Grow up?

Rowan-Williams_2553898b

A few days ago a lovely young non-Christian girlfriend of mine messaged me on Facebook. “Would you ever consider getting a nine to five job?” she asked. “Sure”, was my response, “I’ll need to get a job at some point, but probably not until all of the children are at school”.

“Aren’t you worried” she said, “that your views on gay marriage will hurt you?”. Very telling from someone who has been, if not an advocate of “gay marriage”,  has certainly openly supported it, seeing no problem with gay marriage in a civil context, but vehemently disagreeing with those who would wish to have it imposed on religious institutions.

She has a good point. The two professions which I have oscillated over entering over the past few years, namely midwifery and teaching, I have to accept are no longer avenues that would likely be open to me on account of my views.

Recently there has been a ridiculous furore amongst Catholics (who should frankly have better things to do with their time) on Twitter over the use of pseudonymous tweeting and blogging. One tweeter, whom I shall decline to name, has been leading something of a one-man crusade against “sock-puppets”,  demanding that every new pseudonymous account provides him with their name and address and some form of credentials in order to prove that they are not in fact, a ‘fake’. Anyone who declines to do so, is instantly decried and publicly denigrated as a fraud,  pseudonymous tweeters should, in his humble opinion, be banned, either one should tweet in one’s own name or not at all. If you have something to hide, then you should not be on Twitter,  Catholics should be out and proud, happy to be derided and martyred for their views along with the likes of St Thomas More.

Which is all very well, but what when those views could seriously interfere with one’s job prospects, or result in your being sacked? I can well imagine that if I was still in some of my former jobs, this blog would result in my dismissal on the grounds of gross misconduct. Not that I have said or done anything scandalous, but simply being ‘out there’ as an opponent of things like abortion, surrogacy, IVF and gay marriage, would cause colleagues to feel uncomfortable, as though they were being ‘judged’ and an employer may consider that their reputation could well be damaged as a result of having an employee who held such scandalous and counter-cultural views.

It cannot be much of a surprise that the majority of non-clerical Catholic tweeters and bloggers employ pseudonyms which they zealously guard; being considered up there with St Thomas More is wonderful, the consequences of which may not be martyrdom, they could certainly impact on others such as vulnerable young family members. While losing your job may do wonders for one’s Catholic credentials, it doesn’t exactly put bread on the table for your children and certainly will affect one’s future job prospects. I wonder whether even a company like Tescos, former sponsors of Gay Pride, would give you a job stacking shelves in these days where one’s name and entire history can be easily googled?

Clearly, unless one has a ‘Catholic’ or even ‘Christian’ job, it’s inadvisable to be open about one’s faith on the internet. It’s not the same as being shot at in Eygpt or beheaded in Syria, but free-speech is limited for serious Christians, like it or not, which is in itself a form of persecution. Should Adrian Smith, the housing officer who was demoted over comments made about gay marriage on his personal Facebook page, have simply shrugged his shoulders and “grown up” as the former Archbishop of Canterbury would appear to suggest?

What about the pro-life GP hounded off Twitter by the Irish pro-abort crowd who reported him to the GMC and NHS because using his real name, he expressed pro-life views? Should he too just accept that his beliefs are incompatible with his profession (to save lives not take them) and therefore his freedom of expression is limited and he should just ‘man-up’?

Freedom of expression, is clearly not as serious as threats to livelihood, but it is very much tied up with freedom of association and the right to earn a decent wage in the profession of one’s choice.

Being a Christian is not just a ‘hobby’, it’s not like being a Stars Wars fan, or doing the odd bit of voluntary work, we are compelled to live our faith, which is more than simply going to Church on a Sunday or holy days of obligation and keeping our mouths firmly shut the rest of the time. Faith is not simply that funny habit which mummy and daddy have that we take out of a box and parade as necessary before putting back, but something that needs to be lived, daily, in our thoughts, in our words and in our actions. Faith is not something we leave in the pews on a Sunday. We are commanded to evangelise, and part of that has to be, at some stage, expressing our views, grounded as they are in compassion, hope and charity, not keeping our mouths shut out of fear. Obviously there is a time and a place to do that, no-one wants to be pounced on by fierce evangelisation, a colleague quoting Revelation and fire and brimstone at 9am round the water-cooler on a Monday morning, but neither should we be afraid to put forward or propose our views in the public square, as appropriate.

But increasingly, that is what we are having to accept and what the likes of the National Secular Society are wanting to impose upon us as well as removing our rights to educate our children in accordance with our faith.

I have to accept that even if I were to delete this entire blog tomorrow, due to my Catholic Voices work and my writing for the Catholic press, any future employment prospects outside of the Catholic or pro-life sphere, are limited.

Rowan Williams misses the point when he tells Christians to grow up if they are made to feel uncomfortable or made fun of.  When you look at my most persistent trolls and aggressive interlocutors, the verbal violence has stemmed from the fact that they are made uncomfortable by my writing. By rejecting their views and offering an alternative, I am, by their logic, rejecting them, rejecting their lifestyle decisions and by not unconditionally agreeing that abortion, gay marriage, promiscuity or whatever else is perfectly acceptable, I cause enormous amounts of anger and hate to be directed at me.

Surely it is those who cannot accept that everyone will approve of their choices, who should grow up, instead of seeking to silence opponents?

Whatever the answer the fact that Christians are increasingly afraid to speak out under their real names on the internet (my mother is terribly anxious as a result of my writing), the fact that some feel silenced at work and that faith can prove a barrier to gainful employment in a chosen profession, is in itself a form of persecution. Whilst it’s helpful to keep this in perspective and remember that the situation is not as dire as in other parts of the world, we should not succumb to victim top-trumps, but neither should we deny that this is happening, turn a blind eye, shrug our shoulders and giggle whilst people are losing their livelihoods or are too scared to speak their minds.

Injustice is injustice, regardless of the semantics that one wishes to employ to describe the situation, but to try to pretend it is not happening, in a vain attempt to shore up our existing position and win popularity, is to co-operate in our own persecution. Losing your job for refusing to teach secular sex ed or gay ‘marriage’ might not be up there with getting one’s head cut off for apostasy. But that’s scant comfort to those who are in the firing line. Being disbarred from a job is more than feeling ‘mildly uncomfortable’.

Next time someone tries to smear my mental health or imply that my children are at risk and should be removed as a result of my ‘homophobic’ and pro-life views, as has happened frequently in the past, I’ll just giggle. I’ll accept that we could never be considered as suitable foster parents and give some temporary stability to needy children later on in life, due to our faith. Next time I see a job advertised that I could do with my hands tied behind my back in a local authority or a non-Catholic institution in Brighton, I’ll accept that it’s pointless to put in an application. It’s all my own fault for expounding my Catholic views in public, in today’s tolerant society.

If being grown up is about accepting, condoning, ignoring and laughing at inequality of opportunity as a result of faith, I’d rather be an idealistic child. Of course, when one’s entire ministry has consisted of serving God, when one’s religious views have led to positions within the highest echelons of academia at one of the country’s most prestigious universities and indeed when one as risen to the highest possible rank within one’s church, it is naturally very difficult to conceive of what persecution might look like for your rank and file Christian countryman.

The Latin Mass and labelling: perspectives and dilemmas of a newbie

This post should be subtitled ‘in which I upset and offend everyone.’ Plus ca change.

Not snapped outside Brighton Pavillion...
Not snapped outside Brighton Pavillion…

It says much that I am writing this post with much trepidation as nothing seems to cause so much division and animosity on the Catholic internet as the topic of Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

I abhor this whole business of labelling people, but in order to give readers some idea of where I’m coming from, I guess the most accurate label one could give to me in terms of my faith is that I’m a Neo Con, I generally support the reforms of Vatican II but believe them to have been widely misapplied to the liturgy and would advocate a reform of the reform. Interestingly, I find myself far more closely aligned to the traditionalist wing on the internet but contrary to popular belief, I am not a traddie with a capital T and despite my blog header, don’t have pretensions to swan about Oxford clutching a stuffed Aloysius. * see note

But in any event, this whole business of pretentious trads with a capital T, completely eludes me, every time I’ve been to the local Latin Mass I’ve not worn a mantilla (I don’t possess one), I’ve worn normal clothes usually consisting of jeans and a top in which I can discreetly breastfeed and a coat if it’s been winter. To be honest, given that the service is in the evening, I count it as something of a bonus if my clothes don’t have unidentifiable stains on them deposited by at least one child. No-one has ever looked at me askance in disgust or in shock and neither have I felt as though I stuck out like a sore thumb. I’ve always been taught to cover up inside a Church, no bare arms, no acres of cleavage or thigh and so would apply this rule regardless of the type of liturgy. Now in all probability I ought to procure a mantilla and probably will at some stage, but not possessing one or not dressing like Lady Mary Crawley (I wish, maybe when I’ve stopped having children) or a member of the Amish, has never led to me feeling uncomfortable.I’ve never experienced post-Mass naval-gazing from fellow parishioners either. Any conversation has revolved around how adorable my children are, (naturally) or generic chit-chat along the lines of ‘how is your husband’ or what do you think of ‘xyz in the media this week’ from those who know me.

Is going to the EF making a political statement with which I feel uncomfortable? No, not really. One of the reasons I go is that sometimes my daughter is away on a Sunday, misses Mass, comes back in the evening and thus the local EF is the only one which either of us can take her to. Or it might be that the children have led me a right merry dance in the family Mass in our parish, I’ve spent the entire service trying to stop one toddler from demolishing the candle stand, the other from escaping up the aisle, whilst giving a nine year old the glad eye if she’s getting distracted, all while jiggling a baby. Put quite simply it’s nice to take one or maybe two manageable children to a Mass where I can get a little bit of piece and quiet and a chance to focus on the Lord on the altar.

No doubt there are places where it’s all terribly formal and I’d get the lips pursued like a cats backside for not wearing a mantilla and the fact that my children are often woefully noisy and I struggle to control them (hey, you try a 9 year old, a 3 year old, a 2 year old and a baby on your own) but it’s not something I’ve noted and I’m not (ahem) known for having skin like the hide of a rhinoceros.

Actually I tend to get the black stares as a result of the children, no matter where I attend Mass and I guess this is really my main barrier to attending the EF, in that the silent canon means that the children can’t get away with much. It is so hard with multiple young children, particularly when often they are the only ones there, no longer are children expected to be seen and not heard and so getting them to suddenly pipe down for Mass is a Herculean task, although to be fair, the three year is slowly beginning to improve. I think this is one of the greatest barriers to the EF for many newcomers with children, because not only does one have to get to grips with an entirely new and admittedly foreign way of worship (even though deeply contemplative and spiritually enriching) but there’s the issue of the noisy and multiple children.

So, if I’m being brutally honest (and don’t flame my comments to tell me what a heretic or how misguided I am) I prefer the NO, simply because a) it’s what I’m used to and b) it’s easier with the children. But there is a huge dilemma or dissonance here because intellectually, having read all of the many many learned and erudite liturgical blogs, I am increasingly convinced of the importance of regularly attending the EF and ensuring my children have access to it also. But if I don’t take them, then how on earth are they ever going to get used it? I’ve experienced firsthand how children, right from before they are even born, soak up the sights, sounds and smells of Mass, all of mine used to kick wildly in utero whenever the organ sounded or something was sung in Church. They know the format of the Mass, what happens, what is said and done in what order and what is going on. The three year old, as happened with the eldest, will seem like she’s in a world of her own, ensconced in a book or trying to empty out the lady in front’s handbag, then all of a sudden will join in with a known prayer or response. At moments like that, your heart leaps, you know that the formation that you are attempting to give them is having some effect. The two year old will happily point to Our Lady and say “Mary” (and to St Therese of Liseux but never mind the thought counts) and she can also identify and regularly point out Jesus, although I’m not sure “Naughty Jesus, naughty step” is the exact response one would hope for.

So just as I still feel uncomfortable in the EF, not 100% sure of what’s happening or what I should be saying or doing at any given moment, then how on earth can I expect my children to have the foggiest in terms of what’s going on? It’s something of a vicious cycle. And the EF, the Latin is important, because if nothing else, it is mine and their patrimony.

It’s better if I don’t go into an extended rant explanation of my woeful lack of catechesis at school Catholic education, suffice to say, despite attending a Catholic boarding school, I emerged never having learnt how to pray the rosary, without a word of Latin outside of GCSE that had passed my lips in a liturgical or prayerful context, we had five years of being called to urgent choir practice because Christopher Walker had sent Sister Mary Mark his latest chant or setting, five years of Inwood, Go Tell Everyone and so on. To put things into context (apologies if I’ve said this before) our school chaplain was one Fr John Glyn of I watch the Sunrise fame, who used to lean his guitar against the altar. Lovely jovial chap who spent his entire time smiling and singing.

Now all that’s fine, I like smiley priests, we should after all be joyful, it did come as something as a shock on attending our first school Mass to my sister and I who had, up until that point been regularly worshiping at the C of E church where my father was the organist. I remember the occasion clearly, Sister Mary Francis impressed my mother by launching into her best Joyce Grenfell ‘come on gels’ act and coaxed everyone into a bouncing and effervescent rendition of Our God Reigns. We lost the plot. My sister started making the funny big hand gestures of Kenny Everett’s Evangelical preacher character and my father held his nose and belted out “down the drains” before collapsing into loud hearty guffaws.

Amusing though that might be, we were also mightily embarrassed. We were English, worship didn’t look like this loud happy clappy business, it was all serious hymns sung in a serious fashion. Then my mum said ‘this is what Catholicism is now, it’s rather jolly I suppose, we have to get used to it and Sister Mary Frances is rather great’, being carried away by the undoubted charisma that the former headmistress possessed. Because my mother hadn’t really been to Church regularly for twenty years, aside from our regular holidays to see my Nana who lived in Devon and worshipped weekly at Buckfast where the community had kept pretty much to plainsong and incense, this was all a massive shock to both her and my father. And it didn’t seem to be confined to school either, if on the odd occasion we did visit the local Catholic church exactly the same type of thing seemed to be going on there.

So little wonder, as soon as we left our Catholic school where we attended Mass on a weekly basis, my mother lapsed too. What’s interesting about this, is that my mum is what one might call a typical post Vatican II Catholic. She won’t mind my saying that she regards herself as Catholic, gets into long fruitless and heated debates with my father over whether Elizabeth or Mary was the worst monarch, but she doesn’t avail herself of confession and feels that the Catholic Church is entirely wrong/misguided about the issue of both contraception and abortion. And before we all lay into my mum, (none of that on here thanks) it’s because like many she was led to believe pre Vatican II, pre Humanae Vitae that everything would change; rules on celibacy, contraception, all of that was up for grabs. And when it didn’t happen, she’s found it extremely difficult to reconcile.

But the great thing (and I’m getting to the point here hopefully, these tangential rambles satisfy me even if no-one else) is that since my Nana died in December, the whole experience of organising a Catholic funeral, burial etc as well as the prospect of having a Catholic priest as a son-in-law (how many women think that’s every going to happen) seems to have awoken something and she’s started going back to Mass on a weekly basis. So. Baby steps here. But the REALLY interesting thing (unless I’m over-egging this) is the way she has repeatedly been saying how nice it is that suddenly everything is returning back to being sung in Latin, at her parish. Of course this could be nostalgia, but it shows that there is, even in quite lapsed Catholics, this yearning for the solemn as well as the familiarity. My parents regularly go to France and so to Mass at St Malo Cathedral and have reported the sea-change there also. Whereas apparently ten years ago, all the Masses were all in the vernacular, again all the commons and some of the Propers are now back to Latin and chants have made a return. Which in turn pleases my dad, who for all his “Martin Luther was the finest man to walk the planet” bluster, adores a bit of Gregorian plainsong.

This certainly tallies with what I am seeing in most parishes (and I’ve worshipped at quite a few over the past few years) is that there is most definitely a grassroots revival and this is good. I still feel quite cross that I was robbed, I’ve had to learn basics like the Salve Regina from scratch as well as the Ave Maria and Pater Noster and so we are singing and saying these regularly with the children, in order that they become everyday, familiar and trusted, not some alien old gobbledegook. My preference would still I think be for the NO, but with all the commons in Latins and the priest Ad Orientem at least for the Eucharistic Prayer, and I suspect this would be more in keeping with the reform of the reform.

Where it leaves me with the EF I don’t know. It’s this ever-decreasing circle of wanting to go, wanting to be familiar, wanting my children to be familiar and happy and yet unless I regularly go, it’s never going to happen. My spirituality is, I’ve discerned of a more mystic, sensual nature, the bells, the smells, the richness, the contemplation, but it all seems like something of a pipe dream until the children are older.

I said at the beginning I was writing this with some trepidation. (If you’ve got this far, well done. Brevity can go hang). That’s the most telling thing. Nothing seems to cause so much angst as the subject of the EF, which to this onlooker seems crazy. Most of it seem to emanate from what I can gather from the jolly rousing hymn camp who seem to be terrified that the Extraordinary Form is suddenly going to be imposed at will on everyone again, by a bunch of crazed red trouser wearing young Traddies. Most of the jolly hymn brigade, it needs to be said, are ageing, the last time I saw someone muttering, pointedly leaving Mass and sadly the parish as a result of the Latin, he was in his seventies and wearing a hearing aid.

Everything seems to be borne out of fear, the ‘liberals’ being scared that they will be forced to have the EF imposed on them and the Traddies are very defensive (and they have been very unfairly demonised and pilloried, I know through having been accused of being one just through expressing an interest in Home Ed) and terrified that the reforms of Pope Benedict and Summorum Pontificum arbitrarily rescinded and the grassroots revival reversed. Again, I think that’s unlikely, despite the casual liturgical style of Pope Francis – he’s got bigger fish to fry than to be alienating a vast new swathe of Catholic youth and born-again reprobates like me. Although obviously there appears to be difficulty in terms of access to the Latin Mass for those who desire it. If a group of people feel a pastoral need for the EF, then provision needs to be made for them.

Which really sums up the entire issue for me. Why can’t people from all sides accept both the NO and the EF are equally valid and allow them to peacefully co-exist? Why do we need to perceive a mission creep from either camp in terms of reforming the liturgy? The Benedictine reforms seem to be taking root and flourishing at grass roots. No doubt the New Translation has helped. But ultimately our children deserve their patrimony and solemnity, they should at the very least experience both forms on a regular basis. Whether the NO or the EF Christ comes to us in the Eucharist. Why can’t we all focus on that instead, and the rest should surely follow?

But those wanting to see more flourishing of the EF need to court those like me, parents of young children, who have been failed by 30 years of dire dismal banality. That’s the key to breaking out of the whole labelling issue or perceived perverse desire to be counter-cultural. Somehow a way needs to be found to ignite the interest of those in their 20s, 30s and 40s who were denied their heritage, to extend the appeal of the traditional, aged and sacred so that it no longer appears to be an insular cult. How that is done is another matter. The reintroduction of Latin has to be a starting point. But those serious about lasting liturgical reforms have to look to assisting my generation to reclaim and be enthused to pass on to our children. That’s the real challege of Summorum Pontificum.

**********************************************************************************************************************************************************

*(Actually if anyone is interested in the reasons behind the header, it’s as banal as the fact that when my eldest child was newborn, I had hours to kill sat in my nursing chair feeding her. As any breastfeeding mother will tell you, those breastfeeding marathons can get rather monotonous and in the era before smartphones, I decided to catch up on reading those classics that I had never previously got round to. Brideshead Revisited was one such tome, I was too young for the iconic Thames TV series when it first came on, but my father was always urging me to read Waugh and so I decided to give Brideshead a whirl. When I read the closing moments, it was literally my Damascene moment. Tears were pouring down my face, I had a deep longing and thirst to reconnect with my discarded faith that I’d never previously known much about, thought that I was a miserable sinner, that it was too late for me to be saved but I was going to jolly well save my daughter from my miserable damned fate and determined that I was going to get her baptised, regardless of the fact I’d not been to church since leaving school. So I started attending baptism classes and my journey began).

 

The face of tolerance

Catholic apologist Mark Shea’s observation that ‘tolerance is not enough, you MUST approve or be punished’ in relation to the same-sex marriage debate is looking evermore prophetic.

Please take a few minutes to watch the following video, produced by Manif pour Tous.  (PSG refers to the riots and subsequent damage caused following the victory of the Paris Saint Germain football team in France’s first league)

The label of bigotry has been bandied about so much that it has become meaningless and yet surely in this context, it is entirely apposite. If we accept that bigotry is someone who behaves towards another with hatred, contempt or intolerance and treats them unjustly on the basis of their beliefs, then there can be no other word to describe what we see here, aside from perhaps totalitarianism.

But language and labels are only helpful in so much as they help us to concretely identify the attitudes, cultural shifts and political forces that are underpinning such a disproportionate response to an overwhelmingly peaceful protest.

This video should challenge everyone, regardless of where they stand on the matter of same-sex marriage or political spectrum, which has now transformed into issues of free speech, rights to protest and religious freedom. This kind of response has absolutely no place in the pluralist, progressive and liberal utopia promoted by those wedded to the politics of identity.

If this video doesn’t cause a profoundly uncomfortable reaction, then one should ask oneself some serious questions.

As for what we as Catholics, or anyone seriously opposed to same-sex marriage should do, the answer lies not in validating the politics of identity and competing victim hierarchies, which only perpetuates cycles of victimhood and oppression, but simply in continuing to quietly, peacefully and yet firmly, protest. And pray. Pray not only for the repeal of this madness, but also for the grace of understanding and forgiveness for those who are so determined to see all opposition crushed. Pray for the future generations who are going to grow up denied the recognition of a biological mother and father and pray that the legislators and activists realise that using force to stamp out groups of political and cultural dissenters is an extremely dangerous road to travel down.

Above all pray for resoluteness of purpose, for fortitude and courage, because we will be seeing an awful lot more of this type of response. As will our children.

 

Cafod and the Seamless Garment

if-cafod-t-shirtsIf I were wiser and more prudent I would probably desist from writing about this, but I was horrified by a recent post by James Preece in which he highlighted the (perhaps inadvertent) promotion of organisations that support abortion, by CAFOD and urged people to sign a petition directed to Bishop John Arnold, Chairman of CAFOD, a call that has been echoed by Mark Lambert and the Ora Pro Nobis blog. This is a matter for concern and not something that should be ignored.

For those not already in the know, CAFOD have signed up as a partner organisation in the very worthy IF campaign that aims to tackle the causes of global hunger. The problem is that this campaign is being heavily promoted by CAFOD in Catholic schools up and down the land, as well as by various youth ministry projects and children are being encouraged to go to the website, where a click on ‘who we are‘ will lead to a page with logos and links of organisations that support or promote abortion.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of all (just for a change), I don’t have too much of a problem with CAFOD’s support for the campaign, which should be lent as much weight as possible. Global hunger is an urgent and pressing problem and it is an issue upon which we should be lobbying governments. Admittedly there were other ways that CAFOD could have tackled the issue without getting involved in the IF, but I don’t think that they should be attacked for doing so. An alliance of organisations seems a good way of concentrating efforts.

Having clicked on the logos and links page, as someone in the know, I could immediately identify which organisations support and promote abortion, but I wonder how obvious this would be to a member of the general public, or a schoolchild? Furthermore, those organisations which do support and promote abortion, are not overt about it, which some might venture makes them more ‘dangerous’. Where abortion is supported or promoted, it isn’t necessarily with an aggressive agenda of ‘reproductive rights and justice’ but as a misguided compassionate solution. The organisations involved seem to be predominantly interested in the provision of aid, which for some will include medical aid which encompasses abortion. Put it this way, it took me a a good hour to find the support for abortion in some of the listed organisations and that was after a targeted search. Would a schoolchild look for this with the same dogged determination? But if they did come across it, there is a real danger that they could believe that abortion was sanctioned and encouraged by CAFOD, the official aid agency of the Catholic Church.

Co-operation with evil (which is what this potentially amounts to) should be avoided. That said, my (albeit limited) understanding of Catholic Social Teaching means that Catholic organisations can partner with other non-Catholic organisations in pursuit of the common good, in this way. Whilst CAFOD could not partner with organisations such as Marie Stopes International, Planned Parenthood or BPAS, they can partner with other organisations whose main aim is not concerned with advocating abortion, to further a vital cause.

However, where CAFOD have been extremely remiss is that they have failed to spot that this association could be potentially problematic and therefore missed an opportunity for education and catechesis. What we should have seen is an explanatory statement from CAFOD, together with a re-statement of the Catholic position upon abortion, a pledge from them that they will not work with individual agencies who promote abortion and refer women for abortion, along with naming those agencies, as well as setting out their position in terms of the medical aid, assistance and education that should be provided to women in developing countries.

One of the most infuriating aspects of this campaign in schools is that an opportunity for further education surrounding the issues facing those in developing countries has been missed. If they had any nouse, decision-makers in CAFOD would have instantly identified the potential difficulties in such a partnership, and instead of sticking their fingers in their ears and going la, la, la and hoping that no-one, especially the pesky tenacious interfering bloggers would find out, they should have given qualified support to this campaign, together with additional materials for schoolchildren, including perhaps a ‘danger list’ of organisations as well as material to instigate classroom discussions of why Western norms of contraception and abortion should not be pressed upon vulnerable women.

As a result, they’ve left themselves with something of a mess to sort out. A seamless garment approach is not one that compartmentalises or prioritises one issue, such as as concern for global hunger, over another, such as abortion. These are all violations of issues of human rights and dignity and should all be given equal weight, one bleeding effortlessly into another.

This blog has a pro-life bent towards the unborn, not because I believe them to be more important than anyone else, but because it is an area in which I have a very particular interest and insight. Furthermore whilst I might get the odd article published elsewhere, I am largely an unpaid amateur, a blogger who happens to be Catholic, as opposed to a ‘Catholic blogger’, I don’t represent the Catholic Church in any official capacity and neither do I solicit any sort of contribution from the faithful.

The same cannot be said of CAFOD however and whilst it would be a positive development if CAFOD could at least qualify their involvement in this project, even better would be if they could take this opportunity to clarify their position on contraception and abortion, and better still if some kind of internal audit or overhaul could take place to ensure that this type of snafu does not reoccur.

Tragedy in El Salvador

Beatriz

(The above photograph is taken from the website of Amnesty International who claim they have no official position upon when life begins. A Human Rights organisation that is unable to decide upon who is a human being. Interesting)

Sometimes a truly hard case will hit the headlines which will test the conviction of every seasoned pro-lifer such as the one in El Salvador, which will be seized upon with a ruthless and determined glee by abortion advocates, especially I suspect, the Irish hardcore contingent who seem to populate Twitter, pouncing, hounding, persecuting and generally attempting to bully and intimidate any pro-lifers with campaigns of harassment, such as the recent one which saw a Catholic pro-life GP delete his Twitter account under threats of having been reported to the GMC for having the temerity to express his views. These are the same people who will tell non-Irish to keep their noses out Ireland’s business, but are happy to report a UK GP to relevant authorities, including his employers because they are unable to accept that he should be able to express his views, alongside his identity. A country which has pro-life laws is the concern of every right-thinking global citizen, whereas one which is proposing liberal abortion laws is only the concern of its inhabitants, according to this logic.

The facts as reported by the BBC, is that a young woman (Beatriz) who is suffering from the chronic immune system disorder lupus and kidney failure has been denied permission to abort her baby which has been diagnosed as suffering from anencephaly, which means that either part or all of its brain is missing and he or she is likely to die shortly after birth. The Supreme Court has rejected her appeal to be allowed to abort, stating this:

“This court determines that the rights of the mother cannot take precedence over those of the unborn child or vice versa, and that there is an absolute bar to authorising an abortion as contrary to the constitutional protection accorded to human persons ‘from the moment of conception’.”

This is a tragic and shocking case, one cannot fail to feel sympathy for the poor woman, who must, with some justification, feel as though her country is totally lacking in care and compassion for her physical and mental wellbeing. It highlights the problem of using legal and technical language which is very precise and conveys a total lack of empathy, feelings matter, this young woman is important, her plight is desperate and some acknowledgement of that, along with reassurance is necessary. The judge may well of course have added some words to that effect in their statement, which have not been reported, but this to me highlights the importance of women, especially those hurt by abortion, those who have been in crisis pregnancies and mothers, speaking out in defence of the unborn. Whilst the legal terms and the moral theology is important, when delivered by a man, they can leave the impression of coldness, sterility and a total lack of empathy. Women and mothers intuitively understand what’s at stake in these situations.

Make no mistake, Beatriz must be going through hell and needs support. Pregnancy does put an additional strain on the body, especially in terms of the immune system and kidney function and there can be no doubt that her physical health is being severely compromised. She will probably be experiencing a great deal of physical pain and trauma, compounded by emotional distress, feeling as though she is being forced to put her life on the line or even die for a baby who is going to die anyway.

But what we see here, as in so many awful cases, is the conflation of two conditions, which go to demonstrate that hard cases make bad law. The baby’s long-term prospects should not affect the decision of whether or not one should be able to kill him or her. We do not euthanise people on the basis of a poor long-term prognosis. Anencephaly is an undeniably terrible condition, one that every pregnant mother lives in fear of, prior to scans. I know that if I had a baby diagnosed with it, I too would struggle and need a lot of support. But being one of those ‘extremists’, I treat all my children equally regardless of whether they have yet to make the journey out of the womb. I would chose for my child to have a chance of life outside of the womb, no matter how brief, and die surrounded by the warmth and love of my arms instead of being dissected by the cold hard steel of the abortionist’s instruments or poisoned in utero, because that would be no less than they deserve. It would also aid in the grieving process, so many parents who feel compelled to abort their children on the grounds of disability struggle as a result, especially as they are encouraged to hold a funeral service for the child whose life they put an end to. I’m not knocking the practice, treating remains with respect and praying for the dead is the right thing to do, but it causes severe cognitive dissonance and distress. Healing in these cases is much harder. The parents of Colin Perry are beacons of hope to parents of anencephalic children.

In many ways El Salvador is a model of equality, not allowing for the elimination of those with disabilities. The really pressing issue here is maternal health and this is what matters for Ireland and other pro-life countries. In Ireland, if the mother’s health were at severe risk, the medical code already in existence would allow for an abortion to take place in these circumstances.

It seems that Beatriz’s case is being used by various activists in an attempt to push open the door to abortion, exploiting the plight of a sick woman in an unsavoury fashion.

Beatriz is now 26 weeks pregnant, doctors are concerned that as her pregnancy progresses further, too much strain will be put upon her body and they will be unable to treat her. That is a wholly justifiable concern. Beatriz does however, already have a toddler, it’s not clear when she was diagnosed with Lupus, but her body has already been able to tolerate giving birth at, or near to, term.

What I don’t understand about this case is why Beatriz has needed to be dragged through the courts in this fashion which can only add to her distress. Surely the most sensible, compassionate and morally licit option would have been to induce the baby at 24 weeks, the point of viability and do all that they can to provide palliative care for the child? The intention not being to abort the baby but to relieve the pressure being put upon Beatriz’s kidneys and immune system, particularly if they are showing signs of strain. Isn’t this what any conscientious doctor would do, regardless of where they stood on abortion?

Beatriz seems to have been used as a political football here, an early induction post viability is not the same as the deliberate and wilful destruction of life. This has to be the most medically and ethically astute option. Why can she not be monitored and an early induction take place at the first sign of strain upon her body? This option would not be incompatible with the ruling of the judges, and is good clinical practice. Why is this option not on the table and why is an abortion being pushed in this scenario, which would not be the most compassionate outcome, for mother and baby alike. Love them both. Let the baby be born and die in dignity, he or she and Beatriz deserve no less.

Update

According to a report in LifeSite News on 9 May, Beatriz’s condition has not required hospitalisation, she is being treated at home. This casts a wholly different complexion on claims that her life is in imminent danger.

‘Openly Catholic’

Yesterday on Twitter saw a Catholic GP being forced to close down his Twitter account following an episode of online bullying which resulted in his being reported to the NHS as well as the GMC, for the heinous crime of referring to the number of abortions in the UK as ‘the slaughter of babies’.

I witnessed the whole incident, having previously blocked those responsible – there is a posse of Irish pro-abortion advocates on Twitter, who swoop on every single Tweeter who dares to express an opinion upon the current state of affairs in Ireland. Over the past few weeks every single time I have said anything about abortion and Ireland in the same 140 characters, a persistent gang has appeared from out of the blue to attack with insult and invective. Yesterday’s ‘debate’ saw them swooping in with the same discredited narrative regarding the death of Savita Halappanavar, and then going on to attack me, a non Irish national for daring to defend the rights of the unborn in another country.

There’s nothing more of a disincentive in terms of engaging on Twitter to scroll down one’s mentions column and see numerous rants on the same subject, by the same few determined people, chock full of angry and impassioned hypberbole, together with personal insult. Besides which those who seek to discredit an international symposium of gynaecologists as being ‘liars’ on the basis that one disagrees with their conclusions and who decry Ireland’s outstanding maternal death rates as being ‘lies’, don’t really incline one to do anything other than block. One should note, nonetheless, that these are the same people who repeatedly attacked those who they deemed to be not medically qualified and therefore unable to comment, but who repeatedly seized on the subjective opinion of openly pro-choice expert Dr Boylan as being definitive medical fact in the Savita inquest, despite the fact that 11 other experts publicly disassociated themselves from his stance. Clearly they were obviously lying too.

I tweeted a few responses, realised this was a futile exchange, hit the block button repeatedly, switched off the phone and trundled off to the park with the children to make the most of the Bank Holiday sunshine. Yet another day, yet another Twitter spat?

Not quite. Later on that evening I discovered that one of my followers, a Catholic GP had joined in the fray, referring to UK interest in the Ireland abortion debate, as having seen almost 200,000 babies slaughtered here on an annual basis and not wanting Ireland to go down the same route. Here’s what he said.

Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 12.47.13

The pro-aborts took issue with the fact he had referred to unborn children as babies and went for the jugular, causing him some considerable concern. (Apologies for the blurry images, I’ve deliberately obscured identities).

Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 12.53.38

The pro-aborts reported him both to his employers at the NHS and the GMC, because they determined that referring to the unborn as ‘babies’ and by the almost 200,000 abortions that occur in the UK on an annual basis, he was in fact taunting women who had abortions as being ‘baby slaughterers’, and there was thus legitimate cause for concern that he could be taunting women patients.

What these so-called advocates of science and reason could not cope with was the presence of a medic, undermining their rhetoric about the unborn, hence they threw their toys out of the pram and decided to put his job in jeopardy or at least attempt to. On seeing that he had deleted his account, one therefore relented slightly and said that she had withdrawn all her tweets to the NHS. How very generous.

Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 13.00.32

Job done. Serves him right. Hopefully he’ll think twice about expressing the fact that as a doctor he opposes abortion in public ever again. That’s another one closed down. These people need to be an example of.

Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 13.03.44

Of course let’s remember that at least two of these tweeters were those who had expressed apoplexy that a UK tweeter might engage with the political situation in Ireland, yet had no compunction reporting an UK doctor to his professional body on the basis of a firmly expressed view, which was by the way, perfectly in accordance with the GMC guidelines on how medics should use social media. These guidelines specifically encourage doctors to take part in public health and policy decisions as well saying that doctors should identify themselves.

All of which went above the heads of the pro-aborts who said that he was fair game. He had no right expressing his own opinion, which was clearly religiously based.

Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 13.09.28

Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 13.11.58

But all of this was his own fault.

Another Tweeter joined in the fray to defend said GP. So enraged were these advocates that someone else dared to disagree with them, that they then felt compelled to hunt down this interlocutor, believing it to be the GP’s wife. I mean. How dare she go on Twitter to defend her husband who is having his professional competence and employment threatened on the basis of expressing a point of view and for stating that he was a Catholic GP in his bio. Oh the audacity, let’s find out all about her too, shall we. Let’s track down her Facebook profile.

Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 13.21.27

Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 13.20.50

At which point I begin to call out their behaviour.

Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 13.26.04

Because this sort of probing into one’s family life and personal details is the behaviour of a reasonable and rational person.

Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 13.27.44

Ben has written about this and it would seem he is right. Catholics need to be increasingly prepared to defend themselves from these sort of threats and attacks if they expound their views on a public forum and particularly if they are perceived to be in a position of influence.

These people are unrepentant this morning, claiming that this GP deserved to be reported for taunting women as being ‘baby slaughterers’ and telling others, such as @battlementclare that they would not hesitate to report her too, if she were still a practicing midwife, or indeed anyone who was involved in medicine and vocalised pro-life views.

I don’t generally like to go down the whole ‘persecuted Christians’ schtick. But not once in this entire debate, did either myself or the GP allude to God, yet it was the pro-aborts who kept bringing Him into the discussion as being a reason why we must not be taken seriously or listened to. Our arguments were wholly secular, though both of us are openly Catholic and proud to profess ourselves as such.

Losing one’s job may not seem to be in the same league as being thrown to the lions or physically tortured, beaten and killed as a result of one’s beliefs and faith. But being disbarred from a particular profession unless one agrees never ever to voice one’s own views, being sacked and unable to support one’s family, being ostracised and having one’s family targeted as a result, brings us a step closer.

Let us hope that the GP and his family take comfort from the recent words of Pope Francis. They need our prayers.

“[The apostles’] faith was based on so powerful and personal an experience of Christ crucified and risen, that they were not afraid of anything or anyone, and even saw their persecution as a badge of honor, that made them capable of following in the footsteps of Jesus and to be like Him, bearing witness with their lives,”

“… and in these times, there are many Christians who suffer persecution, a great many, in many countries: let us pray for them from our heart, with love, that they might feel the living and comforting presence of the Risen Lord.”

This is how it starts.

Dirty Protest

Joseph Amodeo

Cardinal Dolan’s officials refused entry  into St Patrick’s Cathedral, New York to a group of LGBT protestors who had deliberately dirtied their hands in protest at a recent blogpost of his, in which he shared an anecdote from his childhood to do with his delight when his best friend was allowed to join them for dinner, but was told that first he would need to wash his hands:

I was so proud and happy.  Freddie was welcome in our house, at our table.  We both rushed in and sat down.

“Freddie, glad you’re here,” dad remarked, “but . . . looks like you and Tim better go wash your hands before you eat.”

Simple enough . . . common sense . . . you are a most welcome and respected member now of our table, our household, dad was saying, but, there are a few very natural expectations this family has.  Like, wash your hands!…

So it is with the supernatural family we call the Church:  all are welcome!

But, welcome to what?  To a community that will love and respect you, but which has rather clear expectations defining it, revealed by God in the Bible, through His Son, Jesus, instilled in the human heart, and taught by His Church.

Surely the point is clear enough? Everybody is welcome, rich, poor, young, old, black, white, gay, straight, married, single, but the Church has the same expectations of everyone regardless. One couldn’t ask for a greater definition of equality.

But no, in an overblown statement of victim rhetoric, Joseph Amodeo writing for the Huffington Post says, that the Cathedral is his home from which he has now been evicted and that now he is spiritually homeless. In colourful prose, he describes the ‘cold hard steel and the means by which the doors closed’ (what on earth does he mean by that, I’d never thought of door hinges as being particularly loaded with menacing metaphor and if he’s referring to the doors needing to be pushed shut, isn’t that exactly how they were designed?) capturing the sentiment that they were not welcome.

Actually all of the activists were more than welcome, but were requested to wash their hands first. Quite right. In a Mass, especially if one receives communion, we encounter Christ. Why would anyone deliberately make themselves filthy to meet their King and Redeemer. It’s a deliberate act of blasphemy. Whilst it makes for another good argument for receiving communion on the tongue, making oneself dirty in order to use a church to make a political protest is highly offensive. And what about shaking hands during the sign of peace? Would they have deliberately and ostentatiously rubbed their mucky paws and transferred grime onto other peoples’ hands who might be receiving communion. Even had they exercised courtesy and respect to fellow Mass-goers it still makes a mockery of the Holy Spirit, restricting sharing the peace with a small select clique.

A protest of this type has no place within a religious setting. I’d like to see them attempt to enter a mosque with their shoes still on. Like Lisa Graas, I cannot get my head around anyone who would intentionally make themselves dirty before receiving Christ in the Eucharist. Christ loves us and meets us where we are, but as Cardinal Dolan says, this encounter always involves a recognition on our part that we need to clean up first. The Eucharist is a meal, of course we should make every effort to be spotless, internally and externally before receiving of the body of Christ.

This protest or ‘silent witness’ subverted the Christian message to being about love of self. The Lord loves us in spite of our dirt and filth, He can certainly see beyond it, but that doesn’t preclude us trying to rid ourselves of it. Dirt or sin, matters, it keeps us from having the close relationship which we need.  Whilst Christ welcomed the poor, the outcast, the dispossessed, he touched those who were deemed unclean, none of those who came before him had deliberately put themselves in this state in the first place and certainly none were celebrating it and demanding that they should be healed, or that it was their right.

Filth is no barrier to encountering Christ. It makes it all the harder when we deliberately wallow in and celebrate it nonetheless. My children are prone to some absolutely physically disgusting behaviour. When one of  my daughters comes to me covered in sticky chocolate, sudacreme, liquid soap, caked in mud or worse, I’ll still love them as fiercely as before, but will literally hold them at arm’s length until I’ve dumped them in the bath. I don’t pander to temper tantrums about not wanting to clean up and being fine as they are. Particularly, when like the organiser of this vigil, they have a history of throwing their toys out of the pram and hurting other people when they don’t get their own way.

Christ always extends a welcome. But on His terms, not ours.

Spread a little happiness

(Perhaps this is what the Archbishop has in mind?)

Archbishop Vincent Nichols must be feeling quite justified. He gives a homily in which he appears to denounce blogs, saying that people are attracted to them because we love to hear complaints and are attracted to gossip, followed by a sentence saying that they should have no place in the Church, and surprise surprise, the Catholic blogosphere goes apoplectic and complains about it, thereby proving his point quite nicely.

The problem is twofold. Firstly the sentence “They should have no place in the Church” is placed (perhaps deliberately) after the sentence which explains why we are attracted to newspapers and blogs. It therefore creates an ambiguity. Is Archbishop Nichols talking about newspapers and blogs having no place in the Church, or rather gossip and complaints? Or both?

He (Pope Francis) knows that we live in a society in which complaining and gossip is a standard fare. They sell newspapers and attract us to blogs because we love hear complaints and to read gossip.

But Pope Francis is clear: they should have no place in the Church

But actually the excellent homilies from Pope Francis to which the Archbishop refers, makes no mention of newspapers and blogs, he talks about how complaining dashes hope, as well as the evils of gossip.

But is Archbishop Nichols really saying that newspapers and blogs have no place in the Church? I don’t think this can be the case, not least because the Vatican has its own newspaper and blog. It might have been more helpful had he been a little more precise, i.e. newspapers and blogs that are solely devoted to gossip and complaining have no place in the Church, although this too would have aroused ire. The Archbishop in a bit of a no-win situation whatever he says regarding blogs and the internet.

The other problem is in the assertion that people are attracted to newspapers because they are attracted to gossip and like to hear complaints. This assumes ill-will or bad intention on behalf of the reader which is not always present. I don’t read the Catholic Herald, for example, because I want to hear gossip, (not that the Herald publishes any) if I wanted ecclesial or clerical gossip there are much juicier sources, but because I like to read about what’s going on in the Catholic world as a whole and read some informed, educated and orthodox commentary from those whose opinions I might respect. The same goes for the blogs, my favourites being the priest bloggers (Valle Adurne is a particular treat, I love Fr Sean’s gentle perspectives) and the blogs I regularly read which are written by the laity, again are the opinions of those people who I respect and might well be able to add a different perspective or dimension to an issue which I have not thought about, the most recent that comes to mind is Counter-Cultural father’s outstanding posts on abortion. Likewise I don’t think one can accuse Mark Lambert‘s weekly scriptural reflections as being full of complaints or gossip. Many blogs are genuinely a place of spiritual nourishment.

So, I can well see that backs have been put up by this homily, not least because it assumes bad intent on behalf of bloggers and their readership. Frs Ray and Henry both do a good job in explaining the importance of blogs in democratising the Church as well as explaining the difference between good and bad gossip. Gossip tinged with calumny is the food of Satan.

With all that in mind, I am going to say a few words in defence of Archbishop Nichols and it is very telling that I slightly nervous and mindful of doing this. What kind of situation are we in when an orthodox Catholic is concerned by the reaction that she might receive from the blogosphere, when it comes to defending the most senior Catholic in England and trying to act in good faith?

I understand where ++Vincent is coming from, even though I don’t agree with him. Most members of the CBCEW still don’t quite ‘get’ the internet, although it’s heartening to see Bishop Egan tweeting and blogging. I suspect this is partly a generational issue as well as a not inconsiderable workload. The priest bloggers don’t blog every day, they have their flock to attend to and I’ve been watching the pattern of blogging and noticed (yes priest bloggers, I’m stalking you all) that almost all of them tend to blog in the evening, when they can finally snatch a bit of down time. I suspect that many bishops just ‘don’t get it’ and therefore all they hear about the internet is the bad stuff, i.e. the complaints, the grumbling, the ‘somebody must do something’ and it has perhaps unsurprisingly, coloured their judgement, they don’t get the positive benefits.

Plus, whilst the internet does enable voices to be heard and important concerns to be aired, as we’ve seen with the Gosnell case this week, it does also enable keyboard warriers and online zealots. The internet is a big place which has its fair share of ‘characters.’ Whereas twenty years ago folk would write letters in green ink, now we have the internet which needs discernment and filtration. Here’s a helpful piece that illustrates the usefulness (or otherwise) of Twitter for a mainstream journalist, referring to the aftermath of this week’s tragedy in Boston. Most parishes have at least one, really dedicated and loyal parishioner, who has a particular bugbear who regularly gives anyone who will listen a good earbashing about it. The problem is, that by permanently complaining and finding fault, no matter how legitimate the grievance, over time, repeated grumbling loses its impact.

Those bishops who look upon the internet with scepticism, probably equate it with a troublesome parishioner who never stops grumbling and who never has anything good to say, at least to him, only seeing the difficult or troublesome aspect. If any of them look at the comments boxes on some of the major blogs, their suspicions are confirmed, even the Catholic Herald has its share of ranters. Some coms boxes put me in mind of the bar in Mos Eisley from Star Wars. As Obi-Wan says to Luke Skywalker, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.” It’s fair to say that charity is sometimes lacking.

So look at it from Archbishop Nichol’s point of view. Bloggers seem to be forever telling him how awful he is, what a terrible job he’s doing and speculating over whether or not he will get, or deserves a red hat. No matter how deserved bloggers might think their criticism, the Archbishop is human, as well as our father in God, that kind of thing would seriously cheese me off too, particularly when they are always threatening to complain to Rome or the Nuncio. We all need not to get carried away by a sense of power.

It’s also fair to say that there are certain blogs and bloggers who do seem to revel in gossip, naming no names. This does have the potential to be dangerous and lead people into error. We have to remember that if we are going to publish a rumour, that there are always two sides to every story, there have been occasions when I’ve read stuff and realised it to be utter bunkum, but I’m not in a position to disabuse it, because to do so would entail breaking confidences and be just as bad as the original piece. It is nevertheless frustrating to see rumour, which like all good gossip has a grain of truth in it, propagated like it is Gospel.

Should anyone be in any doubt about the attraction or power of blogs, Robin, like many Anglo-Catholics, both present and former, used to absolutely devour the blogs, especially Damian Thompson’s, at around the time Anglicanorum Coetibus was issued. It drove me absolutely potty, but is a habit which he has long since eschewed. The reason being, was like many in his position, he had no idea what was going on, didn’t actually know that many real-life Catholics or Catholic clergy and wanted some idea of what was happening and what kind of a welcome or reception he might expect from the Catholic Church should he convert, and also just to get a sense of it. Which is why again, bloggers need to be careful, many of us have crossover readers, internecine squabbling (of which I have been guilty) doesn’t create the best of impressions of UK Catholicism or do much to further the Kingdom. What frustrated me about the blog-checking habit was that to me, what bloggers were saying was utterly irrelevant as to where the Lord might be calling, but I can well see that at a time one feels out of control and uncertain about events, sinful nature leads us to try and be masters and controllers of our own destiny.

Ultimately, if we want to be taken seriously as a force (and I’m talking to myself as much as anyone else here) we need to exercise discernment and ensure that our output is always balanced, reasonable, charitable as well as orthodox and not merely a place for discontented rants or to air personal grievances, again something that I’ve learnt over time. Accusations of clericalism go both ways, neither the hierarchy, nor bloggers and the blogging community should consider themselves beyond reproach or untouchable.

We have to ensure that whatever we do on the internet lives out and advances Gospel values. Otherwise, as Pope Francis says, we run the risk of not recognising Christ walking alongside us.

Savita, Sepsis and Statistics

Much crucial detail from the inquest into the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar is emerging in the media, which is being seized upon and manipulated by opponents of Ireland’s pro-life laws as well as those with an anti-Catholic or militant secular agenda.

The inference is clear – Catholic dogma is responsible for the death of a pregnant woman from sepsis, as evidenced, according to one tweeter, by the presence of a religious statue outside of Galway University College Hospital and the fact that many of the wards are named after saints. Something of a non-sequitur. Clearly the presence of religious symbolism, a reflection of Ireland’s cultural heritage, is indicative that patients can expect a substandard level of care, where medically unsafe and morally dubious dogma overrides the best clinical interests of the patients. Anyone attending St Thomas’s or Bart’s hospitals in London had better be on their guard!

Let’s start with the stats.

Here’s a table showing the maternal mortality ratio, the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births from the Guardian’s datablog, where ‘facts are sacred’.

Screen Shot 2013-04-10 at 22.52.28

So, the one of the highest rates of maternal mortality occurs in the US which rather disproves the claim that liberal abortion legislation is safer for women. Ireland, that country where women are deprived of abortion, has one of the lowest maternal death rates in the world, official stats show that on average 4,000 women in the Republic travel to the UK for an abortion every year, a figure that has been steadily decreasing from a high of 6,600 in 2001, so the blame for the UK’s relatively poor performance in the area of maternal health care, can hardly be explained away as being an Irish export. Pro-life Chile has the lowest maternal death rate in Latin America and Poland, another pro-life country also fares well.

Furthermore, more than 100 mothers have died in childbirth in London in the last five years, twice the rate of that of the rest of the country. Whilst we are all screaming about the first maternal death in 17 years at a hospital in Galway, where is the outrage about the lamentable situation in the UK, due to a desperate shortage of midwives? Surely anyone who identifies themselves as ‘pro-woman’ should be demanding to know how the government intends to remedy this increasing problem, aside from disincentivising those who may want more than two children?

Whilst on the subject of outrage, where were the candlelit vigils and expressions of anger over the death of Jessie-Maye Barlow, God rest her soul, the 19 year old mother of one, who died from septic shock following an abortion in September 2012, the inquest acknowledging that BPAS had not followed up on their aftercare and thus the fact that Jessie-Maye had failed to pass all the ‘products of conception’ was missed, leading to her death? Where were the protestations of anger that a beautiful young mother of one, with her entire life in front of her died as a direct result of medical negligence on behalf of an abortion clinic that was too busy to follow basic protocols regarding patient care?

Sepsis

Savita Halappanavar died from sepsis. According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, between 2003 and 2005 there were five maternal deaths in the UK of pregnant women from sepsis, with a baby under 24 weeks gestation. “Sadly, substandard care was identified in many of the cases, in particular lack of recognition of the signs of sepsis and a lack of guidelines on the investigation and management of genital tract sepsis. Between 2006 and 2008 sepsis rose to be the leading cause of direct maternal deaths in the UK, with deaths due to group A streptococcal infection (GAS) rising to 13 women. Severe sepsis with acute organ dysfunction has a mortality rate of 20 to 40%, which increases to 60% if septic shock develops. Studies in the non-pregnant population have found that the survival rates following sepsis are related to early recognition and initiation of treatment.”

In 2012 the RCOG published green top guidelines for treatment of sepsis in pregnancy. The guidelines state

The signs and symptoms of sepsis in pregnant women may be less distinctive than in the non- pregnant population and are not necessarily present in all cases; therefore, a high index of suspicion is necessary.

The diagnosis of sepsis must be confirmed by blood cultures and early swift administration of broad spectrum antibiotics are the key to the survival of the patient, alongside regular monitoring.

Crucially and unfortunately, this did not happen in the case of Savita, who was admitted into the hospital on the evening of Sunday 21st October. Blood tests that were taken that night, which were never followed up on, showed an elevated white blood cell count which would have been one of the key indicators that infection and indeed sepsis was present.

Whilst oral antibiotics appear to have been started on the Monday night, following the spontaneous rupture of membranes, an infection of the severity of Savita’s would have required intravenous administration. The consultant obstetrician has described the situation as a systems failure on multiple counts, not only were the blood results not followed up on, but also, the vital regular observations which may have alerted the staff to the presence of an infection sooner, were not carried out at regular intervals throughout the night, which is why the infection was only picked up in the early hours of the Wednesday morning, after Savita had taken a dramatic turn for the worse, a doctor who had come to check on her on the Tuesday evening, saw she was asleep and so left her. Once Savita’s membranes had ruptured (in the early hours of Monday morning) then she should have been checked every 4 hours for signs of infection.

The RCOG guidelines state that all staff should be aware of the signs and symptoms of potential sepsis and the rapid and potentially lethal course of the disease, which is often less distinctive in pregnant women. Therefore whilst one can reasonably assume that care was lacking, notably in the failure to follow up on the results of the blood tests, the narrative that University College Hospital Galway were knowingly refusing to treat a woman with a severe and life-threatening infection in order to prioritise the life of her baby, due to Catholic dogma reflected in the law, is an erroneous one. As the consultant testified, had they known about the sepsis or infection, they would have intervened much sooner, however Savita’s symptoms did not physically manifest until the early hours of Wednesday morning, over 48 hours since she was first admitted, whilst the signs may have been present, i.e. a slightly elevated temperature and raised pulse rate, this could also have been due to other factors, such as anxiety and it is only with hindsight and in the light of the missing bloodwork, that this can be identified as being the start of the infection.

Speaking to the inquest, Savita’s husband has reported that doctors seemed nonchalant on Tuesday, certainly there was no cause for concern, or reason to think that her life might be at stake.

 

Abortion to treat Sepsis – a red herring

Savita’s sepsis stemmed from an antibiotic resistant strain of E-coli, an issue that is in itself concerning. Pathology has indicated that the infection most likely originated in her urinary tract and tallies with the backache that she complained of, prior to admission to hospital. Aborting the baby would not have cured Savita of her infection and indeed in these situations, surgery is to be avoided if at all possible, as it runs the very real risk of spreading the infection further and causing death.

Whilst the hospital had failed to spot the infection, they had noted that an inevitable miscarriage was taking place. Savita, understandably, was very distressed, and wished for her ordeal to be over, as opposed to the interminable wait for nature to take its course and allegedly requested an abortion on the Tuesday morning, following the ultrasound to determine the baby’s progress.

Upon admission to hospital on the Sunday night, it was noted that no cervix could be felt, hence Savita was fully dilated and hence the premature delivery of the baby was imminent, which would mean that the baby would not survive. Later on, her membranes ruptured, meaning that the protective sac of fluid surrounding the baby completely drained, a situation which would likely result in the death of the baby and spontaneous natural delivery.

This is where the confusion sets in, which is being exploited to the max by the abortion lobby. Firstly, that Savita was fully dilated, was as a direct result of the infection which was in her urinary tract. The unborn baby was in a sterile sac of waters and therefore not the cause of the infection. The dilated cervix did not cause her infection either. An open or dilated cervix will not cause an infection, as any woman who has ever had more than one baby, or indeed a smear test will testify. Once you have had a baby, the cervix never fully closes. When I was pregnant with my eldest child, I was dilated by 2cm for a good week before I delivered. An open cervix does not make one more ripe for infection.

The infection risk is posed when the membranes or waters have ruptured, normally hospitals will be wanting a woman to deliver within 48 hours of this occurring in order to minimise risk of infection to the newborn baby. Clearly in Savita’s case this would not have applied, but if her waters broke on the Sunday night, it was not unreasonable for no action to have been taken on the Tuesday, the medics obviously thought that delivery or natural miscarriage would take place swiftly and that conservative management was the safest option in the circumstances.

Whilst Savita may have requested a termination, this may well not have been in her best medical interests.

The unborn baby was not the cause of the sepsis and so there was no good reason to terminate it as Savita’s life did not seem to be at risk. Dr. Hema Divakar, President-elect of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India speaking to the Hindu Times said:

“Delay or refusal to terminate the pregnancy does not in itself seem to be the cause of death. Even if the law permitted it, it is not as if her life would have been saved because of termination. Severe septicaemia with disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), a life-threatening bleeding disorder which is a complication of sepsis, major organ damage and loss of the mother’s blood due to severe infection, is the cause of death in Savita’s case. This is what seems to have happened and this is a sequence which cannot be reversed just by terminating the pregnancy.”

Catholicism and the law

It seems to me that there is something of a cop-out or buck passing exercise going on here. Dr Katherine Astbury, the doctor in charge of Savita’s care, told the inquest that in Ireland it is not legal to terminate a foetus on the grounds of poor prognosis for the foetus, but also admitted that she did not once clarify the legal situation with her colleagues or think to do so.

The law in Ireland does not prevent a termination from being carried out, if the life of the mother is at risk and as Dr Astbury testified, had she known the severity of the situation she would have intervened earlier, although from what we know now, an abortion could well have made the situation a lot worse. It seems obvious, that Dr Astbury perhaps sought to take shelter in the law as opposed to exercise her own moral and clinical judgement. No law can be formulated that will cover all the possible permutations and complications that might arise from real-life pregnancy management and so doctors can’t ever be entirely freed from having to make theraputic and ethical decisions. Whilst doctors might have to work within the law, they also need to exercise clinical judgement which will invariably and inevitably involve ethics.

The law in Ireland is clear, section 21:4 of the Medical Council Guide for Registered Practitioners says this:

“In current obstetrical practice, rare complications can arise where therapeutic intervention (including termination of a pregnancy) is required at a stage when, due to extreme immaturity of the baby, there may be little or no hope of the baby surviving. In these exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary to intervene to terminate the pregnancy to protect the life of the mother, while making every effort to preserve the life of the baby.”

So there was no legal reason why the pregnancy could not have been terminated were Savita’s life deemed to be at risk. One has to wonder why Dr Astbury couched her response to Savita’s request in purely legal terms? This was not simply about what the law proscribed, but medically speaking, conservative management of delivery is the safest approach, in the absence of any other pressing clinical factors. Theatre was obviously felt to be unnecessary at this stage, the cervix had dilated, the membranes had ruptured, delivery could not be far off, there was still a foetal heartbeat, the prognosis for the baby was poor, but there was no pressing need to abort medically, as well as legally. Why were the medical reasons not explained to her – that it was presented purely in legal terms seems to be a total failure of communication and gave the Halappanavar’s the impression that best clinical practice was being hampered by the law. The only people qualified to judge on whether or not an abortion should be performed were the doctors, not the lawyers and if any conflict had been perceived, why was this not instantaneously taken up with the hospital’s legal team, who would have been well versed in the ethics.

The Irish Catholic Bishops, responding to the case, said this:

The Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother. By virtue of their common humanity, a mother and her unborn baby are both sacred with an equal right to life.

– Where a seriously ill pregnant woman needs medical treatment which may put the life of her baby at risk, such treatments are ethically permissible provided every effort has been made to save the life of both the mother and her baby.

Which is why the conjecture over potential situations coming from all sides is unhelpful. Catholic teaching is very clear. Mother and baby have an equal right to life, whilst a baby must never be directly killed in order to save the life of a mother (and I cannot envisage a single situation where that would be necessary), a mother may receive treatment such as in the case of an ectopic pregnancy or a cancer diagnosis, which may put the life of her unborn baby at risk, or may end a baby’s life as an indirect consequence.

‘This is a Catholic country’

This was the comment made by Ann Maria Burke, a midwife manager, in response to a conversation with Savita, who stated that in India, a Hindu country, an abortion would be possible. Now is not the place to discuss India’s abortion record, especially when it comes to baby girls or how that reflects Hinduism, which treats all life as sacred, but as Ms Burke now admits, the remark was regrettable and had nothing to do with medical care. The remark perhaps smacks of racism, or was made in the context of a general conversation pertaining to religious and cultural attitudes, but tellingly the midwife was not directing the care of Mrs Halpannavar, nor was she dictating hospital policy. She was trying to explain the reason behind Ireland’s pro-life laws, which whilst they might stem from and be in accordance with Ireland’s Catholic history, do not indicate that Ireland is currently a country that is governed by those in accordance with the Catholic Church, quite the opposite Enda Kenny the current Taoiseach is doing all that he can to put distance between himself and the Vatican. Moreover Catholic moral theology would not sanction the delivery of a non viable baby as a direct cure for a pregnant woman, and is therefore slightly at odds with the letter of Irish law.

Conclusion

Had the initial blood tests been followed up on, and 4 hourly observations undertaken, then perhaps the tragedy may not have unfolded in the way that it did. What seems clear is that the infection was present upon admittance to hospital and that it is unlikely that an abortion would have cured the infection and potentially could have hastened Savita’s death. The unborn baby could not have been the source of the infection and by the time that the infection was noted, things had already progressed too far. The infection was obviously incredibly aggressive and Savita’s condition deteriorated so rapidly on Wednesday 24 October, that the decision as to whether or not to abort became moot. According to the inquest, septic shock was diagnosed at 1.20pm, two hours later, Savita’s already dead baby was delivered in theatre, so the conservative approach would have been the correct one, nature had taken its course swiftly, within the normal 48 hour window.

There is no indication that the hospital was ignoring the plight or symptoms of a critically ill woman with sepsis in order to rigorously follow the letter of the law regarding her unborn baby, when the law already allowed for an abortion to take place in these circumstances. Until the early hours of Wednesday morning, there was no obvious manifestation of infection, to those caring for her. It was only then that seriousness of the situation became glaringly apparent.

The issues here are about an awareness of sepsis. That is what Parveen Halappanavar, Savita’s husband should be angry about. This is the issue that he should fight for in his wife’s memory, as well as suing the hospital for their negligence in following up on her blood tests. Understandably he wanted his wife’s distress to be alleviated by an abortion, a procedure that may well not have been in her best interests either physically or emotionally. That the hospital could only explain this in legal terms is as great a dereliction of care and duty as it was not to have chased her blood results or carried out her observations.

Ireland’s abortion laws may change as a result, unborn babies will die and no action will be taken to address the urgent problem of sepsis diagnoses, nor indeed the worrying spread of ESBL bacteria that killed Savita. Abortion won’t cure sepsis or aid its diagnosis. It may however mean that more women and babies are exposed to the deadly bacteria. Savita’s memory deserves better.

Women as Witnesses

For those who haven’t seen it over there, here’s my thoughts on the remarks made at Pope Francis’ General Audience today. This theme of women and motherhood and what that means, is going to need much more analysis and apologetics.

Quite early on in this blog, I had several non-denominational Christians as well as general enquiries, wanting to drill down a bit further into the notion of women as mothers. The inherent dignity, importance and value of motherhood needs to be emphasised, whilst taking care not to alienate women who are not physical mothers, as being some sort of lesser beings, or somehow lacking in innate femininity. It’s a tricky tightrope, whilst the goods of motherhood must be reclaimed, care must be taken not to fetishise mothers in an unhelpful way either.

Here’s the post anyway.

Speaking in his General Audience today, Pope Francis emphasised the importance and role that women have to play within the Catholic Church, as unselfish communicators of the Gospel.

The women are driven by love and know how to accept this proclamation with faith: they believe, and immediately transmit it, they do not keep it for themselves. They cannot contain the joy of knowing that Jesus is alive, the hope that fills their heart.

Contrasting the implicit faith of the women who are the first human witnesses to the Resurrection with that of the male Apostles, Pope Francis says:

The Apostles and disciples find it harder to believe in the Risen Christ, not the women however! Peter runs to the tomb, but stops before the empty tomb; Thomas has to touch the wounds of the body of Jesus with his hands.

The very act of returning to the tomb, to anoint the body of Christ is a manifestation of this faith and also trust. Why did they return to the tomb? They would have been aware that the tomb entrance was sealed by an enormous boulder that would have been impossible for them to roll away without some assistance, as well as the fact that guards were posted at the tomb’s entrance, who were unlikely to have been amenable. And yet still they trusted.

Reinforcing the historicity of the Gospel accounts, Pope Francis reminds us of Christ’s radicalism. Women were not considered credible or reliable legal witnesses in first century Palestine, this was a role reserved to Elders or men over thirty, and yet it was to women that Christ first manifested his Resurrection, as a reward for their faith and in recognition of their love.

This is beautiful, and this is the mission of women, of mothers and women, to give witness to their children and grandchildren that Christ is Risen! Mothers go forward with this witness! What matters to God is our heart, if we are open to Him, if we are like trusting children. But this also leads us to reflect on how in the Church and in the journey of faith, women have had and still have a special role in opening doors to the Lord, in following him and communicating his face, because the eyes of faith always need the simple and profound look of love

Beautiful and inspirational. What can be more important than being witnesses to the Resurrection and the love of God? Those very first witnesses, who were so convinced by what they had seen and so determined to spread the Good News, to the extent that they would lay down their lives and suffer the most excruciating and painful deaths, played a crucial and key role in the development of the faith. Women are called to witness, whether that be as physical or spiritual mothers, to pass down and impart the joy of the faith to their children and in their families, in a way that only they know how. That the Pope has chosen to affirm and link women with motherhood should not be overlooked.

Christ called Mary Magdalene by name in the garden in acknowledgement of her simple and uncomplicated love, faith and trust. Furthermore Mary Magdalene is no plaster saint or unrealistic model of womanhood. Her lack of inhibition and emotive displays are often embarrassing or discomforting and yet Christ loves because of her innate feminine authenticity and total lack of guile and self-awareness. Whilst Our Lady set the pattern of motherhood, in the encounter in the garden, we see Christ conferring a vital vocation upon St Mary Magdalen as the first female missionary.

Traditionally depicted as beautiful, sensuous and possessing an unrestrained yet totally pure love of the Lord, she accepts her vocation through a direct encounter with Christ, with no thoughts as to what may be in it for her in terms of status, earthly or material reward, and neither does she stop to compare herself with the Apostles. She has no need. Christ has already reaffirmed her equality, as St Mark awkwardly relates. Not only does Christ make his first appearance to a woman, but one who was once demonically possessed.

St Mary Magdalene allowed herself to be won over by Christ and gave herself over to him whole-heartedly and he rewarded, affirmed and entrusted himself to her in all of her femininity.  This is the message for contemporary women today.