Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Hopes for a new bishop

Towards the end of my absence from blogging, the appointment of the next bishop of Brentwood was announced. Fr Williams has, according to the Brentwood Diocese website, presented himself as a "listening bishop".

In the diocese, the faithful had been encouraged to use the following prayer from the Roman Missal to pray for the appointment of the new bishop:
Father, Eternal Shepherd of your people, you never cease to lead your Church with unfailing providence and to guide and nourish your flock. In your goodness grant to your Church of Brentwood a holy Shepherd under whose watchful care we may grow in love and grace.
I am also drawn to Pope Francis' remarks when speaking about the part played by the Congregation for Bishops in helping him to fulfil his apostolic ministry.
In every age and in every place we shall receive this petition from the lips of the Church: give us a Bishop! The holy People of God continues to speak: we need one who will watch over us from above; we need one who will see us with the fullness of God’s heart; we do not need a manager, a chief executive officer of a company, nor one who remains at the level of our pettiness and little pretensions. We need someone who knows how to raise himself to the heights of God’s gaze over us and in order to lead us to him. Our future lies in God’s gaze. We need someone who, owing to his greater familiarity with the wide expanses of God’s field than with the confines of his own narrow garden, is able to assure us that what our hearts aspire to is not a vain promise.
It is also interesting to read his address to a meeting of newly appointed bishops in September 2013, and, in particular, his remarks about the responsiveness of a bishop to the needs of his priests. He speaks of the priests of the diocese as being the "first neighbours" to whom a bishop owes care.

During the (long) time that it has taken to appoint our new bishop, I have had two particular thoughts about what I might look for from a new bishop (and a third point, as a bit of an aside).

To start with the third point. I do rather hope that other people will not project on to Fr Williams their own agendas. His office will be defined by the pastoral care of Brentwood Diocese and a participation in the College of the Successors of the Apostles - and this isn't to be measured by particular agendas that I or anyone else might have. So please do not hijack my new bishop for your own cause!

My second thought has been about the priests of the diocese and therefore has some affinity to Pope Francis' remarks to new bishops in September 2013. The experience of living in the diocese is that there are some parishes where I am happy to attend Mass and some parishes where I am not happy to attend Mass ... and most parishes that sit somewhere in between, not scaring me away but not exerting a positive attraction either. This is usually down to the parish priest because, for all the talk about lay ministry, it is still the parish priest who drives what happens in a parish. I am atypical in that, not having lived in the diocese when I was young, I do not enjoy a strong affiliation to one parish rather than another. So I look to the new bishop to achieve a greater unity among the priests of the diocese, so that lay folk like myself can live a greater unity of ecclesial experience from one parish to another. A unity in the celebration of the Liturgy and catechetical life seem essential to me in this regard.

My first thought, though, has been that, for a diocese that has a sense of "drift" about it, at least in my experience, I need a new bishop who offers something inspiring. As Pope Francis expresses it, I need a bishop who "owing to his greater familiarity with the wide expanses of God’s field than with the confines of his own narrow garden, is able to assure us that what our hearts aspire to is not a vain promise." A bishop who will make me feel that it is all worth while, rather than its being a struggle. As Pope Francis points out, this is not achieved by a bishop who is a "chief executive" or by a bishop with well planned "programmes".  Rather it is achieved by a bishop with a vivid sense of his charism as a successor of the Apostles, a bishop who has the "odour of his sheep".

These are my hopes for my new bishop.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Thoughts on a "Christian country"

At the annual conference of my trade union, just before Easter, the following motions was debated and passed. It was a composite motion, from motions originally submitted by two different branches of the association.
That Conference acknowledges that the proper and regular delivery of the RE curriculum is of great importance in a multicultural society where mutual knowledge and understanding of religious beliefs is essential in developing tolerance and social harmony.
Conference therefore urges the Executive Committee to promote the status of RE teachers and seek to ensure they have the correct level of funding, knowledge, and training and development.
My experience of working with a Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE), the body responsible for overseeing Religious Education in state schools in a local authority that do not have a religious designation, reflects the sense of this motion. One might see it as a kind of co-option of RE in the cause of social cohesion.

Whilst social harmony might well be, and should be, one of the fruits of communities that live in daily life the practice of their religious beliefs, it is not correct for policy makers to see that as the only stake that the practice of religious beliefs has in society. To limit the understanding of religious belief to that perception fails to recognise the distinctive essence of religious beliefs. It is to understand religion as if religion were a non-religious phenomenon; it is to secularise the concept of religion. That religious beliefs are about what is true and good in the purpose of human life - both natural life and supernatural life - is completely misconstrued by this understanding. And for some religions - notably among them Christianity - these beliefs are shared and lived (to greater and lesser extent) by a community.

[As an aside, one speaker in the Conference debate preferred to identify belief as an individual and personal phenomenon, rather than as a pattern of belief shared by others. It is of course interesting to consider whether individualised belief of this type would serve the purpose of social cohesion; and to consider its possibilities as being perhaps more genuinely religious in character than the secularised view of community held religious beliefs.]

The Daily Telegraph today carries a letter signed by secularist thinkers responding to David Cameron's recent remarks about the role of Christianity in Britain (reported at the BBC news site here; David Cameron's Church Times article is here.).

My first thought is to reflect on what the term "Christian country" might mean. David Cameron's Church Times article refers to the heritage of liturgy, architecture and culture that Britain today receives from a history marked profoundly by Christian faith, and in particular by the Church of England. This is one sense in which we can speak of Britain as a Christian country.  We might also speak of Britain as a Christian country in terms of the way in which the established Church - and wider Christian faith - is woven into the fabric of our constitutional and social arrangements. Our major national holidays are based around the dates of the two major Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter, for example.

The writers of the letter published in the Daily Telegraph today are using a different frame of reference as far as the meaning of the term "Christian country" is concerned. They ask instead about whether or not the extent of Christian belief and practice in Britain justifies describing the people of Britain as being Christian. And, perhaps rightly, they suggest that the presence of significant numbers of people who follow other religions, and of many who hold no religious beliefs, means that the answer to that question should be "no".

The fundamental question appears to me, however, to be less one of whether or not describing Britain as a "Christian country" is correct and more one about what stake Christian belief is entitled to in society and in the cultural and political life of the country.

1. At one time, there was a range of phenomenological study around the nature of the human person as having an essential religious dimension. In our present culture, this seems to have been displaced by a secularised understanding of religion as being, at best, at the service of social harmony; and by notions of "spirituality" that derogate from a fully religious understanding of the nature of the human person. But, if the human person has an essentially religious dimension, then religion should have a clear and firm stake in the social, political and cultural life of any country.

2. If Christianity is to have a preferential status within this religious profile of the life of Britain, I do not believe that it can be founded just on the background that the history of Britain provides for today's nation. Christians gain a stake in the social, political and cultural life of our country in so far as they continue to live out their faith - in its essentially religious character and not just in terms of a secularised understanding of what their faith offers to social cohesion. On this basis, they are entitled to play a full part in the life of the country - in running educational institutions, in the means of social communication, in politics. That Christians in these spheres should have the freedom - and equality of access by means of state funding that matches that provided to non-religious provision - to act in full accord with the teachings of their Churches is axiomatic. The secularist would, of course, deny this thereby instead imposing a kind of "secular religion" across the whole of society.

3. David Cameron suggests in his Church Times article that non-Christian believers find that the standing of the Church of England in Britain helps them to practise their own religions here. A pluralism in religious belief and practice of this type, within a framework that in some way preferences one religion, is possible. In Britain, the Church of England as the established Church is represents the particular national situation which enables the living out of the religious character of the human person. The particular manner of the living of religious freedom in Britain has something to say to other countries, both to those whose constitutional arrangements separate state and religion, and to Muslim countries where religious freedom is denied.

But there is an elephant in the room, as they say. Legislative changes have created a number of professions where, for example, a Roman Catholic who wishes to translate their religious practice into daily living, will be denied employment. Neither is it clear how far the range of David Cameron's suggestion that Christian's should be more confident in their belief extends. Can we not recognise in the early paragraphs of the Church Times article something of the secular understanding of religious belief that I described at the beginning of this post? Hasn't the meaning of that word "love" been emptied of its objective content in the debate over same-sex marriage? Whilst getting out there and making a difference is a clear fruit of Christian faith lived out in daily life, is it sufficient to define its essence?
I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people's lives....
Crucially, the Christian values of responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, and love are shared by people of every faith and none - and we should be confident in standing up to defend them.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

PtP: What is the real question?

I have come late to the story of the "silencing" of Protect the Pope/Deacon Donnelly. The clearest reporting on it that I can find is here, at the Catholic Herald website: Bishops shouldn’t try to censor the blogosphere, says priest blogger.

I am not able to comment on the "politics" - that is, about the speculation about who might, or might not, have put pressure on who to bring about the intervention of Bishop Campbell. Since that intervention, there has been a reaction that brings out a "political" dimension to the intervention itself - but I am not at all sure that that really captures the essence of what took place.

I have had my own encounter with Protect the Pope: Protect the Pope: the publican or the Pharisee? (and see the approach of some of the comments received from PtP's supporters), and in commenting on his post with regard to the film Philomena: Steve Coogan mendaciously blackens the name of Sr Hildegard McNulty in his film Philomena. I have since, somewhat by accident, come to recognise some of the networking among the commenters on the PtP, and that does shed some not inconsiderable light on the content of posts and comments.

But what is the real question that is raised by Bishop Campbell's intervention?

Is it really the silencing of a heroic defender of the faith? According to the Catholic Herald report linked above, Deacon Donnelly identifies the aim of the blog as being:
“to compare and contrast what’s being said and done in the Church with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That can never be wrong.”
At the very least, I think it is possible to look at the content of posts on PtP and examine the extent to which they do and do not meet this aim. My own encounter with the blog indicated that there is more to PtP than this aim. At the time, I suggested that those who viewed the blog in these terms should think about it a bit more carefully.

Is it really "censoring" the Catholic blogosphere? Or the action of a bishop who "doesn't get blogging"? The discussion along these lines, which appears to have been extensive, seems to me to miss the point. There is an aspect of this discussion that does not appear to be attracting comment. What would a lay person do, approached by their bishop with the same request to take a period of prayer and reflection whilst desisting from blogging? It is not just a question of "jurisdiction" but one  of "communion".

I am not convinced by the line of discussion that suggests that the internet has a "self-correction" mechanism whereby errors are raised and corrected without need of "censorship"; and that a bishop can correct a view by making his own use of the modern means of social communication. I have a distinct impression that a whole range of Catholic blogs just "talk to each other" without reaching outside their own circle, like talking to like in a closed circle.

I do happen to think that the statement from Lancaster Diocese, as reported by the Catholic Herald, very accurately identifies the questions pertaining to the PtP blog (my italics added):
“After learning that a notice had been placed upon the Protect the Pope website on March 7 saying: ‘Deacon Nick stands down from Protect the Pope for a period of prayer and reflection’ the Bishop’s Office at the Diocese of Lancaster was able to confirm that Bishop Campbell had recently requested Deacon Nick Donnelly to voluntarily pause from placing new posts on the Protect the Pope site.
“Meanwhile, it was also confirmed that the bishop asked Deacon Nick to use this pause to enter into a period of prayer and reflection on the duties involved for ordained bloggers/website administrators to truth, charity and unity in the Church. Deacon Nick has agreed to the bishop’s request at this time.”
My own encounter with PtP clearly manifested the need to consider questions of truth and charity in terms of the content of blog posts and comments. The question of considering the unity of the Church seems to me more subtle - the question here is not about posting to criticise dissent but more about the spinning of such posting against bishops. And as I imply above, exactly these same duties oblige the lay Catholic who blogs on matters Catholic.

More than anything else, I would suggest that Bishop Campbell's intervention calls each and every one of us to an examination of conscience with regard to how we conduct ourselves in cyberspace.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

On not blogging

Just before Lent began, someone suggested to me that I should give up blogging for Lent. Which I have done. (I justify posting now on the view that Lent ends on Maundy Thursday evening, a view that I encountered from a quite impeccable monastic source.)

It is interesting to reflect on the experience of not blogging, and herewith some of the thoughts that have occurred to me as the end of my absence from the aether has approached.

1. In a very real way, I have not missed writing for the blog. There have been a few points where something has occurred, and I have thought, "Oh, I might have posted to say this or that". But I have not really missed the additional step of formulating the thoughts coherently, sitting at the keyboard and posting. It is not always necessary to publish an opinion ....

2. I have also found that it is quite possible to live an informed ecclesial existence without reading Catholic blogs. Which thought led me to wonder - somewhere around Laetare Sunday - just how much of what I do find myself reading on blogs can rightly be described as ecclesial gossip. And whether it is some of the more widely-read blogs that purvey the majority of this gossip. Pope Francis is, I think, quite clear about what he considers to be the evil of gossip; and perhaps, in reading blogs, it is easy to become complicit in that evil.

3. It is not at all clear that, by not spending time blogging, I have necessarily spent the time usefully on other things. I cannot say that I have noticed that I do my marking, for example, any more quickly than before.

4. I did receive an appreciative comment just before leaving the aether, and before I had worked out the right way to acknowledge that comment. I must have appeared somewhat ungrateful, not just for not acknowledging the comment, but for then disappearing altogether without explanation. So my apologies to the person concerned. I am back now.

5. All this having been said, there is a small community of Catholic blogs that I characterise by the term "more thoughtful". Of their nature, they are not going to attract huge numbers of readers - they aren't controversial enough for that - but they probably do more to "build communion" than do other blogs. It is to that community that I feel I am now returning.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Not Christianity, but superstition

When I heard a report of this case on BBC Radio news yesterday, the couple involved were described as being a "Christian couple". The website report more precisely identifies the couple as being Seventh Day Adventists, though it appears that their actions derived more from their own, more individual, religious stance than from that of the Seventh Day Adventists as a religious body. The situation, however, appears to have essentially been one where, on the grounds of a religious belief expressed in a particular manner of practising a "covenant", the ordinary care of the medical profession was disregarded.

This is not a religious belief on the part of the couple involved, and it certainly is not Christian belief. It is superstition. Whilst I do not wish to condemn at the level of the individuals involved, at the level of the general engagement between religious belief and our contemporary culture, it is important to say this clearly.

It is certainly not Christian belief for two essential reasons.

1. Christian faith, seen as a content that is believed (or as a Person who is followed), does not contradict the work of human reason. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says (n.159):
Faith and science: "Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth." "Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. the humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are." 
Christian faith, understood as a human act on the part of the one who believes, likewise does not expect that one over-rides that other human act, the act of reason. This was the point underlying Pope Benedict XVI's address at Regensburg in 2006, the most controversial section of which the former Holy Father summarised thus:
The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature.
It will never be a genuine act of faith (or of hope) on the part of a Christian to refuse medical attention in favour of an expected divine intervention. The case just reported indicates the danger represented by individuals who will, however, see such a denial of medical attention as an act of faith in God.

2. One of the themes to which Pope Francis returns is that of the ecclesial nature of Christian faith. It is not possible, he says, to claim to follow Christ without the Church. And therein lies the second reason for suggesting that the action of the couple who have just received prison sentences should not be described as a result of their Christian belief. While they do seem to have some level of ecclesial affiliation - to the Seventh Day Adventists - the situation of church groups that have no formal ecclesial affiliations beyond their own community lends itself to the kind of individual perception of faith that rejects medical treatment. When I have time, I will try and link to some of the reports of instances of pastors encouraging their adherents not to seek treatment and rely instead on God, reports associated with what one might call "non-ecclesial" Christian belief.

It is an ecclesial adherence that represents the assurance of that synthesis of faith with reason that I refer to in point 1 above. This, again, is a point that Pope Benedict XVI referred to in a controversial address, that which he was unable to give at La Sapienza University:
 Rawls perceives a criterion of this reasonableness among other things in the fact that such doctrines derive from a responsible and well thought-out tradition in which, over lengthy periods, satisfactory arguments have been developed in support of the doctrines concerned. The important thing in this assertion, it seems to me, is the acknowledgment that down through the centuries, experience and demonstration – the historical source of human wisdom – are also a sign of its reasonableness and enduring significance. Faced with an a-historical form of reason that seeks to establish itself exclusively in terms of a-historical rationality, humanity’s wisdom – the wisdom of the great religious traditions – should be valued as a heritage that cannot be cast with impunity into the dustbin of the history of ideas.
Without these two criteria, it appears to me that something that calls itself a Christian belief is in reality nothing more than superstition.

That the law of the land intervenes and sentences a couple to prison in these circumstances seems entirely right. It is not a question relating to religious belief and practice; it is a question relating to ordinary human reason expressed in the duty of care that parents have for their children.

It would be unfortunate if those who represent a hostility towards Christianity in the culture of our times were to see in this case ammunition to attack Christianity as such. As I argue above, these events do not represent Christian belief in practice; they represent superstition.

Monday, 17 February 2014

A Fashion that Comes and Goes (or Trads and the "spirit of Summorum Pontificum")

At the time that Pope Benedict XVI issued his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum and the accompanying letter to Bishops, I posted to the following effect:
Traditional Catholics seemed to me to take the parts of Summorum Pontificum that they liked (a greater juridical freedom to celebrate the Extraordinary Form) and leave to one side the parts they did not like (insertion of new prefaces and saints into the Extraordinary Form, the agenda of mutual enrichment)
Summorum Pontificum did not establish an equality of status between the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form - as these terms themselves, used in the juridical provisions of the motu proprio, clearly indicate - and did not justify the kind of promotion of the Extraordinary Form that we then saw from certain quarters; indeed, Pope Benedict's accompanying letter argued that it would be the Missal of Pope Paul VI, celebrated reverently and in accordance with its rubrics, that would unite parishes
After Summorum Pontificum, it was not possible in juridical terms to consider the Extraordinary Form to be in any way "more traditional" than the Ordinary Form, and that, in consequence, Traditional Catholicism as a movement in the Church could not define itself only in terms of attachment to the Extraordinary Form
I think I was, at the time, described as having a "minimalist" interpretation of Summorum Pontificum.  I would say that others were adopting a "spirit of Summorum Pontificum", seeing it as a green light to promote the Extraordinary Form over the Ordinary Form. Under Pope Benedict XVI I think there was a mistaken sense that "the Traditional Mass was back". The election of Pope Francis has certainly pricked that bubble. But it was never the case that Summorum Pontificum envisaged or intended a "restoration", and I believe that a careful reading of the motu proprio and accompanying letter to Bishops bears this out. This "spirit of Summorum Pontificum" represents a certain fashion that, like the "spirit of Vatican II", will see its day and then pass away. (As far as the notion of "restoration" is concerned, Fr Hunwicke appears to lack the discretion in this regard that those longer in the Roman fold manifest.)

Rorate Caeli quotes one part of Pope Benedict's letter to Bishops, thereby mischievously playing off Pope Benedict against Pope Francis. But in reflecting on Pope Francis reported remarks about fashion in regard to the Extraordinary Form, it is worth reading another part of that same letter (my italics added):
The use of the old Missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language; neither of these is found very often.  Already from these concrete presuppositions, it is clearly seen that the new Missal will certainly remain the ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, not only on account of the juridical norms, but also because of the actual situation of the communities of the faithful.
I believe Pope Benedict here correctly assessed the situation of the vast majority of dioceses in the universal Church - attachment to the Extraordinary Form, including that emerging among young people, remains an interest for a small minority in the Church (despite the contrary impression that can be gained from Catholic blogs, and recognising that Summorum Pontificum has given that minority a numerical boost). In this sense, to use Pope Francis' term, it does have something of the character of a fashion - and it is interesting to look at exactly how the report of Pope Francis' words expresses this:
I find that it is rather a kind of fashion.
It is a nuanced wording, with a particular sense to the word "fashion" that should not be identified with a statement that young people attached to the Extraordinary Form simply do so "to follow a fashion" in the same way that people might dress in a particular way. This does not mean that the attachment of young people to the Extraordinary Form should be disregarded and no provision made for it; but it does mean that the provision should be suitably proportionate in scale.

It is also worth noting a certain even-handedness in Pope Francis' reported remarks:

.... I consider greatly important to go deep into things, because if we do not go deep, no liturgical form, this or that one, can save us."

We also need to recognise that Pope Francis is credited in Rorate Caeli's report with "affection, attention and sensitivity" when speaking on this matter, in order not to hurt anyone.

[In parentheses, I suspect that the position of a country like the Czech Republic is significanctly different than that of countries like England and Wales. I think a discovery of freedom after a time of repression, and a very particular cultural heritage, might well create a particular style of interest in the Extraordinary Form that would not be found in mainstream Western countries. Others might be able to comment on this more fully than me.]

If Traditional Catholicism, with its definition (so far as I can tell, and I have yet to be convinced otherwise) by way attachment to the Extraordinary Form, is not to be just a fashion in Pope Francis' sense, I do think it needs to demonstrate a responsibility towards the Ordinary Form, to be more universal in its outlook. It needs to overcome the "spirit of Summorum Pontificum" and move from being a fashion with a limited appeal to being a more natural part of the life of the whole Church.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Reflections on evil

A brief citation in Evangelii Gaudium has sent me back to Georges Bernanos' The Diary of a Country Priest. It seemed an appropriate place to go in reflecting upon recent events in Belgium, where the legislature has passed a law that will allow euthanasia for children (the children must request euthanasia and have their parents' consent).

The passage of Bernanos cited by Pope Francis is this:
The sin against hope - the deadliest sin and perhaps also the most cherished, the most indulged. It takes a long time to become aware of it, and the sadness which precedes and heralds its advent is so delicious! The richest of all the devil's elixirs, his ambrosia.
In the operation of a law such as that which it appears will shortly come into force in Belgium, there is a network of guilt (the word here used in the sense of responsibility for an action that is ethically unjust, in the same way that a court might find a person "guilty", rather than in an emotive sense). The "sin against hope" comes in to play at several points.

Euthanasia is profoundly an action against life (cf Catechism of the Catholic Church n.2277):
Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.
But it is also profoundly an action against hope, in the first instant, on the part of those voting in favour of the legislation. They have manifested their inability to recognise that life itself, even when weak and impaired, is a good to be promoted. They have acted contrary to the "inalienable" character of the right to life expressed in Article 3 of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which articulates a right that exists "without distinction of any kind".

They have also sown the seeds of that act against hope in the relationships between every terminally ill child and their parents. A question that should not even be there in any such relationship will now be there in every such relationship, if you live in Belgium. How does a child ask for euthanasia if the parents have not first suggested it to them? Parliament has implicated every parent of a seriously ill child in this conversation. I am reminded of the story that Clara Lejeune tells about her father (Life is  a Blessing, p.46 in the Ignatius Press edition), soon after a television debate in France had raised the possibility of abortion of babies diagnosed as suffering from Down's Syndrome:
One morning a ten-year-old boy with trisomy came for a consultation. He was crying inconsolably. The mother explained: "He watched the debate with us last night".
The child threw his arms around my father's neck and said to him, "They want to kill us. You've got to defend us. We're just too weak, and we don't know how".
It also sows the seeds of that sin against hope in the relationships between medical professionals and their young patients and their families, since those medical professionals must also be involved in the decision. What does it say of their confidence in their own profession - and their own inter-personal skills, which are just as much a part of their profession as their technical skill? Are they so without hope that they are unable to devote their skills to the successful (which does not always mean survival) of their patients?

Bernanos' words indicate, too, how the unthinkable - the deliberate killing of children - becomes acceptable, even in what would be considered a civilised continent. It takes a long time to become really aware of this sin against hope when one has become accustomed to legalised euthanasia. The parallel in the United Kingdom is the way in which we have become accustomed to abortion to such an extent that one abortion provider (see here and the comment at the end of the news release here) readily sees abortion as the back up for contraceptive failure.

As Bernanos' words suggest (and Fr Tim indicates when he reminds us of the position taken with regard to euthanasia by the medical profession in Germany, even ahead of the Nazi euthanasia programme), becoming accustomed to a practice means that a society fails to perceive its evil nature - "it takes a long time to become aware of it".  In the Belgian context, a particular responsibility rests with those engaged in the professions of politics and of medicine; their actions are not just confined to the range of their own professions but are actions representative of the whole of society. Members of those professions need to say a "no" to the law that has now been passed - by their votes, as did some 44 members of parliament, and by their letter in the media, as did a large number of paediatricians.

The prompt of conscience, more than anything else, asks all members of society to find a way of articulating a "no" to such an evil. The prompt of conscience is less one that demands a materially effective course of action to reverse or limit the effects of a law passed - that is a matter of a calling that is given to some and not to others. Rather it asks that members of society continue to articulate that "no" when the law has been passed. Primarily, it is a "no" that a person says to themselves, in public so that others may perceive that "no", and in public so that they are seen as expressing that "no" and so distancing themselves from complicity in the evil. It is not a comment on the choices and actions of others; it is primarily a statement about oneself.

It is also a "no" that asks that a person does not take part directly in the evil that the law permits, a particular ask for those in the professions directly involved.

This seems to me a primary motivation for participating in a prayer vigil at an abortion clinic, for example. It could also drive the way in which an annual Day for Life is implemented. The "vigil" movement in France that has arisen in the aftermath of the Loi Taubirau is another example of this. The statement of a "no" is a dimension of participation in all of these, though each also has other aspects to it. The way in which a bishop or priest articulates this "no" arises from their office as pastor of souls and teachers, so might have a different character than the articulation of a lay person.

I am going to end with another passage from The Diary of a Country Priest. In his homily at Mass yesterday, on the feast of two co-patrons of Europe, Father observed, with feeling, that the new law in Belgium had been passed on a continent that was perhaps more civilised than any other, and that this was a sign of a decay in the life of that continent. As well as a sin against hope, is it not also a sign of a sin against love (in the proper sense of the word love) in our continent? Bernanos places in the mouth of his country priest a meditation upon hell that might well have relevance here:
... the lowest of human beings, even though he no longer thinks he can love, still has in him the power of loving. Our very hate is resplendent, and the least tormented of the fiends would warm himself in what we call our despair, as in a morning of glittering sunshine. Hell is not to love any more, madame. Not to love any more! That sounds quite ordinary to you. To a human being still alive, it means to love less or to love elsewhere. To understand is still a way of loving. But suppose this faculty which seems so inseparably ours, of our very essence, should disappear! Oh, prodigy! To stop loving, to stop understanding - and yet to live.
 Is Europe gradually losing its ability to love, in the true sense?