Judging by some of the responses, a few people missed the point of yesterday’s post, although I have had an overwhelmingly positive response, particularly by email.
What I would like to make clear, is that despite appearances this is not a personal vendetta, but I wanted to publicly express quite how misjudged I believed John’s comments to me. It was not simply a question of personal hurt, although yes, I do take issue with other Catholics who have never spoken to me for more than a minute and therefore have no idea about my prayer or sacramental life, making judgements about whether or not I am a “real Catholic voice”. Not only did this alienate me, but it also greatly upset my husband, who has always been an ardent supporter of SPUC and has taken a slightly different view of them to me, but was equally very supportive of my joining of Catholic Voices.
One of the things that grated, is that I believe that John Smeaton is alienating many like myself who would otherwise be natural allies and who are exactly the type of passionate, dedicated and informed people that the pro-life movement needs. One of my colleagues in Catholic Voices is parish catechist as well as being in the process of completing her degree in medicine and is someone who quietly devotes a lot of their time to others. The other day, she gave up her Sunday, was up at 6am and went to the BBC to complete 9 gruelling back-to-back interviews for local radio on the subject of the Morning-After-Pill and did a sterling job. I note that none of the usual critics bothered to praise her, not that she even noticed or complained, but had the interviews gone badly, no doubt we would have heard all about it. What would motivate her, or indeed any member of her family, her friends or her parish to support SPUC in any way, after hearing that its head, considers her to be “a highly compromised establishment mouthpiece” and not a “real Catholic voice”?
This is not how to win friends and influence people, nor does it help the cause. I met up with some inspirational Evangelical Christians last night, who weren’t bothered about whether or not I was the same kind of Christian as they were. No doubt they might well have views about idolatry of Mary and other theological differences, but the point was not our differences, but our similarities. We accepted that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and decided to focus on the job in hand, namely doing something practical that can help raise awareness and change hearts and minds about abortion.
My post wasn’t meant to be about how John Smeaton had alienated me, but I had experienced first hand how SPUC behave towards people they don’t like and how this is very damaging for the pro-life cause as a whole. I also still believe that an anti-abortion/euthanasia group campaigning against gay marriage really does weaken the focus, but I know there’s very little I can do to change minds that are firmly set upon that direction. There is potential for an enormous amount of damage to be done. Whilst some say “we’re Christians, we’re used to being hated and despised, that’s our calling, our lot in life, Christ came to bring the sword, we’re sheep amongst wolves”, I think it’s worth pointing out that he also said that we must be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves”. Deliberately causing offence, or not caring if it is caused, is not a prudent or compassionate approach. As I said previously, there is a very subtle and complex relationship between the pro-life cause and the undermining of family life and much potential for upset. Will the invariably negative and hysterical headlines really advance the cause? Deacon Nick Donnelly today reported upon how government advisors called people who have concerns about same-sex adoption “retarded homophobes”. One can only imagine what will be made of SPUC vigorously campaigning on this issue. Besides we also have to remember that there is difference between having martyrdom thrust upon us, such as in the case of Pastor Nadarkhani (please do keep up the pressure) and deliberately choosing the path of martyrdom.
I am not going into the issue of Catholic Voices, Austen Ivereigh, Jack Valero and the Bishops Conference and so on, simply because I find it all too tiresome. I joined Catholic Voices because I wanted to learn how to put my voice in the public square. Even if I am not asked to do a single interview, I am still grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to take part in 3 weekends that were more akin to retreats and learn valuable skills. I never once thought that by joining, I was suddenly nailing my colours to a certain mast. I do not believe our bishops to be heterodox in nature, if that were the case, how could any priest become ordained, given that he would have to swear allegiance to his Bishop? Are all our ordinands ignorant or stupid? What gives some Catholic bloggers the right to pronounce that they know better than everyone else, that they are right and everyone else is wrong and/or liberal, dissenting Catholics? Is that not bigotry?
The questions I raised yesterday are still valid and pertinent, they are concerns that I have had for over a year and which I have thought prudent to keep to myself. Perhaps I should have held my tongue, given that I have been told to “take your blog post down, you don’t know what you’ve done” and been called “brave” by a supporter in a private email, another saying that they would not “take on John Smeaton, all power to you”.
Here’s the thing. I don’t want to “take on” anyone. I am pregnant (again) and don’t need the emotional aggravation. I am happy to accept an apology from John, both for his ill-considered blog and for not even bothering to send even a two line response to either of the two emails I sent him, one outlining my concerns and the other offering to work with him on a project which could yield considerable fruit. But it does worry me that there seems to be a climate of fear around SPUC’s leadership.
Back in September, Damian Thompson stated that young pro-lifers were in despair, following the disaster that was Nadine Dorries’ attempt at recognising that abortion clinics had a vested financial interest in the outcome of abortion counsellors. I was one of those to whom he was referring, having been party to the entire c*ck up from start to finish. I won’t pull my punches here. LIFE, SPUC’s rival, were very much at fault, in not handling the Guardian sting at all well, it was one error from start to finish, as well as not ensuring that their house was in order. They should have been well aware that someone would attempt to pull a covert sting operation and ensured that all their volunteers were adequately trained in order to avoid the damning and unnecessary headlines. From the emails that I was party to, it was like the Keystone Cops and it was myself and others who frantically tried to do the damage reparation, with the help of a kindly, supportive and hugely influential blogger.
It’s no surprise that Nadine Dorries failed, though she didn’t help herself, she was left without any support whatsoever. Phyllis Bowman, who was deeply sceptical, had the sense to keep quiet until after the fiasco, so as not to undermine Nadine still further, on the off-chance the amendment might pass, although by the time Nadine had tinkered with it at the last hour in order to make it more palatable, it still had the capacity to do harm to the pro-life cause. Phyllis, unlike John Smeaton, understood that holding her piece was the wisest option. Who knows what might have happened if the pro-life “movement” had come together in a concentrated co-ordinated effort in order to support Nadine and give her decent advice and resources? Instead she was left out there on a limb, and its not really surprising that she lashes out as a result.
In the words of Damian Thompson:
But no wonder, given that the two main pro-life organisations in this country, SPUC and Life, don’t even speak to each other [but see below] and have not the faintest grasp of public relations. Their own image is geriatric and/or fanatical, and based on recent conversations with despairing young pro-lifers (who have tried, without success, to knock some sense into them) I reckon they deserve that image. I could tell you stories of their utter bloody uselessness, but what’s the point?
Update: Contrary to what I wrote above, SPUC and Life do talk to each other. Sometimes. There are a number of pro-life organisations in this country, and without revealing my sources I can confirm that it’s a sectarian chaos: X doesn’t speak to Y, while Z has a long-standing feud with X, who used to be leader of Y until there was a bitter coup… you get the picture.
I’ve mentioned LIFE in order to be balanced, various bloggers are well aware that I was none too happy with them at the time, however most of the time they do manage to keep their powder dry and have at least, for now, got a seat on the sexual health forum.
If we want the pro-life movement to work, if we finally want to make progress in this country then we need to consolidate our efforts, swallow our pride and pool our resources and expertise. We also need to sort the wheat from the chaff. It is really confusing for Catholics to know which organisation we should support – after all none of us can afford to donate to several different organisations. Here’s a list, as I understand it, of the different pro-life organisations in the UK.
- Right-to-Life Lobby Group/Trust
- Pro-life Alliance
- Christian Medical Foundation
- Abort 67
- Care Confidential
- Good Counsel Network
- Cardinal Winning Initiative
In addition SPUC and LIFE are split into separate divisions, such as education and so on. It seems to me that there is an awful lot of duplication. SPUC also have SPUC evangelicals and SPUC Muslims, which makes John Smeaton’s continued focus on the Catholic Bishops even more puzzling. It seems rather divisive to have offshoots for Evangelicals and Muslims, why can’t any pro-life group be for those of all faiths and none. Why does there need to be separate divisions, given that SPUC claim they are secular?
There might well be room for a Catholic pro-life group, but if this is the case, then they need to be explicit about who they are. At the moment it seems to me that John Smeaton is saying “trust me, but not your bishops”. I genuinely don’t understand why they are allowed to collect in Church given their hostile antipathy to the Bishops and that they seem to spend this money on campaigning against them?
Here are some questions I think deserve answering. I didn’t go to the SPUC conference in Nottingham, I couldn’t afford the train fare, so I don’t know whether or not copies of accounts were distributed, but if so, I would like to see them out of interest. If pro-lifers are impatient in terms of lack of progress, we need to demand answers from those to whom we are giving our money. We need to remember we are charity consumers. We need to know where the money is going. What proportion of SPUC’s income is spent on admin costs? What are the directors paid? How does recruitment work – I’m particularly intrigued as I’ve never seen an advert anywhere for SPUC staff, other than an accounts clerk, appointments seem to be made without any formal advertisement of a vacancy and on the basis on contacts, friends and family.
As SPUC are not a charity, there seems to be little in the way of transparency. What proportion of their time is spent researching and blogging about the Catholic Church as opposed to direct pro-life activity? Though SPUC supported the Department of Health’s successful challenge to BPAS to prevent the morning-after-pill being taken at home, what have they achieved in recent years? They proudly boast on their website: SPUC has been described by The Times (5 January 1987) as “consummate lobbyists”. 1987? Ahem – that was 25 years ago!! Someone on Twitter noted that they only give to charities once they have looked up their accounts on the Charities Commission website and only if their admin costs are less than 10% of their income. For smaller charities they ask them to send a copy of their accounts. If this is not forthcoming, then no donation. However we are being asked to donate in good faith and there is no idea where this £1 million a year is going on how it is being spent. What are their Key Performance Indicators for example? Why is their PR so reactive and not pro-active, why haven’t they got someone there on top of the stats straight away, anticipating events and sending out press releases at the first possible opportunity. Why, earlier this year, did they send out a story that had not been fact-checked? (The story that the government was planning to remove parents’ rights to take their children out of sex education classes, by moving sex ed into compulsory science classes).
All of these are pertinent questions and they are not borne out of my anger or frustration, but I admit I reached a tipping point. It’s no good having an organisation that seems to upset and alienate so many people and create a climate of fear. If SPUC were a charity, then their accounts and procedures would be transparent and we would know these things. If SPUC were a charity John Smeaton would not get away with his personal attacks on the blog – the trustees would not stand for it. As I said, he should set up a separate blog. Red Maria has the issue in a nutshell.He has every right as a Catholic to hold whatever views he likes and to express these views, but I think it is unwise to conflate them with his position as director as SPUC. There is a definite conflict of interest and this seems to tar and infect the rest of the organisation.
Parliament currently boasts more pro-life MPS than for many years and public opinion is in favour of reducing the enormous amount of abortions carried out on an annual basis. Why then are we not witnessing any progress? What do we need to do? We cannot continue with another 42 years of stalemate, of no progress, of in-fighting, whilst women and children are failed and let down? We cannot simply wring our hands and blame modern society and attitudes, we must do something to change them. Look at the success in the USA, which is causing so much concern over here.
This time last year the Catholic Herald suggested a March for Life. Locally there was a lot of support for it, people kept asking me when was it happening and expressed that they thought it was a good idea. It didn’t happen. It should have done, it would have been a great start. Damian Thompson suggested that any new young pro-lifer attempting to build a movement should ignore what’s in place and simply start again.
My feeling is that what is broken needs repairing and healing and this has to start with some transparency and some mutually agreed aims and focuses. We have the expertise, we have the knowledge, we just need to think of the unborn and the elderly, pool resources and talk. Perhaps there is room within a movement for a group to defend marriage, perhaps there should be a separate euthanasia lobby, or a Catholic wing. But what there should not be is this division and acrimony, which is made so much worse by self-appointed arbiters of other’s perceived orthodoxy, flinging mud and insults and causing so much hurt.
Pro-life is not me, it is not John Smeaton, there is no room for egos, but we have to effect change and keep our eye on the prize. It’s broken, let’s fix it.