Tuesday, 29 January 2013

More Sacred than the Blood of the Martyr

Richard Dawkins this morning alerted me to the attack in Mali upon the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu which holds one of the most extensive collections of 14th, 15th and 16th century Islamic manuscripts on earth. It gets most of its funding from South Africa.

When the Roman empire finally fell completely in 1453 it was to the Turks who thus acquired a great deal of the ancients' learning. This reinforced an extant respect for learning within Islam: knowlege ("Ilm") is the third most common word in the Qur'an, there is a tradition that Mohammed said that "the best form of worship is the pursuit of knowlege" and mosques themselves have a key role in education.

The Ahmed Baba Institute held many manuscripts of great significance for all branches of Islam and for Arabic and African culture. Some of the manuscripts are written in local languages Initially the Institute had been seconded by Islamist fighters as sleeping quarters, but as frech led Malian troops pushed further into Timbuktu they fled and set light to the library. It was believed that some of the manuscripts had already been damaged when they were moved by the fighters who were sleeping there.

There is a vindictive wickedness in attacks like this. Not only does it violate a basic tenant of their faith, but it is a grossely selfish act which denies their descendants access to their rich past. It seems obvious to me that the people who attacked this centre of learning have no respect for other people and no respect for Islam or Mohammed.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

SPUC... What?

A video taken from This Morning on ITV 1 from last Thursday. Anthony Ozimic, representing the opposition to the Same Sex Marriage Bill, was introduced as a member of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. I give money to SPUC and I do so to further the campaign against abortion. That is what I had assumed my money is being used for. You can understand, therefore why I was shocked by this video and this is from someone who I hope made my views clear on the Same Sex Marriage Bill with my post on the letter to The Telegraph on the subject from a thousand priests that appeared the other week. Why are they getting distracted from combatting this ultimate evil by the unrelated issue of so called same sex marriage?

It has to be said that the other guest, Kelly Rose Bradford (from the Daily Mail), did not put forward any convincing arguments for the measure, nor did the show's hosts Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield who just berated Ozimic instead of engaging with him. The Catholic position of Same Sex Marriage is one that is reasoned and loving. Ozmic was neither.

I did though find his views unsettling, embarassing and contrary to Catholic teaching. On his personal Twitter page, Ozimic claims to be a "Catholic traditionalist", I assume this does not mean he is out of full communion with the Catholic Church. If my assumption is correct, maybe he would like to explain why he thinks that a person being gay is unnatural, when all the Church says is that homosexual acts are unnatural. When the Catechism says that homosexuality is "objectively disordered" it does so in the technical sense of natural law, as Ozimic knows full well. It tacitly recognises its natural origin when it discusses homosexuality's presence across the centuries and cultures. His discouragement of teenagers coming out does smack of a lack of "respect, compassion and sensitivity" for teenagers who are gay. I don't know what he thinks a homosexual lifestyle is or why he thinks it per se is a problem. Certainly he is misguided if he thinks that his views are upholding the Catechism. His assertion that gay relationships do not last is a nonesense. He's making himself look silly and with him the SPUC. Also, I for one, will be delighted if God blesses me with children and will be equally delighted if they are gay, straight, land somewhere inbetween or are asexual. I hope that I'll be a good enough father that they can talk to me about it as Ozmic suggests, but I'll certainly never encourage them to repress God's incredible gift of sexuality.

The SPUC justifies its campaign againt the Same Sex Marriage Bill because they believe that the undermining of marriage will lead to an increase in abortion. This seems a little spurious to me, I have to say. The strongest argument against Same Sex Marriage is that marriage is not appropriate for relationships that are not about children. If those relationships aren't about children, which though not popularly said, is obvious, how will they lead to abortions? It makes a nonsense of the SPUC's position. The two issues are not related, why pretend they are? Perhaps it is true to say that since pro choice and pro gay marriage positions often themselves as the "liberal" positions in the separate debates, people who self identify as liberal are drawn to both, but there is no greater causal link between the two and the outcome of the one debate won't effect the outcome of the other.

I also note that SPUC oppose the proposal in Wales to change the organ donation system to one in which an individual opts out rather than getting a donor card (NB I just this minute got a new one to replace mine which I've lost and it took me less than a minute). This measure seems eminently sensible considering our problems in this country with a lack of organs. How this is a pro-life issue I have no idea, except that it means that people's lives will be saved. People who feel strongly about it will opt out, as is their right, and those who don't will do others a great deal of good.

Please, SPUC, use donors money, my money, for what we give it to you for, campaigning for the recognition of the human rights of the not yet born. If I were giving money to a campaign for the legal affirmation of true marriage, which I have every reason to do, I would give it to the Coalition for Marriage. Be specialist, be excellent at what you do and do so by confining yourselves to the struggle you are the best equipped to deal with: don't get bogged down in unrelated campaigns. Anthony Ozmic's appearance on This Morning was an embarrasment and may well have harmed the pro life movement. Ozmic's appearance may also have done harm to the genuine programs of pastoral care for gay people that the Church runs in this country. The Church has no interest in changing someone's sexuality, why would they? That's how God created humans, with variations of sexuality. Diversity is a sign of God's love of His Creation. You lose credibility by trying to deal with issues outside of your remit and lose sight of your real goal and ultimately, in so doing you fail in your duty to protect unborn lives.

I'm going to carry on giving to SPUC because its work against abortion is important, but I would like all of the donations it receives to be spent on its pro life work and to leave its other campaigns to groups better equipped to deal with their issues.

Fr Tim takes the opposite view.

Holy See's Presence in London

Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, Secretary of State to the Holy See
A facebook friend of mine today has the status "HOW EVIL CAN YOU ACTUALLY GET!" [sic] with a link to The Guardian's article on the Holy See's property portfolio in London. The guy's studying Classics at Cambridge. He's not thick. But erm... What actually is evil about this...? It's not a secret that part of the settlement with Mussolini was financial. The Papal States had been invaded in 1870, by today's standards illegally, so the pope claimed sovereignty over his territory which was now occupied by Italy. The Papal States existed since the 8th century to 1870, it was a well established part of the European political scene. To solve this problem, Mussolini signed a Concordat with the Holy See in 1929. The Holy See lost out big time in the Lateran Treaty because it lost all but the Vatican from its territory and with it, the ability to collect taxes. The money actually seems small compensation with that in mind. The Holy See is a state like any other and can spend its money as it wishes. Every government has a trading arm. Would it be evil for Luxemburg to own properties in London? The Guardian seems to be getting very flustered but I'm not entirely sure why. I'm sure any other state who had a decent sized property portfolio in another country would want to keep it quiet and since that's perfectly fine under British law, where's the problem?

Sunday, 20 January 2013

30, 000 Irish People

Thank God for these marvellous people in Dublin. Protesting against what one person in the crowd calls "the ultimate form of child abuse". Beeds will be flitting through the fingers for them, their country and their unborn. This is the active, relevant faith of the Church and it's deeply moving to see so many other young people out actively working to protect life.

I'm in the middle of an essay crisis or I'd write a bit more.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Fr Lombardi comes out as pro Gun Control

Add caption
It is entirely appropriate that the Holy See should express opinions on affairs of other states since those for whom the Holy See has care are not only only its own citizens but Catholics throughout the world and in another way it has a duty of care to every person on Earth since they are created by her God in His own image and He loves them. However, it is not always politic to been seen to be meddling in other states' affairs. The USA has been very sensitive in the past to the idea that Rome might influence White House policy and so a more subtle approach to a public announcement in favour of gun control might be appropriate. I think that this "personal opinion" of Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, often referred to as the 'Vatican spokesman' in the press, is probably the result of this situation.  

The last line of Vatican Radio's summary is a nice little epigram.
Peace is born from the heart, but it will be easier to achieve if we have fewer weapons in hand.
It sounds almost Ratzingarian.

Bulgarian Assassination attempt

This shocking video of an attempted political assassination, on the face of it, seems out of place on this religious affairs blog. However, the gentleman with the gun pointed at his head, Ahmed Dogan, is leader of a party which relies heavily on the Bulgarian Muslim minority's vote called the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. It supports and promotes Muslims in Bulgarian society. It is mainly formed of ethnic Turks and has thus met with a fair bit of opposition from the extreme right and left wings in that country and there have been several instances in which opposition to the party has seemed religiously motivated. I would be surprised if this didn't have some such motive, either ethnic or religious, even if that prejudice is a manifestation of some psychological problem with the would be assassin.
Papa B leads the way
In an increasingly secular world, a strong Islam is a protection to the rights of Christians and for the promotion of justice in general throughout the world. Islam and Christianity tend to agree on the matters of life and of social justice where we and society as a whole are threatened by atheist ideologies. An attack on anyone for their religious beliefs is an attack on each person who holds a faith, even when it is perpetrated out of religious motivations because it seeks not only to suppress that person and their faith but the very idea idea that faith should be a part of a person in everything they do. This becomes particularly important when that person is involved in public life. It seeks to make faith irrelevant and if the concept of faith itself becomes irrelevant, it will soon becomes extinct.
Faith itself is relevant to the world today and will be more so tomorrow
I have no time for the SSPX line that interfaith and oecumenical dialogue should simply be the Church trying to convert people to Catholicism when faiths have so many areas of agreement that are so important. A person reaches out to God when they convert and God reaches back and touches their very soul, if we want to encourage this process of love then the appropriate situation for it is the interpersonal. Not only would evangelism in this situation be inappropriate, it would be pointless. We have so much to lose to atheist ideology, and by "we" I don't only mean Catholic, Christian or religious people. Religion as a force has huge potential to alter the world for the better simply because theism is a common factor is such a large proportion of human lives, and so to disregard this unifying experience of love is to to jeopordise the work of religions and religious people for a better future. That would be dangerously irresponsible.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Lord Oystermouth

Burke's first law: "The quality of a priest is directly proportional to the size of his dressing up box"
The recently retired Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Oystermouth, has taken up his new post as Master of Magdalene College Cambridge. A Catholic-leaning vicar friend of mine commented to me last year that the last thing a church needs is an academic in charge, though we Catholics seem to be managing just fine. Another that his farewell broadcast, Goodbye to Canterbury, showed the Rowan that could have captured the minds of a generation if his church had not stood in his way. He and the Pope seem to get on well, both being academics by trade and having put up with an unwanted call from God to lead their denominations. The Holy Father did him a big favour in setting up the Ordinariate which led many of the Anglicans who had been a thorn in his side to join the Catholic Church, taking the problem off his hands. He also personally invited Professor Williams to take part in the Synod of Bishops last October and they celebrated Vespers together in San Gregorio al Celio, the monastery from which the first mission to the Britons was launched, last March. My favourite moment of their meeting there was the Archbishop adjusting the Pope's shoulder cape for him as they walked towards the monastery church; it just seemed like an entirely natural moment in front of the cameras, when the Pope is so awkward in the media spotlight.

I wish we Catholics had more bishops like Rowan. Maybe they could be a bit noisier than he was as Archbishop, but he speaks beautifully, lovingly and it is easy to see him configuring his day to day life to his prayer life. Upon his retirement he spoke of his regrets but said that it wouldn't do to be "too cautious" in a job like his. A Cambridge college seems his natural home and hopefully will be more than simply a retirement project for him.

The Natural Solution

An alternative solution which was not adopted by the Almighty
The Good Lord seems to be taking his time about gathering this particular relic of a time when whacky theology was the norm to his bosom. Some protestants liturgies pray for "time for amendement of life", but surely it doesn't take that long for this protestant? Our Heavenly Father seems to take even longer than the German legal system in carrying out justice. Today the good Bishop (currently, and I imagine forever without a See) was fined €1800 (£1500) for holocaust denial as a result of the broadcast which propelled him momentarily out of the obscurity of schism and into the twenty first century. He swiftly he decided he didn't like it and retreated back to 1788 and heresy. Following his expulsion from the Society of St Pius X for seemingly habitual disobedience, he offered to put his episcopal powers at the disposal of excommunicant groups. Does this mean the conclavists might get bishops?

I was told last night by an American that Britain has a law against insulting people. Whilst I hope for the sake of this blog post that this isn't true, we do have a law against defamation (I don't mind substatiating all the unpleasant things I've said here) and we have a law against hate speech (I merely express surprise at the Lord's tardiness, I wouldn't urge people to help him be more swift). We in this country don't have a law against holocaust denial specifically as they do in some European countries. I don't know how I feel about this one. On the one hand if there were an academic discussion to be had about it I would want that to be free, but on the other, by spreading the belief that the Holocaust didn't happen or one makes it more possible that it might happen, so holocaust denial does have the potential to pose a real and significant threat to society and the rights of others. Is it better to nip holocaust denial in the bud in case it later gains wider creedence or will the very act of outlawing it provoke a surge of support for the bizarre notion?

Bishop Fellay, the most sensible of the remaining three SSPX bishops, said something stupid about the jewish religion the other day, presumably knowing what would happen in the media as a result. Fellay said that people who follow the jewish religion were inimical to the Catholic Church. This seems not to bear any relation to reality. An improved approach to carrying out Our Lord's call to be missionaries is one of my favourite things about Vatican II: the Church calls us to do missionary work in a much more loving way than we had before. God created the people we're talking to as well and gave them brains and hearts too and He loves them as much as He loves us. Why treat or call people we love as enemies? 'Love your enemies' is irrelevant to our dialogue with judaism but 'love thy neighbour as thyself' or even 'honour thy father and thy mother'. To reject Vatican II is one thing, but to reject God's love is quite another and we know where it ends.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Alabama Declares Humans to be People

What makes us human
Hating the sin of abortion is one thing, loving the people who are driven to it is quite another. I find it easy to get carried away when I talk about abortion and forget the second of the two most basic tenants of Christianity. I hope that I can get over this and become more like The Holy Family Sisters of the Needy in this respect. A congregation of these sisters live out this crucial call to love with a particular passion and joy in Willesden Green, London, working in such a complex and difficult situation as unwanted pregnancy. I'm also very aware that people that are pro-choice are so from the same motives as I am pro-life, the desire to promote the dignity of people.

I approach abortion from three angles.

Firstly that all humans, being made in the image and likeness of God and sanctified by the incarnation have innate value since each is loved infinitely by our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. There's that beautiful passage in Jeremiah too
I claimed thee for my own before ever I fashioned thee in thy mother’s womb; before ever thou camest to the birth, I set thee apart for myself.
But actually, that's not the most relevant bit of what I think about abortion because that belief, which I hold dear to my heart and firmly in my mind, is only a belief held by Christians. I wouldn't impose that on people who chose to believe a teaching that relies, when it comes down to it on a belief in the Resurrection of Christ even if I could. If this were the only belief I had about abortion and I had the ability to do so, I would not pass a law forbidding it. I would be pro-choice with my own choice always being not to abort what I believed to be a child.

However, it is not my only belief on abortion. It is my second belief is the one that means that if I could I would outlaw all abortion except those to which the principle of double effect applies. I believe this in the same way that I believe logic and science simply because it is a logical application of scientific fact. That is my belief in human rights, most importantly the right to life. There is one feature that marks an organism out as human and that is not its ability to think, sense or the degree to which it is conscious or able to live independently. All these things change to varying degrees in humans that have been born already and if the last century taught us anything I hope it's never to say that a variation in someone's personal characteristics changes the extent to which they are people. If you say a foetus has no human rights for one of those reasons, it logically follows that you strip some humans who have been born of their rights. The only thing scientifically speaking that marks us out definitively as human in the scientific method is our genome, our DNA. If an organism has human DNA it is human. The process of growing is a continuum from conception to adulthood but there must be a point at which there is a discontinuity at which one can say "before this it is not a person and after this it is a person". There is only one point of continuity, the very start, the moment of conception. Before that, the DNA is incomplete: the sperm and ovum are not humans. After that they are humans. At the point at which they are human they must acquire the rights of personhood since otherwise you say is that not all humans are people or that some humans are more entitled to the rights of personhood than others.

Thirdly, I'm a feminist. A woman has a right to chose what happens to her body that exists within a hierarchy of rights. The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights and without it all others are annulled. This is manifest with abortion by the idea which I have heard promoted more than once amongst men: that their baby, when born, is not their problem because if the mother didn't want it she could always have had an abortion. She made the choice to keep it and so she bares the responsibility for it in every way. This in itself is not entirely illogical, only callous and wicked since it neglects both the mother and her child's right to a secure family life whilst also neglecting the father's responsibilities, the abrogation of which is the driving force of these men's argument. As an RE teacher I had when I was little was fond of saying: "it takes two to tango".

The hierarchy of rights in which all rights exist means that the unborn human's right to life, since it concerns its literal life must come before the mother's right to chose what happens within that life, this latter being the concept referred to when people ask in these situations "what about the mother's life?" The concepts in play may both be called 'life', but that is only because of lax use of the term: in reference to the foetus it is literal and in reference to the mother, figurative. The woman has the right to chose what happens in her life, but that right must bow to the unborn child's greater right to life. Once a child is alive, something which the scientific method informs us occurs at the point of conception, it has the right, being human, to stay alive.*

The Catholic News Agency is reporting that the state of Alabama has started to recognise the truth of my second belief on abortion into law: that foetuses are humans. Specifically they say "that unborn children are persons with rights that should be protected by law" and that as such they ought to be subject to the constitutional imperative that "all men are equally free", including that most basic freedom, the right to life.
Give audience to my prayer, O God; do not spurn this plea of mine (Ps 54:2)
Whilst this is not the repeal of Roe vs Wade (and our own Abortion Act 1967) that I'm praying for, it is a start of the recognition of this fact. Abortion is only a religious matter for me in part but it seems obvious to me that my denomination should be involved in what is a largely secular issue because it ought to be there to protect the weakest in society and who weaker than the unborn? It is as obvious to me in this instance as in its work against segregation in the USA and as obvious as the fact it should have held to its principles on slavery in the events surrounding the Treaty of Madrid in the 18th century.

In the UK, the government and most of society have got to the point where a human's human rights are not considered till the now arbitrary cut off point of twenty four weeks after conception and if there is so called 'foetal abnormality' there is no regard for them until birth. Physical abnormality, in British law, is now grounds for the removal of one's human rights. Whilst obviously causality isn't always implied by correlation, it is a sobering fact that in Ireland the proportion of babies born with Down's Syndrome is a lot higher than the proportion in the UK. In Ireland abortion is illegal. Is this what is meant by foetal abnormality in British law?
Bénédict Morel

*Some of this paragraph reads like a bad translation from German, but it was the clearest I could get it to be.

Will we need another 1829?

Daniel O'Connell, MP from 1828-41 bar three and a bit years, rampant papist.
From the Reformation to 1829 this sceptered isle supported discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their religion. The penal laws were very frank about this and we as a society now accept that the religious freedoms of Catholics during this period were prejudiced by these laws. In 1829 the Catholic Emancipation Act ended the penal laws though at the same time other laws were brought in to lower the proportion of Catholics who could vote. Today we had a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that means that Christians now have an assurance in law that they are free to display religious symbols on their person. I live in University accomodation and keep a crucifix on my desk because that is where I pray. I often have people to visit or pop in for a cup of tea or a drink and occasionally having a crucifix in the room starts a conversation about faith which, as you may be able to tell from this blog, I'm quite open to discussing. My faith cannot be the sort of thing I keep in my bottom draw, out of sight out of mind, because if it were I'd be doing it wrong.

British Airways initially prevented their employee Nadia Eweida, a Coptic Orthodox Christian, from wearing her cross around her neck where it could be seen, this despite the reasonable accomodation in their dress code for items of clothing required by other religions such as khimar veils for Muslim women and turbans and kippahs for Sikh and Jewish men. BA argued that the difference between what it was and was not willing to make allowance for was those articles of clothing required by a faith and those members of that faith chose to adopt. One doesn't have to be a genius to see that this is not sustainable since it neglects the personal aspect of faith. I for example need reminding that Jesus died because I and my fellow human beings sin and having this reminder of a crucifix on my desk or around my neck helps me to be a better Catholic. I am required by my faith to be a good Catholic, so for me personally that helps me fulfill that requirement.

I'm so far from having anything like a lawyer's mind, but I wonder if this has any bearing on the ruling by Mr Justice Langstaff in December in which he removed the right of Christians not to work on Sundays because some Christians were prepared to work on Sundays, a right which, incidentally, the government who liberalised Sunday trading in 1994 guaranteed it would not infringe. In 1996 it quietly repealed the provisions that ensured working on Sunday would be voluntary. There is a long standing principle in British law that the judiciary refrains from making rulings on religious questions, yet here Langstaff decided that the Ten Commandments were not an important part of Christian beleif and so it was optional. The ECHR seem to suggest that freedom of religion has an important personal aspect as well as being related to what others in one's religious group consider necessary: Ms Eweida feels it necessary to wear her cross, it is not the common practice or requirement of her denomination. If someone personally feels that they are bound to observe the fourth commandement, as it is laid out in Exodus or the Catechism (CCC 2172 and 2174) regardless of whether the rest of their denomination do, do they have that right and does their freedom on conscience comes before the wishes of their employer?

Whilst the ECHR did uphold the one religious freedom, they did then supress another today. The case of Gary McFarlane who is a councellor but who's agency fired him for refusing to give sex therapy to gay couples. I'm not really sure where this issue arose. Surely the sensible thing for the organisation, who reportedly had staff capable and willing to dispense sex therapy to gay couples, would be to swap one or two things around so that Mr McFarlane's concience needn't be compromised. Instead they seem to have pushed an agenda of false equality: the gay couple's right to sex therapy (if such exists) wasn't being compromised because the agency could still have provided it by means of other practitioners. Again, surely anyone who feels that they are bound not to promote what they, for genuine religious reasons such as that the Bible opposes it or their denomination does so. The ECHR has basically barred people who hold this reasonable religious objection, founded on established philosophical principles of natural law, from the profession of councelling. The National Secular Society has suggested that a ruling in the opposite direction would have meant any member of staff in any shop could have refused to serve a gay person. This is patently ridiculous. The two issues are very much separate. Mr McFarlane was refusing to compromise his concience on a matter of a sin itself, not the people who commit that sin. Being a Christian who loves his neighbour but hates sin, he said explicitly on the BBC that he does not imply any judgement on the people for engaging in gay sex, but only the act of gay sex in and of itself. There is no discrimination against or defamation of a person here, only an unwillingness to promote something he (purely incidentally, along with a not insignificant proportion of the world's population) believe to be sinful behaviour. If I worked for a bank and part of my job was to help clients avoid tax I wouldn't be able to do so in good concience. Even though many people think tax avoidance is fine, I don't and I can't promote something I think is a sin. I may do the other parts of my job excellently and if there are other people willing to participate in what I believe to be a sinful practice, then all it takes is minor rearrangement not to deprive the client of his right to the service or me of my freedom of concience. We can all have our cake and eat it. Where is the personal aspect of religious freedom in the ECHR's judgement here? The same is true of the case of Liliane Ladele who was unable to perform civil partnerships. Shirley Chaplin, the fourth of the judgements handed down today had her case dismissed because the court believed there to be valid health and safety concerns about her wearing a cross which dangled from a necklace whilst treating patients in a hospital.

Where does this logically progress to? Well, the public as well as the private sector. An MP who goes against his party's policy on abortion not being allowed to stand for that party? A citizen who refuses to uphold laws he or she believes to promote sin not being allowed the rights of a citizen to vote? I'm not saying this is going to happen, only that these things are logically permissable according to the ruling that Mr McFarlane's dismissal was just because he was unable to perform one aspect of a job which encompassed many roles, where his inability to perform that aspect did not prejudice anyone else's freedom.

The really telling thing in all this is the National Humanist Society's comment on a hierarchy of rights. Rights work in a hierarchy any which way, one right to life is greater than another's right to walk down the street, for instance. The National Humanist Society think that we have too much religious freedom in this country and so want to bring its standing down in that hierarchy. I think if today has told us anything, it's that religious liberties are not well enough protected in this country and will not bear further degredation at the hands of the secular agenda currently fasionable in nooks and crannies of the corridors of power.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

1000 Priest Stand Up

Deo gratias

I don't receive a copy of The Torygraph, but have not failed to notice yet another loving defence of marriage and our religious freedoms on its letters page today. A loving defence signed by a thousand priests, a quarter of the Catholic clergy in the country. People have been swift to dismiss this as bigotry but these 1, 024 men are defending our religious liberties. As the letter itself says
It is meaningless to argue that Catholics and others may still teach their beliefs about marriage in schools and other arenas if they are also expected to uphold the opposite view at the same time.
I got quite emotional reading the letter actually. I felt touched that these people had stood up to be counted on a matter that is really important to every person who will ever love in this country. What it does, in a nutshell, is give the state control over marriage that it has never had before. Marriage existed before the idea of a state and before the idea of a church, we have absolutely no right to decide what it is and is not. I like having a powerful state because it is a good means to promote a just society, but there are plenty of things a government, however powerful it is, simply is not capable of doing. You can tell me a tree is made of plastic till you're blue in the face but I'm not going to beleive you and I'm going to continue telling people it's made of wood. You can tell me two people of the same sex can get married till you're blue in the face but I'm not going to beleive you and I'm going to continue telling people only people of the opposite sex can. Marriage is something. It's not up to us what that something is. I'd like it to be possible for gay couples to get married. Really, I would. But it's not possible and can't be possible because that relationship does not fit in with what marriage is.

I've mentioned in an earlier post that part of being Christian is loving people, be they black, white, funny, boring, nice, nasty, ginger, blond, gay or straight. They're created in God's own image and He loves them. The Catholic Church is very specific too, I've quoted the Catechism's teaching on it (CCC 2358) before too. This isn't about homophobia, it's not even about gay people per se, it's about what marriage is and what marriage is not.

A certain blood crazed ferret has his usual insightful comment on what lies behind these plans. We're in the middle of a slow motion car crash as far as the economy's concerned and the people that hit the accelorator at the moment we hit the wall are in Number 10, they're just starting an argument in the back in the hope that the passengers don't notice.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Fr Z and his guns

A well regulated militia
Now, I'm a fan of Fr Z's. I'll happily sit and read his insightful and often witty commentaries which clearly come from an ordinary man living out an extraordinary vocation and a man who cares not only for his immediate flock but for all Catholics across the world. Fr Z is a good egg.

Last night I was strolling around Facebook and came across Piers Morgan using the worn journalist tactic of interviewing not only a nutter on his CNN programme last night, but a moronic nutter called Alex Jones and presenting the ensuring charade as the extent of reasoned debate from the gun lobby. There seems to be some debate as to who won the argument. If anyone is really wondering, Piers Morgan did. Jones came across precisely as mental as he is, egged on by Morgan. His threats of insurrection if legislation was passed to confiscate his guns, his panic at being quoted statistics, talking about great white sharks and chimpanzees, his infantile immitation of Morgan's accent and, at Morgan's behest, his promotion of 9/11 conspiracy theories. As a Brit, used to unarmed police officers, I don't understand all this love of violent weapons or why the USA haven't long got rid of a piece of legislation whose consequences can so clearly be horrific whilst bearing such little benefit. I understand nutcases like Jones supporting it, but not Fr Z who seems determined to defend the largely free availability of leathan weaponry despite his iron strong and profoundly rooted faith.

The second ammendement to the US constitution states
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
The first thing to note of course is that it is an ammendement, that there's nothing intrinsically wrong with changing the constitution. The second thing to look at is what it actually says, it's justification for permitting weapons is that it is necessary for the defence of the State to have armed civilians. It goes without saying that there is no need for a militia in the United States today and The Economist points out that civilian militias are not a viable means of defence anyway and that historically when they could have been used they simply did not form. I am assuming that Fr Z is not a chaplain to such a milita and if he were presumably he would the non-combatant role appropriate to his state of life. The second amendement has been amended before by the ruling in District of Columbia vs Heller (554 U.S. 570; 2008) in which your Supreme Court found the membership of a militia to be unnecessary.

If we may now turn specifically to Fr Z and glace at the Code of Canon law
Can. 285 §1.Clerics are to refrain completely from all those things which are unbecoming totheir state, according to the prescripts of particular law.
§2. Clerics are to avoid those things which,although not unbecoming, are nevertheless foreign to the clerical state.
And taking the Hermeneutic of Continuity to heart, one must look backwards to the 1917 Code to establish what those things might be, notable amongst them being
Can 138. Clerics are to refrain from all things that are inappropriate to their state, specifically: ... they may not carry arms, except when their is just cause.
My latin's not great so I'm very open to correction. I do not think that there are yet places in the US where there is just cause to carry a life preserver, that is to say a place where you are more likely than not to have your life put at risk. I know there are plenty of examples of clerics bearing weapons, Bishop Odo at the Battle of Hastings notable amongst them. If one accepts that it was appropriate for Odo to ride into battle, the obvious difference between him and Fr Z, who is applying for his concealed carry license, is that Odo was riding into battle and Fr Z is walking down his local street. In one situation there is an immediate and present danger of death and so there is just cause, in the other there is this low level, largely perceived rather than actual, danger of street violence. I'm not saying there's no danger in the latter, but it's far from being just cause.

Bishop Odo not strolling down Hastings High Street
If it is enemies from within Fr Z is afraid of, such as a government bent on oppressing religious liberties, we in the UK know all about that and celebrate the failure of Catholics in taking up arms against their oppressors each year on November 5th.

Of course what this really has little to do with the good father's clerical state, but his life as a Christian. Jesus was clear on what he expected of his disciples. We can wrap ourselves up in discussions of Canon law and the historical precedents for or against this, but at the end of the day, the line that "guns don't kill, people do" is a nonesense and therefore people should not be allowed to carry guns.

In this country we had the Dunblaine massacre and that shocked us into legislative action. In America, time after time we witness murder on a scale that should make one stop and do something, but each time the gun lobby demonstrate the sinfulness of laissez faire capitalism as they pour their great wealth into stopping any legislation for reform. The current proposed legislation to ban high calibre large magazine assault weapons does not go nearly far enough. That those sorts of weapons are permitted demonstrates blatant disregard on the part of the lobby funded legislators for the safety of their people. If the reformers thought it stood a chance of getting through a vote, I'm sure they would like to take the sensible step of confiscating all weapons from more or less everyone apart from farmers like we have in the UK. I have not quite a handful of friends who own firearms and every single one of them went to the same school and it is unusual that I know as many people who own firearms as I do. They use them for recreational purposes, ie game shooting, but they have a police officer visit them each year to inspect the gun, its secure cabinet and their continued suitability to own such a weapon. They are not allowed to own concealable weapons and the most rounds their guns can fire without reloading is two. We don't have a big gun crime problem in the country.

Piers Morgan last night quoted a figure of 35 gun murders last year in the UK, which scaled up to the population of the USA is around 174.1. In the USA, there were in fact (according to Alex Jones) 11,458 gun murders. Eleven thousand four hundred and fifty eight. In 2010 the UN Office on Drugs and Crime calculated that the 67.5% of murders in the USA were perpetrated with firearms. This isn't a small problem. When discussing abortion with people, I often end up asking them if they think a parent's right to chose their lifestyle trumps the unborn baby's right to life. Now I don't know how Americans derive their right to bear arms now that the necissity of a militia has vanished, but does their supposed right to do so trump the right to life of those many thousands of people who are murdered each year as a result of the proliferation of firearms in that country?

Incidentally, Fr Z is masterminding a campaign called the @Pontifex Tuesday Project, whereby each Tuesday he invites us to share our prayers for the Holy Father on Twitter. Well worth joining in considering all the abuse being flung at him there. Also, credit where it's due, the canon law references were borrowed from a comment by "ZadoktheRoman" on Fr Z's blog.

Oh. And surely. Surely. There are better reasons to deport Piers Morgan than his stance on the Second Amendement. Surely.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!

Look at them! Can't you tell they're wicked? These are what The Times has labelled the 'rebel nuns on the run'. Hyped up much? I just think they're a collection of rather amiable looking women glad to be one step further on their journey.

Armed only with their 'sense of adventure and vitality', these nuns have given up their convent worth 'millions of pounds' in return for fincial uncertainty. Perhaps these are less rebels, but a collection of travellers with a clear route with one or two detours and the car stereos pumping out anglican chant choones. They're currently staying with the sisters on Ryde who have their own reputation for chant while they search for a new home. That they only need six weeks with them to learn their "new tradition" is probably a sign of just how far from mainstream Anglicanism and just how close to Roman Catholicism they'd been previously.

I'm lucky enough to be friends with some more mainstream anglican clergy and they tend to see the ordinariate as a good thing for the Church of England, a means of dumping the fringes that are getting in the way of the path their denomination is going. Part of me quite likes Fr Z's idea of 'Romanorum Coetibus', a document he would have the Anglican bishops publish as a means of having catholics who took the 1970s to heart and never let them go retain their polyester patrimony to match their polyester theology within a denomination which might better suit them.

The Soho Masses

This blog post isn't lashing out at +Vincent

On the 3rd of January, the press reported that the "Soho Masses" which had taken place on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of every month in Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Warwick Street, were to be ended. These masses had become a focal point for protest against the Church's teachings on sexuality and so the archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, closed them down and arranged for pastoral care for gay people to be continued by the Jesuits at a nearby parish.

It's pointless to go over the political ins and outs of this story, there's plenty of commentary on that elsewhere. However, it is no secret that +Vincent loves gay people, and so rightly so. He's a Christian. Bishops should set an example to other Christians. We are called to love our neighbour no matter what their sexuality. His previous comment aimed at Catholics who had been protesting outside while the masses were taking place, that "anybody who is trying to cast a judgement on the people who come forward for communion really ought to learn to hold their tongue", was poorly received by some, but Jesus said something fairly similar more than once. Doubtless the Soho Masses were misusing the Mass to put forward ideas going against Catholic doctrine, but it was Mass and the day a Catholic decided to protest outside the church doors that Our Lord was being offered on the altar of sacrifice and on the Cross rather than go in and see Him there is a sad one. There are places to discuss Catholic doctrine and mass is not one of them, whichever side of the doors you find yourself.

The director of public affairs for Stonewall, Ruth Hunt, is quoted in the Daily Mail as saying that "there has never been a more important time to provide a safe space for gay Catholics to pray." Well that's laughable and demonstrates a complete and utter ignorance on the subject. The idea that gay Catholics are somehow victimised by the rest of the Church is ridiculous. Laughable. Simply not bourne out in reality. I hope that if a parish priest were to get an incling of homophobia from his congregation, that he would be a good pastor to his people and point out from the pulpit that anyone who had failed to respond to gay people with 'respect, compassion and sensitivity' should get themselves shriven ASAP for the good of their eternal souls. As for her reference to "what's happened over Christmas, where there were vitriolic and mean messages from [the] pulpit about same-sex marriage", perhaps she would like to cast an eye over those homilies. Instructing the faithful to protest the gay marriage bill "clearly, calmly and forcefully", "without impugning the motives of others." Doesn't sound particularly "mean". The anger (quite a different concept to "vitriolic") that Robert Piggott detected was clearly levelled at the government which has acted in such an undemocratic manner in an attempt to distract the electorate from their failing economic policy and not at all at gay people themselves. Perhaps Ruth Hunt could refrain from comment until she has something that reflects reality to say rather than casting the Catholic Church as some sort of hate group. I grew up in a fairly middle of the road suburban Catholic parish and as I became aware of what gay people were I realised that some of the people in the congregation were gay. I had the fairly standard response of children (and for that matter clergy) to gay people today of "oh, that's interesting." Before swiftly moving on with my life and thinking next to nothing more of it.

St Jean-Marie Vianney dealing with an outbreak of homophobia in rural France

The other thing is that by moving the LGBTQ to the Jesuits at Farm Street is that they'll be able to offer much better pastoral care and that surely is much more of a priority for an organisation like the Soho group. Mass is good for anyone, it brings them closer to God and God closer to them: receiving the Blessed Sacrament or simply kneeling in adoration before the Eucharist which made you and loves you will always have that effect and that is why all Catholics has an obligation to go to mass each Sunday. However, it's not a substitute for spiritual guidance from a person with whom you can have a two way conversation. Those who have suggested that +Vincent is only speaking out on this issue now because he wants a red hat are well established as his enemies and have seized on something caring, pastoral and in line with the teachings of our Church to try and turn it into a stick with which to beat him. I can't see why they can't simply be glad that +Vincent is being a good bishop, looking after his people by teaching them the authentic doctrines of the Church and working against the state's measures that threaten her and broader society.

In this action +Vincent has at once cared for his flock by providing them with better pastoral care in the form of the Jesuits and defended them against the dangers of misleading doctrines promoted at Soho masses. Most notably what has been called the "gay lifestyle". Again I leave myself open to charges of homophobia by those who don't read the post carefully enough, but increasingly we as a society are coming to see that sexuality is something we do rather than are. That's not to say it's something one choses, I don't chose to breathe but I do it and if anyone remembers chosing to be straight they should probably get themselves down to the Farmstreet Jesuits, but by making sexuality something one is, one constructs a false identity around it. This false identitity is something that hid the beauty of the people concerned's own personality. I have a friend who explains his own campery as a defence mechanism: he was bullied for being gay at school and so it was much easier for him to have his classmates hate the façade he threw up rather than hate who he really was. I hope we don't need that any more. Certainly when I was at school the only time I saw any sort of homophobia it ended with the culprit bleeding from the nose after a group of rugby boys interveaned on the boy who'd just come out's behalf.

St Nicholas has less patience with Arian homophobes than St JMV

The Soho masses were also noted for tolerance of homosexual acts. Servant of God Fulton Sheen, a few of whose books I'm slowing seeing my way through, pointed out in a broadcast about contraception once that when one examines an eye, it is obvious what it is for and that when one looks at a penis or a vagina it is obvious what they are for. It is obviously this notion to which the Catechism refers when it says that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered". That is to say that they do not allow the genitals to fulfill their purpose, their τέλος as Aristotle would put it. However, it shows its age when it suggests that most homosexual people find their sexuality a trial. I no longer think that is true, at least in the west. I think people of all shades of sexuality have grown to understand that as gift from God which not everyone possesses. It is, therefore, something for which to be thankful. If one treats it as a trial it will inevitably become so and we'll end up with a lot of unhappy people whop are distant from God.

I, like a certain "blood-crazed ferret" and I suspect +Vincent, think that the Church's understanding of homosexuality will evolve as she experiences more loving gay couples who find themselves growing closer to God as a result of their relationships. How that would effect its doctrine I have no idea except that two people of the same sex will never be capable of receiving the sacrament of marriage. That isn't homophobic, as Stonewall or the like would have us beleive, it doens't for a moment deny that Gay people love each other or that that fact is beautiful and a reflection of God's continuing love for those whom his creative love has already done its work. It does however recognise certain obvious facts about gay relationships which are not currently fasionable or politic to mention. I had dinner this evening with a close atheist friend who is in a long term (as far as people my age are concerned), very loving relationship with another of my close friends who is of the same sex and he summed these obvious facts up nicely. He is opposed to the gay marriage bill because he sees it as heteronormative. As far as he's concerned, his relationships don't have the end goal of children and he wouldn't want them to be about that: his relationships are about two people who love each other and nothing more. Therefore it is different from his straight friends'. There is clearly nothing lesser about his love for his boyfriend than that experienced by a straight couple, but it is equally clearly a different love. He wants gay people not to feel they need to see that difference as something negative, as if it means they are deficient heterosexuals. As far as he is concerned, gay people don't need marriage and shouldn't want it. This is precisely because there is a difference beteween homosexuality and heterosexuality.

Isn't that obvious? Of course there are differences. But God's creation is full to the brim of joyous difference so why not just come to mass with the rest of all of us different people and we can all be different together and worship and receive God who made us different. Why are the Soho group so keen to section gay Catholics off into their own masses? Is it because they're scared that it might burst the bubble of their constructed gay identity if they were forced to discover that actually they're just like the rest of us. Different. But not that different.

Launching a dinghy into an armada

Room for a little one?
I'm a Catholic student in the UK with a hectic lifestyle and more than a passing interest in religious affairs. I might not be able to post very regularly but I'll try to give some coherent thoughts on the times religion crops up in the news and perhaps also on Catholic affairs more specifically. I read The Times and follow a couple of Catholic bloggers, so expect most of the thoughts to be a result of that. I haven't got a world changing mind and I don't imagine for a moment that the thoughts I post will be new or even particularly meaningful, but I'd enjoy sharing and maybe discussing them here if anyone reads my posts. There's plenty of Catholic blogs out there so I imagine this one will more or less keep itself to itself.

Oh, and I use the Ronald Knox Translation of the Bible because why wouldn't you?