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Archive for September, 2013

The 40 Days of Choice group, set up to counter 40 days for Life, have gone into propaganda overdrive, tweeting a link to a report that women diagnosed with foetal abnormality are ‘denied surgical abortions’. Yet again, the Guardian proves its reputation as being the the soft advertiser on behalf of the abortion industry, the conference referred to was one organised and funded by BPAS and the pro-choice group ARC (ante-natal results and choices).

A woman who has never actually had to give birth to her deceased child vocalised her horror at the prospect and described how she had needed to borrow £1,000 in order to have a surgical abortion performed swiftly, instead of having to wait two weeks to see a consultant and being told that she would need to give birth naturally.

With lots of accompanying rhetoric about the politicisation of abortion and how foetal abnormality ‘forces’ women to abort, the usual frame of choice shifts from the concept of abortion, to the actual method itself. Nobody seems to be asking the question as to why these women are somehow forced, why does foetal abnormality or disability take away a woman’s agency?

The stat that less than 1% of all pregnancies are ended due to foetal abnormality is also presented, in order to convey sympathy, this is such a rare occasion, (which should tell us something about the obscene amount of abortions that are performed in the UK) surely women in this unusual situation ought to be allowed to choose, as well as take their time?

Jane Fisher of Antenatal Results and Choices points to the research that this is such a distressing time for women that they need to be able to take their time and space to chose on the abortion method that is right for them. Not that they need time and space to choose whether or not to abort, rather to choose the method.

Sadly I understand this all too well. We had an appointment at the hospital today in order to discuss the options in terms of delivering our own deceased child. The nurse could not have been more sympathetic, she checked that I understood why we were there and took her time explaining the different options to us. She also stressed that there was absolutely no hurry to make any sort of decision, we could go home, we could choose whatever option we wanted, we could change our mind at the last minute, no-one was going to pressure us at all.

I can more than understand why some women in my situation would choose surgery, it’s over very quickly, you are unconscious, you do not have to see any foetal remains and neither do you have the interminable wait to see if nature might take it course, something that could take weeks. I would not admonish any woman who chose the surgical option, however, I don’t think it’s for me, for a number of reasons, one being that there are often no remains left to bury.

But the difference for women in my situation is that tragically, our babies are already dead. I more than empathise with women having to give birth to a dead child, it’s what I am going to face over the next few weeks, but there is some comfort in knowing that there is nothing I could have done. All I can do now is see to it that he or she is given a decent burial.

For those women who are faced with the terrible situation of feeling forced into aborting a profoundly disabled child, there is for many, some form of closure in being able to hold a funeral, or bury the remains and say goodbye to their child, even if there is also a sense of dissonance.

But the most important thing is that by giving women time to make their decision, something that I would always advocate, the surgical option becomes less and less safe. So today, when we were discussing my options, it was very clear that while not being forced, I was being strongly steered towards a medical management, i.e. when pills are administered to force contractions. Surgery would not have been denied, but it was clear the consultant preferred to recommend a medical management because it was safer for me with a relatively late, missed miscarriage, which is larger than usual.

I was explicitly informed, both verbally and in writing, that surgery carries an increased risk of infection, scarring and perforation of the uterus. If I opted for a medical management, I would be given a private room with ensuite bathroom, a cannula inserted in case fluids or a blood transfusion is needed and given as much pain relief as possible. They would also issue me with the paperwork to bury or cremate the remains. A far cry from the medical abortion procedure that takes place in abortion clinics, who have been campaigning for women to be able to miscarry at home. The NHS pulled no punches, this will be emotionally and physically difficult, but they would support me through it, rather than leave me to suffer at home alone. Unlike at the clinics, Robin will be allowed accompany me the whole way through the procedure. It isn’t the narrative of period pains or slight cramping that the abortion clinics try to soft-soap women with. Former clinic worker Abby Johnson who had a medical abortion tells it like it is.

I get it, I truly understand what an ordeal it is to have to deliver a dead child, at any stage of gestation, but if surgery is the riskier option for me with a child at 10 + 5 gestation, 12 weeks into pregnancy, the risk will increase for women at a later stage – typically, abnormalities are not picked up until around 12 weeks and in many cases, not until 20, when one doesn’t have a choice in terms of abortion, you have to deliver.

It’s terrible when your 12 week scan delivers devastating news, we have been totally blindsided by what’s happened, though we’ll get through it, life seems that bit more grey, bleak, colourless. Our future does not seem quite so rosy, our precious little baby has been taken away. My body has not yet caught onto the situation as is common in this situation, and so I’m still experiencing full-blown pregnancy symptoms in a cruel twist of nature. The mind and body are at odds with each other, while I know the baby has passed away, my body is trying to fool me into thinking otherwise. I’m sick, have the erratic familiar food aversions, am growing bigger as the hormones increase the size of the sac and yet know there will be no baby at the end of the process.

I have no doubt that a diagnosis of foetal anomaly has a similar effect and my heart goes out to anyone faced with this. But where there is life there is always hope, why aren’t we asking why women in this situation are feeling forced, but instead blindly accepting the inevitability of abortion for disabled children?

As for the choice of method of termination, surely that should be wholly down to clinical factors, and what is in the best interests of a woman’s overall health, not politicised in order to do homage to the false notion that we have bodily agency?

If one were inclined to shout empty slogans, the following seems applicable:

Pro-“choice”? That’s a lie, you don’t care if women die.

As the Good Counsel Network have just pointed out the reason why 40 Days for Choice find women having to give birth to their dead child ‘disgusting’ is because that word sums up the tragic reality of abortion.

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Those who keep up with my Facebook and Twitter account will have read the news of the loss of our baby.

As I’ve frequently stated on this blog, a life of pro-life witness means walking the walk as well as talking the talk. So a few weeks ago, I confidently shared the news about my pregnancy in the pages of the Catholic press, genuinely believing that it was in women’s best interests if the taboo of early pregnancy was broken. The aim was not to compel women to share their news before they feel ready, rather to empower women who may be suffering in the early stages of pregnancy to ask for the help that they may need, especially if they are experiencing a crisis pregnancy.

The flipside of that means that women who suffer an early loss also then have to make that public, which is the hard part. Because frankly I don’t feel like sharing my grief or raw emotions with the world and every single message of condolence, hammers home the hurt and loss. We have the consolation of Christian hope, we know that the baby is without sin, we trust in the mercy of God and yet still there is terrible pain and a lot of tears.

I also feel like a prize wally for naively thinking that just because I was pregnant, I would definitely be carrying a baby to term. Not to mention terrified of the usual trolls. Shortly after announcing my pregnancy, one woman tweeted some dreadful stuff in response, namely that I was making things up, that the most ‘natural thing in the world would be for me to announce a miscarriage’, followed up by a stream of (later deleted) musings about an obviously mentally ill woman in America who had simulated pregnancy for 7 months,  with links to the story as well as a site where one could buy a prosthetic stomach.

I have no need to prove anything, I’m not tweeting the scan photograph which will probably be all that we have to remind us of our baby, it’s too private, too personal, I don’t want to share him or her with the world.

The day began so auspiciously. We’ve had a friend staying with us for a few nights so they could attend the Labour conference events, after a few nights up late drinking red wine and chewing the Catholic fat, I woke up this morning and managed to finish an extra long Universe column dealing with last week’s papal interview. Feeing particularly smug at having submitted a piece early, I then nipped next door to pick up a parcel containing my copy of the new Father Robert Barron series on DVD, together with associated study material. Part of my excitement was that due to wholly chance encounter last year, it appears from the trailer that I make an appearance in the film, when they followed me across London to film a radio segment at the now defunct Bush House.

After a lovely lunch at a restaurant in the late summer sunshine overlooking the sea with Robin, the children and our friend, I skipped off excitedly for the scan at the Royal Sussex at 4pm. This was the first one of our baby’s ultrasounds that I had been to on my own, the time of the appointment meant that it would be impossible to do the school run and besides which, Robin needed to look after the children, as the unit is keen to discourage young babies and toddlers from attending.

As I bustled my way through throngs of frighteningly young-looking delegates at the Labour conference, clutching my plastic Bounty wallet containing pregnancy notes and with the hint of a protruding belly, I smiled benignly at various familiar faces.  Suddenly a bumptious young man asked me whether or not I fancied catching Ed’s speech with him followed by a bite to eat. ‘Sorry, I’ve got a pregnancy scan appointment”, I sniggered. Bounding up the steep hill towards the hospital, I giggled at his presumption and mused that despite having greasy hair, not a scrap of make-up, manky toe-nails caught unaware of the unexpected turn of weather and wearing a scruffy Mothercare top that was probably about 10 years old, and not far off the dreaded 4-0, obviously I still ‘had it’. Either that or more likely he’d had too much at lunchtime and was clearly blind! I mused as to whether or not certain feminists would quote this as an example of Labour misogynist sexism and that the conference was obviously a hotbed of dastardly sexual predators!

But all in all, life was good, though still sick, the worst part of the pregnancy was behind me, I’d just entered into the blissful second trimester, was feeling like I was beginning to glow, things were coming together for us as a family and soon there would be a snuggly new baby whom we were looking forward to. Just before arriving at the hospital I realised that I didn’t have any cash with which to pay for the scan pictures, something that I’ve always considered a cynical piece of exploitation and stopped at a cash machine, which proceeded to fail, meaning that I then had to waste precious minutes queuing at the next one, whilst muttering under my breath and worrying that I would be late.

Running into ultrasound reception, at 4.05 pm, the velociraptor on the desk snapped at me that I had just made it and ushered me through. Just as I was fiddling with the change machine, I was called into the sonography room, whereupon I panicked that I didn’t have the right amount of change for the photograph and they assured me that they could give me some. Lying down on the couch, I settled into the familiar routine, unbuttoning jeans, feeling the cold jelly on my stomach and enjoying the cool air-conditioning blasting onto me, by contrast with the scorching heat outside. ‘There’s your little one’ said the sonographer, putting the scanner on my belly. I was too busy marvelling at the little hands and feet, noticing that the baby seemed to be lying in the perfect transverse position for a photo and wondering whether or not I could spy a willy, or was it the umbilical cord, to realise the uncharacteristic silence.

“Sorry, there’s no heartbeat” came a voice, completely out of the blue. It was a bolt from the blue, it had never occurred to me to be concerned that the baby might have died. I’m still sick, growing larger and have had no indications that anything might be wrong. The primary purpose of the scan as far as I was concerned was to check on the size of the baby and due date. I am the fertile baby-maker,  I am Mrs Fecund, the person who falls pregnant at the drop of a hat, who goes on to produce healthy  babies, nothing else was on my radar. Besides at 12 weeks plus 2, I was out of the danger-zone surely?

The staff were exceptionally kind.  They volunteered to remove my pregnancy notes, provided tissues, left the room while I called Robin and made sure that I could get home safely. They also didn’t charge me for the photo, and didn’t think I was macabre for asking for one. They called for someone else to come and confirm the diagnosis, there was a brief flicker of hope when she thought she might have seen something, but no it was bone, the baby died approximately a week and a half ago at 10 weeks and 5 days. Apparently there is a lot of fluid, an indication that there could be chromosomal problems, and according to the sonographer the baby ‘didn’t look right’. They didn’t elaborate and neither did I want to know. The sac has continued to grow, but not the baby.

I don’t really know what happens next and it’s better that I don’t speculate, although I’ve read through the leaflet. The priority now is attempting to ensure that the baby is not treated like another piece of hospital waste, but if possible given some sort of funeral. I’ve a job interview tomorrow to take my mind off things and a further appointment on Thursday to discuss possible options. I don’t want to contemplate what lies ahead.

I said at the beginning being pro-life means walking the walk. Being open to life entails the heartbreak that can accompany that, a few weeks ago someone was telling me about how they suddenly understood the sorrows of Mary and that’s something that I can now sharply identify with.

Looking at my twitter feed earlier, I saw the pro-choice protestors out in force at the start of 40 days for life outside the Stratford clinic and felt a jolt of sharp anger that these women were campaigning for their right to kill their babies whilst mine is dead. Certain pro-lifers don’t get off  lightly either. Quite frankly if I saw a photo of a dead or dismembered foetus in my sightline right now, knowing what could be in store for my baby, I’d struggle to restrain my anger.

I look at my four beautiful girls and am grateful that they are safe and well, but that doesn’t somehow magically alleviate the sadness that one of our babies has died. We are just so immeasurably sad that this little one didn’t get the same chance.

On the print-out I’ve been given to take with me on Thursday it says “missed miscarriage”, but somehow that noun seems inadequate. It wasn’t the passive of a verb, but a human being whose life has come to an end and who was and is and will always be loved and whose loss we miss keenly.

RIP little baby. Thank you so much everyone for the prayers, intentions and Masses offered, which are sustaining us.

In the words of the children’s favourite American pachyderm:

A person’s a person no matter how small. 

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Allison Pearson has written a thought-provoking piece about the burka debate in her Daily Telegraph column. I disagree with her, on grounds of both libertarianism and religious freedom, however she raises an interesting issue, quoting Sarah Wollaston’s tweet that the burka won’t be banned because too many politicians will hide behind the guise of freedom.

I’ve already written about this issue for this week’s Universe column, so I don’t intend to re-hash the arguments, but this point about creeping oppression dressed up as freedom of choice seems far more salient when it comes to the subject of abortion.

Arguably abortion is infinitely more oppressive than whether or not a woman is being coerced into wearing a piece of clothing or even prevented from certain activities (by the way Muslim women are not forbidden from swimming, specialised swimwear is available) because the way it is promoted and encouraged by society, automatically presents women with a choice, which is not a good in itself. Choice is not a value that we should put above all others. There is nothing to be ashamed about being labelled ‘anti-choice’ when one considers what the nature of that actual choice is, namely the decision to end the life of another human being.

But like it or not, despite the fact that the UK’s legal framework is designed for the protection of unborn life, every single pregnant woman is now forced into the position where she has to consider and indeed medically affirm whether or not she wishes to carry her unborn child to term and give birth to them. This then presents a whole new set of dilemmas and pressures, such as does a woman have the ‘perfect’ or ‘ideal’ set up to have her baby and if not, is she being responsible or even fair to unborn child to allow it to live?

When we consider that abortion on the grounds of sex seems to be allowed to go unpunished, in the name of reproductive choice, is this really freedom or oppression dressed up in the name of choice? Given that girls and disabled children are the main victims of freedom of choice, how can we claim this as liberating? What is free about a society in which children are not given the basic right to life, on the grounds that their sex or physical disability is seen as an inconvenience?

Equality is not achieved by banning a piece of clothing, but changing prevailing attitudes which leads to thinking that certain sections of society are second or third-class citizens. If we want to tackle perceived unfairness we should start with the fundamental principle that every unborn child deserves protection, regardless of the circumstances of their birth, their sex or their physical ability. Anything else is oppression, for mother and child alike, even if it is marketed and sold in the name of choice.

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Having written both a blogpost and a feature for the Catholic press on the subject of Fr Ray and his misrepresentation in the mainstream media, I don’t want to over-egg the pudding on this issue, nonetheless the whole affair has thrown up cause for further concern.

When posting the text of my Universe article earlier, I was searching for a flattering image of Father Ray online and found what I thought was a nice photo taken of him in the pews of St Mary Magdalen church. After clicking on the image, I saw that it was copyrighted by the Brighton Argus and lo and behold, linked to yet another misleading article based on the contents of his blog, in which it was claimed that Fr Ray was denouncing the traditional foot-washing on Maundy Thursday as ‘sinful.’

The piece was not penned by Bill Gardner, but in common with his recent feature, it did not link to the original post and gave a false impression that Fr Ray was condemning the practice of foot-washing, whereas Fr Ray once again with typical humility and frankness, described how it was an occasion of sin for him. Read in context, the post was moving and challenging in equal measure, Father’s concern for the homeless is almost palpable, far from de-humanising them as undesirable objects, he wondered whether previously he had unconsciously not treated people with the dignity and respect that they deserve, but rather as a quantity to be exploited.

With all the brouhaha surrounding the election of Pope Francis during Easter week, this didn’t get picked up by the nationals, but it did of course attract the usual anti-Catholic sentiment in the comment section and once again chipped away at the reputation of Fr Ray.

When the most recent story broke, I took at look at the Twitter stream of Bill Gardner, who despite being a local journalist hadn’t previously registered on my radar, even though I do use Twitter to keep up with other local journalists and politicians.

What I found was a little disturbing. On the one hand Bill Gardner is a lively, engaging and clearly very ambitious local journalist who is obviously trying to build his career in the profession, probably in tabloids. He is able to sniff out a good story and put quite a sensationalist spin on events, which is a pre-requisite for any budding journalist. Headlines and features need to instantly attract attention and it’s something that the Brighton Argus seems to have perfected down to a fine art, I am often struck by seemingly fantastic or scandalous local headlines on the sandwich boards outside the newsagents as I walk to school.

Newspapers and journalists are frequently and I think unfairly, described by the commentariat as “trolls” themselves, in that they publish deliberately controversial articles and headlines to attract interest. The internet may have made print and on-line media more cut-throat, but publishing sensational stories and photos to attract readers is not a new feature of the press. Back in the ’80s and ’90s an exclusive photograph of Princess Diana on the front page did wonders for that day’s circulation. The overriding memory I have of my A Level results day is of my mother waking up at crack of dawn to sneak to the post-office lest anyone local might catch her buying a copy of the Daily Mirror, but she was dying to view the photos of Sarah Ferguson having her toes sucked by the Texan millionaire, before they sold out!

So I am not going to criticise either Bill Gardner or the Brighton Argus for wanting to boost readership or interest, nor do I think we should take heed of the many comments I found on Bill Gardner’s feed criticising him for being a ‘troll’ himself following his appearance on ITV’s Monday night show about internet bullying. The Argus have run a good campaign highlighting the effects of online bullying and how ineffectual the police response is to this, therefore it is highly ironic that one of their journalists seems to be engaging in that very activity. Bill Gardner is not a troll, he’s a journalist attempting to further his career, but his methods are unethical. By all means report a story, but do so fairly, accurately and without bias or attempting to mislead the reader or incite hate upon a particular target.

I don’t want to make this a personal attack on Bill Gardner, his feed reflects an obvious left-wing and socially liberal bias, which he is more than entitled to hold, he does seem to care passionately about issues of social justice. I note he spent an afternoon with the police anti-begging squad, whose aims he seemed to sympathetically report, which makes me wonder why he attacked Fr Ray over his perceived attitude, but he does evidently possess some morals, not to mention charisma and has unashamedly and unapologetically borne the storm of criticism from Catholics. Perhaps living in Brighton has given him more front than Blackpool?

But here’s what I think is the crux of the attitude. One thing that is apparent from his Twitter feed is that in common with many of Brighton’s residents, Bill Gardner is a supporter of ‘equal marriage’.

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Frank exchange of views there, nothing for anyone to get upset about. Except it might then explain Mr Gardner’s reaction to Fr Ray’s wholly reasonable comments in response to being rung up and asked about a recent Brighton Bridal Bondage Fair.

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Here’s the piece, despite the hyperbole, I’m not sensing the ‘outrage’, Fr Ray’s comments seem measured enough and indeed the organiser of the event explicitly says that she agrees with much of what he has to say. I can’t quite see what there is to get excited about in the following quote.

“Sexual fantasies belong in the bedroom, not at the wedding altar.

“Marriage is ultimately about building a stable environment for the procreation of children.

“It’s supposed to be about partnership, but this event seems to be designed for the fulfilment of individuals.

“From a Catholic point of view, marriage is sacred and I think dressing up in fantasy outfits risks damaging that.”

I suspect however the key sentence that provoked a reaction is the one with regards to the purpose of marriage being about creating a stable environment for children, given Bill Gardner had previously publicly baulked at similar sentiments.

It might explain why Bill Gardner seems to then go on a bit of a crusade, dredging his blog to find what other ‘damaging’ or ‘scandalous’ quotes or stories could be attributed to Fr Ray. Or maybe I’m being unfair and it was a slow news day, but the timing of the next piece, reporting Fr Ray’s purported disdainful attitude to the poor and homeless is interesting, coming as it did, the following day. I think one can definitely conclude that Fr Ray’s blog was being trawled on an offence-finding mission and may explain why a blogpost that was over a month old was seized upon.

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No need to re-hash the piece or the response to it, but it has been the source of great pain to Fr Ray. For those who may claim that no publicity is bad publicity and that overall it’s done him good, I would point to the response of my mother, who rang me up to ask me all about the affair, presuming we would know the priest, she and her Catholic neighbour (in extremely good standing) having been scandalised and appalled by what they had seen, although they had noted that the Telegraph was more balanced in their coverage.

The Catholic blogosphere is a specialised niche, there will have been many people who were therefore given a one-sided view of the story which is why it was important that the Catholic press could provide a balance.

In the meantime, the following set of tweets from Bill Gardner, definitely seems to be inviting ill-will, contempt and scorn upon Fr Ray and the Catholic Church by association and could be perceived as bullying.

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Fr Ray has been caused a lot of distress, but fortunately he also knows that he enjoys the support of his parishioners, his blog readers and his Bishop has described the piece as “mischief”.

The problem is that the “mischief” on behalf the Brighton Argus, does not seem to be an isolated case, that’s three stories that have misrepresented him in the last six months. I’m loath to accuse the Argus of outright anti-Catholicism, more likely his views on same-sex marriage, have made him a target for criticism in a city that likes to pride itself on its ‘progressive’ and ‘liberal’ credentials. Being a local priest, Fr Ray’s blog provides a rich and steady stream of local outrage to boost circulation and hit rates, especially when there might be a slow news day. Nothing that Fr Ray actually says is any more controversial than anything that any other priest blogger has come out with, it’s just that he is Brighton’s very own ‘outrageous celebrity priest blogger’. What is concerning is the one-sided and inaccurate way in which the Argus has presented him of late, which has sought to turn him into a local comedic hate figure, who hates the smelly poor and holds the obligatory ‘bigoted’ view of the LGBT community. Brighton’s very own Fred Phelps if you will.

A complaint to the PCC certainly seems to be in order as does boycotting the Argus as well as their advertisers and informing them why, until Fr Ray receives a formal apology at the very least.

As a final point, it might be worth noting that in his haste to get the story, Bill Gardner and the Argus, have made previous mistakes and errors. It could be claimed that lifting and distorting quotes from blogs, is something in which they have previous form.

Happy to clarify for an important MP

Happy to clarify for an important MP

This tweeter faced a minor twitter storm as a result of misattributed tweets in the paper

This tweeter faced a minor twitter storm as a result of misattributed tweets in the paper

Sounds a bit familiar

Sounds a bit familiar

Trawling local blogs for titbits that can be distorted into a scandalous feature is quite the opposite innovative or go-getting journalism, it’s indicative of laziness and lack of inspiration. If you are going to do it, then at least have the decency to quote in context or do some background on your target.

Trouble is all this enhances Bill Gardner’s reputation as an edgy journalist, he’ll love the controversy, whereas the constant attacks on Fr Ray, could do his important ministry irreparable damage.

It’s all tomorrow’s fish and chip paper, or at least it would be were it not for the permanent nature of the Internet, but following three concurrent occasions of blatant misrepresentation, enough is enough.

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Taken from the Catholic Universe – 15 September 2013

Chris Huhne

Lying – of no great import to the man who cheated on his wife

Chris Huhne, the disgraced former government minister who resigned following his conviction and subsequent jail sentence for perverting the course of justice over persuading his ex-wife to accept penalty points that he had incurred, came out with an astonishingly frank statement this week. Under pressure from the perennially brutal Jeremy Paxman with regards to his blatant and repeated public lies, he defended himself as follows:

 “Anyone who tells you that they have never told a lie is lying, the reality that white lies, small lies help in certain circumstances and avoid you hurting other people’s feelings.”

I was torn between amusement at the delicious irony of a former politician’s impassioned and honest defence of untruths and an instinctive horror, recoiling at the notion that lies, no matter how small, can ever be anything other than pernicious.

Lying, in the context alluded to by Chris Huhne, can never be justified because its purpose is always to mislead and to put it in theological and philosophical terms, lying goes against the God-given purpose of speech, namely to assert a truth about reality in order to communicate or convey the concepts in one’s mind. St Thomas Aquinas therefore describes lying as ‘a statement at variance with the mind’ and the Catechism reminds us that it is a sin because ‘to lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error’.

Though Chris Huhne may be correct in observing that most of us will at some point have told an untruth, as human beings we are called to rise above the lowest common denominator. The actions or thoughts of the majority determine neither truth or even morality, which is the main flaw in any democratic system. That many people might have told a lie, does not render the action acceptable. The only person whom lies can ever benefit is the person uttering them, even if they believe that they are doing so with good reason, such as to spare the feeling of another, or for the greater good, but the ends never justify the means.

 It can be argued that in a few limited contexts we do not expect to hear the truth from another and not every literal falsehood is a lie. For example when someone asks ‘how are you?’ the response ‘fine thanks’ is a general pleasantry and not an attempt to deceive, but we’ve reached a pretty poor and dangerous state of affairs, if our cynicism to politicians is such that we always expect to hear untruths and thus they are therefore justified in misleading us.

Perhaps most disturbing is that Mr Huhne’s public apologia for lying seems to have been largely unremarked upon in the mainstream press, indicating that most of our political and media commentators are in agreement with him. A society that condones, accepts and even expects lies is one that is in grave danger and on a personal level, even the tiniest of lies can often spiral into tangled knots of deceit, angst and despair.

On the other side of the coin, this week has also seen Fr Ray Blake, a priest local to me in Brighton, slammed and vilified by the press both nationally and internationally for a searingly honest blogpost in which using the very same language as Pope Francis, he described the poor and homeless of his parish, which is right in the heart of the city and attracts many addicts, as ‘messy’.

 In a shameless misrepresentation of his original post, which was a theological reflection upon how we are called to treat the outcasts in society, a local journalist, who was seemingly already irritated by Fr Ray’s thoughts on marriage and looking for controversy, picked up on a recent article in which the priest had expressed the very specific challenges posed by the homeless with stark candour, describing how he has to clean up blood, excrement and used needles on a daily basis.

Far from attacking the poor as widely reported, Fr Blake was in fact reflecting upon his own shortcomings; the homeless challenge him he said, they shake him out of his complacency, he doesn’t always find the mess and chaos easy to deal with, but this is no bad thing, and reflects the message of the Gospels. We are not called to live comfortable lives of compromise, but to roll our sleeves up and get our hands dirty, which Fr Ray and his parish team do, with a soup distribution apostolate that runs 365 days a year.

 Rather than patronising the homeless, with a dewy-eyed romantic view, Fr Ray Blake expounded the issues surrounding their care with his typical mixture of forthrightness and compassion. To pretend that issues related to homelessness such as addiction and crime do not exist, does the very people in need of help a huge disservice. One can only assume that his words pricked too many consciences.

While Fr Ray Blake is now contemplating closing his blog as a result of the unfair press coverage surrounding his brave honesty, Chris Huhne is now reviving his career  as a journalist and commentator, off the back of being a convicted liar.

I wonder what the avowed atheist George Orwell would make of the fact that in 2013, a Catholic priest would prove his maxim, “in a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act”.

Telling an uncomfortable truth

Telling an uncomfortable truth

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Taken from the Catholic Universe – 8 September 2013

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The row over faith schools has been reignited this week following the British Humanist Association’s successful challenge to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator with regards to the entry criteria for the London Oratory in Fulham, one of the UK’s leading Catholic Schools.

Under its current admissions policies, one of the criteria under which children are prioritised is that of ‘service’ by a child or their parent within a Catholic church or community over at least three years, which could include singing in the choir, being on the flower-arranging rota or some kind of church based voluntary work. The Oratory had argued that this is a religious activity in accordance with canon law, however the adjudicator disagreed, stating that the criterion meant parents who wanted a place for their children would need to start planning three or four years in advance of their child’s admission. This apparently would favour those who were sufficiently well-organised and that it therefore excluded more chaotic and presumably more disadvantaged families.  It is apparently unfair that parents should be need to be thinking about school admissions four years ahead of actually requiring a place.

Firstly, one has to question what right the British Humanist Association has to challenge and interfere with the admissions criteria of Catholic schools, to whom they are vehemently opposed. This was little more than a thinly veiled and intolerant attack upon the rights of parents to be able to give their children an education of their choosing.

What the British Humanist Association and other secular lobby groups fail to grasp, is that though all faith schools enjoy state funding, they are also funded by the Church itself, which currently contributes around £20 million a year towards the capital costs of her schools in England and Wales. It is therefore only right and proper that schools should be able to maintain a Catholic ethos, part of which must include reserving the majority of its places for children from the Catholic community, for whom they were established to serve.

In most Catholic schools, the proportion of non-Catholic students is actually much higher than the government’s stipulated 15%, the proportion of Catholic students is around 75% in England, 65% in Wales, meaning that the non-Catholic students number around a third of the total intake, more than double the official requirements, but obviously there are also some schools, such as the Oratory, who are hugely over-subscribed, which is where difficulty arises.

The Catholic Education Service is opposed to admissions criteria such as those of the Oratory, because as the schools’ adjudicator says, it can disadvantage those of a lower social status or those families where both parents work, making it difficult for them to be involved in parish work, meaning that the Catholic Church falls short in her duty to provide education for the entire Catholic population.

I confess to having very mixed feelings on the topic, speaking in the position of someone who will shortly be applying to our over-subscribed local Catholic primary for a place for our daughter next year. The demands of 4 young children, 2 of whom are little more than babies, does admittedly make it extremely difficult to get involved in various parish activities, reading at Mass for example, would be impossible. Were my husband working long hours as a layman, as he did in the period between being an Anglican clergyman and attending seminary, it would be a Herculean task. But that said, despite working long and irregular shift patterns, he still did what he could. Not because we had an eye on school admissions, (our local school doesn’t require any service element) but because as Catholics we felt obligated to contribute to our community in some way.

The thinking on school admissions seems to emanate from cynicism. Most people do not get involved in parish work due to some ulterior motive, but because they generously want to give of their time and energy and be involved in the work of the Kingdom.

We have to remember that Catholic schools are not solely about imparting a first-class academic education, but also raising our children in the habits of the faith, teaching them first and foremost about their vocation as Christians. Therefore it should be hoped that most Catholic parents are already somehow involved in their local community, even if their commitment can only extend to baking cakes for the parish fair, or occasionally helping out on an ad-hoc basis as required.

Catholic schools are rightly disbarred from probing into the Catholicity of parents, but we all know of cases where parents have turned up solely for the required period of time to enable the priest to sign the school form in good conscience, never to be seen again once the child has started school. It therefore feels innately unfair that parents who have been local parish stalwarts for a period of time, could well miss out as a result of such opportunism. The requirement for service certainly overcomes this particular issue.

Ultimately however, whilst we continue to have over-subscribed Catholic schools, there can be no perfect system, frequent Mass attendance or parish service being imperfect ways of selecting pupils, as they both rule out recent converts or those who may have only just moved to a particular area.

The great injustice of the British education system is that effectively it is only those with the cash to pay for private schools or to move into the right catchment area, or those with faith who are able to access a good education. Catholic schools are regularly applauded as being excellent models of education by the education watchdogs. What we need is more of them, so that places are available, not only for every baptised Catholic to receive the education that is their right, but also for anyone else of whatever religion who feels that a Catholic formation could be of benefit to their child.

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