Miserable sinner, aspiring saint, propensity towards melodrama and general bawdiness, probably not the best example of holiness, but trying nonetheless. A woman who wears her heart on her sleeve and talks a great deal of nonsense. You're not going to gain any profound insight from my ramblings and fulminations, but you're welcome to share the journey.
A concerned parent with daughters who attend the Sacred Heart High School Hammersmith has forwarded me the following extract from a recent newsletter. These are, apparently, the exact words of the headteacher:
“…..In recognising Jesus as our teacher through the Gospels, the first impulse for us as a Catholic school must be to promote greater wholeness for transgender individuals by listening, caring, supporting and offering community. This means at a minimum, offering very basic gestures of welcoming respect, such as using the young person’s preferred pronoun and addressing them with their preferred name, recognizing their intent to live as the person they believe God created them to be, and refraining from any judgement.
This week our assembly theme was ‘Just be yourself, be proud of who you are’. At KS4 the following prayer was used:
This extract is concerning for a number of reasons.
Firstly we don’t only recognise Jesus as a mere ‘teacher’ through the Gospels. He is a lot more important than that, He is our Saviour, Our Sovereign Lord, the one who died to redeem us from sin and death.
Secondly should our first impulse, upon recognising Jesus as our teacher/Saviour, really be to promote greater wholeness (whatever that means) for transgender individuals by listening, caring, supporting and offering community?
No reasonable Christian would have any problem with either listening, caring, supporting or offering community for individuals suffering from gender dysphoria, indeed those elements ought to be vital in terms of offering care, but why would a first instinct for any Catholic individual or institution be to promote a greater wholeness for transgender individuals?
Presumably wholeness is about an individual reconciling their feelings about their gender identity with the physical reality? Is recognising the person’s confusion about their identity really best addressed by confirming the dissonance and playing along with the delusion that they really are of the opposite sex and using new pronouns and preferred names?
This may be the most courteous and respectful way of dealing with adults, but when official research tells us that over 80% of children who experience a form of gender dysphoria will eventually orientate back towards their natal sex; is confirming that Janet is now John, really the most helpful and compassionate approach?
John Whitehall, Professor of Paediatrics at Western Sydney University, notes that protestations by children that they belonged to the opposite sex used to be seen as one of the warning signs of childhood sexual abuse and cites research to claim that up to 90% of children who question their sexual identity will revert back to their natal sex by puberty. The best approach is one of watchful waiting.
Gender dysphoria (GD) in children is a term used to describe a psychological condition in which a child experiences marked incongruence between his or her experienced gender and the gender associated with the child’s biological sex. Twin studies demonstrate that GD is not an innate trait. Moreover, barring pre-pubertal affirmation and hormone intervention for GD, 80 percent to 95 percent of children with GD will accept the reality of their biological sex by late adolescence. The treatment of GD in childhood with hormones effectively amounts to mass experimentation on, and sterilization of, youth who are cognitively incapable of providing informed consent. There is a serious ethical problem with allowing irreversible, life-changing procedures to be performed on minors who are too young to give valid consent themselves; adolescents cannot understand the magnitude of such decisions.
There is then a serious and legitimate question to be asked about whether or not affirming a child in their feelings is the right ethical approach, especially as it could well set them down on a path of irreparable harm.
Should children be being told that the initial Christian impulse ought to be to validate people’s feelings of dysphoria? That it is the only kind, loving and Christian thing to do? What ever happened to telling the truth in love?
If we’re going to get theological here, then why not look directly at Scripture and see what that has to say about sex being fluid or malleable? God creating man and woman equal, but distinctly different. Of course the human dignity of individuals must be recognised and nobody with this distressing condition ought to be unfairly discriminated against, or subject to any kind of bullying, but not pandering to a delusion or taking the word of a child too young to get married, to drink alcohol, to smoke, to consent to sex or to get a tattoo, does not amount to treating them like the lepers or outcasts of the Gospel.
By allowing a child to use a different name or pronoun to signify a different sex to the one into which they were born, it sends an unhealthy and unhelpful message to children that sex or gender is simply all about outward appearances and is easy to change. It forces children to suspend their critical faculties for fear of being labelled bullies or bigots and turns them into liars. Sex is not determined by name or pronoun or uniform and even when people go the whole hog with gender reassignment surgery, they still have to take huge amounts of synthetic hormones for the rest of their lives in order to fight against the DNA coded into every single cell in their bodies. Even surgery will not render you the biological sex of your choice. But the consequences and grim realities of surgical gender reassignment or hormones or puberty blockers which will render you sterile for the rest of your life, or the lifelong neurosis about whether or not you can pass as the opposite sex are not laid out in this fluffy and compassionate description of Jesus teaching us to promote greater wholeness.
In any event, recognising an intent that a person wants to live as the way they believe that God created them to be, implies that God made some kind of mistake and gave them the wrong body. That somehow His will was thwarted?! A position which is, if nothing else, at odds with the Catholic faith.
To cite Section 155 from Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Laudato Si:
“The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it”.
Finally the head concludes with the ‘refrain from judgement’ canard. This is crazy stuff. Of course we must make judgements about the best way to deal with any particular ethical situation that comes our way. Making a judgement on whether or not it is appropriate to affirm and validate feelings of gender confusion in children and adolescents is absolutely not the same as making judgements about the state of somebody’s soul – the only thing which Christians are commanded not to judge. Doctors have to make clinical judgements on how best to treat transgender patients all the time, which is why lobbyists are frantically campaigning to change this, claiming that their feelings must be paramount and a request for treatment must be immediately expedited.
So many Catholic schools seem to be taking this approach that it’s old news. There seems little point in besieging the school with complaints as would have happened in the early days of the blogs. No doubt the school and the powers that be in the CES will disregard any expressions of parental disquiet as being the transphobic witterings of the serf class from whose backward thinking and peasant attitudes they are determined to rescue their students.
But this is exactly the sort of situation engendered and encouraged by the CES document on LGBT bullying. How long before examples of transphobia are included in various lesson plans and pupils are asked to look for and challenge transphobic attitudes amongst their parents?
Have the Sacred Heart High School really thought this through? Are they now saying that they will accept transgender pupils in their school? Girls and transgender boys will be accepted but not biological ones? It’ll be interesting to see whether or not this will be challenged in court and the issue looks set to blow apart the concept of single-sex education.
Parents choose to send their children to Catholic schools in the hope and expectation that they will receive a solid grounding in the faith, that their own faith will be supported and that they will get to escape this nonsense. The betrayal is profoundly depressing.
This is a long post/reflection, written for the benefit of myself, my children and anyone else who may be interested, which doesn’t contain any profound insight but is just my personal recollections on the momentous events of twenty years ago. Thus is the joy of a personal blog.
The death of Diana Princess of Wales, was the Kennedy moment for Generation X and a seminal moment for those of us who growing up in the 1980’s when Diana was our prototype WAG. One of my earliest memories is of my father buying scrapbooks from WH Smiths for my sister and I and encouraging us to cut out and paste various items about her in the newspapers, once her engagement was announced. Ever the dutiful father he believed that he was not only engaging his children in a worthwhile educational activity, (in the days long before educational checklists about improving and stimulating your children’s motor skills) but also that we would be creating a moment of important historical significance. The scrap books probably went the way of all flesh, but I remember sticking in commemorative milk bottle tops and even at the age of 6 being aware that the whole world was fascinated with the woman, but believing that the interest was entirely legitimate, after all she was going to be our Queen.
Feeling oh so grown-up, my sister and I were allowed to have our first proper grown-up ‘Lady Di’ style haircuts in our local village hairdressers and for years, those blouses with the pie crust collars, (sticking up of course) teamed with pinafores and cardigans from Laura Ashley, were deemed to be just the thing!
My family bought hook line and sinker into the Diana craze. We had tea towels, commemorative biscuit barrels, coins from the Royal Mint, engraved crystal glasses, the full glut of Charles and Di wedding kitsch partly because my parents got caught up in the sense that this was an important historic event, and partly, because they hoped that in the future some of the more expensive limited editions, might well be worth a bob or two. By comparison when it came to Andrew and Fergie a few years later, they simply weren’t fussed. Probably because my mother never really liked Fergie very much, she appeared to be ‘too full of herself’.
Come the wedding day, we all sat down and watched the entire thing, from start to finish, my mother all misty-eyed, catching every last detail, from the dress (so terribly creased, what a pity), to the kiss (how wonderful), to the going-away outfit. At school we were issued with commemorative Ladybird books about Prince Charles which today would cause howls of protest about inequality and the patriarchy from the feminists and like everyone else in the country we bought the purple hard-backed Ladybird containing photographs of the glorious event. My husband still has his copy. Later on, we waited agog, to learn what the names of the children were going to be “William, not to be shortened to Willy” and “Henry”, which was announced via ticker tape across an episode of Jim’ll Fix It, one Saturday afternoon. I didn’t like it very much, but my father thought it was ‘super’! We had the press cutting of Diana emerging from the hospital clutching him pinned up in our Year 6 classroom.
A few days ago amidst all the anniversary hype, I asked my thirteen year old daughter what she knew about Princess Diana, keen to get an impression from someone for whom Diana is purely a historical figure, to see what, if any narrative she had picked up about this most enigmatic of women. The response was fascinating in that it was purely factual. “She was Prince William and Harry’s mother, she was married to Charles, but divorced him and died in a car crash in Paris”, was the extent of her knowledge. Which was reassuringly detached, with no emotional bias about Diana’s good and bad qualities and no blame attaching to anyone about her demise. I chose not to disabuse her or infuse her with my own perspective.
I did however ask her to think of the most famous person or celebrity in the whole world. Having pondered on the issue for some time, (my daughter isn’t particularly media savvy or into celebrity culture), she came up with Kim Kardashian, on the basis that everyone at school is always talking about her.
Okay, I said, well take someone as famous as Kim Kardashian and multiply that fame by millions. That’s what we are talking about with Princess Diana. In the age before the internet, almost everybody in the world knew who she was, and her being on the front page of a newspaper, would mean that it would immediately sell significantly more copies. My daughter gasped and was clearly struggling to get her head around the concept. When I described the public grief in the aftermath of her death, all my daughter could say, was that it was William and Harry who she felt most sorry for and who surely would have experienced the most pain.
It’s interesting to ponder whether or not Diana’s fame would have lasted and whether or not she would have had quite the same impact in the world of social media, but I tend to think she would probably have been an avid user of Twitter and Instagram. In many ways they would have been her ideal medium – she could tease and tantalise the general public with snippets of information about her, various thoughts, photos from the most flattering angle, and all on her terms. Would that have affected her global fame in any way – probably not, it would have enhanced it and I imagine she would have more followers than anyone; POTUS and pontifex included. Though I also suspect that she would have had a tendency to wash some of that dirty laundry in public and perhaps divulge too much information, though she would never have been one to post photographs of her dinner or vulgar displays of wealth. She would however, have been the queen of passive-aggressive subtweets and enigmatic statements.
Diana certainly created and fed the general public’s hunger to devour all the details about her life and due to social media, reality TV (remembering that the very first episode of Big Brother began 3 years after her death) and an embarrassment of aspiring celebrities willing to share every detail of their lives with you, there hasn’t ever been her celebrity equal. Perhaps its because everyone else lacks the Royal family connection, or simply that Diana had that undefinable je ne sais crois, wow-factor that simply cannot be manufactured.
Which brings me on to the unprecedented outpouring of sentimentality surrounding her death and my own memories and perspective on what I deem the great week of madness.
My Kennedy Moment
The day it happened, Saturday 30th August, I was working for a UK charter airline and had been scheduled on a four day trip to Orlando, which I was looking forward to. It was going to be a few days break following a week of packed short-haul holiday flights in the middle of peak Summer Holiday season.
On the way to the airport the steering on my sporty Ford Escort Si (you can take the girl out of Essex), suddenly went all over the place, and pulling into Clacket Lane services just off the entrance to the M23, I discovered that I had not one, but two wretched flat tyres. Dismayed, I rang first the recovery services and then crewing to inform them that I probably would not be able to make the flight and that they would need to call someone off standby. Crewing asked me to make my way to the airport as soon as it was fixed, in order that they could then put me onto a different flight.
Instead of going to Orlando, I ended up supervising a flight which ought to have taken off at 6am from Stansted, but had gone tech – the passengers had been bused to Gatwick and the flight eventually took off at 6pm. It was free drinks and headsets all round but although they were irritated by the delay, the passengers did at least have the consolation of knowing that at last they were going. It also helped that the plane which had gone tech was an Airbus A320, the replacement was a Boeing 757, meaning that instead of being crammed in like sardines they were better able to spread out.
So far so good. The return leg was not so easy. We’d flown to Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands, a 4 and half hour hop each way and had to ensure that the flight departed before midnight, when the airport closed. Having landed at around 10.30, it was therefore a pretty tight turnaround to get everyone disembarked, the aircraft cleaned and security checked and everyone back on, before departing.
The passengers weren’t happy. They’d been sat around in the departure lounge for over 12 hours, apparently with no food or drink and due to some juggling by crewing who had amalgamated some flights, were flying back to Gatwick instead of Manchester or Stansted. I remember one man getting particularly animated as he pointed out to me that the plane had to fly x thousand miles and how could he be sure that the captain had done all the safety checks, with such a quick turnaround. Perfecting my gallic shrug, (not regaling him with the fact I too had been up since crack of dawn and had a crap day), I informed him that the captain and crew were as keen not to die as he was and would be extremely thorough in their checks. What we didn’t know until Ops radioed us mid-flight, was that thanks to the quick turnaround, nobody’s luggage had been loaded in the hold. We then had to announce this upon landing and there was uproar. One man had left his house keys and his medication in his luggage and wanted to know precisely what I was going to do about it.
Fortunately the aircraft was met by a bevy of customer service agents and so it was I wearily trudged through security, in the small hours of the morning, gloomily anticipating the long drive home after a day from hell.
Somebody in dispatch asked me if I’d heard the news. Diana had been in a car accident she was okay, she’d broken her arm, but her new boyfriend had died.
Normally, I wouldn’t really have been interested, but there had been a frenzy of tabloid media coverage recently and so I both felt sorry for her and imagined all the various lurid headlines that we would inevitably see. I was living with my parents who have had a fifty year habit of buying two tabloids and two broadsheets on a daily basis, so had become something of a news junkie.
Probably because she had recently been pictured at the funeral of her friend Gianni Versace, I imagined the inevitable paps of her wearing darkened glasses and looking extremely sombre. I also felt quite sorry and sad for her. She had appeared to be quite smitten with this chap, even if he was son of an Egyptian Grocer and not really in her league.
I don’t know what compelled me to do so, but I rang my mother (on my swish new Orange Motorola phone) who usually checked Ceefax to keep an eye on what time my flights were landing and asked her if she’d heard. Irritated to be woken up, she said yes, she already knew, so what?!
Anxious for some banter and music to keep me awake on the drive home, I kept fiddling with the radio unable to find a single station with a presenter, which was unusual. It was all back-to-back music. Finally, as I pulled into Danbury, the village next to mine and my car climbed up the hill of the main road, the 4am news bulletin came on.
This won’t mean anything to anyone who isn’t a resident, but it was right as I reached the summit, with the Griffin pub on the left, and Danbury church on the right, which local legend has as being the highest point in Essex, that the shocking headline that Diana Princess of Wales has been killed in a car accident, blared through the car speakers. The hairs on my arm immediately stood up as a chill shot through me. I tried not to equate the significance of where I was (Danbury Church is purported to have strong links with the occult and satanic community) with what I was hearing, but I’ll never forget that inexplicable sense of dread.
I drove the last mile and half home, in a state of shock, pulled into our drive, only to be met by mother standing at the front door with a grim look on her face, shaking and crying that “she’s dead you, know”.
We sat there, watching SkyNews, trying to take it all in and get the latest headlines, from the fact that the princes had been woken and informed, all in a state of shock. Surely this couldn’t have happened?
Eventually, I turned into bed having been up for almost 24 hours, at 8am and woke up at midday, when my mum was serving lunch and my dad had come back from playing the organ at the morning service and my dad opened a bottle of champagne and raised a glass and made a little toast to her. I can’t remember precisely what he said, something about how she had a sad life and how he hoped she now rests in peace, which made us all cry, because my dad is not really given to effusive displays of emotion or sentimentality.
After lunch, I rang my friend Phil, again someone else who wasn’t prone to hysteria and he told me that he’d spent the morning cycling around London doing ‘the Diana tour’, going past all the palaces. Why? I asked him. He had a sense that something momentous was unfolding and wanted to be a part of it, viewing history as it happened. He didn’t wish to lay flowers or grieve, his desire was was about wanting to participate, albeit in a passive way, as an observer.
Later on, I sloped off down the local pub, the nucleus of my local community, to catch up with my friends, on this momentous day. It really was a different era, I was one of the few people who had a mobile phone (which was only used for when crewing might need to contact me on stand-by) and you could drop by the pub at any given time, knowing that at least one of your mates would be there, without needing to first send a text. Texting as a practice, hadn’t as yet, taken off.
The newly installed TV was switched to the news and having gasped at the sight of Diana’s coffin landing back into RAF Northolt and thrown peanuts at Tony Blair’s saccharin ‘people’s princess’ cliche being played on repeated loop, realising that the next week would consist of regurgitated footage, the conversation moved on and the gallows humour began to kick in.
The week of madness
One one flight, in the run-up to the funeral, the pilot actually pointed out the carpet of flowers, visible from the air, which you could see on the approach into Heathrow airport. It seemed incredible.
Like my friend Phil, on my next days off, I felt compelled to go into central London, just to witness everything first hand for myself. I didn’t want to sign any books of condolence, or leave any flowers, that felt pointless but I also had this sense that I wanted to be a part of history.
So I went and marvelled at the fact that there appeared to be no flowers left outside any newsagents or supermarkets or garages. That people were sat with gloomy faces on the tube, clutching cellophane-wrapped bouquets. It felt like such a waste.
Walking up the Mall, was surreal. Was this really happening, I asked myself, who were these people who were compelled to spend money on bouquets of flowers which would be wasted, for a woman whom they never really knew or loved in any meaningful sense? What was the point of it? Was there absolutely no self-awareness in some of the childish scrawl or slogans displayed on make-shift home-made banners. Diana and Dodi united for ever in heaven. How could they be so sure? How did they know that this relationship was either going to be permanent, or that they had indeed gone to heaven? What insight did they have that I didn’t. Did they not see how tacky the various heart cushions, tea-lights and spontaneous memorials were. Couldn’t they tell what a waste of time and effort this all was? What was the point? What was being achieved? Were these people who appeared to be crying as they made their way to touch the gates of Kensington Palace or Buckingham Palace, really genuine, or was this put on for the multitude of global camera crews who were filming the event?
On the day of the funeral, my sister who lived in Northampton, in the next door village to Althorpe, said that there wasn’t a bouquet of flowers to be had anywhere. She too, had wanted to line the route of the courtege.
She Pondered all these things
I guess I’d like to say that I was above all of the melodrama, but as my initial reaction to her death demonstrated and my desire to go and gawp at the mourners demonstrates, clearly I too was affected on some level.
What happened to the British psyche twenty years ago? I think Peter Hitchens is correct and the nation was swept up in a mass hysteria, thanks to the steady demise of Christianity in the latter half of the twentieth century. People had no death rituals upon which to fall back and no sense of eternal consolation.
My desire to go and witness and thus feel as though I was participating in something historic speaks to a lack of faith or knowledge of the metaphysical. I think many of those who turned up were not doing so because they felt a genuine profound sense of loss (aside from the woman who would no longer be filling the column inches, influencing their fashion choices and adding a splash of colour distracting them away from their own dull grey lives) but because by participating in this mass movement or outpouring of national grief, they felt that they too were becoming part of and fixing their marker on history: they were linking themselves to Diana and somehow securing their own immortality. As for the rage felt over the refusal to fly the flag at half-mast – that was politically and media driven and simple scapegoating, ironic coming from an industry that bore much of the blame.
There was a sense of dismay as the realisation hit, that being rich, famous, and feted all over the world for her beauty and humanitarian qualities, didn’t save Diana from a brutal, messy, grim, grisly senseless, unnecessary and premature death in a squalid underpass. If it happened to her, then it could happen to us and death is something that we all must face.
The carpets of flowers, were not, as Cardinal Nichols claims, a rejection of the reformation and a harking back to a time of veneration of the saints, but the primal scream of a grief rooted in nihilistic fear.
I have my pet theory about whether or not Diana is truly buried on that lonely island in the middle of Althorpe, but like everyone reading this blog, won’t be around long enough to discover whether or not I am right. I find it really hard to believe that her wishes, not to be buried next to her father in the family chapel at Althorn would not be respected, and the part of me which is susceptible to conspiracy theories, is suspicious (not so much by the convenient ban on flights over the airspace on the day of the funeral), but by how on earth a lead-lined coffin, which was so heavy it took 6 burley guardsmen to carry, could be easily transported across a small lake, usually accessed by rowing boats. Also interesting to note that the family chapel, which was not required for the burial service, was also closed for a few weeks either side of the funeral.
If it were to be the case that Diana was secretly buried at Althorpe, that would of course mean that she had achieved in death, what she could not in life. She would have pulled off her greatest deception of all and be interred in peace, in a publicly accessible place, having finally got one over on the press.
And as long as people are alive who remember her, the speculation, the mythologising and the reminiscing about this remarkable woman will go on. I also think she would have made a spectacular convert to Catholicism. She’d have been a robust and natural ally of the pro-life movement (it’s hard to imagine Diana being anything other than repulsed by abortion, though she would have enormous sympathy and affinity with pregnant women in difficult situations) and there are plenty of saints with whom she would have found common cause. I can also see her as a mantilla-wearing devotee of the Old Rite, being attracted by the antiquity, the tradition and the calm. May she rest in peace.
There was nothing new to bring to the table, other than once again, it was an opportunity to berate the Catholic Church for not bringing her teaching ‘up to date’ (the truths of Christ and His Church are timeless, they do not blow the way of the prevailing wind) and for people to argue why contraception is so desperately needed while representatives of the Church defend themselves.
The BBC rang me about the show earlier in the week, but thanks to having appeared only two weeks previously where I discussed abortion, and a previous appearance on this subject, I was out of the running but was heartily glad to be able to recommend Obianuju Ekeocha and Clare Short, who the BBC decided to run with. It’s great to see real-life Catholics who love the Church defend these issues, and it’s pretty hard for anyone to disagree with an African woman who has on the ground knowledge and experience of these issues and who is in the process of filming a documentary about this very subject.
You never get much time to be able to put forward your points in any real detail, however I would note the following which didn’t come up in debate.
1) In a recent Com Res Poll in the UK 65% of respondents strongly opposed UK overseas aid money going towards the provision of abortion overseas. The teaching of the Catholic Church has absolutely nothing to do with this. The UK has not been a Catholic country for over 500 years.
2) Melinda Gates has expressed a hope that the Catholic Church will change her position on contraception, however what she omits is that the term ‘birth control’ is now being used to cover both provision of contraception and abortion. While most people might think of birth control as being to do with contraception, the reality is that the term is used to encompass abortion. This was admitted by Ann Furedi, CEO of BPAS, the UK’s largest abortion clinic, who only last week said that over 50% of their clients who present for abortion were using some form of contraception and that abortion must be considered as a form of birth control.
3) Therefore if we are talking about introducing birth control into Africa, this also means provision of abortion, out of which providers are sure to make a pretty penny, especially if they are funded by the likes of Melinda Gates, government-funded direct aid and NGO’s. Abortion clinics will claim that they are providing birth control both in the form of abortions and devices to prevent pregnancies but as in the UK, the bulk of their profits will come from abortion provision.
4) If well over 50% of women who have an abortion are already attempting to use some form of contraception, then clearly it is failing, therefore by introducing this into Africa to meet some form of pre-determined need, you are, very conveniently, creating abortion demand, by setting up an unrealistic expectation about prevention of pregnancy and potentially encouraging women to expose themselves to more risk. Are women in Africa properly informed about the potential failure rate of various devices, or indeed any potential health risks?
5) There is absolutely no point in providing contraception, unless you are going to provide basic infrastructure, such as food, clean water and sanitation, skilled birth attendants (for those women who do want to have as many children as they choose), medication, roads, telecommunications, education and opportunities. Stopping a woman from having lots of babies doesn’t mean that the next day that she is going to go out and smash the glass ceiling, particularly if she’s neither got the skills or education to apply for a job, roads to travel on, someone to look after any existing children and presuming any such jobs exist. From this outsider’s perspective, this looks to be all about stopping poor African women from breeding as a matter of first importance without actually giving women the tools that they need to improve their lives.
6) What provision is being put in place for African women who may have fertility or other reproductive health issues which prevent them from conceiving, aside from an exploitative IVF, only available for the super-rich?
In the UK, where we have abundant access to contraception, over 185,000 abortions take place every year, mainly due to social reasons and a strain of antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea is rapidly spreading across the country.
Neither of these things are happening because people are ignorant that sex can result in pregnancy or infection, but because people mistakenly believe that they can reduce the risks to almost zero and even if the worst happens, there’s always a cure, either in the form of abortion or medicine. Believing that you have to be ignorant or foolish to experience unplanned pregnancy or contract an STI, is a far more comfortable narrative than the idea that sexual libertinism is inherently unsafe and exposes you to unnecessary risk.
The only reason that people are so desperate for the Church to change her teachings in this area is to validate their own beliefs and lifestyle and to stop people from being influenced by their religious beliefs when choosing not to adopt contraception.
The acid test here, is given the recent advance in technology which allows for women to track their basal temperature and other fertility markers, and predict with a high degree of accuracy their fertile periods, does Melinda Gates and co consider this a valid form of avoiding pregnancy, and will they be making it available for women in Africa, in order that they can make a genuinely informed choice? We know that many women experience gruelling side effects and are unable to tolerate synthetic contraception. Is this being explained to them and what provision is made to monitor the long term health of women on contraceptives, especially if they don’t have easy access to a clinic? And if African women are not being offered ways of naturally monitoring their fertility, especially as they are the most environmentally friendly method, why is this?
Who could have the most to gain from shovelling pills, synthetic hormones and various pharma devices (which may or may not work) with little oversight or supervision, into poor women in the developing world? Just like who has the most to gain from promoting and weaning African infants onto powdered infant formula? The answer in both cases, is certainly not women and children themselves and we should be thankful that the Catholic church has no part in it.
The story of when I was given sex-education has passed into our family’s folk-lore. I still remember it extremely well. I was in the fourth form, or Year 4 in today’s money, (aged 8 going on 9), when a letter came home from school, that we were going to be taught about the birds and the bees, by the headmaster, together with a note about the explanatory material.
In 1982 or it may have been 1983, (I can’t remember which precise term this took place, although I do remember it was most definitely Form 4, I can still recall the desk I was sitting at), this was a big thing. Especially in an independent preparatory school in the heart of a quiet ancient Essex market town. The school was a single-form entry, the ethos was that of muscular Christianity, the pupil intake consisted mainly of children of local wealthy farming families and the headmaster made liberal use of the slipper on naughty schoolboys.
The headmaster who despite being the proprietor of a decidedly middle-class private school and the son of peer of the realm, appeared to nurture progressive, left-wing views and suddenly out of the blue decided to take it upon himself to teach the fourth-form sex ed.
What do I remember from it? Horrible cross-section drawings of a man and a woman engaged in the marital act, together with diagrams of male and female reproductive parts, which I found to be boring and meaningless. In fact, I found the whole thing so dull, that I coloured in the A4 cross-section diagram of male reproductive parts, which was supposed to be labelled, in pink and green diagonal stripes, resembling the pattern of a barber’s pole!
Freud would have had a field day, but oh how my parents roared with laughter when I brought the booklet home, in order for them to be able to see the material we were covering for themselves and ‘support’ the curriculum. Instead of the embarrassing baby photographs, for the past 30 years they have regaled friends and family with the story of the time that Caroline coloured in the diagram of a man’s willy in garish barbershop stripes.
Parents like talking about these things, not to embarrass us, but because they like to wistfully recall the time before we had put away child-like things. They remember with fondness and no doubt, rose-tinted glasses, the innocence of our childhood. These stories are only embarrassing to those who are desperately trying to cultivate an image of sophistication or coolness and the story of that time that you stuck a pea up your nose which had to be removed by the GP (yep, me again) is a reminder of one’s base humanity and that like the rest of us, you were born, have bodily functions, and will one day die. Nobody seriously judges the adult on the basis of some barely remembered childhood escapades.
My parents like telling this tale because it is inherently funny. The 8 year old more interested in treating the picture of the male organ as a piece of colouring rather than deriving any educational benefit from it and who had no idea that colouring it in could be seen as inappropriate. I vaguely remember doing it as well. I think it was because I found the whole thing deadly boring.
The idea of men and women ‘doing it’ was utterly repellant, there was no way, thought my 8 year old self, would I entertain the idea of one of the boys in my class ever doing that, not even when I was grown up – it looked painful! And of course, no kind of context was provided, that the couple might be in love, would be married, that the love meant that they’d want to have a baby together, no, it was the sheer mechanics of the thing. Being the youngest child of two only children, I had no first cousins and very little experience of younger children or babies, wasn’t that fussed about them and certainly not enough to suddenly decide to do ‘that’ with a boy. It just seemed so cold and revolting.
At the same time as being taught about reproduction however, we were also taught the word ‘gay’. It meant, said our headmaster earnestly, that a man or a woman may sometimes fall in love with each other, instead of with the opposite sex. People who were gay ‘could not help it’, it was not funny, no laughing matter, they should not be mocked and should be treated the same way as everybody else.
That was something we took on board, along with the previous warning we’d had about the amount of trouble we would be in, if following episodes of Blue Peter, we were overheard calling anybody a ‘spastic, spas’ or ‘Joey’ in the playground with accompanying hand gestures. You’d be in very big trouble indeed!!
Now all this was fair enough, though from what I remember, outlawing specific terms of insults in the playground, just made them more exciting for the really naughty children (usually boys) who were trying to push boundaries. They’d still use the words, but in the wooded area behind the school hall, where the teachers didn’t bother to patrol, not because they wanted to be ‘able-ist’ or homophobic or whatever, but because they got a frisson out of being naughty. The only effect banning words had, was to encourage children to snitch on each other. Sometimes this would be genuine; you’d get the child who understood why the term ‘Joey’ was really wrong, but sometimes, one child would misreport another, just to get them into trouble. It’s been a feature of playgrounds since time immemorial.
I remember thinking that it was wrong to mock people because they fell in love with those of the same sex, but I thought that was primarily about adults. Aged 8, the word ‘gay’ wasn’t really milling around the playground as to the best of my knowledge, sex wasn’t something we were thinking about. Not even in 1982/3. The contents of the sex ed lesson were universally received with an ‘eurgh’ by a class who were too shocked to say much about it to each other. I’m not aware that we had any pupil (though we are culturally obliged to call even 4 year olds, the adult term, ‘students’ these days) who was gay, but neither did we have any pupils who were ‘going out’ with anyone either. Children being sexually interested in each other, just wasn’t a thing. Kiss-chase was something you did to wind the boys up, just as they would run after you with plastic spiders!
When we revisited sex ed in Year 6, aged 10-11 it was met with much hilarity, still due to embarrassment. My little friend Rebecca kept talking about the “scrotchum” instead of the ‘scrotum’ when labelling her diagram and we racked our brains as to what one of these was, still not fully understanding. We had ‘the period talk’ and for a while discussion about sanitary products prevailed and we wondered who had a mum who wouldn’t talk about these things, like the grim-faced snappily silent mother of the booklet, and breathed a sigh of relief that we’d still be able to go swimming and play netball.
Can I say that aside from knowing not to be unkind about people who were gay (or had cerebral palsy) that my primary school sex education was especially necessary or relevant? Did it help equip me ‘morally, culturally, spiritually and socially’? Does it stand as a shining example of why we so apparently need high quality sex-ed in primary schools today? Does it explain why pupils specifically need to be taught that some people are ‘born in the wrong body’ (a statement with no scientific evidence behind it) and why 4 year olds need to be encouraged to believe that changing your sex is as easy as deciding that you’d prefer to wear a dress and that being male and female is all about the toys you wish to play with and the various superheroes or children’s characters you like and dislike?
Does the fact that Savannah has two daddies or that Kacey-Eve only has a mum, mean that children need to be taught about adult sexuality in depth in order to be ‘safe’, or will a simple ‘be kind, be nice, be loving and respectful to everybody, including to those different to you’, no longer suffice?
My pink and green diagonally striped ‘barber’s pole’ is as sound a metaphor as any, when we’re talking about the usefulness of primary school sex ed.
The Catholic Education Service (CES) have denied that their anti-homophobic bullying guidelines document was funded by any outside organisation, in attempt to quell the storm which is gathering on the Catholic blogosphere and on social media.
However, that does not let them off the hook entirely because in the email circulated to Diocesan Schools Commissioners and Directors of Education which accompanied the document, Marie Stafford, Assistant Director of the Catholic Education Service states the following:
“The CES has received funding to cover the printing and distribution of a hard copy for each school. Each diocese will receive a copy for each of its schools to distribute as it sees fit. If you do not want to receive hard copies for your schools, please let me know before Friday 19th May 2017.”
Therefore the question remains, who provided the funds for the distribution of the document? The statement from the CES which says “The document is a collaboration between the CES and St Mary’s and no external funding has been received for it”, is ambiguous. It could be interpreted as a reference to the commissioning and production of the document, but not its distribution.
This 40 page glossy colour document designed to be sent to 2,245 Catholic schools educating over 845,000 children contains ideology contrary to Catholic teaching, and was lifted directly from organisations who would gladly cheer from the sidelines if Catholic schools whose RE teachings did not promote their notions of ‘equal love’, were forced to close. The fact that Stonewall and LGBT Youth Scotland are applauding the document ought to be ringing serious alarm bells.
More leaks than a porcupine’s raincoat:
Another misconception is that the document was ‘leaked’ as it was forwarded and circulated amongst bloggers between Cornwall and Cumbria. The ‘leak’ is to some extent irrelevant, but there has been no wrongdoing on the part of those who determined that this guidance was scandalous, required wider advance circulation and that action needed to be taken. The original email was neither marked confidential, nor was it placed under embargo and a date was given for when it was going to be put in the public domain by being posted on the CES website. All that was being asked was how many copies would be required, because someone had given a donation, to cover printing and postage costs. The question remains, who, and why? And why were parents not consulted, seeing as they are the primary educators? Why was Paul Barber’s response about the sensitive nature of the document quite so defensive when it was shortly going to be put into the public domain. Or was it that the directors of the CES were hoping for the document to be uploaded and circulated without attracting the ire or attention of any bloggers who would be certain to object?
I have an admission to make in that when I received the document, it took me a brief 5 minute search to discover that huge chunks of toolkits and resources distributed by Stonewall and LGBTYouth Scotland had been copied and pasted verbatim without even bothering to change the names of the fictitious individuals cited in the case studies and examples. This piece of work were it to be submitted by an undergraduate, would not have passed even the most basic plagiarism checking software and was resonant of the antics of the former star of liberal journalism, Johann Hari who was exposed for similar practices and thus fell from grace back in 2011. Why did the CES document not feel it necessary to cite or explain that it had employed material from other organisations as ‘best practice’?
Mandatory reporting of incidents could have potentially serious consequences for pupils, schools and Catholic education as a whole:
This guidance contains inadequate definitions of bullying which could have potentially very serious consequences for both Catholic education as a whole along with individual pupils whose playground banter could see a false accusation of homophobic bullying placed on their record for the duration of their school career.
Local Education Authorities, such as Brighton and Hove are already requiring schools to submit reports of homophobic bullying to them; we can be sure that whatever statistics Catholic schools do send, will be wilfully misinterpreted to suit the agenda of the LGBT lobby groups. A low reported figure will mean ‘under-reporting’ needing yet more training and guidelines (all provided by Stonewall for a professional fee); a high figure will be interpreted in much the same way, together with cant about how harmful Catholic teaching is perceived to be and why it must be outlawed from educational establishments.
We can see that this has already happened to some extent when we examine the reasons behind the production of these guidelines.
Our survey says “uh-oh”:
The CES states that it commissioned this guidance on homophobic bullying from the Catholic university of St Mary’s in Twickenham, whose logo appears on every single page. St Mary’s carried out a survey of Catholic schools regarding homophobic bullying on behalf of the CES in 2015, whereupon only 5% gave a positive answer, when asked whether or not they were using specific materials to combat homophobic bullying.
Not getting the answer they required, the CES then carried out a second survey in which their involvement was made explicit in order to encourage participation and again received a desultory response . Only 12% of Catholic secondary schools replied. This reluctance of schools to respond to detailed questioning on specific homophobia-based bullying policies has been interpreted as meaning that they require both formal authority and guidance, or are confused and fearful about how to approach the subject, when there could be a whole host of other perfectly valid reasons for their reluctance, such as being too busy to bother with yet another piece of pointless paperwork. Or feeling that their anti-bullying policies were already so robust as not to actually need guidelines on a specific victim group.
The CES may believe that they have no other choice than to utilise Stonewall’s standard jargon, but they fail to realise that by doing so, they are further validating and entrenching values which are inimical to those of the Catholic church.
Compare and contrast:
Let me cite just one example. A friend of mine who now home-schools her children, describes the London Catholic school that her children formerly attended as a cultural melting pot, one which truly represented the diversity that is Catholicism. It was in fact, one of the reasons which inspired her to select it. A new head was appointed whose particular bugbear was, understandably, racism. The head had attended several courses all designed to eliminate racism and was up to speed with all the latest guidelines and procedures that schools are supposed to adopt. Her first remark on entering the school was that she couldn’t believe quite how low the recorded incidences of racist bullying were in the school, given it’s diversity. She felt sure that there must be some under-reporting. Clearly, the significant contribution of the Catholic ethos had escaped her.
Not long after she had begun, someone overhead a Year 5 boy who was himself an immigrant tell another student, who was from Serbia, that his country’s football team was going to lose when their two countries went head to head in a football match later that evening. “Serbia sucks!” was the phrase which was used.
The next thing that happened was that the head burst into the boy’s classroom mid-lesson, forced him to stand up, where she gave him a very thorough verbal dressing down for racism in front of the whole class. If that wasn’t humiliating enough, she informed him that what he had done constituted a criminal offence, that she was going to inform the police and that this incidence of racist bullying was going to remain on his school record for the entirety of his school career, it would she said, follow him to secondary school.
The boy ended up being put into isolation as punishment, the police were called and declined to take action on account of the fact that the child was only 9, obviously sensing that this was not to be taken seriously. It is not then, such a leap to imagine similar serious consequences for the child, who was stupid enough to refer to another child’s trainers or whatever as ‘gay’. A child falsely accused and stigmatised in such a way, could suffer significant emotional injury and trauma such that it adversely affects the rest of their education.
What should concern us in the example cited in the CES document, is not the use of the word ‘gay’ as a perjorative (though I would personally choose to explain to children that it is an unacceptable and offensive term) but that the child is being picked on because he cannot afford to buy the same trainers as the ‘in-crowd’. This would appear to have been totally overlooked and is infinitely more disturbing than the derogatory term chosen. Poverty-phobia has been relegated in favour of the trendier homo or bi-phobia, which is always the danger when you start pitting specific victim groups against each other.
Child protection and grooming:
There is also an extremely worrying issue of child protection which nobody seems to have mentioned. Nowhere in the anti-homophobic bullying guidelines is the point made that a child ought to feel free to turn down sexual advances of a friend, teacher (or indeed anyone) of the same sex, without it constituting homophobia. Nobody would attack a girl if she decided to distance herself from a male friend because he had made a pass at her, and the same principles need to apply to same-sex friendships. If Peter feels uncomfortable because Paul has made sexual overtures towards him and therefore decides to avoid being in Paul’s company because he feels awkward, it does not make him a homophobe. There is a very real danger that children could feel pressured into abusive situations because they are terrified of being stigmatised and labelled, just as there is a similar danger that children may not feel able to openly state their disagreement with some of the specious examples of homophobic attitudes cited in the classroom. Most teens are anxious to fit in with the group and nobody will want to be labelled the bigot or hateful one, even if in their hearts they believe that dad turning off the television when he feels he is being bombarded with LGBT propaganda, is not inherently homophobic.
Children are not sophisticated adults:
What has to be remembered is that children are by their very nature, emotionally immature and socially underdeveloped and will often express things in ways which are clumsy and inappropriate. Our role as adults should be to gently guide and correct errors with love, and in a holistic way, getting to the root of the issue, rather than with a superficial authoritarian fist which encourages them to police each other’s speech. What matters is not so much the insult used, but the attitude which underlies it. If a classmate comes out as ‘bi’, then other children are bound to be curious and have questions about it; teenagers do invariably spend hours pondering and discussing sex in often the most unhelpful of ways. If we want them to have healthy attitudes, then we need to allow for freedom of expression, in order that we can then engage with anything which we feel they need to reflect upon further, instead of telling them what they must think. If needs to be remembered that in these lesson plans children are being instructed in terms of how to close down their critical faculties and being told that they must uncritically accept sexual behaviour and values which do not conform to their own.
The Christian content:
To be fair the document is not devoid of Christian teaching, it devotes an entire section to what it means to be made in the image of God and makes reference to many magisterial sources, such as Evangelium Vitae. While rightly using human dignity as a backdrop to hammer home the unacceptability of bullying, the document’s main weakness is that it uncritically accepts and validates secular notions of what constitutes homophobia along with false statements about sexuality and gender identity.
At the heart of the dismay is a failure to specifically outline and refer to Catholic teaching regarding relationships and marriage which would provide valuable context for vulnerable pupils and teachers Instead of being invited to consider Scripture, teaching and tradition, the tweets of Pope Francis, which thanks to the 140 character limit of the medium are superficial, are used as a resource. It is assumed that those within Catholic schools will already be aware of doctrine and thus they are presented with secular assumptions about sexual relationships together with vague Christian themes of mercy, acceptance, non-judgementalism and forgiveness.
Same-sex relationships are now enshrined as a British value, political litmus test and then we have the Equalities Act:
What doesn’t help matters is that this document follows hot on the heels of a fevered few weeks in British politics, where Christian politicians such as Prime Minister Theresa May and leader of the Liberal Democrat party Tim Farron have been forced to air their religious consciences and asked their views on sexuality. Both they, and other high-profile church-attending politicians have repeatedly stated that they don’t believe sexual activity between two people of the same sex as constituting a sin. This has now become a litmus test for political and social respectability with acceptance of same-sex relationships being frequently referred to as a ‘British value’ to which faith schools must conform and to which the CES refers.
The challenge for the CES is to demonstrate that they are complying with the UK Equalities Act which holds LGBT status as a protected characteristic, but they need to remember that so too is freedom of religion and therefore Catholic schools should be able to confidently proclaim God’s plan or mankind. The document could still have jumped through the various legal hoops to demonstrate that Catholic schools are complying with legislation designed to address homophobia, while at the same time engaging children and teachers with the beautiful vision of relationships proposed by the Church. The CES/St Mary’s (and it’s not clear who was responsible for the authorship of the document) did not need to copy large chunks of Stonewall propaganda and ought to have made an attempt to defend Catholic values.
Slippery slope innit?:
Even if one is liberal on the subject of same-sex relationships or sex outside of marriage, most parents, including non-Christian ones are deeply concerned about the recent trend to normalise transgenderism and indoctrinate young children into believing that biological sex is irrelevant, that gender is simply a matter of feelings and therefore if you feel that you were born in the wrong body, you can simply change into your desired sex, with a little bit of help from the doctors. These specific guidelines may only address homophobia and bi-phobia, but given Stonewall’s recent push to promote and advance the cause of transgenderism, then it is only a matter of time, before this will seep into a revised version of the guidelines.
Do the bishops really endorse this?:
One also has to wonder what the bishops make of all this. Back in 2006, when he was in charge of the CES, Cardinal Nichols stated that there was no need for specific guidelines on homophobia, telling the Commons education committee that a ‘robust policy on bullying of all kinds was the “best way forward”.
On the 2nd March 2017, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury diocese delivered a homily during a Mass for education officials in which he warned that Catholic schools may increasingly become ‘the focus of ideological groups demanding the acceptance of their agenda’ using the superficially worthy values of equality, respect and the prevention of bullying and unjust discrimination. He also reminded the congregation that “we have no need of false notions of equality which can insist that right and wrong, truth and error are cultural constructs, and that being male or female are interchangeable personal choices.”
In an address to the International Child Catholic Bureau in 2014, Pope Francis denounced educational experimentation upon children who “are not guinea pigs”, noting that “the horrors of the manipulation of education that we have experienced in the great genodical dictatorships of the twentieth century have not disappeared.”
Homophobic bullying in our schools should be identified a source of shame, but so too are all other forms of bullying which undermine the dignity of the person. What Catholic schools really need is guidance and support in terms of how to remain faithful to Church teaching at a time when it is in opposition to the current zeitgeist. Sadly, this document is not that and has proved to be a wasted opportunity as well as a potential source of scandal and confusion. Very serious questions remain about the content, authorship and funding for distribution of this document and whether or not the CES may actually have overstepped it’s remit, which is after all, to serve the cause of Catholic education and educators rather than override and undermine the basic truths of Christ.
For the past 22 years a quiet pro-life vigil has taken place outside the Marie Stopes abortion clinic in Ealing, a vigil which, until the past couple of years went unnoticed. The police have been aware of the vigil since its inception and in 22 years there has not been a single arrest or charge laid against any of those attending.
What happens at this vigil is the usual type of thing – pro-life groups stand on the other side of the green, across the pavement from the clinic, praying for all inside, the pregnant women, their unborn children along with the staff themselves.
Pro-choice feminist protesters largely ignored what was going on in the quiet suburbs of Ealing largely because of its location. Ealing isn’t as easy to travel to as Bedford Square in central London, where up until 2013, BPAS operated a clinic which was previously the flashpoint in the abortion culture wars.
In fact the location of the Ealing clinic is fairly typical. Like the Marie Stopes facility in Buckhurst Hill, Essex, it is on the outskirts of London, in a picturesque converted suburban building with a discreet plaque, designed to look very attractive from the outside, blend in with the local community and distract from the horror within. Here’s a video of 40 Days for Life director Robert Colquhoun outlining the Christian history of the building.
When I look back on my own experience of abortion, one of the many surreal moments was sitting in a beautiful high-ceiling room complete with ornate coving, elegant light-fittings and all-round exquisite decor while partaking of a selection of delicious sandwiches from a local delicatessan, laid on for women who had just taken the first of two doses of pills to bring about an abortion. It felt bizarre sitting there with a group of women all of whom were studiously avoiding eye-contact with each other or alternatively making superficial conversation like a scene from a period drama, while we were all there for the same reason. It’s one of the aspects which still haunts me. I sat there, in terribly salubrious surroundings, stuffing my face with cucumber sandwiches to alleviate the boredom and unease during the prescribed waiting time, while inside me the child was being slowly poisoned to death.
Marie Stopes had warned us in the literature that protestors may be outside both the central London clinic that I attended for the initial consultation and also the one in Buckhurst Hill, but there wasn’t a protestor to be seen, much to my chagrin. I’ve written about this before, but inside, I was aching for a fight and for someone, somewhere, to challenge me.
Despite the fact that the Good Counsel Network have been conducting vigil clinics for 20 years in the UK, (and other groups for longer) it was only since the arrival of 40DaysforLife in the UK, in 2011, that suddenly clinic vigils became an issue and burst into public consciousness, because clearly the abortion clinics don’t like them very much and they are able to swiftly harness and tap into the support of both pro-choice MPs and mainstream media.
The tactics of those who attend the vigils have never altered. Contrary to popular myth, they do not block the entrances of clinics, they do not follow women down the street, they don’t video women and they certainly don’t shout abuse at them. They stand quietly, a respectful distance away, carrying signs with offers of help and praying. One counselor stands slightly nearer offering passers-by a leaflet.
Groups such as the Good Counsel Network and 40 Days for Life often get conflated with Abort 67, who display large banners of aborted foetuses outside clinics. Abort 67’s focus is not about prayer, but educating the public to the realities of abortion and they don’t just stand outside clinics but also in other public places, such as Speakers Corner in Hyde Park or outside the Department of Health.
In the age where smartphones are ubiquitous and where the abortion clinics have stationed cameras outside their facilities, not a shred of pictorial or video evidence has ever emerged to support the smears of harassment or intimidation by pro-life groups that do the rounds on social media. Andy Stephenson, the leader of Abort 67 was prosecuted, but the case collapsed. What Abort 67 do have, is cameras around their necks, strapped to their chests, to protect themselves against allegations of harassment and intimidation. So far the only footage to emerge is of members of the public challenging and threatening them, to the great acclaim of the public.
So anyway, back to Ealing where the pro-life vigil has taken place without incident for the past 22 years. The pro-lifers turn up every day, pray, give out leaflets, offer support and go home. Enraged by this, a group of pro-choice women calling themselves Sister Supporter have decided to pitch up every Saturday and put in a counter protest. They have been joined on occasion by Rupa Huq, the local MP for Ealing, who has decided to join this feminist cause celebre.
Pro-Lifers, including Ms Huq’s own constituents have invited her many times to engage with the women, many of whom are immigrants or from ethnic minorities and who, as a result of the help and support given by the pro-life groups, have chosen not to abort their babies. These are pregnant women who approached the pro-lifers wary of their claims that they would really be able to help and found themselves given significant financial and other practical assistance for as long they needed it. Women who did not qualify for any assistance or who would be presented by a bill by the NHS if they approached them for maternity care. In fact the only ‘choice’ that they were being given, was that of a free abortion. These are women are of all faiths and none who feel so empowered by the help that they were offered that they now join in the vigils, complete with infants in puschairs in an attempt to persuade others that there is another way. Ms Huq, has to date, refused to engage.
Pro-lifers accept that they cannot have it both ways. A free and democratic society which affords them the right to ‘protest’ (although they would dispute that their prayer vigils and offers of assistance are in any way a protest), also confers identical rights to those on the pro-choice side of the debate.
But at what stage does this cross a line? Yesterday, a local group, calling themselves “Sister Supporter” posted triumphantly on their Facebook page, that they had disrupted pro-life activities at the nearby Ealing Abbey. The logic behind this being that many of those who attend the pro-life vigils attend Mass at Ealing Abbey. So in the twisted minds of Sister Supporter, this makes everyone who attends church there, accountable and a potential target for punitive action. The old guilt by association fallacy.
Sister Supporter gleefully reported that they stood on the doorstep of Ealing Abbey, with the deliberate intent of intimidating church-goers, in order that they might experience how it feels. Despite the fact that those on a pro-life vigil, stand on the other side of the green across the pavement and do not block the doorway of the abortion clinic or obstruct anyone from entering or leaving. They then attacked church attenders for ‘sneakily’ using the rear entrance in order to avoid them.
Not content with their acknowledged intimidation of people attending church, Sister Supporter said that they weren’t going to let the people leave ‘without a fight’. A religious pro-life procession was leaving the church, so this group ‘sprinted in front of them’, blocking the huge icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary being peacefully processed around the streets, with aggressive pro-choice and anti-Catholic inflammatory placards.
Judging from the photos, only a handful of protestors were present at this stage, compared to those who blockaded the church and later stood outside the clinic adjacent to the pro-life vigil, but here we have a group of people who, by their own admission were out to ‘intimidate’ religious believers by way of ‘retribution’. Firstly the aim of those on pro-life vigils is never to intimidate, but secondly, didn’t anyone ever teach these people that two wrongs don’t make a right? One of the pro-life counsellors on the vigil said that last week a ‘Sister Supporter’ tried jumping up and down in front of her, when she was handing a leaflet to a woman, admitting that her conduct amounted to harassment. “Yes, it is harassment” she cried, “now you know what it feels like!”
Also, how is expressly setting out to intimidate and blockade a group of people on account of their religious beliefs, not a hate crime or at the very least, a breach of the Public Order Act? How is this any different to those who would nail a slice of bacon to a mosque door? The procession which took place is purely religious procession and organisers tell me that there are no pro-life placards or slogans on display. I do hope that the Metropolitan police take note. Apparently last week, these women screamed Lily Allen’s “F*** You very very much” while people were praying stations of the cross.
Other points to note. Sister Supporter claim to have been set up by a ‘concerned local’ in many of their posts and back-stories, however when I attempted to comment on their post, my comments were instantaneously removed, accompanied by the comments that I am a ‘known homophobe who has upset one too many of my friends to be able to be given a platform here’. Which would indicate pro-choice activists, the same ones who organized outside Bedford Square a few years ago and who were befriended by the usual motley gang of trolls, as opposed to an impromptu group of concerned local residents. They are also snowflakes if they can’t cope with a couple of perfectly civil questions or observations.
One of the questions I asked was why the comments in the thread used photographs of clinic protests that took place in America, not the UK, to justify their actions. Photographs which were subsequently removed, along with every comment which questioned their protest. Every single photograph I have seen of the Ealing protest depicts people standing a decent and respectable distance away. The imagery which is displayed is not that of aborted foetuses, but consists of 6 A4 laminated posters with images of unborn babies, which Sister Supporter has referred to as being ‘distressing and gross’.
Other posts mocked the attire of the pro-life women for wearing ‘long skirts and anoraks’. Shaming women for what they wear doesn’t seem to be very feminist. Unlike the recent anti-Trump demonstrations in which children were actively invited to participate, being exposed to foul language and filthy imagery, Sister Supporter ask that women do not bring their children along to their clinic protests. They don’t want to upset the clients inside. Although one might ask what the presence of children is related to a ‘non-human blob of tissue’ which is supposedly part of a woman’s body? A cynic might note that clients at Marie Stopes are far more likely to be irritated by a group of middle-class women belting out eighties music at the top of their lungs while they are having an abortion, than a few toddlers and children. One regular choice is “Give me all your money, all your hugs and kisses too” . Gallows humour suggests that this is grimly appropriate for a clinic charging about £700 for each woman’s baby they abort.
A regular pro-life attendee at Ealing chuckles recounting that “one Saturday they were supporting women by singing, or rather ‘singing’ half-remembered lyrics of ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘If you like Pina Colada’. The latter was mostly ‘Yes I like Pina Colada, and getting caught in the rain. Yes I like making love at midnight…mumble mumble giggle’. While Dancing Queen was rendered ‘Dancing Queen, young and sweet only 17, ooo yeah, before tapering off into a slightly awkward ‘la la la”. There was also the woman who kept barking ‘she’ll be respecting women when she comes’, to the tune of ‘Coming Round the Mountain’. It’s like watching a drunk uncle do karaoke at a funeral.” Quite. Don’t woman deserve better. It’s no surprise that it’s actually this pink pantomime deterring women from attending Marie Stopes Ealing, (whose staff members egg on and encourage the pro-choice contingent) and why they want pro-lifers banned. Fewer women having an abortion can not be allowed to continue.
Another regular attendee at Ealing reports this. “I have spoken to many ‘Sister Supporters’ outside the clinic. I asked them how they feel about those women for whom abortion is a matter of “no choice”
Some of them refused to believe that such women exist.
One openly mocked the story I told her of two women I know who had not wanted to have the abortion they were seeking and were helped to keep their babies by the GCN and who are mothers of lovely daughters now. She repeated in a sing song voice “and they all lived happily ever after…not”
So much for “pro choice”.
Another one kept interjecting when I was talking to three young Sister Supporters, repeatedly saying “Don’t talk to her, she’s a plant”.
Neither Sister Supporter, nor the clinics appear to be reaching out to women who feel so pressurised that they have no other choice than to abort. Women with no employment rights, no rights to benefits and no rights to obstetric care. These are women who are facing destitution if they have a baby, but whose plight Sister Supporter prefers to ignore and pretend they are invisible.
No doubt these women will be outraged to learn that so far during Lent, 17 (hopefully soon to be 18) woman have decided not to abort their babies and will mutter about manipulation. Women being persuaded to keep their babies rather than aborting them? That’s not the kind of choice which interests them, nor it would seem the general public, who prefer fake news when it comes to persecuted women.
In 2014 following the headlines which read that the bodies of almost 800 babies and children had been cast into a septic tank in a mother and baby home run by the Bon Secours sister in Tuam, Ireland, I wrote a series of blogposts.
My aim was not to spin the facts or deny any allegations of abuse, but simply to forensically attempt to uncover the true story of what had happened. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe that nuns could behave in such an appalling fashion, clearly they were capable of all sorts of heinous acts of cruelty and abuse, it’s just that the narrative of them wilfully starving, abusing or neglecting babies and children to death before cruelly dumping their bodies in a septic tank did not ring true. Gradually, a more nuanced and historically accurate picture began to emerge, though still undeniably tragic.
A story of young girls in poverty abandoned by society, in poor health, giving birth to sickly babies unable to withstand the rigours and deprivation of institutional life. A story of a children’s home in a poor state of repair, served by Tuam’s oldest doctor, desperately short of cash and resources, with the council and local population unwilling to put their hands in their pockets. A story of children subject to epidemics of measles, influenza and gastroenteritis in crowded conditions, a time before antibiotics as well as poor diet and perennial low temperatures. An analysis of the death certificates indicates that the causes of death were rarely from one single determining factor – a lot of the children had had underlying ill-health or conditions since birth and some had been born with abnormalities.
Gradually media outlets began to amend, correct and withdraw their stories, rowing back on some of the claims, and Spiked online (which is in no way a right-wing or Catholic publication) published this powerful analysis.
Today, the Commission on Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland, has released a statement saying that following some trial excavations of the site, significant numbers of human remains have been found.
“Test trenches were dug revealing two large structures. One structure appears to be a large sewage containment system or septic tank that had been decommissioned and filled with rubble and debris and then covered with top soil. The second structure is a long structure which is divided into 20 chambers.”
It has not been ascertained what the purpose of this structure is, it appears to be for the containment and treatment of sewage and water but it’s not been determined whether or not it was ever used for this purpose. 17 out of the 20 chambers appear to contain human remains, some of which were recovered for forensic tests. The remains are those of children aged between 35 weeks gestation and 2-3 years of age.
The commission is shocked and saddened and the remains will now be interred respectfully and appropriately, assuming that they were not in the first place.
As my blog posts garnered over 100,000 hits, I have taken a lot of flak, as it is perceived that I was one of the deniers. A second wave of hysteria and outrage about the babies at Tuam now appears to be sweeping Ireland, with many claiming vindication, which is a baffling sentiment. There ought to be nothing to celebrate over the discovery of several deceased infants.
I am prepared to stand by my original posts, because I did not deny the existence of remains on the property, nor that children had died of natural causes, I simply questioned the narrative of babies being deliberately and callously tossed like rubbish into a septic tank.
Interestingly in one post, I quoted a letter from Dr Finbar McCormick from the school of Geography, Archeology and Palaeoecology at Queen’s University, Belfast. Dr McCormick posited that the children could actually have been buried in a purpose-built burial shaft which were common, as was the practice of burying stillborn children or those who died shortly after birth, in a communal unmarked area inside the maternity hospital. The practice of returning infants back to the family for burial is a very recent tradition.
Anecdotally I know of a number of similar cases whereby children were put in the coffins of unrelated adults by funeral directors (which apparently was commonplace in some UK funeral directors until the ‘60s and in Ireland until the 1980’s), I’ve been talking to several women about miscarriage and stillbirth recently who have told heartbreaking stories of their stillborn children being removed from them straightaway and buried in an unknown place, and even in my own family, my father discovered only last year that he had an older brother who died at the age of two, who is buried in an unknown grave somewhere. There are mass children’s burial grounds throughout Ireland and plenty of mass graves from non-Catholic institutions, such as workhouses, in the UK.
So, the outrage about the unmarked mass grave, while understandable may be misplaced. They are not a historical anomaly and were at various points, the norm. It is not proof of an uncaring or un-Christian attitude and we do not know that the deceased were accorded absolutely no rites or respect.
Secondly, while the commission has noted that the structure containing the remains appeared to be a septic tank, it might not ever actually have been used as one, and they are not clear as to its purpose. I’m no engineer, but 20 chambers seems rather a large amount. Dr McCormick’s suggestion that the septic tank could be a burial vault and should be treated as such until proved otherwise, still seems to hold true. The commission have only said what the structure appears to be, but aren’t entirely sure, neither do they know if it was ever used.
In his blogpost which appears to row back from some of his original claims, journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes, quotes an eyewitness called Julia Devaney who was firstly a resident of the Tuam home and later an employee. She recalled assisting the sisters in carrying the bodies of deceased babies through a tunnel which led to a burial vault. A vault accessed by a tunnel, as Boucher-Hayes notes, could not be a septic tank. This vault was in the same place (Plot A) as another witness, Mary Moriarty had fallen into while playing, when the ground subsided. Moriarty says that she and her neighbours investigated further and discovered a large underground vault with shelves from floor to ceiling neatly stacked with about 100 swaddled infant bodies.
So as yet we have two structures found. One a septic tank with no human remains which was clearly decommissioned. The second consists of 20 chambers, at least 17 of which contain human remains, many of which are children under 2, dating from the ‘50s. Which tallies with the eyewitness account of a vault with shelves from walls to ceiling containing deceased infants, and could well be the vault which was accessible from a tunnel, which another witness recalls being in use in the 1950’s.
There is nothing then as yet to suggest that the remains of these children were maltreated or buried without the due accord and respect. It may not have been the way that we would wish for them to be buried today, but neither is this indicative of anything sinister.
Just as it is perfectly possible that these poor children were simply tossed into a septic tank (though I note that critics are now beginning to concede that the tank was disused and claim that it doesn’t matter whether or not it was filled with sewage), it’s also more than feasible that the vault was styled in a similar way to the catacombs. Placing bodies on shelves in a vault hardly seems like egregious disregard. Archive evidence demonstrates that the home did put in a tender for coffins, therefore it may only have been the infants who were buried tightly wrapped in swaddling. Again, not what we might wish for a child, but not necessarily indicative of anything nasty. And neither do we know whether or not some or all of the vault was consecrated, because it would surely need to be if older babies and children were interred there.
As the commission has noted, the news is not any great surprise – they had been excavating a known burial site.
Historian Catherine Corless deserves respect and vindication because her main aim has not been to propagate a sensationalist anti-Catholic narrative, but because she has always believed that bodies were buried on this site and that they ought to be properly accounted for and given the respect and memorial they deserve, not least because as she recollects from her own time at school with children of the home, they were often treated with contempt and disdain.
There may well be 798 bodies underneath the site, a fact that nobody has ever sought to deny, including the locals. Though this is far from established fact. There was a septic tank in use for the first 12 years of the home, during which period 206 children died. Where were their bodies placed if the second structure was in use servicing the first? Or was the second structure used right from the outset! How many is a ‘significant number’?
Is this definitive proof of evil-doing by a group of nuns who are unable to defend themselves or explain what their burial practices were? Justice is not best served by supposition and assumption and neither should these deceased children be politicised. Particularly not when those weaponising them, are using this to whip up hatred of the Catholic Church to use in the forthcoming referendum on Abortion. I wonder what many of those proudly displaying their ‘Repeal the Eighth’ avatar while venting their fury over the babies in the septic tank, would make of the incineration of aborted babies’ remains in hospital incinerators for energy?