The Catholic Herald - 23 November 2007
Our parish is being wrapped in red tape
When Steve McQueen arrives at a German POW camp in The Great Escape he’s told that Stalag Luft III was built to house hardened recidivists, serial escape artists, all the rotten eggs. Its equivalent at our church is the choir stall. It is reached via a stone spiral staircase. Once there, children can indulge in all the Brownian motion they like, out of sight, out of mind and, mercifully, out of hearing of the congregation downstairs. But the jackboot of officialdom has come crashing down. The choir is only used during the busiest services yet that’s now verboten,says the goon from fire safety. Even before the choir was closed to kids our church was filled to bursting. Hence our priest is desperate to redevelop the church to get everyone in without using a shoehorn. The only way he could fund the extension was to sell off the parish’s dilapidated church hall. However, that proved unpopular with residents and the council refused planning permission, describing it as a “community resource”, albeit one owned and maintained by the archdiocese. The church hall is used by some non-Catholic organisations, among them a playgroup attended by our toddler. Last month a mother, not seen there before, arrived and began listing what she considered the hall’s glaring safety defects. Days passed before an unexpected visit from the local environmental health officer. You may wonder whether the two events were connected. Did Steve McQueen do his own stunts? The parish now faces a bill for eight separate safety improvements in a church hall used by the secular, funded by the faithful, sitting on land our priest wants to sell but can’t. And if that’s not enough to put you in the cooler, consider this. Deprived of the choirstall overspill, we now send our two most disruptive children to junior catechesis during the 10.30 Mass. It’s at the church hall. I collected them this week and noticed a man in a house between church and hall, leaning from a bedroom window, taking photographs. I cheerily wondered out loud whether he was on a stakeout, to which there was no reply. A fellow parishioner
Colin Brazier Notebook
said some locals wanted the council to take action about the traffic around the church on a Sunday morning. I am preparing to start a rumour that the church hall is to become a drop-in centre for the homeless, with free syringes for junkies. Inever tire of recommending Frank Furedi’s brilliant exposition of the pressures faced by modern mums and dads, Paranoid Parenting. One of his arguments is that James Bulger’s killing prompted many parents to wrap their children in more cotton wool. It’s unclear what impact the Madeleine disappearance will have, but it’s unlikely to be helpful to those who feel young children need less, not more surveillance. The case of a well-intentioned tourist in Bosnia is salutary. He alerted police after seeing a girl bundled into a car at Medjugorje. His suspicions were aroused because the girl was blonde, the adults were not and the man put his hand over the toddler’s mouth when she began shrieking. A whitehaired child and a brownhaired father trying to stifle a tantrum? It’s a scene played out by my three-year-old and I in the supermarket car park every other week. The kids were in a royal park recently, just inside Surrey’s footand-mouth exclusion zone. I consulted one of the park’s maps to see how best to avoid disinfected matting. The youngest two began excitedly pointing to an icon for the park’s Diana fountain (the goddess not the princess). The symbol has a birfucated plume of water almost in the shape of the letter M. “McDonald’s!” the nippers cried in joyful unison.
Colin Brazier is a writer and broadcaster
MASS TIMES IN CENTRAL LONDON
Masses in the Traditional (Tridentine) Rite Corpus Christi Church Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, WC2 FORTY HOURS DEVOTION Thursday 29 November at 6.30 pm High Mass of Exposition, Procession and Litanies Friday 30 November at 6.30 pm Votive High Mass for Peace Saturday 1 December at 12 noon High Mass of Deposition, Litanies and Procession Watching before the Blessed Sacrament until 9.00 pm on Thursday, all day Friday and until 12 noon on Saturday The Latin Mass Society, 11-13 Macklin Street, London WC2B 5NH Tel: 020 7404 7284 E-mail: email@example.com
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St Etheldredaʼs, Ely Place, Holborn Circus EC1 Tel: 020 7405 1061 Sundays: 9.00 am & 11 am. Weekdays: Mon.-Fri. 1 pm. Sat. Call for info Holydays: 12.10 pm, 1 & 6 pm.
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NOVEMBER 23, 2007 THE CATHOLIC HERALD
The Government borrowsanother great Catholic idea
Labour’s ‘studio schools’ are modelled on an American Catholic success story, says Francis Davis
This week, amid front-page coverage, the Government announced that it would be establishing a new educational initiative to reach out to disaffected and truanting pupils. “Studio schools” will be educational establishments with real businesses inside them, enabling pupils to learn skills and earn money while they study. They will be especially focused on teaching “the spirit of entrepreneurship”, which employers say is so hard to find, and will have shareholders and advisers so that students can learn from the discipline that such engagement requires. After a pilot project in Luton, backed by the Department of Education Innovation Unit, the fresh approach will now be rolled out across the country and especially to areas that have faced social hardship. What is fascinating is that these flagship studio schools grow directly from consideration of international Catholic best practice. The Government is borrowing our best ideas. In New York, Chicago and other American cities the Catholic Church has founded Cristo Rey schools (also known as “schools that work”). Their combination of a powerful Christian ethos, skillscentred vocational training and access to real paid work with the school’s corporate partners has meant that truancy rates have been slashed and educational standards lifted. The schools are also 65 per cent self-funding, giving them independence from the state. In fact, Cristo Rey schools have been so successful as social enterprises that a group of wealthy business people have created a philanthropic foundation specifically to back religious orders interested in opening a new one. Over the last five years in Britain the Catholic educational community was not unaware of Cristo Rey. But it had been
painfully slow to move on the possibility of its adopting the idea in the British context, proving once again that we need a well-funded Catholic education innovation network. The Jesuit Provincial, Fr Michael Holman, was impressed by Cristo Rey’s work and met its founder. Archbishop Vincent Nichols established a Catholic Education Service working party to examine its potential and CES staff had gone on a study visit to America to learn more. Some of us had wandered the country publicising Cristo Rey in lectures and even writing pamphlets describing their work, which were read by leading Labour and Conservative figures. Throughout 2005 I praised the Cristo Rey model of schooling at The Young Foundation, a London-based think-tank, but there was no enthusiasm for its faithbased successes until a fateful meeting at the foundation’s Bethnal Green offices two years ago. Among those present were Geoff Mulgan, the brilliant former director of the Downing Street Policy Unit, Therese Rein, a Christian entrepreneur specialising in public-private partnerships and various Young Foundation staffers. After Ms Rein said that some of the best social provision she had ever seen had been founded from faith communities, the conversation turned to the problems of educational standards and truancy, especially by boys in poorer neighbourhoods. I described again the Cristo Rey experience and Mr Mulgan and Ms Rein, encountering this particular Catholic model for the first time, responded with electric and profound enthusiasm. “Such a model would qualify for Government funding in the UK,” said one, while the other described similar schemes they had visited in the American Midwest. The brainstorming went on and within an hour Mr Mulgan had coined the
“studio schools” name to describe a secularised Cristo Rey concept. Plans were put in place to meet the education minister Lord Adonis. Next week’s formal launch by Lord Adonis will be the fruit of subsequent development work led by The Young Foundation’s Launchpad team. In themselves, studio schools are likely to be a hugely positive influence. They are small-scale and flexible. Their course content is relevant and challenging. They are likely to reduce truanting. They would work well as one of the new co-operatively owned community schools that the Conservative front bench now wants to encourage. But a “spirit of entrepreneurship” and an underlying view that only employability should be the primary goal of an education risks leaving students without the tools to navigate through what matters in life, as well as what workson the job. Arguably, itrisks becoming a classic policymaking attempt to “bottle” an ethos and pour it out again without the social networks, allegiances and religious habits that an integrated approach to the whole student requires. The Government, the Opposition and the churches now have a striking opportunity to plug this gap by allowing faith-based social innovation to flourish so that they may complement studio schools. On the one hand, the churches should be encouraged by Ministers to add Cristo Rey-like centres to the activities of existing schools and planned academies. Central government officials should seek out strategic partners at the diocesan level. Conservative local authorities, in particular, should be encouraged to pilot faithbased partnerships along the lines described by reports from Iain DuncanSmith’s Centre for Social Justice. Such a strategic commitment by the Secretary of State, Ed Balls, would give substance to
the words of the recent educational agreements between Church and state. On the other hand, the heads of Catholic independent schools should be encouraged by their governors to grasp the opportunity that the social enterprise approach to Christian education offers to institutions now being forced, under the the new charity law, to demonstrate their “public benefit”. A Worth-Downside Cristo Rey school, based in an inner-city settlement run by those establishments, would be a first step. A Cristo Rey in Liverpool or Leeds run under the supervision of Stonyhurst College or Ampleforth would be another. St Ignatius School could pilot a new initiative in Glasgow, while St Mary’s School Ascot might look to Slough or parts of Reading. Acoalition of the Church, companies and our best Christian talent could add fresh value to what risks becoming a stale state-imposed approach to character formation. A flexible welfare state would not flinch from affirming such potential creativity or drawing on the energy, resources and skills in faith communities. After all, if the Government is happy to borrow our ideas and plaster them over the front pages of the press, think what improvement could be achieved by a renewed involvement with churches which, after all, have been involved in educational innovation rather longer than the Labour Party.
Francis Davis lectures on the graduate programme in social enterprise at Cambridge University where he also coDirects the Centre for Faith In Society at the Von Hüügel Institute, St Edmund’s College. He is a Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics
True fathers will soon have elite status
Most sensible people will applaud Cardinal MurphyO’Connor for his objections to the current Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, enabling lesbians to become legal parents of a child without the inclusion of a father. As do I. Yet, paradoxically, I don’t think the practice of excluding men from creating families will downgrade fathers. Quite the contrary: when the ersatz appears, the authentic becomes more highly prized. Nylon and polyester gave linen and cotton the status of the real thing. Instant coffee made real coffee into a global cult (as Starbucks has proved). And children born into a marriage with a strong, protective and genuinely male father will enjoy a greater elite status than ever before. To some extent, this has already happened. When “normal” families – a mother, father and biological children living together – were the norm, I seem to remember they were sometimes considered “boring” by avant-garde thinkers. Now that there are so many variations on family life, I notice that
intact and successful families are often admired. Having grown up without a father myself, I always looked enviously on intact families. As a child, I would pathetically attach myself to “normal” families and hope that I might be taken for one of them. There was a family of five living next door to us whom I used to play with. When, once, a stranger thought that I was one of the sisters, it thrilled me to pieces. Human beings can grow up successfully in unusual and unorthodox settings. We shouldn’t be rigid about who is suitable to be a parent: I hate the way adoption agencies exclude anyone over 35, or anyone overweight. But where the current ideology gets into such a muddle is in claiming “rights” to the legal begetting of a child. Two women may find themselves in a parenting role towards a child. (It was suggested in Sean O’Casey’s 1922 play Juno and the Paycock, when Juno consoles her pregnant and abandoned daughter that her fatherless child will “have two mothers.”) But that does not mean that two women have a “right” to this
Human beings can grow up successfully in unusual and unorthodox settings
role, or a right to delete the male begetter from the narrative. It seems to me that the obsession with “equality” has made people blind to the processes of nature. To pretend that a male has not played a role in the begetting of a child is simply a fiction, and no Parliament on God’s earth can make it other
wise. The Cardinal has had to listen to arguments that he is practising “discrimination”. But, as with equality, the modern disparagement of “discrimination” is ill-conceived. Discrimination can have a useful purpose: it means the use of judgment. The expert who prefers a glass of Chateau Margaux to Algerian plonk is discriminating. The theatre director who hires one actor and rejects 20 at an audition is discriminating. And the law should discriminate between science fiction and science fact, which is what the Cardinal is saying. Adaft claim of “equality rights” has surfaced in tiny Lichtenstein, where the United Nations is pressing the principality to allow females equal succession rights with males –overturning Lichtenstein’s long tradition of allowing a male-only reign. To claim “equal rights” in the organisation of any monarchical system is a contradiction in terms. There may be very good reasons to prefer a princess to a prince, but in a feudal dynastic tradition based on birth and
rank, “equality” certainly isn’t one of them. Here’s a suggestion for “health czars” anxious about childhood obesity. Bring back Advent, as originally intended. I’m amazed to see that all the “advent merchandise” aimed at children in our local shops are virtually all toy boxes crammed with chocolates and sweets. To mark our contemporary “Advent” calendar, you pull out a new goody every day. It’s not just the calories that are doing the harm: it is the idea behind them, which is that you can have whatever you want whenever you want it. That there is no such thing as a season of fast and a season of feast. This not only promotes obesity, but, I’d suggest, unhappiness and depression later on. Because you can’t have everything that you want when you want it. Advent and Lent, as they were in the Christian calendar, are very useful psychological preparations for that life experience.
Bringing joy to overgrown schoolboys
This column would be interested to hear from any readers who yearn to attend the forthcoming Led Zeppelin reunion concert at the O2 Stadium, not least for the fun of conducting an amateur foray into the world of demographic profiling so beloved of our newspaper industry. Once the results have been adjusted to take account of practical jokers, multiple respondents and abstainers, the computer will probably find that the overlap between devotees of the world’s greatest rock and roll band and those of Thommo’s weekly musings amounts to 15.3 people, and that I must therefore be instructed to write about Messrs Plant, Page, Jones and Bonham (Sr and Jr) once every 37 years. I shan’t be going to the gig myself for several reasons. For a start I didn’t know it was happening until it had sold out; but even if some kind friend had secured tickets and offered me one at cost I would have thought twice. Reunions are not always disasters: both The Who and Pink
Floyd performed superbly at the Live Earth event in Hyde Park. But the last time I’d seen Zeppelin they were an embarrassing mess, only held together by Phil Collins, with whom the surviving original three had never before played, on the drums. And that was at Live Aid in 1985. How much worse they could get in another 22 years didn’t bear thinking about. Finally, there was the ticket price, which I didn’t bother to look up because these special one-off supergroup beanos are always grotesquely over the odds. Not that this has stopped the veteran combo from filling the jolly old Dome several times over. Apart from fans with no sense of proportion, there are lots of bloated idiots out there who only go to the most expensive concerts, and don’t care what they are as long as they can flash their platinum plastic to show off to their friends. Speaking to the BBC this week lead guitarist Jimmy Page, who was never noted for his verbal lucidity, dropped a felicitous spoonerism by referring to the band’s “card
whore audience”. Nice one, Jimmy. But the interview was encouraging in other ways. As Page slurred and mumbled about how much he was looking forward to performing with the old firm, and the passion in the music and so forth, it became clear that the punters might not have wasted their money, at least not all of it. The boys have been practising, you see, and in secret, because they didn’t want to commit them
selves to reforming, sorry, reforming for a night, until they were sure they were up to it. And when the legendary plectrum stylist described the Live Aid set as “pretty shambolic”, because it was not rehearsed, my heart soared. It seems even old rockers can learn from their mistakes. Because I love Led Zeppelin. Their most famous song, “Stairway to Heaven”, is tedious, hippy twaddle almost entirely devoid of merit, but play me anything else off Led Zep IVand my eyes glaze over with nostalgic bliss. I will take on all comers in my contention that the track entitled “Rock and Roll” is the best dance number in the history of the world, ever; andPresenceis an album that still captivates me with its depth, ingenuity and skill. Of course it’s rock music, and so, in the great scheme of things, trivial. That doesn’t mean it can’t still give joy to overgrown schoolboys like me when we’re not listening to Beethoven. One of the reasons I love them is that they bucked the trend of their time. At the end of the 1960s, when other musicians had
permed into concept groups selling to a dwindling market of nerds, Zeppelin went back to basic British R&R, perfected it 10 years late, and made a fortune. After another decade of generally earnest underachievement in the singles chart, Dire Straits almost pulled off the same trick, but at a lighter level; now that the music market is so fragmented it would take a modern George Martin to create another such phenomenon. To many people of my generation, who ought to be wearing plaid slippers and wondering how high they’ll see the apple tree grow, Zeppelin will always be Band No 1. I do so hope they pull it off at the Dome next month. Most recordings of live performances disappoint those who treasure the perfection of the studio, so I shan’t be buying the CD, and a DVD can’t do justice to a stage show. But for all I know the members of Led Zeppelin might be avid readers of this paper. It would skew my little experiment in readership profile somewhat; but I wouldn’t say no to a free ticket.
THE CATHOLIC HERALD NOVEMBER 23, 2007
THE CATHOLIC HERALD
A colossal battle in defence of human life lies ahead
Amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act have been formally put before Parliament after years of consultation. The sad result of this apparently laborious scrutiny is that each time a new consultation was conducted the proposed amendments simply got worse. We are now facing a horrifying Bill and a colossal battle ahead to defend fundamental issues relating to human life and dignity. This is a tripartite Bill addressing the embryo, the family, and very likely abortion as well. The embryo under attack is no longer exclusively the human embryo, but also includes interspecies embryos created by combining human and animal tissue. Full hybridisation is proposed, with human sperm fertilising animal eggs, or animal sperm combined with human eggs. Respect for the human embryo has passed from an already hypocritical minimum to zero, and embryos could be used as practice tools for budding embryologists were this Bill to pass. The traditional family is under overt attack, with plans to remove from the existing Act a tiny reference to the child’s need for a father. This endorses the gay rights agenda, while ignoring the competing but superior rights of the welfare of the child created by artificial reproduction. It should be noted that the provision of IVF treatment to single and lesbian women is flourishing under the current law, and that the reference to the father in the existing Act is by no means an obligation. For the moment, abortion amendments remain in the pipeline and it is unclear whether the pro-life or pro-choice side will move first. But it would be foolish to imagine that abortion is not going to come into the debate and we must pray hard that the right decisions are made, and that abortion becomes more restrictive and not further liberalised. One of the areas of major concern in the Bill is the extremely permissive flexibility which has been deliberately incorporated into the text. It is the hope of the liberal scientific lobby that the new Bill will be able to embrace all future technological developments without wasting time going back to Parliament for approval. Even when specific restrictions are stated in the Bill, this is usually followed by a get-out mechanism to provide amendments or repeal without further ado. Abortion might be the most fortunate aspect of the tripartite Bill insofar as it is at least likely to benefit from a free vote from all parties. The unfortunate embryo and the marginalised traditional family will be much harder to defend.
Hoping for more sober times
‘Ireland sober is Ireland free” ran the slogan of the 19thcentury Irish temperance movement. A country could never stand as a free nation while its men could not stand up straight. In contrast to national stereotypes, Ireland was always a land where drunkenness – especially female and youth drunkenness – was frowned upon. Until recently, the country had the highest proportion of teetotallers in the Christian world, and being drunk in public, or at least being unable to hold one’s drink, was a source of shame. Ireland is undoubtedly now free, and yet it has never been less clear-headed. The Irish drink three times as much as they did in 1960, and alcohol-related violence is an accepted fact of life. The void left by the collapse of the Catholic faith has been filled by a dark cult of excess and self-destruction, and an alcohol and drugs epidemic of Hogarthian proportions. Lord Salisbury, the famously Hibernophobic Victorian prime minister, once said that only wealth would put an end to Ireland’s political troubles. He was right, and yet the Victorian capitalist system of which he was an enthusiastic supporter was balanced by Christian ideas of self-restraint, moderation and deferred gratification. The same cannot be said of the 21st-century variant, which holds spending and endless consumption to be the answer to personal unhappiness. As Cardinal-elect Sean Brady put it: “One of the great myths in our culture today is the belief that you can only be happy when you can do what you want, when you want, as you want... [but] to be really happy we need self-control as well as self-determination. Above all, you need self-respect. You need a sense of your own dignity and of your own worth.” He could not have articulated the Catholic response better; let’s hope it is the start of a new temperance movement.
By Fr Tim Finigan
My friend has been told that her baby will be severely deformed, will have no brain and will not live for more than a few hours. What can I say in response to the pressure that she is under to terminate her pregnancy?
I hope it will be helpful to pass on the thoughts of some Catholic parents who have spoken to me after going through this kind of experience. Their strong commitment to the sanctity of human life meant that for them the “termination” of the pregnancy was not an option to consider. In itself, this gave them a greater freedom in their response to the situation and removed a source of conflict presented to so many parents who are made to feel that bringing a “deformed” child into the world would somehow be a selfish decision. Parents who have been through this emphasise to me the importance of the opportunity to love their child, however “deformed” other people might judge him or her to be. (In fact, many parents have told me that the dire predictions of their child’s future condition turned out to be exaggerated.) Even if the child lives only
for a week, that child is a part of their family for ever, and always remembered. In days gone by, when infant mortality was much higher, families remembered with great affection their children who died in infancy. The child’s short life gives the family the opportunity to take part in the celebration of the sacraments of baptism and confirmation and subsequently, the funeral of a new saint, celebrated in white vestments, with the appropriate texts celebrating the child’s entrance into heaven. Our compassionate approach to parents of unbaptised children should not be allowed to diminish the joy and certainty that is given in the liturgy of the Church for a baptised child. It is very sad that your friend is under this emotional pressure to end her child’s life. If you are able to help and support her, and “allow” her the option to affirm the goodness and sanctity of her child’s life, she will have a great deal to thank you for.
What’s your view? And do you have a dilemma of your own? Write to us at the address on this page or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
“Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete.’ – G K Chesterton THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
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Brothels could provide a safe haven for society’s most vulnerable
The adoption market
From Mr Christopher Keith
SIR –Many readers will recall that this time last year five young women were brutally murdered in Ipswich. Their only crime was to have been involved in street prostitution. Many will also recall that in January 2006 the Home Office declared that it would change the definition of the word “brothel” to enable up to three women to work together for mutual safety and discretion. Regretfully the Home Office bowed to moral majority pressure and shelved these plans. In light of the Women’s Institute voting in favour of legalising brothels I wonder if we should as a mature society take a pragmatic decision to amend the law to do so. Currently there is a Bill before Parliament, the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which would enable this. Many women turn to prostitution through force of circumstance and not solely because of drugs. Many have to
do this in order to put food on the table for themselves and their children. Just as we do not as a society condone drug abuse by providing safe needle exchange and exit programmes to drug addicts, so too redefining brothels does not give moral license to prostitution. It merely creates a safe environment for a vulnerable group of whom some 60 women have been murdered in the past 10 years. As a society we are obliged to protect those who are vulnerable and this is a way to do so. An amendment can easily be drafted to prosecute those who traffic women or abuse children through prostitution or who are part of serious and organised crime. It just requires moral courage to protect these women and support them as they plan their exit in their own time.
Yours faithfully, CHRISTOPHER KEITH West Harrow, Middx
From Mr Adam Gibson
SIR –Aside from the universal moral objections to prostitution, Bishop Hollis’s suggestion (Report, November 16) that brothels be legalised does not make economic sense. The arrival of a new product in a marketplace does not detract from existing products, but merely popularises the market itself. Legal brothels would not take business away from sex slave houses established across Britain; they would rather only legitimise the idea that women, especially foreign women, are objects of lust to be bought and sold, increasing the already expanded sex market. As for the 90 per cent of British prostitutes who are addicted to either heroin or crack cocaine, they would be unfit for work in brothels, and would continue to walk the streets.
Yours faithfully, ADAM GIBSON London W11
Materialist medicine Bishop Robinson’s prophetic call for reform
From Mr Joseph Shaw
SIR –Fr Tim Finigan (Catholic Dilemmas, November 16) is quite correct to point out that acupuncture is based on a medical “model” related to Taoism, a philosophy incompatible with Catholic teaching. It should also be remembered that conventional western medicine is based on a medical model which takes the philosophy of materialism for granted. This philosophical outlook is held by the great majority of researchers and practitioners, and has many implications for medical practice. Like Taoism, this model is incompatible with Catholic teaching. As well as being impractical, it would seem unnecessary for ordinary Catholic patients to worry about the metaphysical commitments of their doctors. All medical models are imperfect; treatments based on imperfect models can still have good results; prudence directs us to the doctors best at curing disease, not the ones best at philosophy or theology. The focus of moral attention, on the other hand, should be on whether a doctor is giving concrete advice lacking in the moral dimension, as when materialist doctors propose to treat the unborn or the dying without the respect due to human persons. It is far from clear that medical traditions based on eastern philosophies such as Taoism are worse off, in this respect, than traditions based on home-grown absurdities such as materialism. Indeed, not even a medical tradition rooted in Catholicism, such as the “humours” theory used in medieval and early modern Europe, is immune to manipulation by immoral doctors. Ben Johnson and Nicolo Macchiavelli both wrote plays lampooning doctors who recommended sex (if necessary, outside marriage) as an aid to health. The compatibility of the medical model with Church teaching at a metaphysical level does not guarantee the compatibility of a practitioner’s advice with the Church’s teaching on a practical, moral level.
Yours faithfully, JOSEPH SHAW Oxford
From Fr Seáán Fagan, SM
SIR –While there are some reports of new life in the Church in Latin America, the Church in the western world is still struggling with its huge problem of credibility. We are still in shock from the scandal of clerical sex abuse and the much greater shock of the years of cover-up by Church leaders all the way up to the Vatican, who took notice only when the media publicised the sad facts. This cannot be solved by a general council or papal decree. A much deeper remedy is needed. The recently retired Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson has touched the heart of the problem by showing the absolute need for a profound and enduring change in Church thinking and practice on the subjects of power and sex. It would be sad if his call were to be summarily dismissed by people who will not take the trouble to read his excellent book Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church(Columba Press, Dublin). A major step towards renewal in the Church could be taken if bishops and laity would study his book and discuss it in groups, truly sharing and listening to each other, not in the sense of just letting others speak, but in the
spirit of really “wanting to hear”, convinced that in genuinely listening they might just hear a whisper of the Holy Spirit leading them into the whole truth, especially the truth of the Gospel and the wisdom of Jesus. In spite of Vatican II, there are no structures in the Church for the leaders to hear the Holy Spirit speaking through the lived experience and lives of faith of the laity, God’s holy people who make up 99.9 per cent of Church members. Unlike most church leaders, Bishop Robinson actually listened to victims of sexual abuse and said it was one of the most profound experiences of his life. He is not a maverick, but a totally dedicated Catholic who truly cares for his Church. He has degrees in philosophy, theology and Church law, and this background shows in every page of his book. This is one of the most meaningful, inspiring and moving books that I have read in many years. It is no exaggeration to say that one who reads it with an open mind will experience something of the “burning of heart” felt by the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Yours faithfully, SEAN FAGAN Dublin
The extraordinary form is not the norm
From Mr Tom McIntyre
SIR –Your signed leading article (November 16) attacking the bishops’ conscientious application of the Motu Proprio “freeing” the “traditional” Mass invites comment. They can hardly see it as “a threat to their own authority” since they, unlike the Curia, are of the Magisterium, and the Pope consulted them in preparing the Motu Proprio. Who better to know what he means? Tradition is the preserve of the Magisterium. It is not the bishops who exaggerated the discontinuity between the pre- and post-Vatican II Church, but those who treated the Council’s care for the liturgy as a
break with the past. The Pope has gone as far as he can to ease the reconciliation of those large groups, particularly in France, who are hardened in that error by mutual selfdeception. That does not relieve bishops of their pastoral responsibility to emphasise that however technically valid as a rite, the extraordinary form is not what the Church wills as a norm, and to check the many false opinions that lovers of the externals of the extraordinary rite advance to justify their avoidance of the more perfect form.
Yours faithfully, TOM McINTYRE Frome, Somerset
From Mr Clive Baulch
SIR –I wish Neil Addison and the Thomas More Legal Centre every success with their project (Report, November 16). However, with regard to the issue of the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) and Catholic adoption agencies I beg to differ with Mr Addison that all it requires is a legal test case to solve this problem. The situation with regard to adoption in this country is that adoption is a commercial transaction and the marketplace is not a free or a fair one. In 99 per cent of cases there is only one source for children to be adopted, namely the Local Authorities through their social services departments. The children become, to use the legal jargon, Looked After Children (LAC). Sometimes care is shared between the biological parent(s) and the Local Authorities, and sometimes not. Sadly, it is often the case that care has to be completely removed from the childs’ parents or carers. This is a decision which the family courts have to take. The children remain “in the care” of the social services until such time as they leave care, are reunited with their families or are adopted into a new family. The point I am making is that it is Local Authorities who “put up” children for adoption after the family courts have “freed” the child for adoption. I do not think I will be contradicted if I say that we can safely assume that the Local Authorities broadly welcome the SORs and support the ideology behind them. After all, Local Authorities actively recruit same-sex couples and individuals and have been placing children with such couples for years. I think it is not too far-fetched to imagine that the Local Authorities, having control of the market place in the way they do, will choose to “do business” with those organisations of which they approve. I do not think they would approve of any agency or organisation which does not see the world as they do. Simply put, I believe that the Catholic adoption agencies will be “frozen out” of the marketplace anyway.
Yours faithfully, CLIVE BAULCH London SE26
A public scandal
From Mr John de Waal
SIR –I may sound incredibly uncharitable in not welcoming the rumoured conversion of Tony Blair to Catholicism (Report, November 16), but such an event would be a massive public scandal. How can Mr Blair be received into the Church when he has presided over a Government responsible for attacks on human life from conception to the grave? I am thinking of his strong commitment to embryonic stem-cell research, his support for abortion, for euthanasia by the back door with the Mental Capacity Act, his attack on the Church’s adoption agencies by his obsession with homosexual rights, his assault on marriage by the championing of so-called civil partnerships, and his undermining of parental authority by allowing under-age girls to be prescribed the morning-after pill and abortions without even the knowledge of their parents.
Yours faithfully, JOHN DE WAAL London SW1
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Allowing God to take our time
It seems hard to believe that November is nearly over. Oscar Wilde was absolutely right when he said that punctuality is the thief of time, if by punctuality we mean the feeling that life is controlled by deadlines, by the pressure to get things achieved. Sooner or later this pressure takes over, and time becomes a tide we try to surf like a wave, rather than float in. This thought struck me quite forcibly as I sat with a woman waiting for her father to die. I phrase it thus deliberately. She was clearly very fond of him. She clearly was a good and caring person. But she kept saying: “I wish he would just go.” Time wasn’t the problem; the thousand things she felt she was neglecting by sitting by his bedside were keeping her
from allowing herself to be there fully, wholeheartedly, a defence against the painful impotence and sadness, excuses to escape from that inescapable undertow of time in which his ninety-something richly blessed years were now measured out by the duration of one struggling breath at a time. She feared, understandably enough, just to stop and let this moment be. Whenever we fear the intensity of something we seek to cut it down to size by asserting control, and business can be a form of being in control. I quite understand her feelings; I realised in my own way that I was in thrall to the same tyranny of punctuality, having a morning full of things to do and achieve and suddenly realising with a sinking heart that none of those things would get done because the overriding need was here. I must guard against a resentment that such unforeseeable demands are getting in the way of my “work”, and realise that they are my work. This seems to me to be the message of the scriptures of these last weeks of the year,
which speak of the end time, of a dramatic interruption to what we know of human activity and continuity. It will only be terrible if I have somehow imagined that I am immune to those last and great shocks, that they are an unfortunate interruption of an otherwise manageable human condition and not the consequence of it. I have to make my peace with this inability to set the agenda. I have to be
Understandably enough, she feared just to stop and let this moment be
on the watch for the thief in the night, not because I can catch him, but in order to prepare myself for the shock that the things I most value are not what give me my identity. I am reading a book entitled A Theology of Historyby the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. It is rather “heavy” and I am probably not doing it justice at all when I say that it deals with
questions of time and eternity. The point where these two modes meet is in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, who is the Eternal Word who becomes flesh, who enters into the time of mankind. Now, for humans there is some kind of notional separation of those two things: time and eternity, perhaps inevitably, since we experience ourselves and our world as finite. Time becomes opposed to eternity as the place where man exists. The Incarnation changes all this. The Divine Son receives all he has from the Father. His identity, his existence, is never in any way anything other than from and for the Father. When he becomes incarnate that does not change. His identity as a human being is an expression of that being from and for the Father, which is why the Gospels are full of his insistence that he can do nothing of his own will, only the will of the Father, that everything the Father has is his, and he lays down his life for the Father. His human existence in time is not the expression of some kind of separateness
from the world of the eternal, but rather it is what reveals the Father’s eternal being in the world of time. Jesus is one whose earthly identity is his openness to the Father, and his endless offering himself back to him as a gift of love, and thus Jesus is the fulcrum between the worlds of time and eternity. We are chosen in him before the foundation of the world, St Paul tells us. Put very crudely, time is not the condition of my being human, nor what finally constitutes my identity; God’s love is the condition of my being and identity, and that love is eternity; we call it heaven. When I resent what Providence does with my time, when I live in denial of the reality of the end of time, when I will some particular thing just to be over, I am in some way refusing to accept my being from God and for God. Time is to be lived as a gift of love, of surrender, in the manner of the Incarnate Jesus, who tells us that the one who tries to save his life will lose it, but the one who loses it, will keep it for eternity.