Thursday, 25 May 2017

Ascension Day

Ascendit Deus in iubilatione, et Dominus in voce tubae, Alleluia, alleluia!

Here in England and Wales, the celebration of the feast, and the attendant obligation to attend Mass, have been transferred to Sunday.

I think that is an unwise decision, pastorally. It erodes our Catholic Identity, and the sense of a special feast. Also at a psychological level, I think that lessening the demands our Faith makes on us weakens our Faith.


The Ascension is one of the more complex events to understand. But one aspect worthy of our attention is the fact that it visibly expresses the Father's acceptance of the Son's sacrifice, thus completing it.

This is clearly in line with the pattern in the Old Testament; and also, as Fr Hunwicke has pointed out, with the theology of the Roman Canon (in contrast with the new Eucharistic Prayers composed in the 1960s ff).

Here is an Ascension Day treat: 




Monday, 22 May 2017

Catholic Teachers Deserve Better

I know I keep going on about the CES document (see CES Scandal, passim) but new aspects keep occurring to me. I have already mentioned what a difficult position it could place teachers in, who assume it was written by the CES and St Mary's, not realising that large portions were in fact written by LGBT propagandists. 

But now, consider the position of a teacher who suffers from same sex attention. He or she, striving to be faithful to the teachings of the Church, recognises that this is an inclination to sin and battles with it. It is not for us to inquire how successfully; all we can do is consider our own struggles with our own particular temptations, and sympathise with the struggle; and, as ever, pray.

But where does this document leave him or her? What internal conflicts does it exacerbate? What external prurience might it provoke? What kind of betrayal does it represent?...

Our teachers deserve so much better than this...

Sunday, 21 May 2017

So, to summarise...

In this weekend's edition of the Catholic Herald, there is a piece by Dan Hitchens on the #CESScandal. It seems to me rather to miss the point. Therefore I thought it might be helpful to summarise the issues which I  have raised in one place, as so far they have been scattered over some 20-odd posts.

The first thing to say, of course, is that bullying is always contrary to Catholic teaching, and educating children not to bully (or to put it in the positive, to practice the virtues, in particular the virtue of charity) is fundamental to a Catholic education. Let nobody say that those who oppose this document are in favour of bullying.

There are two broad aspects to this scandal (and I use the word advisedly, and not unaware of the resonance with Luke 17:2): the document itself, and the way in which the CES has gone about producing, and communicating about, it. There is also something to be said about the context.

Looking first at the document itself, there are several problems.

The approach
The overall thrust of this document is that we should not bully people who identify as gay or bisexual (or whose parents or carers do) because gay and bisexual people are just as good as us, but different.  That is wrong. We should not bully them because we should not bully anyone - even if they (or their parents) are bad. The risk of the approach taken is that the implicit message is that if someone is bad (by whatever current measure that is unacceptable - say racist or indeed homophobic) he or she may be bullied; and likewise if someone's parents are racist, homophobic or whatever. So the whole premise of the approach is flawed. 

The anthropology
The document accepts the language and worldview of the LGBT movement entirely and uncritically. The ideas that gay is a valid way of describing a human being, that people are born gay, that to be gay means that fulfilment may only be found in a sexual expression, and so on are all, to say the least debatable propositions; and are all at odds with a Catholic understanding of reality and humanity.

The ambiguity
The unquestioning use of the LGBT language (and indeed pages and pages of material lifted from LGBT sources) means that much that should be clear is ambiguous (possibly to prevent overt heresy) but clearly inclines in a particular (and anti-Catholic) direction. Thus the definitions of homophobic bullying, the reification of 'gay,' the elision of same-sex attraction and homosexual behaviour under that single word, and the implication in the title 'Made in God's Image' that God has created some people this way so it must be good, are all profoundly problematic, and such ambiguity is very poor from any educational standpoint.

The propaganda
Some of the material presented is simply untrue, and is outright propaganda for the LGBT worldview. The presentation of the 'case study' about Alan Turing is one obvious example. The attempt to control language and how it is used, defined as LGBT propagandists define it, is another. 

The omissions
Nowhere does this document contain Catholic teaching on chastity, on human sexuality, on concupiscence or anything else to provide a Catholic context for a discussion of homosexuality. "But it's about bullying" the apologist cries. OK: nowhere does it contain any reference to the Catholic understanding of virtues (and contrary vices), of temptation and grace, of the need for self denial in order to develop necessary self-mastery for moral and spiritual combat, of the need for a prayer life, and grace through the sacraments, and  so on. 

Turning now to the role of the CES, again there are several problems.

The opacity
Who wrote this document? Why was it being kept hidden? Why the fury when it was made public - whilst on its way into our schools? Why no acknowledgement of sources, when it gives the appearance of being a well-referenced academic document?

The collusion with Stonewall and LGBTYouth Scotland
What relationship has been established with these two organisations, whose work is extensively quoted, and who apparently gave permission for that to be done? Given that their work is in large part aimed at overturning a Catholic understanding of human sexuality this is a very serious question.

The questions over funding
The CES have contradicted themselves over the funding of this document. Initially, they said:  'The CES has received funding to cover the printing and distribution of a hard copy for each school.'

A number of sources whom I deem credible and honest have told me that the CES had received money from Stonewall. As this was reported, the CES changed their tune, and said: “The document is a collaboration between the CES and St Mary’s and no external funding has been received for it.” and also:  “The CES has not received any funding for either the printing or the distribution of the document.” 

There was no explanation of the contradiction. What are we to believe?

The response to the questions raised
Other than the completely inadequate response to the question over funding, I have seen no attempt by the CES to address any of the other concerns. Privately, they seem more intent on tracking down who 'leaked' the document.  This falls far short of the standards one would expect of a body funded, in large part, by the laity. The Nolan principles of public life would be useful standards to look to for guidance here. Nobody I know who has contacted the CES privately has yet had a response, beyond the autogenerated acknowledgement.


A few words about the context...

A few commentators have accused me of ignorance of the context, so I shall just add a few words on that.  There is no doubt that Catholic Schools will come under scrutiny from OFSTED on this topic. However, that can be no justification for teaching anything that is contrary to the Faith.  I believe that a truly Catholic approach should be enough to satisfy OFSTED; but if it is not, then we should not shy away from the resulting confrontation. To refuse to teach the Faith in order to stay open is a completely self-defeating policy.

A Catholic approach would consist of teaching that all bullying is wrong, forming children in the virtues, with the associated teachings (on the spiritual life, grace etc) to underpin that, and having a robust anti-bullying policy in place, that could demonstrate that Catholic Schools do not tolerate bullying of anyone, for any reason. 

Finally:

It seems likely that this post may be read by people beyond my usual readership. For their sake, I should make it clear that I have no hostility towards (nor fear of) those who identify as LGBT. I merely disagree with them on some things.  The Church teaches that we are all damaged by Original Sin, that we are all sinners, and that we all sin in many and various ways: that is certainly true of me.  Likewise, made in the image of God, we all have intrinsic worth and are worthy of respect and should love each other. The path to salvation is to deny ourselves, take up our cross (whatever that may be) and follow Christ, who became Man - like us in all things but sin - and lived, died and rose again, so that we might be divinised and share in eternal life and happiness. That is my wish for myself, for those I love and for those with whom I disagree.


For more detailed analysis, including quotations, links etc, see my previous posts on this topic, all of which have the label CESScandal.


For the contact details for the CES and responsible bishops, should you wish to raise your concern and request action (which, of course, you should...) see here.

And pray!
--

Sancte Michael Archangele,
defende nos in proelio;
contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium.
Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur:
tuque, Princeps militiae Caelestis,
satanam aliosque spiritus malignos,
qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo,
divina virtute in infernum detrude.
Amen.


Holy Michael, Archangel,
Defend us in the day of battle;
Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, 
And do thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host, 
By the power of God,
Thrust down to Hell Satan and all wicked spirits
Who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.

Amen.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

CES and Stonewall: What degree of cooperation?

I was interested to read a piece by Professor Charmley in Christian Today. Charmley is always worth reading, as anyone who follows the blog All Along the Watchtower will know: perceptive, and profoundly Catholic in his outlook. The piece in Christian Today was about Tim Farron and what seems to be the reincarnation of the Test Act. It was a thoguht-provoiking piece throughout, addressing a serious social and political point. But I have to confess that my attention was particularly caught by this paragraph: 
My own university, which is explicitly Catholic, welcomes students of all faiths and none, asking only for mutual respect. One of our research centres is producing a handbook for the Catholic Education Service on how to combat homophobic bullying. Some have criticised it because it used, with permission, material from gay campaign group Stonewall, but that, for us, is part of a Catholic ethos. It has expertise here, and while not adopting its assumptions we can use its expertise. Should we have expected Stonewall to have left its principles at the door?

Leaving aside the defence of the use of the Stonewall material (which I thought poor, to be honest) I think this is the first time I have seen it explicitly stated that Stonewall's material was used 'with permission.'  Stonewall, like the CES, have mastered the art of the ambiguous statement, and 'denied the group had any specific involvement with the production of the document,' according to the Catholic Herald  

As I have mentioned before, I think the Nolan principles should apply here: Catholics funding the CES have a right to know precisely what the links are between Stonewall and the CES document. And nobody has mentioned lgbtyouth Scotland, from whom far more of the document was copied.

This murky affair is far from over, and we have the right to expect open and honest accounts of what has gone on; not self-contradictory snippets addressing only the most damning questions, without in any way explaining anything.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Strange Bedfellows

If it is true that the CES not only collaborated with Stonewall and its allies in producing the content of Made in God's Image, but also accepted money from them for its printing and distribution to Catholic schools, that suggests a serious break down in the governance of the organisation and its oversight by the bishops.

Of course, there is nothing to suggest everyone in the CES, even, knew about this. It may have been one enthusiastic and naive individual, striving to do her very best, but without proper supervision. Who knows? But there can be no doubt that the body charged with promoting Catholic teaching in our schools, and the organisation dedicated to a very different agenda, directly at odds with a Catholic worldview, make very strange bedfellows.

Before people start running around saying that the CES Director's head should be put on a stake on Tower Bridge, or the CES should be burned to the ground, or the bishops on the management committee should be made to walk from Liverpool to Rome on their knees, I think a full investigation is needed; and that (pace Nolan) there is adequate transparency, honesty and openness with regard to its findings, so as to learn from this debacle and to rebuild the trust of the Catholic laity, who (in the main, and with the exception, apparently of LGBT lobbyists) fund the CES.

My guess is that the bishops will be shocked by this revelation, when they learn of it. I do not imagine any of them read this blog, so it is down to you to write to them, asking them to investigate what has gone wrong here and to put it right. Only if they know can they respond appropriately, so it is essential that they hear from more than one person.

Their problem is a tricky one. Quite rightly, in view of Catholic teaching on subsidiarity, the bishops delegate some of their authority to people such as the CES. However, delegation of authority should not be abdication: appropriate checks should be in place as final accountability (again pace Nolan) remains with the bishops.

I should have thought that before something goes out to all our schools, it should be scrutinised by a responsible bishop, who would then declare that there is no reason why it should not be published, and sign his name to that effect. Those who know me and my love of Latin, will not be surprised to know I have dreamed up a lovely Latin tag that could be used: Nihil obstat.

Then, to make assurance doubly sure, a second scrutiny, by another named individual, should be undertaken immediately prior to publication. That could be signed off as an Imprimatur. Then there could be no doubt as to who was vouching for the Catholicity of things presented to our teachers as guidance in forming Catholic children.

I realise that some are averse to change, and to such newfangled ideas, but let us recognise that the CES Scandal calls for a creative and innovative response, to ensure that it is not repeated. 

--

UPDATE 17 May 14.26

I have just seen that the Catholic Herald have updated their article with a new CES quotation on this topic: 

The Catholic Education Service did not receive any outside funding for either writing, printing or distributing its document on homophobia, a spokesman has said.
So whilst my informants may have been mistaken, we have at least got a clearer statement out of the CES. All other questions and issues remain unaddressed, of course; including why they previously said that they had received funding. When people say two opposite things, how does one know which to believe?

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Did the CES Accept Money From Stonewall?

I have now heard from several sources that the CES has been given money by Stonewall, a group fundamentally opposed to Catholic teaching on human sexuality, to print and distribute copies of Made in God's Image, to Catholic Schools.

I have argued from the first that this document looked like Stonewall propaganda, and that certainly adds weight to that view.


As indeed does coverage like this.

Of course, it is conceivable that my sources, all of whom I deem trustworthy, are mistaken or have been misled: in which case, the CES should quickly and clearly refute the claim.


The absence of any such refutation will raise serious questions. Who knew? And who put out the lie that no external funding was received? 


The CES Scandal has just taken a turn for the worse. The restoration of good governance is now essential.


Pray for all concerned, and write to the bishops! (Contact details here)



UPDATE 17 May 14.26


I have just seen that the Catholic Herald have updated their article with a new CES quotation on this topic: 

The Catholic Education Service did not receive any outside funding for either writing, printing or distributing its document on homophobia, a spokesman has said.
So whilst my informants may have been mistaken, we have at least got a clearer statement out of the CES. All other questions and issues remain unaddressed, of course; including why they previously said that they had received funding. When people say two opposite things, how does one know which to believe?

So What Is To Be Done?

I have chronicled the slow-motion car crash of the CESScandal in some detail over the last 11 days or so (what was it Alastair Campbell said about making toast?) It is a sorry story (though I am reminded of the dentist's comment about tooth decay: it's terrible of course, but it's good for business! - this has certainly been a story that people have been keen to read about, judging by the hits on this blog).

But what is to be done about it? There are those out there in the Twittersphere who think we might as well give up: 'they' will never listen to us.  I am always wary of such conflation: who are 'they?'

The people we need to listen to us are either the CES chaps (whom I don't know) or the bishops (some of whom I do).  The bishops, I think it is fair to say, are a mixed bunch; and some of them are very good indeed. So to say 'they' won't listen seems to me both a counsel of despair and a potential injustice.

But beyond them, we need Our Lord and Our Lady to listen. And anyone who says that they won't has departed from the path of wisdom and from the Faith.

So what is to be done?  Firstly, as always, pray! Pray to the Blessed Trinity, to our Immaculate Mother, to all the saints in heaven. You choose - but choosing not to pray is not a Catholic option.

And then, write to the CES and write to the bishops. Write with charity, avoid accusations about people's motives, and ask what is being done to address the concerns that have been raised.

You might want to make one or two points from amongst from the many that Joseph Shaw, Mark Lambert, Caroline Farrow or I have made, or from the Catholic Herald's reporting (here and here). I would recommend not making too many points, nor writing at too great a length (I am sure that when another 10 page letter from Trovato Towers arrives, in lurid green ink, it is quickly binned...)

Here are some useful addresses:

Catholic Education Service

Paul Barber
Director
Catholic Education Service
39 Eccleston Square
London
SW1V 1BX

(or use the form at http://www.catholiceducation.org.uk/about-us/ces-team)

Bishops with oversight of the CES (ie on the Management Committee):

The Most Reverend Malcolm McMahon, Archbishop of Liverpool
19 Salisbury Road
Liverpool
L19 0PH
Tel: 0151 494 0686
Fax: 0151 306 7762
Email: archbishop.liverpool@rcaolp.co.uk

The Right Reverend Terrence Drainey, Bishop of Middlesbrough
 16 Cambridge Road, 

Linthorpe, 
Middlesbrough
TS5 5NN

Telephone: 01642 818253
Email: bishopsecretary@dioceseofmiddlesbrough.co.uk

The Right Reverend David McGough, Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Birmingham
The Rocks
106 Draycott Road
Tean
Staffordshire


Tel & Fax: 01538 722433
Email: dmcgough@btinternet.com

The Right Reverend Marcus Stock, Bishop of Leeds
Diocese Of Leeds
Hinsley Hall
62 Headingley Lane
Leeds
LS6 2BX


The Right Reverend Alan Williams, Bishop of Brentwood
Cathedral House, 

Ingrave Road, 
Brentwood, 
Essex, 
CM15 8AT

You might also wish to write to the Cardinal, both as Chairman of the Bishops' Conference, and in his role with oversight over St Mary's, and of course to your own diocesan bishop. 

Finally, there are those bishops with the wisdom and orthodoxy to see the problems without needing the problems to be pointed out to them.  So a letter to (say) +Moth, +Davies, +Byrne, +Campbell, or +Egan (to take a few names purely at random, you understand) asking them to use their influence and assuring them of prayerful support, might also help.

Monday, 15 May 2017

On 'gay' and language policing

I had an interesting conversation with our youngest, Dominique, at breakfast this morning. She is in her final term at school (what I, in my unreconstructed fashion, think of as the Upper Sixth).

I asked her about the current use of the word gay. She was very clear that it has two quite distinct meanings in her school. The older meaning, of happy and cheerful, is not current. It is used both to mean homosexual and also something between rubbish and stupid: an all-purpose pejorative term. And which is meant is always quite clear from the context.


The latter use has no connotation of anything to do with homosexuality. So I asked if it would be wrong for someone using that term to be had up for homophobic bullying. She hemmed and hawed a bit at that. The point is that although the word is not used with that connotation, its power as a pejorative comes from the fact that it is known to be a forbidden word; and it is known that it is a forbidden word because of its potential use as a  bullying term.


Indeed, she said, it is the school banging on about it that gives the term its allure. It's precisely because it is a forbidden word that it is an appealing one.


That makes perfect sense to me.


It also seems to me that if a school is to discipline someone for using the term gay as a pejorative, the charge should not really be one of homophobia, as that is not the intention. The intention, in so far as it is malign, is to rebel against authority.


Language, of course, changes meaning over time. If one considers the word queer, one can see that. It started by meaning odd, was then applied as a discreet way of referring to homosexuals, then became an extremely offensive way of referring to them, and has since been reclaimed by at least some and become the way they prefer to describe themselves.


It is not a word I would use myself in that context; but in that word context lies another part of the complexity of language.


Which brings me to the CES document, Made in God's Image.  Here we read:
Homophobic language
This could be the casual derogatory use of the word ‘gay’ to mean something negative or the use of explicit homophobic terms.
For example: • ‘that’s so gay’, or ‘you’re so gay’; ‘those trainers are so gay’
• someone calling another student a ‘dyke’ or ‘faggot’ 
I would suggest that these are two entirely different cases. Dyke or faggot are currently both clearly offensive and derogatory terms, and it is hard to conceive of an innocent use of them, unless it is the mere repetition of them by a younger child who has heard them as insulting words but does not know what they mean (and that is always a possibility that adults should be alive to, before coming down too heavily: children often learn words in that way from other children - getting the intent and general pejorative meaning, without knowing a specific meaning).

But the meaning of gay seems to be shifting again; it is quite probable that many children use it with no homophobic intent. What then is to be done?

The thought-police mentality of the authors of Made in God's Image are in no doubt: its use is homophobic bullying. But to lay such a charge against children who may be wholly innocent, or even those who use it as a show of bravado, is an injustice. 

Further, given that it may frequently be used with no homophobic intent, is it helpful to sensitise people to it, so that homosexual people will feel attacked every time they hear it used in that way?  I worry about approaches that end up making people feel like victims unnecessarily. 

Of course, the argument would be that they want to eradicate such language; but my daughter, at least, thinks that this approach is precisely what lends it potency. And there is a lesson to be learned from Canute: like it or not, language is not subject to control.  I have a lot of sympathy for the French Academy, and their attempt to maintain certain standards through a prescriptive approach to dictionary-making. But in England, we have always tended towards a descriptive approach, and that may be wiser.  And I notice that the online Urban Dictionary gives three distinct definitions of gay...

And always, I come back to Orwell, and his insights into the use of language control to control the thoughts that people are allowed to think.  And I ask myself, are the CES entirely ignorant of the complexities of the issues that they have waded into? Or do they have an agenda, and if so, what is it?

Oh, and by the way, who paid?...

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Good news from Lancaster

Tonight we went to Mass at the Lancaster University Chaplaincy. The Mass was celebrated by our bishop, +Campbell, and the occasion was the blessing of the new Fresco: a reredos that has transformed what used to look like a barn into something that is palpably Catholic.

The image is of the Transfiguration, and shows Christ in the centre, with Moses on his right and Elijah on his left. Beyond Moses is St John, and beyond Elijah, St Peter and St James.

On each seat in the chapel was a beautifully produced and informative leaflet about the fresco.

The fresco was the inspiration of the wonderful young chaplain, Fr Philip Conner, and was painted by Aidan Hart in April of this year. 

The bishop preached a sermon on the Catholic patronage of the arts, and we were treated to some excellent music, as well.
It was a treat to belt out Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise, and Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, and the choir also performed motets by Bruckner, Mozart and Arcadelt (I hadn't heard his Ave Maria for about forty years, and very moving it was). They found the Byrd Four Part Mass rather harder than they had foreseen: a shame, as it is quite wonderful when well sung. 

This was a very uplifting occasion. It was a treat to be in the eldest 10% of the congregation for a change, and to see the reverence of the altar team, and indeed of the student body in general: the holiness of their chaplain clearly has an effect. And it is inspiring to see an investment in art of real quality to transform the chapel into a place that inspires us to lift our hearts and minds to God by the beauty of the setting.

You can see a time-lapse video of the painting of the fresco (two weeks work in two minutes), here

And here is Byrd's four part Mass, as a treat!


CES: Publishing Anti-Catholic Propaganda

In my series of posts on the CES Scandal - their publication of Made in God's Image and the many questions surrounding it - I have used the word propaganda.

Regular readers of this blog (if such there be) will know that I try to be careful in my use of language, and it would be fair to point out that the mere fact that large portions of the document have been lifted verbatim from LGBT sources is not, in itself, proof that they are propaganda.

Propaganda, according to the online Oxford dictionary, is Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view. I would argue that much of Made in God's Image fits that definition.

So here is an example of what I mean (and there are many I could have chosen, not least the definitions page; indeed if the CES goes ahead with this project, it may become necessary to do a line-by-line analysis and refutation, but for now an example or two should suffice).

On page 16 we read:

Please read the following newspaper report on Alan Turing (1912-54) who took his own life due to the persecution he faced by his country for being gay. 
Let's just look at that in a little more detail. The sentence, the context in which it is placed, and the subsequent article from (you guessed it) The Guardian are clearly designed to portray Turing as the innocent victim of persecution for being gay.

But most of the factual content of the sentence is either debatable or wrong. 

It is by no means certain that Turing took his own life. If he did so, there is no evidence that it was a result of his treatment; indeed one of the tragedies of the gay lifestyle is the frequency with which it ends in suicide. But that fact won't be explored, of course. Suicide because of persecution suits the agenda so much better... 

The word persecution is also a very loaded one: he committed a crime, knowingly, and was punished for it. There was, as far as I can find out, no continuing persecution of him. But the real weight of propaganda falls in the last three words: 'for being gay.'

There is a lot going on here. In the first place, there is no law in this country, and has never been a law, against being gay. The law rightly concerns itself with actions. He was prosecuted (not 'persecuted') for acts of gross indecency with a man 20 years his junior whom he had picked up in the streets of Manchester. 

One may or may not agree with the penal code of the time (it has of course changed since) but this description is a travesty.

Further, and perhaps more seriously, the sentence assumes that being gay and practicing homosexual acts are the same thing. This is the subtle message of the whole document.

What our children are to be taught, if the CES has its way, is this:

1 Some people are gay - that is their natural state, and it is morally positive;

2 Being gay means not only experiencing certain emotional and sexual attractions, but acting on them;

3 Questioning either of the above propositions is bullying and will be dealt with severely.

Needless to say, all this is a long way from the teaching of the Catholic Church. The consequence, of course, is that any student who promotes Catholic teaching on human sexuality will, ipso facto, be deemed a bully, with potentially very serious and lasting consequences.  That might more fairly be described as persecution.

And when the truth is twisted, as in the Turing case study, to serve such ends, it seems fair to me to say that we are dealing with propaganda.

--

Please write to your bishop, and pray for the bishops and the CES.

--

Update:

The Alan Turing story is so much more interesting than the simplistic hagiography of those who have recruited him as the posthumous poster-boy for their own agenda. This account by his brother is very touching. It includes these wonderful lines:
I had never had even the faintest notion that Alan was a homosexual. One did not in those days (at least in our middle class) talk or even think about homosexuals and lesbians: one had heard of them, of course. (There was a book called Pansies by D.H. Lawrence, displayed in Hatchards bookshop in Piccadilly when I was an articled clerk aged about 21. “Another boring gardening book,” I sighed as I passed by.) I expect we were a little stupid.
O tempora, o mores... 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

What should we reasonably expect of the CES?

I have been critical of the CES both for the document that they produced (Made in God's Image) which is scandalous, and also for their response to the criticisms and questions raised (see here for the whole story, as I see it: read in chronological order [from the bottom up] to make most sense of the developing scandal).

So what do I expect of the CES? Or, perhaps more pertinently, what might the Catholics who fund them through their donations reasonably expect. The closest analogue for the CES in civic life is the public sector: those people paid by the public to execute the public good.  So Let's look at the 7 principles of public life (the 'Nolan principles') 


Those with a long memory will recall that John Major asked Lord Nolan to run an inquiry following the sleaze of the cash-for-questions scandal back in the 1990s. The principles (as currently stated - they have been revised a few times) are (Source):



• Selflessness
• Integrity
• Objectivity
• Accountability
• Openness
• Honesty
• Leadership

1.Selflessness
Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.

2.Integrity

Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.

3.Objectivity

Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.

4.Accountability

Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.

5.Openness

Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.

6.Honesty

Holders of public office should be truthful.

7.Leadership

Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

If assessed against these standards, I would suggest, the CES is letting the Catholic laity (and indeed the bishops, their sponsors) down badly. Their response so far seems to me to fail to honour the principles of openness, honesty and accountability; leadership has been lacking, and there are very serious questions over integrity. 


So the bishops really need to step in and hold them to account.  But then, of course, that raises the question: should we expect the bishops' conference to operate by the same set of principles. It is hard to see why we should not. But, if I am wholly honest and open (principles 5 & 6) with my readership, I have to admit that I would not give the Conference gold star ratings against all of these principles, either.


Must do better!


Pray for them all.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Schrödinger's funding

In their email accompanying the new resource, Made in God's Image: Challenging homophobic and biphobic bullying in Catholic Schools, that has been the subject of so much controversy (see all my posts on the CES Scandal here and follow links in those posts for more coverage), the Catholic Education Service said they had "received funding to cover the printing and distribution of a hard copy for each school."

Now we read in the Catholic Herald that a spokesman (sic, good for the Herald!) says: “The document is a collaboration between the CES and St Mary’s and no external funding has been received for it.”

I find those two statements hard to reconcile; but in a spirit of inquiry, I will do my best. I can come up with four possible ways of making sense of them (and am open to suggestions about others, of course).

One is that the CES has received internal funding. But that seems a very odd usage. To receive something implies that it comes from outside. 

The second is that the 'it' in the second quotation refers not to 'the document' but to 'the collaboration.'  Thus they could have received funding for the printing and distribution, but not for the collaboration. That would also be a very odd usage, and would suggest a degree of obfuscation (deliberate or not). If deliberate it seems to me to fall under the heading of suggestio falsi et suppressio veri.

The third is that the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. In my experience or organisational life, that is at least as plausible as any other explanation.

The fourth is that we are being lied to. 

In any event, the questions about the funding have not been answered by the latest pronouncement, and they remain both urgent and important.

Likewise, the questions about Stonewall's involvement, and that of LGBTYouth Scotland, will not go away. A cursory glance at the relevant documents suggests that one page of Made in God's Image (page 3) is lifted verbatim from Stonewall's document (page 6) and no fewer than seven (pp 12, 14, 20, 23, 24, 25 and 26) are lifted verbatim or (in a few cases) in large part from the LGBTYouth Scotland document (pp 7,8,9,10, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30 and 31).

We have been assured that there has been no plagiarism, so we have to conclude that these have been quoted with permission.


The Herald reports: 
A spokesman for Stonewall denied the group had any specific involvement with the production of the document, but did say: “Our resources on bullying and many other issues are public, and we welcome other organisations using our work to help inform their own.” 
The group also praised the guidance, calling it a “positive and welcome step from the Catholic Education Service”.
Again, the ambiguity of 'specific involvement with the production of the document' does not answer the question of what involvement or discussion there was, in fact. There must have been some, or the plagiarism charge stands. And the same applies to LGBTYouth Soctland  whose contribution is approximately 7/25ths (or 28%) of the whole document (if one excludes the cover and the appendices).

As well as the questions of collaboration (or apparent plagiarism, though I am happy to accept the assurance that is not the issue), the larger questions remain unanswered:

1 Why were these sources not credited? The document as a whole gives the appearance of being well-referenced; and the appendix includes an example of Barnardo's material, correctly credited. Could it be that even the CES realised that lifting large chunks of LGBT propaganda and presenting them as Catholic teaching might prompt some parents to query their approach? If so, I think their tactics are deplorable.

2 Why is LGBT propaganda thought by the CES to be appropriate to present to Catholic children? The philosophy and anthropology of the LGBT movement is fundamentally hostile to Catholic teaching.

These questions, along with the question: Who paid? will not go away.

There is some good news, however. Cardinal Nichols is reported as saying that Catholics will continue to be awkward about sexual morality, and '“still stand for” a definition of marriage as “between a man and a woman” which is open to new life.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

How to handle a crisis

Over the years, I have done a fair bit of media training. One of the things I have learned is that when an organisational crisis arises, organisational silence is normally a poor strategy. Whilst the organisation is silent, the vacuum is filled by others, with bits of information, speculation, possibly even misinformation (deliberate or otherwise).

Yet in the early days of a developing crisis the organisation at the heart of it often has very little knowledge of what has actually gone on, so silence is very tempting.

However, instead of that, there is a well-established formula for a quick response:

Pity
Praise
Promise.

The first thing to do is to express pity for the victims of a disaster, and their relations; in a less severe crisis, that translates to sympathy for those inconvenienced or wronged in any way.

The second thing to do is to praise the emergency services, or members of staff who stepped up to the challenge, or the public who stepped in to help. Or in a less severe crisis, the whistle blower who brought it to the organisation's attention, or others who have helped in any way.

Finally, the organisation makes a promise: not a specific promise at this stage, as it is often too early to do so, but a general promise that an investigation will be undertaken, that the lessons will be learned; and that actions will be taken to eliminate or minimise the risk of a recurrence, or to mitigate the impact, if the risk can't be mitigated, and if appropriate to compensate those wronged or disadvantaged.

So if I were the Head of Communications for the CBCEW (which would be an interesting role, it must be admitted, and not without challenges...) I would have advised them, very early on, to issue a statement.
The CBCEW is very concerned to learn that something has clearly gone wrong in the development of new guidelines for schools, intended to address bullying. The bishops would like to express their sympathy with all those who have been shocked or distressed by this, and in particular to express their thanks to all the concerned parents who wrote to them to bring the matter to their attention. The Conference has already commissioned an independent review to establish precisely what has gone wrong, in terms of operational issues and governance, that has led to this situation. The recommendations of the final report will be made public (except where there are serious considerations of confidentiality, eg relating to disciplinary action with regard to specific individuals), as will the bishops' response and the actions to be taken in the light of the report.
Anything less than that leaves a cloud hanging over the issue; and given the historic lack of transparency about crises in the Church in England, the further erosion of trust.

And pesky bloggers such as that Ben Trovato chap will keep banging on about unanswered questions - such as Did Stonewall in fact donate money to the CES?  and if so, Who knew?