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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.

 

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Labour MP, Rupa Huq, Saturday 14th October 2017, standing much closer to the pavement than those on the pro-life vigil and proudly facing them down. These same pro-choice protestors that she described as a problem in Parliament, on Monday 16th October 2017

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A close-up of Rupa Huq in the centre of the pro-choice protest Saturday 14th October 2017

rupa huq pro-choice demo

Rupa Huq on a previous occasion outside the Mattock Lane clinic in Ealing. Leading a pro-choice protest which she now describes as a problem and nuisance for local residents.

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.

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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.

Diana 1

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.

Untitled-6.jpgPurple ladybird book

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

 

airtours 757

My day from hell



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.

FILE PHOTO: 15 Years Since The Death Of Princess Diana Floral Tributes For Diana

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.

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4 years after broaching the topic on Sunday Morning Live, the BBC today once again went for this discussion on their Sunday Morning Live Show.

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.

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Barber's shop pole

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.

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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.

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grotto-tuam

A makeshift grotto on the former site of the home at Tuam, erected over 30 years ago after bodies were first discovered.

In 2014 following the headlines which read that the bodies of almost 800 babies and children had been cast into a septic tank in a mother and baby home run by the Bon Secours sister in Tuam, Ireland, I wrote a series of blogposts.

https://carolinefarrow.com/2014/06/04/tuam-childrens-home-salting-the-earth/

https://carolinefarrow.com/2014/06/07/tuam-breaking-800-babies-were-not-dumped/

https://carolinefarrow.com/2014/06/13/lessons-from-tuam-an-essay/

My aim was not to spin the facts or deny any allegations of abuse, but simply to forensically attempt to uncover the true story of what had happened. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe that nuns could behave in such an appalling fashion, clearly they were capable of all sorts of heinous acts of cruelty and abuse, it’s just that the narrative of them wilfully starving, abusing or neglecting babies and children to death before cruelly dumping their bodies in a septic tank did not ring true. Gradually, a more nuanced and historically accurate picture began to emerge, though still undeniably tragic.

A story of young girls in poverty abandoned by society, in poor health, giving birth to sickly babies unable to withstand the rigours and deprivation of institutional life. A story of a children’s home in a poor state of repair, served by Tuam’s oldest doctor, desperately short of cash and resources, with the council and local population unwilling to put their hands in their pockets. A story of children subject to epidemics of measles, influenza and gastroenteritis in crowded conditions, a time before antibiotics as well as poor diet and perennial low temperatures. An analysis of the death certificates indicates that the causes of death were rarely from one single determining factor – a lot of the children had had underlying ill-health or conditions since birth and some had been born with abnormalities.

Gradually media outlets began to amend, correct and withdraw their stories, rowing back on some of the claims, and Spiked online (which is in no way a right-wing or Catholic publication) published this powerful analysis

Today, the Commission on Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland, has released a statement saying that following some trial excavations of the site, significant numbers of human remains have been found.

“Test trenches were dug revealing two large structures. One structure appears to be a large sewage containment system or septic tank that had been decommissioned and filled with rubble and debris and then covered with top soil. The second structure is a long structure which is divided into 20 chambers.”

It has not been ascertained what the purpose of this structure is, it appears to be for the containment and treatment of sewage and water but it’s not been determined whether or not it was ever used for this purpose. 17 out of the 20 chambers appear to contain human remains, some of which were recovered for forensic tests. The remains are those of children aged between 35 weeks gestation and 2-3 years of age.

The commission is shocked and saddened and the remains will now be interred respectfully and appropriately, assuming that they were not in the first place.

As my blog posts garnered over 100,000 hits, I have taken a lot of flak, as it is perceived that I was one of the deniers. A second wave of hysteria and outrage about the babies at Tuam now appears to be sweeping Ireland, with many claiming vindication, which is a baffling sentiment. There ought to be nothing to celebrate over the discovery of several deceased infants.

I am prepared to stand by my original posts, because I did not deny the existence of remains on the property, nor that children had died of natural causes, I simply questioned the narrative of babies being deliberately and callously tossed like rubbish into a septic tank.

Interestingly in one post, I quoted a letter from Dr Finbar McCormick from the school of Geography, Archeology and Palaeoecology at Queen’s University, Belfast. Dr McCormick posited that the children could actually have been buried in a purpose-built burial shaft which were common, as was the practice of burying stillborn children or those who died shortly after birth, in a communal unmarked area inside the maternity hospital. The practice of returning infants back to the family for burial is a very recent tradition.

Anecdotally I know of a number of similar cases whereby children were put in the coffins of unrelated adults by funeral directors (which apparently was commonplace in some UK funeral directors until the ‘60s and in Ireland until the 1980’s), I’ve been talking to several women about miscarriage and stillbirth recently who have told heartbreaking stories of their stillborn children being removed from them straightaway and buried in an unknown place, and even in my own family, my father discovered only last year that he had an older brother who died at the age of two, who is buried in an unknown grave somewhere.  There are mass children’s burial grounds throughout Ireland and plenty of mass graves from non-Catholic institutions, such as workhouses, in the UK.

So, the outrage about the unmarked mass grave, while understandable may be misplaced. They are not a historical anomaly and were at various points, the norm.  It is not proof of an uncaring or un-Christian attitude and we do not know that the deceased were accorded absolutely no rites or respect.

Secondly, while the commission has noted that the structure containing the remains appeared to be a septic tank, it might not ever actually have been used as one, and they are not clear as to its purpose. I’m no engineer, but 20 chambers seems rather a large amount. Dr McCormick’s suggestion that the septic tank could be a burial vault and should be treated as such until proved otherwise, still seems to hold true. The commission have only said what the structure appears to be, but aren’t entirely sure, neither do they know if it was ever used.

In his blogpost which appears to row back from some of his original claims, journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes, quotes an eyewitness called Julia Devaney who was firstly a resident of the Tuam home and later an employee. She recalled assisting the sisters in carrying the bodies of deceased babies through a tunnel which led to a burial vault. A vault accessed by a tunnel, as Boucher-Hayes notes, could not be a septic tank. This vault was in the same place (Plot A) as another witness, Mary Moriarty had fallen into while playing, when the ground subsided. Moriarty says that she and her neighbours investigated further  and discovered a large underground vault with shelves from floor to ceiling neatly  stacked with about 100 swaddled infant bodies.

So as yet we have two structures found. One a septic tank with no human remains which was clearly decommissioned. The second consists of 20 chambers, at least 17 of which contain human remains, many of which are children under 2, dating from the ‘50s. Which tallies with the eyewitness account of a vault with shelves from walls to ceiling containing deceased infants, and could well be the vault which was accessible from a tunnel, which another witness recalls being in use in the 1950’s.

There is nothing then as yet to suggest that the remains of these children were maltreated or buried without the due accord and respect. It may not have been the way that we would wish for them to be buried today, but neither is this indicative of anything sinister.

Just as it is perfectly possible that these poor children were simply tossed into a septic tank (though I note that critics are now beginning to concede that the tank was disused and claim that it doesn’t matter whether or not it was filled with sewage), it’s also more than feasible that the vault was styled in a similar way to the catacombs. Placing bodies on shelves in a vault hardly seems like egregious disregard. Archive evidence demonstrates that the home did put in a tender for coffins, therefore it may only have been the infants who were buried tightly wrapped in swaddling. Again, not what we might wish for a child, but not necessarily indicative of anything nasty. And neither do we know whether or not some or all of the vault was consecrated, because it would surely need to be if older babies and children were interred there.

As the commission has noted, the news is not any great surprise – they had been excavating a known burial site.

Historian Catherine Corless deserves respect and vindication because her main aim has not been to propagate a sensationalist anti-Catholic narrative, but because she has always believed that bodies were buried on this site and that they ought to be properly accounted for and given the respect and memorial they deserve, not least because as she recollects from her own time at school with children of the home, they were often treated with contempt and disdain.

There may well be 798 bodies underneath the site, a fact that nobody has ever sought to deny, including the locals. Though this is far from established fact. There was a septic tank in use for the first 12 years of the home, during which period 206 children died. Where were their bodies placed if the second structure was in use servicing the first? Or was the second structure used right from the outset! How many is a ‘significant number’?

Is this definitive proof of evil-doing by a group of nuns who are unable to defend themselves or explain what their burial practices were? Justice is not best served by supposition and assumption and neither should these deceased children be politicised. Particularly not when those weaponising them, are using this to whip up hatred of the Catholic Church to use in the forthcoming referendum on Abortion. I wonder what many of those proudly displaying their ‘Repeal the Eighth’ avatar while venting their fury over the babies in the septic tank, would make of the incineration of aborted babies’ remains in hospital incinerators for energy?

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humpty-dumpty

Donald Trump’s decision to lift the guidelines issued by the Obama government allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice, has caused much consternation and wailing about the rights of transgender students.

However, when you look at the impact of lifting this guidance, it’s hard to see what there was for people to get quite so het up about. Firstly, the original guidelines had absolutely no legal force whatsoever therefore as ever, the decision seems to be indicative of Trump’s usual style; it’s enough to please his supporters and establish his conservative credentials but doesn’t change a lot in practical terms.

For example, when the original guidance from Obama was issued the state of Texas put a temporary hold on it after 13 states sued. What the lifting of the guidance has done, is introduce a sensible level of subsidiarity noting that this is an issue best dealt with at a local level.

Tellingly for concerned Catholics, the American Bishops’ Conference, the USCCB has applauded and welcomed Trump’s decision on this issue, expressing their gratitude. They note that it’s an extremely sensitive situation, best dealt with care and compassion at a local level, respecting the privacy and safety concerns of all students.

Father James Martin SJ doesn’t appear to agree with them and in response issued a series of tweets, implying that to deny transgender students the rights to choose whichever bathroom or changing room they choose is not Christ-like, it further marginalises people, infringes on their basic dignity and asking ‘where’s the harm’?

Along with a number of other Catholic women, I responded to him in pretty gentle terms as a mother of 5. We asked where is the care and compassion for the dignity of vulnerable women and girls who don’t actually want to share their intimate spaces with non-biological females?

As a result, my Twitter-feed has been filled up with an eye-watering amount of expletive-ridden abuse and invective. I am a terrible person, a bad mother, evil, lacking in all compassion, who needs to educate herself, ugly, my genitals are deformed from having 5 children, I must die in a fire, commit suicide, hopefully my family will hate  me and so on and so forth. The sheer level and bombardment of hate, is dizzying. I’ve been at the end of Twitter storms before, but this takes it to a whole new level.

It’s not only the violent abuse itself which is so frightening, but the level of delusion that it’s based upon.

The insults are all variations on a theme so I’m just going to offer a response to each one.

Adopting a realistic attitude

Nobody with any common sense or compassion minds an adult who has fully transitioned, using a public loo designated for women, provided that they do so in the same way as any other woman, i.e. unobtrusively and not drawing attention to their trans status in a way that makes other women around them feel uncomfortable. Most trans women I know, already do this.

Most women don’t actually take much note of who else is going into their toilets, which in many ways makes them more vulnerable, because we don’t expect to see men in there. If you can pass as a woman on first glance, chances are nobody will really object.

However, what women are objecting to, and rightly so, is the idea that anyone who decides to state that they identify as a woman for whatever reason, regardless of their manner of attire, can use women’s facilities. It’s not acceptable for someone who is so clearly obviously male, to think that their feelings entitle them to intrude upon women’s spaces. Plus, there is the issue of whether or not sexual predators might take advantage of relaxed laws, as has happened on past occasions. Part of the reason for enforcing legislation is to ensure that people feel safe and to discourage criminal activity.

Years ago, in the era before mobile phones, I was once followed home after getting off the bus and the only way to shake off the man, was to go into a public ladies’ and raise the alarm. The threat of being accosted by someone for entering a woman-only space proved enough of a deterrent.

What happens in ladies’ loos

It’s typically a place where women can feel safe, away from the male-gaze. On my Twitter stream, women have told me about having to rinse through clothing or underwear in the sink, following an unexpected menstrual leak. Women feel safe asking the person in the cubicle next door to pass them some paper for example, or perhaps asking a kindly stranger if they can help out with sanitary products in an emergency.  Some women may also be dealing with an unexpected miscarriage, the physical aftermath of one, or other difficult gynaecological issues.

Few women want to deal with personal and intimate matters such as these, in front of male prying eyes. I remember once, as a student, men routing through my bag, finding my sanitary products, covering them in poultry blood and draping them all over my car windscreen and putting them back in my bag, as a prank. On the whole, women  tend to adopt a far more sympathetic, sensitive and pragmatic approach to the indignities of the menstrual cycle than men.

Another thing that frequently happens in public conveniences, is that locks on the doors are often loose or faulty thanks to repeated use. Elderly people sometimes have difficulty in securing them shut. I’ve been burst in upon or accidentally opened the door on others, a number of times. Any mother who has taken a small child into the cubicle with them, has likely had the experience of the child opening the door prematurely, while still attending to herself. I’ve also had children who have been fearful about closing or locking the toilet doors and have sat there innocently on the loo with their pants down. Nobody wants men in that situation either. It’s the whole male gaze issue again. Women are far less likely to stare at, sexually objectivise, or mock someone who inadvertently exposes themselves, but most likely will act with camaraderie and support. Men are more often than not  too embarrassed to tell you if you have your skirt tucked into your knickers or are trailing a bit of toilet paper and women are less likely to experience mortification when informed discreetly by another woman.

Inadvertent indecent exposure is not a myth, but an unfortunate fairly regular occurrence. Those who claim that people aren’t going round deliberately exposing themselves, willfully miss the point.

The situation in schools

We aren’t just talking about toilet cubicles, although many critics seem to lack an understanding that going to the loo in public, isn’t always just a mishap-free straightforward walk in, walk out of the stall, affair. Neither do all cubicles afford total privacy.

In schools, you have a different situation of often anxious and very self-conscious girls changing in front of each other, which could well involve stripping naked and showers.

Teen girls

I’m going to talk about my daughter briefly, given that I raised her dignity as a concern and everybody thinks I have taught her to be fearful of men.

Here’s the deal – until yesterday, she hadn’t even heard of transgenderism. But at the age of 12, she has gone from a child who happily ran about naked in the house without a care in the world, to, over the last few years, establishing her own boundaries and needs. Bathroom and bedroom doors are shut and locked, if she is caught unawares, she will instantly cover herself, which has not stemmed from any kind of adult prompting. It happens to most children.

Likewise whereas previously, she wouldn’t mind chancing upon male adult family members in the bathroom, now she is embarrassed. It’s all pretty normal textbook stuff.

Teen girls are often made anxious about the onset of puberty and various bodily changes. The role of the parent is to reassure, to soothe, to offer frequent support and comfort that all of this seems daunting but is perfectly natural. And also to assist and guide when it comes to personal and sanitary care. Above all to act as gatekeeper for a child to protect them at sensitive moments from tactless or curious siblings.

So when you’ve got a child who doesn’t actually want to see male genitals and is made uncomfortable by them, it’s not unreasonable to want to keep them out of female changing rooms at school. Why do we have to desensitise vulnerable young girls to looking at male private parts? Similarly why do we have to accustom young girls to their bodies being scrutinised by curious men (who are normally thought of in terms of having a penis).

A teen ‘trans girl’ isn’t biologically a girl and may not have decided whether or not to fully transition, so no matter feminine the hair and face, they will have the body of a male.

It’s not a case of educating oneself, it’s more a case that here is someone with different body parts which may make teenage girls uncomfortable. Again, it’s an instinctual awareness of the male gaze – because one thing that teen girls do tend to do, is sneak surreptitious glances at each other, mainly to compare your own development with your peers. The one question on the mind of every teenage girl, is ‘am I normal?’ I remember feeling reassured when I noticed that other girls were doing the same thing physically as myself and things like bras and pubic hair and later on periods, ceased to be such a big deal.

A trans girl is going to have more curiosity than most and also, there’s the issue that their appearance may trigger body anxiety in other girls, because men tend to have an entirely different look, owing to a different skeleton and physiognomy. Girls attempting to emulate the adrongynous look of their trans peers or normalising their shape as a glamorous ideal, is never going to end well.

Incidentally all local government authorities have a standard policy that mixed sex siblings shouldn’t be sharing bedrooms over the age of 10.

My experience of being a mother to a teen girl

So yesterday, when I was Skype-ing my daughter (who’s away skiing on half term at the moment), I said to her that I had been talking about her. Mainly what a great time she appears to be having.

I asked her how she’d feel if she had to share changing rooms and loos with boys. She laughed and said that would never happen because she’s at a girls’ school. OK, I said but what about the previous school you went to which was co-ed. “I wouldn’t like it” she said. “Why not, out of interest”, I asked. “I don’t know, I just wouldn’t, it wouldn’t feel right, I don’t want to have to see boys and I don’t want them seeing me”.

OK fine, I said, but what if you had a boy who felt he was born in the wrong body wanting to share your changing rooms and loos. Her face was an absolute picture. “What do you mean” she asked. “How can you be born in the wrong body”. Some people believe they are, I said. “But how does that happen, she said, I don’t understand, it doesn’t make any sense”.

I then went onto explain about how girls are supposed to like pink and clothes and make-up etc, which again my daughter found bizarre, not being into any typical girls’ pursuits. How some girls liked to play cricket and football and some boys liked to play with dolls and that made them feel like they were the opposite sex, because they identified better with them. Fortunately my daughter is level-headed and sensible enough not to think that because she isn’t into all the stereotypical feminine stuff, that perhaps she might be a boy, or genderqueer but you can certainly see how the idea can be suggested to children.

We then went into how people manage to actually become the other sex and hormone therapy. Which then prompted a question about whether or not pills changed private parts. No, they don’t, people have surgery. “That’s just gross” she said, “I can’t think about that, it’s really disgusting, can we change the subject now, I’m really freaked out”.

Sure, I said, but say you had a boy, who really felt that he was girl, who didn’t want to use the boys in case he was picked on and physically bullied, would you be happy to have them in your changing room? No, not really she said, I’d feel sorry for them, but I’d still be uncomfortable with it if I’m honest. Couldn’t they use a staff room or something?

Thinking about it later, I reflected, how am I supposed to de-sensitise a child to feel happy and comfortable and nonplussed about seeing male genitals and surely such a thing is abusive? I have no rational scientific explanation for the phenomenon of people being born in the wrong bodies, it seems evident that gender dysphoria is a mental condition which current medical thinking treats by radically altering the body.

Later on, after people implored that I cared not one iota for the safety of trans children who couldn’t use the bathroom of their choice, I reflected that there’s an interesting piece of sexism going on here. People assume that trans girls won’t be safe in boys’ bathrooms, but they seem to forget that girls are more than capable of ganging up on and bullying, even to the point of physical violence, those whom they deem other, or outside of the in social crowd.

Issues of safety

As Matt Walsh points out, despite the statistics which demonstrates assaults do happen, women’s concerns shouldn’t be dismissed as inconsequential or irrational whinging.

What about those women who have been raped, or victims of sexual assualt, don’t they have a right to safety and privacy?

What about the older generation, most of whom are deeply uncomfortable about allowing any man who identifies as a woman into public loos. Are their fears irrelevant mainly on account of their age?It’s often elderly women who struggle to lock doors with arthritic fumbling fingers and who are deeply self-conscious of various bodily functions that don’t work as well as they used to.

Where is the empathy for the needs of vulnerable women in all of this? Not least those of our elderly sisters?

Balancing of needs and rights

Nobody is saying that transgender people don’t have specific needs or aren’t vulnerable, but why are their needs deemed to be more important than those of women? Why does this have to be some sort of victim top-trumps, why can’t appropriate, unisex provision be made, if necessary designating or building unisex facilities for those who want them.

A fad?

Friends in teaching are telling me of an explosion of teens, identifying as the opposite sex, including one report of 4 girls in the same form who all came out as trans in the same week. Another GP friend of mine who works in teen mental health, said that they couldn’t believe the volume of cases presenting, 99% of which were not believed to be genuine.

There’s plenty of resources, in terms of how children get sucked into this culture, and a wealth of information, a google on ‘gender critical’ will throw up all kinds of resources. 4thwavenow and Gender critical dad are two such excellent sites. In particular, this is a compelling story of a girl who believed she was a boy, and then reconciled herself with her identity, from the point of view of her mother. There are also some interesting stats out there about the percentages of those identified with gender dysphoria who don’t end up transitioning.

Finally

What was telling about the amount of abuse I received was the sheer violence and aggression, not to mention the machismo, one person bet me $10,000 to see whether or not my IQ was larger than theirs. Which was a frankly bizarre and very male-orientated competitive response.

The vast majority of abuse was either from transwomen or men. That’s right, men, telling me, why I had to accept men in female intimate spaces and mocking the idea that people feel vulnerable in loos, that exposure can inadvertently take place and generally failing to understand the whole concept of the male gaze and the nitty-gritty of what often goes on in public bathrooms, along with the unspoken bonds which unite women.

That people want to sexualise my children or accuse them of voyeurism or sex crimes if they are accidental victims of indecent exposure, or if they accidentally expose themselves, speaks volumes. As does their need to instantly cast any objectors into the role of sexual pervert and hold them up for public ridicule.

As ever, these people scream hatred and bigot, and yet the biggest irony is, that they want to force people to uncritically accept their unscientific ideology that if you feel like the opposite sex, then you definitely are that sex. Regardless of whether or not you have corrective surgery or take hormones.

Here’s the thing though. Just as I cannot control or force these people who claim that I am physically ugly, or unintelligent or whatever, to think otherwise, neither can they control how others think of them. Trying to force someone how to think, trying to impose your ideology on them, either by legislation or social shaming, making them too frightened to express their views for fear of abuse, well, that’s bigotry!

Take a look at my mentions on Twitter. They are quite the education. At one point they were coming one per second. I tried to bat them off with a witty response, I mean, suggesting that a troublesome woman should be burnt is hardly original is it? The hate was very one-sided and you have to feel nothing but pity for people who are so troubled that they want to do inflict physical, verbal or emotional damage on you, taking time to craft the most spiteful sentiments designed to wound.

To date I have muted over 237 people. Which was actually an interesting exercise in perspective. These activists may shout loudly and ensure their voices are the loudest to be heard, but lets be clear, even if I had blocked even double that number – say 500, then that’s hardly staggering proportion of people, or indicative of majority views on this. It’s nothing more than a noisy self-sustaining bubble, designed to drown out the mainstream.

Unbelievable though isn’t it? That in 2017, women are still having to fight to the right for separate public conveniences, free of men. Or that denying that born males are actually females, or vice versa and that due to some unexplained metaphysical and evolutionary miracle, which transcends scientific explanation, people can be born in the wrong bodies, releases such outrage. Even more extraordinary and some might say scandalous, that such abuse can be given succour by the words of a Catholic priest, because without a doubt, every single vile and vicious tweet many of which stemmed from California, where Father James Martin resides, supported his position. Some of them even copied him in.

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