Saturday, 9 September 2017

Praise where it's due...

I have been following the reaction to Jacob Rees-Mogg's television interview, in which he declared for the teaching of the Church on two of the hot-button issues of the day, with some interest.

Initially, some of us were hugely enthusiastic: here was a Catholic politician who did not duck the issues, and had the courage to say things that he knew were likely to be used against him, in a context in which he was never going to get a fair hearing. That was so refreshing after years of hearing 'I'm a Catholic, but...' from assorted politicians,  and the tactical silence, ambiguity, or downright apostasy from many Catholic prelates and priests.

But then came the criticisms: his arguments were weak, in some cases mistaken, and ceded too much ground, and so on.

I think both responses are appropriate, in the right balance. First and foremost, I think, we should applaud his big-heartedness: his sheer courage in saying what could well end his political career, and what he knew would open him up to the kind of shameless pillorying, mocking and misrepresentation that he has already begun to experience, and which I predict will not abate as long as he is in the public eye. That takes guts, and guts are admirable. His heart is in the right place, it seems, and it is our hearts - what we love - that finally determine who we are and how we will be judged. If he loves Christ and Christ's teaching, then he is on the road to salvation.

However, that does not mean that we should not look at the substance of what he said, and perhaps lament his muddle-headedness (though read on - I have more to say in mitigation, as it were, of this charge).  Joseph Shaw makes a number of valid points in his pieces on the subject, here and here.

However, and this is a big however, unless one has been in the hot seat in a television studio, on live tv and with hostile interviewers, one may not fully understand the situation in which he found himself.

I have been involved with the media training of many academics, over many years. Even on their own topics, in which they are experts, and in a training session that is not actually live, they often talk rubbish or explain their own research inadequately and at times incorrectly, when they are first quizzed by an interviewer who is only moderately challenging.

If the interviewer then leads them off-piste, as it were, onto a broader topic about higher education - something they know a great deal about, but for which they are not so prepared - they frequently talk even greater quantities of rubbish. And these are intelligent experts, used to teaching demanding undergraduates.

Simply put, there is something about the different context and the pressures of a live interview, that make it hard to marshal one's thoughts and express them coherently and accurately in live-time.  In fact, they are trained not to answer questions that are not directly related to their own research. But that is not an option that was open to Rees-Mogg: a politician who does that looks evasive, and on these subjects, the conclusion will be drawn that he holds the views deemed unpalatable but is too scared to say so (as in the Tim Farron affair).

So I think, firstly that Rees-Mogg was courageous in his stance; secondly that some of what he said was wrong; but thirdly that while we should of course seek to promote a better understanding, we should not blame him for that. I notice that on Facebook, a number of intelligent Catholics are trying to find better answers to the questions he faced, and struggling to do so - and that without being subject to all the pressures he was under.

Say a prayer for him, and for all who have the courage to stand up for the Faith in the public sphere: it takes courage and is likely to be thankless in this world; so pray they have the perseverance to ensure that it is rewarded in the next.


Thursday, 7 September 2017

Seven Sorrows Mass

It has just been announced that Fr Daniel Etienne, a newly-ordained priest, will be saying a Low Mass at Sizergh Castle on the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady, Friday 15th September, at 7.00 pm.

It is hoped that Fr Etienne will also give First Blessings after the Mass.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Abortion after rape

Today, Jacob Rees-Mogg scandalised the world (apparently - or at least that part of it that comments on social and main stream media) by saying that he disapproved of abortion in even in a case where the woman is pregnant as a result of rape (see here).

The howls of outrage, the astonishment,  and the terms in which it was expressed ('barbaric' and so on) were so intense, you might have thought that he was advocating killing innocent children, rather than standing up for them.

The rape question always comes up, of course. Let us pass over the fact that it is used by those who want to legitimise abortion in all circumstances; and the fact that we know that hard cases make bad law. Let us look it squarely in the face, on its own terms.

If one accepts what science (specifically biology and genetics) tells us - that is that a new and distinct human being comes into existence at the moment of conception - then even if it were proven that a therapeutic abortion might ease the distress for a woman pregnant as a result of rape, it is unjustifiable.

There is no circumstance in which killing an innocent human being in order to ease the distress of another human being can be justified.  We do not have to apologise for that truth.

Having said that, we can then look at some of the other aspects of this hard case. 

Firstly, of course, we deplore the terrible evil of rape, and the trauma that results. But in fact, there is no evidence whatsoever that abortion eases that trauma or that carrying a resultant child to full term makes it worse. The evidence we have, as a SPUC post on the topic makes clear, points in the other direction.  And that post is notable, too, for the additional distress caused to the victims of such terrible crimes by those who appropriate their suffering to push for the liberalisation of abortion laws, as described by some of the women interviewed. It is truly wicked to subject women to a second assault on their bodies and their dignity by invading their bodies to abort their children. There is no evidence whatsoever medically or psychologically to justify this, and there are many women who will testify that, whatever one might imagine, having the baby was the one positive thing to come out of that traumatic experience.

Secondly, note the dishonesty of the way in which the debate is often conducted. This hard question is used as a tactic, almost one might say as emotional blackmail, to break down the absolute opposition to abortion that a principled person has. But the person using it has never (in my experience at least) any interest in restricting abortions to such hard cases.

Thirdly, and related, is the rhetorical dishonesty that then follows: 'You mean, you would force a woman to carry her rapist's child?!!' Timothy Brahm, of the Equal Rights Institute dismantles that particular rhetorical device here.

And finally, there is the underlying question of justice and compassion. These must apply not only to the victim of the rape, but also to the child. Justice or compassion applied to either one, without the other, is no justice, and no compassion. And no good will come of it.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Of your charity...

Of your charity pray for the repose of the soul of Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor.

It is understandable that when someone we love or revere dies, we want to imagine that he or she has gone straight to Heaven.

However, the Catholic Church has always cautioned against this approach; instead, we assume as a default position that people need our prayers at this time.

I am just finishing reading the autobiography of St Teresa of Avila, and she recounts some extraordinary visions that bear witness to the power of praying for the dead.

The traditional liturgy, of course, captures the full range of emotions and resonances of this time: ranging from the Dies irae to the In paradisum, and with the wonderful prayer Tuis enim fidelibusDomine, vita mutatur, non tollitur.

The premature emotional beatification of people immediately after their death is not only theologically suspect, but risks denying them the prayers they may need at this stage of their journey towards heaven.

So pray for Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, that he may speed through purgatory, and enjoy the fulness of redemption in the company of Our Lord, Our Lady and all the angels and saints, in Heaven.

Good News

It is excellent that our bishops have chosen to reinstate the Feasts of the Epiphany and the Ascension as Holy Days of Obligation, on their correct days.

Not only does this bring us into alignment with Rome (and with our separated brethren in the Anglican Communion) but also with our forefathers, which I see as equally, if not more, significant.

Joseph Shaw has written about this, (including the importance of celebrating Feasts on their correct days) here.

I was slightly puzzled at first by the decision not to restore Corpus Christi to its traditional day: the Thursday after Trinity Sunday (given that it is a celebration of some of Maundy Thursday's key events, but removed from the shadow of Good Friday).

However, it was heartening to learn (from Stephen Morgan - @trisagion on Twitter) that the reasons for this were that the bishops had noticed a growth in Corpus Christi processions on Sundays, and did not want to do anything to discourage that.

Whilst one might disagree with that judgement, the grounds on which they are acting are also very heartening. It is not that long ago that some liturgists (and some bishops) were waging war on that kind of popular expression of the Faith, so it is heartening to know that those days are behind us.

All in all, very good news for the Church in England and Wales, and their Lordships are to be heartily congratulated.

And remember to pray for them.

Monday, 21 August 2017

On Discernment

In all the talk around the more revolutionary interpretations of Amoris Laetitia, the word discernment comes up.

It came up yesterday in a twitter conversation I was having on the topic with @thirstygargoyle - he had responded to my previous post about Jurisprudence and Imprudence by tweeting: It's important to note, I think, that Amoris deals with how to pick up pieces afterwards, and proposes an *augmented* internal forum. By which I mean, it proposes that discernment is guided by a priest, and is not a purely solitary exercise.


I asked: What is the discernment aimed at discerning? That is what nobody has (yet) explained to me... That the previous marriage was null?

To which he replied: It will vary from case to case. There'll be a huge range of variants.

We chatted on for quite a while, but really got no further in terms of what is being discerned.

And that worries me.

For I think that some interpreters of AL may help people to 'discern' that their previous marriage was in fact null, so they are free to treat their new union as a real marriage. Others may help people to discern that in their particular situation, it would be impossible to separate, so they too could treat their new union as a real marriage. And so on.

@thirstygargoyle makes the point that Familiaris Consortio suggests that 'the situations of individuals who had remarried after divorces were different and needed to be treated differently.' But nowhere does Familiaris Consortio or any other teaching document of the Church suggest that 'differently' might mean acknowledging a second union as legitimate when a first valid marriage endures. Yet that seems the direction of travel of many interpreters of AL.

For what it's worth, my view is that discernment should be a process that leads the individual to realise the incompatibility of living with a second partner as a spouse with the life of grace; and therefore implies a penitential path which is aimed to a resolution of the irregularity: that is to say, a cessation of the adultery. For such is the path of mercy. And whilst someone is determined to persist in adultery, such a determination de facto means they are not in a position to receive Holy Communion. That is not necessarily a judgement that they are in mortal sin; but if they are not, then they are in a state of ignorance with regard to the teaching of the Church that is also incompatible with full (and therefore eucharistic) communion.

I think the underlying problem with some interpreters of AL is that they do not really think any harm is being done by those in second unions. If the first marriage is truly over (say the other spouse has abandoned the one in discernment irrevocably), then what's the problem?

The first problem is precisely there: the first marriage is not truly over, even if the other spouse has abandoned the one in discernment irrevocably. In such a case the marriage still endures, and that means that the second party is not free to enter a new union (that's rather what we mean when we promise 'for better of for worse, till death do us part.')

The second problem is that sin harms us and others. Any sin. Every time. Even when culpability is reduced, sin is still evil, and still harmful. The abortionist who truly and sincerely believes he is helping a distressed pregnant woman is still doing something evil, even though his culpability may be minimal or non-existent. The adulterer is no different.

So any process of discernment that is not aimed at ending the adultery is the opposite of mercy. And any sexual intimacy in a second union , where the first is valid and endures, is adultery, as Our Lord clearly taught.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Jurisprudence and imprudence

In our legal system, we have a doctrine of the presumption of innocence. 

The reasons for this are fairly clear: a society in which people can be judged guilty without a proper process is clearly problematic.

The presumption of innocence, of course, may lead to injustices:  an individual may know very well that someone is guilty of an offence against him, and yet be unable to prove it to the standards required in law: the truly guilty party escapes the consequences of his actions, and the victim is denied justice.

But so it must be: for the alternative is so much worse: if the police, or the State (either of which means, effectively, those with power) can decide who is guilty without due process, it is worse for all of us. And inevitably the highest price will be paid by those with least power.

A second principle is that nobody is the judge in his own case. Again, the reasons are fairly clear: the temptation to bias (whether conscious or unconscious) is so strong that we cannot fairly submit somebody to such temptation and rely on him to give a just verdict. Rather, we seek means to ensure that judgement is made by people without a vested interest in the outcome. These are fairly universal principles in any civilised society, for reasons which are obvious.

I reflect on these, because some people do not seem to see the massive imprudence of some apparently merciful approaches to the problem of divorce and 'remarriage.'

The presumption in favour of the bond - that is the presumption that a marriage is valid until proved null - serves a similar function with regard to marriage as the presumption of innocence does to criminal justice. It is true that, just as with the presumption of innocence, the presumption in favour of the bond may lead to individual cases of injustice; but the principle stands, because the alternative is so much worse and more damaging for everyone. And as ever, those most damaged will be those who have least power.

Likewise, any attempt to change the annulment process so that one of the parties to a marriage becomes the judge in his own case is clearly an affront both to the principles of justice and to the institution of marriage. It may appear merciful, but (inter alia) places a terrible burden of responsibility on the individual, in an area where we already know that human judgement is, let us say, unreliable.

Someone very close to me has recently abandoned his wife and taken up with another woman. He has managed to persuade himself that his marriage was a sham. I have no doubt that such a psychological event has taken place in his mind: he genuinely believes it. I have no doubt that he is wrong... We humans are remarkably good at doing that: interpreting reality to justify our behaviour and our desires.

And of course the injustice is done to his wife and children; and harm done to himself (he is really bent out of shape...) and to the institution of Marriage. So whilst one could not, and should not, pronounce on his individual culpability, one can see that an 'internal forum' solution is profoundly problematic.

These are some of the reasons why some of the approaches being promoted in the wake of Amoris Laetitia are so troubling to so many thoughtful Catholics.

Of course, by drawing attention to these issues in this way, I lay myself open to the charge of being legalistic. But I would draw a distinction between legalism and clear thinking about the law. Our Lord condemned a certain type of legalism; but also declared for the Law. Catholic tradition has long recognised the importance of Canon Law - and not least with regard to protecting Holy Matrimony. 

The law - civil or canon -  may be an imperfect instrument; but those who do away with it in the hope of advancing justice, peace and happiness soon find that it doesn't work out so well: the revolution always ends up consuming its own children - and particularly the powerless.