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Archive for December, 2011

Building for life

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.

  • SPUC
  • LIFE
  • Right-to-Life Lobby Group/Trust
  • Pro-life Alliance
  • Christian Medical Foundation
  • Abort 67
Groups who help women with crisis pregnancies
  • SPUC
  • LIFE
  • 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.

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I would like to think that I have built up a certain amount of goodwill on the Catholic blogosphere and therefore it was with some sadness that I read John Smeaton’s pre-Christmas blogpost in which he denounced me and all of my Catholic Voices colleagues as “highly compromised establishment mouthpieces” and called for “voices of real Catholics”.

I found his post deeply offensive, not just on a personal level but also on behalf of the very faithful, highly intelligent, talented group of people it has been my privilege to have formed friendships with over the last few months, as well as those members of Catholic Voices with whom I had already established relationships of friendships and trust.

John Smeaton has absolutely no ecclesiastical authority to doubt whether or not we are “proper Catholics” because some of us might have a perfectly permissible divergence of opinion and frankly I am minded to investigate canon law to see whether or not I am entitled to defend my reputation as a Catholic in good standing. I probably won’t bother, but I do not take kindly towards John deciding who or what constitutes “real Catholics”, he has no more authority than Andrew Brown of the Guardian or other liberal commentators who are minded to define the beliefs of the faithful (which usually involves ignoring a large part of the magisterium).

I am roaring with laughter at the concept of being an establishment mouthpiece – anyone who has ever known me will testify that I do not take kindly to being told what to say, think or how to act. I’m terribly free-spirited in that respect and it was that part of my nature that brought me back to Catholicism, in that I had to use solid reasoning, philosophy and cold hard logic in order to understand many of the precepts of the faith. I am a rebel who questions every single orthodoxy, therefore the concept of joining any organisation which tells me what to think or to unquestioningly obey does not appeal. If Catholic Voices were that type of organisation I would not have been a part of it. The fact is that I joined in order to be able to learn invaluable media skills as well as be part of the general conversation about faith and politics. Catholic Voices is the model of subsidiarity – nobody is told what to say or think, quite the opposite, it is assumed that as orthodox and faithful Catholics we are well-informed about our faith, we are simply taught the skills to be able to effectively communicate it in a climate of 24/7 rolling news coverage. Not once have I heard “this is our official policy” vis a vis any of the major issues.

John Smeaton has constructed a paranoid and false narrative, that Catholic Voices have been “frantically scrambling” to defend the Bishops, we have been secretly briefed to defend the Bishops against accusations of dissent from Catholic pro-life teaching. My recent blog posts and Thirsty Gargoyle’s recent post on the Catholic Voices website is the latest  irrefutable “evidence”.

Actually John needs to make his mind up. If we are indeed dissenters from the Vatican and the CDF, which is the establishment, then how can we be said to be establishment mouthpieces? I’d also love to know what qualifies me as being part of the “establishment” and how I am highly-compromised? What qualifies John Smeaton to make such a judgement?

In order to set the record straight – the reason that G and I both came out with similar views, is because when the Oddie/Nichols controversy first kicked off, we were privately exchanging emails as neither of us knew quite what to make of it. We were then both asked to present on a panel at the Catholic Voices final weekend – my subject was “Civil Partnerships and the Church”, G’s was “the Archbishop Nicholls controversy”. I received a two line email asking me to prepare a presentation and warned to expect vigorous grilling. I was asked to stay away from the Archbishop’s remarks as G would be covering those. There was absolutely no brief to “defend the Bishops” whatsoever. As G and I had some overlap, we discussed it briefly first and realised that we had reached a consensus of opinion, but it wasn’t “official policy”. G’s presentation was so illuminating, he was asked to turn it into a blogpost for CV. I decided to post a condensed version of mine on my blog. People are free to disagree, it is a matter of judgement, but it is not one that deserved quite so much acrimony and/or frothing from John Smeaton and his advocates. There really is no “conspiracy”, it was simply that G and I do get on enormously well and happened to agree with each other having thought through the issue at length. I am also minded to be charitable to the leader of Catholics in England and Wales – I don’t presume he’s an automatic apostate on a secret mission to overturn CDF directives or subvert Catholic teaching. I can see why John Smeaton’s fevered imagination was working overtime here, but it’s utterly  untrue that anyone was frantically scrambling to the Bishops’ defence, I don’t even want to give his nonsense credence.

John’s rationale that we are not authentic Catholics stems from the fact, that as he points out, a requirement of being a member of Catholic Voices is that one is not angry or upset with the Bishops. Leaving aside the obviously absurd notion that an orthodox Catholic might actually experience some allegiance to the bishops who have been appointed by the Pope, surely being angry is a sin. To be in a state of permanent anger could well be grave matter and a mortal sin. Although it may be argued that there is such a thing as “righteous indignation” I would posit that this is something that can only really be experienced by the divine, since none of us humans can really count ourselves as righteous. Anger/indignation is always intermingled with other emotions, such as pride and so who can really state with any authority that their anger, no matter how justified they may feel it is, is “righteous”. As Christians we are supposed to forgive and let go of our anger, so it seems to be quite fitting that those who publicly make the case for the Church should not be in a state of sin. Not angry or upset, does not equate to “you must agree with and condone every single thing that the Bishops’ Conference” says, clearly the Bishops need to exercise prudential judgement at times and there is room for disagreement, but if we are to make a public case for the Church, to go on national media in state of anger or upset or to publicly denounce and condemn our spiritual leaders is hardly going to advance anyone’s cause. But no, according to John Smeaton, unless you are absolutely fuming, or at the very least very disappointed with our Bishops, you cannot be a “good” Catholic and are therefore highly compromised.

One has to ask oneself, what exactly has all this to do with SPUC? To use the phrase from their website, they are a “secular lobby group”, therefore what on earth are they doing pronouncing Pharasiacal judgement upon who is really a good Catholic? What on earth are they doing immersing themselves in Catholic politics and how does this advance the pro-life cause?

SPUC’s answer would be that at their recent conference, they voted to conduct a campaign to defend marriage as a result of the forthcoming government consultation with regards to same-sex marriage. Catholic teaching is holistic; anything that undermines family life is liable to increase abortion and perhaps euthanasia. At the very least, functioning families provide socio-economic stability which is a factor in teenage pregnancies. It is my opinion, that this decision was perhaps unwise, as the case linking same-sex marriage with the pro-life cause, is a very subtle and complex one that requires careful explanation; it is difficult to convince those who do not understand or accept the link between stable families and the pro-life cause and it is likely to do more harm than good. One only needs to imagine the outrage that would be stirred up on Twitter and in the liberal press by claiming that gay marriage leads to abortion. There is not a direct causation and understandably the notion would cause huge offence. Going by recent campaigns, I doubt SPUC have the subtlety or resources to be able to do this effectively. John Smeaton produced several photographs of high profile couples in civil partnerships on his blog, in order to support his assertion that they are perceived as similar to marriage; his outrage is palpable, the post feels like something produced by Westboro Baptist Church. “Look at these gay couples – isn’t it disgusting and terrible”, is not the way to win hearts and minds. It certainly risks alienating members of the LGBT community who might otherwise be supportive of the pro-life agenda.

It seems to me that any pro-life group needs to be broad in base and narrow in focus. SPUC are wasting precious time and resources by fighting battles on all fronts. A friend reminded me of the concept of concentrated force. Think of door wedges, chisels and hammers, which are deliberately fashioned into triangles. Defending gay marriage confuses the issue, muddies the waters and weakens the focus. Even if one disagrees with my analysis and thinks that campaigning against same sex marriage is an appropriate activity for a pro-life organisation – how on earth does immersing oneself in Catholic politics, help that aim? Whilst Catholic social teaching mirrors the pro-life cause and therefore perceived deviations must prove frustrating, attacking the Bishops and genuine Catholics in good standing, does nothing to advance the cause. Besides I do not believe for one moment, that there is some secret conspiracy by a group of apostate Bishops intent on leading us into heterodoxy. It sounds like something out of the pages of Dan Brown!

As shown in my case, all John Smeaton has managed to do is alienate someone who is passionate about the pro-life cause. I have previously supported SPUC, both on this blog and financially. I sent John an email a few weeks ago outlining these concerns and have yet to receive the courtesy of a response. I also rang SPUC as I am involved in some important activism and wondered if they would support me – I spoke to John’s son Paul, who said he would take a message, but as yet no reply. Is it really helpful to deter someone who could do a lot of good work for the cause – not only in terms of activism, but fund-raising and education. Why on earth should I, or any members of my family support an organisation which wishes to publicly insult me?

It is this antagonism which lies at the heart of SPUC’s problems. If SPUC feel that their criticisms are justified, surely a more sensible approach is to work with the Bishops, instead of constantly sniping and attacking them? Continued condemnation causes continued marginalisation. As I said above, however, as a “secular lobby group”, SPUC have no business wasting their time and resources on this perceived vendetta against certain bishops and Catholic Voices. The pro-life lobby already faces immense problems in terms of being perceived as a preserve of fundamentalist Christians, only last year Sunny Hundal described LIFE, an entirely secular, non-denominational pro-life group with atheists as members, as “religious nut jobs”. How on earth will SPUC be taken seriously by anyone other than Catholics, if they continue with this negative focus upon the Catholic Church? In any event, if they do perceive problems with the Bishops, there are official channels, such as the Papal Nuncio or specific dicastories in Rome, who can investigate any issues.

Log onto John Smeaton’s blog and you are bombarded with posts dedicated to annihilating the reputation of Austen Ivereigh and the Bishops. Even if one happens to agree with John, a lobby group, funded by charitable donations for the purpose of protecting all human life should have no business engaging in unpleasant rumour, tittle tattle and gossip. Having seen how John has constructed an entirely false and paranoid narrative, I am not minded to believe anything that he says. SPUC’s donors are typically elderly and on limited income. Is this what they donate for – so that the director can spend his time pursuing personal vendettas and hobby-horses? Recently SPUC copied and pasted a message sent to me on Twitter by Austen Ivereigh and sent it to journalists such as Damian Thompson, in order to prove a point. Is this where the money in collecting tins goes – to fund their messing about on Twitter and attempts to use social media to have a pop at anyone who they don’t like? Some of my relatives and friends who are SPUC donors were absolutely horrified.

As SPUC are not a charity, their accounts are not public and thus there is no transparency. What is John Smeaton’s salary for example? Why is his young son employed? How is he qualified? What is his job title? Was this position advertised, or is SPUC being turned into something of a neat little family concern using donor money? Where does SPUC’s money go? What are their expenses? Are they audited. Are donors getting value for money.

Here are three examples of areas where SPUC has been remiss:

  • I met John Smeaton when he came to address a Shoreham meeting of SPUC in 2009. I raised concerns about a high profile media case of a baby who was born  under the legal limit and so was not given any medical care or assistance, his distraught parents watched him struggle for life for over an hour. I asked John what SPUC were doing to campaign for better care and assistance for babies born prematurely. The response: “I hadn’t heard of that particular case, we haven’t got time to keep up to date with everything”, although he did have time to keep up with John Lennon’s views on over-population and American ecclesiastical politics as well as Hilary Clinton’s views on the Lockerbie bombing according to his blog.
  • In November 2010 a very damaging and untrue story about SPUC’s school presentations appeared in the Times Educational Supplement, which was picked up by pro-choice groups everywhere as well as the British Humanist Association. It claimed that SPUC were giving untrue information as well as showing graphic abortion videos. I for one, know that this is a false claim, having witnessed SPUC in schools, and yet SPUC did nothing to counter it, thus cementing the idea that it must have been true in many people’s minds. SPUC could have done much to disprove this claim, at the very minimum they had right of reply, but  chose to remain silent. The story had the potential to have pro-life groups banned from giving educational presentations in schools. I was present when a freelance journalist friend asked a SPUC representative why nothing was done to counter this story and demonstrate its error. “It was a decision taken at the top, not to bother”, he said. Meanwhile, enormous damage was done to the pro-life movement.
  • SPUC scored an enormous own-goal in publicly deriding Nadine Dorries’ amendment which forced recognition that abortion providers had a financial interest in the outcome of abortion counselling. Admittedly the way Nadine went about this was flawed, but I could not believe my eyes when we had David Allen Green – an avowed pro-choice advocate, praising John Smeaton, for being sensible and balanced and coming to the “right decision”! Privately I don’t think he quite understood why someone with avowed pro-life views was not supporting Dorries,either. It was absurd.

A pro-life view does not necessitate any religious views whatsoever. SPUC should be concentrating on the very logical case rooted in science and natural law, as opposed to attempting to meddle in ecclesiastical politics and alienating themselves from any position of influence. Why would an Evangelical, a Congregationalist, a Baptist or a liberal Anglican have any interest in what the Bishops and Cardinals might have to say? Why would an atheist? How does quoting  John Paul II convince anyone other than Catholics? Why would a liberal Anglican who might be in favour of same sex marriage but against abortion, support SPUC. What about a devout Christian in a civil partnership? SPUC are attempting to appeal to a very narrow group. If they are going to be a Catholic group, then they should at the very least change their name to reflect that. John Smeaton, should, at the very least, consider running two separate blogs, one for SPUC and one with his own views, in which Church matters and his imaginings are kept entirely separate to important pro-life issues.

When SPUC was set up, it was specifically as a secular group – no Catholics were on the board, precisely so that it could not be accused of being simply a Catholic pressure group. I don’t like writing this post particularly, I am desperate for unity in the pro-life group and an end to internecine squabbling, I am wary about becoming one of John Smeaton’s targets, but when he seems to waste his time and more importantly donor money, I feel something needs to be said. Whatever one might think of the Bishops and/or Catholic Voices, this is outside SPUC’s remit. SPUC state that they have an income of £1 million a year, considerably less than many pro-choice groups, who are able to campaign a lot more effectively and who run extremely slick PR operations.

SPUC says on its website, “SPUC enjoys a high degree of independence. As the society is not a body of any church or political party, and has limited affiliations, it is free to operate effectively across a wide denominational, political and social spectrum.” 

Why then, is it so obsessed by Catholic politics and Catholic Voices? Why does it not involve itself in the Synod or Jewish or Muslim politics? Why should I support an organisation who ignores a polite email, who publicly insults me and watches my twitter feed and those of other Catholic Voices, like a hawk for signs of heterodoxy and why should I give any of my valuable time and or money?

I have taken so much grief over the past year in support of my faith and particularly in support of the pro-life cause. I have received hate mail and picked up obsessive stalkers. I was threatened and had death wished upon me for expressing a wish to attend a prayer vigil, I had someone attempt to interfere in my every day life because she believed that I “hurt women” and yet I have refused to give in to these bullies. I have PR skills, experience with young people, I’ve helped many victims of abortion and yet SPUC wish to marginalise, ignore and insult me. Is it really a good thing that they are deterring people who could be of much use to their organisation – not only me, but other younger recruits? Does John Smeaton have any idea quite how hurtful it is when he dismisses me as a “highly compromised mouthpiece” or not a “real Catholic”? Is he really prepared to stand by those statements? How has he advanced the pro-life cause, by alienating someone who had previously attempted to support him?

Next Sunday, SPUC are holding their White Flower appeal in which they will be holding collections in Catholic Churches nationwide. They are lucky that the Bishops are able to rise above the acrimony and personal insults and allow these collections to take place. It will be with a heavy heart that I donate money to an organisation which seems to be more concerned with attacking and insulting me, my friends, my brothers, sisters and fathers in Christ, than it does to the defence of the vulnerable and elderly.

As Stuart Reid noted in his excellent valedictory column last week, “the spite and venom of some conservative Catholics you encounter in the blogosphere, puts one in mind of the more primitive American Baptists. Yes, these people are in a tiny minority but they make a lot of noise with their mad certainties and barely concealed hatreds…they feel free to make outrageous assertions about the beliefs and motives of their opponents…all it requires is a PC and a rigid belief in your own moral probity”. 

The Director of a secular pro-life group with an income of £1 million a year should know how to behave better. I may be no better than members of the “Temple Police” but at least I am doing it with my own time and money.

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Here is this year’s piece from The Catholic Herald Christmas supplement.

Merry Christmas.

 

This Christmas will be the third consecutive occasion that we have celebrated in the company of a young baby. As the mother of young children it is all too easy to get drawn into the physical narrative of the Nativity, with discussions about the shepherds, wise men and angels while neglecting the theological truth of the Incarnation and our true reason for celebration.

Contemporary culture celebrates the Christmas story in a vague, general sense, with as much emphasis upon the peripheral characters in the tale, as opposed to the infant Christ. When we are invited to consider the birth of Christ, it is purely in the sense of the “cute little baby Jesus in the manger” as opposed to Christ humbling himself by taking the form of a helpless and feeble baby: mankind in its weakest and most vulnerable form. One of the many blessings and privileges of parenthood at Christmas is that it brings the joy of the Incarnation into a much sharper focus. I cannot be the only parent who metaphorically rolls their eyes heavenwards whilst forcing a rictus grin upon hearing or singing about the immaculately behaved infant who never uttered a single cry. The idealised, cloying, mawkish stained glass image of a mute infant Christ is not reflective of the real truth of the Incarnation. A real baby will cry as it has no other way to communicate its needs and so we can be assured that, even if he did not go through the terrible twos, throwing constant temper tantrums out of anger and frustration, Jesus most certainly would have cried to indicate to his mother that he required feeding. Tending to a baby who is totally reliant upon you to meet all of its basic needs is a constant reminder of both the self-emptying – or, to use the correct theological term, kenosis – manifested in the Incarnation as well as the way in which God takes into Himself humanity’s weaknesses without losing any of his divine grandeur.

So much of the Christmas pageantry revolves around a sentimentalised image of the baby Jesus, the plastic dolly or porcelain figure in the manger. A living, breathing baby with all of its bodily functions is a welcome counterpoint. Rooting the Incarnation in the realties of life with a newborn baby is a reminder that Jesus was not some abstract figure but a real human being with inherent physical frailties and bodily needs, and yet at the same time not simply another baby, but the Redeemer of the world. Every year a priest friend of ours, affixes a cross to the cradle on Christmas Eve, in time for the arrival of the baby in the manger, as a reminder of just that.

We are not just celebrating the birth of a sweet baby in inauspicious and unusual circumstances, but the Word of God made flesh. Without Christ’s Passion and victory over death, his birth is meaningless. We cannot celebrate the cradle without celebrating the cross.

As any parent with young children will testify they are constantly changing and growing, often looking entirely different from one day to the next. Inevitably at Christmas we cast our minds back to previous years, and as I look at my toddler chasing about the house, demolishing Christmas decorations and attempting to dissect the undecorated Christmas cake it seems like only yesterday that she was a two-week-old baby fast asleep in her Santa babygro on Christmas Day. It seems incredible when I contemplate that the almost eight-month-old who has recently had a growth spurt and sprouted some teeth, this time last year had just hit the point where she could be considered viable and a person in her own right.

Very often when cradling my baby sleeping peacefully in my arms there is an awareness that this is a brief and fleeting moment in time, which only serves to make the moment more precious: it won’t be long before the baby decides that there are exciting things to discover and explore beyond the confines of my breast. A line from Shadowlands seems particularly fitting: “The happiness now is part of the pain then.” As parents, we witness and guide our children on their journey to adulthood knowing that the way will be littered with moments of great sadness as well as joy. The beautiful innocence and childhood wonderment cannot last forever and we wonder what will become of our children. As we reflect on the image of the infant Christ it is important to remember that this a snapshot in time, like a mosquito caught in amber, not the whole story or the whole person of Christ. We already know the end of the story and part of the pain of the Crucifixion is present in the happiness we feel in the lowly birth of our Saviour. We can unite our fears as parents to those of Mary, who while unaware of the terrible price that her son would need to pay for the salvation of the world, must nonetheless have been filled with trepidation as to the future,having been informed that her son was the Messiah with whatever that might entail. Simeon will shortly prophesy that “a sword will pierce your soul” and Mary’s joy must have been all the more poignant as she contemplated what must have seemed an uncertain and turbulent future for her tiny baby.

Though we must not forget that the baby is not the Jesus who will challenge us on the Day of Judgement, there is still much to be said about the contemplative gaze of love when we look upon the manger, a gaze that is echoed every time I look at my children, whether they are feeding at the breast, marauding through the house or peacefully reading or sleeping. They are yet to acquire any personal sin, and I see reflections of the perfect nature of Christ in them and experience a renewed gratefulness, not only for the gift of my children and the special blessing of a newborn baby, but also for the child of God, fully human and yet fully divine. John’s Gospel tells us of how the Word speaks creation into being, and yet here is the Word made flesh and unable to speak. Here is Emmanuel physically come to be with us in the second person of the Trinity. Here is a physical representation of how God is with us all the time, gazing upon us with reciprocal eyes of love, perhaps best summarised by the French peasant’s conversation with the Curé d’Ars: “I look at Him, and he looks at me, and we are happy together.”

The simple act of a mother fondly gazing at her child with love while reflecting on the nature of God is in itself an act of contemplative prayer. Throughout the rest of the liturgical year we are invited to listen, to engage with and to act upon the words of Christ. The Christmas celebration of the Incarnation is the perfect opportunity to take a step back to watch and to wonder, just to be with God as we contemplate His son in the form of a tiny baby. No matter how we look upon the image of the Incarnation, we remember that to gaze is to love. Our whole soul is in our gaze.

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Déjà vu

I was re-reading the piece I wrote for the Catholic Herald last Christmas and reflecting that it seems as relevant now as it did then!

For those who didn’t see it – here’s the subbed text. We did have a memorable and special Christmas, watching this year’s Rev Christmas special was a timely reminder that this short break from ministry has its advantages!

A peaceful & blessed Christmas to all – clergy families in particular. Only a few more days til it’s all over!

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Every year I am reminded that all families, perhaps unwittingly, enter into the spirit of the Advent Season, regardless of whether or not they profess a Christian faith. For most households December is a time of preparation, often of uncertainty and stress in these difficult economic times, as well as a looking forward with hope, either to the festivities of the day itself, or perhaps to a more optimistic New Year.  Regardless of whether or not most families are anticipating the Second Coming itself, the aspects of frantic preparation and anticipation certainly seem to be a feature of the twenty-first century Christmas; every year, the pressure for the ‘perfect Christmas experience’ ratchets up a notch in terms of the early appearance of festive goods in the shops and the non-stop bombardment of advertising and Christmas-themed programmes.

For my family, this Advent and Christmas will be unique in that it is the first time, that we will be truly united both in our spiritual and physical preparations and in celebrating the joy of the coming of Our Lord. Having been the Catholic wife of a Church of England priest, Christmas has previously had something of a bittersweet flavour. The compromise available to most couples of differing Christian denominations usually involves both parties attending two different Christmas services together, perhaps midnight Mass and then a service on Christmas morning itself. This option was never logistically available to us, for the last few years I have cut something of a conspicuous lonely figure, sat on my own, or with my young daughter during Mass on Christmas Morning. Clearly it was important to be able to support my husband, so usually we attended all his services on Christmas Eve, then I would go to the Mass at the Catholic Church just a few yards away from his church on Christmas morning, before joining him at the end of his service.  It was at this time, that despite being linked by the sacrament of marriage, our disunity in faith was most acutely experienced. The incompleteness of our spiritual union was thrown into physical relief, the only time we had previously been able to receive communion together, was the occasion of our nuptial Mass, Bishop Kieran having graciously granted a special dispensation. We experienced the sense of deep pain and sadness at being divided at the most sacred moment of the Eucharist on a weekly basis, but at Christmas, a time traditionally associated with the family, this was felt more sharply than ever, when the family was both physically and spiritually fragmented. However, as the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales reminded us in their 1988 teaching document, One Bread, One Body, this pain did much to highlight our brokenness, our division and acted as a spur to unity and healing, playing a not insubstantial role in my husband’s subsequent conversion to full unity with both the Church of the Apostles and his wife.

Like many others who are caught up in the whirlwind of pre-Christmas preparation, my focus was often predominantly on the practical, the making of the nativity costumes, the food shopping, the gift-buying, the Christmas card-writing, the decorating and so on and so forth. As many a clergy spouse will testify, Christmas is often unbearably hectic, one doesn’t see one’s husband for the vast majority of December and at times the rounds of lunches, Christmas fairs and carol services seem endless. In addition to being the Rector, my husband was also a School Governor and trustee of a local bereavement charity, all of which had additional Christmas services and meetings to factor in on top of the usual day-to-day business, as well as ensuring that the pastoral ministry to the sick, elderly, housebound and bereaved was not neglected. It is something of a family custom, that come Christmas Night, Robin will succumb to his annual bout of illness, following six weeks of relentless activity, including several sessions burning the midnight oil whilst sermon writing. The past two years have been particularly manic; last Christmas I was dealing with a newborn baby born in mid-November, the year preceding that, we were preparing for our forthcoming wedding on the 29th December and though both times I had attended various Advent groups conducted by my husband, it was incredibly difficult to remain spiritually focused. In previous years I had been on light girlfriend duties only! At the time of choosing our wedding date, Christmas had seemed a marvellous idea coinciding with his period of annual leave, with hindsight it was sheer folly.  I came down with a chest infection on Boxing Day, Robin passed out with perhaps the worst case of genuine flu I have ever seen mid-honeymoon. “For better for worse, in sickness and in health” was enacted sooner than we had anticipated!

This year has also been equally manic and for most of the year we have been focussed upon Robin’s conversion and the upheaval that this would entail. At the moment, we as a family are thoroughly enjoying this season of Advent, finally having the luxury to take time and slow down, to pause and reflect, to fully spiritually prepare ourselves, instead of preparing others. We feel acute parallels between ourselves and the Holy Family who have always held particular resonance for us. St Joseph the foster-father of Christ is a constant source of inspiration to Robin in his role as step-father to our eldest daughter. St Joseph unfortunately sometimes seems to be sidelined in the Nativity story, although what is clear is that like Mary, St Joseph was uniquely singled out for his role. Robin felt very much that not only was he called to the vocation of marriage with me, but just as importantly he was also called to become a father to my little girl, with whom he had fallen deeply in love. He often reflects that it was perhaps her, as much as me, that helped him to affirm his calling. The fact that St Joseph is a foster father and that he probably died before Jesus began his ministry, affirms that the often difficult and complicated family circumstances in which people find themselves, do not doom us to failure. To fail to appreciate St Joseph’s role can undermine the importance of the Christian family and thus he continues to play an important role in our Advent reflections.

Another more obvious parallel for us with the Holy Family during this season, is that of Mary’s joyful acceptance of news that could have had fatal implications for her. Since discovering on the Feast of the Assumption, that we would be expecting another child, due on Good Friday, I have looked to Our Virgin Mother several times. Like her, this news has come unexpectedly, not at a time of our choosing and has thrown our lives into disarray. I noted with alarm the words “high risk” written in my pregnancy notes and certainly this pregnancy has had severe consequences in terms of its impact on my health. At a time when we were moving house and I was commencing a three year degree, along with the usual demands of a young baby and child and supporting my husband in his quest for work, the pregnancy meant that I had to put many of my cherished plans on hold. If I am candid the acceptance was more grudging than joyful, with much to learn from the example of Mary, ‘let it be done to me according to thy will’. However, in common with both Mary and the theme of Advent, I am now indeed looking forward with hope.

Of course, I am not the only one who has had to joyfully accept a calling that has entailed great personal upheaval and suffering. Like the Holy Family in exile, we are experiencing a period of great uncertainty. We have been uprooted from our home and though we continue to enjoy the prayers, support and friendship of former parishioners, we are in a period of transition, from one place to the next, unsure of what the future may hold. My husband still discerns a calling to priestly ministry, but this is entirely in the hands of the Lord.

No matter what happens we have answered the call of the Lord in as best a way we can and so we are looking forward with hope, in common with all Christians. Robin’s conversion means, that for the first time, we really can enjoy the perfect family Christmas, united in hope, love and joy in the Eucharist and in our celebrations of the coming of our Saviour.

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Jenni Murray stated on Woman’s Hour the other day, that the Catholic Church had completed a U-turn (much like this present government on so many matters) and now supports civil partnerships, therefore it seems worthwhile to outline the current position, as I perceive it.

As stated by the Bishops’ Conference in 2003, the Church welcomes and endorses the removal of unjust or discriminatory treatment against ALL people, as a civilised society must recognise that everyone retains their human and civil rights simply by virtue of their inherent dignity as human beings.

The reasons given by the government for introducing civil partnerships were to address an existing inequality between opposite and same sex couples, but as the Bishops noted at the time, many of the provisions made in the Civil Partnership Act were unnecessary – immigration rules and tenancy rights had already been altered in order to grant same-sex couples equality under the law. The Sexual Offences Bill in 2003 also removed discrimination by gender and orientation and employment law was also advanced in order to tackle discrimination and removed any remaining prejudice in the workplace.

As the Bishops said:

 It is very much to be welcomed that in recent years, there have been many significant changes to the law to remove unjust discrimination against people on grounds of their sexuality.

Given the changes to the law and the fact that individuals could make their own private arrangements with regards to inheritance matters, the Bishops questioned whether or not there really was a pressing need for civil partnerships.

As I noted in my previous post, the Civil Partnership Act is discriminatory, in that it is only open to same-sex couples, meaning that elderly relatives or close friends are excluded. Technically speaking there is nothing to stop my aunties from entering into a civil partnership because the act of forming a civil partnership does not require any vows or official wording, the partnership is formed once the contract is signed, whereas a civil marriage must include basic vows in addition to the signing of the register.

Unlike a marriage,a  civil partnership cannot be dissolved on the grounds of either adultery or non-consummation and therefore it is clear that it is a very different structure to marriage evidenced by the fact that it is controlled by a separate piece of legislation.

In 2003, the Bishops stated that they recognised the great value of close relationships which is not to be confined to marriage or family. Whilst Church teaching is clear that sexual relationships belong exclusively within marriage, the Bishops were explicit in noting that

“the Church does not thereby reject the love or friendship between homosexual people, the bond of friendship makes someone closer to us than we are to any family member. A deep friendship is something in which we can all rejoice. A failure to acknowledge this could lead to the wrongful exclusion of someone who should be informed and involved in cases of medical emergency or funeral arrangements”.

Without wishing to reignite all the furore, I believe it is these aspects of civil partnerships for which Archbishop Nichols was expressing support, which is entirely consistent with the Bishops’ statement in 2003.

So, with that in mind, can someone like Fr Ray Blake rush out and contract a civil partnership, as he mooted the other day? The answer is, of course not. Aside from the public scandal caused by the sight of a Catholic priest pledging his troth in Brighton registry office, a civil partnership would be the source of scandal for any Catholic, because though legally a civil partnership does not require any reference to sexuality, there is an implied conjugal bond given the exclusion of close family members. In 2008, the Conservative MP Edward Leigh, attempted to put through an amendment which would remove the existing inequality and disadvantage suffered by close family members, but was defeated as the sole purpose of the civil partnership act was to grant a state-recognised union to homosexuals alone.

As Archbishop Cranmer noted at the time, the state was therefore privileging erotic love over family or platonic love.

The other difficulty for the Church with civil partnerships is that they include rights pertaining to children and are therefore framed as being an equivalent to marriage, which is certainly how they are understood, even if that is not legally the case. A civil partnership includes the ability to gain parental responsibility for a partner’s children as well as a responsibility to pay maintenance for one’s partner and their children in the event that the partnership should dissolve.

In practical terms, the Civil Partnership Act did not change much. The Adoption and Children Act passed in 2003, already allowed single people to adopt, a gay person could already adopt and assume joint responsibility together with their partner. One partner would adopt and the other would apply for a residency order. Same sex couples have had the right to adopt since 2002, three years before the Civil Partnership Act came into force.

What the Civil Partnership Act has done, is elevate civil partnerships to a legal status equivalent to marriage, hence the public confusion. The scope of the Act is too broad and the group of the people to whom it is applied is too narrow.

All Catholics naturally applaud the removal of unjust treatment and inequality, which is why we recognise that some aspects of civil partnerships are to be welcomed, solving issues of natural justice, but we reject those elements which seeks to put civil partnerships on an identical footing to marriage, in terms of rights pertaining to children. It is not right to embark on a policy of which the long-term outlook can only mean that more children are deliberately brought into this world to be deprived of a mother and father.

I saw nothing in the Archbishop’s remarks that contradicted that.

Nick Clegg has opined that marriage is a private matter. He is wrong, marriage is a public institution, outside of the Church, its success or failure has impacts on society as a whole. It is right that proposals that could harm it are given rigorous scrutiny, the same as any other public policy. It is not simply between two people, but exists for the good of children and for society.

It is Civil Partnerships which should remain an entirely private matter of arrangements between two consenting  individuals.

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Walking the walk

One of the things that I sometimes forget when blogging is the number of people who actually read this blog, which is something of a hybrid, being a bizarre mixture of the personal, polemical and political all heavily influenced by Catholic social teaching.

One lesson this week has taught me is not to write or blog in haste and I think that my previous entry may have been a little irresponsible and irrational in tone, no doubt influenced by the conflicting hormones and emotions.

This weekend was very cathartic for me for a number of reasons, not least in terms of affording plenty of precious time for spiritual reflection. Juggling motherhood, family life and undergraduate studies can sometimes mean that my prayer life is neglected. Eucharistic Adoration is nigh on impossible with a baby and toddler and so the hour I spent in the chapel at the retreat centre yesterday afternoon was a source of much needed spiritual refreshment.

This morning’s Gospel had particular resonance, “let it be done unto me according to thy will”, a reminder that all of us have to realise that the Lord’s plans for us, do not always tally with our own. Although still terrified about the prospect of giving birth and dreading the prospect of another protracted difficult pregnancy (here we go again), I am grateful for this pregnancy in a way that perhaps was lacking in my previous pregnancies. Those who are Christian will understand that I feel that it is a sign of God’s compassion and mercy not to mention an exercise in trust. Despite my best efforts, things have not gone the way that I wanted or planned them – I think the Lord is definitely trying to tell me something. I also realised that perhaps, with the most honourable of intentions, I had something of a contraceptive attitude, in that we were definitely attempting to avoid pregnancy. With that in mind however, it can’t be said that we were closed to life, in that both of us are prepared and happy to welcome a new life. I am walking the walk and thus attempting to live a life of witness.  Although I need to be careful to avoid superstition or fatalism, I am more than a little struck to discover that the day that this baby is due is the Feast of the Assumption, which is incidentally, also the day that I discovered that I was expecting Felicity, our other unplanned baby. Furthermore the day that I discovered the positive pregnancy test was the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patron of the Unborn and the pro-life movement.

Though the next months will undoubtedly prove testing, I am keeping my eye on the prize – another beautiful baby and a house full of children, who are a source of joy, happiness and the embodiment of God’s love. A baby is always a blessing. As I have always accepted the philosophical and moral argument that life begins at conception, I have never previously really taken that much notice of  how the baby is developing on either a daily, weekly or monthly basis. As I have previously admitted, I do suffer ante-natal depression, not helped by the fact that pregnancy thus far has proved such a physical strain. With 3 young children including a toddler and a baby, it is vital for me to stay both physically, psychologically and spiritually healthy, so I am resolved to make a real effort to stay strong and take comfort in any suffering.

One of the things that I think is going to help me in this, is to keep a pregnancy diary, which I think may be of interest and help to others, but I shall set up a separate page, so that those who have no interest in being put off their Weetabix with my hormonal and gynecological musings are not subjected to an irrational stream of consciousness. I think I will find it helpful to log my journey and the stages of development of the baby – others will find it interminably tedious.

Given that my last post was rather rash – it’s probably worth clarifying a few points.

  • Terrified was probably too strong a word to use for Robin’s reaction. He was infinitely more joyful and serene than I was, although he did go rather pale initially.
  • NFP or Creighton. It does work. It is 99% effective. I really don’t know what happened in my case – perhaps the baby who has occupied my womb really is the 1%, but I suspect that what has happened is some sort of user error. The whole family succumbed to a dreadful bout of gastroenteritis, so it is more than feasible that I missed just one crucial observation, or that being so ill, completely threw my system out. So many people have testified to the fact that it really has worked for them – if you look at this secular website and the advice of the NHS, you’ll see that most people who adhere to extended breastfeeding principles, do naturally manage to space their children by at least two years. It would seem that I am blessed with hyper-fertility, other women have been incredulous to discover that my fertility returns so quickly after giving birth and have questioned whether or not I really have exercised ecological or extended breast-feeding principles. The answer is yes.  I wish the baby would take a bottle, it would make my life infinitely easier. Unlike my other children, she does not go through the night yet either. I have no idea quite how I have managed to conceive, but I am going to talk through my charts with an expert who is confident that she can spot what happened, which is what we need for closure, and in order to start putting something into place to ensure that I can have a break from endless pregnancy. Most women who follow the principles I used do not have a return to fertility until 14 months postpartum. Mine returned after 3, after which point we were scrupulous.
  • As stated above, I think I am rather unusual and certainly lucky to be so fertile, many women of my age are struggling to conceive their first child, to be able to conceive so easily particularly when measures were being taken to avoid pregnancy, is unusual. I was being unfair and rather rash.
  • Nothing is 100%. No matter how careful or “safe” one thinks one is being, there is always a margin of error, no matter how tiny. I am walking the walk and dealing with the physical, emotional, practical and logistical challenges of this pregnancy which are not easy. I have no close family or friends nearby, it’s going to be tough, I mentioned my mother who, out of well-intentioned concern will have a different preferred course of action, but I am fortunate to have the support of my husband, who, on the day I discovered the pregnancy, returned home with flowers and champagne as I tweeted at the time. It will be tough, but the tumult and uncertainty of the last few years has been the absolute making of us – along with the grace of the Sacrament of marriage. This time three years ago we were excitedly making the final preparations for our wedding on December 29. Little did we think that in 3 years time, child number 4 would be on its way and that he would no longer be in ministry.

Finally, I just like to ask for the continued prayers of the Catholic and Christian blogosphere. Part of the training course I attended this weekend included a session upon how living a public life of Christian witness, can leave one open to spiritual attacks. I think one such attack has been happening recently and has been as a result of some of the online abuse, under which I would like to draw a line.

Over the past few weeks, some of the unpleasant activity has escalated. Someone set up a blog, the purpose of which seemed to be to state what a dreadful person I am, ugly on the inside and out. Someone else set up an anonymous twitter account devoted to stalking, trolling and attacking my tweets. My thanks to the Vernacular Vicar for his gallant defence and excellent post. Those who have been long-term readers might remember a post from last September,That man in a frock in Romein which I outlined why I was leaving a particular forum. Well over a year later, my blog stats have informed me that these same people still find me the source of abject fascination, as they are linking various posts to their private, password-only forum for discussion. Coincidentally, the unpleasant comments intensify on those days that my blog is linked.

The answer is of course to ignore it but it is nonetheless disconcerting to know that a group of women who dislike me intensely, because of my perceived sanctimonious nature or alleged insanity are unable to engage directly in a civilised fashion and continue to snipe behind my back. They are now well aware that when they link to this blog I can clearly see it and yet when I express my disquiet the response is that I am obviously attention-seeking, insane and thus deserving of their pity, but continue to repeatedly link to here, regardless. There can be no doubt that it is a form of bullying, from a group of women, who count schoolteachers among their number and therefore should know better. For a blogger, I am a sensitive soul and I’m still finding this very difficult to respond to and finding my feet in terms of the correct response.

It is a tiny proportion of my overall readership and is far outweighed by the overwhelmingly positive response I receive from blogging which has led to being published in print and online elsewhere and most recently to an invitation to speak at the Oxford University Catholic Society, on the subject of Catholicism and Feminism, all of which are great fruits of the Spirit.

Writing seems to be my charism. I am aware that not only do I need to use it wisely, but also that it does leave me vulnerable. I was introduced to the concept of scapegoating earlier today, which seems to be the only way I can make sense of this. The inevitable result is that little nagging voice of doubt starts telling me that I must stop writing, I must get out of the public square and leave it to other Catholics who are so much more talented than me, as evidenced by that little group who seem to have taken such exception and my reaction to them.

Satan’s clever like that. He uses our weaknesses against us. I wouldn’t be surprised if this intensifies over the next few months, so I am going  to regularly receive the sacrament of reconciliation and the power of prayer. I hold everyone who reads in prayer and give thanks for staying in theirs.

See – I knew I’d get there eventually. I just needed a little time.

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Feeling grumpy and out of sorts:

1) The zip on my much loved parka has totally jammed and looks to be beyond repair

2) Currently staying in the middle of Wales with no mobile phone signal and thus missed a call asking whether or not I could appear on Woman’s Hour tomorrow

3) My period is 5 days late, we have been abstaining for most of the month and yet there is a nagging doubt. I have so far done 3 pregnancy tests. 2 seemed negative but the last one had a very faint line. I’ve tried to upload a photo but WordPress hates me.

Make no mistake, although I was messing about re having another baby, I really do NOT need to be pregnant right now. We went to Mass this morning, Robin was quite shaken after all we have been beyond careful, we really can’t work out how this might have happened (beyond the obvious), my cycle is usually spot on, textbook 28 days, but he is reconciled, if terrified and is convinced it is a definite gift.

I am still almost exclusively breastfeeding a 7 month old who is not fussed about solids, managing a 2 year old and 7 year old whilst juggling a degree. Robin is working 12 hour shifts with periods on call 24/7, the diocese will not house us unless he is ordained. 5 of us are stuffed into a tiny chalet bungalow and seminary was delayed for a year by the diocese because of Felicity’s unexpected arrival.

I had 2 cesarians in 17 months, the last one was gruelling beyond measure and though we planned number 4, we were hoping for at least a 2 year gap to let things stabilise a little. I am phobic about birth, seriously terrified, just thought of lying on that table has me bursting into tears. 4 children, 3 under 3 with no family within 300 miles and no close friends nearby.

I can never ever talk with any credibility about NFP again and expect to be taken seriously.

Apparently Clearblue are apparently notorious for false positives so we will try a digital one if no period arrives in the next few days.

Offer one up folks. And for now, mums the word. This post is password protected. If you are reading this it is because you are trusted. My mother does not know and the last thing I need is the daily “you need to have an abortion and/or be sterilised” phone call. Nor do I need any online abuse right now.

If it is not a false alarm, life is going to be very challenging.

Update – 14 Dec

I did 2 more tests. All negative including 1 last night. Nagging doubt earlier, so I tried a digital test.

It took an age which made me think that there was obviously no hormone to detect. I was wrong. It’s come up pregnant – 1-2 weeks post conception.

I’ve taken the password off, I don’t think my mum reads the blog anyway, but there we are.

Despite exclusively breastfeeding a baby who won’t take much solids & refuses formula milk, despite abstaining until day 22 of a regular 28 day cycle (we all had the sick bug), and making sure that not only were there no fertile signs but leaving a good 4 days after the last fertile marker, I have ended up the duff again and in August sometime face my 3rd cesarian since Nov 09 and 3 children under 3.

Oh and there’s a history of multiples. I joke not.

Kids. Don’t try Creighton. It clearly does not work.

I may be liable to swear and if any commenter says I behaved like an irresponsible 16 year old for having sex with my husband during a believed period of natural infertility, there will, almost certainly be violence.

I love babies and children, I wasn’t averse to another, but not yet. I needed a break.

Still it’s a beautiful gift. Talk about dying to self.

I hold Mac Maclernon, Fr Tim Finnegan and Laurence England personally responsible. That was the day we conceived.

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