Culture Wars personified

As expected, my debate with Benjamin Cohen made it into the pages of Pink News. “Catholic disagrees with gay marriage, IVF and surrogacy” shocker! I’m not too bothered, several people expressed the perspective  that the whole affair was about Ben trying to mine some controversial quotes.

That said it’s probably worth clarifying a few points. It is not my point of view that Benjamin Cohen is transphobic and neither as the report claims, was I trying to infer that.

What I was trying to get out is that Ben (and others) clearly do have a problem with Tara and myself being friends which is why he originally intervened.


This is the nub of the matter – Catholic teaching on sexuality means that instead of attempting to understand and respect each other’s point of view, Tara along with any other LGBT advocate and myself should hate each other.

That we come together on issues of mutual agreement and that I make no attempt to hector Tara into accepting a Catholic vision of sexuality, completely undermines this narrative of Catholics (and me in particular) of being hate-filled spittle-flecked individuals trying to force or impose our faith onto other people.

There are two tactics going on here. One is to undermine our friendship by pointing out Catholic doctrine on sexuality. “How can you be friends with her, she thinks this, ergo she HATES you, ergo you must have psychological problems and be filled with self-hatred to be friends with such a woman”. Our friendship must not be accepted or validated as genuine, built upon principles of mutual trust, care and respect, but instead painted as deeply dysfunctional. It is hoped that this will have the effect of ending our friendship, enabling the hateful horrible homophobe narrative to continue to be perpetuated. It’s pretty hard to claim someone is filled with hate and loathing towards the LGBT community if they number them as friends. Actually Tara is not my only LGBT friend (I expect Pink News will ask them to all come forward and identify themselves) by any stretch of the imagination.  But then again as Ben Cohen has tweeted that any gays who oppose gay marriage for anyone other than themselves are homophobes, then a quarter of the UK LGBT population merit this label according to the Com Res poll conducted  in 2012.

The second, more disturbing tactic is to attempt to cut Tara off from the support of the LGBT community on account of her views. The whole point of this piece was to highlight a member of their community who is bold enough to publicly deviate from group think and hold her up for derision. While I roared with laughter at the piece, Tara’s views as presented seemed perfectly reasonable and mainstream and not at all outrageous or extreme, what concerned me was an attempt to undermine her job and political career, by rendering her controversial, toxic, untouchable, someone who causes upset.

Tara is not opposed purely to same-sex IVF or surrogacy, but to all of these issues as she explains in her blog. Although she has mentioned that she is an NHS diversity consultant, she never talked about her job or her employers on the internet, nor has she been anything other than crystal clear that these are her personally held views. Nonetheless her employers have been contacted for comment.

It is my understanding that the role of a diversity consultant is to ensure that employees and clients are not discriminated against by virtue of their ethnicity, disability, sexuality, gender or any other characteristic. Their job is to provide equal access to employment opportunities as well as client services and ensure that the workplace is doing all that it can to serve the diverse needs of the community.

A diversity consultant would have no say over whether or not services such as IVF should be available and if so how many cycles each couple should receive; these are policy decisions which are made by senior management and clinical staff. I have no idea whether the area of the NHS in which Tara works is even concerned with fertility treatments; she assures me this does not form a part of her role, but her professionalism means that even though she may disagree with IVF as a concept, she still needs to ensure that everyone who qualifies for it under the NHS is able to access it.

There is no discernible reason why someone who believes that every child deserves the chance of a loving mother and father and that babies shouldn’t be removed from their mothers, unless there is a compelling reason to do so, is incapable of working as a diversity consultant. Believing that the state shouldn’t conspire to engineer a situation in which children are removed from their natural parents shouldn’t impact upon one’s diversity and equality credentials.

When did we become so emotionally needy as a nation, that we are unable to cope with stiff differences of opinion or disagreement? The reason why people are agitating for Tara to be kicked out of her job is because they cannot bear the idea of a state agency employing someone in an official capacity who will not validate their desires. A couple who have used IVF or surrogacy might feel ‘judged’ knowing that someone employed within a particular NCT trust disagrees with a life decision that they have made and that would never do.

If Tara had expressed a belief in Jesus Christ, son of God who was crucified, died, was buried and rose again on the third day, people may have looked upon her perhaps rather indulgently or patronisingly, but it would have not have created the storm of outrage. Which is why the secularist lobby are keen to disassociate life issues from religious conscience, arguing that these beliefs are not integral to religion which should in any event be kept private. Only those who believe that LGBT are inferior human beings could possibly object to a child missing out on their mum or dad.

The only imposition going on here  is of one particular viewpoint or mindset as being acceptable for certain state employees. Since when did diversity mean sanctioning every single viewpoint as being equally valid? Since when did diversity not allow for believing that women are exploited by the surrogacy industry and that children should not be treated as commodities? Why should this view disbar you from working to help enable marginalised sections of society access appropriate services?

The only way to avoid damaging culture wars is to listen to and attempt to respect the views of other people, even if we do not wish to sanction or implement their ideas. Surely we can agree to disagree on some issues, while working together on areas of common consent rather than turn certain other groups into untouchables?

When Benjamin Cohen described me as an ‘anti-euqality campaigner’ he was disingenuously implying that I work hard to perpetuate inequality and suffering and trying to paint me as a singularly unpleasant person. I can live with the ostracism of Pink News readers, but it doesn’t really do much to foster positive relationships and raises the emotional temperature. This is the kind of attitude that makes people afraid to speak out for fear of being labelled as fundamentalists. Believing that marriage is not a matter of equality, does not mean that one considers other people as second class citizens and as long-term readers of my blog will remember, I have been criticised in the past by some quarters for my inherent support of the rights that civil partnerships accord and for wishing for these rights to be extended.

In my previous post I outlined precisely my position regarding surrogacy and IVF which is not based upon any wish to discriminate. I have no experience of infertility, I cannot begin to imagine how painful it must be not to be able to have children, but the existence of certain technologies or techniques in order to conceive them does not automatically justify their use. The argument is essentially a moral one about whether or not the ends justifies the means and the values we place upon human life. Can we do what we like in order to secure the outcome we want, regardless of the potential cost?

The most important thing to clear up here is accusations of being opposed to the Jewish religion as specifically alleged by Benjamin Cohen who states that I campaigned to stop liberal and progressive Synagogues from solemnising gay relationships. Firstly it’s worth noting that not all branches of Judaism support  gay marriage. Secondly, I did not specifically campaign to prevent Synagogues from solemnising gay relationships. I was part of an effort which campaigned to keep marriage defined as between a man and a woman in UK law. Synagogues, along with any other religious institution should be free to perform whatever ceremonies and rituals which their religion proscribes (with provisos surrounding physical harms). I do not adhere to the Islamic proposition that a man may have 4 wives, however I am not campaigning for Muslims to be prohibited from taking multiple spouses. Asking that the law reflects existing Judeo-Christian principles and only recognises marriage as one man and one woman, does not oppress religious freedom or prevent people from following different cultural or religious practices. Non-legal recognition or solemnisation of certain situations does not prohibit people from entering into them informally, nor does it make them illegal or against the law.

Yesterday Pope Francis tweeted the following.

He has also described gay marriage in far stronger terms than I, as being a move from the Father of Lies.

Anti-equality campaigner, opposed to Judaism, fundamentalist, or just someone who follows the teachings of the Catholic church as articulated by the Pope?

Kudos and prayers for Tara for her bravery. By daring to be friends with Catholics and supporting a pro-life point of view she has put her job on the line and has made an unlikely champion of religious freedom and rejected the frame of the culture wars.

Catholic Annulments: Prevention better than cure

Taken from the Catholic Universe 27 October 2013



There has been a lot of speculation that divorced and remarried Catholics may  be allowed to receive Communion following Pope Francis’ remarks on the flight back from World Youth Day in Rio in July, when he said that a synod would need to explore the ‘somewhat deeper pastoral care of marriage’, including the thorny issue of divorced Catholics.

Speaking from the perspective of someone who has had a former attempted marriage declared invalid by the Catholic church, I have to confess to having mixed feelings on the issue.

 The subjects of annulments is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented facets of the Catholic faith and many’s the time I’ve rolled my eyes heavenwards on hearing the hoary old cliche that annulments are the equivalent of Catholic divorce or involve a secretive process which is only available to for the rich and well-connected.

 A Catholic annulment is not a dissolving of a marriage, rather the statement that while civil legalities may have occurred between a couple, something was missing that enabled the relationship to be considered a marriage in the spiritual sense of the word and that no sacrament ever existed.

 It’s a very difficult teaching for many to swallow and can seem rooted in sophistry, how can someone who observed all the legal formalities of marriage, who went through a wedding ceremony, later claim that they were not in reality, married? One can see why many might consider annulments a convenient piece of clever rule-bending, as they are subject to a strict code of canon law, couched in legal and theological language which is not easily understandable.

The reason why the annulment process remains shrouded in mystery is because not many of us make recourse to it, the subject only raises its head when a Catholic embarks upon a subsequent relationship and wishes to remarry. Personally I found the procedure incredibly healing, far from being an exercise in rubber-stamping or greasing the palms of officials, faced with the truth about the Catholic teaching on marriage, I was able to go through a process of self-examination which helped me to lay the past to rest, experience personal growth and finally move on.

It was not an easy time, I had to face up to my own faults and failings in terms of how I had approached the relationship, there was certainly an element of penitence, not least because as a Catholic I had married outside of the church without permission, ignoring and disregarding her teaching on marriage, but this only served to strengthen my resolve in terms of ensuring that were I to marry in the future, not only would it be sacramental, but that any potential spouse would share my understanding upon the nature of a Catholic marriage, that it is permanent, exclusive and open to life. In addition they would also need to support me in the practice of the Catholic faith.

It is therefore extremely annoying to hear that annulments are either far too complicated to obtain or being dished out indiscriminately to those who know how to bend the system, according to whom you listen to. I entered into the process in good faith, throwing myself on the mercy and judgement of the Church who acted pastorally, compassionately and above all, fairly.

The Church cannot change her teaching on the dissolubility of marriage, she cannot re-write Scripture and this is why Archbishop Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith has this week sought to dampen down the expectation that the rules on remarried Catholics receiving communion will be altered. Furthermore the German diocese of Freiburg in Germany which issued new guidelines making it easier for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion has been instructed not to implement them.

This seems right and just on the one hand, but on the other it can seem lacking in justice and compassion for those who have been left in impossible situations. Is it really the right thing to expect a spouse to remain permanently bound to another, who has left them for another partner? Why should someone be forced to make a choice between finding another lifelong partner, someone who could in many instances act as a supplemental parental figure for their children giving them much needed stability and security, and their relationship with God?

The adage hard cases make bad law comes to mind, divorce may be becoming far more commonplace, however that does not mean that the Church should sanction or encourage it or relax her rules regarding annulments. The permanence of marriage needs to be upheld for the good of individuals and society as a whole.

But where does that leave those in heartbreaking and complex situations? Pope Francis’ announcement of a more pastoral approach is certainly welcome, those who are unable to receive communion need to know that they are still loved and welcomed by the Church and not excluded. Hopefully some pastoral solutions can be sought whether that be through extending the practice of annulments whilst keeping their rigorousness intact or some other unforeseen remedy. The Eastern Orthodox Church allows for remarriage in the spirit of penitence, in which the formerly married partner stays away from communion for a short period of time, but Archbishop Muller seems to have ruled this out for now.

Prevention is better than cure however, so rather than going with the spirit of the age in terms of attitudes to marriage, the Church needs more than ever to reinforce and explain the importance of the sacrament. There is no way of avoiding all marital break-ups but armed with a full understanding of the commitment and responsibilities of marriage as well as the circumstances that constitute validity, we stand a much better chance of not needing to be rescued from messes of our own making.

Catholic women rising


Okay, so this is a bit of an experiment, but I’d really like it to catch on and would also like the support of the entire Catholic blogosphere, certainly in the UK and what an amazing thing if this could go global.

Inspired by Deacon Nick Donnelly, who has such an inspirational apostolate with his Protect the Pope blog, my blood pressure rose when I saw that a certain ‘Catholic’ theologian is once again hinting at doctrinal changes, seemingly misunderstanding that these are simply not possible. This isn’t meant to be a personal attack on Tina Beattie herself, I can understand that it must be unnerving to feel constantly besieged by a group of bloggers on the internet, but in a recent interview in the Guardian she states:

The new pope must show that he is willing to engage seriously with women’s theological voices and moral perspectives in a way which is broadly representative of the diverse experiences and aspirations of women, and not just with a few carefully selected theological handmaids.

The Church is not a democracy. Furthermore doctrines cannot change, Catholicism is based upon the truth that was revealed to us by Jesus Christ and handed down by the apostles to their successors. Revealed truth cannot change, the deposit of faith is comprised of this revealed truth expressed in Scripture and sacred tradition and thus cannot change. The church does not have the power to change or remove anything that has been given to us by Christ and His Apostles.

It is beyond annoying being told what the Church should do in relation to women, by people who are either not Catholic, or want the Church to change her doctrine in order to accommodate their own personal agendas, whether that be to allow self-destructive behaviour, to validate their own insecurity or to give them more ‘power’, which is never a healthy thing. None of us should crave positions of power or leadership.

Many faithful Catholic women are fed up of being told that they are not representative of the Catholic faith, that they are somehow brainwashed or marginalised, that their Church hates them and that most Catholic women are against the Church’s teachings, especially with regards to contraception, abortion and the male priesthood, most of which is based on dodgy poll data.

Here’s what I’d like to do. I’m not sure if this blog is the best forum for it, but then again it is run by a married mother of 4 young girls, who is passionate about female equality and empowerment, it’s just my definition of what that looks like, is very different to that of militant feminists or unrepresentative politicians and journalists, who think working women is all about a high-powered job in a nice city office somewhere on mega-bucks, or perhaps a well-paid newspaper column working from home, whereas the reality for most working mothers and children is entirely different.

I’d like to get as many Catholic women as possible, to sign up in the comments box below, to say that they agree with the following statement.

I am a faithful practicing Roman Catholic woman, who attends Mass at least once a week and who believes in and practices the Church’s teachings, specifically pertaining to matters on sexuality, contraception, abortion, marriage and the ordination of women. I believe that the Roman Catholic Church is sympathetic to and representative of the needs and concerns of women and their children, wherever they may be in the world. I would like to offer our new Pope Francis, my prayers and support and thank him for his continued protection and support of mothers and their unborn children. I fully endorse Church doctrine in relation to women’s issues. 

This could be an amazing gift for the Year of Faith. Imagine if every single faithful Catholic woman were to pledge their solidarity to our new Pope and Church doctrine in one place. What a gift, blessing and comfort, not only for Pope Francis, but also for ALL the Catholic clergy, Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Monsignors, Priests, Deacons, as well as those members of the laity, who are engaged in catechesis. How heartening for them to see the fruits of their work and how loved, supported and appreciated they are by Catholic women everywhere.

Also, what an opportunity for catechesis this could be, in terms of promoting the New Feminism. If you do see this and you are a Catholic women who feels in good conscience that she cannot sign up, don’t leave a comment on this post, I’ll open up another sticky and we can get debate going there, or better still, discuss it with your priest, or someone you know who can sign in good faith.

What a message to the Pope, to the Church and to the world and media at large. We, the undersigned Catholic women, have a love for Christ and his Church burning in our hearts and we do not wish to alter or change doctrine one little bit. We are empowered by a beautiful teaching that recognises us as having an equal dignity and sets us free to live in love.

Smart Loving – reigniting the spark

My attention was drawn to the Smart Loving website in a letter by Edmund Adamus, director of Marriage and Family Life for Westminster Diocese, in this week’s Catholic Herald.

I’ve just spent some time scouting round the website which looks to be an excellent resource for single, engaged and married Catholics and Christians, whether in a relationship, looking for romance or simply wanting to reignite the spark.

Discover your unique love profile or take the quiz to discover whether your relationship needs some work to love smarter. There is also some useful information regarding spirituality and a
guide to getting started if you do not already pray as a couple and eight steps to deeper couple prayer. I cannot recommend strongly enough the benefits of praying as a couple as a way of increasing and deepening intimacy. I think many couples, especially when embarking on a relationship feel very self conscious at the idea of praying with one’s boyfriend or girlfriend, especially if the relationship doesn’t work out, or they are worried that the idea might put the other person off, but what can be more natural than wanting to help each other and walk together in one’s journey of faith and quest for holiness? To help each other deepen one’s eternal and everlasting relationship that extends beyond the mere earthly plain.

There is also a smart loving marriage seminar taking place in London, the weekend of 24 November, to enrich and empower married couples, commencing with Mass, opportunities for confession and including input from Theology of the Body.

Definitely worth attending, providing one can get babysitters!

A misogynist’s dream

The Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones has come in for a hefty amount of criticism for her shocking revelation that in two different relationships she resorted to desperate measures to conceive, i.e. nipping to the bathroom immediately after proceedings, to retrieve the used condom and impregnate herself.

Whilst no-one should condone the deceit implicit in her actions, it seems hard-hearted not to have some sympathy with her predicament. Catholic teaching on sex is highly controversial and misunderstood, but what lies at the heart of it is that the covenant between the spouses is integrated into God’s covenant with man. “Authentic married love is caught up into divine love”. CC 1639

The sexual act is ordered towards procreation. Not every sexual act will result in procreation, but this is its primary purpose, ordained by God. To exclude fertility from the act of sexual intercourse is in effect to kick out God.

John Paul II observed that contraception not only violates the procreative aspect of sex, but also the unitive aspect. (Sex should be unitive and procreative, for bonding and for babies). Sex should be a giving of the whole self to the other, which includes fertility. Janet Smith compares it to someone asking their partner to have sex with them but to put a bag over their head during sex because their partner’s hair is causing them annoyance. “I love you, but I don’t want a very important part of you here, something which would naturally belong”. To contracept, is to withhold something back from your partner.

The tragicomic and rather pathetic image of Liz Smith surreptitiously attempting to impregnate herself using sperm from freshly used condom is a physical embodiment of the perils of attempting to separate sex from procreation. Not only do we see her trying to regain something that she believes is rightfully hers, a natural gift or product of sex as opposed to an organic payment for an M&S ready meal, but we can also see how condoms can also be used as a tool of misogyny and to oppress women. Liz Jones is far from the only woman I know who is desperate to conceive a child, but whose partner refuses to countenance the idea, in many cases because he believes that the couple already has a sufficient number of children.

There something inherently cruel and not to mention selfish and misogynistic about denying a woman her innate and instinctive desire for a child. It treats a biological and entirely natural urge as if it is something unpleasant and nasty, a whim that is not going to be indulged. Of course this goes both ways, there are scenarios whereby a woman takes the pill in secret or against her partner’s wishes, but in either case it highlights the selfishness inherent in the act of contraception. I don’t want to have a baby, I’m going to keep that part of me to myself. I read with mounting horror a series of tweets suggesting that she ought to be prosecuted for stealing his property. It served to highlight the dangers of thinking that contraception is a failsafe method and how we seem to have cast aside the natural consequence of sex, the thought that someone could get pregnant without another’s explicit consent – how very shocking! What was her “crime”? Being prepared to do almost anything to fulfil her dreams of becoming a mother? Or using the sperm of her partner without his consent? Catholics are used to oh-so-witty renditions of Every Sperm is Sacred, criminalising a woman for using semen without consent takes that sentiment to a whole new level. If sperm remains the property of a man’s body at all times, it raises troubling questions for women about pregnancy and abortion.

That was also another worrying aspect. That fathers who may be deceived in this way, ought not be obliged to take any sort of responsibility for his children. Why should a man have to pay for a child that he didn’t want to have, tweeted one Lib Dem in outrage. Because it’s called “taking responsibility”. Time was it was universally agreed that sex is likely to result in children. Contraception seems to have lulled society into a false sense of security and thus when a child is conceived without express consent, it is viewed as an outrage, a burden, one that ought not to exist.

Many women were outraged by Liz Jones’ deliberately provocative statements, in which she implied that all women were deceitful liars prepared to go any lengths to have a baby and that men had better beware. All childless women in their late 30s and early 40s are possessed with a fervour to conceive according to Jones. It was an exaggerated caricature, but according to the 2001 study quoted, a significant proportion of women (42%) stated that they would lie to get pregnant against their partner’s wishes.

Contraception has enabled society to dictate expectations and conventions of ideal family size to women. To have more than 2 children is seen as either terribly vulgar and a feature of the lower-classes or as an upper class badge of wealth. Children are apparently expensive, so to be able to have lots of them, one must either rely on state benefits or an extensive private income.

Though I share women’s exasperation at the sweeping generalisations contained within Liz Jones’ confession, the resulting outrage proved that she had touched a nerve. What saddened me was the misogyny on display by women who would otherwise be passionate advocates of a woman’s right to her own fertility. Presumably the acceptable course of action would have been for Liz to have left her husband and embarked upon a costly course of sperm donation which stood an equally slim chance of success and would by it’s very nature excluded an involved biological father. The woman wanted to have a baby with her partner. That seems wholly natural and understandable, I don’t see the need to berate her for that. Of course he should not have been deceived, but it seemed that he was equally unwilling to compromise and perhaps rather heartless and selfish, not prepared to make the sacrifice required for either his wife, supposedly the most important person in his life, nor indeed for the new little baby.

It was saddening to see her described as a “mad bitch” by those who would normally condemn misogyny. Previous columns in which she detailed her struggles with over-spending and eating disorders were dredged up without anyone drawing the obvious link between the overspending and childlessness.

If any other female columnist mentioned a previous history of a struggle with anorexia or even self harm, which was subsequently used against them to prove current fragile mental health there would be uproar. There is nothing mad about being overwhelmed by a biological urge. Many many women testify to a sense of urgency to conceive in their late 30s, they are responding to a biological and hormonal stimulus. Liz Jones was responding to her body’s calling. It happens. Women who are desperate to conceive go to desperate lengths.
Had her attempts not involved deceit then no doubt this longing for a baby would have been lauded as evidence of how deserving she was of a child.

Perhaps Liz thought that once she presented her husband with a fait accompli he would come around? A baby should never be proposed as a solution to a marriage in difficulty as the demands of a newborn can place considerable strain on a marriage, but a baby can also prove to be an adhesive in marriage and a cause of deeper bonding, shared joy and intimacy.

It takes a heart of stone not to be moved by one’s own newborn child and to leave a woman because she has become pregnant by deception, is an act of cowardice. To forgive and courageously give, to accept life as it is and to do the best by one’s child, whether conceived on purpose, by accident or even deception is the mark of a real man.

Ideally a child should be conceived with the consent of both parents, but the amount of hate to which Liz Jones has been subjected for attempting to conceive minus the consent of her partner is disproportionate and concerning. Contraception was supposed to free and empower women but the inevitable flip side is that condoms put men firmly back in the driving seat. In a situation like that of Liz Jones, a husband may legitimately deprive his wife the chance of a child and she is vilified and penalised for disobedience. If a woman wishes to contracept against the wishes of her husband that is perfectly acceptable due to bodily autonomy, but she is denied the opportunity to conceive without express male consent.

Some might argue that this is a good thing, the child must be put first and it is better for a child not to exist at all if it is not wanted by its father. If that isn’t misogyny, if that isn’t an example of selfish control of a woman’s fertility, then I don’t know what is.

Contraception and abortion are a libertine’s dream. By stripping the sex its procreative ability, he strips it of any long-term commitment and convinces himself that his desire not to have children exonerates him from any responsibility should one accidentally result without his express consent.

A woman’s sole right to choose and determine her fertility should logically encompass her right to determine when to have a baby. A woman is considered mentally competent to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy but a determination to create a baby at any odds is universally condemned by men and women alike as proof of mental illness and selfishness.

That a woman can be the target of so much vitriol for nothing more than wanting to have a baby with her husband is stunning in a so-called age of liberation. That many women have reacted quite so angrily and protested so vehemently that Liz Jones is not representative, is very telling. Methinks they do protest too much. Children are never far from the thoughts of most childless women in their late 30s and 40s. Most would not lie or deceive their partners, but the potential is there nonetheless. Perhaps Liz Jones betrayed the sisterhood by pointing this out?

All in all a very sorry tale and one that has me counting my blessings for an authentic marriage, one that accepts and works with the natural order.

Kate’s confirmation

According to a press report that has just popped up on my Twitter feed, Kate Middleton was confirmed in a private service conducted by the Bishop of London last month as part of the preparations for her wedding service.

Apparently her decision had nothing to do with her wedding, but was part of a private journey of faith. Whilst it is heartening to learn that the couple have been in receipt of formal marriage preparation, which is a pre-requisite before couples may be allowed to marry in the Catholic Church, I can’t help but be slightly disappointed that this seems to have been kept something of a secret.

I can perhaps understand Kate’s reluctance to admit that the future wife of the Head of the Church of England was not in fact a practicing Christian, but it is a shame that she felt unable to make her news public. Confirmation signifies that one has a proper understanding of what it is to live as a disciple of Christ, part of this entails demonstrating faith in the community and bearing witness to the truth of Christ, thus her decision to keep this private, demonstrates a worrying conformity by those nominally in charge of the Church of England, to conform to the secular agenda of keeping faith behind closed doors, instead of actually living it.

Her confirmation should be a cause of celebration, a public bearing of witness, otherwise it risks being seen as a procedural exercise for the sake of form alone , a devaluation of an important sacrament and is yet another step towards undermining the established Church in this country, ironically by the very people who are sworn to defend it.


An ecumenical matter


As Royal Wedding fever begins to mount, there seems to be a surprising amount of apathy towards the couple from various Catholics on the blogosphere.

Whilst I admit that I was somewhat under-whelmed by the both wording and the timing of the prayer for the couple that was released last week by the Catholic Church in England and Wales, I struggle to see why many Catholic commentators are expressing indifference towards William and Kate’s nuptials.

Whether one likes or loathes the Royal Family, whether one is a fervent monarchist or committed republican, the monarchy is here to stay for the foreseeable future and thus as Christians we should celebrate that they are choosing to endorse the institution of marriage, which forms an important part of Catholic social teaching.

Though scoffed at by the liberal intelligentsia there are many who do still look to the royals to set an example, and I for one, was both dismayed and concerned that the royal couple seemed to be endorsing the practice of cohabitation, not least because it put Kate Middleton in a seemingly impossible position, unable to lead any sort of normal life, unable to carve out a career for herself and stuck in limbo until such time that William felt able to commit one way or the other. Of course it was desirable that he should not act hastily, but eight years seemed to be more than ample to decide whether or not this was the woman with whom he wished to spend the rest of his life.

William and Kate reflected today’s society in which cohabitation is a fact of life, a try-before-you-buy policy and certainly in their case the balance of power seemed to be one way, with Kate potentially having a lot more to lose had things not worked out. I am able to speak from the fairly unusual position of having cohabited before a marriage, as in the case of my annulled marriage, and also of having remained chaste before marriage and I can testify to the effectiveness of the latter in optimising one’s chances of a successful union. Though the blame for the breakdown of my first marriage cannot be solely attributed to cohabitation, it doubtless did not help us to make the transition from simply living together and sharing a house, to the permanency of marriage. Marriage entailed a lavish and expensive day, but the day after, neither of us felt any different, nothing had really changed, and as we both languished on the sofa the day after the wedding, nursing our hangovers, we even debated whether or not it would be worthwhile to cancel the honeymoon, given neither of us had any energy. Once the excitement of the wedding was over, there was nothing different, nothing new to look forward to.

When I properly entered into the sacrament of marriage, things could not have been more different. Everything was a novelty to the pair of us and highlighted the new status of our relationship. Even doing things like sharing the washing-up together, and sorting out various household tasks, reinforced the new intimacy between us. It was no longer his vicarage, but our family home, and even now, a few years later, having spent a few years dating before marriage, just the act of sharing the same bed to sleep in, still hasn’t quite lost that sparkle. There was a definite demarcation between simply going out and actually being married, there was a positive decision on behalf of the pair of both of us, a saying “yes”, a leap of faith, “this isn’t going to be easy, we won’t always feel as we do now, but I love you, I trust you and I am going to do my best to be the husband/wife that God is calling me to be”. It’s decidedly different from “well I’ve lived with you for x years, we share everything, why not, I think I can risk it and if it doesn’t work out there’s always a get-out clause”. The problem with cohabitation is, as far as I can discern it, is that there is always that get-out clause and its easy to carry that forward into a marriage as well as slide almost unthinkingly into matrimony. This sentiment is borne out by a recent study. Whereas in our case we had to make a positive decision with regards to whether or not to take our relationship to the next stage. It wasn’t without difficulty, chastity did not come without struggle for either of us, logistically had we lived together then we would not have encountered the difficulty with regards to my daughter’s school, she missed out on places at both the excellent C of E school that my husband was the governor of in his capacity of vicar, and indeed the equally good Catholic school, but it was certainly the right thing to do in terms of setting her a living example. Shortly after we got married, she exhibited signs of jealousy given that all of a sudden mummy was sharing a bedroom with dad and she felt excluded from the sleeping arrangements, although this was made up for by letting her choose the décor of her brand new bedroom, the painting of pink walls and the addition of lots of fairies, cupcakes and butterflies!

As Catholics we should not just shrug our shoulders at the forthcoming nuptials but actively wish the couple well, as we would with any other couple, regardless of status or privilege. Though it is tempting to be disdainful of the costs involved and the necessary pomp and pageantry, befitting the representatives of our country and solemnity of the occasion, given the prevailing economic gloom, it seems more than a little churlish to deny Kate Middleton her moment of glory. Though one doesn’t need to buy into the Royal Wedding fever currently being whipped up by the press, the idea of a street party being something of an anachronism from a by-gone age, if the Royal Wedding engenders a sense of community and enables friends and family to spend time reinforcing their bonds whilst celebrating the forging of a new one, then perhaps this isn’t such a bad idea after all. It might well be bread and circuses, but I’m sure most of us are, if nothing else, appreciating the extra day off and extension of the May bank holiday.

To note that as Catholics we should not be concerned by the behaviour of the Anglican monarchy from which we are disallowed, excluded, and which has no spiritual jurisdiction over us is misguided; actually the royal wedding is, in the words of Fr Ted Crilly, an ecumenical matter. In his book The Realm, Fr Aiden Nichols argues that Catholics need to reclaim Englishness and the institutions that stem from Catholic heritage, in order to build for the future. Though we may have doctrinal differences with Anglicanism, we need to recognise that the throne and the Church of England, are to quote Newman “breakwaters against infidelity”. They guard important elements of our Christian past and will slow down the process of secularisation, until such time, that the Catholic Church may genuinely renew its spiritual force.

Instead of defining ourselves by our political leanings, and  our  feelings towards the monarchy as a whole, we need to remember that we are first and foremost Christians, disciples of Christ and not forget the symbolism of marriage and the vital role it has to play within our faith and the building of a stable society.

Christians of all denominations should therefore unite in prayer and thanksgiving that the future King and Head of the Church of England is, albeit belatedly, embracing and endorsing the institution of marriage, before writing off the nuptials as irrelevant.


EMA, Marriage and “Emancipation”

I had a slight online altercation with Johann Hari on Twitter earlier this week. Altercation is probably too strong a word, more like I insinuated that his stance was slightly foolish, he attempted to justify it and then he ignored me. Quite right too. I have to confess to a shred of disappointment that I didn’t join that elite band of Tweeps who he has blocked – “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers”…

Mr Hari had, in his infinite wisdom, exhorted his followers to join a Facebook group entitled, “I would happily sacrifice my married couples’ tax allowance to save the EMA”.

The logic behind it being that EMA currently costs the treasury £500 million per annum with the proposed married couples’ tax allowance estimated at £550 million per annum. I don’t feel particularly inclined to discuss the EMA issue, other than to note that it seemed like a charming piece of naivety to assume that the coalition who are ideologically opposed to EMA, faced with an electorate who were declining a potential tax benefit, would say, “you know what, not many of our voters are that interested in receiving their £150 per annum, so let’s just keep the EMA after all”. They’d still cut EMA regardless.

The other point that this group failed to grasp was that the £150 a year, which they quantify in terms of buying married couples a Big Mac a week between them, compared to the resources needed to attend FE, is not about providing a financial incentive to marriage. What David Cameron appears to be wishing to do, is to provide married couples with a reward, for society to grant some recognition, no matter how small, to the contribution that marriage makes to society. Whether or not this is some sort of misguided sop to attempt to appease his core voters as well as an attempt to give a nod to the religious communities who all strongly advocate marriage, particularly in terms of being the most stable environment in which to bring up children, is a matter of conjecture. Whether or not it is a worthwhile use of resources is an entirely different matter and one on which people may draw their own conclusions.

The opposition would do well to avoid claims that it’s an attempt to bribe people to get married or stay in abusive relationships; £150 will probably buy you a wedding cake and marriage licence, but that’s about it, certainly not enough to make couples commit to marriage in their droves. Equally no woman suffering from domestic abuse is likely to be swayed to stay in that relationship by the offer of £150. Many women in those situations (and I am loath to employ generalisations on this topic) are not likely to be in control of their finances and thus £150 will make no odds. I should imagine that when fleeing one’s home to a refuge with your children, taking the bare essentials, that lost £150 or Big Mac per week is going to be the last thing on one’s mind. What many detractors to the Married Couples’ Tax Allowance are against, is the idea that society might reward or recognise marriage as being the ideal, which conflicts with their personal ideology and situation and allegedly “judges” those who are not married. If the Opposition are going to fight this, they need to make a serious economic case, instead of anti-marriage rhetoric and talk of forcing women to stay in dangerous relationships. There needs to be dialogue about whether or not this would amount to unfair penalisation of single mothers and whether or not the government should legislate for private morality; not reduce the argument to a banal statement about whether or not married couples need an extra burger a week, side-stepping the entire issue.

The group itself is disingenuous in its objectives, and Johann Hari short-sighted in promoting it. When I probed him on it, he unsurprisingly patronised me by informing me that it was in the Tory party manifesto and that I needed to do some research on it. Rightyho then Johann, let’s just assume that most folk on Twitter expressing some sort of political opinion didn’t bother to acquaint themselves with party manifestos. Given that there currently is no Married Couples’ Tax Allowance for the under 75s, it is simply being discussed as a possibility in the next budget, it seems rather daft to be renouncing something that you don’t actually have. Makes you look, dare I suggest, a touch stupid.

My other niggle was that given Johann Hari is neither married or in a civil partnership, I take umbrage at him strongly suggesting that people should volunteer to relinquish a tax benefit that he himself would not be party to. “I want you to give up your extra £150 for students in FE, but I’m not going to because I don’t get it anyway”. Although, if I’m honest, I’d probably bristle at any well-paid commentator for a national newspaper telling me to give up money, given that I’m in less of a position to be able to afford it. The statement lacked integrity. His response to this was “but my taxes are going to be used to pay the new subsidy”. Sorry to let you in on a teensy wee secret Johann but death and taxes are a fact of life and there will always be disagreement as to how taxes will be spent. I’m also a taxpayer and there are plenty of things that I cannot abide my taxes going on. A democracy elects a government whom they hope will best represent their wishes on how to spend taxes and manage the economy, amongst other things.

The aspect that riled me the most however, was the attempt to rally political activism by means of a Facebook group. Don’t get me wrong, the internet and social media are extraordinarily useful tools in building online communities, gathering together support and fellowship and hopefully building coherent groups, but they are only a part of the story, only part of the armory in achieving real social and political change, no matter what one’s cause or ideology. To rely too heavily on the internet, be it blogs, social media, or both in combination is to waste opportunity. Though I find Twitter immensely useful in terms of keeping abreast of developments and in forming useful relationships and finding Catholic fellowship; one major drawback, is that too much time reading a liturgical blog can, if one is not careful, detract one from reading the source material itself. One picks up bite size chunks of this and that, without ever reading the text in its entirety, meaning that one is unable to form critical judgements, only gleaning from the opinions of others.

Reliance solely upon social media, risks, as the Pope said this week in his message for the 45th World Communications Day, enclosing ourselves in a parallel universe, and must not replace authentic human encounters. In terms of political or social activism, it can encourage laziness. In terms of spirituality it must not replace prayer or meditation, instead providing aids, such as the Universalis application, for example.

If we examine how social change has come about throughout history, it has been through cogent protest, demonstration and activism. What has had more impact, the student demonstrations and occupations, or an online protest group with say 1,000 members? It’s one thing to spout polemic on the internet, another thing to actually get up and do something, whether that be to protest, or to practically help those in need, instead of simply talking about them. Same applies for Christian spirituality. It’s not enough to go to Church every week, you need to actually live your faith by word and deed, proclaim and live the Gospel, not just tick the weekly Mass obligation box.

It is not enough to simply click “like” or “join” on a social media group and feel like you’ve done your job, if change is what you desire. The internet is not “the means of human emancipation”.

Which is why, Johann Hari, I found your exhortations more than a little lame.