Just over a year has elapsed since the tragic death of Alfie Evans and my perspective on the matter has not changed in the slightest. His parents continue to experience the pain of his loss every single day and millions of people around the world remain horrified by the fate of this little boy whom the UK establishment decided would be better off dead.
My involvement with Alfie’s case which was reported here by LifeSite News, sparked a year long campaign of relentless online trolling and abuse, the aftermath of which still rumbles on today.
The person responsible for whipping up an online campaign of hate and abuse resulting in my receiving hundreds of tweets per day, went on to set up two abusive websites, replete with sexual abuse and violent threats, targeting not only me, but my husband, my ex-husband and even my children.
I have written extensively on the campaign of abuse, but I also want to clarify one persistent misunderstanding which was unfortunately promulgated by Michael Mylonas QC on Twitter and used a number of times to attack me both on that platform by a number of individuals and by the abusive blogger(s) behind the indefensible ‘tombstone teeth’ website, who obsessively referenced it.
Here is what Mr Mylonas said to me on Twitter on the 2nd May 2018.
I did not post overnight AFTER the reporting order, but rather on the day BEFORE the directions hearing on Monday 18th December. Here is the post in question The date of post is at the top and the date of the edit is made clear at the bottom.
In case anyone should wish to accuse me of altering the date on my blogpost, here is a screenshot from a WhatsApp message I sent that night, confirming that I published the blog.
I was not in court on the 19th December, however I was informed that a reporting restrictions order had been put in place and I duly removed the section. I was NEVER therefore in contempt of court, because one cannot be held in contempt for posting in advance of an order and neither was there any intention on my part to be in contempt, as demonstrated by my own voluntary removal of the post.
My understanding was that my blog was mentioned in the hearing on the 19th December but I never received any orders, official or otherwise, to edit it. The expert medical witnesses were named, as I believed that this was in the public interest, given the other cases they had been involved in, but at no stage was any personal information disclosed about them.
Many people have used this misconception as a basis upon which to attack me; those behind the obscenely abusive ‘Tombstone Teeth’ and gjh.org.uk blog have repeatedly referenced it by way of justifying their frightening vendetta, so I would just like to take this opportunity to clarify what actually happened.
I remain shaken to my core over the obsessive rage heaped upon me on account of my defence of Alfie’s innate human dignity and accompanying right to life, along with the right of his loving parents, Tom and Kate, to determine what was in his best interests.
The Italian pro-life organisation, Steadfast Onlus, have published a note on their Facebook page about an event they held today in Rome, commemorating the lives of sick British children Charlie Gard, Isaiah Haastrup and of course, Alfie Evans and demonstrating about the mindset and culture which denies parents the rights to decide what is in their child’s best interests.
Touching moments and great public participation this afternoon, in Rome, for the event entitled “Never again another Charlie, Isaiah and Alfie” organized by SteadastOnlus in collaboration with Rede nacional em Defesa da Vida, Human Life International, Fondation Jérôme Lejeune, national association of numerous families anfn, Centro Studi Rosario Livatino, Committee “Defend Our Sons”, CitizenGO, ProVita Onlus, Committee Article 26, Parents Val di Sieve, Alleanza Cattolica and Noi for the Family “
The aim of the event was to ask Italy and Europe to mobilize to promote a more respectful culture towards the lives of the sick , even seriously disabled and the rights of parents compared to a state that wants to replace them.
The first to go on stage was Emmanuele di Leo , president of Steadfast Onlus : “Alfie died and was killed by the same law that was to protect him. Yes, because the laws exist to defend the weakest and to allow society to develop justice by protecting the vulnerable and defending their children. Instead we now find ourselves with a northern Europe empty of values and with the advance of a culture of waste , which is increasingly permeating the foundations of our thought. Materialistic and scientific concepts that reduce man to nothing and thus deprive everyone, but the sick in particular, of their dignity. No progress, we are in regression. Here is the invitation I want to make today: give voice to those who have no voice, continue to help these families left alone. We are increasingly organizing and we want to pursue this goal with all possible means. Trying to handle emergencies like those of Charlie, Isaiah and Alfie, but also with preventive actions, spreading a culture that respects the value of life and not for the waste, pressing on politics to create laws to save and not to suppress, so that Politics gives the means to this third sector, which also on the occasion of the story of the little Alfie has shown to have the ability and firm will to offer help and not to step back a step “.
Following was the moment of a letter sent by Massimo Gandolfini , one of the promoters of Family Day , who could not attend the event due to another institutional commitment. To read his words was the same Emmanuele Di Leo. “We are witnessing a tragic acceleration of the anthropological revolution which – in the name of nonexistent and absurd rights (rented uterus, state euthanasia, assisted suicide, the commercialization of children bought in the gametes market, legalization and dissemination of drugs) – is destroying the the very foundations of civil society.In making today the memory of Alfie, Charlie and many other victims of the culture of “waste”, as the Holy Father Francis so effectively defined it, we can not forget the lives cut short at birth, in the maternal womb, whose enormous number (about 6 million) is one of the parameters of greater weight of the demographic winter that invests our beautiful country. The pain, the bitterness, the human bewilderment that the story of little Alfie has provoked in each of us must be a strong incentive not to resign ourselves. On the contrary, I think that the most virtuous way we have to honor these little innocents – victims of the darkness of evil – is to tap into the riches of their sacrifice to find strength and will to serve life, always “.
The speech by magistrate Alfredo Mantovano from the Centro Studi Livatino is significant and at times very hard: “In the last century, England and Europe lived years and decades of torment, of threat, of oppression. When tanks, bombs, walls and barbed wire first crushed our continent under the Nazi swastika, then they subdued the countries of the East under the red flag with the hammer and sickle. For a moment we thought and hoped that totalitarianism had died with the twentieth century. Let’s open our eyes. It is not so. Of course, there are no more lagers and gulags.But there are the ivg departments, there are the clinics of death, there are hospitals that treat the disabled, whether they are children or the elderly, as waste. And as waste they eliminate them, because they represent a weight and a cost. Exactly like the Nazis did. I exaggerate? There is no difference? The differences exist: instead of the uniforms of the SS today there are the gowns of doctors murderers and the robes of those judges who pronounce sentences of death. But the substance is the same – continues Mantovano who invites the public to resist and fight for the cause – We will go to the end, we will fight. We will fight in Italy and in Europe, we will fight in the courtrooms and hospitals, we will fight in universities and schools, against distortions and false teachings, we will fight in the newspapers, on television, on social media, we will break the censorship hood and of disinformation that passes death by therapy, we will fight in the streets and squares, we will fight in seminaries and theological faculties, against the fifth columns that chatter of therapeutic fury and do not know what they are talking about, we will fight wherever there is breath “.
The leader of Brothers of Italy Giorgia Meloni was also very applauded: “I share with you the centrality of these debates. As I know, I asked the Italian government, as soon as it became aware of the Alfie case, to treat the child as if he were a citizen of his. When the citizenship was granted to me I felt proud to be Italian, less than being European. It is not my Europe that is a rage on a family that suffers the biggest drama that can happen. For me it is impossible that there is a bureaucrat who can tell you how and if you can cure your child. This battle was fought for our identity, because this is a society that goes all the way contrary to logic, not respect to religion: it is a society in which if you make a natural child and you’re old a court takes away from you but if you’re two men and you are even older and you buy him abroad you can keep him. I remember the case of Eluana Englaro: they told us that no one more than a parent knew how to behave and then I did not understand why if the parent is the most important to disconnect, it is magically no longer when it comes to treating their children “.
Touching the testimony of Chiara Paolini, Emanuele’s mother : “I am the mother of three children, one of whom is suffering from a very serious disability, a mitochondrial disease. A rare disease that made him rename the Italian Charlie.My baby does not walk, does not speak, eats with a gastric nose, they have revived him thousands of times:but he still lives, in spite of this, his life in fullness. Someone would like to ask me how to make a child like that, because we tell the truth, the disease is scary. But the answer is only one: it’s nice, being a sick child’s mother is no different than being a normal child’s mother, the challenge is more difficult but it’s the same beautiful. Our children are not suffering, they are living their lives, maybe a different life compared to other children but not less worthy “.
He spoke about the efforts made in the European Parliament Elisabetta Gardini, of Forza Italia . Gardini reviewed the hectic days linked to the Alfie emergency and merged into a letter signed by representatives of various countries and in a question to the minister for English minors. He mentioned Annah Harent who said “I see change in people, there are people who no longer see life as a gift and therefore, as such, in its non-availability”. Well today – continued the representative of Forza Italia – there are choices that come from above and that do not want the good of man but who see man as something negative, we are different.If we think that the right of a person is to die and not live, a foundation of our society is threatened, which is not only Catholic but has its rootsin the Greek Roman one. Europe has rejected its Christian Greek and Judaic Christian roots, too complicated for those elites who want to impose another idea of man and life, an elite that is closed to life, which always has something deadly to it. , and it is that élite that makes us live in this sense of withdrawal on ourselves, in the private. We must continue to struggle, not to stop, we represent the majority of Italians, those who make children, who slaughter, who pay taxes, who do not want to give Dr. Death’s kit to their children. It is not conceivable that you want to die only because you are over 70, just because you are sick, just because you are not useful. “
Fighting in the forefront for ten years to give dignity to small and less children suffering from rare diseases, the Association Mitocon onlus . For this association, Vice President Paola Desideri took the stage: “These are important moments that must be experienced in the first person. We were born in 2007 thanks to the will of parents and patients suffering from mitochondrial diseases. In Italy there was not a research movement that would support these few yet known diseases. Today, ten years have passed and we are a great association made up of many families, I would say unfortunately, because if we were few, it would have meant that these diseases were not so widespread. Charlie’s case gave us visibility. His parents had contacted us because they had not had any support in England: Charlie was not given the chance to try a baby Jesus therapy that had already been tested on children like him and the results had been surprising . The epilogue unfortunately you all know: in court it was said that this therapy was too experimental and could be harmful. Well, I think every kind of therapy would have been less harmful than death. Therapy was not done, even though Charlie did not die unnecessarily because a window was opened on a world hitherto unknown to most people thanks to him so his life as futile as they called it, has served so much “.
Among the first to deal with the Evans case was the newspaper l’Avvenire , today represented by the directorMarco Tarquinio : “Between the national press we have been there only unfortunately for a certain period. I remember the moment when Alfie’s dad went to the Pope and he blessed him and prayed with him. That photo reached all the editors and only then did they realize what was happening. Unfortunately, news is not always taken into consideration when it happens. There has been great indifference in the latter period. We can not be empathic except when we do not see things in their truth. The Alfie case is dotted with images that I see as paradigmatic: the first is the meeting with the Holy Father, the second image was the embrace of a foreign journalist by the father of the child, the third is that of the mother of Alfie cradles her child, when justice and medicine had decided not to play their part. Everyone knows what the embrace of a mother represents to the child when he is most vulnerable. The thing that has positively impressed me is that transversal, political and associationist forces have been united.We are in a complicated time, in which there are not the great masses ready to move but there are many small minorities that will be good to unite to reform the great people pro life, because people want to live not to die “.
The intervention of Alessandro Pagano della Lega is more philosophical. “The process of disintegration of society, of the family, of the culture that constitutes the backbone of the destruction of the deepest and most authentic roots of the human soul, has been described by the Brazilian Catholic thinker and jurist Plinio Correa De Olivera and today appears to have come to the maximum of its paroxysms with the claim to control the life and death realized in the last forty years with the legislations that have liberalized abortion, with the various forms of assisted fertilization and in these hours with euthanasia , term cleverly less and less used in the debate or used in often very different ways “.
Senator Simone Pillon della Lega has urged the squares: “We have to go back to occupying the squares, we found ourselves in front of a leviathan who decided that the child had to die. This story tells us about an anthropology that is coming to us and against which we must decide how to react. Someone is convinced that Christian values can be maintained by removing Christianity but it is not at all like this. The story Alfie is the daughter of a logic: from certain premises can only happen what happened.If we begin to deny the relationship, the family , if we begin to say how it is also said in Italian law, in fictcion, in TV and on the internet that true life is what should be worth living , if we begin to select and put after the words human life of adjectives as worthy, happy or futile , we are combining a disaster because human life is human life and enough, and when we as a society, as a West, we begin to say that there is a quality of life we are saying that only those who are intelligent, rich and healthy young are entitled to live “.
It might have made for a great headline and photo opportunity, but parish priests across social media were raising their eyes heavenwards at the story of the impromptu wedding conducted by Pope Francis between a steward and stewardess on the papal flight over Chile today.
While clergy are always grateful when a happy couple has chosen to plight their troth in a Catholic church, ensuring that their union is sacramentally binding, the last thirty years of the ever-burgeoning wedding industry means that many couples are increasingly treating churches and clergy as though they are just another customer-facing business and as such, priests and deacons find themselves subject to increasingly wild and whacky demands.
My husband is fortunate to look after two photogenic Catholic churches in the Surrey hills, both of which are close to local wedding venues. Many engaged couples from the London area who can’t afford the extortionate cost of a wedding in their vicinity thereby decide to book at one of these (still expensive venues), before then hunting around for a church in the locality and alight across ours, not least because the various venus have informed them of our presence, if they are wanting a religious service.
With the date booked, they ring up, asking questions like “we’re booked to get married on x date and we’re just thinking about the church, does yours have bells?”. Or, “I’d really like a religious element to our ceremony, I’m getting married to a Zoroastrian in a civil ceremony but I’d like it to reflect my Catholic roots, so could Father please come out and do some kind of blessing at Ye Olde Countrie Manor”.
To my non-Catholic readers, these requests all sound perfectly reasonable, surely the church should be glad of bums on seats etc, but trust me, they will leave Fr gnashing his teeth in frustration, because the business of getting married in a Catholic Church, especially if it’s not your local parish church, is far from straightforward, requiring reams of paperwork and preparation.
Before telling the bride about bells, or whether or not she can have specially trained owls fly down the aisle to deliver the rings (yes really, and no, Hedwig is not welcome on our turf and neither can Father dress up as Dumbledore, and I don’t think that the organist has a copy of the theme of Harry Potter), the first question is ‘are you and your fiancé both baptised Catholics and are you free to marry’? We might then get down to the nitty gritty of explaining that the couple will need to have the permission of their parish priest to marry here and all of the other legal and canonical formalities before opening the diary to check if the date is even free.
It’s not inconceivable then, that this in-flight wedding is going to open the door to “well Pope Francis did it, why can’t I?” To which of course, your parish priest is going to consolidate his reputation as being a rigid ogre, by pointing out that he does not possess the same authority as the pope, these were exceptional circumstances and enquiring whether the bride and groom have similarly seen their local church destroyed in an earthquake.
But your parish priest is, or at least should be, robust enough to cope with the unrealistic expectations of engaged couples who stopped attending church once they had made their First Holy Communion. Weddings and marriages are ripe opportunities for evangelisation and so any diligent Father will do his best to make sure that they are properly prepared for their momentous lifelong commitment which goes far beyond the day itself.
The trouble with Pope Francis’ cute little stunt, is that it does somewhat trivialise the nature of marriage; weddings ordinarily ought to take place in a place of worship and ideally include a Nuptial Mass. This is a solemn and reverent sacrament and as the dear old book of Common Prayer used to say, a Holy Estate which “therefore is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God”. I’m not sure Cranmer had a pressurised compartment, 36,000 feet in the air, in mind.
And lest we be in any doubt, this absolutely was a stunning bit of PR. Why? Because as a loyal son of the Church, there is no way that the Pope, or indeed any parish priest, would summarily agree to marry a couple on the spot, who came to him to ask that he bless their civil union.
You’d need to know whether or not they were both baptised Catholics (although perhaps his Petrine office could automatically dispense with any disparity of cult, regardless of whether or not he knew about it), you’d need to know that they were both free to marry, i.e. that none of them had ever been married before (which needs checking out) and you’d at least want to have a little chat with them. Maybe check that the two children that Paula Podest Ruiz and Carlos Ciuffardi Ellorriag had begat in their eight years of civil marriage had been baptised and were being raised as Catholics and also maybe invite them to have made their confession, as Catholics ought to do before they enter into the sacrament?
Now we don’t know precisely the nature of the conversation which took place, but is it really likely that the Pope would just marry someone on the spot, having taken their word for it, without having checked out the necessary, like whether either of them had been married and divorced before. I mean, it might be just a tad awkward if an ex spouse were to unexpectedly pitch up in the media over the next few days, claiming their union wasn’t valid.
Much as Papa Francisco likes to rip up the rule books I can’t see him agreeing to wed a couple without having confirmation of their freedom to marry. or without the most rudimentary of checks. Here’s the other thing. Said couple were rostered on the same flight together. What a coincidence. It rarely happened to any of the married couples on the airlines for whom I worked, and indeed for obvious reasons of health, safety and making sure that any dependents didn’t lose both their mum and dad, married couples were rarely deliberately rostered on the same flight.
The groom’s best man happened to be the airline’s CEO, who was traveling on the flight. What a coincidence! Even more fortunate was that Pope Francis just happened to have a pair of beautiful matching rosaries kicking about in the pockets of his cassock to be able to give them as gifts!
So how likely is it that this couple just happened to be crewing this flight, along with the airline’s CEO, who just chummily stood in as a best man in front of the assembled press? In the days, when this humble commentator was a flight attendant ferrying the great and good, as well as politicians and celebrities about, approaching them for autographs or favours would be a sackable offence, but the couple just thought they’d chance it and sidle up to the Pope and ask them to bless their union. Something that he was unable to do, because it wasn’t actually a union which he could bless.
This smells suspiciously like a PR stunt. Especially when one considers that the couple had been married for 8 years, albeit civilly and could easily have approached a priest for their marriage to be convalidated. Being charitable, I suspect that what happened was that they had their date booked in the Cathedral in Santiago, the earthquake and tsunami hit and destroyed the church, the preparations were in full swing and they decided it would be easier and simpler to have a civil ceremony and maybe do the religious bit later, given that the save the dates had gone out. And then, as happens, life got in the way. My guess is that they weren’t what the Catholic online community would consider as ‘serious Catholics’ but I’m not going to make uncharitable assumptions about their faith or whether or not they were regularly attending Mass and so on.
With all that in mind, I still think that this sweet little ceremony at altitude isn’t such a bad thing. Why? Because it highlighted that if you are Catholic, you are not married in the eyes of God and the Church if you have a civil ceremony. It was a nice piece of Evangelisation with the Pope reportedly telling the couple, ”This is the sacrament that is missing in the world, the sacrament of marriage. I hope this motivates couples around the world to marry.” I hope it does so too, but preferably not in a smelly aircraft after a period of cohabitation. For those who asked why he couldn’t have just blessed the couple, the Catholic Church doesn’t do wedding blessings. It’s all or nothing. Though he could of course, have invited them back for a private ceremony at the Vatican later in the year.
The whole thing may have been pre-arranged, but the couple obviously had a pang of conscience and wanted to make their marriage right in the eyes of the Church. And Francis duly obliged. Which seems to me to be the very essence of pastoral accompaniment, bringing people back where they ought to be. They received the grace of the sacrament, had an extremely special moment with the pontiff, 15 minutes of fame and glory and an experience they will treasure for the rest of their lives. Good luck to them, may they enjoy a long happy and fruitful marriage.
And as for a PR stunt it was just gold. There I was thinking that the Vatican’s communications department really need to pull their fingers out and what do we have? A lovely little interlude to take our minds off the child abuse scandal still rocking Chile and the relatively low-turnout for the pontiff. Something to warm the cockles of the hearts. Love is the air, couple on cloud nine, the opportunities for social media memes and witticism are endless.
Lest Greg Burke, the Vatican Comms Director gets too complacent, it seems that someone is off-message. He has contradicted the couple’s account that the spontaneous ceremony was the pope’s idea, and has told the press that “it wasn’t the pope’s idea, but he was happy to do it”. Hmm. Happy to marry a couple whom he knows next to nothing about? Whatever you say squire!
Over the weekend I published this piece over at the National Catholic Register regarding the fate of baby Alfie Evans who is only 18 months old.
To recap, Alfie doesn’t have a diagnosis of terminal illness, in fact he doesn’t have a diagnosis at all, but that hasn’t stopped Alder-Hey hospital which is treating him, from coming to the conclusion that he would be better off dead.
In their legal submission Alder Hey claims that Alfie is insensate and unaware of any kind of stimulation or sensation. You need only to look at some of the videos on his Facebook page, to see that this is not the case. In one extremely poignant photo, baby Alfie is seen opening his eyes when his mummy picks him up for a cuddle. In another you can see Alfie clearly responding to his father’s voice and even stretching.
The reason why Alfie is in what appears to be a comatose state is because he is drugged up to the eyeballs on 4 different anti-convulsant medications in order to prevent the seizures which he was experiencing, which could cause brain damage. These drugs not only sedate Alfie, but also depress his breathing, making Alfie more reliant on his ventilator. The cumulative effect of all of them together increases their side-effects.
Alfie’s family have a number of questions surrounding his care, one of them being why he has been intubated for so long without ever being offered the option of a tracheostomy? Intubation is never intended as a long term option – it is uncomfortable and the tube which Alfie has fitted has been identified as being too large for a child of his age and size. One of the reasons why Alfie needs sedative drugs is order to suppress the gagging and discomfort which accompanies intubation.
Another effect of intubation is that of long term damage to the trachea, vocal chords and muscles required for breathing. It is considered best practice to perform a tracheostomy after 3 weeks of intubation in order to lessen these risks. A tracheostomy does less damage to the trachea, doesn’t required sedation and makes it much more likely that the patient could be weaned off the ventilator and in many cases, even allows for the patient to go home.
While it cannot be guaranteed that this would have been the outcome for Alfie , it calls into question Alder Hey’s submission that all options have been exhausted, because clearly this one has not been tried and as a result Alfie has potentially missed out on an extra year of babyhood and development.
Despite previously recommending a brain biopsy for Alfie, Alder Hey state that this procedure is too invasive.
Another hospital in Europe has agreed to take Alfie and perform a tracheostomy immediately.
On the subject of tubes Alfie also has a feeding tube fitted through his nose and down his throat, along with the ventilator tube. It’s quite a lot of equipment to be fitted into a baby’s tiny throat for an entire year, especially with the large uncomfortable tapes across his face.
As with the intubation, when internal feeding is required for a long time, normal practice is to fit a PEG feeding tube directly to the stomach, yet Alfie has not received one. The nasal tubes were not designed to be fitted long term and are insanitary. Last time Alfie’s feeding tube was changed it was blocked with deposits from meds and food. Alfie’s current tube has mould on a connecting piece and apparently the hospital hasn’t responded to repeated inquiries about changing it.
This is particularly concerning given that Alfie seems to be prone to repeated infections, especially when the staff keep informing his parents that the next infection could kill him. So far every time that Alfie has contracted a life-threatening infection, being a little fighter, he’s overcome it. Alfie’s team also say that they have seen older children with finer, narrower tubes than his and ask why this is, especially when Alfie’s breathing tube is already too large.
Alfie’s parents have repeatedly requested a PEG tube, other doctors have recommended this, but Alder Hey refuses, for reasons best known to themselves.
You can’t therefore blame Alfie’s parents for wondering what on earth is going on with the care of their son and for feeling that Alder Hey wrote their son off some time ago, which would certainly explain their intransigence.
That said, both Kate James and Tom Evans, Alfie’s mum and dad have behaved impeccably and have begged the public not to engage in any kind of abuse towards the staff of Alder Hey. They just want their questions answered and for their son to be given the care that he deserves.
Which brings me on to the next bit. Having informed the parents to ‘get lawyered up’ in July of this year, Alder Hey have filed to the High Court for permission to appoint a legal Guardian to act on behalf of Alfie, with the stated intention of having him withdrawn from life support in order that he may ‘die with dignity’.
Their legal submission states that he is insensate. However I have seen the certificate signed on the 11th December from the medical director of a transport company who independently examined Alfie, which clearly states that he responds to voices and is good to go.
Why won’t Alder Hey facilitate this? Why can’t Alfie travel to a hospital which will give him the tracheostomy which might enable him to be weaned off the drugs. We’re not talking about giving him an untested experimental course of treatment, as in the case of Charlie Gard, but actually just giving him the care that he has so far been denied. When the alternative is death, why aren’t other people and state-of the art institutions not allowed to give him a shot at life?
It seems as though Alder Hey are playing fast and loose with the truth. Here’s what his team said to me this evening:
“We had a meeting on Friday December 1 with Alder Hey’s medical director and the three doctors dealing directly with Alfie. In that meeting, which we asked for specifically without lawyers, as parents with doctors, as a prelude before mediation, for clarifying issues. Written follow-up statements were next and then, mediation. Unfortunately the hospital went and filed to the court behind our backs and making a false statement against us on the status of mediation. We requested adjournment from the court to satisfy procedural requirements and were denied. Then we applied pressure to the hospital and they agree to request adjournment and go forward with mediation first. Unfortunately the court refused again to adjourn. We are concerned about the guardian issue and are hoping the court will see our points on several important issues in this hearing.”
So having previously been given a Christmas reprieve, Alfie’s dad is being dragged away from his bedside for a court hearing tomorrow. It is expected that the court will appoint a guardian to act in Alfie’s best interests.
No doubt some readers may think that all sounds perfectly reasonable. Why is it presumed that Alfie actually needs a guardian and that his parents aren’t capable of acting in his best interests, especially when the hospital is claiming that it’s in his best interests for him to die.
It is utterly obscene to state that by virtue of their great love for him, Alfie’s parents are incapable of doing right by him and therefore what Alfie needs is a complete stranger to decide whether or not he’s better off dead. This is no better than state-sanctioned euthanasia of a child who doesn’t even have a diagnosis. Alfie’s parents have done nothing which would merit the appointment of a guardian. In fact, it was his mother who took him to the doctor several times in the months after he was born, having noticed he hadn’t met his milestones and was fobbed off.
Remember who baby Charlie Gard’s guardian was? None other than Victoria Butler-Cole, the chairman of Compassion in Dying, a euthanasia charity.
It also seems that some of the medical testimony which will be given to the court, that even a light touch causes him a seizure, substantially misrepresents his situation and has been disproven both by video evidence and an independent examination last week.
It’s always hard writing about this kind of thing because we want to have such trust in our medical professionals and I know so many families who have been given the most optimal of care when their children are very sick.
That said it’s very difficult to come to any other conclusion other than that for one reason or another, somewhere along the line, the decision has been taken that it’s not worth trying to save the life of baby Alfie Evans.
I can only speculate why this might be, perhaps it’s because his parents are both very young working-class blue collar types and some kind of snobbery is in play. Or maybe it’s because it’s thought that Alfie will be too much of a drain on the NHS in the long-term and perhaps if his parents could have been persuaded to accept that he ought to be taken off life-support, his organs could have been used for donation?
No matter what the motivation, this case, along with that of Charlie Gard seems to be all about the normalisation of euthanasia. Edmund Adamus came under fire in 2009 when he called the UK, the geo-political centre of the culture of death, but you have to wonder what is going on in a country where if your child is critically ill, regardless of how fantastic a parent you might have been, the state determines that only they, not you, are able to determine whether they should live or die.
Edited Wednesday 20th December 2017: The first version of this blog was published on Monday 18th December 2017, the day before the Directions Hearing in the High Court. At this hearing, an anonymity order was put in place which prohibited publication in the UK media of the names of the medical professionals involved in the case. Out of courtesy for this order, passed on Tuesday 19th December, I have therefore removed the names of the individuals, even though this blog is published on an international platform, for an international readership.
I was able to verify the involvement of one of the named individuals in another well-known case via a number of independent sources, which I already knew at the time of the case.
A few weeks ago I appeared on Sky News, as I tend to do so fairly frequently, and discussed the Westminster sex scandal. I requested the clip from the Sky archive a few days ago and received it back this morning, whereupon I duly uploaded it to my YouTube channel where I am collating such appearances. As far as I am aware, I am allowed to do this and there is a time code burnt into the clip, reflecting that this is for personal use.
Within 40 minutes of uploading the clip, I received a notification from YouTube that it had been removed because it violated their terms of service. It wasn’t a copyright issue as far as I am aware, because when I have inadvertently done this in the past before, the video is removed and you are told why. No strike is applied to your account. The two previous examples being when I uploaded a video of my daughter singing a Rogers and Hammerstein song and when I uploaded an appearance on Good Morning Britain. The GMB team like to stream these on their own feed, so removed it. Fair enough.
Evidently someone saw this video, took offence and reported it quick sharp. Perhaps it was because I used Damian Green and Charlie Elphick in the tags, given that they were the subjects under discussion. Maybe it was a relative of Alan Clarke, or perhaps it was John Prescott, or maybe a member of the Conservative party who was feeling a little sensitive? Perhaps it was one of my stalkers?
I have heard a lot about YouTube censorship but never thought it would apply to me!
Here’s the offending material in any event. To counter Peter Edwards point, my understanding is that Charlie Elphicke didn’t hang around on social media, he did ask Tory whips about the allegations and was kept in the dark for some time.
Last week on the Daily Politics show, Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing who has been openly encouraging the pro-choice group, Sister Supporter, appeared to waver slightly on her stance.
When it was pointed out to her that it was in fact the pro-choice group Sister Supporter who have been turning the clinic vigils into something of a circus, Ms Huq responded as follows in relation to the protestors, “Clear them all” and “I would like to keep these pavements a safer space and clear of protestors from whatever side”.
I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not Anna Vegilo-White might not have seen that as something of a betrayal coming from the MP who has supported and encouraged her group . Ms Huq appeared to be saying that they were all as bad as each other.
The point made by Clare McCullough, one of the founders of the Good Counsel Network was a valid one. Until the emergence of Sister Supporter about a year ago, there had never previously been any complaints of nuisance by the local residents.
The vigil consists of a handful of mainly elderly people, on the green across the road from the abortion facility, who quietly pray the rosary. They have a couple of signs, one of the Virgin Mary, one a nice picture of a baby in utero, and another which invites women to approach them if they are in need of any assistance. Slightly more controversially, placed on the ground in front of them are three models of plastic foetuses, all anatomically correct and in proportion, corresponding to different stages in pregnancy. One volunteer stands near the clinic entrance offering passers-by a leaflet, which they are free to accept or decline.
If there was harassment of the nature alleged by Sister Supporter and Marie Stopes, including that which stops women and supposedly staff, from entering and leaving the clinic, then existing legislation, such as the Public Order Act, which has been successfully used to prosecute anti-vivisectionist and animal rights campaigners, would already have been used. In an age where the camera phone is ubiquitous and the clinic has two cameras permanently trained upon the vigil, why has there been no footage released of women being harassed, shouted at, abused and even, as Pam Lowe attempted to claim on BBC1’s Sunday Morning Live, having what she sincerely hoped was, holy water, thrown over them. A particularly vicious lie.
The fact is that no criminal prosecution or even arrests have taken place, because no criminal activity has occurred. The Public Space Protection Order, which Ealing Borough Council hopes to impose will criminalise the activities of those on the vigil. Activity, which could arguably be defined as freedom of speech and the right to protest, which is covered by sections 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act.
Every Saturday, Sister Supporter and their pro-choice rentamob (consisting of an existing London network of pro-choice supporters), pitch up wearing pink high vis jackets, brandishing megaphones and boomboxes and attempt to disrupt the prayer vigil. They sing erudite songs of female emancipation such as Abba’s totemic ‘Dancing Queen’, before tailing off and launching into other classics, such as ‘If you like Pina Colada’. Let’s be honest, it’s about the only pain relief that’s going to be on offer inside a Marie Stopes, according to the recent findings of the CQC.
I’ve blogged about the antics of Sister Supporter before, but they have happily disrupted a peaceful religious procession which departs from Ealing Abbey every Saturday and also attempted to prevent Mass-goers from leaving the building. Their aim is to put as much pressure as possible on the abbey in order that they will then discourage Catholics from participating in any kind of pro-life activity in public. It seems that Sister Supporter aren’t very tolerant when it comes to religious freedom.
As Clare McCullough pointed out on a number of different media, it’s actually far worse for women entering the abortion clinic to be faced with a confrontational throng and an atmosphere of hostility, where they can’t tell who is who, rather than one single person, offering them a leaflet.
Back to Rupa Huq and today in the House of Commons, Ms Huq raised a question about the proposed PSPO in Ealing and whether or not these can be extended across the country, to which Conservative in name only, Amber Rudd appeared to signal her agreement. As part of her question Rupa alluded to the pro-choice demonstrators who have for the past year been creating a situation of hostility and chaos outside the abortion facility, making it very difficult for the general public to pass. (Unlike our quiet rosary prayers who stand on the grass).
It’s clear then, that Rupa Huq sees both sides as a nuisance and equally vexatious. Which begs the question, why does she regularly join in and lead the protestors such as she did this weekend, the day AFTER she had called for them all to be cleared on the Daily Politics show.
And riddle me this. Why then this morning, did Marie Stopes have to ask a group of pro-choice students from a local university not to film their clients as they entered the clinic? Did Marie Stopes note this pro-choice harassment in their log book? Did they film the pro-choice students filming? You can bet your life that had this been pro-lifers the footage would have been all over social media quick sharp complete with obligatory rosaries and ovaries hashtag.
A cynic would suggest that the new pro-choice tactic is indeed to cause as much disruption outside of the clinics as possible in order to get everyone tarred with the same brush and banned as swiftly as possible. No more women helped to choose life for their baby outside of the clinic and no awkward visible reminders of the humanity of the child whose life is at stake. How very convenient.
This is a long post/reflection, written for the benefit of myself, my children and anyone else who may be interested, which doesn’t contain any profound insight but is just my personal recollections on the momentous events of twenty years ago. Thus is the joy of a personal blog.
The death of Diana Princess of Wales, was the Kennedy moment for Generation X and a seminal moment for those of us who growing up in the 1980’s when Diana was our prototype WAG. One of my earliest memories is of my father buying scrapbooks from WH Smiths for my sister and I and encouraging us to cut out and paste various items about her in the newspapers, once her engagement was announced. Ever the dutiful father he believed that he was not only engaging his children in a worthwhile educational activity, (in the days long before educational checklists about improving and stimulating your children’s motor skills) but also that we would be creating a moment of important historical significance. The scrap books probably went the way of all flesh, but I remember sticking in commemorative milk bottle tops and even at the age of 6 being aware that the whole world was fascinated with the woman, but believing that the interest was entirely legitimate, after all she was going to be our Queen.
Feeling oh so grown-up, my sister and I were allowed to have our first proper grown-up ‘Lady Di’ style haircuts in our local village hairdressers and for years, those blouses with the pie crust collars, (sticking up of course) teamed with pinafores and cardigans from Laura Ashley, were deemed to be just the thing!
My family bought hook line and sinker into the Diana craze. We had tea towels, commemorative biscuit barrels, coins from the Royal Mint, engraved crystal glasses, the full glut of Charles and Di wedding kitsch partly because my parents got caught up in the sense that this was an important historic event, and partly, because they hoped that in the future some of the more expensive limited editions, might well be worth a bob or two. By comparison when it came to Andrew and Fergie a few years later, they simply weren’t fussed. Probably because my mother never really liked Fergie very much, she appeared to be ‘too full of herself’.
Come the wedding day, we all sat down and watched the entire thing, from start to finish, my mother all misty-eyed, catching every last detail, from the dress (so terribly creased, what a pity), to the kiss (how wonderful), to the going-away outfit. At school we were issued with commemorative Ladybird books about Prince Charles which today would cause howls of protest about inequality and the patriarchy from the feminists and like everyone else in the country we bought the purple hard-backed Ladybird containing photographs of the glorious event. My husband still has his copy. Later on, we waited agog, to learn what the names of the children were going to be “William, not to be shortened to Willy” and “Henry”, which was announced via ticker tape across an episode of Jim’ll Fix It, one Saturday afternoon. I didn’t like it very much, but my father thought it was ‘super’! We had the press cutting of Diana emerging from the hospital clutching him pinned up in our Year 6 classroom.
A few days ago amidst all the anniversary hype, I asked my thirteen year old daughter what she knew about Princess Diana, keen to get an impression from someone for whom Diana is purely a historical figure, to see what, if any narrative she had picked up about this most enigmatic of women. The response was fascinating in that it was purely factual. “She was Prince William and Harry’s mother, she was married to Charles, but divorced him and died in a car crash in Paris”, was the extent of her knowledge. Which was reassuringly detached, with no emotional bias about Diana’s good and bad qualities and no blame attaching to anyone about her demise. I chose not to disabuse her or infuse her with my own perspective.
I did however ask her to think of the most famous person or celebrity in the whole world. Having pondered on the issue for some time, (my daughter isn’t particularly media savvy or into celebrity culture), she came up with Kim Kardashian, on the basis that everyone at school is always talking about her.
Okay, I said, well take someone as famous as Kim Kardashian and multiply that fame by millions. That’s what we are talking about with Princess Diana. In the age before the internet, almost everybody in the world knew who she was, and her being on the front page of a newspaper, would mean that it would immediately sell significantly more copies. My daughter gasped and was clearly struggling to get her head around the concept. When I described the public grief in the aftermath of her death, all my daughter could say, was that it was William and Harry who she felt most sorry for and who surely would have experienced the most pain.
It’s interesting to ponder whether or not Diana’s fame would have lasted and whether or not she would have had quite the same impact in the world of social media, but I tend to think she would probably have been an avid user of Twitter and Instagram. In many ways they would have been her ideal medium – she could tease and tantalise the general public with snippets of information about her, various thoughts, photos from the most flattering angle, and all on her terms. Would that have affected her global fame in any way – probably not, it would have enhanced it and I imagine she would have more followers than anyone; POTUS and pontifex included. Though I also suspect that she would have had a tendency to wash some of that dirty laundry in public and perhaps divulge too much information, though she would never have been one to post photographs of her dinner or vulgar displays of wealth. She would however, have been the queen of passive-aggressive subtweets and enigmatic statements.
Diana certainly created and fed the general public’s hunger to devour all the details about her life and due to social media, reality TV (remembering that the very first episode of Big Brother began 3 years after her death) and an embarrassment of aspiring celebrities willing to share every detail of their lives with you, there hasn’t ever been her celebrity equal. Perhaps its because everyone else lacks the Royal family connection, or simply that Diana had that undefinable je ne sais crois, wow-factor that simply cannot be manufactured.
Which brings me on to the unprecedented outpouring of sentimentality surrounding her death and my own memories and perspective on what I deem the great week of madness.
My Kennedy Moment
The day it happened, Saturday 30th August, I was working for a UK charter airline and had been scheduled on a four day trip to Orlando, which I was looking forward to. It was going to be a few days break following a week of packed short-haul holiday flights in the middle of peak Summer Holiday season.
On the way to the airport the steering on my sporty Ford Escort Si (you can take the girl out of Essex), suddenly went all over the place, and pulling into Clacket Lane services just off the entrance to the M23, I discovered that I had not one, but two wretched flat tyres. Dismayed, I rang first the recovery services and then crewing to inform them that I probably would not be able to make the flight and that they would need to call someone off standby. Crewing asked me to make my way to the airport as soon as it was fixed, in order that they could then put me onto a different flight.
Instead of going to Orlando, I ended up supervising a flight which ought to have taken off at 6am from Stansted, but had gone tech – the passengers had been bused to Gatwick and the flight eventually took off at 6pm. It was free drinks and headsets all round but although they were irritated by the delay, the passengers did at least have the consolation of knowing that at last they were going. It also helped that the plane which had gone tech was an Airbus A320, the replacement was a Boeing 757, meaning that instead of being crammed in like sardines they were better able to spread out.
So far so good. The return leg was not so easy. We’d flown to Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands, a 4 and half hour hop each way and had to ensure that the flight departed before midnight, when the airport closed. Having landed at around 10.30, it was therefore a pretty tight turnaround to get everyone disembarked, the aircraft cleaned and security checked and everyone back on, before departing.
The passengers weren’t happy. They’d been sat around in the departure lounge for over 12 hours, apparently with no food or drink and due to some juggling by crewing who had amalgamated some flights, were flying back to Gatwick instead of Manchester or Stansted. I remember one man getting particularly animated as he pointed out to me that the plane had to fly x thousand miles and how could he be sure that the captain had done all the safety checks, with such a quick turnaround. Perfecting my gallic shrug, (not regaling him with the fact I too had been up since crack of dawn and had a crap day), I informed him that the captain and crew were as keen not to die as he was and would be extremely thorough in their checks. What we didn’t know until Ops radioed us mid-flight, was that thanks to the quick turnaround, nobody’s luggage had been loaded in the hold. We then had to announce this upon landing and there was uproar. One man had left his house keys and his medication in his luggage and wanted to know precisely what I was going to do about it.
Fortunately the aircraft was met by a bevy of customer service agents and so it was I wearily trudged through security, in the small hours of the morning, gloomily anticipating the long drive home after a day from hell.
Somebody in dispatch asked me if I’d heard the news. Diana had been in a car accident she was okay, she’d broken her arm, but her new boyfriend had died.
Normally, I wouldn’t really have been interested, but there had been a frenzy of tabloid media coverage recently and so I both felt sorry for her and imagined all the various lurid headlines that we would inevitably see. I was living with my parents who have had a fifty year habit of buying two tabloids and two broadsheets on a daily basis, so had become something of a news junkie.
Probably because she had recently been pictured at the funeral of her friend Gianni Versace, I imagined the inevitable paps of her wearing darkened glasses and looking extremely sombre. I also felt quite sorry and sad for her. She had appeared to be quite smitten with this chap, even if he was son of an Egyptian Grocer and not really in her league.
I don’t know what compelled me to do so, but I rang my mother (on my swish new Orange Motorola phone) who usually checked Ceefax to keep an eye on what time my flights were landing and asked her if she’d heard. Irritated to be woken up, she said yes, she already knew, so what?!
Anxious for some banter and music to keep me awake on the drive home, I kept fiddling with the radio unable to find a single station with a presenter, which was unusual. It was all back-to-back music. Finally, as I pulled into Danbury, the village next to mine and my car climbed up the hill of the main road, the 4am news bulletin came on.
This won’t mean anything to anyone who isn’t a resident, but it was right as I reached the summit, with the Griffin pub on the left, and Danbury church on the right, which local legend has as being the highest point in Essex, that the shocking headline that Diana Princess of Wales has been killed in a car accident, blared through the car speakers. The hairs on my arm immediately stood up as a chill shot through me. I tried not to equate the significance of where I was (Danbury Church is purported to have strong links with the occult and satanic community) with what I was hearing, but I’ll never forget that inexplicable sense of dread.
I drove the last mile and half home, in a state of shock, pulled into our drive, only to be met by mother standing at the front door with a grim look on her face, shaking and crying that “she’s dead you, know”.
We sat there, watching SkyNews, trying to take it all in and get the latest headlines, from the fact that the princes had been woken and informed, all in a state of shock. Surely this couldn’t have happened?
Eventually, I turned into bed having been up for almost 24 hours, at 8am and woke up at midday, when my mum was serving lunch and my dad had come back from playing the organ at the morning service and my dad opened a bottle of champagne and raised a glass and made a little toast to her. I can’t remember precisely what he said, something about how she had a sad life and how he hoped she now rests in peace, which made us all cry, because my dad is not really given to effusive displays of emotion or sentimentality.
After lunch, I rang my friend Phil, again someone else who wasn’t prone to hysteria and he told me that he’d spent the morning cycling around London doing ‘the Diana tour’, going past all the palaces. Why? I asked him. He had a sense that something momentous was unfolding and wanted to be a part of it, viewing history as it happened. He didn’t wish to lay flowers or grieve, his desire was was about wanting to participate, albeit in a passive way, as an observer.
Later on, I sloped off down the local pub, the nucleus of my local community, to catch up with my friends, on this momentous day. It really was a different era, I was one of the few people who had a mobile phone (which was only used for when crewing might need to contact me on stand-by) and you could drop by the pub at any given time, knowing that at least one of your mates would be there, without needing to first send a text. Texting as a practice, hadn’t as yet, taken off.
The newly installed TV was switched to the news and having gasped at the sight of Diana’s coffin landing back into RAF Northolt and thrown peanuts at Tony Blair’s saccharin ‘people’s princess’ cliche being played on repeated loop, realising that the next week would consist of regurgitated footage, the conversation moved on and the gallows humour began to kick in.
The week of madness
One one flight, in the run-up to the funeral, the pilot actually pointed out the carpet of flowers, visible from the air, which you could see on the approach into Heathrow airport. It seemed incredible.
Like my friend Phil, on my next days off, I felt compelled to go into central London, just to witness everything first hand for myself. I didn’t want to sign any books of condolence, or leave any flowers, that felt pointless but I also had this sense that I wanted to be a part of history.
So I went and marvelled at the fact that there appeared to be no flowers left outside any newsagents or supermarkets or garages. That people were sat with gloomy faces on the tube, clutching cellophane-wrapped bouquets. It felt like such a waste.
Walking up the Mall, was surreal. Was this really happening, I asked myself, who were these people who were compelled to spend money on bouquets of flowers which would be wasted, for a woman whom they never really knew or loved in any meaningful sense? What was the point of it? Was there absolutely no self-awareness in some of the childish scrawl or slogans displayed on make-shift home-made banners. Diana and Dodi united for ever in heaven. How could they be so sure? How did they know that this relationship was either going to be permanent, or that they had indeed gone to heaven? What insight did they have that I didn’t. Did they not see how tacky the various heart cushions, tea-lights and spontaneous memorials were. Couldn’t they tell what a waste of time and effort this all was? What was the point? What was being achieved? Were these people who appeared to be crying as they made their way to touch the gates of Kensington Palace or Buckingham Palace, really genuine, or was this put on for the multitude of global camera crews who were filming the event?
On the day of the funeral, my sister who lived in Northampton, in the next door village to Althorpe, said that there wasn’t a bouquet of flowers to be had anywhere. She too, had wanted to line the route of the courtege.
She Pondered all these things
I guess I’d like to say that I was above all of the melodrama, but as my initial reaction to her death demonstrated and my desire to go and gawp at the mourners demonstrates, clearly I too was affected on some level.
What happened to the British psyche twenty years ago? I think Peter Hitchens is correct and the nation was swept up in a mass hysteria, thanks to the steady demise of Christianity in the latter half of the twentieth century. People had no death rituals upon which to fall back and no sense of eternal consolation.
My desire to go and witness and thus feel as though I was participating in something historic speaks to a lack of faith or knowledge of the metaphysical. I think many of those who turned up were not doing so because they felt a genuine profound sense of loss (aside from the woman who would no longer be filling the column inches, influencing their fashion choices and adding a splash of colour distracting them away from their own dull grey lives) but because by participating in this mass movement or outpouring of national grief, they felt that they too were becoming part of and fixing their marker on history: they were linking themselves to Diana and somehow securing their own immortality. As for the rage felt over the refusal to fly the flag at half-mast – that was politically and media driven and simple scapegoating, ironic coming from an industry that bore much of the blame.
There was a sense of dismay as the realisation hit, that being rich, famous, and feted all over the world for her beauty and humanitarian qualities, didn’t save Diana from a brutal, messy, grim, grisly senseless, unnecessary and premature death in a squalid underpass. If it happened to her, then it could happen to us and death is something that we all must face.
The carpets of flowers, were not, as Cardinal Nichols claims, a rejection of the reformation and a harking back to a time of veneration of the saints, but the primal scream of a grief rooted in nihilistic fear.
I have my pet theory about whether or not Diana is truly buried on that lonely island in the middle of Althorpe, but like everyone reading this blog, won’t be around long enough to discover whether or not I am right. I find it really hard to believe that her wishes, not to be buried next to her father in the family chapel at Althorn would not be respected, and the part of me which is susceptible to conspiracy theories, is suspicious (not so much by the convenient ban on flights over the airspace on the day of the funeral), but by how on earth a lead-lined coffin, which was so heavy it took 6 burley guardsmen to carry, could be easily transported across a small lake, usually accessed by rowing boats. Also interesting to note that the family chapel, which was not required for the burial service, was also closed for a few weeks either side of the funeral.
If it were to be the case that Diana was secretly buried at Althorpe, that would of course mean that she had achieved in death, what she could not in life. She would have pulled off her greatest deception of all and be interred in peace, in a publicly accessible place, having finally got one over on the press.
And as long as people are alive who remember her, the speculation, the mythologising and the reminiscing about this remarkable woman will go on. I also think she would have made a spectacular convert to Catholicism. She’d have been a robust and natural ally of the pro-life movement (it’s hard to imagine Diana being anything other than repulsed by abortion, though she would have enormous sympathy and affinity with pregnant women in difficult situations) and there are plenty of saints with whom she would have found common cause. I can also see her as a mantilla-wearing devotee of the Old Rite, being attracted by the antiquity, the tradition and the calm. May she rest in peace.
There was nothing new to bring to the table, other than once again, it was an opportunity to berate the Catholic Church for not bringing her teaching ‘up to date’ (the truths of Christ and His Church are timeless, they do not blow the way of the prevailing wind) and for people to argue why contraception is so desperately needed while representatives of the Church defend themselves.
The BBC rang me about the show earlier in the week, but thanks to having appeared only two weeks previously where I discussed abortion, and a previous appearance on this subject, I was out of the running but was heartily glad to be able to recommend Obianuju Ekeocha and Clare Short, who the BBC decided to run with. It’s great to see real-life Catholics who love the Church defend these issues, and it’s pretty hard for anyone to disagree with an African woman who has on the ground knowledge and experience of these issues and who is in the process of filming a documentary about this very subject.
You never get much time to be able to put forward your points in any real detail, however I would note the following which didn’t come up in debate.
1) In a recent Com Res Poll in the UK 65% of respondents strongly opposed UK overseas aid money going towards the provision of abortion overseas. The teaching of the Catholic Church has absolutely nothing to do with this. The UK has not been a Catholic country for over 500 years.
2) Melinda Gates has expressed a hope that the Catholic Church will change her position on contraception, however what she omits is that the term ‘birth control’ is now being used to cover both provision of contraception and abortion. While most people might think of birth control as being to do with contraception, the reality is that the term is used to encompass abortion. This was admitted by Ann Furedi, CEO of BPAS, the UK’s largest abortion clinic, who only last week said that over 50% of their clients who present for abortion were using some form of contraception and that abortion must be considered as a form of birth control.
3) Therefore if we are talking about introducing birth control into Africa, this also means provision of abortion, out of which providers are sure to make a pretty penny, especially if they are funded by the likes of Melinda Gates, government-funded direct aid and NGO’s. Abortion clinics will claim that they are providing birth control both in the form of abortions and devices to prevent pregnancies but as in the UK, the bulk of their profits will come from abortion provision.
4) If well over 50% of women who have an abortion are already attempting to use some form of contraception, then clearly it is failing, therefore by introducing this into Africa to meet some form of pre-determined need, you are, very conveniently, creating abortion demand, by setting up an unrealistic expectation about prevention of pregnancy and potentially encouraging women to expose themselves to more risk. Are women in Africa properly informed about the potential failure rate of various devices, or indeed any potential health risks?
5) There is absolutely no point in providing contraception, unless you are going to provide basic infrastructure, such as food, clean water and sanitation, skilled birth attendants (for those women who do want to have as many children as they choose), medication, roads, telecommunications, education and opportunities. Stopping a woman from having lots of babies doesn’t mean that the next day that she is going to go out and smash the glass ceiling, particularly if she’s neither got the skills or education to apply for a job, roads to travel on, someone to look after any existing children and presuming any such jobs exist. From this outsider’s perspective, this looks to be all about stopping poor African women from breeding as a matter of first importance without actually giving women the tools that they need to improve their lives.
6) What provision is being put in place for African women who may have fertility or other reproductive health issues which prevent them from conceiving, aside from an exploitative IVF, only available for the super-rich?
In the UK, where we have abundant access to contraception, over 185,000 abortions take place every year, mainly due to social reasons and a strain of antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea is rapidly spreading across the country.
Neither of these things are happening because people are ignorant that sex can result in pregnancy or infection, but because people mistakenly believe that they can reduce the risks to almost zero and even if the worst happens, there’s always a cure, either in the form of abortion or medicine. Believing that you have to be ignorant or foolish to experience unplanned pregnancy or contract an STI, is a far more comfortable narrative than the idea that sexual libertinism is inherently unsafe and exposes you to unnecessary risk.
The only reason that people are so desperate for the Church to change her teachings in this area is to validate their own beliefs and lifestyle and to stop people from being influenced by their religious beliefs when choosing not to adopt contraception.
The acid test here, is given the recent advance in technology which allows for women to track their basal temperature and other fertility markers, and predict with a high degree of accuracy their fertile periods, does Melinda Gates and co consider this a valid form of avoiding pregnancy, and will they be making it available for women in Africa, in order that they can make a genuinely informed choice? We know that many women experience gruelling side effects and are unable to tolerate synthetic contraception. Is this being explained to them and what provision is made to monitor the long term health of women on contraceptives, especially if they don’t have easy access to a clinic? And if African women are not being offered ways of naturally monitoring their fertility, especially as they are the most environmentally friendly method, why is this?
Who could have the most to gain from shovelling pills, synthetic hormones and various pharma devices (which may or may not work) with little oversight or supervision, into poor women in the developing world? Just like who has the most to gain from promoting and weaning African infants onto powdered infant formula? The answer in both cases, is certainly not women and children themselves and we should be thankful that the Catholic church has no part in it.
The story of when I was given sex-education has passed into our family’s folk-lore. I still remember it extremely well. I was in the fourth form, or Year 4 in today’s money, (aged 8 going on 9), when a letter came home from school, that we were going to be taught about the birds and the bees, by the headmaster, together with a note about the explanatory material.
In 1982 or it may have been 1983, (I can’t remember which precise term this took place, although I do remember it was most definitely Form 4, I can still recall the desk I was sitting at), this was a big thing. Especially in an independent preparatory school in the heart of a quiet ancient Essex market town. The school was a single-form entry, the ethos was that of muscular Christianity, the pupil intake consisted mainly of children of local wealthy farming families and the headmaster made liberal use of the slipper on naughty schoolboys.
The headmaster who despite being the proprietor of a decidedly middle-class private school and the son of peer of the realm, appeared to nurture progressive, left-wing views and suddenly out of the blue decided to take it upon himself to teach the fourth-form sex ed.
What do I remember from it? Horrible cross-section drawings of a man and a woman engaged in the marital act, together with diagrams of male and female reproductive parts, which I found to be boring and meaningless. In fact, I found the whole thing so dull, that I coloured in the A4 cross-section diagram of male reproductive parts, which was supposed to be labelled, in pink and green diagonal stripes, resembling the pattern of a barber’s pole!
Freud would have had a field day, but oh how my parents roared with laughter when I brought the booklet home, in order for them to be able to see the material we were covering for themselves and ‘support’ the curriculum. Instead of the embarrassing baby photographs, for the past 30 years they have regaled friends and family with the story of the time that Caroline coloured in the diagram of a man’s willy in garish barbershop stripes.
Parents like talking about these things, not to embarrass us, but because they like to wistfully recall the time before we had put away child-like things. They remember with fondness and no doubt, rose-tinted glasses, the innocence of our childhood. These stories are only embarrassing to those who are desperately trying to cultivate an image of sophistication or coolness and the story of that time that you stuck a pea up your nose which had to be removed by the GP (yep, me again) is a reminder of one’s base humanity and that like the rest of us, you were born, have bodily functions, and will one day die. Nobody seriously judges the adult on the basis of some barely remembered childhood escapades.
My parents like telling this tale because it is inherently funny. The 8 year old more interested in treating the picture of the male organ as a piece of colouring rather than deriving any educational benefit from it and who had no idea that colouring it in could be seen as inappropriate. I vaguely remember doing it as well. I think it was because I found the whole thing deadly boring.
The idea of men and women ‘doing it’ was utterly repellant, there was no way, thought my 8 year old self, would I entertain the idea of one of the boys in my class ever doing that, not even when I was grown up – it looked painful! And of course, no kind of context was provided, that the couple might be in love, would be married, that the love meant that they’d want to have a baby together, no, it was the sheer mechanics of the thing. Being the youngest child of two only children, I had no first cousins and very little experience of younger children or babies, wasn’t that fussed about them and certainly not enough to suddenly decide to do ‘that’ with a boy. It just seemed so cold and revolting.
At the same time as being taught about reproduction however, we were also taught the word ‘gay’. It meant, said our headmaster earnestly, that a man or a woman may sometimes fall in love with each other, instead of with the opposite sex. People who were gay ‘could not help it’, it was not funny, no laughing matter, they should not be mocked and should be treated the same way as everybody else.
That was something we took on board, along with the previous warning we’d had about the amount of trouble we would be in, if following episodes of Blue Peter, we were overheard calling anybody a ‘spastic, spas’ or ‘Joey’ in the playground with accompanying hand gestures. You’d be in very big trouble indeed!!
Now all this was fair enough, though from what I remember, outlawing specific terms of insults in the playground, just made them more exciting for the really naughty children (usually boys) who were trying to push boundaries. They’d still use the words, but in the wooded area behind the school hall, where the teachers didn’t bother to patrol, not because they wanted to be ‘able-ist’ or homophobic or whatever, but because they got a frisson out of being naughty. The only effect banning words had, was to encourage children to snitch on each other. Sometimes this would be genuine; you’d get the child who understood why the term ‘Joey’ was really wrong, but sometimes, one child would misreport another, just to get them into trouble. It’s been a feature of playgrounds since time immemorial.
I remember thinking that it was wrong to mock people because they fell in love with those of the same sex, but I thought that was primarily about adults. Aged 8, the word ‘gay’ wasn’t really milling around the playground as to the best of my knowledge, sex wasn’t something we were thinking about. Not even in 1982/3. The contents of the sex ed lesson were universally received with an ‘eurgh’ by a class who were too shocked to say much about it to each other. I’m not aware that we had any pupil (though we are culturally obliged to call even 4 year olds, the adult term, ‘students’ these days) who was gay, but neither did we have any pupils who were ‘going out’ with anyone either. Children being sexually interested in each other, just wasn’t a thing. Kiss-chase was something you did to wind the boys up, just as they would run after you with plastic spiders!
When we revisited sex ed in Year 6, aged 10-11 it was met with much hilarity, still due to embarrassment. My little friend Rebecca kept talking about the “scrotchum” instead of the ‘scrotum’ when labelling her diagram and we racked our brains as to what one of these was, still not fully understanding. We had ‘the period talk’ and for a while discussion about sanitary products prevailed and we wondered who had a mum who wouldn’t talk about these things, like the grim-faced snappily silent mother of the booklet, and breathed a sigh of relief that we’d still be able to go swimming and play netball.
Can I say that aside from knowing not to be unkind about people who were gay (or had cerebral palsy) that my primary school sex education was especially necessary or relevant? Did it help equip me ‘morally, culturally, spiritually and socially’? Does it stand as a shining example of why we so apparently need high quality sex-ed in primary schools today? Does it explain why pupils specifically need to be taught that some people are ‘born in the wrong body’ (a statement with no scientific evidence behind it) and why 4 year olds need to be encouraged to believe that changing your sex is as easy as deciding that you’d prefer to wear a dress and that being male and female is all about the toys you wish to play with and the various superheroes or children’s characters you like and dislike?
Does the fact that Savannah has two daddies or that Kacey-Eve only has a mum, mean that children need to be taught about adult sexuality in depth in order to be ‘safe’, or will a simple ‘be kind, be nice, be loving and respectful to everybody, including to those different to you’, no longer suffice?
My pink and green diagonally striped ‘barber’s pole’ is as sound a metaphor as any, when we’re talking about the usefulness of primary school sex ed.
The Catholic Education Service (CES) have denied that their anti-homophobic bullying guidelines document was funded by any outside organisation, in attempt to quell the storm which is gathering on the Catholic blogosphere and on social media.
However, that does not let them off the hook entirely because in the email circulated to Diocesan Schools Commissioners and Directors of Education which accompanied the document, Marie Stafford, Assistant Director of the Catholic Education Service states the following:
“The CES has received funding to cover the printing and distribution of a hard copy for each school. Each diocese will receive a copy for each of its schools to distribute as it sees fit. If you do not want to receive hard copies for your schools, please let me know before Friday 19th May 2017.”
Therefore the question remains, who provided the funds for the distribution of the document? The statement from the CES which says “The document is a collaboration between the CES and St Mary’s and no external funding has been received for it”, is ambiguous. It could be interpreted as a reference to the commissioning and production of the document, but not its distribution.
This 40 page glossy colour document designed to be sent to 2,245 Catholic schools educating over 845,000 children contains ideology contrary to Catholic teaching, and was lifted directly from organisations who would gladly cheer from the sidelines if Catholic schools whose RE teachings did not promote their notions of ‘equal love’, were forced to close. The fact that Stonewall and LGBT Youth Scotland are applauding the document ought to be ringing serious alarm bells.
More leaks than a porcupine’s raincoat:
Another misconception is that the document was ‘leaked’ as it was forwarded and circulated amongst bloggers between Cornwall and Cumbria. The ‘leak’ is to some extent irrelevant, but there has been no wrongdoing on the part of those who determined that this guidance was scandalous, required wider advance circulation and that action needed to be taken. The original email was neither marked confidential, nor was it placed under embargo and a date was given for when it was going to be put in the public domain by being posted on the CES website. All that was being asked was how many copies would be required, because someone had given a donation, to cover printing and postage costs. The question remains, who, and why? And why were parents not consulted, seeing as they are the primary educators? Why was Paul Barber’s response about the sensitive nature of the document quite so defensive when it was shortly going to be put into the public domain. Or was it that the directors of the CES were hoping for the document to be uploaded and circulated without attracting the ire or attention of any bloggers who would be certain to object?
I have an admission to make in that when I received the document, it took me a brief 5 minute search to discover that huge chunks of toolkits and resources distributed by Stonewall and LGBTYouth Scotland had been copied and pasted verbatim without even bothering to change the names of the fictitious individuals cited in the case studies and examples. This piece of work were it to be submitted by an undergraduate, would not have passed even the most basic plagiarism checking software and was resonant of the antics of the former star of liberal journalism, Johann Hari who was exposed for similar practices and thus fell from grace back in 2011. Why did the CES document not feel it necessary to cite or explain that it had employed material from other organisations as ‘best practice’?
Mandatory reporting of incidents could have potentially serious consequences for pupils, schools and Catholic education as a whole:
This guidance contains inadequate definitions of bullying which could have potentially very serious consequences for both Catholic education as a whole along with individual pupils whose playground banter could see a false accusation of homophobic bullying placed on their record for the duration of their school career.
Local Education Authorities, such as Brighton and Hove are already requiring schools to submit reports of homophobic bullying to them; we can be sure that whatever statistics Catholic schools do send, will be wilfully misinterpreted to suit the agenda of the LGBT lobby groups. A low reported figure will mean ‘under-reporting’ needing yet more training and guidelines (all provided by Stonewall for a professional fee); a high figure will be interpreted in much the same way, together with cant about how harmful Catholic teaching is perceived to be and why it must be outlawed from educational establishments.
We can see that this has already happened to some extent when we examine the reasons behind the production of these guidelines.
Our survey says “uh-oh”:
The CES states that it commissioned this guidance on homophobic bullying from the Catholic university of St Mary’s in Twickenham, whose logo appears on every single page. St Mary’s carried out a survey of Catholic schools regarding homophobic bullying on behalf of the CES in 2015, whereupon only 5% gave a positive answer, when asked whether or not they were using specific materials to combat homophobic bullying.
Not getting the answer they required, the CES then carried out a second survey in which their involvement was made explicit in order to encourage participation and again received a desultory response . Only 12% of Catholic secondary schools replied. This reluctance of schools to respond to detailed questioning on specific homophobia-based bullying policies has been interpreted as meaning that they require both formal authority and guidance, or are confused and fearful about how to approach the subject, when there could be a whole host of other perfectly valid reasons for their reluctance, such as being too busy to bother with yet another piece of pointless paperwork. Or feeling that their anti-bullying policies were already so robust as not to actually need guidelines on a specific victim group.
The CES may believe that they have no other choice than to utilise Stonewall’s standard jargon, but they fail to realise that by doing so, they are further validating and entrenching values which are inimical to those of the Catholic church.
Compare and contrast:
Let me cite just one example. A friend of mine who now home-schools her children, describes the London Catholic school that her children formerly attended as a cultural melting pot, one which truly represented the diversity that is Catholicism. It was in fact, one of the reasons which inspired her to select it. A new head was appointed whose particular bugbear was, understandably, racism. The head had attended several courses all designed to eliminate racism and was up to speed with all the latest guidelines and procedures that schools are supposed to adopt. Her first remark on entering the school was that she couldn’t believe quite how low the recorded incidences of racist bullying were in the school, given it’s diversity. She felt sure that there must be some under-reporting. Clearly, the significant contribution of the Catholic ethos had escaped her.
Not long after she had begun, someone overhead a Year 5 boy who was himself an immigrant tell another student, who was from Serbia, that his country’s football team was going to lose when their two countries went head to head in a football match later that evening. “Serbia sucks!” was the phrase which was used.
The next thing that happened was that the head burst into the boy’s classroom mid-lesson, forced him to stand up, where she gave him a very thorough verbal dressing down for racism in front of the whole class. If that wasn’t humiliating enough, she informed him that what he had done constituted a criminal offence, that she was going to inform the police and that this incidence of racist bullying was going to remain on his school record for the entirety of his school career, it would she said, follow him to secondary school.
The boy ended up being put into isolation as punishment, the police were called and declined to take action on account of the fact that the child was only 9, obviously sensing that this was not to be taken seriously. It is not then, such a leap to imagine similar serious consequences for the child, who was stupid enough to refer to another child’s trainers or whatever as ‘gay’. A child falsely accused and stigmatised in such a way, could suffer significant emotional injury and trauma such that it adversely affects the rest of their education.
What should concern us in the example cited in the CES document, is not the use of the word ‘gay’ as a perjorative (though I would personally choose to explain to children that it is an unacceptable and offensive term) but that the child is being picked on because he cannot afford to buy the same trainers as the ‘in-crowd’. This would appear to have been totally overlooked and is infinitely more disturbing than the derogatory term chosen. Poverty-phobia has been relegated in favour of the trendier homo or bi-phobia, which is always the danger when you start pitting specific victim groups against each other.
Child protection and grooming:
There is also an extremely worrying issue of child protection which nobody seems to have mentioned. Nowhere in the anti-homophobic bullying guidelines is the point made that a child ought to feel free to turn down sexual advances of a friend, teacher (or indeed anyone) of the same sex, without it constituting homophobia. Nobody would attack a girl if she decided to distance herself from a male friend because he had made a pass at her, and the same principles need to apply to same-sex friendships. If Peter feels uncomfortable because Paul has made sexual overtures towards him and therefore decides to avoid being in Paul’s company because he feels awkward, it does not make him a homophobe. There is a very real danger that children could feel pressured into abusive situations because they are terrified of being stigmatised and labelled, just as there is a similar danger that children may not feel able to openly state their disagreement with some of the specious examples of homophobic attitudes cited in the classroom. Most teens are anxious to fit in with the group and nobody will want to be labelled the bigot or hateful one, even if in their hearts they believe that dad turning off the television when he feels he is being bombarded with LGBT propaganda, is not inherently homophobic.
Children are not sophisticated adults:
What has to be remembered is that children are by their very nature, emotionally immature and socially underdeveloped and will often express things in ways which are clumsy and inappropriate. Our role as adults should be to gently guide and correct errors with love, and in a holistic way, getting to the root of the issue, rather than with a superficial authoritarian fist which encourages them to police each other’s speech. What matters is not so much the insult used, but the attitude which underlies it. If a classmate comes out as ‘bi’, then other children are bound to be curious and have questions about it; teenagers do invariably spend hours pondering and discussing sex in often the most unhelpful of ways. If we want them to have healthy attitudes, then we need to allow for freedom of expression, in order that we can then engage with anything which we feel they need to reflect upon further, instead of telling them what they must think. If needs to be remembered that in these lesson plans children are being instructed in terms of how to close down their critical faculties and being told that they must uncritically accept sexual behaviour and values which do not conform to their own.
The Christian content:
To be fair the document is not devoid of Christian teaching, it devotes an entire section to what it means to be made in the image of God and makes reference to many magisterial sources, such as Evangelium Vitae. While rightly using human dignity as a backdrop to hammer home the unacceptability of bullying, the document’s main weakness is that it uncritically accepts and validates secular notions of what constitutes homophobia along with false statements about sexuality and gender identity.
At the heart of the dismay is a failure to specifically outline and refer to Catholic teaching regarding relationships and marriage which would provide valuable context for vulnerable pupils and teachers Instead of being invited to consider Scripture, teaching and tradition, the tweets of Pope Francis, which thanks to the 140 character limit of the medium are superficial, are used as a resource. It is assumed that those within Catholic schools will already be aware of doctrine and thus they are presented with secular assumptions about sexual relationships together with vague Christian themes of mercy, acceptance, non-judgementalism and forgiveness.
Same-sex relationships are now enshrined as a British value, political litmus test and then we have the Equalities Act:
What doesn’t help matters is that this document follows hot on the heels of a fevered few weeks in British politics, where Christian politicians such as Prime Minister Theresa May and leader of the Liberal Democrat party Tim Farron have been forced to air their religious consciences and asked their views on sexuality. Both they, and other high-profile church-attending politicians have repeatedly stated that they don’t believe sexual activity between two people of the same sex as constituting a sin. This has now become a litmus test for political and social respectability with acceptance of same-sex relationships being frequently referred to as a ‘British value’ to which faith schools must conform and to which the CES refers.
The challenge for the CES is to demonstrate that they are complying with the UK Equalities Act which holds LGBT status as a protected characteristic, but they need to remember that so too is freedom of religion and therefore Catholic schools should be able to confidently proclaim God’s plan or mankind. The document could still have jumped through the various legal hoops to demonstrate that Catholic schools are complying with legislation designed to address homophobia, while at the same time engaging children and teachers with the beautiful vision of relationships proposed by the Church. The CES/St Mary’s (and it’s not clear who was responsible for the authorship of the document) did not need to copy large chunks of Stonewall propaganda and ought to have made an attempt to defend Catholic values.
Slippery slope innit?:
Even if one is liberal on the subject of same-sex relationships or sex outside of marriage, most parents, including non-Christian ones are deeply concerned about the recent trend to normalise transgenderism and indoctrinate young children into believing that biological sex is irrelevant, that gender is simply a matter of feelings and therefore if you feel that you were born in the wrong body, you can simply change into your desired sex, with a little bit of help from the doctors. These specific guidelines may only address homophobia and bi-phobia, but given Stonewall’s recent push to promote and advance the cause of transgenderism, then it is only a matter of time, before this will seep into a revised version of the guidelines.
Do the bishops really endorse this?:
One also has to wonder what the bishops make of all this. Back in 2006, when he was in charge of the CES, Cardinal Nichols stated that there was no need for specific guidelines on homophobia, telling the Commons education committee that a ‘robust policy on bullying of all kinds was the “best way forward”.
On the 2nd March 2017, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury diocese delivered a homily during a Mass for education officials in which he warned that Catholic schools may increasingly become ‘the focus of ideological groups demanding the acceptance of their agenda’ using the superficially worthy values of equality, respect and the prevention of bullying and unjust discrimination. He also reminded the congregation that “we have no need of false notions of equality which can insist that right and wrong, truth and error are cultural constructs, and that being male or female are interchangeable personal choices.”
In an address to the International Child Catholic Bureau in 2014, Pope Francis denounced educational experimentation upon children who “are not guinea pigs”, noting that “the horrors of the manipulation of education that we have experienced in the great genodical dictatorships of the twentieth century have not disappeared.”
Homophobic bullying in our schools should be identified a source of shame, but so too are all other forms of bullying which undermine the dignity of the person. What Catholic schools really need is guidance and support in terms of how to remain faithful to Church teaching at a time when it is in opposition to the current zeitgeist. Sadly, this document is not that and has proved to be a wasted opportunity as well as a potential source of scandal and confusion. Very serious questions remain about the content, authorship and funding for distribution of this document and whether or not the CES may actually have overstepped it’s remit, which is after all, to serve the cause of Catholic education and educators rather than override and undermine the basic truths of Christ.