Saturday, 2 May 2015

A misappropriation of "the Common Good"

The Green Party have adopted as their strap line for the current general election campaign a claim that a vote for them is a vote for "the common good".

And, indeed, if one reads the Core Values presented on the Green Party website that appears a quite justified claim (though, if a claim of affinity to Catholic social teaching is being made, one might want to differ with the equivalence of "other species" to the human species indicated at point 5). However, if one digs more deeply, Green Party policy is in favour of legal access to abortion and of a legalisation of assisted euthanasia which has provisions somewhat akin to those of the original 1967 Abortion Act (see points HE 516/517 and HE526 at this page on their website - both of which are preceded by points that make for an attractive rhetoric which is then in a certain opposition to the concrete proposals).

And in the last 24 hours, the Green Party launched their LGBTIQ Manifesto for the 2015 General Election. The coverage at the ITV news website includes a video clip which suggests that there was little interest in the launch itself. However, a Q+A with Pink News readers opened up a more significant aspect of future Green Party thinking on LGBTIQ issues. The manifesto itself is reported here; but Natalie Bennett's "openness" to polyamorous marriages is reported here:
We have led the way on many issues related to the liberalisation of legal status in adult consenting relationships, and we are open to further conversation and consultation.”
That this represents a significant misappropriation of the idea of "the common good" as articulated by Catholic social teaching can be readily be seen by referring to Pope Francis' recent General Audience addresses on male-female complementarity and marriage: 15th April 2015,  22nd April 2015 (with implications for the relative standing of the human person vis a vis other creatures), 29th April 2015 (the first audience on marriage, with at least one more to follow that will in due course be linked from this page). It is also worth recalling the almost unprecedented manner of Pope Francis' endorsement of Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae during his visit to the Far East in Autumn 2014.

I think we should not be under any illusions about what we should expect in Pope Francis forthcoming encyclical on environmental matters, or in the engagement of the Holy See as far as Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations are concerned. The markers are clear in Pope Francis' public statements. The endorsement of a principle that action in favour of environmental sustainability is a moral imperative (and some application of that principle to particular situations) is not going to embrace the "progressive" agenda of such as the UK Green Party, though it may have some comparability of language.

Just as the Green Party use of "the common good" as a campaign strapline is a significant misappropriation of a principle of Catholic social teaching, so will any attempt to represent Pope Francis' encyclical as support for their position also be a gross misrepresentation of that encyclical.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Ban Ki-Moon's address to Vatican workshop on climate change: reflections on policy, science and the religions

On Tuesday of this week, the Pontifical Academy of Science and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences co-hosted a workshop entitled Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Humanity. As one of the organisers of the workshop recognised, the workshop engaged the three fields of science, of morality (and therefore of the religions) and of policy.

The General Secretary of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon gave a keynote address to the workshop. Two texts are available, a fuller text at he website of the United Nations and shorter text at the website of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences whose premises hosted the workshop.

From the point of view of science, I think it is fair to say that Ban Ki-moon spoke as if the science on climate change is one single, monolithic body of work:
Together, we must clearly communicate that the science of climate change is deep, sound and not in doubt.
Climate change is occurring – now -- and human activities are the principal cause.
According to this report, however, Martin Rees, a leading UK scientist, did acknowledge elements of uncertainty, or perhaps pluralism, in the science of climate change, though without in any sense advocating a climate change sceptic position. There is a danger that, in discussing the science of climate change as if it is a single entity rather than a phenomenon of multiple dimensions, it becomes an ideology that is imposed rather than a truth that is embraced. [I am no expert on the science of climate change, but it is generally of the nature of science that, even in areas of consensus, there will be different dimensions that make up the whole.]

From the point of view of religion and science, one wonders whether Ban Ki-moon, as a policy maker, reached beyond his competence when he said:
[Climate change] is a moral issue. It is an issue of social justice, human rights and fundamental ethics.
We have a profound responsibility to protect the fragile web of life on this Earth, and to this generation and those that will follow.
That is why it is so important that the world’s faith groups are clear on this issue – and in harmony with science.
Science and religion are not at odds on climate change. Indeed, they are fully aligned.
Whilst one would expect that the exercise of human reason that is the science of climate change does align with the exercise of faith that is religious belief, whether or not there is an alignment in terms of practical measures to respond to climate change - an implication of Ban Ki-moon's statement - is another question altogether. And in any case, the judgement of an alignment in terms of science and faith lies within the competence of scientists and believers, not a policy maker like Ban Ki-moon.

And with my third observation, I may be betraying an over-sensitivity to a philosophical nicety. I think there is only one point in the whole address where Ban Ki-moon refers to the human person, and that is when he quotes Pope Francis:
As His Holiness Pope Francis has said, "We need to see, with the eyes of faith … the link between the natural environment and the dignity of the human person."
 And where he might have made a second reference to the human person, he instead chose to speak of the individual:
The United Nations, too, champions the disadvantaged and the vulnerable.
We share a belief in the inherent dignity of all individuals and the sacred duty to care for and wisely manage our natural capital.
Is the dignity of the "individual" the same thing as the dignity of the "person"?  Is our moral orientation with regard to an "individual" the same as our moral orientation towards a "person"?

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Pope Francis: second catechesis on the complementarity of man and woman

I haven't got time to translate ..... but the full Italian text of today's General Audience address is here. I do think it is worth a careful read. I expect that a full English translation will eventually appear here. There is much here to prompt thought and reflection - and perhaps to give direction for comment on the forthcoming Synod of Bishops meeting on the Family.
La custodia di questa alleanza dell’uomo e della donna, anche se peccatori e feriti, confusi e umiliati, sfiduciati e incerti, è dunque per noi credenti una vocazione impegnativa e appassionante, nella condizione odierna. [The care of this covenant of man and of woman, even if they are affected by sin and are wounded, confused and humiliated, lacking in trust and uncertain, is therefore for us believers a binding and exciting vocation, in today's circumstances.]

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Recently visited ..... Leicester and Richard III

Whilst Leicester itself is not the most attractive of cities, the area around Leicester Cathedral is more amenable to the visitor. There is a largely traffic free shopping area known as "The Lanes", with small shops and cafes/restaurants. (Further from the Cathedral is a less attractive shopping area which does have some big name shops and a market that appeared to be strong on fruit and veg. If you are into retail therapy you might enjoy...).

Just opposite the Cathedral there is now a visitor centre, marking the place at which King Richard III's body was discovered. The centre has been very well designed, and, if you are doing your pilgrimage in honour of Richard III, you should go to the visitor centre. It tells the story of King Richard's reign and death at the Battle of Bosworth (ground floor) and the archaeological search for the Greyfriars and King Richard's body (first floor) in a very exciting way. It might be as well to pre-book your ticket - Zero and I found the centre comfortably busy when we visited on a Saturday afternoon. The visitor centre website gives a good impression of the centre.


At the end of your visit, you are able to look down through a glass floor to view the excavated site of Richard III's burial. Lighting shows how the bones of Richard's body were laid out when the burial was uncovered. This is a separate room, slightly apart from the rest of the visitor centre, and succeeds in giving a sense of reverence in the presence of the burial place of a King. As the website of the visitor centre says:
Visitors return to the ground floor to complete their experience with a visit to the site of King Richard’s burial, preserved in a quiet, respectful setting and with a contemplative atmosphere, fitting for the last resting place of a slain warrior and anointed monarch.
From the visitor centre it is just a few steps to Leicester Cathedral and a visit to King Richard's tomb - when Zero and I visited there was a 5 or 10 minute wait in a queue to visit.  The Cathedral is a very light building (on a sunny day, at least) and the tomb has been presented very well. The bridge across which Richard's body was returned to Leicester after the Battle of Bosworth is a 5 minute walk away.

The satellite image on Google maps is, of course, a few years out of date .... and shows the social services car park that used to cover the site of the Greyfriars and Richard III's burial place.

The exposition of the Turin Shroud

Zero and I will have an opportunity in a few weeks time to visit the Turin Shroud, which has just gone on display in the Cathedral of Turin.

The official website for the Turin Shroud is here, from which it is possible to book tickets (free) for your visit:Holy Shroud

See also reporting as follows:

The Shroud of Turin has been put on display to the public until June 24

Pope Francis to visit Turin Shroud

During Turin Shroud display, archbishop offers absolution to women who have had abortions (A similar permission for priests to absolve those who have procured an abortion was given, if I recall correctly, on the occasion of the World Youth Day in Madrid - and, I would assume, on the occasion of the more recent WYD in Rio.)

It would be saintly to be able to say that we were going on pilgrimage especially for the visit to the Shroud, but that would be to be economical with the truth! We will be making a day visit to Turin during a holiday by Lake Como.... visiting the central part of the lake, one is put in mind of Romano Guardini's Letters from Lake Como, the reading of which is a very different experience when you can recognise the locations to which he refers and the unique combination of the lake and its ferries with the surrounding mountains.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Pope Francis General Audience 15th April 2015: catechesis on male-female complementarity

The Vatican Information Service headlines its report on today's General Audience thus: General audience: the complementarity between man and woman.

And Vatican Radio headlined its report: Pope: "more weight and more authority must be given to women”

And the Catholic Herald report, following that at Vatican Radio: The Church must do more to recognise women, says Pope.

UPDATE: and the most useful coverage at Catholic News Service: Gender theory is the problem, not the solution, pope says.

At the time of posting, a full English text of Pope Francis' audience address is not yet on the Vatican website - I assume it will in due course replace the short English summary here. The full Italian text is here. I translate the highlights from there.
E come tutti sappiamo, la differenza sessuale è presente in tante forme di vita, nella lunga scala dei viventi. Ma solo nell’uomo e nella donna essa porta in sé l’immagine e la somiglianza di Dio: il testo biblico lo ripete per ben tre volte in due versetti (26-27): uomo e donna sono immagine e somiglianza di Dio. Questo ci dice che non solo l’uomo preso a sé è immagine di Dio, non solo la donna presa a sé è immagine di Dio, ma anche l’uomo e la donna, come coppia, sono immagine di Dio. La differenza tra uomo e donna non è per la contrapposizione, o la subordinazione, ma per la comunione e la generazione, sempre ad immagine e somiglianza di Dio. [As we all know, sexual difference is present in many forms of life, in the long ascent of living things. But only in man and woman does it carry in itself the image and the likeness of God: the biblical text repeats this three times in two verses: man and woman are the image and likeness of God. This is to say not only that man taken in himself is the image of God, not only is woman taken in herself the image of God, but also man and woman, as a couple, are the image of God. The difference between man and woman is not for opposition, or for subordination, but for communion and generation, always to the image and likeness of God.] 
What I find of particular interest here is the idea that it is together, as a couple, that the likeness of God is present in man and woman, in addition to such a presence in each individually. And let us not overlook that "...for communion and generation ...". Those who believe that the separation of the purpose of generation from the sexual encounter by means of the contraceptive pill and the condom is in favour of the liberation of women will not find solace in Pope Francis' words. Pope Francis also inserts a phrase in the light of the biblical account that says that "God has entrusted the earth to the covenant between man and woman", a thought that I also find interesting. Whilst all of this has an immediate reference to those who are called to the vocation of marriage, and that is the context of the Holy Father's current series of catecheses, I am prompted to ponder -  if it is indeed something that is of the nature of God's creative act - how this also extends to those who are not married.
...io mi domando, se la cosiddetta teoria del gender non sia anche espressione di una frustrazione e di una rassegnazione, che mira a cancellare la differenza sessuale perché non sa più confrontarsi con essa. Sì, rischiamo di fare un passo indietro. La rimozione della differenza, infatti, è il problema, non la soluzione. Per risolvere i loro problemi di relazione, l’uomo e la donna devono invece parlarsi di più, ascoltarsi di più, conoscersi di più, volersi bene di più. [...I ask myself, if the so-called theory of gender is not also an expression of a frustration and a resignation, that looks to strike out the sexual difference because it no longer knows how to face up to it. The removal of the difference, in fact, is the problem not the solution. To resolve the problems of their relations, man and woman must instead speak more to each other, listen more to each other, know each other more, wish each others good more.]
And from this basis, Pope Francis identifies two points, and is not making the first in isolation from the second. The first is that women should be given a stronger voice both in society and in the Church - note that the reference to the Church is alongside that to society as a whole:
E’ necessario, infatti, che la donna non solo sia più ascoltata, ma che la sua voce abbia un peso reale, un’autorevolezza riconosciuta, nella società e nella Chiesa. [It is necessary, in fact, that women are not only more listened to, but that their voice carries a real weight, a recognised authority, in society and in the Church.]
The second is to suggest that a weakness in collective belief in God is connected to a weakness in faith in the covenant between man and woman:
Mi chiedo se la crisi di fiducia collettiva in Dio, che ci fa tanto male, ci fa ammalare di rassegnazione all’incredulità e al cinismo, non sia anche connessa alla crisi dell’alleanza tra uomo e donna. In effetti il racconto biblico, con il grande affresco simbolico sul paradiso terrestre e il peccato originale, ci dice proprio che la comunione con Dio si riflette nella comunione della coppia umana e la perdita della fiducia nel Padre celeste genera divisione e conflitto tra uomo e donna. [I ask myself if the crisis of collective faith in God, which does so much ill, which makes for resignation to incredulity and cynicism, is not also connected to the crisis in the covenant between man and woman. In effect the biblical account, with its great symbolic fresco of the earthly paradise and original sin, tells us that communion with God is reflected in the communion of the human couple and the loss of faith in the heavenly father generates division and conflict between man and woman.]
Which is, of course, all very different to the impression created by some of the headlines!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us

Pope Francis apostolic letter initiating the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy opens with the words:
Misericordiae vultus Patris est Christus Iesus. ....Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy.
The Jubilee will begin on 8th December 2015, the 50th anniversary of the closing of Vatican Council II and the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Pope Francis sees in both of these celebrations a significance for the Jubilee of Mercy (cf nn.3-4). Pope Francis identifies the event of the Council as a time when the Church entered a new phase of her history, a time when the Council fathers sensed the need, inspired by the Holy Spirit, "to talk about God to men and women of their time in a more accessible way...The Church sensed a responsibility to be a living sign of the Father's love in the world". The Solemnity, too, marks the moment when God, faced with the gravity of sin, makes the first step in mercy, the mercy that is always greater than sin. The language and action of mercy, to which Pope Francis calls us in this Jubilee, are in absolute continuity with the inspiration of the Council and of the Church's liturgy.

There should be no doubt that Pope Francis call to experience the Divine mercy is also a call to conversion of life (cf n.19-20). He is not at all advocating a mercy that is indifferent to the seriousness of sin.
May the message of mercy reach everyone, and may no one be indifferent to the call to experience mercy. I direct this invitation to conversion even more fervently to those whose behaviour distances them from the grace of God (... qui ob suae vitae rationem a gratia Dei longe absunt ... those who by reason of their way of life are a long way from God's grace).
Pope Francis refers to two particular situations - criminal gangs and corruption - which, I suspect, reflect his own pastoral experience in both South America and in Italy. But the principle applies to all of us in our different situations.
When confronted with evil deeds, even in the face of serious crimes, it is the time to listen to the cry of innocent people who are deprived of their property, their dignity, their feelings, and even their very lives. To stick to the way of evil will only leave one deluded and sad. True life is something entirely different. God never tires of reaching out to us. He is always ready to listen, as I am too, along with my brother bishops and priests. All one needs to do is to accept the invitation to conversion and submit oneself to justice during this special time of mercy offered by the Church.
In this context, one should also note the central part that Pope Francis expects the Sacrament of Penance (though Pope Francis uses the title Sacrament of Reconciliation, I have a preference for the title used in the Code of Canon Law) to play during the Jubilee of Mercy (cf nn.17-18).

Pope Francis firstly asks the Church to use a language and a gesture of mercy (cf n.12) in approaching the world during the Jubilee. But he also asks the Church to act in a merciful way (cf n.15):
In this Holy Year, we look forward to the experience of opening our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society: fringes modern society itself creates. How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world today!...
It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty. And let us enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy. Jesus introduces us to these works of mercy in his preaching so that we can know whether or not we are living as his disciples. Let us rediscover these corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead.
 As far as the language and gesture of mercy are concerned, I am reminded of two anecdotes. A friend recently related to me her experience of encountering street preachers from evangelical/Pentecostal traditions in our town centre. The most off putting of these preachers was one who referred only to the evil of sin.

The second anecdote is a story often used by Mgr Paul Watson, a former Director of Maryvale Institute. He would start a talk with the story of the captain of a large oil tanker, who, on seeing a light ahead of his ship, radioed the other ship to ask them to change course. The reply was an insistent refusal, to which the captain of the oil tanker pointed out that he was a very large ship and could not change course as easily as a smaller ship. However, as soon as the other light pointed out that it was in fact not another ship but a light house, the captain immediately recognised the need to change course, without that need being in any way an externally imposed demand. Mgr Watson likened this to the first conversion to Christ that is the aim of a primary proclamation of the Gospel, a conversion that is needed first in order that a change to a new way of life might then readily follow as action of authentic freedom.

There is a criticism of Pope Francis' call to renew our proclamation of Divine mercy that suggests that Pope Francis is accusing the Church, unjustly, of not being merciful in the past. However, the temptation to proclaim a morality before we proclaim the conversion towards a Person is present in some reactions towards both Pope Francis' calling of the Jubilee of Mercy and towards events surrounding the Synods on the Family. Pope Francis call for us not judge or to condemn (cf n.14) is precisely about us having a correct ordering of the proclamation of mercy and conversion of life, and not about denying the need for conversion. [And for the record: there is no suggestion here that giving a missionary primacy to the conversion towards the Person of Christ is intended to alter or undermine the fullness of Catholic doctrinal or moral teaching, which follows from that conversion. That would be to mis-represent both Pope Francis and me.] A renewal of a language and gesture of mercy seems to me very timely, and to be something that can be achieved without loss to the integrity of faith.
We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.... [n.2]
The Jubilee year will close with the liturgical Solemnity of Christ the King on 20 November 2016. On that day, as we seal the Holy Door, we shall be filled, above all, with a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving to the Most Holy Trinity for having granted us an extraordinary time of grace. We will entrust the life of the Church, all humanity, and the entire cosmos to the Lordship of Christ, asking him to pour out his mercy upon us like the morning dew, so that everyone may work together to build a brighter future. How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God! May the balm of mercy reach everyone, both believers and those far away, as a sign that the Kingdom of God is already present in our midst! [n.5]