The Blind Man

I just wrote a long post, having been subjected to yet another load of online abuse, which is still rumbling on five days after appearing on BBC’s Question Time, but deleted it, because these people aren’t worth the emotional energy. Rather than bore you all with the unedifying details, which frankly speak more about the perpetrators, who seek to tweet details of my personal life, I thought I’d go for something more spiritually nourishing, to act as a counter to this little parody currently being tweeted with glee.

Devastating satire at its finest, eliciting lots of comments along the lines of “she’s special, Twitter’s Mrs Mad, Question Time’s troll”. That’s right, going on national TV and proposing a viewpoint contrary to the liberal consensus is “trolling” and merits comments about my weight, my family and casting doubts upon my mental health. Someone really went to quite a lot of effort here.



Anyway, I was delighted to receive an email from the Very Reverend Leo Chamberlain OSB who will be familiar in Catholic circles as the  former headmaster of Ampleforth school and Master of St Benet’s College Oxford.

He very kindly offered his support having seen the show and sent me a copy of Sunday’s homily, which he has graciously allowed me to reproduce below which not only caused me to take heart, but gives encouragement to anyone who is fearful of speaking up or challenging the liberal consensus, that seeks to jeer, ridicule and mock a woman who points out that every child has a biological parent.

The sentiment is very timely.

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent A 2014 Fr Leo Chamberlain 1 Samuel 16:1b,6-7,10-13a; Ephesians 5.8-14; John 9.1-41

The idea that affliction, physical or financial, is a punishment of God – just as equally prosperity proves God’s favour – is still common. Both ideas are wrong. The HIV-AIDS epidemic indeed affected promiscuous homosexuals most, but to say that infection is a judgement of God is something different. Nor does God reward virtue with success. The psalmists spent a lot of time complaining about the opposite, that evil men thrived, and too often the good suffered. So the disciples in asking whether the man had sinned, or his parents, were asking the wrong question. Nor did this mean that the Father had set up a life of suffering in order to prove a point. The man’s blindness was a physical fact: Jesus saw him and his state gave the opportunity for his healing – and, as the gospel records, much more. We can hardly penetrate into the mystery of suffering in the world – save to recall the suffering of Christ himself.

Samuel had anointed David, and from then on the Spirit seized on him. In Jesus, the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us creatures of dust. Jesus mixed spittle with earth and anointed the blind man. The man washed his eyes in the pool of Siloam at Jesus’ command. This was not just any old pool, but the pool from which the water was drawn to celebrate the great feast of Tabernacles, of the bringing in of harvest and the blessings of the Messianic age. We too, said St Augustine, are born blind from Adam. The Christian is anointed in Baptism and Confirmation. With the eye salve of faith, the Christian comes to the light in Christ and to the life of Christ.

There are different kinds of blindness in this story. Jesus said, I am the light of the world. The one who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life. In daily life, we say sometimes, I see. Or, he saw the light. The disciples had hardly begun to understand what Jesus meant. They didn’t see. The blind man washed and he could see. Actually, he could see more and more. It started with the gift of physical sight. He said it as it had happened, and stuck to the truth in spite of everything. I am the man. He could see. But others could not. The neighbours were blind to what had happened, and uncertain.

They took the man off to higher authority. He told the Pharisees the same– but it had all been done on the Sabbath. They asked the man what he had to say about his healer. The man saw more and more: he is a prophet he said. So they called the parents, and asked them. They confirmed he was their son and was born blind. But they had their own blindness brought on by fear. Such a healing was a sign of the coming of the Messiah, but they could not risk saying that. Ask him, they said. So

they asked him again, and he asked why they wanted to hear it again; they told him to praise God because they didn’t know where the man had come from. The man, who now saw almost everything, absolutely contradicted them – a very brave thing to do.

So they threw him out; and Jesus found him: Jesus came to seek out what was lost. This brought the final step. The man came to the light of faith. Lord, I believe, he said, and he worshipped him. The Pharisees refused. They were guilty because they refused the light. That is still the question for all who read the gospel.

St Paul wrote that now we are light in the Lord: be like children of light, in complete goodness and right living and truth. That has always had a cost. The man who had been born blind was driven out by the Pharisees. The elite of that day would not accept him, and would not accept Christ. The influential elites of our day have moved away from the pattern of life taught for so long in the Church. The consequences are becoming plain.

This weekend, the weekend of Mothering Sunday, a celebration if ever there was one of the central purpose of marriage, the bringing of the next generation into the world, the first so-called equal marriages have taken place. The new Act of Parliament destroys in law the foundation meaning of marriage. The many who oppose this devastating change in the law are being painted as homophobe and reactionary. They are neither. They simply want the law on marriage to reflect the meaning it has always had: marriage is a lifelong conjugal commitment between a man and a woman, open to children. It’s not about equality. On Thursday evening, in a late flick on the TV, I saw a part of Dimbleby’s Question Time. I wonder how many of you saw it. The question of equal marriage was raised. The only panel member to defend marriage was attacked from an audience overwhelmingly hostile. Finally a brave woman in the audience defended marriage. I now know she is a Catholic called Caroline Farrow. She was abused and mocked. Afterwards, as she left the studio, she was told she was disgusting and was spat at. There is a group, Catholic Voices, which you can easily find on the internet. They work to make the Catholic voice heard on the public square: she is a member.

Catholics today have an obligation to make sure they are not blind to what is happening, that they see things as Christ did. We should at least be well informed. There is some danger now that we might be blind like the man’s parents, and fail to speak for the truth out of fear or embarrassment. Always remember that Our Lord said, many times, Do not be afraid. 



Party poopers?


The question on every talk-show host’s lips yesterday following publication of a poll that a fifth of Britons would reject an invitation to a same-sex wedding, was ‘would you turn down an invite’.

It’s what I was asked on both LBC and 3 counties radio as was any other Catholic Voice who did a press interview. (Do check out Fiona O’Reilly and Fr Edmund Montgomerie on the Catholic Voices website who both made outstanding representations of the Catholic position).

If nothing else, this poll demonstrates the undemocratic fashion in which the government pushed through the legislation despite a hefty opposition. David Cameron admitted that had he known the level of opposition that would have been stirred up, as indicated by the over 660,000 signatures on the petition by the coalition for marriage. that he would not have pushed the legislation forward. Perhaps this goes some way to explain why the government and other lobby groups have attempted to frame the issue as being purely about love and cast anyone who disagrees in the role of disagreeable irrational homophobic bigots.

A few Catholics have privately expressed their reservations to me about some of the Catholic Voices responses to the question about whether or not we would refuse to attend a same-sex marriage.

Obviously there is no  stock answer and a question such as that requires a nuanced response, which isn’t always possible in a short media slot. Speaking on a personal level, none of my gay friends, some of whom are in civil partnerships, some of whom are single, have expressed an interest in getting married. Some take a similar view to the leading art critic Brian Sewell who is gay.

The response that I might well attend the reception, provoked the understandable response that “you’d eat their food and drink their drink, but not attend their wedding”.

The attitude I would take would depend entirely upon the situation and those involved. There is no formal Catholic teaching on what we should do in these situations and it seems to me that we need to balance demands. On the one hand, a same-sex marriage is not what we consider to be a marriage, regardless of what the law might prescribe. The state has eviscerated marriage and stripped it of its meaning. As Catholics we have the need to witness to truth, therefore we cannot do anything which might imply that we accept or condone the state’s new definition of marriage. This would include doing anything that might cause confusion or scandal or imply endorsement, such as for example,participating in a ceremony  signing a civil marriage register or doing one of the readings.

Out of love, we must continue to witness to the truth. However there is also something of a delicate balancing act to consider. Any witness to the truth, must not include a rejection of the person. We must always leave open the opportunity for reconciliation and conversion of heart. Whatever we do, we need to do all we can to ensure that we do not facilitate a total breakdown of a relationship.

So it seems to me that not attending the ceremony but attending the after-party, might be one such compromise. Especially if it were a family member and one was under pressure to be a part of a family gathering. These are where the situations are often fraught with difficulties. Maybe a better compromise would be the other way around? Non-attendance of the ceremony could prompt questions as to why you weren’t there and provide a discreet opportunity for evangelisation, at a later more opportune occasion.

In any such situation, the only thing to do is to discuss the situation with the couple involved and also think hard as to what your presence might achieve. Would it signal an implicit acceptance or could it be a chance for reconciliation/later evangelisation. It’s a judgement call that is best left in the hands of the individual to prayerfully discern. The Church doesn’t ask her members to estrange themselves from their family. It really is a delicate balancing act of the demands of truth and the Gospel with those of personal relationships.

The situation is similar in terms of what to do when you have a family member who is going against the Church’s teachings on marriage in some other way. You cannot pretend that you approve of the situation, but must find a way to express this charitably making clear that it is the objective act of which you disprove, not the person themselves, whom you still love.

The Church’s teachings are that this is not a real and valid marriage. That is an uncomfortable and for many an unpalatable, truth. As to how we negotiate the delicate balancing act of being witnesses to truth and maintaining loving relationships and keeping the door open to future communication, that has to be a matter of personal conscience. If we are to rebuild the culture of marriage we have to ensure that we don’t close down opportunities to evangelise in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.

Looking at the coverage of the first same-sex marriages that took place last night and up and down the country today, what saddened me was that with Peter Tatchell as a witness and the rainbow themed cakes and flags, some of the ceremonies appeared to be concerned with making a political statement rather about love.

Question Time & conscience

Tonight I appeared in the audience as part of BBC’s Question Time.

I hadn’t been planning to, I was asked by a friend on Tuesday who had a ticket and couldn’t go. The questions I had planned were about the fetal remains scandal and teachers.

I hadn’t expected gay marriage to come up, it’s done and dusted now in the UK and I don’t expect to see a reversal in my lifetime. That’s not to say that I am not sad about matters, in my view this contributes to a weakening of marriage and a denial that as study after study demonstrates, unless there are overwhelming circumstances such as violence or substance abuse, children fare better with and have the right to be brought up by both biological parents.

I am not going to regurgitate once more my views on the issue – if anyone is genuinely interested they can look at the category tag on this blog.

I didn’t recognise Marilyn who asked the question about gay marriage as being from my parish until after the show. She didn’t recognise me either. Probably because I had brushed my hair and didn’t have at least 2 young children hanging off each hip. Catholic parishes are large. Mine offers two Sunday Masses which are packed out. I am usually too preoccupied with stopping the kids from immolating themselves on the candle stands and making mischief therefore many people I only know by sight and the questioner is one.

So I hadn’t planned what I was going to say on the topic, otherwise I would have made a few other more salient points, elaborating more precisely on Roger Helmer’s theme about how freedom of religion and conscience will be affected.

Dr Evan Harris and others have picked up on my appearance and membership of Catholic Voices. Firstly, I disclosed my identity to the producer when my friend nominated me for the ticket. Far more salient and relevant than Catholic Voices (which is unpaid voluntary work and therefore doesn’t count as an occupation), I did disclose that I write a paid weekly column for the Catholic Universe paper, present a weekly radio show on UCR Catholic Radio and write professionally for a number of socially conservative publications. Google is a tool available to anyone and they were at liberty to use it and decline me a ticket. I wasn’t asked to do the BBC’s 100 women with my CV hat on and neither was it in the blurb. So you can complain to them all you like, but actually this is precisely what Catholic Voices is about. Enabling people to take the initiative in getting their voice heard in the public square whether that be around the water cooler or on TV.

It does show that the BBC are willing to air diverse voices and as my view offered a counter-balance to the panel, that’s why it was given time. A secret stitch up it was not. It was a toss up whether or not to go earlier, I actually needed a night to catch up on work. You are not told to disclose your political or faith views prior to speaking. Several members of the audience were political activists and party members, with all sorts of specialised views. I am not sure why my faith needs to be disclosed before I am allowed to speak. I knew that if I did speak, there would be the inevitable outrage from the usual quarters.

When the question on gay marriage came up, I hadn’t planned on saying much, because the questioner did so well, but when David Dimbleby asked who in the audience didn’t agree with the new law it was stand up and be counted time. Proposing a radical alternative point of view in that environment which was extremely hostile and pressurized, was I think, the hardest TV gig I have ever done. It was very much on the hoof and I was on the defensive rather than being able to reframe. Especially when David then interrogated me about my views regarding gay adoption and children which are far more nuanced.

I stand by my comment that children shouldn’t be made to order. Using a surrogate or sperm donor is exploitative, it treats another person along with a child, as a commodity. The practice of surrogacy, in particular, is beset with ethical difficulties.

Here is a more nuanced appearance.

Afterwards Lord Wolfson and Roger Helmer MEP both made a beeline for me to thank me for my ‘bravery’. I didn’t feel brave, I felt frightened and sick. I didn’t know whether or not I would be able to add much to what Marilyn had said. It was only when Dimbleby specifically asked who didn’t agree that I realised that not to put my hand up would be cowardly. I did it so as not to let down James, who had dropped out and who wanted to ensure a Catholic voice (with a small v) was heard. We both thought that fetal remains would be the topic but I also knew that had I sat on my hands, I would be letting him and every single Catholic who has ever supported me, down.

Getting up from my seat, the girl who had asked a question about help for those who rent, sought me out to tell me I was disgusting. I asked her if she knew me or my friends and how she could make that judgement. Other people came and stuck up for me, reminding her that one of the warm up questions was about good manners. The lady I was sat next to was very warm and good-natured and apologised (I told her none was necessary) if she had been aggressive. She respected my beliefs.

Other people said that they wished they had also spoken up in support of traditional marriage but were too scared.

On the way back to the car, a group of young people spat at me. Marilyn then caught up with me, calling out “were you the lady at the front”, neither of us recognizing each other before the penny dropped. She is not an extrovert, doesn’t enjoy the spotlight and was shaking like a leaf. We saw each other to our respective cars safely.

I was expecting a Twitter hate-fest but have still been shocked by some of the vehemence and spite. I am not advocating penalising or punishing people on account of their sexuality and neither did I say that marriage was solely about children. The Twitterati were hearing what they wanted. What intrigues me as ever, is why no-one can see that not once have I judged individuals but instead made judgement calls on situations, which is what we are called to do as Christians. As ever ironically enough, it’s those who are accusing me of judgmentalism, who are in fact being the judgmental ones and claim to be able to gaze into my soul and confidently state that the position is based on hate.

But this is the kind of thing that faces those of us who will continue to stick to our guns and propound a traditional view of marriage. As the night has gone on, I am beginning to worry about my safety. Back in 2011 when David Cameron suddenly announced his intention to introduce gay marriage, I didn’t envisage things would get so nasty. Given my time again, I would still do the work I have done but definitely used the net under a pseudonym.

Anyway, have a look when it’s up on iplayer.

Foetal remains

Three weeks after Fr Ray Blake wrote this post on Thursday 3 September, we discovered that our unborn baby Raphael had died in utero at my 12 week scan, at around 11 weeks gestation.

Raphael was provisionally scheduled to be born tomorrow, 25 March 2014 via elective c-section. It felt like a fortuitous date, not only being the feast of the Annunciation, but it’s also the tenth birthday of my eldest daughter. Our Lady has manifested herself in one way or another in all of my pregnancies – for example, I discovered that I was expecting another of my daughters on the Feast of the Assumption.

No doubt I shall find tonight’s Channel 4, Despatches, difficult viewing, both in terms of content and timing.

As I have written about previously, we were given the remains of our baby to take home and store in the fridge, following medical management of miscarriage. Their body was fully and perfectly formed, only in miniature, which can be verified by a simple internet image search of what a foetus of 11 weeks gestation might look like.

Earlier on this year, I did an interview with the national press as to the horrific circumstances surrounding our miscarriage. Robin had worked in the funeral industry and therefore knew that the hospital could store the baby’s remains, prior to the funeral directors picking them up for burial or cremation. He had done this previously for clients, reputable funeral directors will not charge for the basic cost of children’s funerals (obviously flowers and other disbursements such as a headstone are chargeable) and thought that this would be the normal procedure.

According to a leaflet that can be downloaded  here  issued by the Royal Sussex County Hospital you need to sign a P2 form in order for the mortuary to keep the remains. We therefore asked for this option when I was presented with a P1 form to sign which gives consent for mass cremation, prior to the procedure to induce delivery. Although we were not aware of the disgusting abuses which will be highlighted in tonight’s programme, that babies’ remains could be used to generate heat for hospitals, we knew that there was the possibility for error and that they could potentially be disposed of as clinical waste. Hospital procedure seems to be to shepherd parents into signing the P1 form for mass cremation if they have suffered an early loss.

It was important for us to mark the loss of our baby correctly for a number of reasons;  to acknowledge their humanity, to grieve for him or her, mark his/her brief existence here on earth, accord him/her the dignity and respect s/he deserved as a human being and to pray for Raphael. We felt it was our duty as parents, the one thing we could do to mark our love. Robin in particular felt that it was his duty – it was the one thing that he could do for his baby, ensure that he or she had a proper, dignified and holy funeral and he wanted to accompany the baby to their final resting place.

As the experience bore similarity to the medical abortion I had undergone back in 1997, albeit at an earlier stage, as can be imagined, things had a particular and awful resonance, bringing home in painfully sharp and vivid detail, the lack of respect, dignity and love that had been shown to a previous child who deserved so much more. This dreadful issue of how babies’ bodies have been mistreated throws what happens in abortion clinics and what they do with their remains, into sharp and terrible relief.

When we told the staff of our wish to make private arrangements for our baby they seemed nonplussed, this was obviously an unusual request, but said that they would sort it out. The nurse later returned to us and told us that it wasn’t possible for them to store the remains and we would have to organise matters ourselves, which would mean taking them home with us.

Thus it was, that on the morning of 3 October 2013, I was discharged from the gynaecology ward, clinging to Robin for dear life, following a horrific night in which the process of miscarrying the baby brought about a terrific blood loss, requiring some ad-hoc surgery at 1am on the ward as no theatre was available and for a few hours of IV fluids. Therefore as they gave me the form to sign from the previous day which they had amended to state that we wanted to take the remains home, I didn’t think to quibble or query. I was exhausted, could barely stand, emotionally overwrought and just wanted to go home to my own bed and sleep.

It didn’t occur to me to say “Hang on, can I have the P2 form, you’ve just crossed out the details on the P1” or “why can’t you look after my baby”? I was tired, vulnerable and was doing as I was told. The hospital said that they wouldn’t store the remains, I wasn’t in the mood to fight with them over it, or ask why not. Maybe it’s a uniquely British trait, a class thing or a mixture of the two but like so many,  meekly accepted what I was told and fell in line with procedure.

I’ve blurred out my personal identity details, but here is the form I signed. You can see it is a modified P1, not the P2 specified on the leaflet. How many women dealing with the aftermath of a miscarriage, really think to quibble over paperwork. Robin thought it odd that the hospital wouldn’t help us by keeping the baby – but I was too tired to quibble over this wording which they had written in – “couple has requested to take remains home” and just signed what was put in front of me.

Baby Raphael Release form
We didn’t ask to take home our ‘products of conception’.

So it was, we found ourselves leaving the ward, taking the cramped tiny lift down from level 11 of the Thomas Kemp tower, so familiar to us and any families or women who have had a baby in Brighton. It was one of the most painful experiences of our married life. The lift had so many previous happy associations with pregnancy, maternity and newborns, we had carried three of our newborn children down to the car, their tiny bodies bundled in a blanket and strapped into the carseat, ready to face the world, and this time there was nothing to show for the familiar trek, aside from a tiny body in a jar in Robin’s pocket. As we were leaving the ward they apologised that they had nothing more appropriate than a sample jar, to which a generic printed label was affixed advising that the remains ought to be refrigerated.

Just as we’d stepped in the lift, another couple with their beautiful newborn in a carseat sprouting a full head of hair and a healthy pink bloom joined us. The air was heavy with anticipation and excitement. They were wearing the exhausted but happy look, intermingled with a pinch of panic and disbelief, which is the exclusive preserve of parents. We were probably the first strangers they had met since leaving the ward. What a lovely baby you have, I said, trying not to let the words catch in my throat or let on any hint of tragedy lest I should cast any hint of sadness on their special day, or spoil their big moment, trying not to think of the lifeless pallid corpse in my husband’s pocket.

So we got home, I went to bed and Robin did what the label told him to and placed the baby in the spare inbuilt  fridge we use for beakers of drinks and snacks, where they remained for the next week, before we obtained a casket and buried the baby in the grounds of our parish church. Looking back on it, I can’t quite believe that we actually did that, we put our baby in our drinks fridge! I guess we were in a state of shock and so it was easier just to mindlessly follow instructions. We stopped the children from going into the kitchen and helping themselves during that period for obvious reasons, but every time I open the fridge door, I have to rid myself of the image in my head.

The press pulled the story for legal reasons as the Royal Sussex County hospital denied that they would ever treat anyone in such a way and that we must have definitely requested to take the remains home ourselves. When you compare our story with Fr Ray’s parishioner and other testimonies about the Royal Sussex, it definitely raises questions about their attitude, especially when one sees the disrespect with which the bodies of other babies were treated around the country. Both of us have been left angered by the implication by the Royal Sussex that we are lying. No grieving parents would wish to have to take home their baby’s remains.

At least we have the comfort of knowing that we did the right thing by our baby. Our mistrust that they may not treat the remains with the respect they deserve was not unmerited. How awful for any parent who miscarried at those particular hospitals, knowing what may have happened to their babies.

This is what happens in a society with such a disrespect for the life of the unborn. I wonder what those who advocate for abortion up until birth, or at a much later stage would make of this? It takes the concept of green energy to a new level.

Can you be a good Catholic working mum?

I’ve written a lot about the government’s treatment of stay-at-home mothers of late. This weekend’s Universe column blasted George Osborne’s budget for not treating single-income families equally and I have also attacked the attitude of feminists such as Cherie Blair along with her hypocrisy.

The attitude displayed towards stay-at-home mothers by society as a whole is damaging and toxic. Patricia Hewitt’s Women and Equality Unit stated in 2004 that there was a real problem with mothers who stayed at home to bring up their children. One of the attitudes that I frequently face is being dismissed as a “Catholic housewife” meaning that my employment status renders me an unsophisticated ignoramus with no relevant life-experience and unable to exercise any sort of critical thinking and judgement, despite the fact that I formerly enjoyed a professional career within investment banking and private equity. When I returned to work (out of sheer necessity as I couldn’t’ afford to pay back my maternity bonus and due to responsibilities such as a mortgage) when my daughter was small, I was still a higher-rate tax payer.

But frankly this is irrelevant. Women should not be treated like lesser human beings, intellectually, socially and most certainly not financially for choosing to stay home and raise their children themselves, regardless of what they did in their former careers.

True equality lies in recognising that by virtue of their sex, women face a different set of choices to men and should be free to choose what is right for them and their family without being penalised in any way. At present women are being shoe-horned into purely masculine way of working which treats children as though they are a barrier to worldly success and happiness which is defined purely in terms of career status, consumer possessions and a certain lifestyle.

Political parties of every flavour are calling for more subsidised and/or available childcare, despite the fact that this is not what women want. When 6 out of 10 working women are saying that even they were able to use childcare more, they still would not want to and in fact want to cut down their hours, this should tell us something, as should the statistic that 37% of  mothers, do not actually want to be working at all. According to a recent survey the higher qualified and better paid the woman, the more anxious she is likely to be about not spending time with her children.

And yet family policies are all about putting children in institutional daycare, making it cheaper and more available than before, at huge cost to the taxpayer, when this is in fact not what women want, nor should we desire that women work full-time long hours if they have family commitments. The evidence demonstrates that children who are put in full-time childcare, can in fact be damaged by this. 

With all this in mind, for a multitude of reasons (none of which I need to publicly justify), I am currently considering the prospect of returning to work. Does that make me a hypocrite or worse still a bad Catholic mother – modelling a potentially deleterious example?

I’d argue no, because like most families, my choice about whether or not to work is not made purely in a vacuum and neither is it concerned with the ubiquitous second car or foreign holiday. While there may be well some families whose wife chooses to work for what others may perceive to be frivolous lifestyle reasons, to be honest, I see this reflected more in decisions about numbers of children a family choose to have, as opposed to the decision as to whether or not a woman should work.

I posted this at the weekend, which has generated quite a bit of controversy, which posits that whatever option a Catholic mother choses, it does not make her a lesser mother or a worse Catholic. There is an online tendency amongst Catholics to live in our little Catholic bubble where the wife doesn’t work, home-educates her children, all of which are fantastic choices and perhaps look disparagingly or with pity upon those who have made different decisions. There is more than one way to be a good Catholic mother.

There is a sentiment that mothers who work should be pitied because that is sub-optimal and potentially damaging for their children. A choice to work needs empirical evidence to substantiate that it is a good. The problem is that no empirical evidence exists as to the positives and negatives of working mothers, because of the wide spectrum of families  and circumstances out there.

We shouldn’t assume that mothers who work, whether part-time or full-time are in some way damaging their families or are doing so for less than virtuous reasons. While one can argue that families should downsize their expectations and living standards, for so many this is simply not possible. It is not about the second car or the holiday or even the nice postcode but keeping a roof over their heads.

If a mother decides to continue working so that she doesn’t need to move her family to a sink estate, into a cramped flat or even a caravan to enable her to look after them full-time, that does not mean her decision is without sacrifice. If a family will be made unhappy by difficult surroundings, whether that be lack of space or living in fear in an area of high crime, one can easily see how it would be  better for her to work. Equally if a husband feels psychologically over-burdened by the responsibility of being the only wage earner, and every single month is a desperate struggle, only ever being one unexpected bill away from financial disaster or the bailiffs, then perhaps it might be better were the mother to do some work and give them some wiggle room.

In those sorts of circumstances, work can be a definite good and not even necessarily a least worst option. With housing prices and rents at historically high levels, predicated around two income families, something which is now supported by government policy, I would argue that most families do have little choice. Our family, for example, would have no hope of being able to afford anything more than a 1 bedroom flat in Brighton and Hove. Where do you start if you are living on a low or minimum wage?

But what if you are married to an uber-rich banker or some-such, technically a stay at home mother and spend all day at the local tennis club and put your children in their creche facility while you swim and chat with your friends, or pay a nanny or au-pair to do the lion’s share of looking after them while you pursue your own interests? Does that automatically make you a better, holier or more Catholic mother, than someone who works, because you stay at home with them?

What about if you don’t need to work, but choose to do so nonetheless, even if your work is unpaid for a charity in order to keep your grey matter going and help other people and give you a few hours break? Is arranging care for your children two days a week so you can do a stint in the local St Vincent de Paul shop, or do a bit of parish admin or go and visit the sick or elderly, or any sort of charitable work, less than desirable?

What if you are a GP or midwife and want to keep your professional qualification current, to give you the option to continue to work when the children are back at school? Or because you enjoy your job and find it fulfilling to continue on a part-time basis. Isn’t it better that you do this rather than stay at home with gritted teeth building up a fat wedge of resentment and chip on your shoulder which could also affect your family life and relationships, not to mention your spiritual life?

Also, while we can acknowledge that full-time daycare can be harmful, that is an entirely different proposition to saying that working mothers are bad, harmful or un-Catholic. Not everybody uses nurseries, while there is a disturbing push to get all daycare formalised and state-regulated, actually many forms of unregulated care, such as that provided by grandparents, is not necessarily bad or harmful.

I’ll declare an interest here. When I was working full-time my parents did a lot of childcare, which was excellent. My daughter had a combination of nursery and informal care. By the time she started school at the age of 4, she had the reading age of a 6 year old. Her personal development was in no way stunted and we enjoy a close loving relationship, as we always have.

All my children have been breastfed for over a year which I would argue is key in terms of securing an attachment, yet when two of them were babies they were in a nursery part-time from the age of 10 months whilst I attempted to study for a degree. I used to pop in several times a day between lectures to play with them and breastfeed. Only my youngest child has not experienced any form of childcare. We tend to think of childcare consisting of putting young babies in nurseries, but there are many other beneficial permutations. Childcare can encompass everything from your grandmother picking up your children from school or your friend looking after your children with theirs as a favour during the holidays on a quid pro quo basis. I know a couple who both work full time without any of their  young children needing formalised state childcare, basically they work in shifts.

The point I am making here is that general statements about the merits of putting children in formal daycare, for long hours 5 days a week, do not apply to all working mothers and all situations. Sometimes a mixture of care can be every bit as beneficial for children and it certainly was for mine, especially when I was heavily pregnant with my third child in 3 years, lived in a small maisonette with an unusable garden in an extremely isolated area with the nearest playground or green space entailing a difficult walk with a double buggy. Going to nursery gave them an opportunity to have structured and or messy play as well as socialise with other children, and use play equipment and facilities that were not on offer at home. They thrived on it and I appreciated having two days where I could get some housework and admin done, as well as my paid writing work, without interruption.

We all wish to baptise and justify our own choices and experiences – we choose to do what we believe is right. Sometimes it’s a passionate, positive choice like home-educating our children, other times it’s simply a case of doing what we need to, to  keep our heads above water. Sometimes it’s a case of balancing personal well-being with our wider family needs and working out whether the work we choose to do is of wider benefit to society as a whole.

But we need to move away from this model that the best, holiest and most Catholic way to parent is to be at home 24/7 with the children, offering up the daily drudge and sacrifice, if at times the experience is less than fulfilling. We do have to weigh up the responsibilities of parenthood, just as staying at home can be a holy noble and worthy sacrifice, so can working away from your children and missing out on some of the pleasure and joy of raising them.

Who do we look to in our model of perfect motherhood? Mary. We don’t know much about St Joseph, but it’s fair to assume that in common with other women from that culture she took care of the home and her infant son, while Joseph was the provider. When discussing bible historicity and culture, I always note that God chose that particular place, time and culture for a reason, so we can’t necessarily disregard the fact that it is highly probable that Our Lady did not undertake paid employment which meant that she had to put Christ in someone else’s care for the majority of the time. Was she with him 24/7 or did she occasionally leave him with a neighbour or relative to mind on a regular basis so that she could concentrate on other responsibilities? With the breakdown of extended families and communities, being a stay at home mother is far more lonely and isolated than in previous generations. There frequently isn’t the fallback of the nearby family member or obliging neighbour.

But we do know that Mary was called to make sacrifices by virtue of being the mother of God. Motherhood will invariably entail sacrifices, not least that of pregnancy and childbirth, as well as the responsibility of looking after and nurturing children to the best of your ability. The vast majority of women overwhelmingly love their children, they want to spent at least part if not most of the time with them and do what is best.

While supporting stay at home mothers and families, we shouldn’t impose our vision of the ideal upon other families and determine for them what their ideal should be, or the precise nature of their personal sacrifice. There is too much baptising of our own personal choices going on all sides.

Juggling her work as GP together with the demands of her family, did not disqualify St Gianna Molla from sainthood – working did not preclude her from making the ultimate sacrifice or being any less of a mother.

If I decide to work, it will be a positive choice, one based on an appraisal of my family circumstances and no doubt the nature of the role with have a large part to play. The choice whatever that may be, will be a proud, unapologetic one, taken in the best interests of my family and not one that I should be made to feel defensive of or slightly embarrassed by, regardless of whether or not it fits into others’ expectations.

The issue of whether or not women work is not the same as that of abortion, lives are not at stake, although arguably children’s welfare is. If we don’t want the state to encroach into our family lives then we should lead by example and not attempt to interfere in others’ family lives by overt judging or adding another layer of guilt and responsibility upon a woman or family who are prayerfully attempting to discern the best way forward.

If we care about Catholicism shaking off its image as being a religion for misogynists and sexists, seeking to control every aspect of womens’ lives and choices, then we can start by trusting that women who are working are doing the right thing by themselves and their families and save our pity  for far more pressing causes.

Catholic blogging

Both the Catholic Herald’s Op Ed and Bishop Egan’s press release, firmly hit the button when it comes to Catholic blogging and social media.

It’s balance that all of us have struggled to achieve at some point or other. I know that my output has suffered at times, it’s hard to retain perspective when you have a small group of people, intent on destroying your professional reputation and even attempt to interfere in your husband’s vocation, fuelled by a heady combination of resentment and jealousy.

It’s part of the inevitable cost of propounding an orthodox Catholic perspective on the internet which will invariably attract negative attention from those to whom your message, your values and everything that you stand for is a complete anathema.

I’ve refrained from joining the Protect the Pope brouhaha, despite the fact that on the whole I overwhelmingly support Nick Donnelly’s work, because communications between a Bishop and one of his clergy should be private – I don’t know what was said, the Bishop’s motivations for asking Deacon Nick to take a pause and whether or not he intends this to be a permanent state of affairs.

I’ve heard Deacon Nick speak a few times on EWTN’s Celtic Connections and it’s hard to reconcile this image that many would wish to paint of a bat-guano spittle-flecked mentalist, with the polite, softly-spoken, reasoned and  theologically educated gentleman who loyally, faithfully and accurately defends and reflects magisterial teaching and corrects errors being propounded in allegedly Catholic publications, blogs and the mainstream media.

But so much can be lost in tone, and admittedly in recent times, without wishing to be either treacherous or traitorous to Deacon Nick, whom I admire greatly, I do agree with some commentators that the tone of his blog has, perhaps unintentionally, come across as overtly aggressive or perhaps lacking in charity.

I’ll go a bit further and put my neck on the line to say that personally, I have been dismayed to witness attacks, not only from Protect the Pope, but from other members of blogosphere on my own bishop, Kieran Conry, which call his orthodoxy into question. From my personal perspective Bishop Kieran has always been a kind, orthodox bishop, who has behaved in a deeply pastoral and understanding fashion, not only to my family, but to me personally.

I don’t want to make this post about Bishop Kieran per se (and I will delete uncharitable comments) but as Robin said in this month’s Catholic Life magazine, Kieran was the one to give Robin the nudge he really needed and when Robin went to see him back in Easter 2010, told him that he had no other option other than to offer his resignation to his Anglican bishop and become a Catholic, whilst rightly, at the same time, making no promises about future vocation. This is not the mark of an unorthodox bishop and neither are his recent initiatives of  reviving the Catholic practice of  abstaining from meat on Friday (which looks set to be taken up by other Bishops’ conferences around the world), encouraging Catholics take prayer into their work-place and most recently getting people back to confession by promoting the sacrament. As our diocesan bishop he deserves and has earned our loyalty and personal respect.

Both of us have found some of the attacks on him quite hard to swallow, but such can be the vehemence and bitterness involved on the Catholic blogosphere, we have refrained from commenting or entering into the fray. That fact is very telling. Also while some bloggers have written some things with which I disagree, or have found uncharitable, overall the quality of their output has been high. All of us have the odd off-post – the nature of blogging is amateur and while we should aim for highest standards of truth and accuracy, overall if someone continues to write unpalatable stuff, then there is always the option to stop reading it as opposed to picking public fights, which contravene scriptural principles. Catholic ideals of tolerance entail that divergences of opinion mean that rejecting another’s ideology or view is not commensurate with rejecting that person’s friendship. Half the problem, especially on Twitter has been a stasi-like attempt to dictate friendships and make others guilty of a crime of association. We are not a cult, calling out heterodoxy is not the same thing as shunning, yet interestingly enough it has been the liberal contingents who reject vast swathes of Catholic teaching who have been the ones attempting to target and isolate orthodox voices of reason who communicate with those of a more strident bent and turn certain bloggers such as ‘Eccles’, into untouchables.

Getting back to the Deacon Nick furore, it seems to me that a pause is not quite the same thing as being censored or silenced. We don’t know all of the circumstances. I am inclined to charity on both sides. Recently there has been a fashionable tendency by some Catholics to denigrate or deride Deacon Nick’s blog for its focus upon magisterial teachings regarding sexuality rather than themes of Catholic Social Teaching which impact on political issues. Deacon Nick has been sneered at for appearing obsessed with sexuality or others’ orthodoxy which seems to me to be unfair. He seems to have been under attack from several factions which as I know from personal and bitter experience, can make one overtly defensive and short on patience. While it’s tempting to keep steaming on regardless and not let the beggars get to you, sometimes a pause is wise – it gives you time to spiritually recharge and return stronger and more refreshed. It isn’t necessarily a silencing.

We all have our specialist focus areas, while I often get written off as a religious bigot, the focus of my blog is often deliberately theologically-lite, mainly because others do this better and because I am aware that I have a wide cross-section of readers. One could almost classify it as ‘Catholic in name only’, except that would imply a measure or level of dissent, whereas I adhere to and endorse the catechism of the Catholic church in its entirety. My focus tends to be upon pro-life issues, especially abortion and on the failures and shortcomings of contemporary feminism. Deacon Nick’s focus is transparent. Vatican II urges the laity to take the initiative therefore if people believe that Deacon Nick’s blog has a one-sided focus, there is nothing to stop them from setting up their own and plugging the perceived gap, instead of attempting to dictate to others what they should and should not write about.

I’ve never really thought about my aims in any depth, I blog on the hoof, as and when the urge takes me,  fitted in around the other responsibilities I have to juggle, but if I had to pin it down, I guess my aims would be to demonstrate that it is possible to lead a happy and fulfilled joyful life as a Catholic woman, to inspire others to enquire and look more deeply into the Catholic faith themselves, as well as change hearts and minds regarding the rights of the unborn. As a Catholic woman surrounded by contradictory and confusing messages about the role of women in society, I aim to offer comment and common sense from a socially conservative perspective.

So I’d be unlikely to be one of those bloggers likely to fall foul of the bishops. Also let’s not forget the massive elephant in the room here, I am obviously constrained by what I can and cannot say for a number of obvious reasons. My obligations and responsibilities mean that I cannot be so free and easy with my opinions as others, even when I am dying to correct misinformation which is out there, or highlight an injustice or issue which might be of concern to Catholics. There are several times I find myself having to sit on my hands and recent situations have highlighted the  appeal of blogging pseudonymously which may mean that one doesn’t get quite the same platform, but do at least allow you to speak freely without compromising your work or family’s confidentiality.

But the main reason that I refrain from getting involved in inter-Church politics is simply to avoid the backlash and nastiness, not least to my family, should give all blogging Catholics pause for thought. If Bishops don’t always take the internet as seriously as they should, it’s because they are put-off by the reams of nastiness and uncharitable comment out there and have perhaps been misled into thinking that the Catholic blogosphere consists of uninformed, unkind ranting on specialised issues which are of no concern to the faithful at large. Which is why bishops often ignore correspondence pertaining to the internet. They think it’s one big messy squabble out of which no-one comes out well.

Bloggers should be aware that they are not as influential as some might like to think – none of the parishioners in any of parishes which I have attended in the past few years have ever discussed the shenanigans on the blogs or Twitter. Most of them didn’t even know I even blogged, or was a member of Catholic Voices until they unexpectedly caught a few seconds of me on the telly or radio. It might seem a big deal to us, or other Catholics if we’re on the BBC, or have millions of people reading our blogs, but I bet Deacon Nick or Fr Tim Finigan, to name two of the biggest independent bloggers aren’t regularly mobbed in Sainsburys. Nor, I should imagine are the professionals, such as Joe Kelly of the Universe, Madeleine Teahan, Francis Phillips, Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith, Luke Coppen, Tim Stanley, or even Damian Thompson. The most I’ve ever had is a mother in the playground tell me she saw me on TV and thought I scrubbed up really well and looked totally different, and someone ask were they drunk or did they really see me on the news in the pub on a Friday night?!

We shouldn’t get too big for our boots, but we should also remember who and what it is we represent and act with dignity, respect and charity at all times. If we want both the bishops and the public at large to take us seriously, which we should, especially if there are serious issues which need tackling, (Cramner made an interesting point about whether or not bloggers would have drawn attention to clerical child abuse had they been about at the time) then independent voices such as those on the blogosphere are vital, so we need to make sure that we do not waste the opportunity.

The ever sardonic tweeter Heresy Corner, a.k.a Nelson Jones, has frequently wryly and sardonically observed the similarities between online in-fighting amongst Catholic and feminist circles. It’s inevitable to some extent given the fallenness of human nature, but publicly quarrelling ourselves into irrelevance and obscurity while those with the power to actually change things, ignore pressing issues relating to matters such as catechesis and the spread of heterodoxy, is Dawkins’ dream.

But it’s a testament to the overall quality of amateur bloggers that many of us who aren’t clerics like Fr Tim or Fr Ray Blake, such as Laurence England, Greg Daly and Megan Hodder, to name but a few, have been picked up by not only Catholic publications, but also by the wider mainstream media as a whole. It is in part thanks to my blog, that media researchers googling for an alternative point of view on a topic have given me a much wider global platform than I could ever imagined when I started and one that has resulted in a regular weekly column and radio show.

It’s vital for Catholicism that both the laity and clerics continue to speak in the public square, have a voice in the mainstream media as well as contribute to internal discussion.  If we want to be heard, we need to up our game and make sure that we are worth listening to.

Escaping the ‘choice feminist’ honey trap

One of the concepts that I have often struggled with when expounding on the subject of pornography is whether or not the female stars are themselves victims. Recently there has been a lot of discourse regarding the topic of sex workers in mainstream media, Women’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 recently had an illuminating discussion, in which one sex worker passionately, articulately and  convincingly argued that she was no victim.

The problem is that mainstream soft-porn such as the ubiquitous 50 shades of grey, and Belle de Jour’s Diary of a Call Girl, has brought the taboo into the mainstream, giving practices which are often seedy, grim, painful and unpleasant, an alluring and glamourous appeal. It is not sufficient to be well-educated or cultured, or professionally successful, ideally we should all be sexual gourmands willing and able to indulge in and expand the flavours of our sexual palate, if we are to be considered true sophisticates.

Catholic culture and theology will naturally eschew and reject such worldly thinking, nonetheless this narrative of women involved in pornography as victims, is a difficult one to unpick when discussing on a secular level. One doesn’t need the reams of emerging data on the dangers of pornography and of porn addiction to believe that pornography is essentially the misuse of another human person, whether that’s the person involved in the making of it, or the person viewing it. Pornography is not only damaging to the individuals associated with it or who choose to use it, but to society as a whole.

Which is why this piece, written by a mainstream feminist is an essential read, as it rejects the entire frame of sexual empowerment, expressing sympathy with someone who is the target of abuse as a result of their sexual activities does not mean that one has  to embrace their choices as valid. It rejects the frame of pornography as being an issue of individual choice and validates critique of pornography as being about the manufacture and commodification of sexual desire.

By asking “how does porn – its material production, its normativity, its wide availability, and its ubiquity in pop culture – affect our desires and our capacity for intimacy?” feminists can offer a critique of porn without falling into the honey trap.

Summing up, the author asks

“The issue isn’t whether porn is liberating for her.  The issue is:  is porn liberating for us?”

Now that’s my kind of feminism and of course it will give fuel to those who would wish to despairingly equate feminism and/or Catholicism with Puritanism, whereas actually both Catholics and feminists would agree that sex is a good and pleasurable thing which should be enjoyed by women and men alike, but we would differ on the appropriate context. The default Catholic position is one of sex positivity, so long as the parameters of sex were described as being heterosexual and within marriage. It’s not that sex per se is harmful, dirty or bad, we accept the sheer power of the thing, which is why we wish to harness the power as a force for good, namely reinforcing intimacy between a married couple and procreation.

But what really struck me about this intelligent piece was that it, perhaps subconsciously rejected individualism and moral relativism and the popular feminist mantra that woman’s choices must automatically be celebrated by virtue of her gender. Female solidarity does not mean that we have to applaud, ostracise, shun or pity women who choose the lucrative career of working in one of Hugh Heffner or Peter Stringfellow’s establishments, but rather that we ask deeper questions about the nature of female flourishing and freedoms and use reason to explain, persuade and convince others of our point of view.

The technique is similar to Catholic humanist apologetics however, feminists will be at an advantage in that they may not have to face the ‘you are an irrational believer in the sky fairy’ schtick, but that they will invariably have to fend off some critique of their appearance, sexual appeal and perceived lack of desire (such as the shameful treatment of Clare Short) demonstrates that sexism is still alive and well. This isn’t the fruits of patriarchy however but the consequences of the sexual revolution which held that every women had not only to be constantly ‘up for it’ but must also conform her appearance to a sexualised male gaze.

For all its coherence nonetheless, I couldn’t help but be frustrated, particularly when I noted that it had been picked up and tweeted, naturally enough, by pro-choice feminist and writer Sarah Ditum. If feminists are able to see the illogical and harmful stance of choice feminism, recognising and accepting that certain individual choices can contribute to and propagate wider harms, why can they not apply this principle to abortion. If they are able to identify the key issue about pornography, what it actually constitutes and signifies, then why are they quite so blind to the nature of abortion? If Naomi Wolfe, a key pro-choice feminist can state that abortion rights activists ought to acknowledge a death involved, then why is mainstream feminism unable to engage with and unpick the harms done to mother and child by abortion. And why are those of us who have been hurt by abortion, or who attempt to highlight the damage caused to womankind as a whole, rejected by the mainstream movement?