Sunday, 29 March 2015

In support of our priests, our families, and our Church

You may have seen the recent letter from more than 450 priests in support of the Church’s teaching on marriage.

We would like to invite you to sign the letter below, to be sent to the press in support of them, and to encourage others to sign it.

To sign, please leave your name and your diocese in the comments box below, or if you prefer email them to me or to one of the coordinators:

The Letter:

Dear Sir,

We, the undersigned, wish to endorse and support the letter signed by over 450 priests in the recent edition of the Catholic Herald.

As laity, we all know from our own family experiences, or those of our friends and neighbours, the harrowing trauma of divorce and separation, and we sympathise with all those in such situations.

It is precisely for that reason that we believe that the Church must continue to proclaim the truth about marriage, given us by Christ in the Gospels, with clarity and charity in a world that struggles to understand it.

For the sake of those in irregular unions, for the sake of those abandoned and living in accordance with the teachings of the Church, and above all for the sake of the next generation, it is essential that the Church continues to make it quite clear that sacramental marriage is indissoluble until death.

We pray, and expect, that our hierarchy will represent us, and the Church’s unwavering teaching, at the Synod this autumn.

 Yours faithfully, 

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Cardinal Nichols' Rebuke

I read Cardinal Nichols' rebuke to the brave priests with interest and puzzlement. How was he, I wondered to myself, going to tell priests off for fulfilling an essential part of their vocation: viz, proclaiming the Gospel?

A tricky task, one might think.

But not for Cardinal Nichols. He is up to any such challenge. Here is his statement, as quoted in the Catholic Herald:
Every priest in England and Wales has been asked to reflect on the Synod discussion. It is my understanding that this has been taken up in every diocese, and that channels of communication have been established. 
The pastoral experience and concern of all priests in these matters are of great importance and are welcomed by the Bishops. Pope Francis has asked for a period of spiritual discernment. This dialogue, between a priest and his bishop, is not best conducted through the press.
So the naughtiness of the priests is not proclaiming the Gospel (phew) nor even, apparently, doing so in the public forum (phew again) but rather using the press as the channel of dialogue with their bishops.

That might seem reasonable enough (heavens, it might even be reasonable enough) if  this letter were addressed to the bishops; or even if the priests had good reason to believe the bishops would listen to private dialogue; or even if the bishops themselves were reflecting prayerfully on all this. But none of those conditions is clearly met.  

In the first case, the letter is more of a public proclamation of loyalty to Christ, His Church and its teaching (and why would any bishop object to that?) than anything else. True, it concluded with an exhortation to all those attending the Synod - but that group is by no means the same as the bishops of these priests. Only three from England and Wales are attending; and many others from many other nations are. 

The second issue is sadder; it seems that many priests, perhaps with good reason, do not believe that the bishops listen to private dialogue. 

And as for the third, it seems that Cardinal Nichols has already gone public with his view, contra the Bible, the Catechism, Tradition and just about everything else, that divorced and remarried people could be readmitted to Communion under certain conditions, according to The Pill.

Some of the more cynical amongst us wonder if the real problem is that the Cardinal and the Conference like to control the narrative, and that control has been wrested from them by the internet, much as samizdat broke the Party's control of communication in the USSR.

And who knows where that might lead? Why, even the laity may forget to hold their tongue, and start demanding that the Faith be taught and lived: and then where would we be?

Brave Priests

I was very heartened to read the letter sent by over 450 priests to the Catholic Herald. This was a brave move, especially in the light of the reports that there 'has been a certain amount of pressure not to sign the letter and indeed a degree of intimidation from some senior Churchmen.'

I was also heartened to note the range and variety of the signatories: there were names expected and less expected, and representing all areas of the nation (as far as I could tell) and, particularly importantly, all age groups. To my knowledge some of these brave priests are very long serving, working well past retirement age, in the service of their people and their God.  Others are recently ordained, showing that this is not some old-fashioned idea, but something the younger generation see with equal clarity. And many are in between: mature men of mature faith. Likewise there were Benedictines, Jesuits, Dominicans and so on, as well as secular priests.

Furthermore, I know of priests who did not sign but would have done so had they received the invitation (the database used was imperfect, like just about every other database...) and I suspect others (including my PP) simply didn't get through their mail in time, given the huge workload many face.

So pray for them all; and pray that the laity are similarly zealous in informing their bishops of the importance of this issue: and write to your bishop.

I end by quoting Fr Finigan (see his full post here):

'One or two lay people have asked if a letter could be organised for laity to sign. I would recommend lay people to keep in touch with Voice of the Family and to share ideas with them because they are a specifically lay group. Priests and laity each have their own important apostolates

Anybody, priest or lay faithful, who agrees with the priests' letter can help by using their own social media channels to publicise the letter and speak to others about the key points in it.

It is also open to every member of the Christian Faithful (clerics and laity) to manifest their concerns to the Holy See. Here are two possible addresses to write to:

HE Lorenzo Cardinal Baldisseri
Secretary General, Synod of Bishops
Palazzo del Bramante
Via della Conciliazione, 34
00193 Roma

HE Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller
Prefect for The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Piazza del S. Uffizio, 11
00193 Rome Italy

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Self Harm - A Pastoral Approach

I was delighted to read of a new initiative, the Self Harm Initiative for Teachers, designed to instruct teachers on how to deliver lessons on safe self-cutting.

As its proponents point out, many children will self harm, and Just Saying No doesn't work, so it is important to teach them how to do it in a way that minimises risk.

It is also important, of course, to reach them before they start to cut themselves. It is too late once they have infected themselves by using unsterile blades etc.  We much reach them while they are young.

A judgemental attitude will only serve to drive self-harmers underground, and may cause them to be bullied or stigmatised for their lifestyle choices, which is wholly unacceptable.

Some critics may argue that teaching about safe self-harm in the class room risks putting ideas into their heads.  Such naive people have clearly never looked at the internet, where hashtags like #cutterforlife demonstrate how widespread this issue is. It is ridiculous to imagine that children will not be exposed to this.

Likewise, the distribution of clean blades to all kids has raised questions in some quarters; but as the Select Committee pointed out, there is little point telling children not to use dirty blades unless they are provided with a safe alternative.

So I applaud this worthy initiative, and hope that self-harm lessons will become mainstream, and eventually compulsory, for all children, before too many more children die from infected wounds.



I have been told that this post may be misunderstood, so I think it incumbent on me to offer a word of clarification.

I wrote this as a satire on the current approach to Sex Education in this country.

I do not, of course, wish to denigrate those who seek to help children who cut themselves, by teaching them some strategies to reduce risk. Rather my point was two-fold.

Firstly, that strategies for the minority who are taking part in risky and aberrant behaviour should not be imposed on the majority who are not, in the name of prevention.  It normalises the problem behaviour, and if done in a non-judgemental style, teaches that it is in fact acceptable (or pace Brook, praise-worthy). There is thus the likelihood of creating the very problem we are trying to solve.

Secondly, that self-harm is rightly recognised as 'bad.' That is, a judgement is made of the behaviour (not of the individuals)  - that it is against their own and others' interests if they hurt themselves, even if they want to do so; and the educational and support strategy is predicated on that understanding. I think that the same should be the case with regard to children indulging in sexual activity, as it is clearly bad for them, as countless studies have demonstrated.

Friday, 20 March 2015

When Rights Collide

The story of Ashers Bakery in Northern Ireland is well worth following.  A homosexual activist approached this Christian company and asked them to decorate a cake with a message in support of same sex marriage. They politely declined. The full weight of the system is now being brought down on them, via the Equality Commission.

Here you can see and hear the general manager of this family firm explain their position, and ask for prayers, both for them and those who persecute them.

If you wish to sign a letter in support of the bakery and their principled position, you may do so here.

This case opens up a fascinating, if fraught, legal minefield. According to the Christian Institute (here) Aidan O'Neill QC states that if Ashers loses there would also be no defence to similar actions being taken against other businesses in any of the following scenarios:
  • A Muslim printer refusing a contract requiring the printing of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed
  • An atheist web designer refusing to design a website presenting as scientific fact the claim that God made the world in six days
  • A Christian film company refusing to produce a “female-gaze/feminist” erotic film
  • A Christian baker refusing to take an order to make a cake celebrating Satanism
  • A T-shirt company owned by lesbians declining to print T-shirts with a message describing gay marriage as an “abomination”
  • A printing company run by Roman Catholics declining an order to produce adverts calling for abortion on demand to be legalised.
At issue here is a conflict of perceived rights. The court is being asked to declare that the right to act in accordance with one's conscience, in a way that does no harm to another beyond denying approval of a belief system, is less important than the right of someone with a particular point of view not to have to confront the reality that some people disagree with him.

My fear is that it will do so.

So pray for the bakers, the court, and the litigants.

Fiat voluntas tua.

Thursday, 19 March 2015


The latest guidance on SRE is going to have children talking about pornography and consent in school from the age of 11 up.

I will pass lightly over the topic of pornography, assuming that anyone who reads this blog will realise how evil it is, and how thoroughly misguided it is to encourage children to discuss it, particularly in mixed-sex classes.

I want to dwell on the issue of consent. Recently, a blog post was written and widely promoted and praised on social media, explaining consent by means of the metaphor of making someone a cup of tea (here).  It is very well done -and it is as fallacious as the lessons to which our children will soon be subjected.

The fundamental error is to assume that sexual intercourse is as trivial as having a cup of tea.  Clearly, that is a nonsense. Some of the immediate differences that spring to mind are:

  • the meaning of the act
  • the possible consequences of the act, both positive and negative
  • the implications of the act with regard to other people
  • the strength of the interest of one party in the other party's engaging in the act
  • (related to the last) the likelihood of deception in the asking for consent

and so on.

So perhaps a better analogy would be two organisations, or even nations, agreeing to work together on a matter of significance.

In that instance, typically the first thing to do is to establish a memorandum of understanding, or a framework agreement.  Because this is important, there may even be the requirement for some formality, and witnesses.  Then, within that context, specific actions by either or both parties may be agreed.

The point of that process is to minimise the likelihood of misunderstanding, cheating, exploitation, and so on, when the stakes are high and the desires of the various parties coincide in part but not necessarily in whole.

And of course, that is what civilised societies have developed with regard to sexual intercourse.  The memorandum of understanding, or framework agreement, is analogous to marriage. Each party agrees to the overall terms of engagement, with witnesses, so that the risk of being misled, or hurt, or having to deal with the consequences alone, are vastly reduced. Within that framework agreement, of course, consent with regard to individual acts is also necessary: but the chances of meaningful consent are far greater.

Indeed, over the centuries, and enlightened by the teaching of both Natural Law and religious wisdom, we had reached a stage where we knew what the framework agreement needed to cover: a life-long, exclusive commitment to be there for each other, no matter what, and to raise the children of the marriage together.

But the consent envisaged by the blog post I linked to, and the ideology it represents (typified by Brook and other self-appointed experts who dictate education policy in this country) is quite different. It is a spur of the moment consent, easily obtained by false promises, or simply honeyed words and lust, and yet it is taken as the one criterion of morality.

And that is what our kids will soon be being taught: if you fancy it, say yes, and everything will be wonderful. And if you don't say no.

As if that is going to work...

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Saying Hurtful Things

I have been trying to place the best possible interpretation that I can imagine on the woeful lack of leadership and teaching about crucial moral issues (like, say, sin, and especially sins that are endemic and socially acceptable, such as contraception, adultery, fornication, homosexual practice) by our bishops, individually (with noble exceptions) and collectively.

I remembered the bishop I spoke to many years ago, who set me on the path to becoming Bitter and Twisted, as I recount here. Essentially, he didn't want to upset anyone.

And more recently, another member of the hierarchy has told me that they are extremely sensitive to the difficulties that people face, as an explanation for various concerns I raised (these sorts of things...)

So one possible interpretation is that the bishops just don't want to upset anyone. 

Whilst a laudable aim, there are some problems with that, if it is elevated above the central mission of the Church, to proclaim Christ's saving truth, in order that people repent and believe the Gospel, so that they may be saved by Christ's Redemptive Work, operating through the Sacraments, and thus attain eternal life.

Of course we should strive not to hurt others unnecessarily; but that is a secondary good, not the primary one.

Furthermore, when I read the Gospels, I see that Our Lord would frequently say ‘hurtful’ things. Imagine how the Syro-Phoenician woman felt, when told she was a dog who should not eat the childrens' food;  or how the Samaritan woman at the well felt, when Our Lord named her sordid 'lifestyle choices;' or how St Peter felt, when Our Lord said: vade post me, Satana! Or the pharisees, when they were called all sorts of offensive names; or Martha when she was trying to make everything perfect for Our Lord and was rebuked; and I could go on. 

For Him, truth and love are inseparable, and He confronts people with the truth, in order to call them to repentance, and thus to become open to His love. That seems to me where the Church is failing in this country, which is why our confessional queues are empty, and so, eventually, are our Masses.

Secondly, the unwillingness to hurt the feelings of any one group inevitably hurts the feelings of another. Thus the kindness extended to the divorced and remarried, if it goes so far as to imply they have a right to live with a new partner, becomes extremely cruel to the abandoned spouse, particularly when she or he has stayed faithful to the marriage vows in obedience to the Church. Or the welcome extended to homosexuals, if it condones or celebrates those who are openly living in same-sex relationships becomes extremely cruel to those who are tempted to same-sex relationships, but pursue chastity, in obedience to the Church.

Further, if one consistently compromises with the truth in order to avoid giving offence, there is the risk that one eventually loosens one’s grip on it. For how ‘hurtful’ it would be to say that someone in a loving relationship needs to repent.  The Church can’t really mean that… and so on. But if that loving relationship is in fact adulterous (and Our Lord was quite clear about this) then it is sinful: and sin will damage those who indulge in it, so it is no kindness at all to collude with it. And so, as I say, one loosens one’s grip on the truth.

So yes, we should avoid saying hurtful things where we can; but never at the cost of compromising the truth when that needs to be said. And if our role is a pastor or catechist, then we have a responsibility to proclaim the truth, in season and out, not to compromise it for 'pastoral' reasons - because we have the example of the Good Shepherd to follow.