Day, enclosing ourselves in a parallel universe, and must not replace authentic human encounters. In terms of political or social activism, it can encourage laziness. In terms of spirituality it must not replace prayer or meditation, instead providing aids, such as the Universalis application, for example.

If we examine how social change has come about throughout history, it has been through cogent protest, demonstration and activism. What has had more impact, the student demonstrations and occupations, or an online protest group with say 1,000 members? It’s one thing to spout polemic on the internet, another thing to actually get up and do something, whether that be to protest, or to practically help those in need, instead of simply talking about them. Same applies for Christian spirituality. It’s not enough to go to Church every week, you need to actually live your faith by word and deed, proclaim and live the Gospel, not just tick the weekly Mass obligation box.

It is not enough to simply click “like” or “join” on a social media group and feel like you’ve done your job, if change is what you desire. The internet is not “the means of human emancipation”.

Which is why, Johann Hari, I found your exhortations more than a little lame.

 

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Christian courtesy

The intellectual power-house and thinking woman’s crumpet known as David Allen Green has written an interesting post in today’s New Statesman.

Whilst I do not wish to re-hash the entire case with regards to the case of the B&B owners, I note that Ed West of the Telegraph echoes the point made on this blog last week, namely that the owners were not refusing the couple outright hospitality but were offering a restricted hospitality, in line with the type of hospitality on offer to all unmarried couples.

Mr Green says “The duties which one owes to strangers are central to any developed system of law, as they are to any sensible system of ethics”.

Whilst I wouldn’t dare to contradict Mr Green’s extensive professional knowledge, I would like to point out that while systems of law do incorporate duties, it is equally true that law does not exist to justify behaviour. Indeed the law prescribes both duties and limits to our behaviour. The duty of care to one’s neighbour is not automatically approving.

Mr Green continues “In both legal and ethical contexts, there is long tradition of valuing the hospitality to be given to travellers and guests.”

Again this is correct, however what Mr Green omits is that hospitality cuts both ways. Hospitality is generosity to another, opening one’s doors to another, however this does not mean that the guest is able to behave exactly how they wish. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the responsibility of the recipient of hospitality is as important as the hospitality offered by the host. It is a two-edged sword. If we examine those cultures and traditions whereby hospitality is of vital importance, the encounter pivots upon the graciousness of the guest in the way they accept the hospitality on offer. One would not offend the host by refusing to eat the food provided – refusing to observe traditional customs, insisting on following one’s own habits and certainly one wouldn’t call the police if one felt that the hospitality on offer was different to what one had been accustomed. Hospitality is a mutual exchange.

My mother-in-law has just returned from attending her brother’s funeral in China where the rules of hospitality meant that she had to accept the hospitality that was on offer from her brother’s wife, a Chinese national. This included some funeral customs that were a complete anathema to a practicing Christian,however as a guest of her sister-in-law it was not for her to dictate the terms of the funeral, nor indeed the wake, which consisted of a Chinese karaoke party. She was welcomed as a guest into the house as a family member and thus had to accept the generous hospitality that was on offer, despite the fact  that it was contrary to her preferences.

Mr Green concludes: “So it is saddening that some followers of the very religion which gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan appear now to be completely unaware of this.”

With the greatest of respect, the parable of the Good Samaritan is not purely concerned with hospitality, but also with that greatest of Christian virtues, namely Caritas –  love for one’s neighbour, a love that enables one to put one’s fellow-man above one’s self. That does not simply mean their neighbour’s own perception of their desires first. As I have discussed in previous posts, love often entails an element of discipline.

This is where the clash of ideologies takes place. The liberal does not wish to have their physical freedoms restricted or dictated by another.

Furthermore, I do believe that it IS possible for so-called “mainstream Christians” to object to Mr Green’s statement which attempts to explain the principles of their  Christian faith to them, assuming that they have misunderstood it – something of a slightly patronising attitude. Mr Green falls into that classic trap of defining his version of what he believes Christianity to be all about, and assuming that those who disagree with this definition are by very nature extremist or ill-educated.

The commandment “Love thy neighbour as thyself” is often, understandably, thought to be the cornerstone of Christianity. To some extent it is, but as discussed above, love is not to be confused with giving free rein or licence. It also needs to be understood in the context of the commandment immediately preceding it, namely “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12: 30-32)

The second commandment cannot be taken in isolation to mean simply be nice to other people, which is how it is often misunderstood and misinterpreted. One has to be able to love God with all one’s heart and soul in order to be able to contextualize how to love one’s neighbour. Loving God includes following his commands on how we should live. To love our neighbour as ourselves is to desire for them the good that we desire for ourselves which is to follow God and to follow his commandments. God’s commandments are not those of a dictatorial, authoritarian God as the likes of Stephen Fry might have one believe. God is love and therefore his commandments are given out of love, because he desires the best for us. The things that are prohibited are ultimately the things that cause self-destruction.

This is not quite the same as be nice to each other folks version of Christianity that many liberals and perhaps poorly catechised Christians subscribe to, not being able to deal with the idea of a God who might prohibit our freedoms and our basest desires. People often perceive that their actions or desires do no harm to others and thus cannot accept the idea of a God who will not condone a deed, which as far as they are concerned, does absolutely no physical or discernable harm to anyone else.

The idea that the Christian B&B owners might have been acting out of love is unfathomable to many. As I mentioned here, the idea that a homosexual act is a sin, i.e. something that separates us from God, seems to many unpleasant. It smacks of dislike and hatred, when the reverse is true. The merest mention of sin, sends many reaching for their copy of the Guardian to fan down their waves of indignation, but in fact sin is just that – sin. An American Jesuit priest friend of mine involved in enticing me back to the fold many years ago, once recounted a story about a time he committed a mortal sin. Utterly repentant on his knees in the confessional the next day, eaten up by remorse, his kindly superior said to him “Hey son, it’s sin, that’s all it is”. Sin is obviously not desirable in that it separates us from God, but ultimately God is love and mercy: He always forgives.

Without wishing to go too far  into the realms of basic apologetics there are 2 types of sin, mortal and venial. Venial sin is accidental, like when the internet troll pushes you too far and you swear at her in the heat of the moment. It is certainly not honouring God, but neither is it pre-meditated. Mortal sin is when you deliberately and with full knowledge of what you are doing, commit serious sin. That’s it. Sexual sin is no worse than any other type, whether it be mortal or venial.

This seems to me to be the root of the issue. To a self-professed liberal like David Allen Green, the idea of saying that something is bad, seems unkind, unpleasant and not in kilter with his definition of Christianity. He is a highly principled, ferociously intelligent man of integrity and scruples who wishes to fight for the underdog. To deny a couple their double room seems deeply unkind, rooted in contempt and thus un-Christian. The reverse is true. It was an act of pure Christian love.

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Jurassic Park ranks as one of my all-time favourite films. Not simply for its ground-breaking special effects (I remember driving home from the cinema nervously checking my rear view mirror for glimpses of the spitting one with the collar sitting on the backseat), its evocative score by John Williams, its universal appeal with classic cinematic moments of suspense, scenes of comedy, horror, pathos and schmultz in equal measure, the anthropomorphism of the dinosaurs (remember the raptor impatiently tapping her claws in the denouement kitchen scene), but just as importantly because it has always struck me as being something of an allegory of our times.

I’ll elaborate shortly, but the analogy of Jurassic Park seems particularly fitting in relation to this topic, because no doubt, to some, my musings will provoke outrage and I will indeed be compared to something out of the Jurassic or Cretaceous era, a fossil or a dinosaur with no relevance in today’s modern and enlightened society. I am already anticipating the inevitable outrage this post will undoubtedly attract.

I’ll never forget the part in the laboratory or hatchery, when having overcome his initial scepticism, and overcome by wonderment and awe at this incredible and fantastic world that has been created, Dr Grant watches a baby dinosaur hatch. His reaction is one of fascination at the miracle he sees unfolding before him through the genius of science, and as he tenderly holds the newborn creature in the palm of his hand, he enquires as to the species of the hatchling.  His response to the information: “You’re breeding RAPTORS?!”. The look of terror on his face tells a story all of its own, the potential for uncontrollable devastation has been unleashed.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been catapulted through the cinema screen onto Isla Nublar, into a world where chaos and destruction brought about by mankind’s hubris reign. Like Dr Grant I watch the scientific developments unfolding all around me with both admiration and trepidation and an increasing sense of innate unease, wanting to cry out, to call a halt;  yet my voice is impotent, it is too late, the clock may not be turned back, and mine is anyway a solitary voice, my discomfort drowned out by cries of derision because I cannot accept, condone and embrace how man has been able to overcome the laws of nature and taken on the role of creator.

This week we have seen yet another celebrity surrogacy, with Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban having paid a surrogate to carry a child for them, with most of the mainstream media cooing over the new arrival and documenting Nicole’s ongoing battle to conceive and miscarriages in some detail. The general consensus of opinion seems to be how wonderful, there is much less condemnation than there was of Elton John, by virtue of the age of the couple, their less prolific celebrity status and the fact they are a heterosexual couple. None of these factors have any impact on my overriding impression that this is still a fundamentally flawed and potentially terrifying arrangement. I have no doubt that the couple will make great parents, it was the use of the phrase “gestational carrier”  used by the couple to thank the parent that caused me to shudder, the phrase being carefully chosen to refute any suggestion of motherhood, in order that Ms Kidman may stake her biological claim upon the child.

It cannot be right to pay women for the use of their womb, to put them through a procedure which entails considerable physical stress and risk, one which will have a life-long impact upon them. All this does is reduce a woman down to her reproductive capacity, treating her as some kind of object, in the same way that most women are objectivised in the sex industry. There is no legal transplant market in the UK, for the very same reasons. It does not matter that a potential recipient may be extremely deserving of an organ, the practice of paying someone to provide or donate an organ is rightly outlawed in order to prevent exploitation. Some people may see no harm in paying a donor huge sums of money to provide a body part, but the fact is, that the donor would only do this in a free market for a considerable fee, given that the donation would severely physically compromise them. A surrogate will undoubtedly physically compromise herself in the process of surrogacy. She may well be motivated by altruism and certainly the UK laws on surrogacy exist to prevent exploitation, but nonetheless, whether intended or not, exploitation is what surrogacy amounts to, never more so when it involves a mother carrying a child that is not genetically hers. The problem is already particularly rife in countries like India whereby women are coerced into surrogacy and paid an absolute pittance to carry and painfully deliver a child which they must then relinquish, due to economic necessity and the demands of the free market. Even in the UK where we have laws to prevent this, heart-breaking cases such as this one arise, when a woman cannot bring herself to part with her baby.

To me, nothing is more heartbreaking than a woman being legally required to give up a child that she has cherished and nurtured in her womb and brought into the world. Some women do this voluntarily, however the vast majority are enticed by the financial gain. The fact that this is not an act that most women are prepared to undergo is borne out by the fact that there is a much greater demand for surrogacy in the UK, than there are surrogates. It is argued that updating the laws will redress the balance, but in reality all this will do is encourage more women to use their bodies for the benefit of others, particularly in these times of economic hardship. Many commentators such as the Fawcett Society are keen to point out how women seem to be disproportionately affected by the cuts, agreeing to be a surrogate could be a financial lifeline for many.

Many people have argued, where is the harm, how is this hurting anyone? Well, apart from exploitation, for every live baby born via IVF,  7-10 embryos are destroyed. This is clearly problematic for anyone who believes that life begins at conception. A zygote or an embryo is no less alive than any living person. That’s an incredible amount of destruction of human life. The desire for genetic offspring of one’s own, does an inordinate amount of harm to those children languishing in care homes in desperate need of loving families. The demand for babies is making it increasingly difficult to find loving families for children barely out of toddlerhood. The introduction of a third party into the process of reproduction also overrides the rights of a child to be carried in the womb by its biological mother.

So what does this matter to me, why am I concerned with the lives of celebrities, why can’t I “live and let live”? The reason being is that what celebrities do undoubtedly sets a trend and paves the road for us normal folk. Does that sound far-fetched? Well apparently Eastenders, renowned for tackling hard-hitting social issues and dramas that affect real-life people is planning a controversial surrogacy story-line, which yes, shock horror, involves its two gay characters. More importantly Tony and Barrie Drewitt-Barlow, the first gay couple to use surrogacy in the UK, are to open the UK’s first centre to advise and guide same-sex couples through the surrogacy process. They want to match couples from Europe with surrogates and egg donors in the US, and have a centre in California (where Elton adopted) to help with this stated aim. Referring to the Elton John adoption Barrie Drewitt-Barlow said: ‘It’s positive news for gay parenting. The more high-profile the people using surrogacy to start their families, the more mainstream it becomes’. Proof that what celebrities do, has a direct impact on everyday society.

See there I go again, can’t resist bringing gay people into it, I hear them cry. Nothing to do with homophobia or hatred, simply to deny a child its biological mother is deeply immoral and denies the rights of that child to its biological mother and father. It’s strange, as I write this, I can almost sense the sharp intakes of breath, the palpable outrage, this is homophobia at its height, see look, she’s at it again, somebody do something, call the police, lets out this evil woman and her hateful rantings of course two gay men have as much right to a child as anybody else, but here’s the thing, NOBODY has a right to a child, no-one. A child, is a blessing, a gift, a privilege, not a commodity to be bought and sold to satisfy what is essentially a selfish desire to experience parenthood, without so much of a hint to the rights of a child to an identity, knowledge of its mother and father or its biological family tree. All of us have an innate desire to identify ourselves within the world around us, a longing to put ourselves into historical and biological context, an innate yearning to know who our birth parents are. A child might well feel that it was loved and wanted so much that two people paid a lot of money and went to a lot of trouble to ensure that it was created, but equally that might put a lot of pressure on the child in terms of living up to expectations and there is a more than a slight possibly that the child will grow up longing for the presence of the absent father or mother. To complicate a child’s identity by separating genetic parenthood from the gestation and raising of the child raises serious ethical concerns.

And for those who counter the idea that surrogacy whether heterosexual or homosexual has anything to do with commercialism, here are the words of Barrie Drewitt-Barlow:  

It’s aim is to bring together intended parents with egg donors and surrogates, along with donors, and offer legal advice from qualified legal professionals. I will be responsible for the assessment of intended patients and the assessments of potential egg donors and surrogates, and for helping with all legal documentation to allow each couple to bring home their baby to the UK’.

All of this comes gratis does it? No exchange of money whatsoever? All donors motivated purely by altruism? Where does it stop, will a woman who is phobic of pregnancy and childbirth have a right to pay someone else to go through the entire business for her? We have opened a Pandora’s Box of ethical dilemmas. Nightmare horrific sci-fi scenarios have become the reality, with surrogates ordered to undergo abortions and one case in Los Angeles which had an unbelievable 5 would-be parents vying for custody of a child. It seems that we are living in a world turned entirely on its head, which on the one hand sanctions the mass murder of an entire generation of unborn, with over 200,000 lives lost to abortion in the UK every year alone, and yet on the other hand, is spending huge amounts of money on technology to create babies in a laboratory which has a high rate of failure (70-80%).

Of course, given that I “fall pregnant at the merest hint of sperm” and “live in a fertile ivory” tower, absolutely invalidates any right I have to comment, according to my detractors. Because I have not directly experienced the pain, anguish and longing of infertility I am unable to comment and to describe surrogacy as a commercial arrangement is deeply offensive and hurtful to those who might wish to enter into these arrangements. As indeed it is allegedly “hurtful to question the morality of a medical procedure”!!

Just because the technology is available, it does not mean that we need to avail ourselves of it. We have the technology to annihilate entire continents thanks to the technology of nuclear weapons. Do we have a right to avail ourselves of it, simply because it exists? In previous ages, women had no other option other than to accept the cruel lot that nature had dealt them, and often managed to fulfil their motherly vocation in other ways. I can’t begin to image how it must feel to be infertile and I cannot tell women how they should manage their pain, nor can I condemn people for wanting to go to extraordinary lengths to fulfil their dreams, however I can question whether or not this is good for society as a whole.

To go back to Jurassic Park, no-one doubted that the intentions of  John Hammond, the park owner portrayed so brilliantly by Richard Attenborough were anything but benign. Admittedly, like mankind he displayed a staggering amount of hubris, but he wanted to share the wonders of modern science with the world, to encourage discovery, exploration and learning, not cause chaos and devastation. Though his intentions were laudable there were plenty of others willing to exploit the technology for their own personal gain. What he learnt was that you tamper with nature at your peril. He was guilty of nothing but naivety.

In the words of Jeff Goldblum “Too busy thinking about whether or not they could, to think about whether or not they should“…

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Riddle me this

Why is it unacceptable for Peter and Hazelmary Bull to deny a double room to any couple on the grounds of their marital status, but perfectly acceptable for the clubs G.A.Y. and Heaven to refuse entry to women on the grounds that they “look too straight”?

The answer is that the Bull’s B&B will automatically fall foul of the Equality Act because they refuse to treat civil partnerships in the same way as marriage.

In many ways it is a shame that this case was brought to court, given that the couple were clearly in breach of the law and were doomed to failure from the outset, although it has brought the bigots out in force.

“We know people have deeply held ‘beliefs’ about homosexuality. That’s why we need legislation” screamed one. Orwell himself could not have written a better line about thought crime. We know that people will hold beliefs entirely separate to ours, therefore we need legislation to stop them from acting upon their morals? The function of legislation is to stop people from exercising their own free will?

Though no lawyer, it seems that the question of harm needs to come into play here. What harm is there from the proprietor of any business deciding who they may admit on their premises? It needs to be noted that the Bulls were not, in any event attempting to deny the use of their services to this couple, they were not denying them entry to the B&B, what they were doing was refusing them the use of a double room, in line with their policy. Had two separate rooms been available, then Mr Hall & Mr Preddy would have been perfectly welcome to avail themselves of the hospitality on offer. On an individual level the only “harm” caused to the couple, was that of hurt feelings and thus £1,800 apiece seems a disproportionate amount of compensation. A more realistic and just figure would have been a couple of hundred pounds between the couple to compensate them for the expenses incurred in having to arrange travel to a different hotel and the costs of a hotel room.

There is of course inherent harm in a society that wishes to negatively discriminate against people on the grounds of sexuality, race, gender or creed and no-0ne wishes to see a return to the days of hotels displaying signs stating “no Irish, no blacks” etc and thus it is important that legislation remains in place. It’s all about finding the middle ground, but this ruling does highlight the inconsistency in the law. A premises may withhold entry on the grounds on sexuality, as has happened to me in the past when out with members of gay cabin crew. I completely understand that like-minded people wish to have an environment in which they may relax and socialise without the threat of intimidation, which is why various establishments reserve the right to deny entry.

What I don’t understand is why a couple, who have a deeply-held and rational belief are penalised for running an establishment on the grounds of religion, yet another establishment is able to run their establishment on the grounds of sexuality? Why is one acceptable and not the other? Why could this couple not run their B&B according to their faith principles? Because it unfairly excluded a section of society? Could not the same principle be applied to high-profile nightclubs who refuse entry on the grounds of appearance, thus denying, as happened to me, the chance to see a certain performer? (Yes, I admit, to my everlasting embarrassment, I was attempting to see Kylie Minogue).

As a Christian I loathe the current narrative of persecution as it denigrates the suffering of those who have genuinely suffered the most horrific and abhorrent persecution, being a Christian does not entail gruesome torture and death, such as in the days of the Emperor Nero when Christians were covered in tar and pitch, crucified and set alight as human torches, through which the Emperor would stage nighttime chariot races. Nor do we face a holocaust like the one that decimated the lives of at least 6 million Jews in the middle of the twentieth century. To invite such comparisons invites justifiable ridicule and does nothing to advance the debate.

What the judgement does highlight is both the bigotry of others towards Christian beliefs, with tweeters triumphantly awarding the Bulls obscene awards amounting to “idiot of the year” couched in extremely offensive language, as well as the fact that to be a Christian is counter-cultural. Though this is to be expected, holding a counter-cultural viewpoint should not demand legislation.

The judge noted that the ruling “does affect the human rights of the defendants to manifest their religion and forces them to act in a manner contrary to their deeply and genuinely held beliefs.” and sensibly gave them leave to appeal.

This is the heart of the matter. How do we manage to balance conflicting interests in a fair and just society? How do we ensure that neither side is unfairly treated or marginalised?

It seems apparent that this particular case was a stitch-up job. The homosexual couple deliberately sought out this hotel and were determined to find offence and prove their point. It is unfortunate that due to illness on the day of the booking, the question about the couple’s marital status, which is normally pointed out to guests, was omitted. One does also have to question whether or not calling the police when one is refused entry to a premises is an instinctive or premeditated reaction?

The UK is renowned for its tolerance and diversity. We now have to ask ourselves some uncomfortable and searching questions about our identity. Are we prepared to live in a society which disbars people from entering certain professions or going into business by nature of their religious beliefs? Do we want legislation to prevent any discrimination whatsoever taking place? If so, then surely we need to make the existing legislation more consistent?

Is all discrimination bad and to be outlawed in the name of equality? Or is some discrimination better than others?

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Unpicking Stanford

Peter Stanford needs to be congratulated on one of the most outstanding factually incorrect pieces of journalism regarding today’s ordination to the Catholic priesthood of the three former Anglican Bishops.

He starts as he means to go on:

“…fewer stranger sights…three Anglican bishops’ wives, in matching beige coats, one with an outsized brown hat…”

Saucer of milk, table for one Peter. Considering that he critiques the Catholic Church as being “not that keen on women”,  do I note a rather hypocritical attitude in bitchily analysing the attire of the wives? I don’t quite see what the colour of the coats or the size of the hats has to do with anything. Still lets put these upstart wives in their place.

“to the pain of the demonstrators from the Catholic Women’s Ordination movement protesting outside the cathedral’s doors”

What all two of them valiently clutching their banner? To be fair though there were also apparently two demonstrators from the Society of Saint Pius X, so lets make that a grand total of four. Jeffrey Steele was spot on earlier when he wryly observed that the tiny smattering of protesters would no doubt form the basis of at least one of the major media organisations’ coverage.

“It is the Vatican’s negative attitude to women’s ministry that formed the backdrop to the whole affair.”

Unsure where on earth to begin with this, other than, as Peter Stanford will be more than well aware, this is not about the ministry of women but fidelity to the catholic teaching which formed the ordinariate. The ordination of women, is one particular presenting issue, but to try and reduce the ordinariate and the Anglo-Catholic movement to be purely about the issue of women’s ministry is ignorant baloney. As a point of fact Andrew Burnham, one of the bishops ordained today, was very supportive of womens’ ministry in general, he did much to explore the issue of ordaining women to the diaconate within the Church of England. There was nothing about wanting a “female-free haven”, this was about accepting the truth of the Catholic faith, these men would not have converted if this was simply about the ordination of women, otherwise where are the 1333 Anglican clergy who signed the letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2008 threatening to resign if women were elected to the episcopate with no safeguards? Surely if the Ordinariate was all about the issue of women clergy, these clergy would be signing up in droves? The fact that they haven’t indicates that this is not about the ordination of women. To claim otherwise is reductivist.

Stanford goes on to describe the Ordinariate as a place “where the normal rules of Catholicism don’t apply”. Sorry? Which rules are they Peter? The man has gone off his rocker. All members of the Ordinariate will have to abide by the catechism, like every other faithful Catholic. The fact that they have been admitted into the Catholic Church proves that they have accepted Catholic doctrine. There is no secret “oh well I don’t really have to agree with that part” clause, or implicit understanding that they can preach their own particular version of Catholicism. Yes, the Ordinariate will consist of a married priesthood, which is unusual, but there are rites within the Catholic Church in which it is possible to be married prior to ordination, as Peter Stanford will undoubtedly be aware. Allowing the use of Anglican patrimony for a separate rite, is not breaking any implicit rules. There are many rites within Catholicism, Roman being the most populous, and each rite will use its own patrimony whilst still coming under the jurisdiction of the Pope. What the Ordinariate has done, is to create a separate rite within the Roman Catholic Church.

The inaccuracies come thick and fast.

“In the space of 14 days, they have completed a journey that usually takes other converts seven years: 12 months to go through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults to become a Catholic, and six years in a seminary.”

Yet more drivel. Priest converts are not required to undertake RCIA. Some do, for others it is not deemed necessary for example,  the case of my husband, who has a Masters in Catholic Theology from Heythrop, although he did receive some personal instruction and it was ensured that he had read and understood the Catechism. In any event RCIA was not really meant for converts from other Christian denominations. It was designed for those who have not already been baptised or had any prior Christian formation. As for six years in seminary, again more imaginings. Each candidate is different, but obviously Anglican priests already have considerable knowledge, formation and experience and thus six years is not the norm, the average seems to be about 2-3 years. Anglican priest converts are not starting at the same position as say a young man of 21.

Stanford concludes that the Ordinariate was “a takeover not a merger”. Given that the Ordinariate was established as a direct result of supplication by various groups within the Anglican Church to the Vatican to create a structure that would make it possible for many of them to come home, I can hardly see how this could be likened to an aggressive takeover. Moreover no-one is compelled to join the Ordinariate, it is a benign invitation, not a legally binding order.

“When it was first announced, Nichols assured me in an interview that the biggest take-up was likely to be among unhappy Anglicans in the US and Australia, yet here we are in London.”

This may well prove to be the case, the Ordinariate may have begun in London, but we don’t yet know what the uptake is likely to be in Australia or the US, demographically speaking it is more than likely that these countries will have more members than in the UK. Does it matter whether they do or they don’t? It’s interesting that Stanford uses the word “assured”. Clearly he is frightened by the Ordinariate and sees it as something of a threat. Dare I suggest that he is terrified of an influx of  hordes of traditional-minded  properly -catechised Catholics undermining a liberal agenda?

The only puzzling thing about yesterday is why a Catholic would not wish to whole-heartedly welcome home his brethren in Christ and to lend his support to the extension of the Catholic Church in the UK.

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A special welcome

Reading the moving eyewitness accounts of yesterday’s ordinations to the diaconate, of  the former Church of England Bishops, Andrew Burnham, Keith Newton and John Broadhurst, I was particularly touched by the following:

“One of the most striking elements of the mass was the way in which the wives of those being ordained were made to feel so welcome and made part of the mass. Not only did they bring the bread and wine at the offertory, but after the prayer after communion they assembled before the bishop as he thanked them for their example of love and family life and gave them a special blessing.”

This gesture of welcome should not be underestimated. I cannot begin to imagine how Mrs Burnham, Newton and Broadhurst must be feeling. Being a clergy wife in the Church of England is a delicate balancing act, requiring much tact, diplomacy and a willingness to take a back seat to your husband’s vocation; accepting that a considerable majority of the time your husband needs to put his ministry first, in the same way that a secular man needs to prioritise his job. The hours are unsociable and the demands unpredictable. The Anglican Church does however have a culture of married ministers and  a clergy wife is therefore not an unusual concept, unlike the Catholic Church whereby priests are required to practice celibacy, unless they have been granted a dispensation, as in the case of convert priests. To agree to become the wife of a Catholic priest, whereby your role may well be vastly different and your presence something of an anomaly or curiosity is not a task for the faint-hearted, particularly if you have been married to a high-profile spouse such as a Bishop.

The Ordinariate is treading unchartered waters, the former bishops have had to give up positions of great responsibility, their salaries, their homes and their pensions, a decision which will have an enormous impact on their families and would doubtless have been impossible without the support of their wives. It perhaps shouldn’t be surprising that their spouses were welcomed in this way, but given that no similar rite is included in the Anglican ordination service, the public acceptance and welcome of wives is all the more remarkable together with the thanks and blessing and must have been of enormous comfort to them as they accompany their husbands on this next stage in their journey.

Providentially enough I chanced upon this blogpost written by the wife of a Catholic priest in the Byzantine rite (h/t Christopher Smith & Shameless Popery, who also did a great precis) which describes the 7 most frequent comments that people blurt out when they discover that you are married to a Catholic priest. It’s definitely worth a read and I can certainly identify with many of her observations, particularly the parts about scheduling and her poignant response to her husband’s ministry.

“There is a huge part of my husband’s life that I can never understand or participate in. This is probably the strongest argument against a married priesthood in any rite. We priest’s wives cannot fathom the feelings of being at the altar or the confessional. These experiences are hidden from us. God’s grace abounds in these situations, but I suspect the evil one is lurking in the shadows, waiting for us to fail. Evil doesn’t like husbands, fathers or priests. So it is a lot to say yes to these vocations.  All we wives can do is be positive complements to our  priest husbands like any wife. Pray for the wives and children!”

So tomorrow, when we celebrate the momentous and joyful occasion of the start of the Ordinariate, let us also give thanks for the gift of their families and hope that they may be able to inspire other families to follow their courageous lead. A truly remarkable gesture for a truly remarkable movement.

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Sposi Novelli

I have to admit to just a tinge of envy when I spotted that a new website has been set up which aims to help newlyweds receive a blessing from the Pope in Rome.

For the uninitiated this practice known as Sposi Novelli,  means that newlyweds may attend a general Papal audience in Rome within a year of their wedding, have allocated seats at the front and the Pope will come over, greet the couples and offer a handshake and a blessing. Most couples wear their wedding regalia for the occasion.

I can’t help thinking that it is something of a shame that Pope Benedict XVI has discontinued his predecessor’s  practice of individually blessing each couple. A former colleague of mine was fortunate enough to have received this grace from the then ailing Pope John Paul II and recounts an absolutely hilarious tale. Apparently as she and her husband knelt before the Holy Father as she stood up she got the heel of her shoe caught in the hem of her voluminous dress, felt herself toppling forward, automatically shot her hand out for support catching the knee of the elderly pontiff, almost dragging him onto the floor with her and sending the Swiss Guards running to disentangle the pair of them!

I console myself with the fact that though we were unable to get to Rome to receive this privilege in person, we were fortunate enough to receive an Apostolic marriage blessing, as a gift from our local parish which occupies pride of place. I would have relished the opportunity to put on my beautiful wedding dress one more time and can’t think of a more appropriate and resplendent setting for us in our nuptial finery, than Rome. Just thinking about it sends me into girlish raptures.

Mind you, given that I fell pregnant a few months after our wedding, I suspect the sight of a groom dressed in a long black cassock, dog collar and black saturno from Gamerellis* accompanying his visibly pregnant bride, whilst seeking a personal papal blessing, may well have caused a slight raising of the Apostolic eyebrow!

 

 

*Since posting, I have been informed that said hat came from Barbaconi, not Gamerelli. “Gamerilli, on my salary?! Ha ha ha ha”.

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