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Archive for February, 2014

mad-men

BBC Woman’s Hour have launched the 2014 Power List, to identify the top ten women who are changing the way that power operates in today’s society.

No doubt the list will be replete with high achieving professional women and the feminist twitter crusaders, such as Caroline Criado-Perez who successfully campaigned to have the face of Jane Austen put on a banknote and then faced an online backlash of hatred. I’m yet to be convinced that having a woman on a banknote or banishing pink lego is anything more than superficial tinkering, it does nothing to change sexual exploitation of women, for example.

Alice Feinsten, the programme’s editor has said that she is really  looking forward to hearing whether our judges think the high-profile whistleblowers and Twitter crusaders that have made the headlines over the past year are forging new rules of engagement in the circles of power.

Emma Barnett, chair of the judging panel has noted that the age of social media means that women no longer need to be successful purely in the boardroom or their professional sphere, basically making enough noise on the internet means that one can become a major game-changer regardless of whether you are a grandmother in your seventies or a politically interested teenager.

In many ways this is great news, it certainly contextualises and explains much of the unprecedented amount of online trolling, personal attack  and stalking that comes my way, especially from certain LGBT and pro-choice lobbies, who obviously do perceive me to be something of a threat or potential power-changer and therefore feel the need to neutralise or undermine the challenge with personal smears. Catholics on the internet are making their presence felt and being included in mainstream media as a result. Nonetheless awards such as these, leave me banging my head against the desk in frustration because they are everything that is wrong with modern feminism and far from recognising and celebrating authentic, genuine womanhood, are reinforcing the culture that seeks to undermine femininity.

One of the biggest mistakes that feminism has ever made in its desire to achieve women’s equality, is to judge female success by what women do, or achieve, particularly in the wider world of work, culture and politics, as opposed to who they are. In this quest for secular achievement, motherhood has been denigrated or cast aside as being oppressive as it seemingly prevents women from being in the public sphere where all the important decisions are made.

In terms of vital game-changers, no-one is more important in a young baby and child’s life than their mother and this is one of the reasons why media feminism is arguing itself into irrelevancy because it seeks to sideline the lives and concerns of ordinary women up and down the country, whether or not they are staying at home with the children or juggling a fairly-low grade job with childcare and instead engages in naval-gazing academic discussions of ‘intersectionality’ and labelling other women  who haven’t got to grips with the politically-correct terminology or media-speak as ‘transphobes’ or generally ignorant bigots. I asked my sister, a highly intelligent, forty-something, successful director of her own AIM-floated company and mother of four children whether or not she knew what the term ‘cis’ meant or what ‘intersectionality’ was all about. She looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language, and noted that most people haven’t got the time to be dealing with such pretentious nonsense. While no-one is suggesting that the needs of the transgender community should be ignored, neither are the specific  concerns of a woman who was  born a man, top of the list of priorties of your average woman, whether she is a housewife, working woman, someone surviving on benefits or a combination of all the above.

That is not to say that a woman can not be a true woman unless she embraces physical motherhood, the emergence into Catholic consciousness of the phrase ‘feminine genius’ the term first coined by Blessed John Paul II in his groundbreaking apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem about the dignity and vocation of women, 25 years ago, has led to a tendency by some to idealise motherhood as being the principle way of fulfilling Catholic femininity.

If we are wishing to call women to fulfil their potential as created beings of God, then just as not every man is called to marriage or the cloister, neither is every women. Working women are every bit as able to fulfil their vocation to authentic femininity as their housewife sisters or those who by choice or necessity straddle the dual worlds of work and home. The key is in whether or not they harness their  ‘feminine genius’ which is predominantly about giving, sharing and serving.

Nonetheless it is a huge mistake for Catholic women to buy into mainstream feminist thinking about smashing the glass ceiling, or being power-changers in the wider world, as promoted by the likes of Woman’s Hour, because this inherently undermines the achievements of women on an individual level. Raising children and changing nappies may not win any accolades or been seen as a worthy achievement, but it is still vital because the world needs healthy and emotionally well-adjusted adults who thanks to a stable upbringing will be able to take their place in the world and contribute to the common good.

Most women cannot identify with the movers and shakers, because while they may present aspiration and ambition, for most, a high-powered career is unachievable, together with the demands of children. Moreover it is not what many of us want – middle class mothers are deserting the workplace in droves. I was privileged to be selected as one of the BBC’s 100 women, nonetheless throughout the day of networking and discussion, I could not stop thinking how far removed, sitting in a break-out session with Helen Clark, former prime-minister of New Zealand and Cherie Blair, was from the lives of millions of ordinary women, whose main concerns would be how to put food on the table, keep safe from the elements or protect themselves and their families from either militia or a totalitarian state.

It’s difficult to distill the essence of feminine genius into one distinct quality, it isn’t purely about raising children, nor achieving career and worldly success, it isn’t an agenda, a career plan or ‘to do list’. It should not be obsessed with accomplishments or  eliminating feminine characteristics in order to make us more like men. It’s a rather more ethereal and elusive prospect, being a woman is really about ‘essence’; a set of traits unique to womankind,  wholly distinct from men.  Whether or not they achieve physical motherhood, the general ability of women to procreate means that we have the power and potential to inject love into the world. Essence is being, not doing. If we understand who we are then we are able to transmit that whole truth the world before we have even opened our mouths. This is why faith should not be considered irrelevant or supplementary to the feminist cause which should address deeper philosophical questions such as ‘who am I’, ‘what is woman’ and consider those things which are vital to female flourishing.

Feminine gifts are counter-cultural and intangible and involve the ability to go beyond appearance, to understand and intuit things on a visceral level and pick up underlying and unspoken issues. The potential to become mothers imbues us with the gift of nurture, to nourish human love and then give that back to the whole world in whatever sphere we choose. If women seem more concerned with human relationships than men, it’s because motherhood equips us with the ability to accept, nurture and heal. It’s no coincidence that most young babies come to know and love their mother first,  because women are equipped to foster the intimate bond first formed in utero.

‘Feminine genius’ then, requires women to be a sanctuary for the human person. It is the ability of a woman to be at peace with herself and radiate the gift of love, of fostering and nurturing relationships to the world at large. To use the vernacular, it requires women to be a ‘true girlfriend’, not competitive, not obsessed with material accomplishments and secular achievements, but to put our talents at the service of others, to couch it in Christian terms, to become an icon of the Church, in order to find true fulfilment.

Being included on female power-lists, smashing glass ceilings and setting out to become lone women secular pioneers, places limitations on the scope of feminine genius. I always know when I am in the presence of a successful gracious, dignified, noble and powerful woman, not because of what she wears, or what I have read about her in the press, or what I know about her personal circumstances but because of how she makes me feel in our relationship, whether that be one of familial bonds,  friendship, or professional association.

This is what women are best at, the feminine genius lies in creating and nurturing relationships based in love. As far as feminism is concerned, if you eschew material and professional success in favour of a more spiritual approach, attempting to attain the things that matter and respond to the desires of the heart and soul, then you are not doing everything you can to become a fully-fledged modern woman and do not deserve to be a part of the club.

Women can only be game changers when they give love for no other reason than it is no less than every single soul deserves. We are called to build a civilisation of love, brick by brick, and restore the culture of life. Authentic feminine beauty lies in abandoning self-focus, rising up and bringing an elegance to virtue, socially selfless and sensual, bringing out the true beauty of other souls.

If we use this criteria then there are far more worthy women I can name, than those who have ruthlessly pursued goals of self-fulfilment and secular success or who have managed some superficial achievement by earnestly bashing out diatribes on their keyboards. The irony is that their goals transcend the temporal heights of BBC plaudits and they would therefore be wholly uninterested.

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Since 2007, a group of pro-lifers in Oxford have regularly met once a month to stand outside the entrance to the John Radcliffe hospital in order to silently bear witness to the sanctity of human life.

Their vigil takes place at the weekend, when no abortions take place, therefore they cannot be accused of harassing or distressing pregnant women and neither can they be accused of causing a breach of the peace – their witness is entirely peaceful.

Recently they have attracted the attention and ire of pro-choice activists, who have angrily tried to disrupt the witness, getting up close and personal, quite literally in the face of those standing in silent solidarity. This video footage is extremely telling – what strikes me are the tactics of intimidation attempted by the pro-choicers, who are without a doubt the aggressors here; attempting to close down a peaceful legal event, prevent freedom of expression and then quite unbelievably and perhaps predictably, claiming victim status.

Joseph Shaw has uploaded the photos of the event to his Flickr stream here.

This is exactly how pro-life witness should take place, quietly, peacefully, en masse and without making the pro-life movement vulnerable to spurious claims of harassment. It is patently obvious that no harassment or provocation by the part of the pro-lifers has taken place and yet the handful of protestors intent on disrupting the witness nevertheless audaciously attempt to claim otherwise.

The other interesting point to note here is that, to the best of my knowledge, this witness has not been organised by any of the major pro-life charities or lobby-groups, this is activism at its best, a group of like-minded people getting together to take some practical action. This kind of thing  reminds us that actually that in some situations we don’t need to be sheep, waiting to be herded and marshalled into action by someone else or an official group, complaining that ‘nothing ever gets done’. Provided we stay within the precepts of the law, then there is nothing to stop similar witnesses taking place up and down the country and this is precisely what vigils such as Forty Days for Life are attempting to achieve.

For those who mutter about whether or not vigils are the best tactic to win hearts and minds or are ‘effective’, once again I want to scream at you – ‘prayer is never wasted’.  Furthermore I’d also wonder whether or not succumbing to secular unease about prayer in the public square is advisable. Only one group of people stand to benefit from fewer public pro-life vigils and it isn’t the vulnerable pregnant women!

Finally, there has been a lot of chatter on social media over the past few weeks regarding attempts to disassociate the pro-life moment from overt displays of religiosity, in order to make it more ‘inclusive’. I would strongly agree that there needs to be more secular initiatives, a pro-life attitude does not require any recourse to theism as several atheist or even wiccan pro-life colleagues of mine would testify. I agree that pro-life sentiment needs to move beyond being perceived as being solely within the realms of ‘religious whackjobs’, which is why we have several official non-religious pro-life charities and lobby groups, which incidentally, does not make them immune from attack. The abortion ideologues will attack from whatever angle they can, they simply find the religious stereotype the easiest one to deal with.

What the above video demonstrates however, is the effectiveness of these witnesses  – how a group of people standing in silent solidarity or singing a simple timeless Latin chant can arouse such irrational anger. Obviously they are thought to be dangerous in terms of swaying public opinion  -why else would these handful of extremists go to such lengths to counter their message and issue empty threats?

What those within the pro-life movement need to remember is that while some may not been inclined towards overt displays of religiosity (although I know of several pagans who participate in 40 Days for Life), attempts to remove or conceal prayer, are misguided. Pro-life is never purely about the politics or PR, it will always for the Christian involve prayer and practical action.

Furthermore Catholics are the core constituents in the movement, the ones most likely to give of both their time and their money and as shown above, the ones most inclined to actually get off their backside and do something, whether that be attending a vigil, volunteering with or donating to a pro-life charity, or organising some sort of fund-raiser. It is never a matter of mere ideology. Efforts to be inclusive, should not write off or alienate the stalwarts such as the good people in this video in their well-intentioned aim to soften the sceptic and hardened neo-liberal hearts.

Congratulations to all those involved in Oxford – cages are obviously being rattled.

(Note the amount of young women taking part; quite a contrast from the middle-aged feminists and the man ludicrously holding the ‘my body, my choice’ banner).

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Rejecting the frame

Since I wrote yesterday’s post regarding the brouhaha surrounding pro-life Crisis Pregnancy Counselling Centres, (CPCs) some valuable additional information has come to light.

Speaking with one of the groups involved yesterday, it appears that all is not quite as would seem in terms of this ‘damning’ video coverage. Firstly, the undercover reporter made 4 separate visits to the counselling centre and repeatedly pushed the issue with regards to breast cancer. Not having got what she wanted, they then went to find another centre who would indeed tell them what they wanted to hear, although it’s worth replaying the video recording or watching if you have not already done so. What was said, was not the most scientific, but neither was it the most outrageous lie.

With hindsight we can think of better ways that this information could be phrased and instead of  pro-life groups splitting into factions, actually we all ought to be supporting each other in terms of developing best practice. It’s not often that I agree with   SPUC, but in this instance, Paul Tully’s statement regarding groups who provide pro-life counselling for women, is bang on the money. They are truly heroic. Unlike the abortion clinics or sex education providers they receive absolutely no government money (which calls into question the whole issue as to whether or not they should be regulated) and they provide help and assistance to women on the very fringes of society, typically those in low socio-economic groups who do not qualify for any sort of government help. Pro-life counselling groups, do not just counsel but they provide very real support, such as money, housing, shelter, accommodation, employment and skills-based training, life-skills and in some cases literally put food on the table for starving pregnant women. Their support is wholly unconditional, if you are pregnant and going to suffer as a result of carrying your pregnancy to term, they will provide support for you for as long as you need it.

One has to ask how representative this video tape is of an ordinary undecided pregnant woman’s experience. If the groups are guilty of anything it is of naivety, although my understanding is that they regularly receive time-wasting visitors, whom they are able to see off at the first pass, who ask suspicious questions and repeatedly request to be shown graphic images. That is not the typical reaction of a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy and neither is an in-depth grilling on potential negative consequences of abortion.

That is not to defend the the poor phrasing or, misleading information but interestingly the Telegraph reports have not included any of the accompanying literature which does include some of the statistics.

We should also remember what counselling is – as Jack Scarisbrook of LIFE said a few years ago, it is not about imparting information, but allowing a safe space away from pressures for a woman to consider all of her options. A Catholic group may well take issue with the idea of non-directive counselling, because the counsellor must allow a woman to come to her own decision, even if that entails aborting her baby. However where counselling is provided by a group like LIFE for example, it is highly likely that a woman who has come to explore her options is undecided and therefore the counsellor will help her uncover the negative feelings about her pregnancy and decide whether or not they are valid, without actually advocating any course of action. It is undeniable that a woman who is feeling unsure about whether or not to abort, when given a safe opportunity to explore her feelings will more often than not choose a positive outcome for her baby.

In terms of Catholic counselling, the idea that women are pushed, cajoled, or pressurised is again a fallacious one. A counselling session will not force a woman who is unwilling to continue her pregnancy to term, to do so. The only  ‘damage’ which could be done, is that having had her conscience pricked and been exposed to a point of view which seeks to emphasise the humanity of the unborn, she could then be more prone to feelings of guilt, which begs the question as to whether or not the decision was indeed the right one for her. Guilt does not simply spring from someone pointing out an opposing ideological stance.

As to the medical data this is always supplementary information and incidental to the main decision which is always ‘can I cope with a pregnancy and young baby at this point in time’,  but so long as it is presented factually and accurately, then it would be doing a great disservice to women to deny that issues and complications can and do arise post-abortion. Cases of women who were persuaded against abortion purely because of health risks are rare, although Courtney Kardashian seems to have been swayed and has not as yet expressed any regrets. In fact she consulted her doctor to learn more about the risks who said this:

“My doctor told me there is nothing you will ever regret about having the baby, but he was like, ‘You may regret not having the baby.’ And I was like: That is so true. And it just hit me. I got so excited”

How very unscientific! How very ideological! How dare he give her such an opinion, instead of a neutral assessment of the data!

And this is the point. If the NHS was subject to secret filming of what was said to patients there would be a scandal on a daily basis. Medical staff are instructed to give you information in clear, plain and understandable English, instead of lapsing into scientific jargon. They are supposed to couch things in terms one can understand. Of course they shouldn’t come out with falsehoods or give you an opinion upon a best course of action, but they frequently do and often in very strong terms.

This is often at its most pronounced in terms of pregnancy – I have frequently been told in a very forceful manner what I ought to do both in terms of how I should deliver a child and contraceptive measures. In two pregnancies, I have been advised that I ought to consider abortion by members of the NHS on what constituted social grounds, namely the spacing of my children. Like many Catholic women we have received the obligatory hectoring post childbirth about our ‘irresponsible’ use of Fertility Awareness. Frankly that is infinitely worse than what we have seen in the pro-life counselling centres yet this happens on a daily basis on the NHS. Clinical judgement always brings an element of personal opinion into the equation. Telling a woman that she ought to have an abortion and then, as happened in my pregnancy in 2012, that she ought to go for counselling to consider it further when I refused, is in many ways worse as there is little choice when it comes to whether or not to use the NHS and staff judgement carries considerable authority.

All this worry and angst is solely driven by the pro-choice brigade – god forbid that a woman may feel anything less than wonderful following an abortion. No-one wants to see post-abortive women punished or made to go through unnecessary anxiety, but neither should pro-choice be allowed to dictate the framework here, which is one of medicalising an issue of moral judgement and closing down any viewpoint which seeks to persuade that abortion could in any way be wrong.

Two years ago, Telegraph columnist Tim Stanley wrote a fascinating piece about the success of the pro-life lobby in America, noting that they had borrowed the left’s language of health and safety and used regulation to good effect in terms of forcing clinics to ensure women’s safety. The reverse is happening over here. The liberal establishment are propping up the government-funded abortion and sex education industry to make morals a matter of medics. We are seeing this in campaigns for statutory sex education and best practice which seek to exclude parents who may not share the state agenda or curriculum in providing the correct ideology and now we see it in terms of the abortion industry and counselling which needs to be on the clinics’ terms.

Pro-lifers should not capitulate or hand-wring, counsellors need to ensure that they get their house in order, that women are given the facts and information that they need but neither should we forget that at least two lives are always at stake.

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Perhaps in an attempt to be ‘balanced’ following their excellent exposes of breaches of the law carried out by abortion clinics in 2012, the Daily Telegraph have decided to set their sights on the other side of the coin, and targeted pro-life crisis pregnancy centres as being their latest target of ire.

The formidable investigative journalism carried out by the Telegraph last year, never sat particularly well with their attempt to hitch their wagon to the online feminism zeitgeist. There was always some dissonance between their condemnation of gender-selective abortion and wholesale abuses of the law such as clinics having batches of forms pre-signed by doctors who would never actually have any contact with the patient, let alone examine them, and the timbre of articles carried in their new Wonder Women section, launched last year, which has been populated by predominantly pro-choice feminists.

Emma Barnett, editor of Telegraph Wonder-Women, has written 5 articles in the past 24 hours, busting ‘abortion myths’, reporting unscientific things said in two crisis pregnancy centres, outraging women by reporting on how people could be scarred for life or be manipulated into taking a certain decision, by non regulated pregnancy centres. There’s another op ed by deputy women’s editor, Lousia Peacock, breathily mouthing “since when did Britain become pro-life America?

Screenshot 2014-02-11 13.00.53

Perhaps having failed in their previous attempts to force discussion, the Telegraph are looking for an easy ‘win’ such as the crisis pregnancy centres, however despite their interactive map, showing the location of every single crisis pregnancy centre, they have only been able to find two, who gave out contentious information. How many other centres did they actually attend? Acres of bandwidth and ink will be spilt with post-abortive women justifying their decision, and saying how harmful it would have been if anyone told them it was wrong or how they felt guilty, however will anyone talk to those women who feel that they were bounced into abortion and not given comprehensive information by abortion clinics? And if a woman feels guilty following an abortion, blaming those who gave her an alternative point of view which pricked her conscience is dishonest. Autonomy means taking control and owning our decisions, no matter what someone else may think of them. So another woman may choose not to abort following a session at a CPC. What’s the biggie? Is it really such a worry if women decide not to abort because they are worried about the physical risks?

Before we go any further, let’s consider the accusations and their implications. Emma Barnett is concerned that women may be persuaded to keep their babies upon the basis of unsound scientific evidence. It’s not up there with aborting a baby because of their gender or not even bothering to examine a patient, or follow proper safeguards which could prevent a coerced or forced abortion. Only last week one organisation tweeted that they had spotted a woman being shouted at by a male  and hustled to get inside the clinic, when she appeared to be hesitating.

While women facing crises have a right to access reliable and factual information, the decision as to whether or not to have an abortion will always be based upon her own subjective ideology and interpretation of her circumstances. She will put her own interpretative lens on the science, whether that be with regards to the humanity of the fetus, or the weighing up of risks.

The accusation that having an abortion will make women child sex abusers is sensational and not what was actually said, which was as follows:

 “an increased statistical likelihood of child abuse” because women had to break “natural barriers that are around the child that you don’t cross” in order to terminate a pregnancy.

There is a link between abortion and mental health problems, including depression, substance abuse, violence, replacement pregnancies and difficulties in bonding with subsequent children. That is not to say that every single woman who has an abortion is going to experience such difficulties, but these are also factors which are linked to child abuse. Nowhere did the counsellor mention that the abuse would be of a sexual nature, emotional abuse can be every bit as damaging and neither did she say that this was a foregone conclusion or inevitability. There are individual clinical assessments linking post-abortion trauma with subsequent child abuse. (1)

While this might not be the wisest thing to say, neither is it as outrageous as the headlines would suggest. I would baulk at the suggestion that due to an abortion I am at risk of abusing my precious children, (the root of abuse is complex, abortion can be but one factor in the sequelae) but I would openly accept and acknowledge that the anti-natal depression I experienced in all of my pregnancies, especially the unplanned ones, have their root in the fact that I aborted my first baby. In any event, the counsellor in no way said that post-abortive women are likely to sexually abuse children.

In terms of the breast cancer link, an extremely recent meta-analysis of studies of Chinese women having induced abortions (as is common due to the one child policy) showed that just one abortion will increase the risk of breast cancer by 44%.  Two abortion will increase the risk by 76% and the risk will almost double following three abortions or more. The meta-analysis covered 36 studies, covering 14 provinces in China, comparing the risk of breast cancer amongst post-abortive women and those who had never had an abortion. This came following a similar study in Bangladesh indicating that women who had an abortion were 20% more at risk of developing breast cancer. The Chinese study was published in a prestigious medical journal Cancer Causes Control, confirmed the pioneering work of Dr Joel Brind and challenged the consensus held by professional bodies such as the Royal College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians. There are now over 50 studies showing a positive link between breast cancer and abortion – these cannot be ignored.

One can argue over the statistical analysis, as indeed a leading  male pro-choicer frequently attempts to do, but the science is simple.

Induced abortion boosts breast cancer risk because it stops the normal physiological changes in the breast that occur during a full term pregnancy and that lower a mother’s breast cancer risk. A woman who has a full term pregnancy at 20 has a 90% lower risk of breast cancer than a woman who waits until age 30.

Breast tissue after puberty and before a term pregnancy is immature and cancer-vulnerable. Seventy five percent of this tissue is Type 1 lobules where ductal cancers start and 25 percent is Type 2 lobules where lobular cancers start. Ductal cancers account for 85% of all breast cancers while lobular cancers account for 12-15% of breast cancers.

As soon as a woman conceives, the embryo secretes human chorionic gonadotrophin or hCG, the hormone we check for in pregnancy tests.

HCG causes the mother’s ovaries to increase the levels of estrogen and progesterone in her body resulting in a doubling of the amount of breast tissue she has; in effect, she then has more Type 1 and 2 lobules where cancers start.

After mid pregnancy at 20 weeks, the fetus/placenta makes hPL, another hormone that starts maturing her breast tissue so that it can make milk. It is only after 32 weeks that she has made enough of the mature Type 4 lobules that are cancer resistant so that she lowers her risk of breast cancer.

Induced abortion before 32 weeks leaves the mother’s breast with more vulnerable tissue for cancer to start. It is also why any premature birth before 32 weeks, not just induced abortion, increases or doubles breast cancer risk.

By the end of her pregnancy, 85% of her breast tissue is cancer resistant. Each pregnancy thereafter decreases her risk a further 10%.

Spontaneous abortions in the first trimester on the other hand don’t increase breast cancer risk because there is something wrong with the embryo, so hCG levels are low. Another possibility is that something is wrong with the mother’s ovaries and the estrogen and progesterone levels are low. When those hormones are low, the mother’s breasts do not grow and change.

Pointing this out to women is not harmful or manipulative – if we are talking about making an informed decision, why should a woman not be made aware of the significant consensus of medical opinion that holds that abortion carries a breast cancer risk. Why should she be deemed incapable of interpreting the information for herself, even if she decides to ignore it, or comes to the conclusion that it is flawed?

The other ‘scandalous’ piece of advice is that abortion can increase the risk of infertility or carrying a future pregnancy to term. Clearly the stat of 25% is wrong, there is no need to make fallacious claims and to do so damages the pro-life cause, however it would be wrong to deny that abortion carries no medical risk, especially if it is surgical; there is always a risk of infection and scarring when introducing surgical instruments into bodily cavities. Anecdote is not the plural of data, but a friend of mine had difficult conceiving following the removal of a Fallopian tube due to an ectopic pregnancy. The ectopic pregnancy was caused by scarring – she had previously had three abortions. Someone else I know of reported cervical scarring requiring emergency surgery post an abortion. When she reported excruciating pain and bleeding immediately following the surgery, the clinic were disinterested. I was warned of the risk of uterine rupture when offered a surgical procedure following the death of our unborn baby – why would abortion be any different?

Furthermore any injuries, complications or infections post abortion are not counted in official statistics if they present or are reported once the woman has left the abortion clinic premises. If you go to the doctor or A&E with a post operative infection following an abortion, it will not be included in the clinic’s official figures.

Pointing out associated risks to abortion is no different to an anaesthetist being filmed pointing out the risks of surgery or anaesthetic or a pharmacist reading out the manufacturer’s leaflet that accompanies medication. Pro-lifers should not undermine their authority with incorrect information, there is no need to do so, we should condemn this practice, but it is irresponsible reporting to over sensationalise what was actually said.

Naturally the Telegraph’s report has caused a massive media sensation, with calls for these centres to be shut down and monitored because they do not provide ‘medically accurate’ information. Abortion is rarely simply a medical decision, there has not been a case in the UK of a woman needing to have an abortion to save her life, for many many years, it is always a moral judgement, which takes into account various clinical factors.

It is impossible to take a neutral stance upon abortion from a counselling perspective, even if you are supporting a woman to come to her own decision, regardless of what that decision is, that is in itself an ideological stance, taking the view that whatever a woman decides is right. We don’t apply such reasoning in other circumstances, it is not deemed acceptable to terminate a full term pregnancy on the grounds of gender for example, simply because a woman decides that it is not right for her.

Every single organisation that provides abortion counselling has an agenda of some sort or another. One cannot shut down organisations who are aiming to counsel women with crisis pregnancies simply because they are not providing what is deemed to be ‘acceptable’ medical interpretation. Where clinics are providing erroneous information then obviously they need to sharpen up their practice, but it’s likely that organisations such as these will soon establish a bad reputation locally. Ultimately no-one forces women to attend them, no-one forces women to listen to their advice and no-one forces a woman to continue an unwanted pregnancy, not even these allegedly reckless organisations.

It is also grossly unfair of the Telegraph to conflate independent local organisations with LIFE, who regardless of where one stands on their counselling provision, are accredited by BCAP and for good or ill provide non directive counselling.

If a woman wants an abortion, the Telegraph has demonstrated how easy it is for her to obtain one, no questions asked, paid for by the NHS up until 24 weeks.

Throwing in the old canards about being linked to religious organisations and throwing in the inevitable comparisons to the US (which allowed butchers such as Kermit Gosnell to operate) is an attempt to whip up fear, as is the mandatory reference to 40 days for life, who have successfully been conducting peaceful incident free vigils for the past four years in the UK. There has been no incidents of pro-life violence, nor are there any proposed bills limiting abortion in the offing, so the comparisons with the US are moot.

When I was pregnant with the baby I aborted, Marie Stopes gave me no medical information whatsoever, aside from what the procedure would entail, which they massively downplayed. I did not even know that I was receiving ‘counselling’. I told the counsellor why I wanted an abortion and she nodded grimly, adding that I had no choice and was not equipped to have a baby, it would be irresponsible. Impartial medical advice or ideological?

Why shouldn’t a religious organisation attempt to promote an alternative point of view which might persuade women that not only can they keep their babies but they are capable of being good mothers? Why can’t an organisation propose the point of view that a woman is at risk of harm from abortion?

This is an attempt to close down any point of view which might seek to persuade a pregnant woman that abortion is the wrong decision, using a contentious definition of ‘harm’. It is never harmful for a woman to decide not to kill her unborn baby, only a paternalism or totalitarianism would state otherwise. Who are we to decide that women shouldn’t be advised that abortion is not a good option, whether that be on ideological, moral or medical grounds?

The only real scandal here is that the failure to acknowledge compelling medical evidence linking breast cancer to abortion and the refusal to include post abortion complications presented after leaving the clinic in official statistics.

The scandal is trying to pretend that the decision to abort is solely a medical or clinical one and that arguments about the development or humanity of the foetus are irrelevant. The scandal is the attempt to deny that abortion can cause very real harm to women. The scandal is the attempt to close down debate on the harmful effects of abortion and deprive women of all the information they need. And if no organisation with any abortion activists should be allowed to give advice, as Nadine Dorries proposes, that would rule out abortion clinics too, who actively promote and market abortion. The head of BPAS is a frequent public abortion apologist.

The outrage being whipped up here is that a woman facing an unplanned or crisis pregnancy  might be told that abortion is not alright, is not the solution,  ends the life of an unborn child and could cause her long term harm. And that would never do.

(1) Benedict, et al., “Maternal Perinatal Risk Factors and Child Abuse,” Child Abuse and Neglect, 9:217-224 (1985); P.G. Ney, “Relationship between Abortion and Child Abuse,” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 24:610-620, 1979; Reardon, Aborted Women – Silent No More (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1987), 129-30, describes a case of woman who beat her three year old son to death shortly after an abortion which triggered a “psychotic episode” of grief, guilt, and misplaced anger.

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Yesterday I appeared on BBC1’s The Big Questions with my Catholic Voices hat on, in order to discuss the UN report into child abuse. Austen Ivereigh one of the founders of the project has done an outstanding job in terms of reporting developments, describing the process as little more than a kangaroo court and analysing what precisely went wrong. These posts should be mandatory for anyone wishing to understand the reasons behind Catholics’ vociferous expressions of shock, dismay and disgust and provide a comprehensive response, pointing out the many errors, false statements and lack of understanding.

No right-thinking Catholic wishes to deny or downplay the terrible harm that was caused to victims, a harm that was compounded by the attitude of those within authority who in many cases ignored or disbelieved their claims and some even went so far as to attempt to smear and discredit victims. All of this was contemptible and inexcusable – childhood abuse destroys lives and sets people up with a lifetime of mental health issues. I am the mother of four children I could not be responsible for my actions and would struggle to contain my anger were I to discover that someone had laid a finger upon my precious children, or had emotionally abused them in some way, and no doubt would succumb to wishing to wreak dreadful vengeance or fighting for justice.  The anger of victims of abuse is righteous and it is justified, they and their families have been treated shamefully by members of our church.

But truth is the bedfellow of justice and without it, justice cannot be served. This report lets down the victims by serving a false narrative of orchestrated abuse and a centralised deliberate policy of cover-up, whereas the truth is that the Catholic church is massively decentralised, individual Catholic bishops have a lot more direct canonical power than their Anglican counterparts. Where there were failings this was due to the ineptness at a local level, and if we want to prevent any sort of recurrence then we have to be able to look at what happened and analyse matters objectively. Blaming the Vatican directly is far too glib and simplistic, as well as being erroneous and it lets too many people off the hook, including those members of the laity who colluded with the abuse. Furthermore by writing such an blatantly ideological report, the UN allow those hardliners within the church who may be resisting reform to dismiss it. There are some countries who are still lagging behind in terms of formulating and reporting their child protection measures to the Holy See as Pope Benedict requested, along with some who seem to have very low prosecution rates, the UN has effectively deprived the Holy See of a chance to leverage the report and use it to rapidly effect change. John Allen, the veteran reporter, suggested that the report had been written before even hearing the Vatican’s testimony.

There is a lot that I wished to say yesterday, however the format of the show meant that I was never once allowed to finish my points and taken off on several blind alleys, such as for example, whether or not the law ought to force priests to break the seal of the confessional, despite the fact that there is no statistical or even anecdotal evidence to suggest that were priests compelled by law to report penitent child abusers in their confessional, this would have prevented any cases of abuse. Breaking the seal of confidentiality would discourage people from confessing their sins and being compelled to seek the help that they need, especially in the cases of those predisposed to pedophilia who were not guilty of any actual crimes. If a priest were to wish to confess sexual crimes in the context of the confessional, chances are that he would seek out a large city centre Cathedral far from where he lived in order that he could retain his anonymity in an old-fashioned confessional box, therefore it’s unlikely that a confessor would even know who he was, let alone whether or not he was a priest. What’s he going to do? Start chasing the guy down the aisle and conduct a citizen’s arrest, until the police arrive? Far better to withhold absolution unless and until the penitent has proven his wish to make amends by handing himself into the police. Mandatory reporting will simply discourage confessions and is an unacceptable incursion of the state into religious freedom and practice.

While the UK has witnessed child abuse, perpetrated by members of the Catholic church, the numbers are relatively small, 0.4% of priests and deacons were discovered to have been abusers and it’s notable that there are not many prolific UK survivors or survivors groups. Ireland is a different case due to the inter-relationship between the Catholic Church and state and the preponderance of state mandated Catholic institutions The scandal broke at a time where the church was beginning to lose its power and authority after decades of poor catechesis, without secure foundations the church crumbled as a result of the combined blows of the abuse scandal and the effect of the Celtic tiger.

Cases of Irish abuse are often presented in the UK media and without the cultural knowledge and background most Brits accept the narrative of Irish clerical abuse on an industrial scale without question, and are disgusted. Furthermore it’s very difficult for an English person such as myself to argue authoritatively against an Irish victim of abuse such as Colm O’Gorman who has dedicated his life to attempting to force change in the Vatican and takes issue with large chunks of doctrine. Speaking to him about the Miss Panti row, Colm doubted my perspective and cultural knowledge, due to my British nationality.

Nationality should not preclude being able to present and analyse facts – it’s easy to write me off as an English ignoramus who hasn’t studied Irish abuse in detail, however a close Irish friend of mine has had a similar interest in terms of discovering the truth of Irish clerical abuse to Colm, spending years painstakingly pouring over the original reports and so I present their compelling, factual and statistical report below. By concentrating on clerical abuse, we overlook the measures that need to be taken to combat a much more widescale problem, which would still appear to be being brushed under the carpet.

Abuse is by no means a distinctively Irish phenomenon, of course; in 2011 the NSPCA conducted a study, published as Childhood Abuse and Neglect in the UK Today, which found 24.1pc of British adults between the ages of 18 and 24 had experienced sexual abuse during their childhood or adolescence, while the 2007 Baltic Sea Regional Study on Adolescents’ Sexuality surveyed more than 1,500 18-year-old Swedish girls and found that 56pc of them had having experienced unwanted sexual contact. Different methodologies result in different figures, of course, but it is clear that this is a serious problem for all countries.

Background: The Carrigan Report 1930

The 1930 Carrigan Report noted that there was ‘an alarming amount of sexual crime increasing yearly, a feature of which was the large number of criminal interference with girls and children from 16 years downwards including many cases of children under ten years’; the Irish police estimated that under 15% of abuse cases ever went to court, as it was difficult to establish guilt and parents tended to feel it would be better for their children if their experiences were kept secret. The report was shelved, and nothing was done.

 The 2002 Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) study gave a fuller picture of the extent to which sexual abuse had been prevalent in Ireland; approximately 27% of 3,000 surveyed adults said that they had experienced sexual abuse in their childhood or adolescence.

Approximately one abuse survivor in sixty said that his or her abuser had been a religious minister; a further one in sixty saying his or her abuser had been a teacher who was a member of a religious order.

 The fact that this report found that almost 60% of Irish abuse had taken place in the context of the family circle, including neighbours, friends, and babysitters, has had little or no impact on Irish public life and has been but infrequently mentioned in Ireland’s mass media over the past twelve years. It seems to have been shelved almost as effectively as the Carrigan Report.

 In 2009 the Irish Times quoted an Irish detective who works with Interpol as saying that 85% of child sexual abuse takes place within the family circle; that same year the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland revealed that 97% of the abuse cases brought to their attention in 2008 had involved abuse within the family circle. Such claims and revelations have been resolutely ignored, however: Ireland’s public narrative of abuse remains resolutely focused on abuse by clergy and members of religious orders.

AbuseProportions

Irish Reports

The seriousness of the abuse of children within the Catholic Church in particular should certainly not be minimised in any sense, and the Irish State was quite right to address through a series of public reports the issue of abuse by clergy, members of religious orders, and lay people who worked with said orders.

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (2009), otherwise known as the Ryan Report, examined the issue of abuse – sexual or otherwise – in the industrial schools that were long a feature of the Irish landscape.  As the 2011 Colm O’Gorman-commissioned Amnesty International report In Plain Sight: Responding to the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy, and Cloyne Reports notes,  173,000 people entered these schools between 1936 and 1970 and 30,000 former residents complained to the Irish state of abuse they had suffered, with 14,448 of these seeking redress from the Residential Institutions Redress Board; just eleven cases of alleged abuse were, however, forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and in only three cases did the DPP make a decision to prosecute.

Despite how Catholic religious orders ran the State’s industrial schools, references to the Holy See are conspicuous by their absence from the Ryan Report , the Vatican being mentioned barely at a dozen points over the course of the Report’s five volumes, usually in the context of when orders had been founded or how things changed in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council; sections about communications with Rome invariably turn out to be about communications between particular orders’ Irish provinces and international headquarters.

At no point is Rome criticised in the Report, which implicitly recognises that the Holy See was in no meaningful way responsible for how these Irish schools were run; rather, the Report instead focuses on the religious orders themselves as essentially autonomous and distinctly Irish entities and on the Irish State which established, funded, and monitored the schools, and was responsible for children being sent to them in the first place.

 One telling detail of the report is section 1.6.77 which notes that when a Christian brother was suspected of abuse, the Irish authorities would often encourage him to seek dispensation to leave of his own accord rather than undergo the dismissal procedure; this, of course, meant that reports of abuse were not submitted to Rome.

The other three reports– the Ferns Report (2005), the Commission of Investigation Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin (2009) otherwise known as the Murphy Report, and the Commission of Investigation, Report into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne (2011), otherwise known as the Cloyne Report – were very different. These examined how between 1962 and 2009 Church and State had responded to allegations of child sexual abuse within the dioceses of Ferns and Cloyne and the archdiocese of Dublin.

If these reports can be said to have had a central finding it is that in the investigated dioceses, the Church’s own canon law policies on how to take action against priests accused of abuse were never followed. In Plain Sight recognised this, and a close reading of the reports bears this out: over the course of three official inquiries, the Irish State examined how the Irish Church handled 86 abuse allegations received between 1962 and 2009 and revealed that prior to 2003 not even one was submitted to Rome. No excuses can or should be offered for how these matters were mishandled by those in authority in the Irish Church.

Other than the cataclysmic mishandling of allegations, victims, and abusers by the Irish hierarchy and those associated with them, the Irish reports demonstrate something that Charles Scicluna, then in charge at the time of the CDF section that handled abuse cases – and a man who Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins has described as someone who really ‘gets it’ when it comes to the Church and abuse – told The Tablet in 2010: at the time when clerical abuse was at its most prevalentRome simply wasn’t told what was happening on the ground.

Over the last decade, almost half of all Irish Times articles mentioning abuse have mentioned clerical abuse, despite this representing, it would appear, between 1.7 and 3.4% of all Irish abuse, and insofar as Ireland’s government is interested in fighting abuse, it is concentrating on abuse within institutions, religious or otherwise, despite it now seeming that institutional abuse in general is almost – though sadly not quite – a thing of the past.

It is, of course, right that governments should seek to stamp out abuse within all sorts of institutions; they should, however, be seeking to do much more than that in order to prevent abuse, help survivors of abuse, and bring to justice the perpetrators of abuse, the vast majority of whom operate outside institutional walls.

The Ferns Report

The 2005 Ferns Report examined allegations of abuse in the diocese of Ferns between 1962 and 2002. It considered allegations of abuse made against 21 priests; not even one allegation was passed on to Rome during the period covered by the report, although in 2003 the apostolic administrator of the diocese sought Rome’s advice regarding the case of Monsignor Michael Ledwith, with the CDF subsequently dismissing Msgr Ledwith from the clerical state.

  • Fr Donal Collins – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr James Doyle – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Alpha – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr James Grennan – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Sean Fortune – not referred to Rome.
  • Msgr Michael Ledwith – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2003.
  • Canon Martin Clancy – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Beta – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Gamma – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2004 or 2005.
  • Fr Delta – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2004 or 2005.
  • Fr Epsilon – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Iota – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Kappa – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Lamda – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Zeta – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Sigma – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Upsilon – yet to be referred to Rome.
  • Fr Theta – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Omikron – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Tau – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Omega – pending advice, not referred to Rome.
  • Unnamed priests – inquiry took view that diocese and police were right in taking no further action, therefore not referred to Rome.

The Murphy Report

The 2009 Dublin or Murphy Report examined allegations of abuse against a representative sample of 46 priests in the Dublin archdiocese between 1975 and 2004, including cases where the civil authorities declined to prosecute, cases where the accused priests were dead at the time of accusations, cases where the accused priests were clearly innocent, and every single case where clergy had been convicted in the criminal courts.

Not one of these cases was sent to Rome for disciplinary reasons, although in three cases priests sought voluntary laicisation, and in three other cases priests appealed to Rome when action was taken against them.  In one of these three cases the appeal was upheld by the Roman Rota on technical grounds with the penalty being reduced; in another the appeal was initially upheld by the Roman Rota only to be subsequently overturned by the Pope; in a third the CDF rejected the appeal and confirmed the original decision.

  • Fr James McNamee – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Edmondus – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Phineas – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Vidal  – although he subsequently retracted his request, voluntarily sought laicisation from Rome.
  • Fr Patrick Maguire – after decision to laicise, appealed to Roman Rota on technical grounds in 2002 and was instead suspended from ministry for the following nine years.
  • Fr Ioannes – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Tyrus – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Jovito  – after 1993 decision to laicise, appealed to Roman Rota in 1994 and had penalty reduced to ten years suspension in a monastery; Dublin argued against this decision, and in 1996 Fr Jovito was dismissed by the Pope.
  • Fr Patrick McCabe – voluntarily sought laicisation in late 1987 and after Dublin contacted the CDF urging it to act quickly, was laicised in early 1988.
  • Fr Horatio – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Donal Gallagher – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Hugo – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Ivan Payne  – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Donato – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Harry Moore  – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Septimus –  after priestly faculties were removed, appealed to CDF Rome in late 2002, with the CDF supporting the decision to remove priestly faculties.
  • Fr William Carney  – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Thomas Naughton – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Cicero – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Clemens – at time of reporting, not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Dominic Savio Boland – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Quinton – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Marius – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Noel Reynolds – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Daryus – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Terentius – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr John Kinsella  – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Laurentius – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Klaudius – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Francis McCarthy  – sought laicisation from Rome.
  • Fr Sergius – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Dante – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Cassius – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Giraldus – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Aquila – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Blaise – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Benito – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Magnus – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Jacobus – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Guido – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Rufus – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Ignatio – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Cornelius – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Ricardus – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Augustus  – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Ezio – not referred to Rome.

The Cloyne Report

The 2011 Cloyne Report examined allegations of abuse and concerning behaviour on the part of 18 priests – and one bishop – in the diocese of Cloyne between 1996 and 2009. The first case to be reported to Rome was that of Fr Brendan Wrixon, the report’s Fr Caden, who was reported in December 2005. Suspended in the meantime, in April 2007 Rome confirmed that he should be barred from exercising any priestly ministry; in 2010 the Circuit Criminal Court in Cork gave him an 18-month suspended sentence for an act of gross indecency committed in the early 1980s.

  • Fr Ronat – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2009.
  • Fr Corin – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Darian – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Calder – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2009.
  • Fr Moray – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Flan – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Drust – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2009.
  • Fr Tarin – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Kael – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Baird – Private intervention sought advice from CDF in 2004; Msgr Scicluna advised that diocese be asked to conduct a preliminary investigation. Diocese did not further contact Rome.
  • Unknown Priest – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Rion – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Caden – referred to the CDF in Rome in 2005.
  • Two priest teachers in a diocesan college – not referred to Rome
  • Fr Naal – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Kelven – not referred to Rome.
  • Fr Zephan – not referred to Rome.
  • Bishop John Magee – referred to Congregation for Bishops in Rome in 2009.

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