Annulment

Unfortunately I’ve received quite a few unpleasant comments over the last few days, none of which I have been prepared to publish, due to the fact that I have an annulled marriage. My stat-counter has also brought up some rather disturbing searches regarding my name, my children and attempts to discover details pertaining to personal circumstances. The implication is that it is highly hypocritical of me to defend marriage, given that due to having a previous marriage behind me I have a part to play in the undermining of the institution. Furthermore there have been allegations that annulments are only available to the rich and well-connected who are able to twist arms and pay for expensive canon lawyers to employ Jesuitical arguments. There are demands for me to disclose the circumstances of my previous attempted marriage – something that is frankly none of anyone’s business.

I’m not going to disclose my private life, not least for the fact that a child resulted from my previous relationship – there are real human beings and relationships at stake, which are far more important than my standing in the eyes of hostile internet commentators. With that in mind, I am aware that I am a (very minor) representative of Catholicism and therefore it might be necessary to put a few bare facts of the matter out there as a matter of record.

Firstly – mea culpa. I did attempt to contract a marriage, but what is also clear is that I didn’t have any understanding of what that involved. Perhaps providentially, I had made enquiries as to getting married in the Catholic church that was the place of my baptism, though the community involved were happy to facilitate, they insisted that some form of marriage preparation was undertaken first. My then fiance refused as he did not wish to be instructed in how to be married by a bunch of celibate Catholics – it was none of their business. So we were ‘married’ instead in an Anglican church with no dispensation from the Catholic church as is required by canon law.

Secondly – one of the basic tenets of a valid sacramental marriage is that it must be open to life or children. Before we got ‘married’ my ex had been explicit on multiple occasions that he did not ever want children and had in fact sought a sterilisation at the age of 22. I was ambivalent on the matter, I certainly had no intention of having any children, but hadn’t ruled it out either. On our wedding day, my former father-in-law was witnessed telling everybody that his son did not want to have any children. When I unexpectedly fell pregnant there was a divergence of opinion as to what the best course of action should be and the relationship was put under enormous pressure, which resulted in my then partner going off to Marie Stopes in Reading for a sterilisation when the baby was 6 weeks old. A process in which I had no involvement – personal bodily autonomy and wishes being of paramount import. As an aside Marie Stopes did not once ask for joint couple counselling and the offer of individual counselling was refused. I don’t know whether or not this may have changed minds, certainly he was adamant that this situation was not going to reoccur.

There are other canonical and legal issues, but that is more than enough information for the public domain. Needless to say, when I married a vicar who usually refused to perform re-marriages, the Church of England having no formal annulment process, it was necessary not only to be very public and open about my situation not only with our parish, but with the then Bishop of Chichester whose formal permission was sought as a matter of courtesy.

What I can testify is that no matter how cordial, friendly and open one keeps relations, divorce is absolutely horrible for children and not something that I could recommend as being the ideal.

My hope is that my children can learn from my example, that they take care to ensure that they marry someone else whose faith and values matches theirs, that they don’t succumb to outside pressures but can prayerfully discern in their choice of spouse and vocation. There is a whole world of difference between being sacramentally married and not. I appreciate every day the graces and blessings that we receive from the sacrament – something that gives us both enormous comfort and strength when times are tough.

Life hasn’t always been plain sailing for me, but I count myself extremely fortunate and blessed in not only having a wonderful spouse who shares my faith, but in being able to have a sacramental marriage. That the church has absolutely no issue with my circumstances was demonstrated by the fact that we were able to have a nuptial Mass and received an apostolic blessing as a gift from the parish.

Annulment isn’t a Catholic divorce or a fudge for those with recourse to huge funds. When applying to a marriage tribunal one has to throw the whole affair into the hands of God and trust in the judgement of Holy Mother church and accept the ruling, whichever way it falls. In my case, no tribunal was needed, it was a very straightforward process which cost me £18 in total!

Annulment presumes that every marriage is valid, until proven otherwise. It is very clear in my situation that no marriage existed, which goes quite a long way to explain many of the difficulties. Like many Catholics, I found the process incredibly healing. Here is a page that dispels some of the common myths, such as illegitimacy of children – an accusation that comes my way fairly often, or that the process is only for rich, famous or well-connected members of the faithful.

The Pope has recently reiterated the need for the annulment process to be rigorous and warned about the danger of contrasting charity with justice. If we as Catholics wish to reinforce the strength of the marriage bond, it causes great scandal if we collude with secular authorities and dissolve marriages for spurious or flimsy reasons. Furthermore it does a great disservice to those of us who indisputably had no previous sacramental bond. Fr Dwight Longnecker also has some very harsh words for those Catholics who collude in the undermining of marriage.

Though I admittedly haven’t always upheld marriage in my past actions – all of us are sinners, I did what I could to remedy what was a heartbreaking and impossible situation whereby convalidation or sanation were unavailable as options. I can also appreciate that though our divorce laws are in urgent need of reform, some civil recourse is often necessary not least for the protection of women and children.

‘Gay marriage’ is the inevitable result in a society that seeks to put individual needs and wants first and seeks to redefine marriage as simply being all about love and commitment. My ex, passionately believed that when he said those vows (despite the fact that children are mentioned in the Anglican marriage service) that children had nothing to do with it and are entirely separate to marriage. I didn’t have a strong opinion one way or the other at that time, despite having been nominally brought up as a Catholic and having attended Catholic school.

The New Evangelisation must include a reclamation of marriage – what it constitutes and what it most definitely isn’t. We have much to remedy.

(Comment moderation is on)

Becoming like children

A friend suggested that I download the excellent unspoken sermons of George McDonald the other night, when I was casting about for recommendations for free reading material of a political, historical and theological bent.

The first chapter is entitled Child in our midst, and is a reflection of Mark 9: 33-37, and the relationship of the child-like and the divine.

I was reminded of this yesterday, when briefly discussing the result of the Parliamentary vote with my daughter, who it seems had been engaged in conversation at school. Though my initial reaction was horror, I guess to some extent the playground is a microcosm of the adult world, the school admits pupils to the age of 13, we live in liberal Brighton and one can hardly be surprised if things have filtered down.

Our daughter doesn’t know about sex, but she does know the biology behind reproduction, i.e. that when men and women get married, they can then have a ‘special cuddle’ (yes it’s twee, you try explaining it to a then 6-7 year old) whereby the man gives the woman a sperm which fertilises her egg etc. The subject arose when she asked how the babies were getting into mummy’s tummy, I don’t hold with lying to children, nonsense euphemisms about gooseberry bushes and storks just confuse children, hence we told her the truth in an age appropriate way. She was more than satisfied by the response, no special books or silly furtiveness was required, but we did show her some pictures of what the baby looked like in the womb at certain stages during my pregnancies, which she enjoyed. (Pro-lifers take note).

I was told what homosexuality was at the same age in Year 4. Looking back it was a scream. The ernest and stern Mr Sutton, headmaster of our interesting and eclectic prep school (consisting mainly of the children of farmers in the backwaters of the Dengie hundred) decided that as an experiment he would personally supervise sex education lessons for the fourth form. We were given blue workbooks with diagrams of the male and female organs in cross section as well as a couple in flagrante, so to speak. It looked a ghastly, painful and disgusting business to my mind. There was no way I was ever going to do that – ever! To the great amusement and perhaps relief of my parents, I coloured the male member in green and red diagonal stripes resembling a barber’s shop pole, for reasons best beknown to myself.

I remember distinctly Mr Sutton explaining what ‘gay’ was, that it meant two women or two men had fallen in love with each other, we might read about it in the paper and that it absolutely wasn’t funny, these people couldn’t help it and we mustn’t laugh about it or make fun of those who were gay. Anyone who did would be in trouble, whereupon the bell rang for playtime and Damian Jones proceeded to call everyone a “gaylord”, as a change from the previously preferred insult of choice – “Joey”.

Which kind of brings me to the point. Bullying and name calling sadly will always occur at school, although it should always be given zero tolerance when uncovered. I remember being grieved when Jennifer Holland Brown, cheeky upstart in the third year accused me of being a lesbian because I’d accidentally kicked her leg in the swimming pool, whereupon all her friends joined in. It lasted 10 minutes if that, but these days there would be scores of counsellors telling me ‘its fine to be a lesbian, you should celebrate that’ and reporting her parents for installing homophobia, whereas actually kids can be rather horrible to each other at times. I was irritated by the sheer cheek of a younger girl as well as peeved by the untruth because I knew that I most definitely wasn’t a lesbian! Calling people out for being supposedly different, whether true or false has happened and will happen in schools since time immemorial. Nobody’s race, faith (and it was the fish wearing Christians at my sixth form who got the grief) sexuality, hair colour, weight, appearance or family life and standard of living should be used to single them out, but sadly it does happen and schools need to do what they can to ensure it isn’t ignored or tolerated which includes punishing offenders. Enacting the gay marriage bill in the name of stamping out homophobic attitudes is a panacea.

But back to George McDonald and becoming like a child, here was my 8 year old’s response.

“Two men and two women? That’s just silly. But that would mean two sperms and two eggs? How would they have babies”.

It was gently explained to her that men and women sometimes did develop feelings for each other.

“But if everyone did that we wouldn’t have any more babies and then what would happen?”

But I suppose to explain it is unusual, is homophobic?!

As George McDonald says:

“God is represented in Jesus, for that God is like Jesus: Jesus is represented in the child, for that Jesus is like the child. Therefore God is represented in the child, for that he is like the child. God is child-like. In the true vision of this fact lies the receiving of God in the child.”

We forget that God is child-like at our peril. The most absurd thing I think I saw yesterday was this clip from Channel 4, with a gay man explaining with child-like simplicity how a gay couple could now be married in the eyes of God. Because God was clearly waiting for the Parliamentary result to change his opinion.

Suffer the little children.

Strength in weakness

One of the many unfortunate things about the rushed nature of the Equal Marriage Bill is that it has raised the political temperature on the issue to almost boiling point with both sides scrambling to have their voices heard whilst there is still a chance that political opinion may be influenced.

One thing that is very saddening is the way that the issue seems to have caused so much hate and division, with those in favour of the redefinition of marriage flinging unprecedented amounts of spite towards those of us who wish to defend the status quo – recognising that the already weakened link between marriage and family, should not be irreparably severed. This concern stems not from a sense of bigotry or contempt or wish to marginalise those with same-sex attraction but genuinely from a wish to protect future generations and our unborn. Every child has the right to be brought up in a stable loving, sexually exclusive relationship and to enjoy a close bond with both of their biological parents. Last night on Twitter, Conor Burns the openly gay Tory MP received a huge amount of unsolicited abuse , for not having yet made up his mind and the MP David Burrows has been in receipt of death threats. Clearly there is much reconciliation and healing that needs to occur.

I received a particularly poisonous comment about my own personal circumstances containing a choice piece of invective and attempting to goad me into disclosing information which would have been detrimental to one of my children. As someone who has a child who does not live with both of her biological parents, I can testify to the emotional difficulties involved for children who come from broken families and I can stress the importance of allowing a child to develop a close, loving and strong bond with both biological parents and their families. That someone felt so threatened as to attempt to find out personal details – I have had several searches on my blog over the past week with rather alarming search terms, really demonstrates the depths to which some will sink, in order to try to get their own way and shows that the defence of marriage lies in truth and reason, lies smears and insults are based in fear and demonstrate that someone has really run out of ideas.

Most of us, myself included, are heartily tired of having to endlessly debate this, but we have no choice other than to fight for something that is being taken away, not only from us, but from our children and the generations of children to come. In order for one group to be given something, it needs to be taken away from someone else and what is being taken is not only the link between marriage and children, but also our religious freedoms, in that life is going to be made untenable for those who do not believe that marriage can constitute anything other than a union between one man and one woman, especially those in the public sector.

The think-tank Respublica have today produced this excellent Green Paper which details why this bill is such a monumentally unsound piece of legislation – their arguments and logic are flawless. Catholics will disagree with the conclusion, we would dispute their notion of teleology for a Christian with same-sex attraction, but it is a sound piece of work, with some solid insights, not least in terms of the anthropological origins of marriage. The reason contained therein makes it impossible for detractors to apply the homophobia label with any integrity.

I touched before on how, under this bill, there will still be disparity between heterosexual and homosexual marriages, in that the concepts of adultery and consummation will not apply to the latter. Once again, the blogger Gentlemind has a detailed explanation as to the implicit legal fiction, not invoking any concept of a deity. As has been said from the beginning, neither religion, nor the state has the monopoly on marriage, whilst we as Christians believe that it was instituted from God as a gift to his people, from the creation of the world, we do not force or impose this view upon other people, whilst ironically it is the state who is imposing its new definition upon us.

The one question that nobody dare ask, the elephant in the room so to speak, is that marriage traditionally encompasses sexually fidelity for reasons of procreation, so that children may be legitimately recognised as well as brought up with stability, even though undoubtedly many couples have been unfaithful, but this has always been stigmatised with good reason. The current tendency to blame both partners when one strays, in an attempt to be non-judgemental and balanced, is whilst perhaps based in some truth, a misguided one. No matter how tiresome one’s spouse may prove at times, one has made a promise of love and fidelity especially if one is married in the Christian tradition. That’s why marriage is sometimes difficult. It’s not about being in love at the time of professing vows, but about promising to love until the end of one’s lives. Love often requires an act of will, it’s not purely an impulsive or romantic feeling, something that one has to remember when one’s spouse has left the loo seat up for the umpteenth time. We should not seek to excuse those who are unable to exercise sexual restraint. To cheat on one’s partner takes an act of will, one’s clothes simply do not fall off of their own accord and our body does not act independently of the mind.

So why is gay marriage devoid of this promise of fidelity in that a couple may not divorce due to adultery, which cannot exist? As a gay couple cannot technically consummate a marriage, does that mean that legally gay marriages are presumed to be devoid of sexual content, unlike heterosexual marriages? Straight couples are being called to higher sexual standards than homosexual couples, whose sex life is legally non-existent and unlike heterosexual couples cannot use a partner’s infidelity to split up the marriage. When a couple divorces on the ubiquitous grounds of unreasonable behaviour – at least five different examples must be given that would satisfy a judge. Does that mean that unlike a straight couple, a gay person will have to find five different provable instances of infidelity to petition for divorce? And what are we saying about the importance of sexual fidelity – does it only matter for heterosexual marriages? Is that fair? Is it equal? Or is there something unsavoury about removing the element of faithfulness in ‘gay marriages’? What message does that send and could it pave the way for further changes such as removing adultery as grounds for divorce in all marriages?

So, gay marriages may nominally satisfy the demands of equality, but they are still as different as civil partnerships. What a legacy for David Cameron – the man who promised to bring in tax breaks to support married couples and denied days before the election that he had any plans to introduce this legislation. Weakening in the name of strength.

I guess the one silver lining is that maybe this whole dog’s breakfast may actually start to do something to reinforce the already weakened bonds of marriage. Maybe people’s minds will be focused on what the true meaning of marriage is really about and churches may well be galvanised into proclaiming the goodness and fruits of marriage like never before. Maybe we will be able to reclaim Holy Matrimony for ourselves in all of its abundant richness.

The scandal of the Navity

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I was trying to work out why the media seem to have focussed on the Pope’s thoughts about the appropriateness of the ox and the ass in the nativity scene. It really is something of a non-story, although when I was interviewed about this earlier today, the presenter seemed to believe that the Holy Father had broken controversial new ground, by ‘re-dating’ the birth of Christ and claiming that by highlighting the lack of cattle in the manger, the Holy Father is trying to remind us that the nativity story is simply a myth, not to be taken literally.

I’m not sure how well I managed to get my points across (unfortunately one of the children had a meltdown towards the end of the phone interview) but one of the things that I did point out was that though Joseph Ratzinger is an acclaimed theologian and biblical scholar, whilst his book does not undermine anything in the Magisterium, neither is it infallible doctrine, it’s a book written under his own name and Catholics are free to disagree. There’s no need to consign the donkey figurines to the knackers yard just yet. The Pope may think that they have no place but as he said, he can’t see that changing any time soon. There were no accounts of cats or peacocks in the Gospels, but they often feature in nativity scenes, the peacock symbolising immortality and there is a legend about a cat giving birth to a litter of kittens in the stable. In some parts of the world you might also find a St Francis figure anachronistically kneeling at the crib, Mary’s midwife or representations of local townspeople and tradesmen, although I think the lobster in the film Love Actually, might be stretching things too far.

We know that there are no mentions of cattle in either Luke or Matthew’s account of the Nativity stories. This won’t come as news to anyone who is au fait with their Bible and neither will the Pope’s clarification that the dating of Christ’s birth is out by a few years, I remember being taught the controversy over twenty years ago in school.

It is thought that the tradition of Nativity scenes were introduced by St Francis of Assisi. The basic elements comprise Mary (on Christ’s right), St Joseph (on Christ’s left), at least one shepherd, at least one angel, the three magi (who make their way to the crib in time for Epiphany), a lamb to symbolise not only the shepherd’s gift but also the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the ubiquitous ox and ass. The reason for the presence of the cattle is in fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecy,Isaias 1:3

The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel hath not known me, and my people hath not understood.

The donkey also prefigures the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. There is a rather endearing tradition that a cross was marked on the donkey’s back as a reward for using its breath to warm the infant Christ in order to mark out its offspring precisely so Jesus would recognise it for his entry into Jerusalem. I remember searching for this mark every time I encountered a donkey as a child, just in case!

What stands out for me, from the limited extracts that I have read, is what Pope Benedict is emphasising with his interpretation of the infancy narratives. Rather than suggesting that the nativity is a fable, he is grounding Christianity firmly in historical fact by going back to the primary written sources. That there may have been no donkey in the inn is something of a minor detail, our Pope is an incredibly thoughtful and precise man, his reflections are typically very careful. I would suggest he was focusing on the way in which the Gospels were written and what they can tell us. Benedict argues that the Evangelists set out to write real history, that had actually happened and he seeks to contextualise this.

The media have focused in upon the donkey detail for a number of reasons; firstly it makes a sensational story and is an easy way to get in a dig at the Pope and casts him in the role of Ebeneezer Scrooge. Secondly, in a post-Christian era that subverts the message of Christmas in a grotesque orgy of consumerism and self-indulgence, casting doubt upon the nativity justifies the distortion. The Nativity isn’t real anyway, look even the Pope says so. Thirdly and probably the most overriding reason is that journalists are not theologically literate enough to pick out the compelling points from the Vatican’s press release, so go for the easy story.

More compelling than the lack of cattle, or that the angels may have spoken rather than singing, is what the Holy Father confirms for us, such as the Star of Bethleham was an actual celestial event. One of the things that struck me was the comparison of Pax Christi to Pax Augusti and the discussion of the political realm. These words seem especially prescient in the light of the vociferous opposition and vilification of those who defend life and marriage.

The political realm has “its own sphere of competence and responsibility;” it oversteps those bounds when it “claims divine status and divine attributes” and makes promises it cannot deliver.

The other extreme comes with forms of religious persecution when rulers “tolerate no other kingdom but their own,”

Any sign God announces “is given not for a specific political situation, but concerns the whole history of humanity.

It would be marvellous if the negative publicity whetted appetites and aroused public curiosity to make the book hit the best seller lists, so that people could experience precisely what the Pope has to say for themselves. Perhaps the headlines should have emphasised that it’s an uncharacteristically short tome, only numbering 132 pages.

There should be controversy around the book, it reaffirms the cornerstones of Christianity, namely the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection. As Pope Benedict says, Jesus’ life was full of contradiction, paradox and mystery and remains a contradiction today.

Benedict describes Christ’s life as a scandal against the spirit of the modern age; God does not restrict himself to the ethereal or spiritual but demonstrates his power in the material world. The true scandal is not the omission of the Ox and the Ass, but that God humbled himself in order to redeem mankind. That’s what the headlines should have been screaming.

On coming home

Damian Thompson writes today that the era of Anglo-Catholicism in the Anglican Church is drawing to a close due to the forthcoming vote on women bishops in the Synod this week. According to Damian, Anglo-Catholics who are serious about their faith,will have already decamped leaving only what he describes as the ‘gold chasuble brigade’ i.e. those who like the liturgy of the Roman rite but not the meat of the Catechism. He also describes how the Ordinariate has not attracted most of the Anglo-Catholic laity and attributes this in part to the failure of the Catholic Church to provide the Ordinariate with a London church.

I’m not so sure he’s right on either score. I don’t think it’s fair to use the amusing biretta and lace trope (which does have an element of truth) when discussing matters of spiritual integrity. There are undoubtedly those who like the liturgy and outward trappings of pre Vatican II Catholicism but are very liberal in terms of Catholic teaching on sexuality and other matters; on the other hand there are those who genuinely yearn for reunification, who are well-formed, highly educated, theologically and morally literate who just cannot in good conscience sign the Catechism. I would hazard a decent guess that the former Bishop of Chichester, John Hind, is just such a man. Those who do not ‘Pope’ are not hypocritical or ignorant, all style over substance, simply that leaving home is not easy and takes much soul-searching.

There have been a few times online when I have seen decent men barracked and hectored that if they have any integrity they should convert. Such attitudes make me sad and angry in equal measure. Bullying and berating people is not the way to ensure conversions of heart.

I can only speak of my second-hand experience as the wife of someone who converted, though I was party and privy to Robin’s journey, being already a Catholic, I could not experience the turmoil in the same way. For me, it was blatantly clear that he should convert, but that was something he had to discern for himself in much prayer and thoughtful reflection, it was a decision between him and God, one in which I could have very little input. If I’m being entirely candid, on one level it would have suited me absolutely fine had Robin remained an Anglican clergyman. We had a lovely Rectory, a great parish, he was Freehold, a wonderful circle of friends and support, a pension scheme and lifetime security. We went to vigil Mass on a Saturday together so I could fulfil my obligation and then I would support him in the parish on a Sunday. I was being spiritually nourished, we had a good life, Robin was on Synod, conducted lay reader training, was part of diocesan vocations, school governor, trustee of a local charity, all in all was doing well, surely to throw all that away for an uncertain future was folly? I know both sets of parents were very uneasy about it all.

But all the while there was a nagging and niggling sense for me, that this was somehow dishonest. It became clearer and clearer that he needed to convert, that he wasn’t being honest with himself, with his parishioners and most importantly with God, but the impetus, the examination of heart and conscience can only come from deep within, no-one else can or should make those spiritual choices for you, plus we have to trust in God’s grace and the Holy Spirit. I wanted nothing more than the person who I love most in all the world to be in communion with me in faith, there is nothing more painful than being spiritually divided; of course I wanted him to receive all the richness and beauty of the faith, the graces and blessings of being a member of the one true Apostolic Church. Love is not selfish, it wants to share its joys with others, it will put the other person first regardless of the cost. But ultimately I could not substitute my will for his.

And yes, there was a cost, an enormous cost for us as a family and no doubt if I were a better, holier and more pious woman, I would have borne it a lot more unflinchingly, but when the eventual decision came, it was full of joy, our parish made Robin so welcome, but it was very bittersweet. We laid down our previous lives to take up a new one, which entailed much pain and sorrow. I know Robin felt like he was letting people down, deserting a group of people who he had cared for and ministered to over the past ten years and I felt like I was betraying those who had made me so welcome and loved when we got married.

We then, as detailed on this blog, had an incredibly testing two years whilst he discerned vocation and worked in the funeral industry, during which we doubled our number of children from two to four, I found a writing voice and struggled to come to terms with the swash and buckle of internet discourse and was subject to a series of vicious personal attacks, which was at times my only social contact with the outside world.

That’s not to deter potential converts, our story is not unique, every single Anglican convert’s wife has a similar tale to tell in terms of the impact upon their family life. One of the things that almost all mothers crave is stability and the opportunity to build a future for their children. One of the downsides of being any clergy wife, is that you have to accept that your husband’s vocation does not entail a guarantee of permanence. Moving house multiple times can be incredibly destabilising and losing one’s circle of real-life local friends and acquaintances, to move to an area in which you know no-one and can’t easily get out and about, isolating.

I was as supportive as I could be, I knew it was the right thing, but it was by no means easy and I was by no means a paragon of saintly virtue in serenely accepting the family turmoil or years of flux and uncertainty.

I’ve digressed, but the point is, that I was always 100% supportive of Robin. What about Anglo-Catholic clergy whose wives are reluctant to convert and/or support them? It’s an enormous ask and therefore denigrating the decision to put family stability first cannot be the correct way to go. Furthermore leaving one’s spiritual home can be an enormous wrench. I’ve never done it, but when C of E clergy are ordained, like their Roman counterparts they believe this to be a lifelong commitment and calling, in the same way as marriage vows. One cannot deny the affection for the spiritual tradition in which one was formed and it takes a lot of courage to admit there is no realistic prospect of reunification, to abandon your home and watch helplessly as it tears itself to pieces and moves further and further away from universal truths.

Crossing the Tiber is not the straightforward intellectual exercise that it might seem on paper, these are real people with real lives and a multitude of responsibilities to juggle. For the clergy there is the additional question of vocation. One has to accept that one’s former ministry was probably not wholly valid. What if one still feels called to priesthood? There is no guarantee that the Catholic Church will accept one as a candidate. What do you do if your life hereto has consisted of ministry, you have a hatful of theology degrees, huge amount of transferable skills yet are competing with people not only younger but with more relevant experience? All of a sudden you have to rebuild your life, whilst attempting to provide for yourself and any family. Was your former life a waste of time and meaningless?

All of which means than the decision to convert has to be made out of love in a spirit of joyful acceptance and not because one feels that the Church of England has left one with little other choice. There is a difference between choosing to ‘Pope’ and being pushed. Neither of us regret for one moment the decision to convert, there is no question that it was where The Lord was leading, our lives are spiritually richer, our marriage has been transformed and strengthened and if ordination does not take place, though crushing, we would still not look back. This is where converts need to be, it has to be a total laying down of a life in order to resume it and an acceptance that The Lord may not lead one back to the altar in the same way. It’s a total death to self and an acceptance than one may no longer be in ministry. The older one is, the more difficult that becomes, and if one is a young unmarried vicar, then one has to abandon any previous notions of marriage and family.

And this, I suspect is one of the reasons why perhaps not as many laity as some expected have joined the Ordinariate, because again, for many, leaving a former parish church and affiliated social groups is just too physically painful, not because of any shortcomings on behalf of the Ordinariate. I’m willing to bet as well that there are plenty of families where one party is far more enthusiastic than the others, Anglicanism famously encompasses a broad spectrum of views. An unsatisfactory status quo is psychologically more comforting than a leap of faith into the great unknown.

Is Anglo-Catholicism dead? I am no longer au fait with the latest developments, but it seems to be thriving as ever in its little pockets around the country, such as here in Chichester diocese. I guess it depends on one’s definition, perhaps life is untenable for Anglo-Papalists, but groups such as Affirming Catholics would claim otherwise.

I cannot stress strongly enough that the joy and happiness of conversion far outweighs any difficulties and every convert clergy family I know says the same. There is no looking back, no regrets and this is, I believe, because it was an independent decision to embrace Catholicism and not a convenient bolthole. There is a distinct difference. This is why Damian Thompson is wrong to want the legislation on women bishops to pass in its current format, with no provision worked out for conscientious objectors. We should not laugh or pass judgement on the consciences of those who remain behind to be alienated and vilified by their peers and brethren in Christ. It must be a horrific time for all. It could well have been my husband, I take no credit for his journey but undoubtedly one of the factors that led to his conversion was the actual experience of worshipping in a Catholic Church with his wife every week for two years. The unknown did not seem so scary, Christ called from the Eucharist, he pushed at doors and found them opening. Not everyone is so fortunate. I know many who are still grappling with their consciences.

For those Anglo-Catholics who do read this (I had the honour of being listed as a blog of note by New Directions) please know that you are all in our thoughts and prayers. If clergy or families want to contact us to sound out ideas or go through any practical realities, put your details in the combox (I won’t publish) and I’ll get in touch. There is help and support available, not least the St Barnabas society without whom this would not have been possible.

If Anglo-Catholicism is dead, it is a tragic time. The only reason for rejoicing is if this alleged death provides an impetus that leads people home. This is far more likely if we extend a lifeline out of caritas, condescending pre-judging and barracking is counter-productive. The body of Christ is wounded but never beyond repair. If history teaches us anything it is that any movement that feels suppressed eventually re-emerges stronger. We have to trust the Holy Spirit and pray for resolution and comfort for those whose futures currently lie in the balance.

A modern gibbeting

It seems that the removal of Jimmy Savile’s gaudy headstone is not sufficient for those intent on wreaking their revenge for his alleged crimes. Savile’s mortal remains are to face our society’s more civilised version of the gibbet – there are calls for him to be disinterred and cremated, or even ignominiously dumped at sea so that no earthly trace of him remains. In a move reminiscent of the Ministry of Truth or the Soviet Union, his appearances are being wiped from any re-runs of Top of The Pops 2.

The latter move is perhaps understandable; to continue to feature him would be an insensitive move on behalf of the BBC, but I am uncomfortable with the proposition of disinterring him. As a vessel of the Holy Spirit, human remains must be accorded the respect and dignity due to all human beings, regardless of their crimes here on earth. The deceased’s last wishes must be taken into account and Savile was explicit with regards to what he wished to happen, even detailing the site and angle of his burial. Even those facing execution on death row for multiple murders are allowed to make requests as to the treatment and burial of their corpse.

Savile’s Catholic faith cannot simply be disregarded because his deeds went unpunished. Though we can all make guesses as to his psychological condition, we cannot presume to know what was in his heart. It is perfectly possible that he may well have made a good confession before he died. We cannot know whether or not he repented for his terrible deeds or whether he was truly sorry. That is between him and The Lord.

Preferred Catholic practice is for burial of remains because of the truth of the resurrection of the body and reunification with the soul when Jesus returns at the Last Judgement. The early church retained the Jewish tradition of burial rejecting the Roman pagan ritual of cremation, because God has created each person in His image and Likeness and therefore the body is good and must be returned to earth after death. Christ himself died and was buried in a tomb and rose at Easter, therefore the early Christians buried their dead out of respect and in anticipation of the Last Judgement. The Church’s stance against cremation and belief in the bodily resurrection was mocked by their persecutors who often burnt Christian martyrs and scattered their ashes as a sign of contempt. If Catholics are cremated, their remains must not be scattered or kept on the mantelpiece but must instead be interred in their entirety in a cemetery. That’s not to say that those loved ones who have had their ashes scattered will not experience the resurrection, we trust in the Lord’s power, mercy and love, but canon law states the following:

“The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (No. 1176, 3).

To dig him up and cremate him is profoundly un-Christian and indicative of the post-Christian age in which we now live. Frustrated that he escaped punishment in his lifetime, we now seek to exact revenge upon his body, not trusting that he will already have faced judgement and possibly punishment.

If Savile is to be removed from his high profile resting place out of respect for the bereaved relatives of those who share the cemetery and his victims, then he needs to be reinterred intact and anonymously, preferably in a Catholic cemetery where his grave can be visited by his relatives and regularly blessed and prayed at, in accordance with Catholic custom for all our dead, regardless of earthly sins.

It would be truly horrifying if the authorities felt that they could redefine or override religious practice in terms of how we should treat our dead. To exhume and cremate Savile would be allowing the state to make a judgement on his faith, what constitutes a real Catholic and moreover, his soul. I do hope that he has a decent Catholic advocate.

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