Tuesday 27 April 2010

No place for Catholics in the Conservative Party?

I have copied these extracts from the text of the BBC news report in case it disappears at some point.

Tory election candidate Philip Lardner has been suspended for describing gay people on his website as "not normal", the party has confirmed.

Scottish Conservatives chairman Andrew Fulton described the Ayrshire North and Arran candidate's comments as "deeply offensive and unacceptable".

"These views have no place in the modern Conservative party," he said. ....

[Mr Lardner's] suspension was provoked by comments in the "What I believe in" section of his website, under the sub-heading: "Homosexuality is not 'normal behaviour'."

The former Territorial Army soldier wrote of his support for the controversial "clause 28", which was introduced by the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher and banned public bodies from promoting homosexuality. ...

... Mr Lardner wrote: "As your MP I will support the rights of parents and teachers to refuse to have their children taught that homosexuality is 'normal' behaviour or an equal lifestyle choice to traditional marriage.

"I will always support the rights of homosexuals to be treated within concepts of (common sense) equality and respect, and defend their rights to choose to live the way they want in private, but I will not accept that their behaviour is 'normal' or encourage children to indulge in it.

"Toleration and understanding is one thing, but the state promotion of homosexuality is quite another."

The comments have since been removed.
The first point worthy of comment is that the BBC report misrepresents what Philip Lardner would appear to have said on his website (before it was censored). It seriously misrepresents him to say that he described gay people as "not normal". Even a cursory reading of the quoted words later in the BBC report show that Mr Lardner's descriptor of "not normal" referred to homosexual behaviour, and expressed what he believed about a form of behaviour, and not what he believed about the people who form a section of our society. If the Conservative Party's decision to suspend Mr Lardner from the Party is based on the same misrepresentation of his words, then he is the victim of a serious injustice.

The second point is to compare the quoted views of Mr Lardner to the teaching of the Catholic Church. As expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, this teaching recognises that "homosexual acts are intrisically disordered" (n.2357); the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church includes homosexual acts as one of seven "grave sins against chastity" (n.492). Now, there is a subtle point of political philosophy as to whether or not a statement of one's own moral beliefs have a place in public, political discourse - Rocco Buttiglione argued, for example, when talking about his being prevented from taking up a position as a European Union commissioner after a controversy about his views on homosexuality, that, in the political sphere, the real point was that of accepting the principle of "non-discrimination" and not one of insisting that those in public office hold one particular moral view or another on the matter. So a Catholic candidate standing for the Conservative Party might well affirm the principle of non-discrimination with regard to the treatment of homosexual persons, but not expect that they will have to also affirm their belief in the moral licitness of homosexual behaviours (preferring, perhaps, in the political sphere to keep a certian silence about their own beliefs). And this might also lead them on to want to say, as did Mr Lardner, that - also based on the principle of non-discrimination - they would support the rights of teachers and parents who out of conscience do not want homosexual behaviour to be taught to children as morally equivalent to chaste heterosexual behaviour.

Which leads me to ask: If the Scottish Conservatives Chairman considers that Mr Lardner's views "have no place in the modern Conservative party", will he come clean and also admit that this is equivalent to saying that "Catholic views have no place in the modern Conservative party"?

[Let's also read this in the light of David Cameron's remarks about Pope Benedict's forthcoming visit to the United Kingdom, made during the recent television debate: here and here.]

H/T to Kate, where there is some additional reporting. Kate's post suggests that Mr Lardner's website did (before being censored) express something of his own moral beliefs.

Monday 26 April 2010

Party Leaders Debate (part 2) + An internal memo = ....

Party Leaders Debate (part 2)

I recently posted about the response of the three main Party Leaders to a question about the forthcoming visit of Pope Benedict to England and Scotland, a question asked during their second TV debate. The video excerpt on which I based that post omitted the text of the question itself, and the continuation of the Leaders' responses subsequent to their initial answers. A transcript of the whole debate is now available; the question and responses to the question about the Papal Visit can be found on page 12, and following, of the transcript.

I still believe that it is significant that all three of the Party Leaders stated that they welcome the visit of Pope Benedict, and would want that visit in September to be a success. As I said in my first post, I think there was a particular strength in Gordon Brown's welcome and in his observation that "the Catholic Church is a great part of our society, and we should recognise it as such". After these statements, the coalition opposing Pope Benedict's visit might as well pack up, save their money and go home. In that sense, the question proved to be a bit of a political own goal for the opponents of the visit.

I think, however, that the continuation of the discussion that I did not comment on in my first post, raises a completely different question. What we saw was the leaders of all three major political parties in this country speak against Catholic teaching on abortion, homosexuality, contraception and the use of human embryos for the development of medical treatments. The extent of the agreement between the three leaders was acknowledged by the debate moderator. Such an explicit expression of opposition to Catholic teaching by the political leadership of our country is, I suspect, unprecedented [corrections in the comments box if necessary!].

How should Catholics react after the leaders of the three major political parties have all explicitly and publicly spoken against Catholic teaching, precisely as Catholic teaching? Is silence appropriate?  Or should we be defending the cause on the subjects at issue? Will we stay faithful to Catholic teaching?

An internal memo

Much of the media coverage of the internal Foreign and Commonwealth Office paper "The ideal visit would see ..." avoided use of the word "offence" or "offensive" to describe the contents of that paper. The tone was set by the words of an FCO spokesman, quoted in the BBC news site report (my italics added):
This is clearly a foolish document that does not in any way reflect UK government or Foreign Office policy or views. Many of the ideas in the document are clearly ill-judged, naive and disrespectful," he said.
This tone was echoed by the reaction of Catholic commentators. However, according again to the BBC news site report, and as I heard it described by a presenter on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning, the FCO was "deeply sorry" for any offence the document had caused.

Now, I think there is some merit in not taking the contents of this background paper to be more than they actually are. The conciliatory response of Catholics in the media reflects this, and certainly presents a much more dignified face to the wider world than the invective that might have issued had it been others in society who had been the target of such a paper. The attitude of forgiveness also reflects a living out of a Christian value.

But it is my view that the contents of the background paper are offensive to Catholics as a whole, and to Pope Benedict in particular. I have no difficulty in seeing others disagree with Catholic teaching; I have great difficulty with unreasoned and blatant ridiculing of that teaching. At this first level, I consider the contents themselves of the background paper to be offensive. At a second,  more significant level, I find offensive the idea that a number of people in public office have found it acceptable, first of all to have written them, and then to have given these contents a circulation, accepting thereby that their contents were acceptable. This is what I find most offensive about this incident.

Party Leaders Debate (part 2) + An internal memo =....

It is quite unfair to put side-by-side the words of the three Party Leaders - courteously presented in the context of political debate - and the offensiveness of the FCO "background paper". And it is quite unfair to try to imply in any way that the Party Leaders would give any approval to the offensiveness of the internal memo. The two events are quite distinct and causally un-related, and I want to be clear about that.

But if we do add them together, if we do view them at the same time, do these two events not give us a picture of where the Catholic Church stands in the perception of society today?

Sunday 25 April 2010

A Psalm of Thanksgiving

Mother Maria-Michael posted a reflection on the readings of yesterday's liturgy, that is not without some relevance to today being the World Day of Prayer for Vocations: A Psalm of Thanksgiving.

Saturday 24 April 2010

Mary, Fountain of Light and Life

Brentwood Diocese celebrates St Mellitus as a Diocesan Memorial today, but elsewhere I think it might be legitimate to celebrate one the Easter Masses from the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This week's featured Mass is one entitled "Mary, Fountain of Light and Life", which celebrates the Virgin Mary in relation to the sacraments of initiation that are characteristic of the Easter season.

The Preface for this Mass is as follows:
By the marvelous gift of your loving kindness
you decreed that the mysteries
accomplished already in the Blessed Virgin
should be accomplished in sign
through the sacraments of the Church:
for from the baptismal font the Church brings to birth
new sons and daughters conceived in fruitful virginity
through faith and the Holy Spirit.

These newborn children the Church anoints
with the precious oil of sacred chrism,
so that the Spirit,
who filled the Blessed Virgin
with an abundance of gifts,
may come down to bless them
with an outpouring of grace.

Each day the Church also prepares for its children
the table where it nourishes them with the bread of heaven,
born of the Virgin Mary for the life of the world:
Jesus Christ our Lord.
And the Opening Prayer:
Grant that through the life-giving Gospel
and your grace-filled sacraments
the Church may form its daughters and sons
in the likeness of Christ, its founder,
who was born of a Virgin Mother
as the firstborn of many brothers and sisters
and the Saviour of the whole human race.

Friday 23 April 2010

Chiara Luce Badano

A video has been posted on Youtube, introducing the life of Chiara Luce Badano. This young member of the Focolare will be beatified in September of this year.

See also my earlier post here.

H/T Editor's Briefing.

The Rome Reports youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/romereports

Thursday 22 April 2010

The Big Debate: party leaders answer question on the Pope's visit

A video clip of the party leaders' responses to a question which, so far as I can see, asked whether or not the Pope should be confronted about child abuse, can be found here. [UPDATE: The question asked was as follows: "Good evening. The Pope has accepted an invitation to make an official state visit to Britain in September at a cost of millions of pounds to tax-payers. If you win the election, will you disassociate your party from the Pope's protection over many years of Catholic priests who were ultimately tried and convicted of child abuse, and from his fierce opposition to all contraception, embryonic stem cell research, treatment for childless couples, gay equality and the routine use of condoms when HIV is at an all-time high?" The transcript of the debate can be found here,: the question about the Pope's visit is at the top of page 12.]

All three leaders were united in expecting the Catholic Church to respond firmly to the scandal, in justice to the victims and in support of them. A statement by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales on the issue can be found here.

I think David Cameron's pitch to those of a more liberal/progressive point of view was very clear. Yes, I welcome the Pope's visit, and, if I were your prime minister, I would want to do everything I can to make it a success. But that doesn't mean I agree with everything the Pope says. I don't agree with what he says about contraception and I don't agree with what he says about homosexuality. No attempt there, then, to win the votes of Catholics.

Nick Clegg mentioned that his wife is a Catholic and his children are being brought up as Catholics, though he himself is not a believer. He described the anguish that many within the Catholic Church feel over the abuse scandals. Like the other two party leaders, Nick Clegg also said that he welcomed the visit.

But I think it was Gordon Brown who put his finger on, and responded to, the force of secularist intent behind attacks on the Pope and his forthcoming visit to the UK:
I welcome the Pope's visit to Britain, and I want him to come to Britain for two reasons. One is the Catholic Church is a great part of our society and we should recognise it as such, and I hope every British citizen wants to see this visit by the Pope take place. And secondly we must break down the barriers of religion that exist in our world ... I support the visit, but I not only support it, I want religious faiths to work more closely together.
It was very clear from Gordon Brown's remarks that he wants the Pope to come to Britain, and welcomes his visit. I think such a clear and unambiguous statement that there is a legitimate part in society for the Catholic Church is most welcome in the current climate. Watching the video clip, I sensed a greater degree of conviction in Gordon Brown's welcoming of the visit than was apparent in the responses of the other two party leaders.

Monday 19 April 2010

Pope Benedict XVI: Visit to Malta (10)

Ann Arco's Diary reports on a press conference given by the Archbishop of Malta and the Bishop of Gozo, at the end of Pope Benedict's visit. One key message is that the Maltese people turned out in great numbers - greater than expected - to greet  Pope Benedict. This is something that speaks eloquently of itself, in the current climate with regard to the Catholic Church.

At one level, we can say that Pope Benedict has shown again that he is able to attract the crowds. However, the Archbishop of Malta's delegate for social communications, Fr Charles Tabone, is quoted as follows:
“I would like to forward to you a personal reflection. As you know the atmosphere that has been created by the media before the arrival of the Pope in Malta both internationally and locally particularly from certain quarters was not a favourable one. There were aspects of negativity. There were people were saying that this Pope is not a crowd puller like his predecessor and therefore the expectations media-wise were low. However to the surprise of everyone, it has been proven that people came out and if this was the atmosphere it was not for the singer this time but for the song. Our people came out not for the personality but for whom this personality represents. They came out for Christ..."

Pope Benedict XVI: Visit to Malta (9)

Ann Arco has coverage of Pope Benedict's meeting with young people on the waterfront of Valletta harbour. What is interesting in this coverage is the nature of the questions asked by the young people. These suggest a tension and anxiety in their Christian living and in their relationship with the Church. The impression is that Pope Benedict gave a pre-prepared talk that did not offer a specific answer to the challenges reflected in the questions of the young people.

ZENIT's coverage is here, and gives a description of Pope Benedict's arrival in Valletta Harbour. It looks as it if was quite something!

Sunday 18 April 2010

Pope Benedict XVI: Visit to Malta (8)

Ann Arco's diary has some photographs of Pope Benedict's arrival, by boat, for his meeting with young people on the waterfront of the harbour in Valletta: here, here and here.

Pope Benedict XVI: Visit to Malta (7)

The Catholic Herald mini-site has some further coverage.

The photogallery - and the estimate that some 100 000 people were on the streets to welcome Pope Benedict to Malta - is useful.

But I am not sure that all of it is that helpful. The coverage at Whispers in the Loggia linked from the page, for example, which seems to talk about something else and makes very little reference to the Malta visit itself - and certainly no reference to the welcome address given by President George Abela. Nice photo, looking over the Pope's shoulder as he greeted school students outside the Presidential palace, though.

The National Catholic Register report from John Allen (error in linking URL from the Catholic Herald page - you need to delete the Catholic Herald part at the front end of the link and keep just the NCR part) is more useful. It does refer to President Abela's address in a way that I feel is fair to what the President said about the abuse of minors, and reports the enthusiastic response of the Maltese that, according to the Vatican's spokesman, is exceeding expectations.

Pope Benedict XVI: Visit to Malta (6)

The text of Pope Benedict's short address during the visit to the cave of St Paul at Rabat is on the Vatican website. During this visit, he particularly met missionaries, since Malta has a tradition of sending many from their island to preach the Gospel in other countries.
Saint Paul’s arrival in Malta was not planned. As we know, he was travelling to Rome when a violent storm arose and his ship ran aground on this island. Sailors can map a journey, but God, in his wisdom and providence, charts a course of his own. Paul, who dramatically encountered the Risen Lord while on the road to Damascus, knew this well. The course of his life was suddenly changed; henceforth, for him, to live was Christ (cf. Phil 1:21); his every thought and action was directed to proclaiming the mystery of the Cross and its message of God’s reconciling love.

That same word, the word of the Gospel, still has the power to break into our lives and to change their course. Today the same Gospel which Paul preached continues to summon the people of these islands to conversion, new life and a future of hope. Standing in your midst as the Successor of the Apostle Peter, I invite you to hear God’s word afresh, as your ancestors did, and to let it challenge your ways of thinking and the way you live your lives.

Saturday 17 April 2010

Pope Benedict XVI: Visit to Malta (5)

The text of the speech of welcome given by the President of the Republic of Malta when Pope Benedict arrived at the international airport on the island can be found here, on the section of the website of the Maltese Government given over to the activities of the President.

As usual, it really does pay to read the whole.

This is how President Abela's welcome is being covered in a BBC News website report [NOTE: The BBC report has been updated since I first saw it, and wrote this post. The account of President Abela's remarks has been extended, and is now much fairer. But what is below was the complete account, as in the first version of the post.]
Maltese President George Abela made the first direct reference to the abuse crisis in his welcome speech at the airport.

The Republic of Malta, whose population is strongly Catholic, has no state religion, the president pointed out to the Pope.

Then he referred to the criminal case currently before a Maltese court in which three Catholic priests are accused of sexually abusing 10 Maltese men when they were children in a Catholic orphanage.

"Justice must be seen to be done," the president told the Pope.
Now, in his address the Maltese President offered an analysis of secularisation, and the anti-Christian drive of much secularist effort in Europe, with which the Holy Father would have had considerable sympathy. Italics are my own translations of the Italian sections of the President's address; I have added emphasis to highlight the President's reference to the abuse of minors by clergy. It is interesting, too, to see the President's expression of some of the values fundamental to life in Malta - marriage and family life in the same sense as the Church would understand them, respect for life - though he recognises the challenges that they are facing.
Like all the rest of Europe and the western world, we are now facing a conflict between Christianity on one side and laicism or secularism on the other which in the words of philosopher Marcello Pera, as he recently described it in Il Corriere della Sera, whilst referring to Europe : "e in corso una guerra. La guerra e' fra il laicismo e il cristianesimo". ["a war is taking place. A war between secularism (the sense of the Italian word is better expressed by secularism than by the closer translation of laicity) and Christianity"]

And, in drawing parallels with Nazism and Communism he reiterates that: "Oggi come ieri, cio' che si vuole e' la distruzione della religione. Allora l'Europa pago` a questa furia distruttrice il prezzo della propria liberta'... la stessa democrazia sarebbe perduta se il cristianesimo venisse ancora cancellato". ["Today as yesterday, what is desired is the destruction of religion. However, Europe paid to this destructive rage the price of its own freedom ... democracy itself will be lost if Christianity is annulled again"]

Today, we face the wave of secularism which has as its starting point the strict separation of Church and State: a laicist model advocating that the State should be strictly separate from religion which is conceived as belonging exclusively to the private domain. This profane character which has developed in some European States is driving people to be laicist or even anti-Christian.

However, as we all know or as we all should know, the moral foundations of a society as a whole, comprising believers, agnostics or atheists, are better served not with the falling away from religion but with the reinvigoration of the moral consciousness of the State. As Your Holiness has splendidly described it in your book "Values in a time of Upheaval":

"One point that is fundamental in all cultures, is namely, reverence for that which is holy to other persons, and reverence to the Holy One, God. One can certainly demand this even of those who are not themselves willing to believe in God. Where this reverence is shattered, something in a society perishes".

Holy Father, those of us who believe, are fortified by these fundamental values enunciated by the Church and, though we acknowledge that church members, even its ministers, may, at times, unfortunately go astray, we are left in no doubt that these values have universal application and their validity transcends both time and space. It would be wrong in my view to try to use the reprehensible indiscretions of the few to cast a shadow on the Church as a whole. The Catholic Church remains committed to safeguarding children and all vulnerable people and to seeing that there is no hiding place for those who seek to do harm. It is therefore the Church and even the State's duty to work hand in hand to issue directives and enact legislation so that effective, transparent mechanisms are set-up together with harmonized and expeditious procedures in order to curb cases of abuse so that justice will not only be done but seen to be done.

Holy Father, we are proud as a nation to have inherited a Christian heritage which is at the core of our historical identity, even though we are not a confessional state. We too are experiencing, like all the rest of Europe, the phenomenon of multiculturalism, but this does not mean that we have to renounce to the beliefs which are our own. We still cherish a code of values, nourished by our Faith, such as the cardinal value of marriage and the family. We acknowledge that our Maltese family is undergoing rapid social changes and challenges, greatly influenced by current Western-world lifestyles and the ever-increasing secularization of the Maltese society. But the majority of our people still believe in monogamous marriage, based on the relationship between a man and a woman, open to the procreation of children, and consequently to the formation of a family as the bedrock of our nation.

We treasure the inviolability of the human person and affirm our full respect for human rights and uphold the principles of social justice by providing equal opportunities for all and ensuring that everybody has access to one's basic needs. We are against human trafficking and cherish the sanctity of human life from its conception to its natural end. We believe in the values of freedom, equality and solidarity, the fundamental principles of democracy and of the rule of law.
"It would be wrong in my view to try to use the reprehensible indiscretions of the few to cast a shadow on the Church as a whole." Now doesn't that sound rather different than the impression created by the BBC News report!

It is a shame that the Vatican website carries only the addresses given by Pope Benedict himself, and not those by other participants in the events of his apostolic visits. Carrying these other addresses would give a much better sense of the dialogue taking place between Pope Benedict and those he is meeting, even when the other speeches are less "Pope-friendly" than this one.

Pope Benedict XVI: Visit to Malta (4)

On account of their geographical position, these islands have been of great strategic importance on more than one occasion, even in recent times: indeed, the George Cross upon your national flag proudly testifies to your people’s great courage during the dark days of the last world war....

Indeed, Malta has much to contribute to questions as diverse as tolerance, reciprocity, immigration, and other issues crucial to the future of this continent. Your Nation should continue to stand up for the indissolubility of marriage as a natural institution as well as a sacramental one, and for the true nature of the family, just as it does for the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death and for the proper respect owed to religious freedom in ways that bring authentic integral development to individuals and society.

Full text of Pope Benedict's address at the welcome ceremony at Malta International Airport.

The George Cross was awarded to the island for its strength in holding out against German attacks during the Second World War.

Some 5 000 school children have just given Pope Benedict an enthusiastic welcome in the square outside the presidential palace where the Pope was meeting members of the Maltese government. They sang him happy birthday.

Mary and the Resurrection of the Lord

This is the title of one of the Masses for Eastertide, in the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As I am always willing to say, if a parish has the custom of celebrating a Saturday Mass of Our Lady, it seems to me entirely appropriate that during liturgical seasons such as Lent and Easter they should celebrate one of these Masses. If you aren't able to make it to Mass, the concluding prayer from the Mass could be used to make up a votive office at Morning Prayer.

The Mass of "Mary and the Resurrection of the Lord" is probably appropriate for early in the Easter Season (you can't really get any earlier than the Saturday of the second week of Easter). As the preface indicates, the Mass celebrates Mary's waiting in faith for the moment of the Resurrection.
At the resurrection of your Anointed One
you filled the heart of the Blessed Virgin
with joy beyond all telling
and wonderfully exalted her faith.

For it was in faith
that she conceived your Son,
it was in faith
that she awaited his resurrection.

In the strength of faith
she waited for that day of light and life
when the night of death would be ended,
the whole world would exult,
and the infant Church tremble with joy
at seeing again its immortal Lord.

Pope Benedict XVI: Visit to Malta (3)

The Catholic Herald's mini-site for the visit is here, and includes a number of photographs. It also links to a range of other sources of coverage.

Paul Claudel's Hymn of the Blessed Sacrament

I was very taken by an extract from Paul Claudel's Hymn of the Blessed Sacrament, that was the "Meditation of the Day" in Magnificat for yesterday. I have followed Magnificat's layout, but have no way of knowing whether this follows Claudel's original or is dictated by the typesetting.
We, too, my God, we perceive that Thou art 
          abandoned, alone,
Like an old man in the midst of the throng
          too busy to live.
Because we have savoured the honey of Thy
          goodness so manifold grown,
Laying our heads on Thy shoulder,
          with hearts from which speech has flown,
                    We offer what we can give.

Give us to eat, we beg, O Man of the
          "House of Bread"!
Receive the stranger to dwell forever in Thy
Hunger and thirst we have known, far from Thee
          in the days that have sped.
Now, freed from the publican's plotting,
          may we find wherever we tread
                    Wheat of Thy dispensation!

Our supersubstantial bread, O give us, today!
Enough of the morning's manna, the bread with
          transience imbued!
Enough of the taste of blood and flesh, of honey
          and fruit and whey -
Tree of life, give us bread to stay!
          Thyself art my Food! ...

One instant with Thee is more precious than a
          thousand in human tents.
In Thine adorable presence it is good for us to
Thou callest me, Word of God, knowing past and
          future events.
          I cry out my intents:
"I will go in, unto the place where Thy tabernacle
          has lain!"

Pope Benedict XVI: Visit to Malta (2)

Ann Arco's coverage of the immediate run up to the visit of Pope Benedict XVI tells a familiar story.

One of the influence that increasing secularisation in a nation's culture has on the practice of the Catholic faith even in those countries with a strong Catholic history.

But what I found most significant, in the light of the visit of Pope Benedict to the UK in September, is the reference to the tarnishing of the Pope's image ahead of the visit. As one of the people Ann Arco spoke to said:
You know, the Pope is a gentle and wise man, but public perception has been quite negative.
We might be well to bear in mind that the negative coverage is magnified by the media - it was in Sydney for the last World Youth Day - and so the defacing of posters of the Pope, for example, is not as significant as it may appear. Let's see what happens ..

Friday 16 April 2010

Pope Benedict XVI: visit to Malta (1)

The Catholic Church in Malta has a website that has been promoting the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the island, a visit that takes place this weekend. It will presumably carry coverage of the visit itself. Ann Arco's Diary is also offering coverage (I assume that Ann has been sent to cover the visit by her employer - I don't think I am in the right job!)

The visit marks the 1950th anniversary of the shipwreck that brought St Paul ashore on the island of Malta. We should perhaps try to keep our focus on this event, and its significance in the history of the Church. The story is told at some length in Acts 27:1 - 28:14.

I was interested to notice this story on the website: Malta and Gozo dioceses Unite for National Pilgrimage.
On Friday, 9th April, 2010, Archbishop Paul Cremona OP led the National Pilgrimage, with Bishop Mario Grech, along with the participation of both the Dioceses of Malta and Gozo. This pilgrimage was held in preparation for the Papal visit

During the pilgrimage, which commenced from Mount St Joseph Retreat House, Targa Gap, to the Sanctuary of San Pawl tal-Ħġejjeġ in St. Paul’s Bay, the passage from the Acts of the Apostles which spoke of St. Paul’s Shipwreck was read. During the pilgrimage a renewal of baptismal vows took place as a proclamation of the faith which was handed down to us by the Apostle Paul 1950 years ago.
If you follow the link above, you will be able to see photographs of the pilgrimage.

I wonder whether we could do the same thing here in England, ahead of our visit from Pope Benedict in September? Or could each diocese organise a pilgrimage of its own in the week or two before Pope Benedict comes?

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral: location of the UK's first synchrocyclotron

It's odd what you come across when you take a book off your shelves to dip in to whilst on a tea break.

This relates to the building of a type of particle accelerator called a synchrocyclotron by the Physics Department at Liverpool University, soon after the Second World War. At that time, these where the latest "big thing" in particle physics. And that was part of the problem. It was going to be too big to fit in the basement of the George Holt building which was, at that time, the physics laboratory. The basement housed a smaller cyclotron accelerator.
One of the major, very practical, problems concerned the radiation shielding of the machine. Whatever the material chosen, large amounts of it would be necessary and it would almost certainly also be in short supply. Rotblat's creative imagination worked again. Close to the university was a derelict piece of land that was earmarked for the new Metropolitan Catholic Cathedral. Although work had started on the crypt, the building had been stopped by the Vatican as the plans indicated that the new building would be larger than St Peter's in Rome [Aside: I haven't been able to verify the truth or otherwise of this reason for the halt to the building. The source relied on here, and in the biography of Chadwick quoted below, is an un-published MSc thesis on the design and construction of the Liverpool synchrocyclotron.] Walking the site, Rotblat realized that the sunken crypt and the ground topography would be a sginficant help in solving the radiation protection problem. The university Estates Department was instructed to open negotiations with the Catholic Church to try to secure a lease on the consecrated ground concerned. [John Finney "Joseph Rotblat: The Nuclear Physicist" in Joseph Rotblat: Visionary for Peace ed Braun, Hinde, et al; p.24]
At the time of the planning and building of the Liverpool synchrocyclotron, the university's physics department was led by Sir James Chadwick, who had gained his Nobel Prize for discovering the neutron. According to Andrew Brown's biography of Chadwick:
There were major questions about the shielding necessary - how thick and what material - for radiation protection of personnel. One point was quite obvious: the synchrocyclotron would not fit into the basement of the George Holt Laboratory and a new site must be found. There was a derelict plot, partly cleared by the Luftwaffe, close to the university. For many years it had been the location of the workhouse, but in the 1930's was intended to be the site of the new Metropolitan Catholic Cathedral. Work had started on the crypt, but was interrupted when Archbishop Downey belatedly submitted Lutyen's blueprints to the Vatican for their approval. This was withheld when it was realized the new building would be larger than St Peter's, and construction came to a standstill. Walking over the triangular patch of land, Rotblat had the idea that the sunken crypt and slope of the gound would help solve the radiation protection problem. By December 1946, there was a scale map in the Physics Department, showing the enormous planned footprint of the cathedral and a small area in the southeast corner now earmarked for the nuclear physics laboratory. The land was consecrated, and the University Estates Department were instructed to enter negotiations with the Catholic Church with a view to obtaining a lease. [Andrew Brown, The Neutron and the Bomb: A Biography of Sir James Chadwick pp.329-330]
Chadwick left Liverpool to take up a post in Cambridge before the synchrocyclotron was installed, so Andrew Brown's biography did not enable me to confirm that the crypt to Liverpool Cathedral did at one time house a leading edge particle accelerator.

However, to celebrate Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture in 2008, the Institute of Physics prepared a guided walk, visiting places of scientific interest in the city. And, yes, they included the steps of Liverpool's Catholic Cathedral recognising it as the location of the synchrocyclotron. You need to go here, and your places of interest are no.3 (Sir Joseph Rotblat is the Rotblat being referred to in the two quotations above); no. 4 (though the heading is incorrect, and should refer to the site of the Liverpool synchrocyclotron, the cyclotron being the earlier accelerator in the basement of the George Holt Laboratory); and no.10 (which was the location of the physics department in Chadwick's time - ignore no.2 which is of more recent orign). The synchrocyclotron appears to have begun operating in 1955, though I do not know when it ceased operation.

Monday 12 April 2010

Good Friday homily: article in the Jerusalem Post

I found the following article on the website of the Jerusalem Post a very thoughtful and informative read: We are bad listeners. Do read the whole article, though I offer the extract below to give you a feel for the content of the article.
Let us remember the moment. It is Good Friday mass. The homily for Good Friday was the moment most dreaded by Jews for centuries. Following this homily, mobs would set to the streets, and Jews feared for their lives. Passion plays enacted on Good Friday were a constant source of violence towards Jews. More recently, Good Friday has constituted a problem for Jewish-Christian relations, in view of the new Latin version of the prayer for the Jews, released by Pope Benedict.

With this background, it is striking to note what Father Cantalamessa makes of the opportunity. He uses the moment at St. Peter’s Basilica, in the presence of the Pope, to wish Jews a “Good Passover.”

Reading this, I asked myself, when before was a Good Friday sermon used for such purposes? Probably never. Why do we take this gesture of goodwill for granted? Why do we gloss over it in silence? To think of the Jews as brothers in faith during a Papal Good Friday service is the fruit of decades of labor in the field of Jewish-Christian relations. That this could be said so casually and naturally is the real news.

But he does not stop here. He greets us, Jews, with words from the Mishna, quoted in the Hagadda, the most popular of Jewish texts, and echoed in Christian liturgy, a sign of bonding and unity between our communities. How often have we complained that Judaism is not simply the Biblical root, of which Christianity is the branch? How often have we emphasized the need to refer to latter day Judaism in its own right, respecting it as a self-standing religion, and not simply as the Old Testament?

Does not greeting us on Good Friday in words taken from the Mishna-Haggada deliver a powerful message that something here is right and that we have made progress?

We didn’t hear all this because we only noted the comparison of violent attacks on the Church with those perpetrated against the Church [typo here, with the word Jews clearly intended]. But even here, we failed to hear the Jewish voice quoted by the Franciscan Father, in its fullness...
H/T Editors Briefing. See also my earlier post here.

Sunday 11 April 2010

We look for the resurrection of the dead ...

... and the life of the world to come.

Seen at the church of St Peter ad Vincula, Coggeshall, Essex, yesterday afternoon. Now, if that is a family tomb, one bicycle won't be enough come the general resurrection ...

Easter greetings at a Russian football match

Whilst Easter Duties at Selhurst Park did not have any religious intent (though the right side won when I was there, and lost this weekend when I wasn't - fortunately the two teams below Crystal Palace in the relegation scramble also lost this weekend), an Easter Sunday football match in Russia does seem to have included an explicit manifestation of Christian faith.

The first comment to Creative Minority Report's post suggests that the exchange reported was, at least to some extent, a question of good manners. "Christ is risen", with the reply "He is truly risen" being the expected exchange of greetings on that day.

Two aspects of this have caught my attention. One is the use of a greeting in everyday life that is Christian in its origins and meaning. The second is the concept of good manners between the fans of two opposing teams at a football match.

We don't see much of either here in the UK.

H/T Fr Ray

Friday 9 April 2010

A veiled monstrance on Maundy Thursday

On Good Friday, having watched the rehearsal for the Passion Play in Trafalgar Square, I went to the Stations of the Cross in the evening in a nearby parish. An interesting invitation was extended at the end of the Stations to visit what was in effect the altar of repose in a Chapel beside the main church. The priest described the Blessed Sacrament being presented in a monstrance that was veiled.

Two things struck me at the time as being "unusual" (by which I mean un-rubrical). One was the idea of adoration continuing from the night of Maundy Thursday, through Good Friday and on into Holy Saturday. There was certainly a very strong sense of the "waiting for the Resurrection", a vigil, but it all seemed to miss the sense of "absence" of the Lord that is the liturgical sense of these days. The second was the idea of using a veiled monstrance for the Blessed Sacrament at the altar of repose.

I was reminded of this when I saw Young Fogey's photographs of the decorations of his Church for Maundy Thursday. The relief of the Last Supper on the altar comes into its own on this day; the last photograph shows a veiled monstrance on the altar of repose.

Choosing a government is as random as ....

...choosing a girlfriend or boyfriend.

This is the caption to a photograph of a boy and girl kissing, that is embedded in a comment article in today's Times. The article is by Frank Skinner and is a comment on the beginning of the election campaign in this country. The caption has been extracted from the last paragraph of Frank Skinner's article:
Choosing a government is as random as choosing a girlfriend or boyfriend. Some small, probably irrelevant or misunderstood thing can draw you in or drive you away. They put on their best front and hide all the bad stuff until they’ve won you over and you stay with them until the opportunity for change comes along.
Now we have to take some account of Frank Skinner's profession as a comedian, and perhaps not take the comparison between our engagement in politics and our love lives too seriously. But I have an awful feeling that there is more truth in the notion of "randomness" when it comes to how many of us choose our girlfriend or boyfriend than we would really like to admit. Or is it more accurately termed a "casualness"? Why else would Frank Skinner have chosen to make this comparison?

That Frank Skinner makes this particular comparison raises an interesting question. Do we need to take our friendships a lot more seriously? This is, after all, for most of us much more important than politics.

Rule of law: more from Conference

On one day of the recent Conference of my trade union in Manchester, I had an interesting coffee time conversation with a fellow delegate. He was originally from Ghana, and was very impressed by the way in which the education spokesmen from the three main political parties were coming to speak at Conference. That they came to speak to conferences like ours, that there was an open discussion and debate about the matters of policy involved, that the politicians themselves were challenged about what they said - this was all a complete novelty compared to the experience of political life in Ghana. There it is dangerous to criticise those in political power, and decisions at both national and local levels are made in ways that can only be described as corrupt and self-seeking (according to my co-locutor).

One suggestion in our conversation really struck me, though. That was my colleague's suggestion that he would welcome a return to some form of colonial power in his home country as a way to protect the rights and interests of the ordinary people of the country against those of the ruling elite. I do not know enough about the colonial history of Ghana to really comment, but I suspect that it will not have provided an equal rule of law for all the people of the country and will have had its element of exploitation. So what I said to my colleague was that I thought his suggestion was, more than anything else, a call for the establishing of a proper rule of law in his home country, and not a call for the restoration of an old-style colonialism.

And developing this line of thinking, I suggested that within the framework of the United Nations, there is a sense of the responsibility of the international community of nations towards individual nations like Ghana. A case could be made for an intervention of the United Nations to establish a rule of law in a country like Ghana.

Since conference, I have reflected on the contents of our conversation in a different context. In the (rather inconclusive) public discussion about what constitutes "British-ness" or "British values" we happily talk about a "sense of fair play", "democracy" and the like. But perhaps more fundamental than these is the acceptance of the rule of law. As my conversation at Conference reveals, this is not something that is always true of the countries from which many of those coming to Britain for the first time arrive.

At an international level, the rule of law is represented by foundational documents of the United Nations. The two that come to mind as I write are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on Refugees. Both of these create obligations for member nations of the UN, and are reflected in legislation at subsidiary levels. Behind them sits the idea of universal human rights - that there are certain entitlements that apply for all people, are not conferred by and cannot be removed by legislation, which arise simply from being a human person and which do not change over time. In complying with international legislation such as this, the rule of law in an individual nation avoids an arbitrariness that does itself undermine the rule of law.

Just to look at two provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though, indicates a problem. How can a universal right to life [Article 3] be squared with legalised abortion? How can the duty of states towards the family [Article 16(3)] (and let's be realistic - when the Declaration was prepared in the late 1940's this meant married people with children, and not the mulitple forms that political correctness currently expects us to include within the definition of family) be squared with legalised divorce/re-marriage and the giving of equal status to same-sex couples?

How healthy is the rule of law in Britain today? Do the flagship components of "progressive" law making actually undermine the rule of law?

Catholic and Loving It has posted a quotation from G K Chesterton on a not disimilar (good word, that) theme.

Can't read: Won't read - a follow up

The following notice is from the newsletter of a nearby parish. It appears in the Easter Sunday issue of the newsletter.
Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament on Fridays
In response to the Pope's letter to the people of Ireland, there will be Exposition on Fridays as an act of reparation for th sins of those who have abused children and vulnerable adults. Since it has also happened in this country, it would be very good for us to do that too. We will begin every Friday from 16th April onwards. Jesus says, "Can you watch one hour with me".

Monday 5 April 2010

Can't read; Won't read

The letter below appeared in the Times today. My comments are inserted.
Sir, I write as someone who has no hostility to the modern Catholic Church and respects the faith it represents and its progress since Vatican II [Rabbi Romain is, as evidenced by his chairmanship of ACCORD and other interests, of a not illiberal tendency in Judaism - which is why he may not appreciate that the modern Catholic Church is also the ancient Catholic Church] . However, there is no doubt that Archbishop Williams was correct in his comments (“Church in Ireland has ‘lost all its credibility’,” Report, Apr 3) about its colossal trauma. The number and global spread of paedophile cases means that it is no longer possible to blame a few rogue priests, but the whole institution is under scrutiny.

Moreover, it is not yet possible to talk about “a new future”, as some Catholic bishops do, while past misdemeanours and cover-ups are still coming to light. [This doesn't readily square with the assertion of the writer that he "has no hostility to the modern Catholic Church"]

A papal missive is not enough to restore the Church’s moral credibility. What is needed is a large and highly public act of contrition, with a week of sorrow being declared, culminating in a day of fasting by all Catholics. [Oh dear, the poor Rabbi has not read the papal missive to which he refers! In that letter, Pope Benedict asks Catholics in Ireland - and many Catholics in countries other than Ireland will no doubt join with that initiative to make it an international one - to offer their Friday penances for a whole year, a whole year, do you get that, a whole year, that's 52 days, one Friday for every week of the year, that's 7 and a half weeks of Fridays, and not just one week ... for precisely the purpose that Rabbi Romain suggests.]

It would both demonstrate the Church’s deep regret and be a powerful act of self-cleansing.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain
In a similar vein, see the reports of Rocco Buttiglione's interview on Radio 4 this morning. He is one of my heros, as an outstanding model of how one brings Catholic faith into encounter with the political and cultural milieu of the 20th and 21st centuries, so I am rather disappointed I missed his interview. The BBC website is currently carrying a recording of the interview, though I am not sure how long it will remain on the Today programme site. If you are able to listen to the recording, you will find that Rocco Buttiglione is suitably robust, as exemplified by his concluding words:
There is a criticism that continues, because the anti-Catholic prejudice is the only prejudice that is fashionable in the world of today.

Easter Duties

.... at Selhurst Park. Crystal Palace are at the moment in a battle to escape the relegation zone of the Championship, having been deducted 10 points because they went into administration earlier in the season.

Crystal Palace beat Preston North End 3 -1, on a day when the other teams in the relegation zone all drew or lost, which will not have done Palace's chances of staying in the Championship any harm.

Saturday 3 April 2010

Holy Saturday: the Vigil of Mary

The title of one of the icons on the Ark of the New Covenant of the International Eucharistic Congress 2008 was the Vigil of Mary. It represents the figure of Mary/the Church as she awaits the Resurrection of the Lord.

Mary is the central figure - we are drawn to her
The crucified Jesus is on the cross in the background
Mary’s left hand points to Jesus, the source of our salvation
Mary’s downward look is contemplative (reminds us of her response to the Lord’s invitation to make the new and everlasting Covenant happen (Lk.1:38))
3 stars on Mary, one on each shoulder and one above her forehead, affirm and proclaim the total virginity of Mary - before, during and after the birth of Jesus
The icon asks us if we can be as faithful and steadfast to the Father as was Mary

Mary’s yes to the God of the Covenant- starting at the annunciation:
became the beginning of the Church
accompanied the incarnation of God’s Word from the first moment of his conception to his death & resurrection

The Church:
contemplates Mary at the foot of the cross as the glorious and sorrowful icon of its own mystery of communion
is destined, like Mary, to the glory of being the spouse of the Lamb

Arcbhishop Rowan Williams: context, context, context ....

Church in Ireland "has lost all its credibility"

This is a front page headline in the Times today, reporting remarks made by Rowan Williams, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury. The headline refers to a BBC radio interview due to be broadcast on Monday, and the Church concerned is the Catholic Church in Ireland.

In the text of the report to which this is the headline, we read Archbishop Williams being quoted as follows (I have just heard the same quotation on BBC Radio 2, in an advance trail of Monday's interview during a news bulletin):
And in an institution so deeply bound into the life of a society suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility - that's not just problem for the Church, it is a problem for everybody in Ireland.
Even this very limited context makes Archbishop Williams remarks sound rather different, and rather less of an attack on the Church, than the headline suggests.

According to another quotation of Archbishop Williams in the Times report, an Irish friend has told him that it is difficult in some parts of Ireland  to go down the street wearing a clerical collar. If this is a result of the media coverage .... On which note, read here: Why this is really happening.

The Papal preacher's Good Friday homily: full text

Catholic Analysis has posted the full text of Fr Cantalamessa's Good Friday homily here.

Once again, it pays to read the full text and the full context, and not to rely on the media reporting of it.

Good Friday@Trafalgar Square

On Good Friday, I met up with my sister and her children for the final dress rehearsal of the Passion Play that was being staged in Trafalgar Square. A quite reasonable turn out, and a good number of families and children. I have not been able to find any coverage in the electronic media of the main performance at 3.15 pm, so don't know how many turned out for that.

The scene about ten minutes before the rehearsal started. In the second picture, the tomb can be seen at the right hand side.

My attempt at an "arty" photograph of the crowd sitting on the steps in front of the National Gallery.

The Last Supper. This photograph also gives some idea of the people gathered along the sides of the stage area, as well as those on the steps and balustrades around the square.

Pilate washes his hands of the whole affair.

The Way of the Cross.

The crucifixion - by now it had been raining a little while and was quite wet!

The weather did improve later in the day, and may well have been dry again for the main performance at 3.15pm.

The producer of this Passion Play was the owner of Wintershall Estate, who each summer produce a play on the Life of Christ. Their presentation in Trafalgar Square brought some of this production to London. This BBC News Magazine article tells something of the story behind the production. The introduction to the presentation was explicit in suggesting that the play was being staged to remind people what Good Friday was really about. Archbishop Vincent Nichols also gave a blessing to the crowd at the end of the play.

UPDATE: Some more photos, from the 3.15 pm performance I think, can be found here. Photos also give some idea of the size of the crowd.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Bridges and Tangents has some further coverage here - and points out that, at the end of the play, Jesus (now risen from the dead) left the stage area passing through the crowd on the steps, up to the area in front of the National Gallery; and then headed off across Leicester Square:
And right at the end, after the Resurrection, Jesus stepped through the crowd in his white garments as the audience was applauding. He didn’t take a bow. He walked up towards the National Gallery, across the top of Leicester Square, and into the streets beyond. I followed him, while the post-production congratulations were taking place in the square behind us.

That image of Jesus turning the corner into Charing Cross Road is what made the whole play for me: the figure of Christ, walking into the madness of London; without the protection of a director, a cast, a script, an appreciative audience; fading into the blur of billboards and buses and taxis; an unknown man walking into the crowd…

Thursday 1 April 2010

As I said at the Manchester conference ....

The lack of posting over the last few days is because I was in Manchester, taking part in my trade union's annual conference.

I spotted resolution 15 only the week before conference, and rather misunderstood the on-line version of the agenda as putting it low down in the running order for one of the sessions. Therefore, I read it as not being likely to be taken. On Monday morning, I read the agenda properly - and realised it was almost certain to be debated during the session on Monday afternoon. The speech below was therefore put together in the conference hall just before the Monday morning session, and tidied up during a coffee break.

In the end, there was a procedural motion to "move to next business" after my speech, so no vote took place on the resolution as such.

The motion's proposer had received critical calls from members about ATL's policy on faith schools, which claimed things for ATL's policy that were not reflected in the debate at the Conference in 2007. The confusion resulting was her basis for asking for a review. The speaker before me in the debate, who had been the convener of the task group that drafted ATL's policy statement, said that the pressure on ATL over their policy statement had come about as a result of a campaign by the Catholic Education Service (see the downloads from this page), and that correspondents had been satisfied with the replies received from ATL explaining the policy properly. I prefaced my speech by pointing out to her that I was an ATL member who was alienated by ATL policy on faith schools. You will also see that I still feel able to draw attention to contact between the National Secular Society or British Humanist Association and ATL. The General Secretary's denial of contact is confined to paid officers, and leaves open the possibility of contact with ATL members leading on the issue. Since ATL's policy statement is pretty much the policy of such secularist organisations, I am still of the view that there was such contact.
Resolution 15: Faith Schools


THAT Conference calls upon the Executive Committee to establish a review into the current ATL policy on faith schools and report back to Conference no later than Conference 2011.

Proposer: Niamh Sweeney, Cambridge Regional College, Cambridgeshire
Seconder: Richard G Martin, Unattached member, Leeds

Written text of speech by Joseph Sowerby, Barking and Dagenham Branch, in support of the resolution.

I would like to suggest three elements that should form a part of a review.

1. A consideration of the idea of “ownership” in the educational enterprise, and the relationship between state funding and the idea of “ownership”, an idea of “ownership” that is wider than that of just the ownership of the physical assets. What is the correct relationship between government, the elements of civil society (which includes religious bodies) and parents, children, families in a state funded education system? I suspect that in the conversation about faith schools, and indeed about schools in general, we can too readily, and inadvertently, consider “state funding” to be equivalent to “state ownership” of the whole educational enterprise, an ownership in which others do have a rightful share.

2. I think we need to have a reflection on religions that respects their religious character, treats them as religious, and doesn’t simply treat them according to a secularist idea of what religion is. This asks us to re-examine our concepts of equality and diversity in this context, recognising that religion, precisely as religious, is a diversity to be respected; and not respecting that diversity constitutes a discrimination.

3. The member-led nature of our policy making on this subject needs to be transparent. The Specialist Task Group process that drafted our present policy, for example, - and I use a diplomatic choice of words here - lacked transparency (in the way its members were chosen). At the time our policy was produced - I can’t recall whether it was the website of the National Secular Society or that of the British Humanist Association - but the website of one of those organisations claimed to have been in touch with ATL during the time that our position paper was being drafted. In a member led policy making process, the influence of such external contacts needs to be transparent and visible to the membership, it needs to be a “declared interest”.