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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. http://youtu.be/vB_g4kHeV8E

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background: The Carrigan Report 1930

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

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

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

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

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

AbuseProportions

Irish Reports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ferns Report

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

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

The Murphy Report

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

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

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

The Cloyne Report

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

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

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Who wanted to be in rainy Rome anyway?

Who wanted to be in rainy Rome anyway?

Regular readers will have noticed that I haven’t been posting over the past few weeks, even though there has been no shortage of material. The main reason for this has been the time that I spend writing (usually evenings) has been taken up with vast amounts of reading around the conclave process, its history and the background of the various papabili in preparation for any media appearances which may crop up. Catholic Voices has really come into its own during these momentous weeks, many of the speakers have done a tremendous job in terms of informing the media and general public and one thing that I have noticed from my contributions, is that the attitude of the media certainly seems to have softened and become a lot less hostile and more open to a reasoned Catholic viewpoint, although there are occasions when one finds oneself addressing the same old canards again and again.

Whilst there will always be the same detractors, the one thing that should be borne in mind, is that despite the excellent and rigorous training and preparation for what it is like to be in the hot seat, there is no substitute for experience. The more media appearances you do, the more confident, relaxed and skilled you become at the whole process, so those who vociferously complain in the various coms boxes really need to bear this in mind before they let rip. I can certainly see an improvement and marked contrasts between my recent interviews and those of a year ago. It isn’t always easy being subject to scrupulous, superficial and often ignorant scrutiny when one has a microphone or camera trained on you. In most of these situations, nuance or an in-depth detailed theological discussion is impossible. Very often, such recently on the Big Questions, it’s superficial scattergun apologetics, bouncing from one neuralgic issue to the next, to the next, with no time for considered thoughtful answers. The opening shot of an interview I did yesterday was “well you obviously follow Catholic teaching on contraception then, you’ve got 4 children”. It then went down the usual rabbit holes and on reflection, I can see how at times I missed my chance to refocus the interview on the Pope, but it’s pretty difficult to concentrate when one is being poked in the eye with a sharp stick. But on another occasion, God Willing, I’ll be able to handle that better, having learnt.

I did an interview the other morning for Radio Merseyside, having woken up for the early morning interview chock full of cold and lurgy. It proved our saying, you are never as good or as bad as you think you are (I thought it was absolutely terrible), but judging by the stat counter on my blog, I’d obviously confused the listener by using the word pallium, without explaining what this was. Several people arrived here having asked google about “Caroline Farrow’s pallium”. I then received some friendly advice about not using specific liturgical terminology. ‘The problem is’, they explained, ‘that nobody knows what a pallium is. They probably spent the rest of the interview highly distracted wondering what a pallium was, how big is it, did he mean to leave it there and did he ever get it back. What happened to it? Is it like something out of Dr Who’. Which is fair comment and goes to show that for certain audiences, detailed complex theological or philosophical concepts are going to go way over people’s heads and prove counterproductive. But by the time I’d done 11 back-to-back interviews for local radio the other Sunday, I think I’d pretty much got the issues down pat and nailed, the only difficulty being attempting to make the same sentiments sound fresh after 2 and a half hours of non stop opining. As long as one can relax and enjoy the interview and realise that the presenter actually wants to find you winsome, a bit of jocularity goes down a lot better than jargon-heavy hectoring and might actually motivate people to find out more.

We’re in the realms of cloud cluckoo land if we think a short slot on local radio should aim to deliver the thunderbolt that sends the listeners rushing to their nearest confessional, certainly the common theme in both my journey of faith and those that Catholic converts have shared with me is not necessarily one incident but whole series of interlocking events that looked at as a whole, formed a path leading to the truth. A compelling media appearance can certainly play a part in that, but a 3 minute slot is not going to have the same effect as an hour’s talk or presentation by a great Christian or Catholic apologist.

The last few weeks have been something of a roller-coaster for us all. We’ve barely had time to come to terms with the resignation surrounding our beloved Pope Benedict, before getting into the swing of the conclave and the speculation surrounding his successor. On a personal note, like many of my colleagues, I’ve been rushed off my feet preparing for interviews, which not only takes it toll in terms of time but also emotional energy as well as, for someone like me, logistics. It’s not especially easy to arrange childcare at short notice when one’s husband is miles away at seminary and family needs to come first. I was really disappointed to have to turn down Sky News on the day of Benedict’s final general audience, but Robin had his official formal interview and feedback for the diaconate, which was infinitely more important. And let’s face it, doing the big media stuff is always fun and challenging, even if nerve-wracking, although one really needs to be on guard for spiritual vanity, which is one of the consequences of this kind of work and a trap which I really do have to work very hard not to fall into. If readers could continue to pray not only for me, but for all of us who try to speak for our faith in whatever medium, it would be hugely appreciated. We always make sure that we have a prayer chain of folk praying for us before we go on air and in the final moments before the camera switches on, I always clear my mind and pray.

But now onto the grumble and observation. Last week, I had word that the BBC were looking to fly me out to Rome to be a part of their coverage for the conclave. To say that I was beyond excited is something of an understatement. Robin and I agreed that if it were possible, given that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, that we should do whatever we could to make it happen, hence I had a week of rushing about like a headless chicken, and a precise timetable of chores, involving making sure that two of the children could stay with their grandparents, clothes were meticulously laundered into handy piles, favourite cuddlies and books stockpiled and packed, along with bibs, beakers and all the various paraphanalia to ensure that life was as easy as possible both for them and my parents at the other end. A rota of other parents were enlisted to pick up the eldest from school and various favours called in, whilst in the middle of the week I made an eight hour journey to Peterborough and back to procure a passport to enable me to take the baby, as well as beginning to acclimatise her to taking a bottle of formula milk, in case the passport did not arrive in time and/or to make life easier whilst out there.

In between all the dashing about, I waited and there was nothing. No confirmation of what was happening or response to an email asking whether the trip was still on. As is their prerogative and their right, the BBC decided to change their line-up and were too preoccupied to respond. That’s fair enough really, it’s entirely up to them who they wished to cover the event and my childcare and personal arrangements are irrelevant and none of their concern. This kind of thing happens all the time – we need to be ego free, prepared to be dropped at a moment’s notice, but it was more than a little frustrating having to put in place a complicated contingency plan should I suddenly be asked to get on a flight at moment’s notice. Of course I could always have said no from the outset, but the BBC had asked specifically for a woman and the other candidates were already indisposed. Naturally I wanted to go, if at all possible. But it wasn’t to be.

Then to add salt into my wounds, the phone rang on Wednesday night, between the appearance of the white smoke and Pope Francis on the balcony, asking whether or not I would be able to appear on Newsnight. Robin said fine, he’d put the kids to bed and I ran to jump in the shower, with BBC News playing on full volume on the radio. Having made myself look vaguely presentable, I then sat there for a few hours, having spoken to the producer of the show, trying to stop the children from smearing sticky fingers and spilling milk all over my only clean suit, waiting for him to phone back and confirm that a car was on its way, having pressed on him that one needed to come quickly if it was going to get me from Brighton to London in time. All the while trying to compose myself as well as some cogent thoughts about our new pontiff. At 9pm, an hour before I was supposed to be at the studio, no car had come, so I rang the show, only to discover that they had decided to drop me in favour of two priests and had forgotten to ring me back and tell me.

So all dressed up, tons of adrenlin and nowhere to go. Which happens, it’s incredibly frustrating, part and parcel of life and every single Catholic Voice will have a similar story about being dropped at the last minute, it’s not the first time it has happened, it won’t be the last and is all part of being ego free, but nonetheless I was feeling a little antsy and fed up yesterday, having invested a great deal of time and emotional energy. It is disappointing when that happens, especially when one has built oneself up. So another thing to remember next time one sees anyone on television or on radio. We’re all members of the laity, we’re not full-time professional media commentators, we’ve all got lives and families of our own and we do this work gladly out of love for the church and though we undoubtedly enjoy what we do and strive to do well, it does entail sacrifice, and this week was something of a double-whammy in terms of building up expectation and adrenalin, only to come crashing back down again. I obviously need to take a leaf out of our new pontiff’s book in terms of humility.

So moaning aside, and yes this is admittedly a minor personal grumble although I am sufficiently recovered and able to take disappointment in my stride, what I find most interesting about this, is that the BBC, who are usually preoccupied with diversity and representation and who repeatedly question the Catholic Church in terms of whether or not it represents women, have on two occasions in its recent coverage, ignored the opportunity to represent the viewpoint of an ordinary faithful Catholic woman in the church, in favour of men. I’m loath to draw any conclusions about political agendas, sometimes these things just happen without reason, but I can’t help but wonder whether or not a dissenting or ‘liberal’ Catholic woman would have made a more compelling narrative? I think it’s why they were keen to interview me over the celibacy controversy and found that they didn’t quite get what they were bargaining for.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Catholic TV station EWTN had Colleen Campbell doing an excellent job covering events. Whereas the UK media’s coverage was predominantly male-dominated. In some ways that doesn’t bother me, I’m not one for shortlists, it should be whoever is best able to do the job, regardless of gender and certainly in the case of Newsnight, Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith was his usual erudite and charming self. But next time the BBC wishes to berate the Catholic Church over its representation and treatment of women, it perhaps ought to look at the predominant gender of who it chose to represent the faithful in their coverage of the past few weeks.

Still it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry and an additional Lenten penance. I’m now due for a bit of a rest, unless anyone fancies subbing me a quick flight out in time for the inaugural Mass…

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I am exceptionally grateful to Laurence England for arranging a deputation of Catholic constituents of Caroline Lucas to meet with her and explain our opposition to same-sex marriage, as well as for including me amongst their number.

I don’t really have much to add to Laurence’s account of how the meeting went, though I don’t think we did much to change her views, we certainly appreciated the opportunity to present our case, and Caroline Lucas certainly came across as a very warm, honest and engaging MP, she did not dismiss our case, neither did she pretend to listen politely, but she actively participated and asked questions as appropriate. Of course one might argue that she was only doing her duty as an elected MP and representative of her constituents, but at least she was gracious and actually took the time to make it seem as if she was genuinely interested! It was a very different experience from when I met my former constituency MP, David Cameron, who was at first dismissive, then had a Damascene conversion once I opened my mouth and he discovered that I’d worked for various Investment banks and had a public school background.

One thing that was very positive about the meeting was that Caroline had an opportunity to see that we were not coming at this from a position of bigotry, we didn’t wish any harm upon the LGBT community and it was certainly helpful that we had at least two of our number who openly identified themselves as being gay or having same sex attraction. Caroline hearteningly said that she had been very supportive of Christina Summers, the Green Party councillor who has been expelled from the Green Party for her opposition to same-sex marriage and that she disagreed with the party’s decision to exclude her; though Caroline’s Green Party credentials are immaculate in this area, she finds it disappointing that someone should be ostracised on account of their sincerely held beliefs.

Of particular interest seemed to be the side-effects of this legislation which clearly David Cameron had not thought about in any depth before going full-steam ahead with his proposal. We explained how Christians and indeed people of all faiths who disagreed with the redefinition of marriage could be affected in the workplace and highlighted the comments of the attorney general, Dominic Grieve, who has hinted that profound philosophical difficulties lie ahead for religious workers in the public sector. Everyone will be expected to recognise the new definition of marriage under law, regardless of whether or not they agree with it.

Another factor was how the redefinition of marriage would necessitate a change in the Anglican prayer book, via an Act of Parliament. Though that may seem irrelevant to a group of Catholics, it would also be a significant step to disestablishment of the church and whatever one’s views on that issue might be, surely such a significant change should not come about as a side-effect of legislation, but should be debated on its own merits or lack thereof.

We also pointed out that the government’s guarantees that religious marriage would remain unaffected would be utterly worthless as there is no distinction in law between religious and civil marriage, therefore if the change comes about it will need to be available to everybody in the same way. Some religious organisations will be unable to solemnise same-sex marriages and the realities of the ECHR and the Human Rights Act will mean that these organisations will have to withdraw from providing marriages if they are not able to offer it to all couples, in the same way as happened with the Catholic Adoption agencies.

As Laurence said, the area that Caroline Lucas seemed most interested in, was that of democracy and the public appetite for change. After pointing out that none of the major parties, including her own had this in their election manifesto, it seemed that a major change was being brought forth which nobody had actively voted for. I mentioned the Catholic Voices Com Res poll, of which she was unaware, suggesting that a significant chunk, some 70% of the population are against redefining marriage as well as the fact that the gay community seem to be apathetic to the change. There is also a risk that those gay couples who choose not to marry but to be in civil partnerships will also be thought of as having second-class unions and face discrimination.

Laurence was particularly persuasive and incisive when Caroline quizzed him on the notion of what constituted the common good. She asked whether the Church could still claim its position was in the common good, that if the poll results were reversed, showing that 70% of people were in favour of the change, surely that could be considered the common good? Laurence used the comparison of pedophilia, which most people find abhorrent, other than Harriet Harman’s friends. Even if public opinion were to change regarding pedophilia or polygamy, legislating for it, would most certainly not be in the common good, regardless of people’s personal views. The common good is an entirely distinct concept to public opinion. We also asked why the state felt that it needed to legislate for people’s private relationships, the only reason that marriage is regulated by the state, is for one reason alone and that is because its main function is to provide children. We explained that as a Church we did not hold the rights to marriage – it is an institution outside of both Church and state.

I don’t think we will have changed her underlying views, however my hope is that we did give some food for thought and that in Caroline’s words, she could see that we were not against equality per se or wanting to degrade same sex couples, but had genuine concern as to the impact of any forthcoming changes in the law.

This for me, is what it means to be a Catholic Voice, not simply a talking head in the media who someone may or may not remember, but actually being pro-active and making sure that the case is coherently and articulately presented in the public square. We did not shy away from our faith, nor did we deny that it affects our conscience, but equally we were able to display that our concerns were not those of bigots who wished to do harm. I do hope and pray that Caroline has a conversion of heart and that our meeting did at least have some impact.

In the meantime, here’s the Janet and John version from the Coalition for Marriage.

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Just a quick update following today’s Sunday Morning Live.

Obviously there is quite a lot of Internet derision as I lauded the success rates of modern NFP systems, despite the fact that my last two pregnancies were unplanned – our perfectly legitimate attempts to avoid, were unsuccessful!

Here’s the thing about being open to life. One accepts that every act of intercourse is both unitive and procreative, i.e for bonding AND babies. Neither can be separated out. Every time one is intimate with one’s spouse, you accept the consequences that could result, even if those consequences are not what one was hoping for.

Having sat down with my NFP practitioner, I realised that the mistake was user error, not the system itself. What happened on the last occasion was that I had a sick bug around the time of ovulation, which threw the whole system out. Thinking I had already ovulated, with the entire family beset with illness, some observations went awry.

That’s more than enough information but the point is, like any method of ‘traditional contraception’ it didn’t work out. We accepted and welcomed the imminent arrival and are now looking forward to meeting her. Many of our non-Catholic friends and acquaintances have testified to multiple condom/pill failure. These are all intelligent people able to follow instructions on a packet. Anecdotes are not the plural of data. Contraception is not 100% effective. If you have sex, there is a chance you will have a baby, regardless of how careful you think you are being.

But here’s the crucial difference. I live in the developed western world. I know how jolly hard it is when one doesn’t space pregnancies. I’ve been either pregnant or breast-feeding continually since February 2009. This pregnancy has proved the most physically and emotionally demanding of all. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult this situation would be for a woman in the developing world. I have access to decent healthcare, ante-natal care, the ability to eat healthily, take vitamins, have clean running water and will give birth in sterile conditions. I am able to provide shelter for and feed and clothe my existing children .

A woman in the developing world has none of that. My contemporary in sub-Saharan Africa or any other impoverished country, would, in all probability die, if she were in my situation.

So what’s the answer? Accept this and give her a long lasting hormonal contraceptive jab to prevent her from having any more children? What happens if it fails? Or should that extra $4.6 billion that the Melinda Gates Foundation has acquired to prevent women from having larger families be spent on ensuring that women in the developing world have the same choices, opportunities, access to quality healthcare that women in the western world have? So that if a woman finds herself facing 3 pregnancies in 3 years, she actually has a practical and realistic choice? The choice of life, not only for her, but her family and children.

Shouldn’t aid be about helping and empowering women to raise healthy babies and choose their family size, large or small? No matter how difficult the circumstances?

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I was speaking with my spiritual adviser earlier as a result of which I will be having a short blogging moratorium.

There are a few reasons for this, firstly I have three essays due in on the 10th January, secondly I am beginning to hit the exhaustion phase of early pregnancy whereby every muscle aches and yearns for rest and I’m downing the lucozade tablets for much needed energy and to keep going. Looking after 3 young children on my own in the week means I don’t have time to sleep, combine that with University work and I’m shattered.

One very unpleasant commentator suggested I am a dreadful mother who neglects her children, given the blog, but I tend to do my blogging when they are in bed, plus, I am an extraordinarily fast typist. Rest assured my children do not lack their mother’s attention.

I am also involved in another short-term personal project, that I cannot divulge, but which is proving spiritually draining, however it already seems to be bearing much fruit and a worthwhile use of my time.

I don’t therefore have the emotional energy to continue taking the constant attacks from others, both my husband and my advisor noted that I can’t be fighting on all fronts and I need to concentrate on my current short-term goals and suggested that the work I am currently doing needs to be prioritised.

I received a number of emails of support following my last two posts, from Catholic supporters with influence beyond the blogosphere, from past and present pro-life parliamentarians, newspaper columnists and heads of various organisations. All of them praised my “courage”, but to me there seemed nothing intrinsically brave about tapping out my opinion. My husband warned that I might have a hard time, but I was taken aback by some of the vociferous comments, a few of which were unnerving in nature. Having been exhorted to “take down your post and walk away, your friends aren’t helping”, then told “there will be repercussions”, I had rather an unsettled night. I subsequently woke up to a comment implying that I was peddling “a sack full of lies, half-truths, outright deceit and spin concerning Catholic teaching”.

All of this rather proves my point about a culture of fear. It seems to be acceptable for John Smeaton to blog his outrageous opinions and pronouncements upon others but not for others to respond. A few of my supporters asked me not to publically name them, a wish that I will respect, because as they said, they need to be above reproach and not enmesh their organisations in a personal feud. To get involved they said, would be in exactly the same error as John; it would conflate their views with that of their organisation, whereas I have more freedom, blogging purely as a private individual.

This is the joy of the blogosphere’s lack of regulation, it is a great equaliser and means people can be called to account. Let me be clear, if any Catholic blogger had decided to deride myself or my colleagues, I would have been equally hurt, I may have challenged in the comments box, but would probably have left it. The reason why I have taken issue is because John Smeaton’s blog is in his official capacity as SPUC Director, there is no comment facility and it is taken authoritatively. As some of my commenters have noted, he has sometimes not represented the full picture or has jumped to false conclusions on issues, alienating many in the process and sowing dissent amongst natural allies.

This is why i believe the hierarchy aren’t as keen on blogs as we bloggers. We are not all in full possession of the facts, I was not party to the discussions or expert advice presented to the Bishops in terms of the Liverpool Care Pathway and Connexions so I have to trust their judgement. Though there is room to ask whether or not certain things are wise, what is unfair is to allege that the Bishops’ Conference is intent on pro-life dissent. If any individual Bishop was in pro-life dissent, then they’d be out on their ear. As some of my commentators note, we cannot comment on the sensationalist stories we see reported, not being party to all the facts and nor can we present this as evidence of anything and then turn our fury upon others, without looking very foolish.

What is in danger of happening at the moment is the blogosphere is in danger of turning in on itself and becoming an ugly spectacle which I do not want to be a part of. It is doing nothing for the Kingdom or Catholicism as a whole. It is why so many are so wary about the Internet as a medium. There is a danger of treating blogs or things we read on the net as truth and being unnecessarily scandalised. As a private individual I can only ever speak for myself and not, unlike others, in an official capacity which would lend misleading authority.

My advisor reminded me to remember humility, you may know you are right, but you don’t have to jump up and down to prove it, think of the patient monk who waits 7-10 years silently carrying on, before he is shown to have been right all along.

My husband says “the problem is Caroline is that you write very reasonable, rational posts and expect everyone else to behave the same way. We know human nature is flawed and sinful and not everyone will respond as you would wish and be convinced, so you have to accept there’s a lot of unpleasantness out there.” As he says, the irony about all of this, is that I am an orthodox faithful practicing Catholic, one who is happy to sign up to the Catechism in its entirety, therefore the animosity is unfounded. One only needs to look at some of the abuse I’ve taken for blogging on the key issues, to realise that.

The bloggers hold onto the fact that they are able to hold others to account and swiftly disseminate information. This is all I have done. Democracy demands that we are able to freely and openly discuss concerns without fear of “repercussions”. Apparently SPUC is a Limited Company. I can understand that it may not be able to be a charity because it might not be able to adequately meet the Charities Commission test of “public benefit”. To see the accounts a Companies House search of SPUC Pro-life Limited needs to be made. Of course being a Limited Company, raises questions like who are the shareholders, are the profits reinvested and is a dividend paid? I haven’t the energy to investigate further, but I would like to know more before I donate money or encourage others to.

Whatever SPUC’s alleged successes in the EU or UN, there is still no significant UK progress. Their projects may well be worth Catholic support, but why do they claim to be more worthy of support than others, especially when their leader is preoccupied with attacking Catholic leaders and upsetting prolific and influential supporters(it goes without saying I do not include myself in that)? Why should a Catholic support an organisation whose leader seems to sow dissent and who inspires a response that has made me fearful? If SPUC feel that the Catholic hierarchy are ignoring their concerns and are not as pro-life as they should be, then they need to look at the bigger picture. Why is there a lack of a coherent pro-life movement in this country, unable to hold anyone in check? Why are SPUC marginalised? Who do they have to blame?

As I said, I am going to post one more entry and then have a short moratorium whilst I concentrate on essay work and other things, but I don’t regret opening this up for debate.

Amongst all the to and fro, Tyler, came up with the following comment as a wonderful New Year’s Day gift. This is what makes blogging worthwhile, in a beautiful twist of fate, in delicious irony, it is an interlocutor or “troll” who has motivated me to continue. The Lord does move in mysterious ways.

I’m not going to lie. I came here to troll all over your site, as I had held you in a fair bit of contempt, after being directed here through an angry friend’s link. However, I was unprepared for the unusual and surprising quality of your reasoning and logic, which was far from the usual, “the face in the sky commands us to do A, B, and C, while prohibiting E, F, and G” sort of religious blog. Therefore, I apologize, and after thinking carefully about it, I also apologize for the trolling I would have done, had your blog been less impressive, as what I was going to do was rather ridiculous anyway since,to put it mildly, and to insult you would have been rather immature, regardless of what I found here.

In addition to this, I feel I must point out that I obviously do not agree with all that is written here. As I am not a Strong Catholic, this is unsurprising, but I am not so naive as to fail to realize that not all Catholics are drones, mirroring and reflecting the same precise beliefs, and I realize that your reasoning is constructed in a way that is open to debate (if one has suitable facts and satisfactory mental facilities to engage in a reasonable disagreement in the comments section), which is a significant factor in the quality of your posts, as you have clear substance in what you write. Thus, while our principles are not necessarily on par with each other, I believe the respect in your blogging rises above that, and presents itself as valid and important opinion, despite what my own beliefs are.

So, I hope you keep writing. Perhaps I do not hope that people will take what you say as the absolute truth but, perhaps, I hope that people will consider and weigh in on what you write. Because, honestly, the best argument is constructed with knowledge on something you don’t like, and your blog, at the absolute least, is an exemplary argument for anyone, religious or not.

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I would like to think that I have built up a certain amount of goodwill on the Catholic blogosphere and therefore it was with some sadness that I read John Smeaton’s pre-Christmas blogpost in which he denounced me and all of my Catholic Voices colleagues as “highly compromised establishment mouthpieces” and called for “voices of real Catholics”.

I found his post deeply offensive, not just on a personal level but also on behalf of the very faithful, highly intelligent, talented group of people it has been my privilege to have formed friendships with over the last few months, as well as those members of Catholic Voices with whom I had already established relationships of friendships and trust.

John Smeaton has absolutely no ecclesiastical authority to doubt whether or not we are “proper Catholics” because some of us might have a perfectly permissible divergence of opinion and frankly I am minded to investigate canon law to see whether or not I am entitled to defend my reputation as a Catholic in good standing. I probably won’t bother, but I do not take kindly towards John deciding who or what constitutes “real Catholics”, he has no more authority than Andrew Brown of the Guardian or other liberal commentators who are minded to define the beliefs of the faithful (which usually involves ignoring a large part of the magisterium).

I am roaring with laughter at the concept of being an establishment mouthpiece – anyone who has ever known me will testify that I do not take kindly to being told what to say, think or how to act. I’m terribly free-spirited in that respect and it was that part of my nature that brought me back to Catholicism, in that I had to use solid reasoning, philosophy and cold hard logic in order to understand many of the precepts of the faith. I am a rebel who questions every single orthodoxy, therefore the concept of joining any organisation which tells me what to think or to unquestioningly obey does not appeal. If Catholic Voices were that type of organisation I would not have been a part of it. The fact is that I joined in order to be able to learn invaluable media skills as well as be part of the general conversation about faith and politics. Catholic Voices is the model of subsidiarity – nobody is told what to say or think, quite the opposite, it is assumed that as orthodox and faithful Catholics we are well-informed about our faith, we are simply taught the skills to be able to effectively communicate it in a climate of 24/7 rolling news coverage. Not once have I heard “this is our official policy” vis a vis any of the major issues.

John Smeaton has constructed a paranoid and false narrative, that Catholic Voices have been “frantically scrambling” to defend the Bishops, we have been secretly briefed to defend the Bishops against accusations of dissent from Catholic pro-life teaching. My recent blog posts and Thirsty Gargoyle’s recent post on the Catholic Voices website is the latest  irrefutable “evidence”.

Actually John needs to make his mind up. If we are indeed dissenters from the Vatican and the CDF, which is the establishment, then how can we be said to be establishment mouthpieces? I’d also love to know what qualifies me as being part of the “establishment” and how I am highly-compromised? What qualifies John Smeaton to make such a judgement?

In order to set the record straight – the reason that G and I both came out with similar views, is because when the Oddie/Nichols controversy first kicked off, we were privately exchanging emails as neither of us knew quite what to make of it. We were then both asked to present on a panel at the Catholic Voices final weekend – my subject was “Civil Partnerships and the Church”, G’s was “the Archbishop Nicholls controversy”. I received a two line email asking me to prepare a presentation and warned to expect vigorous grilling. I was asked to stay away from the Archbishop’s remarks as G would be covering those. There was absolutely no brief to “defend the Bishops” whatsoever. As G and I had some overlap, we discussed it briefly first and realised that we had reached a consensus of opinion, but it wasn’t “official policy”. G’s presentation was so illuminating, he was asked to turn it into a blogpost for CV. I decided to post a condensed version of mine on my blog. People are free to disagree, it is a matter of judgement, but it is not one that deserved quite so much acrimony and/or frothing from John Smeaton and his advocates. There really is no “conspiracy”, it was simply that G and I do get on enormously well and happened to agree with each other having thought through the issue at length. I am also minded to be charitable to the leader of Catholics in England and Wales – I don’t presume he’s an automatic apostate on a secret mission to overturn CDF directives or subvert Catholic teaching. I can see why John Smeaton’s fevered imagination was working overtime here, but it’s utterly  untrue that anyone was frantically scrambling to the Bishops’ defence, I don’t even want to give his nonsense credence.

John’s rationale that we are not authentic Catholics stems from the fact, that as he points out, a requirement of being a member of Catholic Voices is that one is not angry or upset with the Bishops. Leaving aside the obviously absurd notion that an orthodox Catholic might actually experience some allegiance to the bishops who have been appointed by the Pope, surely being angry is a sin. To be in a state of permanent anger could well be grave matter and a mortal sin. Although it may be argued that there is such a thing as “righteous indignation” I would posit that this is something that can only really be experienced by the divine, since none of us humans can really count ourselves as righteous. Anger/indignation is always intermingled with other emotions, such as pride and so who can really state with any authority that their anger, no matter how justified they may feel it is, is “righteous”. As Christians we are supposed to forgive and let go of our anger, so it seems to be quite fitting that those who publicly make the case for the Church should not be in a state of sin. Not angry or upset, does not equate to “you must agree with and condone every single thing that the Bishops’ Conference” says, clearly the Bishops need to exercise prudential judgement at times and there is room for disagreement, but if we are to make a public case for the Church, to go on national media in state of anger or upset or to publicly denounce and condemn our spiritual leaders is hardly going to advance anyone’s cause. But no, according to John Smeaton, unless you are absolutely fuming, or at the very least very disappointed with our Bishops, you cannot be a “good” Catholic and are therefore highly compromised.

One has to ask oneself, what exactly has all this to do with SPUC? To use the phrase from their website, they are a “secular lobby group”, therefore what on earth are they doing pronouncing Pharasiacal judgement upon who is really a good Catholic? What on earth are they doing immersing themselves in Catholic politics and how does this advance the pro-life cause?

SPUC’s answer would be that at their recent conference, they voted to conduct a campaign to defend marriage as a result of the forthcoming government consultation with regards to same-sex marriage. Catholic teaching is holistic; anything that undermines family life is liable to increase abortion and perhaps euthanasia. At the very least, functioning families provide socio-economic stability which is a factor in teenage pregnancies. It is my opinion, that this decision was perhaps unwise, as the case linking same-sex marriage with the pro-life cause, is a very subtle and complex one that requires careful explanation; it is difficult to convince those who do not understand or accept the link between stable families and the pro-life cause and it is likely to do more harm than good. One only needs to imagine the outrage that would be stirred up on Twitter and in the liberal press by claiming that gay marriage leads to abortion. There is not a direct causation and understandably the notion would cause huge offence. Going by recent campaigns, I doubt SPUC have the subtlety or resources to be able to do this effectively. John Smeaton produced several photographs of high profile couples in civil partnerships on his blog, in order to support his assertion that they are perceived as similar to marriage; his outrage is palpable, the post feels like something produced by Westboro Baptist Church. “Look at these gay couples – isn’t it disgusting and terrible”, is not the way to win hearts and minds. It certainly risks alienating members of the LGBT community who might otherwise be supportive of the pro-life agenda.

It seems to me that any pro-life group needs to be broad in base and narrow in focus. SPUC are wasting precious time and resources by fighting battles on all fronts. A friend reminded me of the concept of concentrated force. Think of door wedges, chisels and hammers, which are deliberately fashioned into triangles. Defending gay marriage confuses the issue, muddies the waters and weakens the focus. Even if one disagrees with my analysis and thinks that campaigning against same sex marriage is an appropriate activity for a pro-life organisation – how on earth does immersing oneself in Catholic politics, help that aim? Whilst Catholic social teaching mirrors the pro-life cause and therefore perceived deviations must prove frustrating, attacking the Bishops and genuine Catholics in good standing, does nothing to advance the cause. Besides I do not believe for one moment, that there is some secret conspiracy by a group of apostate Bishops intent on leading us into heterodoxy. It sounds like something out of the pages of Dan Brown!

As shown in my case, all John Smeaton has managed to do is alienate someone who is passionate about the pro-life cause. I have previously supported SPUC, both on this blog and financially. I sent John an email a few weeks ago outlining these concerns and have yet to receive the courtesy of a response. I also rang SPUC as I am involved in some important activism and wondered if they would support me – I spoke to John’s son Paul, who said he would take a message, but as yet no reply. Is it really helpful to deter someone who could do a lot of good work for the cause – not only in terms of activism, but fund-raising and education. Why on earth should I, or any members of my family support an organisation which wishes to publicly insult me?

It is this antagonism which lies at the heart of SPUC’s problems. If SPUC feel that their criticisms are justified, surely a more sensible approach is to work with the Bishops, instead of constantly sniping and attacking them? Continued condemnation causes continued marginalisation. As I said above, however, as a “secular lobby group”, SPUC have no business wasting their time and resources on this perceived vendetta against certain bishops and Catholic Voices. The pro-life lobby already faces immense problems in terms of being perceived as a preserve of fundamentalist Christians, only last year Sunny Hundal described LIFE, an entirely secular, non-denominational pro-life group with atheists as members, as “religious nut jobs”. How on earth will SPUC be taken seriously by anyone other than Catholics, if they continue with this negative focus upon the Catholic Church? In any event, if they do perceive problems with the Bishops, there are official channels, such as the Papal Nuncio or specific dicastories in Rome, who can investigate any issues.

Log onto John Smeaton’s blog and you are bombarded with posts dedicated to annihilating the reputation of Austen Ivereigh and the Bishops. Even if one happens to agree with John, a lobby group, funded by charitable donations for the purpose of protecting all human life should have no business engaging in unpleasant rumour, tittle tattle and gossip. Having seen how John has constructed an entirely false and paranoid narrative, I am not minded to believe anything that he says. SPUC’s donors are typically elderly and on limited income. Is this what they donate for – so that the director can spend his time pursuing personal vendettas and hobby-horses? Recently SPUC copied and pasted a message sent to me on Twitter by Austen Ivereigh and sent it to journalists such as Damian Thompson, in order to prove a point. Is this where the money in collecting tins goes – to fund their messing about on Twitter and attempts to use social media to have a pop at anyone who they don’t like? Some of my relatives and friends who are SPUC donors were absolutely horrified.

As SPUC are not a charity, their accounts are not public and thus there is no transparency. What is John Smeaton’s salary for example? Why is his young son employed? How is he qualified? What is his job title? Was this position advertised, or is SPUC being turned into something of a neat little family concern using donor money? Where does SPUC’s money go? What are their expenses? Are they audited. Are donors getting value for money.

Here are three examples of areas where SPUC has been remiss:

  • I met John Smeaton when he came to address a Shoreham meeting of SPUC in 2009. I raised concerns about a high profile media case of a baby who was born  under the legal limit and so was not given any medical care or assistance, his distraught parents watched him struggle for life for over an hour. I asked John what SPUC were doing to campaign for better care and assistance for babies born prematurely. The response: “I hadn’t heard of that particular case, we haven’t got time to keep up to date with everything”, although he did have time to keep up with John Lennon’s views on over-population and American ecclesiastical politics as well as Hilary Clinton’s views on the Lockerbie bombing according to his blog.
  • In November 2010 a very damaging and untrue story about SPUC’s school presentations appeared in the Times Educational Supplement, which was picked up by pro-choice groups everywhere as well as the British Humanist Association. It claimed that SPUC were giving untrue information as well as showing graphic abortion videos. I for one, know that this is a false claim, having witnessed SPUC in schools, and yet SPUC did nothing to counter it, thus cementing the idea that it must have been true in many people’s minds. SPUC could have done much to disprove this claim, at the very minimum they had right of reply, but  chose to remain silent. The story had the potential to have pro-life groups banned from giving educational presentations in schools. I was present when a freelance journalist friend asked a SPUC representative why nothing was done to counter this story and demonstrate its error. “It was a decision taken at the top, not to bother”, he said. Meanwhile, enormous damage was done to the pro-life movement.
  • SPUC scored an enormous own-goal in publicly deriding Nadine Dorries’ amendment which forced recognition that abortion providers had a financial interest in the outcome of abortion counselling. Admittedly the way Nadine went about this was flawed, but I could not believe my eyes when we had David Allen Green – an avowed pro-choice advocate, praising John Smeaton, for being sensible and balanced and coming to the “right decision”! Privately I don’t think he quite understood why someone with avowed pro-life views was not supporting Dorries,either. It was absurd.

A pro-life view does not necessitate any religious views whatsoever. SPUC should be concentrating on the very logical case rooted in science and natural law, as opposed to attempting to meddle in ecclesiastical politics and alienating themselves from any position of influence. Why would an Evangelical, a Congregationalist, a Baptist or a liberal Anglican have any interest in what the Bishops and Cardinals might have to say? Why would an atheist? How does quoting  John Paul II convince anyone other than Catholics? Why would a liberal Anglican who might be in favour of same sex marriage but against abortion, support SPUC. What about a devout Christian in a civil partnership? SPUC are attempting to appeal to a very narrow group. If they are going to be a Catholic group, then they should at the very least change their name to reflect that. John Smeaton, should, at the very least, consider running two separate blogs, one for SPUC and one with his own views, in which Church matters and his imaginings are kept entirely separate to important pro-life issues.

When SPUC was set up, it was specifically as a secular group – no Catholics were on the board, precisely so that it could not be accused of being simply a Catholic pressure group. I don’t like writing this post particularly, I am desperate for unity in the pro-life group and an end to internecine squabbling, I am wary about becoming one of John Smeaton’s targets, but when he seems to waste his time and more importantly donor money, I feel something needs to be said. Whatever one might think of the Bishops and/or Catholic Voices, this is outside SPUC’s remit. SPUC state that they have an income of £1 million a year, considerably less than many pro-choice groups, who are able to campaign a lot more effectively and who run extremely slick PR operations.

SPUC says on its website, “SPUC enjoys a high degree of independence. As the society is not a body of any church or political party, and has limited affiliations, it is free to operate effectively across a wide denominational, political and social spectrum.” 

Why then, is it so obsessed by Catholic politics and Catholic Voices? Why does it not involve itself in the Synod or Jewish or Muslim politics? Why should I support an organisation who ignores a polite email, who publicly insults me and watches my twitter feed and those of other Catholic Voices, like a hawk for signs of heterodoxy and why should I give any of my valuable time and or money?

I have taken so much grief over the past year in support of my faith and particularly in support of the pro-life cause. I have received hate mail and picked up obsessive stalkers. I was threatened and had death wished upon me for expressing a wish to attend a prayer vigil, I had someone attempt to interfere in my every day life because she believed that I “hurt women” and yet I have refused to give in to these bullies. I have PR skills, experience with young people, I’ve helped many victims of abortion and yet SPUC wish to marginalise, ignore and insult me. Is it really a good thing that they are deterring people who could be of much use to their organisation – not only me, but other younger recruits? Does John Smeaton have any idea quite how hurtful it is when he dismisses me as a “highly compromised mouthpiece” or not a “real Catholic”? Is he really prepared to stand by those statements? How has he advanced the pro-life cause, by alienating someone who had previously attempted to support him?

Next Sunday, SPUC are holding their White Flower appeal in which they will be holding collections in Catholic Churches nationwide. They are lucky that the Bishops are able to rise above the acrimony and personal insults and allow these collections to take place. It will be with a heavy heart that I donate money to an organisation which seems to be more concerned with attacking and insulting me, my friends, my brothers, sisters and fathers in Christ, than it does to the defence of the vulnerable and elderly.

As Stuart Reid noted in his excellent valedictory column last week, “the spite and venom of some conservative Catholics you encounter in the blogosphere, puts one in mind of the more primitive American Baptists. Yes, these people are in a tiny minority but they make a lot of noise with their mad certainties and barely concealed hatreds…they feel free to make outrageous assertions about the beliefs and motives of their opponents…all it requires is a PC and a rigid belief in your own moral probity”. 

The Director of a secular pro-life group with an income of £1 million a year should know how to behave better. I may be no better than members of the “Temple Police” but at least I am doing it with my own time and money.

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