Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Catholicism’ Category

Since reporting on the situation at the Sacred Heart High School in Hammersmith, I’ve received a number of troubling emails from parents around the country who are reporting similar situations in their schools.

I’m not going to name them, as yet, though one Catholic secondary in London has invited parents along to a consultation evening next week in which parents will be presented with the school’s ‘LGBTQIA’ policy.

Just the wording of that is a worry. It suggests that the school has bought into the full ‘alphabet soup’ surrounding sexual and gender identity; whereas most institutions stop at the LGBT, the full acronym is LGBTQIAPK. (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Pansexual and Kink).

The fact that a Catholic school has seen fit to validate “Queer, Intersex and Asexual” and accommodate them into the school’s ethos and policies is a depressing indication that they are likely to have bought into this highly politicised agenda, hook line and sinker.

Another parent informed me of how their children had come from the Catholic school they attend with a letter proudly bearing the Stonewall logo (Stonewall being a lobby group who are diametrically opposed to the Church’s teachings on sexuality and unlikely to be sympathetic) and who had attended a workshop on diversity at the school last term, which did not appear to conform with either the Catholic or traditional Christian teaching on sex and marriage, according to the feedback from their children.

This parent is typical of many non-Catholic parents who nonetheless choose to send their children to Catholic schools.  They describe themselves as a non-Anglican Christian.

“I am not Catholic but have really appreciated my kids attending a school that until recently had stood firm on Catholic principles. So sad that so many Catholic schools are gong the way of CofE schools!!”

Again, I am not going to name and shame the school yet, because it may be that both schools in question may be open to dialogue, but it’s symptomatic of the way things seem to be going in Catholic schools and how many parents are feeling let down, but are also too scared to say or do anything.

You can’t blame them. Their options are limited. Complaining to the school is likely to get both you and your children labelled as bigots and singled out for negative treatment. It’s not hard to imagine a situation whereby children are deemed in need of extra attention in order to overcome their parents’ bigotry. Parents who speak out about gender-neutral bathrooms or the imposition of transgender ideology onto their children are likely to reinforce the school’s position that they are the righteous ones, teaching the next generation to overcome he intolerance and prejudice of ill-informed bigots like their parents.

Parents haven’t been on the latest diversity course run by special interest groups like Stonewall or Mermaids, therefore they are not qualified and too ignorant to judge which values ought to be taught to their children. They must learn to overcome their ‘senseless fear’ to use the words of the prayer in the Scared Heart’s newsletter and ‘irrational prejudice’ about sharing their intimate facilities with a person of the opposite sex. They must suspend their critical faculties which question whether girls can turn into boys and vice-versa and reach out to these marginalised communities who are gender non-conforming, have been watching far too much YouTube and want a way to feel different and special. They must not feel uncomfortable but understand that God has in His infinite wisdom somehow made a mistake in His Creation and allocated people the wrong bodies, which they must change in order to be free. It’s what Jesus would do!

The reason why the newsletter from Sacred Heart is quite so disturbing is that it effectively emotionally blackmails both parents and children into silence. It starts by citing the legal reasons for the school’s policy – reasons which are entirely spurious, the provisions of the Equalities Act when it comes to recognition of gender reassignment do not apply to under 18’s in educational establishments, for reasons of needing to balance the needs of all the vulnerable pupils, but then goes on to distort the words of Pope Francis who has been pretty vociferous about gender ideology, especially in schools, and finishes up in a passive aggressive prayer.

The message is clear. If you are a nice compassionate wholesome Christian (which is indeed what we all aspire to be) then you will simply accept that the right thing to do is upturn 2000 years of magisterial teaching about what it means to be male and female. You will trample roughshod over the rights of the majority in a misguided attempt to reach out to the minority and validate their confusion. An attempt which is likely to do long-term physical, psychological and spiritual damage.

At least in a secular school, you haven’t got to contend with blasphemy. But either way, as a parent, when your school decides that Dave is now Roxanne, can wear a dress, can boot your daughter off the netball team, use her loos and stare enviously at her naturally developing figure and covet the ‘privilege’ of her menstrual cycle, short of taking your child out of the school, there is nothing you can do, other than keep your head down, try to teach your kids the right values and hope that they come out of there with a reasonable clutch of exam results. Though there’s no point in encouraging your daughters to attend single-sex University colleges any more. They must share all of their spaces with men. If you teach your children to stand up to and oppose this balderdash, you know full well that your child could well end up in isolation and with a charge of homophobic or transphobic bullying on their record for hurting poor Roxanne’s feelings. Something needs to be done. At the very minimum Justine Greening’s Gender Recognition Act, which seeks an Orwellian re-writing of history and biology,  needs to be challenged.

From what I am seeing parents of all denominations and none, Catholics, feminists, atheists, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, humanists, people who feel vaguely spiritual, are all united against having this unscientific and highly politicised ideology and identity politics imposed upon their children, but are all too worried about losing their jobs, or their children being picked on by teachers, to say anything. Meanwhile, groups like Mermaids (who are nothing more than a glorified campaign group run by a woman who procured illegal off-script hormones for their child aged 12 then took him abroad aged 16 for a castration in Asia when the NHS wouldn’t sanction it) are dominating the agenda with emotional blackmail about how if you don’t accept your child’s feelings, then you are going to force them to commit suicide. It’s unsubstantiated cant. (For those wanting more insight and to research the issue further, the website transgender trend is an excellent resource and place to start).

What the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in England and Wales needs to do, along with the Catholic Education Service is provide a strong lead on this. They have a duty to parents and children to say that this non-Catholic, harmful and scientifically unproven political agenda, will not be taught in Catholic schools.

Otherwise we will see what we are seeing now. In the absence of any leadership, schools are toppling one-by-one like dominoes, just as happened with the adoption agencies and ceasing to be Catholic in any meaningful sense. What’s happening is that in the absence of any firm guidance from either the CES or diocese, schools are being left to grope their own way through this minefield and are calling in the self-professed experts of LGBT lobby groups, who only want to promote their own agenda.

To be fair, I don’t entirely blame the CES or schools. Ofsted is driving most of this and is the institution which needs standing up to. Their guidelines about the appropriate treatment of children who present as transgender are not worth the paper they are written on. Of course children experiencing confusion must be treated with dignity and compassion, but not at the expense of undermining basic Catholic teaching, or at the expense of everyone else’s freedom and dignity. It’s legitimate to question the explosion of children presenting as transgender, when just this weekend, the former headmaster of Harrow, noted that in 40 years of teaching experience in single-sex schools, transgenderism did not become an issue until 2015.

In the case of transgender children this is is their entire lives and future health which is at stake here, which is all being determined on account of some anxious and distressing confusion during puberty. In the case of all of our children, this is their souls which are at stake. Parents must begin to rise up and resist this misguided moralism, which is infinitely more damaging than any of the Catholic guilt imbued into pupils by the over-zealous religious nuns and monks in Catholic educational establishments of the past.

Otherwise, if Catholic schools are going to teach that male and female are interchangeable, that God somehow stuffed up in Creation and that we can reject our bodies as He made them and transform them into the stuff of our imagination; if Catholic schools are going to teach pupils that biology no longer exists, and that we can force other people to see us as we would like to be seen, rather than through the eyes of the Creator, if Catholic schools are going to sanction turning children into liars and are going to teach that we can override others’ free will and that all that matters is how we imagine ourselves to be, then there’s very little point in having Catholic schools at all. We might as well shut them all down, save ourselves the bother and the money. Or maybe that ’s the plan all along?

Read Full Post »

4 years after broaching the topic on Sunday Morning Live, the BBC today once again went for this discussion on their Sunday Morning Live Show.

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.

Read Full Post »

clinton-baby-1-600x450

 

The pro-life world is currently in uproar about remarks made by Chelsea Clinton at a recent fundraiser for her mother, Hilary, in which she claimed to have left the Baptist Church at the age of 6, thanks to its stance on abortion.

 I was raised in a Methodist church and I left the Baptist church before my dad did, because I didn’t know why they were talking to me about abortion when I was 6 in Sunday school.

Going on to defend her faith and that of mother’s which she believes is wholly compatible with a pro-choice viewpoint, she said “I recognized that there were many expressions of faith that I don’t agree with and feel [are] quite antithetical to how I read the Bible…But I find it really challenging when people who are self-professed liberals kind of look askance at my family’s history.”

The subtext is clear – support of abortion is compatible with Christianity as evidenced by her family’s own religious faith. Many people would take issue with how far the Clinton family exemplify Christian values, but let’s be charitable and accept her belief that her family are all God-fearing Christians. It still doesn’t mean that their interpretation of the Bible when it comes to abortion is the correct one, and billions of Christians around the world, would vehemently disagree as to whether a Christian can sanction the killing of the unborn. But I can accept that this is a genuinely held, if theologically flawed, point of view.

Where I do take issue, is the idea that voters are being asked to uncritically accept the idea that the six year-old Chelsea had such a prodigious intellect that she was able to criticise the appropriateness of abortion as a topic in Sunday school and make a conscious decision to reject the Baptist church thanks to a theological difference of opinion. It stretches credulity to say the least.

A far more likely explanation is that upon being asked about what they learnt about in Sunday school that week, little Chelsea piped up something about abortion and Hilary whipped her out sharpish and promptly attempted to unpick any pro-life sentiment or ideas which may have taken root in the impressionable six year old’s brain.

How many, even precocious, six year-olds would really object to being given a pro-life point of view in Sunday school, believing that abortion was a vital necessity and one which could be supported by a certain interpretation of Scripture?

Either Chelsea’s recollection of events is distorted, or she is telling blatant untruths, but either way it displays an unhealthy narcissism. Does she genuinely expect voters to believe that hers is such a brilliant mind that she was able to critically engage with theology and the thorny issue of abortion as a six-year old? In effect she is saying, ‘I was so wise and wonderful, that I knew, even at the age of tender age of six, that abortion was a great, wonderful and necessary tool for women’s empowerment. I am descended from the great tribe of political and academic heavyweights, listen and look upon my mighty intellect, ye proles, and take heed’.

Where pro-lifers are wrong however, is to assume that if she is telling the truth, that this is evidence of abusive or bad parenting, on the basis that no six year-old ought to know about abortion. If that is the case, then the Baptist Church which was mentioning such things to six year olds, deserves criticism. Although pro-choicers like Chelsea, ought to be honest with themselves as to why? If abortion is simply more than a removal of unwanted tissue or cells, and not a real human being, then what is the problem with telling children about it, in similar terms to describing a tonsilectomy or other similar minor procedure?

I remember losing a glut of Facebook and Twitter followers, who were all ironically pro-choicers, who were appalled when I mentioned that I’d had to discuss abortion with my eldest child, who was about seven at the time. It was felt that children wouldn’t be old enough to fully understand abortion and therefore shouldn’t be told. Which is in itself an admission that there’s something more moral and fundamental at stake that just putting a stop to a pregnancy. There’s also the feeling from both pro-lifers and pro-choicers that the role of parents is to protect their children from life’s horrors, until they are able to contextualise them. Again, an implicit understanding that abortion is not a ‘nice’ thing or a suitable topic for children.

I was forced to broach the issue, albeit in very gentle terms, with my daughter when she was in Year two or three, simply because she could read. She saw a leaflet from a pro-life organisation that was kicking about the house and asked what the word meant. She also overhead an answerphone message from a media outlet inviting me on a show to discuss abortion.The final nail in the coffin was having to drive past large displays of graphic images outside Brighton’s abortion clinic. She could see for herself what they were. I don’t believe in lying to children, or treating them as though they are stupid, but answering their questions in age-appropriate ways. Ours is a household in which lots of things are discussed calmly and sensibly, without ever once inviting scorn or hatred upon people. My daughter’s school was taken over by the notoriously progressive Brighton College – therefore we found ourselves forced to broach certain difficult and taboo topics, living as we did in a hub of LGBT activism with a disproportionate amount of the population who reject heteronormatism.  It’s ironic that many of those who are campaigning for children to be taught sex-education including the topics of homosexuality and transgenderism in schools from the age of 5, are recoiling at the notion that children could be told about abortion.

It was perhaps inevitable that a child in my household would become exposed to the concept of abortion, although interestingly it hasn’t yet cropped up with my younger children, the oldest of whom is now also six. So I don’t blame Hilary Clinton for Chelsea’s exposure to pro-choice views from an early age, because to some extent this was inevitable, although I would question anyone, on either side of the debate, who decided to sit down and explain the concept of abortion with a young child. I don’t have a problem with taking young children to pro-life events, or even with them joining in with prayer vigils outside clinics – it can very simply be explained without having to go into the specifics of abortion.

Most children, when they learn about abortion, are naturally horrified. They know instinctively that it’s an abhorrent and upsetting thing, which is why caution needs to be exercised and the topic needs to be discussed sensitively.

The horror and disgust levelled at Hilary Clinton is because, if Chelsea is to be believed, then she must have put in quite a bit of work to overcome a young child’s natural revulsion and convince her that abortion is a perfectly acceptable act. Children instinctively look to their mothers to protect them, they understand that their mothers have carried them in their tummies and the thought that a mother might decide to kill or get rid of a baby in her tummy is the stuff of childish nightmares and anxieties, especially if they believe that it’s something that their own mother might do at some point.

Heaven knows, I have some terrible explaining of my own to do at some point, which is why I was so distressed to be so publicly outed and betrayed by a former friend about my own abortion, a few years ago.

But where we do need to be careful, is in our condemnation of Hilary for her supposed indoctrination of Chelsea. No matter how heinous her views, as a parent, she has every right to pass them down to her children, and tragically this seems to have been the case. Chelsea obviously feels immensely proud and privileged to have been the recipient of such an upbringing and that her mother did the right thing in imparting her views.

The rights of parents as primary educators of their children is integral to Catholic teaching and therefore it is hypocritical of us to attempt to abuse or denigrate others for exercising those very same rights that we lay claim to when it comes to our own  children. We don’t have to tolerate the ideas which others are passing on to their children, but we must respect others’ rights to educate their children into their own value system, with the proviso that these views do not encourage, condone or coerce vulnerable youngsters into acts of violent terrorism.

The same accusation of harm or abuse, that we could level at militant atheists or devoted pro-choicers, could and often is, similarly and far more frequently lobbied at those of us with religious and socially conservative views.

As a 35 year old mother, Chelsea Clinton has had ample opportunity to reflect upon the values instilled in her as a child and either accept or reject them. But her experience bears out what both Catholics and left-leaning socialists accept. The family remains the most powerful source of political and religious evangelism there is and a family who not only expresses, but also positively lives out their convictions or views without hypocrisy are infinitely more likely to pass them down to future generations.

Read Full Post »

Many years ago an idle moment on google led me to discover a blog, written under a nom de plume, which had clearly been penned by someone who had attended my preparatory school. (Caution, while side-splittingly amusing in part, said blog is disparaging of religion and contains some fruity language).

Having avidly read through pretty much the whole thing in search of familiar names and a nostalgia fix, my mirth turned to horror when it dawned upon me who the author was (she left a trail of inadvertent clues) and I learned about precisely how dysfunctional her family and upbringing had been.

In one post, (which I think has been deleted, it shows up on Google’s cache, but I am not going to link to it out of respect for the author’s wish for anonymity) she details her family history as follows. Apologies for the strong language.

child-stress

“A potted history of my family. You might want to go and have a wee first, or make a cup of tea, as this may take a while. And you might get to the end of it feeling a little uncomfortable, or maybe sorry for us. Don’t – it’s such a well-worn story now that it holds no emotions, and I’m not out for pity. Cash donations are always welcome, but pity ain’t.

It all started in the late sixties. My mother and my father were still married to each other (in my mother’s head this is still the case, in whatever weird parallel existence gets her through the day. She announced at lunch a couple of months ago that it would have been their forty-fifth wedding anniversary that day. They’ve been divorced for thirty-seven years but hey, who’s counting? If I had stayed at school I’d have been there for twenty eight years this year. It’s that sort of thing…) and my brother was born. He was followed by beloved sister Fifi, and then along came me in the early seventies. I was what’s euphemistically known as a band-aid baby, in that I was supposed to glue my parents’ marriage back together. However, me being me, this didn’t happen. Not even a bit. When I was two, my father ran off with the Avon lady, in a terrible middle-class cliche. Said Avon lady was married with a small daughter at the time. Not to be outdone, my mother hooked up with the Avon lady’s now-ex husband, and the fun began in earnest. I’m not entirely sure how much of this was known to any of the parties at the time; did my mother already have, ahem, knowledge of Avon lady’s husband even as she was getting it on with my father? Did any of them know about the other indiscretions? Was it all a big jolly liberated seventies wife swap? Of all the possibilities I like the last one the least. Uurgh. So, as is the nature of these things, decisions had to be made. Between the two couples there were four children, with another on the way (happily gestating away inside the Avon lady). This is another part of my history that I really don’t understand, particularly as a mother myself. There ensued a process that in my mind took the form of picking teams for netball. My father ended up with my brother, sister Fifi and the impending new addition. My mother gained me and the Avon-lady-ex-husband’s daughter. My brother was seven, Fifi was five, I was two and a bit. My soon-to-be-stepsister was four. So the adults, satisfied with the arrangements, all went off and set up home and got married, and concentrated on raising the kids with an eye to minimising any damage caused by the events of their early years. Well, my father and the Avon lady did anyway.

My mother and stepfather chose to either tell me, or to simply let me believe, that my father and stepmother were my uncle and aunt, and that my brother and sisters were my cousins, with my stepsister being my only “true” sister. We used to get together at Christmas and on a couple of other occasions throughout the year – lord only knows how that worked as far as the grownups went – a lot of polite small talk I expect. In addition to this familial obfuscation, my mother and stepfather set about drinking themselves into a coma at every possible opportunity. As their relationship worsened, so our evening and weekend routines evolved until my stepsister and I were cast in the role of peacemakers, endlessly placating and fruitlessly refereeing drunken rows. To this day I can’t sleep if there’s noise, only because part of me is still listening to make sure an argument doesn’t break out. I first heard the “c” word aged seven, when my stepfather burst into my room in the middle of the night to tell me I couldn’t go and stay with my school friend because I was a spoiled little cunt who thought I was better than him.

We weathered Christmases in which the only salvation was that my stepfather would pass out at four pm, and social gatherings where we were lucky to arrive home alive, such was the frequency of drunk driving. I have a vivid recollection of sitting in the back of the family car with my stepsister, as my mother complained bitterly that the car had broken down. My stepfather was unconcious in the passenger seat, having rounded off the evening at a schoolfriend’s parents’ house by collapsing backwards over a low wall, knocking it down and taking a garden bench with him. It transpired that the car was fine – my mother was simply so drunk that she was pressing the brake instead of the accelerator. Armed with this helpful knowledge, she changed feet and drove us home. This and a thousand other horror stories that I won’t bore anyone with now mean that I’m fairly sure that stepsister and I drew the short straw….

So, here we are. The Surly family tree contains a father who I don’t call Dad, a stepmother who has been more of a mother to me than my natural mother despite never living with me, a stepfather who I haven’t spoken to in nearly twelve years, a mother who I couldn’t even begin to describe, a brother, a sister, a stepsister and a half sister. My stepsister is everyone else’s stepsister as her father was married to our mother, and her mother is married to my father. My half sister is everyone else’s half sister, as she shares a father with me, my brother and sister Fifi, and a mother with my stepsister. My mother and stepmother are sworn enemies owing to my mother’s treatment of my stepsister when we were small. My stepfather has apparently gone a bit churchy in his old age. My mother is mental. My brother and half sister are the only children who haven’t been through some sort of therapy, giving all the parents a better than fifty percent strike rate in officially fucking their kids up.

It’s a wonder I’ve turned out so normal, isn’t it?”

This story has been playing on my mind an awful lot over the past few months as it could potentially do much to undermine my oft-stated narrative that where possible, children ought not to be removed from their biological parents and that young children need their mothers.

I’ve also been wondering what has happened to the blog author who tragically for her avid readership stopped blogging back in 2009. She regularly made the top ten lists of the most popular British blog and while her style may not be to everyone’s taste, since inadvertently discovering her blog, I’ve always fostered a sneaking sense of pride. She was in the year above me and  I remember her rebellious humour, sarcasm and curiosity even as a young child. What shocked me upon reading her story, was how, as children, we too had absolutely no idea what was going on behind closed doors in that family, even though my elder sister was best friends with her elder sister until the friendship petered when they went to different secondary schools. My parents were teachers at the secondary school the girls attended and never noted anything amiss with family – the mother by all accounts, was very good at putting on a front.

Anyway in this case, clearly all of the children would have been better off had the divorce not happened at all and the parents had attempted to work together for the good of their children, and arguably, my friend would have fared better remaining with her natural father and stepmother instead of the peculiar arrangement which did take place.

The whole thing is utterly mind-boggling and baffling, particularly as she notes, to anyone who has ever been a mother. How can children be divvied up as though they were chattels or possessions? How could anyone be so cruel? How could a mother use a romantic relationship or entanglement to justify parting with her young children in order for another woman to bring them up as her own? I get bad enough separation anxiety when leaving the children in the car to go and pay for petrol!

Same-sex couples would be completely justified in using stories such as these to point out that sometimes heterosexual parenting can fall extremely short. Being in a male/female relationship doesn’t guarantee that you aren’t going to make a disastrous hash of parenting.

But actually what this sorry tale shows us is that children do actually fare better when they are brought up by both biological parents who have an interest in them. What happened in this situation, as in so many cases of divorce is that the adults selfishly put their own needs first and the children became an afterthought, which is hardly surprising. No doubt they went through all kinds of mental sophistry in the process of self-justification, surely no parent could be so blind or callous to think that the children wouldn’t be affected in some way?

I am reminded of the compelling book Jephthah’s Daughters, edited by Robert Oscar Lopez (noted academic and author of the English Manif blog) in which several children brought up by same-sex parents give their testimony as to what life was really like growing up deliberately removed from one biological parent. They report similar tales of abuse, alienation and anger as adults, when they realise how damaged their childhoods were and their poor resulting mental health.

I am not saying that the above fate will inevitably happen to every single child brought up by same-sex parents, nor am I claiming that every child of divorce will have such a calamitous experience, but that the above account is what happens when adults choose to put their own perceived romantic or relationship desires above and beyond the emotional needs of their children.

Divorce, as I know, is always disastrous for kids and any subsequent action is always about mopping up or attempting to mitigate against the negative consequences. Sometimes situations do require a civil divorce, not least for reasons of safety, but this is still not as ideal as a stable, loving couple in a long-term committed permanent relationship raising their biological offspring together. The caricature of the evil step-parent exists for a reason, the Cinderella effect is an uncomfortable reality. In several countries, stepparents beat very young children to death at per capita rates that are more than 100 times higher than the corresponding rates for genetic parents. My friend’s experience is not that uncommon; step-parents or partners of biological parents are far more likely to be perpetuators of physical or emotional abuse. A potentially embarassing and difficult admission for someone in my position – my husband is a loving and doting stepfather to my eldest daughter. I’ve said before, that from her perspective it would have been preferable had her parents been able to stay together and both of us have had to work very hard to ensure that she has not been forced to unduly suffer as a result of her genetic parents’  folly.

Re-reading what happened to my old friend (whose blog is still out there) I wondered whether or not the ‘families come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes’ narrative would have been trotted out as justification by these archetypal and surreal seventies wife-swappers?

But the purpose of this post is not to use an example of disastrous hetrosexual parenting to attack same-sex couples, if anything it shows how male-female parenting is equally capable of going horribly wrong. Here we have a case of children being instrumentalised, used as commodities, treated as possessions way before the idea of surrogacy, gamete donation and IVF to create same-sex parents was even possible, let alone accepted by the mainstream.

What it does demonstrate is what happens when individuals put their own individual wants and desires above everything else, including child welfare and attempt to obfuscate or deny the good of the traditional family unit or the need of a child for their biological mother and father. As my friend’s situation demonstrates, quick, easy no-fault divorce was the harbinger of doom in terms of bringing about situations where children could be treated as irrelevant or as of secondary importance to the rights of adults to do what they pleased. No sooner had legislation been passed recognising that children had basic human rights and ought not to be exploited in factories, workplaces and up chimneys and should be entitled to an education, then we promptly undermined it by saying it was acceptable for them to be deserted by their mothers or fathers in their pursuit of personal happiness.

This week Cardinal Nichols talked about how the Synod on the Family ought not to be thought of as a battle, because collateral damage is one of the worst and most tragic consequences of hostilities. When it comes to the issue of divorce, children are the collateral damage and tragedies such as the one so bleakly outlined by my friend on her blog, occur. Which is why the 461 priests were right to publicly uphold the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. When permanence ceases to be a fundamental part of marriage or its key purpose of child-rearing is ignored, it is children who are the innocent and unwitting victims, even if the intention is supposedly a good or merciful one.

I do hope my friend is alright. I wonder if she’s deleted various entries after being alerted to various searches on it over the past few weeks? Last I heard she had embarked on her second marriage, as had her step-sister and natural sisters. None of them were speaking to her mother who had split up from step-father  almost twenty years hence.

She mentions that her step-father has now become ‘a bit Churchy’ in his old age? What message would it send to her and her family were the Catholic Church to extend a vision of mercy which effectively said that the past actions of these deeply flawed and selfish adults did not matter one iota and the destroyed lives and relationships were irrelevant? All that matters is their current happiness and sense of not feeling ‘excluded’?

Read Full Post »

You may have seen the recent letter from more than 450 priests in support of the Church’s teaching on marriage.

We would like to invite you to sign the letter below, to be sent to the press in support of them, and to encourage others to sign it.

To sign, please leave your name and your diocese in the comments box below, or if you prefer email them to me or to one of the coordinators:

Mark Lambert (mark@landbtechnical.com) or Andrew Plasom-Scott (andrewplasom_scott@me.com)

The Letter:

Dear Sir,

We, the undersigned, wish to endorse and support the letter signed by over 450 priests in the recent edition of the Catholic Herald.

As laity, we all know from our own family experiences, or those of our friends and neighbours, the harrowing trauma of divorce and separation, and we sympathise with all those in such situations.

It is precisely for that reason that we believe that the Church must continue to proclaim the truth about marriage, given us by Christ in the Gospels, with clarity and charity in a world that struggles to understand it.

For the sake of those in irregular unions, for the sake of those abandoned and living in accordance with the teachings of the Church, and above all for the sake of the next generation, it is essential that the Church continues to make it quite clear that sacramental marriage is indissoluble until death.

We pray, and expect, that our hierarchy will represent us, and the Church’s unwavering teaching, at the Synod this autumn.

 Yours faithfully,

Read Full Post »

I’ve been meaning to revisit the topic of NFP or, as I would prefer to call it, NFA and Joseph Shaw has provided me with the perfect opportunity, with a blogpost critiquing this rather natty little video, promoting the benefits of NFP, as opposed to conventional contraception.

First off, I think Catholics need to stop referring to NFP (Natural Family Planning) and instead refer to NFA – Natural Fertility Awareness. The semantics here are important: the former term implies a contraceptive mindset, validating the secular mindset that every family needs to be meticulously planned in terms of timing and number of children, whereas Natural Fertility Awareness is more accurate in terms of the (more often than not) Catholic mindset of those who adopt this attitude towards their sex lives.

Unlike the secular rigidity of the term Family Planning, favoured by our state health agencies, the phrase Natural Fertility Awareness conveys something of the fluidity and indeed flexibility, of the process. Moreover one does not need to be sexually active in order to monitor one’s own fertility and I’m a great advocate of young women (and indeed young men) being versed in the basic principles, before they may actually need to practice it.

There is nothing inherently immoral about teaching young women how to be aware of and chart their individual fertility – the process takes a few months to get to grips with and do so accurately. The engagement period tends to be a busy and frenetic time. observations can be missed or mistaken. It isn’t unreasonable for a married couple to wish for a short honeymoon period where they aren’t plunged straight into the trials and tribulations of pregnancy at a time when they may be attempting to consolidate financially, especially if they have not previously been cohabiting or sexually intimate.

Indeed if more young women were to monitor their fertility then arguably potential problems could be identified and treated more swiftly. Even, Sir Robert Winston, the IVF pioneer has argued that too many women are being automatically referred for IVF treatment after a failure to conceive, when cheaper and more effective treatments may be available. (Such as for example, the NaPro Centre in Ireland).

Natural Fertility Awareness is scorned by the vast majority of the medical profession, who do not understand it and believe it to be some sort of outdated rhythm method from 50 years ago as opposed to a rigorously scientific method, based on a woman’s own individual fertility, rather than the standardised version assumed by manufacturers of hormonal contraception. This leads to a passive attitude adopted by woman, who are taught to believe that their natural fertility is an out of control monster which needs to be medically  suppressed in order for them to stay healthy.

Last week my youngest daughter came up with an alarming looking rash, (it turned out to be some sort of pityriasis) which needed swift checking out by a medic. Unable to get a GP appointment within a few days, I took her instead to the walk-in centre in central Brighton so she could be seen swiftly. This particular centre also happened to be an anonymous walk-in sexual health and GUM clinic. I was particularly struck by the larger -than-life size posters advertising their sexual health and contraceptive services. Basically there was nowhere you could look without seeing adverts for sexual health prominently displayed. (Which is understandable when you consider Brighton’s considerable LGBT population and the location of the clinic, next to the railway station. You can pop in for an anonymous HIV test).

I was sat in front of an enormous six foot banner stand, which displayed a photograph of a clean-cut, wholesome-looking, causal but modestly dressed, pretty young blond woman, advertising “reproductive health services.’ The image has stayed with me precisely because as I thought at the time, the model was obviously chosen for her ordinary look. The message was crystal clear, all young women will be having sex and therefore they need to ensure that they do not have an unwanted pregnancy or contract any sexually transmitted diseases.

It was precisely the sort of image that I identified with as a teenager or in my twenties, just a normal-looking young woman, probably a professional of some sort, living a normal adult life, in sexual relationships and needing to make sure that she was healthy. Sexual health being just one more adult responsibility that she had to deal with. Take the pill, use condoms with new partners, get checked from time to time to make sure you haven’t inadvertently picked up anything nasty – no big deal, all part of being an empowered grown up.

I had bought into that entire mindset which is why the poster really struck a chord with me.  I too was that ‘empowered’ young woman who believed that all romantic relationships ought to involve sex and that consensual one-night stands were no problem. Sex was  a fun and exciting thing to do and most people who had an unplanned pregnancy had been a bit stupid. (Until it happened to me). Everywhere young women go, they are subtly indoctrinated into a certain way of thinking about sex and their sex lives. The poster was deliberately designed to feature a bland image of an everyday, normal attractive woman, with whom most woman would identify. No doubt in other areas, the models used would vary according to demographics.

Which is why it is so important that women are introduced into another way of thinking about their fertility, namely monitoring their own individual cycles instead of being duped into a passive acceptance of long-term hormonal suppression as being the norm.

This is why I don’t have so much of a problem as Joseph Shaw does, in terms of the secular nature of the video, which is perhaps designed to reach beyond the Catholic faithful.

I’ve personally found NFA to be so enriching for my marriage, despite not always managing to avoid pregnancy, that I want to share it with others because it’s a great thing in and of itself, and as Dr Shaw notes, the fewer people pumping estrogen into atmosphere or suffering from potential side effects, the better. Sceptic readers could do worse than read Sweetening the Pill. In January 2014, Vanity Fair published a 10,000 word expose of the Nuvaring, which has been responsible for thousands of avoidable blood clots and hundreds of deaths, all suppressed by the manufacturers who are now facing lawsuits. Wanting to get women off this stuff is an act of charity and mercy.

Advocating NFA to non-Catholics is the perfect example of graduality – get women onto a more natural and healthier way of avoiding pregnancy and it may well prove a useful first stepping stone in terms of evangelisation. It also might do something to engender better attitudes to sex and the rejection of female instrumentalisation, which has to be in the interests of the common good. I cannot emphasise how much of an uphill battle it is to overturn the entrenched attitudes hammered into children by well-meaning but ultimately ideologically blind professionals, since pre-adolescence.

T1593_300

Every secular priest ought to read this too. Ideally have a copy on hand to lend to couples.

For Catholics struggling with NFA, I strongly recommend Simcha Fisher’s Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, which is unashamedly written from a Catholic perspective. The book does not tell you how to chart, it does not give the pros and cons of NFA, it does not moralise, or tell you how many children you ought to have, but rather it acts as a spiritual accompaniement purely in terms of the sex and relationship issues related to NFP. If only it had been written two years ago when I was struggling with an unplanned pregnancy, in extremely challenging circumstances. Not only should married couples read it, but anyone involved in any sort of ministry involving engaged and married couples and yes priests, I mean you – it’s not a heavy theological tome, it’ll take a couple of days at most, but most definitely a decent use of your time.

Like Joseph, Simcha identifies the notion of being ‘baby-phobic’ but nonetheless she expclicity rejects the idea of the ‘contraceptive mentality’ that many Catholics using NFA have supposedly adopted. Certainly every Catholic I know who uses NFP, does so with a prayerful mentality and to accept NFA is also to accept that sex could always result in a baby, something that our experience has taught us.

In the aftermath of the Synod, there is a troubling narrative doing the rounds, namely that Catholics who avoid children must have a critical reason for doing so. As I said last year, this is explicitly, not the case, and to get hung up on the ‘grave and serious’ reasons for avoiding conceptions, ignores the actual teaching of Humanae Vitae.

What I said in August 2013, still seems pertinent.

Ultimately if a faithful Catholic couple is using NFP then they are still accepting and participating in God’s plan for creation. NFP/NFA accepts that no method of pregnancy avoidance, bar total abstinence is 100%. It is hugely unlikely that such a couple would then opt for abortion or reject an unplanned pregnancy. Practicing NFP constantly reminds one that this is always a possibility which is why NFP encourages spouses to care for and take responsibility for each other.

We should not berate those who use it in good conscience, procreation is one of the missions of marriage but not the sole mission, there are other ways of building the kingdom, the church does not treat children as a moral good to be pursued at the expense of all other moral goods. Gaudium et Spes 50 suggests that having a large family would be the generous thing to do, but also states that it is up to couples to decide.

But berating those for using NFP to avoid in good conscience, or discouraging discussion of using NFP to plan a family responsibly, is not the way to go, particularly for those encountering these concepts for the first time, which sadly seems to be a not insignificant proportion of the faithful.

To be clear, Joe Shaw did not advocate that everyone should have 10 children, nor did he insist that the reasons for avoiding children ought to be life-threatening, but he was stating that the vocation of marriage must include openness to children. The challenge is how to communicate this beyond the Catholic faithful.

Postscript for the sake of transparency

I am extremely happy to go on record as saying that following the birth of our fifth (God willing, living) child in March, I am no longer open to pregnancy.

I should not need to justify this to the Catholic faithful and it speaks volumes that I immediately feel defensive about this decision. Couples ought to be trusted to prayerfully discern what is right for them in their particular circumstances without having to defend themselves to random shouty online strangers.

For those wishing to ‘judge’ my Catholicity, the reasons are as follows:

  1. As I age, pregnancy is exacting an increasing toll on my body physically. This is in turn having an impact on the rest of the family as I am constantly exhausted and unable to function at full capacity. Due to the transient nature of our living circumstances over the past few years, there are no family or friends close by to help pick up the slack. While pregnancy is only a temporary stage, this recent piece from First Things notes that Catholics should not shy away from accepting and validating its difficulties. I am one of those women for whom pregnancy is a form of the Passion.
  2. I am facing my fourth cesarian section. While I know of women who have had as many as seven, 4 is considered the upper limit for this to be performed safely by most surgeons. During the birth of our youngest daughter there were some difficulties in terms of scar tissue and a large amount of adhesions; this next procedure is expected to be complicated and may well result in some damage to surrounding organs or emergency hysterectomy. A recent ante-natal appointment resulted not in discussion of the wellbeing of my unborn baby, but my being exhorted to accept sterilisation while I was on the table. An option which I have declined.

So no doubt in being very clear that we wish to avoid pregnancy – we fall into the scandalous contraceptive mindset. Perhaps the difference is that it’s not that we reject the idea of further children, but of further pregnancies?

However if the Catholic Church really wishes to throw off her image of misogynistic judgementalism, perhaps advocates of the vocation of marriage, ought to embrace the positive instead of loudly critiquing what they believe to be the motivations of the imaginary minority. I don’t need some shouty man imagining that he can persuade the world to tell me how I need to put my health and family at risk if I wish to save my soul or trying to engage me in online discussion about how married couples need to be open to life 100% of the time. Actually this is one issue where the feminists have a point, there is something particularly grating about a man who does not ever experience the physical tribulations of pregnancy and childbirth telling women how they ought to feel about the subject, no matter how logical, rational or theologically correct he may be.

Using NFA requires trust and a whole new way of thinking. Let’s encourage people to do that without telling them exactly what their decisions should be or implying that they ought to have fifty children until their uterus drops out.

Read Full Post »

Blogging apologia

Eagle-eyed readers may have notice that I have updated my previous strapline, which was typically flippant and suggested by my husband as a joke, when I couldn’t think of any better way of describing myself.

I never set out to write A Catholic blog, the cassock-loving thing was a play on the fact that I was married to a man who wore one and also to give a small hat-tip in terms of liturgical preferences.

A Catholic woman blogging about life, suits me, and the flavour of this blog much better. It was never my aim to write about liturgy, ecclesiastical politics, lobby for any political cause (the pro-life stuff just happened organically), give theological or homiletical insights (way beyond my skill-set) or show-boat my superior humility, modesty and piety!

No, the impulse that triggered this blog, was 1 Peter 3:15. I just wanted to demonstrate that rather than being the perceived Amish smock-wearing recluse who forced her children to wake up at 5am for prolonged periods of bible study and blushed at the use of a naughty word and who had no experience of ‘the real world’, actually, like most of us, I’m a  seasoned and regular sinner.

This blog was simply to explain some of my weird beliefs in a relatively simple and straightforward way, initially to those who, when I explained how excited I was about Pope Benedict’s visit and defended the Regensburg address, promptly attributed this to psychotic religious fervour, brainwashing or madness.

That's Caroline Farrow that is!

That’s Caroline Farrow that is!

I never imagined that it would take off in the way that it did which was probably why I was so woefully unprepared for the negative sides to blogging or expressing your views in public, which in my case meant that I became subject to a prolonged and still ongoing obsessive hate campaign, the intensity of which has at times, utterly floored me.

But with the help of regular confession, prayer and spiritual direction, I’ve managed to pick myself up, restore my equilibrium and it’s thankfully business as usual!

Mary O’Regan has suggested that bloggers need to become more Catholic, a suggestion with much merit, which got me thinking.

While I might endeavour to make this blog more solidly Catholic, my focus has never been to write solely about Catholic subject matter, probably because others such as official news agencies and publications, can do that better.

My aim gentle reader is to continue as a Catholic woman, a wife, a mother, someone with a passionate interest in the pro-life cause, who is a bit of a news junkie, offering her outlook and perspective on current affairs, the world around us, interspersed with a bit of what’s going on in my own life and some of my own experiences. That’s it I’m afraid. Life as a normal Catholic woman.

For those who think well Caroline, your experience is not that of a normal Catholic because your husband, yadda yadda, in some ways that’s right, but then I’m willing to bet, in fact I know, that there are plenty of Catholic women who are far more pious in terms of daily spirituality and Mass-going than I am. I wasn’t brought up by a ostensibly Catholic family, so I’m having to learn a lot of basic habits and customs for the first time and make a conscious effort to integrate them into family life. Plus with 4 children and school runs and the like, daily Mass, even regular adoration is sadly unfeasible and an undreamt of spiritual luxury.

The Catholic blogosphere has turned rather meta of late, people blogging about not blogging. My output has been tailing off simply for practical reasons. I’m busy with the  family, busy with children, busy with the new dog who is a bit of a handful, busy with my weekly Universe column, busy with Universe Catholic Radio, busy with Catholic Voices, busy putting newly acquired public speaking skills into practice, busy with other writing work, in short it’s all go.

I haven’t got time or excess emotional energy to worry about mad trolls, what Pope Francis may or may not be saying or who the next curial appointment is going to be. Which  is  also why I’m not blogging so much.

Plus I’m pregnant again and due to my advanced age, am finding it’s exacting a much greater physical toll than it did a few years ago. I’m only just coming out of the woods in terms of being able to look at my computer screen.

So I’ll probably continue to blog as previously, namely whenever I get particularly exercised about something or other, from loony Lib Dem sex ed policy, deeply dippy Dawkins or Tina Beattie’s latest (definitely more on that anon), sometimes erudite, sometimes critical, sometimes political, sometimes analytical, sometimes flippant, sometimes even pop culture, but always from the perspective of a Catholic laywoman, a wife, a mother, a daughter, sister, friend, who loves God, loves the Church, loves the Saints, who does her best and who sometimes gets it wrong!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »