Some fascist objections

I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but in the light of the Question Time online Twitter storm and bullying that came my way, it was suggested that I find a way of logging all the incidents/abuse that come my way as a result of defending the prospect that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life.

The columnist who arguably was responsible for drawing a lot of heat my way is one Benjamin Cohen who according to his biography was  formerly of Channel 4 news and is now the founder of Pink News, a columnist for the Evening Standard and Gay Times. So it’s fair to note that in terms of impact and and influence, in engaging with me he is punching well below his weight. He has almost 17,000 Twitter followers and platforms in the national media. I have 2,000 followers or thereabouts and am not a regular contributor to mainstream media, aside from when I am invited on at the request of a producer or editor to explain a Catholic or socially conservative position. I don’t know whether or not my weekly Universe column counts.

In any event he has decided that I am worthy of his attention and began to follow me on Twitter following the Question Time affair. On several occasions yesterday he did that passive aggressive trick of using a full stop before my Twitter handle, before going on to misrepresent my position.

My crime – being friends with a transgender woman. Actually his ire is mainly directed onto her, for being friends with such a hateful person such as myself and because she takes a pro-life position, her view being shaped by the fact that she was adopted. Furthermore she disagrees with the concepts of surrogacy and IVF, not on religious grounds, but accepting the science that human life begins at conception. Worst still she believes that surrogacy exploits women and that every child deserves the chance of a loving mother and father.

So at time of blogging, I’ve had another non-stop 18 hours of unsolicited and unprovoked online aggression from the gay Twitterati and their supporters. Benjamin Cohen went from attacking a woman for her friendship with me, to inexplicably claiming to all his followers that I think that his lovely niece should not exist, after randomly attacking my position on IVF. He’s then gone on to justify his position that my gay friends should shun me because no one should be friends with someone who wants to deny them their rights; he would not be friends with anyone who would deny him his rights as a gay man or indeed as a Jew.

There’s a lot to unpick here, but I’ll try to address the points briefly.

1) – It is bigoted to try to undermine or dictate friendships of which you do not approve. It is more than possible to be friends with someone who takes an entirely opposite ideological point of view to yourself, accepting that they do so in good faith. I am friends with many LGBT Christians and progressive Anglicans who believe entirely different things to me on the subject of marriage and ordination of women to the priesthood, but that does not hinder our friendship or closeness.

2) Godwin’s law time. Believing that marriage should be defined as a union between a man and a woman does not equate to facism or Nazism. Marriage is not a universal human right. If it were then brothers and sisters could get married or any two people who declared a love between each other, regardless of blood ties or age. The only ostracism or turning one group into ‘untouchables’ or second-class citizens is coming from the LGBT lobby and their supporters who wish to take to the internet to undermine friendships and defend their proposition that no-one should be friends with me, or indeed anyone who takes a similar position. We must be isolated, ostracised and hated. Which is why Benjamin Cohen has repeatedly ridiculed and misrepresented my position to all his followers, to ensure that they turn their hatred and derision on me. He’s already posted a video of Lynette Burrows comparing me to her, after he debated her at the Oxford Union, saying that my language is similar to hers. This is disingenuous in that Lynette not only used sexually inappropriate language she also made some wild and unsubstantiated and provocative claims. My language and tone has been infinitely more measured. If you look at my online activity I do not go about soliciting attacks on LGBT advocates or inciting my followers to have a go at gay marriage supporters. The aggression here has been solely one-sided. I’ve had 18 hours of being compared to Nazis and specious arguments.

3) Objection to IVF does not mean that I wish babies who have been brought into this world out of existence. Furthermore my objections to it are across the board – regardless of sexuality. I object to IVF on a number of ethical grounds. The amount of sheer wastage of embryos involved in the process, as Lord Alton has noted, is on an industrial scale. I also believe that it is inefficient as a treatment. The success rates are shockingly low for a process which is emotionally and physically costly. Clinics exploit the desperation and misery of women as Professor Sir Robert Winston, one of the original pioneers agrees. I also have some scientific concern about the process, which seems to be born out by health outcomes. Children born from IVF have a greater risk of health complications and treatment cycles can prove harmful, for example it doubles the rate of non-fatal ovarian cancer in women. I don’t have a problem with the children who are conceived, rather the way in which people have gone about conceiving them. IVF is a sticking plaster, a gruelling way of circumnavigating infertility without addressing the underlying causes and in common with all issues concerning human life, a technique developed out of compassion has been exploited and distorted as being a human right.

From a Catholic point of view, I object because children have the right to be conceived from the natural embrace of their mother and father; to use IVF separates the unitive and procreative elements of sexual intercourse, which is contrary to Catholic teaching. IVF turns the child into a commodity to be made in a laboratory and makes doctors, technicians and even the sales and finance staff in the clinic, part of the conception process.

4) Surrogacy. As above, the surrogacy process once agains treats children as a commodity. The surrogacy industry exploits women as being nothing more than wombs for rent and disregards the importance of the gestational link between mother and child, which a recent study demonstrates, could be even more important than splitting the genetic link as provided by donor eggs and sperm. Basically studies are beginning to confirm the psychosomatic upset caused to mother and child alike when a child is cut off from the emotional and physical bond built up between them and their mother. We know that when a woman is subjected to high levels of stress in her pregnancy that this can have an adverse affect on the health of her unborn child. We also know that there is already a bond between an unborn child and their gestational mother, one that is not merely imaginary but assisted by hormone production. Any mother of a newborn will rave about the effects of Oxytocin, the happiness hormone, which is produced in pregnancy but also designed to be reinforced post birth, by eye-gazing, skin to skin contact and breast-feeding. As the mother of four, it’s something I have experienced repeatedly, all of my children would instantly be quietened by the simple act of my picking them up as babies, while my husband would look on in bewildered awe. I remember placing my babies next to me in my hospital bed lifting them out of fish tank provided; just lying next to me would comfort and silence a bout of crying.

As this link points out:

this oxytocin link not only facilitates key physiological processes in the baby’s development, but also helps the mother to recover after delivery. It promotes bonding patterns between the mother and neonate and creates desire for further contact. In fact, the powerful imprinting for mother and baby from the oxytocin release during breastfeeding occurs chiefly “so that mother and baby will be able to find and recognize each other in the hours and days after birth.”[1] Most importantly, studies show “the resulting high or low level of oxytocin will control the permanent organization of the stress-handling portion of the baby’s brain—promoting lasting ‘securely attached’ or ‘insecure’ characteristics in the adolescent and the adult.”[2]

All of this essential maternal-child melding and mother-to-baby recognition is proactively disrupted when the surrogate mother hands her baby over to its sociological parents. We can only guess how long the resulting love-vacuum is felt, consciously by the surrogate mother and subconsciously by the baby. Nor can we know when failure to experience this gestational link might morph into a panoply of insecure behavior on the part of the surrogate child/adolescent/adult: anti-socialism, aggression, difficulty forming lasting bonds with a mate, mental illness, and poor handling of stress.[3]

According to a study conducted by Dr Susan Golombok of Cambridge University  published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry in 2013, children born with the help of a surrogate may have more adjustment problems – at least by the age of 7 – than those born to their mother via donated eggs and sperm. [4]

Second, this study showed that, if the sociological mother exhibited maternal distress when the surrogate child was 3 years old (particularly over whether to tell the child about his surrogate birth), this distress was predictive of adjustment problems for the 7-year-olds who, after being told of their surrogate birth, “conceivably…felt less secure when faced with their mother’s emotional problems.”

Another Golombok study [5] in 2011 revealed that the absence of a 7-year-old child’s genetic or gestational link to his sociological mother caused the mother’s interaction with her surrogate child (and vice versa) to be less warm and less mutually responsive and cooperative.

Denying that babies need their gestational mothers is damaging for mothers and babies alike. It treats babies as little more than consumer objects and women as commodities for hire. You don’t need to be a religious bigot to condemn the misery and exploitation of women engendered in countries where commercial surrogacy is rife.

5) Sperm Donation. Same with egg donation. Anything that treats another human being as a commodity to be exploited and denies the right of the child to their natural parent is morally abhorrent. Here’s the  testimony of one woman conceived by sperm donation.

All children deserve a loving mother and father. In a world which demands that we have equal numbers of women in the workplace, politics and the media, why then is the prospect that all children deserve the equality of a man and a woman parenting them deemed to be so outré?

Countless studies hold up the model of children being raised in a loving long-term stable relationship between their biological parents as being the gold standard. Every single piece of research which aims to justify surrogacy or same-gendered parents concedes this by attempting to demonstrate equality of outcomes.

Same-sex parenting and surrogacy are still a relatively new modern phenomenon. Every single study  is flawed in its objectivity, methodology and focus. David Benkof, a gay Jew like Benjamin Cohen, analyses the difficulties here. These experiences may not be representative but interviews with children brought up by same sex parents make harrowing reading.

No-one is arguing that sexuality renders you a bad parent, the argument is that children fare best being brought up in relationships with their biological mothers and fathers and that every child has an innate desire or instinct to know their identity, to know who and where they are from. This is innately accepted when children are being placed for adoption. I wonder whether in 30 years time we’ll see a glut of adults actively seeking out not only their biological parents, but also their gestational mothers?

The response from the LGBT community is to attempt to use academia and the language of pseudo-science and equality to justify their desire for children. Studies are trotted out in an attempt to prove that children are not harmed, supported by contentious gender theory which attempts to blur the differences between men and women to qualify the proposition that mothers and fathers are irrelevant. All that is needed is loving, caring ‘parents’. Because they ‘need’ to use surrogacy and sperm donation in order to have children, then to state that the rights of the children come first is deemed ignorant, hateful and worthy of derision. LGBT people have to reclaim their high-ground and narrative as perennial victims, excluded from the specious ‘human right’ of parenting through no fault of their own. They literally have no other choice but to use the body of another. That so much justification is needed, is precisely why I have termed this ‘Jurassic Park’ politics – too busy thinking about whether or not they could, to worry about whether or not they should.  To state the importance of biological parents, to want to nurture and respect the family and above all place value on human life, from the very moment of conception is not born out of any hatred or wish to marginalise. What is more important, the rights of everyone to have a child whenever they want one, or the rights of a child to have their loving mum or dad? Who are we to wilfully deny or deprive a child of that for our own selfish ends and desires?

The term phobia is bandied about a lot and people recognise that a lot of objection is based on fear. While I’m not scared of people’s private decisions regarding their sexuality, actually the notion that children do not need their loving mothers and fathers does terrify me. The notion that a woman’s body can be commoditised or used as a vehicle to provide someone else with a child, does scare me, as does the idea that it’s okay to take children away from their mothers and that the gestational link is unimportant. This profoundly damages women, along with their babies and men too. It treats human beings and human life as nothing more as a consumer product. It does not encourage errant fathers to take responsibility for their offspring for starters. If a child doesn’t really need a mother and a father, then what’s to stop the state from taking children into care to raise according to their norms of child-rearing? If a child doesn’t need it’s mum and dad, then what’s to stop a child being removed from a parent who has the wrong views or ideology and given to a more loving and ‘tolerant’ set of parents?

This might seem rather far-fetched, but I am worried about a world which wants to tell my four girls that they are not automatically the best mothers for any children that they might have. Their job is merely to produce children, but they should not be guaranteed the right to raise them. It would be the same were I to have little boys, I’d worry about their being reduced to mere sperm donors.

That people are smugly favouring Ben Cohen’s tweet about not being a second class-citizen due to his sexuality or Judaism, when I did not suggest this reprehensible idea and wishing that ‘people like you did not exist’ because I believe that no-one has a right to deliberately deprive a child of the chance of being brought up by their mum and dad, really frightens me. As does a mainstream media commentator happily describing me as a fascist or comparing my view to anti-semitism and getting his friends (including a BBC London Radio presenter) to agree and endorse that point of view.

I’m also concerned by the bullying of my friend, who is being treated as a traitor to the LGBT cause and threatened with exposés in the gay press, simply because she does not conform to the narrow-minded proscribed ‘rights’ agenda, which dictates that all people must think the same. They are also irritated that she has not only been nominated by several people to win an award for LGBT diversity and engagement, but that she wishes to pursue a political career, which is why they are going after her with such enthusiasm. A trans-woman who accepts the sanctity of life and the rights of children to be brought up by a loving mums and dads in a position of political influence? That must not be allowed.

 A gay man can be a great father, but he cannot be a mother. A lesbian can be a lovely mother, but she can’t be a father. Why is a statement that a baby particularly needs their mother, that all children need both their parents deemed to be  so radical, offensive and deemed to be up there with Nazi policy’s of mass extermination?

We live in a world in which the following statements can be uttered as truths without so much of a hint of irony.

https://twitter.com/jesszkey/status/460556781312565248

https://twitter.com/jesszkey/status/460699509878964224

Even Orwell would have found it fantastical.

This isn’t religious persecution, but illustrates my previous point about Dominic Grieve and fundamentalism. No one is having a go at me because I am Catholic, although they might use my faith to demonstrate alleged irrationality or claim that it’s proof that I want to oppress. Catholicism is an easier target than addressing the very real ethical objections, as is personal attack and smear.

Far easier to attack me as a fundamentalist, a person who wishes to repress minorities and stop them from exercising their spurious rights to children, than to tackle the issue of whether children ought to have a mum and a dad and whether or not life is an exploitable commodity.

Scary times indeed.

Update: Ben Cohen believes that this post falsely accuses him of calling me a Nazi and a fascist. He has requested my address on Twitter to pass on to his solicitor and has given me until midnight to retract.

Ben did not explicitly call me a fascist or Nazi but his tweets which made reference to his Judaism, did in my opinion imply that my views were comparable; one of his friends replied to me asking whether or not I would be friends with a fascist in the context of my friendship with a transgendered woman. Another of his followers compared my stance with racism. Someone else said that I would have been manning a machine gun in the tower at the entrance to a concentration camp in ’40’s Germany.

Combined with the fact that after my Question Time appearance one of his followers wished that I would ‘die soon and hopefully your Nazi family will follow shortly’ I interpreted these references to being compared with fascists and Nazis.

But following his threat of legal action and demands for my address, I am happy to make clear that Benjamin Cohen himself did not explicitly call me a fascist or Nazi.

To reiterate, this whole conversation was begun when Ben interjected into a brief non-related remark I made stating that both social conservatives and progressive LGBT advocates would do well to mix outside of their tribal bubbles and engage with and listen to each other.

People are still rumbling on that it’s my fault for advocating extreme views.

Sometimes the avalanche and seemingly relentless of hate and threats makes me physically shake with fear and retch.

Tonight my husband commented that people want to get me, if they could they would lock me up and throw away the key, showing no mercy. It’s unnerving to say the least.

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[1]  http://www.thebabybond.com/BondingMatters.html (last accessed: 28/4/2014)

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4]  Golombok, Susan et al, “Children born through reproductive donation: a longitudinal study of psychological adjustment,” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry54:6(2013): 653-660

[5] Golombok, Susan et al, “Families created through surrogacy: Mother-child relationships and children’s psychological adjustment at age 7,” Dev. Psychol.47:6(2011):1579-1588.  

Catholic blogging

Both the Catholic Herald’s Op Ed and Bishop Egan’s press release, firmly hit the button when it comes to Catholic blogging and social media.

It’s balance that all of us have struggled to achieve at some point or other. I know that my output has suffered at times, it’s hard to retain perspective when you have a small group of people, intent on destroying your professional reputation and even attempt to interfere in your husband’s vocation, fuelled by a heady combination of resentment and jealousy.

It’s part of the inevitable cost of propounding an orthodox Catholic perspective on the internet which will invariably attract negative attention from those to whom your message, your values and everything that you stand for is a complete anathema.

I’ve refrained from joining the Protect the Pope brouhaha, despite the fact that on the whole I overwhelmingly support Nick Donnelly’s work, because communications between a Bishop and one of his clergy should be private – I don’t know what was said, the Bishop’s motivations for asking Deacon Nick to take a pause and whether or not he intends this to be a permanent state of affairs.

I’ve heard Deacon Nick speak a few times on EWTN’s Celtic Connections and it’s hard to reconcile this image that many would wish to paint of a bat-guano spittle-flecked mentalist, with the polite, softly-spoken, reasoned and  theologically educated gentleman who loyally, faithfully and accurately defends and reflects magisterial teaching and corrects errors being propounded in allegedly Catholic publications, blogs and the mainstream media.

But so much can be lost in tone, and admittedly in recent times, without wishing to be either treacherous or traitorous to Deacon Nick, whom I admire greatly, I do agree with some commentators that the tone of his blog has, perhaps unintentionally, come across as overtly aggressive or perhaps lacking in charity.

I’ll go a bit further and put my neck on the line to say that personally, I have been dismayed to witness attacks, not only from Protect the Pope, but from other members of blogosphere on my own bishop, Kieran Conry, which call his orthodoxy into question. From my personal perspective Bishop Kieran has always been a kind, orthodox bishop, who has behaved in a deeply pastoral and understanding fashion, not only to my family, but to me personally.

I don’t want to make this post about Bishop Kieran per se (and I will delete uncharitable comments) but as Robin said in this month’s Catholic Life magazine, Kieran was the one to give Robin the nudge he really needed and when Robin went to see him back in Easter 2010, told him that he had no other option other than to offer his resignation to his Anglican bishop and become a Catholic, whilst rightly, at the same time, making no promises about future vocation. This is not the mark of an unorthodox bishop and neither are his recent initiatives of  reviving the Catholic practice of  abstaining from meat on Friday (which looks set to be taken up by other Bishops’ conferences around the world), encouraging Catholics take prayer into their work-place and most recently getting people back to confession by promoting the sacrament. As our diocesan bishop he deserves and has earned our loyalty and personal respect.

Both of us have found some of the attacks on him quite hard to swallow, but such can be the vehemence and bitterness involved on the Catholic blogosphere, we have refrained from commenting or entering into the fray. That fact is very telling. Also while some bloggers have written some things with which I disagree, or have found uncharitable, overall the quality of their output has been high. All of us have the odd off-post – the nature of blogging is amateur and while we should aim for highest standards of truth and accuracy, overall if someone continues to write unpalatable stuff, then there is always the option to stop reading it as opposed to picking public fights, which contravene scriptural principles. Catholic ideals of tolerance entail that divergences of opinion mean that rejecting another’s ideology or view is not commensurate with rejecting that person’s friendship. Half the problem, especially on Twitter has been a stasi-like attempt to dictate friendships and make others guilty of a crime of association. We are not a cult, calling out heterodoxy is not the same thing as shunning, yet interestingly enough it has been the liberal contingents who reject vast swathes of Catholic teaching who have been the ones attempting to target and isolate orthodox voices of reason who communicate with those of a more strident bent and turn certain bloggers such as ‘Eccles’, into untouchables.

Getting back to the Deacon Nick furore, it seems to me that a pause is not quite the same thing as being censored or silenced. We don’t know all of the circumstances. I am inclined to charity on both sides. Recently there has been a fashionable tendency by some Catholics to denigrate or deride Deacon Nick’s blog for its focus upon magisterial teachings regarding sexuality rather than themes of Catholic Social Teaching which impact on political issues. Deacon Nick has been sneered at for appearing obsessed with sexuality or others’ orthodoxy which seems to me to be unfair. He seems to have been under attack from several factions which as I know from personal and bitter experience, can make one overtly defensive and short on patience. While it’s tempting to keep steaming on regardless and not let the beggars get to you, sometimes a pause is wise – it gives you time to spiritually recharge and return stronger and more refreshed. It isn’t necessarily a silencing.

We all have our specialist focus areas, while I often get written off as a religious bigot, the focus of my blog is often deliberately theologically-lite, mainly because others do this better and because I am aware that I have a wide cross-section of readers. One could almost classify it as ‘Catholic in name only’, except that would imply a measure or level of dissent, whereas I adhere to and endorse the catechism of the Catholic church in its entirety. My focus tends to be upon pro-life issues, especially abortion and on the failures and shortcomings of contemporary feminism. Deacon Nick’s focus is transparent. Vatican II urges the laity to take the initiative therefore if people believe that Deacon Nick’s blog has a one-sided focus, there is nothing to stop them from setting up their own and plugging the perceived gap, instead of attempting to dictate to others what they should and should not write about.

I’ve never really thought about my aims in any depth, I blog on the hoof, as and when the urge takes me,  fitted in around the other responsibilities I have to juggle, but if I had to pin it down, I guess my aims would be to demonstrate that it is possible to lead a happy and fulfilled joyful life as a Catholic woman, to inspire others to enquire and look more deeply into the Catholic faith themselves, as well as change hearts and minds regarding the rights of the unborn. As a Catholic woman surrounded by contradictory and confusing messages about the role of women in society, I aim to offer comment and common sense from a socially conservative perspective.

So I’d be unlikely to be one of those bloggers likely to fall foul of the bishops. Also let’s not forget the massive elephant in the room here, I am obviously constrained by what I can and cannot say for a number of obvious reasons. My obligations and responsibilities mean that I cannot be so free and easy with my opinions as others, even when I am dying to correct misinformation which is out there, or highlight an injustice or issue which might be of concern to Catholics. There are several times I find myself having to sit on my hands and recent situations have highlighted the  appeal of blogging pseudonymously which may mean that one doesn’t get quite the same platform, but do at least allow you to speak freely without compromising your work or family’s confidentiality.

But the main reason that I refrain from getting involved in inter-Church politics is simply to avoid the backlash and nastiness, not least to my family, should give all blogging Catholics pause for thought. If Bishops don’t always take the internet as seriously as they should, it’s because they are put-off by the reams of nastiness and uncharitable comment out there and have perhaps been misled into thinking that the Catholic blogosphere consists of uninformed, unkind ranting on specialised issues which are of no concern to the faithful at large. Which is why bishops often ignore correspondence pertaining to the internet. They think it’s one big messy squabble out of which no-one comes out well.

Bloggers should be aware that they are not as influential as some might like to think – none of the parishioners in any of parishes which I have attended in the past few years have ever discussed the shenanigans on the blogs or Twitter. Most of them didn’t even know I even blogged, or was a member of Catholic Voices until they unexpectedly caught a few seconds of me on the telly or radio. It might seem a big deal to us, or other Catholics if we’re on the BBC, or have millions of people reading our blogs, but I bet Deacon Nick or Fr Tim Finigan, to name two of the biggest independent bloggers aren’t regularly mobbed in Sainsburys. Nor, I should imagine are the professionals, such as Joe Kelly of the Universe, Madeleine Teahan, Francis Phillips, Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith, Luke Coppen, Tim Stanley, or even Damian Thompson. The most I’ve ever had is a mother in the playground tell me she saw me on TV and thought I scrubbed up really well and looked totally different, and someone ask were they drunk or did they really see me on the news in the pub on a Friday night?!

We shouldn’t get too big for our boots, but we should also remember who and what it is we represent and act with dignity, respect and charity at all times. If we want both the bishops and the public at large to take us seriously, which we should, especially if there are serious issues which need tackling, (Cramner made an interesting point about whether or not bloggers would have drawn attention to clerical child abuse had they been about at the time) then independent voices such as those on the blogosphere are vital, so we need to make sure that we do not waste the opportunity.

The ever sardonic tweeter Heresy Corner, a.k.a Nelson Jones, has frequently wryly and sardonically observed the similarities between online in-fighting amongst Catholic and feminist circles. It’s inevitable to some extent given the fallenness of human nature, but publicly quarrelling ourselves into irrelevance and obscurity while those with the power to actually change things, ignore pressing issues relating to matters such as catechesis and the spread of heterodoxy, is Dawkins’ dream.

But it’s a testament to the overall quality of amateur bloggers that many of us who aren’t clerics like Fr Tim or Fr Ray Blake, such as Laurence England, Greg Daly and Megan Hodder, to name but a few, have been picked up by not only Catholic publications, but also by the wider mainstream media as a whole. It is in part thanks to my blog, that media researchers googling for an alternative point of view on a topic have given me a much wider global platform than I could ever imagined when I started and one that has resulted in a regular weekly column and radio show.

It’s vital for Catholicism that both the laity and clerics continue to speak in the public square, have a voice in the mainstream media as well as contribute to internal discussion.  If we want to be heard, we need to up our game and make sure that we are worth listening to.

The taboo of behaviour change

Most people accept and acknowledge that behaviour is an important factor when it comes to matters of health. Although we cannot change our genetics, certain people are predisposed towards conditions such as cancer, there are things that we can do to mitigate risk and attempt to maintain optimum health. We know that smokers substantially increase their chances of contracting disorders affecting their pulmonary and circulatory systems, we accept that eating saturated fats and salt in large quantities increases our risk of heart attacks, we accept that obesity is linked to diabetes and that ideally we should eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day as well as take regular exercise.

Very few people kick up a fuss when the benefits of adopting certain behaviours are suggested and promoted by the government, we know that excessive drinking is bad for us, we know that pregnant women shouldn’t smoke and various health authorities and advisors are playing around with the idea of financially incentivising or discouraging certain behaviours in the interest of public health. One health authority is trialling the idea of financially rewarding mothers who breastfeed with a voucher system, in order to reboot and kick start a culture of breastfeeding which, if the mother is able to do so (the overwhelming majority of women can breastfeed with the right advice and support) is best for the child. We’ve seen minimum alcohol pricing introduced in Scotland and mooted in the UK, along with taxes on fast food, dubbed the ‘fat tax’. There’s also talk of making vaccinations compulsory for children in order to qualify for child benefit.

So why  is it, when it comes to issues of sexual health, proposing certain behaviours should be adopted, such as abstinence until marriage and remaining faithful and monogamous to one sexual partner only, becomes the subject of immense vitriol and scorn?

Those who follow me on Twitter, would do well to have a look at an illuminating discussion held over the course of the last few days. Leaving aside the usual awfulness comprised of “you have bizarre morals, you’d rather your children got cancer than had sex, you are twisted, everyone hates you, oh look now you’re playing victim again, you’re only doing this for attention, you ought to get off Twitter, no one listens to you and thank God you are not like most Catholics” (requisite skin of a rhinoceros is yet to form, it is hard to repeatedly attract such unfounded abuse) what seemed to be causing unprecedented amounts of opprobrium was the idea that sexual behaviour is key in terms of maintaining optimal sexual health and avoiding the transmission of STDs.

The first issue being that of the HPV vaccine which it is recommended that girls receive in early adolescence before they commence sexual activity. In a misleading advertising campaign, the NHS suggests that once the girls receive the vaccine they are therefore “armed for life”. As this interview with one of the lead researchers responsible for the development of the vaccine used in the UK, Gardasil, makes clear, HPV vaccination has its disadvantages as well its advantages. Instead of being armed for life, as the NHS advert suggests, the vaccine has a limited effect, lasting up to 15 years maximum.

Armed for life, or 5-15 years? Armed against every strain, or just a few?
Armed for life, or 5-15 years? Armed against every strain, or just a few?

The vaccine is not an immunisation against cervical cancer, but rather the HPV virus, which is present in almost all forms  of cervical cancer and believed to be responsible for the condition. While considering whether or not one ought to allow one’s child to be vaccinated, one needs to weigh up all information available, such as efficacy and benefits versus the risks.

As with all vaccines, there are risks with Gardasil, including auto-immune disorders and even death, although these are rare. As Marcia Yerman points out, this vaccine does not protect women for life, they can still get other HPV infections which are not covered by the jab and they must not neglect regular cervical smear tests, which are vital in terms of discovering and treating pre-cancerous cells.

An immunisation may protect you from certain forms of HPV which could lead to cancer, however cervical cancer is as my gynaecologist once put it, “one of the must stupid cancers to die from” in that is is easily treatable if caught early. Regular pap smears detect abnormal or precancerous cells which are then promptly removed before they have a chance to develop into full-blown cancer.

The best way to avoid infection with HPV, which is a purely sexually transmitted disease, is to limit the number of sexual partners you have, the ideal being to have just one sexual partner and remain faithful them to the rest of your life. If your sexual partner has equally never had any sexual contact with anyone else then your risk of developing an HPV infection which could lead to cancer is negligible. Worringly, there seems to be an emergence of head and neck cancers related to HPV infection, contracted through oral sexual contact.

While HPV vaccination could prevent infection, aside from the small risks of an adverse reaction, the danger is not that it will encourage promiscuity, (and regardless of vaccine, promiscuous behaviour is risky) but that it will encourage the phenomenon of risk compensation, as experienced by Professor Edward Green, former Professor of HIV Prevention at Harvard. Believing that they have been immunised against cervical cancer, girls may be encouraged not to use barrier forms of contraception and/or engage in sexual behaviour that they would otherwise have avoided, under the illusion that they were safe and protected. Most concerning is that they may be discouraged from participating in the cervical screening programme, (most women approach their smear with reluctance, no-one relishes the experience, it is a necessary uncomfortable part of health care) believing that they are protected from cervical cancer. An HPV jab isn’t going to prevent the development of precancerous cells let alone treat them.

Pap smears have never killed anyone. Pap smears are an effective screening tool to prevent cervical cancer. Pap smears alone prevent more cervical cancers than vaccines. The argument is best summed up by Marcia Yerman thus:

Gardasil is associated with serious adverse events, including death. If Gardasil is given to 11 year olds, and the vaccine does not last at least fifteen years, then there is no benefit – and only risk – for the young girl. Vaccinating will not reduce the population incidence of cervical cancer if the woman continues to get Pap screening throughout her life.

If a woman is never going to get Pap screening, then a HPV vaccine could offer her a better chance of not developing cervical cancer, and this protection may be valued by the woman as worth the small but real risks of serious adverse events. On the other hand, the woman may not value the protection from Gardasil as being worth the risk knowing that 1) she is at low risk for a persistent HPV infection and 2) most precancers can be detected and treated successfully. It is entirely a personal value judgment.

What is left out is that 95% of all HPV infections are cleared spontaneously by the body’s immune system. The remaining 5% progress to cancer precursors. Cancer precursors, specifically CIN 3, progresses to invasive cancer in the following proportions: 20% of women with CIN 3 progress to invasive cervical cancer in five years; 40% progress to cervical cancer in thirty years. There is ample time to detect and treat the early precancers and early stage cancers for 100% cure.

So really there is no need for the “Lord spare us from ignorant Catholic houseswives putting out dangerous information” “your daughters will get cancer”, “Farrow is spreading dangerous lies”, “you are pro-cancer and pro-HIV” invective spewing across my timeline.

Problem is, in a society when personal autonomy and choices are gods, suggesting anything other than all choices are of equal value (moral relativism) is akin to judgemental bigotry. It might be extremely convenient for me that Catholic doctrine on sexual morality is  scientifically sound, natural law is entirely logical, but it’s a nightmare for sexual libertines, most of whom seem to be unhealthily preoccupied or obsessed with others’ approval. Advocating a certain course of action is automatically deemed ‘judgemental’ or ‘blaming’ of those who don’t take that course of action and allegedly stigmatises those who do suffer from adverse health, regardless of whether or not they have engaged in risky behaviour.

The idea of a society when people can have as much sex as they like, with as many people as like, consequence free and that we can protect people from STDs might well be a beguiling one, but it is highly irresponsible. HPV vaccines, condoms, birth control and abortion all add to this masquerade, which is why people become so angry when their lifestyle is challenged. It’s easy to dismiss moral concerns as being based upon religious grounds but pointing out irrefutably scientifically established health risks raises things another notch. It must be disconcerting to learn that the prejudiced bigots are right, better to attack their motivation, values or character, instead of the issue itself.

The whole canard of HIV prevention in Africa was once again raised, with all evidence being dismissed as biased, simply because of the fact that it was presented by me and supported Catholic doctrine. As has been demonstrated, the Emeritus Pope was entirely correct when he pointed out that condom promotion exacerbated the problem of the spread of HIV. Condoms have a typical use failure rate of 18%, the spontaneous nature of sexual urgency makes laboratory conditions of perfect use, extremely difficult to replicate. Problems are exacerbated in countries such as Malawi, which as aid workers testify, are flooded with condoms nearing their expiry date and which have been stored and shipped in conditions making them more susceptible to damage. People are making risky decisions on the false premise that they are protected.

I guess I’m rather nonplussed, it’s bizarre to see coherent evidence denied simply because it supports your worldview. The ‘debate’ veered from accusations of making stuff up, of putting out irresponsible information on internet that would cause deaths, to an admission that I hadn’t actually said anything factually incorrect, but was cherry-picking the evidence to suit my own purposes. Isn’t that what most people do, come to a conclusion based on the evidence available?

Sexual health is not the only area in which emotions are inflamed when suggestions are made of an unhealthy lifestyle as being a contributory factor to certain conditions, and the age of moral relativism means that all are equal. Hence the perennial wars on baby websites about breast versus bottle. Health decisions, especially for children always involve  heavy personal investment. I’ve taken decisions (such as miscarriage management) that may not have been advocated as the best course of action as others, but the difference is, I’m not going to get offended if someone suggests I should have done something else, in the same way, I couldn’t give two hoots if someone thinks my cesarian-sections were because I was too posh to push. I know a natural childbirth is ideal but just because life doesn’t always work out the way you’d hope, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t aspire to the best.

Trying to discourage promiscuity, instead of relying upon the illusions and false promises of the pharmaceutical society, has to be a much more sustainable, long-term and ultimately cheaper solution. Pointing out that condoms don’t always work should not be an issue to cause such bad feeling. Why aren’t we asking why until the HPV jab was developed, that condom manufacturers and family planning officials were not widely publicising that they didn’t fully protect from HPV?

Evidently I’m still a naif, in that I’m still taken aback and surprised by the animus coming in my direction, for stating a medical fact. Stick to one sexual partner only (or remain celibate) if you want to seriously lessen your chances of contracting a sexually transmitted condition. It may not be the easiest, it may take willpower, but it’s no more impossible than say quitting smoking or cutting out the booze. You just have to want to do it. Stating the ideal does not blame the unlucky.

I may well get a t-shirt printed – Catholic teaching on sex corresponds with medical fact, get over it. What is more dangerous, giving an illusion of protection, or presenting the pure unadulterated facts as they stand?

While I should no longer be surprised, I still find myself taken aback nonetheless. Why are otherwise intelligent people so willfully blind when it comes to the consequences of sexual behaviour? Uncharitably, the only conclusion I can arrive at that is that it’s concrete proof that sin really does darken the intellect and make you stupid. People are too attached to a certain behaviour to want to admit that it could cause harm.

Mental Blocks

I had an interesting conversation with Caroline Criado-Perez the other day when I met her at the BBC’s 100 women conference.  More on that another time (or see this week’s Catholic Universe).

The other Caroline, has had a similar experience with regards to myself in terms of online trolling and obsessions, only her experience seems to have been far more intense, in that following the success of her campaign to get women represented on bank notes, she has been subject to some terrifying  threats of immediate violence to her person.

Though I regularly receive comments about my appearance and sex appeal (or lack thereof), these ones are easy to brush off.

Iggy+Pop+PETA+30th+Anniversary+Gala+Humanitarian+l8CIQfCoJaUl
“Iggy Pop, that’s you that is!”

What’s not been so easy to brush off however, is the sustained two year hate campaign, which I have regularly written about here and which, at time of writing seems to be still ongoing.

Some insanely vicious stuff has been written. I can’t actually quite process how people could be so spiteful towards a woman who is still physically and mentally dealing with the effects of losing a baby.

Displaying a gross misunderstanding of the human psyche, it is thought that because I am utilising social media, it is therefore open season on me again. In addition it is denied that I was unwell or vulnerable in my previous pregnancy (my daughter was born early at a low birth weight as a result of pre-eclampsia, the stress of a concerted campaign of online hatred being thought to be a determining factor), because I was using social media and because I made some appearances on TV. I suggest those people do some research into high blood pressure in pregnancy before jumping to ill-informed conclusions.

These sentiments are all very telling. According to this logic social media is a rough and ready place, that if one uses it, then one should be prepared to face all sorts of abuse and that a pregnant woman who wishes to avoid stress and who has become visibly very upset and distressed at the relentless spite and appalling insults chucked her way, is being reckless if she engages on social media in any way.

Anyone with an empathetic bone in their body should be able to understand why pregnancy is a vulnerable time for women, not least by dint of the extra hormones sloshing about, adding to natural anxieties that every woman experiences in pregnancy. It’s a time of increased physical and mental stress, which is why women are advised to take measures to take care of themselves.

It says much about contemporary attitudes to social media, if attempting to use Twitter, which many of us need to do not least for work purposes, is thought to be akin to masochism or reckless endangerment.

An extreme sport?
Is Twitter an extreme sport like riding dolphins?

I saw this in the case of Caroline Criado-Perez, who by her own admission had a mini mental-breakdown as a result of the pressure of relentless abuse. Basically she broke the golden rule, she displayed emotion and furiously shouted back at her critics. Which they revelled in, being able to label her as mad and unstable, in an attempt to grab the moral high ground, with patronising displays of faux pity towards her obvious mental distress, which they used to disenfranchise and silence her. “Poor dear, she’s obviously lost the plot, she really shouldn’t have been so abusive to her critics. If you react like that, then you shouldn’t be on here in the first place”.

Which says what? That social media should only be for the emotionally robust and those who are able to be able to brush off huge amounts of taunting and verbal abuse.  As Caroline says, she’s only human and she broke and frankly it’s not surprising after so much pressure.  Twitter provides social interaction for many who are otherwise isolated, should we condone disenfranchising the weak? Why is displaying emotion so much more taboo than verbal abuse and open campaigns of bitching, sniping and bullying?

I have enormous sympathy for Caroline. While the threats may be of a different nature, every day it is made extremely clear that my feed is being stalked and trolled. Innocuous comments are seized upon to see if they can be distorted or used as ammunition towards me. One wholly innocent  comment I made about those two subversive genius ‘The Two Ronnies’ was screenshotted and copied and pasted to Ruth Gledhill of the Times of all people, by someone who was blocked, in an attempt to stir up some kind of controversy!

Catholic speaker Caroline Farrow admits she enjoys the Two Ronnies, shocker!
Catholic speaker Caroline Farrow admits she enjoys the Two Ronnies, shocker!

It sounds laughable but it’s wearing. Every single day one woman uses my Twitter feed as her source of daily stimulation. Whatever I say, she makes a comment on, deliberately stating the opposite and trying to make issue of. The other thing she will do is spot who has interacted with me and then interact with them herself, although she’s got wise as to the repercussions of constantly using my handle.  On one level it’s laughable and doesn’t bother me. I’m obviously an extremely fascinating and compelling figure in what must be a dull grey and lonely life. She’s blocked so I don’t have to experience her madness. Where it gets tiring however is when she uses my handle and therefore incites other people to join in. One then receives a stream of replies with her copied in, meaning that you have to trace back to her original tweet to find out what on earth is being discussed. I had a private message this morning from a friend wondering why this woman who is blocked appeared to have favourited her tweets that mentioned me.

It’s a common tactic, one that was used by a Tweeter who has now fortunately been banned for prolonged spamming of other users. He would take a tweet one had made, take words out of context to distort and misrepresent one’s original point, meaning that you then received a string of outraged and angry responses. It was a technique designed to sap one’s time and energy as well as dent your reputation. The only response was to either reply to those furiously demanding why you had allegedly said xyz, and restate the original point, ensuring that you missed out the blocked protagonist, or to ignore altogether. But it was nonetheless infuriating, a constant irritant to be misrepresented on a daily basis.

I set up a private locked account in order to be able to interact with my friends without the hassle and to avoid the gaze of such people, who proceeded to vociferously complain and then troll and stalk my mentions column which still showed up as public (when you protect your account, your tweets are private but those who interact with you are still visible) publicly attacking anyone who was seen to be saying anything supportive to me. In the end I had to delete the account, a move which was deemed as wise, one person saying that they were too scared to be seen to be my personal friend as they knew that they would be targeted and attacked.

So far I have been to the police on three occasions, to complain about incidents such as my personal details being outed (someone would have needed to have paid the records office or done some serious digging as they are not available anywhere on the net) meaning that I needed to change password details, implied threats of blackmail and recently claims that I was not pregnant and that a miscarriage was ‘convenient’ and an ‘excuse’.

Despite several people, including serving policeman friends confirming that though these are serious breaches of the law, because no specific threat of violence is being made, I have to put up with it because there are inadequate resources to prosecute. The police don’t believe that prosecuting those who are using the internet and social media to drive someone to the brink of a nervous breakdown in a concerted campaign of intimidation, is in the public interest.

I recently posted a video of my daughter singing the Salve Regina to a sock puppet online, in attempt to laugh at some of the madness which has seen me being publicly accused of being an ex-pat who runs a blog about his donkey sanctuary in Spain!  My children always sing the Salve at bedtime, they also love playing with sock-puppets, it was an impromptu moment when I caught my daughter practising her ‘ventriloquism’ and so I caught it on camera and shared in an attempt to make people smile and share how we try to incorporate the faith into our daily lives.

This video has been touted as proof of my being sinister, evil, pathological and dangerous and sent to various professional colleagues in an attempt to have work assignments removed! Plus I’ve been criticised for sharing footage of my children, such is society’s pre-Victorian attitude to children which seeks to lock them up and keep them out of public view for fear that some sexual predator might gain some excitment from them. (Although there’s a whole other issue).

Like anyone I should be able to use the internet and social media on my own terms. I should be able to log on to Twitter, shoot the breeze, engage in some online discussion or apologetics, post some interesting links, do my stuff then click off. I dip in and out of Twitter on my phone when I get a free five or ten minutes. While all of us should be aware that we are in the public square and ought to act appropriately, especially if our profile denotes the company for whom we work or an organisation with which we are involved, a certain courtesy does not mean that we should be needing to look over our shoulder every five minutes.

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If we want to make social media an universal safe space then one of the things that should happen is that Twitter should implement a block function that is similar to that of Facebook. If you block someone then Twitter should take steps to ensure that not only can you escape their rantings but also that they are blocked from being able to see your tweets or what people say to you.

For those who say that this is not in the original spirit of the thing which was originally an open platform for the free exchange of ideas, I think we have to accept that like all digital platforms, it needs to evolve and adapt. New users are automatically given an element of trust, but if a certain person invades our privacy, breaches our trust and makes us feel unsafe, rather than withdrawing from the platform itself (which in itself puts the responsibility and blame for the abuse on the abused) we should have the option to stop those from having access to us, for the sake of their mental health and ours.

With online abuse and cyber-bullying becoming an increasing problem, the police cannot be expected to prosecute for breakdown in relationships and all too often social media is wielded as a real weapon of attack able to do serious damage. There’s been a spate of teen suicides related to online abuse, this is going to be an increasing phenomenon, alongside us being taught how to keep ourselves safe and develop online strategies, the social media platforms need to play their part.

Blocking someone sends them a message, it says, look I don’t want contact with you, please leave me alone.  Using Twitter should not mean that you are held responsible for someone else’s fixation upon you. One of the thing that I have learnt through my experience of being online stalked is that very often the victim, the person being obsessed about, can become as obsessed as the perpetrator. It’s understandable because one is always looking over one’s shoulder, trying to pre-empt or anticipate what on earth the aggressor might do next and also a way of trying to gain control of the situation. It takes an immense amount of strength to emotionally detach and not care and when people are engaged in criminal acts of harassment, evidence needs to be garnered in able to put a stop to the situation. Especially when the medium of the internet allows for the rapid dissemination of information, for good or evil.

We know that internet and online addiction is becoming a issue in society. At present Twitter enables and feeds the obsessions which is not healthy for either party. I have become the target or obsession of a tiny cabal of people for some time now. It’s telling that whenever a fresh item of spite is served up, it’s always the same small group people serving up steaming dollops of nastiness and spewing new poison.  Being at the end of such vitriol is extremely trying and the extent of the campaign should not be underestimated. But at moments where I am driven to the depths of anger and despair, what pulls me up is imaging the hell and torment that these people must be experiencing to take such gleeful pleasure in attacking a woman, a mother of four young children and laughing at her visible torment when, to use the words of my husband, they urinate all over the grief of our dead baby.

If you tell someone that you wish for them not to contact you, even if it’s only for a brief period of time to give you some equilibrium, then they should respect that. If you tell someone that you wish them to leave you alone, then they should not claim that your existence gives them licence to continue pestering you.

Twitter needs to be able to help users to help themselves and each other, by respecting that a block button means that you want privacy. We shouldn’t need to lock our accounts which then hinders our interactions with the world at large, but we should be able to ban certain users from seeing what we are up to, if they abuse our trust. Most trolls are lazy, not bothering with creating multiple accounts. In addition most of the persistent abusers revel in their identity and obsession regardless of whether or not this is real or assumed.

Today my troll, with typical lack of self awareness, blustered “let’s hope for a drama free day on Twitter”. Amen sister. If you can’t stop yourself from spying on my feed, screen shotting it and generally making insulting, derogatory comments and lying about me, then Twitter should help you to help yourself. We all want an end to the drama. If you can’t stop feeding your unhealthy cycle of co-dependence then Twitter should do it for your own sake and all those of your ilk. That way a lot of heartache and drama can be avoided and we can all enjoy a healthier experience.

The internet is a new tool. No-one foresaw its addictive and self-destructive potential.

A case of the ‘comedy priest’?

Having written both a blogpost and a feature for the Catholic press on the subject of Fr Ray and his misrepresentation in the mainstream media, I don’t want to over-egg the pudding on this issue, nonetheless the whole affair has thrown up cause for further concern.

When posting the text of my Universe article earlier, I was searching for a flattering image of Father Ray online and found what I thought was a nice photo taken of him in the pews of St Mary Magdalen church. After clicking on the image, I saw that it was copyrighted by the Brighton Argus and lo and behold, linked to yet another misleading article based on the contents of his blog, in which it was claimed that Fr Ray was denouncing the traditional foot-washing on Maundy Thursday as ‘sinful.’

The piece was not penned by Bill Gardner, but in common with his recent feature, it did not link to the original post and gave a false impression that Fr Ray was condemning the practice of foot-washing, whereas Fr Ray once again with typical humility and frankness, described how it was an occasion of sin for him. Read in context, the post was moving and challenging in equal measure, Father’s concern for the homeless is almost palpable, far from de-humanising them as undesirable objects, he wondered whether previously he had unconsciously not treated people with the dignity and respect that they deserve, but rather as a quantity to be exploited.

With all the brouhaha surrounding the election of Pope Francis during Easter week, this didn’t get picked up by the nationals, but it did of course attract the usual anti-Catholic sentiment in the comment section and once again chipped away at the reputation of Fr Ray.

When the most recent story broke, I took at look at the Twitter stream of Bill Gardner, who despite being a local journalist hadn’t previously registered on my radar, even though I do use Twitter to keep up with other local journalists and politicians.

What I found was a little disturbing. On the one hand Bill Gardner is a lively, engaging and clearly very ambitious local journalist who is obviously trying to build his career in the profession, probably in tabloids. He is able to sniff out a good story and put quite a sensationalist spin on events, which is a pre-requisite for any budding journalist. Headlines and features need to instantly attract attention and it’s something that the Brighton Argus seems to have perfected down to a fine art, I am often struck by seemingly fantastic or scandalous local headlines on the sandwich boards outside the newsagents as I walk to school.

Newspapers and journalists are frequently and I think unfairly, described by the commentariat as “trolls” themselves, in that they publish deliberately controversial articles and headlines to attract interest. The internet may have made print and on-line media more cut-throat, but publishing sensational stories and photos to attract readers is not a new feature of the press. Back in the ’80s and ’90s an exclusive photograph of Princess Diana on the front page did wonders for that day’s circulation. The overriding memory I have of my A Level results day is of my mother waking up at crack of dawn to sneak to the post-office lest anyone local might catch her buying a copy of the Daily Mirror, but she was dying to view the photos of Sarah Ferguson having her toes sucked by the Texan millionaire, before they sold out!

So I am not going to criticise either Bill Gardner or the Brighton Argus for wanting to boost readership or interest, nor do I think we should take heed of the many comments I found on Bill Gardner’s feed criticising him for being a ‘troll’ himself following his appearance on ITV’s Monday night show about internet bullying. The Argus have run a good campaign highlighting the effects of online bullying and how ineffectual the police response is to this, therefore it is highly ironic that one of their journalists seems to be engaging in that very activity. Bill Gardner is not a troll, he’s a journalist attempting to further his career, but his methods are unethical. By all means report a story, but do so fairly, accurately and without bias or attempting to mislead the reader or incite hate upon a particular target.

I don’t want to make this a personal attack on Bill Gardner, his feed reflects an obvious left-wing and socially liberal bias, which he is more than entitled to hold, he does seem to care passionately about issues of social justice. I note he spent an afternoon with the police anti-begging squad, whose aims he seemed to sympathetically report, which makes me wonder why he attacked Fr Ray over his perceived attitude, but he does evidently possess some morals, not to mention charisma and has unashamedly and unapologetically borne the storm of criticism from Catholics. Perhaps living in Brighton has given him more front than Blackpool?

But here’s what I think is the crux of the attitude. One thing that is apparent from his Twitter feed is that in common with many of Brighton’s residents, Bill Gardner is a supporter of ‘equal marriage’.

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Frank exchange of views there, nothing for anyone to get upset about. Except it might then explain Mr Gardner’s reaction to Fr Ray’s wholly reasonable comments in response to being rung up and asked about a recent Brighton Bridal Bondage Fair.

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Here’s the piece, despite the hyperbole, I’m not sensing the ‘outrage’, Fr Ray’s comments seem measured enough and indeed the organiser of the event explicitly says that she agrees with much of what he has to say. I can’t quite see what there is to get excited about in the following quote.

“Sexual fantasies belong in the bedroom, not at the wedding altar.

“Marriage is ultimately about building a stable environment for the procreation of children.

“It’s supposed to be about partnership, but this event seems to be designed for the fulfilment of individuals.

“From a Catholic point of view, marriage is sacred and I think dressing up in fantasy outfits risks damaging that.”

I suspect however the key sentence that provoked a reaction is the one with regards to the purpose of marriage being about creating a stable environment for children, given Bill Gardner had previously publicly baulked at similar sentiments.

It might explain why Bill Gardner seems to then go on a bit of a crusade, dredging his blog to find what other ‘damaging’ or ‘scandalous’ quotes or stories could be attributed to Fr Ray. Or maybe I’m being unfair and it was a slow news day, but the timing of the next piece, reporting Fr Ray’s purported disdainful attitude to the poor and homeless is interesting, coming as it did, the following day. I think one can definitely conclude that Fr Ray’s blog was being trawled on an offence-finding mission and may explain why a blogpost that was over a month old was seized upon.

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No need to re-hash the piece or the response to it, but it has been the source of great pain to Fr Ray. For those who may claim that no publicity is bad publicity and that overall it’s done him good, I would point to the response of my mother, who rang me up to ask me all about the affair, presuming we would know the priest, she and her Catholic neighbour (in extremely good standing) having been scandalised and appalled by what they had seen, although they had noted that the Telegraph was more balanced in their coverage.

The Catholic blogosphere is a specialised niche, there will have been many people who were therefore given a one-sided view of the story which is why it was important that the Catholic press could provide a balance.

In the meantime, the following set of tweets from Bill Gardner, definitely seems to be inviting ill-will, contempt and scorn upon Fr Ray and the Catholic Church by association and could be perceived as bullying.

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Fr Ray has been caused a lot of distress, but fortunately he also knows that he enjoys the support of his parishioners, his blog readers and his Bishop has described the piece as “mischief”.

The problem is that the “mischief” on behalf the Brighton Argus, does not seem to be an isolated case, that’s three stories that have misrepresented him in the last six months. I’m loath to accuse the Argus of outright anti-Catholicism, more likely his views on same-sex marriage, have made him a target for criticism in a city that likes to pride itself on its ‘progressive’ and ‘liberal’ credentials. Being a local priest, Fr Ray’s blog provides a rich and steady stream of local outrage to boost circulation and hit rates, especially when there might be a slow news day. Nothing that Fr Ray actually says is any more controversial than anything that any other priest blogger has come out with, it’s just that he is Brighton’s very own ‘outrageous celebrity priest blogger’. What is concerning is the one-sided and inaccurate way in which the Argus has presented him of late, which has sought to turn him into a local comedic hate figure, who hates the smelly poor and holds the obligatory ‘bigoted’ view of the LGBT community. Brighton’s very own Fred Phelps if you will.

A complaint to the PCC certainly seems to be in order as does boycotting the Argus as well as their advertisers and informing them why, until Fr Ray receives a formal apology at the very least.

As a final point, it might be worth noting that in his haste to get the story, Bill Gardner and the Argus, have made previous mistakes and errors. It could be claimed that lifting and distorting quotes from blogs, is something in which they have previous form.

Happy to clarify for an important MP
Happy to clarify for an important MP
This tweeter faced a minor twitter storm as a result of misattributed tweets in the paper
This tweeter faced a minor twitter storm as a result of misattributed tweets in the paper
Sounds a bit familiar
Sounds a bit familiar

Trawling local blogs for titbits that can be distorted into a scandalous feature is quite the opposite innovative or go-getting journalism, it’s indicative of laziness and lack of inspiration. If you are going to do it, then at least have the decency to quote in context or do some background on your target.

Trouble is all this enhances Bill Gardner’s reputation as an edgy journalist, he’ll love the controversy, whereas the constant attacks on Fr Ray, could do his important ministry irreparable damage.

It’s all tomorrow’s fish and chip paper, or at least it would be were it not for the permanent nature of the Internet, but following three concurrent occasions of blatant misrepresentation, enough is enough.

Internet trolling – lessons learned the hard way

Taken from the Catholic Universe – 11 August 2013

The subject of internet trolls is once again back in the news, following the vile and horrific abuse including threats of sexual violence, received by Caroline Criado-Perez, the feminist campaigner who successfully lobbied the Bank of England for the re-inclusion of a female figure on the back of a banknote. Any high profile female MPs or journalists who supported Ms Criado-Perez or her campaign, such as the MP Stella Creasy or the historian Mary Beard, also found themselves at the receiving end of seemingly sexually motivated threats of violence and death.

In other, related news, Melissa Porter, a BBC TV presenter told of how internet trolls had maliciously misinterpreted a perfectly innocent advertisement she had appeared in with her son, leading to a social services investigation which could potentially have seen him removed from her care. She was wholly exonerated, what the social workers were unable to tell her was that they were almost certain that this was a vexatious report, but needed to check out given the gravity of the allegations.

The most tragic case was that of 14 year-old schoolgirl Hannah Smith who was found having hanged herself, by her 16 year-old sister, after months of taunts and abuse on the popular website ask.fm. There are now calls for the website to be shut down, Hannah’s death being the latest in a string of teenage suicides linked to online bullying from this source.

As a parent, these tragedies increase my desire never to let my children anywhere near social media until they are well over the age of 18 and have the emotional maturity to deal with online interaction. While perhaps the abuse that I have received in my capacity as a Catholic blogger and tweeter, hasn’t quite reached the stage of alleged bomb threats, I have encountered more than my fair share and even at my ripe old age, I still have difficulty coping with it and summoning up the correct response, so I cannot begin to imagine what this would be like for a vulnerable teen.

When pregnant with my third daughter, a particularly vicious pro-choice advocate expressed a wish that I might be struck down by God and hopefully at the hands of an abortionist with rusty scissors and in my fourth pregnancy, I was subject to a violent sexual threat at the hands of a gay ‘marriage’ campaigner, who justified his call for me to hunted down and sexually violated, on the grounds that it was clearly a ‘joke’. In addition, another woman claimed that I secretly wished my unborn baby to die in order that I might profit from the attention and gleefully told shocked onlookers that I ought to stop snivelling. Backed up by a motley group of pro-choice activists and gay rights sympathisers, along with some disaffected members of the faith, they proceeded to make my online life a total misery with a very nasty personalised and directed campaign, in which every single element of my life including my appearance, my children, my husband and my mental health was publicly derided and mocked.

I dealt with it no better than the average teenager, tearfully imploring the attackers to stop, appealing to their better nature and hoping that whatever their grievances, could they not see that I was pregnant and vulnerable. Our daughter was delivered early at a significantly lower birthweight than the others, due to pre-eclampsia, the stress of online abuse thought to be a contributory factor.

The extremely painful lesson I learnt was the old adage – do not feed the trolls, which is so much easier said than done and feels counter-intuitive. The other option was of course, to ditch social media, which can prove to be something of a time-sink, it certainly wasn’t proving a constructive or pleasant experience at times, but given my online activity tends to predominantly promote Catholicism and the pro-life cause, I was reluctant to let myself be silenced by the bullies.

Being the target of a prolonged campaign of cyber-bullying (which continues to this day) has given me a certain insight into the potentially destructive nature of the internet which also has tremendous capacity for good. Perhaps this is why it has its darker side – evil wants to distort and destroy all that is beautiful and true. We can see what a potent tool the internet can be in the cause of the New Evangelisation, it cannot be a surprise that human sin has the potential to undo the good work that can be done.

Social media makes ‘stalkers’ and ‘obsessives’ of us all, if we are not careful. Whereas in real life we know that people may be talking about us and remain blissfully ignorant of that fact, social media enables us to check up on what others may be saying. It takes an enormous amount of self-restraint not to look, when one knows one is being referred to and even more not to hit back. It is dreadful to see lies, abuse and calumny writ large against you, your heart starts beating faster, you can feel your blood pumping, your stomach feels as though you have been punched as the nausea and bile rises into your throat.

But to fight back, or even acknowledge the bullies, gives them a power that they do not deserve and validates their behaviour. Ultimately one has to accept that one is totally powerless, we have not yet got a grip on the internet, the police are often not inclined to help unless one is a high-profile celebrity victim and the bullies have developed very crafty mechanisms of hiding IP addresses and couching various threats in such a way that they skirt the line but don’t cross it.

We can fight for a politer more civilised discourse, we can encourage platforms like Twitter to clamp down on abuse and take swifter action against miscreants, but we have to accept that it is unlikely that we will be able to rid the internet of abusers. It is not the platforms  that are to blame, but the users themselves. We are all still getting used to the internet and thus codes of conduct and practice are still in their infancy but the best way of targeting abusers is to deny them of their power and platform.

The internet is an additional weapon in our enemies’ armory with which they can use to attack us. We cannot control the behaviour of others, but we all have the power to control our reactions. This is where true liberation from all calumny lies, whether it be online or in real-life. An invocatory psalm or two also helps. But better law enforcement in cases of serious and prolonged online harassment would certainly not go amiss either. And never forget Matthew 5: 11-16.

* Since the article was published, additional information has come to light about the case of Hannah Smith.

‘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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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At which point I begin to call out their behaviour.

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

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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.