Saturday, 8 July 2017

The way ahead for gay Catholics

Read here.

This makes interesting reading. The point that I found thought provoking was the observation about the need for a pastoral/theological approach that can be verified in the experience of those who live from an LGBT background. There is something in this thought that reflects the charism of Communion and Liberation which I might try to explore ...

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Wrong rights?

During the last couple of weeks, I have been prompted a number of times to reflect on the image of the slogan among the fruit and vegetables that appears in an early section of Vaclav Havel's (at one time at least, but now perhaps rather forgotten) well known essay "The Power of the Powerless". Follow the link from this page, and go to section III to see the full context.
THE MANAGER of a fruit-and-vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: "Workers of the world, unite!" Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment's thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean? 
I think it can safely be assumed that the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions. That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and carrots. He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be. If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached for not having the proper decoration in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life "in harmony with society," as they say.

Aunty points out that, at the time that Vaclav Havel wrote this essay, we probably would not have thought it possible that the sentiments such as those contained in it could apply to our Western societies, adding: 
Defending marriage as the union of one man and one woman,  openly opposing the deliberate abortion of an unborn baby, affirming that sexual activity outside the marriage bond is contrary to the moral law...all these things are essential to a wholesome and humane society. We can have a debate about these things, we can recognise the need to be open and tolerant of different opinions - but we cannot survive unless we are allowed to affirm the truth of male/female marriage and the protection of pre-born children.
And the cruel attempts to silence, undermine and destroy groups and individuals who seek to uphold the moral law do point the way to martyrdom...
And, likewise, Peter Saunders offers a commentary about transgender issues. I quote one paragraph, but do read the whole:
We are starting to see real pressure being put on people to adopt a new ideology, use new language, affirm the beliefs of transgender people and participate in surgical and hormonal gender reassignment. Some lobby groups want these things to be legally enforced.
If he were to refuse, there could be trouble .....

He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life .....


Postcript: Vaclav Havel's commentary on the role of ideology, from the same section III of his essay, written for his particular situation but with resonances for Western societies today:
Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them. As the repository of something suprapersonal and objective, it enables people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves. It is a very pragmatic but, at the same time, an apparently dignified way of legitimizing what is above, below, and on either side. It is directed toward people and toward God. It is a veil behind which human beings can hide their own fallen existence, their trivialization, and their adaptation to the status quo. It is an excuse that everyone can use, from the greengrocer, who conceals his fear of losing his job behind an alleged interest in the unification of the workers of the world, to the highest functionary, whose interest in staying in power can be cloaked in phrases about service to the working class. The primary excusatory function of ideology, therefore, is to provide people, both as victims and pillars of the post-totalitarian system, with the illusion that the system is in harmony with the human order and the order of the universe

Saturday, 10 June 2017

One tires of the language of .....

...."abortion rights". Neither UK law nor any international human rights instrument in any way recognise access to abortion as being a "right". UK law protects from prosecution when an abortion is carried out meeting certain conditions .... it does not recognise a "right" to an abortion. And it is, of course, arguable as to whether or not an abortion genuinely constitutes health care.

So those who are mis-representing the DUP as holding an "extremist stance" on abortion are utterly wrong on two counts - their mis-representation of the DUP and their attempt to speak of "abortion rights".

It is perfectly reasonable to hold a view that abortion - in the meaning of a directly intended choice to bring to an end the life of a child in the womb - should not be lawful. And it is perfectly reasonable to make use of the political process to support that end. As a candidate for the ProLife Alliance in the 1997 General Election I did precisely that.

Indeed, I would argue that the vilification of those who oppose legalised abortion is a significant breach of their right to their good name - a right promoted by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 12:
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Politics, morality and civility

The "Meditation of the Day" in last Friday's MAGNIFICAT was an extract from the book Generating Traces in the History of the World: New Traces of the Christian Experience by  Liugi Giussani (page 94 in my English translation). The quotation from Alasdair MacIntyre is from the end of the penultimate chapter of After Virtue. In the context of the current General Election campaigns, it struck me as having a striking relevance, and I have added the emphases in bold, not present in the original text or in MAGNIFICAT, to draw this out.
The Christian's responsibility is that of being what have known, what has become art of their mind and heart. So we are responsible for being what we are, what we have been called to by Jesus in baptism and in the encounter that made it blossom. Our responsibility is that of being friends according to the encounter we have had. And this friendship cannot fail to have its effect on the relationships that are formed in the family, at work, and in social and political life. So we see the present-day relevance of what Alasdair MacIntyre said of the situation in Europe in the late Roman Empire:
"A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead - often not recognising fully what they were doing - was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness"
The friendship of those called by Jesus in baptism is the beginning of the community Macintyre speaks of, the beginning of a new culture, a new understanding of society and state, and of the world. In this way new human communities were born, which, to sue the words of John Paul II, are the only possible means for overcoming the desolation of much of modern society.
The MANIFICAT meditation stopped there, but the original text continued to include the words of Pope John Paul II being referred to:
"The re-awakening of the Christian people to a greater awareness of the Church, building living communities in which the following of Christ becomes concrete, affects the relationships of which the day is made and embraces the dimensions of life: this is the only adequate answer to the secularising culture that threatens Christian principles and the moral values of society".
There is a resonance to Pope Benedict XVI's remarks on the relationship between religion and politics when he spoke in Westminster Hall:
The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles.
 As I have read through, albeit rather quickly, the manifestos of major political parties as they were launched earlier this week, I have wondered about this task of purifying and shedding light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. What might such a purification make of:
The Liberal Democrats proposal to legalise prostitution, which seems to assume that sex is an industry just like any other, and doesn't even seem to work at a pragmatic level : "(we will) Decriminalise the sale and purchase of sex, and the management of sex work – reducing harm, defending sex workers’ human rights, and focusing police time and resources on those groomed, forced, or trafficked into the sex industry. We would provide additional support for those wishing to leave sex work."
The Liberal Democrats proposal to allow cohabiting couples the same rights as married couples and couples in a civil partnership: "(we will) Strengthen legal rights and obligations for couples by introducing mixed sex civil partnerships and extending rights to cohabiting couples".
The Labour Party's proposals for significant nationalisation of industries  such as water supply, electricity supply and the railways (and a comparable proposal for the railways in the Green Party Guarantee). From an ethical perspective, the principle of subsidiarity would indicate that provision should be made at the lowest level in society at which it can be successfully made to achieve the good of persons in society. Only where collaboration between partners, or a degree of regulation is required, to achieve the common good of persons is there a role for organisations in society and of government, and, ultimately, for the state ownership  of enterprises. The manifesto reflects a degree of subsidiarity in proposing regional publically owned companies, and it states: "Public ownership will benefit consumers, ensuring that their interests are put first and that there is democratic accountability for the service." But if what we are being told is in reality left wing ideology and not considered subsidiarity .... the story is rather different, and the warnings of the command economies of the past have relevance.
The Labour Party's proposals on equality:  "... we will ensure that the new guidance for relationships and sex education is LGBT inclusive." Or: " Labour will continue to ensure a woman’s right to choose a safe, legal abortion – and we will work with the Assembly to extend that right to women in Northern Ireland." [Fact check: UK law does not recognise that a woman has a right to choose an abortion - it allows abortion on the mainland under certain circumstances and if two doctors in good faith indicate that those circumstances apply. A right to choose it is not!]
I do find interesting, though, that aspect of the proposals with regard to a National Education Service that would make education, at all levels, free at the point of delivery. This has some basis in, for example, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 26. My hesitation, though, is with regard to its possible implication of single state control of the content of the educational enterprise.

If we return to the meditation that has prompted this post. Where does the lack of ethical reference in the electoral proposals before us leave a Catholic in exercising their vote? How can we set about creating places of community in the larger political society that allow the living of a life that still has even the idea of an objective morality at its heart?

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Hail Holy Queen, Blessed Virgin of Fatima - UPDATED

Hail Holy Queen, Blessed Virgin of Fatima, Lady of Immaculate Heart, our refuge and our way to God!  
As a pilgrim of the Light that comes to us from your hands, I give thanks to God the Father, who in every time and place is at work in human history; As a pilgrim of the Peace that, in this place, you proclaim, I give praise to Christ, our peace, and I implore for the world concord among all peoples; As a pilgrim of the Hope that the Spirit awakens, I come as a prophet and messenger to wash the feet of all, at the same table that unites us.....
In union with my brothers and sisters, in faith, in hope and in love, I entrust myself to you. In union with my brothers and sisters, through you, I consecrate myself to God, O Virgin of the Rosary of Fatima.  
And at last, enveloped in the Light that comes from your hands, I will give glory to the Lord for ever and ever. Amen.
Pope Francis' prayer to the Virgin of Fatima: Prayer of His Holiness Pope Francis, Chapel of the Apparitions, Fatima, Friday 12 May 2017.

h/t Abbey Roads, here.

UPDATE: The following exchange reported from the in-flight press conference during the return flight from Fatima to Rome explains the origin of the reference to the "bishop dressed in white" in Pope Francis' prayer, and rather puts paid to those commentators who are criticising Pope Francis for it. First the journalist's question, and then Pope Francis' answer:
Allora, Santità, a Fatima Lei si è presentato come “il Vescovo vestito di bianco”. Fino ad adesso, questa espressione si applicava piuttosto alla visione della terza parte del segreto, a san Giovanni Paolo II e ai martiri del XX secolo. Cosa significa adesso la sua identificazione con questa espressione? [Well, Your Holiness, at Fatima you were presented as "the Bishop dressed in white". Up to now, this expression has been applied rather to the vision of the third part of the secret, to St John Paul II and the martyrs of the 20th Century.  What is the meaning now of your identification with this expression?]
Papa Francesco:
Sì, nella preghiera. Quella non l’ho fatta io, l’ha fatta il Santuario. Ma anch’io mi sono chiesto, perché hanno detto questo? E c’è un collegamento, sul bianco: il Vescovo vestito di bianco, la Madonna vestita di bianco, l’albore bianco dell’innocenza dei bambini dopo il battesimo… C’è un collegamento, in quella preghiera, sul colore bianco. Credo – perché non l’ho fatta io – credo che letterariamente hanno cercato di esprimere con il bianco quel desiderio di innocenza, di pace: innocenza, non fare male all’altro, non fare Guerra… [Yes, in the prayer. That was not prepared by me, it was prepared by the Sanctuary. But I also asked myself why they had said this? And it is a link, (on the theme of) white: the Bishop dressed in white, the Madonna dressed in white, the white clothing of innocence of children after baptism ... it is a linking in this prayer, on the colour white. I believe - because I did not prepare it - I believe that, in a literary way, they tried to express with white the desire for innocence, for peace: innocence, not doing evil to the other, not making war ...]

Friday, 12 May 2017

The Catholic Education Service: an essay in error

As usual, Caroline has offered a reasoned and extensive commentary: The Catholic Education Service: an essay in error. I have added italics to her concluding paragraph, as I do think the CES/St Mary's document has completely misunderstood the need that Catholic school leaders have, and may have expressed. The guidance they needed was not with respect to managing homophobic bullying - one might hope that school leaders are already up to speed as far as responding to bullying of all types in their schools is concerned. What was needed was guidance as to how they can present and live Catholic teaching on the disordered nature of LGBT sexual activity without falling foul of equalities legislation, and this both in terms of curriculum and pastoral systems, and in terms of how they might manage situations should LGBT activism have a presence in their school. I feel sure that this is entirely possible, and reflects that second aspect of Catholic teaching on this question, namely that people who identify as LGBT should not be subject in any way to unjust discrimination. But it does require an acute intelligence and considerable care.

This need does not seem to me merely incidental to the mission of a Catholic school, particularly at secondary level. That mission is characterised by the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education as promoting two connected syntheses, those between "faith and culture" and between "faith and life" on the part of the members of the school community.
Homophobic bullying in our schools should be identified a source of shame, but so too are all other forms of bullying which undermine the dignity of the person. What Catholic schools really need is guidance and support in terms of how to remain faithful to Church teaching at a time when it is in opposition to the current zeitgeist. Sadly, this document is not that and has proved to be a wasted opportunity as well as a potential source of scandal and confusion. Very serious questions remain about the content, authorship and funding for distribution of this document and whether or not the CES may actually have overstepped it’s remit, which is after all, to serve the cause of Catholic education and educators rather than override and undermine the basic truths of Christ.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Pope Francis Apostolic Journey to Egypt

I was not able to follow Pope Francis' visit to Egypt as it happened, but have this morning read through the texts of some of his addresses. They can be linked from the website of the Holy See: Apostolic Journey of His Holiness Pope Francis to Egypt.

There are some quite robust passages in Pope Francis' addresses. This is from his meeting with government authorities and the diplomatic corps:
In the fragile and complex situation of today’s world, which I have described as “a world war being fought piecemeal”, it needs to be clearly stated that no civilized society can be built without repudiating every ideology of evil, violence and extremism that presumes to suppress others and to annihilate diversity by manipulating and profaning the Sacred Name of God. Mr President, you have spoken of this often and on various occasions, with a clarity that merits attention and appreciation.
All of us have the duty to teach coming generations that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, does not need to be protected by men; indeed, it is he who protects them. He never desires the death of his children, but rather their life and happiness. He can neither demand nor justify violence; indeed, he detests and rejects violence (“God… hates the lover of violence”: Ps 11:5). The true God calls to unconditional love, gratuitous pardon, mercy, absolute respect for every life, and fraternity among his children, believers and nonbelievers alike.
It is our duty to proclaim together that history does not forgive those who preach justice, but then practice injustice. History does not forgive those who talk about equality, but then discard those who are different. It is our duty to unmask the peddlers of illusions about the afterlife, those who preach hatred in order to rob the simple of their present life and their right to live with dignity, and who exploit others by taking away their ability to choose freely and to believe responsibly. Mr President, you said to me a few minutes ago that God is the God of freedom, and this is true. It is our duty to dismantle deadly ideas and extremist ideologies, while upholding the incompatibility of true faith and violence, of God and acts of murder.
And I was particularly struck by Pope Francis' account of education and dialogue in his address to an international peace conference ( the suggestion that wisdom places the past in dialogue with the present has an echo of the address that Pope Benedict XVI was unable to deliver at La Sapienza; and the use of the terms "civility" and "uncivility" has a certain elegance):
Education indeed becomes wisdom for life if it is capable of “drawing out” of men and women the very best of themselves, in contact with the One who transcends them and with the world around them, fostering a sense of identity that is open and not self-enclosed. Wisdom seeks the other, overcoming temptations to rigidity and closed-mindedness; it is open and in motion, at once humble and inquisitive; it is able to value the past and set it in dialogue with the present, while employing a suitable hermeneutics. Wisdom prepares a future in which people do not attempt to push their own agenda but rather to include others as an integral part of themselves. Wisdom tirelessly seeks, even now, to identify opportunities for encounter and sharing; from the past, it learns that evil only gives rise to more evil, and violence to more violence, in a spiral that ends by imprisoning everyone. Wisdom, in rejecting the dishonesty and the abuse of power, is centred on human dignity, a dignity which is precious in God’s eyes, and on an ethics worthy of man, one that is unafraid of others and fearlessly employs those means of knowledge bestowed on us by the Creator.
Precisely in the field of dialogue, particularly interreligious dialogue, we are constantly called to walk together, in the conviction that the future also depends on the encounter of religions and cultures. In this regard, the work of the Mixed Committee for Dialogue between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue offers us a concrete and encouraging example. Three basic areas, if properly linked to one another, can assist in this dialogue: the duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, the courage to accept differences, and sincerity of intentions.
The duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, because true dialogue cannot be built on ambiguity or a willingness to sacrifice some good for the sake of pleasing others. The courage to accept differences, because those who are different, either culturally or religiously, should not be seen or treated as enemies, but rather welcomed as fellow-travellers, in the genuine conviction that the good of each resides in the good of all. Sincerity of intentions, because dialogue, as an authentic expression of our humanity, is not a strategy for achieving specific goals, but rather a path to truth, one that deserves to be undertaken patiently, in order to transform competition into cooperation.
An education in respectful openness and sincere dialogue with others, recognizing their rights and basic freedoms, particularly religious freedom, represents the best way to build the future together, to be builders of civility. For the only alternative to the civility of encounter is the incivility of conflict; there is no other way. To counter effectively the barbarity of those who foment hatred and violence, we need to accompany young people, helping them on the path to maturity and teaching them to respond to the incendiary logic of evil by patiently working for the growth of goodness. In this way, young people, like well-planted trees, can be firmly rooted in the soil of history, and, growing heavenward in one another’s company, can daily turn the polluted air of hatred into the oxygen of fraternity.  
There is also a passage in this address on the relationship between religion and public life that has a recognisable reference to the speech of Benedict XVI in Westminster Hall:
This is a timely reminder in the face of a dangerous paradox of the present moment. On the one hand, religion tends to be relegated to the private sphere, as if it were not an essential dimension of the human person and society. At the same time, the religious and political spheres are confused and not properly distinguished. Religion risks being absorbed into the administration of temporal affairs and tempted by the allure of worldly powers that in fact exploit it. Our world has seen the globalization of many useful technical instruments, but also a globalization of indifference and negligence, and it moves at a frenetic pace that is difficult to sustain. As a result, there is renewed interest in the great questions about the meaning of life. These are the questions that the religions bring to the fore, reminding us of our origins and ultimate calling. We are not meant to spend all our energies on the uncertain and shifting affairs of this world, but to journey towards the Absolute that is our goal. For all these reasons, especially today, religion is not a problem but a part of the solution: against the temptation to settle into a banal and uninspired life, where everything begins and ends here below, religion reminds us of the need to lift our hearts to the Most High in order to learn how to build the city of man.