A bitter irony

Yesterday, after two years of a prolonged smear and abuse campaign I took the decision to finally delete my Twitter account.

Social media plays a big part in my online life, it is an extremely useful tool in many respects, I use to keep up with the latest news, views and developments, both in terms of the world at large and the more niche Catholic community. It helps me in terms of formulating column ideas, as well as providing a useful medium in which I can disseminate my views and contribute to a wider debate.

I have always commented under my own name in order not to be summarily dismissed as a faceless troll – such is the disbelief expressed by those encountering an orthodox Catholic mindset for the first time, the instinctive reaction is that the commentator must simply be trying to provoke a strong reaction.

My hope in using social media was to present an image of an ordinary faithful Catholic woman, a wife and mother, not some theological genius, but to demonstrate that loving God and leading a happy and fulfilled life were not mutually exclusive, but that the latter would automatically flow from the former. I also wanted to dispel the dour image of orthodox Catholicism; when I first started commenting from a Catholic position online, some people equated my lifestyle to that of a joyless puritan or membership of a bizarre cult. It was assumed that I didn’t drink, wouldn’t appreciate bawdy humour, wore shapeless floral dresses obliterating any hint of feminity and subjected my children to hours of forced bible study and corporal punishment.

As people got to know me, the dissonance grew, they couldn’t reconcile the picture of an outwardly normal woman with beautiful children, with the crazed extremist bigot of their imagination so instead picked on my weaknesses or any perceived flaw to pull me to pieces and indulge in character assassination, build up a different monster, in order to de-humanise and dismiss anything I had to say.  Had I been of an unprepossessing appearance, their job would have been made a lot easier. We shouldn’t fool ourselves that we are any different to the Victorians, most people prefer their monsters to manifest repellent physical characteristics and I guess that’s why a lot of the abuse that’s come my way from the odd alliance of self-professed Catholics and a particularly bitchy gay man, has focused on my appearance, with the Iggy Pop jibe, or the gay man happily preening that his hair is natural whereas my is “rank, dyed” and my face is “chubby and tangoed”. We see the similar phenomenon with the demonisation of ‘chavs’, with the uniform of Burberry and excessive weight or dull appearance being symptomatic of a perceived moral failure.

In a damning indictment of twenty-first century attitudes towards mental health, I’ve been horrified and amused in equal measure to note unqualified people whom I’ve never met diagnosing complex psychological disorders from which I allegedly suffer in order to qualify their disdain.

It seems that I can do nothing to avoid the false accusations and spite. Back in February 2012, a gay man invited  a huge Twitter storm my way after doing the passive aggressive trick of using a full stop before my handle, misrepresenting my stance on homosexuality and gay marriage to all of his four thousand followers. The level of abuse was like nothing I have ever seen.

Since then, he has not stopped. He monitors my feed on a daily basis, when I had a locked private account for personal use with friends only, he complained about it and trolled responses, despite having a similar account himself, he engaged in baiting and accusations about my alleged sock-puppetry, insinuating that I was this blogger and tweeter, used this as justification to out and taunt me about my former bar job (information which he would have only got from a third party), made tweets which I perceived as threatening, asking to see copies of personal messages that I had allegedly sent, saying that many people would like to see ‘those from Miss Holier than Thou’, mocked my pregnancy with his friends describing it as breeding like rabbits, a pun on the tweeters username and a nasty slur,(I lost the baby) my mental health and my appearance. He took issue at two tweets that I had made in January to someone else (he had been blocked) screenshotted them and sent them out to all his followers out of context stating that they were all about him, inciting yet more abuse my way. He mentions my handle and my name, then sneakily swiftly deletes tweets to deny his actions. I have a screenshot of him admitting to deleting his tweets because he “wouldn’t put it past her to allege harassment”.

Back in August he sent me a nonsensical self-aggrandising email about how I ought to apologise to him for talking about him, (I hadn’t, although I had expressed regret if he had felt hurt as a result of reading my feed) copied it to a professional associate whom he believed to be sensible and said that if I did not apologise he would write a blog expose about me. He tends to write many of these blogs about those whom he doesn’t like. This threat has been repeated again this week “I shall write a blog about this good Catholic wife and mother”, if accounts he doesn’t like mention him or upset his friends.

This guy has engaged in discussions about my abortion and whether or not I was culpable and the level of guilt I must be carrying around, he has discussed whether or not I am still excommunicated, whether or not my marriage is still valid and my children illegitimate as well as made several hurtful remarks about my appearance and accused me of child neglect. Using his locked account he has disrupted conversations, meaning people suddenly tail off accusing me of homophobia. On checking what prompted a discussion about abortion to descend into vituperative insults about homophobia and hopes that I have sex dreams about orange-haired lesbians, it seemed that his locked account interjected into a conversation I was having that had nothing to do with him. In addition in the past few weeks he’s used my handle (despite being blocked) to misrepresent my position on vaccination and complain vociferously about a re-tweet he didn’t like, got his followers to express hideous sentiments to me and then launched into a character assassination about what an evil person I am and how everyone knows about my online activities and how I am hated. In a discussion with another Catholic about a wholly unrelated topic, he couldn’t resist getting in my handle, blaming me for the conversation, before being reminded by a third party that they had initiated the thread.

It’s telling that any abuse that comes my way always seems to be as a result of this tweeter and yet in an act of sheer projection anyone such as Eccles who may pick him up on his behaviour or abuse is deemed to be my doing.

He’s been joined in this endeavour by another woman who has relentlessly spent since July engaged in an activity that can only be described as vampiric, feeding off my timeline on a daily basis, using my handle, my name and commenting in depth on every aspect of my life, right down from her opinion on my pregnancy to whether or not we ought to get a new puppy. By her own admission she regularly  screenshots my tweets in order to keep them for her records, so she can prove what a malevolent character she believes me to be.

I locked my account in order to deprive these people of their source of obsessive stimulation and to give myself some peace only to find that those who interact with me are also subject to attack.

Over the past two years I have been accused on no evidence of repeatedly being behind several anonymous accounts and told to prove my innocence and that my reaction “can you tell me why you believe this and provide some proof”, is abnormal. I have had one manic poster engage in a three week Twitter spree in which she posted manic stream of consciousness rants and blogposts and who still two years later, has convinced herself that I was part of a huge conspiracy with “The Left” (consisting of Helen Lewis, Owen Jones, Sunny Hundal, Ellie Mae O’Hagan, Medhi Hasan and errr, Toby Young) to smear her and deliberately endanger her daughter. She sent streams of emails to professional associates and wrote blogposts insinuating that I was seriously mentally unstable and a danger to my children. The police described her activity as alarming but felt that it was not in the public interest to prosecute. Other lawyers felt differently but one cannot force the CPS and being exhausted and heavily pregnant, suffering from pre-ecclampsia, I wanted to minimise the stress. Subsequent to being given a platform as a Telegraph blogger, she has deleted many of these fantasies, so at least there have been some small graces, but the idea that I would deliberately conspire to threaten or cause harm to a small child is extremely hurtful.

She has been joined by a ragtag coalition of people who dislike me for one reason or another, be it professional jealousy or dislike of my views and they have done their best to spread poison and undermine my personal and professional reputation, with  letters  written in green ink to as many people as possible, together with libellous, malicious and spiteful tweets, which has intensified as they’ve realised that they are not gaining any traction.

In recent months, I have been trolled and abused once again while pregnant, threatened (the threat was followed up) by complaint letters if I did not tweet disassociations from accounts that others did not like, been parodied in a blogpost by a deacon in Holy Orders, been too frightened to attend a Catholic bloggers’ Guild meeting that I desperately wanted to go to due to intimidatory tactics, all whilst pregnant and recovering from the loss of a baby. The threats came the weekend that we were preparing to bury our baby, my miscarriage described as an excuse. In addition I’ve had my maiden and former married name outed on the internet (information that would have need to have been obtained by paying the records office) and had my personal life outed and picked over in excruciating detail while being subject to libel on a daily basis. There have also been many false accounts, including one which took a personal photograph of me breastfeeding one of my children, which made reference to my abortion and previous marriage and used that as evidence of what a terrible Catholic woman I was. Whoever was responsible for it obviously had a good grasp of grammar and language and experience of setting up false accounts, but very poor knowledge of Catholic theology.

Even deleting my account has prompted speculation that I have been ordered off the internet by my bishop (to whom I am not answerable) or other agencies as the extent of my online activities has become known. This is incorrect, I took the decision yesterday afternoon, after yet another morning of accusations and responsibility for an Eccles blogpost being laid at my door.  It is being crowed about that no-one is sticking up for me or mentioning that I have been bullied off the internet. The reason being that none of my friends want to give these people the satisfaction and were hoping that I might come back.

Once again, I have never ever commented or engaged on the internet using any other name than my own. For the terminally hard of understanding, I am not Eccles or anyone else.

But it’s clear that the bullies will not leave me alone to use social media, either to interact with my friends, for work purposes or most importantly the New Evangelisation.

It’s impossible for me to be able to use social media without daily libels, abuse and harassment all stemming from the same group of people. The police tell me that my only option is to sue for defamation, they have expressed sympathy with the huge amount of undisputed trolling and harassment from the same few people, but said that as a semi-public figure I need to expect it.

It’s easy when it comes from random strangers, but when targeted personal abuse that tries to poison and undermine friendships, it makes social media an untenable and poisonous source, as well as risking my equilibrium. Two years of knowing that one is being stalked, that everything is being screenshotted and saved, just in case it can be used to undermine our family in some way, two years of being built up into some sort of two dimensional cartoon monster, of being accused of deeds of which I am wholly innocent, of being called a psychopath, of being called ugly, of attempts to interfere in my work, of any upset being laughed at, of being called “professional victim and martyr” disparagingly when I complain is enough. When I was pregnant, one of these people posted that I was too vain to take the correct medication for their diagnosis of  ‘schizophrenia’ and various alternative meds were suggested which wouldn’t make me put on weight. It was claimed that I was faking pregnancy and sites were linked to with fake bumps. When my husband was putting the baby’s tiny body in the casket, threatening letters were being sent because someone didn’t like an online video that I posted of my daughter singing the Salve Regina. I was described as a ‘dangerous pyschopath’ and the Catholic equivalent of Katie Hopkins. All for posting a video of my 9 year old singing a traditional Catholic chant using a sock puppet like a ventriloquist’s dummy, something that she did entirely spontaneously which caused a lot of merriment and mirth.

What makes me cross is that famous figures like Caroline Criado-Perez are treated seriously with random tweeters prosecuted for sending abusive messages and threats, whereas those who have done their best to destroy my reputation, both online and offline and have gleefully revelled in their public bullying and contempt, wallowing in any distress or ‘meltdown’ are free to find another target. I have been told that I endangered my own baby’s life by using Twitter, it’s been likened to a pregnant woman entering a smoky pub and blaming the smokers -if I don’t like the heat get out of the kitchen and yet following one parody post from Eccles, which doesn’t name any individuals and could be about a number of people, they have a fit of the vapours, snatch back their victim mantle and seek to invite further scorn upon my head for a post which I didn’t even write by a writer whom I don’t know!

One day I will tell this extraordinary story in full, together with screenshots, it would make a fascinating dossier for future archivists and sociologists, documenting the spread of internet communication, but I think it’s also a cautionary tale about how the internet is not a disembodied impersonal medium but an intensified microcosm of human weakness capable of fostering vituperative and vindictive vendettas of epic proportions.

There will be those who say that the abuse is a measure of my success and impact, no doubt this is true, but it is coming at too much of a cost to us as a family, I have to put my children first. I am at the stage where I am seriously worried about their safety, combined with various comments and insinuations that I am guilty of severe child neglect; at one stage someone remarked that there was no danger of their being overfed. So-called ‘liberals’ alleging that a  ‘dangerous Catholic homophobic mother’ is neglecting and/or endangering her children could have dreadful repercussions.

The bitter irony is that I will resurrect my Twitter account in the New Year,  however it will be under an assumed name.  It’s ironic, that for the first time ever, I’m forced into taking the very action that I have repeatedly been accused of.

Abby Johnson and the UK abortion industry

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Abby Johnson, the former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic is here in the UK to give a series of talks about her experiences and what motivated her to turn her back on the abortion industry.

She appeared on Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 this morning (the interview commences at 1 minute 10 into the broadcast) against Lisa Hallgarten, former director of Education for Choice and pro-choice advocate.

What struck me about the interview was Lisa’s blanket denials that abortion constitutes anything other than an industry, claiming that abortion providers are not-for-profit charities. Being a registered charity denotes tax status only. Private schools constitute charities, because like abortion providers they are supposed to be providing a public service, they are not accountable to shareholders or take huge dividends, but their very existence depends upon demand and repeat custom. Independent abortion providers run their organisations along the same lines as any other business, they have marketing departments, formulate business plans, try to maximise revenue streams and any profits are ploughed back into consolidating and expanding their market share. In addition their managing directors are paid well above industry standards in terms of salary packages, Tim Black CEO of Marie Stopes, currently earns £125,000. Any measures that proposed to dramatically reduce the abortion rate in the UK would drastically threaten their existence, which is why we see figures such as Ann Furedi proclaiming ‘there is no right number of abortions’.

BPAS latest statement of accounts set out their financial objectives, which include generating a surplus of £2.1 million, increasing the number of NHS contracts won, notably by expanding into London, the South West and South East, as well as embedding a public education and engagement programme to build support for the BPAS mission, including lobbying for policy changes in terms of early abortion, increasing their local,  national and international profile through promotion of services and to establish a network of European referrers. This is the fifth year in a row that BPAS has reported an increase in trading surplus, and the plan for 2012/2013 is to build on the financial successes of future years.

But clearly not a business. As a point of note, Ann Furedi’s salary is not listed, however 1 employee is listed as being paid between £120,000 and £130,000 per annum. Given that her counterpart at Marie Stopes earns £125,000 it’s safe to assume that Ann’s salary would be of an equivalent level. In terms of charitable activities, BPAS note that they wrote off loans to clients, totalling £2,500 and they waived abortion fees to the sum of £24, 491. That equates to 41 early medical abortions, or 24  surgical abortions between 9 and 18 weeks, or 18 late stage abortions. Compared with the £26 million of annual income generated, and the aim to increase their operating surplus to £2.1 million, £27,000 spent on helping a handful of cash-strapped clients, doesn’t strike one as the epitome of munificence for a charity claiming to be of significant public benefit.

The other point that Lisa wanted to make to counter Abby was the excellence of the service and counselling provided by abortion clinics. Correctly identifying that most women who present at an abortion clinic have already made their mind up to have an abortion, Lisa takes this as proof that their choices must therefore be informed and correct and they will have sought advice elsewhere, especially from families.

Families don’t tend to be very good at the gold standard of ‘impartial  non directive counselling’ in my experience, nor are close friends. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, we are all entitled to impart our views and values if someone asks us informally for advice if they are facing a tough situation, but why is it better for a woman to be convinced that an abortion is the right course of action for her against an instinct to keep the baby, as opposed to a woman whose instinct is that she cannot have a baby to be persuaded otherwise?

Marie Stopes did not provide me with “gold standard, second to none care” in terms of counselling or the procedure itself. No-one explored other options with me and nor was there any acknowledgement or sense that I was facing a choice. Far from it, the ‘counsellor’ listened to the reasons why I felt that I should have an abortion and made no attempt to explore my fears or concerns, to test their validity, neither did she prepare me for the fact that I might face trauma, either directly afterwards, or that this may affect my mental health in future pregnancies.

I was told that an abortion was obviously the only course of action and that I was in no position to deal with a baby. Adoption was never even suggested or mentioned. The attitude was one of confirming my negativity and fears.

The physical care was pretty dreadful too. I wasn’t informed until after the misoprostol tablets were inserted that I could expect to experience a ‘mini labour’. The overriding image imprinted on my brain is one of ‘horseshoes’. I remember doubling over in pain in a cramped toilet cubicle, feeling as though I had been repeatedly kicked in the stomach by a horse. A nurse making a routine check of the toilets spotted me vomiting profusely into the sink. “That’s great” she said “it shows it’s really working well”. Resting my burning forehead against the cool tiles above the basin, in-between bouts of retching and convulsing into a ball on the floor due to excruciating stomach pains, I vowed never ever to go through childbirth. It’s no wonder that women who have experienced an early abortion have an innate fear of childbirth, it is forever associated with terrible pain, isolation, loneliness, desolation and despair. Pain, blood and mess with nothing to show at the end of it. I had an innate urge to walk up and down the ornate balustraded staircase (the procedure itself took place at Marie Stopes’ Barking facility) to alleviate the pain, but the staff were having none of it, trying to hustle me back into a bed. Lying still was the worst possible course of action, I was like a caged, rabid animal, pacing the premises, desperate to do something to soothe the excruciating pain wracking my body and for the whole experience to be over.

The sympathy, care and understanding from the staff was non-existent. They wanted me out of the way, safely in a ward or bed, not wandering around the joint with my contorted expressions of pain and clutching my stomach.

It’s one of the reasons why my recent miscarriage was quite so traumatic, as I had to go through an almost identical procedure, only this time my baby had already died of natural causes. The difference in care and treatment between the staff on a NHS gynae ward and an abortion clinic to whom the NHS has contracted out abortion provision, could not have been more marked. Every single member of staff I spoke to, introduced themselves with the opening phrase “I’m so sorry to have to be seeing you in these circumstances”, acknowledging that I was losing a baby, not getting rid of some unwanted unspecified lump of tissue, or treating me like a stupid adolescent who had been caught out for not taking better care of herself.  Though one hears of horror stories, the staff on level 11 of the Royal Sussex County hospital offered sympathetic and compassionate care right from the moment that we learnt that the baby’s heartbeat had stopped. Whether or not a baby is wanted makes all the difference in terms of whether or not it is treated as a human being or a woman as a grieving mother. The abortion clinics cannot treat women as mothers losing a baby for obvious reasons. To do so would render their  biological sophistry untenable.

In comparison to Marie Stopes who offered me nothing in terms of pain relief, the NHS offered to throw everything in their gamut, from liquid morphine to entenox if necessary. Using the same medication as on offer from the abortion clinics, I was kept in overnight and ending up losing almost two litres of blood and needing emergency treatment in the middle of the night to remove trapped placental tissue causing an enormous hemorrhage.

That the abortion providers wish to push this treatment for women to take at home, is utterly beyond me. Had I been home there could have been a medical catastrophe with the added trauma of young children as witnesses. Admittedly my miscarriage was later than the abortion, however the physical pain in both instances was identical. If abortion clinics purport to care so much about the welfare of women, why do they not provide adequate pain relief beyond paracetamol or ibuprofen?

Of course that would cost, not only in terms of the drugs themselves but also the supervision required of women who were administered opiates or entenox as well as someone competent and able to prescribe them, such as a qualified doctor. It wouldn’t help achieve the £2 million target of operating surplus. If pro-lifers were to campaign for adequate pain relief for women experiencing medical abortion, it would be written off as a wish to punish women, but god forbid we were to level a similar charge at the benevolent clinics.

Lisa Hallgarten was at pains to differentiate the UK from the US in terms of abortion provision. Personally I don’t see a lot of difference, simply that the UK’s abortion industry is more slick and has been more successful in terms of leveraging the typical British sentiment to contain messiness  behind closed doors, eschew all expressions of disgust and keep the aspidistra flying.

Frederica Mathewes-Green famously stated “no woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg”.

Abortion clinics act as the wire-cutters, coming along to cut and disentangle the wires in exchange for a fee and often inflicting damage as severe on the trapped woman, as bad as had she gnawed her own leg off in the first place. A humane society would campaign for no traps. But what the pro-life movement and organisations aim to do is show the woman that the trap is not is not as threatening or dangerous as she feared and enable to make her way out, free of damage and intact.

Increasing the number of wire-cutters in the form of abortion clinics does nothing to prevent the laying of traps. If as a rabbit you wanted to cross a pasture full of enticing clover, littered with traps, would you really trust the man you’d have to pay for wire cutters to help you navigate a path to avoid them?

Pray for Madiba

One of the insufferable aspects of social media, especially Twitter, is its tendency to shallowness or insincerity – the 140 character format lends itself to superficiality and at times empty soundbites, which is why blogging will always be a better medium in terms of allowing one to work out and explain complex concepts. I often wonder whether Tweets will be studied as a literary genre several generations down the line, the most amusing or profound statements being the modern equivalent of an epigram.

Nowhere is this tendency to make lots of noise better manifest than when we have the death of a major figure such as has happened today, Nelson Mandela. I’m not going to re-hash hagiographies here and now is not the time to lay into him for his failures in terms of governance as well as his liberalisation of abortion law (contrary to the wishes of most South Africans), Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith of the Catholic Herald and Tim Stanley of the Telegraph provide fine, thought-provoking obituaries of this ‘secular saint.’

What bothers me most about the abundance of  saccharin in evidence on social media tonight, is that it is the digital equivalent of the outpouring of grief following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales ,yet even more hollow and meaningless. We are encouraged to think of something terribly profound to say, to mark our loss and then move swiftly on to the next sujet du jour. It is mere noise, the ultimate sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Like mass hysteria, everyone feels compelled to say something, there’s an expectation that every right-thinking person will be wanting to pay their respects and anyone such as Rod Liddle, who expresses an unpopular or controversial opinion is pounced upon for their insensitivity. Admittedly no-one wants a sourpuss, the drunken old relative at the funeral reminding one of what a mean old skinflint Auntie Doris really was with her penchant for too much barley wine, but that’s part of the rich tapestry of life. Dying does not render someone saintly status, nor does it automatically cleanse them of their earthly sins, though we have to remember to exercise charity both towards the living and the dead in our speech. But to criticise someone for not reacting in the ‘right’ way, to hold someone up for public ridicule and attack because they have not behaved or mourned in the way that you think they should have done, reeks to high heaven of Pharisaism and is nothing better than an excuse to make one feel better about oneself.

This is a trait that is all too sadly apparent on the Catholic internet at times, there is far too much monitoring of other people’s comments going on, far too much “look at them over there, not being as orthodox as I am”, “look at those traddies/liberals” (delete as applicable) instead of the real and serious business of attempting to bring the peace of Christ in our encounters with everyone.

But back to Mandela, what is bothering me, is this digital equivalent of tying our bunch of garage flowers to the lamppost, a ghastly tradition which I would be sorely tempted to ban, in the unlikely event of becoming prime-minister. These outpourings of grief, mourning, loss, sentimentality are becoming part of the ritual of mourning, in lives where real-life lived experience and online interaction are increasingly enmeshed. So many of us are wasting so much time idling away on social media (and no need to point out the glaring log in my eye here) we spot someone has died, duly post some sort of mawkish sentiment and then move on to looking at cats or whatever else can distract us from higher pursuits.

An old man of 95 of ailing health has passed away after a prolonged and painful illness. His death has been expected for some time, indeed Fr Lucie-Smith was honest enough to confess that he wrote his piece some time ago, in common with many journalists I should imagine. Nelson Mandela had been out of the public eye for some time, is his death really such a tragic and terrible loss to the average Joe? Will we wake up every morning with a heavy-heart and sense of grief? Or for most of us, is it more a case of “great man, sorry he’s died”? In which case the tributes to a man we don’t really ‘know’ and never really ‘knew’ are a little insulting in their vacuousness. And why the hours of coverage on the BBC? A great elderly statesman has died of natural causes, surely after a few speeches or thoughts from world leaders and some other reactions, it’s time to move on, nothing more to see here. The broadcast media are also indulging and encouraging us in feats of grieving melodrama that would put the Victorians to shame. Perhaps hours of rolling news montages and acres of internet coverage are today’s equivalent of ornate gothic monuments?

The fake tweet purporting to be from Paris Hilton sums up the spirit of Twitter tonight, as do the responses. Ha ha, isn’t she stupid, glad I’m not as stupid as what she is. One should point out that in the morning she will still be fabulously wealthy and incredibly pretty before we get too smug.

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I digress. If the death of Nelson Mandela should teach us anything, instead of rushing to react, we should stop, pause and consider his life’s achievements and give thanks for them. He embodied the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation and instead of worshiping his memory, or posting glib thoughts, a better tribute might be to see how we can emulate that in our own lives and instead of aiming for grand gestures of tolerance towards total strangers, start with the more testing folk close to home, who may have caused us personal harm.

Also can we stop nonsense like this headline from tomorrow’s Sun.

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Nelson Mandela has not lost his final battle. Death, especially from geriatric causes, is not a ‘battle’ but an inevitability which comes to us all. We cannot win it, because it has already been won for us by Christ’s glorious death on the cross. Oh death where is thy sting, oh grave where is thy victory. We cannot cling on to life at all costs, we do not approach death as a battle, but with reconciliation and acceptance. As Christ says “For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; for he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall save it.”

And finally, this may be lovely, poignant, tender, moving and funny  from tomorrow’s Times, but can we also cut it out?

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Just as we cannot consign souls to hell, neither can we guarantee that they are going to heaven. Hopefully Nelson Mandela will end up a saint (with a small s, as it is highly unlikely that he will be canonised by the Catholic Church, though never say never) but we have no guarantee. To depict him as a saint does him no favours as he is still in need of prayers and  has whiffs of the diabolic in that it could prevent genuine prayer for him. This is what is so insidious about our current culture that fears and hides from death, in that once someone has died they are assumed to be enjoying the fruits of paradise, in order to comfort the living, which is in direct contravention of Catholic teaching. We cannot forget our responsibility to pray for all the dead.

And this is why the brief fake outpouring of grief and cloying sentiment is so damaging, because it distracts us from our very real obligation to pray for the dead as a work of mercy. Be sad for his family, be sad for South Africa, acknowledge the contribution he made to genuine equality, but keep things in perspective.

Like Nelson Mandela we too will die and on that terrible day of judgement, God isn’t going to be interested in tasteful and moving cartoons, rolling news coverage, front page headlines nor the amount of florid tributes written in haste by random strangers on the internet.


(PS, perhaps I’m being unashamedly grouchy and fierce because 5th December marked the first anniversary of my Nana’s death. She died not having received the sacrament of reconciliation for at least 40 years and having forgone her previously regular Mass attendance being solely reliant on others to take her. I pray fervently every single day.)